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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Do Everything for the Glory of God

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

For Sunday, February 15, 2015, 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 15

I needed to get some work done, including this reflection, but my eleven-year-old son kept bugging me to play basketball in the driveway. It had been cold recently, but on this day in North Carolina, it was sunny and close to seventy degrees. So I couldn’t blame him for wanting to challenge Dad to a game of H-O-R-S-E before the sun called it a day. I can’t say basketball was on the top of my list, but my responsibility to be present to a little boy who wasn’t so little anymore outweighed the work I needed to do. The work will always be there; my son won’t.

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
—1 Corinthians 10:31

While I was dribbling and shooting the ball, I thought of Dean Smith, the longtime basketball coach at the University of North Carolina. I just heard that morning that he had passed away. He was older and had been in decline for some time, but when a sports icon dies, it causes people to reflect. He was one of the most successful coaches in NCAA history, but more importantly, he graduated 96% of his players, with over 50% of his players going on to play professionally. USA Today’s headline on his death was “83 Years of Caring and Giving, a Legacy of Selflessness.” I am a Duke graduate, so I always have had a love/hate relationship with the school down the road in Chapel Hill. But Dean Smith was first-class. He was a religious man whose convictions led him to speak strongly in the 1960s against a segregated state of North Carolina. I didn’t always agree with all his political stances as the years went by, but I always respected him as a man trying to be the best he could be, not just as a coach, but also as a child of God.

As I was about to take a shot and show my son who is the boss, I was hoping that when I pass from this world, I will have become the best version of myself that I could be. Through his writings, Matthew Kelly, the Catholic speaker and writer, always has me reflecting on this. God has made me on purpose for a purpose, and I hope that all I do moves me closer to the best that God has created in me.

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
—1 Corinthians 10:31

Do you ever think about how every action, even that of eating and drinking, can be done for the glory of God? We sometimes divide up our lives into church, family, job, and self. There is no need for separation of these things, unless we are unwilling to hand it all over to God.

Unfortunately, we too often fight God, tethered to the lie that handing it all over leads to anything but freedom. Dietrich von Hildebrand, the Catholic philosopher and theologian, wrote, “The more our life is permeated by God, the simpler it becomes.” True freedom rests in the ability to lay everything at the feet of God. The questions of life become easier to answer, and that which is still a mystery is no longer threatening.

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”
—1 Corinthians 10:31

When driveway basketball was over, I proceeded back to my home office. I reflected on Paul’s words to the Corinthians about doing everything for the glory of God. I had spent time getting exercise for my physical body, tended to my domestic church by spending time with a son I truly love and for whom I give thanks, and I was able to experience all of this outside, in God’s wonderful creation. A smile came across my face. In this seemingly simple event, I not only gave glory to God, I personally encountered God.

Lent is upon us in a matter of days. What will Lent mean for you this year? You don’t have to give something up this year, but instead you could add something: more time with a loved one, volunteering in a shelter or soup kitchen, visiting someone who is lonely. Whatever you do, or give up, be sure it is for the glory of God. Don’t overthink the whole thing. We have the chance to glorify him at every turn. You do not have to travel far. Sometimes God is calling us to places as simple as the driveway.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS


O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day
for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world,
for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians,
and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month.

—Morning offering by Fr. François-Xavier Gautrelet.

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Prophetic Voices

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

For Sunday, February 8, 2015, 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 8

Many Americans lived this past week without seeing or thinking about the seventieth anniversary of the liberation of prisoners in the Auschwitz concentration camp at the end of World War II. CNN offered full coverage of the commemoration. Multinational leaders were present, as were religious leaders from various denominations. Most moving was the praying of Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. Cameras focused on individuals in the audience wearing the striped fabric of the camps. They mouthed the words being prayed and sung. Tears streamed down their faces.

Other concentration camps were also liberated on different dates and by different groups in the Allies. Dachau was one of them, liberated by the American army on April 29, 1945. Dachau was the designated camp for political prisoners. Over two thousand of these were bishops, priests, deacons, ministers, and religious women. Their stories are coming to light as individuals and even groups are being canonized. The feast of bishop and martyr Blessed Michael Kozal was just celebrated on January 26.

This week commemorates those who live the consecrated life, men and women who have dedicated themselves “to follow the Lord in a special way.” Pope Francis adds to that, “They are men and women who can awaken the world.” That is exactly what these modern-day martyrs did. They were imprisoned because they opposed the power of evil invading their world. They were the prophetic voice of Christianity, calling for justice, calling for freedom from domination, calling for peace.

These prophetic voices urged healing of the ghastly wounds being inflicted on the undesirables of Nazi society, the handicapped, gypsies, and especially the Jews.

Isn’t this the message given by Jesus himself as he healed those suffering from physical afflictions? He also confronted evil in those chained by powerful forces that spoke out half-truths about him and his mission. Those forces of evil were constantly present during his pilgrimage of salvation. At Calvary, all external appearances added up to the victory of evil. In the concentration camps, to all external appearances, evil also won.

But darkness was penetrated by the Resurrection, the resurgence of life, both in Jesus and in the victory of World War II. We can believe! We can trust! Darkness will never prevail!

Today ISIS threatens us. Today what Pope Francis calls “the theology of prosperity” threatens us. Our political world looks dark. But just as throughout human history God raised up prophetic voices spearheading light into our world, today God continues. That’s in God’s very nature, a nature of life and light, a nature of love and peace.

Not only do we celebrate consecrated life this week, we also celebrate married life. These two paths of living don’t oppose each other, but complement one another. As Jesus went to a quiet place to listen to God, so both religious and married spend time with God and go forth as Jesus did. They go to other villages, to places outside their homes, in order to spread the good news and bring healing. Pope Francis calls for a revolution of tenderness. His prophetic voice calls all, including the consecrated and married, to live lives of tenderness. What is tenderness? It is the touch of loving hands and hearts. Tenderness can and must be nurtured both among the consecrated and in families. This was the way of Jesus. He not only healed, but, tenderly, reached out and took the sick by the hand and lifted them up. So must we.

If we can only incorporate today’s example of Jesus into our lives, if only we can…then we will be living examples of St. Paul’s dictum, “become all things to all”! We will be the prophetic voices of today.

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB


God our Father,
we thank you for calling men and women
to serve in your Son’s Kingdom
as sisters, brothers, religious priests,
consecrated virgins, and hermits,
as well as members of Secular Institutes.
Renew their knowledge and love of you,
and send your Holy Spirit to help them
respond generously and courageously to your will.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
—Prayer for Consecrated Persons © 2011, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All Rights Reserved.

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Discerning the Voice of Truth

Posted on January 28, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, February 1, 2015, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 1

I have to admit that I am finding it harder and harder to pay attention to current events. The issues facing the world are increasingly complex. From global terrorism to world financial markets, every “expert” has a different opinion on what is happening and why. Is the planet really getting warmer and are we to blame? Do tax increases create more opportunities for lower income people or do they only divert money into government programs that would be better invested in the private sector to create jobs? Is global terrorism a result of religious fervor or blowback for Western interventions in the Middle East?

While the Internet offers us more information, it cannot interpret data for us. Most news shows, aware of our ever dwindling attention span, run short clips of stories with plenty of footage and graphics but little context or analysis. When they do get around to treating issues in more depth, they usually feature two speakers at opposite ends of the spectrum, raising their voices and interrupting each other. As we become aware of biases in different media outlets, we can suspect that stories are being spun to favor a certain point of view. For all these reasons, the public opinion of our news media is as low as it has ever been.

I can sympathize, then, with the amazement the people experience in this Sunday’s Gospel when they hear Jesus speak with authority. Jesus satisfies their longing for truth. He speaks with clarity a message that both comforts and challenges them. And Jesus backs up that teaching with a display of his power over demons. Don’t we also need people with moral authority to speak with courage and clarity about the issues we are struggling with as a global community in our day?

The first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy addresses a problem the people of Israel would face after Moses’ death. Who would speak with God’s authority now? How can we tell a true prophet of the Lord from a false one? Throughout Israel’s history, this question would vex king, priest, and layperson because the stakes were high. Listening to true prophets lead to reconciliation with God, peace, and prosperity. Trusting false prophets lead to persecution, war, and exile. Whom do we believe? Whom do we follow?

As Christians, we have a tradition to rely on that can help us discern the voice of truth from the cacophony of opinions, spin, and propaganda. While it does not provide certain answers to every question, it can help us to form our consciences so that we are better able to see the path to follow when the smoke of disinformation gets thick.

The central truth of that tradition that should guide our analysis of the news is the dignity of each and every human life. The only reason to call into question the dignity, personhood, or quality of a human life is as a pretext to marginalize people, deprive them of their rights, and, ultimately, kill them. Even when it is disguised as an act of compassion, we should reject efforts to kill the sick, elderly, and mentally ill. Even when the possibility of finding cures for diseases is touted, we should reject the idea that life in its earliest stages can be manipulated and experimented on. Even when we are told that they are taking jobs away from others, we should reject any measures to marginalize immigrants or separate them from their families. On the contrary, any voice that affirms the dignity of each and every person is an echo of the word of the Creator who called the creature made in his image and likeness “very good.”

As consumers, we ultimately get the kind of news media we deserve. If we are more interested in the weather than in government corruption, media outlets will invest more in meteorologists than in investigative journalists. We have to take more responsibility about what we choose to watch, and demand from publishers and broadcasters a higher level of professionalism and integrity. At the same time, we must speak with authority, clarity, and courage about what really matters—that every human life is valued and protected.

Douglas Sousa, STL


Almighty God,

Strengthen and direct, we pray,
the will of all whose work it is to write what many read,
and to speak where many listen.

May we be bold to confront evil and injustice:
understanding and compassionate of human weakness;
rejecting alike the half-truth which deceives,
and the slanted word which corrupts.

May the power which is ours, for good or ill,
always be used with honesty and courage,
with respect and integrity,
so that when all here has been written, said and done,
we may, unashamed, meet Thee face to face.

—A Prayer for Journalists, St. Francis de Sales

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A Climb We Can’t Make Alone

Posted on January 21, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, January 25, 2015, 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 25

It was one of the famous adventures in recent history: the breathtaking climb up the Dawn Wall of Yosemite’s El Capitan.

Rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson spent six years planning the venture, which took them nineteen days to achieve what no one else had done—scrambling up the sheer three-thousand- foot granite monolith in a “free climb,” using ropes only to catch the occasional fall.

Talking about the climb after, they spoke of the deeper meaning behind their achievement. The climbing duo told NBC News they hope their feat will inspire others, even those who don’t care to scale mountains:

“‘I hope they take the time to find their own Dawn Wall, if you will, and use this project as an example of what you can achieve and what you can experience when you dream big and you seek help in a partner to complete something and not give up,’ Jorgeson, 30, said in a joint interview with Caldwell, his 36-year-old mentor.

“The climbers recalled many moments of elation, fear, frustration, and companionship as they made their way up the wall with just their feet and cracked, bloodied fingers to propel them. They slept in sleeping bags suspended from the face, and had a crew haul gear, including film equipment and electronics to post updates on social media. There were long periods of rest between pitches, leaving them time to enjoy the view and savor meals.”

One key to their success, they said, was their dependence upon each other:

“Caldwell, who’d grown up watching his father climb El Capitan and had completed dozens of varied ascents of the mountain, refused to consider finishing alone. He’d tried that himself years earlier and failed. ‘I don’t think I let myself go there,’ Caldwell said. ‘I really wanted to do it with Kevin. I know at one point he was looking pretty down and I just told him that, “I’m in this for the long haul with you.”‘

“Jorgeson added: ‘I’ll forever be grateful for that support.’”

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we meet some other men beginning their own extraordinary adventure: the first disciples called by Jesus at the Sea of Galilee. Significantly, though, they do not embark on this particular adventure solo. Jesus, notably, calls them in pairs. The implicit message: the great adventure of Christianity is not lived out in isolation. Even in its very beginnings, you can see the seeds being planted of what will become a community—of saints and sinners gathered around the table of the Lord, and working in the vineyards and spreading the Gospel and reassuring one another, very simply: “I’m in this for the long haul with you.”

This Gospel passage is often used to inspire vocations—and it serves as a reminder, too, that vocations don’t flourish in vacuum. No matter what one’s calling, whether to religious life or marriage or the single life, it can only be lived out with the love and support of others.

Whatever mountains we climb, whatever impossible feats we attempt, we are not alone.

And our constant companion, of course, is Christ, who accompanies us up every wall, and whose extended hand makes it easier to reach the summit and arrive where God wants us to be.

Dcn. Greg Kandra


Lord, there are so many things in my life that I do not understand,
so many questions about the future that I need to ask.
What is Your plan for me?
What is the work You want me to do?
All I really know is that You love me.
Show me the road You want me to walk—
to fulfillment, to happiness, to holiness.
And if You are calling me to
priesthood or to the religious life, give me the strength to say “yes”
and the grace to begin even now
to prepare myself for the challenge
of a life spent in Your service and
in the care of Your people.
I ask You this in Jesus’ Name.
—Prayer to Discern a Vocation, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop Emeritus of Washington

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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


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

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The Power of Baptism

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

For Sunday, January 11, 2015, Baptism of the Lord

January 11

Baptism is powerful stuff! The act of pouring water or submerging someone in water and saying a few words, given to the early Christian community by Jesus, seems non-threatening at face value. But the implications of such an action can send ripples of disruption through the life of the one baptized, as well as those around him or her.

Did you hear about the atheists who went ballistic when a few Alabama high school football players were baptized on the football field? It happened one day after practice. I am not sure the setting was the best decision, but I guess water and words can seem pretty offensive to some, no matter where it happens.

Some churches have apparently realized the power in these actions to the point that they have staged spontaneous baptisms during their services. Elevation Church in Charlotte has been accused of doing just that. Of course, a supposed guide instructs those involved to keep the baptisms to thirty to forty-five seconds, in order to keep the service flowing. Baptism is very powerful, but apparently can get very boring if it takes too long.

The power of baptism can still be seen in popular culture also. Have you seen how many celebrities still get their babies baptized? If Celine Dion and Fergie still seek out this sacrament for their children, it must be powerful stuff. Even the royal families of the world, with all their power and money, seek assistance from a higher power for their little ones.

But alas, churches everywhere are sparsely populated on Sundays, and a growing secularism is engulfing many modern societies. Parents often bring their children for baptism, and then leave for seven years until it is time for first Communion preparation. This is not cynicism. It is fact.

Either the actions and words of baptism are not really that powerful or something is wrong. As people baptized into the body of Christ, we know that there is real power in the sacrament. Somehow, by our actions and words after baptism, we have allowed that power to be diminished. The power of baptism to radically change the world has been compromised.

When Jesus came to John to be baptized, he accepted a commission, one that would lead to his death on a cross. After his baptism, he went into the desert to prepare for the living out of this commission, and to be tempted and tested. It was the baptism that served as a sign of new beginning. It also was the preparation needed to survive in the desert. The people at the baptism witnessed Jesus’ direct purposeful experience with the entire Trinity. That experience provided what was needed for the next steps.

When we were baptized, we were also commissioned. We also then journey in a desert where life is not always easy, and we are tempted at every turn. But if we allow ourselves to suffer a type of sacramental amnesia, we forget that we have received anything at all. We enter into the world without the power that is our birthright as adopted sons and daughters of God.

The good news is the power of baptism is always there for us to reclaim. We must never fall into a trap of believing perhaps what happened as an infant does not have a bearing on our lives as adults. When baptized individuals come to the Catholic Church from other denominations, they are never re-baptized. They are assisted in reclaiming that power that was always there. When Catholics who have journeyed away from the church return, it is the power of the baptism received years ago that worked to bring them back.

When we reclaim that power, and we again accept and take seriously our commission, we become an instrument of God that can literally change the world.

What Jesus received from John, Jesus transformed into a direct purposeful experience with him. This new baptism brings about new creations. That which is broken is now repaired, and a world that is broken has the opportunity to begin again.

What are those atheists on that football field so afraid of anyway? Do they think those players will really be different after some simple words and actions? Will those players then feel they have received a commission to go into the world and make a radical difference? I hope so.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS


Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go;
flood my soul with your spirit and life;
penetrate and possess my whole being so completely
that all my life may be only a radiance of yours;
shine through me and be so in me
that everyone with whom I come into contact
may feel your presence within me.
Let them look up and see no longer me—but only Jesus.
Prayer for Christlikeness, John Henry Cardinal Newman

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Following the Star

Posted on December 31, 2014 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, January 4, 2015, Epiphany of the Lord

January 4

The stockings that were hung by the chimney with care have come down and been put away for next year. Santa Claus has come and gone. Christmas presents have been unwrapped and put away or exchanged. Jingle bells have already stopped ringing in stores as after-Christmas sales lure with slashed prices. Soon defrocked Christmas trees will lie on curbs waiting for the garbage trucks or recycling. Much of our world believes that Christmas is over. The Ghost of Christmas Past gathers memories of 2014. They are all that’s left. Christmas has come and gone. But…

For the church, Christmas is fresh and new! Carols are sung as we celebrate the incomprehensible mystery of the Incarnation. Feast after feast commemorates the multiple aspects of the Incarnation. Our church spreads out a rich cornucopia of celebrations. December 26 is the feast of St. Stephen, the first to give his life for his belief in the Messiah. For him, the heavens were opened and he saw God’s glory and “Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” December 27 commemorates St. John the Evangelist. John began his Gospel with mystical images of the Word who leapt down from heaven out of love! This year the feast of the Holy Family follows in place of the feast of the Holy Innocents. The Jerusalem Temple is the venue for joyous events! The baby Messiah makes his initial entrance and is recognized by wise ones. And we celebrate the holiness and beauty of human love wrapped in the family. The church continues to remember the wondrous happenings in the days between Holy Family Sunday and January 1 when we honor the most significant person involved in most of these events, Mary, the Mother of God. Like her and unlike our society, we need to keep “all these things, reflecting on them” in our hearts.

In these post-Christmas feasts we are steeped in the expansive, wondrous riches of our church. But it isn’t over yet! There’s a star shining in the East. There are ancient prophecies waiting to be fulfilled…mysterious prophecies wrapped in images of light and darkness…commands to “raise your eyes and look about.” In that looking “you shall be radiant at what you see.” How marvelous! These awesome, ancient words hold promises that “your heart shall throb and overflow”! Oh, how we yearn for this in our weary, dark world! The prophet, Isaiah, tells of a migration of camels. The caravans advance carrying gold and frankincense, all the while accompanied by shouts of praise to the Lord!

Matthew, the Evangelist, who wrote for the Jewish community, knows well this prophecy of Isaiah. It was meant to instill hope in the hearts of exiled Israelites. Matthew presents a panorama of fulfillment. The star in the East is seen. It is noticed. The wise who view it follow the nudges of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. Their eyes are open. Their hearts have discerned a need to follow this star, this dream, to meet the very personification of Wisdom. So they go forth. Political obstacles confront them. Again, they see with the eyes of Wisdom and aren’t sidetracked by false lights.

On this feast of the Epiphany, we too go forth. Each of us is a wanderer following stars throughout the whole of life. We are pilgrims from the day of our messy birth until the day of our messy death. Those beginnings and endings were and are out of our control. The in-between time of pilgrimage is a matter of choice. We look for a star to guide us. There are so many flashing lights in our tinseled world. Which one? The choice demands clear seeing and sharp discernment. The choice also demands frequent readjustment. Who among us has not followed a star that lost its glimmer and faded into the darkness? We must move on through changes of profession, changes of location, changes in family situations. Pilgrimage is, essentially, movement…hopefully following the true star. Re-adjustment! Re-focus!

Like the Wise Men of Matthew’s story, each of us carries gifts. These riches have been given to us for our pilgrimage and to be returned to the giver at the end of our path with increase! We carry the gold of love, the frankincense of compassion, the myrrh of forgiveness. We offer these to the Christ who dwells within each person we meet. Yes, the star shines over each one. That star is the call of Jesus to follow him. That star is the example of Jesus himself. He is the embodiment of love, compassion, and forgiveness.

Each of the characters in the Christmas drama looked to that star and followed its light. Mary leads the way with her fiat. Joseph walks with her. Stephen looks to the star and walks through death. John gazes in mystical union and puts his vision into words. We walk with others in our holy families. We carry our gifts of love, compassion, and forgiveness as we follow the star in union with the Wise Men of old.

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB


Remember us, O God;
from age to age be our comforter.
You have given us the wonder of time,
blessings in days and nights, seasons and years.
Bless your children at the turning of the year
and fill the months ahead with the bright hope
that is ours in the coming of Christ.
You are our God, living and reigning, forever and ever.

Excerpt from Prayer for the New Year, from Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers.

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