Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The older we get

The older I get the more I realize that some of the things my mother that did that made me the most craze were the ones that taught me the most. She would often get angry with us for not doing something around the house and say, “Do I have to tell you to do everything?”   As a child, at least in my head, I would respond, “yes.”    I thought that she had some unreasonable expectation that we could read her mind. It was only much later in life that I realized that she was  teaching us the same message is today's gospel.

 The gospel today ends with Jesus saying that when we have done everything we have  been commanded to do, we are to call ourselves “useless servants.” The message here is not that human beings are bad, or that Christianity is somehow intended to  wreck our self-esteem.  The message of the gospel is the same as the central message of the entire Gospel that what should motivate our actions is always love. If we only do the things that we are supposed to do out of a sense of obligation, or worse yet a sense of fear, then we are not truly disciples of Christ. We are still acting as if we were slaves.

 like my mother, Jesus wants us to do the right thing not because we're  commanded to but because we want to out of love.  Once more it seems, mom was right!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Back up and running

With the change to the new apple OS the app I was using for my blog was acting up. Hopefully the problems are resolved and I will be back up tomorrow morning.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spirit or Flesh

Today we reach that part of the Letter to the Romans when St. Paul tries to explain the relationship of life in the Spirit and life in the flesh. Despite the number of times we hear the words of St. Paul, how truly do we believe them.  He write, "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, 'Abba, Father!'"

Yet, how many Christians still talk and act as if we are slaves.  Sayings like, "That's just the way I am" or "You can't teach an old dog new trick," or even "I'm only human," all deny the message of St. Paul. This is the language of slavery. It denies the real power of God's grace and turns sacraments into empty symbols.

For St. Paul, the Holy Spirit that we first receive in Baptism transforms us, or to use his metaphor, it frees us from slavery, and makes us the sons and daughters of God. Even the translation "Father" seems too formal to capture the "Abba" of St. Paul. He reminds us that Jesus teaches us to address God as he addresses God. 

As Christians we must embrace the freedom God gives us, embrace the full meaning of our new identity. Can we do it all at once? Not usually. For most of us what it means each day making steps forward, acknowledging those aspects of our life that do not correspond to the gospel, and turning to God to help us eliminate those words and actions which are not in the image of Christ.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The war within

St. Paul in today's first reading deals with the perennial struggle between knowing what is right, and even wanting to do what is right, actually doing it.

In our modern American culture we tend to cast this struggle in purely psychological terms, and behave as if psychology is a science like physics or chemistry and look for formulaic answers that ignore the spiritual.

St. Paul casts the issue in purely spiritual terms with the explanation that there is evil in his members, his body, that leads him to do what he does.

The truth, as always, is found somewhere in the middle. Each day we learn more about neurology and the biochemistry of the brain. As Catholics, we do not deny the advancements science brings us. We also;however, acknowledge that evil is real.Temptation is real, just as real as the biochemical imbalances that cause conditions like depression. The medicine for dealing with this spiritual aspect of our struggle is God's grace.
We human beings are flesh and spirit. and we must tend to both aspects of ourselves if we are to be truly healthy. One would be foolish to simply try and pray away diabetes. One would be equally foolish to look for a pill to cure our spiritual ills.

When was your last checkup, the physical one and the spiritual one?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Antioch Continued

Today we celebrate the Evangelist St. Luke who also lived in the city of Antioch.  He is said to have been a physician, and for those who like a "scientific" approach, he is our man. He opens his gospel by explaining his reason for feeling the need to write another gospel. "I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty(asfalia) of the teachings you have received." 
The word asfalia means: firmness, stability, certainty, undoubted truth.
Perhaps this feast of St. Luke is a time for us to about the trust with which we believe the good news handed on to us in the gospel.  Compare our trust in what our favorite news outlet tells us, and our trust in what the Church teaches, and has taught for two millennia. Which do we trust more? Which should we trust more? 
As we celebrate St. Luke today, may we be just a bit firmer in our faith.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Remembering the Second Generation

When we think of Jesus, it strikes me that we tend to focus on the apostle and the disciples of Jesus without really asking ourselves about what happened next. Once Jesus had ascended, the apostles went out preaching, but we rarely focus on how the church then began to take shape. If fact, we see that there were particular cities that became centers for the Christian faith. Some we know well like Jerusalem and Rome. Other are not so familiar to us.

Among the cities that were the centers for the nascent Christian faith in those early centuries was Antioch. The city was founded by one of the generals of Alexander the Great. During the Roman period it became a kind of eastern capitol for the empire, and there a significant Christian community developed.

Today is the feast day of the third bishop of the city, Ignatius.  It is said that Ignatius was a student of the Apostle John, and that Peter himself named Ignatius to be bishop of the city after the death of his predecessor, St. Evodius around the year 67.  He was sentenced to be eaten by lions at the Colosseum in Rome.

For us today, what remains are the letter which is wrote while on his way from Antioch to Rome. These letters give us a glimpse at how the early church lived, led by be the successors of the apostles in the strictest use of the phrase lived.  We speak of the "one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic church."  His letters help us to understand more fully what that meant in daily life.  We see in them the importance of church structure and the centrality of the Eucharist.  And we also see the use of the word "Catholic" to describe the Church.

Twenty centuries later, we are now the generation entrusted with the faith for which Ignatius and so many others died.  As they look down from their place in heaven, I would hope that they are pleased with what they see. May our leaders today show the same courage.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Context is everything

In today's first reading we arrive at the perennial debate over the relationship of faith and works in salvation. Is faith alone enough? Or is something more required?
Growing up in a non-Catholic context, I remember hearing today's first reading quoted on more that one occasion as evidence to prove that being saved consisted in "professing faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior." Here one would quote from today's first reading, "For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works."

The problem with this is two-fold:
1) it is an incomplete quote. The full sentence reads, "For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law."
Those last words are critical to the text. St. Paul is not referring to any works, but the works of the Jewish law, which brings us to second part of th problem. Context.
2) If one looks at the verse in context one sees immediately that the issue St. Paul is dealing with is the possibility of Gentiles being saved without becoming Jews, at not the 16th century debate of faith or works for salvation.

The Letter of St. James chapter 2 seems to strike the perfect balance on this issue.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?
So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Indeed someone might say, “You have faith and I have works.” Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.

St. Paul is right and so I had crab cakes last night, bacon this morning, and am wearing clothes of mixed fabrics, in violation of the law, because as a Christian my salvation is not linked to a strict observance of the Mosaic law. St. James is also right, and presents the greater challenge to us, to wake up each morning and repeat his words, "I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works."

Imagine if every Christian in the world just did that today.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator,

Harsh words from St. Paul this morning and yet what he is describing is what all sin has in common. We exchange the truth of God for a lie, and we put some created person or thing (mostly ourselves) over God. Usually we don't do it directly, but indirectly. We convince ourself that the lie is the truth. We convince ourselves that we need something, so that having it is not a sin,

We seem to get sucked into the same game in morality we see played in politics. If enough people repeat a lie enough times, it becomes accepted as the truth. We forget that truth is a simple binary state. Something either is true or it is not. Our certainty about the truth admits of degrees but the truth does not.

If we start with the most basic proposition, the creator (to use Paul's term) exists. This either is true or is not.

Can I know it with certainty in this life? I am as certain of that as I am that the earth revolves around the sun. Neither of these truths have I seen with my own eyes. From my point of view on earth, the sun moves across the sky. That's what I can see. But what is true is not limited to what I see or what I feel. The earth rotates at about 1,000 miles per hr. Do I feel it? No. Is it true? Yes. So we know scientifically that our senses and feelings are not the measure of truth. There must be some objective truth outside of ME and how I feel about something.

When St. Paul speaks of us worshiping the creature instead of the creator. He is not speaking of worship in the sense of idols, altars, and sacrifices, like our ancestors. In our modern age our "worship" takes a different form. We set some created reality ahead of the creator, and the truths that this same creator revealed to us.

What lies have we allowed ourselves to believe that are contrary to God's truth? Which of our actions today will put a creature above the creator?

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Willing Slave

Paul opens his letter to the Romans by calling himself a slave of Jesus Christ. While some writers will try and romanticize the slavery of the Roman Empire (trying to make it look much nicer than American slavery), all will admit that the owner had absolute rights over the slave. They could rent them out, sell them, even kill them. The slave had no rights but only obligations toward the owner. He was property that lived for one purpose, to serve the owner. The slave had nothing that could be called "mine."

In a world where "I have a right to..." and "I expect ..." have become even commonly heard from the mouths of children. It is one of the true paradoxes of the Christian faith, that the only way we can find true freedom is to hand our lives over completely to God, and like Paul accept the title "Slave of Jesus Christ."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What's good?

In today's gospel we have the famous seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened passage. The part most people don't have memorized is the end. "If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit
to those who ask him?" Perhaps it's because there is the rub. Who decides what is a "good gift" and how?

When I was small I wore those old heavy metal leg braces.  In some ways they actually made walking more difficult but it was the best doctors knew at the time.  Like all small children I wanted to do everything the other kids wanted to do. My mother told the story of standing in the kitchen clutching the sink, as I tried to run, tried to climb on the swing set, tried to climb trees, and fell ALOT! 
Looking back did the falling hurt? Yes. (There were even a few stitches involved over the years) 
But was it good? Was it a "good gift"? I would argue now that one of the greatest gifts she ever gave me was allowing me to fall down and pick myself up.  Neither that nor the physical therapy seemed like a gift or good at the time. The falling hurt and the PT seemed like 
torture.  But that was all from my child's point of view.

Compared to God we are all small children. We can distinguish good from bad in a rudimentary way. God has revealed to us some important distinctions. But for the more complex issues we simply have to trust God.

As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, "We know that all things work for good for those who love God" 
Can we trust God to decide whats good?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Location, location, location

If we actually look at the biblical text of the Lord's Prayer, their today's gospel from Luke or its counterpart in Matthew the most striking feature is absence of the final doxology, "For thine is the kingdom..." None of the manuscripts of Luke or the oldest and best of Matthew contain it. Few scholar would try to argue that it is part of the biblical text.

As best we can find, the doxology first appears with the Our Father, in a document known as the didache, late first early second century. There is reads simply "For you have the power and glory forever."

It appears that over time this doxology, being sung after the Lord's prayer, was first copied into biblical manuscripts as a kind of side note, and later migrated in the text itself. This was the great problem of manuscripts. Much depended on the person copying the text, and the person copying the copy, and so on.

This is part of the great challenge for scripture scholars, to take the various manuscripts of each book, and try and discover the most likely original text. In 1979, Pope John Paul II, promulgated the New Vulgate, a new Latin edition of the Bible, based on, St. Jerome's Vulgate, but taking into account our best understanding of the original Greek and Hebrew texts.

It would make life simple if we could say, "Here we have the original text of each book of the bible written by a single author whose name we known for certain." That, alas, is not Christianity. We believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, and we struggle each to understand it more deeply and live it. We do this in faith, trusting that the Holy Spirit not only guided the original human authors, but continues to guide the church in her understanding and right interpretation of The Books (Τά Βιβλία).

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Today we celebrate St. Francis of Assisi, being a "Memorial" ( the third rank of days in our calendar) it does not have its own readings, but we use the readings from the regular cycle. As providence would have it, the gospel is the famous story of Mary and Martha. Mary we are told has chosen the better part, and yet what does she actually do. She sits and listens. Not only does she sit, but she sits "προς" (near).

In some ways we have done a great disservice to St. Francis and the contribution of the Franciscans to the church over the centuries. We have reduced today to an image of St.Francis holding a bird, and a blessing of pets. Cute but not deep.

The gospel today touches something much more profound and necessary for our present age, the ability to sit, be quiet, and listen to the word of the Lord. Can we even do that any more? Luke 10:39 says she sat near the feet of the Lord, and listened to his words.-- a true expression of love, to sit and listen to someone.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Outlawing the Good Samaritan

Last Thursday the state of Alabama enacted the most sweeping immigration law in the country. The Catholic Archbishop of Mobile and other bishops and christian leaders voiced strong opposition to the law not because they support illegal immigration but as Archbishop Rodi said, "The law attacks our core understanding of what it means to be a church."

Thankfully, in it's final form a church cannot be prosecuted for baptizing a baby, feeding the hungry, or any of our fundamental minisrties. Around the christian world the concept of "good Samaritan" has been enshrined in law for centuries in different ways. In some countries it protects the "good Samaritan" from prosecution, in others it goes so far as to make it a crime not to help a person in distress.

Even as much of our world seems to be moving to push religion from the public square, this parable survives. It stands as further proof of natural law, that certain fundamental moral truths are written in the human heart. Even in times of intense and sometimes vitriolic political debate, those fundamental commands like "love thy neighbor" can shine through.

As we struggle with the many problems that we face, today's gospel reminds us that we must keep ourselves firmly anchored to the two great commandments that Christ gave us.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


What's the difference between an explanation and an excuse? Judging by our behavior, the answer is simple.
If it comes out of my mouth, it's an explanation.
If it comes from someone I don't like, it's an excuse.
We have explanations for what we do. Other people are just making excuses.

Today's reading revolves around the deadly word "but." Each person in the readings says they will follow Jesus, and in the same breathe rescind the offer with a "but.". "I will follow you anywhere, but..." Each of them has a reason why they can't follow Jesus immediately.

Is there a desire to follow Jesus in them? Yes. But what their hesitation reveals is that there are other things they desire more. Human nature is funny in this regard. When we really want to do something, we will find a way. And when we don't want to do something we can always find a reason not to (explanation or excuse).

Today's reading leaves us with a question that forces us to look into the very center of our heart, "How Christian do we really want to be?"

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

From slavery to compassion

When we think of St. Vincent de Paul, we think of care for the poor and needy. But where did this great compassion and humility of his come from.

Perhaps the years 1605-7, were among his most formative. Having been ordained in 1600, he was on his way back from a trip to Marseille in 1605, when he was kidnapped by a group of Turkish pirates. They took him, not to Turkey, but across the Mediterranean to the city of Tunis, and sold him as a slave. Being grabbed by foreign kidnappers in the 17th century would have been even more terrifying than today. Once thrown onto that ship he would have no idea where he was going or hope that anyone would be able to track him. The conditions he would have experienced in this time would have been incomprehensible to this young Frenchman. After two years he managed to escape, having converted his owner to Christianity.

While much of Vincent's ministry, after his return, would be among the aristocracy, he kept in his heart a profound concern for those who were most in need. One of his most famous acts was raising the money to free 1200 Christian slaves in North Africa.

The Daughters of Charity grew out of his passion for caring for the poor, as well as his own Congregation of the Mission. One wonders if he would have been the same man without those years of slavery. Once more we see the power of God to make something good grow from sin and evil, crucifixion to resurrection.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hail to the twins

On those occasions when your priest uses the first Eucharistic Prayer, there is a rather long list of saints. Among the names are today's saints, Cosmos and Damian, celebrated together because they were twins.

They were also physicians. And during their lifetime they were famous not only for some miraculous cures, but more for their refusal to accept payment and caring for those who would otherwise have no access to a physician.

During the famous persecution of the emperor Diocletian, they were among those who were unmercifully tortured and eventually beheaded,around the year 287. By the next century churches were already being built in their honor.

Being twins, their intercession has often been invoked by women having difficulty conceiving, and in Brazil children will today be given bags of candy with the image of the twins.

Saints Cosmos and Damian, pray for us.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

While they were all amazed at his every deed, Jesus said to his disciples, "Pay attention to what I am telling you.The Son of Man is to be handed over to men." But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

This is the entire gospel for today. The disciples are,as always, amazed at the things he is doing but not really paying attention to or understanding what he is telling them.

The word "obey" comes from two Latin words, ob + audire, to listen while facing someone. When our mothers said, " Look at me when I'm talking to you," they were capturing the original sense of the word obey.

We associate obedience with action, but often find we fall short of the mark in our actions. Perhaps it is because we don't spend enough time being obedient in the original sense, listening, keeping our eyes fixed on Christ.

In today's gospel, the command is "Pay Attention!" How long is your attention span? Perhaps if we spend more time listening, the time we do spend speaking and acting will be closer to what we know we are called to do and say. How do we do it? Practice.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

God and dental hygiene

Today we switch books again in the first reading and reading from the tiny Book of the Prophet Haggai. The entire book is two very short chapters.
The Persian king has issued the decree for the return of the people and the rebuilding of the temple.

Proof that human nature has changed little in 2000 years, they have come back, but the rebuilding of the temple is not high on their list. Instead they have focused on building nice homes for themselves, eating and drinking, and getting rich. There attitude at the opening of the Book of Haggai is "We'll get to it."

It we stop and look at the daily routine of our life, where do God and prayer fall on the list? For many I dare say it's like flossing your teeth: something you know you should do every day, some you tell yourself you''re going to do daily, and you go through short periods of being good about, but somehow it just doesn't turn into a habit.

The little Book of Haggai is a reminder. If we are going to say God is a priority, we have to reflect that in our actions. Think of all the little routine things you do in your life, the things you can't imagine not doing. Who of us would leave the house without taking a shower, getting dressed, brushing our teeth and in my case having coffee? A few minutes with God should be in the list. Next time you grab your toothbrush, think about it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Inspiration Unlimited


Today we change books in the first reading and we begin our reading of the book of Ezra. The book traces the return of the people to Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the temple, and the building of the Wall to protect the city.
What is most fascinating is where the book begins, not with a Moses or other Israelite prophetic figure, but with Kurush bozorg, which we translate as Cyrus the Great.

Cyrus was the King of Persia (Iran) and it was this "pagan" that the book of Ezra records as having been inspired by God, after his conquest of Babylon (539 BC), to call the people of Israel back rebuild their temple in gratitude to the "God of Heaven."

Once more the scriptures foil our attempts to draw bright lines separating us and them, and remind us that as Isaiah told us yesterday, God's ways are not our ways. God speaks to, and inspires whomever he will.

On a more pragmatic front, scratch the surface of your average Iranian even today, and underneath you will still find a person who knows and is proud of their Persian history, and their contribution to the worlds of art and science. Many people unfortunately mistakenly think of them as Arabs, and believe that the present post 1979 revolution Iran, is "the way they have always been." Nothing could be further from the truth. The Iran of today is 32 years old, a merely blink in history.

The book of Ezra reminds us that the end of the period known as the Babylonian captivity is thanks to a Persian who listened to the voice of God. It reminds us of a time when Jews and Persians worked together. Let us pray that the cooperation we see in Ezra may be seen once more in the world we call the middle east.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mothers and Children

Today we mark the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. While the memorial has a complicated history and has been all over the calendar, the fundamental concept celebrated is one that every mother can well understand, how deeply a mother feels the suffering of her child.

Yesterday we celebrated the Exaltation of the Cross, and so there is a certain logic that today we stop to reflected on how Mary felt the crucifixion of her son, and the events leading to it.

The traditional list of seven sorrows are rooted in scripture. They are

The Prophecy of Simeon. (Luke 2:34-35)
The Flight into Egypt. (Matthew 2:13)
The Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple. (Luke 2:43-45)
Mary Meets Jesus on the Way to Calvary. (Luke 23:26)
Jesus Dies on the Cross. (John 19:25)
Mary Receives the Body of Jesus in Her Arms. (Matthew 27:57-59)
The Body of Jesus Is Placed in the Tomb. (John 19:40-42)

Any parent who has lost a child will tell you that it is a wound that never heals, not in this life. But today's memorial reminds all those who are suffering that they are not alone.

In our culture so often we feel the need to deny the pain, put on the brave face, and "get over it" as quickly as possible. Today's memorial reminds us that it only in our willingness to acknowledge our suffering and unite it with the suffering of Christ that it and we can find resurrection and new life.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Not a last name

Today we celebrate the memorial of St. John Chrysostom. No it is not his last name, but a title given to him after his death. It means golden-mouth. As Catholics, we tend to think of ancient Christianity and Rome, and we can forget just how important the cities of Alexandria, Antioch, and Constantinople were to the history and development of the Christianity.
He was an ethnic mixture of Greek and Syrian, his father a high ranking military officer.

Because of the status of his family he had the opportunity to study under one of the best Greek orators of the time. Later he would dedicate himself to memorizing the scriptures. Then, combining his knowledge of the scriptures and his oratorical skills become the great preacher that earned him the title Chysostom.

He preaching was not only eloquent but pointed. While as Archbishop he was entitled to all of the lavish excess that went with the royal court. This did not stop him from critiquing both Church and State. His preaching was beautiful and eloquent, but hard when it needed to be. The truth is not easily heard.

Today we pray for the pope, bishops, priests, and deacons, who are in a particular way charged with preaching the gospel. St. John's unceasing dedication to the study of the scriptures as we as honing his oratorical skills should be a model for us all.

Let us pray also for our international priests who have been sent by their bishops and are struggling to preach the gospel here in a foreign culture, often in a foreign language. Few Americans know how daunting it is to stand up in front of a room full of people in a foreign country and give a talk in a language that is not your own. It takes real courage.

St. John Chrysostom, pray for us.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Beyond Parties

It struck me this weekend how much we needed the 9/11 anniversary now. On 9/11/01 at least for a brief time, as we do in times of crisis, we came together as one nation under God.
In the first reading today we hear in the letter to Timothy

First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,for kings and for all in authority

This is carried forward in the General Instruction to the missal in paragraph 70 where it includes in the list of those who should be included in the petitions at mass, "those in public authority."

The letter makes no distinction. It doesn't offer us the option to only pray for the leaders we like, or who agree with us. At the time of its writing the people did not have the luxury of electing their leaders, something we all too often take for granted. And yet, Timothy is told that they are to offer not just prayers but thanksgivings.

Let us pray that the spirit of national unity we saw yesterday, remain with us. Perhaps today is the day to call to mind your least favorite politician, and pray for his/her well-being. If we act like we have the virtue of Christian charity, perhaps it may be given to us.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Day the first reading for daily mass changes, and we begin to read the first Letter of Paul to Timothy. I left off the St. in front of their names because I think it is sometimes important for us remember them as they were at the time, not marble statues in togas, but flesh and blood men, imperfect but struggling to spread the gospel as best they could.

Timothy's name means honoring God or honored by God. His mother was Jewish but father was a Greek. Under Mosaic law he was considered a Jew, but interestingly enough was not circumcised. This was done later, as an adult Christian, so that he would not be offensive to Jews.

It was Paul who spotted something special about this young man, and refers to him as his true child in faith. He traveled with Paul, and eventually it was Paul, who ordained him a bishop (episcopos) for the church in Ephesus.

As we will see, it is in this letter to Timothy that Paul will lay out the foundations for ordained ministry in the Church that we have kept until this day.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Us and Them

As September 11 draws near we may find some who take advantage of the opportunity to stir up general anti-Islamic sentiment. today's first reading helps us to clarify the church's real teaching.

The center of the uniqueness of our Christian faith is found in one verse in today's first reading.

For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, (Col 2:9)

We believe that Jesus is both truly human and truly the fullness of God. God spoken to humanity through signs, dreams, prophets, etc, but in Jesus we see the fullness of God revealed bodily.

Has this belief at times made us arrogant? Yes. Have members of the church used this to condemn other religions entirely? Yes. But this is not what the church teaches.

Our instructions are clear in the document Nostra Aetate we read:

The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.

And we are also reminded that

The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion.

While we continue to proclaim the fulness of God found in Jesus, we recognize, preserve, and promote the parts of other faiths that are true and good, the values we share.

I have an Arabic Bible given to me by a Palestinian Christian. In Arabic, Allah is simply the word for God. The word is used in Bible and Quran. Madrasah is simply the word for school. Our news has tried to paint the word to mean terrorist school.

There is enough real evil in the world, we do not have to go looking for it, trying to find it where it isn't. As Christian let us look for the good, the true, the holy wherever it is found.

Monday, September 5, 2011

30th anniversary

It is hard to believe that the 14th of this month will mark the 30th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's encyclical Laborem Exercens, On Human Labor. His Holiness begins this letter by addressing the fundamental relationship between work and the human person. He returns to the command God have us from the beginning to go forth and subdue the earth, and reminds us that work is not merely something we must do to earn a living, but is essential for us as human beings. "Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfilment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes 'more a human being'."
He calls to mind the link between work and the dignity of the human person.

As we continue our struggle with the present economy it seems to me that now is a good time for us to return to the teaching of John Paul II, and his predecessors. At times we need to be reminded that the human being must remain the central focus not only of our prayer but of our policy. Business, profits, the economy as a whole exist not as ends in themselves but must always be viewed with an eye toward the human being. Otherwise we risk falling into what he calls " the violation of the dignity of human work: either because the opportunities for human work are limited as a result of the scourge of unemployment, or because a low value is put on work and the rights that flow from it, especially the right to a just wage and to the personal security of the worker and his or her family."

"The word of God's revelation is profoundly marked by the fundamental truth that man, created in the image of God, shares by his work in the activity of the Creator...."

As we rest from our labor this day,
may those of us have work be truly grateful,
may those without work soon find work,
and may those charged with oversight keep always in mind
the basic human need to work and the fundamental god-given rights of those workers.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


All three readings today are focused not on what we shouldn't do, but what we should. In the Letter to the Romans Paul reduces the entire law to a single word, agape, love. For Christians love is understood to be the greatest of the theological virtue, the others being faith and hope.

Perhaps here we need to back up and look at the word virtue. Women reading this may find it's etymology offensive, because it comes from the Latin word vir, man as distinct from the Latin word homo which has no gender. The word originally meant simply manliness or courage. It later grew mean, as St. Augustine would say, "a habit consonant with our nature," as God intended us to be.

We call the aforementioned three theological because they come as gift from God. The rest we refer to as moral virtues. They are all, in short, habits, and like all habits must be practiced to be maintained and deepened, until they become our almost reflexive response.

The first reading and the gospel today invite us to examine our response to sin. What is our habitual, reflexive response when someone sins, particularly if the sin is against us?

I dare say there are very few of us whose response is the command given in today's gospel: go and talk to the person alone, and keep it just between the two of you. The command is clear and simple. So why don't we do it?

The gospel gives us some clues. First, it doesn't say "someone." The gospel uses the word adelphos, brother. One of the reasons we don't respond properly is that we forget that this person is my brother or sister.

Second, we forget that as the end of the gospel reminds us, Christ is present there. When the gospel speaks of two or three gathered, it doesn't only mean in church. I remained convinced that if we could keep ourselves constantly aware of the presence of Christ we would not say or do many of the things we say and do.

Thirdly, we have not sufficiently developed the theological virtue of agape, love/charity. We respond to pain. We respond with anger, but not with love. There are many kinds of love but the real test for Christian agape is precisely in those moments when we are hurt.

Lastly though, it strikes me that a large part of the reason we talk about people, rather than to them is that we lack virtue in the original sense of the word.We lack courage. The truth we don't want to admit is that every time we talk about someone behind their back, we are not just unchristian, we are cowards. It take no courage to talk about someone, it takes real courage to talk to someone.

Jesus's command in the gospel today is simple and clear. When our brother or sister sins, our first words about it must be not to a friend, colleague, or relative, but to the person themslef. If we cannot do that because we lack the virtues needed, then we best take the old nun's advice, and "offer it up," keep our mouthes shut and pray. Pray for God to deepen within us first the virtue of love. Pray then for God grant us a spirit of courage and right-judgement.

True virtues only come over time. They require intentionality, practice, and collaboration between us and God. The next time someone says does something that offends us, see it as an opportunity.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Too much fun

Come with Joy... (today's responsorial psalm)

In the gospel the scribes and the Pharisees are condemning Jesus' disciples because the appear to be having too much fun, eating and drinking, etc.
Unfortunately we seem to have cured that problem. Find a Christian church anywhere of any denomination where the people appear to be having too much fun, are too filled with Joy. Apart from the all too common bickering and hunger for power in churches, it seems that we have confused the words "solemn" and "somber." We act as though joy and reverence can't coexist.

It strikes me that part of this may stem from what I believe is a misreading of the next part of the passage, when Jesus speaks of the bridegroom being taken away. Some I think believe that we are still living in that time, where the bridegroom is away and we therefore should be sad until his return.

I for one do not believe that the bridegroom is away. He was taken away, yes. He was crucified, yes. But he rose from the dead. He ascended but did not abandon us.

All I have to do is walk into a church or chapel anywhere and there it is, the sanctuary lamp that reminds me of the presence of Christ. Last night as I sat in St. Patrick's for our monthly holy hour, I know Christ was there. The bridegroom was with me. In the Eucharist is Christ less present to us than he was with those first disciples? I think not.

Today's response is Come with joy into the presence of the Lord. In fact it is the presence of the Lord that is the source of the joy. We can search for joy in other persons and things, but we will not find it, at least not real joy.

We can all lament the number of people who have fallen away from church. We can blame "the world" and "the media" all we want. But I truly believe that the only way we can really turn things around is for us to show that we actually believe that Christ is alive and present, by our lives, by the joy and love we show to the people around us.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Not really a name you hear anymore, and in some ways that may be the point. A somewhat cynical priest was known to have said, "The pastor is like the family dog. They cry when they loose one, then they go out and get another one." While he said it with a sense of hurt, there is a sense in which it is true and indeed should be true, not only for priests, but for most of us human beings. We are born in this life, we do our best to carry out our mission, and we pass from this world.

All we know of Epaphras is his name, and my guess is he's OK with that. I am a fan of the Internet and social media for their ability to keep people connected. There is the temptation though for these things to encourage a certain narcissism in us. It turns out that Andy Warhol was right in 1968 when he uttered the now famous quote, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." Now we can be, our every thought can be broadcasted around the world instantaneously.

Toddy's reading invites us to recalled not Fulton Sheen, Billy Graham, or Martin Luther King, Jr, but the thousands who spent their life toiling in the vineyard of the Lord, lost to history, but saints nonetheless, those who truly understood that the only reward we should work for is the fullness of the kingdom of God.

Here's to St. Epaphas and his successors!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Seemingly Harsh God

Today we continue our series of gospels that seem to paint and picture of a harsh and fear inspiring God. In fact the gospel teaches us precisely the opposite.

In today's gospel the master condemns only the servant who allows himself to be paralyzed by fear, and does nothing with the talent he is given. Each of the others were given different numbers of talents and each did they best they could with what they had and were praised for that accomplishment.

So it is in our life. God has a plan for each of us, and we are given talents we need to accomplish our tasks. We are however also given free will. We can choose to think that what we have is of little value compared to others. We can choose to allow our fear of failure to paralyze us. Or we can take what we have been given, and with the grace that comes from God, seek each day to carry out God's will for us.

In the end we will be judged not on how much we have made or how much we have accomplished but on how we have tried to do God's will. Some days we will succeed and yes, some days we will fail. Ultimately however it's not about me. It's about God's will, God's grace, God's loving plan.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Seeming lack of charity

In the gospel today we have the parable of the ten virgins. I must admit that for long time I used to think there was something wrong with the five who refused to help the other five by sharing their oil. It seemed crass to tell them to go buy some for themselves.
But as I mature I see the wisdom of it.

My mother later in life told me the stories of how she used to stand in the kitchen and clutch the sink, as I went outside in those clunky metal braces they used on kids with CP in the sixties. She would be clutching the sink, because everything in her wanted to run outside and help me up every time
I fell, and I fell a lot. She knew I had to learn, I had to find my strength.

In today's gospel the foolish virgins, there is nothing to suggest that the foolish virgins didn't have the money or ability to go and buy oil. They simply didn't do it. We forget that charity is first of all love. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is not help someone.

One of the hardest thing about being a good Christian is discerning when we are facing someone who is truly in need of help, where we have a moral obligation to do what we can. And, on the other hand, discerning when the truly charitable act is to allow them to suffer the consequences of their choices, and pick themselves up.

Emily Dickinson wrote,
We never know how high we are
Til we are called to rise,
And then if we are true to plan
Our statures touch the skies.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stay Awake!

The command that begins today's gospel.
The recent earthquake in Virginia got the attention of all of us on the east coast. It also took me back to 1977 when I first went to Managua Nicaragua. In 1972 a huge earthquake had destroyed the city. Five thousand were killed and approximately 250,000 were displaced.

Five years later the emotional impact was still clear. The earthquake had left the people even the teenagers profoundly aware of the fragility of life. What I found interesting was that it was not a morbid awareness, but an awareness that called to one's attention to live every day as if it might me the last one.

The real question for us is: Why does it take an earthquake, or a hurricane or a terrorist attack? Jesus gives us a very simple straightforward command in the gospel. Christians are to be people who maintain the proper perspective constantly aware that we know neither the day nor the hour, not to fill us with fear, but mindfulness.

It seems for the last few months we've been running around like chicken little. Perhaps we needed a little earthquake to shake some sense into us and get us to sit down, center our heart in God and work through these things one day at a time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What are hypocrites filled with

In today's gospel Mt 23:25 the hypocrites Jesus condemns are accused of being filled with 2 things arpages and akrasia.

The second,akrasia, is easier for us to grasp. It is literally lacking in control of oneself, or to act contrary to your own better judgement. If we are completely honest with ourself, most of the time we know in our hearts what we ought to do. Rare is the occasion when we find ourselves facing a problem where we don't know what the morally correct choice is. Most often it is this sin of akrasia, we know the right and for a variety of reasons, do the other.

The first one is more difficult. The Greek word refers to pillaging, a kind of ravenous greed that spoils. What distinguishes pillaging from plain theft it seems to me is the wanton, destructive nature of it. As I write this I am sitting looking out over Lake George in upstate New York. I am struck by the beauty of God's creation, and reminded of how we are called to be stewards of it. How often do we continue to cross the line between the proper use of resources as God intended and the sin in today's gospel? Here it is often difficult to know where the line is. Here also we can make simple changes in our daily living habits that remind us that the earth belongs to God and we are merely stewards.

The two sins in this gospel are different and yet there is a link, choice. How can we exhibit more self-control? How can make choices about the things we buy and use?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Our Lady Queen of Palestine

For the Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcre, today's memorial of the queenship of Mary, goes by the slightly different name above. I write this entry today not only because I am a knight but because I been there and seen the Christians struggling to survive in what we call the Holy Land. There is little Holy about the life they are forced to lead, which is why there are so few Christians left in the place where our faith began. I share with you simply the pray to Our Lady, Queen of Palestine.

O Mary Immaculate,
gracious Queen of Heaven and of Earth,
behold us prostrate before thy exalted throne.
Full of confidence in thy goodness
and in thy boundless power,
we beseech thee to turn a pitying glance upon Palestine,
which more than any other country belongs to thee,
since thou hast graced it with thy birth,
thy virtues and thy sorrows,
and from there hast given the Redeemer to the world.

Remember that there especially
thou wert constituted our tender Mother,
the dispenser of graces.
Watch, therefore, with special protection
over thy native country,
scatter from it the shades of error,
for it was there the Sun of Eternal Justice shone.

Bring about the speedy fulfilment of the promise,
which issued from the lips of Thy Divine Son,
that there should be one fold and one Shepherd.

Obtain for us all that we may serve the Lord
in sanctity and justice during the days of our life,
so that, by the merits of Jesus
and with thy motherly aid,
we may pass at last from this earthly Jerusalem
to the splendours of the heavenly one.


P.S. Before anyone over-reacts, remember this predates the State of Israel.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It's not fair

When we imagine the world of Jesus it is easy for us to fall into a very romanticized image of it, where everyone looks like the shepherds in the Christmas pageant. I dare say issues of poverty, lack of medicine, infant mortality, and unemployment rarely enter our minds. In truth is was a harsh cruel world. For many day labor, as we call it, was the best hope they had. Jesus uses the image because it would have been one that was familiar to the people.

Not unlike the modern version men would go out to a known spot and stand all day in the scorching sun and wait, and pray. As one can imagine, the men who would come by hiring, would choose the strongest and healthiest first, hoping to get the most for their money. The ones who appeared weaker would be left, perhaps never being hired. One more day without work, without food for themselves and their families. In this daily cycle, the strong would get stronger and the weak would get weaker.

The gospel tells us that it is 5 PM when the last group is hired. For any who have been to Israel, imagine standing outside all day. To make sure that we understand that it is not due to laziness that these men have not been hired, the master asks, "‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’"

As we all know those who worked all day, whine the whine of the toddler, "It's not fair." But, in fact, what was unfair? Did not each worker do the best they could with the situation that they were given? Those men could have given up and gone home earlier, but they didn't they stayed, and waited, and hoped.

If I am at all wise, I realize that a huge portion of who I am is not of my own making: my genetics, my parents, where and when I grew up, the opportunities I was given. And yes there were the challenges as well, many of which I did not choose or control.

In order to judge another person, we would have to know all the variables. That's why judgement is left to the master, God.

Each of us are simply called to get up each day, and like the workers in the gospel do the best we can with what that day brings. And doing our best may change from day to day depending on the circumstance. The one constant is that if we ask God will give us the grace to live each day well.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why blame God?

Gideon opens today's first reading lamenting, where are the wonders our fathers told us about?

We need some back story Gideon becomes the fifth of the judges in charge of Israel, after Deborah. The people have abandoned their worship of God and fallen into all kinds of idolatry and debauchery. The midianites perceive their weakness and attack.

Gideon like most of us today only sees the immediate problem. He doesn't see that it took years for them to get into their present mess. He doesn't see how the mess they are in is their own fault. Instead he asks, "If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?" As if they and their lifestyle had nothing to do with the mess they are in.

The good news is that despite their idolatry, despite Gideon's testing of God, God loves them so much that he will in effect save them from themselves.
Perhaps there is hope for us.

Democrats want to blame Obama; Republicans blame Bush. Both are short sighted. Our present mess is more complex and older than that. Our parents who survived the depression and world war II wanted to gives us everything they never had, they wanted to shield us from things like pain, suffering, and sacrifice. They spoiled us all. And we boomers in turned raised a generation more spoiled than ourselves.

The credit card and the home equity line of credit made it possible for us to spend what we did not have, and to have virtually anything we wanted. I remember "lay-away" when you didn't get the item until it was paid for.

Even now we want what we do not need. I turned 51 on Sunday. With the present increase in health and life expectancy, what would make me think that I should retire at 65, and start collecting social security. 65 is no longer old.

God helped the people of Gideon's time, but they had to radically change their lives. There are some who suggest there is no solution, I do believe that with God's help we too can arise from the devastation. But like the people of Israel, it is going to require a radical change of thinking, a radical change of living, a radical change of heart.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Assumption of Mary

At first glance this can seem to be another example of intellectual Catholic theology that doesn't touch my every day life. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I grew up with the same erroneous theology about the human body, as many Catholics. The idea was that "the outside's not important, it's who we are on the inside that matters." I thought that when I died, the body decayed, my soul, if I was good, went to heaven, end of story. I sure, in part, this error was drilled into me to keep me from feeling bad about my handicap.

The problem is that the deeper truth that links the Incarnation, the "resurrection of the body"(today's second reading) and today's solemnity the Assumption I did not understand, and would not come to understand until much later in life.

The simple truth of Christianity is that the body does matter. It is precisely the unity of body and soul, matter and spirit, that makes us human. And everything we do to or with one impacts the other. Today's solemnity is not about Mary's soul it's about her body, and by extension, it's about our bodies.

Four of the seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, and sloth) are all about the misuse of the body. In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches issues of vesture and postures during prayer are key parts to our liturgy. When I was growing up even the people in the congregation dressed as best they could to come to church, and the way we dressed effected how we behaved. The outside effects the inside; the outside reflects the inside.

It was brought to my attention recently that one of the fads on college campuses now is this retro-hippie-non-bathing phenomenon. My family didn't have money. My father worked in the mill and my mother was a homemaker, but to this day I remember her saying, "You can always afford soap." What few clothes we had were always presentable.

Is it possible for someone to be too concerned with their body? Of course. But most people are as close to that sin as they are to becoming religious fanatics.

Today's solemnity celebrating the assumption of Mary, invite each of us to reconnect our body to our souls. Perhaps we as churches need to go back to basics and consider respect for our bodies as part of our religious education. "Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?" Perhaps it's time to take a good hard look at temple maintenance.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Marriage isn't for everyone

As a tribunal judge for marriage cases, I often here the complaints both from inside and outside the Church about the concept of annulment. Some complain we annul too many, and act as the the grounds are made up by the Catholic Church.

In fact in today's reading we hear two of the categories with we we operate in the modern tribunal. First Jesus addresses what he calls, "unlawful" marriage. There was in the Mosaic Law and there is in Canon Law definitions of what constitutes a lawful marriage.

More interesting is the fact that he recognizes as canon law does that there are some people who are incapable of marriage. As today's gospel says, "Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others."

I have often heard, "How can you say they were never married when they had a beautiful mass in a catholic church and 4 children?" Without meaning to, this question reduces marriage to saying "I do" and procreating. Marriage is more than saying some words and making babies.

In the gospel Jesus is trying to get the people to understand the full reality of what marriage is, and to acknowledge that some people are simply incapable of that "partnership of life and love" we call marriage. Modern psychology has simply helped us to understand more clearly the full range of issues that can make person incapable of marriage. They may spend thousands of dollars on wedding, and be capable of procreation, but that does not always mean one is capable of marriage. It is sad but true that there are some who enter marriage with the best of intentions but are simply incapable of forming that bond with another person.

I think most priests and other pastoral ministers would agree that if young couples spent half the time and energy thinking about and planning the marriage that they spend on planning the wedding, we would have fewer weddings, but more of them would end in an actual marriage.

The other hard reality we see is that often enough family members and friends saw the problems before the wedding and, for a variety of reasons, said nothing. The couple themselves are often blinded by being in love, and they need their friends and families to slow them down and get them to take an honest look at themselves and their potential spouse and ask the difficult questions.

Let us pray for all those couples who are engaged or contemplating getting engaged that they truly look beyond the wedding to the life-long marriage.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What's in a name?

Today we begin to read the story of the Israelites after Moses. For most of us, if we were asked to name who succeeded Moses as leader of Israel,it would be difficult to come up with the name Joshua. Even more remote would be the possibility that we would recognize that Joshua and Jesus are two different English versions of the same name.

While in the Spanish speaking world naming your child Jesus is common, English speakers would never dream of it. To us it would see odd or sacrilegious. We, however, have no problem naming a child Joshua or Josh, unaware that it is the same name.

Today's main character we call Joshua, Son of Nun, to distinguish from Jesus the Christ. He seems, in the book of Joshua, to appear out of no where as leader, but in fact if we go back to Exodus, we see that he went, at least part way, up the mountain with Moses for his encounter with God.

Again we are reminded that the plans of God do not span days or weeks, but years and centuries. Our daily and hourly watching of the stock market and reacting to it can make us even more short-sighted than we naturally are. If we are people of true faith, we should lift our heads, look to the horizon, and trust that, even in times like now when the immediate future looks bleak, ultimately God's plans cannot be foiled.

All things work together for good for those who love God.
Do we believe it or not?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Guardian Angels

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father."

Today we reach the Chapter 18 of Matthew where Jesus uses a child to describe the Kingdom of heaven. We are to be humble like them. We are to be willing to receive them. But it was the sentence above that caught my attention. After all, does any person really despise children?
The Greek verb has the sense not of hatred the way you hate an enemy but to depreciate, devalue, to think little or nothing of. Now let's rephrase the question: Are there those who think little or nothing of children? I think we all know the answer.

From abortion and Human Trafficking (children being sold, sometimes by their own families, and imported into the US for unimaginable purposes) to those whose first choice in budget cutting are those programs that care for children, the signs are all around us of how little we value children. And let's be perfectly honest, the color of the child (asian, white, latino, or black) is part of our valuation as well.

The other phrase that must catch our attention is this gospel, however, is "their angels." Here Jesus puts forth the belief in what we call guardian angels. God so loves each and every human life he creates that their is an angel that is "their angel" that stands in the presence of God always.

Today as we drive past children in good neighborhoods and bad, take note of how we judge them, evaluate them in our minds and hearts. Let us remember that each of them has "their angel" not only watching them, but as Jesus reminds us, watching us in relation to them.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father."

Monday, August 8, 2011

Once more Love or Fear

In the passage we have from Deuteronomy today, the people are given the instruction, "So you too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt." I have no intention here of wading into the immigration debate.

My mind is taken back to what started the whole story leading up to this point in the history of the people of Israel, fear. If we go back to the beginning of exodus, the people of Israel, the foreigners in Egypt, were becoming numerous. The Egyptians began to fear that soon they would be outnumbered by the Jews. It was fear that transformed the peaceful co-existence of the Jews and Egyptians, into the ill-treatment and all that would follow.

If there is one thing that is clear and consistent from old testament through new, it is that when we allow our fears to drive our decision-making, whether as individuals or communities, we make bad choices.

Each day it seems some new piece of news comes out which could frighten us. And it doesn't help that it gets spun in the worst possible, most sensational way always.

I never thought I would write this but perhaps it's time to mediate on money.
It still says, "In God we trust," but do we really?

These words first appeared on a coin in 1864, in the midst of our civil war. We emerged from that horrible conflict wounded but not broken. In truth, our present problems are nothing in comparisons to the death and destruction of the civil war. We can emerge from this as well, but we must not allow fear, and its companion anger, to overcome us, to be what drives us. The fears of the Egyptians ultimately drove them into the Red Sea where they drowned.

Perhaps it's time for all sides to spend less time talking, and more time praying. Only in silence can we hear the tiny whispering wind of yesterday's first reading, and allow the love of God to show us the way out.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Christian Physics

Today we celebrate the transfiguration of the Lord, when Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah. This reading invites to reexamine the most basic parts of how we understand the universe, to clarify the distinction between our perception of the universe and the universe itself.

As finite creatures, we can experience only one place at a time. From our perspective we move through time: the past behind us, the future in front of us, the present being what I am experiencing now. We perceive things to exist in three dimensional space. We see it all in reference to ourselves. Up is what is above my head.

All we have to do is imagine looking at the world from the space station and ask, "which way is up?" to realize how these terms are mere conventions we use to describe our experience.

In today's gospel Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah. They are not ghosts. They are the actual persons. How can three people from three different historical periods be in the same place at the same time? Answer: for God there is neither time nor space. For God all time and space is the here and now.

Why does any of this matter? It can seem a great abstraction, but it is critical for our daily lives.

All too often, particularly at difficult times, we confuse what we are experiencing at a particular moment with "my life." When someone says, "My life sucks." what they are really referring to is not their life but what they are experiencing at that moment. Unfortunately because they confuse the two they can make bad, irreversible, sometimes deadly choices.

For christians, the phrase "my life" does not means "what I am experiencing at this moment." "My life" is something created by God, good, and intended to ultimately spend eternity in God's presence, to be one with God. "My life" is a gift more precious than gold. Unfortunately, we can't see our life as a whole. Imagine if we could.

The story of Genesis tells us that when God created the first human life he looked at it and saw that it was very good. And I believe that each time God creates a new human life, his response to his creation is the same.

Imagine we could see what God saw at the moment he created any one of us. If we could, our answer to the question "How's life?" would always be "Amazing!"

Friday, August 5, 2011

Exceptionalism and Humility


Perhaps my memory is faulty, but I don't remember when I was growing up ever hearing the phrase "American Exceptionalism." It seems to have entered our lexicon only in the last few years and risen to the status of dogma. Any would be politician who does not profess it is deemed unpatriotic. The irony is that the first use of the phrase seems to date to Joseph Saltin in 1929.

I would not deny that there are many exceptional things about our country. I would ask one question: How many of those things are the creation of this generation of Americans, us? And how much of it is pure gift from God? The sheer quantity of natural resources we have puts us at an advantage over most other countries in the world, but can we boast of those?

Even our freedoms and form of government are not "our" creation. For us to brag about those would be like Silvio Berlusconi bragging about the Coliseum or the aqueducts. I would often hear condescending tourists in Rome look at the great antiquities, then at the modern Romans and say, "Hard to believe these are the same people who built all this." But in fact, they are not the same people. That generation is long pasted.

In today's first reading Moses sees the world from a completely opposite perspective. First, he reminds the people of what God has done for them. Moses goes on to give all the credit and all the praise to God. Even those achievements one might argue were the work of the people Moses credits to God, because he is wise enough to know that whatever strength or ability any individual has comes from God.

Moses understood the sin of pride, and the virtue of humility, its necessity if the people of Israel were to become a truly great nation. Perhaps it is time for us to take a sober look at ourselves through this optic.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011



In the first reading today Jesus seems harsh to the woman. In fact, he is responding to the potential disciple according to ancient Jewish tradition. He says something to push her away. The goal is discover whether there is real faith or this is a whim.

Once again we are faced with the delicate balance. On the one hand, God wills the salvation of all, and we must constantly be looking for new ways to communicate the message to the next generation. Our liturgy should stir, the mind, the heart, and the soul.

On the other hand, we must remain faithful to the content of the gospel, being conformed to Christ, not conforming Christ to ourselves. We cannot surrender the truth for numbers in the pews, or money.

I remain hopeful because I do believe our anthropology. I believe we are created in the image and likeness of God, and there is in the heart of every person something which yearns for union with God, and yearns for the truth.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Just shoot me

Perhaps if they had had guns, we could have traced this expression to Moses. In fact, what we do get is, "just kill me now." Num 11:15 in case you want to put it on a bumper sticker.

I joke about it because I think one of the ways we have sucked the life out of the bible and the lives of the saints is that we have, at least in our minds, sterilized them. And in doing so, we rob them of their ability to speak real people.

Moses is absolutely positively fed up. He is at the end of his rope. I would say one more complaint and he's just going to scream, but he's past that point.

And which of us has not been there at some point: as a parent, as a pastor, as a supervisor at work, a leader in your neighborhood association or church group?

Here is where really talking to the saints in prayer can help. We can turn to people like Moses, the ones who have been there,vent to them, ask for their intercession. Moses got through it and so can you.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Business as religion

To us, the first reading today from Leviticus about calculation of jubilee years and the buying and selling of property can seem confusing, antiquated, and disconnected from our modern world. At its heart, however, it touches something that is critical for us at this moment.

We tend unreflectively to separate our faith from our work and especially from the world of business and finance. How often do we hear someone say, "The CEO's primary obligation is to his shareholders."

Today's first reading reminds us that as far back as the mosaic law, the primary obligation even in the world of buying and selling is to God. God knows his creatures and how easily we can fall into the sin of greed.
And so God from the beginning established a moral framework to remind us that profit was not and is not the highest good.

From the Torah through the Gospels to the latest papal encyclicals it is clear that the welfare and dignity of the human person and our society must take priority of place. Making large profits and being rich are not sins. But sometimes the way we get there is.

From the least paid worker to the CEO this reading reminds us, that in business, ultimately we do not answer to a supervisor or a shareholder but to God.

Friday, July 29, 2011

When was your last real holiday

Today the first reading shifts to the book of Leviticus where Moses lays out for the people of Israel what Catholics would call the Holy Days of Obligation. Along with the weekly Sabbath, these were the festivals to be celebrated throughout the year, and a list of the days on which they were forbidden to work.

With the new covenant, Christianity would shift the Sabbath to Sunday, and devise a new list of festivals and Holy Days of Obligation that mark the great events in the life and ministry of Christ just as the ones set forth in Leviticus marked the work of God in the life of that people.

Our English word "holiday" comes from this tradition of keeping the Holy Days of the liturgical calendar. It struck me as I read the ancient law given by God that our sense of holiday, even for Christians, has lost almost all of its original meaning.

I'm not talking just about Christmas. I think there is something much more fundamental here.

I have heard some well intentioned souls talk about the health benefits of a day of rest, and the health benefits of fasting in Lent. While these may exist they still miss the point. This approach is still looking at religion from the perspective of, "What do I get out of this?" It is still egocentric, not theocentric, god-centered.

Setting apart Sunday, and other Holy Days throughout the year is not just about us, or even primarily about us. It is about God. It is rooted in a sense of worship, a sense of gratitude, and yes, a sense of deference and obedience.

The present Catholic practice is simple:
Can. 1247 On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.
Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.

Worship, Joy, Relaxation of Mind and Body

While not everyone can skip work on Sunday, everyone of us can start by mentally setting Sunday apart, acknowledging it as different, approaching it with a different frame of mind. Then we build out from there in increments: letting go of work in our mind, leaving work at work, focusing our mind on God more that usual, praying more on Sundays and Holy Days. Even if all we do is put at the top of our Sunday to-do list: worship, joy, and relaxation it would be a step in the right direction.

We didn't get where we are overnight, and I don't suspect that any of us are going to completely realign our lives overnight. But I would suggest that the place to start is to ask yourself today, how can I make this coming Sunday more what it is supposed to be?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Pearl

Today we get a repeat of the Sunday gospel regarding treasure and the pearl of great price. The more I reflect on it the more fascinating I find the image of the pearl.

The man in the story is willing to sell all that he has to buy this one great pearl, but why? There is no implication that he intends to resell it. Instead it seems that what drives him is a passion for the beauty of the pearl. This lead to another question though, from whence comes its value?

If you think about it objectively what is it that makes a pearl so valuable? Chemically it's mostly calcium carbon and oxygen, not all that different from a kidney stone. It has no special function or purpose. It doesn't do anything.
It is a kind of accident of nature. And yet at some point thousands of years ago someone looked at it and saw an intrinsic beauty, and that beauty gave it a value. As the idea of the beauty spread around the world from culture to culture the value increased.

It strikes me that as our culture becomes more and more utilitarian, the pearl in danger of loosing its value is human life. Like the pearl, the elements that make up the human body are nothing special, mostly carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. The frightening difference between humans and pearls is that we seem to be loosing sight of the intrinsic beauty and value of the human being. The value of a human life is being measured by what it can do, how it can contribute to society. The very old, the very disabled, and the very young are devalued, even in their own minds because of the messages they have received that their value is tied to their productivity.

Somewhere thousands of years ago, the first person who saw the intrinsic beauty of a pearl was able to convince others of that value, and they were able to spread that belief around the world, and that belief endures to this day.

As people of faith we must see the intrinsic beauty and value in every human life, and work to spread that belief around the world. Even as you read this there are places around the world, and right here in the U.S., where human beings are being sold, and for a lot less than the price of a pearl. And even sadder is the fact that few people seem to notice or care.

What is the value of a human life?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

It's not in the Bible

Today we celebrate Sts. Joachim and Anne, held in our tradition to be the parents of Mary. The first response of many will be "That's not in the Bible,"
We forget that the Bible, while being the inspired word of God, does not claim to contain all of human history nor even the entire history of the human life of Jesus. It gives us all that is necessary for salvation.

As followers of Jesus, people who hopefully love Jesus, we should want more than the minimum necessary for salvation. I personally want to know everything I possibly can, and have never understood the minimalist approach. We certainly don't take it in the rest of our lives. Imagine saying, "I only want the food necessary for survival" or "I only want to learn enough to get a minimum wage job and survive."

To this day, biblical archeology seeks to tell us more and more about the world in which Jesus lived. It seems to me we should look to every trustworthy source and always hunger not only to understand the Bible more deeply but everything around it, every person and event that helped shape the life of Jesus.

The other simple fact is regardless of their names, there can be no doubt Jesus had a human set of grandparents. I can only believe that they must have been good parents to have raised the daughter they did.

More often than should be the case, in modern America, it is the grandparents, and particularly grandmothers who are raising the children. And even in families where the parents are taking care of the physical needs, it is still the grandparents who are the only one's handing on the faith, looking after the spiritual welfare of the children.

So today, let us pray for all grandparents, not just our own, but especially those who are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Through the intercession of Sts. Joachim and Anne, may God fill them with the strength they need.

Monday, July 25, 2011

El Camino

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Apostle St. James, one of the first four to follow Jesus Christ, along with his brother John. This is also the Santiago de Compostela whose relics are at the heart of what may well be the most famous pilgrimage in Christianity.

For more than a thousand years pilgrims have been making there way to the Tomb of St. James. To receive the shell and Compostela the pilgrim must take his/her credential and have it stamped along the way to prove that they have walked 100 km, or bicycled the last 200 km. of the journey. More than 100,000 of these certificates are given out each year.

In terms of historicity, there are many questions about the relics of St. James and how they may have come to Galicia. You can search the internet for every variation on the story. For me, it doesn't matter. If tomorrow it was conclusively proven that the bones were of a later time and could not possibly be the bones of the apostle, it would not detract from the holiness of the way (el Camino) or of the tomb. The fact that millions of people have prayed along that way and in that place for over 1000 years makes them holy.

I can tell you from my time in both Rome and the Holy Land, there are places where one can feel the holiness of the centuries of prayer. We speak of the baptized as the members of the body of Christ. These places remind us that we are bound in one body not only with the person sitting next to us in church, but also across the centuries, with all the faithful followers of Christ, back to John and his brother James who we celebrate today.

St. James, pray for us ! Today.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Too ingenious

Sometimes I wonder if perhaps God did not create us a bit too smart. Then I realize that once again it isn't the intelligence that's the problem, it's how we use it.

In today's first reading they people of Israel respond “We will do everything that the LORD has told us.” One has only to visit the country of Israel to see how far they have strayed from that. Judaism there is more ethnicity than religion.

Our Christian countries have done no better. In the latter half of the 20th century the phrase "Cafeteria Catholic" began to be used by some Catholics to beat up on other Catholics. Truth be told we all have the Cafeteria tendency. The left wants to leave behind the rules on worship and sexuality. The right likes to dismiss the social teaching as the fanciful invention of Vatican II.

When I said that I wonder if God didn't make us a bit too smart what I was referring to was our almost infinite capacity to rationalize. Instead of conforming ourselves to Christ and his gospel,we find it easier to conform the gospel to us.

We tend to read what reinforces what we like and avoid what we disagree with. Today's reading reminds us that we need to do precisely the opposite. We need to read and pray with those pieces of the church's teaching that we are least comfortable with. The more strongly we disagree with some part of church teaching, the more we need to immerse ourselves in it, to sink into until we find the heart of it.

As Catholics we do not believe that Holy Spirit dropped dead when the Bible was finished. We believe that the Holy Spirit was sent to teach and to guide the church. Just as the apostles played a unique role in the first generation, so the bishops have a unique role today in the proper interpretation of that faith.

In the Eucharist Jesus does not give us part of himself; he gives his entire self. In return we are asked to do the same thing, to give our entire self, every thought, word, and deed.

We will do everything that the LORD has told us, said the people of Israel.

Perhaps we will never make this statement fully true in this life, but that doesn't mean we should stop trying.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Stop holding on to me

For any of us who have, as we say, "lost loved one's", today's gospel given for the Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene hold a particular significance. At first, the command of Jesus for her to stop holding on can seem harsh. But he knows what she cannot yet understand. His journey, indeed his work is not complete.
Not until he completes the circle and returns to the Father, opening for each of us the way to heaven, is his mission complete.

When someone dies, it seems to me we have two tendencies that are not truly Christian in the fullest sense. One is to canonize them. To talk at funerals as if the moment they died their soul went straight to heaven, end of story.

To other is closely related to it. We also freeze them like beetles in amber. We attempt to freeze the image in our mind, the good and, let's be honest, the bad as well.  Like Mary Magdalene we want to hold on to them just they way they were.

What we forget is that according to our Christian faith death is not the end of life, but more importantly it is not the end of change.  In fact, except for those who have completely cut themselves off from God, the change that happens to us after what the world calls death may the the most important part of our journey.

In the gospel Jesus commands us to "be perfect." It seems a ridiculous and impossible command. It is, however, in that time after this earthly life  that the possibility becomes reality. I know that there are those who have dismissed the notion of purgatory because the word per se is not in the Bible. But to me it is one of God's best gifts to us. The idea that when each of us completes the earthly part of our journey, God will then do two more things which will bring us to that true perfection.

First, God will cleanse of whatever imperfection remains, purgatory. Lastly, at the end of time when Christ returns he will "raise our moral bodies and make them like his own in glory." Then and only then will our journey be complete.

Many of us have relatives that we may love but who were in their earthly life far from perfect. The phrase "dysfunctional family" is ubiquitous for a reason. We should, however, keep in mind that, unless they were so evil as to warrant hell,  they have undergone a great deal of change since their passing. Whether their purgatory is complete or not, they have changed at least some so that they are not exactly as you remember them, but better. And will be even better still. They are on their way to perfection, and in fact may already be far more perfect than you or me.

So stop holding on to the images of who our departed bothers and sisters were, let go of the person you remember, and look forward with true Christian hope to one day meeting the purged, perfected person that God intended them to be. And look forward to the hope that when the earthly part of our life is complete, God will then purge us of whatever remains that keeps us from being the person we were created to be. In the meantime we keep trying each day to be a little more like Christ.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Angels do exist

You will not believe this story. I ran in the house fed the dog and turned around to run out to the hospital to see a parishioner. Car wouldn't start.
Knowing nothing about cars I'm trying to figure out what to do when a woman i don't know. Stops. Listens to the car drives back to her house for cables. Starts my car and tells me to hold on to the cables in case the car stalls on the way to the shop. She will stop by and get the cables some other time. And who says there are no angels.
I'm sitting at Mech Toyota waiting on my car and still amazed!!!

-Fr. Wayne Ball

Location:Walnut Grove Dr,Mechanicsville,United States

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Miracles and Death

Today's first reading with the drowning of the egyptians can be difficult for Christians to reconcile to our notion of God.

First of all, like many stories in the OT we know that it is told as it was perceived not with scientific accuracy. The chance that Pharaoh and ALL his army would have gone after a band of run-away slaves, died, and left no record outside the bible is slim. Of course, to the Israelites it seemed like the whole army.

Regardless of the numbers, it is their death that bothers us. We forget however that from God's perspective death in itself is not a bad thing. There are ways to die that are bad: abortion, homicide, suicide, torture, etc. but passing from this life is inevitable. Every person Jesus cured eventually died. Lazarus whom Jesus raised eventually died. Every human being must eventually pass from this life to their eternal destination. That is in fact the goal.

We should also remember that what makes a miracle a miracle is not that the laws of nature/physics are broken or suspended by that in the event people experience the presence of God. They get a glimpse of hand of God at work in their lives.

When the exodus story tells us that the people of Israel sang and danced, it is not intending to convey the idea that they were dancing over the corpses of their enemies. They sang and danced because they finally got it. After all their whining and complaining to Moses, they finally got at least some understanding of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Today if you look I think you will be surprised my the number of little miracles in your life, those little reminders of God's presence and love.

Monday, July 18, 2011

You have only to keep still

Today we reach the well-known section of the Exodus story where the people are complaining about being brought out of Egypt. Pharaoh, and his chariots, and charioteers are closing in and Moses give them a simple instruction. You have only to keep still. In the midst of all the drama of the exodus story this simple instruction can go unnoticed. We remember the parting of the sea, the walls of water, but who remembers Moses telling them to keep still. After all, keeping still is hardly good movie material.

For us, to be still is difficult on two levels. First on the simply physical and mental level, meditation of contemplation may the most difficult forms of prayer. To still our bodies and our minds for even 10 mins when we first begin this practice can seem an eternity. We feel compelled to be busy.

The other aspect of the stillness to which Moses calls the people is trust. To keep still and do nothing requires an absolute trust in God. For everything there is a season. In some situations, to be a good Christian is to act, and non-action can be a sin of omission. In other situations, the best thing we can do is nothing.

How do we know which is which? Here we come full circle. Only by stilling ourselves and carefully examining our motives and listening carefully to our conscience, can we hope to know the right course.

Today try to find a few moments of stillness to rest in God. Doing nothing may be the most important thing you do all day.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

It's all relative

The first reading today tells us, "The time the children of Israel had stayed in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years." Imagine!

In our time, when the stop light turns green, how many seconds do we give the person in front of us to move before we start to get impatient. We send an email or text message and we want the answer NOW. And when the sender doesn't get an immediate response they then call.

How often are we really involved in something that is that time sensitive or critical? It seems the faster the technology moves the more we attach a sense of urgency to every aspect of life.

In itself this would not be bad were it not for the side effects. We are now coming to understand medically the impact of stress on not just the mind but the body. Even more importantly basically civility seems to be slipping away. It you simply take a moment and reflect on the transition from the letter, to email, to the text message, we can see how our communication has changed. Now if we manage a pls or thank u, we're doing good.

Old etiquette books would teach that a letter should never begin with the word "I". It was considered too self-centered.

I'm the last person to suggest that we abandon technology and return to writing on dead trees. But perhaps what I am suggesting is that we look for those opportunities in our daily life to slow down just a little, to focus on the other person, add back into our vocabulary the words and phrases that show care and respect, and to truly care about the answer when we ask, "How are you?"

Communication is more that the transmission of information. It is about relationship. It's root is the same as communion, to be one with. The people of Israel waited 430 years, perhaps today we can take 1 extra minute or even 2.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

When we think no one is looking

The first reading today recounts the process of Moses deciding to murder an Egyptian. He sees an Egyptian mistreating one of his people, looks around, thinks no one is around, and kills him. The implication is that if he had seen someone who could see him, he would not have done it for fear of being reported and punished.

While Moses should have decided not to kill, because it was wrong. He was like most of us. He had not reached that level of ethical maturity where one simply does good because it is good and avoids sin because it is sin. Until we reach that ethical perfection , fear can be a helpful tool. Fear is not always a bad thing. Fear can sometimes save us from ourselves.

The Italian language has no word for privacy. When needed it simply borrows the English word. We, on the other hand, at times seem obsessed with it. The harsh truth is that twenty-first century technology has almost made it a moot point for all of us.

Every phone has a camera and most are capable of recording, security cameras are all around, gps chips track our location. Even when you go to the bathroom, that smartphone in your pocket, and the system it is connected to know where you are. The Anthony trial told the world what us geeks have known for ages, search engines like google track your every search.

The more I reflect on this, however, the more I am convinced that it may be the best thing that could happen. In the late 20th century pornography flourished because people no longer had to go into a store. They could sit in the privacy of their home and like Moses think no one saw them. In the 21st century people are becoming aware that their Internet activity is not secret. Almost nothing goes unseen.

H.G Wells actually explored this theme in the Invisible Man. When no one can see him the invisible man looses his moral compass, and believes himself invincible. Fear and a sense of shame are really gifts from God.Like any gift they can be be distorted or misused, but in their proper place are good.

Today before you send that email, remember it's stored on a server, even after you delete it. Keep in mind the thought that would have saved Moses, if you don't want anyone to know about it, don't do it. It's more true today than ever.