St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church - Naperville, IL

C.A.R.E. Corner

March 10

When Mary finally arrived at Elizabeth’s house, she greeted her according to the standard, cultural norm. But the greeting of Elizabeth to Mary was astonishing, as Luke noted in chapter 1, verses 41-45 of his Gospel. Elizabeth was “filled with the holy Spirit” which meant she had been given prophetic insight to know that Mary was also pregnant. She had no other way of knowing. Elizabeth declared Mary to be “blessed among women.” That was a description applied to Jael (Judges 5:24-26) and Judith (chapter 13), some of Mary’s ancestors in faith. These women, like Mary, were seemingly ordinary women whom God raised up to do great things, especially to crush evil enemies.

Elizabeth also addressed Mary with the astounding title of the “mother of my Lord.” That was a royal title and it was not just a lucky guess on the part of Elizabeth. Luke also made a point of reporting that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. Did she stay until John the Baptist was born? We don’t know. But when Mary headed back home, it would have been right about the time that her own body was beginning to reveal her pregnancy status.

 

March 3

When we left Mary last week, she had just received the news of God’s plan for her life. In spite of being troubled by all this, Mary responded with humility, in complete acceptance. She referred to herself as the “handmaid of the Lord” and asked that everything unfold as Gabriel had reported it to her (Luke 1:38). Ultimately, Mary would respond with an outburst of praise in the form of a canticle, which we have come to call the Magnificat. But her sentiments were not exactly original. They echoed a prior song of praise given by her ancestor in faith, Hannah, in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 after the birth of her son, Samuel. Hannah had been barren and prayed earnestly for a child, referring to herself as the handmaid and servant of the Lord. This is how Mary also described herself in her own song of praise for the wonders that God produced (Luke 1:46-55).

From Gabriel, Mary also learned that Elizabeth, her relative, was pregnant. From Luke 1:39-45 we get details of Mary’s next move, which was to pay a visit to her kinswoman, the elderly and surprisingly pregnant Elizabeth. Luke reported that Mary “arose,” and went “in haste” from her home in Nazareth to the hill country of Judah. She had just learned of her own big, life-changing news. Yet, she turned her attention away from herself and went to share the joy of her formerly barren relative. This response seems to be quite consistent with her humble and selfless nature.

 

February 17, 2019

As we continue on to Luke 1:28, we get the greeting to Mary from the angel Gabriel: “Hail, full of grace!” The word “hail” means “rejoice.” It is the same word used by the prophets when they proclaimed prophecies about the Messiah. Gabriel did not address Mary by her given name. He addressed her as “full of grace.” According to biblical scholars, the Greek word used for “grace” in this passage describes an ongoing action. In other words, she was already graced, she always had been and she would always continue to be full of grace. This is life and soul transforming grace. If she is filled with God’s grace, there can be no sin in her. In essence, “full of grace” was her name, implying her real identity in the eyes of God. We see many times in Scripture, such as with Abraham, Jacob and even Peter that being designated by a new name signaled the beginning of a new role. Something big was apparently in the works for young Mary.

Gabriel then said to Mary “The Lord is with you.” This was not just a pious sentiment. Mary, who likely knew her Scriptures, would have heard that God was with her to equip her for some future event. This phrase has rich biblical roots. God told Moses he would be with him to liberate the Jews from Egypt (Exodus 3:12). God told Joshua he would be with him in his mission to lead the Jews into the Promised Land  (Joshua 1:5). God told Gideon he would be with him even though he was the least in his family within the least of the 12 tribes (Judges 6:12). And God told David he would be with him, as we noted earlier.

 

February 10, 2019

We continue our introduction to Mary with Luke’s description of Mary as a virgin, though she was betrothed. At that time and in that culture, betrothal was step one of a 2-step marriage process. Mary would still have been living with her parents. In first century Judaism, betrothals usually happened between the ages of 13 and 16 for girls. The betrothal meant a legally binding, covenantal relationship. So Mary and Joseph were already considered to be husband and wife, though they were not yet living together. Step 2 of the process was the “coming together” as in living under the same roof as spouses, which typically resulted in the consummation of the marriage.

Luke reminds us that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, who was “of the house of David” (Luke 1:27). That of course points to the royal family lineage. But there had been no heir of David in power since the Babylonian exile in 587 BC. And we typically date Jesus’ birth around the year 4 BC. For Mary and Joseph, being connected to the royal family of Israel came with no privileges in a time when Israel was being oppressed by the foreign powers of the Roman empire.

 

January 27, 2019

As we continue to unfold the story of salvation history, we are brought to the writings of the New Testament. Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew 1:16  identified Jesus as the “Messiah” who was born of Mary, the wife of Joseph. Matthew also reminded us in 1:23 that this child Emmanuel, born of a virgin, fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 7:14). The virgin who bore Jesus was a young woman by the name of Mary. The child Jesus came from the line of David. Matthew specifically laid out Jesus’ genealogy in terms of his Davidic pedigree. Remember, the kingdom that would last forever would come through the lineage of David. Matthew presents Mary as the divine sign promised to Israel: a sign of God’s faithfulness to David; a sign of God’s fulfillment of his plan for all creation.

Was Mary really the young woman who fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy? The early Christians thought so. They knew what Isaiah had prophesied. For them, Mary fit all the parameters of the prophecy. And they believed God’s promises that the line of King David would continue and that through the Jews, God would send a Messiah. After witnessing the life and death of Jesus, they had no doubt that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah. We see that clearly in Matthew’s Gospel, which he wrote so all future generations would make the connections as well. If we call ourselves Christian, we too have accepted that Jesus was the promised Messiah from the house of David.

 

January 20, 2019

As we continue to unfold the story of salvation history, we are brought to the writings of the New Testament. Matthew’s gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew 1:16  identified Jesus as the “Messiah” who was born of Mary, the wife of Joseph. Matthew also reminded us in 1:23 that this child Emmanuel, born of a virgin, fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 7:14). The virgin who bore Jesus was a young woman by the name of Mary. The child Jesus came from the line of David. Matthew specifically laid out Jesus’ genealogy in terms of his Davidic pedigree. Remember, the kingdom that would last forever would come through the lineage of David. Matthew presents Mary as the divine sign promised to Israel: a sign of God’s faithfulness to David; a sign of God’s fulfillment of his plan for all creation.

Was Mary really the young woman who fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy? The early Christians thought so. They knew what Isaiah had prophesied. For them, Mary fit all the parameters of the prophecy. And they believed God’s promises that the line of King David would continue and that through the Jews, God would send a Messiah. After witnessing the life and death of Jesus, they had no doubt that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah. We see that clearly in Matthew’s Gospel, which he wrote so all future generations would make the connections as well. If we call ourselves Christian, we too have accepted that Jesus was the promised Messiah from the house of David.

 

January 13

After the reign of Solomon, things pretty much went downhill for the people of Israel. A whole series of disobedient kings resulted in continual turmoil, including military defeats and conquerings by various foreign powers. The worst of those happened in 587 BC when the Babylonians came in, destroyed most of Israel and sent the able-bodied Jews into exile in Babylon. In the midst of that chaos, the prophet Isaiah shared a sign of hope with King Ahaz. It bears keeping in mind that a prophet’s job was to speak God’s truth. Known as the Emmanuel prophecy, Isaiah 7:14 spoke of a young woman, of marriageable age, who would bear a son and call him Emmanuel. Emmanuel means “God with us.” None of the kings following Ahaz totally fulfilled that prophecy.

Chapters 9 and 11 of Isaiah give considerable detail regarding the new king as a “christ” or “messiah” from the throne of David, who would reunite the tribes into one everlasting kingdom that would be a light to the nations. This christ, the anointed one, would be the one that God had promised to both Abraham and David and he would bring all the nations to God. This new king would establish a worldwide kingdom that would never end. The Jews waited and watched for centuries for Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled.

 

January 6, 2019

One of the special treasures of the Catholic Church comes in the person of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. We continue to encounter her throughout the Christmas season. Mary of course plays a very important role in the story of salvation history. And even though her name doesn’t appear very often in Scripture, she is no bit player. The role she willingly undertakes is pivotal to the beginning of Christianity and to its ongoing history. So let’s take a good, long look at Mother Mary.

In order to understand the fullness of Mary’s role in the bigger story, we actually have to go back in time, long before Mary was born. In the history of the people of Israel, the glory years began around 1000 BC with the reign of king David, which was followed by the reign of his son, Solomon. 1 Samuel 16:13 presents us with the prophet Samuel anointing a young David to do the work of the Lord. With that anointing with oil, “the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” David then went on to defeat Goliath, became king for 40 years and established Jerusalem as the center of Jewish worship. Scripture also tells us of God’s promise that the throne of David would last forever. Here are the words from the prophecy in 2 Samuel 7:16: “Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever.”

 

December 30

So what have we learned about being “blessed?” A blessed life is not just one that looks prosperous, happy and peaceful. A blessed life is not just one that is void of challenges or struggles. We cannot presume that those whose lives seem to be easy and run smoothly or according to their own desires and plans are the ones who are the most blessed. A blessed life is a life rich in the ways of God. The truly blessed are those who seek God, those who trust God, those who follow God and those who are grateful to God, no matter their circumstances. Those who recognize that God is always present and active and is the Source of all good things are the truly blessed. Are we aware of our own blessedness?

We can see blessedness very clearly in the life of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Her life did not unfold according to her plan. She was young and burdened with great responsibility. She eventually suffered the loss of her husband, Joseph. She even watched her own son die. But we can all agree, that she was a person who was richly blessed by God. And so, as the New Year begins, we will explore the life journey of our Blessed Mother Mary. We hope you enjoy a very Happy and Blessed New Year!

 

December 23, 2018

The words “blessed” and “blessing” are common terminology for us. Throughout the course of our liturgical year, we bless ashes and palms, holy water, incense and oils, medals and rosaries, icons and crosses and throats. In the canonization process for sainthood, a candidate can achieve the status of “Blessed” along the way. We refer to the consecrated bread and wine as the “Blessed” Sacrament. One of the titles given to Mary is the “Blessed” Virgin. When we baptize children and adults into the Catholic faith, we acknowledge their calling to be a “blessing” to all of us. When we bring our gifts of bread and wine to the altar as our offering during Mass, we recognize that these substances are gifts of God’s blessing because all of God’s gifts carry God’s power and grace.

As we know, all gifts deserve thanks in return. All blessings are sacramental actions which follow a basic rhythm or pattern. When we receive any gift from God, which is a blessing, we are called to respond with joy and gratitude, which is in essence giving back a blessing. In this way we recognize that all blessings flow from God who is the Divine Source of all that is good, abundant and life-giving. Any divine and life-giving object or action is a blessing to us. Everything God says and does is one, vast, divine blessing. And surely the gift of God’s own Divine Son to us was intended to be a tremendous blessing. Have a very Merry and Blessed Christmas season!

 

December 16, 2018

Jesus’ colleagues eventually figured out what this “blessedness” really meant. In the darkness of a prison cell, John the Baptist seemed to accept God’s will for his life. It was time for John to pass the baton, to learn the art of letting go and to hand over the reins. It was time for John to “decrease” so Jesus could “increase.” (See John 3:30) In this way, John the Baptist understood his blessedness. Even Peter came to the conclusion that “even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you.” (1 Peter 3:13-15) And suffer he did, as did all of the other apostles.

St. Paul also came to know well “how much he must suffer” for the sake of Christ’s name. (See Acts 9:16)  But we can be sure Paul considered himself to be richly blessed, declaring himself as “blessed” in Christ as a result of receiving every spiritual blessing in the heavens. (See Ephesians 1:3) Paul saw God’s abundant grace in the face of our sins as a blessing. (See Romans 5:20) And St. James (James 2:5) reminds us that those who are rich in faith are heirs of God’s kingdom, making them truly blessed. That is basically what Jesus had said: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you . . . .” (See Matthew 25:34)

 

December 9, 2018

We can all agree that Jesus had a large share in God’s life. But his human life was not easy as measured by human standards. Jesus’ human life included ostracism and rejection, the loss of loved ones, betrayals and abandonment, mental and physical anguish and a very painful death. He certainly didn’t look like someone who was “blessed” by God. So how are we to understand what it means to be “blessed?” We need to look back at Jesus’ statements of beatitude or blessedness.

If we understand our dependence on God, then we understand our blessedness. If we can mourn for the difficulties that others endure, then we will be provided with comfort in our own losses, which is a  beneficial thing. If we can endure difficulties with patience, then we are modeling our blessedness. If we desire and work for justice, then we understand God’s desires and what makes God happy. If we show mercy to others, then we understand how God works and acts with us, which should bring us great joy. If we are willing to work for harmony and peace, then we “get” God, whose ways are above our own. And even if we suffer persecution for all that, we are still holy and blessed because we are imitating the ways of the Divine.

 

December 2, 2018

The Beatitude statements can be found in chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel. Remember, a beatitude is a declaration of blessedness or joy. For the word “blessed,” we could substitute the words “happy” or “joyful.” This is what likely made Jesus’ statements so shocking to his listeners. Remember his audience was made up of people who were not prosperous, not wealthy, not powerful and not in control – at least according to worldly standards. Jesus told them they would be most blessed, happy and joyful when they were poor in spirit, when they were in mourning, when they were meek, when they were merciful, when they worked toward peaceful resolutions and when they themselves were being persecuted for the sake of what was right. WHAT!

These would not seem on the surface to be instances that would bring most of us happiness and joy. How is it even possible to be joyful under such difficult circumstances? Jesus must have wanted his listeners to understand the meaning of “blessedness” at a much deeper level. To be blessed does not mean that all in this life goes well. To be blessed means that we have a share in the Divine life. And sharing in God’s life does not automatically equate to an earthly life of comfort, ease or material abundance. Sharing in God’s life is so much more than that.

 

November 18, 2018

Sticking with the Old Testament writings, the Psalms are filled with statements of blessedness. To paraphrase several of the Psalms, “blessed:” are all who take refuge in God; are those who dwell in God’s house; are those who fear the Lord; are those who do what is right; are those who God guides; are those who have concern for the poor. What do all of these have in common? They indicate that all blessings are connected to life in God as the foundational Source of all good things.

The Book of Deuteronomy offers us a very rich statement of blessing upon the people of God. The statement comes with conditions. For the full statement, read Deuteronomy 28:1-6. But in a nutshell, if the people would obey God’s voice and carefully observe all the commandments God gave them, then they would receive outward signs of blessings, such as children and the bounty of the harvest. But they would also receive an inward sign of God’s blessing – God’s presence with them wherever they lived and wherever they went. The ancients believed God always acted first. God offered them many blessings. If they responded with the desire to accept those blessings, then God would fulfill His promises and they indeed would be blessed. Blessings, then, require receptivity to God’s desires and actions.

 

November 11, 2018

The dictionary defines “blessed” as holy, happy, or blissful. To “bless” someone is to honor them, endow them with a gift, or invoke God’s favor upon them. Receiving a “blessing” means that someone has requested that a divine favor be bestowed upon you. We most typically look at people whose lives seem to be very charmed with comforts, ease and good fortune as those who are blessed. But that’s not what Jesus said. So let’s dig deeper into the true meaning of “blessedness.”

Since our faith heritage comes from our Jewish ancestors, let’s take a look at how the Jewish people of old understood blessings and blessedness. The ancient authors wrote in the Book of Genesis that God created humans in his own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). Receiving the gift of life that is capable of reflecting the life of God is certainly a gift of great worth and value and is therefore, a tremendous blessing upon humankind. We see this again in the story of Abraham. In Genesis 22:17-18, the angel of the Lord told Abraham that God would bless him with countless descendants and that all the nations on earth would be blessed – that is, they would come to know God through his descendants. To know God is indeed a blessing.

 

October 28, 2018

This column has been attempting to define what is meant by the term the “Body of Christ.” The earliest Christians saw themselves as members of Christ’s Body which they called the Church. Twenty centuries later, we are the members of that same Body, the Church. And that Church encompasses the whole of Christ, both Head and Body. Our Church has also been called the Mystical Body of Christ, the bride of Christ and the Temple of the Holy Spirit. No matter how we label it, those of us who are members of this Church  – of Christ’s Body – are still in this together.

St. Paulinus of Nola, who died in the year 431 wrote these words to St. Augustine, whom he never met. His words seem to sum up what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ: “. . . despite being far apart, we are present to each other . . . because we are members of one body, we have one head, we are steeped in one grace, we live on one loaf, we walk on one road, and we dwell in the same house.” In other words, the Body of Christ – the Church – no matter how it looks – is ONE.

 

October 21, 2018

The prophet Malachi (3:1) spoke these words from the Lord to his listeners: “Now I am sending my messenger – he will prepare the way before me… ” This is the job of all of us who are members of the Body of Christ – to be messengers of God, at work in the world. As disciples, it’s our job to prepare the way for the Good News so the Lord, whom we seek, will come. This is hard to do on our own. It’s a little easier when we are supported by other members of the Body of Christ.

St. Paul certainly understood that. As he wrote to the Church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:12): “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” And again, “ Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it.” (12:27) Being members of Christ’s Body should compel us to “grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ… ” (Ephesians 4:15) And being like Christ means “putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (4:25)

 

October 14, 2018

The Church, as the Mystical Body of Christ, is the living, unifying, sanctifying, governing presence of Jesus Christ on earth today. That’s why it is so important that our Church acts as one Body. That one Body, is united in the Trinity, reconciled through Jesus Christ, and gathered into communion through the Holy Spirit. Humanity is very divided. But in the Risen Christ, divided humanity is remade into one Body. That Body is called to live and love so the world around us can see not only our unity, but the very presence of Christ.

The Holy Spirit plays a critical role in the life of the Body of Christ. It is the Holy Spirit that forms the Body through Baptism. It is the Holy Spirit that gifts each of the baptized members with the spiritual gifts and special charisms that allow each member to participate in the building up of the whole Body. It is the Holy Spirit that helps the Body grow and heal through the graces from the conferral of the sacraments. It is the Holy Spirit that makes the Church “the temple of the living God.” The gift of the Holy Spirit is God’s pledge that the Church will continue on throughout the ages. As our Catholic Catechism points out, where the Church is, there also is God’s Spirit. And where God’s Spirit is, there is the Church. (see CCC #797).

 

October 7, 2018

Christ lives now and acts now in and with and through his Church, the Body of Christ, sometimes also referred to as “the Temple of the Holy Spirit.” It is the Holy Spirit that gathers the children of God into the one Body of Christ, which transcends all human affinities such as race, culture and society. It is the Holy Spirit that provides the members with the necessary gifts to live as Christ’s Body. That Body finds it’s strength in the diversity of the gifts of it’s members. The Church achieves its unity by using all these gifts to fulfill our common mission. The Body of Christ, the Church, is both a visible society with human elements and a spiritual community with divine elements. Yet she
is one.

In recognition of this concept, Pope Pius XII in 1943 dubbed the Church the “Mystical Body of Christ.” He recognized the Church was not just a physical body. It was also mysteriously and spiritually organic. It was made up of the full communion of saints – whether alive on earth or alive in heaven. It had a visible head on earth in the person of the Pope. It had a spiritual Head in the person of Christ. With Christ as the “brains” of the operation, the Body only needed to follow along wherever the “Head” took it. We are all members of the Body; though made of many parts, we must all work together for the good of the whole Body of Christ.

 

September 30

When we were young, most of our parents, as a result of  their own faith, brought us to their local church in order that we too could be incorporated into the faith and life of the universal Church. We were initiated as new members through the spiritual birth of baptism. Our baptism then was an outward expression of our status as members of the People of God. Our baptism expressed our unity in the Body of Christ that claims Jesus as the Head. So we can consider the Body of Christ as our loving fellowship and union (communion) with Jesus and other baptized Christian members of the Church.

The Church then is one Body even though it has many members representing great diversity. The mission of Christ is brought to completion in the Church. Jesus entrusted his divine mission to his whole Church and gifted it with the Holy Spirit in order to accomplish that mission. The mission of the Church is to provide everything her members need for their spiritual well-being. This includes teachings of essential truths and opportunities for divine encounter and grace, which would include the offering of daily Mass and the conferral of the sacraments.

 

September 23

When we hear the term, the “Body of Christ,” we might automatically think of the Eucharistic bread. After all, that’s what the Eucharistic Ministers say to us as they are giving us the consecrated host. Similarly, when we receive the wine, we hear the words the “Blood of Christ” spoken by the minister. It is this Eucharist – the Body and Blood of Christ – that nourishes the Body of Christ, or the entire Church.

When we gather as a church community here at St. Thomas, we sometimes sing a song composed by John Angotti titled “We Gather as the Body of Christ.” It hits us over the head with the concept of being the Body of Christ. The refrain goes like this: “We gather as the Body of Christ, to receive the Body of Christ, we go forth as the Body of Christ, to love and serve the Lord forever. We are the Body of Christ.” Verse one refers to us, the Church, the Body of Christ, as the “family of God.” How do we get into this “family” of God? Rejoin us here next week to find out.

 

September 16

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC #751), the Greek word used in the Old Testament to refer to the “Chosen People before God” was “ekklesia.” We translate ekklesia into the English word “church.” The first community of Christian believers called itself “church” because it saw itself as the heir to the assembly that had received the 10 Commandments which established them as God’s holy people. In other words, the Christians were the next generation of God’s Chosen People. This would seem completely reasonable considering the first Christians were all Jews.

As the number of Christians and Christian communities grew, the word “church” referred to each local Christian community, such as the one in Corinth or the one in Ephesus. As each local assembly would gather regularly to worship and partake of the Eucharist, their liturgical assembly was considered to be a  gathering of the church. But the Church also encompassed the whole universal community of believers, made up of many local assemblies. They all believed they were Christ’s Church and wherever the Church could be found, Christ could be found. They were collectively Christ’s Body on earth.

 

September 9

In Chapter 9 of the Acts of the Apostles, we can read about a very pivotal event in the life of the early Church. Saul, a Pharisee and resolute follower of Jewish law and tradition, had been going about persecuting his fellow Jews who had adopted the beliefs and practices of Jesus. On his way to Damascus, with the intention of doing as much damage as possible to the fledgling Christian communities, Saul had a life-changing encounter with the Risen Christ. Knocked to the ground and blinded, Jesus asked Saul “why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4) As Bishop Fulton Sheen explained it, Saul persecuted the Church, which is the Body, and the Head, which was Jesus, protested.

We know that Saul went on to use his Roman name of Paul and he became one of the great apostles and evangelizers of early Christianity. His letters to those Christian communities make up a sizable portion of the New Testament. Paul held fast to the concept of Jesus as the Head of the Church and all the members of the Church on earth making up His Body. He often referred to the Church as the “Body of Christ.” In the recent past, this column has addressed what it means to be in solidarity as a Church, especially in suffering. So stay with us as we further explore the Church as the “Body of Christ.”

 

September 2

Jesus’ willingness to enter into our suffering was a tremendous show of the magnitude of God’s love for us. It is this love that redeems us – saves us – rescues us – and sets us free.  But just because our suffering is redemptive, that does not give us license to heap additional suffering upon ourselves or others. The world in and of itself brings enough trials. Natural disasters will still occur. We will still have to endure disease. Accidents will still happen. But according to St. Paul, none of these can separate us from the love of Christ. This is why we must place our hope in Christ.

To the Church in Rome, Paul listed a whole slew of potential life game-changers. His list included persecution, famine, peril, violence, principalities, powers, other creatures and even life and death, none of which would “be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39) In all our anguish, distress and trials “we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.” And so, when we encounter suffering of any kind, we are invited to surrender the sorrow it brings and “offer it up” to the One we trust can handle it, to the One who understands it, to the One who can bring a greater good out of it.

 

August 26

Jesus’ suffering manifested to all of mankind the depth and breadth of God’s love for us. Jesus’ suffering was for a bigger purpose. Jesus himself said it was necessary for him to suffer in order to enter into his glory. (See Luke 24:26) On the cross, Jesus manifested faith and hope, even though his situation appeared to be devoid of hope. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC #571), we Catholics believe Jesus’ death was redemptive, because it accomplished God’s saving plan for the world.

God has a plan for the life of each one of us as well. And the things God deems to be “good” for us may not be easy or comfortable. So in the midst of our trials, we must “see” Jesus and respond to our trials like he did. He did not try to avoid suffering. Instead, he accepted the grace which was the pathway through it. Our own suffering then unites us in solidarity with Christ – the whole Christ. And the whole of Christ includes both Passion and Resurrection. In imitation of Christ, our suffering too is redemptive. (See the Catechism #1521)

 

August 19

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus promised his listeners that they would endure injury and persecution if they followed him. And he told them they were to consider themselves “blessed” when they were “persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (See Matthew 5:10) Such blessings would include comfort, mercy, peace, righteousness and union with God. Jesus continued: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:12) Somehow, the proper response to our suffering seems to be that of “joy.”

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews (See 12:2b) tells us that Jesus endured the cross “for the sake of the joy that lay before him.” How is joy in the face of suffering even possible? It is – if it comes from a place of deep faith and trust. As people of faith, we know that ultimately we belong to the Creator of the Universe. That means we are so much more than just our pains and our struggles. We are ultimately the beloved children of God, so our suffering is never the end of the story. Jesus proved that. His own suffering was not the end of the story; it was the pathway to a bigger life. Without his death, there would have been no Resurrection. So his struggles and trials were not meaningless. Our sufferings are not meaningless. God can always bring a greater good out of something seemingly bad.

 

August 12

How are we to respond to the trials of life? Again, we can find some clues from our ancestors in faith. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews told his community to “endure your trials as discipline” because God treats you as his own children. (Hebrews 12:7 and 10) So they were to see their struggles as discipline from a loving Parent, necessary for their personal benefit – especially to share in his holiness. Acts of the Apostles includes numerous stories of the apostles enduring physical abuse and imprisonment because of their faith. Acts 5:41 recalls the apostles being beaten, then released to the streets, at which time they left the presence of their persecutors “rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” of Jesus. Talk about gratitude!

Paul believed all of his trials were useful because they helped to develop his endurance and in turn his character, which all pointed to his source of hope. (See Romans 5:3-5) Paul also believed our human difficulties should create in us greater compassion for what others are also enduring, because “if one part (of the body) suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” (See 1 Corinthians 12:26) None of us suffers alone if we are part of a faith community. And St. James, who was considered to be the head of the church community in Jerusalem, had the same philosophy. He told his community to “consider it all joy . . . when you encounter various trials.” (See James 1:2) Can you find joy in the midst of your trials?

 

July 29, 2018

Much of our suffering is a direct result of our own sinfulness. We seem to have a knack for creating all sorts of disharmony. We mistreat others which causes them great emotional distress. We put obstacles in front of people to prevent them from being gainfully employed, which can result in financial hardship.  We physically, verbally, and sexually abuse others which leaves deep, lifelong scars and wounds. We engage in wars which leave behind barren lands, broken families, and long-lasting trauma. We abuse our Earthly home and wonder why there is so much disease and sickness. And we continue to bear the wounds caused by all these sins. All of this God permits. And yet, in spite of all of our failures, Christ was willing to enter into our human condition – completely.

So how are we to understand suffering? Is it all pointless? Or can we find some meaning and purpose in our trials? Our Jewish ancestors saw their struggles as the result of a weakened nature that could be traced back to the “fall” of Adam and Eve, whose sinful disobedience ultimately affected all of humankind. We humans certainly seem to have a tendency toward sinful behavior. The Jewish Prophets used the wayward actions of the people to preach the need for repentance. They believed their struggles were the result of failure to follow the ways God had laid out for them, and if they got back on God’s preferred path, their self-inflicted difficulties would subside.

 

July 22, 2018

Many people question why suffering exists. Since they know it does exist, they might assume there is no God or if there is a God, such a God who would stand back and watch such distress could not possibly be all-powerful and all-good.  If we simply look at the state of our world, it’s easy to forget that God originally made all things good: “God looked at everything he had made and found it very good.” (See Genesis 1:31) Our original condition did not include suffering and death. God made humans to participate in the divine nature. God does not will our suffering. So what causes our anguish?

Sometimes things just happen. We’ve seen so many natural disasters recently where people have lost property and homes because of volcanic activity, tropical storms, tornadoes and flooding. These kinds of weather events can lead to great emotional anxiety, not to mention physical injury and even death. Sometimes our bodies just deteriorate and are affected by disease. We didn’t cause it and we can’t necessarily prevent it or control it. But frequently enough it’s our own bad decisions and choices that bring us difficult and negative consequences. If we choose to smoke, we might get lung cancer. If we turn to alcohol too frequently, we could be putting ourselves on the path to addiction. If we always seem to pursue people lacking in virtue, we will struggle with broken and difficult relationships. If we are willing to take an honest look at ourselves, we will certainly see that some of our difficulties are the  result of our own less-than optimal choices.

 

July 15, 2018

Approximately two thousand years ago, St. Peter reminded his community that “your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.” (1 Peter 5:9) This has held true for every generation since and it still applies today. Most of us in the Western world are no longer persecuted for our faith. Yet we know there is ongoing religious persecution all over the world. The reality is that all of humankind suffers in some way, whether physically, emotionally, socially or spiritually. It seems to be part and parcel of every human journey. We all have to deal with trials and struggles. To suffer means to endure pain and distress, to experience loss, injury or agony, to undergo a state of deep anxiety and anguish. Suffering is a universal language.

In our common humanity, we all suffer. This is a point of solidarity among us. Jesus had made it clear that to become one of his followers, you would have to pick up your cross and lose your life for his sake. (See Luke 9:23-24) He told his disciples that he himself would “suffer greatly.” (Luke 9:22) We know Jesus suffered. Given that he did, what makes us think we should not or will not? Peter, who also suffered greatly, saw suffering for the true, the good and the right as a grace and a calling, because “Christ also suffered,” leaving us an example to “follow in his footsteps.” (1 Peter 2:21) So, follow we must!

 

July 8, 2018

We know our early ancestors in faith were the targets of discrimination and persecution because of their religious beliefs. Many Jewish Christians tried to continue to worship at the Temple and gather at their local synagogue. But eventually, they were no longer welcome in either place. They were cut off from the larger Jewish community. They were ostracized by family members and former friends. Some had difficulty making a living. In addition, all Christians were targets of the Roman government for their unwillingness to sacrifice to and worship what to them were Roman mythical gods. Many suffered great physical cruelty, even to the point of death.

As we recall the situation for the early Christians, we can see a great deal of trial and suffering. They struggled with broken relationships; they underwent great emotional distress; they endured financial hardship; they experienced great physical injury and pain. And yet, they clung to their new-found faith. Their attitude was that of 2 Timothy 1:8b: “bear your share of hardship for the gospel.” Peter  wrote “whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God.” (1 Peter 4:16) And thanks be to God, they did just that.

 

July 1, 2018

The early Christians had to stick together because they faced so many challenges from outside forces. So they lived in solidarity, in relationship with God and each other, treating each other as brothers and sisters. Some opened their homes to others for the purpose of gathering to celebrate the Eucharist. Some brought money or material goods to the apostles in order to help take care of other members of the community who were especially in need. Some engaged in praying for others in the group. The apostles took the lead with regard to spreading the Good News of the Gospel.

It seems the early Christians did a good job of looking out for one another and many people found that very attractive. The numbers of Christians grew by leaps and bounds. The Christians were united in their moral standards, in their beliefs and in their lifestyle. They showed great respect for one another and were committed to the common good.  Some even undertook the grisly work of gathering up the remains of those who were martyred in order to provide them with a proper burial and honor their memory and sacrifice. The early generations of Christians were definitely united in solidarity in their suffering, given that they were often the targets of persecution. And that is where this column is headed next. Stay with us.

 

June 17, 2018

So how is it that our Church has such a long-standing tradition of serving and ministering to others? We can look back to the formation of the early Christian communities for the answer. Christianity began to form around a common set of beliefs about Jesus and what he had revealed about God. Those beliefs led Christians to live in a manner that was quite different from most of the other people around them. Acts 2:42 and 44 tell us the Christian community in Jerusalem devoted themselves to the communal life and held everything in common. As a community, they engaged in many acts of solidarity. For example, some members of the community were being neglected in the daily distribution of food, so the community got about the business of resolving that problem. They appointed more helpers to make sure all were treated fairly. (see Acts 6:1-5) After all, Jesus had instructed them to love their neighbors as themselves (see Luke 10:27). So they saw each other as another self.

Jesus had also reminded his disciples that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, but it was not going to work that way for his followers (see Matthew 20:25-26). St. Paul picked up on that theme and reminded the Church in Corinth that they were many parts, yet one body and they were all members of that one body which was Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:20 and 27). So if members of the Church in Corinth had been asked if they were their brothers’ keepers (see Genesis 4:9b ), the answer would have been a resounding YES!

 

June 10, 2018

St. Thomas the Apostle offers many opportunities to act in solidarity with others. We already mentioned the distribution of food to our care pantry recipients, the provision of food for PADS, our relationships with our twinning parishes and the work of the St. Vincent de Paul society. When our Ministers of Care visit hospitals or the home bound to bring communion and pray, these are loving actions taken in solidarity with those who are unable to get to the church building. Any work of charity or mercy serves to bond us in Christian solidarity, such as praying for those who ask for our intercession through the Prayer Network. Maybe you’ve never looked at some of our St. Thomas ministries that way, but so many of the ways we can serve others through our Church are practices of solidarity.

Perhaps you’ve never considered coming to Mass as an act of solidarity. But when we gather as a worshiping community to celebrate the Liturgy, to actively participate, to pray together and receive the  Eucharist in communion, we gather in solidarity with one another. Pope Francis defines solidarity as establishing bonds of closeness. At Mass, not only are we showing our solidarity with those who are physically present with us, but we are also linking ourselves to the Communion of Saints throughout all time.

 

June 3, 2018

What ultimately links us all in “solidarity” is our humanness; we are all in this life journey together and therefore we are responsible for one another. God made us social creatures and interdependent beings, called to form community. We all share a common home on this Earth and a common humanity. And all of that means we have social obligations to other individuals, to our communities and to the institutions we establish, whether they are political, educational, social or business organizations.

When we stand unified in our interests, objectives and standards, that is solidarity. Such are the ties that bind people together behind a common goal or purpose. Like faith, solidarity suggests action. So any show of love of “neighbor” is an act of solidarity which brings us into communion with that neighbor and with God. We can show solidarity with those who are physically handicapped when we sign a petition to add a handicap access to a building. We can show solidarity with the poor of other countries when we buy their products in support of fair trade practices. Next week we’ll take a look at some more things we do right here within our parish community which can be viewed as acts of solidarity.

 

May 27, 2018

Let’s answer the question this column posed last week. How are we doing when it comes to showing our faith in action? St. Thomas the Apostle has twinning relationships with three parishes; St. Nicholas in Aurora, St. Agnes in South Dakota and St. Marie Madeleine in Haiti. If you have ever been involved in providing financial or material support to any of these parishes or gone on the mission trips to these churches, then you have shown active faith. St. Thomas also runs a Food Pantry. If you have ever contributed food to the monthly collection or to the meals for PADS, then you have manifested an active faith. If you are involved in the St. Vincent de Paul ministry which makes home visits and offers material help for those in need, then you have modeled faith in action.

You have also engaged in actions of “solidarity.” The concept of solidarity is a long-standing one in our faith tradition. But the vocabulary of solidarity has only recently been reintroduced to our Church through the seven principles of Catholic Social Teaching. One of those principles is solidarity. What does that mean? Solidarity is any expression of love that transcends boundaries of race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, language, geography, culture, economy or ideology. And certainly offering provisions of any kind for the neediest among us are expressions of love that put us in solidarity with them. This column will continue to take a look at the concept of solidarity over the course of the next few weeks.

 

May 20

Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday. For Christians, Pentecost is the remem- brance of the giving of the “new law,” written on our hearts. It marks the birth of the larger Christian Church. As modern-day Christian disciples, it’s now our turn to pick up the baton and run with it. The beliefs about Jesus have endured for 2000 years. Now it’s our turn to allow those convictions to in- form and animate us in faith. We are called to not only believe but to show outward expressions of those beliefs. Like the men who brought their friend to Jesus for healing, we should want Jesus to “see” our faith as well (Luke 5:20).

For the early Church, the Christian faith was a way of life – one that stood in stark contrast to the way most people lived. Early Christians were concerned with justice and mercy. They treated all people, even outsiders, compassionate- ly and generously. They focused on healing and wholeness and reconciliation. They took seriously the command to love God, self and neighbor – all neighbors, even enemies. And from that place of love, they praised God, expressed gratitude, prayed for others, suffered what came their way and min- istered to all in need. How are we doing when it comes to demonstrating our faith?

May 13

St. Paul is a great example of someone who was initially opposed to everything Jesus said and did, but ultimately came to believe that Jesus was indeed Emmanuel, God with us. After his experience with the Risen Christ, Paul had a major conversion of mind and heart. Once his belief system changed, so did his behavior. He took to the streets to proclaim Jesus as the Christ. And he dedicated the remainder of his life to spreading the gospel and establishing numerous Christian communities.

Following Paul’s conversion (Acts 9), the rest of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles is primarily dedicated to the missionary trips Paul took on behalf of the Christian Church in order to spread the “good news” of the Risen Christ and bring many to belief in Jesus. Paul also brought on helpers such as Barnabas, Timothy and Silas to travel with him and share his missionary calling. Paul was indeed a person of faith, which he demonstrated through his life’s work and his many sacrificial actions.

 

April 29, 2018

Fortunately for all of us, those first disciples didn’t just keep their new beliefs to themselves. They shared those beliefs with others. Jesus had commissioned them “to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God.” (see Acts 10:42) The disciples went out to the streets and the Temple area and did just that. They also gathered as a community to pray. They ministered to others as Jesus had. And they suffered what came their way, sacrificing much because of their faith. Jesus’ hand-picked disciples took the baton and ran with it, allowing their faith in Jesus to inform and direct the course of their lives.

As an example of this, we can look more closely at the life of Peter. Peter had been with Jesus for the three years of his public ministry. Peter had fallen down miserably when he denied association with Jesus at Jesus’ greatest time of need. But Peter also had some shining moments. He declared Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16). Peter came to believe that it was Jesus who had the words of eternal life (John 6:68). So once Peter was “clothed with power from above” at Pentecost, he took to the streets and picked up where Jesus had left off. He preached boldly in spite of constantly being harassed and imprisoned. He offered healing to the afflicted in the name of Jesus. He gathered with others to pray and break bread together as Jesus had commanded. Peter demonstrated his faith by becoming the hands and feet of Christ.

 

April 20, 2018

For all of the beliefs Jesus proclaimed about God, he did more than just talk; he also walked the walk, which clearly demonstrated his faith. Certainly his faith compelled him to preach about God’s mercy and forgiveness. Out of faith, he taught his listeners and followers about God’s compassion and generosity. In faith he offered healing, restoration and wholeness to many people. And as his final act of faith, he obeyed God’s plan for his human journey, though the cost was great indeed.

Apparently Jesus’ disciples were also people of hope and faith. Perhaps they didn’t demonstrate that immediately because after Jesus died, they went into hiding. It was only at the Feast of Pentecost that they came out of hiding and began to pick up where Jesus had left off. They began to preach as he had and to teach what he had taught and to do the things he had done. As followers of Jesus, they began to point to Jesus as the image of the unseen God and as the pathway to abundant life. Having received the gift of the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised, they also knew they were being guided by the same divine Spirit that had guided Jesus. They came to believe that everything Jesus had told them was indeed true. And that compelled them to join their efforts with those of Jesus and step out in faith.

 

April 15, 2018

It’s a no-brainer to believe that Jesus was a person of hope. He was also a person of faith. We know this, not just because of what he said he believed, but because of what he did. His parents would have been the first role models of faith for him. We can be sure Mary had strong faith. Conceiving a child outside of marriage was not in her life’s plan. But when God revealed his plan for her, as a show of faith, she said YES! (Luke 1:26-38) She was deemed “blessed” because she believed what the Lord spoke to her would indeed come to pass. And marrying a pregnant woman wasn’t in Joseph’s plan, so he decided to call off the marriage. But God had a different plan. In faith, Joseph did as the angel had commanded (Matthew 1:19-24).

During Jesus’ public ministry, he honored and praised people who showed great faith. For example, Mark’s Gospel (2:1-5) gives us the story of the four men who lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof in order to get him into the presence of Jesus. Jesus “saw” their faith and healed the man. And John’s Gospel (12:3) offers the story of Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ feet with oil as a show of love and an outward sign of her faith. We can hold our beliefs in our minds or we can vocally proclaim them. But when we actively and outwardly express them and live according to them, we are allowing our faith to show. Faith requires action. So, for the next five weeks, we’ll take a look at how the first generation of disciples demonstrated their belief in Jesus through acts of faith.

 

April 8, 2018

Pope Francis reminds us that Israel was conquered multiple times and the people were forced into exile in foreign lands. Those were difficult times of losing everything: their homeland, their freedom, their dignity. Perhaps they even lost trust in God. They must have felt abandoned and hopeless. They thought their God could not be present with them under such dire circumstances. But ultimately, they ended up home and were reminded of their status as God’s people. Returning to God marked their return to hope. The prophet Isaiah shared these words from God with the people following their exile in Babylon: “You shall know that I am the LORD, and those who hope in me shall never be disappointed. “ (Isaiah 49:23)

Are you a person of hope? Do you look at all of life, including suffering and death, with hope? Do you believe that ultimately God is in charge and all things will work out for the good as God intended? Are you grateful to God for your life’s journey, no matter what the circumstances? If you can answer YES to these questions, then you are indeed a person of hope.

 

April 1, 2018

Christian hope hangs on our belief that this earthly life we live has meaning and purpose. That meaning was demonstrated for us this day through the Resurrection. God is all about life. We are children of God, which is what gives us our inherent dignity. So we too must be all about life. On this Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus, what we are celebrating is that death is not the last word. There is still more life: a bigger life; a fuller life; everlasting and eternal life. Such life can only come from God.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:17b) looked “downcast,” probably because they thought Jesus’ death was the end of the story. But in reality, it was the beginning of a greater story. For people of faith, there is no greater source or object of hope than the Divine. The mission of the Church is to continue to make the God of hope visible in the world.  The Church reminds us that God is the Author of the story of all human life. Being a player in God’s story means we are people of hope because we understand and recognize that we are all part of a much bigger picture. You belong to Someone very special. We “hope” you are celebrating that reality on this special Sunday. Happy Easter!