“He withdrew from that place.”

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus realized that: “The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death” (Mt 12:14). Jesus did not then start to plan how he would defend himself against their plot, he did not arm his supporters, nor is there any indication that Jesus let the fact that he was a marked man bother him. What did Jesus do with this bit of news?
“He withdrew from that place” (Mt. 12:15) and cured those who followed him. Was Jesus being a coward by withdrawing? No. Jesus was refusing to engage or give any of his time or energy to their negativity. He focused on what he was about and that was continuing the mission that God had sent him to achieve, which was to help bring about the salvation of humanity and the world, and call those who would work with him to continue his mission.
Many of us will hopefully not receive death threats, but many of us have and will witness and/or receive critical, negative, belittling, or dehumanizing looks, words, and outright actions to cause physical, mental, emotional or spiritual harm, just in the course of our daily interactions. For those of us who choose to practice publicly the teachings of Jesus, we may receive even more!
Our common response to the many forms of perceived or actual animosity directed toward us is to react. Our reactions generally are based on learned defense mechanisms we have adopted through our lives. Often when we react, we slip into survival mode, experience increased anxiety, defensiveness, anger as well as a myriad of other emotions. Ideally, as we mature in our faith, our response is to draw into the present moment, breath, and call upon God’s guidance to direct us such that we can act more mindfully and be advocates of God’s grace.
Many times the best way to diffuse negativity is to do as Jesus did in today’s Gospel, resist to engage in it altogether and continue to be about enacting God’s will in our life. May we recall a time that we have taken offense and reacted in kind toward someone who pushed our buttons and got under our skin. Jesus, show us how we could have reacted differently in that situation and help us to imagine doing so. Send the Holy Spirit to guide and help us to be more patient and understanding in the future.
Life is short in the best of scenarios, let us not take a day or moment for granted, nor give away our precious time to engaging in negative reactions. Instead may we begin our day today by meditating on these words attributed to St. Teresa of Avila (1514-1582):
“Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.”

Photo: 2010 Hike, taking a walk is often a good way to decompress and leave negativity behind! Photo credit – Jack McKee
Link for the Mass readings for Saturday, July 20, 2019

Jesus desires mercy, are we willing to merciful in our encounters with one another?

I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.” (Mt 12:6-8).
Jesus continues to rock established regulations and practices. Here he is challenging the understanding of the Sabbath itself when justifying the accusations leveled toward his disciples who were picking and eating grain on the Sabbath, and he does so in a profound way by saying that, “something greater than the temple is here.” Present in the heart of the temple, the area called the Holy of Holies, was the ark of the covenant. Atop the ark was the lid called the mercy seat of God. Jews believed that this was where God sat and when the blood of atonement was offered from sacrifices, God’s mercy was offered to the people. In the temple then, was the mercy seat, the very presence of God.
Jesus’ claim that he is greater than the temple is putting him on the same level as God. A blasphemous statement to say the least, unless of course, he is God. Jesus even doubles down by claiming that he is the Lord of the sabbath; Jesus is God!
In quoting Hosea 6:6: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”, Jesus is not only saying that he is the something greater, but that his Way is something greater. One of the foundational points of the Way of Jesus is mercy. Through the incarnation, the Son of God dwelt among us, became one with us in our humanity. He restored our dignity in the midst of our brokenness. What Jesus is saying, in his defense of his disciples eating from the grains of wheat on the Sabbath, he is saying to us today, and that is: “What is owed to every human being on the basis of his or her human dignity is personal respect, personal acceptance, and personal care” (Kasper 2014, 202).
We as the Church, in our participation in the life of Christ become the Body of Christ and are to follow Jesus in his bestowing acts of mercy on our neighbor. “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his [or her] spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. 2447).
Let us review the spiritual and corporal works of mercy above and choose one to practice this week. May we desire and seek the mercy of God, be open to receiving it, and be open to sharing his mercy. May we pray for and communicate with our leaders that they apply works of mercy regarding a consistent ethic of life respecting the dignity of all people living in and seeking to come to our countries. Let us draw strength and courage from Jesus, so to be willing to face our own brokenness and come to healing, while at the same time bestowing mercy; which is “the willingness to enter the chaos of another” (Keenan, 2015).
Photo: Soldier giving refugee child water accessed from powerful article, A Tale of Children and Smugglers, by Baher Kamal, from Wall Street Journal from May 2017. Would that our president, administration and Congress read and implement it, especially regarding the quote from the UNICEF six-point agenda that stresses the need for the G7 to protect child refugees and migrants.
Link for the Mass readings for Friday, July 19, 2019
Kasper, Walter. Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life. NY: Paulist Press, 2004.
Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church: Revised in Accordance with the Official Latin Text Promulgated by Pope John Paul II. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997.
Keenan SJ, James. “The Scandal of Mercy Excludes No One.” Thinking Faith. December 4, 2015.

When we turn to Jesus, he will help to lift our burdens.

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
Scripture scholar, Fr. Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, states that in this passage Jesus’ invitation was given to those who are not yet his disciples, those Jews who do not yet believe in him and his way. He also intuits that Jesus is calling them from the heavy burdens laid upon them by the scribes and Pharisees and inviting them to accept his burden that is lighter (cf. Harrington , 167). We can read this in Matthew 4:3: “They tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”
The key to the conviction that Jesus levels against the Pharisees is that they impose the law, but do nothing to assist those they are teaching. I would say the demands of Jesus are even more challenging than those of the Pharisees, Sadducees, or the scribes! I shared yesterday one of the six antitheses, here is another: “You have heard that it was said… whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to the judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna” (Mt5:21-22). Jesus is equating calling someone Raqa – an air-head, or calling someone a fool akin to murder. Our words can destroy or empower! We need to choose our words wisely.
The difference between Jesus and many of the religious leadership of his time, is that Jesus, the Son of God in the fullness of his divinity, entered into the chaos of our humanity. As a human being, he walks among us and suffers along with us. He offers to yoke himself to us and so to carry the burden with us, making it lighter. Many impose burdens on us, we impose burdens on others, as did the Pharisees. We also impose them on ourselves and turn away from the invitation of Jesus’ help.
A handful of injuries I have suffered through the years were because I attempted to lift or carry something beyond my strength, instead of seeking assistance from another. I would think, “I can do it, I don’t need any help!” That is just the physical; there are also the mental and emotional burdens of anxiety, doubt, pride, fear, worry. This is not Jesus’ way. He offers a path for us to follow that leads us to joy, peace, and rest in this life and fulfillment in the next. No matter what pain, suffering, trial or challenge we are facing right now, we do not have to go through it alone. We need to remember to reach out our hand to Jesus, and then we will find his hand already waiting there to grasp ours.
We will find rest not in going it alone but in our collaboration with Jesus. In aligning ourselves with God’s will life isn’t necessarily going to be easier, but he will give us the strength and peace of mind to endure. Let us take our first step together today, hand in hand with Jesus, and so find rest in knowing that we are not alone! Also, may we be kind to those in our midst with our words, actions and faces. We need to resist the temptation of reacting toward others but instead be present and understanding, for we are not aware of the burdens they carry. Offer instead a simple smile which can make a heavy load just a little lighter.
Photo: Jesus behind the altar of St Peter Italian Catholic Church, Los Angeles, where I went to Mass last weekend.
Harrington, S.J. Daniel J. The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina, edited by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007.
Link for the Mass readings for Thursday, July 18, 2019

Tradition is not to become cast aside or made a cult, but continually clarified, renewed and deepened in the love of Jesus.

“At that time Jesus exclaimed: ‘I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike’” (Mt 11:25).
Why did the wise and the learned, referring to the Sadducees, Pharisees and scribes, reject Jesus? One possibility is that Jesus challenged their idol of tradition. Even though Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (cf. Mt 5:17), the invitation to go deeper was and continues to be challenging. This is certainly highlighted in the six antitheses, Jesus shared during his Sermon on the Mount. Here is one such example: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil” (Mt 5: 28). Offer no resistance to one who is evil? Not only hard to swallow for people of Jesus’ time, but for us today as well.
Jesus offered then and continues to offer us today the intimacy of the Trinitarian Love of God shared between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To be fully alive, to share in his Love, we need to resist being governed by our fear and holding blindly on to tradition for its own sake. Instead we need to be open to growth, change, and renewal. Gerhard Lohfink, in his book, No Irrelevant Jesus, quotes the Polish philosopher Leszak Kolakowski: “A society in which tradition becomes a cult is condemned to stagnation; a society that tries to live entirely through revolt against tradition condemns itself to destruction” (Lohfink 2014, 2).
Many have left the Church because they feel we are too steeped in tradition, rules, and laws, but in their throwing the baby out with the bathwater, they have no secure ground or foundation, no anchor in their life. Others remain hunkered down entrenched in a bunker of tradition fearing the secular tide, holding on to tradition, not to Jesus. Both tendencies weaken us because we are choosing our self over accepting Jesus’ invitation to let go and enter into the living stream of the communal Love of the Trinity we can then share with one another.
Jesus sees the potential we have as well as our brokenness and fear. He meets us where we are, as we are, in our present condition, and from that starting point he invites us to crawl, then to walk, to run, and eventually to fly – to experience and share the experience of his unconditional Love. We need to resist the extremes of rejecting tradition altogether or idolizing tradition alone, but instead build on the foundation we have been given; Jesus Christ: “The Way, the Truth and the Life” (cf Jn 14:6). Within the life of the Church, “we must not do away with its traditions, but at the same time it must continually clarify, renew, and deepen them” (Lohfink 2014, 2).
May we entrust ourselves to the Holy Spirit and ask him to burn away those small “t” traditions that keep us from God, so to reveal to us those capital “T” Traditions, that which remains from his purifying fire of Love. In this way, we may come to know that which in reality is the foundation of our identity that leads us to being people of integrity. May we be open to receiving that which Jesus wants to teach and reveal to us, learn it, and live it in our everyday lives!
Photo: Collection of just a few artistic representations of Jesus. Historically, Jesus was a Palestinian Jew, yet there have been wonderful, diverse depictions from many parts of the world. Which picture of Jesus do you most identify with?
Lohfink, Gehrhard. No Irrelevant Jesus: On Jesus and the Church Today. Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2014.
Link for the Mass readings for, Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Repent and believe in the Gospel.

“Jesus began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented.” (Mt 11:20).
To encounter Jesus is to be invited to change. Jesus shines the light of his love and mercy into the darkness of our own fallen nature, where we are wounded, sinful, and broken. He invites us to repentance, healing, and reconciliation. A wonderful invitation, but why would we turn away? The light is too bright.
Facing our own darkness and brokenness is not easy and can be frightening as well as intimidating. That is why we are so vulnerable to temptations, distractions, and diversions. We are not able to sit still because we want to keep moving so as not to face our fear and pain, nor let go of our false senses of security, control, and the glitter of apparent goods.
Jesus invites us today to enter into his stillness and silence where we can hear the word of his Father and experience the love of the Holy Spirit. In the silence, we come to encounter the choice to change our hearts and minds, to repent: to turn away from our sin and back to God.
God loves us more than we can ever mess up, more than we can ever imagine, and he does not define us by our worst mistakes. Jesus’ arms are wide open to receive us in the midst of our brokenness, pain, and sin, but we must be willing to stop running and be still long enough to experience and feel his forgiving, loving and healing embrace. Once doing so, we are then to offer the same to others.
“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

Photo: Morning sunrise, a good day for repentance, forgiveness and to begin again.
Link for the Mass readings for Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Living the teachings of Jesus may not always bring peace but it will bring the light of truth.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword” (Mt 10:34).
Words to live by from the King of Peace. The reality of this statement is the reality of his mission. Jesus entered the lives of individuals. Some said yes to following him and some said no; some saying yes and no within the same family. The image of the sword represents how sharp and stark this choice could cut. If you do not think that is true, just look at the polarization in our country right now. The cut between democrat and republican bleeds quite deep.
During the time of Jesus and for most within the first generation of believers, there was not a luke-warm choice. You were either for Jesus or against Jesus. Unfortunately, today, for too many, the Gospel is being shaped more by politics than the Gospel shaping politics. To live as disciples of Jesus and to actively engage in living out the teachings of the Gospel, it is more important that we follow Jesus, putting him first before any politician or political party. The platforms of democrats, independents, libertarians, and republicans are all deficient in fully following the teachings of Jesus.
We, who have chosen to follow Jesus, need to speak truth to the issues and hold leaders accountable on all sides. Our starting point for any issue needs to be respecting, first and foremost, the dignity of the person from the moment of conception and everywhere in between until natural death as well as promoting a healthy stewardship of God’s creation. In that dialogue, dialogue not monologue, we need to respect those to whom we share our views with and be willing to also listen in turn. In actuality, listening first and more often, is a good posture to assume. We can and will disagree, but we need to resist devolving into demonizing one another.
There are those who promote a right to choose taking the life of their own unborn, there are those who support taking children away from their parents for seeking asylum and weeks and months later still not returning them, and those refusing to welcome the refugee and the migrant fleeing from dire situations to discourage people coming into this country. There are those who say we can’t pray in our schools, while others say we can’t take a knee to protest the disproportionate unjust killings of people of color by our law enforcement agencies. Mass murders, including the death of students in our schools as well as the daily violence in our cities abound. The addiction rate of our youth in many rural and urban areas has reached epidemic proportions with little concrete help and support, while equal access to education, jobs, and health care is woefully unbalanced.
These issues are complex and there is no silver bullet that will solve them. When Jesus said, “I have come to bring not peace but the sword” (Mt 10:34), he meant that we are not to settle for a false peace of appeasement to get along and water down the Gospel message. We must wield his sword, which is the Word of God, that speaks truth to power. When seeking to counteract a culture of death to build a culture of life, we must resist making political party affiliations and leaders into our idols, we must resist the urge to give in to our fears and prejudices.
We must refuse to contribute to the dehumanization and demonization of others in our country, nor fall into hopelessness, indifference and despair, but instead be a people of hope, mercy, and love in each and every encounter such that we promote a consistent ethic of life. May we make the Word of God a reality in our time and generation by immersing ourselves in the teachings of Jesus, applying them to our lives, speaking the truth of the Gospel, praying for all of our leaders, for one another, and inviting the Holy Spirit to give us the the ears to hear, the words to speak, and the actions to engage in.
In following Jesus in these ways, and putting into practice the words of the Prophet Isaiah by ceasing to do evil, learning to do good, and making justice our aim (cf. Isaiah 1:15-17), we will cause disruption and face conflict but if we remain in the word of Jesus, we will truly be his disciples, and we will know the truth and the truth will set us free (cf Jn 8:31-32).

Photo: Sunrise at St Peter Catholic Church. As the sun rises each day, may Jesus, the Son of God rise in our hearts.
Link for the Mass readings for Monday, July 15, 2019

Are we willing to act as the Good Samaritan and “go and do likewise”?

In today’s Gospel of Luke 10:25-37, Jesus is challenged by “a scholar of the law”, most likely one of the scribes. Scribes were among the two percent or so who were literate and used their skill as interpreters of the law. This scholar was seeking to embarrass and shame Jesus in front of those who had gathered around them so to discredit this upstart peasant.
Instead of being shamed, Jesus used the encounter as a powerful teaching moment for the scribe and those who gathered to listen then and today. Jesus answered the scribe’s question with another: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” The scribe masterfully quoted the Torah from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18 regarding how we are to love God and neighbor. Jesus showed agreement with the scribe’s interpretation when he said, “You have answered correctly” showing again that he has not come to abolish the Law but fulfill it. The fulfillment here is not just knowing about the Law, not just knowing the Law, but putting the Law into practice, “do this and you will live.” 
Not comfortable having the tables turned on him, the scribe sought to save face or “justify himself” by asking Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” The scribe again knew full well the answer was his “own people” a fellow Israelite, as found in Leviticus 19:13-18. Jesus will raise the bar higher again with his presentation of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
A man is completely stripped and beaten such that he is unrecognizable. The listeners do not know if this man is a Jew or a Gentile. The only ones identified in the parable are the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan. For the priest and the Levite, they both chose the same course of action, they “passed by on the opposite side.” Each of them, the reasons are not shared by Jesus, refused to come close. They chose not to encounter the wounded man. The Samaritan was willing to risk because “he was moved with compassion.”
The Samaritan, most likely a trader and traveled these roads before, had mercy on this man left for dead. He, unlike the priest and the Levite who kept the man at a distance, was willing to come close to encounter and enter into the chaos of this stranger. He did not allow his fear, bias, prejudice, and/or indifference to dictate his actions, but instead was moved without hesitation to provide assistance.
The scribe, at the end of the parable, again answered correctly when he was asked, “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
The scribe in today’s Gospel account from Luke began his encounter with Jesus with the sole intent of making Jesus look foolish, to diminish him. Jesus, instead of retaliating, taught him with his own words. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength. We are to embrace our God who is willing to come close to us, who has compassion for us and is willing to show us his mercy because he is willing to enter into the chaos of our lives. He comes close to us to fill us with his love to overflowing such that we will move beyond our own selfish limitations, to allow ourselves to be moved with compassion, to love our neighbor, who is everyone.
The travesty of what is happening on our southern border regarding our brothers and sisters seeking asylum or a better life is our failure, our refusal, and/or our unwillingness to come close, to encounter, to hear the parable of the Good Samaritan. We refuse to see those seeking refuge and so many “others” as neighbors, as human beings, as brothers and sisters, and children of God. Too many of us have grown callous and as Pope Francis has said, have forgotten how to weep.
Jesus calls us to open ourselves up to love, to risk, to show compassion, and mercy to others, for the Gospel is not just for a select few. We do not know if the scribe curved in upon himself, refused to repent, or accepted the teaching of Jesus to “Go and do likewise”, to go and live his life like the Good Samaritan, who without hesitation was willing to provide aid for his brother in dire need. Will we repent from our fears, biases, prejudices, and indifference and go and do likewise, go without hesitation, to serve anyone who is need? If we do so, we will live and have eternal life.

Photo credit: Stuart Palley/Washington Post 10/13/18 picture of Magale Nieto Romero and her son, Jose Torentino Nieto, at the Nogales Port seeking asylum.
Link for the Mass readings for Sunday, July 14, 2019