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By: Kathleen Yacharn

I went to Risk Jesus this past weekend with about 1,200 others, give or take a few. It was an awesome, vibrant event and inspirational to see so many young men and women, mothers, fathers, religious and families unite to celebrate the joy of our faith. After the sessions, there was a Q&A session with Bishop Loverde, Jennifer Fulwiler, and Rev. Longenecker answering questions of faith submitted through our Twitter handle @arlingtonchurch.

The questions ranged from how to deepen your prayer life, to how we can be witnesses in our daily lives, to how we can learn to be open and communicate Our faith better. One question that really touched my heart and made me reflect was one I’ve had over the years. For those of us blessed to be “cradle Catholics,” who have not had a dramatic or difficult or miraculous journey: How can we evangelize without an exciting story to tell?

The answer comes straight from the Gospel, when St. Thomas put his hand into Christ’s wounds and says, “My Lord and My God.” Jesus turned to him, and said:

“‘Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and believed’” (John 20:29).

This is not the only time that Jesus reminds us that there is no greatness or smallness in faith. Rather, for those of us who haven’t heard God’s voice or had an obvious miracle happen in our lives, Jesus even tells us that our faith matters all the more because God calls us to simple obedience and child-like trust in Him:

“‘Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’” (Matthew 19:14).

st therese workingDon’t be discouraged if you don’t have a conversion story like St. Paul. Remember, even the littlest and simplest of people change the world. Although she did experience a beautiful apparition, lived a simple and humble life, St. Therese was convinced that those ordinary people with no special story to tell mattered just as much as the mystics and great martyrs. Her conviction that you could make a difference even in doing the smallest acts done with great love led her to be named a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II.

“‘God’s love is revealed just as much in the most simple soul who does not resist His graces as in the most sublime.’” – St. Therese of Lisieux

There are non-canonized saints who died without a record of their heroic virtue. We honor these saints for their unrecognized faithfulness on All Saints’ Day. We should never let the idea of greatness make us feel small. Another Teresa, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” There is nothing too ordinary, simple, or little for God to make great or work wonders in.

Be sure to keep an eye on the Diocesan website and our Facebook and Twitter. We will be uploading the videos from our Risk Jesus sessions featuring Jennifer Fulwiler, Rev. Dwight Longenecker, Bishop Loverde, and Fr. Juan Puigbó in coming days.

By: Rev. Paul Scalia

And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kgs 19:13)

Elijah must have been tempted to frustration, perhaps even anger, with the Lord. Here he was — devout, faithful, zealous. He had witnessed to the Lord against the false prophets and journeyed 40 days to Mount Horeb. He stood waiting on the Lord. And yet, he gets no greeting from the Lord.  No kudos, thanks, or congratulations. Only a question: What are you doing here, Elijah?

But…it was a fair question. Mount Horeb was, if not exactly God-forsaken, not quite a destination spot either. The prophet had to pause and think. What was his purpose? What had driven him out to a cave on a remote mountain? What was he doing there?

The entire scene provides a good way to approach prayer. When (if?) we pray, we typically just start saying our prayers, without much reflection as to the purpose. They are pre-programmed and we just hit the play button. But if we hear in our minds the Lord’s question to Elijah — What are you doing here? — then our time of prayer is opened up tremendously. Elijah renewed his purpose as he reflected upon the question. So also for us: What is the purpose of prayer? What am I doing here? Thus, by reflecting on Elijah’s encounter with the Lord at Mount Horeb, we can better understand our prayer, our own encounters with God.

elijah_and_the_angel__image_5_sjpg2146

First, Elijah fled to Mount Horeb, to find refuge in the Lord. He had confronted Israel’s false prophets and punished them severely (cf. 1 Kgs 18). In response Queen Jezebel, their patroness, had promised to murder Elijah (cf. 1 Kgs 19:1-2). So he fled, seeking protection, security, divine assistance. He was there because he needed God.

So also we pray because we need to. Because we are in need of similar refuge and assistance. The most basic meaning of the word “pray” is “plead” or “beg.” We do not come into the Lord’s presence as equals to Him. We do not negotiate with Him from a position of power. Rather, we appeal to Him from a position of weakness. We flee to Him because we are in need. Blessed are the poor in spirit — those who have no delusions about their own strength, those who, like Elijah, fly to the Lord in their weakness and need.

But Elijah was not only fleeing from something. He was also going to something. If he only intended to avoid Jezebel and her minions, he could have gone to many different places. But he intended more than flight. He went to Mount Horeb for a reason — because it is Mount Sinai, the place where Israel first encountered the Lord, the place of the covenant between Israel and the Lord. He, who had witnessed to the Lord’s fidelity to His covenant, went to the place where that covenant was born. He went there for renewal.

Although prayer might begin with begging, it should also seek more. Every time we pray, we should, in effect, go back to the beginning of the covenant, to that first encounter and experience with the Lord, to those original gifts He bestowed on us. For ancient Israel, that meant the covenant on Mount Sinai/Horeb. For us, it means our Baptism. We pray in order to renew our childhood, to rekindle in our minds and hearts the awareness of being children of God. One of our greatest weaknesses is forgetfulness of God — of His love, His mighty deeds, His promises. Prayer is the time to recover our memory, to recall again with grateful hearts all that He has already accomplished for us.

Finally, Elijah went to Mount Horeb for strength. His mission was not over. In the conversation that follows the Lord’s question, it is clear that Elijah is to return to Israel, that land of apostasy and persecution, to continue his witness. Indeed, the Lord instructs him to return and promises him assistance (1 Kgs 19:15-17). His encounter with the Lord at Mount Horeb provided him the strength necessary to live his vocation.

Although a refuge, prayer is not an escape. Certainly, prayer involves a certain detachment from the world. We are of no use to the world if we are no different from it, if we have lost our saltiness (cf. Mt 5:13). But that does not mean a rejection of the world. Yes, we ought to run to prayer for protection and renewal. But we cannot use it to avoid the world and its difficulties. Prayer looks also to the witness we have to give before others. We pray, therefore, to be strengthened, to be rendered more effective witnesses in word and deed. Our time of prayer should always conclude with a request for the strength to be witnesses to the truth of the Faith.

What are you doing here? Imagine our Lord asking you that question the next time you pray. A more deliberate reflection on our reasons for being there helps to deepen our ability to pray. It expresses our weakness and need for Him, it reminds us of our status as His children, and it obtains the strength needed to be His witnesses.

This is the fourth of seven posts that will take up some questions of God that satisfy more than the answers of man.

By: Natalie Plumb

Don’t miss Risk Jesus ’14! With hard-hitting talks from speakers, opportunities for confession, a Holy Hour led by Bishop Loverde, and a chance to network with ministry leaders—Risk Jesus will be a leaping first step for those who’ve never heard “Come and see.” Visit: arlingtondiocese.org/riskjesus. Click on the photo below to view my Storify collage of “What people are saying about #RiskJesus!” All for the #NewEvangelization — #RiskShare it!

Larger - What people are saying about #RiskJesus

Click to see me on Storify!

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

By: Josephine Balsamo, Staff Spotlight

Everywhere I look these days there is talk about euthanasia. You can’t pick up a paper or look online at the news without hearing about assisted suicide and “mercy” killing – ending a person’s life because we think it’s more humane than letting them suffer. Four states (Oregon, Vermont, Washington and Montana) have legalized killing persons who are ill in one form or another. Other states, like Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Jersey, are attempting to overturn current prohibitions. This question becomes even more difficult to answer when someone you love has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

IMG_1189When my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic colon cancer, we all were holding out for a miraculous cure through treatment with the latest drugs developed to treat her cancer. After four long weeks of yet another type of chemotherapy, we were told by the doctors that she was not responding to the treatment. We were heartbroken. The doctors came in and offered additional treatments. But in the end, despite our best efforts to talk her into it, my mom refused additional treatment. She said that she was “putting it in God’s hands” and that she “trusted in his will for her.”

Then came the day when the hospital staff entered her room to come up with a discharge plan which included sending her home with Hospice Care. As hard as it was to accept that thought, what happened next was even harder.

We were told that in order to bring her home with Hospice, we would have to bring her home without TPN (the liquid nutrition we had been giving her via IV — the only nutrition she had been given for the last 12 weeks because, due to her cancer, she had been unable to eat or drink, and without it she would have surely starved to death).

I tried to reason with the hospital staff that she was not like most patients with her disease and because of her surgeries she had been unable to eat for quite some time. I literally begged them to reconsider the decision. It hardly seemed right to take her out of the hospital and starve her to death before the cancer actually took her life. I was told this was impossible and if we wanted to continue giving her nutrition, we would have to pay $450 a day for the TPN, and we would not have the help of Hospice to assist with her care.

At this point, I asked to speak with the director of the program, and although he tried to say “No,” I wouldn’t give up.  He finally agreed that she could go home with food, but when she reached the point that a patient would naturally stop eating, the TPN would be stopped and we would let nature take its course. She lived another four months after they discharged her from the hospital and never reached the stage that would have meant taking away hydration and nutrition.

Those four months turned out to be some of the most precious times our family had together, and even though it was hard, God had something to give each of us in the end. For my mother, the gift was time to say goodbye to us and to prepare to go home to heaven. For my father, it was time to say goodbye to the love of his life and the mother of his eight children. For my brothers and sisters, it was time to learn what unconditional love looks like. And for me, it was time to find my faith again after 25 years, through the help of a young priest who brought her Communion.

In our darkest trials, God brings beautiful blessings. Had we listened to the doctors, my mom would have died of dehydration and starvation, which would have been both physically and emotionally painful. Thank goodness we listened to what was in our hearts and gave her a chance to die at home with dignity and at peace surrounded by the family she loved so well.

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

Josephine Balsamo has been the Program Coordinator for Project Rachel in the Diocese of Arlington’s Family Life Office since 2004. The ministry offers post-abortion healing retreats, monthly holy hours, professional counseling, a confidential phone line, referral to priests for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and multiple other resources.

By: Deacon Marques Silva

Last night at 10:29 p.m., the Autumnal Equinox occurred. This means fall has begun (except for the meteorologists that set it on September 1). Mother Nature even assisted last night with some brisk air to remind us that fall has indeed arrived. Nature itself is preparing for its Advent retreat and so are many of Our Lord’s creatures.

Take, for instance, the spider. It is at this time that a number of spider younglings hatch from their eggs. After their exoskeleton hardens, the spiders find the highest point, release a strand of their silken web and let the wind carry it wherever the autumnal wind wills (You remember, like in Charlotte’s Web). This silken thread of web is known colloquially as gossamer. We even have a Catholic legend to explain this:

This delicate filmy cobweb, prevalent in the air and on the grass and bushes, especially in autumn, is explained in a fine legend. It is the delicate thread unraveling from the Blessed Virgin’s winding sheet, falling to earth in her Assumption. The word itself, however, comes from “goose summer” which was a name for St. Martin’s summer because of the goose legend, which is another story![1]

1280px-Spider_web_Luc_Viatour - WikimediaSometimes explanations for natural occurrences are written by the poets. While their explanations are often implausible – if not impossible — still, the exquisite piety of their poetry seems to overcome the obvious logic with beauty. For the scientist or realist, this type of explanation may seem childish or annoying. That being said, there is so much to gain in simple child-like piety.

If we are honest, the faith of a child seems to be more vibrant than many adults. We all would be quick to admit that this is due to their naiveté and/or experience of life. And yet, many saints have embraced the simplicity of childlike faith. Jesus said it, so it must be true, after all.

Regardless, I like the gossamer legend, not because it adequately explains what a spider web is or why, as I walked out my door this morning, my face embraced that sticky silk. It reminds me that even after the Assumption, Our Lady desires to leave her fingerprints on our lives through her motherly intercession.

Maybe today, or this weekend, as you steal away to enjoy your autumn day, you can take a moment to lie on the ground and stare up and name the shapes of the clouds. Take some time to remember that childlike faith and joy. If you have forgotten how, just ask a toddler and I’m positive that they are fully capable of re-teaching you.

Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it. (Luke 18:17)


[1] Klein, Rev. Peter, The Catholic Source Book (Harcourt Religion Publishers, 2000) p. 352.

By: Rev. Robert J. Wagner, Staff Spotlight

When someone sins against us, what is the proper Christian response? Throughout the Gospels, Jesus teaches us the importance of forgiveness as both a reflection of God’s mercy and a means for healing and unity among all people. He speaks to us of turning the other cheek, praying for our enemies and showing mercy to our persecutors.

In His darkest hour on Calvary, Jesus offers us an extraordinary example of mercy when He prayed: “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they do” (Lk 23:34). Jesus offers mercy to those who sentenced Him to death and nailed Him to the cross. When we find it challenging to forgive another person, praying with this Scripture passage is a powerful and fruitful source of healing and motivation.

Jesus also teaches us that our salvation is directly related to our ability to forgive. “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you,” He says. “But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions,” (Mt 6:14-15).

Forgiveness requires great virtue, including the exercise of humility, courage and compassion. It is in forgiving others that we grow in holiness and allow God’s grace to heal bonds that are so easily broken through our sinfulness and the sinfulness of others. Over and over again, we will have the opportunity to grow in holiness through the practice of forgiveness as Peter found out when He tried to find a limit to how often a Christian needs to forgive a person who sins against them: “As many as seven times?” Peter asked. “Not seven, but seventy-seven,” Jesus replied (cf. Mt 18:21-22).

In light of Christ’s teaching on forgiveness, the lesson we hear in the Gospel seems odd. Jesus tells us, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Our first instinct is to think this is the opposite of forgiving. Why would we confront the sinner if we are called to turn the other cheek? We assume they already know what we are going to tell them, that their sins have damaged us and others. What do we gain from this interaction?

Guercino_Return_of_the_prodigal_sonWe must realize, however, that Jesus is not telling us to confront the sinful party out of vengeance or righteousness. It is not an action to help us cope with and heal from the wounds the other has inflicted on us (although that may be a result). No, the reason for the interaction is not for us at all. We are called to forgive. We are called to love. We are called to compassion.

Jesus asks us to tell the sinner his fault for his sake — for his conversion, for his self-awareness. Perhaps he does not know the damage he has done. Perhaps he will be moved by seeing the pain he has caused us or react to the forgiveness we offer in our explanation. Perhaps we are giving him the opportunity to apologize and find healing. By approaching him, we allow God an opportunity to touch the soul of a sinner. We perform an act of charity for someone who has sinned against us.

Too often, when we are hurt by another, the last person we tell about the sin is the person who committed it against us. Rather, our first reaction is to find sympathy by complaining to others or to spread the news of a sinful act that will damage the other’s reputation. Unlike confronting someone out of care for their soul, this kind of response is selfish and sinful. It does not bring healing but instead brings more division and pain.

It is difficult to confront people who have hurt us. They have injured us, diminished the trust we have for them, and left a wound that requires forgiveness to be healed. May God give us the grace to recognize the people we have yet to forgive, the people we have forgiven but still need to offer the opportunity to apologize to us and the people to whom we need to apologize. Christ calls us to be one body in Him (Jn 17:21-23). Let us be instruments of that Christian unity in our lives and the lives of others.

This Gospel commentary first appeared in The Arlington Catholic Herald. View it here

Fr. Robert Wagner is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde’s secretary.

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

The Human Search

By: Rev. Paul Scalia

Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?”

God begins His plan for our salvation with a question: Where are you? (Gen 3:9). Then, upon entering the world to fulfill this plan, He asks another. At the Jordan, at the beginning of His public life, Jesus turns to the disciples following Him and asks, What do you seek? (Jn 1:38). Thus, one part of salvation is God’s search for us; the second part is our search for Him.

The proclamation of the Gospel begins, not with a doctrinal statement or a moral command, but with a question: What do you seek? It is a question that goes directly to the heart, because the human heart seeks by its very nature. Saint Augustine summarized this most beautifully and famously: You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You. We were created to seek Him Who seeks us.

rembrandt-christ-mary-magdalene-tombBut sin has damaged our search for Him. We are created for happiness, and we instinctively seek it. But sin has blinded us to the true happiness for which we are created — the happiness of God Himself. The wounds of sin do not halt our search. They simply derail it, driving it in directions other than His. We seek rest in false gods.

We err in our search for Him, either by excess or by defect. By excess, when we try to satisfy the heart’s longing with the world’s offerings — in effect, attempt to quench a spiritual desire with a physical solution. So we chase after the world’s wealth, power and pleasure, hoping that it will satisfy our inner longing. We think that more will satisfy — more things, more control, more entertainment, etc. This misguided search leads to grave depravities — to abuse of drugs and alcohol, to addictions, to deceit and theft, and so on.

We err by defect when we settle, when we numb ourselves to the heart’s cries for fulfillment. We make ourselves comfortably numb to that longing. We make peace with the world and prefer its mediocre comforts to the agony of a heart that desires more. Rather than suffering the pains of a heart’s longing, we anesthetize ourselves.

What do you seek? Jesus’ question serves as a corrective to the heart wounded by sin. It reminds the tepid and mediocre that we have this longing within us, and we should heed it. The question prompts the misguided to turn aside from false gods and consider what truly satisfies the human heart. Just as hunger and thirst signal that we need food, so the longing of the heart reminds us that we are created for higher things. We have to stir ourselves to pursue them. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they have not silenced the heart’s longing. And just as our physical hunger and thirst cannot be satisfied by cotton candy and soda, so also the heart’s hunger and thirst cannot be satiated by the world’s offerings. We have to seek true nourishment.

And He leads us still further, revealing that we ultimately seek not a what but a whom. In the Garden of Gethsemane He confronts his persecutors with another question: “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth (Jn 18:4-5). With this, Jesus reveals that He Himself is the goal of our search — even of those most opposed to Him. And in God’s Providence, His foes proclaim this truth despite themselves. Even as they trample the desires of the human heart, they mysteriously confess that they seek Jesus of Nazareth. The heart longs not for something, but for Someone, for Him. God alone satisfies.

Likewise on Easter morning, in yet another garden, our Lord puts the same fundamental question to Mary Magdalene: Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? (Jn 20:15). Mary represents our human nature wounded by sin and longing for healing. Jesus asks her these questions to stir up the awareness that she, who had sought happiness and peace in so many wrong places, ultimately seeks Him as her Savior.

What do you seek? Whom do you seek? We are the disciples at the Jordan, seeking something more but not knowing what. We are the soldiers in the garden, hostile to our Lord because He has become inconvenient. We are the Magdalene at the tomb, weeping for our sins and seeking a Savior. In each case we need to hear His voice, allow the questions to penetrate, and reply with appropriate zeal, repentance, and hope. Thy face, Lord, do I seek (Ps 27:8).

This is the third of seven posts that will take up some questions of God that satisfy more than the answers of man.

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