Archive | July, 2007

On Judging to the Two Foundations- Luke 6:37-49

27 Jul

Jesus’ Sermon on the Level Place (cf. Luke 6) begins with His teaching about blessings and woes. This discourse is not intended to be a criticism of any particular social class or of the class system of first-century Palestine in general. Instead, the point is that in Heaven there will be no favourites. The saints were all created by God for the same reason: love- of God and of neighbour- no matter where they lived or what their socio-economic status was. Therefore all in Heaven live in perfect equality in the oneness of the Lord. God will humble those who were rich and never lacked for anything earthly, and those who lived in sorrow-filled exile will receive a greater abundance of joy in life everlasting.

Luke’s Gospel instructs us that our love must also extend toward our enemies: those who curse us, who are abusive, who take our belongings from us, or who do not return our kindness with kind actions of their own. This section ends with a more concrete message: we are set apart by our mercy unto others that mirrors that of the Father. Jesus tells us: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) But human clemency regularly falls short of that of God. We prefer to show mercy conditionally, often when this is convenient. Few are willing, though, to risk their reputation or their life for another, yet Jesus did just that for us. He loves us more than we know, though we never give the full measure of that love in return to Him. We therefore deserve to be admonished as were the first disciples:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” (Luke 6:37)

This passage ought to be one of the easiest to comprehend. Seemingly, its meaning is quite literal. But one must also put Jesus’ criticism and instruction of His followers here within its wider Scriptural context; much of the Sermon on the Level Place focuses on economic issues. For example, the blessings and woes compare those who have plenty of food, of money, and of human consolation to those who possess less of these. Persons who are joyful and thankful for what they have, no matter their socio-economic situation or their outward passion toward their faith, are better disposed already to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than those, especially the materially rich, who are glum and ungrateful. Much of Jesus’ exhortation to love our enemies (cf. Luke 6:29-30, also v. 33, from “What credit is that to you?”, to v. 35, “Do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.”) is also centered on the economy and on fair trading practices. The disciples are limited by the custom of receiving a just exchange for that which they have given or sold. This is a normal and acceptable mindset even nowadays; when something is sold, we expect to receive proper payment for our goods and labour, and when we are sold goods or services, we anticipate being charged the correct amount and receiving accurate change. Jesus, though, asks more of His disciples than this strict give-and-receive approach. The theme of basic economics continues in Our Lord’s address on judgment and condemnation of others.

Arguably, Jesus intends an economic message in verses 37 and 38. Most recent Biblical translations, including my own New Revised Standard Version, read: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” However, the original Koine (common) Greek word in St. Luke’s Gospel from which the word ‘forgive’ is derived is ‘απολυετε’ (pronounced ‘apolyein’). According to Franciscan Robert J. Karris in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary*, ‘απολυετε’ means to pardon or to release another specifically from financial debt. Thus the interpretation of this word as signifying the forgiveness of wrongdoing is improper, writes Karris. This position differs from the more literal view offered by Fred Craddock, for instance, whose book in the ‘Interpretation’ series I’ve been referring to in my articles on the Gospel of Luke.

Karris’ argument that Jesus’ teachings about judgment, condemnation, and mercy fit the economic theme of most of the Sermon on the Level Place is more plausible, especially when one considers the following verse, “give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Luke 6:38 ) Here, Jesus is assuring His adherents that they will receive full recompense and more for their good works and fairness in trade dealings.

Verse 38 reminds me of when Mom bought her first bread machine. As a young child, I enjoyed helping Mom bake bread, while I experimented with different types of loaves. Not much has changed insofar as my keenness toward baking bread, especially since that old machine now resides at my house. Mom used to remind me regularly to measure accurately and not to pack the dry ingredients down, otherwise the loaf would be either too large or too small. It suffices to say that I would fail to listen to my mother on occasion, and absent-mindedly would squeeze as much flour into the measuring cup as I could instead of simply leveling it off with the flat side of a knife. As a result, the loaf would either not rise properly, or the attempt to add extra yeast to compensate would create a horrendous mess that would overflow from the pot inside the machine.

God’s overflowing blessings and mercy given to humankind are loosely analogous to those episodes with the bread machine, thankfully none of which I can recall ending up in my lap. St. Luke, writing to a largely Gentile audience about forty years after Jesus’ death, highlighted the continuous tension between mercy and justice, especially as these characteristics applied to God. Early Christians struggled in coming to terms with people who would do much evil but would be financially or otherwise successful. Was God, in His mercy, holding such people to no account for their dishonest behaviour? Meanwhile, those innocent of wrongdoing were regularly treated in unfair ways. Notably, at the time Luke wrote, Jewish people who were still anticipating a Messiah- understood as a political or military leader who would oust the Romans from Israel- experienced the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. God’s mercy seemed to clash with His justice in several instances, so people would take matters into their own hands. If God weren’t judging evildoers harshly enough, human justice would adequately fill the void.

In that context, St. Luke reminds us of Jesus’ teaching that God will judge us as we judge other people. If we condemn others, God will condemn us. However, if we show mercy, God will not only return our mercy when He accounts for our merits and our faults, but in His love He will shower us with more leniency than we are capable of imagining.

Importantly, Jesus doesn’t say or imply in Luke 6:37-42 that our judgment of fellow human beings is always inappropriate. On the contrary, His message is more about honesty: one must be at least as quick in holding one’s self accountable as in criticizing another’s faults. Otherwise, one might miss one’s own faults that could be greater than those of one’s neighbour, hence the parable about blindness toward the log in one’s own eye while one attempts to remove the speck from another person’s eye. (cf. Luke 6: 41-42) Nonetheless, Jesus’ teaching about judgment of others is often misinterpreted as a prohibition of judgment altogether. Yet St. Paul writes of humankind and then of the law as “a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3) Therefore, the Law of Christ lives deeply within us, and it is our responsibility to discern and to be faithful to it. In so doing we must be able to judge right from wrong.

Without adherence to a universal Truth, we risk falling into normative** moral relativism, where judging the practices of other societies is considered incorrect. This may progress toward subjectivism, where it becomes improper to compare other individuals’ moral standards with one’s own or against those of each other. At best, both normative relativism and subjectivism are self-referentially incoherent positions. In other words, one cannot consider judging the correctness of different moral principles of groups or individuals to be wrong; that in itself requires making a judgment. Thus, relativism is easily defeated on logical grounds. Even more critically, as written by Jean-Bethke Elshtain, an ethicist at the University of Chicago, moral relativism creates a society dependent upon what individuals ‘feel’ to be true. Such a position is opposed to moral accountability and potentially creates a society of ‘victims’ who place blame on other persons and make excuses for their own failures. Elshtain wrote that “the elimination of the possibility of judgment, the evacuation of the very capacity of judging, would spell the end of the human subject as a self-respecting, accountable being. Judging is a sign, a mark, of our respect for the dignity of others and ourselves.” Proper judgment has its place, according to Elshtain: “‘Judge not’ is, then, not an injunction to spineless acceptance but a caution against peremptory legalisms that leave no space for acts of compassion and witness.” (Jean-Bethke Elshtain, “Judge Not?”, in “First Things”, October, 1994, available at http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft9410/articles/elshtain.html)

After His warning about hasty judgment by His disciples, Jesus sets up two further comparisons that St. Luke records: that of a tree and its fruit (cf. Luke 43-45), and that of the two foundations (cf. Luke 46-49). St. Matthew also mentions both discourses, as well as Jesus’ restriction on imprudent judgment (cf. Matthew 7:15-20, 21-27, and 1-5, respectively), although he scatters these stories throughout the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount. Conversely, Luke places all three teachings together, likely following the “Q” document (“Q” is short for the Greek “quelle”, or “source”), from which the Synoptic Gospels were drawn, more closely.

Our Lord teaches, “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks”. (Luke 6:45) The priest whom I credit for inspiring me to read the Gospel of Luke attentively, and to a lesser extent to write about it, has said that one’s actions bear witness to the condition of one’s soul. This is similar to Christ’s words here. Jesus shapes His instruction around an agrarian metaphor- that of trees and the fruit they carry. Different plants, whether in this case the fig tree or the grape vine, produce different fruits. Thorns and bramble bushes are incapable of allowing for the growth of grapes or figs. Likewise, each of us has a particular temperament. Some people are naturally more serene, whereas persons like me tend to be passionate and slightly impatient at times. Nonetheless, our personalities are gifts from God that are meant to be employed for His glorification. God invites us to use our strengths and to offer up our weaknesses in contrite prayer to Him.

This involves not only confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, but also acting upon our belief. (cf. Luke 6:46). Otherwise, any confession of faith we make is meaningless. St. Paul’s letters to the Romans and to the Philippians emphasize that:

“If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) “At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in Heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father…for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2: 10-11, 13)

Working with God, we will be able to withstand the flood that will destroy dwellings without foundations. We will have built houses founded upon the rock of charity within us, with Christ as the cornerstone; therefore we need never be afraid of the ruin of our souls. (cf. Luke 6:48-49)

Lord, may we confess our allegiance to You and also act upon our faith. Enable us to open our hearts to you and to our neighbour. May charity, mercy, and honesty toward ourselves and others always surpass our desire to rush to judgment. May we be just and true as You are. Amen.

WRS

 

*- I refer in this article to Robert J. Karris, O.F.M. in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond S. Brown, S.S., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J, and Roland E. Murphy, O.Carm., Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Inc., 1990, p. 695.

**-In philosophy, a normative statement is one that prescribes what one ought or ought not to do, for example, “Do not judge”. This differs from a descriptive statement, whereby one conveys an observation, for example, “Jesus’ disciples were corrected because of their hasty judgment of other people.”

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Holy See Mission Seminar Day 4- Verbum Caro Factum Est

20 Jul

Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)

These words are inscribed on either side of the tabernacle at Holy Family Church in Manhattan, the parish of the United Nations. Fr. Bob Meyer presided over Mass there on the fourth day of the Path to Peace Foundation- Holy See Mission Seminar, Wednesday, May 23, 2007. Upon entering Holy Family Church, one is also greeted by a large representation of the risen Christ above the altar, instead of the depiction of the crucified Christ found in most Catholic churches I’ve been in.

The doctrine of the Incarnation- that the second Person of the One Triune God took on human form, becoming one like us in all but sin- is distinctive to Christianity. The Word became flesh and lived, suffered, died, and rose among us, all the while obeying Jewish tradition and respectfully challenging religious leaders, and choosing disciples and Apostles to lead us, His Church. In short, through the Incarnation God became our neighbour. He loves us, having been one of us, therefore, in response to the lawyer’s question about how we are to inherit salvation (cf. Luke 10:25), the Son of God and Son of Man taught the law with authority:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

Here, Jesus taught without actually answering the question asked of Him; He left the answer up to one who was knowledgeable of his religious tradition. The lawyer gave Jesus “the right answer”. Similarly, Christians who read the Bible somewhat regularly would be able to answer Jesus’ question correctly by rote. But we need to act on our knowledge of this greatest Commandment. Jesus said to the lawyer: “Do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:28 )

Like the lawyer, though, we would likely prefer to question Jesus further, “wanting to justify (ourselves)” instead of putting our faith in action, by asking, “Who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:29). But Jesus patiently teaches us how to be neighbourly, as He taught the lawyer using the parable of the Good Samaritan. In Jesus’ tale, the priest and the Levite, both capable speakers of the law, are shown to be less charitable than the Samaritan, who would have been disliked by the lawyer, or by the priest or Levite, because of the doctrinal differences between Samaritans and other Jews. However, only the Samaritan has courage enough to bandage and to disinfect the victim of the roadside robbery, who is taken “on (the Samaritan’s) own animal” and placed in the care of an innkeeper. (Luke 10:34, cf. v. 35) This parable is well-known, even in popular discourse, and is easy to remember and to recite. But we risk forgetting the most important part of the story, where Jesus asked the lawyer, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer responded, as expected, “The one who showed him mercy”, to which Jesus replied, “Go and do likewise.”(Luke 10:37)

There, Jesus said it: Go and be a neighbour; act like the Samaritan, who in his mercy acted as Christ Himself would. Our Lord expects nothing more. Our Incarnate High Priest knows our weaknesses (cf. Hebrews 4:15), yet He gives Himself to us and perseveres with us to the point of our complete self-offering unto Him.

The readings during Mass on the fourth day of the Holy See Mission Seminar further reinforced how we are to be neighbours to one another, following God’s own example. The first reading, from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles verses 28 to 38, began where the first reading from the previous day left off. (cf. Acts 20:17-27) Paul had assembled some elders from Ephesus. He taught these leaders one last time, realizing that the Ephesians would likely never see him again. (cf. Acts 20:25, 38 ). St. Paul spoke of the “Church of God that He obtained with the blood of His own Son.” (Acts 20:28 ) Thus, our omnipotent and always-present God sent Jesus in human form to redeem us by His death on the Cross. The same God empowered Paul to proclaim “the message of His Grace”, while the Holy Spirit chooses “overseers” to act in the stead of Christ and of the first Apostles. (Acts 20: 28, 32)

Those who proclaim God’s message, laypersons and clergy alike, must be aware of distortions of the truth. False teaching often comes from outside the Church, but has also come from within. Therefore, St. Paul cautioned us to “be alert” against “savage wolves (that) will come in among (us), not sparing the flock.” (Acts 20:29, 31) He also reminded us of Jesus’ words that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Paul lived what he preached, as Christ had before him, regarding material goods as less important than our actions borne out of love such as aiding the weak. (cf. Acts 33-35).

As St. Paul was leaving the Ephesian elders, he knelt among them and prayed. (cf. Acts 20:36). This is also consistent with the actions of Jesus Christ, as portrayed in the day’s Gospel reading from St. John. Prior to His Passion, Our Lord prayed for His disciples, that they might live in unity with one another, as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are perfectly one. Jesus also prayed that His disciples might be protected by God, that they might be joyful, that they might be consecrated to the truth, and that they might be spared from Satan. (cf. John 17:11-19)

In the same way God prays for us and among us, we call upon Him as in the Psalms. (cf. Psalm 68:28-29) God showed His might and strength by covering Himself in human flesh, thus we respond with praise, again following the words of the Psalmist:

“Sing to God, O kingdoms of earth; sing praises to the Lord. O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens; listen, He sends out His voice, His mighty voice. Ascribe power to God, whose majesty is over Israel, and whose power is in the skies. Awesome is God in His sanctuary, the God of Israel; He gives power and strength to His people.” (Psalm 68:32-35)

Our praise, though, must be more than simple words; God, I emphasize, calls us to act. The theme of neighbourly action was again at the fore during the first session of May 23, when the seminar attendees were assembled before the ambassadors to the UN from Austria, Honduras, and Senegal. The Austrian ambassador spoke first, beginning with a reflection on the fact that national delegates are seated alphabetically in the General Assembly. Thus, Austria is between Australia and Azerbaijan. For the Austrian representative, this underlines the importance of the question posed by the lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan: “Who is my neighbour?” At the UN, links are forged between people and nations that, though very diverse, frequently end up sitting next to each other and participating in the achievement of a common goal to build a better world.

Unfortunately, terrorism, especially as illustrated on September 11, 2001, has in some cases delayed initiatives toward co-operation that the UN strives for. At the UN itself, security is heightened, while international trade and mobility are sadly though often necessarily restricted.

Austria’s UN ambassador commendably mentioned the role of the Catholic faith in his country’s approach to issues of global interest, stating also the European nation’s “great admiration for Holy See diplomacy”. 90% of Austrians consider themselves Catholic. The ambassador himself comes from Tyrol, which he dubbed “the Holy Land of Austria”. Important contributions by Austria toward the UN include the June 28, 2006 introduction of the resolution that made Montenegro the 192nd member of the organization. Austria herself is a recent addition, obtaining UN membership in December, 1995. Before then, she had spent forty years as a neutral power “actively engaged in the United Nations.” In addition, Austria is currently supplying the largest contingent of UN troops in the Golan Heights, and 60 000 Austrian troops in total are under the blue beret. Austria is also one of 27 members of the European Union, which contributes 38% of the UN budget and more than half of its development funds.

At the UN, “all believe in something better”, according to the Austrian ambassador. Despite negative press, the UN is held in high esteem. Poorer countries in Africa and in Latin America especially benefit from its existence. Thus, international commitment to the UN is “critical”, in the Honduran ambassador’s words. Such solidarity begins with the young, who were encouraged by the Senegalese ambassador to “believe in the United Nations”. Though all three ambassadors agreed that reforms are needed in areas ranging from the relationship between the Security Council and the General Assembly to better human rights protection and regulation of aid distribution, they expressed hope, particularly since the UN is under a new Secretary General, the South Korean Ban Ki-Moon.

Senegal is a model for co-operation among persons of different religions, as highlighted by that country’s ambassador. Though officially a secular state, 90% of Senegalese are Muslims, and 8% are Christian, with most Christians belonging to the Catholic Church. In Senegal, religion has never been divisive: its first president, Sangor, was a Muslim whose wife was a devout Catholic. The brother of the late Archbishop of Dakar, His Eminence Hyacinthe Cardinal Thiandoum (1921-2004), is the Imam of his village. Senegal, which achieved independence on September 28, 1960, has experienced democracy for longer than many European countries, and extends its example of inter-ethnic peace beyond its borders, acting as an important negotiator and peacemaker in African conflicts such as in Darfur, through which Senegalese Hajj pilgrims must pass annually on their way to Mecca.

As in Senegal, religion plays an important role in Honduras, whose population is 90% Catholic. The ambassador speaking in the panel was the only Honduran citizen to have received a prestigious honour from the Vatican (I unfortunately was unable to note correctly the name of the Order to which he belongs). Honduras also acts as a key regional mediator, since much of Central America was plagued by civil war not long ago. Grievances related to these conflicts continue to be prosecuted, for example, at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. In Honduras, poverty is a persistent problem, but the country’s presence is welcome among other nations in Latin America and in the Caribbean, where 32 countries are “working together”, often “under UN oversight”.

Following the panel discussion, several noteworthy questions were asked of one or more of the three ambassadors. Everything from regional issues including how a peaceful, democratic, and religiously diverse nation like Senegal might provide an example to other African countries that are less free, to whether the Honduran ambassador thought his fellow countryman and a speaker of ten languages, Andrés Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga, would make a good pope, was on the agenda.

Back at the Holy See Mission, the afternoon began with a stimulating talk by a retired Canadian Senator, Douglas Roche of Edmonton. Before the lecture, I was identified to Sen. Roche as a student of the University of Alberta and as a fellow Edmontonian, the only one among fifty-three people registered for the seminar. Sen. Roche greeted me as I was finishing lunch, and then we conversed for a short time about Edmonton, about Canadian politics, and about our experiences in the university setting. The Senator had been a professor in political science at the U of A, and is active in the community. I remember him speaking during the 2006 outdoor Way of the Cross through downtown Edmonton on the steps of a Baptist church that serves meals to the homeless about the alleviation of poverty in our inner city. Senator Roche, a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament from 1972-1984, is a recipient of the Order of Canada. He also served as a Special Advisor on disarmament and security, for which he was awarded a Papal Medal by Pope John Paul II in 1995, and then honored with membership in the Order of St. Gregory the Great as a Knight Commander in 1998. (cf. Wikipedia, article on “Douglas Roche”)

Sen. Douglas Roche, who was appointed to the Canadian Upper House on September 17, 1998, began by discussing “the impression of a world beset by greed, corruption, (and) evil…” conveyed by much of the media. While such a characterization of world affairs is “not without reason”, Sen. Roche invited particularly youth to contribute to a “feeling of hope and strength” and therefore to build human security. The Senator considered the proliferation of armaments and environmental degradation to be two of the largest affronts to human dignity. He quoted from President Dwight D. Eisenhower that weapons “signify a theft from those who hunger and are not fed…those who are cold and not clothed.”
Rightful human relationships “(toward) one another and…the planet” involve more than a “personal morality”. Both human diversity and universality, perhaps paradoxically, involve exercising a “global conscience”, as per the lecture’s title and that of Roche’s newest book, based on “moral commonality”. By showing consecutive Google Earth images of Edmonton and then of Baghdad, Sen. Roche challenged us to regard all humans as worthy of the same rights. He asked: “Shouldn’t people in Edmonton and Baghdad enjoy the same rights we claim?” While peace abounds in developed nations, those in war-torn, poverty-stricken, or corruption-ridden countries face threats of being harmed or killed by the lack of food, water, shelter, and by armed hostilities. Other striking figures were cited. For example, according to the National Priorities Project in Chicago, the daily cost of the Iraq war would fund over 60 000 teaching jobs in the U.S., while for the $200 million yearly expenditure on nuclear arms, full health care could be funded for all Americans.

Swedish diplomat Hans Blix once called the number of nuclear weapons in the world- 27 000- “alarmingly high”, whereas Kofi Annan described the world as “sleepwalking toward disaster.” Senator Roche is faithfully dedicated to nuclear disarmament. However, Sen. Roche admitted, citing the example of Sierra Leone, that small arms present as great a problem as nuclear weaponry. In total, annual global spending on development is $78 billion U.S., whereas $1.035 trillion U.S. are spent on weapons per year. To promote development, peace, literacy, and sustainability, three elements are crucial, said Sen. Roche: participation, especially with advanced electronic technology available, understanding, and communication.

While Senator Douglas Roche’s views were convincing on the disarmament front, many including myself thought his presentation on climate change and environmental preservation to be less so. He also stated, much to the dismay of some, that a global conception of truth must “transcend religion”. This was problematic for those to whom the Catholic Church, founded by Jesus Christ, has unique access to His truth among religious institutions through apostolic succession. In fairness, Sen. Roche seemed to relay throughout his discussion that moral living wasn’t tied exclusively to one faith or denomination, though that was unclear. Also, one of the Senator’s main sources on the environment was former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore’s book, “The Inconvenient Truth”. This book and its author are frequently cited, on good grounds, for hypocrisy. While Gore and like-minded alarmists preach moderation of resource consumption, many of them travel in private aircraft and inefficient large automobiles, or own, heat, and power sprawling mansions. Aside from that, though, Sen. Roche drew an important parallel between care for the environment and the alleviation of poverty, hunger, and ultimately war over disappearing non-renewable resources. He closed his talk by telling us to “have confidence” in ourselves, that we are expected to use our intellectual capabilities in the world’s favour…

Covenant House, which serves underprivileged youth under 20 in Manhattan, was the next stop after Senator Roche’s lecture. There, goals include helping the young and often homeless to acquire job skills, including an education, followed by proper housing. In fact, 70% of those aided by Covenant House graduate from high school. Adolescents are placed with employers that provide a fair wage, flexibility, and often scholarships. Covenant House also provides for pregnant women and their children, both before and after birth. It is able to house nearly four times the population that the next largest institution can take in. As a result, crime and drug abuse are reduced as the homeless population declines. Within the last 20 years, said a Covenant House staff member, the number of homeless in New York has been halved, while current New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had once promised to cut a further two-thirds from that figure by 2009. Due to these initiatives, Covenant House serves fewer people than it did two decades ago. As it is largely reliant on private funds, such contributions are essential. It provides desperate young persons with a home, with a structure to their lives. As such, respect and obedience are taught to those who suffer on the streets and that many would simply ignore. College students can also help the homeless, for example, by participating in clothing or food drives, or by working toward better care for the mentally ill. Thus we can better assist “the cream of the crop that no one else wants to deal with”.

After the completion of the day’s busy schedule, we were treated to the Circle Line Cruise around Manhattan, followed by dinner out- Italian fare in a raucous venue that nonetheless provided us the opportunity to converse about the seminar to that point or just to unwind. I was asked many questions about my views concerning the talks by Senator Roche and by Archbishop Charles Chaput the previous day. The two lectures were the ideological bookends among the seminar’s presentations; attendees who sided with one of those speakers were often troubled by the other’s standpoint.

The sun set as the Circle Line Cruise offered us several beautiful views of New York City. Another day’s journey was coming to its end, while I hoped for the beginning of another invigorating and spiritually and intellectually fulfilling day. I realized that our tomorrows are never certain. We embark on our ship, whether this is the Circle Line Cruise or, in the case of St. Paul, the vessel that takes us away from Ephesus, figuratively speaking. After teaching and praying with the Ephesian elders, Paul was greeted by kisses, embraces, and weeping from grieving disciples, who feared the prospect of never again seeing the Apostle’s face. (cf. Acts 20:37-38 ) Imagine, then, the devastation felt by the Twelve upon Jesus’ horrible death. The women who visited the tomb on the third day were equally distressed, yet they were the first to audaciously greet a new beginning:

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:5)

As the sun sets, surely it will rise again. At both its rising and its setting, it casts a beam out onto the water along which our ship sails along the way to Heaven. (cf. Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux, Autobiographical Manuscript A, p. 22 front side; translation from French is mine) Our journey to the Heavenly shore is a joyful mystery, guided by Christ our Incarnate Lord.

Jesus, you became human like us. In so doing, you even more closely became our neighbour. Guide us toward our home beside You, O Lord. We pray for the strength to encourage each other along the same path. Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis. Amen.

WRS

Holy See Mission Seminar Day 3- Sharing Our Story

13 Jul

Since its foundation more than 2000 years ago, the Catholic Church has been the world’s foremost institution regarding social justice and the advancement of the common good, which is more than an idea or a lifestyle, but a necessary human response to the love of God. History has seen this loving reply modeled for us by countless saints, and we are driven to follow suit. Today, this role of the Holy See extends to more people than ever, particularly through her Permanent Observer status at the United Nations.

To conclude the Reflections session led by Fr. Bob Meyer of the Holy See Mission on the second day of the seminar, we were asked how we might go about “building a better world”, as per the official title of the gathering. Several suggestions were offered, from sponsoring children in developing nations to participating in a “reverse” collection during Mass, whereby instead of placing money into the basket, one draws from the basket a slip of paper on which is written an item to donate to help those less fortunate. Other students had been involved in organizations that assist single mothers, or that raise awareness against domestic violence, or that send nursing students abroad to improve neonatal health and to increase the safety of childbearing and childbirth. Another attendee remarked on the sculpture of a firearm found outside the UN buildings. The gun’s muzzle is twisted into a knot symbolizing how the destruction wrought by small arms can be turned into beauty and peace. The sculptor hails from notoriously violence-ridden Colombia, where there is hope even amid the darkness of armed conflict.

These are but a few ways that young people are living the message of our faith. In the Eucharist, we receive the consecrated Host that is unleavened. As Fr. Meyer said, “we must be the leaven”; we must “tell the story”. Our story is that of the love and goodness that are our hallmarks as the body of Christ. Thus, we are one body that is sent out into the world to be both “ever-active and ever-present” representatives of Our Lord. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sec. 1577)

(Tuesday, May 22, 2007) As I write this, I’m reminded of the David Haas hymn, “The Song of the Body of Christ”. This is our song that is active and vibrant and unites us. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come…” It is particularly up to young Catholics to build this Kingdom of God on earth. Our song, the sharing of our story, begins by greeting each other in Christ, as said by the first speaker of the third day of the Holy See Mission seminar, Capuchin Franciscan Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver. His Grace opened his talk on religious tolerance with the following reflection: that we are all “a creative moment in the imagination of God”… “If God loves you, I love you”. God created us out of love, though none of His creation was obligatory. By being a faithful reflection of God’s love toward others, we undertake a pro-creative mission. Then our will and God’s will, and the Kingdom of Heaven and that of earth, become one.

God created us for this purpose of charity, which entails putting an end to childish ways (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12) and living as adult stewards of the world. Much of our society worships the idols of individualism and of profit. However, these masters to which many are enslaved are “childish fiction” according to Archbishop Chaput. We ought to outgrow these impediments, to become adults. Archbishop Chaput continued thus: “Adulthood brings power…Power brings responsibility.”

Few understood the necessity of an adult response to the gifts of faith and of love as well as St. Edith Stein, who was born into a Jewish family in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland) on October 12, 1891, Yom Kippur. Her father, Auguste Courant, died before Edith’s second birthday, leaving her mother, Siegried Stein, to raise their seven children. Edith Stein was renowned for her intellect from a young age. She began her studies in philosophy at the University of Breslau, and moved prior to the outbreak of World War I to Göttingen to study under Edmund Husserl. By 1916, Edith Stein held a doctorate in philosophy. She continued to work under Husserl as an assistant, relocating again to the University of Freiburg, but during this time Edith Stein’s faith waned notwithstanding her academic prowess. While on vacation in Göttingen in 1921, though, she pulled the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila off a friend’s bookshelf. She spent the entire night that followed reading St. Teresa’s “Libro de Vida” (Book of Life). The next morning, she exclaimed to a companion, “This is the truth!”

Edith Stein was baptized on January 1, 1922. Shortly thereafter, her direct association with Edmund Husserl ended, yet she became an even more celebrated author, lecturer, and philosopher by the end of the 1920s. Still, Edith Stein longed for a life of prayer and self-sacrifice, a deeper relationship with God afforded by the Discalced Carmelites and exemplified by that Order’s foundress whose autobiography had been Edith Stein’s little spark of truth some years earlier.

Despite her wishes to become a Carmelite, Edith Stein’s spiritual director recommended that she continue to write and to lecture in a university setting. However, she and other persons of Jewish descent were banned from teaching in Germany by a series of anti-Semitic laws passed by the Nazi regime in 1933. In the same year, Edith Stein entered the Carmel of Cologne-Lindenthal, taking the religious name Teresia Benedicta ac Cruce (Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). She quickly became a force against Nazi horrors, eventually writing to Pope Pius XI:

“For years the leaders of National Socialism have been preaching hatred of the Jews. But the responsibility must fall, after all, on those who brought them to this point and it also falls on those who keep silent in the face of such happenings…Everything that happened and continues to happen on a daily basis originates with a government that calls itself ‘Christian.’ For weeks not only Jews but also thousands of faithful Catholics in Germany, and, I believe, all over the world, have been waiting and hoping for the Church of Christ to raise its voice to put a stop to this abuse of Christ’s name.”

The Catholic Church did indeed make herself heard. She fought against repeated Nazi violations of the July 20, 1933 Concordat signed between Eugenio Cardinal Pacelli and Franz von Papen of the Holy See and German President Paul von Hindenburg. The Nazis had never intended to abide by the Concordat, especially sections related to the protection of the religious freedom of Catholics as well as those of other denominations or faiths. The Holy See, well aware of National Socialist intentions, published over forty denunciations of Third Reich policies between 1933 and 1937, culminating in the release of the Encyclical “Mit Brennender Sorge” (“With Burning Anxiety”) on Palm Sunday, March 14, 1937. This document, originally written in German instead of the more common Latin to have a more direct impact on the German people, was read from every pulpit in that country, provoking an irate response from Adolf Hitler on May 1. Besides condemning the frequent Nazi breaches of the Reichskonkordat, “Mit Brennender Sorge” appealed to German Catholics in danger of “(yielding) to the threats and enticements of the enemies of Christ and His Church.” (Sec. 40) In addition, a dying Pope Pius XI penned these words: “Our wholehearted paternal sympathy goes out to those who must pay so dearly for their loyalty to Christ and the Church; but directly the highest interests are at stake, with the alternative of spiritual loss, there is but one alternative left, that of heroism.” (Sec. 21)

The Catholic Church had no shortage of heroes willing to take up the Cross at that time. Cardinal Pacelli, who became Pope Pius XII in 1939, was one such hero. He is credited by Israeli diplomat Pinchas Lapide with saving the lives of over 700 000 Jews during World War II, accounting for about 3 of every 10 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. (cf. Rabbi David G. Dalin, “Pius XII and the Jews”, in the Weekly Standard, 26 February, 2001, cf. also H.W. Crocker III, Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, a 2000-Year History, p. 403) St. Edith Stein was another hero, to Jews and Christians alike. She was taken forcibly from the Carmel in Echt in the Netherlands, where she had been sent to live out of Hitler’s genocidal reach, and she died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz along with her sister Rosa on August 9, 1942. Edith Stein was beatified on May 1, 1987, and canonized on October 11, 1998 by Pope John Paul II. She had written her last book, “The Science of the Cross”, in 1938. This Science, a profound knowledge of God’s love, is best summed up as follows: “(One) can only learn the science of the Cross by feeling the Cross in one’s own person.” In 1939, she said, “I asked the Lord to accept my life and my death.”

The Lord has accepted into Heaven those like Pope Pius XII and St. Edith Stein, who acted on what they believed, “even at the expense of (their) reputation or of life itself”, in the words of Archbishop Charles Chaput. Speaking of religious tolerance, His Grace described secularism as a form of intolerance, calling it “a designer experience…cheap pop-culture bigotry” that lacks the binding character of religion. The word “religion”, in fact, comes from the Latin “religare”, meaning “to bind”. This nature of religious life is feared by modern ideologies that set out to absolutize moral relativism. On the contrary, Archbishop Chaput said that since religion shapes our beliefs about “the human person”, it “has social and political consequences”.

Our works matter: St. James reminds us that “faith without works is dead”. (James 2:20) Furthermore, Jesus commands us to “make disciples of all nations”. (Matthew 28:19) We believe in the supremacy and Godhead of Our Lord Jesus Christ, “the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6) Yet our relationship toward persons of like or different creeds goes beyond mere tolerance. We do not “tolerate” other religions, as in bearing with them unwillingly. We Catholics must bear witness to all, while still recognizing truth and beauty inherent in other faiths. In so doing, tolerance of evil is to be regarded as failure. Mere tolerance, I add, is bearing false witness against our neighbour. We need to be true witnesses of God’s love, not a “caricature of (Catholicism)” that drives people away from religion. Our mission has “apostolic authority from Jesus Christ”, thus it must spread to where religion is not, or to where Christ’s missionaries and followers are persecuted, for example to North Korea and China. In Europe and North America, where there is more freedom but also more cynicism and increasing attempts to remove religion from public life, the work of the Christian soldier is challenging in a different sense. We who are “sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” in the Sacrament of Confirmation are invited to live God’s Science of Love, shown on the Cross. This, said Archbishop Chaput, is our time; it is no more and no less extreme a time as when the saints lived. There is therefore no shortage of heroes for today and for always. There are among us those who “prepare the Way to Jesus with every breath we take”. (cf. Matthew 3:3)

Following the inspirational talk by Archbishop Chaput, the Holy See Mission’s Brother David Carroll spoke about Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon. He began with a short history of Israel and the Middle East, from Egyptian control circa 3000 B.C. to the current era of the nation state. Brother Carroll then shared the perspective of one living in Israel: “Everyone I’ve talked to hates one another”. With that assertion the quotation’s author realized that he was standing on the road to Nazareth. Precisely because of the discord created by human evil, “God came to this part of the world and walked its roads…”

Israel is roughly the size of New Jersey, whereas the West Bank and Gaza Strip are collectively about the size of Delaware, though much more densely populated. Jordan, the size of Indiana, has a growing Christian population that now makes up approximately 3% of Jordanians. This small region is a cradle of strife, yet it is a potential source of hope. Optimism is hard to find, though, in a region seemingly fractured by the principle of nations and their inhabitants being “foes forever”. But this current situation does not need to persist.

Political instability in part fuels the “foes forever” mentality in Israel, where according to Br. Carroll the approval rating of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been as low as 9%. Also, little leadership exists to counter the enmity between Fatah and Hamas. The latter group was founded as a social service organization by Sheikh Yassim, associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, in 1987. While Hamas’ political wing took power in the Palestinian parliament in January, 2006, its military wing remains dangerous. The group’s charter calls for the destruction of Israel and for Palestinian statehood. Thus many nations reasonably regard Hamas as a terrorist organization. Hamas quickly became a political rival to Yassir Arafat who, as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization that includes Fatah, was unable to provide essential services to the Palestinian people. Arafat also carried a reputation among some as a violent extremist himself. However, he found a common enemy in Hamas, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres of Israel. The co-operation, particularly between Arafat and Rabin, nearly led to peace in the Oslo Accord in 1993 and again at Camp David in 2000, but nonetheless confidence has faded as intermittent violence has resumed, both between Israel and Palestine and between Fatah and Hamas.

Moves have been made toward more lasting peace, including the appointment of former Democratic Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell to head the Sharm el-Sheikh International Fact-Finding Committee in 2000. Mitchell authored that committee’s report, which was presented to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell on May 4, 2001. The 12-page report called for the cessation of violence between Israel and Palestine, a resumption of negotiations, and a building of confidence based on the assurance that both Israel and Palestine would condemn incitement and terrorism against each other. Mitchell, a veteran of the Iran-Contra affair who also spent more than two years in Northern Ireland, brought knowledge that peace depended on the people. He once said, “Conflicts are created and sustained by human beings. They can be ended by human beings.” Mitchell contended that conflict resolution, in Nothern Ireland as in Israel, depended upon speaking directly to the individuals involved, who were often both the problem and the solution, no matter “how dreadful those people (were)”, in Br. Carroll’s terms. This approach minimized the use of mass media for peace negotiations. In Northern Ireland, peace was brokered on Good Friday, 1998, by Mitchell between Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams. Without Sen. Mitchell’s direct presence, these two may have remained bitter enemies.

Brother David Carroll called the Middle East crisis a “scandal to Christians”, who must be active in halting violence. He stated that the term “fratricide” is used to describe a missile destroying another missile, whereas if a weapon destroys an unintended human target, the latter is called “collateral damage”. Br. Carroll urged an end to the intentional ending of human life, which must rather be protected from conception to natural death. Human will can overcome a “foes forever” outlook, said Br. Carroll, who concluded his talk with a prayer asking that violence might be overcome in the Holy Land as in Northern Ireland.

As in the Middle East and in Northern Ireland, Christian charity also has contributed toward progress in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS, and in compassionately caring for those afflicted. This was the focus of the presentation by Franciscan Daniel Sulmasy, MD, Chair of the Bioethics Commission at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, who saw in himself a call similar to that of St. Francis of Assisi, who according to legend embraced a leper who then took on the figure of Christ in a vision. Dr. Sulmasy introduced his topic from a historical standpoint. In June, 1981, the first cases of AIDS-associated pneumonia caused by the fungus Pneumocystis carinii were discovered, followed by observations of an epidemic form of malignant tumours, Kaposi’s sarcoma. By 1982, HIV was seen in children. Three years later, the FDA approved the first antibody test for HIV, followed by approval of the first antiretroviral drug, azidothymidine (AZT), which reduced mother-to-child transmission during childbirth from 28% to 7% when used. Within the last decade, combination drug therapies have become available, as have more efficient tests for viral load- how much of the virus one is carrying.

Technological progress has been superb, turning a “sub-acute lethal disease into a chronic disease” (Sulmasy), but the drugs have important side effects over time and are expensive. There are currently 50 million cases of HIV/AIDS in the world, evenly distributed among both genders, with 95% of these in developing countries, including 6% of those aged 16-49 in sub-Saharan Africa. In some countries the last figure approaches 30%. The response is multi-faceted. Firstly, the focus ought to be on prevention and on education. The prevention of sexual transmission depends on combating prostitution and drug abuse and trafficking which often go hand-in-hand with reducing poverty. A safe blood supply must be made more widely accessible, and improvements in nutrition and in water sanitation are keys to increasing the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapies. The prevention of the spread of prominent killers like tuberculosis and malaria needs to be pursued. Also, the availability of multi-drug therapies such as HAART (Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy), which currently cost as much as $10 000 US per person annually, cannot be inhibited by the quest for excess profits. Corruption and misuse of aid funds in the worst-affected nations present a problem.

Despite the staggering and sad numbers, though, there has been significant progress against HIV/AIDS, especially where education has influenced poverty levels and lifestyles. For example, a national abstinence chastity-based “ABC” program, which still allows for use of condoms as a distant last resort, has reduced the HIV infection rate in Uganda from 21% in 1991 to just 6% in 2000. As for condoms, they are 80% effective in stopping transmission if used properly, but only 42% effective as a primary treatment and prevention method for HIV. Such barrier methods present a false sense of security, leading to an increase in sexual activity and in the number of partners, thus producing a net increase in HIV prevalence. The role of the Catholic Church on HIV/AIDS, generally much-maligned in western media, has been instrumental. Today, about 25% of people with AIDS worldwide are treated in Catholic-run hospitals.

The final talk of the day was provided by the World Youth Alliance (WYA), an internationally-based NGO created by and for people between 16 and 30 years old, along with the Sisters of Life. Both groups strive to make “intrinsic and inviolable” human dignity “the focal point of policy”. This comes with recognition that powerful segments of our society promote views that are inconsistent with even the majority of youth, such as sexual “rights”, the denial of parental influence, and the furthering of abortion, also misconstrued as a human right.

The WYA speaker lauded the Holy See as “the greatest negotiator at the UN”, which respects “the freedom of other countries” while frequently challenging their positions. Furthermore, the Holy See is independent of economic and nationalistic interests, which adds to the convincing nature of its arguments. The Church stands as a defender of the truth at the UN.

She includes people devoted to Christ like Sr. Agnes of the Sisters of Life, who told the true story of Mimi, Tito, and Claire, from Greenwich, Connecticut. During a routine ultrasound 18 weeks into her pregnancy, Mimi was alerted to a defect in her unborn child. Part of the fetus’ brain was growing outside the scull. Doctors unsuccessfully but unrelentingly pressured Mimi into aborting her child, increasing in their condescension toward Mimi on one occasion when her husband, Tito, was not present. Mimi and Tito prayed just as fervently that their child might be healed and be born healthy. The miracle, Claire, was delivered by caesarian section. Mimi, Tito, and Claire, a “marvel of God’s power in the world”, are a testament to the correctness of the words of Vatican II, paraphrased by Sr. Agnes: “Man can only find himself through a complete giving of himself.” Thus, our response to God is our “vocation of love”, and the Church emulates Christ as “the guardian of the truth and the protector of man’s freedom.” We Catholics have come to tell our story- to “make (ourselves) little in order to connect with one single soul.”

Lord, we are the Body of Christ. You have sent us to tell our story, in the same way You sent the Apostle Paul, who left the Ephesian elders for the last time with his testimony “to the good news of (Your) grace” (Acts 20:24). You prayed, dear Jesus, that we might come to know You intimately, as You know the Father. (cf. John 17:3, 12) You love us and sustain us. May You make Your story ours, and help us to proclaim it responsibly, fearlessly, and joyfully. Amen.

WRS

On the Level- Luke 6:6-36

4 Jul

The controversy narratives in St. Luke’s Gospel (cf. Luke 5:12-6:11) show another side of the life of Christ, one that would potentially be discouraging to the reader were they not placed after Luke’s treatment of the triumphs early in Jesus’ ministry. Not long ago in his Gospel, St. Luke was relating Jesus’ great popularity, especially among His fellow Galileans. The Lord had returned from fasting in the desert, and was invited “to teach in (the) synagogues” where He was “praised by everyone.” (Luke 4:15) While Christ had raised the ire of worshippers in Nazareth, Luke still had characterized the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as largely successful. Reports about Jesus spread rapidly (cf. Luke 4:14, 4:37) as He cast out demons, preached, and cured the sick. From the great crowds that allowed Him little rest, Jesus chose the fishermen Simon, James, and John to be His closest friends, and they followed Him without reserve. (cf. Luke 5:11)

However, Luke’s Gospel departs briefly from the stories of Jesus’ successes just as all seems well. In the controversy vignettes that follow, Pharisees are said to be watching Jesus closely for any deviation from strict religious tradition that can be used against Him. Jesus begins by cleansing a leper, breaking a long-standing taboo against physical contact with those afflicted by disfiguring diseases. The Lord then heals a paralytic, not only curing the paralysis, but claiming authority to forgive the man’s sins. Some authorities respond with anger, others with confusion or “amazement” over the “strange things” they see. (Luke 5:26) The tax collector Levi is then called to follow Jesus, and he leaves his belongings more readily than many of the Pharisees would have. Thus the Pharisees and their scribes are humiliated as they are put on the same level as the despised Levi. Like the publican, the Pharisees and indeed all of us are broken by sin. However, Christ the Divine Physician offers His salvation to all those who recognize their need for repentance, Pharisees and tax collectors alike. The questions about fasting and about the Sabbath soon arise as the religious leaders cite Jesus for breaches of the law. But Jesus rightly claims Lordship over the law because the Law is the gift of the Son of Man to humankind, not vice-versa. (cf. Luke 6:5)

In the first Sabbath story told by St. Luke, Jesus defends the actions of His disciples, who pluck heads of grain from the fields through which they are traveling. The Pharisees aren’t angered because the disciples are stealing, as is a possible misconception on the reader’s part. Eating from fields while traveling was a long-standing custom, as shown in Deuteronomy: “If you go into your neighbour’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbour’s standing grain.” (Deuteronomy 23:25; cf. Craddock, Luke- Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, p.82) The Pharisees were upset that the disciples were rubbing the grain in their hands (cf. Luke 6:1), thus separating the edible grain from the chaff, which was work that ought not to be done on the Sabbath. In the disciples’ defense, Jesus cites King David, who during a crisis had fed himself and his companions with the bread of the Presence, which was prohibited. (cf. 1 Samuel 21:1-6) In both David’s case and that of Jesus’ disciples, though, relieving hunger was more important than the letter of the law.

The focus again is on attending to basic human need when a man approaches Jesus while he is teaching in a synagogue. Luke places this episode “on another Sabbath” (Luke 6:6), once again conveying that the incident could have happened at any time. The chronology is unimportant. Even amid the trouble between Jesus and the Pharisees, who were “watching Him to see whether He would cure on the Sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against Him”, Jesus is still shown to command the respect of a large number of people, as He is asked to teach in another synagogue. Therefore Luke’s controversy stories do not stand alone; the ranks of Jesus’ followers are growing rapidly, along with those of His enemies.

Jesus knows the intentions of the religious leaders, yet He chooses to cure the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath anyway. Jesus tells the man: “Come and stand here”. (Luke 6:8 ) Then He asks whether “it is lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it”. (Luke 6:9) Jesus questions the man with the withered hand, not the Pharisees directly, in this case. Of course, the man, like anyone, would choose to be cured, whether or not it was the Sabbath. Our Lord thus teaches us two important lessons- firstly, that compassion and the defense of human life and well-being are always timely, and secondly, that our actions are always the product of a free choice. If a person in need comes to one of us, we are also compelled to choose to satisfy or not to satisfy the other’s requirement. Free will doesn’t take a break on the Sabbath. Jesus freely takes on the suffering of the man with the withered hand. He commands the man to “stretch out (his) hand”, and then heals it. (Luke 6:10) That act renews the fury of the authorities, who “(discuss) with one another what they might do to Jesus”. (Luke 6:13)

Unlike Mark, who writes of the developing conspiracy between the Pharisees and the Herodians to kill Jesus (cf. Mark 3:6), or Matthew, who also clearly writes about a death plot, Luke doesn’t suggest yet that the religious leaders wanted Jesus dead. Instead, St. Luke portrays Jesus’ ministry in greater detail than do the other synoptic Gospels. Jesus’ hour comes only when He completes His journey to Jerusalem and enters triumphantly into the city only to be crucified and to die shortly thereafter. (cf. Luke 19:28-40, 23:44-49, John 2:4) Luke waits until the beginning of chapter 22 to plainly reveal a plan to kill Jesus, though he foreshadows Christ’s Passion in the second Sabbath controversy, particularly when Jesus asks the man with the withered hand to stretch out his hand. Later, Jesus would cure the withered condition of our souls by stretching His hands out on the Cross. He would freely accept even death to redeem us. God had already accepted our human nature, humbling Himself to be able to suffer with and for us. He expects us to do the same for each other, independent of constraints posed strictly by religious observance. Rituals are important, but are necessarily outshone by charity toward one another. Charity involves empathy toward one another: putting ourselves in another’s situation as Jesus did so intimately by becoming a human being like us.

One cannot escape the inevitability or the responsibility that come with the freedom to choose. Decisions are made from when we awake each morning. Some decisions, for example what to wear or what to eat for breakfast, are simple. Other choices are more significant and require more deliberation. Jesus had previously chosen freely to heal the man’s hand on the Sabbath, to heal and forgive the Paralytic, and to call Simon, James, and John, as well as the tax collector Levi. Prior to this, He went to John and was baptized, and as a child Jesus was obedient toward His parents, Mary and Joseph. (cf. Luke 2:51) From the beginning, St. Luke also shows Jesus to be compliant with the Jewish law. All these actions on the part of Our Saviour involve His free choice. Jesus, though, unlike us always chose the path consistent with the will of Our Father. Thus the Father and the Son are completely one, and out of this freely exercised love and obedience is begotten the Holy Spirit, who is in perfect unity with the Father and the Son.

Following the story of the man with the withered hand, St. Luke recounts Jesus’ selection of the twelve Apostles: “Simon, whom He named Peter, and his brother Andrew, and James, and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Simon, who was called the Zealot, and Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.” (Luke 6:14-16) Sometimes, even for Jesus, making the right choice is difficult. When faced with a challenging decision, Jesus turns toward Heaven, “(spending) the night in prayer to God”. (Luke 6:12) As I’ve said in previous articles, prayer is vital to Christian living. However, one must be careful to pray attentively as well as frequently, otherwise prayer can be used as a mere justification for rash or otherwise wrongful judgment.

A few pertinent details stand out in Luke’s accounts of the naming of the Apostles and of the cures and teaching that Jesus effects thereafter. For example, Luke’s Gospel is the only synoptic Gospel to include a second Judas among the twelve. Mark and Matthew both include Thaddeus, whom St. Luke omits. (cf. Matthew 10:3, Mark 3:18 ) Luke is also the only synoptic Gospel writer to characterize Judas Iscariot so strongly as the eventual “traitor”. (Luke 6:16) More importantly, in Luke’s Gospel Jesus ascends a mountain to pray. (cf. Luke 6:12) Luke’s mention of mountains here and during other events where Jesus is in closer contact with the Father (for instance, during the Transfiguration, cf. Luke 9:28-36) contrasts with that of St. Matthew, who writes of Jesus preaching from the heights. (cf. Matthew 5:1) According to St. Luke, Jesus’ sermons are delivered from among the crowds. After the Lord chooses His Apostles, Luke places Him amid the people, some of whom come from nearby, and some of whom arrive from as far away as Tyre and Sidon. Jesus heals those with diseases and evil spirits from “a level place”. (Luke 6:17, cf. Luke 6:18 )

God’s ways and thoughts transcend those of humankind (Isaiah 55:8 ), therefore Jesus’ closest contact with the Father in Luke’s Gospel occurs on mountains. Just as the Lord is greater than us, He nonetheless accommodates our human simplicity; (cf. Proverbs 9:4) He comes down to meet us on the level place so we can understand and imitate Him. Contemporarily, we speak of being “on the level” with someone when we’re telling another the truth plainly. Jesus is shown by St. Luke to be teaching the multitudes in the same way. People can then touch the Incarnate Jesus, and Christ contacts the people both physically and spiritually. The people He teaches and heals receive His power and then are able to go forth and to pass Christ’s strength, truth, and love on to others. (cf. Luke 6:19)

After meeting with the great crowd, Jesus turns to His disciples. (cf. Luke 6:20) This mirrors the event on Lake Gennesaret, where, with the crowds “pressing in on Him” (Luke 5:1), Our Lord retreats into a boat near the shore. From the boat, Jesus turns His attention to Simon the fisherman, and then to James and to John. (cf. Luke 5:4, 10) Likewise, He teaches the disciples, presumably a smaller and more knowledgeable group, about the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven after having attended to the masses. Along with four blessings, in contrast with the eight found in Matthew’s Gospel (cf. Matthew 5:3-11) Luke’s Beatitudes also include four opposite woes. Luke is mindful of the blessings and woes assured to the Israelites (cf. Deuteronomy 11:26-28 ) However, unlike the blessings and woes found in Deuteronomy, those written by St. Luke are not directly contingent upon the people’s obedience or disobedience of God’s commandments, although the state of one’s soul is accurately conveyed by one’s words and deeds. Jesus blesses those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and persecuted because of their belief in Him. On the contrary, woe is to come upon those who are rich, full, laughing, and praised by all. Jesus is not saying, though, that possessing worldly goods in moderation or being well nourished are wrong, nor that we ought to weep constantly or that those who aren’t reviled have no place in Heaven. Rather, He means that we must identify with those who are in these unfavourable situations. We must be prepared to give completely of ourselves to God and to anyone who asks, especially to the most in need. In Jesus’ sermon, He speaks of the promises that are to come, either blessings or woes, as well as of the urgency of His message, particularly in the second and third blessings and in the corresponding woes:

“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:21, 25)

God’s gifts extend beyond the righteous; Jesus teaches that “He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” (Luke 6:35) St. Matthew writes similarly that Our Father “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45) The justice of God therefore seems profoundly unjust to human minds. But justice should never be solely concerned with retribution. We are summoned to rise above this tit-for-tat mentality. Justice involves unselfishly being concerned for those both offending and offended by malevolent actions. Good can only arise from evil in this way. The Lord tells us directly how to love our enemies:

“Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:27-31)

Jesus continues after pronouncing the famous “golden rule”, teaching that one who is kind and loving only to the righteous and to those who will return one’s goods and one’s kindness has been repaid already. (cf. Luke 6:32-33) A great reward waits in Heaven for the merciful. Our mercy, though, must transcend the ordinary, as Christ and His redemption transcend us in our fallen state. We are called to “be merciful, just as (Our) Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) Those who love even their enemies are to be called “children of the Most High”. (Luke 6:35) This title given to the great Saints is humbling still. Those who are God-like will be like children in Heaven before Him. The more we become more like God in His mercy and love, the more God overtakes us like a child in its parent’s embrace. Heaven is the divinization of humankind to which we are called but do not deserve. Our path toward becoming like little children in spirit passes through Christ. Through Him, with Him, and in Him, to paraphrase St. John the Baptist, we become less important as Our Lord’s importance increases. (cf. John 3:30)

You show us the path to Heaven, dear Jesus. May we humble ourselves to be like little children and come unto You. May you teach us the way of compassion for the poor, for the suffering, and for our enemies. You, O Lord, came to us to teach us on the level place. You redeemed us by your death and by your Resurrection. May we, Your unworthy servants, ascend to You when our labours on earth come to an end. Amen.

WRS