Eucharistic Presence

Posted on June 3, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, June 7, 2015, The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

June 7Our first reading this weekend from the Book of Exodus makes a very bold and confident statement of faith. “All that the LORD has said, we will heed and do.” People of faith must constantly be reminded of what God says and their willingness to accept what is said through lives of service. It is interesting to note that the sprinkling of blood on the people is really a profound statement of connection and sharing; of God sharing the life of his covenant with his people and the people sharing their lives with God. The Eucharist, the heart and center of Catholic life, brings this sharing to its most perfect level.

At every Eucharist and in a more particular way this week as we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, we have to remind ourselves of what God is saying and asking us to do. St. Augustine stated it most clearly when he said that it is through the Eucharist that we become what we eat. Ultimately, then, God is asking us to become the very image of Christ. The Eucharist is not something that is celebrated for the sole purpose of getting us to heaven. While our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us of the “promised eternal inheritance” that awaits us, it is even more profound. The Eucharist is celebrated so that transformation can occur in the lives of those who receive Christ! We become what we eat.

Mark’s Gospel reminds us that on that first eucharistic night of Passover, a New Covenant came into being. It was a covenant that asked those first disciples and those who follow after to do all that the Lord had commanded and to become like him. The amen we boldly state when presented with the body of Christ is not only a statement of our faith in the Real Presence before us but a bold statement of faith in our willingness to become that presence!

It is no secret that Jesus went out to those most in need. He forgave the sinner, ate with the outcast, defended and fed those who were poor and hungry, worked for true justice, risked being unpopular, willingly accepted suffering and death, always stayed connected with his Abba Father, and consistently reminded folks that God’s compassion, love, and mercy trump everything, even the law. This is the Christ that the Eucharist calls us to be. As we look around our churches, our town and cities, and our world there are many places and people who need to see the face and body of Christ. Some of those most in need may be right within our families. But it is always in the poorest of the poor and those most vulnerable where the greatest need exists. When the gift of the eucharistic Christ takes root in our hearts, we can more readily see the face of Christ in others.

There are many who are vulnerable, but I believe that highest on the list are the homeless. They show us the face of Christ. Whatever the cause, to have no place to go and no place to call home takes a toll on the human spirit. For Jesus when there were hungry people, they were fed. God asks us to do the same … feed people. There are many who are hungry physically, emotionally, and spiritually and gifted by the eucharistic presence of Christ, we bring them Christ himself. Who are the hungry around us and how can we feed them?

When others are hurting, you comfort them. When others are hungry, you feed them. When others need clothes, you provide them. When others are cold, you warm them. When others are in prison, you visit them. With over a million people who are homeless and over a quarter of them children, it is important to ask the question why and strategize for ways to lessen the problem or at least effectively respond. But asking the question “why” cannot let us off the hook for responding to the immediate need that presents itself at our door. Whether a person’s current station in life is self-imposed or the result of being victimized, it is second to the fact that that person still needs help. We cannot lock the door and send others away and still believe we are the presence of Christ. It doesn’t work like that.

The issues behind the cause of homelessness, loneliness, depression, and all of the things that “starve” people and rob them of freedom and life are complicated with no easy answers to be found. People are complicated. Our shelters are filled with people who have tremendous stories to tell, stories of domestic violence, of being a lost and emotionally wounded veteran, of not being able to afford rent and provide for their families in spite of working two jobs, of losing their homes, of losing their spouse, and of struggling with mental illness and addiction. When you listen to what these people have to say and their eyes meet yours, they are the eyes of Christ and they need to see Christ looking back.

The Eucharist, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is about celebrating, strengthening, enriching, focusing, and becoming. The tabernacles in our churches may need to be locked but the tabernacles of our hearts need to be wide open. John 6:51 reminds us that Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven. Figure out who around you is hungry, make an act of faith, and be that living bread for them. Leave what you are to do and what you are to say to the One who lives within you. “I will take the cup of salvation, and call on the name of the Lord.”

Rev. Mark Suslenko

PRAYER

Shelter us, O Lord, and give us the compassion and
knowledge to help others in their search for shelter.
Protect us, O Lord, from darkness, and give us the
wisdom and skills to protect others who life in unsafe
and unhealthy housing and long for the light.
Bless us, O Lord, with homes that make comfort and
joy realities for our families, and give us the grace to
ensure this for all families.
Amen.
—“Longing for Home” prayer by Education for Justice.

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Transforming the World

Posted on April 29, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, May 3, 2015, 5th Sunday of Easter

May 3

Resurrection has much more relevance to life than just the promise of more to come when we die! When the first disciples met the risen Lord not only did their understanding of Christ’s purpose become clear, but the way they conducted earthly business became transformed as well. How they lived with one another, what they valued, how they prioritized their affairs, their level of confidence, and how they viewed their possessions all were altered by what they witnessed. It is almost like encountering the unconditional love of someone for the first time and realizing that you are forever changed. You cannot go back!

If we believe in the risen Christ with our whole mind, heart, and soul and have truly been transformed by the event we witnessed and celebrated just a few weeks ago, then we can never go back to the mundane or the secular. We have to change. This change affects not only how we view our death but how we view and value our daily earthly lives. The resurrection of Christ realigns and redirects our relationships: with God, ourselves, one another, and our environment.

We are used to examining and tweaking the more obvious relationships we share: God, self, and others. However, our relationship with our environment can sometimes be overlooked, avoided, or perceived as non-essential. After all, will what I do with my garbage every day have anything to say about whether I get to heaven? Probably not! But what we do with our garbage, our bank accounts, our possessions, and the “stuff” we accumulate and use every day for business or pleasure has plenty to say about our faith!

In truth, these are essentials that must factor into understanding the power of Resurrection transformation. Faith is not easy, even when preachers and witnesses call for our attention and try to focus us on truth. Our first reading this weekend demonstrates this very clearly when Saul arrived in Jerusalem. All were afraid of him—perhaps rightly so because of his reputation—and did not believe that he was a disciple. It took a while for them to become convinced. It takes a while for us to be convinced when truth has authentically taken root in an individual too. I am sure that Saul was as surprised by what the Resurrection’s transformative power did in his life as were those who saw him!

The preaching continued and the church was being built up. Those who believed “walked in fear of the Lord.” This was not the kind of fear that seeks to avoid punishment but the kind of fear that stems from a healthy reverence for and understanding of God’s providential presence and power. They were changed and now being guided and led to a new way of living!

God intends us to help in preserving things for future generations. Our faith calls us not only to a healthy reverence of God but for ourselves, each other, and our world. Psalm 22, a poetic prayer predating Christ’s resurrection, clearly shows us that this is God’s intention. “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD…my descendants shall serve him. Let the coming generation be told of the LORD that they may proclaim to a people yet to be born the justice he has shown.” Our free will, one of our most precious gifts next to life and love itself, gives us the power to choose whether our earth will remain an abundant place of blessing. Through our neglect and lack of attention and concern, we can easily compromise God’s gift of earth’s blessing and diminish its ability to flourish for generations to come. Edward Humes, in his new book entitled Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, provides some insights regarding things that are not always considered worthy of our attention. MSN offered a synopsis of his thoughts this past week that you may find interesting.

St. John admonished the early believers by calling them to “love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” It seems that each generation is called to discover anew what this really means and to adapt and change its application based upon what presents itself at the time. It does not serve our understanding of resurrection’s power by limiting our understanding of its implications to a literal second-century interpretation. Life is different and the challenges to Gospel living are presenting themselves in new ways!

Does change and transformation ever come easy? Certainly not! Being pruned hurts! A vine that is pruned surely must experience some kind of trauma but certainly gives itself over to the action for the necessary good that will come. John’s Gospel reminds us that the word prunes us. This means that the Word who is God, a living and effective Word, is life-changing. It is not simply a spoken word that can be heard and yet unheeded. It is a living and effective word that when truly received, changes how we see and understand things. The resurrected Christ spoke this kind of word and it was this very word that entered the disciples’ hearts and changed them! It is this living and effective word that can enter us and change us as well.

Receiving and acting on this word grafts us to the very heart and life of God. It transforms us into his image and likeness and we begin to act as he acts. We see things, people, and life itself as God sees those things. What God intends, we intend. Even the simple and seemingly unimportant elements of life receive a new and refocused priority and purpose. And, yes, what we do with our garbage begins to matter because we suddenly see the connection between that small piece of paper or piece of plastic and the many other small pieces of paper and plastic that are being handled and used at that moment throughout God’s entire world!

It’s all about responsible stewardship! “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Rev. Mark Suslenko

PRAYER

Dear mother earth, who day by day
unfolds rich blessing on our way,
O praise God! Alleluia!
The fruits and flowers that verdant grow,
let them his praise abundant show.
O praise God, O praise God,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
—St. Francis of Assisi

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Companions on the Way

Posted on March 25, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, March 29, 2015, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

March 29

Every human being will experience some type of loneliness at one point or another in their lives. Even people in committed, solid relationships can experience loneliness and it can even be said that a certain dose of it is healthy for personal and relational development. Many people, however, find it to be their consistent and unwelcome companion. It is this crippling type of loneliness that can lead to a terrifying sense of isolation and eventually depression. In fact, Brigham Young University researchers are sounding about loneliness and saying that it “could be the next big public health issue, on par with obesity and substance abuse. Social isolation—or lacking social connection—and living alone were found to be even more devastating to a person’s health than feeling lonely.”

It is good to find time alone. It is during those times that we can find our deepest moments of connection and prayer. But loneliness is a much different matter and its causes are many and varied. What is of no doubt, however, is that people who experience deep and lasting loneliness are most vulnerable. Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel,”  reminds the church that “it is essential to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability, in which we are called to recognize the suffering Christ, even if this appears to bring us no tangible and immediate benefits” (210).

Our psalm’s refrain today is profound. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Many lonely people in the deafening silence of their isolation have cried out to God only to hear silence in return. Is God far from their plea or indifferent to their cries? Pope Francis begins to touch upon this very point when he speaks of the need for enthusiasm with regard to evangelization. He states that the “treasure of life and love” that we have is “a truth which is never out of date because it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love” (265). How do the lonely begin to experience this infinite love? It begins when they experience, from us, our genuine love and presence.

The Passion account that is read today is filled with stories of disappointment, loneliness, despair, rejection, aloneness, and feelings of abandonment. The stories of humanity’s struggles are revealed before our eyes in the journeys of Jesus, his disciples, his friends, and those who knew him. Without knowing fully how the Resurrection event would end, I am sure that on Good Friday and in the days following many felt disconnected, confused, and full of despair. In what did they invest themselves? Who really cares?

Many of our young people though technologically connected with the world are socially disengaged. They hunger for connection without even knowing that they are starving until they awake one day finding that they are in this lonely place of desolation. They may not even know to name it, realize its cause, or understand where it beckons them. They succumb to it or try to relieve its excruciating pain in easy but unhealthy ways.

With the prophet Isaiah in our first reading today, we have to learn “how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.” Can we trust that God will give us the words and ability to do this? How do we convince people that they are in need of infinite love? We are quickly becoming a society of isolation and entitlement. Our lives are often too complicated and busy to find the time needed to build and maintain meaningful and close relationships. Worse still, we may not even realize that there is an imperative need within us to do so. In addition, the millions of hurting people in our world can certainly benefit from what we can provide for them. But, the real challenge facing all of us is in determining how we can “be” for them. Hearts are transformed and wounds are healed by presence.

The disciples found their strength in connecting with one another after the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus found his strength in connecting with his Father. These were connections of the heart, connections that lead to profound transformations of love. The love revealed in the crucifixion of Jesus did not come to us simply by what was spoken about it. It came from the humble actions that embraced it.

We have a profound message to bring to our world. St. Paul reminds us of what it is. “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” However, we need people who are willing to bring it there and witness to others the value and sanctity of every human life and the profound joy that connecting with others in our community of faith can bring.

People who are vulnerable, lonely, or poor need help in confronting their darkness and in revealing the truth that is within them. It is a journey whose success relies on companions willing to walk with them and assist them in seeing the light. Those who are most isolated and lonely can experience the tremendous joy of the Resurrection when they learn the beauty of what it means to walk with others and discover the spark of the divine that is revealed when serving others along the way.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Rev. Mark S. Suslenko

PRAYER

Father, your truth is made known in your Word.
Guide us to seek the truth of the human person.
Teach us the way to love because you are Love.

Jesus, you embody Love and Truth.
Help us to recognize your face in the poor.
Enable us to live out our vocation to bring love and justice to your people.

Holy Spirit, you inspire us to transform our world.
Empower us to seek the common good for all persons.
Give us a spirit of solidarity and make us one human family.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.
—Prayer for Charity in Truth © 2009, USCCB, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved.

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Into the Desert

Posted on February 22, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, February 22, 2015, 1st Sunday of Lent

February 22

Catholic spiritual tradition has always promoted experiences to the desert. The Desert Fathers and Mothers were individuals who physically removed themselves from the concerns of everyday life in order to seek the presence of God without distraction and noise. It was in the desert, stripped of all dependencies, where they discovered the truth of who they were and the God who sought them. Mark’s Gospel this weekend details how Jesus remained in the desert for forty days. Though tempted by Satan, we can assume that this desert experience was one of enlightenment, empowerment, and enrichment for Jesus who was more acutely able to learn the ways of God. He emerges after forty days with clarity of intent and purpose and proclaims: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” The desert clarified many things for Jesus and gave him the orientation and direction he sought. In short, his awareness of things changed dramatically.

The Book of Genesis reminds us: “I will establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all bodily creatures be destroyed by the waters of a flood; there shall not be another flood to devastate the earth.” God’s covenant is with all living creatures and with creation itself not just with a select few who may be deemed worthy or good. In fact, God’s loving, compassionate, and all- merciful bond with all human beings and with all of creation is permanent, regardless of individual or corporate disposition. As Christians, we believe in this personal, loving God who has an intimate connection and relationship with everyone and everything he has made. Our task, highlighted once again this Lenten season, is to learn to recognize this presence of God in our daily lives and thus experience this love of God.

Increasing awareness and mindfulness of things is a goal of many traditions. Matthieu Ricard, who had a promising career in biochemistry, left and journeyed to the Himalayas some forty-plus years ago. For those looking to take seriously this year’s Lenten journey, similar parallels and depth of awareness can be achieved. We can learn from each other’s journeys and realize that all serious seekers have similar goals.

Our Christian tradition brings us to the gift of contemplation as a way of increasing our awareness and mindfulness of God and the abounding fullness of his presence in and through all that is in and around us. It is this contemplative experience that is sought by our psalmist when he petitions: “Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; teach me your paths, Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.”

Relationships always involve growing pains. They often consist of unequal doses of clarity and confusion, focus and ambiguity, certainty and doubt, presence and absence, connection and disconnection, joy and agony, satisfaction and fulfillment and distance and despair. When we feel close to the one we love, we can carry on with playful abandon and when we experience detachment or separation we can actually experience apprehension, anxiety, and dread. There is no difference in our relationship with God.

It is no wonder that our legendary spiritual ancestors and masters spoke of darkness in the quests for God. St. John of the Cross, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and Mother Theresa of Calcutta all spoke of an agony or darkness that prevailed in their relationship with God. Hence, we are called again this year to take that sometimes lonely journey into the desert, into the unknown. It is there that we accept that very challenging task of learning about ourselves, our relationship with the world, and more importantly our relationship with our covenant God. As the Letter to St. Peter reminds us, “Christ suffered for sins once … that he might lead you to God.” It is Christ who reveals to us the real face of God. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, our awareness of God’s presence can be intensified and the way we think and perceive life purified. We certainly do not need as much as we think we do and in the end, less is really more. In the desert we can see things more clearly, recognize our emptiness, take stock of our sinfulness, and learn again what it really means to repent and believe.

It is not the stuff around us that defines us but what we discover within and what we accumulate as we embark upon our true vocation, which is love. These lessons of the heart are what make life worth living and give us the passion to stay on course, committed to the Gospel.

Rev. Mark Suslenko

PRAYER

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that
I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you and I hope that I have that
desire in all that I am doing.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road although I may know nothing
about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear for you are every with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Amen.
—Prayer by Thomas Merton, OCSO

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Searching for Jesus

Posted on January 18, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, January 18, 2015, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 18

The search for the historical Jesus continues! The Washington Post had a report last week that a great possibility exists that the site of Jesus’ actual trial has been discovered. For centuries, archeologists, curious seekers, and people of faith have been trying to validate the historical path Jesus would have trod. With the Gospels themselves often being vague and even conflicted, discovering the “real” historical Jesus is something that can at best be left to the world of speculation.

While archeological discoveries are necessary for linking us to our past, connecting us to our roots, validating the chronicles of history, the question is begged as to how essential they are to our faith. Pilgrimages to historical sites, shrines, and places where revelations are said to have occurred are certainly popular expressions of faith. But is faith something that is validated outside of us or within? Belief in Jesus Christ has been a part of world culture in one way or another for centuries. Do we give the historical discovery of one thing or another the power to negate that faith? The importance we place on historical validation and archeological discovery must be kept in check. The legacy of faith, rooted in Scripture and tradition, goes way beyond those things and contain timeless wisdom.

Spiritual master Jean-Pierre de Caussade tells us that “He [God] speaks to every heart, and to each one he utters the word of life, the only word applicable to us. But we do not hear it. We want to know what he has said to others and do not listen to what is said to us.” Our reading from the First Book of Samuel shows the Lord calling out to Samuel in his sleep and Samuel repeatedly mistaking God’s voice for someone else. We often mistake God’s voice. And, in typical human fashion, we always want to validate what we are feeling, thinking, or hearing outside of ourselves, in history, in the common lived experience of others, or in things we can touch and analyze. However, God is not there.

What history reveals or even what others say must always take a back seat to what is happening now. Caussade further directs us to: “Come, not to learn the map of this spiritual country, but to possess it, to walk in it at your ease without fear of losing your way. Come, not to study the theory of God’s grace, or to learn what it has done in the past and is still doing, but simply to be open yourself to what it can do. You do not need to know what it has said to others … His grace will speak to you, yourself, what is best for you.” The task before us is to wait and embrace the perpetual advent movement of our lives. Our palmist says it best: “I have waited, waited for the LORD, and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.”

We struggle futilely to make intellectual sense of God. Do we pretend to think that we are greater than God and believe that our intellects can really figure him out? We need to wait and look elsewhere. The glance is not necessarily back into the archives of history but experience. “O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!” After years of searching and bumping into closed doors, journeying down dead ends and getting lost, the exhausted soul can easily abandon the whole notion of God and close the door on faith.

Sometimes we are led to the least likely of places. Two disciples were enamored by Jesus and after hearing John point Jesus out as the Lamb of God they decided to follow him. They never responded to Jesus’ question, “What are you looking for?” Curious. If we give faith a chance, not with our heads but with our hearts, we stand the chance of discovering something. If we approach Jesus not with a mind bent on figuring him out or validating his earthly existence but with a heart willing to listen and be taught, we may be drawn more deeply to the voice within our own selves where God is calling us.

The only real faith that lasts and takes root is the faith that is stumbled upon and awakened. It is discovered when we begin to connect the dots, untangle the voices, and listen to the voice within. The disciples’ need to see Jesus’ physical dwelling and know where he was staying quickly faded away to more pressing concerns. Ultimately it leads them to accepting the incredible mission of proclaiming the good news to others.

Until we unscramble the voices and get rid of the interference we will never know who we really are and how we are to act. St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian community, verifies them. They were confused and needed to be reminded that bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit comes from God and that their bodies are not their own. What a different view of things we possess when viewed through the eyes of faith!

Perhaps this, more than any historical validation, is the reason our faith in Jesus Christ persists. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the vision we achieve with eyes of faith validates not something outside of ourselves but something deep within. It makes sense, not always intellectually but in soul-speak! The very blood flows through your veins by movement of God’s power. Caussade eloquently directs us to the truth: “There is not a single atom in your frame, even the marrow of your bones that is not formed by divine power.” Listen.

Rev. Mark 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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