Reflection - July 14, 2019

“But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus,
‘And who is my neighbor?’
‘...Which of these three, in your opinion,
was neighbor to the robbers' victim?’
He answered, ‘The one who treated him with mercy.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’”

The scholar of the law, likely a Scribe, puts it all down on the table, “Love God and love neighbor.” He risks everything, an all demanding response, but seeing the potential for loss, the possible cost of love, he hedges his bet, “And who is my neighbor?” For Jesus, it is not only the wrong question, but reveals the deeper hesitation to go all in. It reveals the self concern and self reference within all of our hearts. We seek to limit our obligations based on the definition of the other: just give me a rule to follow. As we hear in the first reading, the law isn’t out there somewhere, defined by exterior expectations and behaviors, but within our very hearts. Transformation, not conformation, is the path to inherit eternal life. 

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Reflection - July 7, 2019

“Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort,
that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts!”
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 
For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision,
but only a new creation.” 
“Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you,
it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.”

It doesn’t happen very often, but even selecting the above excerpts from the three readings today and putting them together in print feels a little uncomfortable. Regrettably, I’m a bit too comfortable with similar references in advertisements, music, television shows, movies, and in popular culture, in general. We are inundated with image and story defining our bodies, especially the more sexual or sexualized parts, and how we are free to use them. Sensual and seductive, our bodies are reflected back to us by much of our culture as a means to an end. It has been going on for so long, that we are pretty comfortable with it. It is easy to accept this constant messaging without thinking much is wrong with it. We have begun to presume that our bodies are primarily instruments for unrestricted pleasure. It’s pretty powerful. 

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Reflection - June 16, 2019

“Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,
knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

In nearly every field of human endeavor that’s worth doing we expect there to be exertions, trials, hardships, and afflictions: business, sports, politics, academics, military, art, craft, healthcare, etc.  We even expect, for the most part, that quality human relationships are going to take effort and have challenging times. Human relationships are not easy to do well for the long run. We may even recognize that it is work and takes dedication to be committed to our own mental health. We prize success, achievements, and milestones because they usually reflect hard work and, especially, resilience. 

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Reflection - May 12, 2019

“When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy
and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.
Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said,
‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first,
but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life,
we now turn to the Gentiles.’...
The Jews, however...stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas,
and expelled them from their territory.
So they shook the dust from their feet 
in protest against them, and went to Iconium.
The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”

When I was stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, two friends I met through the base chapel programs were fundamentalist Christians. They were the hard core, the Roman Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon, kind of fundamentalists. They were good guys and their concern for me was authentic. As long as I remained in the Catholic Church, they were convinced, I would spend eternity burning in the fires of hell. I was willing to concede some wrongdoing, for we have been far from perfect, but dogmatically they were opposed to saints, the role of Mary, the Pope, hierarchy, ordination, confession, any formal liturgy, the role of works in salvation, tradition, most of the rest of the sacraments, and, especially, the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Rather than being part of God’s work and grace by which we enter more deeply into communion, they viewed these things as lies that blinded me to the truth and led me far away from God. We had some great conversations. 

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Reflection - June 30, 2019

“Brothers and sisters:
for freedom Christ set us free;
so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.
For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.
But do not use this freedom
as an opportunity for the flesh;
rather, serve one another through love.
For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement,
namely, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
But if you go on biting and devouring one another,
beware that you are not consumed by one another.”

Freedom from restraint. After 50 years of marriage, one of my grandma’s favorite lines, spoken often to my grandpa with great love and occasionally with fierce exasperation, was, “Don’t tell me what to do.” This is a common understanding of freedom in our culture. Freedom seems to be the lack of exterior requirements or constraints for how we act or behave. In most cases, with the slim exception of harm to another, we long for the ability to self-define our action or identity. We can bristle when an authority makes decisions to compel or restrain our own action. It hits all of us across the spectrum of human activity: relationships, economics, politics, and personal morality. Sometimes, we accept restrictions willingly because of our own beliefs and desires or because of our understanding of the common good, but we may also conform through force or threat of punishment. With the right resources, we have tools in our society to resist through protest, the courts, or the ballot box. Often, we vie for power to protect our ability to decide our own action or regulate the actions of others. All of this takes as its foundation the understanding of freedom as minimizing restrictions on our actions. Don’t tell me what to do. 

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Reflection - May 26, 2019

“Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.

Whoever does not love me does not keep my words;
yet the word you hear is not mine
but that of the Father who sent me.

I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

Jesus was a Jew. All of his Apostles and disciples were Jews. They followed the law of Moses and the traditions and customs of the Jews. Yet, the Gospel was being preached to the gentiles, primarily by Paul and Barnabas. Signs followed, the Holy Spirit was given, and many believed. This created conflict. Should the Gentile followers of Jesus be required to follow all the prescriptions of the law, including circumcision? How was this to be decided? From where would the answer come?

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Reflection - May 5, 2019

“When they climbed out on shore,
they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread...
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter,
‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’
Simon Peter answered him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’
He then said to Simon Peter a second time,
‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’
Simon Peter answered him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’
Jesus said to him the third time,
‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time,
‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him,
‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’”

The Evangelist of the fourth gospel (not to be confused with the modern term, an evangelist like Billy Graham, but used by Catholics to designate the writers of the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) emphasizes the connection between love and mission. Being in relationship with Jesus requires action. Love requires service. Faith requires works. It is the same for Peter as it is for us, although the Evangelist takes great pains to establish the primacy of Peter among the disciples, even in the gospel that has such a high opinion of the Apostle John, the beloved disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. Peter plays a prominent role, enters the tomb first, even though John arrived before him, and is given charge here of feeding and tending Jesus’s sheep, the Church. This reflects the reality of Peter’s importance among the disciples and in the early Church. His role and authority, and by extension the role and authority of the pope, are founded on love. Love defines the mission. 

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Reflection - July 23, 2019

“Then taking the five loaves and the two fish,
and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing over them, broke them,
and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.

They all ate and were satisfied.
And when the leftover fragments were picked up,
they filled twelve wicker baskets.”

Today’s Gospel is about the Eucharist. The fourfold action of Jesus is repeated again at the last supper and again on the road to Emmaus. It happens at every mass we celebrate and is the pattern for our lives. 

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Reflection - May 19, 2019

“I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”

Growing up at St. Polycarp in Pleasure Ridge Park in the 1980s, I don’t remember having the option not to go to mass. It was just what we, mom and I, did. There were times I was gone on a camping trip with the Boy Scouts, traveling somewhere to visit my dad, or involved in some program or activity far away and missed mass on a particular weekend, but if it was possible to go, we always went. It was a utilitarian church with cinder block walls, square edges and metal poles everywhere, and little in the way of religious art.  It was not so beautiful, altogether. I passed many masses in boredom as they seemed to drag on. In fourth grade, however, I had what I believe to be my first true religious experience. 

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