Contemporary Scripture Reflections for Spiritual Seekers
Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart

Sunday BibleTalk, February 24th, 2019

The prodigal returns,
cast in bronze,
utterly naked
as he kneels
before that Love
which wrenches him
from the dust.

He is weak,
this supplicant,
slight of frame,
stripped of pride
by fall
after repeated fall
into wantonness
and self-loathing.

Now, his arms reach up,
his head tilts back,
clasped by the One
to whom he clings,
the strong One
whose massive form
enfolds him
in sculpted security
and compassion.

From Woman Dreamer,
Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, 1989

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We need a new ecclesiology based on shared leadership, penitence and hope.
Greetings, SBT Readers:

"Do not put your trust in princes; they cannot save" Ps. 146:3

The disgrace of the former Cardinal of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, demonstrates that no one is too high or lofty to topple from his throne-- I use the masculine pronoun deliberately! McCarrick, a prince of the church, enjoyed the protection of princes. Both secular and religious publications have pointed out that warnings regarding McCarrick's abuse of minors, seminarians and young priests made their way to the Vatican years before Pope Francis was elected -- and yet McCarrick was promoted in spite of them, leaving a trail of sexual abuse and broken lives that goes back at least to 1971.

What this suggests is that the "old boys' network" extends right to the Vatican and that the protections enjoyed by pedophile priests apply to bishops and cardinals as well. Sadly, some of those solemnly charged with guiding the flock have not only betrayed their calling, but have brought down the institutional church with them. Exaggeration? I think not. Many Catholics have fled the rubble, some to other denominations and others to be "spiritual rather than religious." This trend, of course, is not a recent phenomenon but began in the 1990's when the first cases of clerical sexual abuse began appearing in the news.

But it's the princes I wish to focus on, not the alienated laity. In addition to bringing to light all the heinous crimes that have been so carefully hidden, the Church needs to examine its very structure. Given the sordid history, is there really a place for princes in the Church today? Should priesthood be a career path to status, power and fine living? Is a hierarchy necessary in the C21st, especially when some of the aforementioned princes have made it their mission to undermine Pope Francis' attempts at reform? True, there is a need for leadership both globally and locally, but there are alternatives to the pyramid of power model -- alternatives that involve shared power with the laity, including women, that would be more closely aligned with the vision of Jesus. We need less silk, lace and glitter, and greater simplicity; more prayer and less intrigue; less magic and more Mystery; less exclusiveness and more compassion;less vanity and more humility; less privilege and more servanthood; less "orthodoxy" and more imagination...

I'm getting carried away now. The bottom line is that without a new ecclesiology, the institutional church will continue to implode. May all of us be part of that change that so desperately needs to happen!

Many Blessings!



R.  Alleluia, alleluia.
I give you a new commandment, says the Lord:
love one another as I have loved you. Jn 13:34
R.  Alleluia, alleluia.

Jesus said to his disciples:
“To you who hear I say,
love your enemies, do good
to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
To the person who strikes you
on one cheek,
offer the other cheek as well,
and from the person who takes
your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what
is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have
them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?
LK 6:27-38

It is not the mandate to love that is unique about Jesus' teachings, but, rather, the commandment to love one another as he has loved us. The whole Jewish Law is based on the love of God (Dt 6:4-9), and love of neighbor (Lvt 19); in fact, Jesus' teachings on loving one's neighbor as oneself, forgiveness of enemies, foregoing hatred and revenge, and caring for the foreigners among us all echo Leviticus 19. When a scholar of the Law asks Jesus what he must do to gain eternal life, Jesus tells him to name what is written in the Law and then affirms the man's answer (Lk 10:25-28). Clearly, his own understanding of love has been shaped by Judaism. During the Last Supper, however, Jesus washes his disciples' feet and then, after Judas' departure and before his prediction of Peter's denial, he announces his new commandment.

What did this mean to his disciples? What went through their minds as they tried to fathom the implications of this commandment? Perhaps some of them remembered how he had called the least likely of people to be his followers -- illiterate fishermen, hated tax collectors, women and men of dubious repute.... Perhaps they recalled his patience when they were slow of understanding, and how protective he had always been of them -- teaching them through parables, sending them out in two's so they could support each other, calling them friends not servants, gently chastising them when they were in need of correction rather than publicly humiliating them .... They also remembered the love he had shown for everyone they encountered along the way-- the blind, the deaf, the lame, those possessed by demons, those afflicted with leprosy, those who had lost loved ones, those on the fringes of society....

Later, the post-Resurrection community would remember how Jesus tried to prepare them for his passion and death, promising to send the Holy Spirit so they would not be left "orphaned," promising to return to them (Jn 14:15-31). A fter he had calmed their fears, t hey would experience his forgiveness, as well as the spiritual power he invested in them. They would remember all this and so much more-- and this was how they were were to love one another, not just those who had gathered with him around the Passover table on the night before he died, but all those who would come to believe in him. As Paul writes in Phil 2: 6-11, Jesus' love for humanity involved a complete self-emptying and absolute humility:
"Though he was in the form of God,
he did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped at.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness...
obedient to death,
even death on a cross."

If we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us then we, like the disciples, need to remember not just the model of self-denying love to be found in the Gospels, but also the ways we have experienced his love in our own lives. I should add here that "self-denying love" does not involve becoming the victims of any form of abuse or staying in situations in which we cannot grow. Toxic environments are unhealthy and work against the mandate to love ourselves. The call to discipleship is a call to healthy loving in which we treat others as we would be treated. We can forgive our enemies and let go of both hatred and the desire for revenge, but we don't have to associate with -- let alone live with-- those who would harm us in any way. Christian love is freely given and freely received. It does not control, manipulate, imprison, diminish or exploit; nor does it intimidate others nor force them to be dependent upon us. Christian love respects the whole person; it is liberating, comforting, empowering, healing, inspiring and inclusive. It has no motives and no agenda beyond the well-being of the person whom we love. When we encounter such love in our own lives, then we have encountered the Christ. It is this kind of love that is the hallmark of Christian discipleship.

  1. Have you ever loved someone with total "self-emptying" in a healthy way?
  2. Have you ever been the recipient of such love?
  3. Have you ever been in an unhealthy relationship and, if so, what was that like for you?
  4. How can you love others as you love yourself?
  5. How do YOU experience the love of Christ in your own life?
This year will mark the 30th Anniversary of my graduation from the Claret Center, Chicago, where I studied the art of Spiritual Direction. My video explains my approach to this ministry, while my website provides further details as well:

Dr. Elizabeth-Anne Stewart | |

All Photos by Elizabeth-Anne Stewart,

Relief of The Good Samaritan, Dar IL-Hanin Samaritan, Malta
Mosaic of the Crucifixion, Ta' Pinu Basilica, Gozo