Tag Archives: Colombia

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.

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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.