journeying with Jesus

Today’s Gospel tells us that Jesus did not journey alone…and neither can we.

“Accompanying Him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities …and many others who provided for them out of their resources.”

These women and men were called to follow Jesus.  He promised them that they would never be alone. He told them that after His death, “… the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.”  (John 14:26.  This Holy Spirit would remain with the followers of Jesus down through the ages until the end of time.

In Acts 2:42, we read that the Holy Spirit shaped the early Christian community so that they

  1. they remained faithful to the teachings of the apostles.  They were a community founded by the apostles and rooted in the teachings of Jesus;
  2. they were faithful to the community.  They were not lone wolves.  They were bonded together in Jesus;
  3. they were faithful to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.  They were a community nourished by the Body and the Blood of the Lord.  They were a praying community.
  4. the faithful all lived together and owned everything in common.  They  celebrated life together and took care of each other. They were inclusive.  All were welcome to fellowship.

Jesus did not journey alone and neither do we.  The Holy Spirit is with us and our brothers and sisters in faith are with us.  We are bonded together:  young and old, men and women, rich and poor, conservative and liberal, gay and straight, Republicans and Democrats, healthy and sick – all of us sinners and in need of God’s grace.  Together we journey with Jesus.

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Christian basics – teachings of St. Paul and Jesus

Today’s Scripture readings, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 and Luke 7:36-50, are filled with fundamental  teachings.

In Corinthians, St. Paul presents us with the basic creed of our Christian faith:

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:

  1. that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures’
  2. that He was buried;
  3. that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

The Resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith.  Paul,  himself,  says that if Christ were not raised from the dead then our faith is useless. The Good News is that Christ was raised from the dead.

St. Paul goes on to say, “But by the grace of God I am what I am and His grace to me has not been ineffective..”

Paul accepts himself.  He accepts his life story.  He was a committed Pharisee who aggressively persecuted the followers of Jesus before his conversion.  He was a fiery personality who lived with “a thorn in his flesh.”  He was a conflicted man but a man passionately devoted to Jesus – and he died for Jesus.

The Gospel is about the Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner and the “sinful woman” who washed the feet of Jesus with a flask of ointments and dried his feet with her hair.  Scandalous in the eyes of the Pharisee! The story teaches us that judgementalism is death and that the actions of love are life giving. 

The Pharisee is a strict observer of the Law but he lacks the spirit of the Law.  Pope Francis would say that he lacks the “medicine of mercy.”  He judges both the woman who is a public sinner and Jesus who should know better!  Jesus,  for his part, sees only the heart of the woman:   “…I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love.”  She is forgiven and saved by her actions of love!

 

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St. Paul’s teaching on a higher way of living

Today’s first reading, 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13, is one of the most beautiful and inspiring readings in the Bible.  It is frequently read at marriage celebrations.

Paul’s beautiful hymn of charity, as this passage is often called, portrays a mature love filled with spiritual vitality. It summons forth the best in each of us.

The Corinthians to whom it was addressed were not often nice people.  The peoples of the ancient world – like our own today – fell far short of mature love.  In fact, in other sections of Corinthians, Paul castigates them for “being still in the flesh” and “being filled with jealousy and rivalry” and “quarelling.”  Much of Chapter 5 is spent addressing issues of morality among the Corinthians including incest and Paul says, “no fornicators, idolaters,  or adulterers, no sodomites, thieves, misers, or drunkards, no slanderers or robbers will inherit God’s kingdom.”  Evidently these were issues among the Corinthians.

But Paul loved these Corinthians.  They had listened to the Word of God, been converted and baptized in the Holy Spirit.  They were on the right road.  Paul’s encourages them to make right choices to grow in love.  He encourages them to let the love of Christ that they had so powerfully experienced at their conversion  overcome their faults, heal them and establish unity among them.  Paul sees their potential and nurtures them in their fledging faith.

In some ways we are like the Corinthians even though we have long since been consecrated to the Lord.  We are still growing in a mature faith.  We are still seeking to grow in patience, kindness and love.  We are still seeking to make choices to avoid being pompous or jealous or rude or self seeking.  We still seek to avoid being quick-tempered, brooding over injuries or rejoicing over wrongdoing.  Like the ancient Corinthians, we are journeying  to a mature faith, to the fullness of Love.

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Today’s Scriptures – thoughts!

Today, we have two powerful and instructive readings:  1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 27-31a and Luke 7:11-17.  Both have much to teach us.

The great theologian and apostle, St. Paul states emphatically that we are together the body of Christ.  All of us, no matter where we come from; no matter what our social standing or education; no matter how talented or not; no matter how old or how young.  We form the Body of Christ.  We all have our own unique contribution to make.  Each of us is important.

I’m thinking of Quentin, a priest in my community who died recently.  He was 87 years old and had dealt with severe psychological issues much of his life, issues that prevented him from being in active ministry.  Some of his classmates were successful teachers and preachers.  Quentin led a quiet hidden life but offered up his sufferings for others, uniting himself to the Crucified Jesus that he had vowed to follow.

We all have our place in the Body of Christ.  We all contribute to Jesus’ saving ministry, each in our own way.

In the Gospel we meet the compassionate Jesus.  He is moved with pity as His eyes meet those of the distraught  widowed woman whose only son is being carried to his burial.  Jesus tells her not to weep – and then He says to the young man, “Young man, I tell you arise!” The young man begins to speak and Jesus returns him to his mother.  And all ends well …

but it doesn’t always end that way.  On Friday, I was speaking to a gentleman who is the Chair of our Commission on the Laity.  He is pastoral associate in a parish in Massachusetts.  He had just come from visiting the parents and sister of a young man named Brian. The family had just been informed that Brian, 28 years old, army specialist in Afghanistan,  had been recently killed in action.  This star athlete who had enlisted to serve his country was dead.  His family was shattered.  There would be no Jesus passing by to restore him to life.  One wants to cry out – where is the compassionate Jesus in all of this?  There is no satisfactory human answer.  Jesus is certainly present in the arms of the extended family and friends of Brian’s family.  Jesus is present in the Church and in the Sacraments.  And we believe that Brian is now in the loving embrace of the God who brought him into being.  This is our faith but it leaves us – especially Brian’s family – desolate on a human level.  We are faced with mystery – the mystery of suffering and death. We have no human Jesus passing by to raise Brian from the dead.  But we do have our faith.  We affirm our faith and cling to it.  The Gospel story affirms our faith.  Jesus is Lord of the living and of the dead.  In him all will rise.  This is the foundation of our faith.

May we pray for Brian’s family as he is buried tomorrow – Wednesday – with full military honors.  May we pray for him and for all those who die in our senseless wars.  May we pray for all those left behind to pick up the pieces of their lives.

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Our Lady of Sorrows

Anna is a woman of great faith.  I met her during an Advent Retreat that I was directing in her parish several years ago.  Her grandson, Matthew, age 20, was killed in an automobile accident during the retreat.  I spent time with her.  She said to me, “It hurts.  I know that he is with Jesus.  I will see him again some day.  Until then, Our Blessed Mother will take care of us.”  Anna experienced Mary as a tender, loving, caring, gentle mother, a mother who understood her grief and would see her through this tragedy.

Today is a special feast of the Passionist Congregation.  We remember Mary, Our Sorrowful Mother, who stood watch at the foot of the Cross as her only son suffered and died a horrific death.  From the Cross, Jesus gives His mother to us to be our mother:  “Woman behold your son.”  Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother.”  And, we are told,  that from that hour, John, the beloved disciple, took Mary into his house.

Mary is our mother in faith.  She can journey with us as we face life’s challenges.  She is a real woman who experienced grief, anxiety and devastation.  She can relate to us because she, too, has journeyed through this vale of tears:  The taxing journey to Bethlehem pregnant with child; the birth of Jesus in an unsanitary stable; the perilous flight into Egypt making her a homeless refugee; the prophecy of Simeon that a sword would pierce her heart; the death of Joseph, her treasured spouse; the rejection of Jesus by the leaders of the people; the abandonment of Jesus by His disciples and finally, the horror of Calvary.  Mary can relate to our sorrows and sufferings.  She, too, has walked that journey.  As Anna said, Our Blessed Mother will take care of us.  She is our mother.

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