Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 19, 2012
Isaiah 43:18-25; Psalm 41; 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12

Isaiah instructs us that the Lord quickly forgets our sins. He says that it is he who wipes out our sins for his sake. That's strange. He doesn't do it for our sake, but for his. He simply does not remember our offenses. Why then do we hold onto our sins so vehemently? He constantly tells us that he delights in the mercy we show to ourselves and others.

The Gospel passage shows a conflict between one's reluctance and another's freedom to forgive. In biblical Jewish thought, God is the only one with the right and the power to forgive. Therefore, Jesus is blaspheming because he is usurping God's role as forgiving judge. Jesus demonstrates that he has power to forgive because he performs a more unimaginable task: he heals a paralytic who was lowered through the roof of his house by four friends. Surely, this miracle-work is more difficult to do that to say, "Your sins are forgiven." In each act, hidden power is unleashed.

I once heard of an analogy of this Gospel passage that I have used in prayer often. The church takes the place of the paralytic man who is lowered by his friends into the house where Jesus preaches. It is an image that draws great compassion out of me - for our church. It shows the church as paralyzed and in need of the healing and forgiving words of Jesus. Just like us, the church wants to be acknowledged and seen before Christ - even though the church is fundamentally a part of him. In the archdiocese of Boston, 16% of those who profess themselves as Catholics attend church on Sundays and the percentage is similarly low across New England. The local church is limping along and in need of forgiveness along after a tumultuous decade.

However, friends of the church care for it strongly enough to find any way possible to bring it to Jesus. They go to unusual means of opening the house's roof and lowering the church on a mat where Jesus can acknowledge it and care for it. It takes great risk and resolve to break through in this stupendous way. It is neat to imagine the reaction of Jesus who looks upon the ingenious friends of the church. His heart must have warmed to them, which built up his affection for the church on the mat. Of course, Jesus wants to heal it and, at the same time, honor its friends who bring it to him. I want to be one of those friends.

Jesus realizes adversaries will take offense at his actions. He will be further rejected by the religious leaders, but it is worth the risk for him. He wants the church to heal, to pick up its mat and go home where it can convalesce and figure out a way to be fruitful once again. After a healing that redefines its identity and mission, it has to figure out how to set its life on track again. The compassion it receives from Jesus, it can now give to others. Once one is healed and forgiven, it acts with greater care, understanding, and from a wisdom borne of suffering. It acts in a way that causes other to remark with grateful astonishment. Once forgiven, it can forgive because it is now great-souled and magnanimous because it allows its heart to be transformed. It acts from a place of honorable virtue that causes everyone to turn heads and want to be near its noble, integrated self. It becomes attractive to all sorts of people who want what it emits. It becomes healthy, awe-inspiring, and vital.

We all want this. We all hope for this. We have faith in Christ Jesus who forgives and heals - despite all the opposition. It wants us as church, as the people of God, to rise, pick up our mat, and go home to a place where we are at our most true selves.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: James continues his description of discipleship by telling his friends that one's works come from a good life in humility that arises from wisdom. This wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits. He urges the people to be a lover of God and not of the world for the cares of the world can lead one away from God. ~ In the days after Ash Wednesday, the church switches to back to Old Testament readings. In Deuteronomy, Moses, as he prepares the community for life after his death, implores the people to choose life, which means keeping the commandments of God. Isaiah explains how the people are to keep a fast that is pleasing to God. Social justice and caring for one's neighbor pleases God. If you choose to live with integrity by honoring the commandments, God will remain close to you and guide you.

Gospel: In Mark's Gospel, Jesus comes down from the mountain after he was transfigured and finds his disciples perplexed because they could not heal an epileptic boy. Jesus gets miffed and tells them that these types of demonic possessions can only be cured through prayer. Jesus then predicts his manner of death. When they returned to Capernaum, his disciples argued about who was the greatest. Jesus told them that the one who serves others is the greatest in the kingdom of God. He told them also that the one who wishes to be his disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily. ~ In the days after Ash Wednesday, the Gospels focus upon fasting and who (tax collectors and prostitutes) will be admitted into the kingdom of heaven.

Saints of the Week

February 21: Peter Damian, bishop and Doctor (1007-1072), was orphaned and raised by his brother, Damian, a priest in Ravenna. He began as a hermit monk and was then made abbot and cardinal. He became a reformer in the church often speaking out against clerical laxness.

February 21: Mardi Gras is your last chance to eat meat before Lent. This is the last day of Carnival (Carne- meat, Goodbye – vale). Say goodbye to meat as we begin the fasting practices tomorrow.

February 22: Ash Wednesday is the customary beginning to the season of Lent. A penitential time marked by increased fasting, prayer and almsgiving, we begin our 40-day tradition of sacrifice as we walk the way of Jesus that ends at the Cross during Holy Week. Lent is a time of conversion, a time to deepen one’s relationship with Christ, for all roads lead to his Cross of Suffering and Glory.

February 23: Polycarp, bishop and martyr (69-155), was made bishop of Smyrna and was the leader of the second generation Christians. He was a disciple of the apostle John and a friend of Ignatius of Antioch. He wrote catecheses and rites for initiation into the Christian community. He was martyred in 155 and is a Father of the early church.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Feb 19, 1581. The election of Fr. Claude Acquaviva as fifth general in the Fourth General Congregation. He was only 37 years of age and a Jesuit for only l4 years. He was general under eight popes. He had been a fellow novice with St Stanislaus.
• 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.