Certain memories remain vivid as years go by. One that stands out clearly in my mind is a memory of my wife sitting in a gold chair in the living room of our first house. It was the middle of the night and she was nursing our newborn daughter. They had not heard me, and I stood in the doorway watching them, moonlight spilling onto them from a window behind them. At church that morning we had sung the words of Jesus, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Remain in me and you shall be fruitful.” I thought of that image of the vine and the branches, and what a revolutionary image of God it evoked. I thought of how the source of life itself flowed from the ground through the vine and out to where the branches would bear good fruit. Jesus must have been constantly trying to discover new ways to describe his relationship with God and with us. Last week it was the good shepherd. This week is the vine and the branches. Next week he declares his deep friendship for those who seek to follow him. One trait stands out in all his descriptions—his obvious yearning to be close to us. Parents and family members can understand that yearning, that desire for connection and sharing life. Look around your house. See the signs of closeness to those you most love. Know that God loves you in that very same way.
Authors Tom McGrathRestricted
One of the things we stand to lose in a society dedicated to rugged individualism is a sense of our connectedness. No person may be an island, but many of us live as if we are. A recent statistic notes that nearly one-third of all Americans live in a household of one. Only in America would this be possible, and surely only here would this be seen in any way advantageous. Those of us who don’t live alone most likely reside in a clearly defined family unit. The idea of who “belongs” to us is hardly a fluid or flexible identity under these terms. In fact, as we age in this society, the sense of belonging tends to collapse ever more narrowly. Even the most connected person may well be alone before the end. A high-walled idea of who belongs affects not only the nature of family but also our sense of neighborhood, community, and country. As the survivalist instinct peels us off in discreet and defensive units, social programs crumble and the notion of the “common good” is met with public derision. Individualists resist the suggestion that we are in any way responsible for one another as a result of our common humanity. This is one underlying reason why “respect for life” is such a hard sell. How can we drum up a warm identification with preborn children, incarcerated criminals, or the infirm languishing in institutions when we don’t feel a sense of connection to the people who live and work and share the space around us? How much less can we feel any responsibility for the stranger, the foreigner, the fate of peoples on the far side of the globe? Modern people may have developed a global consciousness—but our hearts are smaller than ever. Moses and nation-building It has been argued that, before the time of Moses, there was no such thing as Israel. Yes, Abraham had fathered the nation and his grandson Jacob gave it a name. But the people who went down into Egypt were not the same ones who came out of it years later. The circumstance of slavery had robbed them of a sense of selfhood. Worse, they had lost the thread of the story that had made them unique. They had once been the people loyal to Abraham’s God. But they had since become a people who pledged their allegiance to the fleshpots of their masters in Egypt. Such a people would find it hard to place their confidence in a leader with no land, army, or wealth to show them. And they would find it even more difficult to believe in themselves. So Moses wisely began the task of nation-building by forming the people first of all into a community with a common story. This was not simply a story about long-ago ancestors like Abraham the “wandering Aramean” or Jacob and his progeny who went down into Egypt during a time of famine. Moses taught the people to tell the story in a kind of perpetual present-tense. This story was their story, and it had happened to them personally. The Jewish community still tells the stories of Passover in this direct and immediate way. People who have struggled and suffered learn how a shared story binds one generation to another more strongly than material possessions. As the rabbis say: “It’s not so much that Jews have kept the Sabbath, as that the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” Our Lenten story The stories of scripture are meant to have this sense of immediacy about them for those who claim them. Do we think about salvation history as our history and biblical folk as our kin? Some of us might find it a strange idea that you and I are “biblical people” ourselves and that the journey God’s people have taken so far is the same journey we are embarked upon in faith. If the Bible has become a dead word to us, it’s because we have relegated these stories to ancient times and foreign lands. If the body of Christ is something we view as crucified, dead, and buried behind a stone 2,000 years ago, it is no wonder we do not perceive Christ alive today in the world—not to mention, in ourselves. God’s living word, Saint Paul tells us, has an immediacy about it that compels us. We can profess it and we can contain it—but only when we do both will its dynamic life be realized. It is the nature of a word to be spoken; and it is the nature of a divine word to be enfleshed and enacted. We see the use and misuse of God’s word in the temptation story according to Luke. Jesus and the devil trade scripture verses, but only Jesus embodies what he says. The devil speaks the words but neither believes nor commits to them. Jesus, however, is the Word he speaks, and there is no cleft between the divine story and his. If even the devil can mouth scripture for his own purposes, what power do these stories contain? Without our owning and incarnating them as our story, none at all. But when we embrace and enflesh them, they can unleash the power through which the worlds were made. Applying the word A Lenten invitation New Year’s resolutions get stale in a week or two, but for many Catholics, Lent is the new year of the soul and a chance to conscientiously amend our lives. One way we can approach this season is with a renewed commitment to listening to the word of God as a fresh and living word being spoken today for our benefit. We can dedicate ourselves to closing the cleft between “that old story” and the one we are living each moment so intimately. It is the devil’s work, we might say, to tempt us to regard God’s word as a dead word, a mere pawn in the game of religion, a pious platitude to be mouthed for the benefit of children. But if we begin to hear God’s word in the present tense, we may come to know why bread alone cannot give us life. Related scripture links God’s take on going it alone: Gen. 2:18 The interdependence of Christian community: 1 Cor. 12:12-26; Phil. 2:3-4 Belonging to God in Christ: John 17:6-26 The power of the divine word: John 1:1, 14, 15:7; Heb. 4:12-13Authors Alice CamilleRestricted
My sister is discussing the significance of offering the sign of peace at Mass with the students in her catechism class. “Many times you are extending peace to people you know—friends and family. But often you are offering the gesture to a perfect stranger. That is a very powerful thing to do.” Then she told this story: "I went to Mass at a downtown church one Saturday night. At the appropriate time, I turned around and gave the sign of peace to the couple behind me. A week later I was riding on a bus in another part of town when the same couple got on and sat next to me. I recognized them, but at first I didn’t say anything. Then I thought, why not? I tapped the man on the shoulder and introduced myself by saying, ‘You probably don’t remember me, but I gave you peace last week.’ The couple looked surprised at first, but then a vague recognition crossed their faces. We formally introduced ourselves and talked for about 20 minutes until my stop. "It was such a pleasant experience; I felt a deep sense of connection with the couple and an overwhelming feeling of hope that we all can get along. Peace is a wonderful gift to give and receive." To those who know her well, my sister is the salt of the earth. To those who don’t, she is nothing less.Authors Patrice J. TuohyRestricted