Are You Rich?

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

For Sunday, July 31, 2016, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 31Are you rich? Most of us, if asked, would think immediately of material possessions when considering whether or not we are rich. Wealth, as it is commonly considered, is about what we own—money, cars, houses, and the like. Yet in Sunday’s narrative from the Gospel of Luke (12:13-21), Jesus points to a different sort of wealth: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

What matters to God? We can point to the whole of sacred Scripture and our faith tradition to point to the things we should treasure, and these could be summed up very succinctly: life, faith, right relationship with God and others. In fact, the encounter between Jesus and the scholar of the law, which we heard on July 10 might still be ringing in our minds and hearts: “‘Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus said to him, ‘What is written in the law? How do you read it?’ He said in reply, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’” And, remember, Jesus continued to teach by sharing the parable of the Good Samaritan. What matters to God? Mercy, love, forgiveness, compassion: the very qualities we know and are taught through Jesus.

All of the readings this Sunday, the first reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes, the second reading from the Letter to the Colossians, alongside the Gospel narrative, may ring particularly true for those who find their days and weeks focused on the pursuit of material wealth and the social status that results from being “rich” in the eyes of others. It is good for us to take stock of our lives from time to time, and Sunday’s readings call us to do so. In the second reading from the Letter to the Colossians, we are directed to “seek what is above” and to “put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly.” This is not to pit temporal matters against those of heaven, but rather to focus our lives, attitudes, and actions through the lens of faith. The “earthly” things that are listed in the reading are to be avoided because they are sinful: “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” Notice that Jesus does not condemn possessions but rather the reliance on them and also instructs us to avoid the greed that often accompanies the desire for earthly wealth: “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.” We need readings such as these to call us to pause and consider our lives in light of the call of Christ, to love the least and to lay down our lives for the sake of others.

Yet, how often do we describe others by what they do, own, and have, rather than their qualities and the ways in which they embody Gospel values? The reality is that for many of us, our possessions do sometimes possess us; the desire for more results in our having less of what truly matters. Greed takes hold; the endless pursuit of objects becomes idolatrous. We look at others in light of what they own, and we measure our lives in similar terms. Especially in this moment in the US, we are also called to consider these questions as a nation: in what ways does our country and its policies embody Christ’s way of caring for the least among us, showing compassion, mercy, and love?

In Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, the late Archbishop Thomas Murphy shared an experience in which he was confronted with the need for serious surgery. As he prepared for surgery, he found himself reflecting on his life and wondering, “What do I own, and what owns me?” (p. 39). We might ask ourselves the same question today.

Leisa Anslinger

PRAYER

I beg of you, my Lord,
to remove anything which separates
me from you, and you from me.

Remove anything that makes me unworthy
of your sight, your control, your reprehension;
of your speech and conversation,
of your benevolence and love.

Cast from me every evil
that stands in the way of my seeing you,
hearing, tasting, savoring, and touching you;
fearing and being mindful of you;
knowing, trusting, loving, and possessing you;
being conscious of your presence

and, as far as may be, enjoying you.
This is what I ask for myself
and earnestly desire from you.
Amen.

Prayer for Detachment, St. Peter Faber

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Taking Responsibility for Each Other

Posted on July 18, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, July 24, 2016, 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mother Teresa quote and image taken from QuoteHD.com.

The turmoil of the past few weeks—another terrorist attack in France , police shootings, and the violent protests that followed—call to mind the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta:

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Our society has fractured into numerous factions.  Republican and Democrat, black and white, progressive and conservative are unable to talk to each other and quick to blame one another for whatever tragedies we suffer. In fact, we much sooner blame conservatives for gun violence and liberals for terrorist attacks than we do those who actually commit the atrocities.

Listening to all the rancor vulgarly displayed in the media makes one wonder if we should bring back the Old Testament practice of mourning in sackcloth and ashes. Perhaps as a country what we need more than anything else is a time of silence to grieve for all the lives lost and all the families affected by the violence of the past year. Maybe by closing our mouths and simply shedding tears together, we might be reminded that, despite our differences, we really do belong to each other.

In this Sunday’s first reading, we witness a beautiful example of one man showing mercy and love to others. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were not Abraham’s kin. In fact, there can be little doubt that their reputed violence, inhospitality, and debauchery deeply offended him. It would be understandable for him to take pleasure in seeing God’s justice done. Yet Abraham begged God to have mercy on them. Though they were not his people, Abraham had a sense that he belonged to them and that they belonged to him. For that reason, he felt compelled to intercede for them and bargain for their lives.

In his recent encyclical on care for God’s creation, Laudato Si, Pope Francis remarks about Noah, “All it takes is one good person to restore hope!” (LS 71). In Sodom and Gomorrah, as few as ten good people would have prevented the destruction of those cities. In our society today, it would not take many of us to turn the tide of destruction and avert further violence. All we need to do is put aside our agendas, drop whatever label we have chosen to hang around our neck, and listen to one another. No matter what our backgrounds, we have something to learn from each other. If we can stop calling each other names and raising suspicions about each other’s motives, we might actually come to understand that what unites us is so much greater than what divides us.

Once we understand that we belong to each other, we will not need political parties, social agendas, or race to define our identity. Seeing ourselves as children of God, we will come to understand that we are all brothers and sisters. Just as all the violence of the past year has begun with one person inflicting harm on another, just so this revolution of compassion can be initiated simply by one person deciding to listen to her neighbor without judging or condemning. Then we might experience healing, peace, and, finally, justice.

And, in case you are not convinced of the power of one simple gesture of love and compassion, consider the example of one young Portuguese soccer fan who consoled a crying French fan after his team lost the Euro 2016 championship. All of us should consider doing the same to someone who is hurting today.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

Heavenly Father,
we are all your children.
How quick we are to choose lesser identities.
How slow we are to see each other
as brothers and sisters.
How quick we are to speak
and how slow we are to listen.
How quick we are to judge
and how slow we are to understand.
Give us the spirit of Abraham to work for mercy
rather than for ruthless justice.
Give us a spirit of intercession
rather than of condemnation.
and give us peace.

We ask this in the name of the Prince of Peace,
Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Amen.

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A Hospitality of Presence

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

For Sunday, July 17, 2016, 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Painting of Christ with Martha & Mary by H. Siemiradzki
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said, “Speak tenderly to them. Let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don’t give your care, but give your heart as well.” Living the Gospel is not simply about providing a service to people in need but about a quality of being. Hospitality is not just about opening our doors but opening our very souls.

All too often we fall into the trap of thinking that our mission as Christians is convincing people that they need to adopt our agenda. We welcome them to a point but then when they do not completely fit with the specs of our program, the wall goes up. Rather, the mission of the Gospel, which is a mission of hospitality, is about welcoming others where they are and with their particular needs and desires; it is more about listening than it is about doing.

The Gospel this weekend portrays Martha and Mary, the doer and the listener. Practical sense tells us that both are necessary. Yet, we struggle with both in our lives. We can identify with Mary but we are really more attracted to Martha. Martha’s the objective one, her script is specified. She can make the grocery list, plan the day, mix the ingredients, set the table, and do all of the stuff that is required of a perfect hospitable host! Mary is the subjective one whose script is not specified. She is the one who is comfortable with spontaneity. She brings a quality of presence to a situation rather than making sure that the china is free of cracks. Having not really encountered Jesus before, she needs to be ready to think on her feet, set her agenda aside, and desire a relationship. Mary is the one who takes the art of hospitality to the Gospel level by truly welcoming and not only serving.

The first reading from Genesis underscores this same theme. Abraham’s hospitality to three strangers demonstrates the need to open oneself to the stranger, to hear what he or she has to say. The better part of hospitality is being attentive to the guest, to what he has to say, what he has to offer, and what he truly needs. This is the core of biblical righteousness and justice.

When a person is open to another and is disposed to authentic listening, he or she can begin to understand what our psalmist exhorts: “One who walks blamelessly and does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue.” “He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” Jesus went into people’s homes, sat down, and listened. He didn’t go in with an agenda, insist that they comply with a particular set of teachings in order to enter the kingdom of God, or chide them for living a life unworthy of God’s calling. Jesus just sat there. By a quality of presence miracles happened, lives changed.

There is something very attractive about rules, rituals, and proper prayers. In the journey of coming to know and develop a relationship with God, they are necessary and serve a vital purpose. Martha serves a vital purpose. Beyond task orientation however lies the depth of contemplation. This happens at that point in our relationship with God when we begin to move beyond that which is required and tangible and learn how to see, hear, listen, and connect differently. Contemplation happens when we begin to change and our souls are engaged in dialogue with all of creation and all of God’s children.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta fell in love with Jesus and was then able to fall in love with all of those individuals who needed her care. The relationship she had with Jesus changed her inwardly and made her a temple of hospitality in a most authentic way. She was able to place herself at the feet of the people she served and truly minister to their needs and desires. And we can do the same if we risk allowing the Spirit to move us out of our comfort zones to a different, less predictable place.

As we learn how to listen and begin allowing God to change how we see and understand, it may seem at first that we are wasting time. Over time, however, our relationships will change dramatically and we will realize that we too have chosen the better part.

Rev. Mark S. Suslenko

PRAYER

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection
against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the divine power of God,
cast into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who wander through the world
seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

—Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel

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Just How Good Was the Good Samaritan?

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

For Sunday, July 10, 2016, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Parable of the Good Samaritan painting by Jan Wijnants, 1670.

Go ahead and perform a Google search for news stories about Good Samaritans. You will find a wide range of stories about people doing all sorts of kind acts:

The term is so widely and commonly used, it is at the point where a person performing any act of kindness whatsoever is labeled a Good Samaritan. I love reading and hearing all these stories about good deeds, but most don’t really tell the story of a Good Samaritan. When Jesus told the parable, he was talking about more than just a good deed.

In fact, the parable was intended to provoke and cause discomfort and was not intended to be a feel-good story. He told the story about a traveler who suffered through great violence, to the point it was obvious to anyone passing by how badly he needed assistance. It was then the very people who spoke of holiness and devoted themselves to God that chose to pass by the beaten man without stopping. Would they be attacked also? If the man were to die, would they then be made unclean? Was this man worthy of their time and effort?

It was a Samaritan, despised by those listening to the parable, who risked his life and made himself vulnerable in order to stop and do the right thing. Unlike the nice guy who may get your cat out of the tree or the young lady who may return a found wallet to police, most listening to this tale did not think about Jesus’ Good Samaritan, “What a wonderful man!” Instead, they got the message loud and clear: It isn’t the one that speaks about love of thy neighbor that is righteous, but the one who actually acts out of love of that neighbor.

I am not saying the good deeds reported in the news are not worthy of mention. I think these good people serve as great examples to us all. But these are not stories of enemies suddenly becoming friends, and honestly, shouldn’t we all be able to perform many of these acts at any time without much thought? It is more about being decent human beings than being disciples of Jesus Christ.

The parable Jesus told also has more to it than just a single act. In terms of stewardship catechesis, the Samaritan does something that is above and beyond the call. After taking the attacked man to an inn, he offers to pay any expense for the man’s stay when he passes through again. The Samaritan has risked much already, has gone to the trouble of not only stopping but carrying the man to an inn, and now he states that whatever the cost, he will pay it. Imagine him walking into the inn, a place where perhaps his kind was not welcome. Here he could be taken advantage off, or much worse. Who is to say that the innkeeper would not then double the price due to the Samaritan’s generosity?

The first conviction of the US Bishops’ pastoral letter, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, is labeled The Challenge, and it says we are called to be mature disciples that answer the call of Jesus Christ, regardless of the cost. To be a true disciple of Jesus means that there are no limits to our generosity. Yes, many days the call of Jesus will require a little bit of you and me. We won’t have to dig deep and give that which hurts. But some days, it will require seemingly everything we have been given. We will be asked to risk it all, to maybe even put ourselves in danger. But maturity in faith means that we will have the courage to say yes to the call.

Yes, life is made so much better when more and more people decide to do random acts of kindness or good deeds for their fellow brothers and sisters. But these things may also be seen as dress rehearsals for when the real call comes to lay it all on the line. Will it be to give your life for another or for your country? Will it be to give the gift of life in some way? Will it be to give of your finances until sacrifice becomes a daily reality? When that time comes, call to mind the Good Samaritan in the parable. He was more than a nice guy. It is going to take more than a kind demeanor for you to respond positively. It is going to take an awesome faith and trust in a power much greater than yourself.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

O my God,
I love you above all things with my whole heart and soul,
because you are all good and worthy of all my love.
I love my neighbor as myself for the love of you.
I forgive all who have injured me
and I ask pardon of those whom I have injured.
Amen.

Act of Love, traditional

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