Worth Revisiting: Good and Faithful Servant

“A man going on a journey
called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.
To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–
to each according to his ability…” Mt 25: 14-30

 Today’s Gospel reading, if only taken on its surface, can leave us with a challenging understanding of God and his expectations of us. After all, didn’t the servant with one talent return his loan in full? And why were some given more to start with? Perhaps the servant with one talent might have invested some if had the security of a reserve. Yet, as per usual, Jesus is revealing more about what is possible with God than what we could ever do on our own.

First, we see that each servant was given talents “according to his ability”. Our Father who knows both our strengths and limitations isn’t going to give us more than we can handle. Rather, he recognizes where each of us are in our journey and gives us the tools and support to do the work ahead. So, the servant with one talent did have the ability, but lacked the trust in God to go any further. Not only could he not advance the kingdom, but he was unable to grow in relationship with his master.

But what about the other two servants, what can be learned from them? Each had been given a portion to use, and both in trusting in God’s provision had doubled the gift. I am reminded here of 2 Kings, in Elijah’s utmost desire to inherit a double portion of the gift of the Holy Spirit which Elisha had. Elijah wasn’t seeking a talent for his own purpose, nor was he asking for simply a change in leadership responsibility. In asking for a double portion, he was asking to be given more responsibility and expressing his conviction in God and dedication to the task. This is what the other servants did and their reward was God’s recognition of their faithfulness and confidence that they were now ready to accept more.

‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.’

Do we yearn to hear these words in our journey as disciples? Or are we content to simply return the gift unopened for fear of failure in the tasks ahead? Much of my work as director of ministries, is to help those I encounter to discover just how their gifts can be used in the work of the kingdom. And to date, I have yet to find anyone who is without a talent.. though perhaps a bit unused.

Reflection:

Are there unused talents that I am failing to recognize or use today? How might I better trust in God that he will use my gifts to build his church in the world around me?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Reaching For the Poles

At the age of 7, I had decided to teach myself to roller skate. Birthday money in hand, I selected a beautiful pair of skates coupled with amply cushioned knee and elbow pads. Not wanting to wait till I made it to the rink to practice, a surefire way to ensure embarrassment, I looked around for a suitable substitute. Living in an open courtyard apartment complex had finally offered an advantage. With its long connecting pathways and supporting poles I now had the necessary environment to train properly.

Learning to propel my body forward was both exciting and frightening in understanding that I also had to stop. Soon I learned that the concrete pathway was a much more worthy adversary than its polished counterpart. And the pads though covering several points of contact, did not encompass every inch that was exposed to face abrasion. If I was to continue learning, there was a need to not fear the falls and the pain to follow. In holding back, I had already fallen before I ever tried. And in seeking the safety of the poles, I was neither trusting the acquired skills nor experiencing the joy I had hoped.

I was reminded of this lesson in conversation with a few other women this week. Struggling with the courage to seek God amidst the violence in the world, and feeling a bit overwhelmed in their daily struggles too they found themselves at the poles. Interestingly enough, while realizing all too well the temptation to remain stuck here they also heard God’s call to take a step in faith. Fear of the next fall, guilt of past mistakes and doubt of  reconciliation can make moving forward seem like a near impossibility. And yet,  as believers, we know that it isn’t on our own strength that we are asked to rely.

First we need to pray for help in letting go of worry and fear and it’s grip on us.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me; 
he freed me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4
 
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” Romans 8:38

Next, we are invited to get suited up.

“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:14-17

Then to take a step not knowing what lies ahead but with the assurance that God is with us wherever we go.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
And though we may stumble, and fall at times, it is in our getting back up that we express our “yes” to God. In releasing our grip on familiar fall backs, and regret we can begin to

embrace what God has in store for each one of us.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power and of love and of a self discipline.. For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:7,9

Reflect:

What poles am I clinging to today that are keeping me from participating in the love, joy and promise that God has for my life?
Peace,
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Worth Revisiting: Work Harder, Pray More

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In light of upcoming elections, many of us have spent time considering our options, weighing the consequences and praying that not only our nation survives but can address necessary issues. As difficult as this election year has been, I am reminded that my faith, though resting solely in Christ, cannot remain isolated from the reality that it is practiced in a world that often runs counter to that faith. Noted Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, stressed three elements of “costly discipleship”: (1) prayer, (2) community, and (3) an engagement with surrounding political realities.

At this time in my life, I  seek to have an active life of prayer, a discipleship in community, and in small everyday ways to be engaged with the political realities in the world around me. Yet, in my youth, I was undoubtedly more political- even devoting my undergrad entrance essay to the the apathetic attitude of Americans towards voting and working towards change. In the last 10 years, admittedly I have become somewhat disillusioned in the leadership to protect and preserve  life, and determination to truly accomplish transformative change. However, the mission of  working towards the kingdom of God  is calling us forth as a church, as the body of Christ, to respond. And before we ask, “What can I do?”, we need only look to the efforts of those individuals who have taken that step to make a difference and the power of a “Yes!”

“Nothing great is ever achieved without much enduring.”

St. Catherine of Siena knew the intimate connection between contemplation and action, between our baptism the living out of our discipleship. Renowned for her care for the poor, diseased, and the conversion of sinners, she used her insight, and conviction to influence both pope and city state leaders alike in a call for peace and unity of the church.

“Ora et labora”

For St. Benedict, prayer and work were the basis of monastic life directed towards the commitment to  further“seek after peace and pursue it.”

“Praying with my feet”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel first gave this response when asked why he, a renowned Hebrew scholar, chose to march with Martin Luther King in Selma. For when prayer is centered on God, there is an invitation both to piety and praise, as well as to commit our actions towards that love of God. Whether or not you feel represented, led or inspired by either candidate in this election, the majority of us can agree that there remain many steps to be taken ahead.

“May prayer and action always be deeply united. A prayer that does not lead you to practical action for your brother.. is a sterile and incomplete prayer. But, in the same way, when ecclesial service is attentive only to doing, things gain in importance, functions, structures, and we forget the centrality of Christ.” Pope Francis, Angelus 7/21/13

Pope Francis is setting a beautiful model that we can all emulate in calling us to reach out as a community to meet those who are suffering and in need…to embrace, heal, provide reconciliation and be a means of hope. He articulates the necessity to be aware of the intimate presence of God within, to seek moments of contemplation in our everyday world, work for the common good, and encourage others to do the same. It is here that I see my place currently within the community of faith in working towards these initial steps, and in enacting my faith albeit locally towards new paths. Each step is a prayer, and a hopeful course of action. Each life encountered, an opportunity to see and meet Christ in one another.

Reflect: What shape does “costly discipleship” take in my own life today and in the years ahead? Am I engaged in active discipleship and willing to “pray with my feet”?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Messy Work

There honestly is no other way of describing it- the work of evangelization is a messy work. It isn’t that the message itself is cloudy or unclear, for the love of the Gospel given is simple.  “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13: 34-35). The difficulty then lies in part to our own understanding of the fullness of God’s love and mercy.

While we cannot limit or contain God’s love, time and time again we try to do so even albeit unconsciously. Yet, Jesus did not parse words, or seek to delineate all the exclusions to that love marked with an expiration date.  Rather, he witnessed the love of the Father to the thief on the cross beside him, and welcomed him into the fullness of heaven that very day.  And if we think about it, this is exactly the patient, merciful and unwavering love we desire for God to have for each one of us.

Here is where we begin to comprehend the who, what, and why of this term, evangelization,  we toss about so loosely in christian conversation. For it is in the midst our brokenness, and the mess of life that we all too readily recognize how desperately we are in need of a savior. Only from this personal experience of just who Christ is for us in our lives can we really proclaim the joy of the Gospel. Not merely words, evangelization then is a lived encounter with Christ, a voice that calls us back with a love which compels us to go forth and share with others.

Share with one another

Are we, however, Christians in practice? Of the estimated 2.3 billion Christians (Pew Research Center, 2015) in the world why is it that we are not also growing exponentially in number? Naturally, deaths and smaller family size would attribute loss.  Yet, if we were in fact living out the call of discipleship “to go forth and make disciples of men” , would we not be seeing growth of some kind commiserate with the population change?  Perhaps, we have forgotten that this call once again was not for a select few, or that our faith cannot exist as a private exercise. Every sacrament in the Catholic church is by its very nature a community experience, as is to be every moment in between. For, by virtue of our baptism each of us has been called into relationship both with God but also with one another in the body of Christ.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
1 Peter 2: 9-10

Relationships are messy

God never said that discipleship would be easy or that sharing the love of the Gospel would always be met with success. Unfortunately, many simply never try. While a vertical relationship with our Creator is essential, so is our seeking and encounter of Christ in others. This entails the practice of much patience and the commitment to surrender the result to God.  Behind that irate or obstinate personality before you may lie a lifetime of pain, and neglect. Your witness today of God’s love and mercy may not bear fruit for some time, and may require others to water or nourish the ground to flourish. And, there may be several obstacles in the way that need to be removed in order for love and joy to take root.  Messy yes. But you and I indeed, have been asked to get our hands dirty and hearts tested in this beautiful mess of life. To choose love, to choose mercy and in doing so to choose life.

Reflect:

What would Christianity look like today were it not for courageous men and women who were willing to share the joy of the Gospel? Am I comfortable witnessing my faith to others? If not, what is holding me back?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Cause for Celebration

When you think of the many reasons that might lead you to celebrate, odds are that this experience would not make your top 10 or even your top 100. And yet, as a believer in Christ, the truest promise of salvation should be our greatest cause of celebration.  Inexhaustibly matched by a Father’s joy and overwhelmed by the hope found in Jesus, grief is a journey of discovery of each of these.  What then, if we intentionally began this journey from this perspective?

At a mere eleven in years, I had found one of the greatest teachers that I would ever have. Standing at 5′ 3 she was spunky, compassionate, enthusiastic about grammar, and a paradox of interests and gifts. Her two favorite loves were unquestionably Jesus and Magnum PI, both of whom adorned her personal grading and lesson plan book. That sixth grade year, she would have me both detesting and embracing the fine art of diagramming sentences. I also found that year a teacher that took a genuine interest in every single student that walked into her class. Though she would certainly have not chosen favorites, she was undoubtedly mine.

And then suddenly she was gone.

Sitting in my kitchen that Sunday evening, the phone rang. How odd, I thought, it was that one of my teachers called to speak to my mother, seeing as how she taught high school. Yet, apparently I wasn’t the only one who knew how much this amazing teacher and woman of faith meant to me. As my mother relayed what had transpired since Friday with a sudden illness and complications, I sat motionless. Though hearing the words, I could not connect the series of events to the fact I would never see her again.  The following day, when the principal addressed the students with the news, I laid claim to grief. And still, I felt the best way to honor her, would be to be present in her Father’s house, though I wasn’t sure where her church was. “Are you sure, Elizabeth..are you sure you want to go to the funeral?”, my mother asked.  “Yes, I need to say goodbye..would you go with me?” “Of course ” she said,”let me find out the arrangements”.

As we walked up to that small white church, the music carried out the open windows on the cool fall breeze. Entering in, I was ready to say goodbye but not for the lesson of love to come.  While it mattered little to me, and to anyone else gathered, that my mother and I were not of African American descent I did wonder what they must of thought of why I was there. And even I was unsure that I had the right place. For, gone were the somber clothes of black and grey, and in its place instead was a vibrant array of color. Bright flowers, and joyful songs raised in praise revealed not sadness but unparalleled hope in the life that awaited. Though it was almost more than a little girl in mourning could take- it was the very thing that was needed.

That night my heart was full of questions. How could they sing when the loss is so new..did they not miss her too? Didn’t they know it was a funeral and not a birthday? That was it! They sang because it was a birthday of sorts, not an end but a beginning of a new eternal life with God. They celebrated the fact that their joy for her in the promise of heaven could more than bear their loss. To this very day I cannot think of funerals in the same way that I did before. Do I mourn? Yes, but I also sing..and celebrate!

My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

Refrain:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]

 What though my joys and comforts die?
I know my Savior liveth.
What though the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth. [Refrain]

 The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing!
All things are mine since I am his!
How can I keep from singing? [Refrain]

“How Can I Keep From Singing”, Robert Lowry, 1826-1899

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Gift of a Father

In my life I have most certainly been blessed with an unfathomable gift- that only a heavenly Father could have known was even necessary. Growing up, I knew profoundly the space left behind with the absence of my own earthly father. Still, it wasn’t the basic provisions and necessities of life I truly sought, but strong spiritual leadership and guidance. Desiring to better understand and imploring for direction, I would time and time again turn to prayer for answers.

From my daily walk to the ample crossroads encountered, God has never ceased to speak to my questions,  as well as provide a tangible presence in my life. Certainly, since becoming a Catholic I have not been at a loss for spiritual mentorship either. Where ever I have traveled and however God has moved me to discern new paths there has been assistance. From sacrament to sacrament and the infinite moments in between they have been a constant reminder of a Father’s love. Clad simply in black and white these giants of faith, spiritual counselors and brothers-in-arms have also become indispensable friends and colleagues.

I thought of this a little over a week ago as I sat amidst a cloud of witnesses at a clergy benefit health and trust dinner. With every unique diverse vocation story, I could not help but think how God had not just answered my own need but that of so many countless others. Each in his own way had heard God’s voice, and chosen to follow offering his gifts not for his own glory but for God’s alone. All who had gathered that evening in support echoed these sentiments.

To theirs I add my own undying gratitude for the gift of a Father and the many spiritual fathers I now know in my life: (in no particular order) Fr. Michael Reardon, Fr. Jim Rafferty, Fr. Tom Nestor, Fr. Mike McNamara, Fr. Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Fr. Paul Soper, Fr. Tom O’Connor, Fr. Joseph McCarthy, Fr. Joseph Infantini, Fr. Paul Bailey, Fr. Matt Williams, Fr. Chip Hines, Fr. Kenneth Quinn, Fr. Steve Krupa, Fr. Ed Serena and many more!

Thank you for your “Yes!”, your constant encouragement, guidance and steadfast friendship. It means more than you may ever know!

In Christ,

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Worth Revisiting: The Wonder of it All!

“Prayer is a surge of the heart; It is a simple look toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” St. Therese of Liseux

This week, I was witness to God’s mystery momentarily revealed in albeit a delightful surprising way. Ministering to those with Alzheimer’s and dementia requires patience, love, and flexibility. Some days can be challenging and cloudy, and others bright and filled with amazing clarity. Being there for both makes the glimpse of memory and sudden awareness all the more beautiful. In this brief moment of grace there is a remarkable recognition of what love really means and just who Christ truly is.

“Anna” has been a resident at a particular memory care for a bit of time now. Having lost many long term cognitive abilities, she is now completely dwelling in the present. So much so, that every sentence spoken is a story unto itself. Gathered amidst this group of Catholics, as a protestant, one cannot help but notice that she actively listens. On this day, she would also actively participate.

With the first reading, she informed me that I was needed to speak louder despite my reluctance to shout. Carrying on, I noticed her attentiveness almost as if we were having a conversation with just the two of us. With the Gospel and prayers, she remained intent on savoring each word.

“Father, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise. All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit. From age to age you gather a people to yourself, so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name. And so, Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your spirit, that they may become the body + and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate this Eucharist…The day before he suffered, he took bread in his sacred hands and looking up to heaven, to you, his almighty Father, he gave you thanks and praise. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: Take this all of you and eat of it” (Eucharistic Prayer 3)

Somewhere deep inside, God then touched “Anna’s” heart prompting a truly unsolicited but appropriately beautiful response.

“WOW!…” she proclaimed loudly, “That is quite a gift!”

Instantly a sacred stillness fell, a substantive pause and recognition by all that Christ was truly present. Here, without the explanation of consecration or a discussion of real presence  “Anna” saw and experienced this tangible reality.

How is it then that though we come to Mass, expecting the gift to be given, we could very well leave Mass unchanged?  Perhaps this gift is carelessly taken for granted, not fully understood, or we simply have become too distracted by the day’s events. Nonetheless, we then fail to probe the depth of love and mercy available not accepting of the transformation that is possible in our daily lives. The real presence of Christ then becomes an unopened gift, or one put aside for a rainy day.

Take today to seize the gift of Christ’s sacrifice and be amazed by the wonder of it all!

Peace,

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“The most deadly poison of our times is indifference. And this happens though the praise of God should know no limits. Let us strive therefore to praise him to the greatest extent of our powers” St. Maximilian Kolbe

Worth Revisiting: Reconciled

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Not just a prettier or more approachable  version of confession, the act of reconciling is instead, a richer and more complete description of what transpires in this beautiful sacrament. For, reconciliation means“to walk together again”[1] , to reestablish a close relationship in friendship, peace, and love. Confession is just one part of this sacrament replete with mercy, grace and love.  Reconciliation then more fully represents  “what is most important, what Jesus does”. [2]

Growing up protestant, I have heard all of the following questions and consequent arguments against the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation. Undoubtedly even for those having grown up in the faith, there still lies a temptation to rest on these as a means of justifying ourselves in our walk with God. However, there is also a challenge here to really consider the effects of sin, the grace that is present here and the freedom in walking humbly with our God.

1.“My relationship with Jesus is good..I can tell him anything. Why would I put a 3rd person in the middle since Jesus is the one who forgives me?  What this question begs is a heartfelt response. Yes, there is solid scriptural basis but the person asking this is seeking to know the soul benefit in uttering and entrusting their sins in this way.  They understand the need for forgiveness and may have a very good prayer life. Coming into the faith as an young adult this was a hurdle I myself encountered. I prayed often, went to church, read my bible and asked for forgiveness daily. So what does the sacrament of reconciliation really provide that is different?

  • In confessing our sins we give voice to that which we have privately carried and share it with the community in the priest who is also representative of Christ. The weight of our sins that we have carried is lifted, the slate with our sins wiped clean and we are free to begin anew.
  • Likewise, in both our sin and sanctity we are a community and are called to help one another in the journey. Our sin which has hampered and even damaged our relationships is removed and so, as a community we celebrate.
  • Receive peace and comfort by the grace of Christ to go forth to both amend our ways and to strive for greater justice and peace in our families, communities and world around us. Our penance is an essential first step to express our commitment towards this transformation.

2. “So, where is the need for reconciliation in the bible?

  • “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.
  • Parable of the lost sheep- Jesus’ story of the shepherd and the 1 lost sheep among the 99. Jesus leads us to reconciliation with God and others (Matthew 18:12-14)
  • Prodigal Son explores the unconditional love and forgiveness of God, and helps bring this forgiveness into our daily lives (Luke 15:11-32)
  • Great Commandment- Jesus’ teaching about loving God, ourselves, and others (Matthew 22:36-40)

3. “These priests are human too, how can they hear and absolve my sins, aren’t they just as prone to sin?”

  • As Catholics we believe that Jesus intended to give authority to his apostles to guide, teach, forgive and heal the followers of Christ to come. And, that they in turn in succession handed down this authority.

” And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19.

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:21-23

  • Yet, this question also points to the need for forgiveness for all of us, as a result of our human condition and our inclination to sin. St. John Paul II went to reconciliation frequently as did newly sainted St. Teresa of Calcutta who is noted for going 2-3 times a week for even venial sins.

“It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation.  Those who go to Confession frequently, and do so with the desire to make progress, will notice the strides that they make in their spiritual lives.” St. JP II[3]

4. Finally, “Didn’t they just go to reconciliation? So why are they still  (*mean, rude etc.) ?

First obviously this question implies a bit of judgement of others rather than looking at our own walk of faith. Yet, to address the intended issue, does this sacrament have the grace and power to effect true and lasting change? Yes, but again we have a propensity and inclination to sin and our sins are not always exactly the same. Reconciliation is a sacrament that is intended to be received again and again throughout our lives either individually or with the community. So, it does not “end with the words of absolution”, but “in order to achieve it’s purpose it must take root in their whole lives”.[4]

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.

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?

Remember, our choices not only hurt ourselves but effect our relationship with God, and so many others that we encounter daily. Mercy and forgiveness are waiting-take time today to be reconciled.

Peace,

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[1] McKenna, Meagan. (1997) Rites of Justice. New York. Orbis Books

[2] Richstatter, Thomas. O.F.M, S.T.D. (1990) “Ten Tips for Reconciliation: The Gift of Reconciliation”. Catholic Update. Ohio. Catholic Update.

[3] Pope John Paul II,  Conference of the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome. March 27, 2004.

[4] Kane, Thomas. Healing God’s People: Theological and Pastoral Approaches.Rite of Penance 7b.

Worth Revisiting: Catechesis of Mercy 2

Continuing from the previous week , we go deeper to the underlying principles of a life steeped in and committed to mercy..

There are four core principles in the Catholic Church’s social teaching: respect and protection of the dignity of the human person, the pursuit of the common good, the value of solidarity, and subsidiarity—that matters are if possible to be handled at the lowest level, by those most affected. With each pope in succession, through  papal encyclicals—and most notably in the Second Vatican Council, there has been a reaffirmation of these teachings..  This is why an essential element of a catechesis of mercy involves service and active works of mercy.

Look around your community, are there service learning projects that are already available in your community that you might participate in with your child or if they are old enough that they can join in themselves? There is no need to reinvent the wheel, if a suitable service activity is already up and running. Yet, if none of these seem fitting, consider developing a new service based project. What are needs in your area that aren’t being met? What are some possible solutions? What are the resources that you might can tap into?

There are several types of service..

Direct (whereby the participate is in direct contact with the person/s they are working with. Examples include volunteering at a nursing home to read or visit, doing yardwork or chores for the elderly, or working at a soup kitchen.

Indirect (Involves fundraising, or drives to assist people in need) An example would be a toy drive for a local children’s hospital, clothing drive for a homeless shelter, or making cards or placemats.

Promotion or advocacy (Getting the word out about a cause, and working to convince the government, or organization to make a change in behavior. ) Maybe you have a gift of telling or motivating others to get involved in a cause. If so then this might be where you feel most helpful.

Whatever you choose to do, reflection is a very essential part of service learning both in deciding what to commit to as well as what was taken from the experience. This is where a trained group leader is very beneficial, both to guide the questions but to show the diversity of the experiences.

What did you expect this experience to be like?
Was there anything different from this expectation?
Did you find anything challenging and/or surprising?
Was there an opportunity to talk with those whom you were helping? If so, did you learn anything new?
What is the relationship between your service and your faith?
How does your participation in this activity affect a situation or create change in the lives of those you are with?
Is it important for you to stay involved with this activity?

Remember that it is never too early to begin a catechesis of mercy, and that your child already has that divine love within and the capacity to show that love to others. We have been given a freedom to choose love and goodness in the world, to avoid what is destructive or harmful, and to make these choices quite early in life. And though not always easy choices, it is these moments that help shape us, form us and continue to define us as we grow in our Christian discipleship.

Reconciliation

As mentioned earlier, reconciliation is indelibly linked to mercy. God is loving and forgiving, God is merciful. God forgives us when we have done wrong, when we come wishing to forgiven, and desire to be in relationship once again. If your child is old enough to have celebrated the sacrament of reconciliation before, take the time to discuss its continued importance in the life of the individual and the church.
1. Discuss how to make a good confession and examination of conscience http://www.thelightisonforyou.org/confession/

2. Set aside a time to go to reconciliation as a family. Allowing your child to glimpse the importance of reconciliation for you is an essential way for him/her to see its importance in their own life as well.

3. Reflect on how God’s love and mercy is always present and calling us into relationship.
Look at the broader understandings of reconciliation within the community and world. For ideas visit St Vincent de Paul.org, Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, and the Childrens’ Missionary Association which is part of the Pontifical Society.
Discuss the importance of and ways to work for peace both locally and global

Mercy is like a small seed that requires our active participation in the planting and growing, allowing God to be the master gardener and harvester of the fruits.[1] To extend this analogy, we cannot plant that which we do not see or understand. Likewise, how could we then tend to the requirements necessary for its growth? Therefore, it is clear that first we must become aware of the poor, and the marginalized and desire to walk with them to understand their journey. Then our hearts and steps are to be guided towards recognizing our own need to take responsibility, and the essential right to a greater voice and participation in society of the least of these. Together, as a people of faith, we can then “water” those seeds planted to witness their rooting within the hearts of individuals, and the communities in which we live. While fully aware of the resistance of many for change, a catechesis of mercy relies not solely on our own efforts. But rather on the power of God for strength, and guidance to accomplish the realization of all efforts. Hope then is what our trust in God provides, it is faith that God’s love and mercy are unfailing, and that we are part of his divine plan for the world.

Peace,

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[1] Brady,Bernard. Essential Catholic Social Thought. Orbis Books, 2008.

Worth Revisiting: A Catechesis of Mercy Part 1

The Beginnings of Mercy

Mercy begins not when we are old enough to study social justice teaching, but indeed began before we are born. It began with God, fulfilled in Christ and is to be continued with each one of us. Thus, it is not an add-on to our Christian discipleship but inherently intertwined in every aspect of our understanding and living out of the faith. For, the very root of mercy is love.

Without love, as St. Paul reminds us, we are nothing. All of our gifts, and actions are useless if not used or performed out of love. Mercy is an indelible part of love, the love of neighbor and other above ourselves. It is to walk beside, among and through the ins and outs, the ups and downs of all that our lives here have to offer. Simply put it is the gift of ourselves, to ease the suffering or pain of another, when there seems to be no other gift that is worthy enough. It is the work of our hands, our feet and soul that bring joy into everyday realities of our existence. Moreover it is to see Christ in others, and then to accept the invitation to be Christ to others.

Not just to those we know personally, or belong to our parish but to those living outside the doors of our church, in our communities that often go unnoticed. Here on the fringes of society, are our homeless and poor, our elderly, those suffering from addiction and their families, and the victims as well as the perpetrators of violence. As Christ has shown, mercy cannot be earned but is the grace of the great love that our Father has for each and every one of us.

See mercy goes hand in hand with the grace of reconciliation. Mercy is not something conferred upon someone thought of to be most in need of it, but indeed is a shared grace whereby all are reminded of their humanity and the infinite love they share in Christ. It is the opportunity to not only witness the transformation of the life of another, but to be transformed ourselves.

So, what is meant by a Catechesis of Mercy?

As parents, we are our child’s first teacher. And, looking to us for guidance, approval and encouragement we have been given a beautiful gift to model the faith we profess. In the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:7) Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain Mercy”.

  • The need for mercy: You need not go far to see that there is a tremendous need for mercy right in front of us.  As St. Teresa of Calcutta has said,

“Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. … You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.” †
In talking to you child about what mercy means, be sure to provide clear relatable examples.

  • Explain that mercy is more than feeling sorry for someone, it is compassion in action. It is more than a feeling but meeting that person where they are, in their sadness, embarrassment..skinned knees and all. God’s love for us in Christ is to produce love within us moving us toward love, care, and concern for those in need. This love seeks to love and serve our neighbor it gives purpose to all that we are to do.
  • Looking to Christ: Christ’s time here with us serves as an example of His mercy and what we too are to do as his disciples. Discuss with your child different ways that Christ revealed the meaning of mercy in his ministry .1. Jesus didn’t just meet with those from a similar background, but invited all to table..most often those who were on the fringes of Jewish society, the tax collector, the leper, the poor, the lost. He did not discriminate based on gender, race or nationality…his mercy was universal.
    2. Parable of the Good Samaritan, presents a beautiful opportunity to illustrate that in the course of our daily lives that we too may walk past someone in need of mercy though we should be the first to help.
    3. Feeding of the Multitudes – Luke 9:10-17
    4. Opening the Eyes of the Man Born Blind – John 9:1-17
    5. Good thief on the cross- Even on the cross, Jesus offered love, mercy and forgiveness to the one who though living a life earning him death on earth had chosen to believe and gained an eternal life with Christ in heaven.
  • Looking to the Church– Consider ways that we as a church through service help those in need. Here we can look to the corporal works of mercy which entail feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Taking care of our poor, is not just an act of charity but a measure of justice and love. It is returning to them what has been reserved for them by Christ. The Church is not to be a church of the proud and powerful but indeed is as Pope Francis has observed to be a church of the poor. “We need to be evangelized by them.. for there is so much to learn” They are to be our guide in understanding God’s love us.

Tune in next week for Part 2!

Peace,

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