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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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Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi: Mystical ecstasy is the elevation of the spirit to God in such a way that the person is aware of this union with God while both internal and external senses are detached from the sensible world. Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi was so generously given this special gift of God that she is called the "ecstatic saint." 
<p>She was born into a noble family in Florence in 1566. The normal course would have been for Catherine de' Pazzi to have married wealth and enjoyed comfort, but she chose to follow her own path. At nine she learned to meditate from the family confessor. She made her first Communion at the then-early age of 10 and made a vow of virginity one month later. When 16, she entered the Carmelite convent in Florence because she could receive Communion daily there. </p><p>Catherine had taken the name Mary Magdalene and had been a novice for a year when she became critically ill. Death seemed near so her superiors let her make her profession of vows from a cot in the chapel in a private ceremony. Immediately after, she fell into an ecstasy that lasted about two hours. This was repeated after Communion on the following 40 mornings. These ecstasies were rich experiences of union with God and contained marvelous insights into divine truths. </p><p>As a safeguard against deception and to preserve the revelations, her confessor asked Mary Magdalene to dictate her experiences to sister secretaries. Over the next six years, five large volumes were filled. The first three books record ecstasies from May of 1584 through Pentecost week the following year. This week was a preparation for a severe five-year trial. The fourth book records that trial and the fifth is a collection of letters concerning reform and renewal. Another book, <i>Admonitions</i>, is a collection of her sayings arising from her experiences in the formation of women religious. </p><p>The extraordinary was ordinary for this saint. She read the thoughts of others and predicted future events. During her lifetime, she appeared to several persons in distant places and cured a number of sick people. </p><p>It would be easy to dwell on the ecstasies and pretend that Mary Magdalene only had spiritual highs. This is far from true. It seems that God permitted her this special closeness to prepare her for the five years of desolation that followed when she experienced spiritual dryness. She was plunged into a state of darkness in which she saw nothing but what was horrible in herself and all around her. She had violent temptations and endured great physical suffering. She died in 1607 at 41, and was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Let us never tire, therefore, of seeking the Lord—of letting ourselves be sought by him—of tending over our relationship with him in silence and prayerful listening. Let us keep our gaze fixed on him, the center of time and history; let us make room for his presence within us.

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