It Is Not Naïve to Believe in Love

Posted on January 26, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, January 31, 2016, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Photo of Michaelangelo’s Pietà.

There are a few books that can make you tear up every time you read them. One such book is Love You Forever, a children’s book written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Sheila McGraw. It was first released in 1986 and since then has sold over sixteen million copies in English alone. It is the gentle tale of the power of love between a mother and her son. It stands as a testament to the fact that true love lasts forever and that those who experience that true love learn how to pass it on to others.

(Sorry, I can’t tell you the whole story. If you haven’t read it before, do yourself a favor: buy it or borrow it and read it. It does not matter your age, gender, or if you have children of your own. You are a human being created by God and that is all you need to “get it.”)

What does true love look like? If we look around, we can see many examples. It looks like a mother holding her baby and rocking him to sleep when he is sick and now a teenager. It is a man who looks at his wife more fondly now after twenty-five years of marriage than he did when they were first married. It looks like a woman consoling her dear friend after receiving the word that she has cancer.

You can turn on your television right now and see all the hate and despair in the world, packaged for your consumption in little two- to three-minute packages. But the truth is that love is always more powerful than hate and that love is on display all around us, all of the time. You just have to open your eyes.

Love is on display in those who have given their lives to God and service through ordination and the consecrated life. February 2 marks the end of a year dedicated to those in consecrated life. Those whom God has called to such a commitment show us how love can take over our lives and transform us.

Love can be seen in the many faces of those devoted to Catholic education, and through their sacrifice and devotion. This coming week is Catholic Schools Week, a time to highlight not only the commitment the Church has made to quality education, but also the men and women who have given so much to generations of Catholic and non-Catholic students. Recently, after almost forty years, I heard from my first grade teacher at Queen of Apostles Catholic School in Alexandria, VA. She asked if I remembered her. Of course I did! She made a huge impact on my life, for what she gave me was more than math and reading, she gave me her love.

Love was seen in the sacrifice of the thousands that braved the snowstorms of the East Coast to attend the March for Life in Washington, DC. You probably have seen by now the photos of buses and vans stuck on highways in and out of the nation’s capital. Especially powerful are the photos and videos in social media of priests from Des Moines and Sioux City, Iowa celebrating Mass on an altar made of snow with busloads of people. It was a moment where those who traveled to bring a message of love were able to, in the face of trial, celebrate the most pure example of love, Jesus.

In the end, Jesus is the source of all love and the power by which all these examples and many more are able to bring love into a world that so desperately needs it. Paul’s treatise on love to the Corinthians can too easily become a sentimental list of notions reserved primarily for refrigerators and wedding ceremonies. But it is more than that. It tells us about a force that never fails. When it appears all hope is lost, love finds a way.

It is maturity that allows one to see the triumph of love. Paul speaks about how this talk of love is not that of children. It is not naïve to believe in love. When one matures and puts away those things of childhood, love remains and now can be seen in its entire splendor. There will always be those who think they are wise or mature by seeing love as fleeting and life simply as trial. They will claim love in the manner that Paul speaks about is ridiculous. Profoundly, they are correct. The love we can experience, talked about by Paul and exemplified in our savior, Jesus Christ, is folly to this world. But maturity allows one to risk, seeing with the eyes of the divine instead of those merely human. And when we look at the world this way, not only is love all around, in its many forms it is almost unbelievable.

May your God hold and keep you, especially during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, and sing to you when shadows have fallen and you need him the most:
“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always,
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be.”

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

Too late have I loved you,
O Beauty so ancient,
O Beauty so new.
Too late have I loved you!
You were within me but I was outside myself,
and there I sought you!
In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made.
You were with me,
and I was not with you.
The things you have made kept me from you,
the things which would have no being
unless they existed in you!
You have called,
you have cried,
and you have pierced my deafness.
You have radiated forth,
you have shined out brightly,
and you have dispelled my blindness.
You have sent forth your fragrance,
and I have breathed it in,
and I long for you.
I have tasted you,
and I hunger and thirst for you.
You have touched me,
and I ardently desire your peace.

—Excerpt from the Confessions of St. Augustine.

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Belief Marked by Ritual

Posted on January 19, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, January 24, 2016, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus proclaiming in the synagogue, from The Life of Jesus Christ Bible Videos © www.lds.org.

The online Oxford Dictionaries defines ritual as “a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.” Merriam-Webster broadens the definition even more to “a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place and performed according to a set sequence.”

So why are we looking at that particular word in early January? When we hear that word ritual, church pops automatically into mind. Religious stuff! But this past week we Americans saw two rituals in the secular media. The State of the Union address is definitely ritualistic! You may have missed the second event. It was the announcement of the nominees for this year’s Academy Awards.

In the State of the Union address, every move can be predicted, from the initial announcement of the Speaker of the House—“the President of the United States”—through the speech itself with applause and standing ovations to the final sound of the Speaker’s gavel as the president leaves. This is an important event. Nothing is left to chance. It is ritualized.

The second instance, the announcement for potential Academy Award winners, though not as momentous, was equally ritualistic. The order of the categories as well as the alternation of the male and female announcers mimicked the real event. It, too, was ritualized.

So why are rituals used? When we experience them, they seem to be used to emphasize and house events that are of great or significant importance!

Today’s first reading and Gospel are both wrapped in ritual thus emphasizing their significance. The chosen people are returning home from a generation of living in foreign slavery. This solemn ritual was meant to remind them of who they are, who their God is, and that they have a solemn covenant with God. They are bound to God through God’s sacred law! They needed to hear the words of the law with the greatest solemnity! It will form them again as God’s chosen people.

As Jesus reads from the Isaian scroll, the ritual seems lighter than the reading of the law by Ezra, the priest. But is it? Not much ritual here, but great significance! Jesus, himself, chose the passage. It is the culmination of a much longer process than unrolling a scroll and searching for particular words. Luke places this event at the beginning of his good news! Chronologically, Jesus has been baptized and confirmed with the words from his God and Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

What a powerful, transcendent event for him! He takes forty days to digest that message and what it may mean for him and his future. That desert time was a time for Jesus to chew on and integrate those words into his very being. Jesus moves from his desert transition time with a firm step. He walks back to his starting point … the synagogue in his home town in Galilee. He knows he is chosen as the beloved Son. What that means is clearly outlined by the prophet Isaiah. He is to “bring glad tidings to the poor … liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” He is “to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” This is his mission. It is of the utmost significance and is thus wrapped in the ritual of the synagogue. Jesus’ mission is clear. He proclaims it in a public ritual!

All of us as Christians are disciples of Jesus. To come to the Father, we go through Jesus, being his flesh and blood on this earth now. Can we imitate this series of powerful events in his life? At our baptism each of us was chosen as a beloved son or daughter of God. And God is well pleased with us. As we live our lives, we learn in our desert experiences what that means for us. That knowledge comes to us little by little as we chew on it and integrate it into our lives. We hear God whisper in our hearts, “bring good news” to your down-and-out friend who is having problems, financial, marital, or personal. Tell him you care and are there to help. Assist your addicted relative to break through her captivity. Again, say that you care and are there to help, no matter how often she falls. Spend time with someone who is struggling with his path in life. Let him talk it through with you, hopefully to see the way. Every time we say, “I’m here for you,” we are publicly proclaiming that we are disciples of Jesus. We are choosing to walk his way.

These are significant decisions and ways of acting. Do we have a ritual to enwrap them? Actually, if we think about it, every weekend liturgy does that. When we proclaim our beliefs in the creed, we are saying that we choose to walk the path of a disciple of Jesus. We are not only beloved of the Father, but are filled with the Spirit and walk in the footsteps of Jesus according to our beliefs expressed through his church.

May we grow in awareness of who we are and what it means to be the beloved of the Father. May we have the courage that Jesus had and proclaim it in our lives! May we endorse the significance of this by a heartfelt proclamation of our creed, our belief.

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

O God, throughout the ages
you have called women and men to pursue lives of perfect charity
through the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
During this Year of Consecrated Life, we give you thanks
for these courageous witnesses of Faith and models of inspiration.
Their pursuit of holy lives teaches us
to make a more perfect offering of ourselves to you.
Continue to enrich your Church by calling forth sons and daughters who,
having found the pearl of great price,
treasure the Kingdom of Heaven above all things.
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.

Amen.

—Prayer for the Year of Consecrated Life © 2014, USCCB.

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Filling the Water Jars

Posted on January 12, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, January 17, 2016, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Heap of many terracotta clay pots

The Second Sunday of Ordinary Time presents us with the wedding miracle at Cana in John’s Gospel, continuing to center on the manifestation of the Lord, which was celebrated on the solemnity of the Epiphany. The feast of the Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord, and the wedding miracle at Cana all clearly show us that Jesus is, in fact, the Son of God. The fact that divine power flows through Jesus, blessing humanity with God’s presence and acceptance, is paramount in all three of these celebrations.

God blesses humanity. This is really the point of the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh. God is not apart from human beings but one with them. This is an awesome point to ponder. God does not necessarily come through extraordinary or “beyond” human experiences but in the very stuff of life. He blesses us with his accepting presence and uses all that is authentically human to show us his divine love.

Our first reading from the prophet Isaiah really hits the point home! Isaiah speaks of God’s relationship with his people using the language of endearment, tenderness, and love. Isaiah tells us: “No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land ‘Espoused.’ For the LORD delights in you and makes your land his spouse… so shall your God rejoice in you.” What beautiful imagery is used to describe God’s relationship with us! This tender, caretaking, loving, and embracing God wants to show us something special about our human selves that may go unnoticed to our naked eyes. Using the eyes of faith, humanity bursts forth with divine life! All of those promptings toward life, love, joy, peace, hope, forgiveness, union, compassion, tenderness, and such are God trying to convince us that we are his delight! We are meant to rest in him.

I read a brief, almost unnoticed, article this past week about Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing an order requiring communities throughout the state of New York to take homeless people from the streets to shelters when temperatures reach freezing. In pondering this gesture, one can wonder if the homeless know that God rejoices in them. When starving, cold, empty, lonely, hurting, feeling forsaken and desolate does an individual think that anyone, let alone God, delights in him or her? The situation of homelessness throughout the world is a complicated one. Sadly, many truly believe that the problem would really correct itself if they only found a job.

One thing many don’t realize is that many homeless people do work! The work they can find and the work that they do certainly pays them an income but it is not sufficient to cover the cost of living effectively. Do we really believe the myth that a minimum wage job will provide an individual with housing? (For a more detailed analysis of this issue see: www.attn.com/stories/4920/united-states-minimum-wage-and-rent.)

Add to this problem issues with alcohol and drug addiction, mental illness, depression, lack of resources and support, and the “problem of homelessness” doesn’t look so simple anymore. But who is going to tell these folks that God delights in them? That is the task of folks like you and I who know and believe that God delights in all of his children! And, guess what? Here is the other best kept secret! The Incarnation tells us that as divine power and love flows through and out of Jesus it also can flow through and out of all of us! We need to roll up our sleeves and walk with the homeless for a while and share, not judge, their story! God shares all of our stories and does not judge.

But what can I do? What gifts do I have to share? St. Paul answers that very question for the Corinthian community in what is part of a very long response he gives to their questions. He tells us, “To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.” The Spirit is given to each individual. St. Paul does not say “some”! What gifts has the Spirit given you? And, the greater question to be asked is: how can you use those gifts to show all of God’s children that God delights in them and rejoices in them? No one person can resolve the situation of homelessness in our world. But if the issue can find its way on the agenda of every church in the world, we could certainly find ways to at least chip away at it!

We need to ensure that people’s needs are met before Psalm 96 can be found on the lips of all God’s children. “Sing to the LORD a new song… Sing to the LORD; bless his name… The LORD is king. He governs the peoples with equity.” When people are in pain, the pain robs them of their ability to see anything other than what has their attention. When a person is cold, one searches for warmth. When a person is hungry, one searches for food. People are not dispensable and everyone is worthy of the dignity given to them by God… it is their right.

Jesus could have ignored his mother’s intervention regarding the need for wine. “Woman, how does your concern affect me?” But he did not. Jesus did not allow the guests to go without and he took something ordinary and simple and made it into something extraordinary and beautiful—just like he does with each human soul and all God creates! But he asks for our cooperation because that is how the Spirit works. As we are told by St. Paul: “there are different forms of service but the same Lord.” Jesus needed people to fill the water jars and he needed servers to distribute the water made wine.

Not much has changed since that day and the desire and the request are the same. Jesus wishes to share God’s delight with all of his children in whatever way is necessary using whomever wishes to come forward and help. He needs some to fill the jars and others to distribute what is in them. We all have a part to play, even if it is being the one to request (or pray) for intervention. For many, life is too cold and it is too hard. It is not always their fault and there is no reason to condemn to a life on the street or a life without shelter. This is not God’s desire and it does not need to be… not here, not anywhere.

If life ever affords you the opportunity to truly look a person who is desolate or homeless in the eye, remember what you see. You will see the same thing you see when you look in your mirror. And if you see the same thing when you look at and receive the Eucharist in your parish, then you will know you are espoused and that we are connected with one another and with God in a most incredible way.

Rev. Mark S. Suslenko

PRAYER

God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
may you give to all Christians,
and especially to those entrusted with leadership in your Church,
the spirit of wisdom and revelation,
so that with the eyes of our hearts
we may see the hope to which you have called us:
one body and one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
one God and Father of all,
who is above and through all and in all.

Amen.

—Prayer for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute, www.geii.org.

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Grace Awakens

Posted on January 5, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, January 10, 2016, The Baptism of the Lord

Star Wars commemorative postage stamp printed in UK with Darth Vader character, circa 2015. © catwalker / Shutterstock.com.

The latest installment in one of Hollywood’s most successful movie franchises, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, became the fastest to reach one billion dollars in ticket sales.

Though it takes place in a galaxy far, far away, one of the key characters of the Star Wars saga, Darth Vader, is a very modern American fictional character, being named by the American Film Institute in 2003 as the third greatest villain in movie history.

In the previous three movies of the series (commonly referred to as the “prequel trilogy”), we are introduced to Darth Vader as the young Anakin Skywalker, an energetic child with whom “the Force is strong.” As events unfold, fear and anger draw him into the dark side of the Force. His ambition to rule the galaxy leads to a violent confrontation with his teacher, Obi-Wan Kenobi, who leaves him for dead at the side of a volcano. When his maimed and burned body are fitted with the black mask and cloak we are all familiar with, his transformation into Darth Vader is complete.

Why seemingly good people become evil is a frequent theme of popular American culture. Often, the answer is that events beyond their control warped them. They may have been bullied as children or may not have received enough attention from their families. Perhaps they were adversely influenced by the high level of crime in their neighborhood. In the past, villains created the conflict that drove the plot and lead the audience to cheer their eventual demise. Nowadays, villains are sympathetic figures, victims of forces beyond their control, whether it be the teacher in the hit television series Breaking Bad, who turns to cooking methamphetamine to pay for his cancer treatment or the wicked witch in the Broadway play Wicked, who turns out to really be a good witch who is demonized by the Wizard of Oz to protect his power.

This outlook on good and evil also plays itself out in our courts and media coverage. A recent example is the teenager who claimed that his upbringing in a wealthy home made him unable to discern right from wrong, which came to be called the “affluenza” defense. When mass shootings occur, gun control laws come under scrutiny, and when terrorist acts occur we ask how young Muslims become “radicalized.”  Whether it is failed schools, inadequate laws, or the economy, we want to blame everyone except those who actually commit the crimes. As we see it, people are basically good. If they do bad things, it must be because of circumstances beyond their control.

How different is the Christian doctrine of original sin! Simply put, we are born guilty and in need of forgiveness. We do not start off good and innocent and then are influenced later to do evil. Rather, we are already inclined to selfishness before we take a breath. We do not “break bad” but are born broken and in need of healing. That healing comes to us through the sacrament of baptism.

This Sunday we bring the Christmas season to a close with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The one man born good, Jesus Christ, submits to baptism to make it a source of healing for us who are born bad. Just as he suffered death so that we could have life, he enters the Jordan River to charge the waters of baptism with power to forgive and sanctify.

That sanctifying power is already at work in us through faith. However, we must repent, choosing every day to calibrate our thoughts, words, and actions to the kingdom of God breaking into human history in the person of Jesus Christ. We must take responsibility for our sinful choices and repair the evil we have done, rather than considering ourselves victims entitled to compensation for our suffering. Then we can treat those who choose evil as well as their victims with genuine healing mercy and empathize with them not because we want to excuse their behavior but because we see in our own hearts the wounds of a broken world. When we do so, grace will awaken.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

By God’s gift, through water and the Holy Spirit,
we are reborn to everlasting life.
In his goodness, may he continue to pour out his blessings
upon these sons and daughters of his.
May he make them always, wherever they may be,
faithful members of his holy people.
May he send his peace upon all who are gathered here,
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
—Blessing from the Rite of Baptism.

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