Christ is risen – Alleluia!

Photo by Ian Beckley

Easter morning is full of images -- the empty tomb, the voice of angels, Mary's encounter with Jesus -- so rich, so full, and so basic to who we are as Christians.

Jesus is risen. Death could not hold him. And if it couldn't hold him, it can't hold us.

All that Jesus said about life and death wasn't really understood by his disciples, until it was made real in that empty tomb and encounter in the garden.

And every Easter, we get to share in it.

We share in the promises made to the Children of Israel and to the entire world through the Prophets. We share in the promises made to the disciples and to all who listened to Jesus as he walked towards his death upon a cross.

What is this Easter? It's God's promise of a new day. It's God's promise of a new life. It's God's promise of a new world coming to pass in our midst.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

This is an excerpt of a reflection written by Sister Therese Ann Rich in 2011.

Blessed Are You

My nephew was about to “graduate” from kindergarten. He put on his paper mortarboard and marched with his class to the stage. As he received his “diploma”, Jason shook hands with his teacher.  After the ceremony, we each said “Congratulations.”  Jason looked at us and asked, “What does that mean?” His mom and dad answered, “Good job!”

That answer worked for a five year old!

While this may be sufficient for a five year old, sometimes something deeper is intended.  If we look at the Latin – “congratulations” means “to be pleased with” or “graced with.” When we offer our congratulations, we are saying we rejoice with the other and it expresses a relationship.

The Beatitudes in our Gospel today announce God’s pleasure in and relationship to the poor, to those who are excluded and hated. With the Beatitudes, Luke highlights God’s generosity.

Luke seems to be exalting the downtrodden simply because they are downtrodden, and “cursing” the comfortable simply because they are comfortable. What really is at the heart of this Gospel is the manner of  life that makes present God’s reign of love. Jesus asks of us today to become people willing to feel our needs and to depend on God. Then we will also be open to our neighbor, to receive and to give. It is our relationship with God that motivates us to live the blessings that are given to us. And it is our relationship with God that motivates us to reach out to others. The model for this type of relationship is Jesus himself.

Adapted Renew Internationa lyear C

Go Deeper! Are You Serious Jesus?

As a child growing up around Lake Erie, there were many occasions to set out early in the morning on one of the many fishing boats. And as may be there were times when we sat out all morning with nothing to show for our efforts. Professionals we were not. And as we came to shore we were exhausted for our efforts. None of us would even think about going out again that day!

In our Gospel today, we find Jesus sitting in Simon Peter’s boat after the crowds have gone. Jesus knows that Peter is exhausted from his own efforts at fishing all night. He knows that he has caught nothing, but even still he turns to Peter and invites him to do something. “Go out into the deep water,” he says, “and there let down your nets.” It sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? But is it really? What is Jesus really asking here?

Jesus  is asking Simon Peter to trust him. To trust him so much that Peter would be willing to leave the shallow places in his life and in his work and begin to explore the depths. To go to the limits of what he thinks is possible, not only for him but for those all around him. “Go out into the deep water,” says Jesus, “trust me and see what happens.” [Living Liturgy 2019]

Peter becomes a model for discipleship. It happens in the moment when Peter responds to Jesus’ call and says, “but, if you say so.” Then off he goes—perhaps reluctantly—out into the deep water and there he finds abundance like he has never imagined.

Jesus doesn’t call Peter to be anything other than who he is. He doesn’t call Peter to be a rabbi like him, or even to a career in carpentry. Jesus calls Peter to live in the depths of his own life, not to try to live out Jesus’ life. Peter remains at heart a fisherman who has a heart for Jesus and for the humanity that Jesus serves.

For most of us, Jesus does not come in dramatic ways.  Rather, he comes in the ordinary events of the day. Our ordinary daily living can be a radical response to Jesus. The Good News is that God calls us as precisely we are and works through our humanity.

Adapted Renew International Year C

What’s In A Word?

There’s an old story about a couple that was walking out of church one Sunday: The wife asked the husband, “Did you see the strange hat Mrs. O’Brien was wearing?”

“No, I didn’t,” replied the husband.

“Bill Smith badly needs a hair cut, doesn’t he?” commented the wife.

“Sorry, but I didn’t notice,” her husband said.

“You know, John,” said the wife impatiently,” sometimes I wonder if
you get anything at all out of going to church.”

People get different things out of going to church, depending, it would seem, on what they expect to get when they go there. 

Today’s Gospel reading begins by telling us that when Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, that he went up to Nazareth – his home town – and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. 

What an interesting statement. He went into the synagogue, on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. 

Jesus grew up attended the synagogue in his home town it was his habit, his practice, his custom, to worship there on the Sabbath day and here he is, after his baptism and anointing with the Holy Spirit, here he is, after already having demonstrated his power and his righteousness, here he is, after showing through healings and teachings his connectedness to God attending weekly worship in the synagogue in his home town. [Living :Liturgy 2019]

Why? What did he expect to find there in that experience? Surely he knew it all already? What did he get out of it? Why did he go? 

I think that there are several reasons. 

The first and most basic of these is that Jesus attended the worship held each Sabbath day because it is part of what it means to keep the Sabbath Day – because it is part of what God commands us to do in the ten commandments. 

Second, I believe that Jesus went to the synagogue to hear the Word of God to be reminded of the Word of God and to be recreated by the Word of God this even though he was the Word of God made flesh! 

I believe that is because Jesus knew that the Word gives life no matter what container pours it out – just as water from a chipped and dented mug is as good as water from the finest crystal. 

Which brings me to another reason: the Word feeds us. The people of Israel in our first reading, and Jesus by his example today in the gospel reading, call us today to pay attention to the God who addresses us -it really means the difference between a life of exile or a life of, meaning and community; it means the difference between being fed and not being fed. 

Jesus went up to Nazareth – and on the Sabbath day, he entered the synagogue – as was his custom. 

I think he did this for many reasons – he did it so he might have fellowship with God; he did it to keep the commandments of God; he did it so he might be fed – so that he might be instructed and counseled. 

He did it too because it made him a part of God’s people, a people who were not only defined by the name they took and the law they obeyed but by the fact that they gathered together to hear and to pray to the one who named them. The one who said that they would be his people and that he would be their God, 

Today the scripture is fulfilled in our hearing as well. 

Our ministry? Transpose Jesus’ teachings from words on a page to a way of living. Who are the poor, the captives, the sightless in our midst? Who needs the glad tidings of God’s mercy and presence preached to them? Do our lives bear out our certainty of the Word enfleshed in us? 

Christian living is none other than taking God’s Word and making it concrete by the way we live. Our daily living is the Word made flesh among us.

Adapted from Renew International


Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and would have heard his assertions that someone was to come who would offer a greater baptism: baptism of the Spirit. He would, therefore, have shared John’s sense of expectation and been on the alert for the one who was to come.

The Gospel passage does not record any conversation between John and Jesus – but emphasizes that John looked hard at Jesus – weighing up the man he saw before him.

What he saw – and what he sensed – led him to announce that this man was indeed the one who was to come: the Lamb of God. [Living Liturgy 2015]

Andrew and another disciple are intrigued and set out to follow Jesus. He becomes aware of them and asks what it is they want from Him. Their answer seems strange – they want to know where He lives. His response is to invite them to come to His home and, we are told, they stayed with Him for the whole day.

The next day, Andrew finds his brother and tells him about the Messiah he met the day before and takes him to meet Jesus.

Like John the day before, Jesus looks hard at Simon – getting the measure of the man and in the light of what He discerns about him, changes his name to Cephas – or, as we more usually know it, Peter.

The two encounters are life-changing – and yet, seem very ordinary. Jesus was not proclaiming a message – making erudite speeches – or performing great miracles. Instead, He was simply walking past John – and, when Andrew and his friend introduce themselves, takes them to His home and offers hospitality and companionship.

When He meets Peter, He does not ask searching questions or makes solemn declarations – He just looks at him – makes an assessment of his character – and accepts him as a friend.

The simplicity of Jesus’ manner reinforces His willingness to receive people “where they are” – but also to see their potential. He does not offer lengthy explanations or list His credentials but takes people to His home and lets them see for themselves.

What does it mean for us? Our own journey of discipleship is a process of coming to know Jesus more fully, being more attracted to him, following him more faithfully even when the cost is great. What might that cost look like? We might have to walk away from the watercooler at work to avoid gossip. We might lose friends when we speak up for justice. We might be shunned by a social group when we live out our gospel values. In all these ways we unite ourselves more fully with the total self-giving of Jesus and grow in faithful discipleship.

Adapted from Renew International Prayer Tme Year B

All Saints

saintsMountains are majestic. They awe us. They inspire us. They draw us. Mountains are ever changing in our beholding—sunrise and sunset bathe them in different lights and colors; winter and summer clothe them in different array; storms and wind wrap them in tremor. No wonder in biblical imagery mountaintops are places of theophany—places where God reveals the divine Self to human beings. The sublime majesty of mountains draws us to the ineffable majesty of the God who creates, who blesses, who draws to Self those who are drawn to seek the One who is good beyond all measure, is holy beyond all reckoning, is caring beyond all imagining.

It is no accident that the Gospel of Matthew has Jesus go “up the mountain,” traditionally a place associated with divine encounter, to teach the Beatitudes to his disciples. The Beatitudes reveal the very Being of God (“Blessed,” holy), God’s care for God’s beloved people (“poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” etc.), God’s intent for faithful ones (“theirs is the kingdom of heaven”). The Beatitudes reveal the mind and heart of God. Those who have encountered God and lived the Beatitudes have the same mind and heart. We call them “saints.” There is a countless multitude of saints in heaven, “wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands” (first reading), endlessly singing God’s praises. There is a countless multitude of saints here among us who “are God’s children now” (second reading) who have embraced the beatific, Godlike way of living. While this feast day primarily honors the saints who have gone before us, we cannot forget ourselves on this day. They have gone where we hope to go.

There are many ways to be blessed. One of the attractions of honoring saints is that they offer a great deal of variety and richness of life for us to emulate. The saints we honor this day are not “up there,” but “in here”—in our minds and hearts. They model for us how to live the Gospel faithfully in concrete, everyday ways. They preached the Gospel in word and action: they cared for their families, they served the least among us, they forgave enemies, they sought justice and peace, they showed mercy, they suffered persecution all for the sake of Jesus. The saints witness for us heroic virtue,unwavering fidelity, simplicity of life, great humility, and outstanding charity. We must also witness to this saintly way of living for others.

No matter what situation in life we find ourselves or what difficulty we face, some Saint offers us a model for perseverance in our blessedness and the assurance of care. This solemnity reminds us that our life of blessedness rests on an intimate relationship with God and each other expressed through enduring bonds of mutual care, mercy, humility, and self-giving. This festival is one of encouragement—God doesn’t judge us only on our weaknesses but on our persevering in a willingness to live as God’s blessed children. The simple, everyday things we do well wash us in the blood of the Lamb (see first reading). Our smile is a saintly one. Our gesture of kindness is an expression of blessedness. Our humility is Godlike. Others’ holy gestures toward us are reminders that there is glory awaiting us. To each of us who embraces our blessedness: ours “is the kingdom of heaven.”

The Kingdom of Heaven Is At Hand

Nets corral, confine, capture. Fish are corralled by the nets of fishermen. Hair is confined by the nets worn by cooks. Butterflies are captured by the nets of lepidopterists. In all these cases nets bind. Jesus called the first disciples to leave their nets, to cut the ties binding them to their present way of life. Instead of restricting them, Jesus released them to enter into a new way of looking at themselves, a new way of living, and a new way of ministering.

When John is arrested, Jesus moves to a new place and begins his ministry. When Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John, they drop their nets to follow him. Discipleship is prompted by circumstances around us and persons who enter our lives. Discipleship requires the insight that these circumstances and these persons are calling us to make a move in our life – to go to new places and to take up the new work for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.
We spend our whole life trying to see the great Light that is the Savior of the world. We spend our whole life encountering Jesus, hearing his call and working to be faithful in continuing his ministry.
We practice following Jesus in the simple practical ways, the everyday things of life: the friend who needs a listening ear; the elderly parent who needs a comforting phone call; the sick child who interrupts our sleep. Jesus invites us to turn from ourselves to those in need.
In all of this we move from darkness into a great light. In all of this we are freed to follow Jesus as faithful disciples.

Adapted from Renew Internatiomal Prayer Time Cyle A

Be Who God Dreams You To Be

In today’s gospel Jesus exclaims, “I have come to set the earth on fire, / and how I wish it were already blazing!” We see fire in so many of the signs and symbols of our church: the candles that we light at the altar and ambo, the sanctuary lamp lit whenever Jesus is present in the tabernacle, the Easter fire that lights the paschal candle, which in turn lights our own individual candles and the candle of each newly baptized member of our church. Flame marks all of the significant moments in our life of faith, and often the everyday moments too, as we light a candle to pray at home, to enjoy a family meal, or to blow out on a birthday cake.

And this makes sense. Jesus tells us in John’s gospel, “I am the light of the world”

(8:12; NABRE), and in Matthew’s gospel he commissions us to act as people of flame, saying: “You are the light of the world” (5:14; NABRE). Why does Jesus use fire imagery so much? What does fire do? Fire transforms: what is cold becomes hot, what is hard becomes soft, what is dirty is purified, what is hidden in darkness becomes illuminated for all to see.

In Jesus’ life we see these moments of transformation taking place as he ministers to the people he meets on the dusty roads of ancient Israel. And now it is our turn. We are called into this mission of Jesus to set the world on fire. But how? At World Youth Day 2000, Pope John Paul II paraphrased a famous quote of St. Catherine of Siena, If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!” Nothing more, nothing less: Be who God dreams you to be!

Paraphrased PrayerTime Cycle C Renew International

The Kingdom Of God Is At Hand

I have a really good spiritual director, who quietly takes in my words, body language, eye movement and then responds appropriately. She reads people and situations quickly and accurately.

Being in a conversation with those who are glancing at their cell phone every other second sends an important message to us: they are not giving full attention to the conversation and the phone is more important than the conversation. Even worse, the phone is more important than we are.This situation usually draws a rather negative response from me.  I might roll my eyes, stop the conversation, or even walk away from the phone bound person. Interactions and responses are part of our everyday living. Often they are inconsequential enough.

Sometimes, however, interaction and response have long lasting consequences. This Sunday’s gospel is about Jesus’ disciples reading people and responses. The interaction-response has long-lasting and life-changing consequences.

When Jesus sends disciples forth as “laborers for his harvest,” he predicts two responses to their presence. Either disciples will be welcomed and will be able to minister fruitfully, or they will be rejected and their ministry becomes judgment against the unwelcoming town. In either case, however, the “kingdom of God is at hand.” In either case, the acceptance or rejection of the disciples makes clear that the “kingdom of God” is not dependent upon any one response, but upon God’s gracious gift of Presence. How so? Whether accepted or rejected, disciples “harvest” the “kingdom of God” by their very presence, by their very proclamation of Jesus’ name, by their very fidelity to Jesus’ mission. [Living Liturgy 2013]

No wonder disciples rejoice! Their rejoicing is an acknowledgment that God is present and working through them. The “kingdom of God” is present in the very persons of those who take up Jesus’ invitation to be laborers in bringing about an abundant harvest.

The abundance of the harvest is guaranteed in two ways. If Jesus’ disciples are not welcomed, they are not to quit the journey but continue it. Part of the ministry of laborer-disciples is the very “going”—the disciples’ faithfulness to Jesus’ sending them forth to proclaim that the “kingdom of God is at hand.”While response to Gospel proclamation is obviously important, there can be no response at all unless disciples go forth on the journey, proclaim the Gospel faithfully, and rely on God’s gift of divine Presence through them. We must respond to God’s gift of Presence to us before we can call forth response from others. This divine Presence is the source of disciples’ rejoicing.

The establishment of God’s reign is already an in-breaking of the final glory that will be ours—our “names are [already] written in heaven.” References to the abundance of the end times are captured in the “harvest” metaphor Jesus uses. Jesus looks at the harvest and sees abundance, fulfillment. Some of this abundance and fulfillment is surely realized in our own taking up of Jesus’ mission to bring peace, to heal, and to dispel evil. The challenge of the gospel is that we don’t get so lost in doing Jesus’ mission that we forget being faithful disciples is in itself already an in-breaking of God’s kingdom. Living the paschal mystery means that we let go of even the responses others might give to our Gospel living and surrender ourselves to be laborers for the harvest of peace and Presence.

Adapted from PrayerTime Cycle C Renew International

My Sheep Hear My Voice


If you look up today’s Gospel on Google, you get 1.9 million hits. If you put the text in quotes (“my sheep hear my voice”) you still get 1.5 million hits. That’s 1,500,000 web pages that address this text in some way. Plus at least one hit for shopping.

Lots of those pages spend pixels focusing on the sheep part, and discussing that, yes, sheep actually do learn their shepherd’s voice, and yes, those same sheep only follow when they hear that voice. One page even noted that a recording of the shepherd’s voice works just as well.

I’m taking a different tack on the subject.

What I want to know is: what does this mean for us today? Jesus isn’t in the next room —and I think it’s safe to say that our physical ears are not going to hear his physical voice any time soon. So, forget the sheep — as a Christ-follower, what does it mean to “hear his voice”?

I’ve got two answers — or really, two sides of the same answer.

First of all, I think it means that, over time, our hearts and minds become attuned to the sound of the eternal. The values, the truths, of the Kingdom actually resonate with us, or even within us. We are able to discern the godly within the everyday. Better put, the eternal in us responds. We hear Jesus’s voice.

By the same token, I think we also come to recognize when something goes against God’s way, when something is out of kilter with the Kingdom and its values. We are able to know, or even to feel, that something isn’t right, even if we cannot always articulate it. We resist following it, just as the sheep resist following someone or something who isn’t the Shepherd.

If we spend time both IN the word and WITH the Word, is it unreasonable to expect that eventually we would develop a sense around what the Word means, and be able to hear the Word in others’ words? [Living Liturgy 2013]

The world around us is full of words, full of messages. Let’s learn to hear the eternal, and to resonate with it when we do.

Adapted from Renew International Prayer Time Cycle C

Left Everything!

Having someone take command of us can bring opposite effects from us. In our Gospel today, Peter and the others are docked and cleaning up after a night of unsuccessful fishing. We might surmise that they were a bit testy. Jesus gets into Peter’s boat and asks him to move away from the shore a bit where he sits and teaches. Then Jesus commands him to put out into the deep. Peter must have had an inkling of who Jesus was for he responds in the affirmative.

If we pay attention to the details of the Gospel beyond the immediate call and response events, we might be caught by surprise. Too often we feel the burdens of discipleship is solely on our shoulders . The gospel depicts Jesus initiating the call. Our discipleship rests upon Jesus long before we begin to follow. The surprise of the Gospel is that we are never alone when we hear and follow God’s call; divine Presence always abides within us, enables us to hear the commands and call of God and to answer the call and remain faithful to it.

God meets people where they are. Sinfulness is not a stumbling block to following God’s call. We simply go deeper; beyond our sinfulness to hear God call, each of us to discipleship. In spited of our objections, God gently and persistently says to each of us, “You are still the one I want.”

We are invited to be overwhelmed by God’s graciousness and self-revelation and answer “Send me!” God’s is a gentle command. Our response must be strong.

Adapted from Renew International

A Wedding Feast

Among the many Christmas cards I received this Christmas was the announcement of my cousin’s son’s engagement and a wedding in October. October seems so far away and yet, I thought, “What do I get Greg and his fiancee?”  Unlike earlier generations, this couple has no need for dishes or kitchenware; they have a starter house and it is or will be furnished.  And the least imaginative way to shop is the computerized gift registry! So I have a few months to shop!

In our Gospel today, Jesus and his mother have been invited to a wedding. And no one knows what gift he brought to this feast. However this wedding is quite different. Take a look at this cover chair for any kind of special event. With more color options than a rainbow can offer, and stunning new designs and patterns, these chair covers will help you create a sophisticated and cohesive place setting without burning a hole in your pocket.

Why does St John begin his Gospel with a wedding story?  John uses the wedding story as a metaphor to show us that there is new wine among us and that the marriage is really a marriage between heaven and earth, God and us.

At this wedding, Jesus performs the first of signs and revealed his glory. The revelation of Jesus’ glory is a sign of the persistence of God’s overtures of love to us-God’s espousal love for us.

Our encounters with Jesus – in prayer, through others, in struggling with daily dying – are truly revelations of God’s glory that invites us to respond with belief.  These signs come in many ways – through others in a cry for help, in a lonely person’s plea for companionship, in spontaneous laughter, in the beauty of nature. The challenge for us is to see ourselves as the good wine, emptied out for others to be filled with the goodness of God’s glory.

The Holy Family


One of the great joys of the Christmas season is to behold the utter joy, innocence, beauty that light up the faces of little children. They are filled with wonder, delight, excitement. Year after year they grow into surer expectation about what happens with family and friends during Christmas. They grow into the family holiday traditions.

This feast and these readings remind us that being a “holy” family is a matter of valuing the memories and traditions that make us who we are—a holy family, a holy people.

The Holy Family provides us the model we need. They were faithful and obedient to the traditions that formed who they were. They were also open to God’s astoundingly new in breaking and willing to undergo the change that divine in-breaking invited for their lives. They teach us what it means to be “in [our] Father’s house,” where we learn our religious traditions and form the memories that make us who we are as members of the larger family of God.

They teach us that we really belong to God, and everything about our living must reflect that we are most at home “in [our] Father’s house.” The Holy Family also teaches us to be obedient to the unknown and un-understood things to which God might be calling us. They teach us that our lives are about always growing “in wisdom and age and favor.”

Our families are schools of holiness, for there we learn the memories and traditions that make us who we are and who God wants us to be: holy, God’s beloved children. Holiness is finding the way to be who we are in God’s sight: people of a tradition and people open to God’s new in-breaking.

The familiarity of family life can sometimes blind us to see the goodness in each other. This feast reminds us to open our eyes and be “astonished” at the goodness of each other rather than being anxious about our own concerns. Families grow in holiness when each person in the family—from parents to the smallest child and including anyone extended the hospitality of the family—is treated as a member of God’s family and, therefore, holy. This feast of the Holy Family pushes us to seek ever anew God’s action in our lives and respond with newfound forms of fidelity.

Adapted from Renew International


Who Do You Say I Am?_24th Sunday in Ordinary Time_Sept. 16, 2018

I don’t know exactly how many times in the four Gospel accounts of the New Testament Jesus asks other people to follow him. But it’s well more than 20. The whole question of “Who is willing to follow Jesus Christ?” is pretty much the defining question of Christianity.

Some may ask it personally of you : “You mean you believe all of this stuff about forgiveness, and loving enemies, and this resurrection from the dead?” However it’s worded, the whole matter of following Jesus is central to living the Christian faith.

The question becomes, “What does it actually mean to follow Jesus, especially in modern times, or in middle- or upper-middle class North America?” If you’re going to take the words of Jesus seriously – those ones about “losing your life for his sake” and “denying yourself” – well, what’s your life going to look like?

What does it mean to follow Jesus in your life, and in these times? In our Gospel, Peter recoils at Jesus’ revelation that as “the Christ” he must “suffer greatly…be rejected…be killed, and rise after three days.” Peter is so aghast at the words of Jesus about suffering and death that he fails to hear the most important part of the revelation about who Jesus is and what he is to accomplish. He fails to grasp that through death Jesus will be raised to new life.

Today, Jesus asks us “Who do you say I am?” We may quickly answer, “You are the Christ.” However, we may hesitate when we hear Jesus say, “Take up your cross and follow me.” We must lose our life for the sake of others. this is the difficult lesson to be learned. We cannot avoid dying to self if we wish to rise to new life with Jesus.

How do we die to self? We must die to our way of thinking [taking the easy way of self-interest,] and embrace how God thinks [carrying the cross of goodness, justice, integrity]. Or we must empty ourselves for the good of another even when we are tired or frustrated or don’t like the other person in need.

On our own, living the paschal mystery would be just about impossible. Why we can embrace te dying is because Jesus has already shown us the way. The only way to follow Jesus is to die to self.

Adapted from Renew International

The Baptism of Jesus

Image by He Qi

Eighteenth-century English poet Alexander Pope once remarked that if we expect nothing, we shall never be disappointed. Such a low bar we might set for ourselves! Yes, great expectations might disappoint by blinding us to the good already in front of us, or leading us to future failure. Yet, it is better to risk disappointment than be stuck with nothing to look forward to, nothing to excite us, nothing to increase our hope. Expectations spur us on to remarkable achievement; urge us to seek excellence with greater diligence; push us to the kind of creativeness that opens the door for something new to happen, for discovering new possibilities, for embracing the unknown.

The people in the gospel looked to John the Baptist to be the longawaited Messiah. It was precisely their expectation—misdirected though it was—that kept them looking for the Messiah. John redirected them from himself to the person of Jesus, the “beloved Son” of God. Our own baptism with “the Holy Spirit and fire” initiates us on a journey of discovery not only of who Jesus is, but also who we are in him. This gospel, then, teaches us something about John, Jesus, and ourselves.

Who was John the Baptist? He was set apart, prophetic, radical, clear about his message of repentance, sure about his identity as the herald of One who would be greater than he. Who is Jesus? He is the Messiah to whom John pointed, the “beloved Son” of God, the One who, because of his own prophetic, radical, and sure message, would be misunderstood, rejected, ridiculed, deserted, crucified.

Who are we? We are those who, through our baptism “with the Holy Spirit and fire,” are conformed to Jesus and take up his saving mission. From his baptism by John to his crucifixion, the Messiah did not meet mere human expectations. Rather, he exceeded them with his Good News, his healing, his love. From our own baptism to our death, we also must not meet mere human expectations. Rather, we must achieve the full potential of our own graced identity as God’s own people expressed through a Gospel way of living.

Living Liturgy 2016

Christ the King

all saintsWhen we were young, we had the time to indulge our imagination. We pretended to be famous, wealthy, powerful. Of course we grew up, but sometimes not out of those fantasies. In fact, multi-billion dollar industries are dedicated to making those dreams come true. But only for a while. And always for a price. Let’s take the ultimate indulgence. What does it really mean to be “king of the world?” Take a few moments and step into the shoes of Jesus. How would you answer the charge you were a king of all?

What does it mean to be a king? Is it the old model of absolute power? Or is it Christ’s leadership of service? These questions are the essence of Pilate’s and Jesus’ dialogue.

Jesus responds with a speech about his arena (i.e., “his kingdom”). Jesus’ arena is not that of popular culture or politics; if it was there would be a bloody revolution.

Pilate still presses the point: “You are a king, aren’t you?” Jesus gives in on a semantic point (“You’re the one who says so, Pilate”) but finally gives Pilate a direct witness: Jesus speaks the truth.

How does the truth Jesus speaks and the truth the “world” speaks different? The truth of the world is transient in nature; it changes with the season and the political landscape. It speaks to ambition and power, to possessions and pleasure. The truth of the world is, at best, shallow.

But the truth Jesus speaks is one of the heart. The truth of Jesus is more than facts; it is one of fidelity. God is “true” to us; that means, he is faithful. He shows us his fidelity through his Son and the power of his Spirit. When we are true to God in return, we “live in truth” (that is, in relationship). Since God is eternally faithful, God’s truth goes beyond the transient nature of politics, fad, and fashion.

How does your relationship with God touch you in ways the world cannot match? How has the truth of world failed you? How has God’s faithfulness sustained you?

A theologian once said that all revelation is invitation. In other words, all that God reveals to us invites us to live with him. This is the reality of Jesus’ kingship. Jesus is Lord, so we might live near him in love. He is King of the World, not over us but for us and with us.

Wake Up The World

wakeuptheworldSince  the call of the first disciples, some followers of Jesus have sought a different way to live their faith. In the early church groups of widows gathered to dedicate themselves to prayer and good works. Others craved solitary prayer, so they fled to the desert to commune with God and guide others in the pursuit of holiness. Monasteries, cloisters, and religious houses eventually came into being, and religious life as we know it began to take shape.
Pope Francis has called for a special yearlong focus on consecrated life, asking the church’s religious sisters, brothers and priests to “wake up the world” with their testimony of faith, holiness and hope
Consecrated life—in its diverse expressions around the globe—is a gift to the church
and world. Its prayer lifts the entire church. Likewise, good works and the pursuit of justice
shape society to more closely resemble the reign of God. A life of chastity, poverty, and obedience gives powerful witness to faith in Jesus without a word being uttered.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, religious communities of men and women rise up, serve a
purpose, thrive, and live on or come to an end. This ebb and flow has occurred for 2,000 years
and will continue for millennia to come as new members around the world take vows and join
their lives to communities to live out the gospel in radical ways.
The Ursuline Sisters have been around since our founding by Saint Angela Merici in 1535 in Brescia Italy. This year, The Ursuline Sisters in Youngstown are celebrating 140 years of service in the Mahoning Valley.  As part of our celebration, we are visiting various parish communities with an  invitation to young Catholics to consider a religious vocation.

“The monuments to the work of the Sisters in imitation of Jesus are not found in buildings or plaques,” observes Sister Mary McCormick, our General Superior. “They are found in the lives of people who have been taught by an Ursuline, who have been touched with a healing word or gesture, who have been comforted by prayer or silent presence, who have been strengthened by these determined women standing with them, advocating for their needs.”

While we remember our heritage with pride and sometimes a little nostalgia, we look to the future. This is indeed the focus of the Year of Consecrated Life.

Jerusalem, Behold Your King Comes

For most of us,  Holy Week unfolds like many other weeks: work, school, preparing meals, doing laundry. Palm Sunday begins an unusual week – a week – concentrated in a few days on the ultimate meaning of our lives. We are invited this week to reflect on these questions: Why are we here? What have we been called to do? What are we willing to die for?
palmsun3We have journeyed from Ash Wednesday to this day. This week, we will experience the last hours of the life of Jesus. We must slow down and make choices so that this week does not go by without our taking time to enter into its meaning.
In our Gospel today, even in the midst of great suffering, Jesus extends his compassion to others, so total, that he  willingly empties himself to the point of death. As we enter this week, let us pray that our self-emptying for the good of others will be so total.
We celebrate in the liturgies of this week what we live every day – all the dying to self that characterizes our faithful discipleship. The triumph of this week is in doing our tasks with joy, being kind to those around us [even those cranky folks], meeting setbacks as paths to learning. Then, with Jesus, we can commend ourselves into God’s hands.
Jerusalem, My Destiny by Gary Daigle, Rory Cooney & Theresa Donohoo


What was your last experience of awe? What stopped you and caught your attention? Why did this event have such power over you? Life is full of surprises. Around every corner, in every part of life, experiences of wonder await us. We only need to open ourselves for the possibility of the different, the unexpected. But the rote and routine of life dull our sense of awe. We become too familiar, take people for granted, make too many assumptions.
The disciples lived with Jesus throughout his ministry in Galilee. Even the closest of Jesus’ friends walked with him as he made his way to Jerusalem blinded by their daily routines. They thought they knew Jesus. They thought they knew what to expect. Were they in for a shock!

Peter, James and John not only witness Jesus’ transfiguration, they themselves, undergo a transfiguration. Some change occurs within them so they are able to hear God’s voice announcing Jesus’ identity and the clear terms of their discipleship –Listen to Him.

Lent is our time of transfiguration. We are changed when we take the time to listen to what God is saying to us through Jesus. This kind of listening leads to acting as faithful disciples. What change needs to occur in us so that we grasp the clear terms of our own discipleship? What change needs to our in us so that we truly listen?

Go Into the World

It would have been easy for the disciples to assume that everything was over. The call, the commitment, the commission could have all ended on that fateful Friday, when the one to whom they had committed their lives was murdered. Even in the face of the resurrection, there did not have to be an understanding that what began three years earlier would continue. The trauma of the crucifixion of their teacher, friend, messiah had sent them scattering in fear and grief. And as much as Jesus had tried to prepare them, they really weren’t ready for life and work without him. It could have been over.

But something happened after they received the testimony of the women. “He’s not dead. He’s alive!” they said. “Go and meet him in Galilee.” And when the disciples gathered at the Mountain of Galilee, the resurrected Christ, the living Lord, Jesus, met them there.

God has a way of showing up and showing out in mountains. God met Moses at the back side of a mountain–Mt. Horeb–where God gave Moses the message and mission of liberation of his people. God met Moses at the back side of Mt. Horeb, where God revealed God’s self to him and God’s purpose for Moses’ life. God met Elijah at Mt. Carmel, where God declared once again that God was God, and God’s people believed, because God showed up and God showed out.

Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the Mount of Transfiguration where once again they were given an epiphany, a glimpse of the eternity and glory of Jesus. Yes, there’s something special about God and mountains. Other Gospel writers did not necessarily mention a mountain. Mark and Luke had Jesus meeting the disciples around the dinner table. John had them locked up in a room and Jesus coming through the door, but Matthew, Matthew, the one who wrote to a people who understood the power of mountains, Matthew, the one who wanted to connect the Jesus of his day with the Hebrew scriptures, Matthew mentioned that the disciples met him at a mountain in Galilee. The Galilean mountain signified that something new and powerful was to be initiated. It’s not over.

As Jesus greets them and they’re worshipping him and even in the midst of their worship, there is still some question, there is still some uncertainty, Jesus declares to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus commissions the disciples, he gives them their job description. He gives them their purpose. He gives them their mission statement. It was Jesus’ way of saying to the disciples, “It’s not over.

Jesus commanded the disciples to move, to move beyond where they were standing. Don’t get stuck in where you’ve been. Don’t get stuck in where you think you are, but dare to move out! , “Go! Move from where you are. Go out and be about the business of making disciples.”

But it’s not over.

We have work to do. It’s not over. It’s not over! In a society in which healthy self-esteem is so difficult consider what Jesus does for us: he gives us the power to continue his work….It is not over!


Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown Mark a Milestone and Plan For the Future

By Michele Ristich Gatts

Angela Merici was a courageous woman. She was also fortunate. She was educated. She had strong faith. But what Angela witnessed in her community saddened her so greatly that she was moved to action.

“She saw that there were needs – young women who were being sexually abused by soldiers,” reflects Sister Mary McCormick, a member of the leadership team for the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown. “She believed they could have a life of service, a safe life, rather than a life on the streets.”

And so, says Sister Mary, Angela employed perhaps her greatest gift. “She was somebody who networked. She gathered together people to help her from various backgrounds. She had businessmen of the day who were advisors to her, she had widows who had some affluence, plus, she had a close group of advisors in the church.”

The movement that Angela – St. Angela Merici of Italy – began in the 16th century not only improved the lives of people in her community, the ripple effects of her faith, strength, caring and good works continue to this day, changing and improving the world.

St. Angela was the founder of the Ursuline Order of nuns, who are celebrating 475 years of serving others.  “The struggles and the fears and the needs of people – St. Angela was able to be there and be with them in a pastoral, supportive way,” says Sister Norma Raupple, also a member of the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown leadership team. “I see her as a great model for us in our time.”

The Sisters marked the anniversary of their order’s founding Nov. 25 with mass and a celebratory brunch at the Motherhouse. A video of Sister Mary’s reflection presented at the occasion can be viewed elsewhere on this site.

For 136 years, the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown have ministered in education, hospitals and health care facilities and in parish and outreach programs for the poor and disadvantaged.

Like their founder, the Ursuline Sisters build bridges between the more fortunate members of our community and those at risk of becoming lost.

“We can provide for that networking so people in need – women, immigrants, HIV positive people or families of those with autism – find the resources so they have a future that’s hopeful instead of a life on the streets,” explains Sister Mary, who’s also an associate professor of systematic theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and Graduate School of Theology in the Diocese of Cleveland.

Some of the Sisters’ past and present good works locally are the founding of and continuing educational endeavors at Ursuline High School, Youngstown Community School and Millcreek Children’s Center, Youngstown, and The Ursuline Preschool and Kindergarten, Canfield. Some of the sisters teach other schools and in higher education. They founded Beatitude House, with locations in Youngstown and Warren, which aids women and children who are often fleeing abusive situations. Its educational arm, The Potter’s Wheel, Youngstown, helps disadvantaged women succeed in educational and employment opportunities.

The Sisters also offer HIV/AIDS and Prayer Shawl ministries, work in Social Work and as Chaplains in area healthcare, rehabilitation and nursing-home facilities, and offer Spiritual Direction. The Sisters’ Ursuline Center hosts numerous activities and classes; swimming and water-aerobics classes are offered at the Ursuline Pool. Both facilities adjoin the Motherhouse.

But as much as the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown minister to the needs of others, they are currently struggling with a need of their own. The Sisters are aging, with their membership declining to fewer than 60. If their good and vital works in our community are to continue, the Ursuline Sisters need new members to build on their heritage.

“I think the challenge is for young people or middle-aged people to just know us,” Sister Norma posits, “to come and volunteer with us in our huge variety of ministries, or to come and pray with us.”

One such opportunity is Wednesday evenings during Advent, where all are invited to Evening Prayer with the Community at 6:30 p.m. in the Motherhouse Chapel, 4250 Shields Rd.

The Ursuline Sisters also are utilizing social media. They blog. They’re on Facebook and post videos  online. Soon, video profiles on this Web site will tell the stories of many of the Sisters and how each is answering her call to serve God.

In addition, a service group for young women in high school and college is in the works.

Sister Norma, who ministers with immigrant mothers, says she was drawn to life as an Ursuline Sister of Youngstown because “they appeared to me to be happy and lead meaningful lives. I wanted to be part of something bigger and make a difference, put my life in with a group of other women.

“I wanted to build my life and continue to grow in my longing for God and my relationship with God. This way of life gives you the support that helps you to do that,” she continues.

Sister Mary agrees that her life has been enriched by being an Ursuline Sister. The vocation has helped her receive her education and introduced her to numerous people locally and nationally.

“Most of all, I’ve come to see so many things in my life as a great blessing, and I think that’s really rooted in prayer,” Sister Mary states. “That’s one of the blessings of community life — you get to see those blessings over and over and over again.”

Through outreach efforts, the Sisters hope women thinking about a religious vocation will consider life as an Ursuline Sister of Youngstown.

“If our lives have made a difference in our local church and local community,” Sister Mary says, “then we hope other people will join us to continue to make a difference.”

Sister Norma says the next generation of Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown could “build on history, build on our heritage, build on the vision of St. Angela, but then to create it and establish it for their time.”

Stay Awake

Our lives are inevitably shaped by those for whom we wait. “You’d better not shout, you’d better not cry, you’d better not pout, I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.” As children, we looked at the season of Advent as waiting for great surprises.

As we grow older we realize our lives are inevitably shaped by those events in our lives that change us. In our Gospel, Jesus’ warning of  “Stay awake'” has to do with having clear vision. We are to see what in our lives needs to change. We are also to see how our good living now is already preparation for the unexpected Second coming of Christ.

Advent always begins by looking to the second coming of Christ. Advent is not just looking into the future. Christ came in the past and Christ is coming to us now in Word and Sacrament and in each other.

Our behavior is inevitably shaped by the one for whom we wait, for there is a sense in which even as we live out our days in the interim, we already possess and are possessed by the one for whom we wait.

Karen, a student at Union Theological Seminary, was living and studying in New York City while her newly lawyered husband had gone to work for a law firm in Harrisburg. They saw each other only on weekends. In homiletics class, Karen described what her Fridays were like when John came into Pennsylvania Station on the train in time for supper. “I usually get up early on Friday to clean the apartment before coming up here to school,” she said. “Then, after classes, I make a kind of safari down Broadway. I stop for groceries, pick up a bottle of wine, stop at a favorite flower stall for fresh flowers, and when I get home, I have just enough time to get myself and supper ready. Then John comes.” Only Karen went on to add, “The funny thing about it is that from morning until he arrives, I have this strange feeling that he is already with me…not really…but really.

In Advent the one for whom we wait is already here shaping and giving substance and hope to our lives. Not really..but really.

The Ursuline Sisters Celebrate in Thanksgiving for 475 Years of Service

Here it is Thanksgiving Day and the 475th Anniversary of the Founding of the Ursuline Sisters.
We have much to be thankful for: our lives, our health, our family, our friends, our community. In a particular way this year we are grateful to God for this anniversary. There is no word that immediately comes to mind for a 475th anniversary. If you were to make one up from Latin roots, you might say we are celebrating our dodransquincentennial, a word that means 1/4 century less than 500 years. No matter what you call it, 475 is a long time.

People mark anniversaries for 2 reasons: to look back and to look ahead. What we remember is pretty well known to most of us…Sr Mary McCormick’s reflection for 475th Anniversary Nov 25 2010

Local news coverage

Gone Fishing!

If you walk into my office you will find a small sign – “Gone fishing”. This saying can either be read literally, indicating that I have really gone fishing, or it may mean that I have taken a break from the demands of my ministry. In our Gospel today, little does Peter realize that his fishing trip will end up immersing him ever more fully in the demands of a different kind of work.

It would seem that the disciples are missing the point of the Resurrection and how the Resurrection changes one’s life because Peter and the others revert back to what they know – they’ve gone fishing! The two scenes in our Gospel, the miraculous catch of fish and Jesus’ dramatic encounter with Peter capture two interrelated Easter mysteries- abundance of new life and love that overflows into following the risen Christ to the point of death. We give our lives because we have first been loved by God. Following Jesus isn’t easy for it means dying to self, even to the point of death for the sake of the other.

We share in this new life only if we are willing to share in its cost -dying to self for the sake of the other. Let us take care that our actions announce God’s blessings and God’s care.

Who Do You Say I Am?

There are times when I create expectations about the way things should be that it destroys my ability to appreciate how things actually are.   For example, does this restaurant really serve the best meals one will ever eat? It’s natural to have expectations, but they must be realistic. Often there is nothing wrong with reality, rather, my expectations of it!

The disciples get a surprise in our Gospel today.  Jesus asks them a simple but puzzling question. “Who do you say I am?” After all, how long have they been with him?  Peter answers with the preconceived notion of who Jesus is and who the Messiah would be. Their expectation of Jesus and the reality of what it means to be the Messiah and what it means to be his disciples do not jive! For Jesus tells them, disciples must “take up their cross.” The disciples are hardly prepared for that kind of relationship.

It is no coincidence that our Gospel begins with the question of identity and then ends up with the cost of discipleship.  Jesus’ reality check about discipleship opens up possibilities for a richer life.

By being united with Jesus through our Baptism, we also participate Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, giving of ourselves for the good of others.