Hearing the ‘Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor’

Posted in Laudato Si with tags , , , , , on August 13, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

pope francis_1379610835810_944524_ver1.0_640_480_1386790829863_1635428_ver1.0_640_480In a paragraph of Pope Francis’s latest encyclical letter Laudato Si that strikingly echoes the work of the Brazilian theologian and former Franciscan friar Leonardo Boff, we are reminded of the ways in which the global poor disproportionately suffer the consequences of climate change and environmental degradation. Can we learn to draw near to those in our world otherwise systematically excluded from discussions of power and policy, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor?

“It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people. These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage. Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality. At times this attitude exists side by side with a “green” rhetoric. Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (no. 49)

Photo: File

Working for Justice Without Reward

Posted in Homilies, Scripture with tags , , on August 12, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

mosesIn today’s First Reading (Deut. 34:1-12) we hear about the death of the Prophet Moses. After decades of leading the people of Israel out of Egypt and toward the ‘promised land,’ Moses’s earthly journey comes to an end before he ever steps foot in or is able to enjoy that which was set before him and his people as their goal.

The LORD then said to him,
“This is the land
which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
that I would give to their descendants.
I have let you feast your eyes upon it, but you shall not cross over.”

This reading is a particularly difficult one for modern readers to appreciate. We live in a time and within a culture that has conditioned us to expect, and therefore to demand, instant gratification. I’m reminded of a great Louis C. K. comedy bit about the true absurdity of an airline passenger’s anger when the Wi-Fi connection aboard goes down and the man cannot access the internet immediately, even while 30,000 feet in the air. The entitlement and expectation is, when we step back to view it more clearly, ridiculous.

Yet, there is a timely lesson in the story of the death of Moses. So much of what it means to live the will of God, to respond to the call of the Gospel, to work for justice in our world demands of us an acceptance that we may not receive the reward promised or even witness in our own lives the change for which we sacrifice.

One may think of the powerful speech delivered on April 3, 1968 by Martin Luther King, Jr., shortly before his assassination, in which he concludes drawing on the imagery of the story of Moses’s death:

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

One may think of the painfully prescient cry of Blessed Oscar Romero: “If I am killed, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people.”

One may think of dozens of other instances when people have risked and given their lives for the causes of justice, mercy, and God’s will, yet never saw the outcome of reward or the goal sought during their own lives.

The question that the story of Moses’s death presents to us today is one that Pope Francis has also called for in terms of our care for the rest of creation. He has admonished us modern people for our obsession with instant gratification and our inability to imagine a future beyond ourselves. He has called for “intergenerational solidarity” and “justice between the generations” (Laudato Si, no. 159). We are called to work for justice, including care for creation, despite what we may personally receive in return. Can we think of others? Can we imagine those who will be born a generation or ten generations or one hundred generations later?

There are plenty of structural issues of sin and persistent instances of injustice in our world today. The racial injustice, the violence, the degradation of creation — all of these things continue to persist beyond the lives of King and Romero and others. But can we, following their example in the shadow of Moses’s death, likewise give ourselves to that mission that is doing the will of God? Can we commit ourselves to working for justice without reward?

Photo: File

Highlighting the Franciscan Character of ‘Laudato Si’

Posted in Laudato Si, Pope Francis with tags , , , , , , on June 18, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM


This is an article that originally appeared at America magazine simultaneously with the release of the Encyclical Laudato Si. For full coverage and additional commentary, visit America’s commentary page. For the full text of the encyclical, visit the Vatican website.

Perhaps it is no accident that, after opening his encyclical letter “Laudato Si’” with a quote from St. Francis of Assisi’s famous Canticle of the Creatures, Pope Francis cites Pope St. John XXIII’s encyclical “Pacem in Terris” (1963) as the model for his audience of “all people” (no. 3). Shortly after “Pacem in Terris” was published, the renowned Trappist monk and author Fr. Thomas Merton wrote an article commenting on the text, stating that, “the whole climate of the encyclical [Pacem in Terris], in its love of man and of the world, and in its radiant hopefulness, is Franciscan.” Now we are privileged to witness the publication of another powerful encyclical, one that is without a doubt even more “Franciscan” and one authored by a pope named Francis!

What marks this authoritative teaching as particularly “Franciscan” is more substantial than the mere references to the Saint from Assisi. Pope Francis clearly “gets” both the letter and the spirit of the Franciscan theological and spiritual tradition. From among the many Franciscan themes that arise in “Laudato Si’,” at least three are worth highlighting from the outset: leaving behind “naïve romanticism,” recognizing the inherent value of all creation, and seeing the connection between abject poverty and environmental degradation. What I offer here is only a preliminary response, for the richness of this encyclical letter exceeds the limits of initial commentary. 

Leaving Behind ‘Naïve Romanticism’

In the early section of “Laudato Si’” under the subheading “Saint Francis of Assisi,” Pope Francis calls the Christian community and those people who admire the history and legacy of St. Francis to take seriously the medieval saint’s deeply theological convictions about the relationship of the human person within and among the rest of the community of creation. We read: “[St. Francis’s] response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection…Such a conviction cannot be written off as naïve romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behavior” (no. 11). Whereas some people have viewed Francis of Assisi’s poetic Canticle of the Creatures and romantic depictions of him as a nature lover in the birdbath, Pope Francis understands that his medieval namesake recognized a profound truth of revelation: that you and I are deeply interconnected and inherently related to all else that exists. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are part of a family of creation and not kings or queens over and above nonhuman creation. 

Near the end of “Laudato Si’” Pope Francis exhorts us to follow the example of Francis of Assisi whose own experience of “ecological conversion” helped open his eyes to this reality. “I ask all Christians to recognize and to live fully this dimension of their conversion. May the power and the light of the grace we have received also be evident in our relationship to other creatures and to the world around us. In this way, we will help nurture that sublime fraternity with all creation which Saint Francis of Assisi so radiantly embodied” (no. 221). This vision of creation is far from one associated with the overly romantic and easily dismissible caricature of the “saint who loved animals.” Instead, it calls to mind the real complexity of Christian discipleship that extends beyond communion with God and other humans to include all of creation.

Intrinsic Value of all Creation

Pope Francis highlights many of the ways in which nonhuman creation has been and continues to be assessed according to its instrumental value or usefulness. Arguments, Christian and secular, have been advanced in favor of conservation in order to provide for future generations. However, as Pope Francis notes at several points, “it is not enough to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves” (no. 33). Later, in a paragraph invoking the work of Teihard de Chardin, Pope Francis states that, “The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us” (no. 83), suggesting that just as human beings have their source and goal in God, so too does the rest of creation. It is, in other words, not all about us.

In addition to the respect, value, and dignity with which Francis of Assisi approached all aspects of the created order, from the smallest worm to the largest mountain, there are other Franciscan resonances present in the affirmation of the intrinsic value of all creation found in “Laudato Si’.”  For instance, it is the medieval Franciscan philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus who advanced a principle of individuation (popularly referred to as haecceitas, literally meaning “this-ness” in Latin) that suggested that all aspects of the cosmos are individually loved into existence by God and their particularity is no accident or afterthought, but coextensive with their very being. 

Furthermore, Pope Francis relies heavily on the thought of St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan theologian and doctor of the church who affirmed the inherent dignity of all creation due to each creature being a vestige of the creator and mirror of the Trinity. As a vestige (from the Latin Vestigio, literally meaning “footprint”), each aspect of creation bears an imprint or mark of its creator. As a mirror, all of creation reflects the Trinity. Pope Francis references this latter point when he says that, “The Franciscan saint teaches us that each creature bears in itself a specifically Trinitarian structure, so real that it could be readily contemplated if only the human gaze were not so partial, dark and fragile” (no. 239). The Holy Father calls us to follow the example of St. Bonaventure in terms of contemplation, coming to “discover God in all things” and continues, noting: “Saint Bonaventure teaches us that ‘contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace in our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside ourselves” (no. 233). 

The Connection Between Poverty and Creation

One of the most striking, and seemingly controversial, dimensions of “Laudato Si’” is the explicit connection that Pope Francis makes between abject poverty and environmental degradation. The truth is that this is not a new idea, but goes back as far as Francis of Assisi, if not earlier. Pope Francis writes early on that, “The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled” (no. 11). This statement points to the heart of St. Francis’s embrace of evangelical poverty as a means toward deepening solidarity. What the saint from Assisi recognized in his time was how not just things but also women and men began to be valued in financial terms. One’s worth came to be determined by how much money one had, rather than by the inherent value that comes with being lovingly created by God. Francis’s refusal to play by the rules of the rising merchant economy led him to embrace a voluntary poverty that allowed him to draw near to all people and, eventually, all of creation. 

There are numerous early legends that testify to Francis of Assisi’s continual call for the friars in particular and society in general to care for their sister and brother animals and other creatures that were often ignored or disregarded. They, like the lepers of his time or the poor and unwanted of ours, did not count according to the standard of economic valuation. Pope Francis draws our attention to the interrelationship between the reality of global climate change (largely caused by the affluent and powerful of our time) and the poor who suffer the devastating effects disproportionately. Pope Francis states: “Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades” (no. 25). The category of “the marginalized” extends beyond the human species to include our very planet, or as Pope Francis says: “the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor” (no. 2). 

For Francis of Assisi radical lifestyle change was required to authentically follow the Gospel. Embracing evangelical poverty as a means of protest against social injustices and a means toward closer solidarity led him among the poor and outcast of his day. Concurrently, his renunciation of the power systems of his society allowed him to—like St. Bonaventure—see God in all things and become a nature mystic. Today, we too are called to change our lives to follow the poor man of Assisi who has so inspired the present bishop of Rome to teach us with such authority and clarity rarely seen before.

Daniel P. Horan, OFM is Franciscan friar, a columnist for America, the author of several books, and is currently writing a doctoral dissertation titled: “Imagining Planetarity: Toward a Postcolonial Franciscan Theology of Creation.”

Photo: AP

Pope to Friars: ‘Be Bringers of Mercy, Reconciliation and Peace’

Posted in Uncategorized on May 26, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

11268076_937281113002573_6758778179708946809_nPope Francis met today with the participants of the Order of Friars Minor General Chapter, which includes all of the provincial ministers from around the world as well as several friars offering technical and secretarial support. In his address to the friars, quoted below from a Vatican News report, Pope Francis demonstrates that he not only lives up to his name (taken after St. Francis of Assisi) by his example and actions, but he also understands the Franciscan charism very well. He cites several passages from our Rule and the early sources. Among other things, Pope Francis reminded the friars and the church universal that the Franciscan charism is an “outbound” one, for which the whole world is our cloister. We are meant to be with and among the people of God.

Here is the news report with several key quotes from his address:

Vatican City, 26 May 2015 (VIS) – This morning in the Sala Clementina of the Vatican Apostolic Palace Pope Francis received in audience the participants in the General Chapter of the Order of Friars Minor, dedicated this time to two key aspects of their identity: minority and fraternity.

In his address, the Holy Father remarked that minority “calls us to be and to feel small before God, entrusting ourselves entirely to his infinite mercy. The perspective of mercy is incomprehensible to those who do not recognise themselves as ‘minor’: that is, as small, needy and sinners before God. The more aware we are of this, the closer we are to salvation; the more convinced we are of being sinners, the more disposed we are to be saved. … Minority also means coming out of ourselves, of leaving behind our preconceptions and personal views; it also means going beyond structures – that are of course useful if used wisely – and beyond our habits and certainties, to bear witness to real closeness to the poor, needy and marginalised, with an authentic attitude of sharing and service”.

Similarly, the dimension of fraternity is essential for bearing witness to the Gospel. “In the primitive Church, Christians lived in fraternal community to the extent that … the people were surprised to see them so united in love, so willing to give and to forgive each other”, commented the Pope. “Your religious family is called upon to express this concrete fraternity, by recovering this mutual trust in interpersonal relations, so that the world may see and believe, acknowledging that Christ’s love heals wounds and renders us as one”.

In this respect, Francis invited the Franciscans to be “bringers of mercy, reconciliation and peace”, in obedience to their charism which has made them an “outbound congregation” since their origins. “It is said that when the first friars were asked to show their cloisters, they climbed a hill and, showing the land around, as far as the eye could see, they answered, ‘This is our cloister’. Dear brothers, continue to go into this cloister, which is the whole world, driven by Christ’s love, as St. Francis invites you to do … when he says … ‘I counsel, warn and exhort my friars in the Lord Jesus Christ, that when they go about through the world, they are not to quarrel nor contend in words, nor are they to judge others, but they are to be meek, peaceable and modest, meek and humble, speaking uprightly to all, as is fitting. … Into whatever house they may enter, first let them say: ‘Peace to this house’, and … it is lawful to eat any of the foods which are placed befor them”.

The Pope stressed that St. Francis’ exhortation remains valid. “It is a prophecy of fraternity and minority for today’s world too. How important it is to live a Christian and religious existence without losing oneself in disputes and gossip, cultivating a serene dialogue with all, … with modest means, announcing peace and living in a sober fashion, content with what is offered to you. This also requires decisive commitment to transparency, to the ethical and fraternal use of goods, in a style of sobriety. If, instead, you are attached to worldly goods and wealth, and place your security there, it will be the Lord Himself Who will despoil you of this spirit of worldliness in order to preserve this valuable heritage of minority and poverty to which He has called you through St. Francis. You will either be freely poor and minor, or find yourselves denuded”.

“The Holy Spirit is the inspiration for religious life”, continued Pope Francis. “When consecrated persons let themselves be enlightened and guided by the Spirit, they discover in this supernatural vision the secret of their fraternity, the inspiration for their service to their brothers, the strength of their prophetic presence in the Church and in the world. The light and the strength of the Spirit will also help you face the challenges that lie before you, especially the numerical decrease, ageing and diminution of new vocations”.

“The people of God love you. Cardinal Quarracino once said: ‘In our cities there are groups or people who are against the clergy, and when a priest passes by they say certain things to him – in Argentina they call them “crows”. But I have never, ever heard these remarks in the presence of a Franciscan habit. Why? You have inherited authority with the people of God with your minority, fraternity, meekness, humility, and poverty. Please preserve this! Do not lose it. The people love you”.

Photo: L’Osservatore Romano

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.


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?


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

Wrath is Easy, but Mercy is Divine

Posted in Lent, Scripture with tags , , , , , on March 2, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

HaveMercyToday’s Gospel is about as straight forward a message as one can read in all of the New Testament.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”
(Luke 6:36-38)

It sets out a clear and direct message from the words of Jesus about how it is that we are called to be and act in this world. It also makes clear what God’s priorities are and what God’s actions look like. God cares for all creation, God loves all, God extends mercy to us even when we might think we (or others) deserve it. But that last part, that judgment we are so good at executing, that is a projection of our own human standards and desires, not God’s.

The first reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel sets up well the human vision and practice against which Jesus is presenting the Divine outlook.

O LORD, we are shamefaced, like our kings, our princes, and our fathers,
for having sinned against you.
But yours, O Lord, our God, are compassion and forgiveness!
Yet we rebelled against you
and paid no heed to your command, O LORD, our God,
to live by the law you gave us through your servants the prophets.
(Daniel 9:8-10)

Indeed, how “shamefaced” are we! We don’t pay heed to the commands of God (“Love your enemy,” “forgive those who persecute you,” “turn the other cheek,” “care for these the least among you,” and so on and so on).

When we act with the interest of human priorities, skewed as they are by our selfish bias and hubris, we ignore the law of God and the consistent reminder to repent and follow that law exhorted by God’s servants the prophets. We sit on our individual judgment thrones and evaluate those around us and ourselves, promulgating judgment and declaring guilt. We say “this is fair” or “I deserve this,” in a manner that all too often drowns out the message of the Scriptures that turns that self-centered logic on its head.

The life, the words, the actions, the death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ all reveal to us the way in which God wishes us to act in this life. If Christ is as fully human as he is divine, then we must recognize that his way is precisely what our way is intended to be. But we are so focused on ourselves that we cannot bear to consider it.

Augustine and Bonaventure describe the persistence of human sin as like being bent over, only able to stare at ourselves and unable to stand upright before our Creator and each other to see the world as it really is. Athanasius says that we have lost the ability to recognize or know God because we have become so fascinated and preoccupied with the lesser and passing things of our immediate reality. Far too many of us have become Narcissus, to recall the Greek myth, unable to look away from the reflection of ourselves or look toward anything that doesn’t immediately concern us.

It is often for this reason that mercy is not our path, wrath is. Generosity is not our disposition, selfishness is. Forgiveness is not found in our attitude, anger is.

These things are easy and seemingly natural, they arise from our being concerned with keeping ourselves first and center. But Christ calls us to do something else, something far more difficult that minding our own business and watching our own backs. It is the love, forgive, heal, and be merciful in the way that God is already with us, even if we are so preoccupied with ourselves that we cannot recognize it.

Photo: Stock

God is Not a Genie

Posted in Lent, Scripture with tags , , , , on February 26, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

usa-pope-lent-2008Today’s Gospel reading offers us a lot to consider as we move onward in this season of Lent, a time of reflection and evaluation. Like Jesus in last Sunday’s reading, who was “driven out” (ekballein in Greek, the same word that is used when talking about ‘driving out demons’) into the desert, we are “driven out” into a place of discomfort and solitude through penance and prayer. It is a spiritual location that is not so much a physical place, like the deserts of Arizona or Egypt, but an internal location. St. Ambrose of Milan describes this place as the “inner room” about which Jesus speaks when instructing his disciples to pray: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt 6:6). It is a place always with us, but do we enter it? And, in a season like Lent, when we enter it — either by desire or because we have been “driven there” by the Spirit — what do we do?

This morning’s Gospel, also taken from the Good News according to Matthew, is a passage frequently misunderstood (or, better put, frequently misused). It has been interpreted by some to suggest that God is like a genie, a magical and all-powerful being that can grant us the wishes for which we ask, that can give us whatever it is we desire. But this is not the point.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this opening part of the Gospel might lead to the “God-as-genie” interpretation. But it cannot be divorced for the following two parts:

Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the law and the prophets.”

The emphasis is not placed on our asking, as such, but shifts to what it is that God does for us and how God, here presented as an analog to a good parent, knows what’s best for us.

It is actually a reminder that, to quote the Rolling Stones: “You can’t always get what you want / But if you try sometimes well you might find / You get what you need.”

What we need is provided for us by our loving God, yet it is we, you and I, that get in the way of that. We mistake what we need for what we inordinately desire, we mistake ourselves for the center of reality and seek to take care of ourselves first. The interpretive key to this whole Gospel passage comes in the so-called “Golden Rule” invocation at the end: treat others as you want to be treated, care for others as you would care for yourself, look out for one another as God looks out for you!

God doesn’t give stones when God’s daughters and sons, you and I, need bread. But we human beings — we who are tempted to often to be “wicked,” as Jesus puts it — we are the ones who interfere with the generosity of God. We are the ones who must align our wills and wants and desires with the vision of the Kingdom that God reveals to us in Christ.

During this time of Lenten reflection, may we be open to the Spirit’s “driving force,” which pushes us into a place of discomfort in order to see the truth of God’s generosity and our call to be agents of the Gospel in this world. May we enter that “inner room” of our hearts to hear this Word and, as we might have heard on Ash Wednesday, “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

Photo: Stock

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