Tag Archives: truth

5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2018

Personal statement from Dick Rento

Pope Francis has often spoken of the church as a very wide tent with room for all persons of good conscience and good will. Father James Martin is an American Jesuit priest who has written and spoken about welcoming homosexual persons into full and active membership in the church. A talk was scheduled for February 15 in Readington, NJ, but has been canceled because of angry protests from objectors.

People like me, who have friends and family members who are gay and lesbian, know how hurtful such an attitude can be.

I suggest and request that you keep this matter in your mind and heart as we begin this Sunday liturgy, praying that we may soon become the truly inclusive Christian community that Jesus wanted us to be.

RGR

Nine years ago, I received the following letter from an elderly parishioner, now deceased–

“Dear Father:

“Please ask God in your prayers to restore to me full recovery from a stroke I suffered many years ago. I need my left hand badly and have been praying 11 years and 6 months without results. So, if you favor me with your prayers, the Lord may just listen to a man of the cloth (!!). I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a penance and punishment from the Lord. If I knew that, I certainly would not do it again.”

Just think how revealing those words are. We learn that this good man believes that the troubles that have befallen him were given him by God. He also tells us that he hasn’t any idea why he has been so punished. He ends with the sad statement that, if only he did know what sins he committed to deserve his penalty, he would never commit them again.

He was a modern day Job, whose identical thinking was presented to us in today’s first reading. The saddest thing is that he is by no means unique among Christian believers. Dozens of times in my life as a priest I have been asked the very same thing: “Father, why is God doing this to me?” Or, “I know I must accept this cross, because it is God’s will for me.” And I have answered time & time again that God had nothing to do with their misfortunes, that God does not fashion our crosses or punish or reward us.

The truth is that life is full of accidents and human violence and disease in addition to the irrational, often deadly, forces of nature, enough to produce a climate in which all living things, including us human beings, are only too likely to get hurt — not occasionally, but often.

Unfortunately, as our first reading clearly shows, we are still stuck with a long and strong tradition that would have us believe that the Creator is in charge of what happens in this world, when actually there is not a bit of truth in such a belief.

There are reasons why we are so quick to assign to God responsibility for our troubles: to begin with, we get comfort from assuming that there is a rational cause for the terrible things that happen to us, and that the cause is God. That belief enables people of faith to shrug their shoulders, grit their teeth and say that God must have caused or allowed the tragedy for a reason that they cannot comprehend. Something deep inside them tells them that they could not survive in a world of pure chance; someone’s got to be in charge, there must be some sort of intelligent design, otherwise this is an absurd world, and we are all its hapless victims.

The truth is that our strength and consolation come from the presence of the Divine Spirit, the Creator, within us in both good times and bad. We need nothing more than our own personal resources, the support of those who love us, and the unfailing presence of the one and only God Creator, who lives within us every second of our existence.

Good men that they were, Job and my letter writer friend, they did not know that. As a result, their sufferings were needlessly made worse because they viewed them in a false context. We ought to pay close attention and be determined never to fall into the same error.

Last week’s first scripture reading, you may recall, ended with the words, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts. We might end this Mass with the silent, simple prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, and heal our broken hearts.”

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4TH SUNDAY IN ADVENT 2017

In the first year of my priesthood, more than 6 decades ago, I had the good fortune of starting out as a full-time hospital chaplain. That was unusual in those days, and several times I was asked by concerned observers what I had done to deserve such a punishment. (I remember one person asking me what window I had broken!) In those days hospital assignments were considered handy outposts for priests who got into one sort of trouble or another. The five years I spent there were among the happiest of my life.

Among the blessings and advantages that I enjoyed were my friendships with the medical and nursing staffs and the opportunity to be with them every day in a variety of situations. I can still recall many of the conversations that enriched my life. One came back to me as I was preparing this homily. Several of us had just left the chapel after a Holy Week celebration, I think it was Good Friday. I was especially aware of the presence of a young doctor, only a few years older than I, who was coming from the Mass. He was regarded as an extraordinarily good physician; how many times I heard nurses say, “If ever I am suddenly in need of a doctor, please don’t call anyone but him.”

I was especially aware of his presence because I was feeling embarrassed over the archaic, unscientific, largely mythical character of the ancient scripture readings we had just heard, and I wondered what this learned man of medical science was really thinking.

As we waited for the elevator, I said to him, “Pretty hard to swallow some of that old stuff, isn’t it, Doctor? I think it’s about time the church brings it up to date.”

He answered quickly, spontaneously, “I’d much prefer the poetry we just heard to the lifeless prose of a medical journal.”

He was even smarter than I had previously judged him to be! Holy scripture was considered my field, not primarily his, but he taught me something I have never forgot. In that wise comment, he showed himself, as a Catholic Christian, to be way ahead of his time.

Poetry. The bible, we now increasingly understand, is full of poetry. They are not historical accounts or scientific reports that we find there; mostly they are poetic outpourings from the hearts and minds of men and women who had come to know that the one and only God of Love is always with us. They knew that that divine presence was the ultimate source of our life and our destiny. They could not find enough ways to announce to the world, “Emmanuel,” God with us! And so, where to begin but with human language at its colorful best?

At this time of the year, we hear the familiar ancient messages about a divine architect, and heralding angels, and a guiding star, and mysterious stargazers, and awestruck shepherds, and reverent animals, and a most unusual birth. All exquisite poetry! Profound message! And the doctor was right: It beats a dispassionate reading from a scientific journal any day of the week!

What are we being told in such a resilient and enduring way? It is being revealed to us that in Jesus we have a new window onto the mystery of God! What we see through that window is that we do not need a bridge between us and a supposedly distant God. No. Jesus saves us from that ancient misconception and lets us in on the until-then secret that God is in everyone and everything, in every particle of this vast and incomprehensible universe! Emmanuel: God with us!

A truth as fundamental as that cannot, should not, be left to mere factual statement. It deserves to be and it needs to be celebrated with every means at our disposal. Let’s keep listening to the ecstatic biblical authors with our hearts and minds as open as we can make them! Let’s enjoy what they have written for us! We will most certainly never hear better news than that!

 

20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2016

The feeling that you are at odds with a beloved member of your family over religious or moral points of view is a special kind of sadness.  We all want to be of one mind & heart with those who are closest to us concerning the most important issues of life.  When we discover that we are not, it’s as if a chasm has opened up between us.  We find it disturbing that this other person does not see things the way we do.

It’s apparent that Jesus foresaw that possibility and accepted responsibility for it.  He said, Don’t think that I’m here to establish peace among you.  Quite to the contrary, I will be the cause of serious divisions, side-taking, bitter arguments, and long-lasting separations right within your families.

But why?  It’s much easier to understand when it is a case of two opposing camps, one of which accepts Jesus and the other rejects him.  But when, instead, it involves good and sincere people on both sides of the issue at hand who acknowledge Jesus as their savior, who listen eagerly to his gospel and try to live by it, it’s difficult to identify the cause of division and dissension.

But isn’t that what is happening today?  The conspicuous crucifix on the young, leather-clad motorcyclist, for example, may mean something entirely different from the gold cross around the neck of his grandmother.  Those two persons very likely represent two different approaches to Jesus, two different interpretations of his gospel.  And yet there is only one Jesus, one cross, one gospel.

To muddy the waters further, Jesus says, I have come to divide you, even mother against daughter.

What is he saying?  I think he is saying that loyalty to him and his gospel will sometimes require of us that we stand up firmly, whatever the personal cost may be, and respectfully confront persons who we think are not really following him either deliberately or mistakenly, but in either case are badly misunderstanding his teachings.

We simply have to be willing to antagonize others unintentionally in our common pursuit of truth.

And, of course, it all comes down to conscience once again, personal conscience.  We Catholics have not been taught or encouraged to follow our consciences in making important decisions affecting ourselves and others.  We were taught instead that the highest virtue is that of unwavering obedience to the authority of the church.  And so I remind you once again, and over & over, that the official church itself now teaches, at its highest levels, that each of us must work diligently at forming as good a conscience as we can and then must follow its direction even when that conflicts with the official teachings of the church.

Most people, I find, welcome that major change in our individual responsibility; a much smaller number of faithful Catholics do not accept it.  It seems to them to be a much too radical departure from the past.  I hope that you are peaceful about it and grateful for it and that you recognize it as the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in our time.

We are constantly growing in age and wisdom and grace before God and others.

7TH SUNDAY OF EASTER, 2016

In a 1994 movie by the name of “Priest” (rated R and still available from NETFLIX), there is a riveting scene in which the young priest is venting his anger and frustration as he shouts at the figure of Jesus on the large crucifix on his study wall.  The cause of his anguish is that he has learned in the confessional from a teenage girl that she is being routinely violated by her father but will not give the priest permission to report the matter even to her mother and certainly not to the authorities.  He is left with no alternative but to remain silent under the seal of the sacrament.  In his ranting at the crucified Jesus he accuses him of smugness and indifference to the terrible plight of the young victim.  He asks, Why are you not doing something?  Why aren’t you stopping this unspeakable crime?  Don’t you care?

There’s a great truth contained and powerfully expressed in that unforgettable sequence.  What it proclaims is that our commitment of trust in Jesus has everything to do with simply waiting in patience — often waiting in darkness and not knowing what, if anything, is happening.   When we’ve done all that we possibly can and are still not able to change a painful situation – for ourselves or for others, when we seem to have reached the very nadir of discouragement, it is then that we have to believe that the compassionate Jesus, however hidden from us, is working toward a solution, a resolution, and all that is required of us is to wait in patient (sometimes painful) expectation.

That’s the real test of our faith: our personal relationship with Jesus.  When things are going smoothly for us, when we are in good control of our lives and what is happening around us, we may feel no need for God or for Jesus. But when we experience soul-bruising turbulence, when calamities of the worst kind make their appearance, when even our closest relationships seem lifeless or hostile, and we don’t know what to do to make things better – or have given up trying, that’s when the quality and depth of our faith in Jesus is proven.  One of the worst such moments in my life was when a grandniece of mine was brought home a few days after her birth diagnosed as blind – mistakenly, it later turned out.

Jesus himself must have come close to despair.  On that torturous cross he cried out, “Father, have even you abandoned me?”  It must have been a feeling of complete loneliness, the experience of a stranger all alone in the realm of death.  We may not be able to understand fully what he was going through, but we can perceive that he resolutely waited and did not stop trusting, believing, and hoping.  And all the while, God was active, changing death into life.

The gospel we heard today is about Jesus’ pledge of permanent presence to us: as he is one with the Father, so will he be one with us, he promises.  Always – in good times and in bad; when we are faithful, but also when we are unfaithful; assisting us when we can be effective with just a little help, but also supplying for us when we are powerless.  He promises to live in and among us today, tomorrow, always, unconditionally.

We’re supposed to know this fact of our life and to act out of it, believing in it even when we cannot find a shred of evidence that it is true.

“I pray, Father, that the world may believe that you sent me – that you love them – that we live in them.”