Thursday, February 28, 2013

"He that has pity on the poor lends to the Lord."

“Hungry for love, He looks at you. Thirsty for kindness, He begs of you. Naked for loyalty, He hopes in you. Homeless for shelter in your heart, He asks of you. Will you be that one to Him?” – Mother Teresa

(Gospel Text: LK 16:19-31)
Jesus said to the Pharisees:
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man’s table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.’
Abraham replied, ‘My child,
remember that you received what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing
who might wish to go from our side to yours
or from your side to ours.’
He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him
to my father’s house,
for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.’
But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.’
He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
Then Abraham said,
‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded
if someone should rise from the dead.’“

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, actually. Think about people who never seem able to remember your name. You notice, don’t you? By contrast, when someone calls you by your name, it helps you feel connected, valued, cared for.

So it’s interesting that the parable in today’s Gospel reading is the only parable in which one of the characters—the poor beggar, Lazarus—is actually named. The prodigal son, the vineyard owner, the sower with his seeds—none of these is named. Even the rich man in the story remains anonymous. Only Lazarus is dignified in this way.

Why Lazarus? Most likely it’s because of the special place that the poor have in God’s heart. God loves all his creation. He knows every person by name, and he wants to see us live in a way that affirms our common dignity. He wants us to build a society that supports the health and well-being of everyone. So when that didn’t happen for Lazarus in the story, God righted the injustice by bringing him right “to the bosom of Abraham” (Luke 16:22). This parable shows us how deeply grieved God is by the injustices that reduce his children to beggars longing in vain for scraps from their more fortunate neighbors.

We all know that as a society we must care for the poor and needy in our midst. But beyond simply providing for their physical needs, God is calling us into his heart for the poor. He is calling us to see everyone, even the poorest and most desperate, as our brothers and sisters—and to treat them with the dignity they all deserve.

Our heavenly Father doesn’t express his love in generalities, and neither should we. This is why the Lenten practice of almsgiving is so important.

Helping out at a food bank, visiting those in a nursing home or in prison, participating in a clothing drive—these are just a few ways that we can reach out and touch our needy brothers and sisters. These are just a few ways that we can learn that we are all one in the Lord.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

“Servant” - Did Jesus say servant?

“Lord, teach me to be generous; Teach me to serve you as you deserve; To give and not to count the cost; To fight and not to heed the wounds; To toil, and not to seek for rest; To labor, and not to ask for reward - except to know that I am doing your will.” ― St. Ignatius of Loyola

(Gospel Text: MT 20:17-28)
As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem,
he took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves,
and said to them on the way,
“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
to be mocked and scourged and crucified,
and he will be raised on the third day.”

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons
and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.
He said to her, “What do you wish?”
She answered him,
“Command that these two sons of mine sit,
one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”
Jesus said in reply,
“You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”
They said to him, “We can.”
He replied,
“My chalice you will indeed drink,
but to sit at my right and at my left,
this is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard this,
they became indignant at the two brothers.
But Jesus summoned them and said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and the great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

If we are honest, many of us will admit that we have a natural tendency to dominate or subjugate things and people, to command and to order, to have things done as per our wishes, to have others accept our status, our position. But, now, Jesus is proposing to us just the opposite: «Whoever wants to be more important in your group shall make himself your servant» (Mt 20:26-27).

The II Vatican Council asserts for us «that man achieves his prime of life through dedication and commitment to others».

When reflecting upon that statement one word stands out to me: humility. It is a rare artifact in today’s society, especially when we live in an age of boastfulness, power struggles and the need to be the “alpha” among your peers. In fact, sometimes we may even define our life by the need for acceptance and to become the best in whatever it is we are pursuing. Yet Jesus went in the opposite direction from the rest of us.

What are my attachments to pride, authority, power and how can I channel my energies and talent in the best service of the kingdom of God?  

Let today’s opportunities be a reminder that true power does not come from boasting rights, our accomplishments and our egos. It comes from humility, the willingness to love, and the knowledge that we were each made with specific plans, with individual wonders and talents, and with God’s abundant love. Humility creates passion, relationships and helps us to connect with the truly humble man who once walked on this planet.

Fortunately I need only humbly look to Jesus as a model as he reminds us:  “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mt 20:28)

What a gift and an inspiration.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

“Action expresses priorities.”

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” – Mother Teresa

(Gospel text: MT 23:1-12)
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

The “scribes and the Pharisees” are the group in the gospels that everybody loves to hate.  By that I mean that we identify them as a group of people who often seem to be at odds with Jesus—and we seem to know why.  The word most often associated with them is “hypocrite.”  That is, we listen to a gospel passage such as today’s in which the scribes and Pharisees are depicted as being “fond of places of honor at banquets and the front seats in synagogues.”  We hear them described as those who “bind up heavy loads . . . while they themselves will not lift a finger to budge them.” 

“Hypocrites!” we say.  Saying one thing while doing another.

In our zeal to identify this group’s disease, we often miss the point of this gospel passage.  Jesus actually approves of their teachings.  The indictment, which Jesus makes is this:  “Their words are bold but their deeds are few.”  I believe their affliction is not so much hypocrisy as superficiality.  They have a lot of the right words; it’s just that the words never penetrate deeply enough to affect their actions.

Recently, I heard the “religious landscape” of the United States described as “about 3,000 miles wide and about 3 inches deep.”  We have every imaginable variety of religious experience from coast to coast.  We don’t lack variety, but depth.  We are easily distracted and on to the next new idea that attracts us, even jumping from one religious expression to another.  This “disease” tends to afflict far too many.

Lent is an opportunity to let the Lord take us into deep water.  To let the Word penetrate deeply into our hearts so that it truly changes them.  To let the Word, not just inform, but transform us, so that our actions are affected. 

This kind of transformation doesn’t happen overnight, and it can be challenging. It requires prayer (i.e. Rosary & Eucharist Adoration), the Sacraments (frequent confession and frequent reception of the Eucharist), and mediation on the Scripture.

But know this: our tiniest efforts bring a smile to God’s face. When we offer him even our desire to do better, he multiplies this little gift and fills it with the transforming power of his love. Just as a parent teaches a baby to talk by praising and repeating his first sounds, Jesus, our patient teacher, is eager to work with us as we grow in his love.

Monday, February 25, 2013

It is much harder to judge yourself than to judge others.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” ― Mother Teresa

(Gospel Text: LK 6:36-38)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”

In various parts of the gospels the disciples are asked to be discerning, not naive. Part of the Church’s prophetic role is indeed to pass judgment on what is taking place around us, calling good what is good and evil what is evil. Yet in today’s gospel reading, the Lord tells the disciples –and us– Stop judging and you will not be judged

Are we looking at a contradiction?

Fortunately the English language, or at least my understanding of it, provides us with a helpful way to clear this seeming contradiction. We have two different verbs with the same Greek root (krinein), but with two quite different meanings. The two verbs are critiquing and criticizing.

We critique performances, actions, works of art, writings... and in doing so we pass objective judgment on things. When we criticize, we envisage persons and in so doing we pass subjective judgment on the goodness or wrongness of their intentions, which are often unknown to us. We do need to critique, in order to avoid being uncritical or naive. But in criticizing we are setting ourselves up as judges of people’s intentions, which is the Lord’s prerogative: the Father... has entrusted all judgment to the Son [Jn. 5: 22].

Part of the prophetic role of the Church is precisely critiquing developments and actions taking place around us, while respecting the people involved. Even within the Church we all bear a responsibility to critique positions and decisions taken. But when we cross the line that separates critiquing from criticizing, we are contributing to the existing polarization, which itself needs being critiqued, yet without criticizing those who hold different positions.