The Call to Greatness

Posted on October 27, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, November 1, 2015, All Saints

Photo of saint figurines by Gwoeii / Shutterstock.com.

When we are young, we carry within us ambitious dreams for our future. We imagine what we may be one day-an astronaut, a doctor, a professional athlete. In our minds, nothing seemed impossible for us. There seemed to be nothing we could not achieve if we only had the opportunity.

With hard work and determination, many of us are able to realize the dreams of our youth. However, most likely, we came to understand that our goals were unrealistic or not what we really wanted. So we set our sights on other careers. Through our whole life we are always looking to the future, considering what seems good to us, and taking the opportunities to reach our goals.

Each of us knows in our hearts that we are called to something great. We often think of it only in earthly terms, in terms of a career or in terms of financial success. However, the greatness we are called to is not something that can be measured in money or power or fame or influence. Rather, the greatness we are called to cannot be fully realized in this life. It is something that can only be fully achieved once we pass from this life into the eternal life of heaven. We are each called to be great saints.

It is natural for us to feel a bit of trepidation when we hear that we are called to be great saints. We might think that we cannot be like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Saint Francis, or the other great saints. And it is true, we cannot be like them. They served God’s plan in their own way and there will never be saints like them again. However, we are called to serve God’s plan in our own way, too, and there will never be saints like us again. Each of us is irreplaceable in God’s kingdom. Not even a Saint Francis could do what we alone are called to do. It may not seem like much, and no one may seem to notice us, but it is important and necessary in the eyes of God.

The founder of Opus Dei, Saint Josemaria Escriva, taught that each of us is called to be a saint right where we are. We do not have to move to another country, change our line of work, or live in a monastery. Rather we are called to radiate the love and goodness of God in our schools, in our places of work, in our homes, and in our communities. Many of us often fall into the temptation of thinking that we could be better Christians if only things were different in our lives. We would be better people if only we were not married or if only we were not surrounded by so many immoral people at work or if we lived in another part of the country. But those are all excuses that blind us to the work of grace that God offers us. God put us where we are to serve his purpose. And, no matter what difficulties we face, he will provide us with all we need to be great saints if only we dedicate ourselves to doing his will in all things and loving others in all circumstances.

On this feast of All Saints, we are not gathered to celebrate the lives of the saints we know about. They already have their own feast days. Instead today we celebrate all the unknown saints, all those who lived simple, quiet lives of charity and prayer. They went unnoticed for the most part, but God worked through them in ways that only he knew. They may be our parents, our teachers, our priests, deacons, or nuns who were examples of holiness to us.

Today we also celebrate the high calling we each have to be saints in our own right. God has called us to be his sons and daughters through baptism and has placed the Holy Spirit in our hearts so that we may know his will and do it through every minute of our existence. It is a matter of surrendering ourselves to his plan no matter how difficult it may be or how little sense it may make to us. Then we can lay hold of all the promises Jesus spells out for us in today’s Gospel-to find the comfort, the peace, the joy, and the glory that our hearts long for but that only God can give.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

O God our Father
source of all holiness,
the work of your hands is manifest in your saints,
the beauty of your truth is reflected in their faith.

May we, who aspire to have part in their joy,
be filled with the spirit that blessed their lives
so that, having shared their faith on earth,
we may also know their peace in your kingdom.

-Michael Buckley, The Catholic Prayer Book.

Download PDF

What Are You Looking For?

Posted on October 20, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, October 25, 2015, 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Printed image of Jesus heals the blind man in Grace Church Chiangmai, Thailand. Photo © Freedom Studio / Shutterstock.com.

Nearly thirty years ago, U2 proclaimed in their hit song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” —an anthem for searchers everywhere. A generation later, it seems, we’re still searching.

A study a few years back found that people are changing religions at a phenomenal rate. According to Pew:

“More than four in 10 American adults are no longer members of the religion they were brought up in, while about one in 10 changed religion, then went back to the one they left, the study found. Just under five in 10—47 percent—have never changed faith.

“Some have switched more than once, and a small number have changed three times or more, according to the study.”

A more recent survey, from this year, found an increase in the number of “nones”:

“People who self-identify as atheists or agnostics (about 7% of all U.S. adults), as well as those who say their religion is ‘nothing in particular,’ now account for a combined 22.8% of U.S. adults—up from 16.1% in 2007. The growth of the ‘nones’ has been powered in part by religious switching. Nearly one-in-five U.S. adults (18%) were raised as Christians or members of some other religion, but now say they have no religious affiliation.”

So many of us are struggling with a restless sense of searching, particularly in matters of faith. So is it any wonder that this Sunday’s Gospel strikes such a powerful chord: the story of a blind beggar named Bartimaeus who, when asked by Jesus what he wants, answers with profound directness and simplicity: “Master, I want to see.”

Isn’t that the common barometer of every person who yearns for a deeper faith, a clearer purpose, a sense of direction? We want to see. Daily life can be obscured by so much—ambition, pressure, responsibilities. We want to see what our purpose is. We want to see hope. We want to see the face of God.

The Gospel suggests that simply having that desire, that humble yearning, may be enough. A beggar encounters Christ, cries out for pity, and is given the miraculous gift of sight. And with that gift, he does the only thing he can do: he becomes a follower of Christ.

This Gospel challenges us to ask ourselves: What are we searching for? What do we want to see? And it offers the reassurance that we can see, and understand, by taking our case to Christ, and pleading our cause, and taking a leap of faith.

It also suggests that if some of us still haven’t found what we’re looking for, well, maybe we have been looking in the wrong places.

Dcn. Greg Kandra

PRAYER

Almighty ever-living God,
increase our faith, hope and charity,
and make us love what you command,
so that we may merit what you promise.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

—Collect for 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Excerpt from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, ICEL. All rights reserved.
target=”_blank”>http://catholicstewardship.com/programs-a-events/annual-conference/2015-annual-conference-information.

Download PDF

There Is No Need to Fear

Posted on October 13, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, October 18, 2015, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Photos of Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, and Catherine Doherty. Photo of Mother Teresa © Saikat Paul / Shutterstock.com.It is quite amazing to consider the status that Blessed Mother Teresa gained in this world by living a life that certainly was not mainstream in any modern culture. While so many of us on this planet sought to advance ourselves and accumulate more and more wealth, she lived a life of poverty and of service to others. Yet, she was held is such high esteem by so many.

In North America, our modern history is filled with figures who have lived similar lives. Dorothy Day started the Catholic Worker Movement and lived with those who were poor and cast out of mainstream society. Catherine Doherty began the Madonna House Apostolate to serve the needs of the poor and to provide a community for lay people and religious to live a simpler way of life. While Saint John Paul II was pope he opened the cause for both of these women toward canonization. There are always examples of people like this around us and, for the most part, they are admired and held up as examples of lives full of generosity and compassion. So why are so many people more like James and John in this Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark?

In the reading, the apostles are concerned about status and where they will end up when Jesus leaves. Jesus says to them, “Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” He then explains to them that idea of status they have here on earth is not true status that has any merit in the kingdom of heaven. He lays out to them that he is to be their example, saying, “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

In the Gospel of Mark that we will hear next Sunday, Jesus meets a blind beggar on the side of the road. He encounters the man and heals his blindness, demonstrating to his disciples how those who are the least are truly the ones with status in his reality. The Teresas, Dorothys, and Catherines of our age have heard and understood this message, choosing to follow Jesus by becoming the servant of all.

Some will say it is arrogance, selfishness, materialism, or pride that keeps most of us from hearing the words directed at James and John and following them. But I suspect it is not as simple as a case of good versus sin. For many people, the words of Jesus are beautiful and speak of a life of fulfillment, which is why we laud rather than ridicule those who follow them. What keeps more of us from following this path is an emotion as common as love itself: fear.

We are comfortable in our modern lives padded with technology, entertainment, personal goods, and wealth. We are, in essence, safe. It is unsettling to think of venturing outside our comfort zone. We are like children learning to swim. We are told the truth, that we will not drown, yet we do accept it as reality. Any thought of letting go of the wall or venturing into the deep end fills us with terror.

We can say that society does not see the way of life that modern saints live as desirable. Yet, few would seek to denigrate or disparage them. Instead, we may say, “It takes a special person to live that way,” or, “Life has dealt us a different set of circumstances that prevent us from truly being the servant of all.” If we had more money, more time, or more freedom we could be somewhat like these modern examples, or even like Jesus himself.

But the Gospels do not record Jesus checking out the bank accounts of those he called to be fishers of men. We do not read about an interview process where they are questioned about their amount of free time or other obligations that may have them tied up. And when Jesus sends them forth with the Great Commission to bring this good news to all the ends of the earth, the Gospels do not inform us of any vetting process the first disciples put into place to make sure those who decided to follow Jesus were good candidates.

The fact is that Jesus simply told the first apostles to drop their nets, leave their possessions behind, and follow him. The command then was to baptize all men and women into this way of life. What kind of servant of all would call others to this life without continuing to care for them? Do we not believe that God cares for us so much that if we just let go and follow him that we will receive all we need?

Someone held in high esteem once said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” He may have been speaking to a different set of circumstances, but the truth of that statement speaks to us here as well. There is no need to fear. Perhaps the call has been getting louder and louder for someone reading this to let go and let God. The rewards are greater than any sacrifice. And who knows? Maybe years from now some other writer will be writing a similar reflection about this very same reading and will speak of a similar but larger group of people being considered for sainthood: Teresa, Dorothy, Catherine, and…?

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

Eternal Word,
only begotten Son of God,
teach me true generosity.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve.
To give without counting the cost,
to fight heedless of wounds,
to labor without seeking rest,
to sacrifice myself without thought of any reward
save the knowledge that I have done your will.
Amen.
-Prayer for Generosity, St. Ignatius Loyola

Download PDF

Between the Francises

Posted on October 6, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, October 11, 2015

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 7:7-11
Hebrews 4:12-13
Mark 10:17-30 or 10:17-27

Pope Francis. Photo © AP Photo/Alessandra TarantinoHe’s back in Rome. That gentle smile is no longer dominating our TV screens. His halting English is no longer a challenge coming over our radio waves. Pope Francis is no longer on American soil. Have we forgotten his vital presence? It’s only days since he was here. It’s only a couple weeks since we were very proud to be Catholics! Hopefully, his message is still ringing in our memories and hearts.

“His vocation was to recall the church to the radical simplicity of the gospel, to the spirit of poverty, and to the image of Christ in his poor…
“The joy and freedom…
“His constant tendency to turn the values of the world on their head…
“Preferential option for the poor…
“Espoused a radical commitment to nonviolence…
“Vivid sense of the sacramentality of creation…”

These words are from the two-page biography of… not Pope Francis of the twenty-first century, but St. Francis of Assisi whose feast was last Sunday, October 4! (All Saints, Robert Ellsberg). Not quite a thousand years separate these two men. Amazing, isn’t it, that their thoughts and words and actions were so similar. Legend has it that one day St. Francis invited his brothers to go with him to preach the Gospel. They began walking and walking and walking, right through the village. As they moved on to the open road again, one brother questioned Francis, “When are we going to preach?” Francis responded, “Ah, but we have been, all through the village.” Again, tradition often attributes to Francis, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”

What do we remember mostly of our modern-day Francis? Not his words to Congress, with the president, to the UN, at Madison Square Garden, or in Philadelphia. What we remember most are the images of him with the crowds, receiving the babies, the children, the handicapped, the common folk, and the forgotten ones of our society. We remember the light in his eyes and the genuine smile as he blessed, embraced, and touched. What did he say? Hmmm. His words, too, were important, many of them echoing those of the twelfth-century Francis. What we saw and heard can be summarized in the old cliché. “He walked the walk.”

There was some point in each of these Francises life that they approached God and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” And God looked at each man and loved him. God loved him and invited him to a deeper life, a life that would reflect another life, that of his totally beloved Son, Jesus. Francis of Assisi was a rich young man! Rather than turn away from the invitation, he stood in the center of Assisi and renounced all his possessions. He went so far as to lay all of the clothes he was wearing at the feet of his father right then and there… in public.

There was a time in the life of Pope Francis when he, as a young man at the time of his religious profession, sang the song of the Jesuits, “Suscipe me, Domine,” “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will, all I have and possess. You have given all to me; now I return it… Give me only your love and your grace. It is enough for me” (Prayer from Spiritual Exercises, #234).

The invitation of Jesus was not just for a young man two thousand years ago, nor for another young Italian nine hundred years ago, nor even for an Argentinian in our time. That invitation is spoken to each of us. The beauty of it is that the invitation comes over and over in each of our lives. Pope Francis said yes as a young man when he became a Jesuit. He also said his yes when he became a bishop. There was another yes when he became pope. He has responded positively to each invitation. We saw him also respond to little invitations like the one to eat with the disabled in Washington instead of attending a state dinner.

We are all pilgrims in our lives as we walk our unique paths. A pilgrim must always be listening… listening for the invitation as God says, “Walk this way, turn here, leave your possessions behind, come follow in the footsteps of Jesus.” We may respond positively! Or we may hang back with excuses… that it’s too hard, Lord… the path too narrow, the climb too steep.

Jesus responds to our objections, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” By ourselves, we can’t do it! But “give me only your love and your grace. It is enough for me!”

This week we receive an invitation, a challenge, in the words of the Gospel. Can we choose just one of the areas our modern-day Francis brought to our attention? Here’s a simple one to help the environment. Can we shop for our groceries this week and remember to bring our own bags? No plastic bags! A few countries have forbidden them. In the US, California has outlawed them. How about going out of our way to be friendly to one person who belongs to a minority? Or a handicapped person? Can we answer just a small invitation coming from God? As we start saying yes to these seemingly tiny invitations, it will become easier to say our yes to the big ones. All of this, of course, with the grace and love God continually showers upon each of us!

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
all I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

—Suscipe, St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Download PDF