Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, June 26, 2016

"'Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?' Jesus turned and rebuked them." -- Luke 9:54-55

“‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them.” — Luke 9:54-55

June 26, Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle C. Readings:

1) 1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21

Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11

2) Galatians 5:1, 13-18

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62

 

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

When I was in high school I signed up for a special district-wide class on criminal justice. The idea was to gather from every school students who were considering a career in law enforcement.

I had to travel across town to another school for the course and it turned out all the other students in the class went to that school. I was the only outsider. For an entire year the whole class treated me rudely, made fun of me and called me offensive names. Looking back, it was one of the best years of my life.

I had been taught by my family and my faith to turn the other cheek, and I strived all year to do just that. I never lashed out at these other students; I just took their insults and did my best to be the better person. This experience has had a lasting impact on me.

It came to mind when reading this week’s Gospel. Jesus wants to visit a Samaritan town, but the local people refuse to welcome him. Jesus’ disciples ask him, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” But Jesus rejects this idea.

To be sure, when I was in that class daily with students who refused to welcome me I wanted to “call down fire from heaven,” but by the grace of God I was able to lean more heavily on the message from St. Paul this week: “Live by the Spirit and you will certainly not gratify the desire of the flesh.”

So often we are in danger of letting our worldly passions rule our life. But Jesus and St. Paul in unison reject this idea and call us to live by the Spirit.

Living by the Spirit does not mean that we cannot have passion; rather, it means we have surrendered to the will of God and have allowed his will to guide our passions.

As with most things in the spiritual life, it’s simple but not easy. We must be steeped in the things of the Spirit and avoid the thoughts and activities mired in the flesh if we are to have a fighting chance. But fight we must, lest we call down that fire from heaven and end up singed by our own wrath.

QUESTIONS:

Do you remember a time when you wanted to “call down fire from heaven”? What are some things you do to strive to live in the Spirit?

June is Torture Awareness Month

Chaldean Father Douglas Bazi holds a shirt he wore while enduring torture as a hostage in Iraq in 2006 during a conference at the United Nations April 28. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Chaldean Father Douglas Bazi holds a shirt he wore while enduring torture as a hostage in Iraq in 2006 during a conference at the United Nations April 28. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Sunday is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture as declared by the United Nations.

It’s one day during Torture Awareness Month to remember people who have been confined and beaten or tortured because of their political involvement, their religious beliefs, their writings or actions in war.

It’s also a day to remember that torture is illegal under international law.

Torture remains illegal under United States law as well, having been officially outlawed by Congress after it was revealed that the U.S. military and the Central Intelligence Agency had conducted or authorized “enhanced interrogation techniques” early in the Iraq War.

Despite the law, some members of Congress would like to overturn the ban and that concerns the Rev. Ronald Stief, a United Church of Christ minister who is executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, of which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is a supporter.

No one should undergo torture, he told Catholic News Service.

“It’s important to remember that in the middle of all these policy fights that these are real people, they’re survivors and we need to keep them in in mind and pray for them,” he said.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, takes the same stance in the USCCB’s “To Go Forth” blog. He reiterates Catholic teaching in calling for an end to all torture.

“In his 1993 encyclical, ‘Veritatis Splendor’ (‘The Splendor of Truth’), St. John Paul II included physical and mental torture in his list of social evils that are ‘intrinsically evil.’ The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says the prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances,'” Bishop Cantu wrote.

He reminds readers that torture debases human life and violates the principle of respecting basic human dignity, the blog says, adding, “Torture also degrades the moral fiber of any society that tolerates or sponsors it. Accepting torture undermines respect for everyone’s human rights and human dignity.”

Bishop Cantu is not alone in his opposition to the use of torture. Practically, military and intelligence officers have said, torture in its various forms has failed to yield solid information as victims offer what can be perceived as valuable information just to escape additional torture actions.

In addition, the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition is marking Torture Survivors Week June 22-26. Programs include a daylong seminar at The Catholic University of America today followed by a day of advocacy on Capitol Hill Thursday.

Now in its 19th year, the program has served to shed light on the practice of torture through the eyes of victims from around the world who have found refuge in the United States.

Micro-lending site Kiva provides dignity, opportunity to disadvantaged

By Colleen Dulle

WASHINGTON (CNS) -– Julie Hanna, a two-time refugee and five-time entrepreneur, took to the stage at the United State of Women Summit June 14 to share how her company is bringing dignity and opportunity to talented but disadvantaged people.

A loan of $100 helped Cynthia in Ghana to stock up on beads and stones for jewelry she makes and sells. (Kiva photo/Juan Barbed)

A $100 loan helped Cynthia in Ghana to buy beads for jewelry she makes and sells. (Kiva photo/Juan Barbed)

Hanna, executive chair of the board at micro-lending giant Kiva.org, knows from experience that, as she says, “talent is universal, but opportunity is not.”

She told the audience of 5,000 women at the White House summit how she recalled seeing her parents looked upon with pity here after the family fled first from Black September — the Jordanian civil war — and then from the Lebanese civil war.

“The expression I saw on my parents’ face,” she said, “was their dignity being chipped away.” She realized the society they’d entered didn’t understand the difference between broken circumstances and broken people, but she began to dream of a world that would.

“I dreamt of a world that knows pity is the dear enemy of compassion. I dreamt of a world that regards dignity as an unalienable human right. I dreamt of a world that understands that talent is universal but opportunity is not,” Hanna said.

She went on to take advantage of every opportunity she had to channel her talent. She was one of the first girls to play Little League baseball in Alabama after Title IX passed and graduated from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in computer science before moving to Silicon Valley and working for five successful startups including Healtheon, which became WebMD.

Hanna then went to Kiva, which pioneered what’s now known as “crowdfunding” 11 years ago. Its first borrower was a mother of five who took out a $500 loan to start a business without diverting funds from her children’s education.

Egyptian-born Hanna has seen the site transform communities around the world by empowering women in business. Of the entrepreneurs Kiva lenders have funded, 75 percent or 1.5 million are women.

Hanna sat down with Catholic News Service after her talk to reflect on this point.

She said she wanted her speech to convey that “investing in women and women entrepreneurs is the fastest way to transform a society, and that it takes very little money to do that.”

She cited examples of women who began sending their children to school thanks to Kiva loans, and those who have gone from being homeless to starting craft businesses that employ other women and create jobs.

“It’s so empowering and dignity-building for these women, and often times they’re in situations where they’ve been abused, they’ve been discriminated against, they haven’t had access to money, and all of a sudden, they come under their own power and their communities completely shift,” Hanna said.

“They’re so strong and powerful and become a force to be reckoned with, and they become role models for the children and lift up everyone around them.”

Teresa Goines honored in 2009 with community leadership award by FBI's San Francisco division. (Photo/Old School Cafe)

Teresa Goines is honored in 2009 with community leadership award by FBI’s San Francisco division. (Photo/Old Skool Cafe)

One example that has stayed with her through the years, she said, was that of Teresa Goines, who was a corrections officer in San Francisco who saw the same gang-involved teens and young adults come through prison over and over. She knew that jobs could change the course of their lives, so after some time in prayer, she started Old Skool Cafe, a jazz-themed dinner club that employs former gang members as cooks, waiters, and performers, among other jobs.

The cafe program graduates 25 students per year who go on to full-time education or employment.

It, like similar programs at Cafe Reconcile in New Orleans or the Jesuit-run Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, has transformed the employees’ community and provided an avenue out of gang life.

The transformative service Kiva provides makes it a natural partner for religious organizations.

“Faith-based organizations are actually a real fabric of Kiva’s lending community, a massive fabric, and they’ve been some of the longest-standing and earliest lenders,” Hanna said, detailing how Kiva is partnering with church-run organizations in the U.S. to identify borrowers and vouch for them.

“Matter of fact, the number one and number two lending teams on Kiva — we have lending teams that can lend together — are the atheists and the Christians, and they compete with one another,” Hanna laughed.

The Christians have fallen behind, with $24.5 million to the atheist group’s $26.7 million.

The friendly competition between the two and the other groups on Kiva (which even the Christian group outpaces by a $12 million margin) contribute to Hanna’s dream of restoring dignity to those whose circumstances have taken it.

“One dream can transform a million realities,” Hanna said. “It’s the only thing that ever has, and that’s the most hopeful truth I know.”

Make that 2 million borrowers’ realities — and counting.

Active collaboration was common theme at Given forum

By Ana Franco-Guzman

Given conference in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Given conference in Washington. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Highlighted in what many of the speakers said at the Given forum held earlier this month in Washington is what St. John Paul II would call the importance of feminine values in society. When God made Eve, he did not make her inferior but the opposite — his “ezer,” which means a vital helper.

Women should “thank God for our sex,” Helen Alvare, a professor of law at George Mason University School of Law told the audience of more than 300 young women at the Given Catholic Young Women’s Leadership Forum. The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious hosted the gathering June 7-12 at The Catholic University of America.

“In the world today there is what one would call a resistance of the notion of two-ness,” Alvare said, when women’s differences with men call for an active collaboration and appreciation of our differences.

Among the other speakers was Kara Eschbach, co-founder, editor in chief and publisher of Verily, a digital fashion and lifestyle magazine for women that aims “to empower and inspire women to be the best versions of themselves.”

She said the qualities women have, like beauty, are a gift.

“To reject the importance of the physical world is to turn the whole human experience into a sort of utilitarian exercise away of the use of a thing only in so far as it contributes to our salvation which misses the full scope of our creation,” she said. “The human heart is drawn to and attracted to beauty. That’s the thing for women, women are just absolutely beautiful.”

Feminine values also are human values, said Sister Norma Pimentel, another conference speaker. A Missionary of Jesus, Sister Norma is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas.

Sister Norma Pimentel, Brownsville, at a White House event in April. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Sister Norma Pimentel is seen at a White House Easter breakfast in April. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande has been taking care of the needs of unaccompanied minors, mostly from Central America, who have flooded across the U.S.-Mexico border into the Rio Grande Valley.

“We as women in the world and especially in the United States are called to open our hearts as women to welcome the stranger, the child that needs us. Just like Mary would … open her heart to welcome us.” she told Catholic News Service. “Only we as women can understand a mother’s love that is needed to give to these families that are hurting.”

The Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious described the Given forum as “a launchpad for what St. John Paul II called the feminine genius and a response to Pope Francis’ call to activate women’s gifts in the church.”

World Refugee Day: Pope Francis-style

refugees epa

Somali refugees in a tent in 2011 at the Ifo Extension refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya.      (CNS photo/Dai Kurokawa, EPA)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis marked today’s World Refugee Day with an appeal to assist and accompany refugees as well as remedy the injustices and conflicts that force people to flee.

Throughout his pontificate, he has repeatedly underlined the plight of people compelled to leave their home and the Gospel call to “welcome the stranger”:

Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes …

— Pope Francis, World Message for Migrants & Refugees 2014

Too often you have not been welcomed. Forgive the closure and indifference of our societies, which fear the change of life and mentality that your presence requires. Treated as a burden, as problem, a cost, you are instead a gift. You offer witness of how our gracious and merciful our God knows how to transform the evil and injustice you suffer into a good for all.

— Pope Francis, Message to Jesuit “Astalli” refugee center in Rome 2016

 

ewf child

A displaced woman carries her sleeping child June 15 at a refugee camp near Mosul, Iraq. (CNS photo/Azad Lashkari, Reuters)

In an effort to give voice to some of the 60 million estimated refugees in the world, Jesuit Refugee Service interviewed a handful of the many people they help. They produced this video as part of their campaign, “Open minds, unlock potential,” which is promoting the need to offer education to and be receptive of new arrivals.

The International Catholic Migration Commission is also sharing stories of resettled refugees around the world as a way to encourage those still waiting for a place to call home and to call attention to the benefits refugees bring to host communities. It is using the #HandsOfMercy, #StoriesOfMercy and #WithRefugees to share or send personal stories or messages of hope on social media.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, June 19, 2016

"Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." -- Luke 9:24

“Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” — Luke 9:24

 

June 19, Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1

      Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9

      2) Galatians 3:26-29

      Gospel: Luke 9:18-24

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples acknowledge him as “the Christ of God,” the promised Messiah who will save the world.

He proceeds to tell them how this will happen: through his suffering, death and resurrection. Then he adds that whoever “wishes to come after me” would have to give up his former way of life and take on Jesus’ way, including the suffering that goes along with it.

No doubt if there had been a Galilean word for “yikes!” the disciples would have uttered it at that point. It’s one thing to know and accept who Jesus is. The harder part comes in facing what that means in one’s relationship with him and in choosing to spend one’s life following him.

As a catechist, I often sensed this struggle in teenagers preparing for confirmation. The young people came with a wide range of faith formation prior to entering the program. Some had attended parish formation classes since they were in kindergarten; others had received rigorous religious education in Catholic school; and still others had only minimal catechesis since receiving their first Communion as second-graders.

Each year, as the class progressed, I saw nearly all of the young people grow to an understanding and acceptance of who Jesus is. But not all seemed certain about their desire to be confirmed in the church.

Interestingly, the individuals most conflicted were those who had a personal, spiritual relationship with Jesus. Invariably, as the day for the sacrament approached, those young people would tell me, “I don’t think I’m ready.”

They didn’t take this step lightly. For them, coming into full participation in the church was a serious moment of truth. It meant making the decision to actively follow Jesus as a disciple with all the complications that entails.

Most of these conscientious ones chose to be confirmed. But a few decided to wait until they felt sure they could hold up their end of the bargain.

I’ve never worried for their souls. It was obvious they had a deep faith in Jesus as their guide and savior. Besides, the fact that they were stressing over whether they could serve him well enough revealed they already had taken up their crosses.

QUESTION:

What makes the difference for you between knowing who Jesus is and taking up your cross to follow him?

Father Stephen Reid exhibit offers prayer through art

By Nicolette Paglioni

(Photo by Nicolette Paglioni)

(Photo by Nicolette Paglioni)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington is showcasing Benedictine Father Stephen Reid’s artwork in an exhibit that opened Feb. 15 and will close soon.

The small, quiet gallery located in the shrine’s Memorial Hall includes 14 wood carvings and two large oil paintings; while most pieces have no date listed, it is believed that Father Reid created most of his art between the 1950s and 1980s.

Born in 1912 to Methodist parents in the Shenandoah Mountains, Father Reid led an obscure early life. He attended the University of Virginia, possibly in the early 1930s, where he may have studied literature and French.

Memorial Hall at national shrine in Washington. (Photo by Nicolette Paglioni)

The national’s shrine’s Memorial Hall. (Photo by Nicolette Paglioni)

After moving to Washington for reasons unknown, he received instruction from a priest at Nativity Catholic Church. He then became a Catholic and shortly after joined St. Anselm’s Abbey. There, he took the name Stephen in 1941 and was ordained a priest in 1945. No one knows for sure what led to his conversion and entrance into St. Anselm’s, but Abbot James Wiseman, his contemporary, believes that the centrality of the liturgy, the Benedictine emphasis on service, and the close-knit community of Catholic men “striving to serve God,” might have attracted Father Reid to monastic life.

During his time at St. Anselm’s Abbey, Father Reid had many roles. He taught French, English and religion. He helped students use the typesetter to print their publications. He even founded the Priory Players theater troupe, and directed, costumed, and built the sets for their annual productions.

(Photo by Nicolette Paglioni)

(Photo by Nicolette Paglioni)

He became well known at St. Anselm’s for his artwork, which now adorns the halls of both the abbey and the Church of the Good Shepherd in Glen Burnie, Maryland, where he served as a parish priest for over a decade.

The sculptures and paintings on display at the national shrine have drawn attention for their abstract form and simple — but not simplistic — design. Contrary to the familiar, detailed elegance of most Catholic sculpture, Father Reid seeks to accentuate, not his own talent, but the subjects of his sculptures using attenuated figures and flowing woods. Similarly, Father Reid wanted to avoid rendering the saints of his paintings as objects rather than subjects.

Father Reid hoped to “disrupt habitual responses” to religious art with his unique style, according to Bruce Nixon, author of “A Communion of Saints: The Art of Fr. Stephen Reid, OSB.”

Today, his art serves to “disrupt” our busy lives by taking us by the nose to the heart of prayer with subtle grace.

nicoletteexhibit1

Father Reid’s Madonna and Child. (Photo by Nicolette Paglioni)

According to the curator at the national shrine, Geraldine Rohling, one statue in particular has attracted many visitors — often more than once — to the gallery. Father Reid’s “Madonna and Child of the Woods” was discarded by the artist, and found 20 years later in the woods outside of the abbey. Now, with its prominent place at the front of the gallery, the piece has attracted a “phenomenal” amount of prayerful viewers.

Alongside his statues, Father Reid’s carved crucifixes have sparked significant interest for their apparent weightlessness; rather than sagging beneath the weight of the cross, Father Reid’s figures of Christ instead seem to hold up the cross by themselves, as Nixon notes. Their faces are largely disinterested in the agony of crucifixion, and their wounds, so often graphically rendered in most religious art, appear almost invisible.

Continuing his theme of humble simplicity, Father Reid’s paintings utilize large, rounded features and vibrant colors to tell the stories of the saints, of Jesus and of the church without distracting the viewer with obvious displays of the artist’s talent.

Indeed, the gallery as a whole seems to evoke a sense of prayer and thought that has nothing to do with Father Reid’s ability at all.

“St. Benedict is a name that means service,” said Abbot Wiseman. “Father Reid served people … by inspiring them and giving them a sense of heaven through his art.”

Father Reid’s art exhibit is on display in Memorial Hall North, on the crypt level of the national shrine, until June 19, and catalogs of his work are available in the bookstore.

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