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. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Choosing Leaders

We tend to act as if the first 12 Jesus called were the Apostles. In fact, today’s gospel would suggest something a more complex.

What Jesus has word disciples, students apprentices. And the according to St. Luke.,

Jesus departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles

How many disciples there were by this point in Jesus’s ministry? We have no idea.  What we are told, in the very same reading, is that after the selection of the 12 he gathered with a “great crowd of disciples”.  Do we ever stop to think about the ones who were no chosen? How much grumbling and jealousy was going on in that crowd as they saw who got chosen? We humans are fragile creatures; our insecurities easily provoked. And certainly by this time there were other disciples who could name all the defects in the 12 that were chosen. 

That fact that Jesus spent all night praying over the decision says that it was not an easy one.  When was the last time any of us stayed up all night praying over a decision?

In the last few years we have gone from anger over abusive priests to anger over, not only abusive bishops, but bishops who knew about and participated in the cover up of abuse by others. Even now there appears to be a great inequality in the way cases are handled. A priest is accused and instantly suspended. A Bishop is accused and he cuts back on his public appearances. 

Some people seek facile solutions. Do any of us think elections would guarantee better candidates? Just look at our top politicians. 

But perhaps today’s gospel is a call for prayerful discernment by the entire body of Christ, a time for us to pray with the intensity that Jesus prayed that He will pour out on the Church a Spirit of Wisdom so that we might know how we can transform our present system into one that will produce, not perfect, but better leadership. Presently, bishops are nominated by bishops and so the system itself all but guarantees more of the same.  

We will never know precisely what criteria Jesus used in choosing His twelve. St. Paul provides us with his thoughts but they are pretty basic. What we do know is that the process cannot simply be a step by step climbing of the ladder. Pope Francis has for quite some time decried that system. It must include prolonged prayer. 

Let us pray for a system that will provide the leadership that God knows will be best for the Church in the 21st century. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Embracing Mystery

Today in our reading we arrive what may be one of the most perplexing statements in all of St. Paul.

I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church.

It would seem like heresy to say that the suffering of Christ was somehow “lacking”. And yet, St. Paul says it in know uncertain terms. But what does he mean?

As Christians, we believe that Christ suffered and died for the salvation of all. But the salvation of each of us is a two step process. We must be incorporated into the Passion, Death and Ressurection of Jesus Christ. This is achieved sacramenally through baptism but in the mystery of God human suffering also unites us to Christ.

On the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1984, St. John Paul issued an encyclical on the meaning of human suffering called Salvifici Dolores 
Salvifici Dolores . In it he addresses the challenges we face when confronted with the experience of suffering and how we can reconcile the existence of suffering with our belief in a God who is Love.

In a world where we want all through to come in less than 2 minutes, the letter can seem long. But complex questions require thoughtful responses.  The words of St. John Paul are made even more powerful because as they say, he not only talked the talk but he walked the walk. He showed any of us who have ever had to deals with chronic pain how to unite it to the suffering of Christ and transform it into a source of strength and a font of God’s grace.  When he wrote these words in 1984, no one would have imagined that the athletic pope would become the pope who struggled to raise his head or speak. And yet, he continued the work of Jesus. 

Both his words and example should give us the courage to repeat the words of St. Paul when we are confronted with suffering in any of its forms. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Theological Virtue

Today we begin our reading of the letter of St. Paul to the church in Colossae. After greeting the people. He says

We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the holy ones because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.

If we look carefully we see St Paul beginning with what we call the three theological virtues: faith, love, and hope. 

The term “theological virtues” can sound daunting but it is a simple idea. 

A virtue is a habit. Athletes and others train by repetition. They  do something over and over and over again to develop what is called “muscle memory” so that, when needed,  the person repeats the action almost as a reflex. That way when they are in a stressful situation they don’t have to stop and think, they can act. 

Virtue is that good behavior that has become moral muscle memory, behavior that we have practiced until it become our way of being, our immediate response.  If it is bad habitual behavior we call it vice. 

Some virtues we can develop on our own simply my practice. If we practice moderation enough we will over time develop the virtue called termperance. 

There are however three virtues that you cannot achieve by your own power. They require God’s intervention. They require grace. Those are faith, hope, and love. You may be thinking as you read this that people who are not religious love others. The Christian response is simple. Any real love that any of us has, we have becaus it was poured into our hearts by God, whether we know it or not. 

Faith, hope and love are gifts from God. But they are like seeds. They must be carefully tended on a daily basis, if they are to grow and bear fruit. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

The five commands

In today’s gospel we have the well known story of the rich young man whose walks away sad because he apparently can’t give up his possesions. But if we look closely we see more. There are actually five commands that Jesus gives him as the way to perfection, the way to reach his goal.

GO - the first thing Jesus commands him to do is go away. That in itself can be very difficult for us. The idea of retreat, quiet, alone time with God can be too difficult. But if we are to be truly human, to be the people God created us to be, we must from time to time step away from what we know, step away from our routine, from the busyness that we call life.

SELL - It is interesting that Jesus does not tell him to give his possessions away. Jesus does not say,”Give what you have to the poor,” He commands him to sell it. To sell something I first of all have to know that it is valuable. I have to know the value of a thing, and set a price. Jesus is not telling him that possesions are valueless. On the contrary, to sell all he has means that he knows precisely how valuable the things are and the freely chooses to part with them. Bu at this pint in the process he would still have a safety net, the money from the sale.  He can still provide for himself.

GIVE - The third step is to let go of the safety net and simultaneously fulfill the second of the two great commands, love your neighbor. Again he must stretch. In a class driven society, he would not personally know any poor people. He would only see them as we see street people, from a certain distance.  To reach perfection, he cannot give the money to family and friends, he must give it to the poor.  Now he is truly free. And ready for the next command. 

COME - The fourth command is the opppsite of the first. He was told to go away, now he is commanded to draw near to Christ. No money, no possesions and therefore totally dependent on God and others for the needs of life. And yet, it is then that he is truly free. 

FOLOW - The last step may in fact be the most difficult. He is told to follow. The Greek literally means “to be on the same path”. The true disciple must walk the same road as Jesus, to walk with Jesus, day in and day out. It is not something you do once, it must become a way of life, all day every day. That is the hard part. 

In this simple story we are given the path to Christian perfect (go, sell, give, come, follow). Each of us must look into our hearts and discover how we are called to do each and f these things if we wish to reach our telos, our goal, our perfection. 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Why not Mary?

For many of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters the role of Mary can be difficult to understand. Unfortunately, we Catholics have, at times, contributed to the confusion by not being able to explain this aspect of our faith. We have all heard the crazy ideas, the most common being, “Catholics worship Mary.”

To explain our faith we need to reach back in the scriptures,

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph. 1:4)

Before God ever created the first atom of the universe, He knew his entire plan.  We see this most fully in the many ways that the Old Testament foreshadows the events in the New Testament. God prepares, not days or weeks ahead, but centuries ahead.  He prepares individuals for their unique missions. 

Secondly, we must remember the commandment,
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.(Ex.  20:12)

We believe that in all of human history God became incarnate one time, in Jesus Christ. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus were unique events.  If we can agree that the events of Jesus were unique, should we not also agree that the role of Mary, as the one through whom he took on our humanity, was unique? And worthy of remembrance and celebration ?

And if we believe that we are brothers and sisters in and of Jesus and she is his mother, how could we possible say that she is not our mother?

And are we not commanded to honor our mother?

Today we celebrate God bringing his plan for Mary to its logical conclusion. Her role in history was unique and so the completion of that role was unique. What son would not do likewise for his mother?

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The gift of Life

Today as I celebrate the gift of another year of life that has past, I must always spend time reflecting on the supernatural courage displayed by today’s saint, Maximilian Kolbe.

There is no more deeply rooted instinct in the human person than the drive to hold on to life.  And yet, St. Maximillian was willing to follow Christ in the  fullest way, surrending his own life to save another. His group of prisoners were sentenced to be starved to death, in an attempt to deter any other escape attempts.  When he did not die after two weeks, he was given an injection of carbolic acid. 

It is easy to imagine a parent who gives their life to save a child. But which of us would so simply surrender our life to save a stranger?
How did he do it?

If we look to his spiritual life we find a deep devotion to Mary.  Perhaps if we follow the example of his spiritual life, we may find ourselves more able to follow his example of self-sacrifice, not only for our friends and those we love.