Monthly Archives: January 2016

1/31/16

In a previous blog several weeks ago, I asked you to share stories of mercy with me. Thank you to those who have. One story that I have always remembered is the saint whose feast day is today, January 31. St.John Bosco. He was born in 1815 in Italy and died in 1888. He started a congregation whose emphasis was on the care and education of youth. In one of his letters he emphasized the mercy that those in his order should manifest towards the youth in their care. When I read his words, I am challenged to be more merciful, gentle, humble, compassionate and loving as he asks of the members of his congregation. I share with you some of his wisdom: in my long experience very often I had to be convinced of this great truth. It is easier to become angry than to restrain oneself, and to threaten a boy than to persuade him. Yes, indeed, it is more fitting to be persistent in punishing our own impatience and pride than to correct the boys. We must be firm but kind, and be patient with them…. See that no one finds you motivated by impetuosity or willfulness. It is difficult to keep calm when administering punishment, but this must be done if we are to keep ourselves from showing off our authority or spilling out our anger…. Let us not rule over them (the children in the care of the religious brothers) except for the purpose of serving them better. This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalized, and still others to hope for God’s mercy. And so he bade us to be gentle and humble of heart. [When correcting the youth] there must be no hostility in our minds, on contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips. We must use mercy for the present and have hope for the future, as is fitting for true fathers eager for real correction and improvement.

I don’t know about your feelings when you read St. John Bosco’s words. But my reaction is that I have a lot of spiritual homework to do during this year of mercy. For your homework today you might reflect on Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:38-42: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

When we are upset or angry with someone, how can we dissipate our frustration and find personal peace as well as reconciliation with the person(s) with whom we are angry. How can we use the weapon of mercy to restore peace when we are upset? Good homework questions. John Bosco might be a good saint to whom we might ask to intercede for us.

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1/30/16

Saint John Paul II wrote that mercy is love’s second name. This weekend at Mass the second reading will be very familiar to you if you have attended any weddings. At weddings, the bride and groom often choose the reading because it seems like a beautiful ode to love. Yet that ultimately was not Paul’s purpose in writing the words found in 1 Corinthians 12;21-13:13.

I hope that you don’t mind a reflection with a little more faith formation today. I am sharing with you some thoughts attributed to Richard Hays in his book First Corinthians. Paul, in describing the qualities of love, was seeking to promote the character formation of the members of the Corinthian community. He was not trying to stir up fleeting emotions but to inspire his readers to a way of life formed by the quality of love that Christ has for the church. Remember the song They will know we are Christians by our love? Paul reminds us that love is not a sweet thing that brings warm memories to our hearts and nothing more. He describes the qualities of love: Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus will say that the apex of the ability to love is the willingness to sacrifice one’s life for another.

 Paul at the beginning of the reading on Sunday at Mass will remind us that if love (mercy) is not at the root of everything we say and do… well let me tell you what Paul will say in his letter to the Corinthians: If I speak in human and angelic tongues  but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. Bluntly stated, if whatever I do is not done in love (mercy), it is worthless! Garbage!!

 One thing that Hays’ article points out is that Paul is saying that love has to be the basis of everything that he has said and dealt with previously in his letter. Hays’ article says this: the purpose of 1 Cor 13 is to portray love as the sine qua non of the Christian life and to insist that love must: (1) govern the exercise of all the gifts of the Spirit (12:4-11, 27-31); (2) inform and inspire the mutual respect and relatedness of all members of the community (12:12-26); (3) be the motivation that draws the praying community together for the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper (11:17-33); (4) guide both the weak and the strong members of the community in making decisions that may offend the consciences of others, e.g., idol meat (8:1-13); (5) prompt the caring correction of brothers or sisters who have sinned (5:1-13); (6) assist in overcoming whatever divisions threaten the unity of the church (1:10-17); (7) inspire generosity in the hearts of those from whom Paul requested a collection for the poor (16:1-4). Perhaps Paul’s intent is best summed up in his own words: “Your every act should be done with love” (16:14).

 So a challenge when you go to Mass this weekend. Don’t let “sugar plums dance in your head”  or “fleeting emotions that warm one’s heart” fill you when listening to the second reading at Mass. Let our hearts and minds be challenged by a new way of life and a new way to live in relationship with one another. The way is love or mercy. That is the challenge… and the opportunity of this Year of Mercy.

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1/29/16

In this Sunday’s gospel [Luke 4:21-30] Jesus will be rejected by the people of his home town. They wanted Jesus to perform some of the miracles that He had done elsewhere. When Jesus told them that His mission was to other people such as the gentiles [that is the meaning of Jesus’ mention of Elijah and Elisha], the people tried to murder Jesus. They wanted all of God’s favor to be reserved for them and not to have any of it shared with others, especially those who were gentiles.

For our perspective the town people’s desire to keep God’s mercy for themselves seems like a strange reaction. We are so accustomed to the truth that God’s mercy is offered to all. What’s more! Because God is a merciful God, His prevenient grace goes ahead and prepares us for those moments of contrition and conversion. One poem referred to God as the Hound of Heaven, the God who is always  after us and who is always seeking our response to His invitation of a life-giving relationship.

 But then the questions arises as to how others will experience God’s mercy. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans: And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring (the) good news!” [Romans 10:14-15]

 So how beautiful are your feet? Like Teresa of Avila said, Christ has no body on earth but yours. God’s mercy cannot enter into the lives of others unless our feet bring that good news to others. Sharing the good news of God’s mercy with incarcerated offenders is an important part of my pastoral ministry. The January 27 entry in the Magnificat Year of Mercy Companion mentioned the corporal work of mercy of visiting those in prison. Today, very beautifully, an inmate who had been away from the sacraments for a long time came to confession. For me it was a wonderful moment of God’s mercy and doing what this jubilee year is all about. Interestingly he told me that another Catholic inmate had been influential in helping him to turn his life around and start seeking a life more centered on Christ. Those who bring the good news to others have beautiful feet as St. Paul says!

 While many of us probably will not be visiting inmates in prison, we can still pray for them. That was the message of the 1/17/16 Magnificat Year of Mercy Companion reflection. Let me share with you a few of the words written by Fr. Donald Haggerty: We ourselves may be unable to enter into prisons, but even if we cannot fulfill this corporal work of mercy in a concrete manner, we still should make a serious effort to live it. This can be done by intentions in our prayer. Those in prison have usually sinned much, and they need much prayer. In many cases the salvation of their souls is in a precarious state of uncertainty. They are also often quite forgotten. Cut off from our attention, they may receive little prayer form us. They are the poorest of the poor in that sense. Perhaps we may find one day that this work of intercession was one of our most important works.

 Keep on praying! Make sure you have beautiful feet!!

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1/28/16

Jesus is the face of God’s mercy. As ambassadors of Christ and missionaries of mercy, we have the vocation to make the face of God’s mercy present in our world. The “god” associated with January was always pictured with 2 faces, one looking forward and one looking backward. As missionaries of mercy, we need 2 faces also, one to look inward and the other to look outwards.

 We look inward to know God’s presence; to know his mercy. Because of God’s mercy, we are connected to Emmanuel, God with us. This awareness should stir into a flame the gift of God’s mercy inside of us. [see 2 Timothy 1:1-8]. We also need to look inward to remember that as children of God we are radically dependent upon God. We did not earn God’s mercy. We can only humbly accept it. Also, we look inward to discern God’s will. In Mark 3, Jesus tells us that his brothers and sisters are those who do God’s will. That will is most powerfully manifested through our acts and words of mercy.

 We also look outward so that we can incarnate (give flesh to) God’s will and mercy in our daily relationships. Mother Teresa once said something to the effect that her time of adoration was where she encountered Jesus’ hidden presence in the Eucharist; discovering Jesus’ presence there allowed her to see Jesus’ presence in those whom she served. She revealed that the inward gaze of prayer was the source of her outstanding, outward acts of mercy.

 We also look outward because we are the light of the world. That is God’s will as revealed in Jesus’ words. As Jesus says in Matthew 5, lights are not hidden under bushel baskets but instead placed in prominent places so that all can experience the light. The light we are called to manifest to others is that of God’s mercy.

 Here are some ways to practice mercy in our daily lives: We don’t act irritated when someone is slow to do something….mercy makes it easy for someone to ask for forgiveness or to apologize….mercy creates an atmosphere where someone feels safe to ask a question… mercy is being charitable knowing that someone may take advantage of me… mercy is a spirit of welcome when someone disrupts my plans… mercy is a desire to make others successful and holy…mercy means that I use my power to do acts of kindness without expecting anything in return.

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1/27/16

As we reflect on Jesus’ life, one quality which has always been important to me was Jesus’ hospitality. People felt welcome in His presence. Therefore saints and sinners, lepers and crippled, outcasts and religious authorities, men and women, Jew and gentile, etc. all felt that they were able to approach Jesus. A spirit of welcome allowed Jesus to minister to them. Obviously when Jesus told some that they needed to change their way of thinking or their way of life, they were not too happy with Him. But He never rejected them, although they might have rejected Him.

Jesus manifests the face of the Father’s mercy with His hospitality. Pope Francis alluded to this fact in a general audience in 2013: In the Church, the God we encounter is not a merciless judge, but like the Father in the Gospel parable. You may be like the son who left home, who sank to the depths, farthest from the Gospel. When you have the strength to say: I want to come home, you will find the door open. God will come to meet you because he is always waiting for you, God is always waiting for you, God embraces you, kisses you and celebrates. That is how the Lord is, that is how the tenderness of our Heavenly Father is. The Lord wants us to belong to a Church that knows how to open her arms and welcome everyone, that is not a house for the few, but a house for everyone, where all can be renewed, transformed, sanctified by his love, the strongest and the weakest, sinners, the indifferent, those who feel discouraged or lost.

 Again in his declaration for the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said something to the effect that the experience of God’s mercy allows us to discover our dignity and worth as God’s children, especially after we have sinned: offering us mercy instead of judgment is God’s way of reaching out to us in the midst of our wrongdoing and selfishness. Such divine mercy helps us look deep within to find our true person and there a created by a loving God and destined also for love in God.

 Why mention the quality of hospitality? If we are going to be missionaries of God’s mercy, a spirit of hospitality or welcome has to become second nature to us. Father Henri Nouwen spoke of a spirit of hospitality with these words: We cannot change the world by a new plan, project, or idea. But we can offer a space where people are encouraged to disarm themselves, to lay aside their preoccupations and to listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their own hearts.. To convert hostility into hospitality requires the creation of the friendly empty space where we can reach out to our fellow human beings and invite them to a new relationship. Just as we cannot force a plant to grow but can take away the weeds and stones which prevent its development, so we cannot force anyone to such a personal and intimate change of heart, but we can offer the space where such a change can take place.

 How welcoming are you? One person described some qualities of every day mercy with these examples: mercy makes it easy for someone to ask for forgiveness or to apologize … mercy is being charitable knowing that someone may take advantage of me…mercy means that I use my power to do acts of kindness without expecting anything in return.

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1./26/16

The monthly magazine, Magnificat, had a wonderful reflection by Dorothy Day [some are trying to have her declared a saint] in the magazine’s reflection for Friday, January 22. Dorothy Day wrote about God’s mercy. Let me share with you for today’s reflection some of her thoughts.

 I am meditating. I am thinking of what I have come to think of as fundamental to our search for peace, for non-violence. A flood of water (and Christ is living water) washes out sins – all manner of filth, degradation, fear, horror. He is also the Word. And studying the New Testament, and its commentators, I have come… to think of a few holy words of Jesus as the greatest comfort of my life: ‘Judge not… Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us… Forgive seventy times seven times….’ The teaching of Christ, the Word, must be upheld. Held up though one would think that it is completely beyond us – out of reach, impossible to follow. I believe Christ is our Truth and is with us always. We may stretch towards it, falling short, failing sever times seven, but forgiveness is always there. He is a kind and loving judge…. The verdict there (in the confessional) is always ‘not guilty’ even though our ‘firm resolve with the help of his grace to confess our sins, do penance, and amend our lives’ may seem a hopeless proposition. It always contains, that act of contrition, the phrase ‘to confess our sins,’ even though we have just finished confessing them, which indicates that the priest knows, and we know, and we want to be honest about it, that we will be back in the confessional again and again.

 Dorothy Day’s words remind us of something that Pope Francis said. God never tires of forgiving us. We get tired of asking God for forgiveness. Remember that if you want to have a lot of rejoicing in heaven, Jesus tells us how we can provide that heavenly joy. I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. [Luke 15:7] Share the good news today. God forgives you and me.

 

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1/25/16

Our world has been experiencing a world-wide crisis where people are being forced to emigrate due to war, poverty, or violence in their home country. In the 1990s the country of Rwanda was experiencing similar conflicts that we see occurring in Syria and other Middle Eastern Countries. From the brutal genocide that occurred in that country, beautiful stories of the power of mercy and forgiveness have arisen. I would like to share two of those stories with you.

 The nun, Sister Uwamariya, recalled that on Aug. 27, 1997, with a Divine Mercy group, she went to her birthplace, Kybuye, and met a group of prisoners, several of whom were perpetrators of the genocide. The purpose of the meeting was to prepare the prisoners for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. During the meeting, Sister Uwamariya made this invitation: “If you have been a victim, offer forgiveness and forgive those who have done this to you.” She told them that only in this way would the victim be freed from the burden of rancor and the criminal, as a result, from the weight of having committed the evil. “A prisoner stood up immediately and asked for mercy,” she recounted. “I was petrified when I recognized the friend of the family who grew up and shared with us. “He confessed that he had killed my father. He gave me the details of the death of my loved ones.”  Sister Uwamariya embraced him and said: “You are and will continue to be my brother.” The nun added that she felt that “a weight had been lifted from her.” “I found inner peace again,” she said, “and I thanked him whom I was embracing.”

 Immaculee Ilibagiza is a survivor of the 1994 Rwanda genocide where nearly one million people were killed. The goodness of a local pastor is the reason that she survived. She and 7 other Tutsi women escaped machete wielding killers looking for them. The pastor hid them in a small obscure bathroom for 91 days. Immaculee described her love of God and her outspoken forgiveness for the killers of her family, friends, and neighbors. She began to call that tight space in the bathroom as her ‘sacred garden’ where she spoke with God and meditated on his words. And what she heard over and over was ‘forgiveness.’ “I’d open my heart to God and he’d touched it with his infinite love. For the first time I pitied the killers. I asked God to forgive their sins and turn their souls toward his beautiful light. But  it was a dream she had that really solidified her faith. Jesus was standing in front of her, his arms outstretched, telling her that almost everyone she knew and loved had been killed. But then he told her, “They are with me now, and they have joy. I will be your family.” She awoke feeling that joy, assured that “God never breaks a promise.” [Immaculee is well known speaker and author of books if you are interested in finding out more about her.]

 If you are struggling with forgiveness at the moment, you might reflect on these two stories about missionaries of mercy. If you know of someone struggling to forgive, you might share these stories with that person. Mercy is the most powerful weapon in our Christian arsenal to construct the world of peace that Christ came to bring.

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1/24/16

Do you remember the story of Paul on the way to Damascus when he encountered the risen Christ in a blinding flash of light? [Acts 9] Paul (Saul at that time) heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul had been on his way to Damascus to supervise the execution of more of the followers of the New Way. The people who would one day call themselves Christians. Jesus did not say to him, “Saul why are you persecuting the members of my body.” Jesus did not say, “Saul why are you persecuting John, Mary, Tom, Suzy, etc.” Jesus words echo the end of the parable in Matthew 25 which describe the corporal works of mercy, “When you did it for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.”

 Paul in the second reading at Mass today (1 Corinthians 12:12-30) will echo this theme of our connectedness found in Matthew 25: Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.

 Pope Francis in his letter about the Joy of the Gospel reminds us all of the unity that we share as members of Christ’s body. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Today when receiving the Eucharist don’t forget that receiving the Eucharist celebrates your communion with God through Jesus Christ and your communion with the body of Christ by means of Jesus’ sacrifice. As Saint Augustine would say when distributing the Eucharist, Be what you receive. This Year of Mercy is an extraordinary time to live according to the name Christian, which means a “little christ.”

 

 

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1/23/16

Today as we continue this year of mercy we pause to reflect on the Supreme Court decision making abortion legal in the United States. Yesterday was the anniversary of that decision. It was a decision that certainly has transformed the fabric of this nation. As other countries have followed suit, legalized abortion has changed the nature of the world in which we live. Many people in the United States have experienced God’s mercy following an abortion through various right-to-life programs. Yet there are many wounded souls who still need to experience God’s mercy. Project Rachel is one of the post-abortion programs available. While some women have taken advantage of this program, very men have availed themselves of this resource. That fact is sad, because all those involved in the decision are affected.

 While the topic of Right to Life makes us think of the issue of abortion, we should never forget the list of topics that are opposed to life. The bishops at the Second Vatican Council listed these areas: In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping him when he comes across our path, whether he be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, “As long as you did it for one of these the least of my brethren, you did it for me” (Matt. 25:40). Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator. [The Church in the Modern World, #27:]

 On the 19th I received a call from a group that was concerned about the inmate scheduled to be executed in Huntsville the following day. They transmitted the information that the inmate wanted to receive the sacrament of the sick (the last rites as Catholics often refer to the sacrament) but had been unable to receive it. With various late night calls and several the following day, the issue was resolved. The inmate had wavered as to his desire to receive the sacrament. Yet should he have changed his mind at the last minute, I was on-call to respond to his request.

 The situation reminded me more powerfully that the death penalty is one of those right-to-life issues. While the topic of the death penalty is one that stirs many emotions, the issue still confronts us with the decision: who is the author of life? God? Us? While we might debate the death penalty issue, being merciful as God is merciful is not up for debate. It is the way that we become like God.

Also, I hope that you like the new logo on top of the page. It is the one that we have created for the St. Thomas parish community. If you like it, you can purchase the use of it for a nominal fee… just kidding. If you would like a copy please let me know.

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1/22/16

At Mass on January 20, the readings were David defeating the giant Goliath [1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37, 40-51] and Jesus healing a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath [Mark 3:1-6] The story of David and Goliath is very graphic. But a deeper meaning is that the story represents the battle of good and evil; the struggle between light and darkness. As disciples we can feel like David who are given the “slingshot” of our faith to defeat the secular world that promotes sin and darkness.

Yesterday I mentioned Pope Francis’ comments about bringing the confidence of faith with us. One of the more serious temptations which stifles boldness and zeal is a defeatism which turns us into querulous and disillusioned pessimists, sourpusses. Nobody can go off to battle unless he is fully convinced of victory beforehand. If we start without confidence, we have already lost half the battle, and we bury our talents. Time and again the slingshot of mercy has defeated the Goliath of sin in the world. Our challenge is to have confidence in the power of mercy, the power of unconditional love.

The Office of Readings for January 20th had some wonderful comments by Saint Cyprian after the martyrdom of Pope Fabian. Cyprian was encouraging his flock to show mercy to those Christians who had denied their faith in order to save their lives. Should the Christians show them justice and not allow them back in the community even if they should they repent? Should the Christians pray for the fallen-away Christians so that they might repent and one day return to Church? Justice? Or justice tempered by mercy? Although these have separated from us, we have not given them up; in the past we have urged them and now we continue to encourage them to do penance, in the hope that they may receive pardon from him who can give it; whereas if they were abandoned by us, they might become worse. And so you see, brothers, you should act in the same manner; in this way those who have lapsed, having changed their attitude because of your encouragement, might admit their Christianity if ever they are arrested again…. If any of those who have fallen into this temptation should become ill, and, after doing penance, should desire to receive communion, they should certainly be assisted.

 So before you head out of the house today, don’t forget to bring the slingshot of mercy along with you. It is the most powerful weapon in our Christian arsenal.

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