Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Where do we begin?

We can sometimes think that the church's focus on respect life and catholic social teaching are somehow new, as if all the early church did was pray and build churches. We Americans look at the non-establishment clause in the Constitution as if it were a blueprint for life: keep you politics in one box, your religion in another. We can forget the basic human virtue of integrity means living one unified life.

The first reading today for the Feast of the Visitation, with it's reference to the Lord being in our midst reminds us that we believe that God became incarnate not at his birth, but at his conception. While he was still in the womb he was fully God in our midst.

The gospel links that presence of God with the social mission of the Church. When we talk about the social teaching of the Church, we tend to start with Leo XIII and Rerum Novarum. A more apt starting point is found in today's gospel and the Canticle of Mary:

...He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly....
He has filled the hungry with good thing, while the rich he has sent away empty.

Mary announces to us even before Jesus is born, that the mission of the Church will be more than simply worshiping God. We are told to rejoice in today's readings, because the Incarnation, has radically transformed and elevated the dignity of human life and we are called to acknowledge that dignity always and everywhere, from the way we speak to one another to the policies we enact in our various communities. This is not some modern concern of the church, but was there before the church was born.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Happiness or Peace?

I have written previously about the profound wholistic understanding of the word "peace", shalom. Each week at mass we wish to each other this peace. It strikes me however, looking at today's gospel, that we have to distinguish between this state and what might more simply be called happiness. Then we need ask ourselves which of these we really want. By happiness here I mean that superficial, feel-good state that we have when things are going as we want, or think they ought.

One of the things that keeps Christianity from being more popular is that it doesn't promise to make you happy. It doesn't promise that if you're a good Christian you will be successful in the world. It doesn't promise that if you are a good Christian nothing bad will happen to you. Sure, there are a few out there preaching what is called "prosperity theology", but Jesus wasn't one of them. As the readings begin to focus our attention of the coming of the Spirit, Jesus warns his followers of persecution and death.

The good news is that he also promises the Spirit of Truth. In a world of constant spin, where we no longer know where to look to find simple factual information, Jesus promised to send the Spirit of Truth: truth about God, truth about what it means to be human, truth about our relationships to God, to each other, to the world in which we live. And when we are willing to embrace that truth, we may not always be happy, but we can live with a constant sense of inner peace beyond anything this world can offer.

Happiness is a good thing, something to be wished for, and something to be enjoyed when we have it. It is a fragile thing as well. It can be ripped away by a single event or sometimes even a single word. The peace of Christ, on the other hand, is an anchor, a foundation. When we allow ourselves to be enveloped in and filled with that Spirit of Truth, the Advocate, the Holy Spirit what can take away our peace?

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Spirits and Visions

To the 21st century American the first reading today can come off as old fashioned or superstition with it's talk of the Holy Spirit not allowing them to do this and spirit of Jesus preventing them from doing that, and Paul's vision. And must confess that at a younger age I would not have put much stock in it myself.

But in the same way, the older you get the smarter your parents get, it is also true, the older you get the smarter the Bible and the Church get.

If we believe that what Jesus promises about the Holy Spirit is true,and what he promises about making his dwelling with us is true then why wouldn't they guide us as described above.

It seems to me that it is not that God has changed, we have changed.

First,we are less likely than Paul's generation to believe in the spiritual aspect of life. We will believe anything purported to come from a scientific study, but the bible...

Secondly, do we really want to be lead by the Spirit, or anyone really?

Thirdly, it takes practice to learn to distinguish the voice of God from all the noise around. Russian has hard and soft consonants. When I first started to study it, I simply couldn't hear the difference. a t was a t. What do you mean a hard t sounds like this and a soft t sounds like that? With practice one learns to distinguish, until they become to completely different sounds.mSo it is with hearing God. Sometimes it takes years of practice to become as attuned as Paul was to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

The good news is that we all have the presence of God, the presence of Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit. First we need to want to be guided, and secondly we need to practice listening.

Friday, May 27, 2011

De gustibus...

Matters of taste should not be argued so goes the old Latin adage.

In the gospel today, Jesus reminds us that it is not we who chose him but he who chose us.

So often in our age people shop for a church the way they shop for a house. Do I like the music? Do I like the preaching? Does the church give me and my family what I thing they need?

There is great wisdom in the oft forgotten law of the Catholic Church. You belong to the parish in whose boundaries you live. You are free to attend any Catholic church in the world for mass whenever you like, but there is one pastor and one bishop who the law makes responsible for your pastoral care.
Only in America do we have this invention of registering. We shop then register, as if the church were a gym.
We forget that in Church we are called to be community, not simply with those we like, people who think like us, or the priest who inspires us. We are called to be community with whatever other members of the body of Christ God happens to put in our path.

It is he who chooses us, not we who choose him.
If we love only those who love us...

And all those other passages that remind us how difficult it can be.
But if we think about it we realize that it is only difficult if we keep ourselves at the center of the matter. As we focus on Christ, and forget ourselves, it becomes much easier.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

As it was in the beginning

These days there seems to be great debate in the church about change.

Some will look at the upcoming changes in the mass and cry that we are moving backward. It is worth remembering that as much as some may want it, time can neither stand still or move backward; it only moves forward. It not only moves forward but toward an already fixed point, the kingdom of God in it's fullness. Having time stand still, or going back in time is only possible in science fiction movies. Time and the church move forward. Of course. motion is change.

Today's first reading, about how the church rethought how gentile converts were to be treated, shows clearly that change while inevitable, was always difficult.

The saint of today Philip Neri created a completely new way of life, the oratory. Now we hear that word and we think ancient and venerable. At it's time to some it was scandalous, not because of anything they did but because it was new. In fact, however, by the end of his life is work of spreading the gospel in Rome was such that some dubbed him "The Apostle of Rome."

It is true that the pendulum swings left, and the pendulum swings right as the years tick by in the church. But ultimately time and the church are always moving forward. God's ultimate plan for her will be fulfilled.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Who 's what

In today's gospel we hear the famous quote, "I am the vine you are the branches." Whenever I hear this I am taken back my days in seminary when a scripture professor caused me to have one of those moments of sudden realization about this passage.

Until then, like many people I dare say, I had pictured Jesus as the trunk, the large part growing in the center and we were the branches hanging off on the sides. This was halfway correct.

We are indeed the branches but Jesus is not merely the part in the center, he is the whole thing. When he says, "I am the vine." it does not mean he is one part and we are the other. He is the whole thing, and we must be a part of him. He is the whole vine.

Monday, May 23, 2011

This old house

Today's gospel ends with the promise of God making his dwelling with us.

While I would be the first to talk about the importance of church and community, there are also times when we need to remind ourselves that we need not go to a church building, or look for some beautiful locale, or light candles or any if these things to be close to God. From the moment of our baptism we became that dwelling place of God.

As I sit writing this I am in the parish office, listening to the roofers outside putting a new roof on the garage(metal and wood being cut, nails being hammered). The pastor is at a one of his 5 parish council meetings.(And we American priest think we have it rough) There is nothing particularly spiritual about it. Yet I can close my eyes and not simply imagine but know that God is in fact here with me.

It does of course raise the question in what kind of condition is God's dwelling place. When the house is new like my three year old god son, it doesn't take a whole lot of maintenance, but for the rest of, like any old house, there's always something that needs fixing. But as any homeowner knows it's easier if you stay on top it and fix the problems while they're small. A house can't take care of itself.

God had giving us the great gift of letting us be his dwelling, the least we can do is keep the house as nice as possible.

Friday, May 20, 2011

You can't there from here

Today's gospel ends with "no one comes to the Father except through me." For some, this gets interpreted as Christians get to heaven, everyone else burns in hell. The Catholic position is a bit more nuanced.

For us there was the pre-Jesus divide. Humans were human, God was God. Then in the person of Jesus, the two are brought together, and suddenly it is possible for all humans to share the divine life. In this sense, it is only through him, his life, death, and resurrection, that we can be part of the divine life.

If Jesus is God, as we rightly assert, then how can I be part of God, and not part of Jesus.

As an adopted child, I compare it to the issue of my biological parents. Even though I have never seen them, and probably never will, I must acknowledge that it is only through them that I have biological life. Even if I were to claim that I have no interest in knowing them, the fact of their being the source of my physical life would remain. For me to say, they have no part in my life would be irrational.

In the same way, in our Catholic understand it is possible for people who do not know Jesus, but strive to do God's will to participate in salvation/ the divine life, but there is no getting around the fact that Jesus is the source of that divine life, just as my biological parents whom I do not know are the source of my physical life.

Were it not for them I would not have physical life, were it not for Jesus, none of us would share the divine life. God would have remained God, and humans merely human. We do not get physical biological life on our own without parents, and were it not for God's choice to be one with us in Jesus we would not have the divine, spiritual life that we call "salvation."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Where do we start?

As I read today's gospel, I thought back to when I was growing up and how we thought about the idea of being saved. It dawned on me that our default was that a person was not saved until they did something, normally the phrase was, "accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior."

Today's gospel reminds us that saving us is not something we do, but something Jesus did. As we sing, "Lord by your cross and resurrection you have set us free. You are the savior of the world."

In today's gospel Jesus seems to come at the matter from a positive stance, beginning by reminding us that he came into the world to save it, not to condemn it. Then making it clear that those who will be condemned are those who hear the word and reject it, leaving room for the God's grace to work in ways beyond our imagining.

Today's responsorial psalm O Lord, let all the nations praise you reminds us that this is God's goal. In a world divided it is good to keep before us the goal.

Monday, May 16, 2011


I will be trying to keep up the blog as wifi access allows for the next two weeks.

-Fr. Wayne Ball

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Developing hierarchy

Today's first reading tells the story of the first Deacons. While we now think of it as the lowest level of clergy. They were,in a sense, the first of the modern orders. As acts recounts it, the apostles needed to remain dedicated to teaching and that the needy in the Greek speaking part of the community was not being ministered to sufficiently. The apostles laid hands on and prayed over this new group of ministers called deacons.

As the church grew the order of presbyters (priests) would come into being and the successors to the apostles whom the scriptures call bishops.
But it is worth remembering that in the 21st century, even the man who is now Pope was once ordained a deacon, and never leaves behind that ministry to serve the most needy.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

That doesn't mean what you think it means

This closing of today's gospel reads, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him." The wrath of God is death. For John it really is a matter of life and death.

The greek word translated here as disobey is the word άπειθεω, apeitheo, but it is much more than the English word, apathy. It means a stubborn, headstrong unwillingness to be convinced. It would have been much simpler if the gospel had divided the world into two groups. Those who believe and those who don't. In Greek it would have meant using the same verb in both halves of the sentence with the prefix α- on the second one to make the negative. It would have been perfect parallel construction. Those who believe have eternal life; those who don't believe will not see eternal life.

But that's not what the text says. Why? Because life is not that simple. The gospel is not that simple. We like the world in binary choices: black or white, good or bad. We want to make life simpler than it is. True Christianity embraces the complexity of life and the love of God for every person, created in the image and likeness of God.

This week, as some Americans were disgracing themselves by dancing in the streets at the death of Osama bin Laden, our church was reminding us of the sacredness of every human life, even his.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

First Fridays For Food Security

For those who remember first fridays, and those who don't.

Beginning this Fridays the US Bishops will begin a program called First Fridays for Food security to see more info check out there page on Facebook.

The light and the darkness

In John's gospel today, he writes "The light came into the world but the people preferred darkness." This is of course a metaphor and a bit of hyperbole on the part of John, because no one really prefers darkness. We now know of the physical and mental positive effects of light on human beings and the detrimental effects of light deprivation. We may a moments be attracted to the darkness, the forbidden, the unknown, but no one really wants to live in a dark place.

What John describes as a preference for darkness is really shame, shame "because their deeds were evil." The word shame seems to have fallen on hard times in the 20th century. In the latter half of the last century, it was as if we wanted to create a world of shameless people. That would be a good thing if what we meant by that was that we wanted a world in which no one ever did anything they should be shamed of. But that wasn't what was meant.

Thankfully in the 21st century we seem to have recovered our understanding that shame is a natural and healthy response. Even my dog knows when he has done wrong and feels ashamed, he wants to hide.

What God does not want is that any of us stay in that dark place. We should remember where the reading starts, "For God so loved the world..."

Science has now caught up with theology; we know that what the church calls natural law is real. There is a basic moral code built into the human person; we are drawn to the light. We know when we have sinned and like the dog, we sometimes want to go and hide in the darkness. But if we do, we will surely die. We have to trust in God's love, walk out into the light, face our sin, and receive God's forgiveness.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Why at the beginning of May?

Today we celebrate the feast of two apostles of which little is know:James the Son of Alpheus (aka James the Lesser), and Philip. Why together and why today? The feast day is not set in the way many saints days are set, the day they die and enter eternal life, because we don't have that information. In fact, all we know about this James is his name. Today's feast marks the transfer of the relics of the two Apostles to their present location, the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles in Rome.

Because the Basilica was behind the building where I lived, I went there often to pray. You walk into the church up the center isle through the gate and down the steps into the area under the altar. There you see a window with a kneeler in front of it and behind the glass two simple stone coffins.

In my travels I have found certain places where the holiness is palpable. Time seems to stand still. Those who know me know I am not one for standing or even sitting still. Kneeling there, time seemed to stop and I could stay forever. How or why I don't know. I can only tell you what I experienced. Time after time I could return to that place, the tomb of two relative unknowns among the saint, and find the peace Christ spoke of in Sunday's gospel.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Consubstanial with the Father

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Athanasius, a fourth century father of the Church most known for his role in fighting the Arian heresy. While probably no one would identify himself as an Arian in the 21st century, I would dare say the gist of the heresy is still with us.

If asked what image comes into your head when someone says the word "God" I would beat that very few people immediately think of the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Most people I dare say think of the Father or something more abstract.

At the heart of Arianism was the belief that God the Father was the first, and was therefore greater than the Son. The son was thought of as created by the Father. The council of Nicea condemned this belief and affirmed that the Father and the Son were for all time, ὁμοούσιος, a term which has no simple English translation. In the new English translation of the creed, the translation is changed from "one in being" to "consubstantial."

While this is not a simple word it does convey the idea moire clearly. The Son is not less than, or lower than the Father. The Son is of the exact same substance as the Father. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit were before time or space ever came into existence.

The fact that the Son became incarnate, shared our human life, suffered, died, and was buried, did not make him less than the father. His sharing our life made us more. If he was truly divine as Athanasius defended then we share that divinity, if he was merely a higher creature as the Arians believed then we remain creatures.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Quasi Modo Sunday

There is probably no Sunday in the Calendar with more names than today. Long before Blessed John Paul II added Divine Mercy Sunday it was the Second Sunday of Easter, the Octave of Easter, White Sunday, Thomas Sunday,and Quasi Modo Sunday.

The name quasi modo we only associate with the character from the Hunch Back of Notre Dame. In fact, in the novel the Archdeacon who finds him names him for the Entrance Antiphon for the Sunday on which he is found, today. That antiphon remains in the missal even today. It is 1 Peter 2:2

like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk so that through it you may grow into salvation

We are reminded in this Easter season that while it is true that in baptism we are given a new life in Christ, that new life like any new life must grow, and in order to grow it must be fed.

With what do you feed you soul each day?

I will freely admit I used to be a news junkie, until I realized tv news just recycles the sakes stories all day. Most of what's out there could at best be seen as spiritual junk food.

We have to start by recognizing that everything we read, watch, or listen to is in some way "soul food." It leaves an imprint on our soul, and so we should make conscious choices. Is it ok to have a little junk food now and then? Sure.

But what way to many of us do is consume a steady diet of junk all week and then think we can make up for it with one meal at the table of the Lord on Sunday. That would be like going to the weight watchers meeting every week, and not doing anything else, and saying "I go to weight watcher every week, but do understand why I'm not loosing weight."

Our new life in Christ, "our salvation", as St. Peter puts it is something we have to grow into, and we only grow into with a proper diet, what he calls "pure spiritual milk": the scriptures, prayer, spiritual reading, and the sacraments.

This week I encourage you to pay attention to what you consume. You may be surprised at how unbalanced your diet is.