Archive for the ‘Mercy’ Category

On Being Man’s Best Friend

September 25, 2022

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

In the 1996 film “Independence Day,” we get introduced to a single-mother named Jasmine, played by Vivica Fox. With alien ships hovering ominously above the world’s major cities, she decides to flee Los Angeles. When the aliens begin their attack, Jasmine is stuck in a traffic jam inside a tunnel with her little boy, Dylan, and their handsome pet Labrador Retriever, named Boomer.

A wall of fire rushes from behind, tossing cars into the air before it and incinerating everyone it catches. Jasmine grabs her son and runs between the cars until she spots the door to a maintenance room. She kicks down the locked door and they huddle inside, but their dog has not followed them. Jasmine cries out, “Boomer! Boomer!” And Boomer sprints toward them, jumping over cars, and leaps safely into the side room at the very last second, just as the inferno passes by. Hundreds and hundreds of people are killed in the tunnel, but Boomer survives.

One commenter on a YouTube clip of this movie scene remarked, “I remember when I first saw this scene in the theater. I got all teary-eyed because, ‘YAY the doggy lives!’” Another commenter wrote, “When I saw this at the cinema, everyone cheered at this bit. It was the only part of the movie they cheered at!

Our culture loves dogs, but Jewish culture was more ambivalent towards them. Scripture does not celebrate dogs as “man’s best friend” like we do today. There are verses pointing to sheepdogs for shepherding or watchdogs for security. And in the Book of Tobit, when young Tobiah leaves home with the angel Raphael, it says “the dog followed Tobiah out and went along with them” on their adventure. However, the mentions of dogs in the Bible are usually negative.

In the Old Testament, for example, Goliath said to David who held a shepherd’s staff, “Am I a dog that you come against me with a stick?” Years later, encountering a different scoffer, one of King David’s soldiers asked, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?” And Psalm 22, which Jesus referenced on his Cross, says, “Dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me… [Deliver] my life from the grip of the dog.

In the New Testament, we see more of this dim view of dogs. Jesus teaches, “Do not give what is holy to dogs.” St. Paul writes, “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers…” And the Book of Revelation, when it describes God’s heavenly city, says, “Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the unchaste, the murderers, the idol-worshipers, and all who love and practice deceit.” So where does this biblical disdain for dogs come from?

Realize that in those days, most dogs were not pets but wild. Packs of feral dogs were not only a noisy nuisance but also dangerous. This is reflected in Psalm 59, which describes deadly enemies as “growling like dogs and prowling about the city.” If not killing prey, stray dogs would eat whatever dead flesh they found, of beast or man — “they roam about as scavengers; if they are not filled, they howl.” I mention all of this because of details in today’s parable.

In Jesus’ story, a rich man with expensive, comfortable clothing eats plenty of good food at every meal. But outside of his gate, lying on the ground, is Lazarus, a hungry poor man covered with exposed sores. Jesus tells us Lazarus “would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” And Jesus notes that “dogs even used to come [up to Lazarus] and lick his sores.” When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to a place of peace with Abraham. But when the rich man died he descended to a place of torment, in part, for his failure to care for Lazarus.

Those stray dogs did not attack Lazarus but licked his wounds. Perhaps they were drawn to the salty taste, or maybe they had an instinctual impulse towards him. But in either case they were helping him. Like many other animals, including cats, rodents, and primates, dogs lick their wounds to clean them. And certain chemical compounds found in dogs’ saliva help to disinfect, reduce pain, and promote healing. Letting dogs lick your wounds today is not recommended by doctors today; modern disinfectants and treatments are less likely to result in infection. But in the ancient world, for a beggar on the streets covered with sores like Lazarus, such dog licks would be a blessing.

The parable tells us Lazarus “would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” This resembles the remark of the Syrophoenician woman who came to Jesus seeking a miracle for her demon-possessed daughter. Though they were not of the house of Israel, she begged Jesus to help them, saying “Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Lazarus “would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table,” but the rich man never gave him any. So the rich man treated Lazarus worse than a dog. “Dogs even used to come and lick [Lazarus’] sores.” This means even the despised dogs in the streets treated Lazarus better and helped him more than the rich man ever did.

It’s fine to love dogs. They’re one of God’s good creatures and they reflect his goodness. It’s been said that God created dogs to help show us how he loves us (and that he created cats to show us how we love him). But it sadly seems rather common today for people to care more about the well-being of random dogs than of random strangers. Today’s psalm tells us, “Blessed is he who keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, [and] gives food to the hungry.” Living in this way makes us more like our Lord ‘who sets captives free, raises up those who are bowed down, and protects strangers,’ and becoming like our Lord is necessary for us to be at home with him in his heavenly city. It’s alright to appreciate our pets, but lest we end up like the rich man in hell let’s make sure we treat and love everyone better than dogs.

Learning from the Dishonest Steward

September 17, 2022

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Victor Feltes

In today’s strange parable, Jesus presents the scheming of a thief and a liar as an example we can learn from. We are not to imitate this dishonest steward’s treachery but rather his proactive shrewdness, “for the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”

How shrewdly proactive are we in doing good? We hunt for bargains at the store or online. But do we pursue opportunities to be generous? You have wealth and skills – so share them creatively. We invest and save for retirement. But do we intentionally store up treasure in heaven like Jesus tells us to? You can take nothing with you when you die; but you can increase what wealth awaits you by sending it ahead of you beforehand through generous deeds done now on earth. Jesus tells us to be “as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.” He wants us, in cooperation with his grace, to show initiative in strategically and sinlessly serving his Kingdom for God’s glory, for our good, and for the good of all. That’s a worthwhile takeaway, but let’s look a little deeper. Like many of Jesus’ stories, today’s parable contains weird details which goad us to grapple with it further. What do we discover when we imagine ourselves in the shoes of the dishonest steward?

In this story, a rich man has a steward who was reported to him for squandering his property. (A steward is someone entrusted to manage another’s property, finances, or affairs.) The master summons his servant and said, “What is this I hear about you? Prepare a full account of your stewardship, because you can no longer be my steward.” If you and I are this steward, then who is our rich master? Our Lord is God. We are his servants, and who could be richer than the one from whom all good things come?

What has God entrusted to us? St. Paul replies, “What do you have that you did not receive? … For we brought nothing into the world.” Even the hardest-working farmer relies upon God’s soil, sun, air, and water to transform the seeds into his harvest. Even our own efforts in doing good come from God, “for God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work,” as St. Paul tells the Philippians. Every good thing we have is his.

Have we squandered what God entrusted to us as stewards? Every sin is a misuse of what we’ve been given, and who of us has used what we were given to its full potential? Our Lord has put us on notice that a day is coming when our present stewardship will end with a full accounting of our stewardship, “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,” St. Paul writes, “then each of us shall give an account of himself to God.”

The steward in the parable says to himself, “What shall I do, now that my master is taking the position of steward away from me? I am not strong enough to dig and I am ashamed to beg.” He recognizes he is too weak and too proud. Similarly, who of us is strong enough to overcome death, to dig ourselves out of the grave? And if you or I were perfectly humble instead of proud, we would always live in the truth (about who God is and who we are) and we would never sin—and yet we do sin.

The steward says to himself, “I know what I shall do so that when I am removed from the stewardship they may welcome me into their homes.” He calls in his master’s debtors one by one, asking them, “How much do you owe my master?” He then forgives portions of their debts – sometimes a fifth or a half of what they owe. And in the end, amazingly, when what this dishonest steward has done is revealed, even his betrayed master commends him for acting prudently and this steward is welcomed into many mansions.

The Our Father prayer as it appears in St. Matthew’s Gospel says, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Whenever someone sins against you they sin against God too, creating a kind of debt, but you yourself can forgive a portion of that debt. When our Lord sees this, he commends you for it. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” And when you are more mercifully generous than what is deserved, you gain blessings. “For the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” So learn from the dishonest steward. Forgive the sin-debts of others, be creative and proactive in your generosity on earth, and one day “you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, The Lost Son

September 10, 2022

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

On this twenty fourth Sunday of Ordinary time, by our faith in Christ, we have gathered in the presence of our Lord who is Loving, merciful, forgiving, and compassionate God. The Good News Jesus preached was that God is not a cruel, judging, and punishing God. He is our loving and forgiving Heavenly Father who wants to save everyone through His Son Jesus.

In the first reading of today, we discover a God who is faithful to his vows. As a merciful and compassionate father. Moses is imploring a forgiving God to have mercy on the sinful people who have abandoned Him and turned to idol-worship. He reminds God of His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and to show mercy to His unfaithful people. God heard the prayers of Moses on behalf of his people God hears Moses’ plea and takes his people back.

Today’s second reading, St. Paul repeats his story of conversion, intending to offer to everyone who will listen. As Saul of Tarsus, a zealous Jew, persecuted the church of God, but not only he forgiven, he is called to be an apostle. St. Paul always contrasts his life before Christ with his life after his Damascus experience. He had been the greatest of sinners, as a blasphemer and arrogant persecutor, God showed great mercy towards him. St. Paul invites us to marvel at the mercy of God and to find hope and help for dealing with our own need for conversion.

In the Gospel reading, the first two parables, there are the common elements of loss, searching, finding, rejoicing, and sharing of the joy. But in the third parable, we see a God forgiving and receiving sinners, the parables tell us about God’s generosity in seeking and receiving the sinner and the joy of the sinner in being received by a forgiving and loving God.

All three parables of Luke 15 end with a party or a celebration of the finding.  Since the self-righteous Pharisees, who accused Jesus of befriending publicans and sinners, could not believe that God would be delighted at the conversion of sinners, Jesus told them the parable of the lost sheep and the shepherd’s joy on its discovery, the parable of the lost coin and the woman’s joy when she found it, and the parable of the lost and returned son and his Father’s joy. Besides presenting a God who is patiently waiting for the return of the sinners, ready to pardon them, these parables teach us of God’s infinite love and mercy.

We need to live every day as our merciful God’s forgiven children: Let us begin every day by prayer so that we may learn how to obey God’s holy will by doing good, avoiding evil, and trying to live in God’s presence everywhere. Before we go to bed at night, let us examine our conscience and confess to God our sins and failures of the day, asking His pardon and forgiveness.  Let us resolve to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation if we have fallen into serious sins. Let us continue to ask for God’s forgiveness before we receive Jesus in Holy Communion during the Holy Mass. Thus, let us live a peaceful life as forgiven prodigal children, getting daily reconciled with God, our merciful and forgiving Father.

Let us not act like the Scribes, the Pharisees and the elder brother of the prodigal son who hold on to others’ sins rather we should act like Jesus who easily overlooks our faults and forgives us of our grave sins and then welcomes us back. We pray that the mercy of God may find us whenever we miss our track and patiently bring us back to his merciful bosom.

We Celebrate Divine Mercy

April 23, 2022

Divine Mercy Sunday
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

We celebrate today the feast of God’s Mercy. God revealed His mercy, first and foremost, by sending His only begotten Son to become our Savior and Lord by His suffering, death, and Resurrection. Divine Mercy is given to us also in each celebration of the Sacraments, which were instituted to sanctify us.

Our Easter celebration, from the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday through the Triduum to the glorious triumph of Christ over sin and death on Easter morning, and indeed through the whole Easter season – it’s all about the Divine Mercy of God. Through God’s mercy, Christ came forth to ransom us and bring us to salvation and our redemption from sin through the Cross of Christ involves the revelation of mercy in its fullness.

The theme of God’s mercy flows throughout today’s readings. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounts how God continued to show his Divine Mercy by the healing power bestowed on the apostles through the Holy Spirit. Just as during Jesus’ earthly ministry God’s mercy was made known through the signs and wonders he worked for those in pain and distress, His Divine Mercy continued to be manifested to the early Church through the similar signs and wonders worked by the apostles – signs and wonders meant to strengthen the faith and bring others to believe.

Today’s second reading from the book Revelations reminds us that Christ is with us always, that his people are surrounded by Christ’s mercy at all times, and especially during times of distress and tribulation. Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives.

In today’s Gospel from John, we hear about Christ coming among his dispirited disciples behind locked doors on the evening of Easter. He bestowed on them the Holy Spirit, breathing into them a new life much as God-breathed original life into Adam in the Genesis creation story. Christ commissions his newly created apostles to go out and convert the world – “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He sends them out to continue His ministry of love, forgiveness, and mercy to all the world. In His commissioning, Jesus also institutes what we now call the Sacrament of Reconciliation – “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” – clearly a Sacrament manifesting the Divine Mercy of God.

Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil – the Triduum we celebrated just last weekend – those are the three great days of grace – of the Divine Mercy bestowed on each of us through God’s great love. But the gift of Divine Mercy, the unconditional love of God, extends beyond the season of Easter. It’s manifested not just in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but in ALL the Sacraments.

The depth of God’s love for us is manifest in the outstretched arms of Christ on the Cross, and He’s calling us to partake of His mercy. But the gift of Divine Mercy is a gift meant for sharing. As we continue our Easter journey, let us embrace and share the great gift of Divine Mercy won for us by our Savior. Let us become the apostles we have been called to be. Yes, the second Sunday of Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for us. We must show mercy to our neighbors always and everywhere.

More Than a Means to an End

April 3, 2022

5th Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

A present-day view of the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives, with the Kidron Valley in between.

In the chapter preceding our reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus was preaching to a crowd of people in the Temple courtyard. Because of his words, “some of them… wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him… Then each went to his own house, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” But early the next morning Jesus returns to the temple area and all the people start coming to him. He sits down and teaches them, setting the stage for today’s famous scene with the woman caught in adultery.

I would like to describe for you the geography of these places referenced in our gospel. The Mount of Olives looks down over the old city of Jerusalem with a valley, the Kidron Valley, situated between them. The Mount of Olives descends about four hundred feet to the valley below. At the bottom of this hillside is the Garden of Gethsemane, where St. John tells us Jesus often met with his disciples. On the opposite side of the valley, the ground rises up again some two hundred feet to Jerusalem’s ancient city wall and the Temple Mount.

The Mount of Olives gets its name from an olive orchard which grew on its western slope facing the city. At harvest time, its olives would be gathered, brought down the hillside, and crushed to make olive oil. This oil was used for food, for medicine, to make skin clean and radiant, and as fuel for oil lamps. The Garden of Gethsemane was once a location for this processing – the name Gethsemane means “oil press” in Hebrew.

After the Last Supper, as was his custom, Jesus crossed the Kidron Valley and entered the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples. He said to them, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John along with him a little further on, and began to be troubled and distressed. Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch.” St. Luke records that Jesus was then in such agony and prayed so fervently “that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Like olives being crushed to bring forth precious oil at harvest time, this is the beginning of Jesus being crushed in his Passion.

In fulfillment of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, he was crushed for our iniquity and pierced for our sins, “He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed.” Without the crushing of the olives we would not enjoy the blessings of their oil. Without Christ’s Passion we would have no Eucharistic food, no saving medicine for our souls, no cleansing, no resurrected glory for our flesh, and no light of hope in our darkened world.

It is interesting that Jesus liked to come to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. The Gospels usually record him climbing up to higher places to pray, like Mount Tabor or mountains overlooking the Sea of Galilee. But here Jesus prays in a valley, perhaps a dark valley, depending on the foliage.

When I traveled to the Holy Land in 2016, I visited the Garden of Gethsemane where a number of very old olive trees still grow. Looking across the valley there, it occurred to me there that the upper portions of the Temple would have been visible rising above the city wall. Just as we sit before the presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle, I could imagine our Lord facing his Father’s dwelling place, praying with personal devotion and receiving consolation, knowing that his God was there.

Why did Jesus bring his disciples with him to the Garden of Gethsemane on Holy Thursday night when he could have easily gone alone? In part, it was so that they could be eyewitnesses to the events there, but Jesus also did this to provide companionship for himself in his darkest hours. Like the comfort of having his mother Mary at the Cross, Jesus having his disciples with him in the Garden made him feel a little less alone.

The scribes and Pharisees in our gospel story today do not care about the woman caught in adultery. They do not actually care whether she gets punished or forgiven. If they really cared about her adultery then why didn’t they bring along for judgment the man she sinned with also? I doubt this woman was caught in the act and Jesus’ enemies hatched their plan all on the same morning. Her affair may well have happened many months or years before this moment. They are merely using her as a prop, as a tool, as a means to an end: in order to entrap Jesus. They want our Lord to say something against the Law of Moses so that they may condemn him.

At first, Jesus seems to feign disinterest. When they continue pestering him to answer, he declares: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he returns to writing something (we don’t know what) upon the ground. “And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders,” discarding the woman and leaving her alone with Jesus. But this woman wasn’t a prop to Jesus. He sees her as a person and personally cares about her. “Has no one condemned you?” he asks her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

How do we relate to Jesus? Do we relate to Jesus personally or do we treat him merely a means to an end? We all want to go to Heaven of course, and Jesus wants that for us too, but do we desire a deeper personal relationship with Jesus Christ as well? Do I care what he thinks, how he feels, what he wants? Jesus desires to be more than a religious prop or tool for us.

Let your daily prayer be interpersonal. Prayer is not just saying words or casting wishes, it is speaking with a friend in heaven. So encounter Christ in prayer. Meet him in your place of prayer at home. Meet him before his altar and his tabernacle. Come keep watch with in the Garden after the evening Mass on Holy Thursday, which is just around the corner. Could you not keep watch with him one hour? Give Jesus the gift of your companionship, this and every day.

God’s Universal & Personal Love

March 27, 2022

4th Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran 

God’s love is universal and at the same time, it is personal. Our God is concerned for each person individually yet at the same time he loves us the whole community. God loved the world so much that He sent only Son to gather us together so that we may have new life in Him. God also sends us to carry his divine love into the world and to share this message of life and light.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Rejoice (Laetare) Sunday anticipating Easter joy. Today’s readings invite us to rejoice by being reconciled with God through repentance and the confession of our sins and celebrating our coming home to be with our loving and forgiving God.

The First Reading tells us that Israel had reached the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. Their arrival was made possible by a miracle of the Lord. Just as the Red sea opened up for them as they escaped Egypt, the Israelites could live freely in their own country. The reading tells us that they happily ate the produce of the land. The manna which was their food for forty years ceased to come from heaven. The people could now enjoy the abundance of the Promised Land.

In the Second Reading, St Paul tells the Corinthians that if anyone is in Christ, there is already a new creation everything old has passed away, and everything has become new! Paul tells them that everything is from God, who reconciled them to himself through Christ and has given them the ministry of reconciliation. Jesus is the mediator in the process and our part is to accept God’s gift of Reconciliation. He invites them to remember that God for our sake made Christ be sin who was sinless so that in Him might become the righteousness of God. In other words, our sins are forgiven so we can share in the very holiness of God.

In today’s gospel, we have the story of the Prodigal Son which presents us with a picture of God is Love, care, and forgiveness. In the parable, we are given a most beautiful description of our heavenly Father. He is outside of the house waiting for the younger son to return. He is certain that he will return to him. When the son returns, his father runs to him, clasped him in his arms, kisses him tenderly and he brings him in and throws a party for him. When we return to God, He throws a party for us too.

The Father immediately readmits him as part of the family and gives the order to bring the robe, the ring, the sandals, and to kill the fatted calf for a celebration. The son had no understanding of what mercy really meant. Now he learns the depth of the love of the Father. In this parable, Jesus teaches us the depth of the generosity of God and His mercy. God, our heavenly Father, is always waiting at the door for us to come to Him. At every Mass, we receive the same invitation from Jesus, to share his body and blood and, hence, his forgiveness.

The lost son realized that in his father’s house there was sustenance for him. So he humbled himself, willing, if necessary, to be his father’s servant, and started back home. This turning away from sin and toward God is the first indication of His love for us.

This parable says that God is at work. That he is able to see the younger son when he was still a long way off means that the father has been watching for his son, waiting for him, longing for him. The father runs to him, embraces him, loves him, and gives him gifts. This is a wonderful picture of the great love of God towards us. He seeks after us, reaches out to us. When we come to Him, He washes away all our evil deeds of the past, not holding them against us. The road back to God is sometimes long, but easy.

How Both Brothers Are Alike

March 27, 2022

4th Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

What do the two brothers in Jesus’ parable have in common? Both of them are loved by the same generous and merciful father, but neither one believes it.

In the beginning of the story, the younger son says to his father, “Give me the share of your estate that should come to me.” So the father divides the property between him and his brother. According to God’s law in the Book of Deuteronomy, a firstborn son got a double-portion of the inheritance. So in our story when dad divided the property between them, the elder son would receive two-thirds of the estate while the younger son took a third. After a few days, the younger son collects all his belongings, likely converting them into cash, and sets off for a distant, foreign country.

Carob Tree Pods

To be prodigal with one’s wealth means to spend it freely and recklessly. Everyone knows the younger son by this title for squandering his fortune in sinful and wasteful ways. After he spends it all, a famine strikes and he takes an area job as a farmhand. He’s now working on a farm with pigs, an often filthy animal which is also ritually-unclean for Jews. The younger son is starving, dying from hunger, and he is feeding swine. He is now so degraded that he longs to eat the pigs’ food, but nobody gives him any. This story’s original Greek text indicates he fed the pigs the pods which grow on carob trees. Carob pods have been used to fatten pigs and as a lower-class food from ancient times to present day. Though carob pods are tough, and hard on the teeth of those who eat them, they do contain a sweet, honey-like taste inside.

The Prodigal Son then sits down and thinks: ‘Wouldn’t I be much better off as one of my father’s hired workers? They always have more than enough food! I don’t deserve to be called his son. He surely despises me and feels like I’m dead to him. But there’s always lots of work to be done on the farm; maybe he’ll have me back as a laborer.’ So he gets up and goes back to his father. Imagine that son’s surprise when his dad sees him in the distance, runs to him, and embraces him (literally “falling upon his [son’s] neck”). The father kisses, clothes, and restores him, saying “let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again! He was lost, and has been found!” Despite everything, his father has never stopped loving him.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is also the story of the older son. This son has been obediently serving his father for years. He’s coming back to the house from working hard in the field when he learns of his brother’s return. His father is throwing a party with music, dancing, and a big steak dinner, but the older son becomes angry and refuses to go in. His father comes pleading to him, but he replies: “Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends! But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf!” Why is the older brother angry and jealous? Because he doesn’t believe his father loves him. ‘Why do you love my shameful sibling more than me? You never even gave me a young goat to feast on with my friends!’ (The elder son apparently never asked for this gift, for who could imagine his merciful father refusing him?)

The father replies, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.” What his father says is true; everything on the family estate is already the elder son’s by the inheritance divided and bestowed at the start of the story. “But now,” his father explains, “we must celebrate and rejoice.” The father wants his treasured sons to be reconciled and added to each other’s inheritance from him. Likewise, Jesus wishes the Pharisees and scribes could be happy that their estranged brothers, the tax collectors and sinners, are now returning home repentant.

Both of the brothers in Jesus’ parable disbelieved their generous, merciful father loved them. You might feel that way, too. Maybe you’ve been unfaithful and believe, “God can’t love me because I’m too sinful.” If a Jewish man can longingly crave the hard-to-eat food of swine, God can love whatever sweet goodness there is in you. Or maybe you’ve been faithful to God through years of trial yet think, “God clearly doesn’t love me, because he doesn’t bless me.” Laboring in our Father’s vineyard can be difficult, but “whoever asks, receives.” Jesus says, “Behold, the kingdom of God is among you,” and “Behold, I am with you always.” God our Father tells us, “You are with me always, and everything I have is yours.” Perhaps you need to repent and return to our Father in the Sacrament of Confession, leaving your sins behind. Or perhaps you need to let go of your bitterness, realizing how truly blessed you are within our Father’s house. But you should definitely believe and accept this: that our loving Father loves you.

Our God of Second Chances

March 19, 2022

3rd Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran 

On this third Sunday of Lent, the Church provides us with another moment of grace to straighten us on our journey. Today, we celebrate the Lord who frees us from our slavery to sin, if only we listen to His warning to repent. Repentance is, feeling sorry for the sin we committed and a firm resolve not to deliberately commit it again. Sincere repentance provokes God’s compassion, mercy, and love.

The first reading taken from the Book of Exodus, tells us about the deep concern of God towards his people suffering in Egypt. He sees the hardships experienced by his chosen people and observes their misery. God had heard their cries of misery and takes initiative to liberate them from the Egyptian masters. God shows His mercy to His chosen people by giving them Moses as their leader and liberator. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob reveals Himself to Moses from the burning bush and assures Moses of His Divine presence with His people and of His awareness of their sufferings in Egypt. He declares His intention to choose Moses as the leader who will rescue His enslaved people. Then God reveals to Moses His name as Yahweh (“I AM Who AM”) and renews the promise He made to the patriarchs to give them a “land flowing with milk and honey.

In the second reading, St. Paul warns us that our merciful God is also a disciplining God. Paul reminds the Christians of Corinth that they must learn from the sad experience of the Israelites who were punished for their sins by a merciful but just God. The merciful and gracious God is also just and demanding.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus informs us that those who do not repent will perish. On the other hand, Jesus tells us a parable about the patience of God. As the fig tree is given one last chance to produce fruit before it is cut down, so Jesus is giving His people one final opportunity to bear good fruits as evidence of its repentance. Through this parable, we are reminded of the patience of a God who is willing to give sinners a chance to reform their lives and to seek reconciliation. Just as the farmer tended the barren fig tree with special care, so God affords sinners whatever graces they need to leave their sinful ways behind and return to God’s love and embrace.

Divine grace is expressed as justice with compassion and judgment with mercy. However, we cannot draw strength and sustenance from God without producing fruit. Our fruit should consist of repentance, confession, and firm commitment to change our lives. Let us produce good fruit when we can, Let us repent while we have the chance. Let us turn to Christ, acknowledge our faults and failings, and receive from his mercy, forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life. There is no better way to take these words of Jesus to heart than to go to sacramental confession. There is no better time to go to confession than during Lent. Repentance helps us in life and in death. It helps us to live as forgiven people and helps us to face death without fear.

Our merciful Father always gives us a second chance. The prodigal sons returning to the father was welcomed as a son, not treated as a slave. The repentant Peter was made the head of the Church. The persecutor Saul was made Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. During Lent, we, too, are given another chance to repent and return to our Heavenly Father’s love.

Mercy Like Christ’s

February 20, 2022

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Chinnappan Pelavendran

The mystery of Christian life is loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors. Forgiveness, prayer, and love for those who seek to destroy us is the path Jesus has laid out for us. The challenge of the Christian life is asking the Lord for grace to bless our enemies and to love them.

Today I like to give you the example of St. Maria Goretti, who was born in 1890 in Italy. Her father began to work for a landlord south of Rome and made a deal with another family who would share the same house with them. Unfortunately, Maria’s father died of malaria. Alessandro began to cause trouble for Maria. Her big mistake was that she did not tell her mother because she did not want to cause trouble. One day he wanted to take her to the bedroom, but she refused shouting, “No! It is a sin! God does not want it.

He stabbed her fourteen times. In addition to this horrible pain, she underwent twenty hours of surgery without anesthesia. During that time she forgave Alessandro and prayed for him. On the following day, she died. Alessandro was sentenced to thirty years of hard labor. While he was in prison, Maria appeared to him in his cell. She smiled and was surrounded by lilies symbols of purity. That was the turning point in Alessandro’s life.

His first deed after release from prison was to visit Maria’s mother and ask her pardon. He accompanied her to Christmas Mass in the parish church where he spoke before the congregation, acknowledging his sin and asking forgiveness from God and the community. In June 1950, Pope Pius XII canonized Maria Goretti declaring her to be a saint and martyr before a huge crowd. Her mother was there with her four children.

There are other well-known examples of forgiveness in the Scriptures. The patriarch Joseph in the latter part of the book of Genesis (Gen 37-50) was also the subject of jealousy. His brothers sold him into slavery and he ended up down in Egypt but rose to second in command to Pharaoh. During the famine, he forgave his brothers when they came looking for food. They had been merciless to Joseph but he was merciful to them. He invited the entire family down to Egypt as guests of Pharaoh.

The first reading tells us that David was merciful to King Saul. King Saul tried to kill David twice, and twice David could have killed King Saul but did not. David spared the life of King Saul twice; once in the cave where David cut off the corner of his cloak instead of killing him (1st Sam 24); and once when David took away his spear and jar of water when he was asleep instead of killing him (1st Sam 26). David was very merciful to King Saul.

Jesus gives his disciples a challenge. He tells them: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you.” Jesus challenges us at the deepest level of our being. Each one of us has been wounded, betrayed or rejected at differing times in our lives. Jesus shows us the perfect example of how to love our enemies through His Crucifixion You can reflect on Jesus’ life and character, he demonstrated how much he loved those who were against him. Remember when he was on the cross, he said: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” This can only flow from a heart that has been transformed by the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus continually invites us not only to free the individual who wounded us but also to free ourselves from the pain, anger, and hurt that binds us. Jesus is patient and yet persistent. He continually invites us and calls us to forgive. Thus today we can take one small step in this direction.

How Far is East From West?

February 20, 2022

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today we praise the Lord with Psalm 103, a psalm written by King David: “Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he (repay) us according to our crimes. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us.” David rejoices that the Lord is merciful and slow to anger, not punishing our sins in the measure we deserve. God forgives our sins and removes them from us, “as far as the east is from the west.

Let’s look more closely at that last line: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions (our sins) from us.” How far away is the east, the place of sunrise, from the west, the place of sunset? Depending upon where you’re standing, your horizons may not be far away. But when ancient peoples walked beyond the next range of hills which blocked their view they did not imagine they had reached the ultimate place of the sun’s rising or setting. They knew that both east and west went on and on, farther still. What they likely did not know when King David wrote his psalms 3,000 years ago is that our Earth is spherical.

We know a number of facts that they didn’t back then, but ancient peoples were not less intelligent thinkers than us today. Could you, without using modern technology, prove that the world is round? Well, in the 3rd century B.C., Greek astronomers did and calculated the Earth’s circumference without using telescopes, photographs, airplanes, or satellites. So, given what we know now, how far is the east from the west?

Because the world is a globe, east and west eventually come together. If you were to travel from here due east while I journeyed due west, if we both kept going on making equal progress, we would meet once more near a border of China and Mongolia. If east and west actually meet together how are sins taken far from us “as far as the east is from the west” like this God-inspired psalm says?

Now some may say I’m taking biblical poetry too literally. A figure of speech doesn’t need to be painfully accurate to be true. We may know that each new morning comes from our perspective upon this spinning planet, but in ordinary conversation it’s not wrong to say the Sun rises. Or, in romantic poetry, a woman’s skin need not be made of real porcelain nor a man’s chin actually be chiseled for such metaphors to convey truths about their beauty. Saying the Lord removes our sins far away from us like the east is distant from the west is a straight-forward enough image on first impression. But humanity’s later discovery that these two opposites unite suggests an additional interpretation for this scripture passage about how our Lord takes our sins away.

Here is the puzzle God faced in regards to our redemption: how could the all-holy Trinity ever forgive humanity’s sins? If the Lord were to forgive us by merely ignoring our crimes, then what of cosmic justice and divine righteousness? There was a price to be paid which we sinners could not pay, but God found a way. As was foretold in the 85th Psalm: ‘Kindness and truth met; justice and peace kissed. Truth sprung out of the earth and justice looked down from heaven.’ Just as east and west were distant contraries which surprisingly converged, so sinless divinity and estranged humanity were amazingly joined through the Incarnation and Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus separates us from sin by uniting himself to us.

What our Lord Jesus has done to save us is reflected in all of this Sunday’s readings. In our first reading, Jesus’ great ancestor David took King Saul’s spear and water jug and then returned them, thereby proving his goodness to his persecutors. Later on the Cross, Jesus takes the soldiers’ spear into his side and water pours out with Christ’s blood, proving his love for us. In our second reading, St. Paul notes the first man, sinful Adam, is saved by the new God-man, Christ. “The first man was from the earth, earthly; the second man, from heaven.” And in our Gospel, Jesus observes that if you love those who love you and do good to those who do good to you, what is so remarkable about that? Jesus says, “Love your enemies and do good to them.” St. Paul wrote to the Romans that “God proves his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” We struck him on one check and he offered the other one as well. We took his cloak and he let us strip him of his tunic. We could not purchase our own redemption but Jesus paid the cost knowing we could not pay him back. “Indeed,” as St. Paul writes, “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son…”

Jesus Christ, the first of the Most High’s children, is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, and merciful, just as his Father is merciful. He has loved his enemies, done good to those who hate him, blessed those who curse him, and prayed for those who mistreat him. He calls us to follow his own Christian example that we may share in his resurrected glory and heavenly rewards, “a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,” poured into our laps. Praised be Jesus Christ! Let us always praise and thank him – for who he is and what he’s done. “From the rising of the Sun to its setting, may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Forgiving others is crucial (and maybe easier than you think.)

September 12, 2020

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In Jesus’ parable today, a servant owes his king a huge debt, more precisely (in the original Greek) 10,000 silver talents. This was an amount equal to 150,000 years’ worth of labor in the ancient world, something akin to $4.5 billion today. It’s an unrepayable debt, but the servant’s king is rich in compassion; he feels pity and forgives the man’s entire loan.

Now, this servant was a creditor himself, and one of his fellow servants owed him a significant but much smaller amount, literally 100 denarii, which was 100 days’ wages back then. Think of it like $10,000. The newly debt-free man sought out this fellow servant and started to choke him, demanding, “Pay back what you owe!” Despite pleading for patient mercy, that first servant put the second into debtors’ prison until he should pay back his debt.

Now when other servants witnessed all of this they felt deeply troubled by it. They went and reported the whole situation to the king and master of them all. The king summoned the unforgiving servant and pronounced a swift judgment: “You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” Then, in anger, his master threw him into debtors’ prison as well until he should pay back his whole debt.

The king was clearly angry. One rarely-considered reason for his anger is that all of these servants were his own. The 100 denarii debtor suffered by being tossed into prison, his fellow servants suffered from witnessing the scandal, and all of this impacted the king personally. Their distress affects him deeply, for the king is compassionate, but it affected him in another way as well: his servants being detained or disturbed by this unhappy affair kept them from doing his important work. They’re all his servants, but the actions of one impeded the others from freely and fully fulfilling his will.

Of course, the king and master in this parable represents God. Who on earth forgives someone’s $4.5 billion personal debt like our Lord forgives the debt of our sins? And we are each his servants, like St. Paul says, “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” So, if we are to learn a lesson from the servant whose great debt was forgiven, how can we avoid imprisoning or impeding our fellow servants? Through merciful love.

When someone is angry with you, yells at you, or criticizes you, when you know someone dislikes or despises you, how does that affect you? Does your tension and anxiety go up? Do you think about that person and the situation obsessively? Do you run scenarios in your mind about what you wish you had said or done previously, or what you’ll do the next time you cross paths? Do you avoid that person, or the places they could be, and feel uncomfortable in their presence? Do you gossip to others about your ongoing bitter conflict, thereby spreading the scandal to them? If so, then you’re being imprisoned, partially impeded in your peaceful service of our Lord.

We can easily have this effect on others by how we treat them. And cherishing and nurturing our own anger makes a prisoner of yourself to anger. When you experience some slight or shortcoming from another, be gracious. Maybe just let it be; let it pass. Give their actions a most-generous interpretation. Mistakes are more common than malevolence. And you yourself have bad days, too.

Sometimes, though, we need to address matters for the common good. As we heard about last week, love sometimes calls us to do fraternally correction. But when we do it, let’s do it with a kindly, gentle spirit, sharing the truth in love that they might be able to receive it. Merciful love is necessary to keep each other out of prison, the prison of unrepentance and the prison unforgiveness.

In the Our Father, we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus teaches his disciples, “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” And at the end of today’s parable, Jesus warns us that our fate will be like that of the unforgiving servant ‘unless you forgive your brother from your heart.’ Now many Christians find this teaching deeply disconcerting. They’re troubled because they believe they just can’t forgive. But I usually find they think this because they imagine forgiveness means something it’s not.

Forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting. You can’t force yourself to have amnesia and forget. You might remember the misdeed for the rest of your life. And forgiveness doesn’t mean saying what someone did wasn’t serious or wrong. The offense committed may have been a grave sin and to say otherwise would be a lie. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what someone did no longer hurts. Only grace and time can heal some wounds, but we can forgive even with lingering pains. Forgiveness doesn’t require you to pretend nothing happened. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything must go back to the way it was before. Forgiveness might lead to full reconciliation, but not always. You can forgive someone even before they can be trusted. You can forgive even before they are sorry for what they did. Why? Because forgiveness means loving someone despite the wrongs that they have done.

Forgiveness is loving someone despite their sins. Is there someone you’re worried that you haven’t forgiven? Then pray for them, because you can’t hate someone and pray for them at the same time. Is there someone you find it hard to pray for? Then that’s whom you should pray for, for their sake and for yours. Jesus came to reconcile us to one another and to the Father. So have mercy. Jesus works to heal the wounds of sin and division. So have mercy. And Jesus intercedes for us with our Father. So have mercy, too.

Divinely Merciful

April 18, 2020

Divine Mercy Sunday

The Cenacle, the Upper Room in Jerusalem,
site of the Last Supper and Pentecost

Imagine an event as it did not happen…

On Easter evening, when the disciples were gathered behind locked doors in the Upper Room, Jesus came and appeared in their midst and said to them, “I condemn you. Each of you. All of you abandoned me.” And when he had said this, he showed the wounds in his hands and feet and side and said, “I suffered these because of your sins.”

If Jesus would have declared such things to his apostles his charges would not have been untrue. But this is thankfully not what Jesus did. Instead, he came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you,” a phrase he says three times in this Sunday’s gospel. Christ’s Passion, death, and Resurrection are not for our condemnation. Jesus comes in mercy for his apostles and for us. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” St. Peter writes, “who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

After assuring them of his friendship and the reality of his Resurrection, the next most important item on Jesus’ Easter list is to entrust his Church with his mission of mercy: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

In this season of pandemic, public Masses are suspended; first Communions, Confirmations, and weddings are being postponed; but the Sacrament of Reconciliation continues to be offered. Did you get to Confession this Lent? Jesus has peace to give you in this great sacrament. So, where and when you can, make it a top item on your list to experience his Divine Mercy there.

Humility, Truth, & Love — 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Year C

October 28, 2019

Today’s second reading from the Second Letter to Timothy has St. Paul declaring near the end of his earthly life: “I have competed well, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me…” Recall how at the Visitation, after encountering her cousin Elizabeth, St. Mary declares about herself: “[God] has looked with favor on his lowly servant; from this day all generations will call me blessed.” Are these humble things for Mary and Paul to say about themselves?

Well, they’re both true statements, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Paul, having finished his race, is now a triumphant saint in Heaven, and the Church calls Mary the Blessed Virgin in every generation even to our day. True humility is not thinking that you’re dirt, it is being down-to-earth, well-grounded, and rooted in reality. Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others,” and the Blessed Virgin Mary pleases and honors God when she states, “The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.” God has done good things for you as well, so thank and praise and glorify him for it!

But wait a minute, someone might object, wasn’t the Pharisee who went up to pray at the Temple in Jesus’ parable today also thanking God and declaring true statements about himself? What if this Pharisee did fast twice a week; what if he did pay tithes on his entire income; and was neither greedy, dishonest, nor adulterous? That is what’s implied by the parable, and those are all very good things! So why then does he incur our Lord and God’s displeasure?

Today’s gospel says “Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” Jesus says the Pharisee took up his position at the Temple and spoke this prayer 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.” Imagine the Pharisee praying these words out loud, within earshot of this tax collector in front of everybody. Yet, even if the Pharisee prayed silently, or quietly to himself, and his neighbor did not hear him; the Pharisee despised the tax collector and the rest of humanity, and did not gain God’s pleasure. Like St. Paul once wrote, “If I give away everything I own, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.” In order to gain Heaven; truth, love, and sacrifice all need to go together within us.

We see the truth, authentic love, and self-sacrifice combined in the inspiring life of the twentieth century saint, Edith Stein. She was born into a Orthodox Jewish family but renounced her faith by the age of thirteen and embraced atheism. She went on to become a respected PhD in philosophy. Then, one night while staying with friends on a vacation, she read the entire autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila. The following morning she put the book down and declared, “That is the truth,” and responded accordingly. She was baptized a Catholic at the age of thirty, became a Carmelite nun and took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, like the Carmelite St. Teresa of Avila before her. During World War II, because of her Jewish ancestry, the Nazis came to arrest her along with her biological sister Rosa, who worked at the convent. Teresa Benedicta reportedly said to Rosa, “Come. Let us go and die for our people.” They were taken to Auschwitz where survivors of the death camp testified that the nun helped other sufferers with great compassion. A week after their arrest, she and her sister were killed in the gas chamber. St. Teresa Benedicta comes to my mind this Sunday because of one of her most famous quotes: “Do not accept anything as truth that lacks love and do not accept anything as love that lacks truth. One without the other is a destructive lie.

It could be said that the proud Pharisee in our parable had the truth without love, while our culture today has many (so called) loves apart from the truth. Through our friendship, our prayers, and our perseverance, the tax collectors we know today need to encounter love and the truth, that they might turn to Jesus and say “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” and be saved. If you think you see someone seriously sinning; perhaps in your circles or our community, on TV or in the news; be sure—at very least—to pray for them. Maybe you’re right, which means that they are greatly in need of your prayer. Or perhaps you’re judging rashly or too harshly, in which case you are in need more prayer. In any case, you cannot both hate someone and pray for someone at the same time, because praying for someone is an act of love.

As Jesus tells us, “the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Praying for and loving sinners makes you their servant in the likeness of Christ. Jesus came to us, he told us the truth, he prayed and interceded for us, and he even died for us – you and me and everyone. Jesus wants all of us to be like him, loving in truth and sharing the truth in love.

The Mercies of Two Adams

February 24, 2019

In our second reading this Sunday, St. Paul compares the First Man to the Last Adam. In our Gospel, that Second Adam (Jesus Christ) shares teachings on forgiveness which have reshaped the world. Catholic spiritual tradition holds that when Jesus descended to the Abode of the Dead on Holy Saturday he found Adam and announced that the gates of Heaven were now open to him and all the Old Testament’s friends of God. If Adam went to Heaven we know he practiced forgiveness himself because Jesus says “if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” I’d like to begin by reflecting on three people from Adam’s life whom he had to forgive; and each one has a practical lesson for us touching on forgiveness.

One person Adam had to forgive was his wife, Eve. “She saw that the [forbidden] tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Adam had to forgive her for doing this, but he also had to seek her forgiveness. He had been charged by God with protecting her and the garden. He was with her as the Serpent spoke, and he failed in his duty. Adam and Eve had to forgive each other.

Now a foolish person insists that other people are completely at fault one hundred percent of the time. After a conflict, even if I didn’t sin (even if I did nothing intentionally that I knew to be wrong at the time) I can still reflect upon how I could have expressed myself or handled the situation better. Mistakes are not sins—we can only sin on purpose—but we should learn from our mistakes.

Another person Adam had to forgive was his son, Cain. Because he felt snubbed, Cain was filled with jealous anger towards his brother. “Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out in the field.’ When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” This was the first recorded murder, and Adam had to forgive his son for it.

In 1981, Mehmet Ali Ağca shot the pope in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. St. Pope John Paul the Great nearly died, but two years later after he had recovered he went to visit his would-be assassin in prison. I remember being amazed as a kid in CCD class to learn that the pope sat at an arm’s length from the unshackled man who almost killed him in order to personally forgive him. Significantly, the pope did not ask Italy’s leader or government to release Ağca at that time. Ağca served twenty-nine years in prison until his release in 2010. Similarly, God showed his mercy and did not destroy Cain the murderer, but God did place punishments on him.

Sometimes withholding punishment is not kindness because we need discipline, to experience just consequences for our actions, for our own good. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he chastises every son he acknowledges. … At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Mercy and forgiveness do not rule out experiencing any consequences.

A third person Adam had to forgive is one you might not expect: Adam had to forgive the Serpent. Was the wicked Serpent sorry for what he had done? No, but Adam had to forgive for Adam’s own sake. Unforgiveness is a bitter poison we drink in hopes of hurting someone else. Renouncing our claims to vengeance against another actually sets us free.

Jesus said we must forgive to be forgiven ourselves, but some people think they can’t forgive because they think forgiveness means something it doesn’t. Forgiveness is not to say that the sin wasn’t wrong, or that it’s no big deal, or that it doesn’t hurt anymore, or that it never really happened, or everything can go back to how it was before. Forgiveness means loving someone despite their sins, even if prudence may require us to keep a healthy distance from them (as with the Devil.)

Does God hate that ancient serpent, the Devil, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning? Amazingly, no. As the Book of Wisdom says, “you [Lord] love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate. [And] how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours…” God hates what Satan does, but loves him still. God hates the sin, but loves the sinner. In the end, the wicked will not be annihilated, made to no longer exist, but given the disassociation and space away from God they desire forever. God hates no one and neither should we.

In several places in the New Testaments, St. Paul draws parallels between Adam and Jesus. St. Paul wrote the Romans: “just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous.” The First Adam gave life to all his descendants, and the Last Adam gives life to all who follow him. The Old Adam, by his selfish sin, condemned the world; but the New Adam, by his holy self-sacrifice, redeems us. The First Adam, as we have seen, practiced forgiveness, but Jesus Christ is personified Mercy.

Consider how autobiographical Jesus’ Gospel teaching on forgiveness is. Jesus says, “To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well.” During the Passion, at his Jewish trial before the Sanhedrin, “they spat in [Jesus’] face and struck him, while some slapped him, saying, ‘Prophesy for us, Messiah: who is it that struck you?’

Jesus says, “From the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.” “When the [Roman] soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. So they said to one another, ‘Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be…’

Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” The religious leaders sneered at Jesus as he hung on the Cross. Even the soldiers jeered at him. But Jesus prayed for them saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you,what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.” St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Jesus says, “If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High…” Jesus gave of himself knowing that many would give him nothing in return, he loves sinners knowing that many will not love him back. But Jesus is his Father’s Son, merciful as he is merciful, loving as he is loving, good as he is good, and generous as he is generous. And Jesus invites us to also be children of the Most High like himself.

So let’s be generous in every way towards Jesus, who gives us mercy, our every blessing in life, and his very self in the Eucharist. Jesus’ teaching at the close of today’s Gospel is true not only for financial giving but for every gift to God, for God is never outdone in generosity: “Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” Let us be merciful and generous like Jesus is towards us.

“Egyptian Christians are made of Steel!”

April 23, 2017

Last Palm Sunday, in Egypt’s Nile Delta, a terrorist detonated a suicide bomb in a Coptic Christian church. 27 were killed and 78 wounded. Then, just hours later, there was another bombing at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria. The Coptic patriarch had just finished celebrating Palm Sunday Mass when another terrorist attempted to get inside that church. At least 17 were killed and 48 wounding, but many more may have been murdered if the killer had not been prevented from entering by security guards at the gate.

These attacks are a reminder that Christian persecution and martyrdoms are very much alive today. An Egyptian TV news show interviewed a Christian woman whose husband, AmNeseem, was one of those gatekeepers who restrained the second terrorist and died in the blast. The mourning widow’s words and the reaction of the Muslim news anchor in the studio are remarkable: