Prayers and reflections of the Passion of Jesus http://www.passionofchrist.us
Because Jesus is often called “Son of David” in the New Testament and so many of the psalm we say are attributed to David, we may tend to idealize the great king, an important figure in Jewish history. David is credited with uniting the tribes of Israel and establishing a nation with its capitol in Jerusalem. Jesus himself appealed to David’s example when his enemies accused his hungry disciples of eating grain on the Sabbath.
Yet, the long narrative we read in the Book of Samuel today and tomorrow at Mass offers a darker picture of the famous king– he was a murderer and an adulterer. David had Urriah the Hittite, a faithful soldier in his army, killed so that he could have Bathsheba, his wife. (2 Samuel 11, 1-17)
Psalm 51 is the response we make at Mass after listening to the king’s sordid deed. Tradition says it’s David’s own response when he realized what he had done. The Book of Psalms calls Psalm 51: “A psalm of David when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”
“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
And of my sin cleanse me.”
The psalm, the first of the Seven Penitential Psalms, asks God to take away both the personal and social effects of our sin, for our sins do indeed have emotional, physical and social consequences. Only God can “wash away” our guilt and cleanse our heart. Only God can “rebuild” the walls that our sins have torn down and the lives they have harmed. Only God can restore joy to our spirits and help us “teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.” Only God can bring us back to his friendship.
In the scriptures, David is a complex figure– a saint and a sinner. He’s really a reflection of us all. That’s why our response in the psalm at Mass today takes the form that it does –
“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”
St. Jerome, whose feast is September 30, was a scripture scholar who made the bible accessible to Christians of the western church through his translations from the original languages of Greek and Hebrew. He was born in 340 in Stridon, a small town on the eastern Adriatic coast, and received his early education in Rome. He was baptized there in 360 by Pope Liberius.
Brilliant and searching for knowledge, Jerome traveled extensively. While in Antioch in Syria he had a dream and saw himself judged by Christ, who rebuked him for wasting his time on worldly knowledge. Moved by the dream, Jerome withdrew into the Syrian desert where, he was beset by temptations and “threw himself at the feet of Jesus, watering them with prayers and acts of penance.” The picture above portrays him praying to be delivered from temptation.
For penance, Jerome began studying Hebrew under a Jewish teacher, which led him to his later work of translating and commentating on the Bible.
Ordained a priest, Jerome arrived in Constantinople around 380 to study the scriptures under St. Gregory of Nazianzen. Two years later, he returned to Rome where Pope Damasus gave him the monumental task of translating the bible from Greek into Latin,. His translation, called the Vulgate, and learned commentaries and sermons sparked a flowering of spirituality in the western church. Jerome won a devoted following, especially among Rome’s prominent Christian women eager to understand the bible.
His biting tongue and caustic comments on Roman society drew critics, who resented his criticism. Stung by their attacks, he left Rome in 385 for the Holy Land where he established a community at Bethlehem near the cave where Christ was born and continued studying the scriptures, utilizing the nearby Christian library at Caesarea Maritima. Friends from Rome joined him, among them the noblewoman Paula and her daughter Eustochia, who founded a monastic community of women in Bethlehem.
“Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” Jerome said, but besides his scripture studies he continually engaged in the church controversies of the day, sometimes dealing harshly and unfairly with others.
In 410 Alaric and his warriors sacked Rome and a shocked Jerome provided shelter Roman Christians fleeing to the safety of the Holy Land. “I have put aside my studies to help them,” he wrote. “Now we must translate the words of scripture into deeds, and instead of speaking holy words we must do them.”
He died in Bethlehem in 420. His remains are buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. A doctor and teacher of the church, he frankly recognized his need for God’s mercy. Jerome is a reminder that saints are not perfect.
“Lord, show me your mercy and gladden my heart.
I am like the man going to Jericho, wounded by robbers.
Good Samaritan, come help me.
I am like a sheep gone astray.
Good Shepherd, come seek me and bring me home safe.
May I dwell in your house all my days and praise you forever.”
All human beings are creations of God.
God loves all His creation.
He wills the best for each and every part of it.
His will is the best.
You are one of His creations.
So is the person you hate.
So is the person you dislike tremendously.
So is the person who annoys you to death.
God loves us all.
God offers us forgiveness for being so unkind to His other creations.
He loves us so much He gives us the freedom to choose the wrong path.
He loves us so much He sent His Only Begotten Son to show us the right way.
Jesus loves us so much He sent the Holy Spirit to strengthen and accompany us.
All three persons smile.
They are One God.
God’s love is all powerful and infinitely kind.
God’s gift of freedom is a gift He intends for us to use.
God desires for us to choose to become like Him.
Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted…
When we are truly merciful, or at least sincerely try to be merciful—to see others and their deeds through the eyes of the Ever-Loving Eternal Father—there often is an unholy fear that takes place. This fear is not the fear of God. This fear is not from God.
No, the fear of God—the good and righteous “fear of the Lord”—a gift of the Holy Spirit—is not the fear to which I am referring. Let us make that perfectly clear. Absolutely not. That fear—the good and righteous “fear of the Lord”—is a great grace and is actually what prompts us to be merciful toward others in the first place.
The fear that I am referencing is superficial, like all fear other than the only fear we should ever have, “the fear of the Lord.” Whether this superficial fear comes from the world, from our own weak flesh, or from Satan, is not very important. For what we need to know and always remember is that this superficial fear is not of or from God.
It is the fear of being accused. Accused of condoning. For when we see others with true mercy we no longer merely look at their acts, no matter how sinful they may be. No, we see first and foremost a person. More so, we see a child. A child who is frightened. A child who is running a high fever. And no one with any heart at all, even if it be a calloused and somewhat hardened heart, wants to punish a frightened or feverish child.
No, no matter our maternal or paternal instinct, or lack thereof, the truly human instinct is to hug. To help. To hold. To heal. To alleviate the fear and burning pain.
But without God’s grace we too often, almost always in terms of statistical significance, do not see a child.
We only see a person who has harmed our world, our society, our way of life, our order, our peace.
We only see a person who—no matter how indirectly his or her actions might affect us—has harmed us and our families personally, and we along with the rest of the mob want justice.
A conflict takes place.
God’s perspective versus the world’s. A frightened and sick child versus a criminal who must be punished. Mercy versus justice.
But the conflict isn’t real. God not only loves justice too, God is Justice. And he sent His Only Begotten Son as expiation for the great injustice of mankind. Our kind. Our sin.
For God to only see the need for punishment is for God to deny His Only Begotten Son. That is not going to happen.
So the next time you feel the desire to be merciful—the need to be merciful—even toward the most “obvious” and “blatant” sinner do not give into the temptation. The temptation to fear. The fear that you are in some way condoning the sinful action because you are refusing to demand immediate and absolute punishment, a punishment that “fits the crime.”
No, say the Lord’s Prayer.
You are on God’s side. God is being merciful through you. And no matter how intimidated you may feel, be “firm and steadfast” in God’s love and mercy.
For you too love justice. You too love Jesus. And Jesus is Justice.
Jesus is Living and Breathing Justice.
And it is through this very person, The Person of Jesus, that “mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed.” (Psalm 85:11)
Praise be to God.
The Gospel for this Wednesday, January 18th, once again reminds me of our purpose as a church, to bring the healing power of God’s love to each other and to this wounded world, as soon as possible, without delay or excuse:
“Jesus entered the synagogue. There was a man there who had a withered hand. They watched Jesus closely to see if He would cure him on the sabbath so they might accuse Him. He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come up here before us.’ Then He said to the Pharisees, ‘ Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it? ‘ But they remained silent. Looking at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, Jesus said to the man, ‘ Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out and his hand was restored.” (Mk 3: 1-5)
With all eyes upon Him Jesus took the opportunity to challenge,teach, and also to heal. Once again Jesus was breaking the rules of His Jewish religion, putting His own life at risk to show us how to live in the Kingdom.
His challenge : paraphrasing the words of Pope Francis, are we, the Church, an empty museum for “saints”, or are we called to be “a field hospital” for the wounded, the lost, the withered, the sinner? We have many rules that damn the divorced, the gay person, the addict, the non-believer. Can we begin by welcoming, in our hearts and lives, those outsiders, the errant ones, hungry for the meaning in their lives that Jesus can most certainly provide? I don’t know that Jesus will turn them away because “it’s the sabbath “, or for any other reason. Maybe neither should we.
His lesson: the time to accept and heal is now, today, with everyone we meet. Let us truly stop and see our brothers and sisters. Let us show interest, empathy, love. Let us risk our own lives and dare to reach out to the ones who might not even trust us. Let us risk criticism or rejection for the sake of love of neighbor.
The healing: with every little act of mercy for others, the love of Christ reaches within our own withered hearts, and heals us as it changes us. With these hearts open to Jesus, let us accept His light, to change our hardened hearts into hearts of flesh and blood, sources of love to the world.
Our Lord gave His life for us. May we give our lives to Him, and to the healing of His people.
The death of Fidel Castro, Cuban dictator, brought joy to many and sadness to others. In Miami there were celebrations in the streets of Little Havana. In Cuba there were nine days of mourning. Many of my friends ask how I feel about the death of Fidel. I’m neither happy nor sad. As a Christian I don’t rejoice in someone’s death. What I do is put them in Your capable hands, my Lord. I’m no one to judge!
I’ve been praying for Fidel’s soul. Unfortunately I can’t forget that because of his political views and cruel policies generations lost their country and way of life. Torture, executions, imprisonment, all took place if you dared to disagree with any of his policies. Freedom no longer existed. Indoctrination began! Your churches, Lord, were closed. Prayer and religion were no longer necessary, we now had Fidel.
My mother decided that she needed to leave Cuba for my sake and her own. In 1962 we became refugees. Thanks to the U.S., which opened its arms to us, we began a new life. It wasn’t easy, my God. Here we were penniless in a new land facing a new language and new obstacles. But with the help of family, the U.S. government, and the Catholic Church hope began to spring up and we survived.
We left Cuba, my God, afraid and without much hope. We left Cuba because one man lost his way and the need for power overwhelmed his ideals. Fidel did have wonderful ideals, but the dark side won, in his case.
I’ve been in the U.S. now for over fifty years. I’m in love with You, my Lord Jesus and I have to admit that happened here in the U.S.. Good things happened to most Cuban refugees. Most of us survived. We progressed. We lived full lives. But we never will know what could have been. The Cuba of today is nothing like the Cuba of yesterday. For some it’s very sad, for others it’s life. For me it is Your will, my God! May You, our Lord and Savior have the mercy on Fidel that he neglected to have for many of his people.