Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Communal Dimension of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Biblical Reflection for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time A

By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

TORONTO, AUG. 30, 2011 ( Today's Gospel passage from Matthew 18:15-20 compels us to consider the essential elements in the process of forgiveness among members of the Church community. Matthew's text stresses the fraternal correction of members who sin; the importance of the disciples' prayer (19-20); and the continuous need for forgiveness that must be extended to repentant members of the Christian community (21-35).

At Caesarea Philippi, we learned that Peter is the foundation on which the Lord builds the edifice of the Church. Peter is entrusted with the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to open or close it to people as he sees fit. Peter will be able to bind or to loose, in the sense of establishing or prohibiting whatever he deems necessary for the life of the Church. Peter is entrusted with the keys. In Verse 18 of today's Gospel, we see an almost identical repeat of the expression found in 16:19, and many understand it as granting to all the disciples what was previously given to Peter alone.

The harsh language about Gentile and tax collector in today's Gospel likely reflects a certain period in Matthew's Church community when it was probably composed of Jewish Christians. Just as observant Jews avoided the company of Gentiles and tax collectors, so must the congregation of Christian disciples separate itself from the arrogantly sinful members who refused to repent even when convicted of their sin by the whole Church. Such individuals are to be set outside the fellowship of the community.

The Church's teaching on penance and reconciliation

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that sin is before all else an offense against God, a rupture of communion with him. At the same time it damages communion with the Church. For this reason conversion entails both God's forgiveness and reconciliation with the Church, which are expressed and accomplished liturgically by the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. Only God forgives sins. Since he is the Son of God, Jesus says of himself, "The Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins" and exercises this divine power: "Your sins are forgiven" (CCC 1441).

Binding and loosing

The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to explain the meaning of the "binding and loosing" in today's Gospel. This ecclesial dimension of their task is expressed most notably in Christ's solemn words to Simon Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (CCC 1444). The office of binding and loosing that was given to Peter was also assigned to the college of the apostles united to its head. The words bind and loose mean: Whomever you exclude from your communion, will be excluded from communion with God; whomever you receive anew into your communion, God will welcome back into his. Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God (CCC 1445).

Christ instituted the sacrament of penance for all sinful members of his Church: above all for those who, since baptism, have fallen into grave sin, and have thus lost their baptismal grace and wounded ecclesial communion (CCC 1446).

More than forgiving and forgetting

Forgiveness never means to overlook what someone has done to us. The emotions we feel when someone has wronged us are genuine, real, upsetting, and they must be honestly and painfully acknowledged and dealt with. They can provide a way of healing with the hurt and of moving toward healing and forgiveness. Harboring feelings of resentment, unforgiveness, anger, hate and rage can prevent the healing process from ever beginning. To forgive is not to say that what others did to us was okay. To genuinely forgive means that I refuse to allow the hurt to prevent me from growing and moving forward. If I refuse to move forward, wallowing in my own hurt and anger, I become paralyzed by the evil that has taken place.

An unforgiving spirit and festering resentment harden my heart and block it up from any flow of love. I am terribly diminished when I cannot forgive others. If I am sincere about forgiveness, I must allow God to remove my hard-heartedness and meanness of spirit. Forgiveness does not mean forgetfulness. It is rather a conscious decision that I make in my head, and pray that it slowly descends to my heart.

What are some painful examples of forgiveness in action today? Forgiving the person who murdered my innocent child does not mean to push for them to be released from prison. To forgive the husband who has been routinely violent does not necessarily mean choosing to take him back after violence and infidelity. To speak rationally to the wife who left her husband and children for another partner does not condone the terrible suffering that followed for the entire family. To forgive the priest who has abused children does not mean advocating for his return to active ministry around children. To speak honestly to the boyfriend who abandoned the young woman when she found herself pregnant and refused to have an abortion as an easy way out of the mess is the beginning of forgiveness and healing for all involved. We need clear thinking when it comes to making wise, compassionate judgments about the great, ambiguous situations in which we often find ourselves.

The frequently used expression "forgive and forget" is not a scriptural or particularly Christian saying. Jesus offers us another way in which we can forgive even while remembering a past hurt. When I forgive in the name of Jesus Christ, and with his strength and presence, I can actually help others who have been deeply hurt and begin the healing process. Just as there is nothing that one human being cannot do to another, there is nothing that one human being cannot forgive another, with the help and grace of Jesus.

Amish Forgiveness

In light of today's Gospel on the necessity of forgiveness, I wish to recall a tragic incident that occurred several years ago in the United States that caused the entire world to reflect on the meaning of forgiveness. I know how much the story jarred me in my own understanding of forgiveness.

The Amish school shooting at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, in Bart Township of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, took place Oct. 2, 2006. A lone gunman, Charles Roberts IV, stormed the Amish School, releasing 15 boys and four adults before tying up and shooting 10 young girls. Roberts then killed himself.

On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls warned some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, "We must not think evil of this man." Another Amish father noted, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God."

An Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted the killer's widow, parents, and parents-in-law. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts' funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims.

Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace and mercy. She wrote, "Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you've given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you."

Toward authentic reconciliation and hope

Many people criticized the quick and complete forgiveness with which the Amish responded, insisting that forgiveness is inappropriate when no remorse has been expressed, and that such an attitude runs the risk of denying the existence of evil. Those who have studied Amish life noted that "letting go of grudges" is a deeply rooted value in Amish culture. They explained that the Amish willingness to forgo vengeance does not undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong, but rather constitutes a first step toward real reconciliation and a future that is filled with realistic hope.

The emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation in the response of the Amish community was widely discussed in the international media. Forgiveness is woven into the fabric of Amish faith. Such courage to forgive jolted the world as much as the brutal killing itself. I have often felt that the transforming power of forgiveness may be the one redeeming thing that emerged from the horrendous massacre at Nickel Mines in 2006.

The Amish forgiveness raises many thorny questions for us. It may be one thing to forgive a mentally ill killer; but what about those who are not out of their minds, who intentionally murder or threaten to do so for political ends or personal retaliation? How does forgiveness relate to justice? If everyone forgave so quickly, would it truly transform human relations or lead to civil anarchy?

Watchers of the morn

Today's first reading from the prophet Ezekiel (33:7-9) uses the expression "watchman for the house of Israel" (2). This word "watchman" or "sentinel" speaks of someone who will announce salvation (Chapters 33-48), just as the same word (3:17-21) referred to Ezekiel's ministry to announce judgment (Chapters 3-24). The use of the word "watchman" or sentinel certainly evokes the memories of Pope John Paul II's use of that word during World Youth Day 2000 in Rome and again in the preparation of World Youth Day 2002 in Canada.

In his message announcing World Youth Day 2002, Blessed John Paul II wrote: "You are the light of the world. ..." For those who first heard Jesus, as for us, the symbol of light evokes the desire for truth and the thirst for the fullness of knowledge that are imprinted deep within every human being. When the light fades or vanishes altogether, we no longer see things as they really are. In the heart of the night we can feel frightened and insecure, and we impatiently await the coming of the light of dawn. Dear young people, it is up to you to be the watchmen of the morning (cf. Is 21:11-12) who announce the coming of the sun who is the Risen Christ!"

In today's second reading from St. Paul's letter to the Romans (13:8-10), Paul considers the obligations of charity. When love directs the moral decision-making of those who bear the name of Christian, the interest of law is safeguarded (9). Love anticipates the purpose of public legislation, namely, to secure the best interests of all citizens.

Through World Youth Days, young people are commissioned to be watchers of the morning, bearing the light of Christ and announcing hope and salvation to a world often steeped in darkness and despair. There is no better school of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace than World Youth Days that model to young people the constitutive elements of the Christian life and what true citizenship means in the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Brazil Bishops Ready for Challenge of WYD '13

Awaiting Pope's Announcement of the Theme

MADRID, Spain, AUG. 23, 2011 ( Leading bishops of Brazil are ready and eager to host World Youth Day 2013, though they admit it will be a "great challenge."

At a press conference Sunday in Madrid, Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, president of the Brazilian episcopal conference; Archbishop Orani João Tempesta of Rio de Janeiro; and Bishop Eduardo Pinheiro da Silva, president of the bishops' commission for youth; said that the choice of Rio de Janeiro as the next WYD host city is a "very special moment for the Church in Brazil."

After expressing his gratitude to the Holy Father for entrusting Rio de Janeiro and Brazil with this "great challenge," Archbishop Tempesta explained that he will shortly contact the Pontifical Council for the Laity to begin the preparations.

The archbishop stated that WYD '13 will be held at the end of July (when schools are on vacation in Brazil), and he said he is already awaiting the Pontiff's announcement of the theme.


Cardinal Damasceno spoke of the organization of the Church in Latin America through CELAM, the Latin American episcopal council. He said this will make it easier to work together and attract the "largest possible number of young people and many more countries."

The cardinal also noted that the preparatory work will be intense, as WYD will be taking place a year ahead of the soccer World Cup, which Brazil will host in 2014.

"We have one year less to prepare the Day; this means more intense work because we have no time to lose," he said.

Cardinal Damasceno reminded that Latin America is the continent with the largest number of Catholics, and he assured that WYD "will bring many fruits, not only for Brazil's youth but for the whole continent."

For his part, Bishop Pinheiro da Silva predicted that WYD '13 "will show a Church that is alive and creative, in part because of the young people. Brazilian youth, with their creativity, will give us a lovely Day for the whole world."

The bishops added that the Brazilian government is very eager to host the event.

Rio's WYD will be the second in South America. Buenos Aires, Argentina, hosted World Youth Day in 1987.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Cardinal to Youth in Madrid: WYD Is Decisive for Your Future

Says Young People Are Proclaiming Yes, Faith Is Possible

MADRID, Spain, AUG. 16, 2011 ( Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, welcomed youth to Madrid today with the affirmation that their presence is an "unwavering 'yes!' Yes, faith is possible."

The Vatican official of the dicastery charged with organizing World Youth Days thus got the 26th World Youth Day under way. "The day we have all been waiting for has arrived," he exclaimed.

"You have come to this meeting with the Holy Father Benedict XVI bringing with you all your plans and hopes, as well as your concerns and apprehensions about the choices that lie ahead," the cardinal stated. "These will be days that you will never forget, days of important discoveries and decisions that will be decisive for your future."

The 66-year-old cardinal noted that faith will be at the center of reflection for the Youth Day participants -- estimated to number more than 1 million.

"Faith is a decisive factor in each person's life," he said. "Everything changes according to whether God exists or not. Faith is like a root that is nourished by the lifeblood of the word of God and the sacraments. It is the foundation, the rock on which life is built, the dependable compass that guides our choices and gives clear direction to our lives.

"Many of us might wonder: in our world today where God is often rejected and people live as if God did not exist, is it still possible to have faith?'

The cardinal answered that the young people's presence in Madrid, "from the most remote corners of the planet" is a proclamation "to the whole world -- and in particular to Europe which is showing signs of being very lost -- [of their] unwavering 'yes!' Yes, faith is possible. It is in fact a wonderful adventure that allows us to discover the magnitude and beauty of our lives."

The Vatican official, himself a native of Poland, also proposed that Blessed John Paul II is a "special guest" in Madrid.

"Blessed John Paul II has come back to you, the young people that he loved so much, and who was equally loved by you. He has returned as your blessed patron and as a protector in whom you can trust," Cardinal Ryłko affirmed. "He has returned as a friend -- a demanding friend, as he liked to call himself.

"He has come to say to you yet again and with much affection: Do not be afraid! Choose to have Christ in your lives and to possess the precious pearl of the Gospel for which it is worthwhile giving everything!"

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Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Foreign Woman Who Stopped Jesus in His Tracks

Biblical Reflection for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

TORONTO, AUG. 9, 2011 ( Today's watershed Gospel story of Jesus' meeting with the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:21-28) presents us with a break in Jesus' usual procedure of ministering only to Israelites and anticipates his great mission to the Gentiles. Jesus' provocative encounter with the woman is set outside the land of Israel in the territory of Tyre and Sidon (near Beirut in modern-day Lebanon).

The woman's commanding presence

Let us look closely at the story. This foreign woman approaches a Jewish man, does him homage and begs a favor she has no right to. She bursts into Jesus' space and pleads with him: "Lord, son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is terribly troubled by a demon." She commands Jesus' attention to her very personal and specific request to help her daughter.

Jesus refuses to give in to the disciples' pleading to remove this nuisance from their midst. He refuses to act on their reasoning. Instead, he directs the discussion in a way that the woman ought to accept his hesitation to cure. He says quite forcefully: "I am a stranger here; I should not interfere." Is this out of character, or perhaps is Jesus merely testing her? Or in the worst case, is he just profoundly rude, insensitive, and harsh?

"Help me!" the woman pleads. Jesus' next words seem excessively harsh: "It is not right to take the food of children and throw it to the dogs!" "Dogs" was a term used for outsiders who encroach upon another's holy place. It is an insult, a metaphor that sees others not as human beings, but as animals eating leftovers. We have every good reason to be troubled and even scandalized at Jesus' terrible rudeness to this needy woman.

2 needy people meet

Both Jesus and the woman are outside of their native territories. Both are looking for something, both are in need, both are strangers to the area and to one another. They are different in race, nationality, gender, religion, and probably in politics, economics and spirituality as well. Is it not true that our reactions to this story most frequently center on Jesus: what he's doing and saying (or not doing or saying) and why? It is disturbing that Jesus doesn't respond to her in the right way. The disciples view her intervention as a problem; they do not wish to be caught up in something that has nothing to do with them or with Jesus.

A longing for an ordinary life

Let us consider for a moment the reactions and purposes of the woman and of Jesus. The Syro-Phoenician woman is desperate, along with her daughter who suffers from a demon -- a disease that isolates and makes people afraid and causes others to assume that they have sinned. Does she fear that her daughter's illness is connected to something she has done or failed to do? Does she fear a pagan deity who deals with everyone vindictively? This woman and her sick daughter have a need to live an ordinary life -- without being tormented. How much have she and her daughter suffered from the mean talk and dismissive glances of her neighbors and friends? How great was their exclusion from their society because of the daughter's condition?

A deeper understanding of Jesus' mission

Jesus seems impatient and annoyed at being interrupted. Can it be that the Messiah has prejudices, nationalistic tendencies, and problems with those who aren't Jews? Was Jesus affected by being born in a specific locality, time frame, history and cultural background? He was truly divine and human, yet as a human being like us, he struggled with the sense of who he is: a prophet sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and the dawning of the difficult and painful realization that they do not want him; they were not listening, and were even beginning to reject and oppose him and his message. His identity as a prophet, a preacher, a teacher and as Messiah, was clearly at stake.

2 worlds collide

These two strangers have much in common in that both Jesus and the woman live on behalf of others. They are both hurting; both are looking for help, insight, and a way to survive in their respective worlds. Both are seeking and looking for acceptance, hope, a future and some compassion. The woman has a mother's love for her child, and Jesus, the prophet, bears God's love for all God's children. In this unique Gospel encounter, the world of the troubled woman whose daughter is dying and the world of Jesus, the Jewish prophet who is being rejected, collide. There are profound lessons in today's Gospel account. It is the promise of an ever-deepening identity not just for Jesus, but also for Matthew's community and for the Church throughout the ages that listens to his story that is truly Good News.

Breaking down barriers

The Syro-Phoenician calls Jesus Lord, refers to him as master, and humbly says that she, like dogs at the table in the household, will gladly take the leftovers of his mission and power. She receives from him what his own people will not accept. And Jesus is astounded at her faith (28). This woman stopped Jesus in his divine tracks and forced him to rethink his whole mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Together they broke down the barrier that existed between them.

The courageous heroine of today's story could not accept the premise that salvation did not include all people. She is allowed to participate in the messianic salvation that is offered to all who believe in the Lord and keep his commandments, regardless of origin or social condition. She proclaims that the love of God cannot be bound.

Jesus' universal mission and message

In Jesus, the prophetic words of Isaiah in today's first reading (Isaiah 56:1, 6-7) are realized: "The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming his servants -- all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."

Immediately following this Gospel scene, Jesus crosses over to the other side of the lake. Now his mission is to the world -- to all peoples of the earth and all the lost children of God. Because of the Syro-Phoenician woman's persistence, Jesus gains new insights into universalism, love, and service and extends his mission past his own people, his own religion, his own nation.

Any encounter or understanding of the Word changes our way of seeing God, of relating to him and to others. Who knows what will happen to us when we open ourselves up to God and allow his Word to work within us? We will meet strangers and outsiders who interrupt our lives, stop us in our tracks, and force us to ask deeper questions. We may end up, like Jesus, praising the still greater faith in strangers and outsiders.

Paul glories in his ministry

In today's second reading from St. Paul's letter to the Romans (11:13-15, 29-32) the unbelief of the Jews has paved the way for the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles and for their easier acceptance of it outside the context of Jewish culture. Through his mission to the Gentiles, Paul also hopes to fill his fellow Jews with jealousy. Therefore he hastens to fill the entire Mediterranean world with the gospel. In God's design, Israel's unbelief is being used to grant the light of faith to the Gentiles. Meanwhile, Israel remains dear to God, always the object of special providence, the mystery of which will one day be revealed. Israel, together with the Gentiles who have been handed over to all manner of vices (Romans 1), has been delivered … to disobedience. The conclusion of Romans 11:32 repeats the thought of Romans 5:20, "Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more."

Being Christian means being missionary

In the Lineamenta (preparatory document) for next October's synod of bishops on the new evangelization, one passage resonated clearly with today's provocative Gospel story. Under section No. 10 "The First Evangelization Pastoral Solicitude and the New Evangelization," we read:

"The missionary mandate which concludes the Gospel (Mk 16:15ff; Mt 28:19ff; Lk 24:48ff; Acts 1:8) is far from being fully carried out; it has simply entered a new phase. Pope John Paul II stated that 'the boundaries between pastoral care of the faithful, new evangelization and specific missionary activity are not clearly definable, and it is unthinkable to create barriers between them or to put them into watertight compartments. [...] The Churches in traditionally Christian countries, for example, involved as they are in the challenging task of new evangelization, are coming to understand more clearly that they cannot be missionaries to non-Christians in other countries and continents, unless they are seriously concerned about the non-Christians at home. Hence missionary activity ad intra is a credible sign and a stimulus for missionary activity ad extra, and vice versa.' Being Christian and 'being Church' means being missionary; one is or is not. Loving one's faith implies bearing witness to it, bringing it to others and allowing others to participate in it. The lack of missionary zeal is a lack of zeal for the faith. On the contrary, faith is made stronger by transmitting it."

The Pope's words on the new evangelization can be translated into a rather direct and crucial question: "Are we interested in transmitting the faith and bringing non-Christians to the faith?" "Are we truly missionary at heart?"

Questions for reflection this week

1) How does the Church fulfill her missionary role of taking part in people's everyday lives, "in the midst of the homes of her sons and daughters"?

2) How has the new evangelization been able to revitalize and reanimate the first evangelization or the pastoral programs already taking place? How has the new evangelization helped to overcome the weariness and toil arising in the everyday life of our local Churches?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A Prophet's Depression, an Apostle's Grief, a Disciple's Fear

Biblical Reflection for 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

By Father Thomas Rosica, CSB

TORONTO, AUG. 3, 2011 ( Chapter 19 of the First Book of Kings presents us with the aftermath of Elijah's brilliant victory in the contest with Jezebel and the priests of Baal atop Mount Carmel.

Just when Elijah should have been triumphant, he receives a message telling him of Jezebel's murderous intentions, and he is "afraid" (3). The spectacularly exemplary servant of God is now in a rut -- believing that all of his efforts were in vain! In Chapter 18, Elijah was at the height of success; in Chapter 19 he is in the depths of despair. In Chapter 18 he is on the mountain peak of victory; in Chapter 19 he is in the valley of defeat. In Chapter 18 he is elated; in Chapter 19 he is completely deflated.

Mountaintop experiences

In today's first reading from 1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a, Elijah must learn that God is not encountered in the sound and fury of loud and spectacular events. God will not be conjured up by the zealous or boisterous activity of the prophet who now stands quiet and distressed atop the Lord's mountain. Though various phenomena, such as wind, storms, earthquakes, fire (Exodus 19:18-19), may indeed herald the divine presence, they do not constitute the presence itself which, like the tiny whispering sound, is imperceptible and reveals in a deep way the true face and presence of God. The Hebrew expression "still small voice" literally means "a voice of low whispers, a sound of gentle stillness." Though the wretched Jezebel was thundering, she was not in control. Though God was silent, he was not absent. Elijah's God and our God is the God of signs and wonders but he is also the God of whispers and gentleness. Only when Elijah's mind and heart are finally depleted of ambition and self-promotion, is God ultimately heard.

Elijah's struggle with depression

Mount Horeb is the place forever associated with the source and essence of Israelite faith. Elijah arrived at the sacred mountain where he spent the night in a dark cave. The dark cave and the dark night are reflective of his "dark night of the soul." The story of Elijah in the cave on Mount Horeb is the classic example of one struggling with depression and burnout. Eventually it touches everyone -- even God's chosen people, his fiery prophets and leaders, his apostles and disciples!

Elijah's depression wasn't due to one single cause; it was linked to several things. At the root of depression is almost always some form of fear. The great, fiery prophet of Israel is scared to death of wicked Queen Jezebel's threats and thus flees for his life. How often are we like Elijah, fearful of failure, of being alone, unable to complete a task given to us, incapable of success, weak in perseverance, patience, and hope?

The second factor is failure. Elijah had a very low self-esteem. Elijah was in a long line of prophets who also tried to address Israel's lack of faith and apostasy and he was no more successful than his ancestors. How often do we feel that our efforts were in vain? That we weren't able to make a difference, just like those who went before us? How often do we think that we contributed to the problem rather than being part of the solution? How often have we failed: The job didn't work out. The relationship went sour. The marriage broke up. The addiction made me lose everyone and everything I had.

The third factor is fatigue, exhaustion and burnout. Elijah was physically exhausted and emotionally empty. This is the great danger of peak experiences. It is the risk of those who get lost in their work and mission, who are blinded by their own zeal, and have become crusaders and saviors bound for burnout rather than humble disciples and ministers who are poor servants, simply doing their tasks. Elijah didn't take time to rest and relax, to sit back and see what God was doing around him.

The fourth factor can be described as plain futility. Elijah feels alone, hopeless and has little hope for the future. He suffers from paranoia, thinking that everyone is out to get him. He looks at the world through very dark glasses. He doesn't see any way out of his existential conundrum. How many of us are afraid, lonely, exhausted, burned out and without any hope? How many of us have given in to despair, cynicism, meanness of spirit and smallness of heart? How many of us have lost our faith in a God who can reverse barren wombs and make empty tombs?

Elijah's therapy

In order for Elijah to revive and renew his strength, he needed to get away. He needed physical, emotional and spiritual rejuvenation. He had been so busy taking care of the needs of the nations that he had neglected the needs and concerns of Elijah the Tishbite. Elijah talked through his frustrations as he sat in the cave atop the mountain. In the midst of his feeling sorry for himself, God asked him point blank: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" God knew full well what Elijah was doing there. In fact, God helped him to get there! God listened patiently and non-judgmentally as Elijah poured out his feelings of anger, bitterness and self-pity. Notice what God didn't say to the pathetic prophet: "Elijah, my prophets don't talk like that!" God didn't make him feel guilty for his feelings. Instead God accepted him and listened to him.

What happened to Elijah happens to us, especially when we pay much more attention to negative events than to all the good that is happening around us. It happens when we are very hard on ourselves, and take ourselves far too seriously, and God not seriously enough! God intervened in Elijah's state and reminded him that his vision of life, his understanding of events, his view of God were terribly distorted.

Elijah needed to know that God was there and that there were indeed others who had not bowed down to Baal. Elijah thought he was the only one who was still faithful to God. God allowed Elijah to sit in the dark cave of self-pity just so long. There was a new king of Israel and a new prophet to be anointed. The time for complaints and self-pity were over; Elijah now needed to get back to work. What can we learn from this whole episode atop the mountain? Perhaps the best way to stop feeling sorry for ourselves is to start feeling compassion for others.

Great sorrow and anguish

Today's second reading (Romans 9:1-5) presents us with Paul, a man who had an unbelievable willingness to be sacrificed for his people. He was willing to be accursed, separated from Christ, if it would save his people. He was willing to swap his salvation for their doom if it would lead to their salvation. Paul felt the deepest emotion, love, and concern for his own people. Paul addresses himself to the essential question of how the divine plan could be frustrated by Israel's unbelief.

Paul speaks in strong terms of the depth of his grief over the unbelief of his own people. Israel's unbelief and its rejection of Jesus as savior astonished and puzzled Christians. It constituted a serious problem for them in view of God's specific preparation of Israel for the advent of the Messiah. Paul would willingly undergo a curse himself for the sake of their coming to the knowledge of Christ (9:3; Lev 27:28-29). His love for his people derives from God's continuing choice of them and from the spiritual benefits that God bestows on them and through them on all of humanity (9:4-5). Paul's point is clear: God who is over all aimed to use Israel, which had been entrusted with every privilege, in outreach to the entire world through the Messiah.

The reading from Romans 9 raises some significant questions for us. When was the last time you pleaded with a lost person to accept Christ? How does the possibility of being rejected affect the passion with which you share the gospel? When you share the gospel, how convinced are you about its power to save the lost? About its ability to change the habits of sinners? About its real need in today's modern society? What sacrifices are you willing to make in order to see the lost members of your family, your friends or members of your faith community return to Christ or perhaps come to him for the first time?

"Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."

In today's moving Gospel story (Matthew 14:22-23) set on the lake, the disciples, laboring against the turbulent sea, are saved by Jesus. Jesus' power is expressed by his walking on the choppy waters (Matthew 14:25; Psalm 77:20; Job 9:8). Jesus challenges Peter to also walk on the waters! Because of Peter's fear and weak faith, he begins to sink. When Jesus stretches out his hand and catches Peter, he reminds his disciples and the Church in every generation of his constant care for us. He teaches us that no storm will overturn the boat in which we sail, and no water will swallow us up in darkness.

At certain times in our contemporary Church history, everything seems to indicate shipwreck, fear, drowning and death. But let us be honest and realize that the Church goes on, saving souls and journeying to its final harbor. In that blessed realm, beyond the seas of this life, all the things which threaten God's Church in this world will be gone for ever. At those times, we must listen to the Lord, as Peter did, and cast the nets again into the deep -- for it is our faith that is being tested -- not as to whether we profess it or not -- but as to whether we are ready to do something about it or not.

He calms the storms of life

Let us never forget this fact: We are on the waters with Jesus. He is in the boat with us, during the night and during the storms. The Lord does not abandon those who come seeking his mercy and his forgiveness. He walks upon the waters. He calms the storm. He guides the boat into safe harbor, and brings with him the great catch, the great feast, to which we are all summoned -- the daily feast of his Body and Blood, our food for eternal life. This is cause for rejoicing!

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