Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 19, 2014
Isaiah 49:3, 5-6; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; John 1:29-34

The author of the Fourth Gospel well knows the stories contained in Mark, Matthew, and Luke, so it is a little perplexing that he presents John the Baptist as a man who has never met Jesus before his baptism. He is not the cousin of Jesus as Luke infers, and his unfamiliarity with Jesus heightens the moment because, as you remember, the author says that Jesus was sent into world to dwell among us. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. John’s importance in singled out when he sees Jesus coming toward him and he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John testifies to him as the one who ranks ahead of him because he existed before John. Through this exchange grace replaces the law given through Moses, and grace and truth comes about through Jesus Christ.

            Grace is present everywhere in this story – from John’s rec0gnition of the great Savior, to his interior certitude that his mission is fulfilled, to the Spirit gently descending upon Jesus like a dove, and to his joy that he holds onto the truth. John steps out of the ways, as we say, gracefully, so that a new era can begin. What is grace and how do we know when we have it? Grace is most simply the presence of God, and we know we have it when our hearts are filled with warm thoughts like peace, gentleness, humility, simplicity, easiness, and contentment. We daydream about beautiful moments and we work towards a promising future. We recognize that our hearts have the ability to love and to see new aspects of life that we have overlooked.

            Of course, we stop grace from happening all the time because we want to control. We declare to ourselves, “I have judged myself to be a loving person. I don’t need to hear this message. This other person is not a loving person, and needs to hear these words.” We can be quite arrogant and self-assured, and at the same time dead wrong. I love one of Pope Francis’ lines when he says; “God is knocking at your door all the time. Have we put a sign on the door saying: “Do not disturb?” What will it take for God and others to get through? We all know when a person is fighting grace because the person is unhappy, critical of others, erupts in anger, gossips, is devious, and builds coalitions to destroy another person.

            How do we deal with someone who is in such pain? I wish I knew, but the fact is we are powerless to penetrate into someone’s struggle unless they first open the door – even if it is just a crack. The important point for us to realize is that the person is struggling with their God, not with you or me. It is not our problem to solve because it is way beyond our responsibility to satisfy another person’s needs. For example, I’ll make this personal. If someone is angry with me as pastor, it is really about a larger issue the person is avoiding. It is not about me. They might their anger to me, and they will try to hurt me because they have not been able to reconcile what is broken in their lives, but it is not at all about me. 

           The reasons can vary in innumerable ways. It might be an illusion they hold about how a priest-pastor should act, in their opinion, and they cannot destroy that illusion. It can be that they have lost their place of privilege that the former pastor let them hold and they are struggling with a disassembled sense of security. Their fragile sense of self and place in society has to be rebuilt and they do not know how. It can be that they simply cannot control the priest-pastor in the way they had been able to in the past and their unhealthy behaviors are being called to light. They want the priest to be an extension of themselves and the misplace their source of needs satisfaction. Since they have not developed healthy coping mechanisms, they strike out at the one who brings balance to the larger world order, and of course, the priest-pastor is supposed to be the righteous target for everything. Nothing that I could do is satisfying because their illusions are out of balance, and they do not know how to solve problems in a way that addresses their unmet needs, and it is always safer to the self to criticize others than to be introspective. O.K. So that was an example that I could personalize, but replace priest-pastor with parent, boss, employee, relative, friend, and the same situations occur.

            Recognizing that a person is fighting his or her own demons allows us to be free of the dysfunction into which the other person wants to drag us. We can still receive the grace God offers and we can love the person who is unhappy and suffering even if she cannot love herself. Miserable people have no power over you to make you miserable. The beauty of grace is that we can be joyful and see the Lord in all things and marvel at the extraordinary moments of grace in the many people around us. Our hearts can beam with such joy even as we sit next to a person who continually rejects grace.

            Jesus, the Word of God, the One to whom we must listen, the source of all grace, was rejected because the world did not know him. This did not stop him. He went forward to become the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world so that more and more people could access the grace he wants to give. Whatever you do this week, look for the signs that the Lamb of God gives you. Pay attention to those who recognize him and point you to him. They are doing it because they love you. Accept the signs. Listen. Let your heart explode like Ebenezer scrooge or the Grinch. They do it because they love you. You just cannot see it. They do it because they are full of grace and the Lord is with them.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Samuel the prophet scolds Saul, the leader of Israel because he disobeyed the Lord’s commands. He vanquished the Amalekites as instructed, but they pounced on the spoils, which displeased the Lord. As Saul was rejected as king, Samuel grieved for him, but the Lord instructed him to go forth and appoint a new king. He traveled to Bethlehem to visit Jesse in search of the one upon whom the Lord’s favor would fall. The eldest sons were passed over until David was presented. David spoke to Saul and said, “I am at your service to go and fight the giant Philistine.” In the ensuing battle, the Lord’s favor was on David as he challenged the Philistine and in a surprise twist of fate killed him. David’s fame spread and people sang and danced in the streets. They praised him to the ire of Saul, who then set out to kill David and Saul’s son Jonathan. Jonathan decided to reconcile the forces and brought David to Saul, and David served him as before. Saul’s envy remained and he took three thousand men and went in search of David and his men. David cut off an end of Saul’s mantle and then had a change of heart because Saul remained his master. David reassured Saul of his fidelity, and Saul recognized the generosity and goodness of David. He relinquished his assault and Saul declared that, “you, David, shall surely be king.” ~ The conversion of Paul attests to his former life as a persecutor of Christians to a man who became the church’s greatest missionary.

Gospel: The disciples of John and the Pharisees question the feasting practices of the disciples of Jesus. Jesus tells them that his disciples recognize the presence of the Lord in their midst and rejoice that God is with them. Jesus and his disciples passed through field of grain on the Sabbath and because nibbling on the heads of grain. Jesus points to the example of King David who shared his food with his companions because they were hungry and it was the right thing to do.  A man with a withered hand entered the synagogue where Jesus and the Pharisees were debating about the lawfulness to do good on the Sabbath. Jesus forgave the sins of the man and also head his deformity. Jesus withdrew toward the sea with his disciples and a large number of people followed from Galilee and Judea. His fame spread and people from all over came to him. Even the unclean spirits worshiped him as they shouted, “You are the Son of God.” Jesus then went up the mountain to pray and summoned those he wanted as his inner circle. When he came down, he announced the name of twelve men who would become the reconstituted Twelve Tribes of Jacob. ~ On the conversion of Paul, Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Paul gives us the example of doing everything that Jesus commanded.

Saints of the Week

January 20: Fabian, pope and martyr (d. 250), was a layman and stranger in Rome during the time of his election as pope. A dove settled on his head, which reminded people of the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove during the baptism. He served for 14 years until his martyrdom.

January 20: Sebastian, martyr (d. 300), was buried in the catacombs in Rome. He hailed from Milan and is often pictured with many arrows piercing his body. Much of what we know about him is legend.

January 21: Agnes, martyr (d. 305), is one of the early Roman martyrs. Little is known about her but she died around age 12 during a persecution. Because of her names connection with a lamb, her iconography depicts her holding a lamb to remind us of her sacrifice and innocence.

January 23: Marianne Cope (1838-1918), was a German-born woman who settled with her family in New York. She entered the Franciscans and worked in the school systems as a teacher and principal and she helped to establish the first two Catholic hospitals. She went to Honolulu, then Molokai, to aid those with leprosy.

January 24: Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor (1567-1622), practiced both civil and canon law before entering religious life. He became bishop of Geneva in 1602 and was prominent in the Catholic Reformation. He reorganized his diocese, set up a seminary, overhauled religious education, and found several schools. With Jane Frances de Chantal, he founded the Order of the Visitation of Mary.

January 25: The Conversion of Paul, the Apostle, was a pivotal point in the life of the early church. Scripture contains three accounts of his call and the change of behavior and attitudes that followed. Paul's story is worth knowing as it took him 14 years of prayer and study to find meaning in what happened to him on the road to Damascus.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Jan 19, 1561. In South Africa, the baptism of the powerful King of Monomotapa, the king's mother, and 300 chiefs by Fr. Goncalvo de Silveira.
·      Jan 20, 1703. At Paris, the death of Fr. Francis de la Chaise, confessor to Louis XIV and a protector of the French Church against the Jansenists.
·      Jan 21, 1764. Christophe de Beaumont, Archbishop of Paris, wrote a pastoral defending the Jesuits against the attacks of Parliament. It was ordered to be burned by the public executioner.
·      Jan 22, 1561. Pius IV abrogated the decree of Paul II and kept the life term of Father General.
·      Jan 23, 1789. John Carroll gained the deed of land for the site that was to become Georgetown University.
·      Jan 24, 1645. Fr. Henry Morse was led as a prisoner from Durham to Newgate, London. On hearing his execution was fixed for February 1, he exclaimed: "Welcome ropes, hurdles, gibbets, knives, butchery of an infamous death! Welcome for the love of Jesus, my Savior."

·      Jan 25, 1707. Cardinal Tournon, Apostolic Visitor of the missions in China, forbade the use of the words 'Tien' or 'Xant' for God and ordered the discontinuance by the Christians of the Chinese Rites.