Sunday, November 10, 2019

In Death There's Life

Raphael's Resurrection of Jesus
At the 11th hour on the 11th day in the 11th month in 1918, WWI ended. Armistice Day then became Veterans Day now and on Monday, November 11 we honor our veterans, over 18 million men and women in our military.  Thank you, veterans, for your service to our country.

Here's a bit of simple wisdom I like: may your troubles be less, may your blessings be more, and may happiness come through your door. That's all in the Bible, and it’s my prayer for each of you, especially our veterans whom we honor this Veterans Day.

Sunday’s word of God in the book of Maccabees describes the martyrdom of a mother and her seven sons. They stood up for their beliefs and died for them. The author may be asking us, do we speak up for what's right?

The Letter to the Christian community at Thessaloniki urges the community to persevere in their discipleship with Jesus. God will strengthen them, the author writes, so they can fix their hearts on God. That’s a good message for us as well.

In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus and the Sadducees talk about mortality and immortality. The Sadducees, who don’t believe in life after death, use an absurd example of seven brothers marrying the same sister-in-law and then dying. ”Who’s her husband in the next life?” they ask.

But Jesus distinguishes between “this age” and “the next age.” And even Moses had alluded to life after death.

From a Christian perspective, hidden in every Good Friday is the glory of Easter, when God transformed Jesus into a new awesome spiritualized body. The disciples knew him in the breaking of the bread. The resurrection was real, even though they couldn’t name his new mode of spiritual embodiment. And that new life one day will be ours.

Meantime, we have our Good Fridays. Sometimes problems seem to overwhelm us. In trying times, we may wonder, where is God? This eternal question is highlighted in the book of Job, in the Confessions of Saint Augustine, in the novels of Dostoevsky, and in recent best sellers.

As we reflect upon the human situation, we realize that our planet is wounded, so to speak. At times, suffering results from immoral behavior, from misuse of freedom, from tyranny. At other times, suffering results from natural disasters, from an incomplete universe, a universe in progress.
But ultimately, suffering is a mystery. How respond?

First, remember that God is always near us, closer to us than we are to ourselves. God forever seeks to bring us to the fullness of life.

Second, avoid negative judgments about ourselves. To think, I really deserve it, is a form of self-hatred. God loves us unconditionally.

Finally, remember that the mystery of inescapable suffering has healing and redemptive power. Jesus, through the mystery of his death and resurrection, healed us, reconnected us to God in friendship. Yes, our inescapable aches and pains, born with love, can bring forth new depths of life in ourselves and in others.

As we remember our deceased loved ones in November, we may ask, how do we come to terms with our own dying? Some counselors help people cope by encouraging them to begin drafting a letter to loved ones. This may highlight the most important gifts we can leave them: love, faith in God, hope in life eternal, compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude. This is not the end, but a beginning.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Let Jesus Transform You

Jesus Meets Zacchaeus
Sunday’s word of God brings us the book of Wisdom, a poetic and philosophical meditation about life, the quest for true wisdom, God’s grandeur and our insignificance, and God’s mercy and favor.

Here the author speaks about the all-mighty God of the universe, creator of billions of galaxies with millions of stars in each galaxy, an awesome creator God completely beyond us and yet utterly within us, a God who is a lover of souls. God, the author observes, can be found everywhere. The author's message is simple: Repent! Live a God-centered, other-centered life!

St. Paul in his letter prays that God will empower the Christian community to continue doing good for others and to stop worrying about tomorrow. Yes, we have today as a gift. Make the best of it.

In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus meets Zacchaeus in Jericho. This man’s job was to tax his fellow Jews and turn the money over to their occupiers, the Romans. Yet Jesus wants to stay at the house of Zacchaeus. His neighbors must have been shocked: Doesn’t Jesus know Zacchaeus works for the enemy?

But the call of Jesus became a transformative moment for Zacchaeus. From now on, Zacchaeus will be generous with what he has and honest in his business dealings.

Like Jesus, we too can help people transform into the best version of themselves. A good example, I think, is Dr. Karl Menninger, the renowned twentieth-century psychiatrist and guru in mental health. Meeting with a woman who had been depressed since her husband’s death many years before, Menninger noticed the beautiful violets she grew. So he wrote an unusual prescription: the widow was to read her local small town newspaper every day and send a violet to someone who experienced a significant life event—a birth, marriage, a death in the family.

Within a month, the widow called Menninger and said her life had changed dramatically. Every time she sent a violet, the receiver responded. The widow became known as the “violet lady” and began to live her life happily with new friends.  In short, she got out of herself by reaching out to others.

The point is simple. Jesus recognized the potential good in Zacchaeus that many failed to see. Christ calls us to transform others in a similar way by recognizing their gifts and abilities and asking them to use these gifts and abilities to bring joy and hope to others. Let the light of our faith in Jesus Christ shatter the darkness in other people.

Nelson Mandela said this clearly in his 1994 inaugural address as president of South Africa: “We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously encourage other people to let theirs shine.”

And so we might pray for the grace to be transformed, like Zacchaeus, so that we can reflect more transparently the presence or glory of God in our attitudes and behavior vis-a- vis our families, relatives, friends and colleagues. AMEN.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

A Purpose-Driven Life

Caravaggio's Conversion of Paul
The middle ages’ festive games on All Hallows evening, before All Saints Day, gradually became associated with “hallow’een.” Irish Americans popularized Halloween as we know it, asking for treats or threatening tricks. Dressing up and eating treats can be surprisingly unifying.

God’s word in the book of Sirach is about the art of living well in the best sense of the phrase. Hard work, honesty, integrity, compassion, responsibility, courage, and faith in God are the true measure of character. The author says God definitely hears our prayers. It doesn’t seem so sometimes. Yet, our faith challenges to trust in God’s unconditional love for us, his desire for us to turn all toward goodness.

In the Gospel according to Luke, we have the odd couple. The pharisee is full of himself: he thought that his laundry list of deeds made him pleasing to God. But he was ego centered. EGO stands for “easing God out.” On the other hand, the prayer of the tax collector was God centered. He is a model of prayer for us, says Jesus.

Paul, in his letter to Timothy, uses sports imagery to describe his own life and ministry: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” Despite obstacles, Paul stays the course, preaching the Gospel. He urges us to do likewise.

What fascinates me is St. Paul’s reflections about his life. He was well educated in philosophy. He had been a persecutor of Christians. But Paul became one of the greatest evangelizers in Christianity. This religious genius established faith communities throughout the eastern Mediterranean, authored letters shaping the history of Christian thought, and eventually was beheaded by Nero.

Paul had keen insight into what makes human beings tick. Everyone yearns for happiness. But we often do things that we think will make us happy, only to discover that they end up making us miserable. We confuse “pleasure” with “happiness.”

Etched into Paul’s vision of human beings were Jesus’s words: “I have come so that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” For Paul, discipline is the path to the fullness of life. Think about it. When we eat well, exercise often, and sleep regularly, we feel more fully alive physically. When we love, when we give of ourselves to help others, we feel more fully alive emotionally. When we study the marvels of the human spirit in various cultures, our world expands, and we feel more fully alive intellectually. And when we take a few moments each day with God in prayer, humbly and openly, we experience more fully the transcendent dimension of our lives, the spiritual.

Discipline sets us free to attain our ultimate purpose: life with God. Freedom is the strength of character to do what is good, true, noble, and right.

Paul grasped this and preached that Christ came to reconcile us with the Father, and in doing so, Christ satisfies the craving for happiness that preoccupies our human hearts. It is ultimately a yearning for friendship and intimacy and relationship with our Creator. Christ, for Paul, is indeed “the way, the truth, and the life.”

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Persevere in Prayer

The Bible Points to Jesus as THE Revelation of God
The word of God takes us back to a defining moment in the life of ancient Israel: the Exodus of the Hebrews from their oppressors. In the wilderness, the Hebrews encountered dangers everywhere. Here they are fighting. Moses, atop a hill, displays the staff of God, a symbol of God’s presence, and extends his hands, almost magically. Every time Moses lifts his hands up in prayer, the tide turns in favor of the Hebrews.

The message is simple: persevere in prayer, because God does hear us.

Paul here emphasizes the significance of the Bible and its importance in our lives. The Bible is the very breath of God which empowers us to be faithful disciples of Jesus.

In the Gospel according to Luke, the widow doesn’t give up in her demand for justice, and the judge eventually yields. The parable challenges us to persevere in doing what we can to right wrongs.

The Bible is a guide in life. Through the inspired word of God, it is a two-way conversation. We should be ever attentive and responsive to the word of God.

Yes, God authored the Bible in the sense that the Bible includes what God wants us to know about God, his relationship to the universe, and his purpose for us.

But the authors of the Bible were real authors, using the languages, images, literary genres, and worldviews they knew to communicate religious truths, not scientific theories. They knew nothing about evolution, the solar system, galaxies, or the International Space Station – which this past Friday conducted its first all-female spacewalk.

Moreover, the Bible is not one book, but a library of books written over 1,500 years by at least forty different authors—in prose and poetry, fiction and history, historical narratives and short stories, etc. The Bible often speaks symbolically, as in the parables of Jesus.

Just as we interpret literary genres differently, we have to interpret biblical literary genres differently, to discover more easily the fundamental religious truth that it is trying to communicate. The creation stories, for example, communicate religious truths. The biblical authors communicated through the cultural images and legends and traditions they knew.

I invite us to read the Bible prayerfully. Not to find specific answers to questions the biblical authors never thought about, but to become the kind of person for our day that Jesus was for his day.

The scriptures point to Jesus as the unique or definitive revelation of God to us. In other words, everything that God wanted to do for us or say to us, God did in Jesus. The Spirit in the global Catholic community guides us along the journey to our heavenly dwelling place, in light of new challenges in new generations and evolving cultures.

I invite us particularly to nourish our spiritual life through the Sunday readings in the Liturgy of the Word. We gather every Sunday in churches across the globe to listen to God in the Liturgy and to presence sacramentally and mystically Jesus Christ gloriously alive in the Eucharist, to become one with Him in Communion, and then to go forth to continue the ministry of Jesus Christ, until he comes again.