We, too, can overcome Satan’s temptations. Our God-given free will allows us to make moral choices either for good or for evil. No one, not even the demons, can makeus do anything. We have to consent.
Prayer to Your Guardian Angel
Prayer to Your Guardian Angel
Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the weeds highlights the coexistence of good and evil in God’s Kingdom, the “field” the LORD is planting in the here and now. The Church and everyone in it, regardless of status, are imperfect because diabolical forces are also sowing in the same field. This situation will remain until the end of time. Ultimately, however, justice will win. In the meantime, however, there is opportunity for conversion.
Scholar and theologian, John W. Martens, puts it this way:
It seems that in this parable the church is being cautioned to patience and tolerance with those whom we are just aching to condemn. All of us are in fact a corpus mixtum [mixed body], created good but with proclivities to our own peculiar sins. None of us are wheat without God’s help, and the improper rush to create a pure church, excluding those who do not sin the same way we do, or do not think like us, is bound to fail. We must patiently allow God to work in us as we prepare for the end of the age.
Jesus speaks clearly to his disciples when he tells them about the final judgment, and the picture Matthew paints of that event is terrifying. As weeds get burnt at the end of the harvest; likewise, evildoers will meet a similar fate. The righteous, on the other hand will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
LORD, may we hear your Word and cherish it! May we shine, now and forever.
To help me keep my Lenten priorities straight, I reread and meditated on a Lenten letter written by Pope Francis when he was Archbishop Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, S.J. of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires. The theme of the letter was based on the words of the prophet Joel 2:13:
Rend your hearts, not your garments:Return now to the Lord your God.Because He is compassionate and merciful,Slow to anger and rich in mercy…
The letter begins by listing the horrors of sin in our contemporary world. Because we have seen and heard so much of what the media presents it has settled in our hearts. So, we need to rend, not our garments, but our hearts.
At one time the rending of one’s garments was an external sign of great pain or distress. We have to be careful that our penances don’t become a show for others to notice. Here’s how the former archbishop/Cardinal Bergoglio contrasted rent garments from rent hearts.
The rent garments are:
But our Lenten transformation must be deeply interior and long-lasting. So what does it mean to rend one’s heart? For one thing, it means admitting our sinfulness.
The rent hearts are:
The letter ends with a quotation from St. John Chrysostom.
No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.
By evaluating at my Lenten practices using the standards of this Lenten letter two things are salient for me. First, my practices ought to last longer than Lent. Second, they should benefit others both spiritually and materially.
This is quite a challenge!
Here is an example for us. The Holy Father practices what he preaches.
What is in our heart? Is there love? Do I love my parents, my children, my wife, my husband, and the people in my neighborhood, the sick? Do I love them? And is there hate in my heart? Do I hate anyone? Because often we find that there is also hate. “I love everyone, apart from this one, that one, or the other….” This is hate, isn’t it?
What do I have in my heart? Is there forgiveness? Do I have an attitude of forgiveness towards those who have wronged me, or is there an attitude of revenge?
We must ask ourselves what we have inside, because what we have inside comes out and causes harm, if it is bad; if it is good, it comes out and does good. And it is beautiful to be truthful with ourselves, and to be ashamed of ourselves when we realize we are in a situation that is not as God would wish.
The Holy Father also associated the need for cultivating a pure and loving heart with the commandment not to kill. He paraphrased Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:22 like this:
You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, “You shall not kill … But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. And whoever insults his brother, kills him in his heart; whoever gossips maliciously about his brother, kills him in his heart.
Is Pope Francis using hyperbole in this context? When it comes to anger, probably most people wouldn’t think of going to the extreme of killing the person, but gossip comes more easily. It’s very common in every day life to gossip or to hear gossip. Perhaps if we likened it to murdering someone bit by bit, we would be less likely to engage in it.
I rarely get enthusiastic about an article or homily dealing with sin. However, I just read, with great appreciation, the Morality Matters feature in the April issue of Liguorian Magazine entitled, “Sin: Not Always Black and White.” Father Stephen Rehrauer’s exposition of the topic was understandable and unambiguous.
He explained that sin is easily misunderstood, because the word sin has multiple meanings and subdivisions. He settled on a basic definition that is Biblical. Sin is to literally “miss the point.” And what is “the point” that sin misses? Sin misses “the point of life.”
Life’s purpose is to give honor to God by living and acting as one made in the image and likeness of God. Failing to do so in large and small ways is what we call sin. But, that said, there is a distinction between the objective and subjective elements of sin.
I particularly found satisfying the way he distinguished material sin, “any action that is objectively evil” from formal sin, “the free, knowing, deliberate choice to engage in material sin, to do what we know to be evil,” and then added that only formal sin weakens or impedes our relationship with God. So it is possible to do something materially sinful, like lying or stealing without formally sinning. Conversely, it can happen that a person sins formally even though what he or she did is not materially sinful. “Material sin is in the act chosen; formal sin is in the will of the one who chooses.”
It helped, too, to read the distinction between mortal sin as “one that, in its material aspect, is so grave that it reverses the very orientation of our life away from God and toward evil,” and venial sin which weakens, but doesn’t destroy one’s personal relationship with God.
Finally, and most important, is Jesus’ role as reconciler; the one who came to restore sinners to a right relationship with God. All repented sins can be forgiven because of what Christ has done for us by dying on the Cross. This knowledge gives me hope and gratitude!
Catholics have the additional help of a Sacrament of forgiveness, called Penance. This is another cause for hope and gratitude!
This post addresses a variety of related topics, and is motivated by a note I read on Facebook. So bear with me as I cover a lot of territory!
My friend recently stated in a FB note that her “current hate” is “religion and legalism in the church. It was the ‘religious’ people that crucified Jesus…”
To this I responded that I’d like to debate her about this. By that I meant I want to respectfully disagree. Actually, rather than debate I would really prefer to converse about these ideas.
She followed up with some clarifying comments as follows:
“Yes, He did and Praise God, He did!!!
“What I’m talking about are people who put emphasis on the letter of the “Law” over the Spirit, neglecting to show mercy and an ignorance of the grace of God. The Pharisees were “religious”. Governed by law. Jesus himself was not religious. He did not follow all of the laws of the religion. He healed on the Sabbath and was condemned by the religious leaders.
“I think every one who has been in church has encountered “religious” people, who follow religious traditions instead of the word and Spirit of God. In Matthew 23:13-15 Jesus makes it very clear how he feels about religion. Working at a church I have encountered many people who are very religious, but fail to love. They follow the basic rules of religion but bear no fruit.”
My first point in this conversation is about the noun religion as it is used in this context. The word itself derives from the Latin and means “respect for the sacred” or “reverence for the gods.” In our era it means “the set of practices and beliefs followed by persons who believe in and worship God.” (See: Glossary of Theological Terms by John T. Ford, CSC) So what sort of church would not have religion in this sense? Churches exist to render honor and worship, and they generally do this by following a Creed and by doing practices that stem from the beliefs.
As for legalism, my friend clarified that she was talking about a sort of strict adherence to the letter of the law, rather than to the Spirit behind the law. Here, by law, I infer she is referring to the Mosaic Law of the Scripture—like the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments, as well as to the teachings of Jesus and of particular religious denominations. Such persons neglect “to show mercy” and furthermore, they seem to be ignorant “of the grace of God.”
I agree completely that in churches and other religious settings we do find such people. But I would not describe them as religious in the true sense. Going through the motions, saying the correct things, putting on a false front, etc., is hypocrisy. This is a form of deception, a pretense at virtue and piety. It is not religious. It is a sin—that is, if the person is doing this deliberately. And if the individual is unaware, then he or she needs to be counseled about the problem with the hope that change will result. Hypocrites give the truly religious a bad name.
My FB friend went on to say in her comment that “in Matthew 23: 13-15 Jesus makes it very clear how he feels about religion.” So I went to my Bible and read the passage. This citation comes in the context of Jesus’ denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees. Beginning in verse 13 there is a series of woes directed at both the Scribes and the Pharisees, two Jewish sects of the time. But I don’t see this as a condemnation of all religion by Jesus. What Jesus is doing here is condemning the corruption of true religion as practiced in this instance by these two sects. Jesus is pointing out the sins of these people. He is also saying they are a bad example to others because of their perversion of the truth, which he had expounded on earlier. (See Matthew 22: 34-40; also, Deuteronomy 6: 4-7 and Leviticus 19: 18).
Another point I want to make, with regard the second assertion about who crucified Jesus, is that Jesus was crucified by all of us sinners, not “religious” people—sinners. The reason Jesus died on the cross was to save all human beings from their sins. (See Matthew 9: 13 and Luke 5: 32.) He, himself, also said, concerning those who were instrumental in bringing about his crucifixion, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) In another place Jesus asserted that no one takes his life from him; rather he lays down his life willingly. (See John 10: 18).
So, we Christians must be careful not to lay blame for Christ’s death on the cross on any particular group of people. This type of thinking has led to anti-Semitism throughout Christian history. I hope that anti-Semitism is an attitude of the past. It should be. As a Catholic, I know that my Church has apologized for any culpability it has had in this sin and has repented. Yet there are still remnants of that old way of thinking among some of us. Unfortunately some of them are vocal.
Still another point I’d like to make concerns the comment that Jesus was not religious. I say Jesus was truly religious. There are so many Biblical passages that support this.
• His parents took him to Jerusalem for the Passover when he was twelve.
• He began his adult ministry by fasting and praying in the desert.
• He read the Scripture in the synagogue.
• He preached the Good News.
• He prayed often.
• He did the will of God.
• He sympathized with the poor and with sinners.
• He forgave sins.
• He healed the sick.
• He even said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. (See Matthew 5:17 and Luke 24:44 )
• He spent his final days in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish Passover.
So there you have it, my two or three cents worth of opinions. In a separate post I will address the issue of saints and sinners living together in the Church and in the world.
Your comments are most welcome.