Wednesday, September 28, 2011


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

From slavery to compassion

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hail to the twins

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

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

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

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

Saints Cosmos and Damian, pray for us.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 22, 2011

God and dental hygiene

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 19, 2011

Inspiration Unlimited


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mothers and Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Not a last name

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

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

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

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

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

St. John Chrysostom, pray for us.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Beyond Parties

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 9, 2011


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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Us and Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And we are also reminded that

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 5, 2011

30th anniversary

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 4, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 2, 2011

Too much fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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