Sunday, July 25, 2010

Homily for 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

for the 17th Sunday
of Ordinary Time(Mission Appeal)
July 25, 2010
Luke 11: 1-13
Gen 18: 20-32
Church of the Holy Spirit, Cortland Manor, N.Y.

You’ve seen in the parish bulletin that this weekend there’s a mission appeal being made, specifically on behalf of the archdiocesan Society for the Propagation of the Faith. That’s why I’m here, altho I’m not a missionary. My usual congregations are the Christian Brothers and Ursuline Sisters in New Rochelle, the patients and staff at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Harrison, the Dominican Sisters in Mt. Vernon—all of whom my Salesian community in New Rochelle ministers to—and the Boy Scouts of the Westchester-Putnam Council, whose chaplain I’m proud to be.

The Salesians of Don Bosco are a great missionary order, with more religious men and women and lay volunteers in missions around the world than any other order today, except maybe the Jesuits. You’ve heard of the Jesuits, right? So we Salesians, who serve in 136 countries—not all of them missionary, of course—are happy to work with the archdiocese of New York to support what the archdiocese does thru the Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

Today’s gospel was about prayer, wasn’t it? It had 2 parts. 1st, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. 2d, he taught them—us—that we have to be persistent in our prayer.

The prayer Jesus taught us is the one we call “the Lord’s Prayer” or the Our Father. We’re more familiar with St. Matthew’s slightly different version than with St. Luke’s, but it’s the same prayer: a prayer that God’s name be recognized as holy; that God’s kingdom come—among us, of course; that God provide for us; that God forgive our sins and we forgive others likewise; that God not let us be tested more than our faith can handle.

In the 2 little parables that Jesus uses about persistence in prayer, he compares God to a friend and to a father. But he says God is more than a friend, more than a father.

So what does that gospel have to do with the Society for the Propagation of the Faith? Why should you support the Propagation of the Faith financially or pray for the generous men and women who leave home and family for a parish, a school, a medical clinic in a remote mountain village or a crowded city slum in Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands? Because every Christian has an obligation to spread the Gospel, to “carry the light of Christ’s message,” in the words of Pope Benedict XVI.

What’s the purpose of Christian missionary activity? In relation to today’s gospel, Christian missionaries seek to extend the presence of God’s kingdom in the hearts of men and women; to introduce people to God who’s more than a friend, God’s who’s a father and more; to teach them to pray, to approach God confidently in prayer, to reverence him, to trust his goodness, to seek his pardon, to strive to offer pardon to others. Our prayers and financial support help missionaries do that and—apart from the witness that we give to our non-Christian neighbors by our words and deeds—are how we do our part to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Most of us—like St. Therese of Lisieux—won’t go to foreign lands as missionaries. She is the patroness of the foreign missions because she prayed for missionaries.

Christianity and Judaism are the only religions that recognize our Creator, the all-holy God, as a father and friend. Only Christianity teaches that God has become an intimate part of our lives by sharing our human nature—thru the Son of God’s becoming man, thru everyday elements like water, bread, wine, and olive oil that make God present to us in a concrete and real, if mysterious, way. Only Christianity links our readiness to forgive our enemies with God’s readiness to forgive us. Isn’t reconciliation what we all want in the deepest parts of our souls? Isn’t it what the world needs? Don’t we want to be God’s friend rather than a stranger to him? Don’t we want that for every woman and man?

The Bible recognizes that Abraham was a friend of God, using that precise term to describe him (2 Chr 20:7; Is 41:8), altho not in today’s 1st reading (Gen 18:20-32). The Bible also tells us of how Moses used to speak to God face to face, like one man talking to another (Ex 33:11). Isn’t that a beautiful image of a relationship with God? Today’s 1st reading is a continuation of the story we heard last week (18:1-10). There’s Abraham speaking on most familiar terms with God, who in human form has visited him and enjoyed his hospitality. He opens his heart to Abraham, as a friend does. Abraham in turn speaks of his concern and pleads to God, like a friend, with honesty and confidence. Unmentioned in this particular part of the story is that Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family live in Sodom; that’s why Abraham wants God to spare the city. His plea, his bargaining with God if you will, is a model of intercessory prayer—persistent prayer, to use the word that Jesus uses today—a model of the free and open relationship that God wants to have with us, and the relationship that we want every person to have with God.

So the Society for the Propagation of the Faith asks you to pray for missionaries, like St. Therese; to give financial support if you can; to consider becoming a member of the Society; even to think whether you might be able to become a missionary yourself for a year or 2, as so many volunteers do, or for a lifetime, like Jesus’ apostles, like St. Francis Xavier, like Mother Teresa.

745 Years Consecrated to God

745 Years Consecrated to God

It's taken me 2 weeks, unfortunately, to get to posting something on a happy event celebrated on July 11, namely, the annual Jubilee of Profession of the Salesian Sisters.

At Mary Help of Christians Academy's chapel on that Sunday morning Srs. Ann Cassidy, Angela DeCapua, Catherine Hurley, Clare Kennelly, Betty Ann Martinez, and Beatrice Valot celebrated 40 years of religious profession as Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters); Srs. Catherine Altamura, Candide Asselin, Estelle Johnson, Elizabeth Russo, and Mary Anne Zito reached 50 years; Srs. Inez Molano and Catherine Novo, 60 years; Sr. Rosalie Di Peri, 65 years; and Sr. Antonia Cvetko, 70 years! All those years add up to 745 years.

The celebration took place within a Mass presided over by the Salesian provincial, Fr. Tom Dunne, and concelebrated by Salesian Frs. Bill Keane, Frank Wolfram, and Jim Mulloy, and diocesan priest Fr. Brendan Murray from Dover, N.J. As they always do, the FMAs provided marvelous sacred music. As always for their festivals, a large crowd of their families, alumnae, and friends filled the chapel. As always, an excellent meal followed Mass--this time at The Tides of North Haledon.

Led by Sr. Phyllis Neves (far left), superior of the FMAs' Eastern U.S. Province, the jubilarians renewed their vows after the homily.
Fr. Tom's homily, based on the gospel of the day (the parable of the Good Samaritan) was much appreciated. He said that the sisters' answer to the question that the lawyer asked of Jesus--"what must I do to inherit eternal life?"--is their lives of consecration. The Good Samaritan of the parable is an image of the behavior to which all Christians are called: compassion and long-term commitment toward those in need. The witness of these virtues by consecrated religious is essential today for the Christian people--they see the Gospel lived out in the lives of people like our jubilarian sisters.

A happy but unusual aspect of this particular celebration was that it included the jubilees of sisters from all 3 of their U.S. and Canadian provinces. All 3 provincials were present.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Homily for 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 18, 2010
Luke 10: 38-42
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle

“Mary sat beside the Lord listening to him” (Luke 10: 39).

The 5 verses of our gospel today come immediately after the parable of the Good Samaritan—as if to say that Martha acts the Good Samaritan toward a weary traveler, Jesus, by offering him hospitality on his journey, by showing him compassion, by providing food and rest and, presumably, good company and good conversation; altho, unfortunately, we’re not told who else was there besides Martha’s sister and, we may be sure, the Twelve; not even Lazarus gets a mention.

Jesus with Mary & Martha, by Tintoretto

I see another link between this passage and last Sunday’s story. Do you remember the lawyer’s opening question? “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (10:25). Think about that for a moment.

What can you do to earn or deserve an inheritance? Nothing, of course. You might do something to merit dis-inheritance. But an inheritance is a freely given gift—like eternal life. Someone preparing his will, I understand, will provide for the payment of his debts and obligations before dispensing his estate to his family, friends, and charities. The debts and obligations, obviously, aren’t part of the inheritance. The heirs—family, friends, and charities—altho they may eventually fight over the outcome, have no input into the testator’s plans. He dispenses what he wants to whom he wants and ignores or even slights whom he wants. Yesterday’s New York Times has a profile of a big benefactor of theological schools who has disinherited his 4 kids, saying, “I don’t want my good fortune to influence their lives.” The reporter doesn’t say what they think about that.[1] But the estate is the testator’s gift to dispose of as he wishes. Someone may think he deserved inclusion, or deserved a bigger share—isn’t that what the lawsuits are usually about?—but in the end the law will ask only was the will properly drawn up, was it the last one prepared by the testator, and was the testator of sound mind when he prepared it; not was he wise or fair in what he decided. If someone was passed over, out of carelessness or out of spite, he can scream “unfair” till the cows come home, but he won’t get a cent.

When God freely offers us eternal life thru the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it isn’t because we deserve it or earn it. We can only say, “Thank you!”—which we do when we celebrate the Eucharist and the Hours and other forms of the sacred liturgy. If we freely and knowingly reject God’s offer, then we’ll get what we deserve for our sins: as Jesus relates in various parables, being “cast into the outer darkness to wail and gnash [our] teeth” (Matt 22:13; 25:30; cf. 8:12), or “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41). It’s no small thing to pray for perseverance and to renew our thanks daily.

How does that relate to today’s gospel? What are the women in the story doing? “Mary sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak,” while Martha “burdened” herself “with much serving” in the kitchen and at the table and with all the chores of hospitality (Luke 10:40). And Jesus chided Martha, gently, but praised Mary for choosing the better part (vv. 41-42). The lesson isn’t about hospitality, really, or good manners—just a couple of weeks ago Jesus faulted Simon the Pharisee for his bad manners, after all (Luke 7:44), and in our 1st reading today Abraham quite properly offers hospitality to the strangers who show up at his camp (Gen 18:1-8). Nor is it an encouragement to sit around yakking with our buds while there’s work to be done.

At a deeper level than just what’s happening in the story, at the level of a gospel teaching, Mary is doing nothing but accepting the word of the Lord while Martha’s working herself into an “anxious and worried” frenzy (v. 41) and missing the word of the Lord. Martha’s “earning” the Lord’s good will while Mary’s accepting it. And we can’t “earn” the Lord’s good will—grace, salvation—we can only accept it. Mary’s better part is the freely offered friendship of Jesus indicated by her physical proximity, sitting at his feet. What an image of heaven!

Of course we can’t take these 5 verses in isolation from the rest of the Gospel. We can’t sit in our rooms or the chapel all day meditating on the word of God while ignoring the chores that have to be done in the house, the apostolic ministry that has to be done to spread the word, the practice of charity (being a neighbor like the Good Samaritan). But we do have to keep all our deeds in proper perspective, the perspective offered by Jesus in the little parable of the “unworthy servant”: “When you’ve done all that you’ve been commanded, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we’ve only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10)—the perspective demonstrated by Martha in the kitchen and Mary at the Lord’s feet.

[1] Mark Oppenheimer, “From One Benefactor, Diverse Seeds in Theology,” NYT, July 17, 2010, p. A12.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fr. Jonathan Parks, SDB (1949-2010)

Fr. Jonathan Parks, SDB (1949-2010)
Fr. Jonathan D. Parks, SDB, pastor of St. Rosalie Catholic Church in Harvey, La., since 2004, died this morning at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero, La., after a months-long illness. He was 60.

As pastor of St. Rosalie, Fr. Jon loved to bring in statues of Salesian saints. In 2006 he had Bp. Emilio Allue, SDB, come down from Boston to bless a new statue of Don Bosco.

Jon was born in New Orleans on Sept. 26, 1949, and raised in Gretna, across the Mississippi River from the Crescent City. He met the Salesians when he attended Archbishop Shaw HS in Marrero, where he was in the second graduating class (1967). Strongly influenced by the SDBs who taught him, especially Fr. Paul Avallone, he entered Don Bosco Seminary in Newton, N.J., where he professed his first vows as a Salesian on Aug. 15, 1969. After graduation from from Don Bosco College in Newton in 1972, Bro. Jon assigned to teach U.S. history and religion at Archbishop Shaw HS for two years.

In 1974 he enrolled in the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, for theological studies. He earned an M.Div. and was ordained to the priesthood on May 19, 1978, in Columbus—part of a class of 10 that included your humble blogger. After ordination Fr. Jon served young people and the Salesians as a teacher and school administrator in Cedar Lake, Ind. (1978-1979), Ramsey, N.J. (1979-1980, 1988-1990), Tampa (1983-1988), Don Bosco Tech, Boston (1980-1983), and St. Dominic Savio HS, East Boston (1990-1993, 2001-2004). He also was vocation director from 1983 to 1984 and 1993 to 1996.

After earning a doctorate in educational administration/superintendency at Boston College in 1996, Fr. Jon was appointed superintendent of schools for the New Rochelle Province in 1999 and served until 2004. He assisted St. Rosalie Church in Harvey as an associate pastor from 1996 to 2001. He was a frequent speaker at the National Catholic Education Association, and member of various boards including the National Religious Vocation Conference, and Cafe Hope in Marrero. He was a member of the presbyteral council of the archdiocese of New Orleans and a consultant to the Office of Education of the archdiocese.
In September 2007 Fr. Jon welcomed the Rector Major, Fr. Pascual Chavez, to St. Rosalie. Here he introduces Fr. Chavez to the assembled school children.

Former provincial Fr. Jim Heuser said of Fr. Parks: “"The West Bank of New Orleans gave us a gift in Fr. Jonathan, with his strong sense of family and friendship, and an effusive and joyful Southern style. It blended well with the warm relational approach advocated by Don Bosco. In these last years he returned to the West Bank and was a gift to them, enriching so many who struggled through hard times with his priestly zeal and simple devotional faith. Greatly loved by many, he will be greatly missed.”

A former teacher at Don Bosco Tech in Boston, Jack Sullivan, wrote to Fr. Jon early in July to assure him of prayers and commend his professionalism and his success “in carrying on Don Bosco’s vision.”

The most difficult part of Fr. Jon's pastorate in Harvey was Hurricane Katrina. He stayed thru the storm, left briefly afterward with all the other SDBs, and worked very hard for months to support needy parishioners and anyone else, as well as to repair the damage that the storm caused to the parish facilities. Here he shows off the new computer center in St. Rosalie School in Sept. 2007.

Mary Wenzel, principal of St. Rosalie School, wrote to the students’ parents on the day Father Parks died: “Saint Rosalie school and parish communities are experiencing a tremendous loss, as Father Jon touched many people’s hearts and lives in a very special way. He was always there for everyone and ministered to anyone who crossed his path. Father Jon was a true Salesian [who] daily continued the great work of Don Bosco’s principles of reason, religion, and kindness, especially with the children. He loved the children dearly and enjoyed spending time with them around campus all the time.”
His obituary in the New Orleans Times-Picayune also contains this note: "It was Fr. Jon's unique gift of mixing humor and life experiences that endeared him to all who were lucky to enjoy his friendship and fellowship. He was always ready with a clever or witty remark for the occasion or a word of encouragement (or maybe even a song or two, Sponge Bob Square Pants maybe)."
Fr. Jon will be buried in a family plot in Westlawn Cemetery in Gretna.
To read some (or all) of the tributes to this fine priest, visit

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Homily for 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 11, 2010
Luke 10: 25-37
Christian Brothers, Iona College
Willow Towers, New Rochelle

“Because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10: 29).

Some of those who question Jesus in the gospels do so sincerely. They’re really looking for truth, for the path to a closer relationship with God. Others, however, are out to “test” Jesus, to “trap him in his words,” to show that he’s not a reliable or an authentic teacher in the Jewish tradition, or is some sort of public enemy. Today’s questioner seems to belong to this 2d group, for, Luke says, he “stood up to test” Jesus (10:25).

St. Luke comments that this “scholar of the law,” or as many translations call him more simply, this “lawyer,” “wished to justify himself.” (If I were going to insert a lawyer joke, this would be the place. But I’ll resist that temptation.) What does that mean? To be just, in biblical terms, is to be in a right relationship with God: to be, to act, even to think as God wishes. Noah, Abraham, Joseph the husband of Mary, Simeon, Joseph of Arimathea are all described as “just.” These are all people who did without hesitation what God asked of them. In the NT the paragon of justice is Jesus, the “holy and just one” of God (Acts 3:14), whose all-encompassing justice compensates for all the rest of us as well.

But this lawyer hesitates regarding God’s wishes. He “wishes to justify himself,” i.e., to make his own determination of a good relationship with God, his own determination of what God should expect of him, what God should require of him. He’s ready to love his neighbor—God wants that—provided he can control who belongs in that category.

He’s hardly unique. The implication of Jesus’ parable is that none of his audience would think of a Samaritan as a neighbor, or expect the Samaritan to act like a neighbor. Not even the apostles would. Do you remember that just a few weeks ago James and John wanted God to destroy a Samaritan village that wouldn’t offer hospitality to Jesus on his journey (Luke 9:52-54)? The implication is that it’s not only natural and normal for us to categorize some people as “outsiders,” but that’s OK with God as well. And if it’s OK with God, then I’m OK, I’m in good standing, I’m “justified,” when I disregard these categories of people too. But these are the choices of individual persons, not of God.

The message of Jesus, in this parable and thruout his teaching, is that in God’s eyes no one is an outcast, unclean, unworthy of love—not a neighbor. It’s true that some people reject the offer of God’s love. Not for nothing does Jesus rake the scribes and Pharisees over the coals: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees—hypocrites!” (Matt 23; Luke 11:37-54). He warns that sinning against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable (Luke 12:10). His parable of the last judgment casts those who don’t show a practical love for their neighbor—even the poorest of society, even strangers and prisoners—into eternal fire (Matt 25:41). They’re choosing to be outsiders; God hasn’t made that decision.

In our reading from the prophet Hosea on Thursday, the Lord proclaimed to Israel, “I am God and not man” (11:9), which is a prophecy of God’s mercy overcoming his anger at Israel’s sinfulness. Isaiah has a similar line from the Lord to Israel, also about mercy: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (55:8). It implies that we humans aren’t at all ready to forgive, to relent, when we’re offended. It implies that the human standard of justification differs from God’s standard.

Which we know well enuf, don’t we? In too many ways we want, we demand, that God should judge by our standards: May such-and-such a sinner (by our judgment) rot in hell! Or, contrariwise, How could God condemn so-and-so’s actions, when I certainly wouldn’t condemn them? The bottom line of so much of our thinking is: If God were really smart, he’d listen to me! That’s when we, like the scholar of the law, are seeking to justify ourselves—to make our ideas, our behavior, the standard of propriety, of Church discipline, of morality.

We know well enuf that it doesn’t work that way, of course. Jesus doesn’t equivocate when he answers the lawyer. The lawyer started by asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (10:25). (Note that it’s a foolish question: no one can do anything to earn an inheritance. Inheritances—like eternal life—are something freely given.) And Jesus ends the dialog by commanding him—not suggesting—“Go and do likewise” (10:37). Go and be a neighbor to anyone and everyone, as God does. Go and give of yourself and your resources to anyone and everyone, as God does. Human calculations, prudent calculations—such as those presumably made by the priest and the Levite as they pass by the injured traveler—don’t enter the moral equation, the equation of our being made right before God.

And so it is with all aspects of our lives: not what does the common wisdom of people suggest, not how will this benefit me, not how do I feel about it, not even what does some rule or law say. But what will benefit my neighbor, my family, the community, the common good of society? What would Jesus do? What does Jesus teach in the Scriptures and in his living voice in the 21st century, the Catholic Church? In the Opening Prayer this evening, we prayed that the Gospel would be our rule of life. For it is Jesus who justifies us—thru his own self-emptying on the cross; and not our own calculations, estimations, and wisdom. There’s no justifying ourselves.

New Class of SLMs

New Class of SLMs
On the evening of July 5, while the country was finishing up its Independence Day celebrations, 23 young people with foreign ideas began to assemble at Maryknoll's center for lay missionaries.

They weren't Maryknollers, however, but Salesians--candidates to become the 2010 "batch" of Salesian Lay Missioners. Having already done a fair amount of discernment and been carefully vetted by the SLM staff in New Rochelle, they were starting 4 weeks of orientation that will lead up to their commissioning on August 7 and their departure soon after for various foreign destinations, such as Bolivia, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, and Rwanda.

Their first three orientation days, July 6-8, were dedicated to bonding as a group and starting to form Salesian identity. Your humble blogger was privileged to visit each of these days to celebrate Mass and Reconciliation for them and be part of their Salesian orientation. I was impressed in those few hours by their spirit of joy and enthusiasm, their courage and sense of adventure (not without a due amount of nervousness).

The candidates are being guided by Adam Rudin, director of the SLM program (himself a former volunteer in Bolivia), Jayne Feeney, who just returned from 11 months in Ethiopia, and Meg Fraino of the province's youth ministry office. During earlier discernment weekends many of the candidates met other former SLMs, and they've also been in touch with SLMs still on-site where they'll be going.
21 SLM candidates after Mass on July 8, with program director Adam Rudin (back row, left).
About 10 days follow--they're going on presently--of various forms of cultural orientation, under the direction of the Maryknoll Missioners, together with smaller volunteer groups from other sponsors. There are 10 volunteers coming from about 4 other sponsors.

The SLMs' third week will be spent in the Salesian day camps at Corpus Christi and Holy Rosary parishes in Port Chester, N.Y., learning some of the practical aspects of Salesian youth work, and reflecting upon the experience.

In the fourth week (Aug. 1-7) the SLMs will be on a quasi-retreat, getting further Salesian orientation (about Don Bosco, the Salesian Family, the Preventive System...) and finishing up necessary paperwork; this week coincides with one of the Salesian summer retreats, enabling the young volunteers to get to know actual SDBs and vice versa. At the retreat's closing Mass, Fr. Tom Dunne, the provincial, will commission them in the presence of and with the support of all the SDB retreatants.

The orientation period is part of the discernment process for both the Salesians and the SLM candidates. On the 3d day, one candidate departed after deciding this wasn't the moment for him to do this. Here's hoping the other 22, and the SLM staff, will discern God calling them to continue--and prayers for their success.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Homily for 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
July 4, 2010
Gal 6: 14-18
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“May I never boast except in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6: 14).

Most people like to brag, at least a little bit—about business or athletic accomplishments, about family history, about their children’s achievements (you’ve all seen the bumper stickers—“My child’s an honor student at such-and-such a school”; “I’m proud of my Eagle Scout”; and so on), about many things. Some of what we brag of is noble, some of it not so noble.

St. Paul has a different idea: to brag about not what he’s done but what God has done. It’s true that in one or two places Paul does refer to his own deeds—persecution of the Church, for instance, before his conversion; and his sinful inclinations against which he’s powerless except for God’s grace. What God does, however, is offer us grace and eternal life thru the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ.

I read recently of the response of Archbishop John Purcell (1800-1883) of Cincinnati to one episode of 19th-century anti-Catholicism. Former President John Quincy Adams had come to town in 1843 to dedicate a new astronomical observatory on Mt. Ida, one of the city’s prominent hills—later named Mt. Adams in his honor. Adams declared, “This observatory is to be a beacon of true science that should never be obscured by the dark shadows of superstition and intolerance symbolized by the Popish cross.” In 1859 the Church of the Immaculata was built two blocks away, and Abp. Purcell made sure that the cross on top of its steeple was a couple of feet higher than the top of the observatory. Take that, you anti-Catholics! And when the observatory had been forced to relocate to escape the smog of Cincinnati’s growing industry, the church became a monastery of the Passionist Order, which renamed the church Holy Cross, in 1873. Abp. Purcell returned for its rededication and gave a homily entitled “The Triumph of the Cross.” So there, anti-Catholics! Coincidentally, Abp. Purcell died on this day, July 4, in 1883. May he rest in peace.

The cross of Christ is indeed our triumph, or more accurately, the triumph of God over the power of evil, over sin and death. So St. Paul gladly boasts of it—and of his self-identification with the cross.

Two weeks ago, our gospel reading included a passage in which Jesus told his followers, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Jesus says this, in Luke’s gospel, as he’s making his way to Jerusalem. To follow Jesus is to go with him toward Calvary, toward the cross. St. Paul says he’s done that; he’s been crucified to the world (Gal 6:14); he’s died to the world and all the honors and comforts that the world could offer him. Figuratively, his body has been crucified: he’s been beaten and whipped and stoned out of hatred for Christ; he’s walked thousands of miles over rough roads in all kinds of weather; he’s camped out on the side of the road, and he’s been shipwrecked. His body “bears the marks of Jesus” (6:17)—the wear and tear of the years, the wounds and scars.

In this letter to the Galatians, Paul’s been debating with some opponents about whether Christians are bound to follow the Law of Moses—in essence, to be Jews in order to be saved by the Jewish Messiah, the Christ. For non-Jews, for Greek pagans who’ve been converted by Paul’s preaching, such a position would entail following the Torah in all its details like any devout Jew—including circumcision. But Paul maintains that the grace of God offered thru the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ is sufficient for salvation. No physical mark—circumcision—is necessary or even useful. It’s worthless without the cross, without God’s freely offered forgiveness, without grace. The marks of Jesus that Paul bears on his body are cause for boasting because they indicate his acceptance of the peace and mercy that God offers thru Christ, not thru observance of the Law.

Grace makes one a new creation, Paul says (6:15). Christ rose from the dead on the 1st day of the week, inaugurating a new creation of the world, a rebirth of humanity. (That’s why Christians worship on the 1st day of the week and not on the Sabbath.) To be part of that new creation is all that matters—no marking on your body. A little earlier in this letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote, “There’s neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free person, neither male nor female—but all are one in Christ Jesus” (3:28). That was part of our 2d reading 2 weeks ago. Being circumcised or not (Jew or Gentile); being physically branded as someone’s property, or as a soldier in the Roman army, or not (slave or free); and gender—none of that matters for those who “have been baptized into Christ” (3:27) and thus into the new order of creation, into the order of grace and not of the Mosaic Law, of social status, of national pride.

How are our bodies marked by Christ? How has Christ affected our lives? To what extent have our desires and our passions and our selfishness been crucified in Jesus’ name, so that we might truly say we belong to him?

“Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule,” Paul says today, “and to the Israel of God” (6:16). The true Israel, God’s Israel, is the one associated with his only Son, with Jesus Christ. Glory be to the cross and to Christ risen from the dead, and to all those who follow him on the road toward Calvary and toward eternal life.