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By: Rev. Robert J. Wagner, Staff Spotlight

When someone sins against us, what is the proper Christian response? Throughout the Gospels, Jesus teaches us the importance of forgiveness as both a reflection of God’s mercy and a means for healing and unity among all people. He speaks to us of turning the other cheek, praying for our enemies and showing mercy to our persecutors.

In His darkest hour on Calvary, Jesus offers us an extraordinary example of mercy when He prayed: “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they do” (Lk 23:34). Jesus offers mercy to those who sentenced Him to death and nailed Him to the cross. When we find it challenging to forgive another person, praying with this Scripture passage is a powerful and fruitful source of healing and motivation.

Jesus also teaches us that our salvation is directly related to our ability to forgive. “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you,” He says. “But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions,” (Mt 6:14-15).

Forgiveness requires great virtue, including the exercise of humility, courage and compassion. It is in forgiving others that we grow in holiness and allow God’s grace to heal bonds that are so easily broken through our sinfulness and the sinfulness of others. Over and over again, we will have the opportunity to grow in holiness through the practice of forgiveness as Peter found out when He tried to find a limit to how often a Christian needs to forgive a person who sins against them: “As many as seven times?” Peter asked. “Not seven, but seventy-seven,” Jesus replied (cf. Mt 18:21-22).

In light of Christ’s teaching on forgiveness, the lesson we hear in the Gospel seems odd. Jesus tells us, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Our first instinct is to think this is the opposite of forgiving. Why would we confront the sinner if we are called to turn the other cheek? We assume they already know what we are going to tell them, that their sins have damaged us and others. What do we gain from this interaction?

Guercino_Return_of_the_prodigal_sonWe must realize, however, that Jesus is not telling us to confront the sinful party out of vengeance or righteousness. It is not an action to help us cope with and heal from the wounds the other has inflicted on us (although that may be a result). No, the reason for the interaction is not for us at all. We are called to forgive. We are called to love. We are called to compassion.

Jesus asks us to tell the sinner his fault for his sake — for his conversion, for his self-awareness. Perhaps he does not know the damage he has done. Perhaps he will be moved by seeing the pain he has caused us or react to the forgiveness we offer in our explanation. Perhaps we are giving him the opportunity to apologize and find healing. By approaching him, we allow God an opportunity to touch the soul of a sinner. We perform an act of charity for someone who has sinned against us.

Too often, when we are hurt by another, the last person we tell about the sin is the person who committed it against us. Rather, our first reaction is to find sympathy by complaining to others or to spread the news of a sinful act that will damage the other’s reputation. Unlike confronting someone out of care for their soul, this kind of response is selfish and sinful. It does not bring healing but instead brings more division and pain.

It is difficult to confront people who have hurt us. They have injured us, diminished the trust we have for them, and left a wound that requires forgiveness to be healed. May God give us the grace to recognize the people we have yet to forgive, the people we have forgiven but still need to offer the opportunity to apologize to us and the people to whom we need to apologize. Christ calls us to be one body in Him (Jn 17:21-23). Let us be instruments of that Christian unity in our lives and the lives of others.

This Gospel commentary first appeared in The Arlington Catholic Herald. View it here

Fr. Robert Wagner is Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde’s secretary.

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

The Human Search

By: Rev. Paul Scalia

Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?”

God begins His plan for our salvation with a question: Where are you? (Gen 3:9). Then, upon entering the world to fulfill this plan, He asks another. At the Jordan, at the beginning of His public life, Jesus turns to the disciples following Him and asks, What do you seek? (Jn 1:38). Thus, one part of salvation is God’s search for us; the second part is our search for Him.

The proclamation of the Gospel begins, not with a doctrinal statement or a moral command, but with a question: What do you seek? It is a question that goes directly to the heart, because the human heart seeks by its very nature. Saint Augustine summarized this most beautifully and famously: You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You. We were created to seek Him Who seeks us.

rembrandt-christ-mary-magdalene-tombBut sin has damaged our search for Him. We are created for happiness, and we instinctively seek it. But sin has blinded us to the true happiness for which we are created — the happiness of God Himself. The wounds of sin do not halt our search. They simply derail it, driving it in directions other than His. We seek rest in false gods.

We err in our search for Him, either by excess or by defect. By excess, when we try to satisfy the heart’s longing with the world’s offerings — in effect, attempt to quench a spiritual desire with a physical solution. So we chase after the world’s wealth, power and pleasure, hoping that it will satisfy our inner longing. We think that more will satisfy — more things, more control, more entertainment, etc. This misguided search leads to grave depravities — to abuse of drugs and alcohol, to addictions, to deceit and theft, and so on.

We err by defect when we settle, when we numb ourselves to the heart’s cries for fulfillment. We make ourselves comfortably numb to that longing. We make peace with the world and prefer its mediocre comforts to the agony of a heart that desires more. Rather than suffering the pains of a heart’s longing, we anesthetize ourselves.

What do you seek? Jesus’ question serves as a corrective to the heart wounded by sin. It reminds the tepid and mediocre that we have this longing within us, and we should heed it. The question prompts the misguided to turn aside from false gods and consider what truly satisfies the human heart. Just as hunger and thirst signal that we need food, so the longing of the heart reminds us that we are created for higher things. We have to stir ourselves to pursue them. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they have not silenced the heart’s longing. And just as our physical hunger and thirst cannot be satisfied by cotton candy and soda, so also the heart’s hunger and thirst cannot be satiated by the world’s offerings. We have to seek true nourishment.

And He leads us still further, revealing that we ultimately seek not a what but a whom. In the Garden of Gethsemane He confronts his persecutors with another question: “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth (Jn 18:4-5). With this, Jesus reveals that He Himself is the goal of our search — even of those most opposed to Him. And in God’s Providence, His foes proclaim this truth despite themselves. Even as they trample the desires of the human heart, they mysteriously confess that they seek Jesus of Nazareth. The heart longs not for something, but for Someone, for Him. God alone satisfies.

Likewise on Easter morning, in yet another garden, our Lord puts the same fundamental question to Mary Magdalene: Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? (Jn 20:15). Mary represents our human nature wounded by sin and longing for healing. Jesus asks her these questions to stir up the awareness that she, who had sought happiness and peace in so many wrong places, ultimately seeks Him as her Savior.

What do you seek? Whom do you seek? We are the disciples at the Jordan, seeking something more but not knowing what. We are the soldiers in the garden, hostile to our Lord because He has become inconvenient. We are the Magdalene at the tomb, weeping for our sins and seeking a Savior. In each case we need to hear His voice, allow the questions to penetrate, and reply with appropriate zeal, repentance, and hope. Thy face, Lord, do I seek (Ps 27:8).

By: Sr. Clare Hunter

I was nervous when the SUV pulled over to the side of the road while I was praying outside of an abortion facility in Falls Church with a group of students from Bishop O’Connell High School. The man driving it lowered the passenger side window. I could see his two young children in the back seat as he leaned across the seat and pointed to the building. With great emotion he yelled: “Shut that place down! My wife killed two of my children in there!” We were stunned, nodding our heads as he drove off, silenced by his emotion, pain and the reality of what abortion does to men, women and families. I will never forget that experience and it is one of the reasons I continue to go to pray outside of the abortion facilities.

40DaysforLifePraying outside of an abortion facility is never comfortable. Wearing a habit and veil all the time, I am used to the staring, but it is always heightened while praying outside of an abortion facility, especially when the occasional angry, derogatory shouts come from passing cars. One of the worst was at the end of reciting the rosary with Bishop Loverde and the group that had gathered after a monthly Respect Life Mass: A very angry, young woman walked by and asked if we were protesting. Bishop Loverde answered that we were praying to end abortion, at which point she started to swear and use derogatory terms. We all prayed for her. Usually we are encouraged by “we are with you” car horns, waves and thumbs up; but sometimes, not. It is always sobering to be praying, knowing that behind one of those windows a life is being taken and parents are going against their nature by ending life, rather than protecting it.

Is it worth the discomfort and very public witness of standing outside of a building to pray, and, God willing, help a woman in need to choose life? Absolutely! So many organizations and prayer efforts have moving stories of lives saved and parents helped. That day with the Bishop O’Connell students happened to be during a 40 Days for Life campaign. Founded as a grassroots effort by a handful of people in College Station, Texas, the program has grown in seven years, and with God’s grace have included: 625,000 individual participants, 17,000 churches, 3,039 total campaigns, 539 cities, 24 countries; 101 abortion workers have quit, 54 abortion facilities have closed, and 8,973 children have been saved from abortion!

40 Days for Life is a worldwide pro-life effort which includes prayer and fasting, peaceful vigil outside of abortion facilities and community outreach. For years the parishioners and parishes in the Arlington Diocese have participated in this campaign, and participants have shared wonderful stories of men and women changing their minds. The diocesan pregnancy assistance program Gabriel Project has helped countless women find medical, financial and emotional support. There have also been cases of post-abortive men and women contacting the Project Rachel hotline to begin to heal from the wounds that their abortion has brought into their lives.

This year, there are three locations for the 40 Days for Life campaign in the Arlington Diocese taking place September 24 through November 2. What do you say to joining this year? Do not be afraid! I encourage and invite you to give an hour, even with the potential shouts and stares, to save a life!

1. Amethyst Health Center for Women
9380-B Forestwood Lane
Manassas, Virginia

Contact: Jeanne Ostrich
703-598-7644
40dfl.manassas.scheduler@gmail.com

2. Falls Church Healthcare Center
900 South Washington Street
Falls Church, Virginia

Contact: Ruby Nicdao
703-795-2216
ruby40daysforlife@gmail.com

3. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic

Landmark Towers Apartment Building
101 South Whiting Street, 2nd floor
Alexandria, Virginia

Contact: Sara Dina
571-218-6224
sara.40days@cox.net

Only Say The Word

By: Rebecca Ruiz, Staff Spotlight

Have you ever had the experience of saying something you’ve said countless times before when you suddenly have a new awareness of what you are saying? Or, perhaps you’ve been reading a passage you’ve read before and upon re-reading it, it suddenly takes on a new meaning?

This happened to me the other day. I was at nine o’clock Mass in a semi-conscious, pre-caffeinated state. It was right before communion and the congregation responded, “Lord, only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

I’ve prayed this response countless times before but never really heard what I was saying, “Lord, only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

Curacin_del_paraltico_Murillo_1670This is quite a request!  We are all in need of healing. Most people go through life seeking countless ways of healing the battle-scars of life…pop psychology, self-help books, counselors, doctors, vitamins, and medicine. All of these may offer effective means of healing and growth. Sometimes though, we leave God out of the equation. Sometimes, we forget that along with the body and mind, the soul needs healing too.

So, when we pray – humbly asking, confident in His goodness – “Lord, only say the word and my soul shall be healed,” we are requesting profound action because when God speaks, His Word makes things happen.

For the word of God is alive and active.” (Heb 4:12)

And while we may struggle to follow through on our words and promises, God’s word actually accomplishes that action which it describes. Permanently.

“It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

So, if God “says the word” we can be assured that it will heal the soul.

When we seek out healing ourselves, it is usually a process, and often a lengthy one. However, God operates in ways that are completely different from our ways. “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.  “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine” (Isaiah 55:8). If God “says the word” we can be assured that it will heal the soul, it will be a profound healing, and it can happen over time or it can happen in an instant.

And, all we have to do is ask and trust. There are no complicated formulas. God doesn’t demand perfect faith.

His Word, and all that it will accomplish, is free and available to us – if we simply ask and trust.

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

Rebecca Ruiz holds a B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and an M.A. from Tufts University. She serves as Development and Communications Manager at Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee Services.

The Sacramental Seal

By: Deacon Marques Silva

Are you familiar with the phrase sub rosa or “under the rose?” Beginning in the sixteenth century, the rose was occasionally placed over the entrance to a confessional to symbolize the sacramental seal and its obligation of permanent silence concerning what is revealed.[1]

The origin of this tradition is a little mysterious.  Some attribute it to the myth of Cupid bribing Harpocrates (the god of secrecy and silence) with a rose in order to keep amorous activities of Venus (goddess of sensuality and love) a secret.[2] As we entered into the twentieth century, a rose on a dining room table meant that everything said around the table is to remain in the room. (A secular seal?)

ConfessionalDo you remember the rose or red curtain that is hung over the entrance into some confessionals? Some have suggested this is another enculturation of the rose by virtue of its color. Regardless, I am thankful for the blessed sacrament of reconciliation and its seal.

Perhaps the next time you go to Confession, you could bring a rose for your confessor and thank him for his faithfulness to the sacramental seal.

[1] Klein, Rev. Peter, The Catholic Source Book (Harcourt Religion Publishers, 2000) p. 304

[2] Homer, The Illiad (Trans by W H D Rouse) (nd) Bk xxiii.

The Divine Search

By: Rev. Paul Scalia

 

The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9)

All of salvation history begins not with an answer but with a question: Where are you? The question expresses a desire from the depth of God’s heart. He asks where we are — He seeks us out — because He desires to be with us and that we be with Him. As in Adam we all sinned (1 Cor 15:22), so in Adam, God seeks all of us and asks, Where are  you? He wants to know where we are so that He can find us again and reestablish that relationship with Him.

This simple question sets the trajectory for all salvation history. From this point on, the story is about God seeking us out. It reaches its fulfillment in the Incarnation, the coming of God Himself into the world. Not content simply to ask where we are, in the Person of Jesus Christ, He enters the world to find us. His mercy does not wait for us to look for Him. He makes the first move. God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rm 5:8). In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins (1 Jn 4:10).

Where are you? This question expresses the divine initiative. But it also reveals the sad reality of human flight from God. We see this first in Adam and Eve, who childishly try to hide themselves from God. I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself (Gen 3:10). The fear expressed here comes from shame. Adam knows that by sin he has defaced the likeness of God within himself. He is ashamed of what he has done and, worse, of himself. Here an old word is helpful: Adam is shamefaced. The divine likeness is marred; he cannot face God…so he hides.

As absurd as we might think their hiding, we also flee from God’s presence. Often it is the shame of sin that drives us into hiding. Like Adam, we are shamefaced and hide our faces. Other times it is vanity and love of the world that makes us hide. We avoid Him because we do not want to make the changes that He may ask of us…or accept the challenges that He sets before us.

adam-and-eve-in-the-garden-of-eden-cranachAnd our hiding places are no less absurd than those of our first parents. We hide in our work and busyness (“I’m too busy to pray…”). We hide in our possessions and entertainment, perhaps thinking that the world’s noise will distract Him as it does us. We hide often in the very sins that cause shame in the first place — in the alcohol, in the pornography, in the promiscuity, and so on. We can even hide from Him “in plain sight” — whenever we use devotions and prayers not to know Him better but to appease Him and, in effect, keep Him at a distance.

We need to “save face.” But we cannot. Only He can restore His likeness. Only He can take away the shame so that we can again show Him our faces. Thus the psalmist speaks of God as salutare vultus mei — literally, the savior of my face (cf. Ps 43:5). He enables us to be genuine, real, and authentic again. His forgiveness restores His likeness within us and indeed restores us to ourselves — so that we can look at Him face to face.

All of which means that we need to allow ourselves to be found. Our first parents hid themselves and we repeat that folly. Salvation comes only when we allows ourselves to be found by Him. The heart of prayer, therefore, is not so much searching for God as it is allowing ourselves to be found by Him.

Where are you? The question also prompts self-reflection, an examination of conscience: Where am I in relation to God? This first examination of conscience happened in the cool of the day (Gen 3:8) — in the evening. We also, at the end of the day, should hear His voice prompting us to self-examination, to consider how we stand before Him. The daily examination of conscience thus becomes not so much thinking about the rotten things we have done as responding to this primordial question of salvation. Where are we in our relationship with Him?

Where are you? We are inclined to flee and hide from the divine Seeker. Our Lady shows us how we should respond. The first Eve hid with her husband and avoided God. Mary, the New Eve, steps forward in humble confidence and trust saying, Ecce ancilla Domini — Behold, the handmaid of the Lord! May she take us by the hand and teach us how to respond likewise.

The following article was first printed on Catholic News Agency about the Opening Mass at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family.

By: Natalie Plumb

The debate about the nature of marriage is rapidly unfolding.  On the state level, this debate continues to garner attention from our religious and political leaders, same-sex marriage advocates, parents, professors and students.

JPIIOpeningMass

Bishop Loverde celebrates Opening Mass for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America. (Photo by Natalie Plumb)

On Sept. 10, in Washington, D.C. – a city that will continue to be the center of a political debate on the issue – a group of students began graduate degree programs that offer a specific concentration on the study of marriage and the family, in a hope to offer informed voices to the debate.  In a countercultural turn, these students will be rigorously engaging in studies that support and promote the Catholic understanding of marriage – a union between one man and one woman for their good and the good of their children.

Nearly 80 students, professors, seminarians, priests, vocalists and laypersons gathered to celebrate the Opening Mass for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America, presided by Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.  The Institute “provide[s] a comprehensive understanding of marriage and family faithful to Catholic magisterial tradition.”  Students examine marriage in its authentic form by studying theology, biotechnology, psychology, sociology and by engaging contemporary challenges to Christian ethics.

At just 26 years of age, Caitlin Williams is a second-year Ph.D. student at the John Paul II Institute, who says she is driven by the challenge young Catholics face in witnessing to authentic marriage.

JPIIOpeningMass2

The Opening Mass took place in the Crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. (Photo by Natalie Plumb)

“The response of the whole world to the heart of the Church laid bare…it motivates me to study, to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise find Her,” Williams said.

Graduate student and priest Fr. Anthony Craig calls our time the time to “enact the great New Evangelization that the Catholic Church’s last three pontiffs have discussed.”

Marriage and the family are integral to this New Evangelization and the renewal of a culture that strengthens marriage and nourishes the family.  Pope Francis himself will attest to this on September 14, when he will publically witness the marriage of 20 couples in Rome.  He is following the example of St. John Paul II, who was the last pontiff to do so in 1994.

With a small student body – last year’s class graduated 28 – the odds would appear against students like Fr. Craig. But he said that the Lord works through small factions, which we know through Church history; the Church itself began with only 12 apostles.

“He can work with a small number of people,” Fr. Craig said. “In a like manner, the Lord will enact something great to witness to the truth that actually holds us.”

Given the challenges these students will face in a culture that desires to redefine marriage and the family, often in order to cater to the desire of adults over children, Bishop Loverde offered a few words of encouragement during his homily at the Institute’s Opening Mass, which was a Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit.

“We are to evangelize, and to do that precisely by proclaiming the authentic meaning of marriage,” Bishop Loverde said, adding that we can only do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. “Let us beseech Him, to thirst for God, as did our patron, our beloved, St. John Paul II.”

Click here to read more on Catholic News Agency

Natalie writes on Thursdays about faith, dating, relationships, and the in between. May her non-fiction stories and scenarios challenge you. May they help you laugh, cry, think and wonder.

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