Sunday, 30 June 2013

Facing fear: 13th Sunday in Ordinary time.

Today's readings continue nicely the themes of yesterday's blog, and so do today's more of the same then!!

Protomartyrs of Rome

Today we commemorate the First martyrs of the Church (thus the word, Proto, Greek for First), who really come after St Stephen, but as a community they would have been the first martyrs. "Many of them would  suffer death under Emperor Nero (r. 54-68). Owing to  their executions during his reign , they are also called the Neronian Martyrs, and are honored by the site in the Vatican City called the Piazza of the Protomartyrs. 

   These early Christians were disciples of the Apostles, and they endured hideous tortures and ghastly deaths following the burning of Rome in the infamous fire of 62. It's not quite known exactly how many perished, though some would guess the number ranges in the thousands.

Coming off of an 8 day retreat that was enriching and fulfilling, it's almost a buzz kill to be reflecting so much on Martyrs, and yet, here I am doing it and rather willingly. Something about what they did still resonated in us, or at least makes us talk  about this historical moment. Even people who don't know much about it will pronounce themselves:  One of my Atheist friends once stated that he believed that because these people had the option to live and chose to die, they were cowards. They thought death meant being saved from the oppressive Romans and was a guarantee of a place in Heaven... so in other words, they chose the 'easier option'. I imagine that would be a rather popular opinion these days. I imagine that many people would find the choice these men and women made ,as troubling as the whole concept of watching  people  get slaughtered for for sport, for fun and games. And yet, contrary to some of my  contemporaries who are not Catholics, I have nothing but the deepest respect for this community of people so committed to their faith until the end!

 Despite my ability to comprehend this sacrifice of theirs, I still find the language of today's readings somewhat hard.  It's about detachment, and anyone in a religious community is all too familiar with this concept. When we enter, we don't just become detached from our previous life, but from the things and people we love. We are asked to leave them behind as we focus for the greater good of all, by giving our whole being to the labor of building the Kingdom of God. This phase is difficult enough for us to deal with without having to read Jesus' words 'let the dead bury their own dead'. What kind of pastoral response is that to someone struggling with detachment!? It's never made much sense to me, even if I'm living it in my daily life -to the best of my ability!-.

 Thankfully,  my awesome superhero  Pope Francis swooped in to give me perspective. yes, Jesus words are radical today. And do we know why!? 
 Francis reminds us  in his Angelus of today, that as the first verse  of today's Gospel states, Jesus "  set his face to go to Jerusalem."  Jerusalem looms large in the New Testament because, as we know, it's the place where Jesus will face his final hour, where he must "die and rise fulfil His mission of salvation." So when he finally does lift up his face to the city with the intention of entering it, he is facing his own death. He sees things a little more clearly now, and is only expecting those who chose to follow him to understand the complexity of the situation: You're not just following some guy here...Here's a man who is about to offer his life for the good of others, and he expects all his followers to do the same.

 Because as Francis says,  Christ's decision is not his own. It's one taken in union with the father. All those times we read in the Bible how Jesus on a hill to pray alone...he was closely connected to his father's will..and had every intention of fulfilling that will, no matter what the cost. It was a terrifying decision to make, to throw himself in the lion's den, allow himself to be arrested, judged, tortured and crucified, and to receive that fate with grace. But he could not have done this on his own. "In the Father, then, Jesus found the strength and the light for His journey. Jesus was free. His decision was a free one. Jesus wants us Christians to be free as he is."  This explains the difficult language we have today..this 'leave your family behind and follow me' mentality. It's not out of pettiness or jealousy he says this, but out of a desire to form Christians who are strongly rooted in their own freedom, generated by a healthy relationship with God.
   Freedom's a big word here. Our world understands it very differently than Jesus does. For many of us, it's the ability to do whatever the heck we want, when we want. It's kind of Utopian, because we all have to answer to somebody at some point. Nobody is ever 'free' in that sense! But the point is, Jesus'  definition of it is the complete opposite of the first definition. It's not about your will, but God's will...the more open you are to hearing what God's will is for you, and the more available you become to live out that will, the more free you 'truly' are.
  This means, when Jesus calls you to task as a disciple, you don't say 'lemme go say bye to my friends and family first...I'll join in a week..two weeks tops!!'.  No. You go.  Okay...Nope...still sounds radical. But that's what I signed up for when I embarked upon this life of following Christ!! And I recognize it's precisely THAT kind of freedom that lies behind the actions of the ability to say 'I chose death over a life lived as a lie, seperated from the God I know and love'. But don't worry folks...I'm not striving for Martyrdom...I'm merely asking for openess today. I ask it on behalf of all of us who need to be more attentive to the word of God, and to his loving presence in our life.

1 Kings 19:
 16, 19 - 21

16and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel; and Eli'sha the son of Shaphat of A'bel-meho'lah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place.
19So he departed from there, and found Eli'sha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Eli'jah passed by him and cast his mantle upon him.
20And he left the oxen, and ran after Eli'jah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." And he said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?"
21And he returned from following him, and took the yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Eli'jah, and ministered to him.
Psalms 16: 1 - 2, 5, 7 - 11

1Preserve me, O God, for in thee I take refuge.
2I say to the LORD, "Thou art my Lord; I have no good apart from thee."
5The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; thou holdest my lot.
7I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
8I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also dwells secure.
10For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit.
11Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fulness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore. ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Galatians 5: 1, 13 - 18

1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.13For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."15But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.18But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.

Luke 9: 51 - 62

51When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
52And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him;
53but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
54And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?"
55But he turned and rebuked them.
56And they went on to another village.
57As they were going along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
58And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head."
59To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father."
60But he said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
61Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home."
62Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Celebrating Rock and Fire: Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

 Today -Saturday June 29th- is an important Solemnity for Catholics celebrating two very different men who are the foundation of our Church -one of them literally!-.  More specifically, it's celebrating the Martyrdoms of Saint  Peter - who was a  leader among the Apostles and the Rock that Jesus intended to build his Church on- and Saint Paul -who was so on fire with his love for Christ that he would bring the Word of God to the gentiles-. According to Wikipedia, " the celebration is of ancient origin, the date selected being the anniversary either of their death or of the translation of their relics".[1] 
   This is such an important celebration, that  In Rome, it's the day where " Metropolitan archbishops installed during the course of the preceding year travel to Rome to receive their pallium,which is ".. a  white, shawl-like woolen liturgical vestment worn over the shoulders of a metropolitan archbishop. It...symbolizes authority and union with the Holy See " (Vatican News)  This union was an important part of Francis' homily, as he reminded us that  the pallium, " while being a sign of communion with the Bishop of Rome and with the universal church, also commits each of the Archbishops to being a servant of communion." (Ibid)

  However this solemnity should also cause us to remember Martyrs for the faith that still exist today. Let's keep in our prayers especially Fr Francois Murad, a Franciscan priest beheaded by Syrian rebels this past week -June 23rd- for his alleged 'collaboration' with the Assad government. Let's also pray for all Priests, Brothers, and Sisters who suffer such horrific fates because of their faith around the world to this day.

File:Greco, El - Sts Peter and Paul.jpg

Short Reflections:
 To commemorate the martyrdom of these two men who are so crucial to the Church, we don't remember the moment of their execution, but the moment when their faith shined forth the most dramatically. In the case of Peter, we have the 2 stories: that of his (some might say, highly implausible) escape from Prison, and that of that special moment when he received his vocation from Jesus. I'll focus more on the 2nd passage, the Gospel one. It' a powerful moment where Jesus gives him a different name: Cephas, or Petros, in Aramaic and Greek respectively, which means Rock. Jesus doesn't just give him a random name for  funsies. He   tells him that he will make him the foundation, the Rock upon which he will build his Church. It's humbling for us to see that this same man that Jesus knew would betray him 3 times, was despite his fears and imperfections, still deemed worthy  of such a big job. What's important for us to note though is that although he may have known fear until the end of his life, he never let it control him again. Once he would encounter the risen Christ and remember this vocational moment of his, there would be no turning back on his mission to be a Rock for this Church.

 I don't think Paul ever got such a big ego boost, especially not one from the Lord.On the other hand, he did get to 'taste and see the goodness of the Lord' through his own conversion, a moment that was so powerful for him that he wasted no time no long after his integration to the young community  to go out into the world and set it on fire with Love for Christ. A moment that was so strong that even when facing death, it is not fear, but confidence that he feels. Confidence that he fought the good fight, ran a good race, and gave every ounce of his being to the Lord, to the Church. And with great humility, he recognizes that, if there was success in his ministry,  it is not his own efforts that this was achieved, but by the power instilled within him through the Lord. 
 In the end, despite what we may think of these two men, we have to remember that they were humble, simple people, like us.  What nourished their work was not any strength or power that we could never muster, but a deep faith, one that many of us  share with them, one that unites us to them, and keeps their spirit at the heart of our Church. Are we all called to be Martyrs? I certainly hope not! But like them, we must  face such hard questions as  'how will I offer my entire life to Christ Jesus', And,  we must be genuine and honest in our quest for an answer to this question and others like it, if we intend to remain true to Christ, and to the faith that was the fire that fueled everything they did. 

Acts 12: 1 - 11

1About that time Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church.
2He killed James the brother of John with the sword;
3and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread.
4And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people.
5So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
6The very night when Herod was about to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison;
7and behold, an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, "Get up quickly." And the chains fell off his hands.
8And the angel said to him, "Dress yourself and put on your sandals." And he did so. And he said to him, "Wrap your mantle around you and follow me."
9And he went out and followed him; he did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.
10When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened to them of its own accord, and they went out and passed on through one street; and immediately the angel left him.
11And Peter came to himself, and said, "Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting."
Psalms 34: 2 - 9

2My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and be glad.
3O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!
4I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
5Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
6This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
7The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8O taste and see that the LORD is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in him!
9O fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no want!
2 Timothy 4:
 6 - 8, 17 - 18

6For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.8Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.17But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength to proclaim the message fully, that all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth.18The Lord will rescue me from every evil and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 16:
 13 - 19

13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesare'a Philip'pi, he asked his disciples, "Who do the crowds  say that the Son of Man is?"14And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Eli'jah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."15He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"16Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."17And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Monday June 17th

 Today is my last entry for a week before I go on my yearly retreat. I could in theory continue these entries, but it's more in spirit with the retreat that I go offline during that period!! Our Saint of the day is a little known Monk.

A native of Orleans, took the monastic habit, together with St. Calais, in the abbey of Menat. The two Saints soon after returned to Miscy, a famous abbey situated a league and a half below Orleans. It was founded toward the end of the reign of Clovis I. by St. Euspicius, a holy priest, honored on the 14th of June, and his nephew St. Maximin or Mesnim. Many call St. Maximin the first abbot, others St. Euspicius the first, St. Maximin the second, and St. Avitus the third. But our Saint and St. Calais made not a long stay at Miscy, though St. Maximin gave them a gracious reception. In quest of a closer retirement, St. Avitus, who had succeeded St. Maximin, soon after resigned the abbacy, and with St. Calais lived a recluse in the territory now called Dunois, on the frontiers of La Perche. Others joining them, St. Calais retired into a forest in Maine, and King Clotaire built a church and monastery for St. Avitus and his companions (blogger's note: unsure when he built it. One site suggests 1045 as the date when it was built, but Clotaire was King in the 6th century. I also  haven't been able to determine whether the Abbey is still standing, or whether there are only ruins left today, but a community does still seem to exist, a Benedictine nunnery, called St. Avy of Chateaudun and is situated on the Loire, in the diocese of Chartres). Three famous monks, Leobin, afterwards Bishop of Chartres, Euphronius, and Rusticus, attended our Saint to his happy death, which happened about the year 530. His body was carried to Orleans, and buried with great pomp in that city.


 I don't think I've done very much justice to the readings in the past few weeks, but they have been nothing short of extraordinary (which is ironic, since we're in Ordinary time!!) (for non Catholics, Ordinary time is that period between Lent/ Easter and Advent/Christmas that takes up most of the year! It's marked by the color green, unless there's a special feast day, solemnity, or a martyr celebrated..then different colors are used during Mass.) 

 What's been so outstanding about the readings in the past few weeks, is that there's been a very concrete invitation to renewal, and depth almost everyday. This is especially true since last week and continuing this week,  with the powerful readings form  2nd Corinthians and the foundational ones from Matthew 5 -the text that follows the Sermon on the Mount-.
 I feel like, after we've gone out of Easter season, the readings have been trying to help us answer the question "what now?". They've been pointing us to models of Christian living,  and have been inspiring us to seek the good of God in all we do, no matter what.

 Paul speaks a little bit of the consequences of our beliefs, not just in his world, but even in our world, where people of faith are often denegrated, insulted, labelled as stupid, and outdated, out of sync with the 'enlightenment' of the modern era. But rather than taking offense at this, what he's suggesting is that we live through the hardships with the same patience,and humility as Jesus did. 
 This is a challenge, especially for someone as passionate as I am. When I hear people dismiss all Christians as 'idiots', it doesn't take me long to take offense, try to defend the Church, and even accuse the speaker of these words of narrow-mindedness. So much for turning the other Cheek, as the Gospel teaches us to do today.

 Jesus' teaching are a challenge in other words, even for those of us in religious life. But as St Ignatius teaches us, we have to be ready to chose poverty over wealth, to chose humility over pride, to accept to be hated because our love is so strong. As St Paul says, it's our job to be poor, and yet to make many people rich in the spirit, and to be considered as with hate or confusion  by the world, but to have our own life renewed by God's love, which will always be the only thing we need. We won't get there over night, but I feel that this journey we're on is the new song, and the joyful noise we sing to the Lord!  This song, this joyful noise won't make any sense to some, and will even piss off others, but it will never fail to be a source of hope for many!

2 Corinthians 6: 1 - 10

1Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain.
2For he says, "At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation." Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
3We put no obstacle in any one's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry,
4but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,
5beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger;
6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness,in  a holy spirit, in unfeigned (genuine) love,
7truthful speech, and in  the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left;
8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;
9as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed;
10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Psalms 98: 1 - 4

1O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.2The LORD has made known his victory, he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.3He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.4Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!

Matthew 5: 38 - 42

38"You have heard that it was said, `An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'
39But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also;
40and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well;
41and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
42Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Loved in sinfulness: Readings for Father's day, June 16 2013

The American Liturgical calendar has set today as the feast day for St Jean Francois de Regis, a Jesuit Saint of the 17th century who is the Patron Saint of the French Province in the Society of Jesus. However,  this appears to be strictly an American date  for the celebration of his feast day, as the official one is in September. I don't have a substantial back up Saint for the day, but seeing that it's Father's day, I figured I'd pick a Saint of the day that had a connection to our joyous celebration of Fathers -I'm skyping with mine in about an hour's time. How lovely!!-.   As it were...two obscure 6th century saints fit the bill:

St. Felix & Maurus whose feast day is today, and who died in the
  6th century are Palestinian pilgrims, father, and son who  journeyed to Rome 
and settled in San Felice, in central Italy. I originally couldn't find much else about 
them online about...then I stumbled on this site with an actual picture of these 
obscure saints:

The legend behind this father (Maurus) and son ( Felix) takes place in fact, not in
 Palestine as Catholic.Org indicated,but in  Cesarea and Laodicea  (Modern day Turkey). 
They were part of a Christian community that sought Martyrdom ( why anyone 
would openly 'seek' martyrdom is beyond me...but we read in many Saints 
biography that this disregard for one's life out of love for Jesus is not 
uncommon among our Saints!). But rather than becoming Martyrs they found a  village in Italy
 to settle in which had been apparently tormented by a Dragon. Maurus got his
 manly-man act on and cut the dragon to pieces. Later Felix was known to perform
 miracles like healing the sick and other fun stuff.  Legend has it that the
 Church/abbey  Abbazia di SS Felice di Narco was built by Maurus on the site where
 Felix and his nurse would have died and that " The crypt of this church contains
 an ancient sarcophagus that is said to hold the remains of SS Felix and Maurus."  
(source: Key to Umbria hagiographical and historical website.)
Daily Readings
  One of my concerns with this blog is that I will start repeating myself a little bit in my ideas around the reading. It's something to look out for, though not something I should feel completely awful about. Even our beloved pope Francis repeats himself a lot. Some ideas are just worth repeating!!  
  Earlier this week, I mentioned St. John of Sahagun, who challenged many of Catholics of his time to renew themselves by confronting their sinfulness. I mentioned this was not a popular theme today -one wonders if it ever was 'popular- because, let's face it, as I stated in  Wednesday's entry, nobody likes dealing with their 'sinfulness'...never mind being told  by a priest that they're sinful. And that's a shame that we're so resistant to this, that are hearts are so shut off from the humility required to face our sins. It's an integral part of the process of receiving God's grace. Why is that? well because, when we recognize how broken we really are, we're more open to our need for God's saving love and grace. See, accepting we're sinful is not beating ourselves up over our imperfections (it used to be. I think that's why there's such a large number of 'recovering Catholics' today. We played the 'you horrible evil sinner' angle too emphatically in the past!). But it's not about blaming ourselves for being's about recognizing where we stumble, and that in our stumbling, we need help to grow.  As a Parish priest said today, no saint is free from Sin. What makes them saints is not sinlessness, but an ability to let themselves be loved, even in the state of sin and imperfection.
 And the theme of today's readings. IT's rare that all 4 readings on Sunday are in sync and are speaking of the same thing, but today they are. We start with David. Anyone who knows their Bible well doesn't need to be told how many sins, and crimes King David  committed. But in a nutshell: Not only did he covet  another man's wife (Betsheba) , but he also had the other man (Urriah) killed so that he could be with this woman. So, adultery and murder then!! Not too shabby for the guy who is reported to have written all these wonderful Psalms to God. 
 In today's reading from 2nd Samuel, David is being reminded of his sins  by Nathan, the prophet of God. He's reminded how much he's been given, and how little he's given back in return. David feels the grief of his sin and crime, but God won't let him carry guilt. All God expected from him was an open hearted recognition of his imperfection, his frailty (moral weakness) so that in a state of weakness, he could be open to receiving  strength  from God. Again, I feel that even this idea is not one people would like very much. But for me it's very liberating. I can look at my imperfections as an opportunity for growth with complete freedom. Freedom for me by the way, is a recognition that I can't do it all alone. I'm independent, (or like to pretend that I am) but I'm human and limited as well. I will need the help and support of others, and above all, I will need the love and strength of God to carry on. 

 It's a similar sentiment that is expressed by David and the woman in the Gospel story, though the woman's experience of humility far exceeds anything that most people would be comfortable with. Still, put yourself in her shoes:  Imagine that, all your life, people label you as a sinner, an evil person, someone to be despised, ignored and avoided. Then comes this preacher, this man whose eyes are filled with love that tells everyone  'your sins are forgiven. You have been renewed. do not sin again'. He may be saying these words to the entire crowd, but you feel that they're directly personally to you, and your heart melts.  Here comes this teacher, offering you nothing but love, and provides you with a tangible expression  of God's loving care for you expressed through a genuine forgiveness of everything bad you've ever done. Like David, the woman at the banquet is being reminded of the depth of that love that no sin can ever erase. 

 Both were unafraid to face their sense of guilt, both were renewed by this idea that it was not Guilt that God had to offer them, but forgiveness and love. But Jesus goes even further. He reminds Simon the Pharisee that the reason why he's offended by Jesus' attitude towards the woman, is that Simon and other Pharisees have forgotten what it was like to feel indebted to God...they have their laws and their rituals that they think solidify their relationship with God, but in the meantime, they never confront this notion of what it means to carry sin within us, and how much more powerful is God's forgiveness and love that he overlooks that sin and still embraces us. They in short -like many today- are afraid to contemplate the depth of God's love for us.  Maybe it makes them uncomfortable to know that they owe God so much, that after all God's done for us, He still continues to offer himself to us every day of our lives. We are constantly, surrounded by his grace, mercy, healing and love. This may sound overwhelming, but when you think about it, wouldn't any parent give this kind of attention to their child? No matter what we do, we'll always be beloved by our parents. And if it's true for them, how much more so for God!!
 Happy father's day!

Reading 1, Second Samuel 12:7-10, 13

7 Nathan then said to David, 'You are the man! Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, "I anointed you king of Israel, I saved you from Saul's clutches,
8 I gave you your master's household and your master's wives into your arms, I gave you the House of Israel and the House of Judah; and, if this is still too little, I shall give you other things as well.
9 Why did you show contempt for Yahweh, by doing what displeases him? You put Uriah the Hittite to the sword, you took his wife to be your wife, causing his death by the sword of the Ammonites.
10 For this, your household will never be free of the sword, since you showed contempt for me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite, to make her your wife."
13 David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against Yahweh.' Nathan then said to David, 'Yahweh, for his part, forgives your sin; you are not to die.

Responsorial Psalm, Psalms 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11
1 [Of David Poem] How blessed are those whose offence is forgiven, whose sin blotted out.
2 How blessed are those to whom Yahweh imputes no guilt, whose spirit harbours no deceit.
5 I made my sin known to you, did not conceal my guilt. I said, 'I shall confess my offence to Yahweh.' And you, for your part, took away my guilt, forgave my sin.Pause
7 You are a refuge for me, you guard me in trouble, with songs of deliverance you surround me.Pause
11 Rejoice in Yahweh, exult all you upright, shout for joy, you honest of heart.

Reading 2, Galatians 2:16, 19-21

16 have nevertheless learnt that someone is reckoned as upright not by practising the Law but by faith  in Jesus Christ; and we too came to believe in Christ Jesus so as to be reckoned as upright by faith in Christ and not by practising the Law: since no human being can be found upright by keeping the Law.
19 In fact, through the Law I am dead to the Law so that I can be alive to God. I have been crucified with Christ
20 and yet I am alive; yet it is no longer I, but Christ living in me. The life that I am now living, subject to the limitation of human nature, I am living in faith, faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.
21 I am not setting aside God's grace as of no value; it is merely that if saving justice comes through the Law, Christ died needlessly.

Gospel, Luke 7:36-50

36 One of the Pharisees invited him to a meal. When he arrived at the Pharisee's house and took his place at table,
37 suddenly a woman came in, who had a bad name in the town. She had heard he was dining with the Pharisee and had brought with her an alabaster jar of ointment.
38 She waited behind him at his feet, weeping, and her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them away with her hair; then she covered his feet with kisses and anointed them with the ointment.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, 'If this man were a prophet, he would know who this woman is and what sort of person it is who is touching him and what a bad name she has.'
40 Then Jesus took him up and said, 'Simon, I have something to say to you.' He replied, 'Say on, Master.'
41 'There was once a creditor who had two men in his debt; one owed him five hundred denarii, the other fifty.
42 They were unable to pay, so he let them both off. Which of them will love him more?'
43 Simon answered, 'The one who was let off more, I suppose.' Jesus said, 'You are right.'
44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, 'You see this woman? I came into your house, and you poured no water over my feet, but she has poured out her tears over my feet and wiped them away with her hair.
45 You gave me no kiss, but she has been covering my feet with kisses ever since I came in.
46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.
47 For this reason I tell you that her sins, many as they are, have been forgiven her, because she has shown such great love. It is someone who is forgiven little who shows little love.'
48 Then he said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven.'
49 Those who were with him at table began to say to themselves, 'Who is this man, that even forgives sins?'
50 But he said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'

Saturday, 15 June 2013

On Thursday, we celebrated a special saint, one who has had a great impact on my life.Of all the Saints in our Calendar, St Anthony is the one that I've had the most direct experiences with, and consequently have numerous stories, mostly around lost objects since he's the Saint one prays to when one loses things! But the story I'll relate is a different one.
 But first, a few words on Tony of Pad

Feast: June 13

Feast Day:June 13
1195, Lisbon, Portugal
Died:13 June 1231, Padua
30 May 1232, Spoleto, Italy by Pope Gregory IX
Major Shrine:Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua in Padua, Italy
Patron of:animals; barrenness; Brazil; elderly people; faith in the Blessed Sacrament; fishermen; Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land; harvests; horses; Lisbon; lost articles; lower animals; mail; mariners; American Indians; oppressed people; Padua, Italy; poor people; Portugal; pregnant women; sailors; seekers of lost articles; shipwrecks; starvation; sterility; swineherds; Tigua Indians; travel hostesses; travellers; watermen

St. Anthony of Padua is one of the most famous disciples of St. Francis of Assisi. He was a famous preacher and worker of miracles in his own day, and throughout the eight centuries since his death he has so generously come to the assistance of the faithful who invoke him, that he is known throughout the world.

Born in the year 1195 A. D. at Lisbon (Portugal) where his father was a captain in the royal army. Already at the age of fifteen years, he had entered the Congregation of Canons Regular of St. Augustine and devoted himself with great earnestness both to study and to the practice of piety in the Monastery at Coimbra (Portugal). A few years later, the first members of the Order of Friars Minor, which St. Francis has founded in 1206 A. D. came to Coimbra. By their evangelical poverty and simplicity they edified and touched everyone in the region. But it was the Franciscans martyrs of the faith that would touch Anthony the most.

The relics of St. Bernard and companions, the first martyrs of the Franciscan Order, seized St. Anthony him with an intense desire to suffer martyrdom in a like manner. So moved by their heroic example he left his order, and received a friendly reception at the Franciscan Monastery in Coimbria, and in the same year his earnest wish to be sent to the missions in Africa was fulfilled.

St. Anthony's Arrival in Italy

But God had decreed otherwise. And so, St. Anthony scarcely set foot on African soil when he was seized with a grievous illness. Even after recovering from it, he was so weak that, resigning himself to the will of God, he boarded a boat back to Portugal. Unexpectedly a storm came upon them and drove the ship to the east where it found refuge on coast of Sicily. St. Anthony was greeted and given shelter by the Franciscans of that island, and thus came to be sent to Assisi, where the general chapter of the Order was held in May, 1221 A. D..

Since he still looked weak and sickly, and gave no evidence of his scholarship, no one paid any attention to the stranger until Father Gratian, the Provincial of friars living in the region of Romagna (Italy), had compassion on him and sent him to the quiet little convent near Forli (also in Italy). There St. Anthony remained nine months as chaplain to the hermits, occupied in the lowliest duties of the kitchen and convent.

St. Anthony, Preacher and Teacher

But the hidden jewel was soon to appear in all its brilliance. For the occasion of a ceremony of ordination some of the hermits along with St. Anthony were sent to the town of Forli. Before the ceremony was to begin, however, it was announced that the priest who was to give the sermon had fallen sick. The local superior, to avert the embarrassment of the moment, quickly asked the friars in attendance to volunteer. Each excused himself, saying that he was not prepared, until finally, St. Anthony was asked to give it. When he too, excused himself in a most humble manner, his superior ordered him by virtue of the vow of obedience to give the sermon. St. Anthony began to speak in a very reserved manner; but soon holy animation seized him, and he spoke with such eloquence, learning and unction that everybody was fairly amazed.

When St. Francis was informed of the event, he gave St. Anthony the mission to preach throughout Italy. At the request of the brethren, St. Anthony was later commissioned also to teach theology, "but in such a manner," St. Francis distinctly wrote, " that the spirit of prayer be not extinguished either in yourself or in the other brethren." St. Anthony himself placed greater value in the salvation of souls than on learning. For that reason he never ceased to exercise his office as preacher despite his work of teaching.
The number of those who came to hear him was sometimes so great that no church was large enough to accommodate and so he had to preach in the open air.  He was so energetic in defending the truths of the Catholic Faith that many heretics returned to the Church. This occasioned the epitaph given him by Pope Gregory IX "the ark of the covenant."

In all his labors he never forgot the admonition of his spiritual father, St. Francis, that the spirit of prayer must not be extinguished. If he spent the day in teaching and heard the confession of sinners till late in the evening, then many hours of the night were spent in intimate union with God -so intimate in fact, that he was once seen in prayer holding the Child Jesus in his arms,  as we see in the picture above-.
 In 1231, at the young age of 36, exhausted from all his work and penance, he slipped into eternity, still in close communion with his beloved creator until the very end! On the day of his death, it is said that the children of Padua were in the streets, collectively mourning the death of the man they already called Saint.
(Taken from the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate)

 In  St Anthony, we find not only an example of great humility and simplicity of faith, but also an example of intimacy with God that is essential for any Christian to experience.  His devotion to God and to his people is so legendary that we still turn to him on a regular basis these days, mostly when we lose various items in our life...but also when we travel, and we ourselves can be lost!

 3 years ago during my pilgrimage across the Northern part of the Appalachians, I had a strange encounter with St Anthony. It began in New York city, where I started my pilgrimage by hanging out with the Jesuits in SOHO.  One of the places I visited with my host were the Joseph and Mary houses, -buildings that are associated with the famous Catholic Worker movement.-. In Joseph house, I met a man who was trying to get rid of his junk mail by passing it on to me. In it, was a prayer card for St Anthony. I knew very little about St Anthony -except to pray for him for lost articles!-  but I figured it'd be nice to have 'a companion' for the road.  I was about to set out for the great unknown in the Appalachian mountains, and would need all the help I could get (my plan was to camp out every night on the Appalacian trail...but the problem is, I"m not outdoorsy type. This was my first time trying something so bold on my own! Needless to say, I was scared and needed all the comfort I could get).
 I prayed with him on the very first night of my actual walk on the trails, and soon learned that he was (lo and behold!) the patron saint of Travellers, especially of pilgrims!! ( This would be one of those instances when I would tell people who don't believe in God " there's coincidence..and then there's moments like these. It's because of such moments that my faith is what it is!" I didn't plan to pray to Saints during my pilgrimage...never mind the Patron Saint of pilgrims!! Yet here I was doing so!!). So for the first week, he was a regular prayer companion of mine. Then near the end of the week, a crisis happened: 

 I lost my sleeping bag on the trail. To this day, I still don't know how this happened. It must have fallen off from my bag at some point. Whatever happened, it couldn't have happened at a worse time: The first night I was without a sleeping bad was the coldest one I had experienced during that pilgrimage, and there were 2 others nights like it coming up. I spent the first two nights struggling with the elements..but on the third one, I decided I'd go into a local village to find shelter for the night. I wasn't having much luck, so I went into an Italian place for Chicken wings and a burger -a nice change of pace, compared the bread, nuts and crackers that were part of my usual pilgrim's diet!!- The owner of the restaurant came to serve me, and she saw me praying for St Anthony. She absolutely lit up, saying St Anthony was her favorite Saint and that she longed to visit Padua one of these days. We chatted a bit, I told of her my predicament, my need for shelter, or a sleeping back or a blanket for the night. She said if she had, she'd give me right away.  I appreciated the sentiment and was getting ready to go visit the local shelter. As I was planning my exit, she came out.. 
"Wait a minute...I have something for you"

She went out to her car to get something...and reappeared with a big fluffy blanket.
 " I forgot I had this in the back of my car"
I continued my pilgrimage with this big blanket, which I immediately  dubbed my 'St Anthony Blanket'. I ended up leaving it outside a shelter in Boston when the camping component of the pilgrimage were done, much to my chagrin, but also in the hope that it's kept many others as warm as it kept me!


 That experience during the pilgrimage was an excellent opportunity for me to really face the question 'how much do I trust the Lord'.  It was a time when I faced my biggest fears, and just plunged into the big scary unknown with all my heart fully trusting that God would provide. My prayer life during this period of my life was unlike I had ever experienced. It was as if this veil had been lifted from my mind, and I was now, in my vulnerability, in my fear, in my insecurity, was able to have a genuine encounter with the fullness of the living God. I've learned from St Paul  (from 2nd Corinthians, the first reading for Thursday) that the reason I experienced that veil being lifted is that my moment in the mountains and forests of the Appalachians was one in which my entire being was turned to the Lord. I could no longer depend on my own resources, on my community, on my was me...and the Lord. It was scary, but it was also an incredible moment of growth in trust and confidence in God's fidelity to us!

 Indeed, as difficult as those weeks in the mountains were for me, I also believe they were an experience of true freedom. For as St Paul says in the same passage, 'where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom'. And how can I not see the spirit of the Lord being strongly present in my moment of vulnerability and need!!??

 It sounds so disheartening to believe this:  can we truly only experience the Fullness of God in our most vulnerable moments?  That's not necessarily what's being said, but at the same time, we can't turn away from the fact that Christianity, contrary to what many think in the secular world, is a challenging, radical, difficult journey. We need only look at Matthew 5 to realize this. Once Jesus explains to us the essence of the Beatitudes to our journey of faith, he then challenges us to the core of our existence by saying things like (I'm totally paraphrasing! bear with me!) " While most people out there would have you believe that if someone hits you, you ought to hit them back, and if they hate you, you ought to hate them back...I'd like to present to you another way of doing things". These words are confusing and challenging to our days, and I imagine they were rather unpopular to the people of his time as well. Despite this, we still carry them with us. The question becomes: can we do more than just carry them? Can we live them. Can we, as Pope Francis suggested this week, genuinely say to ourselves 'I'm angry at this person. Let me pray that God bless them''. I guess we spend the rest of our lives trying to answer that question!!

First reading2 Corinthians 3:15-4:1,3-6 ©
Even today, whenever Moses is read, the veil is over their minds. It will not be removed until they turn to the Lord. Now this Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect; this is the work of the Lord who is Spirit.
  Since we have by an act of mercy been entrusted with this work of administration, there is no weakening on our part. If our gospel does not penetrate the veil, then the veil is on those who are not on the way to salvation; the unbelievers whose minds the god of this world has blinded, to stop them seeing the light shed by the Good News of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For it is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. It is the same God that said, ‘Let there be light shining out of darkness’, who has shone in our minds to radiate the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, the glory on the face of Christ.

PsalmPsalm 84:9-14 ©
The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
I will hear what the Lord God has to say,
  a voice that speaks of peace.
His help is near for those who fear him
  and his glory will dwell in our land.
The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
Mercy and faithfulness have met;
  justice and peace have embraced.
Faithfulness shall spring from the earth
  and justice look down from heaven.
The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.
The Lord will make us prosper
  and our earth shall yield its fruit.
Justice shall march before him
  and peace shall follow his steps.
The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.

GospelMatthew 5:20-26 ©
Jesus said to his disciples, If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
  ‘You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother “Fool” he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin; and if a man calls him “Renegade” he will answer for it in hell fire. So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering. Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.’