The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
This year we have been called to celebrate in a special way God’s love for us to help us survive the storms of life.
These storms arrive at our shores when we destroy ourselves and our relationships with others and with God. But at times we find ourselves in turmoil simply because others in our family and in our community make choices we find difficult to understand and tolerate.
These choices reveal deep religious, ideological, or political differences and strain and even break family and community bonds. Indeed, they challenge our belief that we all share in God’s love and we are all God’s children.
In those instances, we tend to ascribe the worse intentions to others and the best to ourselves. We overlook the possibility that others in our community perceived something of value in an idea we disapprove or a person we dislike.
All choices or positions – ours as well as those of others – are laden with strong emotional feelings that tend to blind us of the good in choices other than our own. Most importantly, the emotions of the day may also blind us of what holds us together, God’s unconditional love for all of us.
We cannot, of course, simply sweep aside our differences, but cutting off relationships does not solve the problems we face.
In this Year of Mercy and throughout life, we are called to look beyond our differences in ideas and decisions made by others and preserve the community we form and hold dear.
Our survival depends on our staying together as a community – be it family or work or local or national community – because, at bottom, we are all children of God.
God has shared his love with all of us precisely so we can survive the storms that batter and divide us.
The End is Here!
The readings at end of the Church’s liturgical year evoke the End of Time and life everlasting.
Our society shies away from contemplating these topics in part because they seem unpleasant and in part because we’re just too busy with the present.
The unpleasant – plagues, famine, war – that happens somewhere else, to other peoples, not to us. The destruction of the temple – not a stone left upon a stone – that sounds poetic. That is not going to happen to the Washington Monument. And it is not going to happen to our ever-so-humble middle class home. And if it does, well, we have insurance. Or the government will come to our assistance.
But personal lives do get shocks and even come to a halt. Divorce; job loss; a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a close friend, it turns out has cancer; we succumb to addiction; we do horrible destructive things to ourselves and to others.
What happens to us during these critical times? Do we bargain with God, deny reality or experience fear? Grief, shock, fear can paralyze us.
At this point, Jesus reminds us, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
That perseverance comes from the confidence that God loves us and God is walking alongside with us through our pain and struggle and even through our mistakes and failings.
It often difficult, if not impossible, to see that God is with us because of the busyness of our lives – work, the traffic, the noise, the music, the errands, and our efforts to douse or escape our pain with alcohol, drugs, and entertainment.
Seeing God’s love for us in our difficulties requires us stop and look inside ourselves. It also requires us see how others stretch out helping hands to us.
Then, there is the ultimate reality, our final destination that lies beyond our daily lives, eternity. In the Middle Ages, the monks, it is said, placed a skull on their desks or working tables to remind themselves of life everlasting.
The Scripture readings in the liturgy urge us to consider our final destiny with God.
But Jesus also spoke of the Reign of God not as some distant world beyond but as starting right here and now. When we share the load with each other, we contribute to life and to the nourishment of the community. We begin building a heavenly abode for ourselves and for others in this life when we reach out to others.
As long as we perverse, seek the truth, show compassion and justice, God will not disappoint. Indeed, if being with God is our “end.” And the end is near! In fact, it’s here because God is with us.
The Community of Saints
This week we pause to give honor and reverence to those who have gone before us.
The Church has set two Holy Days – All Saints Day and All Souls Day – but, interestingly, in Mexico and now, with the new popularity of El Día de los MuertosI, in our society the two days have merged into one.
As for the officially declared saints, a close look will reveal that they had personal faults, and many did not shake them off completely. Some were irritable, bossy, narrow minded and even insecure. Of course, some were cheerful and delightful.
Many, indeed, managed to do extraordinary things – and they get the limelight of sainthood.
But they didn’t get sainthood for the extraordinary. They got it for the everyday struggle to be better and to find a closer relationship with God. And for that, their lives shine a bright light for all of us to follow.
Many other ordinary folks who did their best can also be called “saints.” Almost everyone can recall a mom or dad or aunt or uncle or friend or public figure who were “saintly,” not because they held their hands in prayers all day every day, but because they lived upright lives in midst of all kinds of difficulties and thus personified the love of God.
In fact, those alive today who share the life of God and are striving every day to enliven relationships with one another, with the inner self, and with God – that is, who acknowledge God’s love and mercy and want to share it with others -- can rightly be called “saints.”
That beautiful hymn prays that “when saints go marching in, I want be in that number” gets this point just right.
This is what the belief in the Communion (Community) of Saints is all about. Those of us here struggling – and at times failing – to make today a better day for those around us have the support and prayers from those who have already crossed into eternal life.
On these two feast days – All Saints Day and El Día de los Muertos -- we celebrate our bonds together.
Will we recognize Jesus in our midst?
The Gospel story of Zacchaeus has few details but it is tantalizing.
Jesus is passing through Jericho. We are told this without any context as to why He is there or whether He intended to stop. Then, we read that Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus. Again, no reason is given. Is his desire to get a glimpse of Jesus a simple curiosity? Or is Zacchaeus searching for something meaningful or profound?
The story explains that Zacchaeus is small in stature. There is no way he can see Jesus with the crowd that has gathered. But Zacchaeus is creative. He climbs a tree and, we could say, he has the best view in the house – or the street.
In much the same way we can ask: Is Jesus passing through our lives? Do we recognize Him in the myriad of faces we see every day? Do we recognize His importance to our lives the way Zacchaeus did to his?
Do we allow ourselves to be small and petty and let ourselves be crowded out by our daily tasks and concerns? Or do we go out of our way to see Him?
Jesus constantly passes through our lives. He arrives every day in one way or another. He will certainly enter our lives today. Where are we expecting him? In what person? In what place? In what experience? More importantly, are we ready to meet him in any experience?
But back to the story: Jesus responds to Zacchaeus’s longing for the spark of the Divinity in his life by stopping and declaring that He would have dinner with him in his house that evening.
Wow! What a treat!
But the crowd is shocked. They ask Jesus if He is not aware that Zacchaeus is a tax collector and a renowned sinner.
Recognizing God’s call to him, Zacchaeus declares, “half of my possessions I will give to the poor; and if I find I have taken more than I should, I will pay back fourfold.”
It is a radical conversion. God’s love has washed over him and he is a new person.
Jesus’s role in this narrative is actually brief but decisive. This is a story about Zacchaeus, a person who admitted his limitations, both in physical stature and in spirit, but understood the wonderfulness of the Divinity in his midst. He sought a way to overcome those limitations, reached out, and was overwhelmed by God’s love.
This is also our story: we, too, can encounter God in our own crowded lives.
We are commissioned to announce the mercy of God
On this World Mission Sunday, all of us are invited to “go out” as missionary disciples, each generously offering their talents, creativity, wisdom and experience in order to bring the message of God’s tenderness and compassion to the entire human family.
By virtue of the missionary mandate, the Church…“is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel” and to proclaim mercy in every corner of the world, reaching every person, young or old.
When mercy encounters a person, it brings deep joy to the Father’s heart; for from the beginning the Father has lovingly turned towards the most vulnerable, because his greatness and power are revealed precisely in his capacity to identify with the young, the marginalized and the oppressed. He is a kind, caring and faithful God who is close to those in need, especially the poor; he involves himself tenderly in human reality just as a father and mother do in the lives of their children.
Mercy finds its most noble and complete expression in the Incarnate Word. Jesus reveals the face of the Father who is rich in mercy; he “speaks of [mercy] and explains it by the use of comparisons and parables, but above all he himself makes it incarnate and personifies it”
All peoples and cultures have the right to receive the message of salvation which is God’s gift to every person. This is all the more necessary when we consider how many injustices, wars, and humanitarian crises still need resolution. Missionaries know from experience that the Gospel of forgiveness and mercy can bring joy and reconciliation, justice and peace.
“Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel” (20).
Let us not close our hearts within our own particular concerns, but let us open them to all of humanity.
May Holy Mary, sublime icon of redeemed humanity, model of missionaries for the Church, teach all men, women and families, to foster and safeguard the living and mysterious presence of the Risen Lord in every place, he who renews personal relationships, cultures and peoples, and who fills all with joyful mercy.
The Rosary meets the needs of our time
There is a revival for the rosary today that taps into a very deep need for reaching for the Divine in the midst of modern-day chaos and noise.
The medium for this search for God is the centuries-old tradition of repetitive prayers that in a counter-intuitive, but proven, manner brings quiet meditation and inner peace.
Interestingly, for many Catholics, praying the rosary has been relegated to the funeral wake, an occasion when we put aside all our concerns and join relatives and friends at a time of pain and sorrow to somehow travel beyond space and time and accompany the deceased as they make their journey into eternity and union with God.
But there is more than that to praying the Rosary.
Pope Francis has urged the faithful to avail themselves of this devotion linked, in the recitation of over fifty Hail Marys – prayers of praise and petition – to the Mother of our Redeemer.
Hers is the story of sorrow, resurrection, and hope, the Pope Francis reminds us. Our Lady shared in the struggles of her son, Jesus Christ. She suffered along with him and was the first to received redemption at his resurrection.
Mary “is the Mother who points to the path we are called to take in order to be true disciples of Jesus,” the Pope said. “In each mystery of the rosary, we feel her closeness and we contemplate her as the first disciple of her Son, for she does the Father’s will.”
“Throughout her life, Mary did everything that the Church is asked to do in perennial memory of Christ. In her faith, we learn to open our hearts to obey God; in her self-denial, we see the importance of tending to the needs of others; in her tears, we find the strength to console those experiencing pain. In each of these moments, Mary expresses the wealth of divine mercy that reaches out to all in their daily needs.”
In a mysterious way, praying the rosary is both about us and about others. Whether we pray alone or with others, we shut out worldly distractions around us and at the same we time join others – and the world – in a time need.
Recognizing our frailty, we ask on the behalf of all us, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of death. Amen.”
St. Francis found God's mission for him by uncluttering his life.
“I have accomplished what Christ set out for me to do” observed St. Francis of Assisi on his deathbed.
This phrase is cherished by his Franciscan brothers, but it is often forgotten by his followers and admirers who love Francis for his praise for nature and its creatures, his detachment for worldly allures, and his yearning for peace.
Yet this deep sense of mission was the driving force behind the life of a man who is highly regarded by peoples of all faiths and even by those who deny the existence of God.
Giving our lives a Divine purpose may sound outrageous in the midst of our day-to-day concerns over making a living, keeping our families together, staying connected with our friends, or simply making it rush hour traffic.
It took shedding all worldly concerns for Francis to savor God’s purpose in his life, and hence is seems beyond our reach.
Yet it is not altogether unattainable. We are not called to live life the way he did, but we are called to pause and pray and search for God’s directive in our very specific circumstances – our relationships with our family and friends, our concerns for the poor and suffering, our being true and faithful to our inner selves, and reaching out to God.
If our lives are too cluttered, Francis taught us, we will miss out on what Christ set out for us to do.
We need to be clever about things that really matter.
The Gospel story of the manager who is about to get fired and devises a scheme to make best of his situation and his future by further mismanagement is confusing and intriguing.
But it shows how we can be wily about the concerns of this earth and clueless about things that really matter.
What the manager does to insure his future is to ingratiate himself with the debtors. He calls them in and rewrites their contracts, lowering their debts significantly. What he does is simply wrong; it’s cheating the owner.
Now, Jesus is not advocating that we “wheel and deal.” He is pointing out how we often use our wits to get out of tight situations, but we don’t give the things that really matter the time of day.
We do not stop during our busy day to reflect upon our relation with God and with our family and friends or how to mend the hurts that strain or break those relationships. Nor do we reflect on how our actions damage our inmost selves.
And we ignore those who are suffering from loneliness or addiction.
But we are quick to fix the messes we create for ourselves. Like the manager in the Gospel story, we sometime even compliment ourselves for our crafty solutions.
For what really counts, we plead that we are helpless to resolve.
But we are not. God keeps his promise to be with us and to give us the courage and strength to change our lives and the lives of others.
We need to be as clever about what really counts as that cunning manager.
The Poor as God's Favorites
The Gospel story of Lazarus, the poor man, was as difficult to accept in Jesus’s time as it is in ours.
Jesus lived in a society dominated by religion, where the easy explanation for poverty, illness, or disability was sin, either of the individual or his/her parents.
Jesus countered this attitude by going around forgiving sins and curing people, even on the Sabbath when doing any work was forbidden.
He explicitly upended the idea that poverty was due to sin when He declared that “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God” and when He told how Lazarus easily made it into heaven, into the “bosom of Abraham.”
Our culture today does not blame poverty on sin, but it implies a kind of moral failing when the foremost values in our society are success in a career, wealth, property, and the lifestyle that goes along with all that.
Now, of course, most Americans do not see themselves as ranking with the rich and famous but as struggling middle class and consider work as virtuous.
Indeed, Jesus also encouraged everyone to use his/her personal gifts or talents and even warned that much is expected from those who are given greater talents and abilities.
The temptation in this is to value what we accomplish, not who we are as persons.
And just like the people is Jesus’s time, we look down on the poor or the drug addicted, and while we do not declare them as “sinful,” we blame their poverty and their problems on some personal flaw or moral deficiency.
In fact, we prefer not to even think about the poor.
But Scripture tells us that God loves the poor. He is on their side simply because they are still persons worthy of respect. And in their helplessness, they put their trust in God.
Most pointedly, in Matthew 25, Jesus tells us that when we clothe, feed, and house the poor, rescue those taken captive by drugs or human traffickers, or console the afflicted we do it all to Him – to His person.
Our need to stay in the middle class at times seems to require all our efforts, even when the result is only a very tentative security.
But in the story of Lazarus Jesus reminds us of what really counts: reaching out to Him for our inmost needs like the helpless poor or helping Him by helping the poor and change their lives.
Catechists as Evangelizers Make Present Today the Memory of God Among Us
….[Catechists] are people who keep the memory of God alive; they keep it alive in themselves and they are able to revive it in others.
This is something beautiful: to remember God, like the Virgin Mary, who [upon receiving the announcement she would be the Mother of God]…sets out..to assist her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth, who was also pregnant. And the first thing she does upon meeting Elizabeth is to recall God’s work, God’s fidelity, in her own life, in the history of her people, in our history: “My soul magnifies the Lord … For he has looked on the lowliness of his servant … His mercy is from generation to generation.”
…And this is true too for each one of us and for every Christian: faith contains our own memory of God’s history with us, the memory of our encountering God who always takes the first step, who creates, saves and transforms us
Faith is remembrance of his word which warms our heart, and of his saving work which gives life, purifies us, cares for and nourishes us. A catechist is a Christian who puts this remembrance at the service of proclamation, not to be important, not to talk about himself or herself, but to talk about God, about his love and his fidelity…
Saint Paul recommends one thing in particular to his disciple and co-worker Timothy: Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, whom I proclaim and for whom I suffer (cf. 2 Tim 2:8-9). The Apostle can say this because he too remembered Christ, who called him when he was persecuting Christians, who touched him and transformed him by his grace.
The catechist, then, is a Christian who is mindful of God, who is guided by the memory of God in his or her entire life and who is able to awaken that memory in the hearts of others.
Catechists are men and women of the memory of God if they have a constant, living relationship with him and with their neighbor; if they are men and women of faith who truly trust in God and put their security in him; if they are men and women of charity, love, who see others as brothers and sisters; if they are men and women of…endurance and perseverance, able to face difficulties, trials and failures with serenity and hope in the Lord; if they are gentle, capable of understanding and mercy.
Taking Care of Nature
World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation…offers individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.
We should be united in showing mercy to the earth as our common home and cherishing the world in which we live as a place for sharing and communion.
Climate change is also contributing to the heart-rending refugee crisis. The world’s poor, though least responsible for climate change, are most vulnerable and already suffering its impact.
My brother, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has courageously and prophetically continued to point out our sins against creation:…. “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.”
[We must, therefore, repent and] resolve to live differently should affect our various contributions to shaping the culture and society in which we live. Indeed, “care for nature is part of a lifestyle which includes the capacity for living together and communion” ” (Laudato Si’, 228)
A single question can keep our eyes fixed on the goal: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” (Laudato Si’, 160).
The Christian life involves the practice of the traditional seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy…. So let me propose a complement to the two traditional sets of seven: may the works of mercy also include care for our common home.
[In conclusion, a prayer:]
“O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth…God of mercy, may we receive your forgiveness
and convey your mercy throughout our common home.
Praise be to you! Amen.
Mother Teresa and simple acts of kindness and love
Mother Teresa of Calcutta could be called “the Saint of Divine Mercy,” although interestingly, she did not use the word “mercy.”
We often associate “mercy” with forgiveness for sins or offences, as when we plead, “Lord, have mercy on us” or when we say that someone “put himself as the mercy of the court.”
For Mother Teresa, God was always simply reaching out, not just in our failings.
And she did not see herself as “doing great things.” Indeed, one of her favorite sayings was “There are no great things, only small things with great love.” And there’s where one will find happiness.
She did not pursue the proverbial “search for the cure for cancer” or set up a great surgical center. She and her Sisters simply cared for the sick who no one else attended in the poorest neighborhoods.
There’s a story – whether true or not, it sounds like something she would do – that a wealthy admirer of her work installed a row of washers and dryers to assist her Sisters in attending to the sick and dying. Mother Teresa supposedly had those machines removed, insisting that no one else in the neighborhood where they lived and worked had washers and dryers.
Virtue, for her, was just doing simple things, not accomplishing more.
Tradition has categorized charitable acts “Spiritual Works of Mercy” and “Temporal Works of Mercy.” Mother Teresa, who did not write theological explanations, simply called these “acts of love” and summarized them by telling the world to look at the needs of others and do everything possible to meet those needs.
In short, do “small things with great love” and that will change the world.
She certainly did.
Meals - Nourishment for the body and for relationships
The term “fast food” so common in our society refers to the preparation time, hopefully not to the pace of sharing a meal with family and friends.
The Eucharist is often called “the Lord’s Supper” to signify our accompanying Jesus and others as He shares Himself with us.
Yet in the Gospel of Luke (chapter 14) we find a meal where suspicion raged, not hospitality and friendship. “They watched him closely,” we are told, implying some of those participating were hoping to entrap Jesus in some slip-up.
Jesus, of course, could see their prejudices and shared two parables. In one story, he spoke to the guests; in the other, directly to the host.
The first parable descries the way guests choose their “places of honor” near the host, letting those considered less important in society taking the seats farther way.
In the new order, Jesus tells us in another gospel, this is unacceptable because we are all God’s children and there is no rank and distinction in the Reign of God. But here Jesus appeals to practicality, advising us, “do not go the higher place” lest we suffer the indignity of being asked to take a lower spot. He suggests, instead, we choose the lower places and notes we might be asked to go to a higher one.
The second parable is about extending invitations to a dinner. Jesus tells the host – and us – to be unselfish and invite the poor, the disabled, and the disadvantaged. They are not able to reciprocate. They cannot further our careers or status in the community. This is genuine giving, true charity.
Both of these parable are about being generous and inclusive. We are told to give without seeking something in return and to seek out those who do not rank in the eyes of world and do get the usual attention.
The context for these parables is a meal, a time and place for hospitality and sharing. But the lesson is about life. It is about caring for others and having compassion for the predicaments and suffering in which others find themselves.
If meals – and the Eucharist – are about building relationships with others, so is the home life, the workplace, and the wider community.
The Assumption -- the unity of the whole person and the community's destiny
On Monday, August 15, the Church marked the Solemnity (the Solemn Celebration) of the Assumption of Mary, her being taken up to heaven, not to the grave, after her death.
Officially proclaimed in 1950, this belief actually goes back to the early Church. It asserts two very fundamental truths: one, respect for the body and for our human existence; and second, our heavenly destiny as a community.
Regarding the first, asserting that Mary’s body was spared from “returning to dust” points to the unity of the natural and the spiritual, a unity that demands respect for the body and the whole human person. It also demands that we respond to the basic “earthly” needs of all – food, health care, clothing, education and a living wage.
As for the second, the importance of community. Mary’s assumption (being taken up to heaven) reflects the Judeo-Christian belief that the community of believers – and hopefully the whole human race – symbolized by Mary will eventually form a “New Jerusalem,” a community renewed by sharing the life of God, worthy of being “lifted up” to God.
This feast focuses on Mary and recalls how Mary was special. She was special because of her “yes” to being the mother of the Word, the mother of Jesus. And she set the example for us as to how to say “yes” to the Divine Life we are offered every day when we respect our true selves and when we respond to the needs of others.
In yesteryear, believers formed very strong emotional attachments to Mary with prayers, images, churches, pilgrimages and miracle stories. Mary seemed to make the Divine Life readily accessible to all, and she was named “Queen of Mercy” and “Mother of Mercy.”
Pope Francis recently reminded us that in everything “Mary was dedicated to the mercy of God which extends ‘from generation to generation’,” a phrase that comes from the Gospel of Luke in a hymn sung by Mary. That hymn praises God for doing “great things” for her – and for us.
Among those great things: making us who we are as whole persons and giving us the power to form a community worthy of a heavenly destiny.
The Quality of Mercy
We believe in a God of mercy and compassion who is tolerant of our weaknesses and forgiving of our offenses.
We need forgiveness when we break asunder the relationship between ourselves and others around us and between ourselves and God or when we break our relationship with the true core of our being.
But mercy is about more than what we do when we destroy relationships; it is about reaching out to others.
Pope Francis has described mercy as “opening one’s heart to wretchedness.” When we open our hearts, we discover we enter into a different relationship with God and change how we live and we really are. In fact, this relationship to others shifts our focus away from ourselves to looking at what other need and what we must do to help them achieve their dignity and destiny.
Mercy is about presence, about being with the homeless, the hungry, the sick, and the most vulnerable in our world, our country and our city, communicating God’s merciful love to them.
Are we able to serve the sick, take care of them during the night, or feed the children who are hungry? Is our image the image of standing with, accompanying the lost with profound compassion, which comes from the gospel invitation to see our suffering neighbor as Christ: “For I was hungry and you gave me food.” Throughout the year, we have been constantly called to respond to the needs of hungry of children in our city, the question: “did we make a donation to the Food Bank or at the Grocery store?
“Naked and you clothed me?” Throughout the year, we as a University community have received request to “clothe the naked” especially the children of immigrants and poor students in our schools. How many of us have clothes hanging in our closets that will never be used, yet they sit gathering dust or contributing to clutter?
We need forgiveness not only for what we do – breaking the relationships that really matter – but for what we do not do for the suffering Christ in the dispossessed and marginalized in our city and our world.
Pope Francis at the World Youth Day, Poland 2016
“In my years as a bishop, I have learned one thing. Nothing is more beautiful than seeing the enthusiasm, dedication, zeal and energy with which so many young people live their lives. When Jesus touches a young person’s heart, he or she becomes capable of truly great things. It is exciting to listen to you share your dreams, your questions and your impatience with those who say that things cannot change. For me, it is a gift of God to see so many of you, with all your questions, trying to make a difference. It is beautiful and heartwarming to see all that restlessness!
“Today the Church looks to you and wants to learn from you, to be reassured that the Father’s Mercy has an ever-youthful face, and constantly invites us to be part of his Kingdom.
“…a merciful heart is motivated to move beyond its comfort zone. A merciful heart can go out and meet others; it is ready to embrace everyone. A merciful heart is able to be a place of refuge for those who are without a home or have lost their home; it is able to build a home and a family for those forced to emigrate; it knows the meaning of tenderness and compassion. A merciful heart can share its bread with the hungry and welcome refugees and migrants. To say the word “mercy” along with you is to speak of opportunity, future, commitment, trust, openness, hospitality, compassion and dreams.
“Let me tell you another thing I have learned over these years. It pains me to meet young people who seem to have opted for ‘early retirement’. I worry when I see young people who have ‘thrown in the towel’ before the game has even begun, who are defeated even before they begin to play, who walk around glumly as if life has no meaning. Deep down, young people like this are bored. . . and boring! But it is also hard, and troubling, to see young people who waste their lives looking for thrills or a feeling of being alive by taking dark paths and in the end having to pay for it… and pay dearly. It is disturbing to see young people squandering some of the best years of their lives, wasting their energies running after peddlers of fond illusions (where I come from, we call them ‘vendors of smoke’), who rob you of what is best in you.
Instead, “…All together…we ask the Lord: ‘Launch us on the adventure of mercy! Launch us on the adventure of building bridges and tearing down walls, barriers and barbed wire. Launch us on the adventure of helping the poor, those who feel lonely and abandoned, or no longer find meaning in their lives. Send us, like Mary of Bethany, to listen attentively to those we do not understand, those of other cultures and peoples, even those we are afraid of because we consider them a threat. Make us attentive to our elders, as Mary of Nazareth was to Elizabeth, in order to learn from their wisdom.
“Here we are, Lord! Send us to share your merciful love. We want to welcome you in our midst…We want to affirm that our lives are fulfilled when they are shaped by mercy, for that is the better part, and it will never be taken from us.”
Words can instill fear, give crushing blows, console and inspire
Politicians use words rather freely; at times, even carelessly. Too many words often result in the audience checking out altogether. Too few words can leave the listener puzzled. The wrong words can hurt; the right words can lift the spirit. Indeed, words can be powerful.
St. John in his gospel refers to Jesus as the Word Incarnate (made flesh), God becoming a person like us and, after the Resurrection, dwelling in and among us.
The Word here is not just a conglomeration of spoken sounds or of letters on a piece of paper. It is an action – the Divinity entering history. It is person, God made visible, God’s love made evident to us. And Jesus speaks and acts.
We feel God’s wrath when He upturns the tables of the money changers at the Temple doors.
We brace ourselves when He condemns those give scandal to children, that is, hurt anyone who is defenseless.
We sense His love when Jesus heals, when He pardons, when He consoles.
Through our Baptism, we are the Word to the world us. We shouldn’t be a mumbling Word or an empty Word like so often the words of politicians are, but a powerful Word of justice, of defense of those without power, of forgiveness and consolation.
In this instance, words really matter.
Change takes lots of motivation.
The political season highlights the need for social change. Politicians have to motivate voters to step outside their customary, everyday routines and get out and vote. To do that, they have to paint a picture of society in contrasting colors, hoping to convince the public of the great need for major change.
And at voting time, citizens have to act and make a choice.
Faith communities face similar circumstances. The letters of St. Paul to one church or another demonstrate the many challenges everyone, even committed Christians, face in being responsive to, and responsible for, one another.
Paul, also, sometimes uses stark contrasts to elicit the concern for one another that being members of the Body of Christ demands of us.
And that’s because change require lots of motivation. Inertia, it seems, rules the day, working against personal, social, and spiritual change.
Yet the Incarnation – God entering into our lives and our world – is basically about change, about choosing.
Those who are “born again” give testimony of major change in their lives. But, in a sense, we are all “born again” with the dawning of every day and challenged to begin anew, to change in some way and take some action to make today different from yesterday in how we relate to our inner selves, to others, and to God.
Hopefully, we don’t have to experience a summer of discontent and turmoil to take the first step in changing our lives and those of others around us.
National turmoil, a wake-up call for understanding and compassion.
And for going beyond “sending thoughts and prayers.”
The good Samaritan, the gospel story tells us, had compassion on the thieves’ victim and was thus moved to take action and rescue the man. The others walked on, unwilling to interrupt their lives. The Samaritan surely asked himself, “What will happen to this man if I don’t stop and help?”
For us today, “compassion” involves churning up feelings, and that was the intent of the recent demonstrations and prayer meetings for both the civilian and the police victims. All that may be necessary, but feelings come and go.
Moving us and others to take action, that takes understanding.
For one, it requires acknowledging the inequalities in our society. The proverbial “broken tail light” is symptomatic of the conditions of the poor who have to choose between getting this minor repair done or buying gas to get to work that day or food for dinner that night.
The escalating interaction with the police during what would be a routine traffic stop reflects the cultural war zone in which some of our fellow citizens live.
We must first recognize/understand that the poor and marginalized live in a very different world – almost a foreign country – than the one inhabited by middle class Americans. These days, even the latter are struggling, stressed to maintain the lives they are used to. But the poor face a more critical challenge daily: surviving!
With understanding, hopefully we will be moved by compassion to ask ourselves: What’s going to happen if I don’t stop and help? The good Samaritan – a stand-in figure for Christ – took action. So must we.
A prayer for community in our nation.
On the Fourth of July and on other patriotic holidays we have the opportunity to celebrate our national community. And the recent tragedies in California and Florida have provided occasions for bring the nation together.
Just how nationalism fits in with our belonging to a global community may not be a simple matter, however.
The terrorist attack on our cultural cousins in Western Europe elicited greater empathy than bombings in Turkey, Bangladesh, or Iraq, although the latter were more vicious.
The media coverage of atrocities around the world certainly make them very present to us. But the media’s hunger for the “new” also shortens our attention span as our interest shifts from one thing to the next.
In the midst of this global interdependence, there is still room for the national community where we can attend to immediate needs of the imprisoned, of those with addictions and cancer, of immigrants who have lived among us and who work here, and of our countrymen and women who struggle daily in an economy that does not offer opportunities to everyone equally.
“America the Beautiful,” a favorite patriotic hymn sung in many churches, does pray that God bless us with brotherhood.
The Gospel story of Jesus calming seas can be both consoling and disconcerting.
We are consoled by being reassured that Jesus can step into our boat when it is rocked by the storms of life. These happen every day – in our families, in our city and nation, and in the world. And no matter how unsettling and terrifying, we can count on the Lord’s commitment to be with us, personally and communally.
When Jesus saved the disciples, they asked themselves, “Who is this man who can calm the wind and the sea?”
He is the presence among us of the invisible loving God. And this is truly comforting.
But after the Resurrection and Pentecost, we are the Christophers – the Christ bearers. We are Christ to one another. We are the ones who now have to step in and calm the storms around us.
We are the ones who are called to don all those virtues St. Paul enumerates: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
But that may not be so easy – indeed, it may be disconcerting, daunting and indeed frightening – as emotional and economic turmoil swirls around us and we of little faith have to bring order and peace and comfort to others.
Yet the Gospel assures us that Jesus is present within us and among us and wind and seas can be calmed.
A compassionate and loving God asks us took beyond ourselves.
“But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).
We believe in a God of mercy and compassion, who is tolerant of our weaknesses and forgiving our offenses.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invites us to open “our hearts to wretchedness or suffering” which leads us into a different relationship with God and has profound implications for the way we live our lives.
In essence, our spirituality must be one of mercy which asks us to focus on the needs of others and helping them achieves fullness of life.
What, then, is our response to the other? How do we move to action? Are we honest? Do we delude ourselves by rationalizing our decisions that are actually in our interest and address our comfort while believing we are acting justly?
Our desire for comfort and safety drives the decisions we make. For example, I might support a charity, but will oppose a half-way house being built in the neighborhood. Also, are we attached to our particular ways of doing things that we can’t entertain other possibilities?
It is difficult to hear the voice of the poor and truly understand the impact of our decisions on their lives.
When we make decisions, have we actually listened to the needs? Do we find ways to dismiss views different from ours or views that are couched in a different language? Does listening to the poor in a way accuse us?
Focusing on ourselves blinds us to the needs of the injured and homeless neighbor in the Good Samaritan story.
A compassionate and loving God who looks beyond our faults asks us to look beyond ourselves.
Love and kindness outshine evil
In the midst of the Orlando tragedy – or the loss of the hundreds of lives of refugees who recently drowned – the issue of how a good and loving God allows these things to happen always comes up and there’s no easy, satisfying answer.
But the good people do is very convincing.
On the matter on the existence of evil, the logical response is that, in the instance of the massacre in Orlando, God’ involvement in restricted to granting all humans free will and we bring evil into the world. The same could be said of those profiting from putting all those refugees on unreliable sailing crafts.
As for the winds and currents that upturned the boats, well, even insurance companies call these “acts of God.” The rationale here is that God causes the acts of nature but not the effects.
Valid or not, in the anguish of the moment, these answers sound empty. Instead, we focus on the goodness and love demonstrated by those who respond to the many who suffer.
The response to the Orlando tragedy, which is of course closer to home, has been overwhelmingly generous – a great outpouring of sympathy and assistance for the families of the victims, killed or injured.
This horrible act has brought out, in most of us, the best of our broken human nature.
The challenge is to translate that goodness into everyday life by working to purge within ourselves and within our society the hateful attitudes that contributed to the killing and wounding of so many.
Perhaps, instead of grappling with the problem of evil in the abstract, we can conquer it in our hearts and in the world around us.
After all, Jesus did not lay out the message of God’s love in syllogisms, He healed and offered forgiveness.
The Gospel challenge to live life to its fullest
The gospels recount three instances when Jesus, the Son of God incarnate – made one like us and dwelling among us – brought someone back to life. All of these stories focus on God as the source of life and, as one would expect, there is great rejoicing.
The story where Jesus brings a woman’s son from the dead is particularly moving, even in its simplicity. When we see how deeply moved Jesus is by her plight, we see the merciful face of God. And when He says “rise up” – the same word used to describe His resurrection – He telling us He is the source of life.
In other passages, He proclaimed: “I have come that they (meaning, us) may have life” so we may have it “more abundantly.”
In these stories we are asked to look at our lives and see just how alive we really are?
In a world without faith, living life to its fullest is traveling and having big adventures, pursing interesting careers, or accomplishing great things.
The Scriptures point to something else.
Yes, the Apostle Paul has an extraordinary life. He experiences a powerful vision that knocks him off his horse. He travels across the Mediterranean world establishing faith communities. He is in a shipwreck and he gets put in prison.
But we forget the three years Paul devoted to introspection, to growing internally to the fullness of the life of God within before spending his life taking the Word to others.
And the Letter of James presents the fullness of life in another context. He outlines the rules of relating to one another in daily life, respectful of each other. The extraordinarily rich life of God in ordinary living.
The Scriptures, then, invite us to pause and reflect on how fully we are living our lives in all its dimension.
If we look around, we see many people who are barely alive due to poverty, hungry, war, migration, suffering, and so on. Are we able to see life from the eyes of the poor? How are we – individually and as a nation – bringing life to them.
And there are those around us, in our households and at work, emotionally crushed by turns of life, hungry for an act, or even a word, of kindness.
Jesus promised to give us life in great abundance. He is asking us if we are fully human, fully alive. Are we relating to God through prayer and to others in our actions? Is there great rejoice after we go past the suffering?
St. Irenaeus was fond of using this beautiful saying: “The glory of God is a person fully alive.” Are we, in our daily lives, reflecting the glory of God?
In commemorating the Lord’s Supper, we celebrate His and our offering to God the Father and to one another.
(An excerpt from Pope Francis’s homily on the Feast of Corpus Christi)
Breaking -- this is the other word explaining the meaning of those words: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus was broken; he is broken for us. And he asks us to give ourselves, to break ourselves, as it were, for others.
This “breaking bread” became the icon, the sign for recognizing Christ and Christians. We think of Emmaus: they knew him “in the breaking of the bread” (Lk 24:35). We recall the first community of Jerusalem: “They held steadfastly… to the breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:42). From the outset it is the Eucharist which becomes the center and pattern of the life of the Church.
But we think also of all the saints – famous or anonymous – who have “broken” themselves, their own life, in order to “give something to eat” to their brothers and sisters. How many mothers, how many fathers, together with the slices of bread they provide each day on the tables of their homes, have broken their hearts to let their children grow, and grow well! How many Christians, as responsible citizens, have broken their own lives to defend the dignity of all, especially the poorest, the marginalized and those discriminated!
Where do they find the strength to do this? It is in the Eucharist: in the power of the Risen Lord’s love, who today breaks bread for us also and repeats: “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Trinity Sunday celebrates a great mystery of who God is.
We have trouble understanding ourselves, let alone fathom the essence of the divinity. Yet, in Sacred Scripture, we get glimpses of the nature of God. Understandably, these images of God are couched in human terms, some of them deceivingly simple.
Genesis, for example, describes God as a parent who created and gave life and beamed with joy. All creation was “good,” but Adam and Eve, they were “very good.”
Jesus talked about God as the caring Father, a parent who every day awaited the return of the Prodigal, estranged son and rejoiced upon seeing him and did not expect an apology or even ask for an explanation. Forgiveness is immediate and complete. God is love and compassion and rejoicing.
God the Son came to live among us – “He pitched his tent among us” – the Gospels tell us. He was sent as a human being so we could see, hear and touch God. Jesus is the God who heals and teaches and who comforts the weak and vulnerable.
God the Spirit is revealed as the life-source of God’s people. Who we are, what we do -- everything about us – is different because God’s Spirit works in and through us.
Trinity Sunday brings all this to our attention and calls us to recognize this mystery within us and within all whom we meet. We are, in fact, called to evoke this mystery, not just of this feast day, but every time we make the Sign of the Cross.
In this sacred action, we re-enact our Baptism, when we were given new life and set free to grow in the creative power of the Father, the compassion of the Son, and the vitality of the Holy Spirit.
And we affirm this wondrous mystery with a heartfelt “Amen.”
The Holy Spirit Comfort US and Stands By Us
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end. Amen.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit makes us witnesses of hope
The Holy Spirit, we are promised, will empower us to be witnesses to Christ’s presence among us and to His message: the forgiveness of sins.
At its core, “the forgiveness of sine” means that the relationship between us and God has been restored or, should we say, can be restored, because, through the power of Holy Spirit, we in some way complete the redemptive act of Christ.
The same can be said of other relationships -- between the individual and his/her true self, between the individual and the family, the circle of co-workers and those in our daily life, and local and world community.
The challenge to bring about this transformation can appear overwhelming. But the outpouring of the Holy Spirit makes it possible – and hopeful.
Indeed, we are told the apostles and disciples left their hiding place empowered, ready to be witnesses. Besides proclaiming the Good News, they cured the sick, explaining that it wasn’t they who effected the cure, but the power of the Spirit.
To be sure, at times restoring strained and shattered relationships with our God, with our family and friends, with our co-workers, and with the world around us is not an easy task. Life has a way of bruising and wounding – and at times breaking – all of us.
But there is healing; there is hope.
And we are called to be witnesses to that hope. The Incarnation and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit make it possible to find some meaning in the unbearable and even to turn things around.
Indeed, the Kingdom of God – the society based on God’s love – is here already, waiting for our participation to make it real for everyone.
After the Ascension, a new presence of Christ
The Ascension of the Lord reveals some profound mysteries that have a major bearing on our lives.
First, Jesus’s return to God the Father paradoxically reminds us of the Incarnation, His coming down to our world, becoming one of us. The Incarnation reflects just how great the God the Father’s love for us is, that He sent His Son to dwell among us.
By so doing, Jesus replaced the old way, the old covenant, in which the relationship of men and women with God had unfortunately had become formulaic – comply with these rules and you can be assured of God’s commitment to the human race.
Jesus changed that. Through Him, all of us have access to the Holy of Holies, God’s presence. We can go into the holiest of place.
Second, Jesus must go back up to God so that He can present to us in another manner -- through others. Every time anyone receives the love of a sister/brother, it is the presence of Jesus. And when they share their love, they are Jesus present to that person. They—and we—are to be Jesus in this world. We are to be the visible presence of Jesus.
We are now Christ to one another. A truly challenging and a scary responsibility.
We must ask ourselves, when people see me, do they see Jesus? When people see me, do they want to know Jesus? Do they want to join our community, share our life, and make the Gospel the foundation of their life?
The Ascension signals this new reality: When Jesus left, He gave us a very important mission – to continue His loving presence in the world.
Witnesses to presence of God among us
After the Resurrection, the apostles and disciples continued worshipping in the temple as they had before, but as they proclaimed the new life they now shared, they were viewed a disturbing the established order and were attacked. In fear, they retreated and hid.
Yet they were confident because Christ had promised them that He would send the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. And Holy Spirit came to them in a powerful wind and “tongues of fire” rested on each them. Embolden, they went forth again to preach that salvation had been gained for all.
Scripture scholars and theologians have identified seven gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows: Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Courage, Right Judgment, Reverence, and Fear or Wonder of the Lord.
These gifts are ours to help us understand our relationships with our family, with our friends and others, with our society, and with God and to nourish and develop these relationships. In a word, we have the ability to change who we are and the world around us.
We are called to be witnesses to the power of the presence of God in us and in our midst through our words and actions.
The Newness of Easter
“Behold, I make all things new.”
Springtime! Easter! Fiesta! – we join in celebrating new life! Each spring creation changes physically as new life emerges everywhere. Flowers bloom, the foliage on the trees buds forth, the birds fill the air with music.
Easter also celebrates new life, which implies change. But what changes? Does each one of us become a different person? Is our world transformed? Or does Easter zoom past us and everything is just “the same old, same old?”
Just what do we mean by “new?” The Scriptures speak of a turning around, or a “conversion.” This is a radical change of vision, a re-ordering of priorities in life. It also means new attitudes, new values, and new ways of relating to God and to others.
Jesus’s new commandment to “love one another” as He has loved us is at the heart of that conversion. If we love as Jesus loved, we are called to a new way of thinking, of seeing, of behaving and of interacting with other people.
To be a disciple of Jesus demands that we reach out to others in a caring manner regardless of their possible or actual response. It means showing compassion for others, especially those who have offended us. Jesus loved those who tried to trick him, those who laid traps for him. He had a special concern for those who were considered sinners by society because He recognized not only what they were doing to others but also to themselves.
Are we, then, truly loving, caring and forgiving? Do we make an effort to make whole those who are hurt and broken?
And, ultimately, do we really love ourselves? If we do not see ourselves as loveable, how can we reach out and love others who cannot love themselves?
The “new earth, the new heaven and the new Jerusalem” comes into existence when we reach out, build community and work together for the reign of God or for the transformation of society into “the city of God.”
The Easter message: the forgiveness of sins
In the Easter Season readings from Acts of the Apostles, we repeatedly find a concise explanation of the Incarnation (God the Son becoming one of us) and of Christ’s life, death and resurrection: the forgiveness of sins.
It’s a great mystery, indeed, how those who believe in Him share in His resurrected life and are made new persons. The newness begins in Baptism through which we die and rise with Christ. In the Eucharist, we join Christ in offering Himself and ourselves to God the Father and become Christ to one another in our daily lives.
Joining Christ in His death and resurrection allows us to begin each day anew. The proverb about not going to bed angry may be good advice for some people, but in spiritual and practical terms for many it might be easier to face and resolve issues deep in our hearts and with our family and friends in the morning, with the freshness of a new day, rather than in the weariness of a long, hard day.
The forgiveness of sins means, at bottom, that our offenses are cleared, not held against us. Sin is not merely “breaking the rules;” it involves disrupting or tearing our relationships to our true self, to our family, our friends, our community, and our world and thereby our relationship with God. Forgiveness of sins provides us the opportunity to heal and restore those bonds.
Healing relationships invariably involves, as we say in the Our Father, forgiving others as we are forgiven.
The Scriptures point to how, through His death and resurrection, Christ restored the relationship of the whole of humanity to God and how it is constantly renewed.
It is truly wonderful, then, that the beginning of every day is an Easter morning.
Recognizing the Risen Lord in our world
The meaning and implication of Jesus’s resurrection is often not immediately apparent to us. And it wasn’t to the His disciples either!
After the resurrection, the Apostles returned to the old ways. They went back to Galilee where they felt secure and comfortable. Perhaps they were tired and disappointed. They, like us, had forgotten the words of Jesus “Without me, you can do nothing.”
The Gospel relates how the disciples saw a stranger on the lake’s shore, a shadowy figure in the early morn’s light, who asked if they had caught anything. When they admitted they had not gotten a single fish, he suggested, “Drop your nets on the right side of the boat and you’ll find something.” They did and they were overwhelmed with their catch.
“It is the Lord,” the disciples proclaimed, seeing the hand of God changing their immediate lives.
When they came ashore, they found the stranger-Lord preparing a meal for them of bread and roasted fish.
The core elements of Eucharist are in that meal. They are in the presence of Jesus, the Word of God. They listened to Him and were nourished by Him.
They didn’t ask for an explanation. The Risen Jesus did not appear as he used to look. He seemed so different they hadn’t recognized Him at first, but with faith they were sure it was Him.
In our world, Jesus has many faces: my friend, my enemy, my rich neighbor, my middle class neighbor. He is found and recognized in the poor, the exploited, the handicapped, the weak, the uneducated, the foreigner….Jesus has a Jewish face, a Chinese face, an Indian face, a Filipino face, a Nigerian face, an Arab face, an American face.
Just as the beloved disciple recognized the Lord in the shadowy stranger, we too will have Jesus in our lives pointed out to us. It is our responsibility, too, to help others recognize the presence of Jesus, the Lord, at work in our daily experience. If we do, we will make that presence a felt reality, a genuine experience for those around us. We go forth announcing the Good News!
"The night shall be as bright as day"
Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven,
exult, let Angel ministers of God exult,
let the trumpet of salvation
sound aloud our mighty King's triumph!
Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her,
ablaze with light from her eternal King,
let all corners of the earth be glad,
knowing an end to gloom and darkness.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice,
arrayed with the lightning of his glory,
let this holy building shake with joy,
filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.
This is the night,
when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld.
Our birth would have been no gain,
had we not been redeemed.
O truly blessed night,
worthy alone to know the time and hour
when Christ rose from the underworld!
This is the night
of which it is written:
The night shall be as bright as day,
dazzling is the night for me,
and full of gladness.
The sanctifying power of this night
dispels wickedness, washes faults away,
restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners,
drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.
O truly blessed night,
when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
and divine to the human.
Christ your Son,
who, coming back from death's domain,
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
"Do not be afraid....He has been raised."
Dear Brothers and Sisters, a Happy and Holy Easter!
The Church throughout the world echoes the angel’s message to the women: “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised… Come, see the place where he lay” ( Mt 28:5-6).
This is the culmination of the Gospel, it is the Good News par excellence: Jesus, who was crucified, is risen! This event is the basis of our faith and our hope. If Christ were not raised, Christianity would lose its very meaning; the whole mission of the Church would lose its impulse, for this is the point from which it first set out and continues to set out ever anew. The message which Christians bring to the world is this: Jesus, Love incarnate, died on the cross for our sins, but God the Father raised him and made him the Lord of life and death. In Jesus, love has triumphed over hatred, mercy over sinfulness, goodness over evil, truth over falsehood, life over death.
That is why we tell everyone: “Come and see!” In every human situation, marked by frailty, sin and death, the Good News is no mere matter of words, but a testimony to unconditional and faithful love: it is about leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast… “Come and see!”: Love is more powerful, love gives life, love makes hope blossom in the wilderness.
With this joyful certainty in our hearts, today we turn to you, risen Lord!
Help us to seek you and to find you, to realize that we have a Father and are not orphans; that we can love and adore you.
Help us to overcome the scourge of hunger, aggravated by conflicts and by the immense wastefulness for which we are often responsible.
Enable us to protect the vulnerable, especially children, women and the elderly, who are at times exploited and abandoned.
Enable us to care for our brothers and sisters struck by the Ebola epidemic in Guinea Conakry, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and to care for those suffering from so many other diseases which are also spread through neglect and dire poverty.
Comfort all those who cannot celebrate this Easter with their loved ones because they have been unjustly torn from their affections, like the many persons, priests and laity, who in various parts of the world have been kidnapped.
Comfort those who have left their own lands to migrate to places offering hope for a better future and the possibility of living their lives in dignity and, not infrequently, of freely professing their faith.
We ask you, Lord Jesus, to put an end to all war and every conflict, whether great or small, ancient or recent.
We pray in a particular way for Syria, beloved Syria, that all those suffering the effects of the conflict can receive needed humanitarian aid and that neither side will again use deadly force, especially against the defenseless civil population, but instead boldly negotiate the peace long awaited and long overdue!
Jesus, Lord of glory, we ask you to comfort the victims of fratricidal acts of violence in Iraq and to sustain the hopes raised by the resumption of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
We beg for an end to the conflicts in the Central African Republic and a halt to the brutal terrorist attacks in parts of Nigeria and the acts of violence in South Sudan.
We ask that hearts be turned to reconciliation and fraternal concord in Venezuela.
By your resurrection, which this year we celebrate together with the Churches that follow the Julian calendar, we ask you to enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence and, in a spirit of unity and dialogue, chart a path for the country’s future. On this day, may they be able to proclaim, as brothers and sisters, that Christ is risen, Khrystos voskres!
Lord, we pray to you for all the peoples of the earth: you who have conquered death, grant us your life, grant us your peace!
Dear brothers and sisters, Happy Easter!
We are called to begin at the end
“Begin at the end” is one of management dictums that usually startles the listener, and yet that is the order for the Palm Sunday ritual, which begins with the commemoration of Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Later, the gospel reading relates His passion and death.
The passage of Jesus’s procession into the Holy City, some scripture scholars argue, also has the deeper message and image of Jesus’s entry into His glory, namely, His return to the Heavenly Jerusalem at the Ascension or, better still, at the end of time.
The Palm Sunday “hosannas” are not just about the ending to Jesus’s story, but also about the ending to our story, when we join the saints as they go “marching in.”
Some centuries back, when life was more tenuous because of disease and famines and the lifespan was 37 years of age, it may have been easier than it is today to contemplate our eternal destiny. Our daily lives are busy, “cluttered,” and “noisy.” We simply lack time for self-reflection, much less to contemplate life’s ending.
Ironically, we lack time to truly enjoy life right now – that is, the things that really matter: our relationships with our family and friends and with God.
Accordingly, we do not prepared to take in the joyfulness of Jesus’s and our entry into City of God and, paradoxically, can better understand, and even identify with, His suffering.
But we are called to begin at the end – to savor first wonders of our relation with God and our joining the communion of saints as we all “go marching in.” Only then can suffering make any sense.
The freshiness of God's love for us
Lent reminds us of freshness and vibrancy of God’s love for us.
“See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” the prophet Isaiah proclaims (43:19). How exciting! God wants us to see what new thing He is doing our everyday lives. Isaiah’s “new thing” and Christ’s resurrection, which we await to celebrate at Easter, prepare us to encounter Jesus in others and in the world around us where something out of the ordinary happens.
Jesus demonstrates the newness of life in His reaction to the woman the scribes “caught in adultery.” Surely, she was frightened; she knew she would be stoned to death. But Jesus calmed down the wild mob and bend down to write something on the ground.
Everyone has presumed He wrote down the sins of those self-righteous men. The gospel does not actually reveal what He wrote. And maybe it does not matter. What is significant is that it gave the agitated mob time to calm down and let truth, goodness and mercy to emerge. And it worked. One by one the men dropped their stones.
Now, Jesus did not rebuke the woman’s accusers. He sought not condemnation, but reconciliation. God understands we cling to our stones of righteousness, indignation, prejudice, resentment over hurts, pride, or harsh judgments.
During this Year of Mercy and Lent, God is calling us to calm down and think. He is stooping down and writing in the dust of our minds and hearts, so our goodness and mercy can come forth. God holds out hope so that we are not defined by our weakest moments or our loudest outburst.
He is also asking us to be like Jesus and choose not to judge, but to forgive – to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem, through suffering, death and resurrection. Lent is a time to sense God’s trust in us, to open ourselves to God’s grace and to let the stones fall away.
Happily, Lent and Easter coincide with spring. There are blooming flowers blooming, trees budding into greenness, and birds enchanting us with song – the new life Isaiah proclaimed and God calls us enjoy.
The Prodigal Son
In this Year of Mercy, the story of the Prodigal Son has great importance.
Of the three characters in this familiar parable, the focus seems to be on the undisciplined son, with whom we the readers/listeners tend to identify -- and we like the story for its happy ending. We sometimes strain or break our relationship with God and being the recipients of the Father’s loving forgiveness is, indeed, very consoling.
As for the other son, we have contradictory sentiments about his situation. On the one hand, as sinners who repent, we disapprove of his resenting the father’s generosity; on the other hand, because most of us tend to have a good image of ourselves, we sympathize with his lament that the father never threw a party for him.
Regarding the father, we never put ourselves in his shoes. After all, the father in the story is seen as God extending His loving mercy to us sinners.
But there is a way in which we can imitate the father.
This is the Year of Mercy and we are supposed to be merciful as He is merciful, as Pope Francis has been encouraging us. So, this story can challenge us to reflect on whether or not we have gone out of our way to greet those who have offended us and whether or not we can accept them without rehashing all the alleged offenses of the past – and then hold a feast!
Actually, inviting estranged friends and relatives to a family-and-friends gathering, a wedding, or someone’s birthday party or greeting them after church – any feast – is one way to let bygones be bygones in the midst of hugs and laughter
In reality, every day is a day to forgive and welcome someone back into friendship and family – to imitate what the father in the story did and what God does for us all the time.
A Time to Change
This coming Sunday’s gospel is very challenging! Jesus is listening to people sharing the latest news – it’s all tragic – and they are blaming the victims, something common in those days and in that culture. But Jesus waves that judgment aside and instead admonishes the crowd to consider their own sins.
Without using the same words as the crowd in Jesus’s time, we also tend to blame the poor for their poverty. This is evident in the recent general response to “Black Lives Matter” activists. It is just too big of a challenge to consider changing the harsh living conditions, the poor educational system, and grossly unfair system of “justice” that doom the lives of so many. It’s simply easier to blame the victim.
But Jesus dismisses that attitude: don’t consider the faults of others, focus on what you can do. “But I tell you to repent,” he says, meaning: change your ways, do something!
Jesus continues with the story of the fig tree, which demonstrates God’s patience and mercy. Patience is necessary. But it is cautionary because much more is implied. It suggests a time of reckoning. Patience, in fact, awaits growth, with the expectation that tree “will bear fruit.”
But what is the fruit God desires? Pope Francis suggests God wants us to give the ones in need the extra clothes we have in our closets and the savings from not purchasing unnecessary “stuff” and finding homes for the homeless.
God is patient and supportive of us as we grow attentive to the needs of others. God gives us grace, all that is required is “yes.” God wants us to bear fruit.
Getting there, however, is not something that happens automatically. The garden of our soul needs tending and pruning. And, God knows, there’s lots in our lives that needs clearing and emptying.
It all begins with recognizing our own personal faults and our faults as a society. This takes patience and perseverance. Change does not come easily, and it is a struggle to break free of material things and the habits we have developed. Yet, because Jesus’s road to the crucifixion was not easy, we know that God understands our struggles.
While the challenge to help others and change our society is urgent, we also need to be patient with ourselves and each other. God’s grace is at work within us, helping to overcome our alienation from God and others.
And we live in the confidence of the Resurrection.
The biggest temptation surrounds us rather quietly.
The Gospel story of the temptations of Jesus involves the Evil One promising to turn stones into bread, to bring fame and greatness, and to tempt God’s provident goodness.
Jesus turns Satan down with exhortation “Got thee behind me!” – the equivalent of “I am not going there!”
This incident portrays Jesus’s humanity, his being like us in every way, including enduring temptation, but not giving into sin.
The moral of the story is avoiding sin – destroying the relationships in our families and friends, in our community and with God – which at times is a huge challenge for all of us.
But we often think of sin as something we do rather than something we don’t do.
We might be tempting God’s goodness towards us most by not doing anything about the needs of neighbors and relying on others to register and vote for social justice, to provide food for the hungry and comfort to the lonely, or simply to make life more joyous for a family at home and our colleagues at work.
In a word, the biggest temptation we might face is enjoying the comfort of our personal world and doing nothing about the needs of others.
Lent of Mercy
“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us…to shake us from our lethargy” (Pope Francis).
An amazing number of people fill Our Lady’s Chapel on Ash Wednesday. For so many of us it’s clearly an occasion to stop our everyday lives and reach out beyond ourselves.
What motivates us to come for this holy sign of ashes? Who calls us? How does this mark connect us?
This simple daub of ashes somehow penetrates our hearts and proclaims that we are on the journey of life together. God invites us to open our hearts to Him and to each other and to see our world with new eyes. And it’s a world that we cannot withhold, protect, or hoard for ourselves
Will our Lenten journey change us? Are we willing to die to selfishness, judgments, and harsh words and be open to resurrection and new life? How will we change our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh? Will we let ourselves be moved to compassion and mercy?
Mercy is a way of seeing, a generosity of spirit that draws us to love. We cannot find or know God without bringing everybody else along with us.
Mercy, Pope Francis reminds us, is an encounter. It may be as simple as reaching out and saying hello to someone outside my circle of friends or as difficult as really listening to others and sensing the pain in their voices.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are encouraged to think through all the barriers we erect and converse with those who are different, stand in their shoes, and feel their skin.
By displaying the ashes on our foreheads we are saying confidently to one another that God is with us and He will give us the words and show us the way to bring the “crucified people down from the cross” into the new life of the Resurrected Lord.
Let us, then, be the mercy of God during this Lent.
Jesus's Mission and Ours
In his reading from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue Jesus summarized His mission and ours.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Our individual mission, of course, varies in the specifics. For anyone of us, the “captives,” the “blind,” and the “oppressed” are those in our immediate surroundings at home, in our circle of friends, and at work who need our attention and help.
Additionally, there are political and social ills in our city, state, and nation and around the globe that bring suffering to many whose cry for justice demands our participation in civic organizations and the electoral process in order to bring about systemic change.
And our attempt to serve others can bring us reprisals and condemnation, and we may be ostracized as happened to Jesus when he accepted the charge given to him.
Nonetheless, His concluding words must in some way also be ours: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
"That they all may be one"
"The Week of Prayer Christian Unity called us to proclaim the mighty acts of God (1 Peter 2:9), emphasizing the relationship between baptism and the announcing of – and living out – the good news.
Through Baptism we join Christ in His death and resurrection and emerge as new persons. The wonderfulness of our new life compels us share what has happened to us with others by praising God in prayer and welcoming and serving others – giving witness of His dwelling among us.
This is the good news: that all can participate in some way in the life of God.
In living out this promise, we respond to Jesus’s hope and prayer “that all may be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (Jn 17:21).
When we love one another as Jesus loves us, we find mutual love and joy in our relationships.
When we fail to comply with this new commandment, we experience suffering, abandonment, loneliness, division, discrimination, and the pain of isolation.
Being one is Christ helps us to overcome our prejudices, suspicions, mistrust, selfishness, division and our petty jealousies and invites us to see signs of others in need, hear the howls of their pain or cries of despair.
When the word of God resides in our hearts, we are called into communion with others and we are drawn us into unity with them.
The Jubilee Year of Mercy calls us to open our hearts, eyes and minds to the truth that we are all one in God, that we are commissioned to go forth and build God’s kingdom in our midst.
And we can this great challenge in the simplest way, by taking time to be with others and attend to their needs.
Wedding at Cana
Jesus’s first miracle at the wedding at Cana underlines the resemblance between the vows spouses make to each other and God’s covenant with us.
In the Hebrew Testament, the “Covenant” was the binding contract between God and the Chosen People, the Israelites. God pledged, “I will be your God and you will be my people.” He delivered them from slavery and guided them through the desert into the Promised Land.
In return, His people were to obey the Commandments, which defined the people’s relationship to God and to one another.
In the Christian Testament, God extended His love and care to all. And everyone, as individuals and as community, now has a relationship with God.
And His Son, who became one of us, issued a “new commandment,” that we love and serve one another as He did in offering His life for us.
The Apostle Paul likened this new relationship to the way spouses relate to one another. He, of course, used the terms of his day to explain how spouses were to love and serve each other.
In the Gospels, Jesus’s presence at the wedding at Cana emphasizes both personal and communal nature of the New Covenant.
And His turning water into wine so the celebration could continue demonstrates how the New Covenant of service and forgiveness is a happy, joyful one.
The Baptism of the Lord
In Baptism of the Lord, Jesus’s divinity is made clear when God the Father proclaims “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”
Jesus’s baptism also underlines the mystery of the Son of God becoming one of us.
As a human person, Jesus identified with us not only in our strengths, but in our frailty. Jesus experienced the feelings and emotions we experience. He was hungry, thirsty and wept at the death of his friend.
Jesus didn’t stand out, but looked just like the rest of us. When he stood in the synagogue in his home town, people were “amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But they also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph”? (Luke: 4:22)
He was so much like everyone around him that he asked to be baptized by John.
After his baptism, Jesus began his public ministry of teaching, preaching, healing and freeing people. Some responded, others turned away, but to those who believed he brought new life.
Those who encountered Jesus then, and today, are changed so radically that an individual can say, “It is no longer I who lives; it is Christ who lives in me.”
This transformation compels us to work to bring about justice—where everyone has what they need to have, where their dignity is respected and affirmed, and where all live in right relationship.
If we respond to the needs of others, because we share in the Divine Life through Jesus’s death and resurrection, we too, can hear those wondrous words, “This is my beloved daughter/son in whom I am well pleased.”
Epiphany celebrates the manifestation of the Incarnation – God’s dwelling among us – to the world beyond Judea.
The Nativity narratives answer the question “how did this all begin?” The “this” is Jesus’s divinity and His death and resurrection – the central mysteries of our salvation – through which we share in the life and love of God.
The Gospel of John gets to point outright: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and the Word became one of us.”
Other Gospels introduce us to the mystery of the Incarnation in human terms and with signs of Divine intervention. There is the mundane: complying with law of the land, traveling, having to find a place to stay, and a newborn baby using diapers. But the accounts also include the extraordinary – angels making great announcements – to direct us to this very special person.
And, in today’s story, an especially bright star leads some wise men to Bethlehem. These “Magi” were non-Jews who were searching for the meaning of life in the heavens. To them a great revelation was made, one that was missed by the leaders like King Herod and the Scribes: salvation – the sharing in the life of God – is for everyone.
For Christians in the early Church, especially in the Greek world, this event was very important, so details were added in popular culture. Three gifts, hence three visitors. Isaiah had mentioned that kings would come to Jerusalem and others would arrive on “camels and dromedaries,” and so the “kings” arrive on camels in the Nativity scenes.
But Paul was straightforward in his letter to Ephesians: “the pagans are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus...”
And because of this, everyone merits respect, acceptance, kindness, and attention – the same love Jesus has for us.
Moses is the most important figure in the Hebrew Testament. And in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is the new Moses.
Through Moses, the Israelites experience God’s central saving act, the deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
Moses also related God’s instruction on how to commemorate that deliverance – the Passover, a sacred meal partaken with everyone fully ready to take the journey of salvation.
Additionally, Moses is the Law Giver. He brings down from Mount Sinai the Ten Commandments. Obeying The Law cements the Covenant, the bond of faithfulness between God and his people.
According to the evangelist Matthew, Jesus carries out the three principal actions of Moses. Jesus’ death and resurrection is now God’s central saving action and the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, is the celebration of salvation and nourishment for the journey.
And the new commandments are the Beatitudes, Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.”
The first of this New Law is “Blessed (happy, joyful) are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”
The “poor” here are those who have no one and nothing to depend on. They cry out to God for survival, and God responds to them with the fullness of His love and mercy.
At some point or another, we all find ourselves in dire need, materially or spiritually. Happily, we can reach out to a God who loves us.
Jesus also tells us, in Matthew’s Gospel, that when we attend to those in need, we render help to God Himself.
These are the mysteries we celebrate – we give life to – in this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Pope Francis has chosen December 8th as the beginning of The Year of Mercy” – a year of reaching out, encountering others, and being witness to God’s caring for them.
On this day we honor Mary as the Immaculate Conception, the best expression of human goodness, someone who received God’s love which overcomes the brokenness of our nature.
The Gospel story of Mary’s journey to visit Elizabeth, her much older cousin, demonstrates the power of God’s presence working through Mary. She is, in fact, the first disciple because she heard and acted upon the Word of God.
The evangelist Luke tells us how happy Elizabeth was with Mary’s surprise visit:
“…Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled’.”
Pope Francis has called us to make a special effort in this Year of Mercy to reach out to others, to encounter those who need our help, our attention, and our words of understanding.
And the Gospel assures us that there will be great rejoicing.