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Friday, 27 September 2013

Rich Man / Poor Man



Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus said to the Pharisees:
"There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen
and dined sumptuously each day.
And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,
who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps
that fell from the rich man's table.
Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died,
he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.
The rich man also died and was buried,
and from the netherworld, where he was in torment,
he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off
and Lazarus at his side.
And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me.
Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue,
for I am suffering torment in these flames.'
Abraham replied,
'My child, remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’
He said, 'Then I beg you, father,
send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers,
so that he may warn them,
lest they too come to this place of torment.'
But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets.
Let them listen to them.'
He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham,
but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'"
Luke 16:19-31

A short homily on this text.

It is not uncommon to see the Church criticized for commenting on social and political issues.
·       The argument - politics and economics and social questions - belong to the secular world.
·       These are issues for governments and public forums to decide.
·       The Church should stick to matters of religion - faith – prayer – worship of God – and only behind church doors.

This is the argument is one put forward by the secularists of today. But a quick look at the gospels –and you realize that our religion – which we received from Christ and which is practiced in the Church, is all about living one’s life in this world, the world of politics and economics and social questions. 
·     We understand well, that our existence in the world is not some random happening of chance.
·       We are here by design. We are to be co-creators with God – to make this world a rich and beautiful home for all generations and for all peoples of the world.
·       We realize that we do not own the world – we are stewards of creation – charged with the responsibility of taking care of it.
·       When things in this world are not going well – the role and responsibility of all believers is to speak up. It’s the prophetic role we all have been given.

Today we see how Pope Francis is directing the church to once again focus on its role as prophet and good steward in the world – not only by what he is saying – but by the personal example he shows by what he does.

      If the prophet’s voice falls silent – situation in world begins to resemble situation we see in this gospel passage. The rich becoming richer – poor, poorer, and the world’s resources are ravaged. A recent study by the New Economics Institute, (see below) – revealed that 80% - people of US have access to only 7% of the nation’s wealth – 20% control 93%. (Similar figures can be found in Canada as well.)

The gospels teach us, that our eternal life will be based on how we have lived life in this world. The values that surround us can so easily have a corrupting influence. We must ever be vigilant, having our conscience formed by the wisdom of the gospels.

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’


Each of us, by our faith, share in this commission – to be good stewards of this world, God’s good creation, and to be the prophetic voice of reason and responsibility for all the world to hear when things are going wrong.


Distribution of wealth in USA
 

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Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Parable of the Prodigal Father

by Liz Lemon Swindle
The Face of Forgiveness 
Luke 15 11-32


There are many artistic renderings of the parable of the Prodigal Son. But this depiction of the father embracing his son, in this painting by Liz Lemon Swindle, is by far outstanding. Firstly, because of its focus on the father, who is the one who personifies the message of the parable. Secondly, how beautifully she captures the character of forgiving-love seen on the father's face.  


Some have suggested that this parable might also be called the Parable of the Prodigal Father. The English word prodigal comes from a Latin word meaning, "lavish". The Son is lavished in his wasteful spending of his inheritance. The father is lavished in his forgiving-love for his son on his return. It is the father after all, who is the principal character of the parable.

Jesus is not only teaching about God's forgiveness, he is giving us a glimpse into the true character of that forgiveness. This parable is one that we should return to frequently for our prayer. Here are some points to used as a focus for prayer with this passage.


THE YOUNGER SON
  • This son has no love for his father, nor does he love his brother. He rejects his family, and thinks only of himself. There is nothing lovable about his character.
  • The son preys on his father's kindness, knowing that he will accept to let his son be given the freedom he desires to make his own decisions, and face the consequences of the choices he makes. We too have been given the free will to make our own decisions and so must take responsibility for our decisions. 
  • The son has been taught by his father's example, what the face of goodness looks like. He chooses to reject it. God alone determines what is truth and goodness. Our choice is whether to accept or reject God's truth.
  • The son soon finds himself destitute and dying. The choice of self indulgence has its own reward, pleasure now, and in the end, death of the soul.
  • The son's last desperate scheme, to minimize his physical pain while regret eats away his soul, is to return home and indulge his father.

THE FATHER

  • The father's love for his has not been diminished by his son's total and predictable failure. It has taken on the character of compassion and forgiveness. (No sin is greater than God's love for us.)
  • The father's love for his son has keep him in constant vigil until the day he sees him in the distance, retched and without dignity, returning home. (Every moment of every day, mercy and forgiveness awaits us.)
  • The son expects loveless servitude. The father plans to lavish even more than what was lost. (Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast.) (Unconditional love) (An image of the soul entering heaven)

THE OLDER BROTHER

  • The older son characterizes the mentality of the Pharisee. Neither brother has love for the other, and both fail to understand their father's love. (Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8)
  • The older son (like a Pharisee) believes you earn favour and deserve to be rewarded. 
  • The sight of compassion evokes resentment in this son - the fallen deserve what they get.  ("Go and learn what this saying means: 'I want mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mtt 9:13)



It is important to remember that Jesus is addressing this story to the Pharisees. Understanding the cultural practices of those days, and the mentality common among the religious leaders, is important if we are to appreciate the depth of meaning behind each element of this parable; how we are to see the face of God in the face of this father. The following article is an excellent resource for such a study. A link to the article follows. 


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Stairway to the Throne - Three




As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’” 

He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Mk 10:17-22

We might rephrase this last statement this way, "... for there were many things that possessed his heart". And we remember these words of Jesus, "... for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (wealth and possessions).Mtt 6:21,24  


Each person has been measured out a portion of time for their life, with the freedom to decide how it will be spent. It is the free will that makes the choice, but it is the heart that evaluates the choices. The heart is the eyes of the soul, surveying  what lies before it, assigning values to what is seen. Once the choices have been made and the expenditure of time assigned, all other choices are excluded. Should a new choice arise with competing value, the soul finds itself in conflict, facing a real challenge of choice. Something will have to go.


In story of the rich man, it tells us that, "... his face fell, and he went away sad."  
The question to ask is "why sad"? Clearly, he is not a bad person since he wants to enter eternal life. He knows he must keep the commandments, so does that grantee he has it? The story continues.
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” Mk 10:23-27
The disciples are astonished because people believed that wealth was God's way of showing favour and imparting his blessing. It is not that wealth and possessions are evil in themselves. It is what possessing them can do to the person. Each possession that you have requires your time and attention; to acquire it, to manage it, take care of it, protect it, service it, expand it, and to indulge in it. The greater your possessions, the greater these demands, thus consuming all your precious time. When the Lord comes to invite you into the many experiences of his kingdom and the spiritual life, do you have time for them? Where will it fit? What must go in order to make space, and are you willing to let them go? 

In the Church, those wishing to enter the Religious Life, must take a vow of poverty. Freed of all processions, they are made ready, in a structured way, for a life of exclusive service to the Lord. But what of the lay person? Are they excluded from a true spiritual life? Not at all. However, the spiritual life is something living and real, requiring of us our time and attention and devotion. It is a real relationship with another person, Jesus. Like all relationships, it will require our time and attention- what the Lord will ask of us, and what we are willing to give.


In the graphic for these last three posts, we see a staircase rising before us, wide and open, with no barriers to anyone, accept that they be willing to undertake the accent. Each step will bring us deeper into the experience of God's love for us, with the joys and consolations that are given. Our part is letting go of what binds us and then to begin.

And so:

  • Am I interested at all?
  • Do I realize this invite is meant for me?
  • Can I understand and can I name those things that hold me back?
  • Have I once started and given up; will I begin again?


Sunday, 8 September 2013

Stairway to the Throne - Two



























For the lay person, reading St. Teresa's instruction on prayer may prove intimidating and far beyond their reach. Here are a few points to keep in mind. The initial audience for St. Teresa's writings are cloistered nuns, living in the convent, who have prayer as a central feature of their religious life, and she is writing in the 16th. century, and her style of writing is unequally hers. 

For the lay person in this century, their approach to the ascetical aspect of their prayer, (the way they strive to reach out to God in prayer) may be adapted to better address their contemporary circumstances. However, the character of their praying, that is their devotion to prayer, remains essentially the same. In Lk. 11:8 Jesus uses the example of the man begging for bread at his friends door in the middle of the night; "I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs." Perseverance in one's seeking, knocking, asking is the real character found at the heart of the true ascetical approach to prayer.


As for the mystical side to one's experience of prayer, this is God's to give, not our's to achieve. Vs. 9 concludes; 

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. “Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? “Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
In evaluating our prayer experience, our first question to ask: am I truly seeking the Lord, and with perseverance? This is the part that I have control over. Other considerations such as where, when, passages of scripture I select for prayer etc., will naturally follow. In order to have discernment, there must first be prayer to discern. Even prayer that seems dry and without any experience, opens the door to discernment with the question "why", why is my prayer this way? Is it something I must change? Is it the Lord testing my heart to see if my desire to experience the Lord is a true desire, that I will not give up?

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Stairway to the Throne

Stages of Prayer



The ascending steps of prayer according to St. Teresa Of Avila

                                                              __________
                                                         9. | Prayer of Transforming Union
                                                         __________
                                                    8. | Prayer of Ecstatic Union
                                                    __________
                                               7. | Prayer of Simple Union
                                               __________
                                          6. | Prayer of Quiet
                                          __________
                                     5. | Infused Recollection
                                     __________
                                4. | Acquired Recollection
                               __________
                          3. | Affective Mental Prayer
                        __________
                   2. | Discursive Meditation
                   __________
              1. |  Vocal Prayer

  • Vocal Prayer, with attention to what one is saying or reading and God, whom one is addressing.
  • Discursive Meditation: consideration of a spiritual truth; application to oneself, and resolve to do something about it.
  • Affective Mental Prayer: one turns to "other," namely, God, and prayer becomes "the language of love."
  • Acquired Recollection: also called prayer of simplicity, prayer of simple regard, acquired contemplation, the loving awareness of God.
  • Infused Recollection: the first degree of infused, mystical contemplation.
  • Prayer of Quiet: the will is totally captivated by divine love; sometimes all the faculties are likewise captivated (sleep or ecstasy).
  • Prayer of Simple Union: both the intellect and the will are absorbed in God.
  • Prayer of Ecstatic Union: this is the "mystical espousal" or "conforming union."
  • Prayer of Transforming Union: also called the "mystical marriage" because it is the most intimate union of the soul with God that is possible in this life.
The consideration of these various stages of prayer, should not intimidate one who is striving to develop the practice of prayer. It helps to keep in mind the two-sided dynamics at play in prayer; the devotional side, which reflects the efforts to reach out to God that are being made by the one who prays, and the acetical side, which reflects the grace of God drawing the soul up into ever deeper communion in prayer. The description of these various stages helps one have a better understanding of some of the experiences they may be having in their prayer. The primary concern for the one who prays remains the same, surrender your heart and soul to God, and keep praying - God will do the rest.

The following is an article with more detailed information by Jordan Aumann, O.P.

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