Anyone expecting to find immediate principles of conduct in the parable of the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-8a) is bound to be frustrated. What are we to think of the steward's actions? He not only gets way with defrauding his master but he is praised for doing so by the very person he has defrauded. How Luke chooses to provide his readers with ways to apply the parable in their Christian life seems strained (vv. 8b-13). It appears as if Jesus holds up the clever, but fraudulent activity of the steward as commendable and worthy of imitation (vv. 8b- 9). Verses 10-13 contain sayings that are not directly related to the parable.
On the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, this week's stories of wildly inordinate mercy may be hard to take in. Mercy sounds like a beautiful idea -- until the day it is we ourselves who suffer irreparable loss at the hands of another, and righteous outrage smolders deep in our heart. The 9/11 attacks were a horrifying public humiliation for the people of the United States, and the nation's response was anything but merciful. As violence piles up ever-higher in our city streets and around the world, responses of fear, rage, and reprisal are the norm. So many people are trapped in the conviction that violence and trauma define their identity, and that the only way out is retaliatory violence.
This Sunday Mother Teresa will be canonized and very few doubt her holiness. But in light of this canonization I think it is important to note that for many years this saint experienced a real crisis of faith. In a collection of her letters Mother Teresa: Be My Light, compiled by her spiritual director, we read that after founding the Missionaries of Charity, she had doubts about the existence of God, about the soul and therefore the promises of Jesus - and heaven. This revelation has been received in a variety of ways. In an extensive article in Newsweek published by the late journalist and atheist Christopher Hitchens, he criticized her as being an over-promoted religious celebrity. He also contended that Mother Teresa's doubts made complete sense because the Catholic faith is based on asking people to believe "impossible things."
My home parish in Central New York State is Our Lady of Lourdes. As a child, I attended the parochial elementary school of the same name and became an altar server. As a teenager, I worked there as the paid weekend sacristan and began the early discernment of a possible vocation to religious life and sacramental ministry. As an adult, I think of one of my earliest memories I have associated with this parish and the fear I had as a youngster after hearing the story of what happened to St. Bernadette Soubirous in February 1858. As the story goes, Bernadette was gathering firewood near a grotto with her sister, Marie, when she witnessed what would later be determined was an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I recall as a kid hearing that Mary signaled to Bernadette that she should begin praying the Rosary. Like the devout young woman that she was, Bernadette reached into her dress pocket and took out the beads for prayer.
For me, it's books. I just cannot get enough. Not only are there new ones that I always want to read, but I want to acquire my own copies. And I never let them go. You never know when you are going to want to reread or consult them again. And so I need more and more bookshelves. But, where is the boundary between legitimate need for books (or whatever we are tempted to accumulate) for ministry and pleasure, and greedy acquisition?
The Lord's Prayer is much more than just a prayer that we say; it is also meant to be a prayer that we live. Cyprian of Carthage, a third century bishop and martyr wrote, "My dear friends, the Lord's Prayer contains many great mysteries of our faith. In these few words there is great spiritual strength, for this summary of divine teaching contains all of our prayers and petitions." In the twentieth century, Pope Benedict XVI observed, "The meaning of the Our Father goes much further than the mere provision of a prayer text. It aims to form our being, to train us in the inner attitude of Jesus." When we pray the Lord's Prayer we enter into the world of Jesus and into the depths of his relationships with God and with others. We begin to view life, God, others and ourselves through his eyes. Praying these words with attention entails a training in vision.
Our readings this week seem to offer a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand the first reading from Genesis seems to say that entertaining guests is a good thing, a spiritual practice. As the Letter to the Hebrews comments referring to this passage: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it" (13:2). As the famous line from St. Benedict's rule reads: "venit hospes, venit Christus" -- "when a guest comes, Christ comes."