Mass this morning was presided over by Friar Jorge Arturo DOBLES ULLOA, Custos of the new Custody of Mary, Mother of Mercy in Central America.
In his homily, Friar Jude touched on the first reading taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians. In it, Paul talks about confronting Peter for no longer eating with non-Jewish Christians. Friar Jude said that when we do the work of the Chapter we must be a bit like both of these pillars of the Church. We need to be able to weigh all the choices, yet still accept the proposals of others.
The work in the Chapter auditorium continued with discussion on the last chapter of the renewed Constitutions. This chapter concerns the government of the Order. Afterwards, procedures for voting on the text were clarified and voting started at 11:00 a.m. After some “technical difficulties”, the procedure got off to a good start. Bear in mind that the text must be voted on paragraph by paragraph, and approval requires at least two thirds of the votes.
The spiritual introduction to Chapter I, concerning the principles of our charism, was approved by a very large majority. Some variations were requested, in particular the explicit mention of our name “Friars Minor Conventual.”
During the voting on Chapter I, as requested a few days earlier in the assembly, we focused discussion on the issue of our being inserted by the Church among the clerical Orders. The proposal to let this classification of ours remain in the chapter passed, precisely because it concerns the theological foundations of our reality.
Voting continued in the afternoon. The approval of a new paragraph added to Title I was noteworthy. The paragraph explained that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was the “golden thread” running through the history of the Conventuals, from St. Francis to St. Maximilian M. Kolbe.
At 6.45 p.m., the assembly found itself in the chapel for a penitential celebration to prepare for the feast of Saint Mary of the Angels at the Porziuncola which will be celebrated tomorrow.
Friar Jude commented on the Gospel passage from Luke about the conversion of Zaccheus. All are invited to come down from their worldly securities, to welcome Jesus Christ into their lives. Our father St. Francis asked for a plenary indulgence on this day, so that everyone might receive God’s mercy.
Chronickler: Friar Aurelio ERCOLI
The first reading this evening is taken from the Letter to the Ephesians. It speaks of the need to change our behavior. We need to do penance, and to turn away from those things in our lifestyle that cannot give us “true life”. But conversion is never just turning away from something; it is also embracing something else. This is the difference between the baptism of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus. John’s baptism was only a rejection of sin. The baptism of Jesus is also an acceptance of God’s love. We hear this in the Gospel of Luke when he speaks about Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus was a publican, and therefore was a hated figure in Israel. The publicans were collaborators with Rome, the occupying power in Israel; they were dishonest and often used violence to get what they wanted.
Zacchaeus wanted something more. He heard that Jesus was passing through that area, so he climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of him. Zacchaeus was rich; he risked losing his dignity and looking like a fool in front of those who already disliked him. Every act of conversion carries a risk. It means letting go of who you are. People resist grace, because grace leads to conversion, and conversion means changing oneself, and nobody wants to change.
When Jesus saw Zacchaeus, he told Zacchaeus to come down. Zacchaeus’ first response was his promise of conversion, his promise to abandon his sinful choices. Jesus then offered Zacchaeus a second level of conversion. Jesus accepted Zacchaeus’ invitation to come to his home. In fact, Jesus told Zacchaeus that, “today salvation has come to this house.”
We notice in the Gospel of Luke, as we do in the Gospel of John, a realized eschatology. We must not wait until death to be saved. Salvation is already underway. Now is the time for Jesus to become part of our lives. We are already saved: from sin, from loneliness, from alienation, etc. Zacchaeus was already saved the moment Jesus became part of his life.
St. Francis understood this sense of salvation. He wanted people to be granted the grace of forgiveness so that they could experience the salvation already present in this world. God became man to enable us to rise up to God, and this has already come true.
On this eve of the Feast of the Porziuncola, we turn away from something in order to turn to something else. We make a promise together to abandon our sins, those we commit as individuals and as a community, in order to embrace, or rather, to be embraced by our Savior. We come down from our personal sycamores to host Jesus in the house of our hearts.
Yesterday I took a phrase from Qoheleth that said there is a time to rejoice and a time to weep. Today I would like to return to Qoheleth for another idea, that that which was, will be once more. That things repeat.
That is why we can look at a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians in the First Reading and apply it to what we are doing here in these days.
The reading actually presents two incidents. The first is the Council of Jerusalem. In the early Church, there were many people converting from their pagan ways. A question arose of what they should be considered. Technically, by being baptized, they were becoming Jews, granted a particular type of Jew, those who believed that Jesus was the Messiah whom God had sent.
Should these new Jews have to observe Jewish law: food, circumcision, the Jewish feasts? Paul, Barnabas, and Titus travelled to Jerusalem to speak with the apostles there to answer that question.
In their discussion, they had to deal with contrasting values. There was the value of tradition, that we should hold on to what we have. There was the value of the newness of the Gospel of Christ. There was the value of election, that we are the chosen people and if the pagans want to join us, they should become Jews as well. There was the value of universalism, that Jesus had come for all people, just the way they were.
In these days, we have to discern between various values. Just yesterday, we heard of the value of praxis, this is what we are doing. We also heard of the value of the ideal, this is the thing for which we should aim. Both of these values of good. If we overemphasize praxis, then we will accept things the way they are and never grow. If we overemphasize the ideal, we will produce constitutions that no one can live.
We have to discern between these and other values. The most difficult discernment, however, is not between good and bad. That is easy. The most difficult discernment is between bad and worse, between good and better.
Then in the second story in this passage we hear of a failure of discernment. Peter came to Antioch and ate with the Gentile Christians. We don’t know if this was simple table fellowship or the Lord’s Supper. Some Jewish Christians came from Jerusalem and told Peter to stop doing that. They might have reminded him that he was to be the apostle to the circumcised and not the non-circumcised. Whatever, Peter stopped eating with the Gentile Christians. Peter did not think through the consequences of his action. He wasn’t the brightest bulb in the bunch. Matthew, for example, tells us that his name Peter was given because he was the solid foundation, the rock, on which the Church was built. John is more ambiguous. He simply gives us the new name, but this might be a word play. Cephas in Aramaic means rock, while cephas in Greek means head. Rock – Head. He was implying that Peter was a bit thick.
Paul, on the other hand, overthought everything. I read a book a few years ago where it speaks of Paul at a dinner party, reflecting for two hours on the deeper significance of the host’s question, “do you want more sugar in your tea.” Paul saw the consequences of Peter’s action.
The reason Jews don’t eat with pagans is that they are unclean. They are sinners, and have no way to obtain forgiveness for their sins because they can’t sacrifice in the temple. If Peter won’t eat with the Gentile Christians, he is implying that they are still sinners. Which means that their Baptism had no effect. Which means that the cross was meaningless. Peter didn’t mean this, but that was the implication.
In this chapter, there will be times when we have to be St. Paul, pointing out the deeper consequences of our choices. There will be times we have to be St. Peter, being corrected by the others.
May God grant us a humble spirit to be able to hear, and listen, and learn from each other.