All of Jesus’ teachings enrich and challenge us as human beings. Some, like "love your enemies," are easy to understand though difficult to follow. Others, like "I have come to cause division," are puzzling. Learn more about 12 key sayings of Jesus throughout 2005.

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Staying on the Right Path
 
By Bishop Robert F. Morneau

“Behold I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves, so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

Jesus was a realist. The world, although “charged with the grandeur of God,” is also an environment scarred by sin and evil. There are wolves that do violence to the sheep; there are individuals and nations that misuse the gift of freedom. For centuries Christian writers spoke of life as a warfare, a battle unto death.

So Jesus gives two pieces of advice to the disciples, to us: Be shrewd! Be simple! To ground these characteristics in his followers’ imagination, Jesus points out the cunning of serpents and the simplicity of doves. These metaphors contain a wealth of wisdom.

Be shrewd! When the Pharisees questioned Jesus about the payment of taxes, they received an answer that foiled their plot to incriminate him. The wolves were after the innocent Lamb. Jesus fended off their designs by distinguishing one’s double obligation to God and to the city of man. Jesus answered a question with a question, thereby confusing his opponents. Jesus himself was shrewd—in the ways of the Kingdom.

Shrewd, too, was Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist who helped save hundreds of Jews from Hitler’s death camps. Living in a culture of hatred and death, Schindler used his native intelligence, his material resources and the God-given grace of compassion to thwart time and time again the work of the Nazis. Perhaps our passage “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves…” was engraved on his heart.

Be simple! In contrast to serpents that are bound to the earth and depend upon deception for their survival, doves have as their realm the spaciousness of the sky and the gift of flight. Although their simplicity may hold more complexity than we are aware of, the image of simplicity captures the quality of single-mindedness. Doves live in total dependency upon divine providence, as do we all. We, as human beings, can live with an awareness that we are radically poor and, therefore, everything is gift. Consciousness of our innate poverty tends to simplify life.

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In his classic work Walden, Henry David Thoreau cries out: “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your account on your thumb-nail…Simplify, simplify.”

Whether or not Thoreau had Matthew’s passage in mind, the advice here is similar to that of Jesus’. There is one thing that is necessary. Martha thought it was hospitality; Mary opted for contemplation. Martha waited on table to express her love; Mary gazed upon the face of Jesus and knew that love simplified everything.

As disciples of the Lord we are sent. Through Baptism we have been given a mission to invite others to know, love and imitate the life of Jesus. But we are sent into a world filled with forces contrary to gospel values.We have to live and work in a culture that is ambiguous. A culture of death, a culture of blatant consumerism, a culture of violence and injustice violates the dignity of the human. A shrewdness that is first cousin to prudence is needed if our ministry in such an environment is to succeed.

Sense of Direction

We are sent but not alone. The Spirit is given to us and is the principal agent of our discipleship. God’s Spirit is simple, for God is Love. Here is the cornerstone that supports and sustains our Christian community and ministry. It is the Spirit that unifies all of our activities so that they lead to the glory of God.

A petition from our liturgy is a fitting response to the call to be shrewd and simple: “Lord Jesus, you are the true vine and we are the branches; allow us to remain in you, to bear much fruit, and to give glory to the Father.” Here is a mission statement that gives us a sense of direction. Jesus is Lord; Jesus is the true vine pouring life and love into us; prayer keeps us united to our Redeemer and Friend; we are to bear fruit through service and witness; and, in all this, we give glory to God. Nothing can be simpler; nothing can be shrewder.

Robert F. Morneau is an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is author of numerous books, including Paths to Prayer (St. Anthony Messenger Press) and two children’s books, The Gift and A Tale from Paleface Creek (Paulist Press).

Next: Blaspheming Against the Spirit

Questions for Reflection:

• Consider the concept that we all are “radically poor,” dependent on divine providence. What does this mean to you?

• Name two changes that would simplify your life. What would it take for you to make these changes?

FAMILY CORNER
The Thin Line
By Judith Dunlap

What an interesting combination: “shrewd as serpents, simple as doves.” Jesus, who told us to turn the other cheek (be simple as doves), also advises us not to be doormats. We need to respond to confrontation, but always as a Christian. Jesus tells us to be shrewd and sharp-witted but in a gentle way—to take care of ourselves without seriously injuring those who threaten us. That can be a thin line.

I have a friend who has a clever, ready answer for any occasion. She is smart and funny and her humor can defuse the most uncomfortable situations. I know of other people who are funny and quick to respond, but their humor is hard and often stings. They deal with confrontation by humiliating their adversary. They are clever, but not at all gentle.

Make sure your youngsters know the difference between laughing with people, and laughing at them. Help them see the error in the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Words do hurt, and they can sometimes leave more lasting scars than broken bones.

Do not tolerate jokes or comments in your home that make fun of someone, even if that person is not there. Teach your children to stand up for themselves but not by knocking someone else down (literally or figuratively). Teach them to use all of their wits when confronted with words that hurt or with sticks and stones. But help them realize that sometimes the best thing to do is to walk away.

Above all else, take your youngsters’ hurt feelings as seriously as you do their bruised knees. Console them, counsel them and, if necessary, take the matter into your own hands. Just remember Jesus’ advice: Be shrewd, but simple. Respond as a follower of Jesus Christ.

For Family Response:

Ask family members to talk about the last time someone challenged them. How did they respond?

Media Watch
Sky High
By Frank Frost

If Superman and Wonder Woman got married, what would their kids be like? This suggests the premise of Sky High. The movie takes its name from the school in the sky where kids with a variety of superpowers need to learn how to responsibly use those powers, which emerge in puberty.

The film attempts, with some success, to authentically evoke teenage angst in the manner of John Hughes while having all the fun of animated comic strips. Think The Incredibles meets Pretty in Pink.

Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is the 14-year-old son of the greatest superhero couple of all time, The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston), who dream that their son will grow up to save the world someday. Will pretends to be super strong like his father, but only his good friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker) knows what he fears: He doesn’t appear to have any superpowers.

But the truth will soon be known. On the first day of high school all freshmen are tested for their powers, leading to assignment of “hero” status or “sidekick” status—thereby institutionalizing the “in” and “out” crowds. Will, however, is assigned to “hero support” when he can’t demonstrate any powers. Out of loyalty to Will, Layla hides her powers (she can instantly grow plants and trees) so she can join him as a sidekick, along with a small group of “losers” whose talents are unimpressive.

The cliquishness of high school is dramatized by the behavior of Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the prettiest girl in the school, who as an older student and student body president possessively takes Will under her wing. Will is insensitive to the difficulty this creates for Layla, whose deep affection for him must go unexpressed. High school would not be complete (and a plot would lack conflict) without bullies, including one with the ability to stretch his elastic body without limit and another who can move so fast he becomes a blur.

Will eventually must confess his embarrassing lack of powers to his parents, the picture of every child who cannot live up to his parents’ expectations. His father is devastated but his mother suggests that powers are just slow to arrive for some people. And indeed this is the case with Will, whose superhuman strength and ability to fly emerge at just the right moment when the story escalates to a battle of the superpowers.

Gwen, it turns out, is the evil technocrat who can control technology with her mind. She also has a history with The Commander and Jetstream, who defeated her in a former incarnation. It becomes the task of Will, Layla and their friend—all of whose humble powers will make a difference—to save the world. Predictable lessons emerge but are no less entertaining: Everyone has a unique talent that is valuable, keep your word and be loyal to your friends.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

SAINTS AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball

St. Anthony Claret

How’s this for a résumé: missionary, religious founder, social reformer, chaplain to royalty, writer, publisher, archbishop—and survivor of an attempted assassination.

Born in the north of Spain, young Anthony Claret learned printing as well as his father’s trade of weaving. But his real interest was in serving God. Ordained a diocesan priest, he became one of the most popular preachers in the country. His missions and retreats emphasized devotion to the Eucharist and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He also published hundreds of books and pamphlets on the faith.

At age 42 Anthony founded the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the Claretians); he later cofounded the Claretian Sisters. Appointed archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, in 1850, Anthony entered a world where immorality was rampant among clergy and laity and anti-Christian groups were openly antagonistic. In turn, he preached and heard confessions and instructed black slaves. He promoted family-owned farms and credit unions.

The Church and civic reform he advocated brought him enemies on all sides. A hired assassin slashed open his face and wrist. Anthony responded by getting his would-be assassin’s death sentence commuted to a prison term.

After seven years he was called home to become confessor to Queen Isabella. Feeling confined in his new role, he used his influence to help in the founding of a science laboratory, a museum of natural history, music and language schools and an association of writers and artists. Meanwhile, he continued his life of fasting and prayer.

The revolution of 1868 brought exile. Anthony died two years later and was canonized in 1950. His feast day is October 24.

Father Carl Quebedeaux, C.M.F.

Anthony Claret would be proud of the diverse group of men seeking to follow in his footsteps today. This year’s Claretian seminarians will likely include a U.S.-born attorney, two Cuban-Americans and men of Haitian, Mexican and Nicaraguan heritage.

“They are witnesses to something powerful,” Claretian Father Carl Quebedeaux told Every Day Catholic. And that something, he suggested, is Anthony’s “prophetic spirit.”

“If he were alive today, social issues would be his passion. He would look at life through the eyes of the poor. He would be using the Internet to bring God’s message of love and compassion.”

It was the Claretians’ focus on social justice that first caught the attention of Carl Quebedeaux during his student days at Louisiana State, where they served as chaplains. When he entered the community he had no idea where religious life would take him. “My path just unfolded,” he said, beginning with 10 years in Guatemala “accompanying the Mayan people” in the midst of that country’s protracted civil war.

He has been director of vocations for the Claretians for the past 10 years, work that puts him in contact not only with men exploring religious life but also with college-age men and women through retreats, volunteer programs and service projects.

How many of those people choose religious life isn’t the only issue, said Father Quebedeaux.

“Many will marry, but we hope they all bring with them the experiences they’ve had with us. Our goal is to help them see where God is in their lives, to help them deepen their sense of who they are.”

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