Monthly Archives: January 2017

01/31/17

Mother Teresa once said something to the effect that when we take our eyes off ourselves and our own interests. we will begin to see where God wants us to serve. Today we celebrate the feast of Saint John Bosco. As I was reading information about him, I thought of Mother Teresa’ statement. If Saint John Bosco is an unfamiliar saint to you, let me share a little information for your reflection today.

John Bosco, also known as Giovanni Melchiorre Bosco and Don Bosco, was born in Becchi, Italy, on August 16, 1815. His birth came just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars which ravaged the area. Compounding the problems on his birthday, there was also a drought and a famine at the time of his birth.

At the age of two, John lost his father, leaving him and his two older brothers to be raised by his mother, Margherita. His “Mama Margherita Occhiena” would herself be declared venerable by the Church in 2006.

Raised primarily by his mother, John attended church and became very devout. When he was not in church, he helped his family grow food and raise sheep. They were very poor, but despite their poverty his mother also found enough to share with the homeless who sometimes came to the door seeking food, shelter or clothing.

When John was nine years old, he had the first of several vivid dreams that would influence his life. In his dream, he encountered a multitude of boys who swore as they played. Among these boys, he encountered a great, majestic man and woman. The man told him that in meekness and charity, he would “conquer these your friends.” Then a lady, also majestic said, “Be strong, humble and robust. When the time comes, you will understand everything.” This dream influenced John the rest of his life.

Not long afterwards, John witnessed a traveling troupe of circus performers. He was enthralled by their magic tricks and acrobatics. He realized if he learned their tricks, he could use them to attract others and hold their attention. He studied their tricks and learned how to perform some himself.

One Sunday evening, John staged a show for the kids he played with and was heartily applauded. At the end of the show, he recited the homily he heard earlier in the day. He ended by inviting his neighbors to pray with him. His shows and games were repeated and during this time, John discerned the call to become a priest.

To be a priest, John required an education, something he lacked because of poverty. However, he found a priest willing to provide him with some teaching and a few books. John’s older brother became angry at this apparent disloyalty, and he reportedly whipped John saying he’s “a farmer like us!”

John was undeterred, and as soon as he could he left home to look for work as a hired farm laborer. He was only 12 when he departed, a decision hastened by his brother’s hostility.

John had difficulty finding work, but managed to find a job at a vineyard. He labored for two more years before he met Jospeh Cafasso, a priest who was willing to help him. Cafasso himself would later be recognized as a saint for his work, particularly ministering to prisoners and the condemned.

In 1835, John entered the seminary and following six years of study and preparation, he was ordained a priest in 1841.

His first assignment was to the city of Turin. The city was in the throes of industrialization so it had slums and widespread poverty. It was into these poor neighborhoods that John, now known as Fr. Bosco, went to work with the children of the poor.

While visiting the prisons, Fr. Bosco noticed a large number of boys, between the ages of 12 and 18, inside. The conditions were deplorable, and he felt moved to do more to help other boys from ending up there.

He went into the streets and started to meet young men and boys where they worked and played. He used his talents as a performer, doing tricks to capture attention, then sharing with the children his message for the day.

When he was not preaching, Fr. Bosco worked tirelessly seeking work for boys who needed it, and searching for lodgings for others. His mother began to help him, and she became known as “Mamma Margherita.” By the 1860s, Fr. Bosco and his mother were responsible for lodging 800 boys.

Fr. Bosco also negotiated new rights for boys who were employed as apprentices. A common problem was the abuse of apprentices, with their employers using them to perform manual labor and menial work unrelated to their apprenticeship. Fr. Bosco negotiated contracts which forbade such abuse, a sweeping reform for that time. The boys he hired out were also given feast days off and could no longer be beaten.

Fr. Bosco also identified boys he thought would make good priests and encouraged them to consider a vocation to the priesthood. Then, he helped to prepare those who responded favorably in their path to ordination.

Fr. Bosco was not without some controversy. Some parish priests accused him of stealing boys from their parishes. The Chief of Police of Turin was opposed to his catechizing of boys in the streets, which he claimed was political subversion.

In 1859, Fr. Bosco established the Society of St. Francis de Sales. He organized 15 seminarians and one teenage boy into the group. Their purpose was to carry on his charitable work, helping boys with their faith formation and to stay out of trouble. The organization still exists today and continues to help people, especially children around the world.

In the years that followed, Fr. Bosco expanded his mission, which had, and still has, much work to do.

Fr. Bosco died on January 31, 1888. The call for his canonization was immediate. Pope Pius XI knew Fr. Bosco personally and agreed, declaring him blessed in 1929. St. John Bosco was canonized on Easter Sunday, 1934 and he was given the title, “Father and Teacher of Youth.”

In 2002, Pope John Paul II was petitioned to declare St. John Bosco the Patron of Stage Magicians. St. Bosco had pioneered the art of what is today called “Gospel Magic,” using magic and other feats to attract attention and engage the youth.

Saint John Bosco is the patron saint of apprentices, editors and publishers, schoolchildren, magicians, and juvenile delinquents. His feast day is on January 31.

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01/30/17

Matthew 9:36-38: At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest

Grace McKinnon was teaching adult education courses in the valley. With her disabilities it was becoming increasingly difficult for her and she was driving in deserted places late at night. Her family was concerned about her and she was exhausted from the demands of the job. She was frightened, she had a fear about the resources to do the job, and so she was wondering if she should continue. Then she saw some homes alongside the roadway and realized that the people in these homes needed to know Christ and someone had to do it. At that time, she realized that God was calling her to feed them with the Word of God. She thought, “O my God, you are calling me to teach your children.” Suddenly all of her fears left her.

I was thinking about Jesus’ words above from Matthew’s gospel and then the story about Grace McKinnon came to mind. She was taking classes at the seminary when I was at St. Mary Seminary. Grace was in a wheelchair; her car had some type of “contraption” that hoisted the wheelchair on top of her car after she got in to the car. Although her health and physical condition was not good, she was dedicated to her studies and her faith. And from the example above she is dedicated to sharing the Good News.

As I see the many areas where our Church (universal) needs to be involved, I hear Jesus’ request for more workers in the vineyard. That fact and need is so apparent, for instance, every time that I go to the prisons. That need is further reinforced as I hear stories from those who are ministering in prisons. From their stories, there are so many Catholics in the prisons that we have not reached out to or are hidden in segregation units that we are not aware of and who are yearning to know more about their Catholic faith…. The need is overwhelming. The laborers are few. Any suggestions other than prayer to challenge our faith communities to embracing what is said to them at the end of each Mass: Go in peace to announce the Gospel, the Good News, of God?

Think of all the fallen away Catholics. Some say that the second largest denomination in the United States is fallen away Catholics. How could we have put more resources (parishioners committed to sharing the wonderful news of the Gospel) at the disposal of these fallen away Catholics when they were in their formative years? It seems when they leave the Church, they somehow have been touched by God’s grace and are now on fire for the Lord. The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.

Answering Jesus’ request for more laborers in the vineyard is the purpose of this blog. To commit ourselves more fully to a life of discipleship and to get more on board for this fundamental vocation. After all the Church is missionary by nature. The call to evangelize and to be a disciple IS that missionary nature that each of us has and which is then put into as we live and preach the Good News.

 

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01/29/17

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog, the gospel at Mass today will be the Beatitudes. Sometimes people have thought of the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 5 as wonderful ideals but not something which is attainable. Maybe the Beatitudes are unattainable, if a “try harder” effort is all that we do. Yet we are a people empowered by grace. As Mary was told at the Annunciation by the angel that all things were possible for God. Grace is the secret weapon to make the Beatitudes achievable.

 Furthermore, if we seek earntestly to live in Christ Jesus, then the Beatitudes are critical. After all the Beatitudes are simply describing what Jesus is like. As Pope Benedict shared in a homily in 2006 about the Beatitudes:

The blessed par excellence is only Jesus. He is, in fact, the true poor in spirit, the one afflicted, the meek one, the one hungering and thirsting for justice, the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemaker. He is the one persecuted for the sake of justice.

In a book about the Beatitudes called the Ladder of the Beatitudes, the author considers the Beatitudes as a ladder. Each rung of the ladder is a different quality about Jesus. The top of the ladder is God and the Holiness of God. As the final Beatitude states:

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven

The first step towards holiness and God requires us to be poor in spirit. How fortunate we are if we realize this truth. It is so easy in our distracted world to forget our radical contingency and that we are radically dependent upon God. As Paul states in Acts 17:28, In God we live and move and have our being. A story that speaks about being poor in spirit is the following:

A little boy was sitting next to a grizzled holy man seated beside the Ganges River. “Will you teach me to pray?” the boy asked. “Are you sure that you want to learn?” the holy man asked? “Yes, of course.” With that the holy man grabbed the boy’s neck and plunged his head into the water. He held them there while the boy kicked and screamed and tried to get away. Finally, after an interminable period the holy man let the boy out of the water.”What was that?” the boy asked. “That was your first lesson in prayer. When you long for God the way that you longed to breathe, then you will be able to pray.

Do we hunger and thirst for God who is the source of everything? If so, then we know what it means to be poor in spirit.

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01/28/17

On Sunday we will hear a familiar gospel proclaimed, the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. Last Sunday with Jesus’ proclamation about repenting for the kingdom of heaven is present among us, Jesus was reminding us that to live in the Kingdom we would have to have a change in direction. A change of direction in the way we live and the way we think. The Beatitudes challenge the way we think which then call us to change the way we live. The beatitudes ultimately describe Jesus and those who wish to conform their lives after His.

Jesus begins each of the beatitudes by saying, “Blessed are the ….” He is telling us that we are fortunate if we understand, follow, and live according to these teachings, because we are on the path of life. We get it! We are on the path of holiness. The final beatitude is: Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Jesus reminds us that the final goal in the living of the beatitudes is God, is Heaven, is Holiness itself.

Pope Francis preached about the beatitudes when he visited Sweden in November, 2016. During his homily he said that meekness is a way of living and acting that draws us close to Jesus and to one another. It enables us to set aside everything that divides and estranges us, and to find ever new ways to advance along the path of unity. He also offered a few modern beatitudes for our consideration:

The Beatitudes are in some sense the Christian’s identity card. They identify us as followers of Jesus. We are called to be blessed, to be followers of Jesus, to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age with the spirit and love of Jesus. Thus we ought to be able to recognize and respond to new situations with fresh spiritual energy. Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others, and forgive them from their heart. Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized, and show them their closeness. Blessed are those who see God in every person, and strive to make others also discover him. Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home. Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others. Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians. All these are messengers of God’s mercy and tenderness, and surely they will receive from him their merited reward.

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01/27/16

I was reading an article about individual Catholic churches being welcoming communities towards those who seek the church’s help. Sometimes this help is needed regarding sacramental celebrations. Sometimes the request is made by those who are not necessarily strong in their faith or who are not members of the parish community. Pope Francis in his Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia (296,297) wrote some comments that all disciples – whether they work in a parish or not – need to keep in mind:

 

Here I would like to reiterate something I sought to make clear to the whole Church, lest we take the wrong path: “There are two ways of thinking which recur throughout the Church’s history: casting off and reinstating. The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstate­ment… The way of the Church is not to con­demn anyone for ever; it is to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart… For true charity is always un­merited, unconditional and gratuitous”. Con­sequently, there is a need “to avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of various situations” and “to be attentive, by necessity, to how people experience distress be­cause of their condition” It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial com­munity and thus to experience being touched by an “unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous” mercy. No one can be condemned for ever, be­cause that is not the logic of the Gospel!

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01/26/17

Yesterday we celebrated the conversion of St. Paul, a story with which we are very familiar. After his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus, Paul became the premier disciple at spreading the Gospel to the gentile people. What is the story of our conversion? That encounter with Christ that changed and challenged the way that we live? A challenge and change that has made us serious about being disciples who spread the Good News.

At Mass for the conversion of St. Paul, the gospel was the commissioning instructions from Jesus found at the end of Mark’s gospel: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

The words about picking up poisonous snakes and drinking poison is not meant to be interpreted literally and used as a sign of how strong one’s faith is. Rather the signs are manifestations that we belong to Christ and therefore they are signs of God’s presence in the world.

Paul reminds us by means of his life that belonging to Christ requires humility on our part. To emphasize the need for humility, Paul quoted an early Christian hymn in his letter to the Philippians where he encourages us to have the mind of Christ. In the passage (Philippians 2:5-11) he describes Jesus’ life from the perspective of humility. Paul was certainly humble after his conversion experience of the risen Christ. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul describes himself as the least of the apostles due to his persecution of Christians prior to his conversion.

We become signs of God’s presence when for instance we are merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. If you read about Paul’s conversion, for example in Acts 22, Ananias is the Christian person who met with Paul after Paul’s arrival in Damascus. I have always wondered what Ananias felt when God told him to accept Paul into the Christian community and invite Paul to be baptized. Ananias must have had to swallow a lot of anger in his heart which had been directed towards Paul. After all Paul had a reputation as a Christian killer and now Paul was there to become a Christian.

Living in communion and building communion with each other is another way that we manifest God’s presence. I always remember that when Saul heard the Lord’s voice in that dramatic encounter on the road to Damascus, Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Not “Saul, why are you persecuting Tom and Mary and John and Suzy.?” But rather “why are you persecuting me?” It is a reminder to what we do to one another we do to and for Christ. That reality should spur us on in our acts of charity.

 

 

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01/24/17

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Francis de Sales. His book titled Introduction to the Devout Life is still a widely read book despite the saint living from 1567-1622. Years before Vatican II, Saint Francis de Sales recognized that all of us are called to a vocation of holiness, regardless of whether we are married, single, or in consecrated life. Prayer – or as Francis would call it “devotion” – is essential for our lives of holiness. Yet it is how we practice this devotion that is important. In the Office of Readings for today, Saint Francis gently instructs us that our prayer life needs to be coordinated with our vocation. A monastic has a different prayer life than a parent with several young children. A single person would have a different prayer life than a married couple. Yet the bottom line is that our prayer life is essential to our lives of holiness as disciples and ambassadors of Jesus.

 

Let me share with you Saint Francis’ wisdom about the “devout” life:

 

When God the Creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bring forth fruit each according to its own kind; he has likewise commanded Christians, who are the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one in accord with his character, his station and his calling.

  I say that devotion must be practised in different ways by the nobleman and by the working man, by the servant and by the prince, by the widow, by the unmarried girl and by the married woman. But even this distinction is not sufficient; for the practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation and to the duties of each one in particular.

  Tell me, please, my Philothea, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life like a Carthusian; or for married people to be no more concerned than a Capuchin about increasing their income; or for a working man to spend his whole day in church like a religious; or on the other hand for a religious to be constantly exposed like a bishop to all the events and circumstances that bear on the needs of our neighbour. Is not this sort of devotion ridiculous, unorganised and intolerable? Yet this absurd error occurs very frequently, but in no way does true devotion, my Philothea, destroy anything at all. On the contrary, it perfects and fulfils all things. In fact if it ever works against, or is inimical to, anyone’s legitimate station and calling, then it is very definitely false devotion.

  The bee collects honey from flowers in such a way as to do the least damage or destruction to them, and he leaves them whole, undamaged and fresh, just as he found them. True devotion does still better. Not only does it not injure any sort of calling or occupation, it even embellishes and enhances it.

  Moreover, just as every sort of gem, cast in honey, becomes brighter and more sparkling, each according to its colour, so each person becomes more acceptable and fitting in his own vocation when he sets his vocation in the context of devotion. Through devotion your family cares become more peaceful, mutual love between husband and wife becomes more sincere, the service we owe to the prince becomes more faithful, and our work, no matter what it is, becomes more pleasant and agreeable.

  It is therefore an error and even a heresy to wish to exclude the exercise of devotion from military divisions, from the artisans’ shops, from the courts of princes, from family households. I acknowledge, my dear Philothea, that the type of devotion which is purely contemplative, monastic and religious can certainly not be exercised in these sorts of stations and occupations, but besides this threefold type of devotion, there are many others fit for perfecting those who live in a secular state.

  Therefore, in whatever situations we happen to be, we can and we must aspire to the life of perfection.

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01/23/17

At Mass on Sunday in the gospel, the first apostles immediately and completely responded to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. This commitment was symbolized by their leaving their nets and their professions in order to follow Jesus. For most of us, Jesus’ call isn’t to abandon everything that we are doing and everyone in our families and follow Him. Rather Jesus’ call is that of living our lives in a way that we are committed to holiness at home, at school, in our workplaces, and wherever we go.

On Saturday we celebrated the feast of St. Agnes, a young, virgin martyr of the early 4th century. Her commitment to follow Christ despite the cost inspired early Christians so much that her name is listed as one of the martyrs in the first Eucharistic Prayer. In the office of readings for Saturday, Saint Ambrose lauded her commitment to be Jesus’ disciple:

 

Today is the birthday of a virgin; let us imitate her purity. It is the birthday of a martyr; let us offer ourselves in sacrifice. It is the birthday of Saint Agnes, who is said to have suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve. The cruelty that did not spare her youth shows all the more clearly the power of faith in finding one so young to bear it witness.

  There was little or no room in that small body for a wound. Though she could scarcely receive the blow, she could rise superior to it. Girls of her age cannot bear even their parents’ frowns and, pricked by a needle, weep as for a serious wound. Yet she shows no fear of the blood-stained hands of her executioners. She stands undaunted by heavy, clanking chains. She offers her whole body to be put to the sword by fierce soldiers. She is too young to know of death, yet is ready to face it. Dragged against her will to the altars, she stretches out her hands to the Lord in the midst of the flames, making the triumphant sign of Christ the victor on the altars of sacrilege. She puts her neck and hands in iron chains, but no chain can hold fast her tiny limbs.

  A new kind of martyrdom! Too young to be punished, yet old enough for a martyr’s crown; unfitted for the contest, yet effortless in victory, she shows herself a master in valour despite the handicap of youth. As a bride she would not be hastening to join her husband with the same joy she shows as a virgin on her way to punishment, crowned not with flowers but with holiness of life, adorned not with braided hair but with Christ himself.

  In the midst of tears, she sheds no tears herself. The crowds marvel at her recklessness in throwing away her life untasted, as if she had already lived life to the full. All are amazed that one not yet of legal age can give her testimony to God. So she succeeds in convincing others of her testimony about God, though her testimony in human affairs could not yet be accepted. What is beyond the power of nature, they argue, must come from its creator.

  What menaces there were from the executioner, to frighten her; what promises made, to win her over; what influential people desired her in marriage! She answered: “To hope that any other will please me does wrong to my Spouse. I will be his who first chose me for himself. Executioner, why do you delay? If eyes that I do not want can desire this body, then let it perish.” She stood still, she prayed, she offered her neck.

  You could see fear in the eyes of the executioner, as if he were the one condemned; his right hand trembled, his face grew pale as he saw the girl’s peril, while she had no fear for herself. One victim, but a twin martyrdom, to modesty and to religion; Agnes preserved her virginity, and gained a martyr’s crown.

 

Let me share with you a little information about Saint Agnes:

 

St. Agnes was but twelve years old when she was led to the altar of Minerva at Rome and commanded to obey the persecuting laws of Diocletian by offering incense. In the midst of the idolatrous rites she raised her hands to Christ, her Spouse, and made the sign of the life-giving cross. She did not shrink when she was bound hand and foot, though the gyves slipped from her young hands, and the heathens who stood around were moved to tears. The bonds were not needed for her, and she hastened gladly to the place of her torture.

        Next, when the judge saw that pain had no terrors for her, he inflicted an insult worse than death: her clothes were stripped off, and she had to stand in the street before a pagan crowd; yet even this did not daunt her. “Christ,” she said, “will guard His own.” So it was. Christ showed, by a miracle, the value which He sets upon the custody of the eyes. Whilst the crowd turned away their eyes from the spouse of Christ, as she stood exposed to view in the street, there was one young man who dared to gaze at the innocent child with immodest eyes. A flash of light struck him blind, and his companions bore him away half dead with pain and terror.

        Lastly, her fidelity to Christ was proved by flattery and offers of marriage. But she answered, “Christ is my Spouse: He chose me first, and His I will be.” At length the sentence of death was passed. For a moment she stood erect in prayer, and then bowed her neck to the sword. At one stroke her head was severed from her body, and the angels bore her pure soul to Paradise.

 

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01/22/17

Today at Mass in the gospel [Matthew 4:12-23], Jesus will proclaim the primary message of his public ministry: Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repentance is more than just confessing one sins, although that is a part of repentance. The Greek word used in the text is metanoia, which means a complete change in a person’s life; an  180 degree turn regarding the direction of one’s life.

 

I was reading Saint John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America which he wrote in 1999. [ Here is the reference: http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_22011999_ecclesia-in-america.html] In the document, John Paul II has a section about the call to conversion or metanoia. Let me share with you parts of what he wrote. If you are interested in reading the pertinent paragraphs of the document, they are paragraphs 26-32.

The greatness of the Incarnation and gratitude for the gift of the first proclamation of the Gospel in America are an invitation to respond readily to Christ with a more decisive personal conversion and a stimulus to ever more generous fidelity to the Gospel. Christ’s call to conversion finds an echo in the words of the Apostle: “It is time now to wake from sleep, because our salvation is closer than when we first became believers” (Rom 13:11). The encounter with the living Jesus impels us to conversion.

In speaking of conversion, the New Testament uses the word metanoia, which means a change of mentality. It is not simply a matter of thinking differently in an intellectual sense, but of revising the reasons behind one’s actions in the light of the Gospel. In this regard, Saint Paul speaks of “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). This means that true conversion needs to be prepared and nurtured though the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture and the practice of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Conversion leads to fraternal communion, because it enables us to understand that Christ is the head of the Church, his Mystical Body; it urges solidarity, because it makes us aware that whatever we do for others, especially for the poorest, we do for Christ himself. Conversion, therefore, fosters a new life, in which there is no separation between faith and works in our daily response to the universal call to holiness.

The social dimension of conversion

  1. Yet conversion is incomplete if we are not aware of the demands of the Christian life and if we do not strive to meet them. … “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20).

Fraternal charity means attending to all the needs of our neighbor. “If any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 Jn 3:17). Hence, for the Christian people of America conversion to the Gospel means to revise “all the different areas and aspects of life, especially those related to the social order and the pursuit of the common good”.(

Continuing conversion

  1. In this life, conversion is a goal which is never fully attained: on the path which the disciple is called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, conversion is a lifelong task. While we are in this world, our intention to repent is always exposed to temptations. Since “no one can serve two masters” (Mt 6:24), the change of mentality (metanoia) means striving to assimilate the values of the Gospel, which contradict the dominant tendencies of the world.

Guided by the Holy Spirit to a new way of living

  1. Spirituality is ‘life in Christ’ and ‘in the Spirit’, which is accepted in faith, expressed in love and inspired by hope, and so becomes the daily life of the Church community”.(77) In this sense, by spirituality, which is the goal of conversion, we mean “not a part of life, but the whole of life guided by the Holy Spirit”.(78) Among the many elements of spirituality which all Christians must make their own, prayer holds a pre-eminent place. Prayer leads Christians “little by little to acquire a contemplative view of reality, enabling them to recognize God in every moment and in every thing; to contemplate God in every person; to seek his will in all that happens”.

The universal call to holiness

  1. “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2). The Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops has wished to offer a forceful reminder to all Christians of the importance of the doctrine of the universal call to holiness in the Church.(86) This is one of the key points of the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.(87) Conversion is directed to holiness, since conversion “is not an end in itself but a journey towards God who is holy. To be holy is to be like God and to glorify his name in the works which we accomplish in our lives (cf. Mt 5:16)”.(88) On the path of holiness, Jesus Christ is the point of reference and the model to be imitated: he is “the Holy One of God”, and was recognized as such (cf. Mk 1:24). It is he who teaches us that the heart of holiness is love, which leads even to giving our lives for others (cf. Jn 15:13). Therefore, to imitate the holiness of God, as it was made manifest in Jesus Christ his Son, “is nothing other than to extend in history his love, especially towards the poor, the sick and the needy (cf. Lk 10:25ff.)”.(89)

Jesus, the one way to holiness

  1. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6). With these words, Jesus presents himself as the one path which leads to holiness. But a specific knowledge of this way comes chiefly through the word of God….

Penance and reconciliation

  1. Conversion (metanoia), to which every person is called, leads to an acceptance and appropriation of the new vision which the Gospel proposes. This requires leaving behind our worldly way of thinking and acting, which so often heavily conditions our behavior. As Sacred Scripture reminds us, the old man must die and the new man must be born, that is, the whole person must be renewed “in full knowledge after the image of the Creator” (Col 3:10). Strongly recommended on this path of conversion and quest for holiness are “the ascetical practices which have always been part of the Church’s life and which culminate in the Sacrament of forgiveness, received and celebrated with the right dispositions”.(92)

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01/21/17

Hebrews 8:6-13: Now he has obtained so much more excellent a ministry as he is mediator of a better covenant, enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, no place would have been sought for a second one. But he finds fault with them and says: 4 “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will conclude a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they did not stand by my covenant and I ignored them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his fellow citizen and kinsman, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know me, from least to greatest. For I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sins no more.” When he speaks of a “new” covenant, he declares the first one obsolete. And what has become obsolete and has grown old is close to disappearing.

 

The reading from Hebrews was the first reading at Mass on Friday, January 20. While the reading is not always easy to fully understand, an interpretation in which God “threw away” the old covenant and started afresh with Jesus would be wrong. A better understanding of this passage would be that in the new covenant we have a new power; a new ability to fulfill the requirements of the old covenant; an ability that the Jewish people did not have. We see this frustration in Saint Paul when he described his life before this life-giving, life-saving encounter with Jesus: The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. [Romans 7]

 

I don’t think that we have a problem with the Jewish covenant when we see components of it. It sounds like our covenant with God. For instance, the Jewish people would daily recite an important prayer [the Shema] reminding them of their covenant requirement: Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them, that you may grow and prosper the more, in keeping with the promise of the LORD, the God of your fathers, to give you a land flowing with milk and honey. “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. [Deuteronomy 6] I think that Jesus would want us to live this way.

 

The Jewish people also were instructed as part of their covenant to love God and to love their neighbor. Of course Jesus expanded the definition of who is our neighbor when He told the parable of the Good Samaritan. As Jesus said in Matthew 5, He came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.

 

The new power in the “new” covenant is our union with God. This union is effected by the incarnation when God became man. We share in God’s divine nature through the sacrament of baptism when we were grafted onto Christ the vine. As Jesus states in John 15, apart from Him, we can do nothing. Maybe not “nothing” but certainly apart from Him, we won’t fulfill the demands of our relationship with the Father. And, very importantly, we nurture this communion by our celebration and reception of the Eucharist.

 

In addition, the power in the new covenant comes from the Holy Spirit that we have received and Who makes us temples of Holy Spirit. As Paul said in Romans 5, God’s infinite love has been poured into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, so we have an infinite capacity of showing love and mercy: Romans 5: we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and 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.

 

When we disciples encounter the challenges of living according to the demands of our relationship with God, we need to always recall that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. In addition as Saint Paul triumphantly states in his letter to the Romans: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?

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