On this Monday of the first week of Lent we encounter the “shall nots”, the “did nots”, and the “dids” of Christian life. All of them centered around the all encompassing yet nuanced command to love our neighbors.
The first reading is from the Book of Leviticus’ section on the holiness code. It describes the “thou shall not” and then lists behaviors that are against one’s neighbors. The list includes the expected thou shall not steal, slander, gossip nor cheat, but also includes this: “nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.” Continue reading
Over the last several weeks we have been considering what awaited the men who came to join Francis of Assisi and this growing fraternity of believers seeking to follow Christ more fully in the world. We had mentioned there were no rules, regulations, or even a formation program; there was only Francis and the other brothers. But what drew the men to want to “come and see?” Undoubtedly, as today, a complex of reasons, but key among those reasons was Francis of Assisi’s reputation for holiness and miracles.
Francis’ reputation for holiness began at home among the brothers, not necessarily in the public square. The more “public” Francis was still a few years down the road when the reluctant saint began to be called more often to speak and appear and to increasingly gain public exposure. In the beginning, it was his brothers who experienced the holiness of Francis. First and foremost, Francis was a compassionate brother – especially for those who were tempted, spiritually troubled, or depressed. The medieval age was a time when these things were attributed to diabolical powers. Francis had a special gift for consoling those who suffered from such illnesses. Perhaps it stemmed, not only from the grace of God, but also arising out of Francis’ own experience of these same aliments.
God’s holiness is rooted in his unique identity as the creator of the cosmos and the powerful source of all life and beauty and goodness. However, the power of God’s holiness is also dangerous to us as mortal creatures. But, in God’s desire to partner with humanity, he made a way for us to access his holy presence safely through Jesus. Jesus applies the dangerous heat of God’s holiness to the things that separate us from God.
As we read the Bible, we see that wherever Jesus goes, sickness is healed, brokenness is made whole, and death gives into life. This tells us something significant about what it means to participate with Jesus’ ongoing work in the world. Those who follow Jesus are called to be agents of God’s transforming holiness.
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Last week’s column spoke about the broad sweep of history within the Catholic Church. In every age, there has been a pattern of the faithful pointing to others as the “Holy Ones of God.” The focus changed from Apostles, to martyrs, to the desert hermits, to the monastic men and women, to the age of wandering missionaries, to nascent movement of mendicant women and men seeking a lay holiness (only to be regularized into religious orders) – the focus never on the everyday holiness of believers. The focus remained on those men and women to whom miracles were attributed, whose life of heroic faith, while indeed praiseworthy, left the rest of us saying, “Surely, they are the holy ones!” Continue reading
Who are the holy ones of Christianity? Or more pointedly asked, “Who do you consider the holy ones?” In the beginning it was the Apostles, the people who had actually met and lived with Jesus. They saw the miracles, heard the teaching, witnessed the healings, saw the Resurrected Savior, and went to the ends of the earth preaching and baptizing. Surely, they were the holy ones – especially called by Jesus himself! Continue reading
I have a Lenten question for you: Are you holy? On a recent Friday at the noon Mass I asked the 100 or so folks in the pews to consider that question. I actually called on three people for answers. Their replies were (a) “not yet”, (b) “working on it”, and (c) “yes.” The “yes” was given with some enthusiasm and there followed some chuckles throughout the church – and I suspect some wonder who was the bold, brash soul that responded “yes.” Rather cheeky, one would think. What would have been your answer? I suspect the most common thought would be somewhere between “no,” “no, of course not, Saints are holy, not me,” “not holy, but I am a good person,” and “oh my, no, I am just a sinner” (said with a sincere piety). Continue reading
I have to admit that in counseling conversations, pastoral settings, preaching, and a variety of teaching settings (RCIA, Bible study, etc.) I often return to the topic of the formation of moral conscience. I have even written about it here and here in this blog.
About two years, ago while preaching on the formation of moral conscience, I mentioned health care reform as a topic about which the bishops were teaching at the moment. The topic of health care per se was in the news, but the primary point of my reference was to indicate how often when our bishops speak and teach, we praise them or criticize them based on our already-held opinion of the topic. And I use the word “opinion” pointedly as it is my experience that most people do not form their conscience as described in the Catechism (§1776-1803). Such formation was the real point of the homily – with the challenge being to operate as Christians, not in the realm of opinion, but in the sphere of the formed moral conscience. We are called to do such, but do we do it? Often all I must do is to ask if they have prayed about it or asked the Holy Spirit for wisdom on the topic/decision. Lingering silence is often the answer. Continue reading
Over the last several weeks we have been considering what awaited the men who came to join Francis of Assisi and this growing fraternity of believers seeking to follow Christ more fully in the world. We had mentioned there were no rules, regulations, or even a formation program; there was only Francis and the other brothers. But what drew the men to want to “come and see?” Undoubtedly, as today, a complex of reasons, but key among those reasons was Francis of Assisi’s reputation for holiness and miracles. Continue reading