Saturday, August 31, 2013

Yeah Philly!!

No I don't mean the city. Today's first reading opens with Paul telling the people of Thessolonica that there is no need for anyone to write to them regarding "fraternal charity" (philadelphia).

Like most of us its not that they don't know what they should do. They know very well how they should treat one another. They just don't do.

In order to do this better Paul gives them three simple instructions:
to aspire to live a tranquil life,
to mind your own affairs,
and to work with your own hands

The first comes from the Greek which literally means "sit still." How often during the day do we just stop, even for 15 mins. And even when we stop our bodies, can we keep our minds from racing.

Second, "mind your own business." How much of our day do we waste talking about or getting upset about what someone else did or didn't do, the way we think they should. Once more St. Paul reminds us that we are doing well if we busy ourselves keeping our own lives on the right track.

Thirdly "work with your own hand", the balance for item one. On the one hand we need to sit still on the other hand we need to create, to build, physical activity by which we add to the world in which we live.

In a sense St. Paul has given us a very short daily checklist.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


In our modern American culture we seem obsessed with assigning blame. We try to mask it with the word "responsibility" and even make it sound like a virtue by using the phrase "individual responsibility." One simple question: how many truly individual acts are there, acts that from beginning to end only involve one person?

In today's gospel for the beheading of John the Baptist, we have Herod who made the promise, Herodias who hatched the plot, the daughter who conspired, and the guests some of whom were presumably Herod's friends. On whom do we place the blame?

Like almost everything in human life it was a collaboration, multiple people required to bring the entire thing to fruition. Everyone including the guests who stood by and did nothing share the responsibility. We do still believe in the sins of omission.

We like to try and make life more simple than it is. We like to look at this story and blame Herod or Herodias. We like to try and place the blame on a single person, it gives us a focal point. And most importantly it usually absolves us of responsibility.

We should remember that the scapegoat (Azazel) in the Old Testament was precisely that, a goat, an animal, not a person. The next time we get ready to rail against any single person we need to ask ourselves how many people collaborated in the bad choice? How many are co-responsible? And most importantly, what is my share of the responsibility ? If I said nothing. If I did nothing. Perhaps the person I need to change is me.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The beginning

We get so accustomed to the books of the Old Testament being in their current order,all bound together in a single book that we can forget that the New Testament is not a book in the ordinary sense. The Books of the New Testament were not written in the order presented.

Today's first reading may seem odd, nothing more that the greeting of one of Paul's letters. Historically, it is much more. Written around 51 AD, the First Letter of Paul to the fledgling church in Thessolonica is the oldest of Paul's letters and most certainly Paul's. It may be the first book of the New Testament that was put in writing.

In his simple salutation we find two words that are at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian χάρις (grace) and ειρήνη (peace). It has been almost two millennia since St. Paul wrote those words and yet we still struggle to fully understand the power of God's grace or what true peace is and how to live in it.

Perhaps today is a good time for each of us to look deep into our hearts and ask where these words fit. How deeply do I believe in grace, particularly the grace available in the sacraments? And do I strive to live each day enveloped in the peace of Christ?

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Many who attend mass today may wonder why on the Feast of St. Bartholomew we read a gospel about Philip and Nathaniel. The reason is simple; Nathaniel is Bartholomew. It's not that his name changed. The prefix Bar means "son of", so the name Bartholomew simple identifies his Father, similar to many Scandinavian last names (Johnson, Peterson, etc.)

While in the western church we do not focus much attention on him, his feast date marked the beginning of the year for Coptic Orthodox Christians. It was at the great Oasis of Kharga in Egypt that St. Bartholomew brought the son of an official back to life.

Today we pray for those Christians in Egypt, Coptic and other, who have kept the faith alive despite persecutions which we could hardly imagine. It was Blessed John Paul II who referred to Orthodox and Catholic, saying in Ut Unum Sint, "that the Church must breath with two lungs."

Jesus said of Bartholomew in the Gospel, in him there was no duplicity. May the people of Egypt have such a leader. And may peace be with them.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Long-Term Planning

The more I look at our culture the more I wonder if Attention Deficit is not a disorder but a cultural characteristic. So many of the problems we face domestically and internationally can not be fixed in a day, a month, a year or a decade. The solutions will take generations.

I dare say all of us know name David from the Bible but how many know the name Naomi. Naomi in the first reading during a famine leaves her hometown, Bethlehem. They dwell among the Moabites and her two sons marry Moabite not Jewish women. Her husband and her sons die. She decides to return home. One daugher-in-law goes back to her Moabite people and Gods. One daughter-in-law returns with her to Bethlehem. Her name is Ruth. Ruth marries Boaz. Their son was Obed. He had a son named Jesse. Jesse was the father of David. And we know the rest of the story.

The courage of Naomi and her husband to emigrate to a foreign land. Her willingness to allow her sons to marry pagan women. Her love for Ruth that caused Ruth to proclaim:

For wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

Four generations later lead to David who eventually led to Jesus. It began and came to completion in Bethlehem.

Patience, Endurance, and most of all Faith. Faith which is absolute confidence and trust.

Today's first reading is a reminder of the great women who were also part of the plan.

Today do we have the patience? Are we willing to endure? Can we choose to trust God completely with our lives ?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pius X

Today's saint is the perfect example of how sanctity is not about always getting it right. All one has to do his google his name and all the criticism in the world, literally, is instantly available.

But which of us has never heard the term CCD. Some people today use it completely unaware that it was St. Pius X who mandated the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in 1905 with the idea that religious education should be something more than sporadic, uneven, sacramental prep.

On every Sunday and holy day, with no exception, throughout the year, all parish priests and in general all those having the care of souls, shall instruct the boys and girls, for the space of an hour from the text of the Catechism on those things they must believe and do in order to attain salvation.

Which of our parishes meet that standard even now ?

This Pope lowered the age at which a person was presumed to have the use of reason from 12 to 7, so that children might participate more fully in the life of the Church.

Today, as much as at any time in our history, we need to turn to this saint for his intercession, to assist us in focusing our attention as he did on our youth. For every youth minister, and catechist, this is your saint.

Was he perfect in the earthy sense? No. But that simply reminds us that we are all capable of being saints.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The question of Gideon

In today's first reading we hear:
The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said, “The LORD is with you, O champion!” Gideon said to him, “My Lord, if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?

Which of us has not at some point asked this question? Bad things happen, sometimes really bad things, and we ask, where is God?

Gideon had it easy he got and angel and fire. We are not usually so lucky but then we don't have to go into battles like Gideon either. Our battles are smaller and so are God's signs. They tend to be more subtle.

Last week I was really wrestling with something, and turned on the TV just to unwind. The friend I was with and myself were completely taken aback when the program touched on the exact issue. It was as if one of the characters was talking right to me. Mere coincidence?

Or Friday night after 13 hrs on the train, my back was aching, I was hoping there would be a cab at the train station at that hour, and as I walked to the back of the car to get ready to exit, a couple I hadn't seen in ages was actually on the same train, and insisted on bringing me home. Again mere coincidence? They were certainly my angels that night.

God still works signs and wonders all around us. We simply have to have the eyes to see. All day every day, we must look at the world with eyes of faith.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Settling for Second

In the gospel today it is easy to notice that there are two possible goals.

First we are told what to do "If you wish to enter into life,....
And for that all we are told is keep the commandments.

But then Jesus offers the rich young man the opportunity to be more ambitious.

Jesus tells the young man, "If you wish to be perfect,...

Which do we want to go for?

This gospel reminds us that we should not be content to squeak by. We should be ambitious. Our ambition should be to be saints. And we should settle for nothing less than being perfect.

For the rich young man what stood between him and perfection was his possessions. What stands in the way of your perfection. For each of us this is a very personal discernment.

Is it a need for stuff. Is it the need to be liked. Is it the need for professional success.

Take a moment to look deep inside and find your answer.

It's all in how you look at it Sunday's Gospel

Today's gospel opens with "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! "

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What is the first image that pops into your mind?

My guess is that it is one of destruction, particularly when you listen to the rest of the gospel about division. But look more closely.

Fire burns and destroys but it also purifies,cleanses, and refines. Fire is the symbol of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, tongues of flame. When Jesus says he has come to set the earth on fire, it is not to destroy, it is the fire of the Holy Spirit, and the mission of the Church to spread that fire to the ends of the earth.

It is no accident that he immediate goes from talking about fire to talking about Baptism. While his baptism will be crucifixion, ours will be with water and is precisely the moment when we are set on fire, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, making us the adopted children of God.

When Jesus says he did not come to bring peace, he is not contradicting the opening of Luke's gospel that we sing every week, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will."

Real peace is not simply absence of conflict. How many families keep the peace, by simply ignoring problems, not talking about them. Real peace the peace of Christ, must be a peace grounded in the truth. This peace can often only be achieved, not by avoiding conflict, but by working through it. And working through conflict is almost always messy.

It is no accident that Jesus uses family images today. For most of us that is where it is the most difficult. Confronting the tough issues in our own family is often the hardest thing to do. Feelings get hurt, and deep wounds are inflicted. But just as fire is necessary to purify gold, so the fire of truth must purify us. Just as Jesus had to pass through the crucifixion to the resurrection, we must often in our closest relationships pass though conflict to get to real peace. True love may at times require conflict and division leading to unity and peace grounded in truth.

We will never truly be children of God, if we hide from the truth, avoid conflict. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth. Only in the truth can we find peace. Beginning with ourselves we must shine the light of the fire on our own hearts. And then in love share that light with others, even if it hurts, if all parties, are truly children of God, the division will only be temporary, and the conflict will lead to something better and stronger.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


What area challenges you the most?
For each of us it is different but today's gospel suggest one of the most common areas. It opens with a simple instruction:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
Could it be any simpler? And how often is that really our first step?
More often it begins with the internal monologue about how we have been wronged. Then we look for a sympathetic ear, someone who, instead of giving us a fresh perspective, will reinforce our sense of being wronged. Even better, if they already dislike the person who wronged you. Before long all of our friends know how awfully we have been treated, and we still haven't talked one on one with the person.
And suppose it is true that the person treats everybody this way, and isn't going to listen. Does that absolve us of the obligation placed on us by the gospel? Does that give us the right to simply complain and gossip?
The gospel is simple but not easy. Perhaps our grandmothers had it right when they said, "If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all. Once again we are reminded that the words discipline and disciple come from the same root. Today lets see if we can't exercise some self-discipline.

Monday, August 12, 2013

How soon we forget?

Moses in first reading tells the people that

So you too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.

Moses understands how easily the people of Israel may stake out their turf, and allow defending their turf to become a primary focus of their life.

This year we are extremely focused on the issue of immigration as a political issue and we forget that it is first of all a human issue, and therefore a moral issue.

The US-Canada border is 3,987 miles. The border with Mexico 1,954 miles. Net immigration from Mexico in the last two-years, zero. If it were really about terrorism where would e be focused?

Every one of the estimated 11 million undocumented aliens in the U.S. today are created in the image and likeness of God and loved by God.

Archbishop Chaput recently wrote

Americans have a right to secure borders, especially in an era of anti-American violence. We have a right to reasonably regulate our immigration policies. We have a right to exclude criminals from our country and to protect the financial health of our public institutions and services. We have a right to verify foreign visitors and guest workers, and to expect their compliance with the law.

But most undocumented immigrants in the United States – the vast majority — never commit a violent act, have no desire to undermine the common good and contribute productively to American prosperity. Thousands of farmers and businessmen rely on their services. The life many of us enjoy depends, in part, on the labor of “illegals.” Taking advantage of their work, and then blaming them for being here, is a uniquely unworthy form of doublethink.

We can and should debate policy, but rather than listening to the polemics or being driven by our fears and prejudices, as Christians our positions must first of all be driven by our principles: the equal dignity of every human life, the centrality of the family to a society.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Equity not Equality

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

The problem with this verse is that we all tend to apply it to "the rich and powerful" and simultaneously under-value ourselves and what we have.

If you are reading this, you part of the 34% of the world using the Internet. Two-thirds of the world has no access. If you are in the US you are in the 7th richest country in the world. We can easily forget how rarified our lives are.

The fundamental truth is that we must remain constantly aware that stewardship is the heart of the Christian life. Beginning with our own mind and body to the environment of our planet, today's gospel reminds us that at any moment our time on this earth may come to an end and we will each face a truly individual judgment of how we have cared for and used each of the countless gifts we have. This is not intended to fill us with fear, but to help us to take absolutely nothing for granted.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Total surrender

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Does this literally mean I have to lose my life? Many in the early church thought so and craved martyrdom.

I would still answer yes, but in a different sense, as St. Paul tells the Galatians,

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who lives it is Christ who lives in me.

Jesus wants nothing less than all of us. We speak of unconditional love, but are we truly ready for unconditional surrender.

In one of the courses I teach regularly we talk about magisterium, the deposit of faith, etc., and the levels of assent. And when we get to one point the assent called for in Latin is obsequium. Immediately there is a level of discomfort. After all which of us wants to be thought of as obsequious.

The standard definition of obsequious is "obedient or attentive to an excessive degree or servile degree." With humans that is possible, but what an excessive degree of obedience to God look like? Is there any such thing? And as for servile, isn't Servant of God the first step on the road to sainthood, before Blessed and Saint?

Even the word surrender, we just don't like the sound. And yet we are told that in order to save our lives we must surrender to the point of losing our lives.

Most simply put "Thy will be done."

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Why so hard headed?

One of the great questions that I will never really understand is why we human beings are so hard to convince. Time and again God has gone to extraordinary lengths to convince us of his love and yet we doubt.

Today we reach the moment in the Moses story where he strikes the rock and water gushes forth. But let's not forget that it is called the waters of meriba (contention, quarreling).

Every day the church has us start the Liturgy of the Hours with Psalm 95 which includes

Today, listen to the voice of the Lord: *
Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did
in the wilderness, *
when at Meriba and Massah
they challenged me and provoked me, *
Although they had seen all of my works.

Even after he sacrificed his own Son and raised him from the dead. Day after day, we as Christians are marked by Meriba and Massah (quarreling and testing). Our modern American equivalent is a phrase involving "…and moaning" How many people have given up on church because when the go to their local church this is the behavior they see among supposed Christians.

To the woman at the well, Jesus promises living water, and indeed we have received that water. Today let us find a moment to mediate on that font of living water that was placed in us at the moment of baptism. Let us drink of the Spirit.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Why the grumbling?

Toward the end of the first reading we hear

the whole community broke out with loud cries
But why?

Some of the men who went to reconnoiter the land decided it couldn't be done. So in their fear

they spread discouraging reports among the children of Israel about the land they had scouted, saying, “The land that we explored is a country that consumes its inhabitants. And all the people we saw there are huge, veritable giants (the Anakim were a race of giants); we felt like mere grasshoppers, and so we must have seemed to them.

This wasn't true but that didn't matter. Like today, a lie repeated can become fixed in the minds of "the people" as the truth. More than ever it is true that "A lie can run around the world before the truth can get its boots on."

We all remember the 40 years in the dessert but we forget that this was not God's plan. They only ended up wandering for 40 years because they allowed themselves to be taken in by the lies.

We should be very careful how quickly we accept as true. One website reports it, another news outlet reports that they said it, another repeats it, and suddenly it is in our minds fact. And the more negative the more ready we are to accept it.

Something like the good news of Jesus Christ is met with skepticism after 2000 years of constant teaching. Why are we so quick to accept the negative and so slow to embrace the positive? Shouldn't it be the other way round.

Our law says a person is innocent until proven guilty. But do we truly feel that way in our hearts? Do we presume the goodness of a person? These are the things that should set us apart as Christians.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


When we hear the word exodus, we think of exit, leaving, the end of something.

Today we celebrate the transfiguration, the moment when Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah (the Law and the Prophets), symbols of the original covenant with Abraham.

The topic of their conversation:

his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem

The verb πλερου can be translated accomplish, to make something full, to fulfill. What will look to the world like the end and death will be the fulfillment. The exodus is not simply leaving, but a beginning, the beginning of a journey to the promised land.

Will the pain, the suffering and the death be real? Oh yeah. There will be agonizing pain, but it is pain with a purpose, a purpose the human eye cannot see.

Today we celebrate the moment when God gives the apostles a glimpse of the glory to help prepare them for what is to come.

Jesus had to come down from the mountain and enter into the deepest valley, death. Only through death could he get to the ressurection.

We who have been baptized into Christ carry him within us. We have the power to endure. We know the goal, the prize. Like Jesus we may fall along the way but with faith we can make it.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


Most of us would never think of ourselves as greedy. We thing of the people on Wall Street as greedy, or perhaps the people on Hoarders, but not us.

The problem is that we have narrowed the definition to keep ourselves safe, and we do it unconsciously. In Dante's purgatory, the greedy are bound face down on rock, facing the earth.

Today's reading divide the world simply: the things of earth, the things of heaven. All of the things of earth are ephemeral, they pass away. They are as the first reading calls them "vanity" or the Germans have a better word "windhauch"(a breath of air).

The things of heaven are eternal.

Greed here is any attachment of my heart to any earthly thing. Whenever I allow my heart to turn from the eternal to the temporal.

Daily we must turn our minds to the temporal. We work, we eat, we sleep, we are stewards of God's creation. But our hearts must be different.

This is why Jesus gives us simply two commandments: love God, and love your neighbor. These are the only two eternal realities. (And throw in angels)

We forget that humans are the only created thing made in the image and likeness of God and intended to for eternal life.

When we use the verb "love" in relation to an object, that is greed. As pastor of St. Patrick's I feel a responsibility to care for the building as an historic artifact, but should I have an emotional attachment to it?

When you get angry and scold your spouse or grandchild for accidentally damaging some thing. Is that not greed? Which of the two is eternal, the object or the person?

Before we accuse others of being greedy, perhaps we must begin with ourselves. When you say your family is the most important thing in your lives, look at your calendar for the last week. How did you spend your time? On God and people or on things?

How much of our upset is caused because of an emotional attachment to some passing thing. We should and must work. We need things in order to live but our hearts must never be attached to them. When we achieve that state then we will be greed free and we will know the peace of God.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Avoiding the truth

How far will we go to avoid the truth?

In today's gospel we have the story that ends with the beheading of John the Baptist. A very familiar story but we can often forget the starting point, John telling Herod a truth he doesn't want to hear. Not only does he not want to hear it, Herodias, his brother's wife, doesn't want to hear it. She so desperately wants to silence this truth that she plots to have John be headed.

While none of us would have someone beheaded, we do have the expression in English "to take someone's head off." Have we not all at some point in life gotten angry because someone spoke a truth to us that we did not want to hear? Usually the level of our angry is proportionate to the truth of the statement. And most of us have probably at some point taken someone's head off.

The saddest part is that this is most common in the one place we should be most dedicated to the truth. We,like Herod, find the problem is at home, and in the family. We have a number of expressions to describe the phenomenon "tiptoeing around it", "walking on eggshells", "the elephant in the room."

The next time someone says something that makes you immediately angry, ask yourself why? It may be that they are completely wrong, but it is far more likely that there is some bit of truth that you don't want to hear.

Rather than jumping to defense mode. Try just saying thank you, and walk away. Pray, take it to God. Ask God to reveal the truth, if there is any. Then we are Christian.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Sin, Crime, and Error

In today's gospel from St. Matthew we hear what I think of as one of the most tragic stories in the Bible. Jesus goes to is own hometown and we hear
A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.” And he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith.
To think that they had had in their midst for all that time God incarnate and missed out. Why?
Our faith tells us that Jesus was like us in all things but sin.
therefore, he had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people. (Hb 2:17)

This means he was not perfect.

In our modern age we seem to have forgotten the basic distinctions and remedies.
Crime- the violation of human law
Sin - the violation of God's law
Error- a mistake in judgement

Hiding Jews in Nazi Germany was a crime, but certainly not a sin, or an error.

And not every error is a sin or a crime. As Jesus grew up he most certainly would have erred as all children do. That's how we learn we perform a task over and over, being corrected until we develop the skill.

Because the people of Jesus's hometown could not distinguish error, they remembered his human imperfection and lost sight of who he really was. Like so many of us, they let the sight of the imperfect eradicate the good.

It seems to me that Pope Francis and Anthony Wiener have shown us the correctness of our Catholic faith.
While it is true in the early Church there was public confession and public penance, it did not take long for us to realize that confession of sin is best left in private.

The four parts of the sacrament are: contrition, confession, penance, and absolution. Public humiliation of self, and worse yet family members, is not called for. And the notion that "he needs to make a full confession, if he wants the people to forgive him" is nothing short of idolatry where we turn "the people" into God.

Christianity, Judaism, and Isalm each have some form of Penance. We would do well to encourage every believer beginning with ourselves to deal with our sin accordingly.
Pope Francis during the press conference on the plane on the way back from Brazil gave us the words to live by. When he explained that we must distinguish between crime and sin. With sin as he explained that once the sinner confesses God not only forgives but forgets. And if God forgets we have no right not to forget.

If a person has committed a crime, let the courts judge that.
If a Christian sins, let him go to confession.
If a person commits error, let them learn from their mistake.

And "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone ”

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hope for the middle aged

Today the church celebrates the founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (CSsR), known to most simply as the Redemptorists. St. Alfonsus began his life as a lawyer but found that the life of a lawyer was not for him. His true calling was to be a priest and to care for the most needy, the most marginalized.
I refer to him as hope for the middle aged because while he was ordained at 30, he did not begin to make his truest mark on the church until later. While he founded the Congregation at age 36, he was 49 when he wrote his first book, 66 when he became bishop, and was 83 when he published his last of over 60 books. It is no wonder that he is one of only 35 people to hold the title Doctor (that is Teacher) of the Church.
To all the 50+ crowd he reminds us that life is not winding down. Our mission in this world is not finished as long as we are alive. When we finished, God calls us home. Until then, even if infirmity should limit our activity, our life still has purpose, we still have a mission.