Thursday, July 31, 2014

Remaining mailable

Today Jeremiah provide a different metaphor, the image of the potter and the clay. The Lord said to Jeremiah,

like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel.

The book of Genesis tells us that God took the earth (adamah) and formed it into a adam (person) and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. But Jeremiah reminds us of something we can forget. God forming us is not a one time process. God can constantly remake us.

Whenever the object of clay which he was making turned out badly in his hand, he tried again, making of the clay another object of whatever sort he pleased.

We can be 70 or 80 years old, and the potter can still make of us another object of whatever sort he pleases. Until the moment when we draw our last breath, he can make of us another object of whatever sort he pleases.

There is only one catch. We must remain mailable, and unlike clay we have a choice. We can become hardened in the kiln of our own hearts. God has given us the freedom to choose to step out of the potters hands. How many people talk about shaping their own life, shaping their own destiny? In the US, we talk about it as if it were a virtue. There is no virtue in removing ourselves from the hands of the potter.

The real virtue is the opposite, and it requires great discipline: to remain every moment of every day in the hands of the potter allowing him to constantly mold us and shape us, adapt us to perfectly fit whatever situation. One moment we may need to be the silent listener, another the prophet. One moment we need to be a gentle lamb, another the lion. To every thing there is a season.

As we go through the day, let pray that in each situation God will reshape us into exactly what is needed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Selling ourselves

In the gospel today we have a repeat from Sunday, the two parables: the man who sells all he has to buy the field and the man who sells all he has to buy the pearl of great price.

Why two stories of men doing the same thing? They aren't doing the same thing. While we translate both as "sell", St. Matthew uses two different words. The first man for the field, "trades" or "barters." The second man "disposes of", the verb can even be used to refer to selling someone into slavery— a much more radical idea.

Most people think a priest is a priest. But in the church there are important differences. I am a diocesan priest. We do not take vows, despite what people think, we make promises. I promised to live a celibate life, respect and obedience to the bishop and his successors, and to pray for the Church.

Men and women who are members of religious institutes take vows. Instead of constantly saying members of religious institutes we call them simply "religious" for short. You may also hear terms like monk, brother, sister, nun, mother, etc. Without going into all the distinctions, what they all have in common is what we term the "total donation of self." Like the man for the pearl of great price they give their entire self. They do this through three vows:

Poverty- their property
Chastity-their most intimate self
Obedience -their self determination.

As much as we diocesan clergy hate to admit it, the Church still see this as a higher calling. And we should each day pray for men and women to have the courage to say yes to the unique vocation of the religious, in all of the various communities of religious (Benedictine, Franciscan, Dominican, etc.).

As for the rest of us, while we have not taken the vows of the religious, we are called in our daily lives to constantly hand ourselves over to God. To trade our will for his. To be his servants.
While we own our possessions, we should always see ourselves as caretakers. And even the love of husband and wife should be chaste, directly always to one and only one other, their spouse.

It requires daily sacrifice, but if we believe the kingdom is truly a treasure with a value beyond measure, then it is a simple choice.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The better part not the only part

One of those questions I want to ask God is why we human beings always want binary choices, either this or that. This AND that seems much harder for us to deal with.

Today is the memorial of St. Martha. Everyone seems ready to say who are the Martha's and who are the Mary's. In reality we should all be both. The verse reads

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”

Notice Mary hasn't chosen the only part or the only acceptable part. She has simply chosen the better part.

Saturday morning I weeded my flower beds. I love the visible sense of accomplishment, a tangible result. But which was the better part: the time I spent doing that or the time I spent in prayer?

If we sat around in prayer, meditation, and reading the bible all day our lives would collapse. We have to be Martha. We all have to be Martha. But we should never let the Martha take over our lives or believe that the Martha is the better part.

The most important thing I do each day is pray. I start each day with God and I sitting on the porch having coffee.

It should be the Mary that drives the Martha. Our prayer should guide our action. But the Martha is essential. Faith without works is empty. Unloading the dishwasher, doing laundry, cooking dinner, the most mundane things in life- but they are all essential, and they are all ministry if done in the Spirit.

The problem most of us have is not the working part of Martha, it is where Jesus starts,

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.

If we truly believe that prayer is the most important thing we can do each day, then why be anxious and worried? Why be anxious and worried at all. What did anxiety and worry ever accomplish? It only shortens our lives. Mostly it shortens our earthly life, but if we let it interfere with our relationship with God, it can even rob us of eternal life. Anxiety and worry serve no purpose.

Today be Martha. Be Martha every day. Care for others. Be hospitable. Get your work done. But remember, no matter how much you do, it is never the better part of your day. The better part is always the one on one time with God.

Monday, July 28, 2014

How close can we be?

There are a few things that even the closest of friends will not readily share. Toothbrushes are the first things to come to mind. But somewhere on the list for most people is underwear, particularly unwashed underwear.

There are no human words to describe God's love and so the best God can do to communicate with us is metaphors like the love of a mother for a child, the eagle circling her brood.

In the first reading today, God uses one of the strangest of metaphors, underwear. Yes, it sounds somehow holier when we say loincloth but the function is the same. The piece of clothing that touches your most intimidate parts. In trying to explain to Jeremiah what the relationship is supposed to be, God uses a loincloth.

For, as close as the loincloth clings to a man’s loins, so had I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the LORD; to be my people, my renown, my praise, my beauty

It isn't a particularly attractive image, the notion that we are God's underwear, but there is something to be said for the earthiness of it. After all what piece of clothing is more personal, intimate? What piece of clothing knows the parts you do not want the world to see? —The messy parts.

The sad part of the story is that God made us to cling to him like that loincloth, and yet as he tells Jeremiah,

But they did not listen

God reminds us today that not only does he know the most intimidate recesses of our hearts, but he has given us also access to the most intimate parts of him. We are meant not to be the hat, shirt, belt or sandals. God has called us to the deepest most personal, most intimate relationship possible. It is offered as free gift.

Today, say yes. Let us open our ears and listen. Let us open our hearts to receive.

Sunday, July 27, 2014


There are words and phrases that mark every generation and culture. Some become so over-used that they grate on your nerves. In our present generation we constantly hear people saying, "It's all good." My first response (in my head of course) is, "No, it's not!" There is evil in the world. There are things that are good, and things that are bad. There is such a thing as sin. It is not all good.

The sad truth is that if you listen to the tone of voice with which some people say, "It's all good", what you will hear is "I don't care" or "It doesn't bother me", an attempt at emotional detachment, and attempt at avoiding pain.

But as a Christian there is a healthy understanding of the phrase. If we use it as a paraphrase of St. Paul's letter to the Romans.

for those who love God all things work together for good ( panta synergei eis agthon).

The key to this passage is the word synergei from which we get the word synergy. The difference is that we are not saying that each individual things is good. We know that some things are bad, some are evil. The child being shot at the McDonald's in my parish was evil, mortal sin. What St. Paul is telling us is not that the individual pieces are all good, but that God can take even the most horrible thing in the world and put it together with his grace so that the sum total, the panta is in fact Good. -the Divine Synergy.

Someone insults you. Let it go. God will counter balance it. My brother was killed in a car accident when he was 17 and I was 12. I thought it was the end of the world. Four years later God sent Harold (who I just was visiting in Costa Rica) and I not only had a new brother but a whole second family to love me until Michael and I are back together in heaven.

Even when we are the ones who are responsible for wrecking our own life, God can take that and turn it to the good, if we hold on to our faith. Remember the verse does start off "for those who love God." Actually the verse starts off with another more important word oidamen "we know". St Paul doesn't claim that this is something that we believe; it is something we know.

Notice this is not karma. Nowhere does St. Paul tell us that God will repay evil with evil. As a matter of fact in the same Letter to the Romans we are commanded

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.

And in First Peter we hear:

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

If I know that for every bad word spoken to me or about me, every bad thing that happens to me, in the Divine Synergy, God is going to make it work out to the good then who can possibly rob me of my peace? Why do I need to get angry or upset? There is only one thing I need to do, Remain always among those who love God .

Saturday, July 26, 2014


This statue stands in the corner of my backyard. St. Anne and St. Mary as a small child. Mary is depicted reading the scriptures. They would of course been the Hebrew Scriptures. Whether or not it is historically accurate doesn't really matter. It is a piece of art that invites us to meditate, meditate on the mother who raised the girl who became the most famous woman in the history of the world.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Anne. In Hebrew the name would have actually been Hannah (favor or grace). What we know of her and her her Joachim come from a document known as the protoevangelion of James. Like hundreds of other early Christian writings it is not considered the inspired word of God and is therefore not in the Bible. But like the other early Christian writings it does contain some information that can be interesting and useful. Just because it isn't in the Bible doesn't mean parts of it aren't true. Nor does it mean they are "Lost Gospels".

Are the names of Mary's parents essential for salvation? No. But it is worth reflecting on who they were, and what the experience of their daughter and grandson meant to them. How did they react to the news of Mary's pregnancy? What role did they play in the life of their grandchild Jesus? How did they react to his death and ressurection? Were they still alive at that point?

We sometimes think about Jesus Mary and Joseph as if they lived in a bubble. We forget that there would of course have been parents of Joseph and Mary, most probably they would have had brothers and sisters as well, aunts and uncles of Jesus.

Jesus grew up in a world in which extended family was still essential. Did Mary's mother teach her to read as depicted in the statue in my yard? Perhaps not. But did she instill in her a deep devotion to God and his Word? Absolutely.

We all know the old saying, the apple does not fall far from the tree. Today let us take a moment to reflect on the tree from which Mary fell, St. Anne, along with all the other holy men and women who would have been part of the early life of Jesus, those years not included in the Bible, the men and women who had the unique privilege of watching him grow, from from the infant in the manger to the man, the man who would call his apostles, live, die, and ascend, returning to his place at the right hand of the father.

St. Anne is venerated by Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican Churches. Even Martin Luther's decision to enter religious life is said to have been the result of his crying out to St. Anne.

Today let us turn to grandmother who is surely with her daughter and her grandson in heaven. Through her intercession may we to have the faith to say, let it be done unto me according to your will.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Design flaw

If we look at ourselves, we have to wonder if there isn't a design flaw. Yes, someone could say we were perfect until original sin. But then, didn't God know when he made the first man and woman that they were going to sin? Of course he did.

We live in bodies that are constantly changing. Our minds flit from one thing to the next. We know what we ought to do, but don't do it. Bad habits seem to stick immediately and the good ones take years to develop. Our emotions get the better of us. We are sensitive to cold and heat And there are plenty of other animals that are stronger and faster. And to top it all off, we like to beat ourselves up for all these things. Surely there must be a flaw in the design.

And yet, the first reading today reminds us of why there isn't.

We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.

It's all part of the plan, the plan to make us totally dependent on God. St. Paul reminds us that we are built to not be able to get though a single day without God's assistance.

In the Book of Genesis, God took the adamah (earth, dirt) and shaped it into something he called adam (a human being). We were made fragile from the get go.

I remember the uproar from some corners when Rome made it clear that we were not to use pottery for mass, no clay chalices, etc. The vessels for the body and blood of Christ must be the opposite of fragile, they must be unbreakable.

At mass we who are the earthen vessel, drink from the unbreakable the grace and power that comes from God. As much as we need air and food, we need God. We are not flawed human beings, we are dependent human beings. Our biggest mistake is thinking we should be something else or trying to be something else. The minute we disconnect from God, and try to run on our own, we are like an engine without oil. We will run for a little bit, and then...

The best thing we can do is own our earthenness, so that as St. Paul says,

the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


In passage we know well, where Jesus explains that the people look but do not see, hear but do not listen or understand, in St. Matthew's version there is a diagnosis given. He says that

The hearts of the people "epachenthe" (a verb that means to become thick or enlarged). Mt 13:15.

In modern medicine we call it cardiomyopathy. The heart muscle becomes thick, enlarged and/or rigid. The real danger of cardiomyopathy is that often there are no signs or symptoms. The people who have it don't even realize it. It develops slowly in most cases. And over time it kills.

The cardiomyopathy Jesus is talking about is of course spiritual not physical. It also usually happens gradually over time. So much so that we don't even notice. Our hearts become thick, and rigid. Our concern for others slowly disappears, beginning with people we don't like, then people we don't know, an ever shrinking circle of concern, until the only one we are focused on is ourselves. As the disease progresses, "thy will be done" becomes "I like things done a certain way." We only listen to people who think like us.

This spiritual cardiomyopathy is far more deadly than the physical form. It can rob us of eternal life.

The good news is that it is completely reversible. The treatment begins with a thorough examination of conscience. For the Catholics, this should be followed by a trip to the confessional. And then, the only way to keep it from reoccurring is daily prayer. And not just that prayer where we pray for ourselves and or friends and family, but real Christian prayer where we exercise the muscle of our heart and we pray for people we don't like, people whose actions we don't understand.

Part of the reason we need to go to mass and not just pray by ourselves is that we need to get together with the grumpy old man, the negative woman, the crying baby. We need to pray surrounded by people who are imperfect, just like us. We need to sit shoulder to should with the mess of humanity and remember that God loves us all equally, and we equally need God's grace.

Take a moment today do a self-examine. Truth be told, we all suffer, particularly as we get older, from a little heart disease. But the spiritual kind only kills us if we let it. The cure is always available. Our hearts can always be restored to perfect health, with the grace of God.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Who are you?

This morning we hear the call of the Prophet Jeremiah, the prophet who proves that wisdom is not reserved to the aged, youth can speak wisdom as well, sometimes better. The call is composed of some of the most beautiful words in the Bible.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you

I remember reading these words as a child and finding great comfort in them. Most of us who were foster children, adopted children, given up or abandoned by our biological parents, as children wonder why they didn't want us. Phrases like "unintended pregnacy," "unwanted pregnancy," or even "accident" cut us to our very souls.

The words of Jeremiah remind us that in the eyes of God there are no unwanted pregnancies. While the human beings who conceive a child may neither intend nor want the child, God who forms the child in the mother's womb, God who places the soul in the child, has a plan. Even before a child is born, God knows that child, has a relationship with that child, loves that child, and has a mission for that child. God already sees and knows the adult that he intends that child to be.

God doesn't care who conceived us or how we were conceived. In God's eyes we are all created to be his children. That and that alone is our truest identity and the source of a dignity that can never be taken away.

How many people are walking the earth today feeling worthless because of circumstance over which they have no control. Where and how our lives began does not matter. It is what we do with our lives that counts. God told Jeremiah,

To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak.

And Jeremiah did the will of his Father. May we today recognize who our real parents are and do the will of our Father, today and every day.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Absolute trust

If we look around, we are surrounded by the signs of God's loving presence. But in the gospel today Jesus reminds us that we should not depend on them.

An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign

The language can sound harsh, but isn't really. It is simply a reminder of the nature of real love. Real love does not need constant reaffirmation. Real love cannot be grounded in signs but in trust.

The signs of God's presence around us are great things. It is a wonderful thing when we feel God's presence. But what happens when we don't? There are always going to be times we we neither feel nor see signs of God's presence. If we have allowed ourselves to get caught up in feelings and signs then we are going to be in real trouble.

There are three theological virtues: faith, hope and love. The first is always faith, absolute unconditional trust in God. Even in 21st century secular America our money still says it. "In God we trust."

So if you sit down to pray and you don't feel anything, you don't hear God speaking to you, you don't see any signs of God's presence,count that as a blessing. Because then you get the chance to exercise real faith.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Spiritual Gardening

The parable of the weeds and the wheat is exactly that a parable, and not an allegory. In a allegory, characters and objects represent specific ideas on a one to one basis. Parables are different because there are multiple levels of meaning.

Today's parable can rightly be looked at as a reference to how God's leniency, mentioned in the first reading, works. While the servants want to rip out the weeds immediately, in our modern language "swift justice." The master tells them to wait for harvest time. For us this is a clear symbol of the last judgement, the final separation into heaven and hell.

But there is another level on which we can look at this parable and this brings us back to the topic of purgatory. If we look at the parable on a personal level, we all have within us both wheat and weeds. There are within all of us, attitudes, feelings, prejudices, old injuries, thoughts and feelings that we should not have, and can not take with us into heaven.

This parable reminds us that at the time of the harvest, god will not only separate the good people from the bad. He will also reach into each of our hearts and separate the wheat from the weeds, cleansing us of everything that is not good and holy, everything that is not love. We will finally be truly free, purged of every impulse that keeps us from being the person God created us to be. With the weeds removed when can then spend eternity falling ever more deeply into the love that is God. This final weeding we call purgatory, and eternity in God's presence we call heaven.

Perhaps as a part of today's Sabbath it might be good for each of us to look into our hearts and do some weeding ourselves. Can we start by identifying the weeds? Or perhaps we need to take a step back, and ask God to help us to see the weeds we cannot see, the ones that travel under the surface. If we do not tend the spiritual garden of our heart, the weeds can and will take over.

Today is a good day for gardening.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Who do we blame?

We like life simple. When something happens, we immediately jump to the question of who is at fault. The problem is that it is rarely one person. Sure, the final action may have been carried out by one person, but was that one person the only one responsible?

Today's first reading looks behind the final actor. 

Woe to those who plan iniquity, and work out evil on their couches

Every war begins with planners, some one or ones who plan the first attack. There is deliberation and decision. And as the prophet Micah reminds us those people are rarely in the field; they are "on their couches." They work out, first a rationalization to justify their actions, then they work out the plan. They often stay a comfortable distantace from the death and distruction. But the responsibility is theirs. 

This weekend we pray for the 298 whose earthly lives were cut short by a missle. We pray for their families. But let us also pray for all those people around the world who are at this moment planning the distruction of others, any others, not just Americans.  We pray for the victims and as Christians we pray for the planners on their couches. Until their hearts are chnaged, there will always be another war. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What do we want in life?

Today Isaiah continues reminding us:
When your judgment dawns upon the earth, the world’s inhabitants learn justice O LORD, you mete out peace to us, for it is you who have accomplished all we have done

But with those words are others that are more difficult.

Your name and your remembrance are the desire of our souls. My soul yearns for you in the night, yes, my spirit within me keeps vigil for you;

It sounds beautiful but is it true? What do we desire most in the world? According to Isaiah it should be to be a child of God (his name) and to be held in God's thoughts (his remembrance).

As Christian we are baptized in his name. We come his adopted children. We have what Isaiah desired most in the world. And yet how much energy do any of of waste fretting over what we do not have, or being angry and jealous because of what someone else has. If what we do not have are true necessities it would be one thing, but often what we desire is not only not a necessity; it is something that isn't good for us. If you are reading this on the internet or your smartphone chances are you are like me, you have all of the real necessities of life.

Today let us be thankful for all that we have and let us turn our hearts to what we really need an even deeper oneness with God.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sin or virtue

Pride is a tricky thing.

If we look to philosophy we find that there is a positive form of pride μεγαλοψυχία (megapsychia), literally "greatness of soul." It sits between two vices, vanity (overestimating yourself and abilities) and pusillanimity ( underestimating to the point of fear and inaction).

Isaiah in today's first reading shows us the vanity of mankind, the kind of pride that is a sin.

Will the axe boast against him who hews with it? Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it? As if a rod could sway him who lifts it, or a staff him who is not wood!

If I take pride in myself and see all I have done in life as my accomplishment then it is a sin. If on the other hand, I am not afraid because I know "with God all things are possible." If I acknowledge that I am merely, to use Isaiah's metaphor; the axe, the saw, or the rod, it is virtue.

Often we Christians can confuse humility with self-deprecation. Self-deprecation is not a virtue it is a denial of our dignity as member of the Body of Christ, and can keep us from accomplishing the mission God has given us.

For a Christian we can have the good pride, greatness of soul, when we acknowledge that all we do, we do with and through God, the greatness of our soul comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit. We can boast but as St. Paul teaches us,

Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.

We should neither over-estimate or under-estimate our ability. We should be filled with pride in being God's children, ready to share that with the world. As St. Matthew tells us,

Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

In the end it is simple. To know if your pride is the sin or the virtue, ask one question. To whom are you giving the glory?

Today let us go out and be great souls, proud members of Christ, great instruments in the hand of God, building up the kingdom.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The other theologian

When we think of Catholic theologians the first name that comes to mind for most people is St. Thomas Aquinas. But what is the second name?

Unfortunately today's saint is not one that jumps to mind when most people think of theologians, but it should be. The paths of St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure ran parallel for much of their lives. The were both members of mendicant orders, dedicated to spreading the gospel to the people, and the are the finest representatives of their two orders and schools of theology, St. Thomas the Dominican, St. Bonaventure the Franciscan.

While the Franciscans are associated with their care for the poor, and nature, in no way should we forget their contribution to theology. St. Boanventure was as much an intellectual as St. Thomas. Both are "Doctors of the Church", a title which designates those with the greatest contribution to theology. St. Thomas is known as the angelic doctor, but interestingly St. Bonaventure as the seraphic doctor.

The word Seraph literally means burning ones. In Christian angelology they are the highest rank of angels. The prophet Isaiah in vision sees the surrounding the throne of God. They are the ones who cry out "Holy, Holy, Holy." The fire with which they burn is love.

Back in 2010 Pope Benedict summarized this focus of Bonaventure's theology in these words

for St Bonaventure the ultimate destiny of the human being is to love God, to encounter him and to be united in his and our love. For him this is the most satisfactory definition of our happiness.

Theology is an intellectual activity, it involves both faith and reason, but St. Bonaventure in a particular way reminds us that its goal is always to draw us closer and more in love with God, our only real happiness.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The worst disease

We start off the week this morning being chastised by God through the prophet Isaiah.

Trample my courts no more!
Bring no more worthless offerings;
your incense is loathsome to me.
New moon and sabbath, calling of assemblies,
octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear.
Your new moons and festivals I detest;
they weigh me down, I tire of the load.

And why so harsh? It's not because the religious ritual itself is bad, but because it is not accompanied by a corresponding love of neighbor.

Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

Once more we are faced with the disease most dangerous to all religious people, hypocrisy. In the temple or at Church we are religious, everywhere else we are just another average person.

Lately we have heard a lot of talk about hostility toward religion, and while religion has disappeared from the public square, I can't help but wonder if it is less the fault of some conspiracy and more the fault of us Christians.

Of those of us who applaud the Supreme Court for its decision in Town of Greece v Galloway, allowing prayer at city council meetings, how many of us bother to say blessing before we eat in a restaurant?

How many Christian families pray together at all? When you get to work before you start the day, do we pause to pray? Is there anything about our behavior that would indicate our religion to our co-workers?

If we hide our faith, why should we be surprised when over time it vanishes from society in general. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that we have to start with our own lives. We should attend church, we should participate in the Eucharist, but then we should also go out the door of the Church and proudly live our faith, caring for those in need, but making it clear that what we are doing is not mere philanthropy but Christian caritas.

The simple "have a blessed day" from the woman at McDonald's is a perfect example. I know from those four words said in passing that she is a woman of faith. It's not in your face, or confrontational. It is just an expression of her faith. Imagine if each of us just did one or two little things to make faith more visible in our public lives, consciously connecting church, home, and work.

If we hide our light under the basket, how can we complain about the attitude of others toward our faith.

Saturday, July 12, 2014


In today's gospel we hear:

they look but do not see, and hear but do not listen or understand

We see and hear constantly. We are inundated with sights and sounds. One of the things I am enjoying the most about this vacation is quiet. 

As I reflect on these words from the gospel I am drawn to the mounting research on the human brain and its limitation.  While all of our sense can be operating at the same time, our mind can only truly attend to one thing at a time. Our brain makes up for this limitation by switching back and forth between senses so that we think we are doing two things at once, like reading and listening to music. In fact, we are not doing both our brain is simply switching between the two. 

For centuries magicians have known about our ability to only pay attention to one thing at a time. Most traditional magic tricks work by misdirecting that attention. 

Some of the worst examples of our looking but not seeing and hearing but not listening are when we drive while talking on the phone or talk over somebody in a conversation, or even start thinking about our response before the other person is finished talking. 

In every case our brain is switching back and forth and in the switching we are missing things, sometimes very important things. Once we realize that we can only truly pay attention to one thing at a time we are half way home. 

To look and actually see, to hear and actually listen and understand takes practice. We notice this most when we try to meditate. The moment we try to be quiet everything on our to-do list floods our brain, focusing our attention on God is hard. 

Now is a good time to start over. This week we can all pay better attention. When someone is talking don't just hear, but listen and understand. Understand not what you already think but what they are actually saying. When looking at someone or something, stop and actually see it or them. 

We should not be those people Jesus talks about in the gospel, but all too often we are. The good news is that we can all change. Decide what or who is most important at any given moment and simply pay attention. 

Forgiveness and. Mission

We close the week with the prophet Isaiah. In his vision he hears the angels cry out words which we imitate each time we celebrate the Eucharist "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Hosts. Heaven and Earth are full of your glory." Then there is the image of penance that seems strange to our modern sensibilities. After Isaiah confesses that he is a man of unclean lips,

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it and said, “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged."

Cleansed of his sins he is now ready to carry out his mission, and make his famous petition,

Here I am, send me!

On Saturday afternoons around the country priests sit in confessionals, ready to exercise the ministry handed on to the Church when Jesus said to the apostle after his ressurection,

Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained

It is done with much less drama, but with no less effect. As God used the angel to forgive Isaiah after his confession, so today God uses his priests as the instruments and messengers of forgiveness.

As importantly, once we receive the gift of God's forgiveness we should not simply walk away forgiven, but like Isaiah we too should offer our lives in service of God. In gratitude for the gift of God's forgiveness we too should ask with all our heart,

Send me!

And God will indeed show you your particular mission in the world.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Remembering our founders

When i first arrived in Rome to live, there was group who needed a priest to go with them 40 miles east of Rome to a place called Subiaco and so in my ignorance I went. I had no idea of this history that was made there. By the time we left I understood that I had been to a truly holy place.

Benedict from a well to do family had left his studies at age seventeen. In the mountains near Subiaco he encountered a monk named Ramano and because of that encounter went on to spend three years living in a cave, as a hermit. He emerged a changed man, the man who would be called the father of western monasticism. His rule would shape monastic life as we know it.

At the center of his rule was a principle called epiekeia. This word has no single English equivalent. You will see it translated as equity, clemency, leniency, suitability, mildness, gentleness. It appears in the Bible at Acts 24:4 and 2 Cor 10:1 where Paul writes

Now I myself, Paul, urge you through the gentleness and clemency (epiekeia) of Christ

The word describes that which sits in the perfect balance spot between disorder and rigid discipline. It is worth noting the other word St. Paul uses with it praotes, translated here as gentleness it also includes meekness and humility.

It would be nice if we could stop judging others but we all do it, regularly. Today as St. Benedict looks down on us from his place in heaven perhaps we can at least alter the way we judge. We we start to make that judgement about a coworker, boss, family member, friend or just another driver on the road, remember the many meanings of epiekeia.

St. Benedict, pray for us.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What makes. God so different

If you have been reading Hosea this week, you have seen all of the many ways the people have been unfaithful to God and yet in chapter 11 today God returns to the image of the father with his infant son, how he holds him in his arms, and teaches him to walk. But he also talks about how this child misbehaves and how livid it makes the father.

But despite everything Israel has done wrong God promises:

I will not give vent to my blazing anger

Why will he not vent his anger?

For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you;

God may feel sadness and even anger at his child. What parent doesn't? I remember well the number of times my mother threatened to kill us or smack us into the middle of next week. But she never did. She loved us too much.

And God loves us even more. God is not like us. God does not loose his temper. The worst we get from God is the old expression "you made your bed, now you lie in it." But even there God's mercy kicks in and if we are repentant, we only have to lie in it for short while.

God always keeps his promises but not his threats.

At its foundation the story of Hosea and his unfaithful wife Gomer reminds us that even when we are unfaithful God remains faithful.

Monday, July 7, 2014


This week we read one of the great stories of the Old Testament. On one level it is the story of a man in love. The name Hosea means "salvation." On the other level, the one who is completely in love is God. And the love of his life is Israel.

Deeply in love, he promises:
I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD.

If you do not know the story of Hosea, now would be good time to read the entire story of Hosea and his wife Gomer.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

How well do you know someone?

Can we ever know another person completely? In most cases, no. But Matthew tells us that we can know God that way. If we look at 1 Cor 13:12 we are told that now we see as in a mirror and know partially (ginosco), then we will see God face to face and know fully (epiginosco). This latter verb is the one St. Matthew uses when he explains today that

No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.

Not the partial knowing of St. Paul's mirror but the fully knowing. In the person of Jesus Christ God has made himself fully knowable. He is the full revelation or God. The Word of God is not primarily a book, the Bible. THE WORD is a person, Jesus Christ. Go read the opening of John's Gospel.

Who can know him?
It is worth noting that St. Matthew does not say, "anyone to whom the son has revealed him" or "anyone to whom the son reveals him." He says, "anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him."

To whom does he wish to reveal him?
Paul in his First Letter to Timothy answers that question, "This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth." And here again the word is EPIginosin, full knowledge of the truth.

Every church in the world has the same mission statement: go and teach all nations. How do we know the Father? Through the Son. How do we know the Son? 1) in the Eucharist in which he most fully present, we can receive him into ourselves. 2) in his word, as we study particularly the Gospels, Christ is present to us. 3) in his Body, the Church.

In the Gospel today Jesus issues an invitation, Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened. Our mission, is to constantly issue that same invitation. We receive Christ on Sunday so we can go out and show Christ to others, ease their burdens.

When we think of "a personal encounter with Christ." We think it means me and Jesus. And it can be that encounter that we have while praying before the blessed sacrament, or meditating on his Word. But if we are truly Christian we must also be that personal encounter for others.

This week, look for someone who labors and is burdened, be that encounter with Christ for them. Let them experience the love of Christ through you. Just one person per week. If every Christian in the world touched one other person, we could fulfill the seemingly daunting mission.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Why bother?

In the gospel we hear Jesus address the issue of why his disciples did not fast.

The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

And indeed to this day in the Catholic Church we open and close Lent by fasting, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Here in the US it is obligatory for those ages 18-59.

In addition to fasting, there is abstinence. It is still the law of the Church that every Friday we should abstain from meat or do some other penitential act. Those last words seems to have gotten lost after Vatican II. Some people have the mistaken notion that we got rid of Friday abstinence all together. We did not. Every Friday, not just the Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence. The Church simply left it to each person to determine what they most needed to abstain from.

For some of us it might be a good idea to to have phone free Fridays, and abstain from checking our phone every five minutes. For others it may be abstaining from alcohol, and being the designated driver for your friends. For others perhaps Caffeine-Free Fridays is what you need to do. And for others who each too much meat anyway, the traditional abstinence from meat is what you need.

The Church has now put the choice entirely in your hands to determine where you as an individual need to abstain.

Why do we fast or abstain anyway? Why does it matter?

Just as every Sunday is kind of "little Easter", every Friday is a remember of Good Friday, the day Christ died for our sins. It is a penitential day. And which of us does not need to do penance?Which of us is perfect?

Is all of this merely tradition? Of course, but it is ancient and well-founded tradition. The first Bible verse I ever memorized was John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...." In a world where we are constantly surrounded with enticements to self-indulgence, it seems to me a good and proper things for us to stop each Friday, and recall in our thoughts and in actions the great sacrifice that brought about our salvation.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Declaration

In this mornings NYT they printed the Declaration of Independence. I thought it good to reread it. I remember in school memorizing the opening lines. 238 years later the words still proclaim undeniable truth.

When in the course of human events assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them...

Did the founding fathers even fully understand what they had signed? Not really. It would require a civil war and more before all people achieved the equal status to which God had entitled them. And we still struggle to live up to the words of the declaration.

But we should never forget that the source of all freedom as the declaration articulates is God. Without God, there would have been no foundation for the revolution, because the only rights are those given by the government.

Today as we celebrate, we celebrate not just the Declaration, but the higher law to which it points, The law that governs all peoples and nations,the law that bestows on every human being the same equal status.


On the Church calendar the 4th of July this year is simply Friday of the 13th week in Ordinary Time. The readings however seem providential.

We continue reading the Prophet Amos and today he goes after the rich and merchant classes.

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy
and destroy the poor of the land!
“When will the new moon be over,” you ask,
“that we may sell our grain,
and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?”

Not only was the Sabbath a Holy Day but Rosh Chodesh, the new moon of each month. Remember, the Hebrew calendar is lunar not solar.

Is Bible condemning business and wealth? No. What it is condemn is wrong priorities and compartmentalization. When profit becomes the number one priority, and people compartment their lives in order to rationalize it.

In a Christian context it is the man or woman who goes to Church every Sunday, prays regularly, but then run their business in a cut-throat manner. Every time I hear someone make the excuse that a CEO's job is to make as much money as possible, I want to scream not if they are Jewish or Christian. The Judeo-Christian moral theology says you can't set aside your moral obligations when they get in the way of making more money.

Other famous cases are people like the spy Robert Hansen who attended mass daily, and all the while was spying for the KGB. How could he do it? The same way, as the people Amos is talking to. He simply divided his life up into little boxes and never thought about them touching. So in his mind: one was his religious life, one was his personal life, one was his work life, and one was his spy life.

The virtue that is missing is integrity. Integrity begins by realizing that each of us has only one life. I can call myself by many titles. I am an American, a Catholic, a priest, a judge, brother, uncle, friend. But no matter how many titles, I am only one person. That means the same moral rules must guide every aspect of my life.

While most of us may not have to wrestle with the large scale lack of integrity. We all wrestle with it on the smaller but more insidious scale. If you are barely out the door of the Church on Sunday before you are gossiping with your friends or fussing about the other drivers on the road, or losing your temper with the kids. That's a lack of integrity. Singing about love one minute and 10 minutes later calling someone an idiot- lack of integrity.

To be a person of true integrity it a constant battle. The earth rotates at about 1000 mph. And in some ways we are like objects in a centrifuge. Family, work, politics all tending to pull apart. As Christians the gospel must be the cement that holds them all together, all the time, informing our every word and action.

Today we celebrate being American, but we are and must always be Christian-Americans. People of true integrity.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Two metaphors

Human language can never really capture the truth of the gospel and so we use metaphor. St. Paul uses a variety of metaphors to try and capture in words what exactly God's grace does. We often turn to his use of adoption when we explain infant baptism which the biological parents bring their child and through baptism he or she becomes the adopted child of God.

Today Paul uses another metaphor which seems all too adapt for the fights we are having.

You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God,

The keys words are interesting. The world is divided in zenos, paraoikos, and synpolitos.

Zenos - the stranger, not us, completely other. We have the word xenophobia to describe a fear of such people.

paraoikos- are sort of like us,
para- as in paramedic or paralegal.
Oikos- the household.
Sort of family, but not fully.

But Saint Paul tells us we are not either of these things. We are synpolitos ( the same people) with the saints and the family of God.

Imagine if all Christians in the world actually lived as if we believed that. If I actually accepted that the Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem are my family, the Chaldean Christians in Iraq are my family. And bring it even closer to home and it gets even harder. Imagine is if the democrats and republicans who are Christians actually behaved like they were synpolitos.

The oikeios tou theou (the household of God) is not just the members of my church, or the ones who look like me, think like me, have the same passport as me, or the ones I like.

Today it is time to look into our own hearts and ask: Are their people who I think of as not quite us (paraoikos) or worse yet foreigners (zenos)? Am I judging by human standards or God's standard?

Part of being a member of the household of God is recognizing that I have no say over who God lets into the family. Whoever God welcomes in is my brother or sister, period.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


The gospel today follows a common pattern, Jesus heals the demoniacs, they go and tell, the crowd comes out to see him. Then they do something that seems to make no sense

when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.

Matthew give no explanation we are simply left hanging with the question why would they want him to leave? Why not bring him more sick people to heal?

There is no way to know the answer. We can only speculate. But several possibilities are worth reflection.

One is of course fear. They don't understand what they have just seen and so they fear it. How often is that our response to things and people we don't understand?
One day I was in the airport and there was a man with a turban. I saw people looking and the creating distance between themselves and him as he walked down the concourse. Two thoughts popped into my head. First, these people act like every Moslem in the world is a terrorist. Second, he's not a Moslem. He's a Sikh. But that didn't keep their ignorance from making them afraid.

A second possibility is that once they saw him, he didn't look like anything special. Jesus looked like and ordinary man of his time and place. And so the dismissed him.

Regardless of the reason, the sad truth is that the people missed out on a chance for that personal encounter with God because it somehow did not fit into their preconceived notion.

Today let us keep our eyes, hearts and minds open. We never know how God will manifest his presence in our life. And whatever we do, we should never dismiss him.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


In my own spiritual journey one of the things I have struggled with the most is this idea of God's punishment. The extremists look at everything bad and see it as punishment from God. I can still remember when my brother was killed someone asked my mother, "Do you think if you had taken church more this would have happened?"  It not only made me angry but I thought it was the stupidest idea in the world. I of course swung to the other extreme, God is a loving God doesn't go around punishing people. I was 12.

It took me a very long time to realize that ,like in most things, the truth was somewhere in the middle. Is every bad thing that happens a punishment from God? No. Are some bad things that happen punishment from God? Yes.  And as the prophet Amos explains, God punishes because he loves us.

You alone have I favored, more than all the families of the earth;Therefore I will punish you for all your crimes.

What is the purpose of the punishment? Conversion. God does it in order to encourage us to change. If God is love then not only does God punish, God must punish. Is there a decent parent alive who does not punish their children.

The problem for us that we cannot always tell clearly when some bad thing is the result of someone else acting sinfully or maliciously and when it is punishment for something we  have done. And we may never in this life know for certain about some things. 

Our response should be two-fold. Firstly, we must never doubt God's love. Even when we commit mortal sin God still loves us.  Secondly, we should regularly examine our conscience. The scriptures are clear that God does not punish every time some commits a sin, God alone steps in and punishes when there is hardness of heart, when people sin and the stubbornly persist in it. 

When we sin, instead of digging our heels in like a petulant child, we should have the courage to own up to our sin, do our penance, and make a real effort to change. Then we never have to worry about God's punishment.