PRE-NOTE: Today is both "Respect Life Sunday and the International Day of Nonviolence." Cf "Justice Notes" below
The first part of our Habakkuk reading today is a lament. The prophet speaks for the people of his time and ours as well. Hear the question many of us have these days: "How long?" His people are experiencing violence and ruin and he wonders why God does not intervene. It's the kind of prayer individuals and communities make in dire circumstances. Think about the faith-challenging trials you may be experiencing. What afflictions are we, the individuals and families worshiping with us having? On a bigger scale: as I write this the war in Ukraine grinds on; there has been devastating flooding in Puerto Rico, Pakistan and Alaska; refugees at our southern border have been bused and flown to other states, some separated from their families; Texas is readying to execute two more men this month, etc.
We may have no answers for the turmoil and scandal our church, nation and world have been going through these days. Yet, our faith is tested and our prayers can feel strained and inadequate. Should we just keep silent, or say the usual "approved" prayers? Or, shall we take our lead from Habakkuk and voice a lament? ...lament to God for these dreadful times, for the neglect of the poor and needy of our country and world We can lament the way the prophet does, make complaint to God for things that seem beyond our control, but affect us and others so dreadfully.
Notice the prophet is not afraid to confront God and speak what, for many of us, is the unspeakable: he accuses God of not caring. His prayer has roots in our Jewish/Christian tradition. Jesus prayed this prayer of protest in the Garden when his plans and life were being abruptly ended. People have been taught not to speak to God this way, or to just stay silent. But keeping silence, because we are afraid to utter what we are really feeling, risks closing off the possibility for growth in our relationship with God. It takes deep faith to shake one's fist at God.
Only after Habakkuk’s lament has been voiced does God respond. What was God doing during the first part? Listening. God orders the prophet to write down the vision. Why write? Is it to give it permanence? Must it be written so that a future generation might also read it? The word "readily" in the phrase, "...so that it can be read readily" – means, write it so large that it can be read on the run. Like a billboard. Are we running because evil is at our heels? If escape, or relief, doesn't come quickly, we will need to trust Habakkuk’s vision of God's faithfulness over and over, to keep us strong in our faith when God doesn’t seem to care, or respond. We are called to fidelity to a God who has promised to be faithful, despite seeming evidence to the contrary. The Hebrew word for faith is "Emunah," from which comes our "Amen." Our prayer response is the "Amen" of faith. We are called to faithfulness and our reward won't be riches but life..."the just, because of their faith, shall live."
Lament is an un-American prayer: it is not neat like cellophane wrapped vegetables in a supermarket. It lacks order, it spills over with emotions, it is a struggle with loss and doesn’t hold back. It's the prayer we pray when a part of our life comes to an end. We pray this prayer for ourselves, or in solidarity with a group of people who are suffering. Suppose, for example, we prayed a lament for inner-city people who suffer violence every day, whose children need to sleep in bath tubs so that they won't get hit with stray bullets at night? This prayer on behalf of others might also mobilize us to do something about the very situation for which we lament.
The gospel begins with a plea. What would prompt a follower of Jesus to ask for an increase of faith? Doesn’t a request like this usually flow from a person whose faith is being tested, or strained by life’s demands? Like the prophet Habakkuk, the apostles must feel their own faith stressed, for they say to the Lord, "Increase our faith." What makes them aware of this need? The context of this passage reveals a very particular demand put on their faith. Looking back a few verses in chapter 17 we notice that Jesus has just spoken about not leading others into sin (vv.1-2); about giving correction to a brother or sister – never an easy thing – and then, to be constantly willing to forgive a repentant brother, or sister (vv.3-4), hardest of all!
No wonder the apostles feel their faith is insignificant! Hence the request, "Increase our faith." Aren’t we also inclined to make the same plea as we face the need for similar Christian responses to life’s arduous demands? For example, family life requires a deep pool from which to draw patience and forgiveness. In addition, recent disclosures have shown how devastating the effects of scandal are on the life of our faith community. A parish would not last long if forgiveness didn’t characterize its daily life – from the pews all the way to parish council, staff and clergy.
The apostles realize such consistent Christian living is impossible without faith, so they want more of it, figuring QUANTITY is the issue. But Jesus says, even faith the size of a mustard seed would be enough to unearth the deeply-rooted mulberry tree and cast it into the sea. He is using strong figurative language here. But he does make his point: it is not the quantity, but the QUALITY of faith that matters. Faith, it seems, doesn’t have to increase – as much as exist! Having faith doesn’t automatically give the believer the power to perform crowd-pleasing spectacles. But faith does mean that we are in touch with God and experience God as the source of the power that enables us to live good Christian lives, marked by the ability to forgive many times – as we ourselves have been forgiven by God. Wouldn’t such forgiveness in our faith community be a powerful sign that God’s life animates us and that God lives among us? Or, as Habakkuk has put it for us today, "The just one, because of their faith, shall live."
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord
Habakkuk 1: 3
Today is both Respect Life Sunday and the International Day of Nonviolence. Then, on October 4th, the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi. It is rather appropriate that these events are in such close proximity to each other. In St. Francis, we have a person who loved and respected all and who lived a nonviolent life to become the patron saint of animals and the environment.
During one of his trips to Assisi, Pope Francis spoke these words: "Harmony and peace! Francis was a man of harmony and peace. From this City of Peace, I repeat with all the strength and the meekness of love: Let us respect creation, let us not be instruments of destruction! Let us respect each human being. May there be an end to armed conflicts which cover the earth with blood; may the clash of arms be silenced; and everywhere may hatred yield to love, injury to pardon, and discord to unity. Let us listen to the cry of all those who are weeping, who are suffering and who are dying because of violence, terrorism or war, in the Holy Land, so dear to Saint Francis, in Syria, throughout the Middle East and everywhere in the world" (10/4/13). Harmony, peace, and respect for life should be our cry also.
Pope Francis makes it quite clear: "When we speak of mankind, we must never forget the various attacks on the sacredness of human life. . .Loving life means always taking care of the other, wanting the best for him, cultivating and respecting her transcendent dignity" (5/30/15)" Violence, strife, and discord may exist but as Christians, we are called to respect all aspects of life and become signs of Gospel integrity.
This Sunday make time to reflect on what it means to respect life. Ask yourself, "What events in my life challenge me to promote harmony and peace? What events have caused me to disrespect life?" Christine Dennis leads the Beginning & End of Life Ministry here at Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral. Get in touch with her through email@example.com and get involved with beginning and end of life issues. Respect for life is a nonviolent path of justice that must be embraced on a daily basis and October is a good month to learn more about the justice issues you are being called to address. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for opportunities.
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
said, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
Mustard seed faith is planted in us at our baptism. It is watered and cultured by family, friends and the worshiping community and so it grows. Great faith is already contained in the mustard seed. We tend to be preoccupied by size and quantity. We presume that we need a lot of faith to tackle the important issues in our lives and the world around us. This preoccupation can limit our whole-hearted, response to the tasks we disciples have before us.
So we ask ourselves:
Many people say that we need the death penalty in order to have "justice for the victims."
But so many family members of murder victims say over and over that the death penalty is not what they want. It mirrors the evil. It extends the trauma. It does not provide closure. It creates new victims… it is revenge, not justice.
Killing is the problem, not the solution.
----Shane Claiborne, Death Penalty Action's Advisory Board Chairman,
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, P.O. 247 Phoenix, MD 21131
Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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