Monday, December 31, 2012

so now many antichrists have appeared

On this last day of the year St. John describes not some terrifying supernatural being as seen in the movies, but members of the community who broke away, because they wanted to alter the message, these he calls the antichrists.

It is choice we all face. Will we be conformed to Christ (and his Church) or will we attempt to conform Christ (and his Church) to us?

Today's gospel is the prologue to John's gospel which includes:

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth.

Grace and Truth

We like the grace but often we do not like the truth, especially when the truth sets limits on us: when the truth sets limits on our right to own things, and reminds us of our obligation to the poor, when the truth limits the way we use or bodies, when the truth reminds us that sin is still sin.

If we have been baptized then the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit is each of us. That Spirit has the power to transform us from the inside out, if we but let it.

Perhaps as we prepare to begin a new year, it is a good time for us to call to minds those pieces of the teaching of the Church we find most difficult, those parts where we may even think the Church is wrong and needs to change, and in 2013 truly open our minds and hearts.

We think of obedience as action, doing what some else tells us. At its root to obey means "to listen to". We live in a noise filled world; we hear sounds all the time, but how often do we actively listen particularly to the other side, to those who disagree with us.

On this last day of 2012, St. John puts before us another binary choice: to be christs or anitchrists. There is no middle position, no comfortable quasi-christ. We may never achieve the goal, in this life, but we should at least go for it. It begins with one easy step, in the words from Luke 9 "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." Listen with our hearts, listen most closely to that which we find least comfortable, and be transformed.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Love or Hate

Light and Darkness are central images in the readings during the Christmas season. In today's first reading St. John offers a simple binary choice. The one who loves walk in light; the one who hates walks in darkness. Sometimes it is helpful to be forced into these kinds of binary choices. We have all grown up hearing in church that we are to love everyone, including loving our enemies. But how far are we prepared to take this?
Can we love the men who killed in Connecticut or Upstate New York? The Spanish word for forgive is "disculpa." The root "culpa" means guilt or blame. To forgive literally means to take away (dis-) the blame(culpa). Jesus does this from the cross when he says, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
St. John did not understand modern psychology, but in the reading today hie goes on to talk about the effects of hatred, and the same can be said of anger which leads to hatred, "Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes." Like Jesus, he attributes a kind of ignorance to the person. According to our theology, one who is ignorant cannot commit mortal sin. Moral sin require knowledge and full consent of the will.
This does not mean we do nothing. If we truly love others we keep them from harming themselves or others. What right thinking person would give a blind man a gun? And if we could, would we not do all that is possible to restore their sight.
What we do not do, at least if we follow the example of Jesus, is respond with anger and hate. In both recent cases these mentally ill men killed themselves as well. As we have prayed for the victims, have we gone the extra mile, and prayed for them as well. Can we find it in ourselves pray for them and all those who are blinded by hatred, anger, or mental illness?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Yes, Red is a Christmas color

As a matter of fact the first four days of the Christmas Season, the vestments alternate white,red,white, red. Today we use red because we celebrate St Stephen, the first martyr.

It may at first seem odd that on the second day of Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of the Lord, we jump to the other end of the spectrum, and celebrate a gruesome death.

It all makes sense when we remember that for us death isn't death, at least, not in the sense of "the end." Early Christians used the phrase dies nalatis, literally birthday, not for the day you were born into this life, but the day you entered eternal life.

We celebrate the Birth of Jesus followed by the Birth (into eternal life) of St. Stephen. Something to ponder as we think of all those who have had or will have loved ones pass into eternal life during the Christmas Season.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A single act of selflessness

Most people rarely go to mass on the morning of the 24th, but the readings are an interesting choice. The gospel is the Canticle of Zachariah, but the first reading goes back to a single moment in the life of David.

Rather than thinking of God when things are going wrong in his life. David is in the best place he has been in a while. In a moment of wisdom David recognizes that what has been accomplished was not all his own doing but was accomplished with the health of God. He then looks at how he is living and realizes that God has no dwelling place. David then makes THE promise, to build a dwelling place for God.

It is then that God makes the promise to David that it will be a descendent from his line who will the king. Even David could never have imagined how God's promise would be fulfilled.

As the sun goes down today, churches around the world will begin our celebration of Christmas. To prepare ourselves, perhaps it is time for us to imitate David, to look at our lives and see all the blessings we have received from God.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Help is on the way

We have crossed the winter solstice and each day is now just bit brighter than the day before. The son is on the way. In the liturgical calendar we make the steady climb, from the Birth of Jesus, through the Ressurection, to the Birth of the Church at Pentecost.

On this last full day of advent let us, not ignore the pain and darkness, but simply begin to shift our focus. In the words of the Rite of Baptism, let us"walk always as children of the light." And on this 4th Sunday of Advent, we turn to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Moment of Prayer

This morning at 9:30 AM Gov. Bob McDonnell asks us as Virginians to join the people of Connecticut in a moment of prayer.

O Oriens

Today we mark the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. It is no coincidence that the O Antiphon, for today addresses Jesus by a word that translated as "dayspring" or "radiant dawn." The antiphon continues "splendor lucis ætérnæ et sol iustítiæ"(splendor of eternal light and sun of justice).

This weekend we saw horrible darkness in the murders of 27 people. We look at other parts of the world and the news can seem hopeless, situations where our tendency is to throw up our hands and say, "It will never change."

As Christians, we cannot give in to this idea; we cannot surrender to the darkness. We must be people who believe that there is a greater light, that justice prevails.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

O Key of David

Today the O antiphon recalls the image of a key. The key is a key opens a jail cell. The jail cell it opens is the jail in which humanity was imprisoned, not sin, but he punishment for sin. This key is said to open the prison of "darkness and the shadow of death."

Once more today's antiphon links Christmas and Easter. It reminds us that, for the Christian, the arc of human existence is not from birth to death, not womb to tomb, but from conception to eternal life. God does not create human life to see it die, but wills that each of us should live forever.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

O Root of Jesse

Today's O antiphon invoke Jesus under the tittle Root of Jesse. It takes us back to the First Book of Samuel and the choice of Jesse's youngest son David as king for Israel. In a world of immediacy it reminds us of the truly long view that is God's view. More than 9 centuries separate the choice of David and the birth of Jesus.

The fiscal cliff, the murders in Connecticut — we want answers NOW!

Perhaps this antiphon calls us today to remember the virtue of patience, and the concept of deliberation.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

God with us

In today's gospel we get Matthew's nativity and the proclamation of Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us. This same gospel ends with the promise, " I am with you always until the end of the world."

Do we call God and his teaching into our current debates? There does not seem to be one thing but an unholy trinity at the center of the debate: ease of access to assault weapons, lack of access to mental health services, and glorification of violence.

What would Jesus say about the modern first person shooter video "game"? Given the reality of the graphics what Christian would consider these entertainment? We condemn pornography for the way it dehumanizes and objectifies persons. How are these so-called games more respectful of human life?

What would Jesus say about the assault weapon whose sole purpose is to destroy human life? Unlike the hunting rifle or pistol which have other, moral purposes, I can find no moral purpose for non-military and law enforcement persons to have access to these.

What does a parent do with their problem child, in a society where the minute the child turns 18 unless they are an immediate danger to self or others you have no say in their life? And even when they are younger, unless you have exceptional insurance, mental health care is expensive and difficult to access.

Christianity has always understood the importance of freedom, and human rights, but we have always recognized that none of these are absolute and all come with responsibility.

The human right is the right to life.

Perhaps these children will cause us to find the proper equilibrium.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Praying for Wisdom

Tonight the Church begins the praying of the O Antiphons, best known as the basis for hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Each day we pray for the coming of Christ by different title

This first day the antiphon reads:

O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet gentle care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.

As we move through this week, we will find ourselves feeling a variety of emotions including sorrow, anger and fear. We want to do something. But what? Before we charge forward, perhaps this petition for the Wisdom of God may be the best first step.

May the Lord show us the way.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudete Sunday

Rejoice in the Lord Always, again I say rejoice. The entrance antiphon that gives this Sunday its name.

But how do we rejoice on this particular Sunday in the face of such tragedy?

As I listened to psychological professionals on television address the question of what do we tell our children to allay their fears, all of their answers, helpful though they were, for me, they came up short.

This Advent Season is precisely that time of year when each day the world is growing darker and darker, and we as Christians face the confront the darkness with light.

We face this tragedy with the hope of eternal life. We entrust all the victims into the loving merciful hands of God, and Christ who conquered death.

I do not believe that any human being can end my life. He or she may kill me, they may murder me, but they cannot end my life. Nor can death forever separate me from the ones I love.

This is our faith and at times like this we must hold on it ever more tightly.

We search for explanations, in the hope that if we can explain it, we can prevent it. The hard truth is that while we can and should do better, we will never be able to prevent every act of either sin or mental illness.

We rejoice today, however, because for us death is not the end. To quote the old Rite of Funerals, "when the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven."

Now more than ever we must embrace this truth.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Power of Prayer

This morning my mind could not but turn to the fourth day of the Christmas Season, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, whose gospel ends

A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.

There are no words that can console a parent at the lose of a child. It is a wound that never heals, not in this life. All we can do now is envelope these families in our prayers, and not just our prayers but intercession of all the saints...

And we ask the Holy Innocents to welcome these children into their company.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Let there be light

Today, as We move deeper into winter and the days grow darker the church celebrates the feast of St. Lucy.
The story of Saint Lucy goes back to the persecution under the Emperor Diocletian. She had consecrated herself to God and was denounced by her betrothed as a Christian.
The two symbols associated with Saint Lucy are the crown of candles and her eyes on a plate. On the most basic level, the eyes on the plate represent part of the way she was tortured.
On a deeper level the eyes and the candles both linked to the original meaning of her name. Her name is derived from the Latin word Lux, which means light. In the Ancient understanding a vision, light came from the eyes.
Christ is the light that scatters the darkness and so we celebrate Saint Lucy as we prepare for the coming of the great light of Christ.
This feast is a reminder to us that we are all supposed to be bearers of light.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Walter F Sullivan requiescat in pace

Yesterday afternoon the Most Rev. Walter F. Sullivan passed from this earthly life. Born June 10,1928 he was ordained a priest May 9, 1953 for the Diocese of Richmond, Ordained auxiliary bishop December 1, 1970, he appointed diocesan bishop June 4, 1974 and remained in office until his retirement September 16, 2003.

It seems most appropriate that he passed from this life on vigil when we began our celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. While his more than 50 years of ministry remained rooted in the diocese of Richmond, it was always carried out with a care for those most in need throughout the world, especially in Latin America.

The first place he assigned me was as a seminarian to care for migrant farm workers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia back in 1985, Hispanic ministry was migrant ministry. As the ministry grew he established our first office for Hispanic Ministry, and encouraged masses in Spanish throughout the Diocese.

We commend him to God Father, and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Madre de América.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

God's will or ours

There was great consternation when the translation words of institution were changed from "for all" to "for the many." Preceding from the fact that the Latin was always "pro multis", there is a great theological issue at hand.

Can the will of God be thwarted?

In today's gospel we hear "it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” In 1 Timothy 2 we read, "This is good and pleasing to God our savior,who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth."

In the history of Christianity there have been those who have argued, based on this text, that in the end the will of God must triumph and everyone will ultimately end up in heaven. The Catholic Church teaches that while we should hope and pray for all to be saved, it would be wrong to say that it must be.

On the surface this may seem harsh, but in reality it is grounded in Love. Because the relationship God wants with us is one of mutual love (God loved us first, and we should love him in return), it must be freely given.

To say that because God wills the salvation of all, all must go to heaven would take away our freedom. God loves every person he created, and wills that all be saved, but because God loves us so, we have the ultimate freedom. God has put our freedom above his will. God does not will that any person be lost, but the choice is ours.

We hope all will be saved, and the church has yet to declare anyone to be in hell, unlike canonization where we declare them to be in heaven. But the free choice to accept or reject God's love is ours, and we make the choice not once but every day in the hundreds of little choices that we make.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Saint not the Justice

While movies and television like to glorify the period of the Tudors and Stuarts, we can forget the terrors for anyone who happened to want to hold on to their Catholic Faith.

On October 25th, 1970 Pope Paul VI canonized in one group 40 of the martyrs of England and Wales. Among these men and women was one with a now famous name, John Roberts.

Born to a protestant family in Wales, he too was a student of law, but at the influence of a friend converted to the Catholic faith, at a time when such conversion was, to say the least, dangerous. He went on to be ordained and served as a Benedictine missionary. After slipping back into England, being arrested, and banished. He refused to give up.

Eventually he re-entered the country, was rearrested and on December 10, 1610 was hanged, then drawn, and quartered. For those unfamiliar with the term, you were hanged almost to the point of death, then emasculated, disembowled, beheaded and the body was cut into four pieces. Such was the rule of James I for Catholic priests.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Childish fairness or Adult Justice

How old were we the first time we uttered the famous phrase, "it's not fair."On the one hand, this is a positive thing, because it points to an innate sense of justice in the human person. On the other hand, it must mature.

At some point in our life, some well-meaning adult also said to us, "Who told you life was fair?" In fact the message of today's gospel is precisely that life is fair.

Every time we pray the our father we say those words "thy kingdom come"we pray them in both hope and faith.

Once more, the readings today, prepare us for the second coming of Christ when we will see absolute fairness, or better said, absolute Justice.

Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth

God has instilled in each of us a sense of justice. As Christians we are called to make the world as just a place as we possibly can. At the same time, we recognize that there are limits to what we can accomplish. Rather than responding with the anger of a child, we respond with the faith of an adult.

While we may not see justice at the moment we wanted, we have absolute faith that in the end justice will prevail. And we can be at peace.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Will the real Santa Claus please intercede for us

The first time I walked in to St Peter's Basilica when we got to the tomb of Pope Innocent XI a friend I was with quipped,"Santa under glass". Indeed he was laid out in a red suit with white trim that any American child would associate with Santa including a red hat with white trim (no black belt or boots). As a matter of fact Pope Benedict XVI brought back the hat called a camauro.

It strikes me, however, that as we celebrate this first week of Advent, focused on the second coming of Christ, the most important part of the story that the Santa Claus narrative has right is that the real St. Nicholas is still alive. It's why we canonized him because we believe he participates even now in external life. And in terms of going to him and asking for presents, what greater gift can we have than intercessory prayer. St. Nicholas and all the saints care about the rest of us and continue to pray for us, just as we are called to pray for others now.

To deny the intercession of the saints would be to suggest that they die, go to heaven, and once there say,"I got my reward. To heck with all of you down there."

You may not be able to sit on Santa's lap, but we can all turn in our needs to St. Nicholas today, and ask for his intercession.

St. Nicholas, pray for us.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Four little words

The Eucharist as we celebrate it today did develop of time. The vestments, vessels, chants, prayers, and gestures all develop and in some ways continue to develop.

Today's gospel reminds us, however, that the Eucharist itself is not some creation of the Catholic Church. By the time the gospel was written, it is clear that the basic formula for consecration was firmly established in the hearts and minds of the Church. In Matthew's telling of the loaves and fishes, there are 7 loaves, the perfect number. "Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks(eucharistos), broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples."

Again and again we hear the four verbs of the formula repeated in the scriptures: took, blessed, broke, gave. For two millennia we Christians have gathered in faith to be spiritually nourished by Christ, with his very body and blood.

Perhaps it is worth thinking about makings the reception of this gift a more than once a week event. Make time for one mass during the week and melt yourself be renewed.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Doing a better immitation

As Christians we Are called to constantly improve our imitation of Christ. This simple concept captured in the "what would Jesus do?" phenomenon, Is not always so easy to live.

The advent readings from Isaiah are understood by us Christians to be prophecies about Jesus. In today's reading we hear,"Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide."

Imagine if this year we could just stop these two behaviors.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Hope against hope

The first reading from Isaiah takes on a particular significance as we look at Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and the neighboring countries like Syria. Do we even dare to hope that
They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. ?

The gospel gives us the true, but difficult, Christian response:
Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed, the statement of absolute faith by the centurion in Matthew's gospel.

We are the people who, grounded in faith, never loose hope. Even we faced with situations with few or no visible signs of hope, we trust in the power and promise of God.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Often when we think the second coming of Christ, we think of judgment. Today's first reading, however, uses a different word. The word is fulfillment. The second coming of Christ which we celebrate in the first half of Advent is the celebration of the fulfillment of the promise.

The gospel gives us the keyword if we want to participate in that fulfillment. The Greek command prosechete, literally to hold your mind.

We think of being a saint as an almost impossible task. We forget that in order to sin it requires an act of the will; we must choose. In the same way, we are equally free to choose not to sin, to be holy, to do the right thing.

This advent is a time for us to take hold of the lives that God has given us, and live each day deliberately. We may find that sainthood is easier than we think.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent is upon us

In only a few hours in churches around the world the first vigil masses for Advent will begin. While the second half of the season is a preparation for Christmas, we begin with a look at our preparation for the second coming of Christ.

How ready am I to stand before my God? What things can I rightly be proud of? What things in my life would be embarrassing to acknowledge?

We are all human, and therefore in constant need of conversion. Perhaps the se hours are a time to make some decisions about simple ways we can change or perhaps let God change us in this new liturgical year.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A joyful response

Today our last reading for this liturgical year from the Book of Revelation proclaims the destruction of evil symbolized by Babylon. Victory has come.

The last words of the reading are also the scriptural basis for the last prayer of the priest before the distribution of communion:..blessed are those who are called to the supper of the lamb.

The present biblical translation "Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb."

It is the great turning point in the Book of Revelation, from destruction to marriage feast, and the ultimate victory of God.

As mass we respond with words based the profession of faith uttered by the centurion in Matthew's gospel:

Lord, I am not worthy that you come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.

I have been to many a wedding reception and celebrated many a mass. How does the joy you feel at those two events compare? When did we decide the reverent and joyful cannot co-exist?

Our early Christian ancestors new how to express both. The words of our prayers express both. How we express both in our lives and our worship of God?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why be afraid?

Today through Thursday we will complete our readings from the Book of Revelation. In these last days we read images of judgement. Growing up I remember thinking that these were terrifying images. But are they really? Clouds, angels, harvesting sickle, grapes, and a wine press

Perhaps it says more about us that we find the images frightening. In reality they are rather standard end of the growing cycle images from an agrarian culture, harvesting the crop and making the wine needed to live.

If we are people who believe that God is love, and if we are people who each day do our best to do God's will, then what is there to fear ? Even if we have strayed from the path, there is no need for fear. Unlike grapes that do not choose how they will turn out, we always have the chance to do penance, and receive the gift of God's forgiveness. Christian history is filled with those who went from being great sinners to great saints.

Monday, November 26, 2012

How ironic

On cyber Monday when many of us, including myself will get online and shop like crazy, the gospel for today is the widow's mite.
Perhaps as we are serving the web we think about the old concept of the tithe and before we get offline today we stop by our favorite charity seriously donating 10% of what we're spending on Christmas to the poor.

As a Global Fellow for Catholic Relief Services, I have to put in a plug for them. And of course many local churches, like St. Patrick's have online giving available.

You need to be careful. Watch out for the scammers never clicking links in email by go directly to the websites of charities you know.

This year they said Black Friday set new records for spending, would that we could say the same for charitable giving.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Peace in a time of conflict

We continue to wind our way through the Book of Revelation and once more we hear a message of hope. It is delivered through a dark image of two prophets killed by the mobs, their corpses left to rot.

"But after the three and a half days, a breath of life from God entered them. When they stood on their feet, great fear fell on those who saw them. Then they heard a loud voice from heaven say to them, “Come up here.” So they went up to heaven in a cloud as their enemies looked on."

Once more we see the fundamental message of the gospel. Even when it looks as though evil is winning, it isn't. In the war of good vs. evil the winner is already decided. Good, truth, God wins. Of that let there be no doubt.

It is this certainly that allows the Christian to be peace even while standing in the storm and facing real and sometimes painful struggles. We are never alone. We always have the victor with us.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Not so Black Friday

As people around the US go wild shopping, time for a brief pause and look at today's reading. The protagonist in the Book of Revelation narrative is told to take a scroll and eat it. It tastes sweet but sours his stomach, a feeling some of us may identify with this morning.

Then he is commanded, "You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.” Here we have to be very careful to distinguish between being prophetic and just being a jerk.

Prophets never self-nominated; they were called by God, and most reluctantly so.
They tuned the light of critique most harshly on themselves.
They truly loved God and loved others.
They remembered that their ultimate goal was not "speaking the truth" for its own sake, but to call people to God.

There are really two flavors of false prophets.
Those who tell people what they want to hear true or not.
And, on the other side, those who are simply unhappy, hypercritical, people who confuse venting their spleen, with speaking the word of God.
Both are wrong.

In our Catholic faith, by virtue of our baptism, we are all called to participate in the prophetic mission of the Church. This does not mean standing and yelling about how wrong someone else is, but through our every word and action calling others to Christ. Does it at times mean telling someone a painful truth? Yes. But even that should be done with love, and in the way most likely to be heard.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

No Thanksgiving without God

Next year will mark the 150th anniversary of the proclamation by which President Abraham Lincoln set a national day for Thanksgiving. In 1941 it will be changed from the last to the 4th Thursday of November.

More than romanticized images of pilgrims and Native Americans, the capacity of our nation to pause in the midst of a civil war and give "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens" reminds us of who we are capable of being. On this day it is worth re-reading President Lincoln's words:

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Art Lessons

In the first reading today as we continue through the book if revelation we get one of the sources for the four symbols commonly used to represent the evangelists.

The first creature resembled a lion, the second was like a calf,the third had a face like that of a man, and the fourth looked like an eagle in flight.

While sources differ, commonly they are listed as

Matthew represented by the Man
Mark represented by the Lion
Luke represented by a Bull or Ox
John represented by the Eagle

I would be easy to provide here simplistic explanations for the meaning, but then they stop being symbols. As opposed to road signs that have clear single meanings, (eg. Stop, Yield), we use symbols when their are multiple layers of meaning that cannot be easily captured in words.

How often do people dismiss something by saying,"It was a symbolic gesture." As Catholics we understand that symbols matter. Symbolic language can often communicate more than verbal language. As we prepare to move into the Advent and Christmas Seasons, now is a good time to look carefully at the symbols in our lives.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Being like a thermos

I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

There's the old joke about the guy who notices that the thermos keep cold stuff cold, and hot stuff hot, and wonders: How does it know?

Both yesterday's and today's readings call us to metanoia, change. Yet some would look at this reading and see in it a condemnation, of change, like those who derisively refer to it as waffling. [Personally, I like waffles.]

Once again our faith strikes a balance. We recognize that there is such a thing as truth. In this life will we ever know all truth? No. Over time our understanding changes, and we must change when new information is available. On the other hand when face with those things we do no to be true we have to say yes or no. I believe or I don't believe.

To take the stance that since I don't know everything I will not accept anything as true or false is an unviable position. As Catholics we simultaneously hold both Faith and Reason. We use both to arrive at the truth. I believe what science tells me about the universe and that God was ultimately the creator or it all.

We can know true and false. We can know right and wrong.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The on-going apocalypse

Today we pick up on what I talked about yesterday regarding apocalyptic literature, the the intros to chapters one and two of the Book of Revelation. Again it is the perfect balance. On the one hand there is a sense not of anger but disappointment in how far the recipient of the message has fallen. On the other hand, there is the good news that all the person has to do is "repent."

The word translated as repent, metanoisis, means more literally to change your way of thinking. It sounds so simple. In reality, it is very difficult to change our fundamental ways of looking at the world. And with each passing year it becomes more difficult.

As we prepare to begin the new liturgical cycle now is time for each of us to look at ourselves and ask in what ways are we not willing to embrace the full message of the gospel. What are the parts of our faith that we consider less important or worse yet dismiss all together.

How will the next liturgical year be different, how will we be different?

Sunday, November 18, 2012


The liturgical calendar of the Church does not jump abruptly from one season to another. Today we begin the transition to Advent, the season of the comings of Christ.
In preparation, we read from Mark 13, a chapter that is an example of apocalyptic literature in the Bible. The two fullest examples being the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation.

Where we have become confused is that we think of apocalypse as a bad thing. It literally means the unveiling. In this case the unveiling of the kingdom of God. Rather than inciting fear, apocalyptic literature is meant to instill hope to suffering people. It's goal is to help them face pain and suffering instead of running away from it.

Here in the US we are 4 % of the world population and consume 80% of the pain killers. What does that say about our understanding of pain? Is it time to face our fear? Can we see it through the lens of the gospel? Can we see light on the other side of pain and have the courage to walk through.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Not Just Latins

Wen we think of Catholics, many of us still think exclusively of the Latin Rite Churches. Today's memorial of St. Josaphat reminds us of the importance of all of the Eastern Rite Churches at are as much a part on the Catholic Church as we are.

Born around the year 1580 as many priests of the time was of a noble family. Josphat at a young age embraced the Catholic faith and the reunion of the Ukrainians with the Catholic Church became a passion for him. He subsequently became the superior of several monasteries, and on November 12, 1617, was consecrated Bishop of Vitsebsk, with right of succession to the Archbishopric of Polotsk. He became archbishop in 1618. Ultimately the enemies of reunion martyred him in 1623.

He was canonized in 1867 and to this day devotion to him remains strong in the Polish community.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day

It is said of the woman in the Gospel today she "has contributed all she had,
her whole livelihood." Today in the US we also celebrate Veterans Day.
We remember those who, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, "gave the last full measure of devotion." But as a Christian I take a slightly different view of those who died and hope in the words from the book of Wisdom "They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace."
Of the more than 2 million deployed just in Iraq Afghanistan, so many are not at peace. They lost more than their earthly life, they lost their personality, their identity. How often do I hear parents or spouses say, "He's not the same person."
Some of it is psychological but this time there is also a great deal that is medical. We hear terms like IED(Improvised Explosive Device) and we think of those who lost an arm or a leg, but many more suffered some form of injury to the brain. The symptoms may manifest immediately or not. It may be years before we even understand fully the effects.
The very nature of warfare has changed radically since the armies on the battlefields of World War II. And the toll taken on the body and the mind are different.
The sacrifices of today's vets seem all the more like the widow, when we keep in mind that, unlike my father who was drafted, these men and women all volunteered.
Today we honor and pray for these men and women. But what will we do for them tomorrow?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

It's not St. Peter's

Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris et Sanctorum Iohannes Baptistae et Evangelistae in Laterano Omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput

The Mother and Head of all the cities and churches of the world. If you asked the average Catholic what church holds this title most would probably guess the other Arch-basilica, St. Peter's. in fact it is The Arch-basilica of the Moly Holy Savior and Saints John the Baptist and [John] the Evangelist on the Lateran [Hill]. You see why most people just call it St. John Lateran.

It, not St. Peter's, is the Pope's Cathedral going back to the 4th Century. The fact that the pope lives at St. Peter's and most ceremonies are held at St. Peter's doesn't change it's status.

It is a reminder of how provincial we all are not only in geography but in time. It is our native tendency to think of "normal" as the way things are at the time and place we grow up. Everything else we look at as odd or, worse yet, wrong. Unless we make an effort, we lack a global and historical perspective that we need if we are going to really understand the meaning of the word Catholic.

How often do the idiosyncrasies of a particular pastor or period get enshrined in the word's "We've always done it this way"? Today we are challenged to remember the truly historic and universal nature of the church.

Looking for the one

Today's is one of the best known gospels the search for the one lost sheep or one lost coin. At their base they remind us of the value of every single person.

In this year of faith this gospel must be our mantra. Sitting at conferences, I hear people complain about cafeteria Catholics or the young adults who don't equate their Catholicity with weekly mass attendance, and the "aging Catholic population."

Truth is, the latter phrase is correct if you are talking about white non-Hispanic Catholic. As for the other statements this gospel reminds us that rather than writing people off as "not real Catholics" we have to redouble our efforts to explain our faith in ever more convincing ways.

The shepherd goes after the sheep. The woman goes searching for the coin. They don't wait for it to show up and register, use envelopes and be on at least one committee.

As the demographics of our country change so our models of evangelization have to adapt to the new realities. With the help of God we will be up to the challenge.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple

The closing words of today's gospel seem to ask the impossible. But notice, it is not saying we have to sell them, give them away or not have them but to renounce them.

As always the teaching of the Church preserves a precarious balance. On the one hand we believe the Universal destination of the goods of the earth; "The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race." On the other hand, we believe in a right to private property. As the catechism says, "The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family." God is always the true owner and we are the stewards of all of it.

Today, as we pray for all those newly elected to office, the catechism regarding this matter says clearly that "Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good." As touch on yesterday it is both a right and a duty.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

No excuses

When the time for the dinner came,
he dispatched his servant to say to those invited,
'Come, everything is now ready.'
But one by one, they all began to excuse themselves.

Today's gospel seems sadly fitting for Election Day in the US. If we are true to form only a bit more than half of those eligible to vote will actually do so. Some like the guests in the gospel will make excuses. Other won't even bother to do that.

Most of you know I am also a canon lawyer, and in the Code of Canon Law it lists not "Rights and Obligations" but "Obligations and Rights." The obligations come first.

In 21st century America there seems to be lots of screaming across the spectrum about rights. I rarely ever hear animated talk about our obligations: obligations to God, to Church, to country or even to neighbor. Some are so narcissistic as to proclaim that their only obligation is to themselves.

There are those who are legitimately impeded from voting. But for those of us who have this right, we also have the obligation.

Monday, November 5, 2012

In less than 24 hrs the polls open and we have the chance to participate from the federal level down in one of the most amazing processes in the world, peaceful government transition, no matter who wins. We so easily take it for granted.

Today's first reading seems providential. I won't comment on it but offer it as something for reflection in these final pre-election hours.

Brothers and sisters:
If there is any encouragement in Christ,
any solace in love,
any participation in the Spirit,
any compassion and mercy,
complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love,
united in heart, thinking one thing.
Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests,
but also everyone for those of others.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Liturgy is more than mass

I remember when I was first learning about the Catholic faith it seemed there was another language I had to learn. Greek being the language of the New Testament and early Christianity, the Church continues to use lots of Greek terminology. One of the key words is Liturgy, literally the work of the people. It refers to the work of praising God.

Many cradle Catholics think only of mass but the word liturgy refers to many of our rites of worship. Mass is actually a conjunction of two liturgies: the liturgy of the word, and the liturgy of the Eucharist celebrated in succession.

There is also the Liturgy of the Hours by which we stop and pray at appointed times each day to sanctify the entire day. It is also called the Divine Office, office here is used in the Latin sense to mean duty. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours is one of the duties of clergy and religious in particular.

Among the Hours, besides the keystones of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer is what is called the Office of Readings which includes a longer scripture passage and a passage from another important Church writing.

This week we begin reading 1 Maccabees, the story of the Maccabean revolt . As the companion piece the Church assigned the following passage from Guadium et Spes. Given our present situation these words seem most apt.

"Peace is not the mere absence of war or the simple maintenance of a balance of power between forces, nor can it be imposed at the dictate of absolute power. It is called, rightly and properly, a work of justice. It is the product of order, the order implanted in human society by its divine founder, to be realized in practice as men[ hunger and thirst for ever more perfect justice. The common good of humanity finds its ultimate meaning in the eternal law."

Friday, November 2, 2012

Why purgatory makes sense?

Today we pray, not for those who have already made it to heaven (they pray for us) but, for those who are process of purification. I will never understand those who refuse to see the common sense behind the concept of purgatory. There are at least to perspective from which to me it makes absolute sense.

First, which of us if we died right now could say that our hearts are perfectly pure and ready for heaven? No angers, no unhealed wounds, no judgements about others, no sin. Which of us really thinks we wouldn't need a good cleansing?

Secondly, and perhaps more powerfully for me, purgatory explains how God is both loving and just. The person who has spent their life trying to live according to the gospel and the most horrendous criminal who has the last minute dead bed conversion will both get into heaven by the grace and love of God. But, our faith would say, because God is a just God, there is temporal punishment due to sin, and the purification will be different for the two. As any good parent knows you may forgive your child from bad behavior but that doesn't mean they go unpunished.

Do we know the details of precisely how it works, or what it is like? No, that we trust to God. But today's Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed, reminds us that we have a responsibility to pray for all those who have gone before us. I have often observed that we tend to pray most for those who need it the least, those who were the most loving and kind. Perhaps today we can call to mind those who were the most difficult to live with, and pray for them too.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

More saints than you think

Today as we enter November, the last days of the liturgical calendar, the Church calls us together to celebrate All Saints. We tend mistakenly to limit our reflections to those who are in heaven.

If one reads the part of the Catechism that deals with the communion of saints one will find that it goes far beyond that.

The Church is a single body and so the good and goods of one part belong to all. The Body includes those who have already passed from this life into heaven, but also includes those being purified (tomorrow's commemoration) as well as those who are part of the Body of Christ still on pilgrimage here on earth. We are all part of the communion of saints.

In the aftermath of a storm it may important for all of us to reflect on the word pilgrimage that is such a reach part of our theological language. It reminds us that we are on a journey away from home. We will return home changed by the pilgrimage but we are not home.

On the news they speak of the numbers of people who have lost there homes. For the Christian, a hurricane can wash away a house but it cannot wash away my home. If home is where the heart is, then our home is in Christ.

Today when we say all saints let us link our hearts to all of the members of the Body of Christ, and the head of the body, Christ himself.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Continued Prayers

First of all let us continue to pray today for those who are suffering from the effects of Sandy.

As a Southerner today's first reading draws us back to one of the most shameful parts of how history and points out the danger of how the Bible can be misused, what I think of as the danger of a verse. For those who want to decry the days when the Catholic Church "discouraged people from reading the Bible" they need to remember that the church knew from experience how individual verses without the context without theology without the tradition could be warped.

Today we read:
Slaves, be obedient to your human masters with fear and trembling

Sadly this was used by the defenders of slavery as proof that God approved of the institution of slavery. They conveniently omitted the anti-slavery passages.

In this year of faith as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Vatican II this reading reminds us of the importance of Dei Verbum, which not only encouraged study of the Bible but provides principles for a proper interpretation of what one reads.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

After the storm

We pray for all those who this morning wake up to begin the long and difficult process of restoring their daily lives. Today's gospel of the mustard seed and the leaven remind us of the power and importance of the little things. While a few stories will make the news many more will be the acts of care and heroism that will go unknown except by those who are helped.

No one will care who is a democrat and who is a republican. We will simply pull together and help one another. If we can truly live the gospel in the storm why is it so difficult for us to do the same when the sun is shining?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Children of the Light

St. Paul calls us to walk as children of he light. But in the verses that follows he gives us three adjectives that should describe us:

Agathos - good, not only morally good, but goodhearted, joy filled
Dikaios- righteous, a term used in the Eastern churches to refer to those in the Old Testament who keep the law of God.
Alethia- translated as truth, it literally means uncovered, or disclosed. A Christian life should not include things we feel we need to hide. It reminds us that as the old saying goes, character is what we do when we think no one is looking.

But lest we get to self-absorbe, let us focus our prayers today on those whose lives will be impacted by the storms today.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Prayer for peace

Today's first reading from the letter of St Paul to the Ephesians reminds us of the religious divide that existed and how

he made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his Flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one Body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it.
He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.

In this mornings news we see more reaction to the violence in Syria and the fear hat it may metastasize into surrounding countries Already 300,000 refugees have fled, and thousands of others have died.

What role we, as a nation should play in the conflict I am unsure. The one thing I am sure of is that every one of us should be actively praying for peace. The cynical will throw up their hands and say, "Those people have been killing each other for centuries." We should remember that "those people" are also loved by God, "those people" were the first ones to whom God sent the gospel. Let us not forget St. Paul, the road to Damascus, and the mission to the world beyond the Jews.

Let us pray for peace!

Monday, October 22, 2012

No Boxes

Each election cycle attempts are made to fit the Catholic Church neatly into the framework of our American political camps of liberal and conservative. Last week Timothy Cardinal Dolan showed once more that the church is above and beyond those boundaries. It doesn't fix into a box.

As he put it we are the Church of the un's "the un-employed, the un-insured, the un-wanted, the un-wed mother, and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb, the un-documented, the un-housed, the un-healthy, the un-fed the under-educated.”

This list was not given as a menu from which we are free to choose the one we think worthy of our concern. As hard as it may be we must have concern for them all even when it costs us.

Today the church celebrates Blessed John Paul II who could criticize both communism and capitalism, and even democracy itself when it looses its foundation in a deeper law. "Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person."

We do a profound disservice to our Church and Jesus himself when we try reduce the depth, the breath, and the complexity of the gospel message. The uncomfortable truth is that there is something in the gospel that will challenge each one of us if we are willing to open ourselves to its entirety. Perhaps instead of our favorite quotes from the Bible and the Catechism we need to look for our least favorites and pray with those.

Friday, October 19, 2012


Do not be afraid of those who kill the body...

More than a decade is past and the terrorists have in some level won. I say that because the goal of terrorism is not to conquer in the traditional sense but to instill fear, and it appears that the goal was accomplished.

A Moslem, a woman in a scarf, a man in a turban (who is by the way probably a Sikh not a Moslem) how many American now regard these people with suspicion? As of July of this year in a Pew poll a ridiculous 17% of registered voters believe the President is a Moslem. I recently spoke to a friend from Bethlehem who was telling me how tourism to the Holy Land has dropped off. And how much money have we spent in the last decade out of fear?

Some say fear is a great motivator, but one needs to ask, does it motivate us to do the right thing?

Today in the US we celebrate to men who refused to let their lives be ruled by fear John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues. They knew what we all know but ignore. We will all pass from this life. What matters therefore is what we do with the time we have. They chose to let the gospel and not fear rule their life.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Just Checking

In today's First reading St. Paul provides us with a very simple list, the fruit of the Spirit

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Perhaps the simplest exercise might be: How many of these can I exhibit today?

Or try it as a simple daily checklist

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Simple is better

Sometimes the skimpiest can be the most profound and greatest challenge. Today St. Paul compacts Christian living into 4 simple words
Faith working through love

Tonight we will watch another debate. Rather than asking which one is going to do the most for me. Perhaps we Christians should try evaluating their positions on this simple phrase. Both claim to be Christian so whose policies foreign and domestic best represent faith working through love.

But before we evaluate anyone else let's spending the day constant evaluating our own words and action as to whether they are faith working through love.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Spirituality and Literature

As we move through these early days of the Year of Faith it offers us a chance to look back not just at scripture but at other great writing of Christian history.

Today the Church celebrates St Teresa of Avila. While we think of her as a founder of the discalced Carmelites, a great mystic, and doctor of the Church, she was also by any measure a great writer.

No history of the Spanish Renaissance and its literature can be written without including her Interior Castle. 1492 was not only the year of Columbus but also the year when the first grammar of the Spanish Language was published replacing Latin as the language of the Kingdom and one cannot rightly study Spanish literature without this book from 1577.

In the late 20th century we took a principle of governance, separation of Church and State, and mistakenly attempted to extend it to every aspect of life obscuring the contribution of clergy and religious to worlds like science and literature. Do we teach our children that Gregor Mendel was a friar? Check out the list of Cleric-Scientists.

The Year of Faith offers us an opportunity to not only look forward but also to look back with pride on the contributions that our faith has made to every aspect of life.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

50 years ago

October 11, 1962 Blessed Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council

In his opening address he stated that "the greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously."

To mark this anniversary Pope Benedict XVI today opens THE YEAR OF FAITH following the same theme calling for an entire year dedicate to a New Evangelization.

On the website of the US Bishops Conference there is more information and resources for how we can live this Year of Faith.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Mission to Affrica

Catholics, who made up 12.4% of the population of Africa in 1978, represented almost 17 % twenty-six years later. By 2025 it is expected that a quarter of the world's Catholic population will be in Africa.

Today we celebrate the work of one particular saint who dedicated his life to proclaiming the gospel in central Africa. Daniel Comboni only three years ordained and the only child of his parents to live to adulthood risked his life to take the message of the gospel to people he saw sufferings in deplorable conditions. He died at age 50 in Khartoum, Sudan. He founded the Comboni Missionaries and the Comboni Missionary Sisters, one of whose houses is located here in Richmond.

While perhaps not as famous as a Mother Teresa his missionary zeal and care for those in need was no less great. Today we pray for those who carry on his work.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Do we allow it anymore?

As we continue to read how Saul, before his conversion, persecuted the Church, and what a zealot he was I can help but wonder how he would fair today.

While we Christians may still talk use words like repentance, forgiveness, and conversion, do we live them anymore? Now that anyone's sin can be capture and preserved forever by Google and YouTube do we allow for the possibility of change?

If St. Paul were alive today how many times would we see his former ranting against Christians replayed? How many times would we see the video of him instigating at the stoning of Stephen?

Of the seven sacraments of the Church, only two, Eucharist and Penance, are meant to be received regularly as an ordinary part of Christian living. We need both on a regular basis because conversion to Christ is not a one time event, it is a lifelong journey. Along the way all of us stumble and fall many times. The road is less like the interstate and more like the cow path that twists and turns through the countryside.

Perhaps how modern obsession with watching the failures and sins of others is simply and avoidance mechanism. As long as we are look out at the sins of other we don't have to really look inward. Perhaps we would be better to reverse the system point our charity outward toward others and point our critical eye in.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Why don't we change ?

As the Church struggles in our 21st century American culture, many ask when the Catholic Church is going to get with the program, and change its position on this or that issue. The answer is simple and is found in today's first reading.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one that we preached to you, let that one be accursed!

Saint Paul in his letter to the Galatians reminds us that the gospel doesn't belong to the Church to do with as we will, we are merely the custodians, entrusted with handing it on from one generation to the next.

Of course, this letter also reminds us that from the beginning there have always been those Christians who believed they had the right to change the gospel to make it and themselves more popular, more palatable to the culture.

This does not mean that nothing should change. There are things which can and must change. With time the Holy Spirit continues to lead us to a deeper understanding of the truth contained in the Gospel. And in every time and place we have to constantly search for the way to best explain the truths contained in the gospel so that it can be best understood by the people in a particular time and place. But the truth remains the truth.

One of the greatest challenges in reading the Bible is distinguishing between the truth a particular passage is meant to communicate and the mode of expression used by the writer. That is why as Catholics we look to the tradition and the magisterium to help us in the process. On Thursday we begin the Year of Faith, anime for each of us go back to the foundations of our faith. Rather than conforming the gospel to ourselves to conform ourselves to the gospel.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


In the gospel today Jesus calls various people to follow him but each has a condition. The answer is "Yes, but..." Before we are too critical of them, this gospel invites each of us to look deep into our own hearts and acknowledge the truth. We all on some level answer "Yes, but" embracing those parts of the gospel we find most attractive, rationalizing away those parts of the gospel that challenge us most. Can any of us say that we can truly answer the call of Christ with the unconditional Yes?

While we may never perfectly answer yes to Christ in this life, each day offers us multiple opportunities to come closer. When we choose to show love of God and love of neighbor. When we allow the gospel to critique even the most comfortable parts of our lives.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Not just for Children

Today the Church celebrates our belief in guardian angels. This belief is not unique to Christianity, but is shared by many other religions, a trust that their is a unique spirit entrust with the care of each one of us.

Some may ask why does it matter? Why is this important? My answers would be two. Firstly, it is important because it is true and they are their to help us, particularly in the moments when we struggle most.

Secondly, they remind us of an important aspect of our understanding of God. We are not a people who believe in a God who created the world and then stepped back. We do not believe in a God who passively sits back in some far distance heaven watching us struggle through life, or see us as one more creature on one tiny planet in the universe.

Guardian angels are a reminder to us that ours is a personal faith. Our God does not simply love and care for us as a group, abstractly. Our faith is in a God who cares for every single individual, who loves every single person every created so much so that a spiritual being an angel was also created assigned by God to watch over that person.

With God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), Mary our Mother, the Saints in heaven and our guardian angel, how can anyone ever truly be alone, or unloved.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Why do we need God ?

This week we read the Book of Job and enter into one of the most interesting sections of the Old Testament, the group of books referred to collectively as the wisdom literature. The books of the bible classified as wisdom literature are: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs,Wisdom (also known as Wisdom of Solomon),Sirach (also known as Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus).

Unlike some cultures who express their philosophy in lists of principles, the wisdom literature of the bible present the wisdom in stories, narrative not written to recall history but convey what we are and what we should be. The book of Job is written as a poem in a prose framework.

The story of Job opens with a man who has everything from a material standpoint, and is virtuous. Satan puts forward an assessment of situation still heard. From his point of view it is easy to be virtuous, when you have everything, when God has answered your every prayer. What if all that were taken away? What happens to faith when we experience loss?

Satan is convinced that Job will abandon faith. Today we get the famously simple response of Job:
Naked I came forth from my mother's womb,and naked shall I go back again.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
blessed be the name of the LORD!

In two simple sentences he offers the beginning of real wisdom.

Monday, September 17, 2012

You're so vain

The classic Carly Simon song comes to mind as I think about the prayer from mass taken from today's gospel.
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word...

Taken out of context we can we so vain that we think the prayer is about us and our unworthiness. If, however, we look at it in its context we see that the prayer isn't about us but the power of Jesus and the power of his word.

The centurion who comes to Jesus explains:
For I too am a person subject to authority,
with soldiers subject to me.
And I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes;
and to another, 'Come here,' and he comes;
and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it."

He understands the power of words, his own words, but more importantly the words of Jesus. He doesn't need Jesus to jump around or even touch the sick man. So certain is he of the power of the words of Jesus.

When we consecrate the Eucharist we repeat the words of Jesus and before we receive the body and blood of Christ we repeat the words of this centurion in imitation of his faith. As Jesus says of him

"I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith."

As the centurion trusted that the words of Jesus could heal so we trust in the words of Jesus to transform mere bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

Remember the first word of the prayer is not "I" it's "Lord". Jesus calls; we respond. Jesus gives; we receive. As a priest I may say the words, but it is God who consecrates.

Listening to some of our modern hymns, to borrow from Carly

We're so vain we prob'ly think that church is about us.

The centurion today reminds us that it's always really about Jesus. When the choir is bad and the homily is boring, and the foreign priest is hard to understand, it is still the greatest Gift in the world. Christ does come under our roof. We receive God and we are healed. Every single time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Today's gospel opens with:

Jesus departed to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer

Today we all remember well where we were. We remember the men and women who died. We remember the loved ones whose loves were forever changed.

Perhaps for just this day we can be quiet and pray.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Who are we ?

St. Paul ends today's first reading with a simple instruction:

Therefore, let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Malice and wickedness or sincerity and truth. At first glance it doesn't look like your standard pairs of opposites, but with a closer look we see that's exactly what it is.

The word he uses for malice refers to the interior disposition that is the source of the wickedness, the external act.

The internal disposition we should have is translated here as sincerity, but the word means more. It means clarity in the sense of those streak-free windows in the TV commercials that the sun shines through.

While we don't usually think of truth as the opposite of wickedness. The choice of words makes sense if we understand that by virtue of baptism, "You have become a new creation", and our true self is good. The truth of who we are as adopted children of God manifests itself in good actions. Wickedness is the opposite of our true self.

Paul reminds of a couple of very basic truths.
There is no such thing as accidental sin. Every sin, begins with a malicious thought in the heart, a decision to do wrong.
Second and more importantly if we keep our heart and mind clear what the world will see is the truth, the light of Christ shinning through us.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Divine Providence

On December 8th we celebrated the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our belief that God preserved her free from the stain of original sin, a preparation to be the fitting Mother of God.

Today, nine months later, we celebrate her birth. Unlike Jesus there is no scriptural record. We do not know precisely when nor where, but that doesn't take away the importance of celebrating her birthday.

More than just a celebration of an ancient event, this day also reminds of of two truths that apply to each of us. First, that every human life is sacred, to be cherished and protected. Secondly, we, like Mary, were all created for a purpose. Only God can ultimately know that purpose. We we willfully terminate any human life, either before birth or after, we deny these truths.

How can we dare to judge what contribution a person might make to the world? Even the person lying in a nursing home, or locked in a federal prison for life may touch some life, and be a link in a chain of events that we could never foresee.

Today as we celebrate the brith of Mary, let us celebrate every human life.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Never forgetting the roots

Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Teresa of Calcutta. Most of us remember her as Mother Teresa, but it is important to remember where she started.

She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, of Albanian parents in what is now the Capital of Macedonia. When she was born it was one spot in the Ottoman Empire. Her father died when she was 8 years old leaving her the youngest child of a widow.

Who could have looked at her then and guessed that she would become the world renowned religious leader that she became? Her willingness to allow herself to be used by God, to listen to the prompting of the Spirit and follow it was the key to her success. She stands as proof that with God all things are possible.

As we now know from her letters, she experience long periods of emptiness, and even doubting the existence of God but despite her feelings she kept moving forward. In a time when we are somewhat obsessed with how we feel about things, and some would set up feelings as the arbiter of truth, she reminds us that feelings are fleeting and often wrong. Even when she didn't feel the presence of God she continued to strive to do what was right, she strove to do God's will.

She was the model of the virtue of fortitude, the ability to confront fear and uncertainty. Through her intercession may this virtue be strengthened in each of us.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Authority and Power

The gospel today tells us that Jesus speaks with authority and power. The Greek words here are exousia and dynamis. The second you may recognize. It is the base for English words like dynamic. It means power, the ability to do something.

The first word exousia also means power but is translated authority because it refers to the power to choose or decide. Jesus had the power to choose and the power to make that choice real.

Now look at the first reading today that tells us that the Spirit we have been given is "the mind of Christ." In baptism we are set free from slavery to sin. We too are given the power. The first reading reminds us that we are given the power to see not only the natural realities but spiritual. We know right from wrong.

Like Christ we too are free. We have the power to choose. We have authority, at least over ourselves. And we have the ability to act, to make those choices real.

This authority, this freedom is a wonderful thing, but it also makes us responsible. Generics, upbringing, culture, all these may influence us but they do not rob us of our fundamental freedom or take away our responsibility.

We too have authority and power pay attention to how we use it today.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Appropriate for Labor Day

There are no special readings for Labor Day , the readings for today are the ones that merely by coincidence land on this day. The gospel, however, does remind us of where, if we choose to follow the example of Jesus, we should focus our attention.

Today we get that great moment when Jesus returns to Nazareth, enters the synagogue on the sabbath, unrolls the scroll of Isaiah the prophet and reads:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

For such a great moment why this passage?

Jesus singles out four groups of people. Lets look more closely at who they are:
πτωχός - poor, literally a begger, the guy sitting on the street corner.
αἰχμάλωτος -captive, literally prisoners of war
τυφλός- blind, those with cloudy vision
Τεθρυοσμενους- oppressed, literally those that are bruised.

While today is not the astronomical end of summer, Labor day culturally marks for us the end of summer and vacations and the beginning of school and the return to the routine. As we get busy with our jobs and our lives how often will we even think about the four groups mentioned above. Jesus makes it clear that these are the people at the forefront of his concern. Can the same be said of us?

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.

The closing line from today's reading reminds us how far our modern culture is from being Christian. How much of what we heard this eek and will hear next week was and will be boasting, either about an individual, a party or the country? Some confuse patriotism with boasting.

Patriotism is love of one's country. A parent loves a child, but how do we feel about the parent who constantly stands around talking about how their child is better than every other child. Do we consider that simply the normal expression of love? Most of us find that parent and often their child insufferable. Even if the child is gifted is one area or the other it is still considered tacky for the parent to be constantly crowing about their child. How do we feel about the parent who refuses to ever admit that their child was wrong?

As I write this I sit on my porch looking at St. John's Church, where Patrick Henry uttered the words, "Give me liberty or give me death." Those are the parents who gave birth to this country, and saw her through the difficult infancy. They lived in a time when humility was a virtue and pride was a cardinal sin. I pastor St. Patrick's dedicated in 1860 on the eve of a civil war that almost saw the country ripped apart. How many gave their life to hold that union together?

The humble truth is that we who live today simply inherited most of what we call America. Most of us were simply blessed to be born here. We didn't earn it. We didn't make it happen. It was pure gift, and we are called to be good stewards of the gift.

I have accomplish a few things in life, but I know that it was possible only because I was blessed to be born here, and for that reason, I can honestly say I love my country. I also know that every talent or skill I have is gift from God, and I have nothing to boast about. That is why Paul tells us

Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.

Imagine how different all the chatter would be every everyone who calls themselves a Christian lived this command.

Monday, August 27, 2012


Today we have in the first reading the opening of Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we begin with the sign of the cross and a greeting. The greetings are not just what ever the priest wants to say but are texts taken from Paul's greetings, the openings of his letters.

Paul opens his letter today by wishing them to things: grace and peace, in Greek charis and eirene. This greeting is often used at mass and so this reading gives us a chance to reflect on these words.

In their original sense they are not things; they are states of being.

The first is from the verb chairo. It means to be cheerful, calm, happy. The second is a fairly close Greek equivalent of the Hebrew shalom. It's meaning includes peace, clam, stillness, oneness. It has the same root as Greek verb "to join, unite".

My guess is we all would like to live this way. The mistake we make is that we think the feeling has to come first and then the action. Here C.S. Lewis had great insight. Often what we need to is act a certain way even if it's not how we feel, and over time the feeling will come. Behave charitably even when you don't feel charitable, and over time you will find yourself becoming a more charitable person.

I remember the first time I rode a horse. It felt awkward, unnatural, painful. Over time the body adapts. The muscle in the legs and hips release and it becomes a place you are comfortable and at home.

Prayer works much the same way and can take just as long as horseback riding to become comfortable. Even if you don't feel happy, clam, or at peace, you have force yourself to be still and quiet. At first it may be more uncomfortable than a horse. You may find yourself fidgeting, physically and/or mentally. Stay with it. Every annoyance that enters you head, surrender it to God. Persistence is the key.

And there we have or link to today's saint, Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. The woman most know for her absolute refusal to give up. If your prayer life isn't what it ought to be there is no better day than the memorial of St. Monica to dig in start over and refuse to give up.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Ven y ve

That's Spanish for "Come and see" a common expression used by Spanish speakers. I would dare say most of them today do not realize the biblical origins of the phrase. It is Philip's response when today's saint Bartholomew (Nathaniel) asks the question, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"

The question is rude and harsh but it does have one virtue; it's honest. As Jesus says of him. There is no "dolos"in him. This Greek word can be translated trickery, wile, deceit. You may not like what he says but he is honest. He says what he actually thinks.

Many an opinionated loud-mouth has look at this passage and found in it biblical permission for being rude. Not so fast.

First of all notice that his is a question, not a statement of what he believes to be fact. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, while his question betrays a certain prejudice on his part, he is open to changing his mind. He goes and sees, he believes, and becomes not only a disciple but an apostle.

Can the same be said of most of us who love to "speak our mind" and try to claim it as a virtue? My experience is that most of those who like to think of themselves as "just being honest", or "being prophetic", are not asking questions or open to changing their minds but firmly locked in the belief that they hold absolute truth already.

Our speech like so many things today seems to fall into one of two extremes. On the one hand the opinionated loud-mouths certain that they are right. On the other hand those whose words are so carefully chosen that they say nothing, reveal nothing of what they actually believe.

Once more the gospel presents with the example of perfect balance in the person of St. Bartholomew.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What is natural ?

The seems to be in some corners of religion a tendency to denigrate the natural order, to see the world as a dark and ugly place. Some Christians even selectively reading the Old Testament paint it in this negative light, as if God is somehow different: scary in the Old Testament and loving in the New Testament.

What does God promise through the prophet Ezekiel:

I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.

The natural heart is the one fashioned by God. The natural heart is not an evil thing steeped in sin. It is animated by and oriented toward God, its creator.

The stoney heart is the one not created by God. It is in the truest sense artificial, made by us,carefully sculpted over time as we turn away from God and turn toward ourselves, becoming enamored with our own power and craftsmanship. We may take the rarest stone and fashion the most beautiful heart, one that will last for centuries, but it will never function properly. Nothing we make can be better that th natural heart.

Go to a grocery store and you are surrounded by signs of the muti-million dollar industry of "organic" "all natural" foods. And I am no saying this is a bad thing. I believe we do need to pay attention to what we eat. My only question is are we as concerned to have what Ezekiel might call the all natural heart?

When was the last time you took a really close look, when was the last real examination of conscience? The good news is that we don't have to be afraid to look. We don't have to be afraid to acknowledge the truth. We don't have to fear failure. As Ezekiel tells us it is God who will cleanse us, God who will put the natural heart in us.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

He's not a communist

In today's gospel we hear the famous verse, " it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God." If any modern person said this they would be labeled a communist or a socialist.

Once again the issue is not rich or poor. Rich are not by definition more sinful. And poor people are certainly not by definition some how holier.

The first reading today gives us a lens through which to interpret this verse.

Because you are haughty of heart,
you say, "A god am I!
I occupy a godly throne
in the heart of the sea!"--
And yet you are a man, and not a god,
however you may think yourself like a god.
Oh yes, you are wiser than Daniel,
there is no secret that is beyond you.
By your wisdom and your intelligence
you have made riches for yourself;
You have put gold and silver
into your treasuries.
By your great wisdom applied to your trading
you have heaped up your riches;
your heart has grown haughty from your riches?

The people God condemns are those whom he describes as haughty, those who believe that it is by their own wisdom and intelligence alone that they have become rich.

If I am intelligent, did I make myself intelligent? I may have studied and developed the gift but it came from God. Michael Phelps made train like crazy, but if he did not have the height and build that he does he would not be the champion that he is. Did he create his height?

Jesus is not speaking out again wealth per se but the dangerous temptation toward hubris that comes with it. We should live each day constantly aware that anything "I accomplish" is only possible because of some gift I have received from God, first and foremost—Life.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Hard Words

Today's response to the psalm is about as hard as any in the liturgical year.

You have forgotten God who gave you birth.

While we may be able to say that isn't true in a general sense, it may be true in a sporadic sense. If you are reading this blog chances are your general faith is in good shape. For most of us the real challenge is constancy, keeping God in our conscious mind all the time.

In today's gospel we have the famous young man. The gospel says:
The young man said to him, "All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?"
Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad,
for he had many possessions.

Most of us like to think of ourselves as middle-class. It some how sounds better than rich. The bible never uses such a term. The Bible challenges us to see the world in starker terms; people are either rich or poor. Truth is, most of us are rich. We not only have what we need, but also a lot of things we merely want. We have so much stuff, we complain about the lack of storage space. There is an entire storage industry from "space bags" to condense our stuff, to rentable storage facilities to store our extra stuff.

I am afraid nothing will stop the insanity of both sides from now until the elections. But once the smoke clears, and the elections are done, the two sides are going to have to work together and hard choices are going to need to be made. In what way is this gospel going to be part of the discussion? Or will those of us who have more than we need, as today's psalm suggests, conveniently forget.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

A Kind of Lent

It is good for us to maintain contact with our Jewish roots. Jesus throughout his earthy life never abandoned the faith of his ancestors.

Today is the 1st day of the month of Elul, a month of repentance leading up the celebration of Rosh HaShana,(literally the Head of the Year). This year Rosh HaShana begins on the eve of September 16, 2012.

According to tradition, these days of Elul mark the days when Moses went back to the mountain to carve the second set of tablets, after the incident of the Golden Calf. It is the time when the people are called to remember and ask forgiveness of others. In the Jewish tradition before you ask God for forgiveness you must first ask the people you have harmed.

While the Christian liturgical cycle is different, the basic framework has remained the same. One day per week dedicated to God. At least one month of each year dedicated to repentance. These are but a small part of our common God-given understanding of the human condition.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Real world application

As the focus of our attention these days seems to be on economics, we have a gospel at deals directly with that. Th master who has a debtor whoowes a huge sum of money, but cannot possibly repay it.
The gospel does not say "Moved with compassion the master he said to him "I would love to forgive you but it would create a moral hazard" . The gospel says he forgave him.

That servant, forgiven the huge sums he owed then refused to forgive the people who owed him much smaller amounts. Sound like anything in the real world?

In the gospel the master then punishes severely the one who owed the huge amount, but refused to pass on the forgiveness. How many huge banks were bailed out only to turn around and foreclose on much smaller debtors.

Some would say to me. "Father, that's business. And the church should stay out of that."

I would say that has been the problem. The church has been too quiet about business practices. If I hear one more person say that it is the responsibility of the CEO to make as much money for the stockholders as possible, I am going to scream.

Profits are not bad. But the way they are made not only has to be legal but moral. The excuse used by some on Wall Street that they didn't break the law is just that, an excuse. Every Christian who is a business person has a primary responsibility to be moral, then comes their responsibility to make money for shareholders. Not breaking federal or state law is not enough. What about God's law?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Strange but true

The first reading today was not exactly, on first bounce, an uplifting birthday greeting

The Lord God said to me:
As for you, son of man, obey me when I speak to you: be not rebellious like this house of rebellion, but open your mouth and eat what I shall give you.

And what God gave Ezekiel to eat was a scroll covered back and front with woe, wailing and lamentation.

In a real sense it is the perfect reading. Let's go all the way back 52 years to the fact that I was born with cerebral palsy to a 16 year old girl in Danville, and put into the foster care system. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of my only brother being killed in a freak car accident. But for every such woe (and there have been more than a few) I can see how God has taken every one of them and used it, transformed it, made each of them channel of grace.

The prophet in today's reading had real faith, trust in God, and so:
"I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth."

Today I can truly thank God for every single day of every one of my 52 years.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Making prudent choices

In today's gospel we find the temple official who looking for any little thing,raises the issue of the annual temple tax required of all men over the age of 20. The tax itself was very small, a half shekel. Following Jesus instructions Peter goes and catches a fish with a shekel enough to pay for both of them. And so to this day some may refer to Talapia as St. Peter's Fish.

Once more we see that our technology changes much more rapidly than human behavior. How often is it that once we decide we don't like someone we will look for even the smallest thing to criticize?

Even more interesting though is the response of Jesus. Even though he is clear that it is silly for him to pay the tax, he has Peter go ahead and pay it. Jesus decides to pick his battles carefully.

How often do we let ourselves get sucked into useless arguments where we know we are not going to change the mind of the other person even if they are wrong, and when we finally are forced to realize the uselessness of the argument our last line of self defense is "It's the principle of the thing."

Sometimes the most important questions can be is this the appropriate time or place.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A little test

Many Catholics around the country today will be contemplating the fact that if elected, Paul Ryan will be only the second Catholic vice president in the history of the US. Vice President Biden was the first. As Catholics continue to ascend to offices of power will we take all of our theology with us.

Saturday two earthquakes hit northwest Iran, a 6.2 and a 6.3. (For comparison sake the 2010 Haiti quake was a 7.0) Hundreds are dead so far, thousands injured, only God knows how many are still trapped in the rubble. What will be our response?

We all know Matthew 5:44 "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you"

Perhaps no assistance would be accepted, but if we are really Christian do we not have a responsibility to offer, and to pray. If not, how are we any different than the rest of the world?

Friday, August 10, 2012

The sky is fine

Forget Chick-Fli-e could someone please silence Chicken Little.

From Catholic and non-Catholic sources alike, contrary to fact, apocalyptic histrionics reign. They talk as if the Church is in some horrible period of attack and decline.

If you look from the time of Vatican II until today the Catholic Population is holding steady around its average 25% of the US population and has been steadily growing. Particularly disturbing are those who say things like, "That's only because of Hispanic immigrants." as if they don't really count. Take a look at the Catholic population in the 19th century without the Italian, Irish, German immigrants. We have always been an immigrant church.

I bring this up because today we celebrate St. Lawrence who was murdered in the third century during the persecution of Valerian. Patron saint of cooks, he was burned to death. When I was a student in Rome, not that long ago, I remember African priests who had scars from the attacks they had suffered. For 21st century American Catholics to use the word persecution only shows how delicate we have become. For real anti-Catholicism in America we can go back to our "founding fathers" or ask the Irish who came here. Even when I was a Baptist child in Danville we were assured that Catholics were going to hell.

The truth is it has never been easier for a Catholic to practice their faith in the US. Catholic are now a majority of the Supreme Court. Virginia now has its second Catholic governor in a row. (Who would have thought?) Catholics are among the rich and the powerful.

Today as we celebrate one of the early martyrs of the Church, it is a time for us to stop whining and be thankful. It is a time for us to pray for Christians who still live in parts of the world where real persecution continues.

August 15 the next holy day of obligation who will stop Catholics in the US from going to mass? To paraphrase Cassius, the fault is not in our culture but in ourselves.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The keys

What Christian has not heard this passage:

And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

These words spoken personally to St. Peter, enshrined in the image of the crossed keys.

The silver key representing earth, the gold key heaven.

When I was mulling over my decision to become Catholic the hierarchy of the Church was the most difficult part of what the Church taught. I had been raised on the notion that it was all mere human invention. And it is true that the costumes, the pomp and protocol are human invention, and the word Pope is found nowhere in the Bible.

But try as hard as I might I could not dismiss this passage. Jesus had chosen 12 to be the leaders and then he speaks in the singular to one of them, Peter, and entrusts him with a unique role. I have read every attempt to explain the passage away, to explain away the papacy, and I cannot find any of them convincing. The words of Jesus to Peter are plain and clear in any language.

Why would Jesus hand over the keys to a human being? I have to say I do not know, but he did. It is one more thing on which I simply have to trust that God knows what he's doing.

It's what we call faith.