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Posted by on Aug 17, 2016

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Peace Flows Like a River

Water in the Desert

What I’ve discovered … is that when we show up for people in need — when we seek their well-being, flourishing, and justice, whether they ever convert to our religion or not — we might just see the transformation we long for in ourselves and in hard-to-access places around the world. – Jeremy Courtney

Baptist missionary Jeremy Courtney, his wife, and two children found themselves in the middle of the Iraq War.  In today’s attempt by some Moslems and Christians to demonize the other in a continuation of centuries of bloody warfare, Courtney has founded the Preemptive Love Coalition.

Courtney and his movement represent a broadening of the Protestant Evangelical notion of mission to one that is more in keeping with the Vatican II Catholic notion of the Christian missionary. Courtney’s approach is to pursue peace one heart at a time. “Love first and ask questions later.” became the theme of Courtney’s approach as he started helping Iraqi children to obtain life-saving and life-changing heart surgery within Iraq by increasing the capacity and capabilities of the country to care for its own children.

Courtney opens his web page, JeremyCourtney.com, with a compelling quotation from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity about how our failure to accept and embrace people we see as opponents corrupts us and our relationship with God because it leads us to a universe of pure hatred.

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Although C.S. Lewis wrote in the context of World War II and the Nazi regime, his words are especially relevant in our moral challenge of relating to Islam and to Islamic extremists.

Courtney focuses on the need for authenticity, since many Protestant missionaries pose as aid workers or teachers in countries that are hostile to Christianity. In an OpEd for CNN’s Declassifed – Untold Stories of American Spies – “Three Arguments Against Christian Covert ‘Spycraft'” Courtney decries this practice as dishonest, harmful to religious freedom, and because it “puts a target on the backs of local Christians”.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

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Posted by on May 6, 2016

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

An Eye for an Eye … A Whole World Blind?

Milkau_Oberer_Teil_der_Stele_mit_dem_Text_von_Hammurapis_Gesetzescode_369-2“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was an important advance in human relations at the time of Babylonian ruler Hammurabi around 1754 BCE. In earlier ages, particularly in small tribal societies with large extended families, the norm was that family honor demanded extreme reaction/retaliation for wrongs committed against any member of the family. Of course, some members were more highly valued, so retaliation for wrongs against them was more extreme, but even for those with lower status, some sort of response was necessary. Otherwise the next offense might be more extreme. No family could affort to appear weak. This approach is still all too common among tribal peoples today. Honor killings have not disappeared from the face of the earth.

However, as larger groups of people/families began to live in towns and cities, feuds between families, with ever escalating degrees of violence, wrecked havoc on social order and stability. Something had to be done. The Code of Hammurabi, like the codes of other ancient rulers, served as a guide for dealing with conflict and setting levels of responsibility or punishment for offenses.

Legal Codes Limit Revenge

Under the terms of the Code of Hamurabi, wrongs could not be avenged with actions more extreme than the original offense, though what was considered extreme varied by social class, with offenses against the poor or slaves meriting smaller degrees of punishment. Nevertheless, limiting the scope of acceptable response/retaliation was absolutely necessary for human social progress.

Mount Sinai by El GrecoThe Mosaic Law, which undergirds much of Western Civilization, incorporated many of the features of the Code of Hammurabi. In contrast with the codes of monarchies, such as that of Hammurabi, Hebrew law was seen to come from God and included care of widows, orphans, and outsiders (“strangers”) in its scope. The concept of mercy and inclusion of forgiveness of debt were also part of the Mosaic Law.

All of this comes to mind as headlines scream that government forces have bombed a civilian hospital in rebel-held territory one week and the next week another civilian hospital in government-held territory is bombed by rebel forces. Terrorists kill theater-goers. Bombs explode near airports and in subways. Politicians speak of excluding all members of a world religion or all people from certain countries from entry to their more privileged country. Refugees are turned away from country after country. And women and girls who have been victimized by warring men are shunned by their families or killed for bringing dishonor on their families.

Where will it all end? When will it all end? How can it all end?

Jesus was not joking when He told those who came out to hear Him teach that they were to love their enemies, pray for those who persecuted them, and treat others the way they themselves wanted to be treated. (Mt  5:1-7:29 and Lk 6:27-38) They were to be compassionate as the Father is compassionate. These words were meant for us too. They challenge us today. Are they just for individuals or are they for communities and nations?

Forgive and Forget?

We sometimes hear the phrase, forgive and forget. It is so commonly heard that it’s become a platitude, a phrase that is somehow expected but without anticipation that it can actually happen. I suggest that it would be better to say “forgive but don’t forget.” Don’t forget the pain, the shame, the humiliation, the embarassment. But do forgive it and resolve not to pass it on. Take necessary steps to protect the vulnerable from harm. Be reasonably careful yourself, but forgive. Don’t carry the weight of hatred or of seeking vengence through the days following an injury or injustice. That only hurts the one who carries it. Passing on the pain doesn’t take away pain either. Passing it on just gives pain new energy, draining the energy of the one who harbors and holds on to it.

I don’t know how to solve the world’s problems. I don’t know whether we’ll ever see a time when wars will stop. I know that religious conflicts are among the hardest to end, in part because of their confusion with a desire for power and control that masquerades as a search for orthodoxy or conformity in religious belief and practice.

Nevertheless, I do believe that each of us is called to do what we can to stop the bloodshed, both literally and figuratively. We must forgive. We must find ways to hold ourselves and others accountable for our actions. We must learn how to teach our children to love rather than fear or hate those who differ from us and our ways. We must welcome people from other lands. We must resolve to share the goods of the earth, even if that means we must live more simply ourselves. We must go beyond “an eye for an eye,” because as Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” None of us is perfect. No country is entirely innocent on the world stage. But it’s time for all of us to grow up and stop passing on the pain. Time to forgive and remember and resolve, “Never again.”

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Posted by on Mar 5, 2016

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

What is Mercy?

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son

On December 8, 2015 Pope Francis called the Church and the World to a Year of Mercy. This virtue is very prominent in the Pope’s preaching and teaching. Many have embraced this call; but, what is mercy?

Mercy is the attitude or action of someone who could justifiably be uninvolved, superior, insensitive or disdainful. It implies that the person extending mercy goes out of her or his way to ignore whatever differences there may be between the self and others. Sincere mercy is expressed by a person who has moved beyond self-preoccupation or fear to equanimity and even magnanimity. Mercy is inclusive. There is no judgment in mercy as to who deserves it or not. Mercy   knows that the one extending mercy also needs it.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, “hesed” and “rachamim” are both translated as mercy. “Hesed” is a holy, giving love. It is a love which reaches out. It is a love that is steadfast and dependable. (Joshua 2:12-14) “Rachamim” comes from “racham” which is a mother’s womb. (1 Kings 3:26) This is a love that is tender, compassionate, and responsive.

Mercy in Jesus’ Life

Jesus spoke of mercy often. His life often called him to go beyond the law, the rules, and social norms. He pulled to himself those who were unacceptable — the dirty, leprous and sinful: outcasts, women, the old. The widow of Nain, Matthew and Zacchaeus (tax collectors), the woman with the constant bleeding, the man born blind, the woman caught in adultery, and the Samaritan woman at the well — all are examples of Jesus’ extending mercy and often incurring the wrath of the respectable authorities. Jesus crossed the gaps of separation between people to demonstrate the joy of unity. The parable of the prodigal Son is a wonderful example of this. Jesus showed us that fear of the other is unnecessary and destructive of authentic humanity. Mercy’s goal is happiness rather than just legal fairness. Doing mercy is helping people flourish. This is much more than just not hindering people. Jesus let us know that we all need each other’s mercy — and God’s most of all.

Jesus also offered mercy to the powerful. He had openness to the Scribes and Pharisees and encouraged dialogue as long as they were civil. But they could not imagine engaging with someone who associated with outcasts, nor that they themselves might need mercy. These authorities saw the perfect following of their laws as a sign of their righteousness and their separation from outcasts as a good thing. (Never mind that the poor did not have the finances to do the symbolic washing, eating, dressing, tithes, rituals, and travel to be perfectly observant,) Jesus was looking at the heart and its intentions. The elite enjoyed power coming from superiority and were looking at appearances

Mercy in the New Testament and Today

In the New Testament one can also find “eleos” translated as mercy. The root of “eleos” is “oil that is poured out.” Thus God’s love is poured out to us. The generosity of God’s care fills the Scriptures. It is one of St. Paul’s themes.  ( Romans 5:5, Titus 3:6 and 1 Timothy 1:14) God’s mercy does not imply that God is weak. It does say that God knows well our circumstances and His love overflows for us.

Many people have experienced God’s mercy for them. In the most trying circumstances there are those who have leaned on God and found much solace and help. It is not easy to hit a wall and trust God. Coming up against those in power when they show no mercy is also a difficult, if not frightening thing.

In recent years those like Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, Mother Teresa of Kolkata, and Dorothy Day in the United States have shown amazing humility and mercy. The examples of their lives speak to us as we deal with the challenges of our times and the call to give and receive mercy.

 

 

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Posted by on Jun 18, 2015

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Treat Them with Tenderness – Pope Francis

father_piggy_backPope Francis celebrated Mass for the Third Worldwide Retreat for Priests on June 12, 2015, the Feast of the Sacred Heart. In his homily for the priests he spoke of God’s tenderness — a tenderness like that of a father or a mother teaching a child to walk. A tenderness that binds his people in freedom, attracting them “with bonds of love, with ties of love.” He explained that God then tells us and his people, “For you I am like one who lifts a child to my cheek and kisses her as I bend down to feed her. Considering this tenderness of God how would it be possible for him to abandon us to the enemy?” When we find ourselves in difficulty or insecurity, the Lord tells us, “If I do all of this for you, how can you even think that I would leave you on your own, that I would abandon you?”

Referring to the Coptic martyrs of Libya, Pope Francis noted that they died with the name of Jesus on their lips, entrusting themselves to the love of God. God promises,“How can I treat you as an enemy? My heart rises within me and arouses all my tenderness.” It is not a day of wrath that awaits you but a day of pardon for sins and the tenderness of a Father, the Holy One in our midst. This love and tenderness is the gift of the Father to all of his children, for each one of us.

A lot of the time we are afraid of the tenderness of God and we refuse to let ourselves experience it. In these moments “we are hard, severe, punishers” of our neighbors (and even of ourselves). Although he was speaking to priests, the message is something that we should all hear, as it applies to us as well. He also explained that that we should not be like the shepherd who cared for only one sheep and left the other ninety nine sheep to wander about, lost.

The Pope explained, “the heart of Christ is the tenderness of God. This is the way that pastors (and the people of God) should shepherd each other – with the tenderness of God and they should leave the whip in the sacristy (or in the cabinet) and be tender shepherds even with those who are the most troublesome.”

Finishing his homily, Pope Francis said “We do not believe in an ethereal God. We believe in a God who became flesh, who has a heart, and this heart today tells us, ‘Come to me if you are tired, worn out, and I will refresh you, but treat my little ones with tenderness, with the same tenderness with which I care for you.’ This is what the heart of Christ is telling us today and this is what I am praying for you today at this Mass and for myself.”

(Pope Francis’ homily was written for a priests’ retreat, but the ideas he expressed are important for all of us, the People of God. Accordingly, I have included mention of the rest of us in parentheses.)

 

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Posted by on Jun 13, 2015

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

The Sacred Heart of Jesus: Source of Limitless Love

Sacred Heart by David Clayton Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus originated as a meditation on the love that Jesus has for humanity.  In the 1500s, Jesuits and Franciscans promoted devotion to the wounded heart of Jesus. However, they did not stress the physical bleeding heart of Jesus crowned with thorns that has come down to us. This common  image does not necessarily help people feel closer to Jesus today. Presenting Jesus with a heart with flames of love and a face full of love and light emphasizes his limitless divine love in a very human way.

A Physical Organ or A Symbol of Love?

Sacred Heart - Pompeo BatoniThe devotion to the Sacred Heart has not always  included a focus on the suffering of Jesus and his actual physical heart. During the first ten centuries of Christianity, devotion to the humanity of Christ did not include honoring the wounded Heart of Jesus. From the 1200s to the 1500s devotion to the Sacred Wounds increased. However, it was private, individual, and of a mystical nature. The thorn crowned heart shows the change from honoring Jesus’ love for humanity to humans making reparation for sin. In the 1670s, the apparitions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to  Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque,  moved the devotion into the public life of the Church and it became centered on sorrow for sin. Popular piety continued this emphasis and eventually promoted worship of the physical heart of Jesus to such a point that Pope Pius XII had to correct this. The pope explained that the Sacred Heart belongs to the “Divine Person of the Eternal Word” and is a symbolic image of his love and our redemption. (See Haurietis aquas). Eastern Catholicism promotes some devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. However,  the devotion is controversial because of the mixing of the theologies of divine love and human reparation for sin within it. Eastern Catholics do not share the Western preoccupation with the physical heart of Jesus.

Devotion to Love

SacredHeart Fanelli 1994Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a devotion to His love. It is a response to the extravagance of Jesus.  His suffering and human sin are important for our consideration in other ways. However, this focus is not suitable for a devotion which focuses on love. This is particularly true today when addressing young people in first world cultures in which few symbols are shared. A heart in flames is a direct and simple symbol.

It is interesting that one of the main resources of devotion to the Sacred Heart, the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1899), is anything but human, warm, or loving. The Litany is formal, monarchical and transcendent. There is little sense of the human heart of Jesus reaching out to humanity to give consolation, peace or special graces. The prayer is true to its historical context, a time in the Church of formality and a sense of distance from the divine.

Despite the turn towards human individual experience and emotion in the 20th and 21st centuries, many Catholics do not feel personally close to God or have a warm experience of God’s love for them. Many still relate to God as a judge and an enforcer of rules.  Contemplating Jesus in the Gospels gives us a richer mystical image of the truly divine and truly human Jesus Christ full of warm friendliness, compassion, and humility with a heart full of love.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, by David Clayton – used with permission
Sacred Heart, by Pompeo Batoni –  public domain
Sacred Heart of Jesus, by Joseph Fanelli – used with permission

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Posted by on May 18, 2015

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Pope Francis – Three Words for Family Harmony

Dome of St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica Dome – Public Domain CCO

On Wednesday May 13 at his General Audience in St Peter’s square Pope Francis gave a short address on the three words that are key to family happiness and well being. The three words in Spanish that are essential for health relationships are permiso, gracias, y perdón. In English they are phrases: “May I”,”Thank you!”, and “Forgive Me.”

The Pope said that sometimes in our culture these expressions are seen as a sign of weakness as opposed to a true statement of our respect and affection in our intimate relationships. He stressed the need for this respect for the dignity of our spouses, children and other family members as central to living our faith. Without this underlying bedrock respect and affection, these key relationships can rupture and damage everyone in the process.

Asking for permission is key to affirming others and makes our relationship more intimate and strong. Expressing our thanks is more than a social formality. It is a recognition and validation of our loved ones and an expression of our appreciation for their love. Most importantly, we are showing that we are aware of how important our loved ones are to us. The most difficult, according to the Pope, is “Forgive me.” Conflicts and disagreements — even arguments — are part of any honest relationship. Pope Francis even alludes to serious incidents in which “plates fly.” What is key is to ask forgiveness. Pope Francis advises us to be reconciled with each other before the end of the day. This might not always be possible since we might need more time to cool down. However, Pope Francis is making the point that being reconciled has to be done sooner rather than later to demonstrate that the strength of our love is greater than any disagreement or frustration we may have with each other.

A note on cultural differences may be helpful here. Latin cultures tend to deal with stress by externalizing it. Italian opera is a good example of this. Generally, upset and irritation are not internalized. Voices rise, arms start waving, and everything seems over the top by North Atlantic English-speaking standards. For non-Latin cultures, the expression of stress is usually more muted.  The feelings are not necessarily less intense. Sometimes they are more intense since they are being internalized. This type of culturally conditioned response to conflict requires a different, more low key response. The three expressions still apply but we need to be attentive to the way our families perceive and deal with conflict. Anger, dissension, and disillusionment provide opportunities to uncover and resolve deeper conflicts. Professional help from a skilled counselor can be very useful to avoid undermining and destroying our bonds of love and affection. Politeness, courtesy, and respect are important in our speech, but they also have to be accompanied by changed behavior. As St. Ignatius Loyola says in the Spiritual Exercises “Love is shown more in deeds than in words.” These three expressions are important deeds. They are much more than words and can open the door to improved behavior and the mutual acceptance and loving response to challenges that are central to being happy and making a happy home.

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Posted by on Apr 16, 2015

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Easter and “Eastering”

Icon of the ResurrectionEaster is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and what that means for all human beings and the whole of creation. It is an event which gives us hope; a time to remember that good is stronger than evil and death is not the end of life. But the resurrection also has divergent interpretations. For some, Jesus never really died but instead was revived. Some say that he died but his body was stolen and buried somewhere else. For some, it is a question of the resuscitation of a corpse so that Jesus had a revived human body and had to die completely at a later time. For others, it is the return of Jesus in a transformed body. Still others believe that Jesus came back as a vision, seen either interiorly or externally but in a ghostly form.

Catholicism (and most of Christianity) teaches that Jesus returned as fully human and fully divine in a transformed body. He could walk through walls, yet he could eat (Lk. 24:36-23). He could vanish in a moment but had wounds that were of flesh and could be touched. The story of the encounter with Thomas the Apostle (Jn. 20:26-29) is one example. The people closest to him did not recognize him at first. Both Mary Magdalene in the garden (Jn. 20:11-18) and the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-35) mistook him for someone else, a gardener or a fellow traveler respectively. Only through his words and actions did they come to recognize him.

Various traditions of Christianity also emphasize different aspects of Easter. A few focus primarily on the symbolic nature of this miracle, i.e. that all human beings can experience a new life in Christ at the time of death. Most Christians, however, believe that the entire Paschal drama (the Paschal Mystery) from Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday to Easter cannot be separated into parts. With Easter, in this understanding, creation was made fundamentally new in the here and now. It also means that the risen Christ manifested an existence that all will share in in the future Eschaton (the last days) — the reconciliation of all to God.

Because of the entire Paschal Mystery, the Holy Spirit and grace are understood as active in the day-to-day world, inviting and drawing people to God in very tangible ways. According to St. Paul all of us are recapitulating in our lives the life, death and resurrection of Jesus (Phil. 3:10-11). The famous Catholic paleontologist, geologist, philosopher, and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. saw this movement of human history towards its fulfillment in Christ as taking place in everything in the entire universe. As he examined every level of creation from the most basic subatomic (as much as he could know in the 1950s) to the macrocosmic realities of the galaxies, he saw a movement toward greater unity (communion) and consciousness.

What Jesus did at the Last Supper was to place himself as a unique offering of love to the Father, an offering that is shared by us. His self-giving and adoration, and their rejection by those in power, became a historical event on the cross the next day. But, out of the sacrifice of his life came the triumph of God over death and sin for all humanity. No evil or tragedy is beyond the reach of God’s love and redemption. Easter is the absolute promise that the human condition and the way the world currently is is not a meaningless lonely journey to oblivion. Jesus “Easters” us every day when we let his love and guidance into ourselves and our lives as we struggle with our crosses of loss, hurt, or disordered living. We live Easter here and now imperfectly, but this Easter will be fully realized in the future in the Kingdom of God.

Icon of the Resurrection, by Surgun. Public Domain

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Posted by on Mar 16, 2015

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Metanoia — Transformation and Change

 

What does “Metanoia” Mean?

 “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

Many of us have a desire for closeness to God and the realization of all that we can be. Those goals inevitably call us to change. But, change is hard. And often we feel that we cannot make it happen. In fact, we cannot and do not make it happen. As Christians we realize that God makes it happen. We can let  desire in. We can say “yes” to change even if it feels like an unknown path. We can push back fear and see the new possibilities as freedom from the past or as an adventure.  But even these are with God’s support. Left on our own, we humans fall into fear, laziness, and even anger that there is work involved in finding true happiness.

Why is growth toward happiness so much work? Is there a point to work? Why doesn’t God just give us feelings of happiness or all the material goods that would meet normal needs?

Created for Transcendence

In his love, God has created us to transcend our natural selves. He has built into his creation a sense of beauty and  love that goes far beyond the need to survive. As humans evolved from an un-self-reflective consciousness  to an ability to be self-reflective, they developed the ability to choose consciously and to know if an act is harmful to self or others.  This is a good and basic moral accomplishment, but the bigger task for humans has been to distinguish accomplishments from our fundamental orientation. Many of us work very hard at doing important and helpful things. We build our legacy goal by goal.

In the middle of all of this striving we inevitably hit such things as disappointment, tragedy, loneliness, thoughtlessness, health problems, and set-backs. We ask ourselves if all the effort is worth it. Do I matter? Does my life matter?

I can react with anger or ego and wrap myself up in accomplishments, money, or an attractive body. I often yell at God about why I have to work so hard to get things done. I always get back the same reply, “Because I love you.”  God loves me enough to invite me to work with my fear and my feelings of inadequacy and to let him help me through all the moments of planning and work. No one is going to hand me good relationships. But, my prayerful reflection on my relationships can improve them. I can let God calm me down. I can hear an inner voice suggesting a better way to talk or listen.

All of this hope and growth can happen if my fundamental orientation is to God. The desire to depend on God happens because I surrender to God and to God’s ways. The Bible speaks of the turn in fundamental orientation as “metanoia.”

Repentence or more?

The term “metanoia” appears 58 times in the New Testament.  It is usually translated as “repentance.” But, the translation as “repentance” is controversial. It can be traced back to a choice that had to be made when the text was translated for early Latin Christianity. There was no equivalent in Latin to the earlier Classical Greek meaning. Classical Greek understood it as a change of mind. Even if one narrows the word to repentance, it never in Greek usage had a sense of sorrow or regret. “Meta” means beyond or after and “noia” means mind.  Why is this search for precision important?

It is important because “metanoia,” even if translated  as repentance, is in the broader context of Jesus’ intention to announce the coming of the kingdom of God. There is a process in the Gospels by which people come to the Kingdom and salvation. It is a process of evangelism, encounter with God, enlightenment, conversion, repentance, decision, and a new self-identity which includes a change of belief and social structure.  Sorrow for sins is important and good, but the encounter with God and commitment to him is the only enduring basis for belief, change and perseverance. We see examples of this in the story of St. Peter’s responses to Jesus after the Resurrection (Jn 21:15-21) or the call of the disciples (Jn. 1:35-39).

Christ and Zacchaeus - Niels_Larsen_Stevns-_ZakæusA lasting “metanoia” or change happens because of an experience of God.

No one can define the nature of that experience. It is different for each person. It can be a sense of closeness such as that experienced by Mary, Martha and Lazarus (Lk. 10:38-42, Jn. 11:1-44) or an answer to prayer or the knowledge that one has been saved from a threat or entanglement as in the experience of Zacchaeus the tax collector (Lk. 19:1-10).  Some people have visions, others experience healings. For some a particular passage in Scripture sets their hearts on fire or they experience a feeling of consolation after receiving communion.

Metanoia: A gift for the entire community

Some Christian groups make a distinction between the metanoia and pursuant faith commitment of someone raised in the faith and the startling experience St. Paul had on the road to Damascus. There is no difference. People raised in a faith tradition can grow from learned traditions and rules to an experience of God. It can be quite eye-opening. Many are not counting on knowing Christ. The practice of prayer can provide strength and guidance, but experience of God is the possible and expected point of prayer. This is not just for the canonized saints. God can re-frame our accustomed ways. This is metanoia. It is a turning or conversion which takes our consent, but it is a gift.

Give God some time to meet you in prayer. Read the Gospels and put yourself in the stories. Consider giving your life to God and let him lead you to your experience of him, to your metanoia.

 

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Posted by on Apr 19, 2013

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Forgiveness Requires a Response

Beach at the Sea of Galilee

Beach at the Sea of Galilee

Easter season is a time when we rejoice in Jesus’ Resurrection. We celebrate God’s great love in becoming human, living a totally human life, and being faithful in obedient love even through torture and a shameful death on the cross. We speak of salvation for all resulting from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Yet sometimes we also beat ourselves up for our sinfulness and responsibility for Jesus’ sacrifice and death. But beating ourselves up is not what Jesus wants for us. Jesus comes bearing forgiveness and that forgiveness requires a response. The evidence is clear in Scripture and we need to remind ourselves of it regularly.

Jesus’ disciples did not expect that he would be raised from the dead. In those first hours and days after the crucifixion, they must have been terribly upset with themselves. If only I had …   If only I hadn’t …  We should have …. We should never have allowed him to … What will I say to my family when I go home? I’ve been such a fool. I should have known it was all too good to be true. They all said I was chasing a dream. On and on their thoughts must have raged. When the first reports came in regarding the resurrection, from the women of all people, their response was natural. The women must be hysterical. Such a thing could not happen.

Nevertheless, throughout that first day of the week, the risen Jesus came to them. They did not recognize him at first. He looked like a gardener. He looked like a fellow traveler on the road and potential dinner companion. Once they recognized him, — when he came into the room despite locked doors it was pretty clear who  he was, — but the feared they were seeing a ghost. Always, however, Jesus reassured them. “Peace,” he said to those hiding behind locked doors.  “Do not be frightened,” he said to the women in the garden who first found the empty tomb. “What little sense you have! How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced!” he said to the travelers on the road to Emmaus. Then at supper with the travelers, he took the bread, blessed it, broke it and shared it and they knew it was the Lord. Immediately they walked back to Jerusalem to tell the others.

As the days passed, the disciples left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee as he had told them to do, through Mary Magdalene and the other women. They had been fishermen and so they went fishing. Anything to bring some sense of normality again! Yet early in the morning, after fishing without luck all night, a man in seen on the shore. The man calls out to them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They do and the nets are filled. “The disciple Jesus loved” told Peter, “It is the Lord” and Peter threw on some clothes and jumped into the water to swim to the Lord. The others brought in the boat with its marvelous catch. Jesus may not have looked like the man with whom they had lived for the past three years, but this time they knew it was he. He cooked breakfast for them and then spoke directly to Peter, three times asking “Do you love me?” Each time Peter responded that he did and Jesus instructed him with slightly different words each time, “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep.”

Each time Jesus appears, he reassures his friends and he reassures us as well. All is forgiven. All is OK. We need not dwell on the past. We must move ahead and tell others what we have seen and experienced. We are not to beat ourselves up about what we have done wrong or the times we’ve failed to do the right thing. We must recognize those times as having happened and accept forgiveness for them. Forgiveness is always offered to us. Then we must move forward rejoicing — carrying that peace, love, and forgiveness that comes from our Lord God into our world.  There’s plenty of bad news there already. Our job is to carry the Good News, spreading it far and wide through our actions and our words.

Alleluia! He is Risen!

 

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Posted by on Sep 11, 2012

Opening and Being Opened

On this anniversary of the tragedy known as 9/11, it’s all too tempting to circle the wagons, draw in our hearts and hands, refuse to risk reaching out to the stranger among us, set up barriers of Us vs Them, and otherwise behave in closed, angry, hostile ways. But that is not the way of Christ.

This past Sunday, September 9, Fr.Ron Shirley’s homily was on the reading from Mark’s Gospel 7:31-37: the healing of the deaf mute. His insights on opening and being opened by Christ are worth pondering.

Be Opened 9-9-2012

The Gospel of Mark is the oldest Gospel we have. There are many special things about it. One of the most special things is that it contains several original words of Jesus. Words in Jesus own language – Aramaic – that he must have spoken himself.

We have one of these words today, a very powerful word: Ephatha, which means “Be Opened.” Say it with me: EPHATHA!
Being opened is the opposite of being shut, of being clenched.

Do me a favor, will you. Clench your hands. Clench your hands as hard as you can and make fists. Keep it like that for just a few minutes, until I tell you.

A clenched fist gives a person a sense of power. We clench our fists when we get really mad, really frustrated, really full of hate.

A clenched fist is an ugly thing.

But not nearly as ugly as a clenched face. We clench our faces when we criticize too harshly, when we judge harshly, when we look down on someone or put out an arrogant attitude.

A clenched face is an ugly thing … but not nearly as ugly as a clenched heart. Our hearts get clenched when we are full of hatred and vengeance. Other things that can clench the heart are greed, envy, jealousy, or rage when we don’t get our own way.

(Keep your fist clenched a little bit longer)

Sometimes whole families can be clenched, whole parishes, whole communities.

And to the clenched community, the clenched family, the clenched heart, the clenched face, the clenched hand, the clenched ears, the clenched tongue, Jesus comes and says EPHATHA! BE OPENED!

I hope those of you who have clenched your hands are getting really tired. You should be. Now I’ll ask you to slowly, slowly unclench your hands: EPHATHA! BE OPENED!

Isn’t that better?

One day you will be completely unclenched. On the day when we rise to glory, it will be wonderful. We will be holding on to God completely and fully … because we won’t be holding anything else.

In the meantime, we Christians try to let go, little by little, of pains and wounds and regrets and resentment and anger. And Jesus is here helping us.

I close with this:

Jesus came to me. He saw that my mind was clenched. I can’t stand them. Those groups. Those people. That person. EPHATHA, he said BE OPENED! But I replied, Lord they hurt me. They threaten me. They violate me.

“I know, he said. Like the people who were cruel to me on Good Friday. My mind wanted to clench shut. The thought of them was like a crown of thorns tightening around my temples. But I opened myself up and God raised me, making me the Savior.”

Jesus came. He saw my hands were clenched. I’m not going to help another person. I’m not going to help the church anymore. I’m not going to reach out to my neighbor again. No one appreciates it.

“I know, Jesus said. Like the people who didn’t appreciate me. Sometimes when I opened my hands it felt like they were hammering nails through it. But I opened myself, and God raised me, making me the Savior of the world.”

Jesus came. He saw that my heart was clenched. So full of anger, so bitter, so jealous. Ephatha, he said. Be opened! I’m so tired of loving people. Often they don’t love me back. And when I opened my heart it feels sometimes like a great spear pierces me to my very soul.

“I know, said Jesus. Believe me, I understand. But when the spear pierced my heart, I opened myself to it, to the world, to the father … and God has raised me up.”

Ephatha! Be Opened! God will raise you up also!

Close your eyes; clench your fists – what else in your life is clenched?

EPHATHA! I am going to help you, says Jesus!

Fr. Ron Shirley, September 9, 2012

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Posted by on Aug 4, 2012

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Quote of the Day – St. John Vianney

St. John Vianney

August 4 is the feast of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests. John Vianney was born to a peasant family in Lyons, France. He wanted to be a priest, but his education was limited and he was not a very good student, despite his great desire to learn enough to be ordained. Finally his bishop took a chance on him and agreed to ordain him. John was assigned to a remote town far away from any place of note. He was not a great homilist. His knowledge of theology was limited. But he was a good listener and a compassionate man whose advice and counsel was welcomed by those who came to him for confession. Before long, he was spending up to eighteen hours a day, sitting in a confessional, hearing the confessions of people who traveled from all over France to receive forgiveness through his ministry.

St. John Vianney also loved the Eucharist. Among his many insights was this one on God’s love for us.

“The soul hungers for God, and nothing but God can satiate it. Therefore He came to dwell on earth and assumed a Body in order that this Body might become the Food of our souls.”

 Image of St. John Vianney is in the public domain.

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Posted by on Apr 18, 2012

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Divine Mercy – Entering the Locked Rooms of our Hearts

 

Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Vilnius

Divine Mercy Sunday falls each year on the second Sunday of Easter. On this day we hear the story of Jesus’ appearance on Easter evening to his disciples who were hiding in the locked room where they had celebrated their last meal with him only a few days earlier. They were confused, frightened, bewildered, incredulous, and all the emotions in-between. They knew he had been executed. They knew that for the most part they had deserted him in his time of suffering. Yet the women had come bearing the message that he was risen from the dead. Peter and John had found the tomb empty. And now … here he was before them.

What would he say? “You blankety-blank sorry excuses for friends — I don’t know what I ever saw in you!” “How could you abandon me?” “Go take a long walk off a short pier.” “I’m done with you!”

The rest of us might have said such things. Such feelings would be accepted as only human. But Jesus said nothing of the sort. What did he say? “Peace be with you.” Not just once. He repeated it that night and again the next week, when he came again, with a special mission to reassure Thomas of his resurrection.

The early disciples were ordinary men and women like all of us alive today. Like them, we hide away, locking our fears, hurts, anger, doubts, shame, and uncertainty deep within. We hesitate to let anyone see or touch us in our pain, even our Risen Lord. So he comes to us too and offers peace. The mercy and absolute forgiveness of God are ours through Jesus. As our deacon, Patrick Conway, reminded us all Sunday morning, our best response is to allow Jesus to enter into our lives in their deepest, most hidden and hurting areas with God’s loving mercy and healing power. When we receive Communion, we, like the disciples in that locked room, find our Lord and Savior in the midst of our lives and we too receive the power to forgive and the gift of being forgiven.

As we bask in the gift of Divine Mercy this week, may the mercy, love and peace of the Risen Lord be with each of us. Then may we carry God’s mercy forward with us to all we meet in the year to come.

Painting by Eugene Kazimierowski.
Photograph by Alma Pater.
GNU Free documentation license.

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Posted by on Jul 26, 2011

Mission: Peacemaking and Muslim Christian Relations

Novena to St. Ignatius Loyola – Reconciliation – Fifth Day – July 27 –

Testimony:

Thank God for His mercy and grace. If not for His grace and mercy, I would have been so lost in drugs and alcohol and misery. He sent His son to die for each of us. What I have now is peace that passes all understanding, and His Spirit that lives in me to give me actual joy in life. finally joy and peace that I thought was in pain killers and booze. That wasn’t joy, that was being numb. Not now! Not anymore! Thank God for His grace. – blog comment on “Your Grace Is Enough for Me” by stormyweather

Reflection:

This testimony is a beautiful example of true reconciliation. It involves a transformative healing and could have come right out of the pages of the Gospel – The Good News.

Confession, or the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is high on St. Ignatius’ list of priorities for the First Week of the Exercises. The challenge for most cradle Catholics is focusing on a long Church approved check list of sins, as opposed to focusing on the person of Christ. The things that bother us the most are obvious if we are honest with ourselves. Often we can become neurotically obsessed with our own behavior in terms of small things, without facing major issues like alcoholic parents; sexual, physical, or psychological abuse; refusing to forgive. People in lifestyles or marriages that don’t meet Church standards can feel that somehow God is not interested in them; somehow He died only for the good people.

Most of the detailed lists cover symptoms of some type of break-down in our relationship with God as codified in the Ten Commandments or the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, avarice, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. However, this can lead to a denial of our own feelings and cause damage in other areas of our lives. If my anger is always close to the surface, it is not really helpful to keep confessing it and beating myself up over it without looking more deeply at what its cause is. My marriage can be problematic and my sex life unsatisfying. However, if I just keep focusing on the symptoms instead of these deeper issues, I am wasting time and energy and building up to something that will be very bad for everyone concerned.

Sin, guilt, and remorse can be very complicated. Returning veterans from the Middle East have not sinned when they killed people if you believe in the just war theory of morality. That doesn’t mean that they don’t carry a great burden. When they lash out in destructive ways as part of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, marriages are lost, children are harmed, suicide can follow. Going down a checklist doesn’t even begin to offer the healing we all need in these and most situations. Let us look at ourselves, our loved ones, and all others with honesty and compassion as we embrace the forgiving Christ. We are worth everything to God. Perhaps the greatest sin when we don’t see ourselves as worth saving. God does not make junk.

people-walking-on-street

Examination of Conscience

Place yourself in God’s presence and know that you are with a trusted friend. Put out of your mind all thoughts of an avenging father figure or some tyrannical authority figure. You are with the God who came to dwell among us and shared all things we endure except sin. Jesus was open and frank with people who came and spoke with him. He expects no less from you. If you are upset or confused, listen for the healing voice of your Friend. Open your heart and listen.

Start with a thank you for being redeemed and saved and for protection. Ask the tough questions. Why did my child die? What do I do with my alcoholic husband? My heart is broken. Can you mend it? I tampered with evidence to get innocent people convicted. I fought for tax laws that would protect me and take food, healthcare, housing, and education from the poor. I did my best to be careful, but I killed women and children in that village. I think the Church is wrong when it says we should get rid of the death penalty.

Be open to finding out the facts. Have I brought these issues to a counselor? How do I start to change things and to make amends. What is the deeper issue here?

Talk with Jesus. Accept His forgiveness. When he says “Go in peace and sin no more,” what will I do to make that a reality? If you are glum or downcast, something is wrong. You have been pardoned. Stretch, breathe, cry for happiness. Break out in song. Jump for joy. This day salvation has come to your house.

Concluding Prayer

St. Ignatius, you signed your letters “pobre de bondad,” poor in goodness, and called yourself a pilgrim. Please pray for me to be open to what God is calling me to do to announce and build up the kingdom. Transform my petitions into questions of discernment and pray for us to remember that all of our true needs and desires are already known to God. Pray that I be taken beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.

In your writings and by your example we are reminded to pray for the Church and the Holy Father, for all who dwell in darkness and for the millions lacking food, water, and other necessities. We join our prayer with yours for true openness so that we can contemplate the Divine presence in all things and praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord in action.Pray for us to have the courage to meet and to serve the Lord Jesus in the poor and the suffering.

Praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
Now and Forever. Amen.

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Posted by on May 7, 2011

Sharing in Divine Mercy

The second Sunday of Easter is known as Divine Mercy Sunday. The Gospel reading (Jn 20:19-31) tells of Jesus’ appearance to His disciples in the Upper Room on Easter Sunday evening. He appeared among them, wished them Peace, showed them His wounds and asked for something to eat. Then He breathed on them, the breath of the Holy Spirit,  and told them to forgive sins. He told them to continue the work He had begun, taking the Good News of God’s love out to all the world.

When I was growing up, the message of this Gospel’s story of the granting of power to forgive sin was generally presented in terms of the power of priest to forgive sins in the sacrament of Penance (now more often known as Reconciliation). However, as I listened to the Gospel proclamation last Sunday, the Good News I heard was of the gift given to all of us as followers and disciples of Jesus – the power to forgive those who hurt us in some way.

Forgiveness does not come easily to anyone. When hurts come along, it’s often much more satisfying to plot revenge, or bask in a stew of martyred pouting or otherwise hold on to the hurt. But Jesus knew something we often miss. The one most hurt, the one most diminished, the one who suffers most from such behavior is the one who engages in it! Perhaps that is why He was so quick to forgive those who had abandoned and denied Him just a few days earlier.

As we live our calling as followers of Jesus, we share the task of bringing forgiveness, reconciliation and peace to our families, communities, nations and world. Anything that stands in the way of this mission is to be suspect. We can’t forgive through our own power. Some wounds are just too deep for our human ability to heal. But Jesus is with us and He can heal them if we are willing to open them to His touch. And as we receive healing, we are called to pass it on, so that the waves of forgiveness and healing at last embrace all the people of the world. It’s truly a noble calling.

Peace be with you.

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Posted by on Oct 31, 2010

Who is Zacchaeus in Our Lives Today?

The Gospel reading for today, the 31st Sunday of Ordinary time, Cycle C, is the story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus lived in Jericho. He was despised by the people of the community because he was a tax collector. Being a tax collector in those days meant that he was free to extort as much as he could get from the people and had only to send a portion of it to the authorities at higher levels of government (ie, Jerusalem and Rome). He was the chief tax collector, taking money from all the tax collectors under his supervision and from his own work as well. The gospel notes that he was a wealthy man.

Now Zacchaeus was curious about Jesus and when he heard that Jesus would be passing through town, he went out with the crowd to see him. We do the same today when celebrities come through our own towns. However, Zacchaeus had a problem. He was a short man and there were lots of people in front of him. So he climbed a tree to get a better view.

Jesus saw him in the tree, stopped and called him by name to come down, saying that he (Jesus) would dine at the home of Zacchaeus that night. The people were horrified and scandalized. They asked if Jesus really could know who Zacchaeus was, that he was a terrible sinner? But Zacchaeus was touched by the healing love of Jesus in that moment and volunteered that he would return fourfold all that he had stolen and give half of his possessions to the poor. Jesus told all “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Lk 19:1-10)

This story got me to thinking. Who is Zacchaeus in our lives today?

It’s easy to point the finger of blame at celebrities who are promiscuous or who drink too much or who use illicit drugs. It’s easy to look at politicians who misuse their power. It’s easy to say that those who provide or seek abortions are great sinners. It’s easy to scapegoat people whose sexual orientation does not match our own.  It’s easy to gloat when a minister is caught in some sin he or she has denounced from the pulpit.

But I don’t think that’s the lesson we need to draw from this account. We need to look at ourselves and see the areas in which we fail. We need to ask ourselves who we cheat, from whom do we steal, whose hearts do we break? To some extent each of us is Zacchaeus.

Then I suggest we go a step further. Who are the people in our lives whom we blame for what is wrong in society? Who are the people we would choose to block from access to the goods of life? To whom would we deny education, health care, food, clothing, shelter?

Do we blame undocumented immigrants and seek to exclude them and their children from the goods and services they need to live full, healthy lives? Do we suggest that the children of the undocumented who are born here should not be citizens by birth, thereby denying them the protection of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution? Do we look down on the laid off teacher, the unwed mother,  or the disabled worker who receive unemployment, food stamps and Medicaid? Do we insist that people who can’t afford health insurance should just not get sick and/or need preventive care services? Do we say that only the well-to-do should be able to stay home with their young children and that mothers in poorer families should have to put their children in day care for long periods of time and work at minimum wage or less trying to earn enough to cover rent, food and childcare? Do we assume that all children of minority groups are probably gang members? Do we expect that the poor are somehow less intelligent and deserve to live in poverty?

I suggest that perhaps Zacchaeus takes many forms in the United States today. Some people we treat as if they were public sinners (Zacchaeus) because they are less fortunate or have made poor decisions in their lives. Somehow we are inclined to believe that those for whom all is going well are holy and specially rewarded by God for their good lives and that the opposite is true for those in difficult circumstances. Some of us are Zacchaeus in our world because of choices we have made that hurt others.

The good news is that Jesus came to bring salvation to us all, in whatever way we may personally be Zacchaeus and to whomever we treat with scorn or exclude as if he or she were Zacchaeus.  And why does Jesus come to bring this salvation? Because “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost” and because the Lord will “overlook people’s sins that they may repent.” (Wis 11:23)

Good news indeed. May we be open to receive that salvation ourselves and to support others whom we might otherwise push aside as unworthy of the grace and blessings of the Lord.

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