Sunday, March 21, 2010

Prayers this week: Give me justice, O God, and defend my cause against the wicked; rescue me from deceitful and unjust men. You, O God, are my refuge. (Psalm 42: 1-2)

Father, help us to be like Christ your Son, who loved the world and died for our salvation. Inspire us by his love and guide us by his example. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Blessed John of Parma (1209-1289)

The seventh general minister of the Franciscan Order, John was known for his attempts to bring back the earlier spirit of the Order after the death of St. Francis of Assisi. He was born in Parma, Italy, in 1209. It was when he was a young philosophy professor known for his piety and learning that God called him to bid good-bye to the world he was used to and enter the new world of the Franciscan Order. After his profession John was sent to Paris to complete his theological studies. Ordained to the priesthood, he was appointed to teach theology at Bologna, then Naples and finally Rome. In 1245, Pope Innocent IV called a general council in the city of Lyons, France. Crescentius, the Franciscan minister general at the time, was ailing and unable to attend. In his place he sent Father John, who made a deep impression on the Church leaders gathered there. Two years later, when the same pope presided at the election of a minister general of the Franciscans, he remembered Father John well and held him up as the man best qualified for the office. And so, in 1247, John of Parma was elected to be minister general. The surviving disciples of St. Francis rejoiced in his election, expecting a return to the spirit of poverty and humility of the early days of the Order. And they were not disappointed. As general of the Order John travelled on foot, accompanied by one or two companions, to practically all of the Franciscan convents in existence. Sometimes he would arrive and not be recognized, remaining there for a number of days to test the true spirit of the brothers. The pope called on John to serve as legate to Constantinople, where he was most successful in winning back the schismatic Greeks. Upon his return he asked that someone else take his place to govern the Order. St. Bonaventure, at John's urging, was chosen to succeed him. John took up a life of prayer in the hermitage at Greccio. Many years later, John learned that the Greeks, who had been reconciled with the Church for a time, had relapsed into schism. Though 80 years old by then, John received permission from Pope Nicholas IV to return to the East in an effort to restore unity once again. On his way, John fell sick and died. He was beatified in 1781.

In the 13th century, people in their 30s were middle-aged; hardly anyone lived to the ripe old age of 80. John did, but he didn’t ease into retirement. Instead he was on his way to try to heal a schism in the Church when he died. Our society today boasts a lot of folks in their later decades. Like John, many of them lead active lives. But some aren’t so fortunate. Weakness or ill health keeps them confined and lonely—waiting to hear from us.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John (8.1~11)

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn He appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered round Him, and He sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His Finger. When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let Him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no-one condemned you?" "No-one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. Go now and leave your life of sin.

The Law and the Sixth Commandment
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Our Gospel passage today provides us with yet another instance of the conflict between Christ and the religious leaders — specifically, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. This conflict would culminate in our Lord’s death, by which he would redeem the world from sin. The accusations by which Jesus was condemned to death included his acting against the temple in Jerusalem, his acting against faith in the one God because he proclaimed himself to be the Son of God, and in general for his acting against the Law. Such accusations were groundless, but in our Gospel today the leaders confront our Lord with a prescription of the Law of Moses. “Teacher,” they said, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were intent on showing up Christ’s opposition to the Law of Moses. Now, elsewhere our Lord stated quite clearly that he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to complete and fulfill them. Time and again he referred lovingly to the prophets. He insisted on the fulfilment of what the Law truly required, and we remember how at his Transfiguration, Moses representing the Law and Elijah representing the prophets, appeared with him in glory. They were conversing with him about his death which he would accomplish in Jerusalem. Jesus did not abolish the Law given by God to Moses on Sinai, but rather he fulfilled it by giving to it its definitive interpretation. The issue was indeed one of interpretation. We remember how he was challenged over the matter of divorce, which Moses allowed. Christ thereupon gave his authoritative interpretation of this Mosaic permission. The allowance of divorce by Moses was merely, our Lord said, a practical regulation of the hardness of heart of the people. They would not observe the law of God as revealed in the original creation of man and woman with the vocation to be “one body,” as husband and wife. Moses regulated this sad refusal for the sake of social order. In his person, in his teaching and in his practice, Christ fulfilled the Mosaic Law and gave to it its true interpretation.

The case in point in our Gospel today (John 8: 1-11) was the ancient Mosaic directive to stone those guilty of adultery (as in, say, Deuteronomy 22:22 and Leviticus 20:10). Rather than dwelling further on our Lord’s teaching on the status of this prescription, let us consider its deeper significance. It shows the seriousness of the sixth commandment, You shall not commit adultery, which in ancient times it was meant to protect. At the end of the incident described in today’s Gospel, with our Lord having rid the scene of the woman’s accusers, he told her: Go, and sin no more. He set aside the stoning, but reaffirmed the sixth commandment. Although the biblical text of the sixth commandment simply reads “you shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14), the Tradition of the Church comprehensively follows the teachings of the entire Scriptures, and considers the sixth commandment as encompassing all sins against chastity. Grave sins against chastity go well beyond adultery and include the various expressions of the vice of lust — such as the reading and use of pornography, homosexual acts, fornication, masturbation, and the social decadence that tends to undermine a culture of chastity. Very importantly, our Lord himself extended the scope of the sixth commandment and condemned adultery in the human heart. That is to say, not only must a person be chaste in deed, but also in mind and heart. This, indeed, is the foundation. Chastity is a moral virtue, a gift of God, a grace, and a fruit of the Holy Spirit to be resolutely lived and guarded. It embraces a whole life of chastity, in keeping with each person’s particular state of life, and is part and parcel of a life lived in imitation of Christ our Saviour and model. There is a further point of great importance. The Christian laity are called to evangelize the world. The world must be brought to accept Christ and his teaching. This includes bearing witness to chastity in culture and society. It means spreading everywhere the conviction that the dignity of the person requires protections for chastity in the culture and civil law of society.

One of the most notable changes in society over the last century has been the vast proliferation of media and entertainment. This has meant the spread and influence of a range of models of what it means to be human and happy. All too often these types and models have been of persons who disregard and violate a life of chastity. The battle is largely a cultural one, and the challenge is to evangelize our culture. Let us take up the work, then, and pursue it daily by word and deed.

A second reflection for the fifth Sunday of Lent

"He looked up and said, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?' 'No one, sir' she replied. 'Neither do I condemn you,' said Jesus 'go away and don't sin any more.'"

Sin and grace
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

In the Gospel scene today, the Church presents us with the scene of the sinful woman and her accusers standing before our Lord. Then she is left before him, her accusers gone, herself a sinner nevertheless. Our Lord says to her, I extend my mercy and pardon to you. Go and do not sin any more. Let this scene be an image of what should be going on during Lent in our own hearts. Cardinal Newman once wrote that the foundation of authentic religion is the sense of sin. With this lively sense we more easily turn to Christ asking for his forgiveness. Let us imagine our sins being like those scribes and Pharisees, accusing us before our divine Lord, and demanding that he punish us. In fact that is just what Satan does. He tempts us to sin, gains the victory, and then becomes our accuser, our adversary before God. For that reason our Lord described the Holy Spirit as our Advocate, pleading our cause from within the very heart of God. He is the love of God himself consoling us sinners. And so we ought stand before Jesus during Lent with our sins. Our sins will accuse us, if we have a lively conscience. But if we come before Jesus admitting our sins and asking his pardon, and not simply remain with our conscience alone, we shall hear those consoling words of Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you.” All of this we are able to do and experience in every genuine act of contrition, and whenever we go to Confession.

We shall also hear him say, go and sin no more. This too should distinguish the weeks of Lent: namely, a new impulse in our quest for holiness of life. The years will pass quickly for each of us, and the question will be, how well have I used my life for the purpose for which it was given to me? Its purpose is to reach the fullest degree of love and service of God possible for me. In the second reading, St Paul says that the supreme value in his life was to know Christ and to live in him. By comparison with this all else was rubbish, he said. He sought perfection in this. There are many things we try to excel in during life: perhaps in our possessions, in our professional standing, our job, or whatever. But the one thing necessary is, St Paul writes, to know Christ and the power of his risen life in our lives, which is to say the power of grace. Saint Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises presents the retreatant with his greatest colloquy, in which God’s love and grace are prayed for. The one thing we should be praying for day by day which is absolutely and in every sense necessary, is the love and the grace of Christ. Neither life nor death, great possessions or few, health or sickness, important though these things may be in certain real respects, compare with knowing Christ as his genuine, intimate and faithful friend, and following him in his sufferings so as to share in his resurrection. St Paul says, ‘Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me. I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus.’

Let us resolve during Lent to confess our sins, obtain Christ’s pardon, and to set out anew in a vigorous way towards holiness, which is nothing other than the love and the obedient service of Jesus in our everyday life. A great psychiatrist, Victor Frankl, once said that human happiness depends on a person’s having a sense of the meaning of life and living in view of it. The true meaning of life, the one revealed to us by God, is to know, love and serve Jesus as perfectly as possible. Let this Lent involve a profound renewal of our sense of the true meaning of life, which is to belong totally to Jesus.

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