Looking Up

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

For Sunday, January 3, 2016, The Epiphany of the Lord

Horse - oil painting like cave painting a la Altamira.

On a summer’s day in 1879, an amateur archeologist named Marcelino de Sautuola went into a cave in Altamira, Spain, looking for prehistoric artifacts. He’d been there several times before, and hadn’t found much of interest. But this day, he brought with him his eight-year-old daughter. The two of them began to explore the cave. Marcelino was studying the ground, when he heard his little girl cry out. “Look, papa,” she said, “Oxen!” He couldn’t imagine what she was talking about, until he looked in her direction and saw she was pointing to the ceiling.

There, Marcelino saw them: the most incredible images—pictures of animals and people that had been left there over ten thousand years earlier. What his little girl spotted was later hailed as one of the greatest artistic discoveries ever. In the 1920s, Picasso visited the caves and came away awed. To this day, thousands visit Altamira every year to see what many consider to be the very beginnings of art.

And it happened because a eight-year-old looked up. She brought to that adventure a sense of wonder. Just like the Magi, the Wise Men, in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. They also looked up, saw the star, and then they followed.

The Magi had no idea where the star would take them. They didn’t know what their final destination would be. They couldn’t anticipate what they would find, or that it would all end up in Bethlehem.

The journey to Jesus was, for them, as it is for all of us: unpredictable, uncharted, unknowable.

And, significantly, it left them changed. As Matthew writes: “They departed for their country by another way.” After encountering Christ, they couldn’t travel the same road.

It should be that way for all of us. After discovering Jesus, after our own epiphanies, nothing can be quite the same.

John Henry Newman once wrote that “to live is to change.” It’s a beautiful thought for this season, when we’re starting a New Year and many of us are struggling to change old habits—or maybe lose old weight.

The fact is: all of us, like the Magi, are pilgrims on journey. But where will the journey take us?

Remember the Wise Men, the journey they took, the star they followed, the epiphany they made. They traveled to places unknown, guided by wonder. And they discovered the Son of God.

But we need to remember, too, that little girl in Altamira. So often, we spend our lives looking at the ground, studying the dirt, checking out the broken remnants of life that lie at our feet. We can miss the glory that is just above us. We can miss epiphanies.

So: Look up! Look forward. And follow. Follow the light, the light that is Christ.

And after that, we have no choice but to live differently—like the Magi, returning to our lives “by another way.”

Dcn. Greg Kandra

PRAYER

Remember us, O God;
from age to age be our comforter.
You have given us the wonder of time,
blessings in days and nights, seasons and years.
Bless your children at the turning of the year
and fill the months ahead with the bright hope
that is ours in the coming of Christ.
You are our God, living and reigning, forever and ever.

Prayer for the New Year, Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers, USCCB.

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Fifteen Minutes in a Target

Posted on December 22, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, December 27, 2015, The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph

Scared child lost in store.

We were in Target, shopping for something I have long since forgotten. We often find ourselves in stores long after the intentionality of buying something has past, now aimlessly encountering things that promise to make our lives better or more exciting. On this day, it didn’t matter what I was looking for at all, because I forgot all about the reason we went into the store before we even left. That’s because after what seemed like only a few seconds, I looked toward my very young son and saw no one there. He was missing.

Surely, he was simply around the corner! No, he was not. Surely, when I call his name he will answer me! No, he did not. The panic on my face was evident.

Can you imagine the distress of Mary and Joseph when they realized that Jesus was not in their caravan leaving Jerusalem? Then they looked for Jesus for a day amongst relatives and those they knew, but still nothing. After their search produced no results, they returned to Jerusalem. They had to have wondered if he was hurt, suffering, or in pain. They might have worried that somehow they didn’t take the care needed to keep him safe with them. Perhaps, there was even something or someone sinister at work.

Running through Target, I am sure I experienced some of the same fears. Especially after five, then ten, then even more minutes having passed. Your fears change quite often, because your mind is showing you all the possible scenarios that could be happening at that very moment. Then the worst fear hits you: what if I never see my child again?

Mary and Joseph searched for three days, and then in Jerusalem they found him, teaching in the Temple and seemingly without any concern for their fears and anxiety. They questioned him, “Son, why have you done this to us?” Of course, he honestly expressed that he hadn’t done anything to them. He simply was preaching in his heavenly Father’s house and that seemed to be an adequate reason. He really just wanted them to trust him.

A strong family is built on trust: trust in each other and trust in God. Mary and Joseph had already shown how much they trusted each other and God by their willingness to give themselves over to the events from the Annunciation through the birth of Jesus in less then fine accommodations. Now, they were being asked to trust once more. Their relationship would continue to grow and even when Jesus had reached adulthood, the events at the wedding in Cana would show that he trusted his mother as well.

Every family finds bumps in the road as they grow and live in this world. The Holy Family was no exception. Families today need to trust in God and each other more than ever. At the recent World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, the struggles of families were highlighted several times. However, having been there and witnessed so many families committed to the process of building more loving and trusting households, I felt encouraged for the future. And as I look into our world I see so many beacons of hope in the midst of tragic stories of loss and betrayal. We are many years removed from the beginnings of Father Patrick Peyton’s Family Rosary Crusade in the 1940s, but it is still here in the form of Holy Cross Family Ministries. The slogan of “the family that prays together stays together” still has meaning today. Families now have new programs and aids to help them grow and stand strong, like the Families of Character program or media programming brought into your home through the online catechetical service Formed. At times it may seem harder today to raise a family, but God provides assistance in so many ways; hope needs to be the emotion of the day, not despair.

The Holy Family will always serve as an example of how to love, how to adapt to circumstances beyond our control, and how to trust one another. We need to never give up, even if we find ourselves in search of our lost loved ones for days at a time. Love never gives up.

And even though it seemed like days in that Target, it was only about fifteen minutes. That still is a very long time. But we found my son. He found his way to the front of the store. He knew we would be there soon, so he arrived at the other end of the cashiers and trusted all would be well. Yes, something much worse could have happened, and sometimes it does to people who love their kids as much as we do. But if it had been fifteen minutes, three days, or years, just as God will always do for us, we would have continued to look and continued to hope. We love each other too much to ever give up or compromise. To this day we remain unwilling to compromise. And no power shall come between us. We are family.

May the love of God that never gives up find you and your family, whether it be big or small, and provide you all with many blessings this Christmas season.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness, and our hope!
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning, and weeping
in this valley of tears!
Turn, then, O most gracious Advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us,
and after this, our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Traditional prayer said when praying the rosary with your family. (Thanks Fr. Peyton!)

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A Season of Joyful Hope

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

For Sunday, December 20, 2015, 4th Sunday of Advent

Painting of Jump For Joy-Mary and Elizabeth by Corby Eisbacher, https://www.etsy.com/shop/ArtByCorby.

The woman had a frantic look in her eye. Her hands were continually measuring out six-inch stretches of sheet on her hospital bed. She would glance at the clock. Then her eyes moved to the window and back to my face. “How can you be so calm?” she asked in a tight voice. I asked her how long she had been in the hospital. “Ever since Thanksgiving and they still can’t find the problem.” I took her hand. It was so cold. She started crying. “My Thanksgiving decorations are still up.” Her grip tightened. “I haven’t anything started for Christmas yet.” More tears. I put my arm around her and she sobbed. This grandma was inconsolable. From the number of cards around the room and the bouquet of roses on her stand, it was quite evident that she was loved for herself rather than the perfect Christmas she wanted to pull off. If she could only realize it.

That word “frantic” fits much of the activity in this last week before Christmas. There are even hints of it in Luke’s Gospel. “Mary set out and traveled… in haste” (emphasis added). Mary’s travel wasn’t because of a compulsion to pull off the perfect visit to her elderly cousin. Mary’s urgency was the deep and tremendous drive to share the greatest good news this earth has ever heard! The Messiah is coming! And then, the even more unbelievable news, God has chosen me to be his mother! Mary must have danced all the way from Nazareth to Ein Karem. Danced and sang! Smiled and skipped with joy! Laughter must have just bubbled out of her! Her traveling partners probably put their heads together and speculated that she was in love! Her sparkling eyes told it all.

Indeed Mary was in love! In love with a God who chose her to be the mother of his Son! A match made in heaven between a most perfect young maiden and God almighty. This is an event that legends are made of! Somehow, just somehow, Mary’s cousin, the barren Elizabeth, knew in her heart that this fireball of love was moving toward her. Was it woman’s intuition? In this case, it was probably strong waves of energy shooting across space. Elizabeth knew! And, the babe within her knew. Unborn John danced as he met his incarnated Savior! Wow! The energy flowing in this encounter was absolutely electric! Has the earth ever seen such joy bubbling up within humans?

Here we stand in front of this Gospel. The words are hitting our eardrums, but is the event, the message, hitting our hearts? Is the electricity of this relationship of four people pinging in our hearts? Yes, four people. The greatest who ever lived! Are we having a hard time keeping our joy from bursting out in spontaneous laughter?

Advent is a season of joyful hope. We celebrate the coming of our Savior. We are saved from all the troubles in our world. Every evening we look at the mess of trouble read to us on the news and can become morose. As true Christians we need to let the truth seep down between those rocks of seeming ugly reality. Our joy needs to crack those rocks of fear and sadness and creep up into our hearts and eyes. Joy can’t help but radiate from our faces!

We do believe in the Incarnation. We do believe in the paschal mystery. Life will always triumph over death! Yes, Lord, we believe this! Love will always win! Yes, Lord, we believe this! From the stable to the empty tomb, it is trust in God, all the way! Nothing is impossible with God! Rejoice in the Lord, always! Again, I say rejoice!

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.

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Shout for Joy

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

For Sunday, December 13, 2015, 3rd Sunday of Advent

Photo © Reuters. Pope Francis blesses children during his visit to the Central African Republic.

This weekend the church celebrates Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday. Our Advent themes of expectation and hope are quickly turning into the anticipated joy that meeting Christ will bring. Merriam-Webster defines joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” The Lord is near! Our first reading from the Prophet Zephaniah sets the stage so well! “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!” “The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear.” “The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior.”

We are called on this Gaudete Sunday to focus on what is soon to come, what will complete us and mend the wounds of our hearts. What we experience now is imperfect and incomplete. Inwardly, we know that there must be more, that there is a greater happiness to be achieved. The gift has come in Jesus Christ when he was born in time. And with his birth the words of the Prophet Isaiah found in today’s psalm find fulfillment: “Shout with exultation, O city of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” In Christ, God visits his people, shows us the way, and provides the path to joy.

On one occasion when addressing his disciples Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see” (Lk 10:23). This really summarizes our whole Advent journey. It is the task before us to ask God to help us, through this special time we have been given, to develop the “third eye” of contemplation so that we can see the truth. As we look upon the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, we do not witness an ordinary birth in time or the birth of another prophet. We witness and welcome, again, the Holy One of Israel and cry out with joy and gladness that he is among us! The incarnation of Christ is what shows us the divine in the secular, the holy in the mundane, the extraordinary in the common, the light in the darkness, the hope in the despair, and the joy in the sadness.

Recently, Pope Francis made a historic visit to the Central African Republic, which is the first time a pope has ever visited an active conflict zone. He exhorted those who listened to find their way to peace. As a leader and as a witness, Pope Francis exudes joy! You can see it and experience it in the fiber of his being. He is a living example that St. Paul’s words to the Philippians are possible to achieve: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.”

Pope Francis realizes and understands that true power is not earthly power. We have a King who has already come and who promises to come again who has a different vision of things than we sometimes do. This King brings good news. John the Baptist in today’s Gospel maps out this vision perfectly. “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” He told the tax collectors to “stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” And to the soldiers he said, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” God’s kingdom becomes realized when we are able to see the truth about Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and see that true power is found in finding our way to peace with one another. When we realize our proper goal, joy will come to our hearts!

All of our readings this weekend clearly draw us away from fear and to joy. So many things cause us to be anxious and fearful. Faith is a powerful thing. It casts out fear, dispels darkness, relieves anxiety, gives us focus, clarity, and direction, grounds, secures and assures us, and points us in the way we need to go. Our lives are complicated and ever changing. With our world struggling the way it is, what is one way today can be much different tomorrow? What we have come to depend upon today can be taken away tomorrow. Change is inevitable and change is not always positive. Given all of this the question directed toward us today is this: do we really believe that the King of Israel, the Lord, is in our midst?

Pope Francis does and he exudes great joy! He does not succumb to fear. The message of Advent is real and tangible. We affirm our faith in the God who came among us as Jesus in history. We affirm our faith in Jesus who was raised from the dead and is Christ with us. We look to Jesus the Christ to come again in glory. God is ever present through all times and ages calling us to trust and have no fear. If we can embrace this truth this Advent season and realize that we are called to live in solidarity with our sisters and brothers then “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Peace. Pope Francis called the Central African Republic to be at peace. Christ our savior calls us to be at peace. Rejoice, for we possess what we desire, God our savior!

Rev. Mark S. Suslenko

PRAYER

Your light will come, O Jerusalem.
The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.
We shall see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.
The sign of the cross shall appear in the heavens,
when our Lord shall come to judge the world.

Excerpted from A Prayer Book of Catholic Devotions.

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The Prophetic Voice

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

For Sunday, December 6, 2015, 2nd Sunday of Advent

Painted glass image of St. John the Baptist, Prophet of the Most High.

John the Baptist is one of the towering figures in the Advent drama. Following in the tradition of the prophets, he closes out the Old Testament and heralds the New with his cry: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

While our popular culture understands a prophet to be someone who predicts the future, the Bible presents the prophet as one who speaks the word of God by interpreting the signs of the time, often making us uncomfortable in the process.

Are there still prophets in our day? Are there still figures in our culture who speak a word to challenge our presuppositions and make us squirm?

Let me suggest a few persons who, while not prophets themselves, might help us to understand how they might have been perceived by the people of their day.

The first would be Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Her long, straggly hair might already give us an idea of the impression John the Baptist would have made in his camel hair garments. Because of her four marriages, her stand for traditional marriage has been criticized as hypocritical. However, Jesus chose the Samaritan woman to evangelize the people of Sychar even though she had been married five times and was living with a man who was not her husband. In the prophetic tradition, God chooses those whom the world considers weak and foolish to shame those who self-righteously assert that they are on “the right side of history” and who would judge anyone who disagrees with them to be “bigots.”

A second controversial figure is Donald Trump. His ongoing popularity despite making the most outrageous statements bewilders pundits and strategists alike. Journalists who are used to hobbling presidential campaigns by repeating a candidate’s unwise or untimely turns of phrase are at a loss to explain his appeal. Because of his power to draw viewers, no amount of protests can keep him off talk shows, news programs, or even late night comedy shows. No matter how we may judge his rhetoric or fear his populist demagoguery, there is no doubt that he has struck a nerve. Voters have grown tired of the measured phrases and focus-group-tested words commonly used by their politicians. At the same time, they have grown mistrustful of the media whom they judge to be more interested in politicizing events than presenting the facts. All this has combined to make Donald Trump the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination and to make the political establishment very uncomfortable.

And, I would offer a third figure, Bill Maher. This stand-up comedian turned political commentator makes no apologies for his contempt for religious belief. In his movie, Religulous, he claims that all religions are based on myth, are incompatible with science, and lead inevitably to conflict and war. Though his beliefs are based on mischaracterizations of faith and its relationship to reason and ignorance on how most Christians interpret the Bible, he does challenge people of faith who want to contribute to public policy to bring arguments to the debate based on reason and experience and not on faith and the Bible. And he challenges us to make our teaching relevant to a culture that embraces evolution and science as dogmatically as we embrace revelation and theology.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that every offensive or challenging word is prophetic or that prophets are incapable of comforting us as well. However, prophets were almost without exception all put to death because they unsettled those in authority or disrupted popular practices. We must also be aware that the prophetic word often issues forth from the most unlikely of mouthpieces. To hear God’s word, we must constantly put aside our biases and pay strict attention to those messages and messengers who irritate us. There might just be a word there from God that, if we embrace it, will fill in our valleys and make our crooked ways straight.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

In the lonely places
The wilderness
Where we stand forlorn
Windswept and alone
Your voice calls out
Prepare a way for the Lord
In the dark places
The shadows
Where we hide our fears
Embrace our tears
Your voice calls out
Prepare a way for the Lord

As the rising sun comes to us each dawn
Shine upon those who live in darkness
That all might know the joy of our salvation
The forgiveness of sins
And your great mercy

For the desert places in which we walk
The streets we roam
The paths we cross
Guide our feet
Take us to places
Where you would go
Give us words that you would use
That in this Advent season
Of promise and preparation
We might point the way with John the Baptist
To the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

Advent prayer taken from www.faithandworship.com/Advent/Advent_John_the_Baptist.htm (Creative Commons License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).

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