The Law of Love
Love is a core theme in our readings for this weekend—love of God, love of neighbor, love of self. For me, these readings offer a saving grace in the face of all the noise, rancor, and fear-mongering of these elections. This year I find myself increasingly agitated at what I experience as deliberate divisiveness. I want so much for us to be one, to be united, to work for the common good, to understand each other, and to reconcile and heal. The readings teach me that love is stronger than fear and hope is stronger than despair. The risk of loving is always worth taking—even in an election year. It is a huge risk to love the unlovable, someone “different” from myself and my beliefs and values. Jesus tells us about the law of love, the greatest commandment.
In the midst of all the election distress, this prayer has helped me tremendously. I pray that it helps you too!
From the Facebook of Fr. James Martin, SJ.
An Election Season Prayer
God, I know that I don’t have to get angry.
I don’t have to get worked up.
I don’t have to get depressed.
And I don’t have to throw anything at the TV.
I just have to use my conscience and vote.
So help me remember what Jesus taught in the Gospels,
and what our Church teaches,
especially about the poor, the refugee, the migrant,
the sick, the homeless, the unborn, the disabled,
the hungry, the elderly and the lonely.
Help me remember the “least” among us,
and help me ponder in my heart
how to cast my vote for the good of all.
God, I know that no candidate is perfect,
because I’m not perfect either,
the last time I checked.
So free me of the burden of having to
vote for someone who satisfies
all my desires for a candidate.
My candidate will be imperfect, like me.
Help me to be grateful for the ability to vote,
because not everyone has that privilege.
And when I meet people voting for someone else,
Help me to take a deep breath and
give them the benefit of the doubt,
because they are following their consciences, too.
Help me remember
that even though they sometimes drive me nuts,
I don’t have to argue with them,
I don’t have to convince them,
I don’t have to hate them,
And I don’t have to demonize them.
Then, after the election, help me work for unity.
Because I know that’s what you want.
What is God’s?
“Our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” For me, these words of St. Paul to the Thessalonians offer such great wisdom for living through the current election process in our country. What words of the gospels inform our hearts, minds, and actions? What power—what anointing’s, what gifts of the Holy Spirit are we experiencing? And where does our passion, our conviction come from? How do we use our power—our voices, our actions, our voting?
Over the past few months, many of us have been intentionally hosting listening conversations. We have encouraged open, respectful dialogue among persons we love, and sometimes among persons who think very differently. Our respect for each other comes from our firm belief that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. We are acknowledging the pressures, the grief, and the stressors of life in pandemic times. Some of these are exacerbated by partisan politics. Others are discovering
The Pharisees tried to entrap Jesus. What is “Ceasar’s”? What is God’s? What is the challenge of sorting out this reality? How do we do it? For me, this Gospel is very real in the midst of our elections.
Pope Francis, The USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), Archbishop Gustavo, and our pastors offer us guidance in applying the gospels, listening to the Holy Spirit, and exercising our civic responsibility in voting. They instruct us on how to form our conscience—our own conscience. No one can tell us who to vote for. No one can tell us that it is a sin to vote for a particular person because of their religion, or because of our own religious beliefs. (God used Cyrus, a pagan king, even anointed him, even though he didn’t know God, to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.)
Ultimately, it is up to each one of us to vote with an informed conscience. Decisions about who to vote for are difficult given the complexity of all the issues. To help you with informing yourselves, you will find excellent, reliable, multi-issue oriented resources here: http://sfasat.org/resources-2/faithful-citizenship/.
Share these resources with others.
The reality is that there are many voices, authors, websites, groups that are trying to influence us to vote for certain candidates. Many of them use the adjective Catholic. Some of them are even priests and bishops. In most cases, they do not represent the totality of Catholic social teaching when they present a single issue, one that they claim is the most important one. The Catholic perspective and influence include many issues. I dare to say that Jesus was about healing divisions, naming injustices, making people think before they act (casting stones?). As followers of Jesus, we have much to think about! For wisdom, guidance, and courage, we pray!
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious has prepared reflections for each week from now until Election Day. They are very helpful to me, and I hope you will be encouraged and inspired.
Abundance and Need
“I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.”
I feel like St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians was directed to me. I needed this reminder during these COVID-19 times. And I should probably just end this reflection right here.
Let me be clear—I do not lack for food. But I have missed the riches of long, drawn-out meals with provocative, exciting conversations. I have missed seeing people that I love and visiting in person. Nothing can replace the St. Francis community gathered in person. In essence, I missed the Parish Festival so much! The drive-by blessing of the animals was just a taste of what we missed. Feast or famine has become real to us in many ways. With these experiences, what we miss teaches us about what abundance means. And we are reminded about sharing with those in need.
The readings for this weekend include imagery of wedding feasts, banquets, and special meals. Such occasions often require special attire, as well as a special demeanor or disposition. Such celebrations are filled with love, filled with gratitude for the relationships we share. Can you imagine that you would ever say NO to an invitation? What would it mean to show up without a “wedding garment”?
If persons are called in to the banquet out of the streets, they certainly do not have the right clothes. This is when the words from our baptismal ritual become real. “You have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”
May we all be clothed in Christ, providing and protecting, grace-filled and grateful or all that we are becoming in preparation for the greatest banquet of all!
Happy Feast of St. Francis!
All week long, as I joined you on Zoom meetings, many of you are remembering that this weekend would have been our Parish Festival! Knowing that we won’t be eating delicious barbecue chicken, drinking wine margaritas, watching the kids at the petting zoo or riding ponies or getting their faces painted, having conversations with our favorite people “across Mass lines,” praying and singing together at Mass, spending lots of money, etc.—what will we do?
Perhaps a “year off” from all of the above is good for us! We get time to re-imagine what our festival might become. Perhaps we can spend the time at home with our families creating our own festival. The fun, the conversations, the working together, the sharing of the Spirit of St. Francis can all still happen. I challenge you to create something in your family to celebrate the feast day and then share it with us in pictures!
Personally, I am going to sit in a variety of places at St. Francis and contemplate the beauty of what God has created for us at St. Francis. I will sit in gratitude. St. Francis is the patron saint of ecology, the care of God’s creation. Yes, nature and our environment—the physical creation, as well as the nature of our Community Spirit—the people who make up our parish family, who offer their gifts and talents for the good of all, those who participate in God’s act of continuous creation. God isn’t finished with us yet!
We, the people at SFA, have a wonderful opportunity to re-imagine what we will be like when we are together in force, physically present to each other. We have stories to tell about how God is changing us, molding us to be something we haven’t imagined yet. St. Francis turned his life around. He turned his affluent lifestyle into service of others. He embraced lepers, visited a Sultan and recognized the humanity of each person and experienced a new brotherhood, and tamed a wolf and brought peace to a village. He believed in the formation of a community where Jesus Christ was the center of their lives.
What would St. Francis say to us at this parish bearing his name? What prophetic calls would he issue to us? How would he describe our being together? Remember that St. Francis heard God ask him to rebuild His Church. Bricks and mortar! And life and spirit! And individuals and community! And peace and justice!
St. Francis, pray for us! Rebuild, re-form us, our community, our world, and our universe! Praised be all of God’s creation! May we prosper and grow, and always be grateful!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
No to Yes: A Profound Change
Turning away from sin and turning towards God—that is metanoia, a change of mind and heart. That kind of change comes from experiences of insight, new awareness of the plight of others, and the example of struggle and sacrifice of persons for the sake of others. We often describe ourselves as changed after a retreat, a serious illness or disaster that we call life-changing, after six months of COVID-19 seclusion, and/or after some sort of “awakening.”
Metanoia requires that we are malleable, capable of learning and being coached, able to take instructions, and willing to be humble. “I once was blind, but now I see.” It is important to give voice to the change we experience.
What would it look like in my life for me to follow Paul’s instruction to the Philippians not to look out for my own interests, but to look out for the interests of others? Who is doing this now where we live? Do we know people who are marching for racial justice? Who are putting their lives at risk in health care or education? Who are trying to change the climate crisis? Who are advocating for higher wages and good jobs for persons displaced by COVID-19? Who care about the well-being of the police as well as the policed?
Climate change, violence, poverty, prejudice: these are not your fault or mine. At the same time, we share a mutual ownership of these conditions. What opportunities we have to look out for more than my own interests, to the interests of others! How do we contribute to them by our words, choices, silences? We can no longer say that it isn’t my problem, it doesn’t touch me and therefore I don’t have to do anything except guard and protect my own corner of the world, my own family, myself.
“Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.” Will you say “yes” and never show up? Or will you say “no” and then change your mind and go? What vineyards is God calling you to work in? How can you be more responsive to God’s call? What conversion of mind, heart, and life is the Lord asking of you?
The elections are a vineyard in need of workers. Pope Francis and our bishops, as well as our local Church leaders ask us to vote with an informed conscience. Each of us is responsible for personally studying the issues—all of them—and making choices for the common good, the needs of others, not just our own. Our study of the issues should include multiple sources—Jesus and the Scriptures, the social teaching of the Church which documents our responsibility for each other—for all human beings, the research, and studies of reputable organizations who work for the common good. Good conversations open dialogue with persons who think differently than we do can also offer clarification that informs our consciences.
With prayer, study, and reflection, all of us can become workers in the vineyard who produce good fruit. We can become more than persons who say good things, but don’t act and aren’t accountable to anyone. We can become persons who act on our commitments, whose words we can count on.
For this, let us all work and pray!
“Because no one has hired us.”
Parables are written or told with the intention of drawing us into the story. Parables also provoke our thinking. My thinking was both provoked and challenged. In no time at all, I was thinking of the people in San Antonio who have no work to do and no money to earn. COVID-19 has left many of our brothers and sisters who work in hospitality and tourism without work, work that often did not even pay a living wage. No work! No money to earn! No money to live! Do you know anyone like that?
Most of us will remember that vineyard workers in this parable are hired at different times of the day. The first negotiate for their rate of pay. Others join them as the employer visits the marketplace to find others to work. Late in the day, some are still present, still there, apparently waiting for whatever work they can get. When the employer asks them why they are standing there idle, their reply is “because no one has hired us.”
My curiosity makes me wonder why they were not hired. Were they not hirable for some reason? Were they some of the people we would list as ones who “need not apply”? Was it their appearance? Their gender?
Nevertheless, hired they were! And although they had worked only a short period of time, they were the first to be paid, and they were paid as much as everyone else. Can you hear the grumbling by those who had labored all day, in the hot sun? They assumed that because they had worked longer, they would be paid more than they originally bargained for. They received payment and they grumbled. They protested. This wasn’t right or just! Seeing that those hired last got what they needed to survive another day wasn’t all that angered them. What really guiled them was their observation about the employer: “You have made them equal to us.”
This parable does provoke and challenge. Right to work? A living wage? Rights to safe workplaces? Non-discrimination? The dignity of work? Ready to work but no one is hiring?
When we reflect on scripture, we are challenged to see differently, to open our hearts to recognize that when someone in our community is suffering, we all suffer. Think of the waiter at your favorite restaurant, hotel workers, and workers at our entertainment venues, small business owners, and countless others who are without work.
Parables often call us to action. During this 2020 election, we all have the opportunity to do something for displaced workers. Ready to Work SA is Proposition B on the ballot. It provides for workforce development, for job training that will give low wage workers the new skills they need to be gainfully employed in jobs that pay a living wage ($15 per hour or more), to support their families, and to break out of generational poverty. Developing a more skilled workforce will change the image of San Antonio. This is an opportunity for 40,000 of our brothers and sisters to be trained and hired in the next four years, without any new taxes.
In addition, we can pray for the dignity of work and the rights of workers.
Lord God, Master of the Vineyard,
How wonderful that you have invited us
who labor by the sweat of our brow
to be workers in the vineyard
and assist your work
to shape the world around us.
As we seek to respond to this call,
make us attentive to those who seek work
but cannot find it.
Help us listen to the struggles of those
who work hard to provide for their families
but still have trouble making ends meet.
Open our eyes to the struggles of those exploited
and help us speak for just wages and safe conditions,
the freedom to organize, and time for renewal.
For work was made for humankind
and not humankind for work.
Let it not be a vehicle for exploitation
but a radiant expression of our human dignity.
Give all who labor listening hearts
that we may pause from our work
to receive your gift of rest.
Fill us with your Holy Spirit
that you might work through us to let your justice reign.
Copyright © 2019, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. This text may be reproduced in whole or in part without alteration for nonprofit educational use, provided such reprints are not sold and include this notice.
Mercy in Real Time
“The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, rich in compassion.” Oh, how I miss the Jubilee Year of Mercy! For me, that year and all the time since has been a continuous reflection on what mercy means. Our Sunday readings this week remind us that mercy is the virtue most often named in the Scriptures. In fact, we are reminded that if we believe and want to be saved, we must be merciful. We are merciful as a reflection of God’s mercy towards us. God initiates; we follow.
For me, the next 32 days, the days before early voting begins in Texas, as well as every day forward will be dedicated to educating myself and others in what our Catholic faith (in doctrine and in practice) teaches about mercy and justice. We have a rich tradition of following Jesus through our Baptism and our call to be priest, prophet, and king. In mercy we accompany those whose rights are ignored, whether they are the unborn, the immigrant, the homeless, the prisoner, or the millions upon millions of people whose own equity is socially compromised because of gender, race, tribe, caste, religion, or sexual status. Mercy searches for justice. Mercy is about promoting the common good—the good of the police and the good of the protesters. Mercy is about equity in education, especially early childhood education. Mercy is about a living wage and good jobs for all in a good jobs economy. All of these are not about individual preferences, but rather about choices we have for the common good.
To promote the common good is to promote the wellbeing of all people, to provide for the needs of all humans to live and act well. When we encounter resistance to wearing a face mask, we have an example of how unaware we can sometimes be of social responsibility, our responsibility for each other, not just ourselves.
To be priest, prophet, and king is to lead in efforts for the common good. Baptism is a social event. We baptize to welcome into community. We enter into a sacred covenant to love and care for each other—no exceptions, throughout all of life!
So what is capable Catholic leadership? Fr. James Keenan, an ethics professor at Boston College, describes it this way—“someone who understands the limits of reality, recognizes financial constraints, attends to details, respects boundaries, appreciates the importance of the law, knows how to motivate, is able to summon the best out of oneself and others, and can challenge all to think beyond self-interest. The Catholic voter turns then to one capacious to lead out of mercy for the common good.”
Just think about it! Seek a variety of sources to inform your conscience! Pray about it! Work for it!
Watching Out and Watching In
Watchmen and women, love and prayer! These are three key words guiding our reflection this weekend. Ezekiel is called to be a prophet, to be a watchman who addresses injustice in his world. Our Baptism anoints each of us as priest, prophet, and king. So we too are called to be prophets (watchmen and women). We are called to “watch out” for injustice, especially that which diminishes life in any way.
How are you a watchperson? What do you see as unjust as you take watch? What do you do about it? Do you speak with the strength and conviction of Ezekiel who knows he is responsible for the lives of the people he is watching? Who are your partners in keeping watch? Who are the watchpersons God is sending into our world today? Can you think of ways to bring justice and God’s desire and vision for all human beings to live and to thrive?
God tells Ezekiel that he must speak, he must be the towncrier, calling out the wrongdoings, asking for a change of heart. Ezekiel is responsible. We are responsible. To work actively to seek solutions is to examine ourselves and our responsibility, to “watch in.”
God’s greatest commandment, Jesus teaches us, is love of neighbor. No exceptions! Every person on this earth is our brother or sister. Love makes us responsible for all.
And what becomes of us if we get it wrong? If we fail? That’s why we have community. As brothers and sisters to each other, we learn to intervene when we see wrongdoing. We take risks in doing so because we believe that change of heart is possible in each of us. The Christian community is called to defend the interests of the least ones in our midst, as well as to create the space and conditions for forgiveness and restoration to flourish.
Our strength, our courage to speak and act comes from our reliance on God to grant our request in some way when we gather with others to pray. Prayer helps us to discern what message to speak. Prayer helps us to discern what actions on behalf of the least among us we are called to take.
For this let us all work and pray.
Know Better—Do Better!
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” These words from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans seem to be an exhortation to all of us today. In the confusion and conflicts, the strains on relationships of all kinds, various pressures, the storms and wildfires, and the strong pleas for justice, many of us are searching for an understanding of what God is asking of us.
In her preaching for this weekend, Sister Nicole Trahan, a young Marianist Sister from San Antonio (https://www.catholicwomenpreach.org/preaching/08302020) describes her personal journey to renew her mind, to seek transformation and to discern the will of God. Her mantra is “Know better. Do better.”
Conforming to this age might be giving in to cynicism, despair, paralysis. It might mean competition for limited resources rather than sharing generously. Jesus tells Peter that following him means taking up our cross. Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel says: “Jesus wants us to touch human misery, to touch the suffering flesh of others. He hopes that we will…enter into the reality of other people’s lives and know the power of tenderness.”
What opportunities do we have to enter into the suffering of others? How can we turn our laments about the way life is into hope? Each time we participate in the Eucharist, we hear the words “this holy and living sacrifice.” Are we offering sacrifices of our own?
One opportunity to “Know better” and “Do better” is the training being offered this Friday evening and Saturday on Recognizing the Stranger. Archbishop Gustavo, with funding from the Campaign for Human Development, is partnering with COPS/Metro to help parish members throughout the diocese to renew our minds, change our hearts, and move us to action. Several of our parishioners and I are signed up. Join us!
St. Francis of Assisi prayed: “Most High, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart and give me true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, sense and knowledge, Lord, that I may carry out Your holy and true command. Amen.”
Who Is Jesus?
“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus poses this question to his disciples in this Sunday’s gospel. Jesus poses the same question to each of us. Who is Jesus? Try answering the question 20 different times. What are the first responses? What do they become as you proceed?
My own images of Jesus have changed over the years. When I joined other women in answering the call to religious life 55 years ago, I know that I was responding to Jesus’ words “come follow me.” Thanks to my formators, I was led to exploring what that means. Our formation sessions were Scripture-based lessons describing who this Jesus is whom we follow. Long before it became a slogan on a rubber wrist band, I found myself often asking “What would Jesus do?”
Much of my formation as a person also came from all that was happening in the 60’s. It was a time of revolution, of murders of leaders who were working for change in systems, of the Catholic Church’s study of reforms needed in Church life. The Jesus who broke boundaries that excluded, who included women as persons of dignity and worth, who turned the tables on the rich and powerful became the one I follow.
Because Peter recognized Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” he was given power and authority. Peter’s role in building the Church were keys to building the kingdom of God on earth—loving and forgiving, bringing about justice, and living compassion and mercy. As followers of Jesus, we too participate in the building of that kingdom on earth.
We pray this weekend that elected officials govern with fairness and respect, that pastoral leaders in the Church never fail to be agents of God’s mercy, that all of us take seriously our ministry to bring reconciliation to all broken relationships, and that those who have been abused and persecuted by others will find a way to be healed of such injustice. For this let us all work and pray.