Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The deafness of preconception

In today’s Gospel we have the story of Jesus curing the man at the pool at Bethesda. The part of the story that we can easily overlook is what happens next. As the man is walking along, he  is spotted by some people. We don’t know how many. They are  simply referred to as “the Jews“.

They see a man walking with mat on the Sabbath, a clear violation of the law. Fascinating part of the story is what happens next. And remind him that is unlawful to carry his mat on the Sabbath. And he responds, 

The man who made me well told me,’ Pick up your mat and walk.’“

What is most interesting is the fact that they skip over the first part of the settings and, only hear the second half.

Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?

They skip over “the man who made me well.” They miss the miracle. 

They are so fixated on their agenda they can’t hear what is being said. Someone has just told them the Good News, a miracle and all they can do is obsess over a violation of the Sabbath. 

How often are we those people, so driven by our own agenda and judgements that we cannot truly listen. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

From where does temptation come

On this last day before Lent, St. James takes us to the source of temptation. From his writing it st apparent that in his time their were some who believed that God himself tempted us to put us to the test.  St. James makes it clear that God tempts no one. 

While we may not in our Day blame God for temptation we still, to often, look around for someone else to blame when we sin. St. James tells us,

each person is tempted when lured and enticed by his desire.

If we want to find the source of our temptation, we need to look inside. It is our own desires, our longings that give rise to the temptation and ultimately to sin. 

Tomorrow we enter into our annual period of penance for our sins but, it is also a time when we should take a deep look inside and identify those desires that may not be good for us, the ones that lead us into sin. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

A new look at temptations

In two days we will begin the season of Lent, and so one comment in particular from today’s first reading stands out. As we begin reading the Letter of St. James he tells us to:

Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials.

The word he uses for trials can also be translated testing, or temptation. 

Most of us are accustomed to thing of trials and temptations as things. And it is true that we should not go out looking for them. 

On the other hand, St. James tells us that they can have a positive purpose, that we we endure such trials we have the opportunity to delevop perseverance. 

The word for perseverance is hypomena. It literally means to remain under. Imagine standing under a great weight and yet not being weighed down. That is the virtue of perseverance. And every time we are able to face down even the small temptations that we encounter in daily life, we are building up our store of perseverance. 

Perseverance is a virtue we all hope we will never need. But we know that if we live long enough we will all have those moments when we are struck by a surprise that threatens to crush us. We need to be prepared. 

In his letter St. James links faith and perseverance:the first a theological virtue (given to us by God), the second anatural virtue (habit developed though practice).  Togethe they can enable us to face whatever life throws at us. 

As we prepare to enter the season of Lent, we are reminded that being Christian requires more than being nice. It requires intentional practice to shape our lives in the the image of Christ. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Pope to those who preach

On Wednesday as part of his teaching regarding mass Pope Francis spoke to those who preach snd those who listen to preaching. Here is part of his talk. 

Whoever has the homily should carry out their ministry well – those who preach, the priest or the deacon or the bishop –, by offering a true service to those who participate in the mass, but also those who listen to them should do their part. Above all lending due attention, that is, assuming the proper interior disposition without subjective pretense, recognizing that every preacher has his strengths and weaknesses. At times there is a basis for annoyance from a homily that is long. or unfocused or incomprehensible but at other times it is prejudice that creates the obstacle. Whoever gives a homily should be conscious that he is not doing his own thing, he is preaching, giving voice to Jesus, preaching the Word of Jesus. The homily should be well prepared and should be brief, brief! A priest once told me the story of going to another town where his parents lived and his father told him, “You know, I am very happy because my friends that I have found a church where there is mass without a homily!”. And how many times during the homily some are sleeping, others chatting or going outside to smoke a cigarette… For that reason, please, may the homily be brief and well prepared. And how does one prepare a homily, dear priests, deacons, and bishops? How does one prepare oneself? With prayer, with the study of the Word of God and by creating a clear and brief synthesis that should never go longer than 10 minutes, please

His words remind those who preach and those who listen to do their part with more careful attention. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

How excellent is he?

It has been three weeks since our new bishop has been installed. One of the first things we were told was that he wanted to return to the traditional form of address His/Your Excellency. Frankly, I have been shocked at the immediate,visceral and negative reaction of some people, often voiced as ,”Who does he think he is?”  It caused me to stop and reflected on all of our titles. 

I realized that our forms of address in the Church are as much statements of hope as they are statements of fact. They remind us of who we are striving to be. Every time someone says “Good Morning, Father,”  I am reminded of all the things I am called to be, regardless of how I may feel at that moment. I am reminded of relationship. 

Yes, we could just say “bishop”, but that word describes a function. Bishop is the Greek word for overseer. “Excellency” reminds the bishop that there is an even greater expectation. Some says, “Does he think he’s better than the rest of us?” My response would be:”I hope so.”  

Think for a minute about how the average Christian or even the so-called “Good Christian” behaves. I pray he strives to be better than that. I pray that he strive for excellence in living the Christian life. 

Yes, he is called to oversee the diocese but, that is only one aspect of being Bishop in the fullest sense of the word. May Excellency describe all bishops in title and in fact. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Who goes to whom

At the end of today’s gospel we hear the very well known words,

whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

But there is  another verse from this gospel that may give us an even deeper insight, one we might overlook.

The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house. Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him. 

  Notice, they do not go to Jesus, they call and expect him to come to them. St. Mark gives no explanation. He doesn’t say, “They couldn’t get in.” He simply tells us that they stood outside and yells for Jesus to come out to them.

How often are any of us those people? We want Jesus to come to us. We know what we want and we want Jesus to help with our plan.

It is interesting to note, that they went to Jesus, just not all the way. They are calling to him, not responding to his call. They’re acting as if it is a negotiation. The came part way now he should come part way. 

How often are we the partial disciples? We read the Bible, we pray, we go to Church.  But then we expect Jesus to do his part and answer our petitions.  We forget that He is God. We are the servants. He calls, we come. There is no deal making. There is obedience. We are to hear and do God’s will.  

The message can sound harsh until we realize one thing. God knows better than I do what I need- every moment of every day. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Greatest Threat

While we go about our business on this Monday morning there is a threat that neither Democrats or Republicans seem to want to confront. We hear it articulated clearly and forcefully in today’s gospel.

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand

Now before we start looking around for someone to blame, we need to look inside. We need to asked ourselves “How do I participate in the dividing?” and “What have I done to encourage unity?”

But before we can seriously answer either of those questions, we must each ask a more fundamental question: Do I believe the gospel? Do I really believe that a house, a kingdom, a nation divivided cannot stand? Do I see division as the greatest threat to national security?

Once we embrace the gospel and believe in our hearts that a house divided cannot stand, then we can each begin to take steps to ended the division. 

It’s starts by each of us refusing to propagate the caricatures. Enough with hyperbole. We have to stop liking, sharing, and retweeting anger. Democrats do not hate babies and the military.  Republicans do not hate women and Latinos.  Members of both parties are men and women who love their families and friends, and most of all love their country. They simply disagree about the best path for our nations. No one party is always right. No one party is always wrong.  Many of our founders worried that political parties would ruin us. They appear to have foreseen this very moment. 

Step two: we need to be informed and engaged. We need to focus on issues not people or parties. As Christians, a part of loving even your enemies is the willingness to truly listen to the other side.

Step Three: Encourage the better sides of our politicians. Most of our elected figures are people of faith. Most are Christians. Imagine if we wrote to them and encouraged them to behave like Christians. 

And we should wrap it all in prayer, daily prayer for our country and ita elected officials. 

We have been better than this and we can be better than this again. We can and should have intense debates about the issues, but I truly believe we can do it without the anger, hate, and personal attack that is guaranteed to destroy us.