9/26/16

Yesterday the Office of Readings in the morning had a portion of the letter that Saint Polycarp wrote to the Philippians. Saint Polycarp is one of my favorite saints. Historically he was martyred around the year 150 A.D. He was friends with St. John and St. Irenaeus. The importance of these relationships is that there was a direct connection to Jesus through these relationships throughout the first two centuries: Jesus – Saint John; Saint John – Saint Polycarp; Saint Polycarp – St. Irenaeus who died at the end of the 2nd century. So the teachings of Christ were able to be faithfully transmitted in the early church through the successors of the apostles.

The second reason why I like St. Polycarp concerns his prayer as he was being martyred. As he was being burned at the stake, he offered a Eucharistic prayer of thanksgiving to God. Amazing! I don’t think that I would have been capable of that under those circumstances. Let me share with you the description of his execution.

They did not nail Polycarp, but only tied him up. And so he was bound, putting his arms behind his back, like a noble ram taken from a large flock for sacrifice, a burnt offering acceptable to and made ready for God. Then he gazed up to heaven and said: “O Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed child Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, God of the angels and the powers and of all creation, God of the whole race of the righteous who live in your sight: I bless you, for you have thought me worthy of this day and hour to share the cup of your Christ, as one of your martyrs, to rise again to eternal life in body and soul in the immortality of the Holy Spirit. May I be taken up today into your presence among your martyrs, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, in the manner you have prepared and have revealed, and have now brought to fulfillment, for you are the God of truth… And so also I praise you for all things; I bless and glorify you through our eternal high priest in heaven (Heb 4,14), in your beloved child, Jesus Christ, through whom be glory to you and to him and to the Holy Spirit, now and for the ages to come. Amen.” 

[[Letter of the church of Smyrna concerning the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp (69-155)] ]

 

Finally let me share with you Polycarp’s words from the Office of Readings for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time. His words challenge us on our path of mercy:

 

Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi: Mercy to you, and peace from God Almighty, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, be multiplied.

CHAP. I.–PRAISE OF THE PHILIPPIANS.

I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love [as displayed by God], and have accompanied, as became you, those who were bound in chains, the fitting ornaments of saints, and which are indeed the diadems of the true elect of God and our Lord; and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endureth even until now, and bringeth forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death, [but] “whom God raised froth the dead, having loosed the bands of the grave.” “In whom, though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; “ into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that “by grace ye are saved, not of works,” but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.

CHAP. II.–AN EXHORTATION TO VIRTUE.

“Wherefore, girding up your loins,” “serve the Lord in fear” and truth, as those who have forsaken the vain, empty talk and error of the multitude, and “believed in Him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and gave Him glory,” and a throne at His right hand. To Him all things” in heaven and on earth are subject. Him every spirit serves. He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead. His blood will God require of those who do not believe in Him. But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness; “not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing,” or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing, but being mindful of what the Lord said in His teaching: “Judge not, that ye be not judged; forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you; be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again; and once more, “Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

 

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9/25/16

On Friday, we celebrated the feast of S. Pius of Petrelcina, or as he is commonly known, Padre Pio. During a pilgrimage to Italy, I was able to visit the monastery where he lived. At one of the altars where he presided at Mass, there was a corporal on which some of the blood of his stigmata remained. It was an awesome sight to see. In addition, I was able to celebrate Mass at the altar in one of the main chapels where he also celebrated the Eucharist. It was incredible to realize that a saint had been there doing the same thing that I was. I will never forget the Mass. Our tour group of about 70 was there for the Mass. As the Mass went on, however, more and more people gathered to celebrate the Mass with us. I kept wondering if there was going to be enough consecrated hosts; where was the tabernacle key and how many hosts were in the tabernacle; and where oh where was the sacristan who set everything up. Fortunately we had enough hosts, but just barely enough.

 

Saint John Paul during this homily celebrating the canonization of Saint Padre Pio shared some thoughts about the saint that I share with you:

 

But may I never boast except in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6,14). 

        Is it not, precisely, the “glory of the Cross” that shines above all in Padre Pio? How timely is the spirituality of the Cross lived by the humble Capuchin of Pietrelcina. Our time needs to rediscover the value of the Cross in order to open the heart to hope.

        Throughout his life, he always sought greater conformity with the Crucified, since he was very conscious of having been called to collaborate in a special way in the work of redemption. His holiness cannot be understood without this constant reference to the Cross.

        In God’s plan, the Cross constitutes the true instrument of salvation for the whole of humanity and the way clearly offered by the Lord to those who wish to follow him (cf. Mk 16,24). The Holy Franciscan of the Gargano understood this well, when on the Feast of the Assumption in 1914, he wrote: “In order to succeed in reaching our ultimate end we must follow the divine Head, who does not wish to lead the chosen soul on any way other than the one he followed; by that, I say, of abnegation and the Cross” (Epistolario II, p. 155).   “I am the Lord who acts with mercy” (Jer 9,23). 

        Padre Pio was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making himself available to all by welcoming them, by spiritual direction and, especially, by the administration of the sacrament of Penance. I also had the privilege, during my young years, of benefitting from his availability for penitents. The ministry of the confessional, which is one of the distinctive traits of his apostolate, attracted great crowds of the faithful to the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo. Even when that unusual confessor treated pilgrims with apparent severity, the latter, becoming conscious of the gravity of sins and sincerely repentant, almost always came back for the peaceful embrace of sacramental forgiveness. May his example encourage priests to carry out with joy and zeal this ministry which is so important today (…).

 

 “I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because … these things … you have revealed to little ones” (Mt 11,25).

        How appropriate are these words of Jesus, when we think of them as applied to you, humble and beloved Padre Pio.

        Teach us, we ask you, humility of heart so we may be counted among the little ones of the Gospel, to whom the Father promised to reveal the mysteries of his Kingdom.

        Help us to pray without ceasing, certain that God knows what we need even before we ask him.          Obtain for us the eyes of faith that will be able to recognize right away in the poor and suffering the face of Jesus.

        Sustain us in the hour of the combat and of the trial and, if we fall, make us experience the joy of the sacrament of forgiveness.

        Grant us your tender devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother.

        Accompany us on our earthly pilgrimage toward the blessed homeland, where we hope to arrive in order to contemplate forever the glory of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.       

Stay with me Lord, for it is necessary to have you present so that I do not forget you. You know how easily I abandon you.

Stay with me Lord, because I am weak and I need your strength, that I may not fall so often.

Stay with me Lord for you are my life and without you I am without fervor.

Stay with me Lord for you are my light and without you I am in darkness.

Stay with me Lord to show me your will.

Stay with me Lord, so that I hear your voice and follow you.

Stay with me Lord for I desire to love you very much, and always be in your company.

Stay with me Lord for if you wish me to be faithful to you.

Stay with me Lord for as poor as my soul is, I wish it to be a place of consolation for you, a nest of love.

Stay with me, Jesus for it is getting late and the day is coming to a close and life passes; death, judgment, eternity approaches. It is necessary to renew my strength, so that I will not stop along the way and for that I need you.  It is getting late and death approaches.  I fear the darkness, the temptations, the dryness, the cross, the sorrows.  Oh, how I need you, my Jesus, in this night of exile!

Stay with me tonight Jesus, in life with all its dangers, I need you.

Let me recognize you as your disciples did at the breaking of the bread, so that the Eucharistic Communion be the light which disperses the darkness, the force which sustains me, the unique joy of my heart.

Stay with me, Lord because at the hour of my death, I want to remain united to you, if not by Communion, at least by grace and love.

Stay with me, Jesus, I do not ask for divine consolation, because I do not merit it, but the gift of your presence, oh, yes, I ask this of you!

Stay with me, Lord, for it is you alone I look for. Your love, your Grace, your Will, your Heart, your Spirit, because I love you and ask no other reward but to love you more and more. 

With a firm love, I will love you with all my heart while on earth and continue to love you perfectly during all eternity, Amen.

 

 

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9/24/16

During his general audience this week, Pope Francis offered some wonderful words for us to contemplate during this Year of Mercy. He reminds us that the Beatitudes in Luke challenge us to be merciful as God is merciful. That is quite a challenge. Also, Pope Francis spoke about two important action verbs – forgiving and giving – if we are attempting to imitate God’s mercy. Let me share with you the pope’s words:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

We heard the passage of Luke’s Gospel (6:36-38) from which the motto of this Extraordinary Holy Year is taken: Merciful as the Father. The complete expression is: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (v. 36). It is not a slogan for effect, but a commitment of life. To understand this expression well, we can compare it with the parallel one in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus says: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48). In the so-called Sermon on the Mount, which opens with the Beatitudes, the Lord teaches that perfection consists in love, fulfillment of all the precepts of the Law. In this same perspective, Saint Luke specifies that perfection is merciful love: to be perfect means to be merciful. Is a person who is not merciful perfect? No! Goodness and perfection are rooted in mercy. God is certainly perfect. However, if we consider Him in that way, it becomes impossible for men to strive to that absolute perfection. Instead, having Him before our eyes as merciful enables us to understand better in what His perfection consists and it spurs us to be like Him, full of love, of understanding and of mercy.

But I wonder: are Jesus’ words realistic? Is it really possible to love as God loves and to be merciful as He is?

If we look at the history of salvation, we see that the whole of God’s revelation is an incessant and tireless love for men: God is like a father or a mother who loves with unfathomable love and pours it out abundantly on every creature. Jesus’ death on the cross is the summit of God’s history of love for man. A love that is so great that only God can realize it. It is evident that, compared to this love that has no measure, our love will always be defective. However, when Jesus asks us to be merciful as the Father, He does not think of the quantity! He asks His disciples to become sign, channels, and witnesses of His mercy.

And the Church cannot but be the sacrament of mercy of God in the world, at all times and towards the whole of humanity. Hence, every Christian is called to be a witness of mercy, and this happens on the path of holiness. We think of the many Saints that became merciful because they let their heart be filled by divine mercy. They gave flesh to the Lord’s love, pouring it out on the many needs of suffering humanity. In this flowering of so many forms of charity it is possible to perceive the reflections of the merciful face of Christ.

We ask ourselves: What does it mean for disciples to be merciful? Jesus explains it with two verbs: “forgive” (v. 37) and ‘give” (v. 38).

Mercy is expressed, first of all, in forgiveness: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (v.37). Jesus does not intend to subvert the course of human justice, however, He reminds the disciples that to have fraternal relations it is necessary to suspend judgments and condemnations. Forgiveness, in fact, is the pillar that governs the life of the Christian community, because in it is shown the gratuitousness of the love with which God loved us first. A Christian must forgive! — but why? Because he has been forgiven. All of us who are here, today, in the Square, have been forgiven. No one, in his life, has not been in need of God’s forgiveness. And because we have been forgiven, we must forgive. We recite it every day in the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” that is, forgive the offenses, forgive many things, because we have been forgiven so many offenses, so many sins. And so it is easy to forgive: if God has forgiven me, why should I not forgive others? Am I greater than God? This pillar of forgiveness shows us the gratuitousness of the love of God, who loved us first. It is a mistake to judge and condemn a brother that sins, not because one does not want to recognize the sin, but because to condemn the sinner breaks the bond of fraternity with him and scorns God’s mercy, who, instead, does not want to give up on any of His children. We do not have the power to condemn our brother who errs; we are not above him: instead we have the duty to restore him to the dignity of a child of the Father and to accompany him on his journey of conversion.

To His Church, to us, Jesus indicates a second pillar: “give.” To forgive is the first pillar; to give is the second pillar. “Give, and it will be given to you […] For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (v. 38). God gives well beyond our merits, but He will be even more generous with all those who on earth were generous. Jesus does not say what will happen to those that do not give, but the image of the “measure” constitutes an admonition: with the measure of love we give, it is we ourselves who decide how we will be judged, how we will be loved. If we look well there is a coherent logic: in the measure that one receives from God, one gives to a brother, and in the measure in which one gives to a brother, one receives from God!

Therefore, merciful love is the only way to go. How much need we all have of being more merciful, of not running down others, of not judging, of not “plucking” others with criticisms, envies and jealousies. We must forgive, be merciful, live our life in love. This love enables Jesus’ disciples to not lose the identity received from Him, and to recognize themselves as children of the same Father. Thus, in the love they practice in life, that Mercy is reverberated that will have no end (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-12). But do not forget this: mercy and gift; forgiveness and gift, thus the heart widens, it widens in love. Instead, egoism and anger render the heart small, which hardens like a stone. What do you prefer, a heart of stone or a heart full of love? If you prefer a heart full of love, be merciful!

 

 

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9/23/16

On Wednesday, September 21, we celebrated the feast of St. Matthew. The gospel that day was Matthew 9:9-13, the calling of Matthew, the tax collector, by Jesus:

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “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.”

If you read Pope Francis’ declaration for this Year of Mercy, you will learn that this gospel passage was instrumental in the spiritual development of the pope. He chose as his episcopal motto the words from this gospel where Jesus saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” Although Matthew was a despised tax collector, Jesus saw deeper into Matthew’s heart; Jesus saw Matthew with the eyes of mercy. Seeing the good qualities in Matthew, Jesus called Matthew to follow Him.

Saint Bede the Venerable has a commentary on this passage which was also instrumental in the pope’s spiritual growth. I share with you Saint Bede’s words for your reflection today. Hopefully his words will help our spiritual development also:

Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office, and he said to him: Follow me. Jesus saw Matthew, not merely in the usual sense, but more significantly with his merciful understanding of men.

He saw the tax collector and, because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said to him: Follow me. This following meant imitating the pattern of his life – not just walking after him. St. John tells us: Whoever says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

And he rose and followed him. There is no reason for surprise that the tax collector abandoned earthly wealth as soon as the Lord commanded him. Nor should one be amazed that neglecting his wealth, he joined a band of men whose leader had, on Matthew’s assessment, no riches at all. Our Lord summoned Matthew by speaking to him in words. By an invisible, interior impulse flooding his mind with the light of grace, he instructed him to walk in his footsteps. In this way Matthew could understand that Christ, who was summoning him away from earthly possessions, had incorruptible treasures of heaven in his gift.

As he sat at table in the house, behold many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. This conversion of one tax collector gave many men, those from his own profession and other sinners, an example of repentance and pardon. Notice also the happy and true anticipation of his future status as apostle and teacher of the nations. No sooner was he converted than Matthew drew after him a whole crowd of sinners along the same road to salvation. He took up his appointed duties while still taking his first steps in the faith, and from that hour he fulfilled his obligation and thus grew in merit.

To see a deeper understanding of the great celebration Matthew held at his house, we must realize that he not only gave a banquet for the Lord at his earthly residence, but far more pleasing was the banquet set in his own heart which he provided through faith and love. Our Savior attests to this: Behold I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

On hearing Christ’s voice, we open the door to receive him, as it were, when we freely assent to his promptings and when we give ourselves over to doing what must be done. Christ, since he dwells in the hearts of his chosen ones through the grace of his love, enters so that he might eat with us and we with him. He ever refreshes us by the light of his presence insofar as we progress in our devotion to and longing for the things of heaven. He himself is delighted by such a pleasing banquet.

 

[This excerpt from a homily on the call of Saint Matthew, the Tax Collector, by Saint Bede the Venerable (Hom. 21: CCL 122, 149-151) is used in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings for the Feast of St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist on September 21 (observed on this day at least from the 8th century). St. Bede the Venerable was one of the earliest and most important Christian writers from Britain. This homily on the gospel story of St. Matthew publican turned apostle and evangelist (Matthew 9:9-13), was first given by St. Bede in the early 8th century.]

 

St. Bede the Venerable

St. Bede, born around 673 AD in the northeast area of what is now England, entered the Benedictine monastery of Warmouth at age 7. Celtic monasticism had existed in the British Isles for centuries, but Benedictine Monasticism was a rather recent arrival when Bede entered monastic life. He devoted himself from the time he entered the monastery to prayer, the study of Scripture and history, and ultimately teaching and writing after becoming a deacon and then a priest. Even in his lifetime he was renowned for the greatness of his biblical teaching and historical writing for which he is known as the father of British history. There is much about the early secular and ecclesiastical history of the British Isles that we would simply not know were it not for the writings of Saint Bede. It was not long after his death in 735 AD that Bede was given the popular title “Venerable.” Known as one of the last Fathers of the Church, he was also according the title of Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1899. His tomb is located in the beautiful Anglican cathedral of Durham, which dates back to Norman times and also houses the relics of another great saint of early Britain, Saint Cuthbert.

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9/22/16

This weekend we will be hearing the gospel about the rich man and Lazarus [Luke 16:19-31]. Saint John Paul wrote a wonderful reflection on this gospel in his document, Dives in misericordia. I would encourage you to read the document if you have a chance. I have quoted parts of it in some of my previous blog postings.

In the Year of Mercy daily reflection from the Magnificat titled Magnificat: Year of Mercy Companion, the reflection for August 24th by Regis Martin “caught” my attention. He speaks about all of us being poor which seems like a contradiction to the rich man and Lazarus story. I share with your Mr. Martin’s reflection. Maybe if we appreciate our true poverty, we will all become rich regardless of our financial situation.

We are all children of poverty. Not just materially, but metaphysically bereft. We exist only as a word spoken by Another, without whom the alphabet of being will not begin. To what do we owe so extraordinary an exercise of largesse? Mercy. It is not justice that moved God to make a world, filling it with impossible people like us. ‘From nothing to being,’ says William James, ‘there is no logical bridge.’ Only God can satisfy on the score of why there is being rather than nothingness.

Yet even so gratuitous a gesture as this does not exhaust the possibilities of divine generosity. Because when it all came to grief, what prodigies of mercy did he not work to undo the wreckage wrought by sin!

We thus find ourselves beneficiaries of two distinct blessings, neither of which we deserve. Given in nature, forgiven in grace. And while birth was God’s work, rebirth will require us to work as well. Why? Because the mercy on which eternal life depends, happens only to those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness they do not yet have. ‘To receive his mercy,’ the Catechism reminds us, ‘we must admit our faults.’ [CCC1847

For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich. [2 Corinthians 8:9]

 

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9/21/16

In the daily devotional, Give Us This Day, on Tuesday September 20, the reflection mentioned St. Joseph Mary de Yermo y Parres. If you are like me, this saint is unknown to us and probably to most Catholics. Let me share with you what the reflection from Give Us This Day states about this saint:

Jose Maria de Yermo y Parres was born in a small settlement in Mexico in 1851. In 1879 he was ordained as a priest in the diocese of Leno. His early years of ministry were unremarkable. He was responsible for two small parishes on the outskirts of the town. One day he witnessed a scene so terrible that it changed his life: the siht of some pigs eating two abandoned infants. At once, struck by the terrible reality of poverty, he vowed to do what he could to ameliorate such suffering. His first thought was to establish a home to care for the destitute. With support from his bishop he recruited several young women and opened the Sacred Heart Shelter. This was the beginning of a new congregation, The Servants of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Poor.

Other institutions followed: schools, hospitals, and orphanages. By the time of his death on September 20, 1904, his reputation for holiness had spread widely. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000.

Let me share with you some of Saint John Paul’s words as he celebrated the canonization of St. Jose Maria de Yermo y Parres and several other saints from Mexico on May 21, 2000:

Through profound union with Christ, begun in Baptism and nourished by prayer, the sacraments and the practice of the Gospel virtues, men and women of all times, as children of the Church, have reached the goal of holiness. They are saints because they put God at the centre of their lives and made seeking and extending his kingdom the purpose of their existence; saints because their deeds continue to speak of their total love for the Lord and for their brethren by bearing abundant fruits, thanks to their living faith in Jesus Christ and their commitment to loving as he loved us, including their enemies.

 

“This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 Jn 3:23). The command par excellence that Jesus gave to his disciples is to love one another fraternally as he has loved us (cf. Jn 15:12). In the second reading we heard, the command has a twofold aspect: to believe in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, confessing him at every moment, and to love one another because Christ himself has commanded us to do so. This command is so fundamental to the lives of believers that it becomes the prerequisite for the divine indwelling. Faith, hope and love lead to the existential acceptance of God as the sure path to holiness.

 

It could be said that this was the path taken by José María de Yermo y Parres, who lived his priestly commitment to Christ by following him with all his might, distinguishing himself at the same time by an essentially prayerful and contemplative attitude. In the Heart of Christ he found guidance for his spirituality and, in reflecting on his infinite love for men, he desired to imitate him by making charity the rule of his life.

The new saint founded the Religious Servants of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Poor, a name which combines the two great loves that express the new saint’s spirit and charism in the Church.

 

Dear daughters of St José María de Yermo y Parres, generously live your founder’s rich heritage, beginning with fraternal communion in community and extending it in merciful love to your brothers and sisters with humility, simplicity, effectiveness and, above all, perfect union with God.

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9/20/16

The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light. (Matthew 6:22)

I would like to offer another reflection from Fr. Cantalamessa’s book, The Gaze of Mercy. He discusses how Jesus’ eyes manifested his mercy towards those who came to Him.

One thing that clearly emerges in reading the Gospels is the importance of Jesus’ eyes, his gaze. Many encounters with him are initiated and determined by a look of love and mercy on his part. This is the case with the rich young man (see Mark 10:21), with Zacchaeus (see Luke 19:5), and with Peter after his betrayal (see Luke 22:61). His gaze was not a hasty gaze; at times the Gospel says, ‘He looked around’ (see Mark 3:34). Neither was it a superficial gaze but one that reached people in their innermost beings. He ‘sees the heart’ (see Luke 16:15). His gaze is always one of mercy and acceptance when he is with people who are open and searching, but when he is with hypocrites or hostile people, it can be terrible: ‘He looked around at them with anger.’ (Mark 3:5)

It has been said that many things have changed down through the centuries, but the language of the eyes has not changed: a smile, tears, fear, wonder, and trust are the same everywhere. Jesus said, ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light.’ The eyes are the mirror of the soul. Looking into people’s eyes is like knocking at their door. When someone knocks on our door, we can react in many ways: we can decide not to respond and just look through the peephole; we can keep the door ajar without quite letting them in. Sentiments are clearly reflected in the eyes of people when they meet each other, whether it be fear, indifference, and weariness… or joy, satisfaction, enthusiasm, and availability. How sad that some eyes do not let light in or show their feelings; they are like boarded up windows.

I say all this to make the point that we all have a valuable means at our disposal to exercise mercy: our gaze. It can be like balm for a wound or, unfortunately, like vinegar on a sore. What St. James says about the tongue (3:5-10) can also be said about eyes. We can kill with our eyes or bring life, spew venom or comfort someone’s heart.

[James 3:5-10}

In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers.

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9/19/16

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa in his book, The Gaze of Mercy, talks about the emotional part of our works of mercy [p. 150-151]. The work of our hands, so to speak, when we are doing acts of mercy need to be accompanied by the mercy which fills our heart. The two go together. Paul connected these two aspects- works of mercy and compassion – in 1 Corinthians 13. For instance he wrote:

If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.

I share with you in today’s blog what Fr. Cantalamessa wrote about our hearts and hands when we are doing works of mercy:

Paul specifies the difference between the two types of charity, saying that the greatest act of visible mercy – giving all of one’s goods to the poor – amounts to nothing without an inner attitude of charity. This would be the opposite of ‘sincere’ charity. Hypocritical charity is charity that does good but without the inner disposition of goodwill; it is an outward, visible charity that does not reflect the heart. In this case, people seem to be doing charitable works, but those works can be based, at worst, in self-centeredness, a search for oneself, the exploitation of a brother or sister, or even simply a remorseful conscience.

It would be a fatal mistake, of course, to set the mercy of the heart in opposition to the works of mercy or to hide behind heart-felt mercy as an excuse for not doing any actual works of charity. The issue here is not to diminish the importance of the works of mercy as much as it is to ensure a secure basis for them against selfishness and endless dissimulation

Mercy of the heart is what shines through in Jesus’ actions. Before reporting a healing or a miracle by Jesus, the Gospels almost always speak about his being moved and feeling compassion. In answer to a leper asking Jesus if he would heal him, Mark writes, ‘Moved with pity, he stretched out his and touched him, and said to him, I will; be clean.’ (1:41) Seeing the sorrow of the widow of Nain, Jesus had ‘compassion on her’ (Luke 7:13) – literally, ‘his viscera, his bowels, were moved’! The same thing occurs before he multiplies the loaves of bread (see Matthew 15:32) and in many other cases. Here too, Jesus is visibly demonstrating the sentiments of the heavenly Father toward human beings. The father in the parable, seeing his prodigal son return, ‘had compassion’ (Luke 15:20) – again a translation that is toned down from the original that says, ‘his viscera were moved.’

The English phrase that best translates this biblical metaphor is the phrase ‘deep, heartfelt emotion.’ This phrase needs to be rescued from a superficial and sometimes negative connotation, as if it were something that strong people should be ashamed of. When it is sincere and comes from the heart, deep emotion is the most eloquent response that is worthiest of human beings in the face of a great love or a great sorrow. In every case, heartfelt emotion benefits whoever receives it. No word or gesture or gift can substitute for it because it is the best gift. It means opening oneself up to the other. For that reason, modesty accompanies it, just as it does for the most intimate and sacred things people experience, when they no longer belong completely to themselves but to another. Compassionate emotion cannot be entirely suppressed without depriving others of something that belongs to them, because it has sprung up on their behalf.

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9/18/16

In his decree for this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis wrote in paragraph 8:

The calling of Matthew is also presented within the context of mercy. Passing by the tax collector’s booth, Jesus looked intently at Matthew. It was a look full of mercy that forgave the sins of that man, a sinner and a tax collector, whom Jesus chose – against the hesitation of the disciples – to become one of the Twelve. Saint Bede the Venerable, commenting on this Gospel passage, wrote that Jesus looked upon Matthew with merciful love and chose him: miserando atque eligendo.[7] This expression impressed me so much that I chose it for my episcopal motto.

In the September 2016, issue of the magazine, The Liguorian, Bernie Ronan comments on Pope Francis’ motto in the article titled Mercy’s Calling. In the article the author describes how Pope Francis received his calling to the priesthood when he went to confession on the feast of St. Matthew, the tax collector called by Jesus to follow Him:

For Bergoglio, the first call came at age seventeen. He tells the story of how, in 1953, on the first day of spring (also the feast of St. Matthew), he was going to a party when he decided, on a whim, to stop at church and go to confession. The experience changed his life; he felt the call by God to become a priest. ‘The loving face of God crossed my path,’ he recounted, ‘and invited me to follow him.’

The painting by Caravaggio of the calling of St. Matthew fascinated the future pope, who would often visit the church in Rome where the painting was located. In the article Bernie Ronan describes what happened to the future pope when he went to confession in 1953:

That is the way that he (Jesus) saw me, and that is how he wants me to look at others, with compassion, as if I were choosing them for him, not excluding anyone, because everyone is chosen by the love of God.”

As the author goes on to state in the article,

Mercy, after all, is a form of love, which John’s Gospel says is the closest we can get to a definition of God. Since mercy is love shown in external words and actions, Aquinas says, ‘The sum total of the Christian religion consists in mercy.’

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9/17/16

In yesterday’s blog I reflected on Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows. The reflection was based on Mary standing at the foot of the cross, a scene from John 19:

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

Yesterday’s reflection was about Mary’s suffering and sorrow. Let me share with you another perspective, that of Jesus’ spiritual suffering as He witnessed His mother’s tears and suffering. The reflection is from St. Peter of Alcantara. Let me share with you his words:

How willingly, Virgin most serene, would your arms have granted your Son a place to rest his head! But no arms of yours can serve that purpose here, only the arms of the Cross. Upon them his sacred head will recline when it longs for rest, and the only solace it will have will be to dig the thorns deeper yet into the skull.

The presence of the mother increased still more the sorrow of the Son. For that reason his heart was torn apart on the inside no less than his sacred Body on the outside. Good Jesus, there are indeed two crosses for you this day: one for the body and one for the soul; one, an outward passion, the other an inward compassion; one pierces the body with iron nails, the other pierces your most holy soul with nails of sorrow.

Who can declare, good Jesus, what you felt as you recognized the anguish of that most holy soul of your mother who clung so closely to you on the Cross? When you saw this devoted soul pierced through and through with a sword of sorrow? When you turned towards her those bleeding eyes and gazed on that sacred face enveloped in the bitterness of death? When you watched the anguish of that soul so near to death, and even worse than death, and the streaming tears that flowed from those eyes most pure? When you heard the groans drawn form that Sacred Heart under so desperate a weight of grief?

Mercy flowed in two directions that day. Mary’s mercy comforting her dying Son and Jesus comforting his grieving mother.

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