Wednesday, July 31, 2013


The Book of Exodus tells us that having encountered God face to face left Moses's face so radiant that it frightened the people and so he would wear a veil which he only removed when meeting with God.

Here we reach the great separation of Old and New Covenant. To the people of the Old Testament the very thought of being in the presence of God was a fearsome thing. There was the realm of the divine and the realm of the human. Even after death one did not pass into the realm of the divine. The privilege granted to Moses of seeing God face to face was something rare.

Each Sunday when we recite the creed we all bow when we get to the words of the incarnation, whether in the words of the Apostles' Creed or the Nicean Creed. So important is the moment when divinity and humanity came together in the incarnation of Jesus.

The image of the veil reaches its climax in Matthew's Gospel when at the moment Jesus dies St. Matthew tells us

And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom.

By his death and ressurection Jesus tears down the wall of separation. God is no longer to be worshiped from a distance with fear and trembling. God is now to be worshiped with love. God has brought to fulfillment the reason for our creation, unity.

Each Sunday as we make that tiny gesture of bowing during the creed it is a moment for us to fall ever more deeply into our understanding of the enormity of the gift we have received, union with the divine.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why literalism doesn't work

Today we have the perfect example of a passage that must be read in the context of the whole bible.

"punishing children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for their fathers’ wickedness!”

What right thinking person would even suggest that this passage should be taken literally?

It is the product of its culture. But is there still truth in it? Yes.
It falls in the realm of psychology, a category ancient people did not have. We now understand better how the sins of parents get passed on, those who are abused, often become themselves abusers. What we now call family dysfunctional behavior will continue into the next generation until someone make a conscious break with the past. There are genetic predispositions toward certain things.

In biblical times they did not understand medicine, or genetics, or psychology so it all got laid on God.

So is there truth in this verse? Yes. Bad choices can ripple though generations. Children inherit and learn from their parents, both good and bad. But there is in every generation free will. The ability to say no further.

Monday, July 29, 2013

God's Justice

We must always be very carful when reading the Bible that we keep in mind its unity. Here I refer to the basic principle of immutability of God, and the resulting unity in the message. The God of Moses and the Holy Trinty of the New Testament are the same God, who has not and will not change.

What all to often happens is people cherry pick verses from the Bible to get what they want. Men who want power will take wives be submissive to you husbands, and skip "Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ" or "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". Man and woman were created equals and the subjugation of woman to man is the result of sin,as we see all the way back in Genesis.

Particularly when we read the Old Testament we focus on the big dramatic moments and we forget the moments when God tells us the most about himself. Today we get the golden idol, the smashing of the tablets, all great material for movies.

The key to understanding God is found in a less dramatic verse, Ex 32:33 "Him only who has sinned against me will I strike out of my book." God does not punish the innocent. And any interpretation of any part of scripture that suggest he does breaks the unity of the Bible, and we therefore know it is a wrong interpretation.

Every verse of the Bible must be read in the context of the whole. For us Christians, the Old Testament must always be read through the lens of the New. Ultimately of course for Christians the Word of God is not a Book, but a person, Jesus Christ.

In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.

When we read the Book, we should always keep in mind the person, then our understanding is less likely to go astray.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Not in the Bible

Today is a perfect example of how the Catholic approach to the Bible differs from some other groups. For us the Bible is the inspired word of God, and contains all that is necessary for salvation. It is not an encyclopedia. It does not contain all knowledge. It does not contain everything we might want to know about Jesus or the early church. As Christians we study many other writings of the early that while not inspired are still informational.

Today we celebrate the Sts. Joachim and Anne, the parents of Mary. They are not mentioned in the Bible because their story is not necessary for salvation any more than the story of St. Benedict of St. Francis. But it seems to me that the stories of the saints are instructive.

The names of Mary's parents come not from one of the four Gospels, but from a book called the protoevangelion of James. Often this title is mistranslated as the Gospel of James. But the protogospel is to a gospel what a prototype is to the actual article. There were many protogospel-like documents in the beginning of the Church, only four were determined to be truly the inspired Word of God, but some information for others is accepted as accurate.

To me it is worth reflecting particularly on the parents of Mary, because we know what a critical role parents play in shaping their children. This week and next I am traveling the Commonweath as a member of the Leadership Team for Virginia Adopts. Tuesday night I was brought to tears by the most eloquent 16 year old I have ever heard in my life and her story of the struggles she had faced and how her adoptive mother had changed her life.

In the Church we celebrate biological parenting in Mary and non-biological parenting in Joseph. Why should we not step back a generation and celebrate grandparents day? They must have been incredible people to have raised a child like Mary.

Each day as I walk out my back gate I think of them because in my back yard is the statue of Anne and a young Mary. Maybe today is a day to remember your grandparents.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The great trust exercise

When the people of Israel were hungry in the desert God sent manna to feed them but with some very simple instructions

Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion

He did it for a reason

thus will I test them, to see whether they follow my instructions or not.

Many people read this and make the mistake of thinking that it is like a teacher testing me in school. The teacher in school tests me to that the teacher can find out what I have learned, and then give me a grade.

In the case of God, he already knows before the test how I will perform. He does not test me so that he can learn; God tests me so that I can learn.

This "test" was designed to teach two essential qualities trust and self-discipline. Trust is first because if we do not trust that God is looking out for us, then we fall into the trap of believing "I have to look out for myself" and that is the first step on the road to sin.

If the people of Israel truly trusted God then they would gather what they needed for that day, and stop. And so often that is the hardest thing in the world for us, to stop, to do nothing, to be silent, to sit still, to wait, to give only a measured response.

Trust and discipline we cannot learn from a book or in an instant, we only learn them over time by practice.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The myth of history

English is one of the few languages that attempts to distinguish "story" from "history" as if it is possible to tell a purely factual objective history of an event. In fact, so-called historians select from thousands of details to create a narrative. Even when they claim to present both sides, what human being can know the heart of another, can know all of the people involved, and all their motivations?

Is there a history of the world? Yes. But only God knows it, because only God knows every detail and every heart. Only God has all the facts of any story. And we would do well to remember this when we watch the news or read the paper.

The Bible makes no claim to be history in our modern American sense. It is a theology book. The Book of Exodus is the story of how God brought his people from slavery to freedom. It purpose is to show how God touched their lives, and how God worked in the world for them so that we might better understand how God works today.

In the first reading today we are told that Pharaoh's whole army was following the people of Israel, and perished in the sea. Statistically, it is probably an exaggeration? Yes. But what they are doing is telling how it felt. To the people of Israel it felt like the whole army was chasing them.

When we read these stories the question we must ask is not is it true, in the modern historical sense. But what is the truth or truths God is trying to communicate to us through this story.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The problem with memory

In today's first reading from Exodus God has freed the people from slavery, and all of the horrors associated with it. Moses is now leading them to the promised land.

And yet, the response of the people is

Were there no burial places in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert? Why did you do this to us? Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Did we not tell you this in Egypt, when we said, ‘Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians’? Far better for us to be the slaves of the Egyptians than to die in the desert.

The first part of the problem here is that our human mind can take in only a very limited amount of data in any situation, and it can retain less. Over the long term even what we think we have retained changes.

The second and more critical part of the problem is that in our lack of humility we claim to remember. And we believe that what we remember is fact. We claim to remember what really happened, when in fact our memory is consciously and unconsciously very selective. In German, there is the phenomenon called "ostalgie", a contraction of east nostalgia, a longing by some former East Germans for "the good old days" before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

What all of these erroneous nostalgic feelings have in common is also told to us in exodus. We are told that what brings about this longing for the past is fear, the text says

when the children of Israel looked up and saw that the Egyptians were on the march in pursuit of them. In great fright they cried out to the LORD.

The future is unknown and unknowable, and so it is easy for us to fear it. When we fear the future, our response is often a longing for the past, as we selectively remember it.

God's response to the cries of the people is a single command

Tell the children of Israel to go forward.

The answer to our fears and anxieties today is neither nostalgia nor retreat. The answer is the command God gives: Go Forward. And then we must let the virtues of faith and hope conquer the fear.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Better but not only

Today's gospel ends by telling us that Mary (not the mother of Jesus) has chosen the better part. But it is not the only part. There is a reason why the church pairs this gospel with the first reading of Abraham showing hospitality to the strangers.

Often people when looking at this gospel see Martha and Mary as exemplars of two groups of people. What's funny is that, despite the fact that Jesus says Mary has chosen the better part, in my 24 years as a priest I have had lots of people say "I'm a Martha." I can't remember anyone saying, "I'm a Mary."

The mistake here is that these two women in the gospel are not models for an either/or choice. They are instead together an example of the inseparable two sides of the Christian life. Every Christian every day needs to spend some time being Martha (nourishing others) and some time being Mary (nourishing herself).

Notice this is not "taking care of yourself" or "loving yourself" in the way our modern culture tends to define it. Most of that is just thinly veiled self indulgence.

As Christians we know that what we most need is nourishment for our soul that can only come from God. Each day we need to take time in which we actually power off all electronic devices, not just put them on vibrate. Then with contemplation, meditation, scripture reading or some other form of prayer allow God to feed us. And it has to be every single day. That is how Jesus taught us to ask for the grace we need.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And every single day we must balance this by having done something that nourished someone else. At the end of each day one simple question, What did I do today to make someone else's life better? It can be as simple as making a friend laugh when they are having an otherwise bad day. Just something above and beyond what is required.

We are not called to be Martha or Mary but Martha and Mary.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


In Catholic circles you will often hear the term "last rites." Even among Catholics, it is often confused with the Anointing of the Sick.

Of all of the sacraments it may be the most misunderstood. It is not intended to be given en masse to whole groups of people who might have a cold, as happens in some places. This only trivializes the sacrament.

It is not given to children who have not yet reached the age of reason, because it brings with it the remission of sin, which they could not have committed.

The anointing of the sick "can be administered to a member of the faithful who, having reached the use of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age." It is worth noting that the sickness is not specified it could be physical or mental. Most important is the word "begins."

It is not our belief that one should wait until they are at death's door. From the moment one is diagnosed with life-threatening illness, the sacrament is there to provide spiritual strength, and can be repeated. Anytime one is being put under general anesthetic there is danger, and so I encourage those going into for surgery to request the sacrament. And as the law says, old age in itself can put one in danger of death. Because it involves spiritual healing, the remission of sin it can only be given by a priest or bishop.

The sacrament of Anointing comes from James 5:14
"Is anyone among you sick?* He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of The Lord"

What does this have to do with our reading today from exodus?

Here we get to "last rites." The church does in fact have a ritual for those who are preparing to make the final journey to the true promised land, heaven. This rite involves more than anointing, but also the sacrament of penance, and a final reception of communion, if possible. The term for this final reception of communion comes straight from today's first reading.

Today's first reading tells us that the Israelite baked unleavened bread and took it as "food for the journey." For us as Christians, the food for the journey is the Eucharist. In Latin we call it viaticum.

So there are two different things in the Catholic Church. One is in fact still Last Rites. The other is the Anointing of the Sick.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Your scrabble word for the day.

In the first reading today we get the announcement of God's answer to the question, what is his name? The answer in English "I am who am" may miss the point. Most English speakers hear that and think of existence. Something either is or isn't.

In Hebrew what it is communicating is not existence but presence. God is not assuring Moses he exists, but that he is present with him, has been with them, and will be with them.

The mass greeting as we know it now in English is
The Lord be with you.
And with your Spirit

In Portuguese they say
The Lord be with you
He is in the middle of us

As to the name of God, the four consonants that represent the name of God are referred to in Greek as the Tetragrammaton, usually transliterated YHVH. Because it is understood to be God's name no Jew will pronounce it and until the modern era no Christian, out of the same respect that would have kept me from ever dreaming of calling my parents John or Marcia.

To this day I cannot imagine walking into the kitchen and saying, "Hi Marcia" to my mother.

Some claim the name of God is pronounced Yaweh, some Jehovah. They are all guessing. Most bibles follow the Jewish tradition and substitute Lord.

Some Catholics thought it silly when the Vatican in 2008 went back to the tradition and forbad the use of Yaweh. I supported it for two reasons:
1) we have no idea if it is the correct pronunciation and few things are as insulting as constantly mispronouncing someone's name.
2) signs of respect are important. Even now I would not say of my parents "John and Marcia were good people." I would say my mother and father or more likely my mom and dad.

Our Christian relationship with God is another both/and. One the one side absolutely intimidate. God is constantly with us. On the other hand respectful. We call him Lord, or God, or if we want to call God by his name we call him Jesus.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Today we reach the call of Moses and the burning bush. God tell Moses,

God said, “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.

But what exactly makes the ground holy? The ground was holy because God was present there.

Catholic Churches are considered sanctuaries, holy places, because the Blessed Sacrament is reserved there, and we believe that it truly is Christ present in the Eucharist.

The word of God is holy because we believe that God is present in his word, Jesus is the Word made flesh.

And we hold that all human life is holy, from the moment of our conception when God places the spark of the divine in each of us through the moment of our baptism when the fire of the Holy Spirit is imparted to us and we become the temples.

Moses was instructed to remove his shoes as a sign of respect and acknowledgement of the holy. As we move through this day how will we show that same respect.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

All too human

Today's first reading is edited in a way that we get the two extremes. The first half is the story we love of Moses in the basket being found my the maids of Pharaoh's daughter. The second half is Moses committing murder, and then running and hiding.

This second half reminds us once again that the people God traditionally chooses to be leaders are far from perfect. The are all deeply flawed human beings.

One can easily imagine Pharaoh talking to his daughter, "See. This is what those people are like. You take them into your home. You raise them as if they were your own child. Give them everything and they turn on you." Imputing the behavior of one person onto a whole group is how we keep stereotypes alive. As long as we can find one person that behaves in a certain manner, we can use the one or the few to justify the stereotype of an entire group.

Even into my parents generation you heard people talking about human beings as if they were dogs, talking about "good breeding" or "bad blood." Are there aspects of temperament and personality that are genetic? Yes. Even some mental illnesses have a genetic component. But what sets us apart from the other animals are three things: reason, free will, and grace. Animals can be clever but they cannot truly reason.

The combination of reason, free will, and grace allows even identical twins, raised in the same home, to grow up to be unique and often very different people.

That same reason, free will, and grace will transform Moses for the killer hiding in Midian into the man we all remember.

Monday, July 15, 2013

All too familiar

Today we make the transition to the Book of Exodus and we see a story that is thousands of years old and yet contemporary—Two groups of people, the Egyptians and the Hebrews. The Hebrews had come to Egypt because life where they were was impossible. The Egyptians were happy to have the labor until they looked up one day and saw
"the people of the children of Israel are growing, more so than we ourselves!"
Suddenly the Hebrews were perceived as a threat. They might out number the Egyptians. And so a decision is made
"let us deal shrewdly with them"
Now we may look at ourselves and say we would never do anything so barbaric as what the Egyptians did to the Hebrews, but let us not forget our history. We all remember slavery, but do we remember the German immigrants at the very founding of the country and how we even banned the printing of books in German. Have we forgotten how we treated the Japanese when with World War II like Pharaoh we decided
"in time of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so leave our country”?
The latest group to add to the list are Hispanics. Already in the Catholic Church in the US in many places they have reached parity and the day is soon when they will outnumber the "white" Catholics. And white America is feeling threatened.
The sad part is that we are responding by following Pharaoh's play book. We aren't for the most part engaging in overt racism and oppression. As Pharaoh said "we must deal shrewdly with them." And in fact we know how to be extremely shrewd about our racism, so shrewd we even fool ourselves.
Is there anyone in America who believes that if a grown black man had followed a white teenage boy walking home, gotten out of his car with gun, and it had ended in an altercation in which the white boy was shot, the black man would have gone free?
Yes, the jury followed the law. But Florida like many states does not require that you actually be in danger to shoot someone but you merely have to "believe" you are in danger. It is based on feelings and perceptions.
The truth is we will never be color-blind. It appears that the most primitive parts of the brain are wired to spot who is my people and who is other. And the primitive part of us is always on the look out for danger,real or perceived. It is the same the world over. But as Christian we cannot be primitive.
This past Sunday's gospel reminded me that they are all my neighbor no matter what the most primitive parts of my brain perceive. How do we move beyond?
The answer to the problem is also found in the first reading. The reading opens with the words,
"A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt."
The previous Pharaoh did not feel threatened because he actually knew the Hebrews. The new pharaoh was ignorant. Ignorance leads to fear, and fear leads to sin.
We don't like the word ignorant. But why? After all, you are either a know-it-all or ignorant, at least about some things. Why not admit your ignorance? The truth is that as a human being the number of things about which I am ignorant far outnumbers the things about which I am knowledgeable. It's one of the many ways in which we need one another.
When I see a person on the street who is different, and the primitive part of the brain kicks in and makes me nervous, can I in that moment name my ignorance? Can I admit, "I don't know that person."
What I do know is they are created in the image and likeness of God; they are my neighbor. That much I know because it has been revealed by God. As a Christian that must be my starting point with every person or group. Then we must let the perfect love that is God cast out our fear. Then we will not fall into the sins that so divide our country and our world.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Road to Hell

We have all heard the saying "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" No one knows precisely where this comes from. most sources suggest it is an English paraphrase of St. Bernard of Clairvaux "L'enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs."(Hell is full of good intentions and desires)

I would suggest that the road to hell is not paved with good intentions but with rationalization.

The first reading today reminds us that law of God which we must obey in order to enter heaven is not beyond us. In fact the first reading reminds us that it is written in our hearts. What we call natural law. The law of God "is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”Jesus even reduces the Law to two commandments. And still we seem to have a difficult time living it.

Our problem it seems is two-fold. First, is the very nature of sin. Every sin is at its heart a form of selfishness, a choice of myself and what I want over the value of an other.

Secondly, rationalization. Human reason is one of the greatest gifts God gave us. All we have to do us look around us and we are surrounded by the incredible things the human mind has been able to create. One of the things that drew me to the Catholic Church was her understanding that faith and reason are not opposites, but rather work together to bring us closer to God.

That same reasoning capability, like any gift, can be misused. If it is true that we know right from wrong, if it is also true that we have free will, then how do we sin? The answer is simple. We rationalize. We create in our own minds a construct by which what we want is not a sin, or at least not a "bad sin", as if there were such a thing as a good one. And we are good at it.

Part of what is so insidious about rationalization is that when we do it we are lying to ourselves. When we pass on negative comments, we tell ourselves that we are not gossiping. We take something, but we are not stealing. We say something we know is not true, but somehow we are not liars. And if we are, it was a white lie. Really? What is that?

There is no such thing as accidental sin. For something to be a sin you must know it is wrong and choose to do it. And if we look closely we will see that somewhere between the temptation and the sin was a rationalization. At some moment we created some convoluted rationale for why, in this case, it was ok to do this thing.

In the gospel today the scholar of the law is beginning to work on a rationalization that would allow him to keep disliking certain people when he asks "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus hasn't even finished and he is already looking for a work-around.

The best is of course the Catholic, who not only rationalizes the sin in order to commit it, but then after they commit the sin, they rationalize a second time why they don't need to go to confession.

We are never going to be able to avoid all temptation. There will always be those things which are wrong but attractive. The trick is to know ourselves well enough to be able to identify when the rationalizing starts. We have to interrupt the process at that point. Before we speak, before we act, we must be truthful with ourselves.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Closing the Circle

Today's first reading combines the story of the death of Jacob and the story of the death of Joseph closing our reading of the Book of Genesis. The three great Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Israel) have all passed into Sheol. Where they must wait.

From our Christian understanding of the universe no human being could enter heaven until Jesus opened the way. With his Resurrection and Ascension, he opens the way not only to those who came after him but those who came before.

In the Apostles Creed we say "descended into hell." Here , however, hell does not mean the place of the damned. It is the translation for Sheol, the place of the dead. We translate it hell because it was separated from God, heaven being eternal life in the presence of God.

Why so long between the death and ressurection? It is our Christian belief that when Jesus died and rose he changed the basic structure of the universe. He descended to this place where all the souls of the dead had gone and opened the gates of heaven to all holy men and women of every time.

In an Orthodox Church you can see a wall of icons separating the sanctuary from the nave of the Church. While there is great variation in height over the centuries many have a top row, the patriarch row, that links our Christian faith to the forefathers from Adam to Moses, reminding us that they too are sharer in the promise.

Next week, a new beginning, Exodus.

Friday, July 12, 2013


Finally after years of ups and downs the story of Jacob(Israel) reaches a moment of peace Joseph and his Father Jacob are reunited. The people of Israel have a place to live and peace.

We all know of course it will not last. I cannot last, not in this world. The very nature of this world is change. Everything in the universe is motion and change.

I marvel at the number of people who call themselves Christian and simultaneously act as if it is possible to freeze time, or even more absurdly role it back. Neither is possible. And if we are truly Christian neither should be desired.

The Christian faith accepts movement and change. We know that time moves in only one direction, forward. We know that it is move like a wave than a line; there will be inevitably ups and downs. But most importantly we want time to move forward because we know the end of the journey, the Kingdom of God.

Because we know the end point we have no need to fear. We have know need to run around like Chicken Little screaming that the sky is falling. And even in those moments when we are experiencing real pain and suffering we know it cannot last, it too must change. We not only accept the transitory nature of the world, we celebrate it every time we pray

Thy kingdom come.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Today we see the perfect example in the first reading of why we cannot judge properly even our own situations.

When Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery they did so with malice their hearts. They were jealous of their father's love for Joseph. By any objective standard it was sin, probably moral sin.

Today's reading ends with Joseph saying, "But now do not be distressed and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here.It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.”

Did the brothers sell him (a sin) or
Did God send him there ahead of them (part of God's plan)?

The answer is both. The brothers had free will and chose to sin, but because God knew what they were going to do, he had already worked that variable into his plan. God has given human beings free will, knowing full well that at times we will misuse it. Like the perfect parent sometimes he has to let us fall down, let us get hurt, let us learn the hard way, and develop virtue over time. Simultaneously there is an overarching plan, and for those who seek to do God's will there can never be ultimate destruction. In the words of Ps 16

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
nor let your devout one see the pit.
You will show me the path to life,
abounding joy in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever.

Such is the perfect love of God.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Taking Time

The first reading today leaps forward in Genesis to the famine in Egypt when Joseph is already governor for Pharaoh, and his brothers come to see him.

We all like Romans 8:28, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God" But today's first reading reminds us that there is no time limit set on that. There is no immediacy promised.

The story of Joseph reminds us how no human being, with our very limited view, can see the whole of God's plan. It may take years, even decades, for us to see the good. It may not even be in our lifetime. Or it may happen immediately but indirectly so that the good happens in a place we cannot see. The Book of Genesis is the unfolding of God's plan over generations.

Patience and Trust are the words of the day.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Wresting with your faith

When we think of Israel we usually think first of the country. We need to remember that Israel is first of all a person, aka Jacob. The younger twin who stole the blessing ,a thief and a liar, but who will be the father of the twelve tribes. Before he can go from being Jacob to being Israel, he must wrestle with God.

He is in this sense most, if not all, of us on our journey of faith. Before we reach that faith of absolute trust, absolute submission to the will of God, often it is the case that something has to happen in our lives that causes us really wrestle. The scene in Genesis is not playful wrestling, it a contest, a fight, and in the end the man walks away with a limp, a permanent reminder. But he walks away no longer Jacob but Israel.

God lets him wrestle. God even lets him believe at one point he is winning. We can only imagine, the frustration, the anger, the determination to win that Jacob felt. But in the end it is only surrender that brings about his conversion, his transformation.

If we look back at the great saints we see hundreds of Jacob moments in their lives. I remember how shocked some people were when we heard about Mother Teresa's Jacob moment. And of course there were those who try to romanticize the stories stripping away the wrestling, stripping away the pain, leaving only the faith.

Genesis reminds us that it's ok to wrestle. But be prepared. You might get hurt. And in the end you are going to loose, because we have to loose in order to truly win. There can be only one Lord of our lives and it cannot be ourselves.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Lambs among Wolves

Some among American Catholics tend toward the histrionic and use language to suggest the Church is under attack whenever there is critique of the Church or we loose some political battle. We need to be a bit more sanguine about own situation and global in our perspective.
This Fourth of July weekend we pray for a Coptic Orthodox priest in Egypt who was shot in the head this week simply for being a priest. Last month in Nigeria four churches were burned down. And I could go on with stories of places where even today Christians face true persecution.
The real question is: how are we to respond? Today's gospel gives us at least one important instruction. In the same breath that Jesus tells the disciples like lambs among wolves, he says "Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals" —forget sword or shield. It appears that he is sending the out defenseless. But that is only appearance. In reality, he sends them out with the only thing they need, the Truth.
Friday Pope Francis release his first Encyclical Lumen Fidei, the Light of Faith. In part what he deals with is the importance of truth, and the power of the truth. What is most interesting , however, is that rather that taking a triumphalistic approach( the stereotype of the Catholic Church), he focuses on the necessary link between truth and love. He writes that "believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us." And later he writes that on the one hand requires truth. Only to the extent that love is grounded in truth can it endure over time, can it transcend the passing moment and be sufficiently solid to sustain a shared journey.
And on the other hand,
Without love, truth becomes cold, impersonal and oppressive for people's day-to-day lives.
Evil and sin will always exist in this life, but ours cannot be a response of hatred and anger. Instead we trust God, we stand in the Light of Faith, and we strive to maintain that perfect equilibrium of Love and Truth. And through it all we remain at peace, because, as our reading from the last chapter of Isiaiah reminds us today, we have the sure and certain hope that in the end the Truth will win.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Higher Standard

Sometimes we buy into the language of our culture without questioning whether or not it fits with our faith. One example is when we hear it said over and over, usually about the ones who have erred, that leaders are "held to a higher standard." It sounds good but it isn't Christian. It isn't even Judeo-Christian.

God in the Old Testament is referred to as the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. And yet today's first reading is the story of how Jacob stole the birthright from his older brother Esau, and yet God blessed him and he became Israel. We've already read of the sin and intrigue in the other lives. Time and again in the Old Testament it is precisely the sinner whom God is able to us to some good end.

As for the Christian perspective the fifth cheaper of The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church reminds us that we are all called to holiness. So if we are all called to be saints what would the "higher standard" be? The truth is that when that phase is used it is usually used by a hypocrite who wants to hold someone else to a higher standard than them-self.

The paradox is that we are all called to be saints, and we are all sinners. There is one standard for all. We are all dependent of the mercy and grace of God. The mercy of God to forgive our sin and the grace of God to make us holy.

If today we truly strive to answer to universal call to holiness then we will not have time to measure others. That is why Jesus tells us:
Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. (Mt 7:5)
Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone (Jn 8:7)
or perhaps most to the point
Stop judging, that you may not be judged (Mt. 7:1)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Finding our Strength

Today's first reading is the well known story of the sacrifice of Isaac. One might well look at that story and ask how God could possibly ask a Father to sacrifice his son. Others will answer that it was to test him. The only problem with that theory is that you test someone to see what they will do but God already knows what Abraham will do.

God doesn't need to test us. He already know our score. He knows us better than we know ourselves. We have nothing to prove to God. We can prove nothing to God.

This story is another example of how God, knowing us better than we know ourselves, will at times push us to extremes that appear to be beyond our endurance, even to places that to us might seem absolutely impossible. Why? So that we might learn what God already knows. In the words of Psalm 139

You formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, because I am wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works!
My very self you know.

We don't need to prove anything to God but sometimes God has to prove something to us.

Abraham had more courage, strength, faith, and trust in God than he knew. God had to show Abraham what he was made of. God knew; Abraham didn't. Abraham needed to know who he was in order to carry out all God planned for him.

Sometimes we have no idea how wonderfully made we are. It is the flip-side of our arrogance, insecurity. It is only in adversity that we learn what we are really made of, how wonderfully made we are.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Real Faith

Most of us live life as the father of the boy with the demon in Mark's gospel, caught in the middle. His exclamation:
I do believe, help my unbelief!
We may not say we are unbelieving but when tragedy strikes, when we really come under attack, or even when ( Let's be honest) we really mess up our lives; we start praying for God to fix it. And when he doesn't fix it, within what we think to be a reasonable period of time, the doubt creeps in.
We begin to ask: Where is God? Why isn't he helping me? Why is he letting this happen to me? Or worst, why did he do this to me?
In reality doubt in itself is not a bad thing. Doubt is a fork in the road, a question. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Unbelief is the opposite of faith. Doubt can be the road to deeper faith, true faith. What human in this life has pure faith?
Doubt sets before us two doors. One is the door of resignation. We give up. We quit searching for an understanding of God's Word.
The other door looks very similar but is in fact the opposite. It is the door of surrender. It is the door of today's saint, Thomas.
We tend to remember him for his doubt and we forget his most important 5 words. The words by which he surrendered completely to Jesus:
My Lord and My God
In this exclamation he does not magically receive all the answers to his doubts, his questions. He simply surrenders. With these five words (7 in Greek) he entrusts his entire being into the hands of Jesus. He allows himself to fall, to fall into that Love that is God.
We use the words Lord and God so often, we can forget what they demand.
Lord (Kyrios) demands obedience.
God (Theos) demands worship.
And remember that in Latin oboedire means first of all to listen.
On this Feast of St. Thomas we must make his words our own. Today's gospel ends with "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed." That's us!
At every moment of our life, particularly the hard ones can we let the words of St. Thomas become our mantra? They may not be absolutely true at this moment. You may not be ready to surrender yet. Say them anyway. Say them over and over. With the help of God's grace they become true.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Thinking small

Today we reach the rescue of Lot. While everyone remembers what happened to his wife most of forget the argument between Lot and the angel.

Lot is so paralyzed the angels have to drag him and his family out by the hand, then once outside the city he is told to run for his life. But once again he lets his fears and insecurities over take him.
"But I cannot flee to the hills to keep the disaster from overtaking me, and so I shall die. Look, this town ahead is near enough to escape to. It’s only a small place. Let me flee there–it’s a small place, is it not?– that my life may be saved.”

We will never know what great things could have been his if he had simply been willing to follow the angels instructions, but he chose the small place. He continues to learn nothing from his mistakes. He continues to rely on his own judgement. He continues to let fear rule his life.

Here we see a great example of that interaction between God and human free will. Time and again God points him in the right direction; God sends him assistance. Ultimately however God lets him make his own choices.

We have that choice each day of our lives. We can be Lot, seek our own will, driven by our fears. We can think small, and believe that we are choosing the safe path, what we can see. Or we can seek the kingdom, and the will of God, and take the place that God has prepared for us in a great plan that only he can see.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Great Negotiation

Today we reach the great story where Abraham negotiates with God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham begins at fifty and ends at ten and each time he appears to win. God agrees not to destroy the place if that many innocent people are there.

I say Abraham appears to win because in really God knew before he ever started the negotiation that there were no innocent people left in those towns. So why go through this exercise?

Abraham, like all of us really, is still learning about God, and so like a parent and a child God allows Abraham to go through the exercise. Abraham learns not only about the mercy of God, but his own sense of justice and compassion is deepened as he finds himself fighting for the innocent.

How often do we make the same error and try to bargain with God particularly when we find ourselves in pain? We forget that God understand the situation better than we ever could. And knowing the situation as only God can, he is going to do not what we want, but what is best. Once more it comes down to trust and the call for us to pray from the bottom of our hearts four simple words: thy will be done.