Sunday, January 27, 2013

A New Beginning

In our Catholic faith we are constantly starting over. In the sacrament of Penance, our sins are wiped away and we are given the chance to start over. The First Sunday of Advent we begin a new liturgical year. Holy Thursday- Easter we start over with newly blessed oils, a new candle, new bread, and new water. And each year, at the start of Ordinary Time, after reading of Jesus's first miracle, we start a new gospel.

This year we begin our reading of Luke, the gospel that comes closest to our modern notion of history. He starts by acknowledging that others have written accounts but he is going to study the matter and write an orderly account that will be convincing (particularly to the Greek mind).

His account is addressed to Theophilus. Whether this was an actual person or a literary device, who can say? The name means a lover of God. It reminds us that our faith must always be grounded in a true love of God that surpasses any human love we have, love of family, love of spouse, love of children, must all come after love of God. We must all be Theophilus.

Most of all we must constantly struggle to overcome love of self. This week at Disney World, while I saw some extraordinary acts of kindness and people helping others, even strangers, I also witnessed the narcissism of the 21st century. People walking as if they were they only person in the world, people stopping to look around at the top of an escalator (oblivious to the people coming up behind them). And much of if is technology driven. The same technology that can connect us can also enable us to get lost in our own little world, oblivious to the world around us.

Today we begin a new gospel, a chance to start over. Start with love of God, then open our eyes to the others around us, and put ourselves last on the list. Don't worry, we're all human, there's no danger we will become too selfless.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Everyone needs help

In a country that can over emphasize individual accomplish, it is good that, the day after we celebrate St. Paul, we celebrate two of his companions who served as bishops, Sts. Timothy and Titus. While most of Paul's letters that we consider to have been inspired by God are ones written to churches in various cites, two personal letters to Timothy, and one to Titus are considered inspired by God and included in the New Testament.

One has only to read the first words to see the particular love Paul felt for each.

Paul, an Apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God for the promise of life in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my dear child:


Paul, a slave of God and Apostle of Jesus Christ for the sake of the faith of God’s chosen Titus, my true child in our common faith:

The Apostles understood their mission as being one of spreading the word and therefore never settled in one place very long. Instead, they appointed Bishops, like Timothy and Titus, to oversee the local churches.

Timothy and Titus were clearly not the only Bishops named by Paul nor the only ones with whom he corresponded, but clearly there was something special about these two companions that the Holy Spirit inspired the two Letters to Timothy and one to Titus.

Neither Peter, Paul, nor even Jesus could carry out their mission without the love and assistance of others. Why do we still after more than 2000 years later think that there is some virtue in doing something alone?

Friday, January 25, 2013

The power of one voice

Today the church celebrates the Conversion of St. Paul, and yes, we all know well the various artistic renderings of that great event. Hopefully, most Christians are aware of how profoundly St. Paul went on to shape the Church, transforming it from a small sect within Judaism to the truly catholic (universal) body Christ called us to be.

What most of us can easily overlook is that the conversion, as miraculous as it was, would have remained fruitless had it not been for the courage of one person.

Act 9 tells us that Saul traveled after the conversion to Jerusalem, then the center of the fledgling Church, and tried to join the disciples but all were afraid of him, even though he had been fiercely preaching the gospel. One man has the courage to buck the group, take him to the apostles and speak on his behalf. You can be relatively certain than most of the disciples thought he was a naive fool for trusting Saul. Even today how much do we really believe in anyone's conversion. We say we are Christians, but let someone claim to have changed or even change their behavior and we are as skeptical as any atheist. We start looking for ulterior motives, or worse we wait for the person to fall again.

One person had true insight. He looked into Saul and saw a changed man and was willing to give Saul the benefit of the doubt. Today as we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul let us offer up a little prayer for St. Barnabas who was willing to be the lone voice who defended him. His courage made it possible for Saul to join the group, and become St. Paul, which in turn made it possible for most of us, the Gentiles, to be welcomed into the Church.

Thank you for your singular act of courage, St. Barnabas.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


The gospel today opens with the words Jesus withdrew, reminding us of one of the most basic human needs, to rest. We are not machines designed to run continuously. We need, rest, retreat, vacation. Even the most extroverted person needs time alone. It is part of what makes us human.

I recall one of the most regrettable changes in the American English language, when we went from "personnel" to " human resources," a resource by definition is "Something that can be used," its value is linked to its utility.

While we can and should collaborate, humans should never be used. The value of the human is intrinsic. Even when we are too young, old, disabled or sick to be "useful", we are to be loved and respected just for being human.

Time apart, quiet time, is not wasted; it is essential. It may not make us more productive or useful but it makes us more human.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Today we pray

Today let me step away, and ask everyone to join in the USCCB Day of Prayer for Legal Protection of Unborn Children.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Challenge and consolation

As we continue to move through the letter to the Hebrews we hear said of Jesus, the Word of God made flesh:

No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.

At every moment we are more naked and exposed to Christ than we are to ourselves. After all, we can all delude ourselves. I am convinced that reason many people do not go to confession is not that they don't believe they need to, or they are embarrassed to say it to the priest, but because in our hearts we know our sin, but as long as we don't say it out loud, we can pretend not to know. It's not real. It's like the person who knows something's wrong but won't go to the doctor, because they are afraid of what they will hear, and only get sicker, sometimes waiting until they are terminal before they face the truth.

Today's reading tells us why we have no need to be afraid:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.

Jesus is not simply the just judge, but one who is sympathetic. The constant foundation from which we can draw not only forgiveness, mercy, but grace.

The best two words in this readying "timely help." The word for help is the word that refers to a chain used to secure a ship in place. And the help from God is timely, "euchairos", when we need it, always right on time.

Our faith teaches a God who knows our weakness and always stand ready to throw us a line to anchor us down whenever the seas get rough, even if the problem is of our own making.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sex is not the only sin

Encourage yourselves daily while it is still “today,” so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin.

As we continue our national discussion about the proper response to all of the recent mass shootings, it is time we took a look at ourselves and see how we have "grown hardened by the deceit of sin", specifically murder.

Take a look at a single evenings TV listing at the number of programs and movies whose core is senseless violence. It's not just about keeping it away from our children, it is about adults as well.

Jack the Ripper is known to have killed five people and the world was horrified, that's the first 10 minutes of the modern "action" film and we eat while we watch it happen. Is it even a question as to whether we have been hardened by the deceit?

Sitting in a movie theatre watching pornography is shameful, and rightly so. Why is sitting in a movie theater filled with people watching murder upon murder shame free? Do we really believe that extra-marital sex is more sinful than murder?

Is watching someone's brains being blasted onto a wall by a shotgun really entertainment?

I think of the opening of the movie "Saving Private Ryan" or the movie "Hotel Rwanda", where the violence was there for a teaching purpose. But for every one of these there are at least 10 where violence, vengeance, and murder are simply glorified.

Again we get back to the core of our Christian morality. Every human life is sacred.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Slavery and Freedom

Since the children share in blood and Flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the Devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.

While few of us would ever think of ourselves as slaves, and even less, slaves to fear of death, all we have to do is look around. How much money do we spend on things with no actual health benefit that will only make us "look younger."

On a larger level, after September 11, how much did fear drive our decision making? When history looks back on the last decade how much money will they decide was wasted in the name of security? Self-defense is right and proper but the decision making should never be made out of fear.

The teaching of our faith is a careful balance. On the one hand, all human life is sacred, and should be protected. On the other, we should not fear death. Can we live this way? Yes, but only with the grace of God.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Through the darkness

For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering.

Why does a God who is love allow suffering to exist? The Bible provides know simple answer, and I remain leery of people who do.

What today's reading does remind us of is that Jesus, the one "for whom and through whom all things exists," chose to enter into the very depths of human suffering. In the crucifixion God chose to feel agonizing pain.

Some read the sentence quoted at the top and are confused, asking, "How was he made perfect? Wasn't he perfect already?" Perfect here is not used in the way we commonly use it. In that sense Jesus was God and therefore already perfect. Perfect (teliosai) is used here the way were speak of a verb in a perfect tense, perfect in the sense of complete. Without suffering his mission would not have been complete.

Somehow suffering appears to be a constitutive part of the human experience. We should not go looking for it, neither should we fear it. It will come and when it does Jesus teaches us that we must enter into it, and through it reach our completion, our perfection.

The good news is Jesus went in there ahead of me and knows the way through. I do not have to fear that I will get lost in there. Jesus can and will guide me through.

Monday, January 14, 2013


Welcome to the First Week in Ordinary Time. For the next four weeks, we will be reading the Letter to the Hebrew. The first thing one notices is that it is not called a letter of St. Paul. The name of the human author is unknown. In fact, lacking a greeting some wonder if it should even be called a letter. It may have in fact been a homily.

Regardless of what human wrote it, and what it was intended to be, from our earliest day Christians have accepted it as the inspired word of God. Those who know first century Greek well describe it as perhaps the most beautifully written of the New Testament.

If you have never read a book of the Bible from beginning to end, now is the time. What the early Church saw in the Letter to the Hebrews is a clear articulation of who Jesus is and what sets the Christian faith apart.

It opens simply addressing us as Brothers and Sisters, then in a single sentence sets forth the thesis.

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through the Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe,

If we are as we, the Church, are the Body of Christ, there is no better way to begin ordinary time than with this profound look at what we believe about Christ.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Why jump three decades

At first glance it may seem strange that we begin the Christmas season by celebrating the nativity and we end it today by jumping ahead some three decades to celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.

It all seem odd until we realize that it is precisely though baptism that the bringing together of humanity and divinity that we celebrate at Christmas is made ours. In his homily for today St. Gregory of Nanzianzus writes, "Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him." The universe is changed.

Ritual bathing was an historical part of the Jewish faith. What Jesus did when he entered the waters of baptism was to transform them. No longer was it simply a matter of cleansing the sinful human being. In the waters of baptism we are, as John says, baptized the Holy Spirit, and reborn as true adopted sons and daughters of God. We become something new that had never before existed. In his homily for today St. Gregory of Nanzianzus writes, "Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him." The universe is changed. Plant, animals, and humans are all considered to have life, but which of us would say that they are the same kind of life. With his baptism, just introduces into world another kind of life.

We begin Christmas celebrating a birth; we end it celebrating a rebirth, our rebirth in Baptism. Tomorrow is Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time. But what should the ordinary life of one who lives in Christ look like ?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

No Fear

In today's first reading we hear:

perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.

This raises one simple question for each of us: What is the place of fear in my life ?

Despite everything God has said and done, how much do any of us allow fear to be a part of our life?

It is a very natural thing for us to feel fear. For that reason St. John provides us with the remedy. Turn to that presence of God that dwells in us through faith and love and allow it, allow him to drive out the fear.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Today's first reading is at the very core of our understanding of God:

"God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only-begotten Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us..."

One of our greatest challenges in the 21st century it seems to me is to recover the full depth and breath of all the gifts that God has given the human person: our intellect, our free will, and our capacity to love.

One of our great mistakes of the 20th century was our reduction of the human being to feelings, and our myopic focus on how we feel. From the insanity of a reporter asking a Sandy Hook parent "How do you feel?" to someone abandoning their marriage covenant because," I'm don't love you anymore."

Love is not a feeling, nor is it about following our feelings. Real love finds its source in God. As John reminds us, God is love and before we ever loved God, God loved us. The very reason for the creation of the first human beings was God's love of us.

Even science has now shown that every human being comes into the world with a need to be loved. An infant is fed but not held will not thrive.

More important is that when this real love is allowed to guide us, it is not a feeling but is what empowers us to do the right thing even when the right thing is contrary to how we feel.

How often did we make our parents so mad they were "ready to kill us", but love overcame the feelings.

As a society we see an event like Sandy Hook and the emotional response is to want to strike back, to kill the killer. When we are best, the Christian virtue of love intervenes and is able to see mental illness for what it is. Love conquers vengeance.

When you see a marriage that has lasted, they will all tell you there were moments when they did not feel "in love", but real love is what held them together through the hard times.

When Jesus calls us to love our enemies, we see most clearly how love runs contrary to our feelings. The good news is that over time as we choose to allow love to guide our words and actions, it can become a habit, and that habit we call virtue. It's not do what you feel, but do the right thing, and over time your feelings will change, we call that conversion.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Not the end of Christmas

Today we celebrate the Epiphany, literally "manifestation"of Christ to the world, represented by the three Magi. What many Catholics still do not seem to get is that in our present calendar it is not the end of the Christmas Season. There is still another full week of Christmas. The Christmas season ends when we celebrate the beginning of Jesus's ministry,the Baptism of The Lord.

Why are we in such a hurry to be rid of Christmas? I went out on the 27th and the stores were already taking down Christmas and putting up Valentine's Day. Even among Catholics many will be packing up the decorations this afternoon.

Part of the problem of course is that at least in the US we let the stores dictate the season. Christmas begins even before Thanksgiving, and except for the wreath Advent is all but forgotten. Add to this the drowning in Christmas music and the unrealistic expectations of joy and parties, and by the 26th people are physically and emotional exhausted.

Perhaps it is good we pack away the trees,and the lights, and the carols (particularly the ones with no mention of Jesus). Perhaps it is a good thing that the stores and TV have by Dec 26 already abandoned Christmas.

Perhaps in these last seven days of Christmas between today and next Sunday, without all the noise and lights, we Christians can turn our hearts toward the true purpose of Christmas, and reflect on our faith in a God who so loves us that he chose to become incarnate to bring salvation, and not simply for one "chosen people" but to every single nation on earth. With secular Christmas over, let us celebrate real Christmas, giving Glory to God in the highest, and truly wishing peace to all people of good will.

PS. And let's not be so quick to judge the will of others.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

No duplicity

In the Gospel today, we hear Jesus say about Nathaniel "there is no duplicity in him." While we would like to say the same about ourselves, it is not always true.

Today's first reading is about the simple commandment love one another. It is very easy for us to see the many simple ways when we can fail that commandment. Rather than focus on the failure, perhaps it is better to focus on how we can succeed.

David Brooks wrote a very worthwhile column on, what could seem to be a passé topic, manners and I provide the link here.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

It's all Greek to me

Today the Church celebrates the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

I could not help but recall all the fuss years ago when people were seeing the abbreviation Xmas and complaining that someone was trying to take the Christ out of Christmas. While there are many places and ways in which Christ has disappeared from Christmas, this abbreviation isn't one of them.

Remembering that Greek not Latin was the language of the New Testament and the early Church, there are two ancient abbreviations which are often seen in art.

Χρ -the first two letters of the word Christ in Greek, and
Ιης( often written IHS) the first three letters of the word Jesus in Greek)

In art the XP or the IHS are often superimposed one over the other

These abbreviations have, over the centuries, been literally woven into people's lives in tapestries, vestments, altar clothes, and other small objects to keep the name of Jesus, and his title Christ before the eyes of the faithful. This year how will we keep Jesus daily before our eyes?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Undying Heresy

Today the Church celebrates two great saints who were also close friends, Gregory of Nazianzuz and Basil, one of the few saints on whom the Church has bestowed the title "the Great."

Both lived in the time when the Church was still struggling with the basic nature of Christ and it is, therefore, fitting that we celebrate them on this 9th day of Christmas.

At the time there were two competing notions of Jesus. The first is the one we hold now that God is a trinity, three equal persons, all of which existed from before all time.

The second one called Arianism which saw the Father as the eternal God. Jesus was understood to be subordinate to him, created.

While I have yet to run into anyone who would call themselves an Arian, many seem to think as Arians. When you hear the word "God" what image pops into your mind? If the first image is the father, instead of all three persons of the trinity, that's Arian. If you think of the Father as outranking the Son or the Holy Spirit, that's Arian. Our creed hammers home the equality of the persons " God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God."

Why is it so hard for us to truly grasp the reality of the trinity? It strikes me that all we have to do is look at our present political wrangling, our tendency to see the world as a zero sum game, where one persons win must be another persons loss. There must be a top dog.

We cannot seem to wrap our minds around three persons in undivided unity and harmony, perfect collaboration from before the beginning of the creation of the universe until now.

And yet, as Christians we believe that we humans are created in the image and likeness of God. One aspect of this likeness is that we too are called to imitate that collaboration. May we strive to imitate the trinity we profess.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

World Day of Peace

In the current calendar, we Catholics begin the year by turning toward Mary, as the Mother of God, the one through whom God was made visible to the world. We know that Mary looks upon every human life from the moment he or she is conceived as her child and so we also celebrate that desire that all her children live in peace. Today we set aside politics, nationality, all every other human construct by which we divide ourselves into "us" and "them."

For us in the US, we also look back to January 1, 1863 and the Emancipation Proclamation, a turning point in one of the most shameful practices in the life of our nation, slavery, the buying and selling of human beings. It would be another two years before the constitution was rectified, and the 13th amendment banned slavery or involuntary servitude. We forget that the Declaration of Independence and 1776 was for whites only. It would be almost a century before the "all men are created equal" would truly mean all.

As 2013 opens let us pray to Mary our mother, for all the ways and places in our world where the true dignity of all her children is still not respected, that this year may move our world closer to true freedom and peace.