Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sunday word, 31 May 15

Familiar With Strangers
Holy Trinity (B) (31 May 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Words never capture God. We speak in images about God; and God is beyond all images. Scripture depicts God in various ways to help us imagine God vividly and personally. From soaring eagle1 to mother hen2 and comforting human mother3 to loving father4 the images help us appreciate qualities of God we may miss without them. Of these we are certain: God cares for us in ways beyond human parents; God creates us in the divine image.5 Let’s allow one image Jesus used for God to draw us closer to God.

Jesus, God become human for us, called God his dear father—abba, in his language.6 Words in all human languages express thoughts. Jesus’ thoughts of God were not solemn in the sense of dignified and serious. His thoughts of and his relationship with God were the opposite—familiar, close. Abba expressed Jesus’ thoughts and feelings. Little Jewish children called their fathers abba; we say, daddy. Daddy is familial and familiar; its two syllables drip affection and bind children and dads close.

From the lips of Jesus Abba became a Palestinian Christian address for God. They shouted it at baptism: those who came up from their triple immersion in water made holy by Jesus’ Spirit cried, Abba! Father! The phrase was not limited to the sacrament. Christians pronounced it as they were aware of all God’s gifts in Jesus by Holy Spirit.7

With ease flowing from shared sacramental worship, St. Paul used the phrase in his letter to the church at Rome. He did not establish the church thriving there. He wrote Roman Christians to ask them to support his travel to Spain, a missionary journey Paul longed to make: I hope to see you as I pass through and be helped on my way there by you, after I have enjoyed your company for a while.8 He wrote strangers; yet their shared tradition of word and sacrament made Jesus’ image of God familiar to Greek speaking Christians. Abba sealed Paul and Roman Christians into one family. The Christian family enjoys an inheritance: Jesus’ identity! Jesus’ Spirit…bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Inheriting Jesus’ identity, his Holy Spirit, makes us daughters and sons of God. We understand readily St. Paul’s word to describe God’s graciousness, adoption.

His closing point, though, may perplex: having Jesus’ identity includes suffering. Jesus…foretold we would share in the persecutions that brought [him] to a violent death.9 We may not suffer for sharing the faith of Jesus. Yet we are more aware than ever that many in our contemporary Christian family suffer intensely for their share of the faith of Jesus.10

Jesus suffered; God in Jesus suffered. The Author of life11 was killed so you and I may also be glorified with him. What does that mean for our Catholic living day to day? It means suffering, indeed any weakness, shapes us more like Jesus; it imprints Jesus’ identity on us most deeply. God became human in Jesus to serve and not to be served.12 Serving is an exercise of human freedom.

When Christians serve they donate their freedom as Jesus modeled. Holy Spirit, the identity of Jesus, animates us the more we: do not hide behind defenses; do not let our hearts grow cold and hard; do not put ourselves above others. Doing the opposite lets Holy Spirit work godly power through us: when we act sincerely not perfectly; when we act warmly, humanely; when we respect others as equals or even more deserving than ourselves. Acting in those ways is weak, foolish, even pathetic as the world measures human action. Jesus measured differently, according to the selflessness of his abba, his dear father. God’s Son gave us his Spirit so we may measure with his measure.13 Living our faith moment by moment opens us to welcome Jesus’ Spirit and express it with greater ease, vitality, freedom, familiarity and sincere affection.

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 him for dying and rising for you; thank him for empowering you with his Spirit to make him known to the world.
  • Ask him for grace to live more freely as his disciples, as children of his dear father.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Each time we pray his prayer we let the voice of Jesus echo with our voices. His words guide Catholic living; his Spirit frees our freedom and lets our smallest actions embody his compassion and love.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
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  1. Exodus 19.4; Deuteronomy 32.11.
  2. Matthew 23.37 || Luke 13.34.
  3. Isaiah 66.13.
  4. Deuteronomy 32.6; Isaiah 63.16; Jeremiah 31.9.
  5. Genesis 1.26.
  6. Mark 14.36: and this before his suffering and death!
  7. Wayne Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), pp. 152-56.
  8. Romans 15.24.
  9. Psalm Prayer, Office of Readings, Week IV, Thursday, Liturgy of the Hours.
  10. John L. Allen Jr., The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution (NY: Image, 2013). Necessary reading and painful. Its Amazon site offers an excerpt.
  11. Acts 3.15.
  12. Matthew 20.28; Mark 10.45.
  13. Matthew 7.2; Mark 4.24; Luke 6.38.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday word, 24 May 15

Confusion: It Can Be a Door
Pentecost (B) (24 May 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

Today’s responsorial psalm was portions of Psalm 104. I’d like to reflect with you on that psalm. It is most appropriate for Pentecost, and it is not limited to it. I hope its limitless quality will find a home in us.

The psalm praises God as Creator of the world. We credit God as maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.1 The creating energy of God is so full and rich that it is God! We name God’s creating energy Holy Spirit.2 The psalm expresses God’s personal creative energy in words familiar: When you send forth your spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.

God’s creating is no one-time event. God creates each moment each and everything: every creature; every person. The psalm crisply surveys creation—from God’s being to the universe, to winds, to nature, to animals and humans constantly created by God. Under God’s providence and within the world ever created by God, people go out to their work, to their labor till evening falls.3

Noting living creatures the psalmist praised God: you open your hand…they are filled with good things. Take away your spirit4 they perish. God’s spirit creates moment by moment. God locates humans in a network of created gifts: various created things nourish bodies, gladden and sustain hearts, and aid our work.5

God creates humans to share God’s likeness.6 Jesus revealed that clearly and in action. He befriended others, especially those no one would.7 Jesus, Lord and Master, called his disciples in every age his friends.8 Because friends share who they are and what they possess, Jesus did the same. Our share in Jesus is his promised spirit,9 who fulfills Psalm 104 in an ongoing way.

The Sequence echoed the psalm. The Sequence makes deeply personal and accessible the creative action of Jesus’ spirit within us and for us. The Sequence is our voice to call on Holy Spirit as we need to be recreated each moment: to comfort and refresh us; to be our rest and our solace; to light our ways; to free us to befriend Jesus and others; to heal, strengthen, cleanse, guide.

Jesus bestows his Holy Spirit on all peoples—yes, even those who do not know Jesus. If that astonishes, puzzles or makes us curious, then we stand a bit closer to the first Pentecost. The Jews staying in Jerusalem had migrated to it from all parts of the Roman empire. Their native languages did not hinder their life and travel in the empire. Greek and Aramaic were common languages to Jews; they allowed them to communicate freely. The miracle at the first Pentecost was not about translation so the Jews understand about Jesus. The miracle was this: they enjoyed personal access to Jesus in and by his Holy Spirit. It registered as understanding: those who had relocated to Jerusalem or were visiting for the feast understood the speech of Galileans as they spoke their Galilean language—not the Greek or Aramaic languages it would have been normal for the apostles to have spoken to visitors and new residents.

That they were confused lets us take heart when you and I are confused. Someone may be confused when choosing her vocation. Among other things her confusion may mean Holy Spirit is near at hand.Welcoming Holy Spirit to guide her choice is wise action. Another may be confused at Jesus’ invitations or unsettled by the mission of the church or our diocesan Pastoral Planning Process. Among other things his confusion may mean Holy Spirit is near at hand. Welcoming Holy Spirit to warm his heart and free his mind is wise action.

Welcoming Holy Spirit in our personal experiences is always wise. It is also wise because Catholics have “become the most racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse religion in the nation.”10 Holy Spirit recreates each of us and all together to share in all Jesus is and does.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask the apostles and those who heard them to present you to Jesus. 
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; thank him for empowering you with his Spirit to make him known to the world.
  • Ask him for grace to welcome his Spirit who recreates us each moment as Jesus’ friends. As his friends we extend his mission where we live, work and play.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. By it we praise and petition God; and we ask to be forgiven as we forgive. Those hallmarks of Catholic living are equally Jesus’ Spirit enlivening and recreating us each moment.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
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  1. The Nicene Creed.
  2. The Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 253, 258.
  3. Psalm 104.23.
  4. Breath, spirit, wind translate the same Hebrew word.
  5. Psalm 104.14-15.
  6. Genesis 1.26.
  7. See Matthew 11.19 || Luke 7.34.
  8. Luke 12.4, and especially John 15.13-15.
  9. John 14.15-16:13.
  10. Mark M. Gray, “Your Average American Catholic: a Model Citizen for a Diverse Church, AMERICA, 18 May 2015, p. 16, print edition.

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Wiki-images:  Pentecost statue by Kala Nag CC BY-SA 3.0 Pentecost—stained glass window by Kunstwerk von Max RĂ¼edi CC BY-SA 3.0 CH

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday word, 17 May 15

God Saves a People
Seventh Sunday of Easter B (17 May 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

A privileged, prominent image for the church is the body of Christ.1 Individual people, like individual parts of bodies, are important; they are more important as they function together. Christian function praises our triune God: we do that by worship and by loving service.

Christian designates a group, a people. Christian individuals form the group, the people, that are Christ’s body in the world. God saves a people. It has been so from the first. When Moses first met God in a burning bush, God told him, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry…I know well what they are suffering. …I have come down to rescue them.”2

In the biblical world the group was key. The opening of last Friday’s liturgy impressed that on me again. Its entrance antiphon sang: You have redeemed us, Lord, by your Blood from every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us into a kingdom, priests for our God.3 God’s salvation in Jesus by their Spirit transforms groups measured by clan, language, blood and boundaries into a royal priesthood, who worships God in loving service.

This began as Jesus gathered a group of apostles. They not only followed Jesus; they ate and drank with him.4 The phrase expresses an intimate sharing of life: the apostles shared life with Jesus for the purpose of witness. Jesus gathered the apostles as twelve in number to restore the people Israel. By their witness as twelve the Spirit of risen Jesus would anoint them with his promised power and authority5 to restore and enlarge God’s people. Empowered by Jesus’ Spirit the restored Twelve would extend his mission.

The betrayal of Jesus by Judas threatened that. His betrayal fractured the number of apostles: their group began anew God saving a people in Jesus by their Spirit; their group ensured its growth. We can appreciate Peter’s urgency to restore their number to twelve. We can feel with him, who denied Jesus out of fear, Jesus’ promise enlivening him: I have prayed [for you Peter] that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.6 Peter began to do that when he restored the apostolic number—his first ministry after the ascension of Jesus.

Restoring the apostolic number also was an act of love. Christian love is more than kindness. Christian love abides in our triune God. The fruit of placing and keeping ourselves in God is amazing: by placing and keeping ourselves in God God’s love is brought to perfection in us. Peter restored the apostolic number to prepare the Twelve to receive Jesus’ Spirit so they could fashion others into the body of Christ. When we place and keep ourselves in God we allow Jesus’ Spirit to restore us as vital members of his body, who witness to him with our lives and increase the growth of his body

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause to rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Peter to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; thank him for empowering you with his Spirit to make him known to the world.
  • Ask him for grace to play your role in his body with greater freedom and love.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Even personal recitation of Jesus’ prayer reminds us each of us forms Jesus’ body, the people he saves by his Spirit to extend his mission today.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
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  1. 1Corinthians 6.15; 12.12, 27; Colossians 1.24; Ephesians 4.12.
  2. Exodus 3.7-8.
  3. The Roman Missal indicates it based on Revelation 5.9-10.
  4. Acts 10.41.
  5. Promise = Holy Spirit: Acts 1.4-5; in Luke 22.30 eating and drink-ing with Jesus are joined to authority.
  6. Luke 22.32.

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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday word, 10 May 15

Another New Thing
Sixth Sunday of Easter B (10 May 2015)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
God’s love is an action, an ongoing one. The community that received the Letters of John were reminded that God acted in love: God loved us…God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. God’s love is this saving, life-giving action. God continues to save in each present moment through Jesus, God’s only son. Jesus has made God’s saving, life-giving action ever present in the sacrament of his body and blood until Jesus’ return in glory.1

From the earliest days of the church Peter received an insight that God’s saving, life-giving action included everyone: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to God.” Peter came to that with divine help. While he was hungry he had a vision of all sorts of foods—even foods Jews did not eat. A voice commanded him to eat. He protested that he never ate anything but kosher foods. That command to eat happened three times.

In the ancient Mediterranean world eating was a religious event. People ate with those who shared their values, their beliefs, their gods. Peter seriously considered his vision. As he did men from Cornelius’ house came to bring Peter there. He went prompted by God more than by his choosing. He greeted Cornelius and said,“You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean. And that is why I came without objection when sent for. May I ask, then, why you summoned me?”

God had been prompting Cornelius, too. He was, in bible language, a God fearer. The Jews he knew lived up to their vocation to attract others to God. Some of them had become disciples of risen Jesus. Jesus’ Spirit was wooing Cornelius. It was revealed to him Peter would help him.2

Those graced events brought us to the exchange we heard between Peter and Cornelius in the first reading. In a remarkable way those events redefined  Peter’s religion! The vocation of God’s People always included attracting other peoples to God. In prophetic language they were to be a light to the nations.3 The Psalmist would praise God with the fruit of that image, as we did today: The Lord has made his salvation known: in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice! God desires to save all who believe in God’s only son and live their belief in him.

Peter gained felt-knowledge of God’s inclusive vision of living faith in God. It was no less than Jesus’ faith. Jesus did not stay away from people the religious professionals put on the margins of life. Jesus sought them and spent time with them—he even ate with them! For associating with sinners and eating with them the religious professionals judged Jesus to be unclean and a sinner.4

In Jesus God did new things, especially including all in God’s saving, life-giving action. Pope Francis expressed it this way:
God is not afraid of new things! That is why he is continually surprising us, opening our hearts and guiding us in unexpected ways. He renews us: he constantly makes us “new”. A Christian who lives the Gospel is “God’s newness” in the Church and in the world. How much God loves this “newness”!5
In Jesus we are “God’s newness” present everywhere. For that God loves us! God in Jesus by their Spirit loves us as God’s daughters and sons; God loves us because we give others access to God. We do that when we model our faith on the faith of Jesus and make it concrete in our lives each day for the sake of all. Living our faith is Christian love; Christian fruit that will abide.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause to rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Peter and Cornelius, who both desired to live as friends of Jesus, to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; thank him for inviting you to make him known to others.
  • Ask him for grace to welcome his faith and life and model your faith and life on his.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer Jesus gave us charts our course for living his faith.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
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  1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1323.
  2. Acts 10.1-29.
  3. Isaiah 42.6, 49.6. Quoted in Acts 13.47.
  4. For example: Matthew 9.10-13; Jesus was aware: Matthew 11.19.
  5. His homily closing the 2014 Synod of the Family and beatifying Pope Paul VI.

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Wiki-images: Peter’s vision by Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing CC BY-SA 3.0 Plums by Fir0002 CC BY-SA 3.0

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Sunday word, 03 May 15

More Than an Image
Fifth Sunday of Easter B (03 May 2015)
Ac 6. 26-31; Ps 22; 1Jn 3. 18-24; Jn 15. 1-8
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Jesus promised future presence among his followers at his Last Supper: I am the vine, you are the branches. Jesus organic image also describes the communion we call the church. Early in this Fourth Gospel two of the Baptizer’s disciples followed Jesus when John called him the Lamb of God. Jesus turned and asked them what they wanted. They desired to know where Jesus stayed.Disciples wanted to know the place a rabbi stayed so they could come and learn.

Imagine we were among the earliest Christians hearing this gospel. We would hear it in Greek and the word we would hear for residing, for staying, for remaining would be the same word: abide. When we heard Jesus promise his future presence with us as vine and branches we would hear the same word: Abide in me, as I abide in you. …as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it abides on the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me.

When I learned that I realized that to abide in Jesus is to enjoy truer and more real living; abiding with Jesus is more than the very important learnings of many kinds. Abiding with Jesus is relationship with him and Jesus with, in and among us. That relationship establishes and protects our communion we call the church.

All of Jesus’ ministry glorified God.2 By the mutual indwelling and abiding of Jesus and disciples, all his disciples also glorify God: By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

Often from our human perspective we marvel at the disciples: that they left everything to follow Jesus3; that they persevered in following Jesus; that they announced Jesus boldly in the face of opposition. They did all those and more, yes. They were empowered by Jesus’ Spirit with whom they cooperated in all they did.

Barnabas, for example, had to defy human logic to introduce Saul as a disciple of Jesus. The facts were beyond question: Saul had sought to destroy the church…breathing threat and murder against the disciples of the Lord.4 Holy Spirit empowered Barnabas to defy human logic and reassure the disciples that God had touched and transformed Saul into one of them.

Barnabas lived up to his name—son of consolation—by rescuing Saul and dispelling the fear his name put into the disciples. Holy Spirit chose Barnabas to do that. The consolation of the Holy Spirit gave growth to the church through him.

Our scriptures let us see two key, enduring effects Holy Spirit’s consolation had on the earliest Christians. One is comfort. Barnabas consoled; he was one instrument by which Jesus’ Spirit continued Jesus’ signature way with his own. Another was boldness. Barnabas reassured disciples the former murderer of disciples of Jesus had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. Barnabas helped the disciples recognize themselves in Saul: Holy Spirit led them beyond their fear to proclaim Jesus as Messiah and Lord. They experienced holy boldness as a gift of Holy Spirit; it allowed them to love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.

The church prays we will become disciples of Jesus in name and in truth5; that we profess God’s Son not just in word or in speech, but also in works and in truth.6 Holy Spirit is eager to give us the same gifts of consolation and boldness so our witness may extend Jesus’ church in ways that give glory to Jesus, his Father and their Spirit.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Barnabas and St. Paul to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; thank him for his presence with you every moment.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to allow him to prune you with his word into a stronger, more mature branch on his vine; and for holy boldness to make him better known by what you do and say.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Our regular praying the words Jesus gave us keeps us joined to Jesus in ways that fit our times and our needs.
Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
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  1. John 1.35-39.
  2. John 13.31.
  3. Matthew 19.27; Mark 10.28; Luke 5.11.
  4. Acts 8.39.1.
  5. Prayer after Communion, The Baptism of the Lord, Roman Missal.
  6. Prayer after Communion, Ninth Sunday of the Year, Roman Missal.
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