The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Lover of souls

Meditation on the Mass readings
for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Jesus was passing through Jericho. The tax collector Zacchaeus, we are told in Luke’s Gospel (19:1-10), wants to see him, but is prevented by his stature. Luke presents this as a physical limitation, but one wonders if his “spiritual stature” also was lacking in some way—or if his deficient “stature” as perceived by his fellow citizens prompted them to exclude him. After all, the text states that “he was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not.” Perhaps it was a little of both—he was wealthy and a chief tax collector, attributes which imply greed, deceit, and the scorn that would have been directed his way as a result.

Whatever the case may be, Zacchaeus had genuine desire in his heart to see the Lord. So he did the only thing he could—he climbed a tree! The scene is an amusing one. When Jesus approaches, he looks up at Zacchaeus in the tree above him and says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” And so the stature-challenged man (in whatever sense that applies) “hurried down and was happy to welcome him,” Luke says.

Jesus literally invites himself to the home of Zacchaeus. Isn’t it surprising that Jesus would do this? After all, the two did not know one another, and surely there were plenty of more “upstanding” citizens in the surrounding crowd with whom Jesus could have stayed. Besides, Luke makes it clear that Jesus had every intention of passing through Jericho without stopping. But he does stop, and he tells Zacchaeus to come down from the sycamore tree because “I must stay at your house today.” He hadn’t even been asked!

Overwhelmed with joy, Zacchaeus—although loathed as the wealthy tax collector and “outsider” that he was—receives Jesus into his home (or was it his heart?). Meanwhile, Luke reports, “all who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” In self-righteous horror, Jericho’s more respectable citizenry is shocked—and likely more than a little jealous! But as Jesus declares earlier in Luke’s Gospel, “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5:32), and also at the closing of this particular passage in Luke: “The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (19:10).

With the foot of Jesus in the door, so to speak, Zacchaeus is moved to repent and atone for his sins, and so Jesus tells him, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

It does not take much for God’s mercy to enter into our lives. All that is necessary is a small opening—often arriving in surprising ways and at unexpected times—and a willing reception. God will do the rest. God is good, and all that he has created is good, as the Book of Wisdom reminds us: The Lord “is merciful to all, for you can do all things, and you overlook people’s sins, so that they may repent. For you love all things that exist, and detest none of the things that you have made, for you would not have made anything if you had hated it ... You spare all things, for they are yours, O Lord, who love the living” (11:23-24, 26).

So he pursues any who have gone astray “little by little” (cf. Wisdom 12:2) and slips into any opening he finds. Why? Because you have been fashioned by the Lord and lover of souls.

Whatever your spiritual stature may be—real or perceived—ask yourself: Where might God be inviting himself into my life?

--Adapted from Grace in theWilderness
by Br. Francis de Sales Wagner, O.S.B.
© 2013, Abbey Press Publications

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What do you knead?

“To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God?
It is like yeast that a woman took
and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch of dough was leavened.”
Luke 13:20-21

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Do we need God?

Meditation on the Mass readings
for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Some of the descriptive words employed by Scripture’s inspired authors in certain passages are telling in regard to humanity’s never-ending struggles. For example, Sirach (35:12-22) speaks of the poor, the oppressed, orphan, and widow. St. Paul is imprisoned and knows that “the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18). He also is lonely—“All deserted me,” he says. Meanwhile, in Luke’s Gospel, the self-righteous Pharisee’s prayer derides those whom he perceives as thieves, rogues, and adulterers (18:9-14).

Where do we see ourselves here in relation to God? In one way or another, and at one time or another, these terms describe many of us.

Whatever the case may be, the key to our approach to God lies not in perceived perfection, but in true humility. Our hope comes in the most unlikely of persons: in the passage from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus points to the tax collector, considered at that time to be the most despicable of all human beings. There, in the corner of the Temple, he humbly acknowledges who he is and asks for God’s merciful assistance. The tax collector—though far from perfect—recognizes his need for God, and so is justified in God’s sight.

The self-righteous Pharisee, on the other hand, has done many commendable things, but takes credit for them all himself. He doesn’t really need anyone, including God, in his mind. And so, Jesus says that it is the lowly tax collector (a sinner!), and not the haughty Pharisee (who did everything right!), whose prayer is heard. As Sirach points out, “the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds.”

A truly humble person, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing said, “stands in the truth with a knowledge and appreciation for himself as he really is.” When we display that kind of transparency and honestly acknowledge our utter dependence on God, as the tax collector does, the Lord stands by us and gives us strength—and the “crown of righteousness” awaits us no matter who we are. 

Thanks be to God.
--Adapted from Grace in the Wilderness
by Br. Francis de Sales Wagner, O.S.B.
© 2013, Abbey Press Publications

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hoosier Red

Earlier this week -- if you haven't heard by now -- Pope Francis named 17 new cardinals, including three Americans. One of those three is none other than Joseph W. Tobin, who has been Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for about four years.

Saint Meinrad Archabbey, which is within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, is no stranger to the new Cardinal-designate. He spent a week in private retreat in the monastery here prior to his installation as Archbishop in December 2012. He was here in late July for the abbatial blessing of newly elected Archabbot Kurt (who will attend the installation of the new cardinals at a consistory in Rome on November 19). As it turns out, Archbishop Tobin was also here on the Hill when he found out early Sunday morning that he had been designated a Cardinal by the Holy Father (having stayed overnight before confirming youths in the Tell City deanery that afternoon). And he's been here many times in between all those events.

Archbishop Tobin is the only Cardinal (OK, Cardinal-designate for now) that I've ever personally met. He is well thought of around here, and I must agree that he impresses me as a good and humble shepherd who, in many respects, extends the spirit of Pope Francis in his genuine care for the flock entrusted to him. I hope we get to keep him in the Indianapolis Archdiocese -- and for now, at least, it seems as though we will.

The following links provide more information and insight into the character of Cardinal-designate Tobin, all from The Criterion, the archdiocesan newspaper:

    Article from October 10 press conference
    Interview with Cardinal-designate Tobin
    List of further articles, photos, videos

May Christ the Good Shepherd bless, watch over, and guide Cardinal-designate Tobin, bringing to completion the good work he has begun in him.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fruit of the Spirit