Tuesday, June 28, 2016

14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Prior to his retirement, Pope Benedict XVI had announced the “New Evangelization,”  A multi-year effort to “Journey with Christ” through Faith, Worship, and Witness.  This effort, started in 2013, concludes this year, but what is it supposed to accomplish?  It’s meant to remind us that the Church exists to evangelize… That is for its members to genuinely live their faith, and thus show the world God’s love.  Pope Francis, in calling for this Jubilee Year of Mercy, enhances this New Evangelization by reminding us that a loving God is also a merciful God, and that we need to mirror the mercy Christ taught us.  Our readings this 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time help us to see what can be accomplished when we seek to spread God’s love…

Isaiah 66:10-14c
Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20
Galatians 6:14-18
Luke 10:1-12, 17-20 or 10:1-9

Our first reading is from the closing chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah.  The Babylonian exile is over, and Jerusalem is again the center of God’s people, destined to be a beacon for the nations to see God’s love an mercy.  The sheer joy expressed by the prophet has us looking to the Lord as a mother looks to her children.  For through the Lord we shall “flourish like the grass.”  In other words, as servants of the Lord, we thrive.  This reading also gives us a rare reflection of God as mother.  For too long our faith has developed a tendency to view God as “father” while forgetting that God is also “mother.”  The prophetic view of God as mother is well documented in scripture, and helps us to see the type of love God has for us.  It’s a joy that is well expressed in our Psalm as we sing, “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!”

Our second reading concludes our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  One of the primary threads in this letter is that we are no longer Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons.  We are all one.  And this is accomplished through our Baptism, when we die to our old self, and rise to our new self.  in Paul’s words, we become a “new creation.”  The Galatians were ancient Celts who settled in the territory of what is modern day Ancyra in, Turkey.  They were mostly converts from paganism with no connection to Judaism.  He therefore used himself as an example, how he was one way before following Christ but now a new person, a new creation, after becoming a follower of Christ.  He equated his scars (from various floggings, stonings, and beatings) as symbols of his devotion to Christ, just as the “brands” many ancient pagans carried to honor their gods.  It didn’t matter who you were, what you looked like, or what you believed before… because once you commit to Christ, you become something new.

Our Gospel from Luke supports both these readings in their joy of being followers and their enthusiastic acceptance of the gospel way of life.  Here we have Jesus commissioning the Seventy-two.  We may remember the story of Jesus telling the 12 Apostles to go out and minister to the people.  After the success of that mission we have a follow-up story unique to Luke, where Jesus commissions an additional seventy-two disciples to go out just as the twelve did, without money or personal belongings, to heal the sick and preach the gospel.  The commissioning of this larger group reminds us that as a follower of Christ, we too must go out and preach the Gospel, and like the Jews returning to Jerusalem in our first reading, and the disciples returning from their mission, we will be filled with joy...  a joy found in service to others.

Final thoughts:
We Americans get so caught up with the celebration of our Independence Day on July 4th, we tend to forget the Feast of Our Lady of Refuge on July 5th.  In fact, the date for this feast was set so that it would not conflict with the US holiday, while the feast is still celebrated on July 4th in Mexico and other Latin American countries.  The celebration dates back to 1843 when founding bishop of Alta and Baja California, Francisco Diego Garcia y Moreno, stood on the steps of Mission Santa Clara de Asis and proclaimed Our Lady of Refuge as patroness of the two Californias.  You can read more about this feast on these web sites:

Summer of Mercy Video series - Week 2

Feature Film:  Of Gods and Men (2010, 1hr-41 min)

About the story:
What does it feel like when you’re minding your own businesses but get caught in the middle of something over which you have no control.  What do you do?  Keep doing what you’re doing or pack your bags and move on?

Psalm 82:6-7 reads:  I declare: “Gods though you be, offspring of the Most High all of you, Yet like any mortal you shall die; like any prince you shall fall.”  The “gods” in this Psalm refers to those people for whom the Word of God has been revealed.  In this case, it refers to a community of Trappist monks in the remote area of Tibhirine, Algeria.  In the early 1990’s they find themselves in the middle of a Civil War, where a corrupt government is battling with armed Islamic insurgents looking to take over.

This small Christian monastery is surrounded by a rural, exclusively Muslim community, but they have managed to foster good relations with their neighbors, providing medical care and help to the locals.  Those same Muslim locals also consider the monks to be part of their community, and often invited to take part in their lives and special celebrations.  But when the civil unrest spreads to their remote village, everyone in the community is forced to make some very difficult choices.

About the film:
Released in 2010, our film is based on a true story, taking us to early 1990's Algeria, where civil war has broken out between a corrupt government and groups of Islamic militants.  In the middle is a small monastery of Trappist monks is forced to make some difficult choices in the midst of growing unrest and violence.  What does it feel like when you’re minding your own businesses but get caught in the middle of something over which you have no control?  What do you do?  Keep doing what you’re doing or pack your bags and move on?  What does God's mercy look like?  Join us for this powerful and moving film.

The film is in French with English subtitles, but don't let the subtitles scare you away... the story is very visual, and the dialog is easy to follow.  This film was the Grand Prize winner of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and winner of the Best Foreign Language film in the 2010 National Board of Review.

About the Trappists:
Trappist Monks are a branch of the Cistercian Order, officially the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance – OCSO, formed in 1892.  They have approximately 170 monasteries and convents worldwide, including Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America.  The 2,100 monks and 1,800 nuns adhere to the Rule of St. Benedict (480-550 CE).  The communities live off what they can produce and sell while living a cloistered lifestyle.  Outward evangelization is not their goal, but rather to practice hospitality, sharing, and fostering good relationships with their neighbors.  Special effort is made for sharing with the poor, foreigners, and those who are suffering.  Most of their monasteries are in remote areas, and every monk sets aside one day a month to walk in nature and meditate alone.

About Algeria:
Algeria, located in Northwestern Africa is a country of 40m people, 99% who are Muslim.  In ancient times the area was settled by the Carhaginian Empire (Carthage is in modern day Tunisia), which grew up west of ancient Egypt and eventually controlled much of the Mediterranean cost, including what is now Southern Spain.  Eventually it fell the Roman Empire.  As Rome became Christian, so did Algeria under St. Augustine when he was Bishop of Hippo, but as Rome began to crumble, the area fell under the rule of several local powers, until the Arabs concurred the territory in the 7th century.  It became part of the larger Fatimid Caliphate until their power waned and the territory fell under the Ottoman Empire beginning in 1516 CE.  By the 17th century the area became unstable with a lot of pirate activity, making it ripe for the French to capture Algiers in 1830 and making it a French Colony.  The Colonial relationship started falling apart in 1954, with all out war against France, and ended with independence being recognized in 1962.  Independence brought stability, but there was tension between secular and pro-Islamist regimes.  The collapse of Oil prices in the early 1980’s brought that tension to a head with all out Civil War starting in 1991.  The violence continued to get worse and after several well publicized massacres in 1996-1997 (including the killing of these 7 monks), international pressure for the violence to end.  A peace and amnesty deal was brokered in 2000, and within two years the insurgency mostly disappeared.  Though the government lifted the 19-year-old state of emergency in 2011, there is still instability in the region.

Summer of Mercy Video series - Week 1

Adult Faith Formation at Our Lady of Refuge presents it's 10 week Summer Video Series:
Summer of Mercy

Earlier on in our blog I published our schedule, but I forgot to write about our first week's program... so here it is:

Divine Mercy:  The Second Greatest Story Ever Told
Episode 1:  God’s School of Trust
From the Augustine Institute:  The sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, has distorted the way we see God. But God hasn’t given up on us. In fact, he has tirelessly worked to heal our distorted image of him through his “School of Trust,” beginning with his chosen people in the Old Testament.

Episode 2:  Behold, This Heart
From the Augustine Institute:  God’s School of Trust, which began in the Old Testament, continued through Christ’s work in the New Testament. Unfortunately, humanity’s distorted image of God has remained a problem throughout Church history. But God doesn’t give up on us. In fact, he brings us back to his School of Trust in the revelation of his Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary, the merciful moral theology of St. Alphonsus de Liguori, and the little way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

Again, our 10 week series will alternate between this Divine Mercy series, and a specially selected feature film.  In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, our Summer series is meant to present and challenge our Christian ideals of mercy on an adult level.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Nuns and Nones... sharing some reflections...

Week after week I share my thoughts with you on our Sunday readings, and occasionally on other topics relevant to those going through Adult Faith Formation or the RCIA process.  For those of you, as adults, turning toward our Catholic faith, I stand in awe of you.  You are my inspiration in this ministry... having the courage to take a path different from the rest of society and explore a relationship with God through our Catholic tradition.

My journey was quite different from yours.  Born of Irish and Italian roots from Brooklyn, I commonly say that I "didn't have a choice" when it came to becoming a Catholic.  And it's true that there are very strong cultural elements to our Catholic faith just as there are strong cultural elements to other religious traditions.  Still, by the time we reach adulthood, those of us who are 'cradle Catholics" sill need to make a choice to embrace our faith... on an adult level.

My choice to "embrace the faith" didn't come readily, but instead evolved from the many years of formation I received by attending Catholic schools.  Part of that formation came from my years at St. Francis High School in the Los Angeles foothills of La Cañada.  Though I didn't recognize it at the time, the Capuchin Franciscan friars who ran the school and the many other faculty and staff provided a daily witness to the faith that resonated both inside and outside of the classroom... An example that still resonates with me today.

Following the alumni news, I came across this address (below) given by the school's current principal Thomas Moran... who years ago was the AP English teacher when I was a student, (and whom my three brothers had to suffer through his class).  As I read through his graduation address to the Class of 2016, it touched me in a way that made me want to share it with you.  His message is just as relevant to those of you looking to join the Church as it is to those of us who are graduates of Catholic education.  Please read and enjoy:

(ed:  from the St. Francis High School eKnight Newsletter - June 23, 2016)

Mr. Moran's Address to the Graduates
Nuns and Nones
Saturday, May 28th, 2016

You have no idea how it feels to give a brilliantly written and impeccably delivered graduation address. Unfortunately, neither do I. But here goes. . .

I am a Baby Boomer who attended Catholic school during the 1950's and 60's, an era known for stay-at-home moms, affordable homes, large families, and optimism. We questioned authority and our major technological innovation (other than the space race) was television. We were the first generation in the history of the world to be raised under the threat of nuclear war. There was only one thing that terrified us more-nuns.

In those days, Catholic school staffs included some lay teachers and priests, but it was mostly nuns. And they were scary. They dressed strangely, behaved oddly, were demanding, and rarely shared their personal feelings (except for disdain at those who did not memorize the catechism). Their classrooms made bomb shelters feel welcoming.

Today, the space race is over and television is barely considered a technology. And, while you also question authority, your generation has few similarities to mine. These days, many mothers work, houses are unaffordable, families are smaller, optimism is rare, and religious teachers are disappearing.

Since then, I have conquered my fear and become colleagues and friends with several nuns.

But, I have a new fear: N-O-N-E-S. These are people who, when classifying their faith, respond "none of the above."  Nones are defined as those who "self-identify as atheists or agnostics, rarely pray, and say that religion is not important in their lives." They are considered the fastest growing American religious demographic and include about 36% of the population born between 1990-1996. Their spiritual and social disengagement frightens me, because it's so contrary to St. Francis' philosophy.

Our friars, faculty and staff have worked tirelessly not only to prepare you for college, but for life beyond. Those of us from prior generations know that having a strong faith is critical to surviving difficulties and challenges. It is one blessing of a Catholic education. It is why we require religion classes, celebrate sacraments, expect Christian service, offer retreats, and systematically communicate Franciscan virtues.

The nuns of yesterday imbued my generation with faith. In America in 1965, there were over 180,000 of them; today there are approximately 50,000. They dedicated themselves to serve selflessly in Catholic schools, hospitals, and parishes with distinction. If more of those nuns were around today, I guarantee there would be fewer nones.

My message today is simple: your parents did not send you to St. Francis to become a none. If you have found value in service, are an instrument of peace, and developed a relationship with God, you do not qualify as a none. If you have embraced integrity, humility, brotherhood, and joy, don't even think about being a none.

We urge you to get into this habit: providing the best example of faith, love, and service for the next generation, bar none. On behalf of our Board of Directors, friars, faculty and staff, congratulations class of 2016.

Monday, June 20, 2016

13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Last week our readings showed us that the Disciples were not prepared for the trouble that was going to come.  As followers of Christ, we recognize that we will have our own “crosses to bear.”  As we continue our journey with Jesus this week, we learn some of the price of taking up that cross…

1 Kings 19-16b, 19-21
Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Luke 9:51-62

Our first reading from the 1st book of Kings has the great prophet Elijah choosing his successor, Elisha.  The scene from our reading seems fairly straightforward, but to better understand this moment, let me help put it into some greater context:  Elijah, once again, is a man on the run.  The great drought and famine is over and King Ahab and the people rejoiced in the Lord.  Unfortunately, that rejoicing included slaughtering all the prophets of Baal (one of the great Canaanite gods).  This infuriated Queen Jezebel, who ordered that Elijah should die.  Fearing for his life, Elijah flees to Mount Horab (in the Sinai… some 150 miles south of Jerusalem… that same mountain where Moses was given the 10 Commandments… and don’t for a moment think this is a coincidence…).  During his time on the mountain, which the narrative tells us was a 40 day journey (not a coincidence either), the Lord tells Elijah to, among other things, find Elisha and anoint him as a successor (it would seem the Lord is also concerned about Elijah’s life).  This takes us to the moment in our first reading, where Elijah finds and commissions Elisha. 

The commissioning itself is quite simple… he just places his cloak on him.  But the meaning of this is known to Elisha, and he knows his life is about to change, and asks to bid farewell to his family.  This moment is like a Baptism… dying to our old self so we can rise as our new self… a new creation.  To stress the point of this transformation, we have Elisha slaughtering the oxen and instruments he was using to plow the fields.  The fact that he was using 12 oxen indicates he had substantial wealth… for normally a field would be plowed with only one or two oxen.  The act of slaughtering the oxen, though seemingly wasteful to our modern eyes, signifies the extent to which he is giving up his former life to take up following the prophet.  And Elisha appears to do this with little hesitation, signifying his willingness to follow.  This is meant to show us what it means to follow a great prophet… that we must leave behind what we once were to venture on this new path.

Complementing this is our Gospel form Luke.  Jesus and his followers continuing their journey through Samaria, but when the local townspeople learn that he’s a Jew bound for Jerusalem, they are turned away.  As Jesus laments that they have no place to stay, still others are coming to him wishing to follow.  These new would be followers, however, ask Jesus if they can effectively get their affairs in order before they join the caravan, but Jesus won’t wait.  He explains that there’s no room for those who need to look back.

Now to our modern ears, this reaction from Jesus might sound harsh, but there are a few other things going on that can help explain his attitude.  First consider that this is the ancient world, a culture that moves much slower than it does for us today.  Tending to a father’s burial or bidding farewell to one’s family are not activities that would delay them for a day or two.  This could take weeks… and Jesus knows he doesn’t have that kind of time.  But there’s also a deeper meaning Jesus wants us to teach us… that in order to follow him we need to leave all our “baggage” behind.  No matter how burdensome or light that may be, we need to let it go.  But why?  I think St. Paul gives us the answer in our second reading… Freedom.

Our second reading continues with our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Here Paul teaches us one of the core messages of this letter… “For freedom Christ set us free.”  Not only are we free to follow Christ (through the exercise of our free will), but the very act of following Christ (leaving our “baggage” behind to focus on the Gospel) brings us freedom.

Final thoughts:
It can be difficult for us 21st century Americans to fully appreciate the “baggage” that our ancient brothers and sisters could carry with them.  People in the ancient world were defined by their extended family, their country, their religion, their race, their class, and their sex.  But wait… how is that different from today?  The difference is that we no longer allow ourselves to be bound by these definitions.  We have the freedom to make choices, the freedom to break with the past and make a clean start.  This is the freedom that following Jesus can bring… the freedom of putting God first.  The freedom to serve one another with love.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Are We Reading the Bible Right?

Last week I came across this op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times:

You’re Reading the Bible Wrong  by Carel van Schaik and Kai Michel


Needless to say, my interest was piqued.  After all, week after week I spend all this time with our Sunday readings so that we can aptly apply their lessons to our weekly Adult Faith Formation and RCIA sessions, which gives all our candidates some insights into our faith.

But let's be honest... The Bible is a difficult book, on so many levels.  Yet it is this collection of sacred writings that form one of the primary pillars of our Catholic faith.  Scripture on one side, Tradition (our lived experience inspired by the Holy Spirit) on the other.  We are constantly encouraged to read it... told that we should read it, but are given little guidance on how to read it.  So how should we approach it?

As the authors of the op-ed suggest, when we view the Bible strictly as "The Word of God," it can create problems for us, not the least of which makes it somewhat unapproachable (like the ancient Israelites, so afraid of the voice of God that they asked Moses to do all the talking for them.  And to a certain extent, our Liturgical presentation of the The Word doesn't help... We call it "The Word of the Lord," and shroud it with a reverence that can often lead us to misunderstand what it's trying to teach us.

Many of you are probably familiar with the bumper-sticker that says "God said it, I believe it, that's the end of it."  It comes from a very fundamentalist understanding of the Bible that lead our more evangelical brothers and sisters in the wrong direction.  We Catholics, as well as many other Christians, not to mention those Jews and Muslims who also consider this to be sacred scripture, understand that everything written in the Bible needs to be viewed in context.  That is, if we are to truly understand what these books are saying, we also need to understand what they said to those who first wrote them and read them.  Have you ever wondered why Catholic Bibles have so many footnotes?  It's because our Church fathers and elders want us to understand the context of what you're reading.  It helps us to put it all in perspective.

The authors of this Times Op-Ed say we should approach the Bible as "humanity's diary."  It's an interesting perspective.  I often tell our Adult Formation groups that the easiest way to understand the Bible is to see it not so much as "the Word of God," but as "a peoples experience of God."  It reminds us that God's words and wisdom and love are expressed through us... it's flawed, human scribes.  And those scribes are not without bias.

This understanding helps us to sift the necessary truths the stories are trying to teach from the day-to-day customs that while valid for their time, may not be so now.  This is where our second pillar, tradition, comes into play.  The book of Exodus tells me I may sell my daughter into slavery to pay my debts, but the very thought of this today is met with revulsion, and rightly so.  This is because the Holy Spirit has taught us that to do so would be a violation of the love we are meant to bestow on each other as equals.  Time, knowledge, and perspective give us new insight.  While it may contradict scripture, it doesn't diminish the truth scripture is trying to teach (which in the case of this passage from Exodus 21, the master must treat her with the inherent dignity she is owed).

There are few wrong ways to read the Bible.  Likewise, there is no one right way to read the Bible.  There are in fact, many different ways to read the Bible, all of them valid.  Don't lock yourself into one particular way of thinking when you approach the text.  Most importantly, however, is that we need to actually READ it, not just leave it on a shelf to collect dust.

How do you start? Most assume you start at the first page, aptly starting with, "In the beginning...".  Genesis is perhaps one of the most difficult books to start with. Try this... Start with the readings from Sunday Mass. The Lectionary was designed to make Scripture approachable. Take the Gospel for the week, and read that passage. If you're feeling eager, read the whole chapter so you can see the action surrounding the Gospel passage. When you've got some time, pick one of the Gospels and read it in its entirety. When you've finished that, read it again, but this time read the footnotes and flip over to the other referenced passages (the Bible is full of cross-references, because all the authors borrowed from one another, and Jesus commonly quotes Isaiah and other prophets.).
Still feel challenged, how about joining our Bible Study group. Yes, I think too many of us read the Bible the wrong way. That's why it's important to connect with people who know how to read it and can help guide you through it. I think you will see that much of it is still relevant to us today.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

12th Sunday of Ordinary Time

The Suffering Servant.  The prophet Isaiah gave us this vision of the Son of Man in his four “servant songs.”  An image that we Christians can rightly see in Jesus.  Isaiah is telling us that the Servant of God, this Chosen One, is going to suffer...  Not necessarily because God wants him to suffer, but because God’s message is going to bring him persecution, suffering, and death.  It is hard to deliver a message that no one wants to hear, as we learn from this week’s readings:

Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1
Psalm 636:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
Galatians 3:26-29
Luke 9:18-24

Our first reading is from the book of the prophet Zechariah.  It speaks of a great suffering that will be faced by the House of David and Jerusalem.  Where is this prophecy coming from?  If we don’t pay attention to the context of the reading, we can to easily misinterpret the prophet’s intent.  Zechariah’s oracle against the “House of David” does not mean David himself, but instead it’s an indictment of the monarchy itself, and the long line of kings since David that failed to follow the Lord.  Those of us who attended Mass last Sunday can be forgiven for confusing this oracle as being against David himself, since last Sunday’s reading was about God’s disappointment with David for the whole Bathsheba affair… an incident that lead to forgiveness.  Today’s passage from Zechariah comes much later, from the early post-Exile era.  Here the prophet is reminding the people that there will be great mourning, such as when King Josiah (the great reformer who was killed near Megiddo not long before the destruction and Exile of Jerusalem).  But as our reading suggests, all is not lost, because from the House of David there will be “a fountain to purify from sin.”  Our Psalm reflects the prophet’s and the people’s desire to return to the Lord as we sing, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.”

Our Gospel from Luke also comes with a warning… from Jesus to his Apostles and followers.  That just as he will suffer, so will they.  Our passage from Luke comes from a point still fairly early in his ministry.  So far things have gone well, and they have made some progress spreading the Good News and gaining followers.  After a moment of prayer, Jesus gathers his disciples and asks them “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  Clearly the people see him as a great prophet, but then he turns the question directly to them and asks, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter is first to admit that he is indeed the Christ.  Jesus warns them not to tell anyone, and tells them of the fate which he awaits.  If that were not bad enough, Jesus also tells them that they too will have their crosses to bear, but in doing so, will also attain salvation.

Our second reading, not directly related to our other readings, is a continuation of our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Here Paul reminds us that there is no more Jew or Greek, but that we are all one through our faith in Christ, and that through Christ, we also inherit the promise of Abraham.  We are all children of the one God.

Final thoughts:

We all have our crosses to bear.  As Christians we all know of the images of Jesus carrying his cross, falling three times, needing the assistance of some along the way to his crucifixion and death.  Our first reading today from the prophet Zechariah says, “they shall look on him whom they have pierced…” the same line we hear again in John’s Gospel in his account of the Passion.  Jesus warned that those who follow him can face a similar fate.  Most of us today don’t fear being crucified or killed for going to church, but we still face a secular backlash for our beliefs.  In a society that craves and worships its idols (celebrity, power, money), we believe in equality and equity.  We believe that only God is above all others.  In a society that prizes self reliance, we believe in helping one another.  In a society that marginalizes whole groups of people, due to race, religion, or other circumstances, we have been taught to love one another.  Even now as our country addresses issues of extremism and the violence that it brings, we Christians must bear our crosses, look beyond the chaos, and continue to follow Christ, demonstrating every day the peace, the love, and the mercy which he showed.  Not only will we build a better world, but it will bring our own salvation.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Summer of Mercy - OLR summer video series

Our Lady of Refuge Adult Faith Formation presents:

Summer of Mercy

a 10 week Summer Session Video Series
June 23 through August 25 2016

When: Thursday Evenings starting at 7:00 pm
Where: Our Lady of Refuge Religious Education Center, 5210 Los Coyotes Diagonal, Long Beach

OPEN TO ALL ADULTS (age 18 and over)
No registration - No fee - No commitment needed for the full series

Our Holy Father Pope Francis has dedicated this year as the Jubilee Year of Mercy, so our Adult Faith Formation team has currated a Summer video series that dives into the topic of mercy, with a video presentation and follow-up group discussion.  Our series will take two tracks:
  • Track 1 will present the Augustine Institute's recently released series Divine Mercy:  The Second Greatest Story Ever Told.  Follow Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, on a journey through history to reveal God’s merciful love.  This is a 10 episode series that takes a deeper look at our devotion to the Divine Mercy and why it is so important for our age.  Each episode is only 20-30 minutes long, allowing us to show two episodes in an evening with discussion after each and a break in between.  This track runs every other week starting June 23rd.  More information about each episode can be found on this flyer
  • Track 2 will alternate with Track 1, presenting one of five selected feature films that demonstrates and challenges our understanding of mercy from the Christian perspective.  We will show the film (with a break in the middle) followed by discussion.

Summer of Mercy Schedule:

Week 1 – June 23: Divine Mercy
  • Episode 1 – God’s School of Trust
  • Episode 2 – Behold, This Heart
Week 2 – June 30: Feature Film
  • Of Gods and Men (2010, 101 min) The story of a community of Trappist Monks in 1990’s Algeria. Peace in this North African nation devolves into civil war with radical Islamic forces.
Week 3 – July 7: Divine Mercy
  • Episode 3 – The Suffering Servant
  • Episode 4 – Faustina and the Spread of Divine Mercy
Week 4 – July 14: Feature Film
  • Dead Man Walking (1995, 122 min) Sr. Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon) develops a relationship with Louisiana death row prisoner Matthew Poncelet (played by Sean Penn).
Week 5 – July 21: Divine Mercy
  • Episode 5 – Proclaim This Message
  • Episode 6 – Fatima
Week 6 – July 28: Feature Film
  • Calvary (2014, 101 min) A present day Irish fishing village must confront the clergy sexual abuse scandal and other sins when an unknown penitent goes to Fr. James (played by Brendan Gleeson) in confession to tell him that he is going to kill him next week.
Week 7 – August 4: Divine Mercy
  • Episode 7 – The Secret of Divine Mercy
  • Episode 8 – God’s Master Plan
Week 8 – August 11: Feature Film
  • Unbroken (2014, 137 min) The story of 1936 US Olympic athlete Louie Zamperini who as a bomber pilot during WWII gets captured and interred by the Japanese.
Week 9 – August 18: Divine Mercy
  • Episode 9 – Mary’s Knight
  • Episode 10 – The Final Question
Week 10 – August 25: Feature Film
  • Chocolat (2000, 121 min) Set in 1959, a drifter and chocolatier Vianne Roche (played by Juliette Binoche) and her young daughter find their way to a small French village just in time for Lent.

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”  This well known saying is attributed to English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744), who was inspired by an even earlier Latin proverb “Errare humanum est,” which was likely inspired by even the even earlier Hellenistic philosophies of Plato.  Regardless of its origins, this phrase has embedded itself into our Christian conscience as a way of understanding the nature of sin and redemption.  It is also the topic of our readings for this Sunday:

2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13
Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11
Galatians 2:16, 19-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

Our first reading from the second book of Samuel gives us the story of David confronting the Lord with his sin by getting Uriah killed, and thus freeing up Bathsheba to become his wife.  Our narrative has Nathan the prophet delivering God’s chastisement of David for these actions… and doing so even as the Lord has given him so much.  David sees the err of his ways, and begs the Lord’s forgiveness.  God, in all his mercy, relents and forgives David.  Our Psalm reflects David’s contrition as we sing “Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.”  A contrition that, in our own human weakness, we can well understand.

In our Gospel from Luke we have a similar story of forgiveness.  Jesus has been invited by Simon the Pharisee to dine with him… imagine a fairly elaborate dinner party with all the town’s elite.  A sinful woman in the town, upon knowing where Jesus is dining, enters the gathering and anoints Jesus’ feet.  As usual, Jesus turns this into a “catechetical moment.”  While Simon and the others are quick to point out her sins, Jesus points out where his host has also failed in his duties, then turns to the woman and forgives her sins.   This is something of a surprise to the other guests as they say “who is this who even forgives sins?”  They did not understand what we do, that it is our faith in Jesus that helps us attain salvation.. faith in his power to forgive.

Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  Here Paul reminds us that it is our faith in Jesus Christ that justifies us for salvation, and not by work (following the Law) alone.  Paul postulates that just following the Law isn’t enough.  Did Jesus die on a cross to bring us back to following the Law?  The obvious answer to Paul’s question is, “no.”  To die for just that would be meaningless.  Instead Jesus died to show the Lord’s power over death, so that our faith and trust in the Lord is justified.

Final thoughts:
What is it that will get us to Heaven?  Some argue that we need to “earn” our way into Heaven by doing good works.  Still others argue that we can’t just buy our way into Heaven and that it is our faith in Jesus that will save us.  It’s an ancient debate that still resonates in certain circles today.  We Catholics, however, have put this debate to bed long ago by recognizing that our salvation is based on both our faith and our good works.  In fact, Catholics recognize that one can actually feed the other, in kind of a yin and yang relationship, with our faith increasing our desire to do good, and our desire to do good increasing our faith.  It’s not “either/or” it’s “both/and.”  This dual nature is infused into our Catholic faith right down to the nature of Christ himself (both human and divine).  And it is this nature of Christ that in his humanness can understand our sin, yet in his divinity allows him to forgive.