We are busy preparing for our Parish Festival this Sunday, October 2, so we invite you to pray these two prayers and reflect on them. Our weekly reflections will return next week.
Woe to the Complacent
There was a rich man and a poor man. The poor man was Lazarus and the rich man—well, he was nameless. Surprised? Wouldn’t we expect it to be the other way around? The rich ones are seen and recognized with prominent names. They may even be famous. But in this case, the one who isn’t even supposed to be seen or heard from has the name. What a reversal! What a turning upside down!
We hear a description of where the two characters in the story were physically located and what happened to each one both on earth and in the afterlife. But did they actually ever talk to each other? Get to know each other? Is it only in the afterlife that they both realize how much they needed each other?
The reading from the prophet Amos begins with the words “woe to the complacent.” The story of the rich man and Lazarus illustrates just that. We can be totally oblivious to what is going on, to who yearns to break bread with us, to who yearns for connection. And what is the price we pay for this?
I haven’t gone back to the classic short book, The Little Prince by Antoine Saint Exupery, for quite some time. But when I began this reflection, I remembered the phrase “become responsible for” in the book. I googled the phrase and the title of the book and this is the dialogue that I discovered.
There is a chapter that finds the Little Prince unhappy and lonely. And then he meets a fox.
“Come and play with me,” he says to the fox.
“I cannot play with you,” the fox replies. “I am not tamed.”
“What does that mean — to tame?”
“It means to establish ties. To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world…please, tame me!”
“I want to, very much,” the Little Prince replied, “but I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” the fox said.
The Little Prince finally understands what the fox has been saying: To tame something means you’re investing time and energy in order to know it better. When this is achieved, you and this other thing become forever intertwined.
The opposite of complacency is connectedness—a realization that we need each other. And this is what the corporal works of mercy are all about. We feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick, bury the dead, and visit the imprisoned. We see them. We hear them. We do something!
For an end to our complacency, for this let us all work and pray.
Talk About Money
Would you be surprised to learn that 1/3 of Jesus’ parables talk about money? Jesus and Joseph probably had a small business in carpentry, earned an honest living, and used the money to feed the family. Jesus did not hate money or moneyed people, but he did challenge his followers to keep money in its proper place. God is God and money is money.
Where does our allegiance lie? What tempts us most to trust in possessions for security rather than putting our faith in God’s providence?
In a webinar that I attended this week, on assessing the readiness of catechumens to receive sacraments, the presenter kept using this discernment question. Am I being led toward God or away from God? Is what I am doing leading me toward God or away from God?
The reading from Amos calls us to continue to look at our business dealings and all of our dealings with people. Are we honest in these relationships? Are we using our gifts to call forth the best in each situation?
The Gospel calls us to use our gifts of intelligence and perception. It is our privilege and duty to exercise these gifts by keeping ourselves well informed in matters of the world and of faith. We are promised that we shall be welcomed into God’s kingdom if we use our gifts to build friendship and give life to our world.
How is my use of the gift of money building friendship and giving life? Is it leading me toward God or away from God?
Precious, treasured, and wanted—we all want confirmation that we matter. While we wander, LOVE awaits! This is the message Jesus communicates—no matter how lost, forgotten, or shunned we may be, love and compassion wait. Will we be the ones who live that love? With open arms? Will we call others home? Will we seek that “home” for ourselves? Or will we be the ones declaring that someone is not deserving of that love, that welcome, that home?
Jesus lived the compassion and love that welcomed everyone into his midst, into his circle, and into his way of life. He gave access to abundant life to persons who were denied the fullness of life or who had strayed. What would our world be like if we followed this example?
Who is a long way off in my life? How can I welcome with joy? Run to them? Embrace with complete acceptance? Am I willing to be an instrument of God’s mercy, compassion, and love?
In his book, The Church of Mercy, Pope Francis discusses the parable of the Prodigal Son. What can you do as part of the church of mercy to show all people that they are the closest thing to God’s heart?
Maybe someone among us here is thinking, my sin is so great, I am as far from God as the younger son in the parable; my unbelief is like that of Thomas. I don’t have the courage to go back, to believe that God can welcome me and that he is waiting for me, of all people.
But God is indeed waiting for you; he asks of you only the courage to go to him. How many times in my pastoral ministry have I heard it said, “Father, I have many sins”? And I have always pleaded, “Don’t be afraid, go to him, he is waiting for you, he will take care of everything.” We hear many offers from the world around us; but let us take up God’s offer instead: his is a caress of love. For God we are not numbers, we are important; indeed we are the most important thing to him. Even if we are sinners, we are what is closest to his heart.
Excerpted from The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis.
No Matter the Cost
“Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.” We know from other Gospel stories that not everyone answered the call of Jesus to be a disciple. Discipleship is costly! Although the word “possessions” suggests material things, we might also consider other kinds of possessions—the things that possess our thinking, our feeling, and our focus. What occupies space in our minds and in our hearts? What ideologies and ways of thinking about people living in poverty, immigrants and refugees, persons on death row, victims of domestic violence, transgender persons, law enforcement, elected officials, and the Catholic Church occupy space in our minds and in our hearts? Are some of them possessions or passions that need to be left behind in order to be a follower of Jesus?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship asks:
“Is there some part of your life which you are refusing to surrender at his behest, some sinful passion, maybe, or some animosity, some hope, perhaps your ambition or your reason? If so, you must not be surprised that you have not received the Holy Spirit, that prayer is difficult, or that your request for faith remains unanswered.”
As a pastor, Bonhoeffer worked actively against the Nazis in the country he loved. In doing this, he followed a Christ he loved more than his country or his life. For this, he was executed. I wonder how many of us have the courage today to take this kind of stand, a stand that he held boldly: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act.”
For this courage, we work and we pray: Lord, you ask much! We also know that you do not abandon us to our own devices. Spirit of love, enflame our hearts for courage and bravery and strength. You ask us to be willing to follow you no matter the cost. Thank you for firing our hearts and leading us forward.
Stay Humble and Kind
How do you understand humility? According to the dictionary, humility is “the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people.” The word humility is derived from humilis, which means lowly—literally on the ground—and from the Latin humus which means earth.
I’d like to think of humility as meaning “down to earth.” And down to earth suggests real “grounding” or connectedness to the essence of what gives life. For me, humility is recognizing that every good in myself is a gift from God and is meant to be given back to the Lord by being shared with others.
Our coming together, our gathering for Eucharist is an opportunity to name our gifts and to say, “Thank you, Lord!” It is also an opportunity to name our limitations and to say, “Teach me, Lord.”
Grounding ourselves in humility is acknowledging our gifts, owning our limitations, and mingling with all people. Who will you choose to “mingle with” who is not already someone you share life with? What can you do to become more grounded and more connected with others?
Discipline, Not Entitlement
This weekend’s readings are all about the narrow gateway. For anyone who thinks they are entitled to entry into the kingdom, the Hebrew people were reminded that it takes discipline. There are no special darlings or teacher’s pets! There are no claims to “I knew you when…” Or remember me when…” There is no riding the coat tails of grandma or grandpa who were known to Jesus who offer immediate passes. (I have a brother who used to tell his friends that he had a pass because he has a “nun sister.”) Healing what is weak is the goal of this discipline. And each person is responsible for her or his relationship with God or with Jesus.
Training for any endurance race or test is all about building up strength. Practicing good habits helps—healthy eating, adequate rest, appropriate plans for building up endurance. These are the disciplines needed for physical endurance, for physical races.
What is the discipline needed for endurance and strength in our spiritual lives? What kind of healthy habits are we growing in our reading, our praying, and our participation in spiritual strength exercise? Who are our companions, our guides, and those who accompany us in that strength-building? How are our families the sources of strength and discipline for us?
What is the key for each of us to get through the narrow gate? I think the key is LOVE! So what are we doing to strengthen those “love muscles”? How are we helping others to get through the gate?
“I have come to set the earth on fire.”
Images of fire and division are troubling. They seem to be ever-present in our world and in our communities. And those are the images we hear about in our readings this weekend. Jesus’ statement that he has come to bring fire upon the earth might best be understood as some type of purification or refinement that needs to take place. Most of us are likely to prefer the image of a gentle, tender, and caring Jesus to the one presented here. The reality, however, is that to be a follower of Jesus means that we must make many difficult choices, choices that will not always be popular with friends and family.
When people do God’s will, other people sometimes react angrily or even violently. Jeremiah was thrown into a well. Jesus was crucified. Joan of Arc was burned to death. Oscar Romero was shot dead at Mass. Countless missionaries have been killed when they witness the Gospel and confront oppressive, dictatorial authority.
Some of Jesus’ followers suffered scorn and rejection by family members. Are there ways in which family members and/or friends make it hard for you to follow Christ? What must you do to bravely but lovingly hold fast to your faith even when it causes tension and division between you and someone you love?
Courage and perseverance come from life shared in celebrating the Eucharist in community each weekend and in being Christ for each other. Listen here:
God’s Open Door Policy
Jesus says to be “vigilant” and “be ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” What does that look like? Feel like? God knocking on my door? Where do we discover God knocking on doors? When do we acknowledge that it is God who is knocking on our door—or the door of our heart, mind, or spirit?
A door can be open or shut. Most of us lock our doors for safety from intruders, for privacy, or to not be disturbed. It’s a way of separating or dividing space, distinguishing the function of the pace–like the rooms in our house. Perhaps you are thinking of other functions of a door.
Think of some of the expressions we hear or use that refer to doors. “My door is always open!”—to indicate that others are always welcomed into my space. “How can I open some doors for you?”—to pave the way for a new relationship. “When one door shuts, another one opens”—to leave room for new possibilities after initial “shut out.”
Pope Francis continues to preach: “Open wide the doors of mercy.” Where is God knocking on doors in our hearts, in our physical spaces, in our ways of thinking, in our patterns of being and acting? Where is mercy most needed? Who is in most need of mercy?
It’s not an “open or shut” case anymore. Or is it? For whom and to whom am I opening doors immediately? Who am I shutting out? Avoiding?
In what ways am I being called to be vigilant? What doors can I be opening immediately? How do I recognize that it is God knocking?
Greed, Gratitude, and Generosity
Luke’s Gospel invites us to reflect on our attitudes towards things/stuff, possessions, and money. Do these things ever cause us to worry or be anxious? What are the sources of that worry or anxiety? What is it that always has us seeking more? Something bigger and better? To what end? I am often reminded of something Raul Jimenez, the founder of the San Antonio Thanksgiving Dinner, said. “You never see a U-Haul at the back of a hearse.” That attitude led him to gratitude and generosity.
For some people, it’s easy to mistake an accumulation of possessions as a sign of God’s love. The truer sign isn’t having, but spending-spending every day in the love of God, and showing that love in all that we do.
How does one become “rich in what matters to God,” as Jesus’s parable recommends? What does it mean to grow rich in the sight of God? In the Psalm Response this weekend we pray, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.” We pray for that wisdom!
Listen to “These Alone Are Enough For Me” here: