Sunday, May 31, 2015

Matthew 7:13-14 (NRSV): The Narrow Gate and Loving our Neighbor

Matthew 7:13-14 (NRSV): The Narrow Gate
‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Have you ever wondered about the narrowness of the gate? Daily, I find myself thinking about this same question.  How narrow is the gate “that leads to life”? It is not about the narrowness of the gate so much as my willingness to seek its narrowness.  For every time I try to estimate its narrowness, I calculate my works, what I must do to earn God’s love and admittance through the gate. But it is not about our striving to earn; it is about our willingness to receive, repent, and reconcile.  
As Paul states in Romans 3:23, we are all unable to earn our eternal inheritance, for “...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Jesus, however, does not let us off that easy, for he states, “The road is hard...and...few find it.” It is easy to simply give ourselves to Christ and accept his loving, merciful grace, but the loving obedience that accompanies discipleship can be both the rewarding and “hard road that leads to life.” 
Faith in Christ is the foundation and structure of the free gift of God’s grace and salvation, but we must love, too. And love, especially when it applies to difficult relationships, is anything but easy. As we begin to wind down into the warm days of summer, let us remember, in faith, to love all people we encounter daily, especially the people who remind us of that hard road.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Commentary on The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Freedom and Choosing the Good (1731-1737)

Commentary on The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Freedom and Choosing the Good
I. Freedom and Responsibility
1731 Freedom is the power, rooted in reason and will, to act or not to act, to do this or that, and so to perform deliberate actions on one's own responsibility. By free will one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude.

Freedom allows us to use the gifts of reason and intellect to choose good. Our reason and will can steer us to act in love when unified with God’s will, but they can also be compromised, and are, by the lingering concupiscence of original sin. Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane is the example of freedom perfectly united with God’s will. Since Jesus did not have original sin, he was able to perfectly submit to God the Father. We, on the other hand, are sinful and must harness our freedom to God, using Christ as our example and God’s grace as our strength.

1732 As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning. This freedom characterizes properly human acts. It is the basis of praise or blame, merit or reproach.

Freedom bound to God brings peace, bound to anything else brings sin.  Since we are free but concupiscent, our task is to grow in perfection, fighting off the desire to sin in choosing evil. As servants of Christ, our approach must be to form our right conscience. The sacraments, Scripture, prayer, the liturgy, charitable action, Christian reading, and contemplating the saints channel the grace for us to grow in perfection.

1733 The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin."2

When in sin, our freedom fails. We must choose God, not the self. Our self-interest is the same as that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: We give in to lies in order to become our own masters of the universe. We must abandon the self and look to what is good and just, loving God above all as our Master and Creator and our neighbors as ourselves.

1734 Freedom makes man responsible for his acts to the extent that they are voluntary. Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good, and ascesis [self discipline] enhance the mastery of the will over its acts.

Voluntary bad choices assign personal responsibility. Every time we are given an option and choose what we know is wrong, we sin and are responsible for that free choice.  But we who are in Christ are works in progress. Through God’s grace  virtue, self-discipline, and formation of conscience guide us to control our seemingly impossible will, tethering our acts to God’s will.

1735 Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors.

Our responsibility diminishes or disappears in circumstances beyond our control, circumstances that hinder the element of free, willful choice.

1736 Every act directly willed is imputable to its author:
Thus the Lord asked Eve after the sin in the garden: "What is this that you have done?" He asked Cain the same question. The prophet Nathan questioned David in the same way after he committed adultery with the wife of Uriah and had him murdered.
An action can be indirectly voluntary when it results from negligence regarding something one should have known or done: for example, an accident arising from ignorance of traffic laws.

When we choose willfully to act against our right conscience, we are freely choosing to do what is wrong, and, therefore, the action is ascribed to us.  Even when we are negligent, lazily failing to do the research and homework on an issue and as a result make a wrong choice, we are responsible, for it could have been prevented by tending to our responsibilities.

1737 An effect can be tolerated without being willed by its agent; for instance, a mother's exhaustion from tending her sick child. A bad effect is not imputable if it was not willed either as an end or as a means of an action, e.g., a death a person incurs in aiding someone in danger. For a bad effect to be imputable it must be foreseeable and the agent must have the possibility of avoiding it, as in the case of manslaughter caused by a drunken driver.

We are not ascribed responsibility when a bad outcome happens about which we did not know or foresee.  If we could not have done anything to prevent the bad outcome, then it is not imputable to us.  Willful knowledge and choice are key components to exercising our freedom.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mark 7:6-13: Purification as Transformation of the Heart

Mark 7_6-13.JPG

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees’ false focus on “the letter of the Law” and their own invented traditions. In quoting from the prophet Isaiah (29:13), Jesus points to a universal truth, one as applicable to the Pharisees of first-century Palestine as to the church today.  We must focus less on our comfortable traditions and rituals and more on garnering our hearts toward the love of God and neighbor. The Pharisees’ focus on ritual cleanliness detracts from true cleanliness, allowing the Holy Spirit to dwell in us and transform our hearts. When we worship in faithful community, read and reflect upon Scripture, pray, offer loving charity to those in need, and receive the sacraments, it is not due to our work or adherence to tradition.  These acts of faith are freely given to us through God’s grace and the Holy Spirit working in our hearts.  
As a closing thought, in The Gospel of Mark, Mary Healy writes the following meditation on this passage:
Jesus is speaking about an attitude toward God that he saw in the scribes and Pharisees and that can be found among Christians in every church: the tendency to substitute religiosity for genuine obedience to God and his word. What is needed is a personal encounter with Jesus leading to a deep transformation of heart. When that occurs, religious practices come to life and serve their true purpose. (137)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

2 Corinthians 2: 5-11 (NRSV): Forgiveness of the Offender

2 Corinthians 2: 5-11 (NRSV): Forgiveness of the Offender
5 But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent—not to exaggerate it—to all of you. 6 This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; 7 so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 I wrote for this reason: to test you and to know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. 11 And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

Paul points out that the offender in the community who “has caused pain” (5) should be forgiven and encouraged by the community “reaffirming [their] love for him” (8).  Throughout this section of the letter, Paul emphasizes the need to forgive, for he says,”Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive” (10). Paul, furthermore, encourages and extends forgiveness “in the presence of Christ” (10) “ that [the faithful] may not be outwitted by Satan; for [they] are not ignorant of his designs” (11). Paul’s point, here, is that the adversary’s design is to consume and collapse the Christian heart by stealthily encouraging an unwillingness to forgive others.
Paul’s emphasis on forgiveness is important instruction on keeping the early Corinthian church at peace and in Christ. Forgiveness is what Jesus gives us whenever we confess and repent of our sins. Forgiveness, then, is a necessary element of Christian faith.  It builds us up in Christ and acts as a conduit of God’s grace to others.  When we fail to forgive, we enter the “designs” of the enemy and our hearts shrink.  Forgiving with the heart of Christ, no matter how difficult, allows us to grow in love.
Recently, an adult student in one of my night classes, approached me in tears.  She was distraught due to the day being the anniversary of when her teenage son was murdered. She could not come to terms with his death and the evil perpetrated in this senseless act. Believe me, I never want to know that kind of pain.  But it wasn't her expression of pain that made the deepest mark; it was her inability to forgive. I could sense, through the veneer of tears and anguish, her desire for retribution and revenge; this was coming from a woman of Christian faith. Our unwillingness to forgive certainly does not come from God, but we are given the free choice to ask God to work through us -- to cleanse our hearts, to emancipate us from hate -- so that we can grow in the grace of forgiveness and, by our example, extend God’s love to others.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Proverbs 4:7, 18-19 (RSV): Seeking the Light and Wisdom of Christ

Proverbs 4:7, 18-19 (RSV): Seeking the Light and Wisdom of Christ
7   The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
   and whatever you get, get insight. . .
18 But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
   which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
19 The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
   they do not know over what they stumble.

King Solomon, the likely sacred writer, emphasizes the importance of attaining wisdom and insight: “Get wisdom. . . get insight.” The wisdom we seek, however, is not a worldly wisdom, for it is the wisdom that frees us to love; it is the wisdom of God. Wisdom, knowledge, and discernment (see 1 Corinthians 12:1-11) are three of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit Paul mentions. Wisdom, in the position of primacy, is the first mentioned.  In New Testament language, therefore, we are to be wise in the love and grace of Christ.
We must also walk in the light of Christ, following “the path of the righteous.” When we are living in the light of Christ, our path "shines brighter and brighter," and we can, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, recognize our sins in order to repent, ask forgiveness, and grow in love. When we walk in self-serving wickedness (sin), however, we live in the "deep darkness" and are numbed to our sin, for “the wicked . . .  do not know over what they stumble.”  

Let us seek wisdom, God’s wisdom, and walk in the righteous path illuminated by the Son.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Matthew 23:5-7 (NIV): Avoiding Pride and Competition

Matthew 23:5-7 (NIV): Avoiding Pride and Competition
“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others."

“Jesus’ critique is centered on what legalism does to the law-keeper: it fosters feelings of pride and competition. Instead of getting on with the task of creating a just society that would shine as a light to the Gentiles, the Pharisees narrowed their vision and began competing with each other. Caught up in trying to impress each other with spiritual calisthenics, they lost contact with the real enemy, as well as with the rest of the world. “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, spare us, O Lord,” prayed Teresa of Ávila”
~From What’s So Amazing about Grace by Philip Yancey