Archive for the ‘St. Paul’ Category

Taking Jesus Too Literally

September 30, 2015

Jesus Facepalm

We do well to closely heed all that our Lord Jesus says, but we must also carefully understand what the Word of God Incarnate is really telling us. Using Scripture to interpret Scripture, let us consider two examples where some modern-day Christians misinterpret Jesus’ teaching by taking him too literally.


“Do not swear at all”

Jesus declares, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37)

Swearing an oath or vow invokes God as one’s witness to a claim or a promise and invites God’s just punishments if his name is taken in vain. It seems that people in Jesus’ day were trying to steal credibility without fearing divine retribution by swearing by lesser holy things. But Jesus warns that all good things belong to God, and condemns clever manipulations of the truth as coming from the devil. Instead, Jesus says, “do not swear at all,” but “let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes.’”

So do any appropriate times and places remain for swearing oaths or vows in the New Covenant? God reveals that such exist through St. Paul. In Galatians 1:20 and 2nd Corinthians 1:23, God himself inspires St. Paul to swear oaths (for example, “I call upon God as witness, on my life, that it is to spare you that I have not yet gone to Corinth.“) And in Acts 18:18, we read that St. Paul “had taken a vow.” Thus, in rare, righteous, and serious situations a Christian may solemnly swear to things before God.

“Call no one on earth your father”

Jesus tells us, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9) Does this mean that we should not call priests (or our even own dads) “Father?” This is not how the first Christians understood Jesus’ words.

St. Stephen calls the Jewish leaders “fathers” in Acts 7:2, and St. Paul does similarly in Acts 22:1. God prompted St. John to address Christian community elders as “fathers.” (1st John 2:13-14) God also willed St. Paul to write of “our father Isaac” and to call Abraham “the father of us all.” (Romans 9:10, 4:16-17) God inspired St. Paul to regard and describe himself as a father to his spiritual children. (1st Corinthians 4:14-15, 1st Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 10) Therefore, the true concern of our Lord is not with the label of “father,” but that our greatest devotion and love always be directed toward “our Father who art in Heaven.”

Popes Are Not Perfect — Wednesday, 27th Week of Ordinary Time—Year II

October 8, 2014

Readings: Galatians 2:1-2,7-14; Luke 11:1-4

[W]hen Cephas came to Antioch, I [Paul] opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong. For, until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to draw back and separated himself, because he was afraid of the circumcised. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not on the right road in line with the truth of the Gospel, I said to Cephas [Peter] in front of all, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.” He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, …forgive us our sins….”

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (detail)The Church on earth is both human and divine — it is holy, yet made up of and led by sinners. When the apostles asked Jesus how they should pray he told those men who were to become the Church’s first leaders to always ask that God the Father would forgive their sins.

Some bulk at the doctrine of papal infallibility asking, “How can a pope, a sinful man, be infallible?” (One could likewise ask how sinful men could write the Sacred Scriptures.) A pope is infallible when he proclaims a doctrine by a definitive act as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful regarding faith or morals, but nothing guarantees that he and the Church’s other leaders will never make sincere yet unwise decisions, or that they will never commit serious sins. Infallibility is not the same as impeccability. Imagine the Church as car on the interstate. The Holy Spirit provides guard rails to prevent us from crashing, but we do not always drive as straightly and speedily as we could.

In today’s reading from Galatians, St. Paul recalls the time he gave some fraternal correction to the first pope. St. Peter had not been teaching error regarding the Gentiles and the Mosaic Law, but his personal example (withdrawing from their company so as not to offend the circumcised) was sending a mixed and wrong signal. Even St. Peter could make a mess of things sometimes. Popes, bishops, and priests need the help of our prayers. Like St. Augustine observed: for you, they are leaders; but with you, they are Christians. They are disciples of Jesus Christ who, like yourself, must strive and follow after Him daily.

Converting Sinners — Friday, 1st Week of Lent

March 14, 2014

Readings: Ezekiel 18:21-28, Matthew 5:20-26

Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord GOD. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live?

Jesus said to his disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.

The scribes and Pharisees wrote off the tax collectors and prostitutes as having no hope of salvation, yet Jesus pursued and prayed for these sinners. In the first century, one of the Church’s greatest persecutors became one of its greatest apostles, Saul of Tarsus, also known as St. Paul. In the last century, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who killed thousands as an abortionist and helped to mislead millions as a co-founder of NARAL, went on to become a powerful pro-life advocate. God still rejoices in sinners turning from their evil way, and for us today, part of surpassing the scribes and Pharisees in righteousness means praying for and pursuing the conversion of sinners.

St. Paul’s Advice to Thessalonica’s Parish and Yours

June 18, 2013
  • Encourage and build one another up.
  • Respect, honor, and love those who serve over you in the Lord.
  • Be at peace among yourselves.
  • Admonish the idle.
  • Cheer the fainthearted.
  • Support the weak.
  • Be patient with all.
  • Never return evil for evil.
  • Always seek what is good for all.
  • Always rejoice.
  • Always pray.
  • Always give thanks.
  • Do not quench the Spirit.
  • Do not despise prophetic utterances.
  • Test everything; retain what is good.
  • Refrain from every kind of evil.

(See 1 Thessalonians 5)

What Jesus is Like — 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

March 3, 2013

You may recognize today’s second reading from many weddings. This beautiful discourse on love from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is often chosen by couples to be read at their ceremony. Ironically, Saint Paul wrote these words to the Christians at Corinth because they were not living together in love. However, these words gave to them, and give to us, a pattern to follow. This pattern for love is Jesus.

As Saint John has told us, “God is love.” Also, Jesus Christ is truly God. Therefore, whatever is true for love, is true about Jesus Christ. And likewise, knowing Christ gives us understanding into love.

Jesus is patient, Jesus is helpful and does not envy; Jesus is not boastful nor conceited, not rude nor selfish, not irritable nor resentful; he does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth. Jesus bears all things, hopes all things, preserves all things. Jesus endures forever.

Meditating on these words help us to know Jesus better. They can also serve as a list for ourselves. In which area do you need and want to improve the most? Choose one virtue and pray at this Mass for the help of God.

Never be afraid because your growth in holiness is slow. In today’s Gospel, the people of Nazareth, neighbors and acquaintances of Jesus, “were filled with wrath, and rose up, drove him out of the city and took him to a ledge of the mountain … to thrust him down. But passing through the midst of them, went away from there. You or I, in the situation of Jesus, could begin to hate these people. But Jesus’ love lasts forever.

Jesus can be patient and merciful towards people who hate him. Imagine the intense joy he has for people who want to serve and please him.

Usted podría reconocer la segunda lectura de hoy de muchas bodas.  Este discurso hermoso en el amor, de la primera carta de San Pablo a los Corintios, se elige a menudo por las parejas para ser leído en su ceremonia. Irónicamente, San Pablo escribió estas palabras a los cristianos de Corinto porque no estaban viviendo juntos en el amor. Sin embargo, estas palabras dio a ellos, y daran a nosotros, un modelo a seguir. Esto modelo del amor es Jesús.

Comosan Juan nos ha dicho: “Dios es amor”. Además, Jesucristo es verdaderamente Dios. Por lo tanto, todo lo que es verdadero para el amor, es verdad acerca de Jesucristo. Y de igual manera, sabiendo que Cristo nos da la comprensión en el amor.

Jesús es comprensivo, Jesús es servicial y no tiene envidia; Jesús no es presumido ni se envanece; no es grosero ni egoísta; no se irrita ni guarda rencor; no se alegra con la injusticia, sino que se goza con la verdad. Jesús disculpa sin límites, confía sin límites, espera sin límites, soporta sin límites. Jesús durara por siempre.

Meditando sobre estas palabras nos ayudan a conocer mejor a Jesús. También pueden servir como una lista para nosotros. ¿En qué área te necesito y quiero mejorar más? Elija una virtud y rezar en esta Misa por la ayuda de Dios.

Nunca tengas miedo porque su crecimiento en la santidad es lento. En el evangelio de hoy, la gente de Nazaret, los vecinos y los conocidos de Jesús, “se llenaron de ira, y levantándose, lo sacaron de la ciudad y lo llevaron hasta una saliente del monte…  para despeñarlo. Pero Él, pasando por en medio de ellos, se alejó de ahí”.  Usted o yo, en la situación de Jesús, podría comenzar a odiar a esta gente. Pero el amor de Jesús durara por siempre.

Jesús puede ser paciente y misericordioso hacia las personas que lo odian. Imaginen se la legría intensa que él tiene para las personas que quieren servirte y agradarte él.

“Are You Saved?”

May 13, 2011

Catholics take a modest approach to the question, “Are you saved?” We hope to be saved in Jesus Christ, and we can have some measure of confidence that we will be, but Catholics consider it presumptuous to say that our salvation is assured. The Catholic attitude is like that expressed by Paul:

“It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself; I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord. Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God.” (1st Corinthians 4:3-5)

After seeing the light on the road to Damascus, if anyone could be certain of their salvation one would imagine it would be Paul. However, in 1st Corinthians 9, Paul doesn’t speak as if he had Heaven already in the bag. He says:

“All this (becoming all things for all people) I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I too may have a share in it. … I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Cor 9:23, 27)

Immediately following this, Paul warns the Corinthians about the necessity of remaining faithful lest they be condemned like God’s people during the Exodus:

“They were all under the cloud (like the Holy Spirit) and all passed through the sea (like baptism) and all of them were baptized into Moses (who imaged Christ) in the cloud and in the sea. All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink (like the Eucharist)… Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert. These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did. … Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” (1 Cor 10:1-6, 12)

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns us that if we are to be saved, we must not be among those who acknowledge Him as “Lord, Lord” but fail to do God’s will:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.'” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Those condemned seemed surprised that they are refused entry into Heaven. This is why Catholics do not rest in a self-assurance of Heaven (that judgment belongs to the Lord.) Our part is to ceaselessly strive to cooperate with the saving grace of Jesus Christ as we “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” as God does His work in us. (Philippians 2:12)

Catholic Medical Ethics—30th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

October 27, 2010

In today’s second reading we hear from St. Paul, a prisoner in Rome on account of Christ and the Gospel.  Paul senses that the end of his life on earth is near. He writes:

“I am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.”

The emperor will soon order Paul to be executed by beheading, sending him to Christ’s eternal reward. Yet this is not to the emperor’s glory, for the blood of St. Paul’s murder will be on his hands.

By God’s grace, Paul was not left all alone in this difficult, final season of his life. Elsewhere in this chapter from 2nd Timothy, he writes, “Luke is the only one with me.”  (This is St. Luke the evangelist, whose Gospel we are reading this liturgical year.) In another letter, Paul calls Luke his “beloved physician.”

Now what if Luke, seeing Paul’s burdens and what trials awaited him, were to procure some hemlock with which to end his friend’s life? Would Paul be pleased with him? Would he not rather be angry that Luke would presume to thwart God’s purposes for him on earth?

The Lord, the author of our lives, is the one to decide when someone’s life story is complete. God has joined our souls to our bodies and what God has joined together, no human being must separate; for it is always and everywhere wrong to intentionally kill the innocent. God sent Luke to Paul not to kill him, but to strengthen, console and support him in this last season of his life.

Healthcare and end of life issues touch all our lives, and people of good will have many questions in this area. Like, “What is wrong with euthanasia or assisted suicide?” “What does Christ’s Church teach about living wills, ventilators, feeding tubes, and palliative care?” And, “What kind medical care is morally required, and what sorts of care are optional?”

The Church calls care and treatments which are morally required “ordinary care.” Treatments which are optional called “extraordinary care.” Each of us has an obligation to respect our lives and bodies as precious gifts from God.  This means that we must always receive, and provide to others, “ordinary care.” However, circumstances can arise where various treatments become “extraordinary” and may be omitted. Treatments which involve great pain, or extreme cost, or little likelihood of doing much good can be deemed extraordinary care.  Burden, cost, and futility can make a treatment morally optional.

Yet, every treatment must be put into context. Sometimes the same procedure, which is ordinary in some cases, will be extraordinary in others. Sometimes a ventilator can be an extraordinary treatment, making it acceptable for people to refuse or discontinue its use. However, imagine if an otherwise healthy person should come to the hospital with a routinely curable lung condition which requires surgery and the short-term use of a ventilator.  In this case, the ventilator—which can be costly and burdensome—is not extraordinary because its benefits far outweigh its burdens.

This is a danger with living wills and advance directives.  Making medical decisions about treatments, in the abstract, in advance, and out of context, can easily lead to wrong decisions. Consider the use of feeding tubes. A person can check a box on a living will that says they never want one, but feeding tubes are quite often ordinary care; however, in some cases, they become extraordinary care.

Sometimes, in the process of dying, a person may no longer be able to digest food. In such an instance, use of a feeding tube would be futile, painful, extraordinary, and rightly omitted. But if someone is not dying, to deprive them of food or water is like preventing a diabetic from taking their insulin. That is not allowing nature to take its course—it is homicide. Pope John Paul II taught that ‘a sick person in a vegetative state, awaiting recovery or a natural end to their life, still has the right to basic health care (such as nutrition, hydration, cleanliness, warmth, and the like), and to the prevention of complications related to his or her confinement to bed. … Causing someone’s death by starvation or dehydration, if done knowingly and willingly, is truly euthanasia by omission.’

We condemn euthanasia and assisted suicide because they are about killing the person rather than killing the disease, and we can never intentionally kill the innocent. It is wrong to kill the sick, but it is good to alleviate their pain and discomfort while they live. This kind of treatment, aimed at increasing a person’s comfort, is called palliative care and it is a great good. The work of Hospice and others is to provide palliative care in the final stages of life.

Would it be wrong to overdose a person with morphine to end their life?  Yes, for it is wrong to intentionally kill the innocent. But what about a case where treating someone’s pain with pain-killers (in the normal doses) might have the unintended side-effect of shortening their remaining days? Would it be wrong to request or administer such a treatment?  No because the aim is not to kill the sick person, but to relieve their pains. Sometimes, people with cancer choose to forgo chemotherapy and its burdens even though treatment might help them live longer than they would without it. Are these people choosing death? No, they are choosing a different way to live. The burdens of chemotherapy can make it an extraordinary treatment, and we are free to forego extraordinary treatments, even if it may shorten our lives.

The three principles I have tried to present today are these: first, that it is always and everywhere wrong to intentionally kill the innocent.  Second, that we must receive, and provide to others, ordinary care. And third, that treatment which entails great pain, or extreme cost, or little likelihood of doing much good can be deemed extraordinary care, and is morally optional.

I hope you now have a clearer understanding of some points of Catholic medical ethics, but these can be complicated issues. If you are facing difficult treatment decisions, for yourself or someone you love, seek out counsel of those who know the Church’s teachings on this subject. Holy Mother Church’s wisdom on healthcare issues is the natural and logical extension of her dedication to human dignity. As Roman Catholics in a culture of death, we must we stand for the dignity of every human life, from conception to natural death, and we need to vote for it, too.

  • An article on “ordinary” and “extraordinary” care.

The Rot Inside — Tuesday, 28th Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

October 13, 2010

St. Paul says in the first reading that “the works of the flesh are obvious.”  If so, then why does Jesus have to point out the sins of the scribes and Pharisees, whose sinfulness “are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk”? It’s not that Jesus is pronouncing “woe” upon people unaware that they have sins, the problem is these people think that their hidden sins are no big deal because of their outward practices and appearances.

As long as we are at ease with “immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like,” in our lives we will not enter the Kingdom of God. Even if we do not end up in Hell because of them, we will certainly have to wait on the doorstep to Heaven in Purgatory until these sins are rooted out. Let us crush these sins in our lives like the cancers that they are.

Pray for Peace — 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

September 12, 2010

I have a friend… let’s call her Kelly. Kelly works for a private company that does high-tech, scientific analysis for its clients. Most of this work is connected to criminal cases, examining and testing physical evidence on behalf of the prosecution or defense, but sometimes they also do sensitive work for the federal government, work about which Kelly shares no details. Kelly also wants to enter into religious life and become a nun. It’s a vocation she has considered for many years, and her job has only intensified her certainty of that calling.

You see, her work has shown her that if people want to do great evil in our world they would not seem to lack the opportunity. The technology and resources are out there; all that is needed is the malevolent will to use them. Kelly sees that our world is not preserved from self-annihilation by law enforcement, militaries, or government agencies alone. Just as important as these is the work of the spiritual battle which is invisibly waged amongst angels and demons and souls and whose primary battlefield is humanities’ hearts and minds. All of the peacekeepers and diplomats in the world cannot achieve peace, unless peace first wins its victory within the human soul. This peace is won through prayer.

In July of 1917, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children near a Portuguese town called Fatima. While the First World War was still raging, Mary told them, “The war is going to end. But if people do not stop offending God, another, even worse one will begin in the reign of Pius XI.” (At that time, the pope was Benedict XV.) “To prevent it,” Mary said, “I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart and the Communion of reparation on the first Saturdays. If people attend to my requests, Russia will be converted and the world will have peace. If not, she will scatter her errors throughout the world, provoking wars and persecutions of the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, and various nations will be destroyed.” Russia at that time was a war-devastated nation, poor and militarily weak. It was unclear what sort of “errors” they could spread. Four months later, the Communists came to power in the November Revolution. Mary’s call for prayer and conversion was not heeded and the worse war Mary which spoke of did come to pass; this was the Second World War.

Mary told the children, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me; it will be converted, and a certain period of peace will be granted to the world.” I think many people here of a certain generation will remember having prayed for the conversion of Russia, and it came to pass. The Cold War ended not with the explosions of a thousand suns, nor with a thousand years of darkness, but peacefully with a new dawn of freedom. It was a miracle which no one saw coming, but a miracle for the whole world to see.

Despite the present conflicts around the world, we seem to be now living in that “certain period of peace” of which Mary spoke, but for how long will it last? That depends, in part, on us. We must offer prayers of intercession for the world, even for our present enemies, for there to be lasting peace.

In our first reading, did God really want to annihilate His people for their sins before Moses interceded for them? God said to Moses “Let me alone… that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.” But what was really holding the Lord back from punishing them instantly? Nothing really. In saying, “Let me alone,” the Lord prompts and gives Moses the opportunity to be their intercessor. In this, Moses prefigures Christ, who intercedes to save all sinners. God calls us to pray for sinners, too.

In the second reading St. Paul tells us, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I am the foremost.” He says, “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant, but I have been mercifully treated…” Paul was shown mercy, saw the light and converted to Christ. This happened in part because the Church was praying for him. He was one of the most feared and notorious persecutors of the early Christians. He was their enemy, but the Church had not forgotten Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

The early Church’s prayers converted one of their greatest enemies. Moses’ intercession preserved the welfare of his nation. And the prayers of Mary and her children converted a misled people, and saved the world from destruction. The power of prayer has not diminished with time. It can still win our enemies for Christ, safeguard and bless our nation, and convert distant and misled peoples. The Lord calls us to pray for our enemies, for our nation and for our world, because as much as anything else, lasting peace depends on our prayers.

 [See the image I had to resist using to illustrate this post.]

Enduring Injustices — Tuesday, 23rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year II

September 7, 2010

St. Paul rebukes the Corinthians today, saying, “[It is] a failure on your part that you have lawsuits against one another.” Then he says something that rubs us the wrong way: Paul asks, “Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather let yourselves be cheated?” We resist, saying, “It’s just common sense that we shouldn’t let ourselves be cheated.” But sometimes common sense falls short. That’s why we need the teachings Jesus Christ revealed. Jesus said:

“When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”

Now this does not mean that we should be indifferent to injustices done to others, nor that we should seek out opportunities to be wronged by others ourselves. But when we are personally wronged, Paul suggests that we try imitating Jesus. St. Peter would agree, for he wrote:

“If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When he was insulted, he returned no insult; when he suffered, he did not threaten; instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

The next time you find yourself wronged, try imitating Christ. Jesus trusted that the Father would provide for Him, and He was provided for. Jesus accepted His unjust suffering, and it changed the world. Jesus invites you to accept a cross and to follow Him into this mystery.

Gospel Movies

July 1, 2010

Below are five original shorts drawn from the Scriptures. Click the images to watch them.

Teddy Bear Annunciation

The Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, with teddy bears.

Robot Jesus at the Watering Hole

Jesus meets the woman at the well; the Gosple of John, chapter 4, starring robots.

The Rich Young Rapper

A rich young rapper questions Jesus on the subway; a remix of Matthew, chapter 19 and Mark, chapter 10.  

Doubting Thomas

 The resurrected Christ appears to a skeptical disciple in the Gospel of John, chapter 20.

The Importance of the Resurrection

From St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15.

God’s Favorite Instrument — Tuesday, 6th Week of Easter

May 11, 2010

What is God’s favorite musical instrument? Harps? Organs? Bongos? I believe it is the instrument He created Himself, the one which He loved so much that He gave one to each of us for free–the human voice.

God is pleased when we sing for Him. St. Augustine said, “The person who sings prays twice.” Some people say this is because singing adds melody to our words of prayer. But it could be that a person sings twice because singing enlists the heart to join in the prayer of the mind. Singing lifts up our hearts to the Lord.

In today’s first reading, the missionaries St. Paul and Silas get beaten and stripped. They are locked in prison with their ankles placed in stocks. Things are at their darkest and most difficult time, but the night finds them not only praying, but singing hymns. This lifts their spirits, shakes loose their bonds, and pours out grace on that place. Singing makes a difference.

Maybe you feel like coming to our weekly school Masses is like being led somewhere in shackles. But if you must be here either way, why not make the most of it? Singing at Mass (and I mean really singing) is liberating, and a gift to God. 

If God has blessed you with a beautiful voice, sing strongly, as if to say to God, “You gave me this gift, and I offer it back to you.” If He has not blessed you with a good voice, you should still sing boldly, as though to say, “You gave me this voice, and I’m going to let you have it.” Your voice is God’s favorite instrument. So at this Mass and at every Mass, let Him hear it.

Hearing Him — Friday, 3rd Week of Easter

April 23, 2010

Jesus says, “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood,” as we are about to do in at this Mass, “remains in me and I in him.” After we receive Him, He remains with us and we with Him.  And He stays with us, provided we do not cast Him out through committing serious sin, until we receive Him again.

Jesus remains close to us throughout our day. Wouldn’t it make sense, that time to time, He would occasionally have something to tell us? Maybe we don’t hear Him because He knows we would refuse to listen. Perhaps He knows we would dismiss hearing Him speak to us out of hand, or maybe He knows we don’t trust Him enough to go out on a limb. For example, if you got the feeling that the Lord wanted you to relay to a message, a message you didn’t really understand, to particular person what would you do?

In the first reading, the Lord speaks to Ananias and Ananias answers, “Here I am.” Then the Lord gives Him an entirely wholesome, but very counter-intuitive task: lay your hands on Saul and heal him. Ananias hesitates a little. Ananias might be wondering if this is really coming from the Lord, or maybe he’s not sure he wants to risk this much for the Lord. But in the end, Ananias listens, and because of it, Saul became St. Paul.

If we would like the Lord to do such things with us let us be faithful in little things, faithful to the commands of our consciences and to the gentle nudges of the Holy Spirit throughout our daily lives. If we are willing to trust Him, Jesus will ask us to be His chosen instrument in greater matters too. So let’s listen, let’s be docile, and see what He does with us.

Mary and Pilate — 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

February 14, 2010

In a few moments, after this homily, we will recite our creed, the summary of our faith. Every Sunday, we profess, in union with the Christians who came before us, our belief in these truths and our resolve to live our lives according to them. This morning we will look at just one rich aspect of our creed and consider its implications for our lives.

Have you ever noticed that in the entire creed, only two non-divine persons are mentioned by name? These are the Virgin Mary and Pontius Pilate.

“By the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man. For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate; He suffered, died and was buried.”

Now many other figures from the Old and New Testaments could have justifiably been included in our creed; such as Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul, and many others. Yet, only Mary and Pilate get mentioned. So why is this? There seems to be two very good reasons. The first of these reasons I will give now—and the second I will save for the end.

The first reason why Mary and Pilate receive special mention is that they ground Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in our real history. Jesus was ‘born of the Virgin Mary, suffered and died under Pontius Pilate, and on the third day, He rose again.’ Now other pre-Christian religions sometimes had stories about dying gods who came to life again, but those stories were always said to have happened ‘once upon a time,’ in some remote and mythic past. But with Jesus Christ, this ancient intuition and longing of humanity is actually realized. The inclusion of Mary and Pilate in the creed witness to this: that God became man, died, and rose for us, in this world and in real history.

Some people try to be too sophisticated by saying it doesn’t really matter if Jesus rose from the dead, or even if He lived at all, because His teachings are what’s important. But St. Paul blows this idea out of the water. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” and “we are the most pitiable people of all.” Without Jesus Christ and His resurrection there is no Gospel, there is no Good News.

Just like Jesus Christ, Mary His Mother and Pontius Pilate His executioner are not fictional characters made up for some story. They are real people, from a time not that much different from our own. Our styles and technologies may have changed, but human beings themselves remain much the same. When we look at Mary and Pilate we can see ourselves in these two people whom Christ encountered twenty centuries ago.

Pilate is the secular Man of the World.
Mary is the devoted Disciple of Christ.

Pilate seeks the glory of men.
Mary seeks the glory of God.

Pilate knows worldly wisdom, he is clever and cunning.
But Mary knows God’s wisdom, and she is truly wise.

Pilate thinks he knows how the world works and the pragmatic way to get things done. For Pilate, our world is totally shaped by of power, money, and influence, with some blind luck thrown into the mix. When Jesus stands silent before him, Pilate says, “Do you not speak to me? Do you not know that I have the power to release you and I have the power to crucify you?” Jesus replies, “You would have no power over me if it had not been given you from above.”

Pilate is a very post-modern man.  He’s a moral relativist. When he asks Jesus, “What is truth,” he doesn’t bother to wait for an answer from Truth Himself. That’s because Pilate thinks that the ‘truth’ cannot be known except for the ‘truths’ which we choose for ourselves or impose upon others.

The Gospels show that Pilate knows Jesus is innocent, or at least that he poses no real threat to society, yet Pilate is willing to have this innocent man whipped and even crucified when that becomes the most expedient thing to do. The crowd threatens Pilate, “If you release him, you are not a friend of Caesar,” and he quickly caves and hands Jesus over.

Pilate washes his hands of responsibility, and extends Christ’s arms on the cross. Mary had extended her arms declaring, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” and lovingly held the infant savior in her hands.

Pilate, despite all his power, is ruled by fear.
Mary, despite her weaknesses, is freed from it.

Governor Pilate is rich in wealth and power and yet he has no peace.
Mary, the poor widow, has peace and everything she needs from God.

Pilate has no faith in the God of Israel. He says, “I am not Jew, am I?” But for Mary, God is her rock and this makes all the difference in the world. Mary is defined by her faith, hope and love.

Mary never attends an academy, but she is profoundly wise because she reflects in her heart on the words and deeds of God and because she lives by her own advice: “Do whatever he tells you.” She knows that we do not manufacture the truth for ourselves, we receive it, ultimately from God. We love it, we defend it, and we share it with others. “Blessed [is she],” as Elizabeth said, “who believed that what was spoken to [her] by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary trusted and believed, for she saw the evidence through history that God “has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation,” that “He scatters the proud in their pride, and casts down the mighty from their throwns, but He lifts up the lowly.”

Mary’s life was full, but was not free from trials. When Mary consents to be found with child through the Holy Spirit she is uncertain of what will happen to her, but she trusts in God. She does not know how she and her husband will get by as poor immigrants in foreign country, but she continues to trust. Mary’s response to every trial in life, even to the death of her son, is to trust in God. Despite men’s sins, she trusts in God as the Lord of history, that He casts down the proud and mighty from their throwns and raises up the lowly.

Pilate is indifferent to Christ, and he consents to sending Him to the cross, but Mary is wholly devoted to Christ, and she consents to share in His Passion. Pilate’s heart is hardened despite Christ’s Passion, while Mary’s heart is pierced by it.

Governor Pilate was once the most powerful man in Judea, but where is he now? Mary, the poor widow, is now our glorious queen, the most beautiful and powerful woman in heaven or earth, and through her reign she draws millions to Christ our king.

She is the one who wept and now laughs.
He is the one who laughed and now weeps.

He was rich in the world and now he is poor.
She was poor in the world and now the kingdom is hers.

He took root in the desert, he was barren and uprooted.
But she was planted beside the flowing waters, she endured and bore much fruit.

So what do all of these reflections about Mary and Pilate have to do with us? I promised you at the beginning a second good reason why Mary and Pilate are mentioned in the creed; and here it is: Mary and Pilate represent us. They stand as archetypes, models or patterns, for every person.

The faithful one and the faithless one.

The one who serves God and the one who serves himself.

The one who gives Christ life and the one who puts him to death.

We live our daily lives as either Mary or Pilate, with shades of the other thrown in. As we come to the season of Lent, let us examine and discern who we are. “How am I Pilate, and how am I Mary?” And at this Eucharist, let us ask Jesus to exchange in us the ways of Pilate for the ways of Mary, for hers is the way of Christ.

Jesus is Love — 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

January 30, 2010

Today’s second reading from St. Paul is perhaps his most known and most loved. You’ve probably heard it at weddings—perhaps you remember hearing it at your own, but most people don’t realize that St. Paul wrote these words to a community in disunity.

The Christian church in Corinth, Greece was divided. Various factions insisted that they were right, that they had “wisdom,” even as they bitterly quarreled with each other. St. Paul acknowledged what the Corinthians possessed in gifts and knowledge, and they had both, but he shined light upon how incomplete they were. “Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts,” he says, “But I shall show you a still more excellent way.” And then he teaches them about love.

Love is easy when it’s warm and fuzzy, and no one needs a lesson on doing what comes naturally. But how are we to behave when personalities conflict and there are serious disagreements and old resentments within our families, at work, or in our parish? During these times of tension, let us think of Christ and embrace Him as our model for action.

Jesus is patient.  Jesus is kind. In a way, Jesus is jealous, He’s jealous for our souls, but Jesus never manipulates others. He is not pompous. He is not inflated. He is not rude. Jesus is humble. He does not seek His own interests. He is not quick-tempered. He does not brood over injuries, no matter how unjust. He does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Jesus bears all things and endures all things. Look at how He responded in Nazareth when His own acquaintances, whom He had known almost all of His life, turned against Him:

“They were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.  But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.”

Jesus knew exactly what they were up to as they led Him towards the plummeting edge of town, and He could have turned and walked out on them whenever He chose, so why did He give even them the time of day? Jesus was patient, he was humble, and He endured this trial in hopes that He might lead them from their wrong way and restore personal communion with them. When they were just about to throw Him down, Jesus walked away, for the time had not yet come for Him to lay down His life for love of them.

God assures us through St. Paul that “love never fails.” The love of Jesus Christ never fails, even if we can’t see how, even if His victory, as for the souls for the community of Nazareth, takes more than a single day to accomplish. “Love never fails,” so follow Christ in this most excellent way; at home, at work, and in our church, and the promise of this Scripture passage, that “love never fails,” will be fulfilled in us.