Archive for the ‘Mercy’ Category

Forgiving others is crucial (and maybe easier than you think.)

September 12, 2020

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In Jesus’ parable today, a servant owes his king a huge debt, more precisely (in the original Greek) 10,000 silver talents. This was an amount equal to 150,000 years’ worth of labor in the ancient world, something akin to $4.5 billion today. It’s an unrepayable debt, but the servant’s king is rich in compassion; he feels pity and forgives the man’s entire loan.

Now, this servant was a creditor himself, and one of his fellow servants owed him a significant but much smaller amount, literally 100 denarii, which was 100 days’ wages back then. Think of it like $10,000. The newly debt-free man sought out this fellow servant and started to choke him, demanding, “Pay back what you owe!” Despite pleading for patient mercy, that first servant put the second into debtors’ prison until he should pay back his debt.

Now when other servants witnessed all of this they felt deeply troubled by it. They went and reported the whole situation to the king and master of them all. The king summoned the unforgiving servant and pronounced a swift judgment: “You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” Then, in anger, his master threw him into debtors’ prison as well until he should pay back his whole debt.

The king was clearly angry. One rarely-considered reason for his anger is that all of these servants were his own. The 100 denarii debtor suffered by being tossed into prison, his fellow servants suffered from witnessing the scandal, and all of this impacted the king personally. Their distress affects him deeply, for the king is compassionate, but it affected him in another way as well: his servants being detained or disturbed by this unhappy affair kept them from doing his important work. They’re all his servants, but the actions of one impeded the others from freely and fully fulfilling his will.

Of course, the king and master in this parable represents God. Who on earth forgives someone’s $4.5 billion personal debt like our Lord forgives the debt of our sins? And we are each his servants, like St. Paul says, “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” So, if we are to learn a lesson from the servant whose great debt was forgiven, how can we avoid imprisoning or impeding our fellow servants? Through merciful love.

When someone is angry with you, yells at you, or criticizes you, when you know someone dislikes or despises you, how does that affect you? Does your tension and anxiety go up? Do you think about that person and the situation obsessively? Do you run scenarios in your mind about what you wish you had said or done previously, or what you’ll do the next time you cross paths? Do you avoid that person, or the places they could be, and feel uncomfortable in their presence? Do you gossip to others about your ongoing bitter conflict, thereby spreading the scandal to them? If so, then you’re being imprisoned, partially impeded in your peaceful service of our Lord.

We can easily have this effect on others by how we treat them. And cherishing and nurturing our own anger makes a prisoner of yourself to anger. When you experience some slight or shortcoming from another, be gracious. Maybe just let it be; let it pass. Give their actions a most-generous interpretation. Mistakes are more common than malevolence. And you yourself have bad days, too.

Sometimes, though, we need to address matters for the common good. As we heard about last week, love sometimes calls us to do fraternally correction. But when we do it, let’s do it with a kindly, gentle spirit, sharing the truth in love that they might be able to receive it. Merciful love is necessary to keep each other out of prison, the prison of unrepentance and the prison unforgiveness.

In the Our Father, we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus teaches his disciples, “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” And at the end of today’s parable, Jesus warns us that our fate will be like that of the unforgiving servant ‘unless you forgive your brother from your heart.’ Now many Christians find this teaching deeply disconcerting. They’re troubled because they believe they just can’t forgive. But I usually find they think this because they imagine forgiveness means something it’s not.

Forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting. You can’t force yourself to have amnesia and forget. You might remember the misdeed for the rest of your life. And forgiveness doesn’t mean saying what someone did wasn’t serious or wrong. The offense committed may have been a grave sin and to say otherwise would be a lie. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what someone did no longer hurts. Only grace and time can heal some wounds, but we can forgive even with lingering pains. Forgiveness doesn’t require you to pretend nothing happened. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything must go back to the way it was before. Forgiveness might lead to full reconciliation, but not always. You can forgive someone even before they can be trusted. You can forgive even before they are sorry for what they did. Why? Because forgiveness means loving someone despite the wrongs that they have done.

Forgiveness is loving someone despite their sins. Is there someone you’re worried that you haven’t forgiven? Then pray for them, because you can’t hate someone and pray for them at the same time. Is there someone you find it hard to pray for? Then that’s whom you should pray for, for their sake and for yours. Jesus came to reconcile us to one another and to the Father. So have mercy. Jesus works to heal the wounds of sin and division. So have mercy. And Jesus intercedes for us with our Father. So have mercy, too.

Divinely Merciful

April 18, 2020

Divine Mercy Sunday

The Cenacle, the Upper Room in Jerusalem,
site of the Last Supper and Pentecost

Imagine an event as it did not happen…

On Easter evening, when the disciples were gathered behind locked doors in the Upper Room, Jesus came and appeared in their midst and said to them, “I condemn you. Each of you. All of you abandoned me.” And when he had said this, he showed the wounds in his hands and feet and side and said, “I suffered these because of your sins.”

If Jesus would have declared such things to his apostles his charges would not have been untrue. But this is thankfully not what Jesus did. Instead, he came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you,” a phrase he says three times in this Sunday’s gospel. Christ’s Passion, death, and Resurrection are not for our condemnation. Jesus comes in mercy for his apostles and for us. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” St. Peter writes, “who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

After assuring them of his friendship and the reality of his Resurrection, the next most important item on Jesus’ Easter list is to entrust his Church with his mission of mercy: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

In this season of pandemic, public Masses are suspended; first Communions, Confirmations, and weddings are being postponed; but the Sacrament of Reconciliation continues to be offered. Did you get to Confession this Lent? Jesus has peace to give you in this great sacrament. So, where and when you can, make it a top item on your list to experience his Divine Mercy there.

Humility, Truth, & Love — 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

October 28, 2019

Today’s second reading from the Second Letter to Timothy has St. Paul declaring near the end of his earthly life: “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…” Recall how at the Visitation, after encountering her cousin Elizabeth, St. Mary declares about herself: “[God] has looked with favor on his lowly servant; from this day all generations will call me blessed.” Are these humble things for Mary and Paul to say about themselves?

Well, they’re both true statements, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul, having finished his race, is now a triumphant saint in Heaven, and the Church calls Mary the Blessed Virgin in every generation even to our day. True humility is not thinking that you’re dirt, it is being down-to-earth, well-grounded, and rooted in reality. Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others,” and the Blessed Virgin Mary pleases and honors God when she states, “The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.” God has done good things for you as well, so thank and praise and glorify him for it!

But wait a minute, someone might object, wasn’t the Pharisee who went up to pray at the Temple in Jesus’ parable today also thanking God and declaring true statements about himself? What if this Pharisee did fast twice a week; what if he did pay tithes on his entire income; and was neither greedy, dishonest, nor adulterous? That is what’s implied by the parable, and those are all very good things! So why then does he incur our Lord and God’s displeasure?

Today’s gospel says “Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” Jesus says the Pharisee took up his position at the Temple and spoke this prayer to himself, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector.” Imagine the Pharisee praying these words out loud, within earshot of this tax collector in front of everybody. Yet, even if the Pharisee prayed silently, or quietly to himself, and his neighbor did not hear him; the Pharisee despised the tax collector and the rest of humanity, and did not gain God’s pleasure. Like St. Paul once wrote, “If I give away everything I own, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.” In order to gain Heaven; truth, love, and sacrifice all need to go together within us.

We see the truth, authentic love, and self-sacrifice combined in the inspiring life of the twentieth century saint, Edith Stein. She was born into a Orthodox Jewish family but renounced her faith by the age of thirteen and embraced atheism. She went on to become a respected PhD in philosophy. Then, one night while staying with friends on a vacation, she read the entire autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. The following morning she put the book down and declared, “That is the truth,” and responded accordingly. She was baptized a Catholic at the age of thirty, became a Carmelite nun and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, like the Carmelite St. Teresa of Avila before her. During World War II, because of her Jewish ancestry, the Nazis came to arrest her along with her biological sister Rosa, who worked at the convent. Teresa Benedicta reportedly said to Rosa, “Come. Let us go and die for our people.” They were taken to Auschwitz where survivors of the death camp testified that the nun helped other sufferers with great compassion. A week after their arrest, she and her sister were killed in the gas chamber. St. Teresa Benedicta comes to my mind this Sunday because of one of her most famous quotes: “Do not accept anything as truth that lacks love and do not accept anything as love that lacks truth. One without the other is a destructive lie.

It could be said that the proud Pharisee in our parable had the truth without love, while our culture today has many (so called) loves apart from the truth. Through our friendship, our prayers, and our perseverance, the tax collectors we know today need to encounter love and the truth, that they might turn to Jesus and say “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” and be saved. If you think you see someone seriously sinning; perhaps in your circles or our community, on TV or in the news; be sure—at very least—to pray for them. Maybe you’re right, which means that they are greatly in need of your prayer. Or perhaps you’re judging rashly or too harshly, in which case you are in need more prayer. In any case, you cannot both hate someone and pray for someone at the same time, because praying for someone is an act of love.

As Jesus tells us, “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Praying for and loving sinners makes you their servant in the likeness of Christ. Jesus came to us, he told us the truth, he prayed and interceded for us, and he even died for us – you and me and everyone. Jesus wants all of us to be like him, loving in truth and sharing the truth in love.

The Mercies of Two Adams

February 24, 2019

In our second reading this Sunday, St. Paul compares the First Man to the Last Adam. In our Gospel, that Second Adam (Jesus Christ) shares teachings on forgiveness which have reshaped the world. Catholic spiritual tradition holds that when Jesus descended to the Abode of the Dead on Holy Saturday he found Adam and announced that the gates of Heaven were now open to him and all the Old Testament’s friends of God. If Adam went to Heaven we know he practiced forgiveness himself because Jesus says “if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” I’d like to begin by reflecting on three people from Adam’s life whom he had to forgive; and each one has a practical lesson for us touching on forgiveness.

One person Adam had to forgive was his wife, Eve. “She saw that the [forbidden] tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Adam had to forgive her for doing this, but he also had to seek her forgiveness. He had been charged by God with protecting her and the garden. He was with her as the Serpent spoke, and he failed in his duty. Adam and Eve had to forgive each other.

Now a foolish person insists that other people are completely at fault one hundred percent of the time. After a conflict, even if I didn’t sin (even if I did nothing intentionally that I knew to be wrong at the time) I can still reflect upon how I could have expressed myself or handled the situation better. Mistakes are not sins—we can only sin on purpose—but we should learn from our mistakes.

Another person Adam had to forgive was his son, Cain. Because he felt snubbed, Cain was filled with jealous anger towards his brother. “Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out in the field.’ When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” This was the first recorded murder, and Adam had to forgive his son for it.

In 1981, Mehmet Ali Ağca shot the pope in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. St. Pope John Paul the Great nearly died, but two years later after he had recovered he went to visit his would-be assassin in prison. I remember being amazed as a kid in CCD class to learn that the pope sat at an arm’s length from the unshackled man who almost killed him in order to personally forgive him. Significantly, the pope did not ask Italy’s leader or government to release Ağca at that time. Ağca served twenty-nine years in prison until his release in 2010. Similarly, God showed his mercy and did not destroy Cain the murderer, but God did place punishments on him.

Sometimes withholding punishment is not kindness because we need discipline, to experience just consequences for our actions, for our own good. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he chastises every son he acknowledges. … At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Mercy and forgiveness do not rule out experiencing any consequences.

A third person Adam had to forgive is one you might not expect: Adam had to forgive the Serpent. Was the wicked Serpent sorry for what he had done? No, but Adam had to forgive for Adam’s own sake. Unforgiveness is a bitter poison we drink in hopes of hurting someone else. Renouncing our claims to vengeance against another actually sets us free.

Jesus said we must forgive to be forgiven ourselves, but some people think they can’t forgive because they think forgiveness means something it doesn’t. Forgiveness is not to say that the sin wasn’t wrong, or that it’s no big deal, or that it doesn’t hurt anymore, or that it never really happened, or everything can go back to how it was before. Forgiveness means loving someone despite their sins, even if prudence may require us to keep a healthy distance from them (as with the Devil.)

Does God hate that ancient serpent, the Devil, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning? Amazingly, no. As the Book of Wisdom says, “you [Lord] love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate. [And] how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours…” God hates what Satan does, but loves him still. God hates the sin, but loves the sinner. In the end, the wicked will not be annihilated, made to no longer exist, but given the disassociation and space away from God they desire forever. God hates no one and neither should we.

In several places in the New Testaments, St. Paul draws parallels between Adam and Jesus. St. Paul wrote the Romans: “just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous.” The First Adam gave life to all his descendants, and the Last Adam gives life to all who follow him. The Old Adam, by his selfish sin, condemned the world; but the New Adam, by his holy self-sacrifice, redeems us. The First Adam, as we have seen, practiced forgiveness, but Jesus Christ is personified Mercy.

Consider how autobiographical Jesus’ Gospel teaching on forgiveness is. Jesus says, “To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well.” During the Passion, at his Jewish trial before the Sanhedrin, “they spat in [Jesus’] face and struck him, while some slapped him, saying, ‘Prophesy for us, Messiah: who is it that struck you?’

Jesus says, “From the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.” “When the [Roman] soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. So they said to one another, ‘Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be…’

Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” The religious leaders sneered at Jesus as he hung on the Cross. Even the soldiers jeered at him. But Jesus prayed for them saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you,what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.” St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Jesus says, “If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High…” Jesus gave of himself knowing that many would give him nothing in return, he loves sinners knowing that many will not love him back. But Jesus is his Father’s Son, merciful as he is merciful, loving as he is loving, good as he is good, and generous as he is generous. And Jesus invites us to also be children of the Most High like himself.

So let’s be generous in every way towards Jesus, who gives us mercy, our every blessing in life, and his very self in the Eucharist. Jesus’ teaching at the close of today’s Gospel is true not only for financial giving but for every gift to God, for God is never outdone in generosity: “Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” Let us be merciful and generous like Jesus is towards us.

“Egyptian Christians are made of Steel!”

April 23, 2017

Last Palm Sunday, in Egypt’s Nile Delta, a terrorist detonated a suicide bomb in a Coptic Christian church. 27 were killed and 78 wounded. Then, just hours later, there was another bombing at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria. The Coptic patriarch had just finished celebrating Palm Sunday Mass when another terrorist attempted to get inside that church. At least 17 were killed and 48 wounding, but many more may have been murdered if the killer had not been prevented from entering by security guards at the gate.

These attacks are a reminder that Christian persecution and martyrdoms are very much alive today. An Egyptian TV news show interviewed a Christian woman whose husband, AmNeseem, was one of those gatekeepers who restrained the second terrorist and died in the blast. The mourning widow’s words and the reaction of the Muslim news anchor in the studio are remarkable:

Stories from a Saint’s Diary

April 19, 2017

St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938) was a nun in Poland who experienced visions of Jesus Christ later deemed by the Church as worthy of belief—though (as like all private revelations) not required to be believed by the faithful. The Divine Mercy Image, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and Divine Mercy Sunday all stem from of her apparitions. St. Faustina detailed her experiences in a diary she kept from 1934 until her death. It is an episodic but fascinating read. These are just some of her stories:

●  Once [at age 19] I was at a dance with one of my [biological] sisters. While everybody was having a good time, my soul was experiencing deep torments. As I began to dance, I suddenly saw Jesus at my side, Jesus racked with pain, stripped of His clothing, all covered with wounds, who spoke these words to me: How long shall I put up with you and how long will you keep putting Me off? At that moment the charming music stopped, [and] the company I was with vanished from my sight; there remained Jesus and I. I took a seat by my dear sister pretending to have a headache in order to cover up what took place in my soul. After a while I slipped out unnoticed, leaving my sister and all my companions behind and made my way to the Cathedral of Saint Stanislaus Kostka. It was almost twilight; there were only a few people in the cathedral. Paying no attention to what was happening around me, I fell prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament and begged the Lord to be good enough to give me to understand what I should do next. Then I heard these words: Go at once to Warsaw; you will enter a convent there. I rose from prayer, came home, and took care of things that needed to be settled. As best I could, I confided to my sister what took place within my soul. I told her to say goodbye to our parents, and thus, in my one dress, with no other belonging, I arrived in Warsaw. (Diary paragraphs #9-10)

●  Once, I desired very much to receive Holy Communion, but I had a certain doubt, and I did not go. I suffered greatly because of this. It seemed to me that my heart would burst from the pain. When I set about my work, my heart full of bitterness, Jesus suddenly stood by me and said, My daughter, do not omit Holy Communion unless you know well that your fall was serious; apart from this, no doubt must stop you from uniting yourself with Me in the mystery of My love. Your minor faults will disappear in My love like a piece of straw thrown into a great furnace. Know that you grieve Me much when you fail to receive Me in Holy Communion. (#156)

●  Once the Lord said to me, Act like a beggar who does not back away when he gets more alms [than he asked for], but offers thanks the more fervently. You too, should not back away and say that you are not worthy of receiving greater graces when I give them to you. I know you are unworthy, but rejoice all the more and take as many treasures from My Heart as you can carry, for then you will please Me more. And I will tell you one more thing—take these graces not only for yourself, but also for others; that is, encourage the souls with whom you come in contact to trust in My infinite mercy… (#294)

●  Once, when I was visiting the artist who was painting the [Divine Mercy] image, and saw that it was not as beautiful as Jesus is, I felt very sad about it, but I hid this deep in my heart. When we had left the artist’s house, Mother Superior stayed in town to attend to some matters while I returned home alone. I went immediately to the chapel and wept a good deal. I said to the Lord, “Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?” Then I heard these words: Not in the beauty of the color, nor of the brush lies the greatness of this image, but in My grace. (#313)

●  On the evening of the last day before my departure from Vilnius, an elderly sister revealed the condition of her soul to me. She said that she had already been suffering interiorly for several years, that it seemed to her that all her confessions had been bad, and that she had doubts as to whether the Lord Jesus had forgiven her. I asked her if she had ever told her confessor about this. She answered that she had spoken many times about this to her confessors and… “the confessors are always telling me to be at peace, but still I suffer very much, and nothing brings me relief, and it constantly seems to me that God has not forgiven me.” In answered, “You should obey your confessor, Sister, and be fully at peace, because this is certainly a temptation.” But she entreated me with tears in her eyes to ask Jesus if He had forgiven her and whether her confessions had been good or not. I answered forcefully, “Ask Him yourself, Sister, if you don’t believe your confessors!” But she clutched my hand and did not want to let me go until I gave her an answer, and she kept asking me to pray for her and to let her know what Jesus would tell me about her. Crying bitterly, she would not let me go and said to me, “I know that the Lord Jesus speaks to you, Sister.” Since she was clutching my hand and I could not wrench myself away, I promised her I would pray for her. In the evening, during Benediction, I heard these words in my soul: Tell her that her disbelief wounds My heart more than the sins she committed. When I told her this, she began to cry like a child, and great joy entered her soul. I understood that God wanted to console this soul through me. Even though it cost me a good deal, I fulfilled God’s wish. (#628)

●  After Holy Communion today, I spoke at length to the Lord Jesus about people who are special to me. Then I heard these words: My daughter, dont be exerting yourself so much with words. Those whom you love in a special way, I too love in a special way, and for your sake, I shower My graces upon them. I am pleased when you tell Me about them, but don’t be doing so with such excessive effort. (#739)

●  February 6, [1937]. Today, the Lord said to me, My daughter, I am told that there is much simplicity in you, so why do you not tell Me about everything that concerns you, even the smallest details? Tell Me about everything, and know that this will give Me great joy. I answered, “But You know about everything, Lord.” And Jesus replied to me, Yes, I do know; but you should not excuse yourself with the fact that I know, but with childlike simplicity talk to Me about everything, for My ears and heart are inclined towards you, and your words are dear to Me. (#921)

Loving Mercy Overcomes Error

January 10, 2017

Reflections on John 1:43-51

philip-and-nathanael     In the early days of his public ministry, Jesus decided to go to Galilee. There he found his future apostle Philip and says to him, “Follow me.” Philip, from the same town along the northern coast of Galilee as Peter and Andrew, was so awed at encountering Jesus that he tracked down his friend Nathanael (also known as Bartholomew.) Philip told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth!” (Philip is sharing happy news, “We’ve found the promised Messiah, the Christ, and he’s not too far from here!”) But Nathanael is unimpressed and unconvinced, saying, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip winsomely replies, “Come and see.

When Jesus sees Nathanael coming toward him he says of him, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” Jesus replies to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” Jesus tells him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Why did Nathanael’s opinion about Jesus, that man from Nazareth, change so suddenly? Perhaps Nathanael was sitting under a particular fig tree when Philip found him and Nathanael, believing that there was no natural way Jesus could have known or guessed this, was instantly persuaded. Another explanation is that Jesus is referring to a memorable dream Nathanael has recently had. It’s strange that Jesus would describe an honest man as a son of Israel—that is, as a son of Jacob—whose duplicitous deeds are detailed in Genesis. But recall how Jacob once had a dream in which he saw the angels of God ascending and descending a stairway to Heaven while the Lord God stood beside him. (Genesis 28:10-19) Jesus alludes to that event in this encounter. Now if a stranger were to tell me about a conversation I thought no one else had witnessed, I’d be intrigued; but if someone were to accurately describe my dream from the night before, that person would have my full attention. Whatever the reason behind Nathanael’s change of heart it was the style of Philip and Jesus’ approaches that made it possible.

The Gospels show us through numerous episodes how the apostles started off as far from perfect. When told that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathanael replies, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” This story presents Nathanael’s prejudice and how that bias nearly made him reject the Christ out of hand. What did Nathanael hold against those Nazarenes living some thirty miles away? Did he think them unfriendly, lazy, unrefined, impious, unscrupulous? Whatever the reason, he looked down on them and it showed.

Nathanael’s rash dismissal of the Nazarene maligns someone Philip regards as a great and holy man. Yet Philip does respond in anger. Instead, he urges Nathanael to learn more. “Come and see.” Nathanael is persuaded by his friend to give this Jesus guy a chance—a fair hearing—and this modest openness eventually leads to him being won over. Still today, one of the best means for dissolving prejudices of every sort is through experiencing “the Other” firsthand.

As Jesus sees Nathanael approaching he demonstrates a penetrating supernatural knowledge of him. Jesus probably knew what Nathanael had previously remarked in secret but Jesus does not reproach or condemn him for it. Instead, Jesus compliments what is good in Nathanael: “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Though they do not yet see eye-to-eye, Jesus affirms his sincerity. This opens a door to dialogue that not only changes Nathanael’s mind but his entire life, as he goes on to become an apostle for Christ.

We could imagine a pricklier Philip or a different Jesus rejecting and condemning Nathanael for his initial disrespect toward the Christ of God; however, we see both practice tolerance toward him. Christians are commonly caricatured as easily offended but I have found that the more faithful variety show extensive mercy—which is very different than indifference. We are called to loathe error, but to love everyone. True tolerance does not hate others for holding wrong beliefs but loves them while trying to lead them to the truth.

It would be an oversimplification to say that forceful confrontation is never called for. Jesus occasionally denounced others, like “that fox” King Herod, the hypocritical Pharisees, and the evil spirits. Sometimes Jesus manifested his displeasure through bold prophetic acts, like flipping money-tables at the Temple or cursing the fig tree. Yet Jesus possessed perfect wisdom and a clear vision into others’ hearts. “Jesus knew their thoughts” and “did not need anyone to testify about human nature.” (Luke 5:22, John 2:25) We, however, must guard ourselves to be “slow to wrath,” for apart from the Holy Spirit’s prompting, “the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20)

In this era of division, let us promote unity in advocating for the truth. In our disagreements with friends or strangers, online or face to face, let us shun anger, sarcasm, and revilement and presume the other’s good faith and sincerity. This manner of winsome mercy won Nathanael’s mind and heart for Christ and it can be just as powerful today.

3 Interpretations of the Parable of the Dishonest Steward

September 17, 2016

Luke 16:1-13

The Parable of the Dishonest Steward, Biblia Ectypa, 1695.#1: The previously-dishonest steward is merely writing-off his own commissions. Likewise, we must forgive our debtors’ debts (or sins) so that we may be shown mercy. (Matthew 6:12) But why would his commissions be 20% for one debt and 50% on another? Perhaps the dishonest steward is actually covering his thievery’s tracks. Which brings us to…

#2: The steward is giving away what belongs to the rich man, his boss. Likewise, everything that we possess belongs to God, but we win favor though sharing these blessings with others. Both Mercy and Generosity win welcome into eternal dwellings, for Jesus says ‘whatever you do for the least of these you do it for me’ and ‘the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.’

#3: What would have become of the dishonest steward without his decisive plan and action? Disaster. Likewise, we must be intentional about our own religious/spiritual growth. “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.” What excuse do we have? More importantly, what is our plan?

The Prodigal Us — 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

September 11, 2016

Readings

It has been said that there are two kinds of people in this world: sinners who think they’re saints, and saints who know they’re sinners. Every saint has a past, and every sinner can have a future. We all have been the Prodigal (or wasteful) Son at various times in our lives. Whether for years, for days or hours, or just for moments, we have each strayed from and returned to our Father-God who delights to have us back. When we are being tempted to sin, we are being tempted to leave our Father’s house and no longer keep his company. In sinning we say, even if in a small way, “You may not be dead, but I want it to be as if you were. Give me an inheritance now. I can have an easier time, or a more enjoyable time, misusing your stuff than I can have by remaining with you.”

The Prodigal Son took his father’s things and went off to a distant country. The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this World are countries distant from each other, and yet they exist side-by-side. Sinners and saints live side-by-side together here below, but the difference between them is vast. A life of sin may be easier for awhile. The Prodigal Son enjoyed sensual pleasures and was free of his duties, like working in the fields with his older brother. But sin soon leaves us spent and depleted, as in drought and famine. If honest with ourselves, we sense our dire need.

At first, the Prodigal Son attempted his own coping-mechanisms short of repentance. He hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the pigs. (For Jews, tending ritually-unclean pigs would be one of the most degrading things a person could do.) The Prodigal Son longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. (His boss provided for the swine better than for him.) A sinner’s life is slavery. It’s unsatisfying, it’s unhappy, and they feel unloved. This does not excuse away the bad and harmful things they do, but hurting people hurt people. And knowing this, we can feel compassion for sinners.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, St. Petersburg, 1662.Coming to his senses, realizing how much he has lost, the Prodigal Son decided to go back home. He knew his unworthiness, so he prepared a speech to persuade his father to show mercy. But his Father needs no persuasion. While his son was still a long way off, the father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. I imagine the father saw him from a long way off because he often looked to that road hoping his son would return. This day, he did. The father ran to his son—even though in that culture a dignified men would not run. Men might walk or let others come to them, but this father ran to his son. Then the father restores his son, with robe, sandals and ring, and declares a feast.

The son had decided to leave and decided to return home. The decision to dwell in the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of this world is our choice. We are free, to wander or return, because God’s offer of grace (including his invitation to the sacrament of reconciliation) is always there. Though we wander in sin, averting our eyes from God, we can never escape his sight. Psalm 139 says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in the underworld, there you are.” And when we turn back to him, he runs to us, as the same humility we saw in the Incarnation. And then the celebration begins. As Jesus says, “There will be more joy in heaven [and among the angels of God] over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.

As St. Paul declares in our second reading, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Every saint has a past, and every sinner can have a future. In this Year of Mercy, let us each trust in God’s mercy, respond to his mercy, and practice mercy as Jesus would have us do.

Generosity & Envy — 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

September 21, 2014

Readings: Isaiah 22:6-9; Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a; Matthew 20:1-16a

DenariusHe woke up while it was still dark and kissed his wife while she slept.

He dressed and left home quietly, so as not to wake up the children across the room.

He walked into town and came to the large market square, where the venders were already setting up shop, and day laborers like himself were congregating.

At dawn, landowners came to hire men to harvest their vineyards and fields.

He was left behind, yet he did not leave.

Hopefully, someone would hire him at noon for at least a half-day’s work.

Three o’clock came, and he was still standing there unemployed, refusing to go home. How could he go home… empty-handed?

Around five o’clock, a landowner found him and asked, “Why do you stand here idle all day?”

Speaking for those standing with him he answered, “Because no one has hired us.”

The landowner said to them, “You too go into my vineyard.”

When it was evening, the vineyard owner had his foreman summon the harvesters and pay them—in this he was abiding by the command in the book of Leviticus, “You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your laborer.”

When he received his pay, the man thought there had been some mistake.

Though he worked only an hour, he had been given a silver denarius coin, the standard pay for a full day’s work.

He badly wanted to leave with it, but he was a righteous man, and quietly approached the foreman.

But the foreman reassured him—there had been no mistake!

Oh, the joy he felt! For tonight and tomorrow, his family would not be hungry.

*  *  *  *  *

Was the landowner unfair in the treatment of his workers? At the beginning of the day, the Greek text says the landowner achieved ‘harmonious agreement’ with the labors regarding the usual daily wage. This was not fraud nor exploitation, but a just wage for an honest day’s work. Were the later workers been idle due to laziness? No, they honestly say, but “because no one has hired us.”

Let us revisit the landowner’s arguments in his own defense: he said to one of the grumblers in reply, “My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” The landowner was not being unfair, he was being generous. He kept the precept of Leviticus, which ensured that poor laborers would not be deprived of their daily bread overnight, but he also kept the command which comes in Leviticus five verses later: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Would the grumblers have been happier if the coins were taken back from the hands of all of the one hour workers? Yes, and no. For the envious person is not happy until everyone is unhappy like himself. And even then, he is still unhappy. What if the grumblers had had perfect hearts? Then they would have been concerned about those unchosen workers, as impoverished as themselves, that were left behind in the marketplace, and upon seeing those latecomers receive a full daily wage they would be happy and relieved for them. But these grumblers’ thoughts were not God’s thoughts, and their ways were not his ways.

Saint Augustine in his Study by Botticelli, 1480Beware of envy. Envy is sadness at the sight of another’s blessings and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, when envy wishes grave harm to a neighbor, it is a mortal sin. St. Augustine rightly called envy “the diabolical sin,” for the book of Wisdom tells us that “by the envy of the devil, death entered the world.” St. Augustine observed, “From envy are born hatred, detraction, slander, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor, and displeasure caused by his prosperity.”

What is envy’s antidote or preventative vaccine? A good will towards all people, and rejoicing in their blessings and happiness as much as your own. Do you feel envious out of fear or resentment that there may not enough good things for you? Remember that the landowner in today’s parable, who ensures that his laborers receive their daily bread, represents God, who provides for the needs of those who serve him. As the psalmist says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon him.”

In Jesus’ parable, the landowner represents God, the laborers are those who faithfully serve him, and the equal pay they receive is salvation, eternal life, the reward of Heaven. Does this mean that all who serve God receive an equal reward? Once again, the answer is yes, and no. Each is given Heaven, but not all souls enjoy the same glory there. In our second reading, St. Paul says, “If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.” He is not sure if he would rather live or die (“I do not know which I shall choose”) because death means peaceful rest with Christ, while more labor in life means a greater reward.

St. ThereseWhen St. Therese of Lisieux was a little girl, she was rather put out to learn that not all souls enjoy the same glory in heaven. For the young, fairness means simple sameness. Her older sister, Pauline, told her to fetch a thimble and her father’s water tumbler and to fill both of them to the top with water. Pauline then asked her which one was fuller. St. Therese saw that every soul in heaven is filled to its brim and can hold no more; each being full of God and completely happy. In Heaven, there is enough love, glory, and happiness for everyone, even if we grow and develop different capacities for these while on earth.

So who will have the largest capacity in Heaven? Who will hold the most glory? I believe, as Jesus says, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” The greatest glory will not go to those who are focused on who is first and greatest, but to those interested in promoting in the greater glory of all.

God’s angels have different degrees of glory and power, yet they find delight in one another. They have labored for the Lord since the beginning of time, yet they rejoice that God has been generous with us latecomers and included us in his work. Let us be like our angels, who happily pray for us and aid us, so that we might attain a glory greater than their own. Let us pray that others might become holier than us, provided we become as holy as we ought.

First Things First — Divine Mercy Sunday—2nd Sunday of Easter

April 28, 2014

Gospel: John 20:19-31

[Though the doors were locked, where the disciples were,] Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.

What was Jesus’ first order of business on the first Easter Sunday? Demonstrating to his disciples the fact of his resurrection.

What was the next most important thing on Jesus’ list? Commissioning his Church to impart his Divine Mercy to world.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Some Sacramental Clarifications

April 5, 2014

● A funeral Mass is not celebrated as an honor, but as a mercy. A funeral Mass does not canonize, but offers Christ’s sacrifice for graces upon the deceased and the assembled mourners. “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15) If the deceased has been condemned, the offered funeral Mass will only help the family (perhaps to be converted and saved,) but if the departed is in purgatory, the Holy Mass is the greatest prayer we can offer on his or her behalf. Apart from notorious and unrepentant apostates, heretics, and schismatics, we want to error on the side of mercy, as we have been shown mercy.

● Though all should contribute to the work of the Church, no Catholic parish is a private club that requires up-to-date dues in order to be welcomed. All Catholics are members of the world-wide body of Christ—the Church.

● No one will be refused sacraments in our parish because of an inability to pay parish fees or stipends.

● Everyone is welcome at our parish Masses; however, those not in full communion with the Catholic Church, or those aware of having committed grave sin who have not obtained absolution in the sacrament of Confession, should not present themselves to receive the Holy Eucharist—these may receive a blessing instead by approaching with crossed arms.

● Any child, for whom there is a well-founded hope of being raised Catholic and whose guardians have completed a baptismal preparation program here or at another parish, may be baptized in our parish.

● If you have any additional sacramental questions regarding our parish community, please contact Father, your priest, directly.

Q&A on Indulgences

March 22, 2014

What is an indulgence?

An indulgence cancels before God the temporal punishment due for forgiven sins.

Forgiven sins can have punishments?

The forgiveness of sin absolves its eternal punishment; that is, restores our friendship with God and saves us from Hell. However, “temporal punishment” remains for sin for the purpose of the soul’s rehabilitation and to satisfy justice. This is why the priest in the confessional gives you a penance to do after you leave with all your sins absolved. Recall what Nathan told King David after the Lord forgave him (2 Samuel 12:9-14.) Even after forgiveness, there may be punishments to be paid.

What is the difference between a “plenary” & “partial” indulgence?

A plenary indulgence remits all temporal punishment due to sin, while a partial indulgence remits some of it. Note that sin’s temporal punishments are not synonymous with all of sin’s consequences. For instance, even after a plenary indulgence, we all still experience in our flesh the primeval consequence of sin: physical death.

How can the Church offer to do this?

The Church has authority from Christ to loosen and to bind, on earth and in Heaven. (Matthew 18:18) Thus, after sins are forgiven, she can satisfy remaining debts by drawing on and applying before God the superabundant merits won by Christ and his saints.

So the Church still grants indulgences?

In the 1500’s, some indulgences were granted for performing the charitable act of donating to the Church. The way some used the “sale” of indulgences as a fund-raising strategy scandalized many (including Martin Luther.) The Church abolished this means of gaining indulgences, but other means remain available.

How do I gain a plenary indulgence?

All plenary indulgences require the following:

  1. Go to confession.
  2. Receive the Holy Eucharist.
  3. Pray for the pope’s intentions (e.g., an Our Father & a Hail Mary)
  4. Do the indulgenced act in a state of grace and intending to gain the indulgence.
  5. And have no intention to sin again, even venially.

      (Note: One confession can be utilized for indulgences twenty days before or after, but each indulgence requires a distinct holy communion.)

What acts carry a plenary indulgence?

They include, among others:

  1. Visit the Most Blessed Sacrament for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Read the Bible for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Pray the Stations of the Cross.
  4. Pray one Rosary (five decades) in a church or as a family group.
  5. Pray the “Prayer Before a Crucifix” on a Friday in Lent after communion.
  6. Adore the crucifix liturgically on Good Friday.
  7. Visit a cemetery and pray for the dead on any day between November 1st and 8th.
  8. Worship at a First Communion Mass.
  9. Worship at a priest’s Mass of Thanksgiving (aka, “First Mass”)
  10. Hear sermons at a parish mission and be present for its solemn close.

Many other acts can also gain partial indulgences.

How often & for whom can I gain an indulgence?

One plenary indulgence can be gained daily and applied to oneself or to a deceased person. There is no limit for how many partial indulgences you can gain for yourself or a deceased person, and this type does not require the conditions of confession, communion, or prayers for the pope’s intentions. (Thanks to Pussywillowpress for the clarifying note below.)

Measures of Mercy — Monday, 2nd Week of Lent

March 17, 2014

Gospel: Luke 6:36-38

Last year, a teenage posted a photo on the internet of an unrolled tape measure along side the 11-inch “footlong” sandwich he had bought. The corporate response was not one of the great moments in public relations history; they said that “footlong” was a trademark term, rather than a measurement of length. The negative consumer backlash to this went viral and the corporation pledged that every foot-long would henceforth be 12-inches.

In 12th century England, there were strict laws to punish bakers who sold undersized loaves. In response, the bakers would throw in an additional loaf with every dozen to safeguard their liberty.  The baker’s dozen (of 13) was born and their customers were happy. It is wiser to error on the side of generosity with others, in both the world of business and the realm mercy.

Commerce has been linked to mercy by the Lord in both Testaments. In Old Testament Israel, merchants would use cups and weights to measure out their products to customers. Sometimes, to increase their profits, unscrupulous sellers would manipulate these measures to their advantage, as the Lord describes through the prophet Amos:

“When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain, And the sabbath, that we may open the grain-bins? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the destitute for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the worthless grain we will sell!”

Such cheating was especially abhorrent to the Lord because it most exploited the poor and vulnerable. Today, Jesus tells his disciples that they should be generous with their measurements of mercy if they do not wish to be condemned:

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

Without rejecting the truth, or declaring evil to be good, we need to be patient and forgiving with others if we wish to be shown mercy. As St. James says, “judgment is merciless to one who has not shown mercy; [but] mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Magnanimous, Not Petty — 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

February 23, 2014

“Petty” comes from the French word for “small” (“petit.“) “Magnanimous” comes from the Latin words for “great” and “soul” (“magna” and “anima.“) We are not called to be small, but of great soul in our interactions with others.