PRE-NOTE: Welcome to the latest email recipients of "First
Impressions" the parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes in Atlanta
and Holy Innocents in Pleasantville, New York.
Many dioceses in our country will be
celebrating the feast of the Ascension on this Sunday.
reflection for the Ascension.
Click here to view our
I was at a parish recently that was celebrating its 60th
anniversary. The regular parishioners were there, but also those who
had moved away, and came back for the festival. Some of the
regulars, the "old timers," were in the parish since its beginning!
Others were recent arrivals from other places in the country and
from around the world. Such diversity had initially stirred
resentment among some of the parishioners, but now they celebrated
the "new blood" in their parish.
The community had prayed and been nourished together in their
faith at various stages of their lives – baptisms, weddings,
anniversaries and funerals. They had found strength when they were
under stress, when they prayed for themselves, their children and
grandchildren. The wider world’s problems were also frequently
mentioned in the homilies and prayers – recent flood victims,
fleeing refugees, those addicted to opioids, the sick and dying,
members who were in the military, etc. The parishioners could say,
"We feel right at home here."
Our parish church has often provided us with a community to
celebrate our joys, as well as offer us solace and comfort when we
needed it. It has introduced us to a big family that has nothing to
do with blood lines, skin color, language, or place of origin. Here,
at very special moments, and even ordinary ones, we felt we could
almost touch the mystery of God.
There is something else: While we have been strengthened and
comforted in our worshiping community and enabled to return to face
our lives "out there," still, it should also have been a place where
we were made restless and uncomfortable – if the gospel was the
focus of preaching and our worship.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is praying for his disciples, whom he is
about to leave behind. He is praying for us as well. "I gave them
your word, and the world hated them." While the Word of God,
Christ’s gift to us, can reassure us and give us comfort, it also
should make us uncomfortable, for it questions our lives, probes our
values and challenges how we treat one another. No escape here! In
this place, as we gather week after week and listen to Christ’s
words, we are made aware that we are not yet fully the disciples
Jesus calls us to be: not yet, forgiving, compassionate, loving and
God’s Word should stir up a discomfit and restlessness in us,
because it shares a vision that is far from fulfilled in our world.
As we listen to the scriptures proclaimed to us each week, we hear a
vision in which: all people are treated equally; the forgotten and
outsiders are welcomed and valued; respect is shown the least; women
are considered equals; love and comfort is given to the castoffs and
exiles and we hear a voice speaking on behalf of the voiceless.
Jesus’ proclaims a reign that reflects God’s vision for us. When we
gather we pray, "Thy kingdom come." In other words, "Let it be here
as you want it to be." And, "Let us be part of fulfilling your
Jesus prays today: "I have given them your word." It is not just
so we can "get to heaven" in the next life, but the word he gives us
is for now, in this life. It is a word of strength and comfort, if
we need it. It is also a word of discomfort, to open our eyes to
what is not yet in our world and needs our attention.
Jesus prays to his Father about us: "I gave them your word and
the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any
more than I belong to the world." He repeats himself, "They do not
belong to the world any more than I belong to the world." Why,
what’s wrong with the world? Isn’t it a lovely place, created by God
that reflects the care and love of the Creator?
That’s not the world Jesus is speaking about. The "world" in St.
John’s gospel has special meaning. He is not speaking of the people
God has created, nor the natural world God declared "good" in
Genesis. Jesus has a specific "world" in mind: it is the world that
rejects Jesus’ values; those who oppress, torture, ignore the poor,
take advantage of the frail, violate innocence and deprive people of
their rights. In other words, it is the world that crushed Jesus and
attempted to wipe out his message.
That’s the world Jesus was leaving his disciples in. It is where
we have to live his truth, that strives to overcome us and what we
believe. It has great power and is determined to harm us. On our
own, we don’t stand a chance. But we are not on our own, he has
prayed for us and has given us his Spirit, to fire us up and enable
us to face the world that rejects him.
Jesus also gives us his presence in the Word proclaimed and his
body and blood, at this celebration, to comfort and strengthen us
for the task he has commissioned us. In a world that rejects
goodness, justice and love, the Eucharist is also the "food of
discontent." The Eucharist stirs us up, not to be satisfied with our
world as it is, but to do something small and sometimes large, to
change the way things are... to the way God wants them to be.
for a link to this Sunday’s Readings:
Whenever we do admit the
true, gentle power of the Spirit into our lives, we are
liberated from self-insistence, the futile attempts to
force meaning and happiness on our terms alone on our
lives. We can become the mystery inside ourselves we are
meant to be. We can become simpler, gentler, stronger,
lighter, more just, more wise.
—Clyde F. Crews, SEASONS OF THE
SPIRIT: EXPLORING CONTEMPORARY SPIRITUALITY.
Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1992, page 40. ISBN
Walter Burghardt, SJ, renowned preacher, theologian (editor in
chief for 44 years of "Theological Studies") and founder and
co-director of the Woodstock Theological Center’s program "Preaching
the Just Word," once listed the following "eight areas of serious
injustice in our country.
And a stirring call to action. God’s word in Scripture---from
Psalm 72, Micah 6:8, and Isaiah 58:6 7 to Jesus, "the Just
One"-impelled me to lecture, preach and write in eight areas of
(1) In the richest country on earth, 12.6 million households,
with approximately 13 million children, experience hunger with
increasing incidence of malnutrition.
(2) In the United States the elderly face uncertainty that was
unheard of half a century ago. Pension benefits, including health
insurance, are being yanked away with no warning )even more
shocking, these assaults are inflicted with the blessing of the
(3) Here, where the Statue of Liberty still proclaims a warm
welcome to immigrants, far too many persons whose parents or
grandparents came to this country as recently as the last century
are eager to close the borders and take care only of "our own,"
(4) Our criminal justice system is not fair, impartial or
balanced, in part because its focus continues to be on punishment,
rarely on rehabilitation.
(5) It is clear that innocent people in the United States have
been executed; the only question is how many. By contrast, the
European Union bans from its membership any country that still
practices capital punishment.
(6) By not adequately responding to the ecological realities of
the link between global warming and devastating hurricanes, as well
as the alarming cause and effect of deforestation and mudslides,
water pollution and poisoned fish, smog and life-threatening lung
illnesses, we are not only killing our planet, we are also killing
(7) The traditional Catholic conditions for declaring a war
just-defensive necessity, the last resort, approval of a large
number of nations, endorsement of the United Nations, high
probability of success-were not met by the Bush administration in
the 2003 pre-emptive attack on Iraq.
(8) A blot on our national conscience and international standing
is the shocking number of homeless veterans (the National Coalition
for Homeless Veterans estimates 500,000 veterans experience
homelessness in a given year). Despite various pieces of legislation
aimed at meeting special needs of homeless veterans, many will be
ignored and left to fend for themselves on the very streets they
fought to keep safe.
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
gave them your word, and the world hated them,
because they do not belong to the world,
more than I belong to the world."
While the Word of God, Christ’s gift to us, can reassure us and
give us comfort, it also should make us uncomfortable, for it
questions our lives, probes our values and challenges how we treat
So we ask ourselves:
- How am I challenged these days by the Word of God?
- How shall I respond to the challenge I am hearing?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
"One has to strongly affirm that
condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that
humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Charles P. Bond #0036850 (On death row since 3/24/95)
- Thomas Larry #0233526 (4/28/95)
- Darrell Woods #0497100 (5/22/95)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
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