Monday, December 29, 2014

Walk this way

In the first reading for this 5th day in the octave of Christmas St. John tells us that

he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

The ambiguity of the pronouns in this text is actually helpful. Do we abide in Christ or does Christ abide in us? The answer is both.
But what caught my attention was this image of walking.

We describe the stages of childhood as infant, then toddler, that phase when the child makes his or her first unsteady steps, when they seem to always be on the verge of falling, and often do. But once we pass out of the toddler phase most of us never think of walking again. We just do. We get up and go. Just drive near a university campus and you can see scores of people with their earbuds in, walking mindlessly. We humans can even sleepwalk.

With the years of physical therapy for my cerebral palsy, I know that I should stand up straight, put my hips under me, extend my legs and plant the heel first when I walk. I don't. I drag the toe, wear out the muscles in my back, and go through a pair of shoes about every three months.

Why? Because it's easier. It's the way my body naturally wants to walk. Is it bad for my back, my hips, my knees and ankles? Of course. But I do it anyway, because walking properly is hard work. It requires that I constantly pay attention. I can't walk properly and think about other things. Just ask how often someone has gotten mad because I walked past them without speaking. Real walking is work.

On a deeper level we are all in the same boat. St. John tells us we should walk as Jesus walked. And most of us love the idea in theory. We know that we would be better off if we walked that way. But in practice, it's just too much work. It's just easier to let ourselves walk however we walk. One of the great myths of the modern age is that natural always equals good.

God became incarnate and walked the earth to show us a new way to walk. It is not our natural way. It requires concentration and often feels awkward and uncomfortable. It is, in fact, the way humans were always intended to walk, before we were hobbled by sin.

The good news is that regardless of our physical condition, on this deeper level we can all choose how we are going to walk. Are we going to wander aimlessly through life, being blown about by the demands of others or our own emotions? Or are we going to make the conscious choice to change our stride, stand up straight and walk like Christ?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Looking beneath the surface

Today the Church celebrates St. John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple. Of the four gospel writers, John was the last, and the one who calls us to take the deepest look at who Jesus is. Mark starts at the baptism, Matthew and Luke reach back a little further to the birth of Jesus, but John is the one traces the beginnings of the story of Jesus all the way back to the beginning of the universe.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

John not only looks beneath the surface but digs until he finds the bottom of the root of the story. In doing so he challenges each of us to do the same. So much of our modern life is lived on the surface. How many hundreds of "friends" do we have on Facebook? How many friends do we really share our lives with?

If tomorrow were not Sunday, it would be the Feast of the Holy Innocents when the church commemorates the infants slaughtered by Herod as recorded in Mathew's gospel. We are once again taken beneath the superficial frivolity that Christmas has become. On Monday we will celebrate the martyr Thomas Becket— more blood, death, and gore.

Today on the Feast of St. John can we take a serious look beneath the surface.

One of the many blessings God has sent me this year is a friend named Tom Gallagher. Tom's granddaughter passed from this life on March 16, 2014, after running a half-marathon in Virginia Beach. As the story would unfold this beautiful athletic teenage girl had struggled with mental illness. Unlike so many she wanted to bring it out of the shadows. Six months later over 3,500 runners turned out for the Speakup 5k. And her family continues to hope that this idea of speaking up will continue to spread.

Unfortunately, her story is not the norm. Most often people dealing with depression and other forms of mental illness surfer in silence. During this holiday season how many families with gather with at least one member suffering from some form of mental illness and everyone will either not see it or at least pretend not to see it? In young people we dismiss it as adolescence. In adults, we come up with more creative excuses. We may comment to one another about the surface behavior but we don't want to tackle the root cause, too complicated, too messy. We seem to prefer to wait until the person's behavior is completely out of control then we throw them in prison. 40 percent of individual with serious mental illness will be incarcerated at some point.

In what is supposed to be the most advanced nation in the world 1 out of 5 will deal with some form of mental illness this year. And of those who do only 1 out of 5 will receive treatment.

St. John was not content to skim the surface and simply tell the story of Jesus's earthly life. He wanted us to understand who Jesus was on the deepest level. As we gather with our loved ones this holiday season, if we really love one another let us have the courage to look beneath the surface and see what's really going on, and if there is a problem have the courage to Speak Up. And if you are reading this and you are the one dealing with depression or some other mental illness, speak up.

It may seem strange that the Church fills the days after Christmas with so much suffering and death: St. Stephen, the Holy Innocents, Thomas Becket. But it is not strange at all when we remember that on the other side is always the hope of resurrection. The situation only becomes hopeless when we try to run away, deny the truth, bury our heads in the sand. When we face the pain and suffering head on there is always new birth, new life in Christ.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Armed for Battle

After the exercise in gluttony known as Christmas dinner, the Church wakes us up on the 26th by celebrating St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church whose story begins in Acts 6. In a homily from the 6th century, St. Fulgentius makes what is to me a fascinating linkage between the 25th and 26th.

Speaking of the birth of the king on the 25th is common. The gift of gold brought by the magi is the symbol of his kingship. St. Fulgentius then speaks of the followers of Jesus, the disciples, us, as the soldiers of the king. Again there is nothing new in that. We are all familiar with the image of us as the soldiers of Christ.

But if we are soldiers engaged in a a great battle, what is the weapon we carry? Here St. Fulgentius looks to the story of St. Stephen and sees that the weapon of the soldier of Christ is love.
This is no Pollyanna love. This love requires courage, the courage to die.

In the words of St. Fulgentius,

Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment.

In the end Stephen was stoned to death. So did he win or loose? He won by dying. Welcome to the paradox of Christianity. He won because he never let go of his faith. He won because he never let the evil actions of other cause him to hate. He won because he understood that our life on earth is but a moment out of our entire life, most of which should be lived in God's presence. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus on earth, we celebrate the birth of Stephen into the kingdom of heaven. Apparent defeat is really victory in the battle if our greatest weapon is alway love.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Irresistible Love

Christmas is the one day in our calendar with 4 distinct masses and 4 sets of readings.

The Vigil with Matthew's Genealogy a beautiful reading if you had time to explain it.
Mass at Midnight or at Night - Luke's Nativity
Mass at Dawn- the Shepherd's then travel to see the child, the continuation of Luke's nativity story
Mass on Christmas Day - the prologue of John's Gospel

But of all these readings the one to which we are instinctively drawn in the gospel from midnight mass, the infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. That single image is Christmas.

But why? Why did God come in that way?

Some would say that God wanted to experience all of human life from conception to death. If that was the point then why does the Bible, the inspired word of God, jump from infancy to adulthood, with the exception of the finding in the temple found only in Luke. If the whole human experience were the point why is the majority of his life on earth skipped over? What was so important about his infancy?

I do not pretend to know the mind of God, and anyone who does is a fool. But there are certain almost universal human experiences that tell us about humanity and God. I believe the infancy stories are important for many reason but one of those reasons is that they tell us about the relationship God wants with us.

Some will quote proverbs and tell us that "Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." But if fear was God's goal, he could have chosen to manifest himself in some much more frightening forms.

When someone walks up to you with an infant where are your eyes drawn? Last week, as I father walked toward me with his child in his arms I consciously tried to look him in the eye, but as he got closer I could not keep from looking at the baby. And when we look at the baby, we smile. This is our natural human reaction and I have watched it happen all over the world.

Ask any parent and they will tell you, they vanish, and our full attention is drawn toward the infant. And no matter how young the baby, we want to interact. Even when we know the smile is probably just gas, it makes us happy.

Infants are bundles of irresistible love. We are drawn to them like magnets. They bring out the best in us. In them we glimpse the pure love of God. We don't even have to see one. If you stop right now and think new born baby, something in you will smile.

Today as we celebrate the birth of Christ, let us open our hearts and allow that pure love of God to be reborn in us today.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Closing Advent

This morning the Church closes the season of Advent by reading the first words that Zachariah spoke when his child was named John and his muteness was ended.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

The passage from the end of chapter 1 of Luke's gospel is called the Canticle of Zachariah. Anyone who prays morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours prays these words every single day. It is the song of a father filled with the Holy Spirit prophesying the role his son will grow up to play in the history or the world.

Tomorrow "the dawn from on high shall break upon" and the words spoken to the infant John by his father are spoken to each of us.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.

We are all called to be John, to proclaim salvation, to proclaim forgiveness. As we gather with family and/or friends this Christmas Eve and even those of us who will spend a quiet evening alone, let this be a time to forgive, a time to allow the healing Spirit of God to heal the wounds that divide us. Let us spend this last day of Advent preparing a place in our hearts to receive the Child Jesus.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Almost There

It is almost time for us to gather  and celebrate Christmas. Tomorrow evening the Christmas season begins and continues until we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. 

Today's first reading from the prophet Malachi conjures up images as pure as gold and as white as snow. We like the images, but we don't often think about what is required to get there.  

The prophet Malachi reminds us that the tools that are required are fire and lye. Fire is required to purify silver and gold. Lye is required to bleach. Both burn.

On this last full day of Advent, day of purple, are we ready to allow Christ to burn away our impurities? Jesus comes to save us but will we let him save us from ourselves?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Samuel and Jesus

Today's first reading can seem odd and leave you wondering what it has to do with Christmas until you introduce a single word, Nazirite. Samuel's mother made a vow that if God would grant her a son he would be dedicated to God. And so from his birth he was a Nazirite, from the hebrew word meaning set apart or consecrated.

There is still some debate when the New Testament says Jesus was a Nazerene, does it mean from Nazareth or a Nazirite or both?

Samuel is not only a Nazirite but he also represents a turning point in the history of Israel. He is considered to be the last of the Judges and the first of the major prophets.

As Christians, we read the story of Samuel and we see a foreshadowing of what God is going to do in Jesus. In Jesus we have more than a prophet speaking the word of God. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, the Word incarnate, the definite Word. He is not a child dedicated to God. He is the child who is God.

He is fullest expression of God's love for us.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Gabriel Once More

The opening prayer for today's mass is the concluding prayer for the Angelus.

The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her "Do not be afraid." How can she not be afraid? First there is the angel. Secondly, what is being asked of her will ruin her in the eyes of the community.

He then describes for her the two step process of the conception of Jesus:
1 The Holy Spirit will come upon you.
2 The power of the Most High will overshadow you.

Why both? In the creed we say "conceived by the Holy Spirit." Why then does Luke need to add "The power of the Most High will overshadow you"?

We tend to think of shadows as bad things we associate them with darkness, and we fear the dark. And which of us thinks that it is a good thing to be overshadowed? But we must remember God is turning the world as we know it upside down.

The name Gabriel can be translated "God's strength" or "My strength is God." Or if you wish you can translate strength as power. Gabriel, the power of the Most High, is the angel sent not only to deliver the news but to spread his wings and wrap her in God's power. She is now in the shadow of the wings of the power of the Most High.

Now a shadow is not a bad place to be. The shadow become the place of safety, the place of security in the storm that is to come, the storms that are to come.

Even at the moment of the crucifixion of her son, she will remain overshadowed by Gabriel, the strength of God. Today's gospel tells us that the angel departs from her in the sense that he is no longer visible to her. But the angel does not pass out of existence.

Today is the darkest day of the year. Here in Richmond we will have only 9 hours and 33 minutes of daylight. But we do not fear the darkness. We do not fear the storms of life. We know that in those moments we can always take refuge under the shadow of the wings of Gabriel, we can allow the power of the most high to overshadow us, not so we can run away, but so that his strength becomes our strength. Through him, with him and in him we can be victorious.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Needing Gabriel

As Christmas is now less than a week from today, we hear in the gospel the Zachariah in the temple and how the angel Gabriel appeared to him to foretell the birth of John the Baptist. In an indirect way we are reminded of how life doesn't stop for Christmas, despite what advertiser tell you. And by the way if you are Catholic this isn't the Christmas Season. If you are Catholic, or many other branches of Christianity, this is still Advent. The Christmas Season begins on the evening of December 24.

The many problems that people are dealing with in life don't magically go away. In fact, we are two days away from the darkest day of the year. But as we were told in Sunday's second reading we can rejoice always. Not artificial rejoicing but real rejoicing because of the angel. The angel in today's gospel is Gabriel. His name can be translated as "God's strength" or more personally "God is my strength." Our true Joy of the season comes not from carols or lights or trees or presents. Our true Joy comes because we too can claim the name Gabriel.

In the gospel today Zachariah is left mute because he did not believe. His son would not be just any voice but the voice that would announce the coming of the Messiah. The father of the great voice was an old man and by inference feeble. It was not by his strength that his great son, John, would be conceived. God had to be his strength.

Do you really believe in Gabriel, the Strength of God? Are you ready to let go and let God be your strength? Today in your prayer get a clear picture of Gabriel in your mind. As you face the struggles of life, as you face the struggles of this day, do it with Gabriel.

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Yesterday the Church began a series called the O Antiphons. Most of us know them best as the verses of the song O Come O Come Emmanuel. What we don't realize is that the verse we sing first is actually the last

These images of Jesus as foretold in the Old Testament begin with
"O Sapientia...veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae"
O Wisdom...Come to teach us the way to prudence.

Jesus is The Wisdom that shows us the way to prudence. Prudence is the Auriga Virtutum, the charioteer of all the other virtues. Aquinas would say the cause, the measure, and form of all the virtues.

Prudence lies in applying the universal principles which we know so well to the concrete situation before us. Prudence is not taking the safest course of action but the most Christian. The prudential judgment may in fact lead us to suffer. Prudence distinguishes the true Christian from the mere hypocrite.

Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate. His every choice was the prudent one, including the choice to die for the salvation of the world.

Today we add:
O Adonai et dux Domus Israel...veni ad redmendum nos in bracchio extento.
O Adonai and Lord of the House of Israel...come to redeem us with outstretched arm.

Adonai- is the Hebrew word Lord used in prayer instead of pronouncing the name of God (YHWH). In the Greek Translation of the Old Testament it was rendered as Kyrios. Only recently did Christians take up pronouncing it Yaweh, which can only be a guess. Since no one ever pronounced it, no one can possibly be sure how it should be pronounced.

Thankfully in 2008 the Church reiterated that we were to return to the ancient tradition and substitute Lord. We don't try and pronounce the name of God any more than I would have called my parents John or Marcia. Call me old fashioned but signs of respect are important.

The key to the image is that it is God who stretches out his arm to us. God makes the first move always. God is constantly reaching out ready to save us if we will be grab hold and hang on. A hurricane may be swirling around us, but if we just hold on to that outstretched arm. He is Adonai, Kyrios, Dux, Lord, Señor of the entire universe. Nothing can wrench us from his grasp. Nothing can overwhelm us if we are holding on to him.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Truth

Today we get one of my favorite gospel readings, the genealogy at the beginning of Matthew's gospel. On the surface it seems like just a list of names but behind each name there is a story.

The Old Testament begins with the creation of the world in an orderly procession of 7 days, 7 being the perfect number. Matthew divides history into three equal parts Abraham to David, David to the Babylonian Exile, the Babylonian Exile to Jesus, each section 14 (2x7) Generations.

But what is most important are the people Matthew chooses to include, it is not a litany of the saints. Many of the people have stories filled with sin. How often do we see Jesus referred to as Son of David? And yet, Matthew makes a point of reminding us that the son of David in the genealogy is Solomon whose mother was the wife of Uriah. Solomon was a bastard son born of murder and adultery. Matthew hangs the sin and brokenness out there for the world to see. He doesn't let the bad erase the good, nor does he gloss over the bad. He reminds us of both. Matthew's genealogy reminds us of all that is human.

The good news is that from Abraham to Jesus no matter how many twists and turns there are in the road; it ends up right where God intended, the Birth of the Messiah. What may be for us the bad news is that it takes 42 generations to get there—God's time.

As we moves through the ups and downs of life we should never loose hope. Yes we are all called to be saints, but as Pope Francis teaches us "holiness is not just a collection of virtues...Holiness means walking in the presence of God."

In those moments when we feel like giving up, let us remember the checkered genealogy of Matthew's gospel, and place our faith not in ourselves but in God and walk always in his presence.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A fundamental choice

Between the gospel and the first reading is found the fundamental choice that we make not once be every day. In the gospel the chief priests and the scribes do not respond to Jesus because

we fear the people

In the first reading we have the story of Balaam, a non-Israelite, who is a diviner. The story takes place toward the end of the 40 years of wandering. Balaam's king wishes for him to come out and curse the Israelites who are marching through his land.
The King Balak is disappointed at what he gets

And Balak said to Balaam, “What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them.”
And he answered, “Must I not take heed to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth?”

The chief priests and scribes will not speak the truth because of fear. Balaam has every reason to fear the king but must speak the word of God.

How often are we the chief priests and scribes, we do not speak out because we fear what people will think of us? The strange thing is that the people we often fear most are our friends and family members. We keep our mouths shut because they may not like what we have to say.

Sometimes we should keep our mouths shut because what we are expressing is merely our opinion, but if we know that there is a truth that needs to be spoken, then we need to have the courage of Balaam.

It is also worth noting that the courageous words of Balaam were not words of condemnation but words of blessing. He had the courage to bless the foreigners, the people his people did not like. Being prophetic does not mean condemning and being negative, sometimes the prophetic voice is the voice of love,the voice of hope.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Joyful Realism

I will never forget the year on this Sunday when a little girl came up and kept tugging on my chasuble,"Father Wayne, Father Wayne." When I bent down, she look me straight in the eye and announced, "You're wearing a little girl color." To which I could only respond, "Yes, I am." We can call it rose all day long; it's pink.
We only wear it two Sundays per year but it is critical to our faith.

The color represents joy. And on this third Sunday of Advent we are reminded that joy is the fundamental attitude of the Christian. In the second reading today from 1 Thess 5 we are given three commands:
-Rejoice always.
-Pray without ceasing.
-In all circumstances give thanks

And why should we do this

For this is the will of God in Christ for you

Let's start with the second one: Pray without ceasing. Does this mean we should walk around mumbling prayers constantly? Of course not.

Should there be specific times that we sit down and pray? Yes. But all of our various times of prayer and various spiritual practices should have the same goal, to reach the point where we walk through life constantly consciously aware of God's presence. From the first moment we wake until we fall asleep to do everything "through him, with him, and in him." In response to that constant awareness of God's presence we will carry out the third command: in every circumstance give thanks.

2014 has been a very difficult year for many people around me, and there is no guarantee that 2015 will be better. But one grace that has come from the struggles is a deeper ability to appreciate the good things, beginning with the simple gift of life. In every circumstance there is always something to be thankful for if we look at the world through the eyes of Christ.

And if we walk through life constantly aware of the presence of God, constantly looking for and being grateful for the gifts that we have received, then the first command will be the natural result, constant joy.

Christian Joy is not a superficial or naive happiness. It is not that happiness that comes from ignoring the bad in life. It is the response of the wise men to seeing the star, it is the response of the shepherd when he finds the lost sheep. But it also the response in the beatitudes to "Blessed are ye when they reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."

Pope Francis writes, "The basic element of joy, then, is profound peace, that imperturbability in the Spirit that remains with us even in the most painful, excruciating moments."(Open Mind, Faithful Heart)

If we are truly Christians we are absolute realists. We confront life head on. We acknowledge evil, suffering, sickness, pain. And yet because we know that God is love and God is King, we smile. We remain at peace.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (Jn 15:11) Greek word here is the same one from which we get plethora. God wants us to be full to the absolute brim with his joy, his peace.

So this morning I will proudly wear my little girl color vestment. And in our homes let us light the rose colored candle no matter what problems we face.

-Rejoice always.
-Pray without ceasing.
-In all circumstances give thanks

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The end of the Old Testament

When we open our Bibles we think of 2 Maccabees as the last book of the Old Testament. But as we conclude the second week of advent, the readings remind us that the transition point is later.

For Christians, John the Baptist is the close of the Old and announces the beginning of the New. He is the overlap, the continuity, the promise of the return of Elijah fulfilled.

There is no break between Old and New Testaments. The arc of God's plan for humanity runs from the first Adam to the new Adam (Jesus) to the new heavens and new earth foreseen in the Book of Revelation. The daily task of each of us is to hug that road as tightly as possible. And when slip off the road to trust that the road is still there and God is always ready to help us find our way back.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Time for Unity

I remember as a child hearing that "Catholics worship Mary." It was one of the first things I quizzed the archbishop about when I was living in Nicaragua. He very patiently set me straight on the matter, explaining the difference between worshiping God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) and honoring the Mother through whom the Son became incarnate. This was when I first came to really understand the Church as a family: God the Father, Mary the mother, Jesus the Son and our brother.

The relationship between a mother and a child is unique. And so throughout the year we honor Mary under a variety of titles. The apparitions such as at Guadalupe are not considered dogma and no Catholic is required to believe in them. They are classified as "private revelation."

The catechism says about these private revelations,

It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive revelation but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 67)

It seems to me quite reasonable to believe that God has allowed Mary to continue to exercise that maternal role and to appear at particular times and places, pointing people toward her son, and calling us to unity and peace. At least in our house, mom was always the one who reminded us that we were supposed to love one another.

Today we celebrate a series of apparitions that began December 9 1531. In them Mary appears as an indigenous woman to a man named Juan Diego. She not only looked like him, she spoke to him in his language Nahuatl. But the roses that bloomed as part of the miracle were not native to Mexico. They were Castilian.

She was there to unite the two peoples: the Spaniards and the Aztecs.

Recent events have reminded us that we still suffer great ethnic division in our own nation. Today as we honor Mary as Our Lady of Guadalupe let us pray the message of unity she brought to Mexico almost 500 years ago will resound in our hearts and in our nation.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


A yoke is defined as "a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull." The word occurs only 6 times in the New Testament and usually refers to slavery in various forms.

In Matthew, just as Jesus transforms the cross from a symbol of death to a symbol of life, so he transforms the yoke from a symbol of slavery to a symbol of freedom.

And he tells us the purpose.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.

It is not an invitation it is a command, two commands: take and learn. The command to learn is "mathete". The word for disciple-"mathetes". To be a disciple is to learn and the only way to learn is to be yoked.

But a yoke holds two. So who is the second one in the yoke? It is Jesus himself. It is the Father who is guiding. It is the Father to whom he is obedient unto death. The yoke is easy and the burden is light because we are yoked to Christ. He bears the hardship, he bears the weight.

He is the Son who always follows the will of the Father. He is constantly beside us, to help us guide us. As a parent takes the hand of a child and guides them when they are learning to write, so Jesus is there to guide us.

When he turns right we should turn right. When he turns left, we should turn left. If we remain constantly yoked to Christ, we cannot go wrong. The yoke only chafes when we fight it, when we pull loose or try to pull in the opposite direction. Then the full weight of life is on us alone and it can be crushing.

How often do the scriptures speak of the obedience of Jesus to the Father?

A yoke is not a bad thing. What would be impossible for one to do alone becomes possible when two are yoked together. The Father guides the plow, keeps the furrow straight. The good son is obedient, doing the will of the father.

As Christ walked with the disciples on the road to Emaus and walking beside him they learned, so if we remain yoked beside the Son, we will learn, and he will in turn make any weight bearable. Stop when he stops, go when he goes, turn when he turns; even when the soil ahead is rocky.

Jesus is not behind us driving us. He is beside us. He is the Servant, the example, the companion.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Holy Days of Obligation

Today is one of the few Holy Days of Obligation left in the Church. They serve as a reminder to us that going to mass, worshiping God in Church with the rest of the community, is not something we do simply when we feel like. It is a duty that we owe to God and to the Church of which we are a part.

God is Lord and we are the servants, the children. The first commandment is to Love God, but if we express that love only when it is convenient, when we feel like it, what kind of love is that?Holy Days of obligation are and should be inconvenient. True love expresses itself most in the inconvenient moments of life.

And yes, it is still considered a grave sin if you simply blow off going to Church today. In the first reading today we have the story of original sin. If we look beyond the symbols of tree and fruit we see that heart of the original sin was Adam and Eve deciding that they could decide for themselves what was right or wrong. That they answered to no higher authority.

This is still our greatest temptation,to think that like petulant children,"no one can tell me what to do." In this season of advent let us be mature adults, and show the virtues of humility, obedience, and gratitude.

Acknowledge your obligation, go to mass, and give God the worship he is due.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dealing with Santa

As Christians our lives are supposed to be different from the world around us and at this time of year the difference is clear. We jumped straight from Halloween to Christmas in the stores. No I am no suggesting the crazy extremist position.

Once more the other day I heard someone point at Xmas and say they took the Christ out of Christmas and once more I had to point out that Xmas is a perfectly Christian abbreviation since Χριστός is the Greek word for Christ.

And Rather than telling children that there simply is no Santa. Perhaps it might be helpful to explain that Claus is an abbreviation for Nicholas, and that a long long time ago St. Nicholas was a person just like you and me, and then insert the story of the real St. Nicholas the Bishop whose feast day is today.

We should be people dedicated to the truth, but it should be given with love, as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us. From an American perspective I think of a short poem by Emily Dickinson.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —

Friday, December 5, 2014

Blind beggars

Fridays throughout our history have been weekly days of penance, because of Good Friday; Just as every Sunday is a return to Easter.

On this first Friday of the new liturgical year, our gospel turns to an image with which we begin every mass. In only a few verses beginning at Mt 9:27 we see key concepts.

The two men in the story are blind. So many times in gospel this is how Jesus views sin. Jesus does not see people as evil but as ignorant (they know not what they do) or blind. These two blind men have one up on many of us. They know they are blind. They know they need help. They are willing to beg for it. The verb krazo literally means to scream, to cry out.

Whom do they beg? The son of the king. They call Jesus "son of David", a phrase that invokes all of that kingdom imagery.

How do they beg? The same way we do every time we celebrate mass, eleison, have mercy, have compassion. The one chant that remained in the original Greek even when mass went to Latin.

We stand before God, and acknowledge Jesus as our Lord and savior, the Christ. We acknowledge our being the blind men every time we sing.

Kyrie, eleison
Christie, eleison
Kyrie, eleison

Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
Lord, have mercy

Today is a day for soul searching. Can we acknowledge our blindness? Are we willing to beg, to humble ourselves before the Lord, to cry out from the bottom of our hearts?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Then and now

As I have mentioned before, the beginning of Advent looks toward the second coming of Christ. The prophet Isaiah continues to provide us with images of what that the fullness of the kingdom will be like.

For the LORD is an eternal Rock.
He humbles those in high places,
and the lofty city he brings down;
He tumbles it to the ground,
levels it with the dust.
It is trampled underfoot by the needy,
by the footsteps of the poor.

But let us compare this to the canticle of Mary from St. Luke which is said every day in evening prayer.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

Very similar imagery but with one major difference, tense. In Mary's canticle in the gospel it is all said in a past tense, technically the present perfect. He has done it! What Isaiah prophecies, Mary proclaims as done. Even before the child is born she proclaims the coming of the fullness of Kingdom of God as a fait accompli, a done deal.

We look around and we constantly see examples of injustice, abuse of power. Humble people of faith cannot seem to catch a break. But if we look at the world through the eyes of faith we know that, as Mary describes it, God has already won.

This does not mean that we should just throw up our hands and wait. We must continue to speak out, to denounce violence, injustice, and everything that threatens to rob any person of the essential dignity. But when it appears that we have failed, we should not loose hope.

The wise men brought myrrh to the baby Jesus, foreshadowing the events of Good Friday, but gold also pointing to the king, the kingdom, the victory of Easter.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Choosing to see

Growing up we used to joke about my father's selective hearing. It was factually true that between the damage done during World War II and having spent most of his life in the mill listening to the banging of looms, he had lost a good portion of his hearing. Nevertheless he did always seem to manage to hear what you didn't want him to hear.

The gospel today says,

Blessed are the eyes that see what you see

It is the same word for blessed as used in the beatitudes. Jesus says it, not to the crowd but, to his disciples in private. Is the implication that he is working private miracle that no one else can see? I don't think so. The point here is something else. Keep in mind in Luke's gospel the 70 have just returned rejoicing over all the miracles they have worked in his name.

The power of the name of Jesus has been witnessed by scores of people and yet only a few actually saw it. We all have both selective vision and selective hearing. The human brain simply cannot process every sight and sound around us all day long, and so we choose. Consciously and unconsciously we choose which things we will attend to and which things will pass by in the periphery.

The things we do actually see and hear become a part of us. They shape who we are. So we should make thoughtful choices. That doesn't mean that every moment must be filled with deep and thoughtful books. Sometimes we need to allow our minds frivolous relaxation, a little mental junk food. But we should not consume a steady diet of it.

As we pass through this day, let us notice what we notice. What are the things you choose to listen to? What are the things you choose to see? What are the things that you regularly overlook?

At the end of each day it should be true of each of us

Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.

Today's Readings

Monday, December 1, 2014

The power of the spoken word

In today's gospel we have the story of the centurion whom we quote every time we celebrate mass

Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my servant shall be healed.

We apply them to ourselves and say "my soul shall be healed."

The centurion understands the power of Jesus's word because he understands the power of his own words.

And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes;
and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes;
and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

This raises an important question for us. Do we understand the power of our own words? We may not have slaves or soldiers at our command but our words are powerful. Going back to creation, the Old Testament understood the power of words as it tells us that God spoke and it came into being. John's Gospel extends this theme to Jesus, and calls him the LOGOS, the Word. The ultimate Word of God is the person Jesus Christ. The Word became flesh.

Words are understood to be like photons, little packets of power. The power of the words is proportionate to be power of the speaker. We may not think of ourselves as powerful people but we are.

Every word that comes out of our mouth carries with it that power. As parents, spouses, friends, co-workers, even when we speak to a stranger the words have power.

We can crush with a single word. Idiot. Moron. Nigger.
Or we can choose words that lift up: good, proud, thanks, please, love.

Like the word of Jesus our words too can heal or we can choose to wound. The centurion understood the power of the WORD because he understood the power of his own words

As we begin this new year, this season of advent perhaps each day we should pray Ps. 141:3

Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD, keep watch over the door of my lips!

Today's Readings

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Making a list...

The liturgical year of the Church has always been link to the natural cycle of the world around us. As we begin the season of Advent the day are growing progressively shorter moving us toward the shortest day of the year. As the world around us grows darker we light candles and the gospel today gives us one command: watch.

The command that ends chapter 13 of Mark's gospel, gregoreite, refers to more than physical sight. It is related to that process we go through when we first wake up of gathering our faculties. Most of us have at some point had the experience of waking up in a hotel and for a second not knowing where we were.

Mark is suggesting that we may be walking through life thinking we are awake, but not. We begins the new year with the command to wake up and take a good look at ourselves and the world around us and ourselves. It is not enough to see it, we must watch, 360 degree awareness of our surroundings.

What are we to be looking for? The signs of the coming of the kingdom of God. Even as each day grows shorter and the night grows longer, we are surrounded by the signs of the coming and the presence of the kingdom of God.

As we start this season of advent I would encourage you to make a list. At the end of each day or during the course of the day write down those things which are signs of God's presence in your life, signs of the kingdom. This year there are 25 days of Advent. At the end of Advent how long will your list be. I bet come Christmas Eve you will be amazed, if you will just watch.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saying goodbye to the year

Today is the last day of this liturgical year. As the sun goes down, and we pray evening prayer this evening we begin the season of Advent.

We conclude our reading of the Book of Revelation with the image of the world in which we can all one day live.

An angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the street, On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations. Nothing accursed will be found anymore.

It will be a world free from sin and evil, sickness and death. It will be a world in which we will love as we are loved. And finally, we will understand how we are loved by God.

Today as we bring 2014 to a close, as we prepare to light the first can, see that first flicker of light and begin the new cycle of life; perhaps it is good for us to reflect not on our failings but on God's love.

The old Baltimore Catechism answer to the question, why did God make me, is not a bad one even now.

God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

The four verbs: to know, to love, to serve, to be happy. The first three lead to the fourth. They are in fact the only path to the fourth.

Prepare to let go of the year that is ending and start over. The liturgical cycle is like the seasons of the year, the same and yet each year new. Each time we begin again we are given the chance to draw closer to God, to make better choices. In this new year how will I know him, love him, and serve him more fully than I did the last time 'round? Perhaps a first step will be a good confession to wipe the slate clean.

Truly letting go of the past is hard for us all. We cling to our failures as if they were gold. The Book of Revelation gives us images of life giving water, medicinal fruit. Let us eat and drink, and as the sun goes down tonight, let us light the candle and begin anew.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The good apocalypse

The linguist in me would love to track down when it was that we transformed the word apocalypse into something horrific. It only goes to show how negative we can be.

I always suggest that if anyone is going to read the Book of Revelation they start with Chapter 21.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.*
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband;
and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."
And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."

The entire rest of the book is written to lead us to this point. All the struggles, all of the conflict, and even the final cleansing tells us how to prepare to be part of the new world. Even the very last verse of the Book of revelation is positive. Whenever we celebrate mass the priest invokes God's presence directing the final words of the Book of Revelation to the people in front of him.

The Bible text reads:
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.
And so the priest prays,
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

After all we are called to be saints.

The Book of Revelation is not a Book of fear but a Book of hope. The only people who should be afraid are those who choose to do evil.

Three times 20:12, 20:13 and finally in 22:12 we are repeated told that we will be judged not according to our profession of faith, our memorization of the bible or the catechism, but according to our έργα (erga) works.

We should immerse ourself in the word. We must receive the grace of the sacraments. But they are not ends they are means. God has given us his word. He gives us the sacraments, so that we may act, so that our works may show us to truly be the saints.

Our goal each day is to keep our eyes fixed on the prize, the new and eternal Jerusalem, and not just walk but run toward it. When we step off the path or find we are headed in the wrong direction, turn around. God will always point the way. The Bible serves as our GPS, in particular the gospels. There is no reason for us to loose our way. We do it by choice. We let ourselves be distracted.

Today let us get a clear image in our minds of the goal, the new and external Jerusalem. Picture it more clearly than you have ever pictured anything in your life, and keep the image always in mind. Today is Black Friday, the day of the year when every merchant is trying to convince us that we need their shiny object. It is the day par excellence for us to exercise the virtues of prudence and temperance.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Catholicity of Lincoln

Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, a word that means thanksgiving, we say,

P. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
R. It is right and just.

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord...

Thanksgiving is supposed to be the constant state in which we live as Christians. And yet, how little does it take to shift us from thanking to complaining. Earlier this month at Disney World I was standing in a group being held up by someone complaining about something truly minor, and someone murmured, "These are first world white people problems." As someone in that ethnic group, it made me reflect on how petty we can be.

Sit in a restaurant and listen to the things that the waitstaff gets chastised for by customers. We act as if the fact that we are paying for something absolves of the requirement to love our neighbor as ourself, or even show common courtesy.

We Catholics proclaim Thanksgiving every time we celebrate the Eucharist, but Lincoln understood it. Right in the middle of the American Civil War, 1863, he called for all of us on the 4th Thursday of November to pause and give thanks.

We Catholics shouldn't need this holiday because every Sunday and in fact every day in churches around the world we celebrate thanksgiving. But we do need it. We, as much as anyone, need to be reminded of the centrality of thanksgiving (Eucharist) to the Christian life.

Today as families gather there is sure to be some family drama. Can we resolved not to be sucked into the vortex? Just for this day, self-monitor. Let us remain always in a state of gratitude for all that we have, most of which we do not merit. If only for this one day let us live in constant thankfulness.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

One Nation under God

Today we open Chapter 15 of the Book of Revelation:

I, John, saw in heaven another sign, great and awe-inspiring: seven angels with the seven last plagues, for through them God’s fury is accomplished.

The word used for fury can also be translated passion is refers to being in that state where you are so worked up emotionally that you are breathing hard.

This is followed by an image of a sea of glass on which are standing those who, "were holding God’s harps, and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb"— the great coming together.

As I watch the news I cannot but reflect on the great plague that has poisoned our country from its birth, the racial divide. It is broader than simple racism.

Don't get me wrong. I have seen racism my whole life. Snide comments made to my mother about time I spent playing at the home of my black neighbors , the wall that divided the colored and white seating areas in the doctor's office, the argument over whether blacks were going to be allowed at my brother's funeral in 1972, are but a few example.

But I can also look back to my senior year of high school 1978 and the following years of college and see that I had more Black friends then that before or since. I fear that in the late 70's/ early 80's race relations reached their zenith. We have now replaced forced segregation with self-segregation.

My church St. Patrick's sits 0.9 miles from Holy Rosary, the black Catholic Church, and they might as well be in different cities, or countries. Worse than the animosity of the 50s and 60s is indifference, the world of us and them in quiet co-existence. There is the oft repeated truism that Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America. And we seem to be ok with that.

I had hoped that with the election of President Obama he would speak to this issue in ways that no white president could. I have been disappointed.

When I am not dressed like a priest, I will still from time to time get verbally patted on the head, talked down to as if I am mentally disabled because of my cerebral palsy. People still subtly stare and move away passing on a sidewalk. And I get just a small taste of what black people and black males in particular feel much of the time.

Some of what we are seeing is mere anger, but some is righteous indignation. And we need to admit that we white people don't understand it.

There are those who pretend that racism is a southern thing. We see clearly that this is a lie.

As I write this, I fear that we will talk about race for the next two weeks then Furgeson will blow over and we will go back to detente until the next eruption. We will continue to repeat the cycle.

In the Biblical world the great divide was Jew and gentile. And the Book of revelation presents us with an image of those singing the the song of Moses together with those singing the song of the Lamb. In America it was a two way split, and is fast becoming three-way with Hispanic being the third rail.

As people of faith, can we not do SOMETHING MORE this time? Stop just repeating this pattern of that swings from crisis to indifference. I don't know the answer. But today I call on us all to pray for wisdom. Help us believe that healing is possible. Help us to find the way to be what we have never been—one nation under God.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What the widow gave?

Most of us, I suspect, are familiar with today's gospel, often called the widow's mite. Even as child the term left me baffled. I understood it to mean that she gave all that she had. She threw all her money into the box. When I looked at the word Luke used, the story took on a whole new meaning. Luke chose the word "bios."

As you may remember from earlier reflections, the scriptures use two Greek words, bios and zoe, to distinguish two different kinds of life. Bios is the life we get at conception, biological life. Zoe is the one we get at baptism. It is eternal life, a share in the divine life of God.

What the widow gives is not just all of her money, or all her possessions. She goes to the temple and hands back to God her entire human life. From a purely human point of view this would leave her dead. But it doesn't because it is not just a donation but an exchange. She hands over the bios and God fills her with zoe.

The catch is that we can't have both. We have to choose. The more we cling to the bios, the less room there is in us for zoe. The irony is that our so called survival instinct is what will lead ultimately to our death, real death, eternal death.

If we want the zoe, we have to make room. Like the widow we have to give away the bios. Most of us cannot do what the widow did and give it away in a single donation. For most of us it is a lifelong process, involving a lot of back and forth.

Infant baptism makes sense to me because there is room in an infant. They have not yet gotten attached to their possessions, their position, their ambitions. They aren't yet clinging to the stuff of earthly life. As we get older, like a tree, we put down roots in the earth. We are harder to move.

The good news is that once we have first received the gift of zoe. We can never completely push it out. Even when we get almost complete sucked into this life, the Holy Spirit remains in us and calls to us.

Let us look at how we spend this day. Watch our actions. Listen to our words. As we think about the widow today, let us open our hearts, open our hands and let God take our old life and fill us completely with his life—the only real life that matters.

Where are we going?-Christ the King

One of the standard polling questions we hear constantly is: do you believe the country is headed in the right direction? On this last Sunday of the liturgical year the readings answer a much broader question: is the world, the universe, headed in the right direction? And the Christian answer is a resounding yes.

Today is the Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe. And as Christians we know the end of the story. We know how all of this end. It ends with the coming of the fullness of the kingdom of God. God has one goal, and in 1 Cor. 15:28 we are told what it is

in order that God might be all in all

Evil exists, and at a given moment in a given place it may appear to be winning. People who choose to do evil may appear to get ahead. But if we are Christians we know better. We know that their success is fleeting, their victories an illusion.

The Kingdom of God is coming, it is already among us, within us. For every human being there is only question. Will you be a part of it or not? It really is that simple.

And how are you part of the Kingdom? The gospel today reminds us that we must avoid the two extremes, too simple or too complex. On the too simple side are the Catholic "Baptism makes you part of the Church" or the Protestant "accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior." Those are merely first steps.

The too complex folks are the ones who think you have to be registered, thithe, and be involved in every event at Church. The gospel today reminds us that you can do all of that and in the end not be a part of the Kingdom.

The reading from Mt. 25 takes us back to what we used to memorize as the corporal works of mercy. Today's gospel reminds us that you can be able to explain transubstantiation, the hypostatic union, and the immaculate conception; but if you do not practice basic love of neighbor you are not part of the kingdom of God. As a reminder here are the lists of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It might be worth reviewing this list on some regular basis and asking how am I doing?

The Corporal Works of Mercy

Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless
Visit the sick
Visit the imprisoned
Bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of Mercy
Admonish the sinner
Instruct the ignorant
Counsel the doubtful
Comfort the sorrowful
Bear wrongs patiently
Forgive all injuries
Pray for the living and the dead

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Heavenly Liturgy

When I was young, I remember watching movies and being very confused by Catholic Church. For me Church was Sunday School, followed by an hour of singing and the preacher, dressed in an ordinary suit, preaching. Altars priests and incense all seemed odd, and cult like.

Unless you actually read the Book of Revelation. And there you find it all, the presbyters (in English we translate priests/elders), the Lamb of God, and the liturgy including incense. As we read chapter 5 today we have images of organized liturgical prayer. And the Book of Revelation tells us that the incense "is the prayers of the holy ones." We can go all the way back to the birth of Jesus and see the foreshadowing of this scene in the incense offered to the child Jesus.

Our liturgy here on earth is meant not only to recall these images from the Bible, but to bring alive for us the very real connection between our life as part of the Church on earth, and life in heaven, the life we all hope to experience fully one day. The Book of Revelation is but glimpse of the life to come, life in God's presence. As we gather around the and receive the Lamb of God, let it always be a reminder to us that this life is not our goal.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Here comes the apocalypse

No, I'm not about to predict the end of the world, but in the last two weeks of the Church's liturgical cycle we will be reading the book of the apocalypse, most often translated in English as Revelation. The word apocalypse literally means uncovering, or unveiling. Probably the most controversial and most misunderstood book of the Bible; its main theme is the ultimate victory of good, the victory of the Kingdom of God.

It was written toward the end of the first century. Which John is its author scholars continue to debate. As part of the Bible, its ultimate author is of course God and the human author matters very little. The human author follows Paul's model and writes in the form of a letter.

The Babylon to which he refers is the Roman Empire of the day which was oppressing the early Church. Worship of the Emperor was the great symbol of how far the people were from God and 6 out 7 of the cities to whom the letter is addressed were centers of this emperor worship. Surrounded by those who worship the emperor, the Book of Revelation is written to the seven churches to help them hold fast to the truth, the worship of the one and only God.

As we begin this two week journey through the Book of Revelation, perhaps it is a good time to look for forms of idolatry in our own lives, places where our priorities are out of proper alignment.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


How many times have you heard today's gospel? And yet, did you ever ask yourself how much was one talent? It doesn't sound like very much. Well, it's about 75 lbs. That's right 75 pounds. Be it gold or silver. That's a lot. Most of my life I imagined a talent to be something like a shekel, coin size. And there in lies the problem.

Today's gospel is about how we will be judged in the end. It tells us simple truth about how we are created and what is expected of us. It reminds us that we are not all equal. On the contrary we are each unique.

From the moment we are conceived and God places the soul in that tiny embryonic body our parents create, he has a vision of who that person should be, and what role each of us will play in the world. And he endows each of us with precisely those talents we need to fulfill that role.

At the end of our lives we will be judged not by the quantity of anything but by how we have used the talent or talents that God has given us. Did we use them to the best of our ability or did we waste our time comparing ourselves to others, and devaluing what we had.

The other important key is in Mt. 25:25, where we are told what stopped the man from using his talent, FEAR. He says simply, "I was afraid." Fear paralyzed him, fear caused him to make the worst possible choice, to bury his talent in the ground, to not even try and put it to use.

This week let us take time to look at ourselves and acknowledge who we are. Let us see that we are each unique creations of God, endowed with precisely those talents that we need to fulfill our purpose on earth. And let us ask, how am I using my talents on a day to day basis.

Never underestimate your talent. Each day God will give you exactly what you need to fulfill that day's purpose. All we have to do is use it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Speaking Catholic

I am still struck by the number of times someone will come up to me after mass and say, "I have been catholic my whole life and that was the first time I ever heard someone explain _______." Admittedly, It's not just a Catholic phenomenon friends of other religions have the same problem. We can often know least that which is closest to us. And each faith has its own vocabulary.

We talk about liturgy. Some people use the word as if it only refers to mass. In fact, it refers to all of the various forms of communal prayer done by the Church. The word literally means "the work of the people."

In the First Letter to the Thessolonians we are given a simple command (5:17):

Pray unceasingly!

If you ask your average person about Islam one of few things they might know is that practicing Moslems pray 5 times a day. But if you ask a Catholic, how many times a day we pray? The answers are less certain. Our best kept secret is that the Catholic answer is 6, we call it the Liturgy of the Hours.

The core of the liturgy of the hours is the praying of the psalms, divided up across a four week cycle. To the psalms we add the canticles (other passages of scripture that were written to be sung), as well as daily reading from scripture, invocations of God's blessing on the day in the morning and intercessions for the needs of people at night.

The hinges of our daily prayer are Morning and Evening prayer, following ancient tradition these would mark sunrise and sunset. Night prayer is meant to be our last prayer before we go to sleep, and includes a pause to examine our conscience for the day. Between morning prayer and evening prayer there are the three minor hours. So for example if you prayed morning prayer at 6 AM and evening prayer at 6 PM you could evenly disperse the minor hours at 9, noon, and 3. With night prayer at bedtime.

The most interesting to me is the hour that still somewhat floats, the "Office of Readings." Not only does it include psalms but at its center is a longer reading from scripture and a reading from usually some ancient writer in the Church.

While I not suggesting that every Catholic should run our and buy the four volume set of books with all those ribbons. The idea of pausing at regular intervals in the day to pray is something we should all do.

For those who would like to take the next step there are two apps I would highly recommend: iBreviary and Divine Office. Both apps take the complication out of figuring out how to use the books. Divine Office has an audio component so you can listen instead of read. For the less techie the website is a great resource.

Start by just saying Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Then build out.

At every moment of the day somewhere in the world clergy, religious, and lay people are prayer the Liturgy of the Hours and we have been since the earliest centuries of the Church. Join the team.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Putting others first

Today's gospel is hard for us, because most of us didn't grow up in a world of servants. The idea of the servant being told to wait on the master and then they can eat just does not sit well with us.

But remember. This is the Bible; and the master is always God. The story in the gospel is not about how we should order our society. It's about how we should order our priorities. God always has to come first; whether it's doing the work of God or simply doing the will of God in my ordinary work. Serving the master must be my first concern. Then in second place, in the time that is left can come my own amusement.

Sometimes we can get our priorities turned around and honestly believe that taking care of ourself is job. We do it with partially true statements like,"You can't take care of others unless you take care of yourself."

I would suggest we throw away both "taking care of yourself" and "caring for others." There is a much simpler rule. Serve the Master. God loves me, and so if I am constantly serving the Master, doing God's will, that will include proper care for self and others. It will even include rest and fun, because know how he built us. He knows all our needs. He knows them better than we know them.

Lastly, we should not forget that because God is the Master, and not just our buddy. He deserves worship.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Saint of balance

Today we celebrate the first of the saints to be given the further designation of "the Great." Only five others in the Catholic Church: Albert, Anthony, Basil, Gertrude, and Gregory have been given this title. Why so great?

Today we take for granted the truth that Jesus was both truly God, and truly human, yet one person. But as late as the 5th century Christians were still arguing over the nature of Jesus. There were extremists on both ends. Those who would overemphasize his humanity and those who would so emphasize his divinity. Pope Leo the Great and the Council of Calcedon in 451 found that perfect point of balance with which most Christians have lived ever since.

It is easy for us to get so caught up in our positions that, sometimes with our noticing we can slide to an extreme position that is disconnected from the truth. Every heresy in the history of the Church started with some piece of the truth, but then that piece was taken out of context, and those holding that piece became so obsessed with it that it became the only piece.

Both sides in the debate were made up of good people, people who believed in the truth, people who were seekers of the truth. It would be wrong to claim evil intention on either side.

Pope Leo's greatness was in his ability to hold the Church together, defining what is really the core of the Petrine ministry. At the end of John's gospel we get one final story of Peter.

So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. (Jn 21:11)

The Church would remain unified until 1054, when it would split into the two parts we now call Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. Then 500 years later would begin the fracturing of the Catholic side into the innumerable pieces we see today.

We have gotten so comfortable with the fractures that we can forget that a thousand years we were truly one. Jesus before he went to his death for us prayed,

That they may be one Father, as you and I are one.

Today as we remember St. Leo the Great, let us pray for the reunification of the Church. Let us pray that we may also open our ears to truly hear and find the truth where it is most often found, not at the extremes but in the middle.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Blessed are the single-hearted

We have heard this from the beatitudes many times, but today as we move into the third chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians he helps us to understand what it means. In verse 8 we hear

I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Once again we are called to remember the first and greatest commandment,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind

St. Paul today is focusing that commandment in a less abstract way. He is reminding us that Christ Jesus is God incarnate, and we cannot love what we do not know.

First we must to some degree know someone in order to love them. Then once we begin to love them, we want to know more about them. When we are truly in love we want to know everything.

How do we know God?

We know God through faith which is itself a gift, God reaching out to us.

We know God through his word, especially the gospels in which Jesus speaks in our midst through his words and deeds. We can forget sometimes that the actions speak louder than words.

And we know him in the Eucharist in which he gives himself to us as food.

Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (Jn 6:53)

As we run through the busyness of the day, let St. Paul provide us with some perspective. In everything we say and do, no matter how important or urgent we think it is, it all comes in a distance second to knowing and loving Christ. The only real goal in life.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Discussion or Argument

As we make our way through chapter 2 of the Letter to the Philippians I got stuck on verse 14

Do everything without grumbling or questioning

Without questioning? Really? So I had to go take a look of course at the Greek. And it got worse.

Dialogismon- looks an awful lot like our word dialogue. As I dug further I discovered that it was in fact an example of false cognates. Like English speakers who make the fatal mistake of thinking embarazada in Spanish means embarrassed. It means pregnant. Or even closer to today's topic those who make the mistake of thinking the spanish verb discutir means to discuss when it means to argue.

In the same way the Greek word here does not mean simple dialog or discussion but rather the kind of questioning that presumes the other person is wrong.

We've all done it. It's the questioning that is not a real search for the truth, but is really looking for an opportunity to prove we are right and the other person is wrong.

In the Catholic Church we are called to listen to even the ordinary magisterium (teaching) of the Church with obsequium religiosum. A phrase that is also hard for many Americans to swallow. It is really a Latin articulation of what St. Paul is addressing here.

Questioning itself is not a bad thing, but we must examine honestly our motive for the questioning. And there is only one proper motive, hunger for the truth —not what we already think, what makes us happy, or what we want to be true, but what is actually the TRUTH.

It returns to a central theme we see in this letter, humility. It is a another aspect of thinking of others as more important than ourselves. Imagine getting to the point where your first reaction when you hear someone say something you disagree with is, "Maybe I need to think about that." Or even, "I don't understand where she's coming from. Maybe I need to listen to more of what she's saying." Imagine that, rather than our all too rapid declaration that the other person is stupid.

Even more outrageous, what about if on this day after the elections we behave like real Christians and encourage all of our elected officials to follow the instructions of St. Paul and

do everything without grumbling or arguing.

Then perhaps the right things would bet done not only in Washington but around the country.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Changing your mind

This month began with a reflection on saints. It reminded me of that question: what do you want to be when you grow up?

I realized that we should all have the same answer, saints. For each of us that should be our one true ambition. Everything else should be steps along the way. Being a good spouse, parent, teacher, lawyer, priest, etc. should all be seen as steps along the path. After all, we are all going to die and none of our possessions or titles will mean a thing. We will either end up saints or in hell. It really is that simple.

Today's first reading from the Letter to the Philippians gives us a place to start. It costs nothing it is simply a change in the way we look at the world.

humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others.

In the last half of the 20th century we watched the flattening of American society. It was well intended. It was supposed to be a further democratization, treating everyone as equals. But instead of treating those who had been disrespected with more respect, we went the other way. We decided to treat no one with respect. What used to be common courtesy became so rare that when people exhibited it, we were surprised. Even the word manners had disappeared from our vocabulary.

The good news is that in the 21st century it seems to be on the return. Neighborliness has returned. My neighborhood, Church Hill is a good example.

St. Paul today reminds us that if we are Christian, we need to take one further step. It is not enough to be polite and respectful. We have to treat others as more important that ourselves, no matter who they are. Imagine walking through this day and treating every person you meet as someone more important than yourself. On the road, in the store, at work; everyone is someone more important than you. When you call customer service the person in the call center in India is more important than you. Their time is more valuable than yours.

For most of us this is going to require a radical change of mindset. And it will not come quickly. It will take lots of practice. And we will catch ourselves falling back into our old ways often, but with God's grace we can do it. It begins with simple resolution. Beginning now, I will treat others as more important than myself.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Almost there

Many times in Christianity we must hold two things to be true simultaneously. Jesus is true God, and simultaneously true man. The Kingdom of God according to St. Luke 17:21 is within you. And yet we await the coming of the fullness of the Kingdom of God at the end of time.

Yesterday I wrote about how St. Paul refers to the members of the various churches as the saints and yet we know that the fullness of our sainthood is not yet here. In the fullest sense of the word the word saint applies to those whose souls are in heaven and who merely await the resurrection of their bodies. The final step.

There is only one catch. In heaven we must love God perfectly and love our neighbor perfectly. And once again we bump into the problem of free will. Not even after death does God take it away.

Right now, at this moment, which of us loves God or our neighbor perfectly? And if I died right this moment. That lack of perfect love would keep me from heaven.

I haven't rejected God, so I am not going to hell. But I need to be perfected. More precisely, I must allow God to perfect me, to purify me. To rid me of all those things that keep me from loving God and loving my neighbor perfectly. My last act of the will must be total and complete surrender, to love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind. I must allow God to finish turning me into a saint in the fullest sense of the word.

The problem is that some of us don't quite want to surrender. Our hurts, our resentments, our prejudices have become that comfortable but ratty sweater we can't bear to throw away, our security blanket. We claim, "I have tried to forgive, but I can't." We hold on to injuries like precious souvenirs. We dislike people we have never even met.

Before we can enter heaven it all has to go, every single drop. We must not only love God perfectly, but every person created by God perfectly.

The good news is that God is ready to transform our love, and make it perfect, the moment we die. The process of perfecting us we call purgatory. It is the final purification of each soul that transforms our imperfect love into perfect love of God and neighbor.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. (1 Cor 13:12)

We shall see as God sees and love as God loves.

It is because the saints in heaven love as God loves that we know they continue to love us and pray to God for us. The care about the world as God cares about the world.

We call today All Souls' Day for short. It's actual title is the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed. Think of all of your relatives who have departed this earthly life. And be honest, were there not many among them who were still carrying some kind of baggage: hurts, angers, prejudices. Today the church calls us to pray not only for friends and family but for

our brothers and sisters
who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection,
and all who have died in your mercy:
(Eucharistic Prayer II)

That all of these who have passed from this life we let go and surrender completely and be transformed into All Saints.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Cowardly Christianity

It's November 1 and I am on my way back from vacation. What better day than this Solemnity of All Saints. Solemnities are the most important days in the church's calendar. Usually today we think of white robes and heaven. But if you look at St. Paul's letters you see a much broader picture of who all saints refers to.

Certainly there are those people whom the Church has publicly declared saints because of their heroic virtue. And there all all those who have died in the peace of Christ. But again I invite you to open your Bible.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints that are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus - Eph 1:1

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons - Phil 1:1

To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ [that are] at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. Col 1:2

(1) Paul, called [to be] an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, [even] them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called [to be] saints, with all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, their [Lord] and ours 1 Cor 1-2.

And so on.

In fact, I could not find a single letter of St. Paul addressed to sinners.

So if St. Paul addresses the members of the churches as saints why do we want to always focus on the fact that we are sinners? The simple answer is that it is easier.

If I keep telling myself and others that I am a sinner, then I have an excuse for everything. My attempts at being good can always have this half-hearted quality. If I resign myself to failure, life is just less work.

To be a saint is hard work. It requires constant dependence on God and God's grace. It requires us to constantly fight the temptation to be self-centered. Being a saint requires us to constantly surrender our will to God's will. It requires constant vigilance. And when we fall into sin, it requires an immediate desire to repent. It requires constant conversion, a constant turning toward Christ.

So if we are lazy or just cowardly, we can just keep repeating the words, I am a sinner, we are all sinners and continue to wallow in the mud. Or on this Solemnity of All Saints we can stand up and have courage, have real faith, and read the words of St. Paul as if they are addressed to each one of us personally. On this first day of November, make a new start, let go of your ego, and live as one called to be a saint.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Building Together

Today as we celebrate the Apostles Simon and Jude I saw something in St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians that I am sure I have read dozens of times yet never noticed.

We talk often about how we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and our tendency is to focus on the individual gift that we received at baptism and again at confirmation. But chapter 2 verse 22 is not about individuals.

in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

The Letter to the Ephesians like most of Paul's letters is not written to individuals. It is written to the Church at Ephesus. It is the church that is the κατοικητήριον: dwelling place, habitation, home. We are stones in the dwelling place. I am not the dwelling place. I am one stone, one brick.

This is underscored by the verb. In English two words "built together" In greek one word, the verb to build prefixed with the prefix "syn." It denotes a sameness, oneness, a togetherness that is more than sitting side by side.

We not little individual saved stones who once a week sit together. We "are being built together" into a single edifice. And notice that it is an ongoing process. He doesn't say, you have been built together, but you are being built together. We human beings try all to often to tear ourselves apart.

Today we are reminded that the apostles were send out not simply to preach the gospel to individuals but to build the new temple. May our words and actions today be ones that, guided by the Holy Spirit, continue to build together, and never tear apart.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Patience, the key

As we open chapter 4 of St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians, we hear his begging for that community to maintain their unity, something Christians are still struggling to recover.

St. Paul provides five words that are the keys to maintaining unity in verse 2. I'm going to start at the end, because the last word is the most important, love (agape). Everything we must do in love. Before you go, "O, this again", let's see what we have to do in love.

The next word working backwards means "to put up with" or "be patient with." Yes, we have to put up with all of our brothers and sisters. Back up one more word and you find our that you not only have to put up with them but you have to be patient over the long haul. We have to have long-suffering patience. So how can we have this long-suffering patience in love? Here we get to the first two key words from St. Paul.

The second word means mild or gentle. It strikes me, even as I write this, how foreign it is to our culture. We've decided it's wrong to teach it to girls and we never wanted our boys to be gentle, or, meek, or mild. There is no translation of this word that is considered a virtue in our culture. And yet it is what Paul tells that we must be if we are going to be Church.

The first word I saved for last because it also is very foreign to our culture, but is the key to patience in love. The first key word in verse two is translated lowliness or humility. It more specifically means humility of mind.

It all begins by humbling our minds,a willingness to admit what we don't know, a willingness to admit that we may be wrong. How often is our lack of patience rooted in our judgment that the other person isn't doing something correctly, or we judge their opinion stupid because it doesn't conform to ours.

St. Paul begins by begging the people of Ephesus to engage in humiliation of the mind. Then combine that with gentleness. Then we will be able to patiently bear with one another in love.

It is a simple formula, one Bible verse. But no so easy to live.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Today's reading from the 2 chapter of Ephesians reminds us again of the distance between what people think Catholics believe and what the Church actually teaches. We hear in the Letter to the Ephesians,

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.

Wasn't the the crux of the Protestant/Catholic debate? Not really.

Again I would point anyone to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism

But even faith is a gift from God. The Catechism goes on to say,

With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us.

Notice that even our obedience is something granted to us. We cooperate with grace, but only with the help of grace.

So, what do we do?

When God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight.

There may be many issues which we Christians debate, but no one should doubt what we believe about the centrality of grace. As our culture becomes more and more obsessed with power and individualism, it seems to me that more and more we need to be reminded that it is God's work and not ours. At our best we are cooperators.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Seeing the Good

Today's first reading raises a very difficult theological question.
It opens with the God, through the prophet Isaiah, addressing a king.

Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp, subduing nations before him, and making kings run in his service, opening doors before him and leaving the gates unbarred

This may not strike you as strange until you realize that Cyrus is not a Jew. Cyrus is a Persian (modern day Iran). He is Cyrus the Great who was the father of the Persian Empire, and there is no evidence that he practiced any religion at all. He was a pagan in the truest sense. So how could he be the Lord's anointed? The simple answer is that God is God and can anoint whomever he pleases.

There is a caricature of the Catholic Church that even some Catholics continue to spread. It goes something like this:

Catholics believe that the only people who will be saved are those who are baptized Catholics in good standing.

What we believe is that baptism is the one sure way to salvation. In the words of the catechism,

Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.

As for the rest, it goes on to say,

God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

God cannot be bound.

King Cyrus was a pagan but that does not mean he was devoid of any goodness or virtue. He was a man who believed in religious liberty for his subjects and enabled the people of Israel to return and rebuild their temple. God is able to touch the heart of this pagan king and use the good that is in him for the benefit of the people of Israel.

The Church’s bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race

We are all created in the image and likeness of God, and we are created for eternal life with God. We see whatever is good or true in any religion or in the person with no religious believe as "preparation for the Gospel," a foundation on which to build.

The story of King Cyrus reminds us that this is not something new cooked up by Vatican II, or even something new in the Gospels. God has always behaved this way. He created us good, and no matter how broken, some of that goodness remains. Even in the terrorists in groups like ISIL there is some goodness, some spark of humanity, that can be transformed by God's grace.

Closer to home, as week go through this week, each time we get the urge to criticize some, let us stop and begin by acknowledging the good, the true, the holy.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Synod report

All week long I have watched the left and the right go crazy over the interim report from the synod on the family. So I sat down yesterday and read through the Italian, the only official version, twice. (The unofficial English translation contains some funny false cognates)

What I was struck by is that it contains nothing new. There are some proposed changes in procedures for Tribunal, but there are no theological changes. It is a reminder document. It is a document of balance that embraces the human condition, and calls us to be more with God's grace.

It uses a set of metaphors that have always been a part of the Christian vocabulary. It speaks of wounded individuals and families. And for the mission of the Church it uses words like: care, accompany, and one word that has no single English equivalent- accogliere.

The word accogliere can be translated: receive, host, house, embrace, accept, contain, hold. The word occurs as a noun, verb, and adjective. The Church is described as a "casa accogliente." But there is nothing new in that.

It reminds us that the Church must act "with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher," courageously proclaiming those truths which are unchangeable. When we use words like "marriage" and "family", we have clear definitions of what those words mean that differ from those of even some other religious groups. This document in no way changes those definitions.

At the same time, we are all wounded. When we look at an individual or relationship we must start by acknowledging whoever is good, whatever it true. Just as we look at other religious groups and acknowledge those things which are true, and good while simultaneously challenging those things which are erroneous. But again this is not new, Catholic anthropology starts with the dignity, not the sin, or woundedness.

The final sessions of the synod are October 2015, and the final document will be published some time after that. I suspect both the extreme right and left will be disappointed. And the Church will do what she is always called to do, proclaim truth with mercy.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What makes a saint?

From today until October 30 on weekdays we will be reading our way through the Letter to the Ephesians.

In the introduction Paul addresses the letter to the saints (hagioi) in Ephesus. How can the people in that church be saints? Because of another word he uses in the introduction, grace (charis).

What makes any saint is the the same thing that makes all saints, the grace of God. Contrary to the caricature of the Catholic Church, we too believe that it is God's grace that saves.

The catechism gives a rather simple explanation of this sanctifying grace.

Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.

As we read the letter addressed to the saints in Ephesus, let us remember that we are all called to be saints. And if we allow God, he will make us saints.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

True Love

An Episcopalian friend recently recommended a book on the writing of the King James Bible. To say the author is pro KJV would be an understatement. And yet he includes an often used quote from the period which I was surprised to read , but I understood because of my days in the baptist church.

"They have dethroned the Pope and enthroned the Bible."

Even at the time it was used a a critique. As I reflected on it I realized what it meant. The danger of making the Bible God, turning it into an idol or a magic book. We can easily forget that neither Jesus, the evangelists, or St. Paul ever make reference to the Bible for one simple reason. There was no Bible. Collecting the writings that were considered the inspired word of God into a single Βιβλίος (Bible) would not happen until long after the ascension. In the same way some Catholics can go overboard with Mary, some Protestants can go overboard with the Bible.

Today we read from St. Teresa of Avila, and she reminds us that to the Word in which we are to remain is a person not a thing. It is the Word made flesh, Jesus.

She writes of Jesus:

And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight...
What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they took no other path: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, Catherine of Siena. A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands.

Any of you who read this blog regularly know I love studying the Bible, but today's saint reminds us that there should be only one true love, Jesus.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pick One

As we move into the 5th chapter of Galatians, St. Paul is reminding his audience that what they have is a choice: be Jewish, or be what we now refer to as Christian. If they chose to be Jewish then they are bound to the Law (Torah) in its entirety.

Entering into a covenant with God is not a matter of picking and choosing which religious practices we like and which we don't, and constructing the religion we want. Some among the Galatians clearly believed it worked that way. They could keep the Jewish traditions that they liked, but abandoned the burdensome and inconvenient ones.

A covent is not a contract where we negotiate the terms. As Paul describes it, there are two covenants and a person must choose. We enter into the covenant, we take it as it is, in its entirety. Whichever covenant we choose, we embrace all of its obligations.

The "new and eternal covenant", as we refer to it every time we celebrate mass, is summed up in 4 words at the end of verse 6

Faith working through love

Notice that once more it is the Christian both/and. We need both faith and works.

In the Letter of James we are told plainly that faith without works is dead (nekros).

Works of charity without faith is at most philanthropy.

A true Christian faith is always at work, and working in a particular way.

through love (agape).

Once more it is not our choice. Agape is not what we feel for friends and family. It is not a love for people we like. It is not natural affection. It is the love we call a theological virtue, because is comes from God. It is a super-natural love. Agape is the reason you cannot be a Christian separated from the Church. The phrase individual Christian is an oxymoron. Yes ours is a personal faith, but one lived in community.

When we enter this covenant we not only accept Jesus and all of the commands of the New Testament, but we accept all of our new brothers and sisters. Every single one of them in the whole world, and all the ones who have gone before us in faith, including ones who may have wronged us.

As people of the new covenant, as we walk through this day, let us monitor our words and actions, and at the end of the day when we look back on what we said and did we need only ask one question, was it faith working through love?