Monday, June 26, 2017

Unconditional Surrender

If we ask where the story begins, we could go back to creation as the book of Genesis does, or we could go back to before time and space as John's gospel does. But today's first reading is the other important beginning, the beginning of the People of Israel, the beginning of the first covenant.

As chapter 12 of Genesis recounts the story it begins with a call — a call and a promise. Actually it begins with a command.

Go forth halak in Hebrew. The verb means simply to walk. In this case Abram is commanded to walk away from everything he knows. God promises great blessings if he can do this one simple thing.

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.

But it is not simple. God does not tell him where they are going. He is told only that he is to leave him home and go to "the land I will show you."

We call Abraham "our father in faith" and today's reading tells us why. Because the response of Abram is not given in words it is given in action. In Hebrew it is the past tense of the same verb God used in the command. God commanded him to walk and the response is Abram walked. He just gets up and walks away — from the known to the unknown.

This unnegotiated, unconditional trust in God is the beginning of the covenant that God will make with the people of Israel. When God makes the new and eternal covenant it will be Mary who says the unconditional yes to God's will.

Abram and Mary are the two models of perfect faith.

In yesterday's gospel we were told to not be afraid. Today and every day we can lead fearless lives if we start each day trying to imitate the faith of Abram and Mary.




Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sanctity and Youth

In our English documents we tend to call today's saint St. Anthony of Padua. Ask the Portuguese and they will tell you he is St. Anthony of Lisbon for the place where he was born.

Regardless of moniker, what remains to me most striking about this saint is how powerfully God's grace worked in him at such a young age. We tend to think of saints as wise and old, as if those two things go together. St. Anthony was only 36 when he died. And yet, he was such a gifted preacher than he made it all the way to the court of the Pope and after his death was named a Doctor of the Church, a title reserved for the greatest teachers of the faith.

What he accomplished in his short life was clearly not his work, but the work of God in and though him. For any of us who preach or teach the faith today is a day not only to look to the example of St. Anthony but also we should not be afraid to ask for his help. Now, as much as ever, we need the ability to translate the message of the gospel into words that can be understood by the world in which we live, especially a language that can be heard by our youth and young adults.

St. Anthony, pray for us.



Monday, June 12, 2017

Compassion and Encouragement

Today we begin a two week reading of the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Church in Corinth. He opens his letter describing God not only of the Father of Jesus but as

the Father of compassion and God of encouragement.

The first of the words is similar to the word we use when we sing Kyrie, Eleison (Lord, have mercy). Many linguists will point out that the word St. Paul uses hear is less removed; it represents a deeply felt kind of compassion/mercy. 

The second word , encouragement (paraklesis), is linked to the word for the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete). At the heart of both is the image of someone who is constantly by your side to console and advise every step of the way. This implies that we should be ready to listen. 

But St. Paul then tells what we must do with the encouragement/advise we receive from God. It is given not just to make us feel better, but

so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.

We receive from God so that we might pass on to others what we receive. We pray, we listen, we pass on to others who are suffering. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trinity is not in the Bible

Is the word in the Bible? No, but like many other theological truths,the theology of the Holy Trinity permeates the New Testament. It has been a part of the Church's theology from the beginning. While there are a few groups who baptize in the name of Jesus only, most Christians practice trinitarian baptism as commanded by Jesus at the end of Matthew's gospel.

We can start with St. John,

God is Love.

Love is by definition relational. It requires more than one (unless you are a narcissist). There must be at least a Father and Son.

The Bible does not say that God began to love, after he created the world. The Scriptures say God is love. It is his essence. From before the creation of anything he was love itself.

St. Athanasius explain it using St. Paul,

...one God who is above all things and through all things and in all things. God is above all things as Father, for he is principle and source; he is through all things through the Word; and he is in all things in the Holy Spirit.

We also see it directly spelled out by St. Paul when he greets the people of Corinth,

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Here he uses God as synonymous with the Father.

As Christians we believe that all Divine action is carried out by the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit; from the creation of the universe to and beyond the end of time.

What does any of this mean for us now?

It goes far beyond sentiment, "God loves me." As the current Pope and his two predecessors have tried to remind us, because God is love, Mercy is also part of the very essence of God. St. John Paul added Divine Mercy Sunday to our calendar to call our attention to this attribute of God.

Our great problem is that we reduce Divine Mercy to human mercy. We see it as the opposite of Justice. Part of the great mystery of God is that justice and mercy in God are not separate but are one realty, two sides of the same coin, if you will.

So the next time one of us get the urge to say,"I demand justice," we must simultaneously ask, "Am I ready to give mercy." If we live in the Spirit and not in the flesh, we will not try to have one without the other.


Monday, June 5, 2017

LXX Old Testament

When we think of the Roman Empire, we think Latin. In fact, at the time of Jesus, Greek, not Latin, was the language of the Empire. Just as today we read our Bible in English, Jews of that time would have more often than not used the Greek translation called the Septuagent.

The name Septuagent comes from the Roman numeral LXX (70). It is the number of Jewish scholars who translated the Torah into Greek to make it accessible to the people. People in the time of Jesus did not speak Biblical Hebrew. Even Jesus spoke Aramaic.

St. Paul and the others who wrote the New Testament depended on the Septuagent when quoting the Old Testament. While it is true that later in history Judaism would reject the Septuagent, Catholic and Orthodox Bibles hold on to it because it was the Old Testament of the Early Church.

When we read the Septuagent we are reading not some later, rarified Hebrew Old Testament, but the Old Testament as it would have been read by the first Christian communities. Your Catholic Bible contains all of the books that would have been in the Septuagent. Other bibles have taken out some of the books. I am often perplexed by some Christian theologians who will quote St. Augustine and reject the Bible that he would have read.

Today we begin reading the book of Tobit. If you had asked St. Paul was it really part of the Bible, he would have said of course. It would not be until the 16th century that some Christians would reject it. It is not the case as I heard growing up that "Catholics added to the Bible." We simply remain faithful to the Old Testament that would have belonged to the earliest Christians.

The Book of Tobit is the story of a man who remains faithful to God's law even in exile. He is willing to risk everything to provide his fellows Jews with a proper burial. This week we will read not only how he suffered but how the angel Rafael came in disguise to assist him because of his faithfulness in things large and small.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Paul or Pilate

We all remember, and not in good way, Pontius Pilate washing his hands of responsibility for the death of Jesus. It was his job to render the decision and no gesture of hand washing could change that truth.

On the other hand we have St. Paul, who shows us that there are times when it is appropriate to not take responsibility. In today's first reading St. Paul says to the people,

And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.

St. Paul can rightly say he is not responsible because he has done what he can do. He has proclaimed the entire truth to them. What they do in response to that truth is personal responsibility of each individual.

All too often, particularly when dealing with family, we feel responsibility to help them, and by help them we mean fix them. We erroneously believe that being a good Christian means doing everything possible for our loved ones.

In fact, St. Paul reminds us today that we can advise others but ultimately each person has to be responsible for their own actions, for how they do or do not follow the way of the gospel. This also means that each person must accept the consequences of their choices.

We often want to keep others from all suffering. St. Paul proclaims the opposite. He knows that the very act of embracing the gospel is going to lead to suffering and, for some, death. Suffering is part of human life, and in a special way, the Christian life.

It is not always easy to discern when we are being Paul and when we are being Pontius Pilate. Prayer and often spiritual direction can assist us in the process, but ultimately we have to listen to the voice of our well-formed conscience.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The in between

What must those days have been like?— the days between the Ascension and Pentecost. It is hard to imagine the feeling of lose the Apostles and other disciples must have felt. We know that many drifted away. Disillusioned, they went back to their old life.

And yet, there were the few who had real faith; not faith as ascent to a list of beliefs, but faith in the sense of absolute trust in the words that Jesus spoke to them.

In today's gospel we hear the most outrageous claim in the gospel.

I have conquered the world

Jesus did not claim that he will conquer [future tense] it when he came back. Jesus claimed that he had [past tense] conquered it.

Some two thousand years later it is hard to see the signs of His having conquered the world. If we listen to the news and even some Christian preachers, you would think that this world is still firmly in the hands of Satan.

But here is where we must have faith. Faith reaches beyond the narrow spectrum of what the human eye can see and what the human ear can hear. Faith enables us to use our hearts to reach beyond sight and sound, and to trust that Jesus has, on the most real level of reality, already conquered the world.

If we look for them, we can in fact get glimpses of the victory. But we have to look for them.

With the Ascension Jesus did not simply go back to where He came from and leave them with nothing while they waited for the Spirit. He left them in a world that had been transformed,a world that He had already conquered.

As we start this week, let us believe the words of Jesus. Believe Him when he says, "I have conquered the world." And with the eyes of our hearts and souls we will see all around us the signs of the Victory that those without faith cannot see.