Sunday, September 26, 2010

The manners of a dog

Growing up in Danville, I remember hearing the older folks say of someone who was ill-mannered, "He has the manners of a dog."

Today's gospel is the well-known story of the rich man and Lazarus. Oblivious to the situation of Lazarus the rich man sits in his house dining sumptuously while Lazarus suffers sickness and poverty just outside his door.

I'm sure he probably used the same excuse we often do. We see so much chronic poverty, we decide we can't fix all of it and therefore excuse ourselves from fixing any of it. But then there is the dog.

Luke includes what seems to be a superfluous detail. The dog would lick the sores of Lazarus.

God has built into dogs this instinctive reaction. They lick sores to try and heal them. Does it always work? No. Does it even sometimes make them worse? Yes. But the intention and instinct is a good one. The dog sees the suffering man and does what he can to help.

So in fact the dog in this gospel is more well-mannered than the rich man. The rich man doesn't even have the manners of a dog.

Are we expected to cure all the world's ills? But are we expected to do what we can? The US is less than 5% of the world population and consume 25% of the energy. We throw away so much food that it costs us 1 billion dollars a year just to dispose of wasted food. And probably all of us reading this blog, truth be told, myself included, are by world standards "rich."

Perhaps my prayer today is simple: Lord give me the manners of the dog.
Help me to truly see those in need and do what I can to help.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Vanity of vanities

Today's first reading ends with this famous quote,"Vanity of vanities. all things are vanity." It strikes me that when we use the word vanity in modern American English we tend to think of it in the sense of the old Carley Simon song, You're so vain. The fact is this is not the sense in which the word is meant in this passage. Here it is meant in this same sense as when we say we did something in vain.
The best translation I have found is the German one. The word the German Catholic Bible uses is "Windhauch", literally a breath of wind. In the great scheme of things all of the things over which we seem as a nation to be so intensely angry today are a mere breath of wind, a puff of air.

Perhaps we need this sense of perspective now more than ever.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Remembering our Jewish Roots

Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Matthew, the apostle credited with giving the gospel that is placed first in the New Testament. How appropriate that we celebrate him at the same time of year our Jewish brothers and sisters mark Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Of the four gospels, Matthew most of all aims to show that the message of Jesus was not something disconnected from Judaism but was in fact the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Some scholars even see in his gospel a five part division the mimics the five books of the Torah.
Perhaps today we pray for a deeper sense of unity between ourselves and Jewish brothers and sisters.

Monday, September 20, 2010

All winners

Today we celebrate the memorial of the 103 Korean Martyrs, usually two names are singled out St. Andrew Kim and St. Paul Chong, one priest and one layman.

We recently completed our celebration of the year of the priests. While most of it was positive, there were some voices who attempted to claim that to celebrate the ministerial priesthood was somehow "exclusive" or "clericalism", that praising the ministerial priesthood somehow denigrates the priesthood of the faithful.

The error of this thinking is that it assumes that there is a finite amount of praise and that it is a zero sum game. To give to one, you must take from another.

Is it true that in the past the role of the laity was undervalued? Yes. The answer is not, however, to now undervalue the role of the ordained priest. We did that in the last half of the twentieth century and we see the result.

What we need is balance. We need to go back and read the Vatican II document on the role of the laity, and their unique mission in the world. At the same time we need to not be ashamed to say that there is something special about the role of the ordained priest. Even after everything the priesthood has been through in the last few years, every study shows that most priests today still say they would not choose any other life.

The Korean church needed Andrew and Paul each with unique gifts and called to a distinct ministry in the church. May we find our way to true collaboration, that every part of the body of Christ work for the building up of the whole.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Rules, Ritual, and all that stuff

These I hear a lot of people who will describe themselves as spiritual but not religious. When you ask what's wrong with religion The answer I get is some version of "I just don't buy all those rules and ritual, and all that stuff." Even some who will describe themselves as Christian will try and claim that "all that stuff" isn't what Jesus was about.

Once again they make the fatal mistake of forgetting that Christianity isn't a faith of either/or but rather a both/and.

My theology of law professor in Rome once asked the question "Will there be law in heaven?" His answer was "No." In heaven there will be no need for law because everyone will live constantly by the virtue of justice, the constant and perpetual will to give to each person that which is their right--in short they will love,

But we are not there yet. In the mean time we need rules and rituals. Which of us has not developed a ritual to help us cope with at least the first half hour of every morning? How many of the same people who balk at organized religion have a workout routine for the gym or a yoga class they attend where they are told that not only does each asana have an precise shape but even the sequence of the asanas is important.

Jesus does not condemn the laws of the Pharisees per se. On the contrary, he says clearly that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. What Jesus condemns are those examples where the rules and rituals remain on the surface, those examples where they do not fulfill their purpose, interior conversion of heart, right relationship with God and others.

It has been 10 years now since I finished my canon law degree at the Gregorian University in Rome. And I am still thankful that our Dean's focus was not simply on our memorizing the law, but understanding the purpose behind each law and its connection to God's law of love.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It's not fair


Which of us did not at some point whine this refrain to our parents. Today we celebrate what may seem to be a strangely titled feast. In English it is either referred to as "The Exaltation of the Cross" or "The Triumph of the Cross."

We lift up the cross. We venerate the cross, we repeat the refrain  "Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have  set us free. You are the savior of the world." The question is: are we willing to embrace the cross and imitate Christ fully?

Love of neighbor and a sense of charity may move us to give to those in need: flood victims in Pakistan, hurricane victims in Louisiana. What Christ did on the cross was no mere act of philanthropy or charity, in the ordinary sense of the word.  On the cross Christ willingly suffered for sinners. Those for whom he hung on the cross were not innocent victims of natural disasters; they were bad people, to put it bluntly. He accepted punishment and suffered because of someone else's wrong-doing.

Was it fair that he have to suffer for another person's sins? In our childish human sense of fair, No.
But it is what he did.
Even more miraculously, he did it willingly.

How do we feel when we have to suffer because of someone else's mess? Do we get angry and whine like the four-year old "It's not fair"? Or do we embrace the cross in imitation of Christ?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Our Eastern Brothers and SIsters

Today in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church we celebrate the memorial of St. John Chrysostom. Chrysostom is not is last name but a title he was given because of his eloquent preaching. It means "golden mouthed."

Probably his greatest influence, however, is on the Eastern half of the Church. The Eastern Orthodox and the Byzantine Rites of the Eastern Catholic Churches to this day normally celebrate what is call "The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom." 

More disturbing to our modern sensibilities has been the disputes over the relics of his body.  His head is in Moscow and his right hand on mount Athos. While this may seem strange to us, it speaks of the great devotion to the saint.  A great saint and Father of the Church now. We should remember that in his own lifetime he was scorned and exiled for daring to speak out against what he recognized as corruption among important people of his time.

As we prayer with our eastern brothers and sisters today remembering his life, let us also have the courage to imitate his virtue-the willingness to speak truth to power.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The power of God

In the second reading today, St. Paul reminds us of his former life as Saul of Tarsus, the pharisee dedicated to hunting down members of this new sect of Judaism which we now call Christianity. We know the name of one christian killed at the instigation of Saul. We have no idea how many more there were whose names are not recorded. What we know is that Paul himself looks back on those years, and describes himself as the foremost of sinners.
The first reading we see one option for dealing with such evil, simply destroy it. If God wanted to he could. The exodus story is not one about Moses changing God's mind, but rather God testing Moses. Just as God never intended to have Abraham kill Isaac, God never intended to wipe out his people no matter how badly they sinned.
God's response to sin and evil is not destruction but conversion of heart. Pau's point in recounting the gravity of his own sin is simple. If his heart could be changed, there is no heart that cannot be changed. There is no person alive who is beyond redemption. After all, do we not believe that God is all-powerful?
Does God will the eradication of sin and evil? Yes. But not by simple eradication but by conversion, the changing of hearts by the power of God's grace.

"there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance...there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
- Fr. Wayne

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Nine years have passed since the morning that none of us will forget: four airplanes, 19 hijackers (15 Saudis, 1 Lebanese, 2 from the United Arab Emirates, 1 Egyptian), 2,977 dead from the attacks, 6,807 coalition troops killed in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and by most estimates, at least 100,000 civilian casualties in Iraq alone; And somewhere at its inception it was an idea in the head of one man, one angry idea.

The human mind is one of God's greatest creations. God has shared with us the power to conceive ideas, and to turn those ideas into actions. What we lack is the ability foresee all the consequences of those actions. How much destruction can be the fruit of an single angry thought?

In today's gospel we hear, "A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil." The challenge is that no adult alive today has a heart whose stores are pure good or pure evil. We all live in the middle. As people of faith we are called to constantly clean out the stores in our heart, purging them of hatred, anger, malice, fear, all that is evil-- a call to constant purification. As the confiteor says, we begin with our thoughts, then our words, then what we have done and what have failed to do.

The other metaphor Jesus uses in today's gospel, construction, shows us the key to that purification is a good foundation. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when the flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built. As Christians, Christ must remain the rock, the foundation at the center of our hearts, from which flows love of God, love of neighbor, and even love of enemy. As St. John tells us, "perfect love drives out fear."

As we mark this ninth anniversary, let us pray the words of the traditional hymn, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me."

Friday, September 10, 2010

When being self-centered is good

Almost aways the gsopel challenges us to our attention outside ourselves, toward God and toward our brothers and sisters. The one time when we are as Christian supposed to turn from others to ourselves is when we critique. As the gospel today says, we are to remove the plank from our own eye before we offer to remove the splint from our brother's eye.

With the mid-term elections approaching, I have practically stopped watching the "news." No one in the political sphere seems to have ever heard this gospel. Even when it looks as if they might be self-critical the remark turns.

I am reminded of the saying, "Any apology that contains the word "if" is not really an apology." (I'm sorry if you were offended.) In the same ways no self-criticism that contains the word "but" is really self criticism. (what I did may have been wrong, but...)

The truth is that if we each day occupy ourselves with our own examination of conscience, correcting our own faults, and discerning and doing the will of God; we won't have time to turn a critical eye on anyone else.

- Fr. Wayne

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The slave for the slaves

We celebrate today the life and work of Pedro Claver Calberó, known in English as St. Peter Claver. This Jesuit priest known for is work among the slaves of Cartagena, Colombia was born in Barcelona Spain.
As early as 1537, Pope Paul III had condemned slavery, but it had continued none the less and the port of Cartagena was a center of it.
The conditions under which slaves were transported from Africa were so horrendous that as many as a third might die in transit. One can only imagine the conditions at the port when they arrived.

Today this saint intercedes for us from his place in heaven, and serves as a link between the two great minority communities in the US, the African-American and the Spanish-speaking.

We are also reminded that the scourge of human trafficking still thrives in our world. As Christians, let us pray on this Memorial of Peter Claver that the church not rest until this grave sin against human life is ended.

- Fr. Wayne

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy Birthday Mary

Nine months after the Immaculate Conception we celebrate today the Birth of the Virgin Mary.  According to tradition she was born in the city of Jerusalem. Our faith says that the unique feature of her birth was that she was born without the stain of original sin.  While this was unique to her, in a sense it is how God works in every life.
God gave Mary the gift she needed to carry out her role in the Kingdom of God, each of us are also born with the gifts we need.  There is no suck thing as a life without purpose. As we celebrate the birth of Mary, the mother of Christ, and the mother of his Body, the church, may each of us strive to carry out the will of god, and carry out our role in God's plan.

This year it happens that we mark the birth of her life, on the same day that our Jewish brothers and sisters mark the beginning of a new year, Rosh Hashana. Let us wish them over these next two days of celebration, Shana Tova.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Imagine the new unemployment

We have arrived at the point in Paul's letter to the Christians in Corinth when he addresses a matter which he considered absolutely scandalous.

How can any one of you with a case against another
dare to bring it to the unjust for judgment
instead of to the holy ones?

It seems that the people in Corinth were suing one another, taking each other to the civil courts rather than taking the matters to the leaders of the church, and Paul finds the whole thing completely unacceptable.

Can we even imagine how few lawyers, and other court officials we would need if every case that involved two baptized persons suddenly disappeared from the dockets of the court systems, particularly in those places that think of themselves as Christian or more specifically Catholic countries.

On a deeper level, today's reading invites us reflect on how many people have been scandalized by the squabbling in their churches, and how many have abandoned Christianity all together because they see so called Christians behaving no differently than those who have no faith at all.

Paul reminds us that we are better than that. We have been given a new life in Christ. We have been rescued, and given a life of grace and each day that light must shine like the sun to bring new life to the world.

- Fr. Wayne

Monday, September 6, 2010

On Labor Day

It is only fitting that on this day, we as Catholics go back to May 22, 1891. it was Pentecost that year, and on that day when we celebrated the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Pope Leo XIII issued the first of what would come to be called the social encyclicals. For those unfamiliar with the term an encyclical is a letter intended to be circulated.
In this first Encyclical Rerum Novarum the pope addresses the new relationships created by the industrial age, the success but also the new abuses that arose with factory work.

He writes in the opening that, "It is no easy matter to define the relative rights and mutual duties of the rich and of the poor, of capital and of labor." No truer statement could have been written. In the abstract we understand the fundamental rights and responsibilities of both worker and employee. but in the concrete reality of our daily lives we love the bargain, and try not to think of the nearly slave labor that made it possible.

Today is a good day to go back to Leo XIII his words, (it is not a long document), and pray for workers, not just in our country, but around the world.

In 1991, Pope John Paul II wrote Centesimus Annus to mark the hundredth anniversary of this landmark work.

- Fr. Wayne

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Why are you boasting?

What do you possess that you have not received?

One of the common expressions used today which I find most annoying is, "It's all good", a sentence that is patently not true.Some things are evil, some actions sin, and some things the results of sin. When a child is killed by a drunk driver, that is the result of sin; it's not all good.
What St. Paul teaches us that what we could say that would be true is, "It's all gift." Everything we have is gift from God. We may look at something and say we earned it. We may look at technology and say we created it. But in truth there is nothing in my person, nor in the universe around me that is not gift from God.
Additionally, we received it not to be its owner, but to be its stewart. The one who created it remains the owner.
I have been blessed to travel the world, and I am happy to come home every time. When I was younger I would come home filled with pride, "This is the greatest country in the world." Now instead I come home with gratitude. "Thank you God for the gifts you have given us. May we always use them wisely."
- Fr. Wayne

Friday, September 3, 2010

Not always what we want

Today we celebrate Pope St. Gregory the Great, both a doctor of the Church and one of the Latin Fathers of the church. While volumes have been and could be written about him, one of the things that is most striking in his biography is how he came to be Pope.

While it has always been fashionable to look on the Catholic Church as rife with politics, intrigue, ambition, and scandal ( and sometimes rightly so), Gregory stands in stark contrast to all of that.

He came from a noble family and could have used that to achieve any position he wanted, but what he wanted was to be a monk, to live out his days in the solitude of the monastery. He wanted no part of being Pope, but was by all accounts "forced" to accept the title. He was the first pope to come from a monastic background.

It would be wonderful be to able to say that because he knew it was the will of God, he accepted the papacy with joy and contentment, but that would be a lie. He continued in the first years to bemoan the lose of his monastic life.
But he did his ministry as pope anyway, and that is the key.

He did what God and the church needed him to do, despite the fact that he was not what he wanted to do, or even what he felt called to do. How often do we christians try and dress up our own desires as a calling from God? Sometimes doing God's will requires immersing ourselves in what we perceive to be mere mundane drudgery.

We call him "the great" but at the time from his perspective there was nothing great about it.

Today each us will move through our rather mundane lives, doing the things that need to be done, but we never know what greatness God might see in the simplest of our acts.

- Fr. Wayne

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Belonging to Christ in love

all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.

When we hear the verb phrase "to belong to" we think of ownership, possession, and control. This is the fool's use of the word, to use St. Paul's terminology.
Christianity teaches the existence of the free will, and even the concept of hell because God does not wish to posses us in the human foolish sense. As distinct from some eastern philosophies the goal is not a kind of obliteration of the self in the universe or even in God.
"To belong to" for us is to be held in the loving embrace, the way a parent holds their newborn baby. By allowing ourselves to be embraced by God in this way, we become one with God, without the lose of self. "that they may be one, Father, as you and I are one" as Jesus prays in John's gospel. The persons are one and yet distinct.

Hell, the total separation from God, must also exist because we must have the freedom to reject God. We must freely, out of love surrender ourselves, not once but daily, remembering the words of Jesus "into your hands I commend my Spirit." When we allow ourselves to be embraced by God's love, then we, in turn, learn to embrace the goods of the earth with same tender loving care. The world, life, death, the present and the future belong to us, according to saint Paul. How will we hold them?

- Fr. Wayne

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Spiritual Infancy

In today's first reading Paul, in his usual direct fashion tells the people that they are spiritual infants. And what are the characteristics of this spiritual infancy? On the one hand, they claim to belong to Christ, and yet they are still ruled by their egos and focused not on what unites them but on what divides them. President Obama was recent criticized for believing in "collective salvation" and his critics were arguing that Christianity teaches a purely individual salvation.

As usual the truth is both. There is an individual aspect to salvation and a collective, "apart from the Church there is no salvation." Infants baptism, intercessory prayer, mass intentions, confession not just to God but to the priest, the requirement to attend mass on Sundays and Holy Days all point to communal nature of the Christian faith. The Church is the body of Christ and when we are baptized we are united to that body. Our individual good deeds lift up the body; our individual sins wound the body.

Maturing in faith, leaving our spiritual infancy, means moving away from the self, and toward Christ and his body the Church. If Christianity were simply Jesus and I it would be easy. Jesus is perfect. The real challenge of Christianity is that it must be lived in a community of imperfect and often annoying brothers and sisters. Paul's letters remind us that from its inception the church has faced this struggle and yet God grace has and will continue to hold it together as the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

- Fr. Wayne