Friday, 28 February 2014

Be Perfect

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand over your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

“You have heard that it was said,

You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Mtt. 5:38-48 - 7th Sunday of the Year

Some Points for Reflection and Prayer

We might find it a bit confusing when we put together this text with other references that seem to differ.

Jesus rebuking the Pharisees and teachers of the Law for their strict teaching and burdensome demands; Jesus said, “How terrible it will be for you experts in the Law, (and Pharisees) too! You load people with burdens that are hard to carry, yet you don’t even lift a finger to ease those burdens.
How terrible it will be for you experts in the Law! You have taken away the key to knowledge. You didn’t go in yourselves, and you kept out those who were trying to go in.” Lk. 11:46

And we read these words by Pope Francis in his document, the Joy of the Gospel43 In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives. Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God “are very few”. Citing Saint Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation “so as not to burden the lives of the faithful” and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas “God’s mercy has willed that we should be free”.

Does this mean we are to be perfect but not too perfect?
God's plan is for us is that we be perfected into the "... children of your heavenly Father, ..." But we cannot make ourselves perfect by our efforts alone - by making rules and keeping them. Rather, we submit ourselves to be formed, by the hands of the Spirit into the likeness of our Heavenly Father. We might put it in this simple way; the gospel teaches ...
I have Good News, God wants you to be his sons and daughters. You are to become perfect, as He is perfect. He will take you, just as you are now, and do this if you are willing to accept it. Learn to know his Son, Jesus and follow him faithfully. He will lead you and instruct you, and give you the Spirit to be with you always, to mold and shape you into a true child of God.
On our part it is ours to:

  1. Submit our minds and hearts to Jesus in a truly personal relationship.
  2. Speak to Jesus, not just about Jesus. 
  3. Prayer is as essential to evangelizing as food is to life.
  4. Begin each day with, "Here I am Lord, ready to do your will."  

Sunday, 23 February 2014

the WORD eternal spring

From a commentary on the Diatessaron by Saint Ephrem, deacon 160-175 AD

God’s Word is an Inexhaustible Spring of Life

Lord, who can comprehend even one of your words? We lose more of it than we grasp, like those who drink from a living spring. For God’s word offers different facets according to the capacity of the listener, and the Lord has portrayed his message in many colors, so that whoever gazes upon it can see in it what suits him. Within it he has buried manifold treasures, so that each of us might grow rich in seeking them out.

The word of God is a tree of life that offers us blessed fruit from each of its branches. It is like that rock which was struck open in the wilderness, from which all were offered spiritual drink. As the Apostle says: They ate spiritual food and they drank spiritual drink.

And so whenever anyone discovers some part of the treasure, he should not think that he has exhausted God’s word. Instead he should feel that this is all that he was able to find of the wealth contained in it. Nor should he say that the word is weak and sterile or look down on it simply because this portion was all that he happened to find. But precisely because he could not capture it all he should give thanks for its riches.

Be glad then that you are overwhelmed, and do not be saddened because he has overcome you. A thirsty man is happy when he is drinking, and he is not depressed because he cannot exhaust the spring. So let this spring quench your thirst, and not your thirst the spring. For if you can satisfy your thirst without exhausting the spring, then when you thirst again you can drink from it once more; but if when your thirst is sated the spring is also dried up, then your victory would turn to your own harm.

Be thankful then for what you have received, and do not be saddened at all that such an abundance still remains. What you have received and attained is your present share, while what is left will be your heritage. For what you could not take at one time because of your weakness, you will be able to grasp at another if you only persevere. So do not foolishly try to drain in one draught what cannot be consumed all at once, and do not cease out of faintheartedness from what you will be able to absorb as time goes on. (Office of Readings for Sunday of the 6th week of Ordinary Time)

Saturday, 15 February 2014

When Storms Arise

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Mk 4:35-41

Some Points for Reflection and Prayer
  • The disciples have listen to Jesus gracious words - teaching like nothing they have ever heard. They are strongly attracted, and begin to seek after Jesus to hear more.
Consider your own attraction to Jesus and the Catholic faith - what is it that is attracting you - why do you stay with it?
  • They have witnessed healing power result from his prayer. Spirits obey his authority.
Consider your own experience -  what moments of convincing experience stand out as strongly persuading for your faith? 
  • A raging storm overtakes them on the sea - the boat is rapidly taking on water - sinking appears immanent - they are seized by fear.
  • Jesus presence is not in doubt but his behavior is unexplainable - he is sleeping - sleeping!!! ".... do you not care that we are perishing?”
Consider your response in your "stormy times" - what is the measure of doubt that overtakes you - are you confused by the thought of Jesus being present with you, yet seeming to be of no help?
  • Jesus "awakens", takes charge and the storm abates. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
Consider that storms are real, fear comes naturally - so how do I know my faith is faltering - when I say "DON'T YOU CARE!"


Friday, 7 February 2014

You there, 2014, Who Do You Say I Am?

When I came to you, brothers and sisters,
I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you 
in lofty words or wisdom.
 For I decided to know nothing among you 
except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

And I came to you in weakness and in fear 
and in much trembling.
My speech and my proclamation 
were not with plausible words of wisdom,
but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
 so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom
but on the power of God. 1 Cor 2:1-5loading

Few are the subjects that can open a floodgate of words better than that of religion. And this was no less true for the time of St. Paul as it is for us today. The scriptures tell of Paul having to engage in long and animated debates. One such account is found in Acts 17:16-32, where Paul is engaged in debate with some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, in the Areopagus, at Athens, where it tells us, - (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) The account ends with, "When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”

But when Paul went to the people in Corinth to proclaim the gospel things were different. In his own words, as we have seen above, "My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power ... I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

Here, we have an excellent example of the distinction between, "to evangelize" and "to catechize". As the evangelist, Paul proclaims a person, Jesus - his holiness, his cruel execution, and his triumphant resurrection. This Jesus, now truly alive, Paul reveals, he has personally encountered. He knows all this, not by someone telling him about Jesus, but, "with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power"; which first happened to him on the road to Damascus. 

The work of evangelization is to encourage others to seek to have their own "demonstration", given by the Spirit, of the truth of Jesus. This "personal encounter", will become the foundation for the catechetical exploration into the mystery of Jesus, which will follow. What convinces the heart is found in evangelization. What informs the mind is found in catechesis.

 Pope John Paul, in his document on this subject, APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION ON CATECHESIS IN OUR TIME, in paragraph #19, points out, that very often instruction in the Faith, that is catechisisis given first, to those who have not experienced a personal faith in Jesus, upon which to build. They have not first been evangelized.

It is here that the meaning of the New Evangelization comes into focus. Our faith must rest on a foundation that goes beyond words and discussions. It must come first from the Spirit, demonstrating directly to our spirit, the person of Jesus, as real and alive, and inviting us to personally engage him in our lives. This grace of, "a demonstration of the Spirit and of power",  is known by different names: Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Grace of Renewal, Encounter With Christ, and others. 

When this personal Grace of Renewal, this Demonstration of the Spirit, has entered your heart, there is no argument that will be able to contradict. To be sure, arguments against will try, but the Spirit's voice, speaking directly to your heart will expose them for what they are.

Debating religion will get us nowhere. In the Church today, we are all being called to be evangelists - first by renewing our personal encounter with Christ by seeking the Grace of Renewal - second by demonstrating by our lives, the transforming power of the Spirit working in us. 

Evangelization in the words of Jesus -

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.” Mtt. 5:13-16

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