Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sunday word, 04 Oct 15

Jesus’ Partners
Twenty-seventh Sunday of the Year B (04 Oct 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
St. Paul proclaimed Jesus in every way possible. The mystery of marriage even allowed Paul to speak of Messiah Jesus. About the words of Genesis we heard—a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh—the Apostle said, I am speaking about Christ and about the church.1 Can we hear today’s scripture selections and let them help us welcome Jesus afresh? A way I think we can begins with convictions. Convictions, we may say, are starting points for anyone’s reasoning and acting. So with Jesus and the Pharisees.

The first conviction in the gospel selection is that both Pharisees and Jesus revered God’s word in scripture. A second: Jesus knew God’s desires in creation and in marriage. And: God’s desires in creation shape marriage. The starting point of the Pharisees was something lawful. The starting point for Jesus was God’s desires and intention from the beginning of creation. The two starters are starkly different.

God’s history with God’s people included the unexpected; God regularly reversed things: God brought down rulers from their thrones and exalted those of humble position2—beginning with Pharaoh and in all generations. Yet the Pharisees were not interested in God’s mysterious, loving ways. No interest God be first; no interest in God’s desires; no desire to walk in God’s ways: those and more scripture captured in a phrase, hardness of heart. Jesus, reader of human hearts, attacked the Pharisees for their hardheartedness.

The exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees is not about what is lawful but about God’s heart and God’s ongoing creating each moment. Jesus invites us to see ourselves as the centerpiece of God’s creation. Central to God’s creation shapes us to join our creator; to see each and everyone as heirs of God’s kingdom; to make choices that honor, protect and share the earth, “our common home.”3 Crisply: to partner with God.

The word in Genesis we translate as helper does not mean women are inferior to men. Genesis sought to express that God intended their equality: God took from the side of man what God fashioned into the partner for the man.

Personal differences as well as different functions do not erase equality. Consider leaders. Their functions give them greater responsibility. Leaders are equally human, too. Here both God’s desires and Jesus shine brightly. Our triune God desired in their eternity that the Second Person become a human being to save the human race.4 Jesus, leader to our salvation, leads us because his full humanity included experiencing death and the fear it causes each person.

Our creator became our equal to save us! Becoming our equal did not stop Jesus from being our creator. Becoming our equal allows each person to partner with Jesus. Next to Jesus’ Incarnation and redeeming us, becoming equal partner with Jesus is one of the greatest mysteries. Pondering that mystery in whichever state of living is ours welcomes Jesus afresh, renews our interest in God’s desires and graces us to walk more closely with Jesus.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask St. Paul and your patron saint to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for dying and rising for you; thank him for joining us completely in our human condition.
    Ask him for grace to walk more closely with him and to share his heart.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave his prayer to shape us as partners with him and his saving work.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Ephesians 5.32.
  2. Luke 1.52.
  3. Pope Francis’ phrase echoes through his encyclical, Laudato Si.
  4. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises [102].

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sunday word, 27 Sep 15

“Missionary of Mercy”
Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year B (27 Sep 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Watching Pope Francis on our soil confirmed again for me that he is a living homily. Even his silence speaks. Homilies seek to stir hearts as much as deepen knowledge of faith. Hearts, after all, move us to do what we know. Francis’ authentic actions people feel. He stirs hearts. Many of us have heard other Christians and non-believers say, “I like your pope.” Francis stirs hearts longing for “renewal and growth.”1

Francis also encourages: several times he used the word in his remarks last week! Francis encourages us to enact the gospel joyfully. Open hearts and minds experience joy. Closed minds and hearts are unable to welcome joy; nor can they welcome others. Closed, narrow minds and hearts endanger even the church.

Two years ago Francis noted, “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules.”2 That is nothing new. Even Moses had to put up with narrow-mindedness. God’s spirit chose not to be limited and contained only by the legitimate helpers of Moses. By God’s power and gift others joined Moses as God’s mouthpieces. A young man quickly told Moses two others had begun to prophesy. Moses was neither defensive nor anxious over rules. He responded that he and all God’s people could use every help possible: Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!

Narrow minds deafened the disciples to Jesus’ words that his mission included suffering unto death. Their narrow-mindedness led them to feel exclusive as Jesus’ comrades. They heard Jesus tell scores of people that kingdom living included showing mercy as mercy was shown them. When someone unknown to the disciples did a mighty work of mercy in the name of Jesus they tried to prevent him—to limit and contain God’s mercy. Jesus had released it in a new, powerful, authentic way, and his disciples wanted to control God’s mercy that Jesus showered on all!

To shower mercy flowed from a conviction Jesus held; it coursed through him as blood in his veins and air in his lungs. Jesus showered mercy because he was convinced a way back is possible for all. To people aware they have strayed far or a bit do not sin again3 are words enough. When sin grips and blinds people more words, direct words free them and restore vision—like those James leveled at those imprisoned in their greed: [Your corroded wealth] will devour your flesh like fire.

Pope Francis is convinced sin seeks to grip him and all; he encourages that we need help to keep free of it. Even when sin tarnishes our freedom Francis is convinced a return to freedom is possible. So convinced he stamps his mission with God’s mercy. As “missionary of mercy”4 Francis shines brighter light on the gift of freedom regained. Mercy expands minds and hearts; heals division; strengthens the weak; and renews our compassion.

The pope’s visits offer many things. He always extends the mercy of God in Jesus by Holy Spirit. Untold numbers welcome his offer. Their welcome recommends we pray for it: pray to welcome God’s mercy more readily. It may be the most transforming prayer anyone makes.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Moses, who desired God’s people all be prophets, to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for dying and rising for you; thank him for his goodness to you.
  • Ask him, “Help me be your prophetic voice and your disciple of mercy in all I do and say.”
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave his prayer to shape us as servants of God’s mercy who unite heaven and earth and human minds, hearts and lives.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. His August 2013 interview to Jesuit journals.
  2. John 5.14; 8.11.
  3. His motto as he set out for Cuba before visiting the United States.

Wiki-images: Moses, Aaron and the Elders PD-US  Girl drinking by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade CC BY-SA 2.0

Friday, September 25, 2015

With Precision

Pope Francis uses particular words frequently. Some he uses with precision. Mr. John L. Allen Jr. decoded “periphery,” “fundamental-ism,” “devil’s dung” and more in a recent column.

Wiki-image by of Pope Francis CC BY-SA 2.0

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sunday word, 20 Sep 15

God’s Logic
Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year B (20 Sep 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
The Sunday lectionary offers three readings at mass. You know their logic: the gospel fulfills the first reading from the Hebrew scriptures; the second, New Testament reading is proclaimed in a continuous fashion from its opening to its close. Those who shaped the lectionary intentionally related the first and third readings. Now and again the second, New Testament reading shines a light on the gospel as today. Let’s see how.

The gospels paint a portrait of the life of Jesus and some of his activity during his ministry in Palestine. Places are important. Jesus and his disciples began [another] journey through Galilee. Earlier in Galilee it did not go well between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees.1 His disciples knew that. Again in Galilee Jesus spoke of his passion to come. Was being in that place unfriendly to Jesus the reason his disciples were afraid? Whatever the reason they did not face their fears.

Facing our fears is an image. We know we do not see fear; rather, we feel fear’s effects on us. When we confront fear we go within ourselves: confronting fear is personal interior work. Often we prefer not to confront fear—it is not helpful, but it is typical. The disciples reacted typically. They fled their fear by discussing among themselves…who was the greatest.

God does not value greatness as humans do. Jesus embodied God’s logic; the disciples persisted in their human logic. In God’s reasoning a great person is open. Children demonstrate openness well. They demonstrate that openness includes wonder and awe at what is before them as well as welcoming others—children see people without grown-up filters. Unless we cultivate daily wonder, awe and openness to others, our learned, grown-up filters suffocate those childlike, godly virtues: wonder, awe and openness to others.

To consider greatness in a way different from God—the way Jesus revealed by his living, dying and rising—to consider greatness in a way different from God mires us in jealousy and selfish-ambition. That is the light James shines for us on the gospel.

Drive and desire that include others help us shape fulfilling lives. If my drive and desire exclude you, then my ambition is selfish. You and others become dangers to me: I envy what you have; your reputation; your gifts. Envy urges individuals and groups to get ahead; worse, to feel good at others’ misfortune—even intend it; still worse, to get others out of the way. Who of us hasn’t removed someone with our minds? Headlines too often report others enact their thoughts just as James knew his contemporaries killed, fought, and waged  war.

We may romanticize Jesus’ teaching about greatness; James stops us. His ancient teaching mirrors headlines that confront us daily: oppression forces people to flee west in numbers we have not seen for 70 years; gang violence in our hemisphere sends others fleeing north; while here guns used in envy and fear end lives prematurely.

What to do? Jesus demonstrated our response: not to allow worldly logic of greatness land us in the mire of jealousy and selfish-ambition. Our response does not solve the problems envy sows. Our response changes our dispositions, our character. Changed character paves the way toward solutions. The disciples demonstrated the change is possible. We change when we cooperate with grace, the life and virtues offered us each day by our triune God. To cooperate with grace where we live, work, learn and play has effects that reach beyond us—reaching farther than we think.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask the disciples who allowed themselves to be changed by grace to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for dying and rising for you; thank him for modeling how to be in the world and for  his Spirit who lets us pattern our lives on his.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to enjoy healthy, balanced drive and purpose full of wonder at creation and welcome toward all. 
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave it to us to help us live each day as he lived: deeply aware our Creator gives all we need and more; and to help us love others as we long to be loved.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. The scribes first appear in Mark 2.6, the Pharisees in 2.24 as Jesus preached and healed in Galilee at the beginning of his ministry.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Sunday word, 13 Sep 15

Faith Reshapes Us
Twenty-fourth Sunday of the Year B (13 Sep 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
We will continue to hear the Letter of James on Sundays this month. In it James addressed attitudes and behaviors that faith reshapes. Several attitudes and behaviors that concerned James are modern. Reshaping them as well as not caving in to them heeds Jesus’ call to us: deny oneself, take up one’s cross, and follow Jesus. First, James’ teaching about faith.

James taught faith included more than belief. Faith responds actively to God’s work in Jesus by Holy Spirit. James pressed home that faith responding to the ongoing work of our triune God includes:
  • care of the defenseless and oppressed;1
  • rejecting discrimination in favor of mercy;2
  • limiting unchecked pursuits of pleasure and things— unchecked pursuits cause conflicts and wars;3
  • faith lets Christians be in the world but not enmeshed by its attitudes;4
  • people living faith do not oppress workers;5 and
  • faith communities remember the ill and suffering.6
Today James reminded us that to clothe and feed others belong to Christians’ faith-response.

Such concrete faith-responses let reasonable people notice that humans depend on others; sometimes more, sometimes less, but we are interdependent. That we live at all means we depend on God. God desires we live not for ourselves but as a kind of first fruits7 of a new creation. By his rising from death Jesus is the first fruits of God’s new creation.8 As Messiah Jesus invites us to his new life and modeled it for us.

When they acknowledged him as Messiah Jesus’ disciples publicly transferred their loyalties to him and to each other. They reaffirmed it when they acknowledged him as crucified Messiah—expected by no one.

Jesus did not give his disciples a test that day. When they acknowledged him as Messiah Jesus’ disciples affirmed for him his authority to invite to new life, model it and announce God’s desires. Jesus included all who follow him as doing his work: Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.9

My brother and sister and mother indicate an intimate group. Group was and is central in Middle-eastern life. Any who heard Jesus say those who joined him and advanced God’s desires are my brother and sister and mother heard an invitation to join a new family-group. To do that denied self, how one had been known in the world. The flip side of denying self was joining Jesus’ new group and gaining a new sense of self, a new identity. It was also a risk: one’s cross—to stay with Jesus’ words—but not without promise.

Jesus invites us to his promised new life, a new self, our true identity. We Western folk usually don’t hear our true identity in his call to deny oneself and take up one’s cross. We usually do not hear it as an invitation to a new group; we do hear a call to reform our lives. Yet to live our faith, to respond to God saving us by following Jesus with our deeds, reshapes us each day! One gift is this: to follow Jesus means living as his disciple is not all on me: Jesus accompanies us and graces each of us to stay close to him. When we decide to go it alone; when we choose differently from the way Jesus modeled living for others, Jesus welcomes us to rejoin him and follow afresh.

To hear Jesus and James afresh we may pray for this grace: to enjoy surer felt-knowledge that we live our faith in company with risen Messiah Jesus and one another—with all who follow Jesus. The world can know that Jesus, our God, is merciful, if we live his mercy one day at a time.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Peter to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for dying and rising for you; thank him for giving us a share in his life so we may share it with others.
  • Ask Jesus to deepen your felt-knowledge that we live faith in company with risen Messiah Jesus, one another and all who follow Jesus.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave it to us to heal how we know ourselves and freely live the way of Jesus for others.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. James 1.27.
  2. James 2.11ff.
  3. James 1.9-11; 3.18-4.3.
  4. James 4.13ff.
  5. James 5.1ff.
  6. James 5.13ff.
  7. James 1.18.
  8. Mark 3.35.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Sunday word, 06 Sep 15

Keeping Close
Twenty-third Sunday of the Year B (06 Sep 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Jesus called Twelve to shadow him, to learn him and his ways. The apostles deserve credit for transferring their loyalties to Jesus. Some did it by leaving self-owned businesses—the fishermen; others left different ways that profited them to gain more from Jesus. Jesus remained patient with each of them and all of them. The apostles were not quick to learn Jesus, to know him as the Messiah, the long awaited one.

The healing of a deaf man who…could not speak plainly was not the first miracle the apostles saw Jesus perform. Ordinary folk seemed more alert to who Jesus was: He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and [the] mute speak. They knew they echoed Prophet Isaiah. On behalf of God Isaiah used that image and others we heard to keep alive hope among the captives in Babylon: all would sing joyfully at the restoration of Israel. At the time of Jesus the prophet’s image still sang. People longed for personal restoration and the restoration of Israel by the Messiah. They reckoned the age of the Messiah as the goal of history. If human restoration was happening as Jesus healed and did other miracles, was not the time of the Messiah upon them? Was not Jesus the long-awaited Messiah?

The apostles did not have instant clarity about Jesus as others had. They would grasp Jesus’ true identity; it was not a firm grasp at first. That their grasp of Jesus’ identity would prove slippery; that it eluded those Jesus chose offers us hope. We don’t enjoy the company of Jesus as the apostles did—the way we are with one another; nor do we witness miracles that accompanied Jesus announcing the reign of God. Yet we are not alone; we do enjoy Jesus’ life in us by the power of his Spirit. Jesus continues to breathe his Spirit in everyone baptized into him and his dying and rising.

How do I access1 his power for my life? I hear someone ask. We have already: Jesus’ life flows through us each time we give food to the hungry; Jesus’ life flows through us each time we help another carry life’s burdens; Jesus’ life flows through us each time we protect others; Jesus’ life flows through us each time we don’t let externals blind us to another’s humanity and personal value.

Jesus’ Spirit empowers us to do those and every Christian action. We received his Spirit at baptism; at confirmation his Spirit shaped us more like him; his eucharist sustains his Spirit in us. Jesus gives us his Spirit not as an honor or as private gift. Jesus gives his Spirit to us to empower us to pattern our lives on Jesus’ life: Jesus lived for others as much as with others.

When our faith in Jesus and his Spirit of power within us fades; when our faith in Jesus and his Spirit of power within us seems to have vanished, we do well to recall the apostles. Their faith in Jesus grew in fits and starts though they walked with Jesus! Better than recalling them is to summon them as our faith-intercessors: they grappled with faith as we do each day. When the lamp of their faith was dim, Jesus never dismissed them; he kept close to them. Jesus keeps close to us. Jesus keeps close to us  even when we are unsure he is present with us.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask the apostles to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for dying and rising for you; thank Jesus for his Spirit, who is our power to join him and his mission to announce his good news by how we live.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to brighten, deepen and enliven our faith.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave it to us because frequently praying it patterns our lives more after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. “[Jesus calls us] to look beyond, to focus on the heart in order to see how much generosity everyone is capable of. No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house where everyone is welcomed and no one is rejected.” Pope Francis, Lenten homily, original emphasis.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday word, 30 Aug 15

Not Always Easy
Twenty-second Sunday of the Year B (30 Aug 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
We resume hearing Mark’s gospel on the 12 Sundays left in this liturgical year. We may remind ourselves of his motive for writing it: Mark wrote for people like us, people who had welcomed the mystery, the secret of God’s kingdom as gift, grace, new life. Mark sought to help them keep it fresh and help them appreciate it as God’s saving work.

Much of scripture does the same. It motivates us not to conquer with words but to convert our hearts, then those who see what we do. This is at once Jewish as it is Christian. We heard from the Book of Deuteronomy: what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? The words echo covenant life with God: so close. Covenant living had practical results: to draw people and keep them close to God; and to have that effect on others. Being so close is heart language, relationship language—close to God and others as God is close to us.

Relationship with God—entering it or not; deepening it or neglecting it; making room for it or refusing it; living it or paying lip-service to God: relationship with God involves our motives. The word is apt because a quality of a motive is a reason to do something, especially one that is hidden or not obvious.

Our hearts are the seat of our motives. Jesus read the hearts of others. That is why Jesus took to task the Pharisees and some of the experts in their law: not be-cause they failed to observe many practical aspects of it but because their hearts were not in it. Their motives put themselves first, not God nor others. Their self-centered motives also closed them to God’s ongoing invitation and their ongoing transformation.

In Jesus’ words their self-centered motives moved their hearts...far from God. To use the words of James, the Pharisees were unable to humbly welcome God’s saving invitation. The result: others saw the Pharisees carefully observe God’s commandment, but the motives of the Pharisees disregard[ed] God’s commandment.

Today’s gospel alerts us that motives may disfigure our intentions; motives may distance our hearts...from God; motives may make us less open and receptive to God longingly inviting us to share God’s life for ever. To know our motives demands diligent thought and effort. How diligent? To paraphrase St. Augustine, The hairs of one’s head are more easily numbered than are the motives of one’s heart.1

To discern our motives is a large part of being human. Stop discerning our motives and we fool ourselves: we think we observe God’s commandment to love as God loves but we may disregard it. Even worse we close our hearts and minds to God’s invitation to share God’s life for ever. For ever begins now.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God creating you and inviting you to share divine life forever.
  • Ask Mary and the saints to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with Jesus: praise Jesus for dying and rising for you; thank Jesus for inviting you to join him and to make him better known by how you live.
  • Ask Jesus for the grace to know yourself better and to recognize motives that keep you distant from him.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave it to us because praying it often shapes us to do his word, rather than to hear it and quickly disregard it.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. See Confessions Book 4.14.22.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday word, 23 Aug 15

Culture and Life
Twenty-first Sunday of the Year B (23 Aug 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
The culture into which Jesus was born was not identical to ours. Similarities existed, of course: people lived in a variety of social and economic ways; human longings were deep then as now; many practiced religion, some did not; doing things for show was a human bent that has never completely disappeared; and change made people anxious.

Some differences are alien to us modern folk: ancients were suspicious of anything new; they worshipped gods in ever-increasing numbers; disease was pollution and punishment; and—the feature that confounds us—men held all the power.

Men held power over people as well as things. While love surely existed between spouses, the culture before and after Jesus championed a man’s power above love. Crisply put: in Jesus’ culture husbands did not have to love their wives.

Ephesus lived ancient Mediterranean culture in spades. St. Paul had been spelling out in his letter to Christians there—and to us—what it meant to live in love, as Christ loved us. He began with things in sync with the culture. He included wives deferring to their husbands.1 Some men may have dozed off, hearing nothing new. Until: Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her. Men would have been wide awake at those words.

The gospel challenged culture then, even as it does today. The gospel applauds ways culture helps people live in harmony with Jesus and his example. The gospel challenges every culture to better itself for the sake of every person.

Even some who walked with Jesus as disciples felt his challenge sharply. They gave Jesus a generous hearing when he identified himself as the living bread come down from heaven. He did challenge common sense. When he said, The one who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and abides in me: it was too much. As a result…many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Their choice leads me to ask myself and us: are we cultural Catholics only? Do we practice without longing for Jesus to draw us closer? to deepen our faith in him? Or are we disciples for whom “faith is a force of life,” as Pope Francis describes it?2 Do we stay with Jesus and imitate his faith and try to love as selflessly as he loved? Are we generous with who we are because we are members of his body?

Jesus is a mystery, a flesh and blood mystery. So is each of us a flesh and blood mystery—even to ourselves. We would not empty the mystery a close friend, spouse, parent or sister or brother is. People close to us can trouble us at times; we don’t leave them on those accounts. Rather, we seek to learn and know each other better. Learning Jesus that way does not empty him of mystery. Learning Jesus that way makes him—mystery, challenge, all of him—more inviting and shapes us more like Jesus. For us disciples Jesus, our mystery, is our culture and our life.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Sts. Paul and Peter to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; thank him for inviting you to accompany him as his ambassador in speech and action. 
  • Ask him for grace to stay close to him and love as he loves.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. He gave us his words to help us act and love more like him.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Ephesians 5.22.
  2. 28 June 2015 Angelus message.

Wiki-images: Jesus multiplies loaves by Béria L. Rodríguez @ Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 Bread and fish mosaic by Grauesel CC BY-SA 3.0