Saturday, February 26, 2011
You cannot serve both God and Mammon. Mammon is an Aramaic word that means wealth or property. So, Jesus is giving us an important lesson today. We remember that we are still in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. For the past many weeks Jesus has been telling us to avoid sin. We are supposed to rid ourselves of anger, lust, vengeance, and hatred for our enemies. I think we can all agree that these things are bad and that we should try to rid ourselves of them. But, today Jesus tells us something a bit different. Even things that are good, or at least neutral, can harm our relationship with God.
Go ahead, I dare you, try to live without money. Now there are many examples of people throughout the history of the Church who have taken vows of poverty, refusing to own anything. Think of St. Francis and St. Dominic who helped change the world because of their insistence on a simple life. There are still people in our world living out these same vows. Think of the Franciscan Sisters over in Mishawaka, I am constantly amazed by their simplicity and by their deep sense of Joy that comes from this simple life. But, this kind of life is not for everyone. Try to raise a family without money. How can you put food on the table, send your kids to school, and keep a roof over your head without money. Money is a tool, neither good nor bad. It is simply a tool that we should use on the more important things in life: food, clothing, housing, education, etc. But, Christ reminds us today that we can become so fixated on the tool, that it becomes an end in itself, and not a means. If money ever becomes an end, then we are lost. Money will become our Master: we can only have one Master, we cannot serve Christ if we are slaves to money.
Now you might be saying: no problem there! I'm not a slave to money. It is easy for us to hear Jesus' words today and think that he must be talking about those shady, money grubbing people we see in movies, the kind of people who would push an old lady down a flight of stairs to make money. Don't be so sure! This command is directed to every single one of us who has to live in the world. Jesus goes on to explain some of the ways people become enslaved by this passing world, he gives us four commands.
Do not worry about your life. I have met many people who live in constant fear of death, terrified that death is around the next corner. Do not worry about what you will eat or drink. I know I fall into this category! I love food, but our fascination with food can take us away from what really matters, Jesus Christ, who is the bread of life. Do not worry about your body. Here is a big one for us Americans. We are fixated on body image. But, being preoccupied with concerns of the body leads us away from Christ, which is why Christ commands us not to worry about the body. Finally, Jesus commands us not to worry about what we will wear. Clothing is essential. Especially here in South Bend where it seems like winter just goes on and on, but is it really worth the fuss we put into it? I can tell you that my life is pretty simple! I just get up and put on my black clerical outfit, which certainly makes my life easier.
There is a common thread in each of these commands: do not worry. Worrying is a sign that we are serving Mammon. I think all of us, from time to time, fall into worry. Many of us worry about the future: what will tomorrow bring, what will I do if something bad happens, what will I do if something good happens, etc? Jesus forbids us to worry because he wants us to trust in him. As we hear in Isaiah this morning, God never forgets us. Jesus reminds us "Your heavenly Father knows what you need." Put your trust in God, he will be with you tomorrow! Some of us worry about the past. Perhaps we have skeletons in our closet. We have sins and failings in the past that cause us anxiety. In the second reading Paul tells us, it does not concern me to be judged by any human court. Paul certainly had things in his past that were cause for worry: he persecuted the Church. But, he put his trust in God and refused to worry about the past, since he trusted in the Lord's mercy.
Jesus commands us not to worry. Perhaps this is the most difficult command he has ever given us. We have much to worry about, things in the past, things in the future. But, if Christ is going to be our Master, if we believe in him and want to be with him forever in the life to come, we have to trust in him. This is why we mustn't worry about the past, we mustn't worry about the future, we should only live today and live it in communion with Christ. This is why we continually come here to the Mass to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. It reminds us that we only have today to establish a relationship with Christ. We cannot worry about the past, it is gone. We cannot worry about the future, it will never be here. Today Christ is here in the Holy Eucharist and he asks you a simple question: Will you trust in me?
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
The following is a handout I've created for tonight's class where we will be discussing the Gifts of the Spirit. It helps to have a little definition for each of the gifts. So these are culled from Joseph Fitzmyer's 2008 Anchor Bible Commentary on 1st Corinthians.
Gifts of the Spirit (pneumatikos) as found in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12 (quotes from Fitzmyer, 1 Corinthians, Anchor Yale Bible, 2008)
- Utterance of Wisdom: would mean the power to communicate profound Christian truths to others, because Paul is not speaking merely of the internal gift, but the way it is manifested (Fitzmyer, 466).
- Utterance of Knowledge: it is difficult to know what Paul means, how is knowledge different from wisdom. Perhaps, "knowledge may mean such elementary truths as knowing that 'an idol is nothing at all in this world'" (466)
- Faith: not the same faith that is the response to the gospel; rather, "it is the 'faith to move mountains,' or perhaps 'a faith especially effective in sustaining others'" (466)
- Gifts of healing: "'gifts' resulting in different kinds of cures" (467).
- Working of mighty deeds: Grk: dynameis "is often used in the NT for the wondrous deeds or miracles of Jesus recounted in the Gospels" (467).
- Prophecy: "dynamic, effective, and hortatory preaching of the gospel as a gift of the Spirit" (467)
- Discernment of Spirits: "various abilities to evaluate and distinguish the origin of diverse promptings in life, whether they come from God, or Satan, or other human beings" (467).
- Kinds of Tongues: perhaps one of the most difficult for us to understand. Two basic possibilities:
- "As utterances made outside the normal pattern of intelligible speech, sometimes translated as 'ecstatic utterance.'
- "Foreign, unintelligible human utterances," i.e. foreign languages.
- "As utterances made outside the normal pattern of intelligible speech, sometimes translated as 'ecstatic utterance.'
Saturday, February 5, 2011
You are the light of the world; you are salt of the earth. Today as Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount he gives us some insight into what it means to be Christian. We are to be salt and light, and as salt we cannot become flavorless, and as light we cannot be hidden. Both of these images give us a clue into our relationship with the world at large.
First, salt is and was used as a seasoning. Alton Brown, one of my favorite TV chefs, says that all of cooking is just a matter of managing heat and salt. In recent years, salt has taken a bit of a PR hit, being blamed for high blood pressure and heart disease. But, the fact remains that we like salt. It adds depth and flavor to our food. My Mom is a huge salt fanatic. In fact she always says that French Fries were invented because it looks strange to eat salt and ketchup with a spoon. We are the salt of the earth. So we are supposed to give the world flavor. The culture we live in should benefit by our presence as food benefits from a dash of salt. This means that Christians are not supposed to be drab and boring. Rather, Christians are called to be exciting and engaging. Some of the greatest poets, novelist, actors, athletes, and musicians have been Catholics. However, in our modern times it seems that much of what makes our culture interesting has become primarily a secular domain. This is not right. We should see culture as a place where a Christian imagination can flourish. So, we should not abandon our uniqueness because we are Catholic; rather, it should be used to give flavor to the culture.
There was a second use for salt in the days past. Before the invention of the refrigerator, salt was used as a preservative. Meat, when placed in a barrel of salt, would keep through the year. So, just as we are supposed to provide flavor to the culture, I think we should also work to preserve what is good in the world. People will often say to me: "Father, this world is really going down the tubes." In many ways this might be correct, but we should not abandon the world, but we should work to make the world a better place. Jesus calls us the salt of the earth, so we should give the culture a genuine flavor and preserve culture by defend what is right.
Still, Jesus does not end there. He also calls us to be light of the world. Let your light shine before all so that they might see your good works and give glory to God. Our first reading today tells us a few ways that we can make this happen: share your bread with the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, clothe the naked, do not turn your back on those who need you etc. Jesus commands us to be the light of the world. That means that an essential part of our baptismal vocation to holiness is the care of others. On the day of our baptism we all received a lit candle (or our Godparents received it for us) and we heard: receive the light of Christ. This light, which represents the presence of God dwelling within us, was not given for our enjoyment. Rather, Christ is the light of the world. He longs to shine into the darkness. However, he has chosen to use us as his instruments. His light will shine into the world, but he decided to have the light shine through his disciples. Christ's light will only shine if it comes through us.
Jesus places some serious demands upon us today. As the salt of the earth, we are called to flavor and preserve authentic culture. As the light of the world, we are to shine the light of Christ into the dark places. Both of these metaphors seem to imply certain actions. Yet, we must remember one simple fact. Before salt can be used to flavor something, it first must have flavor. A candle must be lit before it can cast light into the room. For us to be salt and light, we must first come into contact with Christ. Our relationship with Christ must be the seasoning of our lives. Hopefully your relationship with Christ is what gives your life meaning and direction. Very often, I think we get the impression that Christianity is a matter of avoiding mortal sins. Certainly it is important to avoid mortal sins, but the simple avoidance of sin is a bland existence. We are supposed to be full of flavor, we only get that with a living and vital relationship with Christ, which is fed by our daily prayer. St Paul tells us in the Second Reading that he was resolved to know nothing but Christ and him crucified. What a beautiful way to describe the necessary relationship with Christ. Do you know Christ? Do you know what it means that he was crucified? Have you experienced that love for yourself? Only when we do that can we expect to be good for anything else. Only if we have flavor, only if we have received light from Christ, can we give flavor, give light.
I think this is what the sacraments do for us. On the day of our baptism we received the light of Christ and here at this Mass we receive the Holy Eucharist. We come in contact with Christ, he fills us so that we might have something to offer the rest of the world.