Built to Last

Posted on September 29, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, October 4, 2015, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Old refrigerator in cozy room. Photo by TaraPatta/Shutterstock.com.It seems today that nothing is built to last. I remember as a child the first refrigerator housed in my childhood home. It was by no means new, and back in 1958 when the house was built and it moved in, it was already ten years old! That refrigerator still runs today. In fact, many things around the house would break in one way or another. These were rarely discarded but carefully repaired by my father or a professional who knew how. How many cell phones has the average individual already been through? Computers? Other devices?

Most things are designed and intended to be temporary. With technology advancing so quickly, things do not need to last and usually don’t warrant repair when they are broken. If most that is around us in the material world has a short life expectancy, how do we learn to make something last? I even heard the other day about an app that can assist a person with “breaking up” with someone else. Send a text and the relationship is over! After all, all you have to do is find another one. Business operates like that, as attested to at DNEWS headquarters. One day Skype was down, which could have spelled disaster for the company. No worries here, all you have to do is Google your way to a different communication system.

Most of what we make today from work systems to cars to appliances to buildings to clothing is made with a short life expectancy in mind. From all that is around us, where do we learn the virtue of permanence? Fewer and fewer people understand the need for something to last a long time or appreciate its value. Our readings this weekend are all about the principle of “forever” and the importance of lasting human relationships. Relationships have value and require the full investment of two people in those relationships. The stirring and feeling of a human heart cannot be delegated to an app or treated as something that is replaceable on the road to “new and improved.”

Genesis this weekend reminds us that God values relationships and sees them as necessary for human happiness. Intimacy, as found only in a deep, lasting, and permanent relationship is something that makes human beings thrive. Our reading clearly places marriage in full view here and in particular the exultation of joy found on the lips of the man: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” speaks of its primacy in God’s design.

Intimacy is so incredibly important. Without it, we suffer. Even Jesus according to our second reading from Hebrews established an intimacy with God’s children. Hebrews reminds us that “he is not ashamed to call them ‘brothers.’” Intimacy is built into the system and is intended to be permanent, not disposable. From the beginning, human beings were intended to nurture an intimate relationship with God, one another, creation, and in particular with their spouse. These are sacred relationships that get at the heart of not only how God reveals himself to his people but where he can be found and embraced.

The Gospel from Mark this week does not mince words either and makes very clear that Jesus has other ideas in mind than that which happened with Moses and the bill of divorce and dismissal of a wife. Jesus sees these bonds not in contractual terms but in sacred terms. What God has joined together ought to be nurtured, treasured, and celebrated! If we do not share our lives with another, our lives are incomplete.

Now, given the teaching we hear in this weekend’s Gospel, it has to be tempered with the fullness of the teaching on marriage found in the Christian Scriptures. Hence the reason the Catholic Church has a developed teaching on divorce and an annulment process in place and an understanding that there are some circumstances that simply nullify a marriage. At the basis of all of Jesus’ teaching is mercy and compassion. We are called to see all things with mercy and compassion. Life is rarely black and white. And we cannot always understand with full consent and freedom all of the variables that will impact behavior and our ability to sustain a commitment. That being said, we must understand that God desires people to live in marriages that are nourishing, free, intimate, and mutually supportive. He does not expect anyone to endure a situation of abuse, neglect, or one where heavy burdens must be carried.

The psalm this week beckons us to “eat the fruit of your handiwork.” Our marriages, our relationships, must bear fruit. In order to be true and real they must be life giving, not life taking! Relationships that are most sacred and truly intimate, especially that of husband and wife, are called to model themselves after the very relationship Christ has with the church. Relationships, especially marriage, require an incredible amount of self-investment, time, commitment, and sacrifice. Given what is required to nurture and sustain them and the personal investment involved, they cannot be easily dispensed with and exchanged for another when it no longer suits us or appeals to us as it once did. Marriages are not contracts but sacred encounters and sacred bonds.

Lastly, it needs to be said that most of the people I have encountered in my years of ministry who have found themselves in divorce did not make that choice easily or with disregard for the permanent intent of their marriage vows. In most cases, divorce is a grueling experience that is encountered with tremendous pain, heartache, fear, anxiety, and feelings of true and genuine loss. God understands this struggle and does not look with disdain upon the person who finds him or herself in this place. Those who have struggled with this type of loss can find hope and comfort in the very passion of Christ himself.

“Blessed are you who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways!” Jesus always blessed children and encouraged everyone to develop a childlike wonder and innocence. The wonder, awe, trust, and self-abandon that come with such a grace would serve us well as we live in and through all of our relationships, especially the sacred bond of marriage. The younger generation does not understand the purpose and significance of maintaining a working old refrigerator nor the point of taking the time to repair something that is broken. These practical, everyday activities taught us life lessons that are only learned by example. With the past viewed as archaic, irrelevant, and antiquated by many, what then is life in our contemporary disposable culture teaching us?

Rev. Mark S. Suslenko

PRAYER

O God our Father,
in Jesus you call all Christian families and homes
to be signs of living faith.
By the light of the Holy Spirit,
lead us to be thankful for the gift of faith,
and by that gift
may we grow in our relationship with Jesus, your Son,
and be confident witnesses to Christian hope and joy
to all we meet.
In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.
—A Family Prayer for the Year of Faith, © USCCB.

Download PDF

Pope Francis and the Family

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

For Sunday, September 27, 2015, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Pope Francis on audience, greeting the crowds in St Peter's Square, the Vatican, 30th October 2013. Photo © Martin Podzorny / Shutterstock.com.This week, Pope Francis begins his historic visit to the United States.

We can expect the news media to provide extensive coverage and analysis of this popular pontiff’s words and actions, with Time Warner Cable dedicating a channel to the visit for “fans of Pope Francis.”

As is characteristic of his papacy to this point, the Holy Father’s visit will not only be an opportunity for him to speak to the people of the United States with his words but also with highly symbolic actions. Though his addresses to the General Assembly of the United Nations and to a joint meeting of Congress will be parsed and scrutinized, the most searing images will no doubt come from the interreligious service at the 9/11 Memorial, a visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, and a tour of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. Perhaps more than anything the Holy Father says, the images from these visits will remain deep in our collective psyche.

The climax of the Pope’s visit will be the eighth World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. This year’s theme, Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive, fits with the Holy Father’s call to us to highlight love and mercy in our catechesis and personal witness.

The Pope will be visiting a country whose family structures have shifted significantly over the past fifty years. Not only has the family been suffering the consequences of social change but of economic ones as well.  All these issues will be very much on his mind during his visit and we can expect him to challenge all of us to put love and mercy at the center of family life and people at the center of public policy.

This Sunday, when Pope Francis celebrates Mass for as many as 1.5 million pilgrims expected to crowd into the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the readings will resonate with many of the themes of his papacy.

In the first reading from the Book of Numbers, Moses’ spirit is bestowed on seventy elders who are given a share in his ministry. Just so, Pope Francis has challenged us to be more inclusive in calling people of all backgrounds to the work of ministry. In the second reading, Saint James rails against the corruption of wealth. In the same way, Pope Francis has called on those of us in the developed world to live with less so that we will have more to share with the poor. Finally, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus assures the disciples that “whoever is not against us is for us.” Similarly, Pope Francis has challenged us to partner with those of all faiths and of no faith to work together for the common good.

The pope’s visit to the United States is sure to be marked with memorable moments as well as controversial challenges. For all of us, it will be an opportunity to share our faith with friends and family members who interest will be piqued by this charismatic successor of Peter.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

God and Father of us all,
in Jesus, your Son and our Savior,
you have made us
your sons and daughters
in the family of the Church.

May your grace and love
help our families
in every part of the world
be united to one another
in fidelity to the Gospel.

May the example of the Holy Family,
with the aid of your Holy Spirit,
guide all families, especially those most troubled,
to be homes of communion and prayer
and to always seek your truth and live in your love.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us!

—Prayer for the World Meeting of Families.

Download PDF

Embrace the Smallest

Posted on September 15, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, September 20, 2015, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Photo © AFP/Getty Images.

Long before he became the cardinal archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan was the rector of the North American College in Rome. He used to give regular talks to the seminarians, which were collected in a very good book called Priests for the Third Millennium. In one of the talks, Cardinal Dolan quotes a retreat conference given by the Passionist Scripture scholar Barnabas Ahern.

Father Ahern asked: what do you suppose was Jesus Christ’s favorite virtue? Was it faith? Was it hope? How about charity or justice?

All of those are contenders. But Father Ahern had something else in mind. Christ’s favorite virtue, he suggested, was humility. He made a persuasive argument.

Repeatedly in the Gospels, Christ chose the most humble. He chose the sick over the healthy… the weak over the powerful… the poor over the rich. The Gospels offer a reassuring message for all of us who feel unworthy, or fall short; they offer this blessed hope: Jesus often found more among those who, in the eyes of the world, seemed to be less.

And in this Sunday’s gospel, we see this again. To settle a dispute among the apostles over who, in fact, is the greatest, Jesus put before them the most inconsequential person in the room: a small child—a figure of perfect trust, and simplicity, and need.

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me,” he said. “And whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

To receive God, he was saying, open your arms. Embrace the helpless, and needy. Seek out the smallest. To receive God, don’t look above. Look below.

This seems to be a message Pope Francis has made a cornerstone of his pontificate —and again and again, he has modeled that kind of generosity of spirit toward the small, the forgotten, the marginalized. We can expect to see more of that, I imagine, when he arrives in America in a few days for his historic visit to Washington, Philadelphia, and New York. Analysts are predicting what message he might be coming to convey to the United Nations or to Congress. Will he challenge the rich and powerful? Press for more attention to the plight of immigrants? Call for mercy and dignity toward those who are most helpless, such as the unborn? Stay tuned.

But this much is certain: he will continue to embody the message Christ imparted to his disciples all those centuries ago. In gestures, words and deeds, he will challenge America—and, indeed, the world—to embrace those who are the smallest and, in doing so, embrace God.

Dcn. Greg Kandra

Prayer

Father, your truth is made known in your Word.
Guide us to seek the truth of the human person.
Teach us the way to love because you are Love.
Jesus, you embody Love and Truth.
Help us to recognize your face in the poor.
Enable us to live out our vocation to bring love and justice to your people.
Holy Spirit, you inspire us to transform our world.
Empower us to seek the common good for all persons.
Give us a spirit of solidarity and make us one human family.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
—From USCCB, prayer based on Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth).

Download PDF

Who Do You Say that I Am?

Posted on September 8, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, September 13, 2015, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Photo of indistinct cross in background.A new Pew Forum Study looking at the views of American Catholics on family life, sexuality, and Catholic identity has concluded that 45% of Americans are Catholic or are “connected to Catholicism.” It gauged people’s views of the topics mentioned, but in some ways, the figure of 45% is one of the most interesting findings. The 45% are comprised of those who claim to be Catholic now, those who were raised in the faith and now no longer practice, and those who claim a “cultural connection to Catholicism.” Sherry Weddell pointed out in an article for Aleteia  that the study showed a large number of those who no longer actively practice their Catholic faith are “willing to be persuaded back into the pews, with the right outreach.”

Multiple reasons can account for why people drift away from the church, and the right word to use here is drift, for the experience of leaving the church does not happen overnight. Some leave because of conflicts and abuses of power by priests, but the vast majority never had such an experience. Most are like people you and I know who have drifted away over time due to apathy and disinterest. While some connection to a Catholic heritage is important to many, connections to a formed community seem less important, or at least the numbers make it seem that way. The 2013 study and book, American Catholics in Transition, reported that the “pre-Vatican II generation is the only group where more than half (54%) attends weekly Mass.” They state that for most who identify as Catholic, monthly Mass attendance is the new norm.

All people have a need to belong. Psychologists point out belonging is part of what makes us human. Those who drift away still want to belong. They have just chosen to belong to something else, and usually it is a group of people who has similar beliefs. But if they still label themselves in some way Catholic, they must continue to hold some core doctrinal beliefs. The question is, do they grasp the true implications of those beliefs? For as we can see in our modern times, religious belief can be one of the most powerful forces on earth.

Jesus understood the power of faith when he questioned his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” If they truly believed that he was the Christ, the anointed one, the One for whom they had longed, they would be able to accept his difficult command:

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Those who would be able to accept their crosses and give away their lives, particularly in the persecutions that followed Jesus’ death and resurrection, not only believed that they had met the Christ, they knew they belonged to him. The apostles, the other disciples close to Jesus, and those who would join this “movement” sometimes called The Way, would have had a sense of being transformed not just by their belief, but also by acceptance by and belonging to this new community of faith.

Jesus still asks today, “Who do you say that I am?” Those who give the right answer yet choose to not live out their faith are like those who have cheated on a test: they know the answer, but do not know why it is the right answer. By the grace of God some will be transformed by simple belief in isolation from others, but without community, most will not. Archbishop Thomas J. Murphy, the great stewardship leader, said, “Belonging leads to belief.” The majority of those cultural Catholics maintain some belief, but they are unsure of why they still do. They also maintain some form of Catholic identity, perhaps because the psychologists are correct and they have a need to belong. Yet they are still drifting, unsure of really their place in the grand scheme of things.

Pope Francis is issuing a Jubilee Year of Mercy and what better time to reach out to our brothers and sisters who are drifting? We need to throw open the doors of our churches and offer the greatest of hospitality, like the father who rejoiced at the return of his prodigal son. We need to offer healing for wounds caused by the church, as well as those wounds that occurred when we could not be there in their lives. We need to fill our churches with a joy of the Lord that is contagious and life-giving. We need to reach out and let those who have left our midst know that we have eagerly awaited their return. For then, when asked by Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” they will not only know the answer, but will know why it is the answer and the implications of such an answer. Then, more will be able to accept the crosses and give away their lives so that our church and world can be transformed.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy: let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm,
may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.

We ask this of you, Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of
Mercy; you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.
Amen.
—Prayer of Pope Francis for the Jubilee. © Copyright Pontifical Council for the Promotion of New Evangelization, Vatican State. All rights reserved.

Download PDF

The Dream of the Kingdom

Posted on September 1, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, September 6, 2015, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Father Pyotr celebrating Mass in Be’er Sheva, Israel.Last Saturday evening, at Mass in Be’er Sheva, Israel, the young Polish pastor asked a strange question, “How do you get here?” His answer, too, was strange, “Go to the end of the world and turn left!” He proceeded to remind the ten of us in the assembly that we are in the desert. The desolate desert of Abraham.

Father Pyotr has decorated the small chapel in desert colors with a tented entrance into the sanctuary. On the back wall, lighted, is Rublev’s icon of the Trinity, Abraham’s visitation. At the end of the world, after a left turn, we find St. Abraham’s parish, a small oasis of Catholics amidst Jews and Muslims. Its location, Be’er Sheva, is in the middle of the area where Abraham spent much of his time. In the mini-church, there is light shining out of that tent-like sanctuary, reminiscent of the light that God shone forth through Abraham, the Father of many faiths.

Isaiah, the great prophet, and Jesus, the Messiah and Son of God, shared the dream of Abraham. That dream, that vision, was a laser beam of hope in each of their hearts that lighted their steps to press forward in their unique missions. They were not blind! They could see through and beyond their earthly surroundings right into the heart of God’s dream.

“Intimacy with God was squandered in Eden,” as one author put it. Isaiah and Jesus both tell us that our eyes need to be opened… opened to see that that intimacy is the only thing that satisfies our human longings. False visions are flashed at us on all sides. No matter where we look, we are told that happiness comes when we put on the right clothes, drive the right car, live in the right house, in the right neighborhood, in the right city, etcetera! Our eyes are dazzled with flash camera lies.

Jesus opens the ears of someone he shouldn’t have even been talking with. A pagan. A Gentile. He had crossed into a foreign land. He was not walking among the chosen people. Why was he there? It was unconventional to mingle with non-Jews, much less touch them or even help them. But Jesus did. Would you believe that even in this day and age, it has been heard of that here in Israel some “keepers of the law” spit on Gentiles? They spit on Catholics, whom they consider outside the law of God. Two thousand years ago, Jesus does the unconventional thing and spits a healing to this non-Jew.

There is much noise coming from the United States, reaching even to the desert of Abraham. The racket traveling across ocean and sea would never indicate that the United States is a Christian country. Killing is rampant. Violence pervasive. Fear of infiltration by ISIS paralyzes our love of neighbor. And potential leaders speak publicly without common human decency and respect for others. Political fights are the talk of the town. Just as our eyes are dazzled with untruths, so our ears are bombarded with noise. The ears of our hearts are deafened by this pagan cacophony. The ears of our hearts can’t hear the voice of God. Spiritual deafness is rampant.

Even in this land of Abraham, the atmosphere is that of quiet unrest. It seems like a land mine ready to explode when tread upon by the lightest footstep. Air-raid alerts and bomb shelters are ready, just in case! How can people hear the voice of God saying, “Fear not! Peace, be still”? How can light shine forth from Abraham’s tent? Only with faith in God’s promises. Only by keeping God’s dream alive.

Can we keep our focus amidst all this turmoil on the dream of the kingdom that Isaiah and Jesus paint for us? Can we walk the straight path? Can we ask God to open our blind eyes and our stopped ears that we may see and hear the truth? It’s a hard path. It’s not an easy walk. Jesus showed us that. But if we can do it, with God’s help, we will again experience intimacy with God like that of paradise. We will leap with joy and sing with all our hearts in pure unadulterated happiness. We will walk in the brilliant light of faith that shines forth from Abraham’s tent. Jesus, heal us, we beg you!

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

Lord,
you invite all who are burdened to come to you.
Allow your healing hand to heal me.
Touch my soul with your compassion for others.
Touch my heart with your courage and infinite love for all.
Touch my mind with your wisdom,
that my mouth may always proclaim your praise.
Teach me to reach out to you in my need,
and help me to lead others to you by my example.
Most loving Heart of Jesus,
bring me health in body and spirit
that I may serve you with all my strength.
Touch gently this life which you have created, now and forever.
Amen.
—Prayer for Healing.

Download PDF