Gospel Relationships

Posted on July 7, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, July 12, 2015, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Family holding hands together closeup.Every day we become aware of circumstances and issues that perk the interest of Christian consciousness. Whether they are issues surrounding human life, political agendas, morality, or our responsibility to the earth, we must realize that the Gospel has much more to do with how we live each day than influencing acts of piety and devotion. The Gospel is very much about organizing both our divine and human affairs and does require political sensitivity and awareness.

Just this past week, there was a plethora of things happening in our world that ought to have grabbed our interest. Three such examples are a story about a Texas Immigration Center, doctors in Belgium granting a healthy twenty-four-year-old woman who is suffering from depression the right to die, and a group of up to fifty teenagers bent on destruction who raced into a Walmart in Georgia. While each of these come from totally different venues and deal with very dissimilar circumstances, they all have a bearing on the mind of the Christian and the Gospel we hold to be true.

It is safe to say that many folks in our world today have lost their connection with their Creator. Whether due to doubt, neglect, worldly attraction, or an inability to find a meaningful path, understanding oneself as a child of God is crucial to plugging the vision of the Gospel into our daily lives. It is not just about having sensitivity for and mission to the poor or living just lives or being responsible to our environment or one another—it is about relationships! Who am I? I am a child of God. When those words are found on our lips profound implications calling for a change in priorities and actions will follow.

Paul knew this well when he instructed the Ephesians. God chose us “before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ.” Every single person who walks the face of this earth has been chosen by God to share in a relationship of love and intimacy! This is an essential part of the good news to be shared! St. Mark tells us that Jesus summoned the Twelve and sent them out two by two. They went off preaching repentance and if they listened at all to what Jesus taught, they also spoke of a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness who hears their cries and wishes for them to live a different world, one characterized by love, justice, and peace.

An anonymous fourteenth-century English mystic who wrote The Cloud of Unknowing and greatly influenced the development of spirituality took great efforts in emphasizing the need for self-knowledge and understanding the intimate love relationship we have with God. When people are able to fall into and embrace the truth of who they are then the way they live and see life will automatically change. It is not about obeying rules and precepts or having one ideology win over another. It is about relationships.

Each of the contemporary examples cited at the beginning of this brief article has everything to do with relationships. Each in their own way has something to do with a relationship with God, a relationship with self, and a relationship with others. We can debate immigration laws until we turn blue and every philosophy most certainly has certain truths it wishes to advance, suggesting its own as the one to adopt. This is a worthy and necessary discussion. The Christian, however, must step back and ask a further question, one that secular society either does not think to ask or fears asking. Why has immigration become a problem in the first place? Building walls around a country, while attractive to some, is an irresponsible and immature response. Instead of further dividing ourselves from countries whose people are trying to find refuge within our borders maybe greater success can be had in establishing partnerships with the powers of those countries to discern ways of helping each other solve problems. Of course, this would mean that we must abandon our preoccupation of entering into relationships with other nations purely for reasons of self-advancement, security, or need. People coming to our borders are not just drug addicts and felons. They are fathers, mothers, and children who are afraid. What would it take for you to leave your home and family and venture elsewhere with little more than a few belongings? One would have to think that they would prefer staying in their own land if they felt they could! Our psalmist proclaims: “I will hear what God proclaims; the LORD—for he proclaims peace. Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land.” Glory is meant to dwell, not fear. Peace is meant to reign, not strife.

Violence is increasing and violence for the sake of violence is most disturbing. The victims of senseless violence always hurt the most. The fact that people use others for their own selfish end is a problem throughout our world that raises its head in a variety of ways. Our young people are so lost. They are looking for something to make sense out of their lives and perhaps the wounds and emptiness they carry are causing them to act out in vengeance. Do they have hope? They need the message of the Gospel preached to them. But the message cannot be old and irrelevant. A word capable of causing change and transformation has to be able to ring true and connect! Someone speaking elegant English, using the fanciest and most proper of words, will face the wall of irrelevance if speaking to one more simple. Jesus called the Twelve to preach a simple Gospel to simple people using simple words. The effectiveness and power of those words were determined by the conviction and example the Twelve brought to them!

Depression is a scary disease. We know so little about the human mind and there is so much more to learn. Those facing fear, darkness, emptiness, and despair live without joy, hope, and a transforming sense of love. To be caught in this cycle is frightening and to believe that one is powerless over the pain is overwhelming. People in this place of desperation have a difficulty trusting in a God who loves them when what they see and know is so miserable. But with all that there is still to learn and treatments yet to explore, is choosing to end one’s life the only option or even one to consider? The global community has always treated mental illness with suspicion. Those struggling with this disease were treated like lepers and still are. Because we do not understand it, we cast it aside and label those struggling as bizarre or crazy. Perhaps the call here is for humanity to take greater responsibility and for those preaching the Gospel to not only tell but show people that they are loved.

There are no simple solutions to the very complex problems of the world and I do not pretend to even suggest that there are. But each of these examples noted above speak of the tremendous need that still exists within our world for people to hear the good news and for prophets. We need those creative, exciting, out-of-the-box type of folks who are willing to put it on the line and be a different voice. They need to translate the love of which Jesus spoke and died for into real words and real meaning. It requires letting go of anything that would prevent this work, this ministry, from being effective. And, it requires broad shoulders because rejection is sure to come. Amos trusted that God knows better than we do. Do we? Maybe God is calling you to have a prophetic voice if only by being a catalyst for communication in your community and initiating dialogue by how we can effectively spread the message of Jesus Christ, using contemporary words and actions, to those most in need of hearing it.

Rev. Mark Suslenko

PRAYER

Father of all,
Creator and ruler of the universe,
You entrusted your world to us as a gift.
Help us to care for it and all people,
that we may live in right relationship—
with You,
with ourselves,
with one another,
and with creation.

Christ our Lord,
both divine and human,
You lived among us and died for our sins.
Help us to imitate your love for the human family
by recognizing that we are all connected—
to our brothers and sisters around the world,
to those in poverty impacted by environmental devastation,
and to future generations.

Holy Spirit,
giver of wisdom and love,
You breathe life in us and guide us.
Help us to live according to your vision,
stirring to action the hearts of all—
individuals and families,
communities of faith,
and civil and political leaders.

Triune God, help us to hear the cry of those in poverty, and the cry of the earth, so that we may together care for our common home.

Amen.
—Prayer To Care For Our Common Home, © USCCB, based on Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’.

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Being Good Stewards of Our Common Home

Posted on July 2, 2015 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Good stewardshipFrom this month’s International Catholic Stewardship Council’s e-Bulletin:

Seldom has a papal encyclical been anticipated with so much noise and discussion and even premature criticism and fear as our Holy Father, Pope Francis’ Laudato si (“Praise Be to You”); with a beautiful subtitle “On Care for Our Common Home.” Each of us, as Christian stewards, will find something that inspires and challenges us from Pope Francis’ prescription for a healthy planet.

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Going Home

Posted on July 1, 2015 by - Everyday Stewardship

planeAfter 10 days, today I am headed home. I travel quite a bit, but normally the trips are shorter. This one took me from Seattle to Orlando. As planes flew over the continental United States, there were a whole lotta people on the ground. It really is amazing to think about: all those people, each with their own story, their own set of trials and triumphs.

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Bearing Witness to an Unpopular Message

Posted on June 30, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, July 5, 2015, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Icon of the Holy Family.I remember a time when the world was changing very rapidly indeed. It was the late 80s and much of the change was centralized in Europe with the Solidarity movement in Poland, Perestroika and Glasnost in Russia, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The change was inspiring and suddenly you believed that anything was possible. I remember hearing the words of the Jesus Jones song, “Right Here, Right Now” and thinking how accurate they were: Right here, right now, watching the world wake up from history.

In the past weeks our country has changed quite a bit, and it is hard to remember so much change here so quickly. From Supreme Court rulings to debates on race, it would appear that our nation is different today than just a few weeks ago. Some of the changes are cause for joy, while others challenge our very Catholic beliefs. As these changes occur, some debate and others hate. Catholics on separate sides of issues raise voices in support or condemnation, oftentimes acting like they have all the answers. But as we spend much time and breath on these societal developments, we fail to see that our own house needs some real order and reform.

The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate recently issued some of its findings on the spiritual health of Catholic families. The results are sobering. Only 22% of Catholic families attend Mass every Sunday. The number decreases by 3 percentage points for those families with infants. A measly 32% of children in Catholic families attend some form of religious formation, whether it’s a Catholic school or a parish faith formation program. Nearly 60% of those children in families that attend Mass do not attend any religious education program.

As we sometimes stand too ready to offer opinions on how non-Catholics should live their lives, too many of us are not in reality living out our faith in the first place. For too long our attention has been focused outwardly while we suffer inwardly. Perhaps we could truly be a greater influence on our culture if we stood on firmer ground with a solid faith in Jesus Christ and a greater belief in the body of Christ. Perhaps many of our examples of family fall well short of being a light to those who cannot see.

But there is always hope! In many corners of the church we have begun our waking up to history. People like Sherry Weddell, author of Forming Intentional Disciples, are leading the way to a Catholic discipleship that is more than a label. For too long a cultural Catholicism has reduced our testimonies and witnessing to rather meaningless stories of Catholic school shenanigans and CYO basketball games. It is not the same to be Catholic as it is to be Italian, German, Irish, or Hispanic. One label is given to us without choice; the other requires a serious choice every day of our lives.

Now is the time for those in the church who have become intentional disciples and everyday stewards to reach out to those who share our faith in name only. We need to do it in a loving manner. Our goal is to witness to them the richness of a life truly committed to Jesus Christ. Before we lament about how the world is turning from the Gospel, let us make sure we are turned toward the Gospel as a people of God and that it makes a difference.

The World Meeting of Families is not far away. I suspect that not only will the event be a source of great joy, but it will also become a target for those who do not understand. The experiences of Ezekiel, Paul, and Jesus himself, in the readings for this coming Sunday, will hopefully give the prophets of our day a resolve to stay the course. I wish I could say that truth spoken in love was easier for people to receive. But many times the opposite is reality. The readings for this Sunday remind us of that reality. As soon as the Gospel message presented is of conflict to no one, chances are, the message is not the Gospel at all.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

Author’s Note: These issues are more than political or moral issues, these are “people” issues. With all things, love must always guide our way. As the discussion continues, here are some thoughtful responses. You may not agree with all of what you read, but as we inform ourselves, we must be willing to listen.

USCCB Press Release

After Obergefell v. Hodges: Now What? 

Article from Pew Research Center 

Simcha Fisher’s Blog: I Have to Sit Down

Laura Norris on the Conciliar Post

Fr. Robert Barron

PRAYER

Audrey Assad, the Catholic singer and songwriter, wrote on her Facebook page in the midst of all the events of the past couple weeks: “If I took the trouble and time to whisper this prayer before every conversation the world would be a much better place for it.”

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
—Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.

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Heartache and Hope in the Aftermath of Charleston

Posted on June 30, 2015 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

Charleston CoverIn the wake of the tragic shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston on June 17th, LPi created a complimentary bulletin cover and prayer card to encourage prayers and reflection. The Catholic Community of St. Jude in DeWitt, MA received our email sharing the bulletin and prayer card artwork files and wanted to express their community’s prayers.

In addition to placing the bulletin cover in their June 27 Sunday bulletin, they wanted to make an eight-foot banner for all of their parishioners to sign on Sunday and send the banner to Emanuel African Methodist Church. To make this happen, the church needed a larger logo for the banner.

SC Tragedy Sticker

They reached out to LPi to ask for a larger image of the logo “Remembering Our Brothers & Sisters in Faith” to place on their banner. LPi was able to accommodate their request quickly so the Catholic Community of St Jude  was able to accomplish their project this past Sunday.

Signing