Tomorrow we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God and also the World Day of Prayer for Peace. Have you ever seen the bumper sticker: Know Jesus, Know Peace. No Jesus, No Peace? Obviously the bumper sticker is a play on two words that sound the same. But there is a lot of truth in those few words. Christ offers us a peace that the world cannot offer to us:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. [John 14:27]
Jesus’ peace arises from the love of God planted deep within our hearts. This love is manifested in the infant born in Bethlehem who will offer His life for us. [The early Church would always connect the wood of the manger with the wood of the cross.] At our baptism, this love is then poured into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit that we receive:
Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. [Romans 5:5].
Everyone time we celebrate the Eucharist and partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are reminded of God’s love and we experience Jesus’ peace. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
If one of our goals for this new year is to become merciful as God is merciful [Luke 6:36; Matthew 5:48], then knowing Jesus and knowing peace needs to be a top priority in our lives. Have you made plans to nurture your faith and your relationship with Jesus during 2016? I am always a fan of Psalm 46: Be still and know that I am God. One way that you can grow in your relationship with Christ is to spend some time with Him present in the Blessed Sacrament. If your parish is open during the day, can you stop by for a visit? Is there a daily and weekly time when your parish has adoration? If work prevents you from visiting your parish during the week, how about a radical suggestion. Go to church early on Saturday/Sunday when you will be attending Mass. Spend 20-30 minutes prior to Mass in silence with Christ. As my seminary spiritual director would often say, Let Jesus love on you. Know His peace so you can be an instrument of God’s mercy always, and especially during this Jubilee Year of Mercy. [Image found at biblepic.com]
The reflection for December 28 in the Magnificat booklet, Year of Mercy Companion, had an interesting connection that I had never realized before. The connection is between mercy and hope. How can we increase our ability to be merciful? Would that not be a wonderful goal to make for 2016? To become more merciful as God is merciful? Psalm 33:22 provides the answer on how we can grow in our ability to be merciful: Let your mercy (kindness) be upon us, as we have hoped in you.
As we increase our hope in God, our ability to be merciful increases also. The challenge then is to increase our capacity for the theological virtue of hope. We are given this virtue along with the virtues of faith and charity on the day of our baptism. The three help form us more and more in the image and likeness of children of God. But what is hope? I often remind people at funerals that the early church used an anchor as a symbol of hope. An anchor provides stability in stormy seas and during stormy weather. That is how hope acts in us.
I think that St. Augustine said something to the effect that hope is greater than faith. Faith reveals God’s promises to us while hope assures that God will be faithful to those promises. In other words hope reminds us that God will do what God has promised us that He would do. So for me hope boils down to trusting in God. The more that I am able to say “Yes” to God’s will instead of mine the more that I will grow in trust, which increase my ability to hope, which then increase my capacity to be merciful as God is merciful. It all sounds so easy. Yet trusting in God becomes the ultimate challenge. Jesus sweated blood during His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane as He struggled with trusting in the Father’s will. We might experience the same thing at times.
I hope you don’t mind that for today’s blog I share with you part of Pope Francis’ message for World Day of Peace. This day is celebrated on January 1 along with the celebration of Mary the Mother of God. You can read the entire message on the Vatican web site. Just access the link to the pope’s various messages and access the link to his yearly message for peace. The focus of his message this year is that of indifference to others around us. Mercy is a wonderful drug to counteract this indifference. Below are some of Pope Francis’ remarks about mercy:
Jesus taught us to be merciful like our heavenly Father (cf. Lk 6:36). In the parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:29-37), he condemned those who fail to help others in need, those who “pass by on the other side” (cf. Lk 10:31-32). By this example, he taught his listeners, and his disciples in particular, to stop and to help alleviate the sufferings of this world and the pain of our brothers and sisters, using whatever means are at hand, beginning with our own time, however busy we may be. Indifference often seeks excuses: observing ritual prescriptions, looking to all the things needing to be done, hiding behind hostilities and prejudices which keep us apart.
Mercy is the heart of God. It must also be the heart of the members of the one great family of his children: a heart which beats all the more strongly wherever human dignity – as a reflection of the face of God in his creatures – is in play. Jesus tells us that love for others – foreigners, the sick, prisoners, the homeless, even our enemies – is the yardstick by which God will judge our actions. Our eternal destiny depends on this. It is not surprising that the Apostle Paul tells the Christians of Rome to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep (cf. Rom 12:15), or that he encourages the Corinthians to take up collections as a sign of solidarity with the suffering members of the Church (cf. 1 Cor 16:2-3). And Saint John writes: “If any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother or sister in need, yet refuses help, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 Jn 3:17; cf. Jas 2:15-16).
This then is why “it is absolutely essential for the Church and for the credibility of her message that she herself live and testify to mercy. Her language and her gestures must transmit mercy, so as to touch the hearts of all people and inspire them once more to find the road that leads to the Father. The Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.”[20: Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy Misericordiae Vultus, 12.]
In yesterday’s reflection I asked the following:
As we journey through this Year of Mercy do you ever have the feeling that we are experiencing something similar to the battle between David and Goliath? Goliath was a giant who seemed stronger than anyone on earth. David was a shepherd with little or no previous battle experience. Yet a small pebble from David’s sling shot brought down the giant Goliath. I ask this question about the Year of Mercy because we are being called to confront the darkness that arises from the power of sin in our world with the “pebble” of mercy. Mercy would seem like such an ineffective and inconsequential weapon against the darkness of sin.
I share some modern examples of the power of mercy.
Mother Teresa: Mother Teresa assisted the dying at location called the Place of the Immaculate Heart. Some Hindus opposed her because they thought she was simply trying to convert the dying and abandoned to Christianity by means of the food and shelter that she offered to them. Rather as she described it, she wanted the forgotten and abandoned to die a beautiful death: where a “beautiful death means that for people who have lived like animals can die like angels – being loved and wanted.” However stones would be thrown at her and her sisters as they tried to carry the sick into their place of refuge. One leader of a group of young people entered her place of refuge and was resolved to evict her. Yet after witnessing the care with which the suffering, emaciated bodies of the poor were tended, he returned to his fellow protestors outside and told them that he would evict the Sisters under one condition: they persuade their mothers and sisters to undertake the same service. Gradually Mother Teresa’s insistence on the importance of charity above all things earned the admiration and respect of the Hindu community. For instance, they learned how Mother Teresa had lifted a young Hindu priest from a pool of his own vomit and filth and brought him to be nursed and eventually die in peace. As one Hindu priest said, “We worship a Kali made of stone, but this is the real Ma-Kali, a Kali of flesh and blood.
Sister Dorothy Stang is a religious sister that was killed in 2005:
Sister Dorothy Stang worked in the rain forest region of Brazil helping peasant farm families who had been resettled by the government. Although her life had been threatened by the rich land owners, she did not stop her fight for justice for the poor. Besides forming each settlement into a small Christian community that prayed and studied the Bible together, Dorothy established agricultural and rain forest preservation projects. Her actions outraged the landowners who wanted the forest for logging and the land for cattle. The day before she was murdered, she was visiting several families who had had their crops and houses burned down by men hired by the rich land owners.” Armed with only a Bible and government documents granting the peasants the rights to the land she confronted the gunmen who left without harming her. When Dorothy returned the next day with clothes and food for the homeless families, the fatal confrontation occurred. She faced her killers without fear while reading to them the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit… when one of the gunmen fired 6 shots into her and killed her at close range on Feb. 12, 2005
Following Sister Dorothy’s death, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva put nearly 20,000 of the Amazon’s 1.6 million square miles under federal environmental protection. This land is located in the Anapu region that was Sister Dorothy’s home.
Be merciful as God is merciful. That is the way to change the world!
As we journey through this Year of Mercy do you ever have the feeling that we are experiencing something similar to the battle between David and Goliath? Goliath was a giant who seemed stronger than anyone on earth. David was a shepherd with little or no previous battle experience. Yet a small pebble from David’s sling shot brought down the giant Goliath.
I ask this question about the Year of Mercy because we are being called to confront the darkness that arises from the power of sin in our world with the “pebble” of mercy. Mercy would seem like such an ineffective and inconsequential weapon against the darkness of sin. But scripture reminds us otherwise. I was reminded of this fact as I read the account of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the feast on December 26. In Acts 7 we find these words: They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep.
Saint Stephen’s love and mercy laid the foundation for Saul’s conversion. We know Saul by the name of Paul, the apostle to the gentile world. Think about the power of mercy! Stephen’s forgiveness of his persecutors – Saul being one of them – led to one of the greatest conversions of our Christian faith. Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe reflected on this reality in the Office of Readings for December 26. I share with you some of this thoughts: Love inspired Stephen to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of love , he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. In his holy and tireless love Stephen longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition. Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen Paul delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exults, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen… Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense, and the way that leads to heaven.
So if showing mercy to someone who has sinned against you ever seems like an ineffective solution to the problem just remember Stephen’s forgiveness leading to the conversion of Saul.
Merry Christmas Season. While some people think that Christmas ends on December 26, we crazy Catholics are just beginning our time of Christmas celebration. Our Christmas season won’t end until the Baptism of the Lord on the second Sunday of January. So keep those lights up and the tree trimmed. That is an order!! Be countercultural!
The Magnificat reflection for December 24 mentioned the person Scrooge. The movie, A Christmas Carol, was always scary to me growing up yet I wanted to see it every Christmas. Although Scrooge seems to have had a cold heart in reality he does not. As the Magnificat author stated when Scrooge and “the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come invisibly visited the Cratchit family, mourning for Tiny Time, the older boy Peter was reading to the other children: And he took a child and set him in their midst. The tears shed by the Cratchit family over the death of their son and the reading from scripture were the final straw that broke Scrooge’s hardened heart. Underneath the cold exterior there was a mellow heart; the heart of a child.
The Child (Jesus) came to make us children. One idea that came to me while preparing my Christmas homily was the fact that children and infants move our hearts more than do the rich, famous, and powerful people. I see this truth manifested at infant baptisms. Parents who normally act in control and very proper will act very strangely in order to have their newly baptized infant smile or look at the camera. The parents and friends make faces, jump up and down, and make strange noises. They would never act that way in public but they regularly do at infant baptisms.
We need to let a God who would humble himself to be born among us; to be born of working class parents; and to be born into poverty touch our very hearts. Touch them and make us want to give our hearts to Him. As Jesus said when He placed a child among His disciples that unless we become like little children we cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
Merry Christmas. God’s mercy now has a face that we can see. It is the face and the person of Jesus. While the Christmas shopping rush may have been chaotic, Christmas day can be very similar especially if one is expecting company, preparing a sumptuous meal, and opening presents. And hopefully attending Mass in between all of the hustle and bustle. I am going to suggest something that might seem radical. But take a few moments during the day and spend that time pondering what this child means to you, to all humanity, and to all creation. As Mary held her baby and looked at the faces of the astonished shepherd, she pondered all these things in her heart.
Several days ago Zachariah held his newly born son, John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for the Messiah’s mission. Zachariah sang out in his canticle, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Caryll Houselander has a short reflection about the shepherds in the book, A Child in Winter. I share with you her thoughts:
Returning to work, they (the shepherds) walked in the way of peace. The night before, they had heard the announcement of the angel choir. In the darkness of that night they had been led to see the salvation of Israel with their own eyes. Still, the next morning they returned to work. They did not go on retreat or take a holiday. They went back to work – back to the ordinary. However their lives had been transformed and their feet were renewed to walk in the way of peace. Let’s follow them.
Cardinal Bernardin once wrote: To live in the energy of the incarnation is to know that real union with God, in the depth of our humanity, is not simply a hope or a wild dream, but a concrete possibility. Jesus Christ shows that the human being is made for God and finds rest only in God.
[Image found at http://babyjesusbeautifulphotos.blogspot.com/2013/01/sourcegoogle_24.html]
In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. [1 John 4:10] The Christmas story that we will be hearing and reflecting on during the next couple of days is a radical story. Often religion has been considered the human search for God. Yet the Christmas story reveals the opposite. Christianity is a religion which reveals the truth that God is in search of us. The God who searches for us is one of self-giving love. Our challenge is let God give Himself to us and then respond to His self-giving love.
We are familiar with the details of the Christmas story: born in Bethlehem and born in a manger because there was no room for the Holy Family in the local inn. Yet Bethlehem means house of bread; Jesus is the bread of life who will give Himself to us in the Eucharist. A manger is a feeding trough for animals; Jesus’ Body is true food and His blood is true drink. With these connections between Jesus and Bethlehem and the manger is it any wonder that we say Merry Christmas? Christmas is a combination of Christ and Mass. At Mass we will receive the bread of life (Bethlehem) and be able to partake of the heavenly banquet of Jesus’ Body and Blood (manger). Our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is one of those special gifts that God has given to you and me.
Because Christmas comes from Christ and Mass, if they ever outlaw saying Merry Christmas in public or in the workplace, maybe we could substitute Merry Eucharist or Merry Holy Mass instead. It would say the same thing. Make sure we bring the joy of Christmas to the celebration of the Eucharist not only on December 24/25 but every time we celebrate Christmas = Christ-Mass.
[Image found at http://www.4catholiceducators.com/eucharist_ambrosio1.htm]
We might reflect on the logo which the church uses for the Year of Mercy. Various images for the Year of Mercy are easy to find on the internet.
The magazine, The Word Among us, has a small book, The Holy Year of Mercy, with several reflections on words of mercy that Pope Francis has shared over the last few years. In the appendix, there is a description of the logo that I share with you and for your reflection today.
The logo… presents a small summa theologiae of the theme of mercy. In fact, it represents an image quite important to the early Church: that of the Son having taken upon his shoulder the lost soul, demonstrating that it is the love of Christ that brings to completion the mystery of his incarnation culminating in redemption. The logo … (expresses) the profound way in which the Good Shepherd touches the flesh of humanity and does so with a love with the power to change one’s life. One particular feature worthy of note is that while the Good Shepherd, in his great mercy, takes humanity upon himself, his eyes are merged with those of the man. Christ sees with the eyes of Adam, and Adam, with the eyes of Christ. Every person discovers in Christ the new Adam, one’s own humanity and the future that les ahead, contemplating, in his gaze, the love of the Father.
The scene is captured within the so-called mandorla (the shape of an almond), a figure quite important in early and medieval iconography, for it calls to mind the two natures of Christ, divine and human. The three concentric ovals, with colors progressively lighter as we move outward, suggest the movement of Christ, who carries humanity out of the night of sin and death. Conversely the depth of the darker color suggests the impenetrability of the love of the Father who forgives all.
Maybe to help us understand this logo better we should mediate on the parables in Luke 15. The first parable describes a shepherd who will leave the 99 sheep who are safe and goes in search of the one lost sheep. [Image from Saints John and Paul parish, Altoona, IA]
Do you have favorite scripture passages? As a priest who preaches daily and teaches regularly, I have found that certain passages of scripture are very important to me. For instance, Paul in his Letter to the Galatians (5:1) says For freedom Christ set us free. Saint John Paul II stated that this freedom is given to us in baptism so that we can freely give of ourselves to one another. Just like Christ does for us every time we celebrate the Eucharist. This is my Body. This is my Blood given up for you.
When we give of ourselves to another person in love, service, sacrifice, etc. what is the value that we place on ourselves when we are the gift that is being given to another? Do we feel that because we are fearfully and wonderfully made that the gift of ourselves in love to another is an invaluable gift? Do we place a lesser value on ourselves? Psalm 139 is where these words about being fearfully and wonderfully made can be found. And yes, this verse is another one of my favorites.
To understand this verse from Psalm 139 we need to reflect on far God went to save ME!! And YOU!! The bible, starting in Chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis after the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, is the story of God’s efforts to save me and you.. Think of what that means! After the first 3 chapters in the bible, the rest of the bible is the story of God’s efforts to redeem us; to make us precious and valuable in His sight. We are familiar with John 3:16: for God so loved the world….. Check your bibles and read Isaiah 43:4: Because you are precious in my eyes and glorious, and because I love you, I give men in return for you and peoples in exchange for your life.
In the Magnificat reflection for December 21, Jean Vanier touched upon this fact about God’s love for us and how our experience of this love helps us to know that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. I share with you some of his words of reflection:
Only when I discover that God loves me in spite of all mu infidelities, when I really discover the mercy of God to me, only then shall I discover the true compassionate face of Jesus; only then shall I discover that I was a captive, I was the oppressed. He comes to break the yoke. I am the one who had the yoke on my shoulders and yet did not know it: I was blind. Now you have liberated me…; you have me made me free…. [Jesus] comes to make us free, to give us the freedom of the Spirit.
As Paul stated in his Letter to the Galatians: For freedom Christ set us free. [Image from:susieharrisblog.com]