Monday, July 6, 2020

A Call to Conversion

Monday through Friday of this week we read the Book of the Prophet Hosea, a story of fidelity and infidelity. 

The kingdoms are still divide, the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel. The Kingdom of Israel has wandered away to the worship of other gods. And So in chapter one God calls Hosea to marry and love “a harlot, Gomer.” He marries her and He loves her.

As we settle into our new life in a world with COVID, our activities are more limited. This means our excuses for not spending real time with God in prayer are also limited. 

It would be easy to launch into a critique of the world around us and rant about our country. More difficult is look inside.

Rather than compare our current culture to Israel or Gomer, our time would be better spent asking ourselves. 

How am I unfaithful?
How have I turned away from the demands of my faith?

There is no such thing as “a Christian nation.” A country  does not have a soul; a  country cannot be baptized.  When we speak of a “Holy Nation”we are speaking not of a human country, but of the Church. The Church always and everywhere has existed as a “people set apart” inside of human nations. 

We change the culture not by ranting but by setting an example, by demonstrating to those around us the attractiveness of the Christian life. It is the witness of the members of the Church being faithful that calls others to conversion.  We have tried imposing the faith on others. It always fails. Only by showing others the love of Christ will the message be heard and embraced.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Focus on God

Today’s gospel is our most repeated prayer: the Our Father

But how often do we actually pay attention to the structure of that prayer. 

The first three petitions are not about us, they are about God.
-hallowed be thy name
-thy kingdom come
+thy will be done

So often we think prayer is about us, meditation is about calming us, adoration is about how it makes us feel. 

The Our Father reminds us first of all that prayer is about God. It is about letting go of the focus on the self, letting go of the focus on our work, our projects. We can offer our needs to God, but only as part two of our prayer not part one. 

Prayer is that time when our full, undivided attention is given to God, and only God. It takes effort. It takes practice. It takes discipline. Our natural tendency is to be constantly mentally in motion, our mind running from thought to thought. 

Today God wants nothing more than a few minutes of your undivided attention. 

Thursday, June 11, 2020

The 15th Appostle

When we think of apostles, we think of the twelve. But we must remember the others. 

There is St. Paul whom scripture calls “apostle”.  There is Mathias, the replacement for Judas Iscariot.  And there is today’s saint, Barnabas. 

A Jew from the island of Cyprus.  His birth name was Joseph. He is believed to be possibly the cousin of St. Mark, the evangelist, and was one of the earliest disciples. The fact that he can be an apostles establishes the fact that he was an eyewitness to the earthly ministry of Jesus. 

It strikes me that he may be a better model that Paul for most of us.

In the New Testament Paul is everywhere and his letters make up the bulk of the New Testament. Barnabas is there but in a quieter role. He is the one who accompanies Paul. He inhabits the background of the story, and only occasionally emerges. He is called, not nabi –the prophet , but bar nabia –the son of the prophet. 

In a world where it is possible classify “influencer” as a profession, and people’s sense of self is all too often tied to the number of “likes” or “follower” a person has, perhaps we need a Barnabas. He reminds us that it is ok to be quiet, it is ok to remain in the background. Great things can be accomplished behind the scenes. 

Friday, June 5, 2020

Daring to be persecuted

As we continue to read St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy we hear another of God’s promises:
all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

But there is a catch, particularly for religious leaders.  In the twenty-first century it takes money to run a church. Buildings, property, employees, programs— they all require money, which in turn requires donors. 

In other times perhaps people gave out of sense of duty, or because they understood that the scriptures required them to tithe. Now day they treat the Church like just another 501c3. They give to the one they like, the one that tells them what they want to hear. 

And so, bishops and other pastors will never be persecuted because they will rarely ever say what their donor base doesn’t like. 

This week we saw real courage. Archbishop Wilton Gregory had to courage to stand up and speak out when the president decide to use the John Paul II center for a photo op. Surely he knew that many of the “heavy hitters” in Catholic donor circles are Trump supporters. And yet, he spoke. He spoke directly and forcefully. His words were not carefully crafted by a committee so as to not upset anyone. 

When was the last time we heard one of our religious leaders venture beyond the safety zone? In my baptist days we called it preaching to the choir. 

St. Paul tells us that if we want to live a truly religious life we will be persecuted. In order to be persecuted, we have actually upset someone who is listening. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Impossible for God

Many of us love to quote “with God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26) But is it true?

In our first reading today from the Second Letter to Timothy, St. Paul reminds us that it is not precisely true. There are some things that are impossible for God due to his very nature. As St. John tells us, “God is love” and it would be impossible for God to act contrary to his nature. 

In the first reading today we are told  if we deny him he will deny us. If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”

Here St. Paul affirms what we believe about baptism. In baptism we are transformed and become part of the body of Christ, and the transformation is permanent. We call it the indelible character of the sacrament. We become part of him, and “he cannot deny himself.” For this reason we never re-baptize a person. If their baptism is uncertain we conditionally baptize but we never re-baptize. 

We can commit moral sin and be subject to the just punishment. We can be “unfaithful” in many way, but God remains faithful to us. Fidelity is part of his very nature. Fidelity and love are linked. 

Today our hope is grounded in the fact that there is at least one thing God cannot do.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Back to the Ordinary

Today we jump back to so-called Ordinary Time.  First let me say in Latin it’s simply Tempus per annum (Time of the Year). It is not called ordinary. And certainly this year there is nothing ordinary about it. 

Today is Monday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time. We has that short spell of Ordinary Time between Christmas and Lent. We pick up today Reading the Second Letter of St. Peter, a kind of farewell testimonial to the Christians. 

In today’s reading he provides us with a list of virtues that Christians must have.  He begins with faith and ends with love (agape). But in between he lists six other virtues all Christians must have

excellence αρετη - from the word for “better”, a sense of always striving to move forward toward perfection 

knowledge γνοτις for Christians specifically knowledge of God

self-control εγκράτεια Literally  internal power

Patient endurance  υπομονή  

devotion/godliness ευσέβεια     Literally Good worship

mutual affection/ affection for other Φιλαδέλφεια Philadelphia - love of other not love of self 

Not a bad list to keep handy as we put on the worn green vestments and go out to face the particular challenges of so-called “ordinary time” in 2020.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Prepare for the coming

With the Sixth Sunday of Easter, the readings begin to turn our hearts and minds toward the celebration of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. These fourteen days offer each of us the chance to ask ourselves where the Holy Spirit fits into our lives. 

In the west, we Christians may be comfortable talking about our relationship with Jesus. We may often pray to the Father. But our relationship with the Spirit tends to be much more ambiguous. We say it is the third person of the Trinity, but I’m not sure we think of the Holy Spirit as a person, or related to it as a person. 

Often we either get locked into the image of the dove, or we think of it as a kind of mystical energy. The Holy Spirit is devoid of personality. 

If we think about it for a moment, the opposite should be true. We should have the closest relationship to the Holy Spirit.  From the first outpouring, it is the Holy Spirit that remains with us. The Holy Spirit transforms us. It is the Holy Spirit who changes mere bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. 

In the Office of Readings today St. Didymus of Alexandria reminds us:

The Spirit restores our original beauty and fills us with his grace, leaving no room for anything unworthy of our love. The Spirit frees us from sin and death, and changes us from the earthly men we were, men of dust and ashes, into spiritual men, sharers in the divine glory, sons and heirs of God 

In these days lead8ng to Pentecost, each of us should take time to pray with, in, and to the Holy Spirit, the advocate always with us.