Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday word, 28 Sep 14

Thought Experiment
26th Sunday of the Year A (28 Sep 2014)
Ez 18. 25-28; Ps 25; Phil 2. 1-11; Mt 21. 28-32
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
The prophet Ezekiel preached a revolutionary message. It marked an evolutionary change in a belief the people Israel had long held. Through Prophet Ezekiel God challenged it: the word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, what is the meaning of this proverb that you recite in the land of Israel: “Fathers have eaten green grapes, thus their children’s teeth are on edge?”1 With that proverb people claimed they were punished for sins of their ancestors’ rather than theirs. With God’s challenge the prophet preached a message of personal responsibility.

Knowing that helps us appreciate the beginning our first reading. Otherwise its opening cry,“The Lord’s way is not fair!” may mean little. Meaning paves the way for us to understand. If we focus on meaning only—especially in scripture—we run a risk: we risk treating scripture as a puzzle. If only a puzzle, then we don’t let scripture touch us and let Jesus shape us. We disciple-friends of Jesus have a word for Jesus shaping us; it is conversion.

We use that word in so many ways. We convert currencies; we convert temperatures; we convert buildings from stores to apartments; we measure energy-conversion from motion to heat, to name some. They are meanings outside us. They differ from what ongoing conversion to Jesus and to his gospel means for human lives and our world. Ongoing conversion to Jesus and to his gospel is more than choices Christians make. Ongoing Christian conversion is an attitude; it makes possible choices for Jesus and his gospel. St. Paul was specific about the attitude: be like-minded as Jesus.2 We are not alone in our daily conversion; Jesus joins us.

That is important to tell ourselves often. When it comes to making choices, especially for Jesus and his gospel, we can feel our choices are all on us. We do have our parts to play; often our parts are all we notice. The fact is Jesus joins us. I grew convinced of that years ago.

I never set out to do a thought-experiment with our second reading. Yet one day long ago I was absorbed in the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, emptying himself…not regarding equality as God something to be grasped. Those words of the Apostle help us talk about the Incarnation. I was not absorbed in a doctrine and what it meant. I was absorbed in what it cost Jesus that he emptied himself…and did not regard equality as God something to be grasped. Becoming like us in all ways but sin cost divinity any distance from humanity. God in Jesus by their Spirit joined our joys, hopes, anguish and dreams. The eternal choice of our triune God that the Second Person become a human being for us means we are never alone choosing Jesus and his gospel.

Choosing Jesus and his gospel costs us. When we do not want to it to cost us, we act as if we choose Jesus. That is like the son in his parable who said he would go…work in the vineyard but did not. Every move out of ourselves costs us. Yet cost is not always without benefit. By becoming human for us Jesus made the world his vineyard and us his brother- and sister-workers in it. Our moves toward Jesus pave the way we may come to share in his divine nature.3 Jesus chose to join his nature with ours to free us to choose Jesus and his gospel.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Place yourself in the company of the Trinity, who create you each moment and impart their life to you.
  • Ask Mary and your patron saint to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for his attitude and desire the same attitude that is also his.
  • Implore Jesus to deepen your conversion so you may be like the parable’s son, who changed his mind.
  • Close your time saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave it to us to help us choose him, to have his attitude and live by it daily.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise


  1. Ezekiel 18.2
  2. Philippians 2.2, 5. St. Paul used a verb to communicate to his dear Philippians: be like-minded
  3. 2Peter 1.4.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday word, 21 Sep 14

Our Model Jesus
25th Sunday of the Year A (21 Sep 2014)
Is 55. 6-9; Ps 145; Phil 1. 20c-24,27a; Mt 20. 1-16a
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Humans are tempted often to tame God. Few of us can say we never longed for God to fit our views, adjust to our dislikes or punish those who harm us. We are not the first nor the last to forget Prophet Isaiah’s words: God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways. In his day Jesus echoed Isaiah’s words to Peter. We heard them here as August ended. Peter refused to believe Jesus when he said he would suffer and die. Jesus told him, You are not thinking the thoughts of God but human ones.1

Jesus words to Peter implied he could choose to think his thoughts or God’s thoughts. Was that possible? Is it possible for us? I can hear you ask, “If it is possible, tell us how!” I will tell you; and you will have it on good authority, the authority of St. Paul.

Early in his letter to his dearest community,2 Paul wrote how he longed for them to determine what is essential…filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.3 The ability to determine what is essential was Jesus’ gift to them, his Spirit he gave them. It is so with us. To help them Paul would do something well-established in his time and culture: he would help them determine what is essential by offering them models.

We do that, too. When any of us feels it important to set an example, the example is not outside any of us; it is each of us! Each of us is a model for others; we model what is worthy or we model what is not. The first model Paul offered his beloved Philippians was Jesus, who is life. He also offered himself as a model. Paul conducted himself in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ. He did so not for his benefit but for theirs. He offered his coworkers among them, Timothy4 and Epaphroditus.5 They worked for Jesus’ gospel and the Philippians’ benefit, too.

Jesus modeled God’s generosity. He embodied it, he personalized it. Embody and personalize detail the Incarnation, central to our faith. God become human in Jesus emphasized that God’s generosity is central to gospel-faith as well. Working for the gospel of Christ Jesus Paul and his coworkers also modeled, embodied and personalized God’s generosity.

By his parable of the generous landowner Jesus expressed God is generous to everyone. For others to know that in their bones depends on you and me to model Jesus as best we can. When we do not grasp at our good fortune we imitate Jesus and his saints. When we show genuine interest in others, we imitate Jesus and his saints. When we allow the person of Jesus and his gospel to shape our choices we imitate Jesus and his saints. When we rejoice at others’ honest good fortune we imitate Jesus and his saints; we also stay alert to God’s generosity. Rejoicing at others’ good fortune drives away that temptation to envy God’s generosity. Envy poisons all relationships—including communion with Jesus we name our church.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause to rest in the creative love of our triune God creating you each moment.
  • Ask those who stood in the marketplace, waiting for someone to show interest in them, to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise Jesus for modeling the generous forgiveness of his Father and ours; speak as you are—confident or timid; advantaged or bereft; closed-handed or open-handed; tell him your greatest need. 
  • Ask Jesus to increase your concern and interest in everyone; resolve to cooperate with the grace you ask.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Each time we pray it helps us conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of our crucified and risen Messiah. Conducting ourselves in sync with his gospel transforms us into his more generous and attentive coworkers today.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise


  1. Matthew 16.21.
  2. Philippians 1.8.
  3. Philippians 1.10-11.
  4. Philippians 2.20-22.
  5. Philippians 2.25-30.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday word, 14 Sep 14

Nothing More Noble
Exaltation of the Holy Cross A (14 Sep 2014)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Our responsorial psalm called us to remember: Do not forget the works of the Lord! The Lord’s work we recall today is the cross. His cross is our badge, our insignia. When you hear me echo the psalm, “Do not forget,” shout, “We remember!” Let’s practice that. …Now we can begin.

Jerusalem was destroyed two generations after Jesus rose from the dead. The places of his death and resurrection faded in the shadowy mists of time and memory. The 4th-Century Emperor Constantine and his mother shared a deep desire to speak by action, Do not forget!”

St. Helena went to Jerusalem and sought places where Jesus lived and walked. In Jerusalem a pagan temple was atop the place of Jesus’ tomb. She said to herself, Do not forget!” She had it torn down. Her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb. In building builders found three crosses. A memory has it: the cross on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman. Jesus heals us by transforming us. Do not forget!”

From that moment people venerated his cross. An ancient eye-witness on Good Friday in the basilica recalled the veneration liturgy. Its wood was taken out of its silver chest. It was placed on a table with the inscription Pilate ordered placed above Jesus. The eyewitness recalled: “all the people pass by one by one, all bowing themselves, they touch the Cross and the title, first with their foreheads and then with their eyes; then they kiss the Cross & pass….”
1 We do that, too; so we Do not forget!”

Our images and replicas of the holy cross are things of beauty. They lead our processions; they shield our hearts. Yet the tree on which Jesus died was not for beauty but for torture: Do not forget!” Crosses horrified the first Christians and many others: Do not forget!” But appearance did not stop the first Christians from echoing Jesus; he called the cross his glory. Do not forget!”

Today the cross does not threaten us. We freely make crosses beautiful and noble. Sadly some in the world do not tolerate the cross. Do not forget!” Nothing is more noble than the cross we trace on ourselves. Do not forget!” When we trace the cross on ourselves, we allow God in Jesus by their Spirit to transform us. Do not forget!” We are crucified with our Messiah,2 Do not forget!” We still live our human lives, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us.3 Do not forget!”

Our life of faith is no theory; it is not abstract. Do not forget!” Our life of faith affects our world! Do not forget!” Our life of faith is for our world! Do not forget!” Our life of faith changes our world beginning with the ways we choose to live in it! Do not forget!”

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in our triune God who decided from their eternity that the Second Person become one of us to save humans and enlighten us.
  • Ask St. Paul, St. Helena and your patron saint to welcome you into the bright shadow of Jesus’ cross.
  • Chat with Jesus: praise him for dying and rising for you; thank him for giving his life so you may have life eternal.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to remember with your heart and feel more deeply Jesus’ died and rose for you. Do not forget!”
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave it to us so we would carry his works with us and do them by the power of his Spirit. Do not forget!”

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. The Pilgrimage of Etheria. M.L. McClure and C. L. Feltoe, ed. and trans. London: SPCK, 1919, pp 74-75. 
  2. Galatians 2.19.
  3. Galatians 2.20—I rendered Paul’s testimony plural for this homily. 


Sunday, September 07, 2014

Sunday word, 07 Sep 14

Jesus’ Single Command
23rd Sunday of the Year A (7 Sep 2014)
Ez 33. 7-9; Ps 95; Rm 13. 8-10; Mt 18. 15-20
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
If you ever participated in a tour with a group, please raise your hand. When we are in school groups, vacation groups or pilgrimage groups, we know guides routinely address groups before they address us individually. Guides address groups; individuals ask questions; guides speak to individuals to answer their questions. That guides address us as groups and as individuals offers us felt-knowledge. Our felt-knowledge helps us appreciate better Prophet Ezekiel’s ministry.

Ezekiel ministered as a prophet after Israel’s Temple was destroyed and its people had been deported to Babylon. With their exile the People Israel existed no more. Prophets before Ezekiel regularly announced, Hear, O Israel!1 Ezekiel had no nation to speak to; he addressed individuals. Ezekiel’s ministry began a new emphasis on personal responsibility,2 as we heard: Warn the wicked one. If the person changed ways, the person was saved. If the prophet did not warn, God held the prophet responsible for the…wicked one.

Ezekiel’s ministry echoed in Jesus. Jesus built on it when he counseled how members of the community—the church—ought to help another member live again in sync with the community. The way to inform and warn was lovingly—the way Jesus did everything. Love does not mean sappy; strong and clear does not mean harsh and arrogant. Consider two features of Christian correction in practice: being human; and fidelity to Jesus.

Being human is constant over time. All Christians, ancient and modern, are human. Like ancient Christians, we are tempted to hold over others their mistakes as if we never made mistakes or gave into temptation. Jesus’ words, treat someone as you would a Gentile or a tax collector, give no license to be harsh, arrogant or hold over others their mistakes as if we never made our mistakes. Second, fidelity to Jesus does not replicate slavishly the ways of the early church. Having no contact and communication with those outside the Body of Christ is hardly possible today. They were the very ones for whom Jesus came.3 Jesus continues sending us for those who separate themselves from us and those yet to join us. What attitude are we to have?

Closing doors is not what Pope Francis recommends. He reminds us Jesus attended to everyone: people on the margins and those distant from God. With eyes on Jesus the pope recommends an attitude; from it Christian action flows. His words:
my response is always the same: dialogue,  dialogue, dialogue. It is the only way for individuals, families and societies to grow, the only way for the life of peoples to progress…I call this attitude of openness and availability without prejudice, social humility, and it…favours dialogue.4
Dialogue ceases when a conversation partner forgets that more than that person’s freedom is involved. Keeping the door open to those outside the Body of Christ means respecting their freedom. Keeping the door open involves more than speech. It is about attitudes first then actions that flow from them. Social humility includes the attitude of being open and the action of being available to listen before speaking.

St. Paul reminded us that among friends and disciples of Jesus one command5 is universal, to love: Love does no evil to another; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law. Each of the Ten Commandments,6 each instruction of Jesus, each precept7 of our Church as well as its Social Teaching8 indicate how to act with Christian love in concrete situations. Jesus single and singular command suggest a grace for us to desire: to live more freely our individual lives in ways that build up the Body of Christ and society. 

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Pause to savor the love our triune God lavishes on you.
  • Ask St. Paul to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with Jesus: praise him for dying and rising for you; thank Jesus for choosing you to love as Jesus patiently loves you each moment.
  • Ask for the grace to live more freely your individual life in ways that build up the Body of Christ and society.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. His words, thy will be done, is itself a prayer; it asks God’s heart to shape us and all we do with the loving attitude by which our triune God labors for us and all people.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Examples: Moses—Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Deuteronomy 6.4). Isaiah—Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel (Isaiah 48.1). Jeremiah—Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the clans of the house of Israel (Jeremiah 2.4). Only once did Ezekiel use this address; it appeared in his message about personal responsibility. Todays first reading returned to that message.
  2. It was present in Jeremiah, for example; it flowered with Ezekiel. Moderns find it difficult to appreciate the earlier, communal emphasis on living the covenant and transgressing it.
  3. Matthew 9.13.
  4. 2013 to leading members of Brazilian society.
  5. John 13.34.
  6. The Decalogue.
  7. The Five Precepts of the Church.
  8. From its Compendium of Social Doctrine.