Our Surging Life Force

Posted on May 19, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, May 24, 2015, Pentecost Sunday

New life on the grapevine photo by JollyPhoto/Shutterstock.It’s spring in the Northern Hemisphere. New life is surging up all around! Male birds in all their colorful finery are dancing and prancing to attract mates. Turkey tails are fanned. Rich melodies permeate the morning breezes. Farm animals are fat with soon-to-be-borns. Yes, even the maternity wards in our hospitals are full. Life! Life!

Our Jewish brothers and sisters believe that our human life force is in our blood. That really makes sense. When our blood is gone, so is our life. In the film The Passion of the Christ there is a very poignant scene following Jesus’ scourging. Mary, his mother, knelt and gathered the blood of her son so tenderly, so quietly. Was she attempting to gather his life force? That life that was so precious to her? But that blood needed further shedding. Despite her motherly drives, Mary knew she had to let go for an entirely new life to burst forth! Through the fog of her grief and unbelievable pain, the Holy Spirit again moved within this great woman. In an incomprehensible way, Mary was going through a second labor … the labor of birthing the church. This birthing was also accompanied with pain and blood. In her heart, Mary again said, “fiat!” And new life began bursting forth!

Let’s hold that image for a moment and look at another image that has been in our Sunday Gospels lately. The image of the vine and the branches. This too, is a springtime image. Grapevines are sending out their curling tendrils, connecting to supports so they are able to bring forth fruit. Could we think about that life as the strength and force of the Holy Spirit? The poetry of the Pentecost sequence petitions, “Come, source of all our store!” The Spirit is the source of the life within the vine, our store of life! How marvelous!

Right now, I’m sitting in the airport in Newark. Planes are leaving for points all over our world. In all of those places, Shanghai, London, Paris, Delhi, Cape Town, San Francisco, the vine and the branches exist. The church that was birthed through the blood of Jesus, through the repeated consent of Mary, lives today. The disciples have gone forth as commanded by Jesus for over two thousand years, “speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” The Spirit has strengthened and guided and nourished all disciples, including us, to nurture that life force! How can we help but to say, “Alleluia”? How can we help but be joyful as life surges through us!

Soon, we are celebrating Memorial Day. We remember our dead. Their life blood no longer surges through their bodies. As Catholics we believe that after death, life continues forever. We believe in the Resurrection and life everlasting. The life force of the Holy Spirit continues to flow in the spirits of those who have moved into eternity. As we commemorate the lives of our loved ones, there is that connection … the connection of the Holy Spirit. That Spirit flows through the church militant, the church suffering and the church triumphant. We are all one! This calls for gladness, and banishes sadness!

May God be praised for being our Father, for being the Son, and especially, for being the Holy Spirit, our surging life force!

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

God of power and mercy,
you destroy war and put down earthly pride.
Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears,
that we may all deserve to be called your sons and daughters.
Keep in your mercy those men and women
who have died in the cause of freedom
and bring them safely
into your kingdom of justice and peace.
We ask this though Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

—Prayer for Memorial Day from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers.

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Handling Snakes

Posted on May 13, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, May 17, 2015, The Ascension of the Lord

may-17 Walking through some grass during a warm spring morning, I stepped on something squishy. My immediate thought was that it was a snake. Waves of revulsion washed over me as I jumped away. Thankfully, it turned out to be only an old discarded length of garden hose. However, it still took a few minutes for my heart to stop racing and my pulse to return to normal.

Fear of snakes is part of our evolutionary heritage, built up in our collective consciousness through many ill-fated encounters with these slimy, poisonous reptiles over the centuries. It is also part of our Judeo-Christian heritage as a symbol of evil and the cunning of the devil from humanity’s first encounter with the snake in the Garden of Eden.

That brings us to the readings for the feast of the Ascension. The Gospel is one of those bizarre passages of Scripture that we are tempted to overlook. Picking up serpents has never made it onto any job description or mission statement for Christian ministry. However, when we consider our natural revulsion of these reptiles and how they represent our ancient foe, the meaning of Jesus’ words come to light.

As Jesus ascends to heaven, he leaves us to continue his struggle against sin and death. He penetrates the heavens to claim the victory he has already won through his death and resurrection. On earth, we are claiming that victory by grappling with the forces that once intimidated and defeated us here below. Handling snakes and drinking poison serve as symbols of sin and death that no longer have power over us. Our instinct will always be to recoil in horror at their sight. However, our fear of being bitten cannot keep us from bringing the good news to the darkest places of our world. In faith, we know that the victory has already been won. So we can go forward in confidence even in the face of great evil and massive opposition because of the “hope that belongs to his call” (Eph 1:18).

Jesus says something else curious: “proclaim the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). While Saint Francis of Assisi took this command literally, we can understand it as a reminder that all of creation will share in Christ’s victory over sin and death. There will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev 21:1). The Pope’s upcoming encyclical on the environment will remind us that our struggle against evil also requires that we care for this planet, which is the stage on which the drama of salvation unfolds. Along with us, all of creation will be redeemed in Christ … even snakes.

Douglas Sousa, STL

PRAYER

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection
against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O prince of the heavenly host,
granted by the divine power of God,
cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who wander through the world
seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

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A Message of Love

Posted on May 6, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, May 10, 2015, 6th Sunday of Easter

May 10

It’s been a brutal couple of weeks.

Baltimore has been burning. Nepal is in ruins, with tens of thousands lost. Israel remains uneasy and on alert. And the city of Tel Aviv was rocked by protests amid charges of police brutality.

At times, it seems we are entering a new Age of Anxiety, with the earth literally shifting below our feet.

And yet, at this very moment, the Gospel cries out a recurring refrain that stands in stark contradiction to the world we know—a message, it seems, of defiance.

It is, in fact, a message of love.

“This is my commandment,” Jesus says in this Sunday’s Gospel: “love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

During these last weeks before we celebrate the Ascension, that theme of love has been heard again and again, echoing in the Scriptures at Sunday Mass. We could almost consider it Christ’s last will and testament: what we need to hear before he leaves the earth and sends the Holy Spirit to continue what he began.

We might find that message of love hard to swallow in our own times, when love seems to be so absent and hatred and fear are so rampant.

But that is precisely why we need to embrace that message so completely—and commit ourselves to living it so fully.

The Gospel is not only countercultural; it is also very often counterintuitive. The dead rise, the blind see, those who would be stoned are set free to start over. This is not the world we know, but it is one we pray to make real and present to others—the kingdom of heaven.

As we pray for our troubled world, and pray for victims of injustice and violence and war, we pray that we may make that kingdom a reality in how we live and, most especially, in how we love.

Dcn. Greg Kandra

PRAYER

Let us ask God
to grant that violence be overcome by the power of love,
that opposition give way to reconciliation
and that the desire to oppress be transformed
into the desire for forgiveness, justice and peace…

May peace be in our hearts
so that they are open to the action of God’s grace…
Amen.
—Pope Benedict XVI, Prayer for Justice, General Audience, December 19, 2007.

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Transforming the World

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

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

May 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Mark Suslenko

PRAYER

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

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Shepherding Is Not Peaceful

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

For Sunday, April 26, 2015, 4th Sunday of Easter

Shepherding

I was recently reading a book review by Horatio Clare on the UK’s The Telegraph website about a recently published title, The Shepherd’s Life, by James Rebanks. I can’t say I really know a lot about sheep and shepherds. A few years back, I was traveling the Australian countryside to work with parishes and I know I saw more sheep than I ever imagined I would in an entire lifetime. However, I didn’t see many shepherds, at least not matching the image I have in my mind.

Two things struck me when reading the article. The first was the statement, “Shepherding is not peaceful.” Psalm 23 has always seemed to me to be the peaceful psalm. Its reading consoles those who are troubled. It gives hope to people who are downtrodden. It eases the grief of those who have lost a loved one. The statement that shepherding is anything but peaceful gave me reason to pause. The writer went on to share about difficult weather, buzzards and crows attacking sheep, men screaming for order, and more. That is not what I think of when I see all those paintings of Jesus holding a snuggly little lamb on his shoulders and all the other snuggly little lambs as his feet seemingly wanting nothing other than hugs!

The second thing that struck me in the article was a paragraph about was how Rebanks portrays the work of a shepherd. Clare wrote:

The “clever, purposeful” ways in which men shear sheep, and the feeling of being “alive, necessary, needed” when the winter comes (Rebanks steps out into “that Brueghel painting of the snow and the crows”), the stress of haymaking and the fulfillment of a full barn, the sweet bounty of the meadows and their grasses, timothy, common bent, fescue and yellow rattle, all baled and stacked like the obedience to “a commandment from God”, are beautifully told.

It struck me that in the face of a professional experience that is not peaceful, the shepherd receives a divine mandate to create that which is not there: peace.

Then I got it! Psalm 23 gives almost a false sense of peace because that is what shepherds do. The paintings I have seen, and continue to hold in my mind, represent the point of view from the sheep. They do not see the critters that choose to attack them. They do not have enough intelligence to understand the disorder they create with their own natural movements. They are sheltered from the harshness of the weather by someone who leads them to safety. If the paintings reflected what really is happening, they would show chaos, fear, and danger, and then the shepherd whose job it is to protect them from those things.

When my own three children were young, I had a responsibility to protect them from the realities of the world. When you are first awakening to the world you do not need to know about the wars, the poverty, the suffering, and the sin in this place. You need to know love, patience, and comfort. When my children placed their heads on their pillows at night, fear needed to be the last things on their mind, even though the world can be a scary place.

Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd in John 10 and he brings to us what cannot be truly found in this world: peace. Death could not even keep him from tending his flock. The risen Lord is alive so we can rest on his shoulders, so we can walk freely without being the prey of evil, and so we can have peace in the face of chaos.

But there are still those in our world that know all too well the peril that surrounds them. They have not had a chance to enter into the world with a naiveté that allows little ones to know what safety feels like. They do not know the peace of a shepherd because they have never seen one. Consider the experience of those growing up on the streets of the US, those who hear explosions all day and night in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and even parts of Europe. Consider the orphan who has never had a real hug, or the children who saw their parents murdered before their very eyes. Consider the children in hospitals who suffer from terminal illness and experience short lives of constant pain.

These are his lambs. They need Jesus. These are those who need real peace. And who will bring to them the Shepherd? Perhaps we should adopt a new moniker for ourselves in addition to the body of Christ: the body of the Shepherd. He is leading his flock this very day into places where weather, buzzards, and chaos threaten. If we have been with him for any real time, we know how peace feels. We can bring Jesus to these places. Consider the paintings of the Good Shepherd. Everyone deserves at some point to be the snuggly ones who just call out to be hugged.

Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS

PRAYER

A psalm of David.
I

The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.

II

You set a table before me
in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD
for endless days.

 

—Psalm 23. Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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We Do Believe, Alleluia

Posted on April 19, 2015 by - Connect! Sunday Reflection

For Sunday, April 19, 2015

April 19

Do we really believe in the Resurrection? Jesus’ resurrection? Our own? During the past three weeks I’ve traveled in India and am currently in Uganda, Africa. In India, our tour group boarded a wooden boat at dusk and shoved out into the Ganges River. It was Tuesday of Holy Week, the evening of the Chrism Mass in my diocese back home. Our group of Americans was quiet as the guide explained the customs surrounding the death of a Hindu. Many of the elderly in India move to Varanasi so that they can be close to the Ganges at their time of death. If they are cremated there, they are guaranteed a happy afterlife.

As we motored up the river, we came to the area of cremation. Ghats (steps) went upward from the river. Fires burned on intermittent platforms. At that moment, five bodies were being burned. The chief mourner, wrapped in white cloth, with head shaved, ignited the sixty pounds of wood beneath and above the body. He had come from the top of the ghat where the eternal fire burned, down to the pyre where his loved one lay. After igniting it, the burning lasted about three hours. A sobering sight.

Three hours. The traditional time that Jesus hung upon the cross. It was Holy Week. My thoughts turned to Good Friday.

Three hours led to three days. In that interim, I moved from India to Uganda, Africa. My travel partner and I arrived at Stella Maris College for Girls after a five-hour ride, mostly on dirt roads churned by spring rains and hardened by the sun. There are over a thousand girls here from ages six to eighteen. On Good Friday, we spent almost five hours with them as they sang and prayed. All one thousand walked the outdoor stations, some barefooted as penance. The road was rough and rocky. This was followed immediately by the liturgical service. Every girl venerated the cross as they sang hymn after hymn from memory. There was no fidgeting or talking among themselves during those five hours. Unbelievable!

That five hours turned into another three hours the next night. The Easter Vigil. A thousand candles caught the light from the new fire atop the Easter candle. ALLELUIA! Sung in full voice with drums and clapping! “HE IS RISEN!” “HE IS RISEN!” The rejoicing was deafening! At the baptisms and confirmation they clapped their support! The faith and joy of these young women and their teachers was tangible! My heart rejoiced and my arms could hardly be restrained from joining their raised arms and voices of joy!

I thought of America, of my experiences of the Easter Vigil … my wondering why we are so restrained. Then I also remembered a number of times hearing fellow Christians say, “When I’m gone, I’m gone. That’s it. There is nothing else.” I thought of the Hindu belief in the afterlife. I also remembered seeing a human body floating in the Ganges and wondering how that person had died and where his or her mourners were and what about his or her afterlife. In these days, in this season, we all ponder life and death and our beliefs in the afterlife.

These are perennial questions of all thinking human beings no matter what age or nation or century. Even in today’s Gospel, St. Luke tells of a resurrected Jesus encouraging the disciples to touch him and to give him something to eat. Commentaries suggest that Luke was greatly aware that his Greek readers were skeptical about Jesus rising from the dead.

Are we skeptical? At the vigil here in Uganda, Father Joseph asked the universal questions, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ … he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day?” A joyous shout rose from a thousand young throats. “WE DO BELIEVE!” And he continued, “Do you look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come?” Again, the joyous shout thundered, “WE DO BELIEVE!”

Today’s Gospel concludes with Jesus affirming his own history of suffering, death, and rising from that death. He then commissions his disciples to go to all nations as witnesses. In my experience, these young African students have witnessed to me their belief in the Resurrection. Can I catch their joy and enthusiasm? Can I bring it home halfway around the world?

In America, it seems that in our youth-oriented culture we don’t want to recognize or think about death. In India it is very present. We Americans tend to keep our public grieving as short as possible, some not even having a funeral. We talk about a person “passing” rather than dying. There’s an obituary and then it’s time to move on. How can we celebrate resurrection when we pass over death? Maybe we need to learn from our brothers and sisters of India about death. Maybe we need to learn from our young sisters in Africa about resurrection. Maybe we need to think about, meditate on, and talk with each other about these taboo subjects.

Do I really believe in the resurrection of Jesus? Do I really believe in my future resurrection? In this springtime of new life, in this Easter season, when we hear the Resurrection stories, we need to contemplate these deep mysteries and, hopefully, shout with full voice, “I BELIEVE, ALLELUIA!”

Pat DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

Lord God,
you are attentive to the voice of our pleading.
Let us find in your Son
comfort in our sadness,
certainty in our doubt,
and courage to live through this hour.
Make our faith strong
through Christ out Lord,
Amen.

—Order of Christian Funerals © 1985, ICEL.

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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

PRAYER

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: http://www.stthomas.webhero.com/.

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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:

“Alleluia.”

Dcn. Greg Kandra

PRAYER

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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Companions on the Way

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

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

March 29

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rev. Mark S. Suslenko

PRAYER

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

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

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

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

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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

PRAYER

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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