Sunday, June 30, 2013

Unfit for God

We rarely like to think Jesus as distinguishing those who are suitable or fit for the Kingdom of God, and those who are not. We would much rather sing another verse of All are Welcome. It makes us feel better.

Today's gospel smacks us right in the face with an unexpected line that separates those who are fit and those who are not. The unfit he speaks of here are not murderers thieves or adulterers. They, after all, can be washed clean, their sins forgiven.

The unfit in today's gospel is the "one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind." Like Lot's wife in Genesis, or Elisha in the first reading, our natural tendency is to try and move forward while simultaneously holding on to the past. Today's gospel reminds us that we must pick ONE.

People will often describe mass celebrated using the older form as mass "where the priest had his back to the people." (Once again we're so vain we think its about us, the people) In reality, churches like St. Patrick's were built on an east-west axis, and the symbolism was that everyone including the priest faced one direction, east, the direction of the rising sun.

Should we learn from our mistakes? Of course, but that is different from holding on to them, ruminating on them. To be fit for the kingdom of God we must be people who move in only one direction, forward. We follow Jesus toward the Kingdom.

It is difficult. But the truth is that the past is gone, never to be recovered. When we look backward what do we actually see? Nothing but our imperfect memories, our selective imperfect constantly changing memories.

The Latin word for the state we hope for is beatus. It can be translated blessed or happy. If we are to be happy we must make the break.

In the first reading today we are told that Elisha took
the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them; he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh, and gave it to his people to eat. Then Elisha left and followed Elijah as his attendant.

On this last day of June can we do this? Whatever it is that we keep looking back at, pile it up and set fire to it, turn towards the Risen Son and walk forward. Then we will be fit for the Kingdom of God.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

More signs of shepherding

This morning the Pope conferred on 40+ archbishops, the Pallium. The vestment in its current form the a wool circle three fingers wide, with a small strip that hangs down in back and front, marked by 6 crosses.

Each year on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, those who have been named Archbishop in the last year gather for Mass at St. Peter's to receive this, the sign of their role as the archbishop of a province. For example, St. Patrick's Parish, is in the Diocese of Richmond which is part of the Province of Baltimore. As a matter of fact ourArchbishop William Lori received his pallium this morning.

Traditionally on the Feast of St. Agnes (Jan 21) the lambs whose wool will be used are blessed. The pallia are them placed overnight (last night) in a silver box in the confessio ( the area under the altar closest to the tomb of St. Peter). The wool pallium has a variety of meanings. Among them the wool, like the bishop's crozier is a constant reminder that the heart of the ministry is always pastoral, shepherding the people of God, tending. This morning Pope Francis focused them on confirming: confirming in faith, confirming in love, confirming in unity.

Ultimately he called the new archbishops and in a sense all of us :
To confess the Lord by letting oneself be taught by God; to be consumed by love for Christ and his Gospel; to be servants of unity.

Friday, June 28, 2013

How God really works

While they are some well intended Christians who will try and make it seem as if God in the New Testament is kinder and gentler than God in the Old Testament, today's reading reminds us the God of both testaments is one.

Despite all that Sarai did, today we hear God proclaim her Sarah, marking her role in the Covenant with Abram who will be Abraham. God did not revoke the promise or strike out at her. God keeps the promise through Sarah. Then additional God transformed Sarai's sin into a source of blessing for Hagar and her son Ismael (the name that means God has listened). In the end it is a win-win. Both women become the mothers of great nations.

And before you bring up the fight between the child remember how at the end of the story of Abraham, the sons came together
Gn 25

Then he breathed his last, dying at a ripe old age, grown old after a full life; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron, son of Zohar the Hittite, which faces Mamre, the field that Abraham had bought from the Hittites; there he was buried next to his wife Sarah.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Blaming others

The idea of blaming others for our mistakes is not new, as the first reading today reminds us, it is as old as history. Sarai (not yet Sarah) could not be patient and trust God to fulfill his promise. She encourages Abram to sleep with Hagar and then after Ismael is born, she takes out her anger and jealousy on the mother and child. Imagine how different the story might have been if Sarai had trusted God and waited or even after her first mistake, been willing to accept the consequences and respected Hagar and Ismael.

It is all to human when we make mistakes to feel embarrassment. Rather than getting defensive and angry how about we just name this mistake as soon as possible own responsibility and move forward.

Some people found the new translation of the confiteor "excessive" with "through my fault through my fault through my most grievous fault." I think more than ever we need to say those words.

On TV we hear a lot of people talking about the need to take responsibility but they always seems to be talking about someone or some group other than themselves. Rather than looking outward how about we each look inward. I think we will find plenty to occupy our time.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Be careful

In yesterday's readings we had Lot as the example of how we should not judge by appearance. In today's gospel we are instructed that the best way to judge is the metaphor of the fruit tree. We are judge by the fruit that the tree bears, either good or bad.

But there is a caution here. Anyone familiar with fruit trees knows that even the best tree from time to time bears a bad piece of fruit. It doesn't mean you cut the whole tree down.

Remember Luke 13

And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none,he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. [So] cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”

We are all too ready to cut down the tree. George Will recently quipped that the largest growth industry in the US was "the manufacture of synthetic indignation." One mistake, one sin, one error in judgement and we are ready to reduce a person's entire life to one bad decision, and cut down the tree. We fly into fits of feigned shock and synthetic indignation.

I think of a man like Gen. David Patreus, a man who committed what has always been considered one of the worst mortal sins, adultery. But he also lived a life dedicated to the service of his country, and as best I know was a man of faith and convictions. How should we judge him?

Let the one among you without sin cast the first stone.

Yes we are to judge a tree by the fruit it bears, but we must look at the totality. If we cut down ever tree in the orchard that ever produces a bad apple we are going to end up with not an orchard but an empty field. Only two sinless people ever walked this earth Jesus and Mary. The rest of us depend on God's to help us do good, and God's forgiveness when we sin.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What comes first

This week we jump back to the book of Genesis and we pick up at the point where Abram (Not yet Abraham) and Lot separate. Abram gives the choice to Lot, and judging by first impression and appearance picks what looks best. Abram take what's left and moves his tents to Hebron, to the terebinth of Mamre.

We could say much about the process of choosing but it is another detail that the Spirit drew me to today, the end. When Abram gets to his new home, what did he do? He built an altar to The Lord.

It used to be a standard part of tradition for Catholics to have their houses blessed and to decorate their homes with some religious articles, and it was not unusual to see, often on the chest of drawers in the bedroom a kind of altar.

This practice served several purposes. The objects in various rooms reminded us of the constant presence of God, and served as a constant call to prayer. The blessing of the house reminded us that a house is not just a house or home, it is "the domestic church." It also served as a way of thanking God for the simple gift of having a home. How many homeless do we have right here in the USA.

Today look around your living space. It tells you a lot about a person's priorities. Where does God fit in?

Monday, June 24, 2013

12-9+3 almost

Today we celebrate the nativity of John the Baptist. We celebrate it on this day because we celebrate Christmas Dec 25. We count back 9 months and celebrate the annunciation on Mar 25. And since the angel told Mary that Elizabeth was in her six month we count forward 3 months minus one day.

It al seems rather complex but it reminds us that the plan of God is not moment by moment, but extends across all time. How often do we get frustrated because we simply can't see how God can possibly make something good out of our present situation. We want signs. We want immediacy. When we read Romans 8 "We know that all things work for good for those who love God...." We can forget that when it says all it means all, the entire universe.

Only God can see all the moving pieces across all time and space, and therefore is the only one who knows precisely the moment when his intervention is needed in our lives for the good to result. We for our part pray, and more importantly trust.

Like John whose birth we celebrate today, each of us exists for a reason. Our lives have purpose, multiple purposes. Many we may never know in this life.

Today and every day we take what we are given, and strive one day at a time to discern God's will, and do it. The rest of it we simply have to trust God with.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Making it possible

Today's gospel ends we the very familiar passage,

If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily and follow me.

And of course making it particularly challenging is that Luke adds the word "daily." The good news is found in the second reading.

Paul is writing to a church in Galatia struggling with divisions that we see even today: the old guard vs. newly arrived, social class, and gender. Paul's response:
There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free person,
there is not male and female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

And just in case it isn't clear to the Jewish members of the community who think they have some higher rank because of their link to the original covenant, he goes on to reiterate:

And if you belong to Christ,then you are Abraham’s descendant,heirs according to the promise.

So even the newest Geek baptized into the Church is equally a child of Abraham.

It is precisely this unity that enables us to carry our cross daily, because we never do it alone. We do it as one part of the body of Christ. From the moment of your baptism, when the Holy Spirit was poured into you, it became impossible for you to ever be alone. Not only are we indelibly linked to Christ but to his body, the Church.

Just as Jesus allowed Simon of Cyrene to help him carry his cross we must not only help others, but allow others to help us. This is the only way that we can do both seemingly opposite things we are called to do as Christians.

On the one hand live in constant thankfulness, joy, and peace. On the other hand carry our cross daily.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Thorn

In today's first reading we reach the famous moment when Paul speaks of the "thorn in the flesh." The Greek word "skolops" could be a reference to some physical disability or St. Paul could, as he often does, be speaking more figuratively of an inner struggle. No one knows. What we do know is that St. Paul for an extended period, if not his whole life, has to struggle with this "thorn." More than once he asked God to take it away, and God's response:

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.

The word used for weakness has a broad range of meanings from weakness of body or mind to moral frailty. It is precisely in our weak spots, our empty places that God's grace can fill us. All we have to do is ask.

As St. Paul reminds us, this does not mean that God will magically make the thorn vanish. It seems that it is a twofer. We get the thorn and sufficient perfect power of God. Perfection in imperfection one of the many paradoxical mysteries of our faith.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fortnight for Freedom

As Virginians we take great pride in the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, precursor to the non-establishment and free exercise clause of the First Amendment. We forget that prior to that in Virginia you could have your children taken away for not being baptized in what we now call the Episcopal Church. Jews, Catholics, and even other Protestants were persecuted simply for their worship.

Today we begin fourteen days (a fortnight) of prayer to insure that every person and institution of every faith continue to have the freedom to remain true to their faith and conscience.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops invites us all to pray each day for from today until July 4.

O God Our Creator,
from your provident hand we have received
our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You have called us as your people and given us the right and the duty to worship you, the only true God, and your Son, Jesus Christ.

Through the power and working of your Holy Spirit,
you call us to live out our faith in the midst of the world, bringing the light and the saving truth of the Gospel
to every corner of society.

We ask you to bless us
in our vigilance for the gift of religious liberty.
Give us the strength of mind and heart
to readily defend our freedoms when they are threatened;
give us courage in making our voices heard
on behalf of the rights of your Church
and the freedom of conscience of all people of faith.
Grant, we pray, O heavenly Father,
a clear and united voice to all your sons and daughters gathered in your Church
in this decisive hour in the history of our nation,
so that, with every trial withstood
and every danger overcome—
for the sake of our children, our grandchildren,
and all who come after us—
this great land will always be “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Praying too much

“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,who think that they will be heard because of their many words.Do not be like them.Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

If that is true why pray at all? Because it's not just about what "you need" Not all prayer is meant to be the grocery list where we go on and on about what we want or think we need.

The Catechism distinguishes five types of prayer:

  1. Blessing and Adoration
  2. Petition
  3. Intercession
  4. Thanksgiving
  5. Praise
Blessing is root in acknowledge men of God's gift and our acceptance of that gift. In Adoration we acknowledge the greatness of our God, and our status as one of his creations. Petition begins with humility, a willingness to acknowledge our need for help. In Intercession we look beyond ourselves, it is a recognition of our interconnectedness with others, those who are part of the body Christ, and those with who we share simply our humanity.

Thanksgiving is in some ways the most Christian of prayers, the Greek word for it we use for the source and summit of our prayer, Eucharist. We are told that we do well "always and everywhere to give thanks."

Of Praise, the catechism says, it "is the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God...Praise embraces the other forms of prayer and carries them toward him who is its source and goal: the "one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist."

It might be a good thing for us to commit these six words to memory, and monitor our own prayer for balance. How much of our prayer each day fits into which category?

As Jesus reminds us today it is not about these multiplicity of the words. It is about encounter with God. The goal, to borrow a company tittle, constant contact. From the moment I wake up and bess the new day God has given me until I thanking him for bringing me safely to the end of the day before I sleep. Little prayers scattered throughout the middle.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Blessing for what purpose

Many a Christian preacher can excite a congregation with promises of God's blessings. We all love to hear how being a good Christian will bring blessings from God. Today St. Paul tells us why God might enrich us.

You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God.

God does not enrich anyone for their own aggrandizement. As St. Paul tells us, when we are enriched by God it is so that we can be more generous. And are we the ones who should be thanked for our generosity? Nope, the goal is that the gratitude, the thanksgiving goes to God.

In short the plan is that the blessing pass from God through us to those who are most in need so that they in turn thank, not us but God from whom all good things come.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fighting with Love

Today marks 41 years since I was taken down to the river, dressed in a white robe and submerged three times: in the name if the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and reborn as a an adopted Son of God. One of the mistakes I think we Catholics have made is that we have let the biblical image of "born-again" get away from us. Our theology teaches that no matter what age you are baptized infant or adult, you are born again. We symbolize it in the white garment. Today's gospel reminds us of how difficult that new life is.

Yesterday we heard that we were to turn the other cheek. Today Jesus goes further

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father,for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

Loving our enemy doesn't mean passive acceptance. We believe that there is right and wrong, truth and lie, and we have a responsibility to fight for right, to stand up for the truth, to fight evil. The difference is that when we confront the wrong doer, when we confront the lie, we must make sure that anger, animosity, hatred do not creep into our hearts.

Remembering that God wills the salvation of all, our ultimate goal is not the destruction of our enemies, even if they were out to destroy us. Our ultimate goal is not simple vindication. Our ultimate goal and hope must be that the person see the wrong they are doing, the lie they are spreading, and experience a change of heart, metanoia, conversion. For us that is true victory.

Is it hard for us to think about the salvation of another when they are doing everything in their power to tear us down? You bet, that's why we need God's grace, to shield our hearts from animosity and hatred even as we battle for what we know to be right.


Monday, June 17, 2013


In today's gospel we have one of the most difficult passages from St Matthew. We all know it. But how do we live it?

When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well.

Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.

Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

When attacked how do we simply suck it up, and let it wash over us like water off a ducks back? Actually it seems to boil down to three simple questions

Do I really believe in God?

Do I believe that God is truly just?

Do I really believe that all things work for good for those who love God?

If I believe these three things with all my heart, then I can not only endure but actually grow stronge.

It should be noted that this passage is not intended to be taken in a way that would deny the legitimate right to self-defense. Matthew is not telling the abuse victim to stand there and take it. This is an example ofma passage that can easily be taken our of the larger context of scripture, and misread.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Many Fathers

As we celebrate Fathers Day, I look back on my own life and see how many fathers God has blessed me with. My biological father I have never known. If he is still alive he could still be in Danville, and would be about 70 or 71 years old. Even though I do not know him I still must thank him for the gift of life he gave me.

Secondly is my foster father who in November 1964, chose to become my adoptive father. He survived the Great Depression as a child, left school to help support his family, and eventually went off to WWII, from whence he came back forever changed. Quiet and alcoholic, he worked in the hot deafening mill, rarely missing a day. He expressed his love not with words but with simple actions. Those ugly brown shoes with the braces would appear in my room polished and oiled( so I didn't squeak when I waked). My books which I would leave scattered on the dining room table, would show up in a neat stack on the corner of my desk. And of course, this being Virginia taught me how to handle and respect the rifle we kept in the house. He was far from perfect, but...

I think of him because after more than a decade of wars, this Fathers Day, we have in our country an innumerable host of fathers, physically and psychologically wounded, who through no fault of their own may never be the dad they once hoped to be. The many fathers who simply do the best they can with the limited resources they have. The children of these fathers only know what they experience, and may perhaps one day understand why dad is the way he is.

Thirdly, and most important is my Heavenly Father. We forget that on this day we also celebrate the only perfect Father. From the moment of our baptism we are incorporated into Christ and become fully the adopted sons and daughters of God. As I look back now I can see how even from a young age it was the not knowing my biological father, and the imperfection of my adoptive father, that caused me to draw close and hold on tight to my Heavenly Father.

I can also see now the men God placed in my life as spiritual fathers, from Mr. Ingram who when I was young and hardly walked, would pick me and carry me in his shoulders, through Cardinal Miguel Obando because of whom I am a Catholic and a priest, to my best friend's dad, who when my father passed away in 1999, reminded me I still had a dad.

In the Church there are no orphans, there are no unwanted children. For Christians there is no such thing as a single parent household. Just as Mary is truly our Mother, God is truly our Father.

As we celebrate Fathers today, I would encourage every man to open his heart, to that voice of God, and ask, "Is God calling me to be the instrument of his paternal love to some child?" —That every child through us may truly feel and know the love of Our Father.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Do we really believe it

In today's first reading we hear,

So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God

Every time we celebrate the Rite of Baptism we quote this passage from St. Paul as we bless the baptismal garment. But then do we raise that child to understand who that new creation is, what it means to say they are by grace re-created?

Do we look in the mirror and see the new creation we became when we were baptized into Christ, or do we choose to see the faults, the flaws, the imperfections? And yes, it is a choice. It is a choice that then shapes our behavior. We live up or down to who we believe we really are.

Imagine how you might behave today if you could truly embrace on a minute to minute basis your identity as a new creation in Christ.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

God and Man

Usually when we think of that phrase our minds go immediately to Jesus Christ, true God and true man. Today's gospel reminds us of the moral implication of that reality. If we believe that Jesus is true God, and true man, the we cannot separate our love of God from our love of our fellow men and women. We cannot show proper reverence for God, if we do not show proper reverence for the divinity of every man and woman, even the ones we don't like.

Today's gospel if we look carefully is written from a very interesting perspective. It's actually the opposite of what we think.

if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Note: it does not say, "and there recall you have something against you brother" as if you are the offended party. The text say "your brother has something against you". In this senario you have said or done something that has offended or hurt someone, and they are still holding it against you. This gospel puts the onus on you go and at least try and reconcile.

Suppose the slight was unintentional or only perceived? Again the text does not say, if on the way to the altar you remember that you have injured someone. It say you "recall that your brother holds anything against you." Even if we have unintentionally offended, the responsibility is ours to take the first step toward reconciliation. Accidentally inflicted pain still hurts, a requires a genuine apology.

NB. A genuine apology never contains the word "if."(eg. I'm sorry if you were offended, or worse yet, I'm sorry if you misunderstood me.) The safest move is the simple apology, I'm sorry.

Will we always be successful? No, but if we make the sincere effort, then we have done what is ours to do and we can with clear heart go and offer our gift to God.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Before St Francis

It is unfortunate when we think of Saints that sell what they have and give it away, I dare say the first name that pops into our mind is St. Francis. In fact, long before saint Francis with have the Apostle who we celebrate today.

He was a Jew from Cyprus and his parents named him Joseph, but like many he received a new name, the name we know him by, Barnabas. The Aramaic name literally means "son of the prophet." But St. Luke chooses in Acts 4:36 to translate prophet in Aramaic with the very same greek word we talked about yesterday parakleseos, encouragement.

It makes sense because what is the job of the prophet? —Not fortune telling but calling people to God. For the Apostles and for us it is calling people to Christ.

While there are a few out there who read a book and were by it drawn to the faith. For most, like myself, it was the experience of a person, who drew us close to them, and in them we saw the faith being lived, in them we experienced the love of Christ, in a way we never had before, and we were drawn into the Church.

On this feast of St. Barnabas we are reminded that we should not be afraid to draw close to people, and share our faith, let them see the love of Christ working in us, we too can be sons and daughters of encouragement.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Fighting the inward turn

For most of us the most, when we are injured or attacked our natural response is the armadillo. We turn in on ourselves and the longer the pain or attack continues the more we focus in on it, the more tightly we circle in.

Today we begin our reading of the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinitians. And in the introduction he explains that the best response is one that is counter-intuitive.

the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement,
who encourages us in our every affliction,so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.

Many of us know this but we only do it after the fact. After my suffering has past, when I am feeling better, then I turn, and comfort someone else in there affliction.
That's good but everybody does that.

How about while still in in the midst of our own affliction and God is pouring out his encouragement on us, opening ourselves, and rather than being a reservoir that bottles up the grace of God, be a conduit, that channels that encouragement to someone else whose suffering may be even greater than our own. Of course, that would first require us to open our eyes to the suffering of others, and see that while our pain may be great, there is always some in a worse situation.

I can't resist pointing out that the Greek translated here as encourage or encouragement provides an interesting image the word parakaleo is a compound.
Para-beside, like paralegal, paramedic, or parallel and
Kaleo- to call, or summon.
It brings to mind the simple gesture of seeing someone in pain, calling them over,standing beside them, and putting your arm around them. It doesn't imply knowing the answers or solving their problems. We don't have to have all the answers just stand beside them, be with them.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The End

Today we bring to conclusion our reading of the story of Tobit. Tobit calls his son aside and instructs him to give the man who has accompanied him on the journey a bonus. It is then that Rafael reveals that he is no man but an angel and gives them one parting instruction.

Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than abundance with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin. Those who regularly give alms shall enjoy a full life....

Can we buy our way into heaven? Of course not, but here we see the Old Testament biblical foundations for our concept of penance. It is not enough to simply confess your sin to God. The three practices we associate with Lent (prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) are ancient acts of penance, but the angel Rafael tells us that first among these is almsgiving.

"almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin"

And in the 21st century we have made it so easy, with e-giving for churches and organizations like Catholic Relief Services you don't even have to get out of your chair. A few clicks and its done. There are also clothes collection boxes all around most cities, and many parishes offer places and opportunities to donate food. What excuse is left?

As Rafael points out at the end this should become a regular part of our life, not just something we Catholics do in Lent.

With the instruction on almsgiving Rafael ascended back to his place in heaven. His name means God heals.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Why we need it?

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. While these kinds of devotions may seem to be something we associate only we the past, in fact we may need it more now than ever.

The Sacred Heart image is a representation of the love of God. In Christianity we talk a great deal about love, and in particular God's love. We talk about how God loves everybody. But it is precisely in this that God's love can easily become something impersonal, and somewhat abstract. Divine love gets reduced to a kind of passionless, generalized concern for the world by a God sitting somewhere up in heaven.

The image of the Sacred Heart with the crown of thorns, the fire, the blood, reminds us that the God of Christianity is a God who became incarnate, real flesh and blood, real feelings, real emotion. And when he ascended into heaven he did not leave his humanity behind. It is precisely because he took his humanity into heaven that we are able to enter heaven.

When we speak of God's love it is a passionate, truly heart felt love for each of us as individuals. The image of the sacred heart recalls not just the passion, but the true compassion of God. God who chose, and even now chooses to share our pains, our fears, our suffering, our worries. Why would God choose to open himself to so much suffering? Because this is how much he loves us, this is how much he wants to be one with us.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

One yes, one no

Today's first reading we see two different characters. On the one hand Tobit, so depressed he is crying, and praying for God to take his life. He would rather die than go through what he is going through.

The other is a new character introduced into the narrative, Sarah. In short she has been married 7 times, and each time before the marriage is consummated a demon kills her husbands. She is accused if strangling them. We find her so hopeless that she is about to go to her room and hang herself. At the last minute she prays:

Blessed are you, O Lord, merciful God,
and blessed is your holy and honorable name.
Blessed are you in all your works for ever!”

God answers both their prayers. Enter the angel Rafael.

For Sarah's part Rafael drives away and she ends up married to Tobit's son Tobiah.

For Tobit's part God does not give him what he wants, he gives him what he needs. Rafael restores his sight.

Sometimes God allows us to be pushed beyond our limits, as we know them, to show us who we really are. Often we are stronger than we know, filled with his grace we are far more than we can imagine.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Not Job

For all his good works what happened to Tobit?
He slept outside one hot night and bird droppings fell in his eyes, thanks to medical treatment as it were he ended up completely blind for four years, his wife supporting them by weaving.

When a generous client gave them a goat, in his anger he accuses her of stealing it and demands she return it.

So she retorted: “Where are your charitable deeds now?
Where are your virtuous acts?
See! Your true character is finally showing itself!”

Each of us will face adversity in life, often like Tobit through no fault of our own. It is how we choose to respond to it that shows how truly Christian we are.

We can like Tobit turn bitter and angry, and rail against the unfairness of it all.

Or we can like Job hold evermore tightly to God and allow him to use the time of adversity to make us stronger, like the fire that purifies the gold. The choice is ours. And in the adversity it is not a one time choice. Each day, sometimes each hour, we have to make the conscious choice to hold fast to our faith, hold fast to our brother and Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Great story telling

This week we read our way through the book of Tobit, while accepted by the Council of Carthage and confirmed by Trent to be the inspired word of God. It is rejected by some Christians.

Unlike Sirach, rather than being a book of teachings, it is a narrative, a story. As a matter of fact a great story: a man, his son, a woman, a demon, an angel are the main characters, with a plot that shows the ups and downs of life and how God works.

His name Tobit, means" God is my good." In a world of not just pagans but animosity toward the one true God he risks everything to do what is right. The act that gets him in the most trouble is burying dead Israelites, as the law of God commands. This is where our story opens.

Tobit is doing well in exile in Ninevah. He has a wife Anna, a son Tobiah, friends at a festival. He even sends his son out to invite poor Israelites to the festival. Having found one who had been strangled, he buries him. He is living the life of a good observant Jew and all is well.

Wait til tomorrow.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Who is Melchizedek ?

Each week we gather to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is clear from the second reading and the gospel that already in the first century the four verb formula for the consecration was already in place in the life of the church: He took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.

But worth reflection today is another link that can be overlooked. The link the church makes from Melchizedek to Jesus to the Church.

The entire congregation will sing over and over today

"You are a priest for ever, in the line of Melchizedek."

And mean those words in at least three level:
1) Jesus is the eternal high priest spoken of in the letter to the,Hebrews
2) Those of us who have been called and ordained into the priesthood
3) The priesthood of all believers we receive at baptism with the anointing with Chrism(As Christ was anointed priest, prophet, and king...)

Melchizedek is both priest and king, but a particular kind of king. His name has a double meaning literal and theological. "Melchizedek, king of Salem" as the petitions for morning prayer point out it is to be understood as "King of justice and peace."(Tzedek and Shalom)

If we are all given some participation in this, it means that Justice and Peace are not something we can relegate to an office or committee. It has to be a way of life for all of us. In our families, our churches, our state, our nation, and our world looking for ways large and small that we can make the world a more peaceful,more just society.

A shout out to our Governor who this week announced automatic restoration of voting and civil rights to those who were convicted of non-violent felonies, an example of true forgiveness reconciliation, and justice.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The sin feigned ignorance

In today's gospels the leaders who questioned Jesus, when he in turn questions them about the origins of John the Baptist's authority, answer simply " We don't know." Had that been a truthful answer, there would have been no sin in that. But the gospel tells us they said they did not know, not because they were truly ignorant but because they were afraid of the answers yes and no. Rather than acknowledge the truth they know in their heart, they pretend to not know.

The conscience is a marvelous thing, we each have the basic law of God hard-wired into us. But from toddlerhood we learn to be like those leaders. How old were any of us the first time we did something bad and when Mom asked, "Why did you do that?" We sheepishly responded, " I don't know." In fact the toddler may not be able to articulate why they did it but they knew it was wrong.

Who of us can drive past the poor man on the street corner and not feel the tug of our conscience? And I've never met the cohabitating couple who didn't show some sign of shame. We can pretend and at times even lie to ourselves, but the conscience knows the truth. We know sin when we commit it.

One caveat on proclaiming the truth. Start with yourself! Often we are far too ready to name someone else's sin. Here the words of St. Matthew are the best guide:
first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.