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Pastor's Letter 20200816 - 16 August 2020 - Universalism

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August 16th, 2020

20th Sunday, Ordinary Time

A Message from Father Michael

Today’s Theme: “Universalism”


O Woman! Great is your faith!”

Scripture Note

 Today’s First Reading and our Gospel has Inclusiveness as their theme.  When Isaiah was writing, many foreigners were in Israel.  The question arose as to whether or not the benefits of salvation should be extended to them.  Isaiah gave a clear and positive answer: “ ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the peoples,’ says the Lord”  (Isaiah 56:1-7.)

 The early Church faced a similar problem with regard to Gentiles.  Matthew took the story in our Gospel Reading today from Mark, but he molded it to bring out a message for the Church of his day, which was beset with constant friction between Christians from Jewish backgrounds and pagan converts (Matthew 15:21-28.)  Therein, we see classic Jewish “exclusion-ism” as opposed to God’s “universal salvation” for all.  Matthew wants to stress that faith breaks down all barriers between people.  He sees Jesus as having particularly broken down barriers between Jews and Gentiles. 

 Even though His own mission was restricted to Israel, Jesus reached out to individual Gentiles, such as the Canaanite woman in today’s selection. Therefore, after the resurrection of Jesus, the early Church extended its mission to the Gentiles, particularly through the mission of Paul, and thereafter, to all people.  The message to the Church of today, then, is clear: "Do not condemn people!"  Have an open-minded respect for all who seriously follow their religious convictions, provided of course they fulfill their obligation to find the truth.

 Listening to our Second Reading, we must interpret the writings of Paul in the light of his misconception that the end of time, and Christ’s Second Coming would occur during his lifetime.  Because Israel rejected Jesus’ message, Paul turned to the Gentiles (non-Jews.)  He intended this, in part,  to provoke Israel’s jealousy, and cause them to join him eventually.  His writings reinforce that God’s gifts to mankind emanate from His love, and are irrevocable (Romans 11;13-32.)

 Tough Faith

 Love is the greatest power the world has ever known.  To be possessed with love, a person is filled with a power that will not be denied.  It’s amazing what people can do, and will do, when motivated by love.  We see this, especially, in the love of a mother for a child.  Throughout literature, we find many examples attesting to the fact that  a mother will do anything, brave anything, suffer anything and endure anything for the sake of her child.

 Consider one telling experience of John Lonergan, Governor of Mountjoy Prison, Dublin. He writes:

“In all my years in the prison service, I have not met five prisoners who had not had good relationships with their mothers.  Their mothers never fail to visit nor fail to take responsibility.  We see them every day, mothers with maybe more than one drug addict in the family, queuing to visit the son in jail, living out their lives with no resources, no support, nothing.  It is unbelievable, considering the amount of torture they have to go through because their children get into trouble and into crime.”

 Many other stories of mothers’ selfless courage and willingness to suffer on behalf of their children can be found in our own experience.  The Canaanite woman in today’s Gospel, was a person of total conviction.  Rebuffed in her quest to seek healing for her child, she nonetheless persevered, knowing the prize she sought was available from Jesus.  Hers is a model of what we might call “tough faith.”  Sometimes people say, “Ah, it’s easy for you; you have great faith.”  But it’s not like that at all.  Faith doesn’t always make things easy.  In fact, the opposite is more likely.  Because we have faith we refuse to “give up.”  (Many of us have memories of times when we held strong beliefs in something of value for which we willingly took a risk.  They may not have risen to the lever of philosophical tenets, but rather may have been convictions that our position(s) were right, and we felt compelled to "fight for them.  t/hey may have been social issues, or business concerns or ideas, or any number of other things about which we felt strongly.)    Faith "impels us" to persevere, to struggle on, often with no guarantee of a happy outcome.  But we must not see faith as a "magic wand."  It calls forth humility, as well as courage, and above all, love from us.  A mother never gives up, nor does a person with faith.  We understand, therefore, that faith and love are inseparably connected.  Love is an expression of our faith.   Perhaps faith engenders persistence or maybe persistence feeds faith.  Either way, persistence and faith make a powerful pair.

 The Cry of the Poor

 At one time or another all of us have been accosted by people begging, either at our doorstep or on a public street.  It might be instructive to consider how we may have reacted when this happened. 

 I think it would be fair to say that on many occasions, few of us have come away from such encounters with credit.  Generally, we usually refuse to help the person, justifying ourselves, by thinking: “We don’t have time to deal with such things;” or “Well, I can’t help everyone;” or even, “It’s better not to give them anything because it just encourages their behavior.”  (I recall people telling me, “They will only spend it on ‘booze’ if I give them anything!” What a fine example of judging someone based on our own predispositions!)   

 Jesus’ reaction to the woman in today’s Gospel story may surprise us.  The apostles, seeking to protect Jesus from disturbance from bothersome people, rebuffed the Canaanite woman as a nuisance.  Even Jesus, having first ignored her, finally reacted to her persistent cries for help and granted her request. 

 What it probably comes down to, in our case, is we fear of the cry of the poor.  Such encounters are disturbing, and can stir up unpleasant thoughts.  Such persons tend to stir conflicting feelings in us of pity, discomfort, anger and guilt.  We may hate what we discover about ourselves, and, unless we are careful, we might direct that hate at the poor, unfortunate person who has dared to approach us. Too often we cannot, or refuse to empathize with people whose experience is different from our own. If the oppression, injustice, or pain is not happening in our house and neighborhood or does not impact our race, gender, class, or sexuality, then we dismiss it as unwelcome, unjustified noise.

 Then too, encounters with poor people can be a humbling experience because it makes us aware of our own poverty.  While we may conclude the beggar is materially poor, we are poor in a different sense.   We are poor in compassion; poor in our willingness to help other people; and poor in our capacity to love.

 Nonetheless, while an encounter with a poor person may disturb us, it can also be fruitful.  Through the poor we discover our own weakness and "woundedness," about which we are quite skilled in concealing.  This means we don’t have to “mask ourselves,” pretending to be what we are not.  It may well result in a deep, inner liberation, putting us in touch with our true selves.

 In so doing, such encounters can also awaken and reveal the heart, with feelings of tenderness, compassion, kindness and communion. They show us it is possible to be more; to love more; and to give ourselves more.  They can change us by drawing us forth to express our humanity.  They can lead us to a new beginning. Mostly, they remind us that all of us are poor before God.  (We are reminded that the priest says the prayers at the altar during Mass with outstretched hands. In this way, he acknowledges his poverty, his standing in need of daily mercy and love.)  As loving Christians, we should hold up our empty hands to God as a beggar holds out an empty bowl to passersby.  We are saying, in effect, “Lord, before you, I am as poor as a beggar.” 

 This encapsulated the purpose of Pope John XXIII, when, in 1963, he called for the Second Vatican Council.  He wanted an “aggiornamento”—an “updating” of the Church, with a focus on “Inclusion” of those who had become disenfranchised from it. Many of his ideas, which were to be included in the agenda for the council, were designed to bring back into the fold Christians, and particularly Catholics, that had been excluded from the sacraments.  It’s only due to his untimely death, and the didactic sentiment of his successor, Pope Paul VI, that many of them were eliminated from consideration.  Those of us of the “Old Catholic persuasion” believe our approach to “Universalism,” is in keeping with his unrealized goals.  Specifically, we welcome all baptized Christians to partake of the Sacraments, without exclusion or restriction.  

 An Irish Wish

 God be good to you in all your days.

God be kind to you in all your ways.

God give strength to you when crosses lean.

God send light to you, the clouds between.

God give you peace in times of strife.

God bless everything that fills your life.

God send joy to you when grief is o’er.

God make way for you at heaven’s door.

~Brian O’Higgins~

May God Richly Bless You!


“…[Persistence] is helplessness casting itself on Power, infirmity leaning on Strength,

misery reaching to Mercy, and a prisoner clamoring for Relief.

~Archbishop Fulton J Sheen~

To view a live streaming of the Liturgy of the Word for this week, click here: https://youtu.be/__nK9dE31mM

For Peace.docx

For Peace-MJS.mp3


Edited by Father Michael
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