Be Alert and Prepared

11-27-2016Weekly Reflections

Advent can easily become a neglected season. We can get so busy with our preparations for Christmas that Advent is quickly behind us. That would be a loss, because it is a great season for lifting our spirits by redirecting our focus from shopping to consider God's promises yet to be fulfilled. Perhaps this year's four full weeks of Advent might help us to slow down and breathe in the joy that comes from expectation. The Advent scriptures call us to live in a state of alertness. Isaiah's vision from eight hundred years before Christ sets before us a welcome vision of peace in a city where God dwells and instructs all nations who live in harmony, where "one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again" (2:4). Paul urgently adds, "It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed" (Romans 13:11). Then, most dramatically, "Put on the lord Jesus Christ" (13:14). Finally Jesus advises us to "Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come...Be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come" (Matthew 24:42, 44).

Are you ready?

—We Celebrate Worship Resource, Vol. 42, No. 1

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Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom

11-20-2016Weekly Reflections

Today Luke, evangelist and by tradition artist, sends us forth from this Jubilee Year of Mercy with an unforgettable portrait of Christ the King. The setting for Jesus' "royal portrait" is the cross. From this "throne," the crucified "crown prince" welcomes by "executive pardon" the kingdom of mercy's first citizen, a fellow criminal. The "Good Thief" requests neither deliverance nor salvation, or even forgiveness: "Remember me when..." (Luke 23:42). "Today you will be with me," King Jesus promises, "in paradise." (23:43). Paradise, even for non-believers, is an image of creation contentedly in harmony with self, fellow creatures, and Creator. Today, we "good thieves" beg Jesus to remember us. We promise to remember that, although Jesus' kingdom will be fulfilled only when Jesus' returns, that kingdom begins today in the paradise that will flower from this Jubilee Year of Mercy.

We disciples, having been embraced unconditionally and undeservedly by Jesus' mercy, must now go forth to embrace all others, unconditionally, with that same unfailing mercy.

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Go Forth and Proclaim God's Promise

11-13-2016Weekly Reflections

As this Jubilee Year of Mercy comes to an end, Jesus' first disciples ask what every age seems to wonder about the end of the world: "Teacher, when will this happen? What sign will there be?" (Luke 21:7). But instead of what we'd like to know, Jesus tells us what we need to know. Don't be terrified by natural disasters, human violence, personal sufferings. Because God's mercy abounds, all is grace. "It will lead to your giving testimony" (21:13).

So Malachi promises "the sun of justice with its healing rays" (Malachi 3:20a); and Jesus describes how we should welcome the end: "Stand erect and raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand" (Gospel Acclamation, Luke 21:28). Rather than worrying about ourselves and the future's perils, both Jesus' gospel and Pope Francis' Jubilee Year of Mercy bid us go forth to spend our lives proclaiming God's promise of boundless mercy, but also translating God's mercy into living deeds of unfailing compassion and enduring comfort.

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You ought to wash one Another's feet

11-06-2016Weekly Reflections

One of the most moving images of Pope Francis' ministry comes from Holy Thursday. Slowly, deliberately, Francis kneels down before prisoners—men, women, young, old, Christian, Muslim—and washes their feet, recalling Jesus admonition to Peter: "If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet" (John 13:14). On today's Jubilee for Prisoners, whose rights the Church bids us advocate, Jesus declares in the Gospel, "to [God] all are alive" (Luke 20:38). Have we "imprisoned" anyone figuratively, but no less painfully, passing harsh judgment, then refusing our respect, acceptance, even affection? This month of All Saints and All Souls bids us reflect on our eternal destiny and prepare for it. Respect for ourselves and others, souls and bodies, practical care for neighbors and strangers: such witness affirms that we view our present in light of our future, and believe that, even now, in our midst, stands the Lord of life, the living Jesus.

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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How have you Responded to God's Mercy?

10-30-2016Weekly Reflections

Last Sunday's Gospel gave us a tax collector's beautiful prayer to take with us from this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Today, another tax collector's encounter with Jesus offers a comforting memory to cherish, but also a challenging mission to embrace. Zacchaeus' short stature (see Luke 19:3) matched how contemptible, socially and spiritually, Zacchaeus' religious acquaintances considered tax collectors to be. Jesus counters that judgment with mercy. Radical sin meets unmerited grace. God seeks and finds the lost; a sinner's home becomes salvation's house. The sinner "quickly" welcomes salvation "with joy" (19:6), while the righteous grumble judgmentally at God's mercy. Mercy challenges us, too. Like Zacchaeus, we have been sought and found by Jesus, called by name to welcome Jesus into our heart's home. Therefore, we must go forth from this Jubilee Year of Mercy as "missionaries of mercy," seeking our fellow sinners with Jesus, receiving them with joy (see 19:6) as cherished brothers and sisters, and joyfully offering our judgment-free hospitality as Jesus' own "Welcome home!"

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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O God, be Merciful to me a Sinner

10-23-2016Weekly Reflections

Today's Gospel graces us with a beautiful prayer that can make every day of our lives a jubilee of mercy: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13). Religious Israelites despised the tax collector who prayed it, for collaborating with Gentile occupiers and handling currency that bore the "divine" emperor's graven image. But the Pharisee's long-winded self-congratulation, mixed with self-righteous condemnation, was no "prayer" at all. "The Pharisee…spoke this prayer to himself" (18:11, emphasis added). Praying the tax collector's simple, sincere, succinct cry for mercy acknowledges our own sinfulness, and "welcomes" other sinners as brothers and sisters with whom we can identify, even empathize, echoing Pope Francis' famous comment about not being the one to judge. Indeed, the tax collector "went home justified" (18:14), that is, restored to God's friendship, for God's mercy is not prize achieved but gift received. "Let your prayer be brief: for tax collector, prodigal son, and dying thief were all reconciled to God by a single phrase!"(Saint John Climacus, 7th century).

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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Be Persistent in Prayer

10-16-2016Weekly Reflections

Though Jesus told today's parable more than two thousand years ago, human nature hasn't changed: we recognize both characters instantly. The merciless judge represents the corruption that has short-circuited justice throughout history; the distraught widow, society's perennially powerless, marginalized to what Pope Francis calls the "peripheries" by those who wield power but lack the mercy that could transfigure society with compassion. To confront such reality, Jesus bids us, "pray always without becoming weary" (Luke 18:1). Prayer opens our eyes to see others from Jesus' perspective, and leads us to work for justice by coming to the aid of others with what Pope Francis extols as a higher standard, mercy. Thus, when Jesus asks, "Will not God secure the rights of God's chosen ones? Will God be slow to answer?" (18:7). We respond by making God's liberating work for others our own. "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (18:8). Yes, we respond—and mercy!

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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Make 'Unconditional Mercy' your Daily Goal

10-09-2016Weekly Reflections

This weekend, the Jubilee honors Mary under the title Pope Francis suggests, "Mother of Mercy". Recall the Good Samaritan Gospel. Priest and Levite saw suffering but showed no mercy. Recall the rich man, who never saw Lazarus right before his eyes, and showed no mercy. Today, Jesus sees ten lepers from afar and shows extraordinary mercy. Mary's entire life, declares Francis, was modeled on Jesus, "Mercy-Made-Flesh." Indeed, standing at the cross, Mary saw Jesus' mercy take flesh when Jesus showed mercy to the executioners. So Pope Francis recommends we frequently pray the Salve Regina, Hail, Holy Queen, asking her to ever look upon us with mercy, so that we might be worthy to gaze upon the face of her merciful Son Jesus. May we do so not only in eternity, but here and now, opening our eyes to see Jesus in others, and our hearts to serve Jesus in others by loving deeds of unconditional mercy.

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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Who is Lazarus in my Life?

09-25-2016Weekly Reflections

Amos castigates religious people who, "comfortably complacent" (6:1, 5), ignore the unfolding collapse of culture, nation, religion (6:6). In Jesus' parable, such complacency becomes the rich man's undoing. He neither hurt nor harmed Lazarus, neither denied him leftovers nor ordered him removed. That is Jesus' devastating point. The rich man did nothing wrong to Lazarus; he just did nothing at all good for him. Only in death, separated by "a great chasm" (Luke 16:26), could the rich man finally see Lazarus, whom he had failed to see in life, right before his eyes. Like the rich man's "five brothers still in my father's house" (16:27–28), we who are alive in the Church still have time to see that same Someone, Jesus, lying neglected right at our door—and time to do something. Who, specifically, concretely, practically, is Lazarus in my life? What can I do for that Jesus-in-the-flesh during this Jubilee Year of Mercy?

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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Are you devoted to self-sacrificing service?

09-18-2016Weekly Reflections

Mercy is one thing, malpractice quite another. Why, then, does the defrauded master in Jesus' parable praise the devious steward? Jesus shows by example how to sanctify material goods: by placing all our resources, indeed our very selves, at the service of others. No matter how costly such service, or how minimal the return, such charity is the wisest investment, yielding a reward that is literally out of this world. For Amos and Jesus, authentic worship of God demands practical charity toward our neighbor. Paul, too, declares that the only worship acceptable to God is offered by a community rich in charity. Liturgy must be matched to life, "lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument" (1 Timothy 2:8).

This Jubilee Year of Mercy challenges us to live as "children of light," as devoted to self-sacrificing service as "the children of this world" (Luke 16:8) are to serving themselves, as enthusiastic for God's kingdom of justice as we are about less-enduring treasures.

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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How do you imagine GOD?

09-11-2016Weekly Reflections

When religious people complained that Jesus welcomed and ate with sinners, Jesus challenged them to change their image of God. Imagine God as a shepherd, abandoning ninety-nine obedient sheep to seek the stupid one who got lost. Imagine God as a distraught woman (could religious men imagine that?), losing something and turning the house upside down to find it. Imagine God as an unconditionally forgiving father granting an unworthy son an undeserved feast. Then Jesus added a character whom religious people might imagine, even recognize, all too well. The elder son stayed home; obeyed the father's will; then exploded with rage and judgment and refused to join his brother's welcome-home feast. This Jubilee Year of Mercy asks, which half of Jesus' audience do I belong to? How do I imagine God? How can I become like the searching shepherd, the sweeping woman, the forgiving father? How else can I expect a welcome to Jesus' feast of forgiveness?

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

09-04-2016Weekly Reflections

"If anyone comes to me without hating...father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters,... and even his [or her] own life" (Luke 14:26). Hating? Can anyone imagine a less appropriate Gospel for the Jubilee Year of Mercy? But scholars call this Semitic hyperbole. Jesus exaggerates to jolt us into confronting life-changing challenges. Faced with conflicting loyalties, disciples must reorder priorities, even relationships, to give Jesus and the gospel's demands first place. Today's second reading presents a real-life example. Paul challenges his wealthy convert, Philemon, to welcome back Philemon's runaway slave, Onesimus, whom Paul has baptized in prison. Not only with unconditional forgiveness but with a counter-cultural, world-shattering change of status—as an equal. No, even more—a beloved brother in Christ. What in my life does the Jubilee Year of Mercy challenge me to "hate"—meaning reform, redo, even utterly revamp—so I can give everyone, no conditions, no exceptions, shockingly Christ-like love?

—Peter Scagnelli, Copyright © J. S. Paluch Co., Inc.

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