Father Howard Hansen’s Reflections
for The Seventh Week in Ordinary Time 2011
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 20, Mt. 5: 38-48
Today’s Gospel for this Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time goes right back to the antitheses we spoke of in last Sunday’s Gospel. We said then that these sayings urge us to change ourselves, to become better than we are, to raise the bar, to raise the level of human consciousness. These antitheses exemplify the reason Jesus came as man: to change the law, not to abolish it. He came to make all things new. And it is no wonder we are urged to do the same thing two weeks in a row. Repetition is good here because we need to be prodded and prodded some more to change ourselves. As we all know, we are not very good at doing this.
Bill Wilson, when he began the program of AA, realized the self-evident truth that if alcoholics desire quality sobriety they would have to change. And he suggested this change take place in the form of progress. Progress comes from the Latin word progressus = advance, from the verb progredi = to go forth, from pro =forward and gredi = to go. So progress means to go forth, to go forward, to move ahead. Progress is not the same as perfection. Progress can be described as a pilgrimage down the road of my potential. It is a wandering, back and forth, to and fro, east to west. Progress is not straight-line activity. It goes ahead, then turns to the side, then may go backwards a while, then pick up a forward gait again. This is the human way of doing things. We might strive for perfection but all we are going to get out of that is frustration. The very best we can hope for as human beings is progress. Bill Wilson wrote in the 5th chapter of the Big Book: We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.
A good example of this can be taken from the virtue of patience. If I had a nickel for every time I have heard someone tell me in confession: I am impatient — I would be a rich man. It seems like everyone wants to be more patient, bearing all things calmly, and no one ever comes close to perfect patience. The most laid-back person in the world is going to become ticked occasionally.
The closing sentence of today’s Gospel causes more trouble for people than can be imagined: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Please do not take these words literally. God is perfect. That’s why he’s God. We are imperfect. That’s why we are human. I guess we will be perfect in the life to come. I don’t know, but it sounds logical. In the meantime, let’s continue to try and realize the potential we have in our God-given gifts and talents and continue to be better people.
Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Feb. 21, Mark 9: 14-29
Our Gospel for today’s Liturgy is another Gospel about healing. Jesus drives an unclean spirit from a man. In this Gospel, Jesus places great emphasis on the importance of faith and prayer in the healing process: “Everything is possible to one who has faith.” “This kind can only come out through prayer.”
Prayer is an act of faith and humility. I am humble when I pray because I realize I am not God and I cannot do anything by myself. I am a creature dependent upon my Creator and so I pray to him, I ask him for help. This is one of those areas where Jesus gives us guarantee: “Ask and you will receive; knock and the door will be opened to you.” With these words of Jesus, how can we continue to do things our own way?
Lord, I humbly ask you today to heal my shortcomings and weaknesses. Lead me to the progress I desire.
Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Feb. 22, Feast of the Chair of Peter
The cathedral, the throne, the chair of Peter. Today’s Feast gives us the opportunity to thank God for establishing his authority here on earth in the person of our Holy Father, the Pope, and reminds us to pray for him, for his welfare, for his guidance.
There are a couple of reminders of this Chair of Peter in the Major Basilica of St. Peter’s in Rome. One is the golden chair sculpted by Bernini that sits high on the back wall of the Basilica. This one is supported by four Fathers of the Church. I used to know who they were, but now I claim a Senior Moment. The other one looks like a rather ordinary dining room chair and is affixed to the wall on the right side of the Basilica as one approaches the main altar. This is the one where the faithful walk by and touch or rub the one leg of the chair with their finger. This leg has been rubbed smooth by the millions of people who have touched it over the centuries.
All of this reminds us of the Successor of St. Peter, Our Holy Father the Pope. Human like us, yet robed in the majesty and power of his office. His job is tremendous: to guide the Church of God here on earth. Let us pray for him daily that our Lord and Savior will be with him always.
Wednesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Feb. 23, Mark 9: 38-40
There are various degrees of unity, oneness, in the Church as well as in schools, companies, sports teams and so forth. One of the marks of the Church is that it is one – one with the values and teachings of Christ. We are all aware that there are other Christian Churches, denominations, besides the Roman Catholic Denomination. The Churches that sprung up at the time of the Reformation are just as Christian as the Roman Church. The Lord Jesus is their Savior and Redeemer. And they too have the means to overcome the darkness of evil, they too are the light of the world. All of this is clearly stated in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
When I was younger, it was rather the common thing to focus on the differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the other Christian denominations. Now the tendency is to focus on the oneness, the sameness, they have with one another. Once again, we are the better off when we keep things positive rather than negative.
Let us continue to pray for our separated brothers and sisters in the other Christian denominations that their gifts and charisms may make our world a better place in which to live.
Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Feb. 24, Mark 9: 41-50
This Gospel for the Liturgy today contains certain extremes we should not take literally but they do make a point: Get rid of whatever it is that is threatening your relationship with God or your neighbor in any way. We have spoken about this before, about getting rid of whatever it might be that is preventing a closer, more intimate relationship with God and neighbor. This focuses on the relational paradigm we are in in our spiritual lives at the present time in our Church.
Once again, if we want to follow Christ, we must raise the bar, shoot higher, than the so-called average human being. It might seem like cutting off a limb to give up watching the NFL on Sunday afternoon and devote that time to family betterment and fun. But if that football game is getting in the way of our family life, it has to go. Little things — but the little things involve big results in the long run.
What are some blocks in my life that are preventing me from loving God or neighbor more? Let’s find them and root them out.
Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Feb. 25, Mark 10: 1-12
Covenants are a coming together of God and humankind. We read in the Scriptures of the Covenants between God and Moses, God and Noah, God and Abraham, God and David. We often speak of the marriage covenant between husband and wife. Covenants, obviously, are not to be taken lightly — they are serious, lasting promises. God spoke of marriage saying: What God has joined together, let no one set asunder. Divorce is not the goal of marriage, though with the divorce rate now approaching or being slightly over 50% today, it is obvious things sometimes do not go as they should.
Marriages should be entered into with great preparation and care — and even when great care has been taken, sometimes things turn out badly and divorce follows. Today’s Gospel should urge us to pray for married couples and for the endurance of their Sacrament. Let us pray for the marriages that seem successful and for those that are on the brink of failure. Let us pray for the many movements and programs in the Church meant to help married couples in their commitment to one another. The moral strength of our Church, our Nation, comes from the strength of our marriages. May God bless our married couples daily.
Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Feb. 26, March 10, 13-16
Yesterday we paused to pray for married couples and for the success of their marriages. Today’s Gospel reading reminds us to pray for the children that come from these marriages. As I look at the society in which we live today, the thought has entered my mind that it’s more difficult to be a child today than it was when I was a child. Our world has changed much since then. More people equal more problems, I guess. When I look at our children today, sometimes I am impressed and sometimes not. And I guess we can say the same thing about adults. Some seem to manage well and others not so well. There are so many different factors, so many ways to walk the paths in light and darkness. Mostly I am enlivened by the young people in the community in which I live. They seem to want to do the right thing and more often than not they succeed. But they need love and affirmation, they need to feel our hand on their shoulder that lets them know we care and will try and be of help to them if needed. Let’s pray that we are able to respond to their needs and help them through the difficult times and problems of growing into maturity.
Lord, watch over all our children and guide them in your way.