An Invitation To A Deeper Virtue

WeeklyMessageGuest Homilist:
Fr. Ron Rolheiser
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time,

July 3, 2011:.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart”
(Mt 11:29ab).

Perhaps the most misunderstood text in all of scripture is the one where Jesus says to us: “Unless your virtue goes deeper than that of the scribes and the pharisees, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

We generally misunderstand that because we wrongly think that Jesus is referring to the vices of the scribes and pharisees, not their virtue. We look at the hypocrisy, jealousy, double-standard, and rigid legalism of the scribes and pharisees and easily distance ourselves from that. But it wasn’t their vices that Jesus was referring to, but their virtues.

What was the virtue of the scribes and pharisees? In fact, they had a pretty high standard. The ten commandments, strict justice in all things, compassion for the poor, and the practice of hospitality, constituted their ideal for virtuous living. What’s wrong with that? What’s required beyond these?

In Jesus’ view, what’s wrong is that, in the end, it’s still too easy. Any good person does these things, simply on the basis of decency. What’s wrong is that ultimately we still give back in kind, an eye for an eye—dollar for dollar, goodness for goodness, kindness for kindness, slight for slight, hatred for hatred, murder for murder. Nothing is ever really transformed, moved beyond, redeemed, transcended, forgiven.

Simply put, if I’m living the virtue of the scribes and pharisees, I react this way: If you come to me and say, “I like you! You’re a wonderful person,” my response naturally will be in kind: “I like you too! Obviously you’re a wonderful person!” What I’m doing is simply feeding your own good energy back to you. But that has a nasty underside: If you come to me and say, “I hate you! You’re a charlatan and a hypocrite,” my response will also be in kind: “I hate you too! Clearly you’re a very petty person!” This is ultimately what “an eye for an eye” morality, strict justice, comes down to. We end up feeding back the other’s energy, good or bad, and replicating the other’s virtue, good or bad. That’s the natural way, but it’s not the Christian way.

It’s precisely here where Jesus’ invites us “beyond”, beyond natural reaction, beyond instinct, beyond giving back in kind, beyond legal rights, beyond strict justice, beyond the need to be right, beyond even the ten commandments, beyond the virtue of the scribes and pharisees.

Indeed the litmus-test for Christian orthodoxy is not the creed (Can you believe this set of truths?) but this particular challenge from Jesus: Can you love an enemy? Can you not give back in kind? Can you move beyond your natural reactions and transform the energy that enters you from others, so as to not give back bitterness for bitterness, harsh words for harsh words, curse for curse, hatred for hatred, murder for murder? Can you rise above your sense of being wronged? Can you renounce your need to be right? Can you move beyond the itch to always have what’s due you? Can you forgive, even when every feeling inside of you rebels at its unfairness? Can you take in bitterness, curses, hatred, and murder itself, and give back graciousness, blessing, love, understanding, and forgiveness? That’s the root invitation inside of Christianity and it’s only when we do this that we move beyond “an eye for an eye”.

Admittedly, this isn’t easy, either in theory or in practice. Much inside of conventional wisdom, pop psychology, and contemporary spirituality, will object to the very theory of it, pointing out that carrying tension isn’t healthy for us, telling us that we have a duty not to enable abusive behaviour, and challenging us not to be doormats and victims, but mature persons who claim the legitimate space that’s needed in order to be free, giving persons, responsible to God, others, and self apposite to developing our innate potentials and bringing our gifts to the world. All of these objections are right, of course, though none of them negate Jesus’ challenge. His invitation, cleansed from overly-simplistic interpretation, remains: Don’t be a victim or a doormat or an enabler of abusive behaviour, but do consider, willingly and without resentment, laying down your life for others by living this more sublime challenge.

And it’s exactly on this point, to do this willingly and without resentment, that its practice grows difficult. It’s not easy to do this and not grow resentful and manipulative. More commonly, we carry others’ crosses—but end up being bitter about it and sending them the bill. The scribes and pharisees had this down to an fine art. That too was part of their virtue. Growing resentful or manipulative while serving others is a perennial danger, though, as Goethe says: “The dangers of life are many and safety is one of them.”

And so the invitation of Jesus to what’s higher, more sublime, more noble, remains; as does the gentle, understanding, faithful, non- threatening, non-coercive, non guilt-inducing, but persistent and uncompromising, presence of God.

Fr. Ron Rolheiser is President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio Texas.

SaintJohnChurchMiddletown.com

A Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
July 3, 2011

My Yoke is Easy, My Burden Light
I once knew a woman who called herself “a recovering Catholic.” It seems that as a child, she was taught a religion that was all about guilt. Impossible demands were placed on her requiring strenuous efforts that were doomed to frustration. Turn the other cheek. Don’t even THINK about romantic flings. Love your enemies.

Attempting this by sheer willpower was all too much for her, leading to an abiding sense of guilt. No wonder she rejected such a religion.
…more 

Rejoice in the Power that Brings Fullness of Life
“Rejoice heartily O daughter Jerusalem.” The reading speaks about the end of all wars. There will be no more chariots or fighting horses. That’s equivalent to tanks and cruise missiles. Sort of. The point is that war will come to an end.

“Excuse me, Father. Have you forgotten about the world wars of the last century, the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Africa, the fighting in the Libya and various Arab nations, and all the blood that has been spilt throughout the Christian epoch? How can you say that there is going to be an end of war?”
…more

How to Open the Spirit’s 7 Gifts
Today’s readings start a series of four Sundays that focus on the Kingdom of God. Today we meet a humble king who will restore peace on earth, a king who is “meek and humble of heart.”

St. Paul in the second reading explains that this is really true: The benefits described in Christ’s Kingdom can already apply to you, “if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

The Holy Spirit dwells in the baptized though the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here is a brief rundown of them (based on Blessed Columba Marmion’s explanations) and some tips for developing them:
….more

To be “humble of heart”, The 12 degrees of humility according to St. Benedict and St. Thomas Aquinas
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.

Fr. Cornelius a’ Lapide cites the words of St. Augustine on this verse: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of Me, not to frame a world, not to create all things, visible and invisible, not to do miracles in the world and to raise the dead; but that I am meek and lowly in heart. Dost thou wish to be great, begin from the least. Thou art thinking of constructing a mighty fabric of loftiness, think first of the foundation of humility. And as great as each one wishes to build up his edifice, the greater the building, so much the more deeply let him dig his foundation.”
…more

Mormon Convert: Thomas Smith
Thomas was a former Mormon missionary turned Protestant minister who was received into the Catholic Church in 1996. Thomas lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho.

Born a 6th generation Mormon (LDS), I was convinced I was part of the “only true Church on the face of the earth” (Doctors & Covenants 1:30). As we believed that only Mormons had the gift of the Holy Spirit and that the rest of the world was groping in the darkness for truth, I was equally convinced I was responsible to share our faith at every opportunity. Like many 19-year-old men, I was called by the Mormon prophet to be a missionary for two years in the southern United States, the buckle of the Bible belt, and was excited about winning converts to my faith. In the end, my missionary experience, led me to the conclusion that the Mormon claims could not stand the scrutiny of reason and Divine Revelation.
…more

Do you know the 7 Sorrows of Mary?
When I became Catholic, I had a hard time appreciating devotions to the Passion of Christ. It was uncomfortable and these devotions made me feel guilty – my sins did this to my Beloved Christ. I was ashamed and I avoided the Passion. The Sorrowful Mysteries were my least favorite part of the Rosary.

All that has changed and now the Sorrowful Mysteries are my favorite. Why?
…more

Looking for Revelation
If there were a God and this God were to choose to reveal Himself and His plan for man, then it would be much easier to discern the nature of human dignity, to understand what makes the human person special, and what ends the human person must pursue to reach the sort of perfection his Creator has in mind. It makes eminently good sense, then, to consider the possibility of a Divine revelation when exploring the question of human dignity.
…more

How can I know the will of God in my life?
Q: How can I know what the will of God is in my life? I have been suffering physically for almost a year. I have been praying for healing and others have been praying for me. How do I know if it is God’s will that I continue suffering? I don’t know whether to keep on praying for healing or to just accept this suffering as God’s will. I pray that I may know His will but so far can’t figure out what it is.
…more

Here’s The Only Way To Change Your Life
One day, a man joined the monastery and took a vow of silence. He was allowed to say two words every seven years.

After the first seven years, the elders brought him in and asked for his two words. “Bad food,” he said. They nod and send him away.
…more

Making the most of the redemptive value of suffering… and joy
Why did God let that happen?

For centuries that question has been asked about items in the endless catalog of human misery. About the Holocaust, Midwestern tornadoes, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. And about intimate personal tragedies: a teenager killed in an auto crash, an old person dying unwanted and alone, a marriage that collapses amid bitter recriminations.
…more

5 Ways to Get Spiritually Fit This Summer
One of my favorite things to do is workout. Whether at a gym, running outside, or doing P90X in my home, I love getting my body into shape. (Now, if only I could work on my eating habits a little bit). For me there’s just something about the discipline it takes, the feeling I get at the end, and the little results I can see that show me I’m getting healthier.

…more

The Beauty of Human Weakness
G. K. Chesterton called suicide the “ultimate and absolute evil” because it is: the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world. (Orthodoxy, ch. 5)

Physician assisted suicide of the terminally ill and disabled is becoming increasingly more commonly accepted in our country. While only two states in the US (OR and WA) have legalized assisted suicide (three, if you count this 2009 MT Supreme Court ruling), the “right to die” movement has launched a successful campaign based on love of comfort and radical self-autonomy.
…more

What the Hell? (I’m Kidding on the Title)
Time and again, as I go about the work of evangelization, I encounter from both believers and non-believers, a fierce objection to the doctrine of Hell. In its most radical form, it runs something like this: how could a God who is described as infinitely good create, sustain, and send people to a place of everlasting torment? Many people have directed my attention to a video done some years ago by the comedian George Carlin, a former Catholic. In front of a deeply sympathetic audience, Carlin exposes what he takes to be the silly inconsistency of Catholic belief: “for one mortal sin (usually having to do with sex), God will condemn you to a place where you will suffer forever in unbearable pain…but
…more

The Atomic Bomb, the Rosary, and Fatima
On 6 August 1945, the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, an American bomber dropped an atomic bomb that detonated 1,900 feet above Hiroshima, Japan. The blinding explosion killed everyone in a one-mile radius from “ground zero”—an estimated 80,000 men, women, and children.

On this date, a miracle occurred of which few have heard. The only survivors within that one mile radius were eight Jesuit priests. These eight men, like the eight that survived the Great Flood, walked away from the atomic blast and lived into old age without radiation poisoning.
…more

Is Yoga Sinful?
She told me her name was Janet and that she was in the office a couple of days a week. She was a trim, petite woman, probably in her early sixties, wearing a white coat and moving too quickly for me to focus on her name tag to catch her last name, or whether she was an MD or an RN, or something else. No matter, really, I was in my doctor’s office for my annual physical check-in, and if she was working there I was confident she knew her business.
…more

Giant statue of Jesus Christ unveiled in Peru
President Alan Garcia formally opened the monument, known as Cristo del Pacifico or Christ of the Pacific, on a hill in the capital Lima.

He personally helped fund the cost of the statue to the tune of around 100,000 Peruvian soles (£22,000) and has said it will “bless and protect Lima”.

But he has faced strong criticism from several quarters, with many seeing it as a vanity project he chose to pursue before leaving office at the end of July.
…more

Vatican News Website
A Historic Tweet:

Dear Friends, I just launched NEWS.VA. Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! With my prayers and blessings, Benedictus XVI.
…more

‘Gay Marriage,’ Libertarians, and Civil Rights
Untangling several confusions.

According to a New York Times story of June 25, an essential part of the coalition that brought “gay marriage” to the Empire State consisted of Republican financial high-rollers who gave Republican legislators cover for voting in favor of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “marriage equality” bill while generously funding the pro-”gay marriage” ground campaign, and who “were inclined to see the issue as one of personal freedom, consistent with their more libertarian views.”

More intellectual and political confusion would be hard to pack into one sentence.
…more

Hilarious Church Bulletin Bloopers
OK. There’s a lot of serious stuff going on in the Church and in the world right now and I was prepared to write on them but then I received an email from a friend of mine about Church bulletin bloopers and I laughed so hard I nearly choked to death. (I’m actually not kidding. My wife came running into the room to see if I was OK.) I have no idea of the veracity of these or their orignal source but they struck me as funny so I’m thinking you’ll probably get a laugh or two out of it as well.

Here they are:
…more

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