These reflections are a result of more than 40 years of ministry as a Roman Catholic priest. Most of these years I spent in the Diocese of Charlotte which covers Western North Carolina. Now I am retired, and live in Medellín, Colombia where I continue to serve as a priest in the Archdiocese of Medellín.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Mt 5:1-4)
When I was a seminarian at Saint Meinrad, Indiana, there was a celebration of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy once a week. I remember the beautiful Communion chant, the Beatitudes: ♫“Remember us, O Lord, when you are in your kingdom. Blessed are those who are poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Remember us, O Lord, when you are in your kingdom.”♫
Having come down in a cloud, the LORD stood with Moses there and proclaimed his name, "LORD." Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out, "The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity." (Ex 34:5-6)
It’s always fun to see the passages of Scripture that the lectionary-makers stitch together for us on the major feast days. The passage from Exodus takes us through the second-giving of the LAW on Mount Sinai. But what is most interesting is not the LAW, but the self-revelation that God makes: “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity." And good old Saint Paul adds a blessing for us in proper Trinitarian form:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. (2 Cor 13:13)
Some folks think that the triple Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) is a reference to the Trinity. Unfortunately, it’s not. Hebrew lacked the superlative. So the only way to express “holiest” is to repeat “holy” three times. And so in the vision of Isaiah, the Seraphim praise God singing:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!
All the earth is filled with his glory!”
For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance. (2 Tim 4:6-8)
Such a beautiful passage from the Scriptures. The words perfectly describe the life of Saint Paul, a life spent in the service of the gospel, a life that has been filled with hardship and privations, but a life well-lived. Oh that all of us would be able to say: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” Now at near the end of his life the aged apostle awaits the “crown of righteousness.” I have always loved the pictorial book Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats by Michael Cunningham & Craig Marberry. Who says we have to wait for our crown? In anticipation, we can wear one right now!
But you, remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. (2 Tim 3:14-15)
As the Second Letter to Timothy reveals, Timothy has received the faith from his mother and grandmother. As the old apostle reminds him:
I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and that I am confident lives also in you. (2 Tim 1:4-5)
I’ve always loved this passage . . . it reminds me of the two women of faith in my own life . . . my mother Norma, and my grandmother Minnie. I just hope to live up to the examples they both gave me.
Beloved: Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David: such is my Gospel, for which I am suffering, even to the point of chains, like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. (2 Tim 2:8-9)
Children of immigrants separated from their parents and placed in cages has touched the Heart of Christ. But it continues to happen with a vengeance. When will we make the connection between the unfettered Word of God and the cages we put one another in? As Jesus said, there’s not two separate commandments, love God, love neighbor, because the second is the same as the first. Or as the Letter of John puts it:
Whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 Jn 4:20)
For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God. (2 Tim 1:6-7)
The Pastoral Epistles, 1&2 Timothy and Titus, are written in Paul’s name. They contain some beautiful passages about ministry and about preaching the gospel in difficult times: “Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel.” St Charles and his companions were martyred at the end of the 19th century in Uganda. At a time when racism seems to be triumphant, we need to take courage from the words given to Saint Paul:
“I am not ashamed, for I know him in whom I have believed and am confident that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.” (2 Tim 1:12)
Some Pharisees and Herodians were sent to Jesus to ensnare him in his speech. They came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion. You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?” Knowing their hypocrisy he said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius to look at.” They brought one to him and he said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They replied to him, “Caesar’s.” So Jesus said to them, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They were utterly amazed at him. (Mk 12:13-17)
Every dictator in the world knows this passage by heart: “Give to Cesar what belongs to Cesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Two worlds, civil and religious, the State and God. Well, that’s NOT what Jesus said. Because when you ask yourself, “What doesn’t belong to God?” you begin to understand the point Jesus is making: Everything belongs to God. He turns the trick question back on those who want to trap him. Besides a Roman denarius was blasphemous—it had the graven image of the “Divine Cesar.” The only way to get one was to play ball with the Romans. His questioners had already sold out.