Friday, July 20, 2007

Away on Pilgrimage

I'm leaving for pilgrimage soon, so I'll be (gratefully!) off the grid for a while. If I get a chance to post, I will. Otherwise, I'll be back around the middle of August.

I'm going to Assisi, Rome, San Giovanni Rotondo, and some other places of Capuchin significance.

Pray for me and my brother pilgrims!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Good Samaritan

(15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)

Today, friends, we have St. Luke’s beautiful parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s a very rich parable and it deserves some sustained reflection. And one classic way to enter into Jesus’ parables is to imagine ourselves as one of the characters in the story, immersing ourselves in the feelings and spiritual insight of the experience. And so I’d like to try that today.

So let us imagine ourselves as the wounded man, for we are all wounded. We are bodies that are subject to decay, disease and eventually death. We are souls that are often compromised by our selfishness, shortsightedness and sin. In all of these things we experience ourselves as very limited in this world: sometimes frustrated, often anxious, sometimes depressed.

Who can save us from this wretched situation, as we lie hurt on the side of the road, often unable to move forward with our lives in every way we feel we should? Well, back to the story:

Who comes by first as we lie there half-dead? It’s the priest. But can the priest save us? No, the priest walks right by. The clergy, if we’re good, we might be able to point the way, but we can’t save anyone. Only God can do that. Who comes by next? It’s the Levite, the servant of God’s Temple. He represents the practice of religion. Can this save us? Will we be saved by our many prayers or devotions or religious practices? No, these can’t save us either, because salvation can never be earned—it is always a free and unmerited gift. The Levite walks right by us too—he can’t help our wounded situation.

But then someone comes by who has a compassion big enough to save us. It’s the Good Samaritan, an outsider, someone from somewhere else. It’s Jesus Christ, the human being who is also God, the Word of the Father made flesh. It is he who can save us, he who can tend our wounds. This is one of the deeper meanings of the parable: that the Good Samaritan is Jesus Christ himself.

So how does he save us? First he soothes our wounds with oil. This is the anointing of our baptism and our confirmation, both of which claim and mark us for Christ. He then pours wine on our wounds, disinfecting them. This is the Precious Blood of Christ that is the wine of this Eucharist—which we receive and which heals the wounds of sin and sadness in our hearts.

Then, having tended our hurts the Good Samaritan takes us to an inn where we may rest and recuperate. And this inn is the Church, brothers and sisters. Some people think the Church is a club for self-righteous saints. No—in the variously attributed quote, the Church is a “hospital for sinners.”

Thus, our wounds tended, finding ourselves in the safety of the inn, the Good Samaritan promises to tend to us again on his return journey. In the same way, as we proclaim in every Mass, “Christ will come again,” to bring us along in his journey back to the Father.

Now if we are even a little bit grateful for all this—that Jesus has come to us in our wounded state, soothed and disinfected our injuries, brought us to a place of safety and security, and promised to collect us on his way back to the Father—if we are at all grateful, there is only one appropriate response. And it’s the one Jesus himself gives after telling the parable: “go and do likewise.”

And this means that we who have been treated with such mercy and compassion by God should join in with God’s work in the world. As Jesus has been such a good neighbor to all of us, so we are called to be neighbor to all we see in need. And if we respond generously, we will join God is the great and divine work of healing, soothing, and making this world a place of safety. Let us “go and do likewise.”

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Lambs among Wolves

(14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)

We continue today, friends, on the journey we began last week. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and he sends his disciples ahead of him to proclaim the arrival of the kingdom of God. This is us, brothers and sisters! In our hearing of this gospel, we too are sent by the Lord to proclaim his kingdom to all who have ears to hear. This is our call, this is our vocation, and this is our God-given mission.

And as the Lord sends us out as the laborers for the great harvest of God’s kingdom, well, there’s good news…and there’s challenging news.

Let’s take the good news first. For one thing, this mission we have all received requires no more preparation or equipment than each of us already has. Jesus sends his disciples forth with nothing—no money, no bag. All they needed was the grace of God and the path that the Spirit of God would show them. And it’s the same with us. In order to follow the Lord we don’t need a degree, or an office, or a religious habit. All anyone needs is a little desire to be faithful to God. Nothing more. In fact, we are always sent with nothing so that we might possess God alone and depend only on him for everything we need. Rejoice then! You already have everything you need to live a life of perfect discipleship in Christ.

And God promises every good thing to those who follow him and let themselves be sent to proclaim his kingdom. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims in the first reading today, God “will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.” And this promise is ours as the heirs of all the promises God made to his people in the old covenant—as Paul says in the second reading today, we are the “Israel of God;” we who believe in Jesus as the Son of God are the New Jerusalem. And as we gather here as God’s people, as the “Israel of God” and as the New Jerusalem growing in the world, the prosperity of God’s grace flows over us in this Eucharist—the Precious Blood of Christ poured out in the new and eternal covenant.

So that’s the good news in our call to be disciples: we have all we need for the journey, and God will bless us abundantly in it. But there is also challenging news.

As Jesus himself admits in today’s gospel, sometimes people don’t want to hear our message. Sometimes we and our message of peace will not be received. And we all know this. The world around us, so driven by competition and greed, often does not want to hear the gospel. Dominated by the fear of terrorism and the crime of pre-emptive war, they don’t want to hear about the dignity of the human being. Committed to a culture of convenience and abortion, they don’t want to hear about the gospel of life that we Christians proclaim.

And we can all expect to experience difficulty, rejection, misunderstanding and all kinds of trouble as we fulfill our mission as disciples who proclaim the kingdom of God.

St. Paul was no stranger to this. In many places he catalogues the sufferings he endured for the sake of the Gospel: beatings, imprisonments, shipwrecks. And he points to what he endured in the second reading today when he says, “let no one make troubles for me, for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.”

The word translated “marks” is stigmata. And we all know about the saints who had the stigmata like St. Francis or Padre Pio. They shared in the wounds of Christ. And yet Paul points out to us today that the sufferings he endured for the sake of Gospel mark him out as belonging to Jesus Christ.

And again, it is the same with us. Every suffering, every rejection, every misunderstanding that we suffer in our effort to follow the Lord and to proclaim his kingdom—these are all way in which we share in the very sufferings of Christ. In this Eucharist we receive the Body of Christ and we become what we receive. Our sufferings become his, and his become ours. Everything difficult we go through marks us for Jesus as our stigmata, our sharing in the sufferings of Christ. When we take up our cross, the Lord makes it his own.

And we know by faith that within the cross is the path to the new life of the Resurrection—a new heaven and new earth. Let us allow ourselves to be sent on our journey toward them today.