Monday, June 30, 2014

What's on your mind?

Today's response to the psalm is like a glass of cold water in the face to wake you up.

Remember this, you who never think of God.

Even as hyperbole it seems odd to have us repeat that over and over again. And yet it is worth taking time to reflect on the question. How often during the course of the day do we actually think of God? In what circumstances do we turn our minds to God? Certainly in prayer, but what percentage of the day is that? When we are in need we turn to God or when something bad happens. What about the time when we are working. Is God a part of that? But what about when things are going well, when we are having fun.

Some folks act as if you can't have fun and think of God, as if the very mention of God should suck all of the fun out of the moment. As I sit here on my porch, the sound of the birds reminds me of God, the beautiful tree in full bloom across the street reminds me of God. There should be no corner of our life from which God is excluded.

Today's response is not an indictment; it's a challenge. Today pay attention to the rhythm of an ordinary day in your life. Are there any aspects of your daily life where God tends to get pushed aside? Look for those things at work, at home, in your travel,that can serve as reminders.

There is never a moment when God is not thinking of each of us individually. The least we can do is return the favor.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Something Old, Something New

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul. This morning in Rome 44 Archbishops received the pallium, symbol of their office. Today is also a time for us to reflect on the unique role that each of these Apostles played in the Church.

Simon and Saul began their lives as two rather ordinary jewish men of their time. Saul was probably the more educated of the two. And yet, he began his life not as a follower of Jesus but a persecutor of his disciples.

Both were transformed by their encounter with Christ. Simon became Peter, the Rock on which the Church would be built. Saul would be transformed in to Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. Peter is the foundation. Paul is forever the missionary, constantly in motion.

On another level these two saints reminds of the constant tension with which we live in the Church. When I was younger I was foolish enough to believe that tension was a bad thing. I confused tension with discord. One day while restringing a guitar I had a moment of insight. I realized that not only is tension not bad; it is absolutely necessary for some of my favorite musical instruments: the violin,the cello, the harp, even the piano. They all require precise amounts of tension, too little tension and the sound is flat, too much and it is irritatingly sharp. But when the tension is perfectly balanced we have music.

In the Church too we must always be searching for that perfect balance. On the one hand we must remain constantly planted firmly on the Rock, the foundation that Jesus established in Peter. If we detach ourselves from that foundation, we can no longer call ourselves the Church. On the other hand, we must constantly remain missionaries, moving forward, communicating the good news in ways comprehensible to each new time and place, remembering that between 60 and 93 percent of all communication is non-verbal (depending on whose study you choose).

We must constantly be both old and new, built on the Petrine foundation, while carrying out the Pauline mission. Like string instruments, staying in tune requires constant attention. Left to sit they all go flat.

Tension in the Church is not a problem. Go back to the beginning and you will see it has always existed. It is the way we were constructed.

Today as we celebrate Sts. Peter and Paul let us pray that through their intercession, the Pope, Archbishops, Bishops, Pastors, and Lay leaders in our Church may be constantly attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit so strike that perfect balance that will cause the Good News of Jesus Christ to resound throughout our world.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

It just makes sense

Today the Church celebrates the Immaculate Heart of Mary. To non-Catholics, and even to some Catholics, these titles may seem odd. They certainly are not in the Bible. But I would argue that they are rational, logical extensions of what is in the Bible.

Even if we stick to precisely what is in the Bible, have as a starting point the annunciation, the moment when the angel spoke to Mary. How must this moment have completely transformed her understanding of the world and her place in it?

In today's gospel we have the finding in the temple, when Jesus at a mere 12 years of age proclaimed

Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?

And the scriptures go on to tell us that even though she could not fully comprend the meaning

his mother kept all these things in her heart.

How full must that heart have been with things she could only ponder and try,in some small way, to comprehend. How full that heart must have been with the love of God. And when she watched her only son die on the cross how full that heart must have been with sorrow.

Does the Bible use the phrase immaculate heart of Mary? No. But can one reasonable believe that hers was a heart fixed solely on the understanding and doing the will of God? It seems to me that the answer is an unequivocal yes. Her heart remains forever the model for every human heart. She remains the absolute model of single-hearted devotion to doing the will of God.

Today every Christian is invited to look into our own hearts and ask if we too are ready to allow our hearts to be cleansed of every desire that might separate us from God, and be filled with the courage to utter those most powerful and awesome words

Let it be done unto me according to thy word.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Walking in trust

Today's first reading from Deuteronomy ends with:

You shall therefore carefully observe the commandments, the statutes and the decrees that I enjoin on you today.”

We often talk about the commandments, but I can't remember the last time I heard someone even acknowledge that there are statutes and decrees.

I had to go back myself and look at what the rabbis wrote to understand the distinction. They are all laws but different kinds of law.

Commandments would fall into the category we would think of as natural law. They are common sense. They are laws that prohibit murder, robbery, slander, perjury, adultery,etc.

The decrees, sometimes translated ordinances, are the ritual rules like the ones we have in the Church for how one is to baptize, with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The tough group are the statues. The statues are those laws "whose purpose has not been revealed to us." Does God have a reason for them? Yes. Has he told us what the reason is? No.

We simply have to trust. Here is where we have a hard time. Our natural tendency is that any rule that doesn't make sense to us is silly and we act as if we have the right to dismiss it.

We can now look back and understand perfectly well why God told the people of Israel to wash dishes, or to not mix dairy a meat products. But there are other laws even in the New Testament we may still not fully understand.

Yes our Christian faith is reasonable. That is, we can use our intellect to search for a deeper understanding. But humility requires that we recognize the limits of our human understanding. How many time in our history have we done things that at the time we believed were a good idea, only to discover that the complexity of the situation was far beyond us, and we had made a mistake? In our hubris we made a situation worse.

Do some of God's laws seem unreasonable? Yes. But rather that simply rejecting what God has taught us through the Bible and continues to teach us through his Church, we should let our lack of understanding lead us to study more, pray more, and most of all trust more.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Seeing the good

Today's first reading is the recounting of what is called the Babylonian Captivity. The king of Babylon sacks Jerusalem and takes the leaders back to Babylon. The good news is that it was not a deportation of all the Jews. Even in some important areas like Hebron, it appears that the people were left alone.

More important to note is that when the Babylonians fell to the Persians and the people were free to return, not all of them did. Many of the Jews who had fled remained in their new homeland, and so the Jewish faith spread.

God used this tragic event to a good purpose. Evil committed by people who did not believe in God was still transformed by God into a way of spreading his word. Diaspora, the forced expulsion of the Jewish people from their homeland, has helped to spread the faith to ever wider parts of the world.

This is one more example of how God can take even sin and transform it. Even the actions of those who are acting consciously against God, can be transformed, used by God to help accomplish his will. This is why we are fearless.

We know that the ultimate will of God can not be thwarted. Even when the world seems unfair, when it seems that someone has gotten away with something unjust, or some wrong is being committed, we can remain free of fear and of anger, because we know that the God who is Justice, has it all under control.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Not so simple

Matthew makes it sound simple

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.

Every metaphor is limited and the limit of this one is that we are not trees. We are human beings, rational beings. Once baptized we are the sons and daughters of God, members of the body of Christ. But the fruit we bear can and usually is of varying quality, not all bad or all good.

A tree is a passive recipient. It received its genetic makeup, it receives water and nutrients. These things determine the kind of fruit it will bear. We are anything but passive. Unlike the tree that has no choice in the matter, we do. We decide on a day to day and minute to minute basis what kind of fruit we will bear.

Do we have genetic predispositions? Yes. Are we the products of our upbringing? Yes. But are we determined by them? Christianity's response is a categorical NO. We are always to some degree free, and to that degree we are responsible.

Today and every day we are given a new opportunity to choose the kind of fruit that we will bear.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Discernment and Judgement

The gospel opens with a simple command

Stop judging, that you may not be judged.

Taken out of context this verse would seem to promote a complete laissez faire individualism. You live your life I live mine. Who am I to judge?

The word judge here is used in the sense of legal proceeding, the last judgement. Matthew uses the same word in 19:28 when he tells them that the apostles will eventually at the resurrection sit with him in judgement. Judgement requires a decision about action by also about motive.

As Christians we believe there is right and wrong, there is a natural law that God has planted in the human heart and a law that God has revealed. We should constantly be engaged in the process of discernment. And yes we not only have the right but the obligation to discern not only when our own behavior is in accord with that law, but also the behavior of others. To sit in silence while the dignity of another is being abused would be a sin of omission. The basic concept of society requires that we have some common set of norms of right and wrong behavior.

The judgement we cannot render is the judgement that claims to look into the heart of another and know why they are behaving the way they are. Certainly our judicial system must as best it can determine motive, but we know how imperfect that is.

Here Jesus is speaking to us as individual disciples and reminding us that if we wish to be forgiven, we must forgive.

For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.

We all have bad days, we all make mistakes, we all need to apologize. We should be ready to accept the apology of others. And even when they don't apologize cut them a break.

Our language often reveals our attitudes. What does it say about us that we can still say "excuse me" but if someone offers an excuse, that is a bad thing. When did we turn "excuse" into a bad word. The word originally meant simply an explanation of the mitigating circumstance.

Step one it seems to me it to distinguish when someone is doing something truly wrong (against God's law) and when they are just not doing it the way we think it ought to be done. They latter is our problem not theirs.

But even when what they are doing is truly wrong, we should assume the most benign motivation (a mistake) first and only move to a more sinister motivation when there is clear compelling evidence.

And even on those few occasions when we are sure they not only did a wrong thing, but they freely chose to do it, and for a bad motive, we must be ready to forgive.

This kind of discernment isn't quick and often requires not only thought but prayer. The snap judgment is so much easier; that's why we do it.

Today when you find yourself offended, angry, or just annoyed by the behavior of another. Try being Christian, it makes for a much less stressful life.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why not the Eucharist?

Why is today called The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ and not just the Solemnity of the Most Holy Eucharist? Wouldn't be simpler?

As humans we are sensual creatures. We make contact with the world through our five senses. We need things that we can see and taste, touch and smell, words that we can hear.

We call our celebration the Eucharist to tell us why we are there. "Let us give thanks to the Lord. It is right and just." We give him thanks always and everywhere.

Today is not about the why but about the what of our celebration. Do we understand what we are receiving? Do we really truly believe that it is the Body and Blood of Chrsit that we receive in the Eucharist?

I grew up baptist. I did not believe. I thought communion was merely symbolic. Until I went back and really prayed over The Bread of Life Discourse in John's Gospel (Jn 6:22-59).

Is it hard to believe? Of course. Even in the gospel we hear in the very next verses.
Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?

Yes it shocked them. The whole thing sounded crazy. Even today 2000 years later there are disciples, Christian who cannot accept it. But it is still true.

Christ understood that as human beings we needed him to make myself present to us in tangible ways. The Eucharist is something we can see touch taste and smell; bread and wine, the most basic foods that become truly Christ present to us, for us.

Yesterday we began the Fortnight for Freedom, two weeks of prayer focused on our basic right to live our faith. Light us not forget the center of that faith! and the sacrament through which he continually makes himself present to us.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Don't what?

The commandment in today's gospel may be even more difficult than the commandment to love your enemies. Don't worry. But if we look carefully, it's not as hard as you think.

First we have to distinguish between worry and concern. We should show concern, not only for our own lives but for the world in which we live. Striving to do the will of God should be our daily concern.

Worry is concern mixed with fear. Worry not only doesn't help but can actually impair our ability to engage in the kind of deliberation that should guide our choices. The gospel today invites to perfect trust, trust grounded in love, and love casts out all fear.

Is it possible to not worry? Yes, to the extent that we can trust. And we can trust only to the extent that we allow ourselves to believe that we are loved.

Believe that you truly are the beloved child of God, and you have taken the first step toward a worry-free life.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Covenant or Contract

Christians like to use the word covenant. We think it sounds warmer less legalistic that contract. Most of the time we don't really think about the difference.

In today's first reading from 2 Kings the temple of Baal is destroyed and the people turn back to the true God, and

Then Jehoiada made a covenant between the LORD as one party and the king and the people as the other, by which they would be the LORD’s people; and another covenant, between the king and the people.

Contracts are negotiated, they involve a quid pro quo, there is a sense of equality between the two parties.

contract 1) n. an agreement with specific terms between two or more persons or entities in which there is a promise to do something in return for a valuable benefit known as consideration.

Covenants in the scriptures are not such an exchange. Convents are grounded in dependency. One party realizes that they need the other party.

There are two covenants:
1) God and the people
2) the King and the people

Are the two sides equal? Of course not.
Are the terms required of both parties laid out? Of course not.
And what would be the punishment the people would inflict on God if he didn't fulfill his part of the quid pro quo? Silly!

A covenant is not a bargain; it is a relationship.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is both covenant and contract.

Marriage is a contract in that the parties are equal. There are specific things which must be contained in it: a commitment to fidelity, permanence, and an openness to the possibility of children.

It is a covenant in that the parties are there is a recognition of need and dependence.
It is a permanent relationship, not a 50/50 bargain where you give me this, I give you that.
And one persons failure to "keep their end of the bargain" doesn't void a covenant.

You enter a covenant "for better or for worse."

Too often we treat God like a contract.
God should do this, if I do that. Or we get mad because we did X and God didn't do Y.

We also fall into the pure contract sense of marriage, when we believe that sin on one parties part, frees the other party to divorce.

Contracts are clear, concrete well defined. Covenants are messy and relational. They are based in trust, willingness to entrust your very life into the hands of another.

We are all called to live in that covenant relationship with God, to daily recognize that without God we can do nothing. To free surrender into his love.

Like the people of Israel, most of us on some level vacillate, our own willfulness taking us over at times. This reading invites us like them to turn back this day. And re-entrust ourselves: not sinners in the hands of an angry God, but children in the hands of their loving Father.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Not just life after death but love after death

Like every religion Judaism has over the centuries had many internal debates. We Christians are most familiar with the Sadducees and the Pharisees. One of the debates was the question of which books should be considered inspired by God.

The book from which today's first reading comes, Sirach, was part of the debate. The reason we hold onto the book is that if you go back to the earliest Christians writings like the didache, they quote from it. If the first Christians considered it inspired, who am I to come along later and throw it out. We must be honest enough to acknowledge that part of the reason the Protestants threw out books like Sirach is that in them are found support for practices they did not like.

Today's reading ends:

Then Elisha, filled with the twofold portion of his spirit, wrought many marvels by his mere word. During his lifetime he feared no one, nor was any man able to intimidate his will. Nothing was beyond his power; beneath him flesh was brought back into life. In life he performed wonders, and after death, marvelous deeds.

The notion of people going to heaven and continuing after death to work marvelous deeds, has from the beginning of Christianity given rise to our practice of turning to the saints and asking for their intercession. We believe that we pray for one another not just in this life but forever, until the day when Christ's kingdom is brought to its fullness. We do not believe that once people reach heaven they stop caring about us, they stop praying for us.

I believe that my mother and father and brother are in heaven. I believe that they still love me. I believe that they turn to God on my behalf, and will do so until we are all together in eternal life. Do I worship them? No, I worship only God. But do I believe that talking to them is perfectly fine, because they are not dead and gone. I believe it is smart to ask for their help and support.

Today's reading tells us that Elisha did not stop after death, and neither do we. Once we have been purified, and enter into the kingdom of heaven, we not only love the ones we loved in this life, we love perfectly. And because we love, we care. And because we care, we intercede with the Father on behalf of those who are still passing through their earthly life.

Even if you are a Protestant and do not accept that the Book of Sirach is part of the inspired word of God, you cannot reject the simple logic of what we call the communion of the saints.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Questions are not bad

Some people fall into the trap of believing that faith means not questioning, and if you question somehow your faith is lacking.

When Jesus proclaims "My God, my God why have you abandoned me?", some can mistake this for a cry of despair. It is actually a reference to Psalm 22 which ends with a proclamation of the greatness of God.

Today we see the transition from Elijah to Elisha. Elijah is taken up in the whirlwind; Elisha picks up his mantle and asks, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?"

He has just had the great father figure if his life taken away. He stands feeling alone and left with an overwhelming responsibility. Who would not question in a moment like this? But when he repeats the action of Elijah, he goes down and strikes the river with the mantle, it divides. God's answer is the answer he gave when originally ask who he was, he is the one who is present. The God who will remain with him. It is the answer we here in the gospel, Emmanuel. Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah? God is with us.

Questioning is natural, it is reflexive, particularly in hard times. Most important is that we look and listen for the answer. Will God always show his presence in the great way he shows it to Elisha? Probably not. But God will always be with us.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Can't stop the ripple

Some people say, "Why do I need to go to confession? My sin is between me and God." I always think, "would that the world were that simple." There is no sin that doesn't ripple out and have consequences beyond the individual. The priest in confession speaks not only on behalf of God but all those people.

Yesterday we heard of Jezebel's sin. Today Ahab became an accomplice when he went down and took possession of the dead man's vineyard. He probably rationalized it by saying to himself, "well, I didn't have anything to do with killing him. And if I don't take the vineyard someone else will." But by profiting from Jezebel's sin, it became his as well.

Because you have given yourself up to doing evil in the LORD’s sight, I am bringing evil upon you: I will destroy you and will cut off every male in Ahab’s line

To our modern ear this rings harsh, but what God through Elijah is trying to teach is just how far the ripple effect of can go, for Good or for bad. Remember that God's promise to David rippled all the way down to Jesus. So good ripples as well as bad.

Our sins can effect generations of people.

When Ahab was confronted with his sin, he did his penance, and was forgiven. But the chain of events he had set in motion, God would not stop. And this chicken will come home to roost, not in his lifetime but in his son's.

The interconnectedness of humanity can be a wonderful thing. But it also means that when we sin, we can set in motion harm to others that we never intend or foresee. Like it or not our actions now will effect generations to come. That's just how God made the world. It is a law as real as gravity.

Monday, June 16, 2014

More than one sin

Sometimes we behave as if there was only one sin a woman in the Bible could commit. Mary Magdalene for example, there is nothing to suggest that she committed some sexual sin. Call someone a Jezebel and where does our mind go?

We forget that Jezabel was the wife of the King of Israel. Her great sin, as we see in today's reading, was not adultery; it was a well-intended lie and speaking in someone else's name.

Jezabel who holds no office writes letters in her husband's name. Her husband had attempted to buy a piece of land from the neighbor and the neighbor said no. The king is depressed. And so she writes letters to the nobles in his name, has them accuse the neighbor of blasphemy and the neighbor ends up stoned to dead. And the land is now available to Ahab, the king.

Was her intention to help her husband? Yes. But a lie is still a lie. She had no right to write in his name. If the king had wanted to do this, he would have. He didn't. He understood the limits of his power. If you remember, God never wanted his people to have human kings, but when they insisted God gave them a king, and warned them about the seductive nature of power.

In the modern age we still see this. When I used to work with the military the derogatory phrase to describe the behavior was "wearing her husband's rank", spouses behaving as if they had rank or honor. Closer to home, in the Church we have the wives of deacons who can fall into behaving as if Mrs Deacon, gives them some special place of power, forgetting that the word deacon means servant, and only one of them was ordained.

More generally, all of us can fall into this sin when we speak, particularly to those in authority, and use the word "people"instead of "I." There are always those in the church who will come up to the pastor( in any denomination) with a complaint that starts off, "People don't like...." One of our pastors famously responds, "Name three", which usually shuts them down, because they can't. We do it not only in church, but in writing to legislators and other leaders. The real sin underneath it is cowardice.

When Jesus told us, let your yes mean yes and your no mean no. It also has to be your yes or no. Unless we are the official representative of some group, we should have the courage to speak for ourselves, say "I don't like..." or "I think..." We should not play Jezabel and speak for others or hide behind words like "people" or "they." If what we are speaking is the truth we should stand up and speak it with courage and conviction. If it is merely our feelings or worse hearsay or gossip, perhaps we would be better not to speak it at all. Take it to pray. Discern with God. Then if there is a truth that needs to be spoken, stand up and speak in your own name.

In the coming days we will see what happens to her and to him,because of her actions. Here is where interconnectedness and unintended consequences come together to create a storm. And next time you go toward your boss at work with "people around here...", remember Jezebel.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Hyperbole again

When Jesus tells us to call no one teacher, or call no one father, or as today to not swear; these are all examples of hyperbole. After all, the person married to my mother I did call father. The person at school I did call teacher. And that was not a sin.

What Jesus is condemning is not swearing an oath in the legal sense or swearing in the southern sense (aka cussin'), but the all too common swearing that we do to add credence when our credibility is lacking. "I swear on my mother's grave" or the famous, "I didn't do it. I swear" which is almost always used by children to cover a lie. In Jesus's time it wasn't their mothers graves but Jersualem by which people swore. In different modern languages people use different expressions. The French for example swear on the head of their mother.

In modern American speech, the more common phrase are things like "to tell the truth,..." or "to be honest,..." And we use these phrases without often realizing what they imply, that we weren't telling the truth or being honest up to that point.

What Jesus is condemning is dissembling, the half truth, the so-called white lie, all of the things that erode our credibility. As he says directly, let you yes mean yes and your no mean no. If you have to swear that what you just said was the truth, your credibility is already gone. That's the point.

As Christians we should first of all, be silent more often. Grandma was right when she admonished us, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." When we are about to speak, even if it is the truth, we should ask what good is being served.

Today's gospel is not about swearing; it is about truthfulness and courage. Are there times when people demand information to which they have no right, or when to divulge it would do grave harm? Yes. But most of the time, we lie not to protect others but to protect ourselves, to simply avoid the uncomfortable situation.

Once more the gospel today calls us to pay more attention to what we say, to constantly be aware of the power of words. And perhaps more often choose silence.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hearing voices

As we pick up the story of Elijah the prophet has worn out his welcome by speaking the truth, and is on the run. He is hiding in a cave because he knows they are out to kill him.

God tell him to go outside because he is going to pass by. First a hurricane like wind, then an earthquake, then a fire all pass by but God is in not in any of them. Instead he is in "a tiny whispering sound" or it could be translated still whispering voice.

The key is the that voice or sound is so tiny and quiet that it could easily be missed. Only a practiced ear can separate it from all the noise around it.

Again our movie have done us no favors. We always portrait the voice of God as a booming bass. And people wonder why God doesn't speak to them, and answer their prayer.

Prayer is not just a time for us to read to God, or to go to God we what a navy wife friend used to call her "honey do list", the list of all the things her husband needed to do when he got back from deployment. To quote the psalmist, "Be still and know that I am God."

And even if we are still it takes patience and practice to hone our minds to hear that voice of God, telling us not just what we want to hear but what we need to hear. It's worth noting that God does not tell Elijah everything will be fine for him. On the contrary he tells him to get back to work, to go and annoint three people, the third on the list

Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, as prophet to succeed you.

He is to go and anoint his replacement.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Raising the bar

We often make the mistake of thinking that in the Old Testament you had all these commandments and Jesus came along and made life easier. The gospel today is just one example of how he not only made it more difficult; he made it impossible.

You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.

How are we supposed to go through life without even getting angry? For a human being that is impossible. But that is why he gave us grace.

Jesus didn't lower the bar. He raised it. Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Don't get angry. All of these things and more are impossible for us to do on our own. But with the help of God's grace we can do them all. And how do we get grace? Sacraments.

Jesus gave us the sacraments through which we receive the gift of grace, beginning with Baptism. From there we are called to live constantly in a state of grace. To help us stay in that state we have the Eucharist. "Give us this day our daily bread." That bread of life is available to us daily in churches all over the world to constantly nourish us and renew the grace within us.

And for the time when we step thoroughly out of the state of grace, we have the sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. I say step out rather than fall out, because you can accidentally fall, but you can't accidentally sin. Moral sin requires volition. You choose to step out of God's grace.

Eucharist and Penance were established by Christ to constantly make possible the impossible.

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

The scribes and Pharisees were not bad people they tried to know and follow the law. And yet we are told we must outdo them all if we want to get into heaven. And how do we do that? With God's grace constantly helping us: to know what is right, to want what is right, and to do what is right.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Paul and who?

We refer to Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles, but we forget that Paul did not do it alone. Several people traveled with Paul, and perhaps the one whom we should always remember is Barnabas whose feast day we celebrate today.

We are all the products of our culture, and perhaps what set Barnabas apart was the place of his birth and death, Cyprus. Like all of the apostles Barnabas was a Jew, but he was a Jew from Cyprus. What is so special about Cyprus? It s location. According to acheoolgy, humans had lived on Cyprus since at least 10,000 BC and because of the islands strategic location, every great empire in western history at some point conquered it Persians, Egyptians, Greeks Romans, the Ottoman Empire, and the British to names a few. Each leaving some bit of their culture as they were displaced by the next.

By the time of Barnabas, it would have been a predominantly Greek culture even though under the Roman Republic since 58 BC. As a Cypriot and a Jew Barnabas would have been perfectly prepared to be able to proclaim the gospel in a way that it could be understood and accepted by non-Jews from a variety of cultures. He was in that sense the perfect companion to travel with Paul as Christian took shape as a truly catholic religion.

As we look at the story of Barnabas we see once again how God works, how God's plan stretches out over years and lifetimes. From his birth, Barnabas was prepared for his role in the world and in the Church. But the same can be said of every one of us. God does not create a person without a purpose. If we exist, we exist for a reason. We are in someway a piece of the puzzle, a picture that only God can see.

Today in our prayer we turn to St. Barnabas, now living in heaven with all the apostles, and ask his intercession, that each of us may understand our unique mission in the world.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Not magic just Love

Today we have the well-known encounter between Elijah and the widow. The widow preparing to fix a last meal for herself and her child shows hospitality and shares what little she has with Elijah and as he prophesied

the jar of flour did not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, as the LORD had foretold through Elijah.

We just assume that the jar and jug magically stayed full, with no human intervention. And then we complain that we don't see miracles today like in the bible.

The bible never says how the jar and the jug were kept from going empty. Is it possible that Elijah in his preaching during that year told the story of the widow's hospitality and others made sure that they did not go hungry? If that happened would it not still be a miracle?

A miracle is not an event which violates the laws of physics. A miracle is an ah-ha moment, a moment when a person experiences the presence of God.

In the gospel 10 lepers are healed but only one experiences the miracle. Only one is able to recognize the hand of God in the event.

We want to dismiss any miracle that doesn't contain magic. No magic, no miracle seems to be our modern motto. We dismiss everything else as coincidence. And then we complain about what God doesn't do.

Time and again God uses human beings not only to proclaim his words but to manifest his loving presence.

Just the other day I was having a really bad day. I came home and there was a beautiful hand-written note in the mail from someone I never met. Coincidence or miracle? As far as I am concerned that was God at work.

Stop looking for magic, and see the miracle in whatever form it takes. Each Sunday we sing to God, "Heaven and earth are full of your glory" if we truly believe that how can we not be surrounded by signs of that glory? If we believe what we sing then the world is a miraculous place, if we have the eyes of faith to see.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ordinary Time

Today we pick up where we left off before Lent. Today is Monday of the 10th week in Ordinary Time. We probably need to catch up on the readings as well.

The first reading is from Chapter 17 of the First Book of Kings. After Solomon, the kingdom is split in two: the Kingdom of Israel, and the Kingdom of Judah (Jerusalem and environs, God keeping his promise to David). The two kingdoms are ruled by a series of gravely flawed kings. When we pick up the story Asa is ruling Judah, and Ahab is ruling Israel. Ahab has turned to the worship of Baal. In response, God sends a prophet named Elijah, and here is where we pick up the story 1 Kings 17.

Elijah prophesies a drought and the God tells him to go and hide. The modern name for the location is Wadi al-Yabis in the country of Jordan.

To our modern minds these readings seem unfair. Why would God punish a whole people with a drought for the sins of one. Once again our modern American individualism is shown to not be God's visions of humanity.

If we go back to Genesis, we see that God created a single humanity of which we are all parts. The question "Am I my brothers keeper?" was asked by the murder Cain. God created the man and said that it was not good for him to be alone. We are social by our very nature. Like it or not we are interconnected.

Yes, we are unique persons. And yes, we are part of one humanity. Once more it is not either/or. It is both/and.

The actions of one always have a ripple effect. They always effect others, even when the effect is not immediately seen. The good of one lifts up the whole and the evil of one brings down the whole. This is even more pronounced among those of us who are part of the body of Christ, and are bound together by the Holy Spirit.

It is a reminder to each of us that our individual choices matter, and that we must always use wisely the gift of free will that God has given to us. We are always either building up or tearing down.

Suppose I do nothing? That we call a sin of omission. If I do nothing, I have wasted a precious day of life God has given me.

Today use wisely the gift God has given you, and choose the path of life, the path that lifts up your brothers and sisters, the path of love.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

An Apostolic Church

Today we wear red in Church as we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. Some might ask, but didn't the Church begin when Jesus called those first disciples? And the answer would be no. We say that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The word apostle means messenger or envoy.

While those first disciples had gone out and done some preaching, with the crucifixion, they had allowed themselves to be overcome with fear. They had become paralyzed. Today's gospel, John, they were locked inside out of fear.

Jesus appears and does four things:

1) brings peace to their frightened hearts "Peace be with you"
2) he then commissions them as apostles "as the father as sent me so I send you"
3) breathes on the them filling them with the Holy Spirit
4) gives them the ability to forgive sins " Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” And here he establishes the sacrament of Penance. If someone asks how can a priest say, "I absolve you..." It is because on Pentecost Jesus passed on the ability to forgive sins to the apostles who passed it on to the leaders in the following generations.

On Pentecost we ceased to be merely followers of Jesus we became the Church, followers with a mission, followers with a purpose, followers empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Good News to the ends of the earth, fearless followers, fearless messengers.

When we say the Church is apostolic we don't simply mean it was founded on the apostles; we mean that we are called to carry our the apostolic mission, to be messengers, envoys of Jesus. The Good News that was handed down by the apostles, to the next generation, is the same Good News that we are called to hand on.

Today as we celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit, let us pray for a rebirth of the apostolic spirit in each of us. It's not difficult. If someone asks why they should go to Church, just quote Philip's response to Nathaniel, three words, "Come and See." Invite someone to come to church, invite someone to come back to church. Be fearless messengers.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The. move to Rome

We use the phrase Roman Catholic without thinking much about it. Today's readings take us back to the moment in the history of Christianity when the focal point shifted. The first followers of Jesus were Jews and the center of the faith was Jerusalem. But as we heard on Thursday, the Lord appearered to Paul and told him,

For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem,
so you must also bear witness in Rome.

And today we reach the point in the story when Paul was transferred to Rome under house arrest,

He remained for two full years in his lodgings.
He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance
and without hindrance he proclaimed the Kingdom of God
and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

And it was in these years before he was martyred that he planted the seeds of faith, that would grow into the Church as we know it today. When in Rome you can still visit the church of St. Peter in Chains and see the reliquary

As we hear the story of St. Paul, we are reminded what one person of faith can accomplish. We may not experience physical chains but many feel spiritually or psychologically chained. Today reminds us that the chains, even the house arrest could not stop St. Paul from carrying out his mission. The same Holy Spirit that empowered him, can empower each of us. He was chained but not hindered. We can be as well.

Friday, June 6, 2014

You can't undo the past?

We've all heard the expression and yes it is true, partially. It is true that we human beings cannot undo the past, but God faces no such limit.

In today's gospel we hear Peter questioned three times "do you love me?" And with each question and answer, Peter's triple-denial of Christ is unwound. And Peter is restored to the state that prepares him to assume his role as the head of the Church.

We human beings live in 3-dimensional space and we experience time one second at a time, moving forward. God on the other hand exists outside of space-time. It's what allows God to be omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent (all-knowing, ever-present, and all powerful). God is not only simultaneously present to every place but every time.

This may all sound like abstract theology until we look at how our past impacts our present. Many of us have experienced some event in the past which left us with a wound, and even when it is somewhat healed there remains an emotional scar that shapes the way we behave. If God, however, exists outside of time, then there is nothing to prevent God from reaching back and healing the event all the way down to its very source. In canon law we have a term, sanatio in radice, healing at the root.

The only impediment is us. Sometimes we consciously or subconsciously choose to hold on to our injuries. As we read the story of the healing of Peter's great sin and shame, we are once more reminded that there is nothing in us that cannot be healed if we will allow it.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Holding on to our principles

This morning when I saw the upcoming time magazine cover, with the question, "Was it worth it?" and the picture of Bowe Bergdahl, one thought popped into my head. As Catholics we believe in the sanctity of all human life, not just innocent human life, but all human life.

Does it answer the question? No. There are many factors that must be considered. And I will be humble enough to willingly admit I don't have access to enough information to have in informed opinion on the president's decision. But I am certain that as each of us are forming our opinions one piece of the puzzle must be our belief in the sanctity of human life.

It is easy for us to think of babies and see sanctity. It becomes exponentially harder when the person in question has done wrong.

Are there times when we must lock a person away for the rest of their life? Yes. Are there times when in the name of legitimate defense we must kill? Yes. But the sacredness that human life has because it is created in the image and likeness of God remains even in the worst criminal. It is why we are told that we must love our enemies, because they too are created in the image and likeness of God, they too have souls.

So am I saying we have to love the 5 Taliban leaders? Yes. I can't find where Jesus gave us an out. This is one of many areas where Jesus parted ways with the Old Testament.

Again, this doesn't mean we should have released them. It doesn't mean we should have traded them for Bergdahl. But it does make the calculation more complex. It's what makes being a Christian so difficult. How do we simultaneously love our enemies, and defend our nation?

More than ever we need the spirit of wisdom and right judgement for ourselves and for our leaders. As Pentecost approaches let us pray for that Spirit.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Not a competiton

Into today's Gospel we hear the great prayer of Jesus, "That they may be one."

Thirty-four years ago I made the choice to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church. After much study, prayer and reflection, I came to believe what the Church teaches. That Jesus established only one Church, as the apostles creed, recited by many churches confirms. That one Church "subsists in" the Catholic Church.

At Vatican II they very carefully chose the word "subsists in" as opposed to "is." There were those who wanted to draw a bright line and say that the Catholic Church is the Church. The Catholic Church says something more nuanced.

There are two extremes that are equally mistaken. One says "Only the members of the Catholic Church are saved." The other extreme says "Any group that calls itself a church is an equally good path to salvation". If we believe that there is any such thing as the truth, then some things are true and some are not. Not ever statement made by every person who calls themselves a minister can be equally true. That defies reason.

As Catholics we believe that there are some essential elements which were established by Christ himself, and to the extent that the essentials are present, the Church is present in any ecclesial community. By the way, the term ecclesial community is not derogatory. It acknowledges that there are some Christians who call themselves something other than a church, for example the Imani Temple in DC.

For myself, the deeper I delve into the scriptures, the more certain I become that Jesus did give the Church a shape. He gave her sacraments. He have her certain undeniable truths to teach. Our Catholic faith is unquestionably rooted in the scriptures. We are a Bible based faith.

At the same time, our understanding of Jesus and the Church only deepens in dialogue with other believers who interpret the scriptures differently. We should not be afraid to enter into the conversation. We should not simply accept the status quo. The one thing hopefully all Christians can agree on is that Jesus never intended for his followers to be divvied as we are today.

Ίνα ωσιν εν - ina osin en- three Greek words from Jn 17:11- That they may be one. As we prepare to celebrate Pentecost and the outpouring of the one Holy Spirit, may we pray for that Spirit to draw into a closer unity, the unity Jesus intended, the unity Jesus established.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The whole truth

Which of us is not familiar with those words" Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?" We hear them on TV constantly.

In these last days of the Easter season, we are coming to the end of Paul's journeys. Today Paul, gathers the presbyters from around Ephesus and delivers his farewell address. He ends by saying,

And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.

He knows well that much of what he said to them was not well received. But he understood that proclaiming the gospel means not just telling the parts of the truth that people want to hear, but daring to tell the whole truth.

Do we want the Pope, our bishops, priests, and deacons to preach the whole truth? Come on, let's be honest. No one likes to hear the whole truth. We think if American culture accepts something, the Catholic Church should follow. If other churches do something and its popular, the Catholic Church should follow. I've heard Pope Francis called a socialist, because he dares to challenge our approach to economics.

Most pastors want happy parishioners. And I am not suggesting that anyone should get up on Sunday and harangue the people of God. But we must find ways to convincingly proclaim the hard parts of the Good News.

We call ourselves disciples, that is students, because we should always be learning, growing, changing. If we look into our hearts we will all find, I suspect, subjects on which we think the Church should change and conform to our way of thinking. Instead of changing the church, we should stay focused on changing ourselves. To be a true disciple means opening every corner of our lives to hear the whole truth, and allowing ourselves to be transformed, molded more fully each day into the image of Christ.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The virtue of courage

In these days between the Ascension and Pentecost the readings turn our attention toward the meaning of the Holy Spirit. The first reading once again points to what the Church will distinguish as two sacraments: baptism and confirmation.

In the gospel the reference is more indirect. On the surface it is merely one of many stories of Jesus preparing the disciples for life after the crucifixion.

Behold, the hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone.

He knows the frailty of even his chosen apostles. He knows how easily we are frightened, how easily we are discouraged. That is why he adds,

But I am not alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world

Two things. Firstly he repeats a theme we can never recall enough; we are never alone. We are never in isolation.

Secondly, the last four words. I have conquered the world. The word here can be translated conquer, subdue, be victorious, overcome. What is worth noting is that even before his crucifixion he speaks of it in the past, as something he has already accomplished.

This certainty that he has conquered the world is indeed the very source of the virtue to which we are called, courage. Our courage comes from our certainty that Christ has already conquered the world (cosmos). This courage is not the virtue of which the Greeks wrote, (andreia) manliness. This courage is tharsos, courage rooted in confidence in God. We can easily confuse the two.

Phrases like "suck it up" or "stand on your own two feet". Those are calls to the Greek virtue of courage. Christian courage is not rooted in us, but in him. We face the troubles of life not with any strength of our own but the strength that comes from the Holy Sprit, the strength we have because of our absolute trust in the power of God, which no force in the cosmos can overcome.