Do you want to hear something startling? Go back to yesterday’s readings and look at that excerpt from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.
“If any is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old order has passed away. Now all is new. All of this has been done by God.”
There you have it. We can read many books of theology and Christian asceticism, examine ourselves, constantly check ourselves against the teachings of Jesus but you have it all there in three sentences. Since the resurrection, the relationship between the human family and Almighty God has changed. Human weakness, human frailty still abound. People still stumble and fall but it is not the dreary situation prior to the resurrection. Now our world is filled with faith, hope and charity – faith which gives a true and profound understanding of reality of our relationship with God, hope which gives us a positive optimism about our ultimate union with God and charity which guides us in our dealings with each as we journey towards God.
Paul is not just talking into the wind. It is not that he says those wonderful sentences but seems disconnected from reality. Corinth was a sinful city. The Church in Corinth was a sinful Church and in the midst of that sinfulness and failure, we have Paul’s optimism boiling over.
As we move towards the end of Lent and endeavor to improve ourselves spiritually, it should not be seen as a heavy chore or difficult burden. When we realize that we are actually making progress, we should be thrilled that we are really forming, admittedly in a very limited sense, ourselves in the model of Jesus of Nazareth. Making progress in this area should be a source of joy and enthusiasm and not dreariness.
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Photo: M. Poloskey
In a few more weeks, the Roman Catholic Church will have a new leader. He will be the 266th successor of St. Peter. He will assume an awesome task. The burdens of his office will not simply be the complexities of the Universal Church operating in virtually every country in the world and having a billion, two hundred million members. He will find a Church that in many ways is experiencing serious internal conflict, dogmatically and structurally.
It would be wonderful if the first day that the pope stepped into office, assumed the tiara, that he would have a really first-rate staff around him but sadly the Curia itself has been badly divided and in conflict and one of the first things that the new pope will have to do is bring order and efficiency to the Roman Curia. I believe with all my heart that the pope will enjoy the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Such guidance, of course, relates to the central doctrines of the Church, the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. There is no real connection between that divine gift and day-to-day administrative effectiveness. That is a very earthy skill and not every pope has had it.
Seriously, let’s do pray for the man who is among us now but in a few weeks will see his life changed dramatically.
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The world always has and always will be a troubled place but many of us sometimes tend to see our own particular age and place as the worst of all possible situations. “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” We almost always describe ones own situation in that manner. While we must be honest and forthright about the burdens and problems that face us, we also must take advantage of every cause of optimism and hope. I now see a very important cause of hope and optimism; namely, the world’s international response to the problem of human trafficking. Several times in the past I have mentioned in my blog the agonizing reality of human trafficking. One of my titles was even “Human Trafficking on IH-35” and I was delighted to see that so many people were shocked and temporarily in a spirit of disbelief.
What gives me great hope and enthusiasm is the fact that there is a growing awareness all across the planet of the horror, cruelty and destructiveness of human trafficking. It takes many forms but most of it involves forceful enslavement of young girls from poorer countries to be used as prostitutes in other countries where they are so far from home that they simply don’t have a way to escape.
A few weeks ago, there was a major conference in Rome pulled together by Bishop Patrick Lynch, Chair of the Office of Migration Policy of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales along with the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace led by Cardinal Peter Turkson. In preparing for the conference, Church leaders worked closely with Human Exploitation and Organized Crime Command of Scotland Yard. They did a great job of generating interest, concern and follow-up work in other countries. Countries of origin of human trafficking, including Thailand, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, Nepal, Vietnam, China and the Czech Republic, are also developing programs and much needed responses.
This is a horrible situation and the whole world needs to confront it. I am glad to see Church organizations and governmental organizations working hand in hand in order to achieve the necessary results.
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Last month, I touched on the three great THEOLOGICAL VIRTUES. They are called theological because they directly connect us with the theos, with God. They are, of course, faith, hope and charity and each of these has as its goal the drawing of us closer and closer into the inner life of God. This is made possible in our daily lives by having been baptized and then walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
Actually, I think I jumped the gun by going straight to the theological virtues. I really should have started with the four key human virtues. These four virtues should play a key role in our lives and are called cardinal because all other virtues are grouped around them. They are prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. Let’s take a look at them one at a time.
Would you like to be called imprudent? Of course not. We all respect horse sense. We all respect the person who has the quality of good judgment. The implicit human virtue that makes for good judgment, makes for right decisions, makes for living their lives orderly and properly in line with God’s law is the virtue of PRUDENCE. Prudence is the virtue that directs practical reason to discern true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it. On the street, we also call it “horse sense.” Prudence is a wonderful asset in day-to-day living but it doesn’t fall from the sky. We have to work at it by learning to think critically of the situations in which we find ourselves, consider the various possible outcomes of various choices, and make the judgment always on what is best for everybody involved.
Let’s hear it for prudence!
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One hundred and fifty plus one hundred and fifty equals three hundred! That is the number of houses Habitat will have completed in May when it finishes the new home for the Rivero family in East Austin. The story is better than that.
Austin Habitat started in 1985 and by 2004, it had completed its first 150 homes. Seven short years later, it completed another 150. This is a huge triumph considering it took 19 years to build that first 150 and the second 150 was completed in only seven. This is a reflection of the tremendous local support from institutions and individuals that Habitat is generating.
I am privileged to frequently go to Habitat construction sites and am always edified by two different aspects of the scene: first, the generosity and commitment of these volunteer workers each of whom gives up eight or ten Saturdays in a row, and secondly, they are having a marvelous time doing it. By the time a house is built, there has been real bonding between these workers and the needs of the city. Habitat has now built hundreds of thousands of homes all over the world, but especially in North America.
If you ever get a little depressed by the bad news in the front page of the paper, look behind the scenes and see the generosity of our people manifested in programs like Habitat for Humanity, Hospice Austin, St. Louise House, etc.
There is still great hope for the human family.
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It is April of 2011 and several weeks ago Newsweek had on its cover the exclamation, “Apocalypse Now!!” It didn’t take much imagination to know what would be handled inside the magazine; nuclear disaster in Japan, the U.S. involvement with a third war with a Muslim country, bitter labor disputes and demonstrations in the Midwest, the threat of economic disaster in Europe, continued war and violence in the Near East, fear of continuing earthquakes in the Pacific, etc., etc. There is no doubt about it. Things are grim for much of the planet and what is required to move forward with confidence in the virtue of hope.
About two weeks ago, I talked about the theological virtues – the three virtues that tie us directly to Almighty God, the virtues that make it possible for us to begin to share God’s life even on this planet. I talked about faith, the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe that all he has said and revealed to us. The next one is the virtue of hope, the theological virtue by which we desire the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises. We need this theological virtue in order to hold firmly to our faith and optimism about the ultimate outcome of life on this planet and life hereafter. We do need to try to develop this virtue at the supernatural level but, at the same time, we are aware that there is the natural virtue of hope too – hope which gives us the courage to face extraordinary difficulties – the optimism to make us realize that if we utilize the natural gifts that God has given us we can move forward easing our pain, alleviating our suffering, solving the problems, etc., etc.
Newsweek magazine didn’t say very much about hope in discussing “Apocalypse Now” but the Gospels provide enough documentation to encourage us to move forward with confidence and joy and hope at the supernatural level and at the natural as well. We must be people of hope.
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After touching briefly on the theological virtues of faith and hope, we now need to turn for a moment to the most important of the three. Theological virtues, let me remind you, are virtues that exist within our inner being and draw us directly to Almighty God. God is the object of the actions flowing from these three virtues. Faith enables us to believe in God with all our hearts and minds. Hope gives us confidence that we will achieve the infinite blessings that have been promised to us. Now comes charity – love.
Charity is that theological virtue by which we love God above everything and we love him for his own sake. We love our neighbors because of our love for God. It is an awesome challenge distracted as we are day-by-day with so many temptations and pulls in this direction and that direction. However, Lent is a good time for us to pull back a little and look into our souls and endeavor to measure the depth of our love for this Infinite Being who has brought us into existence, sustains us in existence and invites us to share his life forever and ever.
This would be a good time to open your bible to I Corinthians 13 and read that text slowly. It is probably the most magnificent description of love ever written, certainly from the point of view of a Christian, and the last sentence of that section is all important. “So faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
If we can develop all of the three theological virtues and be drawn ever closer to the Infinite God that we worship, there will be a trickle down effect to the natural virtues. Loving God intensely will make it easier for us to love the imperfect human beings with whom we share life. Hoping in God’s promises for eternal life will give us optimism to handle the pain and struggles on a day-by-day basis. Having absolute faith in God’s promises will give us the courage to go forward.
Love…for God will give us the capacity to love other aspects of life on this planet evermore profoundly, evermore honestly, evermore joyfully.
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HOPE at the natural level gives us the motivation to keep moving. We HOPE that the plane will be on time or that our relatives will not visit for more than three days. We HOPE that our daughter will pass the entrance exams. When we refer to hope as being a theological virtue, it means that we have the desire for the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life and see that as our goal and destiny. We are confident that we will achieve it because we place our trust in Christ’s promises and know that he will give us the grace of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us (Hebrew 10:23), “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering for he who promised it is faithful.”
The virtue of hope, developed at both the natural and the theological level, is an important key to day-to-day happiness. We are all moving into the future. We are uncertain of all the developments that are before us but with hope we are confident that we will succeed in our day-to-day lives and ultimately, with theological hope, to share God’s life forever.
These words are written down in March of 2011. I think it is more important than ever that we all have hope!
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Most of us are very conscious of the interaction that we have with the people with whom we are sharing life. We talk, we communicate, we get angry, we step forward to help, we step back in shock. There are so many emotions and responses in the people around us and oddly enough if we stop to evaluate those relationships, we might put one or another under a good heading. We might even call one of them a virtue!
A virtue is simply the facility in doing a good thing easily as opposed to a vice, which is a tendency towards more easily doing something that was wrong. We think of ourselves as being patient, impatient, kind, hostile, generous, selfish, etc., etc. We are familiar with those expressions because they neatly tab all these actions that we have with others and we evaluate them as we look inside ourselves and try to see how we are doing in our moral journey.
Then out of the sky comes the theological virtues. I may be judging others on the basis of my own shortcomings, but I have to honestly admit that although while I am intellectually conscious of the theological virtues, they are not always at the top of my list as I examine my conscience; they are not always goals to which I set myself as I continue my Lenten journey. There are only three of them – faith, hope and charity. Tradition tells us that these three virtues of the foundation of all Christian moral activity are animated and give it special character. On the basis of our baptism, these virtues are infused by God into the souls of the faithful and they make us capable of acting as his children and meriting eternal life (Catholic Catechism #1813).
As a favor to myself, I am going to take a little time and begin to think about these three awesome gifts. I know that if I develop the virtue of faith, if I cling to the virtue of hope, and if I allow the virtue of charity to pass through me, my spiritual life will be greatly enhanced. I also know that if I neglect them, I will be spiritually damaged.
As we reach the midpoint of Lent, I would encourage you to do the same thing.
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