Wednesday, August 24, 2016

August 28, 2016 - I Am Meek and Humble of Heart

The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C    

 Reading I: Sirach 3 17-18, 20,28-29          Response: Psalm 68
 Reading II:  Hebrews 12: 18-19, 22-24a   Gospel: Luke 14: 1, 7-14

In our first reading from Sirach, we hear the advice: “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”

In the Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the guest who has been invited to a wedding banquet. The guest chooses a place of honor and has to be told to move when a more distinguished person arrives.

In the introduction to the Gospel, we hear: “Take my yoke upon you, says the Lord, and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” [A yoke is a device used to enable two animals to share the weight of a burden they are pulling and to do it in unison.]  Jesus does not ask us to do anything by ourselves, but rather to walk side by side, in unison with him as we journey
through life.

I have heard it said that our pride dies 10 minutes after we die. Sometimes we are tempted to act humble, but it is just another way of camouflaging our pride. We find true humility very difficult. Eleanor Stump, a professor of philosophy at Saint Luis University, notes four types of pride:

  • There is the childish kind of pride, of course, where you brag about your accomplishments while everybody else tries to be polite enough not to roll their eyes while you are talking.
  • And then there is also the grown-up version of that childish pride.  A multi-millionaire who explains that he is a self- made man has this kind of pride.  He has failed to notice all the gifts he has been given that have helped him to get where he is. He thinks he himself is responsible for the good he has.

  • A more complicated kind of pride can be found in a person who knows that all his good comes from the grace of God. But he is sure that God has given him such grace and not his neighbors, because God knew that he, unlike his stupid worldly neighbors, would make good use of God’s gifts.

  • Finally, the worst and most sophisticated kind of pride is found in the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other men, especially not like that sinner, the publican. The Pharisee knew that every good in him was a gift from God. But he was glad that he had God's gifts and that the publican didn’t. 

The Pharisee liked looking down on the publican.Humility is simple truth. We acknowledge that all our virtue and talents come from God and that they are meant to be used for the good of others. We also acknowledge that God has gifted others and we appreciate and rejoice over those gifts.

For  twelve years I taught in Aquinas Junior College where most of the students were preparing to be secretaries, medical assistants, or early childhood educators. Some had poor self images when they came. We used to emphasize with them that God must have a special love for the ordinary people because he made so many of us. The world only needs a few opera singers, violinists, scientists, professional athletes, artists, mechanics, or other specially talented people. However,  it needs many, many people with the ordinary gifts of caring, kindness, helpfulness, and generosity.

I had a friend with serious eye problems. Her doctor was a genius who was often consulted by other doctors because of his expertise. However, he did not have a great personality. Nevertheless, he was smart enough to recognize that he needed the gifts a warm-hearted secretary to make his practice successful. The secretary he hired was a real people-person. She knew everyone's name and asked about their families. She would greet each patient as if he or she were the important person in the world. Yes, the doctor's gifts were important. but the secretary's gifts were no less important.

In our Early Childhood Education Department, we had some students who had found school difficult. However,  they had the personalities and patience needed to relate well to young children during their most  impressionable years. What comfort it brought to parents when they recognized those special gifts in the teachers of their precious children.

Each one of us is unique and gifted by God in a special way. We need to be grateful and share our gifts with others. It is pure foolishness for us to attribute our virtues or accomplishments only to ourselves. We need to keep our eyes on the humble Jesus who asks us to “learn to of him to be "meek and humble of heart.”

As a human and a devout Jew, Jesus was well-versed in the Hebrew Scriptures [Old Testament]. He followed well the instructions of the prophet Micah: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  He asks us to do the same.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

August 21, 2016 - God Is Love

The Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Reading I:  Isaiah 66:18-21
Response:  Psalm 117:12
Reading II:  Hebrews 12: 5-7, 11-13
Gospel:  Luke 13: 22-30    

While Jesus was teaching, someone asked him “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”  His answer was, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate.’ [This refers to a narrow passageway in the mountains range through which the shepherds must drive their sheep. These ways can be dangerous and some sheep do not make it through.] Then, Jesus tells a parable which may surprise us!!!

The parable in today’s Gospel seems like a contradiction to the one on the 17th Sunday in which a man wanting to borrow bread is knocking on the door of his friend at midnight. Because of the man’s persistence, the friend senses that this is probably an emergency. Also, because of his friendship he is willing to possibly awaken the whole family in order to respond to the man’s needs. [It could well be that they lived in a one-room home and slept on sheepskins like our Southwestern Navajos did. Even today, some live in the octagon-shaped hogans with only a fireplace in the center.]

On the other hand, in today’s parable — a story to teach a lesson,  Jesus says that the one knocking on the door will call out, ‘Lord open the door for us.’  Since there has been no prior relationship, the master of the house will say in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ The response will be, ‘We ate and drank in your company, and you taught on our streets.’ The master will repeat ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me you evildoers!’ Jesus compares this with the situation when we knock on the door to heaven. If we have not developed a friendship with the Lord and lived a life of love for his children, we will not experience heaven. There will be ‘wailing and grinding of teeth’ when we see others in the Kingdom of God and we ourselves are outside.

This brings up a question about God’s goodness...How can a merciful and loving God send someone to hell for all eternity? 

Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI, addresses the question in the following way:
God, Jesus tells us, doesn’t judge anyone. We judge ourselves. God doesn’t create hell and God doesn’t send anyone to hell. But that does not mean that hell doesn’t exist and that it isn’t a possibility for us. Here, in essence, is how Jesus explains this:

God sends his life [love] into the world and we can choose that life or reject it We judge
ourselves in making that choice. If we choose life, we are ultimately choosing heaven. If we reject life we live outside of life and that is ultimately hell. But we make that choice, God doesn’t send us anywhere. Moreover, hell is not a positive punishment created by God to make us suffer. Hell is the absence of something, namely, living inside of the life [love] that’s offered to us.

Fr. Rolheiser goes on to say, “Hell is real, but it isn’t a positive punishment created by God to deal out justice or vengeance....Hell is the absence of life, of love, of forgiveness, of community.  We can end up there, outside of love and community, but that’s a choice we make if we, culpably, reject these as they are offered to us during our lifetime.”

The reason I have chosen the above picture to represent the entrance into heaven is based on the fact that people who have had an near-death experience often refer to being drawn by a beautiful white light.  Each of us tend to visualize Jesus according to our own race and nationality, so it is not possible to illustrate a universal Christ.

The human Jesus must have resembled the people of  his native land. In 1982, when I made a retreat in the Holy Land, I took pictures of  some children playing. I figured that, that was how the boy Jesus must have looked. Also, we were shown the type adobe homes in which the people lived. We even saw the caves which were used to shelter the animals.  It was likely that Jesus was born in such a cave.

I had never been in the Southwest before I went to teach at St. Catherine Indian School in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1984. To my surprise I noted that the climate and land were similar to the Holy Land. The Native people had the tan skin and dark hair that I had seen there also. When I visited the Pueblo villages, I saw homes similar to the one’s in the Israel.

Later, when teaching at St. Michael Indian School and Dine College on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, I was thrilled to see real shepherds. One of our Associates in Ganado was still caring for her sheep with great affection even into her old age. I was always attracted to the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. However, my experiences in the Southwest greatly strengthened my love for Jesus, our Loving Shepherd.

Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Let us follow his way of love, and then we will not need to be concerned about eternity.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

August 14, 2016 - I Am the Good Shepherd

   The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C  

  Reading 1: Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10
Response: Psalm 40
Reading 2: Hebrews 12:1-4
Gospel: Luke 12: 49-53

Painting by Del Parson

In today’s readings, we have two images presented: the image of a blazing fire and that of baptism. However, the well-loved picture of the Good Shepherd serves to illustrate both.

The fire Jesus wants to spread over the earth is the light of true knowledge of God.  Before the time of Jesus, people could deduce from nature the existence of an all-powerful creator. 

However, it took Jesus' coming in a human form to reveal that our God is a loving and forgiving God. Jesus said: He who sees me sees the Father. Jesus wants that understanding shared with all people. 

Fire also creates warmth which we associate with love. Jesus also wants us to share love with all people. That can be challenging at times, especially if one has been hurt by the person. However, “love” means wanting the good for others and helping them to attain it when we can. It doesn't mean that we have to “like” the person. “Love is a choice.”

The baptism which Jesus referred to was his death and resurrection. As the time to sacrifice His life for the salvation of souls was coming closer, He said: “ great is my anguish until it is accomplished.” I hear both His desire to bring about salvation and also His human dread of the suffering He will experience. How heartbreaking it must have been to realize that not all will choose to benefit from His great sacrifice!

As we contemplate the image of the Good Shepherd, we see his love and protection of the sheep. He carries a club to ward off dangerous animals who might try to harm or kill the sheep. The shepherd also carries a staff whose hook enables him to rescue a sheep who has fallen into a crevice, a hole, a stream or has become stuck in mud or bushes. Day and night, the Shepherd watches over the sheep as they search for water and grasses over treacherous mountains and through dangerous valleys. 

In the picture above, the way this shepherd is carrying the stray, wounded sheep on his shoulders reminds us of Jesus’ carrying the cross for our salvation. He looks weary and is in pain, but he chooses to sacrifice his own comfort for the sake of the sheep.

The sheep and lambs themselves are wonderful animals. During their lifetimes, they provide wool to warm and protect against the elements. When food is needed, they allow themselves to be slaughtered so that others can live. It is so appropriate for us to also refer to Jesus as the “Lamb of God”.

The next time we hear the priest at Mass pray: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” let us respond with ever grateful hearts: “Have mercy on us” and “Grant us peace”.

Good Shepherd, may we listen to your voice and follow you wherever you lead, knowing that you remain with and watch over us always. Amen.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

August 7, 2016 - Trust in the Lord

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading I: Wisdom 18:6-9
Responsorial Psalm: 33:1.12.18-19, 20-22
Reading II: Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
or 11:1-2, 8-12
Gospel: Luke 12:32-48 or 12:35-40

Fr. John Foley, S.J. provides a beautiful reflection on trust in a relationship, whether with other humans or with God.  He acknowledges that it can be difficult to trust in these days of fragile human relationships and the threats of terrorist attacks.  However, he notes that “human bonding is entirely dependent on trust.”

It is also trust that the Lord asks of us. Abraham, our father in the faith, was asked to have total trust when God required him to travel with his family through the wilderness to a land he did not know. He was asked to believe that he and his wife Sarah, who was beyond the childbearing age, would have “descendants as numerous as the sands on the seashore.” Finally, a heartbreaking challenge was presented to him when the Lord told him to make a bloody sacrifice of his son. How could he continue to trust when the Lord asked him to kill his only son from whom all the descendants would issue?  

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, we hear the words: “...He [Abraham] thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.” Although he did not understand, he continued to trust in God remembering his love, promises, and fidelity of the past.

In His human nature, Jesus was also put to the test. Fr. Foley describes that situation the following way: “Jesus worried about God's abandoning him as he was being crucified. Yes, he trusted, even though he was filled with the raw human fear that God might have rejected him (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Mt 27:46]). Even Jesus had to make a leap of faith in his Father. He knew the Father had been with him during all the challenges of his life. Therefore, in spite of his anxiety and questions, he took the risk to trust again. Thus, he was able to surrender to the Passion in all its horror. 

We thank you Jesus for your courage and sacrifice born of unconditional love. You ask us to trust as you did in the midst of our journeys through life. One of the blessings of my youth was when I met with my mentor, Sr. Aquin, who was preparing me to enter the convent. She told me an allegory, which is simply an imaginary story which stands for a meaningful truth. 

It went this way: Once upon a time there was a princess who had been promised in marriage to a prince who lived in a faraway land. She had to travel by herself through the wilderness until she would reach the land where her groom would meet her. Although frightened, she set off on her journey. After a short distance, she met a young man with a fiddle.  He offered to accompany her on her journey. When she was tired or scared by wild animals, he was at her side.  Sometimes, he would even play the fiddle to cheer her up.  After a long journey, they finally reached the land where she would meet the prince.  All of a sudden, the fiddler was transformed into a handsome young prince. Realizing how difficult it would be for her to travel through the wilderness by herself, he had disguised himself to accompany her on the journey. What a joyful wedding took place that very day! 

In this allegory,  the princess represents the soul journeying toward the Lord.  The fiddler (the prince in disguise) is Jesus in the Eucharist. He journeys with us through life giving us strength and consolation. At the end of  life’s journey, we will see Him as He truly is and be united with Him for eternity.   

Yes, we do need to trust our God’s merciful, faithful love. Recently, Jesus appeared to St. Faustina and asked her to spread the devotion to him as a merciful Savior. He wants us to trust that He will greet us with open arms when our life here is complete. On the image, which Jesus gave to the saint, we find the following words:

                                                        “Jesus, I trust in you.”

           Today, let us open our hearts wide and ask the Lord to fill them with trust like His.