Monday, February 21, 2011

Sunday February 27, 2011: Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Readings: Is 49:14-15, Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9, 1 Cor 4:1-5
Gospel:   Mt 6:24-34

Note:  Readings and Gospel are available at, under "Readings" tab, then select date.

This week we have very rich readings from scripture to draw upon.  First we must understand the word "mammon" that Jesus uses in today's Gospel (Mathew 6:24- you cannot serve both God and mammon).  Simply put, mammon is the love of the material aspects of the world.  More specifically it can mean the love of money, the thing that St. Paul warns against in a Reading outside of today's "canon".  St. Paul says, "The love of money is the root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10).  Whether it is the acquisition of money that motivates us in life, and sometimes it does; or the material excesses that money can enable us to purchase, our Lord warns us that we cannot possess both God and mammon.  We must make a choice.

In our Reading from 2nd Isaiah, we hear a plea for God to be present; to not forget Zion. This short passage closes with the consolation that YHWH cannot forget His people, he is eternally faithful (hesed).  The Psalmist (Ps 62) then exhorts us very beatifully to "Rest in God alone, my soul".  This is a good anthem to pray when we seek the Lord's consolation at times of personal trial.  In St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, "The Apostle" exhorts his followers in Corinth not to judge others.  Corinth is a very wealthy city that features those who would knowingly worship mammon.  We are to leave this instead to Christ, the final judge.

Why not mammon?  First it would be helpful to understand how this mammon manifests itself today. 

We have all probably seen at least one of these car commercials on TV around Christmas: invariably it is a luxury brand automobile company, featuring one of its models.  The car has a big red bow on top and usually features a short artistic profile of the giver and the receiver being full of joy.  They have arrived! 

This advertisement, which plays out in less than 45 seconds, leaves us feeling as if we are sharing the euphoria of the young attractive couple.  Sometimes it seems as if they are newly in love, and other times it is shown with the young family, including their small children rejoicing together.  It appeals to our subconscious.  Once this message is accepted into our minds then our emotions begin to react: get that car and you will arrive in style, and become happy and joyous forever.

Perhaps not.  There are so many things wrong with this image that we must comprehend its errors, for the sake of our eternal souls. 

Now do not misinterpret my reading of this.  Cars are a good, perhaps even luxury brands.
However, our deepest yearning is a relationship with God*.  We are longing to be on a journey of discovery.  One which we begin to comprehend the spirit that animates our souls.  This is God who creates us Imago Dei.  We are created in His image and likeness (as we see in the very beggining of the Bible, Genesis chapter 1 verse 27).  And He loves us beyond comprehension.  We experience His love especially on this journey to which we are all called in our own unique way.

Returning to the automobile advertisement, this "ad" taps into our yearning, albeit a false one.  It is a smart tactic that probably some Madison Avenue advertising firm was paid top dollar for.  But it is a terrible lie.  One that can literally derail us.  This suggests that our happiness resides in "things gotten".  Especially when we "buy into" this false philosopy of living (materialism), it informs us that we are ordered to this world (or we should be ordered to this world), the world that is passing away (1 Jn 2:17).

Instead Jesus offers a correction, a solution to our false yearnings.  Remember Christ encounters many "materialist", many who worship mammon.  These are those who prefer the world to God.  For instance, He is always encountering the Pharisees and Scribes, who want to challenge His reading of the "Law".  They want the status quo and He who Is affirms the correct teachings that these scholars of the day understand but disavows laws and traditions that do not reflect the Father's mercy and love.  Some of these misinterpreted laws and traditions help these Jewish leaders of the day remain in power and in a status of real fiscal wealth.

Jesus says in today's Gospel, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all it's righteousness, and everything that you need to live will be given to you."  Profoundly simple.  Stop worrying, achieving, making our "own beds" in which we must then sleep.  Think of those people we know who have success and then yearn to move up.  They find a better "dream house", bigger and more luxurious transportation and more exotic destinations to visit.  Then one day they come upon hardship.  Real hardship.  Perhaps the loss of a job, or illness or tragedy.  And their world of mammon collapses, their spiritual shallowness becomes exposed.  Sadly and too frequently they become physically and emotionally frail.  Some even perish.

Today Jesus offers us the alternative, Himself.  He who Is manifests God for us in His human flesh.  He who teaches us who God really is through his words, lessons, deeds and ultimately His paschal sacrifice on The Cross.

He who is, "The Way, the Truth and the Life" (Jn 14:6).  This is his response in The Gospel of John when His Apostles ask him for encouragement.  They do not know what they will face when Jesus is gone but we could speculate that they were scared when they heard these words at this Last Supper account.

The Pharisees and Scribes rejected Him and His message, two millenia ago.  In fact, most of the world did then and perhaps most of it rejects Him even today.  We must remember first His eternal sacrifice that he made for our redemption at The Cross.  It is also helpful to remember that all of the Apostles, except John**, became willing Martyrs for the faith as well after witnessing the resurrected and glorified Messiah, Jesus Christ. 

Today on this Sunday, let us then approach him at the altar of sacrifice at our Mass.  Here we remember his sacrifice, join it to our own in communion with Him and His Bride, the Church.  Then we receive His precious Body and Blood, the Bread of Life that can nourish us on our earthly pilgrimmage to Heaven.  A pilgrimmage in which we are offered a choice: to worship the eternal triune God, or things of the world.

*See St. Augustine's masterpiece, The Confessions of St. Augustine, Book I, Chapter 1.

**One interpretation of St. John the Evangelist dying a natural death is this:
God spared St. John the Evangelist the death of a Martyr as scripture reveals (Jn 21:23), perhaps so that the New Testament Canon could be completed by him.  Many scholars attribute to him the Gospel of John, three Letters and probably the Book of Revelation, all of which is believed to have been written after 90 A.D.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sunday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Readings: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18, Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13, 1 Cor 3:16-23
Gospel:  Mathew Chapter 5, verses 38 to 48 (inclusive)

Hate is a strong word.

Websters (online) defines it as, "(An) intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury" and, "Extreme dislike or antipathy: Loathing."

In todays Gospel, We hear Jesus who speaks about hate.

“You have heard that it was said,
 You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust..."

I grew up in a very large household.  There were nine of us, ten including my grandmother "Nana", who lived with us for a time.  Have you ever heard of sibling rivalry?  I never did until I studied psychology as a young student.  Sibling rivalry is a complex phrase which essentially means jealously.  Jealousy is never good.  Jealousy can ruin relationships.

When we grew up my Mom was a devout Catholic,  She has passed on since.  But back then she loved her devotional prayer.  She prayed for the dead, she always insisted on us saying grace before dinner, (led by our Father) and all her children asked permission before leaving the table when we were finished eating her mostly delectable foods.  She always implored us to pray to St. Anthony for most everything while she prayed her novena to St. Jude.

I am the sixth of seven children, the youngest boy.  The "baby" is my little sister, in fact I still refer to her this way.  She is 44 and a mother of her own now with three little ones, and a good wife to a good husband for many years.

When we were very young, we were like peas in a pod.  She and I would always be playing together, sometimes much to my chagrin.  In fact, I can never remember wanting to play with her when she had friends over but she always was inserting herself into my "play dates."

In fact once, my Jewish friend Robert was over playing and he crashed his big wheel into her mini plastic ATV and she cried.  Dad heard the wails and screams and that was the end of the play date, he sent Robert home.  She could really cry well.  Unfortunately Robert never made it back to our home.  That said, Dad was right; my baby sister could have been hurt.

I remember too, that as the baby of the family she got all the attention.  This I didn't like at all.  So I figured out a way to counter this.  I simply ignored her when she wanted something from me.  And it worked, until one day she found the magic words, "I hate you Dennis."  That hurt.  It hurt bad, and, it probably got the desired result as far as she was concerned.

Today we heard the end of this great and eternal homily of our Lord, the Sermon on the Mount.  Great because in one short passage he gives us so much to think about, to pray about and to practice for our lives.  Eternal because he is eternal, with no beginning, no end; the Word made Flesh (Jn 1:1f).  Lastly, eternal because this scripture resonates with us today as much or more than two thousand years ago on the mount of Beatitudes by the Sea of Galilee.  These things that Jesus gives us are crucial to our happiness.  True happiness is grace; pure consolation from God.

Jesus is speaking about hate, to teach us how to love.  Jesus mentions hate so that we learn how to love like God.  Perfect love.  Jesus teaches us about hate so that we can learn how to forgive, even the greatest of sins, trespasses and personal affronts.

A word about forgiveness.  Forgiving never means forgetting.  Sometimes the sin is too great to forget, but we must always forgive.  This means that we cannot hate the one who affronted us, even the most terrible unjustified actions that are waged against us.  We remember what hurt us so that we can avoid future encounters with the pain, and perhaps even the source of our pain.  God never equals pain.

An old wise priest once told me how he treats his "enemies".  First he informs whoever they are that they made it on to his "list".  I am not sure how long the list is but I can tell you that I am very glad that I am not one of this priest's enemies.  However, when you are on his list he promises you three things:
1.  His prayers
2.  His favor(s)
3.  His awareness (he will keep an eye out for you)

I think this is a good practice.  I can honestly say I have tried this once and so far it has worked out.  It is not easy, this wisdom passed on from the old wise priest.  But lots of times the right thing to do does not come easy.

[Note to self:(pray for _________.)]

Ultimately though, for now we are trapped here in our mortal, earthly bodies.  We are called to the perfect kingdom, despite our weaknesses,  where there will be no crying, no despair, no sadness: only perfect bliss, beyond all imagining, where all our questions will be answered and our truest desires satisfied (Rev 21:4f). 

If we want living models to follow we need only turn to the saints.  A great introduction to learning how to follow the saints is Jesuit Father James Martin's book, My Life with the Saints.  Simply put, the Saints are people who learned how to do ordinary things in an extra-ordinary way.  Things like charity, good works and unselfishness.  Saints understand love, Divine love, and the best part about the saints is they want to be our friends, here and now, to help us on our way home to heaven.

God comes to us as a person: Jesus.  He who once walked the earth as man is teaching us through scripture, teaching us through the great wisdom and tradition of our Catholic faith, handed down for 50 generations.  My friends our Church too is eternal, like Christ, in fact we are His bride His spouse.  Want some evidence?  There is no institution in the world beside our Church that was here 50 generations ago.  The Holy Temple of Jerusalem is gone.  The Roman Empire, the greatest of "civilizations" is gone.  We cannot even be assured that our great country will stand in the end.

Jesus promises us in scripture that our Church will exist until the end of time, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against us (Mathew 16:18).

It is important to know and accept that Jesus is also God.  He is not just a man who once walked the earth saying and doing marvelous things.  That description fits St. Francis of Assisi and scores and scores of Saints, known and unknown.  Jesus is God.  God is Jesus. Francis was a man who became a saint, but he is not God.

Finally, we hear again today Jesus correct Moses' teaching by telling us we must move beyond the minimum.  Moses says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."  This is just partially right  To understand this completely, our Lord wants us to concentrate on the first part of today's reading from Leviticus: “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them:
Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy."

Holiness.  Why?  Because God who is holiness perfected, can only Love.  God is Love.  Love is God.  God cannot turn away from us, even the worst of us.  In fact only the opposite can be possible, because as our Psalmist says, "The Lord is kind and merciful."  Our God is a god of infinite mercies, He is Love.

And He is just...
and He is faithful...
and He is.....perfect Love....

I love my sisters, all of them.  Although I remember to this day that terrible insult so long ago, I forgave my "baby sister" many, many times over. And later when we were young adults, I poked my nose into her business in a very nasty way, far surpassing her verbal insults of me as a child.  Both our trespesses, her to mine and mine to hers were ultimately driven by jealousy, the source of all disunity.  I know in my heart that she too has forgiven me of my trespasses.  In fact we are very close today, she, as a wife and mother is one of my true heroes, I love her beyond words...

71/2 years ago she asked me to be Godfather to her youngest Son.  He is amazing.  He is her third child and he is the baby.  And when I spend time with him it is never enough.  I always try to give him whatever he needs, being careful to try not to give him everything that he wants.   But I fail probably more than I succeed which is OK, because he is in very capable hands with my Sister and her husband and his older brother and sister.  Ultimately he, that little baby boy, is with Christ.  This is because he was Baptized 7 years ago....what else could a child want, but a share of Christ's kingdom in heaven?  I am sure there are lots of big wheels there.  And they never crash into little plastic ATVs.

I hope you never hear the "H" word in your households and I know the sister I love with all my heart and soul never really meant it.

Thanks be to God.......who is the Father of all unity, of communion and the reconciler of all sin (jealousy) and division.....great and small like.  The God who gives us His Son in the Eucharist, today and forever.

{Copyright 2011 D.A. Suglia, all rights reserved}