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26th Sunday OT. Pope Francis in America

JMJ

Sometimes at our weekday school masses I ask not religious questions, but academic questions. I like to see how the kids  are doing with the 3 R’s. I asked an English question. What is an adjective? One young lady didn’t hesitate to get her hand up and say that an adjective is a word used to describe a noun. Good.

Ok, now can anyone please give some adjectives that describe Jesus? I got several good answers. Kind, good, loving, brave, merciful, just, gentle, compassionate. All good answers.

But I had a favorite. One young boy picked the adjective, nice. Nice! I liked that. Jesus was a nice guy. A Nice God. As I thought about it I wondered if there was a more sophisticated synonym . I decided that gracious would be a good equivalent. Jesus was gracious. It’s like kind and compassionate good and merciful, and pleasant, and non-judgmental all rolled into one.

Ok, maybe there were a few exceptions to the rule where he might have been not too gracious. Like when he threw the money changers out of the temple, or when the hypocrisy of the Pharisees got to him and he used some choice adjectives of his own.

And maybe he did get a little exasperated with the disciples from time to time. But, generally speaking, Jesus was indeed a very nice guy.

The best example of this I think was when Jesus had his encounter with the woman caught in adultery. It was another one of those set-ups by the Pharisees but after he “graciously” dismissed them he then addressed the woman. “Where are your accusers?” he said. “Is there no one to condemn you? Well, neither do I. But, go and sin no more.” Now some might say, “What? Is that it? She was  caught in the act of adultery, so how about a little hellfire and brimstone?” But no, Jesus was nice to the lady. Gracious, but firm. My guess is that she never did that again. Because Jesus was ……nice.

I had a dilemma this past week. I work weekends you know, and I had a homily due. I was not inclined to just comment on the readings as I usually do, but rather on current events. Like the Holy Father’s visit. But then, his time with us was not complete either. His visit was unfolding, a work in progress. Who knew where it might go. He’s quite  spontaneous, you know!.

He had spoken several times already and there has been much response by many commentators, but generally speaking, the reviews had been favorable. How could you not love that guy? He’s so gentle, and so compassionate and so soft spoken. He has a nice smile. He’s a people person. He kisses babies and loves children. He seems like a really nice guy. Gracious. He’s actually kind of ……. Christ-like.

Yes, I’d say that many people have fallen in love with Francis in the same way that a previous generation fell in love with Pope John Paul II. They may not necessarily agree with Francis on all points but they have been attracted by his demeanor, his niceness. Niceness is indeed attractive, and maybe……… there is a lesson in this for us.

He has indeed covered all the bases in his talks, and we have watched the responses of the people. In congress the other day, first one side of the aisle and then the other rose in applause when their cause was validated by the pope. But at the end of the day my guess is that all had to listen to the message of reconciliation. Can we talk? Let’s enter into dialog. Let’s have a conversation.       That’s a sign of love and respect when you subdue your ego enough to at least hear the point of view of the other. It’s a nice thing to do.

One of the interesting things that I noted is that there were many commentators who didn’t seem to have a clue about the gospel message. I mean I found myself yelling at the TV saying nooooo. What are you saying? What are you talking about?

A for instance. There was this big discussion between two pundits on Fox News. I think they were actually friends but they were talking about St. Patrick Cathedral and were actually yelling at each other. The conversation revolved around the great expensive remodeling of the temple in mid-town Manhattan. And the gist of it all had to do with two separate questions. First off, should that kind of money be spent on churches in light of the poverty in the world. They presumed to know how Francis would respond. But we have to remember that the original temple, the one made by Solomon, even after it was destroyed and rebuilt, God said, “Mine is the silver and mine is the gold.” He wanted it made so as to give glory to his name. And later, all the great cathedrals were made as a labor of love by people who had great faith.

Secondly, the discussion dealt with the seating assignments for the big multi-million dollar donors who made the biggest contributions to do the remodeling. Well, the passages that came to my  mind had to do with humility. “When you give alms, do not let your right hand know what your left hand is giving”.

“Do not take the first seat at the synagogues.”

The first shall be last and the last shall be first. The greatest among you must be the servant of all.”

So it would seem that the heart of the gospel message is something that needs repeating and drilling and the example of…… nice people.

I do hope that the people will be inclined to actually take the time to meditate on Francis’s words and to incorporate them into their lives. And I do trust that the grace of God is at work here and that many hearts will be changed by his visit.

 

On Thursday evening , I prayed evening prayer from my easy chair, with the pope and cardinal Dolan, and all gathered in St. Patrick Cathedral. There was a very interesting passage read from the 1st letter of St. Peter, Chapter 1. It had a very special significance for me personally. I’ve talked about it before. I was directed to this passage in a miraculous way back when I was 30 years old.

It came to me at a time when the bottom had fallen out. I needed some consolation and there it was. It said,: “There is cause for rejoicing here, though now for a little while, (if need be), you are made sorrowful by various trials, so that the temper of your faith, more precious than gold tried by fire, may be found unto praise, honor and glory at the revealing of Jesus Christ.”

It was indeed at the beginning of a time of discipline for me. And I was also led to other similar passages. Like the one from Hebrews 12 .

“The Lord chastises those he loves.”

“And what father does not discipline his son?”

Now discipline does not seem a cause for rejoicing but it has its purpose. A good purpose. Namely our salvation. It not God’s desire that any be lost.

And so I found myself wondering if that passage was heard, and remembered by all around the world who were tuned into Evening Prayer. If things get worse, will the people recall the words of Peter and say, OK, if this is from The Lord , maybe there is cause for rejoicing here.

Can we see it as God’s discipline. Will we be humble, and accept it as somehow providential? For our own good?

Again, we within the Church, could be of help to the ignorant, the uninformed and the undisciplined of the world. If the so-called” Francis Effect” is for real, and they should come knocking at our door, returning, seeking, or just inquiring, will we be good guys, and tell them that God loves all of us too much to allow us to remain in our sin, and be lost?

Tell them that He will do whatever he can to redirect us, and hopefully persuade us to repent, and believe in the gospel.

So, again, please try to be nice.

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