Monday, January 18, 2016

Are We New Wineskins? (StVdP)

Are We New Wineskins?
Reflection for St. Vincent de Paul Meeting, January 18, 2016
Dcn. Bob Bonomi

There is an old story that compares corporate traditions to five monkeys and a banana.  There once was a scientific experiment where researchers placed five monkeys in a large cage with a pyramid in the middle of it.  Periodically, they would hang a banana over the top of the pyramid, and whenever a monkey would climb up to get the banana, they used a fire-hose to spray the other monkeys.  The monkeys quickly learned that, if one of their number tried to get the banana, the rest of them would be hosed down so they began to prevent each other from going for the banana.  Pretty soon, none of the monkeys would try for the banana.

Once they were trained, the researchers removed one of the monkeys, replacing him with a new monkey who had never seen the fire hose. Sure enough, when a banana was hung over the pyramid, the new monkey would try to get it but the other monkeys would stop it.  Pretty soon the monkey would stop trying.  One by one the monkeys were replaced with new monkeys until there were no monkeys left who had ever seen the fire hose.  But they never tried for the banana, because "that's how it's always been."

Pope Francis, during his morning Mass at Santa Marta today, said that a Christian who hides behind the notion that “this is how it’s always been done...” is committing a sin, becomes idolatrous and disobedient, and lives a “patched up, half and half life”, because his heart is closed to the “newness of the Holy Spirit”.

Are we closed to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives?  When is something that we encounter considered "good" wine that we should embrace?  And, when is it vinegar that would poison us if we embraced it?  Discernment of spirits is a difficult task at best, and frustrating and deadly at worst.

But we do have a master vintner to help us - Jesus - and an excellent winery - the Church.  Especially during this week of Christian Unity, we should open our hearts in prayer and focus on the mighty acts of the Lord both through the Church and through our personal experiences.  As Vincentians, our ministry may be the vessel that will help others encounter the Lord's mighty works, and we must always be aware of the brittleness in our own lives that may keep us from being open and loving to those we meet.  The challenges we face - the lifestyles, the life situations - of our clients will always challenge us but as long as we continue to draw into ourselves the love of the Lord and His mercy, we will be able to "stretch" with the Holy Spirit and in turn offer the sweetness of the Good News to those we serve.  May they drink fully of His loving Mercy, especially during this Jubilee Year.  It should be a very good year.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Prayer from St. Clement I (StVdP)

A Prayer from St. Clement I
Reflection for St. Vincent de Paul Meeting, January 11, 2016
Dcn. Bob Bonomi

“Lord, we entreat you to help us. Come to the aid of the afflicted, pity the lowly, raise up the fallen, show your face to the needy, heal the sick, convert the wayward, feed the hungry, deliver the captives, support the weak, encourage the fainthearted. Let all nations know that you alone are God; Jesus Christ is your Son, and we are your people and the sheep of your pasture.”

This prayer is part of today’s Office of Readings and comes from a letter to the Corinthians by Saint Clement I, pope and martyr.  It is an excellent prayer for Vincentians to recite before we meet with or provide assistance to one of our clients.  Let’s look at the prayer in detail.

“Lord, we entreat you to help us.”  There is humility in our acknowledgement that WE need God’s help before we can help others.  We depend upon the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our dealings with others, and we should ask for His help before we embark on our missions of mercy.

“Come to the aid of the afflicted, pity the lowly, raise up the fallen, show your face to the needy, heal the sick, convert the wayward, feed the hungry, deliver the captives, support the week, encourage the fainthearted.”   We recognize that it is God that comes to the aid of others, and there is more to helping another than just feeding them.  Like we see in the Beatitudes, for a person who is in physical need of food or shelter, there are usually other needs that are present which may be even more important than material needs –a person trapped by their circumstances, a broken spirit, a lost soul hungry for love more than food.  God provides for these needs and more through our efforts and through His own mysterious providence.

“Let all nations know that you alone are God; Jesus Christ is your Son.”   Our mission is not just to provide material assistance to our clients; it is to open people to the love and mercy of God and to share the Good News of Jesus.  Our goal is to point them to the gates of Heaven – and to point us there, too.

“We are your people and the sheep of your pasture.”   We are not in charge.  As we pray in our closing prayer, “May we never claim that the fruitfulness of our apostolate springs from ourselves alone.” We follow the Great Shepherd and, like our clients, are dependent upon the love and mercy of God. 

Let us always remain in humble service to God.

Our Baptismal Mission

Our Baptismal Mission January 10, 2016    Baptism of the Lord - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Well, here we are.  Another Christmas season has come and gone, and we’ve begun a new calendar year.  Just think, according to the Internet, my “Santa Ticker” shows that we have only 349 days until the next Christmas season begins!  Are you ready?  I didn’t think so.

Seriously, within the Church, the Christmas Season ends today with the Baptism of the Lord.  We celebrated the birth of Jesus two weeks ago and now, with the celebration of his baptism, Jesus’ childhood is at an end.
Beginning tomorrow, we enter into the Ordinary Time of the Church calendar – the period where we learn and reflect on the mission and the ministry of Jesus.  Between now and Lent, and then again after Easter, we will listen to Jesus as he reveals to us how we should relate to each other – and to God our Father.  Jesus will teach us about love and relationships, about compassion and forgiveness, about justice and Mercy.

Today we focus on a pivotal moment in Jesus’ life – his Baptism. It is in this moment that we are introduced into the ministry of Jesus.  All four Gospels speak of Jesus’ encounter with John the Baptist, and although the Gospels of both Matthew and Luke provide us with what are known as the “infancy narratives” – the recollections of the life of Jesus prior to his adult ministry and the various stories about his birth that we heard during the last few weeks – from this point on in all Gospels we will see Jesus through the actions that will ultimately lead him to Calvary – and to our salvation. 

But each Gospel presents this particular moment from a different perspective, and so I encourage you to take a little time and read about the encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist in all four Gospels this week, and compare the stories.  It will only take you about 15 minutes to read all four.

For example, in the three synoptic Gospels – that’s the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke – we see John the Baptist physically baptizing Jesus.  In the Gospel of John, we don’t see Jesus being baptized explicitly, but John’s Gospel, like the other three, has John the Baptist revealing Jesus as the fulfillment of the passages from the prophet Isaiah like we heard in our first reading.  Different perspectives – same event.

(It kind of reminds me of the different things I heard last week from people who saw the latest Star Wars movie. It seemed that everyone saw something different.  No wonder people keep going back to see it again – and again!  After listening to them, I know I missed some things the first time I saw it.)

Today’s Gospel, like that of Mark, sort of rushes over Jesus’ meeting with John. Read Matthew’s version – he recalls the conversation where John protests and says that he should be baptized by Jesus, and Jesus replies that John needs to allow it for all righteousness.  And in Matthew we also hear the voice of God addresses the crowd and tell all those present that “This is my beloved Son”, while the Gospels of Mark and Luke has God talking directly to Jesus – “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

But there is a common point that is emphasized in all 4 Gospels – John the Baptist isn’t the Messiah; Jesus is.  And, John baptizes with water; Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. 
OK, you might ask, so what has that got to do with me? 

Well, just as with Jesus, our baptisms are pivotal moments for us. Do you remember yours?  I ask that question every time I have baptisms or teach a baptism class and the results are almost always the same – out of everyone present, I’ll only have one or two who actually remember it.  The rest, invariably, are converts to the faith.

But whether we remember it or not - whether we were baptized as an infant or as an adult, it is through our baptisms that we begin our personal encounter with Christ. Through the waters of our baptism we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which calls us to mission.  We may not recognize it yet, but we are ALL called to action through our baptism.  We are given a mission.  We are part of Jesus’ ministry.

Not sure what to do?  It’s easy. During this Jubilee Year, this Year of Mercy, we will hear all about Mercy and what it is and what we are called to do.  We are all called to minister the Corporal Works of Mercy: Feed the Hungry; Give Drink to the Thirsty; Clothe the Naked; Shelter the Homeless; Care for the Sick; Visit the Imprisoned; and Bury the Dead.  Here at St. Francis we have ministries that address every one of these.

Just as important, if not more so, are the Spiritual Works of Mercy, and they may be even harder to perform: Admonish Sinners (in a loving way of course); Instruct the Ignorant (which includes teaching ourselves); Counsel the Doubtful; Bear Wrongs Patiently (this can be pretty tough), Forgive All Injuries (even harder to do); and to Pray for the Living and the Dead.  Our baptismal call is to a mission of Mercy and these are the ministries that fulfill that mission.

You are ready for this.  You’ve been baptized.  You have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  You have been blessed with the graces to perform every one of these works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual. And everything you do in your life, whether at work, at play, or in the world at large, touches one or more of these works of mercy EVERY DAY.  Every day you will be called to fulfill one or more of these works of Mercy.  It may be to a family member; it may be at work; or it may be to a complete stranger.  You are called to show mercy. And, You Are Ready.

It’s time for us to go to work.