– a reflection by Rev. Michael S. Murray, OSFS

In a perfect world, we would always be mindful of the presence of the God who created us, who redeemed us and who inspires us. In a perfect world, we would always recognize – and always manage to seize – the countless opportunities God presents to us to do what is right, to do what is good, to do what is creative, to do what is for-giving, and to do what is loving. In a perfect world, we would always be energetic and enthusiastic about living each day, each hour, and each moment as a gift from God. In a perfect world, nothing would ever distract from the things in life that really matter.

Our world, of course, is anything but perfect. We, for that matter, are anything but perfect.

Sometimes we forget the presence of God. Sometimes we miss the chances God gives us to do what is right, and good, and loving. Sometimes we take the gift of life – and each moment of it – for granted. Sometimes we are con-sumed by trivial, even petty, concerns. Sometimes, we just don’t have the energy. Some days, we seem to lose heart.

Prayer reminds us of God’s enduring presence. Prayer helps us to see the countless occasions we have each day to grow in virtue and to turn away from sin. Prayer enables us to gratefully embrace the gift of each new day as it comes. Prayer is what keeps us connected to God; prayer is what keeps us connected to the divine in our-selves; prayer is what keeps us connected to the divine in one another.

Prayer is less about something we do and more about an attitude – and vision – that we develop and deepen.

Francis De Sales described prayer thus: “The essence of prayer is not to be found in always being on our knees but in keeping our wills clearly united to God’s will in all events.” In another place, he observed: “Prayer is the holy water that makes the plants of our good desires grow green and flourish; it cleanses our souls of their imperfections; it quenches the thirst of passion in our hearts.”
Prayer gives us the humility to acknowledge where we’ve been; prayer gives us the gentleness to accept where we are; prayer gives us the courage to consider where we need to go.

In the midst of our very busy, frequently demanding, sometimes frustrating and occasionally overwhelming lives, prayer helps us to stay connected with the people and things in life that really matter. When we “…give our hearts to God a thousand times a day”, we know how to be truly happy, healthy and holy.

Prayer gives us the presence of mind…to be people of heart.

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Generally, when people speak of those who have burned their bridges behind them, it is not a good thing.  It means they have angered, hurt or insulted someone to such a degree that there is no going back in the relationship.  You cannot retreat to a time before the damage was done – the road is gone.  There is a proverbial wisdom that emerges in the business world from either being a part of those experiences, or watching them in other people’s lives.  “Don’t burn your bridges behind you” because the boss you hate and the enemy you create by not leaving well will almost assuredly be transferred to the same company you are leaving for.  Why leave an enemy behind when we can leave a friend there instead.  Don’t needlessly burn the bridges behind you!  Leave an escape route.  It is good business advice. 

But, it is terrible advice for discipleship.  Ask Jesus in today’s gospel.  Or ask Elisha.  He’s a farm boy, working in the fields.  THE great prophet of his day, Elijah, walks by.  That had to be slack-jaw amazing for him in and of itself.  And then the prophet stops in front of HIM – puts his mantle on him – a symbolic action that Elisha would have been certain to know.  “He means for me to replace him!”  He’s torn.  He feels the awesome opportunity being presented to him.  But he knows what it will cost him – nothing will be the same for him or his family.  “Let me go back and prepare my family for this change.”  And in a wonderfully freeing moment, Elijah says – “Have I done anything to you?  As if to say: “You have the freedom to say no!”

At that moment – something changes in Elisha.  He realizes that if he embarks on the journey as he wants to do, he will be SOO tempted to keep going back to ‘how it used to be” if times get rough.  So he burns, not just the symbolic bridge behind him, but his very LIVELIHOOD.  The yoke of his trade becomes the firewood for the stove.  The oxen that pulled the yoke are slaughtered and given to his people to eat.  NOW there is NO going back!  In this regard, he gets it right. There are times when we HAVE to burn the bridge behind us.

When things get difficult, we want an escape route – a way to go back to how it used to be, to the imagined ‘good ole days’.  However, that is not how love works.  It’s “all in,” or it is nothing.  And that is also how discipleship works.  Elisha knew he’d have to find a way to stay in his commitment when it would be tempting to bail out – so he burns his bridges behind him.

That showed up in my own life around my ordination decision.  After much wrestling (read a year and half of constant praying, asking, discerning) I finally made the choice.  I told ONLY my spiritual director.  I knew I had to let my family know.  I knew they would be fine with it, but I couldn’t do it (for about 4 days).  Because once I told them, there was no going back.  Once the word was public in my family, I knew I WOULD not go back even though I could go back.

That is what Jesus describes in those kinds of moments of grace: “No one who puts their hand to the plow but looks back to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Like Elisha, Jesus knew the temptation within us to look back at the paths we could have taken, the roads we didn’t choose, and somehow wonder if we missed a turn. Or wonder wistfully how life might have turned out.  In preparing his apostles, Jesus wants them (and us) to know the grace that comes when we burn bridges.  I summarize it in this statement:

 “If you keep looking back in doubt, you will never trust enough to look forward in hope.”

At our last Priest convocation, the priest who was leading us on a mini day of recollection shared his experience of that.  “During tough times,” he said, “I discovered myself going back to my ‘dating days’ and would kind of escape to my memory of the intimacies I knew and the romanticism of the relationships I was a part of.   Suddenly I realized I was living exactly what Jesus warned his disciples about.  I had one hand on the plow of the priest, but the rest of me kept looking back.  And I knew I had to bring those memories to the confessional, there to leave them behind forever.”  It was time to burn THOSE bridges behind me.

Do you know the grace of burning bridges behind you?  Not the callous mistreating of friends or the calculated hateful words directed toward those who we think mistreated us, but the freedom that comes when you set your hands definitively to the walk of discipleship?  If so, then let your communion at this altar this morning simply deepen your love for your Lord.  If not, then what do you need to ‘set fire to’, what memory gets in the way, what habit keeps you safe from the commitment of belief, what bridge does the Lord stand on the other side of, beckoning, inviting, waiting for you to cross and burn so that you will know his freedom and his love?

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June 30, 2013

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June 23, 2013

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 Here are two sets of words that describe people. First, these words: 

Carpenter, Teacher, Administrative Assistant , Mechanic.  These words give us some knowledge of a person.  They speak of what the person does.  They are factual words.  Here is the second set of words: Mom, Grandpa, Son, Best Friend.  These words also speak to who a person is.  But these words are relational.

Even though both sets of words describe people, there is a big difference. The first set tells us what a certain person does. A person who is a teacher helps instruct and form students. A person who is an auto mechanic repairs cars, etc.  The second set tells us how a particular person is related to us. The first set of words touches the mind. They are factual words. The second set of words touches the heart. I have a bond with my Mom or Grandpa or best friend that is so much more than what they do.  They are on some level a part of me, with a history and commitment    

Today Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?”  I think Jesus cared very much about his disciples’ answer to his question.  And I believe he wanted to them to respond with those second type of words – the ones that speak of the level of the heart and the level of relationship.  “I don’t need to know that I am your teacher or your rabbi or your guru or even some historical figure of old.  I need to know that I matter to you on the level of the heart.”

That is the question he has for you and me today.  Jesus asks us, “Who do YOU say that I am?”  Notice that the question is NOT:  What did your third grade teacher say; your priest; what grandma believes, what you read in a book … etc.  “But you, who do YOU say that I am?”  Jesus is not looking for the factual answer:  Jesus wants the relational answer.  Who am I in YOUR life?  Who am I to you?

It is a tough question to answer, isn’t it?  If you are a teenager, young adult, middle-aged or retired, I hope he is not still to you who he was when you were in second grade. 

The first step is to name who he really is now. Not who do you wish he would be, but really, who is he these days in your life?

·   He’s that person you feel guilty about when you don’t go to Mass.

·   Maybe we relate to him like someone we have friended on Facebook:  Oh,  look, here’s a nice quote from Jesus for my wall

·   Perhaps he is that guy to whom, in a panic, we turn to to fix things…

Who is he at this time in your life?

When I spent some time with this question, I realized that there were times in my life when I would have answered:

            Friend – someone to whom I could share the stuff of my heart

            Hero – I am always inspired by his example and goodness

Challenge – in times when I knew I was falling short of who Iwanted to be and knew I should be.

But the question of Jesus today is not “Who DID you say that I was?” But, NOW.  Who do you say that I am now?  It is an important question to be answered again.  For me, while all those other things – hero, friend, challenge, are still a part of who Jesus is for me, there is something more emerging.  It doesn’t quite fit a one word description, but it comes down to this: Jesus is the disturber of my “wanting to settle”.  It is easy to kind of settle into life as we know it.  It’s the only disadvantage to being here for 13 years – I know the routines.  I know what is expected of me and what I expect of myself.  Jesus says to me: “I’m not done with you.  Don’t settle for the good.  There is so much more I want for you on this journey of life.  Will you follow?” 

And you?  Who do you say he is?  I hope he is somebody to you.  My biggest fear is that he’s nobody to you, or just very little.  But I can’t answer this for you.  Today Jesus stands before us again with that same question,  I believe that Jesus cares very much about our answer, and waits for our response.   “And you – who do you say that I am?”

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Why We Need a Health Care Conscience Rights Act:

The right of religious liberty, the First Freedom guaranteed by our Constitution, includes a right to provide and receive health care without being required to violate our most fundamental beliefs. Especially since 1973, when abortion became legal nationwide, federal lawmakers have worked in a bipartisan way to ensure that Americans can fully participate in our health care system without being forced to take part in abortion or other procedures that violate their conscience. But the need to improve current laws is clear, because the right of conscience is under attack.

Under the new health care reform law, the federal government is demanding that almost all health plans fully cover female sterilization and a wide range of drugs and devices to prevent pregnancy, including those that can cause an early abortion. Even individuals and organizations with a religious objection to abortion, sterilization or other procedures are forced to take part.

Dedicated health care professionals, especially nurses, still face pressure to assist in abortions under threat of losing their jobs or their eligibility for training programs. In some states, government officials are seeking to force even Catholic hospitals to allow abortions or provide abortion coverage in order to continue or expand their ministry.

This is why Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) and over a hundred other members of Congress of both parties are sponsoring the Health Care Conscience Rights Act (H.R. 940).The Act would improve federal law in three ways:

1. Correcting loopholes and other deficiencies in the major federal law preventing governmental discrimination against health care providers that do not help provide or pay for abortions.

2. Inserting a conscience clause into the health care re-form law, so its mandates for particular “benefits” in private health plans will not be used to force insurers, employers and individuals to violate their consciences or give up their health insurance.

3. Add a “private right of action” to existing federal con-science laws, so those whose consciences are being violated can go to court to defend their rights.(Current enforcement is chiefly at the discretion of the Department of Health and Human Services, which is itself sponsoring some attacks on conscience rights.)

All House and Senate members should be urged to support and co-sponsor the Health Care Conscience Rights Act, so our First Freedom can regain its proper place as a fundamental right protected in our health care system. For more details, see: www.usccb.org/conscience

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Of Marriage and Fortnights for Freedom..

In response to the USCCB’s Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty, several talks on marriage will be presented throughout the Archdiocese. Dr. Ed Hogan, Director of Paul VI Institute and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, will be the speaker. All are invited to this FREE event.

The remaining events are being held:
Monday, June 17
St. Francis Borgia High School
1000 Borgia Dr., Washington, 63090

Tuesday, June 18
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Church
4900 Ringer Rd., St. Louis, 63129

Thursday, June 20
Sacred Heart Church
751 N Jefferson St., Florissant, 63031

Date TBA
Cathedral Basilica at Boland Hall
4431 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, 63108

In this Year of Faith, the Catholic Bishops of the United States have called for a nationwide effort to advance a movement for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty through prayer, penance, and sacrifice. Catholics across the nation are being encouraged to pray for rebuilding a culture favorable to life and marriage and for increased protections of religious liberty. This call to prayer is prompted by unprecedented challenges to the Church and the nation, particularly the HHS Mandate and current trends in government and culture toward redefining marriage.

The goal of this call to prayer is twofold: (1) to in-crease awareness of these challenges and (2) to build spiritual stamina and fortitude among the faithful so that we can be effective and joyful witnesses of faith, hope, and charity and agents of the New Evangelization. (From the USCCB)

To that end, the second “Fortnight for Freedom” begins on June 21st, the vigil of the Feast of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, and runs through Independence Day on July 4th. Archbishop Carlson will celebrate a Fortnight for Freedom Mass on July 3, at Noon at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. All of the faithful are invited to attend and pray for the foundation of these three key issues: Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty. Go to http://archstl.org/call-to-prayer to find out more.

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June 16, 2013

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“Life is difficult.” That is the opening sentence of Scott Peck’s classic book The Road Less Traveled. Though I would agree more fully with his statement if he had said “Life is sometimes difficult”, he makes a point. Life has its moments that are difficult. And often what makes life difficult is our experience of pain. Pain comes in different forms, doesn’t it? I can deal with physical pain. Most of the time, a few ibuprophens are enough to do the trick. (I had this issue with my neck that took a lot more than that!) Forgiveness of the mistakes of others is another kind of pain, but grace of an easy disposition has allowed me to experience the healing salve of forgiveness as the way to work through those. Life is too short to worry about many things. But, what do you do when the pain of failure hits you square in the eyes? That is the most difficult pain for me to face.

In today’s gospel, we hear three possible responses to the pain of failure – the woman who was a known sinner, and the scribe who was the host of the party, and finally, the response of our savior to both of those choices.

The woman’s response to her failure was to acknowledge it – to face it in its full depth. And whether it is the thought of “How did I ever grow up to be THIS?” or the pain of realizing how far she had fallen, when she hears that Jesus will be at a banquet, she springs into action. So she just shows up at the party, which in itself is not too out of the ordinary. In the cultural world of Jesus, banquets were village affairs. The invited guests would be seated at table, and whoever wanted to show up and watch the affair could stand around the edge of the courtyard. The people at table could initiate conversation with the onlookers, but not so much the other direction. So when this woman breaks the social custom by approaching Jesus and entering that inner circle, she has made a ‘statement’ about her willingness to face her failure. There was no hiding from the pain here – by entering the inner circle, she knew that people would talk about HER. She does not let shame, embarrassment, or her fear of being judged anew stop her. Rather, she listens only to her desire to be free and to move past the failure. And she listened to that part of her gut that knew to whom she had to go. That is what led her to weep at the feet of Jesus.

The Pharisee – whose perfectly planned meal and dinner with Jesus was so rudely interrupted by the spectacle of the woman, weeping and kissing the feet of Jesus (think of a person from the street coming into the last wedding reception you were a part of, and doing that to the bride and groom and you’d get a bit of the discomfiture of the situation) had another way to deal with the pain of failure. He chooses not to SEE his own failures and shortcoming. As long as there is someone worse than he (the woman) he can ignore his own sinful choices and his own failure. And even when Jesus tells the rather pointed story, he still does not see HIMSELF as a debtor. Nor does he see Jesus as the one who is willing and able to forgive sins. Unless Simon can see himself as “the sinful man” and acknowledge his debt, he cannot be forgiven. Unless he identifies Jesus as the one who can forgive his debt, he cannot turn to him in love and repent.

Finally, there is the response of Jesus to both parties. He didn’t run from the woman’s sins and tears and sorrow as awkward as that might have been. Nor did he hide from the hardened hearts of Simon and those who were judging her in their hearts. Rather, in both cases, he offered the divine mercy, the forgiveness of the debt, and the chance to begin anew. That stance of Jesus toward all who approach him, should give us great confidence in our own failures – that we can approach the throne of mercy and love.

So here is my summer challenge for you all. Go to confession at least once this summer. Make an examination of your stance toward your own failures and sins. And whether you weep over your failures as did the woman, or ignore them or project them outward as did the Pharisee – let this summer be an opportunity to make use of God’s remedy for our failures – the sacrament of reconciliation.

Great sinner or small sinner? Great debt or small debt? In one sense, it does not matter. You see, God is neither put off by our tears nor discouraged by our hardness of heart around our sins. His one desire is that we be free to love. And he knows the power that happens when we are forgiven – those who have been forgiven much love much. Allow our Lord to unleash that power within you…

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June 16, 2013

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