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The Transfiguration – Our Contact with the Person of God

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The Second Sunday of Lent gospel causes you and me to focus on a powerful epiphany of the true nature of Jesus: he is true man and true God.  The Transfiguration is attractive to those of us who are actively ministering in our parish communities because of the presence of Peter, James and John.  Just as Jesus called these three apostles to participate in His ministry, he has called each of us to participate in His ministry whether it is as a religious education director/coordinator, youth ministry director/coordinator, adult formation team member, catechist or parent.  In what ways do you and I allow Jesus to take us up the mountain for a mystical encounter with Him; to see His glory and to hear His Father’s voice?  If it has been awhile, perhaps Lent 2015 is the time?

When I first started moving from a volunteer form of lay ministry into a more formal and professional form of ministry, I encountered a prophet who reminded me that God is more interested in me and my growth in holiness than He is in my ministry (thanks to John Roberto.)  What?  Initially I rebelled against this idea because it seemed to contradict the entire reason for me being professionally formed into lay ministry.  However, over the years, this insight has rooted me first as a disciple and second as a professional lay ecclesial minister.  When I start thinking about “my ministry” and “my pastoral challenges” and “how well I did in this workshop or retreat” I realize that I need to let Jesus take me up the mountain and have a Transfiguration moment.  I lost perspective and that is so easy for any of us because we have a passion for our faith and passing it onto others.

The transfiguration allows each of us a brief glimpse of God’s glory before we must return to the pathway towards Calvary.  As a disciple of Christ you and I are also on this same path.  We can’t stay on the mountain no matter how much we desire it.  Peter is an image of us.  He wants to build tents to anchor this experience as the rule and not the exception.  When we have a Transfiguration experience we too want it to last.  But this brief encounter with God’s glory is the same for you and me as it was with Peter, James and John.  With that said though, it doesn’t mean we don’t plan these mystical encounters routinely into our lives.  In fact, one negative way in which our ministry moves from Jesus centered to self centered is when we abandon a daily commitment to encountering Christ because we are too busy directing all the facets of “our” program.

How do you and I stay rooted:

  • commit to daily prayer
  • commit to Eucharistic devotion (Mass, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament)
  • commit to participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • commit to taking a 3 minute break with Jesus when stress levels increase
  • commit to annually making a retreat whether it is in your parish, diocese or at a retreat center.

Below is one of my favorite hymns about the Transfiguration.  It is from Bob Hurd and Anawim.  Many blessings to you as we continue this Lenten journey together.

Second Sunday in Lent Reflection by John Gaffney, Diocesan Director of Evangelization and Catechesis.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Lent

 

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What is Driving You and Me into the desert for Forty Days

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Lent has begun and the gospel this week reminds us that the journey we set out on last Wednesday, is one that Jesus himself experienced.  Of course he wasn’t just giving up sweets, a fancy coffee drink or soda pop, or even time watching TV or playing video games.  Jesus was entering the desert to combat Satan as he wrestled with his own temptations.  What are the temptations you and I need to wrestle with this Lent?

Are we living a bit too comfortably?  Living in a culture such as ours that honors and adores materialism and individualism you and I need to consider what we are doing to feed our heart so that we see the pain and struggle of our sisters and brothers as our pain and struggle too.  What can we give of our time and treasure in a small way to honor those we encounter who are struggling and less fortunate than we are?  CRS Rice Bowl or Project H20 is a great start, giving up a creature comfort and giving the money that would have been spent on it to help others, but what about your coworkers, your classmates, those homeless you encounter on the streets or pass by in your car, the women and men who protect our communities, or those who have dedicated their lives to living simply and serving others?  What can we do for them from our comfort?

Are our actions motivated by fame and fortune?  Even those who dedicate their lives to helping others can fall into the trap of seeking approval from the ones we are serving.  It is human nature.  We want those we work with to find value in the service or program that is offered.  This is very healthy and good.  However, do you and I take it personally when people choose something other than the program we have designed for them?  Do we help parents become the best leaders of the domestic church that they can be realizing the limitations some have, or do we hold court on who is worthy of God’s mercy?  Do we allow others to fully participate in offering their time, talent and treasure in the programs we administer?

How do we handle the gift of power?  Most people in their lives can immediately point to a leader who has exercised power in ways that have built up the community they are called to lead.  We call these women and men servant leaders.  Sadly we have also experienced those who have used power in ways to build themselves up and to take away from the treasures found in the community they lead.  Am I going to combat these tendencies so that I listen more, love more and extend God’s mercy more?

The desert is a dangerous place because we have to spend time with ourselves.  We have to examine our hearts to really see the people we have become; honestly but not over scrupulously.  Then we need to exercise virtue in our lives: prudence, temperance, justice, courage, faith, hope and charity.  Lent is the Church’s great gift to us to focus on a total renewal of our hearts.  We can’t do it alone.  We need God and we need each other: we also need time to cultivate new habits.  Thank God and the Church for these holy forty days.

“Your ways O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.”  (Psalm 25:10)

1st Sunday in Lent reflection by John Gaffney, Diocesan Director of Evangelization and Catechesis

 
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Posted by on February 23, 2015 in Lent

 

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“If You Wish, You Can Make Me Clean”

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Many of the readings that lead up to beginning of Lent this week on February 18 has to do with healing.  In today’s readings Leviticus and Mark specifically focus on the need for us to recognize that healing is vital for growth in faith.  Paul focuses on the spiritual causes of many diseases by allowing sin to grow in our hearts rather than to focus on being imitators of Christ.

This week Dr. Tom Neal reminded those who participated in the CLADD Retreat that we as lay ecclesial leaders in our parish communities have an equal opportunity with the clergy of falling into institutional sin in our ministry.  As we move into Lent, let us consider the 15 ailments of the Vatican Curia in our own parish setting and pray that we may be imitators of Christ as we root out our failings and pursue God’s mercy.  These ailments were articulated by Pope Francis to the Vatican Curia on the even of Christmas.  The English translation is from the Vatican’s news office.  Please know of our continued prayers for each of you as we enter the holy season of Lent.

  1. The sickness of considering oneself ‘immortal’, ‘immune’ or ‘indispensable’, neglecting the necessary and habitual controls. A Curia that is not self-critical, that does not stay up-to-date, that does not seek to better itself, is an ailing body. … It is the sickness of the rich fool who thinks he will live for all eternity, and of those who transform themselves into masters and believe themselves superior to others, rather than at their service”.
  2. ‘Martha-ism’, or excessive industriousness; the sickness of those who immerse themselves in work, inevitably neglecting ‘the better part’ of sitting at Jesus’ feet. Therefore, Jesus required his disciples to rest a little, as neglecting the necessary rest leads to stress and agitation. Rest, once one who has brought his or her mission to a close, is a necessary duty and must be taken seriously: in spending a little time with relatives and respecting the holidays as a time for spiritual and physical replenishment, it is necessary to learn the teaching of Ecclesiastes, that ‘there is a time for everything’.”
  3. The sickness of mental and spiritual hardening: that of those who, along the way, lose their inner serenity, vivacity and boldness and conceal themselves behind paper, becoming working machines rather than men of God. … It is dangerous to lose the human sensibility necessary to be able to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice! It is the sickness of those who lose those sentiments that were present in Jesus Christ”.
  4. The ailment of excessive planning and functionalism: this is when the apostle plans everything in detail and believes that, by perfect planning things effectively progress, thus becoming a sort of accountant. … One falls prey to this sickness because it is easier and more convenient to settle into static and unchanging positions. Indeed, the Church shows herself to be faithful to the Holy Spirit to the extent that she does not seek to regulate or domesticate it. The Spirit is freshness, imagination and innovation”
  5. Sickness of poor coordination develops when the communion between members is lost, and the body loses its harmonious functionality and its temperance, becoming an orchestra of cacophony because the members do not collaborate and do not work with a spirit of communion or as a team.”
  6. Spiritual Alzheimer’s disease, or rather forgetfulness of the history of Salvation, of the personal history with the Lord, of the ‘first love’: this is a progressive decline of spiritual faculties, that over a period of time causes serious handicaps, making one incapable of carrying out certain activities autonomously, living in a state of absolute dependence on one’s own often imaginary views. We see this is those who have lost their recollection of their encounter with the Lord … in those who build walls around themselves and who increasingly transform into slaves to the idols they have sculpted with their own hands”.
  7. The ailment of rivalry and vainglory: when appearances, the colour of one’s robes, insignia and honours become the most important aim in life. … It is the disorder that leads us to become false men and women, living a false ‘mysticism’ and a false ‘quietism’.”
  8. Existential schizophrenia: the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of the hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and the progressive spiritual emptiness that cannot be filled by degrees or academic honours. This ailment particularly afflicts those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic matters, thus losing contact with reality and with real people. They create a parallel world of their own, where they set aside everything they teach with severity to others and live a hidden, often dissolute life.”
  9. Chatter, grumbling and gossip: this is a serious illness that begins simply, often just in the form of having a chat, and takes people over, turning them into sowers of discord, like Satan, and in many cases cold-blooded murderers of the reputations of their colleagues and brethren. It is the sickness of the cowardly who, not having the courage to speak directly to the people involved, instead speak behind their backs”.
  10. The sickness of deifying leaders is typical of those who court their superiors, with the hope of receiving their benevolence. They are victims of careerism and opportunism, honouring people rather than God. They are people who experience service thinking only of what they might obtain and not of what they should give. They are mean, unhappy and inspired only by their fatal selfishness.”
  11. The disease of indifference towards others arises when each person thinks only of himself, and loses the sincerity and warmth of personal relationships. When the most expert does not put his knowledge to the service of less expert colleagues; when out of jealousy … one experiences joy in seeing another person instead of lifting him up or encouraging him.”
  12. The illness of the funereal face: or rather, that of the gruff and the grim, those who believe that in order to be serious it is necessary to paint their faces with melancholy and severity, and to treat others – especially those they consider inferior – with rigidity, hardness and arrogance. In reality, theatrical severity and sterile pessimism are often symptoms of fear and insecurity.”
  13. The disease of accumulation: when the apostle seeks to fill an existential emptiness of the heart by accumulating material goods, not out of necessity but simply to feel secure. … Accumulation only burdens and inexorably slows down our progress.”
  14. The ailment of closed circles: when belonging to a group becomes stronger than belonging to the Body and, in some situations, to Christ Himself. This sickness too may start from good intentions but, as time passes, enslaves members and becomes a ‘cancer’ that threatens the harmony of the Body and causes a great deal of harm – scandals – especially to our littlest brothers.”
  15. The “disease of worldly profit and exhibitionism: when the apostle transforms his service into power, and his power into goods to obtain worldly profits or more power. This is the disease of those who seek insatiably to multiply their power and are therefore capable of slandering, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally in order to brag and to show they are more capable than others.”

Pope Francis uses the image of the Church as a field hospital ready to pour out God’s mercy for healing.  Let us join Pope Francis and the entire Church this Lent to heal the problems found in our parish communities and be ready to rise to new life this Easter being better at being true imitators of Christ.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time reflection by John Gaffney, Diocesan Director of Evangelization & Catechesis.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2015 in Healing, Mercy

 

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Work and Recreation as an Opportunity to be Re-Created in Christ

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The Christian purpose of work seems to get a lot of play in the Scripture readings from the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time.  Job ponders, “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?  Are not his days those of hirelings?  He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages.” (Job 7:1-2)  Saint Paul uses the image of slavery as a pathway to evangelize the Gospel, “Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible.” (1 Cor. 9:19).  But it is Jesus in Mark’s Gospel that presents a challenge to all of us: there needs to be a balance between doing God’s work and being in God’s presence.  In the early part of the passage Jesus cures Peter’s mother-in-law along with many others who were ill or possessed.  However, early the next morning, Jesus retreats to a deserted place where he can be in his Father’s presence and pray.  The question for each of us is how well do we balance being an agent of God’s love in the world with making room in our schedules to “be” in God’s presence?

This balance is where many of us engaged in working for the church (clergy and lay ecclesial ministers alike) run into problems.

  • What does a proper balance look like?
  • How do I know if I am being hyper-sensitive about protecting my time?
  • What are the signs that show me if I am not spending enough time being in God’s presence?
  • Do I have a trusted spiritual director who can help me talk through issues of balance between ministerial obligations and keeping a solid prayer life?
  • Do I plan time into my calendar for retreats and days of recollection?

Saint Benedict is one of the most celebrated practitioners of balance between the physical work of our hands and dedication to the work of God in our lives.  He even wrote a rule for his monks that has lasted over 1500 years and has much wisdom not only for monks, but for many of us trying to achieve the same balance.  According to authors Lonni Collins Pratt and Daniel Homan (Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life)  “Benedict viewed prayer and work as partners, and believed in combining contemplation with action.”

The challenge for those working in parish ministry is being intentional about finding the time for the opportunity to be re-created in Christ.  There are so many things to do: the e-mails, projects and phone calls never cease even in the summer time.  And yet, if we are to continue to reach out to all God’s children and glorify Him in the work of our hands, don’t we need to use our opportunities for recreation to be re-created?  In the Gospel this week we see that Jesus himself had many things to do and yet he also took the time to rise early and spend time in communion with His Father.  Jesus shows us that to be healers of the brokenhearted and teachers of His gospel, we must take the time to first recognize God’s love for us simply because we are His beloved.

This week catechetical leaders from around the Diocese of Des Moines (religious education directors, adult faith formation leaders and youth ministry leaders) will assemble in Des Moines for a retreat entitled “Echoes of Mercy:Building a Culture of Compassion through Catechetical Ministry.”  Although we will retreat from our regular schedules at the parishes we work, we will return re-created and extending our re-created lives to our brothers and sisters as witness to God’s kingdom.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection by John Gaffney, Diocesan Director of Evangelization & Catechesis

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Posted by on February 9, 2015 in Ora et Labora

 

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“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

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Many of you who are reading this blog are people engaged in some form of teaching the Catholic faith.  Today’s readings focus on the authority given to the One who teaches.  For those of us who have been given the opportunity to teach by the Church’s authority, we must consider if we are presenting Christ as a subject or a historical perspective, or if we are witnessing to the One who has the power and authority to call each of us to become the person we are created to be. For me the key is constantly pondering the question, “Who is Jesus?”  Am I a student of Christ?  If the answer is yes, am I modeling Christ in my life as best as I can?

Deuteronomy tells us today, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.”  (Dt. 18:18)  Mark’s gospel shows Jesus teaching in the synagogue unlike any others, “The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.” (Mk 1:22)  The Responsorial Psalm focuses on our internal disposition to receive the teaching of the one with authority, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Ps 95:7b-8a)

Blessed Paul VI wrote in 1975, ““Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”  (Evangelii Nuntiandi, #41)  What are the qualities that raise up effective witnesses to Christ?  The United States bishops have pointed us in this direction in a document called Disciples Called To Witness: The New Evangelization.  They pointed to seven methodologies that should intentionally be included in our catechetical programs to renew the faith of all Catholics:

  • Discipleship:  Do we offer a variety of apprenticeship opportunities to live a life in the footsteps of Christ?
  • Commitment to Christian Life:  Do we include opportunities for public profession of one’s faith through participation in Sunday Mass, prayer, the sacraments, promotion of solidarity and peace and works of charity and justice?
  • Parish Life: Do people feel that it is in the parish that they learn to be disciples, have their faith nurtured, and where faith is passed down from one generation to another?
  • Liturgical Life, Popular Devotions & Piety:  Do we provide opportunities to showcase Catholic culture by participating in Mass, learning popular prayers and devotions that lead the community into a communal language of faith?
  • The Christian Family:  Do our programs allow opportunities for families to be evangelized and become agents of evangelization?
  • Catechists and Teacher of the Faith:  Are our in-service formation for catechists and Catholic School teachers helpful in their becoming strong witnesses of Christ: not just learning methodologies and theology?
  • Religious Experience:  Do we provide opportunities for our human experiences to shape our religious language and knowledge?

This might seem overwhelming to pastors, DREs, Catholic School principals, youth ministry leaders, and adult faith/RCIA leaders.  However, just as we ask those who come into our programs to have a change of mind and heart, shouldn’t we consider having a change of mind and heart in the administration of our faith formation programs?  As we move towards discipleship as the key component of our programs, we engage those we serve to become agents of evangelization which is the essential ingredient witnessing to today’s culture.  To do this, each of us must ask the question, “Who is Jesus?”

Below is a thought provoking video from Father Robert Barron as he ponders this question.

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection by John Gaffney, Diocesan Director of Evangelization & Catechesis

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2015 in Father Barron

 

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Do We Believe in Conversion of Life?

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The readings this week focus on acting immediately upon hearing God’s voice in our lives.  Jonah barely gets through one-third of Nineveh when the residents of this city turn from their wicked ways and back to God, repenting in sackcloth and ashes.  Saint Paul is preaching to Corinth, another city straying from holiness, that the parousia (Jesus’ second coming) would be happening soon and that the believers needed to discern what their real priorities should be.  Finally, the Gospel has a remarkable story of two fisherman, Simon Peter and Andrew, tending their nets when they abandon everything to follow Jesus after he calls to them.  Wouldn’t our work in ministry be so much different if those we work with immediately changed their lives and followed Christ: 100% participation in religious education, all parents and families attending Sunday mass, lines around the corner for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, standing room only for our high school teen retreats, RCIA where everyone doesn’t want the mystagogical period to end.  We can dream.

However, we do need to examine our spiritual lives and what causes our reticence in acting immediately to God’s call in our lives.  Perhaps part of our reluctance is that our faith is not an expectant faith?  God will accomplish what he plans and that aligning our will to his is a vital to discipleship.  Do we believe this?  Conversion of life is when we have a willingness to change when God calls us to a new opportunity or a new direction in our life.  Although the Gospel story doesn’t tell us much, it seems that Simon Peter and Andrew are content with their lives: they are certainly not seeking out opportunities to live a harder life as part of a community of itinerant preachers. In saying yes to Jesus, they have to say no to many other things that have grown comfortable and predictable.   What were you and I doing when Christ called us to consider joining his ministry in a role as a lay ecclesial minister?  Why did you and I say yes?  Have we shared that story, our vocation story, with others?

As a step-parent I marvel at the ways in which parents, step-parents and those who take on parenting responsibilities respond immediately to the needs of their children.  It may be something major, or it may be something that is only major to them.  However in these simple sacred moments we are not only responding as a parent figure, we are responding in love from the reservoir given us by the Author of love.  Below is a video by a soap company.  However, it is an example of fathers responding lovingly in various ways to the immediacy of the moment.  This video names the sacredness of daily family life and if we but recognize this, we would grow in holiness.  May we be attentive to being open to the new opportunities God presents to us to live his sacrificial love in our world.

Third Sunday Reflection by John Gaffney, Diocesan Director of Evangelization and Catechesis.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2015 in Domestic Church

 

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To Be After God’s Heart

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The first reading on this Second Sunday of Ordinary Time brings a memorable hymn to mind: Here I am Lord, is it I Lord?  I have heard you calling in the night!  It’s the story of the calling of Samuel.  I was in prayer awhile back when something jumped out at me from this passage.  We hear how Samuel was asleep in the temple, where the Ark of God was.  Samuel was, in fact, raised in the temple ever since his mother weaned him.  What struck me, then, was how the scripture goes on to say that Samuel “was not familiar with the LORD” at the time of his calling that night.  WHAT?!  How could a young boy be raised in God’s very dwelling place on earth, and yet, not really even know Him?  As I reflected on this dichotomy, I realized it’s actually pretty normal.

Is Samuel any different than the common Catholic who receives Christ’s body and blood every Sunday only to walk out of the Church lacking a lived relationship with Jesus during the week?  Sure, we know about God, we sing about God…but do we know Him?  To be familiar with someone is to be in close, intimate friendship, to be well-acquainted and thoroughly conversant.  (That’s how I’d like to describe my prayer life, but if I’m honest with myself, it makes a good examination of conscience.)

I understand St. Paul’s fervor in the second reading when he exclaims, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?”  God Himself dwells within each of the baptized.  We should be even more familiar with God than Samuel could have been in the temple… we are the temple!  Yet, how often do I go about my day intimately aware of God who resides within?  Do I not know?!

Thankfully, God is wonderfully patient!  Today’s Gospel shows a two-part invitation into divine intimacy that awaits anyone who is ready to accept it.  In the first part, Jesus walks by John the Baptist who says to his disciples: “Behold, the Lamb of God.”  To behold means to gaze upon, to discern, or to search out the mystery.  We hear the same invitation at each Eucharist, as the priest holds up the Body of Christ: “Behold, the Lamb of God.”  Our first invitation is this – to have open hearts that seek the Lord.  In the Gospel, two of John’s disciples do just that as they walk behind Jesus.  They ask Him where He is staying, and He says “come and see.”  Here is our second invitation – to be in intimate relationship with God.  Think of intimacy as “into-me-see”.  Like John’s followers and young Samuel, we are invited to walk with Jesus day by day, getting to know Him and letting ourselves be vulnerable with Him.

I hope that the song below may be our prayer as we seek after God’s heart in the Eucharist and in each moment as intentional disciples:

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time reflection by Tessa Roberts, Diocesan Coordinator of Youth & Young Adult Ministry.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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