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Reflections on Catholic Faith - July 2008 - A Summer Faith Journey

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July 28 , 2008

On Saturday past, we had a wonderful homily by a visiting priest. His name is Fr. Joseph Nietlong and he is professor at a seminary in Chicago – he has been summering in the Tucson Diocese and helping fill in for us. His theme on Saturday was the vision of history not as something dead and gone and buried… but history seen as the contributions and the learning that has gone on from generation to generation since almost forever.

Fr. Joseph spoke especially of the Jewish people who view history so much as a part of who they are and what they will be – no matter how much science and technology help man to understand new things – the Jews see themselves as the chosen people of God. Their relationship with God is seen in the many covenants and experiences they have had – the experiences their ancestors have had.

Which leads somewhat into today’s reading from Jeremiah. Jeremiah uttered a prophecy – a vision, if you will of the corruption of Judah. Before we get into that – let me share a few thoughts from the Catholic Study Bible about Jeremiah and his times. Jeremiah combines history, biography and prophecy. It paints a picture of a nation in crisis – and into this period (about 650 BC) comes Jeremiah who becomes burdened with heavy duties – the often unpopular duties of the prophetic office.

We can’t get into the various rulers and deaths that were a part of this period. But in today’s reading – the Study Guide of the Catholic Bible tells us that Jeremiah has a vision – a symbolizing of the religious corruption of Judah at the hands of the conquering Babylonians.

The vision sounds strange to us: God telling the prophet to put on a linen loincloth and then to take it off and hide it, perhaps in a river known as the Parath. We know that a loincloth protects an area of the body most important to manhood… to protecting the capability to produce future generations. The story is a story of obedience – but seemingly without reason or sense. Until we see the result of disobedience.

And into this imagery – the loincloth becomes corrupted (rotted) and no longer good for wear or protection. Could it be that this vision tells us that the relationship the Jewish people had with God was being corrupted by their starting to ‘put on’ the practices and ways of their Babylonian captives?

I think this imagery is as meaningful now as it was then. Are not the faith practices of Christians being corrupted? Are not the actions of Christians being watered down? Are we not allowing society to dictate the meaning of religion? Or perhaps we could say that society is telling us there is a place and time for religion – it is perhaps on Sundays if you choose to ‘do’ it – but don’t bring your faith life into the public arena. Else you intrude on the rights of others.

That is definitely what is happening… Marriage is under attack. Marriage, if not protected will mean that men can marry animals.

Marriage, if not protected can be between three or four or five consenting adults. Marriage will no longer mean the family unit and the protection and guidance of children… if we don’t work to protect God’s plan for man and woman.

May I dare to paraphrase the words of Almighty God as shared in this first Mass reading of today? “Thus says the Lord: So also will I allow the pride of America to rot… the great pride of those who sought religious freedom.” Now, says the Lord, “The people are oppressing religion and they worship alien gods called relativism and secularism. For as close as a loincloth clings to a man’s loins – so also I had made religion and faith practices in your land. Now I send this message – cling to me. Repent and establish a new covenant while there is still time.”

Reading 1
Jer 13:1-11

The LORD said to me: Go buy yourself a linen loincloth; wear it on your loins, but do not put it in water. I bought the loincloth, as the LORD commanded, and put it on. A second time the word of the LORD came to me thus: Take the loincloth which you bought and are wearing, and go now to the Parath; there hide it in a cleft of the rock. Obedient to the LORD’s command, I went to the Parath and buried the loincloth. After a long interval, the LORD said to me: Go now to the Parath and fetch the loincloth which I told you to hide there.

Again I went to the Parath, sought out and took the loincloth from the place where I had hid it. But it was rotted, good for nothing! Then the message came to me from the LORD: Thus says the LORD: So also I will allow the pride of Judah to rot, the great pride of Jerusalem. This wicked people who refuse to obey my words, who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts, and follow strange gods to serve and adore them, shall be like this loincloth which is good for nothing. For, as close as the loincloth clings to a man’s loins,
so had I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the LORD; to be my people, my renown, my praise, my beauty. But they did not listen.

Responsorial Psalm
Deuteronomy 32:18-19, 20, 21

R. (see 18a) You have forgotten God who gave you birth.
You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you,
You forgot the God who gave you birth.
When the LORD saw this, he was filled with loathing
and anger toward his sons and daughters.
R. You have forgotten God who gave you birth.
“I will hide my face from them,” he said,
“and see what will then become of them.
What a fickle race they are,
sons with no loyalty in them!”
R. You have forgotten God who gave you birth.
“Since they have provoked me with their ‘no-god’
and angered me with their vain idols,
I will provoke them with a ‘no-people’;
with a foolish nation I will anger them.”
R. You have forgotten God who gave you birth.

Mt 13:31-35

Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds. “The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”

He spoke to them another parable. “The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables. He spoke to them only in parables,
to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:

I will open my mouth in parables, I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation of the world

July 14 , 2008

In today’s Gospel – the Jewish leaders came to Jesus and asked for a sign. They had heard reports of his mighty works --- maybe even those close to the leaders testified about what Jesus had done. But the Scribes and Pharisees were like so many in our culture today – unless Jesus comes to me and I can see his wounds and put my hand into his side… unless Jesus heals my husband or personally comes and fixes our pastor – I won’t believe. There are others that look from their yard to yours – wanting to see a sign. What is it that they can see as they look towards the Christian in you?

I often think of the reverse situation – the all-just Judge, Jesus saying to us: “Give ME a sign. Show me your faith.” And how would we reply? “Oh sure Jesus, I was at church last Sunday… I helped serve coffee and donuts last month. I made a donation to the poor.” And might Jesus reply: “These things many non-believers and those who bring about schism do – how are you different? Show me a sign.” Yikes! What to do to reply to that request from Jesus?

This is a tough issue for sure. Those of you who hear my homilies or read my columns – you know that I often share words or themes from Servant of God Catherine Doherty – the foundress of Madonna House. She was a no-baloney, Gospel-activated lay woman who attracted many followers and opened up twenty Madonna House locations around the world.

I don’t know if what I’m about to share is the answer to the challenge I posed – but I think it can feed into us struggling with a theoretical challenge from Jesus.

Catherine wrote these words, “The majority of North Americans are very much bound by this tragic attitude, “What will the neighbors think?” They are conformists to the depths of their beings. This is what is responsible for so many of our.. problems…. (Many of us) are subject to the sickly need for approval at all costs. But saints (and ‘we’ are all supposed to be saints in the making) are the most original, individualistic, adventuresome people in the world.”

If we read the lives of the saints – they were all different – they weren’t average – instead they were individuals who weren’t worried about ‘the norm.’ Catherine says the Lord loves diversity – which I guess is why He made us so unique. Why do we conform to the norm? Because we feel there is safety in being like everyone else.

In the parish where I am assigned – there are so many projects and things which could be done. Many don’t want to get involved. Many don’t want to rattle or upset the pastor. Many have done ministry and tired of it. (Wasn’t it just last week that we had the Gospel about the seed which fell on rocky ground?) There was a parish where a lot of people left music ministry because the pastor moved the musical talent from the front of the assembly to the rear. Those folks were different – alas, in the completely wrong way.

Is there a Hispanic presence in your parish? Do they know they are loved? Are they well served? Does anyone visit prisoners and take them Bibles and rosaries? How animated and successful is the youth program in your parish? Is Pro-Life ministry vibrant and enthusiastic where you live? Another way of saying it: Is it alive?

Let us pray – let us try to be unique enough that someone will be moved to want to emulate some of the ‘Christian-fire’ that animates us… that makes us different… that fills a special need in God’s garden.

As the new priest (love you Fr. Thomas) in our parish often says: “May God’s words take root in our hearts.” Amen.

Monday’s Reading 1
Mi 6:1-4, 6-8

Hear what the LORD says: Arise, present your plea before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice! Hear, O mountains, the plea of the LORD, pay attention, O foundations of the earth! For the LORD has a plea against his people, and he enters into trial with Israel.
O my people, what have I done to you, or how have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, from the place of slavery I released you; and I sent before you Moses,
Aaron, and Miriam.

With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow before God most high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my crime, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 50:5-6, 8-9, 16bc-17, 21 and 23

R. (23b) To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Gather my faithful ones before me, those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.” And the heavens proclaim his justice;
for God himself is the judge.
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you, for your burnt offerings are before me always. I take from your house no bullock, no goats out of your fold.”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Why do you recite my statutes, and profess my covenant with your mouth, Though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it? Or do you think that I am like yourself? I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes. He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me; and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.

Mt 12:38-42
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 14 , 2008
Father Christopher and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Those who keep up with this deacon – you know that I recently returned from the annual priest and deacon retreat and conference in Steubenville, OH ( Franciscan University). It is now – it has become the annual highlight for me to attend this and to become super-charged with enthusiasm, prayer, fellowship and renewal. Thanks be to God. Each year, I get to meet or re-meet many fellow deacons and priests who look forward to this event as I do.

This year – one of the priests I met was a good-looking, younger priest named Fr. Christopher. When I went through the normal greetings and inquiries about his background and how long he’d been ordained and such… Father broke into a story about a young woman that he had been very close with – someone that he loved and that he might have married. However, God’s voice broke through and Chris became certain that he was really being called to become a priest. I asked him how she took the news. He said that she was bitter… very bitter and that she wound up leaving the faith – she stopped going to Mass. Her name is Wendy – and I would ask anyone reading this to pause for just a moment and ask God’s healing for Wendy.

Pray for a grace to be given to her such that she will come to realize that she shared in the greatest gift given to mankind… the gift of the priesthood. May she get past her anger and return to the faith!

I wrote a note about this ‘life event’ in my spiral (logging) binder. And as I pulled up the Mass readings for today – guess what was sitting right at the top of my desk? This note about Wendy – and about Father Christopher. I think it ties in well with the holy person we honor today – Blessed Kateri (Catherine) Tekakwitha. She is the first person born in North America to be beatified.

Her life is a good read. Three priests ‘planted a seed’ of faith in Kateri – some words that drew her to eventually convert to Catholicism at the age of 19. She took her faith and her calling most seriously. She believed in the great dignity in others and in herself by virtue of baptism. She refused to work on Sundays (the Sabbath) and so she was not fed on those days.

At 23, after three years of ‘formation’ by a priest and an older Iroquois woman, she took a vow of virginity – an unprecedented act for an Indian woman in her circumstances. She prayed long hours and did a great deal of strenuous penance.

Kateri said: “I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus. He must be my only love. The state of helpless poverty that may befall me if I do not marry does not frighten me.

All I need is a little food and a few pieces of clothing. With the work of my hands I shall always earn what is necessary and what is left over I’ll give to my relatives and to the poor. If I should become sick and unable to work, then I shall be like the Lord on the cross. He will have mercy on me and help me, I am sure.”

She humbly accepted an “ordinary” life. She practiced extremely severe fasting as penance for the conversion of her nation. She died the afternoon before Holy Thursday. Witnesses said that her emaciated face changed color and became like that of a healthy child. The lines of suffering, even the smallpox pockmarks, disappeared and the touch of a smile came upon her lips. She was beatified in 1980.

In our quest to know and do God’s will in our own lives – let us remember the words of both of the readings. From Isaiah: “… learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, and defend the widow.” And from the Gospel: ““Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” Thank you Father Christopher for your ‘Yes’ to the Lord’s voice. Thank you for having spiritual stamina to forsake the warmth and affection of a lovely young woman’s arms – His arms are around you now. Thanks be to God. Blessed Kateri – pray for all priests and for us who read this reflection.

Reading 1
Is 1:10-17

Hear the word of the LORD, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah! What care I for the number of your sacrifices? says the LORD. I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure.

When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you?
Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings;
your incense is loathsome to me. New moon and Sabbath, calling of assemblies, octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load.
When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood!
Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 50:8-9, 16bc-17, 21 and 23

R. (23b) To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you, for your burnt offerings are before me always. I take from your house no bullock, no goats out of your fold.”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“Why do you recite my statutes, and profess my covenant with your mouth, Though you hate discipline and cast my words behind you?”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.
“When you do these things, shall I be deaf to it? Or do you think you that I am like yourself? I will correct you by drawing them up before your eyes. He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me; and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.”
R. To the upright I will show the saving power of God.

Mt 10:34-11:1

Jesus said to his Apostles: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward.

And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple– amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”

When Jesus finished giving these commands to his twelve disciples,
he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns.

July 7 , 2008
Faith is an important part of both of our readings for today. Do you believe that God had a special relationship with the Jewish people? Do you believe that this relationship was like a marriage? These words we heard this morning:

“ I will espouse you to me forever:
I will espouse you in right and in justice.”

And of course the Gospel really speaks of faith in the two stories: the ‘official’ who came in faith believing Jesus could raise a daughter from the dead… and the woman suffering for twelve years from a constant bleeding. All she had to do was to touch the hem of his garment.

How would you describe your faith? Is it alive? Is it vibrant? Is it based upon a form of ‘practice’ rather than on a relationship? Can and does it trust and believe in Jesus even when storms rage about you?

A Protestant minister asked a well-known, convert priest (Fr. John Corapi) about whether Catholics really believed what their faith taught them. I may be paraphrasing what the minister said – but it went something like “If I believed that I had a way to have complete forgiveness and healing in the Confessional --- and if I had the belief that I could go to Mass and participate in the un-bloody sacrifice of Jesus as He offers himself to the Father for me – and if I believed in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and had the opportunity to really invite the real Jesus into my body each day --- If I believed each and every one of those things – I would be the most happy, the most unworried, the most loving Christian it is possible to be.”

And then the Protestant minister said to Fr. Corapi – “What’s wrong with Catholics – they seem to be as unhappy as the rest of civilization?”

Boy oh boy! If that doesn’t speak to the issue of faith … and it calls me to begin to ponder what I (or we) really believe. Before we struggle with this – let me share another interesting – if not related story. Many years ago, the wonderful Catholic lay leader Catherine Doherty went to visit another activist woman named Dorothy Day. Dorothy invited Catherine to spend the night with her at the House of Hospitality run by Dorothy. Because they both devoted much of their lives to the poor – Dorothy didn’t have much in terms of facilities – she invited Catherine to sleep with Dorothy in her double bed in the shelter.

As they were preparing to go to bed – a woman of the streets came to the door of Hospitality House. She had no nose and she had active syphilis. Dorothy welcomed her like a queen. Dorothy then told Catherine that she could put a mattress from a cot in the bathtub and that Catherine could sleep in the bathroom – that Dorothy and the street woman would then spend the night in Dorothy’s double bed.

Catherine took Dorothy aside and said: “Speaking as a nurse – I want to warn you that this woman has ACTIVE syphilis and that this can be passed to you if she has any cuts on her body.”

Dorothy replied – “Catherine – you have little faith. This is CHRIST who has come to us for a place to sleep. Christ will take care of me. You must have faith!” And Dorothy and the street woman slept together that night.

I heard that a priest agreed to go on a television show and be hooked up to a lie detector and be asked some questions about his beliefs. When asked if he believed in God – he answered with a firm ‘YES.’ The machine registered that he was lying. Think about that? What would a machine have to say about our strident, if not impatient reply “Of course I believe in God.”?

Catherine Doherty said: “The tragedy of our modern world is that it wants proof that God exists. There is no such proof. No amount of books, libraries, or marvelous speakers can convince us that God exists. For faith is a country of darkness in which we venture towards the God we love. Faith must go through this strange dark land following him whom it loves. We Christians must arise at some point in our life and go around and about in the darkness asking whoever may be present, “Have you seen him whom I love?”

Catherine also said: ‘we can believe in God – superficially. But those who seek him, who really want to find the Absolute, as he is – these go on a pilgrimage…” a pilgrimage in search of stronger faith.

Will you journey with me? Blessings. Deacon Tom.

Reading 1
Hos 2:16, 17c-18, 21-22

Thus says the LORD:
I will allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak to her heart.
She shall respond there as in the days of her youth,
when she came up from the land of Egypt.

On that day, says the LORD,
She shall call me “My husband,”
and never again “My baal.”

I will espouse you to me forever:
I will espouse you in right and in justice,
in love and in mercy;
I will espouse you in fidelity,
and you shall know the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 145:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R. (8a) The Lord is gracious and merciful.
Every day will I bless you,
and I will praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
R. The Lord is gracious and merciful.
Generation after generation praises your works
and proclaims your might.
They speak of the splendor of your glorious majesty
and tell of your wondrous works.
R. The Lord is gracious and merciful.
They discourse of the power of your terrible deeds
and declare your greatness.
They publish the fame of your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your justice.
R. The Lord is gracious and merciful.
The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and of great kindness.
The LORD is good to all
and compassionate toward all his works.
R. The Lord is gracious and merciful.

Mt 9:18-26

While Jesus was speaking, an official came forward,
knelt down before him, and said,
“My daughter has just died.
But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live.”
Jesus rose and followed him, and so did his disciples.
A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him
and touched the tassel on his cloak.
She said to herself, “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.”
Jesus turned around and saw her, and said,
“Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.”
And from that hour the woman was cured.

When Jesus arrived at the official’s house
and saw the flute players and the crowd who were making a commotion,
he said, “Go away! The girl is not dead but sleeping.”
And they ridiculed him.
When the crowd was put out, he came and took her by the hand,
and the little girl arose.
And news of this spread throughout all that land.

© 2006-2009 Deacon Tom Online

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