30th Sunday: Pope Francis’ Synod

“Love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus says. The question then is: How do we love God and neighbor in the world we live in, for example, in our families? That’s the question the recent Synod of Bishops considered, the synod convened by Pope Francis who invited church leaders from around the world to join him in looking at the times in which we live, “the signs of the times,” and see how we can adapt to the changing conditions of society.

For two weeks in Rome, leaders of the Catholic church studied reports they received previously from all parts of the world, shared their reflections and made some preliminary recommendations. Now, the pope asked them to bring their reflections home to be discussed by their local churches and then return to Rome to continue the process with him next year.

It’s a long, extended process, over two years; it’s not finished yet.

You can read about the synod in your diocesan paper or online, and I hope you do, because it gives us an interesting look at family life in all parts of the world. You can find the working paper from the synod on the Vatican website.

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20140626_instrumentum-laboris-familia_en.html#Difficult_Pastoral_Situations

http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2014/10/13/0751/03037.html

Let me mention a few things from the working paper for the synod. As you might suspect, it reflected on the family from the perspective of the bible and church tradition, but then in Part II it takes up the challenges a family faces today.

One is a perennial challenge: lack of communication in families. Husband and wife not talking to each other, children not talking to parents. Where there’s no communication in a family, there’s a loss of meaning and an experience of love. (64)

Families can also be torn apart by violence and abuse, an abuse that can be psychological, physical or sexual. Families can be damaged by addictions to alcohol and drugs. The synod then mentions some dangers today from the social media and the internet, particularly pornography. (66)

Let me quote from its document: “… Television, smart phones and computers can be a real impediment to dialogue among family members, leading to a breakdown and alienation in relationships within a family, where communication depends more and more on technology. In the end, the means of communication and access to the Internet replace real family relationships with virtual ones. This situation runs the risk of leading to not only the disunity and breakdown of the family but also the possibility that the virtual world will replace the real one.” (68) The people on television, video games, become more real than the people in your home.

The economy and work also influence families. Let me quote again: “The pace of work can be fast and sometimes even exhausting…and increasingly hectic life leaves little opportunity for moments of peace and family togetherness…Increasing job insecurity, together with the growth of unemployment and the consequent need to look for work elsewhere, have taken their toll on family life. “ (70)

There’s a need for governments and businesses to make sure there are decent jobs and just wages, as well as programs that assist families and children. (71)

I think you can see from these few examples that the synod is looking at real life situations.

The 3rd chapter of the synod document gets most attention in the media. “Difficult Pastoral Situations.” The first difficult situation it mentions is the increasing number of couples, particularly in North America and Europe who are living together, without getting married. They do this for different reasons, the surveys say. Sometimes its because of “financial need, unemployment and lack of housing.” Sometimes it the “fear of making a commitment and the idea of having children. They don’t want to make definitive decisions or have responsibilities that come with marriage. The leaders of the church are asking–and we all have to ask– how can we help young people enter into the long term relationship which is marriage? (82)

Another difficult situation, “especially in Europe and across America is the very high number of people who are separated, divorced or divorced and remarried.” Because of their situation, many of them can’t receive Holy Communion. The questions being asked is what can we do to help these people and how can we make them and their children feel at home in the church?  (86)

The final difficult situation is about same sex marriage. The synod is rejecting the view that homosexual unions are the same as the traditional union of man and woman. “Yet, at the same time, we need to make clear that men and women with homosexual tendencies ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.’” (110)

There’s an opposition, then, to “redefining” marriage between a man and a woman through laws permitting a union between two people of the same sex. We’re trying to find a balance between the Church’s teaching on the family and a respectful, non-judgmental attitude towards people living in such unions. (113)

I began with the simple words of Jesus, “You shall love God and your neighbor. Not easy in a complex world, but we’re called to do just that.

When Pope Francis called for the synod he asked the bishops to consult their people and listen to them. He asked for transparency in discussing these issues. He recognizes there will be different ideas and different solutions concerning these challenges. He said we are on a journey. It’s a unique process the pope has begun and I hope we all can enter into it.

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The Passion of Christ

passion site

Monday on the Feast of St. Paul of the Cross we launched a new website on the Passion of Christ.

http://passionofchrist.us/

The website has a commentary on the Passion Narratives by Fr. Don Senior, CP, and information on Passion sites, devotions, prayers, spirituality and recent studies.

In recent studies, for example, there’s a review by Fr. Paul Zilonka, CP. of Bill O’ Reilly’s recent book “Killing Jesus.”

It’s a work in progress. A lot more material will be added in days to come, so drop in every once in awhile. The Passion of Jesus is at the heart of the mission of the Passionists, the community I belong to. It’s a mystery that can feed your soul.  I would be grateful for any suggestions you may have.

The site will play on any computer, iPad or smart phone. We hope eventually to develop the website into a multi-lingual site that will literally reach the whole world.

I’m very grateful to the person who did such a beautiful job in formatting the site. A work of art in itself. A special grace brought this site about.

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Praying the Lord’s Prayer

St. Augustine offers Proba, a Roman woman who asks his advice about praying,  some insights into the Lord’s Prayer.

 “When we say: Hallowed be your name, we are reminding ourselves to desire that his name, which in fact is always holy, should also be considered holy among us. I mean that it should not be held in contempt. But this is a help for us, not for God.
  And as for our saying: Your kingdom come, it will surely come whether we will it or not. But we are stirring up our desires for the kingdom so that it can come to us and we can deserve to reign there.
  When we say: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are asking him to make us obedient so that his will may be done in us as it is done in heaven by his angels.
  When we say: Give us this day our daily bread, in saying this day we mean “in this world.” Here we ask for a sufficiency by specifying the most important part of it; that is, we use the word “bread” to stand for everything. Or else we are asking for the sacrament of the faithful, which is necessary in this world, not to gain temporal happiness but to gain the happiness that is everlasting.
  When we say: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, we are reminding ourselves of what we must ask and what we must do in order to be worthy in turn to receive.
  When we say: Lead us not into temptation, we are reminding ourselves to ask that his help may not depart from us; otherwise we could be seduced and consent to some temptation, or despair and yield to it.
  When we say: Deliver us from evil, we are reminding ourselves to reflect on the fact that we do not yet enjoy the state of blessedness in which we shall suffer no evil. This is the final petition contained in the Lord’s Prayer, and it has a wide application. In this petition the Christian can utter his cries of sorrow, in it he can shed his tears, and through it he can begin, continue and conclude his prayer, whatever the distress in which he finds himself. Yes, it was very appropriate that all these truths should be entrusted to us to remember in these very words.”

 

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St. Paul of the Cross

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA saint’s work is never done because, like Jesus Christ, the saints reach beyond their own time and place.  They are agents of God’s plan. Their work is not finished at their death, our belief in the communion of saints reminds us, and even in old age they saw something yet to do.

They never say “The work is done,” and neither should we.

I’m reminded of a poem called “What then?” by W.B. Yeats; which he wrote as an old man at the end of a successful career filled with literary honors, financial rewards and a host of friends. You would think he’d sit down and enjoy it all, but listen to him as he hears the challenge of more to do:

‘The work is done,’ grown old he thought,
‘According to my boyish plan;
Let the fools rage, I swerved in naught,
Something to perfection brought’;
But louder sang that ghost,’What then?’

I’m sure St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of my community, the Passionists, is saying something like that from his place in heaven where he guides us still. I just finished writing a piece about him and I will write some more. He’s not done yet.See: http://vhoagland.wordpress.com/st-paul-of-the-cross/

Today we are also launching a site on the Passion of Christ. Take a look: http://passionofchrist.us/

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29th Sunday – Paying Taxes

 

To listen to the Homily please select the audio below:

In today’s gospel, the enemies of Jesus try to trap him with their question about paying taxes to Caesar. Taxes are always controversial, and they were more so in Jesus’  time. Refusing to pay them might make you a hero in people’s eyes, but your moment of glory would soon bring you the sentence of death.

Jesus’ answer squarely acknowledges the rights of a government to be supported by their people. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” He seems to imply there are bigger things than paying taxes. Stay where you are, he says, you can be a revolutionary there.

Can we be revolutionaries where we are? In unfavorable times, in times as they are? And is that where Jesus asks us to follow him, in our lives as they are?

The gospels say Jesus called some like Peter, James and John to leave their lives as they were and follow him, but most of those he called remained where they were as his followers.

Think of one of the first he called, Peter’s mother in law. When he raised her from fever she got up to wait on them. She was back at her life as it was.

He told many whom he cured to go home to their lives as before. When Jesus left Jericho for Jerusalem he left behind Zachaeus, the chief tax collector, evidently still the chief tax collector but now a changed man.

And what about Mary his mother? She did not seem to follow him on his missionary journeys but remained in Nazareth until the days when her son went to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Nazareth at that time must have been a hard place to be.

Perhaps the hardest places to follow Jesus and revolutionize are where we are.

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A Wedding Garment: 28th Sun A

 

Scholars find this story from Matthew’s gospel difficult to understand, especially when you compare it to the same story more simply told in Luke’s gospel. (Luke 14,16-24) Both evangelists describe a banquet in which last minute rejections by those invited cause the host to send out his servants to scour the land for others to come in.

In Matthew’s account the story is directed towards the “chief priests and elders of the people,” whose refusal to accept God’s invitation through Jesus leads others to take their place. “Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find… bad and good alike.” God’s big net, cast far and wide, brings Jews and Gentiles to fill the halls of his kingdom.

But there’s a cautionary part in Matthew’s account. An invitation to God’s kingdom doesn’t mean you’re safely in and automatically saved. Seeing a guest with no “wedding garment,” the king has him thrown into the darkness outside where there’s “wailing and grinding of teeth.”

A “wedding garment” is not something you freely get and freely wear. Once called to the banquet, you have to shed your old clothes of sin and clothe yourself in goodness. There were probably people in Matthew’s church (in our church too?) who thought being a church member was an automatic ticket to heaven. Not so, you need a wedding garment, and that means living a life of faith and goodness.

Are you wearing your wedding garment today

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Martha and Luke

Martha Mary 2

Today at Mass we read the passage from Luke about the visit of Jesus to Martha and Mary.

It’ s hard for us to keep the gospels separate and let each evangelist tell his own story the way he wants, and so when we hear about Martha and Mary in Luke’s gospel, we can’t help but think about the Martha and Mary in John’s gospel, who live in Bethany, whose brother Lazarus dies and Jesus will raise from the dead.

In John’s gospel Martha is the one who seems to shine, as she runs to meet Jesus and express her faith in him when her brother dies:

“’Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.’

“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.’

Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,kand everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”* lShe said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.’” (John 11, 21-27)

You can’t ask for a stronger expression of faith than that.

But Luke presents the two women differently in his gospel. This is the only mention he makes of them. It’s all he tells us about them. He doesn’t even say they live in Bethany or that they have a brother named Lazarus who died and was raised.

Luke’s propose is to tell us that Jesus the prophet is making his way to Jerusalem and when he enters your house you should listen to him. That’s what Mary does, she listens to him. Martha is too concerned with taking care of things and she misses what he says.

I suppose we can say that like Martha we can get so caught up with what we’re doing that we miss what Jesus the prophet wants to say to us. We might be doing very good things, but we all need to listen more. We might be the best people, but even the best people may not listen enough.

Still, we find it hard to dismiss Martha as we listen to Luke’s gospel. St. Augustine obviously had a soft spot for her; he says that Martha cared for “Word made flesh,” who was hungry and thirsty, tired and in need of human care and support. “She longs to share what Mary enjoys, his presence, his wisdom and his gifts. And she will find her desires fulfilled.

“You, Martha, if I may say so, will find your service blessed and your work rewarded with peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland you will find no traveller to welcome, no one hungry to feed or thirsty to give drink, no one to visit or quarrelling to reconcile, no one dead to bury.”

“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. What Mary chose in this life will be realized there in full. She was gathering only fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”

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