Monday, March 8, 2010

Prayers today: My soul is longing and pining for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. (Ps 83:3)

God of mercy, free your Church from sin and protect it from evil. Guide us, for we cannot be saved without you. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,... Amen.

St. John of God (1495-1550)

Having given up active Christian belief while a soldier, John was 40 before the depth of his sinfulness began to dawn on him. He decided to give the rest of his life to God’s service, and headed at once for Africa, where he hoped to free captive Christians and, possibly, be martyred. He was soon advised that his desire for martyrdom was not spiritually well based, and returned to Spain and the relatively prosaic activity of a religious goods store. Yet he was still not settled. Moved initially by a sermon of Blessed John of Avila, he one day engaged in a public beating of himself, begging mercy and wildly repenting for his past life. Committed to a mental hospital for these actions, John was visited by Blessed John, who advised him to be more actively involved in tending to the needs of others rather than in enduring personal hardships. John gained peace of heart, and shortly after left the hospital to begin work among the poor. He established a house where he wisely tended to the needs of the sick poor, at first doing his own begging. But excited by the saint’s great work and inspired by his devotion, many people began to back him up with money and provisions. Among them were the archbishop and marquis of Tarifa. Behind John’s outward acts of total concern and love for Christ’s sick poor was a deep interior prayer life which was reflected in his spirit of humility. These qualities attracted helpers who, 20 years after John’s death, formed the Brothers Hospitallers, now a worldwide religious order. John became ill after 10 years of service but tried to disguise his ill health. He began to put the hospital’s administrative work into order and appointed a leader for his helpers. He died under the care of a spiritual friend and admirer, Lady Ana Ossorio. The archbishop called John of God to him in response to a complaint that he was keeping tramps and immoral women in his hospital. In submission John fell on his knees and said: “The Son of Man came for sinners, and we are bound to seek their conversion. I am unfaithful to my vocation because I neglect this, but I confess that I know of no bad person in my hospital except myself alone, who am indeed unworthy to eat the bread of the poor.” The archbishop could only trust in John’s sincerity and humility, and dismissed him with deep respect.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (4.24~30)

Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his home town. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed — only Naaman the Syrian." All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove Him out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But He walked right through the crowd and went on His way.

Sin and the good
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

There are currents of philosophical thought which regard objective morality as a phantom. The “good” — meaning that which is morally good — is deemed to be nothing more than the preferable, or the most useful, or the most in accord with aesthetic taste, or whatever. In terms of objective reality, the “good” and the “ought” are reducible to whatever happens to be the fact. Whatever is, is what “ought” be. Mere facts are all that there are, and any contours of a moral character in these facts are simply one’s subjective reactions. Hence there is no objective moral system, absolutely speaking. Now, this view is remarkable because just as the sheer fact of reality and the world is evident, so is “the good” and “the ought” evident. Duty is a fact of life just as much as houses and other material things. If any theory does not accept the manifest moral phenomenon of duty then it is difficult to know how to proceed in the discussion. John Henry Newman, in his study of the nature of faith, states that he begins with the fact that we have a conscience. This, to him, is evident — which is to say that the objective moral realm is evident, even if it is not clear whether this or that proposed course of action is morally obligatory. But now, granted the manifest fact that there are objective moral obligations, the next striking feature of human life is that moral obligation can be calmly and absolutely rejected. The “good” and the “ought” can easily be avoided, flouted, ignored, greatly weakened and crushed. It is possible for a man to set out on a life-long course of rejecting the “ought” and even destroying it. His mind and heart will become blinded and depraved by his rejection of the “ought,” and this will lead him to reject the “ought” the more. The destruction of the human being is set in train most especially by his rejection of what is morally good, and his acceptance of what is morally bad. We might keep healthy by good exercise and a proper diet, but our fundamental and everlasting health is determined by our response to the “ought.” The great issue of life and history is the human response to what is good.

We see this encapsulated in our Gospel passage today ( Saint Luke 4.24~30). Our Lord is speaking to His own townspeople. He stands before them, having returned from His developing prophetic ministry in Judea and Galilee. They had heard about it, for the fame of Our Lord had gone forth throughout the country. While during His years growing up in Nazareth His true nature and incomparable grandeur would not have been suspected — which shows the strength and completeness of the Incarnation — His relatives and townsmen must have seen a little of the great goodness of His life. They must have understood something of His immense probity, and we see something of this in John the Baptist’s response when Our Lord presented Himself to him for baptism. “It is You who ought be baptizing me,” he said to Jesus. Jesus did not deny it, but asked that the baptism proceed for it was fitting in view of God’s plan. John the Baptist knew Christ’s goodness of life, and, as I have just said, presumably His townsmen in Nazareth also divined something of it. So there He stood, speaking to them in the Synagogue, the very good man whom they knew so well. All their eyes were upon Him. But what happened? When the “ought” was presented to them, they rebelled and attempted to crush it. Our Lord’s own person embodied all of moral grandeur, and all that was morally required. The “ought” was that they accept His person and His teaching and revelation that He was the promised Messiah. But they refused to do what they “ought” to have done. Our Lord could read their hearts and warned them by pointing to similar instances in the Scriptures. They would be passed by if they did not change. “I tell you the truth," He continued, "no prophet is accepted in his home town. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed— only Naaman the Syrian.”

The people of Nazareth — at least a significant section of them — attempted to kill Our Lord. It was an omen of what was to come, and it manifested the mystery of sin. We are able to apprehend clearly that the good ought be done and evil ought be avoided. But we are also able to disregard this fundamental natural law. We disregard and flout it in its particular embodiments. The fullest and most perfect embodiment of the “good” is the Person of Jesus Christ. We can accept Him in love and in faith, or we can reject Him. A striking instance of the rejection of Him occurred not long into His public ministry, when the people there attempted to do away with Him. Let us take heed, then, and preserve our hearts for Jesus Christ, resisting any tendency to dally with sin and evil.

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