Fear has Big Eyes

4th Sunday of Lent (A)

Fear has big eyes. With just four words this Russian proverb depicts the wide-eyed countenance of intellectual, emotional and spiritual blindness. Fear garners our trust and our friendship and promises vigilance against threats; it conjures the outline of the thief, murderer, or secret agent lurking in every corner. Fear is a shallow breather, a loud talker; it fortifies walls, builds bunkers, spreads untruths like Round-up on a windy day. There’s a snake under every bed. Therefore, fear never rests. Fear suspects everyone of malevolent intentions. Fear, with its myopic goal of self-preservation, shuts out light, extinguishes hope. This kind of fear has no experience or knowledge of God.

When I created the Good Disciple blog, I designed it as a space to reflect upon the Sunday readings in the context of contemporary Christian discipleship. Now, if you take a trip in the way-back machine and read my reflections from 2015, you may notice (more…)

Give to The One Who Asks of You

7th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Yesterday, while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, I overheard the tsk tsk’ing of the couple ahead of me. It was wrong, I heard them say to each other, that ‘some people’ used their government benefits to buy expensive food. They turned to me, hoping for an affirmation to their audible grumbling about low-income people who “eat like kings”

Standing in front of them was a young mom with one toddler on her hip and another child by her side. She bought two half-gallons of organic whole milk, a container of organic yogurt, and a whole chicken, and she used food stamps to pay for them.

I mumbled something about her healthy food choices.

Two weeks ago we heard the words of the prophet Isaiah, who speaking for the Lord, made it clear that it is God’s will that we share what we have with one another. That we feed the hungry—not from our surplus or with our leftovers—but from the same table we share with our families.

“If you lavish your food on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; Then your light shall rise in the darkness, and your gloom shall become like midday;” [IS 58:10]

Lavish” and “satisfy.” To go beyond the letter of the law. And then your gloom will lift. Now that is really something.

Today, on the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A), we hear Jesus continue his teaching on doing more than the law prescribes.

“Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. [MT 5:41]

The suggestion that we go the extra mile, that we do more than what is expected,  was met with the same resistance in Jesus’ day it is today.

The kind of stinginess expressed by the couple in the grocery store shrinks and darkens our world. Indeed it is a lack of mercy which emerges from a sense of entitlement and a fear of scarcity.

Conversely, it is when we give of ourselves freely and without resentment that we experience the miracle of God’s abundance  over and over again; the light rises, we feel restored, not depleted.

Jesus told his disciples, “give to the one who asks of you.” [MT 5:42]

I recently came across the following vignette from Leontius’ Life of St. John the Almsgiver, the biography of the Saint who was a widower, a father, and later the patriarch of Alexandra (c. 560-619). It is striking for its contemporary resonance and is worthy of our prayerful contemplation.

“While there was a crowd of refugees in the city, one of the strangers, noticing John’s remarkable sympathy, determined to test the blessed man. So he put on old clothes and approached him as he was on his way to visit the sick in the hospitals (for he did this two or three times a week) and said to him, “Have mercy on me for I have been a prisoner of war.”

John said to his purse-bearer, “Give him six nomismata.”

After the man had received these he went off, changed his clothes, met John again in another street, and falling at his feet said, “Have pity on me for I am in want.” The Patriarch again said to his purse-bearer, “Give him six nomismata.”

As he went away the purse-bearer whispered in the Patriarch’s ear, “By your prayers, master, this same man has had alms from you twice over!” But the Patriarch pretended not to understand.

Soon the man came again for the third time to ask for money and the attendant, carrying the gold, nudged the Patriarch to let him know that it was the same man, whereupon the truly merciful and beloved of God said, “Give him twelve nomismata, for perchance it is my Christ and He is here to test me.”

The season of Lent is around the corner. Ash Wednesday is March 1. Traditionally, during Lent our attention is drawn to serving the poor. God’s abundance, however, is not seasonal and like the example set by St. John the Almsgiver, we are expected share it freely at all times.

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [MT 5:48]

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Readings for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time, (A)

1st Reading: LV 19:1-2, 17-18
Responsorial Psalm:
PS 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
2nd Reading: 1 COR 3:16-23
Gospel: 
MT 5:38-48

Comic courtesy of www.agnusday.org, the Lectionary comic strip, where each week Rick and Ted discuss one of the assigned readings from the Common Lectionary.

Click here to learn more about St. John the Almsgiver.

What have we become?

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Yesterday I read the following statement made by Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, against President Trump’s move to close our borders to immigrants, refugees, and all who seek a better life in the United States.

Statement of Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R., On Wednesday’s Executive Actions on Immigration

January 27, 2017

I understand the desire for every American to be assured of safe borders and freedom from terrorism.  The federal government should continue a prudent policy aimed at protecting citizens.

I also understand and heed the call of God, who through Moses told the people of Israel: “You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23:9).  Jesus asks His disciples to go further, calling on us to recognize Him in the stranger: “Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me” (Mt. 25:40).

Wednesday’s Executive Actions do not show the United States to be an open and welcoming nation.  They are the opposite of what it means to be an American.

Closing borders and building walls are not rational acts.  Mass detentions and wholesale deportation benefit no one; such inhuman policies destroy families and communities.

In fact, threatening the so-called “sanctuary cities” with the withdrawal of federal funding for vital services such as healthcare, education and transportation will not reduce immigration.  It only will harm all good people in those communities.

I am the grandson of immigrants and was raised in a multicultural neighborhood in southwest Detroit.  Throughout my life as a priest and bishop in the United States, I have lived and worked in communities that were enriched by people of many nationalities, languages and faiths.  Those communities were strong, hard-working, law-abiding, and filled with affection for this nation and its people.

Here in Newark, we are in the final steps of preparing to welcome 51 refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This is only the latest group of people whom Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese has helped to resettle during the past 40 years.  This current group of refugees has waited years for this moment and already has been cleared by the federal government.

They have complied with all of the stringent requirements of a vetting process that is coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security.  Catholic Charities, assisted by parishes and parishioners of the Archdiocese, will help them establish homes, jobs and new lives so that they can contribute positively to life in northern New Jersey.  When this group is settled, we hope to welcome others.

This nation has a long and rich history of welcoming those who have sought refuge because of oppression or fear of death.  The Acadians, French, Irish, Germans, Italians, Poles, Hungarians, Jews and Vietnamese are just a few of the many groups over the past 260 years whom we have welcomed and helped to find a better, safer life for themselves and their children in America.

Even when such groups were met by irrational fear, prejudice and persecution, the signature benevolence of the United States of American eventually triumphed.

That confident kindness is what has made, and will continue to make, America great.

http://www.rcan.org/statement-cardinal-joseph-w-tobin-cssr-wednesday%E2%80%99s-executive-actions-immigration

Then I read the astonishing comments from self-identified Catholics against the Cardinal, against Pope Francis, and against anyone else who objects to the Trump administration’s inhumane agenda, which frankly is directed against people of color.

These so-called Catholics will stand in their pews this weekend professing their faith in the One who dwells within the stranger. They will hear the words of the prophet Zephaniah: “seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the LORD’s anger”[Zeph 2:3]. They will sing the words of the psalmist, “The Lord keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets captives free.” [Psalm 146]. They will listen to admonishment of St. Paul against Christians who boast of their righteousness [1 Cor 1:26-31], and hear Jesus’ words honoring the defenseless among us and insisting that we do the same, regardless of the consequences [Matthew 5:1-12]. They will give each other the kiss of peace, and then they will place the Eucharist in their acid mouths and return to their homes to cheer an agenda that is the antithesis of everything Jesus represents.

Some serious soul searching is called for. What have we become?

I also have to work hard to resist rising feelings of animosity against my fellow Christians who wouldn’t recognize Jesus if he knocked on their door and yet dare to use, for example, an image of the Sacred Heart or Blessed Mother or Michael the Archangel or St. Therese the Little Flower as their profile picture and proceed to spew politically motivated venom on good shepherds who speak the truth. Professed Christians who feel justified spitting on Jesus’ face with their vitriol. Jesus wept. So do I. So should you.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

MT 5:1-12

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Readings for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

1st reading: ZEP 2:3; 3:12-13
Responsorial Psalm: PS 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10
2nd Reading: 1 COR 1:26-31 
Gospel: MT 5:1-12A

Connecting the Dots

26th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.”  [Luke 16:19-31

Jesus said to the Pharisees us.

“And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”

Two men lived in close proximity to one another but under very different circumstances, one was wealthy, the other was destitute. Eventually, they both died and went on to the afterlife. The storyline zooms in on a conversation between the former man of privilege, now tormented by the fires in the Netherworld, and Abraham, in whose excellent company the other man, Lazarus, now rested.

In life, privileged people step over the Lazarus’s every day, walk by them, and even know their names. Did the rich man, while lifting his purple robe so as to not brush against the beggar’s wounds as he stepped out of his house, ever think about Lazarus, or drop him a stale crust? Or did he simply look the other way, tsk tsk’ing about lazy people who do nothing all day and expect handouts from hardworking, tax-paying citizens?

The world exists, some might have us believe, for our pleasure. The rich man probably felt he earned the purple garments, fine linen, and sumptuous dining. He worked hard for them, dammit. The poor, wounded man lying outside his door was not his concern.  His sole concern was for himself.

But in death, the formerly privileged man found himself in poor man’s place, begging Abraham to make Lazarus help him. Still, even in death he saw himself as one to be served. Not a single word of remorse for his lack of charity was included with his pleas to Abraham to have Lazarus comfort him, not a moment of regret for his astonishing selfishness in life, not a thought for anyone else, except perhaps for his equally self-absorbed brothers. “If you can’t make Lazarus help me, at least send him to my family!”

Too late, Abraham tells him. It’s too damn late.

This parable, which is the gospel reading for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, is not a prescription for getting to heaven. What it is is a starkly accurate portrayal of modern day attitudes towards the vulnerable, and one that really needs to be taken to heart.

Some might say, “Oh this story is so obvious. It’s exaggerated: just a simple morality play.” Some may protest, “The problem of the poor is so much more complicated than that, we can’t just give to everybody who asks us.” Really?  Is opening our wallet and putting some cash into the hand of a person experiencing homelessness going to lead to the impoverishment of our families?

This parable ought to help us open our eyes and hearts to what we can do to alleviate the world’s suffering, even, and especially if it means making room in our homes, churches, and communities for refugees.

Meanwhile, a 6-year old boy named Alex from Scarsdale, NY sees on television the stunned, dust and blood covered face of a boy about his age, the victim of bombing in a far-off place, and delivers the purest, most uncontaminated contemporary translation of Jesus’ story about the rich man and Lazarus.

In a handwritten letter to the President of the United States, Alex asks “can you please go get him and bring him to our home?” These words flowed from the tender, unsullied heart of a child. “We will give him a family and he will be our brother.”

This is a parable for the ages, and we are living it right now. Alex and generations of children are watching, expecting us to do the right thing.

Go and do likewise, for as long as it takes

15th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

Look what fear hath wrought
It left a mortal wound
What will become of us?
We hone our blades on denier’s strops
Fingers pointing, jabbing
Bleeding out
Oh we are so smart
No one asks “who is my neighbor?”

Our faces glow unnaturally
One fingered strategists
Judge, jury and executioners are we
Spreading the contagion
We picked up online
Swapping spit with flat screen pundits
Fear infects and deafens and errs
If only we would listen

What is that sound?
A still small voice.

Do something.
The Samaritan says

Do something now to stop the bleeding.
The voice of God urges,
And you will live

You know what to do
It is not so mysterious and remote
It is something very near to you
Already in your mouths and your hearts.
The Deuteronomist says

You have only to carry it out.

Go to the opposite side
Wherever it may be
Make haste to the injured ones
Speak words that heal
Tend to their wounds
Tend to them
For as long as it takes.

Now you, Go and do likewise.

—Susan Francesconi

Forgiveness: My Love Overflows

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)

I’m an optimist; for me, the glass is nearly always full. But I have to say, look around. Do you see a lot of love happening in our world? I don’t mean love among our families and friends; I mean in our world, and by love I mean expressive, abundant, generous, nurturing and compassionate care between differing peoples and communities. Maybe a little?

How about forgiveness? You know, the kind that opens us and others to change, that makes it possible for good to knock out evil, that seeks peaceful resolutions, that reaches across differences in order to learn from disasters, and in the hardest cases when amends are not possible, the kind that wishes the ones who have harmed us no ill will. Well, do you?

More forgiveness = More Love

Consider the story of the sinful woman as told in Luke’s gospel [LK 7:36-8:3]. But first, allow me to disclose that just saying “the sinful woman” has presented an obstacle to my ability to write this reflection. We are each sinners with a past.

To identify a person with his or her past mistakes, no matter what they may be, is to strip them of the promise of human flourishing which we are each entitled to.

But you and I are guilty of this every single time we disparage or gossip about another person.

The ‘sinful’ woman in Luke’s gospel had no name; her entire being was reduced to the fact that she committed some act that was deemed sinful and irredeemable. For the remainder of her life she would be expected to carry that shameful burden like an unpayable debt.

That is, until she met Jesus.

Imagine the courage it took for her to enter the house of the Pharisee where Jesus was dining—a household where she knew she was judged as unclean.

But it was her faith in Jesus that moved her to place herself, silent but for her weeping, at Jesus’ feet where her sins dissolved into the salt of her tears. Her weeping, washing, wiping, kissing and anointing Jesus’ feet opened a floodgate of love and gratitude within her; the debt was forgiven. The woman’s life was restored. She was free. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” [LK 7:50]

Less Forgiveness = Less Love

But Simon the Pharisee, and, I suspect, the others reclining at the table, did not understand or appreciate the woman’s new lease on life. Where her heart was open and filled to overflowing, Simon’s remained closed and empty, even after Jesus tried to impart to him the meaning of forgiveness with the parable  of the two people whose debts were forgiven.

Simon seemed to be bound up in his belief that he was above sin. He locked himself in his self-made prison of righteousness, his mean little rule-based world. He and the others reclining at the table with Jesus simply could not comprehend that the woman’s abundant love was the sign of her forgiveness, of her be-Lovedness.

“The one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” [LK 7:47]

Listen, forgiveness does not mean consequences magically disappear, they don’t. But forgiveness provides the generosity that a person needs to make amends. And from this freedom our love overflows.

It just makes sense, doesn’t it?

Today’s readings can be found here.

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NOTE: Luke’s placement of this gospel between two important stories about rejecting or accepting God’s invitation, adds more layers to the lesson on Love and Forgiveness. The first story includes Jesus’ pointed commentary on the lack of faith and obtuseness of those in the crowd who refused the baptism of John and therefore “rejected the plan of God for themselves.” [LK 7:30]. Jesus’ words indicate that even John, whom he said was the Prophet of whom Scripture spoke, was not accepted as God’s prophet because he did not look the part. In this commentary, we know Jesus is also speaking about his own rejection by the Pharisees. In the second story, the Parable of the Sower, Jesus acknowledged that only some of his followers possessed the faith to accept and act on God’s plan, and these ones were the good soil out of which the sower’s seed would produce “fruit a hundredfold.” [LK 8:8]