Thursday, March 21, 2019

Be Strong and Take Heart!


From the cross (Gospel of Luke, Chapter 23, Verse 46) Jesus cries out: 
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Did you know that these words come from Psalm 31?

Scripture quotes Jesus as saying that one line, which is a definitive statement that speaks of him submitting to the will of the Father, before he takes his final breath.

But, what if we reasonably speculate that Jesus may have had the entirety of that Psalm committed to memory?  What if it were on his mind and in his heart as he hung there on the cross? 

What image does the rest of the Psalm provide as we pray it in light of what we now know of the pain and suffering Jesus endured, not only from the cross, but during the events leading up to it as well?

A new, fuller picture of the depth of his love emerges for us indeed.

Perfectly, the Psalmist cries out for help, speaks of trust in the Father, and delivers a final proclamation of hope.

I have selected some verses from Psalm 31.  Contemplate them with fresh eyes from the cross and especially in light of what you may be going through in your 
own life today:

“In your justice deliver me; incline your ear to me; make haste to rescue me!”
 (Verses 2-3)

“You are my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead and guide me.” (4)

“Free me from the net they have set for me, for you are my refuge.” (5)

“Be gracious to me, Lord, for I am in distress; with grief my eyes are wasted, 
 my soul and body spent.” (10)

“My life is worn out by sorrow, my years by sighing.  My strength fails in
 affliction; my bones are consumed.” (11)

“But I trust in you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’” (15)

“My times are in your hands; rescue me from my enemies, from the hands of
 my pursuers.” (16)

“Once I said in my anguish, ‘I am shut out from your sight.’ Yet you heard my
 plea, when I cried out to you.” (23)

“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” (25)

These beautiful, unforgettable words, can easily form a prayer for us this Lent.  Let them speak to you.  Let them plead on your behalf when your strength is spent, your body worn out.

And finally, use these words to cling to when you are in need, crying out in confidence and hope in the Lord, when your own mouth cannot form the words to express your heartfelt need.

God bless,
Janet Cassidy
Janetcassidy.com

Friday, March 15, 2019

Can You Imagine It?


 I was listening to a podcast that was reflecting on the necessity of brotherhood and how we should be looking out for each other.  It was referring to the Gospel of Matthew 25: 31-46.

In this passage Jesus is telling his disciples that whenever they care for someone who is thirsty, hungry or in need of clothes, or whenever they visit the ill or imprisoned, they are doing it for him.

We do not always recognize that this is what we are doing, but Jesus makes it very clear that when we care for our brother (or sister), or specifically, the “least ones” among us, we are doing it for him.  (Technically, that we are doing it to him.)

This got me to thinking about the layperson’s view of the ministerial priesthood.   
We know that as a group, our priests, ordained into the priesthood of Jesus, are in a special category all their own, setting aside their life for Christ as they do.
For years, laypeople in the church, though, have put their priests on a pedestal (one that almost no one could actually stand firm upon without faltering in some way.)  Set apart from us as they are, we are genuinely—and rightfully so—
 grateful for the vocation they have accepted.  It is indeed special.

But, here’s what I think we forget.

As baptized Christians, we too are called to a special vocation.  We are members of the common priesthood.

Imagine a world where this non-ordained group called Christian laypeople, could be looked upon as being in a special category where they have given over their entire life to be a witness to the gospel.  That is not to say “special” as in being elevated above others, but special as in uniquely joined as one, set apart in purpose and mission, behind the person of Jesus Christ.

Imagine if you will, this group so dedicated to the gospel and committed to fulfilling their role as a disciple, that like the early apostles and disciples, and similarly our priests, they are clearly recognizable for the “group” to which they belong.

Bear with me, if you will, and imagine that this group of non-ordained Christians are so outstanding in their self-sacrifice and love for each other, that they are as easily defined as standing with one purpose, as do our ministerial priests.

Is this the image you have of the laity in the Church?  Can you see them so clearly as a defined group of people?

I suspect you may see that the boundaries which identify non-ordained Christians as distinct followers-of-Christ may be blurring a bit.  We can see our priests as a collective group, but can we see ourselves in that way as well?

Of course, as laypeople our role is different in many ways and by its essence, from our ordained priests, but our responsibility in spreading the gospel is really no less.

Using our unique gifts, our words and our actions, we are called to punctuate our places of work, our relationships with friends and family, our communities-at-large, and indeed every aspect of our life, with an exclamation of the Good News.

Just imagine the impact on the world today, if Christians, as well as all people of faith, worked together—not against each other, nitpicking as we do, differences in our approach! Yes, sometimes it is more than a difference in approach, I understand.

But can you imagine the magnificent transformation that would be possible if we were to see ourselves as totally committed disciples where within our places of work, among our friends and families, we put our faith first?

We may not be members of the clergy, and that is fine, because God calls each of us—you and me—today, to fulfill our very special vocation as lay disciples.

Are you taking it seriously?  Will you choose to take it up and act on it?

Janet Cassidy
janetcassidy

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What’s on My Mind? Read on!



When we were homeschooling our kids, my motto was always, “attention to detail.”  I said it so many times I expect they were able to drown out my voice after awhile!  But I am a firm believer that paying close attention to details is very important.

Today, I still practice what I preach, but I am the first to admit we simply cannot get it right all the time.  Typos happen to the best of us! You may call my “attention to detail” a blessing, or maybe even a curse, because I can get frustrated to no end when I read something reported in the newspaper on a religious topic and the reporter misses the point.

Having done freelance writing, I am no stranger to the reality that the article you file can be touched by so many hands that details can be lost, but you can tell when accuracy and research is lacking from the start.

A couple of recent instances caught my attention.  I suppose most people would just gloss over them, but I get a little touchy when it comes to proper language on topics of faith.

On the Sunday following Ash Wednesday, our local paper had a nice picture and a short article about our local Catholic school students receiving ashes.  Kudos to the paper for its highlight!

But, as I was reading the article, which overall referred to Christians in general celebrating the first day of Lent, there were a couple of things I noticed.

After identifying our Catholic high school students and speaking about the Mass and naming the priest, the reporter described the Mass as an “hourlong service, filled with prayer and Bible readings.”

Now, granted, column space is limited, but the description was seriously limited. Almost offensive, actually.  Perceptive Catholics know that the Mass is not just a nice service with prayer and bible readings (although it does include those.) 

The Catholic Mass is a sacrament where Christ is made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice.  Although this was surely an innocent, albeit ignorant mistake, descriptions like the one given in the article tend to seep into our culture and contribute to the watering down of our faith.

Catholics who did not take note of this description of the Mass may already be susceptible to this watering down.

The famous author Flannery O’Connor once (bluntly) said, in defense of a comment about the sacred host being a pretty good symbol, “Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.”  You could say the same thing about the Mass.  If the Mass is nothing more than prayer and bible readings . . .

Then, as the article went on, it defined Ash Wednesday for many Christians, as a time when they often begin by “marking a Lenten calendar, praying a Lenten daily devotional, and abstaining from a luxury that they will not partake of until Easter arrives.”

Oh my.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that this secular summary of Lent stays on the surface, but honestly, the last thing we need is for anyone (including Catholics!) to think that lent is about giving up a luxury that we will return to on Easter!

What would be the point to that?

These forty days of penance offered through prayer, fasting and almsgiving are not simply an act of tolerance that we bear so we can turn back to our old ways once Easter has arrived.  They are days of conversion as we grow closer to God and turn away from sin.  They are a deeply spiritual time, not a 40 day pause!

I know, I know, give up candy and gorge yourself on Easter; we’ve all done that, but that really doesn’t have anything to do with the 40 days of Lent.  Easter is a time to celebrate, for sure, and that’s why people tend to return to their previous ways, but if we are turning away from sin, we should think deeply about what we are doing and why.

So while I am ranting about this stuff that you might think is trivial, in the same paper on the same day, Morgan Freeman (the actor) was highlighted for his series The Story of God.  Admittedly, I might have caught part of one of the episodes, once, but the quote attributed to him really got me tied in a knot.

It said, quoting him, “Whatever I believe, I believe. Whatever you believe, I cannot say you’re wrong in it.  You cannot say I’m wrong in my belief.  My belief is my belief.  Your belief is your belief.  We’re all entitled to it and we’re all correct.”

Now re-read that quote and tell me what is wrong with it.

Heaven help us.  If you were nodding in agreement with him, because what he supposedly said sounded reasonable, I dare say you are a victim of the culture through which you have received a faulty education, and you are definitely not alone.

We want to accept what he said as truthful, because we know that the ingredients of our personal belief system may differ from those of our neighbors, so it seems logical.  Where he really falls off the rails is the very last sentence.

He draws an impossible conclusion:  “we’re all correct.”

We cannot all be correct.  Shouldn’t our belief system be based on an absolute truth? Why would I believe it otherwise?

And if my belief is based on an absolute truth, how can there be multiple absolute truths?

Let’s look at this as an example:

I believe abortion kills.
You believe it does not.

We simply cannot both be right about what the act of abortion does.  No matter what we believe independently, it does not change the fact of what the act of abortion does.  We simply cannot all be correct.

Because Freeman has traveled the world and talked to lots of people from different religions, he has drawn his conclusion.  I agree with respecting how other people think, but concluding that “we’re all correct” is erroneous because it is an impossibility.

He is quoted again in the article, saying “I don’t judge because nobody is wrong.  That one word covers it all:  faith.”

We should respect each other.  We should listen and dialogue with each other.  Respect, listening and dialoguing helps us, hopefully, be free of personal attacks and judgments.

But to conclude that everybody’s right cannot be correct.  It is simply illogical.

Janet Cassidy
Janetcassidy.com