Not as the world gives

6th Sunday of Easter (C)

Speaking to his disciples on the night before he died, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.” Then he said, “Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” Which leads me to wonder, how does the world give peace?

A few examples come to mind. We contemplate putting down weapons, disarmament, or at least restricting the use of arms. Policy makers search for common ground; they come to the table looking for mutuality. Citizens of the world seek ways to better understand one another, to be more considerate, to share to planet’s resources, and to resolve issues that lead to intolerance and division. All noble steps towards a peaceable kingdom.

It’s complicated, though. The way in which the world gives peace is complicated by the fact that the Peace that Christ left with us, which motivates and inspires us, is opposed by so many.

Yesterday Fr. Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest, poet, and pacifist died. He was 94. Early on, Berrigan’s tireless work for peace took the form of protest and civil disobedience against the Vietnam war, most famously when, in 1968, he along with nine other activists seized and burned hundreds of military draft cards.

Considered by many at the time to be both a traitor and an anarchist, Berrigan tirelessly articulated, in word and deed, the unheeded message of nonviolence which he located in Scripture. His death came after nine decades of personal risk, multiple arrests, imprisonment, and ceaseless opposition to societal injustice, something he knew to be an offense against God.

Berrigan’s campaign for peace not only earned him the contempt of the US government, but it also antagonized many members of the Catholic Church hierarchy who rejected his tactics and attempted to squelch his influence on the young Catholics whom he taught in university.

As a poet, Berrigan frequently blended his pacifist and theological vision into striking commentaries on religious blindness. In the following poem published in 1964[1], Berrigan suggests that the Church’s attention, while sincere, is misdirected away from the essential work of Christ in the World.

We Are in Love, The Celibates Gravely Say

They hold up Christ for ascension
like twelve earnest athletes at a trampoline, but

If I go, I return, He says
skilled in gravity and the dynamics of flesh

Which decree His continuing declension
like dew or fiery napalm

Or the seeding of streams with trout eggs.
The twelve earnest orantes hold their hands

Safe as stone up to the absent One
which He presently strikes, forces and fills—

World, and world’s Body.

—Daniel Berrigan, SJ

Prophets like Daniel Berrigan and his brothers Phillip (1923 – 2002), and Jerry (1919 – 2015), walk amongst us, nudging us to awaken from our complacency. In the coming days, there will be accolades and honors and likely calls for beatification. Those of us who esteemed the work of the Berrigan brothers will read every word. But even as we hold them up and admire their vocation, we recognize that prophets are difficult to be around. Their means to peace make us uncomfortable. We dislike having the status quo challenged, and we don’t like messes.

Prophets disrupt our “peace,” which we have misunderstood to mean a lack of personal discomfort. Why can’t we just enjoy our Sunday afternoons and not be bothered? It’s just so tiresome to hear someone complain about injustice all the time.

Undoubtedly, we are responsible for some of the stain the church bears on behalf of its rejected prophets, but it is not a permanent mark.

Modern day prophets like Daniel Berrigan challenge us with every step to receive the Peace of Christ and give it to the world, not as the world gives it, but as Jesus did.

Today’s readings can be found here.

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[1] Daniel Berrigan, SJ, ed. John Dear. We are in Love, The Celibates Gravely Say, from And the Risen Bread: Selected Poems, 1957-1997. (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998) 58.

Why do some hear while others do not?

4th Sunday of Easter (C)

While preparing to write today’s reflection, I was struck for the seventh time this week (and the three-hundred-and sixty-fifth time in as many days) by the similarities between today’s church and the early church of the Acts of the Apostles. I am reminded of the theory of “God’s time”, which, for example, might say two-thousand and sixteen years is a nanosecond in God’s time.

Let’s try an experiment with today’s first reading from Acts 13. Enter the story with Paul and Barnabas as they go about their missionary activity. There they are, all fired up and filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking and urging and exciting the crowds with the story of Jesus. So compelling were they that the following week nearly everyone in the city came out to hear them preach. Naturally, not everyone was thrilled with Paul and Barnabas, their message about Jesus, or the throngs of people who came out to hear them, especially since they saw some of their neighbors in the crowd. They objected violently to the whole business and enlisted the help of their wealthy and powerful cohorts to force Paul and Barnabas out of the city. Undaunted, Paul and Barnabas seemed to shrug off the rejection and moved on to the next city to continue their mission.

Now, imagine that a Catholic man went to some small city near Rome and preached on a pivotal yet sparingly administered teaching of Jesus’. He excited and urged huge crowds of Catholics and people of goodwill into a deeper understanding of Jesus’ teaching. So popular and charismatic was this person that the city was filled with people from every corner of the world who hungered to hear his refreshing and restorative words. Almost immediately, some residents became alarmed and objected not only to what they were hearing but to the type of people who it attracted. These opponents contradicted the man, disrespected his wisdom and encouraged their friends from all over the world to do the same. Still, empowered by the Holy Spirit, the man spoke boldly and continued to guide his opponents to a deeper understanding, but their hostility continued to grow. Undaunted, Pope Francis returned his attention to applying Jesus’ mercy wherever he went.

Which leads to today’s very brief gospel from John 10:27-30. Why do some people hear and others do not? If Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me,” [John 10:14] that would mean that there are sheep who don’t know his voice and therefore do not follow him.

Returning to the story of our fledgling church from the Acts of the Apostles, it is clear that in every flock there are some who hear and some who do not.

Organized religion has to take the blame, on occasion, for drowning out the sound of Jesus’ voice. Even if someone desires to hear, human and religious constructs have the capacity to thwart even the most sincere seeker from reaching the level of consciousness that allows him or her to hear Jesus’ voice.

On the other hand, organized religion can take the credit for the deposit of faith from Scripture and Tradition, and the copious writings of the great Theologians which have created a vast bank of spiritual experience to help attune us to the sound of Jesus’ voice.

What religion and theology provide is an opening through which we can learn about God through the wisdom, experience and insights of others. But it is only an opening; our ability to hear is not limited by it. The many names for Jesus (the Word, Savior, Lamb of God, Morning Star, Bread of Life, Good Shepherd, True Vine, and so on) provide an example of the various ways we can hear. If only we will listen.

I recently read that to ‘hear” Jesus’ voice—not only the universal truths of which he speaks, but Jesus’ voice—one must discern Jesus’ being, his BE-ing, grasp the nature of Jesus’ connection to God, and be able to name him, Son of God, for example.

This “hearing” is what defines the Christian profession of faith. To affirm Jesus as the I AM is to acknowledge that Jesus, the man, is one with God, not just an exceptionally enlightened Prophet with a profoundly rich prayer life and awesome leadership skills.

But there are many, many followers who love Jesus and want to emulate him, but who struggle with Jesus’ identity as the I AM. For many Christians, this is a cake walk. For others, it is difficult, mind-boggling, and perhaps will require a lifetime of following the Good Shepherd to grasp.

Can we avoid the gate and just climb over the fence to enter the fold?  Nope. But, would Jesus, who self-identified as the gate, stand in the way of a would-be follower? Does the gate close to one who lacks absolute certitude but desires to know Jesus? Does Jesus only know the sheep with perfect hearing?

Some would say yes, that this is what Jesus meant when he said “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” [John 10:14]. But the gospels also tell us that Jesus preferred to hang out with the sinners, probably because they were the ones with the better hearing.

Jesus talked a lot about ears and what people should do with them, but only Mark’s gospel includes a story about Jesus restoring a person’s hearing. [Mark 7:31-37].  My sense is that there were many sheep following the Good Shepherd who hung on his every word but who would not have passed the above three-prong spiritual hearing test, at least until after Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus also said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” [John 10:16].

To put this verse in context, by “other sheep” Jesus was likely referring to the Gentiles, but, returning to our experiment at the start of this reflection we can see that the Gentiles were the ones to whom Paul and Barnabas redirected their missionary action, and that the one flock Pope Francis envisions will be identified by their emulation of Jesus’ mercy.

As for my defense of Pope Francis (who has perfect hearing, by the way), I don’t judge the sincerity of Christians who object to new understandings or expanded interpretations of church teachings and what it means to their practice of the faith, but when that objection seems to be the result of a failure to hear the voice of Jesus and it devolves into disrespect for our Pope, condemnation of others, and division within the church, I feel as if we have gone back to the days of Jesus, or even a few hundred years before since the Prophets also received the same fate.

Perhaps in the next nanosecond of God’s time, we will be able to hear.

Today’s readings can be found here. 

Jump in! The water is fine

3rd Sunday of Easter (C)

In the morning light, with a miraculous catch of fish hanging in a net off the right side of his boat, and after the beloved disciple spoke the words “It is the Lord,” Peter jumped into the sea.

Why did Peter jump into the sea? The text is concise. “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea.” [John 21:7b]

The story of the miraculous catch of fish is beloved by many. In Luke’s Gospel it occurs early in Jesus’ ministry [Luke 5:1–11], and in John’s Gospel, which is read on the Third Sunday of Easter (Year C) it takes place after Jesus’ resurrection [John 21:1-14]. Both readings are thick with symbolic imagery having to do with Peter’s response to Jesus’ call to follow him, but John’s version, located at the end of his gospel, allows readers to witness the post-resurrection dawning of Peter’s spiritual and ministerial maturity.

A close read of the gospel invites all followers of Jesus, leaders and disciples alike, to plumb the depths of their spiritual waters. The story has a strong message for the Christian church. It raises questions about how we “fish,” it tests our faith in the capacity of the net and ultimately beckons us to be caught up in it.

The action (because there is always action with Peter) begins with Peter’s decision—impulsive, of course—to go fishing, at night,[1] by himself. “I’m going fishing,” he says. Six other disciples decide to join him.

Wait, What? Read in the context of the timeline following the harrowing and glorious recent events of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and subsequent appearances to the disciples, one has to ask: What the heck were Peter and the others, including Thomas, of recent wound-probing fame [John 20:24-29], doing going fishing?[2]

As with all of Scripture, it is important to pay close attention to the way the story is told.

Peter and the others, fishing at night, failed to catch any fish. Morning followed. A man standing on the shoreline told the fishermen to cast their net a different way. They did what he said and were immediately overwhelmed with a super-abundant catch, far more than the seven of them could lift into their boat, and far more than they thought the net could hold. While they were all marveling over the bounty, one of the disciples, the beloved one, the spiritually astute one, recognized Jesus and said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” With that, Peter jumped into the sea.

Why did Peter jump into the sea? Maybe he jumped in so he could quickly wade to the shore to see Jesus, but the gospel doesn’t say that. Maybe he jumped in to hide his shame from Jesus because he didn’t recognize him, but the gospel it doesn’t say that either. All it says is that when Peter heard the beloved disciple’s words “It is the Lord,” the fisherman adjusted his garment and jumped into the sea. Into the water. With the fish.

If any of the disciples were going to jump in, it would be the impetuous, all-or-nothing Peter, whose passionate, sometimes faulty certitude  caused him to protest things he did not understand [John 13:4-8], whose braggadocio led him to make promises he could not keep [John 13:37], and whose misplaced zeal led him to cut off his enemy’s ear [John 18:10].

Peter’s spontaneous reaction to the beloved disciple’s recognition of Jesus in the miracle of the fish reminds me of how he responded to Jesus’ act of foot washing. “Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” [John 13:8-9]

Examples of Peter’s impulsiveness populate the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and John. Although we shake our heads, we should also understand that these represent Peter’s sincere intentions, his deep desire to get it right, and his efforts to understand his friend, Jesus, whom he loved. We are so much like Peter.

By jumping into the sea, the fisherman Peter joined the fish.

Moments before, when the disciples followed Jesus’ instruction and cast their net a different way, it became so heavy with fish they could not haul it into their boat. Later, when Jesus asked them to bring some of the catch to add to the breakfast he was preparing for them, Peter was able to drag the net filled with one hundred and fifty-three large fish to the shore. In the very act of bringing the fish to Jesus, Peter brought himself, who like the untorn net was strong enough for the task.

And then “Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” Just like the last time they were together at the Sea of Tiberius,[3] Jesus fed his disciples with a miracle of abundance.

Religious leaders, lay ministers, and all disciples can learn much about humility from Peter’s failed attempt to fish in the dark, to go it alone. From his act of jumping into the sea, we can examine our feelings about integration, detachment, control, equality, and of course, our baptism. Peter’s robust response to Jesus’ invitation to bring some “fish” to him is something we should all strive to emulate. Finally, I can’t think of a better analogy for the resilient, expansive, capacious fishing net than the merciful and welcoming church envisioned by Pope Francis in his recent document, “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”)

In the presence of such great abundance we can all cry out “It is the Lord!”

Be caught in the net; be part of this beautiful, tangled and complicated mess that we call faith. Bring what dwells in the depth of your heart up into the light of Christ—the miracle of God’s abundance—Go ahead and jump in!

Today’s readings can be found here. 

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NOTES:

[1] Other than establishing the ego-driven motivation of the disciples (also known as going it alone without Jesus, and therefore, darkness), how might readers of John’s gospel have understood the disciples going fishing at night? For one, it was cooler at night than during the day. Also, larger fish that normally swim in deep water in the daytime come closer to the shore at night, so the fishermen don’t need to take the boat out as far to catch them.

[2] In Jesus-speak, of course, fishing refers to the missionary action of the church; the fisherman’s net represents the scope and unity of God’s church. This unity is threatened when human leaders forget whose net they hold and attempt to go it alone. As accurate and tidy as these interpretations are, they are mere aperitifs to the rich fare proffered in this passage.

[3] The Sea of Tiberius was the site of miracle of the loaves and fishes when Jesus’ fed his disciples and the crowd of 5,000 with five loaves and two fish [John 6:1-14].

Download the full text of Amoris Laetitia.

A summary of Amoris Laetitia, thanks to Salt & Light Media can be found here.

Read Fr. James Martin’s “Top Ten Takeaways from “Amoris Laetitia”

Spiritual euphoria: not your regularly scheduled program

2nd Sunday of Easter (C)

Have you ever attended a religious retreat? I mean one that lasted a weekend or longer. If so, you may understand the meaning of spiritual euphoria. After a period of concentrated prayer and reflection, retreatants frequently speak of being filled up, or high, if you will. There is often a sense of clarity, a lifting, or shifting of burdens, or the discovery of a strength that increases endurance or encourages a fresh start.

Retreats interrupt our “regularly scheduled programming” in order to help us gain a sense of peace, experience joy, healing, and reconciliation. They sometimes force us to probe the depth of our faith and purpose (for which the guidance of a good Spiritual Director is invaluable), help us discern our callings, process new awakenings or closures, and explore our relationship with God, with creation, and with the world.

Then we go home.  Home, where life goes on, where “what’s for dinner?” and science projects that are due the next day and laundry await us; where Monday brings meetings and deadlines and demanding co-workers; where illness or grief or loneliness dwell; where the anguish of the world sits on our doorstep. Because, while we were away undergoing the delicate process of spiritual transformation, everything outside remained the same. And so, our euphoria wanes.

Strange as it seems, our struggles and wounds help us comprehend our joy. I don’t think anyone enjoys revisiting or probing past or present pain, but isn’t this what we do when we celebrate the triumph of Jesus’ life and his resurrection? Wounds remind us of what we have sustained and more importantly, what we have overcome; they stave off the fear and doubt and exhaustion that threatens to return us to the place we were before we received the peace and joy of the cure. This is not a morbid thought, it does not imply wearing chains or a hair shirt, nor should it be depressing. Remembering our crosses is what motivates us to keep going.

Recall that the resurrected Jesus still bore the wounds of his crucifixion. They did not disappear, they remained. Thomas needed to probe them. [John 20:24-29]. So do we. The world’s suffering, poverty, injustice, violence, sickness, rejection, loneliness—Jesus’ wounds surround us; they remind us of our calling.

It is so easy to despair the state of the world, isn’t it? The human capacity for cruelty, greed and selfishness seems to increase every day, and our love for our neighbor is sorely tested. Keeping the faith is hard. Happy Easter! we say. He is Risen! we proclaim. Really?

The resurrected Jesus appeared and stood before his disciples who were hiding in fear for their lives and said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” [John 20:21-22]. Those words are for us too. We are called, and we are sent. Jesus breathed on the disciples saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.” We too have inhaled the breath of the Lord and our blood courses with the power of the Holy Spirit.

The truth is that Jesus, who sits at the right hand of the Father, is more powerful today, at work in us, with us and through us, than he was when he walked the earth. Really.

The signs and wonders done through Peter and the apostles led great numbers of men and women from all over to believe in the gospel. These new followers, with the faith that simply being present was enough, carried their physically sick friends and family and those afflicted with unclean spirits to Solomon’s portico, where the mysterious and wonderful apostles gathered. And the scripture tells us all were cured. [Acts 5:12-16].

Don’t we just love to think of the early church as a time of rejoicing, praying, breaking bread, and sharing Christian love? It was all that. But it was also one of the most dangerous times to be a Christian. In fact, as the Acts of the Apostles and Letters of Paul reveal, being a Christian in the early church all but guaranteed a life of persecution and death. To our horror, for some Christians living in the year 2016, this is still true.

It’s been a week since our rejoicing at Easter began and already there are signs that our fervor is waning. Perhaps waning is an imprecise way to describe the return to our regularly scheduled program—business as usual—but the words of John in today’s second reading remind us, Easter people, that there is no turning back. Because we who give testimony to Jesus share in his distress, Kingdom and endurance. [Rev 1:9]. Everything, including us, is transformed. Unlike our retreat euphoria which gradually wanes, the transformation that Easter brings about is everlasting. We are forever changed.

Happy Easter! He is Risen!

Today’s readings can be found here.

It is Only in our Emptiness that we find our Fullness

The Triduum

A guest post by Fr. Joel Fortier

“Have in you the attitude of Christ. Christ Jesus, though in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness…humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this God greatly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every other name…” [Phil 2:5-9]

“Now, full authority both in heaven and on earth has been given to me, go and share my life and power with all people.” [Matt 28:18 ff]

We are called as a new creation to share in that same authority, power, and life: to discover the power of the cross, to find in our emptiness our fullness, just as Christ did. It is the power of love. It is in only our poverty that we find our true wealth. “It is in possessing nothing that I possess all things.” —St. Francis of Assisi

We want to know from our lovers; in the hearts of those we love, “Do you have a place for me in your heart?” Why is that important to you and me? Because that is what love means…having a place for each other in our hearts, to carry each other in our hearts, to have a heart for people.

When I truly love and care for someone I make a place for them in my heart. They abide there, whether they are physically present to me or not, and I can always go to that place in my heart and find them…be with them and present to them across space and time.

It is a wonderful thing to have a heart for others. It gives me a joyful grateful heart…full of love, full of people and all creation. It gives me a heart of mercy, understanding and compassion, a heart vulnerable and willing enough to be pierced and emptied even as Christ’s heart was. So that even in and through our emptiness we find the heart and fullness of God. “Have in you the attitude of Christ.” [Phil 2:5]

Because…the great secret is that God’s heart has been placed in us, we have been given the fullness of the Spirit. [Jn 1:16] It is hidden in our own hearts, and we can only discover and release it through our own emptiness. Love only exists if you give it away. The only way we can have what each of us wants, is if we give it to each other. It is then that we discover and meet God who dwells in us and in our hearts, and who wants us to be the heart, hands, eyes and ears of God in our world, full of compassion, mercy, and love for us and for all.

I think that is what it means to have the heart of God, a heart for people, a place where people can dwell in love, where harmony and peace lead to true joy and authentic happiness. As the hymn says, “Where charity and love prevail there God is ever found.” Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them, because God is love. [1 Jn 4:16] What a wonderful thing it is to live in love, to live in God!

Yet we can only do that if our hearts are empty. We have a place in God’s heart, so the question becomes, do we have a place in our heart for God? Or are our hearts are full of other things and people in self-serving ways of self-gratification. Does greed, lust, fear, envy, fill our hearts and minds, or does the love and light of Christ impel us in selfless service and love, for the good of others not just our own.

God can only fill our heart as we empty our hearts. When we empty ourselves we find ourselves, Jesus tells us. [Matt 10:39  and 16:25]. In our emptiness we find our fullness, and in our hearts we discover God; the heart of God which is vast and infinite and has a place for me and you…room for everyone, a heart for people, a heart full of people and all creation! “In my Father’s house there are many mansions…I am going to prepare a place for you, so that where I Am you also may be!” [Jn 14:1-3]

God has given us a new heart and a new Spirit. “I will give you a new heart and a new Spirit…I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you…” [Ezekiel 36:25-27]

Six days before the Passover and the Last Supper, Jesus was with his friends Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. Mary took and emptied a jar of costly perfumed oil, washed and anointed Jesus’ feet, and dried them with her hair. Such a profoundly tender and intimate gesture must have touched Jesus very deeply. It was a symbol of Mary emptying her soul out in love for Jesus. Jesus was so touched that he used the same gesture of washing the feet of his disciples as the symbol of the emptying out of his own life in love of us, and as the symbol of service and love he was calling his disciples to live if they were to follow and learn from him. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” [Mk 10:45 and  Jn 13:1-17]

It is only in our emptiness that we find our fullness. Through death comes life! It is the Passion of the Lord; let us enter into it with all our hearts…to discover the joy of Easter!

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Born in 1942 to French Canadian parents, Fr. Joel Fortier, along with his three siblings grew up in an environment steeped in Catholic spirituality and practice. He entered the University of Illinois before seminary to study Psychology, Education, and Philosophy. In 1969, Joel was ordained with a Master of Divinity from St. Meinrad Seminary for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois with extensive work and training in inner city parishes, and peace and justice movements. Joel received his Doctor of Ministry from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He has worked with Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, and Charismatic movements integrating with parish pastoral ministry. He is the Founding Director of the Center for Family Ministry for the Diocese of Joliet. Fr. Joel was the Pastor and founder of The Lisieux Pastoral Center of St. Theresa Parish in Kankakee, IL,the Pastor of St. Isidore Parish, Bloomingdale IL, and most recently the Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. Now retired from full-time parish ministry since 2013, Fr. Joel continues to live out his core statement: “To help make love happen, anywhere and any way possible.”

The _______ who _______.

5th Sunday of Lent (C)

A frightened and humiliated woman slumps to the ground, surrounded by her accusers. She shields her face and her body from their stares, covering herself with what little clothing she managed to gather before they dragged her through the streets to the Temple. She braces herself for the sting of the first, second, and then countless stones hurled at her. She expects to die: she is the woman caught in adultery.

But this story, which is the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is not about her; she is merely the pawn of her accusers, who care as much about her as they do the meaning of the Law which they profess to uphold. The story is not about her crime, although we are confronted with it; it’s not about forgiveness, although it appears to be given; and it’s not a lesson about judging others, although it can be inferred to be. The story of the woman caught in adultery is about the nature of God.

Jesus knew what the Scribes and Pharisees were up to. Yes, they hauled a woman whom they claimed was caught “in the very act” of adultery into the Temple, and thrust her before him as he sat teaching, and demanded that he acknowledge the punishment prescribed by the Law—death by stoning.  The irony of their challenge to Jesus was not lost on him. If they were so inclined to adhere to the letter of the law regarding adulterers, they would not have left the man behind. The law insists both parties be stoned to death [Leviticus 20:10]. That is not to say Jesus’ response would have been any different; his refusal to look at them, his silence and doodling in the sand would have sent the same message. Jesus declined to participate in their charade.

I think a more accurate name for this story might be, “the infidelity of the Scribes and Pharisees,” because it was they who were unfaithful through their continued attempts to trap Jesus, to sideline his teaching, to find reason to kill him; they were unfaithful to God and the meaning of God’s word, which they claimed to know so well. It is they who had been caught “in the very act” and their departure from the scene, one by one, confirmed their guilt.

But even they were not condemned by Jesus. They condemned themselves.

This Gospel is about Mercy, and Jesus shows it both to the accused and her accusers. He chooses not to stare at the Scribes and Pharisees, as they stared at the accused woman. He did not watch them as “they went away one by one, beginning with the elders.” [JN 8:9]. To the woman whose life was spared, whose name was “adulteress,” Jesus restored her humanity. No reprimand, no lecture, just the freedom to begin anew. Jesus said to her, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” [JN 8:11]

Over and over and over again, Scripture and our Christian faith encourage us to begin again. We may be lost, confused, living with the consequences of poor choices, but we are never trapped in that identity, “the one who…” We are more than sinners, more than the labels that describe our failings, and as much as it is our human nature to tag and box and prevent one another from moving forward, our faith tells us to keep going. This is what St. Paul, possibly the greatest convert in history, tells the Philippians, “forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.” [PHIL 8:13-14]

Sin separates us from God. It’s a simple equation: remain close to God, avoid sin. Not so simple in practice, however. Like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day who felt it was their right and duty to end a woman’s life for her sin, it has been the church itself, in the course of her history, whose lack of mercy served to box and label countless women and men. And when I say “the church” I am referring to you and me, not just our leaders. Look no further than today’s headlines showing “Christians” speaking and acting in ways that outstrip the infidelity of the Scribes and Pharisees. Our lack of mercy is so far from the truth of Jesus’ teaching—the truth of God’s nature. We who so readily slip into the robes of the Scribes and Pharisees and accuse others of the crimes we ourselves are guilty of miss the point entirely. Mercy is for everyone, including ourselves. Jesus asked the woman, “Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, sir.” [JN 8:11].

The depth of God’s mercy is expressed most eloquently by the Prophet Isaiah when he says, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”[IS 43:18-19a]. How refreshing these words are. Our Creator is not a God of the past, but of the present. The same God, who led the Israelites to freedom, is the one who continues to restore, liberate, and make a way for us today.  Do you perceive it?

Today’s readings can be found here.

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In this Jubilee year of Mercy, and at all times we are reminded to mirror God’s mercy in all that we do. How do you think we are doing? The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website includes a full menu of information, options and suggestions, prayers and studies, and ways for us to put our beliefs into action. Please visit http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/how-we-teach/new-evangelization/jubilee-of-mercy/index.cfm.

A river runs through it!

A Guest Post by Fr. Joel Fortier

A  river runs through my life, like a thread, connecting everything, weaving a beautiful tapestry of life in an unending flow. That river, that thread, is the Spirit. The Spirit of God not only abides in us, it flows through us. The Spirit is a river of energy, an underground current of love, a force field which flows through all creation like a water-table beneath all of life, an elan vital! [Ps 1:3Jer 17:8Ezk 31:5 and Ezk 47:12Is 44:4]. We are not only “in Christ”, Christ is “in us.” We share and live in the Spirit of Jesus; we share Christ’s life in love. [Gal 2:20 and Col 1:27].

What we can do and help each other do, is to tap the Spirit, the river of divine love and grace which flows through us and everything, by our encounters with each other in love, especially through our compassionate prayer, love, patience, and mercy. Then the Holy Spirit will well up within us as a fountain of living water. [Jn 4:14 and Jn 7:38]. As we tap the Spirit of God which is within us, we stay grounded and live in the flow of intentional Love. It is to stay grounded in the Presence which is within, surrounds, sustains, and connects us. We are like trees planted near running water when we live in conscious intentional love. It is what Jesus calls…invites…and “commands” us to do. [Jn 13:34-35].

It is The Way Jesus showed us in himself to eternal life. It is The Way into the divine energy and love which flows through all of us at all times. It yearns, groans, and desires to be released in us and in our world. It can bring life and healing into the parched earth of our broken lives and hardened hearts. It can keep us safe, centered, and grounded when we find ourselves in the midst of negative destructive energy. That is why Jesus tells and shows us how to love and forgive even our enemies.

The Power of Love

Love is stronger than hate, life is stronger than death, and grace is stronger than sin. It is the power and victory of the cross we are called to celebrate and proclaim. Mercy trumps all other forces of sin, destruction, and death. It creates cosmos and harmony in the midst of chaos and discord. Love is the only force that can change our world.

Love creates Peace when there is no peace. Presence breeds Presence. It quells life and people who are not Present, when people seem out of their minds. We need that Presence now more than ever in the midst of an insane and violent world. We need the Peace and Presence of Christ in our lives; in our hearts and in our minds. “Have in you the mind of Christ”. [Phil 2:5].

If we live in conscious intentional love we will have the peace, heart, and mind of Christ. It is a choice, a decision we can make even when we do not “feel” loving. The decision to love can be made even if we don’t feel like it. It is what Christ did. I’m sure it didn’t feel good hanging from the cross, but that is where Jesus poured out the last drop of his precious blood upon us…where we were loved, cleansed, healed, and brought into wholeness [1Peter 2:24]. That is why Jesus said, “Love one another AS I have loved you.” [Jn 15:12]. It is that experience into which we were Baptized. If we die with Christ we shall surely also live with Christ. [Rom 6:3-5, and Rom 8].

The Practice of the Presence of God

To be able to make such a choice, such a decision, we need the strength of practiced virtue. We need to proactively Practice the Presence of God in all times and circumstances, so that when it is hard to be Present in Love we will have some conditioning that enables us to do what we do not feel like doing. We can practice it in the simplest of ways and mundane circumstances of life, such as when we are stuck in traffic or a long line at the super market, in any frustrating situation, or when we are with people who are toxic and negative.

The Practice of the Presence of God is closely linked to the virtue of divine Patience. It has been said that Patience is the mother of all virtue. If we can learn to be in that place of knowing Presence when we are distracted, anxious, or in a hurry, we can grow in the divine virtue of Patience. We will grow in our ability to stay grounded in Love; centered and grounded in the Spirit of divine grace and love which is flowing in every circumstance and moment of life. To Be in the Presence is to be in the flow of the divine love, mercy, and compassion which flows from the Sacred Heart of Christ.

The Practice of the Presence of God will enable us to act rather than just react. It will help us to put an end to the cycle of hate, violence, and negative energy. It will enable us to be present with love rather than allowing ourselves to be infected by the toxic energy of non-love, sin, and negative energy, reacting with hate or violence. It will enable us to be nonviolent and Peaceful, to bear the Presence Christ in our world.

Jesus knew how to be Present and make appropriate responses to people and situations.  He could be and eat with sinners and tax collectors, as well as with rich people. He could speak and act in truth when he needed to, as in the temple cleansing, and the calling out of Pharisees, lawyers, and hypocrites. And he could be silent, mute as a lamb before the shearer, with Pilot [Isaiah 53:7], and in the non-verbal love shown from the cross. Jesus taught us how to practice the Presence of God in all circumstances and in the ultimate way of love; how to grow in age, wisdom, and grace, to do God’s will and come to the fullness of glory. Jesus teaches us how to be and bear the Presence Christ in the world today.

The Practice of the Presence of God opens us to and is an entry point for us into the Kingdom of God. It is about the “Omnipresence” of God, bidden or unbidden, God is always present to us, with us, and in us. The Kingdom is here…now…in us and in our midst. [Lk 17:20-21].

Let us take time now to be mindful, in this moment, take some deep breaths, and be present to the God who is always Present to us.

God is indeed the ground of our being, always flowing through us and in our lives. We need to say yes to the action of God’s grace and presence in our lives as Mary did; to stay centered and grounded in Love, in the divine Presence. It is what saves and connects us!

A River runs through it!

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Born in 1942 to French Canadian parents, Fr. Joel Fortier, along with his three siblings grew up in an environment steeped in Catholic spirituality and practice. He entered the University of Illinois before seminary to study Psychology, Education, and Philosophy. In 1969, Joel was ordained with a Master of Divinity from St. Meinrad Seminary for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois with extensive work and training in inner city parishes, and peace and justice movements. Joel received his Doctor of Ministry from St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He has worked with Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, and Charismatic movements integrating with parish pastoral ministry. He is the Founding Director of the Center for Family Ministry for the Diocese of Joliet. Fr. Joel was the Pastor and founder of The Lisieux Pastoral Center of St. Theresa Parish in Kankakee, IL,the Pastor of St. Isidore Parish, Bloomingdale IL, and most recently the Pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. Now retired from full-time parish ministry since 2013, Fr. Joel continues to live out his core statement: “To help make love happen, anywhere and any way possible.”