Friday, June 22, 2018

A Higher Law

Today the Church celebrates St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. They are a reminder to us that as Christians we have a duty to critically examine all human law. They remind us that we believe there is always a higher authority. 

As Americans the existence of our country is based on the belief that human rights are not granted either by a legislative body or by a constitution. Human rights are given to every person on earth by God. “They are endowed by their creator.” Basic human rights we believe to be inalienable. 

Whether or not a law is just is not based on popularity. As Christians, we believe that a law is just to the degree that it reflects God’s law. Even if 99% of the citizens of a country favor a law, it was passed by a legislative branch and signed by the executive; if it is a violation of God’s law, it is unjust. And as Christians we have an obligation to denounce it. 

St. Thomas More was faced with a leader who did not understand the limits of his authority. But St. Thomas More could neither be cojouled or coerced to surrender his allegiance to a higher authority. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Adultery

Yes, that is the sin of which St. James accuses the people. It is adultery because they claim to be lovers of God but they are actually lovers of the world. 

And even more sad is the fact that in the 21st century our beloved is, as Pope Francis recently spoke about, not the real world but the virtual world. And it is not just the young people. How many people of all ages wake up in the morning and grab their phone, first thing? It is the first thing we check in the morning and the last thing at night. How many people cannot go a full hour without checking their phone? They are designed to be seductive. 

Yes, there are plenty of excellent uses for technology. I am writing this on an iPad. And there are many great apps for Prayer and religious content. But all of it must be kept in its proper place. 

Perhaps it is good for us to frame the issue as St. James does, in terms of relationship. Who do we say we love? And who or what do we really love? In order to answer those questions it is useful to answer some other questions. Who gets my first and last thought of the day? Who do I need and want to have with me constantly? Who do I fear losing?

If we answer honestly we may be surprised by our answers. We may be in fact what St. James calls us: adulterers.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Celebrating the mother

Whenever a child is born there is also rightly some celebration of the unique role of the mother’s role in bring that child into the world. 

Yesterday we celebrated Pentecost, the day on which the Church was born, and so it is fitting that on the day after Pentecost Pope Francis has placed the obligatory memorial of “Mary, Mother of the Church.” It is not at all a new title, what is new is merely the placing of the obligatory memorial in the universal calendar of the Church. If we understand the Church as the body of Christ, and she is His mother, then she must also be the mother of the Church. 

But, you may ask, why do we need something like this? Doesn’t simply play into the hands of the ignorant who accuse us of worshiping Mary?

The decree establishing the celebration give a two-fold purpose: growth in Marian devotion but also growth in “the maternal sense of the Church inpasors, religious, and the faithful.” Imagine for a moment a world in which all people hear the word Church and think of a mother with her arms open wide anxious to embrace her children. The child runs to the mother and she wraps her arms around him/her..Imagine the Church as the place where one can always feel safe and unconditionally loved, the place one turns to for nourishment. The list goes on. 

Today each of should take a few moments and ask, “What can I do to advance this maternal sense of the Church.”

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Birth of Church

Today we celebrate the birth of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church which came into being the moment the Holy Spirit was poured out on them in Pentecost. The first phase of Jesus’s mission was now complete. The whole thing won’t be complete, of course, until his return. 

Someone once asked me, “Do you think he knew what a mess we would make of it?”  I answered, “Yes.”

I think Jesus knew exactly who he was entrusting with His Church. There is only one Church and it is His.  It is not only His Church, but it is also, despite us, still Holy. 

We have to remember that what makes the Church holy is not the sinlessness of her members. It is the presence of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit that makes the Church holy. Is there any one of us who does not sin? We, the members of the Church should never throw up our hands and be resigned to live as sinner. We should always strive to live holy lives. But we should never forget that the Church is a  work of God not ours. 

Hollywood and some others love to present charicatures of the Church, focusing solely on the sins and failings of some individuals. Rarely do we see presented the contributions that we have made to the world: health care, education, human rights, and yes even government and law. There’s a reason we call it a penitentiary. There is a reason why the German word for nurse is derived from “sister.” 

Even those of us who are Catholic can too easily focus on the bad, rather than focus on all of the good that has been done in the world by the body of Christ the Church.

Today is a day for each of us, to give thanks for the gift of the Church which we are blessed to be a part of, and for the gift of the Holy Spirit we have received to guide us.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

How do we turn back?

In the first reading today, St. Paul uses divisions over the issues of the resurrection to set the Saducees and Pharisees at each other’s throats. It is a very effective weapon. In our Church and in our country we seeing that same scene played out on a daily basis.

I just returned from Germany and France. I have been very blessed in my life to have the opportunity to travel much more that most people. But with every trip I come home to the U.S. and I remember that it was by sheer providence that I was born here. I would guess that most people reading this are like me. We did absolutely nothing to earn our citizenship. Many of us received our Christianity in much the same way. We grew up in families, where our parents, however imperfectly, instilled in us the rudimentary aspects of the Christian faith. We have never had to live through real persecution. We have never had to work for any of. My U.S. citizenship and my Christianity came as free gifts. The danger with gifts is that we can be unappreciative. 

I look around my Church and my nation, and I worry more that ever. Our capacity for civil discourse and debate have vanished.  We are the Saducees and the Pharisees in the first reading simply screaming at each other.  The saddest part is that we are being torn apart not by someone or something outside. We are doing it to ourselves. 

During the Easter season the Church has us read from St. John’s gospel. In it, the center of Jesus’s final prayer is “that they may be one.” He knew well that the moment he ascended the in-fighting would begin. To combat it he sent the Holy Spirit. As Pentecost approaches it is time for us to pray for our Church and our nation. In both we who call ourselves Christian have a great opportunity to show the rest of the world what makes us different.  With the help of the Holy Spirit each of us can choose to not be part of the screaming match. We can show by our example that it is possible to disagree and yet love one another. 

Yes, I know how corny that sounds. Bur is it not the Christian way. 


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

How big is your world?

It is easy to read chapter 17 of John’s gospel and see the world as a place of sin, the world vs. the Church. But we have to go back to the verse that many of us memorized as children John 3:16,”God so loved the world...”. That’s right.  Love of the world was the impetus of the story that is at the heart of the gospel. Even in chapter 17, we are told that Jesus does not pray for the father to take us our of the world, but to simply protect us from the evil one while we are here. 

 But how big is our world?  The Greek word used in John’s gospel is “kosmos.” It reminds us that God is the maker of all thing visible and invisible. It reminds us that God loves the entire creation and therefore so should we. But do we?

It we look at original sin, and the stain of original sin in us, we find that it manifests itselfin the turn inward, the tendency in us to focus on ourselves ahead of others. Put simply, it shows itself most clearly when we are self centered. It can be insidiously subtle in its operation. 

Like Jesus we are called to love the world.  Today’s opening prayer speaks of a world “united in purity of intention.”  We are called to be one Church, and beyond that to love the “kosmos” the entire world. But because of original sin, we tend to shrink the world we love. And fear encourages the shrinking. 

We shrink it to “people who look like me”, “people who speak my language”, “my friends”, “my family.” And left uncheck it can shrink to the point that the only one I truly love is me.  We see it happening not just in the US but in other countries as well, a pulling away. Sometimes it is nationalism. Sometimes it is a smaller subgroup inside a nation.  It is the opposite of the unity to which we are called by Christ. 

Luckily we know the solution. It’s really simple. Fear and love work as opposing forces. Fear shrinks our world. Love expands it.  If we let the tv and the internet,and even sometimes the people around us, fill us with fear; our world will shrink. We will return to a primitive tribal state of being, the state of our ancestors before the gospel. But St. John tells us that there is no fear in love and that love can cast out fear. 

Love expands our world. For example: When you hear the words North Korea, do you think merely of nuclear weapons or do you think, as well,of the millions of hungry oppressed people who are our brothers and sisters? We don’t ignore the problems but we don’t reduce an entire nation of people to a thing. Can we show real love  for the people of a place like Iran? Do we even bother with news about the people south of our border?

As humans we have a tendency to shrink the world of our concern.  But as Christians we must constantly be expanding the boundaries, striving to imitate Jesus who gave his life for every single person who ever was, is, or will be. 


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The time in between

It is difficult for us to imagine what these days must have been like in the days in between the ascension and Pentecost for the apostles and others who remained disciples of Jesus. Particularly for Catholics and others who baptize infants we have little or no memory of life without the influence of the Holy Spirit. The downside is that, because we don’t really remember life before the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can loose sight of what a gift it is. The same way we take for granted the ability to breathe or eat or walk, we take for granted the presence of God with us. 

We are five days away from the celebration of Pentecost, the day on which the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church. Perhaps the best thing we can do in each of these five days is take a few minutes each day to quiet ourselves and give our undivided attention to the third person of the Trinity,whose temples we are. 
In the words of Pope Francis, “There is no greater freedom than letting yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit and allowing him to lead you wherever he wishes.”