No Low-Cost Christianity

Posted on August 30, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, September 4, 2016, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

As we look back at the story of our faith, we recognize graced moments in which women, men, and even children, have made decisions about the course or orientation of their lives that have changed history itself. Like that “shot heard ’round the world” of April 19, 1775, marking the first military action of the American Revolution, certain acts have opened up new pathways and modes of faith that have forever shaped the lives of countless believers through the ages.

Some of these might seem quite simple (perhaps because we know the stories so well): Mary’s fiat, Saint Peter’s decision to get out of his boat to follow the wandering Rabbi, and Saint Matthew leaving his tax collecting post. Others seem, somehow, far away and remote to us: Saint Lawrence presenting the poor, the Church’s true treasure, to an emperor who would kill him; Saint Patrick’s decision to return to Ireland after escaping slavery; Saint Francis stripping off his clothes and family ties to stand naked in the square of Assisi; Saint Angela Merici bringing together a group of women in order to teach girls outside of the walls of a cloister; Saint Aloysius Gonzaga renouncing his titles and princely rank in order to become a Jesuit; or Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s decision to enter the Catholic Church, despite society’s objections, and establish a new community of sisters, laying the foundation for Catholic education in America.

Even contemporary figures—our modern “saints”—had moments in which they made a decision that marked a moment of conversion: the newly canonized Saint Teresa of Kolkata asking permission from her religious superiors to begin working with the poor on her own; Dorothy Day’s recognition of the good work being done on behalf of the poor by the Catholic Church and her desire to unite herself to that work; Saint Maximilian Kolbe volunteering to take the place of a husband and father chosen to be executed by the Nazis; Thomas Merton’s decision to attend a Mass at Corpus Christi Church in Manhattan that marked a turning point on his journey to Catholicism and life as a Trappist monk; Martin Luther King’s trip to India in 1959 to learn about non-violent resistance; and Blessed Oscar Romero’s decision to seek justice for his slain priest friend and all the poor of El Salvador.

Regardless of when they lived or their title or state of life, these individuals demonstrated a willingness to make the Gospel the primary focus of their lives. Knowing the cost of discipleship, they willingly took on the burden of faith and set out on a new way, taking the words of Christ at face value: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26-27).

In these tense days, as people around the world struggle to make sense of the terror and violence that have become such a part of daily life, we are reminded that “there is no such thing as low-cost Christianity. Following Jesus means swimming against the tide, renouncing evil and selfishness” (Pope Francis via Twitter, September 5, 2013). We are being invited to trust in providence and to focus our attention on the common good and search for peace, asking for the grace of wisdom and discretion: “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans … who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight” (Wis 9:13, 17-18b).

The Church’s liturgy this Sunday remind us that, if we are to be true followers of Jesus, we must be willing to accept the responsibility that comes with discipleship, and part of that responsibility is a commitment to peace and justice, a dedication to building God’s kingdom here and now. And so, we pray, we fast, and we give to the poor. Any one of those acts is good and noble. But the question before each one of us is, “Where is my heart? To whom, or to what, does it belong?” If we continue to hold back, any words we speak or pray, the acts of penance we perform, and the gifts we share will always fall short and will never be what they might be, unless we act out of love for God and a spirit of gratitude for all that God has done for us.

Br. Silas S. Henderson, SDS

PRAYER

O God, by whom we are redeemed and receive adoption,
look graciously upon your beloved sons and daughters,
that those who believe in Christ
may receive true freedom
and an everlasting inheritance.
Through our Lord Jesus, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

—Collect, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Excerpt from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Humble Words

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

For Sunday, August 28, 2016, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

There was thunder and lightning. It was quite a light show that God put on last night! But this morning at 6:00 am the world is quiet again. The eastern sky is washed in a pinkish peach with receding dark clouds reminding the world of the passing turmoil. Above all of this is the morning star, quietly present, always there after the night storm passes.

Our American world seems to be in the storm stage politically. There is still thunder and lightning, but it will pass as it always has. It will march off into history and a new day will dawn. Strange as it may seem, the quiet of the morning star will be there … a personage who is not “donner and blitzen.” Have you seen him? With the storms and rising light of a new president on the horizon, you may not have noticed the quiet star. It, he, is quietly there by the name of “Sully.”

Tom Hanks is playing the role. The movie is out and being advertised on TV. Just plain Sully, no frills even in the title. Many of us remember his story. The image of an airliner floating in the Hudson with survivors standing on the wings still comes to mind when his name is mentioned. Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III was an instant hero after he successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 off Manhattan Island on a cold January day in 2009. It was shortly after takeoff, when a flock of Canada geese collided with the plane. Because of Sully’s expertise all 155 passengers survived.

Do you remember the interviews with “Sully” after his amazing feat? He was modest about his acts of courage, crediting all to his training over the years. He shared, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.” These are humble words.

Modern society seems to think that humility is meekness combined with weakness. In Sully there appears a quiet core of strength. He speaks the truth with no frills or self-aggrandizement. That’s what Jesus talks about in his parable. That’s the manner in which Sully shared his experience when he emerged as a hero.

Pride is one of the most subtle and powerful tools of the devil. It has gradually shifted in our way of thinking to something that is good. “I’m proud to be an American.” “We are proud of our athletes in the Olympics!” “Hold your head up and be proud!” Yes, there is a good side to pride. But it’s the overemphasis on self that is dangerous. When we give trophies and stars for insignificant achievements to the very young, that’s dangerous. When we live life as though we are entitled to the “good life” without using our gifts to their fullest through hard work and application, that’s dangerous. When our life is centered around “me, me, me!” that’s dangerous. The superabundance of “selfies” is a dangerous sign of our self-centered society. It’s one way of taking the higher place at the banquet table. Ours is a “me first!” society.

Humility is truth. It is recognizing that God is the source of all our gifts. Everything we have and are is God-given. In America, the self-made entrepreneur is admired and held up as a model for all. But the talent and energy and drive that propels that person’s achievement is all God-given. There is absolutely nothing that we can claim as our own. A proud Christian, a follower of the humble Christ, is simply a living oxymoron. Christ, the Son of God, lowered himself to our level when he took our human nature. He took the lowest place at the table of intelligent creatures. It’s simply unthinkable that any of us would put ourselves above him.

As always, avoiding extremes is the name of the game. We are not to imitate Dickens’ Uriah Heep. His humility was false. Truth is what it’s all about. If I sing well and am praised, then I thank God. If I am a successful businessperson, I thank God. If I have natural beauty, then I thank God. No matter what I’m praised for, I recognize that God is the source. I may not say that out loud. I may respond as Sully did, with the facts, but interiorly, I thank God.

Living like this is not flashy. It’s living like the quiet, peaceful, always present morning star. Our first reading begins, “Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

Disturb us, Lord, when
we are too well pleased with ourselves,
when our dreams have come true
because we have dreamed too little,
when we arrived safely
because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
we have lost our thirst
for the waters of life;
having fallen in love with life,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision
of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
to venture on wider seas
where storms will show your mastery;
where losing sight of land,
we shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
the horizons of our hopes;
and to push into the future
in strength, courage, hope, and love.

“Disturb Us, Lord” prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake, c. 1577.

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All through Love and Nothing through Fear

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

For Sunday, August 21, 2016, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

0821_MidweekReflection

Isaiah offers us a vision of utter inclusivity and welcome: “From them I will send fugitives to the nations … and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the LORD” (66:19-20a). Isaiah’s words challenge us given our current world climate of fear and mistrust. Many, if not most, of us want to welcome all of our brothers and sisters, especially those in need due to unjust political and religious situations at home. However, with terrorist attacks and violence that seem rampant, the deeper desire to be welcoming is often overshadowed by the innate human desire for safety and protection. On one hand, this is understandable. On another, we must remember the words of Jesus that also call us to a deeper inclusivity: “People will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Lk 13:29-30). While we must be prudent and even cautious, that does not mean allowing fear to get the best of us and replace the acts of faith and inclusion to which our readings call us.

Pope Francis has spoken often about our need to welcome the stranger and see the Church as a mother whose care is expressed with special attention to sisters and brothers who must flee their homeland. They are in limbo, between the home of their roots and the countries that might become new homes for them. When he spoke to the US Congress, Pope Francis said: “In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities” (9/24/15). We are a nation who has welcomed others from our beginning. When Pope Francis welcomed refugees to the Vatican this spring, he put his money where his mouth was, so to speak. His witness is a foretaste of the words from Luke that all will come from east and west and north and south and recline at table in God’s kingdom made visible in that part of God’s reign known as Vatican City.

How do we follow his example? How do we face our fears in ways that help us feel as safe as humanly possible and, at the same time, follow the Pope’s call to find security by giving security? Today’s second reading is our guide: “Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him” (Heb 12:5). The discipline of prayer opens hearts and brings before the Lord what we find there—fear and hope—and helps us find strength and courage in the Lord. The discipline of study informs us more fully on issues that can seem daunting or off-putting at first glance. The discipline of dialogue allows truth to surface when we speak honestly and listen openly, especially to those with whom we disagree. The discipline of compassion helps us to feel with another, in the same way we would like others to feel with us. We strengthen our drooping hands and weak knees by taking on these disciplines, like the athlete or musician whose discipline of practice brings freedom and facility in one’s desired goal. Discipline of prayer, study, dialogue, and compassion brings us “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it” (Heb 12:11b).

Pope Francis models these disciplines for us in his letter to the 2016 Refugee Olympic Team. He wrote the team members: “I have learned about your team and read some of your interviews so that I could get closer to your lives and your aspirations. I extend my greetings and wish you success at the Olympic Games in Rio—that your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity… I pray for you and ask that you, please, do the same for me.”

St. Francis de Sales taught that we should do all through love and nothing through fear. Our readings invite us to live these words and offer the tool of discipline to help us do so. By living what today’s readings invite, Jesus will recognize us, know where we are from, and open the door for us to join the throngs gathered in God’s kingdom.

Rev. Paul H. Colloton, OSFS

PRAYER

O God, who cause the minds of the faithful
to unite in a single purpose,
grant your people to love what you command
and to desire what you promise,
that, amid the uncertainties of this world,
our hearts may be fixed on that place
where true gladness is found.
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.

Collect, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. Excerpt from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, ICEL. All rights reserved.

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Causing Discomfort for the Comfortable

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

For Sunday, August 14, 2016, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The experience of the human spiritual journey cannot be summed up easily for there are as many different experiences as there are humans. No two journeys are alike. Most stories of conversion span years or decades, yet that is not to discount or discredit those stories of being “knocked off a horse” and the light of God breaking through one’s blindness. The reality is that whatever our testimony of faith, the desire for God has been written into each human heart and we are constantly being drawn to our Creator, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us.

One could then deduce that when we finally turn to God and form a real relationship with Jesus Christ, all our longing ceases. We have found the object of our true desire. Won’t the rest of life be endless bliss?

To somewhat paraphrase the Lynn Anderson song from the 70s, “Jesus never promised you a rose garden.” At least you won’t find it on earth. Of course, to love God and serve him is the most fulfilling life one could live. We certainly hold to that as believers. But fulfillment does not mean constant happiness or a life without trial. Certainly, our conversion is a constant ongoing process. Even when we have found our way through several thresholds of conversion into an intentional discipleship, our journey has still, in many ways, only begun. There will be tests of faith along the way. Some will be small and others quite significant. Unfortunately, sometimes those tests and trials will come from a curious source: our family and friends. These are the ones who should be happiest for us in our journey.

Just this past Easter, like many Easters before, thousands were baptized and received into full communion with the Church. The desire for God that was written onto their hearts at birth had led them not only to the person of Jesus, but also the body of Christ. But the decision to follow Jesus in this way can be a source of ridicule and anger on the part of those who loved them before this decision was made.

While working with the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) for over two decades, I had witnessed adult children being disowned by parents, friends ostracized by friends, and siblings constantly debating each other. The divisions were fueled by prejudice, ignorance, and fear of the unknown. This is not the experience for all, but for those who do walk this difficult road, the earthly pain joined with the joy of heavenly grace is all too real.

Depending on where you are in the world, the chance of having such an experience can greatly increase. While Catholic Church communities are flourishing in the southern United States, prejudice against Catholics is still common. In other parts of the country, as well as in parts of Europe and Oceania, apathy toward religion and atheism are on the rise, making many ask the would-be-disciple a simple question in a puzzled tone: “Why?”

But here is a question that is worth asking: Shouldn’t our faith at times, if being fully lived out, be a source of discomfort for those we meet? I remember an old priest friend of mine once told me that if his homilies never ruffled any feathers, he wasn’t accurately preaching the Gospel. In Luke’s Gospel this week, Jesus seems to support this line of thinking. Jesus spoke of not bringing peace to all, but instead division. He suggests that families will be at odds with one another over the message he brings. The reality is that the truth is not always what we want to hear. The good news of Jesus Christ is liberating for many, but is also a mirror for others in which they see a reality about themselves they do not wish to see. Sometimes, the message of the Gospel is too hard for some to digest. I think of St. Augustine before his conversion; hearing the Gospel, wanting to be holy and follow Jesus, but just not yet.

Today, Christians all over the globe are victims of prejudice, ignorance, hatred, and fear. If we hide our faith because we are only comfortable in those Kumbaya moments of peace, love, and understanding, then we are like a fine piece of glassware untested by fire. It is the fire that solidifies us into the beautiful thing that God created us to be. Jesus never portrayed that this would be easy. Those in our days that preach a prosperity gospel or a faith that eliminates all darkness from our lives are selling something that Jesus never offered. Yes, the kingdom of God is in our midst and death has no power over us because of Jesus’ cross and resurrection, but we exist in the now and not-yet. One day, all tears will be washed away and all will be made new. But until then, we are to lift each other up and help each other stand. We are to speak up for those who have no voice, even if society chooses to hurl stones at us. We are to speak love to hate, and truth to deceit. We must remember, Jesus is a “stone that will make people stumble, and a rock that will make them fall” (1 Pt 2:8). As a disciple, don’t be afraid if someone’s feathers get ruffled along the way. If you love someone, then you owe that person the whole truth, and nothing but the Truth.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

We bless your name, O Lord,
for sending your own incarnate Son,
to become part of a family,
so that, as he lived its life,
he would experience its worries and its joys.

We ask you, Lord,
to protect and watch over this family,
so that in the strength of your grace
its members may enjoy prosperity,
possess the priceless gift of your peace,
and, as the Church alive in the home,
bear witness in this world to your glory.

We ask this thought Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Prayer for Families from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers.

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Faith in the Desert

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

For Sunday, August 7, 2016, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

View of the Judean Desert

The situation seemed impossible! It had started out as a morning excursion to a nearby site, The Springs, in the Judean Desert. Since we had an average temperature of over 100 degrees for the last two months, The Springs drew us with visions of “cool, clear, water.” Little did we realize the road, then the trail, then the rocky inclines and declines would leave us sitting in a dried up wadi under a thorny skeleton of an acacia tree. Ahead of us was an incline. Behind us lay an even steeper decline. The one ahead had a forty-five degree curve about one third of the way up. Jim tried it. The engine roared. He tried it again and again and again and spun out every time. I prayed to El Shaddai, the Hebrew God of mountains and wind. I stretched out my arms as Moses did for victory in the time of battle. I sang aloud so El Shaddai would hear me. I pleaded with Abraham who had walked in this Israeli desert. Nothing. Nothing but the wind. My mind reminded me of the gentle breeze that spoke to Elijah in one of the caves surrounding this same desert. Nothing. I asked God to send at least two angels to help us. Nothing. We started walking. It was 1:30 PM, the hottest part of the day. Avoiding the road that had not a single tree offering shade, we trekked down the wadi conserving our water and resting often in the scattered shade of dried out trees.

Somehow, my heart never faltered. God would not have brought me to Israel to die in the desert. I thought of Abraham who went forth as God called. He has been my guide for the three summers I’ve volunteered in Israel. He “went out, not knowing where he was to go.” This experience in the same location helped me realize the strength of Abraham’s faith. Did he have enough water? Did he have enough food? He was not only responsible for himself, but for the entourage of people and animals traveling with him. Over and over, the Scripture passage says, “by faith”! What is faith? “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Abraham, the great father of multiple religions was the man of faith, par excellence.

Faith and hope are brother and sister. In the desert, we “walked by faith and not by sight” as our water dwindled. The hope that an angel would rescue us also dwindled as the sun moved westward casting shadows … delicious shadows. The inner core of my strength weakened and I began to be afraid we would be trapped by the night. Yes, the wadi was full of animal tracks, signs both consoling and frightening. Somehow, I still had tracks of hope in my heart that God would send help. I prayed with every step. I became aware of my breathing. Stop and rest. Stop and rest. I ate a few dried blossoms from a tree. They wet my mouth. There were no cell phone connections. Only God! Somehow, we trekked on.

At 6:30 we found Hwy 227 and sat on roadside rocks. A car going the opposite direction stopped. Evidence of faith? They poured water into Jim’s empty container. Ah! Our first angel but still no rescue! There were no cars going in our direction at all. Dusk was falling. God, another angel, please? An old truck with a red flag standing straight up in back, stopped. A ride, please? A ride? Hope rose! Our second angel gave us more water and it was cooler. Would God send a third angel? We continued to walk. According to a road sign, we had twenty kilometers to go. Darkness. Piercing my exhaustion a tiny glimmer of hope survived. God’s sheltering hand was still hovering over us. Through the darkness, I spied a truck with a red flag off the road about fifty feet. The Bedouin driver was on his knees, head touching the ground. He was praying. As we walked past, he stood up and waved. My mind called out, “Yes. Hello! And thank you for the water!”

But then, he got into his truck and drove out to us! He signaled us to get in. He spoke no English. He got out and opened the back door for me. A gentleman! A big smile. God sent our second angel back to us! All I could say was, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” When we arrived back, I pressed shekels into his hand, but he pressed them right back into my hand. “No, no.” Jim handed him American dollars, receiving the same response. God bless this Muslim Bedouin, this son of Abraham, who saved two Christians who were trusting in the same God who just has a different name.

The next day after showers and gallons of cold water, we were strengthened. But the ordeal was ongoing. Our vehicle was still resting under an acacia tree in that deep wadi. Faith and hope still stood in my heart. Who to call? Who spoke English? Where to get phone numbers? At noon, finally a connection! And God sent a third angel. This time, Jewish. We finally contacted an Israeli park ranger. His dark good looks were heightened by a smile and open attitude. He spoke beautiful English! He drove us back to our “waterloo.” Would his 4×4 truck be strong enough? Again, faith and hope joined hands in my heart. I prayed as he towed us up that steep incline, slowly, slowly, slowly! Alleluia! Success! Success! Thank you, God! God of the mountains. God of the wind. God of the wadi. God who keeps his promises.

The ranger said he wasn’t supposed to do this, but… All he accepted was our thanks.

We were not prepared for this experience. It came like a “thief in the night”. We didn’t expect to be stranded in 100 plus heat with no cell phone service and only about two liters of water between us. The situation seemed impossible. We were in desperate straits! Our flimsy faith and hope were rewarded. God watched over us as promised again and again and again. What do we need to fear? God, help me remember who you are!

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.

II
You set a table before me
in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD
for endless days.

—Psalm 23. Scripture text taken from the NABRE © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 CCD, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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