Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Pharisee & The Publican: A Lesson For Our Times

Idiomela from the Triodion 
Mode 1 

 Brethren, let us not offer prayer as did the Pharisee, 
for he who exalts himself will be brought to humility. 
Let us humble ourselves in the presence of God, 
as did the Publican, and through fasting cry to Him 
“God, be merciful to us sinners.” 

 A Pharisee, by self-esteem dominated, and a Publican, 
in repentance prostrated, both approached You the only Master. 
But the one, after boasting, was deprived of the blessings, 
while the other, not speaking, was counted worthy of Your gifts. 
Confirm me in such sighs as these, Christ God, since You love humanity. 

(Translated by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Feast of St. Gaspar del Bufalo, Founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood

Almighty and merciful God, who gave us an ardent witness
of love for your divinity and for our neighbor in 
Saint Gaspar del Bufalo, priest and dedicated missionary
of the Precious Blood of Christ; through his intercession
listen to the voice of the blood of your Son which daily rises
to you from the earth in the painful cry of suffering humanity.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for every and ever.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Perseverance In Prayer

The parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) suggests some qualities that can enliven our prayer: things such as perseverance, loyalty, love, and hope. The widow pleads for justice against an adversary. Although we don't know the details about what was done to her, a quick look at the world today really doesn’t even reveal how many people are crying out for justice. You have to admire the persistent widow’s moxie as she deals with an unprincipled judge.

What we can bring to prayer which often feels like an exercise in boredom? It’s love which is the key to our problem. Prayer shouldn’t involve a lot of words, but rather a large dose of love, hope, faith and patience. God doesn’t at all operate like the unjust judge, as one who responds to our cry by trying to get rid of us. God doesn’t even need us to ask for help. Rather, you and I need to really hear our own prayerful desire for justice in our situation.

Perseverance in following Christ is impossible without perseverance in prayer. It’s said that prayer works miracles, and perhaps the first miracle one experiences in prayer, often without even realizing it, is one’s own perseverance.

One of the Gospel’s clear messages today is to persevere in prayer. Matthew, in his account, says that everyone who asks receives, because the persistence in prayer, born of deep faith, cannot but produce fruit. St. Luke, mindful of the poor and the oppressed who cry out to God for justice, reminds them that their effort isn’t wasted, because God is never deaf to the cries of God’s own. The Hebrew Scriptures remember that, as Israel was forming itself as a people, God heard their painful laments over the oppression which they were suffering in Egypt. The first Christians were in a similar situation. Christians who had suffered the first onslaughts of the Roman Empire longed for the Lord’s Second Coming which promised to bring them the fullness of freedom. Luke’s message was geared to give his readers the hope and strength to endure, to persist and persevere, in the midst of their situation. At times God seems to be late in addressing to our needs, but, in the end, God never fails to come to deliver.

In a way all this is similar to our experience as children. A child learns quickly that persistently seeking something from her/his parents often produces positive results, although sometimes it can also result in being punished. The judge in the parable could have punished the woman for what he considered her untimely insistence. He could’ve even forbidden her from approaching the court, given his unfair disposition. God judges with far greater sensitivity and compassion because God is righteous and acts not against, but in behalf of, the oppressed. If we humans can put up with persistently obnoxious and annoying people at times, how much more will God listen to persevering prayer.

The parable’s two figures, the judge and the widow, are traditional biblical types: one, powerful and controlling, with almost divine authority to judge; the other, a disadvantaged victim of circumstances. God has always proved to be on the side of the poor, as Luke hints in his recording of Mary's canticle, the Magnificat. Knowing this, Christians should be persistent, even aggressive, in asking God to hear their prayers, as well as to support any effort to make God’s justice a reality in the world. Always remember: sometimes "God arrives late, but God never lets us down."

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)

"It seems very easy to say that we will surrender our will to someone, until we try it and realize that it is the hardest thing we can do if we carry it out as we should. The Lord knows what each of us can bear, and, when he sees that one of us is strong, he does not hesitate to fulfill his will in that one.

Do not fear that the Lord will give you riches or pleasures or honors or any such earthly things; his love for you is not so poor as that. And he sets a very high value on what you can give him and desires to recompense you for it since he gives you his kingdom while you are still alive. Would you like to see how he treats those who make the prayer 'Your will be done' from their hearts? Ask his glorious Son, who made it thus in the Garden. Think with what resolution and fullness of desire he prayed; and consider if the will of God was not perfectly fulfilled in him through the trials, sufferings, insults and persecutions which he gave him until at last his life ended with death on a cross.

So you see what God gave to his best beloved, and from this you can understand what his will is. These, then, are his gifts in this world. He gives them in proportion to the love which he bears us...For my own part, I believe that love is the measure of our ability to bear crosses, whether great or small. So if you have this love, try not to let the prayers you make to so great a Lord be words of mere politeness, but brace yourselves to suffer what His Majesty desires. For if you give him your will in any other way, you are just showing him a jewel, making as if to give it to him and begging him to take it, and then, when he puts out his hand to do so, taking it back and holding on to it tightly.

Such mockery is no fit treatment for One who endured so much for us. If for no other reason than this, it would not be right to mock him so often -- and it is by no means seldom that we say these words to him in the 'Our Father'. Let us give him once and for all the jewel which we have so often undertaken to give him. For the truth is that he gives it to us first so that we may give it back to him..."
(From The Way of Perfection

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Faith: Response To the Impossible

Put yourself into the situation described in the first reading from Jeremiah (29:1; 4-7). You’re among a people who’ve been thrown out of their sacred city and homes, and sent off to Babylon in 597 BCE about 500 miles away, as the crow flies, approximately the distance from here to San Diego. After your arrival, the elders/leaders, priests and prophets have received a letter from Jeremiah, the prophet back in Jerusalem, whom some of those same distinguished men loved to hate, as seen in previous chapters. Among the people’s many instances of criticizing, harassing and rejecting this bothersome prophet for calling them to account for their continual unfaithfulness to God, one of the priests, Pashur, assaults Jeremiah and locks him up in the stocks. (Chapter 20) That’s just a prelude to further persecution and King Zedekiah’s throwing Jeremiah into prison, then turning him over to Shephatiah, son of Pashur, and his gang of thugs to be thrown into a cistern, where, according to the writer of Jeremiah...Jeremiah sank in the mud.” 

Jeremiah, of all people, knew about spiritual depression and what it means to feel God’s absence. After being put into the stocks, he cries to God: “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock...everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I must cry out...‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the Lord has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, “I won’t mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ then within me is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot...
So this Jeremiah now sends a letter asking your leaders to pass this message on to your people. As if rubbing it in, he says: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I’ve sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon...stay where you are, in exile, until you’re told otherwise. Build houses, plant gardens, find yourselves spouses and marry, beget children and arrange for spouses for your children...multiply.” Obviously, you think, this is going to be for the long haul! And the kicker is, God’s honest truth, that you’re to “seek the welfare” of Babylon, not just resign yourself to exile there; you’re to pray to God on its behalf, not curse the Babylonians or hate them...because, God says, if their land prospers, so will you; if its business is good, so will yours be; if Babylon and its people live, so will you.
What, do you think, would be your reponse to Jeremiah’s letter? Do you see in your current life-situation anything similar, whether in terms of your self, family, Church, or world? How do you and I, in times of crisis, avoid false hope, especially when perpetuated by false prophets and diviners around us? What does it mean for you and me to, symbolically, keep faith in a message like the one which God conveys through the prophet, Jeremiah, four verses after today’s passage: “For surely I know the plans I have for you,...plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope...
In the 2nd Letter to Timothy (2:8-15) an unknown mentor who knew St. Paul writes to Timothy, probably not long after Paul’s death around the summer of 64 CE. Like Paul who’d faced many hopeless and thankless situations, some life-threatening, so this writer encourages his younger colleague, Timothy, to imitate his endurance while pastorally ministering, to “do your best” as a  “worker” approved by God, unashamedly “explaining the word of truth”, even if it’s what folks don’t want to hear. The foundation for that, he says, is “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead... -- that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained...
What’s the quality of our faith? Is it a passive gift from God which you and I stow away to gather dust until we put it on display for special occasions? Or is it a gift which makes us perceptive in all situations and actively engages us, much like the soldier, the athlete, the farmer of whom the writer of 2nd Timothy speaks in the verses just before this passage?
Luke, in the Gospel (17:11-19), portrays 10 men, lepers, people afflicted with skin disease who were required by Leviticus to keep their distance, wear torn clothes, dishevel their hair, cover their upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean!” They encounter Jesus at a village on the border of Samara and Galilee, “on the way to Jerusalem.” This place was a no-man’s land, neither fully Jewish territory nor fully outside of it. Here where rival religious groups had butted heads for centuries, this company of the miserable had likely, because of their disease, finally accepted separation from their kinsfolk and adjusted to living side-by-side with the “enemy”. 
Frequently after Chapter 9 of Luke’s Gospel, Luke depicts Jesus as making his way to the City of Peace, where he’ll eventually be arrested and executed by crucifixion. It could be that this wasn’t the group’s first contact with Jesus, since they simply cry out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”, Master being a common term used by Jesus’ disciples. Note that in responding to them, Jesus speaks no healing formula nor uses any healing gesture. He simply directs them to go and have the priests examine them, as provided for in Leviticus 13-14, probably but not necessarily in Jerusalem. 
On the way, showing trust in Jesus’ instructions, but still with no assurances, the lepers suddenly realize that they’ve been cleansed, a remarkably surprising discovery in their situation. After the initial shock, nine of the lepers continue their journey, but the other one “saw that he was healed”, “turned back”, “[praised] God with a  loud voice”, then “prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” Luke immediately notes, “And he was a Samaritan”, a person doubly despised in that area for both his leprosy and his religious loyalty. Imagine also his feelings if, indeed, it was to the priests in Jerusalem that Jesus directed him and his companions, a place where he’d be totally an outcast!
Jesus promptly wonders aloud why only one from the group returned. Where were the others? “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” In Jesus’ mind only one thing really mattered: that this man’s faith, in contrast to the other nine who probably ran off excitedly to try and reunite with their family and friends, brought him, in the midst of a truly impossible situation, to humbly acknowledge and to glorify God. This outsider’s faith, recognizing God’s power in Jesus, just as in the time of the prophet Elisha, Naaman the Aramean, his counterpart in the Hebrew Scriptures (2 Kings 5:1-19) had done, makes the cleansed leper well, establishes his true identity, saves him.
Can we accept that God’s healing through Christ is an unconditional gift, no strings attached, to the grateful and ungrateful alike even among us today? This story seems to hint that the familiar hymn lyric is really true: “There is a wideness in God’s mercy.” Can we appreciate that God’s healing isn’t a gimmick, a sort of dramatic flourish which we can somehow pressure God into doing in order to make ourselves or others feel good? In the end, do we realize that the story isn’t about “miracles”, but rather about the “seeing” that makes one well by drawing us, whether insiders or outsiders, no matter how challenging the situation, into a surprising and saving relationship with a loving God?
If we are faithless, God remains faithful...” “For surely I know” says the Lord God, the plans I have for you,...plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope...

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Growing Up In Faith

The question which seems literally to jump out at us from today’s Scriptures is: what do the words “believe”, “trust”, “have faith” really mean to you and me? They’re words quite familiar in “church-ese”, but what meaning do they have, really, in your lives and mine?
We do “believing” every day. If it’s foggy when we rise, we believe hopefully that, sooner or later, the sun will burn off the fog and make it sunny. When we prepare to cross a street, once the light has turned red for oncoming traffic, and we see the “Walk” sign, we trust that we’ll be able to get across safely: why? Because we’re willing to trust in the fairness and in the good judgment of the drivers. When God, through the Word, tells you and me that we’re to love God and one another, we have faith that what God tells us is true. Why? Because God gave to us as proof the model of Jesus, who did that in his own life. The writer of 2 Timothy puts it this way: “...grace was given to us in Christ Jesus…[and] has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” 

Many centuries ago our sisters and brothers in the Church used a different phrase for the word believe: viz., to set one’s heart upon. The way you and I believe/trust/have faith is by setting our hearts on Jesus the Christ whom we know will do what he says, because he’s reliable; we can count on him. Another New Testament writer, the author of Hebrews describes it this way: to set one’s heart on Jesus means being sure of what you hope for, and being sure, even when you can’t see, because Jesus, God’s Word, says it’s so and has shown us that it is so. Our conviction is that Jesus will never mislead us.

The first reading from Habbakuk (1:1-4; 2:1-4) several times shows how unshakeable the prophet was in setting his heart on the God of Israel, knowing that, after crying out for help, sooner or later God would listen. He’s determined that, for his part, he’s to stand at his watchpost, as on a rampart, and keep attuned to what God will convey to him and to how God will guide him. Then he’ll make God’s vision as clear as he can to the other people of God, putting it, so to speak, on a sign big enough that even a runner racing by could see it and read it. And God’s vision, as the Collect intimates, is far more ambitious than anything we could ever think up: “ are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve…” Habbakuk stands on his statement: “...there is still a vision for the appointed will surely come…” 
The second reading from 2 Timothy (1:1-14) refers to Timothy’s “sincere faith”, acknowledging the important influence of his grandmother and mother who embodied that setting of the heart upon God. The writer, probably not Paul, refers to the gift of a “holy calling” to be a follower of Jesus, and emphasizes that that gift is given to us by God in the power and person of Christ Jesus, and that to set our hearts on Jesus will surely lead us to “life and immortality...”. The writer further attests that his own preaching, apostleship, and teaching is done in the power of his setting his heart on Christ: “...I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him…”  

Finally, the apostles in Luke’s Gospel passage (17:5-10) voice what you and I surely cry out in our own hearts many times when faced with life’s challenges: “Increase our faith!” Jesus suggests that we don’t have to shoulder the whole burden ourselves, as we sometimes foolishly and mistakenly try to do. He says that it doesn’t take much: just faith about the size of a small mustard seed, and he will take care of  all the rest. Our responsibility is simply to do what we’ve been asked to do, as God leads us: no more, no less. And we find a clue for precisely what that is in Psalm 37: notice that it says not once, but three times: “Do not fret.” “Trust in the Lord, and do good…”, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”, “Commit your way to the Lord, trust him, and he will act.”, “Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him…”, “Refrain from anger…

There’s a legend, passed down by the Cherokee, about an Indian youth’s initiation to become a grown-up. A father takes his young son into the forest. He blindfolds him and leaves him alone, sitting on a stump for the whole night. The boy isn’t allowed to remove the blindfold until he feels the rays of the morning sun shine through it. He is not to cry out for help to anyone. If he survives the night, he’ll be considered a grown-up. And he must then keep this experience secret from the other boys because each of them, too, must come into manhood on his own.
Naturally, the boy is terrified. All sorts of things are running through his mind. He can hear all kinds of noises, perhaps of wild animals, or of other things which could do him harm. The wind blows through the grass all around him., but he sits with determination, never removing the blindfold to peek. It’s the only way he can become a man!

Finally, after a long night he gradually feels the glorious warmth of the sun emerge and begin to beat down on his face. He removes the blindfold...and he discovers his father sitting there on a stump across from him. His father had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from any possible harm.
We’re never alone. Even when we can’t see it or feel it, God is present, watching, protecting. We need only set our hearts upon God, trust the One Who loves us, have faith in the God who gives us “those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior…”