Archives: July 2019

One of my nephews joined a very small non-denominational Christian church on Long Island. While the number of people who attend in person is about two dozen, their on-line following is in the thousands. One of the sermons I heard the leader preach used the Bible to build the case that there is no need for me to care about or address what is happening in our society and world. Indeed, he said, I simply need to care about my own individual salvation. And that salvation would be found between me and God alone.

The clarity and confidence in which he spoke was startling. As he ran through a litany of injustices and tensions in the community, he negated any call to action. They will have their own way to salvation. I will have mine. 

Our Catholic faith directly challenges and contradicts this detached understanding of our role in the world. Jesus teaches, and our Church echoes, the core need to see the other—to help the other—to know the other. To live compassion. 

The word compassion is derived from the Latin words pati and cum, which together mean "to suffer with." In his book Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, Henri Nouwen suggests that the mystery of God’s love is not that our pain is taken away, but that God first wants to share that pain with us. God chooses to be with us, willing to enter into our problems, confusions, and questions. We, in turn, are asked to do the same.

Compassion asks us to go where it hurts and let go of power. We’re called to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion dares us to cry out with those in misery, and may challenge us to sacrifice personal freedom or even personal safety, in love. 

This is not a faith of isolation. This is a faith of radical relationship. It challenges us to create community that builds faith, hope and love “on earth as it is in heaven.” 
This is a faith that places a primacy on the “common good.” Pope John XXIII states, “The common good embraces the sum total of all those conditions of social life which enable individuals, families, and organizations to achieve complete and effective fulfillment.” (Mater et Magistra, 1961 #74) Indeed, it is our responsibility as Catholic Christians to engage in the public arena to work for the common good. 

It is imperative that no one...indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one's obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good… and also to promote and help public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life. (Gaudium et Spes, 1965 #30)

This is our faith. We know this. Yet, we are challenged to examine our hearts and actions: Who are we ignoring? What are we staying silent about? Where are we falling short? Let us commit to a life of prayer—opening our hearts, minds and arms to those most in need. Let us find courage in the Spirit to speak and act boldly about the injustices of our time, and work to create a world of justice and peace. 

For this Sunday’s readings click in the link below or copy and paste it into your browser. http://usccb.org/bible/readings/072119.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time.   Our Gospel this Sunday is the familiar story of Jesus visiting the home of Martha and Mary.   We are told that Martha was busy with the details of hospitality, while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus.   Martha came to Jesus and said:  “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?  Tell her to help me.”   In reply, Jesus said to her:  “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing.   Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”    

Since I identify much more with Martha than Mary, I had always struggled with this particular Gospel.   Many years ago when I was on retreat, my retreat director asked me to meditate on this passage.  I resisted, but my retreat director insisted.   And so, I took the passage to prayer and in my prayer it suddenly occurred to me that from my perspective three words were missing from Jesus response:   “at this moment.”   I inserted these three words after “There is need only of one thing, at this moment…………”   Mary had realized that at that moment the important thing was attend to the Lord.   Martha, rightly concerned about hospitality, had allowed that concern to become dominant, and as a result she missed the opportunity to attend to the Lord.   This same thing continues to occur in each of our lives.  We can become so focused on something --- sometimes things that are good and important --- that we can fail to be conscious of and attend to God.   The challenge for us is recognize the moments of God’s presence when they occur and then, like Mary, to attend to them. 

In our first reading this Sunday Abraham extends hospitality to three visitors who were passing by.   At some point, Abraham recognized that God was one of his visitors.  As a result, as often happens after a divine visitation, there is an announcement: “One of them said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.’”   Abraham’s generous hospitality had resulted in the announcement that in her old age, Sarah would have a son.  

In our second reading this Sunday Paul wrote from prison to the Colossians.   Paul is clear that even in our suffering Christ is “the hope for glory.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Can you think of a time when you have been so preoccupied that you almost missed a moment of God’s presence? 
  2. Has there been a time when in extending hospitality you have felt the presence of God?
  3. In times of pain or suffering have you ever found hope in Christ?   

God Never Forgets Us

A few weeks ago I did some much needed grocery shopping on my day off. (My refrigerator and pantry were bearing a strong resemblance to Old Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard.) I stopped at the local CUB store and was surprised at how many people were there in mid-afternoon on a Monday. Pleased that it took me only about 30 minutes to find everything on my list, I approached the checkout lanes. Unfortunately, I was dismayed to see at least three people in each line. I made my best guess at which would be the fastest and for once I was right. The line I picked moved very quickly. When it came my turn to check out, I dutifully pulled out my reusable bags and tried to keep up with the checkout person. Unfortunately, she was much faster than I was, and I only had half my items packed when it was time for me to pay. I took out my wallet with my credit card and went through the usual process. I continued packing but I noticed that the person behind me didn’t have that many items and they were speedily packing them. The person after them started to check out, and it was obvious that my side of the counter was needed for their purchases. I hastily piled my remaining items in my bags, and finished just as their first few items started down the conveyer belt toward the bagging area. Pleased that I hadn’t caused any major disruption, I headed for home.

Unfortunately, when I got home I realized I had left my wallet at the check out counter. I immediately called CUB and asked for customer service. After describing my predicament, the person at custom service told me that indeed my wallet had been turned in. After a big sigh of relief and a quick prayer of thanksgiving, I headed back to the grocery story to pick up my wallet. After waiting my turn I explained that I had called about a lost wallet. The customer service representative asked me to describe it, and after locating it in a box in the safe, said: “Can I see some I.D?” I immediately burst into laughter, since my I.D. was, of course, in my wallet. Since this must have been a standard question, the customer service rep didn’t immediately realize the absurdity of their question. It wasn’t until I suggested that they look at the driver’s license in the wallet to confirm that it was mine, that they finally got it. A slow smile spread across their face as they handed my wallet back to me. 

Over the years, I have known parishioners and friends who have lost their I.D. or had it stolen. Not only is this enormously inconvenient, it can be very frightening and time consuming to try to “recreate” one’s life with a new I.D. and new credit cards. Given this, in my prayer that evening I definitely expanded on my earlier and briefer prayer of thanksgiving. 

Also in my prayer that evening, as I reflected the events of the day, I was reminded how fortunate we are that we never have to worry about losing our identity when it comes to God. In Isaiah 49:15-16 we read: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have carved your name.” The words remind us very forcefully that God knows us through and through, and even if we should forget God, God will never forget us. 

As I closed my prayer that night I was struck once again at how blessed and fortunate we are that God loves us so much that God never forgets us and never needs to ask for our I.D. 

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  http://usccb.org/bible/readings/071419.cfm 

Our Gospel this Sunday is the familiar story of the Good Samarian.   Now as background to this parable, it is important to note that Jews and Samaritans had no contact with each other and in fact were very  hostile to each other.  What elicited the parable of the Good Samaritan was a question raised by a “scholar of the law” as to what he must do to inherit eternal life.   Jesus responded by asking him:  “What is written in the law?”  The scholar of the law replied: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”   Jesus told him that he had answered correctly.  We are told, though, that “because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”   In response, Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan.   

There are at least three things worth noting in this parable.  First, the logical people to help the injured man should have been the priest and the Levite.  We are told, though, that they passed by.  Perhaps the best face we can put on their refusal to help was that they feared the man was dead and if they had come in contact with him it would have rendered them ritually impure.   Second, notice that the Samaritan not only was an unlikely person to offer assistance, but the assistance he offered went above and beyond what anyone would have expected.  Third, note that at the very end of the parable, Jesus asked the scholar of the law “Which of these three………..was neighbor to the victim?”   The man couldn’t even say it was the Samaritan.  Instead he answered: “The one who treated him with mercy.”  

Our first reading this weekend is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy.   In it Moses invited the people to “heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and keep his commandments and statues……………. for it is already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”  

For our second reading this weekend we switch from the Letter to the Galatians, from which we have been reading the past several weeks, to the Letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians.  The section we read today is an early Christological hymn.  It begins: “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion:

  1. Who is your neighbor?
  2. When have you failed to help your neighbor?
  3. What do you think Paul meant when he said that Christ is the image of the invisible God?   

When Home Won’t Let You Stay: Stories of Refugees in America

Photographs by Jim Bowey

Exhibition: June 15 – July 28, 2019

Community Event:  Thursday July 18, 6-8:00 PM

 

 

WHEN HOME WON’T LET YOU STAY

 

“When Home Won’t Let You Stay” is a poignant traveling photography exhibition and community event series about refugees in Minnesota by documentary artist James A. Bowey. It provides a new perspective on the often hidden lives and compelling experiences of refugees in our communities. The number of globally displaced people has risen dramatically in recent years and is expected to continue to rise in response to ongoing conflicts, poverty, and climate change. International and national events have prompted debates in communities across the country about our duty to refugees, our American roots, and national identity. The exhibition consists of contemporary color portraits accompanied by first-person poetic stories that create an empathic experience of the plight and resilience of refugees working to make a new home in this country.

 

COMMUNITY EVENT

 

As part of the exhibition, James Bowey will present a live community event to consider the experiences of refugees, and our responses to the needs of displaced people around the world. Accompanied by live music and narrators from the community, he will present photographs, stories and reflections from “When Home Won’t Let You Stay,” and lead a community conversation about how current refugee policies and attitudes reflect the state of the empathetic imagination in our civic life. This compelling talk explores how we can bear witness in a contentious world, and awaken our imagination to the possibilities of hope, justice and human connection.