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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).