Friday, February 28, 2014

So difficult

As we end the month of February we are given a simple command.

Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another

The word complain here provides a wonderful image. It means to complain, murmur, grumble, talk under your breath.

The scriptures make it clear that if we act like brothers and sisters, if we love one another, and we think someone is doing something wrong, we should talk directly to them.

We know this and yet which of us could go a week or even a day without a grumble about anyone? What's even more odd if we think about it is that we tend to grumble more about people we know least, people we've never even met.

At the same time we grumble about others, we want others to love us despite our imperfections. Should we not begin by showing others the respect we wish to be shown.

As we prepare to begin the season of Lent, perhaps this command should be a part of our conversion. It is a simple thing. We can get up in the morning and decide, "Today I will not complain about anyone." It's harder than it sounds.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The deeper questions

The Letter of St. James both asks and answers one of the truly perennial questions.

Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?

His answer in centered in two verbs: to possess, and to obtain. In our Christian understanding it is our passions that drive us to desire to obtain and possess. And these desires lead to conflict and war.

Is it always wrong to desire to obtain and possess? The simple answer is no. If I wanted absolutely nothing I would starve to death or freeze to death in no time.

We believe that every human being has a right to obtain and possess, a right to private property. The key questions are: what do you desire to possess; and how do you go about obtaining it?

After all the letter tells us:

You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly,
to spend it on your passions.

Here he is not talking about every situation. He is not suggesting that the starving poor are starving because they ask wrongly. We all understand easily enough to whom he is talking.

War and conflict are not bad things if they are persons struggling to obtain their most basic human rights. The people of the Ukraine struggled against enormous forces to obtain their God-given rights.

So far they seem to have avoided the next step, giving into the passions spoken of in this reading, to go beyond their rights and to seek to obtain and posses what is not theirs. This is what leads to the looting and destruction that so often follows a revolution.

Today's reading invites us to do a couple of things. Firstly, we must look into our own hearts and ask if there are things I desire to which I have no rights. Secondly, let us pray that our Ukrainian brothers and sisters will continue to be able to govern their passions so that this time they may be able to emerge from this conflict with the life to which all people have a right.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


You shall be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.

It sounds like Jesus is demanding the impossible. But is he?
Some dance around this text claiming that it says something about us being perfected. Not really, it is on one level simple:

Therefore you shall be perfect...

The word perfect however does not mean a person who never makes a mistake or is never wrong. The word refers to perfect in the sense we use it in grammer. It means complete, lacking nothing. The German text says vollkommen, voll meaning full.

Perhaps a good starting point would be to reflect on how perfect our lives are already. Ask yourself a simple question: What necessities of of life do I lack?

—On a purely material level, I have food, clothing, shelter, a job, and a means to get around, and the basic human freedoms.
—On a emotional level I have people I love and people by whom I am loved.
—On a spiritual level, I have my relationship to God, the ability to practice my faith, accesses to the sacraments.

When we look at the antitheses that precede the call to perfection – you have heard it said... but I say....— they show us the characteristics of the imperfect person: vengeful, angry, miserly, even lacking simply friendliness in greeting others. How much of this behavior comes from greed, envy, lust, gluttony? To put it more simply, how much of it comes from simply wanting what we do not need and being angry and jealous over what someone else has?

Step one for most of us is to simply recognize how perfect our lives are and be thankful.
Step two to learn to distinguish between what we need and what we simply want. Imagine if we could learn to be happy with the former, and stop yearning for the latter.
Step three, focus our attention away from ourselves. We are surrounded by those who do not have the basic necessities.

The perfection Jesus is calling us to is not some impossible, extraordinary condition. He became incarnate precisely to show us that it was possible to live perfect lives, complete lives. He and the Father sent us the Holy Spirit to empower us to live the lives to which we are called. If it were impossible, Jesus would not command it.

For what you have be thankful, and to those who do not have,give.

Be Perfect.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

What's so important about a chair?

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. A Feast is the second highest celebration in our calendar; the only days that are more important are the solemnities.

From a purely physical level there is the beautiful Bernini bronze sculpture of the Chair in St. Peter's basilica, said to hold a relic of the actual chair. Whether it does or not is irrelevant to the feast. What is relevant is what the architecture and inscription around the dome symbolize, the unity of the Church.

A Bishop is said to have three offices or duties: teaching, sanctifying, and governing. No matter now far back you go teaching was always listed first. And the Chair is the symbol of that teaching office, not as some would tell you a throne for like that of an emperor.

You can trace back the modern university practice of having named "chairs" to the same roots. When a distinguished professor is named to the so-and-so chair of whatever subject, she is not given an actual piece of furniture, nor does she now rule over the rest of the faculty from her newly acquired throne. The university is acknowledging a particular excellence in her teaching.

So today the Church turns our attention to the Apostle who was entrusted with leading the others in spreading the Good News. By extension we also recall all of those who have succeeded Peter down to our own Pope Francis.

Some in the Church deride his teaching style because his language is, in their minds, not sufficiently elevated. They forget that to teach you have to communicate, to communicate you have to use a language that is understood by the hearer. Secondly, we should keep in mind that the primary mode of teaching is not with words but with our example.

While none of us hold a chair in anything, nor do we teach with any particular authority, we do all teach by our example. Children look to us, and learn. Non-Catholics will look at us, and learn what it means to be Catholic. Non-Christians learn what it means to be Christian. And we hopefully remind one another.

Today let us pray for Pope Francis, your own local bishop, even your own local pastor who will tonight and tomorrow carry out their teaching office, in a particular way.

St. Peter probably had very little education, whether he could even read or write is of question. But today we celebrate him as first among the great teachers of the faith.

If you stand in St. Peter's and look up at the Great Chair, you see the famous verse "you are Peter..." written in one side in Greek and the other in Latin, representing East and West, the spreading of the teaching to the whole world.

Let us pray that as St. Peter looks down on us from his place in heaven, he may also intercede for us, that we may listen more attentively to the teaching, and put it more fully into action.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Extremes always a mistake

The importance of faith and works is the center of the first reading today. The Letter of James calls those who believe that faith alone can save them, κενός, literally empty, vacuous.

While for centuries the argument has been faith alone or faith and works, I am seeing another equally disturbing phenomenon. Today we seem to see people who think works alone is enough. There seems to be a common believe that if someone gives to the poor, loves their family and friends, works hard, etc., they are good to go. They don't need to go to Church or worship God in any real way.

Mediation where we "turn inward" isn't prayer, it's one more version of narcissism. In true prayer and mediation we turn outward, away from self and toward God.

Works without faith is mere philanthropy, not a bad thing, but will not lead to salvation.

What we must seek every single day is balance: time for work, time for family and friends, and time for God. Without this balance we will find that no matter how much we profess faith or how kind we are, we will be empty. Through sacraments and through personal prayer we take time to allow God to fill us.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Do we mean it

The command that opens our reading from the Letter of James today seems so simple:

Show no partiality

I've been a pastor now for 20 years and in every parish there have been those who believe that they should be given some special consideration either because they give more money than others, or more often because they have been in the parish longer.

Try telling people that the baby baptized last Sunday, the 19 year old who just moved into the parish and the person whose family has been in the parish for four generations are equal members of the parish, and see what reaction you get. And if you really want to get a look of surprise try telling some parish staffs that in the Code of Canon Law there is no such thing as registration. Simply by moving into a parish with the intention of staying 3 months you acquire what we call a quasi-domicile and if you have the intention of staying 5 years, you have a domicile. In plain English, you are member for the parish.

There are no degrees or levels of membership in the Catholic Church. By virtue of baptism you are a member of the Church, and every member of the Church has a Bishop and a Pastor who is responsible for their pastoral care.

That's the law of the Church, but how hard it is to live this on a day to day basis. Even if you look at who we help. There is a tendency to want to provide more help to parishioners than to those who are just poor people in the neighborhood.

We will always feel differently about people we know vs. people we don't. The challenge that St. James puts before us is in our actions to be able to move beyond our feelings.

Our faith teaches the equal dignity of every human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. It is a very simple truth. We can easily get caught up in the big issues like abortion or the death penalty, but St. James brings it much closer to the day to day life of each of us.

Can I today treat every person with equal dignity regardless of who they are?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Three simple rules

The first reading today provides us with three simple rules for daily living. According to the Letter of James we should be
— quick to hear
—slow to speak
—slow to anger

It seems such absolute common sense. And yet to live it on a day to day basis requires incredible discipline.

Today let each of us simply try to talk less, and listen more.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Not so simple

Growing up in Danville, simple was not a virtue it was a euphemism. If someone was developmentally disabled instead of the all to common R-word, older folks would just say, "He's simple."

Somehow, perhaps in revolt against the speed of life, people have tried to turn being simple into a virtue. The problem is that the world is not simple and human beings have never been simple. Science, philosophy, and religion have been struggling since the beginning of time to help us understand us.

It seems that one of the other things we have been doing since the beginning of time is place blame outside ourselves. Those of us of a certain age remember Flip Wilson's Geraldine, "The devil made me do it." But that line really goes back to the original sin. When caught, Adam blames the woman, the woman blames the snake, the devil.

Cassius in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar reminds us all,
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

St. James reminds us:
No one experiencing temptation should say,
“I am being tempted by God”; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one.
Rather, each person is tempted when lured and enticed by his desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin,
and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.

Desire -> Sin -> Death

And notice that St. James makes it clear that each person is tempted by their own desire. It isn't that he is denying the existence of the devil or denying that we can find things outside ourselves tempting, but they are all tempting because they resonate with some desire inside of us.

If we are to avoid sin, the message of this passage seems to be that we need to become keenly aware of what it is we desire and why. We need to get in touch not just with the surface desires but the ones in the deepest recesses of our heart. The second bowl of ice cream is rarely just a desire for ice cream. The mid-life affair is rarely ever just a desire for sex.

When we find ourselves on the verge of sin, can we identify the real desire? When we do sin, can we look back and identify the underlying desire, so as to avoid the sin in the future?

We are God's most complicated creature, and every attempt to make us simple denies the very nature of humanity.

Monday, February 17, 2014


James opens with words we probably don't want to hear. This week we begin reading the brief Letter of James and are slapped in the face with a called to ὑπομονή "hupomone." Some translations call it patience, some perseverance. No matter which translation you use, it is supposed to include an element of cheerfulness.

Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters,when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Can any of us do this? When we are going through times of real trial, can we step back from the trial itself, extract ourselves from the center of the maelstrom, and see how this can lead to our perfection.

The gospel raises the bar even further.

When we are suffering some great trial, if we can see some sign of God's presence, we find it easier to endure. But what does Jesus say in today's gospel?

“Why does this generation seek a sign?
Amen, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

So we are supposed to cheerfully be patient and persevere, and do it with no signs of God's presence? Yep, that's it. We call it faith, trusting God even without visible signs.

James is repeating a theme that runs through the scriptures. The road to perfection goes through fire. There is no painless perfection. And we are called to be perfect.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

More than we think

One of the saddest mistakes of the modern age is that we seem to have reduced Christianity to believing in Jesus and being nice. We behave as if all we have to do is be a nice person and when we die we go straight to heaven.

If it were simply about being a nice person we could be Buddhists or follow pretty much any philosophy or religion. Despite the western misconception, even Islam teaches its followers to be nice, to help the poor, etc.

God did not become incarnate, suffer and die on a cross, just to give us another set of ethical rules, or to repeat the Ten Commandments. To be a Christian is to have a completely new relationship with God and a new relationship with one another.
Jesus redefined what it means to be human.

For his part Jesus makes it possible for us to actually share the divine life. In exchange Jesus raises the demands on us.

I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

It is not enough for us not to murder. We must love our enemies.
It is not enough for us not to steal. We must limit our consumption and give to the needy.
It is not enough for us not to commit adultery. We must not do anything that misuses our sexuality or objectifies another human being.

And it is possible for us to do all of this precisely because we do it not as lone persons but as members of the Church, and have access to God's grace. Through our regular reception of the sacraments we can constantly renew the grace of God, and that grace can empower us to overcome even the most engrained of our behaviors.

Being a nice person does not make you a Christian. Simply acknowledging Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior does not make you a Christian. To be a Christian means to live as a member of that family we call the Church, to receive the gift of God grace in the sacraments, and so be able to live a "righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Our first reaction

If we want to see how well we have internalized the gospel, one of the best ways is to watch out initial response to a situation.

In today's gospel Jesus we can compare the reaction of Jesus and the reaction of the disciples to the crowd. Jesus looks at the crowd and "is moved with pity." The word Mark uses here refers to a stirring in the very pit of your guts. For them the gut not the heart was the symbolic seat of emotion. Where you feel it when you are upset? Most of us still find that it's our digestive system where we get upset.

The disciples on the other hand can't get out of their heads. Their response reveals no feeling at all.

His disciples answered him, “Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy them here in this deserted place?”

Notice that their question is completely impersonal. They don't even ask, "where can we get enough." They leave it in the abstract "anyone." Their train of thought seems to be: no one could feed this many people, therefore we can't do it, therefore we shouldn't do anything.

When we hear facts like, there are on any given night more than 600,000 homeless people in the US, how do we react? Too often we can fall into reacting like the disciples. We think "how sad" but then we don't know how to fix the whole thing so we excuse ourselves from having to do anything. We just keep reading the paper with no emotional response.

When I was a child my mother used to tell me about starving children in India. That was safe because it was so far away we couldn't do anything, and so we could count ourselves excused. If she had mentioned the starving children in southwest Virginia or even closer to home in Pittsylvania County, I might have been "moved with pity" and felt an actual need to do something.

When did we decide that being emotional was not a good thing and in particular it was not manly to "wear your heart on your sleeve"?

Today's gospel reminds us that to imitate Christ is to allow ourselves to be disturbed by the suffering of others, and when we allow ourselves to be "moved with pity" we with the help of Jesus can work miracles.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Learning Charity from the Old Testament

When we think of Solomon, we think of wisdom. When we think of David, we think great King.

Today's first reading the the prophesy of Solomon's loss of ten out of the twelves tribes, because of his infidelity. Ten will go to Jeroboam, one will remain with Solomon for the sake of his father David, one will be God's own.

Despite the great sin, we remember both men for the good that they accomplished. The question is why should it take so long. Why is it we can be charitable toward someone from thousands of years ago and yet let someone in our own time sin, and our response is "Crucify him." Every good or wise thing that they have ever done is wiped from the face of the earth, like soviet era history books.

Solomon sinned and in justice God punished him for it. But it did not erase all the good that he did in his lifetime, nor the wisdom that he display in most of his leadership. He remains the paragon of wisdom.

Except for Jesus, every great leader has been an imperfect human being, if our goal in life is to dig up dirt who will survive. As Christian we are supposed to exemplify three virtues above all: faith, hope, and charity. Charity is not just giving food to the poor. It is the attitude we take toward Chris Christy, Justin Bieber, and whoever occupies today's embarrassing headline.

When we see someone mess up in life, our Christian response should be one of prayer. Turning people into punch-lines and caricatures may seem for a moment funny, but in truth it is dehumanizing and most simply not Christian.

We shouldn't wait three millennia to see the good in others.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Even Solomon fell for it

One of the most difficult parts of being a Christian is that we believe that "truth" is a real thing. Only our post-modern culture have begun to talk about truth as if it were an individual thing, your truth and my truth.

Either God exists or doesn't ?
Either there is one God or there isn't?
Either Jesus is the only-begotten Son of God or not?

How I feel about this doesn't change the answer to the question. We may not get the definitive answer until we die, but there is a definitive answer.

Respecting other people's faith doesn't mean that we believe "they are all equally true." Or they are all just "different paths to the same God."

In today's first reading Solomon, apparently out of love for his foreign wives, falls into this same error, and starts building temples for their Gods. He abandons what he knows to be true, and suffers the consequences.

Contrary to the caricature, the Catholic Church does not teach that we are all right and the rest are all wrong. In the document Nostra Aetate we read

other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all

There is truth, and from the time we begin to speak we question. We innately search for the truth. It's part of what defines us as human.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Striking the right balance

Both our Jewish brothers and sisters and our Islamic brothers and sisters, as a part of their faith, follow a particular diet, the belief being that there are foods or combinations of foods that are "unclean."

In today's gospel Jesus declares that

Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.

While some individual Christians will try an claim some foods, like alcohol, are sins, this doesn't square with the gospel. Jesus makes clear that nothing we can consume is in itself a sin.

Does that mean it doesn't matter what I eat? Not so fast.

We still believe that gluttony is one of the seven deadly sin.

Perhaps even more important for us, a culture that is obsessed with food, Jesus offers us the observation that we should spend more time focused on what comes out of our mouth than what goes in.

It's not an either/or. It's a both/and. We should pay attention to what we eat not because it is unclean but because we have a responsibility to care for the gift that is our bodies. But we should spend even more time monitoring what we say. We shouldn't eat without thinking, but even more so, we shouldn't speak without thinking.

For a simple test, try to go through one day not say anything that doesn't add to life: no gossp, no criticizing, no complaining, no talking about your aches and pains.

See if you can go one day and say

only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.(Eph 4:29)

It's more difficult than you may think.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Consider the source

My mother, usually when someone would have said something stupid that upset me, would simply say, "Consider the source."
To understand today's gospel that is exactly what we have to do.

Often those who want to attack the Catholic faith will quote this passage from Mark and claim that what they are teaching is the Word of God and what we are teaching is merely tradition. Even Catholics will fall into what seems to me to be an odd convention of trying to distinguish between Tradition and tradition. (One has a capital letter).

The word tradition means anything that is handed down or handed over. The word traitor comes from the same root, meaning someone who hands over their friend.

The Bible itself is tradition in that it is the Word of God as handed down to us by those who were inspired to commit it to writing, those who who copied it over the centuries. After all, we don't have the original of any book of the Bible.

Jesus in Mark does not condemn tradition. Jesus understands that tradition is a part of God's plan and part of the mission of the Church, to faithfully hand on what has been given to us. What Jesus says is:

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.

Notice the word human.

In the Catholic Church we recognize a distinction. Mass in Latin or Mass in English? Communion in the hand or on the tounge? How many days are there to Advent? Altar boys, girls, adult? Vestments? All of these and many other things have and can change because we recognize that these are human traditions.

We do also believe that the Holy Spirit did not drop dead after the Bible was complete. The Spirit has continued to guide the Church and teach us things that are not commanded in the Bible, but have as their source God.

If we take the Bible literally we would still have slavery. Since the Bible literally tells the slave to go back to his master. We believe slavery is contrary to the dignity of the person.

While Jesus does not use the word,"Pope", we do believe he provides in the scriptures the structure of the Church.

What Jesus condemns is the way some Pharisees play games and use merely human tradition to dodge obligations. In a word what he condemns in the reading is not tradition but hypocrisy.
If you read the full text, he opens with

Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites

What are the traditions we are handing on to the next generation? The truth is we may not even think we are handing on tradition but every time they watch and copy our behavior we are engaged in tradition.

Monday, February 10, 2014

House or Home

The Ark of the Convent being transferred from it's tent to the great Temple of Solomon was one of the greatest moments in the history of Israel. We can only image the joy of people gathered there as the Ark was moved into place and the great cloud that was the sign of the presence of God filled the space.

Solomon declares it both a lofty place and a "makon." This word in Hebrew is often translated dwelling but signifies more. In our modern age we move from house to house. The days of the old family home lived in by generation after generation of a family are a distant memory. Downton Abbey fans are watching as those days are vanishing in England.

That is a makon. The word denoted not only that God is present but that it is his home. The world also denotes permanence, like the foundation of building.

If you ask a modern American Christian, "Where is God?" We reflexively respond "Everywhere." And on one level that is true. God is omnipresent but that does not mean that every place is his home. We can stay in a hotel, visit a friend, or even live in some house for a while and it is not our home.

What makes a place home? It is difficult to define precisely but we all know it when we feel it and we know when we don't. Just ask a priest. In some parishes the people act as if the house is theirs and you are a tenant. In others, they invite you to make it your home.

In the midst of the people of Israel Solomon built a home for God, and God moved in, made himself at home. Why is this so important for us? Because in baptism we become the makon of God.

With the new and eternal covenant God does not dwell in one building. God offers every human being the opportunity to become that permanent dwelling place, God's home.

This readings invites us to examine our relationship with God. Do I invite God in for a visit from time to time, particularly when I want a favor? Or do I truly see myself as God's home? How do. I care for my body, my heart so that they remain a place where God is at home.

While it is true that God will never abandon us, we can push God out, make God unwelcome.

For any of us who have homes we know that they require constant maintenance. Take a look at your house and see if it is truly a home for God, a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

So simple and so difficult

We often think of Solomon as old and wise. We forget that when he first became king he was neither. It was the prayer in today's reading that transformed his life. And what did he pray for?

Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.

That's it! Nothing more complicated. Let's not forget that a primary job of the king was to serve as the judiciary. But to just be able to distinguish right from wrong seems too simple. Can't any of us do that?

We should be able to. Not only do we have a conscience, which God has given every person. Those of us who are baptized also have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and God's grace to assist us.

We have gifts that Solomon could never have imagined. We only have to use the resources that we have. Most of all we have to practice. Day by day, decision by decision we must practice seeing through the fog of our desires, our prejudices, and in everything allow God to show us the truly right thing to do at that moment.

And we have to apply this principle not only to morals but to every decision. What is the right way for me to spend my time this morning? What is the right thing for me to eat? At every moment to distinguish right from wrong.

A part of wisdom is recognizing the brevity of our lives on earth. We cannot afford to waste a single minute. That doesn't mean we should work all the time because rest and relaxation are a part of what make our lives truly human.

May God give each of us today the ability to distinguish right from wrong.

Friday, February 7, 2014

On every side but in

In both readings today we have two of the most famous biblical leaders, David and Herod. While we may like to simply caricature Herod as pure evil, like all people he had more to him.

Both men share a fatal flaw. The first reading tells us that David in brief the entire history of all that God did through David and how:

When he assumed the royal crown, he battled and subdued the enemy on every side.

Herod likewise did not easily rise to his position. If we think modern politics is cutthroat, we forget that in those days the battles for power were real battles.

While both many were powerful and were able to battle their enemies on every side, the enemy that neither could conquer was themselves . Both David and Herod fell down not because of some external enemy but because neither could exercise self-control. David with Bathsheba. Herod who babbled an insane promise which he then felt compelled to keep.

Both stories remind us that self awareness and self monitoring may be our most difficult task. It is so easy for us to look outside ourselves, see what others are doing wrong. Almost all of our news seems to be about blaming others. If either David or Herod had shown the ability to think before they acted or even after the first wrong step been able to acknowledge the error, but neither could and in both cases innocent people died.

Perhaps if we are truly Christian it is time for us to stop blaming others and for us and our leaders of every stripe to stop and be self-critical for a moment. Too often like Herod we stake out a position and even when it is clearly untenable we refuse to budge.

David and Herod two men who shared the fatal flaw pride. They could conquer enemies on every side but the inside.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Never a good thing

Today we reach the end of Absolam. He has committed treason. David's soldiers see the opportunity to kill him and they do. They then send a messenger to inform David.

If he is alone, he has good news to report.

We tend to stereotype the Old Testament as harsh, violent and all about law. What we see today is a father who no matter what his son has done, he still loves his son. Even the fact that his son might have killed him if he could, David still falls into deep mourning. In fact David says:

My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom!
If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!

Joab and the soldiers thought the death penalty was the appropriate penalty and following the letter of the law it was. This was not self-defense (Absolam was stuck in the tree), this was an execution. No sane parent would want it imposed on their child.

Now we need ask ourselves only one question. Who does God not consider to be his child? Which of us would want stand before God and admit that we executed one of God's children even that we encouraged the execution of one of his children?

The soldiers could have cut Absolam down, taken him prisoner, and returned to him to his Father. Imagine how differently this scene would have worked out.

God wills the salvation of all.

God never gives up on us and we cannot give up on one another. No one is beyond the power of God's grace, the power of redemption.

The soldiers who executed Absolam thought of David only as king, and forgot that he was firstly a father. The didn't stop to think about the suffering they would inflict on him. What parent ever recovers from the death of a child?

When we take it upon ourselves to execute someone, who suffers more the person or the family, most profoundly the mothers and fathers.

The us remains in the top 5 countries in terms of use of the death penalty with China, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq. If we are truly Christian is this who we should be?

Monday, February 3, 2014

A different image

In today's first reading we find David on the run from his own son Absolam. What is worth noting is where he goes, the Mount of Olives.- the place to which Jesus retreated. The fact most of us may not know is that area was not the beautiful olive grove of paintings. It was a necropolis, think cemetery.

Even more interesting is the probably mentally ill man who follows him cursing all the way. Once more David shows true wisdom.

Instead of responding in anger or writing the man off as crazy, David entertains the real possibility that the man speaking for the Lord. He is able to hear the truth even from this man. Like most of deep down David knows the truth. Not only does David know the truth that is what the man is saying, but he able to see that even this may be turned into a source of blessing.

Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. Perhaps the LORD will look upon my affliction and make it up to me with benefits for the curses he is uttering this day.

Imagine if we could take criticism this way. If we could accept the parts that are true and see that even what might be crazy ranted can be transformed by God.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Community not club

Today we celebrate the presentation of the Lord, 40 days after his brith. At the center of our celebration is the Canticle of Simeon who was promised that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. In his canticle (a text intended to be sung) he proclaims Jesus as

A light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.

It is difficult for us as modern Christians to grasp the radical nature of what Simeon was saying. We think of Christianity as primarily a religion of non-Jews. Even in Jesus's own lifetime, his ministry was perceived as something to and for the chosen people, Israel. Had it not been for God calling St. Paul it might have remained merely a sect of Judaism.

What Simeon is proclaiming is that the message of Jesus is not just the "laos" (Jesus's own people) but for the "ethnos"( the foreigners, the pagans, the great unwashed masses of people).

We must be careful that we don't fall into the trap of thinking that we are the new chosen people in the exclusive sense. We have only to look at our politics to see where that leads, people refusing to even talk to people they disagree with. If we only talk to people who agree with us, what kind of discussion is that.

Too often we simply want to talk at people rather than talk with them. We seem to be loosing our ability to truly listen. We forget that in order to bring someone to Jesus, I have to first go to where they are now, stand with them, and walk with them on the journey, as Jesus did on the road to Emaus.

Today we began mass by processing into church with our lit candles, we walk out remembering that tomorrow and the next day we are to be those bearers of light

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Judgement Day

No. Not that one.

As we continue to move through the story of David we reach the part that most clearly represent a the double standard that we can all fall into.

Nathan comes to David and asks him to judge, as would have been his role as king, the case of a rich man who takes the one and only ewe from a poor man. David becomes enraged at the absolute audacity of the crime, until Nathan points out that the thief is David himself.

As an artist history professor pointed out to me years ago, the reason most of us don't like photos of ourselves is because the only self we can see is a reflection in a mirror that is reversed. We can't actually see ourselves as others see us. The same is true of our voice. We listen to a recording, and we think it doesn't sound like us because we hear our own voice from inside. We don't hear ourselves as others hear us. We can't.

With judgement we tend to behave the same way. We judge our own actions one way and the actions of others another. With ourselves we tend to focus on our intention, and use it to excuse the action. "I didn't mean to offend you." Or we give the non-apology, "I'm sorry if you were offended."

On the other hand, we forget that we cannot judge others because we cannot get insidetheir head and hearts. We only see and hear them from the outside. We cannot know the intention of another. We cannot really know all of the circumstances, everything that was going on in another person's life at a particular moment.

What makes David great is not that he was sinless. He committed adultery, murder, and a whole list of other sins. What makes Daivd great was that when confronted, he doesn't try and explain it away. He simply says:

I have sinned against the LORD

Nathan's response is equally simple,

The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin

This scene is a foreshadowing of our Sacrament of Reconciliation, Nathan acting in the role of the "priest" hears David's confession, pronounces words of absolution, and announces to David his penance.

Why do we find it so easy to judge others, and so hard to simply say about ourselves, "I messed up." I sinned.

What David did was about as awful as it gets, and yet he was able to confess. What is keeping you from going to confession?