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Posted by on Mar 30, 2016

You will always have the poor

You will always have the poor

Charity and Justice - Public Domain Image

Public Domain Image

A Reflection by Jerry Finney

Gospel Jn 12:1-11

Six days before Passover Jesus came to Bethany,
where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
They gave a dinner for him there, and Martha served,
while Lazarus was one of those reclining at table with him.
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

Then Judas the Iscariot, one of his disciples,
and the one who would betray him, said,
“Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages
and given to the poor?”
He said this not because he cared about the poor
but because he was a thief and held the money bag
and used to steal the contributions.
So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

The large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came,
not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus,
whom he had raised from the dead.
And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,
because many of the Jews were turning away
and believing in Jesus because of him.

 

When I first read our Gospel reading for this morning, I thought it was about two things — Mary’s love and worship of Jesus who had raised her brother from the dead and Judas’ criticism of actions because of his greed and corruption. In preparing this reflection, I found that there is much more.

The scholar Fr. Raymond Brown points out that the anointing of Jesus’ head and feet is symbolic of his being prepared for burial following his crucifixion. It also is symbolic of what was believed by many at that time of what was necessary for resurrection. Rabbi’s would discuss the greatest act of mercy — almsgiving or burying the dead. Those who believed in proper burial thought it an essential condition for sharing in the resurrection. Spending large amounts of money for a proper burial, just like today in our society, happened and happens where people want the best for their loved one.

So there is a hidden discussion of the greatest mercy. Jesus tells Judas that in this case it is better to save the fragrant oil for his burial. Jesus was not negating the value and necessity of almsgiving. Jesus’ other statement to Judas of, “The poor you always have with you,” on its surface, might seem cynical or uncaring. But, that would not fit with the rest of Jesus’ manifest concern for the poor, the oppressed and those at the margins of society. Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy and is reflecting a reality. Even if everyone started out even in life, sooner or later some will end up with more and others with less, much less. Chance, disaster, ill health, environmental changes, laziness, cheating, bad decisions — all will produce disparities.

Galilee, in Jesus’ day, was an occupied country, and the Hebrews were a religious minority. The mostly illiterate population, that flocked to Jesus’ teaching and healing, were barely surviving on subsistence farming and they were subject to the whims of the landholders and the powerful elite ruling from a distance. The poor and oppressed were the ones to whom Jesus ministered. He told those who had more than they needed to share their excess so as to bring about God’s kingdom.

Deuteronomy, reflecting God’s mercy and wisdom, recognized that disparities were inevitable and, to deal with it, proposed a system of periodic redistribution of resources and forgiveness of debt. It was a system of how people who had been rescued from slavery and given so much were to deal with one another.

It is certainly no less true today that all our resources are gifts. God gave his people the ability both to smooth out those inequities and prevent some of them altogether. That’s what’s behind Jesus’ reminder that we will always have the poor with us. That is why we must share and redistribute resources.

In his encyclical, “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis urges us to, “replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which entails learning to give, and not simply to give up.” It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what “I want” to what “God’s world needs.” It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion. As Christians we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation…”

Pope Francis said that St. Francis’ actions and words “shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.”

The message — from Deuteronomy, from Jesus, from Pope Francis — is that those who have resources must use them wisely and must help those who have not, not out of generosity but out of responsibility. Jesus and Pope Francis did not say how to do, just to do it. Getting that sharing right is not easy. We each must work at it as best we can and where possible implant God’s values in our economic systems.

 

 

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Posted by on Feb 10, 2016

Prayer as Lent Begins

Prayer as Lent Begins

 

Humanitarian Aid
Today God our Father brings us to the beginning of Lent.

We pray that in this time of salvation he will fill us with the Holy Spirit, purify our hearts, and strengthen us in love. Let us humbly ask him:

Lord, give us your Holy Spirit.

May we be filled and satisfied,
— by the word which you give us.

Teach us to be loving not only in great and exceptional moments,
— but above all in the ordinary events of daily life.

May we abstain from what we do not really need,
— and help our brothers and sisters in distress.

May we bear the wounds of your Son in our bodies,
— for through his body he gave us life.

Intercessions, from Morning Prayer for Ash Wednesday,
Liturgy of the Hours

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Posted by on May 21, 2015

Connie Fortunato’s Magnificat – Music Camp International

Connie Fortunato’s Magnificat – Music Camp International

 

Connie-With-Kids - Kiev - Music Camp InternationalWhen the Iron Curtain fell, it revealed the plight of Romanian children warehoused in orphanages. The Ceausescu regime had insisted that women have as many as children as possible, to provide soldiers for a huge army. Many of these children were abandoned and given no real love and very little food. As a music educator and the former music director of Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, California, Connie knew that music could restore these children to wholeness. At first the Romanian government wanted her to teach music only to the children of the leadership. Connie insisted on teaching the orphans and she prevailed.

He has put the mighty down from their thrones and exalted the lowly. (Luke 1:52)

Fourteen years later, Connie’s ministry, Music Camp International, has grown, yet it still flies by a wing and many prayers. Children in Ukraine and Romania are given musical instruments and a week’s instruction in playing and singing. The results are miraculous as the sound of sacred music returns to cathedrals and the hearts of children. The lowly are exalted and the future of all is brighter.

As Music Camp International’s website explains,

The healing gift of music has given hope and dignity to many who have previously been overlooked in a society that provides its resources for the “privileged” and the “promising.” Many children have held and played instrument for the first time. Many have discovered their singing voice. All have experienced the joy of music in a positive and nurturing environment. All have participated in making beautiful music with the finest professionals in their community. And ALL have discovered that in blending their talent with other children—from diverse backgrounds and social status—they can achieve a life-changing experience that is not possible alone.

Music Camp International: Developing Children, Training Teachers, and Strengthening The Global Community Through the Power of Music

Tax deductible donations can be made at www.musiccampinternational.org/

 

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Posted by on Feb 23, 2015

Sant’Egidio Communities Bring Friendship and Hope to the Poor

Sant’Egidio Communities Bring Friendship and Hope to the Poor

Sant'Egidio in RomeThe Community of Sant’Egidio is an international movement counting over 60,000 individuals on five continents who gather for common prayer, offering friendship and support for and with the poor in the cities where they live. The movement began in Rome in 1968 at the Church of Sant’Egidio and has expanded from there. No one is considered too poor or too marginalized to be a member of the community. All join together in work and prayer to bring the light of hope into the world.

Daily prayer is at the heart of life in a Community of Sant’Egidio. Gathering together in the evening the Word is proclaimed and together members of the community place the cares and concerns of the people of their local, regional, national, and international communities before the Lord. Each day’s prayer also includes a theme, beginning with the celebration of the Resurrection on Sunday and continuing through days dedicated to prayer for the poor, Eastern and Western churches, Sant’Egidio communities around the world, the memory of the cross, meditation on the courageous role of Mary in salvation history, and waiting for the resurrection along with Lazarus who was raised from the tomb.

Icons are present in all communities, reminding all of the unity of Eastern and Western churches and leading members more deeply into the mysteries of God’s presence and action in the world.

A statement from the community’s website clearly expresses the place of prayer: “Nothing is possible without prayer, all is possible with prayer and faith. … Prayer overcomes the helplessness of men. It goes beyond what is believed impossible and allows God to intervene in this world with his infinite power.”

Members of Communities of Sant’Egidio are committed to inter-religious dialog and working for peace. At a general audience with bishops gathered for an  international conference of the Community of Sant’Egidio on February 7, Pope Francis expressed his support, saying, “I am delighted to welcome you. I wish that you revive faith in the Lord and witness, with renewed enthusiasm, the Gospel tension towards the peripheries and towards the last.”

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Posted by on Jan 20, 2015

Why Do Children Suffer? Pope Francis Speaks to Filipino Youth

Why Do Children Suffer? Pope Francis Speaks to Filipino Youth

 

The video and the text are largely in Spanish, though a simultaneous translation into English is included. This is a summary of a small part of the Pope’s extemporaneous speech.

During a presentation to young people in the Philippines, the Holy Father set aside his prepared text to answer a question that had been raised by a 12 year old girl who had been rescued from the street. Tearfully weeping, Glyzelle Palomar, recounted the miseries of her life in a few words and asked, “Many children are abandoned by their own parents, many are victims of many terrible things such as drugs and prostitution. Why does God permit these things even though the children are not at fault.Why do so few people come forward to help?” In this video we can view the scene and the Pope’s compassionate embrace of the child.

What response is possible to the perennial problem of evil? Pope Francis did not try to evade the question with platitudes. He took the question head-on, educating about 30,000 of the faithful and challenging them. First, he noted the shortage of women among those making presentations and he emphasized the importance of the point of view of women. The Pope said that women pose questions which men could never stop trying to understand, that is, never grasp.

We can understand something, added the Holy Father, “when the heart reaches the place in which it can ask the questions and cry. Only through tears do we arrive at a true compassion which can transform the world.” Pope Francis described a common, worldly type of compassion as one in which we just take a coin out of our pocket. He added that if Christ had shown this type of compassion, he would simply have spent a little time with a few people and gone back to the Father. Jesus could comprehend our lives, the Pope said, when He was able to cry and did cry.

He notes, “In today’s world, there is a lack of crying. Although the marginalized, the poor, and the outcasts cry, those of us who do not lack anything essential do not cry. Only those eyes that have been cleansed by tears are able to so see things as they are.”

The Pope challenged the faithful. “Let us not forget (this young woman’s) testimony. She asked the great question ‘why do children suffer?’ crying. And the great answer all of us can give is to learn how to cry.”

 

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Posted by on Jan 20, 2015

¿Por qué Sufren los Niños? Papa Francisco a Los Jóvenes en Filipinas

¿Por qué Sufren los Niños? Papa Francisco a Los Jóvenes en Filipinas

 

El Santo Papa dejó su texto preparado para contestar la pregunta que le había puesto una niña rescatada de la calle.  Con lágrimas, gemiendo, Glyzelle Palomar contó en pocas palabras las miserias que había padecido y preguntó, “Hay muchos niños abandonados por sus propios padres, muchas víctimas de muchas cosas terribles como las drogas o la prostitución. ¿Por qué Dios permite estas cosas, aunque no es culpa de los niños? ¿Y por qué tan poca gente nos viene a ayudar?” En este video podemos ver el escenario y la compasión del abrazo del Santo Padre.

¿Qué respuesta es possible al perenne problema de la maldad? El Papa Francisco no trataba de evadir la cuestión con palabras blandas y dulces. Enfrentó la cuestión enseñándoles a unos 30 mil de los fieles y desafíandoles. Primero notó la escasez de mujeres en las presentaciones y la importancia del punto de vista feminino. Dijo el Pontífice que la mujer se puede hacer preguntas que los hombres “no terminamos de entender.”

Podemos entender algo añadió El Santo Papa “cuando el corazón alcanza a hacerse la pregunta y a llorar.” Solamente por lágrimas llegamos a la verdadera compasión que se puede transformar al mundo. El Papa Francisco describió una compasión mundana por lo cual solamente sacamos una moneda del bolsillo. Añadió que si hubiera Cristo demonstraba esa compasión, hubiera pasado unos momentos con algunas personas, y se hubiera vuelto al Padre. Jesucristo entendió nuestros dramas, dijo El Papa, cuando fue capaz de llorar y lloró.

Declaró, “Al mundo de hoy le falta llorar, lloran los marginados, lloran los que son dejados de lado, lloran los despreciados, pero aquellos que llevamos una vida más o menos sin necesidades no sabemos llorar. Solo ciertas realidades de la vida se ven con los ojos limpiados por las lágrimas.”

El Papa desafió a los fieles “No olvidemos este testimonio. La gran pregunta ‘por qué sufren los niños’ la hizo llorando. Y la gran respuesta que podemos hacer todos nosotros es aprender a llorar.”

 

 

 

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Posted by on Dec 16, 2014

The Gabriel Project: Help for Pregnant Women in Crisis

The Gabriel Project: Help for Pregnant Women in Crisis

Gabriel Project Icon The Gabriel Project is a national program endorsed by the US Catholic Conference of Bishops as an important pro-life parish activity that lends spiritual, emotional, and practical support to pregnant women in crisis.

Following Roe v. Wade in 1973, Rev. Msgr. John Perusina of St. Michael Parish in Houston began the Gabriel Project by putting up a sign that said , “If you will have your baby, this parish will help you in every way.” The sign still stands.

By the early 90s, the project was well established in the dioceses of Houston-Galveston and Corpus Christi. It is now a national organization that provides spiritual, emotional, and practical support for pregnant women in crisis. The Gabriel Project does not limit itself to serving Catholic women. It provides services to all women regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. The main portal website is www.TheGabrielProject.us.

Parishes have trained volunteers who respond to requests and inquiries from pregnant women in crisis. According to Virginia Kaufmann, coordinator for the Gabriel Project at Resurrection Parish in Aptos, CA, each case is unique. One involved a young woman who could not continue to live with her mother and needed help finding housing. Generally, the women don’t have enough money to meet their basic expenses. One needed help with breastfeeding issues.

The San Francisco Archdiocese has posted several stories about “Angels” as the volunteers are called. Many times the situation requires helping the family to accept and welcome the new child. In one case a teenage mother’s father refused to have anything to do with her unless she got an abortion. Eventually, he came around, loves the baby, and now plays the proud grandpa. One young woman felt completely alone and abandoned until, through her tears, she saw a Gabriel Project sign outside a church. Within a few days she had an Angel, rent, and all the things she would need to welcome the new baby. Angels have also been known to provide childcare and parenting instruction. In one case a woman who had lost custody of her two-year-old because she was homeless was able to welcome back that child not long after giving birth to the new baby. This happened shortly before Christmas.

The women and the Angels develop very close bonds that have led to ongoing friendships in many cases. The volunteers, through their concern and practical help, bring alive the reassurance of the Angel Gabriel when he appeared to a very young Mary and told her not to be afraid, that she had found favor with God. Together, volunteers and new mothers discover that they too are loved dearly by God.

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Posted by on Nov 15, 2014

Showers for the Homeless at the Vatican

Showers for the Homeless at the Vatican

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A significant part of our faith journey is growing and being ministered to by the people we serve.  Bishop Konrad Krajewski is the Pope’s Almoner, which means that he is responsible for raising money for the poor and distributing it. When he took a homeless man to dinner at a Chinese restaurant for the man’s 50th birthday, Bishop Krajewski discovered an unmet need.The homeless get by with handouts of food but they have almost no bathing facilities.

Beginning with the public restrooms in St. Peter’s Square and parishes in Rome with large concentrations of the homeless, Pope Francis is paying for the construction and operation of showers. In addition to sanitation and promoting human dignity, Bishop Krajewski cites a deeper element of faith: “The Basilica exists in order to keep the Body of Christ, and we serve Jesus’ suffering body by serving the poor.”

Read more about this new apostolate.

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Posted by on Nov 30, 2012

Dorothy Day, Servant of God and Follower of Christ the King

Dorothy Day, Servant of God and Follower of Christ the King

 

Dorothy Day, 1934

Dorothy Day, cofounder with Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement, died 32 years ago, on November 29, 1980. Like many other activists who have struggled for social justice and worked among the poorest, most forgotten members of society, she is more respected by mainstream Americans, religious leaders, and commentators now than she was during all but the last decade of her life. In life she had the annoying habit of pointing out the discrepancies between our Gospel calling to serve the Lord in those around us, especially in the poor and most vulnerable, and our national focus on the value of making money and enjoying a middle class or higher lifestyle. She opposed war and participated in demonstrations against all wars, including World War II. She supported Cesar Chavez and the labor union movement. She was not unwilling to go to jail and did so on multiple occasions. She lived and died in a Catholic Worker house of hospitality in New York, providing services including food, clothing, shelter, and a cup of good coffee to the poor and homeless. With other activists, she also participated in non-violent direct actions aimed at changing the social structures that lead to poverty and homelessness.

Movies have been made and books written about this woman whose work led to the establishment of the Catholic Worker. Church leaders today speak of her with respect and support her cause for sainthood. Men and women around the world join together in soup kitchens, hospitality houses, and communal farms to carry on the work she began.

This year, Dorothy Day’s feast falls outside of Advent. Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King. The convergence of  our celebration of a King who was crucified, died, and rose from the dead with our celebration of the life of a woman whose life was focused on serving that King in the poorest of the poor is one that does not happen often. Yet it seems fitting that this connection should be noticed. Serving the poor and disenfranchised is hard, dirty, smelly, frustrating work. Most people who live on the street are not there by choice, yet some prefer to remain on the streets rather than deal with the requirements of the various shelters or programs in their communities. Some have mental illnesses that are untreated. Some battle post-traumatic stress. Some have lost their homes as a result of loss of employment or long-term illnesses. Families and single people live on the streets. Children and old men and women live on the streets. It’s cold, lonely and dangerous there and all too often, the rest of us pass by without noticing them or if we do see them, we somehow assume it’s their own fault and feel no compulsion to try to help.

Those who enter pastoral ministry, social workers, and others who regularly deal with the homeless and disabled quickly learn that it is not glamorous or easy to provide support and care for this population, particularly with scant resources and personnel. Yet as Dorothy noted, “The mystery of the poor is that they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do to Him.” This doesn’t mean she was never frustrated or angry with God. Anyone who regularly deals with impossibly difficult individuals, bureaucracies, social structures, and disdainful or fundamentally unaware fellow church members or citizens will experience times of total anger and frustration. Faithfulness to the call to serve Jesus in this way requires continuing anyway — telling God what a mess it all is, maybe telling God how angry one is feeling, complaining about how hard it is to keep going or to deal with the physical realities of life on the street or in poor neighborhoods, and then going out and continuing the work. This is the connection with Christ the King: faithful following of the call to service of the poor and vulnerable and to change those social institutions that keep so many people trapped in poverty.

Dorothy Day is on her way to officially recognized sainthood. Nevertheless, we would all do well to remember her thoughts about what might result in such an eventuality, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”

Photograph from New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection

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Posted by on Nov 19, 2011

“The Poor You Always Have With You …” – So We Don’t Have to Do Anything About Poverty?

As the fallout from the Great Recession drags on, with high unemployment, a depressed housing market, high numbers of foreclosures, greater demand for food stamps and Medicaid, and the other woes we’ve seen in the United States over the past few years, the debate over what, if anything, we as a society can or should do to alleviate poverty has moved from theoretical discussions in ethics or political science classes to  the front lines of policy-making in our governmental institutions, as well as to our streets and family gatherings. In a recent Doonesbury cartoon (October 30, 2011), reporter Roland Hedley begins his report on poverty in America saying: “Jesus said, ‘The poor you will have always.” He goes on to speak of the American poor as “pampered”  because they are not as poor as people in Third World countries such as Bangladesh. He specifically mentions that many of our poor have dishwashers and cable TV. They are overweight, so he assumes they have plenty to eat, and he notes that medical care is available through the emergency room, so no one starves or bleeds to death here – both statements patently untrue.

If this were just a comic strip character speaking, I might not bother to address the issues raised. However, this character’s statements parallel those of other real-world individuals, including Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation who noted that, based on federal surveys, most poor Americans have air conditioning, microwaves, TVs, adequate housing, nutritious food and about half even have personal computers. His point is that based on new ways of measuring poverty, “The overwhelming majority of poor people, not all, live in conditions that the average American wouldn’t recognize as poverty.” (The San Jose Mercury News, Oct 4, 2011, pA6). Both statements left me wondering if the speaker were advocating some sort of means test by which landlords would have to remove air conditioning and dishwashers from apartments rented to low income persons?!!!

But then I get serious again. All too often, that quotation from Jesus is used as a means to defuse efforts to draw attention to the reality of poverty and its impact on people all over the world. Poverty does not have to be life threatening to do great harm both to individuals and to nations. There are very real economic reasons why we should not join a race to the bottom in terms of how many people are left to live in dire poverty. However, since the door to consideration of religious implications of poverty gets opened through this commonly misquoted, misapplied and misunderstood quotation from St. John’s Gospel (Jn 12:8), the religious implications have become fair game and I will address them here.

As I am not a theologian and do not speak or read the Koine Greek in which the gospels are written, I asked a theologian friend, Dr. Megan McKenna, to explain the quotation and how it has been understood by the Christian community from its earliest years. Her response was longer than I want to quote here, but I’ll summarize it.

Jesus’ actual statement was, “The poor you always have with you, but me you will not always have.” It was made in response to a complaint by Judas Iscariot that an expensive ointment used by Jesus’ friend Mary to anoint his feet should have been sold rather than wasted on his feet because the proceeds could have been given to the poor. John notes in an aside that Judas was not particularly concerned about the poor, but rather used to help himself to the common purse.

According to Megan, Jesus’ statement was taken by the early church to mean “that whatever you want to do for me, you can do for the poor – and I will take it as done to me… a version of Matt 25: Whatever you do to the least of your brothers and sisters I take it that you did to me, and whatever you ignored or refused to do to the least of my brothers and sisters I take it you ignored me and refused to do it for me.”

She notes: “In the early church there was a saying: ‘See how those Christians love one another [the part they like to quote, the second part of the sentence being] there are no poor among them.’” Christians lived in common and shared what they had because they recognized Christ’s body as being no longer in the tomb but rather having become the Christian community. “What makes one a decent human being and the basis of Christianity is justice – and people deserve justice in all the basic necessities of life – food, water, clothing, shelter, education, health care, dignity, a job, freedom from harm and violence, etc. The rights of justice are listed in the first part of Pacem in Terris – and poverty is an insult to the God of Life who proclaimed that he had come that all might have life, ever more abundantly (here and now).”

Megan’s final point is that “love your neighbor as yourself” is not just a Christian concept. It comes from Jewish theology. “In the Old Testament if you were wealthy and didn’t share, you were considered violent and not a practicing or good Jew. Their understanding is that you are only worth what you give away and share with the poor, no matter what you actually have.”

I find it intriguing that those who are seemingly so concerned about the United States being a Christian nation, who would happily re-criminalize abortion and possibly outlaw birth control, who will spend hours debating and passing legislation re-affirming that the motto of the United States, printed on our money, is “In God We Trust,” would so cavalierly, almost in their next breath, speak of cutting unemployment, food stamps, and health care benefits for the millions of children, their unemployed or underemployed parents, senior citizens, and disabled Americans in order to balance the budget, rather than considering ways to increase revenues.

We as a nation have to decide which way we’ll go. We’ve got to come to an agreement on our social compact and how to fund the infrastructure and human capital development that will be necessary to keep this country and its ideals of freedom and justice for all in a position to lead by example as other peoples in the world reach for the prosperity and freedoms we enjoy. We’re all in this together. We’ve got to make hard choices and sacrifices. But the folks with the fewest resources, even if they have more than those in Third World countries, cannot bear the brunt of the sacrifice or we will all ultimately pay the price. And while that  may have nothing to do with religious beliefs or imperatives, for people of faith, Followers of the Way, Christians, those imperatives speak loudly and clearly and are ignored at our peril!

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Posted by on Sep 5, 2011

Laboring in Love – Blessed Mother Teresa of  Calcutta

Laboring in Love – Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Blessed Mother Teresa, photo by Túrelio

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta (feast day September 5)  worked for decades in India, first as a teacher in schools run by the Sisters of Loreto and later caring for the homeless and dying on the streets of Calcutta. Though controversies exist regarding her work and her legacy, men and women around the world now share in her mission of care for the poor as Missionaries of Charity, not just the dying but also assisting those living in poverty.

Today, as we celebrate Labor Day in the United States, it is worthwhile to remember Mother Teresa’s perspective on the work we do.

“To show great love for God and our neighbor we need not do great things. It is how much love we put in the doing that makes our offering something beautiful for God.”

May we remember her words as we go about our daily lives; that we may touch those around us with love and God’s presence.

 

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Posted by on Sep 2, 2011

Joseph of Arimethea, Nicodemus and the Corporal Acts of Mercy

Joseph of Arimethea, Nicodemus and the Corporal Acts of Mercy

The Deposition - by Raphael, 1507

The joint feast of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus is celebrated on August 31. Both men are named in the Gospels as quiet followers of Jesus who took a public stand on His behalf at the time of His death, requesting the body of Jesus and preparing Him for burial.

Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man, possibly a member of the Sanhedrin, and a secret follower of Jesus. He went to Pilate when Jesus was crucified and requested the body for burial. Roman law allowed members of an executed person’s family to claim the body and bury it in a family tomb. Decisions on claiming a non-family member’s body were on a case-by-case basis, but were not generally granted. Joseph, receiving Pilate’s permission, took Jesus’ body to be buried in a tomb that had been carved out of stone to serve as his own tomb.

Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin who had come to Jesus secretly late one night to talk. (Jn 3:1-21) He was a supporter of Jesus. Once Jesus had died, Nicodemus brought the traditional spices, around 100 pounds of myrrh and aloe, as well as the burial cloths in which to wrap Him. Together with Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus prepared Jesus’ body for burial and laid him in that soon-to-be-famous tomb in the garden. They sealed the tomb with a great stone and returned home quickly, because the Sabbath was beginning.

These two men are the patron saints of undertakers and those who care for and prepare the dead for burial. They are also models for all of us of the practice of the Corporal Acts of Mercy.

The Corporal Acts of Mercy are:

  1. To feed the hungry
  2. To give drink to the thirsty
  3. To shelter the homeless
  4. To clothe the naked
  5. To visit and ransom the captive (prisoners)
  6. To visit the sick
  7. To bury the dead

These very practical activities have been seen since the earliest days of the Christian community as the tasks of Jesus’ followers. Jesus Himself told his followers that to the extent they perform these services for any of God’s children, they perform them for Him. (Mt 25:31-46) Burying the dead was not part of the original list Jesus gave in his discourse on the Last Judgement. This final Work of Mercy comes from the Book of Tobit, in which a just man, Tobit, defies the Assyrian conquerors to provide proper burial for fallen Israelites, despite being punished for doing so.

This call to service of people’s physical (corporeal) needs is fundamental to our calling as baptized Christians. The world has been transformed by Christians who have taken this charge seriously. Now it’s our turn to live out that calling.

 

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