Our Gospel this weekend is the long saga, told by John, of the cure of a blind man. It is important to notice the trajectory of what is happening.
First, it was presumed he was blind because of sin, either his or his parents. He would have been an outcast of society. Jesus reaches out and cures him without the man asking for a cure. His neighbors take him to the Pharisees, who again reject him because he defends Jesus. Then Jesus takes the initiative a second time and searches him out; in other words, Jesus accepted him. And notice how his faith grows: he first identifies Jesus to his neighbors as “a man.” To the Pharisees, he calls him “a prophet.” When Jesus searches him out, he affirms that he believes that Jesus is “the Son of God.” From simply a man to a prophet to the Son of God!
There are two reflections I invite us to this week. The first is to reflect on our personal faith journey and where we are today. The more the blind man interacted with Jesus, the deeper his faith became. The more I interact with Jesus, the stronger my faith will become. Do I spend quiet time each day speaking with the Lord, sharing what is happening in my life, and then being quiet and listening? The more I do this, the stronger my faith will become.
Second, the blind man grew, as did the Samaritan woman and Zacchaeus, because Jesus was willing to accept them and interact with them, even though they were outcasts. My willingness to reach out and interact with someone who is rejected and/or isolated can make all the difference in their life. As time goes on, I can invite them to pray with me and/or come to Mass and be part of the community. There are many people around us who are like the blind man in
today’s Gospel: they need someone to reach out to them, affirming that they are important and eventually inviting them to grow in faith. That is what Jesus did! That is what we are called to do, as His disciples. Let’s make sure we are doing it.
Church sign of the week: Do you stand with the great or kneel with the broken?
There was one group of people that Jesus had a hard time accepting and for whom he had harsh words: religious people who scorned others who were “not as good as they were” (my words). They demanded that people live up to their standards, before they would accept them in any way. Words like “unclean” and actions like banning people from the synagogue underscore this attitude towards others.
This is an example of our human tendency to be judgmental and condemning of others, to define them by their failings (as we see it), and to demand that they change in order to be accepted. Jesus shows us a different way of relating through His interactions with the Samaritan woman at the well. Samaritans were despised by the Jews and evidently this woman was shunned by her own people, for she was alone at the well in the heat of the day. Normally, all the women would go to the well as a group early in the day, thus avoiding the heat and being safer together. Jesus ignored all of this and interacted with her, not condemning her for who she was or what she had done, but accepting her and loving her as a child of God. As a result of this, she grew to believe in Him and brought her village along with her.
The same thing happened with Zacchaeus: Jesus went to eat at his house with no conditions or questions, a sign in that culture of acceptance and identifying with someone. As a result of being loved and accepted this way, Zacchaeus completely changed, something the scribes and pharisees could not bring about with their condemning and ostracizing.
This is a strong message to us to overcome our human tendency to be judgmental and unaccepting, if the person does not meet our standards. Each person is a beloved child of God; we do not know their history or their intentions. If we are judgmental and dismissive, we are not acting as Jesus did. This is not about approving of something that is wrong, but rather not categorizing the person because of their beliefs and actions.
This means that our approach to loved ones, friends, or others who do not believe what we believe or whose actions are wrong (in our opinion) needs to be like Jesus’ approach to the Samaritan woman, not starting by pointing out their faults and telling them they need to change, but loving them as a beloved child of God. They can know we don’t approve of their actions, but that doesn’t mean we reject them.
This is difficult and sometimes it is not clear exactly how we should act toward someone, but the basic starting point has to be loving them and respecting them as a child of God. We should not be dismissing and isolating people. How am I doing with this challenge to all of us?
Church sign of the week: We were called to be witnesses, not lawyers or judges.
Our Gospel this second Sunday of Lent is Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration. Notice it is Peter, James, and John who are present, the same three disciples who will be present for the agony in the
garden. That is no coincidence: these disciples are being allowed to experience the divinity of Jesus to help them get through the trauma of His passion and death.
A message for us is that God is always with us, despite the trials and tribulations of life. When things are not going well, when we ourselves or someone we love is facing a long and painful illness, when a loved one dies, it can be a challenge to feel God’s presence and trust that all will ultimately be OK, since He is in control.
There are two clues in this Transfiguration story that help me to have trust, no matter what. The first clue is the final words that the Father speaks from the cloud: LISTEN TO HIM. I have to be paying attention to how Jesus lived His life and what He has said to us. In other words, I need to be reading and reflecting on the Gospels, each day, so that I can hear what Jesus wants to say to me at that moment in my life.
The second clue is that Jesus came AND TOUCHED THEM, telling them not to be afraid. Jesus wants to touch me. He wants me to feel His arms around me. That means, in addition to reflecting on the Gospels, I need to spend quiet time with Jesus, sharing my fears and struggles, then being quiet and allowing Him to speak to me. It is when I can do this that I feel His arms around me and hear Him say, “be not afraid.”
Over and over in the Gospels we hear Jesus say to His disciples, “be not afraid.” He wants us to trust Him. He wants us to know that all will be OK. He is there for us: we just need to let Him in. I invite us to make sure we are reflecting on Jesus’ words and actions in the Gospels, as well as spending quiet time with Him. Then we will not be afraid. God bless.
Church sign of the week: The storm shall pass. Meanwhile, dance in the rain!
Our reading this weekend from Romans begins, through one man sin entered the world. Our first reading from Genesis gives us the story of Adam and Eve in the garden and the “most cunning” of all the animals tricking them into disobeying God’s command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
Before they disobeyed God, they were perfectly happy and at peace. Afterwards, they began blaming others (Eve blamed the serpent, Adam blamed Eve); they experienced shame (they realized that they were naked); and they were alienated from God and each other. We see further effects of their sin in Cain’s jealousy, which led him to murder his brother.
These stories are good reflections for the beginning of Lent. God wants us to be happy, God wants us to be at peace with all, God wants the best for us. But we ourselves mess it up by the way we act and treat others, bringing shame, blame, and alienation into our lives.
Lent is a time to reflect and change for the better. God does not want us to be alienated from Him or others. God does not want us to live in shame. If we turn to Him, we will find his forgiveness is there waiting for us, wiping out our guilt and shame. His grace is there to help us improve our lives and do better in the future.
I hope we will all take advantage of this special season the Church gives us, so that when we celebrate Easter we will be united with God and others, free of guilt and shame.
There are several opportunities for spiritual growth being offered here at Pius (see bulletin or website for information about reflections, prayer workshops, and bible study). Our Lenten communal reconciliation service will be held on Tuesday evening, March 28th, at 7:00pm, an opportunity to allow God’s forgiveness to wash away shame and guilt.
I invite you to reflect on one thing that you would like to be different in your life on Holy Saturday evening, as we celebrate the Resurrection. What can you do as we go through Lent to make sure it happens? And let us support each other in prayer, as we struggle to grow.
Church sign of the week: When you are hanging on by a thread, make sure it is by the hem of His garment.
Our readings today have a very strong message, a message that is hard to hear. But the message is clear: we must love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. No way around it: it applies to us.
It might seem impossible, but here is a very important distinction which makes it a little more doable. When Jesus speaks of “love of enemy,” he is not talking of feelings of affection or sympathy or tenderness toward the one who does evil to us. It is difficult to change the feelings of the heart toward one who harms us. Jesus means NOT to seek or desire to do the person evil. We don’t have to FEEL love; we are talking about deciding NOT to hate, not to return evil for evil. The feelings that come when someone hurts us are not the problem. The sin is when we hurt them back.
The Christian approach is to try to fix the problem, if possible. We can also try to do good to the other. At a bare minimum, we can pray for the other. We are acting as a Christian when we forgive, rather than taking vengeance.
This is not easy. For some it is more difficult than for others. But you can see in our world the results when people harbor hatred, anger, hurts, and want to get even. Things escalate, getting worse and worse. We will not be perfect in this, but we need to be growing.
An example I would use is Vladimir Putin. What is my attitude toward him, given all the evil he has perpetrated? Do I wish him ill? Do I want him dead? Or am I entrusting him to God’s love and praying that he may change his ways? Prayer DOES work. Remember Saul of Tarsus? I am sure the early Christians thought he was at least as bad as we regard Putin. I think God chose him and he was converted because of St. Stephen, the first martyr, who prayed for those who were stoning him, including Saul.
I invite us to reflect on how we are doing at “loving our enemies.” To work at growing in our ability to do this would be a good Lenten challenge.
We are not God. We are not perfect. We want others to love us, despite the things we do. We need to grow in our ability to do the same. God bless.
Church sign of the week: When the game is over, the king and the pawn go back in the same box.
In the first reading this weekend, we are told that choosing to follow the law is choosing LIFE, rather than death. In our Gospel, we continue our walk through the Sermon on the Mount, with Jesus
assuring his disciples (and us) that he has come to FULFIL the law, not abolish it. He gives three examples; I would like to comment on the first one in which Jesus says that the law “thou shalt not kill” is fulfilled by not being angry at another. This is so important to understand, because of all the anger, mean speech, and hatred that we find in the world around us.
Jesus is not saying that feeling anger is wrong. If someone hurts us, feelings of anger just come. We can’t stop them. They are not a sin. It is what we DO with them that is important. If I give in to the feelings, if I harbor them, if I hurt the other person, that is wrong. But if I do my best to deal with the feelings by working it out with the other, if possible, I am choosing life. If I can’t work out the differences, I can pray for the person and make sure I do nothing
negative against them. That also is choosing life. We are so much happier and the world around us is so much more at peace when we can deal with feelings of anger in a positive way.
Jesus emphasizes the importance of this by telling us to leave our gift at the altar and go and be reconciled. In other words, it is more important to be reconciled with another as best we can than to come and worship God. That is a strong statement.
Where are we in terms of this challenge? Are there people against whom I hold grudges, anger, or resentment? What can I do to be reconciled? If I can’t bring about reconciliation, can I pray for that
other person and not let the anger control me?
By ourselves, this is very, very difficult. With the grace of God, it is possible and everyone will be happier because we have chosen life! “Lord, help me to forgive as you forgave on the cross.”
Church sign of the week: At the heart of every sin is the letter “i.”
Our Gospel this weekend continues the Sermon on the Mount, with Jesus challenging us to be light for the world and salt for the earth. Our first reading from Isaiah gives us two clear ways to do it, two ways clearly supported by Gospel values.
The first is to take care of those in need: share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless, clothe the naked, and don’t turn your back on your own. That we understand the importance of this is underscored by the honor we give to those who have done a good job of living it out, like Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, and Oscar Romero.
The second is to remove from our midst oppression, false accusation, and malicious speech. It is refraining from harming others through speech or social media. It is making sure everything we say, be it verbal, in writing, or on social media, builds up others, rather than tearing them down.
It is obvious that our world needs our witness and action in both of these areas, as indicated by the prevalence of the following: poverty and hunger, refugees who are ignored, hatred and gun violence on our streets, government officials who speak badly of others instead of working together for the common good, etc.
We cannot change the whole world, but we can influence the world around us by being kind and generous to others, as well as by refraining from negative speech. When we can do these things, we are truly salt for the earth and light for the world. We are living as Jesus did and that is what it means to be His disciple. God bless.
Church sign of the week: Our family tree is rooted in love.
Our Gospel this weekend is Matthew’s version of the beatitudes. They are the introduction to Jesus’ first sermon in Matthew’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount, which is three chapters long. Scholars agree that Jesus probably didn’t preach it all at one time; rather, it is a compilation that Matthew put together.
I remember hearing a Capuchin friend in Milwaukee, Michael Crosby, refer to them as the be-attitudes, that is, attitudes that will get us through life as Christ wants us to be. They are the fulfillment and the
completion of the 10 commandments. The commandments tell us not to hurt others; the beatitudes challenge us to go beyond that and live in a way that we are being generous and loving to others. The world has picked up on the commandments and put laws into place to protect us: it makes sense to forbid killing, theft, etc. But the
beatitudes call us beyond what can be comprehended from a simply human point of view, beyond what can be dictated by civil law: they call us to live our lives thinking of more than ourselves.
I would like to share my personal reflection on three of them:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps this is the basic be-attitude, for to be poor in spirit means to be able to think of others, to be able to move beyond oneself and one’s needs. The more I am able to live this way, the easier the other be-attitudes will be for me.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Perhaps the most important way we can be meek is to be compassionate and forgiving. We all make mistakes and hurt other people. When we are “proud” and not able to forgive, we bring unhappiness to ourselves and those around us, rather than peace. Being able to forgive is crucial for living Gospel values.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Another way that we live for others is to be concerned for the poor and vulnerable, those who are exploited for the benefit of others. Jesus constantly reached out to the most vulnerable. We can’t solve all the world’s problems, but we can do what is within our power to make things better.
These are a few of my reflections on what the be-attitudes mean to me, as I discern how to live my life. I invite you this week to spend time reflecting on the be-attitudes as Matthew presents them, letting them challenge you to live a more other-centered life. The more we can do that, the more we will bring Christ’s light to the world. God bless.
Church sign of the week: we are each angels with one wing and we can only fly by embracing one another.
In our Gospel this weekend, we listen as Jesus calls four of His main apostles: Peter, Andrew, James, and John. They leave their former way of life behind to become “fishers of people.”
As I was reflecting on this Gospel, I remembered reading about a little town in the Swiss Alps with a monument to two men who had climbed a great mountain. One of them, a famous scientist who wrote many books, got a lot of press and recognition, but he could not have done it without the other person, a poor, humble guide. The townspeople recognized this and acknowledged the guide, along with the famous man.
No message is clearer in the New Testament than God uses ordinary people to bring about His Kingdom. It started with Mary and Joseph having their child in a stable. It continued with Jesus beginning His ministry in Galilee, not Jerusalem. It continues in our Gospel today with His call of simple fishermen to be His main companions. All of this emphasizes a Messiah who is crucified and dies, not a military hero.
There is a lot of work to be done for the Kingdom. There are many people who are alone and need someone to visit them. There are many organizations who serve the poor that are looking for volunteers. There are lots of opportunities to be involved here at Pius, building up the community and making it strong.
So, when an opportunity presents itself for you to serve in some
capacity, don’t give yourself a pass by saying, “Others are better prepared” or “Others have a better personality” or some other excuse. God will give us what we need. What He can’t give us is the willingness to take a risk and say “yes”: that we have to do on our own, as did Peter, Andrew, James, and John.
God has given us many gifts and talents. Let’s make sure we are actively using them to build up His Kingdom. God bless.
Church sign of the week: Where God guides, God provides.
This weekend we begin Ordinary time and this year we will be reading mostly from the Gospel of Matthew. Our liturgical color during Ordinary time is green, the color of growth, because we will be learning how to grow as disciples through Jesus’ words and actions as presented to us by Matthew.
Our readings this weekend are a good introduction to Ordinary time, explaining to us, through examples, that each one of us has been called:
Isaiah: formed “as a servant” in his mother’s womb and called “to be a light to the nations.”
Paul: called to be an apostle, telling us that we are all called to be holy (by being apostles, also).
John the Baptist and Jesus: our Gospel tells us that they were both called, John to preach repentance and point to the one coming after him, Jesus to baptize with the Holy Spirit.
The point is that we have been formed as servants in our mother’s womb, called by God to be apostles, that is, to bring Christ to others. And we will learn how to do that through the words and actions of Jesus, as we listen to Matthew’s Gospel this year.
Many of the passages we will hear during the 34 weeks of Ordinary time will be very familiar to us. We will hear lots of parables, for example, the mustard seed; the seeds that fall on rocky ground; the 10 wise and foolish virgins; every worker getting a daily wage. We will learn who Jesus is through the Transfiguration, His walking on water, and His explanation, after Peter has identified Him as the Messiah at Caesarea Philippi, that he will be a Messiah who suffers and dies. He will do a lot of teaching and explanation of the scriptures for His followers, including us.
Since we have heard these Gospels many times before, the human tendency is to let them go in one ear and out the other. I invite us, as we begin ordinary time, to make a resolution to listen carefully to the Gospels, reflecting on them and allowing God to speak to us in our hearts. Then we will be growing as disciples. God bless.
Church sign of the week: You can safely assume you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.