“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta is the attributed author of the prayer above. It is a popular prayer. The beauty of the prayer is contained in its penultimate sentence, “In the final analysis, it is between you and God.” In our Gospel reading, we hear Jesus say that the point of our mortal life is to be able to stand in front of the Son of Man. Our life culminates in an encounter with Jesus. We do not find our ultimate meaning in our successes, the number of friends we have, our legacy, or a sense of completion in our lives. They are not bad to have, but they are secondary in importance.
What is primary is gazing at Jesus face to face in the end. Seeing his smiling, kind countenance wipes away the tears we have shed in this life. Being with Jesus gives meaning to our failures, to our toils, and generosity towards one another. Our failures connect us with a Christ who failed. Our toils unite us with God who continues to labor for our salvation. Our generosity towards one another allows us to see glimpses of the face of Christ in one another.
Let us pray for the grace to meet the challenge of the task before us: to seek the face of Jesus in all that we do. While anxieties, carelessness, or despair will take possession of our hearts at time, may God preserve in us the desire to find Jesus in all that we do so that we may be prepared to stand before him in the end.
How do I seek the face of Jesus in my life? Where have I found Jesus gazing at me and smiling?
Memorial of Edmund Campion, S.J., Robert Southwell, S.J., and Companions, Martyrs
Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister, captures well the Christian conviction during troubled times. He writes, “The worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world, that wells up from the rock-bottom worst of the world like a hidden spring. Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.”
My favorite line is that the worst thing is not the last thing. The line is an echo of the pattern we see in Jesus’ life. His suffering and death on the cross is not the last thing. The last thing for Jesus is the resurrection. The last thing for Him is new life. If we are experiencing the worst thing, then our faith informs us to not assume it is the last thing to come to us. New life in God’s love is on its way.
As our readings today continue on the theme of the end times, we get to ponder that even the end times are not the true end. They are the thing next to the ultimate end, the whole world’s union with God. The image Jesus mentions about the trees budding is instructive. We are waiting to see what the world will blossom into after bursting out of its buds. We are waiting to see the new life comes to all of us when we let go of our ego-centered ways and cling to God and His goodness. Jesus’ resurrection is the first blossom. We wait for the resurrection of all who have died. While we wait, let us pray that we may recount and be grateful for the new life that God brings in our lives after enduring the worst thing we have experienced. We pray that God confirm our faith in Him as he saves us from the worst thing being the last thing about our lives.
What is the worst thing you have experienced in your life? Did it feel as if it was the last thing in your life? Where have you felt God’s life flow into you from the worst thing you have experienced?
Today is the feast of St. Andrew. He was one of the 12 apostles whom Jesus called, and he is also the brother of Peter. Our Gospel reading today is the call narrative of Peter and Andrew in the Gospel of Matthew. Many Church traditions developed about St. Andrew, for example, that he was eventually martyred with an X-shaped cross. He is often depicted with this type of cross in statuary. The enduring legacy of St. Andrew is felt in the Christian world sadly through division in the Christian world.
When Pope Francis visited Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, he greeted him as his brother Andrew. The reason for the greeting goes back to the lineage of successors to the original apostles. In Roman Catholicism, we believe the Pope to be the successor to St. Peter. In the Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is seen as the successor to St. Andrew. The division between the two Churches reached a watershed moment in 1054 AD. The ecclesial leaders in each respective side of the Roman Empire could not agree over theological doctrine, which further separated a linguistically and culturally diverse Church. While both Pope Francis and Bartholomew I have greatly improved relationships between the two Churches, we are still fractured as a Christian people. We long for the unity of the Christian Church that we all may be one in Christ.
Let us pray for Christians around the world that we may be united to one another as we are united with the head of the Church, Christ. Let us embrace our sisters and brothers in faith as St. Andrew and Peter once did too.
“If we do not have enemies, then are we truly preaching the Gospel?”
The Gospel is translated as “good news.” What is good news for one person is usually heard as bad news for another. To speak about good news for the poor entails a challenging message for the individuals who prosper due to systems of oppression. Good news for sinners might make individuals who are self-righteous question the worth of their commitment to God. Think of the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable. He did everything that his father asked, and is upset when his father sets out a feast for the return of his brother. The resistance to the Gospel message shows what the values are of the people who resist.
The lack of resistance we find in what we live and preach also reveal something about us too. Jesus tells us to expect that the Gospel will have enemies, that is people who oppose its preaching and its implications. He calls us to pray for enemies and those who persecute us (Mt 5:44). By persisting in our faith amidst difficult, we demonstrate the effects of grace in our lives to the wider world. Our joy and hope in the Lord stands in contrast to movements of despair and nihilism.
When we do not find people who oppose the way we live the Gospel, it leads me to wonder whether we have changed the Gospel to be more comfortable to others. Or, we have changed the Gospel so that we do not go through the discomfort of challenging ourselves from our political stances, financial decisions, or conceptions about other people that do not conform to the Gospel. Where we do not want to let go of our power and pride, the Gospel will always struggle to take root into our lives.
The Gospel is a challenge for us to live, and a challenge for those whose values and beliefs who differ. Let us pray for the grace that we take in the discomfort of living the Gospel authentically, and that God remove anything that separates us from him.
What is the discomfort of living the Gospel you have found in your life? Where are you tempted to make the Gospel into a more comfortable version?
One of my favorite bumper stickers reads, “Everyone: Jesus is coming. Make sure to look busy!” The biblical descriptions of the end of the world are full of descriptions of the world at war, diseases and famine ravaging the human population, and the omnipresence of death. When Jesus does come again in glory, everyone will want to look like as if they have not contributed to the dismal state of the world. It is only when we know the end is coming that we start living the way we know God wants us too.
A story attributed to St. Aloysius Gonzaga, an Italian Jesuit saint, presents a different way of thinking about the end times. The story goes that Aloysius was playing billiards with other Jesuit seminarians in the recreation room of their Jesuit residence. One of the Jesuits began a conversation asking what they would do if they heard Jesus was coming, and the next day would be the end of the world. One Jesuit said he would go to confession right away; another said he would head to the chapel to spend all night in vigil before the Blessed Sacrament. St. Aloysius said he would finish the billiards game. He was convinced that God wanted him to play pool and enjoy it.
The surprising answer of Aloysius reveals a fundamental conviction and task for Christians. The conviction is that our normal day activities—working, caring for family and friends, paying bills, answering emails, watching T.V., etc.—are things that are pleasing to God. What God wants us to do is to give ourselves fully in loving service to one another. We can find God in those activities working in us and for us. The challenge comes from being continually open to God as if he is coming to us each and every day. Living each day as if we are to meet the Lord at the end of it (or during it) is not our normal mindset. If we live with the expectation that we meet Jesus in everyday life, we will be seeing a friend again when Jesus comes in glory. We will not be meeting a God only to feared.
How do I try to meet Jesus in the moments of my everyday life?
The widow who gives her two coins to the Gospel is a figure who continually challenges me. She does not have a lengthy description or biography, and maybe the evangelist Luke does not include either so that we may focus more on the act than the person. As a widow in Israelite society, she would have been dependent on any male family members still living to support her. For a widow to give away two coins could have been the only two coins she had to her name.
She upends the thinking that generosity is a golden mean between two extremes. To give too little is to be stingy; to give to too much is to be too liberal with one’s money. Generosity is then giving the right amount of money to the right people and in the right way. While it might be more comfortable to think of the widow’s act in these terms, Jesus exhorts a different model of generosity in the example of the widow.
The widow gives away the money she needs to live. The rational choice would have been to save the little money she has in order that she could provide for herself, or use the 2 coins in an investment scheme to double her money. Instead, she gives away from her necessity to the temple. She practices a reckless generosity. In her recklessness, she reflects God’s activity in the world. God is reckless too. God loves us recklessly because God never stops loving us regardless of the number of times we human beings turn away. Jesus gives away his life recklessly on the cross for our salvation. Recklessness seems to mark those people who have let go of their egos in order to make room for others in their lives.
Let us pray that we may be reckless in the ways we love and give to one another like God. In what is God calling you to be reckless? Where have you experienced the recklessness of God’s love?
There is one question that both the righteous and the unrighteous ask Jesus in his heavenly court: “Where were you Lord that our deeds were done to you?” The righteous ask in surprise or curiosity that Jesus was in the marginalized for whom they cared. I imagine the unrighteous asking in a regretful tone, and wondering where they went wrong in their priorities. Since both groups ask in our Gospel, it leads to the impression that we human beings are not very good at seeing God wherever God is present. It might be more that we have a hard time looking at God where God chooses to reveal his presence.
We hear the affirmation in our readings today that God is the vulnerable person in our society. God is the prisoner in jail. God is the mother who struggles to feed her children. God is the stranger and alien who looks for a place of refuge. God is the addict whose life is out of control. God is in all those people that remind us of our human dependence and fragility. These individuals’ humanity is laid before us, and counter-intuitively, that is where God says to look for him. In human weakness, we are able to see God’s power and strength.
To look at human neediness is uncomfortable. If we ignore people who go hungry or without homes, it is easier to maintain a mindset that we have done things to deserve financial security. We can feel superior if we talk as if we have no addictions or never did anything wrong. When we recognize the humanity of another, we are not only capable of recognizing our humanity, but also we are able to see God in our weaknesses too. The fear that normally grips our hearts when we approach another dissipates in the awareness of God’s love for all of us. God loves us not because we are strong through our efforts, but weak and in need constantly of God’s love.
Let us pray for the grace to accept the weakness inside ourselves and others that we may see Christ. Where we see Christ suffering in the world, may we be moved to act for justice and reveal God’s love for all.
When was a moment you struggled to accept your humanity? Did someone else help you accept your humanity? Where have you found God present in your fragility and dependence?
A former teacher of mine described the process how printers were paid in Tibet before the printing press had arrived. The printers would make the block engravings of a text as was standard. The person who commissioned the engravings would then pay the engraver in gold flakes. The amount of gold flakes paid to the engraver would depend on the depth of the cuts in the engraved blocks. For the patron of the engraving would pour gold flakes into the engraved block, and how ever many gold flakes it took to fill in the engravings was the payment for the blocks. The assumption is that deeper engravings would last longer. I bring up this story because today is the memorial of St. Jerome.
St Jerome lived in the 4th century, and held important roles in the Church, like being the secretary to the Pope. His most well-known contribution to the Church is his translation of the books of the Bible into Latin, a work known as the Vulgate. The Vulgate would become the standard Latin version of the Bible in western Christendom. In order to translate the Bible, Jerome had to master Greek and Hebrew, a labor that took time to accomplish. When we hear or read the Gospel, we probably do not call to mind to all the people it took for the words of Jesus and our sacred stories to reach us. Scholars, like St. Jerome, dedicated their lives to the transference of the message of Jesus to be carried with accurate translations and meaningful commentaries.
Like the Tibetan engravers mentioned above, St. Jerome produced the Vulgate that was the Biblical translations for centuries of Christians. Each word he wrote contained something more precious to us than gold: the Word of God. There is nothing we could do to repay Jerome and other scholars like him who guide the Church in understanding divine revelation. Let us pray that God gives us the grace for gratitude for all who communicate the word of God.
Take a moment to experience a moment of gratitude for all those people who have relayed the word of God to us.
Feasts of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael
Do I believe angels exist?
I found myself on my Spiritual Exercises Retreat pondering that question. One of the early meditations in St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises retreat includes a meditation on the fall of the Angels. I had not really thought about angels, or my personal belief in them. Angels were always a comforting thought to me as a child. However, I rarely found myself praying to my guardian angel as an adult as I once did as a child. A simple meditation in the Exercises was actually challenging for because it forced me to examine what was the extent of my faith to believe in creatures which I cannot see normally.
What helped my belief in angels was to think about my belief in God to be truly omnipotent and wholly good. If angels did exist, God would be the only type of being capable to create an angel, and the only being that would delight in the creation of another type of being. For Catholics, we believe that God created angels to be his servants, and to share in the providential care for the world. The stories of the angels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are stories which demonstrate moments when God relied upon another to fulfill part of his plan.
The existence of angels reveals something about God’s care for all creation. God invites other beings to care for creation as He does. God so delights in creation that God created creatures to care for it and one another. The angels are one type of creature that cares for creation, but human beings are invited similarly. God relies upon us, and works through us to care for the people and the earth. Let us pray through the intercession of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael that we live out of the same grace God has given to them, that is the grace to join God in his care for creation.
When is a moment you cared for another person and creation? How did you see yourself being an instrument for God’s care of that person or thing.
Our Gospel reading is one of the few readings were Jesus is not present as an active character. He is only referenced to, and not even by name. Instead, we readers hear about Jesus from the perspective of Herod the Tetrarch. The Roman imperial authorities endorsed Herod’s reign after his father’s, Herod the Great, death. From his palace, Herod the Tetrarch appears confused about the reports he was receiving from his court and agents.
The news about Jesus eventually reaches Herod’s ears. Instead of dropping what he was doing and leaving the palace, Herod stays put. His curiosity about Jesus does not lead him to the edge of his door to go out to see Jesus. His wonder is not echoed in his actions. He stays at a safe distance from Jesus who travels out to people, and sends his disciples to do likewise.
Herod is not so different from us at times. We have a fascination about Jesus and what he is doing in our world, and in our lives. We would rather stay put than come close to the Lord. Maybe we are worried that the lives we are living Jesus would be disapproving. Maybe we think the Lord likes us better when he cannot see our imperfections up close. Our pride can prevent us from even thinking we need Jesus’ help. Whatever our rationalization process in our hearts, we all struggle to go to the Lord. When we meet the Lord—in a quiet moment, in a quick prayer, or in a face of another—the Lord is already waiting for us to come to share ourselves.
When have you struggled to share something with God? What was it like to share with God after the struggle?