Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Seventh Day Truth

On this seventh day of Christmas and final day of the year, our first reading can seem a bit strange, but only if you get your theology from the movies.

In the movies the "antichrist" is depicted as some supernatural being. How do they come up with this? They take a bunch of different verses from the bible mix them all together and create an image. The saddest part is that even some Christians have fallen into this trap.

If we just read the words of the fist reading today from John's letter we see that the antichirst is someone much more mundane and unfortunately common.

Children, it is the last hour;
and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number. But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you not because you do not know the truth but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth.

We like to imagine the early Church as being filled with love peace and harmony. It was in reality filled with people, people like you and me. There were those who joined but when it turned out to not be what they wanted or expected they left. They not only left but they spread lies about the apostles, and the message of the Church. These deserters were referred to by St. John as antichrists.

As the quote often associated with Mark Twain goes,“A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” And now with electronic media it travels literally at the speed of light.

On this last day of the year, we are reminded that a part of being a Christian is the belief that there is such a thing a the truth. The truth is knowable. And most of all we must be people dedicated to searching for the truth, speaking the truth, living the truth.

There is something in us that loves a good rumor, a salacious story, a scandal. The early Christians were accused of eating flesh and drinking blood. After all, that's much more interesting than the actual theology of the Eucharist. St. Patrick was accused of stealing. St. Gerard was accused of having an affair. And the list goes on. The antichrists have been around since the beginning of the church. They thrive on our willingness to believe the worst about others particularly those with whom we disagree. The dark side in us seems to like to see good people fall down.

Perhaps this reading today will encourage us in the new year to rededicate ourselves to the truth, to give others the benefit of the doubt, and be less quick to believe the worst— in short, to love.

Monday, December 30, 2013

On the sixth day of Chrstmas

For those who want to get caught up in issues of gender, the first reading from chapter two of the First Letter of St. John can seem to be patriarchal, because most English translations use children, young men, and fathers as the translation for the three Greek titles that he uses to address his readers. In Greek the terms are less gender specific. And the letter is addressed to everyone.

In fact, St. John is using the words metaphorically to describe three stages of Christian maturity: infancy, youth, and adulthood. (For the Star Wars fans the second word is paidion.) To underscore this point today's gospels ends by telling us that even Jesus:

The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

On this sixth day of Christmas the Church reminds us that being reborn, or born again in Christ is only the first step. Baptism at whatever age gives us an initial forgiveness of sin and incorporation into the body of Christ, the Church. But the goal is still a long way off. There remains in us the tendency to focus on self, to measure our success or failure by worldly standards, and to allow our hungers, both physical and psychological, to drive us.

As we are preparing to enter 2014, now might be a good time for that spiritual assessment. At what stage of spiritual life are you? More importantly, what concrete steps are you going to take to mature in your faith? We humans are not like fruit, we do not simply mature with the passing of time. As time passes we grow older, but that does not mean we mature. To mature requires effort, intentionality;choices must be made.

In this new year are you going to simply grow older or are you going to actually mature? The choice is yours.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Often the Church reveals her theology in the pairings of readings for a particular mass. Today we see that the Church is using the phrase Holy Family with a double if not triple meaning.

There is of course the most basic, literal reference to the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. But if we stop and think about it for a minute we known almost nothing about this family, as a family. Matthew tells us Joseph was a "tekton", artisan, understood usually to refer to one who worked with wood. We have them living in Nazareth. And we are told of the flight to Egypt in today's gospel, and the trip to the temple in Jerusalem, but really nothing of their day to day existence.

For this reason it becomes even more important that Church pairs this gospel with the Sirach reading, and the reading from Colossians extending the title Holy Family, not just to individual Christian households but to the Church.

As we bring this year to a close and prepare to begin a new year, the Feast of the Holy Family reminds us that with God as Father and Mary as Mother, we are not only called to be the Holy Family but we have within our hands the ability to do it. Empowered by the grace we receive in the sacraments we can be a sanctuary, that holy place where people can come and, from the moment they walk through the doors, know that they are home.

It would be nice if everyone lived in loving families but that is often not the case. And even many very loving families are still racked with disfunction. It is the human condition.

The word church ekklesia means "called apart." On Sundays we are called apart, we are called to step out of the world and into the church, to gather as brothers and sisters of the same father and mother. For an hour each week, we gather to worship, to praise, and in the Eucharist to have our holiness renewed. We gather as the holy family of God.

Hopefully, we carry that grace home with us, and each of our homes is transformed in a domestic church. Hopefully we strive to live as holy families. But even if you "live alone", God your father, Mary your mother, and Jesus your brother are always there with you. Just as we hang pictures of our earthly family members, we have pictures of our heavenly family.

Today's feast is about so much more than three people 2000 years ago, it is a reminder that we are all adopted children—adopted into the greatest family in the history of the world, the Holy Family of God.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The third red day

Today we celebrate the fourth day of Christmas and the third day of on which red is the liturgical color of the day. Why today? The children known as the holy innocents.
As St. Matthew tells us,

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.

It is difficult for us to even imagine the terror and pain suffered by the entire community in and around Bethlehem, as parents watched helplessly as their babies were massacred.

We would like to think that this kind of violence is something that has disappeared into the barbaric past, when in fact it still takes in places around our world where ethnic and tribal identity takes precedence over a sense of our common humanity.

Here in the US people love to go on about "my rights", lately there has been a great deal of talk about the right to free speech. What we seem to forget is that every right carries with it, responsibilities, obligations. While our government should not police speech, if we are to be a civilized society, we have the right and obligation to police ourselves.

From the book of Genesis where God "spoke and it came into being" to the Gospel of John where we told that "In the beginning was the word.." we are reminded of the power of speech. Words lift up and tear down. It is via words that we pass on from one generation to the next either the love of God or hatred. Any parent knows that the simplest slip and suddenly a new word is added to their child's vocabulary, often a word they do not want the child to repeat.

Some of this we can laugh about; other times the results are no laughing matter. In how many of our recent mass killings was the perpetrator incited by words, words in books, words on the internet. Simply because we have a legal right to do something doesn't mean we should either do it ourselves, or tacitly encourage it in others, particularly in public venues.

Today we remember the massacred children in Bethlehem, around the world and right here in the U.S.A. We pray for the holy innocents, but most of all we pray for their parents and other family members who will never in this life cease to grieve.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Birth and more birth

At first glance it may seem strange that the day after Christmas the Church celebrates St. Stephen, the first martyr (protomartyr) of Christianity. It may appear an odd juxtaposition, until we remember one thing. According to our faith, neither he nor any other martyr, really died. As we all hope to do, they simply passed from this life to eternal life. They were, in effect, reborn.

On the day after we celebrate the brith of Christ, we celebrate the day on which St. Stephen was born into eternal life.

And it is also worth noting that word martyr is not primarily about dying. It is the Greek word for "witness." Christian martyrs gave witness to their faith by being killed. No Christian martyr committed suicide or homicide. This would be a misuse of the word martyr.

Today as we celebrate the second day of Christmas, and commemorate St. Stephen, let us look for some ways large or small that we can sacrifice ourselves for others.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The rarely celebrated mass

Here in Richmond dawn was just a few minutes ago. At 6:55 am the first light appeared in the sky. The sun will not rise for another 10 minutes, but the light has come.

Of the four masses traditionally celebrated at Christmas, the Mass at Dawn is probably the least common, but in many ways the one that best symbolizes the true meaning of the day.

It is not celebrated in darkness or in the full sun. After all, the fullness of the light of Christ we will not see until his second coming. But we are not left in the dark either. It is right in the middle.

Is there still darkness? Yes. For many, this Christmas is a difficult time, especially for those whose loved ones have recently passed from this life, or those who have fallen on hard times. But the dawn reminds us that the light is not only coming at some distance time in the future, but is already here.

Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.

That is the faith we proclaim every time we celebrate mass.

The magnificence of those first streaks of light. And for those of us who live on an east coast, is there anything more beautiful than watching the sun come up over the water.

Today the greatest light in the history of the universe has dawned, God born as one like us. May that light of Christ be reborn in each of us this day, and may it shine more brightly every day, until he comes in glory.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Dream Bigger

In the next 24 hrs the Roman Missal provides for four distinct masses that can be celebrated. Working backwards: Christmas during the Day, Mass at Dawn, Midnight Mass, the Vigil of Christmas and this morning there is one last mass for Advent. It is the first reading for the last mass of Advent, that I would like to reflect upon.

It comes from 2 Samuel chapter 7. The kingdom of David is at peace and David is relaxing comfortably in his palace. One can only imagine what it must have been like.

There was only one problem. The Ark of the Covenant was still in a tent, just as it had been when the Hebrews were living like nomads. If David had built himself a palace surly others had now built homes. But God was relegated to a tent. So David decides that he should build a dwelling place for God, which seem only right.

But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said: “Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Should you build me a house to dwell in?

Ultimately David's son Solomon will build a temple and after its destruction a Second Temple will be built and in 70 AD it will be destroyed. The sight of these temples is still considered a holy place. But as magnificent as these temples were none can compare to the "house" the Lord promises to build for David. As Nathan reveals to David:

The LORD also reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his Kingdom firm. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. Your house and your Kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.

From the house of David will come the dwelling place of God, Jesus, God incarnate. And with the outpouring of the Spirit all humanity will have the opportunity to become the dwelling place of God.

In the reading today we hear the beginning of David's plan for the first dwelling place of God, but more importantly we hear God's plan for his ultimate dwelling place on earth, humanity, beginning with the incarnation.

Yes, almost a millennium will separate these two events: David's plan and the Nativity. But such is the working of God in our world. While we measure time in nanoseconds God measures in centuries. While we can plan a building, God plans a universal kingdom. On that night in Bethlehem one baby was born and today there are more than 2 billion Christians on earth. That my brothers and sisters is the power of God.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Don't overlook the angels

On this last day before we start our Christmas masses, the readings focus our attention on John the Baptist. Particularly at Christmas we tend to think of angels with wings and halos. We can forget that the word at its root means messenger. And while God sometimes uses actual angels, often enough the angel (messenger) is another person.

In the case of John, it was his mother. In today's gospel his father is mute, it is time to name the child, and the men in the family, filling in for the father have decided to name him after his father. But the mother intervene, and does the unthinkable; she names the baby. Not only does she name him but she gives him a foreign name.

John's father could have, if for nothing else than to show that he was in charge, disputed with her and sided with his family. Instead, he does what she says.

Over the next few days we may be with people who are, to be polite, difficult. We have a tendency to simply dismiss or ignore what these people say. Certainly, that is how the men of John's family would have thought of Elizabeth.

Today's gospel reminds us that God can often use as his messenger someone whom we least expect. In these season when we celebrate the miracle of God coming into our world, perhaps we need to keep our ears open. Perhaps if we listen carefully, we may hear for the least expected place a message God wants us to hear for Christmas.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The courage to me the fool

March 13 Pope Francis was elected and May 1 the name of St. Joseph was added to the Eucharistic Prayers.

Today is ever so slightly longer, the light is coming back. And on this last Sunday of Advent the Church turns our attention to the role of Joseph.

It is so easy for us to devalue the sacrifice that Joseph made for Jesus. We focus on the angel and we forget that St. Matthew tells us that it was a a dream. No angel showed up glowing in his bedroom like the movies.

Based on a dream St. Joseph sacrificed is reputation, his manhood, according to his culture, to care for a woman and a child that was not his.

We should not kid ourselves, people back then could do baby math as well as today. Do you think that people in the village didn't talk about the two of them? And if he told any of his friends and family about the dreams, how many thought he was crazy?

What happened to him? We have no idea. He disappears as most of us will into the mists of history. There are legends and not much else.

Today, before we get focused on baby Jesus, Mary, wise men, and shepherds. The Church reminds us of St. Joseph, the model of courage, the man who knew the truth. Even if no one would believe him, he was willing to sacrifice his good name, and the normal relationship of husband and wife. He sacrificed it all, out of a singled-minded desire to do God's will.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Long night's journey into Day

We have finally hit rock bottom. Today is the darkest day of the year. Here in Richmond we get 9h 33m of daylight, St. Petersburg Russia less than 6 hrs.

How do we respond. Tomorrow we light the final candle of the advent wreath, and Tuesday night we gather to celebrate the coming of the Son.

Today's first reading is in complete opposition to the darkness. It is often associated with weddings. From the Song of Songs we hear:

Hark! my lover–here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag...For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance. Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!

As winter is beginning the reading reminds us that it is only a temporary thing. The Son of God is coming into the world, the Sun of Justice. He will bring not just a temporary Spring but the eternal Spring, when all things will be made new. He is the light that no darkness can overcome.

On this darkest day, let us shine the light of Christ ever more brightly on the world around us. In just a couple of days we will gather to remember the moment when God was born as one like us, and changed the universe forever.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The fourth O

While I suspect O Come , O come Emmanuel may be the best known Advent song in the world, you may not understand its place in the liturgy.

Beginning on December 17th as part of Evening prayer we sing one of the O Antiphons to accompany the Magnificat. Each provides an Old Testament linkage to Christ.

Today's is the fourth: O Key of David

For us Christ is that key which opened the gates of heaven, and made it possible for humans to enter where only God and angels had previously been. In many ways however Christ is not simply the key to heaven, but the universal key. He is the key that can open hearts, open minds. He is the key to forgiveness and reconciliation.

A part of the stress of the holidays is that we are often forced to come together with people, sometimes even family members, who we may not honestly like. Rather than gritting our teeth and putting on the fake smile, perhaps the best thing we can do is pray and invite that key of David, to change us, to open our hearts to see and love whatever good there is. And there is always some good in everyone. Pray for the key of David to lock the chains of old angers and resentments that keep us bound, that we may know the freedom to which we are called.

This way every "Merry Christmas" that we utter can be sincere and come from the very depths of our heart, carried by God's grace.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Nazarite before Nazarere

Today's first reading is the story of the birth of Sampson. We must remember that in the Old Testament they thought human reproduction worked liked agriculture. The man planted the seed and whether it grew or not depended on whether the soil (the woman) was fertile or barren. Simpson's mother was thought to be barren, also erroneously understood as a curse from God.

So the angel appears to the woman and promises that she will bare a son and he will be consecrated (nazir) to God from birth.

The three rules for a Nazirite were:
— no alcohol
— no cutting of their hair
— no contact with dead bodies

Samuel also was known to have taken the Nazirite vow, which could be taken for a period of time.

Most important to us is the fact that it was when all hope seemed lost that God brought new life into the world in a place that was thought to be barren.

We are once again reminded that even in our darkest moments, we Christians remain people of hope.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Why Balaam?

Not really a familiar name, his story which occurs near the end of the Book of Numbers is a great narrative. But the reason we read this brief passage today is that the blessing of Israel was proclaimed in the time when the people of Israel had spent their 40 years in the desert but had not quite reached the promised land. The fulfillment was almost at hand, just as for us Christmas is near but not here yet.

Two things worth remembering about Balaam.

The first is that he was a prophet, but not an Israelite, a sign that we can never put limits on where, when, and with whom God works.

Secondly, and perhaps more useful to us, he refused to speak anything that was not from God.

While none of us are likely to be prophets in the Old Testament sense, over these days surrounding Christmas we are going to spending a lot of time talking. Particularly with family, it can be challenging. Perhaps we should take a lesson from Balaam, pause before we speak, and ask one question: would God approve what I am about to say? And if the answer is no, it's time to change the subject.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


In the history of Christianity there have been individuals and groups who have accepted the notion of predestination. Most notably John Calvin and the churches that trace their roots to him. There are many variants on the idea from simply God chooses some as the elect for salvation to what is often referred to as double predestination, the idea that every person is predestined either for heaven or for hell. The Dutch who settled in South Africa carried with them a particularly pernicious form of this, believing that black Africans were all cursed because they were the descendent of the cursed son of Noah, Ham.

In its mildest form you hear people, often without thinking, say things like, "You can't escape fate" or "You can't escape your destiny." From the Catholic perspective both of those statements are wrong.

Our starting point is in today's gospel:

it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.

So we start with the notion that God wills and offers salvation to all people. But what actually happens to us has nothing to do with fate or destiny. It is the result of our free will.

Yes, God created each of us with a purpose, and endowed us with gifts. But what we do with them rests squarely in our hands. I am free to seek to do the will of God, or stubbornly head down my own path.

The best news is that because God does not will that even one of us be lost, God is constantly ready to help, constantly ready to forgive. All we have to do is let him in.

Perhaps some people like the notion of fate or destiny because it absolves us of responsibility. But that isn't Catholic. We believe that the responsibility is ours right until we draw our last breath. We choose. If we are smart, we don't try to do it on our own, but always with the help of God's grace. Like the shepherd in today's gospel God is always ready to bring us back to the flock, to the pasture, to the right path.

Walk with your shepherd today.

Monday, December 9, 2013

What difference does it make?

Some people ask in the 21st century what difference does it make whether or not the Mother of God was born without original sin? On one level they are correct, had it been God's will he could have been born of the lowliest most sinful woman in the world.

All of the miracles of Jesus are important not in themselves but for what they teach us. The healings, even raising Lazarus from the dead were only momentary events. After all, did not all these people eventually pass from this life as we will? Lazarus is not still here.

The point of each of the miracles was to teach us something about God and his plan for the human race.

One of the many things we learn from the Immaculate Conception is that there are no accidental people. My birth mother was 16 year old high school girl. She may have never intended to get pregnant. She may have thought that getting pregnant with me ruined her life. And I have no doubt she was traumatized. But from the moment God created my soul and placed it in my microscopic body God had a plan for me. God saw how I fit into his universe.

And so it is that God participates in the creation of every human being. In the case of Mary, being conceived without original sin was a unique gift she needed to fulfill her role in the plan. But God does the same with each of us. God gave you the gifts you need to fulfill your place in the world.

People ask why the Church seems "obsessed with sex." For us, sex is meant to be this magnificent collaboration between a man a woman and God, out of which come a unique new person. Each person is born with a unique mission, each born with a unique combination of gifts. Even so called identical twins are not truly identical.

Today as we celebration the moment Mary was conceived offers us a chance to reflect on each human life, including our own. And give thanks to God.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Light another candle

As is the way during advent, it is definitely colder and darker and more wintery than last Sunday, so we light the second candle.

It seems most appropriate that the weekend our readings turn to John the Baptist, the world mourns the death of Nelson Mandela. The year he entered jail I was two. The year he came out I celebrated my second anniversary as a priest. And yet when he came out, he did not come out angry, vindictive, and bitter. 27 years in prison and yet he remained a man of truth, a man of hope.

St. Paul describes God as "the God of endurance and encouragement."
The word translated encouragement here has at its root the image of someone who stands at your side providing constant comfort. Imagine the person you love most standing beside you with their arm around you. That is our God. And it is that faith that enables the endurance to which we are called.

Nelson Mandela said, "I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying." While I am not canonizing him, the truth is, that is our understanding of a saint. Mother Teresa put it slightly differently, "God has not called us to be successful. He has called us to be faithful."

We should not forget that John was beheaded, and Jesus was crucified. And according to St. Mark the plot against Jesus started after he healed the man with the withered hand.

If we strive to be good Christians, if we remain people who speak the truth, we should expect suffering. But with God by our side we can be people who fight the good fight and simultaneously remain people of peace. Knowing that in the "a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Whole new meaning

Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.

So ends today's gospel.

We have just past both Black Friday and Cyber Monday and in the next two weeks how many millions will be spent, much of it on stuff that we neither need nor want? How much of this shopping will be done on credit cards that people can't afford to pay off?

While I'm not suggesting that we all turn into Ebenezar Scrooge, perhaps this reading reminds us that the best presents we can give this year may be things that cost us nothing. What does it really cost me to reach out to someone who is alone this season? What does it cost to let someone go ahead of you?

Give freely what we have received freely. — Love.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

More than ever

As our society becomes more and more mobile, the primary image from today's readings becomes ever more necessary— the Rock.

In the first reading Isiaiah instructs us:

Trust in the LORD forever! For the LORD is an eternal Rock.

And in the gospel Jesus instructs about the house built on Rock.

In our modern world where we can easily live hundreds if not thousands of mile away from family and even our close friends, we are reminded of the need to maintain a solid foundation in our lives. Like the image of the wellsprings, this foundation is not something external but internal, spiritual.

God does not change, God is that eternal unmoving rock. Unfortunately we can and do move. Sometimes we intentionally move and sometimes it is just a case of unintentional drift. Often we don't even notice until one day we look down and there is either sand, or even quicksand under us, and then we panic.

The readings remind us that we need to make a part of our daily lives to look down and check our footing. We must stay firmly planted on the Rock. This does not mean that we should be intransigent.

When we are standing still with our feet firmly planted on the rock we call earth, it is rotating at over 1000 mph, and orbiting the sun at over 67,000 miles per hour. We are in motion even when we think we aren't.

Change and motion are both constant and inevitable. Change is good. It is how God created us to be. But we need both and anchor and a destination.

Look at the things you are doing today. Where are you standing? Where are you going?

And, by the way, don't forget to put out the shoes.
Tomorrow is St. Nicholas.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pass it on

Lately we hear a lot in the Church about evangelization and the New Evangelization. Truth is, there is nothing new about it. From the beginning the task of the disciple has been the same. Once we have come to an awareness the love of Christ in our own lives, we must necessarily share that love. Just as real faith will necessarily produce good works, a real awareness of the love of God in our lives will radiate out.

In today's Gospel, Jesus feeds the crowd but indirectly. Jesus takes the 7 loaves, blesses them, breaks them, gives them to the disciples. It is the disciples who feed the crowd. They pass on what they have received.

An even more important message is for us who live in a culture of zero sum games where we think that if one person gets another loses. In this gospel every one is satisfied and there are 7 baskets left over. Once again the number that represents perfection. But such is the nature of love; it comes in infinite supply.

Evangelization is not a program. It doesn't require a committee, and it certainly isn't new. It is the fundamental way of life of every Christian. From the moment our soul is created, we are loved by God. From the moment of our baptism we are adopted as sons and daughters of God, and God who is love dwells in us. That love of God wants to reach out and spread, through us, to others.

The natural movement of love is outward. Restraining it and turning it inward is what take effort, and is unnatural and is called sin.

When we evangelize it is not that we are bringing someone something new. Because they are created in the image and likeness of God, and their soul is from God, every human being is loved by God and has an innate experience of that Love. We merely help others to see it, to name it, to enter more deeply into it.

Share the light today!

Monday, December 2, 2013

The precarious balance

All week we will be reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah. While the images of the actual cleansing of Jerusalem can be startling the results are magnificent.

For over all, the LORD’s glory will be shelter and protection: shade from the parching heat of day, refuge and cover from storm and rain.

Notice though that there is no promise here that God is going to set the temperature of the sun at a perfect 72°, or change the world so that there is no rain or storms. Life is going to involve parching hot days, rain and even storms.

First of all because none of those things are evil in themselves. Even things like wildfires serve a purpose.

Secondly, we are once again we are reminded that free will remains. Even now that Jesus has come free will remains, and some people will still choose to do bad.

The good news is that we do not need to be afraid. During the worst storm, we know where to find our shelter. As St. John reminds us:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.

As we move through this season of Advent may the perfect love of God, cast out all fear from our hearts. In the storms of life may we find shelter in God.

And, don't forget to share the light of that first Advent candle with someone today.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Here comes the darkness

Like it's Jewish predecessor, the Catholic calendar is built around the natural cycles of life: the daily, monthly, and annual cycles that we see year after year. That is why our calculation of Easter uses a combination of solar and lunar cycles and and choice of December 25, is not based on a belief that Jesus was born in December but is symbolic.

From now until December 21, every day will get darker and darker until December 21 the darkest day of the year. How do we as Christians respond to the ever increasing darkness? Are we afraid of the dark? Do we sink into depression? No, we light a candle. And with every darker week, we light another candle. This year, dec 1, dec 8, dec 15, and dec 22 we light another candle.

And on December 25, as the days begin to grow brighter we proclaim the prologue to John's gospel

this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it

Bring on the darkness. We remain fearless. In today's second reading reading St. Paul tells us to "put on the armor of light."

Today as we start a new liturgical cycle it is time for us decide. This year let us be children of light in the darkness. At home, at work, every day let us be the one who bring the light. At the end of each day, we should be able to look back and name at least one time during that day when we brought light.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Getting ready for Advent

With Evening Prayer tonight, the season of Advent begins, the time when we not only look back to the first coming of Christ, but more importantly, forward to the second coming.

This year with the first Sunday of Advent falling on December 1 we end the liturgical year today with the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. While the first-called along with Peter, there is no Hebrew name given for him, only the Greek name andreia, a word which means bravery, or valour.

Perhaps the answer to how we might imitate his valor is found in the first reading. When we hear from St. Paul:

For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The Scripture says, No one who believes in him will be put to shame.

Can we really accept that last statement as fact ? Have not many Christians been shamed, embarrassed, humiliated? The answer to both questions is yes.

It all depends on how long or short-sighted we are. In the short run many of us have been shamed and humiliated practically beyond our endurance. Sometimes even by our own doing.

When St. Paul says "No one who believes in him will be put to shame" he is not talking about being put to shame in human estimation. He means in God's estimation.

On the human level we may have to be Andrew, the brave one, as we take it right in the face, and be shamed and humiliated, whether we deserve it or not. That's just the world in which we live. We all make mistakes and there are some people who take pleasure in never letting us forget.

But Saint Paul reminds us on this last day of this liturgical year that in the face of this world's attempts to shame or humiliate, we can always stand tall,because the ONLY opinion of us that really matters in the long run is God's.

So as we start the new liturgical year, be Andrew, be brave and know that in the only eyes that count

No one who believes in him will be put to shame.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Finding the blessings

For us Catholics the whole Puritan pilgrim thing doesn't really connect with our heritage. And in a sense we don't need the holiday because every Sunday we are required to come together to celebrate the Eucharist, the ultimate thanksgiving celebration.

But on another level we can get so used to going to mass week after week that we forget the thanksgiving aspect of mass. For that reason, we as much as anyone need to stop on this Thanksgiving Day, and look back over the last 12 months.

It is far too easy for us to look at our lives and see the challenges, the stresses, the ways in which life isn't what we expected or wanted it to be at this moment.

If we are Christians we return to our fundamental belief that "all things work together for good for those who love God..."

As we say at mass, we can find something to be thankful for "always and everywhere." Today before we fall into the turkey coma, let us look back at 2013 and get specific. Call to mind the people and things that we are most thankful for in the last year.

And if you are sitting there thinking, "I can't think of anything." I would simply say think harder. Every human being in the world has something for which to be thankful.

We believe in a God that has constantly been at work and is constantly at work, and is the God "from whom all good things come." That being the case, there is never a moment in my life when I should not be thankful.

Those of you who know my story at all know that from the very beginning there have been challenges, but I can say from the bottom of my heart that there is nothing that has gone wrong in my life for which I am not now grateful, because I have seen how God can transform what looks like a curse into a blessing. And I trust that the ones in which I don't yet see the blessing; it's there. And at some point in this life or the next it will all come together. As long as I try to stay on God's path.

And no matter what I do, the kingdom of God is coming.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Put your money where your mouth is

In the first reading today we hear:

he ordered the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar, his father, had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, to be brought in so that the king, his lords, his wives and his entertainers might drink from them. When the gold and silver vessels taken from the house of God in Jerusalem had been brought in, and while the king, his lords, his wives and his entertainers were drinking wine from them

Once again we are reminded that our faith following on the Jewish faith is not "this or that" but "both this and that".

As Daniel foretells the Persians will take over and the second temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem and the gold and silver vessel will be restored to their rightful place.

Many Christians even some Catholics think that it is somehow wrong for the Church to build or maintain beautiful churches, that somehow a beautiful church and care for the poor cannot coexist.

We forget. Mt 26 when the woman brought the very expensive ointment and the disciples complain about how the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor.

The truths of faith are transcendent truths that cannot be expressed in words alone. We try in music, art, and architecture to augment the words and help us to comprehend as much as we are able.

There is also a certain hypocrisy in a culture that will spend millions of dollars on a football stadium and yet when you ask the same people about the construction of their parish church, they want to do it on the cheap.

When future generations look back on the buildings of our time what will they discern to be our values. It wasn't the desecration of the objects that was the real crime it was what those objects represented, a respect for and a true worship of God. What do our monuments say? What are our "holy places"?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Here comes the apocalypse

If I had to pick a religious term that is the most misunderstood it would have to be apocalypse. The word literally means to uncover. It's why in English we call the a letter at the end of the New Testament the Book of Revelation.

What is being revealed? The Kingdom of God.

In today's first reading we hear the dream and the interpretation of the dream by Daniel.

Daniel tells the king that

In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.

For us Christians that Kingdom is the Kingdom brought into being by the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And as this past Sunday's celebration reminded us we are all citizens in that kingdom. The kingdom is open to all. God wills that all people be a part of the kingdom.

The Book of Daniel is an example of Apocalyptic literature. The apocalypse, the unveiling is not a frightening thing. It is the unveiling of the glory of God. Yes, it reminds us of the passing quality of all earthly kingdoms, but is that a bad thing? Perhaps it offers us perspective and humility.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Communication with the enemy

This week, the last week of Ordinary Time, we will read part of the Book of Daniel. During the 500's BC the Babylonians not only completed their conquest of Judea but destroyed the First Temple and sent many Jews into exile. It was only when the Persian King Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonians, that the period known as the Babylonian Captivity ended and the Jews were allowed to return to Judea, and were even financially assisted in the rebuilding of the temple. This Second Temple would have been the one during the time of Jesus and lasted from 516 BC - 70 AD.

Daniel of whom we read this week was taken to Babylon in one of the early waves of the exile. As a prisoner he learned the language and customs of the Babylonians but never abandoned his religion.

Today's reading tells how Daniel and three others (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) all requested and were granted a diet of vegetables and water (no meats, because they would have certainly been unclean). And while the Babylonians thought this insanity they grew stronger.

As I look at present political climate I think there is much to learn from Daniel. He did not refuse to have any contact with the Babaylonians, his kidnappers. On the other hand he did not abandon any of his core values. He found the middle ground. He cooperated when it did not violate his faith. And as the week goes on we will see how this would position him in the long run to do God's work, much the same way Moses and Joseph were position by God.

In our modern world we too often see it as all or nothing, black or white, now or never. The scriptures are replete with examples where God's plan unfolds over long periods of time, with many moments that appear to be defeats, and those who appear to be enemies are even part of the plan. Rarely in the Bible do we see the kind of instant results that we in the 21st century want.

One of the great remnants from captivity is the language in which large parts of Daniel are written, Aramaic. The language that Jesus would speak on a day to day basis found its roots not in Hebrew, but in the languages of the enemy.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Citizenship or Residence

No I am not throwing myself into the midst of the hot optical debate. Although I will say that I find it ironic that the people I encounter who are most ready to raise the requirements for others are people like me who did nothing to earn their citizenship; they got just by the providence of being born here.

The readings today remind me though that I lost my US citizenship years ago. On the day of my baptism it was traded in for a green card. As the second reading today tells us

He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son

St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians puts it more directly when he tell us that our citizenship is in heaven.

I was born a US citizen and in baptism I was reborn as citizen of the Kingdom of God. And no, there is no duel citizenship. In this world we are resident aliens.

The Book of Revelation reminds of the reponse of God if we try to be both.

So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth.

As a resident of this world I work here, I pay my taxes, etc. but culturally I should remain a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Too many of us want it both ways. We all of the rights of being Christian but without the responsibilities. We want to live as if we are citizens here, and only have our heavenly citizenship kick in when we die. Then we want to whip out our heavenly passport (our baptismal certificate) and step through the gates of heaven. And at way too many funerals preachers talk as if that's how it works. The minister stands there an canonizes the deceased.

If you are baptized, you have the only citizenship that matters, and the only culture and heritage that matters, Christian. Sure you can enjoy things about American, or Irish or Italian culture, as long as they are consonant with being Christian. But never forget that we are not even permanent residents here. We are pilgrims. We are just passing through. And we shouldn't pick up too much stuff because we don't get to take any of it when we go home.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Punishment of consequences

Today's first reading is the kind of thing that some Christians want to reject on one extreme and on others over-emphasize. The reading ends with the King Antiochus saying:

But I now recall the evils I did in Jerusalem, when I carried away all the vessels of gold and silver that were in it, and for no cause gave orders that the inhabitants of Judah be destroyed. I know that this is why these evils have overtaken me; and now I am dying, in bitter grief, in a foreign land.

Those who want to reject such imagery claim that God loves us and wouldn't bring evil on people. They would be half right.

God never brings evil. We believe all good things come from God. And one of those good things is consequences. Every action for good or bad that we commit brings with it consequences not just for ourselves but for others.

Beginning with Genesis we believe that we are all part of a single humanity, connected to one another. Christians even more so because we are all part of the one body of Christ. Therefore, everything I do affects every other member of the body, whether we see it or not.

Antiochus led his greed and quest for power lead him to try and conquer not only the Jews but the Persians as well. God did not punish him God allowed him the freedom of will that we all have, but then God also allowed him to suffer the consequences of his actions.

Very good parent must occasionally allow their children to learn the hard way. Does the parent enjoy it? Of course not. But some children refuse to learn any other way.

God is the perfect parent,
always ready to help, but not enable bad behavior
always ready to forgive, but forgiveness does not mean there are no consequences

The good news is that I don't have to, unless I chose to, make my choices alone. The Holy Spirit is always with me to help me in the process, but I have to be willing to listen. Sometimes that means I have to slow down and think, because there may be ramifications not just for myself but for many others, in even the small choices of life.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Contrary to popular belief

Some people like to caricature the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament as some kind anti-women document. An actually reading of the scriptures reveals the truth, and our Catholic Church's lectionary cycle attempts to underscore the same.

Yesterday we heard the story of the old man refused to even pretend to eat meat that was not kosher. Today we read the story of a woman who watched all of her sons murdered one by one, and what were her words to the youngest.

Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age. I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things; and in the same way the human race came into existence. Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with them.

She knew that if he held out, if he held on to his faith, he may appear to lose his life but in fact it would be the only way they could be together as a family forever.

A woman giving courage to a young man who was being promised the world by the king and who was wavering. Both an example of faith and courage.

The Bible is filled with such women.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The small things matter

In our first reading today as we continue to read the story of the Maccabean Revolt. We hear the story of Eleazar, who died rather than violate his faith.

The story tells us today that:

Those in charge of that unlawful ritual meal took the man aside privately, because of their long acquaintance with him, and urged him to bring meat of his own providing, such as he could legitimately eat, and to pretend to be eating some of the meat of the sacrifice prescribed by the king; in this way he would escape the death penalty, and be treated kindly because of their old friendship with him.

They gave him an out. It would have been easy for him to pretend to be going along. He would not have actually needed to violate the law. And he could have saved his life. But he refused. Why?

Because he knew that his example could have lead others to sin. Others would not have known that he was pretending. He was willing to sacrifice himself in order to avoid even the possibility of leading others to sin.

This story seems a stark reminder to us that we are called not only to love others as we love ourselves, but to go the extra mile and put others ahead of ourselves, willingness to sacrifice ourselves, our needs, our wants, our resources, not just for out friends and family but for all others.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Unity vs. Uniformity

For the Catholics this week is a good time to take a look at the Bible you're using. If you can't find the 1 and 2 Maccabees in the Old Testament it's not a Catholic Bible. Whether you are Catholic or Orthodox and believe this story is part of the inspired word of God, or you are Protestant and reject it's inspired quality, the story we read this week of the Maccabean Revolt is an important part of Jewish History we all should know.

After the death of Alexander the Great, two great kingdoms formed on either side of Judea, one based in what we now call Syria and one in Egypt. The Jews were literally caught in the middle.

In today's first reading we hear that the starting point was what on the surface seemed like a simple decree meant to unify the people.

Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, each abandoning his particular customs.

It was not just the Jews but all of the various people in the territory who were expected to abandon their ancestral customs and conform to the dominant culture, that of the king.

When we read about it being done to the Jews two millennia ago, we think "How awful!" And yet, how many people today right here in America think that to be a good American means abandoning the customs, traditions, and languages of your families and assimilating all things "American."

We confuse unity and uniformity. We forget that part of the uniqueness of the American Culture is precisely the fact that we can be one nation, and simultaneously hold on to our unique customs.

The Irish immigrants that founded my parish, St. Patrick's, in 1859 refused to assimilate. They built their unwelcome Catholic Church right across the street from one of the most historic churches in the country. They built a school where their children could be safe from the anti-Catholic prejudice that was rampant in Virginia at the time.

Now the whole country likes to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and we try to ignore the history. German was the second most common language in the US until it was seen as un-American with World War I. In Pennsylvania until 1950 official government documents were always available in German. The so called Pennsylvania Dutch are Germans.

With each new century in the history of our country new waves of immigrants have arrived and each have been unwelcome at first. Always met with the voice of the King in today's first reading demanding that they abandon their customs so that we can be one.

The truth is that our real strength is found in the fact that we are all mutts, only some of our dogs are purebreds. This week as we read the great story of how the Jews had to fight to hold on to their faith, their culture, their customs and traditions. We should search for ways to celebrate the freedom we have to live our diversity.

Our ancestors in 1859 could never have imagined and would have been horrified at the notion of Laura and I (St. John's Episcopal and St. Patrick's Catholic), a woman rector and the Catholic pastor standing side by side and calling each other friends.

Unity does not require uniformity. We can be one nation and still be proud Irish, German, Italian, Hispanic, Filipino, Scots, etc. etc. etc.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Last Green Sunday

Today we wear green for the last Sunday until January 19th. Next week is Christ the King. Then we have the seasons of Advent and Christmas (Violet and White).

In the readings today two words stand out: justice and perseverance.

It is all too common to hear people today who ask for or demand justice, as if it is something which one can be given. Even sadder, often when people demand justice what they are really seeking is vengeance.

Today's readings remind us that justice is not something one can be given. Justice is a virtue. Since ancient times it was considered the first of the cardinal virtues. Like any natural virtue it can only be acquired by practice.

Ulpian defined justice as "the constant and perpetual will to give to each person that which is their right or due." Constant ,not intermittent. Perpetual, without end.

If I have the virtue of justice, I give every human being (rich or poor, friend or stranger, or even enemy) the respect they are due as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. I do it when I feel like it and when I don't. Justice is not something I get, it is a way of life. In the responsorial psalm,

The Lord comes to rule the world with justice.

In meantime, as we wait, we must develop the second virtue from the end of the Gospel:

By your perseverance you will secure your lives.

Perseverance is not a virtue that comes easily. The word St. Luke uses in Greek literally means "to stay under." Most of us when under the weight of some difficulty in life want to get out from under as soon as possible.

Perseverance does not mean that we should get comfortable being down or under. That would be resignation. Perseverance is grounded in hope and faith. Perseverance comes from knowing that whatever we are suffering is always temporary. If we are truly people of faith we know that we are never alone, God is always with us. Perseverance knows that truth, good, justice will always in the end win.

Perseverance enables us while we are forced to "stay under" to never collapse. We stand strong and tall.

Justice and Perseverance marks of the true Christian .

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Not what you think

Today's reading from The book of wisdom opens with a fierce image. God coming down from heaven:

And as he alighted, he filled every place with death; he still reached to heaven, while he stood upon the earth.

But once more we have an example of a reading that cannot be taken out of context. The very next passage reads:

For all creation, in its several kinds, was being made over anew, serving its natural laws, that your children might be preserved unharmed.

The passage then goes on to recall images from the Exodus.

No matter how Christian we are, we still tend to think of death as a bad thing. We think of death as the end. Even at Catholic hospitals you will hear talks on "end-of-life issues." We often use a phrase like that without even realizing how un-Christian it is.

We have to constantly be called back to Catholic 101. At the second coming of Christ all will be raised. Some to eternal life and God's presence, heaven. Something to eternal life separated from God and others, hell. But the idea that the end of earthly life is the end for anyone is simply wrong.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Wisdom- it's a person not a thing

Today's first reading opens with an elaborate description of wisdom.

In Wisdom is a spirit
intelligent, holy, unique,
Manifold, subtle, agile,
clear, unstained, certain,
Not baneful, loving the good, keen,
unhampered, beneficent, kindly,
Firm, secure, tranquil,
all-powerful, all-seeing,...

But if we look back at the early church we find that "The Wisdom of God" was understood not to be a characteristic of God, but another title for the second person of the trinity, the Son, Jesus Christ.

In the city now know as Istanbul is an museum that for almost a millennium it served as the Cathedral of Constantinople. Known as Hagia Sophia its full name was, "Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God" and its feast day was December 25, the day when we celebrate the moment when that wisdom of God became flesh.

What does this have to do with daily life? It reminds us that wisdom is not a function of age. It doesn't simply happen. True wisdom only comes when we open our hearts and our minds to the love of God.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Today's first reading can seem at first glance outdated. Addressing those in authority it says:

Because authority was given you by the Lord and sovereignty by the Most High,

This and other statements in the Bible have been historically misread, and led to such things as the theory of Divine Right of Kings.

Do we believe that those in authority in some way rule by God's willing or at least allowing it? Yes. But this is part of a larger whole. Everything that any of us accomplishes in life we accomplish, because God gave us the ability to do so. It is always a collaboration: talent from God, and human effort.

The larger point this reading is trying to make is that judgment will be more severe for those who are in charge at any level. The poor man or woman with no education and few to no resources, and lives under miserable tyranny will be more easily forgiven his missteps.

Those of us who have education, resources, freedom and in particular those who lead (from a team in an office to President of the United States) will be judged more sternly.

As we hear in Luke's gospel:

Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

From a global perspective, those of us who can read this blog are all among those who have much.

Today's reading continues

Terribly and swiftly shall he come against you, because judgment is stern for the exalted

Before we look at this scripture and see in it proof that God is going to strike down our least favorite politician, I would suggest we look in the mirror, and do a self-examination. I may not be president or even governor, but as I sit in my nice warm house, with a frig full of food, internet, cable, and shelves of books, my life looks pretty exalted.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Praying for the deceased

the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. 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. 

How many of us still behave like the foolish? We talk as if they are dead. We talk about them living on "in our hearts and minds" as if that is the only way they live on. 

As the month of November is the time to pray for those who have passed from this life, this reading reminds us that we need to pray for them. 

The other mistake often at funerals is the well-intentioned but erroneous canonization. Some funeral homilies sound as if the person instantaneously upon dead went straight to heaven. While we all hope for heaven, we cannot simply presume.  

We recognize the reality of sin and the need for purification  and so let us pray for all those whose earthly life has ended. Let us pray that they may be welcomed into the fullness of life with God in heaven. 

Monday, November 11, 2013


It seems to me nothing less than ironic that on Veterans Day we get the gospel

If your brother sins, rebuke him;
and if he repents, forgive him.
And if he wrongs you seven times a day
and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’
you should forgive him.”

And the Apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

On the surface there may appear to be no linkage between the two sections: one on forgiveness and one on faith. But look again. Only true faith in the power of God to change hearts and minds can enable us to forgive the same behavior over and over and not give up.

Without faith our tendency is, to quote Marcus Antonius from Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar:

And Caesar's spirit, raging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war,

We feel the rage of Marcus Antonius. And our natural instinct is to strike back with all the power at our command. We push aside all those words of Jesus about loving enemies and forgiving.

Almost three thousand died in the attack on September 11. But more than twice that number have died in the two wars that it spawn. In the first decade of the war we deployed more than 2 million people into those two wars. And we will spend the better part of the 21st century carrying for the constantly rising number of physically and mentally wounded.

War is sometimes inevitable but Jesus reminds us today that for the Christian it must be a last resort.

It is good that one day a year we call Veterans Day but we must also be willing to pay whatever it costs to care for them and their families 365 days per year. If we throw parades and then say "goodbye, and good luck, keep warm and well fed" we are the worst kind of hypocrites.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Which is better?

There is a profound difference between, humility and self-depreciation. We Catholics and really most Christians confuse the two. We think putting ourselves down is what God wants. Today's gospel reminds us that God wants exactly the opposite, to raise us up. The saved human is a son/daughter of God and equal to the angels (isoangeloi).

If fact, I would argue that in the end he raises us above the angels. Of all God's creatures, which did he make in his image and likeness? Both humans and angels have intelligence and free will. And while both angels and humans fell, which did he come and rescue? And which can share in his divinity?

Yes, in this life we suffer the effects of original sin, disordered desires. The desires are good in their proper place. Hunger for food, the desire to reproduce, ambition are all good things. Even that desire for the glass of wine, doctors now tell us (like St. Paul told St. Timothy) is good for us. It is only when they become disordered that they lead to sin.

But where are we supposed to end up. In the words of the Cathechism

The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature"

Is is the prayer said each time the priest pours the water into the wine.

By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.

Jesus came not only to restore what was lost by original sin, but to raise us even higher. This is why at Easter we refer to original sin as the Felix Culpa, the happy fault. Had it not, been for the sin there would have been no incarnation, no ressurection, no sharing in the divine life.

In the end it was all part of the plan.

So you can wish to be an angel if you want a demotion. I'll be quite happy to remain an adopted child of God.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why buildings matter

Today around the world the Church celebrates the dedication of the Church of St. John Lateran. Why do we celebrate this or any other building?

The short answer is because we are human.

Some Christians erroneously talk if we were angels, as if the only part of us that matters was the soul. But we are not angels we are made of body and spirit, and ultimately both will be resurrected. Because we are body and spirit we are shaped by our environment, influenced by sight, sound, taste, smell and touch.

Things like art and music are not luxuries, they are essential to experiencing a truly human life . They can communicate to us truths about God that no words can capture. From our earliest days Christians have used music and art, and architecture to express our faith.

Perhaps today we need to take a few minutes to listen to music, look at art, or visit a beautiful Church, and soak in the beauty of God.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Looking for the good

In each of St. Paul's letters he addresses specific problems within the church to whom he writes. The early church like the church today was in a state of constant flux and with that flux there was often conflict and division. It is simply part of the growing process.

But rather than simply chastising the people for their many failing or painting the world around us as an enemy to be fought, St. Paul also looks for what is good.

Today's first reading today opens with him saying to the Romans:

I myself am convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another.

Imagine if that were how we began each interaction, each discussion, each negotiation. Imagine if we began not with the disputed issue but with what is true and good in the other person or persons.

Even if we look at the word "critique"; it is defined as a detailed analysis or assessment of something. How often do we reduce it to what's wrong? And certainly the verb to critique or criticize, in the present day have almost exclusively negative connotation.

Sunday's first reading reminded us that no one would exist if God did not love them, if God did not hold them in being.

Even the most difficult person in your life is loved by God. Look for the good in them and you will find it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Do we really want it?

The contests are over , the winners declared. Now what?
The first reading today ends with a simple statement:

love is the fulfillment of the law.

Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner
Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli

They are all Catholic

Do they love one another?
More to the point, do we encourage them to love another?
Do we want them to love one another?

Love does not mean lack of disagreement.
Disagreement and love can coexist. It's how marriages survive.

We can complain about how politicians behave but we encourage them to be un-Christian.

Remember hurricane Sandy. Remember how Chris Christie (Catholic) was chastised, almost crucified by some for being too nice to the President of the United States.

How can a Christian be too nice? Christie was being Chrisitian; he was being Catholic.

Imagine if every elected person in the country who is a Christian, took seriously Christ's many instructions regarding love.

We want to change government, let's stop encouraging the war metaphor and start encouraging the two great commandments. Then perhaps they might get something productive done.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Paul's commandments

In today's first reading Paul provides us with a long list of commands

Let love be sincere;
hate what is evil,
hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
anticipate one another in showing honor.
Do not grow slack in zeal,
be fervent in spirit,
serve the Lord
Rejoice in hope,
endure in affliction,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the holy ones,
exercise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you,bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another;

Of the entire list it's the third from the bottom that may be the most difficult

Bless those who persecute you,bless and do not curse them.

It's worth noting that he felt the need to repeat himself, just so you didn't miss it.

While this may be the hardest, it should be the easiest. After all, if someone is persecuting you, if they are hell bent on making your life miserable, the only real way to make it stop is for them to have a change of heart, and the only one who can really change hearts is God.

Rather than caving in and crying, or getting angry and doing something stupid, we, as Christians, are called to pray for our persecutors. Pray that God will touch their hearts, and bless them. Pray that God will fill their hearts with his love and bring about true conversion in them.

Truth be told, persecutors are never happy people. No matter how they disguise it, underneath they are unhappy people taking out their unhappiness on others.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Who's really ready to wait?

In today's gospel Jesus tells the Pharisee who has invited him to dinner. That he shouldn't invite the usual folks any of us would invite, no friends, or family or those of our own class, but rather.

invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

It sounds all well and good, sitting in church on Sunday morning, but which of us is really going to do it. The closest most of us come is the tradition some parishes have of cooking a Thanksgiving meal for the poor. Then we can feel like we've checked that box for the year.

We love to complain about the younger generation and their desire for immediate gratification. We blame the technology. And yet it is not my experience that those of us who are middle-aged or senior citizens are paragons of patience.

We all seem to want what we want, when we want it. And if we really really want it, we claim we need it. The truth is our list of actual needs is fairly short.

Imagine trying to live today's gospel. Going through the day, choice by choice, doing what Jesus would do, and not even expecting so much as a thank you. Imagine making an anonymous donation. Imagine tolerating an insult, and being able to hold your tongue, be patient and know that in the final judgment God will make it all right. But not until then ! That's the scary part. Some things will not be fixed in this life.

Can I trust God that much? Can I keep my eyes fixed on the real prize? Can I have that much patience?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Real Jew

The gospel ends today with Jesus telling us that

this man too is a descendant of Abraham

But why was this even a question? His name, Zacchaeus, is Hebrew in origin. It comes from the word zakai meaning "clean, pure"

Jesus has to insist on his being a descendent of Abraham because there are those in the community who would claim "He's not a real Jew." After all, he collects taxes for our oppressors, and he's rich. That means he must be ripping people off.

To this very day what makes you Jewish is maternity. If the baby's mother is Jewish then the baby is de facto considered Jewish. "According to Torah, a person's Jewishness is not a matter of life-style or self-perception: one may be totally unaware of one's Jewishness and still be a Jew"

It is not for one Jew to judge another's Jewishness.

The same is true of Chriistianity.

Baptism makes one Christian. Baptism in or Reception into full communion into the Catholic Church after valid baptism makes one Catholic. In recent years the Church has clarified even more strongly that this relationship cannot be undone, no more that you can un-consecrate a host or wine.

You may be a non-practicing Catholic. You may be an excommunicated Catholic. But you remain a Catholic. Like your family, no matter what, they are still yours.

It is not for us to look at the externals of a person's life and attempt to judge their relationship with God. It is not for any of us to judge who is "really Catholic."

Rather than judging others, my time would be better served contemplating the judgement that I will face when I stand before God. Unless of course, I am self-righteous, then I don't think I need to change. And I am in real trouble.

Zacchaeus was, as his name implies "pure", a true son of Abraham despite what those around him thought. Jesus knew him at the level of his soul.

The Pharisees complain that Jesus had gone to the house of a sinner. Apart from his mother's house, whose house was not the house of a sinner? Should he have slept in the street and eaten alone? Their obsession with judging others is ridiculous. And judging others is just as ridiculous today.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

All the Faithful Departed

Sometimes we use expressions without really thinking about what they mean. Take for example the common name of today, All Souls. In an earlier time when "soul"meant person ( e.g. There wasn't a soul in the place) it was a bit more accurate. But even then we are not praying for all people. Nor are we praying for all people who have passed, as we say in the south.

Yesterday we celebrated All Saints, all those who have won the prize, as it were. Yesterday was about remembering that they continue to pray for us, as they enjoy eternal life in heaven.

If some poor soul is in hell, no prayer will help them.

Today is called the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, the ones in the middle. Will they enter heaven? Yes. But there is a final step. In the words of the Catechism:

1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

We call this purification purgatory. One should note that purgatory is defined by process not location.

All Souls is imprecise on two fronts:
1) We believe in the resurecction, that is salvation, of the body as well as the soul.
2) Today is neither about those in heaven or in hell, but those faithful departed, who still need to experience the final purification.

The 1st through the 8th of November in particular we are encouraged to visit cemeteries and pray for the departed. Our tendency of course is to pray the most for those who perhaps need it the least, the most beloved of our relatives.

Perhaps this year is a time for us to consider praying for those died alone and on the margins of society, those who faith was known to God alone. The thousands of people who were forgotten even before they died.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Foundation of our Hope

Today St. Paul gets to the very heart of why we as Christians hope with a series of questions.

If God is for us, who can be against us? ...
Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.
Who will condemn?...
What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.

That's the good news, the most important truth, but also the part we like to hear.

Tucked into the middle is the other part, the part we would like to avoid.

For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.

We want a share in the ressurection, we have to accept our share of the crucifixion. There is no going around Good Friday. Most importantly suffering does not mean you have been bad and God is punishing you. On the contrary, it may we be precisely because of your willingness to stand with Christ that you suffer.

But we must stay focused on the good news, that in all these things we conquer. We never fear. We never loose hope. We trust in the absolute love and power of God.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Divine Compassion

The opening of today's first reading from Romans often gave me trouble.

The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.

Why groaning ? And then it dawned on me that if God is truly compassionate (literally suffers with), then of course the Spirit would groan or sigh with us.

Most important is a verse that gets closer to my core the older I get, the more of life I experience.

We know that all things work for good for those who love God,...(Rm 8:28)

If there is one verse worth memorizing this first part if this one verse is certainly it.

Notice that the verse begins, "We know", not we hope or believe.

Even in moments of adversity, we must know this in the deepest part of our being.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Companions on the journey

Today we celebrate two of the Apostles, both of whom shared their same name as other more famous Apostles.

The first, Simon, is called the Zealot, so that he might not be confused with Simon, whom Jesus renamed Peter. Very little is known about this apostle. All that remains are a handful of legends.

The second, is called in English Jude. In fact he has the same name as Judas, and English is one of the only languages that uses a different translation for each person's name. In the New Testament both are named Ιούδας.

We know the two travelled together and were martyred together in 65 AD. The axe that is often pictured with St. Jude is a reference to how they were martyred. Today the relics of both are entombed together in St. Peter's Basilica.

For soon after his death before his remains were moved to Rome. It is said that those who visited the grave of St. Jude experienced powerful miracles and so he became known as the patron saint of desperate or lost causes.

We pray to Saints not because we "worship" them but because we believe that the command to pray for one another never ends. We do not believe that those who have made it to heaven are indifferent to the struggles of us here on earth. We believe that those many and women who have already made it into the fulness of eternal life still love us, care for us, and can and do pray for us.

If we believe the promises of Jesus then we know that Simon and Jude are not dead. They are in heaven and continue to watch over and intercede for the Church they helped Jesus to established. The love now as God loves.

This Simon reminds us that it's ok not to be the famous one. And Jude reminds us that there is no such thing as a lost cause. With God all things are possible.

Jesus sent them out two by to because we are not meant to go it alone. Do not be embarrassed to ask for help, and especially ask for help from those closest to Jesus.

St. Simon and St Jude, pray for us.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Living in the Spirit

On one level today's first reading deals with the gift of eternal life which Christ won for us by his incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection. As St. Paul reminds us, this eternal life is not just for our souls but for our bodies.

If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.

And so in the Apostles Creed we proclaim the resurrection of the body.

On another level, St. Paul challenges all of us who have through our baptism (and confirmation) received the gift of the Holy Spirit to live in that Spirit. St. Paul is not hear making the argument that the flesh is in itself evil. It is a part of God's creation and as cited above will be redeemed. What he is warning against is allowing the flesh to be the driving force.

When we live in the Spirit we have our priorities in order. Even for us as priests this is hard to maintain. If we go back to the scriptures and the teaching of the Chruch, my primary work as a priest is prayer, especially the Liturgy of the Hours and the celebration of the Eucharist. Yet I too fall into the trap of thinking that constantly responding to phone calls, text messages, email, constant meetings, etc is the real measure of being a good priest.

Each year how many marriages do I see fail because one or both parties is living in the flesh, letting their job become their God, and one true love? Even when they are together they are not fully present to one another.

The person who lives in the Spirit never forgets that this material world will all pass away. The two great commandments remind us that God and those who are ultimately welcomed into heaven are eternal. Eternal life is the only real long-term investment. The person who lives in the Spirit never forgets this.

Truth is, we all vacillate. We need things like crucifixes, images, and prayer like the rosary to call us back, refocus us.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sin and archery

Today we reach the famous part of St. Paul in which he describes the struggle that each of us face.

For I do not do the good I want,
but I do the evil I do not want.
Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it,
but sin that dwells in me.

What I find fascinating is that St. Paul does not describe what dwells in us as Satan, or an evil spirit, or something of that kind. He refers to it simply as sin

In Greek there are variety of words for sin. What I find most interesting is the word that he uses here -Amartia. It is an archery term that refers to literally "missing the mark."

Some read this passage as if it depicted a battle of equals. They imagine it as two forces, one good and one evil, struggling within us. For us as Christians there is really only one power in the universe, God! Everything else is a created being. Even Satan is not God's equal, but one of God's creatures, a creature who went bad but a mere creature none the less.

What dwells in us, according to St. Paul, is an incapacity to hit the mark. For that, we constantly need to turn to God and to depend on God's grace. Only with God's grace, can we even hope to hit the mark.
But when we miss the mark, we should never despair. For God's grace is always there to forgive us and to redirect our efforts.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Good slavery

As we continue to move through the many images St. Paul uses today we hit one of the most difficult, slave.

But now that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit that you have leads to sanctification,and its end is eternal life.

While it is hard to imagine, this word referred to two kinds of slavery (voluntary and involuntary). Jesus asks us to freely hand over our imperfect mortal lives, and in return we receive a new sanctified, immortal life.

This is not a one time single action. It requires a daily constant renewal. Each moment of each day we must entrust ourselves totally, allow ourselves to be slaves of God, beloved slaves but slaves nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Not Fear but hope

In today's gospel we hear 

You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

So often we read this passage merely as a warning looking toward the judgement that will come. 

If we read it however in the full context of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the coming of the Son of Man is not something to be feared but something to be hoped for. 

There is also a more immediate reading of the passage. We should keep our eyes open and be prepared to see the action of Christ in our lives. At moments we do not expect, at moments when we feel most abandoned, the entire history of our faith records examples of God's unexpected intervention. 

We can never know. We know that God may not intervene when we want but God always intervenes at the perfect moment. The exact moment that is best. 

We must therefore remain vigilant, trusting, waiting, exercising the virtue of hope. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The two Adams

One of the metaphors that St. Paul uses about which we do not talk very much is Jesus as the new Adam. Over and over he repeats the pattern "if by one man...how much more..."

if, by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.

It is not just that Jesus undoes what Adam did, he undoes and surpasses it.

Of the list I chose the example above because it is the trickiest. After all, do we really think that being Christian means I am going to "come to reign in life"? The answer is no and yes.

If you mean by reign rule over others, then sorry–bad news,no.
If you mean by reign rule over yourself, then – good new, yes.

God's grace helps us not only to know the right thing to do, but to do it. True, there are a few things, like the startle response that we cannot control. But many many more that we can.

When we say, "She makes me so angry" or "They scare me."
No one can make you feel. The truth is he/she/they do something and you allow yourselves to be frightened our angry.

You cannot control the initial shock, surprise or startle, but you can control what happens next. Each of us with the help of God's grace can choose to allow the anger, fear, anxiety etc to overwhelm us, or with the grace of God we can reign over it. We can reign it in. We can allow the virtues of faith hope and love to be the reigning force in our life. We can choose to live.

St. Paul wants us to understand "how much more", how much greater God's grace is than any bad thing that might come our way.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Absolute Trust

In the first reading today we hear St. Paul remind us,

Abraham did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief; rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God and was fully convinced that what God had promised he was also able to do.

Once more we are challenged not simply to believe that God exists, or that God loves us, but to believe that God has the power and will always do what it best for us, at every moment of every day. Even as I am writing this I know that God is a work in my life.

Are there things I wish God would do? Of course. Do I believe that it would be better if God would do them sooner rather than later? Of course. But ultimately I must let go and know with all my being that God only does good. God does not do evil.

If God does something or even allows something to be done to one of his children, it is because in the big picture that only God can see, it is for the best.

Remember that four chapters from now in the same letter St. Paul will tell us "All things work together..."

Abram trusted God enough to abandon everything he knew and follow God's will into the complete unknown. Today can we release all of our anxieties, and simply believe.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

It's not impossible

Today's gospel gives us a double command, one thing to do and one thing not to do. On the one hand we are to pray always. On the other side, we are not to become weak.
Taken literally it would seem impossible. Are we supposed to walk around muttering prayers all day long? That makes no sense.
Yes, we should at a minimum begin and end our day with actual prayers. It is even better if we can pause several times during the course of the day and say perhaps a simple Our Father or Hail Mary. But to pray always for the Christian is something much more simple: simple but not easy.
We know that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. For us to pray always then is to walk through the entire day from the moment we wake until the moment we fall asleep in constant contact with God, constantly aware of that presence of God with us.
If we can live constantly aware of that presence of God then the second command not to grow weak or tired, or despondent is easy.
The Church links this gospel with the first reading from the Book of Exodus to make sure that we do not fall into the other trap. The trap of individualism. Yes, I am the temple of the Holy Spirit but I am also part of the Body of Christ. Ours is a communal faith.
When Moses's strength failed it was not enough for him to pray and have God magically give him the strength to keep his arms up. He had to be humble, he had to allow Aaron and Hur to help him. He had to allow them to be God's instruments. He had to accept the truth that he could not do it on his on. Can we do that? Can we acknowledge when our strength is gone? Can we ask for help not just directly from God but from others? Can we be humble enough to allow others to be our strength?
With constant prayer and humility there is nothing we can not face.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The first step

Today we begin reading St. Paul's letter to the church in Rome. It is almost inconceivable. When we think of the Church and Rome today, we think of St. Peter's, the Vatican, the Pope, the whole Catholic Church and her history. But when Paul wrote his letter,even he could not have imagined what would happen to that Church for bad and for good over two millennia, eventhough God had told him how far it would go.

He tells us the introduction that he was given grace and apostleship for what appears to be a very simple purpose

the obedience of faith among all nations.

Today we hear obedience and we think, doing as you are told. But in Greek as in Latin, it's meaning is really the step before doing. The word obedience literally means attentive listening.

The "obedience of faith" means to listen attentive in a posture of absolute trust in God. It's harder than it sounds. In Psalm 46 it is put very simply:

Be still and know that I am God.

The truth hidden in this simple phrase is that we can only truly be still, be calm, be at peace, if we know with all our heart that God truly is God. God has this entire universe in his own way under control. Yes, we have free will. Yes, evil exists. But there is no power in the universe equal to or greater than God.

When we truly believe that, then we can be still, and listen.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

More than don'ts

Today's gospel ends with the words

blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.

I suspect for most of us our minds jump to the commands, and and we think in particular of the thinks we are not suppose to do, the sins. We think of observing the word of god as keeping the commandments.

But let's not forget that there is much more in the word of God, and in particular the gospel. To hear the word of God and observe it also means believing in the promises.

Mt.-the promise to be with us always until the end of the world
Rm- all things work together for good for those who love God and have been called according to his purpose.
Jn- the light shines in the darkness,and the darkness has not overcome it.
1Cor-he has made us temples of the Holy Spirit

How many times have we all heard these words and yet do we believe them in the very depths of our being. One can memorize the entire Bible but if you do not trust it, you have only heard the word.

Are there times when it is hard to believe? Yes.
Are there times when it looks like the darkness is winning? Yes

But that is a lie. In Jesus we have eternal life, a share in the very divinity of God. Nothing can overcome that.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The short view

Why most of us I suspect are looking at Washington and feeling frustrated with all sides for their short-sighted ness, it seems to me we need to be careful.

In today's fist reading the prophet addresses all of us when describes the frustration that I suspect every religious person has felt at one time or another the feeling that those without a moral center seem to be those who get ahead, and the good suffer.

He uses a common word but one about which we don't often reflect, impunity-freedom from the injurious consequences of ones actions. Come on, let's be honest, don't we all want that. Don't we all want the ability to simply say I'm sorry and move on.

Those who scoff at the notions of purgatory or indulgences, act as if Christianity teaches that all you have to do is confess sin, ask forgiveness and it's all over and done with. We want to forget that there is for all humanity temporal punishment due to sin. Even after sin is forgiven, because God is just there are the consequences. If a kid throws a baseball through my window, and ask forgiveness, he still owes me for the repair of the window. If I came I late, and apologized my mother scepter the apology, and still grounded me.

Truth is when we see someone acting in what appears to be impunity part of our anger is really jealousy. How come they get away with it?

The truth is we are all short-sighted. Our god is both a God of mercy and a God of justice. In the end we are all, every single human being is going to be judged for the choices they have made. No one has impunity. Rather than spending our time focused on someone else, including "those people in Washington", we would all do well today to stay focused on our own choices. And if you have forgotten what an indulgence is? Here's the link.