Category Archives: Christianity

Loving People Hard to Love Part II

Dear Folks,

We all have a deep need to tell our story, to be heard, to be understood. Much anger, frustration, and resentment come from a feeling of not being heard, not being understood. It is often difficult to make ourselves understood to someone, and what makes the experience much harder is when we get the feeling that the other person isn’t trying. Sometimes the truth is more complex.

Perhaps we underestimate the depth of the chasm between our minds. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Talking to Strangers” he mentions that we tend to underestimate how we can use the same words and gestures and mean different things. Both sides might be trying and failing to connect.

Stephen Covey said, “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.” Consider what that means, that what we experience ourselves can be very different from how others experience us.

In “The Screwtape Letters” C.S. Lewis portrays the devil Screwtape teaching his nephew Wormwood how to lead a soul into hell: “Keep his mind on the inner life. He thinks his conversion is something inside him and his attention is therefore chiefly turned at present to the states of his own mind—or rather the expurgated version of them which is all you should allow him to see. Encourage this. Keep his mind off the most elementary duties by directing it to the most advanced and spiritual ones. Aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are

perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office (Letter 3).” And “Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances with the fullest and most over-sensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him (Letter 3).” I believe this sort of thing is not uncommon. How do we watch for such behavior in ourselves? I suspect we tend to be very aware of how the other person tries our patience, but we might have no idea how much we try the others’ patience. How can we watch for that?

There may be times, and certainly there are abusive relationships, in which we are innocent, and the other person is quite guilty. We want to be careful about getting to that conclusion too quickly and too easily. When it is such a situation, we still have the challenge of how we are going to deal with the situation. Waiting for the other person to change is not going to get us anywhere. When we must play a game that is rigged against us, we must play it well. In Matthew 16:10, Jesus says, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be as clever as serpents and innocent as doves.” We must be clever as psychological tricks and traps are thrown at us. Though there is a temptation to use the other’s behavior as an excuse to lower the standards of our own behavior, it is essential to strive to be innocent, first because it is right, and second because others might use any lapse on our part as a reason to attack us and make us the villain (never mind they do worse on a regular basis).

This stuff is hard, at least I find it hard. I suggest that if more people took these things into account, we could get along better. Can you think of anything to practice during Lent for more peace in the world?

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Loving Those Hard to Love Part I

Dear Folks,

In our Gospel today, Jesus teaches us unconditional love, even our enemies. If people know anything about Christianity, they know we are to love one another. This is wonderfully easy to say. It is much harder to do. The first issue is spiritual. There are some

people it is easy to want to love, while others, who can be so aggravating, are much more difficult. It is hard to empathize with someone who has caused pain, difficulty, or harm, and seems not to care about it.

It helps to pray for such people. It always begins with seeking God’s help. It is good to remember the goal: not to destroy the person but purge the evil from them and rejoice with them in heaven. God says, “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked—oracle of the

Lord God? Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live? (Ezekiel 18:23; Ezekiel 33:11; Luke 15:7).” The more focused we are on the eternal goals the more we can handle worldly problems.

Another problem is practical. In Christianity love is not a feeling but a decision to seek the good of others for their own sake.

In Ann Garrido’s excellent book “Redeeming Conflict” habit #4 is “Undo the knot of intention.” Good intentions don’t necessarily mean good consequences, and bad consequences don’t necessarily mean bad intentions. It is harder. I have learned, again and

again, that I can intend to do good and have it not work well. Now, God will judge our hearts, and if we are doing our best, that is having a loving heart. That said, if we do less than our best to find out if we are really doing good, I don’t think that will go well.

Doing parish work, I’ve found that there are some people who focus their energy and skill in getting resources from helping agencies, and they can refine that to an art. I think about

what they could do if they put that intelligence and energy into doing something constructive. Some people say to just give them money, and if they misuse it, “that’s on them.” Is that really seeking others’ good, or is that about making ourselves feel good?

Someone referred to one such person as “he helps the poor to stay poor, because he needs them to be poor.” I know that sometimes I risk being taken. I’m quite sure I do get taken from time to time, but we can’t close our hearts in an effort to be safe. One thing I’m sure of, we don’t want to be in the position of explaining to God why we didn’t try (Matthew 25:14-46). Sometimes the aggravation is part of the price for loving our neighbor. Direct help in emergencies is great; helping people who cannot help themselves is great; when we can help people move themselves into a better situation where they can flourish, that is wonderful. I love our community dinners and our food pantries; sometimes getting a meal from someone who treats you with courtesy, kindness and respect can make all the difference. I love Habitat for Humanity, because people who participate in their program tend to flourish

more afterward. I love Have Mercy, the program for the homeless in Montcalm and Ionia counties. They give a great deal of immediate help and will regularly move homeless people into permanent homes. I love Alpha Family Center who help people in a uniquely vulnerable time in their lives, giving help they can be grateful for for the rest of their lives. There are some many good things being done, and I hope we can learn more and more ways to help people in need. We don’t ask if they deserve it; we ask what is truly helpful. How to be helpful is something we can spend the rest of our lives learning and practicing.

If we dedicate ourselves to helping people we don’t know and can do nothing for us, maybe that will strengthen our ability to love even the people who harm us.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

God has Something Better

Dear Folks,

God, whose generosity has no limit, has made us for the fullness of life, the fullness of freedom, and the fullness of joy. The Enemy is always trying to persuade us to accept an inferior substitute, something that usually seems better at first but then betrays us. If we are going to show people that the Gospel is worth accepting, we have to show that what it offers is better than what the world offers. We read in the Scriptures:

“See, I am teaching you the statutes and ordinance as the Lord, my God has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to possess. Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear all of these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people (Deuteronomy 4:5-6).”

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31b-32).” “A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).”

“But now I am coming to you. I speak this in the word so that they may share my joy completely (John 17:13).”

One of the great triumphs of the Enemy is convincing so many people that Christianity is a matter of accepting a diminished life in order to get a reward from a miserly God. It is for us to show that following Jesus and His teaching leads to a more abundant, more free, more joyful life.

What do people see when they look at us? Do they see people who disagree with each other and still show love and respect, people with a steady and persistent dedication to helping those in need when it is popular and when it is not, people who work harder at fixing themselves than correcting other people, people more interested in developing virtue than in virtue signaling? Do they see us as light to the world (Matthew 5:14)? Would many not be drawn to this? These things are, of course difficult, and so we need to take advantage of all the help God provides for us to grow in holiness.

Some people suggest that we need to downplay or even modify Catholic teaching on sexuality. I say that is a mistake. What if it is one of the most important gifts we have to offer the world now? Daniel Mattson gave a talk on Courage International to a diocesan gathering for priests (We see him in the documentary “Desire of the Everlasting Hills”, and he wrote a very interesting book “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay”). He started with the provocative question, “Is chastity a part of the good news?” He talked about living a sinful lifestyle and said, “I was as happy as I knew how to be.” Then he gave up his old lifestyle to follow Jesus according to the Catholic faith and learned a new level of happiness. How many Catholics, even those who try to take the faith seriously, consider Catholic teaching on marriage, sexuality, and chastity to be a bitter pill to swallow, rather than a wonderful gift. I suggest that this is because we have not done enough to show the goodness, beauty, and truth of that teaching. We have the better message; the Enemy has outdone us in marketing (Luke 16:8).

Ralph Martin makes the argument, “One of the main reasons for the growth of the early Church was its emphasis on sexual morality rooted in the believers becoming one body, one spirit with Christ Himself. Call it the theology of the body if you will. The difference between the Church and the world on these issues was a prime reason why those pagans of good will could recognize a ‘higher’ way of life that was being lived by Christians in their respect for sexuality, marriage, and family (Church in Crisis, p. 132).” He presents scholars’ statements (with footnotes) to back that up. People (especially women) who were disillusioned with the exploitative sexual practices of ancient Rome were drawn to a more noble vision of how people should conduct themselves.

Now, with so many experiencing the destructive power of pornography addiction, hook-up culture, human objectification, degradation, exploitation (in so many ways) and many other evils, might a nobler vision be welcomed by many people. As Christopher West said, “if you don’t know about the banquet, you wind up eating from the dumpster.” Let us never be ashamed of any aspect of the Gospel (Romans 1:16). If we don’t see it as Good News, it is a shortcoming on our part. We shall never have an occasion to say that God should have done a better job designing it. If we are about anything, we are about inviting people to the banquet. Every aspect of our faith is part of the banquet, and the better we know the menu, the better we can invite people.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Sharing

Hands Holding Share

Dear Folks,
Jesus calls some fishermen and tells them “From now on you will be catching
men.” Notice that He did not start with a promise of saving from sin, talk of healing, but of being fishers for souls. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church teaches that the “obligation of spreading the faith is imposed on every disciple of Christ, according to his ability (LG #17).” The question “are we dedicated to following Jesus?” cannot be answered without asking “are we dedicated to spreading the Gospel to all people (Matthew 28: 18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-38)?” Our Church has been going through some serious challenges lately. What if God is allowing us to be tested, that we may show if we take Him seriously? What if part of the answer is how we respond to the call to share our faith with the world? The future of our faith communities could very well depend on how we respond to God’s call now.
The problem, of course, is that we were not taught how to do it, and it seems that most
Catholics have not been taught that they should. Even in the seminary, they did not teach us how to share the Gospel with people who did not already accept it.
We shall need to work on this for some time, but I would share some ideas to stimulate
thought and conversation.
United State Conference of Catholic Bishops put out a document “Go and Make
Disciples.” They described three tasks to spreading the Gospel:

  1. Grow in enthusiasm for the Gospel ourselves until it spills out of us. This is essentially a call to continue to be evangelized. As long as our love is imperfect and we do not see things the same way God does, we are incompletely evangelized. That task will not be finished until we are in heaven (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).
  2. Invite everyone, everywhere to share the fullness of the Catholic faith. This suggests if they are outside, invite them inside. If they are inside, invite them further inside.
    Everyone can come closer (see #1). This is evangelizing other people. Note the word
    “invite.” How do we invite people to something wonderful?
  3. Transform the world according to the love of God. Our society should be structured in a way that serves the life, the dignity, the flourishing of all people. This is essentially evangelizing society itself. This should keep us busy for a while.
    I would suggest the best book on evangelization is Acts of the Apostles. It shows the early Church growing like a grease fire despite determined opposition. It seems to me it describes the early Church doing four things: Telling the Gospel story, working together as community, worshipping God, and helping people in need. I say that if we get good enough at those four things, no one on earth can stop us.
    If you want a very simple way to start, I suggest some very basic actions: Tell someone one good thing about your faith community, learn something new about the faith and share it, Introduce yourself to someone you don’t know at church, create a holy moment (a moment in which our actions show the love of Jesus). Anyone can do this. Once we start, who knows where it will lead?
    The second reading for today is 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. St. Paul gives the most basic form of the Christian message, that Jesus died for our sins, rose from the dead and now offers us salvation. This is called the “kerygma,” and everything else follows from it. Part of telling the Gospel story is presenting the kerygma and doing it in a way that is compelling and persuasive. Simply repeating formulas that people have already heard is not going to make much of an impression, or at least not a good one. One might ask how we can talk about salvation to people who don’t think they need saving, and how can we talk about salvation from sin to people who don’t think sin is an issue? That, folks, is the subject of next week’s
    column.
    Blessings,
    Fr. Jim

Resistance

Dear Folks,
Today we talk about resistance. Resistance and negative feedback are essential to life from the beginning. Having boundaries is necessary for survival and learning that some things are good and some things are bad are key to developing the ability to make decisions. When stacking up blocks one way ends with them falling down, one learns to stack them up differently until one has a tower. Learning that one way of talking makes people upset and another way of talking makes people smile is key to learning how to communicate in a human way (I learned the hard way that verbal skills are one thing and communicating to other people in a positive and helpful way is quite another). In monitoring people’s reactions, positive and negative, we learn to connect to people better. If we are not sensitive to people’s feedback, we can fail to learn essential things.
Of course, not all feedback is to be believed. Sometimes we will have people criticize us unfairly and say false and unhelpful things. Some will attack us for doing good, and we have to be careful not to let this deter us. Our Scriptures today talk about Jeremiah and Jesus facing opposition for what they are doing. It is a great frustration to be trying to do good, and getting attacked for it, often by the very people you are trying to help. Jesus warns extensively about persecution in Matthew 10:16-36, Luke 12:2-9; 49-53 and, John 15:18-16:4 In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20), Jesus talks about when the seed falls on rocky ground and springs up quickly but has no root. When some “tribulation or persecution” happens, the seedling falls away.
The bottom line is that if we seek to follow Christ and serve the kingdom, we will face resistance. This resistance can come from any direction (inside or outside of Church), from those who are confused and from those who are malicious (though I’ve found it is not always easy to tell). It might be active or passive (some people won’t cooperate in the slightest). It might be mental or physical. It might be overt or subtle. It might be an individual, an organization, or a culture. You get the point. We will often feel that we are being treated unfairly. The bad news is we can count on being treated unfairly. It might be frustrating. It might be infuriating. It might be discouraging. It might be overwhelming.
This is an opportunity to deepen our faith, to set down deeper roots. If we are deeply enough rooted in Jesus, there is no storm that can uproot us. We can practice with smaller things. When the practice of our faith, or dealing with the Church, dealing with fellow parishioners, and, yes, dealing with the pastor gets frustrating, difficult, infuriating, or aggravating (yes, I know sometimes I can be all those things), that is part of the challenge of being Church.
Last week I tested positive for Covid. I went into quarantine (as of this writing I’m not quite finished). Our intrepid staff strove mightily to find a substitute for the weekend Masses, but none was to be had (a situation we shall see more of). We are so accustomed to regular schedules and convenient services it can be a shock how fragile the system is becoming. The storm has begun, and the boat is going to rock. Part of the solution will involve resilient Christians, who are ready to adapt to following Jesus while the boat is rocking. He is in the boat. It might feel like He is asleep, but if we stay with Him, He won’t let us sink.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

The Word of God and the Sanctity of Human Life

Dear Folks,

This is Sanctity of Life Sunday, and it is also Word of God Sunday. The first meaning of “Word of God” is Jesus Himself. He not only speaks the truth but is the Truth, the fullness of truth. The totality of what Jesus conveyed has been passed down in the faith of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Christians have the tradition of calling the Bible “the Word of God.” There is no text or writing that is as sacred, that is authoritative in the same way as the Scriptures, and it has a unique role in the lives of Christians. Jesus is present to us and teaches us in a unique way when the Scriptures are read, especially at Mass. In Catholicism, we have trouble with the idea that God would reveal the fullness of truth and then let it get lost over the ages. We also have a problem with the idea that the first generations completely misread the Scriptures, and only several centuries later did someone get it right. Catholics look at how the Church has taught over the centuries, with confidence that the Holy Spirit is at work. This is the power of Sacred Tradition. However, there is also advancement of thought. We read in the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum): “This tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her (See Dei Verbum #8).” Sometimes I think Church leaders’ failures in respecting human rights are because the implications of human rights had not been developed yet. Other times, it came from Church leaders being more influenced by the world than by the Word of God. However bad the Church leadership has been, I suggest the world has been worse. God’s message brought something that was considered strange in the ancient world: the notion that every human life was sacred. It was common for people to respect the life of someone from their tribe or clan, people like them, but others’ lives were not seen as sacred. Then, as society got more organized, it became common to value the lives of the powerful, but not the lives of the peasants. The Judeo-Christian tradition, from the beginning, has worked to teach that all human lives are sacred. This, of course, required growth from where they were. It takes a while to integrate new concepts. It is hard to see everyone’s life as sacred, no matter how we dislike them, no matter how inconvenient they are. The human race is always tending away from this, and when disconnected to faith, it can happen very fast. When the French revolution happened, they cast aside Christianity and decided their reasoning ability was superior. It very quickly dissolved into a violent reign of terror. The rights of the individual were subordinated to the perceived good of the state. Without the inherent dignity of the human being created in God’s image, the notions of good and evil become redefined, and often fit the agendas of the powerful. Maximilian Robespierre famously said, “One can’t expect to make an omelet without breaking eggs.” We have the challenge of promoting the sanctity of the life and dignity of every human being. I suggest a good first step is attending more and more to the Word of God.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Jesus the Bridegroom

Dear Folks,

We read the story of the wedding at Cana in John 2. We look at the image of marriage throughout the Bible, we see it is often used to illuminate God’s intentions for us. In Isaiah 61 and 62 also in the Book of Hosea, we see married love as an image of God’s love for us. Rabbis, Church fathers and spiritual masters have long seen the Song of Songs as an Image of God’s tender love for us. In the Gospel of John, we remember that John the Baptist’s big job is to introduce Jesus, and he uses two images to describe Him: The Lamb and the Bridegroom (See John 1:29, 36; John 3:29). Both are images of the gift of self. The sacred author will bring these two images together at the end of the Book of Revelation (See Revelation 19:6-9 and 21:9-10).There is a movie with Kirk Cameron called “Fireproof.” It is about a firefighter whose marriage is on the verge of splitting up, and he is ready to give up. Then his father gives him a copy of a book called “The Love Dare” which is a forty-day challenge to build one’s relationship with one’s spouse. This is put out by evangelical Protestants, but there is nothing in them to offend Catholics. The book gives the philosophy and explains the challenge of each day. We are reminded that Christians are not called to follow our hearts but lead our hearts. Love in Christianity is not a feeling, but a decision to seek the good of the other. It is not something that we fall into and out of, but something we nurture and build. Feelings are important, but they can come and go, and often they lead us in the wrong direction.The Love Dare has forty different challenges to be intentional about certain virtues involved in marriage. The first is “Love is patient.” Let’s face it, we all need patience, and we all can grow in our ability to be patient. This is about taking a day to focus on being patient with one’s spouse. The next day is “Love is kind.” While patience is reactive, kindness is proactive. One can take a day and look for opportunities to do nice things for one’s spouse that would make that person happy.In our society, many look at marriage as a lifestyle choice based on personal desire rather than a vocation of service and sacrifice based on natural law. The enemy will always present us with inferior substitutes for God’s gifts, and they will seem more attractive at first, but then betray us. If this can help more people to have more successful and joyful marriages, that would be enough reason for this effort, but there is more. When we say that marriage is a sacrament, that tells us that it illuminates God’s love for us and the response we seek to give to God. As we grow in our ability to love other people in relationships, we can gain insight into living the marriage of the Bride and the Lamb, how we can better love Jesus. With some adaptations, the same program could be an exercise in discipleship. As a husband might be extra attentive to being patient with his wife, so a disciple could be patient with God’s people. Or, perhaps, when things go wrong, be patient with the challenges that God allows us to face.As we think of all the joys and virtues of marriage, knowing that earthly marriages are imperfect, we can reflect on how God’s love for us brings all good things to perfection. Accept no substitutes.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Moving the World

Dear Folks,Today we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. In the Gospels, Jesus goes from His baptism to the desert to fight His own temptations, and then begins His ministry.As we consider what it takes to make a more peaceful world, I’ve been thinking about how people are drawn to violence, hostility, and destruction. I can’t help but think that part of the root of this is many people feeling helpless to make a difference. I know what it feels like to think that the world can make a mark on me however and whenever it wants, but I’m helpless to make a mark on the world. That is a terrible feeling and can lead to desperation.Desperation is a dangerous thing; it can lead to acting out in destructive and irrational ways.I know that lifeguards are trained to approach a drowning person prepared for that person to try to grab them and drag them down. I can’t think of a less helpful thing to do than grab and drag down the very person who is in here to save you, but that is the power ofdesperation.This leads me to think that making a more peaceful word includes helping channel people’s energy toward that which truly addresses their legitimate concerns. Besides, we Christians are in the business of changing the world by the power of the Gospel, so it is an issue for us, and I have a few thoughts.First, we need a sense of what it is that we are trying to accomplish. When we encounter something that is wrong, it is easy to say what is wrong, but harder to build a different reality to replace it. It is common to find people doing a lot of complaining andcondemning, but not as much trying to build a new reality. If we can build a vision, explain it vividly, and be ready to talk about the pros and cons of the idea, that can be more compelling. Jesus talked against sin, but He talked wonderfully and powerfully about the Kingdom, and about the challenges of discipleship. Focusing primarily on what is negative can make us negative people, but a people of joy and hope in the midst of calamity can bemuch more inspiring. How can we who believe in the resurrection of Christ not be a people of hope regardless of what happens in the world?Second, we need to have a deep enough commitment for the task. It is my observation that if we want to do good, we shall find that we have to work harder than we thought, for longer than expected, to accomplish less than we hoped. The prize belongs to those who do not then give up. Jesus warned about the cost of discipleship a number of times, and in Luke 14:25-33 He warns about family, possessions and even one’s life. He asks, “Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundation and finding himself onlookers should laugh at him…(vv.28-29).” We must even be ready to work all our lives for something that might not happen until after we are gone. Jesus said, “one sows, another reaps (John 4:37).” Consider those who started the women’s suffrage movement at Seneca Falls in 1848. How many of them did not live to see the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920? And yet, they did not give up. We Christians are called to think in terms of eternity, so the deeper our faith, the more we can outlast the forces of the world.Third, however great the evil we are fighting, we must not use that as license to become evil ourselves. St. Paul encourages “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked generation, among whom you shine likelights in the world… (Phil 2:15).” A text I would encourage you to memorize is, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd [cunning] as serpents and simple [innocent] as doves (Matthew 10:16).”We cannot do this on our own strength. If we want to change the world, the first step is to fall more deeply in love with Jesus. Everything follows from that.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Making 2022 a More Peaceful Year

Dear Folks,The Christmas season has just begun, and today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family, and also St. Stephen (Holy Family takes precedence over St. Stephen, but I’m sure he doesn’t mind). The Story of Christmas includes the story of Herod and all the nastiness that he did, so even our season of joy has a reminder that there is great evil in the world and forces that seek to stamp out the light. The story of St. Stephen, the first martyr, reminds us that the Gospel sometimes faces a harsh response. Family often includes conflict, and it has a special poignancy because these are people so special to us. God made us all to be one family, a family united by His peace and love. I want to start out this year returning to a theme that I have touched on before, but I believe that it is worth reemphasizing.There has been so much violence in the news. I’m so tired of hearing about violence, whether it is with a knife, gun, vehicle, fists, it is horrifying that there is so much. Various things have been proposed, and I do believe that law enforcement is essential, but it won’t solve the ultimate problem. We must become a more peaceful people from the inside out. In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays that all may be one, and says that if we are, that will help people believe in the Gospel. We can’t control others, but we can look at our own behavior, and see how we can get closer to the Christian ideal. We remember what the Scriptures teach. “Bless those who curse you; bless and do not curse them (Romans 12:14).” “Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:9).”Does this mean being passive in the face of malice? Doormats to bullies? I say no, emphatically no. It does mean trying to respond in a way that has a chance of making the situation better. My whole life’s experience tells me that good intentions are not enough, that we must learn peacemaking as an art. I have found books to be helpful. “Remembering God’s Mercy” by Dawn Eden is about healing painful memories (especially childhood memories), and we must begin to heal if we are to be healers. “No Future Without Forgiveness” by Desmond Tutu is an inspiring call to forgiveness. “The Book of Forgiving” by Desmond and Mpho Tutu, “Don’t Forgive Too Soon” by Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Dennis Linn give practical thoughts on the process of forgiveness. “Verbal Judo” by George Thompson is about de-escalating conflict. “Love Your Enemy” by Arthur C. Brooks is about dialog with those with whom we disagree, and how such people can be gift. “God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts!” By Gregory Popcak talks about seeking win-win solutions rather than working against each other. If you will only read one book from my list, I would encourage “Redeeming Conflict” by Ann Garrido. It is twelve habits (virtues) that transform conflict into a spiritual journey, and I believe would make it more productive. I again emphasize that I don’t speak as one who has mastered this. I have come a long way from where I used to be, but I can see that I have a ways to go.We cannot do it by our own power. We must begin by opening ourselves to Jesus. It is by His transforming power that we became able to love and forgive our enemies and bless those who curse us. If we want a better world, the first step is always falling more deeply in love with Jesus. There’s no better way to start our year.Blessings,Fr. Jim

The Catholic Understanding of Mary

Dear Folks,

Mary is a key figure for Advent. Brant Pitre’s book “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary” is not only for those who love Mary and love the Bible, but for anyone who wonders if there is Biblical basis for all the Catholic teaching on Mary (spoiler alert: yes). He shows very powerfully how the Old Testament and the New Testament are woven together into one large story of salvation. We have (I hope) all been taught that the New Testament is foreshadowed in the Old and the Old is revealed in the New. The foreshadowing is called a “type” and the reality fore-shadowed is called the “antitype.” We see Noah’s flood and the passage through the Red Sea are types of baptism. We read in the blessing of water in the baptismal rite, “The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of Baptism, that make an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness. Through the waters of the Red Sea, you led Israel out of slavery, to be an image of God’s holy people, set free from sin by Baptism. ”“Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned – for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law. But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who in the type of the one who was to come (Rom 5:12-14).” St. Paul will go on to contrast the sin of Adam (type) and the gift of Jesus (antitype).We also see that Moses, David and even Joseph were types of Jesus. Eve is a type of Mary. This explains why Jesus called His mother “woman,” which otherwise makes no sense. Eve was called “the woman” in Genesis and didn’t get the name Eve until after the fall. Pitre will explain that Mary is not only the new Eve, but the new ark of the covenant and the new Rachel. He will explain how all this was recognized by the Fathers of the Church in the early centuries. This is not new. He also suggests reading what the Second Vatican Council said about Mary in the Constitution on the Church (See Lumen Gentium 52-68).This, of course, is not just for apologetics or for interesting Bible study. First, it helps us see how God’s big plan of salvation is all woven together. Next, if you read Edward Sri’s “Biblical Walk Through the Mass” you can see that the Bible and the liturgy are woven together in one large reality. Having done that, we will have the practice to be able to see how our story is woven into that very story of salvation history and understand our lives as a journey with God. Second, it helps us appreciate the person of Mary of Nazareth. She is not just a theological football or doctrine of the Church. She is a person, and lives in heaven, enveloped in God’s love. She loves us with a mother’s love and prays for us. This is part of the rich gift that God gives us, drawing us into His family. If there is one thing we should understand in our day and age, it is that family matters. A lot. I remember as an undergraduate talking to someone from the Reformed Bible College about the saints. She said that she didn’t see the need for this because Jesus is enough. I am pleased that even then I thought to say that would be a compelling argument if we believed that God would give us the minimum necessary. I believe He gives us the maximum possible because His love is infinite. This season we see to sharpen our attentiveness to the gifts that God gives. This a place to start. Blessings, Fr. Jim