Sunday, October 25, 2015

Don't You Get It

The apostles keep misunderstanding his meaning, message and mission.  St. Mark tells two stories about blindness. The first story depicts a blind man who sees fuzzily, squinting, he says that people look like tall trees walking around. Then Jesus places his hands on him and then the man sees clearly.
In recounting this first incident, Mark is insinuating a parallel with the apostles. They are also blind and their faith in Jesus, like this man’s, is coming very slowly, in stages. In the second story, however, where Bartimaeus sees instantly, Mark seems to be admitting that the apostles seem to be finally getting it.

And what are they getting? Listen to this: Discipleship with Jesus means an upside down world where the first are last and the last first, where one forgives one’s enemy seventy times seven, where the one who loses his life will save it, where the miserable, chest-striking publican in the back of the Temple is more worthy than the triumphant Pharisee in front, where proud fathers run to their wayward sons instead of the other way around, where one gives his coat when only asked for as shirt, where enemies are to be prayed for, good deeds are to be done in secret, and the one who wishes to rule over all must be the servant of all.

Talk about this radical teaching! Think about what you just heard. That’s a tough Christian mission that won’t get you very far in a world of greed and me-first. No wonder the apostles had trouble seeing Jesus and his message, and maybe, if they did see, they didn’t want to and pretended to be blind. Yes, seeing Jesus like Jesus brings a lot of difficulties.

The truth is, if we will admit it, that in some areas of our hearts, in some areas of the spirit, like the apostles in Mark, we have misunderstood Jesus and his message, that we have spiritual blind spots.

But Jesus is calling us: What do you want of me to do for you?” he asks. Right away we can think of a million things, but a more reflective response should be that of Bartimeuas: “Lord, I want to see.”

God walks by our say as we pray: “From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.” Psalm 72:14

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends to humbly see more clearly what you need us to change to walk in your spirit of wisdom and peace.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

My Gift to You


Selling what you own is a pretty radical thing to do. Just think what you own: a barn, a tractor, and a truck. And that’s just the beginning, isn’t it? There’s also the computer, the cell phone, the flat screen TV—and on and on.

Early in Christian history, people who sold everything they owned set up religious communities, so that they could live together and share what they needed. And so Jesus’ teaching to sell what you have and give to the poor is usually taken as a call to the religious life. Understood in that way, Jesus’ advice to the rich young man is one of the counsels of perfection. It explains what you have to do to be perfect in this life.

But here’s a puzzle worth noticing. If selling all he has and giving it to the poor is what the rich young man needs to do to inherit eternal life, what about everybody else? Does everybody have to sell what he has in order to attain heaven? If you don’t sell everything you have, are you going to hell?
The solution to the puzzle is to think about the description of the man asking Jesus the question: he is the rich young man. In other words, his gifts lie in his wealth. 

Now think about your unique gifts. There are gifts of learning, of music, of many other things. But a person’s gifts are meant to be given back in service to the Lord. You cannot bury your talent—your gifts—in the ground and hope to please the Lord. So here is what you need to do to inherit eternal life: You need to follow Jesus and use your gifts to the full when you do.

I have a Sonshine friend who serves as chair of a committee that awards scholarships to college students who exemplify the spirit of Jesus on campus. It was “Parents Weekend” on campus so the families were invited to Mass and attend the award ceremony. My friend took everyone to breakfast as his gift. He’s not rich but his gift is to share his faith and help these students grow in their faith and vocations.

Let us reflect as we pray: Many seek the favor of the generous, and everyone is a friend to a giver of gifts. (Proverbs 19: 6).
Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who daily give their time, their smiles, their friendships and generosity to those in need. Bless the work of their hands and let their good works go before them into heaven.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Apology to All Divorced Catholics

It’s been 43 years since that tragic moment and I am sure she was not the only divorced person to ever receive this rejection by her pastor. At this moment, I want to apologize to all divorced Catholics. It was and still is a hurtful thing to say to anyone in public. “Father” was only following the norms of the church and he never realized the pain and hurt he caused. Yet, it certainly is not the way of Our Lord’s teaching about compassion and mercy.

Pope Francis issued a powerful call for the church to embrace Catholics who have divorced and remarried, telling a gathering at the Vatican that such couples “are not excommunicated, and they absolutely must not be treated that way!”

“They always belong to the church,” he added, calling on pastors to welcome Catholics who have remarried without an annulment, even though such Catholics are currently barred in most cases from receiving the Eucharist.
“The church is called to be always the open house of the Father. … No closed doors! No closed doors!”

Since he was elected in 2013, Francis has said that the church must be more merciful and open, and he has encouraged debate on changing pastoral practices to allow, for example, divorced and remarried Catholics to take Communion. Current teaching says such Roman Catholics cannot receive communion unless they abstain from sexual relations because their first marriage is still valid in the eyes of the church.

In my current ministry to help a parish reboot itself after being closed due to the shortage of priests. The Polish National Catholic tradition welcomes all divorced Catholics to receive Holy Communion without fear of sin or rejection. However, both traditions strongly encourage Catholics to seek the annulment process to have your first marriage annulled and your new marriage blessed. Many people prefer to abstain from this process since it results in bringing up the trauma from the past and requires a judgment from a marriage tribunal that the marriage was null and void. For many, this only adds further pain and anger thinking that their former marriage can somehow be negated by the system.

Let me conclude with this story that speaks of mercy and compassion:
In Frederick Buechner's novel The Final Beast there is a scene in which a member of a congregation is begging the pastor to declare forgiveness to a deeply disturbed woman in their church—a man or woman who has been divorced and remarried and are living a good Christian life. The pastor replies that the woman already knows that he, the pastor, has forgiven her, to which this other member replies, "But she doesn't know God forgives her. That's the only power you have, pastor: to tell her that. Not just that God forgives her for her poor adultery. Tell her that God forgives her for the faces she cannot bear to look at now. Tell her that God forgives her for being lonely and bored, for not being full of joy every day in a household full of children. Tell her that her sin is forgiven whether she knows it or not, that what she wants more than anything else--what we all want--is true. Pastor, what on earth do you think you were ordained for?”