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Sunday Scriptures: Thessalonian Idle

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In this Sunday’s Second Reading (33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time), we heard Saint Paul address the Thessalonians:

Brothers and sisters:
You know how one must imitate us.
For we did not act in a disorderly way among you,
nor did we eat food received free from anyone.
On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day
we worked, so as not to burden any of you.
Not that we do not have the right.
Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you,
so that you might imitate us.
In fact, when we were with you,
we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work,
neither should that one eat.
We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a
disorderly way,
by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.
Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly
and to eat their own food.

– 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12

Saint Paul is extremely forceful and commanding in his instructions to the Thessalonians here – and, by extension, to us. He speaks to both wrongdoers and the congregation as a whole with power: “We command and exhort you…in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. This is the strongest language Paul could have used. And what does Paul command? That certain people in the congregation stop being “disorderly” (which is sometimes translated as “idle”).

It’s not necessarily the case that these people were idle in the sense of being inert or slothful – “couch potatoes”, as it were. In fact, it appears they were quite “busy” in their own way – but not in a good way. They were being what Paul calls “busybodies”. That is, they were spending a lot of time and effort “meddling in the affairs of others” – literally, “minding other people’s business”. The so-called “work” that they were doing was not at all productive or helpful for the community. Rather, it was downright disorderly and harmful.

One is reminded of a maxim from Saint Josemaria Escriva:

You are untiring in your activity. But you fail to put order into it, so you do not have as much effect as you should. It reminds me of something I heard once from a very authoritative source. I happened to praise a subordinate in front of his superior. I said, “How hard he works!” “You ought to say”, I was told, “ ‘How much he rushes around!’”

You are untiring in your activity, but it is all fruitless…How much you rush around!

– Furrow, 506

Mere “busyness” can actually be a hidden form of laziness and love of comfort, not to mention disorderliness. Sure, a person can be running around, doing a whole bunch of “stuff” – but they are not the things the person ought to be doing.

There is also the very real temptation of being a “busybody” in another sense – that of being a gossip. This has always been a temptation whenever and wherever people live together, but it is a constant temptation in parish life – for both clergy and laity. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we simply must stop speaking about others behind their backs.

Saint Paul set the Church a powerful example in this regard, by doing hard, constructive, and productive work (in his case, as a tentmaker). He provided for his own needs, and even those of others, so that he was not dependent on anyone else (cf. 1 Thess. 4:11-12). Although, as an apostle, Paul could have received his living from the congregation, he chose not to. He did this so that he could provide a model for how his disciples should live in the world as Christians.

Saint Paul shows that work well done for God’s glory in any honest profession is the “hinge” of our sanctification in the world. We can sanctify our work, we can sanctify ourselves through our work, and we can also sanctify others through our work.

Sunday Scriptures: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

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“Sunday Scriptures” is a series of posts explaining the Sunday Mass readings – helpful for those preparing to worship, or preparing a homily!

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, we hear Jesus’ famous parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector:

Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity — greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

– Luke 18:9-14

The mistake of the Pharisee is not found in his avoidance of sin or in his religious observances, like fasting and tithing. In fact, this is all quite laudatory. His real problem lies in his exalted view of himself. He does not discern his own sinfulness or need of God’s forgiveness. The tax collector, on the other hand, does realize that he is a sinner who stands in need of God’s forgiveness – and moreover, that he does not deserve that mercy.

The Pharisee does not realize that, far from being acceptable to God, he is actually an idolater! What the Pharisee is doing, ultimately, is arrogating one of God’s prerogatives unto himself (this is in fact what the devil does, as scholar Charles Talbert points out) – in this case, the prerogative of judgment. The Pharisee, who says, in essence – “I am not a thief” – is actually stealing something from God.

Now, while it is true that we must judge objective actions as being sinful or not, one can never judge a person’s intentions (what their motives may have been) or ultimate destiny (whether they will end up in either Heaven or Hell) before God.

What the Pharisee did not realize was that the tax collector not only a) knew he was a sinner; but b) had already inwardly repented and asked for God’s mercy. Ironically, the hated tax collector, despised by the Pharisee, is accepted by God. The Pharisee, conversely, demonstrates an attitude that God despises. The self-congratulating Pharisee was not aware of his own sin and thus didn’t feel the need to repent. Not having asked God for forgiveness, he therefore wasn’t forgiven! It was actually the tax collector who “went home justified before God”.

Christians should take note of Jesus’ words by practicing personal humility before God and others, and avoiding haughtiness.

Sunday Scriptures: The Importance of 70 AD

Q: In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus appears to be talking about the end of the world. Is he?

A: There is a real connection with what Jesus is saying here in Mark 13, and with the Book of Revelation, which we are studying on Thursdays here at St Justin’s – you’re welcome to join us! Jesus’ “eschatological discourse” on the end of the universe indeed has reference to the end of history, and the renewal of the space-time universe in which we live. But its most immediate meaning refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in the year 70 AD.

Remember, Jesus says “Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.” How long is a generation? 40 years. Let’s do some quick math: Jesus’ death and Resurrection took place in approximately 30 AD. Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed exactly 40 years later, in 70 AD. So, Jesus’ solemn prophecy came true. Should anyone be surprised?

Q: What does the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple have to do with the end of the universe?

A: To the Jews, the temple was a miniature model of the universe, and the universe was to them, as it were, a gigantic temple. The temple curtain separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place had images of the stars, the moon, and the planets. Thus, when it fell, it was like Jesus predicted: “the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky”.

God’s judgment fell on the wicked temple establishment in 70 AD because of its rejection of the Messiah, as well as because of its avaricious, self-serving leadership. This was indeed the point of last Sunday’s Gospel reading from Mark 12 (the widow’s offering). Almost every preacher uses that text as an example of trust in God and sacrificial giving on the poor widow’s part – and that is undoubtedly a good application of the text.

But, read in context, it is a living parable of what Jesus had just explained about the religious leaders of his day. Jesus had said: “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and to have salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.” (Mark 12:38-44).

The religious leaders of Jerusalem were supposed to be caring for widows and orphans. Instead, they were “devouring widows’ houses”. And here we have a widow whose house is indeed “devoured”. The two small copper coins she had put into the offering represented, in a sense, her last meal – they were just enough money to buy flour to make one small loaf or cake. In a sense, this woman’s plight was a living illustration of what Jesus had been complaining about.

The ill-treatment of those who were to be cared for and the rejection of Jesus as Messiah were characteristic of an evil temple leadership whose hearts had been closed to God and others. This is why Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem: he foresaw its destruction because many would fail to repent. May our own hearts learn the lesson well.

My CBC Interview is Now Online

In case you didn’t catch my interview on CBC’s The National on Easter Sunday, the segment on religion and technology has now been posted online here:

I thought the piece was pretty thought-provoking. Different religions obviously have varying takes on the limits of technology in one’s faith journey. I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments box below!

Seeing Red: Archbishop Collins Named Cardinal

After celebrating morning Mass at the Vatican, Pope Benedict announced that Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins will be made a member of the College of Cardinals. Archbishop Collins will be given the famous red hat and garments (signifying the readiness of the cardinals to shed their blood, if necessary, in defence of the truth of Catholicism) at a consistory (gathering of bishops) in Rome which will take place February 18-19. By far the most important task of the cardinals is, following the death of a pope, to elect a new pontiff. All cardinals under the age of 80 are eligible to vote in the conclave, the closed meeting in which a successor is chosen. You can check out the mini-site from the intrepid Communications Director for the Archdiocese, Neil MacCarthy, here.

Archbishop Collins, who hails from Guelph, Ontario, was ordained a priest in 1973, and previously served as the Bishop of St. Paul, Alberta, and also as Archbishop of Edmonton. He was named the 10th Archbishop of Toronto in 2006.

On a personal note, I’m absolutely overjoyed for His Grace. He’s a dynamic preacher and teacher, well-known for his Lectio Divina scripture lessons here in Toronto at St. Michael’s Cathedral. For a taste of that teaching, check out the clip below. It’s uncanny how his charism of spiritual fatherhood comes across – one feels as if he is in the presence of the head of a household, imparting precious life lessons to his children. Archbishop Collins also gave invaluable support to me in giving his endorsement to The New Mass app, which I created for the new English translation of the Mass. I’ll be forever grateful for his blessing on the project.

The Faith Explained Podcast is Here!

Hi Everybody,

Check out our inaugural podcast for The Faith Explained below. Andy Walker and I discuss the new Mass translation and The New Mass app for iOS and Android, explaining the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the phenomenon that is Tim Tebow!

Tim Tebow and The New Mass Translation

I have written elsewhere in these pages about Tim Tebow, and let me say on record that I’m a fan. To say that Tebow is the most polarizing athlete of our time is no understatement, and much of this is due to the way he articulates his faith. Robert Mixa, over at the fantastic Word on Fire blog, makes some very thought-provoking comparisons between the way Tebow speaks about his beliefs, and the new English Mass translation – both of which are making some people very, very uncomfortable. You can check it out here. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the combox below. Big HT to Jasmin Lemieux-Lefebvre (@jasminll) for alerting me to this story.

Check Out My Interview About The New Mass!

I recently had a radio conversation with the always entertaining Pedro from Salt and Light!  Our chat shed some light on the creation of The New Mass app for Apple and Android, as well as our thoughts on the new English Mass translation itself. You can listen for yourself, or download the podcast here. Spread the word!

Matt Warner over at Fallible Blogma mentions The New Mass app for iOS and Android in his collection of new Mass resources. Check out the article here. Oh, and make sure you watch those great LifeTeen videos on the new translation!

Welcoming the New Mass Translation

If you attended Mass earlier today, you witnessed the end of an era. Today was the final celebration of the liturgy with the now “old” English translation of Mass, officially known as the 2nd Edition of the Roman Missal in English. Beginning tonight with the vigil Masses for the 1st Sunday of Advent, we will be using the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal – the new English translation – in North America, and in many other English-speaking countries around the world.

I can’t wait to get started with the new translation. Since I created The New Mass app for iOS and Android, and have been giving all kinds of presentations explaining the new Missal, one might expect that. But I really do believe this is going to be great. Pope Benedict said when the final text was presented to him last year that he hoped it would serve as “a springboard for renewal of Eucharistic devotion all over the English-speaking world.” So, let’s dive in!

How about you? Will there be anything you’ll miss about the old translation, or is there anything you can’t wait to hear in the new? Let us know in the comments below.