Friday, May 31, 2013

More than ten

When we think of commandments, we behave as if we were Jewish, and not even Jews who know the whole Torah. We act as if there are only 10 commandments.

Today's first reading option from Paul is nothing but a long list of commandments

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;
do not be haughty but
associate with the lowly;
do not be wise in your own estimation.

I count 21 imperatives in just this list. 17 things we should do, and 4 we should not do.

Perhaps a list we need to go back to on a regular basis.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The beauty of God's creation

The Book of Sirach reading today ends by remaining us

The universe lives and abides forever; to meet each need, each creature is preserved.All of them differ, one from another, yet none of them has he made in vain, For each in turn, as it comes, is good; can one ever see enough of their splendor?

Today is a day to stop and reflect on the concept of the universe. The truly infinite beauty of what God has created, each individual creature with a purpose. In those moments when our vision narrows to our own challenges of the day, its time to return to the question. "Can one ever see enough of their splendor?" Pull back, take the wide angle lens, and drink in the glory of God.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How selfless?

Today's reading from the Book of Sirach is a prayer. It openings,

Come to our aid, O God of the universe, look upon us, show us the light of your mercies, and put all the nations in dread of you! Thus they will know, as we know, that there is no God but you, O Lord.

The first part of the prayer is quite congruous with our faith, a petition for aid and mercy. But then they prayer turns and becomes selfishness disguised as selflessness.

They ask God to put all nations in dread of him, but then claim that they are asking God to do this so that all the other nations will understand that he is the one true God.

So to break this prayer down to its core: for us aid and mercy, for them dread.— but for their own good of course.

We may not engage in this so blatantly, but how often do we allow ourselves to enjoy it when someone we don't like falls down, or is being attacked. How often do we really love our enemies and pray for our persecutors as we are taught by Christ to do.

The fundamental problem with the prayer is that it divides the world into us and them. It is hard for us not to do this, particularly when we are feeling personally or communally attacked. But if we are Christians we have to fight the urge. When we as a Church seem to go on and on about the sanctity of every human life, it is not just about abortion. It is the core of our anthropology, our understanding of what it means to be human. Even the lives of Bashar al-Asad, and Kim Jong Un are sacred. That's what making being Christian hard.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Not us

Today's first reading which is about sacrifices to The Lord ends with a warning:

But offer no bribes, these he does not accept! Trust not in sacrifice of the fruits of extortion. For he is a God of justice, who knows no favorites.

While most of us would never think of it as a bribe or attempted extortion, how many of us at some pointed have uttered the if/then prayer, "God, if you just ..., I promise I will...." That my friends is a bribe. And as today's reading reminds us, it never works.

First of all, there is nothing God needs from anyone. He wants to be in a loving relationship with each of us, but that is for our good, not his. Secondly, God knows what we need and how to distinguish it from what we want. He will give us, when we ask, the former, not the latter.

The good news is, as the reading reminds us, there are no favorites in the whole world. If we have the humility to turn to God, every single day he will give us, exactly what we need that day, that minute of that day. All 1,440 minutes each day God is loving and listening for all 7 billion people on the earth, and knows each one of us better than we know ourselves.

So no need to bribe, just pray, and if you don't know what to pray for just silently open your heart and listen.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Always a way home

This week we continue the Book of Sirach and today's passage opens with a promise

To the penitent God provides a way back, he encourages those who are losing hope and has chosen for them the lot of truth.

Once more we are reminded of the infinite mercy of God. Of course, it does begin with the penitent, not a state we like to think of ourselves. We seem these day to take one of two extreme paths

On the one hand, the path of pride, the person who is convinced that they haven't sinned, at least not in any bad way. They see no need to be penitent.

On the other hand, the path of guilt, those who refuse to truly accept the forgiveness of God. The cannot take the way back, because they have chained themselves down with their guilt, chained themselves to their sin.

The path of truth is right in the middle. The penitent is the person who can honestly name their sin, accept the gift of forgiveness, and then take the way back offered by God.

Either other path is a lie.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Putting it Together

After celebrating the saving work of the Son, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Today we celebrate the Most Holy Trinity.

On the surface, the concept of the trinity can seem at times like some abstract idea that doesn't really effect my daily life. But it is, in fact, absolutely essential to our Christian Faith.

St Mathew tells us to go and baptize, "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." But again we are left with why?

The three great monotheistic religions of the world agree that there is only one God, but for us as Christians, relationality (Love) is so much a part of the nature of God that within that unity there must be more than one person. For us loving isn't just something God does; it's what God is. Most religious people would say they believe God loves them. We go further. We say it is Gods very nature.

And if we are created in the image and likeness of God, it is our nature. "It is not good for the man to be alone." We are created to live in love, with one another and with God. Multiple persons each with its unique identity and yet in perfect unity. They way God is and the way God created us to be.

Defining sin is easy. It's selfishness. Think of any sin and at its core you will see that it is a manifestation of selfishness, putting your want,your desire ahead of others, breaking the relationship we are suppose to have with one another.

The trinity is at the core of our theology, our anthropology, our morality. It is what makes us Christian.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Accepting the embrace

Today's gospel ends with:

Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.” Then he embraced the children and blessed them, placing his hands on them.

What does it mean to accept the kingdom like a child? At least one part of what it means is signaled in what comes next. Jesus embraced the children. Particularly as boys in America, how old were we the first time some adult went to hug us and we either pulled away or simply cringed when they did it? In our minds we were too old for hugging and worse yet if they kissed us.

We must be those little children. We must let Jesus completely embrace us. We must let him lay his hands on us, on our hearts, drawing out any pain and sin, and filling us with his grace and strength each and every day. We should walk though life with a sense of being completely enveloped in the arms of Jesus. Then we can face not only the ordinary stressors of the day, but anything the day might bring.

Friday, May 24, 2013

True friends

For those of us who are more extroverted, today's reading for Sirach can be a hard lesson. Without repeating it all the key verses are:

Let your acquaintances be many, but one in a thousand your confidant....A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth.

We are reminded that we should not be afraid in times of need to seek shelter in these faithful, true friends. Perhaps today is a time to take stock of those people God has put into our lives who are those one in a thousand friends on whose love and support we can depend, those who know our imperfections and love us anyway.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Christian but...

Many like to think of us as a Christian or Judeo-Chrisitian nation. But even the most religious and patriotic among us tend to cherry pick the parts of the Bible we think we should emulate. Every time I hear someone proclaim, "We are the greatest nation in the world" or now "We are the world's superpower" I cringe. Not because I am unpatriotic but because I read my bible.

Today's first reading opens:
Rely not on your wealth;
say not: “I have the power.”
Rely not on your strength.

It then goes on to explain in great detail what happens to those who do. Since this book of the Bible is about wisdom, it is safe to say that what is being described is the path of the fool.

The minute we begin to rely on our wealth or power, and talk about it as something of our creation rather than gift from God we are in trouble. Can we be proud of our accomplishments? Certainly, as long as at every single moment we are recognizing that the intelligence, the talent, the strength used to accomplish it is all gift from God.

From the moment we wake up, and draw that first conscious breath in the morning each new day is a gift from God. My life is from God. My only real power is from God. My strength is day is God.

Then we are on the road to wisdom.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Now the Good News

Yesterday we heard the challenge of seeking wisdom today we hear why it is worth it.

Wisdom breathes life into her children and admonishes those who seek her. He who loves her loves life; those who seek her will be embraced by the Lord.

And be careful because we Americans tend to hear "admonish" with a bit of a negative connotation. It literally means to warn, to advice, to urge. If I am about to drive off the road don't I want the person in the car with me to admonish me.

Most importantly what this passage reminds us of is that all we have to do is seek her and she will breath life into us and The Lord will embrace us, as a loving Father embraces his children.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Do we really want to be wise?

Today's first reading from Sirach opens:

My son, when you come to serve the LORD, stand in justice and fear,
prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, incline your ear and receive the word of understanding, undisturbed in time of adversity.
Wait on God, with patience, cling to him, forsake him not; thus will you be wise in all your ways.

Isn't there an easier way? And of course the answer is no.
Then there are those of us who fall back to the minimalist school. Do I really need to be wise to get into heaven? Can't I just be good- just good enough?
Again the answer is no.

God wants us to go for it with all our might. Wandering through life trying just to dodge hell is not enough. He has filled us with his Spirit, and made his wisdom available to us so that we can do great things. Everyone one of us in our own way are called to greatness and yes we are called to be wise.

So to borrow from, of all people, Lady Macbeth,"screw your courage to the sticking place, and we will not fail." For us Christians the sticking place is Jesus Christ.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Who are the wise?

Yesterday marked the end of the Easter Season and today we enter what I think of as the real challenge, living the gospel in Ordinary Time. This week the readings begin our trip through the Book of Sirach, aka Ecclesiasticus (not to be confused with Ecclesiastes). The wisdom of Ben Sira, while not considered by Protestants or modern Judaism part of the Canon of Scripture, is held by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches to be part of the inspired word of God and included in the Bible and is quoted frequently in the Talmud. It most closely resembles proverbs in that it is a collection of ethical sayings.

To it opens by reminding us that "All wisdom comes from the LORD" and ends by telling us "he has lavished her upon his friends." In the middle, today's reading tells us that wisdom was created through the Holy Spirit.

The mistake we make is that we think of wisdom as a gift given to only a few. Today's reading reminds us of the superabundance of wisdom that God has poured out on us who are his friends. It's not that we lack her (Wisdom is depicted as female). We have access to her constantly through the Holy Spirit. What separates the wise persons is that they are the ones who take time to be still, and quiet, and listen to her.

Today listen for the voice of wisdom. You never know through whom, when or where she will speak to you, but we do know

God lavishes wisdom upon his friends

Sunday, May 19, 2013

It takes time to understand

The date of Pentecost varies from year to year and back in 1989 I was blessed to have my first mass fall of the Solemnity of Pentecost. Looking back all these years I can say that I don't think I understood what a powerful act of divine providence it was, that the first mass at which I would preside was the mass at which we celebrate the beginning of the Church.

Both the first reading and the gospel tell us the story of disciples who are locked in the upper room of a house afraid to even go outside, uncertain of what the future holds for them. The same angry mob that yelled "crucify him, crucify him" may well now turn its anger on the followers of Jesus.

Then the might wind, the Ruah YHVH, the Holy Spirit blows through the house, lands on them and they are transformed. Their fear is replaced with courage, their doubt by faith, real faith.

In the second reading today St. Paul tells the Corinthians, "No one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." On the surface it seems absurd after all an atheist could say the words Jesus is Lord. But only the Holy Spirit enables us to truly grasps the meaning, and believe it. Jesus truly is the Kyrios, The Lord, the Master, the one God of the universe.

Today as we pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Church may we be transformed, our fears and doubts wiped away, and may we from the depths of our being cry out JESUS IS LORD.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Do we hear?

Today's gospel opens:

Peter turned and saw the disciple following whom Jesus loved, the one who had also reclined upon his chest during the supper and had said, “Master, who is the one who will betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours? You follow me.” So the word spread among the brothers that that disciple would not die. But Jesus had not told him that he would not die, just “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours?”

What Jesus said and what Peter heard were not the same thing, and then as it spread among the apostles it became accepted as if Jesus said it.

How little the world has changed. Even today, if you just keep repeating a story enough, some people, the ignorant, will believe it to be true. I use the word ignorant not in a pejorative sense, but in its literal sense, those without knowledge, those who do not know the truth.

In his great prayer we read this week Jesus dedicated us, not to gossip, rumor, innuendo, speculation, or even accusation, but to the Truth.

Sanctify them in the truth (Jn 17:17)

It is hard when we hear the same things repeated over and over again, not to fall into the trap, particularly if it is something we want to believe. But as Christians, we must train ourselves to cut through the noise, sometimes we have to be patient, but we must wait for the truth. This must apply this not just to the truth of the gospel but the truth in every aspect of our lives.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Boundless mercy

In today's Gospel we get the scene where Jesus asks Peter, not once, not twice, but three times, do you love me?

At that moment even Peter himself may not have truly understood what was going on. It wasn't that Jesus doubted the sincerity of his first answer. Even before Jesus asked the question, he knew the answer. He knew Peter's heart. But two things are going on: one, Peter needed to hear himself say it, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."

Second, and more importantly he needed to make the triple affirmation, to unwind the triple denial. Some say, "You cannot change the past. What's done is done." They forget one thing, God exists outside of time. Our linear unidirectional concept of time means nothing to God. Time and space are our limitations not his.

God not only forgives the wounds of our sins, but heals them.

If Jesus could heal the triple denial of Peter, what sin of ours can he not heal?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Never enough

This week we are reading the prayer of Jesus in John's gospel that is often referred to by scholars as Jesus's Last Testament. It is the lengthy prayer that he prays just prior to his arrest. (Jn 17)

Today he ends the prayer with these words: that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.

But do we really get it? Do we really in the depths of our being know that the same love with which the Father loves the Son is in us? Do we get that the Son through whom all things were made is in us? Even when we have just received communion do we truly believe that we have just received GOD.

If so how can we have fears? How can we have anxieties?
In the words of the psalm, "of whom should I be afraid" or "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." Or the simple command be not afraid.

We often forget that fortitude and courage are two of the cardinal virtues, not because of our self-esteem but because we believe the words with which Jesus ended the prayer before he went off to face his crucifixion.

that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.

We can never hear these words enough.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The not so good news

Today we hear:
I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the Evil One. They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world. Consecrate them in the truth.

Which of us on some level does not have a need to be accepted, to fit in, to belong? It's human. the real question is it what do we want to belong?
Jesus reminds us that if we are truly consecrated to the truth, the world may hate us. But we remain, grounded in steeped in the truth.

We live in this world but we belong to the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Standing still

In today's gospel we are told to do what can sometimes seem to be the impossible, stand still.

Jesus says, Remain in my love. The verb can also be translated to dwell, to remain in one place. While the world swirls around us, we are called to be anchored with and in God's love.

And why do this so that our joy might be complete.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Insidious Error

Rarely do I call something evil but I truly believe that one of the most insidious weeds that has invaded the Christian faith in our time is what has been labeled "prosperity theology", those preachers who promise that all you have to do is have faith,"claim the promises" and God is going to pour out blessings upon you.

What is so awful about this, besides the fact that it is heresy, is that it makes people when they are hurting feel worse. They feel that somehow they aren't praying hard enough, or they have offended God, or haven't tithed enough, that somehow its their fault.

Does Jesus promise blessing? yes. But remember also:

Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come." (Mk 10:29-30)

“If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you." (Jn 15:18-19)

And today's gospel's final words: "In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”

Living the Gospel in its fulness means more trouble not less, at least in the short term, because we will always be in someways misfits. But our hope is in those last five words, "I have conquered the world." He has already won the victory, there may be persecution and troubles, but the ultimate outcome is known.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Dealing with the Occult

And no, I don't mean witchcraft.

Today, as we celebrate the Ascension, we hear Jesus respond to the questions of his disciples with, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons" They want to know the future, they wanted to know when they are going to get all that has been promised. Jesus is about to leave them and they are told "it is not for you to know."

If we named this Feast according to how the disciples felt it would have been called the abandonment. They've been promised the Holy Spirit "in a few days" but they wanted answers now, reassurance of imminent victory, the restoration of Israel.

When we say the word occult we think ghosts and witchcraft, but the occult that can scare us more than any of those things is the future. Despite our best efforts it is hidden from us, it is not for us to know.

We must live our life one day at a time, and like the people of Israel who were only allowed to collect the manna for one day, we pray give us this day our daily bread. Like a toddler we must walk one step at a time, holding Our Father's hand. Sometimes like the toddler, we let go of the hand and try to run ahead, and sure enough we fall down. The big difference is that eventually that toddler is expected to walk on his own; we are not.

We know the destination, in the Ascension, Jesus opens the gates pf heaven to us. But only the Father knows our future in this life and therefore only he can know the path. Each day we wake up, we allow him to take us by the hand, and we pray for the Holy Spirit to guide our every step, knowing that God will always give us what we need for that day.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Getting whatever I ask for

Jesus said to his disciples:
Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.
Until now you have not asked anything in my name;
ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

On the surface this reading appears to suggest that God is the worst parent in the world, giving their child anything they ask for. But let's look a little closer.

First of all, the verb is not just ask but beg— not something we like to do.

Secondly, the word translated here as whatever has a variety of meanings: a wish, a possibility or an uncertainty. We may ask for a wish, but God may give us a possibility, perhaps even a possibility that we could never have imagined. The uncertainty we don't much care for, if we are honest, it scares us, it reminds us we are not in control.

Our peace however is found in the final words. We are told that whatever God gives us will be for one purpose, that our joy may complete. The word joy "chara" can best be described as calmly happy, that peace of God beyond all understanding. And the "complete" here means literally crammed full.

We can ask for whatever and God is going to give us whatever. The one thing we can bet on is that the whatever God gives us will lead us to an absolute fullness of joy, calm, delight in God.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Not Ascension

For those places where the Ascension is not celebrated today the Gospel includes the great question, "What is this ‘little while’ of which he speaks?"
It's been almost 2000 years and yet the second coming has not happened.

Firstly it reminds us that it is all relative. The Sahara seems big until you compare it to the universe, and 2000 years seems like a long time until you compare it to eternity.

Secondly, we are reminded of the very mixed feelings we have about the second coming. Even the Greek word for it, Apocalypse, does not conjure up in the minds of most people the beautiful "new heavens and a new earth" imagery of John. But it should!

We pray the words "Thy kingdom come" all the time and yet how often do we think about what we are actually praying for. We must be people who keep our eyes fixed on the kingdom to come, not as a form of escapism, but a source of perspective. Otherwise, the problems of the moment could swallow us up. A speck in the universe can seem like the world.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


In the gospel we hear that the "he[the Holy Spirit] will guide you to all truth". There is only one catch. We have to be willing to be guided, and to be guided along a path that is not of our choosing.

We all like the final destination. We all love the ideas of "God is love" and we are temples of the Holy Spirit, but the idea of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us along whatever path is best, can be a bit unnerving. We don't get to see the entire route. The best current metaphor may be the GPS without the preferences controls. We can see where we are, a little ways down the road, and when we need to know we get the next turn.

Thy will be done.

Today and each day can I trust God that much.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Two myths dispelled

In the first reading today we meet the character of Lydia, "a dealer in purple cloth." Since biblical times purple has had a unique meaning, put simply Lydia was rich. Why some have for two thousand years attempted to make it appear that only the poor followed Jesus is beyond me. In fact, men and women, Jew and gentile of every class were drawn by the Spirit into the early church.

The second myth this reading dispels is the notion at somehow infant baptism was a late invention of the Catholic Church. I simply point to the text itself. "After she and her household had been baptized...." The household would have everyone in the household. No where does the scriptures say, her household except infants, or those of her household old enough to profess faith.

The household, the family, has always been seen by Christians as the building block of society, and the Christian family the building blocks of the Church.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Things change

Growing up a baptist, I had many friends who would proudly announce they were fundamentalists and strictly adhered to the Bible( unlike the Catholics).
Well then comes today's reading from Acts.

It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God, but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood.

Idols - easy enough

Porneia- in Greek, a term whose exact translation is debated, translated here as unlawful marriage or fornication. How many are divorced and remarried?

Meat from strangled animals- even my own mother told stories of ringing a chickens neck.

Blood- how many Christians actually kosher their meat removing all the blood before they cook it? And then there is English black pudding, German blood sausage, andnFilipino dinuguan. Are they all sinful ?

From our Catholic perspective these things do not cause great consternation , because we do not see the Bible as the end. We believe that Jesus founded the Church as a living reality guided by the Holy Spirit.

Selling your daughter (Ex 21:7) we now recognize as sin.
Tattooing forbidden (Lev 19:28). Coptic (Egyptian) Christian have done for years to proudly proclaim their Christian identity.

We distinguish between the unchanging truths that make up the deposit of faith and those things which with time can change. We trust that God guides the magisterium. Today's reading from acts reminds us that God gave us a structure and a system to deal with unchanging truth and an ever-changing world.