The Palm Branch, the Needle on Our Compass


About 2,000 years ago, Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowds honoring a king waving palms and laying their mantles on the ground to protect Jesus from the dirt in the city streets.  But Jesus knew this would be his last entrance into Jerusalem.  He was walking into the hands of his executioners.  Armed with faith in the Father and the courage of the Holy Spirit, he entered the city where he would be scorned, insulted, brought to trial with false charges and eventually he would be killed.

On Thursday of that week Jesus borrowed an upper room where he was to eat the Passover meal with his friends, the apostles.  It was at the meal that he gave the Apostles the power to do as he had done, change bread and wine into his body and blood.

He gave this gift to his apostles, not only for their benefit, but for the benefit of all who would listen to the preaching of the Good News that the man executed on Friday walked out of his tomb on Sunday morning.

For the first 200 years or so after the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, many believers were executed in the cruelest forms, because they refused to deny the truth that they knew about Jesus the Christ.  These martyrs were not morose men and women who wanted to die and who deliberately sought death.  Like Jesus, they loved their friends, family, and home.  But like Jesus, they could not deny the truth, even if it cost them their lives.

Today, millions of Christians around the world celebrate Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus made his triumphant entry into the city of execution. Unfortunately, many people regard it as a special day of the year when they received blessed palm branches.  Churches are packed with people who would normally miss Sunday Mass.  On this Sunday, they get something for free and fulfill a cultural and family tradition.

We have forgotten that Jesus did not enter Jerusalem to be honored with palms and “hosannas”.  The palms were icing on the cake.  Jesus entered Jerusalem to suffer and give his life to redeem mankind.   He was willing to put up with false accusations, disrespect, scourging, a crown of thorns penetrating his head, and finally nails trespassing through his hands and feet.

Palm Sunday should remind us of Jesus’ obedience to the father, of his humility, his dignity, and his love for mankind.  These were the forces that led him to the cross, not the political power of the high priests and the Romans.

Today, many of us respond with drama, vitriol and even violence when someone says or does something disrespectful.  The common excuse is, “I’m not Jesus.”

True enough, none of us are Jesus.  But Jesus says to us, “Take up your cross and follow me.”  He makes this imperative several times in the Gospels.  Yet, many of us recoil from the slightest offense, an illness, an unwanted pregnancy, poor health, and anything that could potentially inconvenience us or cause pain.  Just as the martyrs did not seek death, nor did Jesus, the voice of God the Father must be heard and obeyed.  We’re not commanded to be doormats, to seek to get sick, or to take an aggressive stand when we believe that we’re being humiliated.

We are called to be like Christ, to speak the truth when others try to hurt us or hurt another person; but we are not called to punish the world for its sins, cruelty, or foolishness.  That’s not the man that we see entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  Jesus simply spoke the truth and took the consequences for preaching the truth.

For those of us who attend mass on Palm Sunday, the question is, are we willing to speak the truth with dignity and respect?  Are we willing to accept pain and suffering that is a natural part of life, without reneging, bullying others under the pretext of suffering, or casting doubt on God?  Are we willing to keep silent, as Jesus did when he faced the Sanhedrin, realizing that there was nothing he could say that would change their mind and their arrogance?  Are we willing to respond to others as Christ responded to the questions asked by Pontius Pilate, with dignity, honesty, respectfully and frankness, without argumentation or vitriol?

Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week.  The week is holy because Christ’s words and actions were not driven by sin, desire to get revenge, an urge to punish the world, or an effort to hide his true mission.  His humility, living the truth and his love for those who sinned as well as those who were holy never wavered.  In the face of pain and death he says to the Father, “Not my will be done, but yours.”

On this great day of the liturgical year, we must think about how we respond to natural events that may be painful, how we respond to those who are rude or even cruel, how we respond to those who surround us when we’re sick or dying.  Palm Sunday is the beginning of a week where we remember Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.  Palms should be the needle of the compass to guides our lives.  Holy Week is made holy by Christ’s passion and death.  Those of us who act contrary to Christ’s actions, soil that which is holy.

Let us never forget that Christ gives us the Holy Spirit who strengthens us with the necessary grace to face any difficulty.  But we must be willing to do as Christ did. Seek opportunities for silence and avoid the distractions of the world, to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit guiding us to make every week of the year, holy.

Published in: on April 14, 2019 at 9:15 PM  Leave a Comment  

Abortion vs. Human Aspiration


I’ve been thinking, trying to understand why people who are pro-choice and those who are pro-life have been speaking for four decades and have yet to hear each other.

The abortion argument has focused on the dark side of conception.  The fertilized egg is just that, an egg, like any egg that you would find in a refrigerator.  It can be discarded because it’s not alive.  Until very recently, medical science had denied that humanity of the fertilized egg.  But one can deny the truth only for so long, before it becomes impossible to hide it.

Morality was central to the argument.  An abortion is murder.  People found myriads ways to justify the act of abortion and ignore the behavior of which conception is the natural outcome.  When speaking about abortion, we make it a woman’s issue.  Why?  Because coupling is left out of the discussion.  Therefore, there is no need to involve the father, much less consider his point of view.  It’s as if women conceived without any assistance from a man or as if the man’s contribution to the dynamic of conception is less important that that of the female, simply because her body hosts the unborn child for 40 weeks.

Hosting is not part of conception.  Human beings serve as hosts to bacteria and viruses; but we don’t consider these cells and organisms to be part of our body.  We’re certainly not their progenitors. Just as an example, we understand and accept that we carry the flu virus, but it’s not part of who we are.  We’re the host.

We try to rid ourselves of the virus with little or no success, because viruses are difficult to kill.  We also have no sense of responsibility for the life of a virus or bacteria, because neither will ever become more than what we see under a microscope, a virus, or a bacterium.  That’s the extent of their reality.

The fertilized human egg has the potential to become a man or woman who makes wonderful contributions to the world around him or her and to the wider spectrum of society.  To dislodge it from its host is not the same as fighting a virus or bacteria, which have no future, no potential to contribute positively to humanity.  If left undisturbed, the fertilized human egg can become a great man or woman, even if it’s just in his home or field of employment.

The killing of a defenseless human being, who has done no harm, is a great moral evil, greater than we think.  Killing a human being, is bad enough.  Abortion robs humanity of that which could have been.

Every human being aspires.  Our ability to aspire is not learned.  It is innate to our humanity.  Our pet dog or cat doesn’t aspire to be more than what it is.  Yet we have strong laws and penalties to protect them from human cruelty.  We human beings aspire.

At what point in our development do we begin to reach beyond ourselves and our present life context?  Who knows?  But once a child begins to speak, he or she can tell you that they want to be a firefighter, a dancer, a doctor and much more.  Becoming a physician, firefighter, dancer, and more are realities beyond one’s current state, be it in the womb, in a crib or in kindergarten.

The destruction of a fertilized egg is greater than the destruction of human matter kills the future destroying the good that this person can do in the world.  It kills aspirations proper only to that person.  Some of which he could realize, if left to develop and be born.

Herein lies the disconnect between prolifers and prochoice.  Today we don’t place much value on aspiration.  To aspire is often considered to be “day dreaming.”  It is discouraged.  Instead, adults direct the young toward a goal that will make the parent feel satisfied or that will satisfy a social need.  It’s more about the parent and society than the individual person.

Unless we begin to value human aspirations that transcend our physical and social boundaries, it will be difficult for some to consider abortion a crime against humanity.

That’s what abortion is. Humanity is being denied the benefit of one person’s contribution to life, a contribution that may change the course of history.  Every time a child is aborted, humanity is denied the benefit that comes from a person whose aspirations transcend our current state or condition.  We enslave ourselves by cutting off the potential of social, political, economic, intellectual, and spiritual progress.  Abortions trap us in the status quo.  Society cannot grow and become better when there is not a new generation whose vision transcends that of the current generation.

Abortion deprives man of new aspirations.

Published in: on March 21, 2019 at 12:00 PM  Leave a Comment  

Thinking about Lent and Penance


The Christmas Season ended a few weeks ago and we’re already for Lent.  Ash Wednesday is around the corner, the sixth March.

Birth of Jesus

It appears to us that the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary comes before his incarnation and birth at Christmas, at the end of the year.  But that’s not really the case at all.

The Church’s liturgical calendar begins with the first Sunday of Advent.  That is actually “New Years Day” on the liturgical calendar.  January 1st was adopted as the beginning of the New Year in 1752 when Pope Gregory XIII ratified the current calendar, which we call the Gregorian Calendar.

The first solemn Christocentric celebration occurs on December 25th when the Second Person the Most Holy Trinity breaks into human history as the child Jesus.  We celebrate Christmas with great joy and solemnity, because God has humbled himself to become human.

Lent follows the Christmas season on the liturgical calendar, beginning on Ash Wednesday.  It is a time of penitential preparation for the sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday and a time of expectation as we celebrate his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Catholics have always sacrificed something during Lent.  Some people didn’t eat candy, others didn’t east dessert, many would not attend celebrations, carnivals and were not usually married during Lent. These things are good in the eyes of God.  God does not measure quantity, but the intent of the heart.

(c) Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

However, if we look around us at today’s world, we have a lot of reasons to do penance for ourselves and those who don’t do penance.  We have had horrific scandals in the Church’s human element, because its divine character comes from Christ, not from man.  Christ is perfectly sinless.

Our country is split over politics and policies.  Everyday the back stabbing gets worse.  Terrorism has spread to Europe and North America.  Once upon a time it was contained in the Middle East.  That’s no longer the case.

People must abandon their homes out of fear.  They fear that they will be dragged out and killed.  While adults may feel strong enough to combat criminals, those who have children find it very difficult to do so.  What happens to my kid if I were killed in a resistant uprising?

A trailer park. (c) Caren Mack Photography

Poverty also triggers migration.  In the United States, poverty in some of our southern states is never mentioned, but it’s there.  People live in conditions not fit for human beings.  The people migrate to the coasts where they hope to find work and housing in the big cities.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  The same is true for people of many countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.  Families must emigrate from their homes because they don’t earn salaries to support themselves.

This leads to all kinds of problems in the host countries, from a shortage of resources to violence.  The violence is usually rooted in frustration, distrust, or simply there are individuals among the immigrants who have criminal history.  This cannot be avoided.  Every country, every race, every ethnic group has its fair share of criminals and delinquents.

The Franciscans of Life are encouraging all our relatives and friends to offer this Lent for a peaceful resolution to conflict and dishonesty in the world.  Will it happen?  Gabriel said to Mary, “Nothing is impossible for God.”  But let’s sacrifice something that really hurts, without doing damage to our mind or body.

Copyright: Franciscans of Life

Some suggestions for Lenten sacrifice:

1. Turn off the television or restrict its use to a specific time of the day without exceptions.

2. Turn off the game systems and computers.  If you can’t live 40 days without Facebook, try at least three days a week in honor of the Blessed Trinity.

3.  Stop smoking or drinking alcohol.  How many people die because of smoking cessation or because they reduced the amount of alcohol they put in their bodies?

4. Children and adolescents may pick up an extra chore around the house.  If one’s job is to take out the garbage and the parents must remind the young person to do his duty, taking out the garbage is not a Lenten sacrifice.  Taking out the garbage is justice.  It’s your contribution to family life.  Taking on an extra chore from Mom or Dad, is a sacrifice, even if it’s two days a week.

5.  Man has become an extension of his cell phone.  The cell phone is no longer used just for communication when you can’t get to a landline or a payphone.  It’s where people watch movies, play video games, use as time pieces, or status pieces.  There are people who pay their monthly visit to parents or grandparents via Skype.  We can reduce the use of the cell phone and limit it to communication.  It doesn’t have to be our diary, calendar, notebook, or library.  Any or all those applications can be sacrificed and offered in atonement for our sins and those of people who don’t to penance. 

6. For many people, healthy living is a penance:  going to bed early and rising early, going on a diet, engaging in physical activity, or sitting with your family for dinner, even though you know that the kids are going to bicker, complain, play, and do many things that we adults can’t imagine.  Using dinner time as a learning experience can be a healthy sacrifice. 

You may ask, “Why do penance for those who don’t do penance?”  The answer is simple.  What would have happened to our immortal souls if Christ had not offered his life for humanity?

Look at these suggestions and see if you can try one of them or come up with a penance that is truly a challenge for you.

 

Published in: on February 23, 2019 at 7:49 PM  Comments (1)  

ETHICS AND AUTOCRACY


There is much going on in our country and other countries which we must be aware of and keep in our prayers.

Abortion

Just this month, the State of New York passed the most extensive abortion law in the nation and the Commonwealth of Virginia is seeking to follow suit.  Under this new law, a pregnant mother living in the State of New York, and maybe soon, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, has the right to terminate the life of an unborn child up to the moment of labor.

Law makers and some healthcare professionals are justifying this new law, because it is useful if the life of the mother is in danger or the child is not viable.  There are two problems of justice here.

First the life of the mother is given preference over the life of her unborn child, about to be born.  We have two human beings and the law is choosing to save one and kill the other or let him be born and die.  This raises an important question.  What makes the life of the mother more important than the life of the child?  The answer is simple.  The possible death of the mother poses a grave loss to her and to her family.  But the child whose life is being terminated is also family.  Simply, he has yet to meet his living relatives.

The second issue of justice has to do with viability.  Allegedly, if a baby is not viable (capable of living outside the womb), he can be aborted.  There are two questions of justice here.  First, if mother and child were in a car accident and the child seemed to be a higher mortality risk, would anyone agree to terminate that child’s life and save the mother?  Would anyone agree to providing medical care for the mother, while forsaking the life of the child?  If you’re a conscientious person, you would probably answer “NO” to both questions.

A person who understands the right to life of every human being would insist that medical care be given to both mother and child to save both lives.  One may die while doctors try; but such a death is not provoked by the attending physician.  It is the result of the accident, illness, or other beyond human control.  No human being terminated that life.  In most places around the world, the physician would be in serious legal trouble, because he took one life and turned his back on that person for the sake of another.  An affirmative response to this question gives physicians the freedom to make godlike choices.  Does the physician have the moral authority to determine who lives?Image result for right to be born

In the case of a late term abortion, the mother and the physician are assigning, to themselves, authority that belongs only to God.  They are deciding that the child has no right to be born.  The international community and the constitution of many countries guarantees the right to life.  In this case, the law is saying that one has the right to life . . . but at what point:  just before birth or just after birth?  The right to life becomes arbitrary.

Euthanasia

Image result for euthanasia ethicsCall it assisted suicide, call it the right to die or any other name that sterilizes such an act.  The fact remains that living human beings are put to death at the discretion of other human beings, they do not die from causes beyond human control.

Children are euthanized because they have Down Syndrome.  People, young and old, are euthanized because suffer from depression and have lost all desire to live.  Terminally ill people and senior citizens are euthanized to avoid prolonged suffering.  The truth of the matter is that suffering is a normal part be life.  And supporting and comforting those who suffer is our moral duty.  No one, not even the person who is suffering, has the right to choose death if there are possible medical treatments that can save a life or give the person more time to be with loved ones.

In some countries, the state decides who is to be euthanized, because “it’s in the best interest of the citizen.”  Is it really in the best interest of the citizen to terminate his or her life, because they are sick, old, suffer a mental health problem or is naturally intellectually disabled?  The British courts said so when they denied the parents of a two-year old child permission to take the child out of the country to places that were offering medical assistance and hope.

What human being, be it a judge, a relative, a physician or other involved party has the natural authority to determine when one should die?  Where does society draw the line?  Is it OK to help a terminally ill person to die, but provide special services for one who is intellectually disabled or the other way around?

Is it right to draw a line on sickness?  How sick does one have to be that gives others authority to end our life or that of loved ones?

There are civil laws, but as the great philosophers of history have proven, there are natural laws that serve as the foundation of civil laws.  Human beings have the right to legislate when such legislation is consistent with natural law.  Who said that we have the right to circumvent natural law to terminate a life?

Someone may argue “is a kidney transplant natural?”  Is a prosthesis natural?  Neither are safeguarded by natural law; but neither are prohibited by natural law either.

Some states have passed laws that prohibit late-term abortion.  There are states that prohibit assisted suicide and euthanasia.  But the courts have determined that such laws are contrary to the right to choose.

We’re allowing the state the right of the individual to secure the rights of the majority.  But that’s not how morality and ethics work.  One must always choose the greater of two possible good, not what is acceptable to the majority.  The right to life is an unquestionable superior good.  If we make the right to life arbitrary, then all other rights granted to living beings are also relative.  There are no longer absolute rights.

We must pray for guidance for us, law makers and people in crisis situations.  We must also raise our voices to defend the right to be born and the right to live until death is unavoidable.  This includes accidents, wars, natural disasters, and crime.  The victim does not have the power to prevent his death or that of a loved one.  Such life terminating events happen very quickly and are not within our control.

Let us defend our collective right to vote on laws, rather than grant power to arbitrary persons who legislate the right to terminate human life at their discretion.   We have the right to be heard before those laws are ratified.  When the state appropriates citizen’s right to choose life, without the consent of the governed, it’s autocracy.

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Published in: on February 20, 2019 at 8:29 PM  Leave a Comment