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Reflections on Faith - Experiencing Mary and Words about her Son's Parables - July 2007

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July 23, 2007

If you read these reflections from time to time – blessings and thanks. I hope they move you to contemplate your faith, your life and your future. Let me start off today’s words by referring you to the Gospel for today’s Mass, this being Monday of the 16 th week in Ordinary Time.

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

Now there are many directions I could go with these words: we could talk about many things such as miraculous healings, mysterious signs, apparitions, etc. But I’d like to ask you what do you think is a sign of Christianity – true Catholic Christianity in today’s society? What would it look like to you?

For years, parishioners at our Colorado parish have heard me mention Catherine Doherty and the organization she founded called Madonna House. I refer you to their website if you want to know more about this wonderful Gospel-activated community of believers. You might be surprised to find out that there are no visible miracles in Madonna Houses around the world. At least none that I’ve every heard of.

There are some wonderful stories told by Catherine which certainly sound like signs or especially powerful ‘interventions.’ But I don’t know of any healed cancer or leprosy cleansed or physical sight restored through the work of this organization.

What I have found in my two visits to the Combermere, Canada headquarters, and some five visits to the Madonna House location in Winslow, Arizona – what I have seen and give witness to is the sign of Christ’s love poured out in the communities that Madonna House is found in. Those whose hearts are open (or become opened) to receive the love of Christ brought to them in the flesh of Madonna House staffers – they themselves become transformed and it is beautiful to see.

My daily reflection here doesn’t permit me to go into much depth on this subject – but I do give testimony to the peace and joy and ‘restoration’ found in the people served by Madonna House… even the people who live in the poorest of settings. (And as a related side note – if any of you have been to Winslow, AZ – you may know what poverty, addiction and hopelessness sometimes look like.) But—there is a joy there in many people – a joy that isn’t apparent to those who pull into town to fill up with gasoline, grab some fast food and shake the red dust from their Nike shoes…

I pray that you will look into Madonna House… perhaps read two of Catherine’s books.

Well one is a compilation of some of the thoughts of Catherine bound into a daily meditation book. I think the title is Grace in Every Season. The other book I urge you to consider reading is Catherine’s “Poustinia,” – a word that means desert… and it is rather appropriate that I am spending so many words on Winslow which is high, dry desert where poverty has been resident ever since the demise of Route 66 and the reduction in train usage and service.

Let me go back to the word poor – because it is such a relative (and often misleading) term – and I’ll turn to an e-friend – Father Pat Umberger. I received these words in one of his daily emails – and it describes THE POOR…

“One day a father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose of showing his son how poor people can be. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?"

"It was great, Dad." “Did you see how poor people can be?" the father asked. "Oh Yeah," said the son. "So what did you learn from the trip?" asked the father.

"We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night.

Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us; they have friends to protect them."

With this the boy's father was speechless. Then his son added, "Thanks, dad, for showing me how poor we are."


Ps: If you look at my ‘links’ page – you’ll find a pointer to Fr. Pat’s website. You may wish to sign up for his daily emailings. Blessings upon you – especially if you are rich enough to be poor.

Today’s Gospel from Matthew

Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” He said to them in reply, “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it
except the sign of Jonah the prophet. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and there is something greater than Jonah here.
At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation
and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here.”

July 16, 2007
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel

Hello and blessings from Arizona! Your faithful deacon companion – the one who loves Colorado is temporarily in the mountain area north of Phoenix and Scottsdale. We will be moving here over a period of time. It is sad to leave what I often refer to as ‘God’s Country’ – that is, the majestic mountains of Colorado. But the area where we are headed has a beauty of its own. I’ll share more about this in future times. But right now, I’d like to say some words about the mountain called Carmel --- found in northern Israel.

Long before the Protestant Reformation – during a time when to be a Christian meant membership in the Catholic faith – a group of hermits lived on Mount Carmel during the 12 th century. And just as most Christians did – the monks had a devotion to Our Lady. They built a chapel dedicated to her. Eventually, this group became known as the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel – even celebrating a special Mass in Mary’s honor.

There is a tradition – perhaps not historical that says Our Lady appeared to a Saint Simon Stock. He was a leader of the Carmelites who had devotion to Mary. She gave him a scapular, telling him to promote devotion to it. The scapular is a modified form of Mary’s garment. It symbolizes her special protection and calls the wearers to consecrate themselves to her in a special way. Obviously, no magic way of salvation is intended.

Rather, the scapular is a reminder of the gospel call to prayer and penance—a call that Mary models in her own special way.

Many of our most recognizable saints had a devotion to this area of faith practice with regard to Mary: St. Teresa of Avila called Carmel “the Order of the Virgin.” St. John of the Cross credited Mary with saving him from drowning as a child, leading him to Carmel and helping him escape from prison. St. Theresa of the Child Jesus believed that Mary cured her from illness. On her First Communion she dedicated her life to Mary. During the last days of her life she frequently spoke of Mary.

I have fond memories of people who wore and some few who still wear a scapular… a sign of devotion to Mary. My mother, may God rest her soul always wore a scapular and a Miraculous Medal. You may know there is a Vatican II Document called the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. In it, the document says,

“The various forms of piety toward the Mother of God, which the Church has approved within the limits of sound and orthodox doctrine, according to the dispositions and understanding of the faithful, ensure that while the Mother is honored, the Son through whom all things have their being (cf. Colossians 1:15–16) and in whom it has pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell (cf. Colossians 1:19) is rightly known, loved and glorified and his commandments are observed”

So, in conclusion – I pray… I invite you to look into one or more of the various areas of Marian devotion and practice… Our Lady of Carmel… Our Lady of Assisi, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadalupe. In these – we can read about and perhaps respond to the call of Mary. We will find a call – not to her alone – but an invitation (with her) to draw nearer to her Son – through prayer and sacrifice.

God’s blessing and peace to you… from a mountain in Arizona!

July 2, 2007

I have two themes in today’s reflection – prepared to correspond with the first reading from Genesis used in today’s Mass. First, my mind is on the subject of our holiness and participation in the role of intercessors…. Prayer warriors if you will. The other theme is about the Blessed Virgin Mary as an agent of (helping us to) change into more potent intercessors.

In today’s reading, the Church sets before us this reading from Genesis. And as humans wrote the inspired word of God, the construct of this story is that the Lord is displeased with the conduct of mankind. He is undecided about how to bring about retribution and correction. We most certainly see similar conditions at hand in society today… whether we talk of abortion, the breakdown of marriages and the family unit… the insidious influence of relativism and spiritual and moral and societal indifference. So – whether all agree or not – we can safely present that the Bible – that Genesis still speaks to each generation… most assuredly to this generation.

Now – one form of holiness that each and every one of us – perhaps even those who are not yet practicing members of the faith – one way of holiness that we can participate in is to take up the Biblically inspired posture of Intercessory Prayer. That is, praying for… interceding for… asking help for others as is demonstrated in the negotiation going on between Abraham and the Lord God.

As intercessors, we can lift up prayer for peace… prayer for families… for the conversion of sinners… for our children… for the Church and its leaders. And as a spiritual mentor once said to me: …not this wispy ‘I’ll say a prayer’ type almost casual intention… but face down before the Good God and storming His gates with continuing prayer. That’s what Intercessory Prayer ought to be. Surely these rise before the throne of Yahweh and are given a hearing… the God of mercy is willing to hear these as demonstrated in this Genesis story. And so we proclaimed in the Responsorial – The Lord is kind and merciful.

Now – in moving to the seemingly unrelated topic of the Blessed Virgin Mary – I want to share some words from St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians (Chap. 4:19). In part, he wrote: “My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you…” These words arise out of the tender love Paul had for his Church members there – but I do postulate that these words are also the words of Mary to each one of us.

Mary struggles with the pain of labor for each of us who try to follow her Son – and Mary tries to give birth to Christ in us. And, in my own life – seemingly unrelated events are continually happening that bring me back to Mary… Let me share just a few with you… First – I have likely mentioned Madonna House a dozen times in Sunday or weekday homilies. Madonna House is the worldwide lay and ordained apostolate of the Gospel community based in Canada. I read about the continual failings of Catherine Doherty to find her niche in the Church.

In fact – she was not accepted – and she was even ridiculed by members and hierarchy of the Church. But, I read that a turning point in her life was when she and her husband made the total consecration to Mary as written and taught by St. Louis DeMontford. If you are not familiar with this dedication and consecration to Mary – I invite you to get a copy of DeMontford’s book – it is easy to read and it has been the turning point for many in their spiritual and physical journeys in life.

Here is another story: I have come to know of a young family who started a ministry called The Rosary Army. This most unlikely couple has dedicated their lives to this simple slogan: Rosaries: “Make them. Pray them. Give them away.” That’s what they do – along with some Internet based work that supports this. Can you believe that this family of six is able to live off of the fruits of their ministry – they’re not rich… but they have a home under construction and the kids have clothes and there is food to eat. Blessed Mother Mary recognizes those who labor in the vineyard – and she will not disappoint – she is an Intercessor for those who work for her Son and for the Church.

Final story – I just returned from the priest and deacon conference and retreat at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH. During the five days, I met a deacon who had struggled with decisions and ministry issues and problems. This deacon was gaining relief in time and work spent with his spiritual advisor.

He told me that his spiritual advisor – an Irish priest happened to be there at the conference. Long story short – I got a chance to speak with the priest on a one on one basis. In summary, this priest exhorted me to cultivate a daily, perhaps an almost hourly relationship with Mary. And he gave me a wonderful little book called, “All Through Mary – Devotion to Our Lady’s Message of Mercy to the World.” You might also consider looking for this book.

Mary is an intercessor for us – and this brings me back to her as the Mother who leads all who desire it to a closer relationship with her Son. And in closeness to Jesus – we can be assured of a more-ready ear in our prayers and intercession for others.

Reading 1
Gn 18:16-33

Abraham and the men who had visited him by the Terebinth of Mamre set out from there and looked down toward Sodom; Abraham was walking with them, to see them on their way. The LORD reflected: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, now that he is to become a great and populous nation, and all the nations of the earth are to find blessing in him? Indeed, I have singled him out that he may direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD may carry into effect for Abraham the promises he made about him.”

Then the LORD said: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave, that I must go down and see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them that comes to me. I mean to find out.”

While the two men walked on farther toward Sodom, the LORD remained standing before Abraham. Then Abraham drew nearer to him and said: “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?

Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty, so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?”

The LORD replied, “If I find fifty innocent people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham spoke up again: “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes! What if there are five less than fifty innocent people? Will you destroy the whole city because of those five?” He answered, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” But Abraham persisted, saying, “What if only forty are found there?” He replied, “I will forbear doing it for the sake of forty.” Then Abraham said, “Let not my Lord grow impatient if I go on. What if only thirty are found there?”

He replied, “I will forbear doing it if I can find but thirty there.” Still Abraham went on, “Since I have thus dared to speak to my Lord, what if there are no more than twenty?” He answered, “I will not destroy it for the sake of the twenty.”

But he still persisted: “Please, let not my Lord grow angry if I speak up this last time.

What if there are at least ten there?” He replied, “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.”
The LORD departed as soon as he had finished speaking with Abraham, and Abraham returned home.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 103:1b-2, 3-4, 8-9, 10-11

R. (8a) The Lord is kind and merciful.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
He pardons all your iniquities,
he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
he crowns you with kindness and compassion.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
Merciful and gracious is the LORD,
slow to anger and abounding in kindness.
He will not always chide,
nor does he keep his wrath forever.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful.

Mt 8:18-22

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

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