Monday, February 24, 2014

Not the “Usual Logic”

Pope Francis named cardinals to embody his vision of a “poor church.” Mr. John L. Allen Jr. described his action as a “classic example of some nonverbal preaching Saturday, using a traditional Roman pageant to lift up new cardinals from some of the world’s poorest nations.” Mr. Allen noted that is not the “usual logic” in naming cardinals.
Wiki-mage by Gugganij of scarlet zucchetto CC BY-SA 3.0

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday word, 23 Feb 2014

Divine Scandal
Seventh Sunday of the Year A (23 February 2014)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
During the conclave that elected Archbishop Bergolio Bishop of Rome cardinals stayed in a guest house. After his election Pope Francis went to the front desk and paid his bill. His action surprised, stunned and even “charmed”1 many. Paying his bill had layers of meaning. A fellow occupant distilled one by saying, “I don’t think he needs to worry about the bill…[the guest] house is part of the Church, and it’s his Church now.”2 The pope deepened the contrast that day by riding a Volkswagen and not the “papal Mercedes” to the guest house from a noted church in Rome.3

Feeling the effects of that contrast or recalling how other contrasts caused us to feel helps us hear with fresh ears today’s gospel. The selection is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount we have been hearing the past weeks. Throughout it Jesus offered contrast and mismatch. A phrase on Jesus’ lips signaled them: but I say to you. The last two of six times we heard today. You have heard…it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil; and, You have heard…it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Jesus went deeper than scripture’s teaching. Our quick reaction focuses on our difficulty to live the way and example of Jesus.

The contrast between the way of Jesus and our instinctive human way is not the contrast underpinning the teaching of Jesus. The fundamental, even scandalous, contrast is about God not us. Hear Jesus again: I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. Two essential things are at work in his words.

The sun shines on the bad and the good and the rain falls on the just and the unjust: both are true. Steeped in his Jewish tradition, Jesus recognized his Father created sun and rain as gifts for everyone: your heavenly Father…makes his sun rise and…rain to fall with no partiality. God does not prefer good people over bad and just ones over the unjust. Jesus revealed God does not enforce justice among people by withholding sun or rain from bad and unjust people. If God did, God would favor the just and the good. God does not play favorites. God loves the just and the good and their enemies and persecutors. That is difficult to swallow. It is more difficult when we are convinced God is on our side.

Only to be on God’s side is not Jesus’ teaching. Jesus revealed a second thing. By imitating God’s equal treatment of the bad and the good we become children of his Father. Desiring no harm on enemies is how we begin to love them. To pray for persecutors is also how we become children of God. To pray for persecutors offers them an opportunity to learn God’s lavish, unjust love. The learning is personal: as Jesus taught by his person God’s scandalous, lavish, unjust love, so do the children of God.

Living as children of God we give flesh to the gospel. We invite people to enjoy a relationship with Jesus. When we and other Christians live the lavish, unjust love of God we “proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone”4: words of the pope who paid his bill and road a Volkswagen.

Living God’s love is ever challenging; it is more challenging than living our brand of love. It challenges because Jesus announced God’s reign not a human one: the kingdom of heaven is at hand.5 The measure of the kingdom of heaven is God. To live the kingdom is no human project we can complete. It is God’s project, and God is the measure of it. We follow God’s lavish, unjust love revealed by Jesus to measure how closely we are living God’s kingdom. That is the meaning of the word translated as perfect; it means reaching toward a goal, a standard. It is God’s standard not ours: You are to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. As God’s children we are to grow more lavish and unjust in our love as God is to us and to all. We near our goal the more we desire it and let our actions match the intentions of our desire.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask the disciples to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with Jesus: Praise him for revealing God’s heart and desires.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to live by his teaching more closely.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Each time we live as Jesus taught us by his example we hallow the name of his Father and ours. We also “proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone.”

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Nicole Winfield used the word “charmed” in her report following his election as Bishop of Rome.
  2. Reported in Time magazine.
  3. Rocco Palmo noted those details.
  4. Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 15.
  5. The phrase appears 33 times in Matthew’s gospel and 6 times in the Sermon on the Mount.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday word, 16 Feb 2014

Sixth Sunday of the Year A (16 February 2014)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
New. The word conjures many things: fresh; clean; clear; youthful; smoothly working; and often, better. Madison Avenue has joined new with improved. New and improved is embedded in our imaginations and shapes the meaning of new for us. Unlike us ancient peoples suspected the new. Knowing their suspicion helps us appreciate the challenges faced by anyone preaching and teaching anything new.

When recognized people in authority as well as wandering teachers criticized customary patterns of living or spoke of new gods, people did not welcome their opinions or their styles of life. People of the ancient Mediterranean world were eager for true renewal. Yet they were cautious. When others pointed not to the latest—as we would call it—but to something hinting at  fundamental transformation, those who heard them cautiously considered. Roman law, after all, imposed a somber public morality. Religious out-looks, uneven though they were throughout the empire, sought freedom from all sorts of oppressive forces, visible and invisible.

In Judaism commandments were the practical side of the covenant-relationship of God and Abraham and his descendants. In the relation-ship with the people of Abraham God gave them commandments both to shape their moral living and to help them transform the societies in which they lived. Commandments gave people daily, practical guidance: If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you. Salvation was no future ideal. Living the commandments would bring people honor and free them from shame; not just any honor. In scripture righteousness named God’s honor.

Living God’s righteousness was living the commandments. To live them involved a problem: one could appear to live by a commandment, You shall not kill, for example; yet the person’s heart could brim with malice. Jesus offered his disciples a true interpretation of the commandments so people could live truly honorable lives: of the heart as well as by behavior. Jesus taught his hearers that salvation was available to those whose hearts matched their behavior.

His call to match heart and behavior frames the voice of Jesus we heard in his gospel. Outwardly observing commandments did not guarantee right relationship with God; it it. Outward but not heartfelt observation of the commandments betrayed right relationship with God. That betrayal had become normal living of many. That included some religious professionals, of all people. For his disciples Jesus revisited and interpreted the commandments with fresh authority.

Anger motivates murder, and insults pave its way. Jesus was not teaching good manners but how to grow more humane with one another. Defusing anger was more important than temple-worship done for show: leave your the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother or sister.

In Jesus’ world adultery was a way a man shamed another. A violated woman brought shame to her family, and if her husband took no action against what happened he was thought less a man. Jesus taught his disciples to ignore adultery as a way to challenge a man because adultery lacerated individual dignity of men and women, of families and communities. Unless a marriage is unlawful divorce, as a way not to face marital challenges, fared the same way in his teaching: it devastated lives, too.

In the world of Jesus oath-taking as lying frequently happened in the market but not only there. “Is this fruit fresh?” would get answers like, “By heaven it is!” or “By the temple mount!” or “By the hairs of my head!” All these to close a deal and swindle buyers. In the market and beyond it honesty and direct speech allow relationships to grow and deepen.

For his disciples Jesus restored and renovated the desires of God for human relationships. Jesus’ teaching drew people to him. His crucifixion dashed their hopes because they understood crucifixion as divine rejection, as it was written: Cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.1 After Jesus’ resurrection his disciples experienced nothing less than fundamental transformation: their shame at being disciples of a crucified messiah was transformed to honor; their sinfulness to salvation, right relationship with God and others. They experienced release from forces which diminished them and freedom to proclaim their new life. They experienced, as St. Paul put it, God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden...for our glory.

Jesus is our wisdom. The commandments continue to offer practical guidance so we may live humane lives. The sacraments nourish our friendship with Jesus. Jesus welcomes our deepening friendship with him to show us how to live God’s wisdom in our society driven more by profit than by honor and by God’s saving wisdom to transform our world.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask the disciples to present you to Jesus.
  • Praise Jesus for revealing God’s heart and desires.
  • Ask Jesus for the grace to live by his teaching more closely.
  • Close, saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Each time we live more in and by the spirit of Jesus we hallow the name of his Father and ours, and we imprint on God’s desires the traces of our lives.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Deuteronomy 21.23, the Greek OT available to the Jesus and the first disciples. St. Paul quoted it in his Letter to the Galatians, 3.13.


Wiki-images of Jesus teaching from the mountain PD-US and by Jakub Hałun of Jesus teaching his apostles CC BY-SA 3.0

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Sunday word, 09 Feb 2014

A Taste of Jesus
Fifth Sunday of the Year A (16 February 2014)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Jesus was a Jew. He was steeped in the traditions of Israel. They shaped him and the ways he thought and taught. His Jewish awareness shaped his use of salt in his famous metaphor for us and his disciples in every age. Ancient peoples used salt in many ways. An overlooked way Jews used it may help us appreciate better our vocation as his disciples today.

For us salt is easily available; we have only to sprinkle it. Ancient peoples had to find salt; that meant looking for deposits of it near salt seas or where salt seas had been. It was precious: salt was essential to life; salt paved roads; Roman soldiers received money to buy it—their salary. Our word salary comes from their word for salt.

The care to find it and to prepare it for use lent salt symbolic power. Precious salt sealed and symbolized relationships. Eating together was an act of friendship not mere nourishment. During the sabbath meal people dipped bread into salt to show they agreed to live the relation-ship of God with them. The divine-human relationship was the covenant: as it is written, “[Recall] the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel for ever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt.”1 When Jesus calls us salt of the earth, Jesus invites us to join him and not only preserve and live the covenant but to witness it in the sight of others.

In practical matters Mediterranean people knew salt more than preserved and flavored food. Salt affects actions from baking to burning. We add salt in yeast-bread dough to aid the growth of yeast. Ancient Palestinians used salt to fire their ovens. Wood was scarce; so they made fuel from animal dung. To make it burn, they added salt.2 If salt was old or polluted—no longer salty—it was useless to make their fuel burn. Its last use gave feet traction on slippery paths.

The burning property of salt may have been one reason why it was part of the recipe for incense3 and included in grain offerings used to worship the God of the covenant with Abraham and his descendants: every cereal offering that you present to the Lord shall be seasoned with salt. Do not let the salt of the covenant of your God be lacking from your cereal offering. On every offering you shall offer salt.4

Salt’s refining property played in their minds: renewing and strengthening relationships; making the covenant with God enduring, honoring it day and night, in season and out; and making them people of the covenant. Living the covenant made them light…break-[ing] forth like the dawn. The image encourages: by the twilight before sunrise we distinguish objects, animals and people from each other. Not bright as day but light enough. Living the covenant is often modest. So prophet Isaiah reminded people could live the covenant for the sake of the world and affect it by modest efforts: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.

Jesus personified the covenant. As Jesus’ disciples today we live the covenant by living his gospel. When we live his gospel, our lives proclaim it. When we live his gospel, we give others a taste of Jesus. When we live his gospel, we brighten the world. When we live his gospel, we invite others to shine with their light. When we live his gospel, we change the world and set it ablaze with Jesus’ presence by our presence.

Our deeds and choices shaped by Jesus’ gospel shine Jesus on our world. Our deeds and choices shaped by Jesus’ gospel keep us true to the covenant with all people God has completed in Jesus. In his everlasting covenant Jesus has given us, his disciples today, a vital part to play: we are the live wire5 along which flows his reconciling power. People and societies we touch find healing where and when we—and all Christians—live our vocations as missionaries of Jesus’ gospel.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause and let yourself sink into the life of the Trinity.
  • Ask the disciples to present you to Jesus.
  • Praise Jesus for giving himself to you and inviting you to live his gospel as his disciple today.
  • Ask Jesus for the grace to devote yourself to living his gospel with deeper conviction as you move through your day.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Praying Jesus’ words sincerely guides us to worship him in spirit and truth with our hearts as well as our deeds. By worshiping Jesus in spirit and truth we set the world ablaze with the faith of Jesus alive in us.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

2 Chronicles 13.5.
See John Pilch’s brief description of both dung-fuel and earth-ovens in ancient Israel.
Exodus 30.35
Leviticus 2.13.
The metaphor of “live wire” I owe to Evleyn Underhill. She used it in describing charity: “Adoration, as it more deeply possesses us, inevitably leads on to self-offering. Charity is the live wire along which the power of God, indwelling our finite spirits, can and does act on our souls and other things, rescuing, healing, giving support and light.” In her “The Hill of the Lord,” The Spectator, 19 November 1927. It is in the Dana Greene Collection of research in the Underhill archives.


Monday, February 03, 2014

“To Be More Attuned”

Perhaps the most difficult attention to give is healthy attention to oneself. Some consider any attention to oneself to be suspect. Christian spirituality recognizes each person reflects the divine image in deed and in word. When deeds and words people practice and speak come from their true selves they are in touch with “most important thing we will ever know.” That quoted phrase and this post’s title come from a recent reflection of Fr. Ronald Rolheiser.
Wiki-mage by Phyzome of electrical spark CC BY-SA 3.0

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Sunday word, 02 Feb 2014

Expectant and Amazed
Feast of the Presentation of the Lord A (02 February 2014)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Each Sunday is a feast of the Lord. Other feasts of the Lord occur through the year. When some fall on Sunday they replace the celebration of that day. The Presentation of the Lord is the year’s first to do this. It also is a feast in which the mother of the Lord plays a part. Mary guides our attention and our hearts to her son even on her feasts. I offer two things for us to consider: words addressed to Mary; and her  response.

On feasts of the Lord the People of God gathers in a meeting place. We not only meet each other when we gather in faith. God meets us.1 This has been God’s desire from the time God freed and led the Hebrews out of Egypt. They named the place of God’s presence with them the tent of meeting.2 After the people settled a temple replaced the tent. God continues to meet us as we develop. Today’s feast helps us celebrate that the former way God met humans gave way to the new and marvelously more accessible way in Jesus.

Jesus emerged in a family steeped in the traditions of Israel. To its heart, Jerusalem and its temple, Mary and Joseph went to do what parents of first-born sons did. Their customary behavior was more than their duty fulfilled; it was God’s word fulfilled to them and us. If any of us were Mary, the law of the Lord [that] every male that opens the womb shall be holy to the Lord, would be more than a duty to meet. It would echo God’s promise within us. If any of us were Mary, the words of the angel who announced God’s promise to her would resound in our hearts: the child to be born will be called holy.3
Because Mary was steeped in the traditions of Israel she was still an expectant mother. She, Joseph and many in Israel were waiting expectantly for the redemption of Jerusalem. Prophet Malachi’s words danced alive: there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek. Imagine you are Joseph: my spouse gave birth to God’s promise! Imagine your are Mary: God’s promise now is flesh of my flesh!4

God’s promise overflowed that day. Another expectant one was Simeon. To him God had promised he would see the Messiah of the Lord. Simeon had awaited expectantly for God’s consolation. His expectation shaped his faith. Anna, Mary and Joseph welcomed that Simeon recognized in the child he received in his arms not only the fulfillment of God’s promise to him but to all people: Jesus was light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for your people Israel.

Mary personified the people Israel in the gospel: by her God’s promise took flesh. Simeon announced Jesus as light, glory and salvation.Then Simeon interrupted his positive portrayal of Mary’s son. God’s salvation in Jesus was global; yet God’s salvation would divide Israel as Mary’s life would be run through as a sword cuts flesh. Simeon’s words to Mary separate his portrait of Jesus: part reassures; part challenges. That was Simeon’s graced knowledge. Jesus as the salvation of God would divide the very ones to whom he was sent.

How would division work? Jesus as God’s salvation would not be obvious to those with calculating hearts. Key to appreciate it is the word bibles translate as thoughts.5 The Greek word Luke used has textures of inward reasoning with oneself as well as arguing and disputing. Several people thought in scheming and devious ways against Jesus6; at times even his disciples’ hearts slipped into them.7 

In Simeon’s graced language those with calculating hearts fell. People who let their hearts be amazed at and by Jesus rose. Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna represent all whose hearts were amazed at Jesus as he grew and his life unfolded. Their response to Jesus is one for us to have and to cultivate.

Feelings of great wonder leave us longing for more. Amazing is the gracious way God meets us in Jesus: like [us] in every way! Amazing is the gracious way God meets us in Jesus in countless manners unique to each of us. Amazement at the gracious way God meets us in Jesus shapes our lives to be longing, expectant. From us and other expectant people with longing hearts, amazed and warmed by Jesus, Jesus raises a people of his own in the hearts of communities throughout the world.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Place yourself in the presence of our triune God.
  • Invite Mary and Joseph to present you to Jesus. Take him in your arms as Simeon did.
  • Tell Jesus how he amazes you, especially choosing to be born, live, suffer and die for you. 
  • Ask Jesus for grace to keep being amazed at him and to let him warm your hearts.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. His phrase, your will be done, on our lips is not slavish resignation. His words allow us to express in a new way to ourselves deeper trust in his Father’s gracious care when we experience any challenge, especially when we feel that everything depends on us.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Exodus 25.22, 30.6.
  2. Exodus 29.42-46.
  3. Luke 1.35.
  4. Genesis 2.23.
  5. Lexicon entries gives access to these textures.
  6. Religious professionals come to mind (Luke 5.21-22; 6.8). Jesus painted one in a parable, who became his silent, greedy thinking  (12.17).
  7. Luke 9.47. Intention / reasoning of their hearts translates the same word used there.