A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday & Weekday Liturgy

 

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 15, n. 42)

Week 23 in Ordinary Time: September 10-16, 2017

 

 

(The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY & WEEKDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy of Year C from various perspectives. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: September 3-9, 2017, please go to ARCHIVES Series 15 and click on “Week 22”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: September 10-16, 2017.)

 

*** *** ***

 

 

 September 10, 2017: TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us the Duty

of Fraternal Correction”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Ez 33:7-9 // Rom 13:8-10 // Mt 18:15-20

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 18:15-20): “If your brother or sister listens to you, you have won them over.”

          

I love Margot Fonteyn’s autobiography, written with the fluency that distinguishes her dancing. The famous English ballerina narrates an incident in which she experienced a sisterly correction from her best friend, Pamela May (cf. MARGOT FONTEYN: Her Own Best Selling Autobiography, London: Wyndham Publications Ltd., 1976, p. 98-99).

 

Pamela May was away from the ballet for quite a while having a baby. June Brae, the other member of our ‘triptych’, had met David Breeden at Cambridge at the same time that I met Tito and Pamela met Painton. June and David married early in the war, and their daughter was born soon after Pamela’s son. I seemed to be the odd girl out. Alone in No. 1 dressing room, without my closest friends, I developed a star complex, and for a time I was really impossible, imagining that I was different from, and superior to, those around me.

 

Then Pamela came to see us. It was soon after she had been widowed. Completely broken up by her loss, and living as she did facing up to stark reality, she was in no mood to put up with my fanciful airs. She told me outright that I had become a bore. Thinking it over, I decided that I far preferred the company of my friends to the isolated pinnacle implied by the title “Prima Ballerina Assoluta”, which I had been trying to reach, so I climbed down.

 

As a matter of fact, it had been partly the fault of what I call false friends – those who, with the best will, and believing themselves your warmest admirers, unwittingly destroy you with such talk as: “People didn’t realize how great you are”; “You are the greatest ballerina alive; people should fall back in awe when you leave the stage door”; “You should be treated like a queen.” All of which is, of course, rubbish.

 

The Gospel reading (Mt 18:15-20) belongs to “The Sermon on the Church” (Mt 18:1-35), a distinct literary unit wherein the evangelist Matthew gathers Jesus’ teachings directly concerned with the life of the disciples in Christian communities. The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, delineate the context of this Sunday’s reading, which underlines the duty of Christian correction: “The community for which Matthew collected and presented the Lord’s teachings was already a motley group. There were brothers and sisters who did not behave in an evangelical manner toward the little ones. There were leaders concerned more with honors than service. There were even disciples who lived in sin, publicly and scandalously. What to do about them? What should be the means by which they could be helped to become aware of their disorderly ways and be converted? Certainly there was no question to prematurely separate the weeds from the good grain (Mt 13:24-30). But in some cases, it became necessary to expel from the community brothers and sisters whose conduct could not be tolerated. These questions are still with us. The Gospel of Matthew shows us how to address them. The concrete modalities of the procedure outlined in Matthew cannot be followed to the letter, but we must remember their spirit and perspective. The sins of brothers and sisters cannot leave their kin and other members of the community indifferent. Charity and the spiritual welfare of others demand that we exert ourselves to bring back onto the right path whoever has wandered off. The parable of the lost sheep (Mt 18:10-14) immediately precedes Jesus’ words on charitable correction. The art of reprimand is certainly among the most difficult and delicate; yet this is no reason for us to evade our duty.”

 

The pastoral writer, Harold Buetow looks deeply into the various steps of Christian correction presented in today’s Gospel reading: “The first step of the progression is forthrightly to go to the offender and point out his or her fault one-on-one between just the two of you. This should be done in a way that won’t humiliate the offending person – indeed, it should make him realize that, as St. John Chrysostom wrote, the wounds of friends are more to be relied upon than the voluntary kisses of enemies. Always remember, though, that advice is sometimes transmitted more successfully through a joke than through grave teaching. If the first step doesn’t work, the second step is to bring one or two others along with you (v. 16) – not for the purpose of proving the other person wrong, but to help in the process of reconciliation. If that doesn’t work, you proceed to the third step, which is to refer it to the local community of faith, the Church (v. 17). This is far better than going to the civil courts, because courts settle nothing concerning personal relationships and can, instead, cause other complications. The whole process should be motivated by a spirit of forgiveness. If none of these steps work, Jesus advises his Jewish audience to treat the offender as they would a Gentile or a Roman tax collector. Surprisingly, for him that means continuing friendship. The Gospels call Jesus a friend of sinners and tax collectors, and Jesus reconciled many sinners with the heavenly Father: Mary Magdalene, Matthew, Zaccheus, the woman taken in adultery, and others … All else failing, there is always common prayer. United prayer is more powerful, sensible, and effective than resentment in our responsibility toward one another. Such prayer must never be selfish, but must be primarily for the good of fellowship, remembering that where two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name (v. 20), he’s in their midst. Jesus’ two or three is as small a number as one can have to make a community.”

 

In light of Jesus’ compassionate ministry, Gentiles or tax collectors are not excluded from the pastoral solicitude and prayer of the Church. The pastoral power of the keys given in a special way to Peter (Mt 16:19) is shared with the entire Church in view of fraternal healing and reconciliation.

 

The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, conclude: “The perspective of evangelical discipline remains that of forgiveness. A community is Christian in the measure in which all know and want themselves to be responsible for the good of each member. This concern about others’ salvation must be at the heart of every cell of the Church, especially the heart of the family. This is why charitable correction is a duty that, although, difficult, devolves on everyone.”

  

 

B. First Reading (Ez 33:7-9): “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, I will hold you responsible for his death.”

 

One of the most forceful and challenging texts in the Bible is the Old Testament reading (Ez 33:7-9), which is a call to personal accountability on behalf of the community. The priest Ezekiel who ministers at the Jerusalem temple is tasked by God to speak to his erring people and spell out their sins. Taken captive to Babylon in 597 or 596 B.C., at the same time as King Jehoiachin of Judah, Ezekiel is designated by God as a “sentinel prophet” – as a “watchman for the house of Israel”. He lives among other Judean captives in Babylon and presumably dies there. His pastoral mission to God’s covenant people is extremely important; at stake are the life of the people and the survival of the nation. As God’s designated “sentinel prophet”, Ezekiel cannot afford to be timid, unmindful or indifferent. He has to speak and confront the unfaithful people. Silence in this case would be disastrous and failure to proclaim God’s word would mean death and destruction.

  

Just as the “sentinel prophet” Ezekiel is ordered to speak out in order to bring a culpable people to conversion, the Christian of today is called to be a “sentinel prophet” like him. The Church – the community of Christian disciples – is called to declare “hard truths” and to mediate God’s reconciliation and forgiveness through fraternal correction. Martin Connell comments: “In our times and places, there are those who speak the hard truths and measure human failings against the grandeur that God has granted us in baptism. In this they do for the Church what Ezekiel did for the nation of Israel. (…) baptism makes us sentinels like Ezekiel.”

  

The following excerpt from the document, “The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship”, issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in November 2007, illustrates what it means to be a “sentinel prophet” in the world today. The Bishops speak out against the sinful situations of the society and at the same time offer guidelines toward a well-formed conscience that is in consonance with truth.

 

Our nation faces political challenges that demand urgent moral choices. We are a nation at war, with all of its human costs; a country often divided by race and ethnicity; a nation of immigrants struggling with immigration. We are an affluent society where too many live in poverty; part of a global community confronting terrorism and facing urgent threats to our environment; a culture built on families, where some now question the value of marriage and family life. We pride ourselves on supporting human rights, but we fail even to protect the fundamental right to life, especially for unborn children.

 

We bishops seek to help Catholics form their consciences in accordance with the truth, so they can make sound moral choices in addressing these challenges. We do not tell Catholics how to vote. The responsibility to make political choices rests in each person and his or her properly formed conscience. (…)

 

At times Catholics may choose different ways to respond to social problems, but we cannot differ on our obligation to protect human life and dignity and help build through moral means a more just  and peaceful world. There are things we must never do, as individuals or society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. These intrinsically evil acts must always be rejected and never supported. A preeminent example is the intentional taking of human life through abortion. It is always morally wrong to destroy innocent human beings. A legal system that allows the right to life to be violated on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed. Similarly, direct threats to the dignity of human life such as euthanasia, human cloning, and destructive research on human embryos are also intrinsically evil and must be opposed. Other assaults on human life and dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified. Disrespect for any human life diminishes respect for all human life. (…)

 

Opposition to intrinsically evil acts also prompts us to recognize our positive duty to contribute to the common good and act in solidarity with those in need. Both opposing evil and doing good are essential … The basic right to life implies and is linked to other human rights to the goods that every person needs to live and thrive – including food, shelter, health care, education and meaningful work. The use of the death penalty, hunger, lack of healthcare or housing, human trafficking, the human and moral costs of war, and unjust immigration policies are some of the moral issues that challenge our consciences and require us to act. (…)

 

In light of Catholic teaching, as bishops we rigorously repeat our call for a renewed politics that focuses on moral principles, the defense of life, the needs of the weak, and the pursuit of the common good. This kind of political participation reflects the social teachings of our Church and the best traditions of our nation.

   

 

C. Second Reading (Rom 13:8-10): “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

 

Ezekiel’s prophetic duty as a watchman calling God’s people to conversion and the Gospel model of fraternal correction acquire deeper meaning in today’s Second Reading (Rom 13:8-10). Saint Paul asserts that love is the fulfillment of the law and that we all carry “the debt of mutual love”. Mary Ehle explains: “Through Jesus, Christians have a new standard for love. He taught and embodied the saving love that he uniquely offered through his life, death and resurrection. Thus for Christians, love entails not only following the commandments, but following a person … In its new context, the saying calls Christians to extend their charity beyond members of their religions and ethnic communities, as Jesus’ charity extended beyond religion and political boundaries. Christians must show to the world the love of the teacher.”

  

The following beautiful story, “The Carpenter”, circulated through the internet, gives a glimpse on how to promote mutual and forgiving love in our community.

 

Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side-by-side, sharing machinery and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch.

 

Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference and finally, it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

 

One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days’ work”, he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there I could help with? Could I help you?

 

“Yes”, said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor. In fact, it’s my younger brother! Last week there was meadow between us. He recently took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll do him one better. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence, an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place or his face anymore.”

 

The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”

 

The older brother had to go to town, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day – measuring, sawing and nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job.

 

The farmer’s eyes opened wide; his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge! A bridge that stretched from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, handrails and all! And the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming toward him, his hand outstretched. “You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”

 

The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you”, said the older brother. “I’d love to stay on”, the carpenter said, “but I have many more bridges to build.”

 

 

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

 

1. What is my attitude toward the erring members of the Christian community? Do I carry out my part in the task of Christian correction? Do I believe that only God’s grace can change hearts and effect conversion? Do I allow myself to be an instrument of grace for others?

 

2. Does the response of Ezekiel to God’s command inspire you? Why is his pastoral mission to God’s covenant people as a “sentinel prophet” important? As a member of the Church, a community of reconciled and reconciling community, how do I carry out the pastoral mission of being a “sentinel prophet” in our society today? What are the sinful situations and evil tendencies in society that needs to be overcome and transformed?

 

3. Do you agree with St. Paul that “Love does no evil to the neighbors; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10)? What are the sacrifices you make to lead a person to conversion and close to God? How do you fulfill the “debt of mutual love”?

 

 

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

 

Almighty God,

you are loving, kind and merciful.

You send prophets to call us to conversion.

Like Ezekiel, let us keep our prophetic integrity

by calling the erring from self-destructive ways

and lead the lost back to you.

Help us to imitate Jesus’ loving patience.

Let us experience your healing power

and the beauty of “fraternal correction”.

Like Saint Paul, let us seriously strive

to pay the debt of mutual love

for we are all recipients of the Son’s saving love.

We give you honor, glory and praise,

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.

 

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault …” (Mt 18:15)

 

 

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

 

Pray for the erring members of the community and for the grace needed by the Church to carry out its task of Christian correction. In a most charitable way, exercise the duty of fraternal correction in your family and community. If possible, visit a correctional institute and see how you can help minister to the needs of its inmates.    

 

*** *** ***

 

September 11, 2017: MONDAY – WEEKDAY (23)

Today is the anniversary of the tragic events

of 11 September 2001. (USA)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Does Good on the Sabbath … His Ministers Proclaim the Mystery of Salvation”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Col 1:24-2:3 // Lk 6:6-11

  

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 6:6-11): “The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the Sabbath.”

 

On another Sabbath, Jesus goes into the synagogue to worship and teach. The scribes and Pharisees are there to actively scrutinize him. They watch closely to see if he would cure on the Sabbath and thus find a reason to accuse him. They legally interpret healing as a medical intervention and, therefore, as a kind of “work” that transgresses the law of the Sabbath. Jesus, however, realizes how wrong they are. He, therefore, responds to the conflict situation proactively. He deliberately heals on a Sabbath day to teach them its true meaning. The law of Sabbath rest is meant for the good of people. To do a compassionate act on the Sabbath – to heal a man with a withered hand and to relieve him of suffering - is therefore “lawful”. To refuse to do the good that can be done is akin to evil. There is no “Sabbath” that restricts us from doing good to another human being. There is no “Sabbath” that prevents us from loving. Indeed, the refusal to love is a betrayal of life.

 

In light of today’s reading (Lk 6:6-11), we are being challenged to be courageous like Jesus in doing what is good and not allow “false restrictions” to impede us. When I was a teenager, I saw on television the movie “The Nun’s Story”, starring Audrey Hepburn. She was a missionary nun in Africa and was serving as a nurse in a hospital. The medical doctor was out of town when a bleeding patient was brought for treatment. An emergency surgery has to be done to save the injured man. Although she did not have a medical license, she took the risk and operated on him. The courageous nun saved his life.

 

 

B. First Reading (Col 1:24-2:3): “I am a minister of the Church to bring to completion the mystery hidden from ages past.”

 

Today’s First Reading (Col 1:24-2:3) underlines the toil and struggle of Saint Paul as a messenger of the mystery of salvation. He asserts that the core of the “mystery” is a person – the person of Jesus Christ. As a servant of the Church, Saint Paul is happy about his sufferings. By means of his sufferings he helps to complete what still remains of Christ’s sufferings on behalf of his body, the Church. Paul does not mean that Christ did not suffer enough or that something is lacking in Christ’s afflictions to save humankind. “To fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” means that the apostolic toil and sufferings of Saint Paul are associated with and continue the saving work of Jesus in preaching the Gospel, with all the trials and difficulties it entails. Hence, the completion of the “sufferings of Christ” is intimately connected with the completion of the preaching of the Gospel. The hard-working Saint Paul continues to reveal to the Colossians and other people the divine saving mystery, which is Christ himself – the key that opens all the hidden treasures of God’s wisdom and knowledge,

 

The following portrait of two senior priests illustrates what it means to be a servant of the Church and to toil on behalf of the saving mystery in today’s world (cf. Michelle Martin, “Older Priests Continue Ministry Long after Retirement” in Our Sunday Visitor, June 9, 2013, p. 12).

 

Msgr. Thomas Prendergast, a senior priest at Our Mother of Confidence Parish in San Diego, said his days are full. Prendergast is 81 and has been retired since he was 75. He was already retired when he moved into Our Mother of Confidence at the invitation of the pastor.

 

“I say Mass at least every Sunday and sometimes during the week”, he said. “I hear confessions every Saturday, and the sick calls, you know. We have a large parish here, a lot of seniors. I don’t do a lot of administration to speak of. Before I was retired, there was a lot of administration.”

 

Msgr. Prendergast said he thinks that people might like to have a younger man in the parish, but “they’re happy to have a priest.” He most enjoys visiting the sick and anointing people who are seriously ill. Asked if he intends to continue his ministry, Msgr. Prendergast said, “As long as I am in reasonably good health, yes.”

 

***

 

Msgr. Francis Maniola is nothing if not a model of faithfulness. The priest, who celebrated his 100th birthday and his 75th anniversary of ordination in April, still participates at Mass every weekend at St. Symphorosa Church in Chicago, taking Communion on the same altar where he has served nearly every weekend since he became a pastor of the parish in 1968. Since then, Msgr. Maniola has baptized and married generations of parishioners, said Marge Garbacz, the parish’s pastoral associate and director of religious education. Msgr. Maniola served as the parish’s third pastor before retiring in 1981. Named pastor emeritus and asked to stay on by the next pastor, Msgr. Maniola never left.

 

Now he participates in Mass by watching from the sacristy door, approaching the altar for the Our Father and Communion, Garbacz said. “It’s such a witness of faithfulness”, she said. Up until this year, Msgr. Maniola blessed many sacramentals and other objects, even after he stopped celebrating Mass publicly and could no longer listen to confessions because he was too hard of hearing. “He loved to bless things”, Garbacz said. “People would stop by the rectory and we’d call him and he’d come down.”

 

After a brief hospitalization in January, Msgr. Maniola now has the aid of a caregiver for some daily tasks, but he still joins the parish staff for lunch every day. “When he was in the hospital, he told everyone, ‘I want to go home’,” Garbacz said. “For him, St. Symphorosa is home.”

  

 

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

 

1. Are we like the scribes and Pharisees, who prevent others from doing good to the needy? Do we have a healthy understanding of the “Sabbath” that enables us to be more compassionate to our needy and suffering neighbors?

 

2. What do we do personally “to fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body” – the Church?  What do we do to reveal the saving mystery, who is Christ?

 

 

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

 

Loving Father,

we thank you for Jesus, the Divine Master.

He is the Lord of the Sabbath.

He heals even on the Sabbath

to teach us that the Sabbath is made for the good of man

and that man was not made for the Sabbath.

Help us to imitate him

in acting compassionately with the freedom of the Holy Spirit,

the principle of life and good.

Let us be convinced that refusal to do good

is a betrayal of life.

We love you, dear Father in heaven.

We give you glory and praise, now and forever.

Amen.

 

***

O loving God,

we thank you for Saint Paul’s work as servant of the Church

and for revealing to the nations the saving mystery,

who is Christ.

Help us to treasure the presence of Christ in us.

He is the hope of glory.

Give us the grace to unite our apostolic endeavors and afflictions

with the saving work of Christ on behalf of the Gospel.

Let us be drawn together in love

and be filled with courage to preach Christ to everyone

and to give witness to him throughout the world.

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.

 

“Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?” (Lk 6:9) //“I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” (Col 1:24)

 

 

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

 

Pray that you may have a healthy understanding of church and civil laws. Endeavor to do charitable acts every day so that you will be ready to do good even in extraordinary situations and/or conditions. // Offer to God your trial, toil and affliction for the sake of the Gospel believing that in your very struggle the saving mystery of God’s love in Christ is revealed.

 

 

*** %%% *** %%% *** %%% ***

 

   

September 12, 2017: TUESDAY – WEEKDAY (23); THE MOST HOLY NAME OF MARY

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Spends the Night in Prayer … He Is

the Fullness of Life”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Col 2:6-15 // Lk 6:12-19

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 6:12-19): “He spent the night in prayer. He chose Twelve whom he also named Apostles.”

 

The night is fascinating. It can be a moment of deep commune with God and a time of profound prayer. In today’s Gospel (Lk 6:12-19) we hear that before choosing his apostles, Jesus spends an entire night on a mountain in prayer. Once again, before making a decisive decision crucial to his messianic mission, he prays. When the day comes, he calls his disciples to himself and chooses the twelve apostles, who represent the “twelve” tribes of the New Israel, the Church. Like Moses descending from the mountain to deliver the Law to the people, Jesus comes down from the mountains to share with them the word of life and his touch of healing. On the plain, people crowd around him to hear the word of God and to experience his healing touch.

 

Prayer is a very important element in the life of Jesus and his disciples. Harold Buetow remarks: “It’s in prayer that we learn the mystery of Christ and the wisdom of the cross. In prayer we perceive in all their dimensions the real needs of our brothers and sisters throughout the world; in prayer we find the strength to face whatever lies before us; in prayer we get the strength for the mission which Christ shares with us.”

 

The following account in the life of John Michael Talbot, a modern day disciple-apostle and a “troubadour for the Lord” gives us a glimpse into the role and importance of prayer in the Christian vocation (cf. Dan O’Neill, Signatures: The Story of John Michael Talbot, Berryville: Troubadour for the Lord, 2003, p. 43-45).

 

It happened in 1971 in a hotel in mid-America. “Things now rush together in my memory about those years, probably the endless touring and performing lulled me into a stupefied indifference about where I was or when I was there, and, of course, there were far more important matters on my mind at that time”, John points out. “All I remember about the general circumstances is that we were in the middle of a tour, probably somewhere in the Midwest, and spending this particular night at Holiday Inn. I had my own room – the walls I recall as being blue – probably matched my disposition at the time.”

 

The other band members and road crew were checking into their rooms down the hall as John closed the door and collapsed on the double bed, turning his tired gaze toward the window. The soft eerie glow of the neon hotel sign filtered softly through the drawn blue drapery, bathing him in a pattern of light and shadows. As had become his custom when there were quiet, restful moments at hand, John began to pray to a God he did not know deeply but had come to believe in. Almost imperceptibly, his silent, interior meditation became an audible, vocal question: “Lord, who are you?”

 

Then it happened. Light seemed to fill the room, gradually intensifying to a mind-bending brilliance. Startled, John sat up, blinking his eyes to behold the figure of a man in white robes, arms outstretched, with long hair and a beard. “I saw an image”, John says, “that looked like Jesus – it was a traditional Christ-figure – an incredible sight.” A surge of adrenaline tore through his body like a hot rushing current, yet there was no fear or panic.

 

“I looked up out of my prayer and saw Christ bathed in light before me”, says John Michael. “He didn’t say anything. He didn’t give me a ‘great commission’ or anything like that. He was simply present. His love poured over and through me – it even seemed to emanate from me. In that experience I knew that my prayer for God to reveal himself to me was answered in the person of Jesus. I didn’t understand any Christian theology. I just knew that God loved me through this revelation of Jesus, and that any of my past sins or failings were forgiven. He stood before me, somehow almost around and within me, in infinite greatness yet total humility. I felt compassion. And I felt acceptance. I had been reading about Jesus and feeling him in my heart, but at that moment I actually experienced his touch. I knew it was Jesus. From that point on, I begin calling myself a Christian again.” (…)

 

As they say, “the real test is in the fruit”, and the fruits of John’s life were definite changes for the better. John’s band-mates said that he became a more mature and well-balanced person. His newfound faith was making him a better human being. He was nicer to be around. The photos of Mason Proffit show the change. The early ones show a dull-eyed, aimless teenager. After the Christ experience John Michael Talbot looks like a young man with a vision about the direction of his life.

 

 

B. First Reading (Col 2:6-15): “God brought you to life along with Christ having forgiven us all our transgressions.”

 

In today’s First Reading (Col 2:6-15), Saint Paul exhorts the Colossians to live in union with Christ and to remain faithful to the apostolic teaching. He advises them to be on guard against those who deceive them with human wisdom and false teachings about “the ruling spirits of the universe”. Paul thus underlines the pre-eminence of Christ. The full content of divine nature lives in Christ, who is supreme over every spiritual ruler and authority. In union with Christ through baptism we have received the fullness of life. Those who through sin are spiritually dead have been brought to life in Jesus Christ. God has done away with their spiritual debts by nailing them to the redemptive cross together with Christ. Through the cross, Christ subjected all rulers and authorities.

 

The following story gives an insight into Saint Paul’s assertion that God has brought us to life in Christ and that in him our sins are forgiven (cf. Anne Caron, “My Own Disbelief” in 101 Inspirational Stories of the Sacrament if Reconciliation, Sister Patricia Proctor, Spokane: Franciscan Monastery of Saint Clare, 2006, p. 208-209).

 

A few years ago our parish held a Lenten Mission. I was not planning to go, but a friend didn’t want to go alone, so I went to accompany her. I think God used her to get me to go!

 

The Passionist priest giving the mission was very fervent and very much in love with the Lord. I drank in every word he said and thrilled to the truth of it. It had been awhile since I’d gone to confession because I felt very unworthy. I had feelings that God loved everyone else more than he loved me. Sometimes I would imagine that God was impatient with me for repeating the same sins over and over.

 

At one point during the mission, the priest pointed to the crucifix. He said to us in a firm and solemn voice, “If you don’t think this is enough to forgive what you’ve done, then there’s no way you can be forgiven.”

 

It hit me like a ton of bricks! My feelings of unworthiness could prevent Our Blessed Lord from forgiving my sins? Not because Jesus was unwilling, but because of my own disbelief! I was stunned. Could I actually prevent God from forgiving me?

 

I approach the sacrament of reconciliation very differently now. It’s still not easy. It’s still humiliating to admit my faults and deliberate actions, but knowing that there is an ocean of mercy that I can throw those sins into fills me with deep gratitude.

 

Now I know that God’s loving heart is always there to lean on and whisper my sorrows to. I haven’t yet been able to live up to my desire to live the perfect life out of love for Him, but I know that this is where I receive the grace to keep trying.

 

 

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

 

1. What role does prayer play in our life, and especially in our Christian vocation? Do we give fundamental importance to prayer and contemplation? Do we see the intimate connection between prayer and deep commune with God and the call to mission and service of the Kingdom?

 

2. How does Paul’s assertion that God has now brought us to life with Christ and that God forgave us all our sins impinge on us?  

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

you spent an entire night in prayer

to discern the divine will

with regards to your mission

and the future leaders of the Church.

Help us to perceive

the great importance of prayer in our life.

Grant us the strength

to carry out our mission

on behalf of your kingdom of justice, peace and love.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

***

O loving and merciful God,

you have brought us to life with Christ

and upon the cross, our debt of sins is forgiven.

Help us to accept your gift of forgiveness.

Let us live in union with Jesus

and build our lives on him.

Strengthen our faith

and fill us with thanksgiving

for freeing us from the power of the sinful self.

We give you glory and praise, 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.

 

 “He spent the night in prayer to God.” (Lk 6:12) //“But God has now brought you to life with Christ.” (Col 2:13)

 

 

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

 

Tonight spend quiet moments in prayer to God. Allow your prayer to be transformed into acts of self-giving and service to the needy. // Be aware of the beauty and power of the sacrament of reconciliation. Help your friends and loved ones to appreciate this God-given gift.

      

*** *** ***

 

September 13, 2017: WEDNESDAY – SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, Bishop, Doctor of the Church

  “JESUS SAVIOR: He Blesses the Anawim … In Him We Have Put On the New Self”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Col 3:1-11 // Lk 6:20-26

  

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 6:20-26): “Blessed are you who are poor. Woe to you who are rich.”

 

In today’s Gospel (Lk 6:20-26), Jesus blesses the anawim (from anawah = humility). They are a people - humble and lowly - who find their well-being in God. These humble believers are eager to welcome God and ready to do his will. They put their hope and trust in God alone. Formed by his mother Mary, the Lord’s humble handmaid, Jesus is the ultimate anawim. As the Servant-Son of Yahweh, he is meek and humble of heart. In his inaugural discourse as Divine Master, Jesus declares that the anawim – the poor, the hungry, the grieving and the persecuted - are blessed by the Lord. They are recipients of salvation and of God’s infinite favor. Immersed into the baptismal waters of his paschal destiny, the Christian disciples in today’s world are the anawim. Like Jesus and Mary, they are called to proclaim the beatitudes of God’s anawim.

 

Instead of beatitudes, woes are to fall upon the rich who do not use their wealth to help the needy, hoarding it for themselves. Woes are to fall upon the well-fed who are oblivious to the hunger pangs of the poor, not sharing with them the bounty from their table of plenty. Woes are to fall upon those who seek the joys of the world, not commiserating with the grieving and the afflicted. Woes are to fall upon the false prophets, basking in the adulation of friendsmade complacent by their false words of comforts.

 

But what does it mean to live the spirit of the anawim today? This personal account can give an insight.

  

A few years ago, I conducted a liturgy class at Maryhill School of Theology in Metro Manila, Philippines, that included the topic “Liturgy and Creation”. I invited an ecology team from Barrio Ugong to share their endeavors with my students. The team was composed of enterprising housewives. None of them had a college or even a high school degree, but they became a leaven of transformation for their local community. Speaking in Tagalog, for none of them was proficient in English, the medium of instruction in higher Filipino schools, the housewives conducted the seminar on waste management, recycling, composting, organic gardening, etc. in very simple terms, but with expertise. They also shared the initial resistance of some people to their community project. The “macho” men in the neighborhood were hostile. But the women steeled themselves from their unjust attacks and persisted with single-hearted devotion and courage. Their humility and prophetic stance paid off. Barrio Ugong was judged the best barrio in the Philippines!

 

 

B. First Reading (Col 3:1-11): “You have died with Christ; put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly.”

 

In today’s First Reading (Col 3:1-11) Saint Paul exhorts the Colossians to seek out the matters that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God. Their “old self” has died and they have been raised to life with Christ. Now their life is hidden with Christ in God and this will be made manifest in glory on judgment day. This dying with Christ involves absolute separation from the former sinful life. They must put off the old self with its habits and put on the new self that is being renewed into the image of the Creator. Christ is the perfect image of God and the perfect pattern of life for the baptized. In Jesus Christ, the great social barriers of race, culture and states of life are broken down. “Christ is all and in all.” These social distinctions are non-consequential when we consider the truth that Jesus Christ is really all that matters.

 

Mike McGovern (“Papa Mike”) and his conversion story illustrate, in a social context, Saint Paul’s insight about a worldly life that leads to self-destruction and a spiritual life that leads to salvation (cf. Poverello News, July 2013, p.2-3).

 

In the 1960s I was an eager participant in the hippie movement: free love, drug experimentation that soon led to dependency, openness to a hodge-podge of strange spiritual beliefs, and advocating for the expansion of the welfare state as a way of addressing poverty. I marched in anti-war and anti-poverty marches (when I wasn’t too drunk to march), took LSD, smoked marijuana, and practiced sexual liberation with a vengeance. And guess what? I became poor, miserable, spiritually empty, and got to the point where I wanted to kill myself.

 

As much as I hate to admit it, it’s when I embraced those hated middle-class values that I found meaning and happiness. Middle-class value number one: old-fashioned Christianity. My conversion to Catholicism gave me a new direction and a purpose for living. Middle-class value number two: I got married, and I stayed married, taking seriously that “until death do we part” business. Middle-class value number three: I worked my way up from an apprenticeship to a full-time job as a photoengraver, learning good work habits and providing for my family. Finally, Middle-class value number four: I started giving back to others less fortunate than me, which is how Poverello House started.

 

Granted, Poverello House isn’t the usual career path of an up and coming bourgeoisie fella, but then, I didn’t follow the typical middle-class blueprint for successful living until I’d already messed things up pretty well. The point is, even though I gravitated toward the counterculture of the 1960s and continued to view myself as part of that culture, and even though I still have some euphoric recall of those days, I can see now that it was utterly destructive. The only way I escaped was to embrace those boring middle-class values … Drugs, uncommitted sex, irresponsibility, and dependency became permanent features of urban poverty, and this cultural dysfunction led to widespread despair.

 

When we take a homeless drug addict into our program, in most cases we’re not only dealing with the personal wreckage of his life, but also the leftover cultural debris from the 1960s. Our solution is so middle-class that it almost makes the old hippie in me want to cry: get clean and sober, get God, work hard, be responsible, get a job, and take care of the messes you’ve made, and then go out and help someone else in need. It’s a far cry from “Turn on, tune in, drop out”, and certainly more humdrum, but it means the difference between a horrible life of squalor and having a chance at achieving lasting joy.

   

 

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

 

1. How does Jesus’ proclamation of the Beatitudes impinge upon us? Do we accept his declaration that the anawim are indeed blessed by the Lord? Do we try to live out in our life the beatitudes of the anawim? Do we look upon Jesus as the ultimate anawim and imitate Mother Mary who has lived the spirit of the anawim

 

2. What does it mean personally for us that “we have died with Christ” and that “we need to put to death, then, the parts of us that are worldly”?

 

 

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

 

Loving Jesus,

you are the true anawim.

In Galilee, you taught us the beatitudes of the anawim.

Help us to live the spirit of the anawim

and total dependence on God.

We adore you, Jesus, meek and humble of heart.

Live in us, Christ our Lord, now and forever.

Amen.

 

***

Loving Father,

we thank you for uniting ourselves into the death of Christ.

Help us to put off the old self with its sinful habits

and to put on the new self that shares in the glory of Christ.

Teach us to cherish the new being

that is constantly renewed in your image.

In our life of holiness and service to the Gospel,

let us no longer be concerned with false distinctions

based on race, culture and various states of life.

We believe that Christ is all

and that he is in all.

We give you glory and praise, 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.

 

“Blessed are you who are poor.” (Lk 6:20) //“Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly.” (Col 3:5)

 

  

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

 

Meditate on the Beatitudes and our identity as Christian anawim. In your service to the poor, those who mourn, the victims of injustice and violence, etc., endeavor to be an instrument of God’s beatitude for them. // Make it a point to make an examination of the heart at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day. Examine how you respond to the grace of God calling you to live to the full the “new self” in Christ. If you have failed, consider the possibility of approaching the sacrament of reconciliation.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

September 14, 2017: THURSDAY – THE EXULTATION OF THE HOLY CROSS

“JESUS SAVIOR: We Glory in His Cross”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Nm 21:4b-9 // Phil 2:6-11 // Jn 3:13-17

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 3:13-17): “So the Son of Man must be lifted up.” /

 

This true story took place in 1945, during World War II, in the Japanese-occupied Philippines, a former American colony. During the fierce battle to liberate the city of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, the American forces were bombarding Japanese military installations. Hundreds of civilians took refuge in a big school run by Catholic nuns. The refugees feared that the American troops, unaware of the civilian presence, might bomb the school and kill them all. To avoid being killed by their own liberators, the civilians rushed to the open playground and, with their trembling bodies, formed a gigantic living cross, easily recognizable by the American pilots from the sky. Sure enough, the incredible outline of the living cross, formed by the bodies of hundreds of refugees, deterred a disastrous and involuntary attack on innocent civilians. In assuming the form of the cross, the Manila populace experienced salvation. Indeed, the cross is an enigmatic sign. The mystery of the cross is the font of salvation.

 

The “Feast of the Triumph of the Cross” is an invitation to contemplate the saving mystery of the cross, the instrument of our salvation. The entrance antiphon of today’s Mass asserts: “We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection; through him we are saved and made free.” The true value of the triumphant cross is derived from the Crucified and Exalted One, Jesus Christ, the Son of Man who was “lifted up”. Therefore, the true focus of our contemplation today is our Lord Jesus Christ, who has taken the shape of the cross, a dreaded tool of criminal punishment, in order to save us and set us free. The cross, as a Christian symbol, has meaning only in relation to the primordial sign of the Son of Man in whom heaven and earth meet, especially as he hung upon the tree of condemnation and salvation. 

           

The Son of Man died on the illustrious cross on Mount Calvary. His death on the cross was a summation of his whole life given to God in humble obedience. St. Ireneus remarks: “Through his obedience unto death, hanging upon the cross, he destroyed that ancient disobedience committed on a tree of wood.” By loving unto death on the cross, Jesus crystallized God’s love for humanity in his very person. The sole motive for his sacrificial death on the cross is the ineffable mystery of divine love. According to the Gospel proclaimed in today’s liturgical assembly: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that he who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). 

 

 

B. First Reading (Nm 21:4b-9): “Whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.”

 

The lifting up of the bronze serpent that we hear about in the Old Testament reading (Nm 21:4b-9) is fascinating and illumines the mystery of the cross that we venerate. The bronze serpent on the pole that brings healing to those bitten by poisonous seraph snakes is a symbol of God’s benevolent saving will. Like the terror-stricken Israelites seeking salvation from the serpents in the desert, we too are in need of redemption from the snares of sin and death. And just like the Israelites who have experienced God’s mercy for the umpteenth time by gazing upon the bronze serpent on the pole, we too must look at Jesus lifted up on the cross that we may not die but live.

 

In the following article by Mother Angelica of EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) she gives an example of a redemptive experience (cf. Mother Angelica with Christine Allison, Mother Angelica’s Answers, Not Promises, New York: Pocket Books, 1987, p. 141-142).

 

I’ve counseled so many women who have aborted children, and when they come to me, distraught, anguished, and bereft, I can see that they are devastated by the realization that they have taken a human life – and they just don’t know what to do about it.

 

I believe that the guilt over having aborted a child is one of the more severe pains a person can experience. I’m reminded of a letter received from a woman in Michigan:

 

Mother, you won’t remember this, but four years ago I called you to ask you to save my life. I had attempted suicide twice, and a friend suggested that I call you.

 

It only took a couple of minutes to get to the root of my problem. I had aborted two children within six months of each other. When I told you, I knew you were as heartbroken as I was. Well, I know you probably won’t recall our conversation, but you told me something odd. You told me I was not alone and that I still had two children, even though they had gone to the next life.

 

You told me to name my children. You told me to ask them to pray for me. I thought you were some kind of weirdo, but I had nothing to lose. I did what you said to do. Over time, I realized that my children were not lost, but were created and loved by God even though they are no longer in this world.

 

Two years later I married a wonderful man, and last month we had a little girl. We named her Mary Michael. This is a birth announcement, Mother. I know I love her with a depth I could never have had were it not for God’s forgiveness and healing Power. I’ve tried to warn other woman about abortion, and I’ll fight it now with an even greater love for God and the life you helped me find.

 

This woman had experienced an extraordinary healing from God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. She had suffered tremendous guilt and remorse for her abortions and had asked God for his Help and Forgiveness.  She had repented for her sins and was now healthy, fueled with a higher joy and understanding than most people today. She didn’t sugarcoat her sins. With God’s Grace, she had overcome her guilt.

 

     

C. Second Reading (Phil 2:6-11): “He humbled himself; because of this God greatly exalted him.”

 

In today’s Second Reading (Phil 2:6-11), Christ’s death on the cross is the climax of a life totally given to God in humble obedience. Upon the cross, the Son-Servant of God carries out the ultimate act of sacrificial love and fulfills the Father’s benevolent plan of salvation. The cross of Christ is therefore a glorious throne, a font of healing and a means to eternal life. Saint Paul and the early Christian community, therefore, sing this beautiful hymn of faith: “Christ humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth. And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

 

The following story illustrates the participation of Christian disciples in the mystery and triumph of the cross (cf. Full Sail with the Wind of Grace: Peter Kibe and 187 Martyrs, written and edited by “Martyres” Editorial Cimmittee, Tokyo: Don Bosco Sha, 2008, p. 44-46).

 

Genka’s daughter Maria was married to the son of Kondo Kisan, the commissioner of Tachiura (Hirado City, Nagasaki Prefecture). Kondo was a devout Buddhist. He tried to convert his daughter-in-law and make her give up her faith. Maria always responded with the same words: “I was baptized by my father and have always walked the way of God that was taught to me. I cannot give up my faith.” “If you do not renounce your faith, we cannot keep you in our household. Think well and choose either my son or your faith.” Kondo oppressed Maria with these harsh words. After two years of struggling with the situation, Maria told her husband of her decision, and returned to her father Genka.

 

“It must be Genka who encouraged her to leave. He must pay for this!” Kondo discussed the matter with his friend, a Buddhist monk in Hirado, and appealed to Shigenobu to punish Genka. Shigenobu was furious with Genka who not only disobeyed his orders and continued to practice his faith, but also worked as a Christian leader. Shigenobu ordered the execution of Genka together with his wife Ursula and their eldest son John Mataichi.

 

Genka was handed over to the commissioner of Yamada (Hirado City, Nagasaki Prefecture), Inoue Umanojo, to be executed on 14 of November 1609. To Umanojo, Genka was a friend for whom he had a great respect. Genka told him of his only wish. “Lord Inoue, could you do me a favor and perform my execution at the Kurusu (cruz = cross) Trail? “Why the Kurusu Trail?” “Once a cross stood there, and my parents and friends are buried there, too.”

 

Umanojo nodded and they started to walk toward the Kurusu Trail. When they arrived at the spot, Genka said to Umanojo, “Lord Inoue, it was my heart’s desire to offer my life here. None of this is your fault. Please be at peace.” Genka knelt down, raised his tied hands toward heaven and silently bowed his head. Umanojo, choking down his tears, performed the execution with one stroke of his sword so that Genka would not suffer too much.

 

Genka’s wife Ursula and their son John Mataichi were also beheaded about the same time at a place nearby. Gaspar Nishi Genka and his wife Ursula were both 54 years old. Their oldest son John Mataichi was 24 years old. Their remains were buried at the Kurusu Trail. The Christians secretly planted a pine tree on the spot.

 

In 1992, the Christians of Ikitsuki built a large cross on the Kurusu Trail. It is to remind them of the importance of faith strengthened in the family, a precious heritage of Gaspar Nishi Genka.

 

 

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

 

1. Why is the cross of Christ the supreme proof of God’s infinite love for us? What made the triumph or exaltation of the cross possible? Are we disposed to participate in the folly of the cross and the mystery of Christ’s sacrificial love?

 

2. What was the significance of the bronze serpent that Moses fashioned and lifted up on the pole? What was its saving effect on the distressed people of Israel? How is the mounted bronze serpent a symbol of Jesus Christ? Are we willing to fix our gaze on Jesus Christ crucified and seek healing from him?

 

3. How does the Pauline hymn of Christ’s self-emptying (“kenosis”) and exaltation impact us? Do we wish to share in the Divine Master’s twofold movement of self-abasement and exaltation? Are we willing to meditate on the mystery of the cross and its meaning for us? Are we willing to proclaim to the world the triumph of Christ on the cross and give a living witness to it?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

the mounted bronze serpent

that saved the ancient Israelites from sure death

prefigures your crucifixion and redeeming death on Mount Calvary.

We thank you for your obedient sacrifice.

Above all, we render praise and thanksgiving to God the Father

who loved us so much that he sent you, his Servant-Son,

to be lifted up on the cross.

Now in faith we look upon the cross of your sacrifice

and see in it the source of healing and the font of eternal life.

We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.

Through your cross you brought joy to the world.

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 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” (Jn 3:16)

 

 

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

 

Pray for the victims of violence, hatred, and war and all those suffering from acts of injustice and oppression. By your compassion and charity, allow them to experience the healing and saving love of Christ on the cross.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

September 15, 2017: FRIDAY – OUR LADY OF SORROWS

 “JESUS SAVIOR: His Mother Shared in His Sorrowful Passion … He Mercifully Treated the Apostle Paul”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

I Tm 1:1-2, 12-14 // Jn 19:25-27 // Lk 2:33-35

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 19:25-27): “Behold, your son. Behold, your mother.” or (Lk

2:33-35): “And you yourself a sword shall pierce.”

 

Today’s feast, which comes after the feast of the Exultation of the Cross, reminds us that the Blessed Virgin Mary, standing by the cross, shares in her Son’s passion and suffering (cf. Jn 19:25-27). Like her Son, the King of martyrs, the Mother is a martyr in spirit. A sword has pierced he heart (cf. Lk 2:33-35). Saint Bernard remarks: “The martyrdom of the Virgin is set forth both in the prophecy of Simeon and in the actual story of the Lord’s passion. The holy old man said of the infant Jesus: He has been established as a sign which will be contradicted. He went on to say to Mary: And your own heart will be pierced by a sword. Truly, O Blessed Mother, a sword has pierced your heart. For only by passing through your heart could the sword enter the flesh of your Son … Then the violence of sorrow has cut through your heart, and we rightly call you more than martyr, since the effect of compassion in you has gone beyond the endurance of physical suffering.”

 

Any parent is bound to suffer, but Mary’s suffering is more intense than any other. She is the Mother of Christ, the Redeemer. Because of her spiritual closeness to her child, her sorrow is more acute. And because of her sinless nature, she is more sensitive to other people’s sufferings, especially that of her Son. The ancient hymn “Stabat Mater” beautifully depicts the pathos at the foot of the cross and Mary’s poignant sorrow: “At the cross her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last. Through her heart his sorrow sharing, all his bitter anguish bearing, now at length the sword had passed. (…) Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled, she beheld her tender Child, all with bloody scourges rent. For the sins of his own nation saw him hang in desolation, till his spirit forth he sent.”

 

As Mary shared in the sufferings of her Son, we too are called to participate in the passion of Christ … in the passion of the world … in the lot of our suffering brothers and sisters. The following charming story tells us of the compassion and spiritual communion experienced by two pilgrims, both cancer victims, when they met in Lourdes, France (cf. Jill Paris, “Miracle Seeker” in Saturday Evening Post, March-April 2012, p. 46-47).

 

“Is this your first time at Lourdes?” I look up at a frail-looking pilgrim just beside me in the line for the sacred grotto. “Yes”, I say. The woman’s name is Selam. She has come from Vancouver, Canada, but originally hails from Ethiopia. She is 40 years old. Within seconds we are swapping war stories. “Melanoma, Stage III”, I say. “Colon cancer … I’ve been given six months to live”, she whispers.

 

I let her step in front of me and study how she grazes the grayish stone that leads to the niche with her left hand, stopping every few feet to kiss the rock. A white rosary entwined in her right hand swings gently from side to side. I begin to copy her every move. If she makes the sign of the cross, I do, too. If she pats the water droplets that trickle from the cave-like surface and touches her face, I do the same. It is as if she’s been sent to me as a personal guide. Nearing the sacred spot, she begins to weep. I stroke her back the way a mother would soothe a child with a skinned knee.

 

She kneels before the statue of Mary resting high in an alcove. Dabbing moisture from the stone, my hand presses the gash on my upper left arm, but I forget to ask Mary for anything because of a deep concern for my new companion. Selam’s despairing sobs grow louder – agonizing wails echoing in an already hushed enclave. Minutes later, she rises and turns toward me. I open my arms wide and she collapses against me. We hold each other in a long embrace as though lifelong friends. “I want you to have this”, I say, reaching into my bag for a vintage religious medal of Bernadette that a dear friend sent with me for luck. “Pin it over your heart. It will protect you.” “Oh, thank you, my love”, she says. “I prayed I would meet someone here.”

 

Who knew my presence alone would answer a dying woman’s prayers? (…) Six months later, after a chest X-ray, I am classified as disease-free. I harbor much hope, but there is always my next scan. Upon returning from Europe, I would speak with Selam twice. Her cancer had rapidly spread, and she was bravely undergoing extreme bouts of experimental chemotherapy. Her last words to me were, “I’ll call you next week, my love.” That was several months ago. Just recently I have signed up with Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitality North American Volunteers to become one of the thousands of companion caregivers that Selam and I had seen.

 

 

B. First Reading (I Tm 1:1-2, 12-14): “I was once a blasphemer, but I have been mercifully treated.”

 

Today we begin reading from Paul’s First Letter to Timothy. A young Christian from Asia Minor, Timothy is the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. He became a companion and assistant to Paul in his missionary work. The letter contains instructions concerning the Church and its leaders as well as personal instructions to Timothy on how to be a good servant of Jesus Christ and how to carry out his responsibilities to the believers.

 

In today’s reading (I Tm 1:1-2, 12-14), Paul identifies himself as an apostle as well as a recipient of God’s mercy. Saint Paul is a model and limpid example of a sinner saved by grace. He had been a blasphemer, a persecutor of Christ and his Church, and an arrogant man. But God pours out his abundant grace upon him and gives him the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Paul is totally grateful to Jesus who has appointed and strengthened him for the apostolic ministry.

 

Saint Paul’s experience of being mercifully treated by God continues to be felt by people even in the here and now. The following is an example (cf. Leodone Yballe, “A Heavy Burden” in 101 Inspirational Stories of the Sacrament if Reconciliation, Sister Patricia Proctor, Spokane: Franciscan Monastery of Saint Clare, 2006, p. 29-30).

 

As I write this, I have tears streaming down my face; these are tears of joy and gratitude.

 

Reconciliation? The Lord had been working overtime on me for the last several years. But my addictions to pornography, lies, and self-importance – won me back almost every time.

 

On the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul two years ago, He did to me what He did to Saul. God knocked me down from my high horse. My marriage was in trouble.

 

Driving to my office that morning, I was listening to the radio and happened to tune in to a Catholic radio station, The Station of the Cross, in Rochester, New York. EWTN’s Mass broadcast had just started. As I listened to the readings, the Lord touched my heart. He helped me to see my life and how far I was from Him. I cried like a child in my car. As I was parking, sobbing like an infant, I resolved to find my Ananias.

 

Father Peter Abas, a priest at St. Anne’s in Rochester, was the first and only priest I could think of. I left voice and E-mail messages asking if he could see me that night. We played phone tag throughout the day. Father Peter thought if the Holy Spirit wants it, he will come. At six-thirty that night, I got into my car trusting the Lord would lead me to see Father Peter. At seven o’clock, I drove into St. Anne’s parking area. Father Peter was waiting and hoping that I would come.

 

We went into one of the small private rooms in the rectory, and I knelt down and asked Father Peter to hear my confession. I started by telling how heavy the burden was on my soul. My tears were a cleansing flood, as I recounted, amidst sobs, all my sins. It seemed as if my confession lasted almost an hour. Like the Prodigal Son, I told my Father I was not worthy to be called His son.

 

Father Peter took a clean sheet of paper, crumpled it in his hands, opened it, and said, “See how ugly this is?” I responded, “Yes, it is a very messy looking paper.”

 

Opening it up, he said, “Look at the lines here, and here, and here – don’t they look nice? This is how God sees you – so pleasing to Him that He can only love you.” And of course, I cried some more, a mixture of joy and shame in my tears. Joy because He did love me and did not throw me away from His sight, and shame for rejecting Him from my life.

 

When I received the absolution, my soul felt light, and I started to see a new path. Unlike Saul, my eyes did not see everything immediately. But He showed me enough to help me walk home to Him.

 

 

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

 

1. How does the presence of Mary, at the foot of the cross affect you personally? How do you participate in the passion of Christ … in the passion of the world … in the sufferings of your brothers and sisters?

 

2. Do we realize that we are recipients of divine mercy and that we have been mercifully treated by God? What is our response?

  

 

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

 

Father,

as your Son was raised on the cross,

his mother Mary stood by him, sharing his sufferings.

May your Church be united with Christ

in his suffering and death

and so come to share in his rising to new life,

where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

***

Loving Father,

you are loving and merciful.

In your Son Jesus Christ,

we have experienced what it means

to be an object of divine grace.

We give you thanks and praise for your saving mercy.

Teach us to cherish and bring to fruition

the grace of mercy you have poured out upon us abundantly.

Let us live faithfully in the faith and love of our Lord Jesus,

who lives and reigns with you, 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.

 

“Standing by the cross of Jesus was his mother …” (Jn 19:25) //“I have been mercifully treated.” (I Tm 1:13)

 

 

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

 

Offer a decade of the Rosary: “The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus on the Cross” for today’s persecuted Christians. If possible, share a meal with a poor and needy member of your parish community. // In your dealings with persons whom you find troublesome, make an effort to treat them with patient mercy remembering how God has treated you with kindness and love.

      

*** *** ***

 

September 16, 2017: SATURDAY – SAINTS CORNELIUS, Pope, AND SAINT CYPRIAN, Bishop, Martyrs

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us to Be His Disciples in Word and in Deed … He Came to Save Sinners”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

I Tm 1:15-17 // Lk 6:43-49

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 6:43-49): “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, but do not do what I command?”

 

In today’s Gospel reading (Lk 6:43-49) Jesus uses fruit-tree images to underline the source of a person’s actions. Just as the fruit tells us whether or not the tree is healthy and from what variety of tree it comes from, so the words and deeds of those who claim to be his disciples manifest the quality and reality of their relationship with Jesus. They can be true disciples of Jesus if they will be able to hear his words and put them into practice.

 

Using the powerful image of a solid foundation, Jesus likewise urges his disciples to build their lives upon his words, which are life’s sure foundation. We must not simply proclaim in words that Jesus is Lord and call upon him as our Lord Savior. We must act in a way that corresponds to the inner strength of our word. Our actions must give witness to the faith we profess.  Our worship of God must be incarnated in the life we live.

 

The following story of Jo Dee Baker from Slidell, Louisiana, whose lovely house and beautiful garden were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, tells of a community of believers whose efficacious faith is founded on a solid foundation (cf. “Angels on the Move” in Guideposts, Large Print Edition, March 2006, p. 5-9). Both Jo, the victim of a natural calamity, and the caregivers from the Baptist Church illustrate how wonderful and marvelous is a faith that is put into practice.

 

My beautiful yard was a mess of uprooted trees and debris; the salt water had burned the grass a sickly brown. My lovely white picket fence lay on its side, and shingles from my roof littered the ground like fallen leaves. Inside, slimy mud covered the floors, and water from the storm surge had tossed all my furniture upside down. The walls were caked black with mildew. Practically everything I owned was ruined. How could I ever come back from this? How could anyone? (…)

 

So many people needed help, and help was spread thin. “Lord”, I prayed, “I need some divine intervention here.” The next day, I pulled up to my house just as a man with a pickup truck was slowly passing by. He stopped, rolled down the window and leaned out. “Do you need any help?” he shouted. I laughed halfheartedly. “Help? I need an army,” I said. “I’m Brother Johnny from First Baptist Church of Pontchatoula.” He wrote down my name, address and number. “We’ll be in touch, Ma’am.” Then he drove off. But after two weeks I still hadn’t heard from him.

 

One Monday morning, lugging another bag of my ruined treasures to the curb, I stared down the street at the mountains of trash and destroyed homes. “So many people have lost so much,” I thought. Just then, my cell phone rang. Service was still spotty, but the voice on the other end was loud and clear. “Hello, it’s Brother Johnny. I’ve got some people who want to volunteer to help you. They’ll be calling you.” That was it. He hung up. Then the phone rang again. “Jo Dee? This is Jimmy Brown. I’m from the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Rives, Tennessee. We need to know what you need, exactly.” Where to begin? I told him about the mildewed floors, the torn up roof. “Don’t worry, Ma’am. We’ll be there. See you next Tuesday morning.” (…)

 

Nineteen people had traveled all the way from Tennessee just to help little old me. They spent three days cleaning the rot and grime and putting on my new roof. Two weeks after they left, about 40 more, from an association of 45 churches, came to finish the job! They ripped out and replaced the flooring, repainted the house, put in new shelves and cabinets, installed a stove and a water heater. By the time they were done, the house looked better than ever!

  

 

B. First Reading (I Tm 1:15-17): “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

 

The reading (I Tm 1:15-17) delineates the picture of Saint Paul as model and limpid example of “a sinner saved by grace”. Paul’s personal experience of the Risen Lord that transformed him from a persecutor into a zealous apostle solidifies the faith statement that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

 

The liturgical scholar Adrian Nocent remarks: “Saint Paul lets us know here his own personal experience: he had been a sinner, and yet God chose him as a minister. God chose to trust him. Paul’s case interested the entire Church. The other apostles had been chosen by the earthly Jesus and had lived with him; now Paul, who persecuted the others, saw himself overwhelmed by grace and chosen to be Christ’s servant no less than the other apostles. (…) Paul reminds us that conversion in Christ Jesus is always possible through faith and love. More than that, he believes that his sins and his conversion are part of a providential plan: he, a sinner, was chosen for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. Paul thus regards himself as the first of sinners but also as the foremost witness to the long-suffering patience of God.”

 

Paul has experienced to the full that “Christ came to save sinners”. Together with Jesus Christ and in the spirit of Saint Paul, we must mirror the benevolent effort of our loving God to seek the lost. The following story dramatizes the miracle of the “lost and found … strayed and returned … sinned and forgiven … estranged and reconciled” (cf. Stephen Covey, “I Found My Son Again” in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings, ed. Jack Canfield, et. al. Cos Cob: CSS, 2009, p. 295-298). May this awesome miracle come to life again and again!

 

I have a dear friend who once shared with me his deep concern over a son he described as being “rebellious”, “disturbing”, and “an ingrate”. “Stephen, I don’t know what to do”, he said. “It’s gotten to the point where if I come into the room to watch television with my son, he turns it off and walks out. I’ve tried my best to reach him, but it’s just beyond me.

 

At the time I was teaching some university classes around the 7 habits. I said, “Why don’t you come with me to my class right now? We’re going to be talking about Habit 5 – how to listen emphatically to another person before you attempt to explain yourself. My guess is that your son may not feel understood.” “I already understand him”, he replied. “And I can see problems he’s going to have if he doesn’t listen to me.” “Let me suggest that you assume you know nothing about your son. Just start with a clean slate. Listen to him without any moral evaluation or judgment. Come to class and learn how to do this and how to listen within his frame of reference.”

 

So he came. Thinking he understood after just one class, he went to his son and said, “I need to listen to you. I probably don’t understand you, and I want to. His son replied, “You have never understood me – ever!” And with that, he walked out. The following day my friend said, “Stephen, it didn’t work. I made such an effort, and this is how he treated me! I felt like saying; ‘You idiot! Aren’t you grateful for what I’ve done and what I’m trying to do now?’ I really don’t know if there’s any hope.” I said, “He’s testing your sincerity. And what did he find out? He found out you don’t really want to understand him. You want him to shape up.” “He should, the little whippersnapper!” he replied. “He knows full well what he’s doing to mess things up.”

 

I replied, “Look at the spirit inside you now. You’re angry and frustrated and full of judgments. Do you think you can use some surface-level listening technique with your son and get him to open up? Do you think it’s possible for you to talk to him or even look at him without somehow communicating all those negative things you’re feeling deep inside? You’ve got to do much more private work inside your own mind and heart. You’ll eventually learn to appreciate him and to love him unconditionally just the way he is rather that withholding your love until he shapes us. On the way, you’ll learn to listen within his frame of reference and, if necessary, apologize for your judgments and past mistakes or do whatever it takes.”

 

My friend caught the message. He could see that he had been trying to practice the technique at the surface but was not dealing with what would produce the power to practice it sincerely and consistently, regardless of the outcome. So he returned to class for more learning and began to work on his feelings and motives, particularly the need to appreciate, respect and empathize. He soon started to sense a new attitude within himself. His feelings about his son turned more tender and sensitive and open. He became profoundly grateful for his son, simply because he sincerely wanted to understand and appreciate his son.

 

He finally said, “I’m ready. I’m going to try it again.” I said, “He’ll test your sincerity again.” “It’s all right, Stephen”, he replied. “At this point I feel as if he could reject every overture I make, and it would be all right. I would just keep making them because it’s the right thing to do, and he’s worth it. I feel so grateful for him and for the hard learning.”

 

That night he sat down with his son and said, “I know you feel as though I haven’t tried to understand and appreciate you, but I want you to know that I am trying and will continue to try.” Again, the boy coldly replied, “you have never understood me”. He stood up and started to walk out, but just as he reached the door, my friend said to his son, “Before you leave, I want to say that I’m really sorry for the way I embarrassed you in front of your friends the other night.” His son whipped around and said, “You have no idea how much that embarrassed me!” His eyes began to fill with tears.

 

“Stephen”, he said to me later, “all the training and encouragement you gave me did not even begin to have the impact of that moment when I saw my son begin to tear up. I had no idea that he even cared, that he was that vulnerable. For the first time I really wanted to listen. My gratitude grew immensely.” And listen he did. The boy gradually began to open up. They talked until midnight, and when his wife came in and said, “It’s time for bed”, his son quickly replied, “We want to talk, don’t we, Dad?” They continued to talk into the early morning hours.

 

The next day in the hallway of my office building, my friend with tears in his eyes, said, “Stephen, I found my son again.”

  

 

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

 

1. Do our words and actions manifest the fruitfulness of the seed of the Gospel in us? Is our faith solidly built on the word of God? Is it efficacious and operative? How do we translate our faith into action?  

 

2. How does the reality “Christ came to save sinners” impact our personal life? Together with Jesus Christ and in the spirit of Saint Paul, do we mirror the benevolent effort of our loving God to seek the lost?

 

  

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

 

Loving Father,

help us to trust in the saving word of Jesus.

May our faith be true and shown by our actions.

By the strength of the same Spirit help us to pursue what is good

that we may bear abundant fruits of holiness and good works.

As living and active members of the Body of Christ,

let us always be nourished at the table of the Word and Eucharist.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

***

O Father,

you are loving and forgiving.

Christ came into the world to save sinners.

Gracious Father,

you have treated us mercifully.

In Christ your Son, you have saved us.

With the community of the redeemed,

we cry out with festive joy:

“To the king of ages,

incorruptible, invisible, the only God,

honor and glory, 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.

 

            “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words and acts on them.” (Lk 6:47) //“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  (I Tm 1:15) 

 

   

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

 

When life’s trials seem to submerge you, pray to God that he may strengthen your faith. Extend your helping hand and share the Word with those whose faith is wavering. // By your life of charity, service and peacefulness, let the world know that “Christ came into the world to save sinners” and that he is the joy of salvation. Assist the Church’s pastoral ministry of seeking the lost through your spiritual, moral and material contribution.

  

 

***

 

 

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

Go back