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.