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Serving with Our Whole Being- Reflection for Mass of September 16, 2011

16 Sep

Friday, September 16, 2011
Memorial of St. Cornelius, Pope and Martyr, and St. Cyprian, Bishop and Martyr
Readings: 1 Timothy 6:2c-12; Psalm 45:5-6, 7-9, 16-17, 18-19 (R: see Matthew 5:3); Luke 8:1-3

As a Basilian Associate teaching high school French and English at Instituto Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (INSA) in Cali, Colombia, three years ago, when I would teach the last class period of the day, there would not be much time between the end of my class and Evening Prayer in the house. I certainly did not have enough time then to prepare lesson plans or to grade homework. I did have just enough time to clear my mind after teaching before walking across the schoolyard to the house for silent reflection before Evening Prayer with our community there.

Before proceeding to the house, I would stop in regularly to speak with the school’s psychologist, who had become a good friend of mine. She would practice her English with me, while I would speak to her in Spanish. During one of our conversations, a woman came to greet the psychologist. She had two of her children, students at INSA, in tow. The mother and children smiled brightly, sharing what was clearly a joyful moment with the psychologist. When they left the room, the psychologist turned to me and said, “You wouldn’t know this by what you just saw, but the woman who was here is a single mother with HIV.”

Sadly, this story is not unique in the apostolate we Basilians serve in Cali. In addition to poverty and diseases such as HIV-AIDS, rates of substance abuse and violence are extremely high. Women are frequently the single parents; the poorest of the poor; the abused; those who serve their communities most eagerly, and often serve us with the deepest reminders of the ills of a society and of the socially-ingrained sin of the world[1] on one hand, and of profound joy and charity amid these ills and sin on the other.

Of the four evangelists, Luke arguably pays most attention to the social position of women of his time.[2] When the story I just recounted occurred, I was writing a reflection on the passage we hear in today’s Gospel, the first three verses of Chapter 8 of Luke. These verses break from the narrative before it of the sinful woman in the Pharisee’s house[3] (although, significantly, that story also centers upon a woman and Jesus), and the Parable of the Sower directly after it.[4] Luke introduces characters as though he will continue with a story about Jesus, the women, the Twelve, and the unnamed “many others.”[5] However, at least in the case of the women, two of them, Mary Magdalene and Joanna– if this is even the same person as in Luke 8– are only named in one other place in this Gospel, at the empty tomb along with Mary, mother of James, in its resurrection narrative.[6] Susanna is mentioned in Luke only in the passage we hear today.

Luke tells us so little about “Mary, called Magdalene,”[7] Joanna, and Susanna. We know that Mary had been healed of “seven demons,” a grave spiritual infirmity,[8] and that Joanna had marital ties to Herod’s court.[9] Yet there is so much in so little in this passage. Indeed, I am drawn to just two words. First, in English, Mary, Joanna, and Susanna, among “many others,” are said to have “provided for Jesus and the Twelve out of their resources.”[10] The Greek word in this sentence for provided is διηκόνουν, a conjugated form of the verb διακονέω (di-a-ko-ne’-o).[11] We derive the English word “deacon” from διακονέω. This is not to say that the women in today’s Gospel reading were engaging in institutionally-ordained diaconal ministry; this meaning of “deacon” is anachronistic to the Biblical context. However, these women were engaging in important service (διακονία)[12] in the nascent Church at a time when lively debate among Jewish and Judeo-Christian leaders was taking place about the role of women in public worship.[13] Luke undoubtedly goes beyond what many of these leaders deemed comfortable in the place he accords to women, but he goes further yet in writing that the women provided for Jesus and the Twelve “out of their resources.”[14] The Greek word translated as “resources” is ὑπαρχόντων (u-par-chón-ton).[15] The English word here limits the range of meanings of a Greek word that has connotations of being in addition to one’s resources or goods.

I speculate therefore whether the Evangelist might have wanted to convey that the women were serving Jesus and the Twelve out of their being– who they were– more than merely out of their material resources. These little-known women and “many others,” then and now, in a special way the poor and the infirm– the single mother in Cali with HIV, for example– model for us the dedication of our whole being to the service of one another and of our Lord, who graciously gives to us his whole being in the Eucharist we celebrate.


[1] Richard M. Gula, Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1989), 116-121. Gula discusses social sin, “a relatively new… concept in Roman Catholic theology,” at some length. He writes that “the notion of social sin articulates how social structures can shape our existence for the worse.” Gula highlights “but a few examples” of what he defines as social sin: “patterns of racial discrimination, economic systems that exploit migrant farm workers, structures [that] make it necessary that persons be illegal aliens and that sanctuaries harbour them, and the exclusion of women from certain positions in the church.” (Reason Informed by Faith, 116).

[2] Carroll Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:138.

[3]  Luke 7:36-50.

[4] Luke 8:4-8.

[5] v 3.

[6] Luke 24:10.

[7] Luke 8:2.

[8] Ibid.

[9] v 3.

[10] Ibid.

[11]διηκόνουν,” in The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, edited by Wesley J. Perschbacher (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), 101.

[12]διακονία,” in The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, 92.

[13] Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” 2:138.

[14] Luke 8:3.

[15]ὑπαρχόντων,” in The New Analytical Greek Lexicon, 417.

Like the Teacher in Mercy- Reflection for Mass of September 9, 2011

9 Sep

Friday, September 9, 2011
Optional Memorial of St. Peter Claver, Priest; Friday of the Twenty-Third Week of Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Timothy 1:1-2, 12-14; Psalm 16:1-2a+5, 7-8, 11 (R: see 5a); Luke 6:39-42

One might find it difficult to see mercy as the focal point of the words of Jesus that we hear in today’s Gospel: “How can you say to your neighbour, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite…”[1] That last word, “hypocrite,” is especially harsh to my– to our– ears, yet by criticizing his hearers and calling them hypocrites, Jesus draws attention beyond the criticism itself to the mercy of God.

However difficult it is to see mercy in these severe words, in between the metaphors of the blind person leading another blind person[2] and of the speck or log in one’s eye,[3] Jesus speaks words of warning against pride, but then words of consolation. On one hand we, Jesus’ disciples, cannot be “above the teacher.”[4] To think we could be greater than God is foolish as it is futile but, despite the logical impossibility of exceeding God in any particular divine quality, for example mercy, Jesus tells us on the other hand that “everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.”[5]

How, though, does one become “qualified” and thus “like the teacher?” Let us take up again the example of mercy, and how we might become as merciful as Jesus, the incarnate God; our teacher. In the Gospel of Luke mercy is singled out among the most important attributes of God. Moreover, this Gospel’s author teaches that mercy is not just characteristic of God, but that we, too, are expected to act mercifully toward one another. Just three verses before the beginning of today’s Gospel reading, Jesus teaches his disciples: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”[6]

One who is merciful does not hold grudges against another for small (and often not-so-small) wrongs, the proverbial specks in the eyes of other people. One who is merciful is at once mature and continuing to grow in self-knowledge. By self-knowledge, I do not mean a narcissistic self-flattery that fails to recognize our own wrongs, but an awareness of where we stand before God and openness to the mercy of God, who knows us even better than we could ever know ourselves. Only by God’s mercy, in which we are called to be “like the teacher,” are the logs in our eyes– our more grievous faults compared to the specks of others that might escape our awareness but for God’s grace toward us– removed. Only then are we disposed to lead the blind toward God in mercy and in purity of heart.

I have long been both challenged and encouraged by the fact that, while Matthew’s Gospel includes the extensive Sermon on the Mount, more than half of Luke’s Chapter 6 from which we hear today is taken up by the Sermon on the Mount’s Lukan parallel, the Sermon on the Plain. Many exegetes contend that Matthew portrays a more transcendent God (this is debatable) with Jesus teaching from the mount.[7] In contrast, Luke writes of Jesus teaching on a level plain, in the midst of the crowds. Luke’s lesson is that the instruction of Jesus on the plain is not too lofty for us; in fact, again, the more “accessible” Jesus of Luke’s Gospel expects us to follow after his example and his teachings, especially that on the abundance of mercy that God has toward us and asks us to have toward others.

We have great examples in the saints in how to follow Christ’s teachings: “Be merciful… everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.”[8] One such saintly example is Peter Claver, a prophetic voice for the African slaves in colonial Cartagena in what is now Colombia. Born in Barcelona, Spain, St. Peter Claver’s missionary vocation was recognized by Alfonso Rodriguez, another saint who was a Jesuit lay brother and mystic in Mallorca. After arriving in Cartagena in 1610, St. Peter Claver’s advocacy for the humane treatment of the Africans and indeed for the abolition of the slave trade that saw one third of African slaves die in transit between Africa and the Americas, drew the ire of slave traders and even of many of his own Jesuit brothers. After forty-four years in Cartagena, Peter Claver died, bedridden and neglected. Peter Claver, patron saint of Colombia, is nevertheless one of the Church’s great messengers of God’s mercy, giving his life as one “like the teacher.”[9]

As we continue this Eucharistic celebration, let us pray that, through the intercession of St. Peter Claver, our Basilian apostolates in Colombia and throughout the world might be beacons of mercy to the disadvantaged. May we be to all people “fully qualified” in the mercy of God, following after our Teacher, Lord, and Saviour, Jesus Christ.


[1] Luke 6:42

[2] v 39

[3] vv 41-42

[4] v 40

[5] Ibid.

[6] v 36

[7] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:69. Carroll Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, 2:115.

[8] vv 36, 40

[9] Pierre Suau, “St. Peter Claver.” In The Catholic Encyclopedia. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11763a.htm. Accessed 9 September 2011.

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: We Believe as We Pray– Reflection for Mass of April 1, 2011

1 Apr

Friday, April 1, 2011
Ferial– Friday of the Third Week of Lent
Readings: Hosea 14:1-9; Psalm 81: 5c-10ab, 13+16 (R: 10+8a); Mark 12:28b-34

Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheynu Adonai echad– Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God is one LORD.”[1] This greatest of ancient Jewish prayers is a case of the principle Christians would later call lex orandi, lex credendi: the law that is prayed comes to be the law that is believed.[2] Indeed, Jews still pray the Shema twice daily as the LORD commanded them in the Book of Deuteronomy: “Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”[3]

These words of the LORD clearly were assigned a place of prominence; they were to be fixed as the primary focus on the hearts, on the homes, on the heads, and on the bodies, specifically the wrists, of the faithful. Similarly, Jesus affirms for us in today`s Gospel that this prayer leads us to a deepened faith, again illustrating for us the notion of lex orandi, lex credendi. That faith gives rise to a love of God that becomes affixed in our hearts, in our innermost homes that are our souls, in our minds, and in our bodies wherein lay our strength.[4]

Out of six hundred thirteen Mitzvot, or religious statutes, in the Torah,[5] Jesus cites only two as the Commandments than which there are none greater. The first is the Shema of Deuteronomy, while the second is from Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”[6]

In its original context in Leviticus, the scope of this second of the greatest Commandments is restricted to the Israelites’ “fellow countrymen,”[7] those bound to the covenant between the LORD and Israel. However, Jesus challenges us to broaden our horizon of who our neighbour is. Of course, we need not to walk too far through downtown Toronto to have our concept of neighbour challenged: near to here we find the poor, the mentally ill, the addicts, the newcomers and refugees. Jesus reminds us that these, too, are our neighbours. One cannot be said to love God without loving these people, often the least valued and most forgotten of our preoccupied, capital-oriented society.

I have increasingly been taking note in my reading of the Gospels of late how many pericopes end in silence. Today’s Gospel reading is another example of this; the scribe who had asked Jesus which is the greatest Commandment, and indeed all the other religious leaders with him, did not dare “to ask [Jesus] any question.”[8] I doubt that these religious leaders fell silent because they were wholly satisfied with Jesus’ answer. They knew how correct and how wise Jesus had been in expanding their sense of neighbour and, with it, their sense of God. They knew all too well, as we know all too well, the rectitude of Jesus’ teaching and how difficult this teaching is to live out. If our love of neighbour does not extend to those who evoke the most disgust in us, then even our worship, our “burnt offerings and sacrifices,”[9] become not an act of love of God but an act of proud idolatry, of saying “‘Our god’ to the work of our hands.”[10]

Even amid our pride and our failure at times to see the least among us as our neighbour, though, Jesus still tells us comfortingly, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”[11] How, then, do we make up this distance from God’s kingdom? On our own, entrance into God’s kingdom is impossible. Only in relationship with God, through consistent prayer, will our weakness, our divided hearts, and our distance from God be overcome, and will we come to see our neighbour, and God, for who they truly are.

That regularity in prayer is the point of the Shema. By praying the Law enjoined on us, we will gradually come to believe in that which we pray: lex orandi, lex credendi. Then, that in which, or better yet in whom, we come to believe, God through an expanded notion of neighbour, we will come more fully to love.

WRS

[1] The Shema– Hear, O Israel! http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Torah/The_Shema/the_shema. html. Accessed 30 March 2011. See also Deuteronomy 6:4.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1124. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s1c1a2.htm. Accessed 30 March 2011. This section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.”

[3] Deuteronomy 6:6-9.

[4] See Mark 12:30.

[5] Judaism 101: A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm. Accessed 30 March 2011.

[6] Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31.

[7] Leviticus 19:18.

[8] Mark 12:34.

[9] Mark 12:33.

[10] Hosea 14:4.

[11] Mark 12:34.

A Brief, Prayerful Announcement– Reflection for Mass of March 25, 2011– Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

25 Mar

 

Friday, March 25, 2011
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Readings: Isaiah 7:10-14, 8-10; Psalm 40: 7-10; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38

…And now, a brief announcement… “The Holy Spirit [has] come upon [us], and the power of the Most High [overshadows us].”[1] Nine months from today, we will celebrate Jesus’ Nativity, but the process of our bearing Christ into our world begins now, as we celebrate this Solemnity of the Annunciation of our Lord. We are urged, then, to begin, if we have not already begun, to be converted and to open our hearts and minds to renewal, to be better disposed to do the will of God… End of announcement.

Looking over my notes for the Liturgical Presiding practicum, I saw that our class had been told clearly about proper brevity and placement of announcements within the order of the Mass. Announcements are to be made where a natural break occurs within the Mass, for instance between the reception of Communion and the Concluding Rites, so as not to be disruptive to the flow of the liturgy.[2]

Amid our activities outside of the Mass, although in a different way than at Mass, announcements can be timely and humourous, thought-provoking, or even inspiring. For example, a creative television commercial may make one laugh or be likely to buy a product or adopt a lifestyle change. More deeply, the expected birth of a child within a family, announced during a family dinner, is a message of remarkable beauty.

However, many announcements are ill-timed, too long, repetitive, or disruptive, whether within or outside of Mass. Let us return to the examples of the television commercial and the pregnancy announcement. Some commercials are effective by their repetition in moving us to buy the products advertised, yet I detest seeing the same commercial multiple times in a row, unless it is a profoundly creative use of thirty seconds. Such a recurrent announcement is disruptive to whatever show I am trying to watch.

How might the announcement of an impending birth of a child be as disruptive, albeit in a different way, as the repetitious or dull television commercial? Today’s Gospel, I think, answers that question. I imagined upon re-reading Luke’s infancy narrative that I had been given the role of evaluating the Angel Gabriel’s technique in Liturgical Presiding. I do indeed have a similar assignment for the class I am in; for it I took notes on last Sunday’s Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. The presider was not an angel.

If Gabriel were not an angel and if this were a Mass, the little Pharisee in me concerned with liturgical rubrics would have had a lot to say. In class, we are reminded not to begin Mass with a secular greeting in place of a “sacred” one, and thus to begin in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and then “The Lord be with you.”[3] Poor Gabriel gets off to a bad start here: “Hail, full of grace.”[4] The Greek imperative Χαῖρε, which we read as “Hail,” can also mean “Rejoice” or a simple, underwhelming “Hello!”[5] No wonder Mary found Gabriel’s salutation disconcerting! Then Gabriel proceeds to make a verbose and unfocused announcement. He not only tells Mary that she will bear a child, but that the barren Elizabeth will as well.[6] Then Gabriel simply departs from the scene.[7] If I had been in Mary’s place, I, like her, would have been “greatly perplexed.”[8] Herein, though, lies the success of Gabriel’s announcement: It allows for Mary’s participation in the narrative, much as the participation of the People of God during Mass contributes to good liturgy.

Mary’s fiat– her faithful “Here am I,”[9] which does not replace her perplexity at her conception of God made human but overcomes it– is an announcement in itself. In fact, her announcement is the most important one of today’s Gospel reading. Let it be our announcement, too, then, for it is appropriate at all times and at any time. And now, our brief, prayerful, announcement: “Here [are we], the servant[s] of the Lord, let it be done to [us] according to your word.”[10]

WRS


[1] Luke 1:35

[2] “Eucharistic Liturgy.” Course notes handout, Liturgical Presiding, SMP 3165 HS (Toronto: University of St. Michael’s College, 23 January 2011).

[3] Dennis C. Smolarski, How Not to Say Mass: A Guidebook on Liturgical Principles and the Roman Missal, 2nd ed. (New York, NY/ Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2003), 51.

[4] Luke 1:28. The Greek Χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη (Hi’-reh, keh-cha-ri-tō-meh’-nay) literally translates as “Hail, [woman] being (or, who is) made graceful.” See also The Greek Bible, http://www.greekbible.com/index.php.  Accessed 23 March 2011. Search for Luke 1:28, then click on the word κεχαριτωμένη to open the lexical entry for the verb χαριτόω, “I make graceful.”

[5] The Greek Bible, entry on the verb χαίρω. http://www.greekbible.com/l.php?xai/rw_v-2pad-s–_p. Accessed 23 March 2011. This word appeared on an exam in the New Testament Greek course I am taking, as part of a multiple choice question, “God revealed himself to Moses on Mt. Horeb (Exodus 3:14) in the Septuagint (The Greek translation of the Old Testament) as…” The correct answer (in Greek, from the Septuagint) is Εἱμι ὁ ὠν (“Amy ha own,” meaning “I am the one being” or more eloquently, “I am the one who is.” One of the incorrect choices, which was good for a few laughs in class, was Χαῖρε, το ὀνομα μοι Θεος ἐστίν (Hi’-reh, tah ah’-nah-mah moy thay-ahs’ es-tin’), which means in this context, “Hello, my name is God.”

[6] Luke 1:31, 36.

[7] Luke 1:38

[8] Luke 1:29

[9] Luke 1:38

[10] Ibid.

It Is Good to Be Here- Reflection for Mass of August 6, 2010- Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

8 Aug

Friday, August 6, 2010
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Readings: 2 Peter 1:16-19; Psalm 97: 1-2, 5-6, 9+11 (R: 1a and 9a); Luke 9:28-36

This Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord brings to mind my beginning as a Basilian Associate. My spiritual director in Edmonton at the time had been working with me during our meetings on praying over the readings of the coming days. During one meeting, we discussed Luke’s version of the Transfiguration. My spiritual director asked, “If you had to focus on one theme in this Gospel on which to preach, what would that theme be?”

Luke’s Transfiguration narrative provides us with many details, so it was a difficult task for me to stay focused on a single theme. For example, I am often drawn to the words of God the Father that are also recalled in today’s first reading from the Second Letter of Peter: “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”[1] Three of the most trusted Apostles, Peter, James, and John, accompany Jesus up the mountain.[2] Moses and Elijah, representative of the law and the prophets, converse with Jesus after his clothes are made to shine a dazzling white.[3] Poor Peter, barely able to stay awake,[4] misspeaks more than once. He does make an interesting comment about the three tents, recalling the Jewish Festival of the Tabernacles.[5] Jesus, likewise, literally came to dwell among us according to John’s Gospel, or, more faithfully to the Greek, He “tabernacled” among us.[6] Also, in the Lukan Transfiguration, the whole Trinity is present: the Father in the voice, the Son in the human person of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in the cloud.[7] That cloud, as well as the mention of Jesus’ “departure,” in Greek exodon, point ominously to the Passion and death of Jesus.[8]

All of these details are fascinating and quite appropriate fruits of scholarly research. Yet this theophany- an amazing manifestation of God’s power- for all its awesome display, calls us to a deeper simplicity. Noticing my struggle to focus on a particular detail of the Transfiguration- I was more like Peter, who Luke tells us “did not know what he was saying”[9]- my spiritual director pointed me toward what he thought was most significant in the story: Peter’s simple words, “Master it is good that we are here.”[10]

Like St. Peter, how good it is when we can spontaneously speak and pray those words. This week, I spent about two days translating a French interview transcript into English for Salt and Light Television. The interviewee, Montreal Cardinal Archbishop Jean-Claude Turcotte, spoke to one of our producers about the upcoming canonization of Brother André Bessette. Cardinal Turcotte related the healings performed while Brother André ministered at Collège Notre-Dame and at St. Joseph’s Oratory, and then through Brother André’s intercession after his death. Cardinal Turcotte said of the pilgrims who still visit the Oratory by the thousands that a sense exists that it is good to be there. Even those who will not be healed of physical infirmity nonetheless receive consolation, and have said, “We have peace.” Those pilgrims, through the prayers of Brother André, are prepared for their “great passage from life to death,” a transition that will bring new life but that is “never easy.”[11]

Let us then pray that, through the intercession of Brother André and the whole Communion of Saints, our lives on earth might be a process of transfiguration, our being made fit for eternal life with God in heaven. Let us join, with St. Peter and with the pilgrims to St. Joseph’s Oratory, in praying in thanksgiving as we celebrate this Eucharist that foretells our coming into God’s glory: “Lord, it is good that we are here.”

—–

Note on material used from the interview of Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, conducted for Salt and Light Television: Over the last few weeks, I have had the privilege of translating this and other French-language interviews for an upcoming documentary on Blessed Brother André Bessette, csc. Brother André will be canonized on October 17, 2010.

For more information, please go to www.saltandlighttv.org, and stay tuned for Salt and Light TV’s coverage of Brother André’s canonization. He will be known to the universal Church as St. André of Montreal.

 


[1] Luke 9:35, 2 Peter 1:17. This verse is also a repetition of Luke 3:22, in which a voice from heaven speaks these same words as Jesus is baptized.

[2] Luke 9:28

[3] Luke 9:29-30

[4] Luke 9:32

[5] Luke 9:33. See also Zechariah 14:16, Deuteronomy 16:13-15

[6] See John 1:14. The Greek word in reference is εσκηνωσεν, literally “tabernacled” or “build [one’s] tent. The same root is found in Luke 9:33, in Peter’s words, “Let us build three tents (‘skenas’- σκηνας).”

[7] See the Entrance Antiphon for Mass on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

[8] Carroll Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:141.

[9] Luke 9:33

[10] Ibid.

[11] Jean-Claude Turcotte, interviewed by Sébastien Lacroix for Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation, July, 2010. Translation from French is mine. See note above.

‘The Life of Man is the Glory of God’- Reflection for Mass of June 28, 2010

28 Jun

Monday, June 28, 2010
Memorial: St. Irenaeus, bishop and martyr
Readings: Amos 2:6-10, 13-16; Psalm 50: 16bc-23 (R:22a); Matthew 8:18-22

About two weeks ago I spoke with a journalist on the subject of heresy, admittedly not a topic that I think about often. “What is heresy? Who are heretics?” were the basic questions asked of me. As it was suggested to me, I had in hand the definition of heresy from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith.”[1] Unfortunately, that definition only got me a few minutes into our three-hour conversation.

With my mind drifting while I was preparing to meet the reporter, I thought briefly of St. Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies,” directed against the Gnostics.[2] In the second century, these Gnostics were teaching heretically that the spirit was imprisoned within our corrupt material bodies and that it could ascend to eternal life only upon our physical death. Irenaeus’ main counterpoint was that body and spirit were created by God, were good and will ascend together to eternal life.[3] Any mention of Irenaeus’ treatise, though, would have been even more futile in my discussion with the journalist.

Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies,” however dense, nevertheless contains some magnificent quotations. Perhaps his most well-known is this, included in today’s Office of Readings: “Life in man is the glory of God. The life of man is the vision of God.”[4] Here, St. Irenaeus provides not so much a denunciation of heresies but a tremendous testimony to the dignity of humankind, created in God’s image, and in turn to our dependence on God.

To lose our notion of these two fundamental truths, I posit, is the ultimate heresy. Pride that disregards God and thus cannot have a proper grasp of human dignity is as seductive in our time as it was in the era of St. Irenaeus. The wilful ignorance of God by the ancient Israelites at the height of their prosperity drew the ire of the prophet Amos. Today we hear from Amos the startling finale of the six “oracles against the nations,” of which the first four are directed against foreign peoples, the fifth is against Judah, and the sixth is a scathing criticism of the ancient Israelites’ decadence.[5] This was not what Amos’ target audience wanted to hear; Israel was reminded that it, more than other nations, had benefitted from God’s grace in its history, having been delivered from Egypt and from the Amorites.[6] Israel, more than its neighbouring peoples, knew better than to have abandoned its covenant with God.

As Amos’ oracle shocked the ancient Israelites, our Psalm response in today’s liturgy still has an alarming character. Not many Christians can or ought to ignore this warning: “Remember this, you who never think of God.”[7] The repetition of these words, however disturbing, should make us think and pray: How often do I think of God? How often do I adore and thank God? How often do I embrace the divine gift of my vocation above “a place to lay [my] head”[8] or above religious or secular ritual,[9] however important these are? Most of us are quite adept in such areas, but we can always improve with regular and attentive prayer.

Without denying the corruption of sin, we must remember the presence of God and unite ourselves to Him. God, St. Irenaeus wrote beautifully, is with us as “a constant goal toward which to make progress.”[10] In His love for humanity, God sent His Son, the Christ who “revealed God to [us] and presented [us] to God.”[11] Let us pray that we might be ever mindful of that relationship between humankind and God- Father, Son and Spirit- to whose glory and by whose abundant love we are given life everlasting.

WRS


[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2089.

[2] The word “Gnostic” comes from the Greek gnosis, for knowledge. Gnostics in general believed that secret divine knowledge had been revealed to them that had not been granted to all Christians as a matter of faith. Valentinus, of whose writings only fragments have survived to the present, was the particular target of St. Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies.” See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I.1.

[3] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V.6.

[4] Ibid., IV.20.7.

[5] Philip J. King, “Amos,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 1:246.

[6] Amos 2:9-10.

[7] Psalm 50:22a

[8] Matthew 8:20

[9] See Matthew 8:21-22. Jews in Jesus’ time had great reverence for the dead, and much emphasis was placed on proper burial to honour deceased family members. The teaching to “let the dead bury their dead,” designed to shock first-century hearers, should be understood as an example of a hyperbolic proverb. The point of this saying is that discipleship of Christ must take precedence over ritual, although the latter might be of profound importance. This instruction is not that the rituals themselves are wrong or trivial, but that they, too, come from God. However, these are subordinate to the greater gifts of fellowship and mission in Jesus Christ. See also the Lukan parallel of today’s Gospel reading, found in Luke 9:57-62.

[10] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V.7.

[11] Ibid.

Do Not Judge, so that You May Not Be Judged- Reflection for Mass of June 21, 2010- St. Aloysius Gonzaga

21 Jun

Monday, June 21, 2010
Memorial: St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious
Readings: 2 Kings 17:5-8, 13-15a, 18; Psalm 60: 1-3+, 5, 10-11 (R:6b); Matthew 7:1-5

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”[1] Jesus’ simple teaching recorded in Matthew’s Gospel has been one of the most misinterpreted. For good reason, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in his Homily prior to entering the conclave that elected him as Pope Benedict XVI, spoke of the “dictatorship of relativism”[2] that threatens our world. That relativism, which “does not recognize anything as definitive”[3] but proposes a logically incoherent system whereby one cannot or ought not to judge one principle to be truer than another, was not what Jesus advocated.

On the other hand, especially in our North American society, persons become engrossed in show trials or legal dramas, or television programs that present real-life civil cases whose palpable animosity is made accessible to the viewing public. While the viewing of many of these programs is not wrong per se, their popularity may suggest an obsession with reproachful judgment of others from the comfort of our homes to which Jesus’ warning in today’s Gospel reading more directly applies.[4]

Notably, Jesus’ saying about judgment is explained through the use of hyperbole.[5] Those in Jesus’ time or in the target community of Matthew’s Gospel would likely have appreciated the hyperbolic humour in the saying about taking “the log out of [one’s] own eye” before removing “the speck [from one’s] neighbour’s eye.”[6] At the same time, profound caution to be aware of our own faults before those of others and of our need for forgiveness is conveyed by this instruction.

The proscription against judging others does not bar us from distinguishing good from evil; in fact we must constantly differentiate these as faithful and rational moral agents. However, that teaching is deeper than merely judging and acting morally; by it Jesus draws us into the mystery of God’s bountiful mercy. As God is merciful toward us, we must not condemn, lest we likewise be condemned, but we are to act mercifully toward our neighbour. We ought to even exercise that mercy pre-emptively, just as God anticipates our sins and our struggles, and is ever-present to assist, to console, and to forgive us.

As we profess in our Creed, we believe that Jesus Christ “will come again to judge the living and the dead.” That judgment, though, is founded on merciful love that is God’s very nature. Thus, we pray during the first Eucharistic prayer in intensely moving words: “Though we are sinners… do not consider what we truly deserve, but grant us your forgiveness.”[7]

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, whose memorial we celebrate today, especially understood this mercy of the divine judge that we are called to replicate. A prince by birth, he placed himself at the service of the plague-stricken hospital patients in Rome. He contracted the plague himself and died at the age of twenty-three years.[8] In his humility, St. Aloysius thought it “better to be a child of God than the King of the whole world.”[9] Let us pray that we might follow the example of St. Aloysius of consecration to our one true King and Judge.

May we, through the intercession of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, patron of youth, come to a greater love for God, be preserved from sin, and at the hour of death be welcomed into the embrace of God’s mercy by which we are judged and by which we conduct ourselves toward one another.

WRS 


[1] Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37

[2] Joseph Ratzinger, “Cappella Papale, Mass ‘Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice’:  Homily of His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals, Monday 18 April 2005.” http://www.va/gpII/documents/homily-pro-eligendo-pontifice_20050418_en.html. Accessed 20 June 2010.

[3] Ibid.

[4] This paragraph is derived from the video reflection for 21 June 2010 by Fr. Michael Manning, SVD, posted on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. See http://www.usccb.org/video/reflections.shtml

[5] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:75.

[6] Matthew 7:5

[7] The Catholic Liturgical Library, “Eucharistic Prayer I (Roman Canon), Mass of the 1970 Missal.” http://www.catholicliturgy.com/index.cfm/FuseAction/Text/Index/4/SubIndex/67/ContentIndex/22/Start/9. Accessed 20 June 2010.

[8] “Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, June 21,” in Living With Christ, Large Print Edition,  Vol. 16 No. 6 (June 2010), 168.

[9] Quote Catholic, “Saint Aloysius Gonzaga: Child of God.” http://www.quotecatholic.com/ index.php/holiness-devout-life/st-aloysius-gonzaga-child-of-god/. Accessed 20 June 2010.

A Greater Good- Reflection for Mass of June 14, 2010

14 Jun

Monday, June 14, 2010
Ferial- Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 21:1-16; Psalm 5: 1-2, 4-5, 6+, 12; Matthew 5:38-42

Nine chapters of 1 Kings before the passage that is today’s first reading, the story of Naboth’s vineyard, the chaos began that would bring down Israel’s monarchy. The disorder started in about 930 B.C.E. with the schism between the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel.[1]

From the viewpoint of the author 1 Kings, there were only three righteous kings, all of the south: David, Solomon, and Asa.[2] The forty-one-year reign of Asa over Judah overlaps with those of Jeroboam, first king of the North post-schism, and six kings of Israel, two of whom ruled for two years or less.[3] 1 Kings describes each of these northern monarchs as having done all the evil and worse of their predecessors back to Jeroboam.[4]

The two Books of Kings and the preceding two Books of Samuel, which together comprise the Biblical history of monarchical Israel, are clearly written from a Judahite perspective. The southern kings were not as good, nor were the northern kings as bad as they are made to appear.[5] Nevertheless, significant truth is found in these pro-Judahite and pro-Davidic accounts. Foremost of these truths is the danger of falling to false gods. The alarm is sounded even before the first king is anointed; a danger existed in the Israelites’ plea to Samuel to appoint for them “a king… as other nations have.”[6]

Ahab, the king featured in today’s first reading, was like his northern predecessors in his worship of foreign idols. He had even sealed his dependence on those gods in his marriage to Jezebel. Such worship of foreign deities was the chief evil of the northern kings that prophets like Elijah were sent to suppress.[7] Moreover, Ahab was given a long reign of twenty-two years in which the LORD gave him a chance to set right the evils of his predecessors.[8]

He did the opposite, and worse; Ahab did evil under the guise of keeping religious and social tradition. Ahab’s attempt to acquire Naboth’s vineyard was not wrong in and of itself; Naboth would have been expected by that tradition to give his excess land to his neighbour or to the poor and landless.[9] He refused to do so, which makes me question whenever I read this story why no prophet is said to have criticized Naboth’s lack of charity. Ahab, though, had no right to the land, or to have Jezebel force Naboth to part with his vineyard. On the surface, the actions of Ahab and of Jezebel do not seem wicked; the same ancient tradition in which two witnesses are sent to Naboth to bring a capital charge against him was also longstanding.[10] Here again, though, we see abuse of the vulnerable by those who have power over them. The treatment of Naboth by a king who has fallen for the gods of greed and affluence becomes a question of social justice and a question of to whom we bear allegiance: to God or to someone or something else.[11]

The account of Naboth’s vineyard and again today’s Gospel in which Jesus warns his disciples against the unjust application of a religious law that was designed to mitigate retaliatory violence- “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”[12]- remind us that charity must govern our actions as Christians. That charity must take precedence even over actions that are merely right by legal or by religious tradition.

Let us pray accordingly that our liturgy might strengthen us; that through the Sacrament of the Eucharist we might act with justice and with charity in applying laws that are good in and of themselves to the even greater good of ourselves, of our neighbour, of the world in which we live, and of our relationship with our God.

WRS


[1] Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York, NY/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1984), 292-294.

[2] David and Solomon enjoyed the Lord’s favour despite their many cycles of sin and repentance. Both are said to have “rested with [their] ancestors” upon their deaths (see 1 Kings 2:10, 11:43). Asa, too, “pleased the LORD like his forefather David.” (1 Kings 15:11) 2 Kings chronicles the lives of two more righteous southern kings, Hezekiah and Josiah (see 2 Kings 16-20, 22, 23:1-30; see also Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 296).

[3] During the reign of Asa in Judah, the following kings came to power in the north of the split kingdom: Nadab (reigned for two years; see 1 Kings 15:25-32), Baasha (twenty-four years; see 1 Kings 15:33- 16:7), Elah (two years; see 1 Kings 16:8-14), Zimri (seven days; see 1 Kings 16:15-22), Omri (twelve years; see 1 Kings 16:23-28), and Ahab (twenty-two years, the first three of which overlapped with the reign of Asa; see 1 Kings 16:23-34).

[4] 1 Kings 15:26, 34, 13, 19, 25, 30.

[5] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 295-297.

[6] 1 Samuel 8:5

[7] John J. McDermott, “Weekday Homily Helps: June 14, 2010, Monday of the 11th Week of Ordinary Time, Exegesis of the First Reading.” Edited by Diane M Houdek (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2010).

[8] 1 Kings 16:29

[9] Ibid. See also Leviticus 25:13-17, which provides for the transfer in ancient Israel during the Jubilee year- every forty-nine years- of excess land from the wealthy to those who had less land. This ideal of charity was often not observed, and its observation was frequently not enforced.

[10] Ibid. See also Deuteronomy 17:6.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Matthew 5:38. Jesus’ saying there is based on the Old Testament law written in Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 24:19-20.

Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven- Reflection for Mass of June 7, 2010

7 Jun

Monday, June 7, 2010
Ferial- Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 17:1-6; Psalm 121:1-8; Matthew 5:1-12

During my time in Cali, Colombia as a Basilian Associate, I took daily Spanish classes upstairs in the Cultural Centre of our Order’s school there, Instituto Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (INSA). On the way down the stairs after each Spanish lesson, I would note the inscription above the landing: “Bienaventurados los perseguidos… porque de ellos es el reino de Dios.”

That verse is the last of the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew that we hear in today’s Gospel reading: “Blessed are the persecuted… for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[1] Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount includes eight Beatitudes, whereas the Lukan parallel, the Sermon on the Plain, contains four Beatitudes and four corresponding woes.[2] Only two of Matthew’s Beatitudes, the first and the last of the eight, follow Jesus’ blessing with the very Matthean expression, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[3] The kingdom is promised in a special way to the poor in spirit and to those “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”[4]

In Colombia, poverty and persecution are ever-present realities; the passage written on the tiles above the stairwell of INSA’s Cultural Centre is therefore all the more striking. The Cultural Centre itself is named after Aldemar Rodríguez Carvajal, a twenty-year-old lay catechist from the neighbouring Basilian-run parish who was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered in 1992.[5]

Jesus’ blessings of the persecuted and of the poor, though, are not limited to Cali, to Aldemar Rodríguez Carvajal, to Jesus physical setting in first-century Israel, or to any particular person or place. The call of God through the Beatitudes extends to all of us.

The section of our Basilian Way of Life on our vow of poverty begins with the first Matthean Beatitude: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”[6] We might ask what it means for us, here in Canada, to be poor, or to live poverty “in spirit.” If we read farther into the Basilian Way of Life, we are given some possible answers. The last paragraph on poverty begins with the declaration: “All that comes from the creative hand of God is good.”[7] Prior to this, the Basilian Way of Life emphasizes solidarity, accountability, and common life such that no person or community is in need.[8]

Inasmuch as the Beatitudes are blessings from God with everything that is good, they are also mission statements. To understand the Matthean Beatitudes in this way is faithful to the meaning of the Gospel. In fact, in the Jerome Biblical Commentary, John L. McKenzie connects Matthew’s first two Beatitudes, in favour of the poor in spirit and of those who mourn, to Isaiah 61:1-2: “The LORD has anointed me… to bring glad tidings to the lowly… to comfort all who mourn.”[9] While Luke places these same verses on the tongue of Jesus at the beginning of His ministry in Nazareth, Matthew makes a less evident reference to them in his Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew, Jesus is in continuity with the blessings given through the Law of Moses, and in Luke, Jesus is connected to Israel’s prophetic tradition.

In this manner we are to be, like Isaiah, like Matthew and Luke the Evangelists, and like Jesus Himself, prophets of the Beatitudes and stewards of God’s law, word, and creation. Blessed are those entrusted with such a vocation. The kingdom of heaven is for those who live that calling in truth and in love.

WRS


[1] Matthew 5:10

[2] Luke 6:20-26

[3] Matthew 5:3, 10

[4] Matthew 5:10

[5] Luis Fernando Sánchez, “The History of the Basilians in Colombia.” http://www.basilian.org/Meet_the_Basilians/colombia_history_en.php. Accessed 6 June, 2010.

[6] Matthew 5:3, quoted in The Basilian Way of Life, 14.

[7] The Basilian Way of Life, 24.

[8] The Basilian Way of Life, 16, 20-24.

[9] John L. McKenzie, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:70.

The Visitation and Messianic Joy- Reflection for Mass of Monday, May 31, 2010- Feast of the Visitation of Mary

31 May

Monday, May 31, 2010
Feast of the Visitation of Mary
Readings: Zephaniah 3:14-18a or Romans 12:9-16; Isaiah 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6 (Responsorial Canticle); Luke 1:39-56

The Passionist Carroll Stuhlmueller characterizes the Gospel of Luke, based on its vocabulary and literary style, as “the ‘Gospel of Messianic Joy’” in his chapter on Luke in the Jerome Biblical Commentary.[1] Stuhlmueller’s description of Luke’s Gospel is fitting, and we might understand why particularly in today’s reading, the story of the Visitation.

Luke uses several Greek synonyms for joy, exultation, or gladness, especially in his infancy narrative, that are rare in the other Gospels. One of these words, αγαλλιάσει (agallia’sei), appears only twice in Luke,[2] in today’s Gospel reading to describe John the Baptist, who leaps for joy at Mary’s greeting,[3] and in the angel’s announcement to Zechariah of his wife Elizabeth’s pregnancy: “You will have joy and gladness.”[4] This word and its cognates are used only once in the Synoptic Gospels outside of Luke, in Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”[5]

Thus, the theme of joy surrounding the coming of the Messiah is repeated in Luke more than in any other Gospel. However, as Stuhlmueller emphasizes, Luke’s account is not one of joy without emotional or theological depth. Stuhlmueller writes of Luke’s tendency to precede or to follow a joyful passage with one that allows the hearer “to ponder the wonder of what has taken place.”[6] The people featured in Luke’s infancy narrative themselves take time to ponder and to be awed by the Incarnation. Luke, for example, uses that very verb twice to describe Mary’s contemplation of the mystery of God made man: “And Mary pondered all these things… in her heart.”[7]

Mary’s example of discipleship to us is to ponder the joy of our journey with Christ. Sometimes, even amid that joy, Mary ponders that which troubles her. So must we ponder and discern the will of God that brings us tremendous joy but can also be troubling to us.

Elizabeth, too, is one who ponders the mystery of the Incarnation, coupled with the miracle of her own pregnancy. Her question in today’s Gospel reading of the Visitation never ceases to give me pause: “Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?”[8]

Why, we ask, should God have come to us at all? Jesus was not obligated to take our human form, but He did so out of love for us. He came to dwell in the womb of a human mother, to be born, to live and to minister among us, and to die and to rise to complete the long-anticipated act of salvation. We are now given the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that God’s mystery becomes our vocation.

We carry the Spirit of the Lord within us as Mary once carried Jesus within her. When that Spirit is disseminated among us, when we act in the name of the Lord whom we receive in the Eucharist, we make the Visitation a perpetual and actual reality. Let us then live the Visitation by recognizing Christ in those around us, and in our prayer and acts of charity may we ponder the reality of Christ among us and within us, and may we be to this world a people of great joy.

WRS


[1] Carroll Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 2:117.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Luke 1:44

[4] Luke 1:14

[5] Matthew 5:12. The Gospel of John uses cognates of αγαλλιάσει twice, in 5:35 and 8:56. This word and its derivatives appear eleven times in the New Testament. Outside the Gospels, it appears twice in the Acts of the Apostles (2:26 and 16:34), three times in the first letter of Peter (1:6, 1:8, and 4:13), and once in Revelation (19:7). See Heartlight’s Search God’s Word, “The New Testament Greek Lexicon.” http://www.searchgodsword.org/ lex/grk/view.cgi?number=21. Accessed 29 May, 2010.

[6] Stuhlmueller, “The Gospel According to Luke,” 2:117.

[7] Luke 2:19. See also Luke 1:29.

[8] Luke 1:43

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