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Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on July 31, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 8:18-23

When Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side. A scribe approached and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” But Jesus answered him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.” He got into a boat and his disciples followed him.

Reflection on the gospel reading: July 31 is the Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. I attended a high school that the Jesuits ran, and when I finished high school, I entered a novitiate of the Society of Jesus, later took vows, and began a course of studies that would have led to the Roman Catholic priesthood. I remained in the Jesuits until I finished philosophy six years later. Even now at 53, almost a fifth of my life was spent in the Jesuits’ instruction, and I recognize the great influence they had on me and everything I have become. Even now, all these years later, I still count myself as one of Ignatius’s sons.

One keystone of Jesuit spirituality is indifference, and it is a theme in the gospel passage that I selected to celebrate Ignatius’ feast today. Ignatius taught that everything which exists, exists as a means to reach God. But he also recognized that human beings very often made the things in the world not a means to reach God but instead as ends in themselves. We crave things as though they were the final purpose of our existence. “Indifference” in the Ignatian sense is absolute openness to the will of God without consideration of the price. So when the scribe approaches Jesus and says he will follow the Lord wherever he goes, Jesus makes it clear that the cost of true discipleship is the willingness to let go of everything for the sake of the kingdom. And when the disciple asks Jesus to let him bury his father, Jesus asserts that the service of the kingdom always is now. When we are indifferent in the Ignatian sense, we have no preferences for one course of action over another but always seek God’s will for the moment and empty ourselves to pursue God’s will. When we are indifferent in the way Ignatius recommends, we have no preference for one thing over another but always are attentive to the signs of God’s will in our lives and ready to accept the things which affect God’s will, whether they involve the things we love or the things we do not love.

Saint of the day: In 1491, the year before Columbus encountered the New World, Ignatius was born into a Basque noble family in Loyola, Cantabria. The founder of the Jesuits was on his way to military fame and fortune as a knight when a cannon ball shattered his leg. Because there were no books of romance on hand during his convalescence, Ignatius whiled away the time reading a life of Christ and lives of the saints. His conscience was deeply touched, and a long, painful turning to Christ began. Having seen the Mother of God in a vision, he made a pilgrimage to her shrine at Montserrat (near Barcelona). He remained for almost a year at nearby Manresa, sometimes with the Dominicans, sometimes in a pauper’s hospice, often in a cave in the hills praying. After a period of great peace of mind, he went through a harrowing trial of scruples. There was no comfort in anything—prayer, fasting, sacraments, penance. At length, his peace of mind returned.

It was during this year of conversion that Ignatius began to write down material that later became his greatest work, the Spiritual Exercises.

He finally achieved his purpose of going to the Holy Land, but could not remain, as he planned, because of the hostility of the Turks. He spent the next 11 years in various European universities, studying with great difficulty, beginning almost as a child. Like many others, his orthodoxy was questioned; Ignatius was twice jailed for brief periods.

In 1534, at the age of 43, he and six others (one of whom was St. Francis Xavier) vowed to live in poverty and chastity and to go to the Holy Land. If this became impossible, they vowed to offer themselves to the apostolic service of the pope. The latter became the only choice. Four years later Ignatius made the association permanent. The new Society of Jesus was approved by Paul III, and Ignatius was elected to serve as the first general.

When companions were sent on various missions by the pope, Ignatius remained in Rome, consolidating the new venture, but still finding time to found homes for orphans, catechumens and penitents. He founded the Roman College, intended to be the model of all other colleges of the Society.

Ignatius was a true mystic. He centered his spiritual life on the essential foundations of Christianity—the Trinity, Christ, the Eucharist. His spirituality is expressed in the Jesuit motto, ad majorem Dei gloriam—“for the greater glory of God.” In his concept, obedience was to be the prominent virtue, to assure the effectiveness and mobility of his men. All activity was to be guided by a true love of the Church and unconditional obedience to the Holy Father, for which reason all professed members took a fourth vow to go wherever the pope should send them for the salvation of souls.

At the heart of Jesuit spirituality are the Spiritual Exercises. These exercises are crucial to the formation all Jesuits, but they also provide a handbook for retreat masters and spiritual directors to guide anyone who is under their care. The result of Ignatius’ own experience of conversion, the Exercises are particularly suited to help people individuals to reach sufficient detachment and freedom from inordinate passions when they are trying to make a good choice about their state of life or to achieve some serious reform of character.

These spiritual exercises involve a program in several steps. The full-length version of an Ignatian retreat would involve about a month of praying for four or five distinct hour-long periods each day whole otherwise keeping strict silence, but there are also abridged versions for use on three-day and week-long retreats. The first week invites the person making these exercises to confront sinfulness and to accept God’s mercy. The second week puts the focus of one’s prayer on the public life of Christ, while the third week considers Christ’s passion. In the fourth week, one meditates on Christ arisen and in glory. In addition, there are special exercises at crucial junctures during the exercises where one is invited to hear the call of Christ the King and to ponder the various degrees of humility with which one might be willing to serve Christ.

A particular instruction in the Exercises allows people whose lives do not permit them to go off and make the Exercises to make them over a much longer period of time. The Jesuits at Creighton have put the Long Retreat on the web. It requires commitment, but you can find a way to make Ignatius’s famous Exercises in the midst of the helter-skelter of your own life.

Spiritual reading: Principle and Foundation–Human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by means of doing this to save their souls. The other things on the face of the earth are created for the human beings, to help them in the pursuit of the end of which they are created. From this it follows that we ought to use these things to the extent that they help us toward our end, and free ourselves from them to the extent that they hinder us from it. To attain this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, in regard to everything which is left our free will and is not forbidden. Consequently, on our own 250px-Societasiesusealpart we ought not to seek health rather than sickness, wealth rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long life rather than short one, and so on in all other matters. Rather, we ought to desire and choose only that which is more conducive to the end for which are created. (Spiritual Exercises by St. Ignatius of Loyola)

A Prayer of Ignatius of Loyola: Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. All I have and call my own. Whatever I have or hold, you have given to me. I restore it all to you and surrender it wholly to be governed under your will. Give me only your love and grace and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more.

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, ethics, politics, religion by Mike on July 30, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 13:31-35

Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds. “The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.”

He spoke to them another parable. “The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables, to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:

I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world.

Reflection on the gospel reading: At the center of Jesus’ teaching was the proclamation of the kingdom of God. Jesus used parables to explain the nature of God’s kingdom, and in today’s gospel, Matthew records for us two short parables that explain a couple of the kingdom’s facets. In the first parable, Matthew likens the kingdom to a mustard seed that becomes a great plant: that is, the kingdom starts small and insignificant, but its eventual reach will permit multitudes to dwell in its branches. In the second parable, when Jesus speaks of yeast, he suggests how easy it is to miss the kingdom’s growth. To understand the parable’s meaning, consider that yeast causes dough to rise imperceptibly. Jesus is saying here that people who observe the in-breaking of the kingdom of God at a given moment may fail to understand the impact that the kingdom has over time. Just as yeast will make dough rise, however, we can trust the kingdom will grow given the passage of time.

Saint of the day: St. Leopold Bogdan Mandic, who lived between 1866 and 1942, was a Croatian-born Franciscan priest and noted confessor who spent most of his priestly life in Padua, Italy. On May 12, 1866, in Croatia, a twelfth child was born to Peter and Caroline Mandic. He was named and baptised Bogdan, ‘the God-given-one’. Although physically frail, from his youth he showed signs of great spiritual strength and integrity. At the age of 16 years, Bogdan left home for Italy to attend the Seraphic School where he was taught by the Capuchins at Udine and was also an aspirant to the order. Life was not easy for him there, since he was physically malformed and still delicate in health.

At the age of 18, Bogdan entered the Capuchin Order as a novice at Bassano del Grappa and took the religious name of Brother Leopold. After his Profession of Vows at 23, he embarked on a course of clerical studies first at Padua and then at Venice. Finally, he was ordained in Venice at the age of 28.

In the mid-1880s, Bishop Joseph Juraj Strossmayer began an ecumenical movement which focused on unity in diversity, consecrating the cathedral of Djakovo i Srijem (Bosnia) “for the glory of God, church ecumenism, and the peace and love of my people.”Father Leopold dedicated himself to the same end.

Refusing to renounce his Croatian nationality during World War I, Leopold was forced to go to southern Italy, where he spent one year in an Italian prison. He wanted to be a missionary in Eastern Europe, torn apart by much religious strife, but was denied by his superiors because of his frailty and general ill-health (In addition to physical deformities, Father Leopold suffered from stomach ailments, poor eyesight, and arthritis.)

For 34 years he heard confessions. He was always quick, serene, affable, available for any sacrifice for the good and service of others. Wherever he was assigned over the years, Leopold was greatly admired and loved by the people. Father Leopold gave tremendous encouragement to many people, especially those despairing of hope because of an enslavement to sin.

Father Leopold also had a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary whom he referred to as “my holy boss.” He was known to pray the rosary quite often and celebrated the Eucharist daily at the side altar in the Little Office of the Virgin Mary. He would then visit the sick in nursing homes, hospitals, and homes all over Padua. He visited the Capuchin infirmary to comfort the sick friars, giving them words of advice and reminding them to have faith. He was an outspoken on issues with children and was especially fond of expectant mothers and young children. He did great work in setting up orphanages for children without parents.

Father Leopold suffered from cancer of the esophagus, which would ultimately lead to his death at age 76. On July 30, 1942, while preparing for the liturgy, he collapsed on the floor. He was then brought to his cell, where he was given the last rites. Friars that had gathered at his bed sang “Salve Regina,” and when they got to the words, “O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary,” Leopold died.

During the bombing of World War II the church and part of the friary where Leopold lived were demolished, but Leopold’s cell and confessional were left unharmed. Leopold had predicted this before his death, saying, “The church and the friary will be hit by the bombs, but not this little cell. Here God exercised so much mercy for people, it must remain as a monument to God’s goodness.” Beatified in 1976, he was canonized in 1983, hailed as the “Apostle of Unity.”

Spiritual reading: I am like a bird in a cage, but my heart is beyond the seas. (St. Leopold Bogdan Mandic)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on July 29, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

John 6:1-15

Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him, because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick. Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. The Jewish feast of Passover was near. When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” He said this to test him, because he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them, and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. When the people saw the sign he had done, they said, “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

Reflection on the gospel reading: Last Sunday, the Church read and reflected on the passage from the sixth chapter of the gospel of Mark where Jesus invited the apostles to go away with him to rest. The passage concluded with Jesus encountering a crowd. We read that Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. If we continued to read from the sixth chapter of Mark, we would have considered the feeding of the multitudes.

Indeed, this is the narrative that we have today, but rather than read the account that Mark’s gospel gives us, we are reading John’s report of the event. In fact, John’s account begins the Bread of Life Discourse in John’s Gospel, and for each of the next four Sundays, that is, until August 26, we will be reading parts of that discourse in John.

Several things in John’s account of the multiplication of the loaves are distinctive. Though all four evangelists narrate this event, only John tells us that the feast of Passover was near. Given the institution of the Eucharist and the Lord’s own passion and death at Passover, the reference to Passover is pregnant with meaning, especially in light of the nature of the events.

The narrative of the feeding of the multitudes has many elements analogous to the accounts of the institution of the Eucharist in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul. For instance, we read in John that the crowds are reclining, much as Jesus and his followers reclined as they ate the Passover meal before Jesus instituted the Eucharist. John in today’s gospel says that Jesus took the loaves just as we read elsewhere that Jesus took bread at the Last Supper. John tells us that Jesus gave thanks; of course, the word Eucharist comes from the Greek word that means to give thanks. In John’s gospel, Jesus himself distributes the bread: Jesus himself is the source of the meal.

The narrative concludes with the observation that all ate until they were full, and that when they were done, 12 wicker baskets were necessary to collect all the remains of the meal. In this element of the narrative, John alludes to God’s immense bounty. In the very same way, down through the ages and to our own time, the Eucharist has fed and filled countless millions of believers.

Finally, it is in this feeding the multitude that the crowd recognizes who Jesus is: that is, the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world. And so it is for us in the Eucharist that we receive of the gift of recognizing who Jesus is.

Spiritual reading: All things must come to the soul from its roots, from where it is planted. (Teresa of Avila)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on July 28, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 13:24-30

Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds. “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”‘”

Reflection on the gospel reading: In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, Jesus counsels us to avoid judging others. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells a story of bad seed being sown among good. The servants in the house of the owner of the field wish to pull up the bad seed, but the master counsels to wait and see which seed produces what. In the same way, many of us, as servant in the house of our master, are perhaps tempted to throw out from among the community of believers those who do not conform to our vision of the church, but Jesus in the parable counsels us to wait and let God be the judge. None of us can exercise God’s right to say what is worthy of saving and what is not. Life is messy. All of it ultimately belongs to God.

Saint of the day: Pedro Poveda Castroverde was born December 3, 1874 at Linares, Spain. Raised in a pious family, he felt an early call to the priesthood. He entered the seminary in Jaen in 1889, then the seminary of Guadix, Grenada. He was ordained on April 17, 1897.

He taught at the seminary, continued his studies, and received his licentiate in theology in Seville in 1900. He ministered in Guadix to a group of people so poor they lived in caves. He built a school for the children, and provided vocation training to the adults.

Pedro PovedaHe was transferred to Madrid, and was named a canon of the Basilica of Covadonga, Asturius in 1906. His time in Guadix had impressed Pedro with the need for education for the poor. He prayed on the topic, and wrote on the need for professional training for teachers. In 1911 Pedro founded the Saint Teresa of Avila Academy, the foundation of Institución Teresiana. He joined the Apostolic Union of Secular Priests in 1912, wrote on the need for more teachers, and opened teacher training centers. He returned to teaching at the seminary at Jaen, served as spiritual director of Los Operarios Catechetical Centre, and taught religion at the Teachers Training School. In 1914 he opened Spain’s first university residence for women in Madrid. In 1921 he was transferred to Madrid and was appointed a chaplain of the Royal Palace. In 1922 he was appointed to the Central Board Against Illiteracy, and he continued to work with the Teresian Association; it received papal approval in 1924, and later spread to Chile and Italy. Martyred in the Spanish Revolution, he was shot by firing squad on July 28, 1936 at Madrid, Spain.

Spiritual reading: The Christ within who is our hope of glory is not a matter of theological debate or philosophical speculation. He is not a hobby, a part-time project, a good theme for a book, or a last resort when all human effort fails. He is our life, the most real fact about us. He is the power and wisdom of God dwelling within us. (Brennan Manning)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on July 27, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 13:18-23

Jesus said to his disciples: “Hear the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the Kingdom without understanding it, and the Evil One comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: In today’s gospel, Jesus explains the parable of the sower of the seeds to his disciples simply. Jesus is being very pragmatic in his assessment of the success of the spreading of the gospel. He says plainly that the gospel will not succeed everywhere the disciples announce it. The reasons for these failures vary, but essentially, the message does not always succeed because the people who hear the message are not in the right state to receive it. Some people do not receive the message; they stubbornly hold on to attitudes, opinions, and courses of action which make them obdurate. Some appear to receive it, but it doesn’t get under their skin; their lack of resolution or focus keep them from hearing the message. In a third group, circumstances rise up around the hearers which prevent a successful outcome: sins like anger, greed, sloth, and pride can prevent the harvest. But the gospel will also result in success, Jesus says; the last group receives the message and commits itself to Kingdom values.

Jesus is not quantifying the success of the gospel: in some places, of course, the gospel is very successful, and in other places, it meets huge resistance. Jesus gives a lesson here about what we can anticipate when we share the good news, and with this knowledge, tend not only to the outcomes of our missions but attend also to the outcome of the word in our own lives.

Saint of the day: Blessed Rudolf Aquaviva and his Companions were Jesuit priests. Rudolf Aquaviva was the son of the Duke of Atri, related to the family of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, and nephew of Claud Aquaviva, the fifth general of the Jesuits. He was admitted to the Society at the age of eighteen, in 1568, and after being ordained priest at Lisbon, he was sent to Goa in India. Father Aquaviva was one of the two chosen for the mission at Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra, and he worked till 1583 in strenuous efforts to convert Akbar and his subjects but without success. He was then put in charge of the Salsette mission, north of Bombay. He and four companions, Father Alfonso Pacheco, Father Berno, Father Francisco and Brother Aranha, together with other Christians, set out for Cuncolim, the heart of Hindu opposition in that mission, intending to choose there a piece of ground for a church and to plant a cross thereon. They were met with armed force by the villagers. Blessed Rudolf and Blessed Alfonso were killed praying for their murderers, and the other two priests were likewise slain outright. Blessed Francisco was left for dead but was found alive the next day; he was given a chance to venerate an idol, and on refusing, was tied to a tree and shot with arrows. They were beatified as martyrs for the faith in 1893.

Spiritual reading: When I pray for another person, I am praying for God to open my eyes so that I can see that person as God does, and then enter into the stream of love that God already directs toward that person. (Philip Yancey)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on July 26, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 13:10-17

The disciples approached Jesus and said, “Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?” He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand. Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:

You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted and I heal them.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: Gentleness underlies Jesus’ use of parables; he recognizes that not everyone is prepared to receive the radical message of the gospel outright. The parables are a sweeter and more digestible way to extend the good news to those who otherwise are unable hear and believe. When Jesus speaks directly and reveals the meaning of his parables, he speaks to people who are prepared to see the world in a way which will radically shift their paradigm, including the things they value, their attitudes toward the world and what is in it, and what they want to do with their lives.

Saint of the day: Born Anno Brandsma, he completed high school studies with the Franciscans before entering the Carmelite monastery in Boxmeer in September of 1898, where he adopted his father’s name, Titus, as his religious name. During the early years as a Carmelite he showed interest in journalism and writing, two activities which would occupy much of his time later on in life. Titus professed his first vows as a Carmelite in October, 1899, was ordained on June 17, 1905, and after further studies at the Roman Gregorian University, graduated on October 25, 1909 with a doctorate in philosophy.

Fr. Titus’ entire priestly life was spent in education, although always with a keen pastoral sense of people’s needs. He joined the faculty of the newly founded Catholic University of Nijmegen in 1923, and served as Rector Magnificus, or President, of the University in 1932-33. After this time he resumed his teaching duties, and in 1935 made a lecture tour of the Carmelite foundations in the United States.

Just before this lecture tour, Archbishop De Jong of Utrecht appointed Fr. Titus as spiritual advisor to the staff members of the more than thirty Catholic newspapers in Holland; around the same time, the policies of Adolf Hitler, the new German Chancellor, began to be felt in Holland, and were openly criticized by Titus in his teaching and in the press. With the Nazi occupation of Holland on May 10, 1940 began the open persecution of the Jews and the active resistance of the Catholic hierarchy, who announced on January 26, 1941 that the sacraments were to be refused to Catholics known to be supporters of the National-Socialist movement.

While Titus’ involvement with this Catholic resistance to Nazi activity was becoming more blatant, it was the Church’s refusal to print Nazi propaganda in their newspapers that sealed his fate. Titus decided to deliver personally to each Catholic editor a letter from the bishops ordering them not to comply with a new law requiring them to print official Nazi publications. He visited fourteen editors before being arrested on January 19, 1942 at the Boxmeer monastery.

Fr. Titus was interned at Scheveningen and Amersfoort in Holland before being sent to Dachau, where he arrived on June 19, 1942. His constitution quickly deteriorated under the harsh regime, forcing him to enter the camp hospital in the third week of July. There he became the subject of biological experimentation, before being killed by lethal injection on July 26, 1942.

Spiritual reading: They who want to win the world for Christ must have the courage to come into conflict with it. (Blessed Titus Brandsma)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on July 25, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 20:20-28

The mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your Kingdom.” Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.” He replied, “My chalice you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: When God uses the ways we think about things to fulfill God’s promises, but God does things with a twist so that God remains faithful to the word we have understood but entirely explode the concepts so that in the end, the reality of what we receive from God totally fulfills and defies our expectations. We have a teaching in this gospel passage that exemplifies this observation about God’s behavior. At the time that Jesus lived, messianic expectations ran very high, and the notion that the messiah would be a worldly though righteous king, a king on the model of David, was common. When the mother of James and John comes to Jesus and asks him that her sons may sit at Jesus’ right and left, her model of Jesus’ kingship is the model of one who makes his authority felt. Jesus, however, uses the moment to teach.

The kingship Jesus shows to us is the kingship of one who comes not to be served but to serve, one who offers a cup we otherwise might wish to avoid, one who offers a cross to carry, one who offers his life as a ransom that others might live. And so it should be with us: that if we should wish to be first, we should make ourselves the last and the servants of everyone else.

Saint of the day: Today is the feast of St. James. James the son of Zebedee and his brother John were among the twelve disciples of Our Lord. They, together with Peter, were privileged to witness the Transfiguration, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, and the raising of the daughter of Jairus, and to be called aside to watch and pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before His death.

st_jamesJames and John were apparently from a higher social level than the average fisherman. Their father could afford hired servants, and John (assuming him to be identical with the “beloved disciple”) had connections with the high priest. Jesus nicknamed the two brothers “sons of thunder,” perhaps meaning that they were headstrong, hot-tempered, and impulsive; and so they seem to be in two incidents reported in the Gospels. On one occasion, Jesus and the disciples were refused the hospitality of a Samaritan village, and James and John proposed to call down fire from heaven on the offenders. On another occasion, the one recorded in the gospel we read at the beginning of today’s install of “Carry the Gospel with You,” they asked Jesus for a special place of honor in the Kingdom and were told that the place of honor is the place of suffering.

Finally, about AD 42, shortly before Passover, James was beheaded by order of King Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great (who tried to kill the infant Jesus), nephew of Herod Antipas (who killed John the Baptist and examined Jesus on Good Friday), and father of Herod Agrippa II (who heard the defense of Paul before Festus). James was the first of the Twelve to suffer martyrdom, and the only one of the Twelve whose death is recorded in the New Testament.

James is often called James Major (that is, “the greater” or “the elder”) to distinguish him from other New Testament persons called James. Tradition has it that he made a missionary journey to Spain, and that after his death, his body was taken to Spain and buried there, at Compostela (a town the name of which is commonly thought to be derived from the word “apostle,” although a Spanish-speaking listmember reports having heard it derived from, “field of stars,” which in Latin would be campus stellarum). His supposed burial place there was a major site of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, and the Spaniards fighting to drive their Moorish conquerors out of Spain took “Santiago de Compostela!” as one of their chief war-cries. (The Spanish form of “James” is “Diego” or “Iago”. In most languages, “James” and “Jacob” mean the same thing. Where an English Bible has “James,” a Greek Bible has IAKWBOS.)

Spiritual reading: Exhale only love. (Rumi)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on July 24, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 12:46-50

While Jesus was speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him. Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.” But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: The gospel passage contrasts two kinds of relationship with Jesus. The first relationship, familial kinship, the natural bonds of affection which connect siblings to one another and their parents powerfully pulls on our psyches. It bears all the weight of shared genes and history, and Jesus in this passage is not belittling the importance of such relationships. In fact, in the implicit acknowledgement of the importance of such relationships, he is pointing to the proportionate weight of a relationship he perceives as even more essential. Jesus is saying that no matter how important family is, the deepest relationship is the one which results from our connection to God. When another believer is mother to us, such a person nurtures us in a life of faith, hope, and love. When another believer is sister to us, such a person sticks with us through the good times and rough patches. When another believer is brother to us, such a person has our back and guards us when we are most vulnerable. Blood may be thicker than water, but baptismal water is thicker than blood.

Saint of the day: Charbel Makhluf was born as Youssef Antoun Makhlouf in Bekaa Kafra in northern Lebanon on May 8, 1828. Charbel was a Syriac-Maronite monk and priest. He was raised by an uncle because his father, a mule driver, had died when Youssef was only two years old.

In 1851, he took holy orders at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mayfouq, relocating to St. Maron monastery two years later. Here he adopted the name Charbel. He was taught by Father Nimatullah (who later became Saint Hardini) in the Seminary of Kfifan between 1853 and 1856, where he studied philosophy and theology, and was ordained six years later. He was then sent back to St. Maron Monastery, where he took a vow of silence following the example of the 5th-century St. Maron. He spent the next 23 years living as a solitary hermit.

Charbel lived as a hermit from 1875 until his death from a stroke on December 24, 1898. He was interred at St. Maron’s Monastery on Christmas Day of that year. It was reported that, during the transport of his corpse, the inclement weather conditions lessened to enable to pallbearers to fulfill their duty. Lights and supernatural phenomena at the grave were also reported. He was canonized in 1977.

Spiritual reading: Driven by the forces of love, the fragments of the world seek each other so that the world may come into being. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on July 23, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 12:38-42

Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” He said to them in reply, “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet.

“Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here. At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: Jesus asks us to respond to the signs and wonders he has worked in our lives with a generous and complete commitment of ourselves. For those of us who have heard his name and learned of the power of his resurrection, the response in return is complete reliance on God’s providence as God reveals God’s will in each next moment. Everything we have experienced to this point is all the sign we need that the next moment, too, will enjoy God’s protection. As in the gospel passage, where Jesus extols the queen of the south and the Ninevites who did not believe but trusted all the same, Jesus is telling us that many unbelievers will fare better on the day of judgment than many of us who saw, understood, but still failed to trust.

Saint of the day: From age seven on, Bridget had visions of Christ crucified. Her visions formed the basis for her activity—always with the emphasis on charity rather than spiritual favors.

She lived her married life in the court of the Swedish king Magnus II. Mother of eight children (the second eldest was St. Catherine of Sweden), she lived the strict life of a penitent after her husband’s death.

Bridget constantly strove to exert her good influence over Magnus; while never fully reforming, he did give her land and buildings to found a monastery for men and women. This group eventually expanded into an Order known as the Bridgetines (still in existence).

In 1350, a year of jubilee, Bridget braved a plague-stricken Europe to make a pilgrimage to Rome. Although she never returned to Sweden, her years in Rome were far from happy, being hounded by debts and by opposition to her work against Church abuses.

A final pilgrimage to the Holy Land, marred by shipwreck and the death of her son, Charles, eventually led to her death in 1373. In 1999, she, Saints Catherine of Siena and Edith Stein were named co-patronesses of Europe.

Spiritual reading: Grace, like water, flows to the lowest part. (Philip Yancey)

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on July 22, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Mark 6:30-34

The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place. People saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

Reflection on the gospel reading: We are called to action. As the result of our baptisms, all of us receive a commission to carry the gospel with us in our daily lives. As Jesus instructed the disciples earlier in this chapter of Mark’s gospel, we are to go forth into the world with perfect trust to preach the good news, heal the sick, and calm the troubled.

But there exists in this life of apostleship that we have assumed as the result of our baptisms a great tension, for we are called not just to action but also to contemplation. If we do not take time to recharge our batteries, if we do not take time for prayer and reflection, we do not have anything to give. On various levels, the gospel we read today makes clear that Jesus understands the human condition. When the disciples return from their mission, Jesus invites them to go away with him to rest and reflect. Jesus understands that ministry without rest and reflection can become stale, empty, and even counterproductive.

The gospel, however, also points to the need for prayerful discernment. We have at the end of the passage an example of the “best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” When Jesus and the disciples arrive at their destination to make their retreat, the crowds await them. Jesus recognizes their need — “his heart was moved with pity” — and changes his plan. A commitment to the good news demands a discerning heart that understands that the moment provides a need and an opportunity that we may not have anticipated. A discerning heart looks into the moment to understand what God calls us to do in the circumstances that present themselves.

So ultimately, the commission we receive in our baptisms to carry the gospel with us is to cultivate a continual motion of the heart inward in reflection to understand what the Lord is doing in us and outward toward the moment to understand what the Lord is asking us to do. And in precisely this do we find the meaning of being contemplatives in action.

Spiritual reading: How we fall into grace. You can’t work or earn your way into it. You just fall. It lies below, it lies beyond. It comes to you, unbidden. (Rick Bass)