Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Lives of Good Fruit: A Reflection on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, October 4, 2020, at From His Heart, our parish blog.

Do the everyday moments of my life create good fruit? And what does the Bible even mean comparing people to produce

Good fruit is described as "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" in Galatians 5. How can I produce that kind of fruit in my life? 

We see that God works first, preparing the land, planting good vines, anticipating a good crop, in this Sunday's Old Testament reading:

"...he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press." (Isaiah 5)

And so, every life is an opportunity to produce something good. In the Responsorial Psalm, we picture ourselves as a vine, recognize our frailty, and ask the Lord's protection and restoration: 

"O LORD of hosts, look down from heaven, and see, take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted… give us new life… restore us." (Psalms 80)

Jesus tells the parable of abusive caretakers in this Sunday's Gospel. They lease a vineyard while the owner is away on a journey, but rather than receive their due harvest and offer the rest to the One who prepared and planted the vineyard in the first place, the temporary tenants become proud, presumptuous, and greedy. They kill anyone who threatens their power ‒ even the vineyard owner's son. 

When I think of my own life's vineyard, the people and responsibilities entrusted to me, am I humble enough to realize that I'm caring for what is not my own? That someday, I will need to make an accounting to God for how I treat others and for the fruit I produce? 

Thankfully, we read in this Sunday's New Testament scriptures a guaranteed way to produce good fruit: 

"...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4

St. Paul doesn't just promise us good fruit and peace of heart when we meditate on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent, or praise-worthy. St. Paul promises us the God of peace, God's very presence with us in our daily work to produce good fruit.

In my current circumstances, where do I need God's peace?

Lord, help me to see the opportunities you give me to produce good fruit today. God of peace, be with me.

*For this Sunday's Mass readings, the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, click here.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Sorrow, Absence, & The Desire To Be Chosen (Mary's Third Sorrow)

 "Can you find me in this photo, Mom? Can you point to me?" 

It's a game easily ignored on any busier morning, but Providence and a rainy day made me unusually amenable, so I let myself get tugged from picture to picture around the house. My chirpy 4-year-old beamed as we treasure-hunted together, searching for his small image in our crowded family photos.

One of our basic human desires is to be chosen: for someone to see us, know us, like us, and desire a special relationship with us. Do you remember feeling chosen as a child? 

Maybe your parents told you they were happy you were born. Maybe someone took time to listen to your joke or story. Maybe they took you on a special trip or planned a day just for the two of you or wrote you a letter or called you just to chat. 

When we experience the joy of being chosen, it affirms great truth: I am unique, I have great worth, my life has purpose. When our desire to be chosen goes unmet, it can cause us to believe lies about ourselves: I'm not special, lovable, smart enough, attractive enough, nice enough, rich enough, professional enough, perfect enough… 

This is the third post in a series on the seven basic human desires (to be affirmed, safe, chosen, touched, included, blessed, heard and understood) in light of Mary's Seven Sorrows. Today, let's consider our basic human desire to be chosen as we reflect on Mary's Third Sorrow, The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple

In Luke 2, we read Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover when he was 12 years old. On the return trip home, Mary and Joseph search for Jesus in their crowded caravan of friends and family for a full day only to realize they've left him behind in Jerusalem. It takes them another two days to find Jesus in the temple, conversing with an astonished and captivated group of religious leaders.

In Mary and Joseph's search for Jesus, we see the passion of a mother and father desperate to find a beloved child. They can't give up. They can't just bring home a different kid. They can't just have a baby and forget about pre-teen Jesus. This loss of their child isn't a void that can be filled by any other child. (Let's rest for a moment in the affirmation that God feels this same way about each of us. Each person is deeply special and unrepeatable to God.)

How affirming for Jesus to see the love of his parents when he was lost to them, to realize how unique and irreplaceably special He is to them. Upon finding Jesus with teachers in the temple, Mary exclaims, "Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." (Luke 2:48).

And then, a beautiful reciprocation happens: Jesus also chooses Mary and Joseph.

Despite his longing to be in the temple — a place Jesus feels close to God, his Father, a place He's welcomed and applauded and admired by the teachers, a place they'd surely invite him to stay longer — Jesus chooses instead to go home with Mary and Joseph:

"He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart." (Luke 2:51)

It must have been an overwhelmingly joyful experience for Mary and Joseph to be chosen by Jesus. Mary pondered this experience among all of the other holy mysteries she collected in her heart during Jesus' life.

Since the world often chooses those who are particularly spectacular — the most talented, charming, beautiful, well-spoken, useful, accomplished, decorated — we might think we need to be a particular kind of person for God to choose us. But in addition to Mary and Joseph, look at the people Jesus "chose" to be in a special relationship with: social pariahs, tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, people angry with the government, people who worked for the government, people dissatisfied with the mainstream religious beliefs of their day… Do you believe God has chosen you also, that God desires a unique, affirming, loving relationship with just you? 

How is the basic human desire to be chosen fulfilled in your life? As a parent, how can you help your child feel chosen, sincerely known and irreplaceably loved by you for who they are? 

Sorrow, Comfort, & The Desire To Be Blessed

For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

Also published September 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Sorrow, Escape, & The Desire To Be Safe (Mary's Second Sorrow)

When you were a child, do you remember feeling safe?

Were you worried whether your house was secure from crime or storms or disrepair? Or whether you would be fed when you were hungry? If your family had enough money? If something might happen to your parents? 

What about emotional safety? Were friends and family loving in their words and actions? 

And how did you experience spiritual safety as a child? Did you believe God desired good for every person, including yourself? Are your early faith memories positive or negative? 

This is the second in a series of posts reflecting on our seven basic human desires in light of Mary's Seven Sorrows. This week, we consider Mary's Second Sorrow, The Flight to Egypt, and the basic human desire to be safe. 

Matthew 2 tells the classic Christmas story of wisemen following a star in search of the new royal baby whose birth the star announced. In their excitement, the magi unwittingly alarm King Herod to Jesus' presence, and Herod reacts like any power-hungry monarch: he makes plans to kill the child. (In defense of the magi, who would have guessed a newborn king wouldn't be the son of the current king?)

Note how spiritual safety becomes integral to their story: "Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country another way" (Matthew 2:12). After finding and worshipping Jesus, the magi felt spiritually safe enough to trust a message from God in a dream over a powerful, angry monarch with whom they had made an agreement to report the child's location. 

Joseph had a similar experience: "the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, 'Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt...'" (Matthew 2:13). Because Joseph's experience of God to this point assured him of God's goodness and love, Joseph could act from a place of spiritual safety, trusting the message of an angel in his dream and fleeing with Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

Do you feel spiritually safe enough to hear and trust God's voice in your life? 

Emotional safety is also paramount to this story: Because there's a history of loving action from Joseph in their relationship, Mary can trust Joseph when he shares that he received a godly message in a dream, and she can support his conviction that they must escape to Egypt. 

Do you feel emotionally safe in your relationships, that those closest to you are aware of and desire your good? 

Surely concerned thoughts prodded Mary and Joseph as they traveled with their infant son… Is the road safe? Are there provisions along the way? Will a strange land welcome them? 

When we feel unsafe -- physically, emotionally, spiritually -- or if we experienced these unresolved fears as children, it can surface in unexpected ways: the inability to live confidently, pressure to control the smallest details of everything around us, relational anxiety… 

As parents, there's a new level of fear that affects us even more than our own safety: is my child safe? We see this theme repeated in countless stories of refugees and immigrants throughout history. Good parents will go to any length to provide safety for their children. 

As we reflect on Mary's Second Sorrow, The Flight to Egypt, let's ask ourselves: In what ways is the basic human desire to be safe fulfilled in my life? For parents, how can I help my child feel safe -- physically, emotionally, and spiritually? 

Flight of the Holy Family Into Egypt c. 1647
Jacob Jordaens / Public Domain

Sorrow, Comfort, & The Desire To Be Blessed

For more information on the seven basic human desires, check out: Seven Desires: Looking Past What Separates Us to Learn What Connects Us by Mark & Debra Laaser.

*Also published September 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog and October 2020 at CatholicMom.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Sorrow, Prophecy, & The Desire To Be Affirmed (Mary's First Sorrow)

Every person has seven basic desires: to be affirmed, safe, chosen, touched, included, blessed, heard and understood.*

These desires begin in childhood, and their fulfillment contributes to our healthy development as adults. We might ask ourselves, how were these desires met when I was a child? Did I feel affirmed? Safe? Chosen? Included? Blessed? Heard and understood? Did I experience positive physical touch?

As parents, we can ask, how am I meeting these needs in my children? 

An 800-year-old Scripture meditation on Mary's Seven Sorrows can deepen our understanding of these seven basic desires. In the words of St. Alphonsus Di Liguori: "As a general rule, the sufferings of children are also the sufferings of their mothers who are present at and witness their torments."

When we meditate on Mary's sorrow at different points in Jesus' life, it opens our hearts to a new perspective on Christ's revolutionary mission. Consider Mary's First Sorrow, The Prophecy of Simeon, in light of the basic human desire to be affirmed.

In Luke 2, Mary and Joseph bring baby Jesus to the temple for consecration. Mary knew she held a special baby; but what did that mean practically, for the future and for that moment? Were they making the right choices so far? Were they missing anything? What if they messed up? 

How affirming it must have been to hear Simeon's prophecy, reassuring Mary and Joseph, yes, this is God's chosen one, "a light for revelation" (Luke 2:32). Yes, God is working in good ways in your life! 

His prophecy was both comforting and disconcerting, as Simeon warned Mary: "You yourself a sword will pierce" (Luke 2:35). His words brought a foretaste of the sorrow Mary would experience at Jesus' Crucifixion.

I wonder if Simeon felt nervous as he stopped to talk with Mary and Joseph. Have you ever felt your heart stirred to share an encouraging word with someone? Have you hesitated for fear it wouldn't be well-received? What if it doesn't resonate with them? What if they think I'm crazy? Couldn't the Holy Spirit say this better through someone else?

We are affirmed when someone acknowledges the good in us and the good in our work. Simeon affirmed Mary's role as the mother of the Messiah. Mary affirmed Simeon's prophecy and received the truth that she would experience deep sorrow as Jesus' mother. 

As we reflect on Mary's First Sorrow alongside the basic human desire to be affirmed, consider: How is this desire for positive affirmation met in my life? How can I meet this need in my child? 

Next week, we'll contemplate Mary's Second Sorrow, The Flight to Egypt, and the basic human desire to be safe.

Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin,

fresco by Niccolò Circignani and Antonio Tempesta, c. 1580

Alekjds / CC BY-SA ( / Wikimedia Commons

Also published September 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog and CatholicMom.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

When Catholics Disagree on Politics: A Reflection on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wally and I don't always see eye-to-eye on politics. Thankfully, that's not a prerequisite for good, Catholic marriage! 

Despite disagreements on policies, programs, or candidates, we still find common ground in our faith. We're both discouraged by political polarization within the Catholic Church. We're both frustrated when political parties claim sole representation of our religion. We're both disheartened when Catholic leaders in formal relationships with the Churchour bishops, priests, nuns, sisters, and brotherspledge allegiance to secular American politicians (across the political spectrum). 

As we talked through this Sunday's readings, our conversation kept returning to religion, politics, and the temptation to cloister away from people who disagree with us. 

The Old Testament reading warns us to "dissuade the wicked from his way." (Ezekiel 33:7-9)

How many times do we justify political condemnation of "the other side" as concern for another's soul [when, let's be honest, we just want to win an argument on social media]?

Then the Psalmist admonishes, "Harden not your hearts." (Psalm 95)

How often do we assume "the other side" has hardened hearts — but surely not ourselves? 

In the New Testament reading, St. Paul teaches, "Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:8-10)

How tempting is it to claim the higher ground of love and assume any other viewpoint is motivated by vice? 

And then, in the Gospel, Jesus addresses how to correct someone we believe to be in error: "...take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church…" (Matthew 18:15-20)

How simple is it to find two or three Catholic friends who agree with us and are ready to condemn anyone who doesn't? How quickly can we flip through our Bibles, Catechisms, encyclicals in attempts to prove another Catholic wrong in politics? 

I know I'm guilty of all of these thoughts and actions. A helpful antidote is loving, praying and living with a Catholic who sees the world differently. We don't have to agree about everything for our prayer, as Catholics, to be effective. Jesus doesn't offer us political or secular power in exchange for our prayers anyway. He offers us something far greater:

"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:15-20)

When we gather together in prayer, even with all our differences, Jesus offers us himself.

And isn't that why we're Catholic in the first place?