Love your enemy. We know this is what Jesus exhorts us to do, but this is such a difficult thing. Especially when we live in a society that seems to value revenge and vengeance. I remember back last November, President Obama made headlines, making a statement at a public school in Springfield, Ohio, tell Americans: "Voting is the best revenge!" I remember being shocked that the president of our country would tell people to go to the polls not to do the right, not with a desire to help others and to make our country a better place, but rather to go to the polls and to vote as a form of revenge against others. Where is the love in that notion?
As a priest, I hear so often that it is difficult to forgive and to reconcile a broken relationship. And I compare forgive or reconciling with our brother or sister to a slow progression of drops of water that gradually fill up a glass. Forgiveness is not usually like flicking on a light switch, something that turns on in an instant. Forgiveness and reconciliation are things that we have to pray for and work toward each day. It is a process that is usually not very easy.
But I must say, I humbly disagree with our president. Revenge is not the answer. And I don't think Jesus would agree with him either, certainly not in the light of today's Gospel.
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Monday, June 17, 2013
«¿Quién dice la gente que soy yo?» Es la pregunta que Jesucristo tiene para sus discípulos en el Evangelio de hoy, y es la pregunta que tiene para cada uno de nosotros en nuestra vida de fe. Los nombres que tenemos para las personas y las cosas en nuestra vida ayudan a definirnos también. Y los nombres que tenemos para estas cosa pueden establecer las fronteras y los limites que tenemos en nuestra vida. El Evangelio de hoy explica que la muchedumbre tenía una opinión muy buena de Cristo, porque le identificó con los lideres de su religión – Elías y Juan el Bautista. Y Jesús pregunta si ellos tienen otro nombre para el – y les pregunta en otra manera - «Quien dicen que soy yo?» Pedro le contesta con una profesión de fe - «Tu eres el Mesías de Dios.» Aunque Pedro entienda la identidad verdadera de Cristo con esta profesión de fe, él tiene mucho para aprender sobre los detalles de su identidad. El no entienda que Jesús no es un líder militar que llevará la gloria a Israel otra vez. El no entienda que Jesús es el sirviente que va a sufrir mucho por el redención del mundo.
Si, Pedro y los otros discípulos tenían mucho para aprender sobre Jesucristo y sus enseñanzas, y nosotros también tenemos un viaje de toda la vida con desafíos para crecer en nuestra y en nuestra relación con Cristo. Como niños, probablemente aprendimos imagines y nombres por Cristo – como la Luz del Mundo, El Hijo de Dios, y el Buen Pastor. Estos nombres y imagines son importantes, especialmente en nuestro conocimiento de Cristo y de nuestra fe. Algunos adultos ya tienen los mismos imagines y nombres para Cristo que tenían en su niñez – ellos se niegan a avanzar en nuestra fe. Pero, para crecer en nuestra fe, tenemos el desafío a ir mas allá con nuestros nombres y imágenes de Cristo, para crecer en nuestra relación con El, y para caminar con El cada día. Jesús nos dice en el Evangelio – necesitamos caminar con nuestra cruz diaria – necesitamos seguir como sus discípulos. Necesitamos perder nuestra vida por la causa de nuestra fe para conservarla.
Vivir como discípulos no es algo ocasional o a tiempo parcial. Es necesario para ir a la misa cada domingo – pero nuestra fe es mas de eso. Para perder nuestra vida por la causa de Cristo – es nuestra llamada como sus discípulos – es para todos nosotros, no solo para los mártires y los santos.
Los musulmanes tiene noventa y nueve nombres de Dios en su tradición religiosa. Ellos hacen una oración de estos 99 nombres en sus cuentas de oración muy parecida de nuestro rosario. En estos nombres, ellos identifican las características y los atributos de Dios. Asimismo, en la nuestra religión católica, tenemos nombres diferentes para Jesucristo. Esta semana, podemos reflexionarnos sobre los nombres y imagines que tenemos personalmente para Cristo en nuestra vida. Reflexionando sobre estos nombres y imagines pueden decir mucho sobre nuestra relación con Cristo, sobre la manera que Cristo está interrelacionándose en nuestra vida. Como podemos madurar y crecer en los imagines y los nombre que tenemos por Cristo – en la manera que nosotros nos hace amigos de Cristo en nuestra vida.
“From all their distress – God rescues the just.” We hear this in the psalm today, as the psalmist declares that he blesses the Lord at all times. We can give blessings to the Lord very easily for our joy and our comforts, but can we bless the Lord in the midst of our sorrow and our distress?
God rescues the just, but sometimes the rescue is not from earthly dangers. The saint we celebrate is Aloysius Gonzaga, who was born into an aristocratic Italian family, but who died at the age of 23 while studying in Rome as a member of the Jesuits from the plague that he contracted while nursing some sick patients when an epidemic broke out in Rome in the late 16th century. Aloysius was known for his great piety, and was honored by many since the time of his death. He is buried in the Church of St Ignatius of Loyola in Rome. I remember visited that church in Rome when I went there with the St Richard Youth Choir in 2010, and remember the many people who came to that church looking for St Aloysius’ grave site.
As we bless the Lord in our joys and our sorrows, we follow the journey of faith where he calls us here on earth. Sometimes it is quite a difficult journey, but we are called to lift it all up to the Lord.
In 1729, Pope Benedict 13th declared Aloysius to be the patron saint of young students. And in 1926, he was named patron of all Christian youth by Pope Pius11th. We pray this prayer for his intercessions for our youth today:
St Aloysius ,you were a faithful follower of Christ as you were studying to enter the Society of Jesus. You steadily worked toward perfection in your life of faith while you generously served victims of the plague in Rome. Help our youth today who are faced with a plague of false cults, false gods, and false values in our modern secular world. Show them how to focus their energies toward God and to use them in service toward others. Amen.
I am not having any weekday masses this week. I had hope to go on vacation to Michigan this week, hoping to leave Sunday evening on the Greyhound bus after all my masses had concluded, but I had a parishioner pass away early Sunday morning, and am having to remain here in Tupelo until Tuesday evening in order to have the wake service and funeral. To be honest, I am so looking forward to a few days away from my ministry. I am pretty tired and do not get a break for often. This is the first break away from my ministry since I took a couple of days off right after Christmas.
I recently came across this quote by Meister Eckhart – “If the only prayer I ever say is Thank You… that is enough.” Eckhart was a Dominican priest from Germany who lived in the late 13th and early 14th century. He is a philosopher, theologian, and mystic who is greatly admired in our modern era. Gratitude and thanks seem to be missing so much in our society. We so easily become frustrated, angry, and impatient. We want everything quickly and on our own terms. What can we give thanks for today, even in the midst of everything else we are going through?
In the Gospel today, Jesus challenges us against the culture of revenge and vengeance that exists in the world. We want retribution when someone does something wrong to us. We want to strike back at them and have the upper hand. Seeking forgiveness and reconciliation is what we are called to do in our faith. If St Paul can give thanks for the blessings he has and find joy even in the midst of being imprisoned for the faith, what things can we give thanks for in our own lives? Even though I would have like to have been on the shores of Lake Michigan this morning as I had planned to do, I give thanks for having the privilege to serve as a priest in the Diocese of Jackson and here at St James Catholic Church in Tupelo. I give great thanks for that.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
What is in a name? The names we have for things, the way we name things, reveal a lot about a language and a culture. When I worked up in Winnipeg, Canada as a missionary, working in soup kitchen and food bank for two years, many of the homeless and street people I served were members of the native American Ojibwe tribe. I had the opportunity to learn some of the Ojibwe language. Ojibwe has many words for the weather and the environment, since describing the weather and the land was important to survival on the harsh Canadian prairies. English has only one word for snow, but Ojibwe has words for different kinds of snow: soft snow, wet snow, and crusty snow. I distinctly remember one word I learned – gakapiganianquadinaguagin – that's one word – and it means “it's bone-cracking cold outside.” Having survived several frigid Canadian winters, I understand why that word exists in their language. It the middle of our hot and humid Mississippi summer, that word seems like it describes a different planet, doesn’t it? The Ojibwe words for animals were very descriptive as well: their word for chipmunk literally translates into “the animal that has spots between its stripes.” I learned a lot about the Ojibwe people and culture from the words and names their language had for different things.
Today, Jesus asks about the names that the crowds and the disciples have for him. The names we have for people and things not only give us the power to describe them, but names help us define people and things in our lives. The names others call us, the names that we call ourselves, give us our identity and can set up boundaries for who we are and for what we do. These names can either limit us or reinforce us. Today's Gospel tells us of the high opinion that the crowds have for Jesus, how they identify him with their greatest religious leaders, in seeing Jesus as John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the other prophets from ancient Israel who has come back to life. Jesus wonders if those are the only names they have for him, or if there is any other way they identify him, so he rephrases the question, asking them what each one of us must answer for ourselves: “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter answers the question in a profession of faith: You are the Christ of God – you are the Messiah! Even though Peter understood Jesus' true identity through this statement of faith, he still had a lot to learn about what his identity was all about. He would have to realize that the Messiah wouldn't be a powerful military and religious leader who'd lead Israel back to glory, but rather that he would be a servant to others who suffer greatly in order to the redeem the world.
Just as Peter and the other disciples still had to learn about Jesus, we also are on a life-long journey that challenges us to grow in our faith and in our relationship with Christ. As children, we probably learned images or names for Jesus, such as the Light of the world, the Son of God, and the Good Shepherd. These names and images are important, especially as we grow in our understanding of Jesus and of our faith. As we grow up and mature as human beings, some of us may cling to the images and names of Christ we had as children, refusing to go any further. Yet, to grow in our faith, we're challenged to move beyond the images and names we have for Christ, to grow in our relationship with him and to walk with him every day of our lives. As Jesus tells us in the Gospel, we must take up our cross daily and follow him, in effect losing our lives for the sake of Christ and for the sake of our faith.
Our life of discipleship, our relationship with Christ, is not occasional or part-time, it is not just attending the obligatory mass once a week and doing acts of Christian charity when they fit into our schedules. Losing our lives for his sake is our full-time calling as his disciples: it's for all of us, not just for a few specially selected martyrs or saints.
You know, the Muslim tradition has a list of 99 names of God, which they pray on a set of beads similar to our rosary beads, in which they identify the different attributes and characteristics their faith sees in God. Likewise, in Christianity, we also have so many different names that we assign to Jesus. This week, maybe we can all bring to our minds the names and images that we personally have for Christ in our lives – perhaps we can even write them down to think about them in a more tangible way. Think about what those names and images tell you about your relationship with Christ, about how you view Christ interacting in your life and with the world. What can we do to mature and grow in the images and names we have for Christ, in the way we relate to him and befriend him in our life of faith?