Morning Thoughts: God’s Wealth

by Howard Hain

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Then they handed him the Roman coin.

He said to them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?”

They replied, “Caesar’s.”

At that he said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

—Matthew 22:19-21

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What has value? What has true, lasting value?

And how do we distinguish between arbitrary and absolute value?

Good questions. Meaningful questions. Questions with great relevance since the first moment of man, and questions still very much relevant today—maybe more so than ever before—as cultures become increasingly pluralistic, governments increasingly complex, and economies, natural resources, and “manpower” increasingly intertwined and qualitatively and quantitatively obscure.

And perhaps nothing better expresses this uncertainty than the incredibly difficult task of evaluating the meaning of money—something that for so long has been so generally accepted—but now a question our present day begs us to ask anew.

What then is the role of currency within our ever-increasing global complexity?

Does “currency” still mean what it meant in its most basic form: A medium of exchange, generally accepted, and possessing integrity with regard to accurately representing the goods, services, and/or resources involved in an exchange?

Complex times, complex questions. I’m sure polished academics, investors, and politicians have complex answers—if they’d even recognize such a naive question in the first place.

Though I have a hunch that if we ask the common man and woman—those who are the actual “human resources” bundled together, broken apart, and tossed back and forth like various sizes of sacks of potatoes—we’d hear a common concern.

I bet the consensus is a growing sense of separation between the real connection between “currency” and the actual “items” being evaluated and exchanged—that the “general acceptance” sees a serious disconnect—no matter how simple or straightforward the words or expressions used to describe it.

Maybe we should follow their common lead. For it just may be our common sense that best suggests the level road. Let’s then move forward by asking a simple and straightforward question: What is made by man and what is made by God?

Such a question quickly restores a humble perspective—one in which the questioner is once again seen as part of the question—viewing God as the Uncreated Creator of all creation, and viewing man as simply part of it, not the cause of it.

Such a question also reminds us of a comforting reality, one that helps build up our view of humanity, not devalue it: For in God’s eyes, man always has a certain, absolute value, as do animals, plants, and all the earth’s resources: air, soil, water, minerals, metals…every nook and cranny. For God made it all. And what God makes He values. And what God values He values absolutely.

On the other hand, the price we place on them—the fluctuations in “perceptive” worth—is most certainly arbitrary value—completely man-made. In fact, without man there can be no arbitrary value: No man, no human perception, therefore no arbitrary value.

It is worth noting that there seems to be nothing inherently wrong with arbitrary value. But we also know through real experience that freewill and temptation continuously battle it out. We’ve all seen firsthand how arbitrary value can be used quite negatively. It can be manipulated. It can be unjust. It can be a weapon man uses against his fellow-man.

Absolute value is not the same. It never undergoes corruption or discriminates. It never hurts life or creation.

But why do we ask these questions? Why should we wonder about such issues?

Because without big questions—the panoramic views—we ironically lose sight of the intricacies and peaceful beauty of day-to-day reality. In other words, we need philosophers. We need those who ask questions from mountain-peak perspective in order to properly value even the smallest creature within the deepest valley.

It’s about divine perspective. About wisdom: Knowing there’s One Source of all creation, and that all creation—no matter how seemingly infinite and minute its manifestation—is always a reflection of the totality and unity of the One Source.

For the enterprise of philosophy—literally the “love of wisdom”—is not narrow or shallow. It is neither micro nor macro. It is never “either-or”.

Philosophy is not a specific knowledge of a specific something. It is not a specific science encompassing a specific field or a specific mastery of a specific craft or trade. Philosophy is not even a specific art expressing itself through a specific medium.

Philosophy is a relationship. A specific relationship. A love-propelled relationship with wisdom itself. And wisdom is not merely a word existing solely of sound waves and vibrations, nor is wisdom merely a concept existing solely in man’s mind. No, wisdom is beyond words, beyond concepts, beyond ideas. Wisdom is the Ultimate Idea, the Only Concept, and the Unspeakable Word.

Wisdom is. Always. Purely. Absolutely. No starts or stops. No lines, no boundaries. It possesses no arbitrary or man-made qualities.

Wisdom is God Himself.

The philosopher is therefore a lover of God. A lover of the Incarnate Word. Of Incarnate Wisdom. The philosopher is a lover of Jesus Christ—in all His manifestations—in all His creation.

This is why we ask such questions.

True lovers never lose sight of the Beloved. We must therefore never lose sight of true worth and the source of all that has worth. We must correctly identify reality and all that is rightly extracted from it. Leaving behind the rest. For all experience runs through the philosopher’s fingers as if sifting for precious metals—knowing that even what is priceless is not yet our possession.

The philosopher is also a child of faith. And therefore a descendant of the patriarch Abraham, our father in faith, who was promised descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore. We must therefore be willing to lift up and cherish every “worthless” grain. A task we can hardly achieve. But God who created us shows us how.

The answer is quite absurd—making little logical sense—but it is certain and perfect nonetheless. We must recall Christ’s suffering. And we must partake. It is the only way. For by His Cross and Resurrection, Christ sets us free. Free to use freewill properly. Free to distinguish God’s worth from that which disordered man imposed.

And how does that translate into a more pragmatic approach, into a “practical philosophy” that helps “order our days“?

Hope tells us we must stay grounded. Our toes in the dirt. The nitty-gritty of day-to-day life filling our sensitive nose. Our arms stretched wide, unafraid of having our wind unexpectedly knocked out. And all the while, our chins slightly tilted up and away. Our eyes fixed on the Light of Creation—the One Source that burns away all artificial value.


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25th Sunday A: A Big Harvest

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Matthew, the tax collector


Jews would usually turn away when they passed the customs place where Matthew, the tax-collector, was sitting. But

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”

To celebrate their new friendship, Matthew invited Jesus to a banquet at his house with his friends – other tax collectors like himself – and Jesus came with some of his disciples. They were criticized immediately for breaking one of Capernaum’s social codes. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus’ answer was quick: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.

Go and learn the meaning of the words `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Hardly anything is known of Matthew’s part in Jesus’ later ministry, yet surely the tradition must be correct that says he recorded much of what Jesus said and did. A tax-collector would be good at keeping books; did Matthew keep memories? Are there some things that happened that were especially related to him?

The gospels say that wherever Jesus went he was welcomed by tax collectors. When he entered Jericho, Zachaeus, the chief tax collector of the city, climbed a tree to see him pass, since the crowds were so great. Did Matthew point out to Jesus the man in the tree, a tax collector like himself, and then bring them all to Zachaeus’ house, where Jesus left his blessing of salvation? And did tax collectors in other towns come to Jesus because they recognized one of their own among his companions?

Probably so. Jesus always looked kindly on outsiders like Matthew who were targets of so much suspicion and resentment. True, they belonged to a compromised profession tainted by greed, dishonesty and bribery. Their dealings were not always according to the fine line of right or wrong.

But still, they were children of God and, like lost sheep, Jesus would not let them be lost.

It’s interesting to note that Pope Francis told a group of bishops recently that he got his vocation to be a priest on the Feast of St. Matthew 60 years ago, when he went to confession and heard God’s call, a call of mercy.

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Divine Flute Player

by Orlando Hernandez

In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Lk 7;31-35) Jesus tells the crowds :

“To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance.
We sand a dirge, but you did not weep.’ “.

In the previous verses our Lord had been reflecting on the person of John the Baptist. Jesus now speaks with regard to the way so many people rejected John’s stark message of repentance and asceticism (the “dirge”). He is also saddened by the way His message of forgiveness, inclusion, gladness, and salvation is also rejected as perhaps too lenient, too loose, too much like party music.

In our generation, what will satisfy us? My Lord offers me the joy of an eternity in His Glory, and I often find myself looking the other way, at the pleasures and ideas of this world. Why do I do this? Why am I blind and deaf? I suffer frustration and depression when I look at the news and see the sad condition of our planet. My Lord invites me to go into this heart of darkness with Him and do something about it. But nooo, it’s too hard for me. Let me vegetate in front of the TV.

But He returns, inviting again and again until He becomes irresistible. Like the Pied Piper, He arrives with His flute, playing the most delightful melody, a love song, a dance that can make us “rejoice, and leap for joy”. So we follow Him up the mountain. There are crosses waiting at the top. The poverty, the hunger, the mourning, the intolerance of this world are always there waiting for us. He bears them on His body. He carries us. The tune becomes a song of mourning. We’re invited to die with Him.

But resurrection follows, my faith tells me so. Love is stronger than death. The jovial music returns. There is a purpose to life. The Beloved One embraces us into His glorified body. We’re lost in an endless sea of Goodness. “Dissolved and brought to a deep, conscious, felt knowledge of the Divinity”, Paul of the Cross writes. Nothing can be better than that. We are strengthened and inspired by His Grace to love and help our neighbor.

Lord, open my eyes to see the marvelous treasures that You offer to all of us.! Open my ears to hear Your Song of Life.

Orlando Hernandez

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United Nations: World Leaders Meet


“ Our Sister Earth cries out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness.

The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations. The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable; otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice.

It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected. Any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.”

Pope Francis, Laudato SI 54-55

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Feasts are for Reflection

Ryrson cross
Feasts are times to reflect. The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15th, is an important feast for my community, the Passionists. Mary is the first disciple of Jesus and a model for anyone who wishes to follow him.

The gospel reading for the feast from St. John says simply that Mary stood by the cross of Jesus. She’s a brave woman, not afraid to come close to the fearful place where Jesus was put to death. The Book of Judith, ordinarily the 1st reading for the feast, praises Judith, the brave and wise Jewish woman who’s not afraid to stand with her people at a dangerous moment in their history. Two women of courage face suffering and the challenge it brings.

The prayers, traditions and art of this feast take up the theme of Mary standing by the cross. She’s remembered  in poetry, music and art. “Stabat Mater” Here’s an example in Gregorian Chant and Pergolesi’s magnificent baroque setting.

At the cross her station keeping
Stood the mournful mother keeping
Close to Jesus to the last.

Blessed Dominic Barberi, in his reflections on Mary’s sorrows, emphasizes that Mary is a mother, the new Eve and a follower of Abraham, who hopes even as his son faces death. Dominic places particular emphasis on Mary’s ties to Jesus as his mother, ties of flesh and blood.

Her motherhood provides another strong tradition that  appears in early medieval art – the Pieta– the Mother holding her dead Son in her arms on Calvary. Where did this come from? Some say it comes, not from the gospels which make no mention of it, but from the writings of mystics like St. Bridgid of Sweden, a mother who saw the life of Jesus, particularly his passion, through a mother’s eyes.

The women mystics, many of them pilgrims to the Holy Land, could not imagine Mary not taking the body of her dead Son into her arms when taken down from the cross.

The 13th century icon above, from the Ryerson collection from the Art Institute of Chicago once belonged to a European pilgrim to the Holy Land who brought it back as a reminder of a pilgrimage. It probably reflects the two traditions. Mary, a mother, holds her Son at birth and she stands at his cross at death.

An alternate gospel for the feast recalls Mary’s loss of the Child Jesus in the temple. Mary’s sorrows were not limited to Calvary; they were lifelong.

A study of the Pieta in art in early medieval France explores the diversity of this scene before Michaelangelo’s Pieta became an overpowering icon. “Often she is viewed as caught up in the horror of the moment, but she is also shown praying or even gazing into the distance, as if contemplating comforting memories or the reunion to come. Her demeanor ranges from youthful innocence—the Purity that Time cannot age—to careworn maturity—Our Lady of Sorrows.”

Sorrow has a range of faces.

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24th Sunday: Forgiveness, Seventy-seven Times?

 

For this week’s homily, please play the video file below:

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