The Choice we Face

This morning after hearing what President Trump said to a cheering mob in Arizona I realized something, he may be a seriously flawed human being but he is no idiot.

No doubt, Trump’s words and actions point to an abject deficiency in critical thinking skills and an astonishing lack of tact. For that reason I and countless others have comforted ourselves with clever jokes exposing what we perceive to be pure idiocy and attacking his followers for being so gullible as to believe he actually cares about them.

But I no longer get the same satisfaction from sarcastic retorts to his daily stream of outlandish tweets and public statements. I’m not shaking my head in disbelief as often. The frequency by which I have plucked and hurled insults from the tree of low hanging epithets is waning. There is no comic relief. We are in trouble.

He bragged about his brain, and we laughed. Yeah, right, he has a really good brain. It’s not funny. Trump is incrementally dismantling established confidence in the various known thinking institutions through which (and despite which) the United States thrives. By targeting the media, for example, he is removing our right to make our own decisions. When Trump shouts “fake news” he is obstructing freedom of the press, de-legitimizing the role of the professional journalist, and convincing his base that they, too, are being victimized.

While we were laughing we just couldn’t allow ourselves to entertain the idea that his self-aggrandizement and predilection for “American First” was more than it appeared. It was too outrageous to imagine. He may be a jackass, but never this. Warnings during the election campaign were given the same respect as Chicken Little crying that the sky was falling.  We were too self-confident to believe his campaign speeches were more than bluster, he really didn’t want to be president, he would resign once he found out what a tough job it was, it was all for show, we thought. We never would have entertained the idea that as president he would both reject and fail to condemn Neo-Nazi’s and White Supremacists. He’s whipping up his base, softening them to the idea of White supremacism, applauding their patriotism and accusing his opponents of hating America.

I am sickened and horrified when I read comments from people I know, people who might not consider themselves members of Trump’s base suggesting that this whole Neo-Nazi resurgence is really no big deal since they existed as a fringe group for decades, and can we please stop talking about it now and share more pictures of baby animals, and even some brave souls asking what’s wrong with defending our nation’s White history.

Here’s what’s wrong. Aside from the fact that the United States’ white history was won on the backs of people of color, the softening towards a supremacist, nationalistic way of thinking is precisely the way the German people, defeated and disillusioned after World War I, fell into the arms of Hitler.

Trump is not Hitler, but his modus operandi is the same. He’s building a business and his supporters are his product. He’s rebranding the “American way” so there is uniformity and only one voice: his. The way of achieving uniformity is to inflame his followers so they do the work of pushing his opposition out, to silence and to terrorize. Trump is turning Americans against each other in ways that we never imagined could happen again.

And some of his ‘Christian’ base claim this is God’s will, that this presidency was pre-ordained by God. No. God’s will is that all of creation will reflect God’s glory by doing what Jesus Christ asked us to do. Need a refresher? click here.

To believe that this administration or its mission is Godly is a gross distortion of the teachings of Jesus Christ, a bastardization of the greatest commandment to love God and neighbor, and an outright rejection of God’s abundant love for all of God’s creation. If religious leaders aren’t willing to correct this false belief they need to reconsider their calling.

Are we better than this? I believe so.

No matter what side of the aisle you align yourself with sit up straight and pay attention: this is more than politics. Pay attention. Read world history. Read the work of seasoned journalists and quality, non-inflammatory publications and programs. Recognize the difference between news and entertainment. Look beyond your own back yard and get to know people who think, look, pray and come from places and families unlike yours. Seek ways to bring about a more just society that serves the least, first.

Recognize that the current administration is damaging the soul of our country and its citizens; it’s more than politics.

This is our choice. We can continue along the easy route to oblivion joking and flinging insults at one another, cultivating the ideal environment for hate groups to thrive, and giving Trump carte blanche to further divide us and destroy our Union, or can we do the hard work to come together as a people, rejecting hateful ideologies and standing up for what is right.

Read up:

https://www.ushmm.org/outreach/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007671

https://www.facinghistory.org/holocaust-and-human-behavior/table-contents

https://www.ushmm.org/learn/timeline-of-events/before-1933

 

Listen, He’s talking to you

5th Sunday of Lent (A)

In a reflection on the Lazarus story, the late theologian, Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, wrote, “Resurrection (…) is not so much a theological problem as it is a religious experience. It is not an extravagant miracle happening out there; it means the transforming presence of Jesus within us.”[1]

Stuhlmueller does not spend much time discussing the veracity of the Lazarus story in this reflection; he does not go to lengths to affirm Jesus’ power to return life to his dead friend, as told in John’s gospel. He simply states “Jesus did raise Lazarus back to life.”[2] The Lazarus story is less about the facts and more about coming to believe in Jesus and our role in helping others come to believe. It is here that we experience resurrection.

For many, it is comforting to (more…)

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.

You have heard that it was said

6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

I’m tired of feeling angry. Aren’t you?

I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of good reasons to be angry and I’m not diminishing the constructive value of anger. Without a doubt, healthy expressions of anger hold a valid place in the human experience.

In fact, it is due to our outrage over injustices perpetuated by oppressive regimes against men, women and children, and greed-driven exploitation of the Earth that we work tirelessly to secure human rights and to conserve our planet’s resources for future generations.

As a Christian—like members of many faith traditions—I believe that humans carry the divine imprint: that we are each created in the image of God.

This belief is foundational to our faith: we bear the presence of God. I become so angry when I hear the words and witness the actions of professed Christians who seem to have a selective understanding of this belief. My anger and frustration has compelled me to add my Christian voice to the historical conversation surrounding basic human rights.

Constructively channeled anger is the driver behind our progression towards a more just society, but anger that does nothing but foment more anger is deadly and frankly, I’m pretty tired of it.

I’m talking about an unattended-bonfire-in-a-forest-of-dead-trees-on-a-windy-day kind of anger. I’m talking about anger that feeds off fear and seeks to destroy what it doesn’t understand. I’m talking about anger that is capable of causing figurative and literal death.

Anger is the core of Jesus’ saying against killing, which we hear on the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A). It is the first of six sayings about conduct, also known as the antitheses, included in Matthew’s gospel account of the Sermon on the Mount.

Each saying begins with Jesus introducing a known and accepted teaching of the law, “You have heard it said…” which he then follows with “But I say to you…” and an expanded command that requires greater attention.

 “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement.”  [MT  5:21-22a]

Yes, Jesus says, don’t physically kill each other. That’s pretty basic. But he adds that the kind of anger that leads to killing, that destroys relationships and causes deadly harm is to be avoided and reconciliation between peoples must always been sought.

Anger is growing, and it is wrapping its vines around every imaginable topic. While the vicious words exchanged online between people residing thousands of miles apart may not culminate in an actual murder, verbal expressions of hate wield the power to kill a person’s spirit and to shift the social dynamic away from the good.

We see this playing out in print and on television; we hear it coming from the mouths of our elected leaders. Virtual verbal combat also takes place where we live when we entertain private thoughts that diminish the dignity of another, even if we keep those thoughts to ourselves. We’re all guilty of it, sorry to say.

The other day— a particularly challenging media-saturated day—I watched a conversation between two strangers unfold into a hate-filled screed. Soon dozens upon dozens of people joined in the brawl. This kind of verbal pummeling between strangers is becoming commonplace all across the globe.

Many spirits were injured, if not slain, that day, including my own.

I took a step back and observed how anger was slowly sapping my spirit. A dark and brooding cynic with clouded vision was devouring my optimistic anything-is-possible, happy-go-lucky, creative self.

The constant reminder that the world is a mess is a self-fulfilling prophecy that like the sound of a dripping faucet can either drive us to madness or to a solution. Look, just because there is a 24/7/365 anger-inducing all-you-can-eat buffet of badness spread before us doesn’t mean we must partake in it. I think we forget sometimes that we have choices. I am choosing to push away from the hate buffet. (At least I’m trying to.)

In today’s first reading from Sirach (aka The Wisdom of Ben Sira, or Ecclesiasticus) the great sage touches upon the concept of free will—the power of choice.

“If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.” [SIR 15:15]

Ben Sira’s lesson concerns the daily choices people face and what guidance, if any, they use to make them. Isn’t it true that each day we have multiple opportunities to choose life-giving words and actions over the alternative?

The author of the much abbreviated Psalm[1] which we sing today represents sojourners like you and me who are immersed in the world, its challenges and its joys, and who strive to choose the good and who turn with hope to the Lord for guidance, strength, stamina, wisdom, and spiritual knowledge.

Our choices reflect how we view the world and all of its occupants. We mirror the divine image in the ways we treat loved ones as well as with strangers. What we put in our bodies, and what we feed our brains, what we purchase, and the ways we steward the Earth: these are not easy choices, but we put our hope in what is good and just.

Consider the death of a seed and all the secret happenings that occur beneath the soil before the first tender shoot works its way into the light. The constant shock and awe of anger and our increasingly ugly and disingenuous attempts to protect and conserve our illusions seems to want to trample any tendril of hope trying to break through. We must not allow this any longer.

While many of Jesus’ teachings were framed in eschatological (end times) language, his concern was with the way his followers interacted with one another here on earth, that they love one another as he loved them. Matthew is very clear that Jesus expected his teachings to be observed: do what the teacher says.

Hope is not a wish. It is an expression of confidence. I want to return to that hopeful side, and hold tight to the expectation that with God’s grace the goodness of humanity will prevail, and that we will continue to harness our fiery opposition to injustice and use it creatively to seek understanding, and quite literally save lives.

This is the only way for me, at least.

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Readings for the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, (A)

1st reading: SIR 15:15-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 119
2nd Reading: 1 COR 2:6-10
Gospel: MT 5:17-37

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[1] Psalm 119, with 176 verses, is the longest in the Book of Psalms. A poem of 22 stanzas, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, was sung or recited in worship with the goal of encouraging the faithful to walk blamelessly through life, to turn to the Lord for refuge, guidance and strength and to seek with praise and thanksgiving a greater understanding of God’s ways as found in the law, testimony, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgements, and promises.

God, Where Are You?

5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Oh God!

Hi Susan. How’s it going?

I’m mad at you. Actually, I’m furious. And I’m nearly done with you.

Susan, why is that?

Well, for starters, where the hell are you?

I’m here. I’m always here. You know that.

Not feeling it. Not feeling it at all. Sorry.

Well. I am here with you. Trust me. What else?

Seriously? Are you kidding me? Have you been on vacation?

No. I am aware of what you are doing to each other.

And? Why do you allow it? What made you think humans could be trusted? What are you, a masochist?  What kind of Creator allows its own creation to destroy itself?  I’m done with you.

Don’t blame me. I don’t allow these things.

Yes you do, you always have.

There you are wrong. I don’t allow any of it. You do. The atrocities which you commit against one another and your intent to exploit the earth for personal gain, these are human choices. You raised up these human leaders, you gave them power. No, I do not allow these things. You, you are the ones who allow them to be. You always have. 

Why? Why does this have to happen?

I know why.  So do you.

What I know is that there is more good than evil in the world, and that there are a lot of people who believe they are doing your will.

But are they? I’ve been pretty clear about my will.

I know. Can’t you just do something?

I did. I am.  Do your part. I’m here.

I’m trying. It shouldn’t be this way, though.

Susan, I’ve been saying that forever…

“What I’m interested in seeing you do is:

sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once.

Your righteousness will pave your way.

The God of glory will secure your passage.

Then when you pray, God will answer.

You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.

I will always show you where to go.

I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones.

You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry.

You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.

You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.”[1]

Isaiah 58:6-12 (from The Message)

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Readings for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, (A)

1st reading: Isaiah 58:7-10
Responsorial Psalm PS 112
2nd Reading 1 COR 2:1-5
Gospel: MT 5:13-16

Scripture note:  Compare the above translation of Isaiah 58:6-12 from The Message with Isaiah 58:7-10 from the New American Bible Revised Edition [NABRE] found on the USCCB website for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A). Both quite clearly state God’s will.

For those who are unfamiliar with The Message, it is a contemporary rendering of the books of the Bible, translated from the original languages and the New Vulgate by Eugene H. Peterson (with Deuterocanonical writings translated by William Griffin). Every chapter and verse was crafted to present its tone, rhythm, events, and the ideas of the original text in everyday language.

Why not intersperse readings from The Message with your own bible translation and enrich your prayer life, add layers to your comprehension of the Christian mission, and better actualize the meaning of Scripture into your interactions with others and with all of God’s creation? Try it, you might like it.

Click here for information on The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition

[1] Eugene H. Peterson. The Message: Catholic/Ecumenical Edition. (Chicago. Acta Publications 2013) 1243.

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