The institution of the human family appears to be in crisis. Today, countless families are experiencing discord and tremendous friction, and their members are living in residences that have turned into temples of selfishness, hatred, resentment, envy, and indifference. Family members are craving for greater peace in their homes. Furthermore, numerous children are yearning to be better comprehended by their parents and these, in turn, are not feeling truly respected and honored by their children. Also, many husbands and wives are praying to be loved and valued again by their spouse. Indeed, everyone wants to feel appreciated and happy.
We cherish stories that speak to our realities and to the adversities that we encounter. In numerous ways, they help us perceive life better. For this reason, Jesus told countless timely parables during His day and many of these are well-known and loved today. However, there is a parable that appears out of place in the Gospel according to Matthew (18:21-35). Peter inquired how often he must forgive a person who sins against him, but Jesus’ parable does not address the question of repeated forgiveness. It does, however, point out the significance of forgiveness, as well as of mercy and justice.
One of the most significant childhood lessons that my siblings and I learned was the duty to respect our elders. We learned the importance of remaining quiet and attentive when older people are addressing us, of speaking respectfully and honestly when we are given the opportunity to talk, and of valuing and appreciating our seniors. Our parents also encouraged us to lend a helping hand when the elderly cross the street. On numerous occasions, my siblings and I would help our older neighbors by linking arms with them to cross the street and carrying their grocery bags. These were insightful moments that began instructing me about life. I understood from early on that we must care for one another. Furthermore, I discovered that we may be strong during our younger years, but everyone begins to gradually lose their strengths as they become older.
The Strength of Paul the Apostle
Certainly, physical strength or power is a quality that we value immensely. But our society speaks about other powers as well. Individuals who have the ability to produce, purchase, and put items up for sale unreservedly are said to possess economic power. Other individuals enjoy political power and have the ability to exercise a role in shaping society’s laws and policies. And still others’ social power gives them the capability to influence and persuade other people’s activities, attitudes, or behaviors. Those in our society that possess physical, economic, political or social powers enjoy positions of leadership and are, very often, perceived as intelligent, strong and powerful.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul of Tarsus counted himself among the strongest of his day. However, he was not referring to physical, financial, political, or social strength. They were strong given that they were released from the Mosaic regulations that were still being rigidly observed when they wholeheartedly embraced the Christian life. He stated: “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves; let each of us please our neighbor for the good, for building up. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you fall upon me.” (Rom 15:1-3)
Spiritual Strength – Do We Have It?
This passage reminds us that there is another strength we must acquire, develop, and sustain: spiritual strength. Without it, we struggle to know, love, and follow God and His commandments as we ought to. This strength empowers us to glorify the Lord, accomplish His will, and work for the salvation of our souls. Nevertheless, we cannot acquire this strength through our own human efforts, but only through the graces that God offers us in His divine providence.
“Give me liberty or give me death!” With these notable words articulated in a 1775 speech, Patrick Henry expressed the immense desire he possessed for freedom. This statement summed up the plea that ultimately impelled the Virginia House of Burgesses to mobilize for military action. A few weeks later, the American Revolution marked the beginning of the intense struggle in which thirteen of Great Britain’s North American colonies eventually obtained their independence. Today, the 4th of July celebrates the United States of America’s Day of Independence as it recalls when this country declared its independence from Great Britain. Freedom is a value of great importance. Having the ability to enjoy political autonomy and to do what one pleases at will is treasured by the citizens of a nation that enjoys being a free society. Who does not cherish the power to exercise the faculty of choice in political, social, and financial matters? Nevertheless, the notions that some of us have about the essence of freedom are at times faulty or misguided.
If we desire to see improvement as Christian leaders today, we need to return to the Old Testament. Several of its books will challenge us to revisit our notions about leadership. Let’s turn to the book of Exodus, which narrates the Hebrews’ experience of enslavement in Egypt. It was amid this era that Moses was born and that he went into exile for killing an Egyptian. Sometime later, Moses encountered God in a burning bush, discovered God’s plan to save Israel, and learned God’s name. The LORD God elected him to liberate and save Israel.
When we reflect on Moses’ leadership, we naturally think about ancient Israel’s freedom. Truly, there is a deficiency in a kind of leadership today among Christian leaders that the Exodus event suggests with urgency. Today, we need to cultivate among those in the Christian ministry field and within our parishes a Mosaic leadership that is capable of freeing and liberating our brothers and sisters from their sinful circumstances and from the oppressive structures that surround them. Indeed, true leadership frees people, empowers them to grow, and facilitates their social and spiritual advancement.
I remember a time when I desperately wanted to share a humorous story with a good friend of mine about something that had just transpired at work. A few days later, I had the opportunity to tell him what occurred and attempted as much as possible to hold back my laughter as the story progressed. Finally, when I arrived at the punch line and concluded the story, I bursted out laughing. As I laughed for about a minute, I glanced at my friend and noticed that he was not. He looked at me strangely and said, “I don’t get it. Why is this so funny to you?” I responded, “You really don’t get it? Don’t you have a sense of humor?” And he replied, “I do, but I do not know why this story is so funny to you. I guess I just had to be there to appreciate it.”
Blessed Are Those Who Believe
It is difficult for someone to treasure an experience that happened if he or she was not there to personally observe and undergo it. For this reason, Thomas the Apostle did not believe the other apostles when they said, “We have seen the Lord.” (Jn 20:25) He doubted. Similarly, many of us have doubted God’s presence. Thomas’ response, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe,” is analogous to a popular saying that many people use today, particularly in the United States: “I have to see it to believe it.” Sadly, there are many Catholics and non-Catholics alike that still say this today regarding the presence of God. Many still are reluctant to believe God is present because they cannot see Him. Some continue to say that they have to see God to believe in God.
Thomas the Apostle distrusted the apostles’ testimony. However, Jesus visited them a week later when Thomas was with them. Upon seeing Jesus and hearing Him say, “Put your finger here [Thomas] and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe,” (Jn 20:27) Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus then said, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20:29) These last words of Jesus ring especially true when we speak about the Church’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist.
We have all faced difficult times. Many of these have been moments in which it seems that things just continue to get worse and worse. We encounter one misfortune after the next. We do not seem to see the improvement we are hoping for. We become worried and are filled with anxiety. Our thoughts center on a particular situation seemingly without end. We think to ourselves, “When will things get better?”
When Will Things Get Better?
Our human experience is similar to the author of the book of Lamentations. His words become ours:
“My soul is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; I tell myself my future is lost, all that I hoped for from the LORD. The thought of my homeless poverty is wormwood and gall; Remembering it over and over leaves my soul downcast within me…”
The Favors of the Lord Are Not Exhausted
However, God never permits His children to be tempted or tried beyond their strength or ability to bear them. In the midst of these troubling thoughts and restless emotions, and at a moment when we least expect it, He enlightens us with His light and truth to guide us and to lift us up:
This weekend, the Archdiocese of New York canceled all Masses. The letter announcing this news stated, “In light of the continued concern surrounding the coronavirus, and the advice of medical experts, all Masses in the Archdiocese of New York will be canceled beginning this weekend, March 14-15, 2020.”
While it saddens me that Masses have been canceled this weekend in the Archdiocese of New York, I understand the decision and the difficulty in making this decision. I accept it as God’s will because I have come to know over the years on numerous occasions that He truly works in mysterious ways.
Daily, Weekly, or Annual Mass
Like many other Catholics, I value the Holy Mass so profoundly that attending the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist is not just a weekly practice but a daily one for me, by the grace and goodness of God.
One of the primary works of the Holy Spirit is to bring all people into a meaningful encounter with the Risen Christ. Guided by His Spirit, we can truly discover Jesus Christ and develop a genuine relationship with Him if we generously respond with utter submission. Soon enough, Christ’s love becomes the center of our lives, saturating us with joy and peace. Hence, when we have had a personal encounter with Jesus Christ by the Spirit’s power, our greatest desire is that our loved ones may also enjoy a similar experience. Nevertheless, we’re often unsuccessful when attempting to evangelize to those closest to us. Consequently, we sometimes feel impatient or discouraged, confused or frustrated, saddened or hopeless.
The Holy Spirit pours within us the zeal to give witness to Christ and to evangelize to our loved ones. Moreover, it is only this same Spirit that can empower us to do so effectively. However, we must become cognizant of those sins and obstacles in our lives that impede the Spirit from guiding us freely. Once we perceive what they are, we ought to seek out the Lord’s forgiveness in Confession, collaborate with the Spirit in removing these barriers from our lives, while permitting Him to empower us to bear witness to Christ regardless of the circumstances and consequences we endure in His name.
Christ commissions His followers to evangelize and give witness. While this ought to occur instinctively as a result of our new life in Him, it is beneficial to consider how the Sacred Scriptures offer a number of passages on giving witness to God and evangelizing through our manner of living. In particular, Paul the Apostle shares with us some foundational instructions for witnessing and evangelizing:
“Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil. . . No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”(Eph 4:25-27, 29-32)
This scriptural passage identifies five suggestions for evangelizing effectively and giving witness to Christ:
“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you. Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ [Jesus] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little.” (1 Pe 5:6-10)
We are living in a critical moment in the history of the Catholic Church. There’s no denying that many in the Church are suffering right now. Feelings of disappointment, betrayal, distrust, hurt, and anger fill many Catholics’ hearts due to the faults, failures, sexual sins, and lack of accountability of some of our Catholic ministers and leaders. These emotions are understandable as they are a natural response to the scandalous decisions and behaviors that the laity have become aware of. Certainly, they are part of our human nature.