A Foundation of Faith, Hope, and Love

Posted on May 31, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, June 5, 2016, 10th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Black pebble with engraved message "love, faith, hope."Our readings this weekend put faith on center stage. As one of the theological virtues, faith is a gift given to us by God along with hope and love. Working together with hope and love, faith puts our lives and relationships in proper order and orients us toward Truth. I recently found myself moved by a YouTube video I stumbled upon entitled: “Young Man Battles Cancer With A Smile.”  The young, twenty-seven-year-old father featured in the video is certainly a person who has opened himself to his relationship with God, receiving all of the blessings and gifts these virtues can bring.

This young dying father is not afraid of death and is grateful to God for the blessing to live every day in peace with an appreciation for the present moment. He remarks that he gets to spend every day with people he loves and that he is inspired to try to help people, confident that the Lord has big plans for his little baby girl. We so often see death as the enemy and allow its sting to bring us into bitterness and resentment rather than allowing death to transform us and put things into perspective. The widow in our first reading from the Book of Kings exemplifies this. Her journey with her son leads her from a place of doubt to a place of faith.

In his encyclical Spe Salvi Pope Benedict remarks that “the one who has hope lives differently.” How true those words are! The young father in the video has the faith to look two seemingly opposing things square in the eye … his impending death on one hand and his baby’s smiling face on the other … and still find peace. Underneath all that is happening to him is the foundation built of faith, hope, and love upon which he sits.

We get disappointed because we want God to fix things our way. A person without a strong faith can easily look at this young father with cancer as proof that God does not exist. After all, why would a loving God allow such a thing to happen? To many, it is inconceivable that God does not heal all ills, wipe away all tears, and correct all injustices. This “surface” approach to faith fails to see the deeper mystery that undergirds all things and the deeper truth about who we are.

There is an ironic twist to life, especially to a life of faith. When we become less concerned about ourselves, we actually find our true selves. When the center of our focus shifts from a narcissistic glance to a perspective that is “other focused,” things change and doors open. The widow from Nain in today’s Gospel never requested a healing or intervention from Jesus. Jesus entered her life and was moved with pity. The miracle that resulted was done at his request not the widow’s.

At the basis of discovering the first theological virtue, faith, is the realization and trust that God always has our best interest in mind. He knows our needs better than we do and can see the larger picture of life in a way that far exceeds ours. Once we let go of our need to cling to ourselves, we begin to see these miracles happen. We discover the right words to say in a situation where we may be at a loss; we may find ourselves crossing someone’s path and feel moved to reach out to them; a wise decision may come forth from our lips in spontaneous fashion or we may instinctively know which decision is best. These are just small ways in which we can see that we are being led to something greater just like the young father who realizes that life will soon ask that he, his wife, and his baby daughter now travel down different-though linked-paths.

It is important to truly love another human being. Unless we do so we will never escape the trap of self-focus. Yes, loving brings pain but it also brings a sense of joy and fulfillment found in no other place. Spiritual master Richard Rohr often speaks of the need to lose yourself and even speaks of parents having children as a way of outgrowing their “youthful narcissism.” The key to true happiness is locating your center outside of yourself. Our young father did precisely this. Rohr states: “The more you become yourself, the more capable you are of not overprotecting your false boundaries. After all, you really have nothing to protect. That’s the great freedom and the great happiness of truly converted people. There’s no longer a little self here to fuss over or pander to. The little self which you thought you were has passed away.”

St. Paul knew this well too. His Letter to the Galatians this weekend is a beautiful passage describing his own coming to faith. Paul could have continued to be self-focused and pursuing his selfish ambitions but he did not. His journey brought him from persecution to belief. He knew that his decision would involve living with suffering, not avoiding it. Faith, hope, and love brought him not only deeper into life’s difficulties and heartaches but into its glory as well.

Faith and confidence go hand in hand. Leaving the familiar and venturing into the unknown is always scary. Even our psalmist this weekend realizes that suffering and despair are never the end for the person of faith. “Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me; O LORD, be my helper. You changed my mourning into dancing; O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.”

Now, take a moment to look at your life. Consider your joys, your struggles, your sorrows, and your fears. Do you really believe that God has your best interest in mind and will help you achieve what is best for you? Once we realize that we are not the center of gravity and that our true center is really found outside of ourselves, then we will no longer feel compelled to pray for what we think we need or want. We will realize that prayer is about deepening a relationship with God, receiving and being surprised by God’s three special gifts of faith, hope, and love, and meeting what life brings each day. There is always life; there is no death.

Rev. Mark S. Suslenko

PRAYER

O my God, I firmly believe
that you are one God in three divine Persons,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I believe that your divine Son became man
and died for our sins and that he will come
to judge the living and the dead.
I believe these and all the truths
which the Holy Catholic Church teaches
because you have revealed them
who are eternal truth and wisdom,
who can neither deceive nor be deceived.
In this faith I intend to live and die.
Amen.

—Act of Faith from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, © Copyright 2005 Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

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Where the World Ends and Heaven Begins

Posted on May 24, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, May 29, 2016, Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Angel at the border of heaven and earth.

Panis Angelicus fit panis hominum.
(May the bread of Angels become bread for mankind.)

This world is not always the easiest place to live. Few would mistake our earthly existence for heaven. Yet, we live in hope of heaven because God crashed into human history through the Incarnation, Jesus Christ, who redeemed this fallen world by his death and resurrection. Feeding our hope even more is that Jesus chose to remain present to us in this world in a very real way through the holy Eucharist. At the altar, we see where this world ends and heaven begins.

There has been an increased emphasis in US parishes and dioceses on the holy Eucharist in recent years. Adoration chapels, eucharistic adoration among the young and old, and Holy Hours seem to be more common than they were just a decade ago. As we seek greater assistance in living within this world, we are looking more and more to this food of the angels spoken about eloquently by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Panis Angelicus. Our presence at the Mass, our reception of his body and blood, and our time spent in resting in his presence are all ways we bridge our own world with heaven and receive sustenance for our earthly journey.

Even with this reality, many of us have fallen into a type of apathy toward the holy Eucharist. We watch television shows about the supernatural, are intrigued by stories of apparitions and visions, and do lay research on life after death, yet when we come face-to-face with the real presence of Jesus Christ we can seem distracted and even unaware. The greatest miracle can be witnessed every day on the altars of churches all over the world, yet when Jesus’ face seems to appear on a piece of toast, that’s when we take notice. Many of us in the Church have become complacent and too comfortable and fail to truly notice when heaven actually breaks into our everyday reality.

During a recent presentation, I was questioned about my use of the word radical when describing the life that we are called to by Jesus Christ. In today’s world, the word has such a negative connotation. We speak of those who have been radicalized as preaching hatred, distorting religious doctrine, and turning to terrorism. Those who seek to bring something other than love into the world have hijacked the word and concept.

However, no one can deny that Jesus was pretty radical. He sought to break apart the status quo and bring discomfort to those who had become all too comfortable in their own interpretation of God’s law. Jesus’ passion and resurrection as redemption for all creation can only be seen as a movement of radical love. Furthermore, the reality of Jesus being present to us in the appearances of simple bread and wine is certainly outside of the confines of logic and common sense. We are disciples of the One who gave meaning to the word radical.

Have many of us in the Church become too comfortable and too mainstream? Have we allowed others to monopolize the idea of what it is to be countercultural, subversive, and even radical, because we have been anything but these things? Pope Francis would perhaps say, “yes!” He is a pope that is anything but a reflection of the status quo. His actions and words have confronted and challenged us all. Are we not called to more than that which makes us comfortable? When the Church canonizes Blessed Mother Teresa later this year, she will hold up for us all an example of true radical faith. The Jesus in her constantly sought to minister to the Jesus in the poor and forsaken. She would say, “One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.” Should her example of radical discipleship not call us all out of our apathy toward a greater empathy for the children of God?

On this solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, it is time to awake from our slumber as church and reclaim our role as disrupter of the status quo and mainstream. We need to bring love into the world’s landscape with a much greater intensity than those who bring hate. We need to bring healing and comfort where others bring pain and death.

The Bread of Life will be our nourishment for this task at hand. Let us stand in awe at the altar and then rush forward to receive him, instead of slowly strolling toward our Redeemer as if we were asleep. Let us not remain complacent, but instead allow this gift from heaven to stir our hearts. When we look at the holy Eucharist, let Jesus ask us each and every time, “Who do you say that I am?”

If enough of us allow this food of the angels to change us, then the world will really see something radical. They will see a little heaven on earth.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

Panis angelicus
fit panis hominum;
dat panis caelicus
figuris terminum:

O res mirabilis:
manducat Dominum
pauper, servus et humilis.

Te trina Deitas
unaque poscimus:
sic nos tu visita,
sicut te colimus;
per tuas semitas
duc nos quo tendimus,
Ad lucem quam inhabitas.
Amen.

From Sacris Solemniis by St. Thomas Aquinas

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Claiming the Holy Trinity

Posted on May 17, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, May 22, 2016, Most Holy Trinity

Detail of painting of the Trinity.

The day after Pentecost Sunday, we re-entered the “green days” of ordinary time. These are the days, weeks, and months when we are given a breathing space to allow the seeds of faith planted within us during our celebrations of Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost to begin to take root and grow within us, enriching our lives and allowing us to be transformed by the mysteries we celebrated. In this sense, these days are, in fact, extraordinary time—a time to reflect, remember, and to renew our commitment to live as disciples of the Risen Lord.

Of course, on Pentecost Sunday we recalled how the Holy Spirit came to Mary, the apostles, and the holy women in the upper room (cf. Acts 1:13-14). But part of the wonder of that first Pentecost was the unity—the communion—created by the Holy Spirit, who brought those faith-filled women and men together as the church. This was symbolized by the fact that diverse people from different lands, who spoke different languages, heard those first Christians speaking in a language that everyone was able to understand. The Holy Spirit had empowered the church to praise God and proclaim the good news with one voice! Individuals who had been isolated by their own fear and uncertainty had entered into a new relationship with one another, drawn together by nothing less than the power of God.

This Pentecost-wonder carried through into our ordinary time celebration of the Most Holy Trinity. It’s almost as if the church brought together, in a single solemn feast, the creative, saving, and sanctifying work that we celebrate in all the other great feasts of the church year. But Trinity Sunday also gives us a chance to recall that the God whom we adore is “one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity” (from The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 266).

This truth about God invites us to consider how all of our relationships are reflections of that unique and dynamic relationship that exists within God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And the great gift for us is that we are constantly being invited to be part of that relationship, to live in the love of God.

Reflecting on this, the spiritual writer Henri Nouwen wrote that he was convinced that “most human suffering comes from broken relationships. Anger, jealousy, resentment, and feelings of rejection all find their source in conflict between people who yearn for unity, community, and a deep sense of belonging. By claiming the Holy Trinity as home for our relational lives, we claim the truth that God gives us what we most desire and offers us the grace to forgive each other for not being perfect in love” (Behold the Beauty of the Lord).

It is this “claiming the Holy Trinity” that Saint Paul spoke of in his Letter to the Romans: “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand … because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (5:1b-2, 5).

All of this having been said, we have to accept that human language fails us when we try to describe or explain the nature of the Trinity or how we share in that divine relationship. It is the dynamic life and love of the Trinity itself, and our experience of the Trinity—that “claiming the Holy Trinity”—that makes it real for us.

In the end, our celebration of the Most Holy Trinity is an invitation for us to continue to move beyond our selves. The feast reminds us of the powerful ways that God remains at work in the world: in the ongoing act of creation, in the perduring gifts of healing and redemption, and the life-giving Spirit that inspires faith, hope, and love. This is something extraordinary to remember and celebrate each and every day of ordinary time.

Silas S. Henderson, MTS

PRAYER

O most Holy Trinity—
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—
I adore thee profoundly.
I offer thee the most Precious Body, Blood,
Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ—
present in all the tabernacles of the world—
in reparation for the outrages, sacrileges,
and indifference by which He is offended.
By the infinite merits of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
and the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I beg the conversion of poor sinners.

The angel of Fatima’s prayer to the Most Holy Trinity.

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Wind and Fire

Posted on May 10, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, May 15, 2016, Pentecost Sunday

http://go.4lpi.com/rs/418-VMI-344/images/MR_May15.jpg

The house shook! Doors slammed! Curtains billowed! The winds screamed as they raced through the house! Was there a trace of smoke riding along? Even the patio screen door banged open! Our hearts began racing with fear of a tornado. Should we seek shelter? There was no basement in this summer lake house. There had been storm warnings, but no wailing sirens in the middle of the night. After about fifteen minutes, Mother Nature seemed to go back to sleep and so did we. The next day the media reported deaths and injuries from nearby tornadoes. Our short-lived fear had a basis.

Later that week, the winds roared through Fort McMurray in Alberta. Those winds whipped fire into that oil sand region causing 88,000 people to flee through tunnels of fire. They abandoned their homes and property, running for their lives. Many lost everything. This region, which produces a million barrels of oil per day, collapsed into chaos, victim of wind and fire.

Wind and fire leave chaos in their wake … disorder, destruction, and even loss of life, both human and animal. Chaos! We humans are left simply standing and staring, not knowing where to begin. But begin we must, just as nature renews after the devastation.

On that first Pentecost there was wind and fire in Jerusalem! Buildings were not destroyed. Property wasn’t burned, but there was chaos. That fire tornado blew through the whole known world. Everything was turned topsy-turvy. Lives were completely redirected. Long-standing institutions were faced with challenges never expected. There was fear … fear of change and fear of new directions. The Spirit of God, the very breath of God, blew mightily. It brought new life to our human race, just as the breath of God brought life to Adam, the first human, in the Garden of Eden.

Inevitably, the chaos of fire and wind brings fear. It also brings excitement and heightened awareness. The challenge of catastrophe brings out the best and the worst in people. If there are looters, there are also heroes. Fire Captain Adam Bugden of Fort McMurray emotionally stated, “I’ve met more heroes in this experience than I ever thought existed.” The same could be said of the fire and wind of Pentecost. Our heroes have names: Peter, Stephen, Paul, Barnabas, Mark, John. Down through the ages the number of heroes has grown into multitudes. How does this happen?

“The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” The Holy Spirit is, in reality, the very breath of God. According to the Ruah Woods website, “Ruah means both wind and breath – sometimes as subtle as the flap of the wings of a dove or a whisper at the mouth of a cave.” No chaos here. The breath of God brings peace and harmony. The breath of God brings courage to would-be heroes.

We need to be open to that breath. The winds of the Spirit, the fire of the Spirit, are with us, still. Chaos may be present in our world and in our lives, but we have the Spirit with us always! The Spirit of peace deep in our hearts.

“Breathe on Me, Breath of God” is a popular Gospel hymn by Edwin Hatch that prays:
Breathe on me, Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.

Patricia M. DeGroot

PRAYER

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
     Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
     Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
     Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
     Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
     And our inmost being fill!

Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
     Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
     Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
     Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
     In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
     Give them joys that never end. Amen.
     Alleluia.

Veni, Sancte Spiritus sequence from the Mass of Pentecost. Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 CCD. All rights reserved.

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The In-Between Time

Posted on May 3, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, May 8, 2016, Ascension of the Lord

Image of crosses merging © LPi.

It happens to all of us now and again. We know what is coming, and yet we do not fully understand it: the anticipation of a wedding, or the birth of a first child, a graduation and the new life that commences, or the beginning of a new job. In each situation, we know what is going to happen on a certain date or in a period of time, and yet we do not—nothing can prepare us for the experience that we have been waiting for.

This must be something of what the disciples felt after Jesus’ ascension before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They knew something was to come. Jesus had told them to remain together in Jerusalem, to wait for “the promise of the Father” about which he had spoken to them. Yet, even after the times they encountered the risen Christ, with the reassurance of his promise that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them, they did not know what to expect.

Throughout the liturgical year, we hear the story of the disciples as they come to belief in Jesus. We hear the accounts of people being healed, mercy and forgiveness given, and encounters with Christ as he taught, shared meals, and showed the love of God through his actions. We know what is to come and yet we are called to hear the stories anew. In hearing the Gospel narratives again, we are invited to take salvation to heart and to pattern our lives accordingly.

Like the disciples who waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit, we know what life in Christ is to be: there are sure to be challenges if we truly embrace life as a disciple; there will be moments of disappointment, grief, and fear as there are for all of humanity; we acknowledge, look for, and celebrate the Resurrection and the hope of new life. Yet, we do not know exactly what this means for us until it happens, in the real moments and circumstances of our lives. We understand that the Resurrection means that Christ is victorious over death in all of its forms (physical death of a loved one, diagnosis of a serious illness, the death of a relationship, and so on), yet it is often not until we face death that we really grasp the implications of faith and hope in the Resurrection. We know in our minds and hearts the importance of faith, yet still grasp the Resurrection in deeper and more powerful ways in the aftermath of crisis, such as outreach following the recent earthquake in Ecuador, flooding in the Southern US, and the loving actions of the people around us in our own personal trials and crises. We may say we are followers of Jesus Christ, but do not fully grapple with the call of discipleship until we encounter a homeless person on the street or feel the tug in our heart to respond to the needs of the sick, imprisoned, or lonely through personal action. It is only in such real moments that faith comes to life.

As we near the celebration of Pentecost, let us take time to allow this in-between time to sink in. We are still in the Easter season. Like the disciples who witnessed Christ’s ascension and waited for the coming of the Holy Spirit, it would be good for us to reflect on the meaning of the Resurrection and the true and lasting impact of our relationship with Christ in our lives. How are we experiencing resurrection in this Easter season? How will we share the power of the Resurrection with those who need to know God’s love?

Leisa Anslinger

PRAYER

V: God ascends amid shouts of joy, Alleluia.
R: The Lord, amid trumpet blasts, Alleluia.
V: Let us pray. O King of glory, Lord of hosts, this day You ascended triumphantly above all heavens. Leave us not orphans, but send upon us the Promise of the Father, the Spirit of Truth.
R: Alleluia.
V: Only-begotten Son of God, having conquered death, Thou didst pass from earth to heaven! As Son of Man seated in great glory on Thy throne and praised by the whole angelic host, grant that we who in the jubilant devotion of our faith, celebrate Thine Ascension to the Father, may not be fettered by the chains of sin to earthly loves. And may the aim of our unceasing prayer be directed toward the heavens whither, after Thy Passion, Thou didst ascend in glory.
R: Amen.
McLoughlin, Helen. Family Customs: Easter to Pentecost. Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 1956.

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