Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Guilt and Shame vs. Healing and Mercy

            Guilt and shame are powerful barriers to our relationship with God. They cause us to run and hide from the one person we need the most. They make it almost impossible for us to ask for and to accept mercy. The evil one uses them to keep us from standing before the Lord and seeking His pardon. Because of guilt and shame, we do not enjoy peace of conscience. When our hearts condemn us, it is the Lord who is seeking us and calling us out of our hiding places. At these moments, when the devil would have us wallow in despair, God sends forth His Holy Spirit to prompt us to trust in His merciful love. When we cannot find rest for our souls, God applies the healing balm of the Spirit. When we are speechless, the Lord gives us the Words of everlasting life. God is quite different from sinful human beings. It might be good to ponder these words taken from the Letter to the Romans. “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the One Who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will” (Rom. 8: 26-27). 

            The Evil One seeks to isolate us from one another and from God by accentuating our guilt and shame. God, on the contrary desires to engage us in a dialogue of love and reconciliation. To those who are weighed down with guilt and shame, the Lord calls out, “Don’t hide, but come to me. Lay down your burdens and I will give you rest and peace of mind” (Cf. Mat. 11: 28). The devil accuses us day and night, attempting to make us squirm and hide from God. God, on the other hand never tires of forgiving us. The devil seeks to deafen us with his accusations and the Lord desires to open our ears to the sound of His voice, calling us back to wholeness. The Lord does not condemn us because of our faults; rather, He accepts us no matter how imperfect our efforts. May we recognize the presence of the Lord accompanying us along our life’s journey and allow Him to open our hearts to the healing sound of His voice and the recreating power of His grace.

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Saint Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs of Japan, and Pope Francis' response to 12 year old's question about suffering

The third-century writer, Tertullian wrote: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” The feast of Saint Paul Miki and Companions reminds us that the Gospel needs to be proclaimed even in the face of persecution. Believers need to be will to present themselves to God as whole-burnt sacrifices, a sweet fragrance before the divine majesty. The city that had been the target of the second atomic bomb on August 9, 1945 was also the place where Paul Miki and his companions were crucified. As they hung upon their crosses, the Martyrs sang hymns of praise to God. They offeredthemselves for the glory of God and allowed their lives to be crushed out, just as the sacred elements placed upon the altar are made by the crushing of grapes and the grinding of wheat. 

Saint Paul Miki and Companions

Suspended between heaven and earth, Paul Miki preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. “The sentence of judgment says these men came to Japan from the Philippines, but I did not come from any other country. I am a true Japanese. The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I certainly did teach the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason I die. I believe that I am telling only the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you to become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ’s example I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain.” 

The Disciples of Christ must be willing to follow the Master, walking in His footsteps and laying down their lives for the sake of the Kingdom. By emptying Himself, Jesus purchased for Himself a peculiar people of  priests for His Father. They were to be zealous in performing good works and supportive of one another in the bonds of love. When love is genuine, it is active and life-giving. Love shows itself in praying with and for one another. Whatever the disciple is as to this life, he considers the favor and service of God as the one thing needful. This he desires, prays for and seeks after, and in it he rejoices even when subjected to cruel torture. 

Pope Francis embracing a 12 year old girl in Manila. She had asked why so many bad things happen to others, especially the children, and could not get her words out until she broke down, weeping. The Pope embraced her and comforted her in silence.

The crucifixion of the martyrs and the nuclear holocaust of Nagasaki have led many to wonder why God allowed these things to happen. Of course, the same "why" can be asked regarding any difficult circumstance that we see as being contrary to God's loving providence. This question found its way into the deepest recesses of our hearts when Pope Francis embraced a 12 year old girl in Manila. Having traveled through the dark valley they were in, he was sympathetic to her question and simply embraced her in silence.   While the question has no answer, it does evoke a response of compassion. "Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light." ("Lumen Fidei," June 29, 2013). 
Let us join in mind and heart with all who suffer as we gather around the Table of the Lord.
--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO 

Pope Francis' response to the child's question:

Background information:

Glyzelle Palomar, a one-time homeless child taken in by a church charity, made her emotional plea during ceremonies at a Catholic university in Manila, ahead of a mass by the pope to millions of faithful.

"Many children are abandoned by their parents. Many children get involved in drugs and prostitution," Palomar told the pope as she stood on stage alongside a 14-year-old boy who also used to be homeless.

"Why does God allow these things to happen to us? The children are not guilty of anything."
Palomar broke down and wept profusely, prompting the 78-year-old pontiff with a man-of-the-people reputation to take her into his arms and hug her for a few seconds.

The Pope's reply:

To Jun and Leandro Santos II and to Rikki, thank you very much. There’s only a very small representation of girls among you. Too little. Women have much to tell us in today’s society. Sometimes we are too “machistas” and we don’t allow enough space to women. But women can see things from a different angle to us, with a different eye. Women are able to pose questions we men are unable to understand. Look out for this fact: she is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer. She couldn’t put it into words but expressed it with tears. So when the next pope comes to Manila, please let there be more girls.

I thank you Jun for talking about your experience so bravely. As I said, the heart of your question has no reply. Only when we too can cry about the things you said can we come close to answering that question. Why do children suffer so much? Why do children suffer? When the heart is able to ask itself and weep, then we can understand something. There is a worldly compassion which is useless. You expressed something like this. It’s a compassion that makes us put our hands in our pockets and give something to the poor. But if Christ had had that kind of compassion he would have greeted a couple of people, given them something, and walked on. But it was only when he was able to cry that he understood something of our lives. Dear young boys and girls, today’s world doesn’t know how to cry. The emarginated people, those left to one side, are crying. Those who are discarded are crying. But we don’t understand much about these people in need. Certain realities of life we only see through eyes cleansed by our tears. I invite each one here to ask yourself: have I learned how to weep? Have I learned how to weep for the emarginated or for a street child who has a drug problem or for an abused child? Unfortunately there are those who cry because they want something else.
This is the first thing I want to say: let us learn how to weep as she has shown us today and let us not forget this lesson. The great question of why so many children suffer, she did this in tears. The response that we can make today is: let us really learn how to weep.

In the Gospel, Jesus cried for his dead friend, he cried in his heart for the family who lost its child, for the poor widow who had to bury her son. He was moved to tears and compassion when he saw the crowds without a pastor. If you don’t learn how to cry, you cannot be a good Christian. This is a challenge. When they posed this question to us, why children suffer, why this or that tragedy occurs in life – our response must be either silence or a word that is born of our tears. Be courageous, don’t be afraid to cry.