Introductions

In this morning’s gospel we are surprised by Christ’s attitude. We have come know Jesus as the compassionate, the peacemaker, the merciful. His attitude towards his apostles, his disciples and those he meets during his ministry was one of fellowship, brotherhood, love. But this morning he seems to almost hurl his words at us: ‘I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing![1] and: ‘Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.[2] and he continues in talking about a house, a family, divided.  How does this reconcile with our understanding of the prince of peace?

We can know much about Jesus; we can dive deep into study and reflection of our Lord; but as important as that is, it is not what our faith calls for. It is a very big mistake on our part to only ‘study’ our Lord; Pope Benedict in his first encyclical writes: ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person…[3] We need to know Jesus himself; we need to build and deepen a relationship with Him. As we become closer to Him then words like today’s gospel start to open up into the loving, not threatening, message that they truly are. We need to embrace the love of Christ with our love for Him.

Where do we start? Where can we go to step into this relationship that is so needed? How can we be sure that we are building a true friendship, a loving relationship?

This evening we start the celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She who loved God absolutely. She who offered her body and life to God Himself. She who embraced Christ every day and built a mother’s love for her child as she deepened her love for God. She who, at the cross embraced all humanity with a mother’s embrace. She who, has come to us through the millennia to introduce us to Jesus. Let’s look to her as our guide to Christ, as our model for our relationship with her Son. She loves us with all her heart and soul.  Let’s ask her for the wisdom to deepen our friendship with her Son.

It is then that all of Christ’s words will come into clearer focus and consistency. It is then that His words this morning will take on the attitude of love and we will realize that our hearts will blaze with the fire of true love as He wished.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
——————————————————————–
[1] LK 12:43
[2] LK 12:51
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, paragraph 2

Advertisements

In The Middle, At The Back

As citizens we are called to participate in the national discourse and that discourse has gotten very polemic in the recent decades. The public discussion is now a ‘for or against’ dynamic, no in between; if ‘our side’ is not leading then we are being led wrongly. Choices made by groups are becoming more punitive then accommodating against those who disagree. The whole of society seems to be pushing to the margins any sense of common good, fellowship. Whether it is because mankind is moving away from faith, and this is the outcome; or our disordered discourse is causing us to move away from faith the result is the same: mankind is finding it harder to be in solidarity with each other. The eventuality is the evaporation the greatest commandments; love God and love our neighbor is devolving into deny God and challenge our neighbor. What are we to do? This is the choice for each of us.

For me, I look to God’s design; as a follower of Christ I am expected to stay right at the side of the marginalized, of those who suffer from the effects of our aggressive social dynamic. I will try to walk with them regardless of any differences in opinion. I will try to show compassion; I will offer love regardless of their viewpoint. Pope Benedict XVI then, and Pope Francis now, constantly remind us of what happens when God is pushed to the peripheries, or even forgotten. Pope Francis has spoken a few times on where clergy, and by necessary extension the laity, need to be on this social journey: ‘walking with our people, sometimes in front, sometimes behind and sometimes in the middle, and sometimes behind: in front in order to guide the community, in the middle in order to encourage and support; and at the back in order to keep it united and so that no one lags too, too far behind, to keep them united.[1]

Friends, with the ever increasing polarity of our society, especially our political arena, it is more important than ever that we walk behind and in the middle of our fellow man to keep hope alive for them.  Our tendency, inculcated from our society, is to push to the front, be the leader; but, as Christ’s disciples our witness comes best from these two other positions. Polemics and sophistry dominate the opinion and decision making process – distrust in our leaders is in the hearts of all. Let’s stand in the middle in solidarity next to those we encounter, including those we disagree with. Let’s walk in the back with those who struggle to keep up and urge them forward to be an active part of the societal journey, especially those who are different from us. There is no denying that our ideas and philosophies will differ. No one will have the exact same values and ideals as someone else; but we all have the same God-given dignity; and that should color our interactions.

Society will pressure us, but God is stronger. Rules will coerce us, but truth is everlasting. The only thing we need to do is choose God; choose fellowship and solidarity with our fellow man. Don’t give in to the prevailing societal dynamics of ‘for or against’, ‘ally or enemy’.

Brothers and sisters, let’s think about Christ’s victory which, as St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, began when Christ – ‘emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.[2] When He became the one next to us and the one behind us. He came for everyone, even those who persecuted and executed Him. Let’s use His example as our model of interaction. This leading from the middle and the back will change the current climate more than polemics from the front.

—————————————————————-

[1]  Pope Francis, 10/4/13, Meeting with the clergy, consecrated people and members of diocesan pastoral councils Cathedral of San Rufino, Assisi Friday
[2] Philippians 2:17 (RSV)

10 Years

10 years ago, on the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time we began our Sunday Vespers prayer group.


Today is a day that I hoped for but doubted would ever come – our 10th anniversary of Sunday Vespers. We can look back and raise a praise of thanksgiving to almighty God for this beautiful and compelling gift of our participation in the internal dialog of the Trinity.

  • Beautiful, because when God became incarnate in Jesus Christ – the Trinitarian dialog became reachable to us. Christ elevated our conversation to among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’s dialog with each other. No longer is man’s conversation only between creatures but now it is also with the creator Himself – we have been brought within their dialog of love.
  • Compelling, because it envelopes us in the dialog of absolute love, and as such we are called to live as God lived among us; we are called to continue the witness of Jesus Christ, we are called to love those around us by proclaiming the truth through living it; and by loving everyone especially those who are far from this life in Christ.

This has been and will be a daunting gift.  The world never has and never will be easily receptive to the Gospel, even though their hearts yearn for what the Gospel proclaims.  This is a cross that we must bear, one that we must be joyful in carrying. But in addition, this is all the more daunting because of the ever changing dynamic of the world we live in.  Each day we find ourselves in a new situation; each day things we have done before have changed and things never known are now in front of us and we should participate in. To ignore this dynamic is to stagnate in our own isolation and refuse to participate in what God truly desires us to do, which keeps us from who we can fully and truly be.

However, prayer, our participation in the Trinitarian dialog can be unsettling, makes us unsure and timid; but we should embrace it with the knowledge that our continual dialog with the Trinity both in public prayer, such as our vespers and of course the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; and just as important, our constant dialog of personal, internal, prayer keeps us united with our strength and guide.

As we enter the unknown of our eleventh year let’s rest assured that He who we dialog with and in will be right there with each of us.  To be sure, we will know doubt and weakness; but we will be embraced by almighty God and live within His dialog of love. Through His loving embrace we can look confidently through the fog of the changing and unknown to the only real future, heaven. It is really up to us; as long as we participate with the Holy Trinity in their dialog and continue to use His gifts as He desires we will know peace and joy. After all, He desires that we use what He has gifted us to ensure that history is His Story.

Let me finish with a beautiful assurance and urging given by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 to the youth in Madrid Spain:

Dear friends, may no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world.[1]

Let’s live a life of faith as we journey into the uncertainty of tomorrow with the confidence that prayer gives us – that of the eternal goal.

May God bless each of us; and may each of us continue to participate in the dialog of Love, come what may.
————————————————————————————————-
[1] Pope Benedict XVI, 8/21/11, talk to the youth in Madrid Spain

Poor

While finishing up a boat tour on the island of St. Lucia I heard one of the tourists, a man from the U.S., ask the tour guide if there were any poor areas on the island like the ones he saw on the other islands he had visited. It seems that he was surprised, relieved, he didn’t see any. I am not sure of his intent, I can’t read his mind but his delivery was brash, clueless and culturally insensitive. It was also idiotic since he had never gone onto the island – it was a boat tour that started behind the cruise ship – which is what the tour guide politely pointed out. She went on to say that the island was very rural in some parts – an interesting observation and one that confused the man – who then connected rural with poor.

Another time I heard a lady behind me talking to another about the low wages the crew made – it seems that these ‘poor overseas people didn’t know how much they should really be making’ – sigh! Americans, the gracious tourists!

I kept reflecting on these two tourists as the vacation went on and their attitudes. It seemed to me that there was a common thread: poverty is something that they shouldn’t have to see – it is evil and should be eradicated – and those who were poor didn’t know enough to elevate themselves.

They seem to think that being poor was something that should never happen, that it should be eliminated from the world. As honorable an intention as that might seem, it is both impossible and maybe, deep down, a selfish wish.

Impossible
Are we to contradict our Lord? It was He who said: ‘The poor you will always have with you,’[1] Christ is making us aware that being poor, in and of itself, isn’t something evil. Those who are poor aren’t failures because they are poor, in fact they could be successful in what is truly important – faith.

The issue here lies between two words poor and destitute.  The people of these islands that this tourist saw, and had a type of pity for, might very well not need his pity. Yes, they hardly had much at all, at least according to our standards (which is a very consumerist, vulgar viewpoint) but they were not lacking in the necessities, and they had family, faith – love.  They made due with what they had, and were happy.  Now to be sure some probably had fallen into destitution but not all.

Selfish
What strikes me about these types of tourists, and by extension many Christians of the first world is that their desire to rid the planet of the poor by elevating them is a cover for their fearful distaste of having to help them in a personal way.  Sure, these types of Christians will most certainly throw dollars at the issue, but that is not what Christ calls us to do – he calls for more.  He calls us to a solidarity with the poor. Pope Francis speaks constantly about looking into the eyes of the poor, talking with them, showing concern and care as we help them financially.  Christ calls us to love and love isn’t paying for them to go away by raising their standard of living. Love is compassion – compassion is made of two latin words: com (meaning with) and passion (meaning to suffer).  We are called to be one with them, solidarity among family.

Hard lesson but important
This is a hard lesson to teach even to the Christian world, especially we who live in the first world.  We are called to live with those who need our help. Some try to separate almsgiving from the social works of charity and I have to ask – is this how we witness to love? We proclaim to be members of the mystical body of Christ, the Church, so how can we be satisfied with this logic? Pope Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical speaks of the specific attributes that separates the church (and every member) from well-meaning but bureaucratic charitable organizations ‘The Church is one of those living forces: she is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support.[2]

Brothers and sisters, let’s take to heart Jesus’ words in our actions towards those we meet ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.[3]

Judgement no – compassion yes.

————————————————————–

[1] MK 14:7
[2] Pope Benedict XVI Deus Caritas Est section 28b
[3] MATT 22:37-39 (RSV)

The love of Christ urges us on

Seventh Thursday in Eastertide (5/12/16)

Today, we have heard the final part of Jesus’ prayer to His Father at the Last Supper (of which we have been hearing for the past few days). Many call this chapter (chapter 17), or at least the first part of it, the High Priestly Prayer.  The next line in John’s Gospel, after today’s reading is: ‘When he had said this, Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to where there was a garden, into which he and his disciples entered.’ [1]. Jesus has finished His last meal with His apostles and now moves towards His passion. His greatest act as a priest; His sacrifice of Himself to atone for our sins.

Now some might think it strange that Holy Mother Church chooses to revisit the Last Supper so soon since the last time we celebrated it; after all, it is only about seven weeks since the celebration of the Sacred Triduum where we dived deeply into His passion, death and resurrection.  There might be the temptation to think: ‘We have been through it already, why bring it back up during our celebration of Eastertide?’

Because it is that central, that foundational to Christ. His words to His Father, in front of His disciples brings a degree of clarity to what He is about and what we should be about also; which will be made totally clear to them in a few days during Pentecost – when His Holy Spirit comes.

Today’s gospel, contains the explanation why His mission is so important to Him. ‘Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.[2]  Christ loves each and every person, and His whole being desires that we see what He sees; the ultimate joy of creation – the creator.  How do we know this? He tells us so at the beginning of His High Priestly Prayer: ‘Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.[3] Christ knows what mankind is made for.  He understands that we won’t be complete and at total peace until we enter into that eternal life. He knows that we can’t find rest until we are completed. Or as St Augustine says, so beautifully, in the very first paragraph of His Confessions ‘…You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.[4]

Brothers and sisters, why does Holy Mother Church urge us to go out into the world and proclaim the good news of Christ?  Why have so many men and women throughout the last 2,000 years offered their talents, their time, their energy and, yes, their lives (as today’s celebration of the martyrs Sts. Nereus and Achilleus highlight)? Because we understand how empty a life can be until we allow our hearts to rest in Christ. We can’t help but let others know what we are feeling.  It can’t be contained. This is who we are, what we are made of and for.

But, as humans, letting those around us know the good news can still be daunting. We might tend towards inactivity in regards to proclaiming the Gospel because of fear of reactions; fear of unworthiness; concern about our talents. But take heart and remember what the martyrs understood: ‘Emmanuel’ – God is with us. He is our eternal companion. We show our joy, introduce its reason and allow God to do the rest. I would like to finish with a quote that is always in my mind and heart, especially in times of doubt or being overwhelmed; it is from Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love):

There are times when the burden of need and our own limitations might tempt us to become discouraged. But precisely then we are helped by the knowledge that, in the end, we are only instruments in the Lord’s hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord. It is God who governs the world, not we. We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength. To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14).[5]

The love of Christ urges us on[6]

With firm resolve let’s respond with the pilgrims’ exhortation heard on the road to the shrine at Santiago de Compostela, Spain for almost 1,200 years: ‘Ultreya!’ onward!

————————————————————————————————-

[1] Jn 18:1
[2] Jn 17:24
[3] Jn 17:3
[4] St. Augustine, Confessions, paragraph 1
[5] Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI, paragraph 35
[6] 2 Cor 5:14

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.

————————————————————————————————————–

[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)

Centrality of Family Prayer (Lesson from the Holy Family)

This evening, we gather in community, in family, to offer prayer to God. But not only us; this day around the world the Liturgy of the Hours for the Feast of the Holy Family is being raised to He who is our Father through He who is our Lord and Savior, in the Holy Spirit. The faithful of the world gather as family to praise and honor He who made us.

We are all different, each of us have our own history, each of us have our own personalities, attributes and thoughts, we are all different; but each of us are together in prayer. We are family not only because we share the same Creator but also because of our love for God and our shared common experience of this dialog, of prayer, with our Father (of which the Mass is the source and summit). Moreover, we have come to this community not by ourselves; someone or some people showed us the way. This is what a family does; those in our family who have come before us teach us, we take their lessons and blend it with what we have experienced then pass it forward to those coming after us. That is how important family is – it perpetuates wisdom – it passes on love.

The seeming dissolving of the definition of family by radical ideological groups is more a result than a cause. When mankind loses the importance of the centrality of faith in our lives then we start to spin away from each other. When God isn’t at the center of our lives the essential gravity to revolve in unison and to move in harmony is lost; families become whatever we want them to be – love and wisdom become lacking and ephemeral. This affects us all, but it affects the children the most who aren’t given the chance to grow a dialog with God as we were. Maybe, in the New Evangelization, the most important use of our time and talents is to witness to the importance of prayer, especially communal prayer; reinvigorating the dialog of family to our Father and each other.

Because I don’t think I can adequately convey this issue I will finish with a powerful paragraph from Pope Benedict XVI’s General Audience on the Feast of the Holy Family in 2011:

The Holy Family is the icon of the domestic Church, called to pray together. The family is the domestic Church and must be the first school of prayer. It is in the family that children, from the tenderest age, can learn to perceive the meaning of God, also thanks to the teaching and example of their parents: to live in an atmosphere marked by God’s presence. An authentically Christian education cannot dispense with the experience of prayer. If one does not learn how to pray in the family it will later be difficult to bridge this gap. And so I would like to address to you the invitation to pray together as a family at the school of the Holy Family of Nazareth and thereby really to become of one heart and soul, a true family.” [1]

Merry Christmas!

————————————————————————–

[1] Benedict XVI, General Audience, ‘Prayer and the Holy Family of Nazareth’, 28 December 2011.