Francis Cardinal George

Posted on April 18, 2015 by - Vibrant Parish Toolkit

His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, OMI, Archbishop Emeritus of Chicago, born to eternal life April 17, 2015. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Francis Cardinal George

Proof of the Resurrection

Posted on April 8, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 12, 2015

2nd Sunday of Easter or Sunday of Divine Mercy

April 12

Saint Thomas might just be one of the figures in the New Testament who is the easiest for us to relate to. Like him, we have all had our doubts. We’ve wondered how we can know for sure that God exists. We’ve asked ourselves how, with all the Christian denominations, we can feel secure about the one we’ve chosen. We may have even doubted the bodily resurrection of Jesus, as Saint Thomas did. No matter how pious, we have all entertained doubts at some point in our faith journey.

As well as being the easiest apostle to relate to, Saint Thomas might also be the most envied. After all, Jesus gives him the proof he asks for: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” How many of us in our fears and doubts have called up to heaven asking for a sign? Few of us, I imagine, received one so clear and unmistakable as Saint Thomas and the rest of the apostles did one full week after the first Easter.

In the Gospels, Jesus is constantly being asked to give a sign. When he casts out the money changers from the Temple, he is asked to give a sign of his authority to do so. The crowds that jeered him at his crucifixion taunted him to prove that he was the Messiah by coming down from the cross. Hearing these accounts we may wonder why Jesus did not do more to convince the people of his day of his power and divinity, especially at the Crucifixion. In honest moments, we may also ask God why he doesn’t do more in our day to make his existence known.

Jesus understood human nature very well. He knew that signs and wonders only work for those who already have faith. As Stuart Chase’s quote puts it, “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who do not believe, no proof is possible.” We see this reality play out numerous times in Jesus’ ministry. When he casts out a demon, the religious leaders say his powers come from Satan. When he heals the blind man, the religious leaders condemn him as a sinner for performing a miracle on the Sabbath. When he appears to his disciples after rising from the dead, they think they are seeing a gardener, a ghost, or a stranger. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that, even at the Ascension, there were disciples who still doubted. Unless we are already disposed to believe, we will make any excuse to deny whatever proofs might appear to us, whether they be miracles or appearances of our risen Lord.

Faith works differently from empirical sciences. In biology or physics, we gather the proofs and then the theory is believed. With faith, we believe and then the proofs present themselves to us. Only with the sight that faith gives can the evidence be understood for what it is.

In Christian iconography, Saint Thomas is often pictured holding a spear. Tradition tells us that he traveled to India to spread the Gospel and was martyred by having his skin peeled off. The one who doubted found enough conviction to lay his life down when it mattered most.

Last week, gunmen killed 148 students at a Kenyan university. Many victims, when asked whether they were Christian, answered “yes” even though they must have known it would mean their death. Like all of us, they had questions about their faith. They doubted and wondered whether God existed. However, when it mattered most, they put their doubts aside and answered from the heart. They were not provided with any more proof than we have been. Yet they believed enough to make the ultimate sacrifice in witness to their faith.

Hopefully, we can do the same when we are called upon to defend our faith or even to step out of our comfort zone to help another human being in need. When we do so, we provide the most powerful proof that the risen Lord is alive and in our midst.

Douglas Sousa, STL


Almighty and ever-living God,
who strengthened your apostle Thomas with sure and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection:
Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God,
that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight;
through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
—Prayer to St. Thomas the Apostle. Source:

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A New Eden

Posted on April 1, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 5, 2015, Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord

April 5

Lately, it has seemed as if the world is spinning out of control.

Planes plummet from the sky. Buildings crumble. Wars rage. Peace seems, at best, elusive.

Into the midst of this, though, comes Easter. All expectations are defied. We are reminded again and again that the astonishing reality of the Resurrection holds forth the promise of life—bewildering, triumphant, unstoppable life. Churches burst with flowers. Choirs sing “Alleluia.” Families gather to feast. As if on cue, the weather begins to warm. The earth shifts, and new growth begins, and the days lengthen, and everything seems suddenly renewed.

The One who was dead is alive. And we live with him.

It is fitting that the Gospel this Sunday unfolds in a garden—a place of life, not death, and, not insignificantly, an echo of the garden where man’s journey went off track in Eden. Easter gives us a new Eden, a new beginning, a new opportunity to make what went wrong right.

“This is the day the Lord has made,” the responsorial psalm sings, “let us rejoice and be glad!”

At this moment, who could resist an invitation like that?

As we marvel at what God can do, and watch the world being reborn during this sacred season, we find joy and reassurance in the middle of a world so often clouded by disaster and doubt. The Resurrection gives us reason to hope. He is risen. And he raises us with him.

To which we can only respond with a word that has been too long absent from our lips:


Dcn. Greg Kandra


O God, who on this day,
through your Only Begotten Son,
have conquered death
and unlocked for us the path to eternity,
grant, we pray, that we who keep
the solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection
may, through the renewal brought by your Spirit,
rise up in the light of life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
—Collect for Easter Sunday from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, ICEL. All rights reserved.

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Everyday Stewardship

Posted on March 29, 2015 by - Everyday Stewardship

Christian stewardship began this night in the upper room. Ordinary humans witnessed the Son of God humble himself to a point they could not have imagined, all with the purpose of serving them. That night the ordinary became extraordinary. Jesus demonstrated for them true love and how to share that love with those outside that room. But how could they win hearts for Jesus when they saw themselves as so much less than their teacher? The answer is that he would then feed them with his very self. They would not see him much longer, for the events that began with that evening would lead to his torture, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father. But in his body and blood they would be nourished for the task at hand: to witness to the whole world the good news of Jesus Christ.

In one night, Jesus gave us a true example of stewardship and the path to follow. By his example he showed us how to empty ourselves to the point of becoming the servant of all. The path is the holy Eucharist, through which all is possible. When we partake in his banquet, we become Christ to a world in need of Christ. It would be a truly daunting task if he hadn’t shown us how to BE Christ. A simple act of washing feet taught us more than any sermon or sacred writing.

As good stewards we believe all we have is a gift from God. That night, before the institution of the Eucharist, Jesus commanded us to wash one another’s feet. In essence, he gave us to one another. If we claim to belong to him, then we by definition belong to one another. May the Christ in each of us propel us to our knees so that we may never stop washing one another’s feet.

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


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.
—Prayer for Charity in Truth © 2009, USCCB, Washington, D.C. All rights reserved.

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May I Reintroduce You to Our Merciful God?

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

For Sunday, March 22, 2015, 5th Sunday of Lent

March 22

Time sure flies by. I remember a time not so long ago when we were preparing for the end of time. We weren’t in doomsday cults, but we were normal everyday people who were told that the entire world would be thrown into a tremendous chaos and we would suffer immeasurable hardships. The crazy thing about it was the fear had nothing to do with a judgment day by a mighty Creator who was finally fed up with the sins of all humanity. It actually had to do with the belief that the great technology minds at Microsoft, IBM, and other entities had not allowed for computers to read the year 2000! Y2K was the name given to this terror and some feared all their money would disappear, planes would fall from the sky, and pacemakers would stop hearts from beating. Of course, nothing happened!

Except if you were Catholic, something did happen that was pretty big: the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. The colorful Jubilaeum AD 2000 logo was everywhere, parishes incorporated special prayers into their Masses, and we had a year of prayer and reflection on the mercy of God. The holy doors of the various churches in Rome were opened to usher in the year of graces and then closed at the end of our observance. In the end, it was a much bigger deal than Y2K.

Now Pope Francis, the pope who likes to surprise, has announced a new jubilee year from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016. It is to be a Holy Year of Mercy. Pope Francis stated in the announcement that the doors of the church “are wide open so that all those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness.” This really was a big announcement, and now the church must prepare itself for this observance.

And what does it mean to us on a parish level? It means that we must turn our focus toward God’s mercy, not just for us, but also for all the children of God. It should be a time of reconciliation with those who have walked away from the church. Perhaps sin has led them away, or maybe the sins of those in the church have pushed them away. It should be a time of reaching out to those who desperately need God’s mercy: the sick, the hungry, the persecuted, and the disenfranchised. It should also be a time of reflection on our own need for God’s love and mercy, and a focus on the unconditional love of our Creator.

The reading from Jeremiah for this Sunday speaks of the New Covenant God has with his people. God says, “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” So often we walk upon this earth like there is nothing written upon our hearts. We begin to believe a lie that tells us that we have placed too much distance between God and us. By our actions, we have widened the chasm between the divine and us, and there is so much work that goes into bridging that divide. But nothing is further from the truth. The fact is, each time we have moved away, God has moved with us. God has never been far away.

This Sunday most will hear a Gospel of John reading where Jesus says, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” Some at Masses with a Scrutiny will hear the story of the raising of Lazarus. Who is this Jesus that draws all people to himself and has the power to raise the dead? Do you know him? The question is not, “Are you a Catholic, or Christian, or do you go to church on Sunday?” The question is not, “Do you say prayers at night, or grace before meals, or wear a cross around your neck?” The question is, “Do you know him?” Pope Francis wants to make certain you do.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS


Eternal God,
in whom mercy is endless
and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible,
look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us,
that in difficult moments
we might not despair nor become despondent,
but with great confidence
submit ourselves to Your holy will,
which is Love and Mercy itself.

—Closing prayer from the Divine Mercy Chaplet

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Letting in the Light

Posted on March 11, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, March 15, 2015, 4th Sunday of Lent

March 15

1784. Does that date ring a bell with you? Benjamin Franklin was the first to suggest daylight saving time in that year. The essay he wrote in The Journal of Paris was called “An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light.” Franklin’s suggestion was that Parisians get up an hour earlier to save candlelight. On April 30, 1916, DST was first introduced in Germany to save money for the war effort. For over one hundred years we have been saving candles, and the money spent on kilowatt-hours! What hasn’t been saved is peace in our homes! Statistics have been gathered about the results of the loss of just an hour of sleep. There is an increase in heart attacks as well as car accidents the week after DST springs our clocks an hour ahead. Many are questioning its continuation.

But isn’t it wonderful to have light into the evening! Light! It makes us feel better. DST doesn’t increase our light. It only adjusts our clocks for the time of its coming and going. Best of all, as the light in spring increases, it fills our hearts with hope. Spring is coming. And with the coming of spring, summer will be right behind! Hope…after a long and very dark winter!

During the dark of winter, it seemed there was an ever growing darkness in our world. The nightly news was and still is so dark, filled with senseless killings and advancing threats. Oh, for light! Oh, that we can see hope on the horizon!

Politically and spiritually, the time that Jesus came into our world was dark, too. The land he was born into had been conquered and the conquerors were harsh and demanding. Spiritual leaders seemed to be struggling for power and prestige. It was dark. The people of God were threatened on all sides by “snakes in the grass.” Nor was there enough light to even discern who and what these threats always were. Who could they trust? Their native kings and many of their religious leaders were pawns moved this way and that by the moods of the conquerors.

Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the religious leadership, knew he needed to see a way through all of this darkness. In his Gospel of light, John writes that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. As these two men sit together in the darkness, Jesus speaks words of truth, words of the light that he brings into this world. That light wraps itself around truth. “He who acts in truth comes into the light.”

Why did Nicodemus come at night? Did he fear he would lose his position and status if he was seen talking with this rebel? Was he afraid of how Jesus might challenge him? Did he fear that Jesus would see deep into his heart, see what was hidden there?

Do we come to Jesus in the darkness? Do we come really seeking the truth? If we hear the message of Jesus might we prefer to remain in the darkness? Is the image of the cross that is lifted up to bring us genuine new life too challenging? Are we afraid of what it might ask of us? We hear that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Do we just think of religious fanatics holding that quote up at a football game instead of taking those words to heart? Can we open ourselves to that transforming love of God? Can we let that light into our inner selves where it will transform all dark corners and hidden recesses? Then, can we let that light shine out to others in our own world?

This Fourth Sunday of Lent is Laetare Sunday, a midpoint in Lent. We are halfway to the great feast of Light! How are we doing with our Lenten practices? Let’s get them out and give ourselves a boost to begin again. Maybe we might even want to change those resolutions and go deeper. Our prayer can be asking for the light of the Spirit to shine into our lives and reveal the truth. We can always love each other in more ways.

The church shouts out…rejoice! Light penetrates our penitential purple and turns it to rose. May we let that same light penetrate our hearts and reflect outward in true joy! Let us live in the light!

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB, MTS


O Holy Spirit,
let the might of your love be more and more felt in the hearts of humankind.
Let your light shine more and more
on souls that are wandering in the darkness far away from God.
Turn them to the light-giving Heart of Jesus
and to the healing streams of his Precious Blood.
Strengthen the souls that love you;
perfect in them your seven gifts and your twelve fruits;
and so make them your temples here
that you may be adored by them for ever.
—Prayer for the Victory of the Grace of the Spirit,

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The Temple of God

Posted on March 4, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, March 8, 2015, 3rd Sunday of Lent

March 8

In Jesus’ day, the Temple was the center of Jewish religious life. We know from Scripture how much Jesus loved the Temple. He traveled to Jerusalem frequently to attend feasts there. Even as a child, he referred to it as “my Father’s house” (Lk 2:49). In fact, Saint John tells us that it was zeal for his Father’s house that motivated him to drive out the money changers in today’s Gospel, which has come to be known as “the cleansing of the Temple.”

However, as with the Sabbath, Jesus challenges the religious pieties of his day, not out of disrespect, but to bring out their true meaning. In the case of the Temple, he was revealing that he would replace it as the place of encounter with God, sacrifice, and worship. It is only from the perspective of the Resurrection that we can understand his cryptic words, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19).

When thinking about the place of the Temple in Jewish life, it is helpful to compare it to the place that Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome holds for modern Catholics. Like the Temple, it is a massive, imposing structure that has stood for centuries. While Saint John tells us that it took forty-six years to construct the Temple, Saint Peter’s Basilica took 123 years to build. The idea that it could ever be destroyed much less rebuilt in three days is unimaginable. However, what would it do to the psyche of Catholics if Saint Peter’s Basilica were to be destroyed with “not one stone standing on another” (Mt 24:2)?

Just such a threat has been issued by ISIS. In the wake of their brutal campaign against Christians in Syria and Iraq, they have vowed to overrun the Vatican and fly their flag over the obelisk in Saint Peter’s Square. While many are not taking the threats seriously, experts warn that the danger to the Pope is real especially in light of his strong condemnation of the terrorist group.

What if they were successful? Jesus reassures us that we would rise again. The buildings may not get rebuilt, but the temple would continue to stand, the temple that is the body of Christ. He promised that this temple would endure through history and would still be standing when he comes again. The church is a people who cannot be destroyed by violence, scattered by persecution, or eradicated by genocide. Burn down our churches and we will still gather for worship. Confiscate our resources and we will still find the means to serve. Persecute us and we will pray for you. Even take our lives and we will continue to be a church that believes in the Resurrection.

Douglas Sousa, STL


O God, who in your inscrutable providence
will that the Church be united to the sufferings of your Son,
grant, we pray, to your faithful who suffer for your name’s sake
a spirit of patience and charity,
that they may be found true and faithful witnesses
to the promises you have made.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

—Collect from the Mass for Persecuted Christians, The Roman Missal.

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A Spirit of Surrender

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

For Sunday, March 1, 2015, 2nd Sunday of Lent

March 1

A couple weeks ago, one of the most esteemed media writers in American journalism died: David Carr, of The New York Times. He was fifty-eight. Carr had been battling lung cancer. It wasn’t the only battle he’d waged in his life; Carr was also a recovering drug addict, who wrote of his journey from crack houses and into rehab and a new life in a memoir, Night of the Gun.

Carr was eloquent and disarmingly honest about his problems and his recovery. He was also deeply spiritual, and a committed Catholic. In a 2011 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, he opened up about that side of his life:

“CARR: Am I, underneath all things, just a really wonderful, giving person? Or is there a force greater than myself that is leading me to act in ways that are altruistic and not self-interested and lead to the greater good? And so that’s – that’s sort of as far as I’ve gotten with a higher power thing, is I’m – you know, I’m kind of a pirate, kind of a thug. I mean, I’ve done a bunch of terrible things, and yet I’m able to, for the most part, be a decent person. How is that? Do I have some inner strength of character? I think not. I think something else is working on me…

“One of the things that I’m doing is praying, which seems like a really uncomfortable, unnatural activity for me. It’s to whom, to what, about what. You know, I have a prayer in my wallet that I’m saying…and I feel like a complete fraud while I’m doing it. But it’s the act of acknowledging that there may be something else out there…

“GROSS: Can I ask what the prayer that you’re keeping in your pocket is?

“CARR: Sure. Let me look at it. It’s really full of, like, thees and thous and I think it’s the prayer of St. Francis… I’m not comfortable reading the whole thing. But what it talks about is to offer yourself to God to build with you as God would see fit. And then the important part to me is to relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do thy will. And then it goes on to say, take away my difficulties. Of course, everyone prays for that. We all do – and that victory over them will bear witness to a power greater than yourselves, and just says may I do thy will always. I don’t really know who I’m talking about when I say those words, but I sort of feel good when I do.”

In his spirit of surrender to God, Carr touched on something that resonates throughout this Sunday’s Scripture: the ability to say to God, like Abraham, “Here I am.” Few of us would have the courage and trust to undergo the kind of testing that God places before Abraham. But can we at least begin where David Carr began? Can we say to God, “Make me an instrument”?

Whether we are struggling with the kinds of problems Carr battled, or other demons of differing varieties and shapes, we are called to serve God and one another with wonder, humility, abandonment, and trust. “Make me an instrument of your peace” is not far from “Here I am”—and if we are able to offer ourselves this way to God, especially during our Lenten journey toward Easter, we may be amazed at how our lives can be enriched, and even transformed.

God did astonishing things with Abraham—and even with David Carr. Who knows what might happen if you find the courage to “offer yourself to God to build with you as God would see fit”?

Dcn. Greg Kandra


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.
—Prayer of St. Francis

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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


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.
—Prayer by Thomas Merton, OCSO

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