Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on June 14, 2013

caringsaviourGospel reading of the day:

Matthew 5:27-32

Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

“It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: Where are people more vulnerable than in questions of intimate relationships and sexual behaviors? Jesus said precious little about these things, but the little he said about them suggests that at least in the realm of ideas, he shared the perspectives of his contemporaries and, on certain issues like divorce, he was less willing to bend than even those who conformed to the letter of the law of Moses, which permitted divorce and remarriage. The official church in its teaching often uses the few words Jesus speaks on intimacy and relationship as a legal framework, and when people’s behavior falls short of Jesus’ ideals, they suffer rejection and even ridicule.

d5272a3858dae321ed66adb555fd8a0e_w600Jesus, however, is our law not only in what he says but also in what he does. When we read the gospels, Jesus’ behavior related to the sexual expression of the people whom he meets is uniformly understanding and kind. There is no record of his rejecting people based on their intimate behaviors: oddly given the tenor of the modern conversation about sexuality among many believers, there is no record of Jesus ever once rejecting someone who falls short of his ideals concerning intimacy.

But there are numerous references to his sharing table with prostitutes despite the purification laws that proscribed this contact: Jesus breaks the rules to share table with people most believers find unacceptable. Jesus shows compassion to the woman caught in adultery, and in the passage, he looks into the heart of everyone holding a stone to cast it at her and asks, “Knowing what you know about yourself, how can you be so ready to throw that rock?” He engages the woman at the well with her troubled history of broken relationships: Not only does he speak with her, but he starts the conversation. Jesus allows a woman with a very bad reputation to wash his feet with her tears, wipe his feet with her hair, and kiss his feet: He lets her touch him well aware of what people around him are thinking about this contact. In every case where Jesus engages people’s intimate behavior, he is compassionate. Why time and again across the gospels and throughout his ministry when he has an opportunity to denounce people for their failures to live up to his ideals does he fail to do so?

I can only think that Jesus understood that sexual behavior is often a place of helplessness for people. The church has somehow communicated a message that it is a special class of unacceptable people who fail to live up to the ideals of the gospel, but I don’t think that is so. Missing the mark when it comes to sex and intimacy is an integral component of the human condition. My guess is that there are few places in the church’s teaching and practice that have contributed more to the hemorrhaging of Christians who now abandon the faith in droves than in the official positions and strictures concerning human sexuality. Some in defending the church’s teaching on this subject will appeal to this text we read today, but the Sermon on the Mount describes the ideal of Christian life. Many of us believers seem keen to enforce the passage we read today, but why should we enforce this text so rigorously when we neglect to write legislation to expel people who do not give something to everyone who asks, fail to love their enemies, or say yes when they actually mean no. The success of our evangelization of former believers calls on us to figure out a way to embrace and live with human beings, in all of our complexity, woundedness, and weakness–exactly the way Jesus teaches us to do.

Saint of the day: Blessed Francisca de Paula de Jesus, commonly known as Aunt Francesca, was born in 1808 in São João del Rey in the State of Minas Gerais in Brazil. She was born outside marriage a slave named Maria Izabel. Her father, probably the owner of the ranch, was not known. Francisca had no last name. From her mother, she learned to pray, but being a woman and Francisca de Paula de Jesus Isabela slave, she could did not receive a formal education. As an adult, she never felt the need to learn to read, but near the end of her life, she said, “I wished only listen to the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and someone gave me this favor, and I was satisfied.” Freed from slavery in 1821, Francisca de Paula moved with her mother and a brother to Baependi. Within a few month, her mother was her deathbed and advised her to lead a retired life, practice charity, and preserve the Christian faith. Francisca believed doing this was her vocation, and she refused many requests for her hand in marriage.

Wanting to follow the advice of his mother, she lived alone in a small house on a hill at the limits of the town of Baependi to devote herself to prayer and care of the poor while her brother became a lieutenant in the National Guard, then a member of the city council, and a businessman.

Francisca de Paula, therefore, from her earliest youth chose a life of poverty to live in prayer, poor among the poor. She organized daily and weekly prayer meetings among the people of the surrounding district, offered a weekly lunch for the poor, and gave alms to the needy. She became a mother of the poor, ready to welcome those who approached her to ask for prayers, advice, Francisca de Paula de Jesus Isabel 1consolation, and comfort. Only faith led her to give up a comfortable life and trouble-free for the sake of others. Despite being a former slave, she attracted people of every race and background to herself.

For 75 years, her home was visited by ordinary people and imperial councilors, young people and professionals, poor and rich, not only from Minas Gerais, but also from the neighboring state of São Paulo and especially from the capital at the time, Rio de Janeiro. Her brother died in 1862 and left all of his possession to his sister who used this considerable inheritance to increase charitable and social activities, including supporting construction of a chapel dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

On July 8, 1888, she felt the need to divest himself of all that she possessed as an heiress, dictating in her will that her parish was to receive her wealth. Francisca died on June 14, 1895. Her body was kept exposed for four days to allow faithful come from all over to give her a last farewell. She was then buried in the church she had built to commemorate Jesus’ mother. She was beatified a little over a month ago on May 4, 2013.

Spiritual reading: To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means. (Brennan Manning)


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