A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday and Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 12, n. 33)

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time & Weekday 15: July 13-19, 2014 ****

 

 

(N.B. The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy of Year A from three perspectives. For reflections on the Sunday liturgy based on the Gospel reading, please scroll up to the “ARCHIVES” above and open Series 3. For reflections based on the Old Testament reading, open Series 6. For reflections based on the Second Reading, open Series 9. Please go to Series 10 - Series 12 for the back issues of the Weekday Lectio. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: July 6-12, 2014, please go to ARCHIVES Series 12 and click on “14th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Weekday 14”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: July 13-19, 2014.)

 

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July 13, 2014: FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Sows the Seed of God’s Word”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 55:10-11 // Rom 8:18-23 // Mt 13:1-23

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS

 

Today’s Gospel reading (Mt 13:1-23) depicts Jesus as sitting in the boat, with the crowd standing on the shore. The eager audience of country folks is ready to open their hearts to the words of Jesus. To them Jesus addresses the parable of the sower and the seed. The seed sown by the sower falls on a footpath, on rocky ground, among thorns, and on good soil. In the first three cases nothing occurs, but in the last case an abundant harvest is produced.

 

Though the parable underscores the inherent fecundity of the seed of God’s kingdom, it also emphasizes the responsibility and the positive response to be given by the recipients of the seed of the divine word. The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, comment: “The word attests to God’s obstinate faithfulness, long patience, and assiduous labor for the unfolding of salvation offered to all humankind. This word comes from God, who created human beings free, and who made with them a covenant of love. Efficacious, indescribably fecund, this word demands from human beings a willing response made of openness, conversion and ever-renewed trust in him who speaks it.”

 

The biblical scholar Eugene Maly remarks: “God’s word is limited only by the closed ear and hardened heart. If we are not open to the word, how will it have its effect? It must find a resting place within us so that it can do its work. If we are like the hardened footpath, or the patch of rock, or the unfriendly briers, the word remains a stranger to us. To help us be more open to God’s word we should reflect on its power. If we do not really believe in the word’s power, then it is powerless to help us. But if we believe, we will become, with increasing fruitfulness, the good soil. We will have the conviction and the confidence of Jesus himself.”

 

The following personal reflection on today’s Gospel by Dr. Eleanor Ronquillo, a psychiatrist and a Pauline Cooperator – Friend of the Divine Master, is enlightening.

  

Here is the story of three people:

1.      A mother of a young boy, an only son, served her parish well. Then her young son got sick and died of dengue fever. She transferred to the Born Again Movement. 

2.      A father of four young children, two boys and two girls, had been a devout Catholic, a humble servant. His eldest child, one of his daughters, suddenly died in a car accident. Then within a few months, his other daughter died of a lingering heart disease. He has remained steadfast, in fact more busy with his apostolate so that people admire his courage and great faith.

3.      A fifty-year-old man had several medical illnesses, many physical pains and fears. He often fought with neighbors and relatives. Then he began to study the Bible and claimed he had found God. Now, he goes about criticizing priests, scrutinizing the works of parish workers, largely becoming disgusted by the way people behave.

 

Three lives, three different levels of faith. Which seed fell on good ground and bore fruit? Which seed started to grow on rock but was scorched by the sun? Which seed grew among thistles and weeds ready to be choked by them?

 

Our lives are constantly challenged by weeds, thistles, rocks, the heat of the sun … Can we say we are founded on good ground? Such are the pains of life that some may reach their breaking point at which they break away. Others are strengthened in faith by their intense crises. Quite honestly, I am afraid. Like the plant that grows on good ground, I want to grow and bear fruit. But there are just times when strong forces of heavy rains, strong winds, intense heat, and being trampled upon might weaken the plant. Those are the times I need to cling, I need to hold on, I need to anchor, to be nurtured. Like the plant, we all need to be nurtured. And we must be nurtured in our faith in order to grow.

 

***

The prophet Isaiah presents in today’s Old Testament reading (Is 55:10-11) the evocative image of the rain and snow as a symbol of the efficacious power of God’s word. Indeed, the beautiful picture of the rain and snow coming down from heaven and bringing forth new life helps us to perceive the all-embracing providence of God and to trust in his saving word. In the context of the Jewish exiles’ longing for freedom that is as intense as a parched land, the word of God promising their return to Jerusalem has a refreshing power that could be compared to the rain and snow watering the earth. The prophet’s image of the life-giving rain and snow affirms the benevolence of God and the efficacy of his saving plan.

 

The following humorous experience gives insight into the power of God’s word of life and reminds us that openness to grace should be our basic stance (cf. Rosanne McDowell in “Everyday Miracles”, COUNTRY WOMAN, June/July 2008, p. 57).

 

Some years ago, I was brushing my teeth and discovered a cavity in my wisdom tooth. In those days, my menus included more peanut butter than steak, so my budget simply had not room for a trip to the dentist. I trusted the Lord would help, but hoped He’d do it before my tooth became an emergency. Wistfully, I opened my Bible and read a passage at random. It was Palm 81:10: “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” Thanks to an unexpected gift, I was soon able to visit the dentist. That experience taught me that God not only meets our needs, He does it with a sense of humor!

 

***

 

In the second reading (Rom 8:18-23), St. Paul underlines the wisdom of God and the ongoing process of the divine saving plan. As the entire creation awaits the revelation of the children of God, the “first fruits of the Spirit” have been given to us as a foretaste of the glorious life in Jesus Christ at the end time. The present moment is one of giving birth – certainly painful, but assured of a happy end. Indeed, in the apostle Paul, we realize that our present life, not bereft of suffering, is made meaningful by the hope of future glory.

 

The following story of an innocent convicted criminal gives insight into the painful “birthing process” in the Spirit (cf. Cornelius Dupree, “Nothing but the Truth” in Guideposts, January 2014, p. 43-46)

 

My name is Cornelius Dupree and I am a sex offender. I paced the narrow aisle between the bunks in my cell, going over the words in my mind, trying to force them to my lips. Those were the words I would have to say in front of the other men in the counseling program if I wanted to get out of prison. The words that would set me free.

 

Twenty-four years. That’s how long I’d been an inmate in the Coffield Unit, a maximum security state prison in East Texas. I’d been convicted of robbing a couple at gunpoint when I was 19. I was serving a 75-year sentence. Three times before I’d come up for a parole. Each time I had been turned down. I’d spent more of my life inside, behind bars, than I had outside, in the real world.

 

Now, at last, the state parole board was offering a chance of freedom. But first I had to attend a sex-offender program and admit that I had raped the female victim. I’d been charged with rape and robbery originally, and even though the rape charge had been dismissed, it was still in my file. If I admitted my guilt and expressed remorse, I would be released.

 

My fiancée, Selma, urged me to do it. So did my brother and sisters. I wanted to get out. I was tired of prison. I wasn’t a kid anymore. I was middle-aged. I wanted to marry Selma. Get a decent job. Eat a home-cooked meal. Visit my mom’s grave. Meet my nieces and nephews. Do something good with what was left of my life.

 

There was one thing standing in my way. One huge thing: the truth. I hadn’t raped or robbed anyone. I was innocent. (…)

 

I agreed to try the program. A counselor led the group and told us everything that was said in our meetings was confidential. The first few sessions, I just listened to the other inmates. And the more I heard, the more horrified I felt. What these guys admitted to doing, to their own children … it was sickening. At the fourth session, the counselor told me that in order to complete the program, I would need to write what I’d done and read it aloud to the group. If I didn’t participate, my parole would be denied, “You’re going to have to stand up and say, ‘My name is Cornelius Dupree and I am a sex offender. This is what I did …’”

 

Now I paced my cell, mentally rehearsing those words. I tried to speak them aloud. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t admit to something I didn’t do.

 

I got on my knees on the cold concrete floor. “Lord, if this door is closing on me, you must have a reason. You know the truth and the truth matters. I trust you to release me when I’m ready.” A shiver went through me and I got to my feet, feeling oddly unburdened.

 

My parole was denied. And because I wouldn’t participate in the sex-offender program, I was no longer considered a model prisoner. All the time I’d earned off my sentence was revoked. That was the cost of holding on to the truth. But I don’t regret my decision. It’s what allowed me to hold on tighter to God.

 

Finally, on July 22, 2010, I was released on parole. I didn’t have to say I’d committed robbery or rape. By then I had served enough of my sentence – 30 years – that by law, the state had to let me go. I walked out the prison gate into Selma’s arms. We hugged and kissed and then we stood there in the parking lot and prayed, “Thank you, God, for this moment.” We got married right away.

 

The Innocence Project had been working on my case, and got permission for a forensics lab to compare my DNA with the evidence from the victim’s rape kit. Eight days after my release, the results came back. They were conclusive: My DNA did not match either of the two male samples in evidence. I was innocent.

 

A Dallas judge overturned my conviction in January 2011, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals fully exonerated me two months later. It was gratifying to finally have people know the truth. But really, my soul had been released from its burden years earlier: that day in my cell when I said, “Lord, I trust in you” – the words that set me free.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do we listen to Jesus’ parables with a receptive heart? Do we invest time and energy to internalize the message of the Kingdom parables and translate it into our lives?

 

2. What are the feelings and insights evoked in you by the image of the rain and snow watering the earth to make it fruitful? Do you trust in the providence of God and the efficacy of his saving plan?

 

3. Do we humbly share in the “birthing process” in the Spirit? Do we welcome with joy the “first fruits of the Spirit”, the pledge of future glory and the revelation of the children of God?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

(A prayer by Nerses Snorhali in Jesus, Fils unique du Pere in Sources chretiennes 203, Paris: Cerf, 1973, p. 133)

 

I hardened myself like a rock;

I became like the path;

the thorns of the world have choked me

and have made my soul unfruitful.

             

But, O Lord, Sower of good,

make the seedling of the Word grow in me

so I may yield fruit in one of these three:

Hundredfold, sixtyfold, or even thirtyfold.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

            “A sower went out to sow … Some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” (Mt 13:4, 8)

  

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray that the seed of the Kingdom may find rich soil to nourish it and make it grow and be fruitful. By your good words and deeds, broadcast the seed of the word of God in today’s field of human concerns and affairs.

 

***

 

July 14, 2014: MONDAY – SAINT KATERI TEKAKWITHA, virgin (USA)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us the Way of Peace and True Worship”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 1:10-17 // Mt 10:34-11:1

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO 

 

I was in my third year of high school when I came across Leo Tolstoy’s novel, “War and Peace”. It was irresistible. I did not go to school for three days to read it from cover to cover. I love the works of Tolstoy. I am fascinated by this Russian “prophet”. I am awed by his commitment to Christ’s teaching on love, compassion and non-violence. Peter White’s article “The World of Tolstoy” in the June 1986 edition of the National Geographic (cf. p. 758-791) contains interesting insights which I share here.

 

Count Tolstoy was deeply inspired by Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, especially his moral exhortation, “Resist not evil” (cf. Mt 5:39), but instead, “Return good for evil”.  This would be at the heart of Tolstoy’s doctrine on universal love, moral self-improvement and non-violence, as eventually expressed in his work, “The Kingdom of God Is Within You”. India’s Mahatma Gandhi was greatly influenced by Leo Tolstoy. He avowed that, when he read Tolstoy’s work, “The Kingdom of God Is Within You”, he was overwhelmed. Having exchanged correspondence with Tolstoy, Gandhi was cured of his skepticism and became a firm believer in ahimsa, nonviolence. Through Gandhi’s program of nonviolent struggle, India would later be free from British rule.

 

Leo Tolstoy, however, was a “sign of contradiction”. His radical view on non-violence was greatly opposed. While praising Tolstoy as a genius who drew incomparable pictures of Russian life and castigated social falsehood and hypocrisy, the communist leader Lenin considered his advocacy of nonresistance to evil as “crackpot preaching” and deplored his inability to understand the class struggle – that a better life could be achieved through the violent overthrow of capitalism by the proletariat.

 

In his novel, “Resurrection”, Tolstoy indicted the tsarist courts and prison system. The Russian Orthodox Church was angered by his comments in this book against the state religion. The Holy Synod declared Count Tolstoy a false prophet, accusing him of undermining the faith. He was excommunicated, but there was an outpouring of sympathy from other segments of Russian society.

 

Conscience-stricken and upset by the plight of the poor, Count Tolstoy opted for a simplified life and dedicated more greatly his literary pursuits to socio-religious themes. His wife Sonya did not share his zeal for reform and for his new lifestyle, that was simple and austere – for example, making himself a brew of barley and acorns because coffee was a luxury! She was chagrined that he chose to work on pugnacious tracts that put people off, when he could be producing wonderful novels that would bring in lots of money. Tolstoy did not care about money, but she had to, otherwise what would become of their children? Unable to bear any longer the divisive and oppressive situation at home, and detesting the luxury found in his estate, Yasnaya Polyana, the 82-year-old Tolstoy, left home on November 10, 1910, accompanied only by his doctor. He fell ill on a southbound train and died at a stationmaster’s house on November 20, 1910. Indeed, Leo Tolstoy is a fascinating figure – a modern day example of a prophet of contradiction.

 

Today’s Gospel reading presents the divisions that Jesus’ mission creates, even in families. His way catalyzes separations and provokes conflicts between those who have made a radical choice for him and those who have not. Jesus’ gift of peace comes from God. It is a result of his immersion into the bloodbath of paschal sacrifice and is therefore not a facile kind of peace. The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 6, explicate: “To welcome the peace of the kingdom which Jesus gives and which is only attained through the cross, places believers in a situation where they are sometimes set in conflict with others. For this peace rests on faith, the choice for Christ and the kingdom, which necessarily involves detachment from, if not rejection of, all that is opposed to Christ and the Gospel or that is incompatible with the choice one makes for it … Every human life is confronted, at some point or another, with choices that in some instances demand real heroism. The situation becomes particularly distressing when one finds oneself torn between faithfulness to God, faith, and the gospel, and on the other hand, to family, friends, and country.”

 

***

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Is 1:10-17) comes from the first part of the Book of Isaiah (chapters 1-39). Here the prophetic words are directed to the kingdom of Judah to make the beleaguered people realize that the real threat to the nation is not Assyria, but rather their sin and disobedience. Today’s passage is an oracle delivered on a feast day before a throng of worshippers. The prophet Isaiah inveighs against false and hypocritical worship. Sacrifice is worthless without the proper interior dispositions. God detests the people’s ritual sacrifices, offerings, and the observance of new moons and Sabbaths because of the violence of their lives. God hates their gesture of prayer with hands extended and palms open toward heaven because their hands are bloodstained with crimes. God wants them to wash themselves clean, not in a purely exterior ritual, but in an interior cleansing of the heart. Through the prophet, God calls them to stop doing evil and to do right: help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights and defend widows. True worship is linked with justice and right.

 

Pope Francis, in a courageous move that could even mean his death sentence, denounces those who worship evil, such as members of the mafia, and calls the people to true worship. Here is an excerpt from his homily on the feast of Corpus Christi, during the Mass that concluded his visit to Cassano all’Jonio, in the region of Calabria, Italy (cf. “No to Those Who Worship Evil” in L’Osservatore Romano, 27 June 2014, p. 9).

 

On the feast of Corpus Christi we celebrate Jesus “the living bread which came down from heaven” (Jn 6:51), food for our hunger for eternal life, strength for our journey. I thank the Lord who today allows me to celebrate Corpus Christi with you, brothers and sisters of this Church in Cassano all’Jonio.

 

Today is the feast in which the Church praises the Lord for the gift of the Eucharist. While on Holy Thursday we commemorate its institution at the Last Supper, today is for giving thanks and adoration. And in fact, there is a traditional procession with the Most Holy Sacrament on this day. To adore the Eucharistic Jesus and to walk with him. These are two inseparable aspects of today’s feast; two aspects that characterize the entire life of the Christian people: a people who adore God and a people who walk; who do not stand still, who journey!

 

First of all we are a people who adore God. We adore God who is love, who in Jesus Christ gave himself for us, offered himself on the Cross to atone for our sins, and by the power of this love rose from the dead and lives in his Church. We have no other God but He!

 

When adoration of money is substituted for adoration of the Lord, this pathway leads to sin, to personal interest and exploitation; when God the Lord is not adored, we become adorers of evil, like those who live by dishonesty and violence. Your land, so beautiful, knows the signs and consequences of this sin. This is ‘ndrangheta: Adoration of evil and contempt for the good. This evil must be fought; it must be cast out! One must say “no” to it! The Church, which I know is so committed to raising awareness, must be ever more concerned that goodness prevail. Our kids demand it; our youth, in need of hope, demand it. Faith can help empower us to respond to these needs. Those who follow this evil path in life, such as members of the mafia, are not in communion with God: they are excommunicated!

 

Today let us confess it as we turn our gaze on the Corpus Christi, the Sacrament on the altar. And by this faith, we renounce Satan and all his machinations: we renounce the idols of money, vanity, pride, power and violence. We Christians don’t want to worship anything and anyone in this world except for Jesus Christ, who is present in the Holy Eucharist. Perhaps we don’t always understand the full meaning of our profession of faith, what consequences it has or should have.

 

This our faith in the true presence of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, in the consecrated Bread and Wine, is authentic, if we commit ourselves to walk behind Him and with Him. To adore and to walk: a people who adore are a people who walk! Walk with Him and behind Him, as we seek to practice His commandments, the one he gave the disciples precisely at the Last Supper: “Even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13:34). People who adore God in the Eucharist are people who walk in charity. To adore God in the Eucharist, to walk with God in fraternal charity. (…)

 

I encourage all of you to witness to concrete solidarity with brothers and sisters, especially those who are most in need of justice, hope and tenderness. The tenderness of Jesus, Eucharistic tenderness: that love so delicate, so fraternal, so pure … The Lord Jesus never ceases to inspire acts of charity in his people journeying along the path! (…)

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Why does the peace that Jesus brings lead to division? Do we welcome the peace of Christ and his example of total commitment to the kingdom? Are we willing to embrace the detachment, renunciation and opposition that the peace of Christ entails? Are we willing to be fully united with Christ and become, in him, a “sword of division” in today’s world?

 

2. Do we offer to God true worship, or are we simply engaged in mere external rituals that do not correspond to holiness of life and total obedience to God?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Lord Jesus Christ,

you said to your apostles:

“I leave you peace, my peace I give you.”

Look not on our sins,

but on the faith of your Church,

and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom.

Jesus, sword of division,

you take away the sins of the world:

have mercy on us.

Make us walk in the ways of peace

and help us to worship in spirit and in truth.

We love and praise you,

now and forever.

Amen.

  

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

           

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

“I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” (Mt 10:34) // “Make justice your aim.” (Is 1:17)

 

  

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

While avoiding facile compromises and easy tradeoffs, endeavor to bring the peace of Christ to a distressing situation that needs healing and reconciliation. Be courageous to be a “sword of contradiction” when the situation calls for it. Endeavor to offer “true worship” in your daily life and in liturgy.

 

***

July 15, 2014: TUESDAY - SAINT BONAVENTURE, bishop, doctor of the Church

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Reproaches Them for Their Unbelief and Exhorts Us to Be Firm in Faith”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 7:1-9 // Mt 11:20-24

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

Repentance is a key dimension of Christian discipleship. Those who hear Jesus’ words and witness his mighty deeds, but do not repent, will suffer the same fate as those of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom, the epitome of lack of repentance. The mission of Jesus in Galilee produces only a few disciples. Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum are recipients of his teachings and miracles. But there are those unmoved by his proclamation. Those with hardened hearts refuse to respond to the miracles that reveal his tender solicitude and compassion. Like the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, we are free to make choices and respond to God’s word. But we are ultimately responsible for what we are: our sins, failures, shortcomings, imperfections, the dismal acts that precipitate us to destruction. Jesus calls us to conversion. We must open up to the grace of repentance. Those who have been gifted with much have greater liability and accountability on judgment day.

 

The words of Mother Teresa contain a tinge of reproach for those who have received much spiritual enlightenment, but fail to respond fully to the gift (cf. Mother Teresa: Her Essential Wisdom, ed. Carol Kelly-Gangi, New York: Barnes and Noble, 2006, p. 117-118).

 

How is it that nowadays all over the world so many priests and nuns abandon their calling? Did they not commit themselves to follow him after long and mature reflection? How then can a nun pronounce perpetual vows, and some years later give up the religious life? Are married people not bound to remain faithful to each other until death? Then, why should the same rule not apply to priests and nuns?

 

***

 

Many congregations have discarded this vow of obedience. They don’t have superiors anymore. Each member makes her own decisions. They have discarded obedience completely. Do you know what has happened because of that? In the United States alone fifty thousand nuns have left the religious life. The destruction of religious life comes mainly from the lack of obedience. Sheer negligence destroys religious life completely.

 

***

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Is 7:1-9) contains prophet Isaiah’s remarkable message to Ahaz, king of the southern kingdom Judah: “Unless your faith is firm you shall not endure.” The military coalition between Syria and the northern kingdom Israel has thrown Judah in a state of panic. When word reaches King Ahaz that the armies of Syria are already in the territory of Israel ready to attack, he and all his people are so terrified that they tremble like trees shaking in the wind. God commands Isaiah to meet King Ahaz, who is apparently checking his water supply in anticipation of a siege. The advice of the prophet is startling: to stay calm and not to be frightened or disturbed because the attack will not succeed. Moreover, the renegade Israel will be shattered. Isaiah summons King Ahaz to believe in God’s promise to preserve the Davidic dynasty. God will protect and save Judah, provided total trust must be present and merely human strategies be rejected. The divine commitment to make the Davidic line “firm” is conditional on the faith of the king and the people. There is no hope for Judah apart from complete reliance upon the Lord God.

 

The following modern-day testimony illustrates that by the grace of God and with faith in him, it is possible to “stand firm” (cf. Laura Archuleta, “A Doctor and a Catholic” in Amazing Grace for Survivors, ed. Jeff Cavins, et.al. West Chester: Ascension Press, 2008, p. 128-134).

 

I often wondered how my Catholic faith could impact my medical practice. Was it okay to give “the pill” to other women, as long as I did not use it myself? The answers did not come easily. (…)

 

Yet, a doctor could not survive if she does not follow the mainstream. How could I survive as a family practitioner and still follow God without compromise? God if you want me to do this, you have to make me stronger, I prayed.

 

After three years in practice, it seemed my prayers were answered. I accepted a position in Bismarck as a primary care physician affiliated with St. Alexius, the area’s Catholic hospital. It was a perfect opportunity to make a break with contraceptive practices.

 

I began my new practice, finally ready to stand by my values. This is a Catholic facility, I reasoned. It should be simple to avoid birth control. It is never that clear cut, though. God had given me a supportive environment, but the final step was up to me. Soon, a patient came in for birth control. OK God, I thought, Let’s do this.

 

“I’m sorry”, I said, “I don’t prescribe birth control.” I forced the words out of my mouth in a voice that sounded firmer than I felt. The patient accepted that, and decided she wanted to complete her exam anyway. I told her she would need to find another physician to get the prescription. After she left the examining room, I heard from her mother, who was a friend of mine. “Where is she supposed to go?” the mother asked. “She does not know anyone else.” She was not angry – it was an honest question. I caved in and wrote the prescription. But this time was different. I felt horrible. I had moved to a new community for a new job and had been determined to start afresh, without compromise. But at the first challenge, I had failed.

 

I do not know if I was looking for a sign, or advice, or what, but I got onto the Internet. I landed on the Catholic Medical Association website. There, I stumbled on a familiar name. Dr. John Breheny was an ethicist I had met during my residency in Sioux City. We attended the same church, and I had great respect for him. Thanking the Holy Spirit for this “coincidence”, I quickly sent him an e-mail about my moral dilemma. Dr. Breheny responded right away, making some very strong arguments:

 

“You know that the Church teaches that contraception is wrong … In fact, it is harmful to women (Physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually), and harmful for men, families and society as well. If something is seriously wrong, then it is wrong to participate in it or facilitate the action … If something is wrong and harmful to women, then it is not a good way to practice medicine. In fact, it is possible to survive and thrive without prescribing contraception. I hope you can come to see that. I’m not making it up. Again, I have met physicians who have gone down this same path, and more continue to come along.”

 

“In short, I am arguing that not prescribing is not only the right thing to do; it is a good thing for your patients. Having said that, I know that this is not an easy decision. It clearly is easier to stay with the status quo. Going against the current is always hard, and our modern American culture has a lot invested in medical control of women’s fertility. It isn’t just the personal and social values, the medical ‘standards of care’, etc.; there is a lot of money invested as well. But I am convinced that it is important and necessary if we are to transform our culture with the Gospel and necessary to serve women’s health effectively.”

 

As I read his words, tears filled my eyes. Each line was filled with the arguments I had hidden from for so long. I felt liberated. I can only describe it as the power of the Holy Spirit. I had finally found the strength I needed. Within a week, I went from saying: “I do not want to do this” to clearly stating: “I am not doing this.” The more I said it, the stronger I felt. Now, after a year in my new practice, my resolve is firm. My practice is growing, and I love going to work every day, I’ve finally learned that I can be a good doctor and a Catholic.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do we respond fully to the grace of God in our lives? Are there times when we are unrepentant and unresponsive to the word of God and his miracles in our life?

 

2. Do we ask God for the grace to stand firm in faith?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO 

 

Loving Jesus,

our disobedient hearts merit your reproach.

Forgive our wicked ways.

Help us to be receptive to your grace

so that we may rejoice in your benediction.

Teach us to be responsible in making life choices

that we may no longer deserve your just reproach.

Give us the grace to be firm in faith.

You live and reign,

forever and ever.

Amen.

  

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Jesus began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented.” (Mt 11:20) // “Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm!” (Is 7:9)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Spend quiet moments with the Scriptures and/or the Blessed Sacrament. Examine your conscience and see what in your life deserves Jesus’ just reproach. Pray for the grace of conversion and to be strong in faith.

 

***

 

July 16, 2014: WEDNESDAY – WEEKDAY (15); OUR LADY OF MOUNT CARMEL

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Comes for the Little Ones and Teaches Us to Be Humble Instruments of God’s Plan

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 10:5-7, 13b-16 // Mt 11:25-27

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

Today’s Gospel reading reinforces the truth that the meek and humble Messiah comes for the “little ones”. Jesus Christ, who exemplifies the anawim, or the lowly ones of God, invites us to assume his basic stance as the meek Servant-Son of Yahweh. He exhorts us to participate in his intimate and loving relationship with God the Father. Those who are childlike and trusting, like Jesus, become the recipients of divine revelation. They are able to relish deeper intimacy with God. Indeed, Christ’s saving message about the Father, the Lord of heaven and earth, could only be grasped by “the childlike” and not by “the wise and the learned”. In order to receive fully the refreshing peace and the restoration of soul that Jesus brings, we need to follow him who is the Servant-Son. We need to learn from him the humble ways of the anawim and the “little ones”. Jesus Christ teaches us how to be receptive to grace and submit to the benevolent plan of God. Through his compassionate ministry we are filled with divine wisdom and experience the joy of being God’s children.

 

The following story illustrates that the grace of God and his benevolent hand surround the “little ones” (cf. “An Extraordinary Daughter” by Mary Kay Kusner in ST. ANTHONY MESSENGER, January 2008, p. 23-26).

 

I knew that something was wrong when I first laid eyes on my newborn daughter. Anna’s tiny forehead looked misshapen, and she was listless. As I held her and scanned her with my eyes, I noticed that her skin looked ashen. Minutes later, she was taken from me, rushed to the intensive care unit and put on a breathing machine. Within four days, the genetic tests were back: Anna had a chromosome abnormality … The doctors weren’t sure what this meant for Anna’s development but told us not to expect much. They predicted her I.Q. would be low – between 30 and 70. I was devastated. God had betrayed me. How could I ever believe again? Through all the sleepless nights and tears, I questioned: “Why? Why would God have kept nudging me to have a disabled child?” It made no sense. Just when I thought I had my life back under control, the rug was pulled out. I felt like a fool. All my life, I had been faithful, trusting. I thought Anna would be an answer to my prayer. Now none of that mattered. (…)

 

When Anna was about six weeks old, a strange incident occurred. She was lying on her back on our bed while I gently massaged her after her bath. Suddenly, I felt as if we were not alone. Anna looked past me, over my shoulder, to Someone who clearly adored her. My daughter smiled and I became almost bashful in the face of such love. I couldn’t see anything but felt the presence melt through me as I realized that Anna was seeing more that I did, that she was inviting me to see more too. After about a minute, the presence left and Anna looked right at me as if to say, “Why do you doubt, Mom?” I promised her to try to be more open after that.

 

Our boys adored their new sister from the start. They loved to make her laugh. David taught her how to burp and Jon wrestled with her on the floor. Matthew insisted that I never cut her curly hair. They didn’t notice her differences. When others stared at Anna, the boys got annoyed. “How do they know she’s different?” they asked me. Even though her eyes bulge and her forehead is flat, they don’t see it themselves. But I did. I was painfully aware of how different Anna looked. Sometimes I was embarrassed to take her out in public. Once, while riding in the van with the boys, I said out loud, “I wonder why God made Anna like she is.” After a few moments of silence, Matthew, who was almost 11, said, “Well, Mom, if God didn’t make her like she is, then she wouldn’t be Anna.” It took my breath away. “You’re right,” I said. “Thank you, Matthew.” It was a lesson of faith that made me begin to think twice. I loved Anna, but not as freely as a mom should. My boys were teaching me how unconditional love can be. (…)

 

One day at church, the fuller meaning of Anna finally hit home. Lorraine, a longtime friend, spotted us and waved from her pew. Anna, who was almost three, waved back, and I saw Lorraine laugh. When church ended, we were walking down the aisle toward the door. Lorraine was making her way toward us. “Hi, Anna, I saw you waved at me,” she said to Anna. Anna smiled and said, “Hi. Hi,” over and over. Then Lorraine looked at me and said with such directness, “Thank you for having Anna for all the rest of us.” Her comment brought tears to my eyes. I realized that Anna is a gift to others. She is her own person with her own worth, her own way of contributing to the world … Anna had taught me to be more open, to allow life to become what it can be, not to force it to be what I think it should be.

 

***

 

In today’s Old Testament reading (Is 10:5-7, 13b-16), the prophet Isaiah announces an oracle against Assyria. Chosen as an instrument to chastise God’s erring people, the arrogant king of Assyria fails to recognize that he is being used to attain the divine plan of salvation. Following his own violent plans and not God’s, the Assyrian king exterminates many nations, boasting, “I have done it all myself.” He gloats that the nations of the world are like a bird’s nest and that he gathers their wealth as easily as gathering eggs. Indeed, the plundered nations are too terrified to resist Assyria’s military might. Using rhetorical questions, the Lord mocks the presumption of Assyria: “Can an ax claim to be greater than the man who uses it? Is a saw more important that the man who saws with it?” For their haughty pride, the Assyrians will be brought down and punished.

 

The following is an excerpt from an account of a man who saved the life of a victim trapped in a burning vehicle. It gives an idea what it means to be a humble instrument of God’s saving plan (cf. Chet Czubko, Jr., “Everyday Hero” in Amazing Grace for Survivors, ed. Jeff Cavins, et. al. West Chester: Ascension Press, 2008, p. 29-33).

 

As I was being bandaged up, a doctor came and shook my hand. “I wanted to shake the hand of a hero”, he said. I looked at him, shocked. I did not think of myself as a hero. The hospital in Jackson made an appointment for me at the University of Michigan burn center because the doctors thought I should go in to have my burns looked at.

 

Since I had left my car at the side of the interstate, my wife drove me to my parents’ house so that they could take me to my car. I told them the story of what had happened. “Why did you do this?” they asked. “Didn’t you know that you could have been hurt?” I considered this, but realized I was not thinking about my own safety at the time. All I was thinking was that if that had been me in the car I would have wanted someone to be there to try his or her best to help me.

 

At the accident scene, a policeman had been posted to keep people away. My dad and I drove up with my head all bandaged and explained to him that I had been there earlier in the day and that I had come to get my car. “Yes, I know”, he said. “Do you know you are a hero?” This was the second time I had been called a hero that day, and it made me uncomfortable. After the accident, I was interviewed by the local news, and later that year, along with some other men who helped, I received the American Red Cross’ award for Everyday Heroes. (…)

 

As a life-long Catholic, I have always had an appreciation and reverence for life in all its stages … A hero is someone who lives life, and when the opportunity to help someone continue living is presented, will do everything in his power to preserve life.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do we trust in Jesus as the true revelation of the Father? Are we the “little ones” who are willing to savor the rich and life-giving revelation of Jesus?

 

2. Are we willing to be humble instruments of God’s saving plan?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Loving Father,

you reveal your great love for Jesus, the anawim

and the other “little ones”

who are meek and humble.

In your Servant-Son,

teach us the way of “littleness”

and complete surrender to your saving will.

Help us to be humble instruments of your saving plan.

We praise and bless you,

now and forever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“You have revealed them to the childlike.” (Mt 11:25) // “Will the axe boast against him who hews with it?” (Is 10:15)

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray meditatively the thanksgiving prayer of Jesus to the Father and make it your own. Alleviate the suffering of a person who is deeply afflicted and ease the burden of the poor and destitute in the local and world community. Be attentive to the daily opportunities given you by God to be instrument of his saving will.

 

***

 

July 17, 2014: THURSDAY – WEEKDAY (15)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Comes for the Weary and Heavily Burdened and Teaches Us to Have Confidence in God”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 26:7-9, 12, 16-19 // Mt 11:28-30

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

Jesus is meek and humble of heart. He fulfills the Father’s saving plan by “humbly” and “meekly” undergoing the paschal mystery of his passion and death and glorious resurrection. By his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, as the meek and humble Messiah, Jesus inaugurates God’s kingdom of justice and peace. He offers to all – especially to the poor and the lowly - the radical salvation he merited on the cross. Jesus, who comes for the “little ones” to reveal the truth about the compassionate Father, also comes to refresh the labor-weary and heavily burdened. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” is his compassionate cry. To turn to him is true consolation. Jesus assures us that his “yoke” is easy and his “burden” light. The “yoke” of love that he puts upon our obedient heart becomes “easy”. He gives us the grace and strength to bear it. The “burden” that faithful Christian discipleship entails becomes “light”. He fills us with the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit to follow him through the way of the cross to eternal glory.

 

When my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer when I was a teenager, my mother responded fully to Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest”. She turned to Jesus in trusting prayer. Her favorite praying stance was kneeling - arms outstretched in the form of a cross. Her eyes were closed to focus more intently on Christ crucified. In Jesus, meek and humble of heart, she found solace and strength to cope with life’s trials. My father eventually recovered and lived thirty more years.

 

In the PRAYER NOTES series published by the Abbey Press (St. Meinrad, Indiana), Joel Schorn has an article entitled “Comforting Prayers for Times of Pain and Suffering”. He writes: “For Christians, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus testify to the fact that God knows your pain and suffering and promises you relief from your fears.” From the Book of Common Prayer (1979), he cites the following comforting prayer.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, by your patience in suffering you hallowed earthly pain and gave us the example of obedience to your Father’s will. Be near me in my time of weakness and pain. Sustain me by your grace that my strength and courage may not fail. Heal me according to your will. And help me always to believe that what happens to me here is of little account if you hold me in eternal life, my Lord and my God. Amen.

 

***

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Is 26:7-9, 12, 16-19) is a prophetic vision of the Jewish people singing a psalm of lament in the land. It is a song of contrition and an expression of their trust in God who gives victory. The people remember contritely their vain works. They have accomplished nothing at all and whatever they seem to have achieved is the result of God’s benevolence. They express their longing for the salvation that can never be attained by them and which God alone can give. Confident in their revival as a nation and as persons, they declare: “Those of our people who have died will live again! Their bodies will come back to life. All those sleeping in their graves will wake up and sing for joy. As the sparkling dew refreshes the earth so the Lord will revive those who have long been dead.”

 

The Jewish people’s longing for renewal and experience of restoration give greater depth to the following modern day account (cf. Susan Brinkman, “God Hears a Mother’s Prayers” in Amazing Grace for Survivors, ed. Jeff Cavins, et. al. West Chester: Ascension Press, 2008, p. 168-171).

 

Cruz Maria Cumba came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico. With her husband, Pedro Juan, they raised three sons. Pedro, the oldest, was five when the family moved from New York City to Philadelphia. He graduated from a Catholic high school, married at nineteen, fathered two children, and was divorced seven years later. Pedro became involved in the drug culture that would hold him captive for the next twenty years. (…)

 

After a night of drugs, Cumba woke up with a splitting headache. “I looked in the mirror and one eye was completely shut and my mouth was turned funny. I thought it was from the air conditioning. He walked around for a week in this condition before collapsing in someone’s car. The emergency room doctor told him that he had suffered a brain aneurism. One vessel had exploded, and another vessel had a bubble on it the size of a dime. “If that one explodes”, the doctor told Cumba, “I can’t save you.” The only hope was an emergency surgery, but Cumba wanted no part of it. He attempted to leave the hospital but the doctor told him, “If you walk out of here, you’re going to die.”

 

“I burst into tears and went into the bathroom of the emergency room. I had seven rocks of crack cocaine in my pocket, and instead of throwing them down the toilet like I should have done, I decided to end my life right there by smoking all seven rocks back-to-back.”

 

He smoked them, but did not die. “There I was trying to kill myself and I still could not die.” At some point, he realized that maybe God did not want him to die because He had something for him to do. Maybe it was something worth living for. “OK”, he told the Lord. “I’m going to put my life in your hands. If it’s your will that I make it through the operation, if you give me a second chance, I promise I’ll turn my life around.” (…)

 

That’s exactly what he did. After regaining his sight and hearing, which doctors never expected to happen, he started singing in the choir at the prayer group. Then, he learned how to play bass guitar. From there, he joined the Spirit of the Lord street ministry that reaches out to the very people Cumba knew best – troubled souls on drugs. Headed by Nestali Montes, the ministry sets up their band on drug-infested corners, plays gospel music, and preaches the word of God. Prostitutes and drug addicts have fallen on their knees right in the street and given their hearts to Jesus Christ.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do we give heed to Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest”? Are we ready to take up the yoke of the Father’s saving will and learn from him, who is “meek and humble of heart”? Do we relish and look forward to the gentle promise: “you will find rest for yourselves”?

 

2. Do we trust that if we turn to God with a contrite heart, he will raise us up from the grave of sin and despair?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Jesus Lord, meek and humble of heart,

we turn to you with trusting hearts.

We bring to you the world’s afflictions.

Restore our weary souls.

Raise us up from the grave of sin and despair.

My Lord and my God,

you love us beyond death.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mt 11:28) // “Awake and sing, you who lie in the dust.” (Is 26:19)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO 

 

That we may appreciate more deeply the promise of comfort of Jesus, the meek and humble of heart, make an effort to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration. Pray and give encouragement to those who are in the grave of sin and despair that in Christ they may experience “resurrection”.

 

***

 

July 18, 2014: FRIDAY – WEEKDAY (15): SAINT CAMILLUS DE LELLIS, priest (USA)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is Lord of the Sabbath and the Font of Healing”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8 // Mt 12:1-8

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

Seeing Jesus’ disciples plucking heads of grain on a Sabbath and eating them, the Pharisees raise the issue of lack of Sabbath observance. According to them, the disciples are harvesting on a holy day and transgressing the law of Sabbath rest. Jesus’ defence of the disciples manifests his compassionate stance. For him, human need takes precedence over the law. People are more important than rigid legal observance. In a case of proportionate necessity, positive law may be rightly dispensed with. The Pharisees have wrongly hedged the Sabbath law with unnecessary prohibitions. Those who have God’s law in their hearts know how to act with compassion, even on the Sabbath. Jesus is the supreme interpreter of the Law and he does so in humanitarian terms. As Lord of the Sabbath, he calls for steadfast love rather than ritualism or false sacrifice.

 

An ex-seminarian committed suicide by hanging himself in the shower room using a bandanna. The parish priest denied him a Christian burial. He belongs to an old tradition that interprets rigidly the canon law concerning “those to whom ecclesiastical funeral rites are to be granted or to be denied”. A priest from the seminary, together with a group of seminarians, went to visit the grieving family and celebrated the Funeral Mass before the coffin of the deceased. He did so in the compassionate spirit of Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath.

 

***

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Is 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8) is about King Hezekiah’s recovery from a mortal illness by the grace of God who heard his prayers and saw his tears. The rescue of the benevolent king from the claws of death parallels Jerusalem’s rescue from the Assyrian invasion led by the presumptuous King Sennacherib. An angel of the Lord annihilates 185,000 soldiers in the Assyrian camp. The Assyrians are forced to withdraw and return to Nineveh. The prophet Isaiah, as God’s intermediary, assures him that he will be healed and the “sign” of the receding shadows confirms the prophet’s message. Restored to health, King Hezekiah offers to God a hymn of thanksgiving: “Lord, you have healed me. We will play harps and sing your praise, sing praise in your temple as long as we live.” The faithful Hezekiah confesses God’s goodness through this prayer.

 

The wholehearted piety of King Hezekiah has favored his healing. The following excerpt illustrates how God answers even our “raging” prayer (cf. Todd Burpo, Heaven Is for Real, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010, p. 84).

 

I didn’t feel good about having been so angry with God. When I was so upset, burning with righteous anger that he was about to take my child, guess who was holding my child? Guess who was loving my child, unseen? As a pastor, I felt accountable to other pastors for my own lack of faith. So at Greeley Wesleyan during the conference, I asked Phil Harris, our district superintendent, if I could have a few minutes to share.

 

He agreed, and when the time came, I stood before my peers in the sanctuary that on Sunday mornings held around a thousand people in its pews. After delivering a brief update on Colton’s health, I thanked these men and women for their prayers on behalf of our family. Then I began my confession.

 

“Most of you know that before everything happened with Colton, I had broken my leg and gone through the kidney stone operation, then lumpectomy. I had such a bad year that some people had started calling me Pastor Job.” The sanctuary echoed with laughter. “But none of the stuff hurt like watching what Colton was going through and I got really mad at God”, I continued. “I’m a guy. Guys do something. And all I felt like I could do was yell at God.”

 

I described briefly my attitude in that little room, blasting God, blaming him for Colton’s condition, whining about how he had chosen to treat one of his pastors, as though I should somehow be exempt from trouble because I was doing “his” work.

 

“At that time, when I was so upset and so outraged, can you believe that God chose to answer that prayer?” I said. “Can you believe that I could pray a prayer like that, and our God would still answer it ‘yes’?”

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. What is our attitude in regard to the law? Do we try to live by the letter of the law or by its spirit? Do we follow the compassionate stance of the Lord of the Sabbath? Do we allow the spirit of love to permeate our legal and religious observance?

 

2. Do we believe that God answers our prayers? Do we turn to him and humbly ask for healing? Do we have faith in his power of healing?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

O merciful Jesus,

you are Lord of the Sabbath.

Your compassionate ways and fidelity

inspire us to live by the divine law.

Deliver us from false piety

and teach us to walk by your ways.

You, likewise, are the font of healing.

Free us from our infirmities

and restore us to good health.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

  

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“For the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mt 12:1-8) // “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears.” (Is 38:5)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Reflect on the meaning of law in the Church. Try to perceive its significance and abide by the spirit of the law, and not by the letter. By your prayer, words and actions, promote the healing ministry of the Church.

 

***

 

July 19, 2014: SATURDAY – WEEKDAY (15); BVM ON SATURDAY

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Will Not Break a Bruised Reed and He Teaches us the Way of Justice”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Mi 2:1-5 // Mt 12:14-21

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

In today’s Gospel, we continue to witness the “meek and gentle” ways of Jesus. He is the chosen and beloved Servant of the Lord, filled with his Spirit. He is destined to proclaim salvation to the nations and bring healing to the bruised and the weak. Jesus is the harbinger of God’s mercy to Jews and Gentiles. Fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Servant of the Lord, the non-violent Jesus does not “contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets”. He avoids useless confrontations with the Pharisees by withdrawing quietly. He avoids self-aggrandizing publicity by ordering those cured not to make public what he has done. His care for the weak, the discouraged and the marginalized is captured in the beautiful words of Isaiah: “A bruised reed he will not break; a smoldering wick he will not quench.” Far from rejecting sinners and morally weak people, Jesus encourages them to greater efforts and leads them to repentance. He is not a conquering political Messiah, but a Servant Lord who heals and treats mankind with great compassion. His loving heart is open to all. His “meek and gentle” heart can sense the longing for conversion that lies deep in every person.

 

The ministry of Poverello House, founded by Mike McGarvin (“Papa Mike”) in Fresno, gives us a glimpse of how to incarnate the mission of the Servant of the Lord in today’s world. From the incident he relates below, we are challenged not to give up on the “bruised reed” (cf. POVERELLO NEWS, December 2011, p.1-2).

 

People in line for food in our dining room queue up on the southern wall as they come through the door. Here, they wait to move up to the serving window. This places them in close proximity to tables where people are already eating. Often, to pass the time while they wait, those in line exchange pleasantries with friends who are already served. Occasionally, an argument will break out between someone in line and someone seated, but that is, thankfully, a very rare occurrence.

 

One day recently, a “Code Red” call crackled across our walkie-talkies. Code Red is never good news; it means that there is a fight taking place, or that someone is having some kind of medical emergency, and all the available staff need to rush to the scene to assist. Over the years, Code Reds have been invoked for seizures, fainting, one-on-one fights, melees involving many people, car accidents, stabbings, and shootings. A Code Red is guaranteed to make one’s adrenaline start pumping.

 

This time, the Code Red was for a man seated near the line on the south wall. He had tried to swallow something too large, and it became lodged in his throat. He started choking severely, his face turning purple, and the people around him began panicking.

 

The men on security duty knew they needed help, so they immediately put the call out on the radios. Just as they did, a homeless man in the food line observed what was happening. He quietly walked over to the distressed man, and proceeded to do a textbook Heimlich maneuver on him. After a few abdominal thrusts on the choking victim’s diaphragm, the food rocketed out of the victim’s mouth, and he could breathe once more.

 

As nonchalantly as he left the line, the rescuer walked back over and resumed his place. He was a hero, but he nevertheless didn’t seem to want much attention, nor did he want to miss his meal.

 

This action surprised many of us, but it shouldn’t have. Sometimes, we make the mistake of thinking far too negatively about our homeless guests, based on the action of a few. In reality, there is a sense of community and helpfulness among many of the homeless.

 

Around here, the old saying, “There is no honor among the thieves”, sometimes get paraphrased as, “There is no kindness among homeless addicts”. Addictive behavior is often quite predictable, but, because we are dealing with individual human souls, our predictions are never the last word. Even people in the throes of this extremely self-centered affliction are capable of rising above their circumstances and aiding someone else.

 

Those of us who labor trying to help the homeless are also human. That means that, in spite of our good intentions, we sometimes lapse into negative attitudes, stereotyped thinking, and low expectations. Occasionally, God sends a small miracle our way, like the homeless hero described above, to remind us that people are every bit as capable of saintly behavior as they are of selfishness.

 

 

***

 

The Old Testament reading (Mi 2:1-5) is now taken from the prophet Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah. Micah comes from a country town of Judah and is convinced that Judah is about to face the same kind of national catastrophe that Amos had predicted for the northern kingdom. Micah prophesies that God will punish the hateful injustice of the people. Today’s passage attacks the capitalists who are guilty of exploitation and corruption. They dispossess the poor by illegal means. They plot evil deeds in the night and shamelessly carry them out in broad daylight. Their plans will be frustrated by God’s counter-plan. The prophetic words threaten: “I am planning to bring disaster on you, and you will not be able to escape it. You are going to find yourselves in trouble and then you will not walk so proudly anymore.” Their punishment will take the form of enslavement and exile.

 

The unjust capitalists of Micah’s time have put their happiness upon their possessions. The following incident involving the Dalai Lama helps us realize that the quest for happiness does not rely on material possessions (cf. Douglas Preston, “Skiing with the Dalai Lama” in The Week, May 2, 2014, p. 36-37).

 

We rode the lift down and repaired to the lodge for cookies and hot chocolate. The Dalai Lama was exhilarated from his visit to the top of the mountain. He questioned Abruzzo minutely about the sport of skiing and was astonished to hear that even one-legged people could do it.

 

As we finished, a young waitress with tangled, dirty-blond hair and a beaded headband began clearing our table. She stopped to listen to the conversation and finally sat down, abandoning her work. After a while, when there was a pause, she spoke to the Dalai Lama. “You didn’t like your cookie?” “Not hungry, thank you.” “Can I, um, ask a question?” “Please.”

 

She spoke with complete seriousness. “What is the meaning of life?”

 

In my entire week with the Dalai Lama, every conceivable question had been asked – except this one. People had been afraid to ask this one – the really big – question. There was a brief, stunned silence.

 

The Dalai Lama answered immediately. “The meaning of life is happiness.” He raised his finger, leaning forward, focusing on her as if she were the only person in the world. “Hard question is not ‘What is meaning of life?’ That is easy question to answer! No; hard question is what make happiness. Money? Big house? Accomplishment? Friends? Or …” He paused. “Compassion and good heart? This is question all human beings must try to answer: “What makes true happiness?” He gave this last question a peculiar emphasis and then fell silent, gazing at her with a smile.

 

“Thank you”, she said, “thank you.” She got up and finished stacking the dirty dishes and cups, and took them away.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. How does the following description of Jesus impinge on us: A bruised reed he will not break; a smoldering wick he will not quench”? Do we imitate the gentle ways of Jesus and his compassionate stance?

 

2. Are we guilty of injustice and of lack of compassion for the poor and the needy? Do we seek our happiness in wealth and material possessions?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Jesus Lord,

you are the beloved Servant of Yahweh.

The Lord God delights in you.

He anoints you with his Spirit.

Help us to be channels of your peace to the heart-broken

and bearers of grace to the hopeless.

Give us the courage to be peaceful in a violent world

and the faithful love to care for the needs of the weak.

You live and reign,

forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

“A bruised reed he will not break; a smoldering wick he will not quench.” (Mt 12:20) // “Woe to those who plan iniquity.” (Mi 2:1)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Manifest the compassionate stance of Jesus to the people around you. Pray for the grace to overcome negative attitudes and prejudices so as to avoid breaking a “bruised reed” and quenching a “smoldering wick”. Be an instrument of God’s peace and justice for the poor and needy.

 

***

 

 

Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang  PDDM

 

 

PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI

SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER

60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314

Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323

Website: WWW.PDDM.US

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