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.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

By himself but not alone

Studies done between 1982 and 2006 on college student testing for narcissistic personality found the later group with 65% higher scores that the generation before. What I find interesting about that is that this same generation must be constantly connected.

In today's gospel Jesus goes up the mountain to pray alone. How often do we do that? And then I took a more careful look. The better translations do not say alone but say, "he went up on the mountain by himself to pray." Because he was not alone, he was with God. Maybe that is what we are afraid to do. Perhaps we are afraid to be alone with God.

After all, you can find lots of mediation class that tell you to turn inward on yourself. Those are quite popular. There is an importance difference in Christian idea of meditation. When a Christian turns inward it is not to themselves. For a Christian in mediation we turn inward to our conscience. As gaudium et spes describes it "Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.(10) In a wonderful manner conscience reveals that law which is fulfilled by love of God and neighbor."(GS 16)

We need to go into that sanctuary regular. We should not be afraid. God already knows our every thought, and loves us anyway. Jesus went up the mountain by himself to give us an example. At least once a day we need to take that time to be alone with God.

Monday, August 6, 2012

What have we done?

This morning we continue to hear the news about Sikhs killed in Wisconsin. This while we are still mourning those killed at the midnight showing of Batman. All if the talk seems to be about guns but no one seems to want to go near the other common factor, young white males. While there are always exceptions these killers tend not to be African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or female.
I grew up in what would be called a lower middle class southern white family. My father worked in the textile mill, my mother raised us and a huge number of foster children. We were taught proper use of and respect for my dad's rifle as soon as we were big enough to hold it. while I have been lucky enough to see the world, I hope I never forget that I grew up in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.
As I sit on this morning when I should be writing about the transfiguration, my prayers are filled with another community and another senseless shooting. Sikhs, follower of a 15th century religion from the Punjab region of Asia, most easily identified by the turban, mourn the loss of their loved ones, as well as the family and friends of a police officer critically wounded. The suspect, a 40 year old tattooed white guy. Can it really be merely coincidence?
It is time we, white middle class America, took a hard look at ourselves. In the words from Luke's gospel:
How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,' when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.
We seem to have no shortage of critique for the African-American or Hispanic communities. What is the truth about ourselves that we dare not speak?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Food that will perish

In the gospel today we are commanded not to work for food that will perish but that will endure to eternal life.

One of the greatest misreads of Vatican II was the term "lay ministry." Even today when we use the term people think of lectors, Eucharistic ministers, ushers, etc. While these are good and necessary things these were not what the council primarily had in mind. If one actually reads APOSTOLICAM ACTUOSITATEM, the decree on the laity, you see that the primary ministry of the laity is "the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through the spirit of the Gospel.", in short, changing the world. Lay ministry isn't something you have to do at church in addition to work and family; it's how you fulfill your role at work and with your family, which of course includes obligations to God.

Today's gospel is not suggesting that to be holy you need to stop working, quit your job and sit around and pray all day. Yes, you must pray every day. And the sacraments, particularly Eucharist and Penance, must be a regular part of our life. If you are a lay person you carry out your mission most fully when you find ways to use your work as a means to penetrate and perfect the world around us through the spirit of the Gospel.

The work may remain the same but it has a new purpose.

Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life,

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Promises, Promises

In canon law we distinguish between:
An oath- a promise made to a human being, with God as the witness "so help me God", and
A vow- a promise made to God with a human being as the witness, such as made my a nun.

In both cases God is involved. We should be careful to distinguish between these and ordinaries promises made between human beings. An oath or a vow needs to be made with due knowledge, deliberation and freedom of will to be valid.

The sad reality is when God is left out of the equation we human beings can promise things we cannot or sometimes should not do. Which of us does not remember how President George H.W. Bush was practically crucified after promising "Read my lips: No new taxes" and then finding himself in the position, according to his best prudential judgement, of needing to raise taxes. Perhaps some think he should have followed the example of Herod.

Herod promised he daughter she could have anything she wanted, and the when she asked for something absurd, the head of John the Baptist, he felt compelled to give it to her. We can all imagine her whin, "But you promised."

We should try to be true to our word. That is a virtue. We should also choose our promises carefully. But it is also childish to expect that regardless of circumstances every merely human promise uttered should be kept. I think we can all agree that Herod should have had the courage to say to his daughter, "I don't care what I promised; the answer is no."

We human beings cannot, despite our best efforts, know the future. The often paraphrased "no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force." reflects a certain humility about human action, an acknowledgement that changing circumstances, may require a change in plans. Herod tries to use a promise as an excuse for sin. He refuses to accept that as human beings we must except moral responsibility for each choice we make, one by one. We cannot say, "Well, I promised and therefore I must."

At an ordination the bishop says, "May God who has begun this good work in you bring it to completion." At a wedding: "What God has joined no one must divide." Notice who the actor is in both cases – God. The only one who knows the future and therefore can, should and does always keep his promises.

is it simple? No. But nowhere does Jesus promise that doing the right thing would be simple.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Two judgements

Today we come to one of the areas where misunderstanding of what Christianity believes runs rampant. Catholicism neatly categorizes it as the particular and the general judgement.

We start with the fundamental belief that humans are humans and angels are angels. Christianity has never taught that humans become angels. When we die we experience the particular, that is individual judgement. But that is not the end of the story it is only step one in the process.

Step two begins with another fundamental Christian belief, the whole human person is saved, not just the soul. The Apostles' Creed, "We believe in the resurrection of the body" is well grounded in the gospels but also in Paul who had to first address the issue when the first generation of disciples began to die. Until that time many thought that when Jesus said he was coming back they thought he meant right away. Paul address this most directly in 1 Thes 4

We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together* with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord.
Therefore, console one another with these words.

This is what we refer to as the general judgement that will take place at the end of time, bringing God's work to completion by raising our bodies reuniting them with our souls. Christianity has never taught that the final disposition of a human being is to be a disembodied spirit. The body is good, it is a part of God's creation, and should therefore participate in salvation.

The end of the world and the general judgement are necessary for another reason. Going back to Genesis we believe that all human beings are inter-connected, part of a single humanity. That being true, none of us can be said to have truly reached the end of our journey until all others have reached the end of their journey. When every human being, body and soul, has reached the end of their journey then our journey is complete, and not before.

We don't like to talk about judgement because we think "trial" as if God is going to separate the guilty from the innocent. If that were true we would all be in trouble. Which of us, after all, can claim to be truly innocent?

In the end God merely gives us what we have sought through our lives. If we have sought to be with him, we get eternity with God, heaven. If we sought life on our own terms, we get eternity without God, hell. Until the last moment of our earthly life the choice is in our hands.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Going all the way

Today's gospel is only two verses and yet they contain probably the most difficult part of the gospel message. The man who finds the treasure and the man who finds the pearl "sells all that he has."

Jesus does not simply want to be a part of our life. He wants to be our life. As he says, "I am the way, the truth and the life." Our parents gave us simple biological life. He wants us to freely choose to hand that over to him, and he will in turn give us eternal life, (ζωή).

It is the daily, minute by minute handing over of our lives that is the difficult part. One minute we want to do God's will, the next we are either wanting God to do our will, or we have put God of the decision making process all together. We don't usually do it directly, but indirectly when we compartmentalize our faith.

This gospel reminds us that we can't be somewhat Christian. Being Christian that we must at least try to give all that we have.