This Same God Is Our God

Posted on February 23, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, February 28, 2016, 3rd Sunday of Lent

Illustration of gravitational waves formed by black holes merging.

Recently, the scientific community was shaken by the news that a theory of Einstein, made almost a hundred years ago, was verified. Through the use of an ultra-sensitive telescope, Dr. Nergis Mavalvala and her team at MIT, proved that there has been a ripple in space-time. This phenomenon was produced by gravitational waves resulting from the collision of two black holes about 1.3 billion years ago.

It sounds like science fiction, but it isn’t. How amazing! The news media caught the excitement. We also caught it! Our universe is astoundingly huge and so very old! Our small minds can barely grasp it! Yet, it’s true. It’s real! Awe results!

That awe migrates to an awe of the Source of creation. Our God created this universe, which may be only one of many. Our God existed even before 1.3 billion years ago when there was nothing. Who is this God? What is this God? Mystery piles upon mystery!

Moses is tending sheep in the wilderness. He is nothing … doesn’t even tend his own flock, but the flock of his father-in-law. Suddenly he sees something. What is it? A bush that is burning but not burning! How can this be? Curiosity draws him nearer. In the movie, The Ten Commandments, this scene is tame. The bush shimmers. Scripture says it burned. Fire! It’s hot! It’s dangerous! Fire spreads and eats everything in its path. But this fire is different. It flames, but doesn’t consume. Moses doesn’t understand. But then a voice calls him by name. “Moses! Moses!” And he responds to this theophany, “Here I am.”

God identifies himself as a God of Moses’ family, the God of his ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These are names familiar to Moses. He hides his face in the presence of this God. He is given a commission. This God has heard his people’s cry. He will rescue them through Moses. He stands there, probably unable to take in all of this. Coming to his senses, he asks for the name of this God of his ancestors. A name describes the essence of a person—who one is, what one is—one’s mission. God names his essence. “I am who am.” “Tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.”

The great “I AM” who always was and always will be! The great “I AM” who created universes with gravitational waves rippling through them as black holes collided. The great “I AM” who exists in no time, before time was. This was the God of Moses. This same God is our God.

As time moved on from Moses, this God stepped into our small world to show us the covenant relationship he wishes to have with us. Jesus, the promised Messiah, came. Jesus lived like us, among us. Jesus taught us, so we could grow closer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and also Moses. Jesus came to bring the kingdom of that God to our earth, our tiny planet.

He taught in stories, knowing that we humans love to hear them. Some stories were meant to teach us hard lessons. In today’s parable, we are all like the fig tree. We are here to bear fruit through our lives. Bear fruit or perish, the parable says! The warning is severe. But then, enter the gardener, an image of Jesus himself. He tends us. He works our soil that we may grow. He feeds us, again, that we may grow and bear fruit. He gives us time to change our ways. This is the point Jesus emphasizes. We must repent and change our ways.

What is it in my life that is keeping me from bearing fruit? Have my roots shriveled up? Do they reach deeply into God, the soil of my life? Have I turned away from the sun, the true Son, and been caught up in darkness? What is the darkness in my life? Have I hardened myself so as not to receive the nourishing grace God offers?

It is still early in Lent. If I haven’t begun, can I and will I start now? With God being the great “I AM,” there is no time. Can I say, like Moses, “Here I am”? Can I take my shoes off in the presence of God who is everywhere? And can I trust that, like the gardener, God will work with me and give me all that I need to produce fruit?

Now! Now! It is the acceptable time!

Pat DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

God of faithfulness and expectation.
Bless these children of yours who seek to follow your ways.
Help them to see that your Son, Jesus the Christ,
came to live among us in the flesh,
as he struggled, like we do, with human weakness.
Give them strength as they fight against the forces of evil and selfishness,
so that they live for you and your church.
Give us the strength to journey with them
as they walk towards the baptismal font at the next Easter Vigil.
We ask all this in the name of God the Father,
God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

—Prayer for Catechumens, © LPi.

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Attentive to the Grandeur of God

Posted on February 16, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, February 21, 2016, 2nd Sunday of Lent

Photo of Transfiguration of Christ by Carl Bloch.

Oh, to be Peter, James, and John! In the company of others, they walked with Jesus, heard him teach, saw him heal and perform miracles, had dinner with him. Who wouldn’t want to have such everyday moments with the Lord? Then, in Sunday’s Gospel, we hear how they went up the mountain with Jesus, saw him transfigured before their eyes, and heard the voice of the Father. What it must have been like! No wonder Peter asked to build tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Who wouldn’t want to simply stay and soak it in?

Have you ever wished that God would suddenly appear to you, alleviating doubt, giving you direction, providing courage to live selflessly as a person of faith? Most of the time, knowing that God is with us is enough. We spend a little time in prayer, maybe occasionally read a passage from the Bible, or offer some time in service, and all seems fine. Then, something happens. An illness is detected, a family member is in crisis, a job is uncertain or is ended, and we suddenly wish God would simply appear and tell us what to do. Or, an unsettled feeling takes hold and we just cannot figure out how to shake it. The news is filled with stories of tension, violence, and suffering; we wonder how to respond. It is easy enough to say that God is with us, we might think to ourselves, yet far harder to live with faith during such challenging times.

The truth is, even after Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured in front of their very eyes and heard God’s voice, they still struggled, were uncertain, and turned away. It is unlikely that we would respond differently. Manifestations of God’s power and glory would quickly fade in our memories and we would be back to our routines, mundane and self-centered though they might be.

Perhaps we need to think about this in a different way. Like Peter, James, and John, we can walk with Jesus every day, especially in those moments when life is challenging and difficult. We may not physically hear the voice of the Father, but we do hear God’s voice in the words of sacred Scripture, especially during the Liturgy of the Word. Not only do we dine with the Lord at Mass, we receive his body and blood! In The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis encourages us to be open to an encounter, or a renewed encounter with the love of Christ, daily (EG, 3). Such encounters may not be as rare as we think. God is always with us. Christ offers us mercy, love, forgiveness; the Holy Spirit strengthens, guides, and gives us wisdom. All of these blessings are simply waiting to be accepted and lived out, much as the Father waited for the return of the prodigal son.

The difference in this way of thinking comes down to attentiveness. When we pay attention, we see God’s magnificence with our own eyes and hear God’s voice with our own ears. Through encounters with others and with all of creation, we are led to that encounter with God’s love that changes us. We may be drawn to reflect on God’s power and glory through scientific discoveries, such as the detection of gravitational waves by scientists this past week, a phenomenon that had been predicted by Albert Einstein but only confirmed through recent technological breakthroughs. Or, we may be inspired by the actions of others, like the Muslims who tweeted their plans to stand in solidarity with Christians this Lent. We may perceive God’s presence with us during prayer, be struck by the mystery of Christ’s love in the Eucharist, or be prompted to reach out to others in service through the witness of those who have done so in the past, or are doing so now—saints or saints-in-the-making. When we become attentive, life is transformed, transfigured. In the words of Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

Peter, James, and John encountered the transfigured Christ on the mountain. No doubt, that experience stayed with them long after Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. They glimpsed the grandeur of God, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, responded through their actions, as witnesses and servants who stood firm in the Lord. How will we respond to the transforming grace of God in our lives? How will our attitudes and actions be transfigured by the love of Christ? How will we share Christ’s mercy and compassion, as a reflection of that which has been shown to us? These are important things for us to consider this second week of Lent, and throughout our lives as Christian disciples.

Leisa Anslinger

PRAYER

Gracious and merciful God,
in whose presence and love we dwell,
open our hearts and minds to your love in our midst.
Lead us to encounter you through the beauty of creation
and the loving, just, and peaceful actions of others.
Then, aware of your being with and among us,
transform and strengthen us to share your love
as your sons and daughters, disciples of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
We pray through Christ, who is one with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
Amen.

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Temptations of the Election Cycle

Posted on February 9, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, February 14, 2016, 1st Sunday of Lent

Hand of a person casting a ballot at a polling station during voting.

It seems that all election cycles begin with voters bemoaning the lackluster candidates running for office. If this year’s candidates appear to be more mockable than ever, they are at least generating record turnout and voter interest.

Election years provide an opportunity to take the pulse of the nation. More than at any other time, our hopes and fears are on display. And with them, the temptations we are susceptible to as a country.

Just as Satan tempted Jesus to turn stones to bread, we are tempted to measure the health of our nation in economic terms. Jobs and business growth always top most lists of voter concerns. The current state of our economy is a mixed bag of a declining unemployment rate, lower gas prices, and rising real estate values alongside weak exports and a nosediving stock market. However, are leading economic indicators the only way to gauge our nation’s health? What does the growing scourge of heroin addiction have to say about how our young people view this country’s future? What does the increasing push to legalize euthanasia say about how we treat the sick and how our elderly citizens view their healthcare options? When we turn the focus to the poorest and most vulnerable among us, we avoid the temptation to measure progress in dollars and cents.

The other temptation we fall prey to is pitting one group of citizens against another. This tendency has created some of the most memorable clichés in recent history whether it be the vilification of the top one percent of wage earners or the rhetorical Wall Street/Main Street juxtaposition. We have divided the country into camps—Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, red state and blue state. Even within those same camps members argue about who is most conservative or most authentically progressive. Everyone must pick a side. Though we pay lip service to consensus and bipartisanship, in the end the political process is about one side imposing its agenda on the other. Rather than build a culture of solidarity, we are more fragmented than ever.

Finally, perhaps the greatest temptation of all is to be so disillusioned with politics that we not get involved at all. If we at least could manage some outrage at the state of politics in our country we might be able to start a meaningful reform movement, but most Americans are too indifferent to even show up to vote. It could be caused by distrust of the media. It could be that the hectic pace of modern life leaves no time to worry about anything other than family and work. Or it could be that people, for the sake of their sanity, cannot bear the rancor of political debate. However, the disengagement of so many voters has left a void that special interests are all too happy to fill while leaving ordinary citizens feeling increasingly powerless.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus gives us the antidote to these temptations: “It is written:
You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” When we worship God, we become better citizens. We put money at the service of people rather than people at the service of money. Motivated by love of neighbor, we do not consider those who view the world differently than we do as enemies but rather as sisters and brothers. Our political involvement becomes a response to Jesus’ call to service rather than a means of dominating others. And our conviction that true peace and justice will only be fully achieved in the world to come helps us to overcome the disillusionment and frustration of having to negotiate lesser evils and tolerate less than perfect solutions. All the while we insist on having the freedom to practice our faith not because we want to dominate others or impose an agenda on them but because we are convinced that it will make our country a better place that values every human life and gives everyone the opportunity to reach the American dream.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

O God, we acknowledge You today as Lord,
Not only of individuals, but of nations and governments.

We thank You for the privilege
Of being able to organize ourselves politically
And of knowing that political loyalty
Does not have to mean disloyalty to You.

We thank You for Your law,
Which our Founding Fathers acknowledged
And recognized as higher than any human law.
We thank You for the opportunity that this election year
puts before us,
To exercise our solemn duty not only to vote,
But to influence countless others to vote,
And to vote correctly.

Lord, we pray that Your people may be awakened.
Let them realize that while politics is not their
salvation,
Their response to You requires that they be politically
active.

Awaken Your people to know that they are not called to be
a sect fleeing the world
But rather a community of faith renewing the world.

Awaken them that the same hands lifted up to You in prayer
Are the hands that pull the lever in the voting booth;
That the same eyes that read Your Word
Are the eyes that read the names on the ballot,
And that they do not cease to be Christians
When they enter the voting booth.

Awaken Your people to a commitment to justice,
To the sanctity of marriage and the family,
To the dignity of each individual human life,
And to the truth that human rights begin when Human Lives
Begin,
And not one moment later.

Lord, we rejoice today
That we are citizens of Your kingdom.

May that make us all the more committed
To being faithful citizens on earth.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

—A Prayer for our Nation’s Election, from Catholic Online, http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=649

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The Cost of Discipleship

Posted on February 2, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, February 7, 2016, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Person carrying a cross on abstract background. Image © LPi.

Choosing to follow Jesus may on one hand appear to require a yes or no response. For some it boils down to simply a matter of belief. It could center on whether one believes that Jesus is, in fact, God, whether he really has shown us the way to eternal life, or whether the image of God he shows us is, in fact, true. In today’s Gospel, Simon, James, and John “left everything and followed him.” Why?

We get an indication that there must have been some apprehension in saying yes to this call because Jesus had to tell Simon directly, “Do not be afraid.” They knew it was Jesus so this apprehension could not have come from a doubt of faith. They saw the risen Lord himself so they knew that what he said about rising from the dead is true. And during their time with Jesus they were enamored by the way Jesus spoke of his Father and the mercy, compassion, and forgiveness God desired to shower upon all his people. Why the hesitation?

I suspect that they realized that saying yes came with a price. This price is what has always been known as the “cost” of discipleship. It is all well and good to walk through life with an “oh what a friend I have in Jesus” approach to our faith as if Jesus in rewarding our good behavior will shower all these blessings upon us. It’s nice to think that way just as it is nice to think about Santa Claus and the North Pole when Christmas rolls around each year. Each contains a certain amount of truth but misses the bigger picture.

These disciples were asked to go out into unknown places to preach the good news. They didn’t know what they were going to find and they were afraid! They had to leave the safe and familiar and go. The world was much simpler then too. In spite of the fear generated by the intolerant leadership of the day and the unsettled defensiveness from challenged priorities, there was also a greater ease in encountering the “stranger,” especially a stranger to the good news.

Our world today is tricky. We as contemporary disciples are called to realize that following Jesus requires more than just an affirmation of who Jesus is and what he has done. We need to consider, very carefully, the cost. For many, contemporary life is producing an increase in what we can call “common daily fears and anxieties.” As an example, consider this reflection regarding residents of New York City and the new type of violence many are facing. These latest “slashings” and other forms of terrorism are putting people on edge, causing them to look over their shoulders, become more self-protective, trust less, feel less at home in the world, and change the way they see their relationships. To the Christian, a true follower of Jesus, we are all brothers and sisters. Where does this leave discipleship? For many, the potential cost may be too high and Jesus’ words of reassurance to not be afraid may not be enough.

The world is rapidly changing. We see this every day with the volatility of our world economies, the instability of stock markets, the rise and fall of oil prices, employment instability, and the rise of terrorism throughout the world. Even technology is changing the way we conduct our personal affairs, do business, and perform our tasks at work. It is even redefining the words “job” and “work”! Change is in the air and this already produces an unsettled feeling of anxiety and apprehension. Add to this the real possibility that my life can change at any moment. We now have a situation a bit different than the one Simon, James, and John were looking at when they got out of their boat! Maybe Zebedee was the lucky one here … he got left behind! Now, while in many ways we can probably all agree that this is true, we also must acknowledge that, while radically different, the “cost of discipleship” is essentially the same. Their fears are essentially our fears … it’s essentially the same church, just a different pew!

But all of this is really nothing new. Our first reading from Isaiah this weekend speaks of his call. Do you think he simply proceeded into the unknown without fear or hesitation? I think not. But in the end, who is going to do the job? Who is going to go? Isaiah listened to something other than his fears and reservations. He listened to the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am; send me!” Have you ever felt the urge to respond to a situation and found yourself questioning whether you “should” do so? There is a voice beyond our fears and our self-concern. Do we listen to it?

Sometimes this voice beckons us in a surprisingly radical way. There was a principal of a school in Indiana who sacrificed her own life to save the children under her care. I am certain that she did not rise that morning knowing that this heroic act would be asked of her that day. She did not need to respond the way she did; that came from a different place. Do we listen to that voice when we get on the subway, walk into a building, drop our kids off at school, board an airplane, go to the supermarket, participate in a marathon, or go to work? Or do we listen to the voice of fear?

Psalm 138, which is presented to us this week, and the one immediately following (139) provide us with the proper seedbed for increasing and obtaining the trust we need in God. In this way we can find the strength to pay whatever cost discipleship asks of us and the peace that allows us to embrace those tasks with joy. St. Paul does a marvelous job, as he does again this weekend, when he addresses the Corinthians; he shows us that all that Christ said and did is true! He has an incredible gift, inspired only by the Holy Spirit, of making concrete and understandable those things that are really beyond our comprehension.

Lent begins next week. Maybe pondering the cost of discipleship, the presence of fear and anxiety in our hearts, what concerns us most, what we truly believe to be important, the simple things we can do to tear down walls that divide, ways to find peace in this world God has given to all of us, and whether we are really ready to follow and become fishers of people are some possibilities for our Lenten discipline. The world is changing. We are changing. God never changes. And, as St. Paul tells us: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.” You are reading this reflection because in one way or another you have been touched by God and have made the decision to follow him. Now, trust that decision and the God behind it and go!

Rev. Mark S. Suslenko

PRAYER

Almighty and Everlasting God,
You have given the human race
Jesus Christ our Savior as a model of humility.
He fulfilled Your Will by becoming Man
And giving His life on the Cross.
Help us to bear witness to You
By following His example of suffering
And make us worthy to share in His Resurrection.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son.
Amen.

—A Prayer for Lent

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