Answering the Call to Follow
Have you experienced the reality of Jesus’ words, “Take up your cross and follow me”? And are you able to recognize times in your life where you experienced suffering that led to redemption and resurrection?
If you wondered where I was last weekend, I spent four days with three other friends who joined the Sisters of Divine Providence 53 years ago on September 5. We have made this an annual event the past four years, knowing that there is a richness in sharing our experiences of life in very meaningful ways. We prayed together, laughed together, cried together and, of course, we ate together. We talked and talked—sharing joys and sorrows, hopes and dreams, disappointments and newness. One evening, one of my friends asked each of us to share our responses to several questions.
- When have you experienced profound awe at something?
- When have you experienced suffering that led to growth? Who helped you to recognize how the suffering formed you to be more compassionate or merciful?
- What brings you the most joy in your life?
This discussion required much vulnerability, profound trust and a willingness to hold the experiences without judgment or comparison. In the sharing we came to love each other even more, to be grateful for our shared lives, and to recognize how God, known to us as Providence, has always been calling us to follow, to take up our crosses, and to grow in understanding how each of us is redeemed and experiences new life.
And then last night at the ACTS Core meeting, Howard Snarr, our facilitator, shared poetry that captured the essence not only of our weekend, but also provides a wonderful reflection on the Scripture for this weekend, especially the invitation to “take up your cross and follow.” Here is the poem:
Every time we witness a baptism we hear these words: “May the Lord soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” (Rite of Baptism for Children, #65)
Jesus used touch and the word “Ephphatha!—Be opened.” He was referring to the opening of ears and the freeing of mouths to speak. Can you think of the last time that your ears were opened to hearing something in a new way? Understanding it differently because it was spoken by someone you love or who cares about your well-being? Or perhaps it was a speaker who opened your ears to hear a difficult message, a much-needed message, that changed your way of thinking about an issue—immigration, the sexual abuse in the Church, the death penalty, treatment of the elderly.
Often when we listen to a person with whom we have a special connection, we come to both hear and understand in different ways. The relationship matters. Fear dissipates and we want to reach out and touch. When ears are opened, we often are also given the strength to speak differently about the person(s) we have come to know. Our relationship frees our tongues to speak with compassion and love and to advocate for freedom, justice, and healing.
Jesus wanted everyone to have the fullness of life. He gifted many with the capacity to hear and to speak. Jesus continues to do that today in the words we hear in Scripture. Can we listen to those we disagree with in new ways? Can we keep the dialogue going for longer periods of time? Can we use our mouths, our voices to proclaim what Jesus teaches and what Jesus does for others?
This weekend we pray for “open” ears to hear the voices of all our brothers and sisters—the ones we have a relationship with and those we have yet to meet in person. We pray also that our mouths are freed to speak words that heal rather than divide, words that free us from fear and hatred of persons who are different from us. Perhaps the Prayer of St. Francis will motivate us.
What will I personally pray to “be open” to in my life? How will I choose to use words that come from my mouth? And how will I respond in openness to what Jesus is calling me to when I hear “Be opened?”
Not Lip Service, But Active Service
I often think when I go to Mass on Sunday, or any day of the week, “Why am I here?” Has this become tradition, or a habit? Am I fearful that if I fail to show up, I will be committing the sin of not keeping holy the Lord’s day? Am I only a law abider?
Mark in this gospel presents lots of examples of external practices that were common in Jesus’ time. Many of them were about purification—ritual washing or cleansing, eating certain food and not others, keeping the traditions of the elders. But Jesus wants us to examine the habits of our hearts! What touches our hearts? What keeps us on the path of following Jesus—doing what Jesus would do? What does LOVE demand of us? How do we move from being “hearers” of the Word and become “doers” of the Word?
Jesus makes it quite clear: religion that is pure is defined as taking care of orphans and widows in their affliction. Who are the orphans and widows among us? Who are the least among us?
I struggle every day with images of refugees all over the world. The nightly news lets us see the Rohingya Muslim people who have fled to overcrowded, poverty-ridden Bangladesh to escape genocide, those seeking asylum in many countries who are fleeing violence, crime and certain death in Central American countries, those displaced by war in so many places in the world, human beings who are trafficked and live lives as sex slaves.
Our Scripture readings this weekend remind us that our hearts must be formed by God’s wisdom. We pray AND we act! Jesus asks for nothing less—not lip service only, but active service.
May I also recommend two other resources for your praying and acting this week? The first is a follow-up to Fr. Mike Schmitz’s reflection last week on the sex abuse crisis.
The second resource is one that I personally enjoy listening to every week.
Don’t Leave; LEAD!
My experience of the past weeks is that many of us are struggling with our responses to the sexual abuse by priests revealed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report. Some of us are overwhelmed by feelings of disgust at the harm done to children. Others are experiencing strong feelings of anger at Church structures and those most responsible for both abuse and cover-up. Probably all of us wonder what we can do to bring about healing that is rich in compassion and love for the victims and all others affected by the abuse of clerical authority.
The Gospel for this weekend poses some questions that might be helpful to us in choosing both prayers and actions that indicate our desire to correct wrongs. We acknowledge the immense hurt of so many. We individually and communally choose actions of prayer, fasting, and using our voices to name the actions of the abusers as evil, sinful, and criminal. We choose to live lives of holiness in the midst of the darkness many are experiencing.
In the Gospel from John that we will hear this weekend, Jesus notices that many of his followers are no longer accompanying him, following him. He says to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answers him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
This is the choice that each of us is faced with. Do I stay or go? Believe or not? Do we trust Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit will always be with us?
Fr. Mike Schmitz addresses the multiple abuses of authority and our response in a very honest and powerful video released just a few days ago. At the end of his presentation, he exhorts us as Jesus would to not leave the Church over the crisis because this is too difficult. He asks us to LEAD by lives of holiness. Here is the video:
There are so many other good resources available in various places. Articles have been written, homilies from other churches have been shared, and people everywhere have been searching for how best to strengthen our resolve to respond in faith, hope, and charity. I have had numerous conversations with parishioners and friends these last few days who are struggling with how to respond. In each case, I am asking the Holy Spirit to continue to guide us and give us wisdom, to be voices of hope and healing for all.
One of the resources that I recommend comes from J.S. Paluch Publishing. These are the prayers the St. Francis staff prayed this week at our Thursday morning staff meeting and prayer time:
As we struggle with the immensity of the scandal of sexual abuse, let us pray that the light of Christ present in our hearts pierce the darkness of the sin that has been exposed in our midst.
For the Spirit of Truth to empower us to voice our outrage, express our alarm, and turn our energies toward a better future, let us pray to the Lord.
For the grace and honesty to convey our anger to Church leaders, and to recognize and demand that God’s quest for justice also be carried out within the Church, let us pray to the Lord.
For all of us who, whether by inaction or indifference, bear some responsibility for the suffering of those who were abused, let us pray to the Lord.
For the reform of systems and structures that perpetuate the corrupt use of power or authority so that the Church can more faithfully reveal God-among-us, let us pray to the Lord
For those who have suffered abuse: May they be uplifted by our support, concern, and advocacy on their behalf, let us pray to the Lord.
For us, as we continue our abiding love for the Eucharist: May we see in Jesus someone who knows our anger and intense sorrow during this time of trial, let us pray to the Lord.
For all who provide help for those who have been abused: for counselors, therapist, and advocates, let us pray to the Lord.
O God of compassion, we pray that your divine Wisdom guide us to your eternal truths, helping us to see and address the many kinds of abuse perpetuated in our midst.
We make this and all these prayers in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Please do watch Fr. Mike’s video. Don’t leave; LEAD!
To Be Flesh and Blood
Remember all the bread imagery in the readings of the past few weeks? This Sunday we hear the word “eat” six times in the Gospel. Our first thoughts of when this happens probably turn to the action of eating and drinking at the time of Communion at Mass. Has that action—the standing up, walking in procession and the eating and drinking—become routine? Is it something that we just fall in line to do?
When I reflect on the image above, I am reminded of what it means to be in relationship, to be in communion, not just with Jesus but with all of humanity. To remain in communion with Jesus, we are invited to participate in the life of Jesus, to live as Jesus lived.
Who of us would not want to be in this picture? Who wouldn’t want to be at the table with Jesus? What incredible intimacy! What generous companionship! What immense love and acceptance!
To remain in the closeness of this relationship with Jesus, we too are invited to be body broken and blood poured out for others. To remain in Jesus and Jesus in us, we are called to live as Jesus lived. Are we able to love all without exception, to heal the brokenness of others, to be compassionate, to include others at our table, to forgive, to denounce wrong-doing?
The readings, the lyrics of the hymns we sing, the intercessory prayers and the words of our Eucharistic prayers provide clues to how it is that each of us is called to be “flesh and blood” not only to those who celebrate Eucharist with us, but also all our sisters and brothers.
Do Not Grieve the Holy Spirit of God
This weekend’s readings ask us to search our hearts to discover what it is that might keep us from being the bread of life for others. What is it that disrupts the intense unity that Jesus desires for us? After all, the Eucharist, the bread of life—of everlasting life—is the gift of community and unity that we celebrate at each Mass.
Sometimes we need reminders of how we fall short in achieving that unity in ourselves, families, workplaces, communities, country, and the world. In the reading from Ephesians, the author spells out the activities that would “grieve” the Holy Spirit. Those behaviors or attitudes are bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, and malice.
We all learned the gifts or the fruits of the Holy Spirit when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation. We have a choice to collaborate with or to grieve the Spirit alive in the community. This weekend provides a time for us to do some self-examination, name the attitude or behavior to change, admit it, and finally to determine to get rid of it in our lives. We don’t want to frustrate the Spirit’s living influence in our lives. We don’t want to grieve the Spirit!
Wednesday is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation. Remember those? Here is a prayer from Jean Grant that addresses some of Mary’s wishes and dreams for us:
O Mary, you have told us in your many apparitions to pray for peace, through the use of the rosary. Calm the anger within many nations and world leaders. Guide us in extending the olive branch for peace to others. We come to you, today, with a sincere heart, and know that you, Mary, will not abandon us. Even when Jesus was not yet ready to begin his ministry at the wedding feast at Cana, you had faith and told the waiters to do as Jesus wished. Mary, help us to pray often. Bring back respect for others in our daily life. Guard the words that come from our mouths, and do not let us stand by when others are abused. So many people in the history of the world have put themselves above God and treated our world neighbors with disrespect. Protect the innocent children and faith-filled adults who continue to love your Son unconditionally. Amen.
And They Were Hungry
Jesus works miracles and feeds the multitudes. But like all meals, the filling food was great while it lasted, and then they were hungry again. So they go in search of Jesus to give them yet more signs, more miracles. Jesus tells them that he will give them lasting bread, living bread. He tells them, “I am the bread of life.”
Last week when we sang, “I Am the Bread of Life” by Steve Angrisano and Tom Booth, I reflected on the meaning of “I Am Who Am” as God’s gift of Jesus, present to all of us at that liturgy. Ordinary bread fills us for a short time. Jesus as the bread of life is continuous presence, continuous gift, continuous love of all.
The lyrics of the song are beautiful.
I am the Bread of Life, I am the hope in night, I am the door wide open, I am the shepherd’s might. I am the truth and light, I am the way and life, I Am Who Am and I am for you: Come and follow me.
I am bread for the world, hope for the hopeless. Come to me, and know that I’ll always be there with my arms open wide. I Am Who Am and I am for you: Come and follow me.
I give my heart to those in sorrow, I come to those who are in need; hope for today and for tomorrow, light for all who want to see.
These lyrics remind me of the action that love requires if we are being the Body of Christ to all we meet and encounter. We don’t just pray for the needs of our world and the needs of our neighbors. We also act. The Bread of Life in John’s gospel isn’t just Eucharist; it is also footwashing.
Footwashing reorients us. It places emphasis not only on ritual action, but also on acts of love, compassion, cooperation. connection, and community.
May our “hungers” be for the Bread that is living and lasting, overcoming hatred and division. And may our being fed include the feeding of others. Love changes everything!
To Be Enough
Have you ever had a shortage of anything? Food, time, energy, creativity, generosity? Do you ever feel like what you have to give just isn’t enough? And when you feel that it isn’t enough, that it won’t make a difference in the hugeness of the need, do you withhold what you have?
As you prepare for this Sunday’s Eucharist, imagine yourself as the boy in the Gospel story. Was it a difficult choice for the boy to offer his food when he didn’t know where or when he would have more? He could have hidden the food. But he didn’t. Something made him offer what he had and Jesus used a little to feed a lot. The lesson that the boy learned is that what he had is more than enough. God can multiply any offering!
Sometimes we depend on God to work miracles without us doing our part. For example, with all the starvation throughout the world, we might think that we can’t even begin to solve that problem. The miracle story this Sunday reminds us that when we help our neighbors and inspire others to do the same, there is the possibility of more than enough.
When we are tempted to hold back, when we are feeling a bit stingy or possessive of our time, our energy, or our material things, can we offer to God what we have and let God multiply our offering? Can we imagine how God might use what little we offer and put it to good use for the good of others?
Jesus asked the disciples to ensure that nothing was wasted, nothing thrown out. The crowds were fed and there were leftovers. There was more than enough. When what appeared to be too little was shared fairly and in solidarity with others, no one was deprived. Can we believe that? Can we live that?
Let’s remember that this Sunday when we are sent forth from Mass to live the Gospel. Can we share whatever we have—our food, our voices, our abilities, our talents for the good of the many? Can we be enough?
Although my family never had sheep, the idea of pastures applies to cows and horses too. Pastures are the rich feeding grounds for the sheep. Sometimes the sheep, like us, believe that the grass is greener on the other side. Sometimes we are lured, led astray. We aren’t satisfied with what we have and venture beyond the boundaries of commitments we have made. We stray from relationships, from family, from faith. Like sheep, we need verdant pastures and shepherds to stay grounded and connected.
Who can be a shepherd? What qualities does it take to be a shepherd? And what does a shepherd do? How can we avoid being “sheep without a shepherd?”
When we are lost, are we comfortable asking for directions? When we ask for advice, are we willing to listen and to follow?
Jeremiah tells us that there are shepherds among us who mislead and scatter the flock. And he also says the Lord, the God of Israel will bring them back to their meadow. Likewise, the psalmist reminds us that the Lord is our shepherd who leads us to verdant pastures and restful waters, to right paths.
Where is your pasture? Where does the Lord lead you? Where do you go to find repose and refreshment? And who are the shepherds who provide right direction in your life?
Jesus teaches all of us how to be a shepherd, a leader, a mediator. He invited his apostles to go away and rest with him for a while. A retreat, a time of quiet—anything that refreshes the mind, body, and spirit—is what the apostles needed. Only then were they able to be pastoral—to have their hearts moved with compassion for those who needed a shepherd.
We are the sheep of His flock! When we gather this weekend to spend time with Jesus, we learn of the depth of God’s love for each of us, a love that is merciful and compassionate. The Eucharist provides us with nourishment, instruction and the capacity to do what Jesus did—be compassionate shepherds to all the “strays” around us!
Imagine yourself in this scenario. You’ve been with Jesus for quite some time now. You’ve paid attention to all that has been going on. And now, Jesus is asking you to go out on mission. Could you do it? Could you go without any visible means of support, having only the companionship of one other person? Could you live depending on the total generosity of others for food, shelter, and any other support you might need?
This call to leave it all is a radical call. Not all of us are called to leave home and family to be itinerant missionaries. All we have to do is pack for one journey, whether it is a vacation, or a pilgrimage, or even work travel. We often realize that we pack too much! It is difficult to travel lightly; our decisions often depend on a feeling that we might need things, just in case! We are attached to things!
The invitation then is to begin practices of trust and detachment. Some would call it living simply.
What material comforts might Jesus be inviting us to leave behind in order to be a freer and more faithful disciple? What do you really need to go out into the world? Are we able to trust the companion on our journey and do we have the faith that God will provide? Can we begin to travel lightly? And what will we learn about ourselves and our dependence on God in the process?