Archive | July, 2017

Saint Martha

July 28, 2017

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Saint Martha

July 29 is the memorial of St. Martha, a dear friend and devout disciple of Jesus. Martha’s story is told in three places: Lk 10:38-42, when Martha served while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus to listen to him; Jn 11:1-44, the raising of Lazarus; and Jn 12:2, the anointing at Bethany.

Little is known about Martha’s family. The gospel gives no information about her parents, whether she was married, if she had children, or if she had more than two siblings. She did have a sister Mary and a brother Lazarus.

Martha lived in Bethany, a village on the east side of the Mount of Olives not far from Jerusalem. When Jesus visited there he stayed at Martha’s home. It may have been the regular place where he stayed, and it likely served as his home away from home.

Jesus had a special love for Martha (Jn 11:5), and she had a special devotion to him. When Jesus arrived at her village, “Martha welcomed him” (Lk 10:38). She was exceptionally cordial. She warmly and eagerly brought him into her house and was delighted to have him as her guest. She dropped whatever she had been doing and focused all of her attention on serving him. She went to the kitchen to prepare a meal, and her work was a labor of love.

Martha’s hospitality is heartwarming, a sincere and authentic act of kindness, and it serves as a stark contrast to the cold reception that Jesus received from so many others. When Jesus came into the world, “his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:11b), but to those who do accept Jesus, as Mary did, Jesus gives the “power to become children of God” (Jn 1:12). Martha clearly was a child of God, and her faith and inner goodness serves as a beautiful example. As Martha welcomed Jesus, so should we. Martha’s hospitality is an inspiration for us to welcome Jesus into our homes, minds, and hearts, and to devote ourselves completely to him.

Martha, the cook, dedicated herself to service (Lk 10:40), and in doing so she modeled herself on her Master who said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Mt 20:28). Jesus also explained that on Judgment Day he would have special criteria for those who will be given a place on his right, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink” (Mt 25:35). For those who serve as Martha did, the king says, “Inherit the kingdom” (Mt 25:34). For Martha and all disciples, service and sharing is the path to eternal life.

When Lazarus was ill, Martha sent word to Jesus, “Master, the one you love is ill” (Jn 11:3). Martha interceded with Jesus on her brother’s behalf and by doing so, Martha shows us that it is commendable for us to pray to Jesus for the welfare of others.

John wrote his gospel to lead people to believe in Jesus (Jn 20:31), and throughout his gospel a number of individuals profess their faith. It begins with Andrew (Jn 1:41); continues with the woman at the well (Jn 4:19,29,42), Peter (Jn 6:69), and the blind man (Jn 9:17,38); and concludes with Thomas (Jn 20:28). But of all these, Martha’s statement stands out as the boldest, strongest, and most complete. She began by professing her faith in the resurrection (Jn 11:24), and then she declared to Jesus, “I … believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world” (Jn 11:27). Martha’s courage and the depth of her faith stand as an ideal and an encouragement for all believers.

St. Martha is the patron saint of cooks and dieticians, restaurants and hotels, waiters and waitresses, homemakers and housekeepers.

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St. Sharbel Makhlouf, Priest

July 21, 2017

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St. Sharbel Makhlouf

St. Sharbel Makhlouf (1828-1898) was born in a small, remote mountain village in northern Lebanon in 1828, and he was baptized in the Maronite Rite, the rite of the Catholic Church based in Lebanon.  Young Sharbel had two uncles that were monks in the Maronite Rite and, inspired by them, he also became a monk.  Later, in 1859 at the age of 31, he was ordained a priest.

For the next fifteen years, from his ordination in 1859 until 1874, Father Sharbel lived in a monastery with other monks.  Then he moved to a hermitage near the monastery where he spent his last twenty-three years as a hermit.

Father Sharbel’s day revolved around daily Mass.  He took great care in his preparation for Mass, particularly with his extended reflection and meditation on Sacred Scripture.  He celebrated the Mass with deep reverence and respect.  Then, after Mass, he offered prayers of thanks and praise for the graces and blessings received.

In addition to his deep devotion to the Eucharist, Father Sharbel had a great love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, and when he is depicted in religious art, he is often shown with an image of Mary near him with the Blessed Mother holding the Christ child in her arms.

In isolation as a hermit, Father Sharbel had to fend off waves of temptations, particularly the attraction of a more comfortable lifestyle with better food, clothes, and furnishings, as well as the constant inclination to put one’s personal desires and preferences first.  With prayer and determination, he resisted worldly desires and adhered to a life of simplicity and material detachment.  Because of his personal holiness, others were drawn to him, which enabled him to give powerful witness to the value of the Eucharist, prayer, Scripture, Marian devotion, poverty, humility, perseverance, service, and submission to God’s will.  Visitors asked Father Sharbel to intercede on their behalf, and a number of remarkable miracles are attributed to him.

Father Sharbel died in 1898, and he was buried in a tomb at the monastery of St. Maron in Annaya, Lebanon.  Because he is so deeply revered by Maronite Catholics, the monastery quickly became a pilgrimage destination.

Pope Paul VI both beatified and canonized Father Sharbel.  His beatification was on December 5, 1965, during the Second Vatican Council, and his canonization was in 1977.  The Maronite Community has named St. Sharbel the Hermit of Lebanon, and Christians everywhere pray through his intercession to make spiritual headway in singular devotion to God.

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The Sower: Perseverance in the face of disappointment

July 14, 2017

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Parable of the Sower

Often when we hear the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:1-9), the point of emphasis is the disciple as rich soil.  The metaphor is that the sower is Jesus, the seed is the Word of God, and the soil is the person who receives the Word.  The desired outcome is for the listener to be rich and fertile soil, cultivated, soft and receptive, eager to welcome the seed, to let it take root, permeate one’s life, grow and flourish, and produce astonishing results.

Another angle for reflection is the disciple – not as soil – but as the sower.

Jesus is the first sower, and we are supposed to imitate the Sower.  As Jesus scattered seeds, as he preached the gospel to others, we as his disciples are also supposed to be sowers, to share the gospel with our children, students, and others.

There is a notion that Jesus, because he is the Son of God and all-powerful, was incredibly successful as a sower.  But he was not, at least in every instance.  Sometimes Jesus was able to achieve wonderful results, yields of a hundred or sixty, or thirtyfold (Mt 13:8), but there were many occasions when his results were downright disheartening.

Jesus had tremendous challenges as a sower.  One group of potential listeners was totally resistant, hard and rocky, dismissed him, refused to listen, and completely ignored him.  It must have been very depressing to Jesus.  Another group at least paid attention to Jesus’ preaching.  While they had a bit of initial fervor and enthusiasm, they were not very motivated, and when it came time to implement the Word that Jesus had spoken, they had so little determination and commitment that they fell by the wayside.  Again, this must have been very discouraging.  There was yet another group that listened carefully to Jesus.  They liked Jesus, were intrigued by his gospel, and were ready to give it a try.  But when those in the third group encountered obstacles, either their own inclinations to wrongdoing, or the evil forces of the outside world, or the antagonism of others, they gave up and quit.  It must have been a very bitter pill for Jesus to swallow. It was only with the fourth group that Jesus had success.  Jesus was successful twenty-five percent of the time which is a surprisingly low average.

What did Jesus do in the face of such disappointment?  Did he get angry?  Did he become bitter?  Did he pout?  Did he quit?  No.  Jesus refused to give up.  He had amazing resiliency.  He persevered.  With an indomitable spirit, Jesus went on to other towns and to other people to proclaim the Good News (see Lk 4:43; 8:1).

Every Christian is a sower, parents and grandparents, teachers and catechists, neighbors and priests, and we scatter the seed of God’s holy Word to our children and grandchildren, students, friends, and parishioners.  If Jesus had many disappointments, we should anticipate similar results.  When we share our faith, there will be occasions when it seems no one is watching or listening, and other times when it seems like we are having a positive impact at the beginning, but with little lasting effect.  Hopefully some of our “scattering” will have tremendous results.  When we are unsuccessful, which may happen more often than not, like Jesus we must keep scattering and never lose heart because of discouraging results.  We must be resilient and persevere.  The seed is such a treasure that it must be sown.

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My yoke is easy, my burden light

July 7, 2017

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JesusCarpenterShopGet serious, Jesus!  You say that your burden is light (Mt 11:30).  Hardly!  There are many times that I feel crushed by the burdens of life.  I have so many responsibilities.  There are so many jobs to do.  The days are so long.  I have to work so hard.  The demands are so constant.  There are so few breaks.  You say the burden is light.  I probably should not disagree with the Son of God, but I say that the burdens are huge, sometimes oppressive, and more than I can manage.

The yoke is a symbol for the burden.  A yoke is a wooden frame or harness attached to the shoulders of a pair of oxen to pull a plow or cart.  The yoke enables the oxen to pull much weight and do much work.  For a Christian, the yoke can symbolize the gospel, which the believer chooses to harness to their shoulders, with all of its duties and obligations, or it can symbolize one’s God-given vocation in life, with its endless tasks and responsibilities.

The yoke is far from easy.  It is a burden to live the gospel, such as to speak and insist on the truth in the midst of distortion and dishonesty, and then to bear the burden of the consequences.  It is a burden to accept the vocation as a parent with the endless jobs that follow:  getting up at night, feeding the baby, changing diapers, giving baths, doctor appointments, and everything else that goes with being a mother or father.

How is it, then, that the yoke could be easy?  Jesus and Joseph worked in a carpenter’s shop in Nazareth (see Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3).  Carpenters are woodworkers, and much of their craft is to make items for the home:  tables and chairs, door and window frames, and doors.  Nazareth is surrounded by farmland, and farmers went to the carpenter’s shop to get yokes for their oxen.  Jesus would have made many yokes over his long career in the carpenter’s shop.

Oxen come in different sizes and shapes, particularly the bone and muscle structure of the shoulders.  If the yoke does not fit properly, it hurts to pull and the oxen refuse to work.  Therefore, each yoke has to be tailor-made, individually form-fitted.  Jesus was an expert both at measuring the oxen and customizing yokes that fit just right.  When the yoke fits properly, the oxen will pull and do an enormous amount of work.

When it comes to a person’s calling or vocation in life, a person’s “yoke,” each one is individually tailor-made by God.  One is called to be a parent.  Another is called to be a school teacher, a nurse, a technician, or a cook.  Every calling is burdensome, but because the yoke is form-fitted to the individual by God, and when a person accepts their vocation, the person gains a sense of purpose and determination, which makes the burden lighter.  God supplies the energy to carry the load, and renews the energy day by day, all which makes a heavy burden lighter.

The main factor affecting the weightiness of the burden is love.  If a parent loves their infant child, the burden of getting up at night, feeding the baby, or changing the diaper instantly becomes light.  Similarly, when teachers love their students, health care professionals love their patients, and workers love their customers, their workload becomes light, not because the job is easy, but because the burden is carried willingly and joyfully.  When love of God and neighbor is the driving force, what would otherwise be a burden is light.

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