Monthly Archives: October 2016

10/31/16

Happy All Hallows Eve. That is the origin of Halloween. We reflect on holiness and heaven and our journey to our desired goal. We approach this month by reflecting on the final things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Tomorrow, we celebrate the saints in heaven and the following day our beloved dead. In light of the month of November which will end our Year of Mercy, let me share with you another reflection from the book, A Heart Like His. The title of this chapter is A Heavenly Heart:

 

St. Paul famously distinguished between those who “live by the flesh” and those who live “according to the spirit.” Those who live by the flesh, Paul suggested, are interested primarily in worldly things (things of the flesh), while those who live by the spirit “set their minds on things of the spirit.” The flesh and the spirit war against one another, each trying to get the upper hand in our hearts, souls, and lives.

Each of us experiences this battle. It is often easier to get excited about frivolities than about things that really matter. The spiritual life seems to require more work than planning parties or sporting events. We many sometimes get distracted at prayer thinking about a party, but we rarely get distracted during a party thinking about prayer. Jesus, on the other hand, was decidedly a man of the spirit. He saw things in a spiritual way, evaluated things from a spiritual perspective, and related things to deeper, spiritual truths.

When Jesus was walking through the fields, for example, and saw the workers harvesting, he didn’t just think about wheat and bread. He didn’t lecture his disciples on good agricultural practice. He spontaneously thought that in supernatural terms “the harvest is great but the laborers are few,” and he encouraged his followers to “pray the Lord of the harvest to send workers to his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38). He thought about the harvest at the end of the world, when God’s angels will separate the children of God from the children of the evil one, the way reapers separate wheat from chaff (Matthew 13:36-43). His thoughts tended upward, not downward. Earthly realities reminded him of heavenly realities. But this is the way Jesus always saw things, isn’t it? Everything seemed to remind him of the Father and bear the fingerprints of the Creator of all. When he saw women rejoicing over a lost coin that had been refound or shepherds diligently seeking a sheep that had strayed, he was reminded that there is more rejoicing in heaven over a repentant sinner than over many who had no need to repent. When he heard about pearl merchants who had found and purchased an especially valuable pearl, he immediately thought of how the kingdom of heaven was like that pearl: precious and worth selling everything.

Jesus was truly the opposite of a “man of the world.” He was a man of heaven, a man who saw everything supernaturally, a man for whom only eternal truths were really interesting. He could care less about gossip, who was in power, politics, or the social affairs of this time. He didn’t get excited about sports teams or economic markets or the movements of Roman troops. He cared about people and especially about their relationship with God. He cared about big questions, transcendent questions, spiritual questions.

Lord, you have chosen me to live in the world without being of the world. You don’t want me to disdain the beautiful things you have created, but you also don’t want me to set my heart on them. You teach me that the world as we know it is passing away, and that my true home is heaven. Even though I know these things, I am still in many ways a worldly person. Spiritual realities can seem very abstract to me, and worldly realities seem more tangible. It’s true that my heart often naturally tends toward lower things and is attracted by more superficial interests rather than deeper, spiritual truths.

Teach me, Lord, to think and act like you. Help me be a person of faith, who sees God’s hand in everything. Help me go beyond appearances to look into the heart of people and events, and help me to care more for people’s eternal good than simply for their momentary well-being. In short, help me to become more spiritual.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

10/30/16

In Sunday’s gospel about the tax collector, Zacchaeus, we see another example of Jesus thirsting for souls; thirsting that they encounter God’s love. For Zacchaeus as he experiences a conversion of heart by means of his encounter with Christ, he will come to know his dignity and worth more completely. Zacchaeus is a Son of Abraham.

Mother Teresa was dedicated to quenching Jesus’ thirst for souls. On the cross, one of Jesus’ final words was I thirst. Mother Teresa understood this statement to represent not only Jesus’ physical thirst but also His spiritual one. Jesus came for our salvation. He thirsted – and still thirsts – for the salvation of all people. As He said in the gospels, He came for sinners and not for the self-righteous.

In the book, A Heart Like His, Thomas Williams, the author, speaks of Jesus’ thirsty heart. Let me share with you some of the author’s words based upon a reflection of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:

Jesus is sitting by the well around noon, when a Samaritan woman approaches to draw water. Of all the possible ways Jesus could open a conversation with her, Jesus makes a request. He doesn’t offer salvation or teach about the Kingdom of God, at least not right away. He asks for a drink of water. It is a logical request, of course, on a hot summer’s day in Palestine. Still, we expect Jesus to offer something rather than ask for something. What does this mean?

Let’s take a step back for a moment. By making us free, God accepted the fact that he no longer would have everything in his control. He can move mountains, change tides, and create and destroy universes – but he cannot make us love him. He needs to ask for our love, in hopes that we will respond. This is very frightening if we think of the awesome responsibility it gives us. As scary as this may be, however, it is actually wonderful news for Christians. The saddest thing imaginable would be that our love didn’t matter to God, that he didn’t care. Imagine experiencing the tremendous love of God and not being able to give him anything in return! But we can. We can give him things that he doesn’t have: our faith, our trust, our love.

Jesus thirsts, all right, but he doesn’t just thirst for water. His hearts thirsts for souls. He thirsts for love. We mustn’t think that this thirst is the expression of some narcissistic need to be loved, such as we hear about with some movie stars. Jesus isn’t interested in starting a fan club for himself out of some psychological need for admirers. He craves our love because he wants to fill us with himself. He wants to give us a joy that we can only know by loving him. So as tough as this is to understand, Jesus’ thirst for love is a thirst to give love, and a thirst to be united with us forever, in the Father’s house. That’s why in the meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well, his request for a drink quickly transforms into a promise of living water. “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. [John 4:14]

What does all this mean for us? How can we possibly imitate this? Perhaps the most basic way to imitate the heart of Christ in this dimension is by making our thirst like his. We all hunger and thirst for many things: security, friendship, pleasure, possessions, romance, and so many other needs and wants. Yet this doesn’t seem to describe Jesus’ heart. He thirsted above all for souls. H wanted his sacrifice to be worth something. He wanted to save people from their sins and to give them heaven. He thirsted for conversion so that he could shower them with his gifts. Is this what our thirst looks like? Do we thirst for the salvation of souls? Is our desire for the evangelization of the world so vehement that we can describe it as a thirst?

Lord, when I see you on the cross, crying out that you thirst, I want to do something. I want to find a way to alleviate your thirst. I know that it wasn’t just water that you were longing for – you thirst for me. You thirst for sinners. You thirst for the love all those you came to save.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

10/29/16

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa is the priest who provides retreats to the pope. I guess that he is the official “preacher” to the pope then. He has a book about God’s mercy titled, The Gaze of Mercy. In the book he reflects on God’s mercy as exhibited by various gospel stories. This weekend we will hear one of those stories in the book, the gospel encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus, the tax collector. Last week at Sunday Mass, Jesus told the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee [Luke 18:9-14]. The ending of the gospel was that the one who humbles himself will be exalted. In a certain sense, Zacchaeus will be an example of this exaltation. Zacchaeus will humble himself by climbing a tree in order to see Jesus. The result will be Jesus declaring that Zacchaeus is a Son of Abraham and that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house.

Let me share with you some of Fr. Cantalamessa’s thoughts about the Zacchaeus story:

Jesus encountered many people throughout Palestine. The Gospels have transmitted a record of some of these people and have given us their names for the most part. One prominent detail immediately leaps out: these women and men are almost always in difficult situations or are suffering from a sickness, from grief, or from some other painful situation.

Or worse, they are “sinners”—people living in moral situations in contradiction to the requirements of the Mosaic law and thus not according to God’s will.

Let’s reflect on Jesus’ encounter with one such sinner: Zacchaeus, “a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man” (Luke 19:2). It takes place in Jericho, where Zacchaeus is in a large crowd waiting for Jesus. Because Zacchaeus is short, he climbs a tree along the route of the procession to see Jesus better. When Jesus reaches it, he looks up and says, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house” (19:5). Overjoyed, Zacchaeus hurries down and receives Jesus. But the crowd grumbles: “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner” (19:7).

Just a Sinner? The citizens despised Zacchaeus because he was compromised by money and power; perhaps they scorned him because he was short. Zacchaeus was nothing but a “sinner” to them. Jesus, on the other hand, went to his house; he left the welcoming crowd of admirers and visited only Zacchaeus. He was acting like the good shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go find the hundredth sheep that is lost. For Jesus, Zacchaeus was above all “a descendant of Abraham” (Luke 19:9).

Jesus welcomes those who are either outcasts of the political system (the poor and oppressed) or who are rejected by the religious system (pagans, tax collectors, and prostitutes). People who do not accept this kind of action by God exclude themselves from salvation.

Seen in this light, the Zacchaeus episode seems like the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee actually coming to pass: God justified the repentant tax collector and sent the Pharisee away empty-handed. Now Jesus brings salvation to Zacchaeus’ house and leaves the arrogant, sanctimonious people murmuring outside.

Inside the house, Zacchaeus promises: “Half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over” (19:8). And Jesus declares that salvation has come to the household of Zacchaeus. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” (19:10).

Unconditional Mercy. Let us reflect a bit more deeply on this episode. Zacchaeus has heard Jesus talked about as a prophet who is different from the others, so he wants to see him. There is certainly something more than sheer curiosity on Zacchaeus’ part. He has a real interest, though not yet a desire, to convert. Jesus looks up into the tree at him—from many hints in the Gospels, it seems that Jesus’ eyes had a miraculous power and spoke more than his words. He calls Zacchaeus by name.

We might expect that before proclaiming forgiveness, Jesus would have required the five conditions that are normally demanded to obtain the remission of sin: examination of conscience, repentance, a firm resolve not to sin again, a confession of sin, and penance. But none of that happens! Jesus urgently wants to spend time with Zacchaeus—to enter his home, stay for a while, have a meal, and perhaps spend the night.

Jesus compromises himself openly and dangerously because he risks becoming ritually unclean and causing scandal. Yet he meets with a sinner at his home and does not impose any preliminary conditions. He does not ask Zacchaeus to purify himself in terms of the Mosaic law; he does not ask him to leave his disreputable profession or to do restitution or penance.

Swept Away. Zacchaeus, however, is able to read in Jesus’ gaze the same love that Jesus elsewhere directed to the rich young man (Mark 10:21). That gaze fills him with extraordinary joy. He welcomes this presence that lavishes him with love; he lets himself be swept away by this love. Because of this love, he feels himself come back to life and become a human being again. He no longer feels the cloud of disdain that had always hung over him, even when he was dealing with colleagues and subordinates.

Zacchaeus immediately understood that if he wanted this love to be alive and life-giving, he needed to let all of his life be inundated by it; he needed to let it influence all his relationships. And so, spontaneously, Zacchaeus announced he would give half of his goods to the poor and would restore fourfold to anyone he had cheated.

This is a reparation, but one that takes place on the level of human relationships, in the sphere of justice operating among human beings. And Zacchaeus does not do this because of a condition imposed on him by Jesus in order to receive his love. It is instead a consequence of that love. Having been loved first, and freely, Zacchaeus feels the urge to turn toward others, toward those he has defrauded, and he learns to respect and love them.

This is how God’s mercy operates. Let us never forget it!

 

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

10/28/16

In the story of Jesus and the tax collector, Zacchaeus [Luke 19:1-10, 31st Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C], we see Jesus acting as the Good Shepherd seeking the lost sheep. While the crowds are spiritually “throwing stones” at Zacchaeus by means of their judgmental attitudes towards him, Jesus sees someone who needs God’s mercy. Jesus offers Zacchaeus hospitality and the result is a changed, converted “Son of Abraham.”

What type of heart did Jesus have that allowed Him to act as Good Shepherd while the crowd acted as stone throwers toward Zacchaeus? How about Jesus’ personal heart? In the book A Heart Like His, Thomas Williams, the author describes Jesus’ personal heart, a heart that sees “persons” and not just “sinners.” A heart that sees beneath the surface in order to see the person created in God’s image and likeness. A likeness that is not destroyed or removed due to a person’s sinfulness. Let me share with you some of the author’s thoughts about Jesus’ personal heart.

We are used to a utilitarian ethic whereby we look for the greatest happiness of the greatest number, despite the unhappy consequence that some will fall through the cracks. As long as most people are okay, we figure we’re doing pretty well. That wasn’t Jesus’ ethics at all. All it took was one person in need to move Jesus’ heart. All it took was a single individual (even an unworthy, sinful individual) to set him in action. For Jesus, human beings were never numbers; they were always persons. And for Jesus, every person was irreplaceable. He didn’t distinguish between important people and unimportant people. All were of infinite worth to him.

That’s why Jesus makes time for everyone. That’s why Jesus treats each person with the same respect. Jesus never made ‘quality of life’ judgments to see who deserved his attention and his care. For him, every human life had the essential quality of being his brother and sister. That was enough.

The Gospels often speak of Jesus addressing the ‘crowds’ that followed after him, yet time after time they also narrate his encounters with real-life people: widows, soldiers, prostitutes, paralytics, lepers, beggars, and so on. They tell us of Jesus’ meeting with Jairus the synagogue official and Zacchaeus the tax collector and Simon the leper and of course, Mary Magdalene ‘from whom seven demons had gone out.’ Day after day Jesus devoted himself to real people, with names, addresses, personal histories, and individual needs.

Sometimes, too, we can romanticize what these people were like to deal with on a daily basis. Jesus didn’t love them because they were such fine people that one couldn’t help but love them. Most of the people Jesus dealt with were petty, short-sighted, and deeply flawed. Some were cheats. Others were scheming. Still others were lazy, lustful, and dishonest. Yet Jesus loved these people, the imperfect and often unpleasant ones.

To have a heart like Christ’s means to have a heart that sees every human being as precious. It means a personal touch in our dealings with others, even if they are ‘only’ the checkout clerk at the grocery store or the shampoo girl at eh hair salon. Loving humanity must translate into loving the person next to me right now. The maxim ‘charity begins at home’ has special significance in this context. The people we rub shoulders with every day – especially our immediate family – are often those we find it hardest to love, simply because we have to deal with them very day. Yet in those all-too-real people beside us, with all their limitations and annoying habits, we discover our special vocation to Christian charity.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

10/27/16

In less than a week we will be celebrating All Saints Day. We often think about the saints in terms of their intercession for us. Another reason that we honor them is that they serve as our role models. If we want to be a saint, then the official saints of the church are the ones that we are called to study and to learn from. While being a saint may seem like a far-fetched idea, the converse – not to become a saint after one dies – is not a very pleasant option.

 

One person defined a saint as someone who wills the One Thing. God!! Recall last weekend at Mass when we read Paul’s second letter to Timothy [2 Timothy 4:6-8, 14-16]. Paul talked about his zeal to follow Christ. Paul mentioned that he had been poured out like a libation. He sensed that he was nearing the end of his life so he shared those wonderful words:

I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.

In her book Illuminated Life, Sister Joan Chittister spoke about zeal for the Lord through a story:

A monk went to see his spiritual director and said to him: as far as I am able I keep my little fasts, I pray my little prayers, I meditate a little, I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do? The spiritual director stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten torches of flame and he said to the monk, “Why not be turned completely into fire?”

She describe what happens when the love of Christ compels us to live for him:

The presence of God is a demanding thing. Nothing stays the same once we have found the God within. We become new people and we see everything around us differently and in a new way also. We become connected to everything, to everyone. We carry the world in our hearts: the oppression of people, the suffering of friends, the burden of enemies, the hunger of the starving, the dreams of every laughing child. Awareness focuses our hearts and zeal consumes us.

On October 24, the Church celebrated the feast of Saint Anthony Claret (1807-1870). He was an outstanding preacher in Spain; started a missionary order after he was made bishop in Cuba; and he was known for his pastoral zeal. Let me share with you Saint Anthony’s words from the Church’s Office of Readings for October 24:

 

Driven by the fire of the Holy Spirit, the holy apostles travelled throughout the earth. Inflamed with the same fire, apostolic missionaries have reached, are now reaching and will continue to reach the ends of the earth, from one pole to the other, in order to proclaim the word of God. They are deservedly able to apply to themselves those words of the apostle Paul: The love of Christ drives us on.

  The love of Christ arouses us, urges us to run, and to fly, lifted on the wings of holy zeal. The man who truly loves God also loves his neighbour. The truly zealous man is also one who loves, but he stands on a higher plane of love so that the more he is inflamed by love, the more urgently zeal drives him on. But if anyone lacks this zeal, then it is evident that love and charity have been extinguished in his heart. The zealous man desires and achieves all great things and he labours strenuously so that God may always be better known, loved and served in this world and in the life to come, for this holy love is without end.

  Because he is concerned also for his neighbour, the man of zeal works to fulfil his desire that all men be content on this earth and happy and blessed in their heavenly homeland, that all may be saved, and that no one may perish for ever, or offend God, or remain even for a moment in sin. Such are the concerns we observe in the holy apostles and in all who are driven by the apostolic spirit.

  For myself, I say this to you: The man who burns with the fire of divine love is a son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and wherever he goes, he enkindles that flame; he desires and works with all his strength to inflame all men with the fire of God’s love. Nothing deters him: he rejoices in poverty; he labours strenuously; he welcomes hardships; he laughs off false accusations; he rejoices in anguish. He thinks only of how he might follow Jesus Christ and imitate him by his prayers, his labours, his sufferings, and by caring always and only for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

10/26/16

On May 18, 2013, Pope Francis spoke to a group of laity. In the speech, the pope spoke about being a missionary Church. He spoke about a Church of “encounter.” The first encounter is our encounter with Christ in order to grow in faith. A second encounter is that with Christ in those we serve. A third encounter is to let others encounter Christ through us. Let me continue with the theme of the past few days and share with your some more thoughts about being a missionary Church. A missionary Church of mercy.

When the Church becomes closed, she becomes an ailing Church, she falls ill! That is a danger. Nevertheless we lock ourselves up in our parish, among our friends, in our movement, with people who think as we do… but do you know what happens? When the Church is closed, she falls sick, she falls sick. Think of a room that has been closed for a year. When you go into it there is a smell of damp, many things are wrong with it. A Church closed in on herself is the same, a sick Church.

The Church must step outside herself. To go where? To the outskirts of existence, whatever they may be, but she must step out. Jesus tells us: “Go into all the world! Go! Preach! Bear witness to the Gospel!” (cf. Mk 16:15). But what happens if we step outside ourselves? The same as can happen to anyone who comes out of the house and onto the street: an accident. But I tell you, I far prefer a Church that has had a few accidents to a Church that has fallen sick from being closed.

Go out, go out! Think of what the Book of Revelation says as well. It says something beautiful: that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, knocks to be let into our heart (cf. Rev 3:20). This is the meaning of the Book of Revelation. But ask yourselves this question: how often is Jesus inside and knocking at the door to be let out, to come out? And we do not let him out because of our own need for security, because so often we are locked into ephemeral structures that serve solely to make us slaves and not free children of God.

In this “stepping out” it is important to be ready for encounter. For me this word is very important. Encounter with others. Why? Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others. We live in a culture of conflict, a culture of fragmentation, a culture in which I throw away what is of no use to me, a culture of waste.

Yet on this point, I ask you to think — and it is part of the crisis — of the elderly, who are the wisdom of a people, think of the children… the culture of waste! However, we must go out to meet them, and with our faith we must create a “culture of encounter”, a culture of friendship, a culture in which we find brothers and sisters, in which we can also speak with those who think differently, as well as those who hold other beliefs, who do not have the same faith.

They all have something in common with us: they are images of God, they are children of God. Going out to meet everyone, without losing sight of our own position. There is another important point: encountering the poor. If we step outside ourselves we find poverty. Today — it sickens the heart to say so — the discovery of a tramp who has died of the cold is not news. Today what counts as news is, maybe, a scandal. A scandal: ah, that is news! Today, the thought that a great many children do not have food to eat is not news. This is serious, this is serious! We cannot put up with this! Yet that is how things are. We cannot become starched Christians, those over-educated Christians who speak of theological matters as they calmly sip their tea. No! We must become courageous Christians and go in search of the people who are the very flesh of Christ, those who are the flesh of Christ!

When I go to hear confessions – I still can’t, because to go out to hear confessions… from here it’s impossible to go out, but that’s another problem — when I used to go to hear confessions in my previous diocese, people would come to me and I would always ask them: “Do you give alms?” — “Yes, Father!” “Very good.” And I would ask them two further questions: “Tell me, when you give alms, do you look the person in the eye?” “Oh I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it”. The second question: “And when you give alms, do you touch the hand of the person you are giving them to or do you toss the coin at him or her?” This is the problem: the flesh of Christ, touching the flesh of Christ, taking upon ourselves this suffering for the poor. Poverty for us Christians is not a sociological, philosophical or cultural category, no. It is theological. I might say this is the first category, because our God, the Son of God, abased himself, he made himself poor to walk along the road with us.

This is our poverty: the poverty of the flesh of Christ, the poverty that brought the Son of God to us through his Incarnation. A poor Church for the poor begins by reaching out to the flesh of Christ. If we reach out to the flesh of Christ, we begin to understand something, to understand what this poverty, the Lord’s poverty, actually is; and this is far from easy.

 

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

10/25/16

On October 22, my daily blog shared with you Pope Francis’ message for World Missions Sunday. I would like to go back to that theme of missions. In his message for World Missions Sunday, Pope Francis wrote:

 

All peoples and cultures have the right to receive the message of salvation which is God’s gift to every person.  This is all the more necessary when we consider how many injustices, wars, and humanitarian crises still need resolution. Missionaries know from experience that the Gospel of forgiveness and mercy can bring joy and reconciliation, justice and peace. The mandate of the Gospel to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20) has not ceased; rather this command commits all of us, in the current landscape with all its challenges, to hear the call to a renewed missionary “impulse”, as I noted in my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (20).

 

In his Angelus address on January 26, 2014, Pope Francis spoke about Jesus’ beginning His mission to share the Good News of God’s forgiveness and mercy. The gospel for that Sunday came from Matthew 4:12-23. Part of that gospel passage included Jesus calling his first disciples to follow Him on mission. The call is also extended to us:

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him. He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people. [Matthew 4:17-23]

 

I would like to share with you some of Pope Francis’ Angelus message from that Sunday. I pray that his words will inspire all of the baptized to share the missionary task given to us. Our world needs the message of mercy and forgiveness. Our world needs more missionaries. The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.

 

This Sunday’s Gospel recounts the beginnings of the public life of Jesus in the cities and villages of Galilee. His mission does not begin in Jerusalem, the religious centre and also the social and political centre, but in an area on the outskirts, an area looked down upon by the most observant Jews because of the presence in that region of various foreign peoples; that is why the Prophet Isaiah calls it “Galilee of the nations” (Is 9:1).

It is a borderland, a place of transit where people of different races, cultures, and religions converge. Thus Galilee becomes a symbolic place for the Gospel to open to all nations. From this point of view, Galilee is like the world of today: the co-presence of different cultures, the necessity for comparison and the necessity of encounter. We too are immersed every day in a kind of “Galilee of the nations”, and in this type of context we may feel afraid and give in to the temptation to build fences to make us feel safer, more protected. But Jesus teaches us that the Good News, which he brings, is not reserved to one part of humanity, it is to be communicated to everyone. It is a proclamation of joy destined for those who are waiting for it, but also for all those who perhaps are no longer waiting for anything and haven’t even the strength to seek and to ask.

Jesus begins his mission not only from a decentralized place, but also among men whom one would call, refer to, as having a “low profile”. When choosing his first disciples and future apostles, he does not turn to the schools of scribes and doctors of the Law, but to humble people and simple people, who diligently prepare for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus goes to call them where they work, on the lakeshore: they are fishermen. He calls them, and they follow him, immediately. They leave their nets and go with him: their life will become an extraordinary and fascinating adventure.

Dear friends, the Lord is calling today too! The Lord passes through the paths of our daily life. Even today at this moment, here, the Lord is passing through the square. He is calling us to go with him, to work with him for the Kingdom of God, in the “Galilee” of our times. May each one of you think: the Lord is passing by today, the Lord is watching me, he is looking at me! What is the Lord saying to me? And if one of you feels that the Lord says to you “follow me” be brave, go with the Lord. The Lord never disappoints. Feel in your heart if the Lord is calling you to follow him. Let’s let his gaze rest on us, hear his voice, and follow him! “That the joy of the Gospel may reach to the ends of the earth, illuminating even the fringes of our world” (ibid., n. 288).

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

10/24/16

The daily devotional, Give Us This Day, had a wonderful reflection by Dianne Bergant for the 30th week of Ordinary Time. She wrote about the preferential option for the poor, a foundational principle behind the corporal works of mercy. I have always defined the option for the poor as meaning that whenever we make decisions, especially at local and governmental levels, the first concern is how the decision will affect the least among us. It is an essential principle but our selfishness can at times override the concern for the poor. Consider how we vote for elected officials and how the elected officials seek our votes. Often it is with promises of what they will do for us, not necessarily what they will do for the least among us.

Let share with you Dianne Bergant’s reflection. She started by quoting the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World):

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.

 

With these words, the Second Vatican Council set the agenda for the future social teaching of the Church. Just three years later, in 1968, the bishops of Latin American took a bold stand in favor of their impoverished people, insisting that all pastoral action must have the poor as their primary concern. The phrase “preferential option for the poor” became the cornerstone of a Latin American liberation theology developed first by Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian theologian, and then adopted by the Latin American bishops at a meeting held in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979. But what does the phrase mean? Who are the poor? Why are they preferred? And how does one opt in their favor?

 Who are the poor? The Old Testament identifies “those who are poor or in any way afflicted” as the anawim. These are the people the prophets defended and the psalms acclaim (see Psalm 34). These are the people who touched the heart of Jesus. While the anawim originally referred to the economically poor, it soon became a designation for all those who recognized their neediness and subsequently placed their trust in God. Today, in addition to those in financial straits, the anawim might include migrants or victims of war or natural disasters.

Why are they preferred? Because they are in some way needy and, as members of the body of Christ, they have a claim on us. Sunday’s reading from Sirach [35:12-14 16-18] might seem to challenge such preference: God “shows no favorites” and is “not unduly partial toward the weak.” Yet there is no contradiction because the Vatican documents do not say that God prefers one group of people over another. Rather, the members of the Church must exercise such preference. In other words, it is our Christian responsibility to care for those in need, to eliminate laws and customs that exploit them.

How might we exercise such an option? Almsgiving and sharing some of our own good fortune might alleviate some immediate need, but an option suggests that the poor are a priority, not merely the recipients of some of our abundance. An example of genuine “option for the poor” is the directive by the late Kenneth Untener, bishop of Saginaw, Michigan (d. 2004). On one Holy Thursday, he declared that for the next year, the first item on the agenda of every diocesan meeting, whether of the executive committee or of the parish ushers, must be: “How shall what we are doing here affect or involve the poor?” This declaration made the entire diocese reflect on its priorities. In this way, “option for the poor” became the focus of all parish life.

Now how might we exercise this option?

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

10/23/16

The gospel at Mass today [Luke 18:9-14] focuses on our relationship with God – righteousness or redemption or justification.

Jesus then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.

Our relationship with God is based upon grace; what God has done and is doing in us by means of Christ and the Spirit that Christ has given to us, In other words, our righteousness is a manifestation of God’s mercy towards us.

I was reading a sermon by St. Peter Chrysologus which focused on Jesus as our savior. The saint’s complex use of words and comparisons between the first Adam (in the book of Genesis) and the second Adam (Jesus) was fascinating. I hope that you will find his sermon enlightening and thought provoking. I also share with you St. Peter Chrysologus’ sermon because studies have shown that young people are very confused or uncertain as to Christ’s identity and nature. One study showed that some young people think that Jesus is God but somehow born in time. This understanding of Jesus is certainly not what we profess at Mass when we profess our faith through the Creed.

 

The word, the wisdom of God, was made flesh

The holy Apostle has told us that the human race takes its origin from two men, Adam and Christ; two men equal in body but unequal in merit, wholly alike in their physical structure but totally unlike in the very origin of their being. The first man, Adam, he says, became a living soul, the last Adam a life-giving spirit.

  The first Adam was made by the last Adam, from whom he also received his soul, to give him life. The last Adam was formed by his own action; he did not have to wait for life to be given him by someone else, but was the only one who could give life to all. The first Adam was formed from valueless clay, the second Adam came forth from the precious womb of the Virgin. In the case of the first Adam, earth was changed into flesh; in the case of the second Adam, flesh was raised up to be God.

  What more need be said? The second Adam stamped his image on the first Adam when he created him. That is why he took on himself the role, and the name, of the first Adam, in order that he might not lose what he had made in his own image. The first Adam, the last Adam; the first had a beginning, the last knows no end. The last Adam is indeed the first; as he himself says: I am the first and the last.

  I am the first, that is, I have no beginning. I am the last, that is, I have no end. But what was spiritual, says the Apostle, did not come first; what was living came first, then what is spiritual. The earth comes before its fruit, but the earth is not so valuable as its fruit. The earth exacts pain and toil; its fruit bestows subsistence and life. The prophet rightly boasted of this fruit: Our earth has yielded its fruit. What is this fruit? The fruit referred to in another place: I will place upon your throne one who is the fruit of your body. The first man, says the Apostle, was made from the earth and belongs to the earth; the second man is from heaven, and belongs to heaven.

  The man made from the earth is the pattern of those who belong to the earth; the man from heaven is the pattern of those who belong to heaven. How is it that these last, though they do not belong to heaven by birth, will yet belong to heaven, men who do not remain what they were by birth but persevere in being what they have become by rebirth? The reason is, brethren, that the heavenly Spirit, by the mysterious infusion of his light, gives fertility to the womb of the virginal font. The Spirit brings forth as men belonging to heaven those whose earthly ancestry brought them forth as men belonging to the earth, and in a condition of wretchedness; he gives them the likeness of their Creator. Now that we are reborn, refashioned in the image of our Creator, we must fulfil what the Apostle commands: So, as we have worn the likeness of the man of earth, let us also wear the likeness of the man of heaven.

  Now that we are reborn, as I have said, in the likeness of our Lord, and have indeed been adopted by God as his children, let us put on the complete image of our Creator so as to be wholly like him, not in the glory that he alone possesses, but in innocence, simplicity, gentleness, patience, humility, mercy, harmony, those qualities in which he chose to become, and to be, one with us.

 

Food for thought?

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

10/22/16

On Sunday, the Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. While we often imagine missionaries as the men and women sharing the Good News in distant lands, in reality the nature of the Church – our own individual nature as members of the Body of Christ – is to be missionaries. All of us are missionaries by baptism. Saint John Paul II said that everyone has the right to hear the Good News of salvation which is offered through the incarnation of the Son of God. Jesus means “God saves” His people from their sins so they can become children of God and live eternally with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This message is the fundamental message of the Good News that Christ came to offer all men and women.

This Year of Mercy is a good opportunity to reflect on how we have been, and how we can become, missionaries of God’s mercy. Mercy is a wonderful way to present Christ to those who don’t know Him and to those who are lukewarm in their faith. Pope Francis in his message for World Mission Sunday spoke to this theme. Let me share with you his message.

The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which the Church is celebrating, casts a distinct light on World Mission Sunday 2016: it invites us to consider the missio ad gentes as a great, immense work of mercy, both spiritual and material. On this World Mission Sunday, all of us are invited to “go out” as missionary disciples, each generously offering their talents, creativity, wisdom and experience in order to bring the message of God’s tenderness and compassion to the entire human family. By virtue of the missionary mandate, the Church cares for those who do not know the Gospel, because she wants everyone to be saved and to experience the Lord’s love. She “is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel” (Misericordiae Vultus, 12) and to proclaim mercy in every corner of the world, reaching every person, young or old.

When mercy encounters a person, it brings deep joy to the Father’s heart; for from the beginning the Father has lovingly turned towards the most vulnerable, because his greatness and power are revealed precisely in his capacity to identify with the young, the marginalized and the oppressed (cf. Deut 4:31; Ps 86:15; 103:8; 111:4). He is a kind, caring and faithful God who is close to those in need, especially the poor; he involves himself tenderly in human reality just as a father and mother do in the lives of their children (cf. Jer 31:20). When speaking of the womb, the Bible uses the word that signifies mercy: therefore it refers to the love of a mother for her children, whom she will always love, in every circumstance and regardless of what happens, because they are the fruit of her womb. This is also an essential aspect of the love that God has for all his children, whom he created and whom he wants to raise and educate; in the face of their weaknesses and infidelity, his heart is overcome with compassion (cf. Hos 11:8). He is merciful towards all; his love is for all people and his compassion extends to all creatures (cf. Ps 144:8-9).

Mercy finds its most noble and complete expression in the Incarnate Word. Jesus reveals the face of the Father who is rich in mercy; he “speaks of [mercy] and explains it by the use of comparisons and parables, but above all he himself makes it incarnate and personifies it” (John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, 2). When we welcome and follow Jesus by means of the Gospel and sacraments, we can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, become merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful; we can learn to love as he loves us and make of our lives a free gift, a sign of his goodness (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, 3). The Church, in the midst of humanity, is first of all the community that lives by the mercy of Christ: she senses his gaze and feels he has chosen her with his merciful love. It is through this love that the Church discovers its mandate, lives it and makes it known to all peoples through a respectful dialogue with every culture and religious belief.

This merciful love, as in the early days of the Church, is witnessed to by many men and women of every age and condition. The considerable and growing presence of women in the missionary world, working alongside their male counterparts, is a significant sign of God’s maternal love. Women, lay and religious, and today even many families, carry out their missionary vocation in various forms: from announcing the Gospel to charitable service. Together with the evangelizing and sacramental work of missionaries, women and families often more adequately understand people’s problems and know how to deal with them in an appropriate and, at times, fresh way: in caring for life, with a strong focus on people rather than structures, and by allocating human and spiritual resources towards the building of good relations, harmony, peace, solidarity, dialogue, cooperation and fraternity, both among individuals and in social and cultural life, in particular through care for the poor.

In many places evangelization begins with education, to which missionary work dedicates much time and effort, like the merciful vine-dresser of the Gospel (cf. Lk 13:7-9; Jn 15:1), patiently waiting for fruit after years of slow cultivation; in this way they bring forth a new people able to evangelize, who will take the Gospel to those places where it otherwise would not have been thought possible. The Church can also be defined as “mother” for those who will one day have faith in Christ. I hope, therefore, that the holy people of God will continue to exercise this maternal service of mercy, which helps those who do not yet know the Lord to encounter and love him. Faith is God’s gift and not the result of proselytizing; rather it grows thanks to the faith and charity of evangelizers who witness to Christ. As they travel through the streets of the world, the disciples of Jesus need to have a love without limits, the same measure of love that our Lord has for all people. We proclaim the most beautiful and greatest gifts that he has given us: his life and his love. 

All peoples and cultures have the right to receive the message of salvation which is God’s gift to every person.  This is all the more necessary when we consider how many injustices, wars, and humanitarian crises still need resolution. Missionaries know from experience that the Gospel of forgiveness and mercy can bring joy and reconciliation, justice and peace. The mandate of the Gospel to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20) has not ceased; rather this command commits all of us, in the current landscape with all its challenges, to hear the call to a renewed missionary “impulse”, as I noted in my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: “Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (20).

This Jubilee year marks the 90th anniversary of World Missionary Day, first approved by Pope Pius XI in 1926 and organized by the Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith.  It is appropriate then to recall the wise instructions of my Predecessors who ordered that to this Society be destined all the offerings collected in every diocese, parish, religious community, association and ecclesial movement throughout the world for the care of Christian communities in need and for supporting the proclamation of the Gospel even to the ends of the earth.  Today too we believe in this sign of missionary ecclesial communion. Let us not close our hearts within our own particular concerns, but let us open them to all of humanity.

May Holy Mary, sublime icon of redeemed humanity, model of missionaries for the Church, teach all men, women and families, to foster and safeguard the living and mysterious presence of the Risen Lord in every place, he who renews personal relationships, cultures and peoples, and who fills all with joyful mercy.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized