Pastor’s Page

Second Sunday of Lent/St. Patrick’s Day

Transfiguration/St. Patrick
By Fr. Pete Iorio

In early centuries of Christianity, through authorities like St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great, there were as many as seven “aspects” (lenses) of Scripture: literal, historical, allegorical, moral, symbolic, eschatological and archetypal. No, I won’t give you a test on these.

Last year when I was on pilgrimage in the Holy Land, I mainly connected to the Scriptures through the literal and historical lenses. And one of my favorite places was Mount Tabor not too far from Nazareth. There is a beautiful church on the top of Tabor considered the place where Jesus was transfigured before the 3 disciples Peter, James and John. It is a gorgeous church with gold mosaics indicating the glory of Christ, and when we entered, there was heavenly chanting from a group of pilgrims from Ukraine celebrating liturgy at the main altar. We celebrated our Mass in the chapel of Elijah which was a tiny space for our group. It made for an intimate encounter as we received the transfigured body of Christ in the Eucharist.

As the church itself was a symbolic representation of the Transfiguration event, so we can look at the Scripture itself by moving from the literal and historical to the symbolic level of understanding.

I have brought an icon of the Transfiguration so that we might envision the picture. Jesus is in the middle of Moses and Elijah, two important Old Testament figures who represent the Law and the Prophets which are the two main parts of the Hebrew Scriptures.  The Law is usually associated with the conservative keeping of the Tradition. The prophets are usually calling for change and can be considered in our language, liberals. Jesus stands between them both, symbolically indicating “they are both part of my picture, conservative and liberal. I hold both of them together and resolve the conflict that naturally comes about from liberals and conservatives.” At the end of the event, they disappear, and Jesus was found alone.

Only three of the Twelve accompanied Jesus.  Why not the rest? Maybe these were the only ones who were ready for this type of experience. In the midst of prayer, Jesus is visibly changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 

In this moment of awesome religious experience, the disciples want to permanently reside there by erecting tents. Peter, as impetuous as he is, says that they should  make three tents and in essence stay there forever. Who can blame him? But the text says: he did not know what he was saying.

So the deeper symbolism… of this transfiguration is that the divinity of Jesus is revealed through this beautiful dazzling light. He reveals to them in his very transfigured person that this is possible. He reveals that he is not just a man, but a man/god.  We must put those two together. We do not know how to put man and god together. Jesus reveals to them in his very person that this is possible.  If we do not know that it is possible, we cannot imagine putting it together in ourselves. And, this is the task for ourselves to realize that we are children of this earth and children of heaven.

As He reveals this to them, a cloud came over them and they became frightened. Spiritual things cannot become totally understood. There is always an aspect of mystery, of unknowing. It is part light and part cloud. You get it and you do not get it. Humble Christians know that they don’t know it all. Let me repeat: people who really know, know that they don’t know. Who of us can understand the face of God, the mystery of love?  In the presence of this mystery that is too big for them, they now become frightened.

The voice from the cloud affirms the chosen Son: listen to him. What is together in Jesus, the divine and human, must also be put together in you. Listen to Him and follow Him so you know how to do it. 

They fell silent and they did not talk about it. In the other two Gospel accounts in Mark and Matthew, Jesus told them not to tell about it. If you have not had a profound moment of personal transfiguration, you won’t quite understand. If you have ever had a profound mystical experience, which I hope that you have or will have, you know that words always fall short in describing it. You really cannot talk about it. There are no words that are adequate. You need a sacred silence necessary to just soak it in and know the experience at the deepest level of your being. To talk about the experience would be to cheapen it. You must treasure it in your heart, as Mary did. Often times, you ponder it for years. What did that mean? What was God trying to speak to my heart?  You will never really be able to talk about it, although talking about it with a spiritual director can sometimes help in affirming it.  Treasure it and know that it is true.

From Mount Tabor in Israel, I want to transport us to a holy mountain  in the west of Ireland. When St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated throughout the world and helps us to participate in the small island’s culture including green beer and leprechauns, we Catholics may tend to be disinterested in the saint himself. Patrick was not even born in Ireland. He was born in Britain and at the age of 16 was captured by Irish pirates and lived as a slave for 6 years before he escaped and went back home. He studied for the priesthood and was ordained in Gaul/France before a spiritual experience prompted him to return to Ireland to bring the Gospel to people he came to love. He did this for 30 years. The holy mountain of Ireland called Croagh Patrick is named in honor of Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint. It was on the summit of the mountain that Saint Patrick fasted for forty days in 441 AD. It is not known whether Patrick battled the devil as Jesus did during His 40 days in the desert, nor if he had a mystical experience as was experienced on Mount Tabor. Let us continue our Lenten journey of 40 days with the saints among us and those who have gone before us.

In Gaelic:  A Naomh Pháidraig guí orainn. St Patrick pray for us. Amen.

First Sunday of Lent

Jesus did not give in to temptation
By Father Pete Iorio

Since the first Sunday of Lent always begins with the temptation of Jesus in the desert and we have heard it so many times, we may become complacent thinking that we have heard it all before. Just as we hear the temptations again and again, we need to ask this question again and again: Who are you?? This is a serious question. The answer determines everything else in life. My answer can be

I am … Peter, a man, a priest, a brother, an American …

I dare to say that the answer for each and every one of us to the question: Who are you? is “I am a beloved child of God.”   All of the rest is add on. At our core, at the soul level, we are the beloved of God.  When we forget our true identity, we get into trouble.

The beginning of the Gospel today has a key line that sets the temptations of Jesus into proper context: when he “returned from the Jordan.” The temptation of Jesus in the desert immediately follows His baptism in the Jordan River where His identity was revealed. A voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Once you know who you are, you can be tested. Before you know who you are, you just have options. From the River Jordan, the Spirit leads Him into the desert for 40 days. This Spirit never departed from Jesus. He spent a lot of time in prayer as was his habit to discern and obey the will of the Father and to prepare for whatever He had to do on his mission. A mission produces results.

Every tree is known by its fruits. An apple tree produces apples. An orange tree produces oranges. This is what is it does at its core. So what does a beloved son or daughter of God produce?  The answer is LOVE in all of its best qualities: patience, kindness; it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor or disrespect others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always forgives, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 

Paul, who wrote that letter to the Corinthians, came to know his true self as a beloved child of God through his relationship with Christ.

What the devil tempts the Son of God to do and what the devil tempts us to do is to forget who we are or to deny who we are. We can look at Genesis, at Adam and Eve when they were tempted. It was the same thing. God had made them in his own image and likeness… in essence his beloved and placed them in the Garden of Eden. The tempter put into their minds to be something that they were not. The temptation is to be better than you are, to be tempted to have something that you do not have. A pattern that emerges from Genesis is the blame game: the woman made me do it.  Oh really. For how many of us, is that true? We continue to blame another for our sins or for problems in our world? Most of us find it easy to blame as a way out of a difficulty. It is a primal temptation. My brothers and sisters: No one made you do it. A spiritually mature person owns his or her truth of having sinned, of having fallen into temptation. As long as you think someone else is your problem, you are stuck. Spiritually mature people do not go around blaming other people. Instead, the spiritually mature person sees a problem and looks for ways to improve it. He or she does not seek out who is at fault. When we automatically seek to blame, it sets up the dynamic to move out of our identity as the beloved and into hating other people who also are beloved children of God.

The temptations of Jesus caution us. Remember that the devil is a deceiver, a total liar. In each of the temptations, he begins, “If you are the Son of God,” so as to cast doubt on His identity. Do not bow before a false god. Jesus is tempted to go his own way, to break with the will of the Father. He is tempted to become not the Suffering Servant that he is sent to be. He is tempted to become a powerful messiah whom the people will honor and rally around. Jesus knows who He is, the Beloved Son of God and He does not fall into the trap of using power for his own aggrandizement. He does not fall into the trap of needing wealth and possessions to bring him joy. He does not fall into the trap of boosting his ego with the prestige of being over other people.

Our mission is different than that mission of Jesus; however, there is the temptation to go our own way, making ourselves independent of God, just like Adam and Eve did.

The devil tempts us as he did Jesus to desire more things and to be better than others. Jesus shows us that path of descent, the choice of denying ourselves power, pleasure, and prestige and possessions is how we affirm our true identity in God as a beloved child. During Lent we all enter into a process of changing and growing in Christ. Jesus did not cling to his power as mighty God and display it during the temptations in the desert. Instead, he let go of all of these desires and emptied himself.

Our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are spiritual practices which assist us in letting go.  There is great freedom to be able to not be attached to power, possessions and prestige.

I conclude by sharing this image that I heard years ago. The message is: Do not cling and you will be free.

This is the story of the ring-tailed monkey. The Zulus of Africa have been catching this agile little animal with ease for years. The method the Zulus use is based on knowledge of the animal. Their trap is nothing more than a melon growing on a vine. The seeds of this melon are a favorite of the monkey. Knowing this, the Zulus simply cut a hole in the hard-skinned melon, just large enough for the monkey to insert his hand to reach the seeds inside. The monkey will stick his hand in, grab as many seeds as he can, then start to withdraw it. This he cannot do. His fist is now larger than the hole. The monkey will pull and tug, screech and fight the melon for hours. But he can’t get free of the trap unless he gives up the seeds, which he refuses to do. Meanwhile, the Zulus sneak up and nab him. Satan tempts us with similar traps.

Let Go and Let God affirm your belovedness and give you freedom as a child of God and to live your mission in Christ.

Why I am Catholic and not leaving the Church

By Deacon John Hackett

03.03.19.Sunday of the 8th week. cycle C 

In preparing for my homily today, when I first read that Alleluia verse we just heard today I was struck by the words: “Shine like lights in the world as you hold on to the word of life.” When I  first read that  I couldn’t  help but think about  that “shining like light” thing within the context of all the many lights that have now  regrettably been dimming within the shadows of  our church-  a Church / a people that is supposed be the example of shininglike lights in the world.

So, what has happened? Well, we all have our own story about this, and it’s a sad story. Many in our church, and many others in the world are simply aghast at what’s going on, and been going on for decades.  So, within that context, let me start with Stanley Rother.

Stanley Rother was a young man from Oklahoma who became a priest, eventually serving as a missionary to the poorest of the poor in Santiago Atitlan,  Guatemala. In the late 1970s, Guatemala became embroiled in a bloody civil war. Priests and religious were targeted. Father Stanley Rother was urged to leave the country, but he couldn’t abandon the people he loved. He stayed, and on July 28, 1981, he was attacked in his rectory and killed. He was 46 years old. And he is now the first martyr born in the United States. Shortly before he was killed, he wrote back to his family, explaining why he was staying behind. He says: “A shepherd doesn’t run at the first sign of danger, a good shepherd shows fidelity and courage to protect his flock.”

It is good to remember that, especially now, because the headlines the last few weeks have made something all too clear: too many of our shepherds ran. They looked the other way. They enabled sin.

Many people have told me they are outraged. They are angry. They feel betrayed. But there is something else they feel. They are hungry for justice, hungry for accountability, hungry for an explanation. Some are hungry for vengeance. And nearly all are hungry for hope! A few feel despair. Some have asked me why they should even remain Catholic. It’s a good question. I can only offer you my own answer, which is incomplete and inadequate—but it tells my story.

I am Catholic because of men like Father Stanley Rother. I am Catholic because of bishops like Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was shot to death while saying Mass in El Salvador. I am Catholic because of men like that elderly French priest, Fr. Jacques Hamel, whose throat was slit by jihadists in his village church. I am Catholic because of priests like Father Walter Ciszek, who risked his life to say Mass in a Soviet prison with just a crumb of bread and a few drops of wine. I am Catholic because of sisters like St. Teresa of Calcutta, who heard Christ calling to her among the poor, begging, “I thirst,” and she could not turn him down.  I am Catholic because this church is filled with people of courage and conviction. I am Catholic because of women like the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena serving in Iraq—selfless and loving souls who welcomed Muslims into their convent during the Iraq war and gave them a place to pray, explaining, “We don’t help them because they’re Catholic, (which they were not) but…. because we are.”

I am Catholic because of my father and mother—He a very intelligent, Irish bred,  introspective, highly educated lawyer, who for most of his career served as Chief Advisor to judges on the NY State Supreme Court.  And my very effusive, outgoing, Italian mother… basically uneducated, only ever working as a simple telephone operator in Brooklyn; two very unlikely people who made a life together, and made a family together, and taught me how to pray.

And while we’re on that subject, I am Catholic because of Sister Francis Cabrini, always referred to as “Mother” by the Italian side of my family. Mother Cabrini was an enormous support to thousands of Italian immigrants in the U.S…. my mother’s family included. Sister Cabrini later became the first naturalized citizen in the U.S. to be canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, and according to my family…she earned it.

I am Catholic because these and so many others bear witness to the ongoing miracle of God’s love and mercy—and the greatest ongoing miracle of all, the Eucharist. I am Catholic because these words are engraved in my heart: “Do this in memory of me.” And I offer my hand at every Mass as an unworthy cradle to hold the Body of Christ and I am awed and humbled and ashamed — and I am, by God’s grace, transformed.

I am Catholic because to be Catholic is to be part of the most extraordinary undertaking in all of human history—one that educated the ignorant, comforted the grieving, healed the sick, uplifted the outcast. The Catholic Church, across 2,000 years, gave beauty to music and art and architecture and prayer. The Catholic Church carried the Body of Christ and the teachings of our savior to jungles in Asia and huts in Africa and classrooms in places as diverse as Beverly Hills and Belfast and Brooklyn.

I am Catholic because I believe. I believe those words we will pray together in just a few moments, the Creed, the testament of faith that countless men, women and children have given their lives for. As we acclaim during the Rite of Baptism: “This is our faith. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” I am Catholic because I believe we can be better than what we are — and that no priest, bishop, or cardinal can take that away. I am Catholic because I believe, I know, that we are fallible, fallen people, and that we are all struggling to get to heaven. And I believe, I know, I am not alone. And some of us are living lives of pure sacrificial love. I am Catholic because of them.

I am Catholic because the horrible sins of a few cannot erase the generous, staggeringly beautiful love of so many. It has been this way from Day One, when Christ was executed between two thieves while those he loved abandoned him, denied him, or betrayed him. I am Catholic because so many who love the Lord have not abandoned him or betrayed him.

And finally, know this: Most shepherds in our Church do not run at the sign of danger. They are not disloyal or cowardly. They stay with us. They support us. They help us. And at this moment, they need us to help them. Pray for them. Pray that those who are just beginning their priesthood will not lose heart. We live in treacherous, traitorous times. Things may get worse before they get better. But they will get better. They will. And so once again may our Church/Our people shine; “be shiny” like lights in the world. 

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Deacon Don Griffith

These last few weeks we have heard our Blessed Redeemer preach the sermon on the plain.  Before expounding on today’s readings I’d like to briefly summarize these last few weeks. Firstly, our Savior gave instruction on the blessings and the woes in which He teaches His disciples not only to be detached from earthly desires and to not seek satisfaction or consolation only in this present life with no thought of the life to come, but also that our earthly circumstances of life do not necessarily translate to the same status or circumstances in the Kingdom of God.  Next, having taught about the dispositions of the interior life, our Lord then teaches how these interior dispositions should be shown outwardly in our interactions with others. It is a new way of acting, and our Lord, knowing and anticipating the redemption He would merit as He hung upon the cross, in a sense calls His disciples out of sin. As if He said Even sinners love those who love them, but I have called you out of sin so you are to love your enemies; even sinners do good to those who do good to them, but I have called you out from sin, so you are to do good even to those who hate you.  That brings us to today.  Having taught His disciples about this newness of life and how from the inside out, it causes a new way of acting, our Savior then addresses His reason for teaching them and at the same time, their pride at having been taught.  Our Lord addresses spiritual blindness.  We are effectively blind when we are in darkness, when there is no light.  We can be blinded also when there are problems with the eyes themselves.  The reason for teaching them is so that He can shed His divine light.  He is the Light of the World, and He calls us out of darkness and into His light.  He is illuminating His disciples with His divine light, so that by His grace, when He calls other to Himself through His disciples, they will not be blind leading the blind.  He addresses the pride of His disciples by speaking about the wooden beam in our own eye.  Both of these types of blindness frame this little sentence which to me, seem to be the very point of our Lord’s preaching over these last weeks.  No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.  We cannot have the beatitudes, we can not act the way He desires for us to act in this life unless we are like Him, like the Teacher.  To do that, to be like the Teacher, like Christ, we must be in His light, we must be illuminated by His light.  In that way, we are able to see with His light those obstacles, whether in our hearts or in our eyes, that prevent us from seeing Him clearly and prevent us from living in a manner pleasing to Him.

Without taking anything away from the hurt and pain caused by terrible crimes and abuse, in my own prayer for the Church I believe there is something greater going on, if I may be permitted to speak in this manner without seeming to trivialize the very real suffering people have experienced.  But this something greater going on is the erosion, even the outright assault upon Christian values, not only in our country, but even around the world, in places that have been identified as Christian for millenia.  Greed, an attitude that resources and people are expendable Marriage being 1 man and 1 woman, abortion on demand, euthanasia, the separation of the marital act from the context of marriage solely for bodily pleasure, the rejection of natural family planning and in its place some means contrary to the moral law, male and female He made them, Lust, Pride Gluttony.  Just a great deal of turmoil.  There is no one answer, but I believe a good place to start is a renewed and strengthened desire for holiness.

Every renewal of the Church(27) is essentially grounded in an increase of fidelity to her own calling.(UR 6).  The fidelity of the baptized is a primordial condition for the proclamation of the Gospel and for the Church’s mission in the world. In order that the message of salvation can show the power of its truth and radiance before men, it must be authenticated by the witness of the life of Christians. “The witness of a Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have great power to draw men to the faith and to God.(CCC2044).  On her pilgrimage, the Church has also experienced the “discrepancy existing between the message she proclaims and the human weakness of those to whom the Gospel has been entrusted.”  Only by taking the “way of penance and renewal,” the “narrow way of the cross,” can the People of God extend Christ’s reign.(CCC853).  The Lord Jesus, the divine Teacher and Model of all perfection, preached holiness of life to each and everyone of His disciples of 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”.  Indeed He sent the Holy Spirit upon all men that He might move them inwardly to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength(217) and that they might love each other as Christ loves them.(LG 40).  Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification”.(215) (LG 39).  In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time. (CCC827).  The new life we received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin which remains in the baptized such that, with the help of the grace of Christ, we may prove ourselves in the struggle of Christian life. This is the struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us.(CCC1426).  This conversion  is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church. (CCC 1428). 

In order that we become like the Teacher, we must allow ourselves to be fully trained. To look in the spiritual mirror of the Church’s teaching on faith and morals, to pray for the grace to conform our lives to the Crucified Christ, and to live a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience. On our own, this task is impossible, but nothing is impossible with God.  As we prepare for the Holy season of Lent this week, let us take some time to look at our lives in His light, with His mercy, and ask to know where am I living Christ’s life and where am I not in my family, where am I living Christ’s life and where am I not in His family-in this community, and where am I living Christ’s life and where am I not in His world.  

The Heart Speaks

By Deacon Mike Jacobs

The blind cannot guide the blind. We cannot reform others without reforming ourselves. In order to do good we have to become good.  Everything we do depends on what we are in our hearts.  “For it is out of abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”  What Jesus does in this Gospel is invite us to look into our hearts and to cooperate with Him in making our hearts like His; that is, to make what we are inside match what He is in His own mind and will and heart.  And why does He do this?  It is so that our lives will count for something, will “bear fruit” on this earth.  It is so that when we die the world will be different for our having lived.

Everything changed with Jesus’ coming.  The real power is not with the powerful anymore; nor the real productivity with the most productive.  We do not have to be brilliant or talented or strategically placed in order to change history or have influence on the world.  In fact, those who think they are changing the world are probably having the least effect of all.  For example, throughout history and to this day rulers and nations have spent enormous energy on wars to rearrange national boundaries, and we spent hours in history class learning about it!  But changing frontiers and governments has about as much effect on real human history as changing the lines on notebook paper while someone else is doing the writing.  The real action, the action that counts and the actions that make people different forever takes place within the human heart.  The only changes that endure are the ones that take place in the heart.  Everything else is ultimately trivial.

St John of the Cross compares the heart to a glass window with a ray of sunlight shining on it.  If the glass window is dirty, “the ray cannot illuminate it, nor transform it completely into its light; its illumination will be in proportion to its clearness.  If, on the other hand, it is absolutely clean and spotless, it will be illuminated and transformed in such a way as to appear to be the luminous ray itself and to give the same light”. (AS II, 5, 6)  God is the divine Sun shining upon our souls, desiring to invade them and penetrate them, completely transforming them into His light and love.  Before He does this, however, He waits until the soul resolves to free itself from every “creature stain”, that is, the stains of sin and inordinate attachments.  As soon as God finds that the heart is free from mortal sin, He immediately fills it with His grace.  This precious gift is the first step in the great transformation which the Lord desires to bring about in us.  The more we become purified of all sin and imperfection, and of even the slightest attachment; that is, in proportion as we conform our will to the will of God, not only in serious matters of obligation but even in the least details of perfection, the more capable we become of being entirely penetrated and transformed by divine Grace.

Grace, the gift of God which makes the soul a participant in the divine nature, is poured forth into the soul in proportion to its degree of interior purity, which always corresponds to its degree of conformity with God’s will.  Therefore, the soul that wished to be totally possessed and transformed by divine Grace, must in practice strive to conform fully to the will of God, “so that there may be nothing in the soul that is contrary to the will of God, but that in all and through all its movement may be that of the will of God alone. (AS I, 14, and 23)

The problem with the news media is that the news they report is not really significant, but by focusing on it they make us think it is.  Ten people praying can affect history more than an army invading a country.  One man surrendering his whole heart to God while dying in a hospital is more important in the real history of humanity than the victory of a presidential candidate.  A hundred years from now none of us now living will care who was president during this decade or see any advantage to ourselves in anything he did.  We will be grateful in heaven to many people, but only for the love they gave us and for the ways they helped us to know and love God.  Nothing else anyone does for us will matter then, because we will see how totally insignificant it was in terms of lasting effect.

The truth is, we can love God and other people with our whole hearts whether the government makes us rich or poor, whether the environment keeps us healthy or makes us sick, whether the military protects us or lets us be invaded, whether our houses are broken into or not and whether we are murdered on the street or live to be a hundred.  What is really important for us, what is making the only history that counts and what we really should be following as news, is what is happening that will help us know God, love God, and what contributes to establishing the reign of God on earth.  His is the only reign, the only history the human race really has.

So who are our guides?  To whom do we listen?  Do we think that what is reported in the news really matters or is our focus on the Good News that began with Jesus Christ?  Where do we go if we follow guides who are so blind they cannot see one step beyond the grave or, cannot see beyond the economic and political concerns of the country?  (How much time would Jesus would have wasted worrying about the stock market?).  Why do we bother to criticize, much less to hate, politicians or anyone else, they can only affect our physical wellbeing?  Jesus says, “Check your own valve systems first, then decide if you have anything to be concerned about.”

O my God, for what great things have you created me!  You have created me to know You, to love You, to serve You and not as a slave, but as Your child, Your friend, living intimacy with You, sitting at Your table, enjoying Your presence, O Jesus, You have said, “I will not now call you servants, for the servant knows not what his lord is doing.  But I have called you friends, because all things whatsoever I have heard of My Father, I have made known to you”. (Jn 15:15)

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Americans Who Love Enemies
By Father Pete Iorio

This month of February, we celebrated two federal holidays. Friday, February 22, was the birthday of our first President George Washington which we observed last Monday. Also we remembered Martin Luther King, Jr.  Maybe all you did to connect with these days was to enjoy a day off of school or work.  Maybe you were inconvenienced because banks or offices were closed and there was not mail service. Let us be inspired by true stories of these two great Americans that include putting today’s Gospel into practice.

During the Revolutionary War, Peter Miller was the pastor of a little Baptist Church in Pennsylvania. The Reverend Peter Miller was a friend of General George Washington and was respected for his many outstanding services to the newly born republic. He also helped the President to translate the Declaration of Independence into several foreign languages so that the Imperial Courts of Europe would be aware of the intentions of the new American government. Michael Wildman, the public prosecutor lived near the church, constantly criticizing and abusing Pastor Miller and his congregation. When Wildman was caught for spying for the British army, President George Washington sentenced him to be hanged for treason. No sooner was the sentence announced than Rev. Peter Miller set out on foot to appeal to General George Washington for his enemy’s life. The president thought that Mr. Wildman was Rev. Miller’s friend and stated that he could not save Miller’s friend because of the gravity of his guilt. Miller said, “Mr. President, Mr. Wildman is not my friend; he is my worst enemy.” “What!” exclaimed our first president George Washington, “You have walked sixty miles to save the life of your enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. Pardon is granted.” Pardon in hand, Miller hurried to the place of execution, fifteen miles away. He arrived just as the traitor was being led to the scaffold. Seeing the pastor Miller coming close to the executing officer, the condemned Wildman shouted, “Here is the old Peter Miller. He came to get his revenge by seeing me hanged.” Miler calmly stepped forward and gave him the pardon, signed by General Washington.  Rev. Miller lived by the command Jesus gave us as described in today’s Gospel passage: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” He put into practice what we would name a prolife practice, saving a person from the death penalty.

We need to practice grace-filled behavior. What makes Christianity distinct from any other religion is the quality known as grace, that is God’s own life working in us.  Speaking for myself and my instincts especially when I am hurting, I would not be a very good Christian. My natural reaction when hurt by someone is to lash out in some way or get defensive. I need God’s grace, his divine blood coursing through my veins to help me speak and act as He would act. 

MLK was a Christian who was brought up on God’s Word and the teaching of His Lord Jesus Christ.  When a gang of racial fanatics set fire to King’s house, an Afro-American mob gathered, ready to take revenge.  But Dr. Martin Luther King told them, “When you live by the rule ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ you end up with a nation of blind and toothless people.”  Then he led the gathering in prayer for the white brothers who had burned his house. That is what the amazing grace of forgiveness, the central theme of today’s readings, is all about.

When I find it very difficult to forgive someone because the very sight of them fills me with negative emotion, I pray for them in a specific way. I pray with their picture in front of me and I ask for divine grace to love them as God loves them and for the peace that comes with forgiving from the heart. It sometimes takes a while, but it has worked in my life.

Now think about your own life when you have been wronged by words or by deeds or by money. How has God’s grace shown forth in your own life by putting into practice what Jesus preached in his Sermon on the Plain today? I know that all of you have a story. I hear them almost every day at St. Mary’s School as our children put this into practice. You have made the world a better place and infusing the grace of God’s merciful love in the world. Be sure to tell this good news to others. Do not just keep it to yourself. Share your story face to face or on social media, wherever and whenever you can.

Infuse our world with God’s grace. Remember He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.

Focolare Word of Life