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Bible Reflections View Comments

We Need Both Justice and Mercy
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, December 8, 2013
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One of the ongoing discussions about the papacy of Pope Francis is whether he is emphasizing God’s mercy to the exclusion of a sense of righteous judgment. The followers of John the Baptist would have understood this quandary. They suspected that Jesus, too, was a bit too cozy with sinners. Good Christians know a proper balance is required.

Jesus referred to John the Baptist as the greatest of the prophets. Like Ezekiel, Elijah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah before him, John was a voice in the wilderness, totally focused on his call and on God’s message.

Like the prophets of old, John called on the people to repent of their sins. He had a vision of what was to come, and he knew it would call for a complete change in people’s lives. He insisted the status quo was no longer enough for salvation.

In the Gospel, a group of Pharisees and Sadducees come to John the Baptist relying on their status as sons of Abraham. But John tells them the ax is at the root of trees that aren’t producing fruit. The Gospel gives us a vivid image of dead wood and chaff being burned while the fruit and grain are gathered into barns to nourish and sustain life.

John’s words today remind us that Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year. It is a season of taking stock of our foundations, of examining the roots and structure of our spiritual lives. But it also calls us forward into the amazing new growth that emerges from the miracle of the Incarnation.

Roots provide valuable nourishment. They make life possible. But if they’re too constrained, they can inhibit the very growth they’re designed to nourish. As Catholics we have a strong tradition and often a cultural connection to our ancestors in the faith. This gives us a sense of identity and belonging.

But our faith identity can become tied to our ethnic, national, and cultural roots. If we rely too much on those tangled roots to define us, we can become insular and closed off from a world that waits to hear the Good News of Jesus. Our rootedness in one way of life or one set of attitudes can keep us from reaching out to those who are different, those we have avoided out of fear and hatred. To be fruitful, we must be open to this sort of newness.

Isaiah’s well-known vision of nature in harmony calls us to imagine sworn enemies sharing food and shelter, frolicking as companions. The prophet neither minimizes the distinctions nor emphasizes the nearly unreachable idealism of the vision. He reminds the people that the Messiah will not judge by appearance or hearsay but will bring justice to the poor and afflicted. This is the vision that was realized in the birth and ministry of Jesus, Son of God and Messiah. Following in his footsteps commits us to move beyond normal human boundaries and expectations.

Paul tells us Jesus fulfilled the covenant of the Jews and brought a vision of God’s mercy to the Gentiles. Paul’s gifts unite the dreams of these two groups into one vision of Christianity. He doesn’t destroy healthy differences; he doesn’t deny individual roots. He sees the possibility for communion.

Advent challenges us to rise above the increasing polarization that threatens our world, our country, our communities, even our families. The repentance demanded by John is a good place to start. He challenged his listeners to produce good fruit. We might look at our own lives this Advent to see what fruit we are bearing.


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Lorenzo Ruiz and Companions: Lawrence (Lorenzo) was born in Manila of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother, both Christians. Thus he learned Chinese and Tagalog from them and Spanish from the Dominicans whom he served as altar boy and sacristan. He became a professional calligrapher, transcribing documents in beautiful penmanship. He was a full member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary under Dominican auspices. He married and had two sons and a daughter. 
<p>His life took an abrupt turn when he was accused of murder. Nothing further is known except the statement of two Dominicans that "he was sought by the authorities on account of a homicide to which he was present or which was attributed to him." </p><p>At that time three Dominican priests, Antonio Gonzalez, Guillermo Courtet and Miguel de Aozaraza, were about to sail to Japan in spite of a violent persecution there. With them was a Japanese priest, Vicente Shiwozuka de la Cruz, and a layman named Lazaro, a leper. Lorenzo, having taken asylum with them, was allowed to accompany them. But only when they were at sea did he learn that they were going to Japan. </p><p>They landed at Okinawa. Lorenzo could have gone on to Formosa, but, he reported, "I decided to stay with the Fathers, because the Spaniards would hang me there." In Japan they were soon found out, arrested and taken to Nagasaki. The site of wholesale bloodshed when the atomic bomb was dropped had known tragedy before. The 50,000 Catholics who once lived there were dispersed or killed by persecution. </p><p>They were subjected to an unspeakable kind of torture: After huge quantities of water were forced down their throats, they were made to lie down. Long boards were placed on their stomachs and guards then stepped on the ends of the boards, forcing the water to spurt violently from mouth, nose and ears. </p><p>The superior, Antonio, died after some days. Both the Japanese priest and Lazaro broke under torture, which included the insertion of bamboo needles under their fingernails. But both were brought back to courage by their companions. </p><p>In Lorenzo's moment of crisis, he asked the interpreter, "I would like to know if, by apostatizing, they will spare my life." The interpreter was noncommittal, but Lorenzo, in the ensuing hours, felt his faith grow strong. He became bold, even audacious, with his interrogators. </p><p>The five were put to death by being hanged upside down in pits. Boards fitted with semicircular holes were fitted around their waists and stones put on top to increase the pressure. They were tightly bound, to slow circulation and prevent a speedy death. They were allowed to hang for three days. By that time Lorenzo and Lazaro were dead. The three Dominican priests, still alive, were beheaded. </p><p>In 1987, Blessed John Paul II canonized these six and 10 others, Asians and Europeans, men and women, who spread the faith in the Philippines, Formosa and Japan. Lorenzo Ruiz is the first canonized Filipino martyr.</p> American Catholic Blog We don’t have to scrub off our sin so God can love us. Instead, when we allow God’s healing love to touch us, we want to leave sin behind. Growth starts in love, not in guilt.

 
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