Worth Revisiting: The People of God

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Ever wonder how the winds of change of Vatican II are reflected in the later reform of canon law? Perhaps for the laity, one of the most interesting connections can be found in the highlighted principal of the “People of God” in Lumen Gentium within the fullness of the Church’s life and mission.

From a cursory glance at Vatican II, the understanding that one gains of the “People of God” is a pastoral description of “what it means to belong to the Church and, in particular, how lay Christians are called to ‘be in the world but not of it’ as good citizens of the City of God.’” It does not just denote an individual’s relationship to God but what it is to be brought “together as one people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness” (LG, 9). It is an invitation to be enjoined in a covenantal relationship with God, united in Christ, and guided by the Holy Spirit (LG, 9).

This term is inclusive of the entire body of Christ, the laity, religious and holy orders. All through baptism are considered among the ‘faithful’ members of the church, ordained and not, who through their respective vocations and reception of the sacraments seek to participate in the Christ’s mission in the world. (LG, 11) Similarly defined, canon law describes the people of God as those baptized, having been “incorporated in Christ” and “made sharers of the priestly, prophetic, and kingly missions of Christ’ (c. 204 § 1). In their ‘profession of faith and participation in the sacraments through the Church the Christian faithful enjoy full communion with Christ’s church on earth’ (c. 205). Therefore we see that within the community of the people of God there are differing extents to which one’s incorporation is enjoyed.

Following this description of the faithful we are given in Canon 207 the distinction between the ordained sacred minister, also known as “cleric”, and the non-ordained “lay person” (c. 207 § 1). While there are those from both groups who share in their commitment to the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience, only the ordained belong to the hierarchical structure of the church (c. 207 § 2). Accordingly, those who profess vows through a religious institution are deemed as religious, whereas members of more secular institutions making sacred bonds are considered laity. Based upon their designation or appointment to an ecclesial office, the non-ordained may be given additional obligations or responsibilities. Each does, however, in this respect contribute to the overall holiness and life of the Church. All Christian faithful, by virtue of the diversity of their gifts are called within their vocation to the “building up of the Body of Christ” (c. 208) and its continual sanctification (c.210).

Lumen Gentium addresses this distinction in noting the ontological difference and degree of commitment between those who serve in the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood. Priests serving in persona Christi , serve Christ and the Church as a whole making “present the Eucharistic sacrifice”, of which the faithful “join in” and are strengthened by. (LG, 10) In receiving and participating in this Eucharistic sacrifice, those belonging to the ministerial and common priesthood “manifest in a concrete way the unity of the People of God”(LG 11, 1).Thus, each group is “interrelated… and each in its own way shares in the one priesthood of Christ”. (LG, 10)

With the decline in vocations to the priesthood in recent years, much discussion has surrounded the increasing participation of the laity within the life of the Church. In light of the above consideration of Canon law 207 and Lumen Gentium, several thoughts emerge. First, we as faithful are continually invited to step forward and participate more fully in the life of the Church. Secondly, for those in lay ecclesial positions, who have chosen to accept more responsibility in the church, we are reminded to call forth the gifts of others as well. Finally, as the people of God we have been given a sacred duty to encourage, through our faithful witness of the Gospel, new vocations to the priesthood. Each of these has been found to be essential in promulgating the faith and participating in a community enlivened by the Gospel.

Reflect:

How might I be called to use my gifts more fully in the life of the Church? Am I also praying for and encouraging vocations both to the priesthood and for an increase in the work of the laity?

Peace,

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Worn and Weathered

Physically and mentally exhausted, and having just navigated through a harried drive home I slumped through the door. Admittedly this extroverted people loving person was not in the mood to be in community for the rest of the evening. Yet, since being a wife and a mother total isolation is never a true viable option, I needed a plan b. Unfortunately I had determined, this master plan would have to wait as dinner would not make itself.

As I worked, however, I began to reflect on the days prior and just how I had found myself in this unpleasant state. I had allowed project deadlines, emails and unexpected conversations to wear my customarily sweet disposition down its foundation. Truthfully, I was beginning to feel much like the weathered statue of Mary that sat in my backyard looked. Though clearly resembling the beautiful image of Mary, time and environment had chipped her exterior paint and weathered parts of her revealing a rough texture underneath. Well loved and remaining a figure of grace, humility and faithfulness she had endured many a New England winter. Accordingly, she needed a new coat of paint and a grotto again and I could not help but see that I too needed the same.

“For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock” Psalm 27:5

This is when I remembered my spiritual director’s advice.

It’s ok, in fact necessary, for each one of us to take time away to get away and be with God. Scripturally, time and time again we see Jesus seek this respite to pray, connect and renew with his Father. (Mark 1:35, Mark 14:39Luke 5:16 , Matthew 14:23 , Luke 6:12) And while I am certain he considered the apostles good friends, perhaps he also needed this time to discern how best to lead them given their unique personalities, gifts and limitations.  Whether it be a desert, mountain top, or seaside the demands of the world around us compel us to find this space in the midst of our daily life.

We, like Jesus, need this time to care for our soul so that we can begin to love others as God loves us.  While the conversation might entail a good deal of self righteous complaining, without a doubt I usually discover moments where I have missed the mark that day. Things said or thought out of frustration instead of prayerfully considering. Instances where I lacked compassion or allowed the circumstances to steal my joy and peace.

Yet, God does not seek us to remain in a state of desolation over these misgivings but in prayer is there to guide us to learn and discern. Here God speaks, a burning flame reminding us how very much we are loved and his promise to always be with us. Lovingly leading us from a darkened state of exhaustion and frustration, to an openness to assent to the life he has planned.

“Today Father I seek to rest in your embrace. I offer up all of my concerns, irritations, sorrows, hopes and fears. I know that you can handle all of these and oh so much more. A brokenness made beautiful and whole. You love me as I am, yet call me to an incredible life in You. Thank you Father, for this time to be recreated anew. Lead me now to serve you with a renewed purpose and a spirit of joy!”

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: When You Should Be Saying No?

Today, perhaps you find that you had  much rather be saying yes to the many things that come your way than even contemplating the word no. Maybe, you do so out of a well intended desire to please others, or the thrill  from successfully multitasking a multitude of tasks. And still, though your yes may result in a benefit for yourself, your family, friends, or community does not mean that it is still the answer that God may have intended for you to give.

This is not an easy message for us as Christians, who are trained to offer our time and talents to the service of those placed within our care. We take the scripture from Romans 12 urging us all to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” and neglect to heed the verses to follow:

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Discernment isn’t an add on when we find ourselves confused as to what path to take but it is essential in every choice we make. Even those opportunities which are in themselves good and promise to be fruitful. Take a moment to consider, if you will, whether you are inviting God into each of your decision making moments or just some of them. If not, why not?

Pride

Ah, yes..that clever and insidious sin of pride. It creeps into even the smallest of places leaving us thinking foolishly that we are the only the only ones that can complete a task or the best one to do so.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Thus, inevitably we must prayerfully discern why we feel that our yes is needed and be careful not to take on a project out of pride. But wait..you mean someone else might be called to take on a challenge, or be given gifts to fit the purpose?

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another..” Romans 12: 1-21

We are not being asked to do it all ourselves but in fact, are to call forth the gifts in our brothers and sisters to build up the body of Christ. Those around us do not always see their own gifts and releasing our own prideful motivation allows God to move others into action. It also permits each one of us to glimpse God actively at work as the best human resource manager and project manager for this world in which we live in.

People Pleasing

So, maybe we do not feel we are the best qualified, are already over committed or not really inclined to take on a task but do so because we would like to say yes to the person who has asked. This is not a good motivation either yet admittedly is an easy trap for the kind hearted Christian. In parish ministry we often find the same people being called upon time and time again. They want to be helpful and usually are, but offer a yes when honestly it should be a no. Then later, burned out and tasked beyond reason they leave serving because there simply is no more to give. Recognizing your own need to renew and refill is a valid and essential reason to say no. While initially difficult to do, as well as an adjustment for the one asking it may be the right answer. In making space for quality  prayer time and detachment from the reaction or approval of others we can begin to see that  God’s approval is the only one that matters.

Reflect:

Is there a decision in my day today that I might not be needed to say yes to? Have I invited God into the task? Would others be better served by my no?  

Peace,Signature

Worth Revisiting: Ecumenism

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With the aspiration of Ecumenism, to be a shared understanding in promoting dialogue and unity within faith, can it be said that there is visible unity? What can be learned from our differences? Likewise, what shape does this take and would be the direction of such a vision?

On the Need for Ecumenism

Something that is becoming clear to me over the years is the necessity for a definitive place for Ecumenism in our understanding and practice of the way of being church. Perhaps this is in part due to my appreciation of the Holy Spirit in Vatican II, an exposure to different languages, cultures and faiths or my own conversion itself. More than likely it is all of these, which engages me to appreciate the beauty of our diverse faith understandings and yet recognize the unity in our uplifted praise of our almighty and every loving God. Still, in order to understand ecumenism as a church in this light, we are then compelled to have a better comprehension of our own faith before we can seek to know more of those who hold different faith perspectives. To do otherwise is to share a inadequate understanding or even a dimly lit candle of ambivalence to the reason we are Catholic. This is indeed a challenging task as we immediately notice the increasing need for faith formation in all ages and across all cultures. For, no longer can we see faith formation ending upon Confirmation, but indeed there is a need for new “ardor, methods, and expression” in the continual formation of us as followers of Christ.

 Yet, how do we encourage an openness to learning more about and fostering a sense of unity among our Christian brothers and sisters?

As Finnish theologian Kärkkäinen observes, it isn’t that we are “creating unity between the churches, but rather to give form to the unity already created by God”. [1]  If we are both certain in our faith, and comfortable in expressing our own to others authentically and respectfully then this is I believe a good beginning.  One beautiful outcome of this is seen in the commitment as a church to “fulfill its essential nature” in mission.[2]

In my experiences both as a Protestant and as a Catholic, I have witnessed occasions of this being done well. Growing up, I lived in a small impoverished community in the South that often found itself racially divided. What united us was our poverty and there came a time when this call also visibly united us as a people of faith. It began with churches like my own filling specific dire needs, and blossomed into a united response across all faiths in first setting up a food and clothing bank. In its overflow, we experienced unity in shared prayer breakfasts, leadership planning, home visits and the personal faith response from the people. Each faith brought the best of itself, whether it be a welcoming space, music, bibles, or hearts filled with the Holy Spirit. What won more hearts to God, was seen not in “segregation, but (felt) in a congregation constituted in divine love” who met God’s people where they needed it most. [3]

I thought of this most recently as I sat at a table surrounded by men and women leaders of faith discussing the local situation of sanctuary cities, and increase in drug addictions and dire need for pastoral response. 2013 brought an even broader experience of ecumenism that transcended beyond Christianity to humanity, with the Boston marathon bombings in April. In one of many interfaith services, over 2,000 people attended the Healing Our City service held at Holy Cross to honor those who had lost their lives and more than 260 who had been injured by the bombings. Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Jewish, and Muslims joined in solidarity to address the attacks that “shook people from complacency to service”. What we witnessed in the direct aftermath were people using their training as doctors, nurses, ministers, fire fighters and soldiers to assist others with little regard for their own safety. Then, as seen here, we felt God’s love that witnessed to the “Spirit of love, concerned for the good of God and human beings” surpassing “that of a single community”. [4]

What then of our differences?

As Kärkkäinen seems to indicate, as Christians we have far more in common than that which divides us. We hold true to the ‘understanding of the Trinity, the sacredness of scripture and the creeds, the importance of the Eucharist, and teachings of the apostles’.[5] Yet, we differ on our understandings of ‘leadership of episcopacy and papacy, and the emphasis of individual and collective priesthood’. Our expressions of worship likewise show differences in emphasis toward an indispensible priority and structure of the sacraments to freedom of “faith response and flexibility of church models”.[6] It seems apparent to me, that in the years following Vatican II, we have learned much from each other, and could at times be said to be a visible unified community. We cannot, however, assume that visible unity means “uniformity”[7] but rather a “certain but imperfect communion” of a church united and sharing in the “reality” of the spirit of Christ.[8]

See also: DECREE ON ECUMENISM UNITATIS REDINTEGRATIO

Have you ever sought a more certain witness to someone who in sharing their faith asked you about yours? If so, what is needed to better assist you? What ways do you see ecumenism in your own community sharing in the love of Christ?

Peace,

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[1] Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. An Introduction to Ecclesiology. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove. (November 2, 2002). p. 85.
[2] p.151.
[3] P.152.
[4] p.89.
[5] p.84.
[6] p.91.
[7] P.84.
[8] P.87.

Where We Are Meant To Be

 

Lately, I have found myself marveling once again at the way God can lead us in our ordinary day if we are receptive and listening. Whether it be an unplanned event, conversation, or the bedside of a friend- unimaginable grace and surprises await when we simply say yes to God’s movement in our day. Sometimes even God will give our souls an extra nudge to encourage our lazy spiritual dispositions when it is particularly important. Perhaps most amazing is when your examen leads you to realize that, because you had in fact listened, you had been truly blessed.

Before I lay down to sleep one night last week, I heard so clearly in prayer how God had intended the following day to go. Admittedly, I had wanted to sleep in the next day but God was asking me to listen. So, having hurried to make it to Mass I slid in a pew near the back with communion pyx in hand. From that moment on, there was such peace, and intentionality found with everything that I was encounter that day. To no surprise, I ran into someone who I hadn’t seen in a year who had unexpectedly thought of me that morning and decided to go to Mass. Then was the hospital visit for a very dear priest friend of mine, who despite the circumstances remains a fountain of peace and inner joy. As we spoke and prayed the Our Father together I could not help but wonder who was receiving the greater blessing, him or I.

Throughout my day, that God had planned, there were many more sacred moments that had I been recalcitrant I indeed would have missed. Whatever you do, you cannot go wrong by turning over your day and giving God the lead. Below is a prayer that echoes this idea of receptivity and discernment and can be especially fruitful first thing in the morning.

Prayer for Choosing a State of Life

From all eternity, O Lord, you planned my very existence and my destiny. You wrapped me in your love in baptism and gave me the faith to lead me to an eternal life of happiness with you. You have showered me with your graces and you have been always ready with your mercy and forgiveness when I have fallen. Now I beg you for the light I so earnestly need that I may find the way of life in which lies the best fulfillment of your will. Whatever state this may be, give me the grace necessary to embrace it with love of your holy will, as devotedly as your Mother did your will. I offer myself to you now, trusting in your wisdom and love to direct me in working out my salvation and in helping others to know and come close to you, so that I may find my reward in union with you for ever and ever. Amen.

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Asceticism as Spiritual Discipline

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Is there a case  to be made for the continuing relevance of the “monastic-generated” tradition of asceticism (“spiritual training or exercise”) in Christianity beyond monastery walls to all members of the churches, particularly when it is understood comprehensively as “spiritual discipline(s)” and not narrowly as “a life of exceeding self-denial” ?

When considered amidst the everyday realities of life, I happen to believe that the practices of asceticism or spiritual disciplines take on a particular relevance for our time. While most of us perhaps are not disposed to a total life of self denial, there is immense merit in seeking order, centeredness, and being open to God’s presence in our lives. In a world that often strives, or so it seems, to ascribe the attributes of beauty, intelligence, position, and wealth, or lack thereof -what a gift it is for our souls to discover who we really are! That is to shed all opinions and titles other than how God might call us, “Elizabeth, child of God”. In this way, we are both humbled in all of our preconceived notions of self, and yet raised to see how wonderful it is to be made in the image of God!
It is here that we recognize the importance of prayer, for this is how we come to be familiar with the voice of our Abba, and to know that whatever the world perceives of us that each of us have been divinely special, and loved dearly. God’s opinion, and concerns then can be seen more clearly and put in the right order as first and centermost in our lives. I believe, therefore that this practice of asceticism, of prayer, perhaps helps us to understand how to go about and truly practice the other disciplines. It is true, that place of prayer is important because, at least initially, it must be one that encourages us to limit some of the outside distractions of life. For me, I find that daily mass or morning reflection provides this time for me to center myself in God. Oh, how often I have found myself actually rushing in the mornings to find that time with God, and heard myself let out a visible sigh of thankfulness!
As for fasting, and abstinence they too are important when we consider the “why” or the purpose for this practice in our own lives. Too often, I believe that we as a church could do a better job at teaching and emphasizing the deeper intentions. Without this, the “Rice Bowl” or almsgiving box simply becomes a collection device during Lent for all the times we break our renewed intention to God. On the contrary, I believe it is important to ask ourselves each time, why am I fasting or abstaining? Is it to be in solidarity and to understand if for but a day what others in poverty feel every day? Or is it for an intention that I hold in my heart and desire for God to know its importance in my life and request for help?
This brings us to the immense value of works of love, mercy and justice when they are sourced in Christ, and practiced in community. This is not to say that other faiths cannot and have not practiced similar works of mercy. Rather, as a Christian community they are essential, in changing our perspective from that of the world to recognizing Christ in others, and actually in being Christ in the world. These athletic exercises or practices are our warm-up so to speak for the real thing- that is for the kingdom of God. How can we say, “Put me in Coach!” if we haven’t shown up for practice?

 What do you think?  Is asceticism still relevant in our time?  Why?  Why not?

Peace,

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Our Journey through the Sacraments


The other day I was having a conversation once again with a friend of mine who is the parent of a teen who was now experiencing  a conflict about her daughter’s unwillingness to attend church. Her daughter argued that she,

“does not need to go to church or receive the sacraments to experience God in her life because she experiences God in creation. Further that  church is boring and most of the people who attend are hypocrites anyway”.

This certainly is not the first time many of us have become acquainted with this perspective,  and yet how would we both address the daughter’s concerns and that of her parents?  

It must be noted that this discussion fully involves the skill of listening, even more so than providing a correct answer. Allowing each a chance to be heard, to articulate their concern is the first step in being open to consider how God might be meeting these concerns in every situation. Yet, there are theological premises here that can be invaluable in such a discussion as this.

To begin, I would say yes, we can encounter God in creation! There is no doubt that when we look at a sunrise or the beautiful world around us that God is there. We innately sense our relatedness and connectivity to the Creator of it all. Yet, this is the broadest setting in which we can experience God’s presence and action. For, in and through the church and the sacraments we are given the opportunity to visibly and intimately experience God’s grace through God’s greatest gift of Himself that of Jesus his son.

Here are tangible moments where we are met with mercy, love and unconditional forgiveness that are welcoming, nourishing and healing, felt on both personal level and in unity as a community. This is the beauty of our faith- it speaks not only to our desire for relationship with our Creator, but to our longing to be in relationship and communion with one another. Moreover, God’s offer of love, mercy and forgiveness is continuous so should our response to his offer be.

Have you thought recently about the sacraments? Perhaps you are thinking that they are simply an event to be completed once that no longer requires any new action on your part?

If so, maybe that is why your experience of church has become boring and one dimensional. Let’s take a new look at a few of the sacraments:

 In Baptism

you were cleansed, blessed and welcomed into community, with promises from your parents, grandparents and the church to help guide and support you in responding to God’s offer. Each time you bless yourself, or are making a professing of faith you are giving your response and yes to that offer of God’s salvation in your life.

In the Eucharist

we are given the opportunity to join our yes to that given by Christ on the cross. There is Christ’s offer of himself in ultimate love and mercy for us, but also we bring all that we are and do and offer it to God as well. We bring all of our strengths, and weaknesses, all of our joys and sorrows. We bring, in truth, our brokenness. Notice that I said “our” because we do this also as a community. So, when you speak of hypocrisy- we all come knowing that there are times when we have sinned and our relationship with God has suffered.

In the Eucharist we are renewing that relationship, and recommitting ourselves with our lives.  All of this requires our participation and our response. Do we look for Christ’s presence in the priest? In the people gathered? In the reading of the word, listening? In the offering of the gifts and see Christ’s sacrifice and reconciliation to us? How do we respond? Jesus took the bread, blessed, broke it and shared it with all- we are called to do the same both in bread but also with our very lives. And as such we need to be committed to dealing with hunger, poverty and justice in the world around us.

In Reconciliation

we are giving the opportunity to experience and celebrate God’s grace, love, mercy and forgiveness in our lives and in community. God isn’t as concerned with the “mistakes” but with repairing the relationship that has suffered. Jesus takes our frailties, and our  with health, peace, and hope. We are called to seek to reconcile or repair relationships, love justice, and seek peace and hope for those who have no hope.

Think for a moment about your relationship with your best friend. If you think about your relationship with God, how could this be better? Have you made time for your friendship with God in prayer, answered his calls of love and grace? Have you said sorry when you realize that you have chosen to act unloving? In those times, we don’t just hurt ourselves but our choices effect others we love and the community in relationship. Therefore, in penance we are given a chance to receive forgiveness, to show we are sorry and to repair these relationships..and celebrate as a community.

Even Confirmation

is not an end but a challenge to go forth and to be a visible sign of the body of Christ in the world. God confirms you as a member of the body of Christ and then the response and choice is yours. It is a call to a higher standard to strive for love, mercy and peace not only within the doors of the church but in the world.

To the parents specifically, there is a challenge to be a model of faith: more than going through the motions. Also seek to encourage your child to become involved in youth and peer ministry activities so that they can experience community more fully. Participate in outreach activities together, so that they too can come to understand God’s offer and our response to care for others, to love deeply and show forgiveness and mercy.

 

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: A Slippery Slope

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She was a bit surprised to see him there..standing among his homeless companions of many years. For several months he had found sobriety along with an apartment and a day job, maintaining his distance from a number of his former friends. The last time we had seen him he had appeared healthy and in much better spirits thankful for the care and concern shown. Not today though. Today, he was visibly agitated and the closer she got the more she realized his sobriety was no more. Greeting everyone present, one by one she checked in with them and handing them coffee as they spoke.

“I need 5 dollars and if you really cared about me you’d give it to me”. “Jim”, said one of the other men “now you know she doesn’t give money. Leave her alone.” Yet, he persisted getting more belligerent each time he spoke, till finally he said. “You know what I need it for, and if I don’t have a drink soon I will die”.  Sadness, filled her heart at that moment. She had seen him at this point before and it had nearly taken his life. There was no such thing as one small drink, or a stopping point for “Jim” it was all consuming. He had fallen into his addiction again, and all of the old habits that befriend it.

As any conversation with an AA or NA member will tell you..sobriety is not a sprint but a lifelong cross country journey. A constant attraction towards your own destruction, with the deceptive lure of rationalization and self reliance there at the ready. Those family members and friends that stay the course are well accustomed to the roller coaster of pain, joy, success and failure that are present along the way.

Yet this is true, though perhaps to a lesser extent, of every battle with temptation, sin and desolation.  Do we recognize our own weaknesses and the slippery slope that we start down when we once again find ourselves facing our worst selves? Will we be pulled under, will we try to go it alone, or will we seek help?

Awareness and Accompaniment.

While each of us were made for more, we repeatedly find ourselves choosing less. Being aware of that which is lesser and our own inclinations to a particular temptation or sin is a good step towards being better prepared when we meet it again. Still, the beauty of our faith is that we are never alone in our journey towards God. Though sin usually carries with it guilt, shame, and insecurities- our faith bears mercy, love and hope.  Through reconciliation, and in community we find both strength and accompaniment, encountering not condemnation and an all loving and merciful Father. Only then are we truly able to accompany others- to offer love and mercy in the struggle, and compassion and hope where none were evident before.

“Lord, thank you for loving me- knowing all of my weaknesses and being there to catch me when I fall.  Help me to keep my eyes open to the pitfalls ahead, and my ears ready to hear your voice. Carry me through, Lord. And please I ask dear gracious Father, make my heart ready to respond to the needs of others.” 

Peace,

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CatholicMom: Daily Gospel Reflection

 Daily Gospel Reflection for April 21, 2018

Today, I share both my reflection and the wonderful community of CatholicMom.com with each of you! Tune in daily for wonderful insights, reflections, recipes, book reviews and more!

John 10:1-10

What is it about the image of a lowly shepherd that instills in us a reminder of the love of our Father? A shepherd’s primary duty is to tend to the needs of his flock and vigilantly guard their protection. Throughout scripture, this is the picturesque scene that tells of the wandering in our lives, and the constant guiding hand and voice that leads us. It is our narrative- of a shepherd and gatekeeper who does not passively watch over, but continually seeks after each one of us.

Yet, allowing God to lead does not imply that we will not experience difficulties. Or that the path will be free of assailants along the way. Since, as this passage illustrates, there are “thieves and robbers” who will climb into our lives looking to steal our joy and lead us astray. These thieves are often the voices of shame, regret, fear and pride that desire not only the ruin of our earthly existence, but to detract us from our forever home with God.

For one day, our time spent grazing, wandering away and running from God will come to a rest. It is a time that we are to seek, pray and strive towards, and like a child joyfully anticipate.  In Christ, “I am convinced that neither death nor life… nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ”. He is both the Shepherd and the door.

Ponder:

Am I allowing God to truly shepherd my life today? What might be robbing me of knowing his love and hearing his voice?

Pray:

Father, forgive me when I fail to listen to the sound of your voice. Choosing instead, to follow my will or the voice of another.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Bread of Life

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“John’s Jesus has a totally different outlook. He does supply earthly bread to a crowd that hungers; but that is not the real marvel, for they will hunger again and so are not permanently better. The real marvel is that Jesus can give a bread from heaven that obviates hunger: the true (alēthinos) bread of which the multiplied loaf was only a sign”

-Raymond E. Brown, “The Johannine World for Preachers,” Interpretation 43.1 (1989), 60-61.

This quote by Raymond Brown, as an invitation for reflection on the Bread of Life discourse (John 6:22-71), has once again completely captivated me! Here, we are presented with Jesus both as the revelation of the Word, the divine teaching that holds eternal life and as Eucharist, the living bread which “provides nourishment” when eaten (NAB, Jn 6:51; Brown, A Introduction to the New Testament, p.346). What was enlightening for me in appreciating John’s portrait of Jesus, were the parallelisms with the OT understanding of Wisdom as found in Proverbs, Wisdom, and Sirach. These texts, offer us a background in which to grasp our later Christian understandings of Jesus and continuity with the OT. In Sirach, Wisdom is described as Word emanating from the “mouth of God” (Sir.24:3), and that which when drunken in provides fulfillment (24:20). In comparison, John portrays the person of Jesus as divine word, (“I am the bread of life”) to be believed and which promises not only fulfillment but eternal life (Jn. 6:35,40,45,47-48).

Yet, there are also definite Eucharistic allusions present in John 6:51-58, and likewise throughout this discourse. Especially, if we begin just prior to the Bread of discourse with the Multiplication of the Loaves, and consider the discussion on perishable food and the food of eternal life (Jn 6:26-2; Brown p.345-346). In fact, these seem to introduce the proceeding discourse and provide “two interpretations on how this is to be done” (p.346). Once again there are OT references here, in the manna of the Exodus that came from heaven, and the water to drink that broke forth from the stone. This food sustained the Israelites in the desert, yet could not promise life eternal.

In Jesus, was the fulfillment of the Word, made “flesh for the life of the world” (NAB, John 6:51). Likewise, the blood of Jesus is the “true drink” of eternal life (Jn, 6:55). There is a bit of irony to be found here in that the fullness of this meaning could not be understood by the Jews around him, who assert their familiarity with the physical personage of Jesus (Brown, p. 336; Jn 6:42). For them, they will ‘hunger and thirst again’, working for “food that perishes” unable to look past the satisfaction of their earthly hunger or for signs in which to believe (Jn 6:27; 30-32; 58).

Therefore, I would affirm that both understandings of this discourse are present and that it need not be a decision between, but a mutual invitation to participation. The observation, by Brown, that at times churches have “been divided as to which deserves the most emphasis” speaks to my prior faith experience as a Southern Baptist. (Brown, p.378). While the “Lord’s Supper” did have a place of importance in the Baptist tradition, it most certainly did not indicate more than a symbolic remembrance. Not to mention, there was a clear priority on the word of God and in particular on the words printed in red.

Yet, one of the beautiful elements that I became aware of as a Catholic catechist is the liturgical fullness given when both Scripture and Eucharist are equally emphasized. In the Liturgy of the Word, we are called to listen and respond to the Word and prayer. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we are called to offer our lives to God, receive communion in unity with one another and go forth to share (and be) the good news of Jesus with one another. Yet, I would add that “ideal” is most fully understood when that same balance is not only liturgically placed but felt within the hearts of the believers.

Reflect:

Do I participate fully in the Liturgy of the Word, giving my full attention to both the spoken word and the words God seeks to imprint upon my heart? Am I fully present for reception of the Eucharist, understanding that Christ is fully and intimately present to me in that very moment?

Peace,

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