Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 15, 2013
Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

Today’s readings make us examine our views on the effects of sin. Exodus tells us the story of the frustrated Israelites who worship a golden calf when Moses spends too much time away from them and they think God has deserted them. God, in this case, is so angry that he wants to send a fire to consume the ungrateful people, but the patient, long-suffering Moses pleads with God to have mercy upon them because their character is as a stiff-necked people. The image of this scornful God emerges from a juvenile mentality that puts together a system of harsh punishments for wrongdoings. It is classic behavior management. If I do something bad, I will receive a strong punishment so that I will never act that way again.

Paul gives us a mature view of the way God deals with us. He tells us of his shameful former life, which, in any disciplinarian’s view, deserves harsh condemnation, but surprisingly God deals with him mercifully because God knows Paul acted out of ignorance, not disobedience. Because he experienced the grace of God, he was able to see that God is always at work for our salvation and is very patient with the choices we make. God gives us freedom to realize that his love is abundant and calls the best out of us. God knows that we have to actively participate in our faith, not be passive bystanders. We do not earn our faith, but as it is a gift, we have to accept it with its generous bounty and then we have to learn what life means all over again because we see the world more like the way God sees it.

Jesus tells his disciples three stories of rejoicing because the Pharisees are scandalized by his accepting attitude towards sinners. The finding of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son reveal to us a welcoming God who is more concerned that each person has returned home rather than being angry about where they had gone. It is like a worried parent whose child has run away and returned home safely. Some parents might want to strike the child for causing such great alarm, but the parents’ responses are generally hugs of relief. The parents of Jesus must have felt similar emotions when the twelve-year-old boy was found free of harm in the Temple. When we listen to the story of the Prodigal Son, many people identify with one of the brothers, but it is not a story about them as much as it is to show the great rejoicing of the father that both sons are alive, well, and are back home. That is all the father wants.

We rejoice at the way Jesus puts the Pharisees in their place, but we lose the point if we do not wrestle with our attitudes towards those who are sinful. Think about the churchwoman who whispers to the priest, “Father, that woman who is receiving communion is having an affair with a well-known public official. You should speak to her, Father. It is a disgrace that she comes to church.” Then there is the unpleasant, deceitful boss who defrauds his business partners and employees and wants to make a sizable donation to a parish school and you question if it is only for tax shelter purposes. And of course, there are those people of whom we do not approve, whether they are of a different political viewpoint, race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. We do not want to accept those whose behaviors are repugnant to us, but then we are no different than the Pharisees’ questioning of Jesus when he ate and drank with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other well-known sinners. We’ve completely missed the point.

The woman in adultery may be in church because she struggles in an abusive marriage and she is finding some way to have God bring integrity to her life. The unfair boss may be trying to make amends for the defrauding he did, just like Zaccheus. Conversions take a long time. It took Saul of Tarsus fourteen years to fully accept his new life in Christ. God will take us each tiny step we can make. Therefore, we must always be concerned about the fundamental direction we are taking. It may simply be that we are doing our best, and though our actions may seem immoral to some, it may get us through the night and we survive to see the next day. No one knows what is in the heart of another person, and we have to give God the chance to continue to call the person closer to his own heart. Get out of the way and let God be at work for we are not made saints overnight, but rather, through a slow, steady process of grace.

If we are to love like God, then we are to welcome all people, even those who are distasteful to us. You may need to establish clearer boundaries for your interaction, but do try to see the person as one who is on a journey to God that has taken many different twists and turns than yours has. It goes back to the famous question of Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?”

Be patient. Love each person by acknowledging, respecting, and honoring that they are in your life for a particular reason that you might not yet understand. Perhaps it is you whose love and understanding has to be enriched, not theirs. We will show our love when we rejoice that someone we find undesirable comes forward to meet God and the community of his Son. We will see God’s work in action, a struggling pilgrim on the way, one who has finally returned home, and we will not see our differences. You will rejoice too and will want to give them a big, warm, metaphysical embrace of relief. And God will wear a wide smile because we finally understand.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In First Timothy, Paul asks people to lead a simple, tranquil life especially with those who are the civic leaders so that no persecutions can begin. If people live well, others will come to see the God they worship. Paul then outlines the qualifications of bishops and deacons and calls women to live nobly and temperately. Everyone’s behavior must be impeccable; Paul will come soon to visit and to observe the orderly way of life. Everyone must attend to their readings and to scriptures. One’s continuing education must be built into one’s life patterns. It is utterly important to remain faithful to the teaching handed on. Pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. In Ephesians, Paul urges fidelity to the virtues while using a variety of gifts to serve the Lord.

Gospel: When Jesus was in Capernaum, a centurion approached him because his slave fell ill and he asked Jesus to heal him. Because of his extraordinary display of faith and obedience, Jesus did not have to go to the centurion’s house because the man understood what following orders meant. Jesus approached Nain and met a woman whose son died and was being carried for burial in a procession. Jesus stopped them and asked the man to get up. Jesus then gave the man to his mother. Jesus then asked the people what they wanted because they played the flute for them, but they did not dance, they sang a dirge for them and they did not mourn. When Jesus was dining at a leading Pharisees’ house, a sinful woman burst in to wash the feet of Jesus with her tears. She prepared for his eventual burial and Jesus told the host that she showed him greater love because she was the one with greater sin. Jesus shamed the Pharisee. Jesus, the Twelve, some healed women, and others traveled from town to town teaching and healing those who were ill. ~ At the feast of Matthew, the evangelist recounts the story of his calling from the status of tax collector to an inner-circle disciple.

Saints of the Week

September 15: Our Lady of Sorrows was once called the Seven Sorrows of Mary as introduced by the Servite Friars. After suffering during his captivity in France, Pius VII renamed the devotion that encapsulates: Simeon's prophecy, the flight into Egypt, searching for Jesus at age 12 in the Temple, the road to Calvary, the crucifixion, the deposition, and the entombment.

September 16: Cornelius, pope and martyr (d. 253) and Cyprian, bishop and martyr (200-258) both suffered in the Decian persecutions. Cornelius was being attacked by Novatian, but since Novatian's teachings were condemned, he received the support of the powerful bishop, Cyprian. Cyprian was a brilliant priest and bishop of Carthage who wrote on the unity of the church, the role of bishops, and the sacraments. Cyprian died under Valerius after supporting his church in exile by letters of encouragement.

September 17: Robert Bellarmine, S.J., bishop and doctor (1542-1621) became a Jesuit professor at the Louvain and then professor of Controversial theology at the Roman College. He wrote "Disputations on the controversies of the Christian faith against the Heretics of this age," which many Protestants appreciated because of its balanced reasoning. He revised the Vulgate bible, wrote catechisms, supervised the Roman College and the Vatican library, and was the pope's theologian.

September 19: Januarius, bishop and martyr (d. 305), was bishop of Benevento during his martyrdom during the Diocletian persecution. He was arrested when he tried to visit imprisoned Christians. Legend tell us that a vial that contains his blood has been kept in the Naples cathedral since the 15th century liquefies three times a year.

September 20: Andrew Kim Taegon, priest, martyr, Paul Hasang, martyr, and companion martyrs (19th century), were Korean martyrs that began to flourish in the early 1800’s. The church leadership was almost entirely lay-run. In 1836, Parisian missionaries secretly entered the country and Christians began to encounter hostility and persecutions. Over 10,000 Christians were killed. Taegon was the first native-born priest while the rest were 101 lay Christians.

September 21: Matthew, evangelist and Apostle (first century), may be two different people, but we have not historical data on either man. Since Matthew relies heavily upon Mark’s Gospel, it is unlikely that the evangelist is one of the Twelve Apostles. The Apostle appears in a list of the Twelve and in Matthew’s Gospel he is called a tax collector. The Evangelist is writing to Jewish-Christians who are urged to embrace their Jewish heritage and to participate in their mission to the Gentiles. To Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of the hopes of Jews and the inaugurator of a new way to relate to God.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Sep 15, 1927. Thirty-seven Jesuits arrived in Hot Springs, North Carolina, to begin tertianship. The property was given to the Jesuits by the widow of the son of President Andrew Johnson.
·      Sep 16, 1883. The twenty-third General Congregation opened at Rome in the Palazzo Borromeo (via del Seminario). It elected Fr. Anthony Anderledy Vicar General with the right of succession.
·      Sep 17, 1621. The death of St Robert Bellarmine, bishop and doctor of the Church.
·      Sep 18, 1540. At Rome, Pedro Ribadeneira, aged fourteen, was admitted into the Society by St Ignatius (nine days before official papal confirmation of the Society).
·      Sep 19, 1715. At Quebec, the death of Fr. Louis Andre, who for 45 years labored in the missions of Canada amid incredible hardships, often living on acorns, a kind of moss, and the rind of fruits.
·      Sep 20, 1990. The first-ever Congregation of Provincials met at Loyola, Spain, on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the approval of the Society and 500th anniversary of the birth of St Ignatius.

·      Sep 21, 1557. At Salamanca, Melchior Cano wrote to Charles V's confessor, accusing the Jesuits of being heretics in disguise.