Reflections on Faith - Reflections on Politics and Faith - February 2007
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|February 26, 2007
Many of us were raised with the type of commandments and instructions contained in Scripture: You shall not steal. You shall not lie or speak falsely to one another. You shall not swear falsely by my name, thus profaning the name of your God.” And while the sense of these injunctions – these commandments are still a part of our Christian code of living… we fail to hear and internalize what we have been told that Jesus came not to disavow the earlier commandments – but to give us a new code of living… That code is taken right from the mouth of the Lord Jesus.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” In each of these, Jesus says it is he who is hungry, thirsty, a stranger or ill…
A monsignor back east told this story. An elderly woman who lived alone had a friend stay with her one night. And the friend became curious because although there was a clock in each room of the little apartment, never-the-less, the woman called on the telephone to hear the time just before she went to bed. When the friend asked her why she did that, she responded, “Oh, it’s a habit.. I do it every night. I just like to hear someone’s voice before I go to sleep. The loneliness, the need for a human voice, and it’s all around us, the loneliness of being in a family or being with a roommate and not being able to communicate.
Husbands and wives can live together for 20 or 30 years and not really know each other because they never talk about anything else but the weather, what they’re going to have for dinner, or when they’re going to take off the snow tires and here probably never.
The monsignor continued: how sad it is: husbands and wives, who are lonely in marriage, sons and daughters, who are lonely in a family. Why do teenagers join gangs? It’s because they do not feel they belong at home. They need someone to talk to, someone who will listen to them. And since they do not find that at home, they join a gang and there they’re accepted, listened to, talked with and have a real sense of belonging.
Recently, I was talking with our parishioner Diana …… about the mentoring and friendship program called PARTNERS. She said they had many cases of young kids whose lives have been helped… turned around by having someone willing to be a mentor… just an ear and friend… ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Some of us may wish we could do this sort of thing – and maybe we wouldn’t be good at it. Some of us wish we could do something to help others… and the sad thing is – several times I’ve heard people who say they want to do something but they just keep talking – they never do anything about their verbalizing.
We live in a society that tells us not to judge… I don’t know about that. I think we need to judge things, situations – and people all the time. In fact, one of the Scripture readings says: “ “You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove him… and judge your fellow men justly.”
We have so many areas that we can look at to see if we’re doing all that the Gospel calls us to do. There is a program called Stephen Ministry – a program of helping the sick and lonely and widowed. Could you not consider doing that? And sad to say, we have no one visiting the jails. Do you have any such program in your area? Do you know that in this community – and in many others, there are people here who are not receiving their pay – a payroll that is owed to them? Yes. The Lord said to Moses, Be holy… “You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer.” It is not sufficient that we agree that it is happening and shouldn’t be… Jesus calls us not to be witnesses… but disciples. So these are some thoughts to challenge us this first week of Lent. Don’t you just hate it when someone does this to you? The Lord convicts us – each and every one of us – convicted by His word!
|February 19, 2007
There is a thread – a theme to both readings today: Wisdom. The first reading teaches and reminds where the seat of Wisdom is – where it originates. And the Gospel suggests that, with Wisdom there are times when it is appropriate to beseech the Lord for earthly favors – displays of power. And there are times when it may not be appropriate to entreat Almighty God. How to know which is which? We all ought to pray for the gift of wisdom. Let me ask you to stop for just a few seconds – let us pause and briefly pray for wisdom. And when we’re done, I’m going to present you with a true story that really, really begs for the gift of Wisdom.
Quite recently, I received a communication concerning a deacon in Buffalo, NY. The story told about how the deacon was preaching on a Pro-Life weekend. The deacon gave a homily in which, in part he told about an elected politician who had voted in favor of funding for stem cell research. Specifically, the issue was embryonic stem cell funding. I don’t have the exact text – but it is strongly suggested that the deacon said that this vote – this issue is completely out of line with Catholic teaching… and that it was wrong – even sinful.
And it happened that at one of their three or four weekend Masses – the politician and his family was present. It happened that the congressman got up during the homily and he and his family walked out on the Mass. The congressman felt insulted to be singled out for correction by the deacon. So my first stop is to ask you how you feel about this?
Now, there is more that I can tell you: such as the fact that the bishop issued a correction to the deacon – publicly suggesting he shouldn’t have done this. And, the pastor stood up after the deacon had preached – and apologized to the (departed) congressman. What do you make of this? What is wisdom telling you? Was the deacon correct in what he preached about? Were the bishop and the pastor filled with wisdom in their actions?
Now, here are a couple other factors to consider: the deacon gave the exact same homily at the Saturday evening Mass – and the pastor never said a word of rebuke. This implies to me – you better not correct a politician or anyone while s/he is present. Is there more to consider? This event happened at a south Buffalo parish. It has an old, strong, influential Irish base to it. They are the ones who elected the congressman. And in what ways might the bishop have felt that he must contain the deacon based upon the politics, influence and financial strengths of that sector of the city? I don’t know.
I really would like to hear from you. I really, really would. What do you call this story from what you’ve heard? Praying for Wisdom -- I call this story and example of one of the weaknesses of modern society – the weakness of never rebuking the actions of others – even when they are wrong. I call it a failure of calling sin, sin… because the disease that has set into Christian society today is some skewed view of what sin is. Sin is only a vague, wispy sort of thing… sin is what McVey did or maybe what Saddam did.
Well – we better not say that… I mean – maybe Saddam didn’t mean to have those tens of thousands of people executed. Or as I try to illustrate in our RCIA adult faith classes – sin is over there… sin is out there… sin doesn’t sit here with us. And if it does – today’s Christian has been so ill formed that they don’t believe it’s proper to say that sin is sin. Well what to my wandering eyes should appear – but a news item just received from the Catholic News Agency. The former priest, pastor, professor and administrator at the John Paul II Seminary is now the Bishop of Fargo, ND. His name is Samuel Aquila… and he was one of my professors for one semester. He has just issued a strong challenge to Catholic politicians, reminding them that they have a responsibility to ensure that their actions reflect their Catholic faith. No, Bishop Aquila didn’t name anyone – and that may make those of you squirming over my prior story feel that this is proper handling of such… In his diocesan newspaper column posted on the Diocese of Fargo Web Site, the bishop reminds politicians that, “every act of violence that attacks an innocent human person from the moment of conception to natural death is against the will of God and rejects the inherent dignity of the human person.” Therefore, the Bishop said, “every Catholic politician must recognize and act upon this truth to be a faithful Catholic. Rather, we must allow the truth of God and the truth of the dignity of the human person to guide us in every decision.” Let us pray for Wisdom – capital ‘W’ wisdom – asking God how we can recognize and confront sin as a loving Christian.
|February 12, 2007
ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND VALENTINE'S DAY
May I have your permission to speak of two things this day… one topic is about Lincoln… the other about Valentine’s Day and love… I think… I hope we are far enough removed from the events of those times that I may speak a little bit about Abraham Lincoln without raising the specter of politics. You remember that this is his day -- may I speak of him as perhaps… just perhaps a man given to us as a gift from God as our young country faced a most perilous division. What the country needed then was a person of integrity and backbone – a person unafraid of making tough choices…
Lincoln warned the South in his first Inaugural Address: "In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you.... You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have the most solemn one to preserve, protect and defend it." How’s that for facing truth without equivocation?
Lincoln thought secession illegal, and was willing to use force to defend Federal law and the Union. When Confederate batteries fired on Fort Sumter and forced its surrender, he called on the states for 75,000 volunteers. Four slave states joined the Confederacy but four remained within the Union. The Civil War had begun.
It is perhaps strange that Lincoln would emerge as such a leader. He was born February 12 th in 1809 in Hardin County Kentucky – his parents from Virginia were of undistinguished families.
Lincoln never let the world forget that the Civil War involved an even larger issue. This he stated most movingly in dedicating the military cemetery at Gettysburg: "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." The spirit that guided him was clearly that of his Second Inaugural Address, now inscribed on one wall of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D. C.: "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds.... " Assassination ended the healing efforts and outreach intended by this man who, I believe was of God’s will… Let us honor him in our prayers today.
Now the next topic for this morning is love. We most always speak of loving God… I find that the love expressed by humans somehow helps me to have a heart more disposed to loving God – or at least more willing to express this love for God…
You may know of the composer Robert Schumann. He wrote a piece called Wiedmung – meaning Dedication – dedication to the woman he loved. Affairs of the heart played a large part in Schumann's life. By 1835 he was in love with Clara Wieck (who later was to become one of Europe's most celebrated performers and composers of the time), but her father Herr Wieck did his best to separate them.
They pledged themselves in 1837 but were much apart, and Schumann went through deep depressions. During this period of stress and turmoil from 1838-1839, Schumann created a brilliant piano work for Clara to perform. In 1839 the young couple took legal steps to make her father’s consent unnecessary, and after many trials they were able to marry in 1840. Clara entered into her diary that their marriage was the most beautiful moment of her life.
Widmung (Dedication) is one of the most popular songs in Germany, written by Robert Schumann as he awaited his wedding day. Here are the words – which are admittedly human – I offer them to you in honor of the Valentine’s Day that comes in two days. But I ask you – I ask you to also consider praying these words to Almighty God… these words of Dedication: “ You are my soul, my heart, delight, and sorrow; You are my world wherein I live, You are my heaven into which I soar. Oh -- you are my grave, where deep down I have forever laid my sorrow! You are my rest, my peace; Heaven has destined you for me. Because you love me makes me feel worthy. Your gaze has transfigured me. Your love lifts me above myself, You are my good spirit, my better self!”
Let us thank the Good God for His undying love for us – a love neither merited nor understood… Perhaps we can send the Lord a Valentine’s Day card with the words of Dedication – these words of the composer Robert Schumann.