Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Heart Rules

The Heart Rules
Friday: Thirteenth Week of the Year: July 1, 2016
Year II: Amos 8:4-12; Psalm 119:2-40, 131; Matthew 9:9-13

The Responsorial Psalm tells us what should preoccupy us: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. 1

Amos 8: 4-12 denounces those who are more interested in profits than in prophets! Anyone preoccupied with making money will be led inevitably, if unconsciously, to “trample on the needy and try to suppress the poor people of the country.” Jesus warned: “No one can serve two masters… God and wealth. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”2

The fact is, we tend to follow the inclinations of our hearts, recognized or not. Our judgments are prejudiced by our desires. 3

So we need to stay in touch with our hearts, monitor our desires and work against the disordered attachments we have to the things of this world. Psalm 119 highlights this:

Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain. Turn my eyes from looking at vanities…. May my heart be blameless in your statutes, so that I may not be put to shame…. If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my misery. 4

Amos says the worst consequence of neglecting the word of the Lord is that we will be deprived of it: 

I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread… but of hearing the words of the Lord…. They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.

The worst deprivation is the absence of ministry. That is why Jesus explicitly consecrated all of us prophets and priests in Baptism: to be “ministers of the light” to one another.

In Matthew 9: 9-13 it is the religious outcasts and sinners who accept the true goal of Jesus’ mission, prompting him to observe, “Those who are [think they are] well [think they] have no need of a physician.” Those who seek healing are those who know they are sick. The point is that, paradoxically, if we lower the goal of our religion, practicing it can keep us from seeing how irreligious we are! If we are faithful — but not “faith-full” — in the external observances of our religion, this can keep us from calling our hearts into question and asking whether we really love God and one another. Love, not law, is the goal.

True Christians must always be, not ministers of the law, but “ministers of  light” — of the true goal of Christ’s religion, which is is to know God by faith and love him as the God he reveals himself to be. The important thing is not to just do what the law says, but to seek to understand the mind and heart of God behind the law. 5

The only way to keep the law faithfully is to interpret it in the light of God’s love. This is the ministry of light. We do not live by laws alone, but by every word that comes from the heart of God.

Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Express your heart and God’s heart in every act.

1 Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; and see Psalm 119.
2 See Matthew 6: 19-24.  
31Kings 11:2.  
4 Psalm 119: 36-37, 80, 92.

5Nehemiah 8: 8-12; Deuteronomy 6: 20-25; Matthew 11:7; John 17:3.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Trust That The True Is Good

Trust That The True Is Good
Thursday: Thirteenth Week of the Year: June 30, 2016
Year II: Amos 7:10-17; Psalm 19:8-11; Matthew 9:1-8

The Responsorial Psalm gives us some reasons for dealing readily with God. An example: “The judgments of the Lord are true, and all of them are just” (Psalm 19).

In Amos 7: 10-17 the priest Amaziah attacked Amos for prophesying King Jeroboam’s death. He rejected Amos’ message because: 1. if the king listened to Amos he would take away his livelihood as priest of a forbidden worship; and 2. Amos dissolved the security he had by being on the king’s side, saying the king’s government was about to be abolished.

For the same reasons we resist God’s word and the words of the “ministers of light” if: 1. they call us to give up something we are attached to or to do something we are averse to; or 2. their message makes us feel fear or anxiety. If we don’t “feel good” about the message, we stop listening to the messenger. That is as stupid as turning off a doctor who says we will die if we don’t change something in our lifestyle!

The Responsorial Psalm reassures us: “The law of the Lord… revives the soul…. is to be trusted…. The precepts of the Lord gladden the heart…. give light to the eyes…. The decrees of the Lord are more to be desired than gold….” To believe this frees us to hear God more readily.

Matthew 9: 1-8 calls us to the conversion of accepting what Jesus really came to give, no matter what false values of our own it threatens. Jesus’ chronic adversaries were first the priests whose power-base he threatened, then the Pharisees, whose first priority was “law and order,” and finally the scribes, the self-appointed “doctrinal police,” who made themselves the defenders of Jewish orthodoxy. They were all flawed with rigid fundamentalism, as are the enemies of the “ministry of light” today. They close their hearts to the experience of God.

There are Jewish fundamentalists, Muslim fundamentalists, Protestant Biblical fundamentalists and Catholic fundamentalists. They all reduce religion to a few doctrines or laws, simplistically formulated, while refusing to see them in the broader and deeper context of their religion’s true spirit — much less in the light of God’s own mind and compassionate heart.

The scribes saw the boundaries of their comfortable world called into question when Jesus, a man, forgave sin. They saw their power threatened when the crowd “praised God for giving such power to human beings” — a mystery beyond their dreams: God empowering humans to act in his name by his living Spirit within them, shattering slavery to frozen doctrines and laws. This is fearful to fundamentalists. But to all who are open to mystery, it is an experience of the power and love of God: “the judgments of the Lord are true, and all of them are just.

Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Let God’s own light shine in your words and acts.

The Saving Power of God

The Saving Power of God
Wednesday: Thirteenth Week of the Year: June 29, 2016
Year II: Amos 5:14-24; Psalm 50:7-17; Matthew 8:28-34

The Responsorial Psalm tells us it is what we do in our lives, not what we say in our religious ceremonies, that gives us the experience of being one with God: “To the upright I will show the saving power of God” (Psalm 50).

Amos 5: 14-24 calls us to make a conscious and conscientious connection between what we say and do: being conscious of what we are saying when we pray; being conscientious about living out what we express to God in worship.

There should be no distinction between our religion and our spirituality. “Religion” (inauthentic) can be a “system” or structure of beliefs and practices that do not really engage our conscious mind and heart in deep, personal response to God. We can just affirm what we are taught to believe without thinking about it very much. We can take part in religious ceremonies, saying the words, doing the actions, without being alert that we are speaking to God or communicating with him person-to-person. Even the priest presiding at Mass can read the words of the prayers without consciously and personally addressing God as present. Teresa of Avila says that if we are not conscious of who we are when we speak to God, and to whom we are speaking, it is not prayer at all, “no matter how much the lips move.” All true prayer is conscious, person-to-person interaction with God present and listening.

The “ministry of light” consists in giving conscious expression to the divine life of God within us: letting our faith, hope and love “take flesh” in words and actions that become increasingly consistent with each other. We listen to our words to live them out in action. We look at our actions to see if they verify our words. This is both the expression and the experience of God’s presence in us: “To the upright I will show the saving power of God.

Not everyone is comfortable being aware of God’s power, even when it is being used to bring about the triumph of his love. In Matthew 8: 28-34, when the citizens of Gadara realized that Jesus had divine power, they “implored him to leave the neighborhood.” Maybe they were afraid they might lose more pigs! More likely, they were just afraid of the unknown. They wanted to just keep living on ground level, without delving into what might be above or below them. They were not interested in mystery nor open to it. Are we like them? Or do we trust absolutely that the unknown of the depths and heights of all being are in the hand of God?

The “ministry of light” opens our eyes and others’ to what is most real and least visible: God’s power, presence and action within us. When we let God express himself in and through our physical words and actions “we show the saving power of God.”

Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Express mystery in consistent words and actions.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The “Two Primacies”

The “Two Primacies”
The Feast Of Saints Peter And Paul: June 29, 2016 (Year C)

Ask yourself...
Why do we celebrate Peter and Paul together? Why does Eucharistic Prayer I place Paul at the head of the list of Apostles with Peter, when he was not one of the Twelve? (While Matthias, who was one, is in the second list with Barnabas!)

Consider this...
The Responsorial (Psalm 34) focuses us on confidence: “The Lord set me free from all my fears.” The Opening Prayer identifies our trust: “Through Peter and Paul the Church first received the faith. Keep us true to their teaching.”

Acts 12:1-11 shows us God breaking Peter out of jail. We can be sure Peter was scared, because Herod, who arrested him, had just “had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.” And he was going to “bring him [Peter] out to the people after the Passover” for trial. Peter had no reason to think God would protect him any more than he had James.

But there was a reason Peter could not guess at. Peter had to die in Rome. Why? Because Paul was going to die there, and both of them had to die in the same place. Why? And why in Rome? Nothing in the Gospels gives Rome any particular importance. Jesus never even mentioned Rome. And after his resurrection he only spoke its name once, when in Acts 23:11 he said to Paul: “Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.” He does not say why. There was nothing sacred about the city at the time. Rome became sacred only because Peter and Paul died there.

Because they died in united witness to the same faith, Rome became a symbol of the unity of the Church.

Peter and Paul could have — and by normal human standards predictably would have — divided the Church. Peter had the authority from Jesus himself to govern the Church and keep it faithful to what the original Twelve had seen and heard “beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up” (Acts 1:22). Paul wasn’t one of those original witnesses. But he proclaimed himself “an apostle —sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” He said he did not receive the Gospel he preached “from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ”:

 “When God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me…” precisely to “proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me.” This could have set him on a collision course with Peter. But instead, they each recognized the complimentary “primacy” of the other.

Peter had the authority to declare what was and was not consistent with the teaching of Jesus. But Paul had a mandate from God himself to preach what the Spirit taught him, and it went far deeper into the truth that Peter understood.

Deeper but not against. Paul adds, “Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days… after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem… in response to a revelation. Then I laid before them (though only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain.”

Had Paul not done that, there would have been two churches; one governed by Peter, the other inspired by Paul. And even if they had all believed the same thing, they would not have been in fellowship, and they would not have benefited from the sharing of their charisms. Peter was the link to the historical Jesus. His was the last word on what was consistent with the Gospel as Jesus preached it. But Paul’s charism was to be an equally authoritative channel for the development of that teaching by the risen Jesus, speaking through the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised the Twelve that the “Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name,” would not only “remind you of all that I have said to you,” but would also “teach you everything” (John 14:26). In no one was that more obvious than in Paul.

There we have; what we might call the ‘primacy of Paul.’ …It was charismatic rather than institutional. Paul was the one who bore witness to the absolute, radical authority of the Word over everything and everyone, even over him to whom the Lord had committed leadership… within the apostolic group. The fact of Paul’s unique calling shows how God’s grace transcends every institution (J. M. R. Tillard, O.P., The Bishop of Rome, Glazier, 1986, pp. 74-117).

The Twelve could have split the Church too, had they refused to recognize the authority of the Spirit in Paul. But the Spirit of unity prevailed: “When they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised… and when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do” (Galatians 1:11 to 2:10).

God arranged that this unity would be sealed dramatically when Peter and Paul both died in united witness to the same Gospel in Rome. That is what made Rome what it is.

Rome now became the place of total, perfect confession of the apostolic faith, with no split in its faithfulness both to its roots in the historical group which Jesus had gathered during his earthly ministry [through Peter] and to the new experience of the Spirit of the resurrection [through Paul]. Hence the privilege of this local church, and so of her See and cathedra. Hence also her special calling: the communion of the witness of Peter and that of Paul which had been entrusted to her  — engraved in her, so that she became the ‘living memory’ among all the churches. Her bishop would have the responsibility of becoming guardian of and spokesman for all that is implied by such a privilege and calling” (Tillard, ibid).

The Responsorial (Psalm 34) that follows the first reading is a cry of confidence in God: “The Lord set me free from all my fears.” Peter must have echoed it when the angel set him free of his chains. And in 2Timothy 4:6-18 Paul is saying the same thing in his prison in Rome, from which he knows that only death will deliver him: “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.”

But he makes it clear that the Lord has “set him free from all his fears” — from all the ones that matter, at least: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

In the sentence before this, he spoke to Timothy of his real fear: “The time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” His real fear was division in the Church, separation caused by people choosing their own teachers instead of heeding the ones God appointed.

This is the danger from which God rescued Paul himself by maintaining him in union with Peter and the original community of believers. His own experience gave him confidence that the same Lord who “stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” would continue to preserve the Church until “that Day “ when “the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me the crown of righteousness” and not only to Paul “but also to all who have longed for his Appearing.” And so he urges Timothy, “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching…. be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully” (2Timothy 4:2-5).

In Matthew 16:13-19 Jesus says to Simon, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.” This gives us confidence when authority and inspiration seem to be in conflict. The Church will stand united because it is founded both on Peter and on Paul. In traditional writings they are called the “two Coryphaei” or “leaders of the chorus.” The church (diocese) of Rome was founded on them both. That is why we celebrate their feastday together.

How are the distinct charisms of Peter and Paul seen in the Church today?

Initiative: Give God’s life:
Be both open to the Spirit and faithful to the teaching of the Church.