Call to Family, Community and Participation

We believe the person is not only sacred but also social. Already in Genesis we learn that God did not create us to be alone (Genesis 2:18.) We obviously see this principle at work in the gospels: Jesus often preached about the common good, calling the political leaders to social responsibility, and he himself spent little time before he called his disciples, whom he called “to be with him.” (Mark 3:14)

We believe that the organization of society—in economics, politics, and law and policy—directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community. Among many other implications, this is the foundation for the church’s right to intervene in the political realm—what we all know and call “lobbying.” We not only believe we have to “influence” consciences, but also influence laws and policies.

Do you remember when we warned you that some of these principles would sound conservative and others would sound progressive? One the one hand, this principle favors the progressive view of community and “common good”—in contrast with conservative “individualism”— but favors the more conservative sensitivity when stating that marriage and the family are the basic unit for the organization of society.

Accordingly, Catholic Social Teaching opposes collectivist approaches such as Communism, but at the same time it also rejects unrestricted free-market policies, which operate under the notion that free-reigned capitalism automatically produces a just society.

A more spiritual wording of this principle would be the belief that the human person can only attain his or her full potential in relationship with others. It also takes us to the saying we have often preached about, “Faith is personal, but not private.” In terms of our own sinfulness, the principle is also an invitation to move from a very individualistic, puritan sense of sin, to considering more our sinfulness in social terms: what effect our actions and beliefs (“in my words and in my thoughts”) have upon others.

We believe that individuals are called to participate in society, as a right and responsibility. We are called to seek together the common good and the well-being of all, but especially the poor and vulnerable. This “social responsibility” takes us to the next two principles: (3) Rights and Responsibilities and, (4) Option for the Poor and Vulnerable.

From Good to Great (i.e., Holy)

The gospel in the third week of Advent finds John the Baptist in prison sending his disciples to check on Jesus. They question him: Are you the one? Are you the Messiah we have been waiting for? Jesus did not answer saying yes, rather he just showed them what he was doing: “The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” Interesting way of responding to John, as he had preached—as we read last Sunday—that Jesus’ baptism was going to be one of mission. What we ‘do’ is who we ‘are.’ So, again, it is about mission, and individuals and communities will have to discern whether or not we are preaching good news to the poor and who are the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the dead in their context.

The gospel in the fourth week of Advent takes us to Matthew’s take on what we call the “infancy narratives.” Only Matthew and Luke have anything on Jesus’ infancy. Luke’s stories and imagery have become the more popular ones—shepherds, stars, etc.—but I find Matthew’s take as compelling, and perhaps more theologically compelling. If Mary provides the “human facilitator” in Luke, Joseph plays that role in Matthew. This gospel shows the incredible transformation Joseph goes through.

When Mary is found with child, Joseph had three options—clearly delineated in the gospel. The first option was to do what was expected of him, and he would have been totally justified by the Law: repudiate Mary, divorce her publicly, with public shame (and worse) for this young woman. Joseph had a second option, which he intended to follow. Joseph was righteous, but a good person, so he had already decided to divorce Mary quietly. This second option is better than the first, but certainly not yet enough for God’s plan to take place. But it is because he was a good person that God can intervene to transform Joseph’s goodness into holiness. From righteous, to “good,” to holy—and to be holy, to take the holy choice is Joseph’s call and actually ours, too.

Let me tell you that while I was thinking about this in preparation for the weekend I received Archbishop Listecki’s Christmas gift—which is always a book. I am not special, he sends a book to all the priests of the Archdiocese. If a priest of the Archdiocese publishes a book during the year, that will be the book he will gift to us. He sent a great one this time around. The book is about preaching, written by my preacher teacher at the Seminary, Fr. Joseph Juknialis. In the book, he identifies nine ingredients that should be present in any homily, and each element becomes a chapter. Chapter nine connects with what we were discussing above: The preacher assumes the congregation is made up of good people. I agree, but as we see in this gospel, good does not cut it. As Fr. Juknialis also says, the preacher’s job is to help good people (including self) into becoming (or at least trying to become) holy.

We all can look at the decisions we are presented with in our lives and identify the three options. The one that counts on society’s blessings, the one that keep us afloat but sinks someone else, the “righteous” choice. Then we can identify the “good” option: it is not a bad one, it does some good, it does not hurt anybody, it actually helps someone, but it may not really solve a problem. With prayer, and allowing God’s intervention, we may also identify the “holy” option. For instance, our relationship with the poor. The first option, ignore them or even chastise them and shame them. The second option, some nice gesture, perhaps a donation—you see? Not bad, it is a nice gesture, many of us do that during the year, especially these days. But obviously, the holy option is also there—and it would take much more effort. The same pattern could be applied to choices on raising children, dealing with a spouse, stewardship, etc.

God short-circuited Joseph’s decision-making process through a dream. God wants to do that for us, too. He will help us—through a prayer that listens, through events, through people—to go from good to great, from good to holy. He will come to us, as He did on the first Christmas as a Child.

blog-pic-christmas

 

Ending a year, Adventing a new one.

We are still playing catch-up with this blog. The following reflection covers the last three Sundays—two pertaining to the end of the past liturgical year and the last one marking the beginning of a new Advent.

Because it was the second to last Sunday of the year, the Lectionary offered a gospel about the end of times. Jesus predicts the fall of the Temple and announces future persecution against his disciples (a footnote: this text was written after the fall of the Temple and when the persecutions of Christians had already started, but I believe Jesus foresaw these two events to happen.) The Temple, with its grandiosity, was a symbol of stability for the Jewish world and its destruction is comparable to the 9/11 attack on all the symbols of the American way of life.

Jesus tells his disciples that times of struggle are opportunities to stick even firmer to his teachings, to the values he espoused and not the other way around. Times of struggle question our values, our faith, our generosity, our openness to the stranger, our trust in God and others. Jesus tells us that when we feel our world is coming to an end—we lose our job, or somebody quits on us, or we experience the death of a loved one, or we receive a serious medical diagnosis—is precisely when we have to stick harder to our values. Jesus calls them “opportunities to give testimony” to what we believe in “normal” circumstances.

On the last Sunday of the year we celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Calling Jesus “king” may sound strange to our modern, democratic, American ears—as well as being in contradiction with the teaching of the same Jesus on earthly power. While the establishment of the solemnity has a historical explanation—Pius XI established the solemnity in 1925, in response to growing secularity and social unrest in Europe—the gospel that we read this Sunday reminds us that Jesus is King, but his throne is the Cross. From the Cross, Jesus continues dispensing forgiveness and the promise of paradise.

Then we began a new Advent. I do not know about you, but I look at the month ahead with a lot of trepidation. I love Advent and I love the liturgical seasons. While we try to live our lives according to the rhythm of the seasons, Advent is the time of the year where the liturgical time is set in clear contrast with what ends up happening in our lives. While the Church tells us of a time of prayerful preparation, we find ourselves immersed in all kinds of—may we say—stressful situations: Christmas gatherings—with the temptation to over-eat and over-drink—gift shopping, decorations, Christmas concerts, writing Christmas cards, etc. As much as we may enjoy some or all of these activities, they are simply not very conducive for the kind of slowing down that Christmas preparation requires, and they can bring a lot of stress to our lives.

Maybe you are satisfied with your past Advents, but even if that is the case, I suppose we all can do better. If we just do what we have always done, our Christmas preparation will be the same. As we begin a new Advent, I propose to you that we are more intentional about “adventing.” Namely, that we spend some time during this first week of Advent to take a look at what we are going to do, or not do, instead of just letting ourselves “go-with-the-flow,” follow the drift of anticipated Christmas. As individuals or as families, we should pause and decide what our Advent strategy is going to be. Mine? I want to find a regular time for silent prayer every day, and I plan to cut down on the number of social activities in which I am going to engage—making sure I am totally present at those I decide to go.

Tears of Joy (11th Sunday in OT)

The blog has been dormant for a while. It seems to happen every year after Holy Week. I have been thinking about writing back each and every week since Easter, but I have not done it until now. My apologies, and I sincerely hope that we keep it moving regularly from now on.

We resume the gospel with our comments about a text that may be one of the most intense stories we will ever hear at Mass. This woman with a terrible reputation anoints Jesus, and Simon, the Pharisee, has a strong opinion about it. She is called traditionally the “Sinful Woman.” Why not the “Forgiven Woman”? or, even better, the “Anointing Woman”?

What caught my attention in reading this scene, one that we have all read so many times, is that the woman is crying from the beginning of the scene. She is later forgiven by Jesus, but she cries well before that. I wonder, what kind of tears is she shedding? I don’t think she is sad. Rather, she cries out of deeply felt joy. She has heard about Jesus, she has heard him preaching, teaching about forgiveness, and about every day being a new day…and she cries because she already knows she has been forgiven. She has been given the possibility of a new beginning. She is happy, filled with joy-unlike the artistic renditions of this scene which have her looking terribly sad.

In intentional contrast with the forgiven woman, we have the judging Pharisee whose name, of all possible names, is Simon. He thinks highly of himself, from on that high position he feels he has the moral authority to judge the woman and even Jesus. Jesus comes to tell him that when we judge, when we feel we are without reproach, then we do not experience God’s forgiveness, and without that experience, we cannot love. When Jesus asks Simon, do you see this woman? No, Simon did not see her.

The more we have been forgiven, the more we have experienced God’s love, and the more we can then love others. The woman understands and begins to experience the unconditional love of God, a love that now she can convey to others-a love that makes her a disciple. Did you see how she washed Jesus’ feet? Does this gesture sound familiar? Isn’t this what Jesus asked his disciples to do in John’s gospel rendering of the Last Supper?

But we already knew the woman was a disciple because (exegetical alert!) the text had told us, in a strange way for our modern ears, that “she stood behind him at his feet weeping.” The one who is behind–follows. The one who follows is a disciple. The woman anoints Jesus but also washes his feet, as we have seen. At the end of the gospel we read this Sunday, Luke marks a new stage by telling us that Jesus begins to journey with the Twelve, and the Women. Only about the women Luke says that they “had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities” and supported his ministry. Nothing about the men. And yes, you could think there was nothing to heal in the men. You would be wrong.

Blog Pic, the Forgiven Woman

 

God Will Open a Way in the Desert of My Sinfulness

The gospel for the fifth and last Sunday in Lent narrates the scene of the woman caught in adultery. The text indicates that the Pharisees were “testing” Jesus. It is a test because there is no easy way out: Jesus either sides with obeying Mosaic Law and the woman will be executed cruelly, or he will stop the execution, breaking the Law and getting himself arrested. It seems the Pharisees loved to corner Jesus in these kinds of dilemmas often—the one about the taxes to Caesar comes to mind. Interestingly, the prescribed punishment (death penalty) is worse than the accusation (adultery.) Also, we wonder where the adulterous man is, as it takes two to commit adultery. Once again, Jesus’ keen eye for human nature finds him a way to elude the dilemma.

Jesus knew about human nature. He knew that we all have sinned, we all have failed, we all have hurt people and we all have done things in the past that we now regret. Thus, the older the person was, the faster he dropped the stone and hurried out of the scene. Jesus did not deny there was a sin—he tells the woman “not to sin anymore.” He simply made people see that once we look honestly at our own lives we may realize we have no right to judge and punish others.

As we conclude our Lent, this gospel invites us to do just that: avoid judging, by examining our own sinfulness, by taking stock of our own lives and realizing that we have no right to judge others. The reading of this gospel reminded me of Pope Francis when he was asked about homosexuals in the Church. He simply replied, “Who am I to judge?” This answer would have shown anybody’s humility, but it is especially amazing when it is said by someone with the Holy Father’s power and influence over millions of individuals.

The sooner I realize my own sinfulness, the sooner I can begin to experience God’s Mercy in my life. The sooner I stop judging and condemning others, the sooner I can begin to experience the God described in the Old Testament reading, the Lord “who opens a way in the sea and a path in the mighty waters… who remembers not the events of the past, the things of long ago considers not…” The Lord who says, “I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers. I put water in the desert and rivers in the wasteland for my chosen people to drink, the people whom I formed for myself.”

The sooner I cease judgment of others, the sooner I let God open a way in the desert of my sinfulness.