Small Offerings

Posted on September 29, 2016 by - Everyday Stewardship

An Everyday Stewardship Reflection for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016

Some weeks seem to move steadily downhill as soon as they start. Your boss hits you with some hard criticism. Driving around town seems to be a constant experience of getting cut off and being tailgated. The waiter at the restaurant felt pretty sure that your burnt and dried out lunch was not his problem. The kids didn’t plan ahead once again and the entire science fair project is due: TOMORROW!

small-offeringsThen an angel of God in the form of a friend, acquaintance, or stranger says one nice thing, does one good deed, or offers a small gift of kindness and suddenly the entire week changes. The power of good is always able to defeat the bad in our lives, but it is amazing that so much bad can be overcome by such a small amount of good; Truly amazing.

Jesus told us that with a little faith, we could accomplish great things. The faith of a mustard seed can move mountains or uproot a tree from the earth and replant it in the sea. It does not take much to make a big difference in the world.

If we apply this understanding to stewardship, then we can see that small gifts of time, talent, or treasure can yield great harvests. Yes, we are called to offer all we have back to God and his people, but that does not change the fact that through small offerings of ourselves we can change the greater reality in the lives of many.

For many years, I had a tapestry hanging in my office with a quote from the Quaker theologian, Rufus Jones. He said, “I pin my hopes to quiet processes and small circles, in which vital and transforming events take place.” With our stewardship, we have the chance to transform the world around us, even when it seems like what we can offer is so very small at the time.

The Vision of Faith

Posted on September 27, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, October 2, 2016, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In our city there have been seventy deaths attributed to heroin and drug overdoses over the past seven weeks. That number included a sixty-three-year-old man and a one-year-old child. To add more sorrow to the already tragic, one of the young men who died was the medical examiner’s son. The weight of senseless loss looms heavily in our city and indeed in our hearts because, like me, so many wonder what our culture has done to contribute to such dire escapism, such ominous darkness as to lead folks to mainline prescription drugs, risking death.

Like the prophet who laments the social upheaval of his people, my heart shouts: “How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?” My outcry goes further, asking has the world proved so fatalistic to our young folks, has the future become so grim, that nothing gives way to hope anymore? Is the drug culture only endemic to a greater agony of our national soul?

What do I expect? Myriads of angels to meet every addict in the bar or in the alleyways of despair? That would be nice, yet in the midst of crisis, the most important thing is to stop and reflect, to seek a new vision. It is exactly what the Lord does in Habakkuk’s situation. He does not give him a solution, but a vision.

God calls upon the soul of this good man to climb the mountain of faith and to see beyond the bodies lying limp to a new day when the vision of God would come to pass. It is like reading at a funeral liturgy the beautiful passage from Revelation where John sees “a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rv 21:1-2). The challenge of the prophet is to wait for the vision of the Lord to come to fulfillment.

The apostles are faced with a similar challenge. They have chosen to follow Jesus Christ and walk with him through the labyrinthine pathways of human frailty and darkness. They have watched him set the demonic free. They have witnessed bread broken and multiplied. They have been with him when he raised the widow’s son and healed women and children.

They, too, want to be equipped for the task and therefore realize they need more faith. Bucketsful of faith! Jesus responds to their request for an increase of faith by exhorting them: if their faith were the size of a mustard seed (smaller than a poppy seed), they could speak to a mulberry tree to be uprooted and cast into the sea. The irony is that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds and the mulberry tree kept a deep, entanglement of roots beneath the soil leaving it impossible to uproot (Bergant, Dianne, CSA. Preaching the New Lectionary, Year C. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2000, p. 382).

Yet Jesus says even cultivating the smallest faith can do the impossible. The story that follows speaks to the reality that faith cannot be quantified or measured. Faith is about relationship, a relationship to Christ, the source of all love and mercy. If a servant worked hard all day in the fields, he must not expect special privilege excusing him from his work at home. No, the nature of service is to serve and one serves in love. Does a mother with a sick child take a break at night? Or does she hold the child until the fever breaks? Does a nurse put his feet up during his watch hoping someone else picks up the slack? Or does he continue to go to his patients with compassion and mercy? Does the breadwinner in the family not show up to work or does she weigh out the measure of responsibility it takes to provide for the family?

Here is where faith abides: the steadfast, persevering efforts to keep love alive, to serve those we are committed to. That is the vision of faith. Write it down!

Does the Lord ask for anything less? Jesus says faith is not measured. It is lived. It is lived through serving God and God’s people, not looking back but looking ahead where we might one day see mulberry trees floating in the sea.

Mary K. Matestic, MTS

PRAYER

O Lord,
you walked upon this earth long before we arrived.
You gave us your vision of hope;
and though we walk in the shadow of death,
it is good to know that you are always at our side,
with your kindness and mercy
leading us to places we never dreamed we would go.

Indeed, give us the patience and perseverance
to continue your work here in this, our time,
trusting you to bring about your vision.
Watch over those who flounder and give up.
Meet them in the kindness of family and friends.
Deliver us all from despair,
and help us keep our eyes upon you who give us faith.
Enough to uproot trees,
enough to write down what is still to come,
enough to wait for your vision fulfilled.
Amen.

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Looking for Jesus

Posted on September 22, 2016 by - Everyday Stewardship

An Everyday Stewardship Reflection for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

homeless-girlI would like to think that most people in the world would help someone who was suffering if they had the chance. I guess my optimism starts to take a hit when I consider that in some cases the cost will be higher for that help than in others.

To help someone with a meal or transport someone to a doctor is one thing. To offer oneself completely, all of one’s money or time, is quite another. (more…)

The Value of Religion

Posted on September 20, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, September 25, 2016, 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

What contribution does the practice of religion make to our society?

Many would say that it provides a moral code that inspires people to look beyond themselves to the needs of others. Others might argue that faith provides meaning to those who might otherwise despair over the challenges of life. Still others might argue that faith does no good at all but only creates divisions that perpetuate strife and violence.

A new study seeks to put a price tag on the contribution of religion to the economy as a whole. It estimates that the goods and services provided by churches, synagogues, mosques, and other faith-based communities totals 1.2 trillion dollars. Putting that staggering figure in perspective, Christopher White, in an article posted on
Crux, writes, “Impressively, this figure is more than the top ten tech companies combined—including Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Or, put in another perspective, if that figure was measured in GDP, U.S. religion would be the 15th largest national economy in the world.”

Faith-based charities provide an enormous service to those who would otherwise not be served by government programs. This would include not only congregations but faith-based institutions such as the Knights of Columbus whose nearly two million members provide relief to the poor members of their communities. It would also include parish-based groups such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which serves the poor after the example of their founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.

On a larger scale, Catholic Charities provides disaster relief and resources to lift people out of poverty. Catholic schools educate children of all faiths, many of whom are poor, preparing them to be more productive citizens. Some twenty percent of all hospitals in the United States are Catholic Health Care Facilities reaching underserved communities and providing free services to those who would otherwise go without.

As people of faith, not only should we feel proud of the accomplishments of our brothers and sisters, we should also not be ashamed to tell the world about it. Though the tax exempt status of religious groups and nonprofits is always being challenged, we can confidently assert that society receives much more in goods and services from people of faith than it would if it were to tax our institutions out of existence.

Furthermore, when the government seeks to force groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor to use their resources to fight off burdens to their religious liberty such as the HHS mandate, it diverts time, energy, and money that could be better used to assist those who are suffering.

As Pope Francis reminds us, “The Church is not an NGO.” Our ultimate value is not in the goods and services we provide but in our witness to Jesus Christ. All the good works that flow from faith are a response to Jesus’ call to serve the poor, as we hear in today’s readings. Though we might be able to put a dollar value on the goods and services provided by people of faith, the witness to the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ is beyond measure.?

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

Lord God,
we marvel at your goodness and generosity.
You provide us with this vast universe
and all its wonders.
Just as you have provided for us
you call us to provide for one another.
May we ever be mindful of those who go without,
especially those at our doorstep.
May our desire for comfort
never keep us from comforting others.
May our search for riches
never make us impoverish them.
But keep our arms free to embrace the poor
and our hearts open to loving them
as you have loved us.
Through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Amen.

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Door of Mercy

Posted on September 16, 2016 by - Everyday Stewardship

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved,”  (John 10:9)

Cat at DoorWhile sitting on my deck, my cat will sometimes put her nose on the glass door asking to come out with me. I’m hesitant to get up and open the door since I know the drill: I walk to the door, open it, and she backs away apparently frightened by the possibility, sometimes darting away.

I go sit back down and she returns with a meow. I get back up, open the door again, she backs away, I give up.

This kind of inertia affects us all at different points in our life. A door will open and we are too afraid to walk through it. It’s something we think we want, but when the door swings wide, we retract. It could be fear of failure, the unknown, or change. And sometimes we don’t realize the door is open until we look back and recognize it. (more…)

It All Belongs to God

Posted on September 15, 2016 by - Everyday Stewardship

An Everyday Stewardship Reflection for 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

When the collection basket passes you by at Church, what are you thinking?

collection-basketThe reality is that your spiritual health is tied into what you think and what you do with your money. People like to say that stewardship doesn’t have to do with money, but the reality is that money is such a strong force in our lives, if we relegate it to something outside of our spiritual journey, it has the potential to sneak up on us and take control before we know it.

(more…)

Finding Our Own Kolkata

Posted on September 13, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, September 18, 2016, 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sept18

As you know, on September 4, the person many have come to know as Mother Teresa of Kolkata was canonized and now stands with us as St. Teresa of Kolkata. Pope Francis remarked, “For Mother Teresa, mercy was the ‘salt’ which gave flavour to her work, it was the ‘light’ which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.” Mother Teresa stood before the world as a living example of Christ with us, ministering to the poorest of the poor who had been cast aside by a system that often caters to injustice and disregard.

We can easily become complacent and ignore the cries of those who are poor. In fact, the prophet Amos tells us exactly that! “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!” The continuation of this reading next weekend will show us how this attitude has led to self-destruction. Amos sees the destruction experienced in northern Israel as the direct result of complacency and indifference to the poor, outcast, and needy. Regardless of the scope of our sinfulness, I do not believe for one minute that God causes our demise or inflicts this type of “repayment” upon people for their misdeeds. However, what is to be considered is whether a habit of self-focused self-indulgence can and will eventually lead to the demise of an individual or to an entire nation. Trampling upon or ignoring anyone will always come back with negative results.

Mother Teresa saw a clear link between personal well-being, holiness, and service to the poor. As a woman who believed in Jesus Christ, even in her darkness she felt compelled to live this life of total service, bringing to fulfillment the vision God places before us. Our psalmist lays this out before us: “He raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor.” As Christians, it is important to consider the systemic causes of poverty and injustice. We need to continually challenge contemporary systems to see the light and truth of the Gospel. However, it is even more important to put our questions and even our doubts aside for a bit, being consumed less with dealing with why a person is hungry, and using our energy to simply feed them. We need to help God’s vision become a reality.

Jesus often spoke of the intimate linkage that exists between love of God and love of neighbor. It stands to reason then that if we are in a covenant, loving relationship with God then we are also in a covenant, loving relationship with each other. We cannot turn our backs on the needs of humanity, especially those that are so obvious and grave—the poor and the powerless.

This weekend Luke’s Gospel is a lesson in stewardship. We are blatantly told, “No servant can serve two masters.” The Christian has to be prudent and efficient in the matters of God and in care of others. In short, less energy must be spent on self-interest and more on the interest of others. We are called to be stewards who serve, not stewards who squander. What will convince us to make God’s vision our own? This is a matter of conversion, of allowing God to change the way we see.

Many often believe that true conversion comes only when the truly miraculous is witnessed—the parting of a sea, the rolling thunder of the sky, a phenomenal healing, or an actual theophany. Actually true conversion is more often experienced in subtle, human ways. Conversion, brought about by repentance, occurs when I finally humbly admit to being the lovingly created child of a God who delights in every fiber of my being, even if that God may seem distant at times or even nonexistent.

True faith happens when I persevere in spite of my doubt and live out this covenant relationship of love. If the unmistakably miraculous occurs, it may cause me to stand up and take notice a bit, restore a certain measure of faith but may also position me to expect more of the same in the future. Then, the sustenance of my faith will be linked to the extraordinary and I will continue to miss God opportunities in the ordinary stuff of life. And I will continue to lapse into the pursuit of self-interest.

If a heart is hardened, even actual testimony may not penetrate it. St. Teresa did what her heart told her to do. She knew that even when she was unable to feel God’s presence or even be certain of his existence, the road to love would inevitably lead back to him. And so, she persevered. Riches were of no consequence to her.

So what happens when we persevere on our often dimly lit path on the road of faith and love? We find ourselves stumbling upon other virtues that can assist with deepening our covenant relationships: righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, gentleness, and a deepening desire for eternal life. Look at the life of Mother Teresa, the humble saint, and you will find all these things. Look at the life of any person who takes the command to love one’s neighbor seriously and you will find them as well.

How do we love our neighbor and honor their dignity? Not all of us can work in soup kitchens or find our way to Kolkata. Interestingly, Mother Teresa once told some folks that they can always find their own Kolkata. In other words, there is always need around us. Perhaps the biggest challenge is getting over the idea that my needs are more important than my neighbors’ and beginning to understand the intimate connection God’s love creates with all of my brothers and sisters and even creation. We need to become good and effective stewards. Once we change the lens through which we see life, then the way we live life will change as well and we give God more occasions to use us.

Mother Teresa did not start out seeking to be a saint. She just learned early on how to get herself out of the way.

Rev. Mark S. Suslenko

PRAYER

Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance
everywhere we go.
Flood our souls with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly
that our lives may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through us and be so in us
that every soul we come in contact with
may feel your presence in our soul.
Let them look up and see no longer us, but only Jesus.
Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as you shine,
so to shine as to be light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from you.
None of it will be ours.
It will be you shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise you in the way you love best
by shining on those around us.
Let us preach you without preaching,
not by words, but by our example;
by the catching force –
the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to you.
Amen.

Prayer of Mother Teresa.

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Open Your Doors and Open Your Hearts

Posted on September 8, 2016 by - Everyday Stewardship

An Everyday Stewardship Reflection for 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

9/11 Never ForgottenI remember driving to work and hearing on the radio about a plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center. I assumed at the time it was some daredevil stunt that had gone wrong.

Upon my arrival, I went into the parish center and turned on the television. As I was watching live coverage, I saw a second plane hit the second tower.

As the events unfolded, a crowd gathered around the screen. I ran to open the church and light candles in anticipation of people who would be arriving to pray.

We did not know what was really happening, but we knew it was horrible and we knew that people would be drawn to the parish to pray, unsure of what else to do.

There was a wide range of people who came by that day. Some we knew only from Sunday masses; others were heavily involved in various ministries. A few were Catholics from another parish, while some were not Catholic at all.

crossOn that day, it did not matter where you were from or if you had ever graced the front door of our church. We knew who you were. You were family.

Tragedy and misfortune bring people together who, on a good day, fail to see that they have anything in common. What they have failed to realize previously is that they have the most important thing in common: they have one Creator and they are created in His image.

Even though I pray that another day like that first 9/11 never befalls our country again, the sense of welcoming and family on that day and the days that followed is one I often recall.

Regardless of the reason why someone shows up at our church door, we need to be ready to welcome him or her with open arms. Hospitality can lead to many wonderful things, for both the faithful and the prodigal among us.

Fifteen Years

Posted on September 6, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, September 11, 2016, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sept11

Fifteen years.

It was fifteen years ago that my mother went into the hospital for a somewhat routine surgery and never came back home. I was at my parents’ house when I got the call. The woman I had just walked the hallways of the hospital with earlier that day was barely hanging on to life due to a massive heart attack, probably brought on by complications with painkillers. I had to make the call to remove life support because my father and sister could not face the situation. It was reality crashing in on us all.

A person can feel so lost when life takes a sharp turn toward tragedy. If you live long enough, everyone finds himself or herself wandering and wondering how life can change so fast. Within the last fifteen years, both my sister and father have both passed away as well. I read a book about how one can feel abandoned when parents and family die, almost like an orphan. It doesn’t matter your age. How you have identified yourself from birth is now gone, because those people that created your identity are now gone. You feel like you are somehow a missing person, waiting to be found again.

Fifteen years.

Jesus liked to use parables to hammer home the promise that if you are lost, God will find you, and if you seek a way home, God will be waiting. You are, I am, at times, lost sheep or coins, or prodigals that have decided to put our will and desires above that of our Creator. But when we are lost, it is at those times that we become most precious to God.

Sometimes, we stray from the path without really knowing we are going astray. Sheep are not smart animals. A coin cannot think for itself. We can find ourselves somewhere else due to lack of planning, ignorance, or sin. The reality is that at these moments we can’t find our way back. We need a shepherd or coin owner to look for us, and not in a nonchalant manner. We need someone greater than ourselves to pull out all the stops to find us, because if not, we could be lost forever.

At other times, we simply need to face the facts and say that God’s will is more important than our own. Like the prodigal son, we can make our way back, but we have to fight fear, pride, and humiliation before traveling back home. But these are human emotions that do not speak to the truth: there is no reason to fear or be ashamed in the presence of our Father. He waits for us to return, and when we are seen in the distance coming toward our home, he does not sit still. With compassion, he runs toward us for the embrace we thought we might never experience again.

Time can harden our human hearts, but with God, time has no ill effect. If it has been five, ten, or even fifteen years, God will either continue to look for you or will run to you upon your return. The good news is then you can begin again. Through the love of God and the sacramental life of the Church, the transgressions of the past are no more. You were lost, but now you are found.

Fifteen years.

It was fifteen years ago we watched multiple passenger airliners fly directly into some of the tallest buildings in our world. 2,996 people lost their lives on that day, while six thousand others suffered physical injury as well. But we all suffered injury on that day. For many of us, our innocence was gone and the belief that we were untouchable was shattered.

Although we proved to be strong and resilient, as the years go by, in many ways we continue to be lost. Recent studies speak about the decline of belief in God and the tremendous exodus from our faith communities. We put faith in politics and politicians, in science, in money; and in many ways we have given in to fear and prejudice. As a nation we are following our will, much like the prodigal.

But there still is a Shepherd looking for his sheep. There is still someone looking for the lost treasure of our faith. And there is still a Father waiting to run toward his own with an embrace that will chase all fear and pain away.

On some days it seems like a long time since 9-11 and the passing of my mother, but on other days, it feels like yesterday. It’s funny how time plays tricks on the mind. But for God, time has no ill effect. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He was there consoling me in a hospital room, and he was there crying with us on that Tuesday morning. And God is here now, always looking, and always longing for that embrace.

Fifteen years. God the Father shouldn’t have to wait a single day more.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
’Tis grace that brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

John Newton (1725–1807)

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God Created You On Purpose for a Purpose

Posted on September 1, 2016 by - Everyday Stewardship

An Everyday Stewardship Reflection for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 / Labor Day Weekend

The Creation of Adam“You were created on purpose for a purpose.” That may sound like pop psychology gibberish to you at first, but, it is the truth. Modern studies into strengths and gifts, along with constantly new understandings of the complex wonder of DNA, lead us to conclude that each human being is truly unique.

You hold within you a unique set of gifts that cannot be duplicated in the same way by another. What your parents may have told you about snowflakes growing up holds true for people too: No two are exactly alike.

However, we often live our lives in such a way that gives testimony to a falsity, that is, anybody can do just about any job. Positions in the workforce and in our parishes are filled with people who only fulfill one requirement for the job: they have warm bodies. (Meaning, they are not dead.)

There are two realities that create this problem.

First, we ask people to do things they are not equipped to do. We tell them to work harder at it and eventually they will get it. But I can guarantee that no matter how hard I try, I will not be able to lead an NBA team to a title. Sounds ludicrous on that level. But I assure you, it is no more ludicrous than asking someone who doesn’t really like children to teach elementary catechesis.

Second, we ourselves sometimes believe that we have nothing special to offer. We go through life having no idea what are gifts are and how to give of them. We take dead-end jobs and rarely share ourselves with the community. But you may just be the answer to a business or parish problem that, to some, seems unsolvable.

On this Labor Day weekend, thank God for the gifts you have received. Use them to elevate your labor, both in the workplace and in the parish.

If you don’t know how, there is help out there. You are not like everybody else. God has given you a purpose.