Saturday, February 19, 2011
Jesus said, “ Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Today’s Gospel message to love our enemies is perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the Gospel for us to accept. It offers us a message that is contrary to our human nature, contrary to what the world tells us. So, what do we make of this command today? We probably hear it with some doubts – are we really meant to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, give without expecting repayment, refuse to pass judgment on people, pray for those who are unkind to us? It would be difficult to find another passage in the Gospel that is more at odds with our normal way of behaving. If we turn the other check, after all, won’t we just get hit on that one too? It is certainly a risky proposition.
What is really going on here is that Jesus is trying to get us to move – in heart and mind and soul – away from the ethos of the world and into the Way of the Kingdom. It was well summarized in our first reading from Leviticus. What is the believer to do? “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy. You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart…Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus is calling us to see that we waste so much energy holding on to past hurts, trying to settle old scores, even handing down grudges from one generation to the next. Jesus wants us to embrace the fact that Christianity is a religion of love. And not a superficial kind of love; not a huggy-feely love, not an all-accepting generic love that fails to ask anything of us or the other. Jesus inaugurates a new kind of love – one that is so profound, so deep that it leads Him all the way to the Cross for us; a love so powerful that it is transformative of not only us as individuals, but even of the whole world.
This radical, all-embracing Christian love has its own rules, its own logic, its own way of dealing with people – and it is a way that is counter to what the world prescribes. The most important part is that everyone is to be within our circle of love – even our enemies. No one is excluded; no one is shut out. And that can’t be in theory alone; it must also be in practice. Once we become this radically loving people, we do things differently. If Christianity is to ever change our world; if we are ever to achieve the peace of the Kingdom that God promises us; it won’t be by spreading doctrine on paper, or changing laws, or preaching harshly – it must be and can only be accomplished by the noticeably different behavior of Christians. In our world today, do the believers of Jesus Christ stand out in stark contrast as recognizably different than the rest of the world; or as the hymn reminds us, “They will know that we are Christians by our love.” Or, rather are we indistinguishable from the rest of the world?
Jesus calls us, His followers, to rise above the pettiness of the world; to never be satisfied with the sad state of the world; to be constantly striving with all that we are, for all that God promises. And so, the one who was struck on the cheek should rise above the attack or insult and to show who really prevailed in the situation. The one who lost the tunic was directed to act in a like manner and to relinquish even the cloak. It is a matter of saying: I can outdo your violence toward me with my willingness to give freely much more than you sought to take from me. They overcome evil with a double dose of good. An evil response only creates even more evil. The insight and brilliance of Jesus is to recognize that the only real, lasting, long term antidote to the violence and evil in our world is the love and forgiveness of God – as expressed by those who believe in Him.
Is it possible to forgive our enemies in a world torn by war, discrimination, economic disparity and exploitation of the vulnerable? We are not expected to overlook these evils, but to always remember that we are called to “be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” We are called to forgive and not retaliate. We are called to be merciful, and not vengeful. I like to say that there are no asterisks in the Bible. After Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” There isn’t an asterisk that says, “See below: Unless your enemy is really, really mean; or really, really, deserves it.” Our Lord and Savior says simply, “Love, and bless and pray.” This is a type of Christian heroism that does not merely respond to evil in the world, but transforms it – through Christ – into goodness and holiness. But it takes real courage to practice it. This is the only way that the Kingdom of God will ever reach its fulfillment; if it begins in the converted hearts of believers.
There was a young man one time who was incredible in the way He loved people. “Love one another,” he urged, “as I have loved you.” He had a particular love for people on the margins – the sick, the sinners, the Samaritans, outsiders of all kinds. As a man, he was no weakling. He stood up forcefully to people especially those who tried to impose burdens too heavy to carry upon the so-called Little People. He urged a woman caught in adultery not to sin again, but refused to condemn her. He managed to turn the other cheek even when innocently nailed to a cross. Even in that moment, He said, “Father, forgive them.” He had an enormous impact on the world. In fact, He’s the sole reason that all of us are here today. Would we like Him to be any different? He’s not just the author of the Gospel, He’s also the product of it. He lived by the very rules that He urges us to follow. He is the outstanding example of Gospel-lived life. And today, He is urging you and me to join Him on a journey. We’ve all come a certain distance and now He wants us to move just a little more. Can we give a little more to those in need, forgive a little more those who hurt us, love a little more? He says today, “You have followed me this far; and now join me for the extra mile.”
Love, give, pray, forgive – even just a little more; and you will transform the world. And so, I ask you today, how many of you will love your enemies?
May God give you peace.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Saturday, February 12, 2011
I received an email this week with some children’s one-liners for Valentine’s Day. Here are some of the gems. What did the caveman give his wife on Valentine’s Day? Ughs and kisses! What did the boy sheep say to the girl sheep on Valentine’s Day? I Love Ewe! What did the stamp say to the envelope on Valentine’s Day? I’m stuck on you! What did the boy owl say to the girl owl on Valentine’s Day? Owl be yours! What do farmers give their wives on Valentine’s Day? Hogs and kisses! I know, those are bad!
Of course, Monday is Valentine’s Day. The big day for couples to express their love for one another in traditional external ways – chocolates, flowers, a nice dinner, perhaps a gift. Valentine’s Day is celebrated almost everywhere in the world. But in much of the world it is celebrated very differently than we do here in the West. Where in our country, people focus their attention on only one person as their Valentine, in many other countries throughout the world, the focus of this day is celebrated in a more expansive way. In these places, people give Valentine cards and gifts to their parents, their sisters and brothers, their teachers, friends, and even their priests. In these places, it’s a broader celebration of the many kinds of love we celebrate moment-to-moment and day-to-day, not exclusively a celebration of romantic love.
So, what does today’s Gospel have to say to us about Valentine’s Day? Well, even though today’s readings are not intended for Valentine’s Day, they do have something to say to us. We heard in Matthew’s Gospel today, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother or sister has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” This passage reminds us that all of those we love are our spiritual brothers and sisters and that because of that, we have a shared responsibility for holiness and righteousness to one another. Those who we love and who love us are also our brothers and sisters in faith and companions on our spiritual journey to God. A good love relationship should recognize this spiritual dimension and make room for its adequate expression.
We also heard in the Gospel, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This passage invites us to reflect on how we approach love. Is our approach focused on ourselves, “What have you done for me lately?” Or is our love focused on the other, “What can I do for you to make you happy?” One is selfish, one is self-giving. We can all probably name countless examples of the selfish form, but we are called to live love in a way that is self-giving. Jesus on the cross is the ultimate example of a totally self-giving love, and we are called to emulate that in our own lives and relationships.
There is a famous O. Henry story that talks about this spiritual love focused on the other. It tells the story of two young people deeply in love, Della and Jim. Their Anniversary was quickly approaching, but the couple was desperately poor. There were only two possessions that they took pride in. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. As the author describes it, “Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the street, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard with envy.” To commemorate their anniversary, Della dreamed of being able to buy Jim a beautiful gold chain to hold the watch he treasured so dearly and Jim hoped to buy a beautiful scarf that Della could wrap around her beautiful hair. Neither had the money, but their love impelled them to find a way.
Della’s plan was to visit the local hairdresser and asked how much they would give for her hair. In mere moments, her beautiful hair was gone, but she had $25 dollars in her purse to buy her special gift. At the same time, Jim also had a plan to buy his wife the beautiful scarf that he knew she would love. He would sell his watch, as precious as it was to him, so he could surprise Della with the gift. As they exchanged their gifts, they realized what the other had done – given that which was most precious to them because their love was so great. Each one had only one question in mind: What can I do to make him or her happy?
I can’t help but think of an acronym for the word FAMILY that sums up the type of love we’re meant to share and celebrate. FAMILY stands for Forget About Me, I Love You. This is what our Gospel is about; this is what our common faith – the faith that makes each of us brothers and sisters in Christ – is all about. Let our prayer be as we celebrate Valentine’s Day, as we celebrate the many loves in our lives, that God help us to be truly loving men and woman who live a love that says, forget about me, I love you.
May God give you peace.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
“Immigration tests our commitment as disciples and our faithfulness to the Gospel and mission of his Church,” he said in a keynote address to participants in the annual Legatus Summit.
Naples, Fla., Feb 8, 2011 / 12:20 pm (CNA).- Immigration is a “religious and spiritual issue” as much as it is a matter of politics and economics, Los Angeles Coadjutor Archbishop José H. Gomez told Catholic business leaders Feb. 3.
He recalled that as an infant Jesus himself, along with Mary and Joseph, were forced to flee into Egypt and lived for a time as immigrants and refugees.
Christians, he said, must ponder the mystery of “why did Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, choose to experience the conditions of an immigrant?”
The Feb. 3-5 meeting of Legatus drew more than 500 top Catholic executives and business owners from around the country to pray and hear talks from a variety of Church and other leaders, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
In his address, Archbishop Gomez, head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on migration, acknowledged that Catholics are as deeply divided over immigration as their fellow citizens.
But he insisted that whatever their political or economic concerns, Catholics are obliged to consider immigration in light of the teachings of Christ and the Church.
“We cannot separate our faith in Jesus from the policies we advocate as citizens,” Archbishop Gomez said.
“Right now in this country, there are a lot of people – a lot of good people – who are saying things they know they should never be saying about immigrants,” he said. “Their anger and frustration is understandable. But their rhetoric and many of their political responses are not worthy of the Gospel. And they are not worthy of America’s proud history as a beacon of hope for the world’s poor and persecuted.”
Archbishop Gomez devoted much of his 35-minute talk to exploring the roots of the Church’s teaching on immigration.
“We care for the immigrant because Jesus commanded it,” he said. “Because he told us that we must seek him and serve him in the least of our brothers and sisters. This is why our Lord endured the humiliations of the immigrant and the stranger.”
Archbishop Gomez also noted that in his parable of the final judgment of souls, Jesus said love for God would be judged by love for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the immigrant.
“Jesus calls us to true love,” Archbishop Gomez said. “Not love in words alone. But love in deed. A love that reflects the love that God has for each of his children. We cannot say we love the God we do not see unless we love our brothers and sisters whom we do see.”
Archbishop Gomez said current U.S. enforcement policies – including workplace raids and deportations – do not measure up to the standards of the Gospel and Christian love.
“We are destroying families in the name of enforcing our laws,” he said.
“It is true that many immigrants are in our country illegally. That bothers me. I don’t like it when our rule of law is flouted. And I support just and appropriate punishments. But right now, we are imposing penalties that leave wives without husbands, children without parents. We are deporting fathers and leaving single mothers to raise children on little to no income,” Archbishop Gomez said.
“We are a better people than that,” he added. “We have always been a nation of justice and law. But we have also been a nation of mercy and forgiveness.”
Archbishop Gomez said that Catholics should lead the way in changing the way immigrants and treated.
“We need you to help remind our neighbors that we are all brothers and sisters, children of God – no matter where we come from, or how we got here, or what kind of documents we possess,” he told the business leaders.
He said that the nation’s Hispanic immigrants are people with “strong traditions of family and faith, community and hard work.” In addition, he said, most are Catholic and hold “deep conservative values.”
“I believe that the more we get to know them, the more we would want them to be our neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens,” Archbishop Gomez said. “That’s why I believe that today’s immigrants – like generations of immigrants before them – are the hope for tomorrow’s America. We need to find the political will to make them our fellow citizens. If we can, I know that together we will build an America that is stronger, more religious, and more moral.”
Archbishop Gomez, a U.S. citizen born in Monterrey, Mexico, is the highest-ranking Hispanic member of the American Catholic hierarchy. He will assume leadership of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest archdiocese, when Cardinal Roger H. Mahony retires on Feb. 27.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Three people were viewing the Grand Canyon one day. One was an artist, one a priest and the third was a cowboy. As they stood on the edge of that massive abyss, each one responded to the wonder before them from their own particular perspective. The artist said, “What a beautiful scene to paint!” The priest cried, “What a wonderful example of God’s handiwork!” Finally the cowboy sighed and said, “Heck of a place to lose a cow.”
I kept thinking about my grandfather and in particular the night that he returned to Heaven. When he passed, of course, there was sadness, but it wasn’t the same kind of sadness that we often experience with a loss. And that was because we knew where he was going. My grandfather lived his life as a deeply prayerful man, devoted to God; devoted to the Church; devoted to his wife and children; devoted to service. He was a man that everyone knew and loved. We always said he should run for mayor and he would win in a landslide. Always a smile on his face, a joke to tell (that he never told correctly), a joyful song to sing (whether or not he could carry a note), and a kind word to share. For me, he was a model of how a good, holy, Christian man lives his life. And as I held his hand surrounded by family on the night he returned to Heaven there was in that room even a sense of joy because we knew he was receiving the reward that God had prepared for him from before time began. For me, he was the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
And you know, as I speak of him, I’m sure you’re thinking of someone in your family or in your life who was also salt and light. We all know people like my grandfather and all of them go to Heaven. We can be tempted to think that sanctity or holiness is something abstract or simply an ideal. But, I know that holiness is something real and tangible. We can be tempted to think that holiness is like caviar for the privileged few, like St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas or soon-to-be Blessed John Paul the 2nd. But, I have come to see that holiness is as common as salt. When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” he was of course reminding us, His followers, of our obligation to live and spread His Gospel. He was telling His followers what they might become through His grace. But, I think He was also paying them a compliment. He was telling them that He already knew how good they were; how holy they were.
As I said, any homilist today has a choice between a homily that is a pat on the back or a slap on the cheek. I think this is a good day to offer ourselves a pat on the back. All of us here today are, to one degree or another, the salt of the earth and the light of the world already. In the short time that I’ve been with you here at St. Margaret’s and St. Mary’s, already I have met holiness in you each and every day. I see it in the devotion of those who come to daily Mass; those who have reared their families and taught them to share a devotion to God and His church. I see it in the innocent faces of our young people joyfully coming to church with a smile on their face. I see this holiness in those who care for the needy of our community, whose ministry brings them to prisons and nursing homes; I see this holiness in the face of the sick and the dying facing the greatest challenge of their lives with tremendous faith.
This holiness is prayer-powered and grace-filled! This much we all know, but we also need remember that this holiness reveals itself to us in human form. It is the sanctity that nods to us on the street, that offers us a bowl of hot soup on a cold day or helps to shovel us out from yet another snow storm. It is in the face of the person who tells us not to worry or that they understand what we’re going through or that they will offer a prayer for us and our needs. If our eyes our open, we can recognize the holiness that surrounds us at nearly every moment not floating high in the heavens out of reach, but right in front of us in the level that we live.
If there is a challenge to be found for us today as we hear these words about salt and light it is this – let us all pledge to expand the area of goodness and holiness in our lives. If we are reaching out this far in goodness, let us agree to reach out that much farther. Let us acknowledge today in this holy place for this Holy Mass that we are holy; let us remember all of the good and important ways that God’s holiness already shines on our faces and in our lives through our idealism, our commitment to faith and family and Church, through our devotion to prayer, our acceptance of the values of the Gospel, our prayerful celebration of the Holy Mass, our continual outreach to the homeless, the hungry, the sick and imprisoned.
I think that Jesus wants us to know today that holiness is not our destination it is our present reality – always in need of purification, of course; but we are already the salt of the earth and the light of the world and our good deeds give glory and praise to our Heavenly Father. Well done, good and faithful servants!
May God give you peace.