Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Pope Wants Noise

“Do not bother me…” (Luke 11:7)
Almost every Sunday I look out at the faithful and find several faces sitting in the pews with stern facial expressions that scream: “Don’t bother me.”  They are like the man in the parable that Jesus tells in today’s gospel.  This man does not want to be bothered by a friend who is asking for a favor, but Jesus says that the persistence of his friend wins out in the end.  So it is with our God who is so incredibly generous to us.  He is persistent in his longing to have a close relationship with us, to shower us with his blessings, and to give us the joy and the peace that our hearts long for.  Unfortunately, too many times when Christ comes knocking on the doors of our hearts, we tell him not to bother us.
All week long we have been transfixed by the words and actions of Pope Francis in Rio during the World Youth Day festivities.  Each word, each action is worthy of its own homily or reflection.  He has reached out to the poor, he has destroyed almost every security protocol by wanting to be close to the people, and his words have turned the Church on its ear.  The Church that the Holy Father is clamoring for is definitely not a “don’t bother me” church.  The status quo will no longer do.  We have a critical, soul-saving mission to accomplish, and we must do better in promoting the gospel.
My favorite homily from the past week was the one that the Holy Father delivered at the Marian Shrine of Aparecida in which he proposed three attitudes or characteristics for every Christian which are vital: hopefulness, an openness to being surprised by God, and living in joy.
Hopefulness:  Pope Francis says: How many difficulties are present in the life of every individual, among our people, in our communities; yet as great as these may seem, God never allows us to be overwhelmed by them. In the face of those moments of discouragement we experience in life, in our efforts to evangelize or to embody our faith as parents within the family, I would like to say forcefully: Always know in your heart that God is by your side; he never abandons you! Let us never lose hope! Let us never allow it to die in our hearts!”   Even when we are at our lowest, we must never lose hope.  God always reaches down and lifts us up.  We must always be a people of hope.
Openness to being surprised by God:  “God always surprises us…God always saves the best for us. But he asks us to let ourselves be surprised by his love, to accept his surprises. Let us trust God! Cut off from him, the wine of joy, the wine of hope, runs out. If we draw near to him, if we stay with him, what seems to be cold water, difficulty, sin, is changed into the new wine of friendship with him.”  I loved this attitude that was proposed by the Holy Father.  Each day our God wants to surprise us, but we are not open to his surprises as if he were going to give us something that would harm us.  Open your hearts.  Let God surprise you!
Living in joy:  “Dear friends, if we walk in hope, allowing ourselves to be surprised by the new wine which Jesus offers us, we have joy in our hearts and we cannot fail to be witnesses of this joy. Christians are joyful, they are never gloomy. God is at our side.”  This is the tell tail sign of the Christian.  We must be joyful!  If Christ has redeemed us, forgiven us, loved us, died for us, then how can we be anything less than joyful.  If you want to ask why Christianity or Catholicism is losing out to other religions it’s because our people aren’t sharing the joy that must abide in every Christian heart.  It must be a transparent joy and a contagious joy.
And this brings us back to those “don’t bother me” people who sit in our pews who I love nonetheless.  They make stern faces, barely crack a smile, and sit there with grim faces.  Let me be honest:  they are ugly faces!  God made each of us beautifully!  If we truly believe that Christ is present here, then how can we be anything less than joyful?  If we truly believe that we are in the presence of the Almighty in this sacred space, then how can we be stern or cross?  It goes back to a very simple saying from my youth: smile, God loves you!  Isn’t that enough?
But the “don’t bother me” people have met their match with Pope Francis.  It’s as if the Holy Father was tapping them on the shoulder and telling them, “psst, you’re going to be bothered now” when he spoke to the Argentinian youth and told them what he wanted as a result of World Youth Day: he wants noise!  (This is a very poor translation to the word “lío” that he used in Spanish which means that he wants young people to shake things up.)  The noise that we saw on the streets of Rio, in the packed beaches of Copacabana as 3.2 million pilgrims showed up this morning for Mass, the joyful noise of the Good News of the gospel is about to be felt in every corner of the world.  He told the youth of his native land: “I want you to make yourselves heard in your dioceses, I want the noise to go out, I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves.”  The man in the gospel was closed in on himself and did not want to be bothered.  We can’t afford to live our Christianity like this anymore.  Over and over again, Pope Francis, and Benedict before him, has spoken of the crisis of culture, of relativism, of secularism, that calls out to our youth and leads them astray.  It is a culture that discards things to rapidly from food to material possessions to even marriages.  Don’t like it…throw it away.  Sometimes that is applied to our faith.  No more!  The Church is about to make some joyful noise that will definitely shake things up and will definitely bother those that don’t want to be bothered. 
So I’m putting everyone who walks into church on Sunday to simply fulfill the third commandment on notice:  I am going to start bothering you.  The challenge of the cross and of the gospel is supposed to bother us.  It’s supposed to make us look into our hearts and realize that we can do better and we should do better.  What a leader the Spirit has chosen for us!  His words have been challenging especially to bishops and priests.  We cannot close ourselves off to the world any longer.  We cannot stay in our churches, in our sacristies, in our offices; we must take the joy of the Gospel out into the streets!  And we must do this now!  But this applies to all of us.  We must live with hope, with an openness to be surprised and with joy.  At the end of the gospel, Jesus says, “seek and ye shall find, knock and the door will opened unto you.”  Today Christ is knocking on the door of your heart to be part of this exciting time in the history of our Church.  How will you respond?  Will we respond “don’t bother me” or we will let him in so that we make a joyful noise?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Genuine Hospitality

“Martha welcomed Jesus…Mary sat beside the Lord.” (Luke 10:38-39)

Every time I would visit my paternal grandmother, from the moment I would walk in through the door she would begin cooking.  I would sit down at the table as she brought plate after plate of food.  It seems like she would empty out the refrigerator during every visit.  Each time I would implore her to sit down to eat with me but there was always something that she was warming up in the oven or a dish that needed to be washed.  She did this with great love, and in the quiet moments after we had gone home or even if we stayed, she would do her prayers.  She would walk to Mass every Saturday evening to a mission church near her apartment and had a profound love for Our Lady of Charity.

The figure of Martha in today’s gospel reminds me a lot of my grandmother: always vigorously serving.  Martha always gets a bum rap because we think that Jesus is rebuking her.  Jesus is simply pointing that when it comes to service and prayer, prayer is the most important of the two.  This morning Pope Francis reflected on the hospitality offered to Jesus by Mary and Martha.  Both were hospitable in different ways: one through prayer and one through service.  Put simply, we cannot serve without prayer.  Jesus correctly says that we become anxious about many things.  We worry about minutiae that doesn’t serve the greater good.  When service isn’t accompanied by genuine prayer, it can become hallow.  This happens a lot in the church when we busy ourselves with different activities, all very good, but don’t dedicate enough time to just sit at the feet of the Master like Mary.  These activities can at times be self-serving when everything we do must point to and point others to Jesus Christ.  If these good works are accompanied by prayer, then we can’t go wrong because we will be led by the Spirit. Which prompts me to ask this question:  how much time do we dedicate to God each day?  Do we have a genuine communion with Him that leads us to authentic service of our neighbor?

In today’s first reading, we see the example of Abraham who offers genuine hospitality to the three strangers that approached his tent.  It can be said that Abraham was a perfect mix of Martha and Mary because he was so in tune with the will of God that he recognized that he needed to serve these strangers.  Pope Francis points out the greatness of Abraham’s faith and his closeness to God in his recent encyclical.  We have always looked to Abraham as a model of faith, but today we look to him as a model of hospitality: prayer and service perfectly joined to welcome others.  So as we look to Martha and Mary we must reflect on where our priorities lie.  I must confess that sometimes I too get bogged down with busy work (all in the name of service to the Church) and don’t dedicate the necessary time to sitting at the feet of the Master to discern what it is that He wants from me.  If there’s one thing my dearly departed grandmother taught me is that even after all the service and all the busy work is done, there always needs to be time for quiet.  Many a time after she was done serving me a meal, she would just sit by my side in total silence.  I of course would nod off and take a quick nap after all that food and when I would wake up, there she was just sitting there.  Just being in each other’s presence enriched both our lives even if no words were exchanged.  Imagine what can happen if we spent more time in the presence of the Lord.