Archive for Gospel

On Not Being a Stumbling Block to Others

Posted in Homilies, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 27, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

7109262Scandal. That’s what the translation should actually say in today’s Gospel (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48). Why the lectionary renders the Greek Skandalon as “sin” in this translation is unclear, but what is clear is that in the original Greek, Jesus is making it plain to his followers that those who — by their actions or words — become an obstacle or “stumbling block” to others are the real problem that needs correction.

It may seem like a minor concern, this business about translation, but the NAB translation in our lectionary proceeds to use “sin” in the bodily examples Jesus names: hand, foot, eye. But, again, Jesus doesn’t actually seem to be so concerned about the individual act of sin as we might imagine it today, nor is he very likely to have been concerned about one’s actual physical body. The verb used here in the Greek is Skandalizein, which really means “to cause one to stumble.” And scholars, such as John Donahue and the late Daniel Harrington have explained that these bodily references are metaphorical, referring as St. Paul does so often in his letters to the corporate body — in this case: The Body of Christ.

With this in mind, we can look at today’s Gospel in a whole other light. It’s not about individual acts of indiscretion or sinfulness (not that those aren’t important), as much as it’s about how we relate to one another and to strangers as members of the Body of Christ.

In today’s First Reading (Numbers 11:25-29) we have an interesting story about the bestowal of the Spirit upon those selected to continue Moses’s prophetic ministry to the people of Israel. As it happens, two men who were not at the event where the Lord was said to bestow the Spirit upon these ministers nevertheless began prophesying. Those who were counted among the ministers became very upset and insisted that Moses stop them, for these guys were not “allowed” to be speaking on behalf of God and prophesying.

Moses replied: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

The self-righteous seem convinced that they should be arbiters of who is in and who is out of God’s favor. These two prophets might not have been part of the official ceremony of commissioning, but their deeds and words reflected true reception of God’s Spirit. So often religious people are concerned about who is in and who is out of God’s favor, who should be admitted to ministry, who should be welcome at the Table of the Lord — yet, it is clear in Moses’s response that this is not what is important to God. God wants all people to be prophetic followers of the law and God’s will.

A similar scene plays out in today’s Gospel.

Like Moses, Jesus is nonplussed with the idea that people other than his self-identified followers are out and about doing good works and preaching the Good News in his name. The disciples, self-appointed first-century “brand managers” of Jesus, find it annoying and intolerable that those who are not part of their “in crowd” can still be able to perform good works in the name of Christ.

One of the easily overlooked clues that their behavior isn’t really concerned with Jesus as much as it is with their own status as the arbiters of who is in and who is out comes when John reports the news to Jesus: “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”

Catch that? He says this other miracle worker should be prevented from acting not because he doesn’t follow Jesus, but “because he does not follow us,” that is the disciples!

This guy, like the two of the First Reading, is not part of the “in crowd,” does not have the official recognition of those who like to judge the worthy and unworthy, does not play the game according to the disciples’ rules.

And yet, here he is nevertheless performing good works and proclaiming the Good News. Because, in truth, he is certainly “for Christ” (“There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us”).

Jesus uses the same “us” language in response to John to hammer-home the point of communion (Koinonia), the recognition that it is the Spirit of God that unites “us” and not the arbitrary decisions of the self-selected governors of discipleship. As James has been pointing out in the Second Readings these last weeks, discipleship isn’t determined by what one simply says in terms of their faith, but how it is lived; it is seen in the resulting good fruits.

Returning to the key notion of “scandal” in today’s readings, those who complain to Moses and Jesus might have been upset by the potential “scandal” of someone outside of their “in crowd” doing what they felt they had the right to authorize or forbid. But God makes clear through Moses and in Christ that the real scandal is when the disciples and other “good, religious people” exclude those who seek by their deeds and words to do the will of God.

Within the Body of Christ, these are the “members,” the “limbs” that need to be removed — perhaps only for a time — in order that they do not become a stumbling block for the faith of these “little ones” as Jesus puts it.

In our own time, these readings evoke the many people who fall into the category of the “nones” or “disaffected Catholics” or “former Christians,” who may no longer affiliate with a religious institution, but nevertheless seek to do good work and promote the common good in society. Just because a person is not an official member of this or that church does not mean that he or she isn’t doing God’s Will.

This weekend’s readings really call today’s self-proclaimed followers of Christ to examine their consciences. For the “hand,” “foot,” or “eye” that may need to be removed may be them if their attitude, words, and actions cause others to stumble in their faith and prevent the in-breaking of the inclusive Reign of God.

Photo: File

Jesus to Us: Welcome Undocumented Immigrants and Refugees

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

ArizonaSB1070UndocumentedImmigrantsIt’s as if today’s readings were selected deliberately because of the current political discussions unfolding in debates and in the news media about immigrants and refugees.

Each of our readings this Sunday could serve as a chapter of a handbook or a “reality check” for those who are prone to emphasize their own Christian faith when it suits their own interests, political ambitions, or personal peace of mind, yet refuse hospitality for the stranger, the outcast, the immigrant, or the refugee.

Our First Reading comes to us from the Book of Wisdom (2:12, 17-20), which highlights the ways in which those willing to follow the will of God are perceived by those who wish to maintain their own interests and protect the status quo. When called out for their hypocrisy, selfishness, the abuse of others, and violence, the voices portrayed in Wisdom begins to plot ways to silence the prophet and cover up their indictment:

Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.

I am reminded of the latest absurdity in United States political showmanship, where a congressman from Arizona has announced his plans to boycott Pope Francis’s address to a joint session of Congress — an invitation, we should remind the good representative, which was extended by the House of Representatives to His Holiness (and not an imposition solicited by the Pope himself — there’s really nothing else like inviting a guest to your house and then deciding not to show up to the party yourself).

This congressman takes issue with the fact that Pope Francis is anticipated to speak strongly about issues of economic injustice and the perilous environmental crises of our day. Because the United States remains the wealthiest and most militarily powerful State in the world, and because we have been at the forefront of promoting an unsustainable and unbridled consumer-driven economy, it is very likely that Pope Francis will address the ways in which the United States must take responsibility and change its collective, social, and institutional behaviors.

He is likely to call us out on our own claims to be “the world’s leader” and demand that we actually lead in justice, peace, and environmental care. It is clear that, like those voiced in the First Reading, those who take umbrage at Pope Francis’s prophetic challenge want to ignore or silence him “because he is obnoxious to us.”

In our Second Reading, taken from the Letter of James (3:16-4:3), we have a continuation of James’s admonition and exhortation, drawing our focus to the source of division and violence.

Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.

Those who watch debates or see campaign ads know all too well that “jealousy and selfish ambition exist,” and that very often “there is disorder and every foul practice” emerging as a result. Actions and campaigns, slogans and slurs that arise from this disposition are neither wise nor Christian, but violent and disordered.

True wisdom is peaceful, full of mercy, and can be seen in the goodness of actions and words toward others.

Finally, our Gospel, taken from Mark (9:30-37), presents us with a twofold insight. First, the disciples continue what began last Sunday in terms of their increasing misunderstanding of Jesus’s mission and ministry. We see how not even three verses after Jesus explains to them the sacrifice required in following the will of God the disciples begin operating according to selfish and worldly logic: who is the best, which disciple is better, who will Jesus favor? It’s clear that going all the way back to the time of Jesus’s own earthly ministry, those who claimed to be his followers didn’t get it.

Second, there is this interesting teaching and example that Jesus gives:

Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”

Oftentimes, references to Jesus and children elicit an “awwww, isn’t that cute” response. And, in a way, that is perfectly understandable according to the culture and time in which we live.

However, in Jesus’s time children were seen in far less valued terms. They, even more so than women without an explicit tie to a free man, had no legal recourse or status. This is why the bible is always mentioning “widows and orphans,” who occupy the most precarious place in the social strata of the time.

God’s love for these, those who are the most vulnerable and disregarded, is seen in Jesus’s action and in his command to us: if you claim to be my followers, then you will receive those such as this child, those who have no recourse or legal status, those who are despised, forgotten, and overlooked.

In our own day, it seems clear who the most vulnerable and disregarded are, at least in this country they tend to be undocumented immigrants and refugees. The political rhetoric about immigrants has been nothing less than abhorrent and inflammatory, and there is absolutely nothing about it that can be associated with Christianity.

Jesus makes clear in today’s Gospel, supported by the rest of sacred scripture, that we are to welcome undocumented immigrants and refugees. This has been and will likely continue to be a point Pope Francis reiterates in the coming days. If we are unwilling to do that, then we are making it clear that we are unwilling to welcome Jesus Christ. Which, by the way, makes the “amen” at communion time, the moment to affirm acceptance of the Body of Christ, a lie. And as St. Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians, to receive the Eucharist and not receive and care for the least among us, is to receive communion unworthily.

Politicians and citizens alike: take note.

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

Hearing the Lord, Discerning The Call

Posted in Homilies, Scripture with tags , , , , on January 18, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Vocation SignsIt may not surprise you to hear that I am asked a lot about how and when I received “The Call.”

Typically, this question arises within the context of curiosity about my decision to enter religious life, to serve the church as a ministerial priest, to do something that — let’s face it — not a whole lot of people are doing today. The question is one about vocation and discernment, but it’s also about hearing.

The idea of hearing “The Call” is not new. As many people already know, the term vocation comes from the Latin word vocare, a verb that means “to call.” But there seems to be a lot of confusion about what exactly “The Call” is, which is where this questions comes up as often as it does.

I can say that “The Call” is neither a loud voice coming from the heavens (like the scenes of Jesus’s Baptism) nor is it a telephone call or bizarre radio signal (like some sort of X-Files case). “The Call” is not often very clear and it’s always in need of discernment. “The Call” is more like a quiet unsettling feeling, an idea that gently appears on the horizon of our prayer, reflection, and imagination; the arrival of a possibility that perhaps at first seems far-fetched or odd, but nevertheless stays with you. (What would it be like to be a religious sister? Could I be a diocesan priest? Might I possibly, perhaps see myself as a member of this religious community?)

Rather than a message from above or a lightening bolt from blue, “The Call” is more of a quiet whisper that comes when one is open to the presence of God in the way Elijah was at the cave on Horeb when God was not found in the thunder or fire or earthquake (1 Kings 19:11-14). “The Call” is more like that feeling of falling in love with somebody. It is something that might have taken you by surprise, but something that you cannot conjure or create.

But the thing about “The Call” is that it’s never as clear as we’d like it to be, and it’s never a direct message.

“The Call,” in whatever form one authentically receives it — whether to religious life, to individual relationship, to ministry, to start a family, and so on — must be discerned and that requires more than just an individual. See, “The Call” is not a one-on-one affair. It is always about the whole church which, as St. Paul reminds us, is always the Body of Christ.

Our readings this weekend center on several instances of literal calling, callings illustrated as far more dramatic than the ones most people experience. The calling of Samuel in our First Reading (1 Sam 3:3-10, 19), the call of the prophet in the Psalm (Ps 40), the call to recognize our respective participation and place in the Body of Christ in the Second Reading (1 Cor 6:13-20), and the call of the first disciples to follow Jesus in the Gospel (John 1:35-42).

In the First Reading, Samuel is hearing something. Depicted as something audible, he is awoken throughout the night unsure of what is happening, presuming something (that Eli is trying to get his attention), but as of yet unwilling to accept the possibility that he doesn’t immediately know what’s up.

It takes some time and it takes the insight of another to clue him into what this “Call” means for him. Samuel not only has to be open to this sense, this audible invitation that haunts his regular life (and sleep), but he also has to be open to the way that God is working with those around him to help him identify “The Call.” Discernment is something that requires more than our guesswork or projection. It requires the effort of relationship found in sharing and listening, of openness and consideration. God calls each of us in and through the other members of the Body of Christ, not just to us directly as in a divine text message (and, let’s be honest, even text messages can be misinterpreted alone).

The Gospel question that Jesus poses to the would-be disciples is the same thing that every dimension of “The Call” contains in God’s invitation to each of us in our respective lives: “What are you looking for?”

The trick here is that we must be honest, though it’s a lot easier said than done. How quick are we to delude ourselves, to be convinced by the expectations set before us by others, to be misled by the seemingly enticing lures of our consumer-driven culture?

What are we looking for?

Is it fleeting happiness? Or, financial success? Or, more power? Or, companionship? Or, freedom understood as ‘being my own boss’? Or, something else?

How we answer that question might help us to understand how the Spirit of God continues to call us, perhaps even right now. Despite the diversity of God’s call in each of our lives, the answer to Jesus’s question, “What are you looking for?” is always the same — the answer is: “To do your will.”

This is Samuel’s answer.

It is the Psalmist’s reply.

It is the openness demonstrated by the first disciples.

It is the entirety of Jesus’s mission among us; to do God’s will.

May we all make the time and space necessary to hear the voice of God calling us, may we be open with and to others in discerning each of our calls as a community, may we respond to Jesus’s question with an honest willingness to do God’s will. Only then, will we truly hear the Lord. Only then, will we become followers of Christ.

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Are You Salt and Light?

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Homilies, Scripture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on February 9, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

salt-and-lightI believe that one of the real challenges Christianity faces today is a widespread memory problem. For example, do you remember from what book this Sunday’s Second Reading was taken? Most people probably don’t, and while that’s a shame (and raises questions about how closely we are paying attention to the Word of God during liturgy), that’s not exactly what I’m referring to here.

The memory problem I’m thinking about has to do with how we are very quick to apply our own ideas and judgments of various Christian figures throughout history to them before we pause to recall — to listen — to what they are telling us.

Take, for instance, St. Francis of Assisi. Many are quick to mention a whole host of things they associate with the saint. But do they recall that he was stupid, an idiot, crazy, and unattractive? Now before you get too offended, you need to know that these were the descriptions that he himself, many of his fellow Assisi villagers, and the early biographers ascribed to him!

Francis viewed himself as one who was lesser and referred to himself as uneducated and simple, an idiot and stupid. The people who had known him from birth called him crazy as he began to change his life, some accounts even have young adults and others in Assisi jeering and spitting at him. His official biographers also described him as not particularly attractive and affirmed his less-than-impressive educational background.

The reason I bring this up is because it reflects something that is going on in the Second Reading this weekend very well. St. Paul similarly confesses to the Corinthians that he did not come to them nor does he preach elsewhere with any sort of personal charisma or eloquence. Rather, he insists, his whole mission is just to preach Christ crucified!

In the previous chapter of this Letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains how what he is preaching is “a stumbling block to Jews” (who maintain that their understanding of One God precludes the Incarnation) and “foolishness to Gentiles” (who see “divine” and “human,” let alone divine suffering, to be contradictory terms). Nevertheless, this is what we believe and it has important implications for how we should live and act in this world.

We have a memory problem because we way too often look back at those like St. Paul and the St. Francis and imagine that they were such amazing exceptions to the rule, such that we cannot relate to them or hold ourselves to similar standards. But the truth is, these guys were just two average people. Baptized, like you and me, they received the gifts of the Holy Spirit like the next person — like you and me — and actually lived this calling out.

Now we might be able to hold that some of these confessions of Paul and Francis are more about humility than they are about pure fact, but there is something very telling in their similar testimony.

This testimony is the lived witness they provided the world in following Jesus’s instruction to us in today’s Gospel. We are the salt of the earth, we are the light of the world — but do we believe it?

Paul and Francis were and remain lights in the world, figures we put up on the “lamp stand” (i.e., “pedestal”) to shine for all of Christianity. But we are called to do the same thing.

And this isn’t optional.

One way to read the “you are salt” business is to think of the optional flavoring dimension of salt. Want something more savory, add some salt. However, to draw on the metaphor that we are indeed the Body of Christ, every body needs salt to live; without it, we die.

I know this first hand. Many people know that I am a runner. I’ve run for many years, and I’m not too bad at it. Four years ago I was running a 15k Road Race (about 9.3 mi), and as I ran past mile 9, with about 0.2 miles left to go, I collapsed out of nowhere. All I remember is seeing the finish line off in the distance and then waking up in an emergency medical tent only to then be taken to hospital where I stayed for two days.

I was dehydrated and my electrolytes, including most importantly salt, were way out of whack. It was serious and scary, but I came through ok. That never happened before nor has it happened since, but it is a testament to how fragile our bodies are and how important salt is in our system.

We are the salt of the Body of Christ — it cannot live without us. We need to live in such a way as to preach the Gospel of Christ with our words and deeds. But what does that look like?

This is where our First Reading comes into view. The Prophet Isaiah tells us:

Thus says the LORD:
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.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
your vindication shall go before you,

This is what it means to be salt and light in the world, to be like Paul and Francis, to bring hope and joy to a world that experiences pain and suffering. But are we up to the task? Can we answer positively to our Baptismal vocation? Are we willing to come across as foolish, or stupid, or odd, or different in the way we live in the world?

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Mandela and John the Baptist

Posted in Advent, Homilies, Scripture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 15, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Nelson-Mandela-at-Robben-Island-prison-in-South-AfricaIt is understandable that this week I’ve been thinking a lot about Nelson Mandela, the now-late former President of South Africa, Nobel Prize laureate, and leader of the anti-Apartheid movement. His death and the celebrations of his life and legacy have offered the world much to consider and much to reflect on given the storied decades the 95-year-old civil rights leader and politician witnessed and helped shape. But I think of him in a particular way today in light of the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday from the entrance antiphon taken from the Letter to the Philippians: Gaudete in Domino semper (“Rejoice in the Lord Always!”).

Today’s Gospel (Matt 11:2-11) features two major figures of first-century Palestine: John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. John, the cousin of Jesus, is in prison having spoken out against the unlawful marriage of Herod. Having been called by God from before his birth to be a prophet to the nations and the forerunner of the Lord, John is getting word from his disciples that something new is underway and his own life’s work might be vindicated. Might.

Unsure of what and whether to believe, he sends his aides to Jesus to find out what his cousin has to say. The response is telling.

Like John the Baptist, Mandela spent time in prison awaiting the hope of something new, something just, something liberating, something that God promised in the way all people should be treated. However, unlike John, Mandela’s imprisonment wasn’t the result of just innocent prophesying. Whereas the ANC had originally sought to achieve their goal of overturning the white-supremicist Apartheid regime by nonviolent means, Mandela and others began to become impatient. They became convinced that the only way the oppressive leaders would hear them was if they used force. His taking up of arms and embrace of violence means was the cause of his imprisonment. Mandela was not the innocent prophet we might like to imagine today.

But in prison something began to change.

Conversion happens in various ways, especially in prison. Such was the case with Francis of Assisi, a prisoner of war who came to hear the call of the Lord when the sounds of his worldly allurements ceased behind bars. During the grueling twenty-seven years as a prisoner, Mandela’s approach began to shift. Hearing of the violence and chaos into which South Africa was falling from the outside, Mandela came to realize that nonviolent and peaceful means of compromise and negotiation were the only ways forward.

While he might not have entered prison a prophet in the biblical sense — though, he was surely a prophet in the social sense, rightly calling out injustice and racism in his day — the shifts in his worldview overtime appear to illustrate what our Second Reading from the Letter of James admonishes:

Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another,
that you may not be judged.
Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates.
Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,
the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. (Jas 5:7-10)

And if there was one thing Mandela was while in prison, it was patient. James encourages all Christians to look at the prophets — from the Hebrew Scriptures and John the Baptist alike — to witness what it means to bear the hardships with patience that are necessary to seek justice and announce the in-breaking of the Reign of God.

Enduring the hardships of imprisonment for nearly three decades, the elder Mandela emerged a modern example of “the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” His call for justice and righteousness, his call to end violence and discrimination, this was the “precious fruit” that the farmer waits for in the field, this was more like a sign of the coming of the Lord.

The coming of the Lord, what we celebrate today and all during Advent, is not just about putting the baby Jesus into the manger on Christmas Eve. It’s not about putting the “Christ” in “Christmas,” or putting Christ anywhere for that matter. It is about recognizing what the coming of Christ means.

The coming of Christ means that justice reigns and peace prevails. And it looks a little something like this:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing…

they will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.

When Jesus sends this word back to John in prison, the hope that he conveys is that God’s Reign is now breaking into the world and it does not bear violence, it does not act impatiently, it does not always seem logical according to the wisdom of the world.

I believe that this word was somehow sent to Mandela in prison as well, which is why he was able to do so much to bring about good in our modern world. Gospel patience, peaceful waiting, a message of hope and healing — this is what it means to be a prophet, this is what it means to await the coming of the Lord.

Working for justice in our world with the spirit of Gospel patience and nonviolence is the surest way for us to live the call of this Third Sunday of Advent: Gaudete in Domino semper (“Rejoice in the Lord Always!”)

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Pope, Hope, and Technology

Posted in Pope Francis with tags , , , , , on December 7, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

pope-francis-gq-magazine-men-of-the-year-december-2013GQEarlier today Pope Francis met with the participants of the 26th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, meeting under the theme “Proclaiming Christ in the digital age,” a Vatican Radio news article reports. While the pope’s comments to those gathered in Rome for this event are not likely to garner the sort of attention that his recent Apostolic Exhortation (Evangelii Gaudium) or his interview published in America magazine have, he has named some important features of contemporary Christian living and gestured toward a balanced engagement with technology.

This is really nothing new, at least as popes are concerned since 2005. Benedict XVI had referred to the internet and the world of technology and social media as a “digital continent” in need of “evangelization.” He saw promise in the place where women and men, especially the younger generations, gather and spend their time. This virtual place, then, is a place where the Gospel can also be lived and it can serve as a guide for right social interaction and use of technology.

Pope Francis has picked up the technology baton from his predecessor and is encouraging Christians not to shy away from technology, social media, the internet, and so on. However, adopting the Pauline exhortation about “testing” new things, Pope Francis’s encouragement comes with some caution. The Vatican Radio article reports:

“Faced with philosophies of great profundity and educational methods of great value – although steeped in pagan elements, the Fathers did not shut them out, nor on the other hand, did they compromise with ideas contrary to the Faith,” Pope Francis said. “Instead, they learned to recognize and assimilate these higher concepts and transform them in the light of God’s Word, actually implementing what Saint Paul asks: Test all things and hold fast to that which is good.”

He said this also applies to the internet.

“You must test everything, knowing that you will surely find counterfeits, illusions and dangerous traps to avoid,” Pope Francis said. “But, guided by the Holy Spirit, we will discover valuable opportunities to lead people to the luminous face of the Lord. Among the possibilities offered by digital communication, the most important is the proclamation of the Gospel.”

Drawing from the model and instructions of St. Francis of Assisi, we can interpret Pope Francis’s words as modern illustration of the Christian call to preach with our deeds as well as our words. How we use technology, digital communication, and social media; how we engage with other people; how we express our opinions and disagreements with others — all of these things should reflect an openness to the work of the Spirit and not simply a compartmentalized activity devoid of our faith and the Gospel.

Pope Francis also sees these modern communication technologies, especially the internet, as a resources for reaching out to people who are “often hurting or lost” and for offering them “real reasons for hope.”

Photo: GQ Magazine

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