Monday, September 30, 2013

New that is actually old

If we hear something often enough, we tend to accept it as fact. Sadly, these things are simply untrue. Take for example the line:

Catholics don't know the bible

While we do not memorize chapter and verse numbers, our entire worship is replete with biblical texts, from the systematic reading of the gospels in the three year Sunday lectionary cycle, and the two year weekday cycle, to the actual words of mass,most of which are direct quotes from scripture. Every ritual in the Catholic Church is grounded in the scriptures.

Today we go back to the fourth century and celebrate the Saint who was in many ways the father of all scripture scholars, Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus, known to us more commonly as St. Jerome. His tireless work became the core of the Vulgate the first attempt to, in a systematic way, put the Bible into a language that could reach the people.

While already fluent in Greek he moved to Jerusalem to immerse himself in the language and world of the Old Testament so as to improve the work of translation. Good translation is as much art as science. The work of capturing a thought, an idea, a feeling expressed in one language and finding the optimal counterpart in the other.

Every time any Christian picks up a bible, we owe a debt of gratitude to St. Jerome. Every scripture scholar of any denomination, whether they are aware of it or not, has built on the foundation laid by him.

Today let us pray that through his intercession the fire for the love of the word of God may be reignited in the heart of us all.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Two simple words

In the gospel today Jesus gives a very simple instruction:

Pay attention to what I am telling you.

Pay attention. How good are we at that any more? Can we focus our minds on what someone else is actually saying and allow ourselves to hear and understand it?

Our first problem is the myth of multi-tasking. The human mind can only focus on one information source at a time. When we tell ourselves we are multi-tasking our attention is really just flitting back and forth between things. Neither one is getting our full attention.

Our second great problem is spin. The minute anyone begins to speak we spin their words based on what we already think of them. We hear selectively.

The best recent example is the Affordable Care Act. If you call it Obamacare, democrats like it more, republicans like it less. Everyone has an opinion about it. Yet, how many Americans have actually read and understood it? I will confess I have not read it all, and therefore cannot speak intelligently about it one way or the other. But how many of us will admit that? Instead we are content to parrot what our favorite politician or pundit says about it.

I simply use it here as an example of how often we would rather talk than listen; we would rather argue than discuss.

Jesus calls us to do what may be one of the most difficult things for us to do

Pay attention.

If we cannot, stop, be quiet, and pay attention to the ordinary things and people around us, how can we hope to truly pay attention to something as profound as the words of Jesus.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Patron of our Diocese

Today we in the Diocese of Richmond celebrate with the universal church St Vincent de Paul but for us he holds the additional position of being our patron. As we listen to the constant bickering about our national priorities I could not but be struck by the words written by our patron and included in the Office of Readings for the day.

Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself.

Let us each of us take these words to heart and pray that leaders around the world, guided by the Holy Spirit, and through the intercession of St. Vincent may reflect this same Le and concern for the poor.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Money where your mouth is

When archeologists look back on our generation what will they say we valued most?

In the first reading today we switch to the prophet Haggai, and we hear the people of Israel after they have all the money from Darius, saying Well, now is not the time to be spending all that money on building a temple. God, through the prophet takes them to task for their hypocrisy, because they have wasted no time building nice houses for themselves, but take the attitude that the house of God can wait.

How little we have changed! What are the great edifices of our time? Hotels, sports arenas, and corporate headquarters are our temples, into which we sink all of our money. Our churches and schools we build on the cheap. And no, Vatican II cannot be blamed for that.

The more basic question this reading puts before us is do our spending patterns truly reflect our values. As St. Matthew puts it

Where your treasure lies, there your heart will be also

If the forensic accountant went through your last year's spending, what would he say you care most about? Where would God, the Church, the poor fall on your list? How Christian would it be?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Just off the Piazza Barberini on the Via Veneto is the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Capuccini, known to the Americans as the Bone Church. The walls of the crypt are decorated with the bone of over 3000 skeletons. Yes, to our American sensibility it seems creepy. But when you reach the end of the walk there is a simple sign in several languages:

What you are now, we once were
What we are now, you will be

In the gospel today Jesus sends the 12 out in the world with a very simple instruction

Take nothing for the journey

For each of us we will really have no choice when it comes to the ultimate journey. We will take no thing with us. We can take no things with us. If a priest is there perhaps we will receive viaticum, literally "food for the journey." But that is not a thing, it is a person, Christ present in the Eucharist, to accompany us on the journey from this life to the next. And when we reach our ultimate destination, while none of the things we accumulated in this life will be there, the loving relationships we built in this life can be there with us for all eternity.

As we start this beautiful Fall day, these are things worth remembering, and perhaps we can go through this day with our eyes fixed on the people and not the things.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Road to Peace

Yesterday we heard about Cyrus today we hear how the next King Darius went even further:

I also issue this decree concerning your dealing with these elders of the Jews in the rebuilding of that house of God:
From the royal revenue, the taxes of West-of-Euphrates,
let these men be repaid for their expenses, in full and without delay.

Hard for us to imagine in our present world, but it happened once and this kind of peaceful co-existence can happen again. Even more now that we have the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The gospel today reminds us that while professions of faith are important,

My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.

Peace is possible and it really is above all not the act of a government but of individuals. It starts in the hearts of each of us.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Dispelling the myth

Often when one discusses peace in the Middle East someone will inevitably say, "Those people have been fighting forever." Today's first reading reminds us of how wrong they are on several levels.
Firstly, "those people" are not all the same. Today we begin reading the Book of Ezra which recounts the story of Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who not only authorized but supported the construction of the Second Temple for the people of Israel, after the Babylonian Captivity.

Let everyone who has survived, in whatever place he may have dwelt, be assisted by the people of that place with silver, gold, goods, and cattle, together with free-will offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.

It would be 20 years later under the Persian King Darius that the temple would be completed and would remain until its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD. This is the temple Jesus would have visited. Historian refer to the years between 516 BC and 70 AD as the second temple period.

Today if you ask a person from Iran or parts of Afghanistan who they are, they will will still proudly identify themselves as Persian, a term that goes back to Pars, in the time of Cyrus the Great.

It is all to easy for us to remember history only as a series of wars, and conquests. Even when we teach American History, we tend to go from war to war: revolutionary war, civil war, WW I , WW II, Korea, Vietnam,etc.

As Christians we should be a people of hope, the people who keep alive the memory of the good, the signs of God's grace and action in the world. This week as we read the Book of Ezra let it remind us that peace is possible. Or put more simply, with God all things are possible.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Today's gospel ends with an observation.

No one can serve two masters

The language rings as arcane because we like to think that they days of masters and servants, or even more so slaves, is long past. But has it?

How long can you sit and talk with a friend or family member without someone checking their phone? When I was a child my father worked from 8 AM to 4 PM. When he came home he was home. How many of us can constrain our work like that any more? Even when we are not physically at work, we are still working.

The real question these reading put before us is: How much is my life truly mine?

God created us in his image and likeness and endowed us with free will. And yet if each of us looks closely at our lives we will find that we have in some way surrendered that freedom. In often slow and insidious ways we loose ourselves in the barrage of competing demands. How many marriages have failed because one or both parties have lost sight of why they got married? If often gets phrased as "We drifted apart."

These reading invite us to step back and ask one simple question, who am I?

While servant is a biblical image, if we look at the words of Jesus we find we are called to something more intimidate. Jesus taught us to pray not, Our Master, but Our Father. In John's gospel he tells us that he no longer calls us servants, but friends.

The dual command: love God, and love neighbor.

These are the images of what God wants us to be.

The greatest gift God has given each of us is life. Perhaps it's time to take back your life. Are there ways in which you have become enslaved? When you are with your loved ones, are you truly with them, giving them your undivided attention? When you pray, are you truly giving God you attention or are you constantly letting yourself be distracted?

The people of Israel against whom Amos rails today were not bad people, they were the chosen people. They forgot that. They allowed themselves to be lured off the path. Amos had to remind them who they were.

Remember who you are and reclaim the freedom Christ won for you!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Today we remember

Today we step back from the readings and remember four little girls: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair.
Sunday morning 50 years ago today, those little girls got up, put on their Sunday dresses and went to Church. No one in their church could have imagined that at 10:22 a bomb would end their young lives and wound 22 others physically and scores of others emotionally.
For most of us it is impossible to imagine the kind of hatred that motivated the bombers, the terrorists. We ask ourselves: How could one human being hate another simply because of the color of their skin?
On the surface we have made great strides. We dare not say the N-word. And laws prohibit discrimination. But if we look beneath the surface, we see that we still have a long way to go.
Now instead of a bifurcated society (black and white) much of the animosity is directed at the growing Hispanic population. And the problem is not limited to the south, or to whites. All too often in every community ignorance and fear overwhelm the call of the gospel. We accept the equal dignity of every person as a theoretical construct, but fail to let it guide us when we are having those political discussions with our friends, who still tend to be mostly our own race.
Today let us call to mind the four little girls who died 50 years ago in Birmingham. Let us call to mind the pain of those parents who had to suffer the agony of burying their children. And let it empower each of us to transform our society not just in our laws but in our hearts. Today is a day for every American of every race, religion, ethnicity, to, first of all, look deep into our hearts and acknowledge the prejudices that are there. Secondly, allow the grace of God to heal us as individuals, communities, and as a nation.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


As the sunsets today we mark an interesting religious intersection. Today we celebrate the Exaltation of the Cross and our Jewish brothers and sisters bring to a close the days of awe and the celebration of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

In both cases we are celebrating the love and mercy of God and how it surpasses our sin.

We Christians exalt (lift up) the cross, following the theology of John's gospel in which the Cross of Christ is a instrument of life and healing.

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, (Jn 3:18)

May we not only receive the gift of forgiveness but may we in turn give it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

It's not a name?

Today we celebrate the memorial of St. John Chrysostom. Chysostom is not his family name nor is it the name of the place he comes from, it is an honorific. Literally it means "golden mouth." He was so renowned for his preaching ability that the title simply became the way the church used to distinguish his from all of the other Sts. John.

What may seem a little curious is his path to this title. At age 30 he went away to the mountains and spent six years perfecting his ability to live in silence. It was only after the long silence that he was able to come back and to the city and preach with such eloquence.

While none of us may be able to spend six years in silence. Perhaps there are a couple of lessons that would be useful for us.

First, we all as human beings need silence, the mental sabbath. Often even in our prayer we are busy talking. We need a time of meditation. We should remember, however, that meditation in the Christian sense, is not emptying the mind, but giving God our undivided attention.

Secondly, in a world of constant information, St. John reminds us of the need to be quiet, and think before we speak. We may at the end of the day discover that we have said much less, and that can be a very good thing.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Three simple commands

In today's first reading we are told to do three simple things in relation to Christ
—walk around in him
—be rooted in him
—be built up in him

The being rooted part I think we all get. We understand how important it is for Christ to be the foundation of our lives.

The third one is a bit more difficult, the idea that not just the foundation but the whole building must be constructed in Christ. We still on some level want to hold on to most of it. It's my life, we tell ourselves.

But the first one it seems is the most critical. The Greek verb here is peripateo from which we get peripatetic in English. Imagine if we actually did that. Imagine if every time you got up to walk around, even just rambling around the house, you consciously did it in Christ. You walk down the hall at work to a meeting in Christ. When you get out of the car to walk into work, or a store, you walk in Christ. Every time you get up to move the first word that pops into your head is Christ, or Jesus if you prefer.

In the 21st century we are a peripatetic people. We run around from place to place, our minds flit from thing to thing. Imagine how it might change your life if all that motion were done in Christ. —a habit worth developing, I think.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Beginning of the end

If someone asked you what was the event that set in motion the crucifixion of Jesus, what would you say?

Today we hear Luke's answer. It was the healing of the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath. After that

they became enraged and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

From this good deed reported in chapter 6 of Luke's gospel begins the series of machinations that will ultimately lead to crowds chanting crucify him, and to the crucifixion.

How often do we make the mistake of thinking, when we see someone in a bad place, "He must have done something wrong." Or when it is ourselves we ask, "What did I do to deserve this?"This gospel reminds us that this is simply a wrong way of thinking.

This gospel reminds us that there is evil in the world. And it does not operate as overtly as in the horror movies and TV shows. Evil is slow and methodical and patient. It works through the petty in all of us, jealousy, envy. The leaders saw that Jesus was good and had real power, the power to help and to heal. And in their jealousy, decided he had to be brought down. His violation of the sabbath law was merely the excuse they used.

Most of the people in the crowd yelling "Crucify him" had probably never even met Jesus and had no idea how they were being manipulated by their leaders, and how long these people had been working on a plan to destroy Jesus. The sad truth is, 2000 years later the crowd still loves a good crucifixion. Just turn on the TV or the Internet. Instead of wood and nails we now use words and pictures.

We are social by nature and that is a good thing. The danger is that we can easily get sucked into group-think, and loose sight of the fact that moral responsibility is always individual. In the end I will be judged by God for the choices I make. Sin of omission can be a damning as sins of commission. If I allow myself to be swept along by the crowd. Everyone was doing it cannot be my excuse.

Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. The level of my responsibility is proportionate to my freedom. As a middle-class American I have enormous freedom, a level of freedom most people can only dream about. How will I use it today? To tear down or build up, to wound or to heal. Which voices will I heed today?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Knowing God's Intention

Often we Christians can read the Old Testament as if there were no New Testament. Take today's first reading.

Who can know God’s counsel,or who can conceive what the LORD intends?

The answer is, we can. That's the good news. The Letter to the Hebrews says it best

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets;in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe

We do not have indirect contact with God. We believe that God became incarnate, lived among us, Jesus Christ. We believe we receive no less than him in the Eucharist.

We believe that the Holy Spirit, who is also God, is pour into us at baptism, and we become his temple his dwelling place on earth.

And as for God's intention, when I was a little boy in the Baptist Church the first bible verse we had to memorize was John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave* his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

Or even more clearly 1 Tim 2:4

This is good and pleasing to God our savior,who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.

This is what God intends. We can know it. We do know it. God intends for everyone of us, every human being to have eternal life. And God has done and will continue to do everything necessary to try and get us to accept this gift. Because the one thing God will not do is take away our free will.

Sometimes this means that God allows us to fall flat on our face. He, like any good parent, allows us to suffer the consequences of our bad decisions. Like gold purified in fire, God allows us to be purified through sharing in the cross of Christ, but the intention is always the same to strengthen us, to draw us closer to himself, to make us one with him, to make us nothing less than saints, his sons and daughters.

Who can conceive what the LORD intends? We can. God himself has become one of us and made absolutely clear his intention. Only one word is needed from us, yes. Today and every day say yes to the will of God.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Day of Prayer and Fasting

It's not to late.

Even if you had forgotten and aren't reading this until the middle of the day. It's not too late to join in the Day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria. Today, Saturday September 7 Catholics around the world, all 1.2 billion of us along with other Christians and other people of faith, have been asked by Pope Francis to spend this day in prayer and fasting.

Perhaps for health reasons your fasting can only be a very limited fast. Rarely do most of experience real hunger,new have food and clean water readily at hand. Today let yourself feel hunger.

Over the last two years more than 100,000 people have been killed in the violence, including countless men, women and children killed with chemical weapons. My prayer began this morning with "Morning Prayer for the Dead."

Your prayer may be as simple as stoping several times throughout the day to pray the Our Father, or the rosary, or taking moments of silence. Whether we pray as groups or individuals, we believe in the power of prayer to change the world. Right now as you are reading this dedicate this day.

The USCCB has offered the following prayer:

Almighty eternal God, source of all compassion,
the promise of your mercy and saving help fills our hearts with hope.
Hear the cries of the people of Syria;
bring healing to those suffering from the violence,
and comfort to those mourning the dead.
Empower and encourage Syria’s neighbors
in their care and welcome for refugees.
Convert the hearts of those who have taken up arms,
and strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace.

O God of hope and Father of mercy,
your Holy Spirit inspires us to look beyond ourselves and our own needs.
Inspire leaders to choose peace over violence
and to seek reconciliation with enemies.
Inspire the Church around the world with compassion for the people of Syria,and fill us with hope for a future of peace built on justice for all.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace and Light of the World,who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

L'shana Tova

Happy New Year

With the setting of the sun yesterday evening our Jewish brothers and sisters began their celebration of the New Year. It would however be a mistake to compare the celebration with the American New Year's Eve.

The celebration of Rosh Hashana not only looks forward to the year that is coming, but looks back. This two day celebration, recalls the very beginning when God created the universe.

Before the sun sets today, they will have gone to a body of water, preferably flowing, and cast bread upon the water.(Tashlikh) In some areas turning their pockets to get out the last crumbs. With the bread they cast away their sins reciting the closing of the Book of Michah.

Who is a God like you, who removes guilt
and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;
Who does not persist in anger forever,
but instead delights in mercy,
And will again have compassion on us,
treading underfoot our iniquities?
You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins;
You will show faithfulness to Jacob,
and loyalty to Abraham,
As you have sworn to our ancestors
from days of old.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Day of Fasting and Prayer

Sunday September 1 Pope Francis decried the situation in Syria at the Sunday Angelus

Tomorrow evening (Erev Rosh HaShana) our Jewish brothers and sisters will begin the Days of Awe, the days between Rosh HaShana (the new year) and Yom Kippur(the day of atonement). These are holiest days of their year, a time of casting away sin, a time of reconciliation with one another and God.

On this coming Saturday, Sabbath for the Jews, and the vigil of the Birth of Mary for us, Pope Francis has invited not only Catholics, but all Christians, and all people of faith to unite in a day of prayer and fasting for peace.

In these next days we should each take time to think about how we will fast, and what prayers we will offer for all the people of Syria.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Still grappling with our humanity

While almost 2000 years have passed since St. Paul first wrote to explain our theology of death and resurrection to the Church at Thessolonica, we still seem to struggle to accept the most basic of Christian beliefs. In part it seems because we want to run away from our humanity. We want to be something else.

I have to smile when I remember my Eschatology (the study of last things) professor Fr. Carl Peter. A world-renowned theologian he often became agitated at the level of ignorance he would hear preached, at funerals in particular.

The worst offenders were those who talked as if they believed that the deceased person was going to become an angel. Angels are a separate kind of beings. Angels are created angels and humans are created humans. And most importantly each remains what it is. A human cannot become an angel nor an angel become human.

Another common error is the group of people who dismiss the body as bad or meaningless. They talk as if a person dies, their soul goes to heaven, end of story. This half truth may be fine if you are trying to explain the matter to a child, but we adults should understand our faith on an adult level.

What makes humans unique is that we are composite creatures, made up of body and soul. As Christians we believe Christ became incarnate to save not only the soul but the flesh, the body. We bow during mass every time we say these words.

Following on the teaching of St. Paul the Church teaches that there is a separation of body and soul that takes place at death, and the particular judgement. And our bodies, as St. Paul says, "sleep" until the final judgement.

In accord with today's reading we believe that at the final judgement and the return of Jesus Christ,
At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed (Catechism n. 1042)

Genesis tells us that when God created humanity he looked at it and saw that it was not just good but very good. In the end we will not be just very good, but glorified, body and soul. That is the end God wants for every human being.

Today and every day let us keep our eyes fixed on that prize to keep us on the right path.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Quid pro quo

Here in the Commonwealth for what seems to be an eternity we have been reading news stories about the evil of quid pro quo.
Today's gospel forces us to face the harsh reality that most of human life is lived quid pro quo. When we human beings do something we want, expect, or even at times demand something in return. And when we don't get it we cry, "it's not fair."
Part of it comes from how we are created. We are created to be in relationship, and relationships are, by our definition, mutual. We expect everything to be 50-50, "a two-way street." Even those two most basic commandments: love God and love your neighbor.
When was the last time you prayed simply to express love for God and wanted absolutely nothing in return? Most of us can't get through and period of prayer without asking God for something.
And on the human side,even when we say those most powerful words, "I love you" there is at least some part of us that is hoping the other person will say, "I love you too." And how do you feel when they don't?
That's what makes God's love for us unique. God is perfect, whole, complete. God neither needs nor wants anything from us. As Common Preface IV says, "our praises add nothing to your greatness but profit us for salvation." God wants to be in relationship with us not because he derives any benefit from the relationship but to perfect us. God's love is the only completely selfless love in the universe.
We may never be able to love in a completely self way in this life , but in today's gospel Jesus calls us to strive to imitate the love of God when he tells us:
when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
I would add to that list the relative you most dislike being around, and the friend who only calls when they want something or has the most annoying personality. It is only when we show love to those who will not or cannot love us back that we are truly particularly Christian.