Monday, June 15, 2009

Do Not Receive God's Grace In Vain.

2 Corinthians 6
As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, this is the day of salvation.

We put no stumbling block in anyone's path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Matthew 5:38-42
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you: Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

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The gospels of Eastertide are a continuing message of the great mercy that God has shown to us in sending his only-begotten son, Christ, our Lord and our Brother, to take upon his shoulders not merely the cross, but the burden of human sinfulness, from the first couple ever created to the last infant to be born before He comes again in glory. One of my sources, Mary Haynes Kuhlman of the Theology Department at Creighton describes the mystery of redemption as “enormous, overwhelming, and unreasonable”. She is right! From a human perspective, it is unreasonable, but for God, it is not only reasonable but necessary. From the moment God created each of us, He knew that we would be weak and self-centered; we would choose to do things that please us, or bring us profit, or give us power, and we would ignore or deliberately avoid making choices that would please Him. My source concludes “God is really stupid”. She is not the first to express wonderment in those words. Paul of Tarsus, the author of today’s First Reading, in 1 Corinthians, calls the crucifixion and death of Jesus “a stumbling block for the Jews, and folly for the Greeks. As the French philosopher Blaise Pascal phrase dit : « Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas. » (The heart has reasons that reason cannot understand). And that, it seems clear, is as true of the Sacred Heart – after all, His is a human heart! In any case, God loves us, eternally; and as for being saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, who gave up his place at the right hand of the Father and exchange it for a manger and then a cross – well, being saved by Love beyond our understanding, that’s a fairly good bargain.

If today’s reading were put into practice, all war would cease immediately; and not only war but every kind of conflict, even minor domestic squabbles. It is highly improbable, to say the least, that that will ever happen.

François Mauriac, the great French all-round man of letters, wrote that society always remains criminal – even while many saints live within it. “[Society] cannot be excused because in every age there has been a Vincent de Paul or a Francis of Assisi to remind them of it – not so much by their words as by their lives of sacrifice. But the course of history has not been influenced by the saints. They have acted upon hearts and souls; but history has remained criminal.”

It can hardly be right to make such a clear distinction (amounting in this case to a separation) between the individual and society: individuals are part of society. But still there is something in what Mauriac said. Many people absorb every influence around them without question, but others are shaped by their conscious rejection of those same influences. The same conditions produce couch potatoes and prophets.

Society will never be improved by everyone telling everyone else to improve. A wise friend said to me once, “Let’s not waste our energy criticizing what is wrong; let’s just do our own work to the best of our ability. If it’s any good it will displace what is bad.” This must be true not only of work but of everything. The only life we can surely change is our own.

Thus, in this Gospel Jesus is teaching Advanced Ethics -- not about war or law enforcement, but about – yes, LOVE. It may be “street-smart,” it surely is “Christian” to meet evil and hostility with charity and forbearance. I think Jesus teaches me today to recognize that every other human being is a member of our family. “Give to the one who asks you” is about the same as “Love one another as I have Loved you.”

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