Fear of the Lord

Holy Trinity

 

In Isaiah’s messianic prophecy on the Root of Jesse we read, “The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.”

We might ask “what can be delightful about fear?” The two words seem directly opposite to one another. But the Hebrew word used by the prophet is yirah which refers not to a fear based on terror but rather a fear based on reverence or awe. It is the feeling we get when confronted by the majesty of God’s creation, the overpowering splendor of the night sky or the endless sea, before which we feel overwhelmed by our own insignificance.

As is often the case with words that become clichés, awesome has been stripped of its power, but it aptly describes the experience of joy and delight Paul describes in his letter to the Church at Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!”

Fear of the Lord means a filial reverence, an awareness of the inconceivable reality that we are sons and daughters of God, confident in the knowledge of the Father’s unconditional love. As with all the Gifts of the Spirit, Fear of the Lord comes from an intimate personal relationship with Jesus who is the personification of the Father’s unconditional love. (John 3:16).

Domestic violence is all about power

 Domestic violence is all about power

Recent public outrage over domestic violence is long overdue, but the problem is far larger than a few football players and a federal judge. For us, as a church, it is a serious pastoral problem. Addressing domestic violence is just as central to the Catholic mission as helping the poor and the hungry. It is not something that only occurs with celebrities whose abusive behavior it spotlighted by the media, one in four women in America is a victim of domestic violence and every six hours a woman in this country dies at the hand of her spouse.

What that means is that these victims live next door to you or down the street. They may be sitting in the next pew at Mass. It is a crime that usually occurs behind closed doors, but it doesn’t stay there. It spreads out in concentric circles. It is also a safe environment issue, not only because of the danger to the abused spouse, but because of the children who witness the abuse. Children who grow up in violent homes are six times more likely to commit suicide. They are 24 times more likely to commit sexual assaults and 75 times more likely to commit crimes against people.

Who are these perpetrators? First of all, they are bullies. Domestic violence is all about power. It is about possessiveness and jealousy. Abusers are quick to blame others for their actions, “She made me angry.” Their abusive behavior is usually manifested in other ways through playful use of force or cruelty to animals. Frequently they have been victims of abuse themselves.

Victims of domestic violence should be encouraged to seek professional help which is available. Information on resources may be obtained from the Diocesan Safe Environment Office at 214-379-2812.

Domestic violence is unacceptable and against the will of God.

Image Credit:  CNS photo illustration/Greg Tarczynski

Pope Francis and the Marriage Journey

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Marriage has been described as a “journey together to God.” Pope Francis chose this image in speaking to 20 couples he married last week in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Choosing the Bible passage that speaks of the Israelites long and wearisome journey to the Promised Land the Pope said, “This makes us think of families, our families, walking along the paths of life with all their day-to-day experiences. It is impossible to quantify the strength and depth of humanity contained in a family: mutual help, educational support, relationships developing as family members mature, the sharing of joys and difficulties.”

Recognizing that the family’s journey is not without difficulty the Holy Father noted that, like the Israelites, married couples “become impatient on the way, the way of conjugal and family life. The hardship of the journey causes them to experience interior weariness; they lose the flavor of matrimony and they cease to draw water from the well of the Sacrament. Daily life becomes burdensome”…some “succumb to the dangerous temptation of discouragement, infidelity, weakness, abandonment. To them too, God the Father gives His Son Jesus, not to condemn them, but to save them: if they entrust themselves to Him, He will bring them healing by the merciful love which pours forth from the cross.”

Family journeys have periods of darkness and of light, and while a couple’s companions change, parents die, children leave home, sickness intervenes, Jesus is always present. The Pope noted, “It is a demanding journey, at times difficult, and at times turbulent, but such is life! …It is normal for husband and wife to argue: it’s normal. It always happens. But my advice is this: never let the day end without having first made peace. Never! A small gesture is sufficient. Thus the journey may continue.”

“The love of Christ, which has blessed and sanctified the union of husband and wife, is able to sustain their love and to renew it when, humanly speaking, it becomes lost, wounded or worn out. The love of Christ can restore to spouses the joy of journeying together.”

Remember the promise of Jesus, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)


Image Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Mercy is at the center of the Gospel of Christ

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In Wednesday’s General Audience,  Pope Francis returned to his favorite subject…mercy, and gave his reasons for doing so.

“Like a good mother and educator, the Church focuses on the essential, and the essential, according to the Gospel, is mercy, as Jesus clearly tells his disciples: ‘Be merciful, just as your father is.’ Is it possible for a Christian not to be merciful,” asked Pope Francis. “No. The Christian must necessarily be merciful, because this is at the center of the Gospel.”

Following the advice of Aristotle (Rhetoric), who advised speakers to tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them, the Holy Father is dedicated to clarifying the core message of the Gospel, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

Continuing, Pope Francis added, “And so the Church behaves like Jesus. She does not give theoretical lessons on love or on mercy. She does not spread throughout the world a philosophy or a path to wisdom. Certainly, Christianity is all of this, too,” the pope remarked, “but as a consequence, a reflection. The mother Church, like Jesus, teaches by example and words serve to cast light on the meaning of her gestures.”

Referring to the Last Judgment passage in Matthew 25:35-46, Pope Francis explained that mercy is witnessed by parents who teach their children that what is left over is for those in need, by those who visit the sick and elderly in hospitals and rest homes, by the people who care for those who have been abandoned, and by those who are close to the imprisoned, recalling that “each of us is capable of doing what these (imprisoned) have done.”

Concluding the reflection, the Holy Father said, “The Church is a mother teaching her children the works of mercy. She has learned this path from Jesus; she has learned that this is essential for salvation. It is not enough to love those who love us. It is not enough to do good to those who do good to us in return. To change the world for the better, it is necessary to do good to those who are not able to do the same for us, as our Father did for us, in giving us Jesus. How much have we paid for our redemption? Nothing. It was all free. Doing good without expecting anything in return – this is what our Father did for us and what we too must do.”

Jesus is the incarnation of the Father’s mercy. As his disciples let us be witnesses to his Gospel of mercy and love.

Image Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring

Time and Tide wait for no man

Tide

 

“Time and tide wait for no man.”
St. Marher 1225

Our lives are like the tide that floods, then ebbs and crawls back across the sand until it is engulfed by the new flood. So it is for each of us, so it is for each generation. Time is linear, past, present and future. The past is our prologue, it is fixed and beyond our control, yet it shapes us and we must know it to know ourselves. We create our present through choices made within the limits of time and place. We build bridges to connect or walls to divide.

What of the future? In a sense the future is already here in our children. Certainly our choices will provide the stage upon which the future will be played out, but, in the words of the Holy Father last week, “Where does the future lie? The future lies with the young who possess two qualities: wings and roots.” Continuing, the Pope explained that, “Young people have wings so they can fly, to dream, to create, and roots to receive the wisdom of their elders.”

Ah yes, the roots. That is where we, the older generation, come in. We cannot be the roots, for they belong to the future, but we are the soil in which they grow and which will form the faith, the values, the dreams and the visions that will shape the future.

Each generation passes the torch with reluctance and anxiety, uncertain about the preparedness of the new torchbearers. But, our tide will ebb, the torch will pass and those of us who passed the flame must follow the new path that unfolds before us.

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One of the Gravest Sins in a Christian Community

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I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.  – John 17:20-21

Jesus’ prayer for unity is popularly understood in an ecumenical context; however, the scandal of disunity is also present within the Church. In his General Audience last week, Pope Francis spoke of divisions within the Christian community, the Church. “Let us consider not only the schisms, let us consider the very common lapses in our communities, ‘parochial’ sins, those sins in the parishes. Sometimes, in fact, our parishes, called to be places of sharing and communion, are sadly marred by envy, jealousy, antipathy…. and gossip which everyone passes on.”

“In a Christian community,” the Holy Father continued, “division is one of the gravest sins because it makes it a sign not of God’s work, but of the devil’s work, who is by definition the one who separates, who destroys relationships, who insinuates prejudice. Division in a Christian community, whether in a school, a parish, or an association, is a very grave sin, because it is the work of the devil.”

Our immediate reaction might very well be, “yes, see how they are dividing the Church,” pointing a verbal finger at those whose theology or worldview is different from ours. Of course, we are all certain that we hold the right opinion. It is so easy to slip into self-righteousness, like the Pharisee who looked at the prayerful publican and thought to himself, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector” Luke 18:11.

We are quick to judge others and slow to examine our own actions. Polarization in the Church today is a major scandal because it obscures rather than proclaims the Gospel of Jesus. Concluding his remarks, the Pope added, “Let these words of Jesus resound in our hearts: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God’” (Mt 5:9). Let us ask sincerely for forgiveness for all the times in which we have caused division or misunderstanding within our communities, knowing well that communion is not achieved except through constant conversion… asking the Lord for the grace not to speak ill, not to criticize, not to gossip, to love everyone. It is a grace which the Lord gives us.”

Image Credit:  “Crack”, Luke Nadeu on Flickr

Unconscious Racism

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In the wake of the Ferguson, MO incident, racism has again become part of the national conversation. Whether it is based on ignorance, fear, stereotypes or feelings of superiority or inferiority, racism is real and its effects are destructive in our society. Is there a touch of racism in all of us? In a column in Thursday’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff explores that possibility.

Kristoff writes: “Research in the last couple of decades suggests that the problem is not so much overt racists. Rather, the larger problem is a broad swath of people who consider themselves enlightened, who intellectually believe in racial equality, who deplore discrimination, yet who harbor unconscious attitudes that result in discriminatory policies and behavior.”

For most Americans today, racism is seen in terms of oppression of Blacks by non-Blacks, but racism is ubiquitous and is found in all societies throughout history. Even God’s Chosen People suffered this weakness. In Deuteronomy 23:4 it is written: No Ammonite or Moabite may ever come into the assembly of the LORD, nor may any of their descendants even to the tenth generation come into the assembly of the LORD. In our own American history we find shameful discrimination against many immigrants, particularly the Irish and Germans who suffered vilification and discrimination from nativists.

Many of us recognize that we have a touch of racism, and recognizing that fact is the first step in overcoming it. Pope Francis has spoken out against racism and xenophobic behavior and several occasions. Having a better understanding of God’s love for all his children, St. Paul writes: For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, enriching all who call upon him.

Ending racism and discrimination against others who are different from us in color or belief, must begin in our heart of hearts where we honestly and prayerfully examine our conscience, and see if there is a plank in our eye before we look for sawdust in another’s. (Matthew 7:3)

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What Everybody Should Know About Christians in Iraq

What Everybody Should Know About Christians in Iraq

For some, the presence of Christians in Iraq is a surprise. Our image of Iraq is that it is an Arab nation and Arab equals Muslim. Of course, that is not the case. All Arabs are not Muslims and, conversely, all Muslims are not Arabs. Indonesia, with the world’s largest Muslim population, is not an Arab nation.

Christianity was born in the Middle East. Iraq, together with Iran, are part of Mesopotamia, and Christians have been present in the area since the mid-second century. Paulist Father Ronald. Roberson in his book, The Eastern Christian Churches, notes that in the third century the area was conquered by a Persian dynasty that perdured until the seventh century and was known as the Sassanid Empire. The Christianity that developed there became known simply as “the Church of the East.”

In the fifth century the Church of the East gravitated toward the Christology of Nestorius that was condemned at the Council of Ephesus. Nestorians were declared heretics and banned from the Roman Empire and many fled east to the safety of the Sassanians. The Church of the East, which became known as the Assyrian Church of the East, increasingly separated itself from the orthodox churches. Other Christian groups deemed heretical also sought refuge among the Persians.

While they remained a minority among the principally Zoroastrian Persians, the eastern churches flourished and cities such as Mosul, Basra, Kirkuk and Tikrit became thriving Christian centers. All of that changed with the coming of Islam. The eastern churches, while tolerated, were hobbled by Islam and became but remnants. Nonetheless, they continued to exist throughout the area until the present time alongside Eastern Catholic (Uniate) churches and their Muslim neighbors.

Radicalization of some Muslim groups in Iraq, Syria and Egypt has resulted in the harassment and persecution of eastern Christians culminating with the forceful removal of all Christians (and others) from Mosul and other ancient Christian areas by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

We must indeed pray for our suffering brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Christians and others, and pray for the strength to endure the tribulations that have come upon them. You may provide aid to them through Catholic Relief Services at http://emergencies.crs.org/iraq-crs-response-strategy-during-displacement-crisis/

Image Credit: CNS photo/Rodi Said, Reuters