Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Reflections on Matthew - Beatitudes

We live in what I consider an angry society.  Just look at our national politicians and media personalities: they are constantly yelling and asserting themselves and their beliefs over others’.  It seems as if they are incapable of sitting down and having a rational conversation.  

What a perfect time to reflect on the refreshing attitude from Jesus in Matthew 5: 1-11: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.”  There are eight of these phrases altogether. 

The person who lives this way in their personal relationships: who decides to pray rather than to fight back, to love rather than retaliate, and most importantly to trust in God and let Him do the work, rather than to do it oneself, is a much happier person and a much more pleasant person to be with.

Yes the Beatitudes are counter-intuitive and counter cultural.  They are definitely not the way we normally think. ‘Happy are those who have no worldly joy.’ ‘Happy are those who are vulnerable and unable to fight back.’ ‘Happy are those who reconcile quarrels, those who forgive and give alms.’  Suffer wrongs patiently. Be meek.

It is not that we are called to be passive and like a rag doll.  Rather, if we truly live the way of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) and trust in God and do not worry, then we would not be angry and bitter.  There will always be someone who disagrees with you or who has hurt you in some way.  It’s time to make the decision to love them in return and forgive what they have done, so that their actions and poor choices can disappear from your life forever.  That’s not passivity; that’s power.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Reflections on Matthew: Christ is King

Like many of you, I watched some of the Presidential Inauguration a week ago. What a spectacle it was: the precision ceremony,the pageantry, and the show of power and force with all of the military honor guards. 

Is the president the most powerful person in the world?  Well, that depends on what you mean by “power”.  If “power” is measured by economic and military strength, then yes, one could argue that the President is the most powerful person in the world.  The United States is ranked number 1 in both of those categories.  If power is measured not by money and weaponry, however, but by phenomena such as love and truth, then billions of people would now also be in the running for “most powerful”.  That kind of power is found in the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is not so much a geographical area like the United States, or New Jersey, or England.  It is more the sense of the “kingship of God”.  It is not so much a piece of land but rather a group of people who accept that God is King and allow His power to govern their lives.

What does the President do?  We hear about it every night on the news.  Today he talked on the phone with five foreign leaders.  This past week he signed a number of executive orders on such issues as abortion, immigration and federal employees. 

What does Jesus the King do?  “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness of the people” (Matthew 4:23).   Jesus’ kingdom “is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things” (Pope Pius XI, encyclical Quas Primas (1925) paragraph 15).   

What are Jesus the King’s top priorities?   The Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12):  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” 

I am by no means putting Jesus and the President on the same level by comparing the two – one is infinitely greater than the other, of course - I am simply describing the nature of God’s Kingdom by comparing it with an earthly kingdom/country.

Earthly kings are limited and flawed.  Christ the King is infinitely powerful and perfect.  In 1922 Pope Pius XI noticed that even though the Treaty of Versailles ending World War I was signed several years earlier, there was still hatred among the leaders of the previously warring countries:  

Peace indeed was signed in solemn conclave between the belligerents of the late War. This peace, however, was only written into treaties. It was not received into the hearts of men, who still cherish the desire to fight one another and to continue to menace in a most serious manner the quiet and stability of civil society. (Pope Pius XI, encyclical Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio (1922), paragraph 20).

This story is a reminder to us to continue to put our trust in Christ.  Until Jesus Christ reigns in our world, we will never have complete peace.  Approximately 2,000 years have passed since Jesus walked the Earth and St. Matthew wrote his gospel.  In many ways the world is as dangerous today as it ever was, if not more so considering the level of sophistication of the kinds of weaponry that people and countries wield. 

As we continue to listen to God’s word in the Gospel of Matthew in this liturgical year, may we continue to accept Jesus’ Kingship rather than the world’s in our hearts.  May we continue to pray to God:  “Thy Kingdom come!”

Sunday, September 4, 2016

St. Gregory the Great, our Patron

Happy feast of St. Gregory the Great, our patron! 

 At first glance, we might think that it could be difficult to relate to someone who died over 1400 years ago. 

(Now Saint) Teresa of Calcutta, for example, is a 20th century saint that we are all familiar with. She only passed away in 1997. We can picture her and have watched and heard her speak. We know her story: she dedicated her life to serving the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. She is a contemporary saint, a saint familiar to us. You may have even met her. Many of the priests in our Diocese met her when she visited the Diocese of Trenton on June 18, 1995. 

St. Gregory (540-604 A.D.), on the other hand, seems to be a more distant figure, a kind of other worldly figure, who at first glance does not seem to have much to say to us who live in a 2016 American suburb. In fact, if you google St. Gregory the Great, you are more likely to find links to information about our parish or carnival than you are about the man himself! 

Furthermore, in addition to the fact that he lived over 1400 years ago, he also was a great figure of world history and for that reason seems ‘above’ us. He was “the Great”. He is one of only 2-4 popes in history who have had the title “the Great” attached to them because of their important role in history. 

What are some of the great things he accomplished on the world stage? 

He taught monks in his own monastery in Rome and then sent them as missionaries to England to help strengthen Christianity on that island. 

He led many people in Rome through a difficult time: the Roman Empire was in decline; there were disease, poverty, and hunger everywhere; the Lombards were invading and trying to destroy Rome. St. Gregory not only offered spiritual guidance to the people of Rome, but he even helped to bring about civil order. At one point he had to send out armies to defend the city from the Lombards. At another point, when the army was about to revolt due to lack of pay, he paid them from the Church’s treasury. He negotiated a peace settlement with the invaders at one time. He fed the Roman citizens when the civil authorities were unable to. 

Also, St. Gregory was a source of unity in the Church in his time, and his teachings and writings were foundational for the Church until the middle of the 8th century. 

Most of us do not spend too much time thinking about the Church of the 6th century, like he did. But there are two main qualities of his life, that were very important to him, that we should imitate in our lives as well, and that can serve as guideposts for us whenever we see his name in the thousands of ways we do in the course of the year in our parish: on our stationery letterhead, on our school logo or bulletin cover, when the name “St. Greg’s” is mentioned in a conversation with a neighbor. 

First, he was a humble man. He came up with a new title for the pope --- “Servant of the Servants of God” ---- stressing not the earthly power of the pope --- which at that time and later into the Middle Ages the popes had a lot of --- but rather the pope’s role of servant of people and servant of the members of the Church community and of the poor. Again, among popes of that period his humility and simplicity of style stood out. He even transformed the luxurious Lateran Palace, where popes lived then, into a kind of monastery during his papacy. 

In a homily written by St. Gregory found in the Office of Readings for St. Gregory, the saint speaks not of his many, various accomplishments but rather of the struggles he faced in carrying out God’s will. For example, he did not think he was a competent preacher. He had difficulty practicing what he preached. He states that he was slothful and negligent, talked idly, and was distracted by worldly matters and problems (From a homily on Ezekiel by St. Gregory the Great, Pope, Office of Readings for September 3). How many of us would be so honest about our faults? 

Secondly, St. Gregory was a man of prayer. He was the monk-pope. He was first a monk before he became a pope. He built 6 monasteries and a seventh one was his home in Rome that he turned into a monastery. He stressed the importance of contemplating God and meditating on the life of Christ. He exhorted people to combat vice and sin in their lives, to grow in virtue and to embrace the gifts of the Holy Spirit in us. He was a great teacher of the spiritual life. 

For demonstrating these qualities and many, many more good ones; for all of the writings and homilies he has left us (more writings than we could read in our lifetimes!); for his complete commitment to Jesus Christ and to prayer, we say that we are so glad that he is our patron! 

St. Gregory the Great, pray for us!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

 It’s very quiet here tonight (the Wednesday before Thanksgiving).  On one level this a little depressing because usually our campus is busy with some type of activity.  As a priest who was once assigned here once said, every evening he would look out his window, and there were always cars in the parking lot.  Tonight there are no cars on the lot though--- with the exception of the two parish trucks, a van waiting to take donated food to Mt. Carmel Guild, and one other car (I don’t know who the car belongs to).  But on another level this is perfectly fine, because it means that people are spending time with their families.  As the “domestic Church,” the family is the best place for children to learn the Faith.  In the home, family members learn to practice humility, forgiveness, charity, and selflessness: parents with their children, children with their parents, brothers with their sisters and vice versa, etc.  In the home and in family life, people learn about God. 

The other evening I heard a radio commentator refer to Thanksgiving as a “family institution.”  This opened my mind to a whole new insight about Thanksgiving.  We have many institutions in our society: churches, government, schools, businesses, and social clubs and organizations.  Thanksgiving is a special, privileged day though for the all-important institution of the family; this is why this holiday is so meaningful for us and enjoyable!  In many ways and with few exceptions, the other institutions of society defer to the family on this day and “get out of the way.”  One notable exception is the “Church;”  we will have a Mass tomorrow morning at 9:00 am which many people will attend for example, and the prayers of the Church are continually offered for its people every day, for example in the Liturgy of the Hours.

But again, on Thanksgiving the family is “front and center.”  I hope you, your family and all your loved ones have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Same Sex Attraction: What is the Church's Teaching?

Can a person be “homosexual” and Catholic?  On Tuesday, October 20, our Adult Faith Formation team for its first “Tuesday Night Live” session showed the documentary film The Third Way, which explores the Catholic Church’s approach to loving persons with same sex attraction.  I hosted a Q & A session afterward which you can listen to here. You can also watch the short movie here.

The Church teaches that persons with same sex attraction should be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” (paragraph 2358) and should not be discriminated against unjustly. They are called to have a freedom of heart that allows them to have peace at the core of their being.  Just like everyone else they are called to chastity.  

Contrary to the orthodoxy of our culture and of our day, the Church also teaches though that while same sex attraction, the desire, is not in and of itself sinful (After all, a person cannot be held accountable for something that is not within their control), it is “disordered” (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2358; for a summary of the Church’s teaching, see also paragraphs 2357 and 2359).  The reason for calling it “disordered” is that the desire of same sex attraction does not lead the person to carry out acts that lead to true fulfillment and human flourishing.   

It is important to note that the Church separates the inner feeling/attraction from the homosexual act. The act, commonly expressed as “acting out,” could be in thought, word or deed, and that is where the sin would lie, in that area of choice in the mind and will of the person. 

Keep in mind that “homosexual” is not the best way to identify a person. That term makes it seem as if the fact that the person is attracted toward members of the same sex is the most important part of their identity and should dominate their whole life.  This is typical in our culture, isn’t it, where sex and sexuality is the most important reality in life.   But I shouldn’t see a “homosexual”; that means that I am only interested in characterizing that person by the way they would like to have sex or relate to others “sexually.”  Rather I should see a person.  I see a person who may be struggling with same sex attraction.  Being same sex attracted is just one of a number of qualities and characteristics of a person, and by far not the most important one. 

One of my moral theology professors in seminary taught us to look at the issue of sexual attraction on a “spectrum.”  A person in fact could lie on many different points on a spectrum when it comes to whom they are attracted. A person could be exclusively same sex attracted or exclusively attracted to members of the opposite gender.  A person could be strongly attracted to persons of the same gender and less attracted but still attracted to some degree to persons of the opposite gender, and vice versa.  The issue of how sexual attraction comes to be present in a person - where those feelings originated and how they developed -  is a complex psychological issue, with shades of gray, and persons should not just be lumped into one of two categories so that it is easier for us to judge them.

In a sound bite culture in which discourse, if it occurs at all, takes place though flashing, colorful lights and the expression of raw emotions and gut feelings, it is difficult to make all of these kinds of distinctions that the Church makes with regard to the issue of same sex attraction.  But we must try because Jesus commands us to do so.  “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature” he said (Mk 16:15).  And we must preach the Gospel not ashamedly but confidently and joyfully.