Advocating with Our Voices
Many of us use Lectio Divina when praying with Scripture. When we do that, we read the Scripture multiple times and identify words that stay with us, words that “find us,” words that catch our attention perhaps in ways they never have before. Upon further reflection or meditation, we often find that those words or phrases speak to our minds, hearts, and lives. They call us to change our minds, hearts and lives in some way. This is how we describe conversion. This is how we become followers of Jesus.
This Wednesday morning, the story of the Birth of John the Baptist spoke to me in several specific ways. The image above helps! “They rejoiced with her.” It is incredible, miraculous that a woman of Elizabeth’s age, an advanced age, gives birth to a child. The message: All things are possible with God, if it is God’s will, God’s intention. God dwells in possibilities; hope lives.
The second awareness I gained is that Elizabeth used her voice to name the child. The angel announcing her pregnancy told her that the child’s name would be John. Over the protests of those representing the custom of carrying on the family legacy, the culture of naming the child after the father, Elizabeth won’t have it and gives the name John. Suddenly Zechariah is cured of his inability to speak and repeats what Elizabeth had already said. (Sound familiar to anyone?) Definitively, his name was to be John.
What’s in a name and who does the naming? It matters, doesn’t it? Zechariah Jr.’s name would mean “God remembers.” John’s name means “God is gracious.” Birthing in advanced age for women is a bold action. Having a woman determine the name is a bold action. Both were God’s action in Elizabeth’s life.
From this rather revolutionary (turning things around, sometimes upside down) birth, we have John the Baptist. John was born to lead Jesus into a new future. He lived his life to prepare the way, a way of life that turns remembering into graciousness.
For me, there are connections to what we are experiencing in Texas right now. John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus. Jesus always stood with the most vulnerable. What would Jesus say? What would Jesus do? Do we see Jesus in the children? Do we see Jesus in the mothers?
What conversion of mind, heart and life is Jesus asking of me? How do I name what is happening? How do I use my voice to advocate for those vulnerable ones, the ones Jesus called “the least among us?”
With tears in my eyes and a heart breaking with empathy, I have to believe that with God all things are possible. And I also know that like Elizabeth, others joined her in belief and joy. Others confirmed her naming and made radical change possible. May it be so for us!
Can we follow Jesus in his action for love above law?
Going Beyond Planting Seeds
In the creation story, we learn that God created abundant plants and trees. And God said that it was good. Today we have an opportunity to continue God’s creative work in caring for the earth and its abundance. Pope Francis has written an encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care of the Earth. Father James Martin summarizes that document with these top ten takeaways:
- The spiritual perspective is now part of the discussion on the environment.
- The poor are disproportionately affected by climate change.
- Less is more.
- Catholic social teaching now includes teaching on the environment.
- Discussions about ecology can be grounded in the Bible and Church tradition.
- Everything is connected—including the economy.
- Scientific research on the environment is to be praised and used.
- Widespread indifference and selfishness worsen environmental problems.
- Global dialogue and solidarity are needed.
- A change of heart is required.
(America Magazine, June 18, 2015)
In the ecological crisis that we face, Pope Francis reminds us that we can awaken our hearts and move towards action. We can be the voice that cries out for the earth. And if we want to act, Catholic Climate Covenant has resources galore to put our faith into action. With St. Francis as our patron, we can also pray the Canticle of the Sun often.
As you listen to the readings this weekend, notice the many references to nature. Praise and thank God for these gifts of beauty and goodness and pray for an awakening of our hearts to greater care for the earth, for ourselves, and for future generations.
Expanding the Notion of Family
Jesus’ disciples had a hard time accepting the fact that Jesus was attracting so many followers and had so much activity going on—miracles, healings, restored relationships—that they didn’t even have time to eat. They told Jesus that he was out of his mind. Imagine saying that to Jesus! In essence, they were saying, no begging Jesus to take a break!
The graphic used for this reflection suggests two things. The disciples had a hard time understanding why Jesus attracted such huge crowds. For them, it was still a mystery. Essentially they were asking, “Why do all these people flock to him? What do they want? How can we stop this?” Perhaps they were limited in their thinking of “how big” the community could become. Perhaps they were concerned about “right-sizing.” Perhaps they wanted to claim Jesus as their own.
When Jesus’ family comes looking for him, perhaps trying to provide him an escape route, Jesus instead expands their notion of who belongs. He uses the biological images of mother, sisters, and brothers and expands the relationship—the belonging to—“anyone who does the will of God.”
This weekend, we are invited to reflect then on how both our natural families and our faith families support each other in doing the will of God. The Holy Spirit gives us “new life” in both families. How is the Spirit inviting us to refine, to refresh the “why” of our following Jesus? Where is the invitation “follow me” leading me, my family, my community?
Apart from being his brothers and sisters, we are also, Jesus tells us, his mothers. What could Jesus mean by that? I am going to seriously reflect on that. I’d be happy to share with any of you.
Meal and Sacrifice
Each Sunday we are offered the meal that sustains our faith. Our participation at Mass through prayer, Scripture and song, our reception of the Eucharist and our being sent forth are all elements of the Eucharistic celebration. We remember God’s activity in our lives, we ask for forgiveness, and we resolve to act—to live the Gospel message in every aspect of our lives throughout the week.
Accustomed as we are to think of all the healing and miracles we read about in Scripture, the communal aspects of a meal shared, the satisfaction that comes from nourishment, we also know that the Eucharist is about sacrifice. We remember that Jesus emptied himself, even unto death, out of love for us.
In the Responsorial Psalm this weekend, we ask ourselves, “how shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me? …. to you will I offer sacrifice…” What is the sacrifice that love demands or asks of us? We often see and hear what sacrifices parents make for their children. We can see what sacrifices wives and husbands make for each other because of love. Where do you experience sacrifice in your life?
Sacrificial love is self-sacrifice with the pure motivation to alleviate the suffering of others. Sacrificial love says I love you even when you are not very lovable. Who are the suffering among us?
These are some of the images of suffering that come to my mind: images of children taken away from their parents at the border; images of families who have lost children to gun violence in schools or who are affected by that violence because they were there to experience it; images of persons who, because of skin color, gender, sexual orientation or anything that makes them “different” or “the other,” are to be feared, held suspect and become the object of others’ hate; images of women and children who become the objects of sexual desire; images of persons who work multiple jobs and still cannot find affordable housing; images of those living with diseases of addiction, mental illness.
Pope Francis offered this reflection on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi:
Let us ask ourselves, in adoring Christ who is really present in the Eucharist: do I let the Lord who gives himself to me, guide me to going out ever more from behind my little enclosure, in order to give, to share, to love him and others?
What is my response of love and sacrifice to those who are suffering? How does my understanding of Eucharist send me forth to act?
Go and Make Disciples
The Solemnity of the Holy Trinity celebrates the community—the intense love relationship that exists between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That same intense and enduring love is given and remains present in each of us from the time of our Baptism. Remember the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Remember!
That same love is not intended only to dwell within us. That love is meant to be shared in the same intricately connected way that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share as a community. The Trinity is always about relationship; it is always communitarian.
This Sunday we celebrate our being co-missioned by Jesus. We call it the Great Commission. We also celebrate the power and the presence of the Trinity in our lives. Jesus has given us the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations. To help us to do that, Jesus has promised to be with us always. In other words, we share in God’s own life. And we are to share that life with one another—everywhere, always, with everyone! Making disciples is now OUR mission!
Will we go? To whom will we go?
The Pentecost Event
Wind and Fire—not the name of a musical group, but the elements that most often describe the Pentecost event, the birthday of the Church. Listen to the ways these words are used in the Mass this weekend!
The power of the Holy Spirit created unity out of the chaos that followed Jesus’ Ascension. The Holy Spirit brought miraculous unity to people very divided, and filled with fear. We need the Holy Spirit in our world today. We need the Holy Spirit in our marriages, in our families, in our Church as well as in our personal lives.
We too are divided and filled with fear. Think about how much we hear about divisions and fear.
What would happen if instead of division and fear, we focused on unity and hope, on community and love? Jesus came to bring peace. After all, Jesus told us to not be afraid countless times in the Scriptures.
Will we invite the Holy Spirit to work in us as individuals, as families, and as communities to renew us, refresh our souls, dispel the fear and create in us hearts that are filled with zeal for living the Gospel?
Perhaps we can embrace the reminders that the Church gives us in the celebration this weekend. Wear red. Find ways to enjoy the playfulness of wind and air. Blowing bubbles, flying a kite, playing with pinwheels aren’t activities reserved for children, although their delight increases ours! Breathe intentionally with a focus on breathing in God’s goodness and breathing out all that separates us from that goodness. Eat red foods, drink red wine! Learn to say Peace and or Love in multiple languages. Speak love languages to replace criticism, gossip, and complaining. The words we use create our reality. What kind of reality are we seeking?
And so we pray from the prayer for the V Encuentro: “May the fire of your Word rekindle our hearts and prepare us to become missionary disciples ready to share the joy of the Gospel to present and future generations of every race, culture, and language.”
Fill our hearts and minds, Holy Spirit! Dwell in us all. Move us to action that creates unity out of chaos.
What do you do after spending precious, quality time with the persons you admire most in life, who have accompanied you and taught you incredible things about what it means to be family, community?
That’s what it was like for the followers of Jesus when he ascended from their midst. Suddenly, they were left in charge. I’m reminded of the countless time that I have heard, “Don’t just stand there, do something.” Usually, it’s when someone is in trouble and no one seems to know what to do.
What must it have felt like to be left in charge? Jesus told his followers to proclaim the Good News to every creature. And he told them to expect to see the signs—the healing of the sick, the casting out of demons, and speaking in tongues. Were these intended for that time only? Jesus is clear about that. He says “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” And Mark, the evangelist, tells us that they went forth and preached everywhere. The Lord continued to work with and through them to accomplish the signs–demons driven out, new languages spoken, incredible healings.
How do we keep from standing there looking at the sky? At every Mass, we are sent forth on mission. Go forth and live the Gospel! Go forth and spread the Good News! Preach always, with your lives!
The Eucharist empowers us, strengthens us for the task, puts us on fire for the mission. After being fed in mind, body, and spirit by the Eucharistic celebration, we SING our way out of the church. The words to our recessional remind us, prod us and keep us from just standing there. We go out with the strength of our community as disciples of Jesus.
Complete Joy and Love
We are an Easter people! Just a reminder that six weeks after Easter, we are still celebrating with joy. The psalm we pray this weekend reminds us “Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands; break into song; sing praise.”
As Easter people, what are we singing about? Where is our joy? What are we joyful about?
In John’s Gospel, Jesus says: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” Complete joy comes from loving one another the way Jesus would!
In our day, it is quite a challenge to truly love those who are different from us. The differences include people who look different, who come from another culture or country, or hold different political or religious beliefs. In our day, almost everything around us fuels that divisiveness. It becomes harder and harder to see what we have in common, to love as Jesus did.
So we pray to God to help us to love one another with God’s heart of love and forgiveness. And we also ACT! We make efforts to know the “other” in our world. One way to do that is to spend time with someone of another culture, race or economic status. Sharing conversation and work promotes peace, understanding and the love Jesus commands. Fr. Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries says we should quit looking at differences and start identifying “samenesses.”
It isn’t easy to love everyone. Yet the challenge remains. The command remains. Our friendship and relationship with God depend on it. When we sing “We Belong to You” we recognize the love relationship between God and the Christian community. That is the same kind of genuine and self-giving love Jesus lived.
Just as in last week’s Gospel of the vine and the branches, we are chosen by God and appointed to go and bear fruit that will remain. Love endures. Love remains if we work for it. If we work for it, we tear down walls, we walk across the bridge to the world of the other, we enter the unknown and that which we fear. We cross boundaries that are holding us back from the love that completes our joy.
So when Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” what does that mean for us? What does it mean for us as individuals in our faith community, our parish? What does it mean for us as a parish? How are we connected? Where do we belong? How do we grow? What fruit do we bear?
Much of new growth comes about through a process of pruning, of cutting back and making room for the new. What is it that needs pruning in my life? What do I need to cut off or cut back in order to be more connected to God? What in my life is unhealthy or even spiritually toxic that keeps me from being the person that God intends for me to be? It could be whatever keeps me from praying, from celebrating sacraments, from active involvement with my community in the parish. It could be all the things and activities in my life that occupy so much of my time that I neglect my spouse, my family, and even care of myself.
The vine and the branches are all about belonging, about connection, about growth. Sometimes just cutting back the old, tired growth isn’t enough. We need to find “healthy, vibrant” growth and GRAFT it. Where do I find opportunities to spruce up my spiritual life? Could it be a retreat? Joining an SCC? Participating in Adult Faith Formation or a Bible Study? Becoming a sponsor for RCIA?
Growth is about change. At times some of our old practices are no longer useful and we need to update. Some of the people who have served in our church with great love and faithfulness yearn for replacements in their ministries. They are ready to make room for new participants, new leaders, new ways of doing things.
In all of life, we would do well to consider what needs to be pruned, what needs to change. Can we honestly say to God, prune away? What do we need to stop doing in order to make room for the new? What is the fruit we are expecting from the new growth? Do we trust God enough to yield wholeheartedly to what must die in us in order for us to enjoy new life and to bear good fruit?
The Vulnerable Sheep
Why is Jesus walking around with a sheep cradled between his neck and back? I’ve always been curious about this depiction. I am more used to Jesus cradling a small sheep in his lap, a very loving, cuddly kind of cradling a baby lamb. Most of us probably prefer that image. Meanwhile, I am stuck on this image and my neck hurts just thinking about that sheep making me uncomfortable. I can barely stand a collar around my neck!
And then there are Pope Francis’ words reminding us that any good shepherd should “smell like the sheep.” Another discomfort! I know what cows and pigs smell like. I must admit sheep smells have not been in my experience!
And then I remember a reflection once offered by a wise Sister companion of mine. She said that a shepherd often can spot the sheep that is going to be the “ring leader for mischief” or the recalcitrant one. This is the sheep that will start a revolt, or at least cause great consternation and suffering for the shepherd and the rest of the sheep.
That same shepherd who can identify the one needing attention, also knows from experience what the sheep needs in order to “hear the voice” of the shepherd. Sometimes we have a hard time recognizing the voice of someone who wishes us well, while challenging us to be all that God wants us to be.
In order to recognize the voice, the sheep must be close, must be carried, must become dependent on the shepherd. In order to accomplish that the shepherd breaks a leg of the sheep and begins to carry it. The sheep becomes vulnerable.
Perhaps we also need the Good Shepherd to carry us in our vulnerability. All of us experience some kind of “brokenness.” Some heals readily. Others need God’s attention. Jesus reminds us of God’s love and care for us, even when the suffering is intolerable. And for us, following Jesus means that we must stand with, we must act for the good of all, especially those in most need, the most vulnerable among us.
Who are the shepherds in your life? Who is leading, guiding, protecting and nurturing you? How do hurt and suffering contribute to our capacity to hear God’s voice in the midst of it?