Tuesday, July 31, 2012

His name is Iñigo

The saint we celebrate today began his life as part of a unique group. While most Americans think of the Basque a simply a part of Spain, they are quite distinct. To this day their is great debate over the origin of their language, Euskara, which bares little resemblance to any of the languages around it. In Spanish they call him Ignacio and in English we call him Ignatius.

While in his youth he attempted to follow the common path for the son of a noble family, he was willing to hear and respond to the call of God to be unique. This courage enabled him with a handful of friends to found the Society of Jesus in 1534. He was 43 years old, not a young man in those days. By 1551 to found the Roman College, now known as the Pontifical Gregorian University, and lived only 5 years after that.

By traditional standards, he had a late start, and yet look at the impact the Jesuits have had on education around the world. He is proof that it is never to late, never to late to turn your life around, never to late to have an impact on the world around you.

Monday, July 30, 2012

It's not a name

Today we celebrate the 5th century bishop of Ravenna, St. Peter Chrysologus. No that is not his last name; it is a title, a nickname, if you will. Many of the early saints were known not by a family name but by a popular title. Chrysologus, literally means golden-word. Proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, he was popularly known as the Doctor of Homilies. One of the distinguishing characteristics of his homilies were their relative brevity. He knew how to choose a few words but choose "golden words" that could truly move the listener.

If we think we live in turbulent times now, they are nothing compared to the world in which he lived. He served as s counselor to Pope Leo I, the first pope to be given the title "the Great" (Nicholas I and Gregory I being the only other popes called "the Great"). Pope St. Leo had to deal with Atilla the Hun, and the Council of Chalcedon.

Today let us invoke the intercession to St. Peter Chrysologus, and pray for all those who are entrusted not only with preaching in the strict sense but all those who are entrusted with handing on the faith, that he may help us to choose our words carefully, that those words may bear fruit each day.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

To Grandparents

For the vast majority of Americans the names of the saints we celebrate today are known only in Spanish and not known as saints' names. If I say San Joaquin I dare say most think of a valley. If I say Santa Anna, most will say wind. But long before these usages Christians remembered these as the names of the parents of Mary. In English we call them Joachim and Anne.

Is it in the Bible? No, but Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Muslims believe it to be true. Here we run up again against the tendency of some to reject anything that is not in the Bible. We forget that this very narrow view of truth is a relatively new phenomenon in Christianity.

The Bible contains all that necessary for salvation. That is to say, if all I knew of Jesus was what was contained in the Bible I would have the minimum necessary for salvation. But which of us is, or should be, content with minimum? Since the beginning the Church has sought to know all it can about Jesus and those around him, in a very special way his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. We continue to use every tool at our disposal to understand the lives of those first disciples, and the world in which they lived. Jesus used metaphors taken from everyday life to teach. The better we understand that life the better we can understand what he meant.

Can you get into heaven without believing that Joachim and Anne are names of Mary's parents? Of course you can. But again I ask, why would I not want to know everything I can about those around Jesus? After all, how often did grandma take care of him? How many things did he learn from grandpa?

Our families shape who we are. One of the realities we face when we hit middle age is how much we, like it or not, turn into our parents. And in modern America the grandparents are playing a more and more important role often filling in for the parents. Today as we celebrate Joachim and Anne, let us pray for all the grandparents, especially those who find themselves with overwhelming responsibility that they may have the strength and grace they need.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Unusual Name

It is not uncommon to hear the name Pilar is Spanish speaking countries. Unlike most first names the so-called Catholic countries it at first glance does not appear to be a saints name. In actuality it is linked to today's feast of St. James.

It is said that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. James on the banks of the Ebro river, the largest river in Spain. She appeared atop a pillar From that apparition grew the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Our Lady of the Pillar. From that the simple Spanish name Pilar.

The remains of St. James are traditionally believed to be kept in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in the autonomous community of Galicia in Northern Spain. Each years thousands of people make the Pilgrimage along the Way (el Camino) carrying the booklet called Credential which is stamped at various points to prove that they have either walked. 100 km or cycled 200 km to the Cathedral. Those who compete the journey receive the compostela, the certificate for having completed the journey.

Today with our Spanish bothers and sisters we remember the son of Zebedee, the brother of John, the apostle of Jesus, ιάκωβος in Greek, Santiago in Spanish, James in English, one of the first to hear and respond to the words of Jesus.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An erroneous distinction

Over the years I have heard well-intended Christians in distinguishing the Old and New Testament paint God of the Old Testament as a God of law and judgment and in the New Testament as being a God of mercy. The primary flaw in this argument is that it presumes that God changed. One of the things we know about God is that God is immutable.

Today's first reading from the prophet Micah reminds us that the mercy and love of God is as much a part of the covenant with Abraham as it is part of Christianity.

We hear in Micah,
Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, and will again have compassion on us,
treading underfoot our guilt?
You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins; you will show faithfulness to Jacob,and grace to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from days of old.

Would that we could imitate this aspect of God and cast into the depths of the sea every remnant from the times we have been wrong, or even just the times we have felt we were wronged.

In a world where every one and everything is constantly in flux, we can have confidence in the one unchangeable reality—God.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Good Friday in July

One of the ancient chants assigned even to this day to Good Friday are what are known by the Latin title Improperia. By our best estimate it appeared in the Liturgy in the 8th century and became a standard part of the Roman Rite in the 14th.

It quotes today's first reading from the Prophet Micah, "O my people, what have I done to you, or how have I wearied you? Answer me!" If we listen to the present liturgical text without the biblical text in mind, it can sound as if it's purpose is simply to make us feel guilty by telling us what good God has done for us and how shabbily we treated Jesus.

If, however, we read the rest of today's first reading we find out that the goal is not to make us feel guilt the goal is something else.

Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with myriad streams of oil?
Shall I give my first-born for my crime, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
You have been told, O man, what is good,and what the LORD requires of you:
Only to do the right and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God.

Three simple things:
Do right
Love goodness
Walk humbly with your God

Even when we treated Jesus poorly, he responded with love. What God wants is not sacrifices or feelings of guilt for their own sake, but change of behavior.

It strikes me that the last of the three is the key to the other two. If I can concentrate on walking humbly with God all day long, the others will fall more easily into place.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Do you really love them?

The gospel today opens again with a rather harsh word, "reproach", or so it appears.

Reproach- to express disapproval or disappointment

Is that really such a bad thing? When someone we love (and that is supposed to be everyone including our enemies) is engaged in self-destructive behavior aka sin, which is more loving: to be silent or to say something?

Starting when we are children if no one ever expresses disapproval or disappointment, how will we know? Here we need to distinguish.

Judgmental people are those who sit around and pass judgement on others toward the wrong end. There "concern" is almost always shared not with the person in question, but with a third party. They are not genuinely concerned with helping someone be a better person.

Real friends are those who will tell us the truth. They tell us to our face what others will only say behind our backs. Unless we are perfect the truth is that everyone need a little reproach now and then.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The importance of context and theology

Since 9/11 there has been much talk about "the violent nature of Islam." Individuals promoting this idea will selectively pull verses from the Quran to demonstrate their thesis that it is an inherently violent religion. Today's gospel demonstrates not only why we should not engage in this kind of attack of Islam, but also why we need a structure in the Church, we need the tradition, and why we cannot simply read the bible literally verse for verse.

In today's gospel we hear

Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth.
I have come to bring not peace but the sword.
For I have come to set
a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one's enemies will be those of his household.

Hopefully, we all read this and know that it is not meant to be taken literally. Hopefully, we all recognize it as a bit of hyperbole that must be interpreted in the greater context of all of the teaching of Jesus. Have there been moments in the history of Christianity when misguided individuals have taken it as an instruction? Yes. But the Holy Spirit has done, what we believe the Holy Spirit does, guided the Church through her magisterium to a proper understanding of the text. When the Church begins to list to one side or the other, we trust that the Holy Spirit will continue to be there to right the ship.

Left to our own devices it is easy for any of us to cherry pick verses that best fit what we already think, and dismiss those parts of the teaching that challenge us to change. The word of God is neither simple nor easy. Even after 2000 years of theology and philosophy we are still searching the depths, so profound is truth.

And maybe that is the most basic question, do I really want to know and embrace the truth of the Gospel?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mark your calendars

On October 21 of this year the Church will canonize our the first native American woman to be venerated by the Church, Kateri Tekakwitha. In order to understand why she should be canonized we must peel back our romanticized notions of native American life and acknowledge the reality of the world in which she lived.

Her mother was an Algonquin who had been baptized and educated by French missionaries. At the start of a war with the Iroquois she was captured and taken prisoner to a Mohawk village. She was married to a Mohawk man and around the year 1656 gave birth to Kateri (a variant of the name Catherine) near present day auriesville, NY

Her entire immediate family, brother and parents were killed in the smallpox epidemic (1661-63). She herself was weakened and disfigured by disease. It was said that in her embarrassment she would often use a blanket to cover her head and face. While stories vary, it is probable that the women of the village would have taken care of her as an orphan. The one reported keepsake of her Christian mother was a rosary she had given her.

In 1666, the French once again took control of the area and with the soldiers came French Jesuit missionaries. At the age of 20, on Easter of 1676, she was baptized. She moved out of the village 6 months after her conversion, being ostracized for her conversion. She died 4 years later in 1680 near Montreal.

She could have chosen to be angry with God, and especially the God of Christianity, because of all that befell her and her family in her short life. Instead she found strength and with each tragedy held on to Christ even more tightly. Beauty, family, health all gone. And yet her faith would be an inspiration to others for centuries.

How do we respond to the setbacks in our life?

Let's mark our calendars now for October 21 and celebrate this amazing woman.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pure Gift

In the Gospel today we hear the proclamation, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand." I cannot hear those words without remember one of my more well-known scripture professors who would go absolutely ballistic over the song "City of God" that is sung regularly in Catholic churches.

What was his problem? The song says, "Let us build the city of God..." as if it were possible. The blatant hubris to believe that we human beings could actually construct the kingdom of God.

Like grace the kingdom of which Jesus speaks is made by God and offered to us as gift. I can chose to be part or not, but the ultimate victory of God's kingdom is inevitable. The incarnation, life,death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus "opened the gates of paradise." it cannot be rushed or stopped by any of us. The kingdom of God is here, and its fullness is coming!

My (and your) job is to live as citizen of it, announce it, invite others into it. The signs of it are all around us.

The kingdom of God is at hand.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sickness and Sin

One of the great theological struggles has been finding a proper understanding of the relationship between sickness and sin. Many ancient peoples understood sick as direct punish from God for sin, and there are passages in the bible to support that. Even our current theology around the anointing of the sick can be misread by some to encourage that belief. In the Catholic Church only a priest can give the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, because it also brings the absolution from sin.

The Catholic answer is neither a simple yes or no. God like any good parent allows us to experience the consequences of our own bad choices. My own little bought with skin cancer, reminded me how we used to cover ourselves in suntan oil and lay out trying to tan. We knew it wasn't good for us, but we did it out of vanity. One of our priests dies of a heart attack when he was about the age I am now. He was loved by his parishioners, but those of us who knew him remember the car filled with old fast food bags,and the yo-yo dieting— choices. Even the collective choices, the environment, food processing, etc. impact individual health.

Are their some illnesses that are unexplainable? Of course, as one born with cerebral palsy I would be a fool to say it is all explainable. I would also be a fool to see it as punishment. My CP is part of what has made me the person I am. In that sense it was a gift.

Is some sickness the result of sin? yes, some is the natural consequence of bad choices. Is all of it? no.

What is true of all illness is that God can transform any illness. Even when God doesn't make it go away, God can transform it into a source of life and strength not only for the sick individual but for those around them.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Were it not for faith

Today we celebrate our independence and we remember the document at the center of the fight. While one can rightly question the religiosity of some of our founding fathers, no one can question that when the signers of the declaration looked for a justification for their rebellion they looked not to themselves but to God. The famous second paragraph:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,..

They shared a belief that fundamental human rights come not from a person, government, or constitution, but from God who created us. Because these rights comes from God they belong to every person on earth.

Three weeks ago today I was at Ft. Benning for the Change of Command. During those days I had the chance to talk with several Afghani who were invited. These were not politicians giving speeches, but human beings yearning and hoping for what we take for granted. They shared their gratitude, their fears, their dreams. Informal conversations that forever changed my perspective.

As Americans we can forget that while we declared this truth in 1776, it would take 90 years and a civil war, before the words Jefferson penned were realized here in America.

Each morning now I pray for the people in Afghanistan, may their democracy not take 90 years and a civil war. From them and for all men and women living in the shadow of oppression, we pray.

Thank you to God, and to all the men and women who fought and gave their lives for the freedom we enjoy today.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Time for Indian

Today we celebrate St Thomas. For most American the only thing we think of is doubt. For the more than 17 million Catholics in India they think of the Apostle who founded their Church.

Two cities in particular hold a special devotion to St. Thomas: present day Kerela, where he landed; and mylapore where he is said to have died. While large numbers of Catholics are Latin Rite Catholics. Two eastern rites of the Catholic Are centered in India Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara.

In recent years we have seen an influx of priests from India into the U.S. While the Catholics are a small minority in India, they have a large number of vocations. We are grateful for their assistance

Thomas should be remembered today not for his doubting but for his missionary zeal. Today we pray for all those parts of the world to whom St. Thomas took the gospel.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Sometimes it takes a foreigner

This week we read the prophet Amos. We have to begin by remembering that he was a prophet during the divided kingdom.

This is important because while he was from the southern kingdom, his prophecy was to the northern kingdom.

The reaction was as expected, how dare this outsider critique us?

As we approach the 4th of July perhaps this warns us there are healthy and unhealthy forms of patriotism. One of the unhealthy ones is the one that becomes defense of any critique from outside

Expressions like "you can't see the forest for the trees" remind us that sometimes we are too close or too attached to see a situation objectively.

As individuals we recognize that sometimes we need someone with objective distance. The same is true collectively. Sometimes we need an Amos someone from another "kingdom" to help us see our faults.

If we really love our nation we recognize it is imperfect and want it to be better.

We listen, we evaluate, and where needed we change.

Prophets by their nature tend to incite anger. And the closer they are to the truth the angrier it makes us.

Amos was nothing but a farmer. But he spoke the truth. Are we willing to hear the truth no matter what the source?