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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Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time (November 16th, 2015)

The ancestral lands of the Israelites have been, for many centuries occupied and contested territory. It was only for brief periods of time that the Israelites lived without fear of invasion or free from the tyranny of foreign overlords.

In 587 BC, the Kingdom of David came to an end, and the Israelites were driven from their ancestral lands by the Babylonians, forcing the population into exile and slavery. Around 539 BC, the Persian empire supplanted the Babylonians and allowed Israelites to resettle their ancestral lands, but only if they understood themselves to be subjects of, and the land the possession of, the Persian emperor. The Persian Empire fell to the armies of Alexander the Great and this basically gave control of the Israelites and their territory, after Alexander the Great’s death to Greeks, first the Ptolemies and then, around 200 BC to the Seleucids.

Around the year 175 BC, a Seleucid by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes was in control of the Israelite territory and he made the error of deposing the High Priest Onias and replacing him with a man named Jason, an act that provoked a civil war. A period of violent tribulation began in which Jason was later deposed by a man name Menelaus, who had Onias killed, and was later deposed by Jason. With the entire Israelite territory torn apart by violence, Antiochus and his armies invaded and occupied the city of Jerusalem. The temple was desecrated and martial law imposed. Laws forcing Israelites to abandon their rituals and customs were enforced and Israelites were compelled to conform to Greek culture.

This is the historical background of the Old Testament texts the Church will present to us at Mass for coming week. The first reading will be a passage taken from the Book of Maccabbees, which is the story of how the Israelites resisted and eventually overcame the persecution of the Antiochus Epiphanes.

The meaning of these scriptures for us is not limited to mere historical details, but they should provoke a serious consideration of the relationship of our own profession and practice of the Christian faith to the politics, economics and culture of our own time. Politics, economics and culture are not neutral realities and at times compel faithful believers to a decision to stand against the prevailing politics, economics or culture of a given age.

There are always elements of politics, economics, and culture that the Church can appropriate, but the Church cannot compromise the commandments of God or the integrity of the Apostolic Faith.

At times, the Church must stand against a culture or political or economic system and when this happens, and it has happened often in the past, Christians have to be courageous.

We live in a culture that permits a significant measure of freedom in regards to our profession and practice of the Church’s Faith, but this is not the case for many of the world’s Christians, and for many Christians, the stories of the Maccabees do not simply describe the past, but their own present experience.

The reality that so many Christians live in oppressive situations and in fear of violence should cut us to the heart. We might have been spared such tribulations, but the Body of Christ, of which we are a part, suffers greatly.

We should keep this in mind in terms of what we think the priorities of the Church should be and whether or not, we have become, in Pope Francis’ words, “closed in on ourselves” and unable to see the bigger picture of the lived experience of most of the world’s Christians. The affluence and securities that protect us, often narrows our vision, and this creates it’s own kinds of troubles for the Church.

It is easy for our vision of the Church to become distorted and the practice of our faith self-interested. We risk ignoring the demand of love in the immediacy of our lives and the urgency of the call to serve Christ. Life as a disciple can be construed as getting from the Church what we believe that we rightly deserve, rather than making of our lives a sacrifice in imitation of Christ.

The mission of the Church is not a project of our own making, but it happens in our willingness to do what Christ asks us to do. Mercy is not an idea or abstraction, but is embodied in very real practices of life that we cannot delegate away to social service agencies or government programs. If we do not listen to and speak up for persecuted Christians, what reason will we give to the Lord Jesus for our indifference and silence?

The Church is not a clubhouse, it is, to quote Pope Francis, a field hospital and for many Christians the wounds they bear are the tortures and torments of persecution.

In this regard, we are compelled to ask ourselves how we are preparing ourselves to leave the clubhouse behind and get to work in the field hospital.

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