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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A Lesson We Were Not Prepared For

Posted on June 14, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, June 19, 2016, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Man carrying cross on his back.

It was my first day as a college student. Arriving at an Introduction to Education course, we found a chair placed in the middle of the room, facing the student desks. The professor asked one student to sit in the chair, facing the rest of us, and she was given a mirror. She was told to address the person in the mirror, to express whatever she wanted to say to herself, aloud, with the class watching and listening. Then, one by one, each of us were called forward. As a painfully shy seventeen-year-old, this was almost more than I could manage. I remember thinking to myself, “What is her point?” After all of us had gone through the exercise, the professor explained. “You cannot hope to teach anyone anything unless you know yourself, are comfortable in your own skin, are prepared to be yourself in the presence of others.” This was a lesson I had not expected to learn—I can admit now that I did not really want to learn the lesson then, but fully grasp the professor’s wisdom now. This was for me, and I imagine for many of the other students, the real beginning of education. We began to learn what it means to be a person.

The apostles in Sunday’s Gospel were presented with a lesson for which they were not prepared. They had followed Jesus from town to town; they had witnessed miraculous healings, heard his teaching, and had come to believe that he is the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah. Now, at the very moment in which Peter voiced their conviction about his identity, Jesus directed them not to tell anyone what they have come to understand. Not only this, he told them he will be rejected, suffer, die, and rise—what must they have thought? They might have wondered, “What is his point?” This is not the sort of life they had envisioned as disciples of the Messiah! There is more. Jesus told them, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Jesus understands the inner conversion of heart and spirit the apostles must embrace in order to be his disciples in the world. He has predicted his own suffering and death, which the apostles cannot possibly yet grasp. He is asking them to change their expectations—the Messiah is not a temporal king who will overturn Roman rule. The Messiah is the One who shows us how to abandon false notions of power and control, lose our lives to God’s will, and love beyond our limited human imagination.

We deny ourselves when we fall into negative behavioral patterns, denying our self-worth and failing to recognize the impact of such behavior on others. This is not the sort of self-denial Jesus commands. Jesus’ call to self-denial is the call to humbly give our lives to God, trusting that all will be well. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians underlines the change of mind and heart that results from this trusting faith. In Christ, there is no room for division or prejudice due to ethnic origin, social status, or gender. Those who are clothed with Christ are to be unified in mission as children of God. This is a lesson we may not be ready to learn, yet must. The lesson is twofold: First, we must pray for an open mind and heart, that we may be conformed to Christ’s way of humble fulfillment of the Father’s loving will. To “deny yourself” will require each of us to some specific movement of human and spiritual growth, which is in itself a lifelong process of ongoing conversion.

Secondly, we take up our own crosses, the daily deaths, burdens, and struggles that we bear, while standing in solidarity with those whose crosses are greater than our own. This weekend, we learned again a lesson that none of us wants to learn. Violence and terror are again on our minds; images of grieving families again fill media; our hearts hurt for the victims and their families, and wonder what our Christian response must be. We take up the cross with all who are hurting through the senseless violence and terror, knowing this is one act among many. The statements of Pope Francis and Archbishop Kurtz (president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) voice our solidarity with all who suffer in Orlando. Archbishop Cupich of Chicago calls us to act as Christ’s people in the world, seeking the end to such senseless violence. Whether in the relatively mundane aspects of daily life, or in the larger moments of challenge in acting faithfully as a person in the world, we must be true to our master teacher, Jesus, the Christ of God. And what is Jesus’ “point” for our lives? “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

Leisa Anslinger

PRAYER

O Lord,
give us a mind
that is humble, quiet, peaceable,
patient, and charitable,
and a taste of your Holy Spirit
in all our thoughts, words, and deeds.

O Lord,
give us a lively faith, a firm hope,
a fervent charity, a love of you.

Take from us all lukewarmness in meditation
and all dullness in prayer.
Give us fervor and delight in thinking of you,
your grace, and your tender compassion toward us.

Give us, good Lord,
the grace to work for
the things we pray for.

—St. Thomas More

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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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Which Child Are You?

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

For Sunday, April 17, 2016, 4th Sunday of Easter

Family celebration.

Which child are you? It is that time of the year: Easter comes; the weather in the Northern Hemisphere begins to warm; school children anticipate summer vacation; families gather. Reunions and graduations, vacations and weddings—whatever the occasion, families and friends anticipate time together for months as they orchestrate arrivals, coordinate accommodations, and plan meals with one another. Family recipes are passed on to new generations; as new members join the family, they bring their traditions and tastes with them. Children bring hope, even as older members experience physical decline.

With the gatherings, come the stories. Grandchildren may roll their eyes as they hear the story of their grandparents’ meeting or the arrival of the first immigrant ancestors. A few children sneak away when the storytelling begins, finding the retelling of old stories tedious and boring. Yet most listen, and in time, they share the stories with their children, passing on the shared history as though the stories were their own. Truly, the stories are theirs, like the flesh and blood that they share, from generation to generation. In the best of times, the gathering draws members closer to one another, extending their bond beyond time and the physical limitation of earthly life through the power of memory and shared story. Occasionally, a difficult circumstance, disagreement, or misunderstanding separates family members from one another. Even though the stories are painful, they also have the potential to bring healing, as members share their memories and the hope of reconciliation.

While every celebration of the Eucharist includes a telling of the story of God’s family, this is true in a particular way during the Easter season. We hear the stories of the early Christian communities and how the Gospel was shared from town to town, in synagogues and among the Gentiles. We learn how some people heard and believed, while others refused to do so. They turned a deaf ear to the story and rejected the messengers, sometimes “with violent abuse,” as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles.

At times, we are like the children who patiently listen, even if we don’t fully comprehend what we are told. It is easy to hear the story of the early Christian communities and think to ourselves, “If I heard Peter or Paul speak, I would believe. I would not be one who refused to listen to the message of the risen Christ!” Yet, do we really hear the message and take it to heart, as though we are hearing the story of our family? Because that is what happens each time we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word—we hear the story of our family of faith, including times of division and disagreement as well as moments of joy, peace, and mercy.

Jesus tells us that the sheep hear his voice and follow him, the Good Shepherd. Again, we hear this Gospel story and nod in assent. Surely, we think, we want to be the sheep that hears and follows. But do we hear the voice of the Lord and follow? Do we take our relationship with Jesus and our faith, lived out as Catholic Christians, to heart in such a way that we act as Christ’s body in our daily interactions with others? This week, Pope Francis gave the Church his pastoral exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). In it, he says, “All family life is a ‘shepherding’ in mercy. Each of us, by our love and care, leaves a mark on the life of others” (322). Not only, then, are we to be shepherded by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we are called to be good shepherds ourselves, in our families, among friends, in our faith community. Do we live this way? Do we listen, learn, and follow as faith-filled children of God, or do we turn a deaf ear, like the child at the family gathering who sneaks away? Which child are you?

Leisa Anslinger

PRAYER

Good Shepherd, Risen Lord,
you call us to listen to your voice
and to follow you.
Help us to do this with open hearts,
to grow in your love and mercy
and to share that love and mercy.
In this Easter season, form us as people of joy,
certain that your love conquers death.
For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Now and forever. Amen.

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Credible Witnesses

Posted on March 22, 2016 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, March 27, 2016, Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

Detail from The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection by Burnand.

Many years ago, there was a popular poster that read, “If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of the powerful witness of Peter to a group of Gentiles. They had been gathered by Cornelius, following a vision in which he was told to summon Peter. Peter begins by telling the story of Jesus, including that he was among those who witnessed what he did, that he witnessed Jesus after the Resurrection, that the prophets bear witness to Christ.

What does it mean to be a witness to the risen Lord in our time? What situations call for us to witness? What difference does the Resurrection make in our everyday lives?

On the surface, we might only think of witnessing as something that involves preaching or teaching, such as the priest during the homily, or a catechist who teaches religious education or leads the RCIA. We might even be a little hesitant to think about ourselves as witnesses, thinking of those who preach on street corners or who are missionaries in foreign lands. Especially when we take into consideration that those missionaries sometimes face persecution and martyrdom, like the Missionary Sisters of Charity who were killed earlier this month, we wonder if we are up to answering the call to witness to Christ!

While priests and catechists and missionaries are all witnesses, there are many other ways to witness to Christ. We know this in our hearts, but perhaps do not always reflect on the call to witness in our own lives, day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year. The truth is, most of us will not be called to put our lives physically on the line as a witness to Christ. Many of us may rarely be asked to speak to our faith in formal ways. And while some do preach or teach, the rest of us are called to witness in the course of our lives at home, in our workplace, parish, country, and world, through our actions, attitudes, and demeanor. Many situations in our time call for us to witness: genocide in the Middle East; immigration; human trafficking; and participation in the election process to name only a few.

Pope Francis points to this living witness: “Often today there is an attitude of indifference toward the faith which regards it as irrelevant for human life. The New Evangelization means reawakening the life of faith in the minds and hearts of our contemporaries. Faith is a gift of God; however, it is important that we Christians demonstrate that we live faith in a concrete way, through love, harmony, joy, suffering, because this gives rise to questions, as those that were raised at the beginning of the Church’s journey: Why do they live that way? What urges them on? These are questions which lead straight to the heart of evangelization, to the witness of faith and charity. What we especially need in these times are credible witnesses who make the Gospel visible by their lives as well as by their words, and who reawaken the attraction for Jesus Christ, for the beauty of God” (October 14, 2013).

Why do we live this way? Are we “credible witnesses” who make God’s love known? As we celebrate Easter Sunday, let us take to heart the mystery of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Not only does Jesus’ resurrection show us the depths of God’s love; we are also drawn into this mystery through our baptism, in such a way that Christ’s life and light overcome the darkness, doubt, despair, and death in our human life. Death does not have the last word! This is what we are called to share as Christian witnesses! The everyday stuff of life is transformed through Christ. While we may at times lose sight of this, Easter is an annual immersion into the fullness of this mystery.

Many of us will participate in the great Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. We will witness adults and children who are initiated into Christian life and love. With them, we will renounce Satan and reaffirm our belief in Christ, and we will renew our own baptism. Throughout the Easter season, we will be sprinkled with the waters of baptism, showering us in order that we might take to heart Christ’s love and our call to witness to that love with the world through the ways in which we live our lives.

Christ is risen! May we live as witnesses to the Resurrection through all that we are and do, sharing the life and love of the risen One.

Leisa Anslinger

PRAYER

Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen indeed from the dead,
the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are his forever and ever

—Easter Prayer of St. Hippolytus of Rome.

NOTICES

PROVISIONAL SCHEDULE FOR WORLD YOUTH DAY
A draft of the schedule for Pope Francis’ trip to Poland from July 27 to 31 for the 31st World Youth Day was presented in Krakow on Saturday. The provisional schedule may be viewed at http://www.news.va/en/news/wyd-krakow-2016-draft-schedule-released.

MOTHER TERESA CANONIZATION DATE ANNOUNCED
The Holy Father announced the upcoming canonization of five new saints, including Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata (née Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu), whose work among the “poorest of the poor” won her worldwide acclaim. Hundreds of Missionaries of Charity, members of the religious order founded by Mother Teresa, are expected to be in Rome for her canonization, set for September 4, 2016.

EVERYDAY STEWARDSHIP NOW AVAILABLE IN SPANISH
La corresponsabilidad diaria: reflexiones para el viaje, by Tracy Earl Welliver, is packed full of practical examples and inspiring insights; each of these Everyday Stewardship reflections will encourage you to look more closely for God in all the ordinary moments of your life. Both English and Spanish copies of the book are now available for purchase at www.4LPi.com/store/stewardshipresources.

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Attentive to the Grandeur of God

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

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

Photo of Transfiguration of Christ by Carl Bloch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leisa Anslinger

PRAYER

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

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