12/08/16

Hello blog readers. What I hope to do with this blog is to focus our attention on the meaning of discipleship and Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. Unlike the Year of Mercy blog I don’t think that I will be able to write a daily blog. That does not mean that weeks will go by between blog entries. But when I get busy I won’t be so stressed over writing a daily entry. I wrote 349 blog entries for the Year of Mercy. I am not expecting to duplicate that feat with this blog.

 

Sherry Waddell wrote a book titled Forming Intentional Disciples. Good book to read if one wants to grow as a disciple. On page 66 she describes being an intentional disciple: Intentional discipleship is not accidental or merely cultural. It is not just a matter of “following the rules.” A disciple’s primary motivation comes from within, out of a Holy Spirit-given “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” All things serve and flow form the central thing: the worship and love of the Blessed Trinity with one’s whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and therefore the love of one’s neighbor as oneself.

Maybe it is appropriate that I am starting the blog on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, because Mary is the perfect disciple. In the book about stewardship, Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response, the American bishops wrote: After Jesus, it is the Blessed Virgin Mary who by her example most perfectly teaches the meaning of discipleship and stewardship to the fullest sense. All of their essential elements are found in her life: she was called and gifted by God; she responded generously, creatively, and prudently; she understood her divinely assigned role as “handmaid” in terms of service and fidelity. [Luke 1:26-56]

There is a lot to contemplate in the bishop’s words as we celebrate the Immaculate Conception today.

 

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11/20/16

The end of the Year of Mercy!

I hope that my efforts over the last year have helped you, my blog readers, to become more merciful as God is merciful. I did not realize what I was undertaking when I said that I would write a daily blog during this jubilee year. The book that I thought that I would use for my daily reflections has hardly been opened. I just did not find the reflections that insightful, so I was left to search out, and discover, other resources.

[[I promised to do this daily blog without recognizing the demands. Maybe I am crazy. But starting on December 8, just like the Year of Mercy blog, I will start a blog about discipleship and being disciples. This time I am not planning to do a daily blog but will try to frequently enter new blogs. This time also I would like more of your input; your stories of how you lived a life of a disciple and helped to build the kingdom of God. I can share these stories with those reading the blog. So stay tuned. Here we will go again on December 8. I am not sure of the web site to access this new blog so go to the parish web site www.saintthomashuntsville.org and I will have the link to the discipleship blog there.]

For my final blog let me share with you an “experience” that the author C. Vanessa White offered in an article title Spirituality: Many Paths, One God in the November, 2016 issue of the magazine Pastoral Music:

 

There is a lot of bad news out there, and you give power to what you focus on. So if you only focus on the bad, you give it power. Here’s an exercise I use: I ask people to look around a room and pick out everything that’s yellow. Decorations, clothing, carpeting –find whatever’s yellow. Then I have them close their eyes and concentrate on all those yellows, all those shades of one color. Then, with their eyes still shut, I ask them to tell me where the reds are in the room. And they can’t, because they’re so focused on everything that’s yellow. They have given that color the power to dominate what they see and imagine. In a similar way, God’s grace is all around, but if we focus only on what’s wrong with or what’s lacking in the world, ourselves, and other people, we can’t experience God’s grace. We sap ourselves of energy: we block ourselves from receiving God’s Sprit, from doing the work that God is calling us to, from being prophetic…. Our focus is off, so we need to recognize God’s presence, especially the presence of God in each other.

 

I share this story with the idea that we need to focus on mercy as we end the Year of Mercy, so our growth in mercy will never end. Instead of focusing, for instance, on what someone did to us, focus on how we could be merciful to that person. When a friend is sharing a personal problem with us, focus on how God’s mercy could help that person. Instead of focusing on the bad in the world, focus on how I can change the world through simple acts of mercy. That is the way that Jesus did it. I remember telling a person who had dealt with many, many health problems and had become depressed and discouraged, to ask God to manifest a “point of light,” some small source of hope each day. To let those points of light add up to where she was always focused on God revealing Himself throughout the day in many small ways and thereby move beyond her discouragement. We might use the same idea to continue the Year of Mercy for the rest of our lives.

Thank you to all my faithful blog readers. I know that some people wanted a copy of my blog. I think that I have archived all the daily entries and am willing to share a flash drive containing those entries if you want.

Let’s give power to mercy by always focusing on mercy!

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11/19/16

As I was searching for some homily helps I discovered some reflections that one preaching service to which I subscribe provided to me. In it, there are some reflections on mercy based on the pope’s declaration for this Year of Mercy. As we approach the end of the Year of Mercy, maybe revisiting the declaration of mercy is appropriate. Let me share with you some of the reflections from this preaching resource:

 

Jesus Christ is the face of God’s mercy [Year of Mercy, #1]: We need to constantly contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a well spring of joy, serenity and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and humanity, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.

At times we are called to gaze ever more attentively on the mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives [Year of Mercy #3]: Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.

The mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality through which he reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child [Year of Mercy #6]: The mission Jesus received from the Father was that of revealing the mystery of divine love in its fullness. “God is love” (1John 4:8,16), John affirms for the first and only time in all of Holy Scripture. This love has now been made visible and tangible in Jesus’ entire life. His person is nothing but love, a love given gratuitously.

Saint Bede the Venerable, commenting on [Matthew 9:9-13], wrote that Jesus looked upon Matthew with merciful love and chose him: miserando atque eligendo. This expression impressed me so much that I chose it for my episcopal motto [Year of Mercy #8]: Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us.

As we can see in Sacred Scripture, mercy is a key word that indicates God’s action towards us. He does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviors that are shown in daily living [Year of Mercy #9]: Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.

“Merciful like the Father,” therefore, is the “motto” of this Holy Year. In mercy we find proof of how God loves us. He gives his entire self, always, freely, asking nothing in return. [Year of Mercy #14]: Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help.

Let us not forget the words of Saint John of the Cross: “as we prepare to leave this life, we will be judged on the basis of love.” [Year of Mercy #15]: This Holy Year will bring to the fore the richness of Jesus’ mission echoed in the words of the prophet: to bring a word and gesture of consolation to the poor, to proclaim liberty to those bound by new forms of slavery in modern society, to restore sight to those who can see no more because they are caught up in themselves, to restore dignity to all those from whom it has been robbed.

If God limited himself to only justice, he would cease to be God, and would instead be like human beings who ask merely that the law be respected. But mere justice is not enough. Experience shows that an appeal to justice alone will result in its destruction. This is why God goes beyond justice with his mercy and forgiveness. [Year of Mercy #21]: God’s justice is his mercy given to everyone as a grace that flows form the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus the Cross of Christ is God’s judgement on all of us and on the whole world, because through it he offers us the certitude of love and new life.

 

 

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11/18/16

The November, 2016 issue of the magazine The Liguorian, has a wonderful article about burying the dead, one of the corporal works of mercy. In the article the author, Andrew Minto, included some excellent and thought-provoking comments about the works of mercy in general. Let me share with you some of the wisdom from his article titled Bury the Dead:

 

The corporal works are expressions of divine mercy and hence call for theological considerations of their origin in and impetus from the inner mystery of the Trinity. (Catechism, 2360… Caring for the materially need among us is not about the one who performs the work. Rather, these works are about the mystery of God in our midst. They reveal the Father’s love, make Christ present, proclaim the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and advance the kingdom of God on earth. Moreover, since these works are the actualization of the Trinitarian mystery, they are inseparable from the life of virtue, that habitual choice for God’s way of life lived through us and performed through the power of Christ by the Holy Spirit. As with the exercise of any virtue, there is a measure of self-denial, a real asceticism.

The biblical notions about divine mercy place the accent not on social and religious obligation but on the generosity of God’s righteousness. Whereas covenant obligation weighs in favor of the consideration of duties and obligations, the benevolence of divine mercy is time and again shown to be that surprising gift of goodness and blessing that surpasses all expectations. In the midst of the Sermon on the Plain in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus expresses it poetically: “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you” (Luke 6:38).

The sacramental teaching of the Church, especially baptism conveys the idea that Christians, just like the Israelites of the Old Testament, do not merely imitate divine beneficence by following Christ’s example (John 13:15) but participate in it fully through union with him and by empowerment by the Holy Spirit (Romans 6:3, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 3:1-3). The true disciple is completely oriented toward living in Christ and Christ living in the disciple so that the mysteries of Christ’s ongoing presence in the world are actualized (CCC 520-521).

Hence, mercy enacted by God’s people, while appearing humanitarian and healthful for both the one who gives and the one who receives, is no mere human action. Because these works are a participation in and actualization of God’s righteousness and charity, they fulfill both a performative and informative role in the advancement of the kingdom.

On the one hand, engaging these works is to imitate Christ, executing the same works and proclaiming the same words he announced to the disciples. On the other hand, these works are signs that point beyond themselves to God’s abiding presence in both the one who actualizes them and the one for whom they are performed. By virtue of their sacramental significance, they disclose God’s presence not just to the person in need but to the Church and to the world.

Last Sunday’s lectionary included the reading from 2 Thessalonians where Paul challenged his community with the words that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat. Paul was speaking and writing to that community only and specifically to the lazy ones who were waiting for the resurrection, While waiting these lazy ones were mooching off the hard work of others. Maybe we could use Paul’s words and remind ourselves that if we want to eat at the heavenly banquet table one day, we have to be about the works of mercy daily in our lives. Through the works of mercy we not only manifest Christ’s presence to the world but we are drawn into deeper communion with Him by those merciful actions. And communion with Christ is what heaven is all about.

 

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11/17/16

I hope that you don’t mind if I take a nostalgia trip with my blog today. One of the blog entries that has most impacted my thinking on mercy is the one for August 9, 2016. The blog entry described an experience of Henri Nouwen from his book Adam. The reflection “speaks” to me because it reminds me to focus on the person when doing acts of mercy and not on my agenda. Christ is present in the person with whom I am sharing God’s mercy. To perform the act of mercy with that in mind makes the action fruitful for the person on the receiving end and for me on the giving end of the action. As Saint John Paul II said that an act of mercy is not really that until the person doing the act recognizes that he/she is receiving something also. Let me share with the entry from that day.

 

I have been reading an interesting book, Adam, written by Henri Nouwen. He describes his life in a community called Daybreak. Daybreak is a community that cares for people with various levels of disabilities. Henri was asked to care for a young man named, Adam, who was unable to care for himself and was unable to verbally communicate. Henri Nouwen, being a writer, priest, and university professor, felt very unprepared to care for Adam. As Nouwen describes his feelings, At first, I had to keep asking myself and others, ‘Why have you asked me to do this? Why did I say yes? What am I doing here? Who is this stranger [Adam] who is demanding such a big chunk of my time each day? Why should I, the least capable of all the people in the house, be asked to take care of Adam and not of someone whose needs are a bit less?

As I read Nouwen’s words, I remembered all the times God asked me to do something that I felt unprepared to do. Probably you have experienced the same? I remembered the time when God was asking me to do something that I did not want to do but needed to do it. Probably you have experienced the same? Saint Paul had similar experiences if you read 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. Jesus’ answer to Paul was always, My grace is sufficient for you. Power is made perfect in weakness.

In the book Nouwen describes what happened when he tried rushing his care for Adam which included waking Adam up, washing and shaving him daily, dressing him, feeding him, and getting Adam ready for the day’s group activities: I must confess that there were moments when I was impatient and preoccupied by what I was going to do when I had finished Adam’s [morning] routine. Then, without being conscious of his person, I started to rush him. Consciously, but mostly unconsciously, I hurriedly pushed his arms through the sleeves or his legs through his trousers. I wanted to be sure I was finished by 9 AM so I could go to my other work. Right here I learned that Adam could communicate. He let me know that I wasn’t bring really present to him and was more concerned about my schedule than about his. A few times when I was so pushy he responded by having a grand mal seizure, and I realized that it was his way of saying, ‘Slow down, Henri! Slow down.’ Well, it certainly slowed me down! A seizure so completely exhausted him that I had to stop everything I was doing and let him rest. Sometimes if it was a bad one, I brought him back to his bed and covered him with many blankets to keep him from shivering violently. Adam was communicating with me, and he was consistent in reminding me that he wanted and needed me to be with him unhurriedly and gently. He was clearly asking me if I was willing to follow his rhythm and adapt my ways to his needs. I found myself beginning to understand a new language, Adam’s language.

 Nouwen’s experience with Adam when Nouwen was trying to hurrying things up is important to reflect on. Sometimes – and I know that I have done this – we can be so focused on our agenda and what needs to get done, that while doing acts of mercy, we are doing them in a rushed manner. We are not focusing on the presence of Christ in the person that we are helping. We are performing our acts of mercy without a whole lot of mercy. Probably more out of frustration and annoyance than mercy. I have read that when people spoke to Saint John Paul II, he acted like the other person was the only one who existed in the world and as if the other person’s needs were the only thing that he (the pope) had to worry about. A great challenge in our works of mercy is to have that attitude and focus on the person to whom we are minister. Something to think about.

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11/16/16

Pope Francis spoke to a group at the Jesuit Refugee Service in Rome on September 10, 2013. The center deals with the immigrants and refugees streaming from the war-torn countries of the Middle East. Welcoming the stranger is an important work of mercy as we see massive migrations of people throughout the world. In his speech, Pope Francis spoke about 3 activities that missionaries of mercy must embrace: serving, accompanying, and defending. While the part of the talk dealing with accompanying was more focused on those working at the refugee center in Rome, the other parts of his talk certainly can be applied to us, missionaries of mercy. Let me share with you the pope’s reflection:

 

Serving. What does this mean? Serving means giving an attentive welcome to a person who arrives. It means bending over those in need and stretching out a hand to them, without calculation, without fear, but with tenderness and understanding, just as Jesus knelt to wash the Apostles’ feet. Serving means working beside the neediest of people, establishing with them first and foremost human relationships of closeness and bonds of solidarity. Solidarity, this word that frightens the developed world. People try to avoid saying it. Solidarity to them is almost a bad word. But it is our word! Serving means recognizing and accepting requests for justice and hope, and seeking roads together, real paths that lead to liberation.

The poor are also the privileged teachers of our knowledge of God; their frailty and simplicity unmask our selfishness, our false security, our claim to be self-sufficient. The poor guide us to experience God’s closeness and tenderness, to receive his love in our life, his mercy as the Father who cares for us, for all of us, with discretion and with patient trust.

…I would therefore like to launch a question to everyone… do I bend down over someone in difficulty or am I afraid of getting my hands dirty? Am I closed in on myself, on my possessions, or am I aware of those in need of help? Do I only serve myself or am I able to serve others, like Christ who came to serve even to the point of giving up his life? Do I look in the eye those who are asking for justice, or do I turn my gaze aside to avoid looking them in the eye?

Defending. Serving and accompanying also means defending, it means taking the side of the weakest. How often do we raise our voice to defend our own rights, but how often we are indifferent to the rights of others! How many times we either don’t know or don’t want to give voice to the voice of those — like you — who have suffered and are suffering, of those who’ve seen their own rights trampled upon, of those who have experienced so much violence that it has even stifled their desire to have justice done!

It is important for the whole Church that welcoming the poor and promoting justice not be entrusted solely to “experts” but be a focus of all pastoral care, of the formation of future priests and religious, and of the ordinary work of all parishes, movements and ecclesial groups. … The Lord calls us to live with greater courage and generosity … We do a great deal, but perhaps we are called to do more, firmly accepting and sharing with those whom Providence has given us to serve; overcoming the temptation of spiritual worldliness to be close to simple people and, especially, to the lowliest. We need communities with solidarity that really put love into practice!

 

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11/14/16

One of the corporal works of mercy is to feed the hungry. This term makes us often think of food banks and supplying various types of food to feed the hungry in our area. But feeding the hungry has other connotations too. I share with you an article in the current issue (November/December, 2016) of Maryknoll [www.maryknollmagazine.org]. The article is titled The Balancing Act of Feeding the World by Lynn Monahan. I hope that the article expands our concept of “feeding the hungry.”

 

For most of his mission career, Maryknoll Father Kenneth Thesing has grappled with the specter of hunger. Assigned to East Africa as a young priest in 1972, the missioner has seen firsthand the ravages of drought and famine in a part of the world known for shortages of food and water. Father Thesing grew up on a farm in Lewiston, Minn., and his family still cultivates the soil and raises livestock in the Midwest. Over his lifetime he has witnessed the transformation of U.S. agriculture in the 20th century from smaller family farms to often huge agribusinesses. Yet, as a missioner he has walked the savanna of Tanzania with subsistence farmers who could barely eke out enough to feed their families. Today, as a delegate of the International Congregations of Religious at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, Father Thesing, 74, draws on his understanding of those two extremes—the agribusiness or industrial agriculture model of farming and the plight of the rural poor in developing countries—in working to reduce hunger and malnutrition worldwide. “Hunger is a function of poverty,” says Father Thesing, whose work includes providing input for FAO policies and implementing them on the local level. “People are hungry for the most part because they are poor. It is not for a lack of world food production.” The world produces more than enough food to feed the planet’s 7.3 billion people, he says. “Enough food is produced to feed 10 billion people,” he says. Sadly, he adds, as much as 40 percent of the food produced globally rots or is wasted before it can get to hungry mouths. Key to eliminating hunger, says Father Thesing, is sustainable and resilient food systems—with an emphasis on the plural: more than one system. In the world of food production one size does not fit all, he says. “We only think of the agriculture industrial system because that’s what we know, but 70 percent of the food that’s consumed in the world is produced by small-scale farmers,” says Father Thesing, who as a young missioner in Tanzania ran an agriculture program for the Shinyanga Diocese. He says the preferred term in agriculture these days is food producers and that includes farmers, fisher folk, forestry dwellers and people who raise livestock. “Quite a few of the less developed countries of the world will tend to talk in terms of agroecology, agroecological methods and systems,” the missioner says. “That means more local control of agriculture: people have their own seeds; people have their own methods; and people have their own ideas of how agriculture develops in an area.” Ironically, the very people who are small-scale farmers are also among the most vulnerable to hunger, the missioner says. They’re dependent on the vicissitudes of weather and markets and are often cash poor. “This is the basic question: What model of agriculture is going to serve into the future?” he asks. For many people, that question boils down to one of two choices: industrial agriculture or agroecology. Agroecology is akin to organic agriculture, Father Thesing says. It’s often an integrated crop and animal system similar to what he grew up with on his father’s farm. “We had cows, pigs and chickens, so we had our own manure, and we had corn, oats and alfalfa that we plowed down,” he says. “We had an integrated system of animals and crops, natural manures to fertilize the land as well as supplementing it with commercial fertilizer.” All that has changed from the 1950s and 1960s. “Now my brother, for example, has nothing but artificial fertilizers because there are no animals left on the farm,” Father Thesing says. “That’s a result of our food system and the development of our agricultural system.” His brother and nephew grow corn and soybeans. Industrialized countries tend to talk about agribusiness and industrial agriculture, he says. This is the dominant model in the United States and Canada and other major food exporting countries. It involves large-scale farming and monoculture planting using hybrid and genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Almost by definition, he says, agribusiness agriculture inputs like seed, fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides are controlled by international corporations. At the very least, he says, it’s “a high financial input model,” requiring large cash outlays annually. For many observers, that agribusiness model—vast expanses of crops growing in countries with fertile plains like the United States—is the future, a world in which the bread basket nations feed the world’s hungry. That system has made the small family farm anachronistic in much of this country, yet for good or bad is feeding our nation, he says. Whether that system can sustainably feed the world, though, is very much disputed, especially after the world economic and food crisis of 2007–2008 and Russia’s temporary ban on wheat exports in 2010 following a drought that devastated its grain production. Russia’s ban on wheat exports sent shockwaves through countries dependent on such exports, Father Thesing notes. These kinds of events are playing into the issue of food security, he says. For some food import dependent countries, the wheat ban raised a concern, he says: “If we’ve reached the stage where major players will do something like this, what’s to protect us?” The food crisis helped give impetus to the agroecology movement, which emphasizes local control of food production as well as use of natural local inputs and resources. The FAO does not favor agroecology over agribusiness or vice versa, says Father Thesing, but supports both systems. In 2014 FAO sponsored a symposium on agroecology and last year held one on agriculture biotechnologies. “In FAO the most important principle is food security, which means accessible adequate food of good nutritional quality, sensitive to what people like in different areas and cultures around the world,” he says. Another priority is people having control over their food supply, which is essential for food security. With that in mind, the priest advocates for the U.N.’s Zero Hunger Challenge, an initiative launched in 2012 by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that seeks to establish access to food as a human right and to build sustainable food and agriculture systems. The goal of the challenge, which is part of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, seeks “measurable progress in ending hunger and malnutrition and creating inclusive, sustainable and resilient food systems by 2030,” according to the United Nations. Most countries can produce enough food to feed their populations, Father Thesing says, and while only about 1 percent of the U.S. population makes a direct living from agriculture, worldwide as many as 3.5 billion people are engaged in agriculture. That’s almost half the world’s population. With his feet figuratively planted in both the industrialized agriculture of the developed world and the traditional farming of the developing world, Father Thesing sees the issues of food and food security from both sides, noting the benefits and dangers of both. He worries about a few massive multinational corporations, such as the Monsanto Company, controlling the world’s supply of seeds. On the other hand, he has seen local farmers destroy good land in a few decades by poor management, clearing and overgrazing, leaving once productive soil depleted. “So you’ve got these two poles,” Father Thesing says. “The answer of the industrialized world and agribusiness is we can somehow produce our way out of hunger. The other says, ‘No, we need to have much more control in the hands of the people who are actually working the land so that they have a sense of dignity in producing the food for their families and more for others.’ ” The question of hunger is deeply related to the questions of land and labor and the need for people to come together for global solutions. It is the poor who are hungry, he says. “For us as Christians, as Catholics, it is a moral question,” he says, “and an ethical question because we start by saying each person has the dignity of being created equally by God.”

 

 

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11/13/16

Let me continue with yesterday’s blog theme of unity. In our very divided country, how can we be instruments of reconciliation? I always go back to what the bishops at Vatican II said when they described the church. As the Church, who and what are we? The bishops said that we are like sacraments: signs and instruments of communion with God and union with one another. It is the Christian nature to be sources of healing and reconciliation. As we come to the final week of this Year of Mercy maybe keeping our “nature” as “Church” in mind might be the task that guide us in the future after this jubilee year ends. Our divided country certainly can use some disciples who are signs and instruments of union and communion, both with God and with one another.

Henri Nouwen talked about how he was a sign and instrument of communion in one of the chapters in the book Jesus: A Gospel. Let me share with you some of Nouwen’s words in the chapter titled All of Humanity Is Included.

 

Jesus also says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three” (Luke 12:51-2).What do I do with all these harsh words? Isn’t there enough religious conflict? Isn’t Jesus inciting me here to a confrontational life and stirring me up to create separation between people? I still remember Pasolini’s movie The Gospel According to  St. Matthew. There Jesus is portrayed as an intense, angry rebel who alienates everyone in sight.

I have made an inner decision to keep looking at Jesus as the one who calls us to the heart of God, a heart that knows only love. It is from that perspective that I reflect on everything Jesus says, including his harsh statements. Jesus created divisions, but I have chosen to believe that these divisions were the result not of intolerance or fanaticism but of his radical call to love, to forgive, and be reconciled.

Every time I have an opportunity to create understanding between people and foster moments of healing, forgiving, and uniting, I will try to do it, even though I might be criticized as too soft, too bending, too appeasing. Is this desire a lack of fervor and zeal for the truth? Is it an unwillingness to be a martyr? Is it spinelessness? I am not always sure what comes from my weakness and what comes from my strength. Probably I will never know. But I have to trust that, after sixty-four years of life, I have some ground to stand on, a ground where Jesus stands with me.

 

Jesus’ whole life manifests that mission of love and mercy. Through that love Jesus wishes that we all be one as He is one with His Father. Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa describes how Jesus acted with love after his resurrection in the book The Gaze of Mercy in the chapter titled The Resurrection of Christ and the Victory of Mercy. After Jesus’ resurrection, He did not seek revenge on those who had harmed Him or those who had doubted His words. Jesus never had a “told-you-so” moment with his accusers and doubters. Instead Cantalamessa remarks that Jesus acted humbly in the glory of His resurrection, just as He did in His death on Calvary. “Why does the victory of mercy necessarily have to be discrete and humble? The answer is simple: because it is a victory of love, and there is no love without humility…. When it is genuine and total, love recoils from revenge; it lets things be. The humility of love furnishes the key to understanding this. People do not need much effort to put themselves in the limelight, but on the other hand, it takes a lot of strength to step aside, to be self-effacing. God has an unlimited capacity for concealing himself, and the paschal mystery of the death and resurrection is the definitive revelation of that.

 

As Fr. Nouwen said in that chapter which I referenced above: Each one of us has a mission in life. Jesus prays to his Father for his followers, saying. “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18)… (We) were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was. Once we start living our lives with that conviction, we will soon know what we were sent to do.

 

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11/12/16

I hope you don’t mind me repeating the blog entry for 10/10/16. With the elections behind us, there are many calls for us to be united. Many are aware of how divided we are as a country. The blog entry for 101/10/16 mentioned how Mother Teresa worked in a country where Christians were a minority and the majority of people were Hindu. How did all people in India see Mother Teresa as one of them. The answer can partially be found in the following blog entry:

The gospel on Sunday [Luke 17:11-19 ] presented the healing of the 10 lepers with only the Samaritan leper returning to give Him thanks. Although the story manifests the healing power of Jesus, the gospel also highlighted the tensions, distrust, and division between the Jewish people and the Samaritan people. So often today we recognize the divisions and distrust that exist in this country and throughout the world. Yet when we receive the Eucharist at Mass we remind ourselves that our mission is one of communion: communion with God and being instruments of that communion in our world.

 

Mother Teresa was certainly a wonderful example of the powerful force of love which brought people together. She, a Catholic nun, worked in a mainly Hindu country yet was respected by people of all religions. Her focus on love was instrumental in her powerful witness of communion. In the book, The Love That Made Mother Teresa, David Scott, the author, speaks about that aspect of Mother Teresa’s life in the chapter titled Brothers and Sisters All. Let me share some of his thoughts and Mother Teresa’s words for your reflection today:

Mother Teresa made herself a living example of the Catholic vision she wanted us all to see, the vision of a single universal family under the God revealed by Jesus. “By blood I am Albanian,” she said. “By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”

She was a missionary in post-modern times. Especially in Asia, the very idea of a Christian “mission” to save souls had fallen out of favor and been deemed dubious and backward, an affront to the consciences of Hindus and other non-Christians. In the name of tolerance and respect for other religions, many missionaries started teaching that Jesus was just another holy man, not the Son of God, and that believing in him wasn’t the only way to salvation, but one of many valid paths in the modern spiritual wilderness.

Mother Teresa had too much respect for the truth of her own conscience to ever fall into this trap of denying her Lord or the mission of his Church. “I love all religions but I am in love with my own,” she would say. “Naturally I would like to give the treasure I have to you, but I cannot. I can only pray for you to receive it.”

She earned the trust and friendship of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and atheists. Many called her “Mother” and came to her for prayers and advice. But everyone knew that her heart belonged to Jesus and that she hoped that their hearts would one day belong to him too. In this, she was a kind of missionary to missionaries, showing them new possibilities for preaching the gospel in an age of radical religious pluralism.

Her way was based not on learned dialogue but on personal witness and acts of love. “Proclaiming is not preaching – it is being,” she said. We must proclaim Christ by the way we talk, by the way we walk, the way we laugh – by our life – so that everyone will know that we belong to him.” And watching her love in action – the way she talked, walked, and laughed – was perhaps the finest argument anyone could make for the joy and liberation that comes from believing in Jesus.

Making converts to Jesus, however, was not her focus. Rather, she tried to make converts to love. “Only God can change a person’s heart,” she would say. Her job was to love – to radiate the love of Christ and, through her works of love, to show people God’s love for them. By her love, she helped to draw men and women near to God. From there, she said, it’s up to God to take people the rest of the way.

 In that chapter there is a story of a man in her AIDS hospice who was converted by the love shown to him:

When that man was admitted, he had been bitter and angry. For twenty years he had been leading a dissolute life and had strayed far from the Church. The love he was shown at the hospice brought him to his knees and led him to confess his sins to a priest and hear the words of God’s pardon. For the mercy he was shown, he wanted to spend his dying days offering sacrifices of pain and love for others.

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11/11/16

The book, beautiful Mercy: Experiencing God’s Unconditional Love So We Can Share It With Others, contains various stories about mercy. As we come to the end of this jubilee year, we might reflect on what we have learned about mercy and how this information will inform our service as the Lord’s disciples in the future.

I would like to share with you a story from this book about encountering Jesus on Calvary when we act with mercy. The reflection is from Mother Olga Yaqob in the chapter titled Hopeful Mercy. Mother Olga is the founder and mother servant of Daughters of Mary of Nazareth and was born and raised in Iraq.

 

Every year on Good Friday, we pray with the old traditional hymn, “Where you there when they crucified my Lord?” For a lot us, it is a very familiar and memorable hymn because we grew up with it in our Catholic tradition.

Though it is traditionally and historically very true, none of us today, outside the sacrifice of the Mass, can go back to Calvary and meet the Lord there. However, throughout the years of my vocational path and ministry, I have come to learn that through both the corporal and the spiritual works of mercy, the Lord has led me to his Calvary. There I have come to encounter his pierced heart, touched many of his wounds, and held his dead body by caring for the wounded of war and burying the dead in my homeland, Iraq.

Shortly before Christmas Eve, when our community was praying with a dying person who was put on hospice care, I felt the presence of the Blessed Mother, sorrowful yet full of hope as this man was dying and moving on to eternal life. Since it was a few days before Christmas, his favorite season, our sister began singing Christmas carols. During that time his wife asked me to help her with changing him. As I was doing so, I helped her to hold his very weak and frail body which was so worn from a long battle with cancer and months of treatment. I felt the presence of the Blessed Mother again carrying this poor broken body on the threshold between earth and heaven. I felt the heart, which had held the body of her Son on Good Friday yet believed that the Resurrection Sunday was coming. Her sorrowful heart and hopeful spirit gave me the strength to be with this family whose father died on Christmas morning, and she continues to guide my ministry of burying the dead and helping families during their time of grief and loss.

Through my ministry with young people, I have come to witness a different kind of death and grief – a spiritual one. Today we find in our culture many people who are spiritually poor and unfortunately at times perhaps even spiritually dead. The effects of sin and ignorance on faith and morality can be very dangerous to the lives of individuals, leading to confusion and poor choices, which harm the soul. Unfortunately we all know families and individuals who have been impacted by such darkness and loss. Here too I find my Calvary, through the spiritual works of mercy of instructing the ignorant, comforting the afflicted, and helping those who might have been at the edge of spiritual death to come back to life and allow themselves to be found by God, who is not only the source of life but also the giver of grace for those who seek new birth in Christ through the sacrament of his mercy. I have seen the birth of such life in young women who came to the fountain of mercy after suffering form abortion and in young men who came seeking healing after being wounded in the darkness of pornography and addiction.

Yes, it is painful to be at Calvary, yet because there I meet Jesus, the one who is life and Resurrection, even when I’m there to bury the dead or walk with those who are spiritual dead, I stand there with hope, to carry hope, and to pass on hope.

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