Lord, Help Us!
Those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours are very familiar with the opening dialogue: “O Lord, come to our assistance. O Lord, make haste to help us.” And I am pretty sure that each of us cries out “Lord, help us” quite often these days. In each case, we are acknowledging our dependence on God’s help! Perhaps we are dealing with beginning of school busyness and anxieties. Perhaps we are experiencing divisions at work or in our families. Perhaps we can’t stand to watch the “news” anymore because what we see and hear is so depressing.
And then this weekend we hear the words of Jesus in the Gospel. “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on a household of five will be divided: three against two and two against three; the father divided against the son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
What? More division? Jesus is reminding us that following him is not easy. When we answer the call to be disciples, to be Christian in word and deed, this sometimes stirs up anger and resentment in family and friends. Sometimes we even wonder how we hear or read the same Gospel and make excuses for our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are really quite different from what we would expect. To do what Jesus would do—to change oppressive structures, norms, expectations, views of women, strangers, lepers—is to follow a very different and difficult path. It led to Jesus’ crucifixion. For us, the change might be the fire, the one that is to set the earth on fire. We may want to take an easy way out—call it political, none of our business, too hard or expect someone else to do it. Most of the persons and communities that have been responsible for real change realized that the sure way to find peace was in God, not in humankind.
When has living the gospel put me at odds with another person or them at odds with me?
What keeps me from speaking the truth in love when I feel called to do so?
And so we pray: Provident and all-powerful God, you share your light of truth and passionately call us to transform our world. Guide our efforts to live our faith zealously, with fiery passion. Through Christ and with Christ our Lord’s assistance and aid. Amen!
Encountering the Thief
Locked and secure! That’s how we like to describe our peace and security, right? This week’s gospel tells us about what it is like for Jesus to break and enter into our hearts, yes, to steal our hearts. We usually hear this gospel proclaimed at funerals. “Be prepared.” “Keep your lamps lit.” And we usually think that this is about our being prepared for death, for the final breaking into our hearts and uniting us completely, totally with God’s life—something we anticipate all of our lives.
However, I think that God’s thievery happens all the time. It happens when we are moved to compassion at the sight of anyone suffering needlessly, at the sight of lovers in their 90’s, at the sight of a child going to sit next to someone who is sitting alone at school. If we pay attention, I think we can see that kind of breaking in and entering into our hearts all around us. That’s what I anticipate the coming of the kingdom is like.
That’s exactly what we all need these days in the face of disrespect and even hatred, for those who are different from us. We need breaking and entering, and disarming—not in relationship to possessions and property—but in our connectedness to ALL of God’s creation.
I don’t know about you, but I am praying for God’s breaking in to the chaos of this world. I know that this kind of breaking in will not be violent or destructive. But it will be merciful, loving, and full of tender service! Lord, hear our prayer and move us to ACTION! It begins with me, with my attitude and my action. The Christophers always talked about the power of lighting one little candle.
How does one become “rich in what matters to God,” as Jesus’s parable urges? The parable about storing up good things to extremes invites us to put possessions and relationships in perspective, to set priorities in our lives. Is money more important than my relationship with my brother? Is my status at work more important than my relationship with my family? Our focus should not be on temporal wealth or position that can disappear in an instant, but on our spiritual relationship with God and one another. In the Responsorial Psalm we read, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” Praying for “wisdom of heart” helps us to cultivate detachment from the human, earthly desires that keep us distracted from “what matters to God.” Lord, teach us to pray; teach us to ACT. Teach us to be rich in kindness and mercy, communication and caring, forgiveness and acceptance, inclusion and hospitality, and all that matters to God.
Because of Our Persistence
When one of the disciples asks Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus tells them to address God with the intimate, relational name Father. He asks them to pray that the kingdom, God’s kingdom that we anticipate in eternal life, be actualized on earth. How do we imagine God’s kingdom? What is God’s desire for all of creation? How is all of creation related? How are we to live in relationship to each other and all that God created? How do we respect the dignity of all of creation—the earth and all its creatures, as well as humanity in all its diversity?
As I reflect on the state of God’s creation today, I am sad, disappointed, disgusted, angry and close to despair. So much is a mess! That’s when I most need the rest of the prayer, the rest of the way Jesus teaches us to pray.
In our prayer, Jesus teaches and invites us to ask for “daily bread.” When we ask for God’s forgiveness of our sins, Jesus assumes that we ourselves are already forgiving everyone to whom we owe forgiveness.
Jesus uses a very easy acronym for the pattern of our prayer: Ask, Seek, and Knock (ASK). Have you ever prayed for something and gotten the opposite thing you asked for or nothing at all? Prayed and gotten what you wanted? Has anyone ever asked you for something and received it from you or asked and been refused? Jesus says persistence pays off. Just as you would not refuse a needy person a loaf of bread, God won’t refuse the Holy Spirit to anyone who persists in asking.
When I was in first grade in a one-room schoolhouse, our teacher decided to pitch a tent outside and to have the 1st and 2nd graders practice hospitality. We were taught to meet our visitor at the door, ask them to come in, share some conversation, ask them to be seated and then offer them something to drink. We even practiced some “visiting conversation.” We learned the basics of hospitality.
In this Sunday’s gospel, we hear about the visit that Jesus paid to Mary and Martha. Remember that Jesus was quite itinerant and really didn’t have a house. Some scholars and homilists portray Martha as the busy one and Mary as the contemplative, often asking us to choose which one most describes us. Others focus on women’s “proper” role in society and how Mary breaks the norm and Jesus affirms her in that role. She too can learn from the Master.
The artistic portrayal of Mary and Martha that I chose to accompany this reading is very modern and very applicable to life today. Martha, the anxious worrier, is not unlike most of us who try to balance so many things in life. At times, we even become jealous of each other when one seems to be doing all the work and the other is just “visiting.” Children, home, shopping, career, church, civic commitments, volunteer work—all preoccupy us. We become distracted from time to just sit and be in the presence of another, especially in the presence of God.
Jesus doesn’t reject Martha’s cooking, but he reminds her that service must also be connected to listening. Service that does not embrace listening to Jesus’ word misses the heart of everything. That’s why Jesus says that Mary has chosen the better part, the better portion of the meal. Christianity requires service, but the Word of the Lord needs to be heard first. Do we take the time to do that after participating in the Eucharistic meal?
And about those distractions, anxieties, and worries the writer Anne Lamott reminds us: “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.”
Go and Do Likewise
This is a summary of our Sunday gospel reading. We are all familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan, the one who responds to the need, even when others have justified inaction. We probably all examine our consciences and try to think of times when we have been the Good Samaritan.
Today I invite us to think of ourselves as the other person in the narrative—the one that is ostracized, politically not deserving of care, not of a certain race, or gender or marital status, one who differs in cultural, religious and political matters.
Imagine yourself not as the Samaritan who wants to love God and neighbor, but as the person who is in need. Who among us “dying” or “left to die after being beaten?” A woman who has been raped? A mother, abandoned by her spouse, with several children to care for? A man with no hope? Can you see yourself at your most vulnerable time, deeply troubled, deep in despair with only one hope that someone, anyone will see and hear the pain, give credence to it, and with compassion do something to help.
One writer described the stranger who stops to help in this way:
Now imagine that the stranger who is most kind, most loving is not the upstanding citizen who looks and thinks like you. Imagine that she or he is that person you dismiss as a bigot or a heathen, a racist or an instigator, a misogynist or a baby-killer. Imagine that your succor is delivered by someone whom you would never consider to be your neighbor, your friend, your sister or brother in the faith. Imagine that your greatest need is filled by such a person. What would that teach us about the meaning of loving God and loving neighbor?
When the lawyer in the gospel story asks the question “who is my neighbor?” it seems that he, like us often, is trying to find the loophole that divides the world into neighbors and non-neighbors; the deserving poor, the undeserving poor; the refugee, the economic migrant; the freedom fighter, the terrorist; the needy, the scrounger; the shirker, the worker.
In other words, Jesus tells the story to teach us that God’s love and compassion knows no bounds. If we see and know the world as God does, there are no exceptions, no divisions in identifying who my neighbor is.
Jesus spoke with credibility: He himself was a refugee who with His parents escaped to Egypt when King Herod ordered a mass slaughter of children. Jesus was homeless and relied on others to provide support and shelter his entire life. Ultimately, He was executed by an unjust power who felt threatened by His challenge to realign with the Kingdom of God.
Today, our challenge is to follow Jesus in recognizing who our neighbor is with no exceptions. To do so is to open our ears to hear the cry of the most vulnerable among us, and with tender hearts to come in contact with suffering that calls us out of our selfishness. Jesus says: Go and do likewise.
Lightening the Load
If you are anything like me, you have a tendency to overpack. A two-night camping trip? I better bring an extra package of water bottles because the 28 pack plus the full package of Powerade we already have might not be enough. A trip home to hot and humid Louisiana to visit family in early September? I should pack a jacket in the very off-chance that the temperature somehow drops below 60°. A weekend ACTS retreat? I better bring a week’s worth of socks, just in case. You get the idea.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, St. Luke writes about Jesus appointing the 72 and sending them off in pairs. Jesus tells them, “Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way” (Luke 10:3-4).
Imagine yourself as one of the 72. Are you taken aback by the instructions you are receiving from Jesus? Are you wondering what you are getting yourself into? Perhaps Jesus and his words resonate with such assurance and belief in your ability that you are confident to go forth and spread the good news, trusting that God will provide for you along the way.
For me, I imagine I might approach Jesus and double-check with him before I depart with the others. “Lord, are you sure I shouldn’t bring a pair of sandals in case we encounter some rough or rocky terrain? You know? Just to be safe.” But there is no overpacking allowed on this journey.
What about the part where Jesus tells them not to greet anyone along the way? That sounds a little harsh and impolite, doesn’t it? I think the real meaning behind that line is not unfriendliness, but rather emphasizing the need to move with a sense of urgency on this important mission.
If we overpack, how can we move with this required urgency? Everything we would bring would weigh us down. This applies to our hearts as well. Let us take some time to examine what we carry in our hearts. Are we burdened by heavy loads like jealousy or anger, preventing us from being the active, dynamic missionary disciples we are called to be?
Thankfully, Jesus gives us a way to lighten our load through the sacrament of Reconciliation. If you have not been in a while, it might be time to go and unpack that suitcase so that you can travel light again. Open your heart and allow the Holy Spirit to enter in and move you so that you can more fully share God’s love with others and return rejoicing like the 72 in the Gospel.
By Kenneth Caruthers, Director of Communication
What “but first” can keep you from resolutely following Jesus today? What are you unwilling to say goodbye to as you walk with Christ? These are two important questions to ponder when we reflect on our personal response to Jesus’ invitation, “Follow Me.”
I know that I often say “but first” when I am trying to handle multiple requests within a limited time period. That’s probably a good thing, especially if I am prioritizing which actions are most important. I must admit that I also use that expression when I am procrastinating or putting off something that doesn’t seem quite as enjoyable at the time. And sometimes it is even an excuse for not acting on something that in my heart of hearts, I know will ask something of me that I am not ready to commit to doing.
I hear some of the same when I interview candidates who are beginning the process of completing their sacraments of initiation as adults. When I ask, “What brings you here today,” the response often includes admission that often there were distractions or competing priorities that kept them from taking action. The call to conversion, to follow Jesus, was postponed countless times. “But firsts” took over.
The cost of following Jesus is demanding. It must be wholehearted. Pope Francis describes our relationship with Jesus in this way:
Being Christian is not just obeying orders but means being Christ, thinking like him, acting like him, loving like him; it means letting him take possession of our life and change it, transform it.”
(General Audience, Wednesday, April 10, 2017)
We Share What We Have
“They all ate and were satisfied.” Isn’t that the wish we have each time we sit down to a meal after much planning, preparation, and inviting? This Sunday’s gospel describes a multitude of people gathered to hear Jesus preach. As usual, Jesus becomes concerned for their hunger. We know the rest of the story. They had only five loaves and two fish, but all were fed. And they were satisfied. Perhaps they hungered for something other than food.
Br. John-Marmion Villa, BSC writes this in a commentary:
How happy Jesus would be if we learned how to recognize him in the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:31), to savor the moment of encounter, to relax in the peace of his presence, to worship the majesty of his humble appearance in the species of bread and wine. If we could make him happy just to recognize him, then I think our lives would also be happier because we would be compelled to give away what we had received. Then, we would have become what we have consumed.
David Kauffman’s lyrics teach us: “See what you are. Become what you eat. We are the Body of Christ.” We are to be the Body of Christ, to be in communion, to be Christ’s presence in all that we do and with all we meet. We give what we have received!
Pope Francis encourages us: “Jesus Christ loves you, he gave his life to save you, and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and feed you” (Evangelii Gaudium, 164).
Undivided Unity—The Trinity
When are we most aware of the Trinity in our lives? Think about it. When do we invoke Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? What images remind us of the Trinity? At a meeting that I attended this week, the leader began the prayer with the sign of the cross: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” That was the prayer and he proceeded to explain why. Whatever we do next—at the meeting, in the morning when we wake up, at work, before our meals, at Mass, at prayer times—is done in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We acknowledge that we are partners with God in continuing creation, in continuing relatedness. We acknowledge that the Father sent his Son who sent the Holy Spirit. They are so related, so connected, so in sync! No wonder then that so many images of the Trinity somehow display an “undivided unity.”
The life of the Trinity is on-going. It is not self-contained or self-absorbed, but ever flowing outward, touching and embracing all of creation, all of life in unity and communion. Listen this weekend to all the ways God delights in creation. As we continue to be active in God’s continuing acts of creation, do we take delight in God?