Archive for Gospel

Do Not Be Afraid: The Heart of Discipleship

Posted in Easter, Scripture with tags , , , , , on April 9, 2016 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Today’s Gospel of John’s account of the calming of the seas, which is well known to many Christians, reveals a core dimension of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.

It’s curious that this pre-passion, pre-resurrection narrative makes its appearance in the liturgical season of Easter that continues for weeks to come. Why is it that the church has thought it wise to share this particular story at this point in our liturgical cycle?

I believe the answer rests in the profundity of the short and misleadingly simple message: “Do not be afraid.”

Here is the heart of Christian discipleship, though it may not seem so apparent to us at first.

In nearly all of Jesus’s post-resurrection and glorified appearances to the disciples, the Gospel accounts include a version of these words — don’t be afraid. The reason this is so important is that fear is the enemy of discipleship, it is that disposition and outlook that is the opposite of what it means to life the Gospel, the Good News.

To quote the fictional sage character from the Star Wars series, Yoda, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” The final line’s closer affinity to Buddhism notwithstanding, Yoda’s line is well put in the Christian context. Fear is what leads to anger, hate, violence, greed and, indeed, suffering.

Fear prevents good people from doing the right thing, leads good people to care only for themselves, leads good people to harm others, leads to sin.

Jesus’s message to us after being raised from the dead is to not be afraid. But this is not a new message. This story of the calming of the seas highlights how Jesus had preached and taught this message throughout the entirety of his ministry.

May we listen to the words of the Christ and fear not, for the God of Jesus Christ is greater than death; greater than all our fears.

Photo: Stock (Ludolf Backhuysen, 1695)

Voice in the Desert: Stop the Violence!

Posted in Advent, Homilies, Scripture, Social Justice with tags , , , , on December 6, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

635847092891547105-AP-APTOPIX-California-ShootingsThe following is the text of a homily delivered by Fr. Daniel P. Horan, OFM in Boston, MA, on the Second Sunday of Advent (2015).

It may be “beginning to look a lot like Christmas” around town, but it sure as hell isn’t beginning to feel that way. On the one hand, it is extraordinarily difficult to reflect on the season of Advent and the coming of the Lord, the joy of the carols and decorations, and the celebration of family and friends when nearly every day we are confronted with the disgusting realities of violence in our society. Violence, it should be noted, that is the direct result of our collective inaction, our societal indifference, and the ongoing compromise of our political system by money, greed, and the singular desire to be reelected. It’s hard to focus on the season of “hopeful waiting” when our present moment seems continually shattered by the absence of any real interest in serving the common good over protecting the idol of “individual liberties.” The church teaches that the promotion and protection of the common good is civil government’s primary purpose, a teaching that has been reiterated frequently in Pope Francis’s writings and addresses.

And yet, on the other hand, this Second Sunday of Advent presents us with difficult truths and relevant challenges from sacred scripture that speak to us today, I believe, as much as they spoke to the original audiences of their time. In a way that only the Holy Spirit can provide, this Sunday’s reading offer us insights into God’s wisdom for us in our own time.

For instance, take our First Reading from the book of Baruch (5:1-9). Baruch was a friend of and scribe to the prophet Jeremiah, who lived about six centuries before the birth of Christ. Like Jeremiah, Baruch is calling out the sinfulness of Israel, which has abandoned the Covenant with God and stopped following the Law prescribed in the Torah. The interpretation of the time was that the experience of displacement, of exile, was the direct result of the collective community having lost its way.

Baruch preaches a word of admonition and exhortation, of chastisement and hope. But what’s interesting about this particular text, which comes at the very end of the book, is that the final word is not aimed at any particular king or individual politician. Instead, the message is directed at the whole society, all of Israel.

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.

The call is for the society to let go of its previous ways, to surrender the mantle of “mourning and misery,” of having it their way, in order to put on the way of God, the life of the Covenant, the structures of the Law.

Further along, Baruch says that in order to return from exile, to reunite as God’s chosen people, concrete action has to be done. This is illustrated with the echoing of imagery found also in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: “For God has commanded that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.”

When this is done, the people have changed their ways and returned to God, then, “God will lead Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.”

This is not simply an individual call, but a corporate call, a communal call, a societal call. Like Baruch’s ancient audience, we too are called by God to return to way of God instead of dwelling on our own ways and ourselves; to put away our own violence and fear and need for power and control in order to put the common good first; to live in such a way as to reflect our call to be Christians actually striving to live after the example of Jesus Christ, which is a way of nonviolence, peace, reconciliation, and mercy, and not be hypocrites who merely take on the name of Christ but only on our own terms and according to what we find convenient.

Likewise, our Gospel selection from Luke (3:1-6) provides another powerful example of a prophetic voice calling to us from scripture. Deliberately situated in history — hence all the identifications of the leaders reigning at the time — this passage recalls the prophet John the Baptist’s role as the herald of the coming messiah. Yet, unlike the expectations of many of the time, the anointed one, the messiah, the christ was not a military or political leader who would overthrow these tetrarchs and high priests, but God’s very self who came to show us how to live. For this reason, John’s prophetic call is not a call to arms, not an invitation to double down and protect oneself against an outside threat. It is a call to do the exact opposite: to let down one’s arms, to repent and seek forgiveness for one’s sins, to prepare the world for the coming of God’s peaceful and just reign.

Like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Baruch, John’s prophecy includes a call to concrete action: prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the path for God.

Like his first-century hearers, we too are extolled to repent, to seek forgiveness, and to prepare the way of the Lord in our own time.

In this season of Advent, we must ask ourselves: how are we preparing the way for the Lord? Have we repented? Do we seek forgiveness?

It seems clear that, as a society, we in the United States have done none of these things when it comes to responding to the epidemic of gun violence in our country. Some may think to themselves: “But I don’t even own a gun, let alone engage in shooting others, surely I am not responsible.” But as the church teaches, there is such a thing as “structures of sin” that extend beyond individual acts and implicate entire groups of people, entire populations.

Both in Pope John Paul II’s 1988 encyclical (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis no. 36) and in the official Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (no. 119), both official teachings of the church, we are told that “the consequences of sin perpetuate the structures of sin” and that there are “obstacles and condition that go well beyond the actions and brief life span of the individual and interfere also in the process of the development of peoples.” John Paul II explains that there are two primary ways that this sense of social, collective sin is perpetuated: the “all-consuming desire for profit” and “the thirst for power,” both pursued “at any price” (no. 37).

The gun industry and the political intransigence that exists in our country is reflective of exactly this reality of structural sin. And we are all in part to blame.

That we sit back and do nothing, like the people Baruch and John the Baptist were addressing in their times, implicates each of us in this web of violence, which does not reflect God’s will nor does it prepare the way for the Lord, the Lord whom we name “the Prince of Peace.”

As the New York Times and other outlets have reported, since 1996 the U.S. Congress, in response to pressure from the gun lobby, have prevented the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting comprehensive research into gun violence. Not only have lawmakers after the killing of little children in Newton, to mention only one of the horrific instances of recent gun violence, failed to pass laws to limit weapons of war in the hands of civilians, but for decades lawmakers have refused to allow even the official collection of data and study of these instances of horrendous violence.

If you add up the number of shootings in the United States from the beginning of the year in which four or more people have been killed or injured in a single shooting — there have been more than 355 such events so far this year. If we broaden our view to look at deaths by guns in general, in 2013 (the most recent year we have this data) firearms killed 33,636 people. By comparison, in 2013, 33,804 died in car accidents.

But here’s the thing, driving cars as dangerous as that activity may be, is necessary. And the purpose of cars — at least to my knowledge — is transportation, not murder.

Guns, on the other hand, even non-military-grade firearms designed for animal hunting, are always and everywhere designed to kill: human beings and animals. Period. And by definition, they are not necessary.

Furthermore, and you have a right as Catholic Christians to know this, the church makes it clear that not only is it not an unalienable individual right to own firearms, but that our church’s teaching is clear about the government’s responsibility to actually intervene and control such firearms and weapons. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church highlights this as an ethical imperative:

Appropriate measures are needed to control the production, sale, importation and exportation of small arms and light weapons, armaments that facilitate many outbreaks of violence to occur. The sale and trafficking of such weapons constitute a serious threat to peace: these arms kill and are used for the most part in internal and regional conflicts; their ready availability increases both the risk of new conflicts and the intensity of those already underway. The position of States that apply severe controls on the international transfer of heavy arms while they never, or only very rarely, restrict the sale and trafficking of small arms and light weapons is an unacceptable contradiction. It is indispensable and urgent that Governments adopt appropriate measures to control the production, stockpiling, sale and trafficking of such arms in order to stop their growing proliferation, in large part among groups of combatants that are not part of the military forces of a State (no. 511).

Only the “military forces of a State” have the right “to bear arms,” not civilians. And we can see why! Nothing good comes from guns. Only death, and unlike the western expansion of the 18th and 19th centuries where firearms might have been necessary to protect settlers from wild animals, firearms that were of course never assault rifles or semiautomatic hand guns, we live in a time when there is no practical purpose for the existence of such weapons. And certainly not in the hands of ordinary citizens.

As Advent continues and we move closer to celebrating the birth of the Lord, we must ask ourselves whether we are serious about living the Gospel or not, whether will respond to Baruch and John’s prophetic call or not, whether we are willing to admit that we collectively need to repent and seek forgiveness in order to prepare the way of the Lord or not.

We can do something about this — a call or email to our congressional representative or to the offices of our senators, to say that enough is enough and that they must stand up to the “greed for profit” and “desire for power” of the gun lobby.

If we don’t do something, if we don’t respond to the scriptural call to act concretely, then we have absolutely no business celebrating the birth of the Prince of Peace in two weeks.


Photo: via USAToday

Already, Not Yet: The Eschatological Tension of Now

Posted in Advent, Homilies, Scripture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

advent-wreathAlready, Not Yet! This is a phrase often associated with the eschatological tension that is made front and center of the liturgical season of Advent that gets underway today. If “Jesus” is the “Reason for the Season” of Christmas, as the popular expression goes (though, in truth, God’s love for creation is really the “reason for the reason,” that is the reason for the Incarnation), then “Now!” is the “Reason for the Season” of Advent.

As we kick off another liturgical year, entering into the Gospel narratives of Luke in the months to come and prepare for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy in about a week, it is worthwhile to step back and remind ourselves why it is that we celebrate Advent, what it is all about, and what it actually means for us (i.e., “so what?”). Our readings this Sunday provide us with excellent insight into the answer to these questions.

Our First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (33:14-16) brings us back to the early centuries of the People of Israel. According to the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the “Old Testament”), God makes four covenants, each with: (1) Noah, (2) Abraham, (3) Moses, and (4) David. The last of these is what is of interest to Jeremiah and to us here.

The promise God makes is that there will be a restoration of the unified Kingdom of Israel, which has at this time been split into two separate domains (not to mention the various capturing and recapturing of these from foreign nations). The covenant is that God will send someone from the Davidic line to restore the nation and community into one. While this is, on the one hand, about the historical reality of a divided nation, it is also, on the other hand, a prophecy that Christians believe exceeds the particular historical confines of the Davidic kingship.

God will in fact send an anointed one, a messiah from the Davidic line, who happens to be the Eternal Word made Flesh — God in God’s very self! The unity that is brought about is a cosmic unity, not simply uniting historically separated kingdoms, but the whole universe and all people.

Jeremiah is not really aware of this in his time, but nevertheless expresses in his prophetic proclamation a sense of this eschatological tension between the “already” and “not yet.”  The response is to address the question “What do we do now?” and his answer is twofold: to remember the covenant, the past, in which God made this promise and to hope in the future for its fulfillment. Meanwhile, we are to live out this memory and hope in terms of working for justice in our societies.

The Second Reading (1 Thess 3:12–4:2) likewise is concerned about the “already, not yet” theme of this season. Here the Thessalonians are deeply troubled about the length of time that it appears to be taking Jesus to return. They were expecting an immanent Second Coming, and what they got instead was a lot of anxiety about what would happen to those who might die before Jesus shows back up.

Paul addresses this head on in the spirit of Jeremiah, reassuring the Thessalonians by recalling the teaching and actions of Christ, placing their hopes in the future of God’s promise, and focusing on the present, the now. This last point is the bulk of today’s reading, an admonition to this early Christian community to not get all worked up about God not operating according to their schedules, but instead focus on how one is to live in the “now.” Paul explains:

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love
for one another and for all,
just as we have for you,
so as to strengthen your hearts,
to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father…

brothers and sisters,
we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that,
as you received from us
how you should conduct yourselves to please God
and as you are conducting yourselves
you do so even more.
For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

The season of actively waiting, of living into the “already, not yet” of our present reality is a season where we should work to increase or love for one another and live in such a way as to reflect the Gospel that has been handed down to us.

Finally, in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 21:25-28, 34-36) we have within Jesus’s extended foretelling of his death a promise of Christ’s return and a presentation of what that might look like. Despite the apocalyptic imagery that so often leads to fear and trepidation in the minds of most movie-goers, Jesus’s message here is really not about fear at all. Instead there is a clear instruction given about how to live in light of the “already, not yet” of God’s eternal plan.

Jesus describes the end times (eschaton) with vivid imagery, but then offers a twofold admonition to his followers. He says that in the now we are to live in such a way as to avoid (a) drowsiness, drunkenness, a sense of “taking life for granted,” as well as (b) the unnecessary anxieties of daily life.  With regard to the former, we can easily slip into complacency and forget about the Gospel call to live in the moment, to consider the example given to us in Christ.  With regard to the latter, we can get so distracted by our own agendas, interests, and concerns that we also forget to live the Gospel. Both of these should be avoided.

The season of Advent is a season of the now, it is a season that calls us to snap out of our quotidian malaise and our anxieties and fears in order to start living what we’ve been called to in baptism: Gospel life.

Photo: Stock



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.

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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.

Photo: Stock
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