Sunday, December 1, 2019

Preparing for the arrival

Yes, I know that the first weeks of advent are focused on the second coming of Jesus and not the first. But it seems to me that there is a connection. 

We tend to think of advent and waiting and we think of waiting as something passive. But ask a couple who are expecting a baby if waiting is a passive thing. For most couples I know it is a crazily busy time. From the moment they find out, it is an emotional time, a combination of excitement and fear. There are, what seem to be, a million details. Life is totally transformed. They are no longer just a couple; they are parents. 

We are 24 days from Christmas. Imagine if today you were told with certainty that you have 24 days. What would you do with them? Who would you call? Who would you visit? Who would you forgive? From whom would you ask forgiveness? When would you make time to go to confession?

We tend to live our lives as if there is always tomorrow. We waste time on the trivial. For a million different reasons, we avoid the important, the necessary.  We spend more time watching TV or surfing the net than we do talking to the people we claim to love. 

As we begin a new year, the reading are a stark reminder. 

Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. 

As we count down the days to Christmas, let us behave as if we were counting down to the second coming. Along side the list of presents, make a list of people to call, the calls you want to make and the calls you need to make. Pray as if you have only 24 days and counting. Let us live with that combination of excitement tinged with fear that is the mark of expectant parents, as we pray,

Come Lord Jesus Come!

Monday, November 4, 2019

It’s all His

Today’s first reading continues an idea we heard in yesterday’s first reading. Yesterday we heard:

For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? 

Today St. Paul reminds us in more concisely:

For from him and through him and for him are all things. 

There seems to be a human desire to sort things into categories. We like binary, this or that, good and evil.

These readings remind us that it is even simpler than that.  God loves everything that is. It came into existence and is sustained in existence because God wills it to continue to exist and it therefore must have a good purpose. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

To miss the mark

Two men went up to the temple to pray...

Yes, the first man Jesus describes is a bit of a caricature.

O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity --
greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector.

Most of us would never quite have the hubris he describes, although I think we often come close.

We spent the last half-century building up our "self-esteem" convinced that it would make us better people.  The evidence now shows that it has done quite the opposite.  We overshot the mark and went past self-esteem to egocentrism.

The tax collector in today's gospel utters a simple act of contrition:

O God, be merciful to me a sinner

With those simple words, six words in Greek, he places before God all of his sins and begs for mercy.  He does what, in our culture, has become almost impossible. He humbles himself.

The word St. Luke uses for sinner, amartolos, literally refers to  the archer who has missed the mark and therefore does not share the prize.

We have convinced ourselves that we are so fragile we can't say, "That was bad" or "That is not good enough".

Jesus teaches us that we are stronger than that. We were created to be more. We were created to be saints. But to get there we must be able to admit when we fail, when we have missed the mark. And we must be willing to throw ourselves on the mercy of God. Then, and only then, He can remake us into the image of His Son Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Reaching fully convinced

In Paul's letter to the Romans today we hear that Abraham

was empowered by faith and gave glory to God and was fully convinced that what God had promised he was also able to do.

It is easy for us when sitting in Church to speak of faith and to proclaim our belief that with God all things are possible but the faith of Abraham was not something to be lived in the isolation of a religious building.

The faith that empowered Abraham was a force strong enough to compel him to abandon everything he knew, everything that was safe and set out on a journey into the unknown. His faith took him to the brink of sacrificing his own son. There was no aspect of his life that was not shaped by his faith.

 Yes, it is true that faith is a gift but like other gifts it can and must be developed. The only way to develop it is with practice - intentional, consistent practice.

We use phrases like "work-life balance" to try and categorize and manage our activities. The simple truth is that work is part of life.  All of our actions are parts of a single life, given to each of us. Our faith too cannot be one aspect of life. It must be something that permeates every aspect of our life, every choice we make.

Our goal to reach the faith of Abraham. Perhaps then too we will be fully convinced.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Return to the blog

As many have noted, in the last couple of years I have become very sporadic in writing this blog.  For me it has been a time of great prayer. I have struggled with my Church as I have watched our bishops, stumble like a child learning to walk, unable to find their footing. Some have continued to simply ignore the law of the Church, as if they are above it. Others have thrown priests, living and dead, under the bus with no due process, hoping to distract from their own failings. Some of my brother priests have been quite public in venting their spleen. 

But I write this today because I still believe.  I still believe that this Church, with all its failing, was established by Christ. I still believe that the head of the Church, Jesus, remains joined to the body. I still profess faith in the one holy catholic and apostolic church. I still believe that the Holy Spirit was the ultimate guide in the selection of Pope Francis. 

People think that the most difficult of the promises we make at ordination is celibacy. Perhaps that is because we live in a world obsessed with sex. But in truth I believe that the most difficult of the promises is obedience. When we are ordained, we kneel down and promise respect and obedience not only to that bishop but to his successors. At that moment we have no idea who the successors will be.  It is an absolute leap of faith. And news flash, none of them are perfect. And each is imperfect in his own way, just as each of us is imperfect in our own way. 

Sunday mass attendance in many places has dropped. Every cleric knows that at any moment he can be accused of anything by anyone and he will be presumed guilty. But those of us who remain cannot surrender. We must dig deep and find our faith and our hope. 

Today’s gospel tells us that 

the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 

To give up hope would be that blasphemy. We may in fact be a smaller church. We may be a poorer church. And these may be good things. In the RCIA process we refer to the Lenten Season as a time of “Purification and Enlightenment.”  The Church is made up of individual members. The Church can only be purified and enlightened if we the individual members pray for that same purification and enlightenment.

Anything can be forgiven. Anything can be healed. The only unforgivable is to give up on the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

The polar opposites

Today we celebrate two opposites: Mary and Jonah. 

Mary is called by God and give the perfect total yes. Let it be done to me according to your Word. 

Jonah gives the opposite response. When God calls Jonah and gives him his mission, he runs. God says go to Nineveh and Jonah hops a boat in the opposite direction, Tarshish. 

 Both Mary and Jonah are afraid, and for good reason. Jonah allowed his fear to control him, Mary did not. 

The good news for Jonah is that if we are people of faith, even when we are slow to listen God remains faithful. As the first reading ends today, the large fish has spit him up and Jonah is back at the start.  Tomorrow God we give him a second chance to listen and get it right. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

The overseer

In the first reading today we hear the qualifications for the role of episkopos, literally the overseer. The word has made its way into English as bishop. The things that are connected to the bishop we describe the the adjective, episcopal. St. Paul provides quite a length list of qualifications.

a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious, not a lover of money.

Of all these, it is perhaps the last one that provides the greatest challenge. 

On the one hand, a Church must have money to operate. As so, every bishop, like every other minister, must engage in fund-raising. We continue to come up with new euphemisms for it. We call it “development” or “advancement”, but at the end of the day it is about convincing people to give money. 
And for a good cause. 

On the other hand, the money must never become the thing to which we are attached. How far will we go to obtain the money? How far will we go to protect the money?

How many Christian Churches have over the years sold the best seats to those who give the most money? How many priests were in the old system named Monsignor, not because of the holiness of their lives, but because they could raise money? Sadly, our churches are covered with the names of wealthy patrons. Where are the names of the poor but holy, those who worked hard and gave good example, but had no money to donate?

Worse by far, were the crimes covered up by bishops in order to protect the money. And today, how many dead innocent priests have had their reputations ruined, because of an accusation that had no proof? We used to believe in the presumption of innocence. We used to believe in due process. We used to believe that a person had a right to face their accuser. Now we seem willing to throw it all aside to protect the money, to avoid a potential lawsuit. 

The lure of money is seductive and on a practical level we all need it to survive. But St. Paul reminds us today that we should never place protecting money over the protection of people. As individuals and as a Church, caring our brother and sisters must always come first, especially the most vulnerable, and the most broken among us.