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Bible Reflections View Comments

Pushing the Boundaries
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, June 16, 2013
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For Holy Thursday this year, newly elected Pope Francis announced his decision to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a juvenile correctional facility, where he washed the feet of twelve young offenders: male and female, black and white, Christian and Muslim. He emphasized again and again that this action was a sign of humility and service, a reminder of Christ’s example. Above all, he wanted to convey to these young people (and through his actions, to us) the importance of mercy and of hope.

Many people were shocked by this departure from tradition by the pope. Some went so far as to call it a bad example for a pope to set. Others were delighted at the pope’s willingness to reach beyond categories and expectations. His behavior certainly wasn’t without precedent.

In our Gospel for this Sunday, we hear of the woman who was a known sinner in the town lavishing both perfume and affection on Jesus. She had no need to hide the sins in her past because she knew the grace and forgiveness of God’s greater love. People in the town saw only her sin. Jesus saw beyond the sin to a potential for healing and redemption.

Simon the Pharisee, in whose house this display took place, was shocked, dismayed, and disapproving. He saw only what he wanted to see. He didn’t see his own failure to provide basic hospitality to his guest. He didn’t see how much he was reserving judgment on Jesus until he was sure he was backing the right man. That kind of caution is not always a virtue.

Part of the problem that some of the Pharisees had was that they had come to believe in their own reputation for perfection. Our first reading reminds us of the dangers of that attitude.

David was the greatest king in Israel’s history. He was a celebrity par excellence. And, like so many of the celebrities in our own time, he had flaws that could not remain hidden forever. The Scriptures hold up David as a model not only of leadership but of penitence. How sincere he was in his sorrow is for God, not us, to judge. But we can learn an important lesson from the scene in today’s first reading.

Today’s first reading outlines David’s notorious sin of committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed through a military ruse. David admits to his sin and receives God’s forgiveness through Nathan.

Too often we do everything we can to avoid admitting our sins, even our mistakes. We blame other people. We make excuses. We find ways to justify our actions. We have come to believe that the appearance of perfection is more important than honesty and integrity. Looking good has become more important than doing the right thing. It’s become nearly impossible for people to say, “I was wrong. I made a mistake. I sinned.” It’s easy to talk about the bad thing someone else has done. It’s much more difficult to admit personal responsibility.

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone sins. There’s no real shame in that. Jesus came to show us that not having the courage to admit our mistakes and move on is the greater fault. His example, held up to us again by Pope Francis, challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of decorum to the wonder of unbounded grace.


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Athanasius: Athanasius led a tumultuous but dedicated life of service to the Church. He was the great champion of the faith against the widespread heresy of Arianism, the teaching by Arius that Jesus was not truly divine. The vigor of his writings earned him the title of doctor of the Church. 
<p>Born of a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt, and given a classical education, Athanasius became secretary to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, entered the priesthood and was eventually named bishop himself. His predecessor, Alexander, had been an outspoken critic of a new movement growing in the East—Arianism. </p><p>When Athanasius assumed his role as bishop of Alexandria, he continued the fight against Arianism. At first it seemed that the battle would be easily won and that Arianism would be condemned. Such, however, did not prove to be the case. The Council of Tyre was called and for several reasons that are still unclear, the Emperor Constantine exiled Athanasius to northern Gaul. This was to be the first in a series of travels and exiles reminiscent of the life of St. Paul. </p><p>After Constantine died, his son restored Athanasius as bishop. This lasted only a year, however, for he was deposed once again by a coalition of Arian bishops. Athanasius took his case to Rome, and Pope Julius I called a synod to review the case and other related matters. </p><p>Five times Athanasius was exiled for his defense of the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. During one period of his life, he enjoyed 10 years of relative peace—reading, writing and promoting the Christian life along the lines of the monastic ideal to which he was greatly devoted. His dogmatic and historical writings are almost all polemic, directed against every aspect of Arianism. </p><p>Among his ascetical writings, his<i> Life of St. Anthony</i> (January 17) achieved astonishing popularity and contributed greatly to the establishment of monastic life throughout the Western Christian world.</p> American Catholic Blog Suffering is redemptive in part because it definitively reveals to man that he is not in fact God, and it thereby opens the human person to receive the divine.

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