Sunday, January 29, 2012

Truth has its Time

4th Sun. Ordinary Time Year B
Mk. 1:21-28

Our Lord comes to the synagogue and amazes the congregation because He speaks with authority and not like a scribe.  We all know the difference between a preacher who proclaims his homily with the power that emanates from the Holy Spirit and one who simply recites words derived from a superficial or merely academic study of the sacred text.  The first has a mysterious moral authority that moves the hearts of his listeners while the second puts his hearers to sleep.  Evidently, no one was nodding when Jesus spoke that Sabbath in Capernaum!

But preaching with power has its dangers.  It not only arouses the latent good but also provokes the hidden evil.  A man with an unclean spirit cries out in protest, “Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are:  the Holy One of God!”  I have always found it intriguing that the devil should witness here to the sanctity and divine origin of Christ and that Jesus should refuse such testimony.  Was not each one acting against his own self interest?  Why should the demon tell the truth and why should Truth Incarnate command silence?  Because truth has its time and it was not the right time for this truth to be revealed.  The people were not ready to contemplate the Divinity of Jesus; they had to be prepared by His teaching and His acting.  So the devil spoke in order to take control and Jesus cut short that maneuver.

In the spiritual life it is the same way.  Jesus reveals Himself very gradually and adapts Himself to our mode of being in a way that we can receive Him.  Sometimes it is a frustratingly slow process, both in our own lives and in the lives of those we love.  We may want to accelerate the revelation, but this is a temptation and a deceit of the evil one.  Jesus knows how to wait for the right time.  His greatest revelation is His patience on the Cross.  Here He shows what love really means and who God really is.  This is His most captivating sermon.  May it capture our hearts so that we too may have the power which comes from love to draw all people to Him.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Holy Father Reflects on World Youth Day

Here is an excerpt from our Holy Father, Pope Benedict's address to the Roman Curia:

Not only faithful believers but also outside observers are noticing with concern that regular churchgoers are growing older all the time and that their number is constantly diminishing; that recruitment of priests is stagnating; that scepticism and unbelief are growing. What, then, are we to do? There are endless debates over what must be done in order to reverse the trend. There is no doubt that a variety of things need to be done. But action alone fails to resolve the matter. The essence of the crisis of the Church in Europe is the crisis of faith. If we find no answer to this, if faith does not take on new life, deep conviction and real strength from the encounter with Jesus Christ, then all other reforms will remain ineffective.
A further remedy against faith fatigue was the wonderful experience of World Youth Day in Madrid. This was new evangelization put into practice. Again and again at World Youth Days, a new, more youthful form of Christianity can be seen, something I would describe under five headings.
1. Firstly, there is a new experience of catholicity, of the Church’s universality. This is what struck the young people and all the participants quite directly: we come from every continent, but although we have never met one another, we know one another. We speak different languages, we have different ways of life and different cultural backgrounds, yet we are immediately united as one great family. Outward separation and difference is relativized. We are all moved by the one Lord Jesus Christ, in whom true humanity and at the same time the face of God himself is revealed to us. We pray in the same way. The same inner encounter with Jesus Christ has stamped us deep within with the same structure of intellect, will and heart. And finally, our common liturgy speaks to our hearts and unites us in a vast family. In this setting, to say that all humanity are brothers and sisters is not merely an idea: it becomes a real shared experience, generating joy. And so we have also understood quite concretely: despite all trials and times of darkness, it is a wonderful thing to belong to the worldwide Church, to the Catholic Church, that the Lord has given to us.
2. From this derives a new way of living our humanity, our Christianity. For me, one of the most important experiences of those days was the meeting with the World Youth Day volunteers: about 20,000 young people, all of whom devoted weeks or months of their lives to working on the technical, organizational and material preparations for World Youth Day, and thus made it possible for the whole event to run smoothly. Those who give their time always give a part of their lives. At the end of the day, these young people were visibly and tangibly filled with a great sense of happiness: the time that they gave up had meaning; in giving of their time and labour, they had found time, they had found life. And here something fundamental became clear to me: these young people had given a part of their lives in faith, not because it was asked of them, not in order to attain Heaven, nor in order to escape the danger of Hell. They did not do it in order to find fulfilment. They were not looking round for themselves. There came into my mind the image of Lot’s wife, who by looking round was turned into a pillar of salt. How often the life of Christians is determined by the fact that first and foremost they look out for themselves, they do good, so to speak, for themselves. And how great is the temptation of all people to be concerned primarily for themselves; to look round for themselves and in the process to become inwardly empty, to become “pillars of salt”. But here it was not a matter of seeking fulfilment or wanting to live one’s life for oneself. These young people did good, even at a cost, even if it demanded sacrifice, simply because it is a wonderful thing to do good, to be there for others. All it needs is the courage to make the leap. Prior to all of this is the encounter with Jesus Christ, inflaming us with love for God and for others, and freeing us from seeking our own ego. In the words of a prayer attributed to Saint Francis Xavier: I do good, not that I may come to Heaven thereby and not because otherwise you could cast me into Hell. I do it because of you, my King and my Lord. I came across this same attitude in Africa too, for example among the Sisters of Mother Teresa, who devote themselves to abandoned, sick, poor and suffering children, without asking anything for themselves, thus becoming inwardly rich and free. This is the genuinely Christian attitude. Equally unforgettable for me was the encounter with handicapped young people in the Saint Joseph Centre in Madrid, where I encountered the same readiness to put oneself at the disposal of others – a readiness to give oneself that is ultimately derived from encounter with Christ, who gave himself for us.
3. A third element, that has an increasingly natural and central place in World Youth Days and in the spirituality that arises from them, is adoration. I still look back to that unforgettable moment duringmy visit to the United Kingdom, when tens of thousands of predominantly young people in Hyde Park responded in eloquent silence to the Lord’s sacramental presence, in adoration. The same thing happened again on a smaller scale in Zagreb and then again in Madrid, after the thunderstorm which almost ruined the whole night vigil through the failure of the microphones. God is indeed ever-present. But again, the physical presence of the risen Christ is something different, something new. The risen Lord enters into our midst. And then we can do no other than say, with Saint Thomas: my Lord and my God! Adoration is primarily an act of faith – the act of faith as such. God is not just some possible or impossible hypothesis concerning the origin of all things. He is present. And if he is present, then I bow down before him. Then my intellect and will and heart open up towards him and from him. In the risen Christ, the incarnate God is present, who suffered for us because he loves us. We enter this certainty of God’s tangible love for us with love in our own hearts. This is adoration, and this then determines my life. Only thus can I celebrate the Eucharist correctly and receive the body of the Lord rightly.
4. A further important element of the World Youth Days is the sacrament of Confession, which is increasingly coming to be seen as an integral part of the experience. Here we recognize that we need forgiveness over and over again, and that forgiveness brings responsibility. Openness to love is present in man, implanted in him by the Creator, together with the capacity to respond to God in faith. But also present, in consequence of man’s sinful history (Church teaching speaks of original sin) is the tendency that is opposed to love – the tendency towards selfishness, towards becoming closed in on oneself, in fact towards evil. Again and again my soul is tarnished by this downward gravitational pull that is present within me. Therefore we need the humility that constantly asks God for forgiveness, that seeks purification and awakens in us the counterforce, the positive force of the Creator, to draw us upwards.
5. Finally, I would like to speak of one last feature, not to be overlooked, of the spirituality ofWorld Youth Days, namely joy. Where does it come from? How is it to be explained? Certainly, there are many factors at work here. But in my view, the crucial one is this certainty, based on faith: I am wanted; I have a task in history; I am accepted, I am loved. Josef Pieper, in his book on love, has shown that man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another. He needs the other’s presence, saying to him, with more than words: it is good that you exist. Only from the You can the I come into itself. Only if it is accepted, can it accept itself. Those who are unloved cannot even love themselves. This sense of being accepted comes in the first instance from other human beings. But all human acceptance is fragile. Ultimately we need a sense of being accepted unconditionally. Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being. If ever man’s sense of being accepted and loved by God is lost, then there is no longer any answer to the question whether to be a human being is good at all. Doubt concerning human existence becomes more and more insurmountable. Where doubt over God becomes prevalent, then doubt over humanity follows inevitably. We see today how widely this doubt is spreading. We see it in the joylessness, in the inner sadness, that can be read on so many human faces today. Only faith gives me the conviction: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being, even in hard times. Faith makes one happy from deep within. That is one of the wonderful experiences of World Youth Days.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Come follow Me

3rd Sunday Year B
Mk 1:14-20
Jesus walks by the sea of Galilee and calls to Simon and his brother Andrew as they cast their nets. Immediately they abandon the nets and follow Him. Next Jesus finds James and John peacefully putting their nets in order with their father. They hear the call, abandon nets and father and follow after the Master. Along how many shores of peoples’ lives does Jesus walk today, calling those who will listen to a greater intimacy with Himself! Not only does He summon us at that great moment when He reveals His plan for our future work in the kingdom, but at every moment He beckons us. Here at Bethlehem Monastery we adhere to the ancient monastic custom of ringing a bell when the time comes for prayer. When the bell rings, each Sister is expected to abandon whatever task she has at hand and immediately answer the call of the Lord to participate in the “Opus Dei” the “work of God” which is the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. Monastic life is often portrayed in very romantic terms, but those who live it know that it is extremely pragmatic. Our human nature remains the same after entering the cloister. We, as well as those on the outside, can get caught up in our work, making it the center of our lives, deriving self satisfaction from it rather than offering it as a gift of love to the Lord and service to our community. And so, it can be surprisingly difficult to abandon our tasks when the bell rings for prayer! But this is the value of the custom. If we are faithful to responding immediately to the bell, we gradually purify our hearts of self seeking. And we become more adept at hearing the voice of Jesus as He calls to us in the depths of our hearts. Those who are faithful in small things will be faithful in greater. As we strive to follow Jesus’ loving call, we pray for those others He is calling and who cannot yet respond. May they have the faith to hear and the urgency of love to abandon all for His sake!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Behold the Lamb of God

2nd Sun. Ordinary Time Year B
Jn 1:35-42
Happy New Year to everyone! I hope that you all had a most joyous Christmas celebration and are already experiencing the blessings of 2012. Although we are in the liturgical season of “Ordinary Time”, the Gospels for these weeks that follow the Christmas Season definitely follow the theme of “Epiphany” the manifestation of God’s glory among us in His incarnate Son. Today Jesus begins to gather His first disciples. John the Baptist points Him out, “Behold the Lamb of God!”. The purity of St. John always impresses me. Never does he claim glory for himself, but always he gives it to Christ. And what is the result? His disciples leave him to follow after the true Lamb of God. Soon John’s other disciples will complain that everyone is going over to Jesus. But John will answer that Jesus must increase and John himself must decrease. Those of us who have authority would do well to take John the Baptist for our model. All of our teaching and mentoring must lead others not to ourselves but to Jesus otherwise it is for naught. We must rejoice when our children grow up, our students graduate, our subordinates advance. It should be our joy that we are instruments of God’s grace for the people entrusted to our care. The Gospel says that John looked at Jesus walking by. Let us too keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is our reward for any good we do. As long as we have Him, we need nothing else.