Saturday, July 13, 2013

You Can Do It! - 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

You Can Do It! – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Teachers have a frustrating job.  Every year they lay out an entire plan for their students to be successful in their class.  On the face of it, the plan seems easy:  do these assignments, study this material, and do well on the tests.  If you do all these things, you will be successful in this class.  In addition to laying it all out, the teacher will invariably spend time before and after school helping students master the material.  Tutors are made available to students who need extra help.  And in spite of all this structure, there will be students who will fail the course.  In some cases students will have things happen to them that are beyond their control that leads them to be unsuccessful – an illness, family crisis, or some other calamity.  But for others the failure represents a failure at a basic level of putting forth no effort to achieve what on paper seems rather simple.

Moses seems at the point of teacher exasperation with the people of Israel in the first reading.  The Law really isn’t that complicated.  Its content is not too lofty to understand; its meaning is clear and its application is near us.  We have only to put it into effect in our lives.  What is more, God will send them help:  great leaders of faith, great signs to instill faith within them, and His presence among them in the tabernacle of the ark of the covenant.  These aides will be with Israel for generations, and yet time and again the people fail to follow the Law.  Is it any wonder Moses gets frustrated time and again with his own people?

The reason the Law is so difficult for the people to follow is found in today’s Gospel text.  A teacher of the law asks Jesus what is necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven.  The answer is simple.  The entire law is summarized in two sentences:  you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, with all your mind, and with all your soul; and love your neighbor as yourself.  That’s it.  Jesus affirms this answer, stating that if we do this we will live.  It seems quite simple.  And yet it becomes hard when the lawyer asks a question – who is my neighbor?  It is the legalism of our minds and systems that looks to complicate that which is simple. 

Jesus’ reply to the lawyer’s question is the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, the lesson being of course that everyone is our neighbor, even – no, especially – our enemy.  But we knew this already.  Jesus had taught it to us in the Sermon on the Mount.  And yet we saw the disciples ask Jesus if they should call down fire upon the Samaritan village that rejected them.  Apparently we are no better than the ancient Israelites when it comes to living the Law as we ought.  We need not belabor the point in citing event after event in the history of the Church where we continually sought not to forgive and love our enemy but rather to execute and wage war upon him. 

And yet each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we are reminded that Jesus lived the Law of love perfectly.  He died for His enemies after first forgiving them.  He commanded us to put aside the sword, and He commands us to follow Him in living the Law of love.  We can do it.  We have every help available to us:  the teaching and example of Jesus, sacramental celebrations where we remember in a tangible way how Jesus lived this Law and where grace is made available to us in order to live it ourselves.  The time has come to put aside our legalistic distinctions, mental reservations, just war theories, and all other excuses for not living as we are commanded to live, for not loving as we are commanded to love. 

The renewal of the Church will not come through some parish program, nor in some insistence upon orthodoxy, nor from any further tinkering with the liturgy.  Important as these things may be, they are no substitute for authentic Christian living by each and every one of us.  We may have great attendance at parish programs.  We may have orthodoxy reinforced to the hilt.  We may tinker with the liturgy to the very last genuflection.  But if they do not produce people living the Law of the Gospel, the Law of Love, we have made ourselves very busy with the wrong emphases.  Programs, teaching, and liturgy are means to an end, not ends in themselves.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is a sober reminder of this fact.

As we look to follow the Lord Jesus along the way of love, we come together at Mass to be nourished and reminded once again in the Eucharistic action the life we must live.  “Let us pray to be faithful to the light we have received, to the name we bear.  Father, let the light of your truth guide us to your kingdom through a world filled with lights contrary to your own.  Christian is the name and the gospel we glory in.  May your love make us what you have called us to be.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Friday, July 12, 2013

Daily Reflection July 12, 2013 - Facing Persecution

Over the past few days the Gospel readings have focused on the call of the twelve apostles and sending them out for a mission of healing and peace.  Today we see the results we can expect from performing this ministry of healing and peace, provided we are faithful to it.

We are told that we should expect to face violent opposition, rejection, abuse, and even death for carrying out the ministry of Jesus.  How can this be?  After all, who could object to physical and spiritual healing?  Who would prefer violence and death to peace and solidarity?  We are reminded of Plato's story of the cave.  People preferred to remain chained to a wall, looking at the shadow images on the wall rather than living in the brilliant world of reality.  Logically, such choices do not make any sense.

However, our experience tells us that in fact most people do prefer to live in fantasy worlds.  They prefer violence and death to peace and solidarity.  New wars happen every day, but rather than reject them we join the bandwagon and beat the war drum, justifying such insanity with outdated just war theories and idolatrous patriotism.  We continue to allow gun violence to afflict our communities, preferring the second amendment to the command of Jesus to reject violence.  We continue to execute criminals and use the warped logic that killing people will teach others not to kill people.  And we continue to allow abortion in our society, justifying it with hideous mantras of choice and autonomy. 

And yet in the midst of all of  this we must rejoice at being rejected, persecuted, and the like.  For these experiences are the identifying mark that we are being faithful to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.  It is time for Christians to stop whining about rejection and persecution; to stop claiming some preferred status of the empire that has compromised our fidelity to the Gospel over the centuries.  It is time to remember that a servant is not greater than his master.  The Lord Jesus faced rejection, persecution, and death - and in no place did He whine about it, claim preferred status, or resort to violence in order to protect Himself - all of which were available options to Him.  We can do no less, and in imitating the Master in all these hardships we know that these are the birth pangs that lead us to the reign of God. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Daily Reflection July 11, 2013 - Healing and Peace

Yesterday we saw the calling of the inner circle of Jesus' new community and how Jesus brought forth a diversity of members to overcome ancient divisions.  Today's Gospel reading shows us the mission of this new community:  heal the sick, cleanse lepers, drive out demons, raise the dead, and proclaim peace in whatever town they visit. 

Healing and peace are intrinsically connected in the ministry of Jesus and in our own experience.  When we are in the midst of illness or grief, we are not at peace.  Our spirit is troubled at the sickness that afflicts the body.  The soul and body are one reality in us; what happens to the one affects the other.  So, in healing the body we necessarily do good to the spiritual life of a person. 

In our own times there are some who would separate the soul and body, arguing that we should focus on the spiritual matters primarily and give lesser importance to the needs of the body.  Such a dualism does not exist in the teaching and ministry of Jesus.  The whole person is important, for it is the whole person we experience, not different parts of them.  We never encounter disembodied souls, but rather living human beings who are one reality of soul and body fused together to form one reality of the person before us. 

What is more, integral human development has always been a constitutive part of the Church's evangelization.  Pope Paul VI reminded us of this reality in Populorum Progressio, and this teaching was reinforced by John Paul II, Benedict XVI, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.  It finds a particular urgency in the teaching of our present holy father, Pope Francis, who has repeatedly argued that this is the fundamental mission of the Church.

It is in this way that we bring forth peace in our world - by caring for the whole person, healing the entire person.  Peace does not come through liturgical nitpicking or in a catechesis that is aimed solely at the head and fails to reach the heart, soul, and entire being of a person.  It comes through the ministry of healing given to us by Jesus.  And when we experience this healing in our lives and in our ministry, we then discover the peace that is the consequence of integral healing, and we know then that we are closer to the reign of God.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Daily Reflection July10, 2013 - Calling All

Today's Gospel text relates the calling of the twelve apostles to be the core of Jesus' community and mission.  On the surface this group does not appear very diverse - they are all Jewish men.  However, there is a great deal of diversity in this group, as the class of Jewish men could not ever claim to be a monolithic group sharing the same ideas and belief.

There are two sets of brothers - Peter and Andrew, James and John.  The calling of brothers does not seem particularly diverse except when you remember the stories of the Old Testament where brothers never get along - Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers.  The fact that Jesus calls together brothers into a new community indicates His desire to end this cycle of family division.  What is more, Peter and Andrew, and James and John represent rivals in the fishing industry.  They belonged to different families who made their living as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee, selling fish in the public market.  So, in calling these two groups together indicates that economic rivalries will have no place in the reign of God either.

The other cast of characters also has their unique features:  Matthew was a tax collector.  His presence in the inner circle is certainly a challenge to the status quo.  His conversion represents a great moment when egotistical self-interest is replaced by the common good and selfless love.  Simon the Zealot is another challenging figure as his presence might indicate a revolutionary presence designed to overthrow Roman power through violence.  Yet, the teaching and example of Jesus in rejecting violence indicates that this message changed Simon from a violent fanatic to one whose aim is the peaceful kingdom of God. 

Thomas would doubt Jesus' resurrection.  Judas Iscariot would betray him.  Nathaniel could not believe anything good could come from Nazareth. 

On the surface, this group should have dissolved at its inception.  All the rivalries and differences of politics and religious understanding of the Jewish tradition would certainly have led to collapse and failure at some point.  And yet it did not.  Why?  Each put aside their own self-interest and their own point of view to seek the common good, solidarity, and the peace that the kingdom of God promises and delivers to us.  This kingdom is not about a political program or economic theory.  It is about the putting aside of all those things to live for others, to love without self-interest, to imitate how Jesus taught and lived. 

In our own times there are many who would like to remake the Church in their own image and likeness so that it is an exclusive club of like minded people of similar political, economic, and social outlook.  They would make uniform the minutest detail of every aspect of Christian living to conform to their particular agenda.  But the reign of God is not about such things.  It is only about one thing - to love as Jesus loved, to live as Jesus lived - that in so doing we may proclaim with our whole being the coming of the reign of God. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Daily Reflection July 9, 2013 - Exorcizing Demons

Whenever we read a passage from the Gospels about Jesus exorcizing demons from a person, many of us are incredulous as this does not fit with our everyday experience.  While true demonic possession of the Hollywood type is rare, the presence of evil in our lives is very palpable and real. 

We are often possessed by evil whether we are conscious of it or not.  Our attachment to violence in attempting to solve problems continues to overwhelm humankind.  We just can't seem to stop killing one another, whether it be through gun violence, war, capital punishment, abortion, or whatever other method to which we are attached.  All of us tolerate it on some level, and yet the absolute command of nonviolence in the teaching and example of Jesus indicates that we are far from followers of the Prince of Peace.

Our attachments to power lead us in many ways to trample on the poor, marginalized, and defenseless.  How many people live in dire poverty so that so few people can live in obscene wealth?  How many young people have suffered abuse, sexual or otherwise, while adults protect one another in institutions of power, whether they be ecclesial, academic, business, or governmental?  How many women and children are sexually exploited while we continually allow pornography, adult entertainment venues, and the like to operate and flourish? 

There are many demons that possess us as individuals and as a society.  While we may look incredulous at the instances of exorcism in the Gospels, we might take comfort in knowing that at least these characters were earnestly seeking relief and release from the prisons of evil into which they found themselves.  In our times, we cannot make that confident assertion, for we continue to make excuses for the evil we tolerate in our world, and we continue to appease rather than exorcize these demons.

As we continue our journey of discipleship we ask to be delivered from all evil in the prayer Jesus the Lord gave us.  For in seeking deliverance from evil we know that we are more surely walking toward the reign of God.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Daily Reflection July 8, 2013 - The Place of Healing

Whenever we think of healing, we think of a place to go where we can be healed, refreshed, or renewed.  It could be a place of pilgrimage like a shrine or land.  It could be a spa or island getaway.  Ancient peoples had the same understanding of healing, and there were many places people flocked to in order to receive the healing they were looking for. 

Today's Gospel reading of the two healings - the daughter of the synagogue official, and the woman with a hemmorage of blood - were both healed not at a place but by a person.  The setting for the story is nondescript:  Jesus was walking along the way when these two instances of healing take place.  And yet for whatever reason this ordinary setting becomes the drama for these two healings. 

We have seen throughout the Gospels that people flocked to Jesus for healing, regardless of where He happened to be.  The place of healing does not matter; what matters is the person who comes to heal us.  The synagogue official seeks healing for his child in the person of Jesus.  We might look upon his daughter as a symbol for Israel herself.  The faith life of God's people is sick and close to death.  Jesus comes to revive it, leading God's people to a renewed relationship in the one, true God.  The woman with a flow of blood can be seen as Gentile peoples whose history is soaked in the blood of violence that has persisted throughout the life of all peoples.  In Jesus violence is ended; bloodshed can no more be the story of the human race.

And yet we see that our faith wanes and violence continues to spill blood across the globe.  Jesus came to revive our faith and end our violence, and these two things can happen if we really follow the Lord Jesus in His teaching and in His example.  But as long as we continue to make excuses for the continued recourse to violence our faith will remain dead.  Perhaps today will be the day we make a plea to the Lord Jesus:  revive my faith, help me overcome the temptation to violence.  And with this prayer and resolution that we make to Jesus going along the way, we hope to come closer to the reign of God.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Daily Reflection July 7, 2013 - A Ministry of Peace

In today's Gospel reading we find Jesus commissioning a further seventy-two disciples, sending them forth to be missionaries.  And what is their mission?  To bring a message of peace to every town they enter, to encourage others to repentance, and to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God. 

As we saw earlier, if a town rejects the message of peace, we are not to call down revenge upon that place.  Jesus rebuked the disciples for even making such a suggestion.  Instead, we are to expect such opposition and we are to keep moving forward proclaiming the message of peace.  It is little wonder that a world so captivated by war would reject the message of peace.  It is more strange still to see people who bear the name Christian preach not peace, but war and violence at every turn. 

It is also little wonder that few heed the message of repentance that we are to proclaim.  The world has grown attached to its many vices.  And yet we might consider the fact that we who proclaim a message of repentance are disinclined to repent of our own sins; instead, we focus on those of others.  As a result, we cannot expect others to practice what we ourselves fail to do in our own lives. 

So, when we call forth the kingdom of God, what type of kingdom are we calling forth?  If we preach violence instead of peace and if we fail to repent ourselves while expecting others to change, we are really calling for a kingdom that resembles those of the world in many ways - violent kingdoms of hypocritical leaders who expect others to change while the leaders continue to do what they will.  Is it any wonder that so few are attracted to the kingdom of God as it is presented to them in our lives.  It looks no different than the one to which they are currently attached. 

The Lord Jesus practiced to perfection that which He preached.  He lived a life of peace, one in which he consciously chose to reject violence and to embrace a violent end to His own earthly life.  And while He Himself had no need of repentance, Jesus lived a life of humble service to the most lowly and vulnerable.  This is why people were attracted to Him; this is the authentic kingdom for which the first listeners of Jesus embraced.  As we pray for the kingdom to come, let us make sure it is the authentic kingdom of the Lord Jesus and not one of our own making.  Only then can we be sure that we are walking - and leading others - to the reign of God.