Sunday, September 22, 2013

Being smart for the Kingdom

An angel appeared at a faculty meeting and told the dean that he had come to reward him for his years of devoted service. He asked him to choose one of three blessings: either infinite wealth, infinite fame or infinite wisdom. Without hesitation, the dean asked for infinite wisdom. “You got it!” said the angel, and disappeared. All heads turn toward the dean, who sat glowing in the aura of wisdom. Finally one of his colleagues whispers, “Say something.” The dean looks at them all and says finally, “I should have taken the money.”

So, what a wonderful week this has been for our beloved Red Sox!  Clinching the American League East and the best record in baseball.  Let’s not forget that at this time last year we were in a deep dive that would leave us ending the season as the worst season in 47 years – and with the Sox that’s saying something!  But here we are a year later, from worst to first!  Let’s see where it goes from here.  A great moment in baseball.  I had the opportunity while on a flight earlier this summer to catch a movie that I had wanted to see in the theaters about another great moment in baseball. The move was 42 and it tells the story of Jackie Robinson and how he became the first black athlete to play in the major leagues.  It is definitely one of the great baseball movies – Field of Dreams is still my number one, but 42 is a pretty close second.

There is a dramatic scene in the movie when Dodger’s owner Branch Rickey is offering to sign Robinson to a contract.  “You will have to take everything they dish out to you and never strike back,” he tells Robinson and he was right. On the field, pitchers brushed Jackie back with blazing fastballs and opposing fans and teams taunted him.  Off the field, he was thrown out of hotels and restaurants where the rest of the team stayed and ate.

And through it all, Jackie kept his cool. He turned the other cheek. And so did Branch Rickey to was also hounded by many for signing Jackie.  But, they changed the face of baseball and professional sport for the better.  Branch Rickey was a noble man who did a noble thing trying to break down the color barrier in baseball, but the movie reminds you that Rickey was also a smart man and all of his motives were not necessarily quite so pure.  There was one scene that struck me when his character played by Harrison Ford, says, “People ask me why I want to do this?  You know why? Because I like money. And people will spend money to come see you play.” Even in the midst of doing the right and noble thing, Rickey was still a smart business man.

I was thinking of that scene as I was reflecting on our Gospel today where Jesus gives us this image of the dishonest steward.  We heard, “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of the light.”  Or to put it more simply, “Worldly people often work harder for worldly rewards that don’t last very long than Christians will work for heavenly rewards that last forever.”  Jesus gives us this image today because He challenges us not only to be good and holy and righteous, but He also calls us to be smart and committed and eager in pursuing the things that are good and holy in our world.  He wants us to work just as hard and just as smart for His Kingdom as we do for any of the other things in our life and in our world.

It is hard to sum up a papacy in six short months, but I think, in the remarkably brief time that Pope Francis has been our Pope, this is some of the message that he is trying to tell us.  He trying to shake us up out of our ordinary ways, out of our worldly focus and get us to think about more important things. You may have seen the extraordinary interview that he granted to America Magazine and several other Catholic publications earlier this week. If you haven’t, take the time to find it, it is extraordinary.  But, in June, he said this that I think resonates with our Gospel today, “If you break a computer it is a tragedy, but poverty, the needs, the dramas of so many people end up becoming the norm. If on a winter’s night, for example, a person dies, that is not news. If in so many parts of the world there are children who have nothing to eat, that's not news, it seems normal. It cannot be this way! Yet these things become the norm: that some homeless people die of cold on the streets is not news. In contrast, a 10 point drop on the stock markets of some cities, is a tragedy. A person dying is not news, but if the stock markets drop 10 points it is a tragedy! Thus people are disposed of, as if they were trash.” It cannot be this way.

The challenge of our Gospel, the challenge of our Holy Father Pope Francis, the challenge of our faith is this – can we be as vigilant for the things of God as we are for all the other things that are in our lives?  Can we care as much for the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the immigrant and the desolate all around us, as we care for ourselves?  We are called to be recreated through our Baptism, to see with new eyes through our life of faith – and what we are meant to see is that we are not different, we are not separate, we are not “other”. Rather, we are connected and united; we are brother and sister to each other; we are one family of God.

So let us ask God to open our ears to His word because it challenges us to be who we are called to be.  Let us ask Him to open our minds to His will for us because it shows us what it is we are to do.  Let us ask God to help us put His commands into practice, because it is through that practice that we are changed each day to more closely resemble His Son.  And above all, let us remember that God will never ask us to do anything that He won’t also bless us for beyond our wildest dreams because God is never outdone in generosity.

May God give you peace.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Pope Francis: "I am a sinner." | America Magazine

NOTE: The internet is, understandably, abuzz today with the Interview that Pope Francis granted exclusively to 16 Jesuit publications around the world - including America Magazine here in the U.S.  This interview continues this remarkable papacy and the Holy Father once again is challenging the Church to be, well, to be  Christians.  The folks over at America have asked that the interview not be reproduced in its entirety elsewhere without permission.  You can - and should - read the whole thing here: A Big Heart Open to God.  I can offer a few excerpts from the article though that have hit me as the most provocative and inspiring.  Thank God for Pope Francis!!

Who is Jorge Mario Bergolio?

“I ​​do not know what might be the most fitting description.... I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.

On the Church

"We should not even think, therefore, that ‘thinking with the church’ means only thinking with the hierarchy of the church. This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity."

Clarifying his July remarks on homosexuality - was he talking about all gays and lesbians?

In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person. A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality.  I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person, or reject and condemn this person?' We must always consider the person."

On his silence on issues regarding abortion, contraception, homosexuality

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things: this is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus. We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow."

On women in the Church

"Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity. We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”

On prayer

“I pray the breviary every morning. I like to pray with the psalms. Then, later, I celebrate Mass. I pray the Rosary. What I really prefer is adoration in the evening, even when I get distracted and think of other things, or even fall asleep praying. In the evening then, between seven and eight o’clock, I stay in front of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour in adoration. But I pray mentally even when I am waiting at the dentist or at other times of the day."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Healing hearts and coming home

After teaching her students the story of the Prodigal Son, a Sunday school teacher asked the kids, “Who got the worst end of the deal in this story? The younger brother or the older brother?” One of the kids quickly raised his hand and answered, “Neither one.  It was the fattened calf.”

There’s a short story I came across somewhere along the way by Richard Pindell called “Somebody’s Son.” It opens with a runaway boy, named David, sitting by the side of a road writing a letter home to his mother. The letter expresses the hope that his father will forgive him for all that he has done to wound his family and accept him again as a son. The boy writes: “Dear Mother, In a few days I’ll be passing home. If Dad will take me back, ask him to tie a white cloth on the apple tree in the field next to our house.”

Days later David is seated on a train rapidly approaching his home. Nervously, two pictures flash back and forth in his mind: the tree with a white cloth tied on it and the tree without a cloth on it.  As the train draws closer, David’s heart begins to beat faster and faster. Soon the tree will be visible around the bend. But David can’t bring himself to look at it. He’s too afraid the white cloth won’t be there; too afraid that he will be rejected; too afraid that his father will not accept him back again.

Turning to the man next to him, he says, nervously, “Mister, will you do me a favor? Around this bend on the right, you’ll see a tree. Tell me if there’s a white cloth tied to it.” As the train rumbles past the tree, David stares straight ahead. And then, in a quaking voice, he asks the man, “Mister, is a white cloth tied to one of the branches of the tree?” The man pauses and then answers in a surprised tone of voice, “Why, son, there’s a white cloth tied to practically every branch!”

My friends, this story of David and his father, illustrates well the same point that Jesus wants to make today in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  It is a message so simple, so profound and yet so often overlooked – God loves us; God always forgives us; nothing can take us away from that love and forgiveness that God extends to us – and we are called to forgive others in the same way.

This parable is certainly one of the best known and one that just about anyone could recall, but it’s one that I’m not sure we always appreciate in its depth.  Yes, we get that the Son sinned.  Yes we get that the Father forgave him. And yes, we get that the older brother didn’t like it one bit.  But, entering the depth of the story teaches us not only more about the depth of God’s love for us, but also more about how we are meant to truly love and forgive each other.

We live today in a world of broken relationships.  There isn’t one among us here who hasn’t been touched by divorce – whether directly in our own families, or extended family or friends.  There isn’t one of us here who doesn’t have a broken relationship somewhere in our lives – a friendship destroyed, a misunderstanding overblown, regretted words spoken and never taken back.  But, the myth of the world is that we have to accept that brokenness and can never achieve healing.  Jesus tells us something different and gives us the opportunity to restore, heal and reconcile the broken relationships in our lives.

The Prodigal Son is a story of just such broken relationships. The younger son has severed the relationship with his father in the worst way.  He recognizes his wrong actions and wants nothing more than to be accepted again into his father’s household – not in the status he had before, but even just as a lowly servant.  That’s supposed to be us – recognizing our sin, approaching our God asking to simply be allowed to remain a member of His household; of His family.  And, what is the father’s reaction to the younger son?  He is overjoyed at the son’s return.  He says, “Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” 

And the real kicker is that this is not just a story.  Jesus tells us that God deals with us the same way.  God will always forgive us with joy.  And, he expects us to do the same with each other.  We pray it every day, “Forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  This is the bargain we make. God forgives us and restores us to His family and He wants us to forgive each other the same way. There is a story about President Lincoln. Someone asked him how he would treat the South after the end of the Civil War. Lincoln responded, “I will treat them as if they’d never left home.”  This is how we are meant to forgive as well – as God has forgiven us.  We are called to forgive others and take them back into our hearts with the same generous love that God shows us.

And if we do this, we can be sure that when we depart this world and approach the gates of heaven, we too will see an apple tree there with a white cloth tied to practically every branch.  Let us not be bound by the hurts and wounds we carry, but be freed by the forgiveness God extends to us and we can extend to others.

Let’s end with a prayer. Lord, show me your mercy and fill my heart with your forgiving love. I am the younger child who ran away and has returned home. Thank you for receiving me back. I am also the older child who finds it hard to forgive sometimes as you forgive me. Touch my heart with your forgiving love. Help me to know the peace, the joy and the freedom that comes from dwelling in and offering to others Your forgiveness.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Vigil of Peace: Homily of Pope Francis

Homily  of His Holiness Pope Francis at the Vigil of Prayer and Fasting in Saint Peter's Square, Saturday 7 September 2013

“And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:12, 18, 21, 25). The biblical account of the beginning of the history of the world and of humanity speaks to us of a God who looks at creation, in a sense contemplating it, and declares: “It is good”. This allows us to enter into God’s heart and, precisely from within him, to receive his message. We can ask ourselves: what does this message mean? What does it say to me, to you, to all of us?
1. It says to us simply that this, our world, in the heart and mind of God, is the “house of harmony and peace”, and that it is the space in which everyone is able to find their proper place and feel “at home”, because it is “good”. All of creation forms a harmonious and good unity, but above all humanity, made in the image and likeness of God, is one family, in which relationships are marked by a true fraternity not only in words: the other person is a brother or sister to love, and our relationship with God, who is love, fidelity and goodness, mirrors every human relationship and brings harmony to the whole of creation. God’s world is a world where everyone feels responsible for the other, for the good of the other. This evening, in reflection, fasting and prayer, each of us deep down should ask ourselves: Is this really the world that I desire? Is this really the world that we all carry in our hearts? Is the world that we want really a world of harmony and peace, in ourselves, in our relations with others, in families, in cities, in and between nations? And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?
2. But then we wonder: Is this the world in which we are living? Creation retains its beauty which fills us with awe and it remains a good work. But there is also “violence, division, disagreement, war”. This occurs when man, the summit of creation, stops contemplating beauty and goodness, and withdraws into his own selfishness. When man thinks only of himself, of his own interests and places himself in the centre, when he permits himself to be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when he puts himself in God’s place, then all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict. This is precisely what the passage in the Book of Genesis seeks to teach us in the story of the Fall: man enters into conflict with himself, he realizes that he is naked and he hides himself because he is afraid (cf. Gen 3: 10), he is afraid of God’s glance; he accuses the woman, she who is flesh of his flesh (cf. v. 12); he breaks harmony with creation, he begins to raise his hand against his brother to kill him. Can we say that from harmony he passes to “disharmony”? No, there is no such thing as “disharmony”; there is either harmony or we fall into chaos, where there is violence, argument, conflict, fear ....

It is exactly in this chaos that God asks man’s conscience: “Where is Abel your brother?” and Cain responds: “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9). We too are asked this question, it would be good for us to ask ourselves as well: Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, you are your brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another! But when harmony is broken, a metamorphosis occurs: the brother who is to be cared for and loved becomes an adversary to fight, to kill. What violence occurs at that moment, how many conflicts, how many wars have marked our history! We need only look at the suffering of so many brothers and sisters. This is not a question of coincidence, but the truth: we bring about the rebirth of Cain in every act of violence and in every war. All of us! And even today we continue this history of conflict between brothers, even today we raise our hands against our brother. Even today, we let ourselves be guided by idols, by selfishness, by our own interests, and this attitude persists. We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death! Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!

3. At this point I ask myself: Is it possible to change direction? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace? Invoking the help of God, under the maternal gaze of the Salus Populi Romani, Queen of Peace, I say: Yes, it is possible for everyone! From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes, it is possible for everyone! Or even better, I would like for each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it! My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken. This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace! Let everyone be moved to look into the depths of his or her conscience and listen to that word which says: Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation. Look upon your brother’s sorrow and do not add to it, stay your hand, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this achieved not by conflict but by encounter! May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: “No more one against the other, no more, never! ... war never again, never again war!” (Address to the United Nations, 1965). “Peace expresses itself only in peace, a peace which is not separate from the demands of justice but which is fostered by personal sacrifice, clemency, mercy and love” (World Day of Peace Message, 1975). Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation – these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world! Let us pray for reconciliation and peace, let us work for reconciliation and peace, and let us all become, in every place, men and women of reconciliation and peace! Amen.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Can war be "just" anymore?

“War may sometimes be a necessary evil.  But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn to live together in peace by killing each other's children. The bond of our common humanity is stronger than the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices. God gives us the capacity for choice. We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes - and we must.”  
These words were uttered by former President Jimmy Carter upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in December, 2002, as the United States was on the brink of war with Iraq.  We have been in a near constant state of war in our world since those words were spoken and we find ourselves in another tense moment as the western world debates how to respond to the news that the government of Syria in its current conflict used chemical weapons upon its innocent citizenry last month in an attack that some reports claim killed more than 1,400 people.

Pope Francis has been outspoken in his calls for peace in Syria and Egypt and all the troubled places in our world and he is clearly advocating that we find a way to that peace that doesn't involve more weapons, more war and more killing.  On Sunday, while calling for a September 7 day of fasting and prayer for peace, the Holy Father said:
"My heart is deeply wounded in particular by what is happening in Syria and anguished by the dramatic developments which are looming. I appeal strongly for peace, an appeal which arises from deep within me. How much suffering, how much devastation, how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake in that martyred country, especially among civilians and the unarmed! I think of many children will not see the light of the future! With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons: I tell you that those terrible images from recent days are burned into my mind and heart. There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which are inescapable! Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence."  
The U.S. Bishops have joined their voices to the Pope's calling for dialogue over force.

All of this, for me, begs the question: what should the Catholic response be?  And can war ever be just?

The Catholic Church has long held a Just War Theory that there are times when war can be considered something just and even acceptable; that there are times when the greater good allows or even demands the action of nations and the use of force to stop a greater evil from being perpetrated. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: 
“The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time: - the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; - all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;  - there must be serious prospects of success; - the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.  These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the ‘just war’ doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.” (#2309)
There is a laudable intention behind notions like the "just war" theory - notions that try to highlight other means of reaching peace; of avoiding greater destruction and loss of life; of looking at the use of force as an absolute last effort.  But, I think perhaps the time has come for us to think about this differently and to recognize that something like war never belongs in a category of justice.  That war is always wrong; always unjust - even if it might be from time-to-time necessary.  It is perhaps the very notion that was can be just that somehow makes it slightly easier for us to engage in it.

So much of our contemporary Catholic theology finds its roots in the great ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle.  So enamored were medieval theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure with the ancients that they essentially engaged in an attempt to Christianize ancient Greek thought, thus giving Catholic theology a firm framework upon which to rest.  This is true in the development of understandings of both justice and the theory of the just war.

In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle explores justice and injustice in the world and comes to understand justice as a distributive virtue concerned with what one deserves and whether or not one receives what is due. He writes:
“Justice is a kind of mean, but not in the same way as the other virtues, but because it relates to an intermediate amount, while injustice relates to the extremes. And justice is that in virtue of which the just man is said to be a doer, by choice, of that which is just, and one who will distribute either between himself and another or between two others not so as to give more of what is desirable to himself and less to his neighbor (and conversely with what is harmful), but so as to give what is equal in accordance with proportion; and similarly in distributing between two other persons.”
Justice, for Aristotle, then has a proportionality about it.  Justice involves an equality and not an extreme in relations.  The just person acts justly when they act in equal proportion in a given exchange. 

The great doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, takes this Aristotelian definition of justice and incorporates it into his Christian theological world view.  He writes in his Summa Theologica: 
“And if anyone would reduce [justice] to the proper form of a definition, he might say that ‘justice is a habit whereby a man renders to each one his due by a constant and perpetual will’: and this is about the same definition as that given by the Philosopher (Ethic. v, 5) who says that ‘justice is a habit whereby a man is said to be capable of doing just actions in accordance with his choice.’”
So, justice is rendering to each one their due. By this basic philosophical definition, I think it is fair to say that no war is just. Modern warfare, by its very definition, renders to far too many people death and destruction that are certainly not their due.  The 1,400 plus people who died in the Syrian chemical attack were largely innocent civilians - they certainly did not receive their due.  There are 139,000 innocent civilians who have been killed in the last 10 years in the conflict in Iraq (not the soldier actively in combat), certainly they have not received their due.  War renders far beyond what is due.

The ever growing violent situation of our world is a stark reminder that the Just War theory is now defunct.  This theory the Church has held onto for so many centuries, is simply no longer an effective measure for understanding military activity in our world.  Weapons are far too powerful to ever be used in a morally acceptable way.  The effects of these weapons are harmful to far too many non-combatant people to justify their use morally.

War, by its very nature, is inherently directed towards an imbalance of justice.  When one looks at the innocent lives lost, the infliction of tremendous harm in standards of living through the lack of clean drinking water, the lack of medical assistance, the lack of electricity, and all of the things brought about by warfare; it is obvious that the majority of those who are harmed by warfare are innocent bystanders.  They are by the very nature of warfare being treated unjustly. 

As I earlier quoted President Carter, “War may sometimes be a necessary evil.  But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good.”  War is never a moral good and so it is not helpful as a Church to be defining conflicts in terms of justice.  There is always an unease when Church leaders proclaim a conflict to be Just.   As we watch the bombs exploding, the people dying, the destruction of infrastructure and lives, it is somehow difficult to look at that and say, “That is justice.”  It is simply destruction, pure and simple – even when necessary.

The Church should instead modify its teaching and develop a new category – Necessary versus Unnecessary War.  Remove the evaluation of warfare from the moral realm – or rather, accept the fact that war is always immoral, even when necessary.  The world needs to accept the reality that any war – all war – is a sign of human failure.  There should never be triumphalism, even patriotism, as one nation wreaks destruction upon another nation – whether necessary or not.  The only question that people of good will should ask is, “How did it come to this?” 

A Necessary War Theory might ask similar questions. A Necessary War is engaged in: 1) For self-defense – a nation has first been attacked by an aggressor; and 2) the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; and 3) all other means of putting an end to it must have been exhausted and shown to be impractical or ineffective;  and 4) there must be serious prospects of success; and 5) the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated; and 6) the use of arms must be limited and proportionate; and 7) every effort to strike only military targets and avoid civilian targets must be made; and 8) the defending nation or community of nations must make every effort to gain the approval of the world community.

The world community must accept that although the world is perhaps a more dangerous place than it has ever been before, it also for the first time in history possesses the ability to find non-violent solutions to its problems.  There should be today no longer a need for war.  Instead if nations accepted in solidarity their connectedness and sought to address the other issues of justice – health care, population, homelessness, hunger, etc. – the imbalance of wealth that pits one nation against another would diminish.

By eliminating a Just War theory, the Church would be free to be completely committed to peace - always, everywhere, in every situation. The Church would be free to encourage and even initiate dialogues that lead to peace and connectedness among people throughout the world.

Blessed Pope John Paul II, speaking in Madrid, Spain, in 2003 exhorted young people to do just this calling on them to be “architects of peace.”  He said:
“Peace, we know, is above all a gift from on high which we must ask for with insistence and which, moreover, we must all construct through a profound inner conversion…Respond to blind violence and inhuman hatred with the fascinating power of love. Keep far away from every form of exasperated nationalism, racism and intolerance. Witness with your life that ideas are not imposed but proposed.
What is the Catholic position?  Jesus answered that in his Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5.9)  We are called to be instruments of peace in the world and not to wait until guns are pointed to start the dialogue, but to be engaged in that dialogue constantly so that we are not in the position of asking, "How did it come to this?"  We are called to be talking to the stranger, meeting them as brother and sister, feeding the hungry who are close and who are far away, sheltering the homeless wherever they are - these and so many things are the building blocks of peace. By the time it gets to guns and planes and bombs, there is very little peacemaking left to be done.

Following the Falklands War in 1982, Blessed Pope John Paul II said, "Humanity should question itself, once more, about the absurd and always unfair phenomenon of war, on whose stage of death and pain only remain standing the negotiating table that could and should have prevented it."

As this Saturday approaches, let us embrace what Pope Francis is calling us to - a day of true prayer and fasting for peace in the world. Let us encourage our leaders to sit down at that negotiating table and seek the ways of peace together.  If we want peace, let us work for a true justice where every one receives what is due to them - shelter, food, healthcare, safety, love, joy and harmony.

"God gives us the capacity for choice. We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes - and we must.”

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Caring for the least in our midst


A man, down on his luck, went into a church which catered to the wealthy and powerful. Spotting the man’s dirty clothes a deacon, worried about the churches image, went to the man and asked him if he needed help. The man said, “I was praying and the Lord told me to come to this church.” The deacon suggested that the man go pray some more and possibly he might get a different answer. The next Sunday the man returned. The deacon asked, “Did you get a different answer?” The man replied, “Yes I did. I told the Lord that they don’t want me in that church and the Lord said, ‘I know how you feel; I’ve been trying to get into that church for years and still haven’t made it.”

We heard in our reading from Sirach today, “Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”  Perhaps one of the greatest struggles in all of life – especially if we seek our eternal glory in Heaven – is this struggle between humility and pride.  God’s message to us is clear – humble yourself in My sight.  And yet, our world cries out sometimes even more loudly – be Number One, be the richest, the most famous, the most powerful.  As the bumper sticker proclaims, “The one who dies with the most toys wins!”  As St. Paul reminds us, the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God.

Our Gospels today teach us that as Christians we should give priority to the poor in the way we dispense our resources. We are given these parables today about dinner parties today through which Jesus is teaching us the basic Christian virtues of humility and solidarity with the poor.

The first parable is addressed to Christians as those who are invited to the feast of the Lord’s Supper. Irrespective of social status and importance we all come to the Eucharist as brothers and sisters of equal standing before God. This is the only place where the employer-employee relationship, master and servant distinctions, rich or poor, popular or unpopular, dissolve and we recognize one another simply as brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Jesus challenges His followers to abolish such distinctions and recognize and treat one another as true and equal brothers and sisters before God; no matter their position in the world. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

There is a story from the American Revolution of an officer in civilian clothes who rode past a group of soldiers digging a foxhole. Their commander was shouting instructions, but making no attempt to help them. Asked why, he replied with great dignity, Sir, I am a Corporal! The stranger apologized, dismounted, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers himself. When the job was completed he turned to the corporal and said Corporal, next time you have a job like this, and not enough men to do it, go to your commander in chief, and I will come and help you again. It was only then that the corporal recognized who was standing before him, General George Washington. “The one who humbles himself…”

The second parable today is addressed to Christians as those who invite others to the feast of the Lord’s Supper. “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be.”  In this second part of his teaching Jesus goes beyond removing distinctions and calls even for a preference for the poor, the disabled and the marginalized among us. He calls us to give the first place to those most in need in our communities.  He reminds us that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is why priority of attention is to be given to the weakest members of our society. You’ve probably heard the adage, “The true measure of a society is in how it treats its weakest members.”  This is equally true of the Christian community. It is in the best interest of the Christian community to give priority to the poor and needy in our midst. Listen the next time you hear people argue about war or poverty or health care or immigration. Where is the care, the preference, for the poor?

Pope Francis spoke about this earlier this summer as well making another point about the importance of caring for the poor – when we care for them, we encounter Jesus.  Speaking on the Feast of St. Thomas he said, “Jesus tells us that the path to encountering Him is to find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because it is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail because he is in the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. 'Oh, great! Let's set up a foundation to help everyone and do so many good things to help '. That's important, but if we remain on this level, we will only be philanthropic. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus, we must caress the wounds of Jesus, we need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed.”

Jesus, today, is once again pointing us to what is really of value, and that is caring for those in need of our help. And isn’t this what so many of us do already? We care for family members and friends and neighbors; we offer our time and whatever resources we can to soup kitchens and clothing drives; we join walks and runs in support of worthy causes. We are just ordinary people attentive to others in ordinary ways that are really, when you think about it, extraordinary. In such situations, we do not claim places of honor; we do not insist on special recognition. Rather, we genuinely conduct our affairs in humility. And if our eyes our open, we just might notice that we have encountered Christ in those very same moments.  And that should be life changing for us all.

Let us pray today and every day that we have an ever-growing awareness of those in most need in our midst and that we may reach out to them in charity and love – not as “other” or “unworthy”, but as our brothers and sisters, members of one family in Christ. 

“Blessed indeed will you be…you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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