Thursday, January 26, 2017

Called to Imitate God's Mercy

The apostles faced some probing questions, just like we all do. Peter and Paul grapple with the question: what must we believe? The apostles grapple with how they were to pray. We know that God loved the world enough to sacrifice His beloved Son. We also know that in the Son, we have been made sons and daughters of the Eternal Father. There seems to be an on-going tension between faith content and devotional expression. I am reminded of a statement attributed to Saint Augustine: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” The immediacy of these words were underscored by Pope Francis during his meeting with Patriarch Ilia II in Georgia: “Notwithstanding our limitations, we are called to be “one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28) and to avoid putting first disharmony and divisions between the baptized”. It is impossible to proclaim the mercy of God if we cannot show mercy to one another.

We need to stop justifying the great divide keeping the members of the Body of Christ separated one from another. God is not glorified by our rejection of one another. It is sad to say, but true, that we give lip service to the Lord of Mercy and the Mercy of the Lord, but we keep beating-up and condemning others. I was brought to tears as I read a comment made by Pope Francis: “Ah! Brothers and Sisters, God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God's patience, the patience He has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience, patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us if we are willing to return to Him with a contrite heart" (Angelus on March 17, 2013).

The challenge of Christianity is to present and defend the Truth in love, or perhaps mercy is a better word, for our purposes. It is mercy that allows us to look beyond division and disharmony. It is mercy that can change the world. Cardinal Kasper, in his book of mercy wrote: “[Mercy] is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just” (The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life). Mercy means that we do not have to remain in exile. We can come home again and share the banquet of life. Mercy is the infinite love of God revealed to us in concrete deeds – the death and resurrection of the Son. So mercy becomes not only the central attribute of God, but also the central attribute of Christian life. We are called to imitate God’s mercy towards us.

I will close with a few words from Pope Francis: “Let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish” (Easter Urbi et Orbi message on March 31, 2013).

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

God of Risks

These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes; anyone who wants to harm them must be killed in this manner. They have authority to shut the sky, so that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying, and they have authority over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every kind of plague, as often as they desire. 

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb; and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth. 

But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, ‘Come up here!’ And they went up to heaven in a cloud while their enemies watched them. 
(Revelation 11: 4-12)

Today let's ponder the words of the Book of Revelation. If we are to be the “Light of the World”, we must expect to be persecuted. Ours is a God of risks. Remember, the Author of Life Himself was crucified. However, death could not hold Him captive. Similarly, the witnesses of Revelation were raised up and taken into their Heavenly Homeland.

The two olive trees and two lampstands brings to mind how Jesus sent out the disciples “two by two and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits” (Mk. 6:7). Living a gospel life requires the help and support of a brother, of a sister. We cannot live the Gospel in isolation. We need one another. That being said, while we are called to be one in Christ, we are not called to look nor to act identically. The strength of the Church is in its diversity of gifts. The two witnesses testified to the paschal victory of Christ, sealing their testimony with their deaths.

If we listen to Pope Francis, we hear him saying that Christians are called to bear witness to the work of God in the world. As witnesses of Christ, we are raised up to speak against the neglect of human dignity and to defend the truth. As witnesses of Christ we are commissioned to speak against indifference to the poor and abuse of the earth, our common Mother. As witnesses of Christ, we are challenged to be burning and shining lights in a world that is wrapped in darkness. In Christ’s faithful witnesses is found the manifestation of God’s love and mercy for the world. God’s witnesses must not grow weary of giving service nor should they flee suffering. In their weakness, they manifest God’s strength. In their apparent defeat, they testify to God’s ultimate victory.

God has not given us the spirit of timidity or fear. Rather, He has poured into our hearts the Spirit of power, courage and endurance so as to meet the challenges that confront us. With the help of the Spirit we will be able to bear afflictions so as to proclaim the Glory of Grace. It is in Him that we live, and move and have our being. When He comes to reveal Himself as the One Who conquered death, may He bring us all together into everlasting life.

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Pile of Rubble or Seedbed of a New Creation?

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
   and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
   the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
   the spirit of counsel and might,
   the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
   or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
   and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
   and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
   and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
   the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
   and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
   their young shall lie down together;
   and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
   and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
   on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
   as the waters cover the sea.

 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

(Isaiah 11: 1-10)

This passage from the Prophet Isaiah is among the better known texts of the Old Testament. It speaks of hope and newness of life that flows from the loving kindness and tender mercy of God. Remember, God knows disaster and loss. The glory of Israel had been reduced to ruins. The Tree of Jesse had been cut down and only a stump remained of that noble house. To passersby, the glory of Israel was just a pile of rubble. To God, it was the seedbed of a new creation. To the passerby, the once mighty tree was a lifeless stump. To God, the stump was guardian of ancient roots that would again put forth a tender shoot. No matter how bad things have become in the world, they are the stuff from which God creates a new beginning.

The hope of the world sprang from rubble and destruction. The hope of the world comes in meekness and humility -- a tender shoot sprouting from the lifeless stump. The hope of the world is the firstborn of the new creation. Although the old is passing away, the hope of the world comes to make all things new. The hope of the world took flesh of the Ever-Virgin Mary. He Who created mankind Himself became a man in order to restore mankind to its former glory. He in Whom the fullness of the Godhead dwells Himself came to dwell among us so that we might have a resting place in Him for all eternity. In the Word Made Flesh, our sinful human nature is transformed and in our flesh we are enabled to radiate the grandeur of God the Creator and the Sustainer of our lives.

Looking at the remnant of Israel, God sees the beginnings of a new kingdom. All that has been shattered finds restoration in the hands of God. The stump is all that is left of a magnificent tree. By the grace of God it puts for a fresh shoot, a new growth that will one day shelter the People of God. For a time, the Son of God pitched His tent in our midst so that we might have an eternal dwelling place in heaven. Through Christ, we who were dead in our sins have been brought to the newness of life. How blessed are those who see and acknowledge this gift. May we be awake and watching when He returns in Glory.

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Be Not Afraid of Questions and Doubts

Our world is longing for a Savior. We long for the coming of the Kingdom with weak hands and wobbly knees. Can we see ourselves as the ones who need the help of a divine physician? If there was one take-away from the year of mercy, it is was that God is not ashamed of our feeble and fainthearted efforts. Throughout the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis kept reminding us that God never tires of lifting us up by His saving grace. It is this boundless mercy that manifests the power of God working through our weakness. We have reason to rejoice.

It seems safe to say that, for many of us, the walk in faith has not been marked with joy and singing. More often than not, we can identify with John the Baptist: “Are you really the One?” Sitting in his prison cell, John must have been wracked with the question: “Is this all there is?” While he did not doubt the fidelity of God, you might say, his faith needed a boost. The mercy of God reached out to him and the light of grace shined on his darkness, giving him reason to rejoice. Under the loving gaze of God, the wilderness of his captivity began to blossom abundantly. In the life and ministry of Christ, his feeble and faint heart was encouraged.

I hope you found reassurance in John the Baptist’s question. Think of it this way, if the forerunner of Christ struggled with doubt, we are in good company. There is nothing to be ashamed of when we see our faith getting shaky. Like John the Baptist, we need to utter the questions that trouble our hearts, not avoid them. This theme was taken up by Pope Francis during a recent audience with young people: “We do not need to be afraid of questions and doubts because they are the beginning of a path of knowledge and going deeper; one who does not ask questions cannot progress either in knowledge or in faith.”

It might be good to admit our doubts and try to sit with the ambiguity of faith. Ponder the Shoot that sprouted from the root of Jesse. Ponder the Bread that came down from Heaven. Ponder the Gift that was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. In the midst of darkness and gloom, it is good to ponder the star that led men of old to the Light of the World. The birth of Christ takes faith out of the realms of theory and moves us to perform acts of loving-kindness for others. Using our weak hands and wobbly knees we come into the presence of God and find Him in the faces of those we encounter.

As we deal with our weak hands and wobbly knees of faith, we need to look around and see the signs that the Kingdom is erupting in our midst. Jesus’ words to the disciples of John underscore this. If you look around, you will see the signs of God’s loving-kindness: ´The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Mat. 11:5). Though our hands be weak and our knees wobbly, we can lean on Christ.

He will accompany us. The journey may not be elegant, but the destination is sure – our heavenly homeland. All that God requires from us is that we depend on Him and place our weak hands and wobbly knees at His service. Into a world enveloped in darkness and uncertainty, a light shall shine, the Light of Christ, the Light of the World.

In that light we shall look at each other’s face and see the Face of Christ. In that light, we can lift up our hands and make a joyful noise. In that Light we shall stand up on our wobbly knees and dance. In that Light we can show forth the goodness of our God by showing love and compassion for one another. Let us standup on our wobbly knees and raise our weak hands and prepare the way for our God. We need only ask the Lord to use us as we are, to open the door for His coming. I hope you find this prayer of Thomas Merton an appropriate ending to these reflections.

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

God So Loved the World That He Did Not Leave It to Its Own Destructive Designs.

“O Emmanuel, you are our king and judge, the One whom the peoples await and their Savior. O come and save us, Lord, our God.”

Daily headlines report the tumult and chaos all around us. Out of fear, we tend to strike out violently even before we have all the facts. Thanks to instant communication, events are reported before people can verify that they actually happened. We prefer to think the worst. Undoubtedly, we need someone to make us sane again. Jesus Christ, the Son of Mary and the Beloved Son of God is the One Whose coming we await.

The Advent season reminds us that God so loved the world that He did not leave it to its own destructive designs. He promised that He would be the Light for the People dwelling in darkness and chaos. If only the people who are trapped in darkness and gloom would look to the East, they would see the dawning of a New Day. God has already looked at them and has been moved with compassion for them because they are so confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Cf. Matt. 9: 36).

The peace we long for cannot be bought neither can it be gift-wrapped. The peace we most long for is not a thing to be horded. The peace we desire is a relationship reestablished by Christ and confirmed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Advent calls us to focus on the fact that Jesus, the Son of Mary and the Only-begotten of the Father is the anchor of our soul. If we truly follow the longing of our heart, God who is faithful will come to our aid and raise us up. It is God’s goodness, and not ours; it is God’s mercy, and not our merit, that is the basis for our joy.

Responding to the longing of our heart, we cry out: “Come Lord Jesus, Come and save us!” We join our voices to that of the Psalmist: “O Shepherd of Israel, listen to our cry!” (Ps. 80:1) There is no salvation without God’s saving grace. Only when we acknowledge our total dependence on God, can we hope to find peace. Trusting God to stretch out His steady and guiding hand, let us make the plea of the Spirit and the Bride our own: “Come, Lord Jesus” (CF. Rev. 22: 17, 20).

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

The Family, Reminder of the Trinity

The celebration of Christmas reminds us of God’s infinite love for the human race and of His tenacious fidelity to His promise of mercy. Once you remove the Angels, shepherds, star and magi, you are left with the three principal characters of the story: Jesus, Mary and Joseph – the Holy Family. The Only-begotten Son of the Eternal Father not only came into the world to show us how to live as Children of God, but also how to live as members of a human family, united in a bond of love. One lesson we learn throughout the Christmas days: family life is a work in progress that unfolds one day at a time.

The life of the infant is entrusted to the authority and care of His parents. The child is to be the joy and delight of His parents. The spouses are to be the companions and support of each other. Within the circle of the family, no one is to face the challenges of life alone. The family is intended to be the training ground where we learn to love and support one another. God is Love and it is in Him that we live and move and have our being.

The author of Genesis wrote: “God created man in His own image. In His own image God created him” (Gen. 1:27). By extension, you might say, “a community of love He made them.” The family serves as a sacrament of this fact: the Father as the giver and sustainer of life, the Mother as the nurturer of life and the Child as the product and reflection of their love. Through the family, God manifests Himself as Love and loving. In the embrace of the family, mankind encounters God. Out of His powerful goodness, God brought forth the world, out of the goodness that dwells in our hearts, we can work to establish a society that is just and humane.

Jesus is the power of God, stripped of all glory and entrusted to the care of Mary and Joseph. In the context of the family, we experience the dynamic love of the Trinity. Each person of the community of the Trinity serving and being served by the others. It is within this atmosphere of loving care that each member of the family lives and thrives. Matthew tells us that Mary and Joseph worked together to protect their child from the threats of Herod. In the face of a culture of death, they did all they could to save the life of their child. The bond of love is the seedbed of life for all the members of the family.

The family was created in the image and likeness of Trinity. The Word, the Only-begotten Son proceeds from the heart of the Father and manifests the Love of the Spirit that binds the Godhead together in one. The Son is not diminished by doing the will of the Father but rather brings about the transformation of all who have been created in His image and likeness. The Son of God became the Son of Mary to show us the Father’s love. It is not flesh and blood that leads us to the truth. It is God With Us who moves us to share His secret thoughts. Through the intercession of the Holy Family, may we draw near to the Eternal Three-In-One. Following the example of the Holy Family, may we be instruments of peace and conduits of mercy so that all people may come to newness of life in Christ.

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

We Only Have to Be Needy

What do we celebrate during the Christmas season? We tend to get all caught up in meals, gifts and greeting card that we overlook the fact that God so loved the world that he sent us His Beloved Son. This Son was the Word through Whom everything was created. This Son was the Word Made Flesh through Whom the world was recreated. He was one with the Father for all eternity, and He chose to be born in time to be one with us. The Light of the World has, in fact, shone on the people who lived in darkness. 

            The Christmas Season tells us that God is a promise keeper. At the dawn of creation, when darkness had worked its way into the human heart, God made a promise. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers” (Gen. 3:15). It takes time for eternal plans to unfold. When the People of Israel were in deepest darkness and beyond hope, God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah. “The Lord Himself will give you a sign. The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel” (Is. 7:14). Then, in the cold of winter, when the night was half spent, the almighty Word leaped down from heaven and entered human history. The Angel Choir spoke to the shepherds: “This is the sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk. 2:12). As an adult, the Lamb of God presented Himself to be baptized by John at the Jordan. As He came up from the washing (CF. Song 4: 2), water dripping from His hair and His body glistening in the sunlight, the Father confirmed all that He had promised: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mk. 1:11).

            Throughout the Christmas season, we have been celebrate the fidelity of God presented to us in the form of a frail and vulnerable infant. Gazing upon the child of Mary, we hear the invitation to become frail and vulnerable ourselves that He, the Lord of Life, might manifest His power and majesty in us. Just think of it. For Jesus, we do not have to be strong, we only have to be needy! Perhaps this is the lesson Jesus wanted to teach us when He said, “Learn from Me for I am humble and gentle of heart” (Mat. 11:29).

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Let the Fun Begin! -- Walk in the Light of Christ

The Lord said through the Prophet Isaiah, “You are my servant, through whom I show my glory… I will make you a light to the nations.” Through the mystery of the Incarnation, my brothers and sisters, the Light of Christ has come into the world. It is in His light that we truly see light. Through our baptism we have been conformed to this Light and been called to be light to the nations. As ambassadors of hope we make the Light of Christ tangible to people who are dwelling in darkness and despair. God enlightens all people and brings us, one and all, to the fullness of life in Christ.
            Pondering the words of the Isaiah, it is important to keep in mind that the Lord trusts us even though we doubt ourselves. God is strong enough to help the weakest of us and gracious enough to reconcile the wayward. Our weaknesses become the opportunity for God to reveal his mercy and loving-kindness through us. The Lord has a task for each of us. Are we willing to place ourselves at His disposal? After all, we pray with the Psalmist, “Here I am Lord, I am willing to do your will.” Did we mean it? OR -- Have we allowed the Scriptures to become lifeless and irrelevant words? Have we become so traumatized by the pessimistic judgment of the world that we have lost all hope of ever being made whole again?
            At some point, when we get sick and tired of being ground down by our own efforts and failures, we need to make a decision to let God transform us into the people we were created to be. This is where the fun begins, because despite what the world thinks of us, God loves us and has sought us out to be His very own. In Christ, God manifested His love for the human race, as we read in the Letter to the Romans: “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, He send Christ to die for us” (Rom. 5:8). Having made us sons and daughters in the Son, God sees in us the image of His beloved Son. He sees what we do not see, and tells us so! “I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine” (Is. 43:1). Because of His infinite love for us, God has called us to be heirs of the kingdom and purchased us to be His own through the self-sacrificing love of his Son. Because we have been purchased at such a great price, we are precious in God’s sight. This grace is not personal possession to be kept safe and hidden. Having been brought to life in Christ, we are called to bring the Good News of saved humanity to the world.
            Because the world is wrapped in darkness and noise, we who are members of the household of God need to call attention to the Light of Christ that shines upon us. Christ came into our darkness, not to sympathize with us, but to bring us to the Light. In His victory over darkness is our hope and the anchor for our souls. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, the lamb without spot or stain of sin, who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus takes away the sin that clouds our vision, the sin that plugs our ears and impedes our hearing, the sin that silences our tongue. By so doing, Jesus becomes our Vision, our Word and our Message. God shows His love for the world through us.
            Remembering that we have been created in the image of the Beloved Son, our lives should radiate the love of God for the world. Belief in the gospel message draws us into newness of life. The more Jesus Christ becomes our all-in-all, He uses us as his messengers of the Father’s infinite love and mercy. I would like to close with a prayer many of my friends in AA say:

God, I offer myself to You –
to build with me
and to do with me as You will.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Your will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help
of Your Power,
Your Love,
and Your Way of life.
May I do Your will always!
(A.A. Third Step Prayer)

Father Jerome Machar, OSCO