Wednesday, October 12, 2016

October 16, 2016 - Persistence in Prayer

The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time  -  Year C

Reading 1:  Exodus 17:8-13
Psalm 121: 1-8
Reading II: 2 Timothy 3:14 - 4:2
Gospel: Luke 18: 1-8

A lesson from Exodus about persistence in prayer stands out as Moses kept up his hands raised in prayer while the conflict with the Amalekites was going on. As long as he persisted in prayer, Israel was winning. However, Moses could not continue that pose long without the help of Aaron and Hur who held up his arms when they began to droop. That was necessary until the evening so that the Israelites could win the battle.

That is how the Christian Community functions. Some are working diligently to spread the Gospel while others are supporting their efforts through prayer and sacrifice. In Monasteries and Houses of Prayer, that can be the main ministry. On the other hand, active Religious and other Christians offer their prayer and work for the good of all, especially for those who request their prayers.

Just as Moses appreciated the support of Aaron and Hur, we are grateful for those who help us in our challenging situations. It requires persistence and faith that the Lord is hearing us when there seems to be no solution to our problems. We need to trust that the Lord knows when and how to respond to our requests. We also need the comfort of those who provide kindnesses and support when things are difficult.

Each morning we, as Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, pray for our families, friends, the Pope, world leaders, etc. We also pray especially for the intentions of those who pray through the intercession of St. Katharine Drexel here at the Shrine or elsewhere.

Lord, help us to be steadfast in our prayer no matter how long we must persevere, trusting that you know best how and when to respond.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

October 9, 2016 - The Ten Lepers

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Reading I:
2 Kings 5:14-17
Reading II: Timothy 2: 8-13
Gospel: Luke 17: 11-19

An attitude of gratitude is one of the signs of a happy person. Jesus knows this. In the picture above, one sees Jesus blessing the one leper who returned to give thanks. However, we also see Jesus looking pensively at the other nine who are rejoicing over their cure, but are oblivious of the one who made it possible. Obviously, they are centered on themselves.

In his human nature, Jesus probably felt hurt that only one returned expressed his gratitude. However, he may also have felt sorry that they did not have the attitude of gratitude which would make them happier people.

We all have ups and downs in our lives. However, one of the best ways of pulling oneself out of the doldrums is to list all the things for which we should be grateful. Some people keep gratitude journals. They write 3 things a day for which they are grateful. Then, they try to not repeat.  As time goes on, they begin to notice the smaller blessings, e.g. the beauty of a flower, the breeze on a hot summer’s day, the smile of a friend.

When I was working in campus ministry at Xavier University in New Orleans, many of our students came from poor and difficult circumstances. However, they had a joyous manner. It blew my mind when, during prayer, they thanked the Lord for getting them up in the morning. Not being a morning person myself, I had never even thought of thanking the Lord for getting me up. Sometimes, students can become teachers for their instructors.

One day Sr. Ivan and I visited Church Point in rural Louisiana. I was taken to visit an elderly couple who lived in a small shabby house. However, they were such joyous people as every other word out of their mouths was praising and thanking the Lord. I could see why the Lord has such love for the poor.

Just as any good parent wants his/her children to be happy, so does our Heavenly Father and Jesus want this for us. Let us strive to develop a strong attitude of gratitude even on those days when everything seems to be going wrong.

Lord, you have blessed us in so many ways, we thank you for all that was, that is, and that will be.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

October 2, 2016 - The Good Servant

The Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Reading I:  Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4
Response: Psalm 95
Reading II: 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
Gospel: Luke: 17: 5-10

These days when I hear the news with all the violence and controversy, I turn to the Lord and tell him that he is the only one who can solve our problems today. We hear in the first reading a similar plea from Habakkuk. Fr. John Foley, S.J. summarizes the Lord’s response, thus: God is saying, “I understand your sorrow and I will make things better.” However, in today’s world we are used to instant solutions. God asks us to wait and he will makes things better. Father Foley suggests that God may be delaying in order for us to deepen our faith.

In the Gospel, the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith. His response is “If you had the faith the size of a mustard seed, you could do whatever it is that you want.” It seems that he is inviting them to work with him to make a better world. However, they need greater faith in Him and faith in themselves to do this. That is what the Lord is also asking of us today.

I recall vividly a visit with a young friend of mine and her family. While we were chatting on the patio, we could see her husband preparing a portion of their backyard to be a vegetable garden. He was busily raking up the soil. Beside him was their son who was about three years old. He was imitating the father with his own toy rake. It was such a touching scene!

Although the boy probably got in the way sometimes and was able to do little to really help, his dad let him attempt his little part. Of course, the little boy was happy to be working alongside his dad and very proud that he could “help” his father.

This scene reminds me of how our Father allows us to do our little part in making our world better for ourselves and others. In fact, he wants us to do our part. He doesn’t expect perfection from us. However, he knows it will make us happy.

We see this regularly when we hear the reactions of youth who volunteer to help others in special projects. We hear the sense of fulfillment expressed by older people who give of themselves to help others. We hear of the healing after loss which is brought about by those who choose to improve the life of others. Yes, the Lord knows what is best for us, even when we do not understand.

Lord, help us to place our trust in you.  Help us to give over our concerns to you.  Give us your peace!  Amen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September 25, 2016 - The Rich Man and Lazarus

The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Image result for the parable of the rich man and lazarus

Reading I: Amos 6: 1a, 4-7
Response: Psalm 146
Reading II:  1 Timothy 6: 11- 16
Gospel: Luke 16: 19-31

Is there anything wrong with being rich?  Jesus seems to focus on the dangers of being rich. He says that it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. Of course, the “needle” is not a sewing needle.  However, even though he is referring to a narrow passageway in the mountains through which shepherds and herders needed to lead their animals, we wonder why he stresses this.   

It seems obvious that we need to share with those who are needy. But, there seems to be more to it. Eleanor Stump, professor of philosophy at St. Louis University, sheds some light on this when she points out the words used in the Gospel. When the rich man is in hell, he asks the Lord to send Lazarus, who is resting in the bosom of the Lord, to get him some water to quench his thirst.  When the Lord refuses, the rich man asks God to send Lazarus to his brothers to warn them about the folly of riches. The Lord refuses again. Why? Perhaps the Lord is reacting to the rich man’s basic attitude of seeing Lazarus as only useful to him. He doesn’t consider him a brother, as an equal. Rather he chooses only to use him for his own purposes. Even the dogs lick the wounds of Lazarus as they do for themselves and one another. They have compassion and try to heal him. 

The rich who are poor in spirit reach out and share with the poor. The poor recognize those who have a superior attitude and those who see them as brothers and sisters. At the 125th jubilee celebration for the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, Bishop Curtis J Guillory, SVD, of the Beaumont, Texas Diocese, shared his experiences with the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. He made a comment which touched me. He said that the Sisters “engaged” with the people. In other words, they became a part of the people with whom they ministered. They realized that they were enriched themselves by the poor they served.

Another view is expressed by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI. He reminds us that for our own physical,
psychological and spiritual health, we need to share. Our Native American brothers and sisters have retained that generosity of spirit by some of their customs. For example, when I young man has success hunting a deer, the family has a “deer supper.” I was invited to one by one of our Pueblo Sisters from Laguna, New Mexico. Before the meal the skull of the deer was placed on a side table. The mother of the young hunter blessed her son and thanked the deer for giving its life to feed the people. Then, everyone in the village and friends were invited to partake in the meal. They took turns eating in silence and moved on so others could have a place at the table. While waiting for a turn at the table, people were watching a ballgame on TV and chatting. It was like two worlds in one house.

Another custom is that on birthdays, the one being celebrated is the giver of gifts. Of course, in today’s world they probably receive gifts also. However, the custom reminds them that they are
here to share with others also. On special holy days, they have “throws.” Items like candy, blankets, etc. are thrown from flat adobe rooftops for anyone to take.  

A real challenge comes when a relative is in financial need, e.g. because of alcohol or drug problems. The expectation is that the relative with some resources will provide for the needy one. Therefore, it is difficult for them to save for future needs of their own family. Nevertheless, they do have the sense that accumulating too much is unhealthy.

It is healthy to share because it prevents one from becoming too self-centered. One of the first things that many mothers teach their small children is to share treats that they receive and to share their toys. That can be a difficult lesson, but an important one. Young people who are encouraged to do some type of service to help others experience a sense of pride and joy. It feels good and is a wonderful experience for them and those they help. That is good for people of all ages. God our Father and Jesus know what we need for a healthy and happy life. It is not to hold tightly onto wealth. Rather it is to share our time, talent, and treasures with our brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September 18, 2016 - God's Call to Share His Gifts

The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Image result for parable of the unjust steward

Reading 1: Amos 8: 4-7
Response: Psalm 113
Reading II:  1  Timothy 2: 1-8
Gospel: Luke 16: 1-13 or 10-13

In the “Parable of the Unjust Steward,” Jesus notes the mercy of God toward the Steward. The steward was one who managed the property of the Master (owner) and collected produce or money from the renters. He was allowed a commission or fee for each transaction. However, according to the Mishnah (a post-biblical tradition in Judaic literature), there is no evidence that the steward would be given a commission as high as 50%. In this story, not only had he failed in the management of the master’s property, he had also tried to cover up his errors
by cheating.

As humans we are prone to making mistakes and are usually readily excused. However, being deceitful leads to distrust with more serious consequences.

In the Gospel, it is noted that one “cannot serve both God and mammon [wealth].” This does not mean that being wealthy means one does not serve God. There are some wealthy people who are aware that their wealth has been accumulated, not only by hard work, but also due to God’s gifts of health, education, and favorable circumstances, for which they are indebted to the Lord. They see themselves as stewards for God, their Master. They use their gifts in a variety of ways by volunteering time and talent, as well by the the opportunity to help others financially. 

At a time when the Indian peoples were being driven off their lands and a prime source of survival was being destroyed by the ruthless killing of the buffalo, The Drexel family was noted for their philanthropy and their generosity to the Indian Missions. They even traveled by stagecoach to see the plight of these people and bring them assistance.

Closer to home, in Philadelphia, they were aware of the plight of African-Americans who had recently been released from slavery, but had no education and means of providing for themselves and their families. Some even chose to go back to work for their former owners in order to survive. The Drexels became aware of the need for a good education for these people so that they could develop their skills for profitable employment.

Several times a week, Mrs. Emma Bouvier Drexel together with her three young daughters, would open their doors to the poor and provide them with food, clothing, rent money, etc. Involvement in this charity allowed the young ladies
to become engaged with the poor so that they related to them on a very
personal level.  

Even as Francis Drexel made out his will, after assuring that his daughters would be well cared for, he included many charities. Not aware that Katharine would be founding a Community to help the poor among the Black and Native American peoples, much of his money was distributed to those charities on
his death.

While most of us do not have very large resources to reach out monetarily to help others, wealth comes in many other forms. It can be love, expressed by a smile, a listening ear, or a helping hand. These and many other ways of reaching out can make a person feel as if he/she had been given a
million dollars.

One of my favorite poems by Nikki Giovanni, a famous African-American poetess, attests to this:


Related Poem Content Details

childhood remembrances are always a drag   
if you’re Black 
you always remember things like living in Woodlawn   
with no inside toilet 
and if you become famous or something 
they never talk about how happy you were to have   
your mother 
all to yourself and 
how good the water felt when you got your bath   
from one of those 
big tubs that folk in chicago barbecue in   
and somehow when you talk about home   
it never gets across how much you 
understood their feelings 
as the whole family attended meetings about Hollydale 
and even though you remember 
your biographers never understand 
your father’s pain as he sells his stock   
and another dream goes 
And though you’re poor it isn’t poverty that 
concerns you 
and though they fought a lot 
it isn’t your father’s drinking that makes any difference   
but only that everybody is together and you 
and your sister have happy birthdays and very good   
and I really hope no white person ever has cause   
to write about me 
because they never understand 
Black love is Black wealth and they’ll 
probably talk about my hard childhood 
and never understand that 
all the while I was quite happy

Let us be good stewards of the Master. Let us share his unique gifts to us, whatever they may be.  The more we share, the more we are enriched. That is how we can delight the heart of our Heavenly Father!!!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

September 11, 2016 - The Prodigal Son

The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Image result for the prodigal son

Reading I: Exodus 32: 7-11, 13-14
Response: Psalm 51: 3-4, 12-13, 17,19
Reading II: Timothy 1:12-17
Gospel: Luke 15: 1-32

This Sunday’s readings are again about mercy. Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book, Light of the Word, uses the expression that mercy is the “innermost attitude” of God. He quotes Timothy’s Epistle: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”
(2 Tim 2:13)

God does not just give mercy when we come to Him. He goes after us. We see this in the parable of the lost sheep when the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and goes in search of one lost sheep. Then, we see the woman looking for the lost coin. The father of the prodigal son watches for the return of his son and runs to greet him, embraces him, kisses him and orders his servants to prepare for a celebration of his son's return.

Francis Thompson wrote a beautiful poem in which he describes God as “The Hound of Heaven.” I can still remember Bishop Sheen reciting the poem on his television show.

Even without the dramatic voice of Bishop Sheen, it is a powerful poem which brings out the 
extravagance of God's Love. The whole poem is beautiful, but very long. Therefore, I am quoting only the beginning.  
The Hound of Heaven
By Francis Thompson  (1859–1907)
I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
  I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
    Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him....

To view the entire poem, click the title link.

What an awesome God we have! His goodness is beyond our understanding. He could well be called the “prodigal father” for He is lavish, unsparing, and bounteous in His love.

How blessed we are!!! Let us praise the Lord and bless his holy name! He only asks of us to imitate Him by extending love and mercy to our brothers, sisters, and ourselves.

Gerald Darring, of St. Louis University, challenges us to mercy for our brothers and sisters in prison. Today, we are seeing people released from death's row now that DNA tests can more accurately determine whether a person has committed murder. In the spirit of mercy, Gerald Darring reminds us of the “Statement on Capital Punishment” announced by the U.S. Bishops
in 1980:

                         Abolition of capital punishment is a manifestation of our belief
                         in the unique worth and dignity of each person from the moment
                         of conception, a creature made in the image and likeness of God.
                         It is particularly important in the context of our times that this
                         belief be affirmed with regard to those who have failed or whose
                        lives have been distorted by suffering or hatred, even in the case
                        of those who by their actions have failed to respect the dignity and
                        rights of others.

Mercy would require attempts at rehabilitating prisoners. In addition, when a prisoner is released, we need to provide some assistance in finding a job and housing. Even those who might be considered unsafe to release can be treated humanely as they remain in prison.

How can we, who have received mercy from the Lord, extend mercy to his beloved children?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

September 4 - Take up your cross and follow me.

The 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

First Reading: Wisdom 9: 13-18b     Response: Psalm 90
Second Reading: Philemon 9-10, 12-17     Gospel: Luke 14:25-33

When we hear today’s Gospel, sometimes we are taken aback when Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Didn’t Jesus tell us to love our neighbor as ourselves?

Fr. John Foley, SJ, notes that the word “hate” was probably an oratorical way to say “love them in proportion.” We sometimes forget that the first great commandment is to “love the Lord your God with your whole mind, your whole soul and with all your strength.” Often a person, an animal, or a thing can become a God for us. It can even be something like money, or success, or reputation, which engages all our interest and time. We need to prioritize.

A powerful example of this is seen in the life of St. Thomas More. A husband, father, and favorite of King Henry VIII, he was the Chancellor in the King’s court. King Henry, disappointed that his wife had borne him no male child, asked the Pope for an annulment of his marriage. When he was denied, he declared himself the head of the Church in England. He required that his subjects sign a declaration that he was now the head of the Church.

Thomas More refused to sign and was punished in many ways which affected not only himself, but also his family. How difficult it must have been when he was in prison and unable to support or be with his wife and children. When even that did not persuade him to go against his conscience, he was beheaded.

You can see, beside his picture above, his famous words just before he was executed when he was dying: “the King’s good servant - but God’s first.” What anguish, what courage, what integrity he displayed!!!  It would have be so easy to give in and please his family who were dependent on him! However, he gave example of “love in proportion” for them and for all the world.

Only God’s special grace could enable him to love as he did. When I wonder if I would be able to withstand the suffering he bore, I just pray that the Lord would give me the strength. I know that I would be too weak to do it on my own. However, the Lord has promised to remain with us.

Another challenge Jesus gives us is the following: “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” In James Martin’s book,  Jesus, A Pilgrimage, he suggests that by taking up our cross daily, we can find a deeper life.

There have been many instances when I have seen this in my own life and in the lives of others. Tragedies, losses, and hardships can cause us to turn to the Lord for help. In the midst of these circumstances people often develop a closer relationship with the Lord. Also, many times they become more aware and sensitive to the crosses that others bear. Often, they reach out to help others when they may have just looked the other way before.

I can recall my own mother telling me what to do if I were feeling sorry for myself. She said to look around and see that there were others worse off than I was. Then, she encouraged me to help them in some way.

Also,  I met a woman who had just been through a divorce. Her mother-in-law, who was a good friend to her, encouraged her to volunteer in a hospital. By doing that she was able to put her own situation in perspective, while helping others.

I have seen parents who have lost children through illness, drugs, and other tragedies reach out to help other parents going through similar circumstances.

If flowers are to grow, they must have sunshine and rain. Each of us is a unique, special flower in the Lord’s garden. He knows what each of us needs. Let us trust that he is with us so we do not have to carry our crosses alone.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

August 28, 2016 - I Am Meek and Humble of Heart

The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C    

 Reading I: Sirach 3 17-18, 20,28-29          Response: Psalm 68
 Reading II:  Hebrews 12: 18-19, 22-24a   Gospel: Luke 14: 1, 7-14

In our first reading from Sirach, we hear the advice: “My child, 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.”

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the guest who has been invited to a wedding banquet. The guest chooses a place of honor and has to be told to move when a more distinguished person arrives.

In the introduction to the Gospel, we hear: “Take my yoke upon you, says the Lord, and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” [A yoke is a device used to enable two animals to share the weight of a burden they are pulling and to do it in unison.]  Jesus does not ask us to do anything by ourselves, but rather to walk side by side, in unison with him as we journey
through life.

I have heard it said that our pride dies 10 minutes after we die. Sometimes we are tempted to act humble, but it is just another way of camouflaging our pride. We find true humility very difficult. Eleanor Stump, a professor of philosophy at Saint Luis University, notes four types of pride:

  • There is the childish kind of pride, of course, where you brag about your accomplishments while everybody else tries to be polite enough not to roll their eyes while you are talking.
  • And then there is also the grown-up version of that childish pride.  A multi-millionaire who explains that he is a self- made man has this kind of pride.  He has failed to notice all the gifts he has been given that have helped him to get where he is. He thinks he himself is responsible for the good he has.

  • A more complicated kind of pride can be found in a person who knows that all his good comes from the grace of God. But he is sure that God has given him such grace and not his neighbors, because God knew that he, unlike his stupid worldly neighbors, would make good use of God’s gifts.

  • Finally, the worst and most sophisticated kind of pride is found in the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other men, especially not like that sinner, the publican. The Pharisee knew that every good in him was a gift from God. But he was glad that he had God's gifts and that the publican didn’t. 

The Pharisee liked looking down on the publican.Humility is simple truth. We acknowledge that all our virtue and talents come from God and that they are meant to be used for the good of others. We also acknowledge that God has gifted others and we appreciate and rejoice over those gifts.

For  twelve years I taught in Aquinas Junior College where most of the students were preparing to be secretaries, medical assistants, or early childhood educators. Some had poor self images when they came. We used to emphasize with them that God must have a special love for the ordinary people because he made so many of us. The world only needs a few opera singers, violinists, scientists, professional athletes, artists, mechanics, or other specially talented people. However,  it needs many, many people with the ordinary gifts of caring, kindness, helpfulness, and generosity.

I had a friend with serious eye problems. Her doctor was a genius who was often consulted by other doctors because of his expertise. However, he did not have a great personality. Nevertheless, he was smart enough to recognize that he needed the gifts a warm-hearted secretary to make his practice successful. The secretary he hired was a real people-person. She knew everyone's name and asked about their families. She would greet each patient as if he or she were the important person in the world. Yes, the doctor's gifts were important. but the secretary's gifts were no less important.

In our Early Childhood Education Department, we had some students who had found school difficult. However,  they had the personalities and patience needed to relate well to young children during their most  impressionable years. What comfort it brought to parents when they recognized those special gifts in the teachers of their precious children.

Each one of us is unique and gifted by God in a special way. We need to be grateful and share our gifts with others. It is pure foolishness for us to attribute our virtues or accomplishments only to ourselves. We need to keep our eyes on the humble Jesus who asks us to “learn to of him to be "meek and humble of heart.”

As a human and a devout Jew, Jesus was well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures [Old Testament]. He followed well the instructions of the prophet Micah: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  He asks us to do the same.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

August 21, 2016 - God Is Love

The Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Reading I:  Isaiah 66:18-21
Response:  Psalm 117:12
Reading II:  Hebrews 12: 5-7, 11-13
Gospel:  Luke 13: 22-30    

While Jesus was teaching, someone asked him “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”  His answer was, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate.’ [This refers to a narrow passageway in the mountains range through which the shepherds must drive their sheep. These ways can be dangerous and some sheep do not make it through.] Then, Jesus tells a parable which may surprise us!!!

The parable in today’s Gospel seems like a contradiction to the one on the 17th Sunday in which a man wanting to borrow bread is knocking on the door of his friend at midnight. Because of the man’s persistence, the friend senses that this is probably an emergency. Also, because of his friendship he is willing to possibly awaken the whole family in order to respond to the man’s needs. [It could well be that they lived in a one-room home and slept on sheepskins like our Southwestern Navajos did. Even today, some live in the octagon-shaped hogans with only a fireplace in the center.]

On the other hand, in today’s parable — a story to teach a lesson,  Jesus says that the one knocking on the door will call out, ‘Lord open the door for us.’  Since there has been no prior relationship, the master of the house will say in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ The response will be, ‘We ate and drank in your company, and you taught on our streets.’ The master will repeat ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me you evildoers!’ Jesus compares this with the situation when we knock on the door to heaven. If we have not developed a friendship with the Lord and lived a life of love for his children, we will not experience heaven. There will be ‘wailing and grinding of teeth’ when we see others in the Kingdom of God and we ourselves are outside.

This brings up a question about God’s goodness...How can a merciful and loving God send someone to hell for all eternity? 

Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, addresses the question in the following way:
God, Jesus tells us, doesn’t judge anyone. We judge ourselves. God doesn’t create hell and God doesn’t send anyone to hell. But that does not mean that hell doesn’t exist and that it isn’t a possibility for us. Here, in essence, is how Jesus explains this:

God sends his life [love] into the world and we can choose that life or reject it We judge
ourselves in making that choice. If we choose life, we are ultimately choosing heaven. If we reject life we live outside of life and that is ultimately hell. But we make that choice, God doesn’t send us anywhere. Moreover, hell is not a positive punishment created by God to make us suffer. Hell is the absence of something, namely, living inside of the life [love] that’s offered to us.

Fr. Rolheiser goes on to say, “Hell is real, but it isn’t a positive punishment created by God to deal out justice or vengeance....Hell is the absence of life, of love, of forgiveness, of community.  We can end up there, outside of love and community, but that’s a choice we make if we, culpably, reject these as they are offered to us during our lifetime.”

The reason I have chosen the above picture to represent the entrance into heaven is based on the fact that people who have had an near-death experience often refer to being drawn by a beautiful white light.  Each of us tend to visualize Jesus according to our own race and nationality, so it is not possible to illustrate a universal Christ.

The human Jesus must have resembled the people of  his native land. In 1982, when I made a retreat in the Holy Land, I took pictures of  some children playing. I figured that, that was how the boy Jesus must have looked. Also, we were shown the type adobe homes in which the people lived. We even saw the caves which were used to shelter the animals.  It was likely that Jesus was born in such a cave.

I had never been in the Southwest before I went to teach at St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1984. To my surprise I noted that the climate and land were similar to the Holy Land. The Native people had the tan skin and dark hair that I had seen there also. When I visited the Pueblo villages, I saw homes similar to the one’s in the Israel.

Later, when teaching at St. Michael Indian School and Dine College on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, I was thrilled to see real shepherds. One of our Associates in Ganado was still caring for her sheep with great affection even into her old age. I was always attracted to the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. However, my experiences in the Southwest greatly strengthened my love for Jesus, our Loving Shepherd.

Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Let us follow his way of love, and then we will not need to be concerned about eternity.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

August 14, 2016 - I Am the Good Shepherd

   The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C  

  Reading 1: Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10
Response: Psalm 40
Reading 2: Hebrews 12:1-4
Gospel: Luke 12: 49-53

Painting by Del Parson

In today’s readings, we have two images presented: the image of a blazing fire and that of baptism. However, the well-loved picture of the Good Shepherd serves to illustrate both.

The fire Jesus wants to spread over the earth is the light of true knowledge of God.  Before the time of Jesus, people could deduce from nature the existence of an all-powerful creator. 

However, it took Jesus' coming in a human form to reveal that our God is a loving and forgiving God. Jesus said: He who sees me sees the Father. Jesus wants that understanding shared with all people. 

Fire also creates warmth which we associate with love. Jesus also wants us to share love with all people. That can be challenging at times, especially if one has been hurt by the person. However, “love” means wanting the good for others and helping them to attain it when we can. It doesn't mean that we have to “like” the person. “Love is a choice.”

The baptism which Jesus referred to was his death and resurrection. As the time to sacrifice His life for the salvation of souls was coming closer, He said: “ great is my anguish until it is accomplished.” I hear both His desire to bring about salvation and also His human dread of the suffering He will experience. How heartbreaking it must have been to realize that not all will choose to benefit from His great sacrifice!

As we contemplate the image of the Good Shepherd, we see his love and protection of the sheep. He carries a club to ward off dangerous animals who might try to harm or kill the sheep. The shepherd also carries a staff whose hook enables him to rescue a sheep who has fallen into a crevice, a hole, a stream or has become stuck in mud or bushes. Day and night, the Shepherd watches over the sheep as they search for water and grasses over treacherous mountains and through dangerous valleys. 

In the picture above, the way this shepherd is carrying the stray, wounded sheep on his shoulders reminds us of Jesus’ carrying the cross for our salvation. He looks weary and is in pain, but he chooses to sacrifice his own comfort for the sake of the sheep.

The sheep and lambs themselves are wonderful animals. During their lifetimes, they provide wool to warm and protect against the elements. When food is needed, they allow themselves to be slaughtered so that others can live. It is so appropriate for us to also refer to Jesus as the “Lamb of God”.

The next time we hear the priest at Mass pray: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” let us respond with ever grateful hearts: “Have mercy on us” and “Grant us peace”.

Good Shepherd, may we listen to your voice and follow you wherever you lead, knowing that you remain with and watch over us always. Amen.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

August 7, 2016 - Trust in the Lord

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading I: Wisdom 18:6-9
Responsorial Psalm: 33:1.12.18-19, 20-22
Reading II: Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
or 11:1-2, 8-12
Gospel: Luke 12:32-48 or 12:35-40

Fr. John Foley, S.J. provides a beautiful reflection on trust in a relationship, whether with other humans or with God.  He acknowledges that it can be difficult to trust in these days of fragile human relationships and the threats of terrorist attacks.  However, he notes that “human bonding is entirely dependent on trust.”

It is also trust that the Lord asks of us. Abraham, our father in the faith, was asked to have total trust when God required him to travel with his family through the wilderness to a land he did not know. He was asked to believe that he and his wife Sarah, who was beyond the childbearing age, would have “descendants as numerous as the sands on the seashore.” Finally, a heartbreaking challenge was presented to him when the Lord told him to make a bloody sacrifice of his son. How could he continue to trust when the Lord asked him to kill his only son from whom all the descendants would issue?  

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we hear the words: “...He [Abraham] thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.” Although he did not understand, he continued to trust in God remembering his love, promises, and fidelity of the past.

In His human nature, Jesus was also put to the test. Fr. Foley describes that situation the following way: “Jesus worried about God's abandoning him as he was being crucified. Yes, he trusted, even though he was filled with the raw human fear that God might have rejected him (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Mt 27:46]). Even Jesus had to make a leap of faith in his Father. He knew the Father had been with him during all the challenges of his life. Therefore, in spite of his anxiety and questions, he took the risk to trust again. Thus, he was able to surrender to the Passion in all its horror. 

We thank you Jesus for your courage and sacrifice born of unconditional love. You ask us to trust as you did in the midst of our journeys through life. One of the blessings of my youth was when I met with my mentor, Sr. Aquin, who was preparing me to enter the convent. She told me an allegory, which is simply an imaginary story which stands for a meaningful truth. 

It went this way: Once upon a time there was a princess who had been promised in marriage to a prince who lived in a faraway land. She had to travel by herself through the wilderness until she would reach the land where her groom would meet her. Although frightened, she set off on her journey. After a short distance, she met a young man with a fiddle.  He offered to accompany her on her journey. When she was tired or scared by wild animals, he was at her side.  Sometimes, he would even play the fiddle to cheer her up.  After a long journey, they finally reached the land where she would meet the prince.  All of a sudden, the fiddler was transformed into a handsome young prince. Realizing how difficult it would be for her to travel through the wilderness by herself, he had disguised himself to accompany her on the journey. What a joyful wedding took place that very day! 

In this allegory,  the princess represents the soul journeying toward the Lord.  The fiddler (the prince in disguise) is Jesus in the Eucharist. He journeys with us through life giving us strength and consolation. At the end of  life’s journey, we will see Him as He truly is and be united with Him for eternity.   

Yes, we do need to trust our God’s merciful, faithful love. Recently, Jesus appeared to St. Faustina and asked her to spread the devotion to him as a merciful Savior. He wants us to trust that He will greet us with open arms when our life here is complete. On the image, which Jesus gave to the saint, we find the following words:

                                                        “Jesus, I trust in you.”

           Today, let us open our hearts wide and ask the Lord to fill them with trust like His.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

July 31, 2016 - Seek the Things That Are Above

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Year C

Image result for seek ye first the Kingdom of God
                                                   Reading I: Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23
                                                   Responsorial Psalm: 90:3-6, 12-14, 17
                                                     Reading II: Colossians 3: 1-5, 9-11
                                                            Gospel: Luke 12:13-21

In Louisa May Alcott's book: Little Women, Ch. 40, she says, “Love is the only thing that we can carry with us when we go....”  Since in heaven we will see the Lord, we no longer need faith or hope. Love is what is eternal. When we die, our possessions, our titles, our accomplishments are left behind. The legacy we leave is only of worth if it is the fruit of our love on earth. What we take with us is the quality of our love.

In our world today, often a person’s worth is measured by his/her possessions, titles, and accomplishments. The Lord wants us to see with different eyes. An elderly Sister friend of mine used to worry about her niece Frances who was in a mental institution.  Frances was a normal child until at the age of five. Then, she fell off a high porch and suffered brain damage. She developed severe epilepsy at a time when medications could not help. She was an only child, so when her parents passed on, she was placed in an institution with people who had serious mental problems.  The aunt was the only relative who would visit her. When my Sister friend was close to death, she shared with me her concern that her niece would no longer have visitors once she went home to God.  I offered to visit Frances when I could.

One time when Frances had fallen and broken her arm, I was expressing my sorrow that she had to deal with the pain and inconvenience.  Her response surprised and edified me: “Jesus suffered for me, so I can offer my suffering to him.” She would always take the time to introduce me to the other patients. I could tell by their responses that she was well-liked because of her kindness to all. Frances died at about 65 years old after about 60 years in an institution.  She had no possessions, no titles, no accomplishments by worldly measure. However, she had shared love. That was all her heavenly Father asked of her.

Another lesson I learned occurred when I was serving as a parish minister in a remote mission in Many Farms, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation. There was an elderly man from the East who intended to leave his money to the Missions when he died. He had been a contractor and had accumulated a large amount of money. He was advised to give the money to the missions while he was still living and visit those missions he was helping.

When he arrived at Many Farms, I served him dinner. As we were eating, he shared his story. He had an adult son who had been bedridden and unable to talk all his life. All he could do was hug people. This gentleman taught religion classes in his parish. Each year, he would have his healthy sons help him to bring the invalid son to class. The lesson was to see what is most important in life. The father would simply say. “All my son can do is love.” What a powerful lesson that was! Again, this young man had no possessions, titles, or worldly accomplishments. However, he had done what was most important: he had expressed love.

It is so easy for us to get our priorities out of order.  We are bombarded with advertisements which encourage us to accumulate items which are wants rather than needs. Our time can be squandered on things that are unnecessary. Let us ask the Lord to help us to keep our priorities in order. Perhaps, as we listen, we may find that we need to make some adjustments.

St. Katharine Drexel challenges us to relish what is of lasting worth in her encouraging words: “Let your heart delight in the love your God has for you, personally, individually.”

Friday, July 22, 2016

July 24, 2016 - Lord, Teach Us to Pray

The Seventeenth Sunday in 
   Ordinary Time - Year C

First Reading: Genesis 18: 20-32

Response: Psalm 138

Second Reading: Col.  2:12-14

Gospel: Luke 11: 1-13

In the face if recent tragic events in our world and in our Nation, we often feel helpless. Father Ron Rolheiser, OMI, presents a remedy in his article The Power of prayer and Ritual Inside Our Helplessness. He refers to a movie based on Jane Austen’s classic novel, Sense and Sensibility. A young woman is lying close to death from pneumonia while a young man who loves her is pacing back and forth frustrated by the fact that he is helpless in the situation. He asks her mother what he can do to help the sick woman. Heart-broken he cannot accept the response that there is nothing they can do. He then cries out: “Give me some task to do, or I shall go mad!”

Many of us experience these feelings in events of our personal lives, as well as in the other times of crisis. There are two helpful ways of dealing with them: prayer and action. I remember the many times that I was called to Maristhill Nursing Home where my father was residing. I would be told that there was a possibility that he might be nearing death. Usually, one of the Sisters would drive me. Instinctively, I would reach for my rosary and finger it on the way. Then, when my mother died, I wanted to pass on the love and wisdom that my mother had given to me. Having no children of my own, I joined the Big Sister Association and mentored two young girls. That action helped not only the children, but also helped me to deal with the loss of my mother.

We often see good evolve from tragedy. Maybe that is why the Lord allows these difficult and heart-wrenching events. In times when people realize things are out of their control, they often turn to God. How many people after a divorce, a health crisis, the death of a loved one, a devastating weather catastrophe, or in the midst of the terrors of war, turn to their Creator in prayer? How many acts of kindness, tributes, memorials, support groups, fundraisers, scholarships and philanthropic foundations, result from the need to do something positive on the heels of a tragedy?

A current example of this is being initiated by the National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC) which is responding to the terrible epidemic of violence in our Nation and throughout the world in the following manner:

Baltimore, 13 July 2016: The National Black Catholic Congress (NBCC) joins the nation in mourning over the tragedies in Baton Rouge, the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area, and Dallas last week. As we commend to the Lord those who have died, we pray for the consolation of all who are grieving.

It is important for Black Catholics to contribute to the ongoing national conversation about the underlying issues which have existed for too long. These issues include racism, inequality, poverty, and violence. During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we must be signs of God’s love which promotes justice. Justice promotes right relationships, which includes upholding the dignity of human life.

The NBCC invites Black Catholics and all people of good will to join in a time of prayer and action. We believe in the power of prayer. We also believe that we must cooperate with how God will answer our prayers. HENCE, THE NBCC ASKS YOU TO JOIN US IN OFFERING THIS PRAYER FROM MONDAY, JULY 18TH TO MONDAY, AUGUST 15TH:

O God, who gave one origin to all peoples and willed to gather from them one family for yourself, fill all hearts, we pray, with the fire of your love and kindle in them a desire for the just advancement of their neighbor, that, through the good
things which you richly 
bestow upon all each human person may be brought to perfection, every division may be removed, and equity and justice may be established in human society. Through our Lord Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.                              

Collect - Votive Mass for the Progress of Peoples from the Roman Missal

In addition, Friday is a day of penance for Catholics throughout the year. During this same period, we invite Black Catholics [and others] to make a sacrifice of your choosing on Fridays to accompany our prayers for justice with acts of reparation.  What positive action do you think the Lord may be asking of you?

Friday, July 15, 2016

July 17, 2016 - Martha and Mary, Friends of Jesus

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Year C

First Reading:  Gen. 18: 1-10

Response:  Psalm 15

Second Reading: Col. 1:24-28

Gospel:  Luke 10: 28-42

I just love the intimacy reflected in this picture of Jesus and his close friends. Martha appears exhausted as she shares the frustration that she has been running around providing hospitality while her sister Mary simply sits in adoration at the feet of Jesus. Martha is able to tell Jesus exactly how she is feeling. Probably, Jesus detects some jealousy as she complains about her sister.

Martha most likely expects to have Jesus come to her aid by telling Mary to go to the kitchen to assist her sister. While Jesus had obviously listened to Martha with compassion, he gently admonishes her by saying that she has indeed been "busy about many things." However, he tells her that Mary's decision to remain in his presence and to simply listen to him is the better "part." 

Being "part" implies that it is not the whole. The hospitality is important also. Both
prayer and action routed in the prayer are important in the life of a follower of  Jesus. The challenge for me is often finding the balance. 

However, I do not believe I am alone in my struggle. Ironically, back in the 70's when I was teaching college English, we were told that the time was coming that people would only work four days a week and needed to learn positive ways of using their leisure. Obviously, the prediction did not turn out to be correct. For many different reasons, most people today work more than ever. Finding time for for even the necessary things can be difficult, let alone leisure time.

Balancing prayer, work, family, community, civic responsibilities, church activities, social life, and self-care is challenging. Each of us must find his/her own way, with the help of the Lord, who knows and understands us completely. 

Perhaps, by expressing all of our innermost feelings like Martha and listening attentively like Mary, we will be able to find the correct balance for ourselves. We all have our own unique personalities, talents, limitations, and circumstances. Since the Lord knows and loves us better than we know or love ourselves, he can guide us. On our part, we need to seek his help, open our hearts, listen deeply, and follow his inspirations.

Friday, July 8, 2016

July 10, 2016 - The Good Samaritan

The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 
Year C

1st Reading: Dt. 30: 10-14
Response: Psalm 69
Second Reading: Col. I: 15-20
Gospel: Luke 10: 25-37

Over the years, the expression “a good Samaritan” has become a popular description of a person who goes out of  his or her way to help someone in need.  It is indeed an appropriate way of describing a kind person’s response to someone in need. However, it has become so commonplace that it does not fully describe the heroic courage of the person presented by Jesus.

First of all, Samaritans were despised by the Jews because they had intermarried with non-Jews and were worshipping pagan gods. Theirs was a mixed culture including Jewish and Gentile aspects. Because of prejudice, this Samaritan risked not only distain, but possible violence because he chose to help this Jewish man while others passed him by. 

Nonetheless, this compassionate man not only bound up the wounds inflicted by the robbers, but he placed him on his own animal. Together they managed to carry wounded man to an inn. After the laborious trip, the Samaritan left the injured man in the care of the innkeeper so that he could receive the shelter, food and care he needed. That was not enough! He planned to check on him on his return from his journey and to pay the innkeeper for any expenses incurred. This Samaritan is motivated by love and compassion, not just for his own people, but for a suffering brother in the family of God. 

I recall being reminded in the past that in God’s garden, there are many types of flowers. They have their own colors, shapes, sizes, and fragrances. The variety adds to the beauty of the display. Whether we differ in race, nationality, appearance, faith, ability, talents, personalities, sexual preferences, or political persuasions, we are all children of our Heavenly Father who loves each one of us as we are. This Samaritan saw the injured man as his brother. That is what made all the difference!

Friday, July 1, 2016

July 3, 2016 - The Harvest Is Plenty

The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Reading I:
Isaiah 66:10-14c
Psalm 66
Reading II:
Galatians 6:14-18
Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20

As I reflect on the massive field, I am struck by the few laborers who are attempting to reap all the wheat. It certainly must have been backbreaking work. I can imagine that they must have developed painful conditions in their backs, with the daily, long hours in the field and the constant bending over in the hot sun.

All the while, they must have encountered wild animals and been annoyed by insects, as they toiled with little reward for their hard work. However, they probably had no other option for making a living, so they had to continue in spite of the pain and weariness.

Love has to be a choice; therefore, he gave us free will. His call is an invitation which we can accept or reject. We, who wholeheartedly accept the invitation, must be willing to be among the few. We must face the challenges, the weariness, and the pain involved. However, experiencing the companionship and support of the Lord and other dedicated followers, we are truly blessed!!!

The feet of the workers must have been extremely painful from standing on them for so many hours a day. Also, the laborers must have experienced intense joint pain in their hands from the repetitive motions they had to perform for long periods of time.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus tries to enlist helpers as he goes about his ministry of spreading the good news of salvation. Of course, there was no Internet or TV in his time. They, too, had to endure hardship in their ministries. He and his disciples had to travel mostly by foot, animal, or boat to deliver the message of God's great love to the people. While they were encouraged by the enthusiastic response of some, they also encountered hardship. Sometimes, they were rejected; other times they experienced weariness, discouragement, and pain. They were so few...among so many.

It seems that the Lord would call enough people to take care of the harvest of souls. However, he chose not to force us to follow him.

St. Katharine Drexel earnestly urges us on with these words:
“Follow Him as witnesses of Him, strong in His Power.

Friday, June 24, 2016

June 26, 2016 - The Challenging Jesus

  The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time  Year C

                                                        Reading I: 1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
                                                 Responsorial Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
                                                         Reading II: Galatians 5:1, 13-18
                                                                  Gospel: Luke 9:51-62

Looking at the men Jesus is inviting to follow him, I see questioning, hesitation, uncertainty.  
Jesus, rather than trying to persuade them, challenges them: “Foxes have dens and birds 
of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” One says that he 
wants first go bury his father. The other asks to first go home to say farewell to his family.
Jesus wants them to leave all immediately to go to proclaim the kingdom of God. I am struck
by the intensity of Jesus as he calls them.

As I reflect on the Gospel for this Sunday, a quote from Soren Kierkegaard that what Jesus
wants is “followers not admirers” strikes me deeply. It is so, so easy to admire Jesus.  To follow
Him requires much sacrifice. I find that one of my favorite prayers is “Lord, help me to love 
you as you deserve to be loved.” As I ask myself if I am an admirer or a follower of Jesus, 
sometimes I am not sure.  

Yes, I do attempt to imitate Jesus when I ask myself: What would Jesus do in this situation?
What is the truly loving thing to do? Sometimes there is a feeling of happiness and fulfillment
when we extend ourselves in loving God and our brothers and sisters. However, there are
other times when we only feel sacrifice in putting away our own desires in the context
of self-forgetful love. 

Married couples must learn to compromise and give up some of their own ways for the sake
of a good marriage. Caring parents learn sacrifice when they put aside their own desires for the benefit of their children. I learned sacrifice when I chose to visit my father who had Alzheimer's disease, even after I had realized that he didn't even know who I was. There is sometimes no sense of personal comfort in sacrifices. My experience has helped me understand what is often involved in dedication: the surrender of one's own comfort and/or desires for the good of others.

Jesus certainly put aside his own comfort and humbled himself to take on our humanity and live as a human being with us. This endears him to us. Certainly, he made many, many sacrifices in his lifetime and ended it with the supreme sacrifice at Calvary. The pain of others weighed heavily on his compassionate heart. He was especially aware of the heartbroken state of his mother who
shared so profoundly in his sufferings.

If we are to follow Jesus, rather than simply admire him, sacrifice must be a significant part of our lives. As humans, we usually do not like to sacrifice. Even Jesus struggled in the Garden of Olives before his Passion saying: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36)

It is only with the strength of the Lord that we, humans, can follow and imitate the Jesus. We need to pray to the Holy Spirit whom Jesus sent to help us when being a faithful follower of Jesus seems to be beyond our natural ability.