Pastoral Reflections

Pastoral Reflections – Sunday, July 30, 2017

This morning’s readings begin with Solomon's request for Wisdom and conclude with a summation of our Lord's parables regarding the new Kingdom. At the conclusion of the dissertation on the parables in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus states: "Every scribe of the Kingdom is like the head of the household who brings out from his storeroom both the new and the old.”

Jesus spoke to the Jewish people, most of whom who were well versed in the Hebrew scripture. He often tweaked teachings from the Torah, giving them a deeper or added meaning. For example, in the discourse that follows the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded his listeners, ‘you have been instructed not to kill, but I tell you, if you so much as hate your neighbor, you are guilty of murder.’ He went on to say, ‘you have a commandment that says thou shalt not commit adultery; however, I tell you that if you so much as look at another woman with lust in your heart, you have already committed adultery.’

The Gospel of Matthew was written for Jews who had only recently converted to Christianity. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is presented as not replacing the Old Testament with the New Testament. Instead, Matthew reminds us that Jesus is combining the best of the Hebrew Scriptures with the new or added expectations of the new Kingdom of God. Jesus is like the wise scribe of the Kingdom, knowing how to artfully use what is old and combine it with what is new.

It takes great wisdom to understand how to effectively deal with the past and the present. There are many people who idealize the past and want to return to life as it was. For example, some of us may long for how life was in the fifties. However, life in the fifties was not all peaches and cream. Yes, we had a robust economy and jobs were plentiful, however, racial discrimination pervaded much of the south and parts of the north. There are others who want to reject the past altogether, rewrite history, and concentrate only on the advancements of modern life. So, in the area of family life, the first group would like to re-create Ozzie and Harriet and the Cleaver Family. The second group will have none of that and sees value in the Modern Family.

In the area of our faith, the first group would prefer to return to the pre-Vatican II Church in all respects, while the second group prefers a Church without a visible structure – getting the message of salvation on the internet. How do we best deal with the past and the present? I believe that it was the Russian poet/philosopher, Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko, who had the insight. He said, that the trick to handling the past is to know what should be brought with us and what should be left behind. That is true wisdom.

For example, within the Church, we should bring with us from the past a resolute devotion to the un-sanitized doctrinal and dogmatic teachings of the ancient church, a devotion to the true Holy Mass and the sacraments, and a deep respect for the Mother of God. Furthermore, we would want to continue to foster an understanding of the sacredness of an authentic traditional Catholic Family, maintain firm standards of morality, a determination to witness the faith, and uphold the enduring richness of the church’s liturgical life. What could be left behind might include the subordination of the laity, the repression of the roles of women in the faith, the glorification of the clergy, and the tendency to diminish the study of Sacred Scripture.

Perhaps a good example on a smaller scale would be how we utilize the teachings and writings of someone like the late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. I had the privilege of meeting and knowing Bishop Sheen. He was an influential force in the middle of the last century, whose weekly program, Life is Worth Living, out drew even the comedian Milton Berle. So many of Bishop Sheen's teachings contain a profound spirituality. For example, Bishops Sheen’s writings on the Holy Mass provide us with an enriched understanding of this most exquisite drama of salvation. His commentaries on the relevance of venerating the Eucharist, brought many people back to the 40- hour devotion services and reignited the prevalence of perpetual adoration societies across the country.

At the same time that Bishop Sheen taught, many clergy openly patronized the average church goer and tended to hold as suspect anything that did not originate from a bishop or priest. It was as if the Holy Spirit was captive by the ordained clergy and could not work through other believers. The laity was often seen as too simple to study and learn from scripture and reading the Bible was not openly encouraged. At times, it was even openly discouraged. During my seminary experience, I recall being instructed by my professors to not promote the laity to read the Bible, as they would be overwhelmed by it, given their lack of proper training. I can recall a television episode during which Bishop Sheen discouraged the audience to read the Old Testament, at it would likely just confuse them. I don’t know if he was trying to be funny – the audience did laugh. Nonetheless, Bishop Sheen was speaking as a person of his time. My point is that we need to know what to bring with us from the past and what to leave behind. That is true wisdom.

We should also apply this wisdom to our lives. Each of us can look back on our lives and note numerous positive and multiple negative outcomes and experiences. We need to stop persecuting ourselves by dwelling on the negatives of our past. What didn’t work out well, is what it is, and it should be left there and not carried forward for an indeterminate period of time. When we do this, we are only bringing the past into the present and that mixture makes it even harder to effectively address the demands of current living. At the same time, it is not pride to recognize our positive achievements and focus on applying our potential, or realize our talents in the present. For example, we may have been a person who went through a period of life when we behaved immorally. Suddenly, due to a religious experience most likely occasioned by love, we changed our lifestyle and became the person we are today. Perhaps we said to ourselves, "I am getting married now, or I am having a child now and I need to be a person of integrity.” And so we grew up spiritually and determined to live a new, dedicated Christian lifestyle. It would be so wrong and so draining for any person like that to dwell on the mistakes of the past. If sin was involved, well, remember the sacrament of Penance is given to us to enable us to leave the past in the past and to concentrate on the present and the future.

On the positive side, we can look at our past and remember how volunteer work for the poor or sick was so important during high school or college. Perhaps, we might remember how others could not deal with a dying person, but how due to our experiences, we are able to sit down and chat with the sick person and relate to that person, get beyond that person's sickness. Reflecting on this, we may say to ourselves, "Hey, I can do this, and it is important for me to use this gift God gave me”. This is looking at the past and bringing the best with us to the present.

Married couples really should do this when considering our relationship. As human beings, we have made mistakes. Leave them in the past. You have also been supportive and caring. Bring this into your present. Sometimes, I will see a couple that is experiencing a crisis in their marriage. Often, I'll mention that the present situation needs to be dealt with, but don't let this situation cause you to overlook all the good you have done for each other and the growth you have achieved as a loving couple. Some people are too quick to give up on marriage and end up realizing what they have lost only after it is too late.

Solomon prayed for wisdom. Not a bad idea. It takes wisdom to combat the challenges of life. It takes wisdom to be a good parent, a good husband, a good wife, a good priest, a good person. It takes wisdom to discern what needs to be brought into the present and what needs to be left in the past. Where do we get this wisdom? The same place that Solomon received his.

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