Easter 2019

EASTER SERMON 2019 by Father James DiLuzio C.S.P. delivered at Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Las Vegas, NV.

NOTE: My Easter homily became a Sermon in light of the tragedy of terrorism in Sri Lanka this morning. As a result I incorporated insights from my Good Friday homily into it. However if you scroll down on this page, you can read the original version I wrote, Or, if you’re pressed for time, scroll down further and read the shorter version I delivered at the Easter Vigil. To my surprise, the congregation applauded at this longer version!

2nd Note: On April 22, 2019 the Sri Lanka Government identified the suicide bombings coordinated by a local Islamic Terrorist Group: National Thowheeth Jama’ath calculating targeting Christians.

We arrived!  Arrived at the culmination of all things: Death and Resurrection.  It’s the heart of life; the promise of tomorrow and a sobering witness to the reality of good and evil in the world. 

This morning we are confronted with the news of another terrorist attack.  This time in three Catholic Churches in Sri Lanka and three hotels there.  People instinctively ask, “Why does God allow these things to happen?” It’s a natural question and the answer lies in what we have been exploring throughout Holy Week from Passion Sunday through Good Friday.  That question is posed somewhat differently but it is, essentially, the same question: “Why did God demand Jesus to suffer on the Cross?”  The Holy Spirit continues to inspire the Church and great spiritual writers and scripture scholars no longer accept the age-old explanation that God demanded Jesus’ sacrifice to atone for all the world’s sins. We are evolving a more honest response from an even older, less time-and-culture-conditioned theology:  Jesus is the full revelation of the invisible God.  Thus, we understand as Jesus surrendered to the Cross, exposing the sins of the world (all that led Jesus to Calvary—hatred, fear, envy, jealousy, greed, scapegoating and more) in order to offer the only antidote: Love-Forgiveness, we see God in this way, too.  Indeed, a studied view of biblical history reveals that from the beginning, God endured and surrendered to humanity’s sins because of the gift of Free-Will, one of the essential dimensions of the “Divine Spark,” the eternal soul in humanity that mirrors the image of God.   So, just as Jesus revealed on the Cross, God patiently endures the harm we do to ourselves and others, all the while inviting us to conversion, to repentance, to a better vision of ourselves and what our world can be. God’s constant call: Die to Sin, Live Anew in Me, transform yourselves and others. That’s the eternal Easter message

We look at the tragedy in Sri-Lanka and ask what does the world need? Practicality may advise more police, more military.  Yet don’t we know that contemporary police and military are now schooled in psychology and diplomacy—they’re learning how to disarm angry, violent frustrated individuals, tools that acknowledge their suffering, however, misguided, however insane, and invite them to alternative actions.  Christians everywhere must approach violence in just the same way, picking up the Cross to discern the causes of hatred, fear and violence and strive to eradicate the sins at their source.  It is believed the attacks are, once again, from Muslim fundamentalists. There’s a tendency to blame Islam.  But we know that millions of Muslims throughout the world are also victimized by the radical, fundamentalists in their midst. Christianity, too, has its fundamentalists who see all tragedies as a direct act of God, punishing humanity for its sins.  True, most fundamentalist Christians do not resort to physical violence, but their view is, at times, violent and causes great disruption, confusion and pain among Christians and others.  We need more dialogue with them to share how our biblical interpretations have grown.  And we need more conversation with our well-intentioned Muslim neighbors, locally, internationally, politically and religiously to help them and us address the roots of radical fundamentalism and its violence. God knows, even some of our nation’s policies with other countries, not intentionally, but inadvertently adds to some of the suffering of peoples in those countries and makes them vulnerable to fundamental radicals. The Cross of Jesus insists we join Christ in suffering with others in order to uncover evil’s sources and address them, heal them, transforming ourselves and the world in the process.  This too participates in the eternal pattern of dying and rising.  It’s more difficult work than blaming and addressing violence with more violence. It requires more patience, more faith, more hope, more love.

Let’s move now from the news, to another level of the Easter message: The Cross and Resurrection is the pattern of ultimate reality of all:  everything and everyone who ever was and ever will be.  From the astounding Big Bang, when Jesus voiced God’s creation into being- “Let there be LIGHT” and light, energy and all the elements of the material world came to be.  Participating in dying and rising that is the entire evolutionary process, we recognize the COSMIC CHRIST in whom we move and live and have our being.

Science tells us that asteroids formed around the stars, propelled into space by cosmic energy formed the planets –offering carbon and oxygen, silicon—essential material for life.  Their individual components remained but together, at the same time, they formed something new: planets orbiting around the sun.  In a sense, they died, yet retained their essence while transformed into a greater whole.  That’s the story of our planet, the story of all species, including ours. Why the carbon of asteroids and exploding stars is in us all—we have the Divine Spark, the immortal soul in us AND we are made of stardust, too! The instances of our continuity with the best, but in new forms, new dynamics are amazing.  Why we only recently discovered Neanderthal DNA in peoples of European descent. The Neanderthals are still with us, gone yet transformed!  Believe it!  This is the story of Jesus of Nazareth fully human and fully God, indivisible, whose human essence was retained but transformed into something new, more alive, in His Resurrection from the dead; a deeper reality to enjoy greater communion with us beyond the confines of time, of history and the limitations of earth.  ALIVE in every age, inviting every generation in be communion with Him. 

Too many people look at the science of evolution and think of it as cruel, meaningless and random. For that reason, and the scandal of too much biblical literalism, some people of faith reject it entirely. But Popes from Saint John Paul II to Benedict and Francis see in it NOT CRUELTY BUT CHRIST Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.  For Evolution bears the stamp of Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection.  Jesus tells “Do not be afraid” of this eternal pattern, be at peace with it, participate in this living and dying and get caught up in its ultimate resolution: eternity in a communion of Saints. 

Surrendering to dying and rising offers heavenly rewards but it also provides us with the only one, true valuable “immediate gratification:” literal experiences of heaven right here, right now. Today and every day the Resurrected Jesus cries out to us, “Peace be with You. Don’t be afraid to DIE to sin. Don’t be afraid to enter into your suffering and the suffering of others, for I am with you. WITH ME you can do anything, including transforming the causes of sin and suffering so this old world can become something new. 

Meanwhile, we must be mindful that much of our World rejects this Paschal Mystery.  It distains the Cross and its life-giving properties. It denies death—creating an Eternal Youth Culture that ignores the wisdom that comes from the process of aging.  And yet, all the world’s philosophies recognize the importance of the eternal pattern:  we humans die repeatedly—from infancy to childhood, to youth, to middle age, to senior years–each in their own time, each with their own lessons of pain and recovery, failures and successes, dying and growing in wisdom.   Part of EASTER GLORY is knowing that the sins of our past, now that we are in Communion with Christ, become a treasure chest of wisdom—not of guilt or regret but of determination to change because of the Love-Forgiveness Jesus offered from the Cross. Still, great challenges confront us:  so many peoples of our world, Christians and non-Christians alike remain unwilling to learn from biblical history and world history and continue to perpetuate the same cruel realities, cultivating death by advancing at the expense of others rather than the mutual uplifting of all peoples.   

But for us in the light of Easter we stand with the Resurrected Jesus.  Like our Savior, we vow today never to cause death but to surrender to it in its natural progressions, ready to learn from it, unafraid to be humbled by it and transformed into new ways of living, of loving, of hoping—the GREAT REVERSAL, THE STAMP OF THE SCRIPTURES, THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL. And, how wonderful for your local church this Easter, last night 17 people of various ages, joined us in Christ, baptized and in Catholic communion along with thousands of others throughout the world in Easter Vigils.

The World may thrive self-aggrandizement, power and manipulation.  Jesus offers us the opposite:  humility, surrender, transformative faith, freely chosen, freely engaged in—the freedom of being Children of God who doesn’t manipulate us, but continually invites us to be and to live as we were meant to live from the beginning, CAN BE NOW, and with God’s Amazing Grace, ever shall be.  Happy, Joyous, Ecstatic Easter, everyone!

SERMON # 2: Here’s the HOMILY I wrote PRIOR to hearing about the bombings in Sri Lanka:

We’ve arrived!  Arrived at the culmination of all things: Death and Resurrection.  We began Holy Week affirming that God is Love-Forgiveness incarnated in Christ Jesus. 

We explored on Holy Thursday the confirmation of the GREAT REVERSAL –humanity choosing a “GOD”-centered life instead of a “ME”-centered life.  For this ongoing conversion, we must forever keep in our hearts and minds the Holy Thursday image of our mighty God’s tenderness: Jesus washing the feet of sinful, base yet precious and holy humanity –all these aspects represented by the Apostles. Allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed with such an affectionate display of God’s Love-Forgiveness, we ask our God to make for us every Eucharist a dying to sin, rejuvenating us to rise to serve God through patience, kindness and compassion to all our siblings, i.e. all children of God.

Yesterday we contemplated the Cross and how Jesus suffered to assure us he is with us in our suffering. He also invites us to enter into suffering of others.  This is how He will transform us and our world. The Easter Mystery invites us to absorb  this reality, to be filled and transformed into new wineskins—honoring the old ways, but not clinging to them that we deny ourselves the gifts of living with JESUS in the present moment, willing to invite Him to helps us grow, mature and offer fresh wine to others.   

And, speaking of “NEW WINE,” it is important we continue to wrestle with, discuss and share how the Church has come to understand Jesus’ death on the cross. It’s evolving!  We are moving beyond the old ways that interpreted the crucifixion as God’s demand for sacrifice by revisiting deeper insights of an older, more consistent tradition: “Jesus if the full revelation of the invisible God.” Thus as Jesus surrendered to the Cross not because God demanded it—God’s will was that the KINGDOM, new way of living and loving be accepted—but to remind the world how God endured, surrendered to human folly, sin and sickness with infinite patience from the beginning even unto now.  Bring this conversation into your Easter dinner:  Jesus died on the Cross to expose the sins of the world—hate, fear, envy, jealousy, greed, scapegoating—to provide the only antidote to sin:  LOVE-FORGIVENESS, the very heart of God. This is the insight of our generations. New generations will add their own revelations as the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church through dying and rising.

Life, Death and Rebirth manifested in Christ continues to be manifested through the Church but far beyond it as well.  The Cross and Resurrection is the pattern of ultimate reality of all:  everything and everyone who ever was and ever will be.  From the astounding Big Bang, when Jesus voiced God’s creation into being- “Let there be LIGHT” and light, energy and all the elements of the material world came to be.  Participating in dying and rising that is the entire evolutionary process, we recognize the COSMIC CHRIST in whom we move and live and have our being.

Science tells us that asteroids formed around the stars, propelled into space by cosmic energy formed the planets –offering carbon and oxygen, silicon—essential material for life.  Their individual components remained but together, at the same time, they formed something new: planets orbiting around the sun.  In a sense, they died, yet retained their essence while transformed into a greater whole.  That’s the story of our planet, the story of all species, including ours. Why the carbon of asteroids and exploding stars is in us all—we have the Divine Spark, the immortal soul in us AND we are made of stardust, too! The instances of our continuity with the best, but in new forms, new dynamics are amazing.  Why we only recently discovered Neanderthal DNA in peoples of European descent. The Neanderthals are still with us, gone yet transformed!  Believe it!  This is the story of Jesus of Nazareth fully human and fully God, indivisible, whose human essence was retained but transformed into something new, more alive, in His Resurrection from the dead; a deeper reality to enjoy greater communion with us beyond the confines of time, of history and the limitations of earth.  ALIVE in every age, inviting every generation in be communion with Him. 

Too many people look at the science of evolution and think of it as cruel, meaningless and random. For that reason, and the scandal of too much biblical literalism, some people of faith reject it entirely. But Popes from Saint John Paul II to Benedict and Francis see in it NOT CRUELTY BUT CHRIST Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.  For Evolution bears the stamp of Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection.  Jesus tells “Do not be afraid” of this eternal pattern, be at peace with it, participate in this living and dying and get caught up in its ultimate resolution: eternity in a communion of Saints. 

Surrendering to dying and rising offers heavenly rewards but it also provides us with the only one, true valuable “immediate gratification:” literal experiences of heaven right here, right now. Today and every day the Resurrected Jesus cries out to us, “Peace be with You. Don’t be afraid to DIE to sin. Don’t be afraid to enter into your suffering and the suffering of others, for I am with you. WITH ME you can do anything, including transforming the causes of sin and suffering so this old world can become something new. 

Meanwhile, we must be mindful that much of our World rejects this Paschal Mystery.  It distains the Cross and its life-giving properties. It denies death—creating an Eternal Youth Culture that ignores the wisdom that comes from the process of aging.  And yet, all the world’s philosophies recognize the importance of the eternal pattern:  we humans die repeatedly—from infancy to childhood, to youth, to middle age, to senior years–each in their own time, each with their own lessons of pain and recovery, failures and successes, dying and growing in wisdom.   Part of EASTER GLORY is knowing that the sins of our past, now that we are in Communion with Christ, become a treasure chest of wisdom—not of guilt or regret but of determination to be change because of the Love-Forgiveness Jesus offered from the Cross. Still, great challenges confront us:  so many peoples of our world, Christians and non-Christians alike remain unwilling to learn from biblical history and world history and continue to perpetuate the same cruel realities, cultivating death by advancing at the expense of others rather than the mutual uplifting of all peoples.   

But for us in the light of Easter we stand with the Resurrected Jesus.  Like our Savior, we vow today never to be the cause death but to surrender to it in its natural progressions, ready to learn from it, unafraid to be humbled by it and transformed into new ways of living, of loving, of hoping—the GREAT REVERSAL, THE STAMP OF THE SCRIPTURES, THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL. And, how wonderful for your local church this Easter, last night 17 people of various ages, joined us in Christ, baptized and in Catholic communion along with thousands of others throughout the world in Easter Vigils. The World may thrive self-aggrandizement, power and manipulation.  Jesus offers us the opposite:  humility, surrender, transformative faith, freely chosen, freely engaged in—the freedom of being Children of God who doesn’t manipulate us, but continually invites us to be and to live as we were meant to live from the beginning, CAN BE NOW, and with God’s Amazing Grace, ever shall be.  Happy, Joyous, Ecstatic Easter,

SERMON # 3: Here’s the SHORTER VERSION delivered at the EASTER VIGIL

We’ve arrived!  Arrived at the culmination of all things: Death and Resurrection. 

We began Holy Week affirming that God is Love-Forgiveness incarnated in Christ Jesus whose death exposed all the sins of the world in order to forgive them in an unconditional love. 

We explored on Holy Thursday the confirmation of the GREAT REVERSAL – God’s plan for humanity since the Original Sin when humans chose a “ME”-centered life instead of a GOD-centered life.  Through the Covenant with Israel and the Promises of Christ, God continues to invite us to reverse that pattern.

We were invited to hold that image of the Eucharist—that experience of “God with us,” the communion we participate in every day or every Sunday, week after week, year after year—holding that experience in our hearts, living it daily, with the Holy Thursday image of our mighty God’s tenderness: Jesus washing the feet of sinful, base humanity represented by the Apostles, making every Eucharist a dying to sin and a renewal to rise to serve God through kindness and compassion to others.

Yesterday we contemplated the Cross and how Jesus suffered to assure us he is with us in our suffering and to invite us to enter into suffering of others with Him so he may transform us and those who suffer with faith, hope and love.

Now the suffering is over for we have contemplated in new, fresh ways some of the heights of depths of the Great Mystery of God of Peace, as Jesus offered PEACE, not recrimination to the disciples and evermore offers Peace to us, regardless of our denials, betrayals or failures.  The Easter Mystery invites us to absorb  this reality, to be filled and transformed into new wineskins—honoring the old, but not so clinging to them that we deny ourselves the gifts of living in the present moment with Jesus willing to grow, to mature and ready to offer fresh wine to others.   

Life, Death and Rebirth are manifested in Christ and all who experience Jesus.  Yes.  But His pattern is the ultimate reality of all, of everything and everyone who ever was and ever will be.  From the astounding Big Bang, when Jesus voiced God’s creation into being-“Let there be LIGHT” and light, energy and all the elements of the material world came to be to the dying and rising of the entire evolutionary process, we recognize the COSMIC CHRIST in whom we move and live and have our being.

Just as asteroids formed around the stars, propelled by cosmic energy beyond them to form planets –offering carbon and oxygen, silicon—essential material for life.  Their individual components remained but together, at the same time, they formed something.  In a sense, they died but retained their essence while still becoming something new.  That the story of our planet, the story of all species, including ours and the story of Jesus of Nazareth fully human and revealed as fully God indivisible in His Resurrection, his human essence retained but transformed into something new, more alive, in a sense, with greater communion with God and us than ever before; ALIVE in every age, every generation in communion with Him.  And, mystery beyond glory, love beyond all telling, Jesus offers us the same NOW and onto Eternity. 

Too many people look at the science of evolution and think of it as cruel, meaningless and random and so some people of faith reject it entirely. But Popes from Saint John Paul II to Benedict and Francis see in it not cruelty but Christ Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.  For Evolution bears the stamp of Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection.  Jesus tells “Do not be afraid” of this eternal pattern, be at peace with it, participate in this life to be caught up into its resolution for all eternity’.  Yes, surrendering to it offers heavenly rewards but also the only true valuable “immediate gratification,” literal experiences of resurrection, of heaven right here, right now. Today and every day the Resurrected Jesus cries out to us, “Peace be with You. Don’t be afraid to die to sin. Don’t be afraid to enter into your suffering and the suffering of others, for I am with you; with me you can do anything, including transforming the causes of sin and suffering and become something new.  Not perpetuating the ways of the world but participating in God’s ways, creating a kingdom here on earth that mirrors all the realities and promises of heaven. And in our heart of hearts we know this is true.

The World rejects the Paschal Mystery.  It distains the Cross and its life-giving properties. It denies death when it can—creating as it has an Eternal Youth Culture that ignores the wisdom that comes from the process of aging.  And yet, all the world’s philosophies recognizes the human realities that we die repeatedly– to childhood, to adolescence, to youth, to middle age, to  senior years–each in their own time, each with their own lessons of pain and recovery, failures and successes, dying and growing in wisdom.   On the other hand, the world also participates in death, causing death while ignoring its repercussions, the consequences of evil it cultivates in its wake. Not willing to learn from its history but perpetuating the same cruel realities.

But for us in the light of Easter we stand with the Resurrected Jesus.  Like our Savior, we vow we will not cause death but we surrender to it in order to learn from it, unafraid to be humbled by it and to transform into new ways of living, of loving, of hoping—the GREAT REVERSAL, THE STAMP OF THE SCRIPTURES, THE HEART OF THE GOSPEL.

The World thrives on self-aggrandizement, power and manipulation.  Jesus offers us the opposite:  humility, surrender, transformative faith, freely chosen, freely engaged in—the freedom of being Children of God, the same NOW and onto Eternity.  Happy, Joyous, Ecstatic Easter, everyone!

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Homily: Joy & Sorrow, Sickness & Health

HOMILY FOR THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR B  1 July 2018

 Reading 1 Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24   For God formed man to be imperishable;”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13 I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me”  and “O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.”

Reading 2 2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Gospel Mk 5:21-43 or 5:21-24, 35b-43  “He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

Twelve years with a severe medical condition and her livelihood spent on doctors!  Today, as the medical profession continues to transform itself into medical “industry” – the many dedicated, well-intentioned, self-giving doctors, nurses and support staff notwithstanding – and amidst all the complexities of the political debates, this woman’s drama sounds exceptionally contemporary. The Gospel says, “she spent her livelihood on doctors but was unable to be cured by any.”  No AARP or Medicare. What made her turn to Jesus?  Sheer desperation?  Perhaps.  Yet desperate people don’t often make the wisest choices.  What prompted her decision to risk life and limb and public outcry (if not stoning) as a designated “unclean” individual defying laws separating her from healthy citizens?  To discern an answer to that question, it may be helpful to posit possible situations (and corresponding mindsets) a person with her condition would find herself.

She must have been WEARY.  Twelve years with a condition that would certainly have made her anemic, weak and perhaps struggling with associated depression.  It probably crossed her mind to repeat the words of Job’s wife when she said to him: “Curse God and die.”  Evidently, this woman eschewed that temptation. Instead, she found ways to maneuver through those dark thoughts and impulses.  Here are some possibilities:

  1. Consolation: Perhaps identifying with others who suffer offered some relief – recognizing she was not alone in her condition or her situation. She may have sought friendship with others with similar conditions.  Lepers, after all, were forced to associate exclusively with lepers.  At that time, women experiencing menstruation were set apart from men. So perhaps our protagonist spent her days and years in the company of menstruating women.  Of course, these women would come and go leaving her alone, but they would re-appear and the life flow of women’s natural rhythms and the conversations and insights shared may have brought her deeper wisdom and some levels of peace. Perhaps, she was not the only one with continuing hemorrhage and found some kindred solidarity, one among several women there waiting for doctors’ arrivals, commiserating together the lack of antidotes to their condition. In that way, she provided her own sense of consolation with her refusal to isolate herself, to fall into the trap of alienation even though the societal norm pressured her to do so.
  2. Resourcefulness: We know nothing of her life situation:  Married? Single?  Widowed?  Divorced? Whatever the case she found some way or had some means to have her basic needs met:  food, clothing, shelter and the ability to offer her doctor’s recompense.  We can assume she was not married for the Gospel specifies “she spent HER livelihood on doctors,” i.e. not her husband’s.  Furthermore, her medical condition would have made her unfit for the marriage bed, so it most likely she never married or divorced. Very likely she weaved cloth at her loom and had a colleague purify her products for sale in the marketplace.
  3. Gratitude: That her medical condition did not inhibit her from productivity, however, mitigated her energy levels. She must have cultivated ways to be thankful for what was, rather than what was not; grateful for who she was, rather than who she was not.

We have much to learn from this woman plagued with but cured of hemorrhaging: Weariness supported by prayer; Consolation in identification with others who suffer; Resourcefulness; Gratitude and Hope, all bound together in FAITH.  The beauty of her faith in Jesus and her subsequent healing comes from the fact that she refused to remain a victim; she did not let her past or the crisis of her present illness inhibit her choices for the future. Her faith instilled in her that marvelous capacity to hold suffering and joy in body and mind without annihilating, ignoring or failing to attend to either one.

She must have known enough about the Messianic expectation that the true Messiah would identify with her—for He was to come to the lowly, the persecuted, the suffering, the bereft.  After all, Jesus’ miraculous healings fulfilled an essential aspect of JESUS HIMSELF:  His oneness with humanity.  She was able to recognize in JESUS as the one who perfectly held the tension between joy and sorrow, suffering and deliverance as her faith had motivated her to do.  Thus, she courageously surrendered her fallible condition to His Perfect Condition, recognizing that she and Jesus had more in common than what would be apparent to most who did not take the time to know her or consider Jesus to the extant that she had.

YOU and I have more in common with Jesus than we readily acknowledge.  You and I continue to be nourished by Him in Sacrament and Word.  You and I grapple with joys and sorrows, degrees of sickness and health, social successes and social failures but find our hope in Christ and His Being, His Union with God the Father, trusting in their literal sharing of their Spirit within us – the divine spark in every human being that, for us, for God’s good purposes, has been nurtured so lovingly, consistently through our Catholic Faith and Traditions.  For God formed us to be imperishable in the Spirit, and God engages us to cooperate with Grace just as Jesus continually merged His human will with His Divine Will.  Hear today what Jesus said to the woman he says now to you: “Your faith has saved you, Go in Peace and be cured of your affliction” — that is be cured of whatever separates you from you, from us, from Christ.

 

 

Trinity Sunday: Mass Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of My Ordination to the Priesthood at Saint Paul the Apostle Church, New York, NY

WHAT I’VE LEARNED THUS FAR –3 Points for Trinity Sunday

By Father James DiLuzio C.S.P.

 From Sunday’s Scripture Readings:

Excerpt from Deuteronomy 4: “This is why you must now know, and fix in your heart, that the LORD is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other. You must keep his statutes and commandments that I enjoin on you today, that you and your children after you may prosper, and that you may have long life on the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you forever.””

Excerpt from Matthew 28:  And Jesus words confirm all this: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

 What follows is a more detailed expression of my thoughts.  For the Sunday Mass, I spoke on what follows more extemporaneously.  (I did not include the RED text on Sunday)

 It actually happened!  25 years!  I’m humbled and grateful for these years of faith and service and I am thankful to the Paulist Fathers without whom I never would be living a life in continual dialogue with the Scriptures and the People of God in extraordinary, intimate ways.  Today’s readings also remind me how in debt I am to the 10 Commandments and Jesus’ teachings.  They bring true freedom.  Observing them as closely as we are able, we may place our heads on our pillows each night and sleep soundly embraced by amazing grace.  We may wake up each morning as a child awakes filled with hope and enthusiasm,  conscious of God’s love and energized for the day for the good, the true and the beautiful.

 

In celebration of TRINITY SUNDAY on which we contemplate the Christian understanding of ONE GOD in Three Persons—we affirm that GOD IS RELATIONSHIP ITSELF—that’s the true meaning behind “Father, Son and Spirit.”  Indeed, as God is the SOURCE OF LIFE, THE FORCE MAINTAINING THE COSMOS, an UNDYING ENERGY FROM WITHIN AND WITHOUT –God extends God’s very essence expanding loving relationship to and through humanity and all creation.  Relationship is the heart of life—all people, the entire cosmos is inter-related in ways we need to keep exploring, understanding and celebrating.  And the best way is to keep cultivating the awe and wonder and freedom of childhood.  On this Anniversary Celebration I would like to share 3 (3 ½) insights I’ve gained from my 25 years as a Paulist priest.  Here we go:

  1. Point 1: “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18: 16-17
  • An energized adulthood demands that we cultivate and grow in our childhood JOYS. Are childhood joys comprise the essence of who we ARE, and Who God CALLS US TO BE.  Share who we are!  That’s the mission. . .. Don’t gauge your joys and talents in terms of money you make from them.  That’s not the point. We must keep developing our childhood happiness whatever our ultimate livelihood.  Get out those guitars, gardening tools, baseball gloves, science kit, puzzles or whatever it may be that keeps you fully alive. Let your lights shine!
    1. THE SHADOW SIDE OF CHILDHOOD: Childhood inevitably imparts wounds, too.  True growth engages us in “un-learning” negative patterns bestowed on us by exploring healthy patterns of thinking and living. Faith offers us the “bigger picture” we need to trust in a Loving God, accept the truth that people who mistreat, manipulate or domineer are transmitting pain they received in their childhoods.  We never deserved their cruelty, and, ultimately, safe distance may be required, yet in our hearts we need to develop compassion for ourselves and our family’s and institutions’ failures so that we don’t let our hurts prevent us from living and loving.
    2. In Exodus the Scriptures reveal God as saying God will be about “inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation.” All that means is that God allows the consequences of wrong actions -be they selfish, greedy, violent—to play themselves out and they do, indeed, impact many subsequent generations. Meanwhile, both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures affirm God never abandons us as we work through the harmful residues of the past.
    3. Later the prophet Ezekiel assures the people saying, “The son shall not be charged with the guilt of his father, nor shall the father be charged with the guilt of his son. Justice belongs to the just, and wickedness to the wicked.”  This implies, in part, what I’ve come to understand:  God invites each new generation to correct, amend and extinguish the sins of the past –be they that of our parents, grandparents or ancestors, or our nation’s or our religious body’s—so we keep ever-growing in the ways God set out in the beginning:  the 2 GREAT COMMANDMENTS: Love of God, self and neighbor as self.  Strong faith gives us the COURAGE to do just that.  It’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Pick up your cross and follow me” and “I am with you always, even unto the end of time.”
    4. Strong feelings from childhood are often evoked in contemporary situations that nonetheless must be distinguished from the situations and contexts of the past. We must learn to deal with these and the distinct people involved in them in healthier, more creative ways, detaching from our past.  e., the person who treats us ill today is not our parent, our wicked 4th grade teacher, the abusive boss from our last job.  He/She and we are in a different situation now.  We must calm our bruised inner child and live in the present. We must assert ourselves because we don’t need other’s good behavior to claim our self-esteem as children of God.  Claiming our foundational dignity in God’s love, no one can take it away. We can then see the person and his/her inappropriate or hurtful behavior as someone in pain; someone who tries to claim their dignity at the expense of another because they are deeply insecure.   Assured of who we are as Loved by God, we can move from anger, to pity, to compassion for the wounded, insecure fellow (without ever telling him or her that they are wounded or insecure—that won’t get us anywhere!).  Centered in this way, we are far more able and likely to “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6) and advance to the Biblical Vision: “With firm purpose you maintain peace (O, Lord!); in peace, because of our trust in you.” Trust in the Lord forever!  (Isaiah 26)

2. Point 2: I’m continuing to discover and develop the virtue of Abandoning Aesthetics regarding human persons.

  1. We are all nurtured in aesthetics based on our family backgrounds and communities. We learn what our group deems appropriate for dress, personal hygiene, decorum, and proper pleasures.  This is natural.   As we grow and assert our individuality, we adopt, adapt or reject aspects of what we’ve learned and apply them to ourselves.  In addition, Education invites us to develop critical thinking regarding works of art, music and literature; Church and Society cultivate ethics regarding social norms and proper politics. The gift of critical thinking is essential to life and advancing public mores.
  2. Yet, we fail to engage in the Gospel, when we view another human being according to the criteria we deem best for ourselves or evaluate them as if they are a theatre piece or literary work. We can project our expectations upon them and fail to see who he or she really is. Jesus emphatically insists: “Stop Judging, and you will not be judged.  Stop condemning and you will not be condemned; Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6).  It’s letting go of aesthetics and critical evaluation of a person–even his or her actions –that help us see a fellow human being as God sees him or her.
  3. Judgment and Condemnation create chasms between people and prevent us from working together to solve problems, to undo the damage that is done. Instead of saying “How can you wear that? Say that?” or worse, “How dare you!”  “How could you!” I’m learning to keep silent and inwardly pray about my evaluations of another.  Only when someone’s actions warrant it, I find it’s better to ask, “What’s going on within you that brings you to speak or act in this way?” or “Please, help me understand your choices in this matter.  Might there be a more productive way to deal with this?  How may I help?”   (In truth, even compassionate statements such as these can rile another person, so this approach it’s not a guarantee for successful dialogue. In the realm of human relations, there is no perfect panacea.  Furthermore, our own emotions can get in the way of our best intentions, making what we think is a “kind response” received by another as anything but.  (God help us!)

3. Point 3: “Can any of you by worrying add a moment to your life-span? 26 If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest? “(Luke 12). To follow Jesus is to “Come Down to Earth.”

Our Christian faith is centered in God who enters human history through the Incarnate Word, in Jesus of Nazareth.  To follow Jesus, we must “come down to earth,” too.  Living in a “down to earth” way, we may more readily “live in the present moment” with much less anxiety. Here are life’s bare bone essentials to always keep in mind when in relationship with others but especially in times of conflict:

  1. Everyone needs air and water. (Deprive any one of these and the issues before us have no weight, no matter.)
  2. Everyone needs food, clothing and shelter. God created us as beings that must cooperate, collaborate to provide us with these bare necessities. No one can obtain all these essentials on his or her own. This basic concept assures us that we are all in this world together.
  3. Everyone needs LOVEFORGIVENESS –I understand this now as ONE WORD. Each dynamic is inseparable from the other. Mere Existence becomes LIFE in its fullness when this irrefutable, indivisible dynamic is nurtured and maintained.  Besides, no one can live without it. Now, LOVEFORGIVENESS doesn’t mean we can’t hold people accountable for their actions but it does mean that the accountability offers hope and opportunity to change while taking responsibility for his or her actions. We must assist ourselves and others always to claim and re-claim our true dignity as children of God.  (Another dimension of “Pick up your cross.”
  4. Everyone needs STORY to endow meaning to all the other fundamentals I’ve stated. Our FAITH provides the greatest and foundational stories, and in our diverse and heterogeneous world, we need to dialogue and discern the commonalities in all people’s stories –religious, national and personal—to create the solidarity in addressing the problems we face.  So many Religious Traditions affirm Unity, Harmony and Peace as God’s goal for the world. We all need to know our stories and keep learning from them.
  5. Everyone dies. Humble recognition of this truth may help us advance LIFE and LIFE-GIVING CHOICES for as long as we are on this earth because our earthly life is inextricably linked to our life and relationship with God and others for all eternity.  Detaching from our emotions or taking “time out” from an argument or discussion when emotions are strong can keep us alive and well until our time is up.

Keeping life “simple” is the best way to live, for, in truth God is the simplest, most uncomplicated essence of Being, of Personhood and Relationship there is—all generative, all creative, all overflowing love.

I would like to close with the song I sing at the opening of every parish mission I offer:  Leonard Bernstein’s SIMPLE SONG with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

You can hear me sing via this YouTube link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3h9s0OY2Ues

(This was recorded several years ago.  I think I sang it better on Sunday!)

God bless you all for reading and sharing in my reflections.

 

 

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Sunday 4th of February 2018

 Reading 1JB 7:1-4, 6-7

Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?

Responsorial PsalmPS 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6

  1. (cf. 3a) Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted.

Reading 21 COR 9:16-19, 22-23

Brothers and sisters:
If I preach the gospel, this is no reason for me to boast,
for an obligation has been imposed on me,
and woe to me if I do not preach it!

GospelMK 1:29-39

On leaving the synagogue
Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John.
Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever.
They immediately told him about her.
He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.
Then the fever left her and she waited on them.

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Rising very early before dawn, he left
and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him
and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages
that I may preach there also.
For this purpose have I come.”
So he went into their synagogues,
preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.

It’s easy to fall into the existential angst of Job – “what does anything matter?” We let the words of Ecclesiastes echo repeatedly in our heads: “All is vanity. Life is meaningless.” When we’re in that state of mind, it is profitable to remember that faith insists that humanity needs a Savior.  God initiated a Covenant with mankind for this very purpose: deliverance from mere existence into fullness of life.

For us, the story of Jesus is a healing story.  It’s restorative, transformative.  Jesus’s destiny was and remains a healing ministry just as he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and myriad of others long ago.  But note Jesus’ exemplifies an essential aspect of his restorative technique right here in today’s Gospel for all of us to appreciate:  solitude: “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.”  We must remember that prayer does not / must not always include words.  Sometimes in our despair, words are even too much for us to bear.  Solidarity with God requires silence, too.  Here’s a perfect example from a story by religious sister and spiritual writer José Hobday:

“One summer Saturday when I was 12, I was waiting for my friend who wanted to come over. We had planned the morning together. She was quite late. I was fretting and complaining and generally making a nuisance of myself. In fact, I was becoming rather obnoxious to everyone else in the house.

“Finally, my father said to me ‘Get a book a blanket and an apple and get into the car!’ I wanted to know why, but he repeated the order. So, I obeyed. My father drove me about eight miles from home to a canyon area and said, ‘Now get out.  We cannot stand you any longer at home. You aren’t fit to live with.  Stay out here by yourself today until you understand better how to act. I’ll come back for you this evening.’

I got out, angry, frustrated and defiant. The nerve of him! I thought immediately of walking home.  Eight miles was no distance at all for me. Then the thought of meeting my father when I got there took hold and I changed my mind.

“I cried and threw the book, apple and blanket over the canyon ledge. I had been dumped and I was furious. But it is hard to keep up a good, rebellious cry with no audience, so finally, there was nothing to do but face up to the day alone.

“I sat on the rim, kicking the dirt and trying to get control of myself. After a couple of hours, as noon approached, I began to get hungry. I located the apple and climbed down to retrieve it– as well as the book and the blanket.  I climbed back up and as I came over the top, I noticed the piñon tree. It was lovely and full.
I spread the blanket in the shade, put the book under my head and began to eat the apple.  I was aware of a change of attitude. As I looked through the branches into the sky, a great sense of peace and beauty came to me.  The clouds sat in still puffs, the blue was endless; I began to take in their spaciousness. I thought about the way I had acted and why daddy had treated me so harshly.  Understanding began to come and I became more objective about my behavior. I found myself getting in touch with my feelings, with the world around me.

“Nature was my mother, holding me for comfort and healing. I became aware of being part of it all, and I found myself thinking of God. . .. I felt in communion with much that I could not know, but to which I was drawn.   .  .  Of touching the holy.

“By the time my father came to get me, I was restored.  Daddy did not press me about the day.  He asked no questions and I gave him no answers.  But I was different and we both knew it. . . Before I got out of the car, I thanked him.”

May we begin with a little more silence now then we usually do—that is, before we return to the words of The Creed.  And so, may the balance of this Mass increase our comfortability with solitude and the mystical presence of Jesus.

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.

 

 

Calling Forth Constancy to the First Commandment

29th Sunday of Ordinary Time       Reading 1 IS 45:1, 4-6 Gospel: MT 22:15-21

 The old sensibility called the Divine Right of Kings–that rulers can be instruments of God’s grace IF they choose to cooperate with it, is older than the Bible.  Cyrus of Persia did cooperate with God (knowingly or unknowingly).  Having conquered the Babylonians, he took over the Middle East Empire and allowed the Jewish people to return to their homeland, which new Emperors rarely, if ever, did. Rulers usually did not allow people to stay or return to their homelands in fear that once gathered together, they were more likely to revolt.

With Cyrus of Persia one of the rare exceptions, what was believed to be “The Divine Right of Kings” was used and abused through the centuries until finally someone shouted, “The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!” meaning that all too often, rulers and people in authority misuse their power.  Read the headlines in any century, any decade and there’s plenty proof. Taking Presidents and statesmen, explorers and rulers off their pedestals has been the work of historians for centuries, but when people attempt to do this in a literal way, controversy ensues.  And, although there are legitimate concerns on all sides of the issue, as always, the Gospels insist on a bigger picture: God is GOD; we are not.  People of faith are expected to put God above all others, to carefully consider God’s Will as we make our own decisions.  When people do well, praise them!  But, in our hearts, praise God, too–for nothing good is accomplished except from God.  We must believe that.  Therefore, respect positive human achievements while humbly acknowledging all human beings are flawed.  Perhaps all our monuments and tributes need to reflect that.  Meanwhile, Jesus tells us: be responsible with the things of this world for in doing so we get good practice in being responsible to heaven.

We should all know by now that the primary meaning of “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” is NOT about the separation of Church and State.  For too long, Jesus’ statement has been misused to excuse a divorce between moral behavior at home and moral behavior in government and elsewhere.  If God is truly the center of our lives, then “repaying to Caesar” must mean taking on secular responsibilities to give God Glory, because, as the Bible and History teach us, all “Caesars” –be they princes or politicians, business executives or priests of bishops—fall short of leading fully God-centered lives and making consistent God-centered decisions.

To approach misunderstood passages of Scripture such as this one, it is always best to put them in conversations with other passages of Scripture that support and elucidate their meaning. Let’s look at these.

Luke 12: 29-32

As for you, do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not worry anymore. 30 All the nations of the world seek for these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides. 32 Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

 

In other words, disciples of Jesus must view our material needs and their political implications as SECONDARY to Love 0f God, the dignity of each human person as Child of God, and love of neighbor.  God comes first! Discipleship in Jesus comes FIRST! Attentiveness to the Holy Spirit comes first! Then we have a taste of the Kingdom and everything else falls into place—a world with less hostility, less anxiety because all decisions are made for mutual benefit of all rather than advancement for some at the expense of others.  

Here’s another passage: Luke 16: 8 to 10

“For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.[e] I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,[f] so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 [g]The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.

 

Jesus speaks here of money in its most negative aspect:  it’s all “dishonest,” in the sense of the illusions it perpetuates:  delusions of grandeur, of inflated self-importance, celebrity, fame—all these are fleeting, transitory and distractions from the TRUTH of why we are here. The purpose and meaning of life: each person, each family, each community is responsible to GOD. Of course, it is important to be RESPONSIBLE for our worldly doings. We must apply our ethics to our material consumption, and our politics.  Indeed, wealth can be and may be used for good purposes that extend the kingdom of God, and when it does, we find signs of HEAVEN in the here and now.  But clearly in these times, more signs are needed to empower us to receive the blessings of eternity.  When few signs exist on earth, Heaven becomes disconnected, divorced from the real world in our daily consciousness; we become lax in our attentiveness to the Communion of Saints; Intercessory Prayer feels like a waste of our time—and that’s never a good thing.  We must remind ourselves that Jesus’ insisted that “the Kingdom of God is at Hand” on earth because it is intimately connected to the Kingdom of Heaven. 

The last Scripture passage that I will address, (there are many more, but, well, I leave you to look them up) is the segment when Jesus focuses on the limitations of our pride in material and political accomplishments over spiritual ones:

Luke 21: 5 [b]While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, he said, “All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”

 

I.e. all human accomplishments are transitory. What remains for us are remnants of the past that must be studied and scrutinized if our histories are to add to Wisdom for the present and future. We must let our Faith determine what was truly GOOD, what was GOD-CENTERED and what was not.  We don’t often appropriate our histories in that way, but the Gospel insists that we do, addressing everything about our societies that create suffering, pain and disillusionment—and insisting on ways and means that accentuate improvements, redemption and HOPE instead.

If Jesus’ wisdom isn’t enough for us today (and alas, it often isn’t for so many), we can tell them they will find parallels in the Hebrew Prophets, in the writings of St. Paul and the Saints and those of many secular scholars, writers and poets from one century to the next.  

Reflecting on these scriptures, I recalled a poem most of us were assigned to study in high school: Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert… near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.[4]

 

We can spend a lot of time and emotional energy arguing about statues, but the truth is they are all going to fall and decay like the ruins of Rome, Ephesus and Pompeii.  That we’re made for eternity is the crux of the matter. We were made for God.  And that’s the only proper tribute to anyone—the degree he or she manifest their Love of God and Neighbor. Jesus was always aware of GOD, always attentive to the Spirit and asks nothing more of his disciples that you and I do the same.  GOD is everlasting who graciously offers to share eternity with the Saints. So, attend to Caesar, engage in political thought and debate, participate in community events, in commerce, economics and industry for such are the blessings of work and proper use of our God-given talents and creativities, but engage in these always with an eye on the Love of God and neighbor.  Stay in communion with Christ Jesus – for He Alone is more eternal than Spring itself.

Forgiveness & Accountability CAN go HAND-in-Hand

Some THEOLOGY FOR TODAY: Regarding how FORGIVENESS & ACCOUNTABILITY can go hand-in-hand:
It is always good that we WRESTLE with the dynamics of both, just as Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32) the night before he took the chance to return to his homeland and be greeted by his brother Esau (the one from whom he took the birthright and blessing of the firstborn). Already we see that Jacob had to take the consequences of his actions (flee his homeland, live under the authoritarian rule of Uncle Laban for over 14 years, etc.) There is a strong Biblical sense that God allows the consequences of our actions to play themselves out–assuring us that God is with us in these undertakings and strengthens us, helping us to mature and grow while still forgiving us. The magnanimity of Esau when he greets and hugs Jacob is quite astonishing but not at all unrelated to Esau being fully aware of Jacob’s years of exile. Similarly, Jesus forgave Peter for denying him, yet Jesus did not respond immediately to Peter’s tears but allowed Peter to experience the grief and self-scrutiny he needed before the Resurrection proclamation of PEACE BE WITH YOU. Of course, there is a time to completely “wipe the slate clean,” as the saying goes, but this requires prayerful discernment in relation to the offense and the harm to self and others, and the personalities and age of the persons involved. The Prodigal Son, for example, is forgiven and embraced, but the Father’s property is not going to be divided once again for the prodigal’s benefit. His brother’s portion remains intact and the prodigal will be indebted to the Father’s and ultimately his brother’s mercy until which time he is able to go out on his own with a sense of responsibility and dignity–if ever.
In the Sermon on the Plain, when Jesus says, “‘From the one who takes what is yours, do not demand it back,” I think Jesus is referring to our usual rage and insecurities that someone has taken advantage of us. He invites us to move from the bitter anger we feel and instead, find our dignity and worth with confidence in God’s love so that when we address the “robber,” there is a sense of God’s justice, not ours–i.e., some accountability but not as if our life and dignity depended upon it (in which case the punishments often do not fit the crime). Rather, “The Kingdom of God” invites us to always be about growing in wisdom, forbearance and Hope–for the offender just as much as for ourselves.
This issue is a large one with many levels and applications — including, for example, our prison systems that are far more punitive than redemptive. It doesn’t mean killers go free to kill again but it does mean that they are treated with dignity throughout their life in prison to the extent that their souls and spirits through “tough love,” if you will, are given opportunities toward remorse, empowering them to accept the consequences of their actions, take responsibility for them, and prepare for heaven– mental and emotional illnesses notwithstanding. Not everyone, not every Christian agrees with this but I believe we are compelled to wrestle with these concepts.