Monday, October 31, 2016

Those Who Long to See His Face

Those Who Long to See His Face


What does the feast of All Saints say to you? How does it motivate you?

The Entrance Antiphon invites us to focus on joy expressed in praise: “Let us all rejoice.... Let us join with the angels in joyful praise.” It should give us joy to think about all the “saints” who are in heaven. But why?

The Opening Prayer(s) give us two different reasons for appreciating the saints. They reflect two different ways of looking at ourselves and our religion — both good, but the second perhaps better than the first. In the first prayer we ask God, “May their prayers bring us your forgiveness and love.” We see the saints as interceding for us in our sinfulness. In the second we ask, “May we who aspire to have a part in their joy be filled with the Spirit that blessed their lives....” We see the saints as evidence that our religion gives joy through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The difference between the two prayers reflects the most significant change of perspective that the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) brought to Christian life and ministry. Admitting to some over-simplification, we can say that the focus of the generations before the Council was on “getting to heaven,” while the focus now is on “growing to perfection.” Before, we were preoccupied with asking for forgiveness of our sins. Now we are preoccupied with asking to be like the saints, “so that having shared their faith on earth we may also know their peace in your Kingdom.”

The Kingdom comes to perfection in heaven, but we are working now, as faithful “stewards of the kingship of Christ” to bring it to be on earth. And the Council has emphasized the special role of the laity in this:

The laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world.

They exercise the apostolate in fact by... penetrating and perfecting the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel. In this way, their temporal activity openly bears witness to Christ and promotes the salvation of all. Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the world and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ.

The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ's Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, nos. 2-3).

To fulfill their mission, the laity must be holy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church  affirms that the fruit referred to when Jesus says that if we “abide in him, and he in us, we will “bear much fruit” is the “holiness of a life made fruitful by union with Christ” (no. 2074). The laity’s call to holiness is a key element in the Council’s new presentation of Christianity.

Before the Council it was commonly taught and accepted that only those who took vows in religious orders were following the “way of perfection.” This was also called the “way of the counsels,” based on the unchallencged interpretation of Jesus’ words to the young man in Matthew 19:21,  “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  Because he was rich and unwilling to make the sacrifice, the young man “went away sad.” But not sinful. The interpretation was that “selling all” was Jesus’ advice (counsel) to those who wanted to  be perfect, but those who were willing to settle for less could still be saved by following the “way of the commandments.” To be on the “A team” you had to take vows as a priest, brother or nun. The laity were the “B team.”  

The bishops at Vatican II shot this interpretation out of the water. “To be perfect” means to follow the only perfect way of life, which is Christianity as such: the life of grace. To accept Baptism is already to “sell all” in a radical way, because Baptism is a choice to die with Christ and in Christ in order to come back to life as his risen body on earth with nothing to live for except to let Jesus live and continue his mission in us. As Paul wrote, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). The Council was explicit:

Every Catholic must therefore aim at Christian perfection (cf James 1:4; Romans 12:1-2).
Thus it is evident to everyone that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity. (Decree on Ecumenism no. 4; The Church no. 40).

If there are any “first string” and “second string” Christians. it is  based on each individual’s response to Jesus, not on the particular state of life to which one is called. The word “saints” means “holy ones,” and it was the word St. Paul  preferred when referring to Christians in general. We are all made holy by sharing in God’s divine life, and we are called to be as holy as Jesus, whose body we are, in everything we say and do. Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We are all called to be saints. St. Paul calls us saints already.

The next two prayers continue the contrast. The Prayer over the Gifts focuses on the saints’ “concern to help and save us.” But in the Prayer after Communion we “praise your glory reflected in the saints” and ask to be “filled with your love and prepared for the joy of your Kingdom.” Oversimplifying again, we can say that since the Council we have shifted the emphasis from healing to holiness and from groveling to growth. The Responsorial (Psalm 24) describes us well: “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.” We are not looking down, bewailing our clay feet. We are looking up, longing to see the face of God.

A Preview and Promise
When Revelation 7:2-14 gives numbers for those saved, these are not meant to be statistics. The Jerome Biblical Commentary explains:

The number 12 is the symbol of perfection.... The second 12 corresponds to the tribes of Israel, the People of God. Finally, 1000 indicates a very large number, and 144,000 [12 X 12 X 1000] symbolizes the number of the elect whose real number is known to God alone. [The words “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” mean that] the number scarcely refers only to Jewish Christians; rather it stands for all the members of the Church, the true Israel.

The Responsorial tells us who is found in that number: “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face” (Psalm 24):

Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord or stand in his holy place?
Those whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desire not what is vain.... who seek the face of God.

A Picture of the Saints
This is basically the picture Jesus paints in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). They all speak of desire for God or what helps people have that desire. The “Kingdom of heaven” belongs to those who are open to the “more” because they “know they haven’t got it made” (the poor in spirit); to those who are made reflective by sorrow and preserved from the cancer of power by a spirit of nonviolence (the “meek”); to those who aid others out of a sense of relatedness (show “mercy”) and seek peace; to those who “hunger and thirst for holiness,” rejecting with undivided hearts the idolatry of enslavement to any created value, person or project.

This is the holiness all of us must pursue:

Every Catholic must therefore aim at Christian perfection,,,,
Thus it is evident to everyone that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.

“Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.

Pure because He is Pure
1John 3:1-3 tells us that when we do see his face, “we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” John says that “all those who have this hope” — that is, this desire characterized by practical belief in its attainability because it is  “based on him” —  will “keep themselves pure, as he is pure.”

“Pure” means unmixed. It is the characteristic of the “single-hearted” or “pure of heart” to whom Jesus promised, “They shall see God.” It is also the First Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). It forbids any dividedness, because that is idolatry.
 God is One in the absolute undividedness of his Being. He is infinitely “pure,” unmixed, undivided, whole and entire in his Being and in his every action. That is why those who respond to the One God must be one in heart as he is. They must “keep themselves pure, as he is pure.”

The closing line of John’s letter is, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1John 5:21).

Christian life is characterized by pure longing, undivided desire to “see God’s face,” to know him as he is, so that we might love him as he deserves and serve him according to his will.


Explicitly adopt the goal, in a conscious act of choice, to seek “perfection.” Don’t consider the choice made until you have decided on the first (or next) concrete step you will make to work toward the “fullness” of the life of grace.

Time Management

(Same Day) Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week of Year II 
The Responsorial Psalm is a vision of the kingdom established: “I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people” (Psalm 26).

In Philippians 2: 5-11. Paul roots abandonment in Jesus’ example:

Your attitude must be Christ’s. Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

If for our sake Jesus was willing to give up what he had as God in heaven, we should be willing for the sake of others to give up what we have here on earth! No matter how rich we are, it is still very little. And it doesn’t last.

To trade life for Life is a good bargain. Granted, it may be a long-term investment (or may not be; who knows?), but the pay-off is enormous.

Paul gives us Jesus again as an example of abandonment’s reward:

Because of this God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above every other name, 
So that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend, in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth,
and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father,

In our case, the payoff is to see the reign of God established on earth as it is in heaven. We will see the “unity and peace of his kingdom” when all are gathered together in perfect reconciliation and love at the “wedding banquet of the Lamb,” but there is no reason why this cannot be increasingly realized on earth, here and now. No reason except people’s refusal to abandon themselves and their misguided self-interest in order to devote themselves as faithful stewards to establishing the kingship of Christ.

In Luke 14: 15-24 Jesus tells us why they won’t. A guest at a party got carried away thinking about what a party we will have at the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.” He said, “How blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

Jesus answered that a lot of people don’t feel this way. The invitation to the party is offered to all. But many — and sometimes it seems to be most — of those invited say they just haven’t got time for it.

They all alike began to make excuses: “I have bought some land, and I must go out and inspect it…. I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going out to test them…. I have just got married, and therefore I cannot come.”

Possessions, work and family concerns absorb us. We play with our toys, work to buy more, and think we can have a good family life without focusing on God. If the “Abandon ship!” were sounding and rescue were at hand, we would be too preoccupied to pay attention! So who are the fools?

Initiative: Be Christ’s steward. Look ahead. Use time for eternity.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Abandonment Unites

Abandonment Unites

Thirty-First Week of Year II    Monday   October 31, 2016

The Responsorial Psalm combines humility with peace: “In you, Lord, I have found my peace” (Psalm 131)

Philippians 2: 1-4 is based on the total abandonment that is the soul of stewardship: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” As stewards of the kingship of Christ we live only to contribute to the establishment of his reign on earth.

We choose to let nothing else matter to us. This is what makes possible what Paul begs for: “fellowship in spirit… unanimity, possessing the one love, united in spirit and ideals.”

Never act out of rivalry or conceit. Rather, let all parties think humbly of others as superior to themselves, each of you looking not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Abandonment may sound like an impossibly high ideal. But in the measure that more and more people in love with God and neighbor achieve it, there will be peace and unity in the Church. A peace that will extend to unite the world. Is this worth striving for?

We don’t really “strive” for it so much as keep surrendering to God as he leads us to it. This is what the Responsorial Psalm says:

O Lord, my heart is not proud,
nor are my eyes haughty;
I busy myself not with great things,
nor with things too sublime for me.
Nay rather, I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord….

In Luke 14: 12-14 Jesus teaches the same thing: total abandonment of self-interest for the sake of others:

When you have a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. You should be pleased that they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid in the resurrection….

John Paul II found this spirit of stewardship in Jesus’ exhortation to “sell all you possess”:

This vocation to perfect love is not restricted to a small group of individuals. The invitation, “Go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor,” and the promise “You will have treasure in heaven” are meant for everyone, because they bring out the full meaning of the commandment of love for neighbor.1

The principle is that that we should put all we have and are at the service of others: our time, energies, possessions and talents: “all we possess.” This is the total abandonment of all we have and are to the work and promise of the kingdom. And it is perfect stewardship.
It is also the only true way to total peace of soul: “In you, Lord, I have found my peace.

1See John Paul’s letter The Splendor of Truth, nos. 18-20.

Initiative: Be Christ’s steward. Find peace in humility and abandonment.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Drawing Hope from the Future

Drawing Hope from the Future

St. Augustine defines love as wanting someone (or something) to “be and be everything it can be” (esse et bene esse). Is there any person or group or people I would just prefer not to have on the planet? Or not in our own country? Or at least not living near me or working where I work?

Is there any category of people I am not interested in helping to get better? Is there anything else God made that I am not concerned about preserving or developing? Shall we save the whales? The rain forest? How about the Bronx?

What if you changed the Entrance Antiphon into a plea addressed to yourself instead of to God, and spoken by some person, group of people, or something else God made whose existence is in some way threatened: “Do not abandon me, [your name]… Hurry to help me, [your name], my savior!  How would you answer that plea? Would you answer, no matter where it came from?

The fact is, every Christian in the world is consecrated by God as a steward of Christ’s kingship and charged with responsibility for all creation. We may not be very conscious of this — because it may not be what was emphasized in our religious instruction — but it is Catholic doctrine. The fifth Preface for Sundays in Ordinary time proclaims it: “You made us the stewards of creation.”

In the Opening Prayer(s) we acknowledge that everything we have received or see or use comes from God’s “fullness.” We value everything as coming from God and in some way expressing his goodness. But we are very aware that it is  only with God’s help” that we can recognize this and offer “fitting service and praise” by responsible care for all God has made and entrusted to us. We ask God to keep the “limits which our failings impose on hope” from “blinding us ” to God’s presence in all he has made so that we can “trust in your promise” to give “eternal life” to all who ask him for it, and in the “fullness of time” to “gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” Today’s Mass is a summons to confident stewardship. 1

1See Genesis 2:15; Ephesians 1: 9-23; Colossians 1: 9-20; Philippians 3:21.

Every sight a site

Wisdom 11:22 to 12:1 defines the attitude Christians should have toward all God has made by declaring God’s attitude:

For you love all things that are… for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it?

We did not make this world, and it is not for us to declare its value except by recognizing the value it has for the One to whom all things belong: the One who made them and preserves them in being.

Christians never just see trees, flowers, animals or beer. Christians see these all beings as be-ing, here and now, because God is in them, giving them existence, sharing with us, through each one’s nature, some characteristic of his own goodness translated into physical being, sight, sound, touch, taste and fragrance. For Christians every “sight” is a “site”: a place where God dwells and manifests himself.

You spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things!

This is the foundation of Christian stewardship: we recognize that nothing is truly ours, but that God has entrusted everything that is his to us, to manage it for him. To do this well, we first need to recognize the value of everything that is.

An excellent first step toward this would be to re-read the Vatican II document, “The Church in the Modern World,” whose real title (in Latin) is “Joy and Hope.” The document is too rich and exciting to summarize here.

This stewardship is a special responsibility of the laity, whose identifying mission as “sharing in the priestly, prophetic and kingly office of Christ,” is to “penetrate and perfect the temporal sphere of things through the spirit of the Gospel…. since it is proper to the laity’s way of life to spend their days in the midst of the world and of secular transactions… as a kind of leaven.”

In particular, the Church declares it is “desirable, and often imperative, that Catholics cooperate with other Christians…. and with other people who, though not Christians, acknowledge certain human values held by all humankind…. Through this cooperation… the laity bear witness to Christ the Savior of the world, and to the unity of the human family.”2

To search and save
The Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 145) reminds us to grow in appreciation for people and things by expressing it in praise:  I will praise your name forever, my king and my God!”
Luke 19: 1-10  shows us Jesus recognizing and affirming the goodness in a man everyone had written off. Zacchaeus, the “chief tax collector” had become “a wealthy man” through exploitation and graft. Jesus shocked all the bystanders by inviting himself to dinner at Zacchaeus’s house.

When they “began to murmur, ‘He has gone to a sinner’s house as a guest,’” Jesus said, “This man too is a son of Abraham.” By acknowledging that truth even though Zacchaeus’s conduct denied and obscured it, Jesus was able to “search out and save what was lost.” This is the spirit of the true shepherd, who takes responsibility for the sheep. We need to consciously appreciate and love everything and everyone we are responsible for. A practical means to this is to form the habit of deliberately praising what is good in everything we see:  I will praise your name forever, my king and my God!”

 Faithful to the end
In 2Thessalonians 1:11 to 2:2 Paul is exhorting the Thessalonians to be faithful — to “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions you were taught (2:15)” — so that “God may make you worthy of his call” to be faithful stewards of the word Paul has preached to them.

The Thessalonians, as often happens in times of persecution or crisis, were getting focused on claims and prophecies that the “day of the Lord” was at hand. Paul says to stop wondering when the end of the world is coming and to concentrate instead on persevering in responsible stewardship, working to establish the reign of God on earth for as long as it takes.

When Christ comes in “the glory of his power” he will “be glorified among his holy ones” who have believed and persevered in faith (1:9-10). Paul prays that “the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified” in them and in all of us now, so that both we and the world can see God bringing “to fulfillment every good purpose and effort” inspired by faith. The more we see this happening now, the more it will encourage us to persevere.

But it will always seem that the deck is stacked against us. Even though we know that God loves everything and everyone he made, and that his “imperishable spirit is in all things,” working in the best and worst of us alike to “deliver us from evil,” we still find it hard to love everyone and to keep striving to establish the reign of God over every area and activity of human life on earth, without exception. But this is what stewardship is all about.

In times of special difficulty, persecution or any trial, what motivates us to faithful stewardship is a cultivated awareness of the “end time,” when Christ is going to come in glory, having triumphed over everything that blocks or resists the reign of God on earth. We know this is going to happen. We know it is happening now. To keep ourselves conscious of this, we keep singing now what we will sing then, “I will praise your name forever, my king and my God!”

2Vatican II, “The Laity,” nos. 2, 27.

What is your strongest reason for affirming the essential goodness of every person and product of God’s creation on earth?


Never stop with the “bad news.” Whatever you see or hear that discourages you, always look deeper into what is there (make every sight a site), and always look beyond the present, to see what will be when Christ’s victory is complete.

Friday, October 28, 2016



The Lord hears the cry of the poor” — and wants us, as “stewards of God’s love,” to look for the causes of pain in the world, and confront those who are the “causes of the causes.” We might find they are ourselves!  

Jesus invites us to work to bring people into “communion in the Holy Spirit”: the unity and love that are a preview of the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.”

Our faith: How many of these statements do you believe? And live?
It is only from the perspective of the “end time” that we can say with credibility, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” But since we live in our time, we must hear that cry now and reveal God’s love by our efforts to abolish suffering on earth.

For Christians, to die is to arrive at the wedding banquet. Anyone who kills us is simply putting a beer in our hand!

We will be judged on whether we love people as Jesus does. Compassion must extend to causes: working for changes in society as “stewards of the Kingdom.”

Christians work only for God and fear only God. We do what others impose on us only if we judge peacefully it is God’s will under the circumstances.
In our work as stewards of the kingship of Christ, our battle ultimately is not against human forces, but “against the spiritual forces of evil.” The fundamental force resisting God’s reign is sin. The force we rely on is “the strength of God’s power.” Everything else is intermediate.
Vatican II teaches that all the baptized are called to the “perfection of love.” Not to keep changing, developing, growing, is to “bury our talent” as unfaithful stewards.

Luke 13: 10-17: Jesus used the reaction to his healing on the Sabbath to teach the priority of love. This was an act of leadership calling for change.

Luke 13: 18-21: The kingdom grows at the pace of a seed becoming a tree. But it grows. As stewards of the Kingdom we patiently help change take place.

Luke 13: 22-30: To steer with our eyes fixed on the “guiding star,” Jesus himself, is the narrowest and least hemmed-in course on earth: a straight line.

Luke 13: 31-35: Stewardship is ultimate abandonment to managing in God’s interest all we have and are with confidence in the ultimate triumph of Jesus.

Luke 14: 1-6: A characteristic of those in every age whose religion focuses more on keeping rules than on bearing fruit is that they do not listen to Jesus or respond.

Luke 14: 1-11: The “mystical experience” of stewardship is abandonment of all motivated by anticipation of the All. Living only that God may be glorified.

Pay attention to the causes of evil in our society. Do something about them.

Live only to let Christ live and love in you to bring people together in love.