Saturday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time (May 28th, 2016)

Today’s first scripture is an excerpt from the New Testament letter of Saint Jude and in this text the apostle evokes mercy: “Keep yourself in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ” and “On those who waver, have mercy”…

Mercy has been the great theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate and we are in fact in the Jubilee Year of Mercy- a time of heightened prayer and penance, a time of pilgrimage. What is mercy?

Mercy is how God’s love is experienced by a sinner- in other words, it is not God’s will that a sinner be lost, but saved. God sees value where the world (or the sinner) sees little or no value at all. That God’s response to the sinner is mercy is his means of rescue, a lure for a sinner who has resisted all other overtures.

Sin means to resist the will and purposes of God and this resistance traps a person in misery. God in Christ reveals that what the sinner in their misery encounters in God is his mercy.

God’s mercy is not an affirmation of who we are, but a rescue from a destructive status quo. Mercy offers us another chance, a privileged opportunity, a new way of life, but as such, it is always insists that we change.

Concretely, God’s mercy happens for us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but the Church is itself an agent of God’s mercy, not only in the confessional, but also in the world. All the members of the Church are sinners who have been saved, recipients of a divine mercy that none of us deserve or could ever earn. The mercy we have received grows in proportion to our willingness to share it with others.

The world is so often brutally insistent that apologies be offered for every slight real or imagined, but at the same time, mercy is in short supply and is given only begrudgingly at great cost. This should not be so with the Church, where integral to our unique way of life is to seek forgiveness and to offer forgiveness to others.

The letter of Jude insists that mercy is the gift that Christians should offer to those who need it the most- given to them, not because they deserve it, or because they will return the favor, but because we know ourselves to be sinners who are recipients of the mercy of God in Christ.

The Gospel of Mark recounts how Christ is challenged by people who doubt he has the authority to do what he has done or say what he has said.

Throughout the Gospels, Christ is presented as speaking and acting in the person of God, and this is unnerving to those who support him and those who oppose him. Christ is indicating in his words and actions that he is God, and this revelation is the great mystery of the Gospels revealed. Christ is God, the one true God, who has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life.

The acceptance of Christ for who he reveals himself to be reorients our whole life. If you accept Christ is God, then your life belongs to him, and you belong to him, not just in some things, but also in all things- his authority is total and complete. It is for this reason that many will seek to make Christ less than who he reveals himself to be, or refuse to accept him at all…

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Saturday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time (May 30th, 2015)

This past week the Church has presented as the first reading for daily Mass excerpts from the Old Testament Book of Sirach.

The Book of Sirach is an example of what is called Wisdom Literature, a specific genre of literature in the Bible that begs the questions as to what is the meaning and purpose of life and how does one best live in relationship to God and neighbor. Much of the Wisdom Literature is presented in the form of essays, proverbs and maxims.

Some of the content of the Wisdom Literature of the Bible is poetic and lyrical, and today’s excerpt from the Book of Sirach is a fine example of this. In today’s scripture from the Book of Sirach the author presents his dramatic pursuit of wisdom, whom he represents as a woman with whom he is in a passionate, romantic relationship. This relationship with wisdom has given meaning and purpose to the author’s life.

What is wisdom?

Wisdom is a quality of knowing that exceeds mere facts and figures. Rather than being content with the material, wisdom seeks after truths that transcend the experience of the world- seeing and appreciating all that there is and through this experience marveling at the gift of existence and wondering as to why there is something rather than nothing and what it means that the world greets us as knowable and intelligible. Wisdom begs from human experience the question of the existence of God and considers the meaning of existence that the answer to this question God’s existence imparts.

We live in culture that favors knowledge of facts and figures rather than wisdom. The pursuit of wisdom is seen as merely a diversion that is secondary to pragmatic concerns. Our schools and universities do not so much favor wisdom in their curriculums as they do practical skills. The question of how to best make something that humans can use and buy and sell preoccupies our culture’s attention more than discerning the answer as to why there is something rather than nothing. As such, the Book of Sirach’s passion for wisdom might seem strange.

The Church Fathers, those scholars, sages and saints of the earliest ages of the Church’s life, understood this love poem about wisdom to be a kind of foreshadowing of Christ, who is himself “holy wisdom”. Like the personification of wisdom of the Book of Sirach, in which wisdom is a person who is capable of love and being loved, a person with whom one shares a relationship, so is Christ, revealed to us in his incarnation.

Christ is not merely an idea, but a living, divine person and a relationship with him reveals, as wisdom does, the answers to the kinds of questions raised by human experience.

Not all the answers that Christ offers to us are the answers we want or that we prefer, but they are God’s answers and as such they are always true whether we accept them or believe them or not.

The authority of Christ is at issue in the Gospel for today. Christ makes extraordinary claims about God, about himself and about those things that the Israelites value. In terms of the law and the temple he presents himself as having an authority above that the Israelite’s priests, prophets and kings. He speaks and acts in the person of God. He claims an authority that is not bound by culture, custom, politics or social convention.

The religious authorities are teasing out the implications of Christ’s authority and the conclusion that they are reaching fills them with a sense of anxiety and dread. What they are coming to understand is that Christ is presenting himself to be the God of Israel in the flesh and this was not a revelation that they expected or believed was even possible.

And so they press the question, they want Christ to tell them directly- is he really who he is presenting himself to be?

Christ does not present himself as accountable to their authority to even question him and as such answers their question- he is an authority higher than the law, than the temple, and certainly higher than the rulers of the people, be those rulers priests, prophets or kings. The only authority higher than all that I have mentioned is God.

We should not fail to appreciate the startling revelation of the Lord Jesus. The revelation of the Lord Jesus is that he is God and when we profess to believe in Jesus that is the claim that we are making.

If we truly believe that Christ is God than nothing else in our lives or in this world can have priority over our relationship with him- nothing else. The Gospels help us to understand what this means and invites us to place everything else in our lives in proper relationship to him.

A Christian is someone whose whole life is willingly placed under Christ’s authority. When this happens the Christian is truly free, this freedom expresses itself in a life that looks very much like Christ. The freedom of a Christian is not the freedom to do what we want, it is the freedom to be like Christ- and be like him, not just in some things, or in what we choose, but in all things.

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