Wednesday, August 31, 2011


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

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

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

Here's to St. Epaphas and his successors!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Seemingly Harsh God

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 26, 2011

Seeming lack of charity

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Stay Awake!

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What are hypocrites filled with

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 22, 2011

Our Lady Queen of Palestine

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It's not fair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give us this day our daily bread.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why blame God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Assumption of Mary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 12, 2011

Marriage isn't for everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What's in a name?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Guardian Angels

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 8, 2011

Once more Love or Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Christian Physics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 5, 2011

Exceptionalism and Humility


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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 3, 2011



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

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

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

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

Monday, August 1, 2011

Just shoot me

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

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

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

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

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