Friday, March 30, 2012

Day of Prayer and Fasting

The US Bishops have called on Catholics throughout the country today to engage in a day of prayer and fasting for Religious Liberty.

We should be clear that this is not about what is derisively known as "obamacare" nor is it about whether or not people have a right to basic health care. The church is clear that the later is true.

This is about our belief that every human being has a right to practice their faith. The Second Varican Council December 7, 1965 in its document Dignitas Humanae proclaimed

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

Yes, those last three words admit that, like every right, this right has legitimate limits. Human sacrifice, for example, in the name of religion could not be called a right, because it violates the most basic right to life.

Sixteen words in the first amendment of our own constitution reflect this same belief:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

This day was spurred into being by the HHS mandate. Like many drugs, it is true that the hormones pills commonly referred to as birth control pills, can be prescribed to treat a number of conditions. To force Catholic institutions to provide them as birth control, however, would be a violation of our right to free exercise of our faith. For women who want them for that purpose there are many other ways to have free access.

Today is about more than this single bill or a single faith. Our church does not teach that Christians alone have a right to religious freedom. Adherents of all faiths share that right. Today is a day of prayer about a human right.

Let us unite our prayers with all our faithful brothers and sisters.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Fear vs concern

whoever keeps my word will never see death.

Does anyone really believe that?
If so, why is so much of our political talk grounded in fear. It seems that almost all of our foreign policy debate starts with fear of someone and fear of death. Why did we start the two wars we are in now and stay for over a decade? Why are so talking about attacking Iran?

Regardless of the military outcome, if the goal if terrorism is terror then it appears that they won.

Jesus teaches us not to be afraid, even of death, in part because fear robs us of our reason. Basic Catholic anthropology– what makes an act a human act are the faculties of intellect and will. Fear impairs both, and our most primal fear, is fear of death.

If we believe that we will never die we are then truly free. We are free to use our God given faculties to think, to pray, and to act in a truly human way.

This does not mean that we are indifferent to the real problems, and the existence of evil in the world. As Christians we know evil exists. But instead of reacting out of fear, we act out of a sense of true concern not only for ourselves but for others, concern for the common good.

Through prayer we stay grounded in Christ, and make rational choices,striving in everything to do the will of God.

As John tells us, "There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out all fear"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Who's your daddy?

What does it mean to be son or daughter? Again we seem to use the phrase "God's Children" without much thought as to what it actually means.
In life we're born to or adopted by our parents and we are their children, period.

Jesus in today's gospel reflects on two aspects of the parent/ child relationship: permanence and responsibility.

A child unlike a servant is always in relationship to the parent and nothing can change that. That's the good news.

The less attractive part is that a child also has a responsibility to the parent. Until our modern age, sons followed in their fathers' footsteps with regard to work. The many occupational last names(i.e. Miller, Fuller, Shoemaker, Wagoner, Wright) have come from this tradition. He goes one step further says that we show whose child we truly are through the work we do. As is always the case in John's Gospel it is a simple binary choice: child of God, child of Satan.

While we may not find the imagery to our liking, it is sometimes helpful to cut through our tendency to nuance and rationalize our way out of calling something just plain sin.

At the end of the days whose child will we show ourselves to be. If we were judged by our words and actions of the day,could we truly say they were Our Father's work.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Knowing your history

Today's gospel makes reference to the "Feast of Tabernacles" (sukkot). Not a spring festival in the Hebrew Calendar but a Fall Festival, a harvest festival, literally the in-gathering. This year it begins Oct 1. For seven dates the people gives thanks for what they have received from God's bounty.

As important to the festival is its commemoration of the 40 years wandering in the desert. To mark this they eat outside in a sukkah, a temporary dwelling, reminiscent of the tents of their ancestors. It must have 2 1/2 walls that will not blow away and the roof should be made of something that has grown from the ground (branches).

We must be careful as Christians, particularly when reading John's gospel. Because of the time when it was written, it tends to paint a dark picture of those he simply refers to as "the Jews" and was at various times used out of context as a basis for antisemitism. Blessed John Paul dedicated a great deal of his life to healing the wounds of the past and we should continue to strive to understand more deeply the faith from which our own faith grew.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Telling truth to power

The first reading today is another example from the Old Testament that understood at merely face value can seem odd.

On the surface, God gets angry and threatens to destroy the world. Moses calms God down. God changes his mind.

On a deeper level it is something much more. All human beings want to be accepted, want to be loved. The ones who say "I don't care what others think" are often the ones who care the most.

God in this reading has no intention of destroying Israel. He makes the statement as a test. He wants to see what kind of man Moses really is. Or perhaps better said, he wants Moses to see what kind of man Moses is.

All human beings are social by nature. We all have in us a fear of rejection whether we admit it or not. We will sacrifice the truth in order to fit in.

Most often we do it by silence. Moses proved to be a man dedicated to the truth. Let us pray that each of us can have that same dedication.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shock and Awe

The gospel today opens with the first great scandal of Christianity, the one that first got the rouges wagging against Jesus and his followers.

"he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God."

Today we think nothing of it. We pray the Our Father without even thinking about it as strange. I would love to thing that it is because we are so steeped in Christian theology but I concern it is something else. I wonder if the reason we aren't shock is because we haven't really grasped what we are saying.

Sometimes I hear "We are all God's children." which is a kind sentiment but not really Christian.
Are we all created in the image and likeness of God? Yes.
Are we all loved by God? Yes
Does God love Christians more that Muslims and Jews? No

But when we speak of being God's children we mean something more.

As the new missal corrected, we do not believe as Christians that Jesus is the only Son of God. He is the only-begotten Son. We are adopted children.

How are we adopted? The adoption takes place at our baptism.

It's always struck me as odd that some question infant baptism and yet aren't most adopted children adopted as infants?

This adoption means more than just "God loves me." Like civil adoption it means our most basic identity is changed.

As our baptismal rite says, "You have become a new creation"

We are reborn.

Jesus was the first to be able to rightly call God his father but not the last. To the Gospel invites us to reflect on the deepest meaning of our baptism, our adoption and the new identity we were given on that day.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Trust or Fear

In the first reading today we have the vision of Ezekiel who is taken by angel to a body of water and walk with him. The water is first ankle deep, then knee deep then waist deep, then over his head.

How far will we go? How much real trust do we have?

Water is one of the most interesting symbols in the bible in that it has a variety of opposing meanings. It represents life and is a necessity. It represents death, as in the great flood, and was feared. Drowning is still one of those primal fears in the human psyche.

How far into the water will I go with God? How far before I fear? At what point does the fear turn into panic?

In Exekiel's vision after the deep water the scene jumps. We are transported to the bank of the river teeming with life, along whose banks are lush trees filled with fruit.

Each day brings its own challenges. Some days ankle deep, some days knee deep, and some days over our head. Through it all what should continue to resonate in our heads are those words of Jesus we hear at mass, "my peace I leave you, my peace I give you."

In truth we have nothing to fear, if we hold tight to the belief that He really is always with us. Even in the deepest water, we will not drown, we swim. We swim in the ocean of God's abundant grace.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Irish move over

Here come the Sicilians! Today, the church celebrates St. Joseph the Spouse of Mary. Throughout Sicily and parts of the world with large Sicilian immigrant populations, people will wear red, just as the Irish wear green.
Tables will be set with a statue of St. Joseph and filled with a variety of food in a kind of pot luck dinner. Harkening back to the time when Catholics went without meat throughout Lent, the dishes on the St. Joseph's table are meatless.

The table commemorates a time when through the intercession of St. Joseph the people of Sicily were saved from famine. Fava beans are key ingredients because it was fava beans that saved the people from starving and there are often dishes that involve breadcrumbs, symbolic of the sawdust of a carpenter shop.

However we celebrate today is a day for each of us to turn to St. Joseph in prayer and ask for the same paternal love he showed to Jesus.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The power of division

Today's gospel includes the famous verse:
Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste.

Abraham Lincoln once said,

Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.

We seem to live in a time when comprise is viewed not as a virtue but a weakness.

The word in its most basic form meant a promise made together. It represented a settlement by mutual agreement each party giving something for a goal bigger than their own interest.

How can we have a civil society if we abandon this most basic tool for living together?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


A mitzvah, a commandment.

While we think immediately of the 10. The traditional number of all the commandments in the Torah, the first five books of the bible, is 613. Yes, 613 commandments.

While as Christians we do not consider ourselves bound to all 613, the heart of the commandments is the same.

At their heart the commandments are about putting faith into action. They are a recognition that our very life is a gift from God and our every word and action should be directed to doing God's will.

In later Jewish tradition the word has taken on a broader meaning. It can refer to any small act of kindness done for someone, if it is done with an eye toward doing God's will.

Among the commandments there are those known as the 6 constant commandments
1. Know there is God
2. Believe in no other power
3. God is one
4. Love God
5. Fear God
6. Do not be mislead by your heart or eyes

While we may have trouble with number 5, we should remember that the Hebrew verb means to fear or to see. Perhaps to us an odd combination of meanings but it is rooted in the concept of the constant presence of God. Knowing that God is watching would I do this or that thing?

Jesus in today's gospel says clear he came not to abolish but to fulfill the law. Perhaps there is still much we can learn from our Jewish predecessors.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Numbers everywhere

In the gospel today we get the famous passage of how many time we must forgive. It's Matthew today so just gives us not 7 but 77.

Here it helps to know the background. In the rabbinic law 3, a religiously significant number, was the maximum required. The disciples then think they are being generous ask about 7, the perfect number. Jesus chooses 77.

To find that number you have to go all the way back to Genesis 4, and a descendent of Cain. Lamech is the very embodiment of wrath and vengeance. He says to his wives:

I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for bruising me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.

Jesus calls us to the opposite. It is not enough to keep the rabbinic law. We are to be the mirror image of Lamech. As fiercely as he embodies anger and vengeance we must embody love and forgiveness.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Naaman Problem

Note: I've been away from the blog for a few days, because I had to say farewell to my 11 1/2 yr. old corgi Bartholomew.

Looking at today's first reading it dawned on me that perhaps Christianity in the modern age has the same problem as Elisha the Prophet. Naaman is sent by his master to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy. The problem- Elisha tells him to go wash in the river, period. No incantations, no jumping around, just wash in the Jordan. It was too simple. Naaman is livid. He wants more.

Even as we see our church attending population aging, turn on your television and every network now has some program about the supernatural. Magic is everywhere. Why the disconnect?

On the one hand there is something inside the human soul that knows there is more to life than what the world of science and math studies. On the other hand Christianity is too simple. Even in Catholic circles there are those who think the present way of celebrating the sacraments too simple.

We are like Naaman, we think it ought to be hard; it ought to be complicated.

What we can forget is that while we participate and are the recipients of God's grace, we are not or should not be the focal point of the action. It is always God who is the primary actor.

God called us to take simple elements like water and with simple words like "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" makes them the source of healing and new life.

It's not magic; it's grace.

In the sacrament of reconciliation, "I absolve you of your sins..."
In Confirmation, "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit"

The sacraments are simple because there foundation is simple, God's love for us.

We only need to embrace the simple truth.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Three years after Columbus

In 1495 a baby was born in Portugal named João Cidade Duarte. His family had at one time been prominent, but had lost it all. He worked as a farm hand.

After moving to Spain he served for a short while in the Army of Carlos V. He then had a psychological break and spent a period of his life in an insane asylum, as the were known. He recovered his mental health and spent the rest of his 55 years spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

Today we know him as St. John of God.

He knew adversity from the very beginning of his life, and yet each adversity seemed to only draw him closer to God. Today as we remember him, let us follow the example.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What is your position?

To the upright I will show the saving power of God.

A curious adjective in English when you think about it, upright. What's even more curious is that it was used to describe the morality of a person for two centuries before it was used as an adjective to describe the physical position of being up right.

In one sense it juxtaposes us with the animals who walk on all fours or bent over. It's opposite would be upside down, which presupposes that there is an up side. There is a right position and a wrong position. There is a proper alignment.

Are you an upright person? Before you answer that I would have you look at another aspect of your life, your priorities. Then for all of us it becomes a more difficult question.

If we were to make a list of our priorities, not in the order we think we hold them, but based on which ones we give the most time and energy, would it still be upright?

Monday, March 5, 2012

How perfect

One day before Super Tuesday there is something too providential about the gospel's admonition:

Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.

From the far left who wants to talk about a "war on women" to the far right talk of "socialist agenda." The judging and condemning going on seem to be at least the worst in my lifetime.

This gospel does not mean that we are not to have principles and convictions. It does not even mean that we are not supposed to make reasoned judgements. Life should be a constant series of those.

It means we should not be moving beyond the judging of the policy to the attribution of motive, as if we can read what is in another persons heart. The language of the sinister plot (they want to take away your freedom to...), is antithetical to Christianity.

We love to think of ourselves as a religious country. Most of us think of ourselves as Christians. Yet, in our conversations, particularly the political ones it seems lately, we set our Christianity aside.

In this Lenten season perhaps it is time to monitor our judgments just a bit more.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What so good about it?

The true curmudgeon's response to "Good Morning." In the world of the Christian's world every morning is good because we know that each new day was made by God.

The gospel today is the famous, ask and you shall receive...passage.
And we all know that we shall not always receive what we ask for.
Instead the passage promises that God knows how to give us "what is good."
Here is where it suddenly gets tricky.

Moral good we know, in the sense that God has taught us through the Law, the Prophets, Jesus, and the Church what is right and wrong.
Here we are addressing another kind of good, what is good for us at a particular moment in our lives.

Our natural instinct is to avoid pain, and seek pleasure. In this way we are not too different from animals. It's why dogs will eat chocolate and drink antifreeze, because they taste good.

We are suppose to live on a different level. We have been given by God the capacity to transcend, to see the long view, the eternal view. We have the capacity to make choices with a view not just to the momentary pleasure or pain but with a goal of eternal life. But how often do we use this capacity?

We are like the person with a beautiful voice who refuses to sing. We have a gift, and let it go to waste. Look at any tv commercial or campaign ad. They all promise solutions that are easy, quick, and painless. And we, like the dog with the poisonous chocolate swallow it, because it's what we want to hear. We choose the animal life.

Jesus invites us to the truly human life, to use the incredible gifts of intellect and will he has given us, to see the truth. The medicine we need tastes nasty. The best road is sometimes rough. And there is such a thing a good pain.