The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Morning of Reflection (Videos)

[Late Note: After watching the videos embedded below, a few folks have contacted me and asked what my comment about "The Godfather" was all about. During one of the talks (I think it was the 2nd talk), a cell phone in the congregation rang with the theme of "The Godfather" movie playing loudly. It wasn't picked up by the microphone I was wearing, so you can't hear it on the video. Anyway, my odd comment was in reference to the phone ringing.]

Our parish's Council of Catholic Women asked me to lead a pre-Lenten Morning of Reflection for the parish on Saturday, February 10. Designed as a kind of introduction to the Lenten season, its theme was "God's Call to the Way of the Disciple."

The CCW was joined by our parish prayer groups in preparing for this day. It was a monumental task and I extend my thanks to all who helped put it all together.

The morning began with morning Mass at 8 a.m., followed by a Scriptural Rosary in the church. We then enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the parish hall.

After breakfast I exposed the Blessed Sacrament on the altar and delivered three talks on discipleship with each talk centered on a particular Gospel passage.

Each talk was followed by a hymn related to the talk's subject. These were sung by our three amazing and very talented music ministers -- The Grace Notes -- Dawn DiNome Wetzel, Becki Pishko, and Jillian O'Neil.  

After the third talk, I conducted Benediction and reposed the Blessed Sacrament. The prayer teams of our Emmanuel Prayer Group were  then available to pray over and with parishioners who brought healing and other needs. It was a wonderful morning and perhaps 500-600 people attended. I only hope that my talks were well-received. 

I discovered later that our A/V folks had recorded the three talks but not the brief homily I preached at morning Mass. I have included the text of the homily below since I intended it as a kind of introduction to the Morning of Reflection. Videos of the three talks follow the homily text. If you really want to watch the videos, understand that each is about 30 minutes long, so you'll have to set aside some serious time. Maybe they'd be good spiritual food for your Lenten meditation...or maybe not. I'll let you decide.

Here's the text of the homily I preached at morning Mass  -- Saturday, 5th Week in Ordinary Time:

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Readings: 1 Kgs 12:26-32;13:33-34 • Ps 106 • Mk 8:1-10

Mark's Gospel has often been described as a Passion narrative with a long introduction. And that introduction? Well, it moves right along, doesn't it?

Mark's sort of the Sergeant Joe Friday of the Gospels: "Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts." (If you're under 60, you might have to ask a more mature friend about Joe Friday.) Anyway, Mark doesn't waste time on what he likely considered extraneous details. He gets right to the point.

He even begins that way, No genealogies for Mark. No infancy narratives. None of John's deep theological insights. No, Mark tells us what it's all about with his opening words:
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" [Mk 1:1].
You can almost hear him saying, "That's it, folks, the nitty-gritty - but let me tell you more just so your faith will stay strong."

And as Mark's Gospel progresses we encounter two themes, two threads that weave their way through the Gospel and converge in the Passion narrative of chapters 14 and 15.

One is the story of Jesus, the Son of God, and the suffering Son of Man, a life and ministry that moves inexorably to His Passion, Death, and Resurrection as the very fulfillment of all Scripture [Mk 14:49].

The other thread is the story of the disciples. At first glance it seems to be a remarkable story of the remarkably clueless. Moved by the Spirit, the twelve attach themselves to Jesus with little understanding of His teachings or what His call to discipleship really entails. Some, like Peter, James, and John, have moments of bravado, moments that end up as little more than cowardly bluster. Others remain strangely silent as they struggle to come to terms with their response to this calling.

Interestingly, it seems that the closer a disciple is to Jesus, the less he understands. That, of course, all changes at Pentecost. But don't see their spiritual struggles as a sign of human failure; rather, it's a story of God's success. It's a story of spiritual growth, of gradual formation, a time when the Spirit plants seed after seed in the hearts of these friends and followers of Jesus. Like every seed planted by the Spirit, these sprout and bloom according to His schedule, not ours.

Later this morning we'll look at three events in the Gospels, and see how the Spirit moved those involved as they responded to calls to discipleship. The Spirit can move quickly indeed, or He can lead us to the truth over a lifetime. And it's our response that makes all the difference. We see signs of this in today's Gospel passage.

4,000 people, a huge crowd, have been with Jesus for three days, and have eaten nothing. But we hear no complaints from the crowd, for in their hunger for Truth they have been fed with the Word. They are satisfied.

For them it has been three days of contemplative prayer, for what is contemplative prayer but placing oneself in Jesus' presence and listening, listening to the Word so He can alter one's very being.

It's also a time of fasting. But in his compassion, Jesus knows once He leaves them, their fast will end, and they will return to the world hungry. They will need to be restored so they can carry the Word to their homes, into their everyday lives where they can live from faith.

So Jesus turns to His disciples and simply states a truth:

"They have nothing to eat" [Mk 10:2].

"How can we get bread in the desert?" [Mk 10:4] they ask. He has yet to reveal that He is the Bread of Life, that wherever Jesus is, there is Bread. Yes, Jesus is the Eucharist, a gift He will institute at the Last Supper - the bread, His Body - the wine, His Blood - the gift of His Presence until the end of the age. But as yet they don't know this. Have they so soon forgotten His earlier feeding of the 5,000? Miracle upon miracle, healing upon healing, and yet they ask: "How can we get bread in the desert?"

Does Jesus answer their question? No. Instead, He asks the disciples another. "How many loaves have you?" [Mk 10:5]This, brothers and sisters, is a moment of grace and the loaves are its image. Grace is present because Jesus is present. It flows outward from Him to all who are open to receive it. But grace can never be a private possession. It must be passed on, flow from one to another.

Yes, how many loaves do you disciples have? How much faith do you have? Do you have enough? Are you instruments of grace?

"Seven," is their one-word reply. Does it point to the Spirit's seven gifts they will receive at Pentecost when the full meaning of their discipleship is revealed? Perhaps so.

So Jesus takes the loaves, but He takes nothing without thanking the Father. He gives thanks for the disciples' bread, bread meant for them and for Him, but now destined for thousands.

He breaks the bread, as He will break Himself in the Eucharist, and hands the bread to His disciples. The disciples distribute the bread; doing the miraculous, as the Bread received from the Church carries His miraculous Presence into the world.

Here we see the Church in the process of becoming, for the Bread it is given, the Eucharist - it, too, is blessed, broken, and multiplied. Jesus, through the work of the Holy Spirit, offers Himself, but His disciples carry Him into the world.

Jesus also blesses a few small fish so the people can eat an ordinary meal, the same kind of meal the disciples would eat with the Lord. This meal, this everyday experience, becomes for the people an extraordinary, miraculous experience.

Were those few small fish a sign, a reminder that Simon Peter and the others must soon abandon their boats, their nets, their lives and become fishers of men? Did the disciples learn this day that when they give all that they have - even if it's only seven loaves and a few fish - God will multiply it a thousand fold?

And what about you and me?

Can we abandon everything in our lives that is keeping us from true discipleship?

Can we, too, hand the loaves and fish of our lives to the Lord and let Him bless, break and multiply them - so we can carry Him into the world?

Will you let God work His miracles in the everyday ordinariness of your life, so you can be an instrument of His grace?

We are all called, dear friends.

Lord, teach us to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to labor and seek no reward save that of knowing we do your holy will.

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We included meditation questions for each talk, including the morning Mass homily, in our reflection booklet. I gave the participants a few moments to meditate on the questions after each talk. The questions that follow were intended for meditation after the morning homily:

Meditation Questions -- the Call to Discipleship.
  • What are some of the obstacles you have encountered, or are now encountering, as you strive to respond to Jesus' call to discipleship?
  • How can knowing you are "loved into existence" affect your life and how you consider and treat yourself and others?
  • Jesus invites us into an intimate relationship with the Blessed Trinity. What does this mean to you? How is this manifested in your life?
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Videos of the three talks follow:

1. The Call to Abandonment.

"...the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" [John 4:14].

In her desire for new life, for salvation, the Samaritan woman at the well is filled with hope, a hope she feels called to share. Driven by this hope she reaches out and shares the Good News. Like Mary, who carries the unborn Jesus, the Word, to Judea, the Samaritan woman becomes an evangelist, carrying the Word to others.



Meditation Questions -- Disciple and Evangelist: a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
  • Describe a situation when you have experienced being refreshed by the Word of God.
  • God calls everyone to discipleship. Through those who respond He extends that call to others. How can you better respond to this call to evangelize?
  • What aspect of your life must you abandon and leave behind as you follow the path to being a disciple of Jesus Christ?
  • What does it mean to be a "God-bearer" in today's world?
2. The Call to Follow.

"Go your way; your faith has saved you...he...followed Jesus on the way" [Mk 10:52].

Faith saves, but true faith is a living faith, one that always brings forth new life, one that demands a response. Bartimaeus turns from his own way, leaving his old life behind, and follows Jesus on "The Way."


Meditation Questions -- Respond in faith: Your faith has saved you.
  • Have you ever had a surprising encounter with Jesus, an encounter in which you recognized His presence in your life? Describe it. What was your response? Share this with another.
  • What fears might keep you and others you know from following the path to discipleship?
  • People are often like the disciples who want to keep others from Jesus. Have you ever encountered this? Have you ever done this? What is the root of this lack of trust on their part and ours?
3. The Call to Serve Without Compromise.

"...her many sins have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love" [Lk 7:47].

We turn to Luke's Gospel and Jesus' encounter with the sinful woman who washed His feet at the house of Simon the Pharisee. Yes, true repentance brings forgiveness, God's gift to those who turn to Him in recognition of their sins. In an act of thanksgiving, overwhelmed by this gift, ultimately the gift of salvation, she is filled with a joy that can only be expressed in her love for the Giver. She responds in love, ignoring the world and its threats, and showers her love on the divine Word.


Meditation Questions -- Response in love: she kissed and anointed His feet.
  • Can love ever be wasteful? Can we love too much?
  • What is Jesus' attitude toward the sinner? Can you offer some other Gospel examples? How can we follow Him?
  • What does the sinful woman in thus passage teach us as we respond to the call to discipleship?

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