Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday word, 28 Feb 16

Change of Heart
Lenten Sunday3 C (28 Feb 2016)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Here’s a way to appreciate today’s scriptures. While they feel unrelated, a Lenten thread runs through them. Let’s start with Jesus’ parable of the fig tree. With it he illustrated his comments on some headline tragedies in Galilee. Fig trees take four to five years to produce fruit.1 The gardener seemed more patient than the landowner who search[ed for] fruit on the fig tree…for three years. To be itself, the fig tree needed help. Again the gardener: Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it.

A Lenten view lets us notice the gardener in the parable stands for God. God is patient with us. That the fig tree stands for each of us calls loudly: we need helps of various kinds. Lenten practices are among the most important and effective for Christian living. I can hear someone object and say that Lent is not hard enough. Lent is not meant to be grueling or make us heroes. Another lesson from the fig tree helps our lenten living: fig trees need some pruning but not a lot.2 Any one of us could do a lot of different lenten practices; then we would lose sight of that one thing that prevents us from keeping up with Jesus at this season in our lives.

God’s patience with us and everyone means that our failings and sufferings do not surprise God. In their first meeting God was clear with Moses: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them. Unless a person is unconscious, rescuers hope a person will play a part in the rescue-process. Lent is our annual time to make the Psalmist’s words ours: The Lord is kind and merciful; then put ourselves in the way of God’s patient kindness and mercy.

Putting ourselves in the way of God’s mercy is being aware of it, trusting it. What St. Paul wrote to his Corinthian friends he desires equally for us: not…to be unaware. By our faith-mindfulness we best see Moses, Jesus, Mary, the saints and sainted people in our lives as models for us—models to follow.

Of some people God may ask something dramatic. Of most of us God asks us to be ourselves, to be true versions of the people our triune God creates each mo-ment. Living Lent helps us become more true by re-lying on God’s patient kindness and mercy. Living Lent also lets us feel our ongoing conversion pulls per-sistently at us. Its tug is another way God’s patience registers in us. The Lord…is patient toward [us], not willing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to repentance.3 Repentance is a change of mood, of heart that gives new shape to choices and actions. Changing our hearts allows God to work in us, with us and through us. Lent helps our hearts change so God in Jesus by Holy Spirit may help us bear fruit for the church and for our world.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause to rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Mary and the saints to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; thank him for giving you this Lent so you may follow him more freely and closely.
  • Ask him for grace to drink in his patient kindness with you.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer: Jesus gave to us his personal way of keeping his heart supple and living more aware of his Father and ours.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise


  1. Rutgers University on fig trees.
  2. Kathleen Mierzejewski, gardening tip.
  3. 2Peter 3.9

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sunday word, 21 Feb 16

Committed to Jesus
Lenten Sunday2 C (21 Feb 2016)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
The Sundays of Lent open each year with Jesus’ testing in the wilderness. Lent’s Second Sunday invites us to enter into his transfiguration. Today’s preface summarizes the church’s long reflection on Jesus’ transfiguration:  
After Jesus told the disciples of his coming death, he manifested to them his glory…to show that [his] Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection. Even the law and prophets had testified to that.1
I present two things to you to help us observe Lent: first, Jesus’ testing deepened his faithful, firm commitment to his baptism with its mission. Jesus proclaimed the reign of God in action, word and by his person; he would die then rise for his mission. The voice of heaven recognized Jesus’ commitment. This is my chosen one sounded for his disciples. Testing had its fruits.

Second, Lent has fruits for us; and they draw us closer to Jesus; they help us choose Jesus. The Psalmist and St. Paul named some fruits earlier: feeling courage instead of fear by being close to Jesus; feeling our savior bathing us with his compassion; and feeling empowered by his compassion—Holy Spirit—and fashioned like him in whom we are baptized.

Our lenten exercises bear these and other fruits that shape us more like Jesus. Jesus is our goal; lenten exercises help us meet Jesus anew; they deepen each person’s relationship with Jesus that baptism began. His eucharist nourishes it, and confirmation empowers us to live it for the church and the world. Renewing and deepening our relationship with Jesus lets us be in the world and for the world in new ways.

If we fast, for example, we may lose a little weight, but that is not a fruit of Lent. Its fasting feeds solidarity with others who hunger in any way. Solidarity with others, especially the poor, those acquainted with miseries and those at the margins of societies and life Jesus practiced. Solidarity is one face of mercy. When we give ourselves to lenten exercises of every sort they free us to show mercy more readily.

Lent’s focus on Jesus and our relationship with Jesus that began in baptism helps us revive our commitment to Jesus. Relationships require commitment. Commitment is both an openness to another as well as a self-gift to another. Friends nourish their commitments especially when “hard and rough is the road [and] heavy the going.”2 That road-image St. Thomas Aquinas offered as he sought meaning for us in Jesus’ transfiguration. Like each relationship staying near Jesus demands effort. To be in the world as friends of Jesus, as well as to behave as his friends, challenges us. Nor is it always easy, smooth or natural. Jesus revealed his glory to his disciples to help them feel, know and share his goal—passion and resurrection.

That is a grace of Lent to pray for and desire. While Jesus may not reveal his glory to us, he continues to give himself to us in manifold ways: in sacraments; liturgies; personal praying; and enriching our faith, to name a few. They offer us Christian courage, a felt knowledge that Jesus is our savior, that he bathes us in his compassion and empowers us to show his compassion to others.

Each Lent offers us new gifts because we are not the same as other Lents. I am still asking for Jesus to help me notice what he desires to give me this Lent. I pray to let him heal my vision so I may notice his gift then share his courage to live it.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause to rest in our triune God.
  • Ask Peter, James and John to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you; thank him for inviting you to join his mission and showing us how.
  • Ask him for grace to live your baptism faithfully and freely.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer: Jesus modeled praying for us so we might come to know him better, share his courage and enjoy daily a strong foundation for mature, faithful living.
Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Preface, Lenten Sunday2, Roman Missal.
  2. His Summa, Part 3, Q. 45, Article 1.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Sunday word, 14 Feb 16

Distinctively Christian
Lenten Sunday1 C (14 Feb 2016)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Lent begins early this year. As I caught my breath I recalled we recently celebrated Jesus’ incarnation and closed its annual festival a month ago. We rejoiced that the son of God joined our humanity to himself for us and everyone. Baptism unites us with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Lent allows us together to recall our baptismal union with Jesus; Lent helps others prepare for their initiation into him and his church.1

Recalling baptism and preparing for it is a window on Christian character. Christian character points to what is distinctive about Jesus and us, his friends. Character is shaped, to paraphrase St. Augustine, by the ways life tests us.2

From its infancy Christianity has remembered Jesus was tested in his life: tested in every way [like us] yet without sin.3 Testing has happened to us; testing may be happening to others; and testing will visit us as long as we live. Our response when tested is what is important. Our response is important because our response shapes our character. Noticing the ways others respond to tests in life often begins personal reflection on how we want to be in the world. Noticing how Jesus responded to being tested in the wilderness helps us grow distinctly Christian.

Jesus gave himself to his Jewish tradition. They did not initiate relationship with God. God visited them before they knew God. God visited Moses the same way. When they first met God told Moses: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters…Therefore I have come down to rescue them.4 They remembered God’s unsolicited loving kindness when they worshiped. Not only did they proclaim it with their mouths they bow[ed] down in [God’s] presence. Bowing was not groveling; it reminded them that they received from God all they were and all they enjoyed. We are tempted to count on ourselves as makers of everything, even as our own saviors. Jesus was tempted the same way. Jesus responded to the tempter: It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and God alone shall you serve.

Our growing knowledge of creation helps us be its better stewards. Our knowledge also tempts: for too long humans have sought to control creation—as if we could! Caring for creation is not unlike caring for an infant: Caring for infants demands that we check our power even as we guide, provide and offer direction.5 Jesus was tempted to control creation by turning stones into bread to end his hunger. Jesus responded to the tempter: It is written, One does not live on bread alone.

During our sharpest testings we may find that we try to force God’s hand: I’ll do this if God helps me; I’ll never repeat that if God rescues me. Forcing God by whatever name we call it—bargaining, threatening or appeasing—prevents us from receiving God’s care. We close ourselves, we harden our hearts, we prevent ourselves from acknowledging God—exactly the opposite of what the scriptural dramas and Jesus himself invite us to do. Jesus was tempted to force God’s protection. His response? Honor God, admit God has a claim on us no one has, that God gives us life every moment: You shall not [force—]…test…the Lord, your God.

The wilderness test shaped Jesus’ character. Jesus acted and spoke in line with it. He chose to serve God by aligning himself with God’s faithful love. Jesus’ response to temptations reveals our distinctive way to be in the world: rejecting power over others; controlling our appetites—for honor, for possessions as well as food; and insisting to be on God’s side rather than forcing God to be on ours. Baptism into Jesus distinguishes us the same way. Into that same distinction we baptize others into Jesus’ body, his church.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause 15 minutes pause to rest in our triune God.
  • Ask saints and angels to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for dying and rising for you; thank him for revealing our humanity to us even as he showed God to us.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to live Lent so we may awaken to our Christian character and live it.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave us his prayer to keep us rooted in him and to guide our lenten journey to what is more true, more humane and more godly.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Liturgy #109-110.
  2. The opening of his Commentary on Psalm 60.
  3. Hebrews 4.15; 2.17-18
  4. Exodus 3.7-8.
  5. Pope Francis used the word, “limiting” in his encyclical on caring for our common home. Paragraph 78.
Wiki-image: Jesus tempted in the wilderness PD-US Jesus alone PD-US

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lenten Retreat

Loyola Press offers a daily retreat through Lent: “Lenten Moment of Mercy.” Messages contain links to deepen one’s prayer and reflections. Anyone may subscribe to receive it in each day’s email. A link to do that is at the bottom of the online Ash Wednesday “Moment.” 
Wiki-image of Cross of Ashes PD-Release

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Sunday word, 07 Feb 16

Our Brush with God
Fifth Sunday of the Year C (07 Feb 2016)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J. to John Carroll Univ. students
In the gospels those with hard hearts, closed hearts considered Jesus dangerous. Others with open, supple hearts were attracted to Jesus. Of course, some in both groups changed: either accepting Jesus or leaving his company. Our relationships with Jesus are uneven. If any of us feels Jesus is not attractive at times, it may tell us more about ourselves than about Jesus: it might be that we are honest with ourselves as much as Jesus invites us to join him and his mission. Tonight’s scriptures offer us three examples.

The readings present us with people God called: Isaiah; and apostles Paul and Simon. The particulars differed; yet prophet and apostles shared this: they felt they had a brush with the Cause and Core of reality—God. Scripture echoes that being in the divine presence functions as a mirror for self: one honestly sees oneself.
  • Isaiah: I am a man of unclean lips…yet my eyes have seen...the Lord of hosts!
  • Paul: meeting the risen Lord kept him honest as he brought the gospel to others: I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle…but the grace of God…is with me.
  • Peter: Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.
A closer look at Simon Peter helps us appreciate both his self-honest moment and his readiness to follow Jesus who invited him.  A closer look also offers us deeper knowledge of ourselves and of our vocations.

Astonishment at the catch of fish Simon and his colleagues made at Jesus’ invitation certainly gets our attention. It caught Simon’s attention, but it was not first to catch his attention. Earlier Jesus had toured Galilee teaching and healing. Jesus even taught from Simon’s boat.1 Simon knew many were impressed by Jesus: those who heard Jesus teach with authority2; and others who heard the widespread news that Jesus healed.3 When we meet Simon in Luke’s gospel, Jesus entered his house. He and others had spoken to Jesus about his mother-in-law and her fever. Jesus healed her and the many brought to Jesus there.4 

Hearing about, hearing firsthand then seeing Jesus heal his mother-in-law was a process for Simon: it let him know Jesus ever better. The great catch of fish deepened Simon’s knowledge of Jesus. The miraculous catch of fish was personal: it was Simon’s brush with the divine; also it was the event in which Jesus chose to call him. As with Isaiah and St. Paul, honesty about one’s limitations and unworthiness was no symptom of low self-esteem. Their honesty before God God transformed into confident commitment.
  • Isaiah said, Send me!
  • Paul preached in difficulties of every sort.
  • Simon and his partners left everything and followed Jesus.

Is their a lesson for us in this? Here’s one: Accepting ourselves as we are is not just honesty. Accepting ourselves as we are each moment keeps our hearts supple and open. Accepting ourselves—trying to see ourselves as Jesus sees us—helps us be alert as we meet Jesus. Jesus always invites us to deeper friendship with him; he stands by us in all things. Keeping close to Jesus is our brush with God. It happens not only in a lofty or out-of-body way or even a heroic way. Simon’s experience reminds us we meet God in wild, wet, windswept ways as well as in calm, quiet and our dark and difficult times. Accepting ourselves—trying to see ourselves as Jesus sees us—is a gift: it strengthens us to welcome ourselves, others and God. Our triune God desires us to grow into our true selves.

Here’s a way to stay close to Jesus.
  • Pause 15 minutes and rest in our triune God: free yourself of your cares and concerns as best you can.
  • Ask Simon Peter to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with Jesus from your heart. Praise him for dying and rising for you; be alert to what Jesus awakens in you. Savor it.
  • If the shadow of your unworthiness darkens, do not fear. Take heart, and ask Jesus for grace to respond to him inviting you as you are into the light of his life and love.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Notice each word. Jesus gave us his prayer to stay near him and to grow more strong and more focused and honest as his disciples. Jesus always empowers those he invites to join his mission.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Luke 5.3.
  2. Luke 4.31-32.
  3. Luke 4.37.
  4. Luke 4.38-42.