Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 4, 2011
Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

Advice is easy to give and often difficult to follow. Jesus says, "if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between him and you alone." While it is good advice, it can be risky business. Sometimes people react irrationally even when we try to spoon-feed them hard criticism with sugary words and careful concern. The power imbalance inherent within relationships makes it difficult to speak difficult realities with courage. We often stay silent when we have been harmed or sinned against - often swallowing our pride as a path to peace or at least an absence of aggression. In an ideal world, the words of Jesus sound nice, but I am challenged to stand up for myself.
He asks us to persist. If I cannot win over my brother to help him see his transgressions against me, I am to bring a few others along with me to help him see the error of his ways. If that doesn't work, I am asked to bring him to the church, and if that still doesn't work, I have to treat him as I would someone of a different tradition. When do I know if I am being the one who is strong-willed and not seeing the error of my ways? In all relationships, the error typically doesn't lie on only one party. I am probably complicit in creating the atmosphere for the transgression. While this may be so, I still am not responsible for the other's actions. Nothing is ever neat and tidy. Seldom is anything clear-cut or crystal clear.

One of the faults that Jesus is pointing out is the brother's refusal to listen. He is becoming hard of heart and closed off to an enriched understanding of wisdom. Failing to listen is a great sin. Ezekiel, the appointed watchman over Israel, was asked to warn the wicked and turn him from his ways. By doing so, his soul was saved. We are asked to intervene in a person's life when he or she goes astray. Our gentle intrusion can save their souls and our own.
Paul tells the Roman Christians that "the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." Loving one's neighbor as yourself is the answer to most of our moral dilemmas. Paul writes, "Love does no evil to the neighbor." However, loving another person demands constant work. We want it to be easier. We think of love as coming easy, but it is a sustained effort on our part, especially if the person is not flesh and blood. Jesus points out that to love well means that we must diligently work for the good of our neighbor. I tell you that the persons you are trying to help might not be dissuaded from their approach, but they will know your continued concern for them. If their hearts are touched, it will be due to your good-will efforts towards them.

Moral theologian Jim Keenan defines sin as "a failure to bother to love." If we write someone off and give up on a person, we sin as well. Sometimes that is the right course of events, especially if we are the one transgressed. We don't want to keep banging our heads futilely against some mad bugger's wall. It is a delicate balance between knowing when to move on and when to persevere. We know the stakes are high - the salvation of our souls are in the balance. Jesus asks us to try. He asks us to try again and again until the desired reconciliation occurs. Figuring out the right strategy with a gentle technique may help, but our offending neighbor will never be able to dispute that we tried our best. This memory will linger in his or her consciousness; it will linger in God's. So let us try - with wisdom and a pervading, expansive love. We will know that in difficult circumstances we bothered enough to love.
Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In Colossians, Paul assures the faithful people that he is suffering for their sake and that he is working hard to bring other people to the faith just as the Colossians came to faith. Paul is very encouraged. He asks the people to be wary of empty, seductive philosophies and to remain faithful to Christ who has been laboring to remove obstacles for their reception of the Gospel. Think on what is above and put away the earthly parts of you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and idolatrous greed. Paul greets Timothy as his child in the faith and reminds him that through God's mercy Paul was converted from a blasphemer and persecutor to a new way of life. He was treated mercifully because Christ came to save sinners. Christ was patient with him in his conversion.

Gospel: On one Sabbath, Jesus healed a man with a withered hand in opposition to the schemes of the Pharisees. He flaunted it in their face because he wanted them to see that it is right to do good and to save life on the Sabbath. Jesus then departed in solitude to pray. The next morning he chose twelve from among his disciples to be his inner circle. With them, he went down to a plain and a large number of people came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases and exorcised. He then began to teach them by calling out those who were blessed and those who would be reviled in the kingdom of God. As he continued his sermon, he spoke about the way of life a person is to live. These are some of his sayings: A disciples, when trained, will be like his teacher; a good tree produces good fruit (a heart full of goodness speaks only of goodness); the one who listens to good advice from a teacher and acts in accord and integrity will honor the teacher.
Saints of the Week

Thursday: The Birth of Mary was originally (like all good feasts) celebrated first in the Eastern church. The Roman church began its devotion in the fifth century. Her birth celebrates her role as the mother of Jesus. Some traditions have her born in Nazareth while others say she hails from outside of Jerusalem.
Saturday: Peter Claver, S.J. (1580-1654) became a Jesuit in 1600 and was sent to the mission in Cartegena, Colombia, a center of slave trade. For forty years, Claver ministered to the newly arrived Africans by giving them food, water, and medical care. Unfortunately, he died ostracized by his Jesuit community because he insisted on continuing the unpopular act of treating the slaves humanely.

This Week in Jesuit History
·         Sep 4, 1760. At Para, Brazil, 150 men of the Society were shipped as prisoners, reaching Lisbon on December 2. They were at once exiled to Italy and landed at Civita Vecchia on January 17, 1761.
·         Sep 5, 1758. The French Parliament issued a decree condemning Fr. Busembaum's Medulla Theologiae Moralis.
·         Sep 6, 1666. The Great Fire of London broke out on this date. There is not much the Jesuits have not been blamed for, and this was no exception. It was said to be the work of Papists and Jesuits. King Charles II banished all the fathers from England.
·         Sep 7, 1773. King Louis XV wrote to Clement XIV, expressing his heartfelt joy at the suppression of the Society.
·         Sep 8, 1600. Fr. Matteo Ricci set out on his journey to Peking (Beijing). He experienced enormous difficulties in reaching the royal city, being stopped on his way by one of the powerful mandarins.
·         Sep 9, 1773. At Lisbon, Carvalho, acting in the king's name, ordered public prayers for the deliverance of the world from the "pestilence of Jesuitism."
·         Sep 10, 1622. The martyrdom at Nagaski, Japan, of Charles Spinola and his companions.