Monthly Archives: July 2014

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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“John Donne Arrives in Heaven” by Stanley Spencer (1911)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a treasure and to a pearl of great price. When they are discovered, the one who finds them sells all he has to acquire them. The point is the value of the kingdom of heaven, which leads us to the last comparison; the net thrown into the sea. At the end of the age all humanity will be gathered together and some will be invited into the kingdom of heaven and others will not.

As Jesus says in another place, “Where ever your treasure is, so also will your heart be.” Mt.6:21. Those to who the kingdom of heaven was of primary importance during their life and who were faithful witnesses of their love for God and neighbor will receive their treasure in heaven.

In the first reading we see that Solomon answered wisely when God offered to give him whatever he asked for. When he asked for an understanding heart so that he could serve God and His people better, God was pleased. In his heart, Solomon was not far from the kingdom of heaven. It was as if he was prophesying what Jesus would tell us in the Gospel of Matthew: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Mt. 6:33. These words from Jesus are the light that will guide us into his kingdom. They are the fulfillment of the Two Greatest Commandments; we must love the Lord Our God with all our mind, Heart, soul and strength and our neighbor as our self. When we order our lives to God, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, even in the midst of suffering.

So we must ask ourselves, where is our treasure? What are you willing to give everything you have for? One resource that we all have equally is time. Every one of us has 24 hours each day and how we use that time has a great deal to do with our proximity to the kingdom of heaven.

I have heard people say they do not have time to pray. What is it that you are doing that you can do without God’s help? It is His love that sustains us, allows us to take our next breath. It is said “No prayer means no faith,” because prayer is our connection to God, and without faith we have no real hope.

We are all aware of the terrible things that are happening in the Middle East and Africa. There will be more martyrs in this century than in all the other centuries put together. Right now there are Christians living in Mosul, Iraq, being told they have three choices: they must either convert to Islam, pay a tax and leave their home, or be killed. Because of this, the Patriarch of Mosul said the city is empty of Christians for the first time in Two thousand years. In Syria, young Christian men are being crucified among other atrocities. This violence against Christians is not something that is passing; it is escalating.

Bishops in the Middle East wonder why the rest of the world is silent as Christians are being persecuted. We may not have to shed our blood for our faith in this country, but there is a growing hostility to Christianity even here. When our culture accepts and promotes immorality as normal, it sees Christianity as an adversary.

Even in the Holy Land which is sacred to the three major religions there is much tension. At the end of our pilgrimage two weeks ago we spent an additional three days in Jerusalem to pray and visit friends. Though life is difficult, they want to remain there because of their faith and their love for the land. Presently there is less than one and a half percent of the population that is Christian. They tell us that the most important thing we can do for them is to tell people in the U.S. that they, the Mother Church, the descendants of the first Christians, are still present in the Holy Places and they need our prayers and they need us to come there on Pilgrimage because their survival depends on the presents and prayers of pilgrims.

There is an urgency for those of us who take our faith seriously to increase our prayer time, fast and make sacrifices as people have done in the past when faced with great conflicts. Wars have been won when multitudes have joined together in praying the rosary.

Jesus closes this Gospel by asking, “Do you understand all these things?” Like Solomon, let us pray for the gift of understanding, but also for the greater gift of faith, because by faith we are often called to believe that which we cannot understand. The Scriptures and the Church will guide us into the kingdom of heaven if we believe what has been revealed to us and then act on what we believe.

Faith is a gift from God, but believing is a choice. The question we must ask ourselves is; does our faith influence all the important decisions we make?

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Encountering Christ in Prayer on the Via Dolorosa

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Imagine carrying a six by four foot wooden cross on Via Dolorosa (Latin for the Way of Suffering), commemorating Christ’s passion as He walked carrying his Cross from the Antonia Fortress not far from the Temple through the streets of Jerusalem, and then to Calvary. Remembering our Lord’s passion and His walk to Calvary has long been and continues to be an ‘active prayer’ in Jerusalem. Many pilgrims walk the Via Dolorosa each year.

Today, Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem has Roman numerals on bronze disks along the walls of buildings marking the way the Lord carried His cross.  Each Roman numeral signifies a “station”. For example, the First Station, “Jesus takes up His Cross”, is marked outside the ancient ruins of the Antonia Fortress.  There are fourteen Stations of the Cross, the first nine are along Via Dolorosa and the last five are in the Holy Sepulcher Church built over Calvary and the area of the Tomb of Christ.    

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My husband and I just led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where all the pilgrims had the opportunity to carry the large wooden cross along the Via Dolorosa.  Some of the marked Stations have small chapels maintained by various religious communities living in Jerusalem such as the Franciscans, the Armenian Catholics and Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus founded by Charles de Foucauld.

One morning, Tom and I were walking along the Via Dolorosa with a dear friend living in Jerusalem, we were planning to have coffee at the Austrian Guesthouse near the Fourth Station.  Our friend who is a devout Catholic with Armenian roots invited us to visit the Fourth Station Church under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Church dedicated to the Armenian genocide that occurred around 1915.  The church’s crypt marked the site of the fourth station where Jesus met His Mother as He carried the Cross to Calvary. The foundation, part mosaic from the 5th century, had a pair of ‘sandals’ marking the spot where Mary stood.

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On the other side was a section with a modern sacred art piece with the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a unique monstrance.  There was a large rug for kneeling, a few chairs and a religious nun praying.  We decided to spend an hour with Jesus there in silent prayer, adoring Him in His Eucharistic Presence.  I thought… “Lord!  I am here with you in a special way where you met your mother on your way to Calvary!”  Tom and I enjoyed our quiet one hour.

Meanwhile, on the upper level, life went on along the Via Dolorosa.  Muslim women were purchasing fresh vegetables and pastries to prepare for their Ramadan meal after Sundown, tourists with open maps wondering about, a group of Italian Catholics praying the Stations of the Cross, and the market along the Via Dolorosa open for business.

The Son of God in His Eucharistic Presence was present in silence only a few yards away.  Our hour with Jesus on Via Dolorosa will be one I’ll always remember.

To learn more about the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, visit the Franciscan Website (Custody of the Holy Land).

Want to experience a journey to the Holy Land?  Contact us!

Entwined in the Walking

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But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Is. 40:31

What does that mean, “wait on the Lord”?  It sounds like I’m waiting for Him to solve my problems.  So I looked it up.  The Hebrew word for “wait” literally means to “wrap or entwine oneself around” – like a rope that is wrapped around a pole.  Perhaps the emphasis of this statement is not so much upon the activity of waiting, but the object of waiting.  It is about the Person we are waiting on – wrapping our lives around Our Lord at the center. 

Think about it.  We all wrap ourselves around something or someone. For some of us it’s alcohol, food, drugs, illicit sexuality, the internet, owning the latest and greatest (fill in the blank here….car, house, trophy wife…), or the pursuit of any other number of false gods and graven images in our lives.  The problem is that all of these have a shelf life for filling the hole in our soul and eventually end up draining our vitality rather than renewing it.

And what about the rest of the statement?  Sometimes we fly through Life.  The song from “South Pacific” comes to mind: “I know how it feels to have wings on your heels and to fly down the street in a trance.”  At these wonderful times we seem to “mount up with wings like eagles.” Then there are those times when life is more like running (running to or away from something), “they shall run and not be weary.” But if we’re honest, most of the time life is simply a matter of walking and perseverance, “they shall walk and not faint.”

Missionary and author, Dr. John Oswald Sanders has something to say on this:

“The hardest part of the journey is neither the start nor the finish, but the middle mile. There is the enthusiasm of a new undertaking that buoys you at the beginning and there is the thrill of reaching the goal that carries you down the home stretch; but it is the middle mile—when you are a long way from the start and home is still distant—that tests the mettle of the traveler.” 

And we are all travelers on this journey to Our Heavenly Jerusalem.  As a new (and enthusiastic) convert to the Catholic faith, this daily decision to put the Lord at the center of my life has made all the difference.  Praise be to God – I no longer run the race alone.

Why did Jesus say, “Take my yoke upon you”?

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Jesus’ words to the crowd on the Mount of Beatitudes are often quoted because they sound so “nice”, but we can miss their deeper meaning if we fail to put them into context:

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. (Mt. 11:28-30)

Do these words just make Jesus a nice guy — or is there something more?

If we looked for all the occurrences of “yoke” in the Old Testament, we’d see it closely associated with

  • a heavy burden
  • oppression
  • slavery
  • force

When an animal or a slave wore a yoke, they were controlled by a master and bore a heavy burden. They were objectified and used.

Turning back to Jesus on the Mount of Beatitudes, who has just revealed himself as the Son of God to the multitudes gathered around him, he now extends to them an invitation: “Take my yoke upon you…” Jesus’ yoke is the direct opposite of a typical yoke in every respect. He offers his listeners a choice:

  • not a heavy burden, but light
  • not oppression, but ease
  • not slavery, but rest
  • not force, but a choice

“Take my yoke upon you…” is God looking at the tortured, burdened slave, pointing to their heavy yoke, and saying, “I offer you freedom. Will you trade that yoke for mine?”

But how can freedom be had whilst wearing a yoke? This is Jesus using irony to make a point: we can only be free if we are yoked to God — if we walk side-by-side with Jesus. We can only be free from our slavery if we learn meekness and humility from Jesus.

Jesus wants us to ask ourselves: To what am I yoked? What drives my daily decisions? Have I been yoked to my fears? To an endless to-do list? To self-consciousness? To bad habits? To sins? To comfort?

We can only remove those yokes by God’s grace, when we trade them for the only yoke that frees us: the yoke of Christ.