Memory and Hope

I am always on the lookout for those ‘cute and clever’ church signs that are supposed to get you think. They do, but probably not in the way the volunteer intended. Last week a church in town had the following ‘Looking back keeps you from moving forward’ Considering that we are in the season of Advent I couldn’t help but reflect this message.

Modern society is all about today, never yesterday. Not just today, but what today can do for tomorrow. The past is the past and isn’t that important; a curiosity at best, but irrelevant to my life now. It is truly all about the goals of tomorrow.  I have to plan, act, react and struggle today for what I have planned tomorrow. There is not much ‘enjoying the moment’ in society today.

There is no better example of this then the secular holiday season Xmas (Xmas as opposed to the holy celebration of Christmas). Hectic activity pointing towards a special day ahead of us.  Not just the great gift-giving day of Xmas, but the parties and events that lead up to it. Pressure, deadlines, responsibilities, and the ever-present fear of not being able to make that certain day special. We put up holiday lights, make holiday food and treats, listen to holiday music in an almost manic way. But to sit back and actually enjoy the moment, remember times past, relax and be at peace with the present – well – that is something in books and movies.

This so-called modern understanding is also why it is so hard for people to embrace the religious season of Advent. Two reasons come to mind:

The first reason is that the Advent season comes in middle of this secular Xmas Season. More accurately, Advent was always there but this manic secular season has pushed Advent out of the way.

The second reason is that Advent is counter intuitive to those who live within this ‘memory disconnect malady’ because Advent looks to the uncertain future with a certainty from what happened in the past. As we enter into the Advent Season the message we are confronted with are the last things of life: death, judgement, heaven and hell; but we are given an assured hope with the message Advent brings us towards the end – memory of our past. Christ the judge has already shown us His love and mercy by coming among us. He knows us and He desires a positive outcome for each of us. The Advent season brings the great and good news that what happened is still happening, and what will happen is already happening.

Christ, who came among us 2,000 years ago and showed us the way and His mercy, is among us today continuing to show His mercy and give us His grace. We are not alone on this journey to the final judgement, we still have the benefit of His presence. And, of course, the end of days, the final judgement, eternity, is not something that is to come so much as it is the end of what is happening now. We are living in eternity right now – Christ’s judgement is what is guiding us on the true path home. Christ gives us the knowledge of how to achieve Heaven, He gives us His love to strengthen and urge us on and His mercy when we stumble.

Brothers and sisters, Advent is the cure for this ‘memory disconnect malady’ that affects the world today. It gives us peace about the future because of what happened in the past. It brings joy to our hearts because of the knowledge that our past is with us in the present and won’t leave us in the future. The phrase that I saw on the Church sign can be answered with another phrase: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’[1]

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[1] HEB 13:8

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Hero

Listening to a few young adults the other day talking about the ideals of valor and commitment to a cause and I was struck by their inability to ascribe to those virtues. They just couldn’t comprehend giving their lives to something other than themselves and I got the feeling they afraid. It brought to mind the lyrics of a song by one of my favorite musicians, Ray Davies, who I think is a brilliant poet as well, he has an uncanny ability to comment on contemporary life.

I wish my life was non-stop Hollywood movie show
A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes
Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain
And celluloid heroes never really die.[1]

Today, if these young adults are any example, there is a general detachment from embracing life changing values. There is an aversion to sacrificing for a greater good. Suffering for something important is abhorred, indeed suffering of any kind is to be given a wide pass. The idea of ‘heroic’ is unfathomable. To them a hero is someone that can be watched on TV, at home, in comfort, and then turned off – very safe and very much not them.

There are, sadly, very few people today, of any generational group, who we can honestly call heroic. It should be all of us, we should strive for that vocation. It is even more incumbent upon those who profess to follow Christ; who are the current holders of the torch of His ministry on earth. And it begs the question: how are each of us doing in holding His torch high for all to see?

Now, it is true that we will have setbacks, we will fail; but it is precisely in the next decision, the next step, that defines whether we are still on solid ground, whether we are ‘heroic’. Christ has given us Himself to help us on this journey. He has given us the Holy Eucharist to nourish and strengthen us; He has given us the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation to cleanse and heal us. They are offered to us so that we can decide a life with Him – a heroic decision to live a heroic life.

This decision to follow Christ; our constant and continual decision to put down the wrong that we have acquired and pick up Christ again isn’t a mental exercise; it is a choice of a new life. Every time we bravely choose to recommit to Christ we take a different path which will be reflected in how we live; a life of heroic witness.

Our choice, our decision, to take this different path is our reacceptance of Christ’s mercy. It is the only ‘thank you’ that can be given to He who gave His all for us. It is the only action that can bring us closer to Him. It is the most important participation that we can offer to Him through Holy Mother Church. It leads us to a life of mercy towards those around us – a sacrificial life of love – but one that comes with the cross.

Brothers and sisters, let’s continually make the decision to take the path of Divine Mercy; the heroic path of truth and love. A decision that, though is a path of trials and suffering, is the only path that allows us to realize who we truly are; living, breathing witnesses of Christ who will live forever with Him in heaven. Let’s make the decision to be heroic and not celluloid heroes – who, after all, might not die but have never lived.

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[1] Written by Raymond Douglas Davies • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc, Abkco Music, Inc

The Right Attitude

During his first three years as pope Francis has repeatedly used a few reflections, over and over again; and he should, they are important and people should hear them. One of these is ‘God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.[1]

The gospel we have just heard brings to light two completely different attitudes in regards to Pope Francis’ teaching on asking for forgiveness and it goes right to the heart of how we view our faith.

We see in the Pharisee a very jaded, comfortable view of faith.  This Pharisee, an elder religious figure in Judah invites this new and exciting prophet to his house.  On the surface this seems very good; but his actions speak otherwise. In this Pharisee we see a man who seems to be watching Jesus, scoping Him out, trying to judge whether He is worthy of his attention. At a great moment of mercy and love, Christ’s interaction with the sinful woman, the Pharisee passes judgement on Christ. , ‘”If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”[2] Then when Christ relates a parable to the Pharisee and asks him a question, the Pharisee’s response belies an almost uninterested attitude.  ‘The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.[3] This Pharisee is comfortable with his station in life, with his understanding of God, with his faith.  All events must fit within his self-structured reality of faith; Christ doesn’t fit in it, so he dismisses Him.

In the woman we see someone who is an undesirable in her community; ‘sinful woman’ is what the gospel calls her. She is a moral outcast. People look down on her, with derision and contempt. She is all too aware of not only the attitude of the people, but the reason for this judgement – she knows she is a sinful woman. She needs help, and she knows it. So much so that she crashes the Pharisee’s dinner looking for the one who can heal her. Her actions of basically throwing herself at the feet of Jesus shows us that she is desperate to be cleaned, healed, and Christ is the one who can help her – she throws herself at his mercy. But in addition we see someone who actively participates in her healing as she offers Christ the homage that she feels he is due.  She grovels as she opens herself up to show Him her sinfulness and pleads for his healing.

What about us? Do we see ourselves for who we truly are and Christ for who He truly is? Is our interaction with our savior like the Pharisee, where we allow Christ to enter our faith when it fits within our self-constructed reality; or is our interaction like this beautiful sinful woman, where we open the depths of our hearts, admit that we are far from perfect and allow Christ in to heal us. To put it another way: Do we view our faith as an acceptable self-help philosophy where we pick and choose; or is our faith an ongoing intimate relationship with our creator, healer, savior?

At least for me the choice is clear. I am far short of the kind of relationship I want with God – my pride and ego envelope me in a comfortable bubble of denial; if not always, then some of the time. How about you? Brothers and sisters, let’s break from this false security – let’s live our lives in constant pursuit of a healing relationship with our loving savior. Let’s follow the sinful woman’s example, and her desire for healing, not the Pharisee’s self-contented fantasy.

If King David, the most powerful ruler in Judah, can come before God and throw himself at His mercy then we should be able to do so as well.    Let’s desire what St. Paul writes so beautifully about in today second reading: ‘I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.[4]

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[1] Evangelii Gaudium
[2] LK 7:39
[3] LK 7:43
[4] GAL 2:20

Birthday Gift

 

Today, the Solemnity of Pentecost, is celebrated as the ‘Birthday of the Church’. The day when God sent His Holy Spirit among the Apostles so that His presence would still be with us, indeed closer to us than when Christ walked among us. Which is important, very important. God’s Holy Spirit didn’t just come to us, in us, to make us a big group of people who follow Him; a fraternal group of ‘holy rollers’ so to speak. No, He expects much more. Pope Francis, in his homily on the eve of the Feast of Divine Mercy said; ‘Through Sacred Scriptures, we find that mercy is above all the closeness of God to His people.[1] God sent His Holy Spirit among us to extend His Mercy throughout His world – through us.

So, Pentecost not only marks the ‘Birthday of the Church’ but because of it, it also marks the day that mankind took up the mission of bringing Mercy, Divine Mercy, to creation. The day that the disciples received God in their hearts, allowing the Holy Spirit to dwell within them, threw aside their fear, and went into the hostile world to suffocate evil, suffocate it with the embrace of mercy.

Brothers and sisters, we too have dwelling within us the Holy Spirit – the same closeness of God that the apostles had.  Let’s not waste this gift of mercy by not passing it forward.  Let’s suffocate evil – quench the terrible fire of evil with Divine Mercy.

No better present could be given on a birthday!

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[1] Pope Francis, Homily during the prayer vigil on the eve of the Feast of Divine Mercy, 4/2/16 – L’Osservatore Romano englishg edition 4/8/16

Widen the Path

This morning we continue listening to the Last Supper discourse and we hear the Lord speaking/praying to His Father – out loud. Throughout the Gospels our Lord always takes the time to converse with His Father, most of the time He removes Himself and goes away to pray.  But those times that He does converse out loud – with people around Him – it is to teach them something. This morning we hear Him say to His Father: ‘I glorified you on earth[1]. And just how does He do this? How does Jesus glorify His Father? ‘by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do[2] He finishes saying. And what work was that – Divine Mercy!

Christ’s ministry on earth was to bring Divine Mercy to us.  His working of miracles were, to a great degree an act of mercy; they healed the sick, drove out demons, brought hope out of despair. But they were primarily used to announce the Father’s ultimate mercy; to show mankind that God is aware of their plight, He is concerned with their situation, He came among them to remedy this separation; in short – He came to show His love for us. Christ’s acts of mercy were true love towards those whom He gave it; but He knew that He was not long for this world – He was human and His life limited – especially since in a few hours He was going to climb up on His throne and die for us. He needed to teach us how to continue His mission of Divine Mercy after He ascended. We see in the Acts of the Apostles that his lessons were listened to. The apostles, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, took up the challenge and went forward with the Good News of Divine Mercy. For two millennia saints, both known and unknown, have taken up that challenge and added to it and then passed it on.

Now it is our time to pick up this mission. Not by great miracles and events; even if we could do them they would be dismissed as spectacles, as were Jesus’ miracles by most of His contemporaries. No our ministry is by small steps; little actions that day-in and day-out radiate the Love of God to those around us. Our proclamation of Divine Mercy, shown by each of us in these little things we do might seem small and ineffectual but they grow in their effect. They expand to fill the voids in those that we witness to. They are a beacon of hope in our cynical world and they attracts others.

Brothers and sisters – our path is clear – let’s increase our small steps of Mercy and widen the path of Love so others can follow.  This is how we make our own the words of Christ to His Father in today’s Gospel: ‘I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.[3]

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[1] Jn 17:4
[2] ibid
[3] ibid

Four ‘Yesses’; Four Faces

(Divine Mercy Sunday – 2016)

This year, because of the liturgical calendar, we have a special alignment that speaks even more fully of God’s gift of mercy.  This year our celebration of Divine Mercy is wedged between two great acts of God’s Mercy, indeed it is situated between the beginning and the culmination of His gift of Mercy, albeit in chronologically reversed order – but still between them. The celebration of Divine Mercy, this year, rests between Easter Sunday and the Solemnity of the Annunciation (which we celebrate tomorrow). Normally, when Easter Sunday isn’t so early in the year, the Solemnity of the Annunciation falls within Lent.

Why is the Solemnity of the Annunciation tied so closely to Divine Mercy?  After all many would say, and rightly, that all celebrations are tied to Divine Mercy. But the Solemnity of the Annunciation is especially integral to this gift; Easter couldn’t have happened without the Annunciation.

Of course it is easy to understand why Easter is so connected to today’s celebration of Divine Mercy. The great Pascal Mystery; when through no merit of our own, due only to the love of the Lord mercy was shown to us, mercy opened the gates of hell; mercy healed the universe.  Easter is when the light of mercy explodes to those who seek it.  It is the culmination of this great gift from the Father. It is the reason for our joy.

But, again, why is the Annunciation closely connected to Divine Mercy?

The Solemnity of the Annunciation is usually almost forgotten among the celebration of Lent. If we look closely, this ‘hiddenness’ seems almost appropriate. Pope Benedict XVI commented on this at his March 25th 2007 general audience: ‘The Annunciation, recounted at the beginning of Saint Luke’s Gospel, is a humble, hidden event – no one saw it, no one except Mary knew of it – but at the same time it was crucial to the history of humanity.[1]  What is almost always overlooked is that at this small ‘backwater’ encounter there were two fiats, not one. Two acts of mercy happened at that meeting between the Archangel Gabriel and Mary, and both were needed to bring Divine Mercy among us. Mary’s yes to the will of God the Father; and first, the Son’s yes to His Father in doing Their merciful work by entering into the world. It was at the Annunciation that Mercy took a face.[2]

But there is another ‘yes’, another face.

Holy Mother Church, the Bride of Christ, takes our Blessed Mother’s yes and adds hers to it.  The Church stands in front of the face of God and the faces of all the angels, and the heavenly hosts and proclaims her fiat. Her yes, to continuing to bring the face to mercy to mankind. Two millennia have seen this ever different yet never changing face of Divine Mercy. It is the face of each and every faithful who has and is doing Christ’s work. Holy Mother Church continues to give physicality to God’s mercy – through her we can see and hear and touch Divine Mercy.

And, there is a fourth ‘yes’ – ours.

As have those who preceded us in the mystical body, we need to allow our own face to project Christ’s face and shine as the face of mercy.  Our ‘yes’ needs to be added to the Church’s nearly 2,000 years of ‘yesses’.  It is our ‘yes’, our face of mercy that ‘completes what is lacking[3]. Our suffering for those around us, the action of mercy, that brings them to Christ through His bride.

My brothers and sisters, do we take up this mission and move forward? Do we add our individual fiat to that of the Church, and of Mary, and of Christ? Are we adding our face to Christ’s and radiating mercy to the world?

This week we have seen the passing of a great witness to the mercy of God. Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation went home to the Father after 92 years of pilgrimage and over 70 years of continual public fiat in doing His will.  By her faith in our merciful God she built the largest Catholic, indeed Christian, media network and spread God’s face throughout the world.  It was her EWTN television station that daily prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy so the world could become aware and appreciate its power and participate in it.  She has been called home – let’s take this milestone to recommit to our Merciful God and say yes to the mandate of Divine Mercy. Let’s embrace His mercy with our own fiat and in doing so let those who haven’t felt His mercy see His face in ours and by doing so instill in them the wisdom of the prodigal son when he finally realized who he truly was and where he should be.

Finally, friends, this Fiat of ours isn’t an annual celebration – it is a commitment to action, continual action. So as we add our ‘yes’ to the millennia of faithful let’s ask our Father to give us the strength to offer the mercy we received from Him to all we encounter.

Let your face shine through us Oh Lord, so that Your Mercy may bring light to our darkened world.

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[1] Pope Benedict XVI – 3/25/2007 General Audience.
[2] Inspired by: Pope Benedict XVI – 3/25/2007 General Audience.
[3] Col 1:24 (RSV)

Two sides to trust

For me, the most iconic and descriptive words emanating from the Divine Mercy devotional is ‘Jesus I trust in You.’  It sums up the relationship that humans need with God. In reflecting on this line this week it occurred to me that there are two aspects to it. First, though we say it often – what does that proclamation mean for each of us? And second, what does it require from us?

Of course we offer to God our desire to place all our trust in Him.  We say to Jesus that we turn everything over to Him –we trust that whatever happens God’s will be done and we trust that He will take care of us. But have we ever taken a heartfelt look deep into this small prayer?

In His love God created us. Out of love He sustains us. He only wills good for us. He also has a specific plan for each of us within His salvific plan.  His designs are above our ability to understand fully but we do comprehend partially and so we need to trust in His plans. This is a very big jump for humans to take – unconditional trust; and though we offer this prayer to Him I wonder sometimes if I, at least, understand the fullness of the phrase.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman once said.
God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.

I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place,
while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.

Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.[1]

This is about the best reflection I have read on ‘Jesus I trust in You’.  It is both reassuring and unnerving.  But, because of Christ’s passion and death for us I am comforted by His absolute proven love for me. And in light of His Resurrection I know He is God and He won’t let me down. ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.[2]

And so I trust in Jesus.

But a one way trust to someone who is all powerful and all loving is not what He desires in this relationship – in fact it isn’t a relationship at all.  Let’s turn it the other way.

In a homily this past 3rd Sunday of Lent[3] Pope Francis asked: ‘Can Jesus trust me?’ He said: ‘Can Jesus trust Himself to me? Can Jesus trust me, or am I two-faced? Do I play the Catholic, one close to the Church and then live as a pagan?[4] It is a question we should ask ourselves regularly.

He went on to say: ‘It will do us good today, to enter our hearts and look at Jesus. To say to Him ‘Lord, look, there are good things, but there are also things that aren’t good. Jesus, do You trust me? I am a sinner…’ This doesn’t scare Jesus. If you tell Him ‘I’m a sinner’, it doesn’t scare Him. What distances Him is one who is two-faced: showing Him/herself as just in order to cover up hidden sin.[5]  Our inner attitude towards God should be the same as the tax collector in the temple: ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner![6] To help us we need to constantly reflect on our actions and words – nightly. God will always trust those who know their weakness and strive and pray to improve.

Brothers and sisters, as we close the octave of Easter celebrating Divine Mercy let’s remember the two sides of this beautiful devotion; two sides of trust: ‘Jesus I trust in You.’ and ‘Can Jesus trust Himself to me?’ Let’s strive to give God the answer that He gives us ‘Yes you can’.

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[1] John Henry Cardinal Newman 3/7/1848
[2] Lk 23:43 (RSV)
[3] Pope Francis Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent (3/8/15) at Holy Mary, Mother of the Redeemer Parish Rome Italy L’Osservatore Romano 3/13/15 english edition.
[4] ibid
[5] ibid
[6] Lk 18:13 (RSV)