Monday, October 8, 2018

Who is my neighbor?

As I watch the news, it’s sad how much both political parties are banking on anger as the force that will drive their base to the polls in November. Even sadder is the fact that they are right. In America now, the angriest party wins. But saddest of all are number of people who are, by baptism, Christian, and yet, are joining in the anger. 

We can and should debate, disagree, even argue. It’s how, in a democracy, we expect our elected officials to reach decisions for the good of all the people. But despite my best efforts, I can’t find anything in the teaching of Jesus that alllow me to say “I hate” or even “I can’t stand”, particularly in reference to a person I have never met. Even if I were to consider a person an “enemy” or believe they are my “persecutor” I have no choice but to love them. 

Does that mean I want to invite them to dinner? No. Does it mean that I have to trust them? No. But it does mean that I speak of them with the dignity that due to every human being. I pray for their wellbeing and conversion. 

If I am Christian then Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi are my neighbors. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are my neighbors. Nowhere do the gospels say that being Christian is easy. On the contrary, we are told repeatedly how difficult it is. We can repeat phrases like “one nation under God” or “in God we trust” all day long but if our words and actions are no different that those of the atheists and agnostics, if we Christians demonstrate the same vitriol, then are we Christians or merely hypocrites?

Friday, October 5, 2018

Twentieth Century Devotion

When we think of the Catholic Church and the 20th Century, we tend to think first of Vatican II. And on that subject, people feel very strongly, seeing it as either the best thing or the worst thing that ever happened to the Church. We can forget that there is an entire world of Catholics living the faith day by day, most going unnoticed. 

Among those, was a poor girl named Helena Kowalska. Born in 1905, she was so poor that she and uneducated that she had a difficult time finding a convent willing to take her. Her entire life was filled with rejections. What we now know as her devotion to Divine Mercy was for a time forbidden by the Holy Office, comsidered suspect, theologically. 

She lived only a short time on this earth, 33 years. Her childhood saw World War I and a world in which what we now called Poland was constantly being fought over by outside powers. In many ways, the time and place in which she lived showed the worst sides of human nature. And in that context, Jesus showed himself to her. 

The priest to whom she reported her visions wisely sent her to a psychiatrist, to be sure that she was not suffering from some mental illness. Assured that these were not hallucinations, Fr. Micheal became her great supporting in what would be an uphill climb to acceptance. 

Today the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and Divine Mercy Sunday are no longer thought of as strange innovations but as ordinary, perhaps traditional, parts of Catholic Spirituality. 

We may look at our world and think that it’s the worst mess ever, but St. Faustina lived in a much more difficult time and place. And yet, what she saw was Jesus and the great mercy of God. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

More trust than patience

Growing up, I remember often hearing the expression “the patience of Job.”  And yet, this week, as we read the Book of Job, it strikes me that the great virtue we see in Job is not patience but trust. 

Yes, he is patient. But the foundation of that patience is an absolute trust in two things. First, he trusts that God is all-powerful. 

God is wise in heart and mighty in strength. 

Job recognizes the presence of evil in the world. He recognizes the power that human beings have. But for Job, there is a greater power at work in the world, God. 

Secondly, Job believes that God’s action is continuous. And here is where he differs from many of us. For many of us, we seem to believe in a world that runs along like a machine and God occasionally intervenes, possibly in answer to prayer. Job has a very different view of the world. 

For Job, God is constantly at work in the world, constantly moving the world according to His design. 

Do we as Catholics believe in free will? Of course, we believe that every human being chooses and we define ourselves by our actions. 

Each tree is known by its own fruit. 

But we also believe, like Job, not in a God who is passively observing the world and only occasionally intervening, but in a God who is every moment of every day guiding the world toward the fulfillment of His plan, the coming of His kingdom. 

Job was able to be patient because Job trusted God even when the plan was not visible. 

We are living in a time when our trust in human beings is all but completely eroded. The good news is that like Job we may find that adversity deepens our trust in God. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

The unlikely Doctor

In the Catholic Church there are some who, in addition to being declared saints, are also called Doctor of the Church. Here the word Doctor is being used, in the Latin sense, to mean teacher. These are people renowned for their contribution to theology or the doctrine of the Church. 

When today’s saint, St. Thérèse, was made a doctor of the Church in 1997 there was great debate, not because she was a woman, but because her writing was not what anyone would have considered scholarly theology. Her work might be read in a class on Spirtuality.  

In his Apostolic Letter Divini Amoris Scientia (The Science of Divinie Love) St. John Paul II lays out her unique contribution to the teaching of the Church. He reaches back to the scriptures and finds in her writing an example of how God reveals himself to the humble, to the “little ones.” 

Today as we honor St. Thérèse it is a good time for all of us to stop and look for the signs of God’s love in the simple things of life. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Do I believe?

Today as the Church celebrates the archangels Raphael,Gabriel, and Michael; it is a time for all of us to stop and ask how much we believe in the presence and power of angels. 

There have for centuries been certain currents within Christianity that seek to reduce the universe to humans and the Trinity. Even in the Catholic Church, since the second half of the 20th century there has been a tendency to dismiss all other spiritual realities as old-fashioned, or superstition. Some have even tried to explain aways the angels in the Bible as people, human messengers. 

The fact is that Christianity and all three of the monotheistic religions have always believed in the existence of angels. Angels are spiritual (non-corporeal) beings with intelligence and free will. As St. Augustine explains, “angel” is their office not their nature. They are messengers and servants of God. They can constantly behold the face of God. 

Why does it matter to us? As the Catechism puts it,”From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.” In a world that is increasingly individualistic, and even religion gets reduced to “me and God”, it is important for us to remember that there a large part of the universe that we cannot see, and we are not the only intelligent creatures in that universe. We do not need to look to other planets for non-human intelligent life.  They are all around us. They are called angels. They serve as intermediaries between God and us. They accompany us on the journey of life. As we are told in psalm 91,

For he will give his angels charge of youto guard you in all your ways. 

On this Feast of Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel perhaps we all need to pause to be greateful for the action of angels in the world, and listen more carefully for their voices. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

It seems too easy

For those of us who still hope for eternal life, what must we do?

Some seem to think that just being a nice person is enough and because God loves everyone, we are all going to heaven.
Some Christians will tell you that faith alone will do it. 
But in a variety of places, as in today’s gospel, we find another formula:

My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.

Two simple verbs:to hear and to act. 

Professing faith is a great start, but that’s all it is, the beginning. If we wish to be counted among the brothers and sisters of Jesus, we must both hear His Word and do it. 

Where does the system break down? It doesn’t appear to be the hearing. Many Christians have heard the Word until we can recite it from memory. Some can quote chapter and verse. The problem does not seem to be primarily in the hear. 

The center of the problem seems to be in the process where we convert what we have heard into action. What is the blockage?

Temptation and our own enternal passions play a role for certain and we cannot ignore the role of Satan in the world.

But as problematic is the fact that we humans are social by nature. This is, in general, a good thing. It’s what makes society possible. But it also has a downside. 

We want to fit in. We want to succeed.  We want the approval of our superiors. We fear disappointing our loved ones, or the negative consequences of crossing the boss. And so we conform,;we go along. We forget the adage that “silence gives consent.”

Today’s gospel reminds us that on our last day each of us will be judged on, not only how much of the Word we have heard, but on whether or not we have converted the Word into action. Jesus gave his life. How much are we willing to give. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

When all is seen

We are told in the gospel of St. Luke,

For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light. 

And our minds immediately run to people we don’t like, people we think have gotten away with or are getting away with something. We think finally they will get what’s coming to them. 

But rather than thinking of others, perhaps, we should think back over our own lives.. Imagine for a moment if absolutely everything you had ever thought, said, or done was suddenly publicly seen by all.  How would any of us feel if our lives were suddenly that exposed? How many relationships would go up in smoke if every person knew what you thought, or said about them behind their back? You can’t write it all off as “I was only kidding.”

In the Letter of St. James we are commanded to,

Confess your sins to one another 

In the early church this was taken quite literally and people were expected to stand up in front of the whole community and confess. Thankfully, over time, this practice evolved into our Sacrament of Penance, and we can make that confession to one priest or bishop as representative of the whole community. In this life we can maintain some privacy.  

Today’s gospel, however, reminds us that at the end there will be no secrets; there will be no privacy. It will all be known.  At the moment of our death, we will face what we call the “particular judgment”, the judgment of the individual. Our entire life will be brought to light and judged. And we will be humbled. 

The only way we can make it easier on ourselves is to get up every day and live as if it were all being broadcasted. We would do well to imagine that every moment of our life were being live-streamed on the internet, including our thoughts. 

In the gospel today we are told that there is nothing hidden that will not be visible. That would include all four categories we mention in the confiteor: thought, words, what I have done and what I have failed to do. 

It seems like an impossibility high bar that is being set. But it is really quite simple. We must think before we speak or act. And when we do fail, we should avail ourselves of the gift of the Sacrament of Penance, recognizing that there is no such thing as private sin, sin that it only between me and God. As members of the body of Christ, everything done by one effects all.  

May God give each of us the wisdom today, that we may choose the right words and actions, the ones we could be proud to have known by the world.