Saturday, May 14, 2011

Stay With Us Lord!

On the evening of the Resurrection, a time which must have been a mixture of despair and hope for the followers of Jesus because of rumors of Jesus's Resurrection, two of His disciples who had only heard the seemingly wild stories of their Master's rising, were walking along on their way to the village of Emmaus.  As they walked, they were speaking of the terrible events of the last few days.  They were in despair over the death of who they thought must be the Messiah.  But how can the Messiah die, be killed through brutal crucifixion?  It didn't seem possible.

Were they duped by the One whom they left everything behind for to follow?  Was He some master magician who could somehow put everyone under a spell that would make them believe who He said He was?  But, didn't it seem that when you were around Him, there could be no doubt in your mind about Who He really was? Why, then, did they feel the way they felt now, betrayed, hopeless, saddened beyond words?

They continued on, mainly in silence, each to his own thoughts.  And then, seemingly out of nowhere, there appeared a stranger on the road slightly behind them.  They kept walking making sure to pay attention to this walker for fear that he might be a robber or worse.  Soon, the stranger caught up with the wary couple.

He asked them what they had been talking about.  So the two disciples began recounting the story of the crucifixion and death of their spiritual leader.  They told the mystery walker everything about this man who the Jews had found guilty of blasphemy and had the Romans put to death on the cross.  Their sadness was palatable, especially when they explained to their guest that just today, rumors had spread that this man rose from the dead.  But how could that happen?  Most likely, the duo said, the body was stolen by someone for some unknown purpose.

The trio walked in silence for a moment or two until they came to a fork in the road.  This stranger who had not uttered a single word but who had remained strangely at their side, started to turn on the fork opposite the one the disciples intended to take.  Even though he had said nothing, the disciples sensed something in this man that they liked.  They asked him to continue on with him to Emmaus where they could rest and get something to eat for the night was falling and the evening air had a chill to it.  Their new friend accepted their kind invitation and they walked on together toward the village just up ahead.

It was at this point the stranger broke His silence.  He began explaining the events that happened in the days before in light of Sacred Scripture.  As He spoke, both disciples began to feel their spirits lift.  It seemed with each step they took they gained more energy, more hope and a better understanding of what they had been witness to.  Still, they had no idea of who this man might be.  But, somehow, this mattered little.  His words had brought them great comfort, a comfort that, up until now, they had been unable to find even in the presence of Jesus' chosen Apostles.

Upon arriving in Emmaus, the disciples entered one of their homes.  The three were hungry so they made something to eat.  As they sat talking, the stranger did something unusual.  He took a loaf of bread that they had at the table, He blessed it, broke it, and gave each of the disciples a piece to eat.  It was in that moment that they realized who this charismatic stranger truly was.  It was Jesus Himself!  In that moment of discovery, Jesus vanished into thin air right before their eyes.

Immediately, they got up from the table and hurried out the door.  Destination: Jerusalem to tell all the other followers of Jesus that they had indeed seen Him and had even shared a meal with him.  As they walked back to the Holy City, they remarked to each other how the stranger's words make them come alive, how they burned with excitement inside.

What a privilege it must have been to walk with the Lord that first night of the Resurrection.  Here was the Saviour of the World, hidden from their eyes in plain sight, teaching them about how Scripture had foreseen the events they had witnessed and how those events would change their lives, indeed change the world.

How many times have you wished that you could walk with the Lord some evening?  What would it be like to simply walk and talk about the things that effect your daily life and how you react to them?  What would it be like to listen to someone who appeared as a total stranger teach you how these things in your life all related to the Risen One?  What would you give to walk with the Lord, to drink Him in and hold Him in your heart?

We have that very opportunity on a daily basis.  We have Sacred Scripture at our fingertips with the Word of God ready to be absorbed morning, noon, or night.  We have those who are in need, those who are hurting, marginalized or suffering waiting for the hand of God to reach out to them to extend a little hope to them.  We have each other to turn to for love and support in our moments of sorrow, pain, and hopelessness.  We have the love of God that comes through the Sacred Liturgy and strengthens us with His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity so that we may completely unified with Him.

Jesus waits for us, wants us to come to Him.  Just as the two disciples of Emmaus came to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread, we must come to recognize Him in one another so that we can begin to drop the barriers that prevent us from becoming a truly unified mystical Body of Christ.  We can walk with Jesus at any time of the day or night, but we must first overcome our fears and our weaknesses and trust in Him who climbed upon the Cross to die for us that we might have life.  If we do this then we, too, can invite Jesus to "stay with us!"  And He will!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

He Is Risen!

How does one go about writing about how the celebration of the greatest event in human history has effected their life?  How does one put into words the feeling of utter gratification and thanksgiving that one feels in their heart for the sacrifice that led to this event?  What are the words that one can use to inspire others to think not of themselves, but of the countless souls who have been saved as a result of this miraculous and amazing sacrificial offering and subsequent victory over sin and death?

That is the task that I have set forth on in these few brief paragraphs.  The first thing that comes to mind is who do I think I am!  For centuries, scholars and saints have attempted to describe just what the events of that first Easter meant to them and the world.  Some lived out the joy of the Resurrection.  Some wrote endlessly about this ultimate gift of love.  And still, nothing that anyone has ever recorded will ever touch the complete depths of the meaning of this holiday that has been rendered by this secular society to the realm of insignificant.

Without the Resurrection and the sacrifice upon the Cross, we would have no meaning to our lives.  Life would be bland and pointless.  Hope would be non-existent.  We would have nothing to look forward to in this mundane life if it weren't for a loving God who allowed His Son to become the sacrificial offering that was so necessary for our salvation.

Imagine, if you will, the time between the death of Jesus and His glorious Resurrection from the point of view of the Apostles.  These eleven men had witnessed their Lord and Master go from one who was exulted only days before upon His entry into Jerusalem to the ignominy of a brutal and humiliating death upon a Roman cross.  They were wanted men, or so they thought.  The man that they had placed all their loyalty, all of their trust in was now gone.  The future seemed bleak.

Now, on this first morning of the week, word comes through Mary Magdalene that she has seen the Risen Master and not only that, but that He has a message for His followers.  The message is that He had risen and was going ahead of them into Galilee.  Put yourself in the place of one of those men who thought that they were about to lose their lives much in the same way they had seen their Master die.  What would you have thought?  What kind of a struggle would this have been within yourself?  None of it could have possibly seemed real.  Yet, in all of history, there had never been, nor would there ever be, a greater truth than this, the Resurrection of the Lord!

That is the challenge of this miraculous celebration.  We must make the Resurrection real in our lives in any way that we can.  We must learn to shake off all forms of doubt and despair because there is no room for these in the Resurrection.  We must become a people of true hope, a hope based upon a solid foundation of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Never did Jesus ever say or promise anything that went unfulfilled.  And this is especially true of the Resurrection.

Jesus Christ is indeed Risen this day!  Death has no power over mankind because it has been defeated by the Risen Lord.  Because of His Resurrection, Jesus has once again gain control over all of God's marvelous creation.  We are no longer a Good Friday People, people mired in the hopelessness and darkness of sin.  We are a Resurrection People, basking in the love of God and the sacrifice of His Son our Lord Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for each one of us.  Through this ultimate act of love for man, God bestows upon us His peace and affection.  We are now to simply follow in the Lord's footsteps and that peace shall be with us through the rest of our lives.

Peace be with you!  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Prodigal Son?

Today;s Gospel, taken from St. Luke, is one that most people know almost from memory.  It is the story of two sons of a wealthy father.  One is a bit of a loner and the other is faithful to his father and the work at hand.  The loner decides that he has had enough of his father's house and asks his father for his portion of the inheritance in order that he may leave home and see the rest of the world.  The father obliges and the son sets out on his bold adventure.

The wandering son lives life to the fullest.  He spends his money freely paying little heed to just how much might be left.  Before he knows it, all the parties and hard living catch up with him and he finds himself homeless.  He tries to find work wherever he can, taking any job that will help to see him from one day to the next.  Finally, he ends up feeding pigs.  Nearly starving and without hope of things getting any better any time soon, he comes to his senses and heads for home.

His father we can imagine, has been heartbroken by his son's departure.  We can see him looking to the distant horizon to see if by some miracle, his missing son is returning.  Day after day, the father looks to the distant landscape in vain.  His son seems to be gone forever.  Then, one day, much to the father's amazement, he sees a small figure on the horizon.  The lone figure of a man draws closer and soon the father realizes that his dream of his son returning is about to come true.  Unwilling to await him at their home, the father rushes out to greet the prodigal.  He hugs him and welcomes him back home, throwing him a huge party to celebrate his return.

Meanwhile, the faithful son returns to the house after a long day's work in the fields to discover his errant brother has returned.  Not only that, but their father has rolled out the red carpet to welcome the offending son back home.  Indignant, he approaches his father and demands an explanation for all the celebrating.  After all, the faithful son tells the father, never once had he been the recipient of such a party and he is the one who has remained at his father's side all these years.

The father, we can imagine, sees the hurt in his faithful son's eyes and rather than responding to his anger, he responds to the son's hurt.  He tells his son that the heavens are rejoicing over the return of the wandering son because, as the Gospel puts it, "your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost and is found."  (Lk 15: 32)

Most people see this as a parable about the two sons.  But I think the parable is really more about the father than the son.  The father of the boys represents, of course, God, our Heavenly Father.  The two sons represent all of humanity in its various stages and forms.  The message that Jesus was conveying didn't have so much to do with the sons as it did the forgiving nature of the Father.

The prodigal who goes to his father to demand his inheritance so that he may seek adventure must have hurt the father very much.  The son's demands were a rejection of the father's world and way of life.  It was a way of saying that the son had a better idea than his father of how his life should be lived.  Rather than arguing the point, the father, because he loved his son so much, gave his son his due portion.  It is certain that the father was wounded through and through because of this rejection.  It is equally certain that the father wanted to implore the son to stay home because he could see the dire consequences that lay ahead for his boy.  But there were no arguments, no debates, no desperate pleas ala Hollywood.  Only the father honoring his son's request and wishing him well.

Upon the son's return, we see a father filled with compassion and love.  We see a father who, rather than scolding the son with a million "I told you so's"  embracing him and welcoming him back home.  We also see a father whose healing capacity knows no bounds.  His faithful son, confused and disillusioned by his father's actions, comes to his father with very legitimate questions.  Instead of demeaning the son by telling him that he ought to be glad that his brother has returned and be ashamed of himself because of his selfishness, tells the faithful son of the eternal truth of all of us sinners: we were once dead and, because of the father's forgiveness, we are now alive.  We were once lost to the eternal life that awaits us all but now, because we do have a merciful father, we are found and the heavens rejoice.

Jesus, a remarkable story teller, conveys to us through this marvelous parable, the amazing Father all of us has.  We, like the sons in the parable, need the Father's forgiveness and compassion more than life itself for it is that compassion and love that sustains us from one day to the next.  Daily, we should seek His compassionate heart in seeking forgiveness for the wrongs we have committed.  We must also know through the parable that God is not to be feared as long as we approach Him humbly and with a contrite heart.  He will accept us back "home" as long as we are truly sorry for our transgressions and make a firm commitment to repent.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lent: A Season of Hope?

It is only natural to think of Lent as a somber season, a season of deep contemplation about our relationship with God and what we can do to correct our sinful nature.  It is seen as a time of focus upon our upcoming commemoration of our Lord's Passion and Death as played out during Holy Week liturgies.

While all of these things are true, Lent can also be seen as a season of hope.

Without the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, God become man, we would have no hope whatsoever.  But because He did consent to become man, our hope is alive and well in Him.  We can hope because of the saving act of Good Friday.  He willingly chose to die for us so that we would have eternal life.  So often during this season, we focus only on the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, nearly forgetting that without Easter these two days would mean nothing.  But because there is a Resurrection of the Savior, Holy Thursday and Good Friday have become two of the most holy of days throughout the year.

We are urged to give something up for Lent to aid us along our journey in discovering what is really important in our lives.  When we give something up, we offer this sacrifice to God so that we may clear our minds and lives of some clutter in order to come to know Him better and include Him further in our lives.  In addition to giving something up, it is also important to choose to become a better person through something positive.  Giving something up tends to be a negative approach.  One of the best ways of doing something is learning what the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy are.  These works are actions we can take to reach out to others and help them either with their physical or spiritual needs.  They are actions that allow one to step outside of their own concerns to help someone who may be struggling.

In practicing these works, we come to imitate Christ.  His life was one of complete outreach both to the human race and to His Father through prayer.  What better way do we have of getting closer to someone than to imitate their actions?  In a sense, when we do this, we step into their shoes and experience their life from their vantage point.

These works of mercy are not necessarily labor intensive.  One can put as much into them as they prefer.  The most important thing about them is that they help us turn our hearts and minds to God.  And that is what Lent is all about; looking at the world and those around us as God sees them, not as we view them.

Below is a list of both the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.  Seriously consider adopting some of these works as a part of your Lenten journey to Easter.  Step outside of yourself and your world and experience life through the eyes of the Lord.  Lent will never look the same again!

Spiritual Works of Mercy

1.  Admonish the sinner.  ". . .there will be more joy in heaven at the repentance of one sinner than at ninety-nine of the righteous who had no need of repentance."  Lk 15: 7
2.  Teach others of Jesus.  "Go into the world and proclaim the good news to all creation."  Mk 16: 15
3.  Counsel the doubtful.  "Peace I leave you.  My peace I give you. . .Let not your hearts be troubled."
     Jn 14: 27
4.  Comfort the sorrowful.  "Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will refresh you."  Mt 11: 28
5.  Bear wrongs patiently.  "Love your enemies.  Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse                         you."  Lk 6: 27-28
6.  Forgive all injuries.  "And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."  Mt 6: 12
7.  Pray for the living and the dead.  "Father, I desire that they, too, may be with me where I am.  Jn 17: 24

Corporal Works of Mercy

1.  Feed the hungry.  "For I was hungry and you gave me to eat."  Mt 25: 35
2.  Give drink to the thirsty.  "I was thirsty and you gave me to drink."  Mt 25: 35
3.  Clothe the naked.  "I was naked and you clothed me."  Mt 25: 36
4.  Visit the imprisoned.  "I was in prison and you came to me."  Mt 25: 35
5.  Shelter the homeless.  "I was a stranger and you took me in."  Mt 25: 35
6.  Visit the sick.  "I was sick and you cared for me."  Mt 25: 36
7.  bury the dead.  "Amen, I say to you, insofar as you did it for one of least of my brothers, you did it for me."  Mt 25: 40

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lent 2011

In a mere three days, we begin the season of Lent, the most solemn season of the Christian calendar.  Lent is unique among the liturgical seasons because of its contemplative nature.  It is a time of deep introspection.  It is a time of honest examination of where we are in terms of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is a time of not only looking back to see what we have done wrong and correct the conditions that caused this wrong-doing, but also a time of looking forward into the future to see where God might be taking us.  In addition, Lent is also a time of healing broken relationships in our lives.

Jesus came to teach us and to heal our brokenness.  He came to deliver to us the hope of the Heavenly Father, that we would one day join Him in the heavens for an eternal joy that is not known nor even comprehended upon this earth.  

He taught us through both words and actions that all our thoughts, all that we do should be done in honor of the Father who sacrificed everything so that we may have this promised eternal life.  From the Beatitudes given to us at the Sermon on the Mount to the great Priestly Prayer at the Last Supper, Jesus showed us the way to His heavenly kingdom.  He taught us how to live among each other in the Spirit of Love that flows from the Father, takes life in the Son, and touches our hearts through the Spirit.

He taught us the importance of personal and private prayer through His own example.  Numerous times in the Gospel we see Jesus going off by Himself, often for long periods of time, to pray to His Father in Heaven.  This was His lifeline.  From the beginning of His ministry when He went off into the desert for forty days to the night before He died, Jesus conversed with His Father continually through prayer.  His very life was prayer, a living communication with the Creator.  It was through this prayer that He was kept in perpetual harmony with the Will of God.  We need to emulate the prayerful actions of the Savior who never condemned the sinner but fully disdained the sin.  Nowadays, we seem to have that completely reversed.  We are quick to condemn the person but ignore the actions.

Jesus taught us the great lesson that seems to have been lost on our modern society, that of sacrifice.  His entire existence represented sacrifice.  His Incarnation, God lowering Himself to become man, was a sacrifice.  He gave to all throughout His life.  A quick glance at the Gospels will reveal that often He was surrounded by huge crowds seeking healing and teaching and He never turned His back on them.  He always answered their pleas sometimes in ways they did not anticipate nor welcome, but answer He did!  We can attest to that today.  Our own lives are perfect examples of the Master answering our prayers but not always in ways that we had hoped.

Throughout the season of Lent, we are asked to sacrifice, to give up something that has meaning to us.  We are not asked to do this in a negative fashion.  Every time we may desire that thing that we have given up, our thoughts should turn the Lord our God from Whom all good things come so that we can more clearly see the origin of our happiness.  Its not so much what we give up that counts, it is what we put into it that will fulfill our needs to be filled with the Spirit of the Lord.

Perhaps the second most important thing we need to contemplate during these weeks leading to the great celebration of Easter is that of our relationships with others.  How have we been wounded in this area of our lives?  How willing are we to follow in the footsteps of the Crucified Christ who cried out to God, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?"  (Lk 23:24)  How eager are we to turn the other cheek as Jesus taught us?  (cf Matt 5:39)  To what lengths are we willing to go to really put on Christ as St. Paul instructs us to do? (cf Rom 13:14)

Lent is a time of great opportunity to draw nearer to God our Creator and, in the process, to one another.  It doesn't require a great deal of us.  Just a little time and a great deal of love and desire for the One who gave His all so that we might live eternally with the Father, united by the love of the Spirit and the sacrifice of the Son.  This is time well-spent that will make the supreme joy of Easter burn even brighter in our hears and minds!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Faith: Mark 9: 14-29

Today's gospel is the story of Jesus curing the possessed son of a man who had asked His Apostles to do the same but could not.  It is in this gospel that we witness the frustration of Jesus very clearly.  A little background is necessary.

The passages just prior to this gospel recalls the story of Jesus' Transfiguration.  He took Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain to pray and while they were there, he became transfigured, appearing as dazzling as the sun and speaking with Moses and Elijah.  The three Apostles with Him were so awestruck that they fell to the ground in fear.  We can only imagine the glory of the vision and the breath-taking site of the Lord speaking with these long-dead prophets.  You would think that if there was anything that would seal their complete belief in Jesus as the Son of God it would have been this incident.  But no!

Today's gospel story is a continuation of the journey of Jesus and the Apostles down the mountain of Transfiguration.  Arriving at the base of the mountain, they find the rest of the disciples and a crowd.  There appears to be some sort of dispute going on.  Jesus asks what the matter is.  A man with a son who is mute steps forward to tell Jesus that His disciples could not cure his son.  It seems that no matter what they did, nothing was effective.  Jesus must have been beside Himself.  He had, up to this point, lived with the Apostles and disciples for quite some time.  Most had been present for all of His teachings.  They had been witness to several other miracles.  Still, even after all of these experiences, they were unable to cure this man's son.

Jesus' answer reflects His exasperation.  "O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?  How long am  I to bear with you?"  (Mk 9: 19)  He then instructs the father to bring Him his son and subsequently cures the young man.

How does this event apply to our lives today?  We who are Christians now have centuries of evidence of Jesus as the Messiah.  We know more about God than the Apostles and disciples who followed Jesus could possibly have known because of the work and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We have been witness to many things throughout history that speaks of the existence of God and His willingness and desire to intervene in our lives in order to help us.  Yet, could we do any better than the followers of Jesus spoken of in today's gospel?  Probably not!  Why?  Our lack of faith!

All that was required of the Apostles in order to cure the father's son was complete  belief in Jesus without any hint of doubt.  Had they possessed this quality, they most certainly would have been able to effect a cure for the young man.  As it was, Jesus, Himself, had to intervene because the Apostles had yet overcome their human and sinful tendencies that blocked their complete faith in the Lord.  So it is with us!

We often fall into the trap of feeling good about our faith.  We pray, go to church, treat others with kindness and consideration and believe that we have followed our Lord completely through all these gestures.  But how often do we begin to rely on ourselves for guidance for our actions and and the way we live.  How often do we act on human impulse while knowing at the same time that our impulse does not lead us on the path to God's will for us?  Do we really believe that if someone were to come to us asking for a miracle from us that we could do it because of our belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Messiah?

Faith is both difficult and easy.  We make it difficult by allowing our human tendencies to guide us without any reference to the Will of God.  We throw barriers in the way of faith, distracting us from what is so abjectly important in our lives: that of following the Father's Will.  It can be easy if we but override these same human tendencies and listen to the voice of God that speaks to us from within.  Do we really want Jesus to say to us as He once said to His Apostles, "How long must I bear with you?"

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Jesus' Words and Our own

I have run across a homily based upon today's Gospel that I thought bears repeating.  It is a marvelous read and I encourage all who happen upon this page to take the time to read it.  The author is Father James Martin, SJ.  Enjoy!

Homily: Mt 5:17-37
Feb 13, 2011 (Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time) 
 How do we know that when we read in the Gospels is what Jesus actually said? 
 Well, for one thing our tradition tells us so.  As Catholics, we believe that the church is guided by the Holy Spirit, and so the writings that were chosen for inclusion into the “canon” of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) were the ones that the early church felt most closely represent what Our Lord said and did.  And we believe the Holy Spirit guided this process.

But even if you want to think of it in secular terms, it also makes sense to trust in the Gospels. The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) were written relatively soon after the death and resurrection of Christ.  Mark, the earliest Gospel, is generally thought to have been written about A.D. 60, only 30 years or so after Jesus’ earthly life had ended. At the time, there were still plenty of people around who had participated in Jesus’ ministry and could say to St. Mark, “Hey, that’s not the way it was!”  Or, “You forgot to put that story in!”  Or, “Actually, Jesus said it this way.”  It would be like someone in our time writing about Ronald Reagan, or the end of the Cold War.  It’s hardly a long period of time.  There were still enough people around who would be able to inform whatever was written, by their first-hand experience.

So we trust in the Gospels. 

On the other hand, Catholics are not fundamentalists.  We do not take every word in the Bible literally. We know that the Gospels were compiled after a generation of oral histories, in which stories were probably altered slightly.  That’s just what naturally happens as stories are passed on.  And the Gospels were written by four different writers writing for four different communities.  So even though it’s about the same person, Jesus, the evangelists wrote things slightly differently, stressing different things, focusing on different things (depending on their audiences) are so there are bound to be a few discrepancies.  And there are bound to be contradictions, too.

A few examples will suffice. Jesus makes only one journey to Jerusalem in the Synoptic Gospels, while he makes several in St. John’s Gospel.  The story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Matthew describes Mary and Joseph is living in Bethlehem, fleeing to Egypt, and then moving for the first time to Nazareth; while Luke has the two originally living in Nazareth, and traveling to Bethlehem in time for the birth and then returning home again.  And when retelling the same stories and miracles, the Gospel writers use different words, even when they’re quoting Jesus. What Jesus says on the Cross differs from Gospel to Gospel.  But again that’s not surprising, since you have four different people writing.

They’re all true—and not in some vague philosophical sense, but in the sense that these things actually happened—but it’s not like reading a court transcript.

So when we look at different versions of the same story, or consider stories that seemingly conflict in the Gospels, how do we determine what it is the closest to what Jesus said?  That’s always been a fascinating question for me.
Scripture scholars use a number of ways of meditating on these questions. For example, one of the most interesting is the criterion of “embarrassment.” If something seems like it could be potentially embarrassing about Jesus to the early Christian community, it seem as the most accurate of the retellings. The most common example is Jesus’s baptism.  Doesn’t it seem odd that Jesus would be baptized by John the Baptist? After all Jesus is the sinless one, right?  So considering that, Scripture scholars suggest that it’s close to impossible that the Gospel writers would’ve invented something of that nature, create something that might have been embarrassing to Jesus and place it in the story.  So we can be almost 100% sure that Jesus was baptized by John in precisely that way. 

Another interesting criterion scholars offer is the use of Aramaic words. Many Scripture scholars suggest that when an Aramaic word as preserved in the text of the Gospels, it most likely represents a striking phrase that Jesus himself used, which was remembered, pondered and treasured by his disciples and reverently passed on to the evangelists.  Examples of this are Jesus calling his Father “Abba,” his raising the little girl from her deathbed by saying “Talitha cum,” or his opening the ears of the deaf man by saying, “Ephphatha”  Be opened.

These are wonderful, almost miraculous, connections with the very words—literally—of Jesus.  It’s beautiful to think that we’re hearing the precise words and sounds that came from the lips of Jesus of Nazareth.  Amazing, really.

In today’s wonderful reading we have another example: Jesus talks about calling someone raca.  Now raca is an ancient Aramaic word meaning “fool.”  And, as I mentioned, given that the Aramaic has been preserved is most likely that we are hearing the precise word that Jesus used with his disciples.

Now you might be surprised at my focus on this almost throwaway line, which usually gets short shrift in homilies. After all, the Gospel reading raises issues that are seemingly far more important. Jesus talks about himself as the fulfillment of the Law, for example. That’s pretty important.  He talks about adultery. He talks about divorce. He talks about lying. All these things are significant things to ponder as Christians and Catholics.

But he also talks about speaking kindly to one another, not slandering one another, not calling one another’s names, and does so quite in the strongest terms.  And so we forget this little passage at our peril.

“Whoever says to his brother raca will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says “you fool” will be liable to fiery Gehenna. That’s pretty strong stuff.  If you engage in name-calling, you’ll go to hell.  Pretty surprising stuff, given what we often focus on in our church. 

You know, I’ve often thought that 50% of the Christian message can be boiled down to two words: “Be kind.” Jesus is reminding us watch our tongues, to refrain from calling people names, to refrain from putting others down, to refrain from gossiping. To be charitable in our speech. Now of course being Catholic is a lot more than simply being kind; but without kindness we’re not Catholic.  We’re barely even Christian.

And it’s an especially important thing to hear Jesus’ words in our digital age, when snarky blog posts, terrible texting, snotty Facebook posts, and mean-spirited Tweets zip around the web and cause serious harm.  “Fool,” raca, is probably the mildest of imprecations that you’ve heard lately. And that also goes for speaking about other Catholics, and other Catholics with whom we disagree. Take a look at any opinionated Catholic blog, on the right and the left, and you’ll see all manner of terrible name-calling, again much worse than raca.

We ignore the invitation to practice personal charity, to treat one another with respect, to give people the benefit of the doubt, to avoid name-calling, to curb our tongues, and to simply be kind, at our peril. And this is not simply feel-good religion. It’s not simply wishy-washy niceness. It is at the heart of the Christian life.

Speaking charitable about others is a simple thing, but hard to do.  Trust me, I engage in this kind of talk myself from time to time. I gossip. I may even call people names, like “fool” behind their back. It’s a terrible thing to do.

How do we know this? Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms.  So don’t overlook this somewhat overlookable passage, which contains a word that we can be certain comes to us directly from the lips of Jesus.

Listen to his words and allow them to change your words

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

God's Love

"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you."  (Jn 15: 9)  We who believe in Jesus and His good news of salvation find comfort in these words and well we should.  They are of supreme comfort especially in times of distress when God seems so silent to us.  But have you ever contemplated what this truly means?  Have you ever thought just how God loved Jesus and now Jesus assures us that He loves us in the same manner of His Father?

Think about it for a moment.  When we find ourselves in distress, those moments that accompany every life, we seek comfort.  What we often mean by comfort is relief from our troubles.  We want them to go away as quickly as possible.  That is completely understandable.  None of wants pain or suffering in our lives and when we experience these powerful moments, we want to be rid of them as soon as possible.  We turn to God and may plea with Him, "Take my troubles away from me, O Father of us all!"  We may call out to Him using one of the Psalms.  "Out of the depths I cry unto thee, O Lord!  O Lord, hear the sound of my voice!  Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!"  (Psalm 130: 1-2)

Jesus is certain to have used this very Psalm at times in His life.  He was a good and faithful Jew and not only knew well the Psalms but used these sacred poems as prayer day in and day out.  But we must look at the relationship between Jesus and His Father to gain a better understanding on how God's love was manifested to His Son. 

The prime example of this is Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Here, as His Passion neared, Jesus, alone and isolated, cries out to His Father that His suffering may be eliminated.  He knows what is ahead for Him and He is gripped with fear in this humbling moment.  But Jesus, understanding His Father's will for Him, sets aside His own will and surrenders to the will of the Father, the God of us all.  This did not come automatically.  Before Jesus surrenders to His Father's will by saying, "Not my will, but thine, be done."  (Lk 22: 42)  From this moment on, Jesus followed God's will completely even though it meant an excruciatingly painful and humbling death at the hands of the Romans.

In the process of His death and resurrection, Jesus obtained relief for the whole human race.  He suffered under the brutal hands of the Roman executioners who represented us because it was through our sins our Lord was brought to this point.  But before relief, eternal life, could be obtained, it was necessary for the Son to succumb to untold pain and humiliation.  He could not escape this because He surrendered to the will of God and the will of the Father is the beginning and end of everything.

When we suffer in this life, be it suffering from physical sources, psychological reasons, or even spiritual darkness, we must seek out God's will for us.  How should we handle this situation?  We must not automatically seek instant relief from the moment because our current state of life may very well be the will of the Father for our lives in that moment.  We can never pretend that any of us understands the mind of God!

We must go to the Father in prayer just as His Son did on the night before He died.  There are many ways that we can seek out the Father's will for us.  We can look to sacred scripture to find the will of the Father for us.  We can send out from our hearts a plea to the Lord of all for direction.  We can plunge ourselves into silence to wait to hear the voice of the Lord for the Lord's voice is often that still, small voice which goes unnoticed amidst the bustle of daily life. 

Most importantly, we must acknowledge the will of the Father as our will so that we will achieve true eternal happiness one day, even though it may mean we must suffer for the time being.  When we suffer, we must understand that God often uses this suffering to help us understand our complete dependence on Him.  After all, we are more apt to go to God in our pain then when we are experiencing the good times of our lives.  It is only human.

Jesus, again, is our example in this.  As Jesus hung on the cross, He was stripped entirely of everything.  He had no possessions.  He had no comfort.  He had no friends.  Everyone, it seems, was taunting Him.  His complete aloneness must have been frightening!  However, instead of becoming discouraged and giving into the desolation of the moment, He turned to His Father and gave to Him His life for all.  He did not turn away from the will of the One Who sent Him.  In the end of His mortal life, Jesus not only understood His complete dependency on the Father, but He embraced it in the wood of the cross.  He did not give up, nor did He turn His back on His Father.  He kept His focus clearly on the Father and emerged from the experience victoriously.

Here is our perfect model.  We, like Jesus, must embrace our suffering as a sign of the Father's love for us for it is through this suffering that we are reminded of the depth of the love of God for us.  This is not the way the world sees suffering.  We are to escape suffering at all costs using any means possible for the escape.  I am not suggesting that when we suffer we should not seek relief, but I am saying that there are many times throughout life when suffering is inevitable.  We cannot escape it!  So, rather than fight it, feeling rejected and dejected, we must embrace it.  In that moment we can truly claim the love that God has for us and we can truly find the relief that the world cannot provide.

God's love is not some sort of fluff ball all warm and fuzzy all the time.  It can be the most challenging thing we encounter, but if we embrace that love as did His Son all throughout His life, our reward shall be great and we shall not be denied eternal life.  Because the Father allows suffering into our lives, we know that we can turn to Him in any moment of life with our innermost and most intimate of pleas and know we shall be heard! 

God is, indeed, love!