Thursday, February 28, 2013

Day 16- Day of Change

At 2 PM for those of us on the east coast, the pope retires and Catholics around the world begin a time of prayer for guidance of the Holy Spirit for the cardinals charged with the overwhelming task of choosing the next Pope.

The Prayer for the Election of a Pope

O God, Eternal Shepherd, who govern your flock with unfailing care,
grant in your boundless fatherly love a Pastor for your Church
who will please you by his holiness
and to us show watchful care.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit
one God forever and ever.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Day 15 - The Last Word

As I listened this morning to the final public Address of Pope Benedict XVI, I was struck by his willingness to speak about his own frailty. His willingness to put the Church and the office of the Supreme Pontiff of more than a billion Catholics above himself speaks volumes about who he is. He dodged nothing. He spoke to the issues we face. Most of all he let the world in on the conversation with God that led to the historic decision, a model of faith and prayer.

Today's gospel tells us:

whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Pope Benedict XVI gave he life in service and as the good servant, put the faith and the church first. While he published only three encyclicals, they will provide us with years of reflection.

May God continue to bless him.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Day 13- Two sides to the coins

From today's Gospel, we often remember the first part,"Stop judging and you will not be judged."Perhaps this is the easiest part for us to remember because it doesn't cost us anything.

The second part is more difficult, because it actually costs us something.

Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.

Today's reading reminds us that Lent, is about more than prayer and fasting but also includes alms giving. If we go back to the original Ash Wednesday gospel, we will see that of the three practices associated with Lent alms giving is listed first in Matthew's Gospel.

How many of us received those operation rice bowl boxes at our parishes in Lent and perhaps don't even know where they are at this moment. Today's gospel is a reminder to find the box, and catch up. Almsgiving is supposed to be part of our life year-round as Christians. During Lent we are supposed to convert it into a daily practice. We are only 13 days into Lent, it's still not too late to start over, if this part of Lent has not been as successful as we would have liked.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Day 12-Change and Permanence

Sometimes we humans can seem nonsensical. On the one hand we get bored. On the other hand we don't like change. And it seems the older we get, the less we like it. This is not a defect; it is our nature.

We are composite creatures: part physical, part spiritual. Our physical self is constantly in motion. Try to sit still and meditate for even 5 minutes, see how often the mind flits from one thing to the next. The Spiritual part of us seeks the Eternal, the unchanging.

The problem is when we try to find the unchanging in our physical world. We think that if we can make the world stand still, or turn back the clock, things will be better.

Every aspect of the material can and does constantly change. Even our hearts and minds change. If we are truly the person God calls us to be, we are constantly drawing closer to God. The only unchanging reality is God. We were created for him, to be one with him, and our soul knows this. We hate change because we know that our true home is with God. St. Augustine was correct, "Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee."

True happiness, true peace comes when we can embrace the changing nature of the world and ourselves, and simultaneously anchor ourselves to the Unchanging ONE, God.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Day 11 - Just do it!

Sometimes we make the gospel more difficult than it needs to be. Sometimes it is simply a matter of sitting down and doing something.
Today we hear what appears to be one of the most difficult of the commands in the gospel your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father...
While the first part make seem difficult if not impossible, it is quite simple if we start with the second part.
Just sit down and pray, pray for those who don't like us, pray for those who have hurt us, pray for those who have trespassed against us. Even if you don't feel like or even mean it, just do it.
What we will find with time is that over time God's grace will transform us. It may take days weeks months or years but little by little, if we allow it, it will happen. We call it conversion.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Day 10-preparing for the empty chair

Today, as every year, the church celebrates the Chair of Peter. To our modern mind it may seem odd, and it is in fact the only feast in the calendar dedicated to a piece of furniture. The chair,cathedra, has from earliest times been the symbol of the authority of a bishop, in much the same way a judge's authority is still symbolized in the bench.

This year the feast takes on a unique significance, as for the first time in six centuries the occupant of the Chair of Peter is choosing to relinquish the position for the greater good of the Church, modeling for us the call in the gospel to put others ahead of ourselves.

Today in a special way we pray for the current occupant of the Chair, and we pray for whomever the Holy Spirit chooses to be the next occupant. In our arrogance, we often speak of the president as "the most powerful man in the world." And yet, the world Catholic population is more than 3 times that of the US, encompassing a multitude of countries, languages, and cultures. The primary role of the occupant of the chair of Peter remains today what it always was, to continue fishing for people, and to see that,in the words from the end of John's gospel, "Even though there were so many, the net was not torn." Over the centuries, the net has be stretched and strained, but by God's grace we continue to carry out our mission into a third millennium.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Day 8 - Doing Penance

It would be interesting to look historically at the question, when did the idea that we need to do Penance fall out of our mindset?

The first reading and the gospel today deal with how the people of Nineveh responded to the preaching of Jonah and according to the custom of the time put on sack cloth and ashes. No, I am suggesting we need to do that but I do think we need to find our modern equivalent.

Humans are physical beings, and as such we are beings not simply of thought but of action. As a matter of fact we know that sometimes the action needs to precede the thought. We feel tired. We don't feel like exercising. The best response is to get up and move anyway and sure enough over time we have more energy and we feel less tired and more like exercising.

Doing penance it seems to me must start with the acknowledgement of sin. We need to stop rationalizing our behavior and name the sins.
We need to recognize that there two aspects to the effect of sin: the guilt and the penalty.
Forgiveness relieves us of the guilt, but in justice there is still a penalty. I may apologize for running into your car, and you may accept my apology, but I still, in justice, owe you for the repair. God is like a good parent; being forgiven does not mean that there is no punishment. God is merciful but also just.

Fasting as a penance, is not about the health benefits. Alms-giving done as penance is not about helping the poor( we should do that year round).

Our acts of penance done during Lent is about paying the penalty for the sins we commit. Part of the good news of the Christian faith is that we believe that while we are alive God gives us the chance to choose the penance. We can pick our punishment, if you will.

The much maligned concept of the plenary indulgence is the perfect balance of justice and mercy. Most are very simple actions. We believe that if done with a spirit of true contrition, because of the super-abundance of God's mercy bring full remission of temporal punishment due to sin.( the penalty)

So in recent years have so emphasized the mercy of God that they have all but obliterated the justice. Once again we must seek balance.

This Year of Faith the Holy Father has designated several special plenary indulgences, perhaps this Lent would be a good time.

The simplest and most common plenary indulgence is attached to the praying the Stations of the Cross. Even walking them individually, and mediating on each station, combined with the usual three conditions: confession, communion, and prayer for the Holy Father fulfills the requirement.

Indulgence is a gift from God that should not be dismissed.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Day 7 - unconditional forgiveness ?

Some people will talk about God's forgiveness and they will describe it as unconditional. It sounds very nice. This is, however, wrong.

God's love is unconditional. That's true. But God's forgiveness is conditional. The Scriptures repeat over and over again that it has one condition and we hear it in today's Gospel, twice.

In the Our Father:

forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;

And interestingly, Jesus feels that this is the one thing from the our father that he needs to reiterate and so he says again:

If you forgive men their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”

And we should take note that he doesn't give us any outs.
The text doesn't say, "if you forgive men their trespasses when they apologize " or "if you forgive men their trespasses when you believe they've actually changed"We are not God and we cannot judge another person's heart. Therefore, God simply tells us to forget, period, end of discussion. We leave the judging of another person's intentions or heart to God.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Day 6 - Oneness

Today we hear the famous passage:

Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison,
and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you,
what you did not do for one of these least ones,
you did not do for me.’

This is often follow by encouraging us to see Christ in everyone which sounds nice but is theologically off base.

Christianity does not teach that Christ is in everyone, nor that we are all God's children.

We become the sons and daughters of God and part of the body of Christ by baptism. We becomes temple of the Holy Spirit, and when we have received the Eucharist we can literally say we have Christ in us.

When Jesus tells us that what we do for the least we are doing for him, and what we don't do for the least we are not doing for him, he is not looking to the divinity we share, he is looking at the other side, humanity.

We are to treat every person with dignity not by trying to pretend that we see Jesus in them, but because of who they are in themselves, a human being. Going back to Genesis God teaches us the things that set human beings apart: we have a soul, we are created in the image and likeness of God, there is a single humanity of which we are all a part.

At the annunciation and Christmas we celebrate the fact that God chose to share in that single humanity. What we do for one part of humanity we do for all.

When we see the poor, dirty, perhaps drug addicted man on the corner, it is not about pretending to see Christ. The real challenge is to see the humanity that he shares with you and I and Jesus, to see the real human being, with a name, perhaps frail, dirty, and broken. And in that moment when we can see our shared humanity, then we can experience com-passion, we suffer with our brother because we truly understand that he is part of us—One adam, one human race.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

First Sunday of Lent-Day Five

On this first Sunday of Lent, the first reading reaches back to the story of God freeing the Israelites from slavery. This image is picked up in the New Testament with Jesus freeing us from the great slavery that all human beings experience, the slavery to sin. By his death and resurrection, we have received the grace we need to be truly free.

The Gospel however reminds us that this is not freedom from temptation. Each day of our life we experience many temptations. The most basic temptation is to seek pleasure and avoid pain, without reference to right, wrong, or consequences.

We have often heard it said that human beings are creatures of habit. Habit however is not a bad thing. We need habits. They help us to respond appropriately when we are surprised and do not have time to carefully think through our decisions. The habit of doing the right thing we call virtue. By developing virtue, with practice, we are able to do the right thing even when we don't "feel like it."

The opposite of virtue however is vice, those habitual ways of behaving that are contrary to what God would have us do. In this first week of Lent, perhaps it is a good time for us to look at ourselves and take stock. What are the virtues that are present in our daily lives, those habitual ways of behaving that are in accord with God's plan for us? And while it is more difficult, we should also look at our vices. What are those habitual ways of behaving that we most need God to help us change?

We are always going to experience temptation. But if we have developed virtues, habits of responding appropriately, then we can more easily overcome the temptations that happen in our daily lives.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Day 4

The first reading today we hear,

If you hold back your foot on the sabbath from following your own pursuits on my holy day; If you call the sabbath a delight, and the LORD’s holy day honorable....

For us as Christians, the Sabbath is Sunday the day of resurrection. When I was a child it was easy. No one much worked on Sunday and everything was closed. Now it is much more difficult. Everything is open and many people are forced to work.

In 1998, Pope John Paul II published the apostolic letter Dies Domini (The Day of The Lord) In an attempt to remind us of the importance of setting a date aside each week in which our primary focus is God. All three of the most common monotheistic religions recognize such a day: For Moslems-Friday, for Jews-Saturday, for Christians-Sunday. Each recognizes that is not simply about God, it is also about the way we are created. The human being is not created to work seven days a week. We are not machines. We are spiritual beings.

Perhaps one of the things we should do this Lent, in the category of prayer, is to focus on trying as best we can to turn Sunday back into a day dedicated to the Lord. Even if we work a job that requires us to work on Sunday, we can still find ways to change the way we live the day so that we remain focused on God

Friday, February 15, 2013

Day 3

On this first Friday of Lent, we are all called to abstain from meat, and fast each day from whatever we "gave up." The first reading, however, takes it to a new level. God through the prophet Isaiah tells us:

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.

Today we may not be able to do all of these things, but may I suggest you pick one. Surely each of us can do one of these simple actions. A donation of food, clothing, or even the quick online donation to help those in need. We can do it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Day 2

On the second day of Lent we get a very simple instruction

"deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me"

Self-denial may in the 21st century, be the most counter-cultural concept. It goes beyond charity. It goes beyond loving the neighbor as yourself. The Greek has the sense of utterly denying, or disowning something. The call of the gospel challenges us to constantly direct out attention outward, towards others, most of all toward God. And do it daily.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What's the goal?

Today's gospel from chapter 6 of Matthew's gospel lays out the three traditional practices associated with Lent: Alms-Giving, Prayer, and Fasting. Worth noting also is verse immediately before that literally explains the goal of these practices. Mt. 5:49 in which we are commanded to "Be Perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect."

On the surface it seems an impossible demand, but it isn't. The word which gets translated as perfect is the Greek word teleios, At its root it refers to being complete, reaching a goal, reaching the end for which something exists. To be perfect in this sense does not mean that God expects me to be flawless. Very simply put it means being the person God intended me to be, to do what God put me here to do.

Today we begin the season of Lent with three practices:

Alms-Giving- that turns my attention away from myself
Prayer- that turns my mind and heart to God
Fasting- that strips away all the unnecessary in my life

that we may each day do the will of God a be the person God calls us to be.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mardi Gras

I former days not just Catholics, but many other Christians observed a much stricter Lenten discipline than today. Under the stricter discipline today would be the day when not only meat, but also meat products such lard had to be used up or thrown out. And so today became Fat (Lard) Tuesday.

After the Second Vatican Council, the Church shifted the onus to the individual. The law only requires us to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday from ages 18-60, and to abstain from meat on Fridays from age 14.

These were never intended to be maximums but minimums. It is left to us as individuals to look at our own lives and ask:

How do I need to fast?
From what do I need to abstain?

Let us enjoy today, and at the same time plan tomorrow.
Prayer, Fasting, and Alms-Giving

Monday, February 11, 2013

Prayers for the Pope

Not since 1415 has a Pope chosen to resign. My respect for Pope Benedict XVI has never been greater than this moment. While I have known his humility since I literally bumped into him, as Card. Joseph Ratzinger, in St. Peter's Square more than a decade ago, today I know that humility and humanity that I perceived in him that day is at the very core of his being.

He is a model of both humility and courage. It takes great courage for any of us to admit that we can no longer do what we once did. How much more so when you are the leader of more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide.

I can only imagine how difficult a decision this had to have been. Let us pray for him today as he prepares to begin his new role in the Church.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Study in Contrasts

Yesterday, I listened to a speaker quoting Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and referencing what is referred to as "The Great Awakening."

This morning a wake up to our reading from the first letter to the Hebrews in which the the God of whom Moses said,"I am terrified and trembling" is contrasted with

...the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,
and God the judge of all,
and the spirits of the just made perfect,
and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant..

You could slip into your child's room and scream into his/her ear at the top of your lungs, and it is true that it would awaken them. But would it be the truly Christian approach?

Yesterday the reading spoke to us of a parent's need to discipline. Today we are reminded of what is new about the new covenant. That with the new covenant God alters the relationship between God and human being.

One of the unforgettable days of my life was standing in St. Peter's Square in 2000 on the Day of Forgiveness when the Pope and others including the then Cardinal-Prefect apologized for among other things, the errors made by individuals within the Church in a misguided attempt to defend the faith.

In every religion and every generation, there have been and always will be misguided individuals, and groups. If one wants to attack the faith, you can always find examples to point to. It is for this reason that I thank God for the fact that when he established the Church, he put in place a structure to guard the deposit of faith and to right the ship.

Today's reading reminds us that God does not want us to fear him, he wants us to love him, to be a part of his very body. The proverb may be right that "Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom", but it certainly is not the end.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Everyone ?

As we come to the end of our reading of the letter to the Hebrews, Today we received two commandments.

Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

In the words they are so simple:
Strive for peace with everyone
Strive of holiness without which no one will see the Lord

The word for peace used here includes the concepts of quiet, tranquility,and concord. The word for holiness also can be translated as purity.

The more closely you look, it is not the command that is the challenge, it is the specifiers.
-with everyone
-without which no one will see the Lord

These seem impossible until you realize it is really very simple. All we have to do is deal with life one person at a time, and one choice at a time, and allow God to be part of every decision. It's not that it's all that difficult, but it does require discipline and practice.

As we are moving through the day interacting with one person after another, we must truly see and hear the one who is right in front of us at the moment. As the options about what we will say or do at any given moment present themselves, always keep in mind that the Holy Spirit is right there with you in the choice.

Change may not happen overnight but with practice it will happen.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Saint Agatha

Today we remember a third century martyr. It is easy for these stories to seem so far removed and different from anything we experience that we feel no real connection. One more stature —One more painting

For 2013 the estimates in the US are:

* About 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women

* About 64,640 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be found (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).

*About 39,620 deaths from breast cancer (women)

Imagine the worldwide numbers.

St. Agatha is the patron saint for all these women because of the many tortures she endured, the one that was not only the most physically, but also emotionally damaging was having her breasts cut off. Even as I write this I know that as a man I cannot fully understand impact having breasts removed has on a woman.

While our treatments have vastly improved, it is still traumatic, and there are far to many places where treatments, and supports are unavailable to the women in need

Today we turn to St. Agatha for her intercession for all the survivors, those struggling, and those who have yet to be diagnosed with breast cancer, may she be their constant support.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Mental Illness and Exorcism

Today's gospel, the healing of the man among the tombs, touches one of the most difficult topics we deal with as people of faith. Once more we find that what our church actually teaches is the middle point between the tow extremes.

In the time of Jesus most mental and some physically illnesses such as epilepsy were understood solely as signs of demonic possession. Jesus did not step into that world and introduce 20th century psychologically, but responded in the idiom of the people.

Jump to the late 20th century, and we get the other extreme, those who want to reduce every problem to some form of mental illness or medical condition. Witness our own story from VA Beach of the young man whose suicide has brought the over diagnosis of ADHD and the drugs associated with it into the national consciousness. A pill is not the answer for every problem.

Both extremes, as extremism usually does, lead to the false dilemma. The first century was wrong, and much of the 21st century is wrong.

The Catholic Church in dealing with the human person recognizes that there are three aspects to every person: body, mind, and soul. Like most good scientists, the Church would have us look to the simplest answer first.

Do we still have a rite of major exorcism? Yes. But, it is only to be used by those priests, specifically chosen and trained for this ministry. Additionally, the Church teaches that before it is employed, medical and psychological avenues should first be explored to explain the situation in question. Your first thought, when someone is experiencing auditory hallucinations, should not be "The devil did it."

There are those situations where we do believe that we can dealing with what might be call spiritual illness. If we accept that the human being has a soul how can we reasonably dismiss that aspect of the person in dealing with their overall well-being. In this I would argue the Church takes the most liberal, broad-minded position, and those who would accept only the medical or psychological are the narrow minded.

As always it is a matter of balance.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

World Day of Consecrated Life

Today the Church throughout the world celebrates those who have consecrated their life to Christ. These are the men and women whom we refer to as "religious." What sets them apart from other Christians, is the total donation of self which is manifested in the three vows known as "evangelical counsels":poverty, chastity, and obedience.

Poverty- surrender of material possessions, total dependence
Chastity- Married couples are also called to chastity, single-hearted fidelity.
Obedience- total surrender to the will of God.

By embracing this unique form of life they seek the perfection of charity, love of God and love of neighbor.

There are a variety of forms of religious or consecrated life. While some religious are clergy, most are not and the vows they embrace are different from the promises made by a deacon, priest, or bishop upon ordination. Some religious men and women live in monasteries, but again, most do not. Some live in community, others are consecrated virgins or hermits.

Today the church draws our attention to unique contributions that they make. The unique charisms of the communities founded by the likes of St. Benedict, St. Dominic, St. Francis, St. Alphonsus Ligouri, and St Ignatius, just to name a few that are represented in our own diocese. Perhaps this week would be a good time to contact of the religious communities near you and offer your prayers and support.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Growing like Jesus

Καὶ Ἰησοῦς προέκοπτεν [ἐν τῇ] σοφίᾳ καὶ ἡλικίᾳ καὶ χάριτι παρὰ θεῷ καὶ ἀνθρώποις.

This last verse from Today's gospel, for the Feast of the Presentation, may be among the most difficult from some Christians to grasp. Those first three words,"And Jesus grew", run contrary to the heretical notion still common among some that Jesus was born, because of his divinity, with all knowledge. Since the beginning of Christianity there have been those who wanted to play down his humanity.

St. Luke tells us he had to grow in three ways. The simplest and most easily acceptable helikia- size or stature, however tall he may have ended up being.

The other two are more of a challenge for some to accept:
Sophia - wisdom, and
Charis - favor, it goes on to say before God and men.

Could he have chosen to come into the world as some imagine? yes, but he did not. And the second reading explains why.

Surely he did not help angels but rather the descendants of Abraham;
therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every way,
that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people.
Because he himself was tested through what he suffered,
he is able to help those who are being tested.

We worship a God who loved one creature, the human being, so much that he chose to empty himself and experience every aspect of human life from conception to death.

You say what about sin? I would respond that Jesus experienced temptation but not sin, reminding us that sin is not part of what it means to be human. God did not create sin, we did. It was a misuse of human free will that brought sin into the world.

Sin is not an essential part of what it means to be human. Jesus showed us what it truly means to be human as God intended it, and thought his death and ressurection gave us the means to that life.

Today we bless candles, and celebrate Jesus as the light of the world. Let us, with the help of grace, walk always as children of the light and may we grow like Jesus in wisdom, and stature, and favor before God and men.

Friday, February 1, 2013


You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised.
The Greek noun translated here as simply endurance is often translated as "cheerful endurance." This is not a teeth gritting endurance but a peaceful passing through with firm hope and trust that on the other side of the painful experience there is light.
In our world of immediacy, it is worthwhile to stop and remember the cardinal virtue of fortitude.
As the Catechism says:
Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. "The Lord is my strength and my song." "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
From the small daily bumps in the road, to the large crises, he answer is the same. We keep our eyes fixed on the loving face of God, and walk forward through life one step at a time.