Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Aug. 14, 2016

"There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished." -- Luke 12:50

“There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished.” — Luke 12:50

 

August 14, Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10

      Psalm 40:2-4, 18

      2) Hebrews 12:1-4

      Gospel: Luke 12:49-53

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

I live at the edge of Appalachia, where I’m awed every day by the beauty of the mountains. But despite a sense of serenity, I know the scene before me is not at peace.

The paradox of the Appalachian region is well-known: Its natural beauty and rich culture belie a continuing struggle with environmental exploitation and poverty.

An inspiring, ongoing story I covered as a reporter for my diocesan newspaper was the work of the church advocating for justice in Appalachia. Over recent decades, much of that mission has been carried out at the grass roots by the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, an active group of religious and laypeople living and laboring with the people, lifting a prophetic voice against such degradation as mountaintop removal, industrial pollution and myriad social problems that come with endemic poverty.

The Holy Spirit is at work among God’s faithful people there, characteristically stirring up conflict. Characteristically?

In this week’s Gospel, Jesus asks, “Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth?”

On the contrary, he states, he intends to set the earth on fire, bringing division and, yes, that can mean conflict even among our brothers and sisters in Christ.

A stark example is the struggle for justice in Appalachia, alive with Christ’s Spirit as the members of the church grapple with their differences of opinion on environmental issues.

Members of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia last year applauded Pope Francis’ encyclical on the global threat of climate change. The pope’s words appeared to speak directly to conditions in Appalachia as he described the critical depletion of the earth’s natural resources and its particular impact on the poor.

But the response of some local dioceses differed from the committee’s. They disagreed on the environmental and economic impact some of the document’s proposals would have on the region as well as on how to address the problems it raised. Nevertheless, the committee encouraged all the bishops of Appalachia to engage the church in the concerns and conflicts raised by “Laudato Si’,” even though the conversation may be contentious.

So it is with many issues our church faces, but in bequeathing his Spirit to his disciples, Jesus baptized us in fire and calls us to work through the conflicts to accomplish his will.

QUESTIONS:

How would you describe the attitude of Jesus in this Gospel? When have you witnessed the Spirit of Christ working through conflict?

Sisters of Life live up to their name

Sister of Life during opening processional Aug. 6. (Photo by Carol Zimmermann)

Sister of Life during opening processional Aug. 6. (Photo by Carol Zimmermann)

The liturgy — and celebration afterward — for the six women who professed final vows as Sisters of Life Aug. 6 truly lived up to the order’s name.

The nearly three-hour-liturgy  in a tightly-packed Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford, Connecticut, was filled with friends, relatives, sisters from other religious orders, people who have volunteered with the sisters and many women who have been helped by them with their babies or young children in tow.

“You have been called to special heroic work in a world that has lost its soul,” Auxiliary Bishop John J. O’Hara of New York told the sisters in his homily, adding that in their pro-life ministry they would bring life where there is death, joy where there is sorrow and love where there is hate.

That love, joy and life was on full display Aug. 6. It was clear these women loved God, the work they felt called to and each other. After the six women professed vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and to protect and enhance the sanctity of human life, they were hugged by each member of their order. Then after Mass, the hugging (and picture taking) continued from those who came from near and far to witness this occasion.

The liturgy included special recognition of the parents of these new sisters who joined their daughters in the offertory procession. It also paid tribute to the order’s founder, the late Cardinal John J. O’Connor of New York. His chalice was used in the Mass and his sister was in the congregation.

The order’s superior general, Mother Agnes Donovan, spoke at the end of the of liturgy and specifically thanked everyone who had played a role in making the day special. She also thanked the six new sisters for their “faithfulness to grace.”

Sister Francesca, left, one of the first members of the Missionaries of Charity, poses with her niece, Sister Grace Dominic, a new Sister of Life. (Photo by Carol Zimmermann)

Sister Francesca, left, one of the first members of the Missionaries of Charity, poses with her niece, Sister Grace Dominic, a new Sister of Life. (Photo by Carol Zimmermann)

“Your bless us with your lives,” she added.

She then invited the entire congregation to join them for a celebration at their nearby retreat center where they fed, visited and took more pictures with hundreds of guests.

The ongoing celebration under white tents on the grounds of the Villa Maria Guadalupe Retreat Center seemed a fitting way to close the day.

As Bishop O’Hara said in his closing remarks: “After a lot of prayer, there needs to be a good party.”

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Aug. 7, 2016

"They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar." -- Hebrews 11:13

“They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar.” — Hebrews 11:13

 

August 7, Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Wisdom 18:6-9

      Psalm 33:1, 12, 18-22

      2) Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 or Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-12

      Gospel: Luke 12:32-48 or Luke 12:35-40

 

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

I make very few promises in my life. I do my best to never say the word “promise” unless I know I can deliver on it.

However, when I was a youth minister, there was one promise I would routinely make. I would start off every new confirmation class saying, “Confirmation is a time to seriously consider your relationship with the Lord.”

I would go on to explain that if they came every week, listened to the teachings, participated in the group discussions and were at the very least open to growing in faith, I could promise that they would leave at the end of the year changed people. I was never wrong.

This was an easy promise to make, mainly because I was not the one keeping the promise. I know that all God needs to transform a person is a heart that is open. So my job was to create an atmosphere that would help these young people open their hearts to the possibility that an unseen God loves them enough to die for them. Once the heart was open, the promise would begin to bloom.

God is a promise-keeper, even when we cannot see to completion the promise kept. This week’s reading from Hebrews tells the story of Abraham and Sarah, and the promise that God made to them that they would be the parents of a nation as numerous as the stars in the sky. But they died with a modest family, nothing close to the size of a village, let alone a nation.

Hebrews says, “They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar.” I really like that verse because it speaks of hope and the power of faith. Earlier in the same reading we hear that “faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

Life may not always turn out the way we plan, and we cannot always see past our circumstances to the promise of God, but if we lean on our faith and hold on to hope, we can get a glimpse of what remains unseen.

QUESTIONS:

What promise from God have you seen come to pass in your life? What promises are you still waiting to come to fruition?

What might it be like to tweet with God?

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By Dennis Sadowski

KRAKOW, Poland — To reach young people, Father Michel Remery believes you’ve got to go to where they are.

Today that means using social media.

Father Remery, a priest of the Diocese of Rotterdam, Netherlands, and vice secretary-general of the Council of European Bishops’ Conferences, has developed Tweeting With God. It started with a book and has evolved to include social media.

The Tweeting With God project — online at www.tweetingwithgod.com, @TweetingwGOD on Twitter and an app (search using TwGOD) — offers insight into the Catholic faith in brief messages with links to more details. It was developed in response to the questions young people have about the Catholic Church and its teachings.

“If you have these questions, it’s something you feel yourself. It’s an expression of your search for God,” Father Remery said.

But Tweeting With God is not just for the young; anyone might find useful the dozens of topics: the Bible, the church today, personal prayer, forms of prayer, liturgy, sacraments, the Eucharist, vocations and sexuality, to name some.

The project evolved when Father Remery ministered to young people in parishes in Rotterdam. The more questions that were raised, Father Emery realized that there was a need for basic information about Catholic teaching.

Durch Father Michael Remery gestures during a July 29 interview at World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Durch Father Michael Remery gestures during a July 29 interview at World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The material is designed to be used in small settings in parishes. Discussions always begin with prayer to lay a strong foundation with God, Father Remery said.

“(Our faith) needs to be carried with our own bond with Jesus and then we can carry it on to others and carry it on with words people can understand,” he said.

Adapting church teaching to social media is a natural development, the Dutch priest reasoned.

“We need to go where people are. That our task as the church. We have always done that. We went to the market square to preach. Now we have the online platforms as well as the offline platforms,” he said.

The effort is supported by a team of young people around the world who field questions and post material online.

Elina Severijnen, 24, who is studying development and humanitarian relief and currently working in Singapore, is a member of the team. She said she has seen young people in particular drawn to the Catholic faith because they better understand the church and its teachings.

“If you cannot go anywhere with your questions you might be discouraged. That would be a shame,” Severijnen said.

“What I noticed this week at (World Youth Day) talking with people my age is that they get a lot of questions from friends as well,” she continued. “It’s not just their own questions, but other people are very critical these days. With you being Catholic you get questions. They’re not always asked nicely, but you always want to give people an answer.

“In that sense the project can be a good help. You want to be able to give people a good answer and explain what it means to you,” Severijnen said.

“Tweeting With God” originally was published in Dutch and has been translated into Polish for World Youth Day in addition to English, Romanian, Czech, Slovenian, Korean. Ukrainian and Spanish. French and Italian translations are on the way.

 

In midst of Syrian war, young people celebrate World Youth Day

Young people in Aleppo, Syria, gathered at Santa Matilde church for a parallel World Youth Day celebration. (CNS photo/courtesy Krakow 2016 International Media Team)

Young people in Aleppo, Syria, gathered at Santa Matilde church for a parallel World Youth Day celebration. (CNS photo/courtesy Krakow 2016 International Media Team)

As World Youth Day pilgrims gathered for a July 30 prayer vigil with Pope Francis in Poland, about 1,200 young people came together in Aleppo, Syria, to celebrate their own version of the international event.

The July 29-30 gathering in Aleppo was organized with the approval of local bishops. More than 30 associations, church groups and schools were involved.

“Doing something like this is not easy in times of war. We had a lot of difficulties but try to overcome them,” said a Salesian priest who was one of the organizers of the Aleppo gathering. He made the comments in a statement released by World Youth Day organizers in Krakow.

The Aleppo event had as its theme “Move the Heart,” accompanied by the Gospel phrase “Blessed are the merciful, for they will have mercy.”

Confessions were part of the parallel World Youth Day celebration in Aleppo. (CNS photo/courtesy Krakow 2016 International Media Team)

Confessions were part of the parallel World Youth Day celebration in Aleppo. (CNS photo/courtesy Krakow 2016 International Media Team)

It took place in the Salesians’ Santa Matilde church. Like the Krakow World Youth Day, it included catechetical sessions on the face of mercy and the dynamics of mercy; the opening of a Door of Mercy just for the event with the presence and blessing of Bishop Georges Abou Khazen of Aleppo; eucharistic adoration and the sacrament of reconciliation; prayer for peace in Syria and in the world; and a celebration and sharing of experiences.

The young people in Aleppo addressed greetings to Pope Francis and posted video and other images of their gathering online.

In Krakow, the plight of the Syrian people was never far from the World Youth Day pilgrims. At the Field of Mercy, they heard testimony from 26-year-old Rand Mittri of Aleppo, who shared the pain and sorrow that comes from seeing her city “destroyed, ruined and broken.”

The situation in Syria also was recalled during the Way of the Cross July 29 at World Youth Day in Blonia Park in Krakow.

The first station — Jesus sentenced to death — related to sheltering the homeless and refugees who share in that same suffering through humanity’s indifference. A couple who fled Syria was among those who helped carry the cross.

Pope Francis, who had watched from the stage, began his address by welcoming the Syrian refugees “with fraternal affection and friendship.”

“By embracing the wood of the cross, Jesus embraced the nakedness, the hunger and thirst, the loneliness, pain and death of men and women of all times. Tonight, Jesus — and we with him — embrace with particular love our brothers and sisters from Syria who have fled from the war,” he said.

Young Syrians gather outside Santa Mathilde church in Aleppo for a World Youth Day celebration; they could not travel to Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/courtesy Krakow 2016 International Media Team)

Young Syrians gather outside Santa Mathilde church in Aleppo for a World Youth Day celebration; they could not travel to Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/courtesy Krakow 2016 International Media Team)

A WYD Q&A with Cardinal Tagle

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A #YoungCaritas group selfie with Cardinal Tagle in Krakow. (Photo: Caritas Poland)

KRAKOW, Poland — Michelle Hough, communications officer for Caritas Internationalis, shared her interview with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, president of the international Caritas network.

Q: The pope gave you a big hug when he saw you on the stage after he arrived at WYD. What’s the pope like as a hugger?

(Laughing) He’s a gentle hugger. The hug is a hug of a father, but also of a friend. When he hugged me on the stage during the opening ceremony he said, “Here he is!” – a hug of recognition – and then he said, “Ma questo ragazzo, you should be there (in the audience) with the young people and not here with the cardinals.”

WYD CARITAS SERVE TAGLE

Philippine Cardinal Luis Tagle of Manila claps while speaking to World Youth Day pilgrims July 27 at St. Joseph Church in Krakow, Poland. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Q: When you were introduced to Pope John Paul by Cardinal Ratzinger, referring to your youthful looks the future pope said, “Don’t worry, he’s made his first Communion.” How come you still look like a youth?

I think I don’t take myself seriously, I take the Savior seriously. There is such a great love in the one who died for us that just the thought of that should make us so joyful, energetic and hopeful.

Q: You sang the song “Where is love?” from the musical “Oliver!” following Caritas’s youth gathering the other day, do you know any other show tunes?

I grew up surrounded by music and every occasion reminds me of a song like when I saw #YoungCaritas the other day. I had no plans on referring to that song but when I saw all the young people it came back to me, “Where is love?”

When I was talking about opening ourselves to mercy to a crowd earlier this week and I thought about pride and how we sometimes say emphatically “I can do it my way,” Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” came to mind. It’s not Jesus’ way, I’ll do it MY way. The people in the crowd of my generation knew the lyrics and were dictating them to me…. These songs, the lyrics are good and they allow us to write our own words to continue the song and the melody.

Q: Have you cried yet at World Youth Day?

Yes – in every catechesis! (laughs). I don’t know, it’s not part of the script, it just comes. During the Stations of the Cross (with Pope Francis) there were moments where we just had to cry not only with, but for the many people who are crucified.

Q: What’s the hardest question you’ve received from a young person during the catecheses you’ve done over the past few days?

The questions of the youth are real questions. They’re about life and they can even be called metaphysical, but they’re framed using very simple and innocent terms. One of the most difficult questions was, “How do we forgive terrorists?” There I was confronted with the folly of the cross. We have to beg God for the grace to do this. We turn to stories, to Jesus who forgave not just terrorists from outside, but his own friends who betrayed him. Then you go to the story of John Paul II who even visited the man who tried to kill him … then you know it’s real, it’s not theoretical, you’re not talking about terrorism but coming face to face with a terrorist. That’s where the story begins.

Q: Horrific crimes against humanity took place (at Auschwitz) not far from where WYD is being held in Krakow. How do we forgive without forgetting?

I am a firm believer that you don’t need to forget in order to forgive. In fact remembering might help us forgive. Remembering first the horror of these crimes and that we make a commitment to never allow that to happen again and never to participate in any horrific action. We also remember, not only the victims but also the perpetrators who are also made of dust, like us. Like them, we are all sinners. So in the mystery of sin and failure, we are brothers and that’s why God can be forgiving because God always remembers we’re made of dust and we have to be picked up again and again. I think we need to condemn horrible acts of terror. In fact, we need to hate terrorism. We need that strong feeling. But at a certain point we need to hate hatred itself.

Q: What resources do Polish youth have to face the future?

I really admire the tenacity and strength of the Polish people. I think every generation of Polish people should cherish this legacy of love and country and of culture, love of the earth and of their identity. They should discover over and over again the secret of this strength and they should treasure it, make it grow and pass it on.

Q: How many selfies have been taken with you at World Youth Day?

(Laughs) I don’t know! I think for the young people it’s a way of being present with them. It’s their way of connecting with you.

Q: You have a very busy schedule. Do you ever want to just go home, put your feet up and have a cup of tea?

The one thing I miss terribly is just being by myself and being a regular person, but it’s becoming much more difficult to do that even at home. People think that I’m an extrovert and I know how to handle crowds but I’m really an introvert and very shy. But for me it’s a mission.

Q: One sentence on what it means to be young?

Being young is a grace, it is a gift, and it is a gift to be shared.

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, July 31, 2016

"Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God." -- Luke 12:21

“Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” — Luke 12:21

 

July 31, Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23

      Psalm 90:3-6, 12-14, 17

      2) Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11

      Gospel: Luke 12:13-21

 

By Jean Denton
Catholic News Service

“All things are vanity!” we read in Ecclesiastes this week as our Scriptures warn us of the spiritual dangers of greed, possessions and worldly pleasures.

Ecclesiastes, with its exclamation points, decries “things” as selfish desires that suck dry our time and energy and leave us with nothing of lasting value.

Jesus’ teaching in Luke’s Gospel is more direct: “One’s life does not consist of possessions,” he says, then tells a parable about a rich man spending his time eating, drinking, being merry and storing up earthly treasure. But Jesus emphasizes there’s no guarantee that treasure will be maintained after one dies.

Strangely, “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die” has become a popular catchphrase used to encourage people to avoid worrying about life beyond here and now. But it carries a significantly different message for those who believe in a deeper existence in relationship with God.

My friend Susan is one such believer whose radical rejection of material concerns showed me the greater joy that comes of a commitment to the things of God.

A single mother with a successful career as a professional editor, Susan had built a comfortable life for herself and her daughter. She owned a nice home on several acres of property.

I met her at a crucial time in her life. We were together on her first ever mission trip among the poor. I could see Susan following God’s urging as she daily searched for the meaning of this experience in her life.

A few years later, she joyfully told me her daughter was expecting a baby. Then everything changed for Susan.

Her grandchild had multiple disabilities that brought enormous challenges to the young family.

Susan didn’t think twice as she took early retirement so she could help care for her granddaughter. She managed the consequent financial pinch by selling her home and most of her furniture and accumulated possessions.

She misses none of them, because Susan was changed years earlier among the poor when she discovered the deeper, lasting things of God’s life.

Now she relishes the abiding pleasures of being an essential part of her daughter’s family and watching her granddaughter progress and thrive every day.

QUESTIONS:

What worldly possessions or selfish concerns take your time and energy away from your relationship with God? What things of eternal value are missing from your life?