Bearing Witness to an Unpopular Message

Posted on June 30, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, July 5, 2015, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Icon of the Holy Family.I remember a time when the world was changing very rapidly indeed. It was the late 80s and much of the change was centralized in Europe with the Solidarity movement in Poland, Perestroika and Glasnost in Russia, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The change was inspiring and suddenly you believed that anything was possible. I remember hearing the words of the Jesus Jones song, “Right Here, Right Now” and thinking how accurate they were: Right here, right now, watching the world wake up from history.

In the past weeks our country has changed quite a bit, and it is hard to remember so much change here so quickly. From Supreme Court rulings to debates on race, it would appear that our nation is different today than just a few weeks ago. Some of the changes are cause for joy, while others challenge our very Catholic beliefs. As these changes occur, some debate and others hate. Catholics on separate sides of issues raise voices in support or condemnation, oftentimes acting like they have all the answers. But as we spend much time and breath on these societal developments, we fail to see that our own house needs some real order and reform.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate recently issued some of its findings on the spiritual health of Catholic families. The results are sobering. Only 22% of Catholic families attend Mass every Sunday. The number decreases by 3 percentage points for those families with infants. A measly 32% of children in Catholic families attend some form of religious formation, whether it’s a Catholic school or a parish faith formation program. Nearly 60% of those children in families that attend Mass do not attend any religious education program.

As we sometimes stand too ready to offer opinions on how non-Catholics should live their lives, too many of us are not in reality living out our faith in the first place. For too long our attention has been focused outwardly while we suffer inwardly. Perhaps we could truly be a greater influence on our culture if we stood on firmer ground with a solid faith in Jesus Christ and a greater belief in the body of Christ. Perhaps many of our examples of family fall well short of being a light to those who cannot see.

But there is always hope! In many corners of the church we have begun our waking up to history. People like Sherry Weddell, author of Forming Intentional Disciples, are leading the way to a Catholic discipleship that is more than a label. For too long a cultural Catholicism has reduced our testimonies and witnessing to rather meaningless stories of Catholic school shenanigans and CYO basketball games. It is not the same to be Catholic as it is to be Italian, German, Irish, or Hispanic. One label is given to us without choice; the other requires a serious choice every day of our lives.

Now is the time for those in the church who have become intentional disciples and everyday stewards to reach out to those who share our faith in name only. We need to do it in a loving manner. Our goal is to witness to them the richness of a life truly committed to Jesus Christ. Before we lament about how the world is turning from the Gospel, let us make sure we are turned toward the Gospel as a people of God and that it makes a difference.

The World Meeting of Families is not far away. I suspect that not only will the event be a source of great joy, but it will also become a target for those who do not understand. The experiences of Ezekiel, Paul, and Jesus himself, in the readings for this coming Sunday, will hopefully give the prophets of our day a resolve to stay the course. I wish I could say that truth spoken in love was easier for people to receive. But many times the opposite is reality. The readings for this Sunday remind us of that reality. As soon as the Gospel message presented is of conflict to no one, chances are, the message is not the Gospel at all.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

Author’s Note: These issues are more than political or moral issues, these are “people” issues. With all things, love must always guide our way. As the discussion continues, here are some thoughtful responses. You may not agree with all of what you read, but as we inform ourselves, we must be willing to listen.

USCCB Press Release

After Obergefell v. Hodges: Now What? 

Article from Pew Research Center 

Simcha Fisher’s Blog: I Have to Sit Down

Laura Norris on the Conciliar Post

Fr. Robert Barron

PRAYER

Audrey Assad, the Catholic singer and songwriter, wrote on her Facebook page in the midst of all the events of the past couple weeks: “If I took the trouble and time to whisper this prayer before every conversation the world would be a much better place for it.”

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.
—Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.

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Water in the Desert

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

For Sunday, June 28, 2015, 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Biblical Tamar Park in the Arava desert, Israel.The Arava Desert is the northeastern portion of the Negev Desert in Israel. It is arid, rocky, and hot. This is where I am for three months of volunteer work at Biblical Tamar Park. There is a tel here (archeological site), going back to the time of Abraham. This oasis in the desert has been a stopping place for centuries. King Solomon built a fortress here named after his sister, Tamar. Conqueror after conqueror has established an outpost here, one on top of the ruins of the last. The Israeli Antiquities Authority is working together with Blossoming Rose, a nonprofit organization in Michigan, to oversee, restore, and maintain this fifty-five-acre site. In plain English, to keep life flourishing here in the desert.

That’s quite a project! Physical life is a challenge here. Yesterday, the power went off for over an hour. We said to each other, “Don’t open the refrigerator! Don’t open the door … our cool air will escape!” We asked, “Can we survive in heat well over a hundred degrees without A/C?” Almost every green thing living here has to be watered. The timed irrigation systems are on backup batteries. We wondered, “Are those batteries all working? How long can they last?” Without water, just about everything on these fifty-five acres will die, except some of the weeds! Without water being pumped to us, will we die? As we were discussing all these questions and possibilities, there was a beep. The A/C was back on … just in time to start cooking lunch. Life had returned!

This weekend’s readings are about life and the threats to it. In Mark’s Gospel, we are still close to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Mark wants to make sure that we realize the message of Jesus. He has come to bring life in all its fullness.

Hopefully, our presiders will read the total Gospel passage, rather than the abbreviated version. The story of the hemorrhaging woman illumines a situation many people experience in our society today, the situation of isolation. According to Jewish law, no one was allowed to touch a woman with an issue of blood, whether monthly or continuous. This particular woman had not been touched for twelve years! Why else would she weave through the crowd and sneak up behind Jesus? If he was a keeper of the law, he would not have touched her without becoming ritually unclean. Even in the “pressing” crowd, had she been discovered, she would have been excluded. This woman was living in solitary confinement in the midst of society, an untouchable … so thirsty for human interaction!

Her faith gives her the courage to reach out a finger, a finger seeking healing, seeking new life. That faith is rewarded. She feels wholeness within herself. The flow of blood dries up. The water of wholeness floods her being. Her desert life blossoms! Jesus brings her out of isolation and into the family of faith, calling her, “Daughter.” She belongs once again.

Many in our society wither in isolation. Standing in a crowd, living in a neighborhood, or even sitting in a pew, some are deeply lonely, touched by no one. Why? Many reasons can isolate. Among them might be a difference in language, education, social status, physical looks, age, health, race, marital situations, even religion. All or any of these factors can isolate a person from the living waters of human kindness and love.

We, as the living Christ in our world, turn to these hurting ones and say the word of relationship … friend, neighbor, my sister, my brother in Christ. Isolation flees.

The situation could be reversed. I could be the isolated one, whether self-imposed or situational. I may be the one who needs to imperceptibly work my way through the crowd until I can reach out in faith seeking healing. I may be the one who thirsts for relationships with others. I may be the one who hasn’t been touched for years. Can I build up my faith and courage, just as this nameless woman did, and reach out to be healed?

Many people are dying of thirst in our world today. Through the power of Jesus, life-giving water is available to all. Can we reach out to give another a drink? Can we reach out to receive the water of life ourselves? Faith is the wellspring of courage, courage to seek what is needed for life. The words from the Book of Wisdom need to be planted deeply in our hearts. “God did not make death.” “God formed man to be imperishable.” God brings water to the desert of our souls that we may live and live fully!

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

A psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
I
O God, you are my God—
it is you I seek!
For you my body yearns;
for you my soul thirsts,
In a land parched, lifeless,
and without water.
I look to you in the sanctuary
to see your power and glory.
For your love is better than life;
my lips shall ever praise you!

II
I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands, calling on your name.
My soul shall be sated as with choice food,
with joyous lips my mouth shall praise you!
I think of you upon my bed,
I remember you through the watches of the night
You indeed are my savior,
and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.
My soul clings fast to you;
your right hand upholds me.

—Excerpt from Psalm 63. Scripture texts in this work are taken from the NABRE © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 CCD, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the NAB may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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Fortnight for Freedom

Posted on June 16, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, June 21, 2015, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the USA. Image of the Immaculate Conception by Murillo, 1660.
What is a fortnight? It is simply another term for “two weeks.” It is a word more frequently used in England than in the United States, perhaps because of our shorter attention spans.

In 2012, the bishops of the United States established the Fortnight for Freedom in reaction to the HHS mandate requiring those who provide health insurance to their employees to include coverage for sterilization and birth control, including abortifacient devices. The narrowly defined religious exemption would mean that many religious institutions would be required to comply with the mandate or otherwise face steep penalties. Beginning on June 21 and ending on July 4, the two-week period provides an opportunity for prayer and education on the most basic of human rights, the right of religious freedom and freedom of conscience.

This year’s Fortnight for Freedom begins this Sunday, June 21, with the theme, “The Freedom to Bear Witness”. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers many helpful ways for us to participate and witness to the role faith should play not only in the lives of individuals but in our civic engagements.

The issue of religious freedom is increasingly taking center stage in American politics. The controversy surrounding Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act this past winter as well as the rancor that is sure to result from Governor Rick Snyder’s effort to pass similar legislation in Michigan highlight how emotional the debate has become.

The dysfunction in our political discourse that makes issues of race so difficult to talk openly about has now poisoned our national dialogue on issues of religion and morality. People of faith and conscience are called “bigots” and “haters,” pushing bakers and photographers onto the front lines in the current culture wars. The effect of the name-calling, as well as the fines and loss of employment for those who seek to live in accordance with their conscience, is chilling. I can’t help but wonder myself what might happen to me if one of my clients were to read this article and somehow take offense to it. However, the debate over how to balance the right of people to live as they choose with the rights of others to practice their faith will not be advanced if either side stays silent or allows one side to bully the other into submission.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus rebukes his disciples for their lack of faith. He expected them to remain strong and confident despite the storm that threatened to batter their boat. Jesus demands the same faith and courage from us as we strive to live the Gospel despite the increasing climate of intolerance in our society. This year’s Fortnight for Freedom is an opportunity for us to renew our commitment to the civic discourse and serve the common good by insisting that the rights of all persons, no matter their faith or values, be respected.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

O God our Creator,
from your provident hand we have received
our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
You have called us as your people and given us
the right and the duty to worship you, the only true God,
and your Son, Jesus Christ.
Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world,
bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.

Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters
gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
or the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.
Prayer for the Protection of Religious Liberty, © USCCB, Washington, DC. All rights reserved.

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Seeds of the Kingdom

Posted on June 9, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, June 14, 2015, 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

June 14If you read any of the accounts about American Pharoah last weekend, and the way he secured a place in sports history by winning the Triple Crown, you might have thought his triumph was inevitable.

But the man who helped raise him wasn’t so sure.

Tom VanMeter, owner of Stockplace Farm in Kentucky, remembers it this way:

He says at the time of American Pharoah’s birth [three years ago], the colt was just “another nice big brown horse.” “It’s like saying that Michael Jordan was going to be a great basketball player when he was in kindergarten,” VanMeter said. “You just don’t know.”

You just don’t know when something small might defy all expectations. It’s that way with horses. As this Sunday’s Gospel suggests, it’s that way with mustard seeds—and with the kingdom of God.

In Mark’s Gospel this Sunday, we hear Jesus compare the kingdom of God to a mustard seed. It “is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth,” he told his followers. “But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants.”

An ancient writer, Pliny the Elder, once described the mustard seed this way: “With its pungent taste and fiery effect, mustard is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand, when it has once been sown, it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once.”

That may not be what many of us think the kingdom of God to be like—pungent, fiery, hard to control. But there’s also something wonderful and exciting about that description. Jesus described a kingdom that started small, but grew to a point where no one could contain it, and even the birds could build their homes in it. It is a place of great, limitless possibility—one that welcomes all.

And isn’t that the sort of place we’d like to call home?

As we slip back into ordinary time this weekend, and move further from the fire and fervor of the Easter season, it’s good to remember that sometimes what seems ordinary is, in fact, extraordinary. We need to remain alert to possibilities of grace—or even, perhaps, small miracles. They are the seeds of the kingdom. Who knows what wonders await?

More importantly: if the seeds of the kingdom are here, how can we help it grow?

Listening to the Gospel this Sunday, let us pray that we can help make God’s kingdom flourish here on earth—spreading the good news with our lives—and making that kingdom a welcoming place for everyone.

Dcn. Greg Kandra

PRAYER

Heavenly Father,

Pour forth your Holy Spirit to inspire me with these words from Holy Scripture.

Stir in my soul the desire to renew my faith and deepen my relationship with your Son, our Lord
Jesus Christ so that I might truly believe in and live the Good News.

Open my heart to hear the Gospel and grant me the confidence to proclaim the Good News
to others.

Pour out your Spirit, so that I might be strengthened to go forth and witness to the Gospel in my
everyday life through my words and actions.

In moments of hesitation, remind me:
If not me, then who will proclaim the Gospel?
If not now, then when will the Gospel be proclaimed?
If not the truth of the Gospel, then what shall I proclaim?

God, our Father, I pray that through the Holy Spirit I might hear the call of the New
Evangelization to deepen my faith, grow in confidence to proclaim the Gospel and boldly
witness to the saving grace of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.
New Evangelization Prayer © USCCB.

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Eucharistic Presence

Posted on June 3, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, June 7, 2015, The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

June 7Our first reading this weekend from the Book of Exodus makes a very bold and confident statement of faith. “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.” People of faith must constantly be reminded of what God says and their willingness to accept what is said through lives of service. It is interesting to note that the sprinkling of blood on the people is really a profound statement of connection and sharing; of God sharing the life of his covenant with his people and the people sharing their lives with God. The Eucharist, the heart and center of Catholic life, brings this sharing to its most perfect level.

At every Eucharist and in a more particular way this week as we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, we have to remind ourselves of what God is saying and asking us to do. St. Augustine stated it most clearly when he said that it is through the Eucharist that we become what we eat. Ultimately, then, God is asking us to become the very image of Christ. The Eucharist is not something that is celebrated for the sole purpose of getting us to heaven. While our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us of the “promised eternal inheritance” that awaits us, it is even more profound. The Eucharist is celebrated so that transformation can occur in the lives of those who receive Christ! We become what we eat.

Mark’s Gospel reminds us that on that first eucharistic night of Passover, a New Covenant came into being. It was a covenant that asked those first disciples and those who follow after to do all that the Lord had commanded and to become like him. The amen we boldly state when presented with the body of Christ is not only a statement of our faith in the Real Presence before us but a bold statement of faith in our willingness to become that presence!

It is no secret that Jesus went out to those most in need. He forgave the sinner, ate with the outcast, defended and fed those who were poor and hungry, worked for true justice, risked being unpopular, willingly accepted suffering and death, always stayed connected with his Abba Father, and consistently reminded folks that God’s compassion, love, and mercy trump everything, even the law. This is the Christ that the Eucharist calls us to be. As we look around our churches, our town and cities, and our world there are many places and people who need to see the face and body of Christ. Some of those most in need may be right within our families. But it is always in the poorest of the poor and those most vulnerable where the greatest need exists. When the gift of the eucharistic Christ takes root in our hearts, we can more readily see the face of Christ in others.

There are many who are vulnerable, but I believe that highest on the list are the homeless. They show us the face of Christ. Whatever the cause, to have no place to go and no place to call home takes a toll on the human spirit. For Jesus when there were hungry people, they were fed. God asks us to do the same … feed people. There are many who are hungry physically, emotionally, and spiritually and gifted by the eucharistic presence of Christ, we bring them Christ himself. Who are the hungry around us and how can we feed them?

When others are hurting, you comfort them. When others are hungry, you feed them. When others need clothes, you provide them. When others are cold, you warm them. When others are in prison, you visit them. With over a million people who are homeless and over a quarter of them children, it is important to ask the question why and strategize for ways to lessen the problem or at least effectively respond. But asking the question “why” cannot let us off the hook for responding to the immediate need that presents itself at our door. Whether a person’s current station in life is self-imposed or the result of being victimized, it is second to the fact that that person still needs help. We cannot lock the door and send others away and still believe we are the presence of Christ. It doesn’t work like that.

The issues behind the cause of homelessness, loneliness, depression, and all of the things that “starve” people and rob them of freedom and life are complicated with no easy answers to be found. People are complicated. Our shelters are filled with people who have tremendous stories to tell, stories of domestic violence, of being a lost and emotionally wounded veteran, of not being able to afford rent and provide for their families in spite of working two jobs, of losing their homes, of losing their spouse, and of struggling with mental illness and addiction. When you listen to what these people have to say and their eyes meet yours, they are the eyes of Christ and they need to see Christ looking back.

The Eucharist, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is about celebrating, strengthening, enriching, focusing, and becoming. The tabernacles in our churches may need to be locked but the tabernacles of our hearts need to be wide open. John 6:51 reminds us that Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven. Figure out who around you is hungry, make an act of faith, and be that living bread for them. Leave what you are to do and what you are to say to the One who lives within you. “I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.”

Rev. Mark Suslenko

PRAYER

Shelter us, O Lord, and give us the compassion and
knowledge to help others in their search for shelter.
Protect us, O Lord, from darkness, and give us the
wisdom and skills to protect others who life in unsafe
and unhealthy housing and long for the light.
Bless us, O Lord, with homes that make comfort and
joy realities for our families, and give us the grace to
ensure this for all families.
Amen.
—“Longing for Home” prayer by Education for Justice.

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