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Medicine of Mercy

As I have been looking for topics for new articles for this blog, the topic of who can receive Communion in the Catholic Church has been in the news. In the news it involves politicians. I am not going to talk about politicians or any other particular individual receiving Communion. Today I would like to offer some thoughts that I have previously discussed in some of my previous blog articles on the Eucharist and in the third presentation in my series on the Sacraments that discussed the Eucharist.

As I begin, the first thing we need to remember is what it is that we receive in the Eucharist. It is not ordinary bread and wine. We need to look beyond the bread and wine to see the Body and Blood of Jesus. Recognizing what it is that we receive, we ask ourselves if we are worthy to receive it. Paul reflects on this in the quote on this slide taken from my third presentation on the Sacraments.

Can we “make” ourselves worthy? No, but the good news is that Jesus makes it possible for us to be worthy. The reality is that we sin. Sometimes it is venial sin and sometimes it is mortal sin (again this slide is taken from my third presentation on the Sacraments).

If we find we have committed mortal sin, then we need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation to confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness that He is eager to bestow upon us. While the recent news coverage has centered on politicians who support abortion, any mortal sin breaks our relationship with God. Only God can restore the broken relationship. The good news is that He is eager to do.

In considering who can receive Communion in the Catholic Church, we also need to reflect on what the word “Communion” means. We use the word “Communion” to signify being in common belief, not simply with each other but with God. The word “catholic” means universal. In “Catholic” with a capital “C,” we are speaking specifically of the Catholic Church. This starts with a belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

It also includes formally joining the Catholic Church. In my article, “On Non-Catholics Receiving Communion,” I wrote “I was reading Exodus 12, when I came to Exodus 12:43, “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: This is the Passover statute. No foreigner may eat of it.” The Passover was to the Israelites what the Eucharist is to Catholics. It is essential to our identity. This verse from Exodus 12:43 tells us that the Lord himself prescribed that no “foreigner” could share in the Passover Lamb. I see this as laying a foundation for our Catholic teaching against non-Catholics receiving Communion.” The idea that non-Catholics should not receive Communion in the Catholic Church is not an invention of the Catholic Church. It flows from what the Lord said to Moses in Exodus 12:43.

Where do we find the truth that goes with this idea of “Communion” as holding a common belief? It is not human beings who are the origin of the Truth. It is God. God often reveals his Truth to us through other people but it always has God as its source (see my presentation, Where Do We Go for Truth).

In discussing the issue of receiving Communion, Pope Francis has referred to Communion as a “medicine of Mercy” (a phrase taken from St. Pope John XXIII at the Second Vatican Council) rather a reward for the good. The Eucharist is a gift to heal and strengthen our souls. Indeed, it is not a reward for being good on our own. We are not. We sin. In the Act of Contrition we “firmly resolve” to sin no more yet we do. We need the Eucharist to strengthen us. We may sin again but we should ask ourselves are we even trying to change. It is difficult. That’s why we need God’s grace, both in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is indeed a “medicine of mercy.” We take medicine when we are ill. If we know what is causing the illness, do we also not stop that? If we have ingested poison, should we not stop that? It is not enough to take the medicine if we keep taking the poison. Sin is poison to our souls.

To be Catholic is not to pick and choose what we believe. It is to seek to know what God teaches us and follow him. God gives us the Eucharist to strengthen us. We thank God for the gift of the Eucharist and for the Sacrament of Reconciliation for when we have fallen short.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

With Freedom Comes Responsibilities

In our gospel reading today, Jesus frees people from illnesses. On the Cross, Jesus frees us from our sins.

In the United States of America, today we celebrate another time of freedom. Today is July 4th. It is the anniversary of when the colonists declared their independence from England. Why did they declare their independence? They were responding to taxes and rules imposed on them by England without representation.

In the Declaration of Independence they wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Yes, all humans are created equal. In the days when the Declaration of Independence was signed, women did not have all the rights that men did. Now, they do. In those days, there was slavery. We now realize slavery is wrong and recognize the rights of all people.

As we celebrate this national holiday it is a good day to express our gratitude for the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is also a good day for us to remember that with these rights comes responsibility, the responsibility to ensure that others enjoy these same rights.

Where do these rights come from? Our Declaration of Independence is clear here. We are endowed by our Creator with these rights.

Under the right of liberty, we pray that everyone have the right to freedom of religion, including to express our religion publicly. There are places in the world where one is not allowed to practice Christian. We need to stand for their religious freedom. Even in our own country, our right to speak about our religious beliefs is being restricted by those who seem more concerned with freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion.

We also have the right to “pursuit of happiness.” What does it mean to be happy? Our right to happiness does not allow us to infringe on the rights of life and liberty for others. We must stand up for the rights of all. Life begins at conception and ends in natural death. We must be prolife from the moment of conception till natural death. (For more on our responsibilities that flow from our rights, see my article, “Rights and Responsibilities.”)

We are free. I spoke last week (13th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C) in my homily on the subject of what we do with our freedom. There is much work to be done. In our opening prayer today, we asked God for his help to do the work that remains. God, help us to do what you ask of us.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Isaiah 66:10-14c
Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20 (1)
Galatians 6:14-18
Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
July 3, 2022

We are called to be a missionary church. This means we are to share the gospel and God’s mercy with others.

Today we hear of Jesus sending out 72 others. He had previously sent out the Twelve Apostles on a mission. Today, the bishops are the successors to the Apostles but just as the Twelve were not the only ones called by Jesus, neither are the bishops. We are all called to share in the mission, each according to our gifts and our state in life, whether ordained, single, or married.

Sometimes people say they don’t know enough to talk about Jesus. You don’t have to know everything. It is worth noting that when Jesus sent out the 72, it says He sent them “ahead.” “Ahead” signifies that He will follow. We don’t have to do it alone.

He also sent them out in pairs. They went in pairs to bear witness together on what Jesus had taught.

When missionaries go out today, we should see ourselves as partners with them. Not everyone is called to be a missionary in going to other lands but we can support them.

Jesus says, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Our master of the harvest is God. We ask him in prayer to send out laborers. This should not be a one-time prayer. We should always offer prayers of support for the missions.

When He sent out the 72 (like the Twelve), Jesus told them, “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals.” They were not to worry about money. They were to trust that God would provide.

How does God provide for the missions today?

Through us. God invites us, each according to our means, to support the ministries of the missions and charities.

It is the practice in our diocese (each diocese may do it differently), that each summer missionaries are invited to come to our parishes and seek support in prayer and financially for their group. This weekend we welcome Sr. Ifeoma of the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary (www.mshr.org) to hear about their work and offer our support.

The world we live in is becoming less and less open to the faith. We can become discouraged. Here, I think of the Israelites, who at the time of our first reading, were returning home from Exile in Babylon. God calls them to “rejoice” but it is difficult because they find Jerusalem in ruins.

God assured them that He would “spread prosperity over Jerusalem.” The Lord continues, “as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” God is there for us. We can trust in him.

When we do good, it is because God has given us the gifts to do it. What can we boast of? That our Lord Jesus Christ loves us so much that He willingly gave his life for us on the Cross. Knowing us gives us faith hope and from that hope we have faith to do our part to share God’s mercy.

In faith, we echo Paul’s words, “for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” Jesus suffered for us. We accept our sufferings trusting in Jesus, bearing witness to his love.

Where Do We Go From Here?

In its Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision released last week (June 24, 2022), the United States Supreme Court did what prolife advocates were hoping for. They overturned Roe vs. Wade.

I found my heart heavy with the news. I am certainly prolife but I worry about how much negative response there will be politically but even more so in terms of protests that would become violent and/or more vandalism and violence against prolife organizations. While there has been continuing vandalism, I am grateful it does not seem to have escalated.

I have never understood where in the constitution there was every a right to abortion but I am not a legal expert and this is not what I would like to write about today.

My topic for today is where do we go from here? For states with laws against abortion or with the support to pass such laws, this is an important step. I say “step” because the legal battle is not over. With states with trigger laws already in place to eliminate or restrict abortion, new legal challenges have already been filed in at least eight states.

I live in New York State where, unfortunately, there are laws that are meant to guarantee a women’s right to abortion. So, abortions will continue here. In fact, the NYS government is working to help women who come from other states where abortion is illegal to be able to come to New York to get an abortion. I am sad that this is how my tax dollars are being used.

What can we do?

We need to work to change people’s hearts to see abortion for what it is, the ending of an innocent life. The task is difficult. It might even seem impossible, but “nothing is impossible for God

I believe we can find the answer to “what can we do” about abortions in the statement issues on May 12, 2002 by the New York State Catholic Conference, “Toward a Pro-Life Future in the Empire State.” (In particular see the bulleted list near the end.)

What we need to do is support those who might feel pressured to have an abortion. Who is pressuring them? There are those who think abortion is a good choice for the mother. A woman/family might also feel pressured to have an abortion because they do not have the means to raise the child. To be prolife, we must not only support the woman/family during the pregnancy but after the child is born. Please note that I am saying “woman/family” rather than just “woman” because we are talking about a decision that affects both the mother and the father as well as others in the household.

We need to support those who are considering having an abortion in their material needs. (One way to do this is to support local pregnancy resource centers that are prolife with prayer, volunteering, and financial support.) We must also offer our support to change people’s hearts so they will not even consider an abortion. The task is difficult. We may feel like “lambs among wolves” (see Luke 10:3) trying to offer a prolife message to those who support abortion. It is difficult to dialogue.

How are we to work to change people’s hearts? It begins with understanding our Catholic prolife teaching. Only then can we share it with others.

As I mentioned in my homily this past Sunday, we are not simply against abortion. What we are is prolife. We support all life from conception till natural death. This includes life in the womb. We can find the prolife teaching of the Catholic Church in paragraphs 2270-2275 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Last year I did a series of presentations called Treating Life with Dignity and Love offering Catholic prolife teaching. Of course, this is all from a Catholic perspective. In my blog article, “Biology Makes Me Pro-Life”, I offered the following secular reasoning (slide from Part I in my series Treating Life with Dignity and Love)

Life is precious, including in the womb. Psalm 139:13-14 says, “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!” God is involved in our life even in our mother’s womb. In Jeremiah 1:5 we read, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at the time of Jesus’ conception.

Life in the womb is a gift from God. Pope Francis writes (slide from Part I in my series Treating Life with Dignity and Love)

We do not determine what is good. God does. We are created in the image of God (slide from Part I in my series Treating Life with Dignity and Love)

What I offer in this article is only the tip of the iceberg of Catholic prolife teaching. There are four presentations in my series, Treating Life with Dignity and Love), each lasting about one hour. If you have not seen them before, I encourage you to watch them. Part I covers the dignity of life in general. Part II covers abortion and the death penalty. Part III covers euthanasia. Part IV concludes with an overview of other aspects of Catholic prolife teaching.

May God give each of us the grace we need to support life in all stages.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C – Homily

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21
Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11 (see 5a)
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Luke 9:51-62
June 26, 2022

Today’s gospel passage begins a new section in Luke’s gospel that will continue until the time for Jesus’ Passion draws near. Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.”

Jesus is making a physical journey to Jerusalem but there is a deeper meaning to his journey. As He journeys to the earthly city of Jerusalem, He also progresses on a spiritual journey to the heavenly Jerusalem.

It is the heavenly Jerusalem that we seek.

As Jesus journeyed on his way, he was not welcomed by everyone. There were the Samaritans who did not welcome him. James and John responded to this saying, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them.” Jesus did not. He let them be and moved on.

We encounter people in our lives who do not agree with what our faith teaches. We simply offer them the truth. It is then their choice to follow or not.

Some did not welcome Jesus. On the other side, a person told Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Was Jesus pleased with this? He certainly wants to lead people to the Father. He wants us to follow him.
He also wants us to understand what it required to follow him. Some people will be against us. It is not easy. Jesus says to the person, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Following Jesus is more than just showing up. To follow Jesus is to give our whole heart, mind, body, and soul to him.

Jesus’ home, ultimately our eternal home, is not in this world. It is Heaven we seek. What our faith teaches is not popular. One needs to look no further than the Supreme Court decision regarding abortion this week to see disagreement.

Many people know that our Catholic faith is against abortion. What we really are is prolife, valuing the dignity of all life from conception till natural death. Because we are prolife, especially in the womb, we are against abortion. (see more on the prolife teaching of our faith see my prolife series of video presentations – Treating Life with Dignity and Love at http://www.renewaloffaith.org/prolife

Are you ready to do what it takes to follow Jesus now?

Jesus says to another person, “Follow me.” What response does He get? “Lord, let me go first and bury my father.” If the disciple’s father had just passed away, it would be a reasonable request. However, I doubt that was the case. Why? Because if the person’s father had just died, Jesus would probably go the funeral himself.

It is more likely that this person is speaking of putting his family obligations before his faith. Family obligations are important but so is Jesus.

Another person responds to Jesus’ “Follow me” saying, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to my family at home.” Again, taken as a moment to say goodbye, it might seem like a reasonable request. But is it?

The Lord seeks our response now. The Lord told Elijah to anoint Elisha as his successor. What did Elijah do? He immediately set out to find Elisha.

Elisha expected nothing. He was plowing in the field. When Elijah “threw his cloak over him”, Elisha was surprised. He probably wasn’t sure what to think.

Elijah begins to move on. Elisha “ran after Elijah.” Elisha slaughtered the animals, burned the plowing equipment, and gave the food to the people. Then he followed Elijah.

Are you ready to follow Jesus? Are you ready to follow Jesus now?

Jesus calls us to love our neighbor as the second greatest commandment. The first greatest commandment is to love God.

Love involves a free choice. “Freedom” is a popular world today.

What do you do with your freedom?

Do you use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, for earthly pleasures?

Or you use your freedom to do what is good?

We use our freedom best when we follow the spirit to do God’s Will.

God does not want us to be slaves.

Jesus sets us free from our sins in sacrificing his life on the Cross for us.

Jesus affirms the law but not simply as an obligation. God does not want to us to be slaves to the Law. He wants us to make a free choice.

God gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us. Unfortunately, our flesh and spirit do not always seek the same thing. The flesh looks for immediate pleasures in this world. The Spirit looks beyond the things of this world to the next.

When we look forward to the heavenly kingdom and all that God offers us, we set the Lord as the most important thing. We ask God to show us “the path to life” and for the grace to accept the Lord’s counsel.

We have free will. What choice do you make? Do you choose to make God number one?

Leadership in the Rule of St. Benedict

This is my sixth and final article offering reflections based on my reading of Judith Valente’s book, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing. 2018). You can see the five previous articles as follows: “Being Spiritual in the World Today”, “Striving to be Disciples of Christ”“Overcoming Anger with Prayer“, “Community and Balance of Work in the Rule of St. Benedict,” and “Living Simply as Instruments of God’s Mercy.”

In my fifth article in this series, “Living Simply as Instruments of God’s Mercy,” I spoke some on leadership. Today, I would like to focus on what Valente offers from the Rule of St. Benedict on leadership. We are all equal before God. The Lord is our shepherd but we need earthly leaders who will lead us in compassion and truth to become what God calls us to be.

In a monastery one person is the authority, the prioress or abbot. However, this does not mean they should act unilaterally or as a monarch who is power hungry. Valente quotes from the rule’s third chapter, “The prioress or abbot shall call the whole community together and explain what the business is; and after hearing the advice of the members, ponder it and follow what she or he judges the wiser course” (151). The decision lies in the hand of one person but all involved need to be counseled. This is a model of leadership that all of us should consider, in the church, in the workplace, and in the home. For instance, in the home the husband and wife need to dialogue, even involving the children when appropriate, about what is going on but in the end someone needs to make a decision that all will respect.

For the workplace, Valente offers a personal example of a new boss she had who made a decision without consulting the employees. When he was asked why he said, “Because I said so” (151-152). Really? Yes, he was the boss and had the authority to make the decision but, especially as a new boss, did he have all the information he should to make the decision?

This is why the Rule of St. Benedict calls for consultation. Consultation is meant to be a process that brings all the information and concerns to the table so that a good decision can be made. No one, including the best leader there is, can make the best decision without having all the information.

One should also not needlessly rush to make a decision. Valente writes, “Monastic decision-making is a slow, deliberate process of discernment. Its goal is consensus” (154). In consulting others, not only does a good leader receive information. In the consultation process, people feel involved and appreciated. This can lead to broader acceptance of the decision when it made.

The information must flow openly in both directions. The people being consulted need open sharing of information so they may respond appropriately (Valente, 154). This may not always be possible. Sometimes the needed information is not always available or public. We still need to do our best to dialogue.

The leader needs to bring the decision to prayer. So does everyone else involved. We need to pray that the Holy Spirit is leading the entire process so that the final decision will be in accord with God’s Will. When we trust in God’s Will amazing things can happen. Valente provides the example of a group of sisters who were discerning whether to keep their school open or not (155-157). It was not an easy decision. There was much discussion, prayer, and discernment. They did not want to lose this ministry. Yet, they discerned it was time to close the school. While one ministry ended, they were able to begin new ministries that served the local community well.

Valente quotes from chapter 64 of the Rule on what are not good qualities in a leader, “Excitable, anxious, extreme, obstinate, jealous or over-suspicious she or he must not be. Such a [leader] is never at rest” (159). A leader must be calm, open to what others have to say, and trust in what they have to offer.

One must consider what the leader is trying to do. A good leader does not lead to have power. Valente writes, “In Benedict’s management manual, servant is another name for leader” (161). A good leader leads for the good of the people in accordance with God’s Will, not their own. With this in mind, Valente continues, “In a Benedictine world view, the best leaders are teachers, not dictators” (161, cf. 162). In teaching, the leader helps those they serve to grow in understanding.

A good leader is responsible for the souls of the people they serve (see Ezekiel 3:17-21). Each person must ultimately make their own decision on what God is calling them to. The good leader helps them do that.

I try to follow what I have written above in my leadership of St. Mary’s of the Lake and St. Benedict’s. It is not always easy. A good leader does not seek to have everyone adapt to them. Valente quotes from chapter two of the Rule, “[They] must know what a difficult and demanding burden they have undertaken: directing souls and serving a variety of temperaments, coaxing, reproving and encouraging them as appropriate. They must so accommodate and adapt themselves to each one’s character and intelligence that they will not only keep the flock entrusted to their care from dwindling, but will rejoice in a good flock” (165).

Some leaders choose to lead with power, expecting others to follow in fear. In chapter 64, St. Benedict writes of a leader, “Let them strive to be loved rather than feared” (173).

It is not easy to be a leader. Please pray for all leaders.

This concludes my series on Judith Valente’s book, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing. 2018). I hope it has encouraged you as Christian disciples, perhaps even to read the book for yourself as there is much more than what I had offered in these articles.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Do We Understand What It is We Receive?

In those days, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine” to Abram (who would become known as Abraham). This was ordinary bread and wine. One day Jesus will offer something far greater than ordinary bread and wine.

As Jesus speaks to the crowds, his disciples are aware of the people’s needs. So, they went to Jesus and told him to “Dismiss the crowd so that they can go to the surrounding villages and towns and find lodging and provisions.

It was good that they recognized the needs of the people. However, Jesus has a different solution. He will feed the people. As He does so, He wants to make sure his disciples understand the significance of feeding so many. He tells them to give the people some food. Their response indicates that it would impossible for them to feed so many people, numbering five thousand men, with just the five loaves and two fish they have.

It is impossible for them but not for Jesus.

They all ate and were satisfied.

That day Jesus did a miracle feeding five thousand with ordinary bread. He will come to feed the people with “bread from Heaven.” The feeding of the five thousand prefigures Jesus feeding the disciples with the Eucharist.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi).

There are those who think that Catholics invented the Eucharist, meaning that it is not really Jesus that we receive. This was a problem from the beginning. Paul seeks to address this when he writes, “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” He has been teaching them about the Eucharist and how to celebrate it. This is what he handed on to the people but it was not his invention nor did he receive it from other people. He received it from the Lord. It is Jesus who gives us the Eucharist.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of how Jesus at the Last Supper took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and said “this is my Body that is for you.” He did likewise with the wine, proclaiming it to be his Blood. Jesus’ words are clear. The bread and wine we receive are his Body and Blood. It was not a one-time event. Jesus tells us to “Do this in remembrance of me.” From Jesus’ words, we celebrate the Eucharist.

What we celebrate is a sacrifice. Paul writes, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” The sacrifice we offer each time we celebrate the Eucharist is not a new sacrifice. It is God making present to us today the sacrifice of Jesus 2,000 years ago on the Cross.

The Eucharist we offer is also a meal. We are fed with the Body and Blood of Jesus. It is food for our souls. What we receive in earthly terms is a small piece of bread, hardly enough for a meal in earthly terms. How can it satisfy our hunger? As food for our soul, it is Jesus we receive. Jesus is God who is infinite. In receiving the Eucharist, we receive the infinite love of Jesus.

In receiving the Eucharist, we express our desire to be in Communion with God. We seek to give our lives to God, to live as God calls us to live.

How the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Jesus is a mystery. We do not know how but we can believe.

To keep the Sabbath holy, we come to church every Sunday. When we understand it is Jesus that we receive, we come not only to fulfill an obligation. We come because we want to receive Jesus.

Unfortunately, many do not understand that is Jesus that we receive. To help us understand, The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has called us to begin a three-year Eucharistic Revival today. You can find out more about the USCCB’s efforts at https://www.eucharisticrevival.org/. You can find out more about the revival in our diocese (Rochester) at https://eucharisticrevival.dor.org/.

Let us pray for all to know that the Eucharist we receive is the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

Living Simply as Instruments of God’s Mercy

This is my fifth article offering reflections based on my reading of Judith Valente’s book, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing. 2018). You can see the four previous articles as follows: “Being Spiritual in the World Today”, “Striving to be Disciples of Christ.”, “Overcoming Anger with Prayer“, “Community and Balance of Work in the Rule of St. Benedict.”

Today I begin with chapter 12 on forgiving. Valente opens with this quote from chapter 27 of the Rule, “The prioress or abbot must exercise the utmost care and concern for the wayward because “it is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick.” (Mt 9:12).” The prioress or abbot are called to be the leaders of their monastic community. To be a leader includes helping those who go astray to return to the path that God has placed them on. We should not rush to exclude. We must ask what we can do to bring healing.

Valente speaks of a time when she made what she herself describes as a “mindless mistake” (109). She expected that her boss would reprimand her. Instead he said, “You made a mistake, but it’s not the end of the world. Learn from it and be more careful in the future” (110). Her boss could have been harsh. Instead he sympathized with her. Sometimes punishment is necessary but we often learn more from compassion than punishment. We can be more motivated by a caring boss than a boss we are afraid of.

St. Benedict refers to this type of leadership response as applying the “ointment of encouragement” (Valente,112). St. Benedict calls for the whole community to “pray for the one who is struggling so that the Lord, who can do all things, can bring about the health of the sick” (112). If we expect others to change, we must pray for them. If we care for them, if we love our neighbor, we will pray for them.

Even if we are the one they have hurt, we must pray for them. We must let go of our hurt. The baggage is to hard to carry and it only hurts us to keep it with us. (See my video series Finding Peace and Healing in a Troubled World).

Speaking of letting go, part of monastic living is “living simply.” Monks and nuns own nothing individually. This is the vow of poverty. The vow of poverty is not purely a material thing. It is to let go of earthly attachments (see my article, “How Do Our Attachments Affect Our Relationship with Jesus?”). We let go of that which we do not need so that it might not control us. Letting go of our attachments frees us to give more to God. You may not live in a monastery where you can give up all earthly possessions but what do you have that you can and should let go of to make room for Jesus?

Sometimes we hold on to things for purely sentimental reasons. This is not necessarily bad if we do not let it control us. How much stuff do you have from the past that you never even look at. Valente speaks of a time when she accidentally gave a sentimental possession away and found herself “oddly liberated” by it (137-138). How many sentimental possessions do you have? Do you value them now or are you holding onto to them to avoid having to let go? For the average person there is nothing wrong with a few sentimental possessions as long as we understand why we are holding onto them.

Letting go of some things can be a sign of trust in God. In a monastery everything is provided. Outside the monastery one does not have that luxury. We need to care for our families and ourselves. Living simply doesn’t mean we have no possessions. It does mean that we limit our possessions and that we do not let our possessions control us.

People often judge their worth by what they have in material possessions. As Christians, our ultimate goal is to live in Heaven. We cannot take our earthly possessions with us to Heaven. Our actions in this world should demonstrate our love for God and our neighbor, not material wealth and power.

We may fall short. Valente offers the following, “St. Benedict exhorts his community members to admit faults as soon as they happen. But admit them, he says, only to those who can be trusted, to those who know how to heal their own wounds” (145). Ask for forgiveness. Ask for help. We are not perfect. Valente writes, “As I age, I realize that I don’t so much desire to be seen as flawless, but rather as both flawed and still worthy. Worthy of receiving love and giving love. From the monastic elders, I’ve learned that I am not my faults any more than I am my thoughts or my emotions” (147).

I am not perfect. You are not perfect. Jesus loves us anyway. Hand your faults to him and receive his forgiveness. Jesus does not condemn us. He does call us to sin no more (see John 8:11).

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

The Most Holy Trinity, Year C – Homily

The Most Holy Trinity, Year C
Provers 8:22-31
Psalm 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9 (2a)
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15
June 12, 2022

Our Easter season is over and we have resumed Ordinary Time.  Today we celebrate a special solemnity, The Most Holy Trinity. 

You will not find the word “trinity” in the Bible.  The word was first used by Tertullian in the second century.  What you will find in the Bible is the three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God is beyond our human comprehension.  As the psalmist says, “When I behold your heavens…what is man that you should be mindful of him.”  God is all-knowing.  God is all-powerful.  Our God is an awesome God.  We might feel insignificant to God.  Yet He is mindful of us because He loves us.

In his greatness, God is mystery.  God is three persons yet one God. 

Jesus speaks of how what He offers is beyond us, “I have much more to tell you but you cannot bear it now.”  “The Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”  Jesus does not say that with the Holy Spirit we will immediately understand all truth.  He says the Spirit will guide us to all truth.

Jesus speaks of how the Spirit “will not speak on his own.”  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all work together.  As Jesus says, beginning with the Spirit, “He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.  Everything that the Father has is mine.”  They work together in perfect unity.

It is difficult for us to understand.  Several heresies came from misunderstanding the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and how they are one. 

God is eternal.  In our first reading, Lady Wisdom speaks of how she was present at the beginning because God brought her forth.  That means God was already there.  The Lord is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.

We try to put God into terms we can understand.  We can use our human words to describe God but our human words will never fully articulate God’s essence.

It is a mystery.

In this sense, mystery is not something to be solved.  We cannot “solve” the full essence of God.  It is beyond our humanness.  The word “faith” means to believe in what cannot be proven. 

God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons yet one God is a mystery.  We are not going to fully understand it but we can believe.

The unity of the three as one lies beyond our full comprehension.  As human beings we do not have perfect unity.  Even when a man and woman marry and the two become one flesh, their unity is not perfect.

Since we cannot fully understand or experience perfect unity in this world, it might seem simpler to not talk about it or refer to it.

Yet, we invoke the Trinity every time we start Mass and every time we end Mass.  I bet you do too every time you pray on your own.

We don’t often use the word “trinity.” So, how is it that we invoke the trinity?  With the Sign of the Cross, calling upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We count on them working together.  In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells the disciples to go out, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus points us to the Trinity in prayer.

The three work together to bring us peace and love.  As Paul writes, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace…because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

We know the Father because we know the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know if what I have said today makes any sense.  It is difficult to explain.  After all, it is a mystery. 

There are other mysteries in our faith, like how the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus.  Science cannot prove this but we know it to be true because Jesus says this is my Body…this is my Blood.

I will end with this quote from paragraph 234 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Thy mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life.  It is the mystery of God in himself.  It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them.”

For more on the Trinity, check out my one hour presentation, Praying with the Trinity from 2020.

Community and Balance of Work in the Rule of St. Benedict

This is my fourth article offering some reflections based on my reading of Judith Valente’s book, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing. 2018). You can see the three previous articles as follows: “Being Spiritual in the World Today”, “Striving to be Disciples of Christ.”, and “Overcoming Anger with Prayer.”

Today I would like to continue with what Valente offers from the Rule of St. Benedict in chapter 10 on community and chapter 11 on workaholism.

Are we connected to our neighbors? Valente writes, “I moved into a high rise where hundreds of other people lived. I could actually peer into the living room of the couple who lived in the building next door to mine. I saw them sit down to dinner, and could see what they were watching on TV. The buildings were that close. Yet I felt utterly alone” (88). We live with all kinds of other people around us but do we know who any of them are? Do you know anything about your neighbors? Do you even know their names?

Contrast this to this description that Valente provides from Sister Thomasita Homan of Mount St. Scholastica describing ‘a monastic community as “a place where people agree to link arms, support one another, and help each other grow”‘ (88-89). Now, we can’t know everyone around us but do we have any real community? Who do you spend time with in more than a superficial way necessary for work or needs?

Strong communities seek to work together but there can still be conflict. Here Valente quotes Sister Molly Blockwell, also of Mount St. Scholastica, ‘”What gets confusing sometimes,” she said, “is that we think liking is the same thing as respecting, or loving, or caring for a person. Well, no. Liking comes and goes fast. What we aim for is a deeper relationship – one that says we’re in this together, that there is something bigger going on between us. We can disagree with one another and not see that as a total betrayal or as a chance to hack the other person to pieces, or view each other as a never-ending threat” (90, my emphasis). These words were spoken in the context of a small monastic community but these words, most especially the last sentence need to be heard by many people across the world. Can we have real dialogue with people we disagree with? Can we build unity (community) with people we disagree with?

Can we trust people who have a different opinion than us?

Valente speaks of the time of which St. Benedict wrote his rule as follows: “Faith in public officials, religious leaders, and traditional institutions had faded.” Centuries later, we find these words true today. We need to change this. Valente continues, “Benedict saw a crumbling Roman Empire and refused to crumble with it” (91). What does the Lord ask of us today to love our neighbor, to build community, to build the Kingdom of God?

Can social media help build community? One might think so but do we really know those we “encounter” on social media? Valente comments, “Two-thirds of the people who ask me to “friend” the on Facebook I’ve never even met. As Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister once observed, “Everyone is connected to everyone else, and no one is connected to anybody” (93). Much of the communication on social media is superficial. We don’t really connect or form any real community.

To add to this, it is easy and common on social media to connect with those we agree with (Valente, 93. Pope Francis comments on this in Fratelli Tutti. See my series of articles commenting on this encyclical at “Our Relationships with Others”). At first look, this makes sense but how are we to spread the gospel to people who haven’t heard it if we only communicate with those who agree with us? How are we to learn how to have real dialogue with those we disagree with if we never communicate with them? Of course, we need a strong network of those who share our beliefs. That’s a beginning of evangelization, not an end.

We see the loss of community in our parishes. Groups like Altar and Rosary Society for women and men’s Holy Name groups no longer exist in many parishes. These groups are not the purpose of going to church but the community they offered gave support among its members to be able to live out their faith, knowing they were not alone in what they believed. We need to build community in our parishes.

From here, Valente moves to her next chapter on workaholism. This changes topic some but I would like to continue here because I believe how we view “work” impacts how we look at community.

Speaking of a point in her own life, Valente writes, “In short, I had a job that included my life, not a life that included my job” (101). Does your job control your entire life or does it maintain its proper place as part of your life? As Valente writes, St. Benedict’s Rule can help us find balance (101). “St. Benedict refused to let work overwhelm. He wanted his communities to be productive. He didn’t want people working until they dropped or as if little else mattered” (Valente, 101). Balance!

We must find the work we are created to do with the gifts we have been given (see Valente, 102-103). Work is not something we do only to make money to do what we really want. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to lead us to the work God calls us to.

Remember what I said about “pausing” in the last article, “Overcoming Anger with Prayer” where I quoted Valente, “We all need to pray throughout the day to keep us grounded in faith. The busyness of life can pull us away from prayer. We need moments of prayer. Valente writes, “African tribesman who lead safaris know the value of pausing…They say they are trying to let our souls catch up with them on the journey” (71). As Valente later writes, “Increasingly, time management experts are recognizing the importance of pausing and of working more slowly, deliberately, and intentionally” (105). We need balance. We need depth. We need meaning, not mere superficiality.

The Rule of St. Benedict has much to offer us. So does Valente. I’ll write more soon.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff