Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Jn 3:17

The first Bible verse I ever memorized, growing up in the Baptist Church, was John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

I can still recite it and consider it a key verse in our faith. Many can recite some translation of this verse. But can we recite the next verse? I couldn't.

John 3:17

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

We call it the good news but how many of us have not really internalized this verse. The ultimate will of God is that the entire world be saved. The world used here is kosmos. God created the world good, and God wills that in the end the entire kosmos be restored. If anyone is not saved, it must be by their own choosing.

Are there non-Christians who caricature our faith as harsh and condemnatory? Yes. But an even worse problems is that there are Christians, Catholics, who have the dark and judgmental image of God. St. John Paul II felt it necessary to designate the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. But the mercy of God is not our message for one Sunday, it is our message every Sunday. Every day of the week, if we are truly Christian, we celebrate the love and the mercy of God.

God sent his son into the world, so that the world might be saved

This is the reason why the Catholic Church does not teach that non-Christians cannot be saved. We say baptism is the only certain way to be saved. But we simultaneously recognize that God's love and mercy cannot be limited.

The only people we know will not be saves are those who know Jesus Christ and freely choose to reject him. In such a case it is not God who condemns; God simply gives the person what they want, separation from God.

If Jesus did not come into the world to condemn who are we to condemn. Even as some of us like to vilify "the media" we should stop to think that every one of those people are loved by God, and should be loved by us. We can simultaneously disagree and love. It's part of what makes Christianity difficult.

Looking at well known bad actors, Vladimir Putin, for example, has said that his mother secretly had him baptized, as many did in soviet Russia. I pray regularly that the Holy Spirit given him in baptism help him to do what is best for his country and the world.
But we should pray also for non-Christian world leaders, that God provide them with wisdom. Bashar al- Asaad, the president of Syria should be a regular part of our prayer.

Of the last decade has taught us anything it is that war is not the way to peace.

Let's remember John 3:16 and John 3:17. And Pray.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Filling the cafeteria

With the canonization of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II, Pope Francis sent a clear message that it is time for the silly in-fighting between so-called liberal and conservative elements in the Church to end.

One of the most common insults hurled from right to left is the phrase "cafeteria catholic", the accusation being that liberals pick and choose from the churches teaching what suits them.

In today's first reading we hear

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.

With the move to from the agricultural to the Industrial Age the Church found itself having to apply the principles of our faith to a new circumstance, and on May 15, 1891 Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum Novarum, literally about New Things. Here the church began to address issues like the rights and obligations of workers and employers.

While many remember how fiercely St. John Paul II railed against communism, we in the west like to forget that he was equally critically of unrestrained capitalism. As May 15 approaches it might be the time to take a look at Centissimus Annus, the encyclical issued by St. John Paul II, on May 1, 1991, the Feast of St. Joseph the worker. The sad truth is that here is where the so-called conservatives head for the cafeteria, and start trying to explain away why Catholic social teaching isn't binding.

St. John Paul II teaches that:
Furthermore, society and the State must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family, including a certain amount for savings.
[the State here refers to all government and not state in the us sense of the word]

Are we ready to read this when we are having the minimum wage debate?

He moved us from a mere living wage, to the concept of a just wage.

The truth is we can all be cafeteria Catholics. This weekend reminded us that we cannot be people who play pick your favorite century or pick your favorite Pope. We are people of faith who believe that the same Holy Spirit that was poured out at Pentecost is the same Holy Spirit that guided the election of Pope Francis and all his successors. We may well look back and wonder about some of the choices, but I would say just look at the Bible and see the leaders God chose in both the Old and New Testament. They are a rag tag lot.

Somehow it all fits together to form a picture that only God can see. Our task is to live as a Church here and now, we the Pope, bishops, priests and deacons we have. We proclaim a Church that is one, holy catholic and apostolic, not perfect. It's time for all of us liberals and conservatives to march out of the cafeteria together, embrace all of the Church's teaching, and proclaim that good news to the ends of the earth.

Let us pray for the intercession of our two newest saints to help end our fighting with each other so that together we can fight all that is truly evil, all that that degrades the dignity of human life around our world.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Talking to other Christians

Every Sunday we Catholics and many others profess belief and one holy catholic and apostolic church. Yet so often anyone looking at Christianity from the outside sees division. Look around the neighborhood not only have we broken the church into denominations but many refuse to be part of any grouping of Church.

Jesus's final prayer before going off to be crucified as reported in John's gospel is "that they may be one." And we can easily forget that for almost the first one thousand we lived as one Church, and we should never give up trying to restore that unity. A first step might well be learning to speak each other's language.

Growing up as a Protestant I regularly heard people talking about being "born again" without really understanding what the phrase meant. People would say you had to be born again without ever making the connection with the scripture passage from which the phrase comes.

On the flip side if you ask a Catholic if they are born again, they look at you like they don't know how to respond. So let's look at what the bible says.

unless one is born (again) from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God

The reason I put "again" in parenthesis is that the word άνωθεν can be translated as either "from above" or "again." It's a perfect example of intentional double meaning. But what does it mean to be born again/from above? All you have to do is read verse 5.

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God!

Born again is not some special condition for some select group it is baptism. In the sacrament of baptism we are reborn of water and the spirit. So as Catholics, if you are asked, "Are you born again?", the answer is "Yes." We should not be afraid of the phrase or think that it is something only Protestants say. Catholics are born again Christians. We simply don't often use that language.

Are there points of genuine disagreement in our theology? Yes. And it is a mistake to try and gloss over what are important points of theology. But the first step can be overcoming the areas where we don't disagree about content but use different language.

Both St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II took important steps toward restoring unity. Let us pray that we may continue to work to return to the unity of the original church.

Friday, April 25, 2014

One more commandment

One of the great Christian mistakes it to think that there are only 10 commandments. Any practicing Jew will tell you there are more than 600 in the Old Testament. Many of those we are not held to as Christians. And while Jesus gives us the two great commandments, there are many more in the New Testament. The problem is that no one has complied a list. Any time the imperative is used, do this or don't do that, it is a command.

Today we are commanded by Peter to cast all our worries upon him[Jesus]. Actually the word merimna is more equivalent to our word anxiety. And before you say well that didn't come from Jesus, I would invite you to read Mt 6:25 and following.

It sounds so simple. It may even sound a little naive. But in reality it is the measure of our faith. How much are we truly willing to trust God? What he wants us to do is trust him completely. And the more we can trust God, and cast our anxieties, our worries on him, the closer we will come to peace.

Today we would find some quiet time to look inside and see if there is any worry or anxiety in us. If there is then we must throw it to Jesus. Let him have every bit of it. He wants it. He wants us to get rid of it. Like the cleaning out of leaven before Passover we must root out ever little speck.

Jesus died to set us free. Let's not throw away our freedom on something as useless as worry.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Denying Christ

In the first residing today Peter rails against the people for having denied Jesus and handed him over to be crucified. While we probably would never directly and intentionally deny him, we can do it in indirect ways.

Our lives get so busy that we can easily forget who we are. We forget that our task all day every day is to show the face of Christ to others.

In the gospel today Jesus eats with his disciples, AFTER his resurrection. He is not a ghost or spirit. Even after the resurrection he remains, flesh and blood. Christianity is not a mere philosophy or spirituality. It is incarnational. It must be made manifest in the world.

During the course of the day when we allow being tired or frustrated or just busy to cause us to be less than caring to another person, or worse ignore them all together, we have in a small way denied Christ. We step away from being his body. These things may seem small and insignificant, and taken in isolation they are. But over time it can be the spiritual death of a thousand little cuts.

By a thousand little baby steps we look up and find that are further away from Jesus than we would ever want to be. Every word we speak, every action we make does one of two things. It either proclaims our relationship to Jesus or denies it. On this there is no middle.

St.John tells us unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood we do not have life in us. This graphic language not only tells us the reality of the Eucharist but reminds us of what we are called to be, the flesh and blood tangible manifestation of the presence of Jesus in the world.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Getting Personal

In the first reading today we hear Peter instruct the crowd to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. One thing should strike us as odd immediately. Any of us who have ever witnessed a baptism in most churches have heard the minister say the words, "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

In fact there are a few churches that do follow Peter's instruction literally and baptize only in the name of Jesus and not the Trinity. The reason most of us baptize in the name of the trinity is that the instruction to do it that way came from Jesus himself just before the ascension according to Matthew's gospel.

What difference does it make? A great deal. Baptism is not just about God forgiving us. In baptism on our most basic level we are transformed, and most importantly our relationship to God is transformed.

In the gospel today Jesus tells Mary Magdalene to tell the other go and tell "my brothers" that "‘I am going to my Father and your Father." She has called him rabbouni. She does not understand that the relationship is changed. No longer is it just God and worshipers. Yes we worship God but through our baptism we become children of God. We become the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

The Christian faith is not just a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but a personal relationship with all of God. A familial relationship with all three persons of the Trinity.

How often do we take time to personally interact with the Father, with the Son, and with the Holy Spirit? In this Easter season it's time to get personal with all three.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Layers of meaning

At times the Catholic and Orthodox Churches approach can seem overly complex. There are 50 days in the Easter Season, but then Easter like Christmas gets celebrated for an octave, that's eight days, and don't even mention how we calculated the date for Easter. Why so complicated? There are those who would have you believe that life was so much simpler for Jesus and his apostles, forgetting that they were all observant Jews, keeping all 613 commandments of the law. (Mt. 5:18).

Our faith is not simple because life is not simple, human beings are not simple, and understanding God is not simple. Taking a simplistic approach to a complex world, is never the path to wisdom or even success. We must learn to look beneath the surface and understand that not just the bible, but in much of life there are layers of meaning. The complexity of our faith helps to train us to see the multiple layers of meaning. Remember that Jesus teaches us the be wise as serpents but innocent as doves. Innocent does not mean simple or naive.

Look at today's gospel. We see the complex plot to hide the truth of the resurrection. The guards are simultaneously bribed and threatened. They give them a large sum of money and tell them
You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.’ And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”

The implied threat is of course, and if you don't do this, we will blame you for everything. It would have had to have been a very large sum of money because no Roman guard would dare admit the crime of falling asleep on duty. Lies, conspiracy, intrigue all these things are as old as humanity, and as Christians we have to know how to confront them without fear.

The Church in her wisdom pairs this reading with Psalm 16. The response for today is: Keep me safe, O God; you are my hope.

On this second day of Easter, let us pray for a renewed spirit of hope, not just for ourselves but for our world as we confront the complex issue around the globe. Let us not fear complexity but embrace it, dive into it. Let us never be content with how things appear on the surface.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Христос Воскрес!

The Russian greeting means Christ is risen! The icon of the Resurrection has a million little details, but at the center is Jesus lifting Adam and Eve for the realm of the dead, a reminder to us of how God's plan extends across time, the power of death is destroyed and in the end the kingdom of God will triumph.

In today's gospel, it is Mary Magdlene, a woman who discovers the empty tomb. It is she who has to lead the apostles to it. God has turned the culture on its head.

For the next 50 days we will read nothing from the Old Testament. Each year during Easter we are invited to go back and read the Acts of the Apostles, the story of the beginnings of the Church. It is a chance for us to remember what we are supposed to be, what we should constantly strive to be Lent is over but our process of conversion is never over. Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Where is he now?

We think about the crucifixion  and we think about the Resurrection, but rarely do we think about what happened in between.
In the apostles creed we say, "he descended into hell" and I always disliked that translation. Being rather persnickety about words it is a bad translation for "sheol" the place of the dead. The place of the dead was not a place of punishment. All dead people went there. We forget that before the resurrection of Jesus no human being entered heaven. Heaven is for God and angels. Jesus's decent into hell was necessary so that all of the just people who lived before might be taken up into heaven.

There is another level on which the phrase descended into hell might also be understood. We talk about going though hell at certain points in our life, and when we repeat those words "He descended into hell" they can be a reminder that Jesus came down from heaven and entered into the deepest part of human suffering. Jesus knows our pain. Jesus is with us in our pain. Jesus still in that sense descends into our hell and so no matter how alone we may feel. The truth is we are never alone.

When we look at the Bronzino painting, we see the hope of the people whom Jesus is going to lift up. Jesus continues to descend with us into the darkest moments of life, and will, if we allow him, raise us out of darkness into light.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Love beyond understanding

I have always found the crucifixion by Diego Vasquez striking because of its simplicity, a simple cross the the figure of Jesus. No matter how much I look at him, it is hard for me to imagine the pain that would have preceded his death. The searing pain of each spike being driven into place. The slow agonizing torture of the inability to breathe. The hours without a moment of relief. And finally the death.

Even as a child this story fascinated me. How could anyone love us so much that his was willing to go through this kind of agony for us. But that is the Gospel.  As a little Baptist boy, the first bible verse we memorized was John 3:16 " For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life."

The is Christianity's understanding of God. God is love. God is a love that is willing to suffer the most excruciating death, so that we humans never have to die. In a sense Jesus was the last to die. For those who believe, as we say in the Eucharistic Prayer, at the end of our earthly life, we sleep. Our bodies sleep, and await the resurrection of the body. Is it still possible to die? Yes. God gives the choice to us. We can choose to die, or we can choose to merely sleep for a time at the end of this life. In Mass we pray for both:

Remember our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the peace of your Christ,and all the dead, whose faith you alone have known.

Today let us take time to reflect on the depth of God's love for each human being he has ever created.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

12 hours of lent

For most of us, lent has less than 12 hours left. Tonight we transition from Lent to the Easter Triduum, with The Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper. If you pay close attention you will notice that we begin as usual, "In the name of the Father...", but tonight's mass has no end. We simply disperse and tomorrow we pick up where we left off.

It is worth noting that unlike the painting we do not call it the Last Supper.

It is really the first. Tonight we are called back to the first celebration of the Eucharist.

We have become so used to going to mass and being able to receive the Eucharist, we can forget that there was a time before, when people could worship God from a distance but no one ever dreamed of being able to touch God, let alone receive God, as we do. Tonight we are invited to a renewed sense of awe, and awareness of the presence of Christ in the sacrament.

And why do we wash feet? While Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story of Jesus instituting the Eucharist, John does not. Instead of the institution of the Eucharist, John tells us the story of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles, and telling them to do the same.

Tonight we not only recall both traditions, but the nexus. We receive Christ in the Eucharist to empower us each and every day to more fully imitate Christ.

Tonight we begin with an empty tabernacle, new bread and new wine. Tonight we start over. No matter how imperfect this year has been, no matter how imperfect this Lent has been, go to Church tonight, and start over.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The great dialogue

While the readings this week are all pointing us toward the passion of Christ. Because we are his body, they also speak to us. Today's first first reading has that not uncommon two edged quality.

On the happy side we have:

The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Who disputes my right? Let him confront me. See, the Lord GOD is my help; who will prove me wrong?

We love this. Vindication! But before we get to this we have:

Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; And I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.

Morning after morning he opens our ears, but how soon into the day is it before we shut them, particularly
when the truth is something we don't want to hear.
Or when it involves some kind of pain or sacrifice.
Or when the voice of our conscience is telling us not to do something that we really want to do.

Just to walk through one whole day, keeping our ears open to that that voice of the spirit we call our conscience is a chore. It takes incredible discipline to get through one whole day without complaining, without the uncharitable comment, putting others ahead of ourselves on the road. All of these may seem like trivial things but they are what mark us a true disciples. Doing with love all those little things that are a pain, but we know we should, knowing that sins of omission can be greater than sins of commission.

Morning after morning he opens our ears, and day after day we must practice keeping them open. Then it becomes habit, and we call that virtue.

Monday, April 14, 2014


This is one of those times when we are reminded that Christianity was not a new religion begun by Jesus. At sundown this evening Passover begins and we are reminded that Jesus lived his entire earthly life as a Jew.

As a part of the preparation, all chametz (leavened food) must be out of the house, sold or burned by midday today. This would have meant a thorough cleaning of the house.

We carry this Passover tradition forward in our churches. When we gather for the evening mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday the tabernacle is to be completely empty. We will have also bought by now our new paschal candle. And at some time this week the bishop will bless new oils: the oil of catechumens, the oil of the sick, and he will consecrate new chrism ( the oil used in baptism,confirmation, and ordination).

It is also at the Chrism mass that the priests are invited to renew their priestly promises. The rite is slightly misnamed because the priests do not repeat the promises made at ordination. Like marriage vows the original promises do not expire and do therefore not need to be renewed. If you look at the actual words the priests resolve to be more closely united to Christ( a lifelong process), and to carry out faithfully the promises made at ordination.

While the missal calls for this mass to be celebrated on Thursday morning, it can be moved to enable the priests of the diocese to be present. Here in Richmond, the Chrism Mass is this evening at 6:00 PM at the Cathedral.

It is the one mass each year when we are called to come together as one diocese. The oils that are blessed and consecrated are taken from the cathedral out to the furthest ends of the diocese and throughout the year serve as a constant reminder of our unity, as the one holy catholic and apostolic church.

As we celebrate the Chrism mass our Jewish brothers and sisters here in Richmond will light the candles of Passover (7:25 PM). This evening our two traditions reunite in prayer to the one God. As we continue our celebration of Holy Week, let us pray that the unity that is ours this evening in prayer may spread throughout our world.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Holiest of Weeks

Today we begin our celebration of the holiest of weeks, the one week out of 52 when we as Christians are called to live differently.
Today we begin the week with two gospels: the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the Passion, this year it's Matthew's passion.

Over the years I have always had a very difficult time reconciling the image of Jesus according to St. Matthew, and the one we always read on Good Friday, St. John.

In John, Jesus is in control from start to finish. He has a quick response to every remark. In Matthew, a key verse is 26:63
But Jesus remained silent.

Yes, I understand the Passover symbolism, the lamb led to slaughter,etc. But there was still something incongruous, until I realized I was making one fatal mistake. I was confusing silence with passivity.

Silence is anything but passive. Try it. Try to sit and remain silent. It takes incredible discipline. Even more, try and remain silent when you are being attacked. For most of us it is all but impossible.

In his silence Jesus may in fact be demonstrating more control in Matthew's version than John's, self-control.

The Book of Ecclesiastes tells us that to everything there is a season. There are times when we need to defend ourselves as Jesus does in John's gospel. But there are also times when we need to remain silent, as in Matthew's gospel. True wisdom comes in discerning the proper time for each.

Beginning today, make this week different . Find time to go to Church for the Easter Triduum. Begin and end each day with prayer. Find a moment in the middle of the day to pause and pray. If you haven't been to confession yet, GO! 51 weeks of year are yours. This one belongs to God. Make it a truly Holy Week.

Friday, April 11, 2014

As if this were all

Many of us even though we say we believe in eternal life, still behave as if we didn't. We behave as if we believed that if we are good people, and we are unjustly attacked, God will necessarily rescue us in this life.

In today's first reading we have Jeremiah,
Terror on every side! Denounce! let us denounce him!” All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him. But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.

We can forget that in the end Jerusalem is sacked and Jeremiah ends up in Egypt, and probably died there,although there is not clear record of his death.

In the gospel, we have the people wanting to stone Jesus and of course we know that that will lead to his crucifixion and death.

For both Jeremiah and Jesus, is there vendication? Yes, but not until they have passed, as we say in the south.

If this life were all there is, and God were just, he would come to our rescue always in this life. But God understands that my life and your life are not limited to our all too brief passage through history.

Does God sometimes grant us vindication in this life? Yes. But it is not something we have a right to expect. We can hope for it. We can pray for it. But on this last Friday of Lent we are reminded that in the end, real faith boils down to four words, thy will be done.

Will there always be justice? Without a doubt. But we may not see it in this life.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.

And the verb "see" here can literally be translated as "be a spectator to".

I was 7 when my grandfather died, 10 when my foster brother David died, 12 when my brother Michael died, 37 when Mom died, and 38 when dad died. Tucked in between were both grandmothers.

By the time I turned 40 I had seen more than my fair share of death. Or so I thought.

Sunday we read the companion to today's verse. When Jesus says, "everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." And then he asks Martha, "Do you believe this?"

The real answer for most of us is No, we don't, particular not when a loved one is ripped away from us. They look dead and it hurts like they are dead. We feel like our guts have been ripped out and we can't breathe. At that moment phrases like, "they are in a better place" are at best hollow, and at worst infuriating. All we want is to see them, to hold them, to talk to them.

I will freely admit that I was in my 40's before I got it. Before I understood either of these verse. Now I can look back on my life and say with absolute conviction that I have never seen death. Even as I held little baby David in my arms, what I saw felt and looked like death but it wasn't.

Even as I write this, I look at the pictures of my parents on the shelf in my TV room, and I know they are not dead. They are more alive than I am. They have zoe (eternal life) without the limitations of bios (earthly, biological life).

Here in Richmond there are two families I know who have recently experienced the ripping away of their teenage children. And there are so many more whom I don't know, whose stories will never make the news. I pray that God grant these families the gift of wisdom, that they truly understand what Jesus promised, and in understanding reconnect with their loved ones, and find the peace of God which is beyond all understanding.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


Jesus opens today's gospel with one of his most powerful promises:

If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

It sounds so simple. Remain in his word. And yet this is more difficult than it seems. No, it doesn't mean that we are supposed to sit around all day reading the bible.

Reading the Bible is important, but more important than reading and memorizing the bible is remaining in it. We have to remain it is when we are shopping, remain in it at home, at work, remain in it when we are frustrated, remain in it when we are angry.

To remain in his word means that our every choice has to be made in him. Remaining in his word means not just cherry picking the verses that make us feel better, but being willing to recall those words which challenge our most deeply held positions.

Remaining will lead to truth, sometimes truth we do not want to hear. But the good news is that when we are willing to face the absolute truth, we find true freedom, not just freedom to, but also freedom from.

Freedom is the ability to be the person God created us to be.

In these last days of Lent, this gospel calls us to truly allow the word to soak into every aspect of our life, and allow the truth, to transform our lives, giving us true freedom.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Why did he die?

We are so used to thinking about the long view, Jesus died to free us from sin, that we sometimes forget the immediate cause of his crucifixion. Today's first reading seems odd but it you think about it, it fits perfectly with the crucifixion.

Today we open with a long first reading, the entire story of Sussana, and the two old men who threatened to denounce her for adultery with a young man, if she wouldn't sleep with them. Had it not been for Daniel she would have been stoned to death. For those who don't remember the story, he separates the two witnesses and they each testify to finding her with the young man under a different tree.

The deeper question was why were the people so ready to stone her? What is it within us that when we see a good person, we are always ready to believe the worst? We are almost relieved when something bad comes out. "See I told you,it was all for show."

The answer can be found at the end of the gospel. Today's gospel is the woman who actually was caught in adultery. At the end Jesus tells her to "go and sin in more." Is that possible? Is it possible that she went off and spent her life without sin? And if it isn't possible then why did Jesus tell her to do it?

If Jesus told her to do it, it must be possible. We tell ourselves that we are all sinners, because that let's us off the hook. Sin by definition is a free choice. If you are forced to do something it may be bad but it isn't a sin. Sin is when we knowingly and willingly do something contrary to God's law.

Having virtuous people around reminds us that it is possible to be good. They remind us that if we have sinned, it is our own fault and no one else's (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa). Therefore, we are relieved when a good person falls, or is even accused of falling. We can once more dismiss our responsibility for our sin with the childish excuse, all people sin.

Is it difficult to live in the Spirit all the time? Yes. Is it impossible? No. We have the Spirit dwelling in us 24/7. All we have to do is pause, listen, and think; before we act.

There are several words in Greek which we translated into English as "sin."The word used in John's gospel today is amartia, literally to miss the mark. Were their athletes in the biathlon in the Winter Olympics this year who could hit all five targets, and ski? Yes. The ones who could hit every time had concentration, discipline, and most of all years of practice. If we put that much intentionality into living, I think we too would hit the mark.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Understanding Pope Francis

There is no Sunday in the calendar that was more changed with the Second Vatican Council than today. And yet, I dare say that most Catholics hardly noticed. And next week they will still call it Palm Sunday. In Latin the current name is the combination of the two Sundays, Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, dominica in palmis de passione Domini.

Today until 1959 was Passion Sunday and marked a two week period that focused on the Passion, that is suffering, of the Jesus. The part of this period that some of you may remember and is still available in many countries as an option is the covering of statues and other images. The name was chnaged to the Fifth Sunday of Lent and Passion Sunday was collapsed into Palm Sunday.

Instead of two weeks about suffering, today's gospel is the raising of Lazarus, and the focus is shifted, from suffering and death to life. We are reminded that the end of Lent is not the crucifixion but the Resurrection. Lent is not a 40 day mediation on Good Friday, but a preparation for Easter.

Why did I entitle this entry understanding Pope Francis? Because I believe he is like this Sunday. The Catholic Church has not changed her theology. We cannot change the theology. Our task for 2000 years has been to faithfully and completely hand on to the next generation the Gospel entrusted to us by Jesus Christ, and to assist each generation in its application, we call what we are entrusted to hand on without change the Deposit of Faith.

Those who think that Pope Francis is going to make some radical shift in the teaching of the Church, both those who are hoping he will and those who are afraid he will, are I believe sadly mistaken. What we are seeing in him is a shift in focus. In the same way the Church, in altering the calendar, shifted the focus from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection. He is shifting in a variety of areas the focus. Did the Church do away with Good Friday? No. Did we do away with our theology of suffering? No. As always it is a both/and not an either/or.

The Second Vatican Council made no substantive changes to our theology. It shifted focus, presentation, and articulation. As the Church has done from the outset when it shifted from the Aramaic/Hebrew language of Jesus to the Greek language of the New Testament.

There is truly nothing new in the so-called New Evangelization of Blessed Pope John Paul II. It is simply the Church doing what is has always done and what is must do with each new generation, find the way to re-articulate the 2000 year old message of Jesus Christ. 

There is something in our human nature that seem drawn to binary choices: black or white, liberal or conservative, contemporary or traditional. We like simple. The Catholic Faith is about AND not OR.
Jesus is true God AND true man. We human are material AND spiritual beings. And this Pope and the Church are and must always be liberal AND conservative, traditional AND contemporary. And we must learn to live peaceably  with the tension, live peaceably with the complexity.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lamb anyone ?

When we thing of lamb, we tend to think of "Mary had a little lamb", cute, little, white, wooly. Slaughter is not the first word we associate with lamb, even if we think of lamb chops. We tend to want to avoid the ugly part, the actual killing.

In the old calendar tomorrow would have been Passion Sunday. In the present calendar it has been collapsed into Palm Sunday, but there are still the remnants. Like the covering of statues and many if the readings in the week.

Our first reading today is the image of the trusting lamb led to slaughter, an image of Jesus. The readings are beginning to turn our eyes toward the events of Good Friday, not because the church is morbid, because of the entire gospel it may well be the hardest part of the gospel for us to embrace.

We erroneously believe that if we pray or are good, God will protect us from suffering. The truth that suffering is an inevitable part of human existence, or the even crazier Christian notion that suffering can be beneficial are parts of the gospel from which we would like to run, or at least avoid as much as possible.

We euthanize animals because their suffering is meaningless. But a part of what Christ taught us by his own example is that human suffering is a different reality. When we can, united with Christ, not hide from, but courageously enter into our suffering we find our truest self. Like gold refined in fire.

I can think of no finer example that my dear friend Hollister who is living with ALS. You ca read a bit of her story here. This tall feisty red-head faces the challenges of each new with true indomitable courage and strength.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Wisdom we don't want

Today's reading is from the Book of Wisdom, and yes you will need a Catholic or Orthodox Bible to find it, it is among the books jettisoned by the reformation.

In it we hear the foreshadowing of how Jesus will be treated, the lengths that the wicked will go to to stop the just man. Even today's reponsorial psalm contains the words, "Many are the troubles of the just man."

It was in the 1950's that the phenomenon called "prosperity theology" began to spread. And it became popular because it is what we want to hear. If you are a good person, if you go to church (and donate) God is going to fill your life wealth, and health, and blessing right now in this life.

The problem with it is that it doesn't square with the gospel. Go read Luke's version of the beatitudes or even Mk 10. Even in the same breath that Jesus promises blessings, he also promises persecution.

The simple truth is that we should do what is right, not because we are hoping for some earthly blessing, but simply because it is the right thing to do.

Today's readings remind us that if we speak the truth of the gospel, it is not always going to be well received. We should not intentionally offend. We should always choose our words with the goal of persuding. But no matter how nicely we word the truth there will always be those who don't want to hear it, and are ready to attack the messenger.

Our reward is eternal life with God. Seeking any other reward is always going to set us up for, at a minimum, disappointment.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Immutable God

The first reading today would at first glance run completely contrary to yesterday's reading. On the surface it appears that God is about to unleash his wrath and Moses has to calm him down.

Here is where a basic principle of scriptural interpretation comes into play. To quote the Vatican II document on Sacred Scripture:

since Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written, no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. (Dei Verbum 12)

By unity we do not mean that there are no conflicts. There are clearly places where two authors report the same event in different ways. By unity what we means is quite simply, God does not change. The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the same.

Take today's passage. Rather than seeing a God of wrath who had to be calmed down by Moses, it would be more consistent with our understanding of God to realize that God threatened wrath to see how Moses would react. Would Moses dare to speak up on behalf of the people? Would he show the qualities of a true leader? Much like Abram and the sacrifice of his son, it was merely a test.

Today's reading is a reminder that we must be particularly careful about the danger of taking a passage or worse yet a verse of the bible out of its context. But even beyond the context, we must always ask of some particular interpretation, how does this fit with our overall understanding of God and how God operates in the world?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Six words

The last sentence of today's gospel contains six words that may be among the hardest six words to live.

I do not seek my own will

Here I am not talking about the major life decisions. In that arena most of us who call ourselves religious will at least ponder for a moment the question, what would God want me to do?The difficulty is in the ordinary day to day, mundane part of life.

In today's gospel Jesus presents us with a model where the Father and the Son are constantly working in tandem. Jesus is the son who "cannot do anything on his own." Nothing. Nada. Niente. Ничего. His every word, every action is in union with the Father.

We like to tell ourselves that this is something unique to Jesus, because he is God, the second person of the Trinity incarnate. But we know deep down that that is merely an excuse we use.

We are son and daughters as well. As St. Paul reminded us this past Sunday, we are Light. And because we are light, we are to walk always as children of the light.

In order to do this, it is not enough to consult God when we are uncertain. We must surrender our will completely. We must take the stance that there is never a time when it is Ok for me to seek my will, or worse yet to try to talk God into doing our will.

The great paradox of Christianity is our understanding of the road to freedom. If we want to be free, there is only one path, total surrender to the will of God.

This is not passive resignation. It is exactly the opposite. It is a constant minute by minute search for the will of God, a yearning, a hunger for the wisdom to know, and the strength to do the will of God in every circumstance.

When we think of Lent we think of the question, what am I going to give up this year? Here's a thought, give up your will.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Disabled or Crippled?

When i was in seminary there was great fuss over language. Let me say right up front, I think too many people dismiss the power of words by laughing off "political correct." The scripture teach us over and again the power of words. But there are times when we use them to avoid the truth.

Disabled is a statement of fact. I have Cerebral Palsy which means that there is a part of my brain which was disabled at birth, a part of the brain which does not function properly. There is no need to evade the truth with phrases like "differently abled."

In today's gospel Jesus approaches the pool at Bethesda and the people who are there described in many translations as "a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled." And some would say we need to change the world crippled. I would not. We need the word because there are people who are crippled. The man at the center of today's gospel is crippled.

Jesus asks him a simple question, "Do you want to be well?" And yet the man does not answer "Yes."

He doesn't answer. He has a whole list of excuses for why he is where is. Jesus simply tells him to get up, take his mat and walk. He is crippled.

Disabled is a statement of fact, a part of a system does not function probably. Crippled is a choice. I am disabled but not crippled. Amy Purdy, the double amputee on Dancing with the Stars, is disabled, but not crippled. And there are many people who are crippled, who have no disability. The crippled person feels powerless. The crippled person is frozen in place. The have forgotten some basic truths of Christianity.

With God all things are possible.

All things work together for the good of those who love God

Today is a day for us to pray for the crippled people. And if you are in some aspect of your life crippled, get up, take your mat, and walk.