Tag Archives: love

6TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2017

In Francis’ first homily as pope four years ago, he said, “Don’t be afraid to love. Don’t be afraid to be tender.” Can you imagine a simpler, more basic message than that? And from one of the world’s greatest leaders, whose Jesuit education alone marks him as an intellectual of high standing?

But the counsel he gave us in that short homily encourages us to believe that the power to transform our dangerously troubled world lies, not with the leaders of states and kingdoms, but with us. The world will change for the better, not by command of a president, a prince, or a parliament, but by the little acts and the little words of love and tenderness that we, the people, are capable of giving to others all day long, every day. Sounds too basic to be true, I know, but it is true. Jesus said so, Pope Francis said so.

It’s a cellular process – person to person — that Jesus himself very much believed in and practiced. I recall in that connection a funeral I presided over several years ago. It was for two sisters, Eileen and Jayne, siblings and also members of the same religious community, the Sisters of the Presentation. They had died together in a car crash. The younger one, Jayne, had sent me her written reflections on life, love, God, the Church – some of which I used at her funeral Mass. One of her ideas was that Jesus never intended to establish a new religion, a “church”, according to our understanding of the word. No, she wrote, Jesus simply started a person-to-person movement – one person influencing, touching, another with a word or a gesture of love – even a thought or a prayer. I quote from her now. She wrote —

Jesus began his mission with friendship, not only because it is powerful but also because it is hopeful. It is the key, the only key, that can unlock the door to a worthwhile future in love. Jesus saw the truth of that twenty centuries ago. Instead of organizing institutions, he started a movement based on friendship, on love. That is the only solution to the problems of the human heart. People can live together under almost any conditions if they are friends, if they are in love.

In our own time we have seen the murderous destruction that fanatical members of other religions have done, claiming that they were carrying out the will of God. But aren’t they doing what George Washington and Abraham Lincoln did — praying and then acting on the direction they feel they have been given?

No, absolutely not. Why? Because Jesus says, “Those who love me will keep my word.” Jesus situates his teachings about the Spirit in the context of love. In other words, the key — the lens — that reveals the true word of God to anyone is love. It is impossible that those whose hearts are filled with hatred and evil intentions toward others can recognize what God would have them do. Such persons are morally and spiritually blind. It is only when love is the primary driving force that anyone can discern and yield to the “will of God.” And only when love motivates can human beings enter into sincere dialog with one another and together make progress toward better life for all.

Don’t be afraid to love, Pope Francis says. Don’t be afraid to be tender.

13TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2016

Getting accustomed to looking beneath and beyond the words of bible readings to find their real meaning, what would you say is the message of the three we just heard – the first from the Hebrew bible, the next from a letter of St. Paul, and the third from the gospel, this particular excerpt from St. Luke’s version?  The word urgency came to my mind from all three: that we resolve now to remain conscious of the presence of the Spirit of God in whatever we are doing, saying or thinking.  That’s a fairly good definition of a spiritual person: not a holier-than-thou fanatic who goes around in a daze of personal devotion that makes everyone uncomfortable, but a person who views life and all its parts through the lens of the Spirit within and around him or her.

I recall in this connection that it was Pope Celestine the First who, in one of the earliest centuries of the church heard that some priests were dressing in distinctive ways to distinguish them from ordinary people.  He wrote to them and said he found this disturbing because priests should be distinguished not by what they wear but by their conversation and their love.

But, we all ask, where is God when a bloody war is raging, as is still happening today all over the globe?  Where is God in the drug-abuse scene?  Where is God when conflict tears a family apart?  Where is God on Death Row?  Where is God in AIDS or cancer?  Countless millions of persons have found reason to say, “I turned to you, Lord, but you did not answer me.”

It’s our concept, our image of God that is the problem.  God is not a person like us, however bigger and better.  God is pure spirit; God is force; God is energy, God is love.  When we deliberately align ourselves with that benign force, with that energy, that love, our own human powers are enhanced, they are magnified.

How God “answers” and when God answers are not for us to say or even to know.  Our part in the pact is to maintain unyielding faith in the goodness and the love of God.

A high school classmate of mine, at the funeral of his young daughter many years ago, said to the overflowing crowd of mourners assembled in the church that day, “My wife and children and I thank you for being here today to celebrate the life and mourn the death of our beautiful daughter.  It must be that God loves her more than we do, because God gave her to us in the first place for these too-short 19 years.  At this time of sorrow, God asks of us only faith and love.  In this tragedy, too, God is only good.”

Who would dare to limit the power of God especially in the troubles of our life?

There may be no time or circumstance in our ordinary lives when we more need that awareness of Jesus’ presence than when things are not going well for us or for those we love.  He says to us, “Come to me, you who are burdened, and I will refresh you.”  The “refreshment,” by that or any other name, may be just the vision of light at the end of the tunnel, and restored confidence because Jesus is leading the way — Jesus, who called himself “the way.”

Faith can falter even in the most convinced and loyal believer.  There’s no shame in that.  We are, after all, only human and very limited.  We live in a kind of darkness, a shadow in which not everything is perfectly clear.  To trust in a Jesus we have never seen is no small challenge at times.  But, if we make the commitment, no matter how feeble it may occasionally be, our faith in him will grow by experience.  We will increasingly sense his real presence in and with us and we will be only the stronger and the more at peace for it.

5TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2016

As so many of us do, I occasionally embark on an all-out clean-up campaign at my house.  This year’s event took place this past week with a hired group of three excellent housecleaners.  While they were doing their thing, I was trying to organize and simplify my life by eliminating the clutter that had built up in closets and drawers.  Each time I do this, I get bogged down by my files: I lose myself in nostalgia when even 1975 can seem like ancient history.  I shake my head or laugh at something I wrote back then, hoping that no one else has saved it!

And then my heart pounds and my mouth goes dry as I relive some sensitive conflict graphically recounted in the thrust & parry of exchanged letters.

You know the drill well, I’m sure.

On one of these assaults a few years ago, I found the deliberately saved letter of a man concerning the very hurtful, unchristian behavior of another in a very serious and consequential matter.  The writer of the letter was deeply offended by the behavior in question, yet he was able to say, with unmistakable sincerity and not a hint of condescension, “I feel sorrow for the terrible thing he has done, because he has wounded himself more than anyone else, and it grieves me to see such needless, self-inflicted pain.  I pray for him, that he’ll recover from this lapse and be his true self once more.”

I thought it was providential, that I should have come upon that letter in time to use it as a way of appreciating more deeply the gospel account proclaimed on this 5th Sunday of Easter.  Jesus knows full well what Judas’s act of betrayal will cost him – his life.  Despite that, we hear from him not a word of anger or vengeance or condemnation, but only love.  This is a perfect example of Jesus showing us how to be human.  Can we imagine a response more godly than this one – to love the one who is facilitating your execution?

Down the ages, fiction has celebrated such heights of unselfish, forgiving love.  In that connection, I always think first of Billy Budd, unjustly condemned and asking God’s blessing on the ship captain who ordered his hanging.  Real life can be every bit as noble and inspiring.  In his book Days of Grace, that great African American, tennis world champion, loving husband and father, Arthur Ashe answered the question about how he felt toward the anonymous person who passed on to him the lethal AIDS virus in a blood transfusion.  He expressed only sentiments of compassion and concern for the person, whoever he or she was, who caused his death.

No matter the crude, rude, vitriolic words we are daily hearing from the presidential election campaigns, it is not true to say that people really don’t act in such decent, heroic ways.  They do.  Many known and unknown heroes do.  The Jesus who forgave Judas continues to forgive in the lives of such good people.  If you look around again, you will see them.  You may even find yourself among them.

We say so often and so glibly, “Forgive us, Father, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  If we gave to that challenge only half what we have given to “being good Catholics,” we’d be so much closer to the Creator’s will for us.  The folk philosopher and wit, Garrison Keeler, says there’s no more chance of our becoming real Christians simply by going to church faithfully than of our becoming a car by sleeping in the garage.  Now there’s something to think about.

With increasing age, I find myself leaning more & more toward the conviction that the ultimate test of our Christian spirituality is our willingness to forgive and to love those who have hurt us.

Let’s keep trying, especially in this time of Easter grace.

2ND SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2016

I expect never to hear of a real-life example of human love more remarkable and inspiring than that of an elderly couple interviewed on TV several years ago.  Their beautiful daughter had been brutally assaulted and then murdered by a young man.  He was arrested and brought to trial.  It was an open & shut case: he was guilty.  The deceased girl’s parents were asked how they felt toward her assailant.  And this gentle, getting-on-in-years couple responded, He is God’s child also, even though what he did to our daughter was horrible beyond words.  We don’t want him to be executed or to suffer the rest of his life. We are praying for him, that he’ll repent of his crime and accept the grace of God in rebuilding his life so that he can help others, no longer hurt them.  (It still gives me a thrill to recall and repeat that.)

If that isn’t a modern version of Jesus’ death on the cross, I don’t know what is.  “Father, forgive them.  They don’t know what they are doing.”  Just imagine what kind of world ours would be if every human being had that generous, loving, forgiving, life-giving attitude toward all others!

But that’s precisely what we said yes to when we decided to become Christians.

It’s possible, you know, that, although we were baptized and well instructed in our faith, some of us, maybe many of us, never did really decide personally to become followers of Jesus.

We learn that we’ve made that decision when we look at someone’s crime or evil act and say, “That’s probably the worst thing this person has ever done; but how much good she must also have accomplished. I pray that she will recover from this terrible decision, make amends for what she has done and move on to a good and unselfishly loving life.”

Against the background of a maze of legal nit-picking, Jesus spoke of only two laws: first, love God, your creator; the second: love everyone else, without exception.  Give extravagantly, he taught us; resolve always to forgive, not merely to punish; reward in excess of merit; let your love go beyond the requirements of justice.

It’s as if God were saying through Jesus, “You are made in my image & likeness.  And I am infinitely more than just; I am loving and merciful.  I am forgetful of your faults and always aware of your marvelous potential.  You are less likely to sense my presence in the good order of a tribunal than you are in the splendid splashes of skies and forests and the bottomless well of a mother’s love!”

The Scriptures tell of signs & wonders the early disciples were performing and observing after Jesus’ resurrection from death.  Among them there surely had to be the “miracles” of persons acting in ways that are certainly not normally human.  They were returning love for hatred, accepting hurts with patience and even cheerfulness, giving without thought to cost, forgiving with no strings attached, and rejoicing in the success of others.

People couldn’t help but notice.

The age of miracles has not passed.

Happy Easter!

4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2016

St. Paul’s definition of love is not really a definition at all; it’s a list of some characteristics or properties of love.  You know them well, probably from the last Catholic wedding you attended:

Love is patient; love is kind.

It is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests.

It is not quick-tempered; it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

It bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

I got this far in the composition of this homily, when I broke to catch up on the email that had arrived since I last checked.  I found a note from a medical doctor whom I have met, I think, only once, but with whom I’ve corresponded occasionally ever since.  He commented favorably on last Sunday’s homily and attached an essay he had written and which was published in the Newark Star-Ledger the day before. The connection between what he had written and what I was trying to say in the homily was too obvious and compelling to ignore.

For the past 13 years, this busy New Jersey internist, himself a husband and father, has been visiting Haiti, where he co-founded Lamp for Haiti, a community and health care center in a dangerously poor slum in Port-au-Prince.  Since the earthquake six years ago, which killed nearly 300,000 Haitians and left the country in a shambles, he has been a hands-on participant in the merciful and generous response of the world, which saved thousands of lives and continues to help the country rebuild itself.

However, the doctor’s fear is that the world will begin to turn away, to wash its hands of Haiti, because of what he calls “disaster fatigue” and the belief that nothing really significant or of lasting value can be done to help Haiti.  Not so, he insists: Roads and hospitals have been reopened, devastated communities rebuilt; and a new medical school to teach future Haitian doctors and nurses has been created.

The doctor points out that medical teams from around the world saved the lives of people with lost or crushed limbs and severe trauma. Donors contributed much-needed antibiotics, food and fresh water. But today, he notes, thousands of people still live in crowded tent encampments. Safe water remains a problem.  The recovery is expensive and slow, but, he insists, it’s real.  Positive work is being done and needs to be speeded up.

That’s the deepest meaning of love that Paul must have had in mind when he wrote his immortal treatise.  Every line, every clause in it can be the subject of a lingering meditation on a central theme: our responding to the critical needs of others who have no way of helping themselves.  These are persons who cry out to us for the assistance that will make the difference between life and death, or between a life of mental and physical misery and a decent, minimally comfortable life as a human being.

There’s no other word for it: it’s love, plain and simple.  The doctor ends his note with these words: “I am writing obviously to a lay audience, but I find strength in the Good News (of Jesus and his Gospel) indeed.”

Although you and I are not in Haiti, I suggest that we look around us, starting maybe with our own homes & families, where we are very likely to find someone in desperate need of our love – the kind of love St. Paul describes.

BAPTISM OF JESUS 2016

Having enjoyed it so much the first time around, I’m currently reading again a great book by a priest whose theology and life views I’ve admired for decades.  (His name is Daniel Maguire.) Actually it’s light, though very substantial, reading, filled with humor that has me laughing on every other page!  I wrote to thank him for what he’s written.  He resigned from the active ministry of his priesthood many years ago, married, raised a family and continued for a long time to teach at a Catholic university.

Early in the book, he dedicates four pages to 19 major events in his personal and professional life, many of them disappointments and tragedies of one sort or another, including the death of their 10-year-old son. He introduced the list as surprises of life that awaited him; he ends it by saying, “I never saw all that coming.  How I dealt with it, sometimes well, sometimes anything but, is a story full of life with all its spices…and not just a few lessons.  I share it in these pages.”

Did the real Jesus (not the Jesus manufactured by piety and religious imagination over the centuries), did that real Jesus have any idea that his life of loving service would end in rejection and violent death?  I think not.

During those 3 years of his work among the people, when they came flocking to him from all over, listening to every word he spoke, singing his praises, wanting to crown him king, he could never have imagined that he would soon be crucified as though he were a criminal.  It was only when he was very near his death that he saw clearly the handwriting on the wall.

The greatness of Jesus is found in both periods of his life: in the first, when he gave himself totally to God in unselfish service to the people; and in the last, when he did not run away from the terrible ordeal that awaited him.

I think that is what we are honoring today as we remember his Baptism at the age of about 30: that he was committing himself to something largely hidden from his view, trusting that the God he called Father would, in the end, make all things right and happy and beautiful and would provide for him along the way, especially at the most difficult times.

Jesus was saying a firm Yes to both “better” and “worse” and was certain he’d complete the journey successfully because its ultimate outcome lay in the wisdom and love and power of God.

Persons who have experienced deaths of many kinds – the death of someone very close to them, the death of their marriages, the death of physical and mental powers, the death of their fondest hopes and dreams — still have lives to live, commitments to keep, love to share, and faith to practice.  In all of that they are bound to be led beyond anticipated limits, just as Jesus was.

For all of us Christians, the focus of existence here on earth is Baptism, in which the direction and the ultimate meaning of our lives are established, as they were for Jesus.

I wish you happiness and peace and hope on the next lap of your journey!

NEW YEAR’S DAY/FEAST OF MARY THE MOTHER OF JESUS, 2016

Life is an endless series of new beginnings.

I think it would be appropriate if on this first day of the new year, following, as it does, last Sunday’s feast of the Holy Family, we directed our thoughts and prayers to the primacy, the preeminence, of family life.  I know of nothing more important than constant, increasingly patient and unselfish attention to the multiple relationships that make up our families.

The definition of family not too many years ago was, with very few exceptions or variations, a social unit consisting of a married couple – male and female — and their children, whether natural or adopted. Today, to name only two variations, we have same-sex partners/parents and blended families (with children from two different sets of parents).  Whether these models will endure into the distant future or be ultimately rejected by society remains to be seen.  But they are here now, no matter who may disapprove of them.

I’m no anthropologist, but I am at least aware that around this earth there are ancient traditions in which there is a wide variety of family structures that have thrived for centuries.  I think of tribes for whom the family is as wide as the tribe itself – where the raising of children is the corporate effort of the entire village. I think of the time-honored tradition of polygamy, in which a single male fathers children by many females.

It was only a few days ago that I mentioned here a man who, in a sort of surrender to the inevitable, told me that in his family there are now “unmarried spouses,” by which he meant, of course, adults – his children — living together with someone of the opposite sex but without benefit of a wedding or a license from either the church or the state.

What are we to say or do or think about these phenomena that for so many of us go against the grain?  I am of the opinion that we should suspend judgment and assume that the persons involved in them are acting in good conscience and are practicing all the virtues that make a traditional marriage what it is meant to be.  By that I mean that they are living in true and faithful love and are caring well for their children physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Basically and essentially, it is love and fidelity that make a good marriage and a good family.  You and I have both known too many perfectly legal and validly sacramental marriages that are empty shells and more of an obstacle to the persons involved than they are a source of life and joy.  That undeniable fact is what makes me impatient with our Catholic Church’s condemnation of divorce without exception. Sometimes a marriage becomes so sick and dysfunctional that it is a constant source of toxicity to all whom it touches.  I can’t imagine Jesus wanting such a situation to exist when it could be easily and honorably ended.

But, to widen the scope of this New Year’s Day message, I’ll state the obvious and say that all of us can look back with regret at our failure to do at times what we should have done.  There’s no point in pining over that, and it well may be true that we did the best we could at the time or that some pressure or distraction or ignorance kept us from acting differently and better.

If you are open to a suggestion for a New Year’s resolution, I’d suggest that it be simply to listen — not just hear the sound of another’s voice, but really listen – listen to the mind and heart from which it comes,listen to this other person with respectful attention, expecting to hear something worth hearing – and acknowledging that with gratitude.

2016 will be a banner year if a change in us makes someone close to us a happier, freer person.  That would be only a joy for all concerned!