Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Weaned Child

31st Sun. Ordinary Time Year A
Ps 131
Today’s responsorial psalm, Ps. 131, has always fascinated and challenged me. Since it is short I will quote it here in full:
O Lord, my heart is not proud,
nor are my eyes haughty;
I busy not myself with great things,
nor with things too sublime for me.
Nay rather, I have stilled and quieted
my soul like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord,
both now and forever.
First of all, I really cannot say with the unqualified assurance of the psalmist that my heart is not proud, nor are my eyes haughty, but I can say that I am moving toward this blessed state as I seek to repent of any and all attitudes of pride I find within me. The next lines, however, gave me even more pause and greater puzzlement. How can I possibly say declare that I do not busy myself with great and sublime things when I spend most of my day occupied with the greatest and most sublime Thing, God Himself, the Supreme Being? Perhaps the answer lies in contrasting the “busyness” of these lines with the stillness and quiet of the following verse. We can be busy with God in the same way that a scientist is with the universe. An astronomer can observe the stars and planets and galaxies with his instruments, measuring, calculating, exploring. All this is good. But he does well if at times he allows himself to be overwhelmed with the awesome immensity and beauty of what he studies. Otherwise, he risks losing an important perspective. In the same way, the theologian, both professional and amateur, can study God, making Him an object of observation, a thing to be understood and therefore controlled. But when we truly and honestly deal with God, we cannot help but be overcome by the shear infinitude of His being and the magnitude of His love. If we do not find this to be so, then I dare say we are not in the presence of the Almighty Creator, the Crucified and Risen Redeemer, the Celestial Lover, but rather we are manipulating some little tin god of our own making. When we are in a true relationship with God we must humble ourselves, yet we are not humiliated. Like a weaned child that no longer grasps for its mother’s breast we become completely still and lifted in the arms of Love. We find in God a deeply affirming peace that quiets all our restless seeking for self satisfaction. Here then is fulfilled the saying at the end of today’s Gospel: whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Law of Love

Mt 22, 34-40
Once again Jesus is confronted with His adversaries who attempt to catch Him in His speech. The scholars of the Law ask Him to give His opinion on what was for them a controversial subject: which was the greatest commandment? Jesus gives them an answer full of divine wisdom: love God with everything you have within you. Then He goes on: love your neighbor as yourself. Who is this neighbor? In another gospel text, Jesus answers this question with the parable of the Good Samaritan. I do not know what word Jesus used in Aramaic which has been translated “neighbor”, but in the Latin, the word is “proximum”, from which we get our English word “proximate”. In other words, my neighbor is the one who is proximate to me, next to me, in front of me. Oh, yes, it is easy to love the poor people in China or Libya, and we ought to do that, but to love the one who is here and whose needs demand my attention, is sometimes much more difficult. Being faithful to this law from the Old Testament prepares us for receiving the New Law of Love which Jesus will give us on the night He was betrayed and who will exemplify it by His death on the Cross the next day: love one another as I (Jesus) have loved you. Transcend yourself; love another to the point of sacrifice; lay down your life for the sake of the other.
While the two laws of love from the Old Testament are hard enough, the new law is absolutely impossible to keep without the light and strength of the Holy Spirit that only comes to us from our being incorporated into the Paschal Mystery. Sometimes God is good enough to show us this through personal experience. A few years ago, our eldest Sister fell during the night and I accompanied her to the emergency room. It was finally revealed that she had cracked her pelvis and needed to be admitted to the hospital for treatment. By the time we had finally settled her in her room, it was about 4 o’clock in the morning, and I was very glad to lie down on the couch prepared for me. But as soon as I got comfortable, Sister cried out, “Help me!”. I got up. What did she want? A drink of water. Then again, “Help me!” Fix her blanket. Each time I lay down she called. After about the fifth time my patience had run out. My body was screaming for sleep. Could she not do these little things for herself and leave me alone? I knew the answer, but I was angry and wanted to tell or at least show her how she was imposing on me. I knew it was wrong and I grabbed the bars of her bed to try to resist the temptation. As I looked down at her, I tried to remember how much she was suffering, and to my horror I realized I did not care. I had come to the end of my own human love in the face of my own human need. Turning to the Lord in a wordless cry for help, I was given the grace to love with His love and to be patient one more time…one more time. The power to love manifestly did not come from me but from the Crucified and Risen Christ.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Render unto Caesar

Mt 22,15-21
I have always admired the cleverness of the Lord, especially in his repartee with His enemies in today’s Gospel. The Herodians and Pharisees, two parties at the opposite ends of the political spectrum, have put aside their differences in order to unite in common hatred of the upstart rabbi from Nazareth who threatens the established order and their own various spheres of influence. After hypocritically complementing Him on His sincerity (and divine intelligence is not needed to see through that one!), they ask Him if it is right to pay taxes to Caesar. If He said “no”, then the Herodians, who were sympathetic to the Roman occupation, would report Him to the authorities. But if He said “yes”, then the Pharisees would denounce Him as a collaborator and erode His popularity with the crowds. And we know how well He sidestepped this trick, saying that they should “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. But I imagine that as Jesus looked after His departing, vanquished foes, His heart must have been grieved. How He longed to give them that Wisdom which leads to eternal life, and there they were just seeking to preserve their own narrow vision of reality as well as their selfish interests. But it is also easy for us to paddle about in the same shallow waters. Let us rather determine to follow Bl. John Paul’s exhortation to “go out into the deep” by setting aside petty projects of self-promotion and focusing our attention on the greatness of God’s love and the glorious joy that lies before us.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Feast of St. Francis

Feast of St. Francis
Gal 6, 14-18
Today, the feast of St. Francis is a very great Solemnity for the Poor Clares, for they count him as their spiritual Father and Founder. For nine days the Sisters have prayed a novena in his honor and now they celebrate his holy life for two days. Franciscans are very good at celebrating and they just cannot fit all their joy into just one day! The 2nd reading at Holy Mass for this feast is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where he says “God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ through which I am crucified to the world and the world to me”. In other words, for St. Paul as for St. Francis, contemplating the poor, crucified Christ destroyed in them all desire for wealth and prestige. In another place Paul states that all he wants is to know Christ and to know how to share in His sufferings, to be conformed to the pattern of His death. Toward the end of his life, St. Francis actually bore the wounds of Christ visibly on His hands, feet and side. But these marks were only the outward signs of a heart already pierced by the love of Jesus who had suffered and died for him. Some Poor Clare saints, like St. Veronica, also bore the visible “stigmata” of Christ. All Poor Clares, however, pray to be ever more imbued with a deep love of Jesus Crucified, that they may be united with Him in His death and come to share His resurrection. This new risen life is not for themselves alone, but bears fruit for the whole Church, indeed, for the whole world.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

No Anxiety

Sun. 27th Week Year A
Phil 4,6-9
St. Paul tells us that we should “have no anxiety about anything”! Wait a minute, St. Paul! You do not seem to have been so good about following your own advice. Were you not anxious about those wayward Corinthians? What about the “stupid” Galatians? Were you so calm when you “fought those beasts at Ephesus”? Did you not even admit that anxiety over the churches you had formed daily pressed upon you? But let us read further: “…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In the verse just preceding this one, Paul gives us the real reason we need not be anxious: “The Lord is near”. Yes, the Lord is near! No matter our trouble, no matter our problem, no matter how bad things seem to be, He can handle it and He will handle it if we ask Him. But He will do it in His own way (which is most often not our way!) and in His own time (which is often not as soon as we would like). If we can trust Him so much that we already thank Him before He actually answers our prayer for help, then truly our hearts and minds will be in a peace which surpasses all understanding. Until we are saints, (and maybe even afterwards! Cf. St. Paul above) we will always be subject to a certain agitation on the surface of our being, but it will not touch the very center of our selves where God Almighty secretly dwells in all His hidden splendor.