Archive for the ‘Vocation’ Category

The Divided Household of Luke 12

August 12, 2016

In Luke 12:51-53, Jesus tells his disciples:

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

What do the family dynamics within this divided household look like? For starters, exactly how many people are we talking about? St. Ambrose (337-397 AD) clarifies this point:

Though the connection would seem to be of six persons, father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, yet are they five, for the mother and the mother-in-law may be taken as the same, since she who is the mother of the son, is the mother-in-law of his wife.”

Jesus describes these five persons as divided into two factions, “three against two and two against three.” We learn from his further details that the father opposes his son, while the mother opposes the other two females. Depending on whether this father and mother are allied or not, their household could be divided in two possible patterns.

Luke 12 Divided Households

Figure 1 shows the family split generationally, with the parents set against the children. In Figure 2, the fractures cut between the couples. (Jesus not mentioning marital strife suggests the first interpretation and this is the favored reading of St. Bede,1 yet the ambiguity of these passages may well be intentional.2) In any case, Jesus is the occasion for this household’s divisions. One side (either the blue or the orange) rejects him while the other acknowledges him as Lord. Sometimes one’s allegiance to Christ leads to interpersonal conflict, even within families.

This prompts St. Ambrose to ask:

“Are we to believe that [our Lord] has commanded discord within families? How is he our peace, who has made both one? How does he himself say, ‘My peace I give you, my peace I leave you,’ if he has come to separate fathers from sons and sons from fathers by the division of households? How is he cursed who dishonors his father and devout who forsakes him?”

St. Ambrose unknots the seeming paradox in this way:

“It is necessary that we should esteem the human less than the divine. If honor is to be paid to parents, how much more to your parents’ Creator, to whom you owe gratitude for your parents! … He does not say children should reject a father but that God is to be set before all. … You are not forbidden to love your parents, but you are forbidden to prefer them to God.”

People sometimes hesitate to commit to Christian lifestyle changes, pursue their God-given vocations, or enter Christ’s Catholic Church because they fear the reactions of family, friends, or others. But even if following Jesus Christ entails sacrifices, these persons should not be afraid to place God first. Notice how the Lord does not say “five will be divided, four against one and one against four.” When three unbelievers pit themselves against two faithful ones, the pair are blessed with each other’s support. Should your family disown you, the Lord will summon faithful friends to your side. Even if your friends should leave you, the Lord provides you with the household of believers in his Church. Even if your parish community should fail to welcome or support you, the Lord will not make you stand alone — for Jesus Christ is always at your side and will never abandon you.

 


Footnotes:

1. St. Bede (672-735 AD) assumes Figure 1 for his allegorical interpretation of the Divided Household:

“By three are signified those who have faith in the Trinity, by two the unbelievers who depart from the unity of the faith. But the father is the devil, whose children we were by following him, but when that heavenly fire came down, it separated us from one another, and showed us another Father who is in heaven. The mother is the Synagogue, the daughter is the Primitive Church, who had to bear the persecution of that same synagogue, from whom she derived her birth, and whom she did herself in the truth of the faith contradict. The mother-in-law is the Synagogue, the daughter-in-law the Gentile Church, for Christ the husband of the Church is the son of the Synagogue, according to the flesh. The Synagogue then was divided both against its daughter-in-law, and its daughter, persecuting believers of each people. But they also were divided against their mother-in-law and mother, because they wished to abolish the circumcision of the flesh.”


2. Perhaps our Lord (in preaching these words) and the Holy Spirit (in inspiring these Lucan passages) fully-intended this ambiguity. By providentially allowing for both readings (i.e., Figures 1 & 2) this teaching can reflect more varieties of interfamily conflict: spousal, sibling, in-law, parental and filial.


Travelers & Merchants — 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

July 30, 2014

Readings: 1st Kings 3:5, 7-12; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 13:44-46

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.

What do these two analogies or parables of Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God) have in common? Both tell about men who find something precious and sell everything they have to possess it. These short stories are quite similar, but how do they differ? (There must be some significance to these differences otherwise Jesus would not have given us both images.)

Jesus does not give us many details, but in my imagining the first story goes like this: A traveler is walking a dusty road that he has walked many times before, but this time, as he is looking to one side at nothing in particular, a golden glint catches his eye from the adjacent field. Out of curiosity, he investigates and discovers a wooden crate full of gold coins which has been uncovered by recent plowing. Putting the coins back inside and fixing the lid, he reburies the treasure and joyfully goes to sell all that he has in order to buy that field. “Why doesn’t he simply carry the crate away?” Because that would be stealing and true happiness cannot be obtained through wickedness. One does not come to possess the treasure of the Kingdom of God through evil means.

Pearl MerchantIn the second story, a pearl merchant comes upon a high-priced specimen in a marketplace. Its price is, let’s say, one hundred thousand dollars. Many people have admired it before, but the merchant has an expert and discerning eye. He sees that this pearl is worth ten times more and he shrewdly sells everything he owns to possess it. To onlookers, he looks crazy (“Selling everything for just one pearl?”) but he knows what he is about. Those who forsake all else to possess the Kingdom of Heaven may likewise be thought foolish by some, but the wise one recognizes the pearl’s true value.

Both the traveler and the merchant find precious treasure, but one difference between them is that the merchant knew what he was looking for and actively sought it, while the country traveler did not. Some people seek out the true, the good, the beautiful, the eternal things. They seek God himself, and those who seek, find. Others do not seek the higher things of God, yet our humble Lord has been known to blindside them with the truth of his reality and love. So what do these parables mean for us here, who have already come to know Jesus Christ and his Church?

An important aspect to finding and possessing your treasure in the Kingdom of God is knowing and embracing your vocation. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word “vocare,” which means “to call.” Your vocation is your life’s calling from God. Your vocation is the means by which God intends for you to become holy and a blessing to all.

Some people find their vocation like the traveler on the road—stumbling upon it without having sought it. I think this is true for many marriages. A man and woman can be drawn to each other, fall in love and delight in each other, and decide to spend their lives together without discerning God’s purpose for their lives. Yet, since “we know that all things work for good for those who love God,” (as St. Paul says in our second reading) the Lord still guides them according to his purposes. If you are in the sacrament of marriage your vocation is clear: your mission in life is to become the best spouse and parent you can be and to help lead them to heaven. You need not travel to a mountaintop monastery in a distant land to find your vocation and become a saint. Your vocation, your means to holiness, is as ordinary and close as a field or marketplace, yet your treasure is found there. Your vocation is sitting beside you.

Other vocations are usually discovered only with discernment, by searching like the merchant. One does not become a priest, a religious, or a dedicated single person without a firm decision to offer one’s life entirely to God. These people also find sanctity and bless others in the greatest way through their God-given callings. If you have not yet discovered your vocation, remain close to God in prayer and faithfulness, and he will reveal his will to you.

In our first reading, the Lord appears to Solomon in a dream and says, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon, the new, young king, feels overwhelmed by his office. “I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Solomon’s request for wisdom to benefit the kingdom pleased the Lord, so God granted him great wisdom and all the gifts he had not asked for as well. As Jesus says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Pray to God for the wisdom to know your vocation and to embrace it (like the traveler and the merchant) with the investment of everything you are. In this way, you will come to possess the Kingdom’s precious treasure.

No Regrets — Tuesday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time—Year I

January 21, 2011

When I was a kid, my Uncle Tom said to me, “I remember when I was young like you, when I felt invincible and thought that I’d live forever.” It struck me, because I have never felt that way. In fact, the idea that I would someday have to look back on my whole life was a consideration throughout my youth.

When I was about the age of most of you, I began to read the Gospels on my own and started to seriously consider Jesus’ teachings. What He said challenged me. Jesus said, “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.” I had always felt like whatever I gave away only made me that much more vulnerable to harm. But I thought to myself, “Do I want to have to look back from my deathbed and have to wonder how my life would have been blessed if I had been more generous?”

Jesus said, ‘Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  If our heavenly Father feeds the birds and clothes the grass in flowers, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? Are not you more important than they?’ Jesus was telling me not to worry when there seemed so much to worried about. But I thought to myself, “Do I want to have to look back at the end of an anxiety-filled life and wonder if I could have live in peace the whole time?”

When Jesus encountered the apostles and called them to follow Him, it seemed like He might be calling me, too, to serve Him as a priest. Though I had always respected our priests, priesthood had never been a personal dream of mine. But I knew that if I never went to seminary to seriously discern it, even if I went on to live an otherwise o.k. life, I would still wonder if I had missed out on God’s plan for me.

I wanted to live a regret-free life, so I tested whether God’s blesses a giver, I tried out what life was like when I trusted God to handle things, and I followed where I thought He was calling me. I’m glad I did.

There are two different views of religion reflected by the Pharisees and Jesus. For the Pharisees, religion is about keeping rules.  They say, “Look, why are [your disciples] doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” Jesus answers, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” For Jesus, religion is about freedom and fulfillment. So it is with Sundays, our Sabbath, the Lord’s Day.

When I was in college I wanted to try taking Jesus at His word by keeping the third commandment, so I resolved to make every Sunday a true day of rest. That meant no studying or homework, no matter what I had due on Monday. Now I had some pretty late Saturday nights, but I was faithful to my commitment. The funny thing I discovered was that when I gave my Sundays to God, He gave them back to me. Before, Sunday had been just another day; but after, I had a vacation day every week; to sleep, to have meals and fun with friends, to go to Mass and to pray.

Do you want to live a regret-free life, and not have to look back someday and wonder what your life would have been life if you had trusted Jesus more? Then take Jesus at His word, and put His words into practice.

The Sorrowful Mysteries, Meditations on Vocation with the Saints

October 29, 2010

The 1st Sorrowful Mystery:
The Agony in the Garden

Years before Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Blessed Virgin Mary had an agony of her own, when the Archangel Gabriel came to announce to her that she would bear the Son of God. Mary was “greatly troubled,” and the angel sought to reassure her “Do not be afraid, Mary….” Even after the plan was presented to her, she must have been full of questions about her future, like “What will Joseph and my parents think?” But Mary answered, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word,” and because she said that, Jesus could say years later, “Father… not my will but yours be done.”

God has a plan for every life, and a calling, a “vocation,” meant for them. Accepting God’s plan for our lives can take great, trusting courage, but answering “Yes” to Him will do more good than we know. Let us pray for the grace, trust, and courage to say “Yes” to our own God-given callings.

The 2nd Sorrowful Mystery:
The Scourging at the Pillar

Father Damien went to the Hawaiian island of Molokai to minister the spiritual and bodily needs of lepers exiled there. Last year, in 2009, Father Damien was canonized a saint. But in 1889, six months after his death, the following letter was published in a Protestant Christian newspaper:

Dear Brother,

In answer to your inquires about Father Damien, I can only reply that we who knew the man are surprised at the extravagant newspaper laudations, as if he was a most saintly philanthropist. The simple truth is, he was a coarse, dirty man, headstrong and bigoted. He was not sent to Molokai, but went there without orders; did not stay at the leper settlement (before he became one himself), but circulated freely over the whole island (less than half the island is devoted to the lepers), and he came often to Honolulu. He had no hand in the reforms and improvements inaugurated, which were the work of our Board of Health, as occasion required and means were provided. He was not a pure man in his relations with women, and the leprosy of which he died should be attributed to his vices and carelessness. Other have done much for the lepers, our own ministers, the government physicians, and so forth, but never with the Catholic idea of meriting eternal life.

– Yours, etc., “C. M. Hyde”

Hyde’s comments are noted today only because they were so exquisitely answered in an open letter by Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of Treasure Island (1883) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886). Stevenson quite rightly wrote, “[If the world will] at all remember you, on the day when Damien of Molokai shall be named a Saint, it will be in virtue of one work: your letter to the Reverend H. B. Gage.” The whole reply, assessing Damien and rebuking Hyde, is worth your reading, but I will give you the closing words: “[Father Damien] is my father… and the father of all who love goodness; and he was your father too, if God had given you grace to see it.”

In yesterday’s gospel, Jesus asked, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” This is because when someone set about to do God’s will, the world, which opposes God, will attack that person. Criticisms will land on the just man like lashes on the back. Jesus said, “Woe to you when all speak well of you,” for ‘the world loves its own.’ If there is nothing very counter-cultural about your life, then you are not yet living out the Gospel as Christ calls you to do. Let us pray for the grace to be faithful to the Gospel, even at personal cost.

The 3rd Sorrowful Mystery:
The Crowning with Thorns

Once, when St. Maximillian Kolbe was a boy, his behavior began trying his mother’s patience. She said in exasperation, “Maximillian, what will become of you?” As St. Maximillian writes, “Later, that night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.” How bold of him to imagine, and how bolder still to ask, that he might receive them both. St. Maximillian would receive both crowns, as a holy Franciscan brother, and as a victim of the Nazis at Auschwitz, where he took the place of another innocent man who was condemned to die.

At yesterday’s Mass you heard that God, by His power, “is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine.” Yet we will receive little if we are too timid to imagine or ask much of Him. Let us pray for the grace to imagine and ask to be crowned by Christ with a life with far greater than whatever we would merely drift into on our own.

The 4th Sorrowful Mystery:
The Carrying of the Cross

In 1961, Gianna Molla was expecting another child. During her second month of pregnancy, a tumor developed in her uterus. She could have chosen to have her uterus removed—preserving her own life, but resulting in her baby’s death.  Instead, she chose to try having the tumor surgery removed. After the operation, complications continued throughout her pregnancy. Gianna told her family, “This time it will be a difficult delivery, and they may have to save one or the other—I want them to save my baby.” On Good Friday, 1962, Gianna gave birth to her daughter, Gianna Emanuela, but it was too late for the mother. St. Gianna Molla died one week later.

Naturally, we all hate to suffering, but if you were to ask St. Gianna Molla what was the greatest thing she ever did, the thing she least regrets and of which she is most proud, I bet she point to this final trial, carrying the cross for the life of her child. I suspect, that on the other side of death, we shall see how much good an offered suffering can do, and we will regret not having offered more. We should ask ourselves, would I rather live a great life, or merely an easy one. Let us pray for the grace to be a lasting blessing to others though the crosses that come our way.

The 5th Sorrowful Mystery:
The Crucifixion

We think of Mexico as one of the most Catholic countries there are, but in 1920’s, it was illegal to celebrate Mass there.  That did not stop priests like Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J. from sneaking about to minister to people in their homes.  After many close calls, Fr. Pro was captured by police and condemned to death on false charges that he was somehow connected to a bombing assassination plot.

When he was led out for his execution by firing squad, Fr. Pro be blessed the soldiers, knelt and quietly prayed for a time. Declining a blindfold, he faced his executioners with a crucifix in one hand and a rosary in the other and held his arms out in imitation of the crucified Christ and shouted, “May God have mercy on you! May God bless you! Lord, you know that I am innocent! With all my heart I forgive my enemies!” Just before the firing squad was ordered to shoot, he proclaimed, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (“Long live Christ the King!”) When the first shots failed to kill him, a soldier shot him point-blank. The government had a photographer on hand, capturing these moments for propaganda purposes, but soon after the images were published their possession was made illegal—a Catholic priest dying faithfully and bravely was an inspiration giving new life to a people oppressed.

At the end of the Rosary we pray, “O God… grant, we beseech Thee, that, meditating upon these mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.” If we are faithful to Christ, the mysteries of His life we be made manifest in our own. And if we are faithful to Christ, we will receive a glory similar to His own. Let us pray for the grace to live extraordinary lives in the likeness of Jesus Christ.