Sunday, December 29, 2013
Friday, December 27, 2013
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
There are four Gospels in the Bible. That is, there are four accounts of the life of Christ and each of them differs from the other because each of them wants to make a different point about Jesus. One place in which that difference is revealed is in the accounts of the birth of Christ.
The Gospel of Mark does not contain the story of the birth. That Gospel begins with the preaching of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. The birth did not interest Mark. Mark was excited by the good news that the kingdom of God broke into human life. Mark's Gospel cries out with one incident in the life of Jesus after another so that we can share that excitement.
The Gospel of John is completely different from those of Mark, Luke, and Matthew. It is more of a reflection on the life of Christ, an example of someone sitting down and answering the question, what do you think Christ was like? So for John, the Word, that is, God’s word, became flesh, became a human being, and made his dwelling among us. This is John's theme. John wants us to consider the larger meaning of Christ's birth. Why did God choose to become human? is one of his questions.
It is only in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke that we have the story known as the Infancy Narrative. Beginning with the Annunciation, the angel asking Mary to become the mother of Jesus, and then the Visitation, the visit Mary made to her compassionate cousin Elizabeth, followed by the birth, the visit of the shepherds and the kings, these two Gospels place different emphases on the same story. Luke is particularly interested that Jesus was born poor. He was not a king born in splendor. Matthew, whose Gospel we hear this cycle, is the one who is most interested in the family of Jesus. This is why we hear that long genealogy. Matthew wants us to understand that Jesus comes to us as part of the family of a long line of believers.
Pope Francis, in a homily this past week, spoke of a third coming of the Lord. Jesus came into history 2,000 years ago. He promises to return for a second coming at the end of time. But the Holy Father spoke of another third coming of the Lord. “The Lord visits His Church every day!,” the Holy Father said, “He visits each of us, and so our souls as well: our soul resembles the Church, our soul resembles Mary. Our soul is waiting for the coming of the Lord.”
He asked, “Are we expectant, or are we indifferent? Are we vigilant, or are we closed up ‘safely’ in an inn along the way, without desire to go forward. Are we are pilgrims, or are we wanderers? For this reason, the Church invites us to pray, ‘Come!’, in order to open our soul and in order that that our soul be, these days, vigilant and expectant. Is there a place for the Lord, or only for parties, for shopping, for revelry? Is our soul open or is our soul rather closed, with a “Do Not Disturb!” sign hung on the door to it?”
At this Christmas feast Pope Francis asks us to repeat this call many times – ‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ and look to see our soul be not one of those souls that say, “Do not disturb!” Let ours be great souls – souls open to receive the Lord in these days and that begin to feel that, which on this feast the Church will speak to us in the antiphon: ‘Know that today the Lord will come, and in the morning you will see his glory!’
Monday, December 23, 2013
Joseph was a just man. That’s what I always heard growing up. Joseph was a just man and though Mary was betrothed to him and pregnant, but not through Joseph, he sought justice for his wife-to-be, not vengeance upon her. He could dismiss her, he could divorce her (which he decided to do quietly), but there was no thought for him to destroy her. Joseph was a just man.
Fear of the Lord is often misappropriated in the Old Testament as it is in the first reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent this year. Ahaz is the local ruler and the prophet encourages him to turn to the Lord and ask for what hiS people need. Ahaz views the encouragement as a temptation for the Lord to destroy his people. What kind of god does Ahaz know that would destroy the very beings seeking his help?
Ahaz refuses to seek a sign from God but God gives a sign anyway – the young girl, the virgin, who will be with child by the Holy Spirit. Even so, this sign causes confusion and uncertainty among the people of Israel, for it is beyond the boundaries of what people could understand. It was not culturally acceptable for a young girl to be pregnant and unmarried.
What could be more different from our own age? It is so accepted in our own society that the story of Mary and Joseph is almost meaningless to us. So what, some may ask? Because human relationships today are often looked upon as me getting my need satisfied and you are just an object through which I can obtain satisfaction, Mary and Joseph might as well be from another planet. What is at stake here is the intervention of God. God inserts himself into our history. This pregnancy does not occur in the normal human way. It was not caused by a casual relationship between a man and a woman. Mary has become pregnant because the Lord has intervened. The pregnancy of Mary and the birth of Jesus are events that force us to reflect on the place of God in our human history.
In terms of the whole of human history, the birth of Jesus occurs so that the whole human race can start over. Humanity begins again when Mary says yes to the angel and when Joseph says yes to his dream. He is a just man and would not bring shame upon Mary. God alerts Joseph to God’s work. And all this is in the midst of evil. The world in which Mary and Joseph live is evil. There is great injustice in it. Catherine de Hueck Doherty wrote that because we are free to choose good or evil in our lives, the good news of the Gospel is not fulfilled in us. We say no to the Holy Spirit. But Mary said yes. Her life was full of hope. She agreed to a fullness in her own life that meant giving birth to one who would fulfill the hopes of all humankind.
Ahaz lived in fear. In his dream Joseph is told not to fear. God is with him. God is with Mary. Is there such fear in us that we live without the kind of hope that Mary and Joseph displayed? The point of this story is to show us that it is possible to begin again at each moment of our lives. We are not robots that are determined to function in a certain way. We can begin anew whenever we want. We can choose. We can ask God and we too can say yes.
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Confessions are already heard there on a daily basis. But now these high profile Churchmen will be doing same and Pope Francis expects to join them as well. It is one more sign of the Holy Father's efforts to remind all Catholic priests - be they parish priest or administrative cardinal - of their primary duty as pastors. The motivation for the order, according to Catholic Online, is to emphasize for the people the importance of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the greatness of God in forgiving human sin.
On this date the Holy Father also gave his "state of the union" address to members of the Roman Curia. He identified two important qualities these members must have - professionalism and service. He encouraged them not to fall into the weakness of gossip which is an all too familiar habit among bureaucrats in any institution. Pope Francis believes members of the Curia must behave like St. Joseph, who, he claims, "is so necessary at the side of Mary." Joseph's silence is a model for these men to emulate.
Catholic Online concluded its story by saying "This appears to be the dominant theme of Francis' pontificate. That God is great, powerful, and merciful, and that when we act with humility, we truly serve God and one another."
Saturday, December 14, 2013
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Monday, November 18, 2013
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Sunday, October 27, 2013
There are two prayers stated in the Gospel today. We just heard both of them. One is prayed by the Pharisee:
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
The other prayer is prayed by the tax collector:
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
Jesus tells us that the tax collector went home justified but the Pharisee did not. But Jesus does not stop there. He reminds us that if we exalt ourselves, we will be humbled, and that if we humble ourselves, we will be exalted.
What is wrong with the prayer of the Pharisee? What is right with the prayer of the tax collector?
The Pharisee recognizes that he keeps the commandments. He is not greedy. He is not dishonest. He is not adulterous. Moreover, he fasts twice weekly. He tithes generously to the Temple. Why is this prayer not acceptable? Are you and I not to rejoice that we keep the commandments? Ought we not give thanks to God when we are tempted to lie, but do not; tempted to steal, but do not; tempted to commit adultery, but do not?
The difference, of course, is the humility of the tax collector and the pride of the Pharisee. It is one thing to be grateful to God for being sinless. It is another to claim that I have it under control. Notice, by the way, that the Gospel tells us the Pharisee is speaking to himself.
Which of these two do we recognize in ourselves? The proud Pharisee or the humble tax collector?
Today’s first reading is from the Book of Sirach, one of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament. It is a book of wise sayings. This particular passage begins with the writer acknowledging that the Lord plays no favorites, that He is a God of justice. The prayer of the tax collector suggests that God is likewise a God of mercy.
Our God is not unduly partial to the weak, yet he hears the cry of the oppressed. Among the oppressed in the time of the Old Testament was ‘the wail of the orphan’ and ‘the widow who pours out her complaint.’ Neither the orphan nor the widow had anyone to speak up for them in the time of Jesus. They had no resources of their own because their society did not acknowledge them any rights of any kind. Someone had to protect them. God is saying that he will.
In our own time, who lacks rights of any kind? Who has no one to speak up for them?
A powerful image in this first reading suggests ‘the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.’ This prayer does not rest until it reaches its goal. It does not withdraw until God responds, judges justly and affirms the right.
The Pharisee fails to recognize his own need for God. But then, he seems not to need God at all.
How unlike the second reading is to the prayer of the Pharisee. The Apostle Paul acknowledges his years of work preaching God’s message, the Gospel. He recognizes that his time is coming to an end. He is grateful to God for all the work of God he has been able to accomplish through Him. He does not write as if he accomplished it by himself.
The Pharisee never acknowledges his dependence on God. Paul knows he could not have been a successful preacher had not God been with him. The Pharisee compares himself only to other human beings and he does so claiming his own superiority. Paul says that some of his own friends deserted him, but God never did. Paul speaks of the crown of righteousness being awarded him. The Pharisee speaks of his own righteousness as if he is responsible for it. Paul’s words tell us that his reward comes because he has kept pace with God. The Pharisee has kept pace with his own wants. He thanks God because he sees himself as different and unlike other human beings. The tax collector is different yet he is more human than the Pharisee.
The prayer of the tax collector was taken by spiritual masters and reformulated as “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This has become known as the Jesus Prayer and it fits all occasions. When we know not what else to pray, this prayer ought to become our own. We can pray it at any time of the day. It is easy to learn. The ritual has been to breathe in when we say the words ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God’ and to breathe out when we say ‘have mercy on me a sinner.’ We breathe in the life of Christ and we exhale our sinfulness.
Who is our own mentor – the Pharisee or the tax collector?
Monday, October 14, 2013
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Friday, October 11, 2013
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Monday, September 23, 2013
The good news today is bad news.