Monthly Archives: March 2022

Separation from the Poor

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linens and dined sumptuously each day.  And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”  (Luke 16:19-21)

Both died.  Lazarus was taken by angels to Abraham’s side, while the rich man ended up in hell.  In torment, the rich man asked Abraham to let Lazarus come and dip his finger in water to cool the rich man’s tongue.  Abraham reminded the rich man that in life he had received good things and Lazarus only bad things, but now Lazarus was being comforted, and the rich man was in torment.  Furthermore, there was a great chasm, separating them that neither could cross.

In this parable, it did not appear that the rich man had violated any of the Ten Commandments as set out in Exodus 20 or Jewish law.  But he may have violated Jesus’ commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself.

The rich man’s sin was not that he was rich.  It was his indifference. Even though Lazarus lay at the rich man’s gate, the rich man never noticed him each day as he passed by.  The rich man had let his wealth and way of life separate him from the people in need of his day.

By historical standards, many of us in America today would likely be considered rich.  We do not want for food, shelter or clothing.  We have employment that enables us to live in a home we have purchased and provide for our families. 

Our circumstances may have the effect of separating us from people like Lazarus.  They still exist, but we don’t see them.  We do not see them in our neighborhoods.  We don’t see them at work or in our churches.  There may be the occasional homeless person begging at an intersection or Metro stop.  But for the most part, unless we take some affirmative action to step outside of our circumstances, our default response tends to separate us from the very poor of our world.

When I read this story I struggle with how much my life is separated from those in need, and the consequences that can result if I do not seek to remedy that separation. 

So, we write checks and give used clothes to various organizations assisting the poor.  I keep some dollars handy in the console of my car for the homeless soliciting at an intersection.  I volunteer in the Chaplain’s office at the county jail, and before COVID, took communion on occasion to the sick and elderly.   But do these things fulfill the King’s message in the Parable of The Judgment of the Nations?

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)

Do your life’s circumstances separate you from the poor, and if so, what can you do about it?

Jesus’ Yoke Lightens the Burden of Cancer

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

This invitation from Jesus may be one of the most loving and grace-filled invitations of all time.    

Robert Bellarmine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church in the 16th Century, says that the yoke that Jesus is talking about is the first and greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.”  Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as our self, is the yoke Jesus invites us to put on.

Years ago, my wife and I purchased an ox yoke which we found in the attic of a Maine antique store.  It is massive, made of solid oak.  Its beam is more than a yard in length with a girth of six inches.  It is heavy to lift.  In contrast to an ox yoke that holds two animals together for purposes of pulling a wagon or plow, Jesus’ yoke is not heavy or burdensome.

Jesus tells us his yoke is easy and light.  It is not a burden to carry.  In fact, when we choose to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as our self, whatever other burdens we may be carrying become lighter

In November, I learned that my prostate cancer had returned in the form of a tumor in my pelvic area.  I had had a prostatectomy fifteen years earlier, followed by three years of hormone therapy and then several years of undetectable PSA, a blood test that measures the presence of prostate cancer.  I am currently undergoing proton radiation five days a week for seven and half weeks. 

While all of this is a burden, it has been lightened by the yoke of Jesus and his Holy Spirit in the form of numerous and faithful prayers from family and many Christian friends from our church, the People of Praise, a Christian community to which we belong, Christians in Commerce/WorkLight, a workplace ministry in which I participate, and other acquaintances.  The pastor of our church also administered the sacrament of anointing and healing to me.     

My burden has been further lightened by the personal care of my doctors and technicians, and the advances in medical technology which also come from God when medical scientists discover the mysteries of God’s creation of the human body.  The PSMA scan that detected my tumor was just approved by the FDA last May and can find tumors many times smaller than a typical CT scan.  Proton radiation is a more advanced form of radiation that is supposed to have fewer side effects and does less damage to the surrounding tissue and organs.

The yoke of Jesus can bring healing, trust and peace through his special presence, and through the prayers and support of family and friends.  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, family and friends.  Thank you, doctors and technicians. 

Do you have a burden that the yoke of Jesus could lighten? 

Peer Ministry – Part of God’s Plan

“Praise be to the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God.” (2 Co. 1:3-4)

St. Paul is suggesting that whatever comfort we have received from God for troubles we have experienced, we can offer that same comfort to others who are experiencing similar troubles.  This is a form of peer ministry.  We all have the opportunity to be peer ministers.

God personally ordained peer ministry when he decided to become one of us in the person of Jesus.  He experienced all of the trials, pain, sorrows and joys of our human condition, and showed us how to understand and live our lives.  He set both the precedent and the model for peer ministry.

While there are many examples of peer ministries such as Alcoholics Anonymous and various Christian outreaches to high school and college students, there is also the personal peer ministry arising out of the personal challenges we have experienced that we can share with others who are experiencing similar challenges. 

Our daughter Emily was born with Down syndrome and serious heart complications.  The first year was very challenging with all of her medical issues, but we also began to experience the blessings of her big beautiful smile, her unconditional love, and her purity of heart.  Over the years we have been able to share our experience of dealing with both the challenges and the blessings with numerous couples who have given birth to children with Down syndrome. 

We have also experienced the friendship and community of other families who have children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  You won’t find a group of people more loving, compassionate, supportive, and committed to one another.   Several years ago, some of these parents joined together and helped establish one of the first special education programs in the United States for a Catholic high school in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. 

These same parents then created a non-profit organization by the name of Porto Charities to raise funds to support inclusive Catholic education in diocesan schools.  To date, there are similar programs in all four of the diocesan high schools and thirteen of approximately thirty elementary parish schools.  It is the Bishop’s objective for every diocesan school to be able to offer an inclusive education for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.   

Someone who is struggling with a particular problem is more open to hear from another who has experienced the same problem and understands what they are going through.  Add God’s love to that experience and you have a peer ministry. 

What kind of trial in your life have you experienced that enables you to support someone going through a similar trial?    

Humility is a Choice

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt. 23:12)  Jesus seems to imply that being humble or exalting oneself is an act of our will.  It is a choice we make.  Personal experience and history show that we are not naturally humble.

Jesus illustrates his statement with a parable about a guest invited to a wedding feast who picked a place of honor only to be told by the host to move to a lower place, so another guest more distinguished than he may take his place.

One of the reasons being humble is difficult is that it runs counter to our instinct to survive, which is part of our human nature and natural law, and inclines us to put self first.  Original sin involving pride and disobedience also predisposes us to put self first.  To overcome our nature and instead be humble, therefore, requires a choice.  To serve rather than be served necessitates a decision on our part. 

Jesus praises such a decision both in the passage above and in the first Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:3)  Jesus describes himself as “gentle and humble in heart.” (Mt. 11:29)  Peter, James and Paul all encourage us to be humble in their letters.

In David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman, he tells the following story.  At a special reception Truman held for Stalin and Churchill at the Potsdam Peace Conference near the end of World War II, Sergeant Eugene List, an American concert pianist, played a Chopin waltz.  List asked if someone in the audience would be good enough to turn the pages.  Truman jumped to his feet, waived off another volunteer and did the job himself.   In a letter to his wife, List later wrote, “Imagine having the President of the United States turn the pages for you!  But that’s the kind of man the President is.” 

Personally, I have to work hard to maintain a humble spirit in all my interactions with others.  Too often, my pride overtakes my intentions, particularly in the area of desiring recognition.  We need God’s grace to help us make decisions to be humble, rejecting all efforts on our part to seek attention.  God is completely aware of the good we do, which is all the recognition we need.  Proverbs 27:2 says, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth.”

Actions that help nurture God’s grace include daily prayer, the reading of scripture and regular participation in the sacraments.

How do you make the choice to be humble?

God’s Kingdom — Promise or Reality

“The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘there it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

These words of Jesus were in response to a question from the Pharisees of when the kingdom of God would come.

There is a common notion among many Christians that the kingdom of God is only to be experienced after death.  Yes, if we abide in God and seek to do his will, there is a heaven that awaits us upon our passing from this life, a resurrection that follows, and an eternal life with the Father in a new creation. 

But so much of what Jesus said to his disciples and the people of his day exhorted them to do something with this life in order to advance the creation that God had inaugurated and Jesus had redeemed. 

Jesus gave us a model prayer that has as its first petition a request for the kingdom of God to come on this earth here and now, as it is in heaven – “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt. 6:10)

Many of Jesus’ parables which are about this life describe what the kingdom of God is like:

  • The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows from the smallest seed or effort into a worldwide movement. (Mt. 13:31)
  • The Kingdom God is like the leaven of yeast, a small number of Christians impacting the larger dough of the world. (Mt. 13:33)
  • The kingdom of God is like a treasure hidden in a field, leading us to give up everything to acquire the field.  (Mt. 13:44)

Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:23)  Through the Father and Jesus living in us, we have the opportunity to experience the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control),  and share that fruit with others. (Galatians 5:22-23)

A few years ago I learned that a particular friend had lost his wife to cancer.  While speaking to someone who has just lost a loved one can be awkward, I felt like the Holy Spirit was nudging me to go see him.  When he came to the door, I said, “I came to give you a hug.”  We hugged and he invited me in.  He appeared to be all alone.  For the next hour, I listened to him talk about the last few months of his wife’s suffering, the last few hours of her life, and of all the support he had received from friends, his pastor and medical personnel.  I listened as he reminisced about their life together. 

My time with him, as well as the subsequent funeral celebrating her life, was an example of the reality of the kingdom of God here and now.   

How do you experience the kingdom of God here and now?