Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time and a Lesson in Humility

Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, Jesus asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.
—Luke 5:3–6

This past week, as I was reflecting on this Sunday’s Gospel and thinking about what I would write in this reflection, I happened to have a conversation with another member of my religious community, during which he shared a question he recently asked the members of his parish in a daily homily: “How do you respond when someone confronts you about something you’ve done wrong?”

It’s a good question.

He shared three possible responses with his parishioners. “First,” he said, “we can deflate, caving in on ourselves, and say, ‘I’m a horrible person’ … but that’s really more of a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ move to try to get the other person off our back. Second, we can get defensive and angry that someone would try to criticize us. We can even fire back by saying, ‘Yeah, well, I might have done this, but you’ve done that!’ But the third way is to accept the observation or correction, apologize if we need to and move on. This,” he concluded, “is what humility looks like.”

Humility is one of those words we often hear in church but which has become something of a dirty word in our contemporary culture. But as I reflected on what this community member shared, I realized humility is the key to understanding the readings for this Sunday’s Mass.


The word “humble” comes from the Latin word humus, meaning “earth.” So to be humble means to recognize and accept what it is that we’re made of — a mix of gifts and skills, weaknesses and faults. With this comes the reality that we’re made of the same “stuff” as every other person on the planet. None of us is better than anyone else. We’re all gifted and beautiful, faulted and broken in our own ways. And each of us is loved by the God who created and sustains us.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, we find Jesus climbing aboard Peter’s boat after he and his companions had been out fishing all night. When Jesus had finished teaching the crowd from the boat, he asks the fishermen to “put out into the deep” and lower their nets to begin fishing again. Peter and his friends, all experienced fishermen, would have known that it would be a waste of time to try to catch any fish in the hottest part of the day.

And yet Peter trusted Jesus and did as he was told. He set aside his expertise and what he thought was best in a gesture that showed both his trust and his humility. Moreover, when he was confronted with the power of God — represented by the enormous haul of fish — he responded with the devotion and awe that go hand-in-hand with humility: Peter was able to recognize the glory of God at work in and through Jesus, prompting him to declare: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Peter’s humility allowed him to be open to the gift of God’s grace and mercy.

The lesson here is that God doesn’t choose us because of our greatness or even because of our giftedness. God chooses the humble to be his presence in the world. We see this in God’s choice of Isaiah as Prophet (cf. the First Reading), in Paul as the “Apostle of the Gentiles” (cf. the Second Reading) and, of course, in Peter and the other all-too-human apostles as “fishers of men.”

How do you respond when others make observations about you on your behavior or attitudes? Are you able to engage criticism and suggestions in ways that are constructive?

How does the example of Peter in today’s Gospel challenge your understanding of humility?

As we look toward Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent, what are some Lenten “good works” you might take on to help you to be more humble and open to God’s grace?

Words of Wisdom: “Humility is the mother of all virtues: purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.”—Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

This reflection was originally written for Aleteia.org and published on their website on February 6, 2016.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Blessed Margaret Ball

Margaret was born in Cobskill (now Skryne), Ireland, in 1515. Her Catholic family was involved in politics, particularly as the realities of the Protestant Reformation took hold in Ireland. When she was sixteen years-old she married Bartholomew Ball, an alderman of Dublin. The couple had ten children, five of whom survived to adulthood. Bartholomew was elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1553 and the family moved into a large, comfortable home and Margaret used her influence to provide classes for local children in her family’s home. Bartholomew died in 1573.

In 1558, had Queen Elizabeth I imposed harsher penalties for who refused to accept the tenets of the English Reformation, initiating a decades-long period of persecution that claimed the lives of hundreds English, Scottish, and Irish Catholics. In response, the Ball family provided a safe house for any Catholic clergy passing through Dublin. Despite their faith and courage, Margaret’s son, Walter, became a member of the Church of England in order to advance his career. Walter was eventually appointed Commissioner for Ecclesiastical Causes (in support of the Church of England) and later installed as mayor of Dublin. Shortly after taking office, Walther had Margaret and her private chaplain arrested and taken to the dungeons of Dublin.

Although the rest of the family protested, Walter maintained that he would not allow his mother to go free until she “took the oath,” recognizing the English monarch as the head of the Church. Margaret—who was crippled with debilitating arthritis—died in prison in 1584, after years of suffering the effects of the cold, wet environment of the dungeon.

Blessed Margaret Ball was beatified with Bishop Dermot O’Hurley (who had been arrested in 1577 while saying Mass in the Ball home), Francis Taylor (the husband of Margaret’s granddaughter), and 13 other Irish martyrs in 1992.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells two parables about the Kingdom of Heaven, including the Parable of the Mustard Seed. That image of the tiny mustard seed, growing up into a great tree with its large, sheltering branches, is both a metaphor for the Reign of God but also a key to understanding the life and witness of Blessed Margaret Ball. A wife, mother, and woman of faith, her small acts of courage and fidelity not only helped provide safety for bishops and priests, but they helped keep the Catholic Faith alive in Ireland during a time of ferocious persecution.

Reflect today on a time in your life when a kind word or small act of kindness helped you through a difficult time. Ask Blessed Margaret Ball to help you be aware of opportunities for you to be a sheltering support for someone in need.


Prayer +
O God,
by whose gift strength is made perfect in weakness,
grant to all who honor the glory of blessed Margaret Ball
that she, who drew from you the strength to triumph,
may likewise always obtain from you
the grace of victory for us.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(from The Roman Missal: Common of Martyrs—For a Holy Woman Martyr)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Season of Enlightenment: The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.
—Luke 1:1-4
 
“There are three stages of spiritual development: the carnal, the spiritual, and the divine,” an old monk once explained to a novice.
“What is the carnal stage?” the novice asked.
“That’s the stage,” the old monk said, “when trees are seen as trees and mountains are seen as mountains.”
“And the spiritual?” the novice asked eagerly.
“That’s when we look more deeply into things. Then trees are no longer trees and mountains are no longer mountains,” the old monk answered.
“And the divine?” the novice asked breathlessly.
“Ah,” the old monk said with a smile. “That’s Enlightenment — when the trees become trees again and the mountains become mountains.”

Like the old monk in the story, the Evangelist Luke understood that the enlightenment offered by the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth allowed for a new understanding and realization of the reign of God, a reality first envisioned by Israel’s prophets.

St. Luke the Evangelist
For St. Luke, there was no question that the coming of Jesus initiated a new age and that Jesus was the centerpiece of history, binding together Israel’s hopes and heritage with the future and promise of the Church (which St. Luke wrote about in the Acts of the Apostles). And so when Luke tells us the story of Jesus reading Isaiah’s prophecy in his hometown synagogue (4:16-19; recounted in this Sunday’s Gospel), he was not just recalling vague promises from the past. Instead, Jesus was taking Isaiah’s words as his own: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

This passage could be said to be Jesus’ “mission statement.” And St. Luke understood that Jesus’ mission was for all peoples, especially those on the fringes of society: sinners, the sick, the physically disabled and women and children — all groups given special attention in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus was proclaiming that all of God’s promises were now being fulfilled in him. And those who heard him were filled with wonder and awe (cf. Luke 4:20).

The Gospel for this Sunday sets the scene for the remainder of the year, as we journey through the Gospel of Luke. And in a sense, the liturgy of this Third Sunday of Ordinary Time brings to an end our Epiphany reflections on who Jesus is by presenting us with a vision of what it is he would accomplish.

Ordinary Time could be said to be a season of enlightenment when, with Saint Luke the Evangelist as our teacher and guide, we are invited enter more deeply into the truth of who Jesus is and what his transforming mission means for our world.

Words of Wisdom: “A ‘year of the Lord’s favor’ or ‘mercy’: this is what the Lord proclaimed and this is what we wish to live now. This Holy Year will bring to the fore the richness of Jesus’ mission echoed in the words of the prophet: to bring a word and gesture of consolation to the poor, to proclaim liberty to those bound by new forms of slavery in modern society, to restore sight to those who can see no more because they are caught up in themselves, to restore dignity to all those from whom it has been robbed. The preaching of Jesus is made visible once more in the response of faith which Christians are called to offer by their witness. May the words of the apostle accompany us: he who does acts of mercy, let him do them with cheerfulness (cf. Romans 12:8)”—Pope Francis (Misericordiae Vultus: The Face of Mercy, 16).


This post was originally written for Aleteia.org and published on their site on January 23, 2016.