March 13, 2009

A deeper relationship with God: Ministry’s stories of change and choices strive to bring people closer to Christ

By John Shaughnessy

One writer used the story of a small child building sandcastles by the sea to reflect upon life, death and faith.

Another shared the story of a young woman rushing to one of the most important meetings of her life, and the fateful decision that she made on the way there—a story about the choices we make, and how they can change our lives.

Both stories reflect the essence of the Reflection Ministry of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, a ministry that uses the Internet to share daily e-mail reflections on Scripture, prayer and faith with people across the archdiocese, the United States and the world. (Sign up for daily e-mail reflections from St. Monica)

It’s all done in the hope of helping people develop a deeper relationship with God.

It’s all done by a team of 14 contributors who represent different walks of life—computer experts, a doctor, an accountant, retirees, a youth minister and two priests, among others.

Their stories and insights reflect their diversity, touching upon a wide range of topics that include marriage, angels, work, relationships, strangers, job loss and children.

As the St. Monica Reflection Ministry starts its 10th year, its writers were invited by The Criterion to share their favorite reflections. Here are five of their choices.

Entertaining angels

Bob Einterz remembered it as a simple yet remarkable moment in his sister’s life. He thought of that moment again when he wrote a reflection about this verse from Hebrews 13:2: “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.”

“When my sister was a senior in high school, she applied for a competitive scholarship at a major university,” Einterz noted. “The last step of the application process was an interview with one of the trustees of the university at a downtown office building. Running late, but dressed professionally in her one business suit, my sister hurried into the building toward the designated office door.

“There, she spied an elderly man fumbling with a door latch, a couple of screws and a screwdriver. He was on his knees, facing the door, with his back to her. His baggy pants had fallen slightly from his waist, exposing the uppermost cheeks of his buttocks.

“My sister’s immediate impulse was to rush through the door to her appointment. But, sensing that the old man might need a hand, she stopped, stooped to pick up a screw, gave it to the man, and offered to help. He declined her offer.

“Imagine my sister’s surprise five minutes later when she was called into the interview with the trustee to discover that the man sitting behind the desk was the same man who had been fumbling with the latch. The man greeted her, again thanked her for stopping to help him, explained that he knew everything he needed to know about her, and offered her the scholarship.

“As emphasized in today’s first reading, happiness can be found in the ordinary activities of our ordinary lives, particularly when we dignify relationships. Through simple kindnesses extended to one another, each and every one of us can discover a path to happiness, in this world and for eternity.”

Building sandcastles at sunset

The years have long passed since Jim Welter has been considered a child, but the child within him responded to these words from Jesus, “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Welter, who started the St. Monica Reflection Ministry in 2000, shared this story:

“It’s summer, a lazy Sunday afternoon. The sunlight glistens on the water as the waves gently wash to shore. The beach stretches as far as the eye can see. A child plays in the sand. He builds a castle, and then another. As the sun moves slowly across the sky, a moat emerges, and water is brought from the sea in a hundred trips.

“Now, the sun is low, and the waves increase. ‘Time to go!’ calls a voice from the shore.

“The child laughs, watching as everything he has built is washed away. He knows he can’t take his castles with him. The joy is in the building. The music is in the song that is sung. The goal is the journey. All is washed back to the sea. It is as it should be. The day has ended. The child laughs with glee, takes his father’s hand and goes home.

“Throughout our lives, we build our castles, toil in the sun, make a hundred trips to the sea. ‘Time to go!’ calls a voice from the shore. The day has ended.

“May we, too, know that we can’t take our castles with us. The joy is in the building. The music is in the song that is sung. The goal is the journey. All is washed back to the sea. It is as it should be.

“When we hear that voice, may we laugh with glee, take our Father’s hand and go home.”

Losing a job, finding a deeper faith

Katherine Duck saw herself in a parable in which Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. Unfortunately, she saw herself among those people who ignored the king’s invitation because they were too busy with work.

“A few years ago, when I consistently worked more than 60 hours a week, I wore my busy schedule like a badge of honor,” she wrote in one of her reflections.

“However, the truth is, my job absorbed me, and like some of the people in today’s Gospel who were too busy to accept the king’s invitation, I refused invitations because I was busy and preoccupied. I even scheduled my mother’s funeral on a Saturday so I could be there.

“I bowed to the demands of my job because I thought my family needed the income it generated. I loved my work, and I liked the respect and admiration of colleagues and those who worked for me. Then, circumstances dramatically changed, and my husband accepted a job in a different state.

“We survived financially without my job, but I had a hard time giving up the intangible benefits that I had so enjoyed. Nevertheless, what I had thought would be a curse became a blessing when I honestly began to examine my interior life.

“Enthralled by my chaotic career, I had almost quit praying. So the first thing I did was establish a routine for prayer and sacred reading. I found a spiritual director who helped me see that I had become a human doing instead of a human being. As I relaxed and let go, God generously gave me a new heart and new taste buds, and now I eagerly look forward to feasting at God’s table. If you are busy and distracted, slow down and come to the feast.”

Knowing the joy and pain of marriage

As the pastor of St. Monica Parish, Msgr. Paul Koetter strives to draw people closer to God. Sometimes that focus involves bringing a husband and wife closer to each other. Msgr. Koetter shared some thoughts on marriage in a reflection about the Genesis story of Adam and Eve.

“As a priest, it is not uncommon for me to have a marriage preparation session with a couple, then find myself meeting with someone who is struggling deeply in their marriage. I can see the joy in one couple, then the pain in the other. There is probably no topic that holds more fascination than the relationship of a man and woman. Books have been written by the thousands.

“In our [first reading] today, we hear the ‘second’ creation story. In this story, man is lonely, and although God has created many animals and birds, none are a suitable partner. So a deep sleep is cast upon the man, and a rib is taken from his side. And from the rib, a woman is formed. When the man sees her, he is pleased.

“Marriage is the one sacrament of the Catholic Church that finds its origins in the paradise story of creation found in Genesis. In this beautiful story, we learn a little about oneness, healing, unity and joy in marriage. Yet, the completion and the fulfillment of this relationship will occur in the second paradise—heaven. Until that time, marriages will know joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, fullness and void.

“But married couples receive glimpses of eternity. Those times when fear is gone, when doubt is removed, when love is truly known, then paradise is real.”

Responding to a knock on the door

As the director of youth ministry at St. Monica Parish, Joe Connelly tries to create opportunities for young people to deepen their relationship with Jesus. In one of his reflections, Connelly wrote about a similar opportunity that came unexpectedly for him one night.

“Last week, someone rang the doorbell of the building where I work at St. Monica. Being rather late in the evening, I was not expecting anyone. The person I encountered was not familiar to me, and she seemed troubled. I inquired as to how I could help her. She said that life had not been going well for her of late. At this point, I invited her in out of the darkness to see if she wanted to share more about her situation.

“She did, indeed, and shared the heartbreak of her life for the next 15 minutes. I then asked her what I could do to help her. She asked me simply, ‘Could I please have a rosary for prayer?’ Apparently, she was not Catholic, but had seen a relative using one recently, and she thought it had brought that family member a sense of peace.

“I [initially] thought she would request a food voucher or gas money or something else of a monetary nature. She had thrown me for a loop, and it was then that I saw the face of Jesus in her. I immediately fetched her one, along with a pamphlet explaining how to use it. She was gone a minute or two later, and I was richer for the experience.

“Like Herod in today’s Gospel, I keep trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus in my everyday life. This encounter with the woman and the rosary brought me one of my clearest views of the face of Christ in my life.

“So where are you encountering Jesus these days?”


(Click here for additional stories and insights from the St. Monica Reflection Ministry)

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