Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday word, 31 Jan 16

Beyond Familiar Folks
Fourth Sunday of the Year C (31 Jan 2016)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
A modern, Lebanese immigrated to the United States. Some service jobs and fortunate connections led him to his lifelong career: he conducted a thriving insurance business. His children grew; he hoped the eldest would shepherd the business. None of them did. From a business angle preserving the name of the company would benefit the one who would continue it. Another angle operated, too: the man’s Lebanese heritage naturally shaped his desire that a child carry on the family business.

Father and children are happy: he in retirement; they pursuing their careers. Their father illustrates something difficult for us to appreciate. Our culture expects young people to find careers which suit their talents and exceed their parents. In the Mediterranean culture honor continues to include children continuing family businesses. So it was in the time of Jesus.

Worshippers in the Nazareth synagogue knew Jesus. His fame surely made them proud. His return led them to expect that he had arrived to settle and continue his father’s craft. What they heard made them furious: he spoke more than if he had a rabbi’s expert knowledge of scriptures; he considered himself a prophet!

Their question, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” was no idle one. They saw Jesus failed to live with honor: he not only refused to continue his father’s craft; he cast himself as a prophet. He was too much for them.

Jesus inaugurated his mission at home. His choice set in motion the central dynamic of his mission: rejection. Like earlier prophets Jesus would be rejected for announcing God’s desires for humanity. Another time some who first followed him rejected him. He turned to his twelve disciples and asked if they wanted to leave him like the others?1 Honor may not be our issue as it was for those in the Nazareth synagogue. Instead our human limitations, our desire to make Jesus fit our preferences and our impatience with others especially when they intrude on our time and—God forbid!—our wallets conspire to have us quit Jesus altogether. Yet Jesus will not quit us!

Jesus is patient with us, especially when we are impatient with him. In the face of cultural honor and numerous people rejecting Jesus many disciples clung to Jesus and all he did and said. Perhaps we recognize Jesus’ patience: Jesus patiently walks with us and everyone. When Jesus rose after his final rejection on the cross he shared his Spirit with his disciples. The power of his Spirit not only let them abide with Jesus in the face of their rejection; his Spirit shaped them to grow like him: patient with everyone.

St. Paul’s familiar words describe many faces of Christian love. They also help us appreciate a very important thing about placing our lives with Jesus: Christian love begins among familiar people; Christian love finds its home beyond whom we count as familiar. Jesus named them using Isaiah’s words as his: the poor; those in any bondage and unfreedom; the oppressed; and the blind, especially in their hearts.2 Letting Jesus continue to fashion our patient love is a goal of this Year of Mercy. Those who receive mercy receive it from those whose hearts are shaped like the heart of Jesus, the face of God’s infinite mercy.3

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Elijah and Elisha to present you to Jesus.
  • Open your heart to him and chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; recall how you receive Jesus’ patient, loving concern; then name what prevents you from living it.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to help you show others the patient, loving care you receive from him.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Slowly praying his words helps us be more receptive and honest. Praying them enriches how we are with Jesus and with others.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. John 6.67.
  2. Today’s gospel concludes the scene begun last Sunday.
  3. For a recent description of God’s mercy as “visceral” and active see paragraph 6 of Pope Francis’ announcement of the Year of Mercy.
  4. The image is that of Pope Francis, when he announced the Jubilee of Mercy.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Sunday word, 24 Jan 16

For Us and Beyond Us
Third Sunday of the Year C (24 Jan 2016)
Neh 8.2-4a, 5-6, 8-10; Ps 19; 1Co 12. 12-30; Lk 1. 1-4; 4. 14-21
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
The author of a novel I’m reading was absorbed with migration: fleeing home; finding home; making home. The plot revolves around a detective seeking someone in a land far away. As the detective’s plane begins to descend he realizes his destination “wasn’t a real place at all, but a question: are foreign countries merely not-home, or are they all that home is not?”1

His “question” interrupted my reading. I recalled far away places I’ve visited; that I wondered what it would be like to live in them not just visit; the ways they pulled me; and how home pulled me more.

Do not prophets act and speak because they are pulled beyond how things are to how things can be? Prophets in the Bible are pulled by no impersonal force; God chose and commissioned them to bring God’s people closer to God and in closer sync with God’s desires for humanity and creation. The reign of God is a new creation. The new creation is God present and alive in ways that familiar ways of acting and choosing often blur, warp, even defy.2 Jesus is the new creation; we are baptized into him; Jesus freely gives us access to God’s life and ways.3 Jesus’ freedom to give it shocked from the beginning.

We met Prophet Jesus again at the start of his mission of healing, teaching, lavishing God’s mercy on everyone. His people did not see things the same way. Can we blame them?

It is not easy to think beyond ourselves and our worries:
  • I want Jesus to forgive me and release me from my shame;
  • I want Jesus to liberate my relative from bondage to an addiction;
  • I want him to heal my friend and make whole a breaking relationship.

Jesus does love and care for me and my family and friends. Jesus loves and cares for every person. My worries and concerns can blind me to the loving care Jesus extends to all. That’s what happened in the synagogue in Nazareth that sabbath. Jesus told them his mission was for everyone, especially those oppressed and on life’s edges—including Gentiles.

His hearers’ attention exploded into anger: foreigners did not deserve to be in the orbit of God’s loving concern as did Jews! Jesus announced God’s loving concern. He knew God embraced everyone God creates. Jesus was too much for them.

Is Jesus too much for us? Does his compassion for everyone prevent us from welcoming his compassion for us? Do we reject his message that divine mercy extends beyond us? God’s people often rejected God’s prophets. When Jesus was an infant Holy Spirit announced through Simeon that Jesus would be no different—a sign who will be contradicted.4

This year’s Jubilee of Mercy invites us to gaze on Jesus as the face of God’s mercy.5 Divine mercy for us calls us to join Jesus and make his mission of mercy ours. The unfolding of Luke’s Gospel on Sundays this year allows us to see Jesus offer mercy and to see those who reject him as well as accept him.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Fall into the mercy our triune God offers you.
  • Ask Mary and your patron saint to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for dying and rising for you; thank him for the infinite kindness he offers you each moment.
  • Ask Jesus for a twin grace: to welcome his kindness readily; and to extend it to everyone wherever we find ourselves.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. His words, your will be done, remind us his Father desires each moment to care for us and everyone beyond us. Praying his words helps us join with that very desire and make it ours.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Amitav Ghosh, The Circle of Reason. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005, p. 269.
  2. Isaiah 43.19ff.
  3. 2Corinthians 5.17-18.
  4. Luke 2.34.
  5. The image is that of Pope Francis, when he announced the Jubilee of Mercy.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Brief Yet Full

Pope Francis recently conversed with Andrea Tornielli, a Vatican reporter. The result is the book, The Name of God Is Mercy. Jesuit Michael Rossmann reviewed it at the The Jesuit Post this week. Read his  review here.
Wiki-image by of Pope Francis CC BY 2.0

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday word, 17 Jan 15

Jesus’ Joy Is Ours
Second Sunday of the Year B (17 Jan 2016)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Jesus performed his miracle at Cana for human pleasure: the pleasure of the newlyweds and their guests. That is easily overlooked. It can be overlooked even after celebrating the mystery of the Word of God entering our humanity. 

The gospel notes that at Cana Jesus first revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. He showed that divine glory and human pleasure are not oil and water that refuse to mix. In Jesus God mixed with us, joined us in everything human save sin.

His miracle flowed from him naturally because Jesus had absorbed Prophet Isaiah’s announcement of God desire for God’s people: you shall be called “My Delight, “and your land “Espoused.” For the Lord delights in you.

The Spirit of Jesus gifts us in varied ways. They are some of ways our triune God delights in us. The Spirit-gifts empower us and shape us like Jesus. A few months after his election Pope Francis described how one Spirit-gift shapes us like Jesus:

“The Christian is a man or woman of joy,…Joy is a gift from the Lord. It fills us from the inside…” [it] …cannot be “bottled up so we can keep it with us,” he said. “If we want this joy just for ourselves, in the end it will make us sick and our hearts will shrivel up and our faces will not transmit that great joy, but nostalgia, that melancholy that isn’t healthy.”1

At the wedding at Cana Jesus celebrating for you and me—for everyone. Jesus was not a “sourpuss,” to use the pope’s image. Nor is anyone who is reshaped like him. A grace to ask for is joy as Jesus lived it. He stayed aware that God was with him. Jesus knew God’s presence so closely that Jesus called God, chatted with God and prayed to God as his Father. Because he stayed attuned to God’s presence to him challenges and questions could not limit Jesus’ freedom. Jesus was always free to choose to be God’s delight, God’s Son in whom God was well pleased.2 The Spirit of Jesus given us empowers us to do the same.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Become aware of the Divine Persons embracing you with loving delight.
  • Ask Mary to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for dying and rising for you; thank him for living joyfully for us and for everyone.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to welcome the joy he offers us by his Spirit.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave it to us so we might imitate his praying then live more like him.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Homily on 10 May 2013.
  2. Matthew 3.17 and parallels.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Baptism word, 10 Jan 16

For Our Confidence
Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord C (10 Jan 2016)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
At Epiphany we immediately recall the star that guided the magi to adore the infant Jesus. That is because we inherited the Roman church’s ways of worship. Epiphany elsewhere, especially older, eastern parts of the church, celebrated Jesus’ baptism. Worldwide the church still savors Christmas, Epiphany, Jesus’ baptism and even his miracle at Cana1 as first revelations of God’s goodness to us.

North of Rome an early bishop preached when Epiphany there still recalled Jesus’ baptism. He said:

Reason demands that this feast of the Lord’s baptism, which I think could be called the feast of his birthday, should follow soon after the Lord’s birthday, during the same season, even though many years intervened between [his birth and his baptism].2

What might we take for ourselves this week from our celebration of Jesus’ baptism?

Our triune God is beyond our power to know. That is why we call God mystery. Yet the All-holy Mystery desires to communicate divine life to every person. One of the best known gospel verses describes both the desire of God and the way God reveals: God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.3 

Jesus, God in flesh and blood, reveals—communicates—God to us in ways we can know and understand. I hear someone ask, Jesus did not need baptism, did he? He did not need it; his baptism made all waters holy so our baptisms may transform us into his bold witnesses for the sake of our world. That same early bishop put it this way: “Christ is the first to be baptized…so that Christians will follow after him with confidence.”

It is difficult to be confident today. It is difficult to be confident witnesses of Jesus. We have inherited a way of knowing that might be described in three words: knowledge is suspicious. Humans suspect what cannot be measured, seen, heard, touched, smelled, tasted. When we consider our experiences we know some of them escape our usual ways of knowing. We cannot box love, fear, guilt. Nor can we inject wisdom, courage, good judgment and a sense of awe before the All-holy Mystery. Those and other spiritual gifts God freely offers us; ours is to welcome them and to live from their power.

Jesus joined our human nature to his divine nature. As we consider Jesus being baptized or see an image of him in water with John and Holy Spirit descend[ing] upon him in bodily form like a dove we can grow more confident as his witnesses. How? By noticing that God reveals God’s self to us through what we can see, hear, touch, smell and taste. The divine life, the grace, we receive is more real. The power of grace enlivens us the more we welcome it and let ourselves be reshaped by it.

At his baptism Jesus began publicly revealing God who gave him for our sake and the sake of our world. Jesus did so with equal confidence and concern for everyone. At our baptisms we die into Jesus and share his life. Baptism freely gives us grace to begin to “follow after him with confidence” and continue his mission through our lives everywhere we find ourselves.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Ask our triune God to renew and deepen your sense of being joined with Jesus.
  • Ask Mary, Joseph and John the Baptizer to present you to Jesus to watch him be baptized for you.
  • As you watch chat with him: express what rises on your heart as you watch him be baptized for you.
  • Beg for the grace to live your baptism with renewed confidence and in inviting ways.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Each time we say it it reminds us Jesus desires us to model his inviting, welcoming way. His words, our daily bread, include his Spirit he gives us to do that.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. John 2.11.
  2. Sermon 100.
  3. John 3.16.
Wiki-image: Adoration of Magi, detail by Giovanni Dall’Orto CC BY-SA 2.5 IT Baptism of Jesus PD-US

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Epiphany word, 03 Jan 16

Models for Retreat
 Solemnity of the Epiphany C (03 Jan 2016)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J. to open an 8-day retreat
We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage. I suggest the magi who spoke those words are models for us. First a word to put them in their cultural context, then how they can be models. In Middle East cultures hon-or was central. If people were seen to be honorable, others gave them honor. Honor was public. From their side the magi tell an honor-story; it hinges on light.

A heavenly light, available to any with vision, had set the magi on their journey to honor the newborn king of Judea. Nothing is more public than a light of heaven. To heavenly light, available to any with vision, the magi looked with longing hearts then responded.

Scripture describes different lights: some were great1; some burned hot as the sun or lit the night as the moon; lamps brightened houses2; others flashed with brilliance and blinded.3 Lights as those may jar us. The heavenly light the magi beheld beckoned. The light that beckoned them models the light of retreat we call grace. Grace is the life of our triune God who accompanies us always and beckons us, encourages and recreates us.

In the familiar Epiphany story the magi were open to God drawing them by a star. They are the perfect foil to the frightened and raging King Herod. Fear, anger and other motions in us that imbalance us and disturb our peace are worth recognizing as retreat opens. Ask Jesus to restore your peace of soul with his peace so you can open yourself to what Jesus longs to show you and give you these days. Ask the magi, too, to remain open on your journey. They are good friends on retreat.

Recall they followed a star. Starlight is not brilliant or blinding, jarring, uninviting or even as dramatic as other lights. Yet starlight has its clarity and mild excitement. Starlight is an apt metaphor for grace. Grace offers us clarity: clarity about self; about Jesus present to us, loving, protecting and guiding us. Jesus alive for us refashions those who open themselves to him. Grace often surprises us—that’s its mild excitement. Grace can register as wild excitement; be cautious, though. The Enemy of our human nature, St. Ignatius of Loyola’s favored expression for the Tempter, disrupts us with counterfeits that are not God’s life. Our directors help us notice the difference; they do that without getting in the way of our retreats and of Jesus’ Spirit.

Enjoy your retreats! You journey in the company of the magi and countless other friends of Jesus—and with Jesus, his Father and Holy Spirit. Give to Jesus whatever distracts you and disturbs you. Welcome what Jesus longs to offer you so you may draw closer to him and share more of his life. Welcome Jesus to honor you as he desires. God bless your retreats!

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Isaiah 9.1.
  2. Matthew 5.15.
  3. Acts 22.6 & 22.11.


Friday, January 01, 2016

Octave of Christmas word, 01 Jan 16

Relationship, Birth, Remembering
 Mary, Mother of God: Octave of Christmas C (01 Jan 2016)
Nm 6. 22-27; Ps 67; Gal 4. 4-7; Lk 2. 16-21
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
When we look at early liturgies in the church we find celebrating the motherhood of God was the primary and only festival of Mary native to Rome.1 This liturgy saw other themes as the feast spread and time progressed. The Second Vatican Council and the recent revision of the Roman Missal restored the original focus. Our scriptures offer us some helps to restore us and move us forward into a new year. Here are three helps.

The reading from the Book of Numbers closed with the phrases: invoke [the Lord’s] name upon the Israelites and [the Lord] will bless them. For any of them to know some-one’s name meant a person was no stranger; they enjoyed a relationship. Wanting to know someone’s name recurs in scripture. When Jacob dreamed of a heavenly visitor, Jacob wanted to know the visitor’s name.2 When God sent Moses to free his people, Moses need to know the name of the One who sent him.3 With us its different: if I told you a stranger wants to lead you home, you’d be more than skeptical.

Giving a name is more sacred than knowing one. Think of parents choosing names for their children. Think of Mary and Joseph doing it for their son. Each was told name him Jesus.4 As we recall Mary today we can ask her to intercede for us truly to know ourselves as God creates us and let God enter our freedom. In each one’s freedom relationships begin and continue to grow life-giving. Our triune God desires us to look forward in the new year to deeper, more life-giving relationships with Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

A second help is Mary’s willingness. Mary’s willingness  allowed God into her freedom; that makes her a hinge: the hinge of our redemption. We call the Nativity of Jesus, the Word of God become flesh for us, the beginnings of our redemption.5 Jesus’ birth makes us heirs to God’s life in Jesus by their Spirit. His birth revolves around Mary. She gave birth to God in our humanity; our vocation is to give birth to God. We give birth to God when we practice our faith. The faith we practice is Jesus’ faith, his relationship with God, whom he called his Abba, Father.

It is possible to live Jesus’ faith and make it ours because Jesus gives his Spirit to all who accept him. That summarized what St. Paul preached in Galatia. He preached Jesus to them. They had accepted Jesus and received his Spirit.6 Then they rejected their experience! Paul wrote them to help them accept Jesus again.

We may not reject our experience of Jesus’ Spirit; we do get distracted from it. The ways of distraction are many: some may be our choosing; others may be ways our world suffers; still others may be ways our culture clamors for our attention. Our eyes on Mary offer us a third help: All who heard…what had been told them…about this child…by the shepherds…were amazed ….Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Mary’s reflective attitude is that help.

She and Joseph and their child were not in glorious circumstances; yet, she returned in her mind to the promise of her son, his birth and on the first ways God was making good on God’s promise. If anyone wants to make a Catholic resolution for 2016, Mary modeled it: revisit your experiences of Jesus’ spirited love and faith guiding you and promising to accompany you each moment of the new year. Resolve to live out of your relationship with him.

Relationship, birth, daily remembering more than high-light Mary’s motherhood. To deepen our relationship with our triune God; to give birth to Jesus by lively faith; and daily to remember how Jesus graces us with his Spirit will keep us close to Jesus and make us more eloquent messengers of his good news in 2016.

  1. Fr. Kevin Irwin, Sunday Worship: A Planning Guide to Celebration. New York: Pueblo, 1983, p. 52.
  2. Genesis 32.30.
  3. Exodus 3.13.
  4. Joseph in Matthew’s gospel; Mary in Luke’s.
  5. Prayer after Communion, Vigil Mass of Christmas, Roman Missal.
  6. Galatians 3.1-5.