Friday, January 29, 2010

The Impact of Fame and Authority

The first reading today shocks almost no one. We have seen so many such stories we become immune to the impact. Has the world become a worse place, no. On the contrary, if one is a student of history, one realizes immediately that the world has become a much more civilized place as the Christian faith has spread. What makes it feel worse is that sin that used to be a very private matter is now broadcast all day everywhere.
We can go back in our own nation's history at least as far as Jefferson to find adultery through a host of political figures to the most recent case of Tiger Wood. What they all have in common is that there power and fame exacerbation a tendency that can take place in any person, the tendency to explain away our sin.
While we look judgmentally on these famous people, we can forget that Lust is not the only sin that was considered dead there are six others:
Pride (judging others), Greed, Envy, Anger , Gluttony, and Sloth (Apathy)

The key for all of is that we recogize in ourselves when we begin to explain away the small sins before they grow, and the sins we explain away with "Everybody does it."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Blogging from the Capitol

Both bishops are here and children and adults from both dioceses.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Abandonment by God

but I will not withdraw my favor from him as I withdrew it from your predecessor Saul,
whom I removed from my presence.

Is is possible for a person to be abandoned by God? We can certainly feel at times abandoned by God.

This is a question that people have wrestled with since the beginning, and the earliest awareness of the presence of God. Many including our ancestors understood God in this way, as seen in this passage from today's first reading--- Another reason why we must be careful when we simply pull verses from the bible and forget that as Christians the Old Testament must be seen through the lens of the New Testament, and how the new covent not only fulfilled but expanded the old.

With the "new and everlasting covenant" in Christ, we are no longer simply "God's people" but truly become God's children. This means among other things that we cannot be abandoned by God. Even in the case of moral sin God does not "remove us from his presence." On the contrary, mortal sin, and indeed hell itself is an act of our free will. We can of our own free will separate ourself from God, but God will never separate himself from us. No more that any other child can stop being a related to their parent.

The truth was most recently underscored when the Holy Father, altered the Code of Canon striking for several canons the phrase "left the Church by a formal act." Once you are baptized, you are a child of God and a member of the Church. This cannot be undone. Even when you are forbidden to come to the table of the Lord (excommunication), you remain a member of the family.

As for hell, permenant separation from God. This too must be something that is not imposed on us by a loving God, but something we choose by a full and free act of the will. According to the Catechism of Catholic Church this permanent separation from God can only result from "a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end." Until the last nanosecond of our life, God is the Father of the prodigal son waiting to embrace us and welcome us home.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Conversion of St. Paul

A figure that often gets lost is one of the figures that we should know from history, Gamaliel. There can be know doubt of how well St. Paul was formed in the law, because the first reading today tells us of how he studied at the feet of Gamaliel.

Gamaliel is considered to be one of the greatest teachers of the Jewish faith. In the Mishna he is referred to with the title Rabban, the Head of the Sanhedrin. And it is he who is credited during the fight over how to deal with the followers of Jesus with saying "if the Gospel be of men, it will come to naught, but if it be of God, you will not be able to overthrow it"

He was right. It has not been overthrown, and despite sometimes horrific errors in our past, we have brought Jewish/Christian relations to good place in our time. There is still much that we can learn from the study of our parent faith. As we celebrate St. Paul's conversion, let us also take moment today to show reverence for Gamaliel and the formation that prepared St. Paul for this moment.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Basic Respect

In the first reading today we reach a story that we all know well, David and Goliath. As Christians the violence of the story may disturb us, and we may loose some of the small details that are of great meaning.
This week we have been reading the story of how God had decided that Saul was no longer suitable to serve as king, and David is chosen to take his place. Despite this, the reading opens with "David spoke to Saul: 'Let your majesty not lose courage.'" In humility he respectfully addressed the man he is supposed to replace, and places himself at Saul's.
Humility and Basic Respect.
Basic values we need in our modern political language.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Colaboration wtih God

We finally reach the point in the first reading when Samuel is charged with replacing Saul, with David. The reading today tells us of his anointing and how from that day on, the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David. Depite being filled with the Spirit of God, David will go on to commit a number of grave sins including adultery, and murder. And yet, Jews, Christians, and Moslems continue to think of him as a great king.
This may in part be due to the fact that he did not have 24 news channels ginning up anger, and running the video all day long. More to the point it is because history recognizes the constant struggle of human life, and the good a person does is not erased by sin.
Each of us had that same Spirit rush on us the day of our baptism, but there still remains our free will, and temptations we face to make choices that run opposite to the will of God, being filled with the Holy Spirit does not shield us from our own free will. This is why daily prayer becomes so critical in our lives. We must maintain our conscious connection to that presence of God given to us. We must constantly quiet ourselves and listen.
The second Vatican council reminded us of the "Universal Call to Holliness" in the document Lumen Gentium. We can be saints, but only with the daily help of God.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What does it mean to be free?

In the first reading today we hear what may seem like a strange rebuke of Saul. He is declared by unfit to remain king because he allowed his mean to offer sacrifices, at a time when this was a normal way of worshiping God.

Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams. For a sin like divination is rebellion, and presumption is the crime of idolatry.

The sin of Saul was the original sin. It is called idolatry because that's what it is. Saul decided for himself, contrary to the instructions he had received from God, that it would be a good thing to allow offerings be made to God.

We rarely thing of ourselves as idolaters, but whenever we decide for our self that, "God's law is outdated", or that something is no longer a sin because everybody is doing it, it is the sin of idolartry, because we have made ourselves God. We have given ourselves the power to decide what is right and wrong. This was the original sin.

Obedience is hard for us, in part because we mistakenly believe it is the opposite of freedom.
If I have to obey someone else, I am not free.

In fact the opposite is true. Obedience to God is the path to true free. It is God who created us, in his own image and likeness. God knows us better that we know ourselves. God knows our full potential, what we were meant to do in this world.

You think you are free? Which of us has not said or done something, and then asked ourselves, why did I do that or why did I say that? Which of us does not have some bad habit we cannot seem to break?

Only God's grace can truely free us to fulfill our true potential and be the person God had in mind at he moment of our conception. We receive that grace of God in the sacraments, but we must then allow it to work, allow it guide our words and actions, and this requires obedience.

In latin to obey is to listen. We must listen constantly for that voice of God, and trust that the path it directs is best. Then we will be truly free.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

1 Shevat 5770

The Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, and the days go from sunset to sunset.
On this day the first of Shevat of the Hebrew year 2488, according to the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses convened the Jewish people and began the 37-day "review of the Torah”, which he concluded on the day of his death on Adar 7 of that year.
As our Jewish brothers and sisters mark this final presentation of God's law, we remember that, while we believe Christ freed us from much of the law with the new Covenant, we still believe that all law must be judged by its correspondence to God's law, most simply summarized in the duel commandment to love God and love our neighbor.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Be careful what you wish for

Today we are nearing the end of Samuel's days and the people of Israel, not content with what they have, have decided they need a king since everyone else has one. Samuel warns them that they can have judges but their only king should be God, but "'The people, however, refused to listen to Samuel’s warning and said, “Not so! There must be a king over us.'" So Samuel asks God to give them what they want. And then the Bible goes on to recount the mess that ensued.

The older I get the less my prayer is what would be called prayers of petition, where I ask God for specific things. The Cathecism lists five kinds of prayer: blessing and adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise. And of course we have the example given by Mary, "Let it be done unto me according to thy word", as well as the Our Father's "Thy will be done."
Each of these are center not in our own knowledge of how things ought to be but absolute trust in the love of God. Do we have that same trust?
Perhaps today we can take a look at the five kinds of prayer listed in the Catechism and ask ourselves what percentage of our time goes to each. Is petition wrong, No, but it should not be all we do or evem most of what we do.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

God doesn't work that way

In our first reading today we have one of many examples in the scriptures where faithfulness to God did not protect the people from experiencing defeat. Despite the numerous example in the bible of the good suffering (including Jesus) and the bad prospering (God rains on the just and unjust, rain being a good thing), there are still those who think of God as Santa, "making a list, checking it twice" and handing our riches and punishment all day long.

Pat Robertson's declaration that the earthquake and all the problems of Haiti including crushing poverty were the result of God punishing them for having made a pact with the devil to free them from French control is absurd in many ways, but does serve to remind us that all faiths are not, as some want to say "equally valid," and ecumenism does not call us to declare that we should respect all Christian perspectives without regard for the truth.

For us as Catholics, ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue begin with the belief that some things are true and some are not, like Robertson's absurd understanding of God. Our Catholic Faith calls us to respect whatever is true, in another Church or ecclesial community or faith's teaching, but to, with love, clearly name what is wrong.

We are called to love our neighbor, but if we truly love someone we tell them when they are headed down a wrong road. There is nothing contradictory or hypocritical about saying, I respect the equal dignity of the person of Pat Robertson, and simultaneously call his interpretation of the Christian faith absurdly wrong.

Let us continue to pray for the people of Haiti, and continue to pray for all people that they may come to the knowledge of the truth, remembering God willa that all be saved and "come to knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Beginning at the Beginning

Today we celebrate the first weekday of the first week of Ordinary Time, and both readings mark beginnings as well, the beginning of the story of the prophet Samuel and the beginning of Jesus' ministry.
If you have not read the story of Samuel, the story is worth following for the next few weeks. Today we begin with his mother and see, that as God as often done, God has chosen someone who feels like an outcast and somehow punished by God. Her name means "beauty" or "passion" and she is loveed by God but wants a son.
Today we see her at the point in the story where she cannot see what she has, she cannot see how much her husband loves her, all she can see is what she does not have and therefore has a miserable life.
How often can we be like Hannah? We see what we don't have. We don't hear the good things people say, or we dismiss the compliments, but the negative remarks, like those of Peninnah, stick and we focus only on them. She names the son Samuel meaning "God has heard" but in reality had it not always been a part of God's larger plan to send Samuel the prophet. We pray prayers of petition not to change God's mind, or because God needs our prayer, but because we need to recognize our own constant need for God.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Fulfillment not replacement

One of the greatest challenges for us in reading the Bible is how we, as Christians, are supposed understand the Old Testament. While we all agree that it is the inspired word of God, each Christian traditions weighs the force of its precepts differently. There are those who would say they take it literally, and use Jesus' words from today's Gospel as proof that Jesus wanted to keep the law. After all, he told the leper to "Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing
what Moses prescribed." I would dare say that even the most fundamentalists, really pick and choose: eating pork, or wearing clothes of two different threads. There are others who feel free to simply pick and choose individually what parts of the Bible they will interpret how.

From our Catholic perspective we recognize that we must take the scriptures as a whole and all must be examined through the lens of the Gospel. For us the Holy Spirit lives, and our understanding of God's word continues to deepen. The word does not change but our understanding of it does. That is why Jesus gave the church a shape, a structure, to guide that ever deepening understanding of the truth that is contained in every part of scripture, a truth that in some cases is immediately apparent, and in some cases requires an understanding of language, culture, and context that not every person possesses. We believe that every part of scripture has some truth to teach us, and the tool God has given us to help unlock that truth is called the magisterium.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Hardest Commandment

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was born December 22, 1986, the youngest of 16 children, and son of one of the wealthiest bankers in his country. As a young boy he attended the Essence International School, later went to High School in the British International School in Togo. A teacher, John McGuinness, described Abdulmutallab as "incredibly polite and very hard-working." Abdulmutallab began his studies at University College London in September 2005, where he studied Engineering and Business Finance, and earned a degree in mechanical engineering in June 2008, and later completed an MBA.

The first reading today says "If anyone says, “I love God,”
but hates his brother, he is a liar;
for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen
cannot love God whom he has not seen.
This is the commandment we have from him:
Whoever loves God must also love his brother. "

How do we do this? How do we exercise our right of self-defense and simultaneously show the love that is requred of us as Christians?
First of all we must think of him not simply as a terrorist but as a person, someone's son, created in the image and likeness of God. Secondly we must continue even now to respect the life that God has created even as we may reach the determination that we may never be able to release him.

The more complex question is: what turned this western educated, well-educated, child, into a terrorist?

As Christians, we now pray for him, for his family, and especially for his father, who made the most difficult choice any parent could make, to turn in his own child.
It is by remembering the humanity of all those who see us as their enemies that we, with God's grace, rise above the natural and live the supernatural love to which God calls us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Love not fear

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment,
and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.

We tend to think of hatred as the opposite of love, but today's reading invites us to look at it from a different angle. Emotions like hatred or anger are seen as rooted in something else, fear.
The economy, terrorism, the possibility of a major change in how we deal with health care all of these things filled our 2009 with fear, and the fear often turned into anger and replaced civilized debate with scenes like the town halls.
As the new year begins this first reading reminds us all that we are called to constantly examine our hearts, and pray for the grace to be freed from all fear, so that we may live constantly in the love of God.

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Blog system

I've changed my Blog so I can more easily manage it even when I'm on the road