Monday, January 31, 2011

John Bosco

As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, we celebrate one of the great Catholic educators, St. John Bosco. Not only was he the founder of the Salesian community who have set up schools for poor children around the world, but also developed what was, for its time, a radical new system for education.

In the 19th century the basic approach to education was to say the least severe. Don Bosco, as he is called, developed what was call the "preventative system." His system was grounded in three pillars: reason, religion, and loving kindness. In a world that believed the way you deal with troubled youth was simply more "discipline", St. John Bosco believed that his pillars were the best way to lead young people to the right path.

Our Catholic schools offer places where those three pillars are still are the heart of education. In these last decades with the loss of the cheap labor provided by religious sisters, we have struggled to find a new model that makes high quality Catholic education available to our children, especially those who are most at risk.

Let us pray today that through the intercession of St. John Bosco we may find the answers we need.

Friday, January 28, 2011


As we sit in the middle of winter, the gospel gives us an agricultural metaphor.

Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.

In the time of Jesus this metaphor would have been understood and lived. With plants and animals people had to wait for the natural cycle of growth, and in that waiting learned the virtue of patience. In our modern age we can accelerate everything including the growth rate of animals so we have to wait for nothing. The few times we are forced to wait, our response is anger. Why is that?

I wonder if the root of the problem doesn't rest in two fundamentally flawed assumptions.

The first looks out and believes that our true happiness is tied to some thing outside ourselves, some good or service, and so we must have it right now.

The second is more internal. It is the belief that our value as a person is linked to how much we produce.

Even in churches it is: How big is your congregation? How many programs do you run? How popular are they?

We need to remind ourselves that in the end we are not going to be judged on how productive we were at our jobs, but how faithful we were to Jesus and his gospel. The double commandment to love reminds us that we will be judged on our relationships: to Christ, to his church, to all our brothers and sisters.

Recently the church recognized the value of social networking with the warning that these "friends" can not be a substitute for real human interactions.

Even that time you are on hold waiting for an operator is an opportunity for an Our Father, or a decade of the rosary offered for someone, maybe even a prayer for the over-worked under-paid operator in Bangalore who spends their day being yelled at by strangers like us.

The virtue of patience isn't magic, it starts in remembering what is truly of value, the human person.

Thursday, January 27, 2011


Today's gospel seems perfect for our time. For as much as it is fashionable to talk about the evil of the Internet, there is a kind of healthy fear, leading to prudence that it can instill in us. Today's gospel is more immediately true than ever, "For there is nothing hidden except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to light."

Today's gospel also though gives us to other lessons in the virtue of prudence. On the one hand it says, "Anyone who has ears to hear ought to hear.” 0n the other hand, He also told them, “Take care what you hear."

Three simple but profound instructions to guide what we say and do each day.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The conversion of St. Paul

Today we celebrate to moment when Saul of Tarsus first heard the call of Jesus. With the passing of the centuries we can forget that our Christian faith is inextricably linked to the faith of the Jews. In the first reading Paul tells us that he was trained not by just any teacher but by one of the greatest of his time Gamaliel.

Sunday nights I had the privilege of being invited to the preview of an exhibit that is touring the country on John Paul II and the Jewish people, A Blessing to One Another. It will be at the Virginia Holocaust Museum until June 1. It is the story of a Jew and a Catholic who became friends in a world where that was not common, survive WWII, and were brought back together by God in the city of Rome during the Second Vatican Council.

Not textbooks, but this childhood friendship was John Paul's education in the Jewish faith, and through him would reshape the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish People.

27 Nissan of the Jewish Calendar marks Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which will fall this year on May 1 of our calendar,the same day as the beatification of Pope John Paul II. We here in Richmond, have the incredible privilege of hosting the exhibit on this day.

If you are in the Richmond area, this exhibit is a must see. If you are out of the area check the exhibit's main site, for more information on future venues near you.

Lastly, we pray for the Paulist Fathers, the American Society of Apostolic Life, whose founder recognized the unique needs of our nation in the areas of:evangelization, reconciliation, and ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.

Monday, January 24, 2011

St. Francis de Sales

The history of the Protestant reformation and the Catholic response is one of those topics about which it is difficult to find anything that resembles objectivity. Most often the leaders of the Catholic Church are caricatured as villainous clerics while those leading the Protestants are painted as the defenders of the bible and the laity. It makes better movies than the truth.

Today we celebrate the life of a saint who gave up the possibility of a life of power and politics to preach the gospel. Chosen to be the Bishop of Geneva, Switzerland he had to exercise the office from France because the Protestant forces that controlled Geneva at the time would not have allowed him to carry out his ministry there.

He dedicated himself to correcting errors that were being preached in Savoy, but contrary to the mythology of the movies, he invited those who had fallen away from the Catholic Church to dinner, debated, and discussed. His manner was such that some of his more hardline Catholic brothers saw it as scandalous. For him the scripture passage, "God is love" remained the center of his ministry. He said "God the Father is the Father of mercy; God the Son is a Lamb; God the Holy Ghost is a Dove."

He did not waver from naming heresy or defending the truth, but was known for doing so with love.

Whether it is Sunni and Shia in the Moslem world, or our own Democrats and Republican, perhaps we all have something to learn from the model of St. Francis de Sales.

He is a doctor of the Church, the patron saint for at least four religious communities, and of the deaf, having created a rudimentary sign language to teach the faith to the deaf.

St. Francis de Sales, pray for us

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The "Fringe" Gospel

In today's gospel Jesus begin the proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the rest of the gospel will be about this kingdom. But what exactly is this kingdom?

One of the errors we have fallen into is found in the popular hymn City of God, "Let us build the city of God", as if we can. The Kingdom of heaven is not something we build, it is God's creation.

I am a great fan of science fiction and I realized that the TV show Fringe, comes closest to capturing the idea. It is a show about two alternate universes, alternate realities, and the characters pass between them.

John's gospel best captures it in chapter 17 when Jesus says that the people of this world are going to hate his disciples because they are not of this world. And yet he says he does not pray for God to take them out of this world, but to protect them while they live in it.

At the moment of our baptism we were made citizens of the alternate universe called the "Kingdom of Heaven." We continue to live in this world but we need to remember it is not our home. We work to make it a better place but with a certain sense of detachment that should give us perspective. A part of the anger we hear, even in Christians, these days is born of frustration. We constantly hear voices of fear anger that this world isn't how it's supposed to be, fear of where it is headed.

A part of finding peace is a certain acceptance of the imperfection of this world. While we work for peace, justice, and unity in this world we do so accepting that we can never turn this world into the kingdom of God.

Can we glimpse the other world? yes. It was present in this world first in the person of Jesus Christ and then in his church. We touch the other world in the liturgy. In orthodox churches there are doors in the iconostasis that represent that connection of worlds. We taste other world in the Eucharist.

Jesus truly loved this world and everything in it but he never forgot, "My kingdom is not of this world."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Unknown Saint

Today is the memorial of St. Vincent Pallotti, a 19th century Rome priest who in many ways foreshadowed the ideals that mark the theology of Vatican II, more than a century before the council. Renowned for his work with the poor, the two other themes that were unusual at the time were his focus on healing the fractures within the church, and on the lay apostolate.

Today the church remains fractured. Albeit in somewhat different ways, the fractures are just as deep. And we still have a ways to go in capturing the mission of the laity, as set forth in the Second Vatican Council, to carry the faith out into the marketplace and transform the world.

At the heart of our prayer today let us hold the motto of St. Vincent "Caritas Christi urget nos" (The love of Christ compels us). May the love of Christ be the driving force behind our every word and act today.

St. Vincent Pallotti, pray for us.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bishops to Congress

Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the new congress

Dear Member of Congress,

As a new Congress begins, I write to congratulate you and to outline principles and priorities that guide the public policy efforts of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). As President of the Bishops’ Conference, I assure you of our prayers and hopes that this newly elected Congress will advance the common good and defend the life and dignity of all, especially vulnerable and poor persons whose needs are critical in this time of difficult economic and policy choices. We continue to seek ways to work constructively with the Administration and the new Congress and others of good will to pursue policies which respect the dignity of all human life and bring greater justice to our nation and peace to our world.

As bishops, of course we approach public policy not as politicians but as pastors and teachers. Our moral principles have always guided our everyday experience in caring for the hungry and homeless, offering health care and housing, educating children and reaching out to those in need. We lead the largest community of faith in the United States, one that serves every part of our nation and is present in almost every place on earth. From our experience and our tradition, we offer a distinctive, constructive and principled contribution to the national dialogue on how to defend human life and dignity, promote and protect marriage and family life, lift up those who experience economic turmoil and suffering, and promote peace in a world troubled by war and violence.

Most fundamentally, we will work to protect the lives of the most vulnerable and voiceless members of the human family, especially unborn children and those who are disabled or terminally ill. We will consistently defend the fundamental right to life from conception to natural death. Opposed to abortion as the direct killing of innocent human life, we will encourage one and all to seek common ground, reducing the number of abortions by providing compassionate and morally sound care for pregnant women and their unborn children. We will oppose legislative and other measures to expand abortion. We will work to retain essential, widely supported policies which show respect for unborn life, protect the conscience rights of health care providers and other Americans, and prevent government funding and promotion of abortion. The Hyde amendment and other provisions which for many years have prevented federal funding of abortion have a proven record of reducing abortions, and should be codified in permanent law. Efforts to force Americans to fund abortions with their tax dollars pose a serious moral challenge, and Congress should act to ensure that health care reform does not become a vehicle for such funding.

In close connection with our defense of all human life and particularly the most vulnerable among us, we stand firm in our support for marriage which is and can only be a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of one man and one woman. There is good reason why the law has always recognized this, and why it should continue to do so. In a manner unlike any other relationship, marriage makes a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the common good of society, especially through the procreation and education of children. Children need, deserve and yearn for a mother and a father. All human societies in every era of history, differing greatly among themselves in many other ways, have understood this simple wisdom. No other kinds of personal relationships can be justly made equivalent or analogous to the commitment of a husband and a wife in marriage, because no other relationship can connect children to the two people who brought them into the world. For this reason, we will continue to vigorously support the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and strongly oppose legislative or executive measures that seek to redefine or erode the meaning of marriage. We suggest Congressional oversight of executive actions that have the effect of undermining DOMA, such as the expansion of spousal benefits to two persons of the same sex, and the weak defense of DOMA in court against constitutional challenge. We will seek to reflect respect for the family in every policy and program, to protect the rights of children, and to uphold the rights and responsibilities of mothers and fathers to care for their children. We will also continue to monitor legislation and federal regulations that protect our children and families from the destructive repercussions of pornography, which degrades human sexuality and marital commitment.

Our nation faces continuing economic challenges with serious human consequences and significant moral dimensions. We will work with the Administration and Congress for budget, tax and entitlement policies that reflect the moral imperative to protect poor and vulnerable people. We advocate a clear priority for poor families and vulnerable workers in the development and implementation of economic recovery measures, including appropriate new investments, finding ways to offer opportunity and strengthening the national safety net. Poor families and low-income and jobless workers have been hurt most of all in the economic crisis. The difficult choices ahead on how to balance needs and resources, and how to proportionately allocate the burdens and sacrifices need to take into account the vulnerability and capacity of all, especially those most affected by poverty, joblessness and economic injustice. We urge the Administration and Congress to seek the common good of our nation and people above partisan politics and the demands of powerful or narrow interests.

With regard to the education of children, we call for a return to the equitable participation of students and teachers in private schools in programs funded through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. When students in private schools are counted in order to determine the total amount of federal education funds a public school district receives, the funds generated by these students should benefit them and their teachers, not be used for programs in which only public school students and personnel can participate. We also continue to support initiatives, such as tax credits and scholarship programs, which provide resources for all parents, especially those of modest means, to choose education which best addresses the needs of their children.

We welcome continuing commitments to empower faith-based groups as effective partners in overcoming poverty and other threats to human dignity. We will continue to work with the Administration and Congress to strengthen these partnerships in ways that do not encourage government to abandon its responsibilities, and do not require religious groups to abandon their identity or mission.

As the Internet continues to grow in its influence and prominence in Americans’ lives, we support legislation and federal regulations that ensure equal access to the Internet for all, including religious and non-profit agencies, as well as those in more sparsely populated or economically distressed areas. True net neutrality is necessary for people to flourish in a democratic society.

The Catholic Bishops of the United States have worked for nearly a century to assure health care for all, insisting that access to health care is a basic human right and a requirement of human dignity. Basic health care for all is a moral imperative, not yet completely achieved. We remain committed to our three moral criteria: 1) Ensure access to quality, affordable, life-giving health care for all; 2) Retain longstanding requirements that federal funds not be used for elective abortions or plans that include them, and effectively protect conscience rights; and 3) Protect the access to health care that immigrants currently have and remove current barriers to access. We will continue to devote our efforts to improving and correcting serious moral problems in the current law, so health care reform can truly be universal and life-affirming.

We will work with the Administration and the new Congress to fix a broken immigration system which harms both immigrants and our entire nation. Comprehensive reform is needed to deal with the economic and human realities of millions of immigrants in our midst. We realize that reform must be based on respect for and implementation of the law and for the legitimate and timely question of national security. Equally, however, it must defend the rights and dignity of all peoples, recognizing that human dignity comes from God and does not depend on where people were born or how they came to our nation. Truly comprehensive immigration reform will include a path to earned citizenship, with attention to the fact that international trade and development policies influence economic opportunities in the countries from which immigrants come. It also must foster family reunification, the bedrock principle upon which our national immigration system has been based for decades. Immigration enforcement policies should honor basic human rights and uphold basic due process protections.

On international affairs, we will work with our leaders to seek responsible transitions to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and promote religious freedom for all, acting against religious repression of our fellow Christians and others. The recent attacks against Christians in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria and the assassination of a Pakistani governor who opposed blasphemy laws highlight an appalling trend of increased violence aimed at vulnerable minority communities. In all foreign policy deliberations, we urge a greater emphasis on human rights, especially religious freedom, which we view as an essential good so intricately tied to other human rights and to the promotion of peace. We especially urge continued and persistent leadership to bring a just peace to the Holy Land, to promote peaceful change in Sudan, and to rebuild Haiti. We will continue to support essential U.S. investments to overcome global poverty, hunger and disease through increased and reformed international assistance. Continued U.S. leadership in the fight against HIV-AIDS and other diseases in ways that are both effective and morally appropriate have our enthusiastic backing. Recognizing the complexity of climate change, we wish to be a voice for the poor and vulnerable in our country and around the world who will be the most adversely affected by threats to the environment.

This outline of USCCB policies and priorities is not complete. There are many other areas of concern and advocacy for the Church and the USCCB. For a more detailed description of our concerns please see Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (USCCB 2007), pages 19-30.

Nonetheless, we offer this outline as an agenda for dialogue and action. We hope to offer a constructive and principled contribution to national discussion about the values and policies that will shape our nation's future. We seek to work together with our nation's leaders to advance the common good of our society, while disagreeing respectfully and civilly where necessary in order to preserve that common good. I am enclosing a brochure from our Office of Government Relations, directed by Nancy Wisdo, for your future contacts with the Conference.

In closing, I thank you for responding to the noble call of public service and I renew our expression of hope and our offer of cooperation as you begin this new period of service to our nation in these challenging times. We promise our prayers for all of you, and in a special way for your colleague Gabrielle Giffords and all those killed or injured in the horrific attack in Tucson. We hope that the days ahead will be a time of renewal and progress for our nation as we defend human life and dignity, seek greater justice for all God’s children, and bring peace to a suffering world.

With prayerful best wishes, I am

Faithfully and respectfully yours,

Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The messianic secret

In the gospel today we have one of many examples in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus is identified and the person identifying him as the messiah is silenced, Why would Jesus not want the world to know that he is the messiah?

We need to remember that the people at the time had very clear ideas about what kind of leader they wanted. They believed they needed a messiah who would be a strong military force to crush their adversaries. Jesus knows that the world "messiah" is a politically charged term, and he knows that he has been sent to give them the salvation they needed and not the salvation they wanted.

He would have die on the cross before people would be able to get, and even then many those closest to him still didn't get it. We see Christianity as the worldwide religion that it is today, and we forget that it took a long time for this to happen. It often takes a long time for people to truly hear and accept the truth, particularly when the truth will require painful sacrifice,

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The turning point

Today in the gospel of Mark we reach the turning point, when the Pharisees decide that Jesus must die. At the time of Jesus there were many itinerant preachers, and even many claiming to be the messiah. We rarely stop to ask ourselves, what it was about Jesus that made them want him dead. Mark paints a picture of the worst sort of political intrigue.

Already in chapter three of Mark's gospel, the pharisees, Jesus's own religious party, witness him curing a man with a withered hand. While others see a miracle, all they can see is a threat, a threat to their power. They see Jesus as someone who has the potential to be popular, to be a truly charismatic leader. Mark tells us that this is the trigger event.

The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.

Did the Herodians share some deep religious affinity with the Pharisees? No. But now they share a common cause, there desire to maintain their position. Will there be a direct and immediate link to the crucifixion? No. Mark positions this story at the beginning of the gospel, there are many chapters, stories and characters in between.

These day we tend to want simple answers. We romanticize history and tell ourselves that life used to be simpler. The truth is that evil in the form of greed, envy, and a lust for power is as old as original sin. Modem technology has simply made it more visible to a larger segment of the population.

The good news is that it is possible for good to triumph. The story of Jesus did not end with the crucifixion. The names of those Pharisees have been lost to history, but Jesus and his church live on.

While there are those who love to say, "The world is going to hell in a handcart", I see signs ever day that the gospel is right, "The kingdom of God is at hand."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

In the line of Melchizedek

The letter to the Hebrews today reaches back to a person first mentioned in the book of Genesis to describe the eternal high-priesthood of Jesus, in which we all participate by virtue of our baptism. What makes it even more interesting is that the letter does not trace it to Aaron, the traditional beginning of priesthood in the old testament but to Melchizedek, King of Salem. And this connection becomes so central in our faith that it becomes part of the Roman Canon (eucharistic prayer I). Is it simply the reference to bread and wine or is there something more here.

In his name are found three key words:mlk,zdh, and shlm. Sorry the lack of vowels, welcome to Hebrew.
mlk- king
Zdh-often translated as righteousness, it is linked the the requirement of charity on the part of every practicing Jew.
Slm- according to jewish commentary, a reference to Jerusalem, we most often link it also to the word shlm which is translated as peace, but the word contains much more. It is a state of health, or wholeness, when all is as God intends.
According to the Jewish tradition, the bread and wine he offers, are signs of friendship and hospitality, again for the Christian they will come to be much more.

Quite a few years back, I remember bumper stickers that said, "If you want peace, work for justice", a call to action in the world.

Perhaps we are reminded that there needs to be a preceding step, the one in which we critique, not the world outside but, the world inside, and ask ourselves to we posses a spirit of true righteousness, in the fullest sense of the world.

Mechizedek literally "Righteousness is my king."-- the model not just for the ministerial priesthood, but the baptismal priesthood of all the faithful. May we live constantly a righteousness, peace, and charity that are rooted in the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.

Monday, January 17, 2011

St. Anthony the Great

As we honor the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the US, the church's calendar today marks a saint whose example could be of particular importance to us in the 21st century, the Egyptian saint Anthony.

Anthony is often called the father of monasticism. The translation into Latin of his biography written by Athanasius and its rapid popularity became the basis for the growth of the monastic life in the west. Long before St. Francis, Anthony heard the words of the gospel "Go and sell all that you have..." and followed them in a most literal way. After the dead of his parents, he sold all that he had, entrusted the care of his sisters to a group of virgins, and began to live the simplest possible life. He became the model for what is known as the anchorite, the person who withdraws from the world to seek religious perfection, withdrawing into the desert.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am about as connected as anyone can be(iPhone, iPad, etc.) and I believe we make a hugh mistake when we try and paint the Internet or technology as evil or blame the technology for societies ills. They are merely tools for us to use, for good or bad.

St. Anthony reminds us that we do need to create deserts, quiet spaces in our life, when we shut off the constant flow of data,and listen to the quiet voice of God. Silence. Meditation. Contemplation.

Do you have a prayer space in your life? Can you shut off you phone,tv and other devices for even 10 minutes of absolute silence and withdraw from the world to spend some quality time with God?

Today as we remember Dr. King, we look at our world and see we are still far from his dream. The paradox of the gospel;however, is that in order to get there we need to stop working, and listen to the source of all true peace.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Good Guilt

In my formative years, the 60s and 70s, there was great deal of complaining against religion for making people feel guilty. It was as if we wanted to create a guilt-free world where people could feel good about themselves regardless of how they behave.

In today's first reading we hear:
The word of God is living and effective,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
penetrating even between soul and spirit,
joints and marrow,
and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.
No creature is concealed from him,
but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him
to whom we must render an account.

If that reading just made you a little uncomfortable, that's not a bad thing. It's proof not only that you are human but you are a healthy human.

Catholic theology speaks of natural law written in the hearts of every person. God also gave us a conscience and feelings like guilt, remorse and shame to help us monitor and correct our behavior.

When we try and train people to ignore these feeling we should not be surprised that we need to add words like sexting to the English language or we hear of kids killing each other for a pair of tennis shoes.

Inability to conform to social norms, lack of remorse, rationalizing when we hurt others, and promiscuity are now recognized for what they are, signs of an antisocial personality disorder.

The good news is that just as God has given us feelings like guilt and remorse he has also given us a healthy way to be rid of them. We do wrong; we feel guilt. We confess and our feeling of peace is restored.

Perhaps rather than telling someone not to feel guilty, perhaps we would be better to teach our young people how to acknowledge the feelings of guilt, acknowledge sin, and then trust in the forgiveness of God.

Time to revisit the sacrament of reconciliation.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Do we truly believe in intercession?

Growing up in a largely non-Catholic world, the Christianity I was raised in was a very individual faith, rooted in accepting "Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior." Ideas like parents professing faith on behalf of their children at baptism made no sense.

In today's gospel see just what is possible because of the unlimited power of God's grace and the unity of the human family. The person in question is a paralytic. There is no evidence of his faith or even what communication skills he had. There those who will try and say he would have asked his friends to take him, or something like that, but that's not what the gospel says. What the gospel says is that

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”

It is the faith of the friends that saves the paralytic.

From parents presenting children for baptism, to masses offered for the dead, our faith has throughout its history celebrated to real power of intercessory prayer.

We tend to limit our intercessions to an unemployed relative or a sick friend, or go for the truly abstract like world peace. When we heard the news yesterday of the collapse of the government in Lebanon, how many of us thought to pray for the members of Hezbollah who caused the collapse.

Why not?

If we truly believe in the power of prayer, why do not on a daily basis pray for those most capable of causing disorder, pain, suffering. Why do we wait until after the violence and pray for the victims? Let us be truly proactive. Let us pray for those who are contemplating violence.

Let our pray reflect that we really do believe with God all things are possible.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

True Freedom

One of the most important concepts to us culturally here in America is freedom. The problem is how we define it. Many would define it as the ability to do whatever I want.

The first reading today reminds us "that through death he(Jesus) might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life."

True freedom from the Christian perspective is something more than other people letting me do what I want, but a freedom that is rooted at the core of our being. Freedom from those fears that lead us to do things we know are wrong, the fears that reach their pentacle in fear of death.

The Letter to the Hebrews understands that some of our worst choices have been and are those choices that we make in moments of fear. When we are afraid we can tend to push our Christianity to the back of our mind, and react from our most primitive instincts.

Today we are reminded that by his death Christ has freed us. Let us not give into our fears and make ourselves slaves again.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A single point of origin

The first readings for weekday masses of ordinary time are arranged in what is called "lectio continuo"(continuous reading); that is to say, we read our way through various books of the bible. These first weeks ordinary time this year we are reading the Letter to the Hebrews. It is worth noting that it is not called the Letter of Paul to the Hebrews.

Today we are reminded of the foundational truth in our understanding of how the world is constructed. "He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin."

It seems that we must constantly struggle against the centrifugal forces in ourselves and our world that seek to fracture that original unity.

It is a truth that we know in our inmost being but still find hard to keep in the forefront of our minds in our daily decision-making.

Tragedies like Tucson help for a while, but it is only by deliberate choice that we turn a moment of unity into a lifestyle.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A proper response

Today we begin Ordinary Time still dealing with extraordinary events. Who among us is not still trying to make sense of the events of the weekend?

It is truly providential that the gospel for today is Mark's recounting of the beginning of Jesus's preaching. Mark links the preaching of Jesus to the arrest of John, "After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God."

We can forget the familial relationship of Jesus and John. We can forget how frightening it would have been for the entire family to have a loved one arrested in that world. We need to remember these things to understand the extraordinary response of Jesus.

He did not come out preaching hell-fire and brimstone. The arrest of John meant for Jesus it was time to proclaim the Good News, it was a time of fulfillment. He called for two things: metanoia and pistis.

While metamorphosis is the physically changing of a being, metanoia is a changing of the mind, a change of heart. Jesus would call for people to reexamine their most fundamental beliefs.

The second response Jesus calls for "pistis" is usually translated as faith. The word comes from the root verb to persuade, to be persuaded, to trust. It reflects a personal relationship with the speaker, a willingness to trust what Jesus is saying even when it doesn't fit with the listeners preconceived notions.

We see how Jesus responded to the arrest of John, perhaps he shows us how we should respond.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The power of words

In the beginning was the word...
God spoke and it came into being...

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a word as, "a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing." The theology of both Old and New Testament recognize that words are something more.

In the first story of creation the word of God is the power that brings the universe into existence. With his ruah (breathe/spirit),God gives life to humanity. Thorough his Word we are made.

The scriptures also tell us that we are created in his image and likeness. A part of that similarity is that God has given us an intellect and a will. We can think and we can choose, and we can speak. And like God, our words have power, the power to create and the power to destroy, the power to lift up and the power to tear down, and the power to inspire.

This weekend we have suffered the tragic deaths of six people, and wounding of twelve others. Did the shooter suffer from some degree of mental illness? It would seem from what we know so far that the answer to that question is yes. But the deeper question is what inspired him? What words focused his anger on this person at this time?

The sheriff who clearly has more pieces to the puzzle than he is able to share at this time, spoke passionately about the danger of the vitriol that has become a regular part of our political speech, and the particular susceptibility of the mentally ill.

Over the next few days and weeks I'm sure we will hear the purveyors of this vitriol on each side vilify each other while absolving themselves of any responsibility for such heinous actions. The press will try to ignore the reality that the constant retelling of this kind of story inspires "copy cats", looking for their 15 minutes of fame.

Ultimately we must face the truth of the Scriptures, words have power. And every time we prepare to open our mouths and speak, every time we retell what we have heard, we need to think. Words have an effect, and the effects over time are cumulative.

Will we create or destroy?
Will we build up or tear down?
Who will we inspire and how?
What will we say today?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The constant struggle.

The gospel today ends with the words of John the Baptist, "He must increase; I must decrease."  His disciples are concerned that more people are going to Jesus to be baptized. While it seems petty to us and we may look at the disciples of John and think that we would never be like that, the reality is that we are.

As human beings we face the constant temptation to turn in on ourselves.  We can only perceive what our senses allow us to perceive. We cannot step outside ourselves, and truly see as God sees.  As Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians reminds us, now we see only a poor reflection.

Over and over we are reminded in the gospels of the paradox, as Matthew puts it, "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." Like John the Baptist, we must decrease, and allow Christ to increase in us.  That means a constant self monitoring, for attitudes and actions that reveal a self-centeredness, the subtle ways that we ask "What do I get out of this?" or "Why should I have to help them?" or "What about me and my family?"

Even something as simple as the way we drive can be selfish.  "Why won't this person get out of my way?"  or "I'm stuck in traffic", as if the traffic is everyone on the road but you.  Wake up. You are part of the traffic!

The myriad of tiny ways that we make ourselves the center of the universe.

The good news is that each time we catch ourselves in one of these thoughts, it is an opportunity for us to recenter ourselves on Christ, and to make the constant choice to decrease.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Liar, Liar

In the first reading for today John reminds us that there is a time for sensitivity and there is also a time when we must plainly state a difficult truth. His message is simple and direct, "If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar"

It is difficult because there are people in this world who hate, and like many other emotions hate often has no rational basis. It is also, however, often a learned behavior. In the words from South Pacific, "You have to be taught, before it's too late, before you are six, or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate. You have to be carefully taught."

This year we mark the beginning of our own civil war. We like to pretend that now that we have elected a black president, we're done with that past. But ask yourself, when was the last time you went out to dinner with someone not of your own color. At best what we have is an uneasy detente, made more complicated by the edition of brown, that is Hispanic, to the palette of colors that make up our nation.

We would never want to use the word "hate", it is far too harsh for our modern sensibility. In most cases we have learned to disguise it. Call it tensions, resentment, anger, fear. It slips out in looks, comments, jokes. We hide it in discussions of national security. We can outlaw the speech, but that alone does not truly change hearts.

John cuts through all the carefully nuanced language and gives us two simple categories for our relationship to our brothers and sisters, love or hate. Do we really love one another? Perhaps we need the stark language of St. John to remind us just how much, to borrow a favorite phrase of Bishop DiLorenzo, "unfinished business" we still have a century and a half after the beginning of the civil war.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

No fear

As we continue to read from John's letters in these last days of Christmas, and first days of 2011, we hear two of his most concise but profound phrases.

In the first, "God is love," we see that for Christians love is not an emotion but the very presence of God in us. Secondly, and perhaps even more important to us these days, he writes "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear...."

As we begin this new year we seem to be surrounded by conditions and events that raise our sense of uncertainty about the future, which in turn raises our level of fear. Perhaps what is really happening is that we are being forced into a more realistic assessment of the limits of our power.

How do we live with a sense of very limited power and not be afraid? Faith. By faith I don't mean some kind of intellectual assent to a list of propositions about God, but an abiding trust in that loving presence of God in us and with us. Only if we keep ourselves grounded every moment of every day in that love can we have a life in which, as John says, "There is no fear."

And when we feel those fears and anxieties rising up in us, let them simply serve as a call to pause and reground ourselves in the only true power, God .

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Elizabeth Ann Seton

Today we celebrate one of the great women of American Catholic history. Elizabeth Ann Seton was born in 1774 in the colony of New York and raised in the Episcopal Church. When her husband fell ill, they took him to Italy for the climate and it was there that she was first exposed to the Catholic Church. After his death she returned to the still relatively new born country and came into full communion with the Church.

It was a French Sulpician priest who first sparked her interest in the thing she would later be most renowned for, education. So this former Anglican who would be the first saint born in what would be the US, owes her faith and fame to the Italians and the French.

Just one more example of the mysterious and sometimes circuitous ways of God.

She is the patron saint of Catholic Schools so let us pray for our schools as they search discover how best to carry out their mission in the 21st Century. We see the old model failing around the country, as diocese after diocese closes school, may God, through the intercession of St. Elizabeth Ann grant us the wisdom and courage to discern and follow a new path to success.

Here is the link to the Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Living Tabernacles

Seven more days until the end of the Christmas Season. And in these last days we see the close relationship between Jesus and John reflected in his theology, his understanding of our relationship to Christ.
In today's reading he uses the verb "meno." It means to stop and stay, or to remain. Like a loved one, Jesus is the one who moves, not just in with us, but into us. And we move into him. He becomes our home, and we become his.

As wonderful as it sounds it does come with expectations. Much like my own mother who made it clear, "You live under my roof; you live by my rules", John links our dwelling in Christ to keeping his commandments.

To help us we have some tools. We have the sacraments, especially Eucharist and Reconciliation. Eucharist is the fullness of the presence of Christ avaiable to us in Catholic Churches around the world every day. And when we fall, we can always be assured of the perfect healing of our relationship with Jesus in the sacrament of reconciliation.

When did you last receive the sacrament of Reconciliation or stop by a church and spend a few minutes in quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament?

Today's Readings

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mother's Day

While in the civil calendar we celebrate Mother's Day in May, the Catholic Church, as of 1969, has closed the octave of Christmas with Mary, Mother of God. In addition, this January 1st marks the 44th World Day of Peace.
To the surprise of many the holy Father's talk for today focuses on religious freedom as the weapon for peace. In the first decade of the 21st century we have seen a resurgence of religious intolerance, in often subtle and not so subtle forms. Even some Christians have sought to suppress the religious freedom of others.

I invite you to read the Holy Father's address and pray as he does "May all men and women, and societies at every level and in every part of the earth, soon be able to experience religious freedom, the path to peace!"

PS. In case you were not aware the city of La Paz in Bolivia is actually Nuestra SeƱora de la Paz, Our Lady of Peace, one of the many titles for Mary our Mother we celebrate today.