Friday, February 18, 2011

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

This email/blog posting is available now on Wednesdays. Shall I post it on Fridays as usual or post it earlier in the wek so you can prepare for the Sunday readings earlier?

February 20, 2011
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-8; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus elevates his rhetoric in the Sermon on the Mount when he speaks about moral behaviors towards one's adversaries. Retaliation and love of neighbors are sensitive subjects especially when cast in light of an honor-shame society. He sets about a strategy for winning the longer term victory rather than advocating passive resignation or indifference to evil. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther took similar actions to morally resist the systemic structures of their day.

While the law of retaliation (an eye for an eye) sounds primitive to us today, it was meant as a humanitarian gesture to limit revenge. The measure was to be fair and balanced and it was a sign of moral progress. Rabbis in the days of Jesus thought they 'eye for an eye' was already too strict and they converted the penalties into fines rather than taking away one's property. Jesus takes it a step farther when he avoids exacting physical damage. Rather, his strategy avoids litigation and shames his opponent into a change of heart. It creates an atmosphere of kindness, patience, generosity, and an open attitude towards all people.

Combined with his position on the love of enemy, Jesus advances the thinking of settling disputes. The policy of unlimited revenge gives way to limited revenge. It then progresses to the silver rule (don't do to others what you would not want to have them do to you) to the more positive golden rule. The piece Jesus adds, "loving one's enemies" creates a moral heroism and reverence. It stuns one's opponents and illustrates that another way, a loftier way, exists for solving daily problems.

Loving one's enemy prevents a quandary for one's opponent, especially if it is a government. Early Christian martyrs gave their oppressors a bad conscience. The martyr became a hero while the persecutor became the villain. Curiously, this strategy sets out a plan according to the wisdom of love. If you love those who love you, your reward is an increase in their love. If you love those who hate you, your reward is an increase in God's love. God's love endures and will ultimately be the one that is most visible.

In Matthew's account, Jesus exhorts his followers to be 'perfect' as his Father is perfect. Some translations use the words 'blameless' or 'holy' and Luke uses 'merciful.' Luke stresses covenant fidelity and steadfast love, but it is good to wrestle with the word 'perfect' as none of us can be that. (We certainly have not learned healthy ways of dealing with our anger.) Perfection may mean conformity to the divine ideal or that the perfect person is the one who observes the whole law - a Matthean concept. Perfect would at least encompass the other terms as well.

We are best when we try to love others the way God loves us. It is expansive and allows for greater comprehension of the mystery of human behavior. Be perfect. It certainly elevates our thinking - even though we cannot actualize it. It does make us more divine and a marvel to behold. Our opponents may be startled. God may be startled too. I can only imagine we will only increase God's perfect love for us.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The Book of Sirach speaks of the primacy of Wisdom as one who was created by God and was with God from the beginning. Wisdom breathes life into her children and admonishes those who seek her. Those who love her, the Lord loves. Relying upon wealth or power provides nothing that lasts. Trust in the Lord. Do not put off your conversion for the Lord is here to help you. Wisdom is like a faithful friend who will make your journey easier. Befriending Wisdom is a life-saving remedy. Her friendship is beyond price. Through Wisdom God created the world and made humans in God's own image. God bestowed many blessings upon humanity and has made a covenant with them.

Gospel: After the Transfiguration, the disciples of Jesus tried to cure a boy possessed with a mute spirit. The disciples were unable to heal him and exorcise the demon, but Jesus does it immediately. He tells the disciples that only prayer and faith can help the boy, to which they respond, "help my unbelief." When his disciples see others driving out demons in the name of Jesus, he tells them they are on the same side. He then tells of the conditions for discipleship and demands that they do not lead anyone to sin. They are to act like the salt of the world. Jesus returned to Judea and was tested again by the Pharisees about marriage and divorce. Jesus brings the question, not to the particulars, but to the attitudes that cause sin and division. Children were brought to Jesus. He welcomed them heartily and warmly because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Peter Damian, bishop and doctor (1007-1072) of Ravenna, Italy received his name because he took care of his brother Damian when their parents died. Eventually, Peter became a hermit and became Abbot. As Cardinal-bishop of Ostia, he tightened up the rules governing clergy behavior and standards.

Tuesday: The Chair of Peter, Apostle, was set in the 4th century to honor Peter and his successors. The feast of Peter and Paul was originally scheduled for this date, but was moved to June 29th. We honor the role of the Bishop of Rome as the Vicar of Christ on earth.

Wednesday: Polycarp, bishop and martyr (69-155) was from Turkey and lived in the first generation after the Apostles. He is most closely associated with John and is a friend of Ignatius of Antioch. Polycarp taught many of the new Christians about the faith and we was martyred in 155 at the age of 86.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Feb 20, 1860. Pope Pius IX visits the rooms of St Ignatius.
• Feb 21, 1595. At Tyburn, the martyrdom of Robert Southwell after he had suffered brutal tortures in Topcliffe's house and in prison. He embraced the jailer who brought him word that he was to be executed. As he breathed his last, Lord Mountjoy, who presided over the execution, exclaimed: "May my soul be one day with that of this man."
• Feb 22, 1599. By order of Pope Clement VIII, the superiors general of the Jesuits and the Dominicans, assisted by others, met to settle, if possible, the controversies about grace. Nothing came of the meeting, since the Dominicans insisted on the condemnation of the writings of Fr. Molina.
• Feb 23, 1551. The Roman College, the major school of the Society later to become the Gregorian University, began its first scholastic year with 15 teachers and 60 students.
• Feb 24, 1637. The death of Francis Pavone. Inflamed by his words and holy example, sixty members of a class of philosophy that he taught and the entire class of poetry embraced the religious state.
• Feb 25, 1558. St Aloysius Gonzaga received tonsure at the Lateran basilica. Within the next month he would receive the minor orders.
• Feb 26, 1611. The death of Antonio Possevino, sent by Pope Gregory XIII on many important embassies to Sweden, Russia, Poland, and Germany. In addition to founding colleges and seminaries in Cracow, Olmutz, Prague, Braunsberg, and Vilna, he found time to write 24 books.

Presidents Day

Until 25 years ago, George Washington's birthday was celebrated on February 22nd and Abraham Lincoln's was celebrated on February 12th. To create a uniform Monday holiday in February nationally, the 3rd Monday of February was chosen. Ironically, Presidents Day can never be celebrated on Washington's birthday. Several states still celebrate Lincoln's birthday on the 12th with a state holiday. The spelling for the day can be either Presidents Day or Presidents' Day. Regardless, enjoy our nation's history.

1 comment:

  1. If it doesn't put pressure on you to get it done by Wednesday then personally I like the idea of advance reading before the Sunday Mass.
    I would be loathe to set myself a regular deadline and prefer to just go with the flow ! Some weeks I get a rush of inspiration and others I am slothlike !