God’s Authority is Compassion

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

28 January 2018

Reading 1 Dt 18:15-20    I will raise up for them a prophet like you (Moses) from among their kin, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 7-9:   If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us. For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.

Reading 2 1 Cor 7:32-35   An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided.

Gospel Mk 1:21-28  Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority.

Several years ago, a group of computer salesman from Milwaukee went to a regional sales meeting in Chicago. They assured their wives they would be home in plenty of time for dinner, but with one thing or another, the meeting ran overtime so the men had to race to the station, tickets in hand. As they barraged through the terminal, one inadvertently kicked over a table supporting a basket of apples. Without stopping, they all reached the train and boarded it with a sigh of relief.  All but one.

This one paused, got in touch with his feelings and experienced a twinge of compassion for the boy whose apple stand had been overturned.  He waved goodbye to his companions and returned to the terminal.  He was glad he did. The 10-year-old boy was blind.  The salesman gathered up the apples and noticed that several of them were bruised. He reached into his wallet and said to the boy, “Here, please take this $10 for the damage we did. I hope it won’t spoil your day.”  As he started to walk away, the bewildered boy called after him, “Are you Jesus?” The man stopped in his tracks. And he wondered.

Well, so much for being married and being distracted from the ways of the Lord!  We know the ways of the Lord most when we allow the Holy Spirit to move us into action.  It only takes a moment.  Or, perhaps, an extra moment –to feel something, to ponder—to move away from the compulsion to keep asking, “Where am I going?” “What’s next?” and ask, instead:  “Where am I?” and “What about NOW” Even more than these, there are the essential questions of faith: “Who guides me? Who is with me now and every moment of my life?  Who is my true authority?  My touchstone?  My cornerstone?”

The people in the synagogue were amazed that Jesus cured the man from his demons, but even more marveled at His “authority.” Jesus had complete freedom to express His powers (i.e. no inhibitions / insecurities / fears). Only a pure Union with God could endow a person with that kind of authority.  Because of this, the people realized  Jesus had more authority than their scribes. Indeed, Jesus’ power was akin to the Sun’s power over the day (Ps 136.8) and its ability to overcome the night.

Jesus has confidence in God and in Himself as God’s Anointed One: confirmed by his Baptism and His experiences of His Power over the Devil’s Temptations in the desert –important events that precede today’s Gospel.  Jesus believes God’s WORD: “You are my beloved Son” and refused to be tempted by Satan not to trust that affirmation.  We, like Christ, will often be tempted by Satan not to believe the words pronounced at our Baptisms: “you have been clothed in Christ,” “you have received the Oil of Salvation,” “you are destined to be among the Saints” when the power of evil seems to be invincible. When we forget these sacred realities we allow  our insecurities and fears to possess us.  Then, unlike Jesus, we are tempted to adopt the world’s forms of power and authority rather than one of service, mutual benefit and solidarity with others.  We can try desperately to advance our own reign rather than God’s reign. Sadly, many people with power these days seem to fall head over heels into that temptation.  But we don’t have to. Jesus’ authority comes from His conviction that He and God are one and that God always chooses the benevolent act, the supportive action, the healing word—contrary to many world philosophies.

Note this important detail in today’s Gospel.  Mark asserts that Jesus began His public life channeling his authority in an act of compassion—freeing a person from evil’s grasp.  Jesus once again shares that power and authority with us through this Eucharist.  His plan is to increase our faith, strengthen our confidence in Him and His authority—the only true authority there is. Shall we cooperate with the Plan of God today?  The choice is ours!  Are we not his Beloved?  Will not this Eucharist unite Us with Him?   Not to believe, not to trust in that truth makes us more susceptible to doubts, insecurities and the powers of evil.  But fear not! In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ authority makes it clear: Compassion trumps fear His compassion will move us out of ourselves, our inner conflicts, our dramas and into the only true way to live:  trusting in the power of God and of His Christ.

 

 

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Back to Basics: Repent and Forgive! (Again!)

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time 

January 21, 2018

 Reading 1 Jon 3:1-5, 10

Responsorial Psalm Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

Reading 11 1 Cor 7:29-31

Gospel Mk 1:14-20

God called Jonah to go to the despised country of Nineveh. Reluctantly, Jonah goes and gives them all the opportunity to repent and receive God’s forgiveness. They respond. They say, “YES.”

 Repentance and Forgiveness ground our Biblical Faith from our foundations in Judaism to the heavenly heights of Christianity. The Church repeats the message relentlessly and so today, it insists we equate God’s call to Jonah with Jesus’ Call to the Disciples.

Yes, Repentance and Forgiveness ARE the Cornerstones of Christianity because it is Jesus, the Cornerstone, who insists on repentance and forgiveness from everyone, to everyone.

 Sorry, friends, gut it’s time for another refresher.  We cannot refute the centrality of Reconciliation:

a.    John the Baptist heralded these as the only daily workouts that prepare us to recognize and receive Jesus

b.    Jesus endorsed them as he healed individuals, reconciling them from the world of sin into the kingdom of forgiveness

c.     Our Baptisms order us away from a sinful, judgmental, condemning world into world of forgiveness

d.    Jesus on the Cross insists forgiveness is the crux of His Mission and very heart of God.

 God knows it’s difficult! 

e.    Jonah wholeheartedly resents God for giving the Ninevites a second chance

f.      The brother of the Prodigal Son is irate his brother is welcomed back into the family

g.     Peter questions, HOW OFTEN? Jesus responds, “As often as it takes, Peter, as often as it takes.” As if to say, “Frankly, Peter, I’ve called you, your brothers and your sisters to love people to death.”

 Oh, but it is a terrible sacrifice to repent and to forgive. Christian History has not often exemplified these virtues, but THE CALL REMAINS, just as it always has, and always will. Today, the Church insists THE CALL IS NOW:

 Remember the Grand Gesture of Pope John Paul II at Millennium: On behalf of the entire Roman Catholic Church he repented for the Crusades and all other acts of violence the Church committed against the Jewish people, Orthodox Christians, Muslims and everyone else through the ages. He Revealed to the world publicly, equivocally that the Church must always have REPENTANT HEART.  Of course, not all individuals or groups received the Pope’s request well or offered to participate in reconciliation with us, but, still, seeds were planted. Humility’s power to inspire may not take immediate root, but it does linger long.

 Today’s Call to Discipleship asks us to Renew and Reclaim this Central Christian Objective. We must go to our brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors, business associates—anyone we have offended, hurt, betrayed and offer not only words of sorrow but determined efforts to heal the hurt, repair the loss as much as humanly possible.  Courage, friends!  We will be empowered by this Eucharist and by our renewal of Faith in the Holy Spirit this very day.

 Don’t despair!  Yes, we know that of course, there is no guarantee that those we have offended will welcome us or our message. But whether they do or not, the Holy Spirit will increase grace in us and leaves us with gratitude for who we are and who we are becoming–deepening our friendship with Jesus, our brother.  And isn’t that why we are here today?  To allow humility to take hold of us, grace will grow, and we may be thankful that we’ve done our part knowing that God forgives us whether others ever will.   

 Now, we must address the other, perhaps more difficult aspects of reconciliation.  What do we do when family or friends hurt or betray us, show no remorse, make no attempts to repent or seek reconciliation.  What then? (I’ve shared this with you all before but evidently the CHURCH in these readings insist that we review them today!)

a.    Before we share our hurt and anger with another, first and foremost bring our anger and hurt to God. We need to turn to quick, spontaneous inner prayer asking God to turn our anger to pity and ultimately to compassion for human weakness, so we can forgive those who’ve hurt us in our hearts before we even address the situation.  Should we find ourselves in the midst of an accelerating argument simply say, “I’m too angry with too many intense feelings to be able to address this right now.”  Take as much “Time Out,” as we need before compassion consumes us enough to address the wrongdoing. We need to pray in the same way whenever relatives/friends/neighbors do not hurt us directly but hurt others that we love or act in way we were taught that refute the 10 Commandments? E.g. Bigotry.

b.    Try our best show concern for the other without judgment, i.e., by saying things like, “What are you feeling right now that moves you to speak this way?” That shows LOVE and CONCERN for the person and prevents us from falling into judgment or a feeling of false superiority.  Then say how we feel, e.g., “I feel disappointment that you’ve chosen to say or act this way.” This exemplifies the task of working through our feelings first before we try to discuss the subject or the sin.” Once feelings are expressed and understood, we might then be ready to ask, “Are not the Ten Commandments important to both of us? How may we apply them to this situation?”

c.     Ask: “Do you at all feel pressured to act in this way –pressured by society, another person; do you think this is your only choice?” (Remember we often sin out of weakness rather than full consent of our wills.)

d.    Ask: “Would you like to explore with me other choices that may be of greater benefit to you and others?”

e.    Ask, “Can you accept the possibility that your words and actions are hurtful to you and others?”

f.      Explore what kind of restitution is appropriate.  We may ask, “How might I support you in taking responsibility for your words and actions?” In more complex situations, never be ashamed to bring this family, neighbor or work situation to a facilitator, counselor, doctor or priest.

 If the person is unwilling to continue the conversation, or take responsibility, make amends for his or her actions, YOU, as disciple, have witnessed the WAY. You have planted a seed.  Ultimately, then, we must decide:

a.    We may need to reorient the relationship to something less personal, less frequent, albeit without rancor, hurt or ongoing disappointment.

 We must always remember that Forgiveness, like LOVE, is an act of the WILL!  No one FEELS like forgiving, but the task of those who have been called is to conform our Will to God’s will. Remember God gave us FREE WILL and the consequences of our actions will all play themselves out in time.  Trust in God. God’s timing, too. It’s not our job to teach all people all lessons. But we can teach ourselves to have peace within our hearts even in the midst of a sinful world.

 My dear friends, being a Christian is HARD WORK.  As we come to the Eucharist today, I invite you to pray these two short prayers with me so that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit will be strengthened in us this day:

 “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us, sinners.”

  “Oh, God, who instructs the hearts of the faithful by the Light of the Holy Spirit, grant us that, by the same Spirit, we may judge wisely the things of earth and rejoice in the Spirit’s Consolation!”

 

Here’s a reprint of my Tools for Love-Forgiveness (Now as ONE-WORD)

 Love-Forgiveness

We participate in Love-Forgiveness (I preach this now as ONE WORD) or we do not.  Both are inextricably linked –we can’t have one without the other.  We must cultivate Love-Forgiveness in our hearts and invite loved ones to do the same.

What’s needed for love-forgiveness to reign? Here’s the short list of what to do when we are hurt, angry, betrayed:

  1. Vent, Rage and Cry to the Only Fully Objective Loved One — GOD; Jesus Himself prayed psalms of lament and disappointment.

 

  1. Secure that God loves you in your anger, your hurt, your betrayal –that God’s love for you is the foundation of your life—pray that you are moved to PITY the one who hurt you. See in him or her a fellow human being who has fallen from grace, given into temptation of selfishness, greed, violence, fear or weakness.

 

  1. Take TIME OUT, allow yourself time to let grace take hold of you and move you from hurt, and/ or rage to pity and, finally, to tenderness

 

  1. Pray Pity be transformed to TENDERNESS as you would offer tenderness to a disobedient child; everyone has a right to live, to learn, to improve, to encounter God through Love-Forgiveness – In this world of ours, it is one of the primary ways to encounter God.

 

  1. With patience, discern forms of accountability you may eventually offer your assailant or adversary—just as a priest offers penance to sinners in the confessional. As penance offers actions and prayers to help the penitent to both show remorse AND accept accountability for his or actions in praise of God, so, too, must we be “priests to one another,” offer opportunities for change – as you would with a child.

 

  1. Allow for Time to Pass, i.e., GOD’s Time, not “our time,”, for a person to come to a place of reviewing the situation and his or her actions calmly and honestly. Here we must trust in Jesus’ and the Psalms’ constant reminder that God allows the sun to shine on the just and unjust, good and the wicked precisely to allow people to choose to evaluate the harm they’ve done to themselves and others.

 

  1. Even if your health and safety require the relationship to be severed, distant, or irreconcilable– Forgive in your heart, so you are FREE from reliving the hurt, the pain; free to move onward toward a wiser, humbler, more hopeful future.

 

  1. If the offender amends the situation and gets treatment for his or her behavior, if warranted, don’t try to reconcile the relationship right away. If asked, let the other person know that you continue to work on reconciliation but are not ready to remove restrictions on your relationship. Meanwhile, assure them you will pray for their working through their problem and taking responsibility for their actions.

Paulist Press Resources:

Healing Life’s Hurts by Dennis Linn and Matthew Linn

Don’t Forgive Too Soon by Dennis and Sheila Linn and Matthew Linn

Good Goats – Healing Our Image of God by Dennis and Sheila Linn and Matthew Linn

These and other titles are available at http://www.paulistpress.com/