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Bible Reflections View Comments

Living the Gospel Is What Really Matters
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, August 25, 2013
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From moments after his election, Pope Francis has been making headlines. His daily homilies at the guest house in Rome where he has chosen to live are spontaneous, off the cuff, and down to earth. In a world where not only politicians but also religious leaders have learned the difficult art of spinning the truth and exercising extreme caution in the way words can be interpreted, Pope Francis preaches the Gospel like a gifted parish priest.

Last spring, social media sites, Catholic news sites and even the secular news organizations were once again abuzz when Pope Francis said that Jesus redeemed everyone: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! . . . . Even the atheists. Everyone!”

More cautious theologians were quick to ring this around with all sorts of caveats, obtuse explanations, and a general air of “Move along; nothing to see here.” But the pope not only meant what he said, he said it because in his mind, an openness to the love and mercy of God is more important than a checklist to exclude those who don’t seem to be making the grade.

We’ve all heard the saying about entering through the narrow gate. We might think that Jesus himself is talking about a way to weed out the inferior believers. But that doesn’t square with the rest of his words in the Gospels. He says it in response to “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Most likely anyone asking that kind of question about salvation in a public forum is pretty sure they are already on the list. They just want to know how exclusive the guest list is. We see this happen all the time on Catholic blogs and social media sites. Liberals and conservatives argue about who’s the most orthodox, who’s “really” Catholic. When this happens, too much energy is spent on worrying about other people being wrong than on examining what we’re doing right. Both the Gospel and the reading from Isaiah remind us that religion is neither a popularity contest nor an exclusive club. Isaiah tells us that the Lord says, “I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.”

The official stance of the Church is clear in the documents of Vatican II, in the Catechism, in the writings of the popes and the bishops. It’s also clear in the Gospel. As children of the one God, we are to see all people as our brothers and sisters, created by God and held in the infinite mystery and mercy of God’s grace.

While the headlines focused on Pope Francis saying atheists could be saved, what too many of the stories missed was that he said, “We meet each other in doing good.”

What Jesus was trying to tell his disciples is to stop worrying about who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s first and who’s last. Our focus needs to be on the Good News and the good works generated by our faith in God.

It won’t hurt any of us to step up our game a bit in living the Gospel. It’s a good way to guard against spiritual complacency, which might be the real danger of that wide, easy road. We are heirs to the inclusive love Jesus practiced as he walked this earth. We need to live our lives in a way that reflects this attitude.


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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog Heavenly Father, I am sure there are frequently tiny miracles where you protect us and are present to us although you always remain anonymous. Help me appreciate how carefully you watch over me and my loved ones all day long, and be sensitive enough to stay close to you. I ask this in Jesus's name. Amen.

 
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