This Week in Prayer, Service & Community

July 1, 2016

Dear Parishioners:

I encourage you to read about the great strides we are making on a long-term social concerns project in the "This week in service" section. 

This week in prayer:

Passive crosses and active crosses – Jesus seems to have both sorts of crosses in mind when he asks us to take up our crosses every day.

Passive crosses? Those acts of self-restraint that help Jesus’ hopes for the world become a reality. Those moments when we want to do something but, because of our relationships with Christ, choose not to. Sunday’s readings give us many encouraging examples of people carrying passive crosses.

In the first reading, the one in which Elijah missions Elisha, Elisha has to give up his old way of life, including his part in what seems to be a very successful family business. Elijah’s call caused Elisha to leave all that behind. Elisha’s choice to cook a pair of perfectly good oxen symbolizes his embrace of his new way. Elisha accepted the passive cross. He made the difficult choice to forego something he clearly enjoyed. He could have chosen otherwise.

In the second reading, Paul encourages the people of Galatia to take up the passive cross of self-restraint. He asks them to forgo certain pleasures and to forgo crabby behavior, and to see that by doing so they are helping to fulfill Jesus’ hopes for their community.

Finally, in the gospel, Jesus asks James and John, the “Thunder Brothers,” to take up the passive cross of self-restraint, to dismiss their desire to “call down fire from heaven” to punish a Samaritan they didn’t’ like. James and John clearly thought the show of force would advance Jesus’ cause. Jesus rebuked them. Perhaps James and John scratched their heads, wondering why they needed to forego an inclination that seemed to align with God’s hopes.

Acts of self-restraint are hair shirts if we don’t trust that the tough choices advance God’s hopes. Acts of self-restraint become graced crosses when we trust that those acts align with God’s hopes. Hair shirts generate resentment and inconsistency. Crosses produce peace and steadiness.

It’s not about finding new crosses to carry. It’s about converting hair shirts to crosses. It’s about taking an inspired look at your acts of self restraint and recognizing those acts as instruments of transformation. Can you name three or four hair shirts that are better treated as passive crosses? Three or four ways in which you currently restrain your impulses – and then notice the links between those acts of self denial and God’s hopes? 

Maybe you postpone vacation plans or a new car because doing so is good for your family? Maybe you stay away from certain people, maybe even good people, because doing so enables you to focus more on Christ’s desires? Maybe you stay away from certain food or drink because doing so leaves you more peace-filled and ready to serve. Maybe you avoid retaliatory speech because you know that God is hoping you will avoid it? Name three or four acts of self-restraint that you really should regard as passive crosses that answer Christ’s call.

Read this week’s readings

Listen to this week’s readings and homily

This week in service:

Parishioners who attended confirmation heard about our JQ project. Those who noticed the door-boxes (the containers once known as “poor-boxes”) will recall that their signs indicated “The JQ Project.” As of Wednesday, after a few months of dedicated effort, it is time to provide details.

James Q is a terrific young man from South Plainfield. Prior to August 27, 2014 he lived like most gifted 20-somethings. He attended college, played soccer, lifted weights, chilled with his friends, dreamed of his future and planned accordingly. Since that date, because of an accident in which he was an innocent victim, he is not like most 20-somethings. He is a quadriplegic. He cannot use any muscles from the neck down. He is also an extraordinary young man. He is determined to graduate from college and live his life to the fullest. He needs help.

Our parish is helping. Michelle Laffoon, our remarkable Director of Social Ministries, learned about James just before Christmas. His story tore at our hearts. It also set us to wondering how we might help James reclaim his life. That wondering has produced three questions and three responses.

First, how can we help James’ family renovate their home in order to accommodate his new reality? The proper configuration will go a very long way in helping James reach his goals. I discussed the issue with our Parish Council and our Finance Council and we could not figure out any way to provide meaningful assistance. I then contacted my beloved cousin Mary and she put me in touch with the TV show “George to the Rescue” and low and behold, the renovations – after months of back and forth – are officially scheduled to begin on July 11 and will take three weeks to complete. We will be providing some financial support from our Social Concerns ministry and we will be providing some grunt labor. Any parishioner who would like to help with the landscaping (our specific contribution to the project) – please get in touch with Michelle or me. Parishioners who are able to help will be asked to be at James’ home for the day of the “reveal.” The show will air this fall and will mention St. Joe’s important role. 

The second question – how might we help empower James to navigate his new life: helping him to recruit the resources and people who could help him finish his college education and seek therapeutic improvements for his paralysis. The answer came in a wonderful way. Several weeks ago, “This Week” included a request for help with an effort to manage a project. Our good Lord inspired Dennis George to answer the request. In the last few weeks, Dennis has mapped out a strategy for mobilizing resources and has started to act. The results have been impressive. The work is very much in progress but is pointing toward great results thanks to Dennis’ guidance and his rapport with James’ family. With support from Dennis and the parish, it seems most likely that James will reach his potential and shine as an inspiring example of grit and determination. Special help from Ben Laffoon has also been invaluable.

The third question is the catch all question – about things like helping James to get a van that can get him to rehab and to college. That is a work in progress as well. Some of these questions will be articulated, addressed and resolved AFTER the renovations. Please let us know if you have any inspirations.

This week in community:

  • Keep an eye peeled for a special edition of the “Community” update – that will inform you of the many remarkable physical plan projects that have completed by our parishioners – and will identify remaining opportunities to take care of the church. That edition will also specify the other work that has been completed recently and the work that remains to be done.

With all best blessings for your celebration of our nation’s freedom – 

Fr. Hank, SJ