The Greatest Solace

Posted on November 24, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, November 29, 2015, 1st Sunday of Advent

Anxious young woman watches from airplane seat.

Advent is traditionally the time of anticipation, of breathless wonder and waiting. It’s a season, right now, perfectly attuned to our times.

As I write this, Belgium is anxious and on alert for a possible terrorist attack. Presidential candidates are stoking fears. Airlines are on edge again and again.

I can’t help but think the Gospel we encounter this Sunday could speak to us here and now:

“Be vigilant at all times
and pray that you have the strength
to escape the tribulations that are imminent
and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Yet, almost as a soothing counterpoint, comes this heartfelt message of hope from St. Paul:

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts.

The good people of Thessalonica to whom Paul was writing had their own troubles, and their own age of anxiety; they waited with joyful hope for Christ’s imminent return, while struggling to keep the young Christian faith alive in a time of persecution. Yet Paul’s advice to them is a wisdom that transcends the ages: “increase and abound in love.” In a time of uncertainty or even fear, the greatest solace, and greatest prescription, remains Christian love for one another.

So it could be for our time, too-and for the time of Advent. This season traditionally brings its added pressures and problems-Shopping! Baking! Family stress!-and the words from Paul can be a blessed balm. Don’t flinch from love; increase and abound in it. Seek opportunities to grow in holiness. Put simply, “Conduct yourselves to please God.” All else, really, is a distraction.

It’s all a distraction that can turn our hearts toward fear and away from the true essence and meaning of this season: making ourselves ready to welcome Christ at Christmas. In these coming weeks, we need to keep our eyes on the prize-the presence of God in our world in the astonishing act of Incarnation, a gesture of humility and hope that transformed the world.

Of all the things we may find ourselves waiting for this Advent, that is really the only one that matters.

Dcn. Greg Kandra

PRAYER

Lord our God,
we praise you for your Son, Jesus Christ:
he is Emmanuel, the hope of the peoples,
he is the wisdom that teaches and guides us,
he is the Savior of every nation.
Lord God,
let your blessing come upon us
as we light the candles of this wreath.
May the wreath and its light
be a sign of Christ’s promise to bring us salvation.
May he come quickly and not delay.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Blessing of an Advent Wreath from Catholic Household Blessings.

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My Son Needs His King

Posted on November 17, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, November 22, 2015, Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Painting of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the UniverseI suspect the events of the past week might have many people longing for a world that does not exist. My youngest child no longer feels that he is safe from the reach of terrorists. He has been to professional sporting events and concerts with me before and I suspect that he felt then that I would be able to take charge of any circumstance that might threaten him. But as he said to me the day after the Paris attacks, “That could be us at a concert or a game.” Innocence is gone. The beast is awake and men and women of good will must now be watchful, for the enemy could be anywhere. However, the beast is not new and even though my son now sees the world differently, the world has not fundamentally changed.

Since the fall in the Garden, evil has been among us. History is a tapestry filled with scenes of tremendous violence and hatred of human beings toward one another. Every century has brought with it those who have caused the young to dream nightmares and worry about the events of each new day. The events in Paris remind us of the fallen nature of humankind, even when the killing is done in the name of God. Evil speaks in lies about the nature of God and a fallen creation suspects that the lies may be true. This tapestry of world history would be a monotonous chain of events that could make a person doubt the very meaning of life, as many philosophers have done throughout the ages, if it were not for the single most significant event on that tapestry: the Incarnation and then death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

On that night in France, terror seemed to reign, but the reality is that the terror caused by humans is no match for the love of Jesus Christ. This Sunday our liturgical year closes as we honor Jesus Christ as King of the Universe. We are reminded that God became man and then chose to be broken by the world so that the world would have no power to break his adopted sons and daughters, the best of his creation. Then he rose from the dead and broke all the chains of death that could bind us. Today and every day he reigns as King of all creation, regardless of what evil and the humans that choose it believe to the contrary.

But what does this mean to my twelve-year-old? He is still too young to understand the implications of Jesus Christ as King. So, we who call ourselves disciples of Jesus must show him. We must love in the face of hate, bring peace to those who have witnessed violence, and speak of life in the midst of death. However, for too long we have been mild mannered or even silent. There are some today that blame all religion for heinous crimes because the actions were performed in the name of a God they believe does not exist. We perhaps have failed to convince them of the true God in Jesus Christ due to either misled words or actions or, more importantly, lack of action. This does not mean we are to blame for the evil of these types of terrorist attacks. But we need to proclaim clearly and powerfully the good news so that hope never takes a backseat to fear.

Pope Francis stands as a powerful witness to the kingdom of heaven in our midst, but he must be a leader of those who increasingly act more like him. The world needs more people like Pope Francis, Blessed Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, and the like. We should not be saying, “Look how Christ-like they were,” but instead, “I need to be more like them.” We have a King and we have received a great commission. His kingdom is threatened once again by the forces of evil. We must rise up and fortify the kingdom using prayer, love, and the gifts of the Spirit as our weapons. My son needs for this to happen. His community, the body of Christ, will provide him with the consolation he seeks. And he will flourish in the midst of chaos for he will know he is a child of the King.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

Almighty, everlasting God,
Who in Thy beloved Son,
King of the whole world,
hast willed to restore all things anew;
grant in Thy Mercy that all the families of nations,
rent asunder by the wound of sin,
may be subjected to His most gentle rule.
Who with Thee lives and reigns world without end.
Amen.
—Prayer to Jesus Christ the King from the Litany of Christ the King.

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A Time Unsurpassed in Distress

Posted on November 10, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, November 15, 2015, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

An apocalyptic scene.BBC broadcasts from Burundi are horrific. Dead bodies in the streets. Killed execution style. President Pierre Nkurunziza is demanding that all citizens must surrender illegal firearms by the end of week or risk being “dealt with as enemies of the nation.”

“The crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 in Egypt’s Sinai was most likely caused by a bomb placed by ISIS or an ISIS affiliate” is the headline on Internet media.  There is now the fear that the terrorism of ISIS is not just to bring about a new Middle East state, but terrorism for the sake of terrorism internationally.

The Daily Mail on Sunday, November 8, featured this headline: “Further ‘proof’ Russian soldiers are now on the ground in Syria as US planes intensify airstrikes against ISIS with 56 attacks in eight days.”

The reading from the prophet Daniel says: “it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time.” We here in the United States can sweep these terrors under the carpet of our joie de vivre, our prevailing optimism… unless and until we remember 9/11. Fear really impinged on our daily living then. In those days, with every low flying aircraft, we looked up with suspicious fear. Fear of terrorism knocked at our doors then. But now, it’s an ocean away… or is it?

Jesus builds on the nightmare of Daniel. He paints pictures of horrendous events in nature: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling.”

As we approach the end of the liturgical year, our readings are of an apocalyptic struggle. That struggle is the final battle between good and evil. It will be universal in scope, reflecting back to the chaos at the beginning of creation. Another Big Bang? Daniel shares that “it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress.”

Interestingly, Mark’s Gospel reflects back to the beginning of this year. Last Advent, in his Gospel, Mark begins with warnings. Now is the time to prepare for what is to come! It’s not, “life as usual”! It’s the coming of the kingdom we are to be ready for… God breaking into human history. On that First Sunday of Advent, Jesus said, “Be watchful! Be alert! … You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming… Watch!”

Now, at the end of the readings from Mark, that Advent reading is bookended by today’s Gospel. It’s the coming of the “Son of Man” that must be prepared for! A second coming! No longer is it an arrival into a very small backward nation in the Middle East, but he will “gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” Do these words and these pictures bring fear to our hearts or do they fill us with hope? There is more to these images than being harbingers of horror.

Both Daniel and Jesus speak in positive images as well. We will be filled with hope if we follow Jesus’ directives. If we are prepared and watch! If our eyes and our lives are focused on the daily comings of the Lord, the in-breaking of God in our daily lives. Then we will be among the wise. We will “shine brightly” and be “like the stars forever”!

How does God break into our lives? Oh, aren’t we blind to many of God’s advances? The glorious slant of the morning sun painting the sky in delicate pastels. God is there. The beauty of a sleeping child. God is there. The delicious burst of flavor from an orange. God is there. The warm embrace from a loved one. Oh yes, God is there. The marvelous freedom we have. The miracle of our eyes and ears and hearts and minds! God comes to us in millions of ways every day, constantly surprising us with gifts more tiny and huge beyond our imagining. We don’t see “‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory” but if we can begin to see God in his many hidden ways, we will gain the wisdom to see him in his final coming. We will be ready.

Preparing for this final coming can greatly enrich life even now. When that apocalyptic struggle finally comes we can stand, not in fear, but in hope, because we have experienced the end result already in our lives. That end result is that good always triumphs! It may take a long time. We may experience many struggles. But—always—good will come out on top! This we believe! It is our faith in the paschal mystery. It does not end with death, but always, always blossoms into resurrection!

Every Sunday we profess our belief that good triumphs! We pray together with the universal church, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” With those words, we definitely are filled with hope and joy!

Patricia DeGroot

PRAYER

Heavenly Father,
you made not only the stars of the heavens,
but you made the seasons the earth.
In every autumn, there are endings and beginnings.
There is the end of vacations,
and the beginning of school.
Cool green leaves fall from their branches,
and become dappled yellows, bright oranges and deep reds.
Help me, when things end that I wish had continued,
to see that in you, there are no real endings.
In you, there are only changes, and new beginnings.
Give me the grace to know,
that even death itself is not the end,
but only a change
from one beautiful thing into another.
Amen.

Prayer for Autumn, © Liturgical Publications Inc.

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Embracing Life

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

For Sunday, November 8, 2015, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sign on dairy farm truck reading “Got Patience?”After reading the story of creation in Genesis, what images come to mind? We hear of a God freely and intentionally choosing to create something out of nothing motivated by the pure power of love, of which he is the author. God pronounces all things good at the end of his creation and everything is ordered as it is intended with each creature and thing in its proper place. Everything has its place and everything has its purpose. Images of harmony, peace, happiness, contentment, and mutual love and acceptance immediately flood our senses. The First Letter of John in the New Testament tells us that God is love. We are ordered toward love, not violence, negativity, discord, discontent, and malice. Those things speak of a life not based on order but disorder.

Yet, so much around us today speaks to our disordered selves. There is so much unnecessary and extremely traumatic violence occurring way too often. Recently we witnessed another act of road rage that pulled at the heart strings of many across our country and perhaps even our world. This one was more poignant because it claimed the life of an innocent four-year-old girl. An innocent, four-year-old, happy, full of life girl simply driving home with her dad on her second day of preschool has her life cut short because of a mindless, aggressive, power-driven, rage-fueled driver hell bent on making a point! What is happening to people that is driving them to such extremes?

I would suspect that no longer motivated by false motivators like fear, punishment, fear of embarrassment, and with long-standing social mores now called into question or discarded, many no longer have possession of a center of self-knowledge from which to act. Impulse and passion all too often reign supreme. Richard Rohr aptly points out that “before conversion… we don’t know who we are or what we are for.” Many do not know who they are or what they are for because they have not experienced conversion. He also rightly states that their “small self cannot radically connect with Being because it’s always defining itself in terms of comparing, competing, analyzing, critiquing, judging, labeling, and positioning.”

Hence, there is a valuable lesson that can be learned from the poor widow in this week’s Gospel. She has been converted. Her loss and suffering were allowed to teach her incredible lessons and they did not lead her down the road of negativity, despair, or frustration. She learned that life is much more that what someone “has” and all about what one has “become.” Trust and faith in God are paramount over anything one can acquire, own, or become. Developing patience, which is rooted in suffering, is what will ultimately bring people happiness. For the widow, life is a precious gift. She has also learned that God is the One who provides this gracious gift of life.

Our first reading this week from the First Book of Kings underscores this same virtue of trust and demonstrates what happens when it is embraced. For this widow, “the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.” “Praise the Lord, my soul,” echoes our psalm refrain. It is God who gives sight to the blind, raises up those who are bowed down, who loves the just, and protects strangers! The author of Psalm 146 discovered the same mystery as did our two widows.

We have a choice whether to allow life to bring us to an embrace or engage us in battle. Granted, we are psychologically complicated. But in most cases, except perhaps with extreme mental illness, it’s all about a choice. If we’ve chosen the path of game playing, proving our point, getting ahead, teaching someone a lesson, showing someone who’s boss, and being defensive then we are engaging in battle. Sometimes, as in the case of our beginning story, this battle has an incredible outcome. In attempting to win, we lose.

Whether we like to admit it, we are all at the ground and foremost point of our being a “poor widow.” This is what we are created to be, what we are meant to discover, and where love ultimately leads us. We resist this calling because we falsely believe that being a “poor widow” is perceived as a negative, evoking images of excessive want, need, or helplessness. Therefore, we pursue a stronger self-image to acquire, one that is seemingly more secure, powerful, dominant, and aggressive. It is a self, false though it may be, that can overpower, overcome, bully, and conquer. In attempting to secure something, we lose our truth.

Whereas there is nothing negative, weak, needy, or pathetic in either the widow from Kings or the widow from the Gospel. In fact, the opposite is true. Their ability to trust makes them strong! It gives them courage, centers them, provides confidence, brings contentment, gives example, and speaks of abundance! By their choices, these two widows balance the scales and bring order to disorder. They chose to embrace what life has given, graces and hardships, and learn from the lessons they teach. In short, they act out of love.

And this is where our perpetrator of road rage and aggression misses the point. He does not know how to love. To do so means that he would have embraced the journey his life has brought him on and refused to do battle. He has literally taken up arms and brought down a most innocent victim, all in service of his distorted need to prove a point. Where would the world be if throughout history it followed his example? It would be in total ruin and I would not be here writing this reflection and you would not be reading it. This I know for certain. It takes the example and courage of those who show us a better way to keep humanity on course, at least as best they can. They show us that love is what really matters and a life of peace and justice the only one worth pursuing.

In the end, we are all destined for love but it takes an embrace of life and whatever it brings to discover it. Sadly, for many the battle continues. We can only hope and pray that by giving good example ourselves they can see the light. Only then will we find our path back to God.

Rev. Mark S. Suslenko

PRAYER

God, teach me to be patient, teach me to go slow—
Teach me how to wait on You when my way I do not know.

Teach me sweet forbearance when things do not go right
So I remain unruffled when others grow uptight.

Teach me how to quiet my racing, rising heart
So I might hear the answer You are trying to impart.

Teach me to let go, dear God, and pray undisturbed until
My heart is filled with inner peace and I learn to know Your Will.
Amen.
—Helen Steiner Rice

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