Dialogue at the Table

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

For Sunday, August 30, 2015, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

A cross lying on a wood table.Over the past several years, we have heard the term “cafeteria Catholic” employed in a variety of ways. In a recent issue of U.S. Catholic, Isabella R. Moyer contributed an insightful article entitled “Proud to be a Cafeteria Catholic” that is worthy of attention. Often, when people want to stay minimally connected to something, they find ways to do so. In that vein, there are “Catholics” who are marginally connected to the church and remain that way because of issues with church teaching and practice. These “cafeteria Catholics” have a self-preserving agenda behind their position and use their opinions to justify their occasional practice. But there is another kind of “cafeteria Catholic” who is not marginalized and very much in our pews. In fact, they can be found in some bishops, priests, deacons, religious, lay leaders, and committed lay parishioners. They are not marginalized nor serving a self-preserving agenda. They are simply struggling with reality as it presents itself and Church teaching as it is taught, finding difficulty if not with “what” is taught then with “how” it is taught. It is to this group of “cafeteria Catholics” to which we can turn our attention as they are motivated by devotion and love.

If our association with the Catholic Church is heavily sided on the dos and don’ts, then we most assuredly will miss the real point of all of this business. While there is no doubt a timeless permanence to many of the teachings held to be true by the church (Jesus Christ is both God and man) there are some that are open to discussion and evolution. Even with those that are indelible and permanent, each new unfolding age requires that they be taught and communicated in new and engaging ways. As Moyer points out, “gone are the days of conversion by fear.”

How do we feel about Jesus and his relationship with his Jewish community? We have seen him defiantly cure people on the Sabbath, exalting a Samaritan for doing what a Jew would never think of doing, and in today’s Gospel from Mark challenging the Pharisees with their longstanding tradition- and Scripture-based purification rituals to consider that they may be missing the point. We often judge and label people who are closely and intimately associated with the Catholic Church who struggle, question, and find themselves distanced from certain Church teachings as heretical “cafeteria Catholics.” Is Jesus a heretical Jew? It can be assumed that his death on a cross had something to do with folks who thought precisely that!

In his simple yet delightful encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis calls for dialogue among all parties of interest in this discussion. Whether one agrees with his opinion is of little consequence to his rightly promoted challenge that the Church has a place at the table of this discussion. Dialogue. Questioning produces growth.

The statutes and decrees of which Moses speaks in our first reading from Deuteronomy serve as a baseline for believers. These must not be added to or subtracted from. They are the basic guidelines necessary to maintain proper order in our relationships with God, ourselves, and one another. However, generation to generation must revisit them and discuss them in light of the learning that has occurred and advancements made. This whole law is based on “justice” and discerning that for a particular community requires sincere dialogue not on the part of just a few but the whole. Psalm 15 gives us a great measuring stick with which to assess our behavior. “Whoever walks blamelessly and does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue” is the one who is just. We must remember that we always stand before the truth and can never fully possess it in any human precepts. We are always evolving toward the one Presence and universal unifying Godhead.

Religion needs rules and regulations for organization and structure. Whether we like it, we need rules too for guidance and direction. But religion is never just about the rules. St. James tells us this clearly today: “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” There is the litmus test for one who claims to be Christian. Ours is a mission journey as Pope Francis consistently tells us. It is not just about my personal salvation. We live in the world but also apart from it and must constantly be reminded of where our true home is. The values we are meant to cultivate and teach are not secular in nature but directed at those things that help us along the road of conversion, keeping us from falling victim to the things that can defile.

For those who love the church and want to see it grow and become simpler and focused, know that you stand with One who understands, our founder Jesus Christ who himself sought a purer and simpler understanding of God. Moyer reminds us of this teaching: “God loves you. What does God expect in return? Love God and love others. It seems so simple.” It seems simple because it is. Pope Francis gets it. Let us offer true compassion to others, especially the prophets in our midst, giving them a respectful ear and a full voice as we all accept the invitation to dine at the great table of love.

(For further reflection on this topic see: http://www.uscatholic.org/church/2008/07/cafeteria-catholics.)

Rev. Mark S. Suslenko


My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. 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 will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
You will lead me by the right road
Though 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 ever with me.
And you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.

Prayer by Thomas Merton from Thoughts in Solitude.

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There Is Love

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

For Sunday, August 23, 2015, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Couple holding hands while their children walk in front of them.In the years that I was involved in liturgy planning for weddings, engaged couples almost invariably wanted to include a secular song as part of the ceremony. Often it would have been a song they heard on their first date, one they may have danced to, or one with some other special meaning to it. Almost invariably, the lyrics’ shallow and saccharine images of love fell short of the depth and meaning of the love they would be vowing to each other before God and the Church. In those instances, we would try to explain why the song was inappropriate and suggest some other time it might be played either before or after Mass or at the reception.

There was one secular song, however, that I was glad to include in the wedding Mass. It was Wedding Song (There is Love) by Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary. Though it was a well-known song, it drew heavily from Scripture. I was always impressed by how it connected the texts on marriage with Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” It is a beautiful way of expressing the truth that the love of man and woman in the sacrament of matrimony makes both Christ and the Church present. In so doing, it accomplishes what no other secular song and, frankly, few other liturgical songs can—elevating a romantic image of love to its full sacramental reality.

As it turns out, this popular song was written for the wedding Mass of Paul Stookey’s bandmate, at Saint Mary’s Church in Willmar, Minnesota. In fact, because the song relied so heavily upon Scripture, Stookey declined to receive any royalties for it assigning it instead to the public domain.

Marriage as the sacramental image of Christ and the Church is the theme of this Sunday’s second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. The line which so grates on us in today’s society, “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord” is balanced by the command to husbands to “…love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her.” Both husband and wife are to submit to one another, putting the needs of the other before their own, striving to live the love that makes Christ and the Church present in the union of their lives and of their flesh. Christ promises to be present whenever two or three are gathered in his name. However, in the sacrament of marriage, that presence is even more profoundly imaged in the sacrifices a husband and wife make for each other in their daily lives. For a world in which love is reduced to the romantic feelings it produces and marriage is treated merely as a government-recognized union, the love of a man and woman which draws its strength from Christ and perseveres through hardship can be truly countercultural and transformative.

Another compelling lyric in Paul Stookey’s song is the line, “Woman draws her life from man and gives it back again.” Reflecting on this lyric through the years, I have always understood it as focusing on the bodily realities of marriage. In their sexual unions, woman and man give themselves totally to one another. From that union springs new life which, long after they have passed away, will bear witness to their love. In the daily chores of family life, they will feed and clothe each other. Through their bodies they will soothe each other in pain and sickness. In old age, they will care for each other’s bodies. These realities of married life challenge our culture to see the soul of intimacy not in romantic feelings but in the real, daily giving of oneself, body and soul, to our beloved.

This Sunday will end the reading of the Bread of Life discourse that we as a church have been praying over and meditating on these past few weeks. Jesus makes the shocking claim that he will give us his body as food. Throughout the centuries, many have wanted to spiritualize these words, reducing them to a metaphor. However, we have come to believe that Jesus meant what he said. Just as he allowed his body to be broken on the cross, just so his risen body is now broken for us in the Eucharist and we partake in a real union with him through the sacramental sign of bread. Marriage is also a sacrament, like baptism and the Eucharist. Christ becomes truly present when a man gives his body to his wife and a wife gives her body to her husband. “There is love,” not just intensity of feeling but the real, sacrificial gift of oneself to another. And where there is love, there is God. Not a God who is only comfortable in spiritual realms but who communicates himself to us in the flesh.

Douglas Sousa, STL


Heavenly Father,
we thank you for your tremendous gift of the Sacrament of Marriage.
Enable us to grow in our intimacy with You and with each other.
Teach us the beauty of forgiveness
so that we may become more and more one
in heart, mind and body.
Strengthen our communication with each other,
and help us become living signs of your love.
Help us to be examples of commitment, love, and service
to our families and children.
Make us a sign of the unity which Jesus prays for at the Last Supper.
We open ourselves to the guidance of your Holy Spirit,
Who empowers us to love in Jesus’ name and walk in His footsteps.

—Prayer for World Marriage Day, Worldwide Marriage Encounter.

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Bread that Satisfies Our Hunger for Peace

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

For Sunday, August 16, 2015, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Image of Jesus, the Bread of Life.When it comes to anniversaries, this August has been particularly poignant.

Within a few days of each other, we’ve noted the seventieth anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan, the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the one-year anniversary of the invasion of northern Iraq by the Islamic State, displacing tens of thousands of Christians and other minorities. The toll these events have taken on the human spirit, and the scars they have left on human history, are extensive and deep. Consequently, this has been a time for reflection and resolve, a moment for taking stock.

Sister Maria Hanna, the prioress general of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena in Iraq, was one of many who had to flee last August when ISIS stormed through her home town of Quaraqosh in Iraq. She and her sisters were forced to settle in Erbil, living in tents or abandoned buildings while attempting to rebuild their lives and those of other refugees. She wrote recently: “This memory impels us to pray to the Lord, so that we might be enlightened to understand his will for our lives during this crisis.”

By coincidence, or Providence, we are commemorating these events at a time when the Sunday Gospels ask us to reflect on St. John’s Bread of Life discourse, the challenging and enigmatic verses that teach about how Christ feeds those who hunger—and does it in ways we might not easily understand. The Gospels offer insight not only into the Eucharist, but also into God’s own ceaseless love for his creation. Whatever our needs, whatever our hungers, God provides.

At this moment, reflecting on the events we are commemorating, we might take time to remember in an especially prayerful way some hungers that even now need to be met.

There is the hunger for peace, in a world devastated by war.

There is a hunger for justice, in places torn apart by mistrust and hate.

There are the ongoing hungers of the human family for safety and security and understanding and hope.

The Gospel reassures us that our very human hungers—yearnings that go beyond mere cravings for food—are met in the person of Jesus Christ. That is ultimately what the Bread of Life discourse seeks to teach us.

Are we open to hearing that message and taking it to heart? Are we ready to be fed with that Bread of Life?

Dcn. Greg Kandra


O God, Creator of the universe, who extends your paternal concern over every creature and guides the events of history to the goal of salvation, we acknowledge your fatherly love when you break the resistance of mankind and, in a world torn by strife and discord, you make us ready for reconciliation. Renew for us the wonders of your mercy; send forth your Spirit that he may work in the intimacy of hearts, that enemies may begin to dialogue, that adversaries may shake hands and peoples may encounter one another in harmony. May all commit themselves to the sincere search for true peace which will extinguish all arguments, for charity which overcomes hatred, for pardon which disarms revenge.
—Prayer for Peace by St. John Paul II

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Faith Should Always Trump Politics

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

For Sunday, August 9, 2015, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Street signs showing intersection of Faith and Politics.Presidential election politics are heating up and, unbelievably, the election is over a year away! It would be easy to become overloaded as this period of time passes by. As I am writing this, I think at least twenty-four people are running for President of the United States. Wow! But if you are a political junkie, you may be in heaven. You might be glued to twenty-four-hour news channels on your television every night, and to talk radio in your car every day. Whatever your current involvement in the political landscape, you have to admit that it is close to impossible to tune it all out completely. The reality is that you shouldn’t want to do that either.

In the USCCB document on a Catholic’s political responsibility, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the US Bishops state that we have a moral obligation to participate in political life, since responsible citizenship is a virtue. The Catechism of the Catholic Church informs us that we are all called to participate in promoting the common good. We have these obligations placed on us, not just because we are American citizens, but primarily because we are baptized disciples of Jesus Christ who are called to bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ in all we do. In this reality, we find what must be our true motivation for political involvement.

However, especially during presidential election years, many of us trade our Christian convictions for political ones. People begin with a calling to be disciples of Jesus Christ, but in the end define themselves as more Republicans or Democrats at heart. Politics is not a faith. I have had friends over the years trade their trust in God for trust in a candidate. No political candidate has all the answers or a map detailing the route to a promised land. However, as mature disciples we are obligated to participate in a political process because the One who does provide all the answers has saved us: Jesus Christ.

So often, those who find themselves having substituted politics for genuine discipleship have done so because they have not been fully formed in their faith. The Forming Consciences document points out that a Catholic working to influence public policy and bring about justice in society is required to have a mind and heart that is fully educated and formed to know and practice the entirety of the Catholic faith. It can be easier for us to place politics, or materialism, wealth, or power for that matter, ahead of our faith when we are not well-catechized or transformed intentional disciples. Our faith must provide the lens through which we see all things, including politics. Politics should never be the lens through which we see our faith.

The readings for this Sunday and recent Sundays present to us a God that provides all we need. Whether it is manna in the desert for the Israelites, a hearth cake and water jug for Elijah, or the living Bread of Life for you and me, God provides for us what we need. God is in control and we are invited to place our trust in him. Some will take this truth and distort it to end up with justification for not becoming politically active. These distorters of the message may even proclaim that what happens in the political world has no bearing on them because they are citizens of the kingdom of God. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is this: as Catholics and mature disciples of Jesus Christ, we have a message to share with all in our society that has the power to transform our communities and the way those communities are governed. That message is rooted in the good news of Jesus Christ and it has the power to free the oppressed, provide hospitality for the disenfranchised, and console the afflicted. Those who have ears to hear it, and who allow it to transform their lives, will give voice to the voiceless, provide nourishment for those who hunger and thirst, and will construct systems that ensure the God-given rights of all. God will provide if we keep clear the pathways that lead to grace. And no political construct can be allowed to compromise the integrity and primacy of this message.

So, dive into the political year! Go into it not primarily as Democrat, Republication, or Independent. Go into it as an intentional disciple that bears good news, and make sure you come out of it next November with your faith still intact and placing your trust in the God who delivers us from all evil, and saves us from all that works against his word, sometimes even ourselves.

What better way to involve ourselves in the political process than by praying? Follow this link to a resource from the USCCB on Praying Like a Faithful Citizen.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS


Father, we praise you and thank you for your most precious gifts of human life and human freedom.

Touch the hearts of our lawmakers with the wisdom and courage to uphold conscience rights and religious liberty for all. Protect all people from being forced to violate their moral and religious convictions.

In your goodness, guard our freedom to live out our faith and to follow you in all that we do. Give us strength to be bold and joyful witnesses.

We ask this through Christ, our Lord.
-Prayer for Protection of Conscience Rights, copyright © 2012, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC. All rights reserved.

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