Saturday, February 18, 2017

19 de febrero de 2017 - 7º domingo del tiempo ordinario - Mateo 5: 38-48

      Muchos países de América Latina han pasado por revoluciones o guerras civiles o dictaduras militares, con muchos asesinatos y violencia.  Nicaragua, un país de Centroamérica, es uno de esos lugares. Tomas Borge fue un líder en la lucha contra la dictadura en control de su país. Fue capturado y puesto en la cárcel.  Durante meses, Borge estuvo sujeto al tortura terrible.  Parecía que nunca terminaría.  Después de que la dictadura se cayo, Borge fue liberado y fue Ministro del Interior del nuevo gobierno.  Un día, el guardia que le infligió este castigo tan terrible a Borge fue él mismo a la cárcel como prisionero.  Borge visitó a este hombre en la cárcel.  Se acercó al hombre y dijo: -Voy a vengarme de ti. Luego extendió la mano y dijo: "Esta es mi venganza, te perdono".
       Durante las últimas dos semanas, escuchamos las lecturas del Sermón del Monte de Cristo del Evangelio de Mateo.  Con las bienaventuranzas y una perspectiva diferente de las leyes y mandamientos de Dios, las enseñanzas de Cristo en el Sermón del Monte nos empujan a crecer en nuestra fe.  Cristo siempre conversaba con los fariseos en su ministerio.  Jesús estaba muy fuerte con ellos.  Los fariseos ciertamente deseaban vivir en la luz de la justicia de Dios, para ser justos ante Dios.  Definitivamente, los fariseos tenían buenas intenciones.  ¿Y no es éste el deseo de todos nosotros como discípulos de Cristo?  Pero los fariseos intentaron a tener un enfoque específico: vivir la justicia de Dios con estricta observancia de las leyes de Dios.  Los fariseos pensaban que por su propio esfuerzo, podían tener éxito en su camino de fe.  Jesús entendía de dónde vienen los fariseos.  Entonces, Cristo anunció un tipo de justicia que supería la justicia de los fariseos.  Podemos pensar que “ojo por ojo” es justicia.  Podemos pensar que obtener venganza es justicia.  Jesús nos desafía a tener otra perspectiva: “Sean perfectos, como su Padre celestial es perfecto.”  La mayoría de nosotros pensamos en la justicia desde nuestro propio punto de vista; pero, necesitamos centrar la justicia en Dios y en su ley en un punto de vista muy diferente.  Sí, debemos tratar de ser perfectos, como Dios, cumplir el propósito de Dios, cooperar con la gracia de Dios en nuestras vidas. P. Estamos perfectos como Dios cuando tratamos de amar como Dios ama, de perdonar como Dios perdona, de mostrar la buena voluntad incondicional y la benevolencia universal como lo hace Dios.
       ¿Tenemos una sugerencia que podemos emplear en nuestro camino de fe para vivir en el espíritu del Evangelio de hoy?  Si, debemos vivir en la santidad de Dios.   La santidad es una condición de ser, no es una condición de hacer.  La santidad es mas de vivir en los mandamientos de Dios.  Debemos vivir conscientemente en un estado de oración, un estado de unión con Dios.   La santidad no significa la piedad, sino vivir el amor de Dios, no vivir por nosotros mismos.  Estamos llamados a vivir como un tipo diferente de ser humano, cuyo centro está fuera de nosotros mismos y dentro de nuestra unificación con Dios.  Sí, sólo somos verdaderamente libres para vivir como discípulos de Cristo cuando estamos libres de nosotros mismos.  La santidad no es moralidad solamente, sino es más bien la transformación de nosotros mismos y el centro de nuestras vidas.  Cuando somos capaces de hacer esto, podemos entender verdaderamente el Evangelio de hoy.
      Cuando Tomás de Aquino celebraba la misa durante la fiesta de San Nicolás en el año 1273, tuvo una revelación, una experiencia con Dios que cambió completamente su vida.  Aquino aún no tenía 50 años y era considerado uno de los teólogos mas importante en el mundo.  Escribió más de 100 obras: comentarios sobre las Sagradas Escrituras y sobre los Padres de la Iglesia, libros de filosofía, comentarios sobre Aristóteles, y la Summa Theologiae.  Sin embargo, después de la misa, reveló a su secretaria que sus escritos llegarán a su fin.  En comparación con la experiencia mística que tuvo con Dios durante la celebración de la misa, consideraba todos sus escritos nada más que la paja.  De hecho, Aquino nunca escribió de nuevo después de ese día.  El aspecto intelectual de nuestra fe, las leyes y los mandamientos de Dios - todos son importantes, pero no lo son todo.  Si no tenemos una relación auténtica con Dios, si nuestro espíritu y alma no lo experimentan y lo aman, que el resto es para nada.  Como experimentó Aquino, las palabras a veces fallan miserablemente para describir esa experiencia mística, transcendente, y amorosa que tenemos en nuestro Señor.

Friday, February 17, 2017

19 February 2017 - 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Matthew 5:38-48

     Many countries in Latin America have gone through revolutions or civil wars or military dictatorships, with a lot of killings and murders and violence taking place. Nicaragua, a country in Central America, is one such place. A man named Tomas Borge was a leader in the struggle against the dictatorship in control of his country. He was captured and put into prison.  He was subject to the worse type of torture for months.  It seemed like it would never end. After the dictatorship was toppled, Borge was freed and actually became the Minister of the Interior of the new government.  One day, the tables were turned.  The guard who inflicted such terrible punishment on him was now an inmate in prison himself.  Borge visited this man in prison.   He walked up to the man and said:  “I am going to get my revenge from you”. He then held out his hand and said, “This is my revenge, I forgive you.”
      For the last couple of weeks, we have heard passages from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew.  With the beatitudes and a perspective on God’s laws and commandments beyond their literal meaning, Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount definitely push us to grow in our faith. Let’s think about the Pharisees.  Jesus could be really tough on them. The Pharisees certainly desired to live in the light of God’s justice, to be just before God. They definitely had good intentions.  And isn’t this the desire of all of us as disciples of Christ?   But the Pharisees tried a very specific approach: to attain justice through the strict observance of God’s laws and commandments. The Pharisees thought that through their own effort they could succeed in being where God wanted them to be. Jesus understands where the Pharisees are coming from, but instead announces a kind of justice which exceeds and surpasses the justice of the Pharisees. We may think that taking an eye for an eye is justice. We may think that getting revenge is justice.  Instead, Jesus challenges us to a higher standard: “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”  When most of us think of justice from our own point of view, centering justice on God and his law may be a very different point of view. Yes, we are to try to be perfect, to be like God, to fulfill God’s purpose in creating us, to cooperate with God’s grace in our lives. We become perfect when we try to love as God loves, to forgive as God forgives, to show unconditional good will and universal benevolence as God does.
     What are some suggestions we can employ on our journey of faith that can help us live in the spirit of today’s Gospel. I thought about what it means to be holy, to aspire to be like God.  We can begin by approaching holiness as as state of being, rather than just being able to follow God’s law and commandments in our lives. Yes, holiness is fundamentally not about doing, but about being.  We are to live consciously in a state of prayer, a state of union with God, to live consciously inside of God.  Sanctity or holiness does not signify being perfectly pious, but doing and living for God’s sake what you used to do and live for our own sake. We are called to live as a different kind of human being, one whose center is outside ourselves and inside our unification with God.  Yes, we are only truly free to live as disciples of Christ when we are free from ourselves.  Holiness is not just about morality, but more about transforming ourselves and the center of our lives.  When we are able to do this, then we can truly understand the point of today’s Gospel.  
     When Thomas Aquinas was celebrating mass during the feast of St Nicholas in the year 1273, he had a revelation, an experience with God that completely changed his life. Aquinas was not yet 50 years old and was considered one of the greatest theological minds the world had ever seen.  He had written more than 100 works:  commentaries on Scripture and on the Church Fathers, philosophical treaties, commentaries on Aristotle, explorations of disputed subjects, and his great work, the Summa Theologiae, which stood unfinished. Yet, after mass, he revealed to his secretary that his writings will now come to an end.  Compared to the mystical experience he had with God during the celebration of the mass, he considered all his writings nothing more than straw.  Indeed, Aquinas never wrote again after that day.  The intellectual aspect of our faith, God’s laws and commandments - they are all important, but they are not everything.  If we do not have an authentic relationship with God, if our spirit and soul do not experience him and love him, than the rest is for nothing.  As Aquinas experienced, words sometimes fail miserably to describe that transcendent, loving, mystical experience we have in our Lord.   

Monday, February 13, 2017

17 February 2017 - Friday of the sixth week in Ordinary Time - Genesis 11:1-9

     Today, we hear the last of our two week cycle of readings from Genesis in our daily masses.  Like the story of the Garden of Eden, today’s story is a tale of humanity’s pride, arrogance, and folly.  The people learn to make bricks.  They want to construct a tower that will reach up into the heavens. God sees the pride and arrogance of the people, so he is not pleased. God feared further rebellion from them.  God divides the people by making them speak languages incomprehensible by the others.  They are scattered over the face of the earth, so the building of their city and their tower is abandoned. Arrogance and pride are sins that are still common today. We can think that we are in control of our lives and our destinies, but then something can happen that shows that we are not in control.  We see natural disasters like hurricanes or tsunamis or tornados, we see tragedies like the 9/11 attack in New York or the federal building in Oklahoma City.  Then, are are reminded of how fragile our existence here on earth really is and how it can be destroyed in an instant.  As God scattered the people with language in the Tower of Babel, he united people being able to understand their different languages at Pentecost.  With God and through our Lord, Jesus Christ, there is unity, there is hope.  

16 February 2017 - Thursday of the sixth week in Ordinary Time - Genesis 9:1-13

     Before his covenant with Abraham, before his covenant with Moses, we hear of the covenant that God makes with his people through Noah today after the great flood.  God promises that he will not send another flood to destroy the earth again.  The sign of that covenant is the rainbow that crosses the sky.   Just as rainbows are signs of sunshine after rain, the rainbow is a reminder to the people of God’s covenant with them. Later, God will make a more specific covenant with Abraham and his descendants.  Then there will be covenant between Moses and Israel, entailing corresponding obligations: fidelity to God’s commandments and observance of the Sabbath.  We live today under the final covenant between God and his people -  the New Testament covenant between God and the world that was signed in the blood of his son on the cross, the covenant that we celebrate each time we gather around the eucharistic table of the Lord. We renew this covenant each time we celebrate the Eucharist, each time we reconcile with God and our brothers and sisters, each time we live out the Gospel in our lives. We are indeed a covenant people.  May we never forget that.  

15 February 2017 - Wednesday of the sixth week in Ordinary Time - Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22

     Think about how often we see the number 40 in Old Testament readings.  Many Scripture scholars see the number 40 as symbolic of a time of testing or judgment.  In today’s reading from Genesis, 40 is the period of days and nights that it rains when God destroys the earth with a great food.  After Moses killed the Egyptian, he flees to the desert of Midian,  where he spends 40 years watching over flocks of sheep before he goes back to lead the Jewish people. Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights.  Moses also intercedes on Israel’s behalf for 40 days and 40 nights.  The law of God put forth in the book of Deuteronomy specifies the maximum number of lashes a man could receive for a crime at 40 lashes.  We probably all remember that while the Israelites wandered for 40 years before arriving in the promised land, Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the desert, just as we celebrate 40 days of Lent.  And Goliath taunted Saul’s army for 40 days before David arrived to slay him. 
     Whether or not the number 40 really has any significance is still debated, but it seems that the Bible indeed uses the number 40 to emphasize a spiritual truth.  After they left the ark for dry land, Noah built an altar and offered burnt offerings from each of the clean animals that had been in the ark in thanksgiving to God for their being saved.  God was pleased with the fragrant odor of this sacrifice and pledged never to curse the earth again because of the sins of humanity nor would he destroy all living creatures again, although individuals might be punished.  Unfortunately, because of original sin, we human beings still have a tendency to sin, which has not been lessened after the Flood. We are all called to try our best to resist the temptation to sin, but when we do, we repent and turn back to the Gospel.  In God’s love and mercy, he is alway there to help us, he always gives us another chance.  

Sunday, February 12, 2017

14 February 2017 - Tuesday of the sixth week of Ordinary Time - Genesis 6:5-8, 7:1-5, 10

      We hear of Noah and the great flood today.  It is interesting, that in other narratives from Mesopotamia and Babylonia from the same era, that are a lot of similarities in their great flood stories. Yet, whether this story is interpreted as being literal truth or as a parable, the important thing is to discern the eternal truth that is contained in this narrative:  that God is just and merciful, that human beings have turned away from God, but that God saves his faithful ones. The Flood is a divine judgement which is a foreshadowing of the final days. We can see the salvation of Noah as a foreshadowing of the saving waters of baptism.
    In the Middle Ages there was a great moment of peoples throughout Europe.  Bringing Christianity to these groups was a goal of the Church.  Cyril and Methodius, two brothers we celebrate as saints today, were sent from Greece to be missionaries to the Slavic people.  Cyril and Methodius learned the vernacular language of the Slavic people and were able to bring God’s word to them in their own language, making their missionary work very successful. In fact, these two brothers also invented a Slavic alphabet into which they translated Sacred Scripture.  Today, Cyril and Methodius are remembered as the founders of Slavic literature.   The Slavic liturgy that Cyril and Methodius wrote is still used in many Churches in the East.  We honor Cyril and Methodius today, remembering their contributions to our universal Church.  

Friday, February 10, 2017

12 February 2017 - Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time - Sirach15: 15-20, I Corinthians 2: 6-10,

      We all live out our faith in the reality of our lives, in the reality of the world around us. However, the reality and values of the world can often provide obstacles and hardships in the way we are called to live out our faith. I remember that during Christmas break of my first year in seminary, I was asked to spend a week with the sisters at the parish of Immaculate Heart of Mary in Houston, Mississippi, not too far from us here in Tupelo.  That was my first experience in Northeast, Mississippi.  I remember some of the older members there telling me what it was like living in an area with almost no Catholics, where there was no parish established and where there has never been a resident pastor once there was a parish nearby, where often times, they only went to mass a couple of times a year, only after traveling a very long distance at great sacrifice. I thought about where I served in Ecuador as a missionary, where two priests served a huge rain forest region of more than 100 villages, where many villages did not even get mass once a year.  Yet, somehow, the people tried to find a way to remain Catholic and to maintain their Catholic identity. 
     Our readings today focus on the challenges we have in living out God’s laws and commandments in a secular world, in living out a life of discipleship in a world that has different values and different morals from ours.   Our first reading comes from the book of Sirach, one of the books that is included in our Catholic Bible, but only that is not found in Protestant Bibles. The author of the book, Joshua Ben Sirach, was a scribe from Jerusalem who became part of the Jewish diaspora, the Jewish population who left Israel and who lived in other surrounding countries.  Having established a school in Alexandria, Egypt, this practicing Jew found it very difficult living out his faith in a pagan society where Jews were in the minority - sounds similar to the situation we Catholics have here in Mississippi. Ben Sirach’s message was intended for Jews who were a part of this diaspora, who were under the influence of the Greek way of looking at things that was so pervasive in the ancient world of that era. Sirach asserts that there should be no compromise with the prevailing culture when it came to keeping God's law.  It is our choice to either follow or disobey God’s laws.  We are responsible for the consequences of our choices.  Paul's message in his first letter to the Corinthians enhances the message that we heard from Sirach, as Paul contrasts the wisdom of the prevailing Greek culture with the wisdom of God.  Paul advises us as Christians to seek true wisdom in God’s revelation instead of engaging in endless discussions of Greek philosophy.  According to Paul, God in his great wisdom has saved us through his son Jesus Christ and has prepared for us “what eye has not seen and ear has not heard and what has not entered the human heart.”
     But we Christians are not to deny the realities of the world, to withdraw from the world and to live in some sort of existence that denies the reality of the world around us.  We are called to dialogue with the world and to bring our values to the world.  When I was in Ecuador, not only did we bring the faith to the people, but more than the government or any other agencies working in the area, I saw the Catholic Church doing so much to improve the lives of the people, running medical clinics, schools, orphanages, business initiatives, loan programs, farmer cooperatives, and much more. St Augustine once said: “For grace is given (to us) not because we have done good works, but in order that we be able to do them.” It is the same with God’s laws and commandments. They have been given to us not to hinder us or punish us, but to support us and guide us and help us to achieve our potential as human beings and as disciples of Christ.  When I thought of today’s readings, I thought about Ms. Jane Sullivan, whose funeral we had here at St James just a couple of days ago.  I had mentioned at Jane’s funeral that I was always impressed by the great balance Jane had in her life of faith.  Everyone here at St James knew of her good works and works of charity - picking up the newspapers for residents on her street at Traceway, feeding the neighborhood stray cats, taking people to doctor’s appointments, and visiting the sick and shut-ins.  Yet, we also knew Jane as a great woman of prayer and faith, always studying the faith and studying God’s word, being members of adult faith formation programs and Bible studies and prayer groups.  To me, this balance between the spiritual and religious practice of our faith and the works of love and charity that grow out of our faith. As a priest, I always try to find the balance of the two in my own life, and to promote this balance with my parishioners.  It is that balance in our spiritual lives that will help us live out God’s laws and commandments in our lives.  We know that this is not always easy, but it is the challenge we have in our lives of faith.