Saturday, February 18, 2017

Virtue is its own Reward

…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

How often do we see people looking for the payoff, or what’s in it for them, when it comes to ethical decision making.  How often do we see this way of thinking in our own discernment and thoughts?  In a culture that relies upon contractarianism and utilitarianism to determine ethical behavior, we are vulnerable to such poisons.

In the Catholic tradition it has always been maintained that virtue is its own reward, that we perform the good deed solely because it is good and for no other reason – “we are useless servants.  We are merely doing our duty.”  A servant does not expect recompense nor even praise for doing their duty, and we likewise see the ethical life in similar terms. 

There is no reward for loving our enemies or praying for them, but such behavior is certainly good in its own right and far superior to the revenge our world seeks, or even following Jesus’ command for some benefit or reward for ourselves.  Our lot is to do the good as Jesus did, a good that leads to the cross – and to the reign of God. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Interpreting Scripture

I have not come to abolish but to fulfill…

How are we to make sense of the scriptures?  The old law had so many laws, and Jesus here says all them must be obeyed.  But clearly we do not practice much of it any longer.  Kosher laws and circumcision went away long ago, nor are we forbidden any longer from marrying our brother’s widow.  We do not stone adulterers to death, nor do we drag homosexuals out of the city gates for stoning. 

In addition, we no longer pray the Psalms of cursing, and most of us cringe at the Psalms that rejoice in the genocide against other nations.  This is because we look at the entire set of scriptures in the way Jesus did.  Over and over Jesus sought to interpret the law through the lens of mercy and forgiveness.  It is the only way to understand the scriptural tradition that does not drive us to madness.

So we seek fulfillment in appropriating God’s law within our hearts so that our inner life might transform our outer life.  A heart transformed by God’s love and mercy can only bring forth outer works of great love and mercy – deeds that manifest the real meaning of the scriptures and lead us ever surely to the reign of God. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Judgment of the Nations

Then light shall rise for you in the darkness…

The blight of American individualism would have us believe that all God’s commands to share our bread with the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to care for the oppressed are commands for individuals, not to nations.  This unique interpretation of scripture, of course, overlooks the fact that all God’s commands were to Israel as a nation and a people.  The Sabbath years, the Jubilee years, the commands to tithe a tenth of the crops for the poor – all these were the obligation of the nation.

And when the prophets, like Isaiah, came to proclaim God’s word, it was a word for the nation to repent as a nation and not merely as individuals.  God’s judgment came upon the nation, and when Jesus describes the final judgment of the sheep and goats it has always had the title of the Judgment of the Nations. 

As a Church it is our obligation to remind the nations of these obligations.  That is our prophetic obligation from our baptismal commitment.  Yes, the rule of nations is imperfect, as are all individuals.  But they, like each one of us, can do better in these duties – and as we continue to improve and take these commands to heart as nations we walk ever closer to the reign of God.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Comfortable Christianity

Seek justice, seek humility…

Everyone loves the Beatitudes, though very few can recite them all or even tell what they mean.  The fact is that the Beatitudes are a far more difficult standard of religious practice than keeping the Ten Commandments.  After all, it’s really not that hard to avoid stealing and killing, but how much more challenging is it to be merciful and to be a peace maker?  So the Beatitudes present for us a great challenge to our mediocrity and pedestrian spirituality.

If one takes the time to sit with the Beatitudes and pray with them, another reality comes to us:  there is a great tendency and temptation to latch onto a Beatitude that is comfortable for us as a way of hiding from the Beatitude that God is really trying to challenge us with in that particular moment.  Like Jonah, we prefer to sail off the Tarshish rather than go to Nineveh where God calls us to be.

So let the Beatitudes be the challenge that they are for our lives – for our individual spiritual lives as well as our communal lives as the People of God.  Let us not run away from them, but instead embrace them as our sure means of Christian life and discernment.  May they make us uncomfortable, move us to greater things in our Christian lives, and ultimately lead us to the reign of God.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Brothers All Are We

…that there be no divisions among you.

The call of the first disciples has become so familiar to us that we have lost its radical power.  Jesus calls two brothers to leave aside their work and follow him.  Brothers in the Old Testament were not exactly the greatest of mission partners.  More often than not such partnerships ended in murder.  That Jesus brought together two brothers for a common mission means the messianic era of peace is here.

But there is more.  After calling Peter and Andrew, Jesus then calls another pair of brothers to join him.  What is more, these brothers – James and John – were rival fishermen to Peter and Andrew.  So now we have traditional sibling rivals as well as economic rivals coming together for the common mission of Jesus the Lord! 

And yet today how many rivalries are there in the Church!  It seems we agree on nearly nothing and we seek every opportunity to invent a reason to bicker, quarrel, and create divisions where none should be.  May the example and intercession of these brothers and business rivals bring us together and lead us to a closer walk toward the reign of God. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

To Know Jesus

I did not know him.

These are strange words coming from John the Baptist.  Wasn’t Jesus his cousin?  Surely they spent time together growing up, attending family gatherings, and the like.  Even the most distant families have some knowledge of one another.  And yet John makes this stunning statement regarding Jesus:  I did not know him. 

But each and every one of us can also utter these words regarding our relationship to Jesus.  Even the most devoted follower of Jesus in their most private moments of prayer asks, “Do I really know Jesus?  Do I really know myself?”  In a million moments of each day we often overlook the presence of Jesus – in the tabernacle, in our neighbor, in the homeless person, immigrant, refugee, or any other person we encounter.

In the time after Epiphany the Church asks us to consider the different ways Jesus manifested his presence to us in the Gospels.  Both before and after the resurrection we find the disciples failing to know the presence of Jesus in their midst.  These stories are designed for us to be ever attentive to Jesus present in our lives so that we can find our way to the reign of God.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Being Led to Avoid Being Lost

Where is the newborn king of the Jews?

Today’s Gospel and feast present us with a lesson in not getting lost.  The Magi first arrive in Judea having been led by a star in the heavens above.  They then arrive in Bethlehem having asked for directions as to where the newborn king of the Jews was to be born.  Finally, in order to avoid Herod’s trap, they are then led by a dream to return home using a route that would keep them safe from him.  The Magi allowed themselves to be led by the hand of God in various manifestations so that they could complete their journeys and goals.

The Magi story is filled with questions – what is this star?  Where did these Magi come from?  Where was this house in Bethlehem where the Holy Family welcomed these visitors?  But these are unimportant questions that detract from the point of the story itself:  stay focused on the journey, allow yourself to be led to Jesus, and allow yourself to be led safely on your life journey.

The Magi teach us that God is for everyone, not just for a particular group of people in a particular time and place.  They also teach us that God leads everyone to himself in various ways provided we allow ourselves to be so led.  It is a story for all times and all peoples open to the hand of God in their lives directing them in so many ways to the reign of God.