Sunday, October 24, 2010

Are We the Pharisee or the Tax Collector?

The Gospel reading for this 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Cycle C) tells us about Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple.  The Pharisee, who is self-righteous, almost asks God to thank him for being such a good person while the tax collector recognizes his failings and asks God for mercy and forgiveness.  Jesus tells us the latter goes home justified rather than the former.

This lesson speaks to us about the quality of our own prayer.  Are we like the Pharisee when we pray?  Do we thank God we're not like all those other people (of another religion, another race, another political persuasion, another sexual orientation)?  Or do we, like the tax collector, pray fervently from our heart recognizing our own faults and failings and sinfulness and ask for God's mercy and forgiveness?

God does not expect us to grovel on our hands and knees to ask for his forgiveness; God will always be ready to forgive when the request for forgiveness comes from a sincere and humble heart.  That is the kind of prayer God looks for from us.  If our prayer is one of gratitude for God's great gifts to us; if we persist in our prayer; and if we pray sincerely for forgiveness, when our final time on this earth comes we can say with St. Paul that we have fought the good fight, we have finished the race, and we have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:6-7).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Civility and Politics

I don't know if you're like me but I will be glad when my TV watching is not interrupted constantly by political ads.  It will also be nice when the landscape is once again freed from the numerous signs advertising political candidates.  On the other hand, we have to be thankful that we live in a country where such freedom of expression exists and where we have the opportunity to elect those we wish to represent us in government.

The thing that has annoyed me the most this political season (and I'm sure there have been other such seasons in the past) is the negativity often found in the ads and statements made by various candidates.  Is the term "civil politics" an oxymoron?

I see nothing wrong in a candidate referring to his/her opponent's past record as long as the candidate says what he/she can do to correct the situation being considered (property taxes, etc.).  When the candidates sink to the point of name-calling and suggestions about a candidate's personal behavior I believe this steps over the line.  Certainly we do not want people serving us who are "immoral" because that immorality might carry over into their political decisions.  But cannot the candidates talk about the issues facing the state and the nation (the economy, the state of education, immigration policy, etc.) without getting into personal attacks on their opponent?  I would like to see this happen.  Maybe then I would not be so eager to see the ads and the signs disappear.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How Do You Envision God?

On last evening's world news on ABC there appeared a report concerning Americans' views of God.  Two researchers had done a study that discovered 28% of the studied population believe in an "authoritative" God - one who is judgmental but involved in the world.  Another 22% accept a "benevolent" God who is engaged with the world but is a God of mercy and kindness.  Other groups (percentages not included) believe in a "critical" God - one who judges at the end of one's life but is not too involved otherwise, and a "distant" God - one who has created the world and then left it to its own devices (something like the deists of the 18th century).

Reviewing my own life, I must admit that in my earlier years I would have fallen into the first category (the 28% who believe in an authoritative God) because I felt God would be judging my every action and finding me failing.  Thanks be to my God I now find myself in the 22% who accept a benevolent God - one who is just but whose justice is tempered with mercy and love.  This is the God Jesus Christ presented to the world and one I am happy to embrace in my beliefs.

To those who see God as "authoritative" or "critical" I would suggest they review the New Testament and find there the God Jesus wants us to find - a loving Father who loves us unconditionally with no strings or preconceptions.  Will be make mistakes?  Yes.  Will we sometimes fail to be the people we ought to be?  Absolutely.  But God is always there to accept our desire for repentance and reconciliation with God or with others.  God will never abandon us - the only way we can separate ourselves from God is by our own conscious effort to do so.  Thank God that God is God.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Faith Is Saying "Yes" to God

The Scripture readings for this past weekend concerned faith.  In the first reading the prophet Habakkuk says that the just person because he/she has faith will live.  Jesus tells his disciples that if they had faith they could cause a mulberry tree to be transplated into the sea.  What is faith?

If I were to ask a group of folks to define "faith" I would probably get as many different definitions as there would be folks in the group.  So what is it and how do we arrive at it?

Faith comes to us through revelation - revelation received from others (such as our parents who planted the seeds of faith in most of us; faith formation teachers who continued to bring us the message of Jesus, etc.).  We also receive the revelation of nature:  the beautiful colors that span our landscapes at this autumnal season, the beauty of a sunrise or sunset or the grandeur of the ocean.  Some of our own life experiences reveal to us that there is a purpose in life and someone who is greater than all of life.  For those of us who are Christians, the ultimate "revealer" is the Son of God, Jesus Christ.  And what does this revelation tell us?

It speaks to us of a God who loves us unconditionally, without strings or preconditions.  I recently heard the statement:  God can never love you more than God does at this moment.  We might ask some questions about that:  if I pray more, if I attend Mass more often, if I am a better friend and neighbor - won't God love me more?  The answer of course is no; we cannot earn or merit God's love - it is a free and unbounded gift from a most generous God.

Faith is our acceptance of that love; it is saying "yes" to God.  And what happens when we accept it and say that "yes?"  We want to offer thanks to God and because we are not isolated individuals we best can do that in worship in a community of faith.  This acceptance will also lead to "good work."  If we accept God's love for us we want to do those things which are "good" - which benefit others.

One author said that we experience faith in our everyday lives; it takes faith, for example, to get on an elevator or ride in a plane; it takes faith to fill a prescription or put money in a bank.  But as he (Warren Wiersbe) states: our faith is only as good as its object.  If the object of our faith is other people, we get what other people can give us.  If the object is money, we get what money can give.  If the object is ourselves, we get what we can give.  But if the object of our faith is God, we get what God can give and that is a boundless, unconditional, infinite love for each of us.  All we must do is to say "yes."