Friday, March 31, 2017

April 1, 2017: God Wins

April 1, 2017
SATURDAY, Lent Week Four

God Wins

The Responsorial (Psalm 7) tells us the ruling principle of discipleshipO Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.

The starting point of discipleship is an act of trust in God.  Our security is rooted, not in acceptance by others, not in conformity to whatever group in the Church seems most solid and reliable, not even in the approval of popes and bishops, who frequently in history have turned a blind eye to abuses and “stoned the prophets” God sent to them. Our ultimate confidence is in the word of God and carefully discerned enlightenment by the Holy Spirit. To give unqualified trust to anything else, besides the reliable but rare “defined’ dogmas of the Church, is idolatry. O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.[1]

Jeremiah 11: 18-20 tells us we don’t always know who is speaking or acting against us. “I, like a trusting lamb led to the slaughter, had not realized they were hatching plots against me.” It is not paranoia to think that it happens today. A priest “on loan” to an American diocese was denounced in a letter from the bishop’s office in his home diocese for sexual misconduct with a consenting adult. The American bishop told his Chancellor to put him on the next plane home. The Chancellor asked if he could check the story first and found proof the letter was a forgery.

Priests and others are frequently denounced to bishops for statements some hearer judged “heretical” (which today almost always means “liberal”). Most bishops simply send the letter to the accused for a response. But some prominent authors and theologians condemned and “silenced” by Rome have complained that they were never allowed to confront their accusers or see the actual text of the accusations. There has been and still is an exaggerated cult of “secrecy” in some areas of Church government.

So what? We live with the truth that we are a sinful, saintly Church. Not to worry. Eventually, God wins. O Lord, my God, in you I take refuge.

In John 7: 40-53 everybody is arguing about the wrong questions — except the temple guards, who when asked why they didn’t carry out orders and arrest Jesus, just said, “No man ever spoke like that before.” But others argued that he wasn’t born in the right place, or accepted by the Sanhedrin (the religious authorities) or the Pharisees (considered the educated and “fervent”), but only by “this lot, that knows nothing about the law — and they are lost anyway.” Nicodemus pointed out it was all irrelevant. “Since when does our law condemn anyone without first knowing him and knowing the facts?”

All the false arguments above are paralleled in the Church today. Disciples are those who seek to know Jesus (and any accused) and the facts.

Initiative: Be a disciple of Jesus. Neither accept nor reject without involving him.


[1] See Mathew 5:12; 23:29-39. The worst opponents of Jesus were the established teachers of religion (the “scribes”), the approved “law and order” party (the Pharisees), and the “chief priests.” What they all had in common was power and prestige.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

March 31, 2017: Challenge of the Church's Teachings

March 31, 2017
Friday, Lent Week Four

Challenge of the Church's Teachings 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.”  What this Responsorial (Psalm 34) tells us sometimes appears to be contrary to appearances, especially to unbelievers.

Wisdom 2: 1-22 lists some reasons why many nonbelievers, now as well as then, find even those who are authentically religious “obnoxious.”

1.     “They reproach us” for going against the law of God. But we should. We can’t judge people’s consciences, but when something is wrong we should say so.
2.     “They profess to have knowledge of God.” Of course. Religion is empty without it. But this is not pride; the knowledge is a gift, not an accomplishment.
3.     “Their life is not like others’ — they are different.” In a religious culture it is the nonbelievers who would be different — and they would fight for the right to be so! The emotion here is not consistent with logic
4.     They “hold aloof from our paths as from things impure.” The question is, “Are they impure?” The unbelievers “hold aloof” from religious services. So?
5.     They “call blest the destiny of the just.” Yes. And since believers aren’t always “blest” by this world’s standards, this calls the standards into question: the core values that unbelievers live for. Someone is a fool.
6.     They “boast that God is their Father.” Yes, but it isn’t a boast. It is a gift offered to everyone, and its first effect is humility: “O Lord, I am not worthy.”

The unbelievers’ biggest mistake is to assume God will protect the just from being delivered over to their enemies. Jesus’ crucifixion settled that question. But it only makes sense if there is “a recompense of holiness” after death. The bottom line (omitted in the reading) is: “For God created human beings to be immortal; he made them as an image of his own nature.” Our stand on that governs our answer to everything else. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.

An advantage to reading Scripture is that it raises all sorts of questions that are tossed about but not really confronted elsewhere. It helps to confront them, getting help from the word of God. 

John 7: 1-30: When Jesus calls people to confront the question of his origins — “So you know me...?” — all he explains is, “I was sent.” We can like or dislike, understand or misunderstand all sorts of things Jesus teaches. But the only important question is whether God speaks in him. If he does, belief is settled. All that remains is to try to understand, and ask how to put it into practice. That is the work of disciples.

In a theology exam, the first question asked about every Church doctrine and practice is, “Where does it come from?” Scripture? A Church council? The personal viewpoint of a pope, bishop or scholar? The common consensus of the faithful? Or just unexamined conventional hearsay? To give a doctrine more authority than it has is just as bad as giving it less.

In today’s educated Church, every believer is challenged to ask those questions. If we don’t, we will become a community of blind led by the blind.

Initiative: Be a responsible believer. Know the origin of what you believe and do.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

March 30: 2017: Arguing with God

March 30, 2017
Thursday, Lent Week Four

Arguing with God

Lord, remember us, for the love you bear your people.”  The Responsorial (Psalm 106) presumes the value of prayer.  Now we see an example of it.

In Exodus 32: 7-14 Moses gives God good advice, reminds him of what God seems to have forgotten, and gets God to change his mind about what he had planned to do. Yeah, right.

This is a good example of the way God inspires the Scripture writers. He inspires them with truth, but truth expressed in the kind of words and images the writers understood, and that the people for whom they were writing would understand. Sometimes a story incorporates assumptions everyone had that were false, but which it was not yet time to challenge.

From our way of seeing things, our prayer does affect what God does. God already knows from all eternity what he is going to do, but he has made some of it conditional on our asking for it. Why?

God does not want to save the world unilaterally. He wants humans to have a part, real part, in it. One way in our power is to pray for each other. Then God can say, truly, that what he does is our gift as well as his. We ask, God answers, and we are joined in love.

Also, if we “argue” with God, as Moses did, it lets God inspire us with questions and answers that lead us to clearer understanding of ourselves and him. God is a teacher; we are disciples. Disciples learn through dialogue.

In John 5: 31-47 Jesus is trying to dialogue, except that it takes two to tango, and Pharisees never answer.

Jesus gives four reasons for believing in him and seven why people don’t.

Those who bear witness to Jesus are: 1. John the Baptizer, whose life made people trust him; 2. the works (good deeds and miracles) Jesus performs; 3. the Father himself; 4. the Scriptures, and specifically Moses.

People refuse to believe because 1. God’s word is not abiding in their hearts; 2. and this is because of their free choice not to accept Jesus, the “one God has sent”; 3. they don’t desire eternal life enough to come to Jesus for it; 4. they accept others who do not come in the name of God; 5. they accept praise from one another; 6. they do not seek the glory that comes from God; 7. they don’t believe Moses or the Scriptures.

Later, Jesus will specify that all the reasons for believing in him are secondary to the testimony the Father and Spirit give within the hearts of those who are open. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” Those whose hearts are good will just know.[1]

The readings in the Liturgy of the Word are intended to encourage reflection. So take time to go through the “four and seven” above. See which apply to you. [2]

Initiative: Believe Scripture as divine revelation. Read it as human dialogue.

[1] John 3:20-21, 6:44-45, 8:42, 10:38, 14:11.
[2] General Instruction on the Roman Missal, no. 56. 

March 29, 2017: Countering Phariseeism

March 29, 2017
Wednesday, Lent Week Four

Countering Phariseeism

The Responsorial (Psalm 145) reminds us that "the Lord is kind and merciful." In contrast, 
 “Phariseeism” is legalism: a focus on rules with desire to enforce them for others. It is never joyful, never nurturing, never loving. There is always underlying anger in it. And unconscious resentment, which surfaces in anger against those who are not rule-bound. Paul fought the “false believers” who “slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us.”[1]

Phariseeism feeds on fear. And a sense of rejection. And unacknowledged anger at abandonment. We don’t say, but we feel, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” Without the intimacy of personal interaction with God, we fall back on the impersonal relationship of rules. We will “save ourselves” without his help. We will keep the rules so strictly that our “righteousness” will be our refuge.

Isaiah 49: 8-15 counters this by describing God’s closeness and saving love. “In a time of favor I answer you... I help you.” God addresses those whose sense of isolation from him has locked them into the defensive posture of legalism: “Saying to the prisoners: ‘Come out!’... For he who pities them leads them and guides them beside springs of water.” Stop focusing on rules. Drink from the spring of God’s own heart, revealed in his words. Read. Meditate. Pray. Don’t be so afraid. Your fear of sin, in the absence of reliance on God, drives you into the fortress-prison of rigid self-discipline. God will “cut a road” through all that blocks you from him. He has not abandoned you.

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget, I will never forget you.

In John 5: 17-30 Jesus defends his own freedom against those who persecuted him for healing on the Sabbath. He claims to be acting by a higher law: the law of union, of shared life with the Father who acts with him, in him and through him: “The Son cannot do anything by himself... only what he sees the Father doing”— and doing in him.

More: “Just as the Father possesses life in himself, so has he granted it to the Son to have life in himself.” And Jesus can share this life with humans: “The Son grants life to whom he wishes.... The one who hears my word... possesses eternal life.”

The prophets claim to act by the Light and Life of God within them. They can be deceived. But the worst deception is to deny the prophetic gift entirely and trust in nothing but slavish obedience to laws. This is to deny the faith. By Baptism we share in the life of God. We are anointed, consecrated by God as “priests, prophets and kings” (responsible stewards of his kingship). The fear that denies freedom to let Christ act with us, in us and through us is darkness overshadowing faith.

Initiative: Be what you are: alive with the life of God. Act in union with God.

[1] Galatians 2:4.

Monday, March 27, 2017

March 28, 2017: “The mighty Lord is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

March 28, 2017
Tuesday, Lent Week Four

The mighty Lord is with us; 
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

The Responsorial (Psalm 46) tells us to trust.

Ezekiel 47: 1-12 is about water, a symbol of the life God gives in Baptism. All who have this life within them should be sources of life for others: “Wherever the river flows, every living creature that can multiply shall live.”

Picture it: a clean, flowing river. On both banks, green plants, flowers, crops and trees. This is the way the world should look, wherever Christians are. At least to those who have eyes to see the Life he gives. “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

Jesus used this same image with the woman of Samaria: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Later he said: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Those who receive life are to give life.

John continues: “Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive.” Jesus had said, “It is the spirit that gives life... The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”[1]

The “daily way” to receive and increase God’s life within us — and transmit it to others — is to read God’s words, praying for enlightenment by his Holy Spirit. To do this regularly is to be a disciple. In every Mass the Liturgy of the Word reminds and calls us to this. What this reading does is give us motivation: by opening ourselves to the “water of life” by reflecting on God’s words, we will become fountains of life for others. Is that worth investing time in?

John 5: 1-16 ends with sobering statement: “It was because Jesus did things such things on the Sabbath that they began to persecute him.” We want to scream: “What things? Healing a sick man? Anyone who would persecute a person for that is the one who is sick!”

But it happens every day. Who within the Church gets persecuted the most by others in the Church, laity as well as officials? Isn’t it the “prophets” — those who upset complacency by acting or speaking in a way that calls our assumptions into question?

What did you think of yesterday’s reflection? “It was bad, dangerous! It said it’s okay to miss Mass on Sunday!”

Is that all you saw? Or did you see God as a wise, loving Father who will dispense with a rule at times to help someone love the Mass and him more? Any priest can dispense from Mass for a good reason. Do we need an authority to make that judgment for us? Or can we look at God’s heart and make it for ourselves? The answer to that question is the “litmus test” of Phariseeism.

If the comfortable are afflicted by what comforts the afflicted, they have a problem. It is probably fear of human freedom exercised in decisions.

Initiative: Remember: “The mighty Lord is with us.” Trust him to lead.

[1] John 4:10, 6:63, 7:37-39; 15:16.