Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time (June 30th, 2016)

The prophet Amos spoke the Lord’s word of truth during the reign of King Jeroboam II, one of the most effective of the Israelite monarchs. Jeroboam’s long reign brought great prosperity to the Israelites, he brokered lucrative deals with foreign powers and filled the royal treasury with gold and silver. The wealth and power of the Israelites left the prophet Amos troubled and unsettled. Whilst he saw the positive benefits afforded to the elites of the Israelites, the needs of the poor were ignored and they languished, crushed under the burden of their poverty.

Amos warned the Israelite elites that wealth could not buy God’s favor and their power could not deter God’s wrath- the Lord hears the cry of the poor, and in response to their cries acts to cast the mighty down from their thrones.

If wealth and power had been granted to the Israelites, then these gifts were meant to serve a divine purpose, not self-interest. Amos testified that the Israelites had chosen the latter, not the former, and the consequences would be severe. Even their worship of God had been corrupted, tainted by grandiosity and self reference- it would not save. It was not leading the people to works of mercy, it was leading the people to celebrate themselves as the recipients of prosperity and power.

Of course, the testimony of the prophet Amos was not popular and it was resisted. He spoke the truth, but the truth was not something that the people wanted to hear.

As it was then, so it is now.

The words of the prophet Amos, indeed all the biblical prophets, addresses, not a people from long ago, but the Church right now. The Church is the new Israel, and the Old Testament is proclaimed to illuminate God’s truth in our current circumstances.

The desire for the prophets to tell us what we want to hear, to reduce their mission to that of affirmation and consolation is a perennial temptation. But prophets are not sent to affirm us as we are, but to speak God’s word of truth, so that we might repent and be saved.

Repentance means that we are willing to change, to order our lives in accord with the commandments of God that we have either chosen to ignore or have rejected. God is the great giver of another chance, but we must be willing to take the chance he offers to us.

The opportunity that God offers to us is the forgiveness of our sins, mercy for what we have done and what we have failed to do.

This opportunity is revealed to us in all its holy radiance in Jesus Christ, who comes, so that we can be forgiven, reconciled to God, and once reconciled to him, reconciled to one another. Those who accept the forgiveness of God in Christ are filled with a joy that manifests itself in a willingness to offer to others what they have received- forgiveness. We who have been forgiven much will be willing to forgive much.

The great school of God’s forgiveness is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where God in Christ offers to us what he offered to the paralytic in today’s Gospel. The paralysis of the poor man in today’s Gospel was physical, and God in Christ relieved him of his distress. Our paralysis might not be physical, but for many, it is moral, a paralysis of the soul burdened by the refusal to love and to serve. God in Christ can alleviate our misery and he offers this chance to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

But is this a chance that we are willing to take?

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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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Wednesday in the Octave of Easter (March 30th, 2016)

In today’s scripture from the Book of Acts, Peter and John manifest the power of Christ by doing what Christ did- in this case, healing a man of an affliction that prevented him from walking.

The man’s disability not only prevented him from walking, but from walking into the holy temple, and once he is healed, he walks into the temple, praising God for the gift he has received from Christ through Peter and John.

The lesson in this text is that the disciples of Christ should act like Christ and though this might mean for some, becoming the means through which Christ will work miracles, it will mean for all us that we act like Christ by loving what he loves and serving what he serves.

Becoming Christ-like is what Christian spirituality is about. Holiness for the Christian is not a matter of appearing pious or fulfilling regulations, but of becoming ever more Christ-like in what we say and in what we do.

There is another aspect of this text that is worthy of our consideration- the Apostles offer healing, healing is received, and this healing enables a person to enter into worship, to enter into the temple.

The healing the Church imparts through her ministers, is not simply a matter of the body, but of the soul. We are all soul-sick and the Church has been given Christ’s healing power for our soul-sickness through the ministry of the forgiveness of our sin. Once forgiven, we are able to participate in worship, enter the Church’s temple, which we experience in the Mass. The worship of the Church is not simply a matter of custom or entertainment, but it is an expression of our relationship with Christ. If we have little or no relationship with Christ, or we have resisted Christ through a willful disregard of his commandments, then our worship will become truncated and frustrating. Thus, the ministry of forgiveness is offered to us so that we might be reconciled to Christ and once reconciled, be made ready for worship.

Rarely or never seeking the healing power of Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the equivalent of never having recourse to a doctor for medical care. Even if we are feeling healthy, we should occasionally visit the physicians who care for our bodies. Our soul needs this kind of attention as well, and if we don’t we might find that we have become seriously soul-sick and spiritually disabled.

The worship of the Church is the heart of the matter in Christ’s Gospel for today.

Again, we have another account of eyewitness testimony to the resurrection of the Lord. Christ presents himself as alive to people who believed him to be dead.

The culmination of this encounter is that Christ presents himself to these people in the Eucharist, it is in the Eucharist that they come to know for certain that it is truly Christ the Lord who has revealed himself to them, and that he is alive, not dead.

Christ is alive, not dead, and our encounter with him may not be to see him now in the body of his Incarnation, but he gives himself to us in the Blessed Sacrament. The Blessed Sacrament is not merely a custom or a symbol, but it is an encounter with the Lord Jesus himself, who makes himself as really and truly present to us as he did to those who were privileged to be witnesses to his resurrection.

The manner in which Christ presents himself to us is different, but it is Christ who makes himself present in the Eucharist and it is the living Christ that we encounter, adore and receive.

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Saturday after Ash Wednesday (February 13th, 2016)

In his Gospel, the Lord Jesus seeks friendship with a tax collector and then goes so far as to make this man his disciple, that is a public representative of Jesus himself.

The tax collector is so overjoyed by his friendship with the Lord and his new mission in life that he hosts an extravagant party, inviting his own friends to meet the Lord Jesus and share in his joy.

This is viewed with curiosity and contempt the Pharisees and scribes.

Why?

Tax collectors during the time of Christ’s revelation were not merely civil servants, but were considered to be collaborators with the foreign powers that ruled Israel. Remember, during the time of Christ, the Israelites were subjects of the Roman emperor, and as subjects, they were taxed. Many Israelites resented this taxation as much as the resented that their nation was ruled by Caesar. The Pharisees and scribes are expressing this resentment and the anger and contempt such resentment engenders. Christ, it seems to them, is currying favor with the enemies of the Israelites, when he should, if he was a true Israelite, shun tax collectors and refuse to associate with them.

Christ understands the situation differently.

Instead of shunning, Christ offers friendship, and this offer of friendship accomplishes what shunning the man never could- the man meets the Lord Jesus and discovers and receives from him a new way of life. Whereas the approach of the Pharisees and scribes left the tax collector to languish in his sins, Christ’s approach gives him the possibility of a second chance at life. A man imprisoned by a worldly system that dominates him and makes him a enemy of God, is set free to become God’s friend.

It is friendship with God in Christ that changes lives, and transforms those who are enemies of God into servants of God.

This is precisely the kind of transformation Christ can accomplish for us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In this Sacrament, we present ourselves as sinners, as we all are, but what we receive from him is not a cold rebuke but the invitation to become again a friend of the Lord Jesus, and in this offer of grace, we receive the gift of another chance.

During the season of Lent, the Church asks that we prepare ourselves for the great events of Holy Week, events that are really an encounter with the Lord Jesus, by participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not a spiritual option for a pious few, but an ordinary practice of the Church’s way of life. All of us have sinned, either by what we have done or what we have failed to do, and all of us are soul sick and in need of the care of Christ, the Good Physician.

Christ’s care is offered to us in the Church, which really is, whether we understand it as such or not, what Pope Francis describes as a “field hospital” for the world. The Church is supposed to be a refuge and place of healing and hope for those who are wounded by sin, and it is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation that Christ acts through his priests to heal our sin-sick souls.

As I said, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not meant simply to be something extraordinary, but it is intended by Christ to be the ordinary practice of a disciple. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an integral practice of the Church’s way of life. During Lent we should not only call the practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to mind, we should participate in it- we should do it. Why languish in feverish soul-sickness, when Christ the Good Physician is ready and willing to offer you healing and hope?

2.1-17_Wedding_feast_at_Cana_Johns_gospelJan_Vermeyen

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent (February 25th, 2015)

The Old Testament Book of the Prophet Jonah is one of the most delightful books of the Bible and is best described as a combination of an action adventure, a comedy and some of the most intense theological reflection in all the Scriptures

The prophet Jonah was one of the most reluctant and successful of the Israelite prophets. Sent by God to preach repentance to the Ninevites, the mortal enemies of the Israelites, Jonah resists, going the exact opposite direction of where God wants him to go! Jonah’s sense of justice is that it would be best that God destroy the Ninevites and he would rather not have a part in a plan that might deliver them from God’s wrath.

God has his own plans for Jonah and the Ninevites, and today’s scripture illuminates in a radiant display that God is the great giver of second chances. He sends his prophets to preach repentance, not so that people will fear his destructive wrath, but so that they will know that God wants to save us- he wants to give each and every one of us another chance.

But is it a second chance that we want? There is an adage that is sadly, most of the time true- that we would rather be ruined than changed. Repentance means that we are willing to admit that we are wrong and that we have to live differently, act differently, think differently. This is hard, and many prefer the misery of a sin-filled status quo because the prospect of changing seems so difficult.

But the stakes are very high in our refusal to repent, our refusal to change. God’s wrath does not so much mean that he does something horrible to us to punish us, but rather that we are beset with the consequences of our refusal to repent, our refusal to change. These consequences are usually pretty grim- in our refusal to repent we impose upon ourselves heavy burdens that can crush our souls.

Lent is a privileged opportunity to repent and we should take this opportunity seriously. Waiting to repent until some other time or thinking oneself exempt is really quite dangerous. The opportunity to repent is now. We may not have this opportunity later. Then what?

Repentance is integral to being a disciple.

Repentance is not just a matter of thinking that one can be forgiven or feeling that one is guilty. Repentance happens for us in a Sacrament, a Sacrament called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This Sacrament is not a spiritual option invented by the Church, but it is a gift from the Lord Jesus himself. It is in this Sacrament that we receive ourselves what God proclaimed through Jonah and offered to the Ninevites- the mercy of God and the grace of another chance.

Few seem to have recourse to this Sacrament. Perhaps they seek another sign than the sign that Christ has given to us in the Sacraments of his Church. Many think that God’s grace can be invented out of inner experiences of ideas and feelings, but God’s grace does not come to us in this way- God’s grace comes to us in an encounter with Christ the Lord, who gives himself to us in the Sacraments so that we can know him and serve him. If we seek signs other than the Sacraments Christ has given us, then there is no more appropriate a Gospel passage for us (and any other generation that seeks for itself something other than what Christ offers to us so that we might repent and be saved) then today’s excerpt from the Gospel of Luke:

“At the judgment, the men of Ninevah will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah, they repented and there is something greater than Jonah here”.

Indeed, there is something greater than Jonah here- the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus given to us in the Sacraments of his Church.

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