Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday word, 30 Jan 2011

Fourth Sunday of the Year A (30 January 2011)

Zep 2. 3; 3. 12-13; Ps 146; 1Co 1. 26-31; Mt 5. 1-12a

Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

Entering the Kingdom

Let me begin with a fable by Aesop.

On returning to his own country, a man who had traveled in foreign lands boasted very much of the many wonderful and heroic feats he had performed in the different places he had visited. Among other things, he said that when he was at Rhodes he had leaped to such a distance that no man of his day could leap anywhere near him as to that, there were in Rhodes many persons who saw him do it and whom he could call as witnesses. One of the bystanders interrupted him, saying: “Now, my good man, if this be all true there is no need of witnesses. Suppose this to be Rhodes, and leap for us."1
A moral applied to the fable is, “Deeds, not words.”2 Of course, true as the moral is, it isn’t so simple because we can boast by how we act.

To boast suggests having my mind made up. Made up suggests needing to be open to nothing more. That seduces us to see ourselves as the center. The Corinthians were so high on their religious experience, which began with Paul’s preaching, that they thought they had a lock on their new life in the Spirit, that they alone reached such spiritual heights.

They boasted in themselves not in the Lord, who had given them great gifts. They forgot who they were: Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Yet God chose them to receive the Spirit of risen Jesus not for themselves but for the world.

For St. Paul self-boasting was the root-sin; it was idolatry. Idolatry is more than worshiping a stone. Idolatry lives in the dangerous illusion that I save myself. Jesus saves us. Having the Spirit of risen Jesus shapes us to express the power of his Spirit given us by how we live.

Living that power does not draw attention to self. Humble and lowly, to use the prophet’s phrase, has nothing to do with no sense of dignity or value. Humble and lowly has every-thing to do with recognizing the source of our dignity and value and of each person, our Creator and Redeemer. Living that power flows from the desire to align our desires with God’s.

Jesus expressed God’s desires in the Beatitudes, and Jesus named the conditions to enter the kingdom he proclaimed. If we heard Jesus announce his Beatitudes in his language we would hear blessed as a summons not as a passive description. We would hear Jesus welcome people, whose experience made them aware of their limited as well as marginal lives to notice God working through them and to set themselves on the right way to attain those godly goals: poor in spirit; no strangers to tears; meek; single-hearted; deeply desiring God’s justice, mercy and peace.3

Jesus did not sanctify limits and suffering. He sanctifies us and empowers us to live with him as our refuge and to see ways in which we can broaden our solidarity with Jesus as solidarity with others. A recent TV ad captures this well. The scene is a soup kitchen; a man serving food, speaks: When I was homeless I came for food; now that I have a job I make sure that others have the food they need.4

Recalling our limits changes how we live. Recalling Jesus’ promise, the kingdom of God is within you,5 allows us to live the kingdom by our deeds. Each leap of action boasts in the Lord and transforms us and our world.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, place yourself in the presence of the Trinity. Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus. Praise Jesus for giving himself to you and giving direction to your life in his Beatitudes. Ask Jesus for a deeper felt-knowledge of Christian humility and to let your thoughts and actions flow from it with renewed conviction and strength. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus’ words, forgive we forgive others, on our lips help us not only to reconcile; prayed sincerely they align us more closely with the desires of God and keep us in the heart of God’s Son.


  1. Aesop. “The Boasting Traveler.”
  2. Moral in this translation.
  3. Basilian Fr. Thomas Rosica’s insight into the Aramaic verb ashray, which Jesus spoke.
  4. This is a paraphrase of a TV ad in January in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
  5. Luke 17.21.
Wiki-image of Jesus preaching on the mountain is in the public domain.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday word, 23 Jan 2011

Third Sunday of the Year A (23 January 2011)

Is 8. 23-9. 3-1; Ps 27; 1Co 1. 10-13, 17; Mt 4. 12-23

Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

Light to Light

From Paul’s correspondence with it we note that the Corinthian church did not suffer error in doctrine. Rather, it deviated from the practice of Christian love and example. That is often true of Jesus’ disciples and friends today. Because you and I part with Christian practice more than Christian belief, we will hear, as Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians unfolds over the coming weeks, the Apostle address us directly.

The great light of Jesus, whose birth and manifestation to all peoples we so recently celebrated, describes his church as much as it described him. Yet, rather than reflected with greater brilliance and clarity, the great light gets fractured, blurred and dimmed by the church. Christians do not always do those intentionally; they do not choose with focused intention to practice what they profess.

That happens in various ways: we give in to our fears instead of standing with Jesus, who is our refuge; we clutch anguish close rather than let it go; we court gloom rather than look beyond it; and we seem more fascinated with darkness and gloom than with the light and loveliness of our Messiah Jesus. One practical result of these sorts of behavior is division: we compartmentalize ourselves; we stand uneasily with others, at best, and we stand against one another, at worst. That has been so in the church from its beginnings.

People of the ancient Mediterranean relied on patrons. Standing with one often pitted people against others with different patrons. Mediterranean people were family- and clan-centered in ways we are not. We often tout a name less as a patron and more as an emblem for our point of view. Commenting on St. Paul’s passage we heard, someone recently reechoed the cast St. Paul listed this way: “In the Catholic church, it often goes like this: I am for Ratzinger. I am for Rahner. I am the Pope’s. I am for protest, I’m for restoration. I’m for reform. I’m for women. I’m for tradition.”1 Clinging to a name or label divides people and dims the great light the church is called to be.

It isn’t that emblems for thought are bad; they are more limited than we give them credit. Nor are categories of thinking of no help to live the faith of Jesus in reasonable ways. Neither, Rahner or Ratzinger in our time nor Apollos or Cephas in Paul’s, died for us. We ought not idolize them. So what are we to do? Certainly not to stop thinking nor to shut up and never try to express our faith in deed or word. Pondering Isaiah’s great light prophecy of Jesus and Jesus’ reminder that his church shed great light for the world2 presented me with an image for ourselves: prisms.

A prism divides white light into its spectrum of colors. We appreciate light more, indeed light fascinates us, when a prism reveals that light is not a monochrome of brightness but a compilation of colors ordered to serve human sight as well as to bring life into darkness, to sustain life the eye can behold and what it cannot. One prism reveals light’s rainbow; a second reunites the colors into white light, which allows us to see.

The Christian vocation I suggest is to function not as single prisms but in concert. We can clarify, and indeed times will cry for the ministry of one person to clarify, something as in line with Jesus’ gospel or not. That person will need the aid of other Christians to return that point of view to the fullness of light. The sanctity of life is one color of the light of Christ that needs greater clarity in our time. Sadly, many allow it to be a color wrenched from the light of Christ. As a result, sanctity of life polarizes people rather than bringing people in closer unity with each other and with Jesus.

St. Paul was no idealist when he pleaded for the Corinthians to be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. He was preaching Jesus, our crucified Messiah, who gave us his mind and his attitude so we may advance his purpose by being his light for one another and our world. To be prisms working in concert is no ideal; it describes our vocation as the light of Christ.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, rest in the light of our triune God. Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus. Praise Jesus for being the world’s light and inviting you to join his mission of enlightening the world. Ask Jesus for the grace to see all things--not one thing--clearly so you may represent him more faithfully in your life, work and play. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which is not just another prayer. It is Jesus’ prayer given to each and to all in the church to help us grow in greater unity as his disciples and his light.


  1. John Kavanaugh, S.J., his “Divided Hearts, Divided Church.”
  2. See Matthew 5.14-16: You are the light of the world.


Wiki-image by BishkekRocks of detail of Jesus proclaiming himself light of the world is used according to the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wiki-image by MarcellusWallace of prisms is used according to the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.