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July 23, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 19

COLUMNS

Believe as you Pray »

Family Ties »

In Light of Faith »

photo: Genevieve McQuade

believe as you pray

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
July 29, 2012

2 Kings 4:42-44
John 6:1-15
Ephesians 4:1-6
Psalm 145:10-11, 15-18

Have you ever considered quitting a plan because you were short of time or you lacked sufficient resources?

Well, Jesus’ disciples weren’t very different.

There they were, near the Sea of Galilee, with probably more than five thousand hungry people to feed. I’d guess the disciples practically threw up their hands in defeat!

Jesus challenged Philip to solve their predicament. Then Andrew commented that there was a boy with five barley loaves and two fish.

OK, so what good would that do? Anyone could see that measly supply was useless for so many.

Even so, Jesus “took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them.”

That’s Jesus for you! Regardless of how that could possibly occur, not only did Jesus increase what was supplied and see to it that all were generously fed, but there was an abundance of food left over besides. Who would have thought!

Some weeks ago I mentioned that a “Life in the Spirit Seminar” took place at my parish. Well, it turned out that our team had a very similar experience as Jesus’ disciples.

Despite praying about it for well over a year, we kept running into hurdles, so we delayed making a decision. We lacked certitude about the wise thing to do. We kind of trusted God’s providence, but assessed our shortcomings as pretty insurmountable and outcomes as dim.

Finally we moved forward. We decided to offer all we could, leaving the rest to God. Although it seemed hardly enough, God did indeed magnify our efforts, not only supplying our needs, but providing much more.

[See the accompanying seminar commentary in the Aug. 6 issue of The Catholic Virginian.]

Do you have something that’s been on a back burner? Rather than rejecting a good idea because you are missing a special part, could you ponder possibilities and then provide what you are able?

Does it still appear difficult, even impossible? What about forming a more positive outlook?

What else might you do to advance your idea? Could you seek and ask for help? Or, asking for God’s help in prayer, what about accepting the fact that you can do so much, and go with that, trusting in God’s providence for the rest?

As it turned out for us, we had an unexpected response of dozens of participants hungry for God’s touch, who completed that seminar well fed.

Psalm 145 says that “the hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs,” for “the eyes of all look hopefully to you, and you give them their food in due season; you open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” 

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photo: mary hood hart

family ties

Accepting change brings renewed trust in God

When I was a small girl, I became disturbed by change. If my mother moved the furniture around in our family room, I was upset.

One of my earliest memories is crying, distraught, as I watched my parents remove my baby bed to replace it with a small twin.

Maturity brought me relief from being disturbed about furniture relocation. However, even later in childhood, I felt bereft by changes that dramatically affected my routine.

For example, my parents liked to travel, sometimes abroad. Even though I was cared for by my older siblings or my grandparents, I didn’t like it when my parents were away. I wanted my mother to tend to my daily needs. It felt strange to be in the care of others.

Nights away from home were another challenge for me. I could sometimes make it through a one-night sleepover, but more than one or two nights away from my own bed brought homesickness.

Once, at a day camp, I won the best behaved camper award. The prize was a free trip to an out-of-town, overnight camp. I refused to accept the prize.

To this day, I remember how frustrated my mother was that I turned down the opportunity. No matter how she tried to persuade me to go, I wouldn’t budge.

Even as an adult, I don’t like to be caught off guard by an event. Even events that are expected cause me anxiety if they create a significant disruption in my routine.

I’ve been undergoing a lot of change lately. As a result, I’ve been in a mix of denial, anxiety, and acceptance. I can’t predict, from one minute to the next, how I will be feeling. Yet at the core of it all, I sense God’s grace.

My mother died last month. Even though she was 90 years old and quite ill, her death took me by surprise. Although in the last days of her life I was hoping her suffering would end, I was still surprised when it did. Even though I believe that death is not the final word, that my mother lives on, I am still surprised that I can’t pick up the phone and chat with her.

I’m still surprised that when I drive to Florida next month for my nephew’s wedding, my mother won’t be there.

My parish was just assigned a new pastor. Even though I look forward to working with our new pastor in my job at the parish, I am still surprised when I enter the office and don’t immediately go to greet Father Hector, the parochial vicar with whom I worked almost daily.

Even though I anticipate good to come from this change, I still am surprised to see a new face at the altar. Even though I know that our new pastor brings many unique talents to the parish, I am still surprised that the former priests, and their talents, have moved on.

These are just two major changes, losses and gains, occurring in my life in the last few weeks. The loss of my mother’s physical presence brings new life — eternal life — for her.

The sadness I feel at knowing she’s no longer where she was — for me to call and visit — is mitigated by the sense that she is with me in a new and profound way. Yet faith in eternal life doesn’t make me miss her any less.

The best result of all this change is that, over time, I have grown to be more trusting of God. I have come to understand that these significant changes, these losses and gains, are part of the paschal mystery.

I must die to what I am accustomed to and surrender to a new way of being in order for life to flourish.

Painful as that can be, I have come to understand that, through it all, God will not abandon me. Through the greatest trials in my life — deaths of loved ones, divorce, a son’s deployment to war, financial losses, job changes — God has remained steadfast.
As a young person, I was fraught with anxiety when faced with change. And while I can’t say I am fully at peace, I am thankful to have lived long enough to have learned to trust in our good and gracious God.

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photo: barbara hughes

in light of faith

Children of the Light

“Those ghastly and macabre secrets might have remained hidden, except that this is a moral universe and the truth will come out.”
The words of Desmond Tutu ring as true today as they did in 1994 when they were written and came to mind as cameras followed Jerry Sandusky down the court hall steps following his conviction for abusing young boys.

As details concerning the cover-up by Penn State are revealed, comparisons are naturally drawn with the scandal involving a cover-up by Church officials regarding sexual abuse by some members of the clergy.

While truth does win out, particularly in this age of documentation and e-mail exchange, it doesn’t seem to deter some from engaging in shameful deeds. As difficult as it is to learn about the secret sins of others, it is even more disturbing when the perpetrators are the same people who have won public trust even as they prey upon unsuspecting victims.

However, sexual predators and white collar criminals inflict pain not only on individuals, but on organizations and institutions, by projecting a persona that wins them not only credibility but esteem.

Obviously, this is not an easy topic to address. My motivation for writing has always been to support and uplift, which this topic hardly does, except perhaps to reinforce the awareness that evil does exist, often side by side with goodness.

At times there is a tendency to bury our head in the sand and pretend all is well, especially if the criminal act doesn’t affect us directly. And yet in a sense, everyone is a victim.

Like it or not, as members of the same human family, we are lifted up and brought low by the actions of others.

When the prophet Elijah, praying for death, cried out to the Lord, “Take my life, Lord, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings;19; 4), he understood that even “zeal for the Lord” can be a camouflage for self-interest.

When Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to pit their gods against the God of the Israelites on Mount Carmel, as expected, the gods of Baal were silent.

In a dramatic response, the God of Israel consumed the bull that was offered on the altar. But then, what does Elijah do? He slays the prophets of Baal.

Every time I read this account, I want to ask, “Could he not just have left well enough alone?”

But, No! Rather than allow God’s action to stand by itself — after all it was a pretty powerful sign — Elijah had to take matters into his own hands. He seemed to lose sight of everything but his own power, not unlike those who when criminal activity is brought to light, go to great lengths to cover up the sin to protect their own interests.
To his credit, Elijah was filled with remorse after he had succumbed to the false god of personal power. Sadly, we all have false gods, but it takes grace to recognize them and expose them to the light of day, where they will surely perish.

When a perceived role of someone in the community becomes more important than the truth, that person or that institution, as good as it may be, has become a false god.
When we put profit or material resources before faith, hope and charity, then money has become a false god.

What then does that say about the practice of secrecy or bribery when used to protect the public face of a university or of the Church hierarchy?

Not every sin committed in secret is revealed, but unless we acknowledge the sin — and this is where Elijah is such a powerful example — we separate ourselves from God.
Elijah’s honesty was rewarded. It was shortly after this that he experienced the presence of God on Mount Horeb. In a moment of grace, he learned that God was not in the wind, or the earthquake or the fire, but in the gentlest of breezes. And so it is for us.

If we believe that God can be found in power, or money or prestige, we are deluding ourselves and paying homage to false gods. As Elijah discovered, God is most often found in unlikely places, which is why Jesus championed the poor, the marginalized, and those who are too young or too helpless to defend themselves.

While we cannot eradicate personal nor collective sins of the past, we can learn from them and strive to never repeat them. We do this first by acknowledging the temptation to hide or deny our sins.

This is never easy, which is one reason why the sacrament of Reconciliation is avoided by many.

Next we must expose it to the light because darkness and secrecy are tools of the evil one. Once we name the sin, we have power over it as St. Paul wrote so eloquently: “There was a time that you were in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. . . Well then, live as children of the light. It is shameful even to mention the things these people do in secret; but when such deeds are condemned, they are seen in the light of day and all that then appears is light” (Eph. 5; 11-13).

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