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.

Monday, July 11, 2011

People that change the world

Real change is the world usually happens in what can seem to be a painfully slow pace, giving rise to the French saying, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Today two important things happen in the liturgy. We move from the book of Genesis to Exodus, and we celebrate St. Benedict of Nursia. Both of these mark true turning points.

If you have never read a book of the Bible in its entirety, now might be that time. Exodus is not only filled with great theology but is great story as well. Its opening sentence contains a simple yet ominous phrase, there came a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph. In an instant the lives of an entire people are forever changed.

Similarly, the second figure today, St. Benedict, would forever change the church. When I moved to Rome in 1998, the day I arrived, I was told there was a group there in the city headed the next day to Subiaco, and they needed a priest, and I was asked if I would go. Jet lagged I went, and to this day I consider it one of the great honors of my life to have celebrated mass in the cave.

For three years Benedict lived as a hermit in this cave, and it was here that that Holy Spirit planted in him the seeds that would grow up to shape not only the monastic community that he would found, but through "The Rule of St. Benedict", shape western monasticism as a whole. When Benedict first left the city for the area of Subiaco, he was simply looking to get away from the city, he was not on some great religious quest. God has other ideas.

How do we respond to the unexpected, the sudden change for which we are completely unprepared? These are the moments that test how much we truly trust God. Both of the aforementioned events were ultimately used by God to make an historic positive impact on the world, but at the time, neither was so clear. Each took years to come to fruition.

Patient constant trust in God's loving power.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Judgement Yes and no

In the first reading we reach the end of the Joseph story, his father has died, and his brothers throw themselves at his feet, fearing that he might still harbor a grudge for what they did to him. He responds with a simple question: Can I take the place of God?

The question of judging others is not as simple as it may first appear. It is easy to say we should not judge others but on some level we must.

Here we need to distinguish between judging the action and judging the imputability of the action. On the surface, we may be able to clearly distinguish right from wrong and make the reasoned judgement that a particular action of a person is wrong. But as we move through the deeper questions it quickly moves beyond our ability to judge with any real certainty.

Our most common error/sin seems to be the speed with which we leap from action to intention. "He did that because..." Almost reflexively we attribute intention to someone's action. We further reveal our own egocentric qualities when we assume the intention has something to do with us. Someone walks past us without speaking, and we, in our narcissism, assume it was an intentional slight. Perhaps the person was simply preoccupied.

Questions of knowledge, intention, negligence, contrition can only be answered with absolute certainly by one who can read the heart. The only one who can do that is God.

Today's reading invites us to take note of the number of times in a single day we find ourselves judging others, and perhaps as we catch ourselves in the act, we can remember our own limitation.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The problem with translation

The gospel today instructs us to be two two things. The translation I am looking at gives the two adjectives: cunning, and simply. They both seemed a bit odd. Cunning is rarely used in English in a good way, and simple here in the south was often used by my grandmother's generation to describe someone who was lacking in intelligence. Time to go to the original language of Christianity, not Latin but Greek.

The word translated here as cunning is

φρόνιμος it means intelligent, wise, prudent, looking after one's affairs. In our modern american symbology we think of owls not serpents.
The other adjective-
ακεριος does in fact mean simple, but in the sense of chemistry, something which is unmixed, pure, a single element.

Proof once more that translation is as much art as science and that there is rarely a perfect one to one correspondence between words of a different language.

Perhaps today is a time to look at our lives and see how well they reflect these two characteristics.

The problem with translation

The gospel today instructs us to be two two things. The translation I am looking at gives the two adjectives: cunning, and simply. They both seemed a bit odd. Cunning is rarely used in English in a good way, and simple here in the south was often used by my grandmother's generation to describe someone who was lacking in intelligence. Time to go to the original language of Christianity, not Latin but Greek.

The word translated here as cunning is

φρόνιμος it means intelligent, wise, prudent, looking after one's affairs. In our modern american symbology we think of owls not serpents.
The other adjective-
ακεριος does in fact mean simple, but in the sense of chemistry, something which is unmixed, pure, a single element.

Proof once more that translation is as much art as science and that there is rarely a perfect one to one correspondence between words of a different language.

Perhaps today is a time to look at our lives and see how well they reflect these two characteristics.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

For you and for many

The gospel today ends with a binary choice, those who accept the word and those who do not. Some people, in a well intentioned attempt to focus on God's love, wish to believe that in the end all will be saved. What they are forgetting is that while God's love is great, like all real love, it respects the dignity and the freedom of the other.

If there is no hell, and heaven is the only possibility for everyone, then there is no real or ultimate freedom. There is no choice about the most important aspect of our lives.

At the center of our understanding of the human person is our belief that one of, if not the most important attributes of being human is that freedom to choose. God loves every human being but for there to be a real relationship, that love must be freely accepted and returned.

While the Latin text of the consecratory prayer has not changed, the English translation is changing. The new text will read:


This phrase "pro multis" (for many) reflects the text in Matthew's gospel. It reminds us that there are those who freely choose not to except God's love. Is it an uncomfortable phrase? Yes, because it reminds us of an uncomfortable truth.

Rather than trying to deny this truth, disguise it, or run away from it, the discomfort should compel us to action. If we accept the truth that there are people who are choosing a path that leads to destruction, even some people who we love, perhaps we will be disturbed enough by that thought that we will be moved to reach out, to offer example, and advice. And even when our advice is not heeded we should continue to pray for those whose lives have gone off the path. While the choice is ultimately theirs, we should never give up hope, or faith in the power of prayer.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

From Jacob to Israel

Today we have what for modern readers can be one of the most hard to understand stories in the Old Testament. One of the key difficulties is the tendency in some stories to interchange God and his messengers.

Today's reading is a story of redemption. Until now his name is Jacob, the usurper. God then sends a supernatural being, capable of defeating any natural being. Jacob defeats the being but only with the help of God, for only the power of God can defeat another supernatural power.

God forgives him. But because God is a just God he doesn't get off scot-free. He is left with a limp, a constant reminder of his dependence on God. As the final sign of his redeemer he is given a new name, Israel, the champion of God.

In our culture we hear lots of stories of people trying to "reinvent themselves." The only correction the Christian faith would make is to say, only God can remake us; we cannot remake ourselves. Thankfully the Bible is full of stories of the divine extreme makeover: Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, Saul to Paul. In the last case he went from murderer to apostle. It doesn't get much better than that. It may require wrestling; it may involve pain; and it may leave a scar, but it can be done. By the grace of God.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Omnipresence of God

In the first reading for today Jacob arrives at a Cannanite shrine located at Luz. He does not arrive there thinking of it as a religious place. For him it is simply a stopping point. He takes one of its stones and places it under his head as a kind of pillow. That night he has the dream in which God makes the great promise to him.

When he awakes he exclaims, "“Truly, the LORD is in this spot, although I did not know it!”

One of the fine lines it seems we have to walk has to do with where we believe God is present. Related to this is the matter of how God is present.
For us as Catholics, it is not simply a matter of saying, God is in this place and God is not in that place. God is present in different ways in different places.

At the center of our faith is the unique presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
There is the presence of God in his word.
There is the presence in each of baptized, and in a special way in those ordained to the priesthood.

When the Catholic Church speaks of these presences we do not do so in an exclusive way, as if to say God is present here and no where else. While at particular moments in history we have failed to live our teaching, the church has consistently held that we cannot limit God.

Today, as we mark 235 years since the U.S. Declaration of Independence which is rooted in a belief in God and natural law, we find ourselves having to interact with non-Christian religions, and particularly Islam more than ever before. What should our attitude toward Muslims, and all non-Christians, especially those who live here as Americans be?

The Church's 1965 Declaration on Non-Christian Religions(Nostra Aetate) gives us some fairly simple guidance:

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.

Like Jacob we may find signs of the presence of God in places we do not expect.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

We often use this title for God without thinking very much of the complexity that it signifies. For as much as we may wish the world could simply be divided into good and evil, us and them, these three names from the beginning of our faith reminded us of how complicated the world can be.

Today's first reading reminds us that by all rights it have been Esau instead of Jacob whom we recall. Jacob only received his father's blessing because of a lie, a conspiracy. Some may want to blame his mother, since she is the one who hatches the conspiracy. But we cannot forget that three times Isaac asks Jacob a question. Three times he is given an opportunity. And three times he chooses to lie to his blind, aged, and dying father. With each lie the sin becomes worse, because he has more time to reflect, and another opportunity to repent. He does not instead he steals his brothers blessing.

If the world were as simple as some people want it, God would have struck him dead instantly. I am still amazed at the number of people who think when something bad happens in their life it must be God punishing them. Ours is not a God who watches our every move, blessing and punishing us as we go. Our judgement comes at the end of life.

As we will see Jacob is allowed to keep the stolen blessing to see what he will do with it, more sin or conversion.

No person except Mary was preserved free from sin. We are all a mixed bag. When someone falls why does our culture rush so quickly to let the sin wipe away all the good they have done or perhaps will do. Only God can see the totality of a person's life, and therefore only God can judge.
We all know the scripture "Judge not and you will not be judged"(Lk. 6:37)
Why is it so hard to live it? If we focused our energy on monitoring our own words and actions in the right way, we would not be able to focus so much on others. Perhaps we focus on others to avoid really looking at ourselves.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, each is a man both great and flawed, signs to us of a God who is both merciful and just.