Are you surprised to see two of Jesus’ disciples praying for the destruction of a Samaritan village? The Jews and Samaritans had been divided for centuries. Jewish pilgrims who passed through Samaritan territory were often assaulted. Jesus did the unthinkable for a Jew. He not only decided to travel through Samaritan territory at personal risk, he also asked for hospitality as well in one of their villages! Jesus’ offer of friendship was rebuffed. Is there any wonder that the disciples were indignant and felt justified in wanting to see retribution done to this village? Wouldn’t you respond the same way? Jesus, however, rebukes his disciples for their lack of toleration. Jesus had “set his face toward Jerusalem” to die on a cross that Jew, Samaritan and Gentile might be reconciled with God and be united as one people in Christ.

Tolerance is a much needed virtue today. But aren’t we often tolerant for the wrong thing or for the wrong motive? Christian love seeks the highest good of both one’s neighbor and one’s enemy. When Abraham Lincoln was criticized for his courtesy and tolerance towards his enemies during the American Civil War, he responded: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” How do you treat those who cross you and cause you trouble? Do you seek their good rather than their harm?

When the Lord calls us to follow him he gives us the grace to put aside everything that might keep us from doing his will. Loyalty to Jesus requires sacrifice, letting go of my will for God’s will. A would-be disciple responded by saying, I must first go and bury my father, that is, go back home and take care of him until he died.   Jesus certainly did not mean that we should refuse to care for others, especially our parents in their old age. His startling statement, however, made clear that God must always be first in our lives. If we love him above all, then everything else will fall into its proper place and time.

Jesus surprised his disciples by telling that they must not look back but keep their focus on the goal set for their lives – full happiness and union with God. A plowman who looked back caused his furrow to be crooked. Likewise, if we keep looking back to what we left behind, our path in following God will likely go off course and we’ll miss what God has for us. When the going is rough or the way ahead looks uncertain, we are tempted to look back to the “good old days” or to look for “greener turf”. Are you resolved to keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and to “stay the course” in following him to the end?

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Keys were a symbol of authority. Our Lord had all authority on earth (see Matthew 28:18 and Mark 2:10). Authority implies the ability to delegate it; hence, Jesus gave Peter, as the first pope, the power to bind and loose, that is, to make disciplinary rules within the Church. A child who disobeys a licit command from its mother is committing a sin. Why? Not because Mom is God, but because Mom has authority from God. Authority, in this case papal authority, is not an imposition but rather a service. The Pope´s unique authority gives us a sure guide on moral questions. The Pope doesn´t have the power to make morality but rather to define authoritatively on issues at hand. How well do I know papal teaching? Do I make an effort to learn why he teaches as he teaches? When a difficulty arises, do I consult Church teaching? “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me” (Luke 10:16).

Jesus wants the leper to be healed; he likewise wants you and me to be healed, clean, whole. Through the hands of the priest, Jesus stretches out his own hand and bids us to be clean so that we may not remain in our sins. Sin knocks at the door of our lives, but thanks to Jesus we do not have to continue in it. When Jesus heals us, he also gives us the strength (grace) to stay healthy. He heals us so that we may freely walk with him and imitate him in our lives. But do I want to leave aside all my sin? What former leper would ever wish to return to his leprosy? Ultimately it is the heart that must be made clean by way of constant prayer, the sacraments and a genuine effort to do what we know is pleasing to God.

“Faith without works is useless” (James 2:20). Witnessing to our faith through our works is crucial. It´s not enough to go to Mass on Sunday, to have the Bible on the shelf, to hang a rosary on the rearview mirror. Faith in Christ means daily conversion, changing our lives in conformity to his will. “Not everyone who says to me, ´Lord, Lord,´ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Doing the will of the Father means works of charity, of patience, of disinterested service. Real expressions of our faith demand that we give of ourselves. Real faith doesn´t leave us feeling smug. Do I ever feel self-righteous because “I´m with the Pope”? Because I “never got caught” doing something wrong? Does my faith in Christ leave me complacent? Or does it drive me to works of charity?

Today we abound with information, but are short on guidance. The media tell us that abortion is OK, that stem-cell research on human embryos is compassionate, that same-sex marriage equals tolerance. Wayward faithful ignore or insult papal teachings. “The time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). How do I judge what I hear day by day? How do I gauge what the media tell me? Do I absorb everything I hear like a sponge? Or do I try to find out what the Church says on issues? Am I aware of how much the media can steal my interior peace? That it can leave me thinking in a very worldly way?

We take great care to guard what is most valuable to us, right? The truth is, we often take great risks with what is most precious. We say we value life and limb, but think nothing of speeding in heavy traffic. We say we want to get to heaven, but we dabble in sin, even serious sin, almost daily. We surf racy Web sites. We cut down people in office gossip. We close our hearts to the needy. We habitually vote for politicians who defend abortion. We take sin oh-so-lightly. Likewise, we might let the holy things of our faith languish. We might neglect the sacrament of reconciliation. We receive Communion unworthily. We stay silent when a relative brags about using contraception. We do nothing when a child withdraws into the world of Internet for five hours a day. Is there something about which I should be speaking up?

Zechariah had doubted God and was struck mute. He regains his speech only after publicly accepting God´s plan and allowing his newborn son to take the name John. We, too, might have a bit of Zechariah in us. We resist God, only to hit a dead end. Bad friendships, habits of serious sin, rising despair – all of these can eat away at us. Yet, repentance is slow to come. Why? “We think that evil is basically good,” said Pope Benedict XVI (December 8, 2005). “We think that we need it, at least a little, in order to experience the fullness of being. … If we look, however, at the world that surrounds us we can see that this is not so; in other words, that evil is always poisonous, does not uplift human beings, but degrades and humiliates them.” Am I resisting God´s plans?