All of Jesus’ teachings enrich and challenge us as human beings. Some, like "love your enemies," are easy to understand though difficult to follow. Others, like "I have come to cause division," are puzzling. Learn more about 12 key sayings of Jesus throughout 2005.

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Living a ‘Larger Life’
 
By Kathy Coffey

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25).

Ouch. When Jesus tells us not to worry about food or clothes, he cuts close to home. In their book Sleeping With Bread, Dennis, Matthew and Sheila Linn describe the psychic importance of food.

Children traumatized by the bombings in Holland after World War II escaped to safe refuges, but had trouble sleeping at night. The staff who cared for them finally discovered a solution: The children were each given a small roll or loaf of bread on going to bed. Holding it in their hands, the children could sleep. The subconscious message was clear: I ate yesterday; I ate today; I will eat tomorrow. I am secure now, and I can sleep.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the meal has profound significance. When he wants us to remember him, Jesus asks us to eat bread and drink wine. He refers to himself as the nurturing bread of life. Similarly, the Bible exalts the symbolic significance of clothing. Isaiah describes God clothing us with the garments of salvation (61:10). To restore his son’s dignity and celebrate his return, the prodigal father calls for his best robe, a ring and sandals.

Beyond the usual ambivalence of Scripture, what more could this apparent contradiction mean? Perhaps Jesus deliberately chooses two things that are important—not only physically but also spiritually. We live in a toss-away era: diapers, razors and pens are disposable. The shelf life of most books is shorter than a carton of yogurt. Cars and appliances are built with “planned obsolescence.”

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Getting to the Heart of It

We grow careless about many things, but at some level we still cherish food and clothing. Some of us spend considerable time planning and preparing nourishing meals. Likewise, a key question for many women before a big event is “what to wear?” So it’s tempting to ask Jesus: “Why tinker with those? Couldn’t you just tell us to worry less about obvious consumerism?” If he’d told us not to worry about our Porsche, this teaching would be easier to swallow.

Exactly. Jesus uses things vital to life to prove that life can be more, more than even these. We all remember times of letting go—when the dinner burned, but we laughed and improvised another menu and had a good time anyway. There is more to our enjoyment of a wedding or reunion than what we wear. And at our most vulnerable times, for birth or making love, we wear nothing at all.

Pyramid Model

Perhaps Jesus is showing us a certain hierarchy. At the top of the pyramid is our relationship with God, enjoyment of the surprises God sends when we quit trying to control or defend our lives. Next comes our relationship with others. When we think of those who are dear to us, we remember their kindness, their humor or the light in their eyes—but rarely their wardrobes. Then we might turn our gaze on God’s creation. Appreciating the sanctuary that surrounds us, we become caught up in the pale green film of spring leaves, the shadings of the sea, the majesty of an oak or the roar of a waterfall. Indeed, all these things rank higher on the pyramid than food or clothes.

Perhaps Jesus is speaking from the kind of exasperation we feel when a friend or relative seems stuck in detail. “C’mon!” we want to say. “There’s more to life than your work deadline, your diet, your craft fair or your science project. Focus on the bigger question: Am I loving God and the people placed in my path?”

For some, worry about food or clothing may not be the issue. But we all know that something blocks our path to God. Are we reluctant to let go of our cherished ideas and be broadened by another’s? Do we cling to our Palm Pilots, never allowing an interruption in the strict schedule? Do we spend more time in retail therapy than in prayer? Do we fear change or growth, dread risk or speaking out?

If we answer “Yes” to any of these, then Jesus invites us to fuller life. “C’mon!” he says. “Let me show you what I’ve got in mind—so much grander and better than your narrow niche, your comfy routine. Follow me to larger life.”

Kathy Coffey, the mother of four, is an editor at Living the Good News in Denver, Colorado. She has won numerous writing awards. Her newest book is Women of Mercy (Orbis, 2005).

Next: I Come to Bring Division…

Questions for Reflection:

• What is the biggest distraction blocking you on your pathway to God?

• What do you need to help you deal with the bigger questions of life?

FAMILY CORNER
Meal Time Is Sacred Time
By Judith Dunlap

A friend recently told me a joke that I had heard at least 10 years ago. “How does a suburban mom from Centerville call her kids for dinner?”Answer: “Everybody in the car!” Probably the reason the joke has been around so long is because its truth resonates in so many of our families. I heard a statistic a few years ago that the average family sits down together with everyone present for only two meals a week.

The statistic is not surprising when you consider what busy and complicated lives we live. Extended work hours, long commutes and a barrage of activities for children make time a precious commodity. And yet, spending time together is one of the six qualities of a strong family, according to a national survey conducted by the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Another quality is commitment. One way of showing your commitment to family is by taking the time to have at least one special family meal a week. Remember, it is not the food that makes it special (pizza is fine); it is having everyone sitting around the table together.

Try to make a ritual out of such occasions. Light a candle in the center and hold hands for a blessing. Make sure the television is turned off, and make it a rule that no one leaves the table until everyone is finished. Allow only positive, affirming conversation: no preaching, no scolding. A good conversation-starter might be to ask everyone to share what was the best thing that happened to him or her that day (or week).

Time spent around the dinner table is special. Think about all the time Jesus spent in table fellowship with his disciples. He is no less present at your table. Family mealtime is sacred, as much a blessing as the prayer it began with.

For Family Response:

What was the best time you ever
had together as a family? What made it special?

Media Watch
Madagascar
By Frank Frost

In New York’s Central Park Zoo, four good animal friends are having the time of their lives. Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller) gets all the attention he craves as King of the Beasts, along with all the juicy steak he can eat and perks like getting his mane washed and blow-dried. Hypochondriac giraffe Melman (voiced by David Schwimmer) gets constant medical attention, and hippopotamus Gloria (voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith) is solidly happy.

So why, they wonder, is excitable and restless Marty the Zebra (voiced by Chris Rock) so eager to escape the zoo and return to the wild? Besides having a midlife crisis, that is.

Madagascar is an exuberant and funny animated movie in the new tradition that turns a kids’ flick into a family film by layering the story with adult cultural references, especially to past movies. The animation is sophisticated in texture and motion and creates delightfully anthropomorphic animals.

When a determined Marty does break out and head for the wild, his three friends jump the fence to bring him back. But there’s no going back. The recaptured animals end up in crates aboard a ship headed for Africa. Meanwhile, a hilarious group of military-like penguins also escape the zoo and commandeer the ship. In the process the crates go overboard and the four friends wash ashore on the island of Madagascar.

Shipwrecked and deprived of the creature comforts of captivity, the castaways now experience a true test of their friendship. Marty is for making the best of the wild. Alex is determined to return to the zoo. Soon they draw a line in the sand and split into two camps.

The stranded animals eventually encounter a tribe of lemurs, who debate the merits of making friends or enemies of the newcomers. Their wacky king decides they can become valuable allies against their predatory enemies, the foosa.

The humor turns rather dark as Alex, long meat-deprived by now, begins to revert to the wild. He has to fight his impulse to see his friends as potential steaks. Fearful of what the wild is doing to him and afraid he will kill his zebra friend for food, Alex exiles himself, becoming a hermit.

When the crazy penguins run their ship aground on the island, Marty heads into the jungle to give Alex the good news that they can now escape. The foosa close in to attack the vulnerable zebra, and friendship triumphs as Alex springs to the rescue. But it’s almost too late. The foosa are no longer intimidated by a lion who doesn’t want to kill. It takes the penguins, now a well-disciplined CIA paramilitary troop, to help the zoo animals escape the fate of the natural food chain.

In the end, the former zoo animals set up house on the abandoned ship, where they create their own version of civilization that enables Alex to live free of his dark side and where friendship reigns.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Rose of Lima (1586-1617)

Today, St. Rose of Lima is recognized as the first canonized saint of the Americas. But when she was a young girl, it was her beauty that distinguished her. She came to be known not by her baptismal name (Isabel) but by the name of one of nature’s loveliest flowers.

Most women of her day expected to become wives and mothers. Not Rose, who let her parents know early in life that she did not wish to marry. Prayer and penance mattered much more to the young girl, who took Catherine of Siena as her model. The more her parents talked to Rose of marriage, the more she dug in her heels. Instead, she told them, she wished to enter a convent. After 10 years they reached a compromise: Rose would continue to live at home, where she would live a life of penance and solitude.

She became a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic, wore a religious habit and lived in a hermitage built for her on her family’s property. There Rose led a simple, quiet life of prayer and penance. In time, the maiden who spent so much time in prayer gained the attention of the sick and poor. They came to her for material assistance as well as maternal concern. She especially loved her work among the Indians and slaves and delighted in telling all she met about Jesus and his special love for them.

Rose’s humble efforts to help the needy represented the beginning of social services in Peru. The woman who became known as the Mother of the Poor said, “When we serve the poor and the sick we serve Jesus. We must not fail to help our neighbors, because in them we serve Jesus.”

When Rose died at the age of 31, her coffin was carried through the streets of her beloved city. Her feast day is August 23.

Sister Jeanette Skinner, S.S.S.

Centuries ago, St. Rose wanted nothing more than to enter religious life. When frustrated in that goal, she found a way to meet her needs by serving the poor out of her home in Lima, Peru. Forty-seven years ago, Sister Jeanette Skinner entered the Sisters of Social Service so she could fully devote herself to the poor in Los Angeles, California.

“The poor teach me to be centered and to really pay attention to them as individuals,” Sister Jeanette told Every Day Catholic. If they need to talk they find a listening ear in the native of L.A. who has served at St. Gerard Majella Parish for the past 19 years. Latinos make up the majority of the parish, which also includes Caucasians, African-Americans, Asians and Middle Easterners. Many of them struggle to make ends meet.

Although Sister Jeanette has an office on the parish property, she works without a budget. “Whatever I can scrounge up is what we have to work with,” she said cheerfully. But that only makes her work harder and more creatively to respond to the array of needs she sees in a week. At the top of the list are people needing emergency food assistance. With the help of volunteers, she feeds up to 3,000 people (or 375 families) each week. Rather than receive one or more bags of prepackaged groceries, recipients are invited to shop. They look over the stacked shelves and make their own choices rather than having somebody else do that for them, Sister Jeanette explained. Afterwards, many of them drop a piece of paper or two in the prayer request basket on a nearby desk.

“Not everyone who comes is Catholic,” she said, “but we’re all children of God. We’re here to serve one another.”

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