Thursday, April 28, 2016

Challenged by the Spirit to Speak Up

In today’s first reading, Acts 15: 7-21, Peter participates in the debate about whether to demand that the Gentiles be circumcised before being baptized in Christ Jesus. Eventually, Peter  gets up and says to the Apostles and the presbyters: “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the Gospel and believe.”  Peter then makes it clear to his hearers that they are not to put “God to the test” by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither [their] ancestors nor we have been able to  bear.”  “On the contrary,” Peter says, “we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.” Salvation, in other words, Peter is saying, does not come through circumcision.     “The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them.”

You and I have also been put in positions that require that we use our authority appropriately, as did Peter in this instance.  As in Peter’s case, there are times when we need, or will need, to take a stand and speak the truth as it comes to us through the Spirit of God at work within us. Peter goes against established tradition—that all be circumcised as a sign of the Covenant.  We may want to hold onto traditions in the Catholic Church that have been established centuries ago but which need to be set aside in accord with the Spirit’s direction in the 21st century. Are we willing to stand up for what the Lord is asking of us now, as does Pope Francis,  when age-old traditions are being questioned? 

What is God asking you to take a stand on that might put you at odds with those clinging to a tradition being brought into question?  Remember: we are not talking about Church dogma or the Ten Commandments, but of traditions that can change over time as the Spirit leads us in new directions for the salvation of the world.  

Whatever challenges God is putting before you, take those into prayer and talk to God about them. Get God’s feedback in prayer and the feedback of appropriate authorities in the Church, in your religious community, in your family! Talk to your spiritual director or to others whom you trust and who seek counsel from the Holy Spirit, from Jesus and from the Scriptures. Share  what you are hearing in prayer, what the Scriptures are saying to you as you contemplate the Word.  Are your beliefs being confirmed? Not confirmed? If not confirmed, go back into prayer and seek further counsel!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Remaining in Jesus and bearing much fruit

In today’s Gospel, John 15: 1-8, Jesus reminds us that He is the true vine and that His Father (and ours) is the vine grower.  The Father “takes away every branch in [Jesus] that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does …[the Father] prunes so that it bears more fruit.”  Jesus also reminds us that we are “already pruned because of the word that…[Jesus speaks to us].”  Furthermore, Jesus tells us clearly that “without [Him] we can do nothing” anymore than a branch can bear fruit apart from the tree.  If you and I do not remain in Jesus, we “will be thrown out like a branch and wither.”  Finally, Jesus tells us that if “we remain in Him and [His words] remain” in us, we “can ask for whatever we want and it will be done” for us. By bearing a lot of fruit and becoming Jesus’ disciples, the ”Father is glorified.”

In reflecting upon this passage, we might internalize it as follows:

The Father is my grower. He “grows” me, nurtures my growth, cultivates me, removes the weeds that impede my growth or cause my decay via selfishness, deceitfulness, fear, hatred, jealousy, envy, aggressive  behaviors, stinginess, and whatever blocks my will from being one with the will of the Father.   As I think of an infant growing into adulthood, everything is within its physical body for it to become an adult man or woman and function well as such. In terms of the spiritual being that I am as coming from the Father, I also have everything within me—attached, of course, to the vine (to Jesus) and pruned by the Father—to become the person God designed me to become spiritually. When I am off track, so to speak, the Father prunes me and, when necessary, like the potter on the potter’s wheel, begins the process all over again so that I turn out as He desires.

Jesus pleads with us:  “Remain in me, as I remain in you, says the Lord; whoever remains in me will bear much fruit” (Jn 15: 4a, 5b).

In what ways are you remaining in Jesus? Does the "fruit" you bear each day give testimony that you are attached to the vine, attached to Jesus, your Savior, relying upon Him and the Spirit for the courage, the strength, the enlightenment you need to do what is right and just?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Focus and its Power

In today’s first reading, Acts 11: 19-26, we are witnesses to the power of Jesus at work in those who dedicate their lives to the Gospel. People are scattered all over by the persecution. Stephen has been stoned to death for preaching in Jesus’ name.  Those strong in the faith  move on and continue “proclaiming the Lord Jesus.”  What if you and I, in the midst of all that throws people into confusion in our day, keep our eyes on Christ Jesus, continue “proclaiming” our faith in Christ Jesus.  I ask myself: Upon what or whom, Dorothy Ann, are you focused? I have the option of focusing on my confusion or on the confusion around me or on Jesus. Focusing my that which if troublesome to me will not give me stability. Only Jesus will! With my focus on Jesus and on seeking the Lord above all in my own poverty, I will stand firm, even when those around me are shaken, upset, or angry. In those moments, I also need to move on, knowing that the “hand of the Lord [is] with [those]…who [believe and turn] to the Lord (compare Acts: 11-1-21)!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

With, in, and through the Power of the Spirit, All Things Are Possible

In today’s first reading, Acts 9: 31-42, Peter, totally transformed by the outpouring of the Spirit upon him at Pentecost, is an instrument in the hands of Christ, healing the sick, the paralyzed, raising those who have died and proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection. He is doing everything in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, the Holy One whom he had denied, whom he had challenged when He spoke of going up to Jerusalem to be killed by the chief priests and leaders of the people, the man who jumped in to the waters to walk to Jesus and sunk out of fear of the elements, the one who chopped off the soldier’s ear, and the one who locked himself in the upper room out of fear of the Jews.  Now, baptized in the Spirit, he feared no one and never said “no” to Jesus again. He opened his mind, his heart and his will to the Spirit of Christ leading him, strengthening him, challenging him to act in His name without fear, without giving in to weaknesses, without pride, knowing, beyond doubt, that only in Christ Jesus is his salvation and only in Christ Jesus does he do the will of the Father.

The same is true for us. Apart from Jesus, relying upon our own strength, we, too, will challenge God, complain against God, begin a project and abandon it when the going gets tough. We, too, relying only on ourselves, are prone to deny the Lord in crucial circumstances or to engage in behaviors that are contrary to what God expects of us. On the other hands, with Jesus, nothing is impossible because we are acting as ones dependent on grace and grace alone. We, too, will get across the troubled waters of our lives only when we humbly call out for help. We will leave our comfort zones only because we are empowered by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, sent my Jesus, to take possession of our minds, our will, our hearts. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Jesus' Intervention

In today’s first reading, Acts 9: 1-20,  Saul is on his way to Damascus to arrest men and women who are followers of Jesus. He has, in fact, been authorized by the high priest to bring people back to Jerusalem “in chains.”  On the way, Jesus confronts him:  “Saul, why are you persecuting me”?  Saul, startled, no doubt, asks the question: “Who are you, sir?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Imagine, in the middle of a conversation when you and I are attacking another person, speaking ill of someone, or even thinking evil of another, we suddenly, hear a voice saying: “Why are you persecuting me?”  Or, imagine a criminal in the act of critically harming or killing another person, or a parent arranging to kill the child in her womb, hearing a voice saying: “Why are you attacking me, arranging to kill me or planning evil against me?”  “What,” the person asks, “who are you?”  “I am Jesus, whom you are planning to kill, against whom you are enacting evil deeds and thoughts.  Get up and go to your parish or go home to your family  or see your spiritual director/mentor and you will be told what to do in my name. I have chosen you to right the wrongs you were contemplating and to become a staunch follower  and proclaimer of the Gospel, giving witness on a daily basis to my death and resurrection as the Son of God."

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Glorious Triumph of our Savior

In the Entrance Antiphon for today’s liturgy of Thursday of the Third Week of Easter, we pray: “Let us sing to the Lord, for he has gloriously triumphed.”  In the Collect, we ask the Lord to “let us feel…[His] compassion more readily during these days when, by…[His] gift, we have known…[God’s compassion toward us] more fully, so that those…[the Lord has]  freed from the darkness of error may cling more firmly to the teachings of [His] truth.”

How aware am I that God the Son, Jesus, has “gloriously triumphed” in my life and will continue to triumph in my daily life, alerting me to the good I am invited to do, opening my eyes to His Love at work in my life and in the life of others around me as well as lifting me up from hopelessness, fear, apathy, discouragement, sin itself, deceitful patterns and so on, over and over and over again?  Am I aware that I have truly been “freed from the darkness or error” in my past and that God will do so in my future? Believing in Christ Jesus and humbly acknowledging my weaknesses and sinfulness, repenting of my sins in the sacrament of confession and in communication with those against whom I have sinned puts me on the path to eternal life! What a gift and what a challenge in living this truth day by day, clinging “more firmly to the teaching of [His] truth” every day!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Power of the Resurrection in our Words and Actions

In today’s first reading, Acts 8: 1b-8, Paul, following Stephen’s death, continues his persecution of Christians and his determination to destroy the Church. He enters “house after house…dragging out men and women, [and handing] them over for imprisonment” and most likely death. The Apostles and disciples of Jesus, on the other hand, continue proclaiming the good news of Jesus' resurrection by word and action. Their passion for Christ is unstoppable.   Many “possessed people and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured” in Jesus' name. Crowds of people “paid attention to what was said by Philip [and other disciples of Christ]." When people heard the message being proclaimed and saw the signs being done in Jesus' name, they believed.

If I were among the crowd and part of the history of that time, to what would I be paying attention? Paul’s war against Christians? Or Philip’s and the actions of the other disciples of Christ?  It is easy to become part of the crowd ranting and raving about the evil in the world rather than becoming a warrior for Christ transforming evil into good.  I have the choice of being a destroyer or a builder, with Christ, of God's Kingdom in the here and now.

Paul, trying to destroy the good that was happening by the disciples of Christ, made huge mistakes in his life. God's plan for you and me, for  anyone, to recover from our mistakes,  and do good in the world is not thwarted when we are caught up in a movement bent on destruction of a religion, of another person's reputation, of the Good News of Christ, of our own well-being.When we "fall off the wagon," so to speak, God, in His time, puts us back on the path that leads to the Good News being proclaimed by our actions and our words. The transforming power of the resurrection at work in the world and within ourselves will not be destroyed by the "Sauls" in our lives.

Thank you, Lord, for continuing the transformation of evil, whatever its form, in our lives and in the world of today!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Jesus' Trust and Faith in the Apostles

In today’s Gospel, John 21-1-19, Peter and six of his companion apostles go fishing.  They work all night long and catch nothing. Jesus meets them in the morning on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias and asks them if they have caught anything to eat. “No,” they respond.  Jesus suggests that they cast the net over the right side of the boat and “you will find something.” Without hesitation, they do so and caught 153 large fish! 

Following a suggestion that seems ludicrous doesn’t sound like me at all, and perhaps not like you either.  How often have we not been at a task “all night long” with no results? Or, we are considering a task and throw up our hands, saying: “It will not work. Why bother?” And we walk away, doing nothing. What if we had followed the Spirit’s lead and tried one more time and, perhaps, tried a different tactic, one, in fact, that seemed impossible, even foolish!  Sometimes, faith invites us to “cast the net over the right side of the boat,” even though we have been “fishing all night long and caught nothing.”  And how often, like the apostles, who did not recognize Jesus on the shore, do we not recognize the voice of the Spirit inviting us to an action that we think is futile.

Would you and I know Jesus, if the apostles had given up in the face of all of the obstacles they encountered in spreading the faith in Jesus’ resurrection?  Where would you and I be in our spiritual and professional lives, in our interpersonal relationships, in our marriages, in community life lived by women and men religious, if our parents, teachers, mentors or counselors had given up when we rebelled against their guidance?  How will your children develop strong characters if you give up on them?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Where is Your Focus?

In today’s Gospel, John 6: 16-21, the disciples of Jesus are out on the sea traveling to Capernaum at night. Strong winds were blowing, making it dangerous to be out on the waters.  They have rowed 3 or 4 miles and suddenly saw Jesus walking on the waters and coming near the boat. Jesus says: “It is I. Do not be afraid.”

At all times, Jesus knows where you and I are and what circumstances surround us. We could be in calm or tumultuous waters. We could be safe or unsafe! He finds us wherever we are and says: “It is I. Do not be afraid.” We have a choice of focusing on Jesus or on our problems. One focus fills us with peace. The other focus stirs up our fears and anxieties. The choice is ours and is not easy to make. Our problems have a way of overwhelming us, taking possession of us. A suggestion: open the Scriptures to a passage that calms you; the Word of God, Jesus, will take possession of your life and bring you peace.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Divine Origin or Human Origin

What happened in both Scriptures today, Acts 5: 34-42 and John 6: 1-15, reveals the power of God at work in everyday life. In the  Acts of the Apostles,  Gamaliel, “a teacher of the law, respected by all the people,” challenged the members of the Sanhedrin, before whom the Apostles appeared as prisoners.  “…have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourself fighting against God.”  

In the Gospel, Jesus multiplies five barley loaves and two fish to feed 5000 people. Jesus saw a need and responded to it.  Jesus continues feeding millions in the Eucharist every Sunday and throughout the week at every Catholic Mass.  The work of the Apostles has spread throughout the world. No human force is able to destroy the work of those commissioned by Jesus to “go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16: 15).  “…if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourself fighting against God.”

Three things: 1) If what I am pursuing in my life is of God, it will endure. If the activity in which I am involved is God’s will for me, I will succeed in it, even when I meet obstacles or others are opposing me and the work I am doing.  2) If the origin of that to which I am opposed  is of divine origin—be that something in my own life  or the life of another--I could be fighting against God. 3) God will raise others up at the right time to confront those who want to harm me, as He did for the Apostles before the Sanhedrin.  God has my back!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Unflinching faith of Peter and the Apostles

In today’s first reading, Acts 5: 27-33, the Apostles are brought before the Sanhedrin and are questioned by the high priest, accusing them of teaching in Jesus’ name when they have been ordered to stop doing so.  Peter and the Apostles are unafraid and firmly state that they must obey God, not human beings. Without flinching, Peter and the Apostles stand up to their accusers, to those who are likely to throw them into prison, flog them and even have them put to death.  The faith of Peter and the Apostles is unwavering. They keep their focus on the Lord Jesus, whom God has “exalted…at his right hand as leader and savior to grant Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins.” Peter and the Apostles will not stop giving witness to this truth and reminding the leaders of Israel, and us, that they “killed [Jesus] by hanging him on a tree.”

How strong is my faith/your faith?  When we are being confronted by unbelievers, by those who are bent on our destruction, our demise, on silencing us or tripping us up so as to condemn us or prove us wrong, do we stand up to them or back down and go along with the crowd? Do we back down from doing what is right out of fear of other people’s reactions?  Do we give into the temptation to please others when doing so is against God’s will for us?

Sin and its consequences—eternal death for unrepentant sinners and unbelievers—and God’s will that we all be saved from sin by the only One who can save us, God Incarnate, “killed [Jesus] by hanging him on a tree.” And, if necessary, the Incarnate God would do it again to save every single one of us. That is God’s love, God’s mercy and God’s compassion for each one of us. Yes, God loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son, God Incarnate, to be sin for us and nail sin to the cross. 

I believe this. What is your belief?  I praise and thank God for this love, this mercy, this compassion. For what do you praise and thank God?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Darkness or Light: A Choice!

In today’s Gospel, John 3: 16-21, the evangelist reminds us that “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his [or her] works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his [or her] works may be clearly seen as done in God.”

Let’s write that as though John were addressing us personally. It would read as follows:  “When you prefer darkness to light, you do so because your works were evil.  When you do what is wrong, you hate the light and avoid coming toward the light, so that ‘ your works might not be exposed.’  But when you live the truth, you come to the light, so that your ‘works may be clearly seen as done in God.’”

How true John is! When I have done wrong, the last thing I want is to have my wrongdoing exposed, so what do I do? Avoid the light, that is, avoid the person who will confront my deceitfulness or sinfulness.  When I have done wrong, I shudder at being found out. If  I have grown spiritually, however,  and realize that Jesus, the Light of the world, comes into my darkness, not to scold me or condemn me, but to “put on the light,” so to speak, and lead me to safety, then I do not succumb to fear.  In my maturity, I realize that confronting my wrongdoing is a grace that leads to my freedom, to intimacy with the Lord, to wholeness and holiness.  When spiritually mature, I do not shun truth but seek it. Spiritually mature persons know the value of acknowledging the truth, facing the truth and being brought into the Light.  Easy? No! But worth the sacrifice made possible for us by Jesus’ death and resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit, who overshadows us so that we are able to give birth to truth and welcome the freedom won for us on the Cross!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Being Born from Above

In today’s Gospel, John 3: 7b-15, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he “must be born from above,” that “the wind blows where it wills,” that we “do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Furthermore, Jesus reminds us in this Gospel that  “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” 

I looked upon this passage in light of my experience of having little or no energy on some days and then again having a surge of energy.  Being the person that I am, I have a very difficult time not having the energy which I need to accomplish what I want to accomplish on a given day. I entered into the following conversation with my mother, who is in heaven:

Mom, this lack of energy is getting to me. But I am ashamed of complaining about it. Look at what you endured with your cancer.

Dort (the name I was called as a child), I understand your complaint. It is difficult to not have the energy you want in order to do what you feel called to do. Be patient and compassionate toward yourself. Cultivating these virtues is significant in living as Jesus lived, that is, saying “yes” to God’s will in accepting circumstances beyond your control.  It is not about what you accomplish or how productive you are that matters in life. It is the interior life of faith that matters uppermost.

Thank you, Mom.

Dort, God is taking you on the most important of journey of your life, that is,  the journey of faith and trust in God, your Savior.  It is the way of humility and love.  This is the time for you to grow in your understanding of what it means to walk by faith, not by sight.  It is the time to believe in the “blowing wind” of the Spirit  doing the will of God in you, in others and in the world.  You see It and then you don’t.

This is the time in your life to ascend in faith, looking upon Him whom we have pierced and nailed to the cross. Look upon Him who is redeeming you in the circumstances of life and inviting you to descend into your lowliness and lack of energy.  Low energy: testing your faith. High energy: affirming your faith.

Mom, this is difficult. 

Dort, “you must be born from above”  (Today’s Gospel: John 3: 7b-15).   That, Dort, is what God is doing in you now.  It is not your work but His. On occasion, God opens your eyes to realize that He is doing more in you now than you can imagine. Trust God, Dort. Trust Him!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Go Fishing: Jesus Will Meet You Where You Are

In today’s Gospel, John 21: 1-14, the disciples—Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael and James and John –decide to go fishing.  They go back to their old way of living!  Jesus is very much aware of what they are  doing and  meets on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. “Have you caught anything to eat,” Jesus asks them. They respond:  “No!” Jesus then instructs them to cast their net on the right side of the boat “and you will find something.”  The catch is huge: 153 large fish. John then recognizes the man on the shore: “It is the Lord.” When they drag in the fish and come ashore, they notice that Jesus is preparing breakfast for them and ask for some of the catch.

What do we learn from this story? First of all, it is okay to go fishing! Sometimes we need to go back to old ways to meet the Lord.  Notice that the Lord does not scold them. He simply ask if they have caught anything to eat. He is concerned about their well-being physically, about the mundane things of every day life. They are as important to Him as anything else about our lives. 

We also learn that sometimes, we need to leave “the couch” and go do something for fun or to provide for our sustenance. We also learn that Jesus cares about us to the point of preparing a meal for us! He does that every Eucharist, a meal that nourishes us spiritually, cleanses our hearts and minds and wills of anything that obstructs the flow of grace, that strengthens us on the journey to eternal life. 

What a God we have--a God who is fully incarnate: One of us, One with us, One who works through us, as in the first reading of today’s liturgy that references the healing of crippled man through Peter and John’s calling on Jesus’ name.  We, too, have all of the privileges which the apostles experienced!