Hunger in the Desert

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

For Sunday, August 2, 2015, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The author in the Negev Desert in Israel.There it is! Right outside my window. I’m here in the Negev Desert of Israel. It’s possible that Moses and the chosen people walked in this area a few thousand years ago. Right now at 4:30 PM, the temperature is 103.6 degrees in the shade. Just two weeks ago, at about this time of day, we went for a ride in the desert. Travel books recommend drinking a quart of water an hour, if walking. Our water bottles were full. Our hats were on. Our desert shoes were ready if we needed to walk for a better view. We were about two hours out when roaring up and over a mound, we landed with a jolt. We were up to the hubcaps in a bed of loose sand. The car quit.

I trekked up the trace of the road and saw camel tracks in the sand. No other vehicles in sight. Our two guides were working on the car and got it started. We sipped our water. Everything, including the water, was hot! They dug the tires clear and laid canvas behind them. Three of us pushed as one steered backwards… back and back until he cleared the mound. The motor was hot! All of our drinking water went into the radiator.

Evening shadows began creeping over the desert. We were warned not to go out into the desert at night. Snakes and scorpions come out after dark. There was great relief and many “alleluias” when we got back to home base.

Reflecting on this and looking at the desert in front of me, I marvel over Moses leading the chosen people through these wildernesses. As I look around, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to eat out there. Desiccated acacia trees dot the landscape, along with thorny scrub. Can humans eat wood? Are the weeds edible? There are so many thorns!

While there is a little green at the edge of a wadi, no water is visible this time of the year. How deep would we have to dig to find some? Our small group could have survived until morning, but what about the multitude with Moses? Had I lived in those days, I would have been one of the complainers wanting to go back!

God was marvelously compassionate as he listened to all the groaning rising up from that desert. Instead of losing patience with them and sending punishment, God gave the grumblers new signs of love… bread, but only enough for the day. Still the complaints pierced the heavens. God sent quail. Yes, there are quail here even now. About three families rush across our roads, chicks all aflutter. In spring, the migrations are superabundant. God is so generous! He gave them meat as well as bread.

God had worked mightily to free these people from slavery. But they forgot about all of that. God has worked mighty works—mighty works—to save us! But we forget! Most of us don’t have the opportunity to live in the desert, but sometimes, in our hearts, we walk in a very arid place. We lose hope because it is so dry, so empty. We thirst for love. We hunger for the bread of appreciation and success. We may even want to give up in our forward progress to the Promised Land. We complain. It is too hard. I want consolation. I want rewards for my struggles. I want to return to the fleshpots of old, easier ways. We grumble and grouse. God never loses patience. Infinite compassion is God’s name. But just as God gave food for the day to the Israelites, God gives us what we need for the day. We even pray as Jesus taught us, “Give us this day!” That food is God’s very self. What more could we want?

Jesus tells the hungering crowd of his day that he himself is the bread of life. In their desert, he promised they would never hunger, they would never thirst. But what food was Jesus talking about? What drink? The crowd had experienced physical food and an easy handout. Their hands were stretched out for more of that! They wanted the security that their ancestors wanted. Long-term security! Not just for today!

Jesus himself struggled with this temptation. “Turn these stones into bread,” the evil one suggested. “Satisfy your hunger.” “Go back to the fleshpots of Egypt.” But, no, he resisted. He trusted his beloved Father would take care of him. Jesus moved forward in his desert in trust, in faith. He wants us to take that same leap of faith. He wants us to “believe in the one he [God] sent.”

Am I in a desert? What do I hunger for? What do I thirst for? Can I trust that God himself is the only satisfaction for those yearnings?

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;
horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.
My strength and my refuge is the LORD,
and he has become my savior.
This is my God, I praise him;
the God of my father, I extol him.
The LORD is a warrior,
LORD is his name!
Pharaoh’s chariots and army he hurled into the sea;
the elite of his officers were drowned in the Red Sea.
The flood waters covered them,
they sank into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O LORD, magnificent in power,
your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.
In your great majesty you overthrew your adversaries;
you loosed your wrath to consume them like stubble…

In your love you led the people you redeemed;
in your strength you guided them to your holy dwelling…

You brought them in, you planted them
on the mountain that is your own—
The place you made the base of your throne, LORD,
the sanctuary, LORD, your hands established.
May the LORD reign forever and ever!

—Exodus 15:1b-7, 13, 17-18. Scripture text 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 New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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Enough to Go Around

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

For Sunday, July 26, 2015, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Passing a piece of toast.Is there enough to go around?

Living in an industrialized nation, it can be easy to forget how much poverty there is in our world. With all the advances in technology over the past century, we might even be deluded into thinking that most people lead relatively productive and comfortable lives.

Unfortunately, just the opposite is true.

According to the World Bank, seventeen percent of the world’s population subsists on less than $1.25 per day. An astounding 2.2 billion human beings live on less than $2.00 per day. One quarter of the world’s population lives without electricity.

An estimated six hundred million children live in poverty and 6.9 million under the age of five died in 2011. An estimated twenty-four thousand children die every day because of malnutrition or lack of health care. Almost one and a half million children die each year because they lack clean water. Over two million children die each year because they are not immunized. And fifteen million children are orphaned because their parents have died of AIDS.

As it turns out, most of the world lives in total and abject poverty.

The thought of billions of people starving to death and suffering because of untreated illnesses can overwhelm us. We might feel powerless to do anything about it, or believe we lack the resources to help all these people.

However, consider this. It is estimated that it would cost $30 billion per year to end world hunger. By contrast, Americans spend $38.7 billion annually on cosmetics including lipstick, hair gel, and deodorant. Pet owners in the United States spent over $55 billion annually on products and services for their dogs, cats and canaries. Most scandalous of all, it is estimated that Americans waste over $161 billion of food every year. Just the cost to throw all that food away is estimated to be around one billion dollars.

There is plenty to go around. However, we who have more than we need are failing to share it with others and, even worse, wasting it.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself” (CCC §2404). While we have a right to our private property, we can never lose sight of the fact that the earth and her goods have been given to all of us. In a more pointed way, Pope Francis, in his encyclical, Laudato Si’, references the bishops of New Zealand in asking, “What the commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’ means when ‘twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive’” (LS §95).

In this Sunday’s Gospel, it takes a miracle for Jesus to feed the multitude. In today’s world, it would only take each of us experiencing a change of heart to look upon all that we have as a gift to be shared with others. It would take redefining success not as having the most and the best of everything but as serving others even to the point of denying ourselves. It would take an end to our wasteful habits of showering every day, eating too much, and having too many clothes. I suspect that, if we take these steps, we’ll discover that the hole in our hearts we were trying to fill with all those possessions will be more than filled with the sense of communion and solidarity we’ll experience with our poor sisters and brothers and with our earth.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
—A prayer for our earth, Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ §246.

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Getting Away from It All

Posted on July 14, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, July 19, 2015, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A hammock on a beautiful beach.At a time when you would think a lot of Americans are heading for the beach or the campground for vacation, more of us may actually be staying home.

A survey last January found an astonishing forty-two percent of workers didn’t take a single vacation day in 2014.

What’s more:

“Women took fewer vacation days than men; young Americans are skimping on vacation days; suburbia is taking slightly more vacation days than rest of the country; workers in the U.S. South took least vacation days while those in the U.S. West did most; and the poor are bearing the brunt of least amount of vacation days in the country.”

It can be hard—and, of course, expensive—to take time from work. And the demands of a lot of jobs make finding time for vacation sometimes impossible. That’s not new. As this Sunday’s Gospel reminds us, even Jesus had difficulty taking a break. Setting out for a “deserted place” for rest, he couldn’t escape his work. Moved by the needs of those who sought him out—appearing to him “like sheep without a shepherd”—he couldn’t help but continue to minister to them.

The thought of an overworked Jesus still seeking to serve, teach, and heal those around him is both confounding and consoling. On the one hand, it would be nice to think that even the Son of God could catch a breather every now and then. But on the other hand, we realize that the One who is so much like us—”in all things but sin”—is also continually close to us. He does not, cannot, turn his back on us in our need. Emmanuel, God with us, continues to remain with us—even when he faces the very real and very human need to get away.

Whether we find ourselves able to go on vacation or not this season, we can take some solace in this simple but consoling truth:

Christ is always near us—available, accessible, attentive. No matter what, the Messiah doesn’t go on vacation.

Dcn. Greg Kandra

PRAYER

O almighty and merciful God,
Who hast commissioned Thy angels to guide and protect us,
command them to be our assiduous companions
from our setting out until our return;
to clothe us with their invisible protection;
to keep us from all danger of collision,
of fire, of explosion, of falls and bruises;
and finally, having preserved us from all evil,
and especially from sin,
to guide us to our heavenly home.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.
—Prayer for Travelers attributed to Bishop Felix Dupanloup, 1802–1878.

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Gospel Relationships

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

For Sunday, July 12, 2015, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Family holding hands together closeup.Every day we become aware of circumstances and issues that perk the interest of Christian consciousness. Whether they are issues surrounding human life, political agendas, morality, or our responsibility to the earth, we must realize that the Gospel has much more to do with how we live each day than influencing acts of piety and devotion. The Gospel is very much about organizing both our divine and human affairs and does require political sensitivity and awareness.

Just this past week, there was a plethora of things happening in our world that ought to have grabbed our interest. Three such examples are a story about a Texas Immigration Center, doctors in Belgium granting a healthy twenty-four-year-old woman who is suffering from depression the right to die, and a group of up to fifty teenagers bent on destruction who raced into a Walmart in Georgia. While each of these come from totally different venues and deal with very dissimilar circumstances, they all have a bearing on the mind of the Christian and the Gospel we hold to be true.

It is safe to say that many folks in our world today have lost their connection with their Creator. Whether due to doubt, neglect, worldly attraction, or an inability to find a meaningful path, understanding oneself as a child of God is crucial to plugging the vision of the Gospel into our daily lives. It is not just about having sensitivity for and mission to the poor or living just lives or being responsible to our environment or one another—it is about relationships! Who am I? I am a child of God. When those words are found on our lips profound implications calling for a change in priorities and actions will follow.

Paul knew this well when he instructed the Ephesians. God chose us “before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ.” Every single person who walks the face of this earth has been chosen by God to share in a relationship of love and intimacy! This is an essential part of the good news to be shared! St. Mark tells us that Jesus summoned the Twelve and sent them out two by two. They went off preaching repentance and if they listened at all to what Jesus taught, they also spoke of a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness who hears their cries and wishes for them to live a different world, one characterized by love, justice, and peace.

An anonymous fourteenth-century English mystic who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing and greatly influenced the development of spirituality took great efforts in emphasizing the need for self-knowledge and understanding the intimate love relationship we have with God. When people are able to fall into and embrace the truth of who they are then the way they live and see life will automatically change. It is not about obeying rules and precepts or having one ideology win over another. It is about relationships.

Each of the contemporary examples cited at the beginning of this brief article has everything to do with relationships. Each in their own way has something to do with a relationship with God, a relationship with self, and a relationship with others. We can debate immigration laws until we turn blue and every philosophy most certainly has certain truths it wishes to advance, suggesting its own as the one to adopt. This is a worthy and necessary discussion. The Christian, however, must step back and ask a further question, one that secular society either does not think to ask or fears asking. Why has immigration become a problem in the first place? Building walls around a country, while attractive to some, is an irresponsible and immature response. Instead of further dividing ourselves from countries whose people are trying to find refuge within our borders maybe greater success can be had in establishing partnerships with the powers of those countries to discern ways of helping each other solve problems. Of course, this would mean that we must abandon our preoccupation of entering into relationships with other nations purely for reasons of self-advancement, security, or need. People coming to our borders are not just drug addicts and felons. They are fathers, mothers, and children who are afraid. What would it take for you to leave your home and family and venture elsewhere with little more than a few belongings? One would have to think that they would prefer staying in their own land if they felt they could! Our psalmist proclaims: “I will hear what God proclaims; the LORD—for he proclaims peace. Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land.” Glory is meant to dwell, not fear. Peace is meant to reign, not strife.

Violence is increasing and violence for the sake of violence is most disturbing. The victims of senseless violence always hurt the most. The fact that people use others for their own selfish end is a problem throughout our world that raises its head in a variety of ways. Our young people are so lost. They are looking for something to make sense out of their lives and perhaps the wounds and emptiness they carry are causing them to act out in vengeance. Do they have hope? They need the message of the Gospel preached to them. But the message cannot be old and irrelevant. A word capable of causing change and transformation has to be able to ring true and connect! Someone speaking elegant English, using the fanciest and most proper of words, will face the wall of irrelevance if speaking to one more simple. Jesus called the Twelve to preach a simple Gospel to simple people using simple words. The effectiveness and power of those words were determined by the conviction and example the Twelve brought to them!

Depression is a scary disease. We know so little about the human mind and there is so much more to learn. Those facing fear, darkness, emptiness, and despair live without joy, hope, and a transforming sense of love. To be caught in this cycle is frightening and to believe that one is powerless over the pain is overwhelming. People in this place of desperation have a difficulty trusting in a God who loves them when what they see and know is so miserable. But with all that there is still to learn and treatments yet to explore, is choosing to end one’s life the only option or even one to consider? The global community has always treated mental illness with suspicion. Those struggling with this disease were treated like lepers and still are. Because we do not understand it, we cast it aside and label those struggling as bizarre or crazy. Perhaps the call here is for humanity to take greater responsibility and for those preaching the Gospel to not only tell but show people that they are loved.

There are no simple solutions to the very complex problems of the world and I do not pretend to even suggest that there are. But each of these examples noted above speak of the tremendous need that still exists within our world for people to hear the good news and for prophets. We need those creative, exciting, out-of-the-box type of folks who are willing to put it on the line and be a different voice. They need to translate the love of which Jesus spoke and died for into real words and real meaning. It requires letting go of anything that would prevent this work, this ministry, from being effective. And, it requires broad shoulders because rejection is sure to come. Amos trusted that God knows better than we do. Do we? Maybe God is calling you to have a prophetic voice if only by being a catalyst for communication in your community and initiating dialogue by how we can effectively spread the message of Jesus Christ, using contemporary words and actions, to those most in need of hearing it.

Rev. Mark Suslenko

PRAYER

Father of all,
Creator and ruler of the universe,
You entrusted your world to us as a gift.
Help us to care for it and all people,
that we may live in right relationship—
with You,
with ourselves,
with one another,
and with creation.

Christ our Lord,
both divine and human,
You lived among us and died for our sins.
Help us to imitate your love for the human family
by recognizing that we are all connected—
to our brothers and sisters around the world,
to those in poverty impacted by environmental devastation,
and to future generations.

Holy Spirit,
giver of wisdom and love,
You breathe life in us and guide us.
Help us to live according to your vision,
stirring to action the hearts of all—
individuals and families,
communities of faith,
and civil and political leaders.

Triune God, help us to hear the cry of those in poverty, and the cry of the earth, so that we may together care for our common home.

Amen.
—Prayer To Care For Our Common Home, © USCCB, based on Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’.

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