Today in Catholic History:
† 1154 – Death of Saint Wulfric of Haselbury Plucknett
† 1431 – Death of Pope Martinus V, [Oddo Colonna], Italian, (b. 1368)
† 1798 – Louis Alexandre Berthier removes Pope Pius VI from power.
† 1994 – Pope John Paul II demands juristic discrimination of homosexuals
(From the “On This Day” Blog Site
“Today in Catholic History”
Quote or Joke of the Day:
An “eye for an eye” will make the whole world blind. ~ Gandhi
Franciscan Formation Reflection:
Bringing the Christian message to modern man. We have stressed the importance of this theme of evangelization on many occasions. On June 22, 1973, we said to the Sacred College of Cardinals: “The conditions of the society in which we live oblige all of us therefore to revise methods, to seek by every means to study how we can bring the Christian message to modern man. For it is only in the Christian message that modern man can find the answer to his questions and the energy for his commitment of human solidarity.” And we added that in order to give a valid answer to the demands of the Council which call for our attention, it is absolutely necessary for us to take into account a heritage of faith that the Church has the duty of preserving in its untouchable purity, and of presenting it to the people of our time, in a way that is as understandable and persuasive as possible.
Burning questions. This fidelity both to a message whose servants we are and to the people to whom we must transmit it living and intact is the central axis of evangelization. It poses three burning questions, which the 1974 Synod kept constantly in mind:
– In our day, what has happened to that hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a powerful effect on man’s conscience?
– To what extent and in what way is that evangelical force capable of really transforming the people of this century?
– What methods should be followed in order that the power of the Gospel may have its effect?
Basically, these inquiries make explicit the fundamental question that the Church is asking herself today and which may be expressed in the following terms: after the Council and thanks to the Council, which was a time given her by God, at this turning-point of history, does the Church or does she not find herself better equipped to proclaim the Gospel and to put it into people’s hearts with conviction, freedom of spirit and effectiveness?
Today’s reflection is about Jesus commanding us to love our enemies, and to pray for your persecutors.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. 40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. 41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. 43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? 48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (NAB Matthew 5:38–48)
Imagine Sister Death [a Franciscan concept and term] coming for you and taking you to the paradise we know as heaven. The very first person you meet, after Jesus of course, is the one person you liked the least in life! It is a very possible reality! Remember, God loves each one of us, individually, and without regard for OUR perceived earthly status of others! The Pharaoh of “Moses” fame, King Herod the Great, Judas, Hitler, and even today’s abortion practitioners may be in paradise with us. After all, these much loved creations of God (though hated by man) may have chosen to repent, acknowledge their sinfulness, and may have received forgiveness for their transgressions on earth. A prime example is St. Dismas while hanging on the cross:
“Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)
When Jesus talked about the law God gave to the Jewish people, He did something no one previously had ever done before. He gave a new benchmark or norm based not only on the condition of “justice” (a sound or good reason, fairness and reasonableness), but also based on the higher law of grace and love.
Today we have the last two teachings offered at the “Sermon on the Mount”. They both deal with love of our enemies. Jesus is speaking extremely powerful words here. In the first part of His discourse, He is teaching on a well known (to the common Jewish person) Levitical Law:
“Limb for limb, eye for eye, tooth for tooth! The same injury that a man gives another shall be inflicted on him in return.” (Leviticus 24:20)
Jesus knew the Mosaic Law – – and its intention – – better than any Pharisee, Sadducee, or Scribe could ever conceive and understand. In today’s reading, Jesus quotes from Mosaic Law:
“But if injury ensues, you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” (Exodus 21:23-25)
We should not understand “an eye for an eye” as an extremely harsh punishment for all crimes. It was actually meant to limit acts of revenge by making sure the punishment was not excessive, but equitable: only “fitting” the crime or act done.
Scripture scholars believe the language of this law came from the Semitic people surrounding them, from whom the Israelites stemmed. So, this old ‘law” may seem quite cruel by today’s standards. However, this law meant to limit vengeance, and to promote mercy. In reality, the law was not normally taken “literally”, but instead served as a guide to discern for a “judge” as equitable punishment and penalty for a particular offense or crime. It was prescribed so that the punishment from one “injured” would not exceed any injury done during the initial crime/sin.
Now, Jesus uses this part of Holy Scripture to contrast His idea of the better, higher, more humane standard with the limited law of basic qualities. Then He is asking His followers to take a different approach by resisting retaliation altogether. Jesus is saying that, for His disciples, the way in His everlasting paradise in heaven, goes far beyond what this old covenant law prescribes. We are now challenged to suppress the proportionate retaliation previously set by law, and to take the courageous step to even forgive the offender. This is living the new law of mercy, set by Jesus Himself. Of the five examples found in verses 38-42 of today’s reading, only the first example (eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth) deals directly with retaliation for evil. The other four speak of charity, kindness, generosity, compassion, mercy, and even LOVE for one’s enemy. A sense of forgiveness and an absence of pride are the “new” norm which plays the essential role in His “love” command.
Jesus’ country was invaded by, occupied by, and ruled by a Roman government and military. Roman soldiers in Jesus’ Palestine had the right to annex and/or requisition any property and/or services of the Jewish population by Roman civil law. This could also include forcing people to perform specific functions – a type of conscription.
If you remember the Passion narratives, Simon is conscripted to carry Jesus’ cross:
“They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.” (Mark 15:21)
Jesus is saying that the righteous man will purposely “go the extra mile” for another, with no expectation of reward or thanks.
Mercy me! Mercy Me! Mercy is the key! (I’m a poet & didn’t know it!) The Old Testament is full of citations involving the directive that we must be merciful:
“Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18).
“Say not, ‘As he did to me, so will I do to him; I will repay the man according to his deeds.’” (Proverbs 24:29)
“If your enemy be hungry, give him food to eat, if he be thirsty, give him to drink.” (Proverbs 25:21).
“Let him offer his cheek to be struck, let him be filled with disgrace.” (Lamentations 3:30).
The response to a person who strikes us on the face, takes us to court, or demands a service of us is not simply to resist and retaliate, but to offer ourselves to seek reconciliation and even to be ready and willing to surrender our property out of love. Those who are called to the Kingdom of Heaven are to go beyond the way of the secular world and to serve God’s people and kingdom.
The next difficult level expected of those followers who are invited to God’s kingdom is the willingness and the ability to embrace our enemies: first to forgive, and then to love them.
“Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18)
There was a religious attitude among the people of Jesus’ time on earth that allowed one to hate those not “neighbors” (meaning anyone not Israelites), and to distance oneself from those who are not their “neighbor”. Jesus corrects this misinterpretation (cf., the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37).
In contrast to “hate”, Jesus emphasizes that “love of God” and the “love of neighbor” are the two primary and essential directives on which all other commandments and laws revolve. He further extends these “love” commandments to our enemies and our persecutors. He extends its meaning to encircle, to take-in, all men – – even our enemies. His disciples, as children of God and followers of Christ, need to imitate the example of God the Father, who grants His gifts of “sun” and “rain” to all people and all creation, both good and bad. A Christian, a true Catholic, has NO personal enemies! Our ONLY enemy is evil – – SIN – – and NOT the “sinner”!
There is absolutely NO room for retaliation or retribution in God’s kingdom. We need to avoid returning “evil for evil”. We must seek the good in those who wish us a bad fate, ill-will, or harm. The virtue of love is the distinguishing mark of a Christian – – of a Catholic: universal LOVE! The universal call to holiness is not a recommendation, but rather, a commandment of our Lord Jesus Christ.
How often have you accepted insults and abuse without any resentment, malice, or anger – – as Jesus showed us in His example? When you are required to do more than you believe you should, do you insist on an equitable division, special attention, and/or “rights”; OR, do you respond with grace, joyfulness, and contentment?
“Tax collectors” were Jews who engaged in the collection of taxes, tolls, and customs. Tax collectors contracted with the Roman civil government for the right to collect these taxes within their districts. In essence, they became sub-contractors of the Roman government, the “occupying force” in Palestine. Whatever they could covertly and overtly collect above their allotment of pay became a profit by “embezzlement or extortion”. Reasonably assumed, and without any doubt in my mind, abuses of embezzlement and extortion were widespread among the Jewish population. Under-handed and crooked tax collectors were well-known and NOT liked. Therefore, Jewish tax officials were not only NOT liked, they were disgraced, regarded as sinners and outcasts of their Jewish community – – along with their families.
Jesus’ disciples are not to be solely content and happy with the usual standards of conduct expected under Jewish Mosaic Law. Jesus is commanding us to love all people, not just the ones we like or we think deserve love. Even our enemies (such as the tax-collector) deserve our love. The dishonest, the thief, the murderer, the ponzi-schemer, and so on, could become a Saint through the actions of the Holy Spirit working with, in, and through them, and you to bring them to confess their sins and seek God’s forgiveness, as well as the forgiveness of those they harmed. Remember, even one of Jesus’ twelve Apostle’s was a tax-collector:
“As He [Jesus] passed by, he saw Levi [Matthew], son of Alphaeus, sitting at the customs post. He said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed Him.” (Mark 2:14)
In today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 5:48) Jesus introduces an image or concept as difficult for us today as it was for His disciple friends:
“So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
And then, He (Jesus) repeats this concept fourteen chapters later, when talking to a young rich man:
“Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'” (Matthew 19:21)
So, what did Jesus mean by “perfect”? Talk about high standards! (That’s way above me and my pay grade.) Thankfully, the Catholic Church has asked this same question throughout the centuries. In Chapter 5 of Vatican II’s Constitution “Lumen gentium”, it is written:
“The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and every one of His disciples, in every condition. He Himself stands as the author and consummator of this holiness of life: ‘Be you therefore perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect’ […] ‘Thus it is evident to everyone, that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity [love]; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.’” (Vatican II’s Constitution “Lumen gentium”, 40)
The “fullness of Christ’s life” is in loving God, and loving every person and all God’s creation as fully as we can. We are God’s “work in progress”, “Striving to reach the completeness we are called to in God’s kingdom.” Attempting to “love our enemies” is definitely a part of our striving for completeness. Completeness includes seeking the good and even the best for the “unjust” as well as the “just” (verse 45). Perfection then includes desiring and encouraging the utmost “good” for, and towards, others.
Jesus’ new standard is God the Father’s own perfect, complete, universal, and practical love for each person. His perfect love becomes the “model” each of us is called to imitate and live by, through Jesus’ invitation and command.
To enable us to do what He, Jesus Christ, calls us to do, He provides us with the enabling ability to do this command in the person of the “Advocate”, the Holy Spirit, with the gift of grace which sanctifies us, encourages us, empowers us, and inspires us.
God freely gives power and grace to those who believe, trust, and accept the grace of the Holy Spirit indwelling with us, and working in and through us. God’s divine and totally full “love” towards each and every one, even our enemies triumphs over even our own hurts, fears, prejudices, grief’s, and every other imperfection of our lives.
This attitude is, for me, the key with understanding what Jesus was intending us to understand when He said:
“Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
As “sinful” human beings, it is far easier to show kindness, love, and mercy when we expect to benefit from doing our actions. However, it is much harder when we expect NOTHING (not even a return of love) in exchange. Yet, your “enemy” can actually assist you to surmount your overwhelming goal of “perfection”! If you want to be perfect – – love all your enemies. After all, you could be “stuck” with them for eternity!
To encourage you, my dear readers, to continue on this endeavor to be “perfect” as our heavenly father is, I offer the following:
- Instead of embracing and sheltering improper and hateful thoughts, say a short prayer for the person who provokes your emotions and hostilities.
“But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” (1John 1:7-9)
- Ask God for forgiveness when you realize your faults.
a. Our actions, prayers, and love for those who do us ill-will and harm will ultimately help us overcome the strength, influence, and clout of vengeance and retribution.
b. Unconditional love further liberates the divine power of that “love” to do “good”, even in the face of pure evil.
How can we possibly love those who cause us harm or ill-will? Well, just remember:
“Jesus looked at them and said, “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
Take advantage of EVERY opportunity – – every invitation granted to you – – to love another, especially the enemy. The perfection of God will begin to emit and shine from you as you succeed.
We learn many practical skills in our lifetime. Such skills include cooking, cleaning, hygiene, driving, how to deal with teenage sons, and so on. Most of us also learn about caring for others as well as ourselves by sharing, forgiving, and loving through our personal and interpersonal experiences.
Love is the most important thing one can share with another. The same is true in God’s kingdom. Jesus taught His followers how to love others beyond those who are closest to them (“neighbors”). Jesus tells us to love “even our enemies”. As members of God’s kingdom, we are called to love everyone without any prejudice – – even “those who hate and persecute us”!
Jesus wants for us to love ALL others as if we were Jesus “Himself”. If we extend ourselves in love to others, then we will be doing exactly as Jesus did, and as Jesus desires and empowers us to do.. Perfection is simply an unmitigated, non-prejudicial, and complete love for all people and all creations of God.
Do you want to grow in your love for God and for your neighbor? Remember, you are not alone in this process. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill and transform you into the image of His Son so that you may walk in the joy and the freedom of “the boy that was before Him.”
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
“Act of Love”
“O my God, I love you above all things, with my whole heart and soul, because you are all good and worthy of all my love.
I love my neighbor as myself for the love of you. I forgive all who have injured me and I ask pardon of all whom I have injured. Amen.”
Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO
A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day: Blessed Jacinta and Francisco Marto (1910-1920; 1908-1919)
Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, three children, Portuguese shepherds from Aljustrel, received apparitions of Our Lady at Cova da Iria, near Fatima, a city 110 miles north of Lisbon. At that time, Europe was involved in an extremely bloody war. Portugal itself was in political turmoil, having overthrown its monarchy in 1910; the government disbanded religious organizations soon after.
At the first appearance, Mary asked the children to return to that spot on the thirteenth of each month for the next six months. She also asked them to learn to read and write and to pray the rosary “to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war.” They were to pray for sinners and for the conversion of Russia, which had recently overthrown Czar Nicholas II and was soon to fall under communism. Up to 90,000 people gathered for Mary’s final apparition on October 13, 1917.
Less than two years later, Francisco died of influenza in his family home. He was buried in the parish cemetery and then re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1952. Jacinta died of influenza in Lisbon, offering her suffering for the conversion of sinners, peace in the world and the Holy Father. She was re-buried in the Fatima basilica in 1951. Their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, became a Carmelite nun and was still living when Jacinta and Francisco were beatified in 2000. Sister Lucia died five years later. The shrine of Our Lady of Fatima is visited by up to 20 million people a year.
The Church is always very cautious about endorsing alleged apparitions, but it has seen benefits from people changing their lives because of the message of Our Lady of Fatima. Prayer for sinners, devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and praying the rosary—all these reinforce the Good News Jesus came to preach.
In his homily at their beatification, Pope John Paul II recalled that shortly before Francisco died, Jacinta said to him, “Give my greetings to Our Lord and to Our Lady and tell them that I am enduring everything they want for the conversion of sinners.”
Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feast
By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.;
revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
(From http://www.americancatholic.org website)
Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) Rule #’s 20 & 21 of 26:
20. The Secular Franciscan Order is divided into fraternities of various levels — local, regional, national, and international. Each one has its own moral personality in the Church. These various fraternities are coordinated and united according to the norm of this rule and of the constitutions.
21. On various levels, each fraternity is animated and guided by a council and minister who are elected by the professed according to the constitutions.
Their service, which lasts for a definite period, is marked by a ready and willing spirit and is a duty of responsibility to each member and to the community.
Within themselves the fraternities are structured in different ways according to the norm of the constitutions, according to the various needs of their members and their regions, and under the guidance of their respective council