Monday, September 21, 2015

A Sinner and Called

On this day, the feast of St. Matthew, sixty-two years ago, a teenager walked out of the confessional, relieved and at peace. The profound experience of God's mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation planted a seed.  He felt moved to offer himself to God in a religious vocation, as a Jesuit.

Years later he was ordained a bishop and he chose, as his episcopal motto, "Miserando Atque Eligendo."  This phrase comes from a homily of St. Bede that is the second reading in the Breviary's Office of Readings today.  Jesus saw the tax collector (Matthew, the sinner) and "because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him, he said 'Follow me.'"  

The Jesuit bishop, of course, was Jorge Bergoglio who is now known as Pope Francis.  At the age of seventeen in 1953 he experienced God's mercy in such a profound way that he, like Matthew, left the life he had planned and followed Jesus.  He saw himself as a sinner and called.  Not, "a sinner yet called," but "a sinner and called."

This is an important distinction.  Why?

First, as Jesus said in today's Gospel (Matthew 9: 9-13), he "did not come to call the righteous but sinners."  "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do."  Jesus is God's mercy in the flesh.  He reaches out precisely to sinners and calls them to freedom, health, new life.

Second, God tends to choose "the weak" and "the lowly" in order to make clear that it is divine power at work and not human power, "so that no human being might boast before God" (1 Corinthians 1: 27-29).  Sinners know where they have come from and so can more easily remain humble.

Third, sinners make great evangelizers.  Having experienced the good news of God's mercy, they want to share that news with others.  And their sharing is more convincing because "they've been there."  Others can see in these sinners-turned-evangelizers the possibility and hope of their own freedom.

Thus it is no surprise that right after he leaves his job to follow Jesus, Matthew throws a party at which there were many tax-collectors and sinners.  

In his homily, St. Bede writes that this wasn't the only banquet. Besides the banquet in Matthew's house, there was another that was even better:  "But far more pleasing was the banquet set in his own heart which he provided through faith and love."  Matthew welcomed mercy into his heart which then opened to his fellow sinners.  And to Jesus.  Jesus, finding a merciful heart like his own, felt very comfortable there in Matthew's heart.

May he find such a welcome in our hearts as well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Our Lady of Sorrows and Us

Jesus lived, died, and rose to save the world.  But just as God invites humanity to be co-creators, sharing in the work of caring for creation, so God calls each of us to share in the work of salvation. In one sense the work of salvation is complete because of what Jesus did.  But, in another sense, it is ongoing because not everyone knows Jesus, nor has everyone accepted the salvation he won for them.  This is where we come in.  We are called to do what St. Paul said he did in his Letter to the Colossians 1: 24: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church...."

It almost sounds as though Paul is saying that what Jesus did was not sufficient, but he would never say that.  We ought to read this passage in light of St. Paul's other writings, in particular, what he says about the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12.  Christ is the Head of the Body.  We are members of the Body, joined to Christ.  What Christ has done, we the Body are now called to do.  When we join our sufferings to the perfect offering of Christ on the cross and at Mass, we play a role in the ongoing work of salvation.

Mary is our model in this.  "Lumen Gentium," the Vatican Council II document on the Church, quotes St. Ambrose and states that "the Mother of God is a type of the Church" (#63).  She stood under the cross of Jesus and did not scream or try to stop the soldiers from crucifying her own flesh and blood. She shared in her Son’s faith that this act of violence would not be the end, that somehow God would bring great good from it, that God was saving the world through it.  She had great faith, but it didn’t take away her own pain and sorrow.

We are called to have that same faith when it comes to our own sufferings.  In "The Joy of the Gospel" Pope Francis wrote these encouraging words: "No single act of love for God will be lost, no generous effort is meaningless, no painful endurance is wasted.  All of these encircle our world like a vital force" (#279).