St. Francis of Assisi Weekly Reflections

How have you Responded to God's Mercy?

10-30-2016Weekly Reflection

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 Reflection

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 Reflection

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 Reflection

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 Reflection

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 Reflection

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 Reflection

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 Reflection

"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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Invite the Poor, Crippled, Lame and Blind

08-28-2016Weekly Reflection

"Alms atone for sins" (Sirach 2:29). Alms are mercy translated into hands-on compassion. Jesus confirms Sirach's wisdom, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Matthew 5:7). "Conduct your affairs with humility" (Sirach 3:17). Humility: we're all alike and special, for we're children of God. Jesus confirms that wisdom, too: "Do not recline at table in the place of honor. Take the lowest place" (Luke 14:8, 10). In fact, "When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite friends, relatives, wealthy neighbors. Invite the poor, crippled, lame, blind," physically or figuratively, society's most vulnerable and marginalized, "who cannot repay you" (see 14:12–14). Jesus seems to be telling us to prepare for eternity with God's chosen by becoming their friend here and now. Mercy is measured not by our delight in welcoming those we like most or who can repay us best, but by sincerely embracing those we like least, who cannot repay us at all. Utter humility inspires pure mercy; pure mercy leads to eternal joy.

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

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Will I be Saved?

08-21-2016Weekly Reflection

This Jubilee Year of Mercy and Pope Francis' ministry have renewed our understanding that the Church's heart is open wide to all, and the heart of the gospel is God's mercy. Flooded with God's mercy, our hearts should overflow as channels bringing to wounded and weary hearts Jesus' healing mercy. For Jesus warns, our own salvation is not guaranteed by the Liturgy of the Word ("you taught in our streets") nor by the Eucharist ("we ate and drank in your company") (Luke 13:26). People far from that banquet, "from the east and the west and from the north and the south . . . will recline at table in the kingdom of God" (13:29). Rather, showing mercy is key to obtaining mercy ourselves (Matthew 5:7). So we should never dare ask what "someone" asked Jesus, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" (Luke 13:23). The crucial question is "Will I be saved?" And Jesus' answer is another question: "Have you shown mercy to everyone, freely, gladly, no limits, no conditions, no exceptions?"

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

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Share Mercy

08-14-2016Weekly Reflection

This Jubilee Year of Mercy bids us share our own experience of Jesus' mercy with those on what Pope Francis calls the "peripheries"—people who feel marginalized, even unwelcome—inviting them to come home. But with all this mercy, why today's mayhem? "Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division" (Lk 12:51). Jesus "breaks down" those "breakups" in painful detail—parents, children, even in-laws. "Against" appears eight times in five verses. Jeremiah faced death for bearing witness (Jer 38:4). Can't we bear at least a small share of the sometimes merciless cost of sharing mercy? The Letter to the Hebrews warns us, keep your "eyes fixed on Jesus" and "so great a cloud of witnesses," lest we "grow weary and lose heart" as we run "the race that lies before us" (Heb 12:1–3). After all, "for the sake of the joy that lay before him," Jesus "endured the cross" (12:2). Can't we endure our small crosses for the sake of sharing mercy?

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

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Be Vigilant and Faithful Servants

08-07-2016Weekly Reflection

"Last Sunday's "Parable of the rich fool" delivered a compelling reason to do the right thing—now: "You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you" (Luke 12:20). Today, Jesus warns us: "You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come" (12:40). Though we do not know when our Master will come, we do know what our Master expects to find. Jesus expects us to be vigilant (12:37) and diligent (12:42) in our work for the kingdom, but also filled with reverent mercy toward our fellow servants and ourselves. Hopefully, Jesus' warning not to get drunk and beat each other up (12:45) does not apply to us literally! But what changes do I need to make, right now, so that the many people outside "the Master's house" will want to come inside to experience the healing comfort of Jesus' own mercy in the compassion of Jesus' modern-day disciples?

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

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