Monday, February 25, 2013

3/1/2013 – Friday of 2nd week in Lent – Matthew 21:33-46

         Today, we hear a parable that Jesus addresses to the elders of the Temple and the Pharisees.  This parable portrays a situation that was well known to those living in ancient Israel, of absentee land owners living outside the area.  Traditionally in our modern era and in much of church history, we have interpreted this parable in an allegorical sense, in which God is seen as the landowner and Jesus is seen as the son.  This interpretation makes sense to us in the light of our faith, in the light of Jesus' death and resurrection, and in the way he was rejected by most of ancient Israel. 
         However, we can also see this parable as a true-to-life description of a peasant uprising against an oppressive landowner.  In this view of the parable, we would be forced to examine our attitudes toward the use of violence in the context of landowners, inheritance, and the oppression of the poor.  This parable portrays the futility of violence and demands a more productive and peaceful response to the problem of oppression.  It makes us think of the non-violent, direct action responses to our contemporary situations of exploitation and oppression. 
         The kingdom of God will be given to the people who will bear much fruit.  By calling ourselves followers of Jesus, how are we bearing fruit in our lives?  How are we working toward justice and peace in our own communities and in the world in general?  How are we working against oppression and violence?  Are we working toward opening the kingdom of God to all on earth, not seeing it as a kingdom that is reserved only for a privileged few?  We can help build the Kingdom of God here by extending ourselves in love, respect and solidarity, by making the ideals of the kingdom of God more of a reality in the world rather than just a lofty vision.  

2/28/2013 – Thursday of Second Week of Lent – Luke 16:19-31

        The prophet Jeremiah tells us that those who put all their trust in human beings are cursed, while those who put their trust in the Lord are blessed. We indeed have a choice in whom we put our trust.  In Luke, we hear Jesus' parable about the rich man who refuses to hear the cry of poor Lazarus on his doorstep; both Lazarus and this rich man receive their due reward or punishment when they die.  Again, we are told that we have a choice in how we treat our brothers and sister who are poor, oppressed, or marginalized in our world. And these choices have consequences for us in the eyes of the Lord.
         We have many in our secular society who put their trust in material possessions and living comfortable lives, who do not wish to serve the Lord or the least of those in our society. I think that it is so easy for us to forget that the message of our Catholic faith can really challenge us sometimes in things we often take for grant.  In this context, I remembered what some of our great theologians say about helping others, especially how it challenges the way in which we view personal liberties and private property in our country.  Thomas Aquinas argued that those in desperate circumstances could even steal to satisfy their basic needs and they would be committing no moral crime, distinguishing between our human rights and our natural rights.  The goods of creation are here to meet the needs of all people. The common good of humanity, the good of those who are in desperate need, is more important than the human laws that create and protect an unfair distribution of these goods that favors the rich.  St. Ambrose reminds the wealthy that it is the hungry man's bread that you withhold, the naked man's cloak that you store away, the money that you bury in the earth that is the price of the poor man's ransom and freedom.
         As we listen to the choices we have in life that are addressed in today's Scripture readings, I wonder: Do we place our trust in the voice of God, or do we listen to the voice of secular society that we hear so strongly in our modern world?  Like the rich man who cannot hear Lazarus crying out on his doorstep, do we block out the cries of the poor and the abandoned who are crying out to us in desperation? 

2/27/2013 – Wednesday of 2nd week of Lent – Matthew 20:17-28

“The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  We hear Jesus give this declaration at the end of today’s Gospel, and we think about how we can be servants as well on our own journeys of faith.  Jesus calls us to this very unique path, a path that we must take very seriously. 

Recently, I came across a quote from Origen, one of the early Church fathers who lived in Alexandria, Egypt in the 3rd century.  Origen writes: "Those who pray as well as work at the tasks they have to do, and combine their prayer with suitable activity, will be praying always.  That is the only way in which it is possible never to stop praying."

I connect what Jesus is saying – of being a servant rather wanting to be served ourselves – to what Origen is saying – of how we are to turn our lives into a constant prayer, of prayers that we not only recite to God, but also that prayers that turn into our thoughts, our work, and our actions for the day. 

All of us living here in the United States can often take our faith for granted.  We think that we will always have the freedom and liberty to practice our faith.  Yet, if we look throughout history, this is not always the case.  Today, February 27, is the anniversary of the death of St Anne Line, a young woman who died for her faith in England way back in the year 1601.  At the time in England, it was unlawful to live out the Catholic faith, as it was unlawful for a priest to celebrate mass.  Anne hid several priests in her home in order for them to be able to celebrate mass.  For this act, St Anne Line was arrested by the governmental authorities and was quickly put to death by hanging.  When asked if she was repentant, she said she wished that she had been able to help out a thousand priests. 

These messages that we hear today speak to us during this holy season of Lent.  May we truly live out of faith in our daily lives, making our lives a living prayer.  And may we truly be the servants that Jesus calls us to be. 

Scallop shells and the Cross of St James

Scallop shells and the Cross of St James - This runner stamped with scallop shell symbols and the cross of St James is part of our celebration of Lent at St James the Greater Catholic Church in Tupelo, Mississippi.  We are journey along the pilgrimage route on the Way to St James during Lent.  The liturgy committee at our parish did a great job - especially Kristi Houin who made this runner.  

3/2/2013 – 3rd Sunday in Lent - Cycle A– Woman at the well – John 4:5 – 42

       Jesus is tired & thirsty from a long journey; he meets a Samaritan woman at a well and asks her for a drink of water.  This Gospel story may not be shocking to us, but viewed through the social norms of ancient Israel, this was a very bold act.  The well was the source of water and the source of life for the small communities of ancient Israel as women gathered at the well a couple times a day to get water for their families.  The mid-day sun was very hot, so this task was usually performed in the early morning and evening hours as the women of the village came together at the well at about the same time.   In addition to being a time when the women performed this important chore, gathering water from the well was a social gathering when they took a break from the hard work of running a household.
         In today’s Gospel, the woman at the well was alone in the hot mid-day sun, suggesting that the other women were shunning her.  It isn’t shocking that Jesus and the Samaritan woman were at the well at the same time, but it was daring that he spoke to her in public, since men in ancient Israel didn’t speak to women unknown to them in public places.
This Gospel story resonated with me, since I had to go to a well to get water when I was Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea, West Africa. The first time I went to the well, I saw all of the women gathered around, waiting their turn to get water, chatting and socializing.   All of a sudden, several of the women started laughing and screaming and pointing to the bucket that they had just pulled out of the well.   A large turtle had come up in the bucket of water, all wiggling and squirming trying to get out, quite a surprise to the women who weren’t expecting anything out of the ordinary.  As got my water and started on the journey back, I realized that I was the only man present, surrounded by about 25 women with huge buckets of water that they carried on their heads back to their homes. 
When I was in Africa, and when I lived in the jungles of Ecuador as a missionary as well, getting water from the well or from the river was a commonplace chore for me.  It seems odd and out-of-place in modern America, but we can takes things for granted in our lives, can’t we?  It is all how we look at something, how we perceive it.  For my daily devotions, I use a monthly publication called Give Us This Day, published by Liturgical Press out of Collegeville, Minnesota.  Each day, this publication chooses someone who is a saint or an outstanding example of faith and it gives a brief reflection about that person.  One day last week, they singled out the Samaritan woman from this Gospel passage, naming her an Evangelist.  Here she was, separated and looked down upon by the villagers where she lived, and here we are almost 2,000 years later naming her as an Evangelist and a great example of faith. The law and Jewish tradition in ancient Israel tried to keep the Jews from Judea from having contact with Samaritans, since the Samaritans had intermarried with the local people and were seen as having corrupted their Jewish heritage.  Yet, Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for something to drink, he engaged her in conversation, and she responded and asked questions and dared to even ask him about religious matters as well.  She admits to Jesus: “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
      On an interpersonal level, the Samaritan woman, who had been unable to turn away from the hurts and sins that had held her back in her life of faith, now experiences a conversion through her interaction with Jesus.  She became his disciples in her own way and out of the reality of her life.  In turn, her conversion and testimony are instrumental in converting her town into believers in Jesus.  What started out as Jesus reaching out to a woman in a way that was condemned by traditional Jewish law turned into a significant interpersonal interaction that brought about her conversion to Christ, leading to the conversion of an entire town.
         As I thought about today’s Gospel, I couldn’t help but think about the new evangelization that Benedict XVI called us to as part of the year of faith he declared in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.  And just as the Samaritan woman had to first connect her own faith to Christ before she went out to evangelize to her community, we are called to deepen our own faith during this Year of Faith, and then to evangelize others, particularly those who have left the faith for different reasons.  In the Mississippi Catholic newspaper last week, it was expressed as – “KNOW your faith, SHARE your faith, LIVE your faith.” 
         We can share our Catholic faith in so many different ways.  The pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain that we’ve been following on our Lenten journey draws people from all over the world.  This pilgrimage is dedicated to St James the Greater, but when St James arrived in Spain right after Christ’s death and resurrection he was not successful at all in his missionary efforts.  Spain remained a pagan country, James won over very few converts, and he returned to Jerusalem defeated and dejected, where he would soon die as a martyr for the faith, the first apostle to do so.  However, now almost 2,000 years after his death, the Apostle James is bringing amazing numbers of people closer to Christ.  In fact, last year about 195,000 pilgrims complete the journey to Santiago de Compostela either on foot or on a bike.  When can sometimes get discouraged in our evangelization efforts, but James is a great example of how our evangelization efforts can bear fruits even when everything seems so discouraging. 
         We are now in the middle of our Lenten journey.  As we take in the different stories of our faith, as we hear about the Samaritan woman at the well and about St James, may we take heart, may we learn and grow in our relationship with God, and may we see ourselves in that same tradition as Evangelizers of the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Reflections on the feast of the Chair of Peter

I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  (Matthew 16:19)

Today, we celebrate the Chair of Peter.  It is not the actual physical "chair" that we celebrate today, but rather Peter the Apostle and his function within the group of apostles and within the early Church.  Perhaps this is a very timely feast that we celebrate today, as we are looking toward the election of a new pope as Benedict XVI steps down at the end of this month.

When the news of Benedict's resignation hit, I was approach be a couple of reporters and asked about the impact that the pope has on our local parishes here in Mississippi.  And he indeed has a great impact.  Where some Protestant denominations are very loosely structure in terms of hierarchy, our pope is a very active leader who has a very real role in the lives of Catholics.

Today, in our diocese of Jackson, we are having an evening prayer celebration at the Cathedral of St Peter in downtown Jackson to award 10 medals to lay people who have made significant contributions to our diocese.  Mary Rutledge, from my former parish in Yazoo City, will be the recipient of one of these medals, and I am in Jackson today for this celebration and to honor her and her years of service in this special way.

May we pray for Pope Benedict XVI in a special way today.  May we also pray for his successor and for the process in our Church that will choose the new pope.  May God be with us.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

2/26/2013 – Tuesday of Second week of Lent – Isaiah 1:1, 16-20

       The prophet Isaiah spoke to the people of ancient Israel in the last part of the 8th century BC in the area around Jerusalem. Biblical scholars believe that when the first chapter of Isaiah was written, the Assyrian empire was in the midst of attacking the city of Jerusalem, having already defeated its northern neighbors 20 or 30 years earlier. The message in today’s reading from Isaiah is particularly relevant to us during this holy season of Lent. Through the prophet Isaiah, God offers mercy to the people if they repent.  The image of washing is used by Isaiah in a metaphorical sense, speaking of the ethical purity of the people.  The people are told to wash their hands and to clean up their act. 
         God is willing to regard the scarlet and crimson sins of the people as white as snow, but the condition is that Israel be willing to be obedient.  Thus, there cannot be salvation without responsibility.  God anticipates the openness of the people of ancient Israel to this invitation.  If the people respond affirmatively, they will eat the good of the land, yet if they refuse, they will be destroyed by violence.  This message may seem harsh to us in our modern era, but the offer of a future is always there, it is always made by the Lord. The Lord graciously offers life to his people, even in the face of their disloyalty.  Isaiah tells us that the mouth of God has spoken – there is no ambiguity here. 
         During our journey during Lent, during our call to repentance and our desire to put all that weighs us down and all that burdens us at the cross of Jesus as symbolized by the rocks that we are carrying around with us during Lent, how do we respond to the word of God that speaks to our daily lives?  How much are we willing to repent, to wash our sins, to clean up our act?