Level 7 Member
Friday, September 19, 2014, 10:18 PM
“But that’s not fair!” Most parents have heard this phrase umpteen times. The notion of fairness also known as justice, is built into us. It makes us aware that each of us has certain rights that need to be respected.
But it also means that we each have duties. If others have the right to be paid for their work, those who benefit from that work have the duty to pay them. If others have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we have the duty not to let our pursuit of happiness infringe on their rights.
But we have to widen our perspective a bit. God, the creator of all, is responsible for all the blessings we enjoy. Life in this world was given to each of us as an undeserved, free gift. We have unequal physical talents, features, and abilities, plus diverse spiritual and intellectual gifts as well. They vary a lot from person to person, but what they all have in common is that they come as free gifts from God who didn’t have to create any of us.
This is the necessary background to fully understand a parable that at first shocks our sensibilities. Matthew (20:1-16) records a story of an employer who hires workmen to harvest grapes. He hires members of the crew at various times of the day, so that at the end of the day, some have only worked a few hours while others have worked all day long. There’s grumbling when everyone is paid the same standard day’s wage, regardless of how long they worked. To add insult to injury, those who started last got paid first. “No fair!”
Wait a minute. The master paid those who worked all day exactly what he told them they’d get. He just decided to be generous and pay everybody, even the latecomers, a full day’s wage. Justice does not preclude generosity.
The Pharisees thought that they had always done the will of God and deserved more than the rest, especially the rabble Jesus appeared to favor–including tax collectors and sinners. It roiled them to think that these Johnny-come-lately’s would sit along them in the Kingdom of God.
Truth be told, neither they, nor any of us, are really like the folks who consistently did the will of the Master, working uninterruptedly at the assigned task. Our assigned job is to love the Lord our God with ALL our heart, ALL our soul, and ALL of our strength (Deut 6:4-5) every day of our life. This is only fair since we owe God absolutely everything. But we’ve all unfairly walked off the job at various moments–thumbing our noses at him through our disobedience, pride, and selfishness. Some have gone AWOL longer than others, and some’s sins are more spectacular than others. But the bottom line is that, in terms of strict justice, God does not owe any of us anything except, perhaps, punishment.
But in his extraordinary generosity, the Lord has offered us a deal–if we will accept His beloved Son in faith as Savior and Lord, and through the power of the Spirit seek to do His will, and if we will repent each time we fail, He will give us what we do not deserve–friendship with Him here that opens out to eternal glory hereafter. The first takers for this offer have typically been those most aware of their need for mercy. And this is why the last have usually been first when it comes to the Kingdom of God.
Seems fair to me.
Sunday, September 7, 2014, 10:13 PM
Christian, biblical approach to fraternal correction has nothing to do with the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. Rather, it is all about loving intervention. As Ezekiel was a watchman for the house of Israel, we are all watchmen for each other.
I used to think that God’s law was like those dumb rules we have to put up with in grammar school, like “Thou shalt not chew gum in class.” They are arbitrary laws that some bureaucrats came up with to keep them happy and the rest of us miserable. The goal of the student is to break such rules whenever they can get away with it. The only bad consequence would be to get caught.
But God is not a bureaucrat. He’s a loving Father. If He says “thou shalt not,” it is because the particular activity in question wounds and, in some cases, destroys the child of God who engages in it. But doesn’t sin offend God? Of course. We are made in his image and likeness, and sin defaces that likeness in us. It also wounds others made in his image and likeness. There is no such thing as private sin–we are so interconnected that every decision to step away from God has incalculable impact on not only the sinner but on the whole family of God.
Some people correct others because they are busybodies. Others, like the Pharisees, do so in order to exalt themselves as they put others down. The disciple, however, intervenes out of love. Love for God, for all his children, but especially for the sinner who is damaged the most by his own sin.
Many people think about God’s law as if it were just arbitrary bureaucratic regulations. They are unaware that their actions are gouging wounds in their hearts and in the hearts of others. But if we know, and we care, we must find a way to tell them. Others don’t know about God and his will–but their actions are still wreaking havoc in their lives and the lives of others. We need to share with them the Good News about the mercy of Christ and the power of the Spirit who makes it possible to follow the will of the Father.
“But,” you may say, “they won’t listen, so why bother?” Simple - because God says so! Ezekiel the prophet was called to be a watchman for Israel (Ezek 33:7-9). It was his responsibility to let people know whenever their actions were leading to disaster. If he told them and they did not listen, Ezekiel was off the hook. He fulfilled his responsibility, and the consequences were on the heads of those who failed to heed the warning. But if he neglected to warn them out of fear of their disapproval, and they ended in disaster, God would hold Ezekiel responsible.
“But,” you may say, “I’m not called to be a prophet.” Oh yes you are! In baptism and confirmation you were anointed priest, prophet, and king. And if you haven’t noticed, prophets don’t usually win popularity contests.
Of course, if you are prudent and humble and sensitive as you go about this prophetic task, your chances of success will be greater. The Lord Jesus gives us direction about this in Matthew 18: first, go privately to the person and treat him or her like a brother or sister, not like your inferior. If you get nowhere, get another to help you. If you still run into a stone wall, refer it to the Church, which in most cases would mean someone in authority such as a pastor or bishop or apostolic delegate.
The bottom line is: we owe a debt of love to our brothers and sisters (Romans 13:8-10). And love does its best to dissuade a person from walking over a cliff.
This was originally published in Our Sunday Visitor as a reflection upon the readings for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, liturgical cycle A (Ez 33:7-9), Ps 95, Ro 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20). It is reproduced here with the permission of the author.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014, 9:57 PM
A good relationship with the Holy Spirit is essential for good listening. The more we rely on Jesus, trusting him more than we trust ourselves, the more open our spirits are to the promptings of his Spirit.
In observing a who, we err whenever we make conclusions, because we do not fully know the other’s heart and motive and level of accountability – only God does; only God can be Judge. We can correctly identify when people are sinning, but we can only make assumptions about why, how much they understand, and how much they can be held accountable. Assumptions can never be trusted.
Even when our assumptions are correct, we're not free to judge the sinner, because a judge is one who has the authority to impose sentence. Only God has that authority, for only God is free of sin. Remember what Jesus told the guys who wanted to stone the adulterous woman: Who can cast the first stone?
Today’s responsorial Psalm tells us how God serves as Judge (are we like this?): gracious and merciful, slow to anger, great in kindness, good to the sinner, etc. We're quick to condemn. We get frustrated when people don't get the punishment they deserve. And yet, how grateful we are that God does not condemn us so quickly! Ahhh, the sin of hypocrisy rears its ugly face. Judgmentalism leads to one sin after another.
As Christians who are devoted to uniting ourselves to Christ, we have the mind of Christ, but let's remember what is uppermost in Christ's mind: "I did not come to the world to condemn it, but to save it." We become obstacles in his way when we judge people. Redemption and justice only occur when we let Jesus decide how to make good come from every evil.
And by the way, you are a "who" too, so quit condemning yourself! Turn instead to God's mercy and let Jesus redeem you from whatever you've done
Saturday, August 30, 2014, 10:01 PM
Jeanne Jugan saw Christ in what Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata would describe as his "distressing disguises." With great confidence in God's providence and the intercession of St. Joseph, she begged willingly for the many homes that she opened, relying on the good example of the Sisters and the generosity of benefactors who knew the good that the Sisters were doing. They now work in 30 countries. "With the eye of faith, we must see Jesus in our old people—for they are God's mouthpiece," Jeanne once said. No matter what the difficulties, she was always able to praise God and move ahead. Quote:
In his homily at the canonization Mass, Pope Benedict XVI said: "In the Beatitudes, Jeanne Jugan found the source of the spirit of hospitality and fraternal love, founded on unlimited trust in Providence, which illuminated her whole life. This evangelical dynamism is continued today across the world in the Congregation of the Little Sisters of the Poor, which she founded and which testifies, after her example, to the mercy of God and the compassionate love of the Heart of Jesus for the lowliest.”
Saturday, August 30, 2014, 2:41 PM
“O Lord Jesus, when You died on the Cross Your heart was so filled with kindness toward us and You loved us so tenderly, even though we ourselves were the cause of Your death, that You had but one thought: to obtain pardon for Your executioners, even while they tortured You and cruelly insulted You. Help me, I beg You, to endure my neighbors, faults and imperfections with kindness.
To those who despise me or murmur against me, teach me to reply with humility, mildness, and a steadfast kindness of heart, never defending myself in any way. For love of You, I desire to let everyone say what he wishes, because words are not of value but love is, and he who loves more will be more loved and glorified. Help me, then, my Jesus, to love You; help me to love creatures for love of You, especially those who despise me, without letting myself be disturbed by their contempt, but applying myself to the practice of humility and mildness; then You will be my reward.
“Teach me to comport myself always with mildness and sweetness, and never to disrupt peace with anyone. All that I can do and obtain with love I will do, but what I cannot do or procure without a dispute, I will let it be. Help me to make use of the repugnances and aversions I encounter in my contacts with others to practice the virtue of mildness, and to show myself loving with all, even with those who are opposed to me, or who are a cause of aversion.
“Finally, I purpose with Your help, O most lovable God, to apply myself to acquire kindness of heart toward my neighbor by thinking of him as Your creature, destined to enjoy You some day in Paradise. Those whom You tolerate, O Lord God, it is but just that I, too, tolerate them tenderly and with great compassion for their spiritual infirmities” (St. Francis de Sales).
Friday, August 29, 2014, 10:17 PM
The term Satan appears eighteen times in the Old Testament and thirty-five in the New. The devil can be found thirty-six times. The term demon appears twenty-one times in the New Testament, while the Old Testament’s equivalent terms for demon (Lilith, etc.) appear much less. The New Testament is shorter than the Old, yet the demons appear more frequently. Why is this?
I believe that this is because the Lord did not want to infuse fear into His chosen people. Also, He wanted to prevent false, dualistic beliefs about good and evil from taking root among them – i.e., the belief in a “god of good” and a “god of evil.” That is why God gives the demons a lower profile in the Old Testament than in the New. God Himself is the central figure of the Old Testament, and the angelic world only appears on a certain number of occasions so as not to encourage idolatry. Nevertheless, in the New Testament, divine revelation is completed and the existence of this spiritual world is shown in a more profound way. With the coming of Jesus, the kingdom of God was at hand; He was reclaiming the world from slavery to sin and the temptations of the devil.
Thursday, August 28, 2014, 6:25 PM
A Grateful Death
When we think about death, we often think about what will happen to us after we have died. But it is more important to think about what will happen to those we leave behind. The way we die has a deep and lasting effect on those who stay alive. It will be easier for our family and friends to remember us with joy and peace if we have said a grateful good-bye than if we die with bitter and disillusioned hearts.
The greatest gift we can offer our families and friends is the gift of gratitude. Gratitude sets them free to continue their lives without bitterness or self-recrimination.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014, 7:44 AM
|The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism.
Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil) and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted.
When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan.
In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste.
She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death.
Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his Confessions.
Today, with Internet searches, e-mail shopping, text messages, tweets and instant credit, we have little patience for things that take time. Likewise, we want instant answers to our prayers. Monica is a model of patience. Her long years of prayer, coupled with a strong, well-disciplined character, finally led to the conversion of her hot-tempered husband, her cantankerous mother-in-law and her brilliant but wayward son, Augustine.
When Monica moved from North Africa to Milan, she found religious practices new to her and also that some of her former customs, such as a Saturday fast, were not common there. She asked St. Ambrose which customs she should follow. His classic reply was: “When I am here, I do not fast on Saturday, but I fast when I am in Rome; do the same and always follow the custom and discipline of the Church as it is observed in the particular lo locality in which you find yourself.
Friday, August 22, 2014, 6:27 PM
|Pius XII established this feast in 1954. But Mary’s queenship has roots in Scripture. At the Annunciation, Gabriel announced that Mary’s Son would receive the throne of David and rule forever. At the Visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary “mother of my Lord.” As in all the mysteries of Mary’s life, Mary is closely associated with Jesus: Her queenship is a share in Jesus’ kingship. We can also recall that in the Old Testament the mother of the king has great influence in court.
In the fourth century St. Ephrem (June 9) called Mary “Lady” and “Queen.” Later Church fathers and doctors continued to use the title. Hymns of the 11th to 13th centuries address Mary as queen: “Hail, Holy Queen,” “Hail, Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of Heaven.” The Dominican rosary and the Franciscan crown as well as numerous invocations in Mary’s litany celebrate her queenship.
The feast is a logical follow-up to the Assumption and is now celebrated on the octave day of that feast. In his 1954 encyclical To the Queen of Heaven, Pius XII points out that Mary deserves the title because she is Mother of God, because she is closely associated as the New Eve with Jesus’ redemptive work, because of her preeminent perfection and because of her intercessory power.
As St. Paul suggests in Romans 8:28–30, God has predestined human beings from all eternity to share the image of his Son. All the more was Mary predestined to be the mother of Jesus. As Jesus was to be king of all creation, Mary, in dependence on Jesus, was to be queen. All other titles to queenship derive from this eternal intention of God. As Jesus exercised his kingship on earth by serving his Father and his fellow human beings, so did Mary exercise her queenship. As the glorified Jesus remains with us as our king till the end of time (Matthew 28:20), so does Mary, who was assumed into heaven and crowned queen of heaven and earth.
“Let the entire body of the faithful pour forth persevering prayer to the Mother of God and Mother of men. Let them implore that she who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers may now, exalted as she is in heaven above all the saints and angels, intercede with her Son in the fellowship of all the saints. May she do so until all the peoples of the human family, whether they are honored with the name of Christian or whether they still do not know their Savior, are happily gathered together in peace and harmony into the one People of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity” (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 69).
Saturday, August 16, 2014, 6:51 PM
This discussion of the Catholic Doctrine of Mary's Assumption, defined by Pope Pius XII as a dogma of faith, originally appeared as an article on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in Our Sunday Visitor.
I once asked a college theology class if anyone could explain the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. A student replied, “yeah, that’s the teaching whereby the Catholic Church ‘assumes’ that Mary is in heaven.”
There’s a bit more to the dogma of the Assumption than that. The Church does not just “assume” that any canonized saint in is in heaven. Rather, it authoritatively declares that a person is in glory and should therefore be honored in liturgy and imitated in life. Our church calendar is filled with saints' days.
But why a particular day for each saint? The first evidence for this goes back to 155AD, to a bishop named Polycarp. The account of his martyrdom notes that after his execution, the faithful collected his bones, more precious than gold, and put them in a place of honor where every year they gathered to celebrate the anniversary of his death as a sort of “birthday” into eternal life. Celebrating Mass in the catacombs over the relics of the martyrs' led to the practice of putting relics in the main altar of every church. Eventually saints who did not die a martyrs death were also commemorated on their heavenly “birthday” and their relics were accorded great honor.
From very early times, August 15 has been observed as the “birthday” of our Blessed Lady. On this greatest of all Marian feasts we celebrate the greatest moment of her life – being permanently re-united with her son and sharing his glory.
All the saints experience the “beatific vision” upon their entry into heaven, and we celebrate this on every saint’s day. But there is something unique about Mary’s day. The Catholic Church teaches authoritatively that it is not just Mary’s soul that was admitted to God’s glory, but that at the end of her earthly life, Mary’s body as well as her soul was assumed into heaven by the loving power of God.
There is no eyewitness account of this actual event recorded in the Bible. Come to think of it, though, no one witnessed the actual resurrection of Jesus either. The evidence was an empty tomb and eyewitness reports that the Risen Lord had appeared to them.
Interesting parallel here. There is a tomb at the foot of the Mt. of Olives where ancient tradition says that Mary was laid. But there is nothing inside. There are no relics, as with other saints. And credible apparitions of Mary, though not recorded in the New Testament, have been recorded from the 3rd century till today.
Mary is not equal to Christ, of course. Jesus, though possessing a complete human nature, is the Eternal Word made flesh. Mary is only a creature.
But she is a unique creature, the highest of all creatures. This is not just because she was born without the handicap of original sin. Eve and Adam were born free of sin as well, but it did not stop them from sinning as soon as they had the chance. Mary instead chose, with the help of God’s grace, to preserve her God-given purity throughout the whole of her life.
The bodily corruption of death was not God’s original plan. It came into the world through sin, as St. Paul says “the sting of death is sin” (I Cor 15:56). So it is fitting that she who knew no sin should know no decay and no delay in enjoying the full fruits of her son’s work. It is fitting that she who stood by Christ under the cross should stand by him bodily at the right hand of the Father. “The Queen stands at your right hand, in gold of Ophir” (Ps 45). Enoch and Elijah, who the Old Testament says were assumed into heaven, were surely great in God’s eyes. But they do not begin to compare with the immaculate mother of His Son.
We too, one day, insofar as we accept God’s grace, will stand at His right hand. But Paul says that “all will come to life again, but each one in proper order” (I Cor 15:23). The Redeemer, of course, blazes the resurrection trail. But who is to be first among his disciples? The one who is last is first, the Lord’s humble handmaid who did no more than say yes, and keep saying yes, and whose soul magnified not herself, but the Lord.