Saturday, November 30, 2013

Getting ready for Advent

With Evening Prayer tonight, the season of Advent begins, the time when we not only look back to the first coming of Christ, but more importantly, forward to the second coming.

This year with the first Sunday of Advent falling on December 1 we end the liturgical year today with the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. While the first-called along with Peter, there is no Hebrew name given for him, only the Greek name andreia, a word which means bravery, or valour.

Perhaps the answer to how we might imitate his valor is found in the first reading. When we hear from St. Paul:

For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The Scripture says, No one who believes in him will be put to shame.

Can we really accept that last statement as fact ? Have not many Christians been shamed, embarrassed, humiliated? The answer to both questions is yes.

It all depends on how long or short-sighted we are. In the short run many of us have been shamed and humiliated practically beyond our endurance. Sometimes even by our own doing.

When St. Paul says "No one who believes in him will be put to shame" he is not talking about being put to shame in human estimation. He means in God's estimation.

On the human level we may have to be Andrew, the brave one, as we take it right in the face, and be shamed and humiliated, whether we deserve it or not. That's just the world in which we live. We all make mistakes and there are some people who take pleasure in never letting us forget.

But Saint Paul reminds us on this last day of this liturgical year that in the face of this world's attempts to shame or humiliate, we can always stand tall,because the ONLY opinion of us that really matters in the long run is God's.

So as we start the new liturgical year, be Andrew, be brave and know that in the only eyes that count

No one who believes in him will be put to shame.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Finding the blessings

For us Catholics the whole Puritan pilgrim thing doesn't really connect with our heritage. And in a sense we don't need the holiday because every Sunday we are required to come together to celebrate the Eucharist, the ultimate thanksgiving celebration.

But on another level we can get so used to going to mass week after week that we forget the thanksgiving aspect of mass. For that reason, we as much as anyone need to stop on this Thanksgiving Day, and look back over the last 12 months.

It is far too easy for us to look at our lives and see the challenges, the stresses, the ways in which life isn't what we expected or wanted it to be at this moment.

If we are Christians we return to our fundamental belief that "all things work together for good for those who love God..."

As we say at mass, we can find something to be thankful for "always and everywhere." Today before we fall into the turkey coma, let us look back at 2013 and get specific. Call to mind the people and things that we are most thankful for in the last year.

And if you are sitting there thinking, "I can't think of anything." I would simply say think harder. Every human being in the world has something for which to be thankful.

We believe in a God that has constantly been at work and is constantly at work, and is the God "from whom all good things come." That being the case, there is never a moment in my life when I should not be thankful.

Those of you who know my story at all know that from the very beginning there have been challenges, but I can say from the bottom of my heart that there is nothing that has gone wrong in my life for which I am not now grateful, because I have seen how God can transform what looks like a curse into a blessing. And I trust that the ones in which I don't yet see the blessing; it's there. And at some point in this life or the next it will all come together. As long as I try to stay on God's path.

And no matter what I do, the kingdom of God is coming.

Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Put your money where your mouth is

In the first reading today we hear:

he ordered the gold and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar, his father, had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, to be brought in so that the king, his lords, his wives and his entertainers might drink from them. When the gold and silver vessels taken from the house of God in Jerusalem had been brought in, and while the king, his lords, his wives and his entertainers were drinking wine from them

Once again we are reminded that our faith following on the Jewish faith is not "this or that" but "both this and that".

As Daniel foretells the Persians will take over and the second temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem and the gold and silver vessel will be restored to their rightful place.

Many Christians even some Catholics think that it is somehow wrong for the Church to build or maintain beautiful churches, that somehow a beautiful church and care for the poor cannot coexist.

We forget. Mt 26 when the woman brought the very expensive ointment and the disciples complain about how the ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor.

The truths of faith are transcendent truths that cannot be expressed in words alone. We try in music, art, and architecture to augment the words and help us to comprehend as much as we are able.

There is also a certain hypocrisy in a culture that will spend millions of dollars on a football stadium and yet when you ask the same people about the construction of their parish church, they want to do it on the cheap.

When future generations look back on the buildings of our time what will they discern to be our values. It wasn't the desecration of the objects that was the real crime it was what those objects represented, a respect for and a true worship of God. What do our monuments say? What are our "holy places"?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Here comes the apocalypse

If I had to pick a religious term that is the most misunderstood it would have to be apocalypse. The word literally means to uncover. It's why in English we call the a letter at the end of the New Testament the Book of Revelation.

What is being revealed? The Kingdom of God.

In today's first reading we hear the dream and the interpretation of the dream by Daniel.

Daniel tells the king that

In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.

For us Christians that Kingdom is the Kingdom brought into being by the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And as this past Sunday's celebration reminded us we are all citizens in that kingdom. The kingdom is open to all. God wills that all people be a part of the kingdom.

The Book of Daniel is an example of Apocalyptic literature. The apocalypse, the unveiling is not a frightening thing. It is the unveiling of the glory of God. Yes, it reminds us of the passing quality of all earthly kingdoms, but is that a bad thing? Perhaps it offers us perspective and humility.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Communication with the enemy

This week, the last week of Ordinary Time, we will read part of the Book of Daniel. During the 500's BC the Babylonians not only completed their conquest of Judea but destroyed the First Temple and sent many Jews into exile. It was only when the Persian King Cyrus the Great conquered the Babylonians, that the period known as the Babylonian Captivity ended and the Jews were allowed to return to Judea, and were even financially assisted in the rebuilding of the temple. This Second Temple would have been the one during the time of Jesus and lasted from 516 BC - 70 AD.

Daniel of whom we read this week was taken to Babylon in one of the early waves of the exile. As a prisoner he learned the language and customs of the Babylonians but never abandoned his religion.

Today's reading tells how Daniel and three others (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) all requested and were granted a diet of vegetables and water (no meats, because they would have certainly been unclean). And while the Babylonians thought this insanity they grew stronger.

As I look at present political climate I think there is much to learn from Daniel. He did not refuse to have any contact with the Babaylonians, his kidnappers. On the other hand he did not abandon any of his core values. He found the middle ground. He cooperated when it did not violate his faith. And as the week goes on we will see how this would position him in the long run to do God's work, much the same way Moses and Joseph were position by God.

In our modern world we too often see it as all or nothing, black or white, now or never. The scriptures are replete with examples where God's plan unfolds over long periods of time, with many moments that appear to be defeats, and those who appear to be enemies are even part of the plan. Rarely in the Bible do we see the kind of instant results that we in the 21st century want.

One of the great remnants from captivity is the language in which large parts of Daniel are written, Aramaic. The language that Jesus would speak on a day to day basis found its roots not in Hebrew, but in the languages of the enemy.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Citizenship or Residence

No I am not throwing myself into the midst of the hot optical debate. Although I will say that I find it ironic that the people I encounter who are most ready to raise the requirements for others are people like me who did nothing to earn their citizenship; they got just by the providence of being born here.

The readings today remind me though that I lost my US citizenship years ago. On the day of my baptism it was traded in for a green card. As the second reading today tells us

He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son

St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians puts it more directly when he tell us that our citizenship is in heaven.

I was born a US citizen and in baptism I was reborn as citizen of the Kingdom of God. And no, there is no duel citizenship. In this world we are resident aliens.

The Book of Revelation reminds of the reponse of God if we try to be both.

So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth.

As a resident of this world I work here, I pay my taxes, etc. but culturally I should remain a citizen of the Kingdom of God.

Too many of us want it both ways. We all of the rights of being Christian but without the responsibilities. We want to live as if we are citizens here, and only have our heavenly citizenship kick in when we die. Then we want to whip out our heavenly passport (our baptismal certificate) and step through the gates of heaven. And at way too many funerals preachers talk as if that's how it works. The minister stands there an canonizes the deceased.

If you are baptized, you have the only citizenship that matters, and the only culture and heritage that matters, Christian. Sure you can enjoy things about American, or Irish or Italian culture, as long as they are consonant with being Christian. But never forget that we are not even permanent residents here. We are pilgrims. We are just passing through. And we shouldn't pick up too much stuff because we don't get to take any of it when we go home.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Punishment of consequences

Today's first reading is the kind of thing that some Christians want to reject on one extreme and on others over-emphasize. The reading ends with the King Antiochus saying:

But I now recall the evils I did in Jerusalem, when I carried away all the vessels of gold and silver that were in it, and for no cause gave orders that the inhabitants of Judah be destroyed. I know that this is why these evils have overtaken me; and now I am dying, in bitter grief, in a foreign land.

Those who want to reject such imagery claim that God loves us and wouldn't bring evil on people. They would be half right.

God never brings evil. We believe all good things come from God. And one of those good things is consequences. Every action for good or bad that we commit brings with it consequences not just for ourselves but for others.

Beginning with Genesis we believe that we are all part of a single humanity, connected to one another. Christians even more so because we are all part of the one body of Christ. Therefore, everything I do affects every other member of the body, whether we see it or not.

Antiochus led his greed and quest for power lead him to try and conquer not only the Jews but the Persians as well. God did not punish him God allowed him the freedom of will that we all have, but then God also allowed him to suffer the consequences of his actions.

Very good parent must occasionally allow their children to learn the hard way. Does the parent enjoy it? Of course not. But some children refuse to learn any other way.

God is the perfect parent,
always ready to help, but not enable bad behavior
always ready to forgive, but forgiveness does not mean there are no consequences

The good news is that I don't have to, unless I chose to, make my choices alone. The Holy Spirit is always with me to help me in the process, but I have to be willing to listen. Sometimes that means I have to slow down and think, because there may be ramifications not just for myself but for many others, in even the small choices of life.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Contrary to popular belief

Some people like to caricature the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament as some kind anti-women document. An actually reading of the scriptures reveals the truth, and our Catholic Church's lectionary cycle attempts to underscore the same.

Yesterday we heard the story of the old man refused to even pretend to eat meat that was not kosher. Today we read the story of a woman who watched all of her sons murdered one by one, and what were her words to the youngest.

Son, have pity on me, who carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, brought you up, educated and supported you to your present age. I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things; and in the same way the human race came into existence. Do not be afraid of this executioner, but be worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that in the time of mercy I may receive you again with them.

She knew that if he held out, if he held on to his faith, he may appear to lose his life but in fact it would be the only way they could be together as a family forever.

A woman giving courage to a young man who was being promised the world by the king and who was wavering. Both an example of faith and courage.

The Bible is filled with such women.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The small things matter

In our first reading today as we continue to read the story of the Maccabean Revolt. We hear the story of Eleazar, who died rather than violate his faith.

The story tells us today that:

Those in charge of that unlawful ritual meal took the man aside privately, because of their long acquaintance with him, and urged him to bring meat of his own providing, such as he could legitimately eat, and to pretend to be eating some of the meat of the sacrifice prescribed by the king; in this way he would escape the death penalty, and be treated kindly because of their old friendship with him.

They gave him an out. It would have been easy for him to pretend to be going along. He would not have actually needed to violate the law. And he could have saved his life. But he refused. Why?

Because he knew that his example could have lead others to sin. Others would not have known that he was pretending. He was willing to sacrifice himself in order to avoid even the possibility of leading others to sin.

This story seems a stark reminder to us that we are called not only to love others as we love ourselves, but to go the extra mile and put others ahead of ourselves, willingness to sacrifice ourselves, our needs, our wants, our resources, not just for out friends and family but for all others.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Unity vs. Uniformity

For the Catholics this week is a good time to take a look at the Bible you're using. If you can't find the 1 and 2 Maccabees in the Old Testament it's not a Catholic Bible. Whether you are Catholic or Orthodox and believe this story is part of the inspired word of God, or you are Protestant and reject it's inspired quality, the story we read this week of the Maccabean Revolt is an important part of Jewish History we all should know.

After the death of Alexander the Great, two great kingdoms formed on either side of Judea, one based in what we now call Syria and one in Egypt. The Jews were literally caught in the middle.

In today's first reading we hear that the starting point was what on the surface seemed like a simple decree meant to unify the people.

Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, each abandoning his particular customs.

It was not just the Jews but all of the various people in the territory who were expected to abandon their ancestral customs and conform to the dominant culture, that of the king.

When we read about it being done to the Jews two millennia ago, we think "How awful!" And yet, how many people today right here in America think that to be a good American means abandoning the customs, traditions, and languages of your families and assimilating all things "American."

We confuse unity and uniformity. We forget that part of the uniqueness of the American Culture is precisely the fact that we can be one nation, and simultaneously hold on to our unique customs.

The Irish immigrants that founded my parish, St. Patrick's, in 1859 refused to assimilate. They built their unwelcome Catholic Church right across the street from one of the most historic churches in the country. They built a school where their children could be safe from the anti-Catholic prejudice that was rampant in Virginia at the time.

Now the whole country likes to celebrate St. Patrick's Day and we try to ignore the history. German was the second most common language in the US until it was seen as un-American with World War I. In Pennsylvania until 1950 official government documents were always available in German. The so called Pennsylvania Dutch are Germans.

With each new century in the history of our country new waves of immigrants have arrived and each have been unwelcome at first. Always met with the voice of the King in today's first reading demanding that they abandon their customs so that we can be one.

The truth is that our real strength is found in the fact that we are all mutts, only some of our dogs are purebreds. This week as we read the great story of how the Jews had to fight to hold on to their faith, their culture, their customs and traditions. We should search for ways to celebrate the freedom we have to live our diversity.

Our ancestors in 1859 could never have imagined and would have been horrified at the notion of Laura and I (St. John's Episcopal and St. Patrick's Catholic), a woman rector and the Catholic pastor standing side by side and calling each other friends.

Unity does not require uniformity. We can be one nation and still be proud Irish, German, Italian, Hispanic, Filipino, Scots, etc. etc. etc.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Last Green Sunday

Today we wear green for the last Sunday until January 19th. Next week is Christ the King. Then we have the seasons of Advent and Christmas (Violet and White).

In the readings today two words stand out: justice and perseverance.

It is all too common to hear people today who ask for or demand justice, as if it is something which one can be given. Even sadder, often when people demand justice what they are really seeking is vengeance.

Today's readings remind us that justice is not something one can be given. Justice is a virtue. Since ancient times it was considered the first of the cardinal virtues. Like any natural virtue it can only be acquired by practice.

Ulpian defined justice as "the constant and perpetual will to give to each person that which is their right or due." Constant ,not intermittent. Perpetual, without end.

If I have the virtue of justice, I give every human being (rich or poor, friend or stranger, or even enemy) the respect they are due as human beings created in the image and likeness of God. I do it when I feel like it and when I don't. Justice is not something I get, it is a way of life. In the responsorial psalm,

The Lord comes to rule the world with justice.

In meantime, as we wait, we must develop the second virtue from the end of the Gospel:

By your perseverance you will secure your lives.

Perseverance is not a virtue that comes easily. The word St. Luke uses in Greek literally means "to stay under." Most of us when under the weight of some difficulty in life want to get out from under as soon as possible.

Perseverance does not mean that we should get comfortable being down or under. That would be resignation. Perseverance is grounded in hope and faith. Perseverance comes from knowing that whatever we are suffering is always temporary. If we are truly people of faith we know that we are never alone, God is always with us. Perseverance knows that truth, good, justice will always in the end win.

Perseverance enables us while we are forced to "stay under" to never collapse. We stand strong and tall.

Justice and Perseverance marks of the true Christian .

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Not what you think

Today's reading from The book of wisdom opens with a fierce image. God coming down from heaven:

And as he alighted, he filled every place with death; he still reached to heaven, while he stood upon the earth.

But once more we have an example of a reading that cannot be taken out of context. The very next passage reads:

For all creation, in its several kinds, was being made over anew, serving its natural laws, that your children might be preserved unharmed.

The passage then goes on to recall images from the Exodus.

No matter how Christian we are, we still tend to think of death as a bad thing. We think of death as the end. Even at Catholic hospitals you will hear talks on "end-of-life issues." We often use a phrase like that without even realizing how un-Christian it is.

We have to constantly be called back to Catholic 101. At the second coming of Christ all will be raised. Some to eternal life and God's presence, heaven. Something to eternal life separated from God and others, hell. But the idea that the end of earthly life is the end for anyone is simply wrong.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Wisdom- it's a person not a thing

Today's first reading opens with an elaborate description of wisdom.

In Wisdom is a spirit
intelligent, holy, unique,
Manifold, subtle, agile,
clear, unstained, certain,
Not baneful, loving the good, keen,
unhampered, beneficent, kindly,
Firm, secure, tranquil,
all-powerful, all-seeing,...

But if we look back at the early church we find that "The Wisdom of God" was understood not to be a characteristic of God, but another title for the second person of the trinity, the Son, Jesus Christ.

In the city now know as Istanbul is an museum that for almost a millennium it served as the Cathedral of Constantinople. Known as Hagia Sophia its full name was, "Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God" and its feast day was December 25, the day when we celebrate the moment when that wisdom of God became flesh.

What does this have to do with daily life? It reminds us that wisdom is not a function of age. It doesn't simply happen. True wisdom only comes when we open our hearts and our minds to the love of God.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Today's first reading can seem at first glance outdated. Addressing those in authority it says:

Because authority was given you by the Lord and sovereignty by the Most High,

This and other statements in the Bible have been historically misread, and led to such things as the theory of Divine Right of Kings.

Do we believe that those in authority in some way rule by God's willing or at least allowing it? Yes. But this is part of a larger whole. Everything that any of us accomplishes in life we accomplish, because God gave us the ability to do so. It is always a collaboration: talent from God, and human effort.

The larger point this reading is trying to make is that judgment will be more severe for those who are in charge at any level. The poor man or woman with no education and few to no resources, and lives under miserable tyranny will be more easily forgiven his missteps.

Those of us who have education, resources, freedom and in particular those who lead (from a team in an office to President of the United States) will be judged more sternly.

As we hear in Luke's gospel:

Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

From a global perspective, those of us who can read this blog are all among those who have much.

Today's reading continues

Terribly and swiftly shall he come against you, because judgment is stern for the exalted

Before we look at this scripture and see in it proof that God is going to strike down our least favorite politician, I would suggest we look in the mirror, and do a self-examination. I may not be president or even governor, but as I sit in my nice warm house, with a frig full of food, internet, cable, and shelves of books, my life looks pretty exalted.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Praying for the deceased

the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. 

How many of us still behave like the foolish? We talk as if they are dead. We talk about them living on "in our hearts and minds" as if that is the only way they live on. 

As the month of November is the time to pray for those who have passed from this life, this reading reminds us that we need to pray for them. 

The other mistake often at funerals is the well-intentioned but erroneous canonization. Some funeral homilies sound as if the person instantaneously upon dead went straight to heaven. While we all hope for heaven, we cannot simply presume.  

We recognize the reality of sin and the need for purification  and so let us pray for all those whose earthly life has ended. Let us pray that they may be welcomed into the fullness of life with God in heaven. 

Monday, November 11, 2013


It seems to me nothing less than ironic that on Veterans Day we get the gospel

If your brother sins, rebuke him;
and if he repents, forgive him.
And if he wrongs you seven times a day
and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’
you should forgive him.”

And the Apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

On the surface there may appear to be no linkage between the two sections: one on forgiveness and one on faith. But look again. Only true faith in the power of God to change hearts and minds can enable us to forgive the same behavior over and over and not give up.

Without faith our tendency is, to quote Marcus Antonius from Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar:

And Caesar's spirit, raging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry "Havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war,

We feel the rage of Marcus Antonius. And our natural instinct is to strike back with all the power at our command. We push aside all those words of Jesus about loving enemies and forgiving.

Almost three thousand died in the attack on September 11. But more than twice that number have died in the two wars that it spawn. In the first decade of the war we deployed more than 2 million people into those two wars. And we will spend the better part of the 21st century carrying for the constantly rising number of physically and mentally wounded.

War is sometimes inevitable but Jesus reminds us today that for the Christian it must be a last resort.

It is good that one day a year we call Veterans Day but we must also be willing to pay whatever it costs to care for them and their families 365 days per year. If we throw parades and then say "goodbye, and good luck, keep warm and well fed" we are the worst kind of hypocrites.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Which is better?

There is a profound difference between, humility and self-depreciation. We Catholics and really most Christians confuse the two. We think putting ourselves down is what God wants. Today's gospel reminds us that God wants exactly the opposite, to raise us up. The saved human is a son/daughter of God and equal to the angels (isoangeloi).

If fact, I would argue that in the end he raises us above the angels. Of all God's creatures, which did he make in his image and likeness? Both humans and angels have intelligence and free will. And while both angels and humans fell, which did he come and rescue? And which can share in his divinity?

Yes, in this life we suffer the effects of original sin, disordered desires. The desires are good in their proper place. Hunger for food, the desire to reproduce, ambition are all good things. Even that desire for the glass of wine, doctors now tell us (like St. Paul told St. Timothy) is good for us. It is only when they become disordered that they lead to sin.

But where are we supposed to end up. In the words of the Cathechism

The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature"

Is is the prayer said each time the priest pours the water into the wine.

By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.

Jesus came not only to restore what was lost by original sin, but to raise us even higher. This is why at Easter we refer to original sin as the Felix Culpa, the happy fault. Had it not, been for the sin there would have been no incarnation, no ressurection, no sharing in the divine life.

In the end it was all part of the plan.

So you can wish to be an angel if you want a demotion. I'll be quite happy to remain an adopted child of God.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why buildings matter

Today around the world the Church celebrates the dedication of the Church of St. John Lateran. Why do we celebrate this or any other building?

The short answer is because we are human.

Some Christians erroneously talk if we were angels, as if the only part of us that matters was the soul. But we are not angels we are made of body and spirit, and ultimately both will be resurrected. Because we are body and spirit we are shaped by our environment, influenced by sight, sound, taste, smell and touch.

Things like art and music are not luxuries, they are essential to experiencing a truly human life . They can communicate to us truths about God that no words can capture. From our earliest days Christians have used music and art, and architecture to express our faith.

Perhaps today we need to take a few minutes to listen to music, look at art, or visit a beautiful Church, and soak in the beauty of God.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Looking for the good

In each of St. Paul's letters he addresses specific problems within the church to whom he writes. The early church like the church today was in a state of constant flux and with that flux there was often conflict and division. It is simply part of the growing process.

But rather than simply chastising the people for their many failing or painting the world around us as an enemy to be fought, St. Paul also looks for what is good.

Today's first reading today opens with him saying to the Romans:

I myself am convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to admonish one another.

Imagine if that were how we began each interaction, each discussion, each negotiation. Imagine if we began not with the disputed issue but with what is true and good in the other person or persons.

Even if we look at the word "critique"; it is defined as a detailed analysis or assessment of something. How often do we reduce it to what's wrong? And certainly the verb to critique or criticize, in the present day have almost exclusively negative connotation.

Sunday's first reading reminded us that no one would exist if God did not love them, if God did not hold them in being.

Even the most difficult person in your life is loved by God. Look for the good in them and you will find it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Do we really want it?

The contests are over , the winners declared. Now what?
The first reading today ends with a simple statement:

love is the fulfillment of the law.

Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner
Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli

They are all Catholic

Do they love one another?
More to the point, do we encourage them to love another?
Do we want them to love one another?

Love does not mean lack of disagreement.
Disagreement and love can coexist. It's how marriages survive.

We can complain about how politicians behave but we encourage them to be un-Christian.

Remember hurricane Sandy. Remember how Chris Christie (Catholic) was chastised, almost crucified by some for being too nice to the President of the United States.

How can a Christian be too nice? Christie was being Chrisitian; he was being Catholic.

Imagine if every elected person in the country who is a Christian, took seriously Christ's many instructions regarding love.

We want to change government, let's stop encouraging the war metaphor and start encouraging the two great commandments. Then perhaps they might get something productive done.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Paul's commandments

In today's first reading Paul provides us with a long list of commands

Let love be sincere;
hate what is evil,
hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
anticipate one another in showing honor.
Do not grow slack in zeal,
be fervent in spirit,
serve the Lord
Rejoice in hope,
endure in affliction,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the holy ones,
exercise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you,bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another;

Of the entire list it's the third from the bottom that may be the most difficult

Bless those who persecute you,bless and do not curse them.

It's worth noting that he felt the need to repeat himself, just so you didn't miss it.

While this may be the hardest, it should be the easiest. After all, if someone is persecuting you, if they are hell bent on making your life miserable, the only real way to make it stop is for them to have a change of heart, and the only one who can really change hearts is God.

Rather than caving in and crying, or getting angry and doing something stupid, we, as Christians, are called to pray for our persecutors. Pray that God will touch their hearts, and bless them. Pray that God will fill their hearts with his love and bring about true conversion in them.

Truth be told, persecutors are never happy people. No matter how they disguise it, underneath they are unhappy people taking out their unhappiness on others.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Who's really ready to wait?

In today's gospel Jesus tells the Pharisee who has invited him to dinner. That he shouldn't invite the usual folks any of us would invite, no friends, or family or those of our own class, but rather.

invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

It sounds all well and good, sitting in church on Sunday morning, but which of us is really going to do it. The closest most of us come is the tradition some parishes have of cooking a Thanksgiving meal for the poor. Then we can feel like we've checked that box for the year.

We love to complain about the younger generation and their desire for immediate gratification. We blame the technology. And yet it is not my experience that those of us who are middle-aged or senior citizens are paragons of patience.

We all seem to want what we want, when we want it. And if we really really want it, we claim we need it. The truth is our list of actual needs is fairly short.

Imagine trying to live today's gospel. Going through the day, choice by choice, doing what Jesus would do, and not even expecting so much as a thank you. Imagine making an anonymous donation. Imagine tolerating an insult, and being able to hold your tongue, be patient and know that in the final judgment God will make it all right. But not until then ! That's the scary part. Some things will not be fixed in this life.

Can I trust God that much? Can I keep my eyes fixed on the real prize? Can I have that much patience?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Real Jew

The gospel ends today with Jesus telling us that

this man too is a descendant of Abraham

But why was this even a question? His name, Zacchaeus, is Hebrew in origin. It comes from the word zakai meaning "clean, pure"

Jesus has to insist on his being a descendent of Abraham because there are those in the community who would claim "He's not a real Jew." After all, he collects taxes for our oppressors, and he's rich. That means he must be ripping people off.

To this very day what makes you Jewish is maternity. If the baby's mother is Jewish then the baby is de facto considered Jewish. "According to Torah, a person's Jewishness is not a matter of life-style or self-perception: one may be totally unaware of one's Jewishness and still be a Jew"

It is not for one Jew to judge another's Jewishness.

The same is true of Chriistianity.

Baptism makes one Christian. Baptism in or Reception into full communion into the Catholic Church after valid baptism makes one Catholic. In recent years the Church has clarified even more strongly that this relationship cannot be undone, no more that you can un-consecrate a host or wine.

You may be a non-practicing Catholic. You may be an excommunicated Catholic. But you remain a Catholic. Like your family, no matter what, they are still yours.

It is not for us to look at the externals of a person's life and attempt to judge their relationship with God. It is not for any of us to judge who is "really Catholic."

Rather than judging others, my time would be better served contemplating the judgement that I will face when I stand before God. Unless of course, I am self-righteous, then I don't think I need to change. And I am in real trouble.

Zacchaeus was, as his name implies "pure", a true son of Abraham despite what those around him thought. Jesus knew him at the level of his soul.

The Pharisees complain that Jesus had gone to the house of a sinner. Apart from his mother's house, whose house was not the house of a sinner? Should he have slept in the street and eaten alone? Their obsession with judging others is ridiculous. And judging others is just as ridiculous today.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

All the Faithful Departed

Sometimes we use expressions without really thinking about what they mean. Take for example the common name of today, All Souls. In an earlier time when "soul"meant person ( e.g. There wasn't a soul in the place) it was a bit more accurate. But even then we are not praying for all people. Nor are we praying for all people who have passed, as we say in the south.

Yesterday we celebrated All Saints, all those who have won the prize, as it were. Yesterday was about remembering that they continue to pray for us, as they enjoy eternal life in heaven.

If some poor soul is in hell, no prayer will help them.

Today is called the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, the ones in the middle. Will they enter heaven? Yes. But there is a final step. In the words of the Catechism:

1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

We call this purification purgatory. One should note that purgatory is defined by process not location.

All Souls is imprecise on two fronts:
1) We believe in the resurecction, that is salvation, of the body as well as the soul.
2) Today is neither about those in heaven or in hell, but those faithful departed, who still need to experience the final purification.

The 1st through the 8th of November in particular we are encouraged to visit cemeteries and pray for the departed. Our tendency of course is to pray the most for those who perhaps need it the least, the most beloved of our relatives.

Perhaps this year is a time for us to consider praying for those died alone and on the margins of society, those who faith was known to God alone. The thousands of people who were forgotten even before they died.