Pastor Column: Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 23, 2018

Pastor Column: Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 23, 2018

Msgr Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish

Dear friends / Estimados amigos,

Judaism was unique among ancient religions because of its emphasis on building proper relationships. Other religions – like fertility cults in and around Palestine, for instance – were built upon rituals guaranteed to control the actions of the gods in peoples’ lives. If one used specific words the correct number of times, and accompanied the words with the required gestures, one could be certain to get what one prayed for. The goal was to control the god or goddess, not to relate to them. Maybe some of us grew up with a little bit of that mindset. Not to diminish anyone’s private devotional practices, if we made the nine first Fridays, if we wore a scapular, prayed to a specific saint for this or that, recited an astronomical number of prayers before Christmas Eve, then things would go our way. If done correctly and consistently (often times routinely and without understanding), these practices guaranteed we would one day get to heaven, be able to buy that expensive new thing, experience a change in a troublesome situation, or bring about whatever effect or outcome we desired. God really does not have a choice, does He? We had forced God’s hand by using some of the things God had given us in order for us to reach Him.

The conflict between the cultic religions and Judaism resulted in the well-known story of the struggle between Jacob and the angel in Genesis 32. While today we refer to the biblical followers of Yahweh as “Jews,” that name was probably applied to them by “outsiders” who falsely presumed all people were members of the preeminent tribe of Judah. Not so however: biblical Jews call themselves “Israelites.” Many devout Israelites are proud to say they wrestle with their God. This was/is in stark contrast to their pagan, fertility cult neighbors who constantly tried to control their gods. Biblical Jews spend their lives relating to God. The wrestling metaphor is an essential, ongoing dimension of all true human relationships.  In ancient days, someone who was committed to forming a proper relationship with Yahweh is “just,” a word frequently employed by the biblical authors of the Wisdom books of the Old Testament. Just relationships are undying. It follows that if we have worked at building a just relationship with God during our lifetime, it does not end with death. God continues that relationship in heaven.

One of the ways we demonstrate a proper relationship with God lies in the proper living out of the relationship with those around us in daily life. The way we relate to others (who are created in the image and likeness of God) is an outward sign of how we are relating to God. Also clear in the first reading is that those who work at developing controlled relationships can face lots of problems. How right we find that in our current situation!

It has been stated again and again in commentaries about the PA Grand Jury Report (and others like it) that the desire to control is one of the things at the heart of the clergy abuse crisis we now live through. Jesus’ ministry of healing and reconciliation was all about healthy relationships. These were more important than almost everything else, certainly more important that institutions or man-made laws. He preached a counter-cultural message against the pecking order of the day. Jesus’ reforms proclaimed equality to all Jews, not just those who presumed they were superior to others. When the disciples were arguing about their places in the Lord’s new order, Jesus was strong in asserting that unless one became as a child he or she would never receive Him. In contrast to some of our modern cultures, children during the time of Jesus were regarded as being insignificant. Jesus words and action make clear, however, that the most insignificant in Jesus’ community are to have the same stature and privilege as the most important. This involves wrestling with our individual egos, recognizing the sacredness of the human person more profoundly, and treating the most important and the most defenseless or dependent in the same way. The Catholic Church, with regard to children, sadly failed to do that effectively and consistently over the last 50 years or so. If there even was a wrestling match in the minds of those in authority and others, children lost. Today, then, let us examine for ourselves the wrestling aspect of all our relationships. Non-controlling relationships are difficult to establish even between husbands and wives, the most intimate human relationship of all.  We must keep equality in the back of our minds when building community, enacting laws, and dealing decently with others where we are. Preaching the Word matters, but living it means more.

 

Pastor Column: Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 16, 2018

Pastor Column: Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 16, 2018

Msgr. Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish

 

Dear friends/Mis queridos amigos,

            In today’s gospel, Jesus asks the million dollar question: “who do people say that I am?” The disciples respond with the opinions they have heard. By this time in His public ministry, Jesus was creating quite a buzz throughout the region of Palestine. His apostles reply with the popular notions of who the average person thought of the Lord . . . some said He was like John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the great prophets of Israel. If that question were put to us in our day, I suspect our approach to answering would be the same. We would repeat what we heard in the break room or gathered around the water cooler, on social media, or what was whispered among our friends. Some might say Jesus was the best founder of a world religion; a good man who was concerned with people who were poor and sick; someone who made the lives of the destitute better by miraculous acts. Perhaps some might even Google, where they would find Jesus was “a first century preacher and religious leader, the central figure of Christianity.”

            All good answers, but popular opinion is one thing, while what we believe deep down can be something much different. Jesus was not looking for public opinion when He asked the question. He wanted a more personal response, not one just from the mind, but also from the heart. Hopefully that answer would include some willingness to follow Him closely and imitate His ways. It was time for Jesus to test the apostle’s mettle as He approached Jerusalem, where he anticipated His death. Jesus knew He would suffer for who He was and what He was sent by the Father to accomplish. So He asks them to follow Him all the way to His death and resurrection. This was a test of their willingness to stay with Him through His death, and their acceptance of the suffering and sacrifice that would come to those who followed Him.

            Peter’s reply “You are the Christ,” that is, the Messiah, is right on the mark. But Peter’s notion of a Messiah was a triumphant ruler; it lacked any notion of suffering. Perhaps this is the reason for the “Marcin secret” that Jesus repeatedly requests throughout this evangelist’s gospel. He did not want the apostles to tell anyone until they learned what kind of Messiah He would be . . . which was incredibly different from what they anticipated. Jesus had so much more to teach and show His apostles about His Messiahship. He did not want to be widely known as a miracle worker, or as a celebrity showman. They would have to learn more about Jesus before spreading work that He was the One anticipated by the people of Israel. Otherwise they would have gotten the message all wrong, and would have no understanding of what it meant when Jesus commanded His followers “to take up your cross and follow Me.” Some reflection by them on the section of Isaiah would be helpful in this growing knowledge. Here one meets the Suffering Servant of God” who prefigured Jesus. Anyone who follows Him must be the kind of servant Isaiah describes: willing to deny him/herself for others. The Letter of James spells out concretely what “taking up one’s cross” means. We cannot just declare our faith in Christ, we have to put faith into action or risk the faith meaning nothing. Love for Jesus is reflected in our actions and words.

“Who do you say I am?” is not a question we have to answer just once and move on. Rather it presents itself many times in life. As we pass through various stages, crises, events, sicknesses, transitions and life events our response will vary, depending upon our maturity and faith. Today we are again asked: Who is Jesus for us now and what is the meaning of Jesus for our lives? Let us take Jesus’ question with us through this week. Where are we in our lives and do we include God in what is going on now? In what ways have we allowed Jesus be the center and guide for our thinking and acting? Then, as the week progresses: what are my responsibilities as his disciple? How am I being asked each day to take up the cross and follow him?