A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday & Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 18, n. 42)

Week 24 in Ordinary Time: September 13-19, 2020

 

 

(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 from various perspectives. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: September 6-12, 2020 please go to ARCHIVES Series 18 and click on “Ordinary Week 23”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: September 13-19, 2020.)

 

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September 13, 2020: TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is a Forgiving Lord”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Sir 27:30-28:9 // Rom 14:7-9 // Mt 18:21-35

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 18:21-35): “I say to you, forgive not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

          

While the Gospel reading of last Sunday (Mt 18:15-20) presented the duty of Christian correction, today’s Gospel reading explicates the duty of Christian forgiveness. The biblical scholar, Daniel Harrington remarks: “Having dealt with the extreme case of the totally incorrigible member and the extreme punishment of excommunication, the discourse turns to the more ordinary experience of forgiveness and reconciliation in the community. How many times should such a person be forgiven? Once again Peter serves as the spokesman for the group and gives what he imagines to be a very generous answer to his own question. Seven times (v. 21). Jesus corrects Peter and answers it. Seventy-seven times. The new number is not to be taken literally. The point is that Christians have no right to place any limit on forgiveness. Why Christians may not set limits to forgiveness is illustrated by the parable of the merciless steward (vv. 23-25). This parable puts in story form the second “we-petition” of the Lord’s Prayer: And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors (Mt 6:12). In other words, God’s willingness to forgive us depends on our willingness to forgive others (cf. Mt 6:14-15) … The story warns us that forgiveness granted to us by God will be revoked unless we are willing to forgive others (v. 35). The unforgiving are excluded from God’s mercy. Those who work to receive God’s mercy must show mercy toward others.”

 

The ability to forgive others results from our personal response and wholehearted reception of God’s forgiving love. Eugene Maly explains: “God tells us to forgive. The reason for this attitude is that God’s nature is a forgiving one, and anyone who belongs to God must imitate his attitude … It is true that we do find in the Bible references to God’s anger and determination to perish. But in all these cases, it is spoken of those who, in the end, reject God’s forgiveness. Divine forgiveness flows from a creating and unmerited love and a new creation results. If that creating love is rejected, it is clear that the chaos of sin remains. Punishment is the necessary result. But as long as life remains, the forgiving hand of God is outstretched to all. Vengeance is final only when the refusal of forgiving love is final. How do we know that we have accepted God’s forgiving love? Only when we can forgive others.”

 

The parable of the unforgiving steward continues to challenge us today. Each one of us has received and continues to receive the mercy of God, who has remitted the un-payable debt of sin. Our conduct toward our brothers and sisters who have offended should follow the loving stance of our forgiving God. To act otherwise is to incur divine condemnation. We must pardon from the heart in imitation of God, who is not content to receive lip service from a people whose heart is far from him.

 

The following personal reflection of Mario Estrella, my former student and member of the religious congregation Opifices Christi is insightful.

 

When I was working as one of the training officers of the different training programs of the Department of Education, I had made a decision that was detrimental to the mandate of the Department to provide continuous service to teachers and principals. My immediate superior called it to my attention when he discovered my irresponsibility and incompetence. I thought I would be reprimanded and incriminated for negligence and my conduct, which was unbecoming to a government employee.          

 

The superior asked me if I was guilty of the offense and I replied affirmatively. He surprised me when he asked, “If I keep you in your present capacity, can I trust you in the future?”

 

I replied, “I am sorry, sir. I have learned my lesson and you surely can trust me again.”

 

He must have detected the sincerity of my repentance. “I am not going to press charges anymore and you can continue in your present responsibility,” he said.

 

He told me then that he had once succumbed to the same situation, but he was given mercy and was asked to learn from it. His position now in the Department can attest how far he has gone because of the opportunity accorded to him.

Truly, according to Steve Goodlier, those who forgive best are those who are forgiven.

 

The story is centered on the fruit of forgiveness. Forgiveness multiplies when freely given to the offender. Whether we like it or not, something good may come out from the experience and could probably change the person for the better.

 

There is another way of looking at why Jesus asked us to forgive seventy-seven times. The number of times we exonerate is most likely equivalent to those who will have a change of heart for the better. The number of recipients who have been rehabilitated as a result of forgiveness is already a great contribution to the continuing proclamation of the Kingdom of God. If the recipients will do the same to their offenders, forgiveness multiplies until it reaches the core number that will make the world a better place to live in.

 

But the world where we live is far different from the world that is supposed to be the replica of the Kingdom of God. If you go around and see, people are full of hatred, vengeance, jealousy and pride. Many people are preoccupied with living a very convenient life to the detriment of other people who are violated and victims of injustices, and are getting poorer and poorer. Many are living in an instant world where they have an easy, but very complicated life. The values of introspection and contrition have become interferences to success, rather than a motivation for building a closer relationship with God. This is why people are unmindful of seeking forgiveness from the people they have offended.

 

This is the problem of our time. People simply ignore it because of pride, hatred, vengeance, and sometimes, because they lack the time to do it. Very few people apologize for their offenses. If there are sinners who confess repentance, people doubt the sincerity of their remorse. As I have been emphasizing, the fruit of forgiveness is the rehabilitation of the repentant and the resolve to become a better person. The goodness resulting from the experience of forgiveness would not be possible unless forgiveness is asked and granted to somebody. How could we build a better world if people do not cooperate by being good?

 

The bigger task for us is how to convince the unrepentant to ask forgiveness. We do not need to look farther for we can start in our family, community, school and offices. In this, we can start asking ourselves when was the last time we asked for forgiveness and granted it to those who have asked for it.

  

 

B. First Reading (Sir 27:30-28:9): “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.”

 

The Sunday celebration continues to shape us in the meaning of Christian discipleship. The purifying and life-giving word of God that echoes in the liturgical assembly teaches that forgiveness is a vital element of our life in Christ and in the Church.

 

The Old Testament reading (Sir 27:30-28:9) is an exhortation to forgiveness. The writer of the Book of Sirach asserts: “If you forgive someone who has wronged you, your sins will be forgiven when you pray … You yourself are a sinner, and if you won’t forgive another person, you have no right to pray that the Lord will forgive your sins.” We are all in need of forgiveness and life is too short for grudges. Someday, we will die and our body decay. Indeed, it is wise to give up hate, anger and revenge and abide by the Lord’s commands concerning love of neighbor.

 

The following is a personal testimony of forgiving a neighbor’s injustice (cf. Joshua Sundquist in Daily Guideposts 2015, p. 373).

 

I entered high school after eight years of home schooling. I knew very few people and had just lost a leg to cancer, so I was worried about how the other students would treat me. As if to confirm my worst fears, an upperclassman deliberately tripped me as I walked down the hall on my artificial leg and then made fun of me. When I told my mom what had happened, she cried.

 

Years have passed, and a few weeks ago I got an unexpected message online. It was from the upperclassman. He tracked me down to say how guilty he has felt about that day and wanted to know if I would forgive him

 

I wasn’t sure. Would forgiving him be tantamount to condoning his actions? Wasn’t bullying wrong? I talked it over with a few friends, and the advice was split.

 

But then I remembered that God forgives and loves me despite much greater shortcomings than those displayed by that bully. So it was not my place to withhold forgiveness. It was not my job to evaluate the merits of his apology or decide whether he deserved forgiveness. I wrote him back and told him that it was no big deal. Because really, it wasn’t. And I’m certainly not going to let a bully trip me up in my relationship with God.

   

 

C. Second Reading (Rom 14:7-9): “Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

 

In the Second Reading (Rom 14:7-9), Saint Paul reiterates our total belonging to Jesus, who died and came to life that he may be Lord of both the dead and the living. We belong to a forgiving God who is kind and compassionate. To forget that we are the Lord’s makes us unable to forgive.

 

The liturgical scholar Adrian Nocent comments: “The verses read today from the letter to the Romans show a fortuitous but real correspondence with the first reading and the Gospel. The main point that Paul is making here is that whether in life or in death we belong to the Lord, since Christ has become Lord of both the living and the dead. If we accept the Gospel, embrace the faith and receive baptism, we are accepting the lordship of Christ: we live to the Lord. But then, all of us alike are under the same lordship, and if we are all servants of one and the same Lord, why do we condemn one another? (…) Such condemnation of one another is unthinkable: we must all appear before God’s judgment seat and render an account of ourselves. In the community of the Church, then, each person must forgive the others and stop passing judgment on them.”

 

The following intense and impressive personal story illustrates the power of forgiveness (cf. Roberta Messner, “The Kindness Factor” in Guideposts, March 2011, p. 66-70). The narrator avows that forgiveness is how she shows her love for God in return for the unending love he gives her.

 

A V.A. hospital is a big place. I should know; I work in one. But that morning it wasn’t big enough. Not with my newly ex-husband and fellow nurse, Mark, roaming the halls. I’d managed to avoid him for a few weeks since our divorce had become final, but now, there he was, dressed in his scrubs, escorting a patient to the radiology room. He saw me and smiled. At least I thought it was a smile. “Just thirty-six more days until retirement!” he announced blithely. My blood ran cold. I’d almost forgotten. When we’d married 25 years ago, we’d planned to retire and travel around the world right about now. I guessed that was still Mark’s plan, but thanks to him, it couldn’t be mine anymore. No way could I afford retirement.

 

I tried to be civil. “So, still planning to do some traveling?” I asked. “Moving to Alaska”, he said. “Maybe do a little consulting, but for the most part, I’ll just fly and live the good life.” “Fly?” “Didn’t I tell you? I bought that vintage airplane I always wanted.”

 

No. He didn’t tell me. Now my blood was boiling. Even the knowledge he’d be thousands of miles away didn’t soothe me. He was going to live it up while I spent the next five years or more digging out from the financial mess he’d left me in. I stormed off before I made a scene.

 

The words from the Bible that Mark and I had pledged to each other on our wedding day came to mind: “Whither thou goest I will go; where thou lodgest, I will lodge.” How meaningless these words had been to Mark! Maybe he could on like nothing happened, but I couldn’t.

 

Since I was a teenager, I’d suffered health problems that could cause debilitating pain and other complications. Stress made it worse, and living with Mark didn’t help. At first, he’d made me laugh with his crazy brand of humor. He’d stood by me through all the doctor’s appointments and treatments. I put almost every cent I earned into paying off our house and making it beautiful. It was even featured in a few home magazines. I pictured us growing old there, together. But instead, we grew apart. Things changed. Mark’s good qualities gave way to the bad ones. He had a miserable temper, and could fly into rages over the littlest things. Bad feelings built up between us. For eight years I’d worked an extra job to get us by while he’d gone back to school for an advanced degree. Then when I mentioned that my boss urged me to consider going on disability during one of my more severe health flare-ups, Mark flew off the handle. “Wait one minute!” he yelled. “I didn’t sign up for this. You’re not going to quit your job and expect me to pick up the slack.” That was the last straw. After all I’d put up with, when I needed him the most, he turned his back. I’d never forgive him for that.

 

Mark stayed in our house while we worked out the details of the divorce. I moved to a ramshackle log cabin. I thought I could fix it up to start anew. I tried to put a good spin on things to my friends, laughing about how I called my new home The Leaning Log because everywhere I stood in it, the uneven floor made me lean. “I’m sorry, Roberta”, they’d say. “He just treated you awful.” “No”, I’d say, “we just needed to go our separate ways.”

 

What I couldn’t bear to bring up was how little I got in the divorce settlement, how the lawyers’ fees and the low sale price we’d taken on our house didn’t leave nearly enough to fix up the cabin. I wondered how Mark could afford his retirement. It wasn’t fair!

 

At a checkup, my doctor said, “Your blood pressure’s up, Roberta. Anything bothering you?” I started to say I was fine when all at once it came out, all the anger I’d been storing up. I told him how Mark had left me with almost nothing in the divorce, how I still had to see him at work, how it seemed he was rubbing my face with his quips about retirement, doing all the stuff we’d dreamed about.

 

Dr. Brownfield shook his head. “Stress can aggravate your condition. You know that… Take care of yourself. Eat right. Get rest. You’ve got to find a way to let this go.”

 

Let it go? How? I knew the doctor was right. But I wasn’t done being angry. For a solid week afterward, I couldn’t sleep. I felt myself getting more and more sick. By the weekend, I didn’t know if I’d have the energy to go in to work the following Monday. I collapsed on my bed. I did the only thing I knew to do. I prayed. Not for the first time, of course, not by a long shot. But with a desperation I’d never experienced. “Lord, I know I need to let go of this”, I cried out. “But how? Even when he’s gone, every day at work will just remind me I have no one and he’s out having the time of his life.” I knew what God’s answer was. Forgive Mark. Focus on the future, not the past. But I simply didn’t know how to forgive Mark. I tried. I couldn’t.

 

The next day at work, I could barely function. “You okay?” asked Sandy, one of the other nurses. She’d recently lost her husband. If she was asking me if I was okay, I must have looked in really bad shape. “I’m fine”, I insisted.

 

Sandy sat down with one of our long-term patients, Mr. Lansing. He’d once told me how seeing her was the best part of his day. I’d meant to tell Sandy that but had let it slip my mind. At my desk I spied a box of pansy-patterned cards a student I’d once mentored had given me. An inspiration struck. I pulled one out and wrote, “Dear Sandy, you make the biggest difference in your patients’ lives. I see it everyday. Especially this afternoon with Mr. Lansing. He told me that he watches the clock for 8:00 A.M. when your shift begins. Thank you for caring so much about our veteran patients.”

 

I gave Sandy the card. “You don’t know how much this means”, she said, grasping my hands tight. Seeing her smile meant a lot to me. Being thankful for a person and letting her know felt so much better than being resentful.

 

I decided to write “Caught in the Act of Caring” notes whenever I saw someone doing a good job or when someone brightened my day. Every time I wrote a note, it seemed my eyes were opened to new people I could give a kind word to. People I’d overlooked because I was so focused on my misery. Giving kindness was like an antidote to the poison of my resentment toward Mark. I felt energized when I came home. Enough to work on my garden at the Leaning Log, which was looking nicer everyday. I potted some red geraniums and gave them out to co-workers. The day Mark left the hospital for good, I barely took note. He’s moving on with his life. I’m moving on with mine.

 

“Has your diet changed?” Dr. Brownfield asked at my next appointment. My blood pressure had dropped 20 points. “No, just my attitude”, I said.

 

One night, home at the Leaning Log, sorting through some boxes, I came across an old anniversary card from Mark. Slowly, I opened it up. It was sweet, funny – the Mark I’d fallen in love with. At least those moments I’d always be thankful for.

 

Thankful for Mark? A few weeks ago, I probably would have ripped up the card. But I wasn’t in the same place anymore. All my caring notes had moved me to a different place. A place of forgiveness and letting go. I didn’t want resentment to rule my life anymore. “Lord”, I said, “wherever Mark is right now, I forgive him. Forgiveness is how I show my love for you in return for the unending love you give me.” It was strange, but the last bit of weight that seemed to sit on my shoulders lifted away.

 

I’ve heard from friends that Mark’s doing well in Alaska. He’s enjoying life. And it doesn’t make me unhappy. Anger and resentment did. Mark can’t hurt me anymore. As soon as I stopped counting my grievances, I could see my blessings. I could let go of the pain and embrace the future. My log cabin is paid in full and renovations are progressing well. My health is stable. I love my job more than ever, and my life too, free of the past.

 

 

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

 

1. Do we realize that wrath and anger are hateful things and counterproductive? Do we endeavor to forgive our neighbor’s injustice that we may fully embrace God’s forgiveness?

 

2. How does the “seventy times seven” duty of forgiveness impinge on us personally? Are we willing to imitate the frequency, intensity and quality of Christian forgiveness?

 

3. Do we belong totally to the compassionate Lord who forgives all our sins? Do we endeavor to communicate his forgiving love to those who have wronged us?

 

 

 

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

 

Almighty God and Father,

you are gracious and kind.

How loving and forgiving are you!

Do not allow anger and wrath to grip our hearts.

Let not resentment and vengeance

impel us to death and destruction.

Grant us your forgiveness

for we are truly sorry of our sins.

Heal the wounds caused by sins and violence.

Help us to embrace

the “seventy times seven” duty of forgiveness given by Jesus.

Teach us to gaze upon your beloved Son

whose sacrificial love enabled him

to suffer passion and death on the cross.

He came to life

and is glorified as Lord of both the dead and living.

We belong to him.

As recipients of his saving love,

we too are instruments of his forgiveness

in a fragmented world that needs your healing love.

Let peace reign in us and give us the courage to be always forgiving.

We adore you and praise you;

we love you and serve 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 say to you, forgive not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Mt 18:22)

 

 

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

 

Pray for forgiveness and for the grace of forgiveness. Make an effort to forgive from the heart one who has wronged you. That we may fully embrace forgiveness and obtain from God the grace to forgive, make an effort to spend some quiet moments of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

 

 

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September 14, 2020: MONDAY – THE EXALTATION 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, 2020: TUESDAY – OUR LADY OF SORROWS

“JESUS SAVIOR: His Mother Shared in His Sorrowful Passion … We Are Parts of His Body””

 

BIBLE READINGS

1 Cor 12:12-14, 27-31a // Jn 19:25-27 or Lk 2:33-35

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 19:25-27 or Lk 2:33-35): “Behold, your son. Behold, your mother”

 

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 (1 Cor 12:12-14, 27-31a): “Now you are Christ’s Body and individually parts of it.”

 

In the first reading (1 Cor 12:12-14, 27-31a), Paul continues to deal with issues that challenge the early Christian community in Corinth. Writing to the contentious Corinthians in 70 A.D., Paul asserts that in one Spirit we are all baptized into one body and given to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, we are the body of Christ and individually parts of it. Christ is one, just as the human body is one, in spite of the diversity and number of its members. By the sacrament of baptism we are incorporated into the risen, glorified body of Christ. The Church, the assembly of Christian believers, is the manifestation and extension of the Lord’s body in this world. The Church is the body of Christ – head and members. We are all significant and important members of this “mystical body” because we all share in the life of the Risen Lord, our head.

 

In a similar but funny vein, the following story of the carpenter’s tools illustrates that there is a diversity and unity of service in the Lord Jesus.

 

A carpenter’s tools were having a conference. Brother Hammer was presiding but others informed him that he’d have to leave because he was too noisy. “All right”, he said. “I’ll go, but Brother Plane must withdraw too. There’s no depth in his work. It’s always on the surface.” Brother Plane responded, “Well, Brother Ruler will also have to go. He’s constantly measuring people as if he were the only one who’s right and straight.” Brother Ruler complained about Brother Sandpaper, saying, “He’s rougher than he ought to be. He’s always rubbing people the wrong way.”

 

In the midst of the discussion the Carpenter of Nazareth walked in. He went to the workbench to make an ambo from which to proclaim the Word and preach the Gospel. He used the hammer, the plane, the ruler, and the sandpaper. After the ambo was finished, the carpenter’s tools cried out with greater wisdom: “We see now that all of us are instruments together with God. We are all instruments for the proclamation of his saving Word.”

 

 

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 cherish the various charisms or gifts of the Holy Spirit in the Church? Are we grateful for the body of Christ with its inherent “unity in diversity”? How does the reality of being “all baptized into one body” affect us personally? What do we do to promote Christian unity in today’s world?

  

 

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,

we believe that we are the body of Christ

and individually parts of it.

In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.

Whatever our racial, cultural, economic differences,

we belong to Christ our head

for we were all given to drink of his Spirit.

Help us to overcome

the scandals of division within the mystical body.

Through the power of his Spirit,

make us a sacrament of unity in today’s 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.

 

“Standing by the cross of Jesus was his mother …” (Jn 19:25) //“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (1 Cor 12:13a)

 

 

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. // Offer special prayers and sacrifices for Christian unity.

*** *** ***

 

September 16, 2020: WEDNESDAY – SAINTS CORNELIUS, Pope, AND CYPRIAN, Bishop, Martyrs

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Does Not Square Up to Their Expectations … He Is Love Incarnate”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

I Cor 12:31-13:13 // Lk 7:31-35

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 7:31-35): “We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.”

 

This happened in Rome many years ago. It was summer and the weather was sultry. Instead of using a black habit (that is, the Sister’s dress), I wore white for hygienic reasons. Several Sisters commented that I look better in black. A few days later, I changed again to a black habit for a practical purpose - because I was making a long trip from Rome to northern Italy by train and a black dress is less messy. Some Sisters remarked that I look better in white. I was chagrined! I could not please them either in black or in white.

 

In today’s Gospel (Lk 7:31-35), Jesus is likewise chagrined by the whims and capriciousness of the people of his generation. They are like children playing in the marketplace who call to one another: “We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge for you and you did not weep.” The spoiled brats are not happy because their expectations are not met. Similarly, the religious leaders of Israel are difficult to satisfy. Neither John nor Jesus has squared up to their standards and expectations. They find fault with John because he is too ascetic. They are unhappy with Jesus because he is lax and gluttonous. They are indecisive. Their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah reveals their stubbornness and foolishness. They lack wisdom of heart and have negated God’s plan and his gift of salvation through his Son Jesus Christ.

    

 

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

 

The first reading (I Cor 12:31-13:13) is one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible. Paul’s “Hymn to Love” delineates the life-giving qualities of “love” that ought to animate the Christian community in their baptismal consecration and prophetic mission. God’s gift of love enables the believers to endure all things. Love is the ultimate gift – the one that lasts and surpasses all. Love is what characterizes a person and community worthy of being called “Christian”.

 

The biblical scholar, Mary Ann Getty, comments on today’s Pauline reading: “In understanding this very famous passage, we need to bear in mind Paul’s description of charity as the gift of the community. It is the more excellent way, the way for all. The love of God, Paul says, has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Rom 5:5). Any gift without love is really nothing (…) The characteristics of love are the opposite of the self-seeking, competitive characteristics of knowledge. The Corinthians’ hierarchy of values fostered factiousness. But this is opposed to Christian community. Unlike the strong who anathematize the weak, love is patient. Unlike the weak who condemn the strong, love is kind. The enlightened or celibate may put on airs or expect certain honors, but this is not the way of love. The poor, the outcast, or the neglected may brood over their injuries, but love will teach them to forgive and hope without condition. It cannot be love that prompts the Corinthians to rejoice over wrong, as in the case of the incestuous man (see 5:1-13) (…) Love does not run out. Prophecies, tongues, knowledge have limits, but love does not (…) The perfect eliminates the imperfect, which it fulfills. Love perfects knowledge, which is imperfect. The Corinthians strive for knowledge, but Paul tells them that this is symptomatic of their immaturity. Even the clearest knowledge is like a shadow compared to love, which sees face to face. The Corinthians reason like children. As they grow in Christian wisdom, they will learn to put aside childish ways and pursue love as the greatest wisdom. They despise what they do not love, but when they become mature, they will see that only love lasts. Of the three realities which endure, the greatest is love.”

 

I read with great interest the following article on the ministry of a Catholic sister and physician – Mary Christine Reyelt – for hers was a life truly given. The life-giving qualities of love celebrated by Saint Paul in his “Hymn to Love” seemed to take flesh in her (cf. Patricia Talone, “A Life Freely Given” in America, October 5, 2009, p. 22-23, 26). In Mary Christine Reyelt we see a love that endures all things – a love that blossomed in fullness.

 

Mary Christine Reyelt died on June 1, 2008 because she was fully committed to her beliefs. A Sister of Charity of Saint Elizabeth (Convent Station, N.J.), she graduated from Georgetown Medical School and completed a residency at Bellevue/Veterans’ Administration, specializing in infectious diseases just as AIDS, a terrifying and then-unnamed disease, was being reported by physicians on both coasts. Once I asked her why she chose this specialty. She fixed me with her direct gaze, looking at me as if I had asked a really strange question: “Because the poor are disproportionately affected by infectious disease”, she said. “That is where a Sister of Charity should be.” That was her primary motivation, her passion.

 

As a scientist and scholar, Reyelt approached each person living with H.I.V. as a fellow human traveler; she also welcomed the intellectual and scientific challenge to understand, address and beat this devastating disease. She brought her considerable spiritual, social and scientific skills to bear upon the medical reality of each patient she met.

 

In the early 1990s Reyelt’s fear was realized when she received a needle stick while treating a patient, an IV-drug user. Although she followed all the medically prescribed precautions, Reyelt ultimately became so sick with hepatitis that her liver function failed. Facing certain death without a new liver and convinced that her work for the sick and dying was not finished, Reyelt underwent a transplant. The transplantation process was not smooth, and Reyelt faced disheartening challenges. Yet she was back at her practice as soon as she was able. She never missed a Catholic AIDS Network Meeting. Over the years the AIDS network met in many American cities, always on a shoe-string budget, sometimes in less than desirable venues. Never did I hear her complain of the medication she had to take or the edema she frequently experienced. She joked about “moving slowly”, especially in the morning. But that did not stop her from attending every international AIDS conference over a 20-year period. She traveled to
Russia, Thailand and Africa to seek the best combinations of medicine to treat her patients. She took pride in the fact that some of her poorest patients lived with the disease for many years. And she thrilled in the knowledge that her female patients gave birth to healthy babies and were able to provide for their beloved children.

 

Caring for poor persons living with H.I.V. and ministering to patients who ultimately die of AIDS is a heavy burden for any doctor. Yet Reyelt never seemed overwhelmed or depressed. She was sustained by a deep faith in the Gospel message and a new sense of humor that gave her a light grasp on life. She did not take herself too seriously, nor was she impressed with pedantic pomposity in other professionals. Reyelt’s eyes would often dance with glee as she silently made note of some humorous remark or a situation ripe with irony. Careful not to give offense, she would hold her wry remarks for a private moment, allowing herself to indulge in mirth and embraced the whole human family.

 

While Reyelt was a physician par excellence, she was first and foremost a Sister of Charity. Her mother got it right when she would introduce her only child, saying, “I’d like you to meet my daughter, Sister Christine, Doctor Reyelt.” Reyelt’s loving religious community gave her the support to work in often trying circumstances. Her sisters provided the grounding, balance and impetus she needed to meet daily challenges. She relished her time apart with them – times of retreat and celebration.

 

Reyelt’s transplanted liver, the gift of a generous, anonymous donor, served her well for 14 years. It permitted her to treat countless patients, to rack up thousands of frequent-flyer miles, to pray and laugh and to be present to her fellow religious. In February 2008, we met for the last time. Reyelt had a troubling, persistent cough. As a physician she knew that her immune system was severely compromised and that a common cold could lead to systemic illness. Ultimately, infection was the immediate cause of her death, yet her life was not taken from her because of a needle stick. Rather, she gave it fully and freely because of her commitment to Jesus and to the poor and the sick he inspired her to love.

 

On a misty June afternoon, Christine Reyelt’s worlds – medicine, the state and national boards on which she served, and her religious community – came together in the chapel at Convent Station. Her sisters came to celebrate and thank God for her vocation and dedication; for her prayerfulness, playfulness and humor; and for the way she lived out St. Vincent de Paul’s instruction that “you are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good humored”. Most touching to see was the steady stream of persons, many living with AIDS, and others, family members of those who had died of the disease, who processed up the center aisle, one by one, to offer their thanks for this extraordinary woman.

 

Not all of us are called to be martyrs, but each one of us is called to give our lives for others. Christine Reyelt was a model of such selfless love, a physician, and a devoted servant of God who lay down her life, not with pomp and circumstance, but with grace, humility and humor.

 

 

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

 

1. How do we respond to God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ? Are we indecisive and obstinate, or are we open and receptive to divine grace?

 

2. Do we try to delve into the meaning of Paul’s “Hymn of Love”? Do we endeavor to respond fully to the sacrificial love of Christ and embrace that excelling love – the love that endures?

 

 

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

 

Loving Jesus,

you are the Father’s gift of salvation.

But we are full of whims and caprices

like the spoiled brats in the marketplace.

We refuse to let you enter into our lives.

Forgive us, Lord Jesus,

for we are foolish and stubborn.

Grant us wisdom of heart

so that we may receive divine grace.

Let us welcome you as our saving Lord,

now and forever. Amen. 

 

***

Loving Father, 

we thank you for your love

fully revealed in your Son’s self-giving on the cross.

Help us to embrace that excelling love,

the love that endures.

May our love never fail.

May we remain in your love

and in the love of Christ and the Holy Spirit,

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.

 

“To what shall I compare the people of this generation?” (Lk 7:31) //“So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Cor 13:13)

 

 

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

 

Today follow through with your decision to imitate the goodness and kindness of Christ to others, especially the needy and the unfortunate. // Spend some quiet time savoring the beauty and wisdom of Paul’s “Hymn of Love”.  By your acts of kindness and charity to those in need, let the people of today’s world experience the reality of a love that endures.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

September 17, 2020: THURSDAY – WEEKDAY (24); SAINT ROBERT BELLARMINE, Bishop, Doctor of the Church

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Forgives Our Sins … He Transforms Us by His Grace”

 

BIBLE READINGS

1 Cor 15:1-11 // Lk 7:36-50

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 7:36-50): “Her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love.”

 

When I was old enough to understand, my mother told me this beautiful story of forgiveness. I was about two years old and the youngest in a brood of three when my father became sick with tuberculosis. Three-fourths of his lungs were gone and my mom had to take care of him full time. My mom felt she could not afford to have another baby, and when she conceived, she tried to abort the pregnancy by taking contraceptive pills. One night she had a nightmare. She dreamed that two children were pursuing her with long stemmed, deadly sickles in their hands. My mom woke up trembling and sweating. The following morning she went to church and confessed to a priest. The priest, however, protracted the sacramental absolution. He advised her to do all what she could to make the baby live. My mother went directly to her friend, a nurse practitioner and asked for help. The nurse gave her vitamins and medications to promote the pregnancy. She also gently chided my mother for her lack of faith in Divine Providence. The baby in my mother’s womb survived and was brought forth.  A strong, healthy and handsome boy, and very fair! He would grow up and become a dentist. My mother was forgiven. She was blessed with other children. My father was healed and would live serenely and fruitfully for 82 years.

 

Today’s Gospel reading (Lk 7:36-50) helps us to see the intimate relationship between forgiveness and the gift of love. The sinful woman, who bathes Jesus’ feet with tears of repentance, dries them with her hair, kisses them with devotion, and anoints them with precious ointment, expresses her profound love for Jesus, who is the font of forgiveness. She is overwhelmed with love for the one who forgives – for the one who understands – for the merciful Love in person. The divine forgiveness is always present – we just have to welcome it, respond to it and own it – for Jesus is always present to us. The loving and tender actions of the woman prove that her many sins are forgiven. Because she has embraced Jesus - God’s forgiving love made incarnate - her many sins are forgiven. Indeed, loving deeds and works of charity are indicators that we have really opened ourselves up to the divine gift of forgiveness.

 

 

B. First Reading (1 Cor 15:1-11): “So we preach and so you believed.”

 

Graziano Marcheschi comments on today’s first reading (1 Cor 15:1-11): “The Corinthians have lost the initial fervor with which they have responded to the Gospel. Paul seeks to abate this erosion of commitment and to fortify the faith of his readers. He begins with the essentials, affirming Christ’s saving death (for our sins) and his resurrection. This is the indispensable ground of faith. Lose that and you’ve lost everything, because if Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith is in vain. Next he stresses the post-resurrection appearances that irrefutably confirm the resurrection.”

 

By the grace of God, Paul becomes what God intended him to be – totally conformed to Christ. Through divine encounter, Paul becomes a zealous, faithful apostle and preacher of the Good News to the nations. Animated by the power of God, Paul preaches and the people believe. God’s favor at work in Saint Paul makes his apostolic ministry to the Gentiles fruitful. People from many nations and cultures are brought to the love of God, enabling them to participate in the passion, death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. Paul’s intense religious experience and his unconditional response to the grace of God make him a true and efficacious apostle.

 

The following testimony of Barbara Kouba, an assistive technologist at California State University San Bernardino, is awe-some (cf. “I Love You For Hating Me” in America, August 17-24, 2009, p. 26-28). At age 17, Barbara became ill with a rare blood disease, a distant cousin of hemophilia, which spawned bursting blood vessels and left her with painful and energy-zapping bruises from her forehead to her big toe.

 

At first I managed to accept my own illness. But when I witnessed the senseless suffering and death of the hospital ward’s young patients, I sank. All patients under age 20 were put on the same ward, and terminal cases were the norm. In colorless rooms, I saw listless infants with immense needles sticking out of their tiny limbs and necks. Some babies’ heads were the size of a light bulb; others were the size of a basketball. Hollow-eyed children had incurable cancers, birth defects or life-threatening injuries inflicted by abusers. Life-support machines pumped oxygen and fluids through a maze of tubes, yet many of the youngsters became shrunken wraiths. Normal child noises were replaced with mechanical ones. These gray-skinned little people were too ill and too drugged to talk, laugh or cry.

 

There were no Hail Marys, Our Fathers or Acts of Contrition for this. My rock-hard faith in God shattered into sand. What kind of God would allow innocents to suffer so much? Where was the just and loving God I personally knew and believed in all my life? A sense of betrayal, anger and rage consumed me like an out-of-control wildfire. My final prayer of 1971 summed it up: “I will not love you, God. You’re a monstrous sadist.” (…)

 

My hematologist consulted a psychiatrist. After one brief outpatient session, I was deemed depressed enough to spend the next few months in a psych ward. I went through a revolving door of psychiatric hospitalizations over the next several years, but each trip found me more deeply depressed. (…) One desperate evening, I asked a hospital staff member to lock me inside the Quiet Room – a tiny padded cell in the psychiatric unit. The room’s thick padding provided me with a cocoon-like safety zone. Huddled in a corner, my knees close to my chest, I was alone except for a vigilant orderly, who made his rounds every 15 minutes. Lights behind the small observation window illuminated his concerned face.

 

I was a ball of twisted pathology when an unexpected visitor flung open my spirit’s bolted door, refusing to be ignored or rejected another moment. “I love you. I am proud of you.” The simple message was not delivered by the hospital orderly; nor was there a voice, a psychic sign or a Cecil B. DeMille production. But the communication encompassed my total being. It was God. The modus operandi was easily recognizable. After a long pause, my nonverbal response was as subtle as a sledge hammer: “I hate you.” Without pause, God replied, “I love you for hating me.” I was incredulous. “It is understandable.” “What’s understandable?” “That you blame me for all the suffering you witnessed.” “Only a monster would let innocent children suffer. I can’t believe in a cruel, sadistic monster.” “That is why I love you.” My battered brain ached. My Irish temper seethed. I needed clarification. “You agree that you’re a monster?” “I love you and am proud you would never believe in anyone you think could be cruel or sadistic. I want your suffering to end.” “Why me? Why not the others?” “Why not you?” “But so many die? “Life is a series of dyings and risings. People accept this in nature, but sometimes fear death on a personal level.” How quickly God got me to the core of things. “I don’t fear death. I want death.” “It is not your time. I decide when it is time for souls to move on.” “Life has no purpose.” “It is when there is no purpose that you must find a new one.”

 

My mind turned into a mental video camera stuck on play. No pause or stop button. Sick baby scenes replayed with endless looping. It felt as if an icy hand gripped my heart. My breathing became labored. I cried helpless tears. I heaved with years of bottled-up anguish. “Like it or not, the past is an essential part of your life. But you must find life’s goodness again.” “How God?” “By looking within.” “No, I’m hollow inside. I did nothing to help those kids.” It was the first time I had revealed my failures and limitations to myself. “Once you find your goodness, you can use it to help others.” “How? How will I ever find it?” “I will help, but only if you open the door and accept me. You have free will, so it is your choice.” God’s reaction was gentle but firm. “But I’m still angry.” “Anger can be a positive emotion when it’s transformed to do good.” “If you’re God, why not give me an instant miracle?” I reasoned. “Miracles abound. But you must stop self-destructing. Trust me. Then every day for the rest of your life you will find a gift from me to you.” Ever so timidly I opened my heart, mind and soul. Unconditional love, comfort and peace surrounded me from the inside out and the outside in. Before I fell into a restorative sleep, God repeated the original message. “I love you. I am proud of you.”

 

I refused to share this transformative experience with the atheist psychiatrist, yet even he noticed a definitive change. Within a week, I was discharged from the hospital; within months, I stopped all prescription drugs and turned completely to God, the Master Healer (…) I enlisted and served four years as a U.S. Army chaplain’s assistant, where I developed professional faith-based counseling and therapy techniques to serve fellow soldiers better. Then I earned a master’s degree in instructional technology and embarked on a new career as an assistive technology instructor and practitioner (…) Today 36 years worth of cumulative gifts are evidence of God’s love that resonates through me. The most extraordinary of God’s gifts emerge from ordinary relationships. Topping my list is my husband, David, a gentle and caring man who in 19 years of marriage had loved and accepted me in a way no one else has. What about my anger? It’s still there. But rather than self-destructing, I channel my emotions constructively into organizations like Special Olympics, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Catholic Charities.

 

A byproduct of healing is maturity. God is no longer my scapegoat for life’s problems; instead, I find answers revealed through prayer, acceptance and interactions with others. Accepting death, especially a child’s death, is still a challenge, but I better understand the process of dying and rising as exemplified by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

 

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

 

1. What insights can we derive from the “sinful woman” who had greatly loved Jesus, the forgiving Love made flesh? Do we endeavor to approach Jesus, wash his feet with tears of repentance and anoint them with the balm of love and spirit of contrition? Do we allow Jesus’ merciful love to transform us?

 

2. Like Saint Paul, do we allow the grace of God to heal us and transform us? Are we willing to participate fully in the paschal mystery of Christ’s death and rising? Are we ready to give a limpid witness to our faith?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

you forgave the sinful woman

who washed your feet with tears of repentance

and anointed them with the balm of love.

Listen to our prayers:

forgive our sins,

renew our hearts by your love,

help us to live in unity as your disciples

that we may proclaim to all your saving power.

You incarnate God’s loving mercy

and you live now and forever.

Amen.

 

***

Loving Father,

we have experienced your love

in your faithful Servant-Son Jesus Christ.

He died for us and, raised from the dead, he was glorified.

The grace of our Risen Lord enfolds us.

Let us become persons totally “christified”

and fully committed to your service 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.

 

“Her many sins have been forgiven” (Lk 7:47) //“God’s grace to me has not been ineffective.” (I Cor 15:10a)

  

 

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

 

Pray that God’s merciful love may be experienced by those who have sinned against him and that they may open themselves up to his gift of forgiveness. // Spend quality time delving into the personal meaning of the Gospel in your life. Sustained by the grace of God, endeavor to share the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection with people whose faith has been shattered and enfeebled by adverse circumstances and difficult trials.

 

*** *** ***

 

September 18, 2020: FRIDAY – WEEKDAY (24)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is Accompanied By Ministering Women … He Is Our Resurrection”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

1 Cor 15:12-20 // Lk 8:1-3

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 8:1-3): “Accompanying them were some women who provided for them out of their resources.”

 

Today’s Gospel reading (Lk 8:1-3) is a beautiful image of ministering women. While Jesus travels through towns and villages preaching the Good News about the Kingdom of God, he is accompanied not only by the “Twelve” apostles but also by women who responded to Jesus out of gratitude for the blessings received from him. These remarkable women use their own resources to help Jesus and his disciples. Jesus imparts a new dignity and role to women, involving them in his public ministry. The “ministering women” of the Gospel are a figure of the wonderful array of women who fulfill vital ministries in the Church through the ages. The backbones in most missionary movements are women and they continue to play prominent and indispensable roles in successful Christian spiritual-apostolic endeavors.

 

The ministering women in Jesus’ public ministry are intimate participants in the paschal mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. When Jesus dies on the cross, the women who have followed him from Galilee are present, standing and witnessing the event at a distance. They prepare the spices and perfume for Jesus’ burial and witness how Jesus’ body is placed in the tomb. Above all, they are the first witnesses and messengers of the resurrection. Filled with the Holy Spirit, the Risen Lord’s Easter gift, women continue, through time and space, to proclaim zealously the joy of the Gospel.

 

The following account in the life of Blessed James Alberione, Founder of the Pauline Family, is an example of how women cooperate in the spread of the Gospel and in the priestly zeal (cf. Luigi Rolfo, James Alberione: Apostle for Our Times, trans. Salvatore Paglieri, New York: Alba House, 1987, p. 113-114)

 

A Great Benefactress: In those days, he came to know a truly precious cooperator to whom he felt duty bound to pay a debt of gratitude … He met her under circumstances of which we have news through the testimony of one of the very first Paulines.

 

The government had requisitioned a wing of the diocesan seminary for military use. The wing had been left vacant since many clerics had been called into military service. Among the soldiers lodged at the seminary where Father Alberione maintained a bedroom – since he still did not have one at his own house – there was a young, pale official of distinguished and aristocratic mien who one day revealed to the young priest the discomfort it caused him to have to sleep in the middle of such slovenly and poorly educated soldiers. Father Alberione felt obliged to perform an act of Christian and priestly generosity: he let the young official have his room and bed and resigned himself to sleeping on a couch in the refectory or in the hallway of his house.

 

The mother of the official, a Mrs. Amalia Cavazza-Vitali, occupant of the castle of Barbaresco, informed about what had happened, wanted to meet the priest who had been so generous towards her son; and, in finding out that he didn’t have a mattress, hurried to acquire one better than the one he had given up to her son and donate it to him. Father Alberione thanked her, but immediately passed the mattress on to one of his boys who had none. The lady bought a second one which went yet to another boy. Then, like any mother, she acquired a third and brought it to Father Alberione. She consigned it to him stating very clearly: “Remember I’m not giving this to you but only lending it and I intend to be able to come back and get it at any moment. For that reason, you can use it only. Do I make myself understood?” And so, whether he liked it or not, the priest had to accept these conditions, keep the mattress for himself and use it.

 

The mattresses were just a small part of the many gifts which Mrs. Cavazza, now an enthusiastic cooperator in the works of Father Alberione, gave to the House up to 1922 when the Lord called her to Himself. When she came to know that Father Alberione wanted to have a little chapel in the house, she gave him a beautiful chalice, which was used for the first time on June 29, 1918. Twice a week a cart left Barbaresco carrying to Alba the famous “Barbaresco” wine, coffee, meat, home-made bread, fruit, medicine, etc. – all things destined for Father Alberione but which, because of his disposition, were regularly passed on to his boys.

 

The lady wanted to do more and to give not only things but her time as well: she helped in editing The Gazette of Alba; she offered two manuscripts of her own, “The Duties of Daughters” and “Duties of Wives and Mothers”; and she assisted every time she could in reading and correcting the proofs.

 

 

B. First Reading (1 Cor 15:12-20): “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain.”

 

In today’s first reading (1 Cor 15:12-20), Saint Paul asserts that those who believe in the resurrection of Christ are blessed. Pitiable instead are those who deny the resurrection of the dead for they ultimately negate the Lord’s resurrection and our very own redemption. The biblical scholar, Harold Buetow, comments: “Our true existence is beyond both space and time. The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee of our own resurrection and is what puts sense into choosing Christ’s way. The fact that Jesus rose from the dead proves that truth is stronger than fiction, that love is stronger than hatred, that good is stronger than evil and that life is stronger than death. Paul calls Jesus’ resurrection from the dead the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (v. 20). Every Jew in Paul’s audience would understand that the first fruits referred to that part of the harvest which was the first and the best to ripen, a sign of the harvest to come. Jesus’ resurrection, too, was a sign of the harvest of resurrection of all believers to come. The resurrection is so fundamental to Christian belief that it, along with the cross, stands at the center of our teaching.”

 

Faith in the Risen Lord Jesus and belief in the resurrection of the dead go hand in hand. Trust in God enables us to feel tremendous comfort in the death of our loved ones. The loving God fills the weeping hearts of bereaved family members and friends with the beatitude of consolation. The following text, used by the Grief Ministry Team at St. Christopher Parish in San Jose (CA-USA), is insightful and strengthens the hope of the bereaved in the resurrection.

 

To My Dearest Family

 

Some things I’d like to say, but first of all to let you know that I arrived okay. I’m writing this from heaven where I dwell with God above where there are no more tears or sadness. There is just eternal love. Please do not be unhappy just because I’m out of sight. Remember that I’m with you every morning, noon and night. That day I had to leave you when my life on earth was through, God picked me up and hugged me and he said, “I welcome you. It’s good to have you back again. You were missed while you were gone. As for your dearest family, they’ll be here later on.” When you are walking down the street and have me on your mind, I’m walking in your footsteps only half a step behind. When you feel that gentle breeze or the wind upon your face, it is me giving you a great big hug or just a soft embrace. And when it’s time for you to go from that body to be free, remember you’re not going alone. You are coming here to me. And I will always love you from that land way up above. We’ll be in touch again soon.

 

P.S. God sends his love.

 

  

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

 

1. Am I sensitive to the needs of the Gospel workers? Do I promote and collaborate in their ministry? How?

 

2. Do we truly believe that Christ has been raised from the dead, “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep”? Are we grace-filled on account of our faith in the blessed resurrection?

 

 

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

 

Loving Father,

your Son Jesus became poor

and allowed the ministering women

to provide for his needs.

Like the holy women who joined Jesus in his public ministry,

may we collaborate intimately in his saving ministry.

Jesus is our life and resurrection.

Let us die to self and share fully in his blessed resurrection.

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.

 

“They provided for them out of their resources.” (Lk 8:3) // “But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 15:20)

 

 

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

 

Endeavor to help the needy priests in any way you can. When you participate in a Funeral Mass, let it be an expression of your faith in Christ’s own resurrection and our own resurrection.

 

 

*** *** ***

September 19, 2020: SATURDAY – WEEKDAY (24); SAINT JANUARIUS, Bishop, Martyr; BVM ON SATURDAY

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Sows the Seed of the Living Word … He Sows the Seed of Eternal Life”

 

BIBLE READINGS

1 Cor 15:35-37, 42-49 // Lk 8:4-15

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 8:4-15): “As for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who embrace the word and bear much fruit through perseverance.”

(Gospel Reflection by Dr. Eleanor Ronquillo, Member: ASSOCIATION OF PAULINE COOPERATORS – Friends of the Divine Master, Antipolo Unit, Philippines)

 

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.

   

 

B. First Reading (1 Cor 15:35-37, 42-49): “It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible.”

 

Today’s First Reading (1 Cor 15:35-37, 42-49) reminds me of an eventful incident in our family. It seemed just a simple science project for the first graders in a Canadian parochial school, but it was more than that. The teacher was preparing my six-year old niece for the imminent death of her dad, a terminally ill cancer patient. Little Nicole planted some seeds in a plastic cup filled with soil. She brought the sprouting plant to her dad who was confined at the Palliative Care section of Brampton Hospital in Toronto. She placed it on the window sill for him to look at. Her dad passed away two days later. Nicole’s sprouting plant was suggestive of new life and the resurrection of the body.  The seeds that died were “seeds of life”.

 

The skeptics among the Corinthians challenge the idea that there is a resurrection. They contend: “How can the dead be raised to life? What kind of body will they have?”  Paul uses the image of a seed to explain what resurrection is and what the resurrected body is like. The death of a seed is the condition for its passage to a higher and richer life. The naked kernel that is sown becomes a full-bodied plant. The image of the seed that dies and grows allows Paul to make the point that it is the same body though radically changed. At the “resurrection of the dead”, what is sown corruptible is raised incorruptible.

 

As God gives each seed its own proper body, so he can provide the resurrected man with a body suited to his glorious existence. The model of this “spiritual body” is the risen body of Christ, the “heavenly man”. Just as the first Adam is the model of natural life, so is the Risen Christ, the new Adam, the model of “spiritual” life. The new head of humanity, Jesus Christ, by his resurrection becomes a life-giving Spirit, the font of eternal life.

 

The following story gives insight into the mystery of resurrection and the reality of transformed and glorified existence (cf. Edward Grinnan, “Editor’s Note” in Mysterious Ways: Free Mini-Sampler, published by Guideposts, p. 3-4).

 

The morning my mother died I was climbing up a mountain near Tucson, where I was teaching a Guideposts Writers Workshop. The April air was cold enough to form clouds from my breathing. As the sun reared above the horizon I could smell spring grasses. It would be hot soon.

 

I’d spent the last 10 days with Mom back in Michigan. Now my brother and sister had returned to resume the vigil. She’d fought for a long time, but Alzheimer’s was winning.

 

I reached the top of the mountain, panting furiously, and lay on my back staring at the sky. A pair of hawks looped above me and the sky grew bluer. Then I felt something altogether amazing – an incredible lightness, as if I were being lifted without leaving the ground. There was soft whoosh and then it was over, leaving me with a peace seeming to go as deep into me as anything ever could.

 

An hour later I was back in my lodgings. There was a message for me at the desk from my brother. Mom had died. I looked at the time of death my brother had noted, looked at my watch, accounted for the time difference. Mom had died exactly at the moment I was on the mountaintop, as if passing through me on her way to heaven. I was certain of it as I was of my own birth.

 

 

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

 

1. With eagerness and humility, do we endeavor to be the rich, welcoming soil that will make the seed of the Kingdom grow and bear abundant fruit to be shared with those who long for the blessings of God? When we are not receptive to grace, what do we do to surmount this spiritual resistance and difficulty?

 

2. How does our belief in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting impact our daily life and choices?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

let the gentle dew of your grace

fall on the parched soil of our heart

to soften it and make it fruitful.

Let the seed of your living Word grow in our heart

and yield a bountiful harvest.

We believe in the resurrection of the body.

Transform us, O Lord, into your glorious body

and make us share in the joy of eternal life.

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.

 

            “They bear fruit through perseverance.”  (Lk 8:15) // “It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible.” (1 Cor 15:42)

  

 

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. Pray for Christian disciples-apostles who broadcast the seed of the word of God in today’s field of human concerns and affairs that they may be strengthened in their endeavors. Pray for our beloved dead that they may share fully in the glory of the Lord’s resurrection.

 

***

 

 

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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