A Hollow Kingdom?

Posted on November 22, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

Connect! Sunday Reflection: A Hollow Kingdom?For Sunday, November 26, 2017
Solemnity of Christ the King

Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17
1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28
Matthew 25:31-46

In his encyclical Laudato Si Pope Francis writes: “The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.” In other words, we are designed by God to keep these fundamental relationships in proper perspective and order. With our reading from Ezekiel and Matthew’s Gospel front and center on this Feast of Christ the King, we are able to give these primary relationships some much needed reflection. Also, assessing these relationships is a wonderful way to end one liturgical year and begin another.

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Harmony as God Intended

Posted on October 4, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

Connect! Sunday Reflection: Harmony as God IntendedFor Sunday, October 8, 2017
27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Isaiah 5:1-7
Philippians 4:6-9
Matthew 21:33-43

God created the beautiful glory of the heavens and the earth, animals, plants and human beings. All things were placed in proper order and he blessed it all with the gift of free will. He placed within the human heart the desire to know him, the author of all that is. It is with this gift of free will that all can find their paths to freely love God, their very selves, one another, and the world he has entrusted to our care. After all was finished and properly in place, God looked at all that he had made and found it very good. What more was there to do that God had not done?

The virtue of temperance helps us discover balance and harmony. We are meant to live in proper relationship with one another, the world, and the God who made us. But that gift of free will that makes life so creative, meaningful, and engaging can, if not properly used, lead us down a very different path. By choosing not so virtuous and balanced choices, we can quickly find our relationships very disordered. (more…)

Life with Conflicting Opposites

Posted on August 16, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

Connect! Sunday Reflection: Life with Conflicting OppositesFor Sunday, August 20, 2017
20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Isaiah 56:1, 6-7
Romans 11:13-15, 29-32
Matthew 15:21-28

A simple authentic and honest encounter with another human being can reveal hidden truths, allow enemies to embrace, and mutual respect to flourish. It is necessary to journey into the heart of a person in order for walls, prejudices, and antiquated barriers to be removed. Inclusivity has been one of the hallmarks of God’s agenda from the beginning of time. His house is intended to be “a house of prayer for all peoples” where human dignity is safeguarded regardless of who we are, where we come from, and what we believe. (more…)

Moving Beyond Fear

Posted on June 21, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

Midweek Reflection: Moving Beyond FearFor Sunday, June 25, 2017
12th Sunday Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 20:10-13
Romans 5:12-15
Matthew 10:26-33

We live in unsettled times. Issues are brewing across the globe, whether in North Korea, Russia, with ISIS, or in our very own country. Conflicts and divisions seem to be deepening every day and the news headlines constantly reveal more. We hesitate to have our children play outside alone, we fear being vulnerable in public places, and things we normally could trust are being called into question. Fear is an emotion not only becoming more common, but becoming justifiable in light of our current situation.

But we are people of faith and Jesus clearly makes the point that fear has no place in the life of the disciple. Matthew’s Gospel specifically tells us: “Fear no one.” Even the Stoic philosopher, Seneca, had no tolerance for fear: “If we let things terrify us, life will not be worth living.” That being said, there is a difference between actual fear and imagined, crippling fear. Fear in the presence of a specific threat can propel us to action. For the Christian, however, that action must be a faith response. Imagined, crippling fear can prevent us from discovering and enjoying life’s beauty and developing our true potential. (more…)

We Have a Choice

Posted on April 18, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 23, 2017,
2nd Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:42-47
1 Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

All of the happenings in our world have people very concerned and worried. Whether its chemical weaponry, suicide bombers, religious persecution, or just violence in general, people—especially those who possess some kind of faith—are wondering what is God doing about all of this? Asking where God is when we experience hurtful and frightening things is normal. It may appear at first that God is deaf to our concerns, lacking empathy for our fears and suffering. Depending upon where people are on their faith journey, this apparent absence of God can easily lead them into a doubt where they begin to question the existence of God altogether.

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Who Do We Trust?

Posted on February 28, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, March 5, 2017, 1st Sunday of Lent

Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19 or 12, 17-19
Matthew 4:1-11

Who do you trust? In his book, Soul Cravings, Erwin McManus tells an exceptional story about his two-year-old son getting caught crawling up the stairs. During one of his escapades, the father caught his son midway up the stairs and firmly told him to get down. In a normal two-year-old manner, the child exclaimed, “Daddy, carry me.” This interaction continued for a while and McManus remarks, “Then it happened. I never would have expected it. It took me entirely by surprise. He jumped.” McManus reached out his hands and caught his son. (more…)

Who Are You?

Posted on January 10, 2017 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, January 15, 2017, 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

This weekend’s readings are all about knowing who you are. That being said, many reading this reflection may immediately react by saying that they know exactly who they are. But do you? We know the particulars of our lives, the nuances of our personalities, our successes, our weaknesses, and our personal histories. These traits define us and assist us in presenting ourselves to the world and interacting with others. But is this the end of the story? Who we really are is rooted in something we all share: baptism. (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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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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A Foundation of Faith, Hope, and Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Mark S. Suslenko

PRAYER

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

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

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