Saturday, March 28, 2015

Jesus Changes Our Sense Of Unity

March 28, 2015
Saturday of the 5th week of Lent

Jesus Changes Our Sense Of Unity
“He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together.”

God can’t stand division. Through Ezekiel he says, “I will make them one nation… Never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms… There shall be one shepherd for them all.” And Jesus prayed for his disciples, “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).

The reason is that God is One. To be one is to be like God. For a being even to exist, it must be one in itself: the four “transcendentals” of being (characteristics that “transcend” all differences, that are common to all beings, created and divine) are Being, Oneness, Goodness and Truth (Intelligibility). Because God is “One in Being,” whatever is from God must be one with itself and in unity with everything else.

Unity does not mean uniformity. John Ruskin, a leading English art critic of the Victorian era, describes “beauty” as “unity amid variety.” God is One, but God is three distinct Persons. The way the Holy Trinity can be One in Being but distinct as Persons gives us the key to unity among humans.

In the Preface for the Holy Trinity we say God has “revealed his glory” as “three Persons equal in majesty, undivided in splendor.” The Three Persons are “equal” in that no one of them has anything the others don’t have. There is no “plus or minus” in the Trinity.

“Undivided in splendor” means that no one of the Three Persons shines more brightly than the others; none has more “prestige” or receives more honor than the others. All are equally “adored and glorified.”

In finite, limited human beings, there is a “plus and minus.” Some humans are “more” muscular than others, or “more” talented in one way or another. We give people more honor and prestige because of something they have that others don’t. And this is divisive. Because we don’t see all as “equal in majesty,” all of us are “divided in splendor.” Some are set apart from others as “stars” or celebrities; some are separated by protocol because of the rank they hold in government, Church, business or the military. The rich are given more respect than the poor, and “distance” themselves from the common herd by living in exclusive neighborhoods, attending exclusive schools, belonging to exclusive clubs, and in general living a lifestyle that by nature excludes all those who can’t afford it. This is the way it is on earth; probably always has been, presumably always will be.

But Jesus calls us to challenge that presumption. He prayed to the Father that his disciples “may be one, as we are one,” which, we have seen, means “equal in majesty, undivided in splendor.”

The different persons in the human race are not “one in Being” as the Persons of the Trinity are. There will always be inequalities in what philosophy calls “accidents,” meaning characteristics that can differ in beings that have the same nature: like color, weight, nationality, even artistic talents and I.Q. None of these change the intrinsic value a person has as a human being, although popular opinion denies this.

The fact is, a mentally challenged child is just as valuable and precious as an educated genius. An undeveloped fetus in the womb is worth just as much as a fully developed adult. In God’s eyes, which are the only ones that see “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” all human beings are “equal in majesty,” because they are all equally human—and, if reborn by grace, are equally divine children of God, the “highest” dignity there is.

And all are equipped to contribute equally to the good of the human race. If we don’t recognize this (and we don’t), it is because we have a very selective—and false—definition of what is “good.” To take just one example: who does more good for humanity: a ph
ysically or mentally challenged child who evokes love from a continual procession of family members and friends, or a football star who entertains millions on Sunday afternoons? Isn’t it true that the football stars would be the first to say the child does? But both are “equal in majesty,” because both are equally human and, by grace, equally divine. And if both are contributing to the good of the world according to their particular talents and gifts, who is to say their contributions are not equal?

Radio Vaticana reports that in a Trinity Sunday talk (2014) to the community of Sant’ Egidio in Rome:

Pope Francis went on to tie the crisis among the young and the elderly in society to the “throw-away culture” that drives and dominates globally. “In order to maintain such a [system], in which, at the center of the world economy, there are not man and woman, but the idol of money, it is necessary to discard things. Children are discarded.”
“Just think,” he continued, “of the birth rate in Europe: in Italy, Spain, France – and the elderly, [too], are thrown away, with attitudes behind which there hides a form of euthanasia. [The elderly] are no longer useful – and that which is not useful is to be tossed aside,” he said.

There is no greater disunity than that which causes us to reject, neglect, or even kill certain categories of human beings. The root of this is failure to recognize that we are all “equal in majesty.” And this failure is largely due to the flaw in our culture that makes us “divided in splendor.” Through the protocol of social customs we treat some people as if they deserved more respect than others. This inevitably creates the mindset that some people are more important than others, and that they have more value than others.

Until Pope Francis began to reverse it by the power of his example, the most glaring example of this falsehood was the hierarchy of the Catholic Church! Just think of the common usage of “hierarchy” to designate “an organization in which people or groups are ranked one above the other according to status” or “a classification of things according to relative importance or inclusiveness” (Microsoft Word dictionary). The word itself doesn’t mean that at all. It comes from the Greek hieros and archos, meaning just “government by the keepers of sacred things” (Webster’s). The word took on its second meaning from the ostentatious ranking of the Catholic hierarchy, and may be our most visible contribution to the corruption of the culture!

Jesus calls us to a “change of mind” about the unity of the human race. He calls us to recognize we are all “equal in majesty,” and should be “undivided in splendor.”

Jesus came to make us like God. God is One. Therefore Jesus came to make us one. Even his enemies—unwittingly—recognized it: “Caiaphas, who was high priest that year… prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” Jesus himself said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12:30).

Do I choose to let Jesus change my sense of unity with other members of the human race?

Pray: “Lord, make us all one, as you, the Father and the Spirit are one.”

Practice: Treat everyone with equal respect.

Discuss: What makes us look on some people as “better” than others?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Jesus Changes Our Reason For Believing

March 27, 2015
Friday of the 5th week of Lent

Jesus Changes Our Reason For Believing
“Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord.”

Many would answer, if asked what proof Jesus gave that he was God or from God, “He worked miracles!” In today’s Gospel Jesus would accept that, but only as second-best. He says, “If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works.”

It is true that by “works” (erga) Jesus does not mean miracles (“deeds of power,” dunamis), to which he appeals as a motive for conversion in, for example, Matthew 11:21: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” But the principle is still the same: Jesus is saying, “even if you do not believe me just because of what I am in myself, what you somehow see in me as a person, then—as second-best—believe because of what I do, because of the actions I perform.”

We might ask, “What have we got to judge by, if it is not how a person acts?” I don’t have a clear answer to that, but maybe Jesus means that there comes a point, after one had heard or read his words and learned about his actions, when one goes beyond the words and actions to a perception of the person that is deeper than and no longer dependent on the externals. One wonders if that was behind the credibility the people gave to John the Baptizer: “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” They trusted John, just because they knew who he was.

However that may be, we know with the benefit of theological input, that real faith in Jesus is a gift of God not to be confused with any rational conclusion, however justified. Those who believe Jesus is the divine Son of God believe it because they know it, and they know it because the Father is revealing it to them. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me” (John 6:44).

We know that the Father draws everyone. It is a doctrine of our faith that God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1Timothy2:4). So if any are not drawn to Jesus, it is because they are refusing to listen to the Father. He said, “Whoever hates me hates my Father also.” And those who reject and kill his disciples “will do this because they have not known the Father or me” (John 15:23; 16:3).

 Ultimately, what Jesus is saying is that anyone whose heart is good will recognize him for who he is. If any do not recognize him as good, it is because their heart is bad. But this does not mean we can judge anybody, because—echoing the famous words of Pope Francis—“who are we to judge” whether anyone has accepted Christ or not?

(See the New York Times report (July 29, 2013) on Francis’ “airplane interview” while returning from Brazil: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis told reporters, speaking in Italian but using the English word “gay.” … “It’s not a great opening in terms of contents, but the fact that he talked about it that way is a great novelty,” said Paolo Rodari, a Vatican expert at the Italian daily La Repubblica. Francis would probably agree with Benedict’s writings on homosexuality, he added, “but it doesn’t interest him. It interests him to say that the problem in the end isn’t if someone has this tendency, the important thing is to live in the light of God,” Mr. Rodari said. “Said by a pope, it’s enormous).

Francis is famous for looking deeper than words. For him, the important question is not whether one professes to be Catholic, Protestant, non-Christian or atheist, but whether one believes unconditionally in “the Good, the True and the Beautiful” (the “transcendentals” common to all Being) regardless of the name used to identify them. Those who accept without limitation the goodness of the Father’s creation are implicitly accepting the infinite Goodness of the Father.

So what is the metanoia, the “change of mind” to which Jesus is calling us? He is calling us to look into our hearts and to realize that the reason we believe in Jesus is that we just know he is mnwho he says he is. There is nothing wrong with supporting this knowledge by rational arguments, the testimony of saints and scholars, or by the inexplicable evidence of miracles. But in the last analysis, we believe because we just know. It is a gift of God; the gift of faith.

Do I choose to let Jesus change what I recognize as the reason why I believe in him?

Pray: “I believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Practice: Look into your heart. Be conscious that you believe because you know.

Discuss: If all your logical reasons for believing in Jesus and in the Church were destroyed, would you still believe?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Jesus Changes Our Level Of Certitude

March 26, 2015
Thursday of the 5th week of Lent

Jesus Changes Our Level Of Certitude
“I know him. And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be a liar.”

What can you say you are absolutely certain of? Forget the jokes (“Death and taxes”) and the obvious (“The hand in front of my face”), and go to what is important—and not visible.

Can you say as absolutely as Jesus did:  “I know God the Father. And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be a liar”?

Are you absolutely certain that if you “keep Jesus’ word you will never see death”?

Can you combine the two statements above and say with certitude, together with Jesus, “I do know the Father, and I keep his word”? Do you think that would be presumptuous?

To take one more example, are you absolutely sure that your life is contributing something good to the world? In the first reading God promised Abraham: “I will render you exceedingly fertile.” In John’s Gospel (15:16), Jesus promised all of us, “I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

Lent is a good time to ask how certain we are about what we believe. Am I just “hoping for the best”? Or am I so certain I will stake my life on what I believe, as Jesus is about to stake his as we enter into Holy Week?

Don’t ask, “Am I willing to die for what I believe?” That is a little remote, not to say unrealistic. Ask instead, “Am I willing to live for what I believe?” Does the life I am living right now make it obvious—to me and to others—that I really know God? Know he is my Father, and that I am divine because I share God’s own divine life? Know I can feel good about the effect my life is having on the human race? Know that I am keeping God’s word? Know that I will never die?

The truth is, if I am not absolutely certain about all of these fundamentals, I have some converting to do. It means I need a metanoia, a “change of mind” that goes hand-in-hand with a change of attitudes, values and behavior. I know it sounds threatening to say this, but if I am not absolutely certain about all of the above, I am not experiencing authentic Christianity. I have not accepted the Good News. I need to be “evangelized.”

If you are feeling upset with this, you may be falling into the common error of confusing being certain with feeling certain. The certitude that accompanies faith is the greatest certitude there is, but we experience it as the “dark light of faith,” and during periods of the “dark night of the soul” we have no feeling of certitude at all. When St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the “Little Flower,” was going through her “dark night,” she told her superior, “I want to believe there is life after death.” But she had no felt belief in it at all. She went on to say, “I have made more acts of faith this year than in all of my life before.” She believed. And she was certain about what she believed. But she didn't feel it.

You may need a spiritual director to help you distinguish between your faith and your feelings. But asking the questions here is a good way to begin. More than likely, if you ask them, and take time to get in touch with your deepest heart, you will be able to “own” your faith more clearly, more explicitly than you ever have before.

So ask yourself, “Do I choose to let Jesus change my level of certitude?”

Pray: “Lord, if today I hear your voice, open up my heart.”

Practice: Form the habit of verifying whether your choices and unexamined assumptions are consistent with your deepest convictions.

Discuss: How do you know you believe?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Jesus Changes Our View Of Humans’ Role

March 25, 2015, Feast of the Annunciation
Wednesday of the 5th week of Lent

Jesus Changes Our View Of Humans’ Role
“Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.

Jesus is the Savior of the human race. But there would not have been any Jesus if Mary had not said “Yes” when invited to become the Mother of God. And she was free not to.

Mary was “conceived without sin.” From the first moment of her existence in her mother’s womb, she was preserved from ever being under the power of sin—not as a special favor to her, but so that the flesh God took to be his own should never have been under the power of sin. And she was preserved from sin all her life, because what God gave her to become the Mother of God, he continued to give her as Mother of God. God doesn’t just “use” people; when he enters into relationships, they endure. But Mary was always free to sin, and she could have. It is due to her choice to do God’s will that we are redeemed. That is why Mary is called the “second Eve”—the “mother of all the living” (see Genesis 3:20).

Sometimes Mary is called “co-Redemptrix” of the human race. The bishops at Vatican II decided not to deal with that, and since the meaning the title has for its promoters is vague to me, I don’t use it. But the fact is, Mary’s role, like that of Eve, was crucial for the future of humanity. God would not have taken flesh without a free act of human cooperation. God simply would not have redeemed the human race without human participation. That would have been to admit that human nature was hopelessly flawed, and that creation was a failure. The cooperation of the human race in its own salvation was and still is required, if for no other reason than to show that the human nature God designed was not defective.

If Mary had chosen not to do God’s will, we don’t know what would have happened. But we do know what happens when any one of us refuses to do God’s will. The spread of Christ’s redemption throughout the world is slowed down, and the growth of his redemption—his divine life—within each one of us is stymied. Yes, we can block God’s power to give divine life—both to us and to others. Jesus has freed us from the slavery to human cultural conditioning that blinds our minds and seduces our wills. But we are free to return to it. And if we do, we obstruct life and foster death.

We know that [in Baptism] our old self was crucified with Christ so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin… Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions…

What advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death… For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:6).

None of us has the crucial role Mary had. But in our own little time, in our own little place, and in our own little circle of friends and sphere of influence, each of us does have a crucial role. The fact is, human beings all influence each other. That is simply a fact of human life on earth. It is up to us whether our influence contributes to life or to death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God [which he gives to others through each one of us] is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The “Yes” Mary said to becoming the Mother of God made her the “second Eve”—the “mother of all the living” who live by the Life of God. Saint Paul calls Jesus the “second Adam” (1Corinthians 15:45). But just as the multiplication of the human race depends on a continuing chain of natural “Adams” and “Eves,” so the multiplication of the “saved” depends on a continuing chain of divine “second Adams” and “second Eves.” Life is passed on through human beings, both human life and divine life. The difference is that, while we can just abstain from giving human life if we wish, if we do not give divine life we pass on death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We are all “co-redeemers” with Christ. This mystery of our co-operation with Christ in redeeming the world is a basic theme of St. Paul’s letters. He uses the expression “in Christ” or its equivalent 164 times. And twenty-nine times he uses the prefix syn- in Greek (“co-” in English) to express our union with Christ, as members of his body, in what he did and we do. Fernand Prat, S.J., gives the list in his The Theology of St. Paul (tr. John Stoddard, Vol. II, pp. 18-20 and 391-395): co-suffer: Romans 8:17, 1 Corinthians 12:26; co-crucified: Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20; co-die: 2 Timothy 2:11, cf. 2 Corinthians 7:3; co-buried: Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12; co-resurrected: Ephesians 2:6, Colossians 2:12, 3:1; co-live: Romans 6:8; co-vivified (returned to life): Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13; co-formed (configured): Philippians 3:10, Romans 8:21; co-glorified: Romans 8:17; co-seated: Ephesians 2:6; co-reign: 2 Timothy 2:12; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:8; co-planted: Romans 6:5; co-heir: Romans 8:17, Ephesians 3:6; co-sharer: Ephesians 3:6, 5:7; co-incarnated (embodied): Ephesians 3:6; co-built: Ephesians 2:22; co-structured (and connected): Ephesians 2:21, Ephesians 4:16, Colossians 2:19. Add 1Corionthians 3:9: co-workers with God (synergoi), quoted in Vatican II on “Missionary Activity,” no. 15 and 2Corinthians 6:1: co-working (synergountes). Also 3John:8: synergoi: co-workers with the truth.

The angel said to Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus”—a name that means “God saves.” When Mary answered, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word,” she became a co-savior with Jesus. When we say “Yes” to what God asks of us, we become co-saviors too. This gives us a new understanding of our role and responsibility for others.

Do I choose to let Jesus change my view of the responsibility I have to give divine life to others?

Pray: “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”

Practice: Take a serious look at your lifestyle. What helps and what hinders the growth of divine life in others?

Discuss: How does Jesus want to work through us here and now?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Jesus Changes Our Minds About Suffering

March 24, 2015
Tuesday of the 5th week of Lent

Jesus Changes Our Minds About Suffering
“Make a saraph and mount it on a pole,
and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.

People get angry with God when he lets them suffer. And can we blame them? Have you seen a loved one die—especially a little child? We sometimes complain even when God lets minor things go wrong in our life. Jesus changes this.

The ultimate answer to suffering is to look at Jesus on the cross. God the Father let this happen to his own Son. Not only that; he sent his Son to earth knowing it would happen. And Mary, his mother, had to stand at the foot of the cross and say, “Let it be done to him according to your word!” She had to do more than accept his crucifixion; she had to actually offer up her Son to torture and death in union with his will and the Father’s. How could any mother do that?

How could God the Father do it?

The answer to that question is the answer to all our complaints and to all our anger against God, if we are willing to accept it. The one-word answer is “Love.”

The Father let his Son die out of love for us. So did his mother. And all the pain and suffering in the world is turned into good if we accept it with love.

No one says that is easy. No one says it is even possible without faith. And even with faith we need to have a hope that is divine, not just human. But God gives us the faith and hope that empower us to love: to love God, ourselves and others as Jesus himself has loved us (John 13:34; 15:12). To love like this is to share in Jesus’ own act of loving. It is to unite ourselves with Jesus on the cross. And we are invited to do that in every Mass.

When the host—the Body of Christ—is “lifted up” at the moment of consecration and elevation during the Eucharistic Prayer, the response we are called to make is not just “My Lord and my God!”—good and holy as that act of adoration is. At that moment we are called to enter into the action made present before our eyes, and to say with Jesus—with him, in him and through him—“This is my body, given up for you.” Given up in surrender to the Father with Jesus saying, “not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42); given up as a “living sacrifice” for every human being on earth: family, friends and foes alike (Romans 12:1); our bodies given up, with all we can do, express or suffer in them, as Jesus gave up his body on the cross and is giving up his body in the Mass: our “flesh for the life of the world” (John 6:51).

This is to love one another as Jesus has loved us. And it is impossible unless we love with, in and through Jesus giving himself on the cross. It is divine love, and we can only give it by sharing in the divine life—and death—of him who was “lifted up” in answer to all the sin and suffering of the world.

Jesus was prefigured in the “saraph serpent mounted on a pole.” Whoever “looks at him after being bitten” with pain and suffering “will live.”

Jesus’ crucifixion, for those who have eyes to see, was the ultimate revelation of his divinity during his earthly life. It was a revelation of love and surrender to God that could only be divine.

When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me. The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.

Jesus on the cross changes our perception of pain. He does not diminish it, but gives it a meaning and value that are divine. And just as we, who were consecrated “priests in the Priest” at Baptism, participate in transforming the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass, so, by the same priesthood, we transform pain and suffering into love by offering ourselves as “victims in the Victim” with Jesus lifted up on the cross at Mass.

Do I choose to let Jesus change my mind about pain and suffering?

Pray: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

Practice: Every time you see or experience pain or suffering, ask how you can change it into love.

Discuss: What does it mean to transform suffering into love?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Jesus Changes Our Minds About His Mercy

March 23, 2015
Monday of the 5th week of Lent

Jesus Changes Our Minds About His Mercy
 “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

When I was a child—in understanding as well as in age—I never liked to look at the crucifix. What is said to me was just the opposite of what it should have. I understood that Jesus was being punished for my sins. (Nothing in Catholic doctrine requires us to believe God “punishes” anyone for anything. The consequences of sin are a natural result—a penalty—which is very different than a punishment). And my reaction was fear, not comfort. Basically, what I thought as a child was that my sins were not all that bad, but if Jesus had to suffer so much for them, God must really be mad at me!

I know better now. But I kept for years the idea that God had a much stricter code of morality than we ordinary people did—or at least that he thought our sins were worse than we thought they were. After all, he would punish you in Hell for all eternity if you missed Mass on one Sunday or ate even a bite of meat on Friday. We used to joke about “going to Hell for a hamburger,” but it never entered anyone’s mind to doubt that God would send us there if we did.

Drop into this mindset today’s Gospel in which Jesus, after saving a woman from the legal penalty of death by stoning after she was caught in the act of adultery, said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” That is not the Jesus who came across to me through the pages of the catechism.

So we are called now to a metanoia—a change of mind about the judgment Jesus passes on ourselves and on others. Could it be that our sins aren’t as bad as we thought they were? Or that, if they are indeed worse than we can imagine, God sees our ignorance, our weakness, and the lack of conscious depth in our choices, and does not blame us for them as much as we thought he did—or as much as we blame others and ourselves?

Above all, we are called to change our mind about the love and mercy that burn in the heart of Jesus. And to keep changing it. Not everyone grew up with an impression of Jesus as distorted as mine, But no one of us—including the greatest saints—understands the full “breadth and length and height and depth” of “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” And none of us will until in heaven we are “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18). The love of Christ is a mystery; that is, a “truth that invites endless exploration.” That means, no matter how much we understand his love, it is still greater than what we understand.

The love of Jesus is mercy. It is inseparable, for us human creatures, at least, from compassion and forgiveness. When Francis urged “all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them” (Joy of the Gospel 3), he incorporated into that invitation, almost as if they were inseparable, a plea to believe in Christ’s mercy:

No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’ The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.’

How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onward!

This is, for all of us, a call to conversion; to the ongoing metanoia of constantly changing our minds about Jesus.

Do I choose to let Jesus keep changing my mind about his love and mercy?
Pray: “Lord, even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”

Practice: Every time you are conscious of sin, use it to understand more deeply the mercy of Jesus.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Jesus Changes What We Have Always Taken for Granted

March 22, 2015
Fifth Sunday of Lent

Jesus Changes What We Have Always Taken for Granted
“I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; 
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” He was speaking of his life that would be multiplied in all who would “become Christ” through Baptism after his resurrection.

But we can see another meaning in it. Each of us has to “die” to what we are by birth and cultural conditioning, in order to rise up as a “new creation” through Baptism (2Corinthians 5:17). This is true of everyone, including saints and bishops.

Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, was a German. He grew up thinking like a German. Pope John Paul II was Polish. He thought like a Pole. Pope Francis is a Latin American. He thinks like a Jesuit! All of us see things the way we were brought up to see them—until we die to our culture and rise up freed by the “mind of Christ” (read three texts: 1Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5; Romans 7:25). Jesus said, “If you abide in my word [or “hold to my teaching”], you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31).

Yes. But not overnight. And probably never completely. Pope Benedict XVI is an example.

As Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which used to be called The Holy Office of the Inquisition. He was responsible for correcting errors in teaching and conduct in the Church.

Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, who founded the Legionnaires of Christ in 1941, was repeatedly accused of sexually abusing underage seminarians in his care. According to Jason Berry, reporting in the National Catholic Reporter (April 6, 2010), “Maciel was a morphine addict who sexually abused at least 20 Legion seminarians from the 1940s to the '60s. Bishop John McGann of Rockville Centre, N.Y., sent a letter by a former Legion priest with detailed allegations to the Vatican in 1976, 1978 and 1989 through official channels. Nothing happened.” In 1998 eight ex-Legionaries filed a canon law case with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to prosecute him. Cardinal Ratzinger saw enough evidence to know the charges should be investigated. We know that because, as soon as he was made pope, he did investigate. According to Berry, “In 2005… a few days before John Paul II died, Cardinal Ratzinger announced his intention of removing "filth" from the Church; many believed he was referring specifically to Maciel.” And in 2006, as Pope Benedict XVI, he sentenced Father Maciel to spend the rest of his life in penitential seclusion. But he did not investigate Maciel until John Paul II died, because the pope commanded him not to. And Josef Ratzinger obeyed.

The shocking thing is—and it shocks us even more to say it—in obeying the pope, Cardinal Ratzinger did exactly the same thing we hung the German war criminals for doing: he obeyed a sinful command.

The German war criminals on trial at Nuremberg all made the same defense: “Nicht verantwortlich! I am not responsible! I was only obeying orders!”

They were all found guilty, and the worst of them were hung. The court ruled that it is never justified to obey when commanded to do something criminal; even if you will be executed if you don’t. In the Church we believe—but don’t always teach—that it is wrong to do something sinful, even if commanded by the pope himself.

Cardinal Ratzinger failed to prosecute Father Maciel for sexual abuse when he knew with moral certainty (the level of certainty that imposes a moral obligation) that the charges were almost certainly true. His only reason for refusing to do his duty was that the pope told him not to. That made Cardinal Josef Ratzinger co-responsible for every further act of sexual misconduct that Maciel committed until John Paul died. Were we to question him about it, his defense would almost certainly be the same as that of the German war criminals: “Nicht verantwortlich! I am not responsible! I was only obeying orders!”

He should have received the same sentence he gave to Father Maciel. He was equally guilty.

Was he subjectively guilty? Did Josef Ratzinger commit a “mortal sin” by obeying what he clearly understood to be a sin against truth and justice, and one which prolonged the damage Maciel was doing to others? Aside from the fact that to label anything “mortal sin” lightly puts one in danger of blasphemy because of what it says about God, the best defense I can make of Cardinal Ratzinger is that he was a German, brought up in a culture of obedience to authorities that was reinforced by Catholic clericalism and insistence on unquestioning obedience to the pope. On top of that, anyone made a bishop under John Paul II was required to take an oath of personal loyalty to the pope, as German officers were required to take an oath of loyalty to Hitler. We know that the German officers felt seriously obliged to obey a Führer Befehl, a direct command from Hitler, even if it went against their better judgment. We can presume that German-bred Josef Ratzinger felt similarly constrained. Let those who have never been blinded by their culture cast the first stone (John 8:7).

Why bring all this up? It is because the principle endures: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” We have to die continuously to our cultural conditioning, to attitudes and values we have always taken for granted. We undertake this in the strength of God’s promise: “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Do I choose to let Jesus change what I have always taken for granted? Do I choose to follow the law within my heart”

Pray: “Create a clean heart in me, O God.”

Practice: Whenever you feel in your heart something is wrong, look into it, no matter how much it is taken for granted in the Church or in your culture.

Discuss: What rules might we be obeying today that are contrary to the will of God?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Jesus Changes Our Attitude Toward Authorities

March 21, 2015
Saturday of the 4th week of Lent

Jesus Changes Our Attitude Toward Authorities
“Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?”

Jesus respected authority. But he showed very little respect for authorities. And the authorities showed very little respect for him. It was a combination of the four kinds of authorities in Israel who teamed up to get Jesus crucified: Herod, a civil authority; the chief priests and the Sanhedrin, who were the highest ecclesiastical authorities; the scribes, who were considered the scholarly authorities on the interpretation of the law; and the Pharisees, who had no official authority, but who were strong enough to impose their interpretation of the law on others. Almost never do the Gospels speak of any one of these except as enemies of Jesus.

Does this call us to a change of mind?

Before Francis was elected Bishop of Rome, anyone who criticized the hierarchy was suspected of disloyalty to the Church. When Archbishop John Quinn wrote The Reform  of the Papacy in 1999, he felt he had to spend two chapters explaining that criticizing defects in Church government is not only acceptable, but a very “Catholic” thing to do. He still raised eyebrows. And when Bishop Geoffrey Robinson wrote Confronting Sex and Power in the Catholic Church in 2007, bishops in the United States refused to let him speak in their dioceses. It is significant that neither wrote before they were retired as bishops.

And then came Francis. His first criticism of the hierarchy was wordless. He simply rejected everything he could in their lifestyle: their opulent residences, their ostentatious costumes, their pompous titles, their chumminess with the rich and separation from the poor, their attachment to and abuse of power, and their failure to “feed the flock” through groundlevel contact that would make them “smell like the sheep” (see John 20:17, Joy of the Gospel 24).

Then he started speaking out against clericalism, legalism and triumphalism, against the "bourgeoisie spirit and life which leads people to settle and seek a peaceful and comfortable life,” and the “psychology of Princes.” In choosing bishops, he said, “Be careful that they are not ambitious, that they do not seek the episcopate - volentes nolumus - and that they are married to their diocese without being in constant search of another” (to Papal Representatives or Nuncios, June 21, 2013).

In short, almost anything one wants to criticize in the hierarchy has already been criticized by Francis. This makes it clear that one who voices the same criticisms is not against the Church as such, or even the hierarchy, but is simply siding with the pope himself to correct abuses.

This is the key. If we should not assume the bishops are good Catholics just because they are bishops (see Lord Acton’s letter to Bishop Creighton, April. 1887: “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it”), then we likewise should not assume the bishops are bad Catholics either. Francis sees his fellow bishops as brothers in Christ: sinful as he is sinful, holy as he is holy, loving and loved by God as he is. And if he criticizes them, it is because he believes they can hear and change and reform, just as he had moments when he realized he was governing badly (for example, as a young Jesuit provincial) and changed and found peace.

Our “change of mind” about authorities should lead to the following:

1. We never break with the hierarchical Church. It is the Church Jesus founded, and bishops are essential to it, although not everything that has become associated with their position. Cardinals are not essential, any more than “monsignors” were; a category Francis has discontinued. Cardinals are simply political appointees assigned to assist the pope. It is not a religious office, and you don’t even have to be a Christian to be one. If Francis appointed a Jew to head the Vatican bank, he could make him a cardinal.

2. We never identify the “Church” with the clergy or hierarchy. We, the People of God, are the Church. If we “leave the Church” because of the example of priests and bishops, we are also leaving our mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters and friends, and such loyal Catholics as St. Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, and all the saints and martyrs, including those of our own times. The clergy can embarrass us, but we should always be proud and grateful to be members of the 2000-year-old Church that is the body of Christ.

3. We obey pastors and bishops as we obey God. If they command something that is obviously contrary to the mind and heart of God, we ignore it or find ways to get around it. But when they make a legitimate decision, we obey it out of faith, not fear. We accept their divine authority without divinizing human authorities. Jesus taught this: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” But he was teaching a selective obedience even here, because earlier he told them to “beware of the yeast; [that is] the teaching of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:12; 23:2).

4. We take responsibility for helping pastors and bishops govern. Church government is neither monarchical nor democratic. It is a kind of government that does not exist in civil society: government by discernment. All the members of the community are allowed and obligated to assist the authorities in determining what is the will of God at the present moment. It is the duty of the authority to hear them and then decide, as best he can, what God is revealing through the community. We see Francis doing this in the worldwide synod of bishops (2014-2015), to which he invited every member of the Church to contribute opinions. He urged the bishops to speak out with total freedom, and he will listen to what they say. But he made it clear that, at the end, he has the duty to decide what God is inspiring the Church to do.

This last point calls for the greatest “change of mind.” We have to stop being passive sheep. We have to stop leaving Church government to the authorities. If a pastor or bishop makes a wrong decision, every lay person who did not speak out against it is responsible; and guilty of “disobedience,” because in the Church of Jesus, silence makes authentic obedience impossible. Christian obedience is obedience to the Spirit speaking in and through the Church. If we don’t hear the voice of the People of God, we can’t be sure we are hearing the voice of the Spirit. Then, whatever we do, it is not Christian obedience.

Silent Catholics are disobedient Catholics, whether or not they keep the rules.

Do I choose to let Jesus change my attitude toward authorities? Will I help them govern with the authority that comes from God?

Pray: “Father, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Practice: Take responsibility for discerning what the Spirit in you is saying about the ministry of your pastor and bishop. Ask the Spirit if you should say something.

Discuss: Can a silent Catholic be an obedient Catholic?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Jesus Changes Our Mind About Acceptance

March 20, 2015
Friday of the 4th week of Lent

Jesus Changes Our Mind About Acceptance
“Merely to see him is a hardship for us,
Because his life is not like that of others,
and different are his ways.”

Jesus calls us to change our mind about all sorts of things. Most glaring in the Gospels is his repeated teaching that being rich is more a curse than a blessing (Matthew 19:23; Luke 6:24; 12:21). And the fact that he died defeated by his enemies was a soul-shocking contradiction of the assumption in today’s reading from Wisdom: “For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes.” God did defend and deliver Jesus, but not during his lifetime, and his final defeat on the cross was a scandal to his disciples.

The focus today is on the metanoia Jesus calls for in our attitude toward acceptance by our society and peer group. The truth is, it is not always a good sign if people accept us. It might be a sign that we are not living by the real truth of the Gospel, and especially by Jesus’ New Law as it is summarized in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5-7). Wisdom says that merely to see a just man “is a hardship for us, because his life is not like that of others, and his ways are different.” The just man is hard to tolerate, precisely because he is a just man.

What if he is a divine man, living on the level of God?

The Ten Commandments are laws for those who would be “just.” Obeying them makes us good human beings. The New Law of Jesus is the law for those who have been made divine. Obeying them makes us good children of the Father, obedient members of the body of Christ, and responsive instruments of the Holy Spirit.

It also makes us unacceptable to others. If the “wicked” found the “just man” obnoxious, saying he “sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law, and charges us with violations of our training,” the “cultural Catholics” will say the same about all who live by the New Law of Jesus. They will blame the divinely enlightened for “professing to have knowledge of God,” and those who are conscious of their divine identity for “styling themselves children of the Lord.” But anyone who does not fit that description is an inauthentic Christian. So if acceptance by others is really important to us, we have something to “change our minds” about.

This is all perfectly obvious, but it has little practical impact unless we get down to earth and ask how we can live the New Law of Jesus. If we read the Sermon on the Mount, we will say nothing in it can be understood, much less lived, literally. And we usually leave it at that. But suppose we take as a working principle that Jesus is preaching, not concrete things to do, but the attitudes and values of God. Then we will take responsibility for asking, “How can I make this practical in daily life?”

So if someone sues me for my coat (which won’t happen), I am not going to just turn it over and give my shirt as well. But what is the attitude and value Jesus is teaching here? How could I translate it into action in my life in a way that is realistic? To try to think like God, then act like God in the actual circumstances of human existence, that is what it means to observe the New Law of divine-human life.

And if I find concrete ways to live by the New Law, my life will be an inspiration to those who have accepted the Good News that Jesus offers “life to the full.” But it will be a threat and a reproach to those who just want to live good human lives on earth and “go to heaven” when they die.

Let’s offer one tiny concrete way to start, just as an example. Suppose we renounce, and try to refuse, any signs or expressions of acceptance based on anything but the value we have through the gift of divine life (the only value that endures forever)?

Suppose we discourage any acceptance based on how important or recognized our family is? First and last, we are all children of God.

Suppose we refuse all respect and special treatment based on how much money we have? Acceptance given because we are members of exclusive clubs, for example, is exposure to the deadly virus of baseless social prestige. God abhors unequal respect for the poor and the rich.

Suppose we refuse, or try to hide, any honors based on our human accomplishments? What do our letter-jackets, our trophies, our certificates of achievement, our honorary titles, or the protocol that proclaims our higher position at work have to say about our value in the eyes of God? Are we better than others because the gifts we have received from God (and, to our credit, used conscientiously) have a higher price in our culture than the gifts others have received and used equally well? Is a genius really more impressive than a janitor?

We have to admit that no one sins more flagrantly in this than the hierarchy of our own Catholic Church. The pretentious robes, ridiculous titles, and subservient protocol they insist upon simply proclaim their contempt for the opinion Jesus had of those  “who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!” (Mark 12:38). A cardinal’s “dress uniform” costs thirty-four thousand dollars, and some bishops still parade into church trailing a fifteen-foot-long cappa magna supported by four altar boys (Google "Cardinal Raymond Burke style show").

Pope Francis rejected this foolery immediately and emphatically from his first moment as Bishop of Rome (as he calls himself, rather than “Supreme Pontiff”). When an aide tried to drape the pretentious papal robe over his shoulders for his first presentation to the people after his election, he said, “Finita la comedia! The circus is over!” And in his own life he has refused, as much as possible, all special treatment and protocol attached to the papal office. (However, he has not forbidden the pretentious red sashes worn by the “higher clergy” who surround him; he is a leader who prefers to govern by example rather than edict).

Do I choose to follow his example in my own life? Do I choose to let Jesus change my mind about acceptance from others?

Pray: “Lord, ‘No one is good but God alone.’ Make me good through union with you” (see Mark 10:18).

Practice: As much as possible, stop people from giving you signs of respect based on your position or social standing.

Discuss: Should we treat anyone as “better” or “higher” than anyone else?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Jesus Changes What We Listen To

March 19, 2015
Thursday of the 4th week of Lent (also the feast of St. Joseph)
Gospel: John 5:31-47

Jesus Changes What We Listen To
“How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and 
do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?”

Why do we believe in Jesus? In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us several good reasons to believe, but none of them is the real one.

John testified to the truth.” Yes. So did our parents, wise teachers we have had, saints and martyrs, holy men and women reaching back for centuries. Their testimony is convincing. But they are not the reason why we believe.

The works that I perform testify on my behalf.” We have seen or heard of miracles. And through Jesus working in his Church, in spite of all her sins and errors, it is still a fact that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:4). People blind to the faith are beginning to see; people unable to walk on the right path have begun to follow it; many whom society considers “unclean” are reforming their lives; those deaf to the Gospel are hearing and understanding it; some who have lost the divine life of God by “mortal” sin are being raised up from death to life. And, insufficient though it is, all over the world the Good News is still being brought to the poor. For those who have eyes unprejudiced enough to see, this is convincing testimony to Christianity. But this is not the reason why we believe.

The Father who sent me has testified on my behalf. But you have never heard his voice.” When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, and at his Transfiguration, the Father said, “This is my Son” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). And perhaps he has spoken through some who have received private revelations and visions. But we ourselves have never heard him speak like this. The witness of those who have is credible. But that is not the reason why we believe.

You search the Scriptures… they testify on my behalf.” It takes ignorance or prejudice not to take the Bible seriously. Although it is not a history book, there is plenty of incontrovertible history in the Bible that cannot be explained if Christianity is not God’s doing. The Bible is a convincing book. But it is not the reason why we believe.

If you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me.” Taking this farther than Jesus intended, we can conjecture that if we really carry out to its logical conclusion anything taught by the great thinkers and authorities in almost any field—anything that deals with “the Good, the True and the Beautiful”—we will arrive at belief in God, and eventually even in Jesus. That would be an interesting thought to develop. But it is not the reason why we believe.

Jesus tells us why some reject all of these reasons for believing—and why those who do have faith should not accept any of them as their real and ultimate reason for believing. The reason is hidden in his question: “How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?” Underlying what Jesus says here is the insight that if we “accept praise from one another” we are looking outside of ourselves for an affirmation of our value that will tell us the truth about ourselves. This leads us to look outside of ourselves for the reason why we believe in Jesus and in God. Nothing outside of ourselves can be the real reason why we believe.

The real reason we believe is because of the divine light of faith that is given to us as one element or aspect of the divine life of God. We believe because we know. We know because we share in God’s own act of knowing. We share in God’s own act of knowing because we share in God’s own divine life. We share in God’s own divine life because it was given to us as a free gift in Baptism. If we were baptized as adults, or became adults after Baptism, we had to accept that gift by a free act of choice. That was the choice to accept the gift of believing in Jesus Christ. Jesus says to those who do not accept it, “You do not want to come to me to have life.” And the reason is, they are looking outside of themselves for human testimony to the divine truth of God. The testimony can be valid; it can even be the testimony of God himself embodied in human words and works. But nothing lets us know the infinite truth of God except the infinite gift of sharing in the infinite life of God. Jesus says, “You have to come to me to have life.”

Have we come full circle? Are we back at the starting point, asking again, “Why do we believe in Jesus?” What makes us “go to him” and accept from him the gift of divine life?

There may be many reasons that impel or motivate us, including any and all of the ones Jesus lists above. But the ultimate reason is not anything outside of us; it is because we are looking within ourselves, listening to our hearts. That is where we hear God’s voice.

But it doesn’t sound like God’s voice, or like the voice of any other person. It sounds like our own voice. And it is. It is God uniting himself to us and speaking to us as one with ourselves, indistinguishable from ourselves. When God speaks, we hear our own voice saying, “This is true.” If we listen, we will have heard the voice of the Father and the Spirit testifying to Jesus in our hearts.

I have a friend. She had a doctorate in psychology and did not believe in God. But she was dating a man who took her to meetings with a Christian prayer group who discussed the Bible.

One day, listening to them talk, she found herself saying to herself, “This would all be very beautiful—if only it were true.” Then with a shock she realized, “But it is true. I believe what they are saying. I believe!”

Did she make an “act of faith,” or discover that she had it? Did she choose—or did she just realize—that she believed?

My answer would be, “God gave her the gift of faith and she accepted it.” It was the gift that made her able to accept the gift, but it was also her free choice.

What motivated her to make that choice, to accept the gift that was given to her? It was the fact that she looked inside herself, at what she knew and believed, instead of looking outside at the reasons for believing. Had she looked outside, she would have wondered whether she ought to believe. By looking inside, she realized that she already did.

What Jesus says in this Gospel does not deny any truth we find outside of ourselves. It just makes clear that there is one truth—the infinite truth of God that is the truth of Jesus’ own being—that we can only find inside of ourselves. We need to look for it there.

Do I choose to let Jesus change what I look at when I ask why I believe?

Pray: “Lord, you are the fountain of life; in your light let me see light” (Psalm 36:9).

Practice: Get in touch with your heart. Learn to know what you know.

Discuss: Why do you believe in Jesus Christ?