Discerning the Voice of Truth

Posted on January 28, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, February 1, 2015, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 1

I have to admit that I am finding it harder and harder to pay attention to current events. The issues facing the world are increasingly complex. From global terrorism to world financial markets, every “expert” has a different opinion on what is happening and why. Is the planet really getting warmer and are we to blame? Do tax increases create more opportunities for lower income people or do they only divert money into government programs that would be better invested in the private sector to create jobs? Is global terrorism a result of religious fervor or blowback for Western interventions in the Middle East?

While the Internet offers us more information, it cannot interpret data for us. Most news shows, aware of our ever dwindling attention span, run short clips of stories with plenty of footage and graphics but little context or analysis. When they do get around to treating issues in more depth, they usually feature two speakers at opposite ends of the spectrum, raising their voices and interrupting each other. As we become aware of biases in different media outlets, we can suspect that stories are being spun to favor a certain point of view. For all these reasons, the public opinion of our news media is as low as it has ever been.

I can sympathize, then, with the amazement the people experience in this Sunday’s Gospel when they hear Jesus speak with authority. Jesus satisfies their longing for truth. He speaks with clarity a message that both comforts and challenges them. And Jesus backs up that teaching with a display of his power over demons. Don’t we also need people with moral authority to speak with courage and clarity about the issues we are struggling with as a global community in our day?

The first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy addresses a problem the people of Israel would face after Moses’ death. Who would speak with God’s authority now? How can we tell a true prophet of the Lord from a false one? Throughout Israel’s history, this question would vex king, priest, and layperson because the stakes were high. Listening to true prophets lead to reconciliation with God, peace, and prosperity. Trusting false prophets lead to persecution, war, and exile. Whom do we believe? Whom do we follow?

As Christians, we have a tradition to rely on that can help us discern the voice of truth from the cacophony of opinions, spin, and propaganda. While it does not provide certain answers to every question, it can help us to form our consciences so that we are better able to see the path to follow when the smoke of disinformation gets thick.

The central truth of that tradition that should guide our analysis of the news is the dignity of each and every human life. The only reason to call into question the dignity, personhood, or quality of a human life is as a pretext to marginalize people, deprive them of their rights, and, ultimately, kill them. Even when it is disguised as an act of compassion, we should reject efforts to kill the sick, elderly, and mentally ill. Even when the possibility of finding cures for diseases is touted, we should reject the idea that life in its earliest stages can be manipulated and experimented on. Even when we are told that they are taking jobs away from others, we should reject any measures to marginalize immigrants or separate them from their families. On the contrary, any voice that affirms the dignity of each and every person is an echo of the word of the Creator who called the creature made in his image and likeness “very good.”

As consumers, we ultimately get the kind of news media we deserve. If we are more interested in the weather than in government corruption, media outlets will invest more in meteorologists than in investigative journalists. We have to take more responsibility about what we choose to watch, and demand from publishers and broadcasters a higher level of professionalism and integrity. At the same time, we must speak with authority, clarity, and courage about what really matters—that every human life is valued and protected.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

Almighty God,

Strengthen and direct, we pray,
the will of all whose work it is to write what many read,
and to speak where many listen.

May we be bold to confront evil and injustice:
understanding and compassionate of human weakness;
rejecting alike the half-truth which deceives,
and the slanted word which corrupts.

May the power which is ours, for good or ill,
always be used with honesty and courage,
with respect and integrity,
so that when all here has been written, said and done,
we may, unashamed, meet Thee face to face.
Amen.

—A Prayer for Journalists, St. Francis de Sales

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A Climb We Can’t Make Alone

Posted on January 21, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, January 25, 2015, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 25

It was one of the famous adventures in recent history: the breathtaking climb up the Dawn Wall of Yosemite’s El Capitan.

Rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson spent six years planning the venture, which took them nineteen days to achieve what no one else had done—scrambling up the sheer three-thousand- foot granite monolith in a “free climb,” using ropes only to catch the occasional fall.

Talking about the climb after, they spoke of the deeper meaning behind their achievement. The climbing duo told NBC News they hope their feat will inspire others, even those who don’t care to scale mountains:

“‘I hope they take the time to find their own Dawn Wall, if you will, and use this project as an example of what you can achieve and what you can experience when you dream big and you seek help in a partner to complete something and not give up,’ Jorgeson, 30, said in a joint interview with Caldwell, his 36-year-old mentor.

“The climbers recalled many moments of elation, fear, frustration, and companionship as they made their way up the wall with just their feet and cracked, bloodied fingers to propel them. They slept in sleeping bags suspended from the face, and had a crew haul gear, including film equipment and electronics to post updates on social media. There were long periods of rest between pitches, leaving them time to enjoy the view and savor meals.”

One key to their success, they said, was their dependence upon each other:

“Caldwell, who’d grown up watching his father climb El Capitan and had completed dozens of varied ascents of the mountain, refused to consider finishing alone. He’d tried that himself years earlier and failed. ‘I don’t think I let myself go there,’ Caldwell said. ‘I really wanted to do it with Kevin. I know at one point he was looking pretty down and I just told him that, “I’m in this for the long haul with you.”‘

“Jorgeson added: ‘I’ll forever be grateful for that support.’”

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we meet some other men beginning their own extraordinary adventure: the first disciples called by Jesus at the Sea of Galilee. Significantly, though, they do not embark on this particular adventure solo. Jesus, notably, calls them in pairs. The implicit message: the great adventure of Christianity is not lived out in isolation. Even in its very beginnings, you can see the seeds being planted of what will become a community—of saints and sinners gathered around the table of the Lord, and working in the vineyards and spreading the Gospel and reassuring one another, very simply: “I’m in this for the long haul with you.”

This Gospel passage is often used to inspire vocations—and it serves as a reminder, too, that vocations don’t flourish in vacuum. No matter what one’s calling, whether to religious life or marriage or the single life, it can only be lived out with the love and support of others.

Whatever mountains we climb, whatever impossible feats we attempt, we are not alone.

And our constant companion, of course, is Christ, who accompanies us up every wall, and whose extended hand makes it easier to reach the summit and arrive where God wants us to be.

Dcn. Greg Kandra

PRAYER

Lord, there are so many things in my life that I do not understand,
so many questions about the future that I need to ask.
What is Your plan for me?
What is the work You want me to do?
All I really know is that You love me.
Show me the road You want me to walk—
to fulfillment, to happiness, to holiness.
And if You are calling me to
priesthood or to the religious life, give me the strength to say “yes”
and the grace to begin even now
to prepare myself for the challenge
of a life spent in Your service and
in the care of Your people.
I ask You this in Jesus’ Name.
Amen.
—Prayer to Discern a Vocation, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington

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Searching for Jesus

Posted on January 18, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, January 18, 2015, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 18

The search for the historical Jesus continues! The Washington Post had a report last week that a great possibility exists that the site of Jesus’ actual trial has been discovered. For centuries, archeologists, curious seekers, and people of faith have been trying to validate the historical path Jesus would have trod. With the Gospels themselves often being vague and even conflicted, discovering the “real” historical Jesus is something that can at best be left to the world of speculation.

While archeological discoveries are necessary for linking us to our past, connecting us to our roots, validating the chronicles of history, the question is begged as to how essential they are to our faith. Pilgrimages to historical sites, shrines, and places where revelations are said to have occurred are certainly popular expressions of faith. But is faith something that is validated outside of us or within? Belief in Jesus Christ has been a part of world culture in one way or another for centuries. Do we give the historical discovery of one thing or another the power to negate that faith? The importance we place on historical validation and archeological discovery must be kept in check. The legacy of faith, rooted in Scripture and tradition, goes way beyond those things and contain timeless wisdom.

Spiritual master Jean-Pierre de Caussade tells us that “He [God] speaks to every heart, and to each one he utters the word of life, the only word applicable to us. But we do not hear it. We want to know what he has said to others and do not listen to what is said to us.” Our reading from the First Book of Samuel shows the Lord calling out to Samuel in his sleep and Samuel repeatedly mistaking God’s voice for someone else. We often mistake God’s voice. And, in typical human fashion, we always want to validate what we are feeling, thinking, or hearing outside of ourselves, in history, in the common lived experience of others, or in things we can touch and analyze. However, God is not there.

What history reveals or even what others say must always take a back seat to what is happening now. Caussade further directs us to: “Come, not to learn the map of this spiritual country, but to possess it, to walk in it at your ease without fear of losing your way. Come, not to study the theory of God’s grace, or to learn what it has done in the past and is still doing, but simply to be open yourself to what it can do. You do not need to know what it has said to others … His grace will speak to you, yourself, what is best for you.” The task before us is to wait and embrace the perpetual advent movement of our lives. Our palmist says it best: “I have waited, waited for the LORD, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.”

We struggle futilely to make intellectual sense of God. Do we pretend to think that we are greater than God and believe that our intellects can really figure him out? We need to wait and look elsewhere. The glance is not necessarily back into the archives of history but experience. “O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!” After years of searching and bumping into closed doors, journeying down dead ends and getting lost, the exhausted soul can easily abandon the whole notion of God and close the door on faith.

Sometimes we are led to the least likely of places. Two disciples were enamored by Jesus and after hearing John point Jesus out as the Lamb of God they decided to follow him. They never responded to Jesus’ question, “What are you looking for?” Curious. If we give faith a chance, not with our heads but with our hearts, we stand the chance of discovering something. If we approach Jesus not with a mind bent on figuring him out or validating his earthly existence but with a heart willing to listen and be taught, we may be drawn more deeply to the voice within our own selves where God is calling us.

The only real faith that lasts and takes root is the faith that is stumbled upon and awakened. It is discovered when we begin to connect the dots, untangle the voices, and listen to the voice within. The disciples’ need to see Jesus’ physical dwelling and know where he was staying quickly faded away to more pressing concerns. Ultimately it leads them to accepting the incredible mission of proclaiming the good news to others.

Until we unscramble the voices and get rid of the interference we will never know who we really are and how we are to act. St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian community, verifies them. They were confused and needed to be reminded that bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit comes from God and that their bodies are not their own. What a different view of things we possess when viewed through the eyes of faith!

Perhaps this, more than any historical validation, is the reason our faith in Jesus Christ persists. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the vision we achieve with eyes of faith validates not something outside of ourselves but something deep within. It makes sense, not always intellectually but in soul-speak! The very blood flows through your veins by movement of God’s power. Caussade eloquently directs us to the truth: “There is not a single atom in your frame, even the marrow of your bones that is not formed by divine power.” Listen.

Rev. Mark Suslenko

PRAYER

O my God, I firmly believe
that you are one God in three divine Persons,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I believe that your divine Son became man
and died for our sins and that he will come
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe these and all the truths
which the Holy Catholic Church teaches
because you have revealed them
who are eternal truth and wisdom,
who can neither deceive nor be deceived.
In this faith I intend to live and die.
Amen.
—Act of Faith from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, © Copyright 2005, Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

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The Power of Baptism

Posted on January 7, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, January 11, 2015, Baptism of the Lord

January 11

Baptism is powerful stuff! The act of pouring water or submerging someone in water and saying a few words, given to the early Christian community by Jesus, seems non-threatening at face value. But the implications of such an action can send ripples of disruption through the life of the one baptized, as well as those around him or her.

Did you hear about the atheists who went ballistic when a few Alabama high school football players were baptized on the football field? It happened one day after practice. I am not sure the setting was the best decision, but I guess water and words can seem pretty offensive to some, no matter where it happens.

Some churches have apparently realized the power in these actions to the point that they have staged spontaneous baptisms during their services. Elevation Church in Charlotte has been accused of doing just that. Of course, a supposed guide instructs those involved to keep the baptisms to thirty to forty-five seconds, in order to keep the service flowing. Baptism is very powerful, but apparently can get very boring if it takes too long.

The power of baptism can still be seen in popular culture also. Have you seen how many celebrities still get their babies baptized? If Celine Dion and Fergie still seek out this sacrament for their children, it must be powerful stuff. Even the royal families of the world, with all their power and money, seek assistance from a higher power for their little ones.

But alas, churches everywhere are sparsely populated on Sundays, and a growing secularism is engulfing many modern societies. Parents often bring their children for baptism, and then leave for seven years until it is time for first Communion preparation. This is not cynicism. It is fact.

Either the actions and words of baptism are not really that powerful or something is wrong. As people baptized into the body of Christ, we know that there is real power in the sacrament. Somehow, by our actions and words after baptism, we have allowed that power to be diminished. The power of baptism to radically change the world has been compromised.

When Jesus came to John to be baptized, he accepted a commission, one that would lead to his death on a cross. After his baptism, he went into the desert to prepare for the living out of this commission, and to be tempted and tested. It was the baptism that served as a sign of new beginning. It also was the preparation needed to survive in the desert. The people at the baptism witnessed Jesus’ direct purposeful experience with the entire Trinity. That experience provided what was needed for the next steps.

When we were baptized, we were also commissioned. We also then journey in a desert where life is not always easy, and we are tempted at every turn. But if we allow ourselves to suffer a type of sacramental amnesia, we forget that we have received anything at all. We enter into the world without the power that is our birthright as adopted sons and daughters of God.

The good news is the power of baptism is always there for us to reclaim. We must never fall into a trap of believing perhaps what happened as an infant does not have a bearing on our lives as adults. When baptized individuals come to the Catholic Church from other denominations, they are never re-baptized. They are assisted in reclaiming that power that was always there. When Catholics who have journeyed away from the church return, it is the power of the baptism received years ago that worked to bring them back.

When we reclaim that power, and we again accept and take seriously our commission, we become an instrument of God that can literally change the world.

What Jesus received from John, Jesus transformed into a direct purposeful experience with him. This new baptism brings about new creations. That which is broken is now repaired, and a world that is broken has the opportunity to begin again.

What are those atheists on that football field so afraid of anyway? Do they think those players will really be different after some simple words and actions? Will those players then feel they have received a commission to go into the world and make a radical difference? I hope so.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go;
flood my soul with your spirit and life;
penetrate and possess my whole being so completely
that all my life may be only a radiance of yours;
shine through me and be so in me
that everyone with whom I come into contact
may feel your presence within me.
Let them look up and see no longer me—but only Jesus.
Amen.
Prayer for Christlikeness, John Henry Cardinal Newman

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