Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Call no one on earth your father"

This Sunday's Gospel narrative - for Oct. 30, 2011, 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time - reminds us that holding a position of power in religion appears to be particularly vulnerable to self-exaltation and abuse. It is a strong invitation and challenge to render humble, selfless, diligent, committed and loving service to others in the community without expecting honor or rewards. Our Discussion Questions will guide your Sunday Bible Study with family, friends and church groups.

When We Fall short

Today's text from Matthew 23:1-12 comes from a very polemical chapter of the first Gospel. We learn once again of the bitter conflict between Pharisaic Judaism and Matthew's ecclesial community. Our episode contains a clear denunciation by Jesus of the scribes and the Pharisees and contains material that is unique to Matthew's Gospel.

The problem of pride was as bothersome to the early Church as it is to ours. Jesus criticizes the scribe's inability to practice what they preach. And Fr. James Gilhooley explains that no century corners the market on pride. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, on the other hand, reminds us that we are all vulnerable to this critique, since not one of us is fully capable of fully exemplifying the ideal to which we aspire and which we strive to proclaim with our lives.

Hypocrisy is another great sin of the New Testament, one which Jesus is constantly accusing the Pharisees. Fr. Alex McAllister SDS laments that the greatest tragedy of all would be for Jesus' own followers to fall into the same trap. When we forget that all that we are and all that we do is ultimately a gift from God, explains Fr. Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B., we seek honors for ourselves rather than living the truth that all glory belongs to God. We can thus avoid being hypocrite, Fr. Joseph Pellegrino reminds us, if we take responsibility for our own lives rather than entrusting it to others. And only by spending time in prayer each day and receiving the sacraments, Fr. John J. Ludvik teaches, are we able to consistently and generously donate our talent and treasure to the Church.

We may be active in religion, or business, or politics, or some other field of endeavor. We may appear powerful, successful, or wealthy. But what makes or breaks us, Jesus suggests, is whether we choose to be servants who lead, or end up as leaders who refuse to serve. Fr. Orlando Sapuay, M.S. says we can be a window of self-service — reflecting our own will to the world — or we can be a window of God’s love and compassion — reflecting God and God’s will to the world.

"Call no one on earth your father

Today’s Gospel also presents us with a bit of a dilemma since Christ forbids his disciples from using the title father or teacher and yet we find ourselves using these titles all the time. It's probably a Bible challenge you hear from many of your Protestant friends. Actually, it would be pure nonsense; and indeed the Church has never taken this teaching at its face value. The context is Jesus’ teaching about practicing what you preach. The Pharisees insist that the people call them Father or Rabbi or Master; but these are titles to be earned and not claimed as a right.

This is a clear warning against all forms of idolatry - including making a person into an idol. Jesus is reminding teachers, doctors, fathers - Fr. Phil Bloom adds - that that their purpose is to lead others to the one Teacher, the one Doctor, the one Father. The point that our Lord impresses upon us here is that all fatherhood comes from God. And all fatherhood should be referred back to God and lived in accord with the goodness and love of God.

Father Cusick explains that St. Paul himself claimed the title "father". We read in 1 Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 14, "I...write this as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel." Was St. Paul in violation of the Gospel? Not at all. He was "father" precisely in reference to God our heavenly father, because he brought the life of God the Father to those to whom he preached, whom he baptized and adopted into the family of God. And so also today with our priests.

Fr. John Foley, S. J. says priests like him are not trying to compete with God for the name. They are trying to partake in it, to be vessels from which it is poured. This would mean they are part of the Body of Christ, showing the world what the Father’s love looks like. Fr. Ron Rolheiser sums it up - the great mystery of priesthood is that it tries, however inadequately, to give a human face to a wondrous God who walks with us even when things aren’t all pure. What an awesome challenge!

Religious Persecution -- in the US?

Are we seeing the beginning of religious persecution in America? Is America on track for a religious freedom crisis generated by secularists in and out of government bent on pushing churches around on a variety of fronts? Fresh evidence strongly suggests that the answer is yes. Russell Shaw reports that Catholic Church agencies are closing their doors under new laws, policies that are gutting conscience rights.

This is the same warning put forth by Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez. He pointed out last week that as the US moves away from its founding principles, the Church’s freedom to carry out its mission is threatened as never before.

Saints, Souls and Purgatory

Next week we celebrate the feasts of All Souls Day and All Saints Day. In reflecting on the feasts, Marcellino D’Ambrosio, Ph.D. explains that holiness is indeed for all. It is for every baptized person, regardless of personality type, career, age, race, or marital status. Holiness, he says, is about realizing our deepest, greatest potential, becoming who we were truly destined to be. And what a shame it would be to miss it.

Fr. William P. Saunders explores the history of these two feasts. He looks into how the Church has consistently encouraged the offering of prayers and Mass for the souls of the faithful departed in purgatory. In his solid meditation on Purgatory, Msgr. Charles Pope clarifies that when it comes to entering heaven, we have to be perfect, "99 & 1/2 % Won’t Do." He explains that many people think of purgatory primarily in terms of punishment. But the good monsignor stresses that it is also important to think of it in terms of promise, purity and perfection.

At the time of their death, some of our deceased brethren are not perfectly cleansed of venial sin or have not atoned for past transgressions, and thereby are deprived of the beatific vision. These are the very souls that are having the promises to them perfected in purgatory. Joseph Pronechen offers more information on the suject matter. In his article "How to Help the Holy Souls in Purgatory," he explains how the faithful on earth can assist these souls in purgatory in attaining the beatific vision through their prayers and good works. He stresses the importance of offering Masses for the deceased. In the month of November we are especially committed to praying for them and know by faith that our prayers are of benefit to them.

And speaking of saints, the Church has three new saints, Pope Benedict XVI has marked the
Catholic Church’s annual Mission Sunday on 23rd October, and declared two Italians and a Spaniard as the Church’s newest saints. The Pope canonized the two men and a woman at a solemn Mass in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. And while he prepares for his journey to Assisi, also this week, he has proposed the famous saint of that Italian city - St. Francis of Assisi - as a model saint for youth.

The Devil, Spirituality & the Liturgy

Know that the devil is real, Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI warns us. Let's not kid ourselves. And this means accepting struggle as a feature of mature Christian life. It’s a wonderful thing to study and reflect on Christian truths. But we are called to live a life in which we not only recognize temptation, but – because we know the truth – are willing to act in its service. The choice is stark. Ultimately, do we become partners in Satan’s hatred or commit our whole lives to genuine Gospel love?

And speaking of committing ourselves to God, Cheryl Dickow explores one very helpful tool - Spiritual Direction. She talks about how times have changed and the ways in which we seek, find, and experience spiritual direction has changed as well. But despite all these, the need for Spiritual Direction has remained the same. And she offers specific suggestions.

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf tackles Sunday obligation and TV Masses. A reader asks if its OK to “attend Mass by watching on TV” to fulfill her Sunday Obligation. Does a priest have the authority to let a faithful replace the physical attendance at Mass with a TV viewing in a case such as ill health? Read his answer to this one.

Boycott Halloween? Really?

Boycotting Halloween is like all popular now. When she was a kid, Elizabeth Esther says theirs was the only house in the entire neighborhood whose house went dark on Halloween. Because, you know, Halloween is a pagan, evil holiday and Christians shouldn't celebrate it 'cuz that's like Jews celebrating Hitler's birthday. Well now that she's Catholic, she knows better. Halloween is NOT a pagan holiday---boycotts are unnecessary! She explains the roots of this annual celebration.

Taylor Marshall adds to the debate. Among conservative Protestants it's "Halloween or no Halloween?" which sometimes becomes "Halloween vs. Reformation Day," the latter being the celebration of the Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses on Oct 31. He notes that even some Catholics are concerned that Halloween has become "evil." Well, here are his ten ways to keep good ol' Halloween fun and sacred.

Finally, as you roam the streets around sick kids on Halloween night, be wary of the flu bug. That is, if you haven't gotten your flu shot. And while it's true that a study out this week found that the flu vaccine is less effective than previously thought, it’s still the best protection we’ve got. So go out and get your flu shot ASAP!

Another eventful week in our Catholic World. A blessed and happy new week to all.

Keep the Faith. Peace.

Wally Arida
Publisher & Editor in chief

BURNING QUESTION: “Is Jesus and God the same?”
FEATURED BLOG: Sunday obligation and TV Masses
PASTORAL HISPANA: No hagan lo que ellos hacen

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