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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Offering and Accepting Forgiveness

"Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?" Mt 18:21

The Gospel has always been clear. While believers are called to follow Jesus and enter deeply into the mystery of God's love, following Jesus without loving our brothers and sisters is empty. Only the full response to all in love is sufficient, and while we all fail at this command as often as we succeed, our success is not the goal. Rather, our willingness to step beyond our small circle of friends and to love everyone as brothers and sisters in Christ is the true test of our faith.

The saints never doubted this. Although many of them had harsh tempers, they knew that their faults needed to be addressed. They did not try to defend their poor behavior but asked God for the faith to see all people with new eyes. St Jerome, to whom we owe the first translation into the Latin Vulgate, a feat that made the scriptures available to everyday people, was notorious for his temper. At the same time, especially after his vitriolic and judgmental pen got him into trouble, he writes about his great remorse, and it was his sorrow and repentance that earned him the title saint. The same can be true for us.

Today, pray for someone from whom you have been separated.

How important is forgiveness and reconciliation in your faith life?

Friday, September 15, 2017

St Cornelius and Cyprian

“He deserves to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us.” Lk 7: 4-5

Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian were friends, and when the church was under enormous pressure in the third century, their friendship became an important tool for reconciliation and healing. When Novatian insisted that anyone who denied faith, along with murderers and adulterers, could not be reconciled under any circumstances, Cyprian interceded with his friend Pope Cornelius, and Novatian's position was condemned. The fragile nascent church, with only 50,000 believers and 50 priests, was sustained because of the friendship of Cornelius and Cyprian.

Not infrequently, like Cyprian and Cornelius, we do things for friends who ask a favor on their own or their family's behalf. It is not difficult to be gracious, especially when the request is something we do easily or naturally. Jesus is able to hear and respond to the request of the Jewish elders to heal the centurion's sick slave because they asked him to do something as a friend of the Jewish nation.  In the long run, however, while loyalty and friendship captured Jesus' attention, it was the faith of the centurion that moved Jesus to act. 

Not wanting to trouble Jesus with a visit to his home and being very aware of the differences between them, the centurion insists that he is not worthy of Jesus' care. When the centurion further suggests that a word from Jesus will be enough to heal his slave, Jesus uses the centurion's faith to teach the Jews saying, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Faith, like the centurion's, and friendship and faith, like Cyprian and Cornelius shared, can forge a church of great power and strength.

Today, be grateful for a faith filled friend.

How can a friendship, strengthened by faith, help us live the Gospel more powerfully?





Thursday, September 14, 2017

Our Lady of Sorrows

“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” Jn 19:25

In the Office of Readings today, St Bernard of Clairvaux, writing in the 12th century, calls Mary “a martyr in spirit,” because of her compassion, never abandoning her son even on the cross. Bernard writes: “Perhaps someone will say: “Had she not known before that he would not die?” Undoubtedly. “Did she not expect him to rise again at once?” Surely. “And still she grieved over her crucified Son?” Intensely. Who are you and what is the source of your wisdom that you are more surprised at the compassion of Mary than at the passion of Mary’s Son? For if he could die in body, could she not die with him in spirit? He died in body through a love greater than anyone had known. She died in spirit through a love unlike any other since his.”(1)

Standing with others in their suffering, not taking it away, not offering empty words of consolation, not trying to understand it, is a kind of death, a martyrdom. Helplessness is often the price of compassion and Mary, the mother of Jesus and our mother, helps us learn this vital Christian virtue.

Today, perhaps as you gaze at a crucifix, try to stand in solidarity and compassion with all those suffering alone.

Who stands by you compassionately when you are struggling or lost?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Exaltation of the Cross

"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." Jn 3:13

The cross of Jesus Christ, as St Paul says, is a stumbling block for Jews and foolishness for Gentiles, (1 Cor 1:23) but the believer continues to hold the cross high, to exalt it, as a sign of God's unconditional love for us. Never easy to understand or to penetrate its mystery, the cross remains for those who believe a book of life, or as St Francis said, the only book we will ever need.

How we read the book of the cross is fundamental to our growth in faith. How, for instance, do we understand or interpret suffering? How should we approach death and dying? What can we expect from God when we carry our own crosses? Martin Luther King, speaking of what he labels unmerited suffering, writes, "Recognizing the necessity for suffering I have tried to make of it a virtue. If only to save myself from bitterness, I have attempted to see my personal ordeals as an opportunity to transform myself and heal the people involved in the tragic situation which now obtains." (MLK)

We should never be turned away from a full Gospel life because it makes others uncomfortable and us suffer. Many younger friends of mine have been discouraged by their friends and families when they decided to leave the United States to minister to the poor overseas. "There are plenty of poor people here in the U.S.," they are told, and, "Why do you have to be so radical in your convictions?" Hearing this, these young people suffer, but often enough, when they read the cross of Jesus, they are comforted, especially when they hear him say: "Take my yoke upon you, for I am gentle and humble of heart." (Mt 11:29)

Today, ask God for the grace not to be afraid of the cross.

What about living a Gospel life causes you the most suffering?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

St John Chrysostom

"I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me trustworthy in appointing me to the ministry." 1 Tim 1:12

Considered the greatest preacher in the early church, St John Chrysostom is also sharply and justly criticized for his antisemitic homilies.(1) His legacy provides us with an opportunity to pray and write about the importance, power and danger of preaching today.

Since the close of the Second Vatican Council, which mandated the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, preaching in the Roman Catholic Church has become increasingly important. Encouraged to offer a brief homily each day and to root them in the sacred texts preachers, many priests try to do this, but with mixed results. North Americans want both an insightful and brief homily even on Sunday's, and while this is understandable, it risks missing the primary teaching of the Second Vatican Council which reminds us the Eucharist is the source and summit of Catholic life.

When preaching, no matter how lively, profound and articulate, pushes the liturgy of the Eucharist to the background, it needs to be reexamined. Good Catholic preaching ought to break open the sacred scripture, attend to what is happening in society and the world, and lead seamlessly into the breaking of the bread. When the liturgy is planned carefully with the preacher, something wonderful and exciting can happen, but when preaching overwhelms the listener and fails to remember that we are a people of word and sacrament, it fails as Eucharistic preaching.

Today, pray for preachers.

Have you ever heard preaching that helps you enter the liturgy of Eucharist more fully?

Monday, September 11, 2017

Called by Name

"When he came down from the mountain, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose twelve." Lk 6:13

Almost everyone has a conversion experience or three. Struggling for an identity or reflecting on the scriptures, there is a moment that stops us and reminds us who we are. Though it is not always life changing, it can be. When the Apostles heard Jesus invitation to follow him, they knew who they were and who they were called to be.

The same was true for St Paul when he was blinded by a great light and heard a voice telling him:"I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting." (Acts 22:8) Unable to see because of the great light, his companions led him into Damascus where Ananias healed him of his blindness and told him to return to Jerusalem and be baptized. Not long afterwards God told Paul to leave Jerusalem and go to the Gentiles among whom he would find his life's mission.

Jesus calls each of us by name. Are we listening? Will we ask for the faith to respond?

Today, thank someone who increased your faith?

Do you think you have an obligation to invite others to follow Jesus and the Gospel?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sabbath Healing

"The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath." Lk 6:7

Jesus regularly broke the Sabbath, and we wonder why. He was an observant Jew. He wanted to fulfill the law, not destroy it or supplant it. Why then would he heal on the Sabbath? The answer seems almost too simple. The Pharisees were not interested in the observance of the law, but in catching Jesus in opposition to it. If they could demonstrate that Jesus had no respect for the law, they would win the battle for power and honor. Like so many of us, they wanted to win, they wanted to be right.

Jewish law about the Sabbath, although strict, was not rigid then or now. Mati Goldstein, commander of the Jewish rescue-mission to 2010 Haiti earthquake, said, “We did everything to save lives, despite Shabbat . People asked, ‘Why are you here? There are no Jews here,’ but we are here because the Torah orders us to save lives…We are desecrating Shabbat with pride…” 

Clearly, Jews today and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, knew that the law commanded them to help save lives. Jesus also knew this and challenged the Pharisees with an interpretation of the law that they should have known. When people suffer, we need to respond. It is that simple.

Today, treat someone with compassion even if it is inconvenient.

How do you practice Sabbath?