Thursday, May 31, 2012

"I’ve noticed that everyone who is for abortion is already born."

"Each child is sent into this world by God with a "Unique Message" to deliver, a new personal act of love to bestow" - John Powell, S.J., Professor of Theology

(Gospel Text: Lk 1:39-56) The Feast of the Visitation
Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
"Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled."

And Mary said:
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever."

Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.

Today, we contemplate the Virgin Mary's Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth. As soon as she was told she had been chosen by God to be the Mother of the Son of God and that her cousin Elizabeth had also received the gift of motherhood, she decidedly set out for the hills to congratulate her cousin, to share with her the joy of having been blessed with the gift of maternity and to serve her.

And yet, now in our present society, motherhood is not duly prized. A driving force behind this current sentiment is a parent's love implies an eventual renunciation of self interests and as a result many families stop being “shrines of life”. His Holiness Pope John Paul II confirms that birth control and abortion «have their roots in an hedonist and irresponsible mentality with respect to sexuality and presuppose a selfish concept of liberty, that sees in procreation an obstacle to the development of their own personality».

As Catholics, we have always believed that God is near to our little ones, even in the womb.  When new life enters the world, we are full of wonder as we see them for the first time.  The economy of Heaven often allows the love and generosity of God to be revealed through our little ones, who teach us even as we are supposed to be teaching them.  God often comes to us in the ordinary stuff of which life is made, but sometimes we are too busy to notice.  And sometimes, we lapse into the wrong way of thinking, in which others become a burden and threat to our autonomy and independence.  This is short-sighted and wrong, but it is part of our broken humanity.  

I am glad that Elizabeth welcomed Mary, and that she was so attentive toward little John.   I am sure that this changed the nature of that three-month visit to her home.  Perhaps we can learn from her example and become more aware of the gifts God is sending our way.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

“Never look down on anybody unless you're helping him up.”

Without humility of heart all the other virtues by which one runs toward God seem -- and are -- absolutely worthless. – Blessed Angela of Foligno

(Gospel Text: Mk 10:32-45)
The disciples were on the way, going up to Jerusalem,
and Jesus went ahead of them.
They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.
Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them
what was going to happen to him.
"Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man
will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes,
and they will condemn him to death
and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him,
spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death,
but after three days he will rise."

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
came to Jesus and said to him,
"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?"
They answered him,
"Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right and the other at your left."
Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the chalice that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"
They said to him, "We can."
Jesus said to them, "The chalice that I drink, you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared."
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles
lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many."

One of the toughest lessons that we learn throughout life is that failures sting. We are taught from today’s society that our value is determined by our accomplishments, our wealth and our contributions to our community. Movie stars, CEOs, and wealthy businessmen are glorified, and their massive egos are fueled by those who worship and idolize them. But in Mark, Jesus talks about one important message: humility.
It is difficult to find humility, and even more rare to demonstrate it from within. We are prideful and want to take glory in what we do because, let’s face it, we all want credit for our accomplishments. Yet as the disciples argued over who should ultimately sit at Christ’s left or right side, Jesus reminds his disciples that glory is not measured in how great we are, but how little we are. He best brings his point across when he says that those who are great, i.e. the leaders and the “show-offs”, are actually the least in society, and that those who live for others are the ones who bring glory to God.

Today, challenge yourself and demonstrate humility to those around you, even if they are your employees, students, and enemies. When we humble ourselves, we allow God’s love to permeate through us onto others who need him. It is then that we understand how God’s glory comes not from the strong, but the meek and humble.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

“Who, being loved, is poor?”

“You can find Calcutta anywhere in the world. You only need two eyes to see. Everywhere in the world there are people that are not loved, people that are not wanted nor desired, people that no one will help, people that are pushed away or forgotten. And this is the greatest poverty. “  - Mother Teresa

Gospel Text: Mark 10:28-31
Peter began to say to Jesus,
"We have given up everything and followed you."
Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first."

The last line of today’s gospel passage is something that people always like to say to someone when they are being selfish. "The first will be last and the last will be first"(Mark 10:31). Or at least my parents told it to me, and I now find myself saying it to others. Usually it is meant as a causal reprimand, or even a joke. Yet, it speaks a very powerful truth that is against anything we learn in our world today.

This statement is one of those that sums up the whole message of the Gospel. It is a one-liner that can be used to simply spread who Jesus was and who he is calling us to be. At the Last Supper, Jesus takes a towel, wraps it around his waist and does the unthinkable. He is a Rabbi, a teacher, a master, a king and the Lord, and he bends over and does the work of a meaningless servant: he washes the disciples’ feet. In this simple gesture, Jesus is demonstrating the whole meaning of the Christian life. We are to humble ourselves, just like God humbled himself to become human, and become the lowest of the low. We are called to serve, sometimes even in the trenches of poverty and despair. That is what it means to be a Christian: to love one another so much, we serve.

Jesus doesn’t allow us to sink, though. In fact, it is through love and service for all of God’s creation, that we shall be first. If we only think about ourselves and are always first, we will be the last ones. If we put ourselves last, we shall be the first to be welcomed into the Kingdom of God.
This line is one that leads us to the greatest commandment of all:

"Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do." –John 12-15

Monday, May 28, 2012

“Act and God will act”

'More determination is required to subdue the interior man than to mortify the body; and to break one's will than to break one's bones.'--St. Ignatius of Loyola

(Gospel Text: Mk 10:17-27)
As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
knelt down before him, and asked him,
"Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.
You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother."
He replied and said to him,
"Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth."
Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
"You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
At that statement, his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
"How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the Kingdom of God!"
The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
"Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God."
They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
"Then who can be saved?"
Jesus looked at them and said,
"For men it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God."

The last line of today’s Gospel—if read literally—can stimulate a bit of confusion, or even intimidation:  “For men it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God." (Mark 10:27)

This sort of makes sense; I know that all things are possible for God…that part I have covered.  It is the part concerning men that leads to confusion.  I know we are incomplete without God (another fact that meets logical deduction at the very least) but what about the things we do with God?  I thought the phrase I learned as a child was that all things were possible with God.

This is where the story of faith comes in.  What if we lived in such a way that we became the closest thing that we can to God himself?  Such is a crazy notion, for our human boundaries separate us by an immense level from God’s power and beauty.  But what if we reflected God to the highest extent that we are able; lived in such a way that our actions were those that God himself would make.  What if we mastered, or came close to mastering, the notion of living Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam: For the Greater Glory of God.  What if we became intimate with ourselves—and our spirituality—so that we recognize that all we do is not according to our own wills and desires, but those of God?

As today’s Gospel tells us, all things are possible for God; accepting this challenge finally allows us to then recognize that all things are possible for you and I, right here, right now.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive

“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” - C.S. Lewis

Gospel Text: John 21:15-19
After Jesus had revealed himself to his disciples and eaten breakfast with them, he said to Simon Peter,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?"
Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
He said to him, "Tend my sheep."
He said to him the third time,
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time,
"Do you love me?" and he said to him,
"Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you."
Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.
Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,
you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;
but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,
and someone else will dress you
and lead you where you do not want to go."
He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.
And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."

G. K. Chesterton wrote somewhere: “If you are to build a perfect society, start with imperfect people.” He might have gotten this insight from today’s Gospel passage. The resurrected Jesus gently but forcefully reminds Peter, on whom he will build his church, of his threefold denial just a few days earlier. And yet, after each reminder, he entrusts to Peter the responsibility of tending Jesus’ own flock.

We wouldn’t have done it that way. Instead, we would have been more inclined to say: “Peter proved himself unworthy; give the post to somebody else.” – thinking of the job as recognition or reward. If we needed to be reminded yet again, scripture tells us “God’s thoughts are not your thoughts, God’s ways are not your ways”.

Peter has to let go – let go of his protestations of loyalty, of his “I can do it” confidence. That’s possible only when it becomes inescapably clear to him that he really can’t do it. Peter must serve Jesus’ flock out of the full, painful awareness of his own incapacity. The strength he will need comes from Jesus, not from himself. And he must always remember that the flock is not his. “Feed my lambs; feed my sheep”. There is only one shepherd – Jesus.

Most of us are not members of the clerical establishment, to whom this passage would seem most pointedly directed. But in a less formal sense, these words apply to all of us. We are all commissioned to serve other members of the flock, and we can do so not from our own strength but from God’s life in us. Recognition of our incapacity and sinfulness is a necessary first step for us, just as it was for Peter. But what an incredible blessing it is to know that we are commissioned despite our failures.