We don’t like to talk about our failure. But, the fact of the matter is that most of us are losers in much of what we do. We are good in one or two things but lousy in most of the other areas. Not long after his election, Pope Francis said that one of the books that has been a leading influence in his thinking is A Theology of Failure by a Jesuit father John Navone, SJ. In his book, the late Father Navone explains how Jesus lived patiently with failure. Like man in everything but sin, Jesus experienced failure and being a loser. He wept over Jerusalem which had not known the day of its visitation. His preaching failed to convert the crowds of people and he was crucified in disgrace. Navone said further that we should not fear failure because failure is everywhere. It is part of life and there is transfiguration through failure.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul explains Israel’s failure to believe is not without purpose in the divine economy of salvation. After all, it is not a fatal fall; Israel’s stumbling over the Messiah has resulted in salvation for Gentiles. Furthermore, St. Paul hopes that through his ministry to the Gentiles, Israel will return to their faith. It is never easy to accept our failure, especially when you fail terribly. But revelation has been designed with losers in mind. Revelation is filled with words like salvation, repentance and forgiveness. Thus, it is only the losers and the sinners who need salvation, repentance, and forgiveness. Let us ponder and reflect on how being a loser fosters growth in our relationship with Christ who will transform our failures into blessings.
Recently, an old friend of mine was trying to reach out to me through my sister. I have not been in contact with her since I moved to the United States over thirteen years ago.
It was such a treat to be able to reconnect with my friend and share stories of our journey. It seems like yesterday when we were together in high school. Now she has become a mother of several children and I am just a Jesuit Scholastic on my long pilgrimage. I still remember our last conversation which took place almost twenty years ago. She expressed her concern over the state of my soul. At that time, I was drifting away from Catholic faith and in a spiritual wilderness. Of course I was skeptical about her comments concerning my soul, but in retrospect, what a gift to have a friend who deeply cares about the state of my soul.
In the letter to the Romans, St. Paul expressed his great sorrow and anguish. Moreover, he is willing to be cursed and cut off from Christ – to forfeit his own salvation – for the sake of his fellow Jews who have failed to believe in the Messiah despite all of their privileges. The privileges that have been neglected by the Jews include the adoption, the covenants, the worship, the promises and the Messiah himself. Paul’s statement is more than a cry of frustration, but rather a sacrificial love, for he knows that Christ has become a burden for others.
We do not have to offer ourselves by severing our relationship with Christ. However, in your prayer today, at least reflect on the following questions: Do I care about the state of someone’s soul? How can I best accompany others in their faith journeys? What I can do to help someone who lost his or her faith?
During the four-plus years of his papacy, Pope Francis has issued many statements, speeches and interviews. One important speech that few people pay attention to is his address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on November 25, 2014. In his address, Pope Francis spoke about the idea of soul. First, he warned the European Parliament that, “A Europe which is no longer open to the transcendent dimension of life is a Europe which risks slowly losing its own soul and that “humanistic spirit” which it still loves and defends.” Second, he cited an anonymous second-century author, who wrote that “Christians are to the world what the soul is to the body”. The Pope then asserted that the function of the soul is to support the body, to be its conscience and its historical memory.
Remember that this is a pope who is neither a philosopher nor theologian like his two immediate predecessors. Interestingly, Pope Francis makes a reference to Raphael’s famous painting “School of Athens,” especially to the image of Plato’s finger that points upward. For the Pope, this image suggests, “openness to the transcendent– to God – which has always distinguished the peoples of Europe.” Indeed, Plato talked a lot about the soul’s fate after its death, in particular those of the Gorgias and Republic. In those works, Plato discussed the soul’s retention of memories from previous lives and the particular type of indestructibility of soul. He also dealt with the apparent incongruity of the fact that souls are rewarded and punished for their previous incarnated lives with the fact that part of that punishment and reward consists in the determination of their next incarnation.
Today is commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, commonly known as the All Souls day. In praying for the dead, the Church invites all of us to contemplate the mystery of the Resurrection of Christ, who obtains salvation and eternal life for us through his Cross. Furthermore, contemplation of the lives of those who have followed Christ encourages us to lead a good. Thus, we are called to prepare ourselves each day for eternal life. As we are contemplating the trouble and injustice around the world today, let us remember our belief in eternal life which we profess in the Creed; as an invitation to the joyful hope of seeing God face to face. In addition, we can also be assured that those who commit unjust works on earth will have to face eternal judgment in the afterlife.
Millions is a 2004 British comedy-drama film, which tells the story of 9-year-old Damian, a Catholic school boy, who has a strong passion for the lives of saints. Damien startles his teacher and classmates with lengthy descriptions about the lives of saints when Damien’s teacher assigns an exercise to name people the students admire. The other children name sports figures. One day, St. Claire of Assisi shows up for a brief chat at Damien’s playhouse down by the railroad tracks. St. Francis of Assisi is the next saint to rendezvous with Damien. Later Ugandan martyrs meet with Damien and convinces him that the greatest gift of all is the gift of water to a desert community that needs a well. The entire movie rests on the attempts to come to terms with grief, the role of saints in history, the meaning of miracles, and the confusions and complexities of the human obsession with money. Damien is indeed “weird,” as his brother calls him, but he also is a well-realized soul whose love for saints makes him very special.
Today is the solemnity of All Saints Day. We probably all understand that the solemnity of all saints is dedicated to the Roman Catholic Church officially canonized saints. Indeed, there are over 10,000 people officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as saints. Pope John Paul II, during his long reign of Papacy, declared over a thousand people Blessed and almost 500 Saints. In the four-plus years of his papacy, Francis has frequently honored Christians who have suffered or died for their faith in current times as saints. Recently, Pope Francis canonized 35 new saints, almost all of them martyrs from centuries past, 30 of them are martyrs persecuted by Dutch Calvinists in Brazil in 1645.
St Bernard, in his famous homily for All Saints’ Day begins with this question, “why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this Solemnity, mean anything to the Saints?” “The Saints”, he says, “have no need of honour from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs…. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning” (Disc. 2, Opera Omnia Cisterc. 5, 364ff.). In echoing St. Bernard, Pope Benedict XVI said, ”looking at the shining example of the Saints to reawaken within us the great longing to be like them; happy to live near God, in his light, in the great family of God’s friends. Being a Saint means living close to God, to live in his family. And this is the vocation of us all, vigorously reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council and solemnly proposed today for our attention” (Homily on the Solemnity of All Saints, 1 November 2006).
Throughout the year, our Church gives us the calendar of saints to celebrate. If we follow the Church’s saintly calendar day by day, we might come to know the stories of those saints whose feast days we observe. This practice can inspire us in our own faith journey. The saints enable us to become what we are, the saints, the plebs sancta Dei, the holy ordinary people of God.
Iceland — through the use of abortion — apparently is on the brink of completely eradicating the suffering from their society, or at least killing off all the unborn children who have any kind of deforming condition. Even Down Syndrome counts as “deformed.” The logic behind this policy is that by diagnosing Down Syndrome as early as possible, and then killing those diagnosed, all suffering will be alleviated. The society will also benefit in not having to deal with their suffering. The time we have to spend on dealing with their suffering would be better applied to ensuring progress for the rest of mankind. Not killing these people is therefore causing suffering in those who do not have the malady.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, defines the present as an era of suffering that one places in comparison to the coming glory. Paul adapts a Jewish belief that the age of eschatological salvation will be preceded by a great time of suffering. St. Paul characterizes this age of suffering as creation’s “labor pains,” during which creation, believers, and even the spirit of God groan. Suffering shapes believers into the image of Christ. The bottom line is that we cannot eradiate suffering. As believers, we will all participate in the birth pangs as we wait the completion of our adoption and inheritance of the bodily resurrection.
In your prayer today, ask yourself, “When the world around me seems to want to eradicate suffering, what upholds my faith to endure suffering?” And, “What gives me hope?” Speak to Jesus about all that has arisen in your heart and mind about the issue of suffering. Ask him for what you most need to live in suffering while waiting for His Glory.
Lion is a 2016 biographical film based on the story of Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his Indian family at five-years-old. After two months of living on the street, Saroo is taken to the police by a young man. Unable to trace his family, they put him into an orphanage. Three months later, Saroo was informed that an Australian couple is interested in adopting him. Saroo moves to Hobart, Tasmania in 1987, to be under the care of Sue and John Brierley. Saroo slowly settles into his new life. Sue and her husband Joe could have biological children, however, they wanted to rescue children who were living in difficult circumstances and bring them into their loving home. They believed adoption gave them a greater capacity to accomplish good. Twenty years later, Saroo was miraculously reunited with his birth mother following an exhaustive google earth search.
The Roman custom of adoption made the adopted children full heirs of the adoptive father’s estate. In Jewish tradition, being God’s son meant intimacy with God and entitlement to the inheritance: first the land and later the eschatological salvation. In the letter of Romans, St. Paul discusses the issue of the adoption of the followers of Jesus as Jesus called God, Abba. Paul focuses on the familial status and privilege believers share with God as God’s children. In other words, they are “joint heirs” or “coheirs with Christ the Son. Because of the adoption into God’s family the followers of Christ will share in the inheritance of resurrection and life.
What do you want to say to Jesus about being an adopted son or daughter of God? Speak to him freely and openly, sharing what is in your heart, knowing that he understands it all.
Pope John Paul II addressed the Young people of New Orleans in the “Louisiana Superdome” on September 12, 1987. He said, “When we speak about the need of being open to others, of taking into account the community, of fulfilling our responsibilities to all our brothers and sisters, we are actually talking about the whole world. Your mission as young people today is to the whole world. In what sense? You can never forget the interdependence of human beings wherever they are. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbour he does not set a geographical limit. What is needed today is a solidarity between all the young people of the world – a solidarity especially with the poor and all those in need. You young people must change society by your lives of justice and fraternal love. It is not just a question of your own country, but of the whole world. This is certainly your mission, dear young people. You are partners with each other, partners with the whole Church, partners with Christ.”
In reading the address of St. John Paul II above, it seems as though he is talking in the present context, but it took place two decades ago. Indeed, the world today is still facing the same problems of poverty, a refugee crisis, war, political division. We are still laboring with Christ to accomplish His mission to liberate us from all of the evil that causes the worldly problems. In order to accomplish this great mission, we have to live according God’s plan for our lives. When Jesus insisted on the commandment of love, this entire commandment is part of his plan for us.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola invited us to meditate on the Call of the Eternal King. In the meditation, the King speaks to his people: “It is my will to conquer all the land of unbelievers. Therefore, whoever would like to come with me is to be content to eat as I, and also to drink and dress, etc., as I: likewise he is to labor like me in the day and watch in the night, etc., that so afterwards he may have part with me in the victory, as he has had it in the labors.” Let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the call of the Eternal King.
Saturday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Three Colors: Red is a 1994 romantic mystery film directed by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski. It is the final installment of The Three Colors Trilogy, which is preceded by Blue and White. One of the subplots in the movie is the friendship between the leading female character Valentine Dussaut, a young beautiful model, and a retired judge named Joseph Kern. Kern had stepped away from the profession in disgust years ago and his life has long been succumbed into distrust, cynicism and pessimism. Valentine’s curiosity regarding Kern’s antisocial behavior eventually leads her to form an unlikely friendship with Kern. A relationship that begins with Valentine loathing and pitying Kern soon becomes full of intrigue. Ultimately, Valentine develops an acute likeness for Kern. Valentine then invites Kern to her fashion show. Kern does decide to venture out of his house, probably for the first time in a long while, to see Valentine’s fashion show. By doing so, Kern reveals to Valentine the story of his betrayal thirty-five years prior.
Today’s Gospel tells of a master entrusting his talents to his servants upon embarking on a journey. Two of his servants used their talents to acquire more while the servant given one talent buried it, returning it to his master. Like the servant who buried his talent, there is also something that we burry and hold for ourselves; anger, resentment, feeling unloved, betrayal, sadness, our struggle to forgive others. Perhaps we need someone to help us dig out whatever we burry. Can you recall someone who has helped you to dig out the “talents” that you burry deep in your heart? Perhaps you need to pray to God to send someone into your life who can help to dig out whatever you burry.
Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
My journey to the priesthood and religious life began with the Gospel story of the Parable of the Ten Virgins in today’s reading. At the time of my calling, I was attending a graduate/young adult retreat and the Gospel reading at the closing mass was this one about the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Surprisingly, the priest preached about the call for priesthood. I could not figure out what the connection was between the Parable of the Ten Virgins and the call for priesthood. I thought this parable was calling me to serve many young women. Long after I stopped trying to figure out the meaning of this parable, the calling for priesthood stuck in my head. From that moment onwards I began to consider the priesthood and religious life and I eventually made the decision to join the Society of Jesus.
In your prayers today, perhaps you can ask yourself what this parable means to you personally? What do the symbols of ten virgins mean to you? What might the lighted lamps represent? Is there any lighted lamps in your life that you need or desire to have? What does the symbol of the oil mean that will keep the lamps burning? Speak now to Jesus and hear what he is saying to you about your calling based on this story.
Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
A French Catholic Philosopher Jacques Maritain once explained that the Church is, in the Christian view, a supernatural mystery. He said, “The Church is not only a visible and apparent reality, but also an object of faith. She is not a system of administrative cog-wheels but the Body of Christ whose living unity is incomparably more elevated and strong than anything in this world. We describe the Church as the moral personality as she is guaranteed by the action of the Holy Ghost.” (Jacques Maritain, The Things That Are Not Caesar’s).
Nonbelievers will likely see that the Church, which relies on the Holy Spirit, as an absurd and unintelligent institution. They could easily see the believers as deluded and the Church as destined for decline. All of their predictions are based on human indicators and determined by human agency. History tells us that there is always an element of surprise from the Church. No one would predict in the year 300 that the persecuted Church would become the official religion of the Empire. No one would predict in 1978, a young Cardinal from Poland would become the Pope and lead the fight to bring down communism.
In the Gospel reading today, we hear that our God is the God of surprise. The Lord often comes when we least expect Him. He knows how and when to surprise us. As Jesus said,” For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Imagine yourself encountering a surprise from God. What kind of a surprise encounter is it? How do I feel to see the surprise? Can you recall an experience of God’s surprise in your life? How did it feel? Speak to Jesus about those moments of surprise and tell him how you feel about those experiences?