Deacon Steve's Homily for Wednesday, October 17

I think we can be confused when we hear Paul talk about how he sees the Jewish law in light of being a follower of Jesus Christ.  It’s almost like he doesn’t believe the law counts for anything.  But let’s look at that a little more carefully. 

Paul had excellent Jewish credentials, born and raised a Jew, educated well beyond his peers in Jewish law and tradition, an opponent of the Christians even to the point of persecution.  We could say that he was more Jewish than most Jews of his day.

For Paul then, the law has a purpose, as a solution to sin where there is immorality, licentiousness (that’s a fancy word for extravagance or overindulgence or greed), jealousy, orgies, dissension, and those other things we heard.  In these situations, the law can regulate such behavior, but none of it has to do with the reign of God.

For him, the conduct of those who live in the Spirit is different: love, joy, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.  Here the law has no place.  Against these things there is no law. In other words, if we belong to Christ, the flesh has been crucified with its passions and desires.  To walk with the Spirit is to walk with God toward a destiny with God forever, toward eternity.  This is the great message of hope.  And it points us to the Jesus’ words in the Gospel today. 

Jesus was absolutely concerned about the absence, in his time, of the message of hope.  Both the Pharisees and the scholars of the law were much too concerned with lesser things and signs of status - appearances.  They were rigid.  It is easy to understand Jesus’ frustration.  It is far off from the message he came to bring.

When we examine our conscience, we can spend too much time on issues that belong to the law.  Don’t take that to mean the commandments don’t count – they do, and we need to follow them.  And just because we don’t live under the Jewish law doesn’t mean we are lax or indifferent.  We aren’t.  But the Christian ideal and attitude goes far beyond the law in calling us to be perfect as is our heavenly Father.  The other part, then is – How much time do we devote to the good we are called to promote?  How far are we willing to extend ourselves?  In being truly people of the Spirit?  In the love of God and neighbor, we are called to go beyond the law.  We go where charity calls us.  Pope Francis refers to it in his homily today as “the Spirit of liberty.”



Deacon Steve's Homily for Sunday, September 30

 

As I was reading the Gospel story this past week, I couldn’t help but realize that there were two really important points that Mark shares with us about the life of Jesus and what he asks from us.  They are some very challenging ideas for us to consider and not always easy to talk about – not any easier than it was back then.

In spite of the efforts of Jesus to teach his disciples to live like him in the service of the kingdom of God, making people’s lives more gentle, more kind, more dignified and happier, they fail to understand the Spirit that animates him, his great love for the most needy, and the deepest purpose of his life.

The account of Mark that we just heard is very helpful in understanding this.  Let’s walk through it again so we make sure we are hearing what is actually going on.  I’m going to phrase things a little more clearly without changing the meaning.

The disciples report something they saw happen which bothered them very much.  An unknown person was expelling demons.  Worse still, he’s doing it “in the name of Jesus”.  And just as Jesus does, he is freeing people from the evil that is keeping them from living a humane life in peace. However, the disciples do not appreciate this anonymous healer’s work.  They cannot see the joy of those who were cured by that man.  His behavior is an intrusion into their work, and it must be stopped.

They tell Jesus how they feel about the whole affair.  Listen carefully to their words.  “We told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”  What they are saying is that stranger must not continue healing because he is not a member of our group.  Really?

What that means is that the disciples have no concern for people’s health and safety, but only for the reputation of the group.  It seems that they want to have a monopoly on the freedom Jesus brings.  Essentially, they are saying that anyone who does not belong to the group must not heal in his name. You can see now how they just don’t get it. 

Jesus takes them to task for their attitude and shows how totally different he is from the way they think.  He takes a completely different stand.  The first and most important thing is not the growth and prestige of this small group, but that God’s grace should reach every human being, even through people who don’t belong to the group.  What’s the words he uses, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”  In other words, whoever uses the healing power of Jesus is, in essence, working for him, building up the kingdom of God.

Jesus rejects the rigid and exclusive idea of his disciples, who think only of their own self-image and standing, and instead adopts an open and inclusive attitude in which the important thing is to free people from what takes their humanity from them and makes them unhappy.  This is the spirit that must always be present and fill his true disciples.

We need to remember that there are countless men and women outside the Catholic Church who do good things and work for people so that they live a more dignified life.  The San Antonio Food Bank, for example.  The Salvation Army.  The Spirit of Jesus lives in them.  We must think of them as friends and fellow workers, never as competitors or enemies.  They are not against us, but for the human person, as Jesus was.

So, we’ve looked at how Jesus sees those that are suffering and how they may be helped, but let’s turn the perspective a little and focus on those who may be caught up in the challenges of life.  It is the second, very important level in Jesus’ words today.

I’m sure you’ve heard some of our Christian brothers and sisters who insist on a very literalistic interpretation of the bible, who also avoid cutting off their hands and feet, plucking their eyes, and worrying about how hot hell is!  I’m not sure about them, but I know my feet have taken me to places I wish I had not gone, and when I got there my eyes saw things I wish I had not seen.  In spite of the times I’ve let myself down, I am glad I’m still in one piece, and not all that worried about the worms and weather in hell!  Are you with me?

Jesus was a skilled and powerful communicator, a master story-teller.  And like all great teachers he used images and exaggeration to make his point.  In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus takes evil very seriously.  He is always conscious of it around him and is aware that it comes from within us, and from outside of us.  Jesus teaches us today to stop doing the destructive things that prevent us from loving God, that prevent us from loving each other, and ourselves.

Sinful behavior often falls into two categories; habitual and compulsive.  Habits are unusual things.  There are good habits, like saying “please” and “thank you.”  There are habits that can start out well intentioned enough, but end up becoming obsessions, like washing your hands so often because of fear of germs.  And there are habits that may bring moments of relief or let us off the hook – like lying, dishonesty, and stealing – but always end up being destructive.

Compulsive behavior, however, is a different thing altogether.  Gambling, drinking, shopping, smoking, violence, work, eating, drugs, money, and the internet in our day are common examples of compulsive behavior. 

As difficult and painful as these compulsions are, maybe they have even become addictions, they are presenting problems of deeper issues related maybe to self-esteem, or personal history, or desire, or fantasy.

One thing I’ve heard people say about their compulsive behavior, maybe you’ve heard it as well, is, “I found myself doing it again and I am not sure how or why.”  No doubt there are some people who feel so bad about their habitual or compulsive behavior that they think about cutting off an arm or leg or gouging out an eye.

Jesus stresses today that we have to stop that behavior and he offers three pieces of practical advice so that we can.  First, do whatever helps.  For some of us, what seems an unusual solution gets to the deeper issues and helps us piece our lives back together.  It doesn’t matter whether others approve of it or not, or if it’s related to religious faith or not.  As long as it doesn’t lead to other destructive behavior, then as we heard earlier, “whoever [or whatever] is not against us, is for us.

Second, accept help.  None of us can battle through life carrying all our burdens on our own.  Our family and friends are not mind-readers.  We need to seek out wise counsel and follow it.  The help and support we receive could likely be the cup of refreshing water Jesus tells us about today.

Finally, habitual and compulsive behavior always has a pattern.  Only when we look at ourselves to see where, when, how, and with whom we are most likely to walk away from God’s love can we then work out the why we do it and change the pattern.  And when we really know ourselves as we are, and not as we would like to be, we have the chance to choose life over death more often than not.

There it is.  The two points and perspectives that Jesus gives to us.  There are many things in this world that drag us down.  Problems of all kinds.  Jesus tells us today that good things come not only from within his church, but also from those who seek the good of others in his name, regardless of religious affiliation.  But he also says that even though we receive help from others, it doesn’t do away with the responsibility we have to ourselves, to work to remove the sinful behavior in our own life.

Deacon Steve's Homily for Wednesday, September 26

The author of our first reading from Proverbs say, “give me neither poverty nor riches.”  I think I could say most of us are more frightened of poverty than we are of riches.  We would all probably say that being rich doesn’t seem to be too scary at all.  Each one of us could use a little more extra in our income; it would be nice not having to scrimp; maybe we would buy a new car or put down a payment on that house we’ve been dreaming about, or we’d like to plan a nice vacation somewhere

As we continue hearing from Luke we’ll hear more criticisms from Jesus about the dangers of wealth.  It may not seem obvious at first but go back later a re-read the gospel for today.  Jesus is not saying to the apostles to do without necessities.  He’s instructing them to be careful in their attitude toward excess.  We all have some experience with this when we are preparing for a trip and seem to pack in excess.  Four bags for a two-day trip to visit family somewhere?  Really?  I’ve seen it and maybe you have too.

The author of Proverbs has an even-handed approach.  He seems to say if I am liable to ignore God and say to myself, I guess I’m in charge; I don’t need anyone else.  I may not even need God since I am able to provide for my own security.  On the other hand, he says: “If I have too little, there is real danger that I will at desire too strongly after what I do not have or, even worse, give in to dishonesty and theft as a means to get more.” 

That about sums things up, doesn’t it?  Almost daily we can turn on the television and see dangers of both poverty and wealth.  Overall, the dangers related to not having material things come from our attitude, our desires, not from the things themselves.  Nothing God has made is evil (Gen 1:31). 

Elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus tells us to have the right priorities, to set our thoughts on the kingdom of God, and all the things we need will come our way.  Not to be swept up in the way of enjoyment of wealth and what it brings, not to be saddened by the fact that we do not have these things, this is the ideal.  Now, don’t go out and say that the deacon told us that money is bad.  Rather, it is the focus on God and the balance of things in life that we should be attentive.  It really comes down to peace and justice.

Lord, help us to use your world well for your glory, the necessities of family, and for the good of the less fortunate.  Amen.

Deacon Steve's Homily for Wednesday, September 19

I’d like to reflect today on the first reading we heard from St. Paul to the Corinthians.  I’m sure it is familiar to you – and it is one of those that is read at weddings frequently, although probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves. 

The words we hear tell us that whatever great gifts we may have that serve the community, all of us, they are pretty shabby if we lack love.  Love is a confusing word in our world today for the most part.  People think that it’s just a feeling we have.  In a sense that is partially true, but it’s much more. 

You may remember the two great commandments that Jesus gave us, to love God and to love our neighbor.  If we would translate this word “love” perhaps as “concern” we would bring attention to its real source, in our desire to do good and express the obligation we have to God and to others. 

To put this in a different light, we know from our own experience how disappointing it is when even great talent or skill isn’t accompanied by a generous, kind heart.  For example, no matter how well a person does their job, it disappoints us when he or she just snaps rudely at someone who simply asks a question.  Maybe you’ve seen or experienced that at a restaurant, or when out shopping, or doing business at any number of places. 

On one occasion I was taking a class, I don’t remember the subject at the moment; the instructor was very knowledgeable and intelligent but didn’t bother to learn my name or return a greeting.  Just imagine if the parish priest only cared about the church books and not about the spiritual well-being of all of us?  Not going to happen.

“Love is patient, love is kind.  It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude”, Paul writes. 

The famous athlete who takes time for the little kids who look up to them, model that love better than the one who sees the kids only as nuisances.  You may remember last year when professional football player J.J. Watts over in Houston gave time, effort, and money to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.  He could have done something self-serving like so many others of his stature, but instead also lent his name to an effort that would raise millions for people living on the coast.

We can also do our part in the place where we live and interact with others.  Our gifts, in the sense of talents and abilities are, after all, basically gifts; we may have developed them but we did not create them.  To really shine, these gifts we have need to be accompanied by generous love and readiness to serve others, not just our self.  “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”

Let’s remember to be thoughtful in all the things we do and say in our day-to-day activities.  It does make a difference.

Deacon Steve's Homily for Wednesday, September 12

We are reminded this week that terrorism and war are part of human life.  And this violence underline themes in today’s readings.  Paul tell his unmarried readers not to be too concerned about getting married because “time is running out.”  Many persons of Paul’s time expected the end of all things very quickly – in their lifetime. 

Our knowledge and understanding of the universe and human life is different: we are aware of the millions of years our universe has existed and the vast distances; human longevity in our time leads us to expect people to live to eighty or ninety.  Still, terror, war, disaster, and more daily things like death from cancer or auto accidents remind us of the shortness of our life.

Paul’s words and those of our Lord, the Beatitudes of Luke’s Gospel, ask us to balance the value we put on this life with it’s quickly passing character.  We should, Paul says, be “using the world as not using it fully … for the world in it’s present form is passing away.”

Our sorrows and joys, our plans and ambitions, the things that give us pleasure, the things that we do – we can’t simply ignore them.  They are all part of who we are.  But our faith tells us to look beyond them.  Does any one of us ever find the perfect balance between the here-and-now and the here-after?  Probably not; we go from one thing to another, to another our whole life.  But, the final word has to be that of Jesus: even though we are poor, hungry, hated, and insulted, even though we weep for those taken from us and the heroes who sought to help them, we are blessed in God’s eyes.

Deacon Steve's Homily for Wednesday, September 5

It is easy to read about the illness of Peter’s mother-in-law without realizing it has something to teach us.  It is described to us in two short verses: a description of the illness, the action of Jesus, and the result of his action.  The woman in the story suffers from a high fever.  Jesus rebukes the fever, and the woman gets up to serve them.  It would be easy to skip past all that; it goes so quickly.  And we all have had the experience of being sick, so we can identify with the difficulty of the woman, recovery in our case can be a relatively brief 24 hours, although it can seem like it’s a lot longer.  Or it can take several days, maybe longer.  In other words, being sick is common-place and we tend not to think of it as something odd or unusual.

But this morning I would like to draw your attention to the last part of the healing.  It reminds us of our responsibility in response to God’s goodness to us.  We are called to serve.

I’m happy to say that in our parish, being a volunteer seems to be a way of life for many.  You can look at the back of the bulletin and see all the different ways in which people serve.  It flows from the sense of love about which Paul speaks today to the Colossians.  Service was the distinguishing characteristic of the church from the very beginning.  It is the clearest and simplest way for love to be shown.

It may take different forms: parish outreach to the poor, communion calls to the sick, presence to the bereaved at a time of grief, assisting families in forming children in our Catholic faith, providing support for the day to day operation of the church.  In addition, for the liturgy, we need ushers, servers, lectors, and people to assist in the distribution of the eucharistic.  Even within our own families; caring for our sick mother, father, brother, sister, child.  Helping with chores around the house.  All these things we do to serve others.

It all started by the example given to us by Jesus.  Always on the move, spreading the good news, healing others.

The Ignatian Qualities of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis

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Reflection on the Feast of the Founder of the Society of Jesus

JULY 31, 2018 THOMAS ROSICA

The Ignatian Qualities of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis by Father Thomas Rosica

Today on the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, I offer you the following reflections about this great saint and how his vision for the Church and for Christians has found a home in the life and witness of Pope Francis. One of the main themes permeating the thought of St. Ignatius of Loyola is his exhortation “Sentire cum ecclesia” or “think with the Church.” “Sentire cum ecclesia”also means to feel with the Church and to love the Church.  It is necessary to cultivate this communion of shared devotion, affection and purpose in a very disciplined way, for not all aspects of the Church are lovable, just as we are not always lovable as individuals. The structures of the Church cannot exist without human mediation, with all its gifts and defects of the persons present in the Church. Such thoughts are vitally important, especially in the midst of current crises facing the Church, Catholics and Christians around the world.

The Ignatian Qualities of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Francis

Ignatius of Loyola founded the society after being wounded in battle and experiencing a religious conversion. He composed the Spiritual Exercises to help others follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. In 1534, Ignatius and six other young men, including Francis Xavier and Peter Faber, gathered and professed vows of poverty, chastity, and later obedience, including a special vow of obedience to the Pope in matters of mission direction and assignment. Ignatius’ plan of the order’s organization was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540 by a bull containing the “Formula of the Institute”.

The Society of Jesus is present today in education, schools, colleges, universities and seminaries, intellectual research, and cultural pursuits. Jesuits also give retreats, minister in hospitals, parishes, university chaplaincies and promote social justice and ecumenical dialogue. One of them with a longstanding Jesuit identity happens to be leading the Catholic Church at this moment in history. Francis of Argentina is the first pope from the Society of Jesus – this religious congregation whose worldly, wise intellectuals are as famous as its missionaries and martyrs. It’s this all-encompassing personal and professional Jesuit identity and definition that the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio brought with him from Buenos Aires to Rome, and one that continues to shape almost everything he does as Pope Francis. From his passion for social justice and his missionary zeal to his focus on engaging the wider world and his preference for collaboration over immediate action without reflection, Pope Francis is a Jesuit through and through.

What kind of a Jesuit is Francis?

Jorge Mario Bergoglio fully embraced the Jesuits’ radical turn to championing the poor, though he was seen as an enemy of liberation theology by many Jesuits, others in the order were devoted to him. He turned away from devotional traditionalism but was viewed by others as still far too orthodox. Critics labeled him a collaborator with the Argentine military junta even though biographies now clearly show that he worked carefully and clandestinely to save many lives. None of that ended the intrigue against Bergoglio within the Jesuits, and in the early 1990s, he was effectively exiled from Buenos Aires to an outlying city, “a time of great interior crisis,” as he himself described it. As a good, obedient Jesuit, Bergoglio complied with the society’s demands and sought to find God’s will in it all. His virtual estrangement from the Jesuits encouraged then-Cardinal Antonio Quarracino of Buenos Aires to appoint Bergoglio as auxiliary bishop in 1992.

In 1998, Bergoglio succeeded Quarracino as Archbishop. In 2001, John Paul II made Bergoglio a cardinal, one of only two Jesuits in the 120-member College of Cardinals at that moment in history. The other Jesuit cardinal was Carlo Maria Martini of Milan.

The Pope among his brother Jesuits

On Monday, October 24, 2016, Pope Francis went to the General Congregation of the Jesuits – their general chapter underway in Rome – with a message. His whole address was characterized by an openness to what lies ahead, a call to go further, a support for caminar, the way of journeying that allows Jesuits to go toward others and to walk with them on their own journey.

Francis began his address to his Jesuit confrères quoting St. Ignatius reminding them that a Jesuit is called to converse and thereby to bring life to birth “in every part of the world where a greater service of God and help for souls is expected.” Precisely for this reason, the Jesuits must go forward, taking advantage of the situations in which they find themselves, always to serve more and better. This implies a way of doing things that aims for harmony in the contexts of tension that are normal in a world with diverse persons and missions. The Pope mentioned explicitly the tensions between contemplation and action, between faith and justice, between charism and institution, between community and mission.

The Holy Father detailed three areas of the Society’s path, yet these areas are not only for his religious family, but for the universal Church. The first is to “ask insistently for consolation.” It is proper to the Society of Jesus to know how to console, to bring consolation and real joy; Jesuits must put themselves at the service of joy, for the Good News cannot be announced in sadness. Then, departing from his text, he insisted that joy “must always be accompanied by humor,” and with a big smile on his face, he remarked, “as I see it, the human attitude that is closest to divine grace is a sense of humor.”

Next, Francis invited the Society to “allow yourselves to be moved by the Lord on the cross.” The Jesuits must get close to the vast majority of men and women who suffer, and, in this context, it must offer various services of mercy in various forms. The Pope underlined certain elements that he had already had occasion to present throughout the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Those who have been touched by mercy must feel themselves sent to present this same mercy in an effective way.

Finally, the Holy Father invited the Society to go forward under the influence of the “good spirit.” This implies always discerning, which is more than simply reflecting, how to act in communion with the Church. The Jesuits must be not “clerical” but “ecclesial.” They are “men for others” who live in the midst of all peoples, trying to touch the heart of each person, contributing in this way to establishing a Church in which all have their place, in which the Gospel is inculturated, and in which each culture is evangelized.

These three key words of the Pope’s address are graces for which each Jesuit and the whole Society must always ask: consolation, compassion, and discernment. But Francis has not only reminded his own religious family of these three important gifts that are at the core of Jesuit spirituality, he has also offered them to the universal Church, especially through the recent Synods of Bishops on the Family. As Pope Francis goes about his daily work, and slowly implements the reform that he was commissioned to being about in the Church by his brother Cardinals, it has become clear that his aim is to make the Church the Church of Jesus Christ, welcoming to all, and appealing and attractive because it shows its care for all people.

Discernment

Over the past five years, Pope Francis has stressed that quintessential quality of Ignatius of Loyola: discernment.  Discernment is a constant effort to be open to the Word of God that can illuminate the concrete reality of everyday life. A clear example of this discernment emerged at the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the Family and in the Synod’s Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. It was a very Ignatian principle that illustrates the Church’s great respect for the consciences of the faithful as well as the necessity of formation of consciences:

“We have long thought that simply by stressing doctrinal, bioethical and moral issues, without encouraging openness to grace, we were providing sufficient support to families, strengthening the marriage bond and giving meaning to marital life. We find it difficult to present marriage more as a dynamic path to personal development and fulfilment than as a lifelong burden. We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations. We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them.” (AL #37)

The Church does not exist to take over people’s conscience but to stand in humility before faithful men and women who have discerned prayerfully and often painfully before God the reality of their lives and situations. Discernment and the formation of conscience can never be separated from the Gospel demands of truth and the search for charity and truth, and the tradition of the Church.

In keeping with his own Jesuit formation, Pope Francis is a man of discernment, and, at times, that discernment results in freeing him from the confinement of doing something in a certain way because it was ever thus. In paragraph 33 of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Francis writes: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way”. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities. A proposal of goals without an adequate communal search for the means of achieving them will inevitably prove illusory.”

The first Jesuits were “a holiness movement,” inviting everyone to lead a holy life. Francis of Assisi was committed to a literal imitation of the poor Christ. Ignatius was inspired by that poverty and originally planned that Jesuits would follow the same route. But as the renowned American Jesuit historian Fr. John O’Malley has indicated, just as Ignatius learned to set aside his early austerities to make himself more approachable, he later moderated the Society’s poverty to make it possible to evangelize more people especially through educational institutions. Even evangelical poverty was a relative value in relation to the good of souls and their progress in holiness. That same apostolic reasoning is found Pope Francis’ instructions to priests around the world about their ministries.

An inclusive, listening Church

The spirit of openness is foundational to the Jesuit way of proceeding. Jesuit parishes are known for their inclusiveness and Jesuit confessors for their understanding and compassion. Ignatius insisted in favor of the goodness of everyone we encounter, and a prescription for a style of encounter that makes condemnation of those in error a last resort. Early in his Pontificate when Pope Francis made his controversial statement about even atheists having a chance to get into heaven, he was following the teaching of Vatican II, but he was also following a very Ignatian approach to the good of souls.

Care of those most in need

Ignatius of Loyola’s recommended style of ministry anticipates the positive pastoral approach Pope Francis has taken to evangelization. Pope Francis’ attention to refugees, the abandoned elderly and unemployed youth exhibit the same concern as the first Jesuits for the lowliest and most needy people in society. Ignatius’ twin criteria for choice of ministries were serving those in greatest need and advancing the more universal good. The Jesuit Refugee Service and creative Jesuit projects in education, like the Nativity and Cristo Rey schools, are contemporary embodiments of the same spirit of evangelical care for the neediest. These apostolates are part of the post-conciliar renewal of the Society of Jesus, but they have deep, formative roots in Jesuit history and spirituality as well. In the mind and heart of Pope Francis, even elite Jesuit institutions can combine the intellectual apostolate with service to the poor in the spirit of Ignatius.

Humility and clerical reform

Pope Francis’ humility has impressed many people around the entire world. His style has truly become substance.  It is the most radically evangelical aspect of his spiritual reform of the papacy, and he has invited all Catholics, but especially the clergy, to reject success, wealth and power. Humility is a key virtue in the Spiritual Exercises. One of its key meditations focuses on the Three Degrees of Humility. In Ignatius’ eyes, humility is the virtue that brings us closest to Christ, and Pope Francis appears to be guiding the church and educating the clergy in that fundamental truth. Reform through spiritual renewal begins with the rejection of wealth, honors and power, and it reaches its summit in the willingness to suffer humiliation with Christ. Humility is the most difficult part of the Ignatian papal reform, but it is essential for the church’s purification from clericalism, the source of so many ills in the contemporary church.

How can we characterize Francis’ leadership and how is that leadership “Ignatian”?

Ignatius did not use the word “leadership” as we commonly do today. Jesuit or Ignatian spirituality and Jesuit traditions lend themselves well to manifesting leadership in one’s life and work. Someone whose style of leadership is inspired by the Ignatian tradition will particularly emphasize certain habits or priorities as a leader, in ways that distinguish him/her from the way leadership is generally taught and practiced. Those habits or priorities include the importance of formation – not just learning to do technical tasks (like strategic planning) but also commitment to lifelong self-development; the importance of deep self-awareness (of coming to know oneself, for example, as happens in the Spiritual Exercises); becoming a skilled decision-maker, as happens through the discernment tools of the Exercises; committing oneself to purposes bigger than self, to a mission of ultimate meaning Jesuits often refer to this commitment by the expression of “magis”; deep respect for others, “finding God in all things.” Yet the difference between the worldly style of leadership and that traced by Ignatius is that the Jesuit style of leadership always points to God, the ultimate source of meaning. Great Jesuit figures like Peter Faber, Francis Xavier, Matteo Ricci or Alberto Hurtado were able to accomplish the feats they did not simply because they had some good leadership skills but because they were inspired by love of God.

What does a Jesuit pope mean for the church?

Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been thoroughly indoctrinated into Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and Ignatius’ militant attitude. Now as Pope, Francis, armed with those exercises, he seeks to bring all people to deepen their relationship with God. The Jesuit Pope is well versed in the Spiritual Exercises, so able to spread the knowledge and practice of this counterfeit way of conversion – a way that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And this brings us to the fact that Jesuit spirituality is not only mystical, but also ethical.

The whole concept of setting up committees, consulting widely, convening smart people around you is how Jesuit superiors usually function. Then they make the decision. This sort of discernment – listening to all and contemplating everything before acting – is a cardinal virtue of the Ignatian spirituality that is at the core of Francis’ being and his commitment to a “conversion” of the papacy as well as the entire church. It’s hard to predict what will come next. Francis is shrewd, and he has repeatedly praised the Jesuit trait of “holy cunning” – that Christians should be “wise as serpents but innocent as doves,” as Jesus put it. The pope’s openness, however, also a signature of his Jesuit training and development, means that not even he is sure where the spirit will lead. He has said: “I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even have all the questions. I always think of new questions, and there are always new questions coming forward.”

Pope Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants, because he is “free from disordered attachments.” Our Church has indeed entered a new phase: with the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture. Pope Francis has brought to the Petrine office a Jesuit intellectualism. By choosing the name Francis, he is also affirming the power of humility and simplicity. Pope Francis, the Argentine Jesuit, is not simply attesting to the complementarity of the Ignatian and Franciscan paths. He is pointing each day to how the mind and heart meet in the love of God and the love of neighbor. And most of all, he reminds us each day how much we need Jesus, and also how much we need one another along the journey.

For True Happiness and Peace, Remember the Beatitudes

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'People of good will are legitimately wondering if the United States is entering a dark age,' says this priest and author

By Fr. Jeff Kirby | Friday, July 27, 2018

In the narrative of human history, the United States has received a unique abundance of divine blessings. This inheritance has allowed for the birth of a nation that is grounded on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Based on these principles, it is one nation under God.

But what is happening to the United States? A simple glance reveals to us: Authority is mocked, maliciousness is sanctioned, the common good has become a battlefield, trust is eclipsed by suspicion, and public discourse is replaced by name-calling and identity politics.

Where is all this leading?

Again, a passing observation shows us: Tension is increasing, polemics are intensifying, and harassment is being advocated. People of good will are legitimately wondering if the United States is entering a dark age. Citizens and families are concerned about safety and social harmony. Are we falling apart? Can we get along?

Historically, a dark age is not when the lights go out, but when they go out and no one notices. The lights of a culture are always going out, in one way or another, and civic leaders are having to constantly and creatively turn the hearts of their people back to these lights and remind the public conscience of why they are needed.

With this observation in mind, where can the leaders of American culture and politics turn to re-establish peace in society? Some will recommend deeper trenches or more aggressive maneuvers in public interaction, but such approaches will only exacerbate the problems and heighten our divisions.

And so, of the many possible answers to the question of where to turn, the easiest and most obvious answer is the one upon which American culture was originally built, namely, to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Christian way of life.

This way of life is particularly summarized in what Western culture has come to call “the Beatitudes.” The Beatitudes are the eight counsels for a life lived well given by the Lord Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. Biblically, the word “beatitude” is a synonym for happiness and blessing.

The word is apropos for us today. If we want happiness, concord among citizens, and peace on earth, then — imitating so many of our Founding Fathers — we should turn to the Beatitudes.

The way of the Beatitudes is a fluid one, each beatitude leading to another one. And so, the first beatitude is a call to poverty of spirit. This is an acknowledgement that we don’t have all the answers. We need God and one another. This leads us to a sorrow over our personal darkness and evil in society. Such a grievance ushers us to meekness, which directs us to hunger and thirst for righteousness in ourselves and in the public forum.

A longing for righteousness fosters in us a spirit of mercy, a purity of heart, and a drive for peace. These movements culminate in fortitude and a willingness to suffer for the sake of righteousness. These are the eight Beatitudes. Their transcendence and practicality indicate how they are the sure path for cultural and societal renewal and a restored civility and social harmony.

The Founders of our great nation turned to the Christian faith.

Such a suggestion shouldn’t provoke anyone of a different religious tradition. The deists of the Founding era of our country welcomed and saw the benefit of the Christian teaching. In the contemporary environment, Jewish and Muslim believers should not be wary, since they will find portions of their own traditions in the Beatitudes. Atheistic citizens do not need to be alarmed since, solely by utilitarian standards, they can see the results of a public life inspired by the Beatitudes.

The lights are flickering in American culture. We are an eminently practical people and so we recognize when things aren’t working and when public discourse and action are weakening. In such a state of affairs, where will we turn?

We are no wiser than the Founders of our great nation. They turned to the Christian faith. The teachings of that faith, especially the Beatitudes, are a reliable and effective option for us. If we turn to this religious and patriotic patrimony, then what these truths did in establishing our nation — they can do again in renewing it.

Fr. Jeff Kirby is the parish priest of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Indian Land, South Carolina. He is the author of “Kingdom of Happiness: Living the Beatitudes in Everyday Life” (Saint Benedict Press).

Deacon Steve's Homily for Monday, July 23

Today we hear the prophet Micah’s that there was a breakdown of concern between the people of Israel – basically between the rich and the poor.  And this breakdown was equivalent to a rejection of the exodus itself.  All had been equally led forth into freedom no matter what their economic status.  I had not known this before, or at least I didn’t remember it that God’s complaint as spoken by Micah (vv.3-4) is used in the Good Friday liturgy.  In the context of that Mass the accusation shows us the complaint God had against all of humanity.  And when the church commemorates the death of Jesus as redemption for the sins of the world, it is all of humanity who bears the guilt. 

The last line is a summary of God’s expectations for any just and faithful person.  There are really three things: 1) doing justice, namely being in right relationship will all people and all creation; 2) mutual kindness between each and every human partner in God’s covenant; and finally, 3) living in personal humility before God.  This is a good summary of what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments – love your neighbor as yourself and God with all you heart.  You’ve heard it many times. 

You could probably imagine how disappointed Jesus was when some religious leaders spoke up and demanded “to see a sign from you.”  Jesus had already worked many miracles, but obviously for the wrong persons in the eyes of these leaders.  Jesus had shown what it meant to minister with kindness and concern, but these people wanted something different than the cure of a poor cripple or any number of things Jesus had done to help others.

Jesus then brings up the stories of Jonah and Solomon.  The religious leaders knew these stories well.  The conversion of many Ninevites and the queen of the south being amazed by the wisdom of Solomon.  We hear Jesus remind them sternly that is something greater than both Jonah and Solomon standing right in front of them.

This should be a reminder as well to us that sometimes we can be too selective in the miracles from God.  Unless we take the risk of being generous to others no miracle will prove anything to us.

Saint of the Day: Bridget of Sweden

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St. Bridget (1303-1373) was born into a devout and prestigious family in Sweden. Her father was a governor, judge, and one of the wealthiest landowners in the country. Bridget received an excellent religious education, and from a young age demonstrated a great capacity for holiness. She even experienced mystical visions in her childhood. At the age of thirteen she was given in marriage to a similarly devout young man named Ulf. Together the two had a happy marriage and raised eight children, one of whom was St. Catherine of Sweden. St. Bridget became famous for her sanctity, and she was well-acquainted with the Swedish king and many theologians who sought her counsel. When Bridget and Ulf were in their forties, they went on pilgrimage along the famous Way of St. James. Shortly afterwards Ulf died, and Bridget gave herself entirely to the religious life. Her visions became more frequent, and were written down in a famous work called the Revelations of St. Bridget of Sweden. She also founded a new religious order known as the Brigittines. To obtain approval for her Order she traveled to Rome with her daughter Catherine, where she lived until her death. St. Bridget of Sweden is one of the six patron saints of Europe. Her feast day is July 23rd.

he "15 Prayers of St. Bridget" have been a popular devotion since the Middle Ages.

St. Bridget of Sweden was a 14th-century mystic and visionary, who received numerous private revelations during her life. In particular, she had many visions of Jesus’ Passion and death and it became a central point of her personal devotion.

In the years following her death, there began to circulate “15 Prayers of St. Bridget,” dubbed the “secret to happiness.” Historians debate whether or not she actually composed them, but regardless of who the author was, the prayers have been tied to St. Bridget ever since.

The prayers became extremely popular and were approved by the Church for private devotion. Attached to the prayers were several extraordinary “promises,” such as, “Whoever teaches these Prayers to another, will have continual joy and merit which will last throughout eternity.” However, the authenticity of these promises have never been officially approved by the Church.

Nevertheless, these prayers are a powerful meditation on the Passion of Christ and provide an abundance of spiritual material to meditate on. They focus on the great pain Jesus endured, revealing the beautiful love that God has for all of humanity.

For example, the fourth prayer highlights some of the reasons for Jesus’ pain, invoking God’s mercy on us all.

O Jesus! I Remember the bruises You suffered and the weakness of Your Body, which was distended to such a degree that never was there pain like Yours. From the crown of Your Head to the soles of Your Feet there was not one spot on Your Body which was not in torment. Yet, for getting all Your sufferings, You did not cease to pray to Your Heavenly Father for Your enemies, saying: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Through this great mercy and in memory of this suffering, grant that the remembrance of Your most bitter Passion may effect in us a perfect contrition and the remission of all our sins. Amen.

The 15th prayer is especially beautiful, meditating on the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ side.

O Jesus! I remember the abundant outpouring of Blood which You shed. From Your Side, pierced with a lance by a soldier, Blood and Water poured forth until there was not left in Your Body a single Drop; and finally the very substance of Your Body withered and the marrow of Your Bones dried up. Through this bitter Passion and through the outpouring of Your Precious Blood, I beg You to pierce my heart so that my tears of penance and love may be my bread day and night.

May I be entirely converted to You; may my heart be Your perpetual resting place; may
my conversation be pleasing to You; and may the end of my life be so praiseworthy that I may merit Heaven and there with Your saints praise You forever. Amen.

Follow this link for the all of the “15 Prayers of St. Bridget.”

While it may seem strange to label these prayers the “secret to happiness,” it does reflect a profound spiritual reality. The path to Heaven was opened up for us only through the suffering and Passion of Jesus. It was only through this outpouring of divine love that made eternal happiness possible. Consequently, if we want to know the “secret to happiness,” we must look to the cross and adore the abundance of love that God has for us and how he willingly endured the most excruciating pain for our salvation.

In this way, God provides for us the blueprint to a happiness that endures for all eternity.

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.