The Power to Speak
“Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” As we sing this refrain from Psalm 104 this weekend, are we ready for the wind and the fire, the presence of the Holy Spirit among us? Most of the time, we hold firm or lean into the wind to resist being blown over. We run from fire or do everything we can to put it out. But in the Acts of the Apostles, the wind—the breath of God—and the fire—the tongues of fire that led to common understanding—lead us to overcome our fear and to work to renew the face of the earth.
Like the disciples, we receive the gifts of wisdom, understanding, right judgment, courage, knowledge, reverence and awe in God’s presence. We receive them in a special way at the reception of the sacrament of Confirmation. Pentecost reminds us that we have those gifts; perhaps it is time to open them! Perhaps it is time to use them for the benefit of ourselves and others!
The coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples changed their fear into power, the power to speak with great courage and freedom. That same Spirit is dynamic and constant in all of life. Are we confident enough to invite the Spirit to work through us and in us to change things that need changing—to renew the face of the earth? Climate crisis? Hunger? Living wages? Immigration? Gun violence? Racial bias? Human trafficking?
When the Holy Spirit came, all began to speak different languages. And they all understood! In our community, we also speak different languages. We do that when we don’t see things the same way. We speak different languages in expressing love and affection. Do we understand? Do we seek to understand? Or do we hide, barricaded with only those who speak the same language? Do we believe in the promise of unity among God’s people, brought together by the power of the Spirit?
At home, in our families, at work, at school, in our neighborhoods, in our city, and in our parish, where and when and how is God’s Spirit offering us wisdom to change our perceptions of “the other”? Understanding to curb our denial of racism, sexism, and ageism? Right judgment in the face of bad choices? Courage to do and say what I fear doing and saying? Knowledge to open our minds and hearts to truth? Reverence to help us to love what is pure and beautiful? Awe in God’s presence?
The gifts are in our presence. They are all here. Gifts are intended to be opened! Gifts are meant to keep giving! Let us rejoice in the gifts of the Holy Spirit!
The Lord is Near to the Brokenhearted
This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. “Jesus Christ, having entered the sanctuary of heaven once and for all, intercedes constantly for us as the mediator who assures of the permanent outpouring of the Holy Spirit” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 667). Jesus, no longer confined to one place on earth, can now be near to the brokenhearted everywhere because of his Ascension. We mourn with the community in Uvalde, Texas over the recent heartbreaking loss of innocent human life. Even amidst this tragedy, however, Jesus’ Ascension shines a bright light in the darkness. “Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, precedes us into the Father’s glorious kingdom so that we, the members of his Body, may live in the hope of one day being with him for ever” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 666).
The victims of the shooting in Uvalde are now in the place Jesus has prepared for them in God’s kingdom. May perpetual light shine upon them, and may they rest in peace. And may our mother, Mary, who stood at the cross of her dying son, intercede for all who are grieving and bring them comfort.
Fr. Tony offered this prayer during his homily the day after the shooting at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022.
The tragedy of frequent mass shootings is placing a spotlight on violence in general and school shootings in particular. NFCYM has resources available at https://nfcym.org/resources/topics/resources-on-violence/ to assist in the conversations, reflections, and prayers for the victims of violence in our society.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Oh, how I need to hear those words Jesus spoke to his disciples! There is so much in this world, in our community, and in my family that troubles my heart. What is troubling yours?
Can you imagine Jesus softly, tenderly saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid?” And then he reassures us: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” How is the Holy Spirit teaching us these days? How is the Holy Spirit speaking? What reminders do we have of what Jesus would do? How are we witnesses to the teachings of Jesus?
In our weekly listening sessions for the Synod, we pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit among us, to inspire us, and to give us reminders of what Jesus taught us about living as a community of believers. As we listen to the Holy Spirit, we are giving voice to many of the things that trouble our hearts. And we look to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, to give us the courage to advocate for others.
The following meditation and prayer are attributed in part to Sister Joan Chittister:
The Holy Spirit embodies the life force of the universe, the power of God, the animating energy present in all things and captured by none. On this great feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Spirit of God, we pray:
May the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
bring fire to the earth
so that the presence of God
may be seen
in a new light,
in new places,
in new ways.
May our own hearts
burst into flame
so that no obstacle,
no matter how great,
ever obstructs the message
of the God within each of us.
May we come to trust
the Word of God in our hearts,
to speak it with courage,
to follow it faithfully
and to fan it to flame in others.
Give me, Great God,
a sense of the Breath of Spirit
within me. Amen.
(Adapted from a prayer by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB)
Where Love is Found
The word “glorify” is found five times in this Sunday’s Gospel of John. It’s not a word that I use very often. Perhaps for most of us, it is a “churchy” word—one that lacks meaning or relevance in our lives. Perhaps we think that it is a word to describe only the relationship between Jesus and the Father.
The word “glorify” might be difficult for us. Perhaps it is because we are experiencing so much of its opposite—denigration, making others seem worthless, finding dirt on someone, smearing their reputation, seeing and treating someone as less than human. I don’t know about you, but I never look forward to political campaigns during times of electing new leaders. When do we hear an opposing candidate singing the praises of his or her opponent? Even the word opponent is adversarial! Sometimes we use the word “challenger.”
I have not been to a “Pep Rally” in quite some time, so I don’t know what happens at those. I do remember when we made rules about the “cheers” and the words we used in speaking about the rival team. Do you remember the verbs we used? Eventually the rule—the discipline to keep civility—became this: You can only encourage your own team to do their best. No talk of the obliteration of the other team!
To glorify is to lift up, to think the best of another, to wish the other well! It is an imitation and an obedience to the commandment to love one another. Perhaps honoring our mother’s last week and our father’s in a few weeks reminds us of what it means to “honor” others.
As we approach our Sunday experience of community and as we approach both the hearing of The Word and the table of the Eucharist, let’s focus on where love is found! This our formation in what it means to “glorify” in imitation of the relationship between Jesus and the Father. They’ll truly know that we are Christians by our love!
Listen to a video presentation of Dan Schutte’s musical creation, “Where Love Is Found,” here:
Becoming Good at Shepherding
Voices! So many voices! To which ones do I listen? Jesus is very clear “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” The sheep follow the shepherd because they know his voice. The first voice that most of heard was that of our mother’s, even before we were born. We knew that voice. We had heard it before!
Do we know the voice of Jesus? How can we get to know it better? How can we grow in our relationship with Jesus so that we too hear his voice, recognize his voice, and generously respond or act?
As we fully, consciously, and actively participate in the Eucharistic meal this weekend in the company of so many who make up our St. Francis flock, let’s recognize and hear the voice of Jesus in our singing, in our praying, in our hearing the Word of God, and in the greetings and smiles of all who gather. And may our “going forth” continue the work of the Good Shepherd—caring for, tending, and being good at bringing others closer to God.
Listen to Bob Hurd’s invitations to becoming good at shepherding.
Come, Have Breakfast
I can’t think of a more welcoming invitation than “Come, have breakfast.” That is just the kind of tenderness and care that awakens our spirit, that has us recognize that Jesus is alive among us. He wants us to be that comfortable.
So as we listen to the Gospel this weekend, let’s reflect on the other invitations Jesus offers us: cast your nets, come and eat, tend my lambs, follow me. Imagine that you are responding to these invitations. Our responses to these invitations are all ways that we give nourishment and care to others.
When we share a meal this weekend, when we pray the traditional mealtime prayer, let’s pause and give thanks to God for all the ways that we are called to nourish and be nourished, to give and to receive, to be grateful for all the ways God loves and blesses us. May we say grace and be grace:
Bless us, O Lord, and these your gifts which we are about to receive from your bounty through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
And may our celebration of the Eucharistic meal this weekend acknowledge our great desire to live the Resurrection with Jesus, with him but in the Church, with the sacraments, with the faithful holy people of God.
How do we sustain Easter joy and belief beyond one weekend? Our readings are filled with images of fear and images of healing. Locked doors! Fear! Doubt! Peace! Touching wounds! Mercy! Healing! Breath! The Holy Spirit! How often do we place ourselves behind locked doors? We act out of fear and a search for security. Locked doors are our defenses, barricades between us as persons.
I am thinking about all the times I have experienced a freedom from fear, times when I have seen, heard, and/or touched the wounds of persons who are “behind closed doors” or fearful for their lives, their security, their reputation. Like Thomas, I needed to know, I needed to feel, I needed to experience the wounds of someone I loved and cared about. The first time someone “came out” to me as gay. The first time I realized that the color of my skin, or the first time being a “Sister” gave me privileges others did not have. My current experiences with our black Sisters and Brothers at Macedonia Baptist Church on the West Side of San Antonio. It takes relationships, a recognition that we are all human beings, created in the image and likeness of God to “touch and be touched” by such experiences. By virtue of being created by God, we are all related! So my greeting to others, even when they are very different from me, might always be, “Hello, Relatives.” I heard that salutation from Father Brian Massingale and ever since then, it works for me. Try it!
Jesus’s desire for us is to not be afraid. Jesus greets us with “Peace be with you!” A prayer suggestion: Use these or similar words. “From (name something such as fear or envy or bitterness) release me, Lord. Fill me with your Spirit of peace.” Use your hands beginning with clenched fists when you name your fear or something that binds you. When you pray for peace, open your hands. Jesus used breath in his pouring out of the Spirit on those gathered in that closed room. It reminds us of how God breathed life into God’s creation of the first human beings. May the breath of the Spirit continue to bring new life—Easter joy that is lived in our thoughts, words, and actions. May it be so!
by Tamara Hill Murphy, Texas
that day / the dark room
to concoct buttoned down,
in our minds.
While we lingered bolted-in,
shut-up / You
breezed past barricade as One
hole-pocked / exhaled
absolution, a hot gust
peace be with you;
materialized new –
as Yourself / awake & alive
after the woman’s claim
you spoke her name.
afraid / our fingers
traced your split side
‘til we inhaled
Your closer breathing,
our truer air.
Three days of remembrance! Three days of community! Three days of immense meaning that elicit deep emotions! Today I borrow some reflections from Catholic Women Preach.
Holy Thursday—Do we see, as we look at our table, not only who is there, but who is not there? Who is not invited? Who is invited but cannot gain access? What do these same questions say about our St. Francis community?
Good Friday—For those gifted by God with black skin, it is the abiding faith and trust in the Blood poured out that day on Calvary that allowed our ancestors and elders the confidence to believe and trust that their help cometh from the Lord. In the Jim Crow South, the burning cross has no power over the cross of Calvary. What crosses have we experienced in life, not only ours but also those of others we know? What role does our faith play in “facing” or seeing like we never have before? How do we respond to those who bear crosses stemming from fear of the other, hate, or the need for power and control?
Easter—Today is the day we resurrect our dreams, our faith, our peace, whatever it is we have buried. How are we experiencing “new life” all around us? What still needs to come out of our tombs? What will it take to roll away the stone? When do our words and actions proclaim “He is Risen”?
The Journey to the Cross
The Hosanna’s that greet Jesus in his procession through Jerusalem are celebrations of all the wondrous deeds, the merciful and compassionate acts of Jesus throughout his ministry. Jesus acted in response to the other “hosannas” that asked “Please, Lord, please save us! Please Lord, give us success!” Jesus heard their cries and laments. Jesus healed and restored dignity to those who were kept away, shunned, discounted, excluded, mocked, and bullied.
Is it no wonder then that those who were marginalized, but seen and healed by Jesus, are exactly the ones who accompany Jesus on his journey to the cross, on his way to his death? These companions included the women, Simon, and the good thief. What does this tell you about Jesus? Those who needed him most, those who did not have daily or weekly access, were the ones who stayed and ministered to him. They did not run, fall asleep, or cower in fear! They stayed!
The women who weep, the women who stand at the foot of the cross, who provide the burial anointing and who experience Jesus’ first appearance after his resurrection are all staying companions on the journey.
This week, spend some time thinking about people who are experiencing their own crosses, the suffering of the most desperate kind—torture, helplessness, rape, mutilation, death, and destruction all around them. What are the Ukrainians saying to us as they confront injustice? What injustice do we feel strongly about? What are we willing to do to make it right? Jesus went to the cross because he challenged the status quo. Isaiah says, “Morning after morning, he opens my ear that I may hear.” What cries are we hearing? The cries of Ukraine? Of starving people? Of our planet in crisis? Of racial injustice?
Throwing Stones or Dropping Them
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” No one knows the whole story. Who was she? And what was her life like? What made it such that she would risk death by seeking comfort in another man’s bed? We don’t know!
Another unnamed woman, another accused of breaking the law, of sinning, is presented to Jesus to test him. They are ready to stone her to death—an awful way to die! But Jesus stops them. They are a mob, thinking and acting like a mob. Jesus singles them out, one by one, asking who will be the “first” to cast a stone. And they leave one by one. Personal introspection leads to a different ending. The woman lives to see NEW LIFE! No one condemned her.
Two thousand years later, how are we the mob gathered to cast stones? What mobs do we become part of? How do we test authorities in demanding punishment? In what ways do we cast stones? Who are the persons we target?
When our hands are full of stones, even one stone, we are held back from showing love and mercy. The stones we hold are gossip, envy, jealousy, holding grudges, name-calling, exclusion. When we think of what Jesus would do, do we drop the stones, one by one, realizing that God’s love and mercy include everyone! Even the one that is ME!
We don’t know the whole story?