Offers food for thought
Reflections on the LIE that I have NOTHING to CONFESS and therefore, NO NEED OF GOD'S MERCY & FORGIVENESS
The Twenty Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus challenges us all to be steadfast in our commitment answering his universal call to holiness or face the very real and eternal consequences of our choices. He also affirms the words of Ezekiel, that “when the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest, he deserves to live. He has chosen to renounce all his previous sins; he shall certainly live; he shall not die.” In drawing the contrast between the religious leaders of his time and the tax collectors and prostitutes, he affirms that those who listen to the call to ‘repent and believe’ are those who let themselves be transformed by God. They, who change their ways of acting and thinking according to the ‘mind of God’, are the ones who enter the Kingdom of God.
None of us can pretend to have never been lost and none of us can deny our initial and ongoing need for the mercy of God. Only complacency about our relationship with God, could lead us to think otherwise. Our life experience affirms that we do fall away from our commitment to Christ. Our faith experience also affirms, insofar as we are honest about our sinfulness, that no matter how far we have strayed from the way, the truth and the life, it is never too late to turn back, as long as we have breath to call upon God’s mercy and forgiveness.
To ‘repent and believe’, whether for the first time or every time after, is not just a moment when we say we are sorry and move on. That contrite heart must also have the clear intention and determination to change with the help of God’s grace to avoid “the near occasion of sin”, to ‘go and sin no more’. That intention and determination can not only be supported by prayer and hope. It must also involve openness to healing and greater self-understanding. We must understand what it means to say that sin is a violation of our nature as human beings. We must come to understand our humanity through understanding Christ and we must measure our actions against Love, which we clearly see demonstrated in the words and actions of Christ and the Saints.
We were created with the freedom to do good or to do evil. We are free to choose life or death in all our actions and we are also responsible for the outcome of our choices. Although we like to blame God when the consequences of the sins of others and of our own lead to pain and suffering, Ezekiel reminds us that those who blame the Lord for their destructive path and decisions are only deluding themselves.
Christ himself shows us the way of profound obedience to the Father which leads to the fullness of our humanity and holiness. Our choice, which is always before us, is to accept and do what is right, holy and just or to deny and rebel against our nature and our God. It is a difficult path, but it is the most fulfilling one.
St Paul truly believed that by our love for one another the world will come to know and love Jesus Christ.
Thursday of the 25th Week of Ordinary Time
But we, the ever new creation, see the living God bring the dead to life and continue to build the Church of living stones. In every generation, new heralds proclaim the coming of the Kingdom. New prophets speak the living Word and challenge the world to forsake the darkness and embrace the Son. The Messiah who was and is and ever shall be, the revelation of truth itself, still seeks the lost, frees the prisoner, clothes the naked, heals the sick… and dies and rises so that all might yet be one. The Priests of the ageless covenant, we still shepherd our flocks through The Valley of the shadow of death and along that narrow path, fearing no evil, for the Lord who is with us takes delight in us.
Despite every effort by the enemy, from Adam and Eve through to this very day… God adds to the legions of the Saints. Every day, the efficacy of the Cross is experienced by those who were lost and are found. Every day, like Herod, people come and wonder at Christ who is glorified by us and manifested through us.
The enemy is determined to wage war against heaven and earth, against God and Man. But we, who have seen and heard, who have died and risen in Christ; we claim the victory of Christ over sin and death, made free to go and sin no more, to walk in the way, the truth and the life of Christ, who leads us home…
We all want peace. We all want the kind of peace that surpasses human understanding. We all want that peace that comes from the Lord, who says "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. John 14:27 To receive and to have established within us, we will need to be vigilant in seeking the LORD who is with us and calling out to Christ who is in truth, near to us. So that the scoundrel within us will forsake those ways and our thoughts will cease to be wicked. In turning to the Lord for mercy and receiving forgiveness we will be made free. In our freedom, we will see and hear, we will listen and obey. We will humbly embrace the ways of the Lord and put on the mind of Christ… or, we shall have no lasting peace.
An everlasting desire of God’s for us, is that that we come to possess that gift of interior peace. But, the ‘spirit’ that is at play in the Gospel story today, is for many of us a real stumbling block to lasting holy peace. All too often, undermining the purity of our motivations, is the desire for affirmation and recognition by others that overtakes us. We might even fool ourselves by claiming it’s righteous anger or indignation according to Justice, or Charity or Mercy… but really, we’re just angry or bitter or hurt because we were pretty pleased with our performance, our generosity, our piety, our sacrifice, our intellectual prowess… etc, etc, etc! And we thought it only right that we should be given our due, here and now, for all the world to see on Facebook and Twitter. How many likes did I get? How often have our good actions or good words been spoiled by our selfish need to be recognized, or affirmed or immediately rewarded. And, zap… just like that, no more peace.
In all that we do, we ought to be striving not for praise and recognition from other people here on earth, but rather, merely to be and do what love demands. This is purity of intention. We ought to strive simply to love God and to love our neighbor, to be instruments of grace and manifestations of God’s glory. We ought to do good to others so as to be mirrors of God's own goodness in this fallen world.
There is one very easy way for us to take the temperature of our purity of intention: look at our reaction when we do something for someone and they don't say "thank you". Of course, they ought to say ‘thank you’, but if they don’t, our usual reaction is to give into feelings of resentment and anger, and maybe even vengeance. The supernatural reaction, the one that shows purity of intention, is to let those feelings pass by, like clouds, and keep the eyes of our soul focused on Christ. For the disciple of Christ who is actively pursuing growth in holiness, that alone ought to give us deep spiritual joy.
Working to ensure the purity of our intentions, will protect the peace within our souls. Then, we will truly understand what St. Paul has written in today’s second reading. We will become strong in ‘holy indifference’ and no matter the circumstance, it will always be win / win. To live is to have more time to glorify the Lord and to die is to live. No other religion or philosophy provides for such a mysterious truth which can be known.
This ‘holy indifference” is perfect acceptance of what God wants. It is perfect acceptance of God’s ways and the total merging of my vision with God’s. It is to conduct ourselves in a way that is worthy of Christ, who remains near to all who call upon him.
The Twenty Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time
In the second reading, St. Paul challenges us to be certain of our identity, by which we are strengthened to avoid becoming someone who fits the description found in the first reading! So, who are we? All of us here, in this house of God, who are about to receive communion… who are we? Those of us who will pray the Lord’s prayer and presumably mean it? Who are we? Are we children of darkness? Are we serving in the platoons of the enemy, at war with God? Are we unaware of the truth of what we believe and profess in the Creed?
OR, are we brothers and sisters who live for the Lord? The Lord who died for all, so that [we] who live might no longer live for [ourselves], but for Him who died and rose again on [our] behalf. 2 Corinthians 5:15 Are we people who embrace being creations who are made by God in the image and likeness of God? Are we people who, relying on God’s grace, are kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion; in imitation of our Lord? Are we children of God, of light and love, who know our own guilt and the debt we owe to Christ which we could never repay.
What if I said, no one leaves this Church today until they stop embracing hateful things and instead, choose life, choose to forgive. What if I said, no one gets to receive communion until they’ve opened their hearts to God, ready to give and receive forgiveness and really mean the words… “Lord I am not worthy, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.” What would you do? Who would you call? You might want to start with your spouse, and your kids who might be here with you… as you give the sign of peace and say those words…
During Mass, have you ever really considered the order of the parts? Particularly, the communion rite during the liturgy of the Eucharist. It begins with praying together as Jesus taught us… “Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” (keeping in mind the words of Jesus who said, “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But, if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.” Matthew 6: 12,14-15).
Then the Priest leads us in a concluding prayer which includes the petition, “grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress…” Followed by an invitation to offer each other a sign of that forgiveness which leads to unity and peace, to each other. This ‘sign of peace’ between us, is intended to demonstrate our unity with and love for one another. It's symbolically, and maybe for you in that moment, it’s very much really about the forgiveness that leads to reconciliation which gives rise to peace and effects unity, in the full spirit of Christ. Here, we are reminded of the words of Jesus' exhortation in, "If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Matthew 5:23-24
"Christ is our peace, the divine peace, announced by the prophets and by the angels, and which he brought to the world by means of his paschal mystery," the 2005 circular letter on the ritual expression of the gift of peace at Mass, said. "This peace of the risen Lord is invoked, preached and spread in the celebration [of Mass], even by means of a human gesture lifted up to the realm of the sacred,” it continued. This exchange of peace comes after the consecration because it refers to the 'paschal kiss' of the risen Christ present on the altar, and it comes just before the breaking of the bread during which the Lamb of God is implored to gives us his peace.
Despite popular practice, especially among small groups and parishes, that sign of peace isn't about romantic affection, shaking as many hands as possible or high fiving your best buds. This is a profound moment in the liturgy after which we fall to our knees, recognize and adore the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, call upon his mercy, and then humbly acknowledge our weaknesses, our utter unworthiness and our absolute need for and dependence upon God to make us worthy.
Then, and only then, we approach the altar to receive the Lord in the Eucharist.
Yes, very powerful, if we are more like the merciful master and less like the other guy in the Gospel today. There are two big lessons about forgiveness in that Gospel. We are challenged to understand that there is to be no limit on the amount of times we forgive each other, because we ourselves have been forgiven a debt we could never repay. And let’s be honest… we’ve been forgiven by God probably more times than we could count.
We, as the children of God, are to reject an approach to our relationships which does nothing except produce death, pain, grief and the seeds for more of the same. Instead, being fully secure in the knowledge of being totally loved by God we realize that forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t really that difficult.
Some of us, will no doubt complain that this sort of attitude about forgiveness only breeds license in others. So, it’s good to acknowledge that although we must be always ready to forgive, we must also fight against sin. Forgiveness of the person, is not acceptance of the behavior. Nor is condoning unrepented sinful thoughts words and actions, expected. The Christian community ought not to fully receive a member who refuses reconciliation and healing of behavior that is contrary to our nature, to the truth and love.
The Twenty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (Post delayed by Hurricane Irma)
When it comes to living in the imitation of Christ and remaining committed to responding to our call to holiness, St Paul is our guy in Scripture for explaining doctrine and giving instruction. The words in the letter to the Romans, today, are no different. Paul reminds of the law and strives to raise our understanding to see that law is the natural fruit of the kind of love we are to have for ourselves because of the love which God has for us, and that our love for others is then itself a reflection of the love which God has for each of us.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta explained Christian love, clearly when she addressed the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, in 1994. She told the political leaders of the United States that:
We are members of the family of God, a community of brothers and sisters who constitute the mystical ‘Body of Christ’ the Church. That’s a big deal. How we live community, must be expressive of our Eucharistic Communion. Cain, the son of Adam, once said in response to God “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and God has spent our entire human history teaching us the answer to that question. Sending the embodiment of that answer in Christ, his beloved Son and pleading with us to listen to him. Christ, in word and action, unceasingly demonstrated what it means for us to love our neighbor as ourselves, to live in accord with the two great commandments, to Love God and Love Neighbor. As Scripture says, “By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35) and “As often as you did/did not do it to the very least of my brothers and sisters, you did/did not do it to me” (Matthew 25:40,45).
God will allow us to suffer the consequences of choosing to live contrary to our nature, but first and foremost God desires reconciliation rather than punishment. God never ceases to say ‘Repent and believe’. So, God sends each of us as his ambassadors of love, to each other. “If two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where [even] two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.” Wherever Christians meet in truth and love, we are stronger, good things get done, God is glorified and people are saved. We are each other’s life line. I heard a story told by a pastor here in town which really exemplifies this point.
Love contains all other Christian obligations. “Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbor; I have to look carefully at the needs of my brothers and sisters. If I see them hurting themselves or someone else, that is my business. Which brings us to the first reading, “[If] you do not speak to warn the wicked man to renounce his ways, then he shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” I am my brother’s and my sister’s keeper. But not absolutely. “If, however, you do warn a wicked man to renounce his ways and repent, and he does not repent, then he shall die for his sin, but you yourself will have saved your life.” We do not help each other by turning a blind eye to behavior which is clearly unchristian. I have a responsibility to save my brother from sin, although not responsible for his salvation. The last choice will always be with him.
At stake is not only your own dignity as a human person (created in image of God), but also the dignity of the whole community to which you belong. Sin destroys unity. So—in order to achieve real unity—we must confront what causes division: sin. Peace in the world begins at home, it begins inside each one of us. By confronting the sin inside ourselves, and in the community around us, we work toward bringing the peace of Christ, to all the world.
Peace doesn't just happen; it's made.
CampusPadre is a college ministry Priest Chaplain with 30 years experience in youth and young adult ministry, who strives to let the Holy Spirit lead and challenges students to seek holiness above all.