A Spirit of Surrender

Posted on February 25, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, March 1, 2015, 2nd Sunday of Lent

March 1

A couple weeks ago, one of the most esteemed media writers in American journalism died: David Carr, of The New York Times. He was fifty-eight. Carr had been battling lung cancer. It wasn’t the only battle he’d waged in his life; Carr was also a recovering drug addict, who wrote of his journey from crack houses and into rehab and a new life in a memoir, Night of the Gun.

Carr was eloquent and disarmingly honest about his problems and his recovery. He was also deeply spiritual, and a committed Catholic. In a 2011 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, he opened up about that side of his life:

“CARR: Am I, underneath all things, just a really wonderful, giving person? Or is there a force greater than myself that is leading me to act in ways that are altruistic and not self-interested and lead to the greater good? And so that’s – that’s sort of as far as I’ve gotten with a higher power thing, is I’m – you know, I’m kind of a pirate, kind of a thug. I mean, I’ve done a bunch of terrible things, and yet I’m able to, for the most part, be a decent person. How is that? Do I have some inner strength of character? I think not. I think something else is working on me…

“One of the things that I’m doing is praying, which seems like a really uncomfortable, unnatural activity for me. It’s to whom, to what, about what. You know, I have a prayer in my wallet that I’m saying…and I feel like a complete fraud while I’m doing it. But it’s the act of acknowledging that there may be something else out there…

“GROSS: Can I ask what the prayer that you’re keeping in your pocket is?

“CARR: Sure. Let me look at it. It’s really full of, like, thees and thous and I think it’s the prayer of St. Francis… I’m not comfortable reading the whole thing. But what it talks about is to offer yourself to God to build with you as God would see fit. And then the important part to me is to relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do thy will. And then it goes on to say, take away my difficulties. Of course, everyone prays for that. We all do – and that victory over them will bear witness to a power greater than yourselves, and just says may I do thy will always. I don’t really know who I’m talking about when I say those words, but I sort of feel good when I do.”

In his spirit of surrender to God, Carr touched on something that resonates throughout this Sunday’s Scripture: the ability to say to God, like Abraham, “Here I am.” Few of us would have the courage and trust to undergo the kind of testing that God places before Abraham. But can we at least begin where David Carr began? Can we say to God, “Make me an instrument”?

Whether we are struggling with the kinds of problems Carr battled, or other demons of differing varieties and shapes, we are called to serve God and one another with wonder, humility, abandonment, and trust. “Make me an instrument of your peace” is not far from “Here I am”—and if we are able to offer ourselves this way to God, especially during our Lenten journey toward Easter, we may be amazed at how our lives can be enriched, and even transformed.

God did astonishing things with Abraham—and even with David Carr. Who knows what might happen if you find the courage to “offer yourself to God to build with you as God would see fit”?

Dcn. Greg Kandra

PRAYER

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
—Prayer of St. Francis

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Into the Desert

Posted on February 22, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, February 22, 2015, 1st Sunday of Lent

February 22

Trappist Monk Thomas Merton introduced us to the wisdom and beauty of Eastern religious traditions. As a spiritual master, Merton discovered that many eastern practices and ideologies could bring a breath of insight and wisdom to his own spiritual tradition. For those looking to take seriously this year’s Lenten journey, similar parallels and depth of awareness can be achieved. Matthieu Ricard, who had a promising career in biochemistry, left and journeyed to the Himalayas some forty-plus years ago. We can learn from each other’s journeys and realize that all serious seekers have similar goals.

Catholic spiritual tradition has always promoted experiences to the desert. The Desert Fathers and Mothers were individuals who physically removed themselves from the concerns of everyday life in order to seek the presence of God without distraction and noise. It was in the desert, stripped of all dependencies, where they discovered the truth of who they were and the God who sought them. Mark’s Gospel this weekend details how Jesus remained in the desert for forty days. Though tempted by Satan, we can assume that this desert experience was one of enlightenment, empowerment, and enrichment for Jesus who was more acutely able to learn the ways of God. He emerges after forty days with clarity of intent and purpose and proclaims: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” The desert clarified many things for Jesus and gave him the orientation and direction he sought. In short, his awareness of things changed dramatically.

The Book of Genesis reminds us: “I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.” God’s covenant is with all living creatures and with creation itself not just with a select few who may be deemed worthy or good. In fact, God’s loving, compassionate, and all- merciful bond with all human beings and with all of creation is permanent, regardless of individual or corporate disposition. As Christians, we believe in this personal, loving God who has an intimate connection and relationship with everyone and everything he has made. Our task, highlighted once again this Lenten season, is to learn to recognize this presence of God in our daily lives and thus experience this love of God.

Increasing awareness and mindfulness of things is a goal of many traditions. Our Christian tradition brings us to the gift of contemplation as a way of increasing our awareness and mindfulness of God and the abounding fullness of his presence in and through all that is in and around us. It is this contemplative experience that is sought by our psalmist when he petitions: “Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; teach me your paths, Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.”

Relationships always involve growing pains. They often consist of unequal doses of clarity and confusion, focus and ambiguity, certainty and doubt, presence and absence, connection and disconnection, joy and agony, satisfaction and fulfillment and distance and despair. When we feel close to the one we love, we can carry on with playful abandon and when we experience detachment or separation we can actually experience apprehension, anxiety, and dread. There is no difference in our relationship with God.

It is no wonder that our legendary spiritual ancestors and masters spoke of darkness in the quests for God. St. John of the Cross, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Mother Theresa of Calcutta all spoke of an agony or darkness that prevailed in their relationship with God. Hence, we are called again this year to take that sometimes lonely journey into the desert, into the unknown. It is there that we accept that very challenging task of learning about ourselves, our relationship with the world, and more importantly our relationship with our covenant God. As the Letter to St. Peter reminds us, “Christ suffered for sins once … that he might lead you to God.” It is Christ who reveals to us the real face of God. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, our awareness of God’s presence can be intensified and the way we think and perceive life purified. We certainly do not need as much as we think we do and in the end, less is really more. In the desert we can see things more clearly, recognize our emptiness, take stock of our sinfulness, and learn again what it really means to repent and believe.

It is not the stuff around us that defines us but what we discover within and what we accumulate as we embark upon our true vocation, which is love. These lessons of the heart are what make life worth living and give us the passion to stay on course, committed to the Gospel.

Rev. Mark Suslenko

PRAYER

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that
I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you and I hope that I have that
desire in all that I am doing.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road although I may know nothing
about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear for you are every with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Amen.
—Prayer by Thomas Merton, OCSO

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Do Everything for the Glory of God

Posted on February 11, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, February 15, 2015, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 15

I needed to get some work done, including this reflection, but my eleven-year-old son kept bugging me to play basketball in the driveway. It had been cold recently, but on this day in North Carolina, it was sunny and close to seventy degrees. So I couldn’t blame him for wanting to challenge Dad to a game of H-O-R-S-E before the sun called it a day. I can’t say basketball was on the top of my list, but my responsibility to be present to a little boy who wasn’t so little anymore outweighed the work I needed to do. The work will always be there; my son won’t.

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
—1 Corinthians 10:31

While I was dribbling and shooting the ball, I thought of Dean Smith, the longtime basketball coach at the University of North Carolina. I just heard that morning that he had passed away. He was older and had been in decline for some time, but when a sports icon dies, it causes people to reflect. He was one of the most successful coaches in NCAA history, but more importantly, he graduated 96% of his players, with over 50% of his players going on to play professionally. USA Today’s headline on his death was “83 Years of Caring and Giving, a Legacy of Selflessness.” I am a Duke graduate, so I always have had a love/hate relationship with the school down the road in Chapel Hill. But Dean Smith was first-class. He was a religious man whose convictions led him to speak strongly in the 1960s against a segregated state of North Carolina. I didn’t always agree with all his political stances as the years went by, but I always respected him as a man trying to be the best he could be, not just as a coach, but also as a child of God.

As I was about to take a shot and show my son who is the boss, I was hoping that when I pass from this world, I will have become the best version of myself that I could be. Through his writings, Matthew Kelly, the Catholic speaker and writer, always has me reflecting on this. God has made me on purpose for a purpose, and I hope that all I do moves me closer to the best that God has created in me.

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
—1 Corinthians 10:31

Do you ever think about how every action, even that of eating and drinking, can be done for the glory of God? We sometimes divide up our lives into church, family, job, and self. There is no need for separation of these things, unless we are unwilling to hand it all over to God.

Unfortunately, we too often fight God, tethered to the lie that handing it all over leads to anything but freedom. Dietrich von Hildebrand, the Catholic philosopher and theologian, wrote, “The more our life is permeated by God, the simpler it becomes.” True freedom rests in the ability to lay everything at the feet of God. The questions of life become easier to answer, and that which is still a mystery is no longer threatening.

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
—1 Corinthians 10:31

When driveway basketball was over, I proceeded back to my home office. I reflected on Paul’s words to the Corinthians about doing everything for the glory of God. I had spent time getting exercise for my physical body, tended to my domestic church by spending time with a son I truly love and for whom I give thanks, and I was able to experience all of this outside, in God’s wonderful creation. A smile came across my face. In this seemingly simple event, I not only gave glory to God, I personally encountered God.

Lent is upon us in a matter of days. What will Lent mean for you this year? You don’t have to give something up this year, but instead you could add something: more time with a loved one, volunteering in a shelter or soup kitchen, visiting someone who is lonely. Whatever you do, or give up, be sure it is for the glory of God. Don’t overthink the whole thing. We have the chance to glorify him at every turn. You do not have to travel far. Sometimes God is calling us to places as simple as the driveway.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day
for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world,
for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians,
and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month.
Amen.

—Morning offering by Fr. François-Xavier Gautrelet.

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Prophetic Voices

Posted on February 4, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, February 8, 2015, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 8

Many Americans lived this past week without seeing or thinking about the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of prisoners in the Auschwitz concentration camp at the end of World War II. CNN offered full coverage of the commemoration. Multinational leaders were present, as were religious leaders from various denominations. Most moving was the praying of Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. Cameras focused on individuals in the audience wearing the striped fabric of the camps. They mouthed the words being prayed and sung. Tears streamed down their faces.

Other concentration camps were also liberated on different dates and by different groups in the Allies. Dachau was one of them, liberated by the American army on April 29, 1945. Dachau was the designated camp for political prisoners. Over two thousand of these were bishops, priests, deacons, ministers, and religious women. Their stories are coming to light as individuals and even groups are being canonized. The feast of bishop and martyr Blessed Michael Kozal was just celebrated on January 26.

This week commemorates those who live the consecrated life, men and women who have dedicated themselves “to follow the Lord in a special way.” Pope Francis adds to that, “They are men and women who can awaken the world.” That is exactly what these modern-day martyrs did. They were imprisoned because they opposed the power of evil invading their world. They were the prophetic voice of Christianity, calling for justice, calling for freedom from domination, calling for peace.

These prophetic voices urged healing of the ghastly wounds being inflicted on the undesirables of Nazi society, the handicapped, gypsies, and especially the Jews.

Isn’t this the message given by Jesus himself as he healed those suffering from physical afflictions? He also confronted evil in those chained by powerful forces that spoke out half-truths about him and his mission. Those forces of evil were constantly present during his pilgrimage of salvation. At Calvary, all external appearances added up to the victory of evil. In the concentration camps, to all external appearances, evil also won.

But darkness was penetrated by the Resurrection, the resurgence of life, both in Jesus and in the victory of World War II. We can believe! We can trust! Darkness will never prevail!

Today ISIS threatens us. Today what Pope Francis calls “the theology of prosperity” threatens us. Our political world looks dark. But just as throughout human history God raised up prophetic voices spearheading light into our world, today God continues. That’s in God’s very nature, a nature of life and light, a nature of love and peace.

Not only do we celebrate consecrated life this week, we also celebrate married life. These two paths of living don’t oppose each other, but complement one another. As Jesus went to a quiet place to listen to God, so both religious and married spend time with God and go forth as Jesus did. They go to other villages, to places outside their homes, in order to spread the good news and bring healing. Pope Francis calls for a revolution of tenderness. His prophetic voice calls all, including the consecrated and married, to live lives of tenderness. What is tenderness? It is the touch of loving hands and hearts. Tenderness can and must be nurtured both among the consecrated and in families. This was the way of Jesus. He not only healed, but, tenderly, reached out and took the sick by the hand and lifted them up. So must we.

If we can only incorporate today’s example of Jesus into our lives, if only we can…then we will be living examples of St. Paul’s dictum, “become all things to all”! We will be the prophetic voices of today.

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

God our Father,
we thank you for calling men and women
to serve in your Son’s Kingdom
as sisters, brothers, religious priests,
consecrated virgins, and hermits,
as well as members of Secular Institutes.
Renew their knowledge and love of you,
and send your Holy Spirit to help them
respond generously and courageously to your will.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.
—Prayer for Consecrated Persons © 2011, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All Rights Reserved.

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