The Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: 1 Sam 26: 2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; 1 Cor 15: 45-49; Lk 6: 27-28]
Unless we are to spend our lives going around in circles, even the more pragmatic among us must acknowledge the necessary role that ideals have in our lives. Our ideals call us to look beyond the limitations of whatever situation we are currently in, and they give us the motivation necessary to move beyond the comfort of the status quo. Of course, it is possible to become so absorbed in thinking about our ideals that we never get around to putting them into practice. That too results in spending our lives going nowhere in particular.
If we put ourselves somewhere between both extreme pragmatism and extreme idealism, which I assume we all do, a major challenge that ideals present to us is the gap that always exists between our current state of progress and the goal to which we aspire. Impatience is an inherited characteristic of the human condition, and our instantaneous society has conditioned us to be even more impatient. We are becoming increasingly accustomed to pushing a button or turning a dial and getting the result we want, right now! When we do not get the result we want as soon as we think we should have it, the danger is that either we become discouraged and give up on the ideal, or delude ourselves into thinking that we are further along on our way toward our ideal than we actually are.
One of the lessons that we can learn from earlier, less technologically advanced ages is that growth occurs in stages and takes time. If I want to reach my goal, I will have to be honest about my starting point and be willing to pass through the stages that will lead to my goal. This will all take time. The gospels call us to an ideal Christian life, an ideal that is none other than Christ himself. Some would dismiss this ideal as impractical; yet as we heard a few moments ago, we are called to bear the image of Christ within us.
This is a goal toward which we will be advancing all our lives and which will continually call us to pass beyond where we are. This is will test our patience, but in the spiritual life the goal is also the way. We grow in patience by having our patience tested. We learn to love by loving. We learn what it means to do good by doing good. We are called to grow into the full stature of Christ, and this is possible only because we already bear the image of Christ within us. Taking this morning’s gospel reading as a starting point, although I am not able to measure up to the ideal it presents, am I willing to work toward it? I may not have a strong feeling of affection for those who make life difficult for me, but am I willing to pray for their wellbeing. Am I willing to behave toward everyone with kindness and respect? Will I try to speak the truth in love rather than give in to sarcasm and criticism? In humility and honesty, will I acknowledge the distance that separates me from the full stature of Christ rather than put the people I live and work with into categories and pass judgment on what I consider their lack of progress? The list goes on. Becoming a follower of Christ is a long and difficult way, and we are always becoming Christians. As we stand at the threshold of Lent we would do well to ask the Holy Spirit to show how we can grow further into Christ this Lent, and to guide and support us along the way.
The Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Is 43:18-25, 2 Cor 1:18-22; Mk 2:1-12]
There is a statement that is able to terminate many arguments and opinions. It is enough to placed the adversary in a defensive position that can only wait for the action of the declaration. No amount of rhetoric is able to recall it or contradict it. To silence the opposition and render him mute is the object of the assertion. The statement is, “He means what he says.” As though he has someone or other in his corner who is able to back him up.
In the Gospel today we have a scene of some men who are trying to do a favor to a disabled person by bringing him into the presence of Jesus so that he may be cured of his ailment. Their strategic move of going up to the roof and lowering the invalid near Jesus is rather dramatic. But it was the initial response of Jesus that caught many off guard. It seemed apparent they were looking for a physical and manifest cure. But his reply was, “Your sins are forgiven.” Under his condition one could only wonder how much damage he could do in such a state. But the spiritual and interior disposition was the primary interest of this great healer and miracle worker who had so much control of what he wanted to do. The physical cure that took place seems only incidental to what really mattered in the sight of God.
Jesus means what he says. The promise he has made to those who believe in him are, humanly speaking, unattainable. Who could possibly promise someone the forgiveness of personal sin and life everlasting, the vision of God as he is in himself, the communion of saints, angels in festal robes chanting divine praises and a state of bliss human language is unable to describe? Are we willing to let ourselves be lowered into the presence of Jesus without lowering our expectation of what he can do for us if we really strive to be his disciples?
The virtue of faith is the opening in the stolid roof of unbelief that covers our minds that seek how all these things can be a form of reality. Not only will we find out that Jesus means what he says but that he is able to deliver with a reassurance that his majestic words are beyond recall.
The Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Cycle C Scripture Readings: 1 Sam 26: 2-23; 1 Cor 15: 35-50; Lk 6: 27-38]
Love your enemies, even in persecution, torture, and martyrdom! During the first three hundred years of Christianity, men, women, and children suffered terrible persecution. They were crucified, wrapped in straw and burned to death, decapitated, torn apart by starving lions in the Coliseum, scourged, and stoned to death. When these sufferings failed to destroy Christianity, Roman magistrates developed the art of slow torture. It became a challenge to the judge’s skill to break down the resistance of Christians. The great church historian of those times, Bishop Eusebius, wrote that some Christians were kept encased in wooden boxes, slowly starved by hunger and thirst, many were sent to forced labor in copper mines, not for the value of their work, but to be mistreated and afflicted by mutilation, to break their spirits. But in all these trials the outstanding mark of Christians was their love. They not only loved Christ more than their own bodies and life itself, they also loved the ultimate human enemy, the persecutor who inflicted torture and martyrdom.
The great school of martyrdom and love is the New Testament, especially the Gospels we hear each Sunday. They were written during the earliest persecutions for disciples who were struck in the face, beaten, stripped naked of their cloaks and tunics, taken away on forced marches, their homes and property confiscated.
In this school love Jesus is the master, the doctor of martyrdom. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude you, and revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven. ?. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you, ?. you will be children of the Most High, ? for he is merciful and kind even to the ungrateful and the wicked.” This is the path Jesus taught and walked. What he instructs us to do, he has done before us, what he exhorts us to suffer, he has suffered. Jesus loved us when we were his enemies by dying for us, making us friends of God.
St. Cyprian warns us that the struggle is hard and fierce, that soldiers of Christ must prepare themselves for it. (Letters 6, no. 2, p. 17) St. Therese of Lisieux knew how to prepare. She writes, “To love Jesus without feeling the sweetness of that love, there you have [one kind of ] martyrdom.” (Letter 73) “When I feel nothing, when I am incapable of praying or practicing virtue, [these are the moments in which I can] give Jesus more joy than the empire of the world ? as by a smile, or a friendly word when I much prefer to say nothing at all.” (Letter 122) By loving our friends and those around us we prepare ourselves to love our enemies.
Actually, do we even truly love our family and friends? The story is told of a woman who bumped into a stranger. “Excuse me,” she apologized, “I wasn’t watching where I was going.” She was very polite and kind. That evening, while doing the dishes , her young son stood beside her. She turned, and nearly knocked him down. “Move out of the way” she said harshly, with a frown on her face. His tender heart was pierced with pain as he got out of her way. Later, when she sat down to rest, she remembered her courtesy to a stranger in contrast to the abuse she plopped on her own little boy. Feeling remorse, she went to his room, knelt by his bedside and said, “I’m sorry for the way I spoke to you today.” He threw his arms around her neck and whispered, “Oh, Mom, that’s okay, I love you.” Then he reached over to a bedside table for a bouquet of flowers. “Here” he said, “I picked these today because they’re pretty, like you.” Then she cried from mixed emotions of shame and happiness. She kissed him, and hugged him very close.
Jesus wants us to love our enemies, but first we must begin by truly loving our family and friends. Forgetfulness, pettiness, selfishness, bitterness, withdrawal, anger, frustration, apathy, laziness, all these wage constant war against really loving even those who are closest to us. Brother Giles, the companion and disciple of St. Francis, once said, “It is a great grace to live at peace with those around you.” Whoever manages to live in peace and love with others only does so by dint of constant spiritual exercise. It’s hard work resisting our self-centeredness.
When Charlie Brown says, “All it would take to make me happy is to have someone say he likes me” Lucy replies, “Are you sure?” He says, “Of course I’m sure!” She continues, “You mean you’d be happy if someone merely said he or she likes you? Do you mean to tell me that someone has the power to make you happy merely by doing such a simple thing?” Charlie Brown nods his head, “Yes, that’s what I mean!” Lucy thinks out loud, “Well, I don’t think that’s asking too much, I really don’t. But you’re sure now? All you want is to have someone say, “I like you” and then you’ll be happy?” He looks at her and says, “Then I’ll be happy.” Lucy turns and walks away saying, “I can’t do it.” Can you?