Several days ago I had the privilege of presenting a series of workshops for the diocesan congress of the Diocese of Fresno. This annual event brings together clergy and religious, professional and volunteer ministers, and young adults from around that diocese for a time of formation, catechesis, and renewal. It was a wonderful event and one that I hope more dioceses will plan in the coming years, especially because it gave the participants an opportunity to engage new ideas and develop new skills for ministry. (more…)
“Taxation without representation”—a battle cry for justice before the Revolutionary War! But it isn’t the late 1700s! Why would that be a bumper sticker in 2016? The answer depends not on the date, but the place. We were driving in Washington, DC. After seeing that bumper sticker this summer, the discussion that followed brought up many questions. There must be some way that the voice of the people can be heard in the center city of our democratic government. There must be a mayor. There must be a city council. Are these citizens paying taxes to the federal government with no representation? Driving behind this car with its bumper sticker certainly brought our attention to their situation … at least for a few minutes. (more…)
An African-American hymn sings: “Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord! Thank you, Lord! I just want to thank you, Lord!” I was introduced to this hymn while in seminary. It became one of my favorites, because the words reflect the attitude of gratitude at the heart of Catholic Christian life: “Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God. It is right and just.” The Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart, put it this way: “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
But gratitude seems to have been on the decline in our culture over recent years. The Today Show did an experiment, wherein one of their staff stood at the entrance of Rockefeller Plaza and held the door for people as they entered or exited the building. Fewer than thirty percent of people said, “Thank you.” Some people did look into the eyes of the person who held the door and smiled, but the majority of people simply walked through without any response. That experience led me to ask: Is it because people take courteous acts for granted? Is it because people feel entitled to simple acts of courtesy like this? Is it because people are too preoccupied with hurt or worry? What is the reason? (more…)
In our city there have been seventy deaths attributed to heroin and drug overdoses over the past seven weeks. That number included a sixty-three-year-old man and a one-year-old child. To add more sorrow to the already tragic, one of the young men who died was the medical examiner’s son. The weight of senseless loss looms heavily in our city and indeed in our hearts because, like me, so many wonder what our culture has done to contribute to such dire escapism, such ominous darkness as to lead folks to mainline prescription drugs, risking death.
Like the prophet who laments the social upheaval of his people, my heart shouts: “How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?” My outcry goes further, asking has the world proved so fatalistic to our young folks, has the future become so grim, that nothing gives way to hope anymore? Is the drug culture only endemic to a greater agony of our national soul?
What do I expect? Myriads of angels to meet every addict in the bar or in the alleyways of despair? That would be nice, yet in the midst of crisis, the most important thing is to stop and reflect, to seek a new vision. It is exactly what the Lord does in Habakkuk’s situation. He does not give him a solution, but a vision.
God calls upon the soul of this good man to climb the mountain of faith and to see beyond the bodies lying limp to a new day when the vision of God would come to pass. It is like reading at a funeral liturgy the beautiful passage from Revelation where John sees “a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rv 21:1-2). The challenge of the prophet is to wait for the vision of the Lord to come to fulfillment.
The apostles are faced with a similar challenge. They have chosen to follow Jesus Christ and walk with him through the labyrinthine pathways of human frailty and darkness. They have watched him set the demonic free. They have witnessed bread broken and multiplied. They have been with him when he raised the widow’s son and healed women and children.
They, too, want to be equipped for the task and therefore realize they need more faith. Bucketsful of faith! Jesus responds to their request for an increase of faith by exhorting them: if their faith were the size of a mustard seed (smaller than a poppy seed), they could speak to a mulberry tree to be uprooted and cast into the sea. The irony is that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds and the mulberry tree kept a deep, entanglement of roots beneath the soil leaving it impossible to uproot (Bergant, Dianne, CSA. Preaching the New Lectionary, Year C. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2000, p. 382).
Yet Jesus says even cultivating the smallest faith can do the impossible. The story that follows speaks to the reality that faith cannot be quantified or measured. Faith is about relationship, a relationship to Christ, the source of all love and mercy. If a servant worked hard all day in the fields, he must not expect special privilege excusing him from his work at home. No, the nature of service is to serve and one serves in love. Does a mother with a sick child take a break at night? Or does she hold the child until the fever breaks? Does a nurse put his feet up during his watch hoping someone else picks up the slack? Or does he continue to go to his patients with compassion and mercy? Does the breadwinner in the family not show up to work or does she weigh out the measure of responsibility it takes to provide for the family?
Here is where faith abides: the steadfast, persevering efforts to keep love alive, to serve those we are committed to. That is the vision of faith. Write it down!
Does the Lord ask for anything less? Jesus says faith is not measured. It is lived. It is lived through serving God and God’s people, not looking back but looking ahead where we might one day see mulberry trees floating in the sea.
Mary K. Matestic, MTS
you walked upon this earth long before we arrived.
You gave us your vision of hope;
and though we walk in the shadow of death,
it is good to know that you are always at our side,
with your kindness and mercy
leading us to places we never dreamed we would go.
Indeed, give us the patience and perseverance
to continue your work here in this, our time,
trusting you to bring about your vision.
Watch over those who flounder and give up.
Meet them in the kindness of family and friends.
Deliver us all from despair,
and help us keep our eyes upon you who give us faith.
Enough to uproot trees,
enough to write down what is still to come,
enough to wait for your vision fulfilled.
What contribution does the practice of religion make to our society?
Many would say that it provides a moral code that inspires people to look beyond themselves to the needs of others. Others might argue that faith provides meaning to those who might otherwise despair over the challenges of life. Still others might argue that faith does no good at all but only creates divisions that perpetuate strife and violence.
A new study seeks to put a price tag on the contribution of religion to the economy as a whole. It estimates that the goods and services provided by churches, synagogues, mosques, and other faith-based communities totals 1.2 trillion dollars. Putting that staggering figure in perspective, Christopher White, in an article posted on
Crux, writes, “Impressively, this figure is more than the top ten tech companies combined—including Google, Apple, and Microsoft. Or, put in another perspective, if that figure was measured in GDP, U.S. religion would be the 15th largest national economy in the world.”
Faith-based charities provide an enormous service to those who would otherwise not be served by government programs. This would include not only congregations but faith-based institutions such as the Knights of Columbus whose nearly two million members provide relief to the poor members of their communities. It would also include parish-based groups such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which serves the poor after the example of their founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.
On a larger scale, Catholic Charities provides disaster relief and resources to lift people out of poverty. Catholic schools educate children of all faiths, many of whom are poor, preparing them to be more productive citizens. Some twenty percent of all hospitals in the United States are Catholic Health Care Facilities reaching underserved communities and providing free services to those who would otherwise go without.
As people of faith, not only should we feel proud of the accomplishments of our brothers and sisters, we should also not be ashamed to tell the world about it. Though the tax exempt status of religious groups and nonprofits is always being challenged, we can confidently assert that society receives much more in goods and services from people of faith than it would if it were to tax our institutions out of existence.
Furthermore, when the government seeks to force groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor to use their resources to fight off burdens to their religious liberty such as the HHS mandate, it diverts time, energy, and money that could be better used to assist those who are suffering.
As Pope Francis reminds us, “The Church is not an NGO.” Our ultimate value is not in the goods and services we provide but in our witness to Jesus Christ. All the good works that flow from faith are a response to Jesus’ call to serve the poor, as we hear in today’s readings. Though we might be able to put a dollar value on the goods and services provided by people of faith, the witness to the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ is beyond measure.?
Douglas Sousa, STL
we marvel at your goodness and generosity.
You provide us with this vast universe
and all its wonders.
Just as you have provided for us
you call us to provide for one another.
May we ever be mindful of those who go without,
especially those at our doorstep.
May our desire for comfort
never keep us from comforting others.
May our search for riches
never make us impoverish them.
But keep our arms free to embrace the poor
and our hearts open to loving them
as you have loved us.
Through Christ Jesus our Lord.
As you know, on September 4, the person many have come to know as Mother Teresa of Kolkata was canonized and now stands with us as St. Teresa of Kolkata. Pope Francis remarked, “For Mother Teresa, mercy was the ‘salt’ which gave flavour to her work, it was the ‘light’ which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.” Mother Teresa stood before the world as a living example of Christ with us, ministering to the poorest of the poor who had been cast aside by a system that often caters to injustice and disregard.
We can easily become complacent and ignore the cries of those who are poor. In fact, the prophet Amos tells us exactly that! “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!” The continuation of this reading next weekend will show us how this attitude has led to self-destruction. Amos sees the destruction experienced in northern Israel as the direct result of complacency and indifference to the poor, outcast, and needy. Regardless of the scope of our sinfulness, I do not believe for one minute that God causes our demise or inflicts this type of “repayment” upon people for their misdeeds. However, what is to be considered is whether a habit of self-focused self-indulgence can and will eventually lead to the demise of an individual or to an entire nation. Trampling upon or ignoring anyone will always come back with negative results.
Mother Teresa saw a clear link between personal well-being, holiness, and service to the poor. As a woman who believed in Jesus Christ, even in her darkness she felt compelled to live this life of total service, bringing to fulfillment the vision God places before us. Our psalmist lays this out before us: “He raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor.” As Christians, it is important to consider the systemic causes of poverty and injustice. We need to continually challenge contemporary systems to see the light and truth of the Gospel. However, it is even more important to put our questions and even our doubts aside for a bit, being consumed less with dealing with why a person is hungry, and using our energy to simply feed them. We need to help God’s vision become a reality.
Jesus often spoke of the intimate linkage that exists between love of God and love of neighbor. It stands to reason then that if we are in a covenant, loving relationship with God then we are also in a covenant, loving relationship with each other. We cannot turn our backs on the needs of humanity, especially those that are so obvious and grave—the poor and the powerless.
This weekend Luke’s Gospel is a lesson in stewardship. We are blatantly told, “No servant can serve two masters.” The Christian has to be prudent and efficient in the matters of God and in care of others. In short, less energy must be spent on self-interest and more on the interest of others. We are called to be stewards who serve, not stewards who squander. What will convince us to make God’s vision our own? This is a matter of conversion, of allowing God to change the way we see.
Many often believe that true conversion comes only when the truly miraculous is witnessed—the parting of a sea, the rolling thunder of the sky, a phenomenal healing, or an actual theophany. Actually true conversion is more often experienced in subtle, human ways. Conversion, brought about by repentance, occurs when I finally humbly admit to being the lovingly created child of a God who delights in every fiber of my being, even if that God may seem distant at times or even nonexistent.
True faith happens when I persevere in spite of my doubt and live out this covenant relationship of love. If the unmistakably miraculous occurs, it may cause me to stand up and take notice a bit, restore a certain measure of faith but may also position me to expect more of the same in the future. Then, the sustenance of my faith will be linked to the extraordinary and I will continue to miss God opportunities in the ordinary stuff of life. And I will continue to lapse into the pursuit of self-interest.
If a heart is hardened, even actual testimony may not penetrate it. St. Teresa did what her heart told her to do. She knew that even when she was unable to feel God’s presence or even be certain of his existence, the road to love would inevitably lead back to him. And so, she persevered. Riches were of no consequence to her.
So what happens when we persevere on our often dimly lit path on the road of faith and love? We find ourselves stumbling upon other virtues that can assist with deepening our covenant relationships: righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, gentleness, and a deepening desire for eternal life. Look at the life of Mother Teresa, the humble saint, and you will find all these things. Look at the life of any person who takes the command to love one’s neighbor seriously and you will find them as well.
How do we love our neighbor and honor their dignity? Not all of us can work in soup kitchens or find our way to Kolkata. Interestingly, Mother Teresa once told some folks that they can always find their own Kolkata. In other words, there is always need around us. Perhaps the biggest challenge is getting over the idea that my needs are more important than my neighbors’ and beginning to understand the intimate connection God’s love creates with all of my brothers and sisters and even creation. We need to become good and effective stewards. Once we change the lens through which we see life, then the way we live life will change as well and we give God more occasions to use us.
Mother Teresa did not start out seeking to be a saint. She just learned early on how to get herself out of the way.
Rev. Mark S. Suslenko
Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance
everywhere we go.
Flood our souls with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly
that our lives may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through us and be so in us
that every soul we come in contact with
may feel your presence in our soul.
Let them look up and see no longer us, but only Jesus.
Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as you shine,
so to shine as to be light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from you.
None of it will be ours.
It will be you shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise you in the way you love best
by shining on those around us.
Let us preach you without preaching,
not by words, but by our example;
by the catching force –
the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to you.
—Prayer of Mother Teresa.
It was fifteen years ago that my mother went into the hospital for a somewhat routine surgery and never came back home. I was at my parents’ house when I got the call. The woman I had just walked the hallways of the hospital with earlier that day was barely hanging on to life due to a massive heart attack, probably brought on by complications with painkillers. I had to make the call to remove life support because my father and sister could not face the situation. It was reality crashing in on us all.
A person can feel so lost when life takes a sharp turn toward tragedy. If you live long enough, everyone finds himself or herself wandering and wondering how life can change so fast. Within the last fifteen years, both my sister and father have both passed away as well. I read a book about how one can feel abandoned when parents and family die, almost like an orphan. It doesn’t matter your age. How you have identified yourself from birth is now gone, because those people that created your identity are now gone. You feel like you are somehow a missing person, waiting to be found again.
Jesus liked to use parables to hammer home the promise that if you are lost, God will find you, and if you seek a way home, God will be waiting. You are, I am, at times, lost sheep or coins, or prodigals that have decided to put our will and desires above that of our Creator. But when we are lost, it is at those times that we become most precious to God.
Sometimes, we stray from the path without really knowing we are going astray. Sheep are not smart animals. A coin cannot think for itself. We can find ourselves somewhere else due to lack of planning, ignorance, or sin. The reality is that at these moments we can’t find our way back. We need a shepherd or coin owner to look for us, and not in a nonchalant manner. We need someone greater than ourselves to pull out all the stops to find us, because if not, we could be lost forever.
At other times, we simply need to face the facts and say that God’s will is more important than our own. Like the prodigal son, we can make our way back, but we have to fight fear, pride, and humiliation before traveling back home. But these are human emotions that do not speak to the truth: there is no reason to fear or be ashamed in the presence of our Father. He waits for us to return, and when we are seen in the distance coming toward our home, he does not sit still. With compassion, he runs toward us for the embrace we thought we might never experience again.
Time can harden our human hearts, but with God, time has no ill effect. If it has been five, ten, or even fifteen years, God will either continue to look for you or will run to you upon your return. The good news is then you can begin again. Through the love of God and the sacramental life of the Church, the transgressions of the past are no more. You were lost, but now you are found.
It was fifteen years ago we watched multiple passenger airliners fly directly into some of the tallest buildings in our world. 2,996 people lost their lives on that day, while six thousand others suffered physical injury as well. But we all suffered injury on that day. For many of us, our innocence was gone and the belief that we were untouchable was shattered.
Although we proved to be strong and resilient, as the years go by, in many ways we continue to be lost. Recent studies speak about the decline of belief in God and the tremendous exodus from our faith communities. We put faith in politics and politicians, in science, in money; and in many ways we have given in to fear and prejudice. As a nation we are following our will, much like the prodigal.
But there still is a Shepherd looking for his sheep. There is still someone looking for the lost treasure of our faith. And there is still a Father waiting to run toward his own with an embrace that will chase all fear and pain away.
On some days it seems like a long time since 9-11 and the passing of my mother, but on other days, it feels like yesterday. It’s funny how time plays tricks on the mind. But for God, time has no ill effect. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He was there consoling me in a hospital room, and he was there crying with us on that Tuesday morning. And God is here now, always looking, and always longing for that embrace.
Fifteen years. God the Father shouldn’t have to wait a single day more.
Tracy Earl Welliver, MTS
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
’Tis grace that brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
—John Newton (1725–1807)
As we look back at the story of our faith, we recognize graced moments in which women, men, and even children, have made decisions about the course or orientation of their lives that have changed history itself. Like that “shot heard ’round the world” of April 19, 1775, marking the first military action of the American Revolution, certain acts have opened up new pathways and modes of faith that have forever shaped the lives of countless believers through the ages.
Some of these might seem quite simple (perhaps because we know the stories so well): Mary’s fiat, Saint Peter’s decision to get out of his boat to follow the wandering Rabbi, and Saint Matthew leaving his tax collecting post. Others seem, somehow, far away and remote to us: Saint Lawrence presenting the poor, the Church’s true treasure, to an emperor who would kill him; Saint Patrick’s decision to return to Ireland after escaping slavery; Saint Francis stripping off his clothes and family ties to stand naked in the square of Assisi; Saint Angela Merici bringing together a group of women in order to teach girls outside of the walls of a cloister; Saint Aloysius Gonzaga renouncing his titles and princely rank in order to become a Jesuit; or Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton’s decision to enter the Catholic Church, despite society’s objections, and establish a new community of sisters, laying the foundation for Catholic education in America.
Even contemporary figures—our modern “saints”—had moments in which they made a decision that marked a moment of conversion: the newly canonized Saint Teresa of Kolkata asking permission from her religious superiors to begin working with the poor on her own; Dorothy Day’s recognition of the good work being done on behalf of the poor by the Catholic Church and her desire to unite herself to that work; Saint Maximilian Kolbe volunteering to take the place of a husband and father chosen to be executed by the Nazis; Thomas Merton’s decision to attend a Mass at Corpus Christi Church in Manhattan that marked a turning point on his journey to Catholicism and life as a Trappist monk; Martin Luther King’s trip to India in 1959 to learn about non-violent resistance; and Blessed Oscar Romero’s decision to seek justice for his slain priest friend and all the poor of El Salvador.
Regardless of when they lived or their title or state of life, these individuals demonstrated a willingness to make the Gospel the primary focus of their lives. Knowing the cost of discipleship, they willingly took on the burden of faith and set out on a new way, taking the words of Christ at face value: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:26-27).
In these tense days, as people around the world struggle to make sense of the terror and violence that have become such a part of daily life, we are reminded that “there is no such thing as low-cost Christianity. Following Jesus means swimming against the tide, renouncing evil and selfishness” (Pope Francis via Twitter, September 5, 2013). We are being invited to trust in providence and to focus our attention on the common good and search for peace, asking for the grace of wisdom and discretion: “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the LORD intends? For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans … who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight” (Wis 9:13, 17-18b).
The Church’s liturgy this Sunday remind us that, if we are to be true followers of Jesus, we must be willing to accept the responsibility that comes with discipleship, and part of that responsibility is a commitment to peace and justice, a dedication to building God’s kingdom here and now. And so, we pray, we fast, and we give to the poor. Any one of those acts is good and noble. But the question before each one of us is, “Where is my heart? To whom, or to what, does it belong?” If we continue to hold back, any words we speak or pray, the acts of penance we perform, and the gifts we share will always fall short and will never be what they might be, unless we act out of love for God and a spirit of gratitude for all that God has done for us.
Br. Silas S. Henderson, SDS
O God, by whom we are redeemed and receive adoption,
look graciously upon your beloved sons and daughters,
that those who believe in Christ
may receive true freedom
and an everlasting inheritance.
Through our Lord Jesus, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
—Collect, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Excerpt from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.
There was thunder and lightning. It was quite a light show that God put on last night! But this morning at 6:00 am the world is quiet again. The eastern sky is washed in a pinkish peach with receding dark clouds reminding the world of the passing turmoil. Above all of this is the morning star, quietly present, always there after the night storm passes.
Our American world seems to be in the storm stage politically. There is still thunder and lightning, but it will pass as it always has. It will march off into history and a new day will dawn. Strange as it may seem, the quiet of the morning star will be there … a personage who is not “donner and blitzen.” Have you seen him? With the storms and rising light of a new president on the horizon, you may not have noticed the quiet star. It, he, is quietly there by the name of “Sully.”
Tom Hanks is playing the role. The movie is out and being advertised on TV. Just plain Sully, no frills even in the title. Many of us remember his story. The image of an airliner floating in the Hudson with survivors standing on the wings still comes to mind when his name is mentioned. Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III was an instant hero after he successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 off Manhattan Island on a cold January day in 2009. It was shortly after takeoff, when a flock of Canada geese collided with the plane. Because of Sully’s expertise all 155 passengers survived.
Do you remember the interviews with “Sully” after his amazing feat? He was modest about his acts of courage, crediting all to his training over the years. He shared, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.” These are humble words.
Modern society seems to think that humility is meekness combined with weakness. In Sully there appears a quiet core of strength. He speaks the truth with no frills or self-aggrandizement. That’s what Jesus talks about in his parable. That’s the manner in which Sully shared his experience when he emerged as a hero.
Pride is one of the most subtle and powerful tools of the devil. It has gradually shifted in our way of thinking to something that is good. “I’m proud to be an American.” “We are proud of our athletes in the Olympics!” “Hold your head up and be proud!” Yes, there is a good side to pride. But it’s the overemphasis on self that is dangerous. When we give trophies and stars for insignificant achievements to the very young, that’s dangerous. When we live life as though we are entitled to the “good life” without using our gifts to their fullest through hard work and application, that’s dangerous. When our life is centered around “me, me, me!” that’s dangerous. The superabundance of “selfies” is a dangerous sign of our self-centered society. It’s one way of taking the higher place at the banquet table. Ours is a “me first!” society.
Humility is truth. It is recognizing that God is the source of all our gifts. Everything we have and are is God-given. In America, the self-made entrepreneur is admired and held up as a model for all. But the talent and energy and drive that propels that person’s achievement is all God-given. There is absolutely nothing that we can claim as our own. A proud Christian, a follower of the humble Christ, is simply a living oxymoron. Christ, the Son of God, lowered himself to our level when he took our human nature. He took the lowest place at the table of intelligent creatures. It’s simply unthinkable that any of us would put ourselves above him.
As always, avoiding extremes is the name of the game. We are not to imitate Dickens’ Uriah Heep. His humility was false. Truth is what it’s all about. If I sing well and am praised, then I thank God. If I am a successful businessperson, I thank God. If I have natural beauty, then I thank God. No matter what I’m praised for, I recognize that God is the source. I may not say that out loud. I may respond as Sully did, with the facts, but interiorly, I thank God.
Living like this is not flashy. It’s living like the quiet, peaceful, always present morning star. Our first reading begins, “Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”
Patricia DeGroot, OblSB
Disturb us, Lord, when
we are too well pleased with ourselves,
when our dreams have come true
because we have dreamed too little,
when we arrived safely
because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
we have lost our thirst
for the waters of life;
having fallen in love with life,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision
of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
to venture on wider seas
where storms will show your mastery;
where losing sight of land,
we shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
the horizons of our hopes;
and to push into the future
in strength, courage, hope, and love.
—“Disturb Us, Lord” prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake, c. 1577.
Isaiah offers us a vision of utter inclusivity and welcome: “From them I will send fugitives to the nations … and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations. They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations as an offering to the LORD” (66:19-20a). Isaiah’s words challenge us given our current world climate of fear and mistrust. Many, if not most, of us want to welcome all of our brothers and sisters, especially those in need due to unjust political and religious situations at home. However, with terrorist attacks and violence that seem rampant, the deeper desire to be welcoming is often overshadowed by the innate human desire for safety and protection. On one hand, this is understandable. On another, we must remember the words of Jesus that also call us to a deeper inclusivity: “People will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Lk 13:29-30). While we must be prudent and even cautious, that does not mean allowing fear to get the best of us and replace the acts of faith and inclusion to which our readings call us.
Pope Francis has spoken often about our need to welcome the stranger and see the Church as a mother whose care is expressed with special attention to sisters and brothers who must flee their homeland. They are in limbo, between the home of their roots and the countries that might become new homes for them. When he spoke to the US Congress, Pope Francis said: “In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities” (9/24/15). We are a nation who has welcomed others from our beginning. When Pope Francis welcomed refugees to the Vatican this spring, he put his money where his mouth was, so to speak. His witness is a foretaste of the words from Luke that all will come from east and west and north and south and recline at table in God’s kingdom made visible in that part of God’s reign known as Vatican City.
How do we follow his example? How do we face our fears in ways that help us feel as safe as humanly possible and, at the same time, follow the Pope’s call to find security by giving security? Today’s second reading is our guide: “Do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him” (Heb 12:5). The discipline of prayer opens hearts and brings before the Lord what we find there—fear and hope—and helps us find strength and courage in the Lord. The discipline of study informs us more fully on issues that can seem daunting or off-putting at first glance. The discipline of dialogue allows truth to surface when we speak honestly and listen openly, especially to those with whom we disagree. The discipline of compassion helps us to feel with another, in the same way we would like others to feel with us. We strengthen our drooping hands and weak knees by taking on these disciplines, like the athlete or musician whose discipline of practice brings freedom and facility in one’s desired goal. Discipline of prayer, study, dialogue, and compassion brings us “the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it” (Heb 12:11b).
Pope Francis models these disciplines for us in his letter to the 2016 Refugee Olympic Team. He wrote the team members: “I have learned about your team and read some of your interviews so that I could get closer to your lives and your aspirations. I extend my greetings and wish you success at the Olympic Games in Rio—that your courage and strength find expression through the Olympic Games and serve as a cry for peace and solidarity… I pray for you and ask that you, please, do the same for me.”
St. Francis de Sales taught that we should do all through love and nothing through fear. Our readings invite us to live these words and offer the tool of discipline to help us do so. By living what today’s readings invite, Jesus will recognize us, know where we are from, and open the door for us to join the throngs gathered in God’s kingdom.
Rev. Paul H. Colloton, OSFS
O God, who cause the minds of the faithful
to unite in a single purpose,
grant your people to love what you command
and to desire what you promise,
that, amid the uncertainties of this world,
our hearts may be fixed on that place
where true gladness is found.
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, 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. Excerpt from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 2010, ICEL. All rights reserved.