13th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)
“Lord, save us! We are perishing!”
The cry of the storm-tossed disciples was the cry of mortal Adam thrust into a broken world full of dangers and out-of-control tempests. Adam’s son Jesus, unbroken by sin, slept like a baby on a cushion in Edenic tranquility.
He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”
This “sort of man” was none other than the paradisal man of the forgotten garden who ruled with gentleness and calm over the whole of creation as king. The winds and the sea recognized his voice immediately amid the din of terror and returned to peace. Harmony and grace emanated from every fiber of Adam’s being in the cosmic garden, a memory never forgotten by the elements. Adam’s friendship with the Father in the garden held all things together.
Due to the loss of oneness, the scattered shards of Adam have lived in fear within and without ever since the expulsion. Fundamental to oneness was trust among all the creatures, shepherded by their little king.
Faith and divine friendship restore this original, simple trust and bring us into kinship with the soil, plants, animals, winds, seas, sun, moon and stars. The cruciform tree of life planted in the center of the exiled cosmos beckons us to eat and drink of it as one Body, and return to the Father’s garden.
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
Acts 12:1-11; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19
“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
At these words of Peter, an invisible bolt of lightning struck the stage of the world drama and lit it from end to end. The freedom of the omniscient writer and the freedom of the created character in the Story connected in an instant of pure grace.
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”
Insight into the divine mysteries beyond sight and sound in a single human mind is a world-changing event more cataclysmic than a tsunami or a pandemic.
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Recognition of Jesus’ personal identity as the Son of God was like scales falling out of the eyes of Adam. Peter’s profession of faith would be the first match to light the rest of darkened humanity one person at a time.
Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” is addressed very personally. Faith is not secondhand—what “people say”—but direct experience in the light of grace.
As the Church grew by the apostolic preaching of Peter and Paul, religion may have become secondhand for some as evidenced by Paul’s strange question to the Romans: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) Lacking firsthand knowledge by an experience of grace, some were perhaps simply following religious routine. Paul was amazed that some Christians thought it was possible “to continue in sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). There was barely a discernible change in life or outlook before and after conversion in some followers.
Secondhand religion is like hearing someone else’s testimony that water is cool and refreshing. Firsthand experience is tasting and knowing for oneself that it is cool and refreshing.
Getting to know Christ Jesus is a continual journey in metanoia; spiritual eyes open slowly and gradually. Matthew records that Peter stumbled shortly after his proclamation of faith by refusing to permit Jesus’ passion: “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus commanded sternly (Matthew 16:23). The triple denial and reinstatement of the “rock” as the drama unfolded show how much initial faith needed to mature.
Peter and Paul gained firsthand knowledge of Christ by sharing in his passion—Peter in prison chains, and Paul as he was “being poured out like a libation.” Both also experienced firsthand the deep peace of Christ in the midst of adversity. After Peter’s dreamlike rescue by an angel he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me…” Likewise, Paul testified, “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.”
The psalmist invites us to join Saints Peter and Paul and “Taste and see how good the Lord is; blessed the man who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Jesus said to his apostles: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The way of the Cross is paved with losses one after the other. In searching for the pearl of great price, illusion after illusion peels away until we arrive at the dimensionless core: nada. We brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out of it (Job 1:21).
Losing our life to find it is essentially giving up what was never ours to begin with. Not a breath or a heartbeat is our own achievement. We are, at bottom, ex nihilo—created out of nothing. At the border between being and non-being the mind disappears into a cloud of unknowing and can see no further, as Ultimate Reality lies beyond the dyad of thinker and thought.
If the possessive pronoun “mine” is really an illusion, we are simply stewards of time, life, relationships and circumstances. Each person is dealt a certain set of cards to be played in a limited space of time.
We did not choose our parents, culture, epoch, blood type, height, race, gender, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Our individual selves in this world are fragments of Adam, borrowed elements for the exercise of our personal freedom in this journey to our eternal Source. Returning in Christ to the Father, we become whole and distinct persons, possessing in common the union of all fragments as our own Body. What is possessed by all is possessed by none. “All mine are thine, and thine are mine” (John 17:10).
Familial ties belong to our fragmented, biological condition. Persons transcend and encompass all tribes, cultures, nations and tongues. Even the biological role of the Blessed Virgin Mary was provisional and limited to her earthly sojourn. In communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Mary is an indescribably glorious person transcending the root of Jesse and the Davidic line.
To the woman who said, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!” Jesus responded, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27) In no way was Jesus diminishing the role of Mary—the Theotokos was the exemplar of all those who “hear the word of God and keep it”—but her physical motherhood was put into perspective. Neither Jesus nor Mary are Jews in heaven, but persons transcending all cultures. From Our Lady of Guadalupe to Our Lady of Akita, Our Lady of Fatima to the Black Madonna, Mary is Mother to all nations and races.
Apparitions to humankind necessarily use forms and names in order to reach our limited mode of knowing. Communion in the Trinity transcends the dyad of motherhood and fatherhood, but we are like children being gathered into the bosom of the Father.
Divine love gives parents, children, siblings and friends the freedom to follow Christ wherever he wants to lead them. Clinging to our loved ones and boxing them in to satisfy our own needs is against reality. A child born into the world is not ours, but the Father’s. By letting go, we flow with the grace of the Holy Spirit through Christ to the Father.
Spiritual motherhood and fatherhood are universal: we may offer a “cup of cold water” to Christ’s “little ones” anytime, anywhere, opening our hearts to the family without boundaries.
12th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)
Jesus’ fame as a healer spread far and wide in Palestine, attracting not only lepers but foreigners like the Roman centurion. Jews did not associate with either group; one was “unclean,” the other was “Gentile.” Both were sources of defilement.
Jesus tore down walls of division by his compassion towards all people regardless of race, gender, physical and psychological condition, or social status. He must have felt an affinity for the centurion who showed such an unusual compassion for his servant, for under Roman law slaves were classified with tools and chattel. An infirm slave was considered disposable. As the noble centurion reached across social boundaries to help his fellow man, Jesus transcended racial boundaries and offered to go to his Gentile home—a transgression of Jewish law— and heal his servant.
The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
The centurion’s declaration of faith astounded Jesus. The Roman did not know Christ as the Son of God, but ascribed divine power and authority to him, intuiting by his spirit that Jesus could heal at a distance.
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven, but the children of the Kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour his servant was healed.
The racially exclusive court of heaven suddenly widened to include Gentiles in Jesus’ vision of the eternal Kingdom. The presumed heirs may find themselves disinherited, Jesus warned. Heaven is not a national birthright, but the universal communion of the faithful.
After the leper and the centurion, Jesus returned to Peter’s house where he was staying and healed a third person of marginalized status in Israel—a woman. Peter’s mother-in-law immediately began to serve him as soon as she was healed of her fever.
Jesus’ love knew no bounds as he healed every disease and infirmity. God had truly come in the flesh to reveal the secret of heaven: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:11).
As wonderful as miracles are, Jesus wanted above all to lead his people to faith in his Father: “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe,” Jesus admonished (John 4:48). He stood immovably silent in the presence of the sensation-seeking Herod (Luke 23:8-9).
The healing of body, soul and spirit in this world is a sign of the world to come when all divisions in the Body of Christ will be healed and brought to union and communion in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the miracle of miracles.
Pope Francis, speaking in his Apostolic Exhortation “Gaudete et exultate” of “the saints next door” – the ordinary holy people of our world– says “Their lives may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord.” (3) They persevere.
The pope also says that canonized saints have their faults and failings too.“Not everything a saint says is completely faithful to the Gospel; not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect. What we need to contemplate is the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness, the reflection of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their overall meaning as a person.” (22)
Later in his letter, Francis speaks about the dangers of modern day Pelagianism and cautions that when some say “ all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will, as if it were something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added. They fail to realize that “not everyone can do everything”, and that in this life human weaknesses are not healed completely and once for all by grace. (49)
Being a saint doesn’t mean you’re perfect, the pope says. That’s good to remember when we consider St.Cyril of Alexandria, the 4th century bishop of Alexandria and doctor of the church, whose feast is today, June 26th.
If you read his online biography in Wikipedia–where many today look for information about saints – you’ll find that he was deeply involved in the messy partisan politics of his time, when Christians, Jews and pagans fought and schemed to control the city that was then probably the most important city in the Roman empire. Some called him a “proud Pharaoh;” “ a monster” out to destroy the church, an impulsive bishop in a riotous city. That’s the way the Wikipedia biography mainly sees him.
He was a saint, others said. Why a saint? Well, Cyril was absorbed in understanding and defending the Incarnation of the Word of God. Did the Word of God come among us? How did he come? Who was Jesus Christ? Pursuing that mystery defined Cyril during life.
He thought and wrote extensively about this mystery; it absorbed him. The way he came to express it was used at the Council of Ephesus (431) and became the way we also express it in our prayers. Mary was the Mother of God. The One born of her was not simply another human being. Her Son was true God, who would be truly human and eventually die on the Cross. God “so loved the world” that he came among us as Mary’s Son.
What we see as “the totality” of Cyril’s life, his “life’s jouney”, the “overall meaning of his person”, to use the pope’s words, is not his involvement in the violent politics of his day, but his quest to know Jesus Christ.