Archive for the ‘Patience’ Category

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.

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Four Cheeks Turned — 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

February 22, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48

When attacked, our natural response is “fight or flight,” but Jesus suggests a  supernatural response: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” Since the Jews regarded the left hand as unclean, they would reflexively strike with the right hand. If the right cheek were hit, then one had been backhanded with contempt. Responding by turning the other cheek neither attacks not retreats, but insists on being regarded as an equal, whom one must strike (if at all) with an open hand. Jesus wants us to stand our ground in the face of injustice, assertively but lovingly, in hopes that the offender will reconsider his ways. Jesus modeled this response when he was struck during his trial before Annas:

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his doctrine. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” (John 18:19-24)

Another saintly example was shown by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Though reports vary, Mother Teresa was once begging bread from a baker for her orphanage. When the baker responded by spitting into her hand, she replied to effect, ‘I will keep this for me, but please give something for my children.’

In Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, a bishop welcomes an impoverished convict to join his table and sleep at his home. However, that night, Jean Valjean steals his host’s silverware and goes away. The police catch him and take him to the bishop. Looking at Jean Valjean, the good bishop exclaims, “Ah! here you are! I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?” Jean Valjean opens his eyes wide and stares at the venerable Bishop “with an expression which no human tongue can render any account of.” The bishop’s turn of the cheek spares the thief’s freedom and saves his soul.

And finally, a true story from a modern marriage: A woman’s husband had a terrible temper and every time it flared she would say, “That’s just like you to lose your temper!” But then, following a stroke of insight, she began responding differently. The next time he began to fly of the handle she told him, “That’s not like you to lose your temper,” and he nearly fell out of his chair. Even the kids looked at her funny, but she stuck with her new resolution. Months later, while at a restaurant together, he became irritated by the slow service. He started to fume about it, but then he suddenly stopped, turned to her, and said, “That’s not like me to lose my temper, is it?” This time, it is said, she nearly fell on the floor.

Was it true the first time the woman declared that it was not like her husband to lose his temper? The claim did not match his previous behavior, but perhaps he changed because she revealed to him that his uncontrolled anger was quite unlike the father, husband, and Christian man he truly and deeply wanted to be. This is the sort of realization and conversion we are to hope for in turning the other cheek.

Plus, a fifth story: “If a teen mugs you for your wallet…

Prayers Gradually Answered — Wednesday, 6th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

February 16, 2011


Noah’s Ark was no cruise ship, and forty days and nights on stormy waters is no pleasure cruise. Imagine what it was like for Noah; shoveling food for the animals all morning, shoveling something else all afternoon; hearing the squawking of the animals all night, hearing the complaints of your family all day. Noah must have been praying hard for land. He sends out a raven and it doesn’t come back. He sends out a dove and it brings back with a twig. After sending out the dove again they finally make landfall. Noah’s prayer was fulfilled in a gradual way, just like Jesus healed the blind man of today’s gospel in stages.

Sometimes we get impatient and question when our prayers for ourselves and others are not answered immediately, but we should not lose hope.  But remember, slow, gradual progress doesn’t mean that God’s plan is not being fulfilled. And just because you’re not instantly healed doesn’t mean that your prayer for healing is not being answered.

Let Advent Be Advent — 2nd Sunday of Advent—Year A

December 5, 2010

John the Baptist was living quite differently compared to people in his day. What he wore was different, what he ate was different, and what came from his lips was also different. Yet, John shared something in common with us today. Like Christians in this season of Advent, John knew that the Christ, or Messiah, had already been born, years before in the past. Like us, what John was preparing for was the coming of Christ anew.

That’s the reason why in Advent, in this season of awaiting the Messiah’s arrival, John the Baptist is so prominently featured in our Sunday Gospel readings, like today’s. By looking at John we can learn how to prepare ourselves for Christ’s arrival. As I mentioned before, John was rather different from his neighbors in his day. Today I suggest that we in the Church need to be a bit more different from everybody else if we want to prepare better for Christ’s coming this year.

What did John do with all that time alone in the desert, when he wasn’t out preaching or baptizing? Surely, John was praying, asking for grace and contemplating the one who was coming. The desert is a quiet place, free of distractions, and conducive to prayer. The world can make this month before Christmas a very stressful time. This Advent, you must find a desert, a quiet place, free from distractions, where you can pray each day. Create a daily desert space for your own family as well and prayer together as one. You cannot prepare well for Christ’s coming without daily prayer and the peace it gives.

What did John eat in the desert? He ate locusts, or grasshoppers, and wild honey. The wild honey may sound pretty sweet, until you realize that it was guarded by wild bees. John ate simply. Our meals in Advent should be simple too. You know how it is at Easter, when you enjoy what you gave up for Lent again for the first time? You find yourself enjoying what you denied yourself more than ever before. Then just think of how much greater your Christmas feasting will be if you eat more simply in Advent. (Besides, if you fast or diet now, there will less pounds to lose next year.)

John dressed differently than other people in his day. He wore a garment made of camel’s hair and tied a leather belt around his waist. He dressed like the Old Testament prophet Elijah because he wanted people to know that these were special days. You can also dress in ways that witness to the world that these are special days. One way to do this is to dress liturgically. As you can see, the main color of Advent is purple. If you have purple outfits or ties, now is their season.

By the way, this Wednesday, December 8th, is a holy day of obligation and Christ is asking you to attend the worldwide feast in honor of His immaculately conceived mother. On such a day, intentionally wearing blue or white would honor her. Try dressing liturgically and you’ll find that it reminds you and others of what makes these days special.

What came from the lips of John was different, and despite the large crowds, whatever he spoke was not for himself but for Christ. This year, wish people “merry Christmas” instead of “seasons greetings,” and instead of “happy holidays,” say “happy holy days,” for by this you give witness to the true reason for the season.

John knew that he must decrease and that Christ must increase, for John himself was not the light but had come to give testimony to the light. In the world, the Christmas songs have already begun on the radio and the Christmas trees are all up and lit in the malls, but the day after Christmas their songs will stop and their decorations will be taken down. But as the world is packing Christ away for another year, the Church is just beginning its celebration. You know the “twelve days of Christmas?” On Christmas day, the twelve day begin, not end. Like Easter, the Church celebrates not just one day, but for weeks after.

This year, let Advent be Advent, and save Christmas for Christmas. Sing Advent songs for Advent, and (as much as possible) save Christmas carols for their time. I suggest leaving your Christmas lights, on your tree and on your house, unlit during Advent. Then, when you plug-in at last on Christmas Eve, you shall enjoy a joyful sign that the light of the world has come.

St. John the Baptist calls to you through the Scriptures. I encourage you here, before you. And I hope the Holy Spirit is now prompting you, in your hearts and minds, to keep Advent as Advent this year, and to prayerfully prepare for the coming of Christ at Christmas more profoundly than you ever have before.

The Scandalous Cross — September 14 — Exultation of the Holy Cross

September 14, 2010

Jesus died on a cross. But what if Jesus had died differently? Then, instead of crosses, Christians might wear little nooses. Under different circumstances, we might be celebrating the Feast of the Holy Electric Chair, or the Exultation of the Lethal-Injection Syringe. These images unsettle us, but we are comfortable with the idea of Jesus’ cross. However, whenever we find ourselves complaining, we are feeling the scandal of the cross.

We will naturally dislike it when life is hard on us, but “do not forget the works of the Lord.” Jesus’ crucifixion, despite its pain, injustice, and seeming futility, was the means for His glory and for our salvation. With Christ we become invincible, because even our suffering profits us. So when unavoidable crosses come, patiently bear them and use them as a powerful offering to God.

Staying Until Leaving — Thursday, 4th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

February 4, 2010

Jesus provided the Twelve with their message to preach, their authority to cast out demons, and their power to cure the sick. However, Jesus withheld from the Twelve some basic provisions: no food, no bags, no spending cash, no second tunics for warmth in the cold night. On the other hand, Jesus instructs them carry walking sticks and wear sandals. What is Jesus thinking?

Jesus wants His disciples to be mobile, so that they can quickly travel to distant towns, but Jesus doesn’t want His disciples to be self-sufficient once they get there. Their lack of food, of money and of a place to sleep, forces them to become fully present to others. It necessitates the personal encounter.

Jesus told the Twelve to enter the lives of others, to enter their homes and to stay there until they leave. But what does it mean for them to stay until they leave? (How could someone leave before they’ve left?) Jesus is commanding them not trade up from house to house, as better accommodations are offered, thereby alienating and dishonoring their first hosts.

What does this gospel mean for us today? First of all, that our most important work, whatever our state in life, is our personal ministry to the people to whom Christ is sending us. We’re all busy, but we must not be too busy for what’s most important. Our professional careers will end, but our personal relationships will last, literally, forever.

Sometimes when we encounter other people we neglect Jesus’ advice to stay until we leave. Someone is speaking to us and we mentally check-out to green pastures. Sometime we fail to encounter the other person at all, brushing them off like dust on our feet.

I’ve heard it said that something which often struck people who met Pope John Paul the Great was how totally present He was to them, with his eyes and his mind, as if they were for him—in that moment—the most important person in the entire world. Can we imagine a personal encounter with Jesus Christ being any different? John Paul was a very busy man with a world of concerns on his shoulders, just like Jesus Christ, but they both had the time for what was most important.

I want to live more like that.  Don’t you?