Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Foundation of our Hope

Today St. Paul gets to the very heart of why we as Christians hope with a series of questions.

If God is for us, who can be against us? ...
Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.
Who will condemn?...
What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?

No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.

That's the good news, the most important truth, but also the part we like to hear.

Tucked into the middle is the other part, the part we would like to avoid.

For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.

We want a share in the ressurection, we have to accept our share of the crucifixion. There is no going around Good Friday. Most importantly suffering does not mean you have been bad and God is punishing you. On the contrary, it may we be precisely because of your willingness to stand with Christ that you suffer.

But we must stay focused on the good news, that in all these things we conquer. We never fear. We never loose hope. We trust in the absolute love and power of God.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Divine Compassion

The opening of today's first reading from Romans often gave me trouble.

The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.

Why groaning ? And then it dawned on me that if God is truly compassionate (literally suffers with), then of course the Spirit would groan or sigh with us.

Most important is a verse that gets closer to my core the older I get, the more of life I experience.

We know that all things work for good for those who love God,...(Rm 8:28)

If there is one verse worth memorizing this first part if this one verse is certainly it.

Notice that the verse begins, "We know", not we hope or believe.

Even in moments of adversity, we must know this in the deepest part of our being.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Companions on the journey

Today we celebrate two of the Apostles, both of whom shared their same name as other more famous Apostles.

The first, Simon, is called the Zealot, so that he might not be confused with Simon, whom Jesus renamed Peter. Very little is known about this apostle. All that remains are a handful of legends.

The second, is called in English Jude. In fact he has the same name as Judas, and English is one of the only languages that uses a different translation for each person's name. In the New Testament both are named Ιούδας.

We know the two travelled together and were martyred together in 65 AD. The axe that is often pictured with St. Jude is a reference to how they were martyred. Today the relics of both are entombed together in St. Peter's Basilica.

For soon after his death before his remains were moved to Rome. It is said that those who visited the grave of St. Jude experienced powerful miracles and so he became known as the patron saint of desperate or lost causes.

We pray to Saints not because we "worship" them but because we believe that the command to pray for one another never ends. We do not believe that those who have made it to heaven are indifferent to the struggles of us here on earth. We believe that those many and women who have already made it into the fulness of eternal life still love us, care for us, and can and do pray for us.

If we believe the promises of Jesus then we know that Simon and Jude are not dead. They are in heaven and continue to watch over and intercede for the Church they helped Jesus to established. The love now as God loves.

This Simon reminds us that it's ok not to be the famous one. And Jude reminds us that there is no such thing as a lost cause. With God all things are possible.

Jesus sent them out two by to because we are not meant to go it alone. Do not be embarrassed to ask for help, and especially ask for help from those closest to Jesus.

St. Simon and St Jude, pray for us.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Living in the Spirit

On one level today's first reading deals with the gift of eternal life which Christ won for us by his incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection. As St. Paul reminds us, this eternal life is not just for our souls but for our bodies.

If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.

And so in the Apostles Creed we proclaim the resurrection of the body.

On another level, St. Paul challenges all of us who have through our baptism (and confirmation) received the gift of the Holy Spirit to live in that Spirit. St. Paul is not hear making the argument that the flesh is in itself evil. It is a part of God's creation and as cited above will be redeemed. What he is warning against is allowing the flesh to be the driving force.

When we live in the Spirit we have our priorities in order. Even for us as priests this is hard to maintain. If we go back to the scriptures and the teaching of the Chruch, my primary work as a priest is prayer, especially the Liturgy of the Hours and the celebration of the Eucharist. Yet I too fall into the trap of thinking that constantly responding to phone calls, text messages, email, constant meetings, etc is the real measure of being a good priest.

Each year how many marriages do I see fail because one or both parties is living in the flesh, letting their job become their God, and one true love? Even when they are together they are not fully present to one another.

The person who lives in the Spirit never forgets that this material world will all pass away. The two great commandments remind us that God and those who are ultimately welcomed into heaven are eternal. Eternal life is the only real long-term investment. The person who lives in the Spirit never forgets this.

Truth is, we all vacillate. We need things like crucifixes, images, and prayer like the rosary to call us back, refocus us.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sin and archery

Today we reach the famous part of St. Paul in which he describes the struggle that each of us face.

For I do not do the good I want,
but I do the evil I do not want.
Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it,
but sin that dwells in me.

What I find fascinating is that St. Paul does not describe what dwells in us as Satan, or an evil spirit, or something of that kind. He refers to it simply as sin

In Greek there are variety of words for sin. What I find most interesting is the word that he uses here -Amartia. It is an archery term that refers to literally "missing the mark."

Some read this passage as if it depicted a battle of equals. They imagine it as two forces, one good and one evil, struggling within us. For us as Christians there is really only one power in the universe, God! Everything else is a created being. Even Satan is not God's equal, but one of God's creatures, a creature who went bad but a mere creature none the less.

What dwells in us, according to St. Paul, is an incapacity to hit the mark. For that, we constantly need to turn to God and to depend on God's grace. Only with God's grace, can we even hope to hit the mark.
But when we miss the mark, we should never despair. For God's grace is always there to forgive us and to redirect our efforts.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Good slavery

As we continue to move through the many images St. Paul uses today we hit one of the most difficult, slave.

But now that you have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit that you have leads to sanctification,and its end is eternal life.

While it is hard to imagine, this word referred to two kinds of slavery (voluntary and involuntary). Jesus asks us to freely hand over our imperfect mortal lives, and in return we receive a new sanctified, immortal life.

This is not a one time single action. It requires a daily constant renewal. Each moment of each day we must entrust ourselves totally, allow ourselves to be slaves of God, beloved slaves but slaves nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Not Fear but hope

In today's gospel we hear 

You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.

So often we read this passage merely as a warning looking toward the judgement that will come. 

If we read it however in the full context of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the coming of the Son of Man is not something to be feared but something to be hoped for. 

There is also a more immediate reading of the passage. We should keep our eyes open and be prepared to see the action of Christ in our lives. At moments we do not expect, at moments when we feel most abandoned, the entire history of our faith records examples of God's unexpected intervention. 

We can never know. We know that God may not intervene when we want but God always intervenes at the perfect moment. The exact moment that is best. 

We must therefore remain vigilant, trusting, waiting, exercising the virtue of hope. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The two Adams

One of the metaphors that St. Paul uses about which we do not talk very much is Jesus as the new Adam. Over and over he repeats the pattern "if by one much more..."

if, by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.

It is not just that Jesus undoes what Adam did, he undoes and surpasses it.

Of the list I chose the example above because it is the trickiest. After all, do we really think that being Christian means I am going to "come to reign in life"? The answer is no and yes.

If you mean by reign rule over others, then sorry–bad news,no.
If you mean by reign rule over yourself, then – good new, yes.

God's grace helps us not only to know the right thing to do, but to do it. True, there are a few things, like the startle response that we cannot control. But many many more that we can.

When we say, "She makes me so angry" or "They scare me."
No one can make you feel. The truth is he/she/they do something and you allow yourselves to be frightened our angry.

You cannot control the initial shock, surprise or startle, but you can control what happens next. Each of us with the help of God's grace can choose to allow the anger, fear, anxiety etc to overwhelm us, or with the grace of God we can reign over it. We can reign it in. We can allow the virtues of faith hope and love to be the reigning force in our life. We can choose to live.

St. Paul wants us to understand "how much more", how much greater God's grace is than any bad thing that might come our way.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Absolute Trust

In the first reading today we hear St. Paul remind us,

Abraham did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief; rather, he was empowered by faith and gave glory to God and was fully convinced that what God had promised he was also able to do.

Once more we are challenged not simply to believe that God exists, or that God loves us, but to believe that God has the power and will always do what it best for us, at every moment of every day. Even as I am writing this I know that God is a work in my life.

Are there things I wish God would do? Of course. Do I believe that it would be better if God would do them sooner rather than later? Of course. But ultimately I must let go and know with all my being that God only does good. God does not do evil.

If God does something or even allows something to be done to one of his children, it is because in the big picture that only God can see, it is for the best.

Remember that four chapters from now in the same letter St. Paul will tell us "All things work together..."

Abram trusted God enough to abandon everything he knew and follow God's will into the complete unknown. Today can we release all of our anxieties, and simply believe.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

It's not impossible

Today's gospel gives us a double command, one thing to do and one thing not to do. On the one hand we are to pray always. On the other side, we are not to become weak.
Taken literally it would seem impossible. Are we supposed to walk around muttering prayers all day long? That makes no sense.
Yes, we should at a minimum begin and end our day with actual prayers. It is even better if we can pause several times during the course of the day and say perhaps a simple Our Father or Hail Mary. But to pray always for the Christian is something much more simple: simple but not easy.
We know that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. For us to pray always then is to walk through the entire day from the moment we wake until the moment we fall asleep in constant contact with God, constantly aware of that presence of God with us.
If we can live constantly aware of that presence of God then the second command not to grow weak or tired, or despondent is easy.
The Church links this gospel with the first reading from the Book of Exodus to make sure that we do not fall into the other trap. The trap of individualism. Yes, I am the temple of the Holy Spirit but I am also part of the Body of Christ. Ours is a communal faith.
When Moses's strength failed it was not enough for him to pray and have God magically give him the strength to keep his arms up. He had to be humble, he had to allow Aaron and Hur to help him. He had to allow them to be God's instruments. He had to accept the truth that he could not do it on his on. Can we do that? Can we acknowledge when our strength is gone? Can we ask for help not just directly from God but from others? Can we be humble enough to allow others to be our strength?
With constant prayer and humility there is nothing we can not face.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The first step

Today we begin reading St. Paul's letter to the church in Rome. It is almost inconceivable. When we think of the Church and Rome today, we think of St. Peter's, the Vatican, the Pope, the whole Catholic Church and her history. But when Paul wrote his letter,even he could not have imagined what would happen to that Church for bad and for good over two millennia, eventhough God had told him how far it would go.

He tells us the introduction that he was given grace and apostleship for what appears to be a very simple purpose

the obedience of faith among all nations.

Today we hear obedience and we think, doing as you are told. But in Greek as in Latin, it's meaning is really the step before doing. The word obedience literally means attentive listening.

The "obedience of faith" means to listen attentive in a posture of absolute trust in God. It's harder than it sounds. In Psalm 46 it is put very simply:

Be still and know that I am God.

The truth hidden in this simple phrase is that we can only truly be still, be calm, be at peace, if we know with all our heart that God truly is God. God has this entire universe in his own way under control. Yes, we have free will. Yes, evil exists. But there is no power in the universe equal to or greater than God.

When we truly believe that, then we can be still, and listen.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

More than don'ts

Today's gospel ends with the words

blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.

I suspect for most of us our minds jump to the commands, and and we think in particular of the thinks we are not suppose to do, the sins. We think of observing the word of god as keeping the commandments.

But let's not forget that there is much more in the word of God, and in particular the gospel. To hear the word of God and observe it also means believing in the promises.

Mt.-the promise to be with us always until the end of the world
Rm- all things work together for good for those who love God and have been called according to his purpose.
Jn- the light shines in the darkness,and the darkness has not overcome it.
1Cor-he has made us temples of the Holy Spirit

How many times have we all heard these words and yet do we believe them in the very depths of our being. One can memorize the entire Bible but if you do not trust it, you have only heard the word.

Are there times when it is hard to believe? Yes.
Are there times when it looks like the darkness is winning? Yes

But that is a lie. In Jesus we have eternal life, a share in the very divinity of God. Nothing can overcome that.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The short view

Why most of us I suspect are looking at Washington and feeling frustrated with all sides for their short-sighted ness, it seems to me we need to be careful.

In today's fist reading the prophet addresses all of us when describes the frustration that I suspect every religious person has felt at one time or another the feeling that those without a moral center seem to be those who get ahead, and the good suffer.

He uses a common word but one about which we don't often reflect, impunity-freedom from the injurious consequences of ones actions. Come on, let's be honest, don't we all want that. Don't we all want the ability to simply say I'm sorry and move on.

Those who scoff at the notions of purgatory or indulgences, act as if Christianity teaches that all you have to do is confess sin, ask forgiveness and it's all over and done with. We want to forget that there is for all humanity temporal punishment due to sin. Even after sin is forgiven, because God is just there are the consequences. If a kid throws a baseball through my window, and ask forgiveness, he still owes me for the repair of the window. If I came I late, and apologized my mother scepter the apology, and still grounded me.

Truth is when we see someone acting in what appears to be impunity part of our anger is really jealousy. How come they get away with it?

The truth is we are all short-sighted. Our god is both a God of mercy and a God of justice. In the end we are all, every single human being is going to be judged for the choices they have made. No one has impunity. Rather than spending our time focused on someone else, including "those people in Washington", we would all do well today to stay focused on our own choices. And if you have forgotten what an indulgence is? Here's the link.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Need for Reminders

Today we celebrate Our Lady of the Rosary. It used to be that praying the rosary was a Catholic identifier. Even growing up as a baptist, when I had never seen a rosary except in movies, I knew Catholics prayed the rosary.

Now I am afraid that the place I most see rosaries is in movies and on television. What happened? It would be easy to oversimplify history, and look for someone to blame. But what is served. The story of Lot's wife reminds us that looking backward is not the answer. We need to look forward, and help each other rediscover the place of this prayer in the daily life of the Catholic.

A first step is the simple carrying of the rosary. Just the presence of the rosary in our pocket can be that constant reminder that our faith must guide every decision we make in our lives. And we all need reminders. Every knight of Columbus is supposed to be carrying his rosary at all times.

The prayer is simple. In its most basic form: three prayers, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. The traditional rosary consisted of 150 Hail Mary's, mirroring the 150 psalms which had been prayed for centuries by monks. A Catholic would usually pray one third of the rosary each day, five decades of the rosary. Each decade begins with the Our Father and conclude with the Glory be, with ten Hail Mary's in between.

From the 16th century until 2002 the rosary remained unchanged until Bl. Pope John Paul II, added the luminous mysteries, which fill in the story of Jesus's ministry.

The beauty of the rosary is its flexibility. While there are varieties of suggested schedules for which mysteries to pray on which days. Some add in the Fatima prayer. There is no one fixed way that is the right way.

Here are the instructions on how to pray the rosary.

Today find your rosary. And most of all pray.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Power and seduction

Today's gospel reports 72 disciples coming back thrilled because they have discovered that there is power to be had in being a disciple of Jesus. While acknowledging the power, Jesus gives them a simple warning.

do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven

Jesus knows human nature. He knows how dangerous seeking power, even if we intend to use it for good can be. The more power we have (or think we have), the more we want. It gives a sense of control which in turn gives us sense of safety.

The down side is that it grounds us. You may ask, isn't it good to be ground? Not if you are intended to fly. The search power keeps us planted on earth. It anchors us to the temporary.

Jesus reminds the disciples and us that we are intended for something beyond our imagining, eternal life. Perhaps that is the problem. It is truly beyond our imagining. We cannot comprehend the grandeur of what God has in store for us, and so we reach for what we can see.

Jesus tells us, his disciples, to rejoice because our names are written in heaven. We are call to not just reach for the stars, but even beyond the stars, to reach for a joy, a peace, a perfection, and a life that I cannot even begin to imagine.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The juxtaposition

As much a democrats and republicans are try to turn this into a blame game, today's memorial shifts our attention. Today we celebrate St. Francis of Assisi. He reminds us of some useful basic Christian principles.

—the people who are suffering most are the poor.
—we look for the face of Christ in each of our brothers or sisters.

The Vatican website describe it thus:

So greatly loathsome was the sight of lepers to him at one time, he used to say, that, in the days of his vanity, he would look at their houses only from a distance of two miles and he would hold his nostrils with his hands. But now, when by the grace and the power of the Most High he was beginning to think of holy and useful things, while he was still clad in secular garments, he met a leper one day and, made stronger than himself, he kissed him.

I am always shocked when I hear people who call themselves Christian express the same kind of loathing when they speak of people from the opposite political party. Perhaps the first step for Washington is for us the constituents to pray for the intercession of St. Francis, and encourage our leaders, most of whom claim to be Christian to set aside loathing, and see the good in each other.

Multi-party politics always involves disagreement and struggle. But what we see now is void of all Christianity.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I do believe

The letter to the Hebrews reminds us regarding angels,

Are they not all ministering spirits sent to serve, for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?j

or even more clearly in. Matthew

See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.

Today we celebrate a great spiritual gift which we can all too easily forget or worse yet, in our arrogance dismiss.

Angels are as real as any other form of life in the universe. And today we are reminded of those angels who are entrusted with watching over and assisting each of us. Do not be afraid to reach out in pray to your guardian angel. It's not just for children.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The little flower

Today we celebrate the person who may well be one of the most controversial of the doctors of the Church. St. Therese of Lisieux. In 1997, when Bl. Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church many were to say the least shocked. How could a woman whose writing was so simple be counted among the great theologians of Christianity. Only 35 people hold that title in the history of the church.

Yet Bl. Pope John Paul saw what many could not. That it was precisely her ability to capture the simplicity of the gospel and the path to holiness that made her one of the greatest teachers of the faith.

Today may each of us look for the little flower, tiny acts of love that we can do today, and so imitate St. Therese.