Can you imagine a baby playing with a cobra? Or a wolf or lion welcomed by a lamb? What is Isaiah trying to say to us? The prophet Isaiah’s vision is depicted in an artwork entitled The Peaceable Kingdom. Isaiah’s vision was one where dangerous pairings would make peace and together they would grow in safety.
The word “peaceable” and the reality of dangerous pairings give us lots to think about. How are we today engaged in making peace? Where in our world is peace most needed? Isaiah talks about turning swords into plowshares. Peacemakers and artists today create art pieces from automatic weapons of war. Today’s prophets facilitate conversations where people come to the table to enter into dialogue in order to discover common ground. Such conversations attempt to find harmony and unity rather than protracted discord or hate speech or even the now familiar “agreeing to disagree.”
What sort of dangerous pairings are we encountering in life today? What examples of the “lion and the lamb” or the “baby playing with the cobra” are we familiar with?
And so we pray: God of endurance and encouragement, guide us in imagining a peaceable kingdom. Create in us hearts that welcome the stranger, the person or any way of thinking that we don’t yet understand. Help us to grow in our capacity to be able to make peace (peace-able) and to bear “good fruit” in the process.
More of Isaiah’s vision is described in this musical presentation, “On That Holy Mountain.”
Stay awake! Be ready! Welcome the stillness! Be with us Lord to breathe within us and let us be ready to receive you. Strengthen us! Abide with us! Cleanse our hearts of all that keeps us distant from you and from each other!
God of surprises, shower us with grace to see the light, to see more clearly, to love more dearly and to follow you more dearly. Help us to see the light in all of our human situations. Give us hope!
Wash away our anxieties, especially during the next few weeks. Abide with us in new, profound ways. Help us to have the Best Advent Yet!
King of Our Hearts
When I was very young, the feast of Christ the King was special. All the girls wore their white First Holy Communion dresses again and strewed flowers, often picked from their grandmothers’ gardens. We were at the head of the procession, followed by a hand-carried canopy over the priest who carried the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance. My grandmother grew rows of flowers in the vegetable garden, right next to the beehives. Pollinators galore! Sometimes we would see flowers in her house. Most of the time, she grew them to be admired from her back porch or from the large kitchen “picture window.” Ultimately they were grown to be included in the liturgical environment of the church.
The procession went outside to all the church grottos, also all decorated with flowers. We sang and inhaled lots of incense. It was the feast of Christ the King!
Kings can be rulers, monarchs, lords of lands. By contrast, our Scripture readings describe Jesus on the cross flanked by thieves. And we learn about the good thief who simply asks, “Remember me.” Jesus promises him good company among those who enter heavenly bliss.
Several years ago, Ronald Rolheiser described Christ as the good king: “strong enough to be weak…who has a heart big enough to accept pettiness, who cares enough to accept humiliation, and who is faithful enough to do what’s right even when it’s misunderstood…who is tall enough to let himself be small, secure enough to disappear in anonymity, and mature enough to not be put off by immaturity…who is selfless enough to absorb selfishness, loving enough to be gracious towards what’s bitter, and forgiving enough to bless what’s killing him…who makes those around him feel safe, who carries others rather than ask them to carry him, who feeds others rather than feeds off of them, and who affirms others rather than asking them to affirm him. A good king looks more like Christ on the cross than like an earthly superstar in his glory. But that is what made Jesus’ life and death redemptive.” (Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, In his Reflection for Christ the King, in Give Us This Day, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN 56321-7500; Nov. 2012; pp. 266f)
May this be the King who reigns in our hearts on this great feast.
Stubble or Healing Rays
Stubble is the leftover stalks in a field that has just been harvested, painful to step on, especially if you are bare-footed. Stubble is also what male facial hairs are in between being clean-shaven and growing a full beard. I’m told that this in-between time is pretty scratchy, itchy, and generally uncomfortable.
None of us would choose to be stubble, but Malachi tells us that the proud and evildoers will be stubble. How then do we rid ourselves of pride and evil-doing? Malachi tells us, “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”
To fear the Lord’s name is to be filled with awe and praise at the works of God. As for justice and healing, we are all wounded in some ways, and justice can help us heal. What would the “sun of justice with its healing rays” look like in our lives? For what work of justice-making do we have a passion? What will bring about healing? Healing, health, wholeness, and holiness are all related.
Let’s listen to the words and actions suggested in our Eucharistic liturgy this weekend. May they be “healing rays” for all of us, for our families, our parish community, our country, and our world.
Hope in the Resurrection
Throughout history, some people have been willing to die rather than betray their faith. Why and how do they do that? One example is the Algerian martyrs portrayed in the movie Of Gods and Men. In the midst of the civil war in the late 1990s, these men and women knew how dangerous it was to remain in their ministry. Inspired by the courage of Jesus, even when they were given the choice to leave and thus escape the danger of death, they chose to remain.
Theirs is a difficult decision. But once they choose to die for the faith, the incredible joy of belief in the resurrection is evident in their last gathering together—a meal and a total giving of self. In their faces, their gestures and their presence to each other, we get a glimpse of new life, a heavenly feast. Their embrace of death is the living of the Creed that we profess when we say “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
Martyrdom means witnessing, not choose to die, but being so strong in faith that you are willing to risk death. Who are the “resurrection people” for you? Who are some ordinary persons who chose to remain with the people they served? Bishop Oscar Romero, Sister Dorothy Stang in the Amazon, and the four women in El Salvador are contemporary examples for me. They sought justice for the people.
Besides martyrdom, what are some difficult earthly trials, heavy burdens that persons are able to endure because of their hope in the resurrection?
Up a Tree
To be “up a tree” is to be in a difficult situation without escape, cornered! Zacchaeus was in just such a situation. Or was he? In the Gospel we read that he was “seeking to see who Jesus was.” And he climbed a tree in order “to see Jesus.”
Zacchaeus was indeed in a difficult situation. He was the hated main tax collector, scorned by this huge crowd. And he was “short.” He could easily have been lost in the crowd. He was probably filled with fear! Imagine then how it felt when Jesus picked him out and Jesus invited himself to dine with Zacchaeus. And Zacchaeus said YES! Coming down and out of the tree changed Zacchaeus! Imagine Jesus and Zacchaeus walking arm in arm, eating and drinking—sharing a meal—and rejoicing in how easily Jesus can love someone who is lost back into life.
In what ways do we find ourselves climbing a tree, like Zacchaeus, so we can have a better view of Jesus? What are we seeking in our relationship with Jesus? And once we can see him, what happens to us, in us?
God hungers for lost souls. God sent Jesus to seek and to save what was lost. Let’s pray to discover how we too are lost and in need of saving!
Bonus reflection: Watch Kenneth’s video reflection on our St. Francis of Assisi YouTube channel by clicking here.
Who Am I in Prayer?
How do I present myself to God when I pray? Do I express my utter dependence on God alone with humility, admitting my sinfulness? Do I try to impress God with a focus on what I am doing for the poor, for the widow and the orphan, for the refugee?
When in my life do I find myself saying “Thank God I am not like the others?” How do we know when perhaps we are complicit in social sin?
I found this reflection very helpful in understanding the lessons of this parable for me today.
Persistence in Pursuit of Justice
“Because this widow keeps bothering me, I shall render a just decision for her.” We can choose our words. “Bothering” has a certain connotation. Being a pest about something is another. I have sometimes been accused of being a thorn in the side of someone, given my name.
To be relentless, to persist, to care so much that you are not afraid to speak out, to be bold, to use her voice—are other words to describe this widow, this woman. After all, what does she have to lose, given her status as a widow?
What do you suppose she was persistent about? What was she experiencing that demanded a just decision for her? What does justice look like today? Who are the women advocating for justice? Am I one of them? What am I willing to do for justice as an individual? Within my family? As a citizen of a powerful nation? As a Catholic?
In my own prayer and reflection, I often ask myself who and what I stand for. Most of the time this comes when I am being critical of what I see as unjust. If I am angry, I am not able to bring goodness. We don’t need greatness; we need goodness. If I am grounded in what Jesus teaches, I can be critical without adding to an enemy list. I am responsible for what I love. I cannot live with suffering without seeing it and doing something.
What is the something you will do this week as one who is persistent in pursuit of justice?
The Grateful One in Ten
“We are ten lepers, with scars and wounds—and hope for your healing touch. From our souls’ depths we raise our voices to you. ‘Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!’ As we glimpse the grace you pour upon us, we thank you.” (Anne Osdieck, https://liturgy.slu.edu/28OrdC101319/prayerpathmain.html)
I am so grateful to Anne for reminding me and us that at one time or another, we are all lepers. We can probably all name people we know, perhaps we ourselves have been “lepers” or the untouchables, shunned and avoided! Maybe it was when we were severely depressed. Maybe we were so angry, disgruntled and hard to be with. Maybe we were divorced and people took sides and blamed us. Maybe arguments over family inheritance or loyalties to family members led to shunning.
And then someone heard our cry (even the silent ones) and reached out and touched. Perhaps the healing came from a knowing glance, a tender look and a smile. Perhaps it was sitting in silence, accompanying, “sitting with” that provided a healing. Perhaps it was simple words of encouragement that give hope.
The Gospel reading focuses on the one in ten who came back and expressed gratitude—who gave thanks! Today we reflect on the times when we have “cried out for help,” received healing and expressed thanks. We approach the Eucharist each Sunday as “wounded” or “scarred” in need of healing, hoping for that touch, that glance, that person next to us who names us at the Greeting of Peace. And we say “Thank You.” That is the meaning of Eucharist—thanksgiving! And we the participants in this sacred liturgy are all the Body of Christ, reaching out and touching. And grace is poured upon us, individually and as a community, as a parish and as world Church.
Celebrate St. Francis
Build my Church! This was the message that St. Francis heard from Jesus in one of his many conversion experiences. As we celebrate the 18th anniversary of the dedication of our Church sanctuary on October 5, we have the opportunity to reflect on how we are “building” or “re-building” our Church and our Church community.
Our strengths in being a welcoming community, on providing opportunities to initiate new groups/communities for faith sharing and prayer experiences, and our emphasis on formation for the reception of all the sacraments are also our challenges for the future.
Are we inclusive in our invitations to participate in parish life? Do we have the same vitality and energy, the same, seeming wildness of St. Francis for the Gospel? Do we live the poverty, the dependence Francis had on Divine Providence, the Providence of God? Are we willing to accept suffering and the Cross in our lives? I invite you to take a moment to pray Art Laffin’s prayer to St. Francis at https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/prayer-feast-st-francis-assisi to help you meditate and reflect on these questions.
We celebrate our parish Feast Day this Sunday with prayer and thanksgiving at our Masses where we rededicate ourselves to living the mission of our parish.
We, the parish family of St. Francis of Assisi, formed in 1980, are gifted with wisdom, productivity and vitality. We are a Sacramental people journeying toward our Christian mission to know, love and serve Christ. To better know, love and serve Christ, we strive to emulate our patron, St. Francis of Assisi, by focusing our greater concern on the building of our people, giving our time, talent and treasures in reaching out to others, and promoting peace and harmony within God’s creation. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we will continue to gather as community to grow in and strengthen our spirituality.
We also celebrate our community, our relationships with each other, and our working together to create stronger bonds with each other. We celebrate the ways that we serve our Church.
Join us at the FESTIVAL!