Sowing the love of God

Sowing the love of God

In the Peace Prayer of St. Francis the various couplets following our request to be made God’s instrument as we discussed in our last blog, are a litany of those elements necessary for peace; love, pardon, faith, hope, light and joy—”but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13)

Our verse this week is on love because it is the cornerstone of peace. It is also the antithesis of hatred to which it is closely related as is true of antithetical terms, which are defined by each other. For example, darkness is the absence of light.

Poetess Etla Wheeler Wilcox penned the line, “Love lights more fires than hate extinguishes.” Hate destroys, love gives life. Hatred and love cannot co-exist. Jesus commands us that we are to “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12). One who loves unconditionally, as God loves us, cannot hate.

Hatred has many faces. Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel professes that “the opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference,” which he characterizes as, “the epitome of evil.” Indeed, Pope Francis has been an outspoken critic of the “globalization of indifference,” which has replaced love and mercy with “an economic system that has removed the person from the centre and replaced him with the god of money; an economic system that excludes and creates the throwaway culture in which we live.”

We sow love by our witness, acts of kindness, compassion, mercy, consideration shown to others. Love is contagious. The Holy Father observed that “Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others. As it expands, goodness takes root and develops. If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good” (EG 9). Just as “the love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14), our acts of love impel others, for God is love and those who abide in love abide in God, and God in them. (1 John 4:16)

Image Credit: USDA on Flickr

Becoming an instrument of God’s peace

Becoming an instrument of God's peace

The Peace Prayer of St. Francis begins with a plea that God use us as his instrument. An instrument is something that is used to accomplish a greater purpose than is inherently possible in and of itself. A flute is a device that must be used to be an instrument, such as when it is used by James Galway to make magical music. Mary became the instrument used by God to accomplish the Incarnation.

In praying the Peace Prayer we are asking God to change us, to “make us” which implies we are asking to be changed, to move in a new direction; to experience what the early Church called metanoia, a Greek word meaning changing one’s mind. Our Christian ancestors used it to refer to conversion.

Conversion is always the work of the Holy Spirit, even the grace, the nudge to consider the idea, is from the Spirit. When we ask Jesus to change us into his instrument, what are we asking for? The answer is provided in an old hymn written in 1926 by David Iverson called Spirit of the Living God. Here are the lyrics that describe what we are requesting when we ask to be made into Jesus’ instrument.

Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God,
Fall afresh on me.

If I may borrow from the 12 Steps Program, it means to “let go and let God.” Conversion is at the heart of Christian Faith. On Ash Wednesday we were charged to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

The Holy Spirit calls us in many voices. One of those voices we are hearing a lot lately is that of Our Holy Father Pope Francis, who in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium wrote, “The new evangelization calls on every baptized person to be a peacemaker and a credible witness to a reconciled life.” (EG  239)

What habit, what opinion contrary to the Gospel, what withheld forgiveness must we surrender to the cauldron of conversion this Lent to allow ourselves to be melted, molded, and filled? What must we change to become an instrument of God’s peace?

Image credit: “IU Violin Shop” by Austin Davis on Flickr

The Prayer of St. Francis and the writings of Pope Francis

The Prayer of St. Francis and the writings of Pope Francis

Let us begin with The Peace Prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

The Prayer for Peace attributed to St. Francis of Assisi has attained great popularity among both Christians and non-Christians. Although the prayer was not written by St. Francis, it reflects his writings and the witness of his life and has been widely published including in Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

Franciscan Father Albert Haase notes in his brief book on the Peace Prayer, Instruments of Christ, that “It has been prayed in formal settings such as the United States Senate and the inauguration of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister of England. It has also been prayed in times of sorrow such as the funerals of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Princess Diana of Wales….the Peace Prayer is truly a prayer for all times and for all peoples.” As Father Haase observes that is probably because “Its words carry the entire weight of the teachings of Jesus.”

Since Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio became the first pope to take the name of Francis, similarities in style and substance between Pope Francis and St. Francis of Assisi have become apparent, especially the simplicity of lifestyle, commitment to the marginalized and calling us all to return to the foundational teachings of Jesus.

In our blogs during Lent, we will reflect on the similar ways that the basic teachings of Jesus are presented in the Prayer of St. Francis and the writings of Pope Francis, particularly in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

Image Credit: Pope Francis kisses a hand-carved figure of St. Francis of Assisi that was given to him as he greeted patients, family members and staff at St. Francis of Assisi Hospital in Rio de Janeiro July 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) (July 24, 2013)

The blood is the same: It is the blood which confesses Christ

Blood is the same

Atrocities carried out by the Islamic state terrorists reached a new level of barbarity with the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya last week in retaliation for the killing of Osama bin Laden. The victims had been singled out as Christians last December and held captive until the seaside executions.

“They were murdered just for the fact they were Christians,” Pope Francis said. Adding, “The blood of our Christian brothers is a witness that cries out ….If they are Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it is not important: They are Christians. The blood is the same: It is the blood which confesses Christ.”

It is ironic that the perpetrators of the massacre referred to the Coptic Christians as crusaders. Coptic Christians are among the earliest Christian communities and have always been centered in Egypt and were in no sense part of the crusades from Europe.

Copts, along with many other Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Christians whose roots date to Apostolic times have been suffering persecution, oppression and martyrdom throughout the Middle East and Asia and have been driven out of cities, like Mosul, that had been centers of Christian culture for nearly two thousand years.

Speaking to a group from the Church of Scotland, Pope Francis said that in remembering “these brothers who have been killed simply for confessing Christ,” Christians should encourage one another in the ecumenical goal, noting the “ecumenism of blood” in recalling that “The martyrs are from all the Christians.”

This is not a time for vengeance or retaliation that is contrary to the teaching of Jesus, and only escalates violence. Rather, it is a time for prayerful reflection on the sacrifice of these Coptic brothers who, as the Holy Father noted, only said “Jesus help me.”

Open Carry: Whose rights are right?

Open Carry

People who are outspoken in defending their own rights for the most part are not equally interested in protecting the rights of others…particularly if they conflict with the right they are defending. Such is the case with the advocates of the open carrying of handguns and the concealed carrying of handguns on college campuses bills now on the floor of the Texas Senate. This narrow-minded advocacy reached a new level with the claim that open carrying of arms was a “right granted by God.”

Regardless of what other reasons are offered, open carrying of weapons is meant to intimidate, which violates the rights of other citizens to not be subjected to such behavior when going about their normal affairs. Guns are intended to kill or wound and their presence other than in hands of authorities are always intimidating to most of us.

At best, the right to openly carry any weapon, especially side arms, is a distortion of the constitutional right to bear arms and, at worst, it is legalized bullying, designed to intimidate fellow citizens.

We have law enforcement bodies and a military establishment charged with the protection of all citizens. We no longer live in the Wild West where such established law and order bodies did not always exist. Open carry laws do not increase public safety; they diminish it and trample on the rights of peace-loving citizens who want law and order, not vigilante justice.

Image Credit: “Carry Guns” by Ben Re on Flickr

Message of Pope Francis for Lent 2015 (Part II)

Pope Francis leaves St. Peter's Basilica

Pope Francis’ Message for Lent is a prophetic call to the Church and the world to excise the cancer of indifference from the Church and society and replace it with the compassion and mercy of Christ. Perhaps, to keep us from viewing his message as a pleasant platitude intended only to motivate politicians and “leadership,” the Holy Father quickly applies his message to our parishes, and each of us individually.

“All that we have been saying about the universal Church,” the Pope makes clear, “must now be applied to the life of our parishes and communities.” He asks “Do these ecclesial structures enable us to experience being part of one body, a body which receives and shares what God wishes to give, a body which acknowledges and cares for its weakest, poorest and most insignificant members?”

The Holy Father cautions against professing a “universal love that would embrace the whole world while failing to see the beggar on our doorstep.” He calls for every Christian community “to go out of itself and be engaged in the life of the greater society of which it is a part especially with the poor and those who are far away. And, the Pope reminds us that “the Church is missionary by her very nature,” not self-centered but sent to the world.

Calling on parishes to “become islands of mercy in a sea of indifference,” Pope Francis charges us “to bring all to a love that cannot remain silent.” He warns individuals to guard against being tempted by indifference or becoming discouraged or overwhelmed when “flooded with news reports and troubling images of human suffering.”

We cannot turn away from this seemingly overpowering challenge. The Holy Father calls us to prayer in communion with the whole Church on earth and in heaven, to acts of charity “reaching out to those near and far…showing concern for others by small but concrete signs.” And, he encourages us to experience personal conversion by recognizing our “total dependence on God and our brothers and sisters,” and avoiding the diabolical temptation that we can save the world by ourselves.

In his Lenten Message, Pope Francis has thrown down the gauntlet challenging us to make a difference, to overcome apathy and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness to become an instrument of God’s mercy and compassion.

How will we respond?

Also See:

Image Credit: Pope Francis leaves after celebrating a Mass marking the feast of the Presentation of the Lord Feb. 2. The Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican also marked the World Day for Consecrated Life. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Message of Pope Francis for Lent 2015 (Part I)

Pope Francis - February 2015

Pope Francis’s Message for Lent  is not a spiritual reflection on preparing for Easter, but a prophetic call to recognize that the fact that millions of our brothers and sisters are locked in poverty, stripped of their human dignity and live without hope is an unacceptable difference that cannot be ignored or tolerated. The message might well have been titled What’s the Difference because it expands on his previous criticism of global indifference and apathy.

“Usually,” the Pope observes, “when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does). We are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure.” He notes that, “Today this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can now speak of a globalization of indifference.”

A “whatever” attitude of disinterest or acceptance of such poverty as inevitable is not acceptable. “Indifference to our neighbor and to God. …. represents a real temptation for us Christians,” the Holy Father continues, ” a problem which we, as Christians need to confront.” We must not “become indifferent and withdraw into ourselves.”

“Christians,” Pope Francis emphasizes “are those who let God clothe them with goodness and mercy, with Christ, so as to become like Christ, servants of God and others.” God’s love breaks that fatal withdrawal into ourselves which is indifference. “God is not indifferent to our world.”

St. Paul reminds us as the Body of Christ, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” (1 Cor.12:26) It is the same with humanity for, in the words of John Donne, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

“In the Body of Christ,” the Holy Father reminds us, “there is no room for the indifference which so often seems to possess our hearts. For whoever is of Christ, belongs to one body, and in him we cannot be indifferent to one another.”

In my next blog I will write more on the Pope’s Lenten message in which he sets out a plan for parishes.

Image Credit: Pope Francis smiles as he leaves his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Feb. 11. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?

Eye for an eye

“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had something to say about that maxim, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 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. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.” (Matt 5:38-42)

You might well say — if that is the Gospel, we are not Christian, or in the words of G. K. Chesterton, “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”

Many of us, bishops, priests and laity have been guilty of preaching, teaching and reading the Gospel selectively…sometimes glossing over the uncomfortable portions like the quoted passage from Matthew in which Jesus clearly calls his disciples to go beyond the Law of Reciprocity, treat others well so they will treat you well, and beyond the Talion Law of tit-for-tat.

Are we then to stand aside and let evil run rampant? Of course not. But, our response must be measured, just and tempered with mercy, not instantaneous, massive retaliation intended to destroy.

A measured response may include the limited use of force but always in conjunction with diplomacy and other efforts. With regard to the use of force against ISIS in Iraq, Pope Francis cautioned, “In reaffirming that it is licit, while always respecting international law, to stop an unjust aggressor, I wish to reiterate that the problem cannot be resolved solely through a military response.”

Let us pray for people around the world — including our enemies and especially for our leaders– that God our Heavenly Father will touch our hearts and minds so that someday we can know peace in the world.

Image credit: “Pantokrator” by Nick Thompson on Flickr