Saturday, February 27, 2010

We're Supposed to Be PERFECT?

Yes, yes we are. Jesus actually calls us to it. Let me share today's Gospel reading, a common objection to it, and then a few thoughts:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt.5:43-48)

There are some people who object to reading that last sentence as a call to a perfect "holiness," a striving to live completely in union with all of God's commands and to bring our interior thoughts into union with them as well. They point out that, in the context of this passage, perfection means being perfectly forgiving, not all hung up on rules, etc.

Alright. My problem with that is that it portrays forgiveness, true heartfelt forgiveness of someone who has wronged us - stole from us, physically assaulted us, betrayed his/her wedding vows - as somehow easier than getting ourselves to Mass every Sunday morning, or avoiding drinking too much or "going too far" in the backseat! And that's hilarious to me. When Jesus uses forgiveness as an example of what it means to be perfect, as God is perfect, He set the bar as high as He possibly could! We can't do any of it without God's grace and the action of the Holy Spirit, but the "rules" are pretty simple comparatively speaking. Now, I'm not counseling myself or anyone else to become neurotic about small, daily failures - God is literally infinitely patient with and forgiving of His children. But lets be honest about what we're called to - that “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb.12:14).

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Montel & Sylvia

The only thing more intellectually stimulating than watching Montel Williams hawk a blender is to see him doing it in combination with the psychic insights of Sylvia Browne. Don't miss out on the amazing Health Master Blender!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

State of MO - Don't Be Hatin'

Thanks to my old friend Bill Hunter for bringing this to my attention: Missouri State Senator Chuck Pergason has proposed Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 29 - do away with personal and corporate income tax but DO TAX churches, parochial school tuition, and charity services. Chuck has earned my "Como, What?" for the week. Catholic Charities should charge a tax from the poor who access its services? Christian parents, who pay taxes to the state to fund local school districts, should have the additional tuition they pay to their parochial school taxed?

What about the college tuition people pay Chuck? Ah, SJR-29 exempts college tuition from taxation on the basis that those payments are an investment toward the future. And parochial school tuition isn't? They're both in addition to the public school system and both freely chosen. Feels like religious institutions aren't getting a fair shake here. Alrighty MO residents, think you had better be contacting your state senators.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Holy" Obedience for Lent?

“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22). That’s a truth to keep central as we enter this season of Lent. It’s possible to make a grandiose resolution and miss the reality at the heart of the season: We are to take on the image of Him Who “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

About a year ago one of my closest friends started reading Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light. My friend, who is Lutheran, soon asked me if I could explain something to her: it seemed very strange that Mother Teresa, who God was clearly speaking to and giving a mission, would have to go and receive permission to undertake the work from her religious superiors. At first her superiors made her delay. Why would Teresa submit to that, when she knew God was speaking to her?

What a fantastic question! Looking back, my response was alright. I talked about how it was a mark of humility, and a safeguard against being deceived, to submit inspirations and private revelations to those God has allowed to assume roles of authority within a religious body. I also shared how, in private revelations to nuns and religious brothers, Jesus often instructs the recipients that they must always submit themselves to their religious superiors, even when it means delaying His requested action. These nuns and brothers took a vow of obedience when they entered their respective orders, and the Lord insists that it be adhered to. But what I failed to point out, the very heart of the matter, was what St. Anthony of Padua saw in the Gospel read a few weeks back on the Feast of the Holy Family. (My thanks to the Daily Gospel apostolate for emailing such quality commentary every day of the year.)

Jesus was twelve years old and stayed behind in Jerusalem following a family trip there, without notifying his parents. After three days of frantic searching Mary and Joseph finally found Him in the Temple:
"Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:48-52)

St. Anthony's commentary here is just gorgeous:
“He was subject to them.” With these words let all pride dissolve, all rigidness crumble, all disobedience submit. “He was subject to them.” Who? In brief, he who created all things from nothing; he who, as Isaiah says, “has cupped in his hand the waters of the sea and marked off the heavens with a span; who has held in a measure the dust of the earth, weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance” (40,12)...This is he who, great and powerful though he be, was subject. And subject to whom? To a workman and a poor young maid ... So no longer hesitate to obey or be submissive ...
There are people of wisdom within religious orders but it is by means of simple men that God brought them there. God chose the foolish and weak, the lowly and ignorant to bring together those who were wise, powerful and of noble birth through them, «so that no human being might boast in itself» (cf. 1 Cor. 1,26-29) but in him who came down, who came to Nazareth, and who was subject.

Our obedience is a participation in the very obedience of Jesus! The Father's Revelation in Person, made His plans subject to "a workman and a poor young maid." So whenever one of us submits ourselves to the decisions of our bishop or the disciplines (traditions) of the Church as opposed to our own personal "inspirations," it is Jesus' obedience that we are tapping into; and that is life's very goal! We've heard time and again that the Church is the Family of God. In truth, it is the Family of Nazareth thrown open to the entire world. And those God places in leadership may not be the smartest, or the most "charismatic," or the most plugged-in as to what He wants to accomplish in the moment; but they are to be obeyed, because doing so places us firmly in the One Who obeyed "a workman and a poor young maid." May the Lord grant us a holy and profitable Lent!

Seeing Ourselves in Simon of Cyrene

"And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry His cross. And they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha" (Mark 15:21-22).

Carrying Jesus' cross. It is the only time we hear of this Simon throughout the whole of the New Testament. Sit with this man's action a moment though...He assisted Jesus in bringing about the redemption of the world. Scourged and beaten, Jesus needed Simon's help to make it to the top of Golgotha to complete His sacrifice. I know there is great depth here, and I'm only scratching the surface; but even a scratch has to be of some value:

Only God knows what went through Simon's mind when he was pressed into that service. He was on his way home from work when the soldiers forced him into position. Had he seen Jesus before, heard Him? Did he recognize Him there on the ground, under the cross? Scared for his own life, Simon lifted the hundred pound beam onto his shoulders. Surrounded by Roman soldiers, he was probably too scared to be repulsed by the blood-smeared beam. Did he try to make eye contact with Jesus, or did he just perform the task given him? What was his reaction when the Lord prophesied to the women of Jerusalem? Did he witness Jesus being nailed to the cross, see the horror on His Mother Mary's face? Was Simon there throughout the Lord's hours on the Cross? Did he hear Jesus' final words, see the blood and water gush from His side? Or did he run to his family as soon as that beam left his shoulder? Only God knows.

What you and I know for certain is this: something happened to Simon. When Mark wrote his Gospel for the Christians in Rome, Simon's sons were among them (Mark 15:21). Simon came to Faith; he knew that Jesus had been raised and, he communicated that to his sons. How did Simon come to faith? Perhaps he heard stories that the Man he had helped had been raised and was appearing to His followers. Personally, I think Jesus paid him a visit. The Lord is never outdone in generosity– for Simon to have shared so intimately in the Cross, it makes me suspect that he shared intimately in the joy of the Resurrection as well.

It wasn’t Simon who redeemed the world, but his exertion and discomfort while carrying the cross did assist Jesus in making His redemptive offering. Even though all the value and power of the sacrifice flowed from the Lord, Simon truly participated in, truly shared, a part of Jesus’ Passion. I believe St. Paul described this reality, open to you and I as well, when he wrote, “in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Colossians 1:24). The grace and power flow from the Lord alone, and yet we truly participate in His offering – His one offering, reaching out to redeem past, present, and future (Heb.10:10, 9:14).

You and I are in Simon's position, you know. Our Lord allows His Cross to be laid upon us. It is never the type of Cross we would choose for ourselves either. No, it’s a weight we struggle under; and like Simon, we’re pressed into service. It may be the loss of a job, an illness, or abandonment by a spouse. It is always an opportunity to enter into Jesus’ offering though. For when we press on with continued faith in God’s love for us, we take on the image of the Son:

Although he was a Son, [Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Heb.5:8-9).
Consider him…so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted…It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons…for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb.12:3,7,11).

The very next verse in Hebrews is of special interest to me: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” You see, God is going to move us forward; we are going to take on the image of Jesus. We can dig in our heels and persist in anger over how “unfair” our lives are, how “cruelly” we are being treated; but it won’t stop the process. God loves us right now, exactly as we are; but He loves us too much to let us stay the way we are! He will settle for nothing less than our obtaining that absolute “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb.12:14).

St. Paul understood that this holiness is obtained by embracing the Cross shoulder-to-shoulder with Jesus. “For Jesus’ sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:8-11).

The Cross creates intimacy between Jesus and the soul of the disciple. If we will put ourselves in Simon’s place – beneath the weight of the Cross, shoulder-to-shoulder with Jesus, our hearts pounding alongside the Sacred Heart – then we will experience the unmitigated generosity of God: we will come forth from our tombs in the splendor and power of the Risen One! Because of our union with the Sacred Heart in His Passion, our bodies and souls will participate in His Resurrection. The Cross will be transformed from an occasion of suffering into the insignia of an enduring, Divine Love – His by nature, ours by participation.