Deacon Steve's Homily for Sunday, July 22nd

When we hear in the readings today about sheep and about shepherds, we probably think of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  Or maybe we think of the bishop, whose very work is to be shepherd of the people of his diocese.  Those are good images for us.

Our Catholic Church has a long tradition of describing its leaders as shepherds.  The bishop’s staff, despite any decoration that it might have, really represents the simple shepherd’s crook. These descriptions can also be found in many prayers that we hear throughout the year during Mass.  

It’s interesting to know, however, that the comparison of leaders to shepherds originally referred to political leaders, specifically the kings in ancient times.  Over the years, as people have done work to uncover the sites of ancient cities have discovered very old illustrations of kings in shepherd clothing.  This signified the ruler’s responsibility to guide and to protect the people of the kingdom.  

So, getting back to the shepherd’s staff, the hook could gently catch the stray sheep and nudge it back into the flock, while the staff itself, if turned around, could serve as a weapon against threatening animals or poachers.  This understanding of the shepherd is behind today’s first reading from the Bible – from the prophet Jeremiah.

The reading opens with a curse charging the entire monarchy, which consists of the king and all those who make up the ruling court. These leaders have not simply neglected the people of God, they have actually misled them and caused them to be scattered – probably a reference to the exile.  

The shepherds have been occupied with their own gain rather than with the well-being of the people.  And because the people were burdened with false shepherds, God promises to gather them together again as a watchful shepherd might gather lost sheep and then appoint other shepherds to care for them.

This whole idea of a shepherd keeps going in the responsorial psalm, which is probably one of the best-known passages of the Bible.  It depicts the gentle and caring qualities of the shepherd and applies them to God: “The Lord is my shepherd.”  Though the shepherd is responsible for the entire flock, this psalm reminds us that God is attentive to the needs of each individual person, not just to some impersonal group.  The extravagance that characterizes God’s kindness and concern is absolutely remarkable.  The person is shielded from harm and blameless in the sight of their enemies.  The Lord prepares a lavish meal for him or her.  Whether the phrase “house of the Lord” is a reference to the temple or merely to a place where God dwells, the basic meaning is clear.  The person has been under the loving guidance of God and will remain there forever.  A beautiful image I think, don’t you?

But as with all things in this world it seems, not all is well.  The gospel we hear today recounts an episode in which Jesus’ “heart was moved with pity” for the crowds.  This is one of the few occasions where St. Mark gives us a glimpse into the emotions of Jesus, here using a word that means a deeply felt, gut reaction (see 1:41; 8:2).  And we should remember that compassion is one of the most distinctive attributes of God.  He loves us so much.  The reason given for this was that “they were like sheep without a shepherd.”  

As with the reading from Jeremiah, the reference here is probably in reference to religious leaders, because at the time of Jesus, the Jews were an occupied people and the real political power was in the hands of the Romans.  Still, just as the earlier Israelite kings, even though they were mainly political leaders, they also exercised religious power.  What that meant was that religious leaders at the time of Jesus also enjoyed significant political influence over others.  The fact that many of them had been appointed by the Romans was a serious concern for countless religious Jews.  St. Mark does not explicitly identify Jesus as a shepherd, but you get this image because Jesus leads his disciples into a deserted place to provide them with necessary rest and relaxation.

At the times of both Jeremiah and Jesus, the people did not strictly separate political and religious leadership, as we do today.  Even so, despite the different systems running as we have today, both political and religious leaders still have the responsibility of guiding and protecting the people for whom they are responsible.  Ultimately, they exercise their authority as representatives of God who declared as in the Prophet Ezekiel: “I myself will pasture my sheep” (34:15); or of Jesus who proclaimed in the Gospel of John: “I am the good shepherd”.

This life of discord and disconnect that was present when Jesus was traveling around was still there when St. Paul was writing to the people in Ephesus, the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire and capital of Asia Minor.  It seemed not much had changed since Jesus and I would say that unfortunately we are in a similar place ourselves today.  Discord and disconnect at times.

St. Paul, in his efforts to shepherd the church there, and also here and now, reminds us that Jesus is not only the one who leads us to a peaceful place, but he is the peace that reconciles us with each other and with God.  The hostility mentioned in the psalm and hinted at in the other readings has been broken down, and the verdant pasture described there is now available to all.  But where do we find it?  How do we avail ourselves of it?

There are so many people searching today, people hungering for instruction, good people who are looking for direction.  They are not unthinking sheep who follow blindly.  

Instead, they may be parents who are worried about the future of a troubled child; a man stripped of his dignity due to unemployment; a woman facing a pregnancy alone; the elderly who may feel that their life is gradually diminishing; people who are angry and confused because they have lost confidence in leaders, whether political or religious.  They are people who are looking for answers and for meaning.  At one time or another in life, it is us. 

To whom should we turn?  God for sure is our shepherd, but God also shepherds us through the intervention and help of other people, not just the designated leaders, but all of us.  Together we have been reconciled with God; together we now make up one body.  In some way, we all have the responsibility for each other.

Let us remember as we continue our celebration of the Eucharist that Jesus gives of himself for all of us and also for each one of us. 

 

 

 

Deacon Tom's Homily for July 22nd; Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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This week we pick up in the aftermath of Jesus having sent the apostles out on their mission after “giving them authority over unclean spirits.” They would surely be rejected by many and Jesus once emphasized the danger that the disciples will face when he said, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves[1].”

Now Jesus tells the Apostles they must rest; they need to be renewed in body, mind and spirit. So, he tells them they need to come away from the crowds because the response to the apostles has been overwhelming. People are so excited about what they are hearing and what they’re seeing, they don’t allow Jesus or the apostles to even take a break to get food.

So, what strikes me is that the early proclamation of The Good News of Jesus Christ was so incredible it made people not just talk about going to the event, but they wanted to go, to see to speak with the apostles.

Another point is that when Jesus sees these crowds he’s moved to compassion for them. His response is compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He’s alluding to prophecies in the Old Testament that depict the coming Shepherd Messiah not just as a prophet but as a shepherd who’s going to protect and feed them.

So, what does he do when he shows compassion on the crowds—he begins to teach them the truth, because he knows that’s what they are hungering for, that’s what they’re leaving their homes for. Because they want the truth—the Good News—the proclamation of the Gospel.

But what if today you were to say to someone “I want to tell you about the Good News of Jesus Christ”, what sort of a response would you receive. Some people would say they already know about it and quite frankly they find the Church boring, right? Their faith is lacking. They have passive knowledge—they recognize the Church and Christ—but they have no active knowledge of Christ and his love for them.

Although church involvement was once a cornerstone of American life, U.S. adults today are divided on the importance of attending church. In the early 1970s, those claiming no religion was around three percent, today it is close to 25 percent. And among the young, the figures are even more alarming: 40 percent of those under 40 have no religious affiliation, and fully 50 percent of Catholics under 40 claim to be “nones”, or the religiously unaffiliated For every one person who joins the Catholic Church today, roughly six are leaving.

So, if that is the case, if people today respond to the gospel with apathy, it makes you wonder what’s the difference between the Gospel the apostles were preaching and the gospel as it’s preached today. If we’re giving the same fullness of truth today, we should be getting the same responses that people were having in the first century.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There will always be people who reject the Good News. This happened to Christ in his hometown of Nazareth and eventually he was crucified. But by and large the response to the Gospel was excitement, interest and it drew massive crowds with just the apostles teaching. Think of this: at the beginning of the Church, there were no dioceses, no schools, no seminaries, and no parishes. But there were evangelists. For being a “Christian” is not about just “getting saved.” It’s about sharing in Christ’s anointing to transform the world. It is not just priests and religious who are supposed to make it happen. Every single one of us is called and anointed to become part of Christ’s missionary community.

So, in short, Jesus is being depicted as the Shepherd Messiah, who is a teaching Messiah. He is not just a priest, prophet or king, but a teacher as well, a shepherd who’s going to lead the people to the truth. And now we can see where our first reading fits in with the Gospel.

Here, the prophet, Jeremiah, who lived in the sixth century B.C., delivered both a warning and a promise to God’s people. He warned the bad shepherds of coming woe because they had misled and scattered God’s flock through their covenant unfaithfulness. The kings of Israel were supposed to be good “shepherds,” as the original shepherd-king, David, had been. The sinful kings cared only for their own welfare, neglecting the care of the sheep.

God, however, promised to “raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely.” Jesus knew he was that king. The leaderless people he saw in the Gospel reminded him of his mission. In his patient teaching and exhaustion, he fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy of a coming king who would “do what is right and just in the land.”

What Mark is doing today in the gospel reading is revealing to us that Christ is the long-awaited Shepherd Messiah and that the crowds of people who are coming to hear the apostles and to hear him preach are the scattered flock of God being gathered together once again. That’s why Jesus sees them with such compassion: he is moved to teach them the truth because for centuries they’ve lacked good shepherds, they lacked the one shepherd who was going to come and reunite them and bring them back to God, and that’s Christ himself.

As often happens in our epistle reading, these verses from St. Paul can seem unrelated to the theme of our other readings. However, we can best understand the relationship if we see that St. Paul is giving us an example of how Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Here we see that he has also done the miraculous work of bringing Jews and Gentiles together, by dying for all men. And our 23rd responsorial psalm acts as a bridge between the Old and the New Testament readings.

This familiar psalm praises the treasures of being a sheep in the Lord’s flock. It describes the kind of rest and security we can trust when we follow Jesus. In peaceful times of feeding in “verdant pastures,” in times of labor as we walk “in the dark valley,” and even when we are face-to-face with our enemies, the Lord’s kindness and mercy are unfailing. Perhaps the people in the eager, anxious crowd, like us, could sing, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”

Today's scriptures remind us of the great task of pastoral leadership and challenges all of us to ask how we can make the task more effective. The command of Christ is to love one another as we have been loved and love will get you noticed if we love consistently and without reservation.

Even a chance encounter with a stranger affords us the opportunity to be friendly or generous or welcoming and although we might not see the result there is healing in a smile or a gesture of kindness. It’s time to get in our boats, so to speak, and cross to the other side, which today might mean the Ironwood neighborhood across the street. I wonder if anyone would recognize us as disciples of Christ if we walked through the area. 

 

[1] (Mt 10:16)

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me

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Deacon Tom's Homily for Thursday July 19th 2018

Today Jesus is asking us to take on his yoke and learn from him, and if we do we’ll find rest. The "yoke" was an image used by the Jews of Jesus' time to mean obedience to God's law as given by Moses.

Now we’ve all seen a yoke, even if just in a picture. A yoke had to be custom fitted to each animal to avoid discomfort and sores. If it fits correctly the animal will obey your commands. If not, the animal will rebel and quit working. Three things about a yoke: If it’s fitted properly, then the animal will be submissive to the master and willing to make small corrections. So how does this apply to use today?

This Gospel passage needs to be read together with yesterday’s passage in which Jesus tells us about knowing his Father. Only Jesus reveals the Father to us. That is where wisdom lies.

Each of us has a yoke. You may not see it but it’s there. God has given each of us a custom fitted yoke with talents and skills, not just for our use but for the benefit of all. For us, the ease of the burden is that God asks us to give what we have and not take on something we are not.

Consider this scripture text: “Take her yoke upon your neck; that your mind may receive her teaching. For she is close to those who seek her, and the one who is in earnest finds her[1]”. Three truths here: we must accept the yoke, we must be submissive to Christ’s teachings and we must change our lives through daily conversion. That image is the background of Jesus’ saying his burden is light.

My many years have taught me this: wisdom lies with knowing the Father. We can learn about what really matters in life. Today, education offers us a way up the ladder of success. That is surely important to pursue in the business of making a living. But what about making a life? What about stopping to smell the flowers?

Only Jesus offers us the knowledge we need to succeed in making a life. He imparts knowledge through his Word and sacraments and teachings from others. I highly encourage you attend conferences to hear dynamic speakers and meet other dynamic, courageous Catholics. Conferences such as the Fullness of Truth Conferences, Pilgrim Center of Hope Catholic Men’s and Women’s Conferences, Catholic Senior’s Conference, and in November The Assembly with our Archbishop, and many more,

Isaiah taught us today that when favor was shown to the wicked, they learned nothing. It was not due to their inability to learn, but of their stubborn refusal to learn. As Christ saw it, "Light has come into the world, and men have loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil[2]". Satan would have us believe that men disbelieve because they are "smart"; but that is one of Satan's favorite lies. Men disbelieve because they are wicked.

Through Christ and others, he imparts knowledge freely to anyone who seeks his knowledge of life. He teaches us to love. He will help us answer the most important question in our lives: how many times have we made selfish choice? And how many times have we sacrificed ourselves for others? Love outweighs everything else. Jesus, our teacher, will help us tip the scales in the right direction.

So, with hope and promise, let’s hitch up our own yokes, whether they be our laptops, baking tins, pruning shears, knitting needles, or prayer, which is a vital part of our communication with our Father, and take on Jesus’ work of creating the Kingdom of God.

[1] Sirach 51: 25-26

(John 3:19)[2]

To engage in dialogue

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Gospel reflection for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

There is nothing surprising in Jesus calling the Twelve to him and sending them away on missions “two by two.”

Back in those times, itinerant rabbis often travelled in this way. And as Jean Debruynne said, “two can constitute a nation.”

They go in twos and take nothing. Not even a piece of bread or money to buy provisions, nor a knapsack to collect donations.

And no second tunic either; only one, just like the poor who wear the same one day and night. They set off with just their staffs, the wind at their backs.

The road is their nourishment and richness. They have their hands to heal, and the good word to bring hope.

Their presence changes lives; they didn’t only heal the sick, they “healed the world” to borrow Gérard Bessière’s elegant expression.

They came with so little adornment, which made their transparency even more clear.

Even today, their light prevails; through their presence, these diaphanous creatures communicate a light that that lifts us with its essence, quite unbeknownst to them.

When a house welcomed the disciples warmly, Jesus told them: “Stay in the same house until your departure,” literally “until you leave,” which is a curious formulation that sounds a little like a truism.

André Chouraqui interprets this as demonstrating a desire for a certain level of stability and an aversion to agitation. The disciples are warned against moving around “from house to house.”

However, not all households were welcoming. Some villages were closed off and refused to listen.

Jesus’ advice to the disciples in such situations appears rather disdainful: “Leave and wipe the dust from your feet as a testimony against them” (Mk 6:11).

This symbolically violent gesture indicates that the refusal to welcome the word of God could be a kind of contaminant, down to the dust from the floors it came from.

It is better in such cases to remove what might be left on their sandals and leave the dust with dust. This is not a curse but an invitation, a strong one at that, to engage in dialogue.

Re-reading this passage from the Gospel and thinking about the Football World Cup and the “spirit of the ball” about which such beautiful things were written, I turned again to Walk about the Villages by the Austrian writer Peter Handke.

It is a dramatic poem which, from start to finish, invites us to get up, to rise up and to live, here and now. Here is an extract:

“You, people from here… walk about… transmit something. Those who love, alone, transmit (…) It is true, many people, even in the most sumptuous surrounds, can’t look at the world with festivity. But even if the majority are incapable of being taken further, you, you can go further. Of course, there are but few of you – but is few too little? (…)”

“You, people of now… discover yourselves in as many gods (…) The sky is vast. The village is vast (…) Stand tall (…), let color bloom. Follow this dramatic poem. Go eternally in greeting. Walk about the villages.”

I do not wish to make this about the author of The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick. And I do not wish to draw too direct a connection between the Gospel and Handke’s invitation to walk about the villages, to greet the world, and to transmit.

I simply admire the convergence of these texts, these great summons, and in my mind Jesus offers his disciples a startlingly similar invitation.

Ultimately, isn’t this what Jesus says to those he sends off, two by two?

“Walk about the villages. Go eternally in greeting. The sky is vast. Stand tall. Follow this dramatic poem. There are but a few among you, I know. Just two. But is few too little? Transmit something. Love. Walk. And, if needs be, brush the dust from your feet.”

SAINT KATERI TEKAKWITHA: PRINCESS OF THE EUCHARIST

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For many years, American Catholics who wanted to follow in the footsteps of a saint had to travel to Europe. In Assisi, they could step where Saint Francis did. In Ireland, they might walk the byways of Saint Patrick.

It wasn’t until the late-20th-century canonizations of Sister Elizabeth Ann Seton, born in New York City in 1774, and Sister Katharine Drexel, born in Philadelphia in 1858, that Americans finally had the opportunity to stay in the country when visiting places where U.S.-born saints lived and worked.

But the Big Apple and the City of Brotherly Love have changed significantly since the 18th and 19th centuries. In contrast, a virtually unspoiled place trod by a saint lies in upstate New York, thanks to the October 21 canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, who walked and prayed in what is now the central part of the Empire State. In her time, it was the land of the Mohawks.

TRIBUTE TO THE NATIVE DAUGHTER

By making a trip to the Albany Diocese, people can visit two places associated with this Native American woman. The National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine, located in Fonda, New York, and operated by the Conventual Franciscans, honors Saint Kateri’s baptismal site, while the Jesuit-run Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, New York, marks her birthplace.

The landscape where Kateri walked and prayed hasn’t changed, nor has the meaning of her life, according to Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of the Albany Diocese. Earlier this year, in the diocesan newspaper, The Evangelist, Bishop Hubbard paid tribute to the native daughter: “Despite the pristine simplicity of the civilization [Kateri] experienced and the rather drab ordinariness of her life, there are . . . some important lessons to be drawn from her pilgrim journey of faith,” he said.

First, she was “a woman who understood well and accepted with patient resignation the mystery of the Cross, that mystery which proclaims that our faith is founded on . . . the paradox of death leading to life; the paradox of suffering leading to glory; the paradox of defeat and failure leading to victory.”

Second, continued Bishop Hubbard, Saint Kateri was “a woman of magnificent fortitude, dogged determination, and unswerving conviction. A lesser person might well have yielded to the pressure . . . to squelch that thirst for the God of the Christians, which the Holy Spirit had so copiously stirred up in her heart.”

Finally, he said, Kateri was “a woman of great prayer, a woman who had a deep and abiding awareness of the Lord’s love for her and an ongoing personal relationship with him.”

COMMEMORATING THE CANONIZATION

Since its origin in 1847, the Albany Diocese has commemorated Kateri in several ways. Both the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Daughters of the Americas have chapters dedicated to her. A diocesan program carries her name: Kateri Institute for Lay Ministry Formation. Most recently, two parishes that merged in Schenectady eschewed creating a portmanteau name from the titles of the former parishes and elected to become St. Kateri Church. 

The two national shrines annually host multiple events that involve Native American Catholics. This year, the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine celebrated the saint’s feast day on July 14 with Native American rituals and songs. “I wanted to be in the place where she lived, where she was baptized, and where she is still honored,” said Eddie Ryder of Bay Shore, a town on Long Island. “I’m part Native American, and I’ve always wanted to come here and really feel Kateri’s presence.”

As Franciscan Father Mark Steed prepared to celebrate the feast-day Mass in a rustic pavilion on the shrine’s 200 acres of wooded land on the bank of the Mohawk River, he explained the significance of Kateri’s canonization for Native American Catholics. “It authenticates who they are as a people and who she was as an individual living all of those numbers of years ago,” he told Catholic News Service. “It gathers them in now to the whole Church. So they’re not sitting on the fringe. Now they are part of the inner circle.”

Four days later, more than 800 Native American Catholics from throughout North America flocked to the Albany Diocese to attend the 73rd annual Tekakwitha Conference. Holding the conference in Albany was a lucky stroke—or the intercession of a soon-to-be saint— because the event had been slated well before the canonization was announced. The conference, based in Great Falls, Montana, was started in 1939 as a way to unify Native American Catholics from different tribes across the United States.

Participants included members of the Mohawk, Choctaw, Algonquin, Navajo, Ojibwa, and other tribes. They listened to presentations ranging from the connection of Mother Earth and fracking to Native Catholic genealogy and a talk on Kateri as “a princess of the Eucharist.” Throughout the conference the smell of burning sweetgrass—known among native peoples as the “hair of Mother Earth”—wafted through Masses as congregants approached altars, offering corn, beans, and squash with the Eucharist.

Conference executive director Sister Kateri Mitchell, SSA, a Mohawk, said that the organization’s members, as well as other native peoples, routinely return to where the new saint was born and baptized because “there’s something intriguing about Kateri. She was born way back in the mid-17th century and died 24 years later. But in 2012, people still remember this Indian woman.”

WALKING ON HOLY GROUND

Sister Kateri’s own introduction to the new saint occurred when she was a child named Delia; she grew up on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, which straddles upstate New York and Canada. “My father would say on some mornings, ‘Let’s go back home.’ By ‘home,’ he meant the Mohawk Valley—Fonda and Auriesville,” she recalled. “He said that even though he had never lived there. The Mohawk people had not lived there for centuries. My father would tell the story of our people when we were there. It was like walking on holy ground.”

As the years passed, she came to love the shrines as much as her father did. “They attracted me,” she explained, and then echoed her father by saying, “It was like going home.”

Eventually, she entered religious life and chose Kateri as her name. When her order later permitted its members to return to their baptismal names, she consulted her parents. “My mother and father said, ‘Keep Kateri.’ It’s a very special name to me. I’m a Kateri more than a Delia.”

The uniqueness of the Kateri sites in upstate New York, she says, is that “they are so beautiful. Nature itself captivates you. People have told me they go there annually because they find a connection with nature and Kateri. It’s very peaceful and sacred. Saint Kateri calls people to deepen their own spiritual lives.”

In 1987, while visiting the United States, Pope John Paul II called Kateri “the best-known witness of Christian holiness among the native people of North America. . . . She always remained . . . a true daughter of her people, following her tribe in the hunting seasons and continuing her devotions in the environment most suited to her way of life, before a rough cross carved by herself in the forest. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the great gift of God’s love, is never in contrast with what is noble and pure in the life of any tribe or nation, since all good things are his gifts.”

Sister Kateri believes that those good gifts include Saint Kateri and the land her people loved, where today’s Catholics can walk in her footsteps.

A SHORT HISTORY OF SAINT KATERI

When Kateri Tekakwitha was proclaimed Saint Kateri Tekakwitha on October 21, she became the first member of a North American tribe to be declared a saint. “The Lily of the Mohawks,” Kateri was born in 1656 in a village along the Mohawk River called Ossernenon, now known as Auriesville, New York. Her father was a Mohawk chief, her mother a Christian Algonquin raised among the French.

When Kateri was 4, a smallpox epidemic claimed her parents and baby brother. She survived, but her face was disfigured and her vision impaired. She was raised by her anti-Christian uncle, who began to plan her marriage. But after meeting with Catholic priests, Kateri decided to be baptized.

Following her Baptism by a Jesuit missionary in 1676 at age 20, Kateri’s family and village ostracized and ridiculed her. She fled the next year to Canada, taking refuge at St. Francis Xavier Mission in the Mohawk Nation at Caughnawaga on the St. Lawrence River, about 10 miles from Montreal, and made her first Communion on Christmas in 1677.

Kateri astounded the Jesuits with her deep spirituality and her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She took a private vow of virginity and devoted herself to teaching prayers to the children and helping the sick and elderly of Caughnawaga.

She died in 1680 at age 24. According to eyewitnesses, the scars on her face suddenly disappeared after her death. Soon after, Catholics started to claim that favors and miracles had been obtained through her intercession. Native Americans have made appeals to the Catholic Church for her recognition since at least the late 1800s.

Documentation for Kateri’s sainthood cause was sent to the Vatican in 1932. She was declared venerable in 1942 and in 1980 was beatified by Pope John Paul II.

Records for the final miracle needed for her canonization were sent to the Vatican in July 2009. It involved the full recovery of a young boy in Seattle whose face had been disfigured by flesh-eating bacteria and who almost died from the disease. His family, who is part Native American, had prayed for Kateri’s intercession. On December 19, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI signed the decree recognizing the miracle, clearing the way for Kateri’s canonization.

Bl. Kateri, the daughter of a Christian Algonquin mother, who had been taken captive by the Mohawk Indians, and of a pagan Mohawk father, was born at Ossernenon (today’s Auriesville, New York) in April 1656. Because she was born at sunrise, she was given the name Ioragade (“Sunshine”). As a result of a smallpox epidemic (1659), she lost her parents, and she was subsequently brought up by an aunt. Because Kateri’s vision had been weakened by the disease, and because she walked with her hands extended in front of her, her uncle gave her the name Tekakwitha (“who stretches out her hands”). Kateri remembered the rudiments of the Catholic faith that her mother had instilled in her, and when Jesuit missionaries visited the camp in 1667, she hesitated, in her shyness, to ask about the God whom her mother had worshiped. It was only in 1675 that she asked the missionary, who then resided at the camp, about becoming a Christian. She was baptized on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1676, and was given the name Kateri (Catherine). Because she had been harshly treated by her aunt and uncle since her conversion, the missionary suggested that she secretly go to the Indian settlement at Caughnawaga, near Montreal, where other Catholic Mohawks were then living. She arrived there in October 1677 and made her First Communion that Christmas. Her three years there were years of peace; she prayed and cared for the sick and elderly. Due to excessive acts of penance, her health failed, and she died at Caughnawaga on April 17, 1680. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980. The monument, which marks the site of her original tomb, bears the inscription: “the most beautiful flower that blossomed.”

On the Missionary Endeavor of the Church

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 15, 2018 (Zenit.org). - Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis giving today, before and after praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Today’s Gospel (Cf. Mark 6:7-13) recounts the moment in which Jesus sent the Twelve on mission. After having called them one by one by name, “to be with Him” (Mark 3:14), listening to His words and observing His healing gestures, now He calls them again “to send them out two by two” (6:7), to the villages where He was about to go. It’s a sort of “apprenticeship” for what they will be called to do, after the Lord’s Resurrection, with the power of the Holy Spirit.

The evangelical passage pauses on the missionary’s style, which we can summarize in two points: the mission has a center; the mission has a face.

The missionary disciple has first his center of reference, which is Jesus’ person. The account points it out using a series of verbs that have Him as subject – “He called to Himself,” “He began to send them,” “He gave them authority,” “He charged them,” “He said to them” (vv. 7.8.10) – so that the going and the labor of the Twelve seemed to radiate from a center, proposing again the presence and work of Jesus in their missionary action. This shows how the Apostles have nothing of their own to proclaim, or their own capacities to demonstrate, but they speak and act in as much as “sent,” in as much as messengers of Jesus.

This evangelical episode applies also to us, and not only to priests but to all the baptized, called to witness, in the different environments of life, the Gospel of Christ. And for us also, this mission is only authentic if it begins from its immutable center, which is Jesus. It’s not an initiative of individual faithful or of groups and even less so of large aggregations, but it’s the mission of the Church, inseparably united to her Lord. No Christian proclaims the Gospel on “his own,” but is only sent by the Church, which has received the mandate from Christ Himself. It is Baptism, in fact, which makes us missionaries. A baptized person who doesn’t feel the need to proclaim the Gospel, to proclaim Jesus, isn’t a good Christian.

The second characteristic of the missionary’s style is, so to speak, a face, which consists in the poverty of means. His equipment responds to a criterion of sobriety. In fact, the Twelve are given the order to “take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts” (v. 8). The Master wants them free and light, without supports and without favors, certain only of the love of Him who sends them, strong only from His word, which they go to proclaim. The staff and the sandals are the pilgrims’ supplies because such are the messengers of the Kingdom of God, not omnipotent managers; not immovable functionaries; not divas on tour. We think, for instance, of this Diocese of which I am Bishop. We think of some Saints of this Diocese of Rome: Saint Philip Nery, Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, Saint Alessio, Saint Ludovica Albertini, Saint Frances of Rome, Saint Gaspare Del Bufalo and so many others. They weren’t functionaries or entrepreneurs, but humble laborers of the Kingdom.  They had this face. And to this “face” belongs also the way in which the message is received: in fact, it could happen that it’s not received or heard (Cf. v. 11). This, too, is poverty: the experience of failure. Jesus’ experience, who was rejected and crucified, prefigures the destiny of His messenger. And it’s only if we are united to Him, dead and risen, that we succeed in finding the courage of evangelization.

May the Virgin Mary, first disciple and missionary of the Word of God, help us to take the message of the Gospel to the world, in humble and radiant exultance, beyond every rejection, incomprehension or tribulation.

Bond between Sts. Benedict and Francis shows holiness is contagious

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With the recent celebration of the feast day of Saint Benedict, the famous cave of Subiaco was highlighted as the place and focal point of the saint’s living out of his desire for peace. In that cave, for almost three years, the young hermit became the spiritual powerhouse that caused others to follow him and led to the formalization of monasticism in the West.

From Benedict’s example, many others with similar intentions and desires have visited Subiaco through the ages.

This shouldn’t surprise us, since saints always beget other saints. By contrast, when “holiness” only leads to a cult of personality, an environment of control, or massive accumulations of wealth, then the self-proclaimed holiness reveals itself to be a fake and a mere illusion of authentic spiritual growth.

On the other hand, holiness - or a sincere hunger and thirst for holiness - always nurtures an edifying community, an emulation among others, and a certain spiritual generation in the perfection of charity. Simply put, veritable holiness is contagious.

When we see our fellow human beings genuinely labor for a right relationship with God and neighbor, we are encouraged to improve ourselves and cultivate such relationships in our own lives.

And so, true to this progeny of the spiritual life, it shouldn’t catch us off guard that Saint Benedict’s legacy and the cave of Subiaco attracted other people. It makes sense that such a cave would become a magnet for those seeking a peace with God, themselves, their neighbors, and creation.

Of all such guests, one of the more prominent visitors to Subiaco was a wounded military veteran, abandoned by his family, uncertain of his mission in life, and yet seeking God and zealously desiring the peace that only he can give.

Coming from Assisi in the mountainous region of Umbria, this young pioneer of the spiritual life, Francis by name, went to the cave of Benedict. Yes, holiness is irresistible.

And so, some six centuries after the great abbot’s death, a beggar before God went to the proto-Benedictine’s place of spiritual rejuvenation and desperately sought his intercession and guidance.

Hearing the solemn commission, “Rebuild my Church,” Francis of Assisi sought to answer and fulfill this summons. He turned to Benedict. While not feeling a call to the Benedictine Order (or monasticism in general), Francis knew that Benedict’s patrimony and example were a source of enlightenment, encouragement, and direction.

From Saint Benedict, the young Francis learned about the importance and reverence owed to a cloister, a secured sacred place, as well as the regular ora et labora - the work and prayer - of a monk.

Saint Francis, inspired by the Benedictines and empowered by the grace of Subiaco, brought the monastic cloister into a friar’s heart and gave the work of the monk a broader evangelical expression, namely, Saint Francis helped to give the Church the mendicant charism.

The word mendicant comes from the Latin word for beggar, and it was the name given to the new begging orders of the thirteenth century. It was precisely this mendicant charism that gave a renewed and diverse expression to consecrated service in the life of the Christian community.

The mendicant orders, of which the Franciscans were the most prominent, brought about new branches from the living tree of faith. Never in opposition to the other expressions of this faith, the Franciscans were a breath of fresh air at a time of great need in the life of the Church.

Such a renovation was possible because of the tradition of holiness. It was actualized by one human person being inspired by another. It flourished by one heart speaking to another. This is the credible path that leads to true holiness and service within the human family.

Incidentally, in Subiaco, the monks realized the work of God in Saint Francis of Assisi. One of the Benedictines was even moved to sketch his portrait on one of the walls. It’s the only image made of Francis in his lifetime, and that portrait in Benedict’s cave reflects the powerful reality: Holiness begets holiness. True saints inspire future saints.

This reality should encourage each of us in our own journey of faith. What saints motivate us to be better believers? Are we energizing others by our faith and selfless service?

While often not associated together, the spiritual friendship of Benedict and Francis is a lesson and help along the way. It’s a friendship that has brought about tremendous good and one that should compel us all to allow ourselves to be spiritually uplifted and to always generously uplift others.

Focus on the Reasons You Can

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Almost everything worth accomplishing in life is difficult.

Think about it: a successful marriage, intentional parenting, a growing career… they all require effort and discipline to overcome obstacles.

Even smaller goals: staying physically healthy, living on a budget, or crafting a focused life are not easy in the world we live in. These lifestyle goals, which are certainly worth accomplishing, can be difficult and require purposeful living.

Most of the things worth accomplishing in life are difficult—at least, to some extent.

Because of this fact, it seems to me, there will always be stumbling blocks that stand in the way of us accomplishing meaningful pursuits.

A number of years ago I attended a conference that featured the world-renowned, critically-acclaimed, and prolific writer, Anne Lamott. During one particular Q&A session, Anne was bombarded with questions from aspiring writers struggling to overcome obstacles.

One such attendee (I remember vividly to this day) asked the accomplished writer this question, “How do I find time to become the writer I want to be? I am a new mother, tired and ragged, and I just can’t find the energy to write during this phase of my life. Should I wait until it passes?”

Anne’s response was swift, pointed, and memorable.

She replied, “Listen, there is always going to be an available excuse as to why you can’t do your writing. You are newly-married, or you have a young child. Next, you will have more than one child, or you will be parenting teenagers, or beginning a new career, or traveling too often, or involved in this or that. There will always be a reason why you think you can’t do what you need to do. The pursuit is to overcome these obstacles in order to realize what you are called to accomplish.”

I’ve never forgotten Anne’s words of wisdom that day. Anything worth accomplishing in life is going to be difficult. And there are always going to be reasons why you can’t accomplish it.

That’s why, it is vitally important to discipline ourselves to focus our thoughts on the reasons we can, rather than the reasons we can’t.

There’s not a doubt in my mind there are countless reasons you can’t accomplish what you most want to do:

You can’t get into physical shape because you don’t have the time, your body hurts too much, or it will take too long.

You can’t live within your means because you don’t make enough money, you’re supporting too many, or life has not been fair to you.

You can’t be a faithful, loving spouse because your partner has made it too difficult, you never had a proper model growing up, or you’re just too tired at the end of the day.

You can’t accomplish your greatest career goals because you’re not smart enough, you started too late, or other people are conspiring against you.

You can’t declutter your home and get your physical possessions in order because of this spouse, or those kids, or that family you grew up in, or your love for figurines means you can never overcome consumerism in your life.

As I said before, there’s not a doubt in my mind there are reasons why you can’t do any of the difficult things you want to do. And if you continue to focus on those obstacles, you never will.

However, I also know there are countless reasons why you can do exactly what you want to do.

And those who focus on the reasons they can are the ones who reach the mountaintop.

Yes, you can get in better physical shape. If you can still move your body, you can begin making strides in that direction. Sure, it may hurt at first. But others have turned their life around, and so can you.

Yes, you can live within your financial means. It’s going to take sacrifice and effort and discipline. But others have done it, so can you.

Yes, you can be a loving and faithful spouse. It’s going to require humility, a decision to love someone despite their flaws and imperfections, and maybe some outside advice and help. But others have done it, so can you.

You can accomplish your career goals. It’s going to require initiative, hard work, perseverance, and pushing through your personal boundaries every single day. But others have done it, so can you.

And yes, you can declutter your home and minimize your possessions. It’s going to require finding time to get started, internal reflection, and finding the ability to make hard decisions. But others have done it, and so can you.

Your most important work is rarely the easiest work. In fact, just the opposite is more true. Your most meaningful and significant work will be the hardest for you to accomplish.

Those who focus on the reasons they can’t will forever remain paralyzed by their pessimism.

But those who focus on the reasons they can, find hope and energy and perseverance. And in the end, they are most satisfied with the life they have chosen to live.

What significant goal are you pursuing in your life? Write it down somewhere. Now, just below that pursuit, write down all the reasons you know it’s possible to achieve. Think of the factors within you and the factors outside of you.

And then, for your sake and ours, focus on all the reasons you can achieve your most meaningful goals.

Because we all desperately need you to live your best life.

How I learned to share my faith at work without saying a word

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You can be fully yourself on the job if you keep these things in mind ...

It was Ash Wednesday, and I had a dilemma. I wanted to get ashes on my forehead to mark the beginning of Lent and my commitment to observing the 40 days before Easter, but I just couldn’t do it.

The thought of showing up to work with a large, black smudge on my forehead made me break out in a cold sweat. What would coworkers think? Would they ask me about it? Would people stare at me in meetings? Would they think I was too pious?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not ashamed of my faith. But I don’t want to be the center of attention. I’m wary of offending someone, or making coworkers uncomfortable by wearing my faith on my forehead.

So I didn’t go to church, and I didn’t hear the priest say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” as he was pressing ashes onto my forehead. I missed out on an important ritual of my faith because I was too afraid.

I often struggle with how much to let my faith “show” at work — or if I should at all.

I’ve been dealing with different forms of this struggle since childhood — at school or in other larger social settings. I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist church where I had to witness (and take part in) door-to-door visits. It felt like cold calling on neighbors to try to convert them to Christianity — an introvert’s worst nightmare. It traumatized me. In high school, I thought I was a sinner if I didn’t overtly try to convince my agnostic friends to switch to Team Christian. I remember awkwardly inviting a friend to go to church with me. I could tell she didn’t want to go, but felt obligated. These experiences left me with a form of evangelism PTSD. No wonder I’m hesitant to expose too much of my beliefs at work.

At the same time, I also don’t want to feel like I’m living two lives: my work life and my “other” life. I want my life to be integrated.

So what’s the answer? How can I have integrity — not hiding parts of myself — when it comes to faith and work? And what about being light and salt? Knowing that this conflicted state of being affects many people, I decided to seek answers from some spiritual scholars.

A tricky balance

For me, it isn’t about trying to convert my colleagues to my faith, but feeling free to express my beliefs freely through my actions and words. But it’s a gray area. Most employees and bosses alike would agree that you need to tread carefully. “In fact, some of the old gospel-sharing methods are unwise, if not flat-out unethical,” says Bill Peel, Director of the Center for Faith at Work at LeTourneau University, and author of Workplace Grace: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work. “A workable model for evangelism must respect the nonbeliever’s integrity and vulnerability while also considering the professional’s fiduciary responsibility.”

Not only that, if an employee is too heavy-handed when trying to convert coworkers, it may be against the law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, color, national origin, and religion, requires an employer (of 15 or more employees) to provide reasonable religious accommodations — which may include proselytizing. However, it also requires an employer to maintain a workplace free from unlawful harassment.

So HR managers have to strike a delicate balance when it comes to dealing with evangelization at work. They have to let employees have religious freedom, but they also have to protect employees from harassment.

Courtney Leyes writes in HR Professionals Magazine that “it’s an employer’s obligation to take reasonable steps to maintain a workplace free from unlawful harassment. If the complained-of conduct is unwelcome proselytizing,” she writes, the HR professional is not required to permit proselytizing at the expense of other employees.

John Shore, in his article, “10 Reasons It’s Wrong to Evangelize in the Workplace,” adds: “Unless part of your job description reads, ‘Evangelize to your co-workers,’ you are effectively stealing from your employer when you spend company time doing that. Worse, you are making your employer vulnerable to all kinds of trouble it does not want. As one Human Resources expert succinctly put it: ‘Religion, like politics, is a workplace topic that is guaranteed to generate an HR sh** storm.’”

Attraction, not promotion

So instead of forcing my faith on my coworkers, or going to the other extreme and shutting down my faith altogether while on the job, I tend to adhere to the “attraction, not promotion” idea. As author Bill Peel writes, “We must first do our jobs well. We must do our work with integrity. And we must show people that we care.”

That sounds like good advice to me.

Unlike the door-to-door canvassing I was forced to do as a child, I now express my faith more quietly. I try to do my job well and care for those I work with. I wear a crucifix that reminds me I am God’s beloved child. I post things on my Facebook page about going to Mass, or add a link to an article or book that has religious themes. I wrote a book about God’s abundance, and I invited some of my coworkers to my book release party. I’d be surprised if anyone at work didn’t know that my faith was important to me.

I try to find “God” moments throughout the day. The spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola remind me to find God in all things. Like the time a friend at work wanted to have coffee to talk about the meaning of life. Or another time a coworker sought me out to confess her depression — and asked me how my faith gave me hope. And yet another time a friend was sobbing in the bathroom because her boyfriend had just broken up with her. I hope I was able to show Christ’s love to all of these coworkers.

Let’s face it — the workplace can be brutal. It’s often a dog-eat-dog world, and the values of those around you may not match your own. We are called to be the light, and to shine brightly. But there are many ways to do that. And when I don’t know how, I just rub the crucifix around my neck and pray that God will show me the way.

We Can Learn From Our Temptations

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“Temptations are very profitable to man, troublesome and grievous though they may be, for in them a man is humbled, purified, and instructed.” (Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chapter 13)

Sometimes I get discouraged when I experience temptation. Pride creeps in my heart as I imagine myself holier to be than I actually am. Temptation reminds me that I’m very human and incredibly weak, which I hate to admit to myself or anyone else.

It takes a lot of prayer for me to see the truth about temptation — that it is actually an opportunity to choose what is right. In this sense, it is a gift. Instead of believing I have reached perfection, temptations test my faith and ability to fight my inclination toward pleasure and selfishness.

When I read the introductory quote during my Marian consecration renewal, temptation as a gift suddenly made so much more sense. The fact that God intends for us to profit from temptation — to grow in virtue, to strengthen our will — is incredibly helpful when I am facing my own defects. Here is a reflection about how we can benefit from temptation.

Humility

There are some temptations that humble us. We realize that we are capable of great sin but also great holiness, and as a result, we know we truly aren’t superior or inferior to the worst of sinners.

My husband, Ben, used to be a reserve sheriff’s deputy. He would often share with me incredibly pitiful stories of otherwise ordinary people getting entangled in criminal activity related to their addictions. At first, I would scoff and make judgments about how heinous their behavior was. There was a haughtiness in my words.

But over time, I came to see that I’m really not that different from them. I, too, have the potential to commit immoral acts. It’s all about combating temptation when it begins in the mind, and none of us do this perfectly all the time (which is why we’re not yet saints).

In this regard, temptation is spiritually beneficial, because we grow in profound humility about who we really are and what our humanity means. In turn, we realize the need for total dependence on God’s grace and increase our desire to cooperate with it.

Patience

Shortly after our second daughter, Sarah, was born, I was overwhelmed at the prospect of having more children in the future. I was terrified of the life we were forced into with doctor’s appointments and surgeries, and I simply didn’t believe I could handle the demands of yet more infants. For the first time in my life, I understood why couples choose contraception or sterilization as “options” for controlling their fertility. And this temptation terrified me, because I had always been staunchly pro-life.

Yet acknowledging the temptation and succumbing to it are entirely different. Of course, I knew immediately that I would not choose either of those two “options,” but they did make sense to me because of the exhaustion and demands of parenting small children.

Temptation in this instance helped me grow in patience. I knew that my years of fertility would likely span the course of a decade or more and that Ben and I would continue to traverse that very arduous path of monitoring my reproductive health while also conversing about our openness to new life.

You might experience certain temptations that visit you incessantly, which can be very frustrating. Be assured, though, that God wants you to grow in fortitude – to continue fighting the allurements of what seems easier but is morally deadly. Patience strengthens your will to fight the devil, the flesh, and the world.

Purification/Perfecting Virtue

Temptation purifies our souls when we choose what is right. Because I mostly write about the value of suffering, people ask me all the time why God allows such things as temptation or trials. I’ve thought about this through the years, and it occurred to me not long ago that love isn’t love unless you choose it.

If we never encountered struggles or faced our vices, then we wouldn’t necessarily see the value of what is good, beautiful, and true. I can’t really love God unless I choose to reject what I know offends him and what will separate me from him. Temptation, then, can aid us in acquiring the virtues that are most lacking in our lives.

Father Jean C D’Elbee wrote, “The more we love Jesus, and the more we draw near to him, the more we reject what does not belong to him, whatever he condemns…” The greatest virtue we acquire when we refuse to commit sin is an increase in love for God. When we love, we never want to hurt the one we love.

Instruction/Discipline

God disciplines those whom he loves. We read about this in Hebrews 12:6, but discipline still feels like punishment to us. Chastisement stings, because it bruises our egos and wounds our pride. Still, consider the following thought from the Imitation of Christ: “In temptation and tribulation, it is proved what progress man has made, and there is also great merit and virtue is made more manifest.” (Book 1, Chapter 13)

Consider what spiritual progress happens when you are instructed by God through temptation. Each time you resist evil, you’re strengthened to do what is good. Your heavenly Father is the benevolent parent who looks out for your welfare, and resisting temptation is simply one means by which you inch closer to your eternal reward. We can look to Fr. D’Elbee again for the final word about temptation: “Humiliating as it is, temptation is an occasion for victory.”

By Jeannie Ewing

Jeannie Ewing believes the world ignores and rejects the value of the Cross. She writes about the hidden value of suffering and even discovering joy in the midst of grief.  As a disability advocate, Jeannie shares her heart as a mom of two girls with special needs in Navigating Deep Waters and is the author of From Grief to Grace , A Sea Without A Shore , and Waiting with Purpose.  Jeannie is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic magazines.   She, her husband, and three daughters live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website jeannieewing.com.

How Christianity is like one big Thai cave rescue

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Could today's feast of St. Benedict be any more Providential?

Just in time for St. Benedict’s feast day, the Wild Boars boys’ soccer team has been rescued from the Tham Luang cave in Thailand.

The boys probably won’t be celebrating St. Benedict, but I will on their behalf. St. Benedict is the patron saint of cavers. More to the point, he is one of the reasons you can see the whole of Christianity as a cave rescue.

First, you have to go all the way back to the cave man.

At the summer Napa conference two years ago, Father Robert Spitzer made a modern, scientific version of an argument G.K. Chesterton made in Everlasting Man.

To explain the proof we have for an immaterial soul, Father Spitzer cited research that 70,000 years ago something happened to early human beings that caused an intellectual explosion of art, complex language, abstract mathematics, religion and morality.

“I would submit that this ‘something’ is a transcendent soul,” Father Spitzer said. When the first couple, and their children after them, received a soul, humanity began asking “What?” “Why?” “Where?” “When?” “How?” and “How many?” he said. “This led to a tremendous explosion of exploration, discovery, art, and religion.” After this, humanity started spreading over the globe.

In other words, the art the “cave men” drew on walls was one of the first expressions of the soul — and that same soul led humankind to leave the cave behind.

“Leaving the cave” became the perfect metaphor for learning.

Plato, in The Republic, compared the human condition to being imprisoned in a cave where we never see the light, but only shadows. Philosophers are those who make their way out of the cave and see the real world — but they have to be careful how they talk about their experience, because people in the dark don’t like the light.

Then God himself did something very strange: He entered our caves to save us, twice.

After Altamira and Plato’s cave came the two most important caves in history: The one at Bethlehem and the one outside Jerusalem.

Justin Martyr (100-165) wrote how “since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave” near Bethlehem. Jesus’ burial place was hewn out of a cave, too, one we are learning more about to this day.

Thus, Jesus himself followed this trajectory of humanity, entering our caves and then emerging from them victorious. He also neatly reversed Plato’s cave analogy — in the manger and in the empty tomb, the Light of the World shone out from the cave.

The catacombs are the next significant caves of Christianity.

Early Christians almost literally followed Jesus Christ’s example. Under early Roman persecution, Christians descended into the Rome’s cavernous underground burial tunnels to honor the martyrs with the sacraments that connected them to God.

In the catacombs, vast necropolises of the dead, Christians once again expressed their humanity through art — this time connecting humanity and divinity in cave drawings of Christ.  

Again, when we emerged from the catacombs we were ready to spread throughout the world, this time teaching Christ.

Which brings us to St. Benedict.

Next, around the year 500, Benedict, a young Italian nobleman, went to Rome to be educated. There, he was disgusted by the casual sin he saw all around him and became a hermit living in a cave near a monastery 40 miles from Rome.

With the same results.

“The small, obscure grotto of Subiaco,” wrote St. John Paul II, “became the cradle of the Benedictine Order. From it a bright beacon of faith and civilization shone out which, through the example and work of the holy Patriarch’s spiritual sons flooded the West and East of Europe and the other continents.”

He became the patron saint not only of cavers, but of religious orders, and Europe.

We all need to be rescued from caves.

In mythology, caves are symbols of mankind’s reawakening. From Beowulf to Batman, from Aeneas to The Empire Strikes Back, caves are places where we confront our demons and emerge remade.

The Church helpfully offers us many such places. Confessionals, which often look like coffins, are dark places we enter to obliterate our sins and leave renewed. The tabernacle, like the manger and the Holy Sepulcher, is a dark place that shines with the light of God.

Like St. Benedict, each of us needs to let God enter the darkest corners of our soul and rescue us from the stagnant airless deeps, out into the light of the world.

Just like the Thai soccer team.

St. Notburga – The Skeleton Saint of Social Justice

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I did a double-take upon spying a sharply dressed female skeleton raising a shiny sickle with her right hand. Positioned center stage on the altar of St. Rupert’s Church in Eben, Austria, the impeccably tailored skeletal saint appears to be Mexican folk saint Santa Muerte, but she is not. Saint Death’s Austrian doppleganger is St. Notburga, a peasant woman who lived in the Tyrolian region of Austria from 1265 to 1313 and because of her acts of charity with the poor was canonized in 1862 and is known as the matron saint of peasants and servants. Thus, it’s not only that she’s a female skeleton dressed to kill that approximates her to the Mexican death saint but also her special appeal to those who occupy the lowest rungs of societies plagued by acute socioeconomic inequalities, namely contemporary Mexico and feudal Europe.

For those of you surprised that the skeleton of the Tyrolian saint is the main attraction at the church in Eben, it should be pointed out that the sickle-wielding bony lady is but one, albeit one of the most impressive, of scores of skeletal saints housed at monasteries and churches throughout Catholic Germania, namely Austria, Switzerland, and most importantly Germany itself. While one might expect to encounter these beautiful bejeweled skeletal saints in more heavily Catholic nations such as Italy and Spain, it’s the Teutonic regions that were on the front lines of the Protestant Reformation, spearheaded by Martin Luther, and the subsequent Counter-Reformation in which the exquisitely adorned skeletal relics were manufactured. The Reformation, of course, led to violent campaigns in Germania against the cult of the saints and holy relics in which images and body parts of Catholic holy women and men were destroyed as symbols of “Roman idolatry.”

While significant swaths of Germania joined Luther’s religious revolution, the southern region became one of the epicenters of the Counter-Reformation in which the cult of the saints did not only continue but was revitalized with the importation of the skeletal remains of putative saints and martyrs from the Roman catacombs. The term putative applies here because during the Middle Ages there was a robust black market in bogus relics that were bought and sold by unscrupulous merchants who misrepresented the blood and bones of deceased commoners as those of certain saints. This is why, for example, the more prominent saints would appear to be miraculously endowed with extra body parts, such as the various heads of St. John the Baptist that can be found in different European countries.

So bones and skeletons of mostly unknown origin were traipsed from the Roman Catacombs across the Alps where nuns lovingly transformed them into regally bejeweled and attired “catacomb saints.” The opulence of these skeletal saints stood in stark contrast to the austerity of Lutheran churches where such eye-candy was considered a distraction from worshiping God. The regal opulence of the skeletal saints did double duty in the Counter-Reformation campaign to shore up the faith in the battle for souls with Lutheran “heretics.” The life-size skeletal memento mori reminded Catholics to lead a Christian life during an era in which life expectancy was about half of what it is today – in the 80s. And the reward for a life of Catholic piety could be the treasures of heaven symbolized by the bling and fine threads worn so regally by the catacomb saints.

But the story of skeletal Notburga is not only one of a “weaponized saint” (in the words of my colleague, the anthropologist Dr. Kate Kingsbury) in the battle with Lutherans over Germanic souls but also one of social justice. The hagiographical account of her lifeposits Notburga as a cook at the estate of Count Henry of Rattenberg who was in the habit of giving food from the noble kitchen to the poor. Upon discovery of this, the lady of the estate ordered Notburga to feed the leftovers to the pigs instead. Undeterred by the temporary setback, the saint-to-be continued her mission to the poor by donating some of her own rations to the needy in the area.

One day on her way to deliver a food donation Notburga was surprised by the count who demanded to see what she was carrying. Miraculously, he saw vinegar and shavings instead of the actual wine and victuals she had in her sack. The suspicious Lady Ottilia nonetheless had Notburga fired for insubordination. Shortly after dismissing the determined Notburga, the lady of the estate fell deathly ill, and despite having been sacked, Notburga stayed on as a death doula, caring for her mistress until she died.

The generous cook then found employment with a peasant in the town of Eben on the condition she be allowed to attend church Sunday evenings and participate in Catholic festivals. In violation of the terms of her employment, Notburga’s boss commanded her to keep working in the fields one Sunday evening to which she responded by tossing her farm tool in the air saying “let my sickle be judge between me and you.” The sharp blade miraculously remained suspended in the air.

Meanwhile Count Henry had suffered a serious reversal of fortune, which he attributed to Notburga’s departure. In an attempt to rectify the situation he rehired the angel of the poor, which naturally led to renewed prosperity on his estate. Shortly before her death, the humble friend of the poor requested that the count have her corpse placed in a wagon pulled by two oxen, and that wherever the beast of burden should stop was where she was to be buried. The oxen came to a stop at the Chapel of St. Rupert where her skeleton has apparently remained for the past seven centuries.  It’s not clear at what point her skeleton was elegantly attired and displayed front and center at the magnificent Tyrolian church, but as an eye-catching memento mori St. Notburga is a compelling call to make the most of our brief time on earth remembering the plight of our less fortunate sisters and brothers.

Communicating by Listening

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Jeff Cavins

The goal of a debate or a discussion about the Faith should not be to win; the goal should be to share Christ. This involves more than just telling people what Scripture says, it involves listening to where they are coming from and then giving them an answer that meets the pain and angst that they are experiencing in their life. Today, Jeff gives you ten points on how to become a better listener to others so that you can touch people’s hearts and answer their questions with the message of the gospel.

Ten Ways to Become a Better Listener

  1. Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. (James 1:19)
  2. Look into their eyes. Don’t be distracted. Don’t look around or beyond them.
  3. Love them by listening to their heart.
  4. Ask the Lord to help you listen to where they are coming from.
  5. Recognize that your response may not come all at once, but in stages.
  6. Avoid being offended by what they say, don’t take it personally.
  7. Be willing to change if they have a good point.
  8. Don’t formulate thoughts when the other person is speaking. Just listen.
  9. Remember their name and use it often.
  10. You don’t need to cover every point.

Other Tips

  1. Ask follow up questions and repeat back to them what they said in your own words.
  2. Your body language is important. (e.g. Your eyes and mouth can give away that you are ready to interrupt.)
  3. Avoid any “why” questions, instead, look for information with “what” questions.

Judging Others Or Constructive Criticism

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What's the difference between judging others and constructive criticism? 

GOD'S RESPONSE 

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own? Matthew 7:1-3

Don't speak evil against each other, my dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize each other and condemn each other, then you are criticizing and condemning God's law. James 4:11

† One coach berates a player publicly for making a mistake in a game. Another coach waits until the game is over and tells the player privately how to avoid making the same mistake again. Though no one likes criticism----even when it is constructive-we sometimes need it. But it is much easier to receive criticism when it is offered gently and in love, rather than in a harsh or humiliating way. A judge criticizes with no effort to see the person succeed or improve. One who offers constructive criticism invests in building a relationship and helping the other person become who God created him or her to be. 

GOD'S CHALLENGE

You must make allowance for each other's faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Colossians 3:13

The One Year Men's Mini-Devotional

Are Some Problems Too Big?

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It’s easy to be optimistic in opportunity, and it’s natural to see a silver lining when everything is super. But it’s a bit tougher to keep your chin up when life knocks it down, and while you’re sinking in the waves of adversity you find it hard to stay afloat on faith. Just being honest. And you can repeat to yourself over and over, “God’s got this,” yet feeling like you believe it is hard. Because you can have faith in your heart to move a mountain, but in your mind, even molehills stay stationary. Hope is easy to hang on to in intention, but remaining hopeful in reality tougher. I can say, “no matter what, I trust you, Lord,” and truly mean it, yet it won’t keep the dismay at bay. Not completely. Sometimes human nature sucks.

I’ve found myself lately going through some changes. Change is always hard. It’s easier when it’s brought on by the Lord’s urging, but not without difficulty. So as we’ve found ourselves adjusting to new situations, and especially as we’ve found ourselves waiting for the glorious next step, it’s been a season of growing pains. I say, “ok, Lord, I’m ready,” but that doesn’t make it go by any quicker. I’m still in the waiting.

Ugh. The waiting. I hate the waiting. I know it brings growth. That’s what everyone says. But gosh, it’s awful. Can we all just agree it’s awful?

And then there’s the whole enormity of the issues you face. The world whispers words like “unlikely, unrealistic,” or even the dreaded “impossible.” The world will say you can’t, that the odds are stacked too much against you, but then the Lord will whisper, I can.

The reality of life will say I can’t sell my house in this market. It will say the dreams are too lofty, and that perhaps some mountains can’t be climbed. It will say the numbers don’t add up, you’re not brave enough to do something new and scary, and that your plans are too unconventional to work. But I suppose if God is leading you to something then even apparent logic doesn’t matter.

I was reminded last night of an obstacle I faced as a young woman. I felt the Lord leading me to leave my comfort zone, leave the man I loved, leave the country! I was being led to the mission field, but I had a problem in my way. It wasn’t my folks or even college before me. It was Epilepsy.

Since the age of eight, I had been medicated for abnormal brain activity and the accompanying migraines. I took medication twice a day to keep the seizures away, and I saw my neurologist at least every three-six months for extensive testing. Every EEG I endured always came back the same (all wrong), and whenever I was anxious or stressed I would fall down in tears at the impending aura. A pressure would build in my ears, and a harsh sound like the muffled voices of hundreds of people speaking too fast for me to understand their words would fill my head. All the soft sounds were loud, and it was like the scratching of a pencil on paper was a thousand nails on a massive chalkboard. Yet in these moments a voice of someone addressing me sounded like it was a million miles away. This burden I bore was my obstacle. How could I travel into the jungles of Guyana with seizures, and how could I manage the logistics of medications needed and unfilled prescriptions while overseas?!

The world would say it just wasn’t going to happen for me. Not everyone could go into the mission field. But God would say, “nothing is too big for me.”

He would miraculously heal me a month before I was to depart.

He would somehow take abnormal brain waves and make them right, and even the neurologist would be stunned.

“It’s a miracle,” he said.

God would answer my prayers and not just try and fix it where I could get an extended amount of anti-seizure medication like I hoped. He went beyond working with the insurance companies. Instead, He removed my obstacle completely.

When the world would say impossible, He would say, done.

Whenever I face impossible or worrisome situations in this life, God is good to remind me of the things He has already done. He’s a healer and mountain mover, and just because an obstacle looks different, it doesn’t mean He isn’t faithful to make things happen. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Waiting is hard. Problems harder. But God is an excellent problem solver. The wonderful thing is that even when my faith wavers, and when my emotions betray me, He is the same. He is constant, and despite my laborious stumbles He always makes the way. His way. No problem is too big for our God.

Posted By Brie Gowen
Brie Gowen is a 30-something (sliding ever closer to 40-something) wife and mother. When she’s not loving on her hubby, chasing after the toddler or playing princess with her four-year-old, she enjoys cooking, reading and writing down her thoughts to share with others. Brie is also a huge lover of Jesus. She finds immense joy in the peace a relationship with her Savior provides, and she might just tell you about it sometime. She’d love for you to check out her blog at BrieGowen.com.

Taste and See

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This beautiful Eucharistic hymn, written by James Moore, is a familiar modern hymn with a gentle, meditative melody.

The words:  

Taste and see, taste and see
the goodness of the Lord.
Oh, taste and see, taste and see
the goodness of the Lord, of the Lord.

1 I will bless the Lord at all times.
Praise shall always be on my lips;
my soul shall glory in the Lord;
for God has been so good to me. (Refrain)

Glorify the Lord with me.
Together let us all praise God’s name.
I called the Lord, who answered me;
from all my troubles I was set free. (Refrain)

Worship the Lord, all you people.
You’ll want for nothing if you ask.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
in God we need put all our trust. (Refrain)

It’s not easy to find good choral performances of it online, but here’s a lovely solo rendition:

Daily Gospel Reflection Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Friends, today’s Gospel develops a theme that is uncomfortable. It tells how the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus. Authentically religious people, authentically spiritual people, will almost always be opposed. The logic behind this is simple and unanswerable: we live in a world gone wrong, a world turned upside down; therefore, when someone comes speaking the truth to us, we will think that they are crazy and dangerous.

Think for just a moment what would happen to you if you consistently and publicly spoke the word of God to our culture. If you spoke out against abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, human trafficking, rampant materialism, and ideological secularism, what would happen to you? If you presented, in a full-throated way, the full range of Catholic social and moral and spiritual teaching, what would they do to you? Today’s Gospel offers a clue.

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Going With Jesus To His Native Place

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Today I am in Jerusalem on a solo pilgrimage following the footsteps of Jesus and Mary. Travelers often hear and ask the question, “Where are you from?” because each person has a unique story and a place they call home. The disciples in today’s Gospel return with Jesus to His native place. On this pilgrimage, I am uniting myself with the disciples and returning with Jesus to His native place.

I came here to Israel to learn Jesus’ story more deeply. These are some of the questions I bring to Him in prayer:

Jesus, where are You from?
What did it feel like to live here?
What did You think about as a child in Nazareth?
What did You like to do with Mary and Joseph?
Where did You stay?
What did You teach?
Why did You heal some and not others?
How did You get from place to place?
Which disciple made You laugh the most?
Where was Your favorite place to pray near the Sea of Galilee?
How did You handle the misunderstandings?
How did You feel when you suffered?
When did You experience the Father’s closeness?
How did You endure the Crucifixion?
What did the Resurrection feel like?
What did the faces of the disciples look like when You ascended into Heaven?

Yes, God entered directly into human history and lived in a particular place, at a specific time, in a unique culture. Many people misunderstood Jesus and the Gospel today says that, “He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:6) I can also imagine hearing Him say these words today.

What would happen if we took the time to get to know Jesus even more? What if we went with Him everyday in prayer to His native place? Imagine what would happen if we kept our eyes fixed on Him!

Picture Jesus calling the names of each Blessed is She sister who is reading this devotional today. What if He was amazed by our abundance of faith?

Rose Coleman is a contemplative in action who delights in all things beautiful. Her adventurous heart has traveled many places—from circumnavigating the globe on a ship during college to some years in the convent as a religious sister. Exuberant from her childhood, she is an elementary school teacher who learns so much from her students. You can find out more about her here. She is the author of our Blessed Conversations: Ways to Pray study found here

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Pope’s Morning Homily: Bishops Must Be Able to Discern When Being Spoken to By God or By Spirit of This World

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During Morning Mass, Francis Reminds Bishops’ Love Must Be Christ and Flock, Not Career

MAY 15, 2018 DEBORAH CASTELLANO LUBOV

Bishops’ loves are to be Christ and their flock, not their career.

According to Vatican News, Pope Francis stressed this during his daily morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta as he reflected on today’s Gospel reading where the Apostle Paul, “compelled by the Holy Spirit,” takes his leave from the Church Elders at Ephesus to go to Jerusalem.

In the homily, the Pope expressed his hope that all bishops follow the example of the Apostle Paul with his obedience to the Holy Spirit and his love for his flock.

The Holy Father also called on them to discern properly the voice of God from the voices which come from the spirit of the world.

Reflecting on Paul’s decision, the Pope said: “It’s a decisive move, a move that reaches the heart, it’s also a move that shows us the pathway for every bishop when it’s time to take his leave and step down.”

The Apostle, the Jesuit Pope pointed out, made an examination of his conscience, telling the Elders what he had done for the community and leaving them to judge his work. While Paul seemed “a bit proud,” the Pope noted, he clarified that Paul, in fact, was “objective,” as he only boasted of two things: “his own sins and the Cross of Jesus Christ which saved him.”

Reflecting on how the Apostle listens to the Holy Spirit, Francis said Paul felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem.

“This experience by the bishop, the bishop who can discern the Spirit, who can discern when it is the Spirit of God speaking to him and who knows how to defend himself when spoken to by the spirit of the world,” the Pontiff noted, is essential.

Paul, in a way, the Pope observed, knew he was going “toward trials, towards the cross and this recalls for us Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, doesn’t it?”

The Apostle and bishop ‘obediently offering himself up to the Lord,’ and going forward according to the Holy Spirit, the Pope said, is Paul.

The Pope noted how Paul takes his leave amidst the pain of those present by giving them advice in a testament which is not a worldly testament “about leaving belongings to this person or that person.”

Paul’s great love, said the Pope, is Jesus Christ, and his second, is his flock.

“Take care of each other and of the entire flock. Keep watch over the flock: you are bishops for your flock, to take care of it and not in order to advance your ecclesiastical career.”

Paul, Francis reminded, entrusted the Elders to God, knowing that He will take care of them.

Paul’s testament as “a witness, as well as an announcement and a challenge,” the Pope said, was no worldly testament. Paul had nothing to leave to others, but “the grace of God, his apostolic courage, Jesus Christ’s revelation and the salvation that Our Lord had granted him.”

The Pope, according to Vatican News, continued: “When I read this, I think about myself,” he declared, “because I am a bishop and I must take my leave and step down.”

Pope Francis concluded, noting he is thinking of all bishops and praying: “May the Lord grant all of us the grace to be able to take our leave and step down in this way, like Paul, with that spirit, with that strength, with that love for Jesus Christ and this faith in the Holy Spirit.”

No Excuses

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If only I had more money, more time, more assistance, more talent. We all have a pretty impressive laundry list of why we can’t be of more service to God and to others. Even Saint Paul had his “thorn in the flesh,” some private difficulty that seemed to hold him back from being the apostle he sought to be. Paul kept praying for its removal so he could be free of this impediment. Finally he reinterpreted the thorn: not an impediment, but an opportunity to let God be God. Maybe it’s time to stop protesting and start serving!.