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July 11, 2011 | Volume 86, Number 19

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» Believe as you Pray

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» In Light of Faith

Genevieve M. McQuade  photobelieve as you pray graphic

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
July 10, 2011

I’m not much of an outdoor gardener. I get weary with getting up and down, kneeling, defying insects, and hot sun.

And, I don’t do much to till, fertilize, water, or weed the soil without extra help. Yet, I am fascinated by plant life whether in untamed forests or cultivated gardens. All was made to need sustenance to live. Us, too.

Matthew’s gospel relates the parable about the sower’s seed falling on all kinds of ground, ranging from thin rocky dirt to deep fertile soil. Tiny seed. Huge potential. Some get wasted. Some survive, but poorly. Some thrive, producing bountifully.

There’s a mysterious ambiguity about the seed and where it winds up as to what they represent. Is the seed Jesus’ message of the Kingdom? The Word? Are we the soil? The interaction of both seed and ground?

Regardless, we grasp that obstacles abound for us too, thwarting the seed of life and truth from rooting or from flourishing. When that potent kernel burrows into a reflective believer, the results are far greater for us than for ground treated with the much touted miracle foods for plants!

Purpose of ‘Believe as You Pray’

The content of the “Believe as You Pray” column is based on the Scripture readings assigned to Sunday Mass.

The Church organizes this “Lectionary” or collection of readings according to a three-year cycle (designated as Years A, B, and C).

Readers are encouraged to pray with those readings; the column is meant to help guide this prayer.

The title “Believe as You Pray” is also significant. It is based on the Latin “axiom lex orandi, lex credendi,” (literally, “the law of prayer is the law of belief”). Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that, “When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles — whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi… The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays” (1124).

Times are difficult for many. The economy has withered, employment has suffered decline. Health issues have costly consequences. We are challenged in ways that seem beyond our strength.

Trust in God may have shriveled like parched earth, and gratitude for His works, vaporized, like steam rising from hot pavement after a rainstorm.

What if the conditions and obstacles in our lives have altered our faith or that of those we love?

Frankly, we were made needy, created for God alone to complete us. We were formed to thrive on the Father’s love given in his ongoing Holy Spirit who waters our withered wills, in his Word that feeds our hungering quest for meaning, so that we may burgeon with dynamic lives.

For the barren heart already hardened like cement, self-satified, or too busy, it’s not likely this column would be of interest anyway. What could penetrate that arid ground to receive God’s love?

While this passage proclaims harsh words for those who haven’t absorbed God’s unceasing offer of divine life, the Catechism consoles us: “God. . . cannot forsake this people that bears his name” (para. 2577).

“We could intercede with our prayers for our family in Christ, for even the “untilled meadows drip with fruitful rain” (Psalm 65:13).

And asking oneself, would I resist the Holy Spirit’s effect on my life by avoiding challenging reflection?

What kind of soil have I become? Can I be more receptive, resisting less?

Do I believe, “I am what I am” and that nothing will change that?

Have I settled into a complacency of superiority thinking, “I’m pretty good and better than others”? Or am I immovable from the sidelines, limiting myself so as to no longer want to learn more of the treasures of Scripture, or deadened so as to not offer time and talent to build up those in need?

The Lord promises us in Isaiah, “my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”

Because of heavenly Seed, we can thrive after all. Our Gardener tends our expressed need with “extra” help, his unwavering love. Fascinating.

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family ties graphicmary hood hart photo

Why I love books

My mother will be 90 in six months. While I admire her for so many of her wonderful qualities, her love of reading has deeply influenced and inspired me.

My mother is always reading something new or recommending a good book she just finished. It’s easy to select a gift for my mother because she never fails to appreciate receiving a book.

I have no doubt that my love of reading is directly related to hers. When I was a child, she regularly read to me from the Bible.

My favorite story was Joseph and his colorful coat. Even now, I can re-create in my memory the joy of sitting in the living room with my mother, listening to her read that familiar story from a children’s Bible.

As a child, I could hear the story a hundred times and never tire of it.

As I became older and able to read on my own, my mother would take me to the library often. She would be as excited as I was about the books I selected, many times books she too had enjoyed as a child.

In addition to fiction, my mother loves poetry and verse. As a child, I knew all the nursery rhymes by heart because my mother taught them to me. She’s still one of the few people I know who enjoys reading poetry.

When I was quite young and at the doctor’s because I was ill or getting a check-up, while she and I were waiting for my pediatrician to enter the examining room, Mom would entertain me with a game she created.

A border along the ceiling in the examination room depicted scenes from nursery rhymes. My mother would encourage me to guess and then recite the rhyme illustrated in each scene. For example, an illustration of a shoe brimming with children would prompt “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe…” What may otherwise have been an anxious and difficult time was transformed.

I can’t imagine how less rich my life would have been had I not been infected by my mother’s love of reading. (Later in his life, my father was also an avid reader, but it was my mother’s love of books that most influenced my childhood.)

Being exposed to books at a young age and learning rhymes by heart surely contributed to my love of writing.

Summertime brings back all these early memories of enjoying books. Perhaps it’s because when I was growing up in Florida, summer afternoons were best spent in cool, quiet indoor activities like reading.

Summer is also a time when guilty pleasures are permitted, when I can read anything that strikes my fancy rather than books associated with academics or work. Summer reading is typically associated with leisure. Is there anything more relaxing than reading at the beach?

Lately, I’ve taken to reading fiction on my electronic reader. I never thought I would enjoy reading on a device, and I admit that using an e-reader hasn’t replaced my affection for solid books. However, I’m always looking for ways to motivate myself to exercise, so I download fiction on my e-reader and read it only when I’m at the gym. What’s great is that many classics are available for free. I just finished (and loved) Jane Eyre, a book I somehow missed reading in my school years. With my e-reader, I’m slowly trying to make up for the deficits in my college education, deficits created either by gaps in my academic courses or academic laziness on my part.

While so much of my life has changed over the past five plus decades, one thing remains constant — my love of reading.

I can’t imagine life without good books. The magic of being transported into a fictional world still enchants me. Thanks to my mom.

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barbara hughes photoin light of faith graphic

The wonder of contrast

One of the things I am enjoying here in California is the exotic plant life.

Although we arrived in the middle of winter, snap dragons, geraniums and lilies welcomed us, while outside the dining room, our eyes feasted on bird of paradise blooms.

From the surrounding areas of the Mission, fields of wild flowers provide a striking contrast to the sacred gardens with their fountains and perfectly groomed flower beds.

In the semi-arid climate, succulents and cacti dot the landscape, giving birth to orange and pink blossoms that sprout atop prickly, green spines. The varieties seem endless, and the contrasts are striking, but among my favorites are the bushes that line the path leading to the welcome center.

When we first arrived, all that was visible were thick cordlike branches with long thorns, about three times the length of the thorns on a rose bush. But by Lent, tiny red flowers resembling tiny drops of blood began to appear. True to its name, by Good Friday, the plant, which is named the “Crown of Thorns,” was in full bloom.

Contrasts abound. It is an important principle of design that distinguishes elements, setting one apart from the other. It is also part of life. When we view life as a continuum, we discover that peaks and valleys prevent life from becoming bland. They are part of the growth process that affirm and challenge us in numerous ways.

From the thorny appendages that support magnificent flora, to straw-colored grassy mountains that serve as a backdrop for lush manicured lawns, contrasts provide interest and a window through which we can better appreciate the process of transformation.

This reality came alive for me today during Morning Prayer, when Mike Minton, one of the friars in the formation program renewed his simple vows. The renewal of vows takes place annually for three to five or more consecutive years, depending upon the readiness of the friar, prior to solemn profession, which binds him to God and community for life.

To witness a young man dedicate his life to God and to the Franciscan community is a lesson in contrasts.

The young friar’s selfless surrender to God and the Franciscan community stands in sharp contrast to societal and cultural norms that would have us believe that our first responsibility is to ourselves.

At a time when most young men are seeking human intimacy and someone with whom to spend the rest of their life, Mike has pledged to live a celibate life. While some are infatuated with wealth and ownership, Mike has vowed to embrace poverty. There are no designer labels sewn into his simple brown habit that is drawn at the waist by a knotted cord.

Having worked with the developmentally disabled for a number of years, Mike enjoyed caring for aging friars in the community. While many well educated professionals are climbing the ladder of success, Mike is aspiring to lead others to God through the retreat ministry. He entered the formation program holding an MBA, with an emphasis on non-profit organizations.

In the fall he will begin working towards an M.Div., but the letters “ofm”, (order of friars minor) are initials that he is most eager to see after his name.

This morning Mike vowed to live the evangelical counsels of poverty, celibacy and obedience during a simple ceremony which took place in the friary chapel.

In the presence of a few of his brothers and the covenant community at Old Mission San Luis Rey, where Mike is serving this summer, he repeated the words that have been professed through the ages.

Though some might consider his vows a milestone, the ceremony is deliberately held with little fanfare, a contrast which reminded me of a quote by Herman Melvillle, who wrote, “There is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself.”

Eight centuries ago, a young St. Francis of Assisi renounced all for the sake of the Gospel. His chosen path stood in sharp contrast to the culture of his time and garnered the attention of the people, the church and ultimately the world. He took the Gospel seriously and like Jesus, in whose footsteps he walked, he was willing to die in order to live.

I am reminded of this whenever I walk about the Mission grounds and notice the dried lifeless petals that have been nudged to the ground by buds that are beginning to emerge. The contrast is a reminder that all things are passing.

Shortly after we arrived at Mission San Luis Rey, an 85-year-old beloved friar, known as Brother Mo, was transported to a facility in Oakland where aging friars live out their last days. Brother Mike’s profession this morning is a reminder that even as one friar leaves active ministry, another is preparing to enter.

The replacements may not be numerically proportionate, but then God does not measure by the same standard that we use and that contrast alone is worth pondering.

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