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Every Day Catholic - March 2012

Every Day Catholic uses an engaging and practical approach to help readers confidently apply Christian values to their everyday decisions. Great for group or individual study, and FREE online discussion guides are available for each issue. Get more information and order here.

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Faith: It Demands Action
By: Jim and Susan Vogt

Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

It’s easy, in some ways, for the fundamentalist evangelical Christian. If you answer “yes” to that question and really mean it, you are assured of eternal life. If not, all the good works you may do are for naught. But with all due respect to evangelicals who may read this, it’s not quite that simple for Catholics. For us, we cannot deny the strong message in Jas 2:14-17:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

Faith and good works are two sides of the same coin, and that coin is the Christian life. As Christians, our commitment to Jesus Christ calls us to both personal sanctification and active involvement in the transformation of the world. It is in the dynamic interplay of these two dimensions that we achieve a growing closeness to God. It is important to pray and to grow in the practice of prayer, to do spiritual reading, to study the Bible and our Catholic tradition and to participate in the Eucharist regularly.

But, as the priest says, “Go forth the Mass has ended.” In plainer terms he’s saying, “You have been fed; you have experienced Jesus in the bread and wine and in community. Now get out of here and take what you have received to all those in need.”

Devotion in Motion
What does faith in action look like? It can range from caring for a sick child, to serving meals in a soup kitchen, to working for world peace. It means putting the needs of others before my own needs and deciding where and how I can do that best. Each of us is called to discern how we can follow the Second Commandment of Jesus to love my neighbor as myself.

Jim and Kathy McGinnis, in their classic book Parenting for Peace and Justice (Orbis Books, 1981), said it so well: “If we want to love our neighbor effectively, we need ‘two feet’ to walk the path of service. One foot represents the works of mercy (direct service) and the other the works of justice (social change).”

The works of mercy include activities like visiting shut-ins, transporting the elderly to grocery stores or tutoring children. The works of justice include immigration reform, promoting care for the earth through recycling and support for environmental laws or advocating for a more just and equitable economic system.

There are some principles we have   arrived at that might help as a person tries to decide where he or she is called to serve.

Try to tithe your money and time. Faith in action must be done generously. We are called to give financially to those in need and to generously share our time. Do we give 10 percent of money and time to those in need? In answering that question, don’t forget to include those close to us: our children who need our attention or co-workers who may need a listening ear. But don’t stop there. Look at all the needs in the broader world, ones that call for mercy and for justice.

• Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. You might be called to something more challenging than you thought you could do. Remember it is God’s call to which we are responding. We believe, if it is a call from God, that God will somehow provide the resources we need.

• Cultivate solidarity with the poor and marginalized. Whether or not we are involved in serving the poor or advocating for government policies to help the poor, we cannot deny that Scripture reminds us many times that care for the poor and outcast is a special duty of Christians. We can cultivate solidarity by fasting periodically to remind ourselves of those who are hungry or riding the bus to remember that, for many, the bus is their only source of transportation.

‘To the Least of My Brothers’
Most of us, however, can easily find excuses for inaction.

“I don’t have time.” That may be true. It might also mean we haven’t honestly evaluated our priorities. Even if life is full, service can be just doing things a little differently: recycling and reusing can require a minimum of time once you set up your system. Time with your kids can be time you take them with you to drive a neighbor to the doctor.

“I don’t have extra money to support those in need.” Think of different ways to be generous. Give away things you don’t need or use. Susan just decided to give away flowers she grew to a couple of local organizations that serve the poor as a way to brighten up their environment. What do you have that you could give away?

“I don’t have any skills.” This is probably untrue, but you can always start with what you like doing. Do you love children? Volunteer in a day care center. Do you like to bike? Get involved with some organization that is advocating for more bike trails.

We find it helpful to reflect on the passage from Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus talks about the last judgment (Mt 25:31-46). The ones who entered heaven were the ones who were cared for the least: the poor, the naked, the hungry, the marginalized. Clearly Jesus calls us to respond in service to those in need. His call stretches us and challenges us. This is what faith in action is about.

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Imprimatur was granted for this article, “Faith: It Demands Action,” by Jim and Susan Vogt, from Auxiliary Bishop Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 11-11-2011.


Jim and Susan Vogt have four adult children and live in Covington, Ky. Jim directs the Marianist Social Justice Collaborative. Susan speaks and writes on marriage, parenting and spirituality. Learn more at susanvogt.net.

Making Connections

■ How do you put your faith in action?

Has your faith life gotten lazy? How do you get your spiritual muscles moving again?

Is social justice a factor in your day-to-day faith? If not, should it be?




Movie Moments

The Mission
By: Frank Frost

Putting faith into action sometimes calls for tough choices. The 1986 movie The Mission offers a chance to meditate on what faith can demand of us.

The story is based in the historical reality that some Jesuit missions in Paraguay in the 1600s got caught in the grip of monarchical politics, the slave trade and the church’s struggle for power. Those missions were unique in their empowerment of the indigenous Guarani people and in their efforts to protect the natives from slave traders.

Director and co-writer Roland Joffé brings the conflict down to a personal level in the characters of Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons), head of the mission; and Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert De Niro), a mercenary and slave trader who transforms his life after killing his brother and joining the Jesuits in the mission.

One should consider what it takes to live according to the faith one professes. The colonialists are putative Catholics but appear to pursue power and slave trading over humane or spiritual goals. Their most visible expression of faith is in a religious procession that segues into raucous dancing.

By contrast, Mendoza turns away from his former life by helping the Guarani in every way he can — cooking, helping with cultivation, offering medical help. Over a montage of these actions, we hear him read from a book given to him by Father Gabriel: “Though I have all faith so that I could remove mountains and have not love, I am nothing,” and the rest of the famous reading on love from 1 Corinthians 13.

This theme weaves through the film and leaves us with the question: Who are true Christians? Those who claim it culturally or those who put their faith into action?


Next time you watch The Mission, ASK YOURSELF:

■ Does the cardinal who decides the fate of the mission make his decision based on faith? 
Does this movie illuminate the demands of faith in action?
When faced with the destruction of the mission, Mendoza and Father Gabriel see the demands of their faith in different lights. Is one shown as better than the other? 




Putting Shoes on the Gospel

Jeannie Hanneman
By: Christopher Heffron

Author and motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia once said, “Our talents are the gift that God gives to us. What we make of our talents is our gift back to God.”

Jeannie Hanneman, founder of Elizabeth Ministry International (EMI), an outreach movement that offers encouragement, hope and healing on issues related to childbirth, sexuality and relationships, subscribes to that philosophy. Following the example set by Mary and Elizabeth, the goal of EMI is to visit with people dealing with such issues.

The organization, which started in 1991 in Appleton, Wis., seeks to lift up the human person: to honor life, children, families and the community as a whole. EMI offers training, retreats, mentors, spiritual nourishment, and educational and inspirational resources.

“The family has been called ‘the building block of civilization,’” Hanneman says. “As the family weakens, so does society. Understanding the dignity of human sexuality and applying it to relationships will build up the family and create a vibrant community.”

Visitors to EMI come for a variety of reasons: Some wrestle with unhealthy sexual behaviors. Married couples come for instruction on Natural Family Planning. Clergy or pastoral associates might call for ideas. There might be a fertility blessing or miscarriage healing ritual occurring in their chapel. Above all, broken people come to be mended and heard.

“One priest told someone, ‘Elizabeth Ministry is for whatever worries women and the people who love them.’ That’s a pretty accurate statement!” she says. “The phone is always ringing, there are hundreds of emails a day, people stop in to light a candle and pray in our chapel, people place orders online and we ship out gifts and resources daily. It is a busy and holy place.”

Hanneman is grateful that the organization allows her to put her faith in action. As the doors to EMI are never still, neither is Hanneman.

“My husband and I are both professional educators who took an early retirement so we could focus on EMI as our full-time volunteer effort. Many of our friends are retiring on the beach, but we find the ‘bench’ much more rewarding: sitting with someone who needs a listening ear, an encouraging word, a heartfelt prayer or perhaps information,” she says.

Hanneman says she and her team feel most rewarded when someone visits EMI in the grip of pornography addiction and, through their services, their souls are rescued and their marriage renewed.

“One of EMI’s taglines is ‘Never underestimate the power of a single visit.’ It is important to remember that faith comes full circle — one conversation at a time,” Hanneman says.

“Spirituality is best expressed on the streets, in the homes and wherever people gather. Few of us will have a pulpit to preach from, but we will all have an opportunity for sharing from the heart with another person. EMI invites everyone to learn about these intimate issues, become familiar about available resources and support, then allow the Holy Spirit to bring into your life people who need your presence!”

For more information, go to: reclaimsexualhealth.com.


Passing On the Faith

Giving Back
By: Jeanne Hunt

Q. Due to my busy schedule, I rarely have time to volunteer. What are my options?

A. In the words of St. Francis de Sales, “Simply do the next loving thing.” That way you don’t have to plan ahead and mark your busy calendar with even more commitments. Sometimes planning ahead is the best route to take.

Perhaps, as you are in the drive-thru at a hamburger restaurant, you spy the car behind you filled with bickering kids and a harried mom. Pay her bill and say a prayer for her. Or you are walking to your car in the grocery parking lot and notice an elderly woman struggling to unload her groceries in her trunk. Walk over and offer to give her a hand. What is so marvelous about this plan is that you will be looking for those moments when you can be the heart of Christ in your busy world.

Q.  What can our parish do besides bake sales and car washes to help the poor?

A. First, call your local outreach centers and ask them what kind of help they need. Here are a few ideas: Have a baby shower for the unborn. Everyone brings a gift for a newborn. The gifts are taken to a local center for single moms. Instead of collecting money for the poor during Lent, put some boxes at the parish entrance and collect clothes and take them to the homeless facility along with toiletries. In the summer, ask parish folks to donate electric fans for the inner-city poor. Remember that the holidays seem to have plenty of donations; it is the other months of the year when charity is
lacking.

Q. We want to teach our children the value of helping the less fortunate. What can we do as a family to put that into action?

A. As a parent, I can relate to this question! When we are teaching this lesson to small children, the best place to start is in their bedrooms. Ask the children to donate their used toys and books. If you have teenagers in the house, plan to volunteer as a family at the local soup kitchen. Once a month make it a required event. Finally, look around the neighborhood for a lonely, elderly person. Get to know and ask what you can do to help him or her maintain his or her home or run an errand.


Prayer

Matthew 25 Prayer Service
By: Jeanne Hunt

Preparation: paper cutouts of hands with quotes from Mt 25:31-46 scattered around a Bible on the prayer table and a lighted candle

Opening Hymn
“The Servant Song” (or similar hymn)

PRAYER
Gentle Jesus, there is so much to do and I feel so inadequate. People are hungry, thirsty, poor, dying. What can I do? Let me become your hands and heart. Lead me on, Lord, lead me on.

SCRIPTURE
Mt 25:31-46

RITUAL
Leader: “I am hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, lonely, sick, imprisoned. (Pause between each word)

All: Whatsoever you do for the least among you, you do to me.

Leader: You are invited to come to the word and take one of the paper hands. On it you will find a verse from today’s Gospel. Choose one at random and take it on as your special challenge to serve as Christ would serve. Find a way to perform a task related to your verse.

FINAL BLESSING
After everyone has come forward, offer the following blessing:

May we become the compassionate heart of Christ. May we become the gentle hands of Christ. May we become the listening ear of Christ. May we be Christ to one another. And may God bless us.
Closing Hymn: “The Servant Song”




Matthew: Matthew was a Jew who worked for the occupying Roman forces, collecting taxes from other Jews. The Romans were not scrupulous about what the "tax farmers" got for themselves. Hence the latter, known as "publicans," were generally hated as traitors by their fellow Jews. The Pharisees lumped them with "sinners" (see Matthew 9:11-13). So it was shocking to them to hear Jesus call such a man to be one of his intimate followers. 
<p>Matthew got Jesus in further trouble by having a sort of going-away party at his house. The Gospel tells us that "many" tax collectors and "those known as sinners" came to the dinner. The Pharisees were still more badly shocked. What business did the supposedly great teacher have associating with such immoral people? Jesus' answer was, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Matthew 9:12b-13). Jesus is not setting aside ritual and worship; he is saying that loving others is even more important. </p><p>No other particular incidents about Matthew are found in the New Testament.</p> American Catholic Blog The most appealing invitation to embrace the religious life is the witness of our own lives, the spirit in which we react to our divine calling, the completeness of our dedication, the generosity and cheerfulness of our service to God, the love we have for one another, the apostolic zeal with which we witness to Christ’s love for the poorest of the poor.

 
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