Reflection - December 8, 2019

“It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”

I have visited a prayer and fasting retreat center in Colorado a number of times. At 9,000 feet, it is 110 acres of mostly mountain fields, rock formations, aspen and pine stands, and amazing blue skies. It is beautiful, and I have had some of my most profound experiences of God there. On my last visit several years ago, I noticed, significantly, that a neighboring property had essentially turned into a junk yard. Old machinery, supplies, materials and trash were piled up around the property, easily visible from the retreat center. I think I made the observation in small talk to the woman who ran the retreat center that it would be nice if the neighbor would clean up his property.  Her reply surprised me, “In Colorado, we have strong property owner rights, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” There is a tension, sometimes, between individual rights and the common good, or put a different way, between the personal and the communal. 

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Reflection - December 1, 2019

“Brothers and sisters:
You know the time;
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.”

She really turned it around. He came to his senses. They are on fire. Did you see that comeback? Rally time! Rally hats! Let’s shift gears. He’s got it all together. She pulled through. Time to upgrade. Take it to the next level. He’s beginning to believe. There is no spoon. Disrupt the industry. Charge! High speed, low drag. Pivot. Using cutting edge technology. Ideas worth spreading. New and improved. This just in. First rate, top notch, beyond compare, and second to none. What a transformation! This will revolutionize the way we live our lives. She had a change of heart. He saw the light. They charted a new course. That’s progress. It’s a breakthrough. Eureka! They’ve made great strides. It is a quantum leap. Advancing by leaps and bounds. Get up, everybody!  I’m on the look out. She’s hooked. He’s ahead of his time. We’ve got spirit, yes, we do! Plugged in, turned on, and ready to roll. You’ve got my attention. Brilliant!

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Reflection - November 10, 2019

“‘...for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise. 
...for to him all are alive.’”

I picked up doodling from my grandma. Throughout my academic career and even to certain meetings this day, I may create a page of images, squiggles, repeating patterns or random connections. As a child, I started drawing in earnest with comic characters and can still manage a respectable Garfield. In high school classes, college courses, and even two electives in seminary, I learned additional drawing and painting skills. The process of creating a piece of art can be an act of co-creation with God and I often experience it as prayer. The beauty of a masterpiece can pierce my heart and even the ugly or unusual can challenge my perspective and provide new insights or a path to strong human emotions. When I travel, I often visit art museums and while I pass by most of the works without affect, I am always in desperate search for the few that shake me open to the mystery of humanity, creation, or God. 

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Reflection - October 20, 2019

“But when the Son of Man comes, 
will he find faith on earth?”

The Church is a complex reality, as the Second Vatican Council stated. By this, it meant that the Church is both human and divine. It is both a concrete institution and a mystical communion. More than just the idea of weeds and wheat growing together, of sin and grace being present within (which also happens to be true), this unity of the human and divine finds its source in the person of Jesus, who likewise is both human and divine, uniting God with us irrevocably in one person. As such, the Church, in a sense, is God’s responsibility: begun, sustained, increased and culminated by his love. At the same time, it is our responsibility: in response to love and grace, we contribute to the mission and purpose of the Church by faith. Our good work is indispensable. 

As a human reality, the Church is always in a precarious position. The answer to Jesus’s question above is a resounding maybe. When Jesus comes again, will he find faith on earth? Maybe. It depends on us, on our response to grace, on our good work. Not only has God made himself vulnerable to the possible rejection of his love by each person, his whole mission to share his love with the whole world is vulnerable to our participation. God depends on us. We are his hands and feet. I have heard it said that it would only take one generation for the Church to disappear from the face of the earth. It’s a bit theoretical, but if every Catholic made no effort to live, share, or pass on the faith, it would disappear from the earth. God works with us and through us. Our efforts in cooperation with God’s grace are essential. We need to live our faith, share our faith and pass on our faith for there to continue to be faith. 

Live our faith. If you’re like me, you’re not perfect. Living our faith isn’t about pretending to be something we’re not. In fact, that is an obstacle to faith. It keeps us from really encountering Jesus and developing an authentic relationship with him. Living our faith is about growing in our relationship with Jesus as who we really are and who we can really become. It makes a difference in our lives and changes us. This may happen quickly or, more commonly, over time, but each day we should seek to become, as Matthew Kelly says, the best version of ourselves. We need to be open, engaged, and intentional about our faith. We cannot live our faith passively. At a minimum, we have to do something (prayer and practice) to grow. 

Share our faith. When I was at the St. Boniface booth at the NuLu Festival, I saw a man holding up a sign with scripture on it and yelling at people. When we think of sharing our faith, this may be the image that comes to mind. That’s not it at all. Sharing our faith is about transparency and action. In conversations, relationships, acts of service, moments of need, and celebrations, or, in other words, in real life with real people, we simply don’t hide the role of faith in our lives. We let it shine through, we pray, we share, and we invite. It’s not about winning an argument or condemning anyone. It is letting our love be how God loves others. Sharing our faith is intentional, as well, but it’s not for show. We simply live our faith with authenticity and transparency. 

Pass on our faith. Each of our families should be a school of faith. Within our homes and our community, we encounter the beauty, goodness, and truth of faith. In prayer, symbols, service, forgiveness, responsibilities, and traditions, the faith is practiced. Practice inculcates faith in our children. It passes on the faith. At a St. Patrick event for moms and children, they crafted prayer jars which included prayers written on popsicle sticks and placed in the jars. Two prayers from a six year old girl were shared with me: “God, help me to know my needs from my wants” and “God, you know what’s best for me.” We pass on our faith through practice. We live our faith with our families. 

Will Jesus find faith on earth? I have great hope. Because that depends on us.

Reflection - November 24, 2019

“Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
‘Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.’
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
‘Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.’
Then he said,
‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’
He replied to him,
‘Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.’”

Three men hanging high on crosses to be easily seen and mocked by the crowd. One, innocent, identified as the King of the Jews, surrendered to the will of God, hangs there with arms outstretched in love to embrace the whole world. Two thieves, guilty, justly condemned, hang serving the punishment for their crimes. All three meant to be an example and a spectacle. None are coming down alive. All, even the crowd, are in a desperate situation, under the rule of a foreign and merciless power. Mocking the men hanging on crosses is a sign of loyalty, join in or be suspect, “We have no king but Caesar.” The day drags on, the suffering grows, and the one speaks, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do...Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise...Woman, behold, your son...Behold, your mother...My God, my God, why have you forsaken me...I thirst...It is finished...Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Pierced hands and feet, broken legs for the thieves, a crown of thorns and a lance thrust into his side for the king. Love and mercy flow. They die. 

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Reflection - November 3, 2019

Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
and you overlook people's sins that they may repent.
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O LORD and lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things!
Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little,
warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing,
that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O LORD!

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Reflection - October 13, 2019

While we are called to participation, community, and to have a transformative effect in our society, our first and, perhaps, most important action is prayer. Pope Pius VI named John Carroll the first bishop (and later archbishop) of the United States of America in 1789.  His cousin, Charles Carroll, was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. Archbishop Carroll wrote the following prayer for our newly formed government on November 10, 1791, to be prayed in his diocese.

Prayer for Our Government 

by Archbishop John Carroll (1791)

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Reflection - November 17, 2019

“We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a
disorderly way,
by not keeping busy but minding the business of others. 
Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly 
and to eat their own food.”

We want to be in the know. It makes us feel connected, important, and able to make a difference. Sometimes, we believe we have a right to know. We may feel that our own interest in a situation or circumstance gives us the right to have the private information of others for our own. We have experienced the betrayal of trust that makes us unwilling to accept the words of those in authority as the final word and demand proof of right decisions or actions. Transparency is important to building trust and establishing a joint vision and mission. Secrecy, being kept in the dark, or evasiveness raise serious doubts in our minds and decrease our willingness to engage. 

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Reflection - October 27, 2019

“Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.”

Humility is something of a catch-22. If I’m convinced of my own humility, it indicates my pridefulness. Likewise, if I ask mercy for my pridefulness, it indicates my humility. We get a humorous understanding of this when we recognize the irony of the old country song by Mac Davis, “O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way.” This conundrum is spelled out by C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. I quote him at length (emphasis mine):

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