Archive for the Social Justice Category

God is Not Fair (In the Best Way)

Posted in Homilies, Scripture, Social Justice with tags , , , , , , , on August 19, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

winery-vineyard6I’m always struck by the zealous insistence of “fairness” as rule that first appears in childhood when parents pronounce a decision that some child renders unjust: “That’s not fair!” Though this sort of protestation arrives on the scene during one’s youth, the socialization that led to this way of viewing the world began a very long time ago. Sometimes one is in fact not treated fairly and that is certainly an injustice. However, fairness as a rule tends to be more subjective than most of us would like to admit and it’s almost always, at least when invoked by the comfortable or privileged, a cover for selfishness.

The Gospels are replete with illustrations that uncover our selfish impulses, which is usually masked by the ruse of “fairness.” This morning’s selection from the Gospel of Matthew (20:1-16) is exactly this sort of thing.

You will recall how Jesus announces that, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.” This fictive landowner, the usual stand in for God, then goes out periodically throughout the day to hire more laborers. He orders that all the workers be paid the same wage, which provokes the ire of those who were first hired in the morning. We know how it goes.

So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’

The “fairness rule” rears its ugly head in the contestation of the workers who labored all day. Surely, they insist, we deserve more than those who worked but a few hours.

But why? As Jesus’s narration makes abundantly clear, the landowner has cheated absolutely nobody.

‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’

Again, let us look to yet another Gospel illustration, this time from Luke’s account (15:11-32). One of the most-famous parables of Jesus again reveals what’s really at play in our own self-righteous thinking. This is of course the narrative of the “Prodigal Son.” After the younger child wishes his father dead and demands his inheritance, which he squanders, what would be fair is for that son to be dismissed and left for dead. Or, in the best-case scenario, as the son himself imagines, he might be hired as a servant on his father’s estate.

However, what happens in the Kingdom of Heaven is the opposite of our base human impulses disguised as “fairness.” The gratuitous father is entirely “unfair” by worldly standards and welcomes the son back without punishment or shame.

Like the vineyard workers who began early in the day in Matthew’s narrative, the older son in Luke’s parable seethes with anger at the spectacle of his father’s blatant unfairness.

What is to be learned here? What does this say to us?

First, God’s sense of what is fair and what is not fair does not, at all, align with our human sense of “fairness,” which again is typically a thin veil covering our own self-centeredness. The Reign of God is marked by everybody having what is necessary. In both parables, God does not withhold anything from anyone. All parties are accounted for and given what is necessary for human flourishing.

Yet, it is a sense of of selfishness and entitlement that drives those who have what is from the outset fair (an agreed upon daily wage or all that already belongs to the father) to feel they deserve so much more. Perhaps this impulse goes all the way back to our mythical parents in Genesis, who were not content with their humanity and desired to have and be even more.

Second, these parables and an awareness of the selfishness that is called “fair” today spawns other narratives that justify real injustice in our world. The wealthy, comfortable, and powerful spin tales of “fairness” that justify their grandiosity in the shadow of poverty and injustice around them. Like the vineyard workers hired in the morning, many justify their greed and desire for more as a comparable reward for their hard work.

But unlike the parables, the landowners and father (or mother) figures are usually not prodigal in their generosity and or love. Most landowners operate according to the logic of those first-hired workers. The rules then get set to benefit a few, while the system and the rhetoric of society explain inequality, abuse, poverty, and injustice as merely a real-world reflection of “fairness.”

It is difficult for many of us to accept the gratuitous love, generosity, and mercy of God. We hold one another accountable to rules of “fairness,” sometimes even baptized in the water of religion, but it is not the radical unfairness of God; it is not the radical justice that is equivalent to God’s infinite mercy.

What our world desperately needs, and that the forthcoming year of mercy may offer, is a serious reconsideration of what we consider to be fair.

 Photo: File

Good Friday: A Call to Abolish Capital Punishment

Posted in Evangelii Gaudium, Lent, Pope Francis, Scripture, Social Justice with tags , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

death-penaltyThe following is the full text of the homily that was delivered at St. Anthony Shrine and Ministry Center in Downtown Boston on Good Friday April 3, 2015.

[Sung]

Where you there when they Crucified my Lord?
Where you there when they Crucified my Lord?
Oh, OOOoohh, Sometimes it causes me to Tremble, Tremble, Tremble.
Where you there when they Crucified my Lord?

Where you there when they Crucified Cecil Clayton?
Where you there when they Crucified Manuel Vasquez?
Oh, OOOoohh, always, it should cause us to Tremble, Tremble, Tremble.
Where you there when they Crucified Walter Storey?

[Spoken]

Or Donald Newbury, or Robert Ladd, or Warren Hill, or Arnold Prieto, or Charles Warner, or Johnny Kormondy, or Andrew Brannan?

These are the names of the ten human beings that the Government by the people, of the people, and for the people in this country have executed in several states just since the beginning of January of this year.

What we commemorate this afternoon is a state execution, the death of a man that was viewed as a threat to those in religious and civil authority, a man who was executed by the romans for what was considered “the fomenting of insurrection.”  We just heard the proceedings and we recognize the charge.

While we may honestly say that we were not “there,” when they crucified our Lord, we have to ask ourselves on this day when torture, capital punishment, and the death of innocents is front and center – Does the perpetuation of the injustice of the death penalty in our country cause us to tremble, tremble, tremble?

It Should!

Yes, it’s true, you and I are fortunate to live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a state in the US that has, since October 18, 1984, banned the death penalty.  But just down the street at the federal court house in this city, a trial is underway that is moving toward a sentencing phase in which the US government – in your name and mine – will seek to take yet another human life.

If on this Good Friday, you aren’t thinking about Cecil Clayton or, at least, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, then you’re missing a big part of the picture.

One of the big temptations of Good Friday is to confuse “feeling sorry or sorrowful” with “feeling sorry for oneself!”  This, for example, is what the film “The Passion of the Christ” so often perpetuates. It was drawn not from good scriptural exegesis or sound theology, but from the gruesome visions of a German nun, whose written idea of what happened on Calvary is what the director primarily used in that film.

The effects of that film, and if you’ve seen it you know, is to play on the emotions that arise from watching obscene torture that makes the films of Quentin Tarantino look like Disney; to make individuals feel horrified and bad.

This is not what today is about!  This is not why Jesus was executed!

Taking today as an opportunity to dwell on “how bad we are” such that we stay in the realm of “feeling sorry for ourselves” is not the point.  Instead, yes, we should – today and always – reflect on how we need to repent for the wrong we’ve done and the right we have failed to do, but then we are, like Jesus after falling for the first, second, and third times, called by God to get up and move forward!

Pope Francis has talked a lot about Good Friday and the Death Penalty during his admittedly short, but powerful, term as Bishop of Rome.  In terms of Good Friday, he has asked us in his Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, whether or not we are “Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.”  Whether we, in other words, use this time of penance, prayer, and conversion to “feel sorry for ourselves,” to go around mopey or gloomy, to be a burden for others; or whether we move toward the joy of Easter, the joy which proclaims that indeed death and sin do not have the last word

In terms of capital punishment, the Holy Father actually today includes a reflection on the injustice of the death penalty in his own Good Friday meditations on the Stations of the Cross – he calls us to work toward ending this evil in our world. It is no accident that he also spent last evening celebrating the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper with prisoners and washing their feet.

Two weeks ago while meeting with a delegation of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty, Pope Francis said that, “capital punishment is cruel, inhumane and degrading, and that it does not bring justice to the victims, but only foments revenge.”

Indeed, you and I, as we follow the Lord along the Way of the Cross, bearing witness to the State Execution of the Word-Made-Flesh, should ask ourselves: What good does the Death Penalty Do???

Seriously, what good does it accomplish?  What grace, what healing, what contribution to human flourishing does it bring about???

It only brings about more evil.  The murder of someone is always still murder – to deliberately take another human life is always wrong, no matter who pulls the trigger or pushes the poison in the syringe.

Similarly, Pope Francis said that, “the death penalty is an affront to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of the human person, it contradicts God’s plan for humankind and society and God’s merciful justice.”

Many Christians fancy themselves as being “Pro-Life,” by which they typically mean that they are “anti-abortion.”  Many of these same Christians claim that the difference between abortion and capital punishment is “innocence.”  The unborn somehow have an innocent human life, but the inmate on death row has some other kind of life.

But the Gospel and Christ make it clear, all human life is innocent!  To say that we have inherent dignity and value as created and loved into existence by God means that there is nothing that can take that away from us.  As Sr. Helen Prejean, the death penalty activist and author of Dead Man Walking, frequently says: “We are all more than the worst things we’ve done!”

This does not excuse horrendous and tragic behaviors, crimes, and actions – no, those things certainly merit punishment.  But to say that a woman or man convicted of a crime has somehow lost their right to live is to take God’s judgment into our own hands.

Yesterday was the birthday of the late Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, who was a tireless voice for the Christian prolife movement – he advocated for what is called the “seamless garment” doctrine, which means that you cannot pick and choose which human lives you think are valuable or sacred.

If you are against abortion, then you must be against capital punishment, you must be against euthanasia, you must be against systems of racial injustice, systems that perpetuate poverty, systems of discrimination, anything that threatens the dignity and value of all human life!

Pope Francis has said that, “All Christians and people of good will are thus called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether it be legal or illegal and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty.”

On this day when we gather to recall the death of the Lord, his being tortured and executed, let us think of and pray for those who are being tortured and executed in our own day.  In a special way, let us begin again in the hope of the resurrection to be Christian women and men who work to overturn injustice, who tell our civil leaders that it is not ok to kill, who stand up for dignity of all lives.  Let us break away from any temptation to just feel sorry for ourselves, but instead repent and believe in the Gospel – recommitting ourselves to go out into the world and work for justice!

And let us not forget the names of those who will be put to death on our behalf, for we in fact were and are there when they were crucified, and this should cause us to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Photo: File

Pope Francis, Christianity, and Marxism

Posted in Pope Francis, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on June 26, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

77cb7cd5eWell, it’s been a rather long break on my end, but I’m back after a month off. It hasn’t really been a true break given that, rather than enjoying a vacation as such, I’ve been on the road a lot for academic conferences, Provincial Chapter, board meetings, and speaking engagements, which was the primary reason for the radio silence from the DatingGod.org blog. Thanks to all who have patiently waited and thanks to those who have expressed their support and desire for the return of posting — your wish has come true today.

Ever since Pope Francis was elected Bishop of Rome in the Spring of 2013 his actions and words have captured the attention of millions. Most seem to be struck by the genuine humanity of this man whose primary concern seems to be rooted in the Gospel call to care for those women and men most at the margins: the poor, the disenfranchised, the ill, the disabled, the sexual minorities, and so on.

Yet, in the spirit of Dorothy Day’s prophetic insight — “when I feed the hungry, they call me a saint; when I ask why people are hungry, they call me a communist” — Pope Francis has been labeled a communist by various self-styled “right-wing” commentators. The role call of accusers is pretty familiar, including the usual suspects Limbaugh and Beck. However, this week a new voice has entered the mix, a voice that has a far-more-respected reputation: The Economist magazine.

The blogger over at The Economist takes this misguided discourse to a new level, suggesting that: “By positing a link between capitalism and war, he seems to be taking an ultra-radical line: one that consciously or unconsciously follows Vladimir Lenin in his diagnosis of capitalism and imperialism as the main reason why world war broke out a century ago.”

Pope Francis is certainly not the first to make this connection. In fact, I was thinking about former US President and 5-Star General Dwight Eisenhower’s famous admonition to the United States and world about the “military-industrial complex,” which itself presupposes the intrinsic link between military action (war) and industrial/market interests (capitalism). I think many would be hard pressed to caricature Eisenhower as a communist or “one that consciously or unconsciously follows Vladimir Lenin.”  But that is a digression.

My real interest here is in part to disabuse those who think that “Marxism,” a term thrown around without much actual study or background by most parties already named, is somehow a bad thing. Those who think it is an actual reality are first and foremost disillusioned.  It is fair to talk about the historical reality of communist governments, the USSR, for example. However, Marxism is a political philosophy that bears the name of Karl Marx and is likewise tied to a number of other thinkers too.

Some have suggested that “Marxism” (I am using the scare quotes deliberately to suggest the accusatory styling of the term as opposed to the un-quoted, which references the political philosophy) is an evil that is antithetical to Christianity. This is not exactly true. While it is correct that certain strains of Marxist philosophy are represented by self-professed atheists, the principles are what is important to appreciate. Many of these principles, concern for the oppressed, the social structures of sin, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the condition of labor, and so forth, are all deeply Christian at their core.

Pope Francis is neither “Marxist” nor Marxist. He is not a political philosopher nor an economist nor an anarchist. He is, true and true, a Christian and to be a Christian, to take seriously the Gospel, means to hold the views that he expresses and demonstrates. Period.

I am not at all surprised about the backlash Pope Francis has received. The Bishop of Rome is, after all, following in the footprints of Jesus Christ who also received a backlash for pointing out injustices and announcing the Reign of God that sought a different reality for the poor and oppressed — that backlash ended with a crucifixion. Anyone who bears the name “Christ” as a Christian, anyone who is baptized should likewise find herself or himself in Pope Francis’s position. Imagine that, imagine if we all took our baptismal vocations seriously and had to face the criticism of those who either benefit or seek to benefit from the unjust structures of wealth and power.

I suppose that is, in part, what Jesus meant when he told us that we need to pick up our crosses daily and follow him. There are a lot of people standing around with crosses still lying on the ground.

It’s powerful and refreshing to see that at least the Pope has picked up his.

UPDATE: Correction: the quote attributed to Dorothy Day above should be attributed to the late prelate, Dom Helder Camara.

Photo: The Atlantic

Craven Politicians and the NRA

Posted in Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Shooting rampage in Isla Vista, CaliforniaI’m sitting in the Louisville airport with not much time before catching my flight to write a full post on the subject of the mass murder in Santa Barbara this weekend. I have been at the Abbey of Gethsemani with a group of Merton scholars on retreat and without regular internet access, so my ability to follow the news was incredibly limited. I have spent some time now trying to piece together what happened and, like The New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik, I have been moved and haunted by Richard Martinez’s brief press conference following the murder of his son, Chris.

Martinez is 100% correct. In addition to the particular circumstances that led that individual to kill six people, his misogyny has been identified among other factors, there are general circumstances and responsible parties that make possible the condition for the possibility of mass murder. The LA Times reported that the shooter purchased his semi-automatic handguns legally.

Personally, I am against all firearms. As a Franciscan friar and a Catholic Priest, I cannot maintain (nor would I) any other position. As someone who believes in the truth of the Gospel, I likewise find it impossible to hold an alternative view. Yet, I am also not entirely without a pragmatic side, recognizing the legitimacy of hunting rifles for food and safety in remote parts of this country and the world.

However, there is no legitimate alternative purpose for handguns other than to kill other human beings. Therefore, there is no legitimate right that anyone has to own them. Period.

Martinez’s comment about the responsibility of “craven politicians” and the “NRA” is absolutely correct. I have written elsewhere about the insane tragedy that played out in the wake of the Newtown shootings when the congress could not muster the fortitude to pass overwhelmingly popular legislation on firearm background checks — legislation that did not go far enough, but was something that any rational person could support.

I encourage everybody to read Gopnik’s reflections here: “Christopher Michael-Martinez’s Father Gets It Right About Guns.” He includes links to stories and data about how other, respectable, nations have responded to mass murder tragedies such as what we experience regularly in the US. Stricter laws have made for safer communities.

To handgun and semi-automatic weapon advocating Catholics: take note of Gopnik’s correct statement about the incompatibility of being “pro-life” and “pro-gun.” These days I can conceive of no greater hypocrisy on this subject and in the wake of these tragedies than women and men marching in Washington on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, or other comparable “pro-life” events, with an NRA membership card in their wallets and purses.

Photo: European Press Agency

‘It Is Finished’ — An excerpt from ‘The Last Words of Jesus’

Posted in Lent, Social Justice, The Last Words of Jesus, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 18, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

It-Is-Finished_wide_t_nv1The following reflection offered on this Good Friday is taken from chapter six of my new book, The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering (2013).

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

There is a fine line between beginnings and endings. With one the other inevitably follows. There’s a reason that college graduations are called commencements: what at the same time marks the completion of several years of study also marks a new beginning, a new chapter in the life of the graduate. Central to the Christian message of the cross – the very reason that followers of Jesus hang these signs of death penalty and torture on walls and places of worship over the centuries – is that in earthly death one doesn’t find just an end, but one finds also a beginning. It is, as the Franciscan tradition refers to the anniversary of the death of St. Francis of Assisi, a Transitus – from the Latin word indicating a passing over from this life into the next.

What has, in a sense, finished has also just begun.

Curiously, the meaning of the Greek word used in the Gospels that captures what Jesus cried out from the Cross is not as clear-cut as we might at first think. Which, I’m sure, is no accident. Reflecting this fine line between beginnings and endings, what is generally translated into English as “it is finished,” might better be translated as “it is fulfilled.” The word “finished” has such a terminal sound to it. While some scripture scholars believe that tetelestai, the Greek word the author of John’s Gospel uses, is more triumphant than it is evocative of surrender. Francis Moloney explains: “Climaxing these [earlier scriptural] indications of fulfillment, Jesus cries out ‘tetelestai’ (v. 30a), an exclamation of achievement, almost of triumph. The task given to him by the Father (cf. [John] 4:34; 5:36; 17:4) has not been consummately brought to a conclusion.” The exclamation isn’t something from which one needs to shy as much as it is an embrace of all that has come before, yet points toward the future where we are now to go. It is a climactic exclamation – it is fulfilled! – just like college graduation, but it is also the announcement of what is also beginning.

No one understood this better than St. Francis. His biographer, Thomas of Celano, tells us that while Francis was very sick and near the end of his life, he spoke to his fellow brothers about how they were to look at this point in the Saint’s life and in their lives.

He used to say: “Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God, for up until now we have done little or nothing.” He did not consider that he had already attained his goal, but tireless in pursuit of holy newness, he constantly hoped to begin again.

He wanted to return to serving lepers and to be held in contempt, just as he used to be. He intended to flee human company and go off to the most remote places, so that, letting go of every care and putting aside anxiety about others, for the time being only the wall of the flesh would stand between him and God.

As Francis came to the end of this earthly journey, he echoes the words “It is finished” proclaimed by Christ on the cross. His words are not helpless, regretful, or empty in their recognition of one chapter in the pilgrimage of life. Instead, he expresses – perhaps in a way more fully than Jesus’s simple “It is finished” – that, while the other friars and sisters were crying about the imminent loss of their leader in religious life, Francis wanted to remind them of what it means to announce a commencement, a completion, a fulfillment, and a beginning: It is not a time of sorrow or loss, but a time to refresh and renew one’s commitment to the Gospel, to live as one in the Kingdom, and to continue to serve the Lord with redoubled intent.

In this way, Francis’s mirrored expression of those from the cross – “let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God, for up until now we have done little or nothing” – is an invitation to make Christ’s words – “It is finished” – our own over and over again in life. There is a sense in which the call to serve the Lord found in Francis’s deathbed announcement is a commentary or explanation of what Jesus might have meant in his own cry from the Cross, for to proclaim that “it is fulfilled” in a Christian context is to necessarily assert, “thy will be done.” Is it no wonder then that Francis, as he lay dying, asked that the reading from the Gospel of John at the Last Supper be read to him?

At his own Transitus from this life to the next, Francis sought to recall what it was that he committed himself to so many years earlier. “To live according the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That life was one of service in solidarity. That service in solidarity is demonstrated on the eve of the Lord’s own death, while at table with those he loved. The reading Francis begged to hear is this:

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and me head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.“ (John 13:1-15)

After the reading was completed, Francis “told them to cover him with sackcloth and to sprinkle him with ashes, as he was soon to become dust and ashes.” The last words Francis heard came to form a summary of the saint’s entire life: service and solidarity. Francis wasn’t just one who served others, but lived with and for them in a way that reflected the relationship Jesus demonstrated with all people. This is how Francis understood the Vita Evangelica, the life of the Gospel, and this is how he wished those who were to come after him would live. Francis lived his life as if every day was a proclamation of “It is finished, it is fulfilled.” He strove to obey the words of Jesus as after the Lord washed the feet of his followers and said, “For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you.” Francis then left those who were following him to do likewise.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between beginnings and endings. Perhaps one of the strongest lessons in Jesus’s words from the Cross, those words lived in the life of St. Francis, is that we must not be as concerned about our time as we are about God’s time. In God’s time beginnings and endings are one in the same, because God’s time is not so much a matter of minutes, hours, and days as it is about a way of living in the world. The way we mark the passage of our life is not the same way that God marks our time. It is when washing the feet of others, the giving of ourselves for the sake of our brothers and sisters, that we live according to God’s time.

The time of the world is a time that sees the crucifixion of an accused criminal on a Roman Cross as an end. The time of the world is a time that sees a blind, poor man dying naked in medieval Italy as an end. Yet, the time of God is a time that sees in all things the potential for a new beginning, a reminder that life is more than an economy of checks and minuses, of winning and losing. God’s time is a time of fulfillment that makes little sense to the world, for what is logical is replaced by what is Kingdom-oriented and, as St. Paul reminds us, this way of thinking appears as foolishness and remains a stumbling block to the worldly (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).

People like Jesus of Nazareth and Francis of Assisi were fools for God, abiding in time that was not limited by the priorities of popular culture and society. To be a disciple today, to live up to the claim that you or I are willfully following the one who cried “It is finished” from the Cross, means to risk being foolish in the eyes of the world to be wise, loving, and renewed in the eyes of God. It means living in a time that prioritizes relationship and second chances, of starting over again to serve the least among us, of valuing what it is that God values.

But do you have the time?

PRAYER

God of all time, You call us out of the ordinariness of our everyday lives to see the world anew in your time. Help us to respond to your call to see in all things: both a completion and a new beginning; both an end and a renewed start; both sadness and joy. While our time marks your death on a cross as an end, Your time marks the Transitus from one life to the next. Enflame in our hearts a desire to see in life and death the Transitus and transformation your life, death and resurrection has brought forth in the world. Your time is a time of fulfillment that makes little sense to the world, for what is logical is replaced by what is Kingdom-oriented, and this way of thinking appears as foolishness to the worldly. Help us to live as your fools, willing to announce your Kingdom. Give us the strength to keep your time, where relationships take priority and we start over again and again to serve the least among us. AMEN.

For more reflections on the last words of Christ on the Cross, consider reading: The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering (2013), from which this excerpt was taken.

Photo: Stock

 

God or the god of Riches?

Posted in Homilies, Scripture, Social Justice with tags , , , , , , on March 2, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

money_and_godI once heard about a community of women religious that have a practice of doing something every year that seems incredibly foolish.

At the end of each fiscal year, after they pay whatever bills still remain, they give away every dollar that they have left in their accounts and give it to the poor.

I remember when I first heard about this practice and, despite being a Franciscan friar who knows well that this sort of practice is what St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi had in mind with their communities, responded: “Why would they do that?”

My feeling was, like so many who might come across this and similar stories, that this practice is so foolish — what if the next day there was a flood or a fire or there was a medical need in the community or whatever? And the sisters’ response to this sort of question seemed so illogical: God will provide through the interdependence of the whole community.

Foolish and illogical alright, but foolish and illogical according to whom?

For the last three weeks we have been hearing St. Paul talk to us, by way of his Letter to the Corinthians, about wisdom and foolishness. There are two spheres, the worldly, human wisdom and the wisdom of God. Each appears as foolishness to the other, but we are challenged to consider according to which we decide to live.

This is why, in so many ways, my initial reaction to hearing about this religious community’s practice was perfectly normal. There is a sort of wisdom, a “common sense” guide by which we have been formed and according to which we — especially those who are affluent in the United States — live our lives. We are encouraged by friends, family, and society to plan for the future, to be on guard about finances, to make sure all is accounted for…just in case.

Yet, in today’s Gospel we have Jesus telling us something very different. There is a sense in which Jesus appear to be speaking against prudence, common sense, planning.

Maybe, but maybe not.

Jesus is definitely uncovering a tension that human beings face in today’s Gospel (Matthew 6:24-34). It’s a temptation that even he faced while in the desert. It is the struggle to face what we will serve, what will be our true divinity: will it be God or will it be ourselves. 

Jesus puts it famously in terms of serving two masters, serving God or “mammon,” which might best be rendered “riches” here because it means more than just money as it is sometimes suggested. Ultimately, I believe, the issue is between God and us, between serving the will of God or serving our own will. It is between putting our desires and interests first and putting first the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’s point, and St. Paul’s after him, is to get us thinking about what should govern or direct our lives and what actually governs or directs our lives. 

This is not to suggest that we should be reckless or irresponsible. Remember, the women’s religious community did pay all their bills before aiding those who needed the remaining money more than they did. It is a question about what ultimately guides us in how we go about this world.

St. Augustine puts this rather starkly in his writings when he makes the distinction between that which is for our use (uti) and that which is to be enjoyed or loved in itself (frui). In the end, it is only God who should be loved for God’s self, everything else should be loved or utilized proportionally and with an eye toward the ultimate goal of each person and all of creation.

But so many of us get those things reversed. We confuse what we want to love with what should be loved. For some it is money, but the riches come in various shades: property, power, prestige, wealth, attention, control, and so on. These things all pass away, they are not ends in themselves and when they become an end, they morph into our god, which precludes us — as Jesus says — from serving the true God.

At the center of this is our desire to break away from who we really are, which goes all the way back to the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis. It’s not about apples and snakes, it’s about us wanting to be our own gods. It’s about loving ourselves first and God and others second. It’s about being completely independent and without having to rely on anybody else (which is, of course, “the American way,” right?).

What that community of sisters realized is that which St. Francis, St. Paul, St. Clare, and so many others we admire for their Christian lives also realized: to be Christian, to be fully human, is to recognize and accept our inherent interdependence and to live into that rather than avoiding it. This interdependence is another way of talking about the striving first for the Kingdom of God that Jesus speaks about in the Gospel. It is the caring for one another, it is to realize that we depend on others and that others depend on us.

With this Sunday goes the end of the Liturgical Season of Ordinary Time for a while. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and Lent officially begins. This seems to me to be a good time for us to pause and reflect over the next forty days on the questions: What motivates us? What is our starting point? Do we seek to build up our sense of independence rather than embrace our interdependence? Do we let the wisdom of the world guide our behaviors or do we let the wisdom of God show the way? Do we put our trust in God or do we only trust ourselves?

Photo: Stock

Parish Mission in Indiana

Posted in Social Justice, The Last Words of Jesus, Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 15, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This past week I had the wonderful blessing to give a series of talks at St. Louis de Montfort Parish in Fishers, Indiana just north of Indianapolis, for the 2014 Parish Mission. My time with the St. Louis community began over the weekend as I preached at all the Masses and presided at a few of them. The staff and community was incredibly welcoming and it was a gift to be with them.

The theme of the mission was “The Last Words of Jesus,” and although the subject matter seems like it should belong to Lent or Good Friday alone, those who were able to come to the talks quickly learned that what Jesus says from the Cross should inform and shape our whole Christian experience.

During my time at St. Louis, I was fortunate to experience a variety of events and participate in the life of the parish. On Sunday, after the last Mass (the 5:00pm, which was Mass number 5 of the weekend), I was privileged to join the parish staff for a dinner over which we got to know each other better and share a nice conversation. I celebrated the morning Mass with those who gathered daily and shared the talk of the day with those who could stay after the liturgy. On Wednesday morning I presided over and preached at the school Mass, which included students from Pre-K through 8th grade, along with some parents, teachers, and other parishioners. On the last evening, after the final talk, we had a lovely reception where I was able to chat with a number of folks at length, including my mother’s cousin who happens to be a parishioner there (small world!). Each evening the parish also had a book signing, another wonderful chance to connect with so many great people.

Despite the freezing temperatures, unusually cold I was told, the warmth of my welcome made the outside weather seem negligible! I have to thank Sandy Stanton especially, she and the other staff at St. Louis de Montfort arranged things so well that even with the occasional surprise or change of plans, the whole experience felt flawless.

The whole community at St. Louis remains in my thoughts and prayers!

Photos: Louise Firsich

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