[73] Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 58:7-10 / Ps 112:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 / 1 Cor 2:1-5 / Mt 5:13-16

Isaiah is the great prophet for the coming Messiah and so it should not surprise us that his admonitions about charity deeply reflect our Lord’s ministry to the poor, the hungry, the hurting and the oppressed. Faith in the Lord has always included both doctrinal truths and a particular discipleship of giving and caring for others. This was not unique to Christians as the same God first made himself known to the Jews.  The Lord does not ask but commands— share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless, cloth the naked— remain faithful and supportive of your people. Such generosity is noted as enlightenment to the mind and heart of God. It makes possible a healing and vindication that will be fully realized in Jesus Christ.    

The text from Isaiah emphasizes that if we are available to the hurting and the marginalized then God will hear our prayers for help.  There is this reciprocity that Jesus echoes— it is in forgiving others and you will be forgiven.  Note that while the Lord first lists the charitable activities we should pursue, he next lists what must be avoided— oppression, false accusation and malicious speech.  You cannot be counted among the children of God if you manipulate or keep others in bondage.  You cannot be a harbinger of truth if you are in the grips of deception and lies.  You cannot expect your words of prayer to be received by the Lord when those same lips speak words of hatred and condemnation against others. 

We often treat charity as if it is something exceptional that should incur praise and thanks. The Communists wrongly interpreted it as a sentiment given Christians because of what they called a “pie-in-the-sky” enticement. In other words, we do good only so as to go to heaven. What they could not appreciate, lacking the gift of faith, is that the main motivation for Christian outreach to others is supernatural love. Believers are to so thoroughly love the Lord that this love spills over and includes both friends and enemies. Many critics regard this as a virtue that conflicts with our selfish and fallen human nature. While there is truth in this, it is also a virtue that builds upon the new man or new creation in Christ. Human nature is divinized by grace or made more than it was before. Charity is not just something you do, but the person you become— it opens us to the transformation of holiness.

One of the great literary philosophers Ayn Rand actually rejected the command of the Gospel and instead of speaking of selfishness as a vice she urged a reversal of values wherein one would regard such egoism as a virtue.  Speaking about the motives of individuals in society and the nature of proper government, she condemned altruism as destructive and counterproductive to our aims. Believe it or not, there are many politicians and judges that subscribe to her thinking. However, even if they feign religious faith, her ideas signify an anti-gospel. There are no supermen and life is not just all about you— your possessions, your power, your wealth, and your security. Rand once said in an interview when asked about Jesus, “It is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors.” Yes, she repudiated the sacrificial love of Christ that is realized again and again in the lives of saints and martyrs. She utterly rejected the notion of faith and espoused what is called objectivist atheism when speaking about reason. She would argue there is no life after death and no reward and so you have to take what you can now because this is the only life you will know. This thinking is the rationale for tax incentives given for charitable donations. It is argued that unless people get something in return, they will be less likely to remember the poor and the needy. But while many may take advantage of such offerings, it is not the principal reason why the saints are good and giving. I had a friend in this parish that died a few years ago. It was only after he died that many came forward to list the many things he did for them, for the children and the poor. We were all taken aback but his many acts of kindness. He did not tell anyone. He did what he did for the love of God and his fellow men and women.

When we find out about such men and women or when heroic sacrifices are made, we are moved and inspired. As the psalm says, “The just man is a light in darkness to the upright.” This theme of light is again taken up in today’s Gospel when Jesus tells his disciples, “You are the light of the world.” He does not mean just individually, because it is the Church that is “a city set on a mountain [that] cannot be hidden.” Literally, just as Jerusalem is built on a fortified high ground, the Church is the New Jerusalem— and together we must proclaim the truths revealed to us and we must live out our discipleship in love. He adds, “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Christ would have our charity be contagious. We want to please and honor almighty God.  As Christians, we desire that the heavenly Father will look down upon us and see something of his Son reflected in our fidelity and charity.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Do Not Test God in Handling Snakes!

COMMENT & QUESTIONS

How are we to interpret Mark 16:18?

“They will pick up snakes with their hands and when they drink deadly poison it will not hurt them.”

Isn’t this promoting dangerous behavior? Should we take this figuratively? I’d appreciate your feedback.

RESPONSE

It is best to read from Mark 16:16 to Mark 16:18:

“He said to them, ‘Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.’”

Our Lord is not recommending dangerous behavior. The emphasis here is the great commission to take the Good News to the whole world. It is this saving faith that is lived out and shared that makes all the difference. The various signs are in respects to certain people but not all. Demons will be exorcised (Acts 5:16, 8:7, 16:16-18, 19:11-12). Some will be given the gift of tongues (Acts 2:4, 10:46, 19:6, 1 Corinthians 12:10, 12:28). Others will receive the gift of healing (Acts 9:17, 28:8). Miracles will happen. Some will also be protected from physical harm, such as from venomous snakes or even poison. Note the story involving Paul:

“Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire when a viper, escaping from the heat, fastened on his hand. When the natives saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to one another, ‘This man must certainly be a murderer; though he escaped the sea, Justice has not let him remain alive.’ But he shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no harm” (Acts 28:3-5).

We would not go out looking for trouble but sometimes trouble finds us. Such signs will indeed be realized.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is there Forgiveness after Death?

QUESTIONS

I have seen conflicting opinions and would like yours. When we die what is the connection between sin and where we end up? Do we have an opportunity to learn from our mistakes and repent? Can we be saved after we die or when the final judgement comes around? What are the pertinent Scriptures?

RESPONSE

The learning curve is in this world, not in the next. Sin is more than mistakes or accidents. There is real culpability. Venial sins do not destroy the divine life within us. However, mortal sin severs our friendship with God. While there is mortal life, the opportunity for repentance and faith remain. However, once we die there is no second chance and/or reincarnation. At the moment of death we experience a particular judgment. The soul will then know heaven or hell or purgatory. At the final judgment, there will be no more purgatory, just heaven or hell.  At the end of the world all things will know the consummation of Christ.

Matthew 5:22,25-26 – “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. . . . Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”

Matthew 7:21-23 – “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’”

Matthew 18:32-35 – “His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Matthew 25:45-46 – “He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ l And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Romans 2:5-8 – By your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness.

2 Corinthians 5:10For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.

First, we cannot save ourselves, only God can save us. However, we must be disposed or open to the Lord’s mercy and saving grace. We must first repent so as to believe.  We must forgive if we want to be forgiven.

Second, Jesus is the redeemer and thus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the bridge to heaven. There is no salvation apart from Christ. Because the Church constitutes our Lord’s mystical body, union with Jesus also mandates communion with his Church. Jesus sits upon the right side of the Father as the judge of all. He is our mediator and Lord.

Third, we know a spiritual regeneration in faith and baptism where we become members of the Church, inheritors of the kingdom of Christ, adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly Father, kin to Christ and children of Mary our Queen Mother in the royal household of God.

Fourth, a saving faith must be realized in loving obedience. Such a faith cannot be sustained if separated either from fidelity to the commandments or from a living and active charity. Otherwise it is a lie or if initially genuine, it can sour and die. While maintained we live in the sure and certain “hope” of our salvation.

Fifth at the moment of death our orientation is made permanent, either toward the Lord or away from him.  Justified souls are in love with both God and neighbor. They desire reunion with loved ones where together they will give glory and praise to almighty God. The damned failed to love as they should and bring the damnation of hell upon themselves. The souls of the damned are spiritually dead and can know nothing of the joys of heaven. Where there should have been love there was either hatred or apathy. I suspect the tiniest divine spark that sustains them in existence constitutes the painful fire of hell.  

Sixth, while there is no repentance after death, there is a transitory purgation for many who love the Lord but not as completely as they should. Venial sins and the temporal punishment of sin must be satisfied. The fires of divine love purify such souls as gold in a furnace. The debt is paid in Christ but they still owe the proverbial last penny. Unlike Lutheranism with its notion of juridical imputation, Catholicism believes that the saints are truly made perfect for heaven. Our Lord does not mask or disguise our identity or standing but rather changes it by the operation of grace. While we remain creatures, we are divinized in a sense by our likeness to Christ.  

Seventh, the Easter mystery of Christ’s resurrection and appearances is a testimony of our Lord’s victory. Love is stronger than death. Jesus conquers the grave and gives us a share in his new life. We look to the glorified Christ and to the assumed Virgin Mary as signs of our own restoration body and soul.  Our bodies will not remain corpses and we will not be ghosts forever.  We will be remade and given imperishable bodies. 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Summation to My Reflections on the Saints

The past 12 reflections have avoided giving extended biographies of the saints. There are many good books that already do this. Three I would recommend are as follows:

  • Lives of the Saints by H. Hoever (2 Volumes)
  • Picture Book of Saints by Lawrence G. Lovasik  (archaic words)
  • Butler’s Lives of the Saints by Herbert J. Thurston & Donald Attwater (4 Volumes)

When we speak of the saints as a “parable” people and signs of contradiction, we mean that there is no way to understand the saints except through faith. Take away the mystery of God and of our Savior Jesus Christ and none of it makes sense. Such lives would have no meaning at all if God did not exist and call us to know and love him. The saints testify to the real meaning of existence. We were made for God. As the old catechisms made clear, we were made to know God, to love God, to serve God and to give him glory, both here on earth and forever in heaven. This is the meaning of life. This is the destiny and calling of the elect. God has called us to be saints and has given us all that we need to make this possible. Trust the Lord.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reflection for Day 12 – The Book of Revelation

While the language is difficult to interpret, there is much we can learn about the role of the saints and intercession from the Book of Revelation. The saints render prayers to God that rise up like the smoke from incense. 

“When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones. They sang a new hymn: ‘Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth’” (Revelation 5: 8-10).

The apocalyptic vision reveals both the centrality of Christ as the one who saves us through his blood, and also something of about the constitution of the Church. The elders may be likened to the apostles and their successors. This celestial activity is sacramentally realized in the Mass. Note that in the opening prayer, the celebrating priest collects all the intentions and prayers of “the holy ones,” which is often translated as “saints.” This Communion of the Saints is identified with the Church that we know in earthly pilgrimage, in transitional purgation and in heavenly glory. It includes both Jews and Gentiles as the great commission has gone out to the entire world. Prophesy is fulfilled as we have become through our baptism a nation of priests. We offer back to the Father the one who offers himself, Jesus Christ.

“I looked again and heard the voices of many angels who surrounded the throne and the living creatures and the elders. They were countless in number, and they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.’ Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: ‘To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.’ The four living creatures answered, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped” (Revelation 5: 11-14).

The four living creatures are regarded many authorities as angelic cherubim although Catholic iconography often identifies them with the four evangelists of the Gospels: Mark (the lion), Luke (the calf), Matthew (the man) and John (the eagle).  In any case, they signify how the whole created order is called to join the angels in the worship almighty God. The angels are counted among the Communion of the Saints. The eternal operation of heaven is the praise and adoration of God. Jesus as the Lamb of God is the one who makes possible this reconciliation with a world that was fallen and estranged.  The one on the throne who sits at the right hand of the Father is our Savior. He is worshiped because in Jesus, the invisible God is made visible and saves his people.

The divine will mysteriously works with human freedom. We have been chosen and the saints of God are such because of divine election.

“I heard the number of those who had been marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand marked from every tribe of the Israelites . . . . After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb’” (Revelation 7: 4, 9-10).

Do not take too literally the number of the elect given in the text. Indeed, we should focus on the “great multitude.”

“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).

When it comes to the Day of Judgment we read:

“Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a gold censer. He was given a great quantity of incense to offer, along with the prayers of all the holy ones, on the gold altar that was before the throne. The smoke of the incense along with the prayers of the holy ones went up before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with burning coals from the altar, and hurled it down to the earth. There were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (Revelation 8:3-5).

The angels of God are often imagined as both messengers and as bearers of divine gifts. Indeed the Roman Canon of the Mass makes mention of an angel when the consecrated oblation is offered to the heavenly Father.  “In humble prayer we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty, so that all of us, who through this participation at the altar receive the most holy Body and Blood of your Son, may be filled with every grace and heavenly blessing.” We literally offer what we have been given. Similarly, our prayers and worship are received or given efficacy through our union with Christ and his oblation. A distinction is made between the smoke of the incense and the prayers of the saints. It is as if the incense or divine intervention makes possible the reception of our prayers and offering. Apart from the Lord, we would have nothing to offer. Our prayers have value because in Jesus Christ, God’s promise is fulfilled and our prayers are heard.  

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reflection for Day 11 – Don’t Forget the Angels

The one great omission in these reflections is upon the subject of celestial or angelic saints. Given their nature it is difficult to put forth angels as exemplars for human behavior and hopes. I suppose the topic of pure spirits would deserve a series of reflections all its own. What would make me hesitate to do so is because our teachings about angels are both sparse in content and highly speculative.

The word “angel” means messenger and the chief of these in the Gospel is Gabriel at the annunciation of Mary (see Luke 1:27-38). It is also part of Christian lore that Gabriel will blow his horn at the second coming of Christ when we will experience the consummation of the world and the final judgment. Another angel with which we are familiar is the Archangel Michael. We often invoke his intercession after Mass: “Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.” He is understood as the chief commander of the angels and the defender of heaven against Satan (see Revelation 12). The Archangel Raphael appears in the book of Tobit.  As in other cases where angelic beings appear as men, Raphael takes on human guise and accompanies Tobias on his travels and conquers the demon Asmodeus. Notice how he announces himself: “I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand and serve before the Glory of the Lord. Do not fear; peace be with you! Bless God now and forever. As for me, when I was with you, I was not acting out of any favor on my part, but by God’s will. So bless God every day; give praise with song” (Tobit 12:15, 17-18). While it is steeped in conjecture, angels are ranked from highest to lowest: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Angels.

I suppose if we ever encounter alien life in the universe, and despite optimistic scientific pundits this remains dubious, we as Catholics will be ready as we are already familiar with non-terrestrial beings— the angels. They are situated between us and God in the hierarchy of being. God is a the infinite and omnipotent Spirit. Angelic creatures are also pure spirits. Whenever they have appeared to humanity, no matter whether as men or as Ezekiel’s entity with wheels, wings and way too many eyes, they do so as phantasms. Angels do not possess actual physical bodies of any sort. They are spiritual creatures of intellect and will. Not composed of matter, they do not have spatial dimensions and they properly exist outside of time. They live in the “eternal now.” Never born, the angels are created all at once. Angels are self actualizing. What that means is that unlike men and women who share a common human nature, each angel is as a species unto itself.

There is a moment of testing in the mysterious duration experienced by angels where they are permitted to freely accept or to reject the “Greatest Good” which is almighty God. It is said that Satan, ranked as a Seraphim, breaks with God and takes with him a third of heaven. These fallen angels are sometimes called devils or demons and they are the enemies of God. They tempt and hate humanity. His fall is terrible as the chief occupation of the seraphim is described in Isaiah 6:1-8 where as six-winged beings they fly around the divine throne praising God with cries of “Holy, Holy, Holy.”  At Mass with the preface we join in their song of exaltation.

The angels of God are invoked for protection and intercession. We believe that the Lord has given us guardian angels both over individuals and over whole peoples or nations. They are invisible friends. What they share with human saints is that they love us.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reflection for Day 10 – Made Holy by God

We can talk on and on about holiness, but that does not make any of us truly holy. Holiness is made possible by a profound openness or receptivity toward almighty God. He shares something of himself. We have many tools to further spiritual formation. We have religious books, bibles, catechisms and works on prayer. We have the sacraments which give grace. We have the Church’s preaching and teaching. We have our solidarity with one another in the Lord. All this benefits us, if we want to be forgiven, healed, strengthened and enlightened. 

Holiness is not the same as piety. It is easy to go through the motions of faith. Indeed, some are quite good at it and that is why there is so much scandal in the Church. St. Augustine tells us in his work, THE CITY OF GOD, that we must wait until the consummation of the world to know for sure who is truly in the kingdom of Christ and who belongs to the opposing city of darkness.  The problem is that sometimes good and holy people will occasionally do bad things and bad or wicked people will sometimes do good things. While the gift is shared with a few confessors, it is God who can truly read and know souls— getting past the deception or walls planted by rebellion and sin.

The writer and apologist C. S. Lewis remarked that he came back to the Christian faith through the route of academia and the intellectual life. He observed that most converts come by way of friendships or relationships with other believers. There is something evocative or moving about a good story. When we encounter the saints, either from the past or in our encounters with living holy men and women, there is also a meeting with Christ. Our stories intersect. The saints inspire and energize us. They give us hope that we might know forgiveness and not fear the troubles of life or the specter of death. Similarly, vocations to the priesthood are often linked to a relationship with a hardworking pastor of souls. This does not mean that such a priest would have to be the best preacher or even the most agile or healthy of men. The faithful in the pews are moved by the sacrifices and holiness of their shepherds. It is for the same reason that much harm is cause by clergy who are selfish and who abuse their charges. All this is to say, and this includes clergy and lay alike, that it is often difficult or impossible to separate the message from the messenger. The believer is not merely commissioned to spread the Good News, he or she must BECOME the Good News. We become imitators of Christ. We are to shine with the likeness of the Lord. As with the late Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, it was said that one felt in meeting them that one was in the presence of Jesus.

Back in the late 1990’s and early 2000, a number of schools, parochial and public, sought to offer a “virtues curriculum.” The catalyst was THE BOOK OF VIRTUES by William Bennett. The idea was to teach values and make saints or at least better people. Catholic schools had some success but the secular schools less so. I suspect the reason for the disparity is that it is hard to teach virtues or values divorced from religious faith in God. Separated from faith, rules or laws become arbitrary and lack certainty. We are experiencing something of the fallout from this in that political and social reformers believe they have dominion over both divine positive law and natural law. “Thou shalt not kill” is abrogated to permit capital punishment and abortion. Fidelity to the marriage bed is dismissed to allow for the excesses of an erotic society, no fault divorce and same-sex unions. Separated from a properly formed conscience and the truth, even the rule of a majority can become a tyranny against the Church and those with traditional values. Indeed, fiction can rule over facts as with the crisis over gender identity. By contrast, the saints realized the Gospel mandate and help us to find ourselves and how we should behave. They give meat to the virtues and inspire us to live them out as well.

The saints are often beacons to the moral virtues: courage (bravery), fortitude (diligence), temperance (moderation), justice (righteousness), prudence (discernment), liberality (altruism), and truthfulness (veracity). Such natural values (shared even with the pre-Christian Greeks) set the stage for supernatural virtues. When we think about saints, we immediately ponder how we are supposed to behave and our need to be oriented toward “the good” and not evil. They set the ground for the capital virtues and positive habits against bad inclinations and temptations. The saints take charge of their lives through the virtues while men and women of sin are ruled by their vices. While the natural virtues can be made known through the proper use of reason, the supernatural virtues are only discerned through divine revelation: faith, hope, and charity. Faith and hope will get us to the door of heaven. Charity or love is what ushers the saints inside.  

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reflection for Day 9 – The Great & Small

We find ourselves in a society where priorities have shifted and many in the past are judged by current standards or awareness. Often this change in mindset is dismissive of faith and the contributions of bygone heroes, both secular and sacred. Junipero Serra defended the rights of indigenous peoples and yet he is condemned along with the Spanish forces that accompany him. Damien of Molokai is derided as one among many who undermine indigenous culture so as to supplant it with the Western European. In truth he came as a minister for Christ and labored for the ostracized lepers when no one else would. Missionaries who came to preach the Gospel to various “peaceful” tribes in North America are condemned as scouts for French colonialism. However, they were also courageous priests and some of the natives were not so peaceful. The missionaries came to preach the Gospel and their reward was gruesome torture and martyrdom. Religious sisters are condemned for starving children in their schools and called murderers for the numbers buried in mass graves. Forgotten is that disease prior to antibiotics destroyed whole towns. If children were hungry, the sisters were often more so because in their poverty they surrendered their food to them. Golda Meir acclaimed Pope Pius XII as the greatest friend and hope for the Jews during World War II and modern critics condemn him for not doing more. We live in an age when we sit back in our comfortable air-conditioned or heated homes and pontificate about the shortcomings of the saints in history.    

Saints come in every stripe. Some are learned doctors of the faith and others are simple men and women of service. They are poets, musicians, and scholars. They are royalty, peasants and slaves. They are virgins and reformed prostitutes. They care for the sick and the poor. They educate and help in the formation of children. They are soldiers and peacemakers. They are prophets and mystics.

Our Lord gave us the Church and the saints so that we might have companions for the journey. We do not come to God alone.  Saints realize the awesome truth that in a world where many go searching for God, we have a God who comes looking for us.  It is God who always takes the initiative. Like ice cream, the holiness of the saints is sweet and sometimes there are nuts, but such comes in all flavors. Given our varying personalities, likes and dislikes, we are attracted to certain saints and their stories over others. There must be a willingness to taste and to see so that we might find what we like. Further, proper religious formation will ensure that we can cultivate our tastes. We try out different types of service. We pursue the spiritual paths or exercises of the saints to find our own. Knowing the saints helps us to know ourselves. We need a properly formed conscience to appreciate the difference between right and wrong. We need to encounter the Lord in Word and sacrament. We learn to appreciate what is genuinely good and true and just. Saints see beyond the trappings of license pretending to be freedom. A devotion to the saints is a corrective to those who follow and delight in secular celebrities more lost than they are. A society that celebrates the authority to destroy children throughout all nine months in the womb hardly has an ethical high ground to judge the saints. Many seem mesmerized or enraptured by money, power and prestige.  These are some of the many distractions that make the saints true signs of contradiction to the world.   

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Reflection for Day 8 – Diverse But One in Holiness

It should be said that there are increasing numbers of figures regarded as saints even though they have not been declared definitively so by the Church. As a priest who ministers to many believers in the African-American community, I can attest that there is a growing awareness of ethnic holy men and women, such as:  Pierre Toussaint, Henriette Delille, Sister Thea Bowman, Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, Julia Greeley and Fr. Augustus Tolton. Indeed, there is a growing number of what might be called secular or interdenominational holy personages or heroes like the Baptist minister Rev. Martin Luther King who stood up against racial injustice and the Lutheran minister Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who opposed NAZI brutality and oppression. Pope Francis, side-stepping any canonical listing, noted four exemplary Americans who through “hard work and sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives,” were able to build “a better future” and shape fundamental values: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day. It is true that statements of this sort concentrate on the vertical and not the horizontal nature of existence. The emphasis is upon the here-and-now and not the here-after.

Of course, that does not mean we fail to hope that our secular heroes might all find themselves in heaven. While it is more problematical for non-Catholic Christians, we cannot imagine that any that believe in Jesus and love the Lord would be forsaken by him. This hope becomes more strained when we call to mind figures like Gandhi who loved their fellow man but from outside the saving dispensation. In an age where a quaint sentimentality would have people more worried about whether pet dogs will join them in heaven; we need to do more to proclaim the Good News of Christ to men and women. At least when we have done what we can, we can prayerfully say with a clear conscience, “Thy will be done.” In any case, we are moved by those who are true prophets among us for charity and justice.

Frequently we hear the criticism that just as with Church authority, the canonical saints are overly slanted toward men. However, there is a quick corrective to this in that the most important human person among the saints is a woman, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Further, Christian history is filled with many of her spiritual daughters who have enriched the Church through their loving service: Saints Felicity and Perpetua witness as martyrs in the early Church; St. Faustina is the great apostle of the Divine Mercy; St. Joan of Arc shatters the stereotypes of her times; St. Katharine Drexel gives up everything to educate and to empower Native and African Americans;  St. Teresa of Calcutta cares for the poorest of the poor;  St. Elizabeth Ann Seton helps in the establishment of the Catholic school system; St. Elizabeth of Hungary puts aside the privileges of royal rank to help the less fortunate; St. Catherine of Siena ranks as a spiritual doctor of the Church; St. Bernadette is the visionary of the Immaculate Conception at Lourdes; St. Clare of Assisi complements St. Francis in his work of restoring the Church; St. Therese of Lisieux testifies to the holiness of a quiet and short life; St. Maria Goretti as a teen testifies with her blood on behalf of chastity; St. Teresa of Avila actually tries to save the Church from herself; St. Edith Stein faces death in the Holocaust as a Jewish convert to the faith; St. Gianna Molla gives totally of herself as a medical doctor, wife and mother, and the list goes on and on.  Every woman of faith could have been the one chosen as the Mother of God. Saintly women realize their potency in this regard, not by actually giving birth to the physical Christ, but by giving him spiritual birth in their loving and prayerful care for others.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Can We Cause God to Suffer & Grieve?

COMMENT & QUESTION

Pope Francis remarked at an ecumenical prayer service on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul that “God suffers when we, who call ourselves his faithful ones, put our own ways of seeing things before his, when we follow the judgments of the world rather than those of heaven, when we are content with exterior rituals yet remain indifferent to those for whom he cares the most.”

It is true that many who claim to be Christian do not love the people God loves and do not work for the justice he desires.  But, how does this cause God to suffer and grieve? As the unmoved-mover, I thought that God could not be affected by us? Is it not true that Jesus having suffered his passion and death will never suffer again?

RESPONSE

Even Popes are guilty of a certain poetic license when exhorting the People of God to contrition, amendment of life, good works and the pursuit of justice. The Holy Father is more concerned about moving us than giving an explication about the immutability of the divine nature. This is evident when Pope Francis says, “We can imagine with what suffering he must witness wars and acts of violence perpetrated by those who call themselves Christians.” Note that he says “imagine” and not that such is immediately the case in a temporal manner.

Theologically, we can speak of our Lord being grieved or about tears from heaven in terms of the incarnation and more specifically of the Sacred Heart. Our Lord is moved in his humanity, particularly on the Cross when all the sins of the world throughout all human history target him as the Lamb of God.  Our Lord is offended that many might love the distractions of life more than him and our fellow men and women. The late Pope John Paul II spoke at length about our necessary imitation of Christ and our Lord’s solidarity with the oppressed, the suffering and the poor. Indeed, he emphasized a preferential option that the Church has for the poor. We will not neglect the souls of the rich either, but the Church does play favorites as did Christ in his ministry on earth. Reciprocally, we are to see something of the face of our Lord in those who hunger and thirst, in the needy and the stranger, in the sick and those in prison.  Pope Francis understands violence as always opposed to the kingdom of Christ. That makes any who would try to take the kingdom by force into idolaters. 

I suspect the real question is not about causing heavenly suffering and grief but about why we bring so much trouble and pain upon ourselves and our brothers and sisters. When will we wake up? Why is it that so many seem to love death more than life?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment