Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The hard part, again!

Why is the Catholic Church so against all forms of murder, abortion, capital punishment, and euthanasia included? Can we really believe that the life of a person who would murder innocent children is sacred? And is suffering to be preferred over a quick and painless death?

In the first reading today Job is in the throws of depression, and is wishing he had never been born. And yet with our hindsight we are able to see the value of his life.

In the gospel the disciples want Jesus to call down fire to consume the people who refuse to welcome them. Who gets rebuked? The disciples.

Yes in fact we hold firm in our absolute belief in the sacredness of all human life, and our belief that the sacredness is intrinsic. It cannot be lost, taken away or given away. And as for the euthanasia of the sick. I find it interesting that as often as I have heard the following quote from Cicero the first word is often missing

Aegroto dum anima est, spes est.

For the sick one, where there is life, there is hope.

Job like so many made it through to the other side or his depression. And we never know how many of those Jesus spared ultimately ended up in heaven. We cannot know the future. We cannot know what God has planned for another person and when.

We know that God wills that all be saved.

Today's readings remind us that in every circumstance we must be people of hope, and being people of hope we always choose life.

Here in Virginia as we pray for the families of Morgan Harrington, and Hannah Graham and her safe return, as Christians we must also pray for Jesse Mathew, Jr. He is presumed innocent until proven guilty and even if proven guilty, his life will remain sacred. He too was created in the image and likeness of God and is loved by God.

Monday, September 29, 2014


We like to think of ourselves as more advanced than the people of the past, and in many ways we are. There are also ways in which we are more narrow minded and therefore ignorant.

Today we celebrate three archangels(Michael, Rafael, and Gabriel) and the homily from St. Gregory the Great that I read part of this morning caused me to think more broadly. He reminds us that angel denotes a function not a nature. The word means messenger. That much I had reflected on many times. The names mean
Michael- he who is like God
Rafael- the power of God
Gabriel- the medicine of God, or God heals

That I had also reflected on before.

The part I had not spent much time reflecting on is that angels are not the only spiritual beings. The fallen angels like Satan I had thought about. But his homily caused me to stop and reflect on the fact that the Bible and in fact most cultures throughout history have readily acknowledged that there is a world of spiritual beings beyond what we can see, beyond what we can measure.

The greatness of God's universe is so far beyond us. Just the physical universe is beyond our comprehension. We have only begun to understand space and explored only a small fraction. The earth is one small planet revolving around one star, and I am one small creature who will inhabit the earth for a very short time.

This week we celebrate archangels and later in the week guardian angels. Before anyone reading this says, "I don't believe in all that stuff", listen to how narrow-minded that is, remember how small we are in the universe, and let us all truly believe that

with God all things are possible. Let us take time today to marvel at everything the word "universe" encompasses.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Words and Deeds

If you follow "news" in the world of the Internet, particularly the blogosphere, it would appear that the only sin left in the world is hypocrisy. Almost anything else is OK.

But what exactly is hypocrisy? The word was originally a theater term, it referred to an actor wearing a mask. Hypocrisy is an intentional hiding of our true self. It is pretending to be someone we are not.

It's opposite would be the virtue we should all strive for, integrity. In the truly integrated person our thoughts, feelings, and most importantly (according to today's gospel) our actions are all one. We are one person. And if you are a Christian that oneness must include oneness with God and his will. True Christian integrity is oneness of mind, heart, and action with the will of the Father.

Each time we pray the Our Father we pray for the grace needed for integrity, "thy will be done".

The reality is that most of us sin. There are four Greek words for love, but there are seven for sin. One of the used 151 times is the New Testament is amartia, which is an archery reference. It means to miss the mark.

Missing the mark does not make us hypocrites. It just means we are human. The good news is that like the archer, with practice and the help of God's grace we can hit the mark.

Yes it would be nice if our thoughts feelings and actions were all aligned, all the time. But today's reading reminds us that the actions are the most important. Be kind even if you don't feel like it. Be polite to the person who annoys you even if you don't feel like it, and when the thoughts in your head are anything but charitable. That is not hypocrisy, that is not pretending, that is allowing the Holy Spirit to act in spite of you. Act like a Christian and you will surprisingly turn into one.

The son who went out into the vineyard may not have wanted to, he may have done it begrudgingly, but in the end he did his Father's will. And according to Jesus that's what matters.

In the end, a tree is judged by its fruit and we are judged by our actions. Strive each day for integrity, but in those moments when your thoughts and feelings are not Christian, let the Holy Spirit aim, and you will not miss the mark.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Today we have the famous reading from Ecclesiastes

There is an appointed time for everything,
and a time for every thing under the heavens.

But we should be clear that this does not refer to evil and sin. There is no proper time for evil. There is no proper time to sin. Evil And sin are always contrary to the will of God. God allows sin because he wants us to love him. Love must be freely given if it is real love. Therefore he had to give us free will. And unfortunately we abuse that freedom and sin and do evil.

You may say to me, "but doesn't the list in Ecclesiastes include killing, hating, and war?" And you would be correct. Notice it say kill and not murder. Unfortunately killing and war are necessary at times to stop evil. And we should always hate sin, even our own.

It is true that Jesus taught us that the peacemakers are blessed. But peace at any price, even in a family, can be a sin.

How many people are suffering right now in domestic situations because there is some dysfunctional person in the home but others erroneously believe that being a good Christian means peace-keeping or they are simply afraid of the battle? They don't want to start the war. Or they have been fighting battle after battle for years and refuse to acknowledge that the war is un-winnable. Love must always go hand in hand with truth. There is a time for patient endurance and there is a time for action. There is a time to fight and a time to walk away.

We want it to be simple but life is rarely simple. This is why we must constantly be training ourselves to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, listen to our conscience, especially when it is telling us what we don't want to hear. It is precisely in those moments when we must do the tough things that we show our true Christianity, our willingness to say "thy will be done" no matter what the cost.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

L'shana Tovah

Have a good New Year!

As the sun rises this morning on the Hebrew Calendar it is the first sunrise of the new year. It is a time for us to remember our Jewish heritage. We should recall that Jesus would have never considered himself anything but Jewish. The idea of Christianity as a separate religion would come later.

Instead of making New Year's resolutions, most which do not last two months. The Jewish tradition sees the beginning of the New Year as a time of repentance. We tend to think of Passover as the big deal in Judaism because it is close to our Easter. In fact, the high holy days for the Jewish faith are now.

Last night, because they follow a lunar calendar, the new year began and in 10 days on the evening of Friday October 3 will begin Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. Like our Lent, now is that time each year when people acknowledge their sin and according to the rites prescribed by God, atone for that sin to receive God's forgiveness. The 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are referred to as days of awe and are a time for introspection, examination of the conscience. Yom Kippur ends with the people standing before the open ark, confessing their sins in the plural (we have....).

Jesus gave us the sacrament of penance but it is worth noting that in both covenants there is a ritual for receiving God's forgiveness. There is a communal aspect. Sin is not a private matter between the individual and God nor is forgiveness. Our sins affect others and therefore our penance and forgiveness must acknowledge that.

Perhaps it would be good for us Christians in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sister take these days as a time for a thorough examination of conscience. And if it has been a while since you have been to confession call your local priest and go back. If you have not been in a while, here is a great little video from our friends at busted halo.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

No additions

The first reading today includes the command,

Add nothing to his words, lest he reprove you, and you will be exposed as a deceiver.

And we Catholics still get accused of adding to the word of God. But a couple of things on that point.

Firstly, the reading is from Proverbs a book of the Old Testament. God later made a huge addition; we call it the New Testament.

Secondly, and much more important the Catholic Church teaches unequivocally that nothing can be added. In our prayer at each mass we speak of the "new and eternal covenant" it "will never pass away and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13)" The Bible with all its books is the final public revelation.

When we speak of doctrine we are not adding to but explaining what it there. As the catechism says, "Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries." Who would dare say they understand fully what is contained in the Bible?

As individuals we are called to read the Word of God and apply it to our lives daily. There is always the danger that we read what we want and we hear in the Word of God what we want to hear. We call prophetic those friends who tell us what we want to hear. We close our eyes and our ears to hard truth.

Jesus knew this about us and it is why when he created the Church he chose the apostles, establishing the apostolic office, creating what we now call the magisterium whose job it is to examine various interpretations of scripture to discern what is of God and what is merely some person's wishful thinking.

You may have noticed the phrase "public revelation" above in reference to the Bible. That is to distinguish it from "private revelation." While for us Christians the New Testament is the final word addressed to all and binding on all, God continues to speak to individuals. We call that private revelation. They may choose to share that with others.

The Church never says you must believe in those things. They are, after all, intended for the receiver. The most the Church ever does is examine the content and say that to believe this would do you know harm. About these private revelations the Church says, "It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history."

In Catholic circles the most famous of these are the Marian apparitions at Fatima, Lourdes, etc, or St. Faustina quoting some of her conversations with Jesus. They are not part of what "we believe" they are aids to living the faith. In non-Catholic circles the devotional book Jesus Calling, might be seen as an example of private revelation, an individual sharing what she believes Jesus is saying to her.

Each day we should engage in both. Reading the public revelation, the Bible. And just as important opening our hearts to the intimately personal conversation with Jesus. The Sprit of God stands ready to speak of each of us, if we will only listen.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The family Church

Perhaps it was because I am adopted,that I noticed when I was first started examining the Catholic Church that a primary metaphor for Catholics is family. Every denomination chooses certain parts of scripture to focus on and for us Catholics today's gospel from Luke 8 or its parallel in Matthew 12 are key to our understanding of what the word "Church" means. Jesus answers the question "Who are my brothers and sisters?"

If we understand that the Church is a family then the rest of our theology falls into place.

-His father is"Our Father".

-We are brothers and sisters.

-His mother is our mother, and we relate to Mary as our mother. No offense to fathers but I think it is safe to say that most of us have a special place in our hearts for mom.

-Jesus is the only-begotten son.

-We are the adopted children, but equally children of the same parents.

-Baptism is sacrament through which we are adopted and can never be undone or repeat. Your brother is your brother even if both of you deny it. Even if your brother goes and has his name changed, he is still your brother.

-If they behave very badly you may have to tell them that they are not welcome at certain family events (excommunication) but they are still members of the family.

-When people complain about infant baptism and the child not having a choice I ask, "Did you choose your family?"

-Even the centrality of coming together for Sunday dinner (Mass) makes sense if you think of it as family.

-The family photos all over the house (statues and stained glass windows).

For us Church is more than a community. Particularly in the 21st century communities have become things that people constantly move in and out of. That metaphor has come to represent something too unstable, something that is merely a matter of taste. Like all Christians we use multiple metaphors to explain Church, and community and body of Christ are also still important ones. But today's gospel reminds us that we are above all a family. We are part of the only family with perfect parents.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Being more that religious

Faith comes in a variety of gradations. It is common today to hear people say, "I'm spiritual but not religious." Some clergy have a problem with that. I just see it as a person who has taken the first step on a long journey. Would I like to see them eventually end up in the Catholic Church? Of course.

Before I went from being Baptist to being Catholic I spent a great deal of time examining the matter, and I do believe after all of that study and prayer that the church is correct when she says that the Church Christ himself established is

constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure.

It is important to remember the last part. Contrary to the caricature, the Catholic Church does not believe we have the corner on truth. As I look back on my own journey, after I in my teens has fallen away from Church, I can see how I walked back down the road from spiritual to religious to Christian to specifically Catholic. These are concentric circles. And the invisible structure of the Church is much bigger than its visible structure. God alone can identify all those who are inside the invisible structure.

Every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore every human being, whether they know it or not longs for unity with the God who created them. In a world torn by divisions, if we are true to our faith, should we not look for the signs of unity? Should we not also acknowledge that some are invisible but nevertheless real? We must do two things simultaneously: continue to encourage and invite people into the visible structure of the Church, and honor the elements of sanctification and truth found outside of her.

Today let us look for signs of God's presence, sanctification and truth and look for them in the unusual places. We are all traveller on the road home to the one who made us. We are all constantly being called by God. Let us speak to one another as such. Let us offer assistance to one another as such. Let us pray for one another as such.

As I sit on my front porch writing this I see the people walking by, and ones in the cars driving by. Each is a unique beloved creation of God. Can I keep that in mind as I move through the busyness of the day and week?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The nature of prayer

In the catechism we see six kinds of prayer: blessing, adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving and praise.

We use the word bless in two senses: we bless God for all his works, and we ask God to bless us and others. It is prayer of ascent and descent.

Most often we either offer prayers of petition (for ourselves) or intercession (prayer for others). But how often do we pray and simply offer prayers of adoration, thanksgiving or praise?

O sure, we start off with thanksgiving, but how quickly does our prayer turn into petition or intercession? We try to butter God up with some praise and thanksgiving, then we hit him with the ask.

First of all do we really think God doesn't know what we need? The truth is, we only know what we want. He knows what we need. Today's first reading ends with:

As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.

In the second reading Paul does not know which is better to die and to be with the Lord, or to live and continue his ministry. And he is willing to admit his ignorance, and to let God decide.

Above all it is the gospel that reminds us why it is that we should spend more time in prayer of blessing, adoration, praise, or thanksgiving. Because our God is above all a generous God.

When a young person is diagnosed with a terminal illness or dies. We talk about their life being "cut short" and we get angry because it seems unfair. But how is it unfair. First of all, as St. Paul reminds us, isn't death passage to full life with Christ.

Secondly, at the moment of our conception is anyone promised and particular number of days? Am I entitled to any number of years? The song from the musical Rent recalls 525,600 minutes that make up a year. We forget that each of those minutes is a gift. We don't have a right to them. We don't earn them. We do it particularly deserve them. Every single one of them is pure gift from God. But we forget that.

In mass we pray "we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks." Instead of constantly telling God what we want perhaps we need to spend more time just saying "thank you", more time praising God for his incredible generosity, adoring his loving presence in our lives. Yes there is a time and a place for petition and intercession, but we should be careful to make sure that they are not our only prayers or even the majority of our prayers. Perhaps we could divide our prayer into thirds: one third blessing and adoration, one third petition and intercession, one third praise and thanksgiving. For most of us that would be a major improvement.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

What next?

St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians deals with what we believe about the resurrection and the body. Some mistakenly think that because he says it will be a spiritual body, that he is describing something like a ghost. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

We believe in the true resurrection of this flesh that we now possess” (Council of Lyons II)

The sequence is simple:
The flesh was created by God and was good from the beginning.
Because of sin it became corruptible.
The word became flesh.
Through his death and resurrection he made the corruptible once more incorruptible.
At death our body is separated from our soul, but not forever.

By death the soul is separated from the body, but in the resurrection God will give incorruptible life to our body, transformed by reunion with our soul. Just as Christ is risen and lives for ever, so all of us will rise at the last day. (Catechism # 1016)

Jesus did not just save our souls but our bodies as well. What Adam damaged by sin, Christ more than restored.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The women

Today we run into one of the most touchy subjects in the Bible , the women. In both Old and New Testament they play leading roles. While none govern Israel, there are 5 to whom the title "prophet" is applied: Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Noadiah, and Anna. And today in Luke's gospel we hear about the women who traveled with Jesus( Lk 8).

We have a tendency to think that it was just Jesus and the 12 guys. But as Luke points out, there were Jesus, the 12 apostles, and then there was this group of women who while not apostles were part of the inner circle. Three of them are named here: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. And it will be the group of women who will inform the 12 of the resurrection (Lk. 24:10). Luke 24 adds the name of Mary, the mother of James, to the list of those who are named.

How many women were in the group? We have no idea. We know that some were women with resources who helped finance the ministry. We know that St. Luke tells us they were the first witnesses to the resurrection.

What role did they play in the early church? We don't know. Both extremes are a mistake. The extreme that wants to pretend that Mary Magdalene was an apostle and the other extreme that sees the women as having no role beyond subservience.

Why Jesus chose to entrust the apostolic ministry to men only we do not know? Rather than arguing over what wasn't and what some people think should have been, we should focus on what we do know.

Today's reading reminds us that we need to make sure that in our education of our children we teach them about the women we do know about. From Miriam to Mary Magdalene women of strength, women of courage.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


It is ironic that on the day we celebrate one of the great teachers of the Church, patron saint of catechists, Robert Francis Bellermine, we have the reading from St. Paul

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

Two mistake can be made with this reading. The first is to think that St. Paul is writing about married love. This reading which contains "love is patient..." Is used regularly at wedding, but word St. Paul uses for love is agape. It is the love all people should share, not the particular love of husband and wife.

The second mistake is to think that love is all you need. If I just love people and am nice I'm good to go. On this feast of Robert Bellermine it is worth noting that St. Paul does not say that comprehension and knowledge are bad. He says without love they are nothing. We need all of them.

We need philosophy (the love of wisdom) and theology (the study of God). Yes they will always be imperfect. St. Paul also says,

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

But even-though we can only know partially in this life we should seek to know as best we can.

Yes, Robert Bellermine was wrong to conflate physics and metaphysics. And there will always be those who only want to concentrate on those errors. But his hunger for knowledge, his passion for truth should be a model to us all. Of all of the organs of the human body, I believe I can safely say the brain is still the one we understand the least. But its ability to understand is one of the things that sets us apart from other forms of life.

Four centuries after St. Robert, the words of another saint, Anselm, should still be the motto of us all "fides quaerens intellectum" (faith seeking understanding). May we every loose our intellectual curiosity.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Real Sorrow

IWhile we may tend to underestimate the suffering of Jesus because he was God, there should be no downplaying of the suffering of his mother. While she was preserved from sin, she was not preserved from pain. She like all good mothèrs felt her child's pain. 

The tradition identifies seven painful moments:

1.the prophecy of Simeon. 
2. the flight into Egypt, knowing her child was in danger
3. the loss of the child in the temple, how many parents have felt that terror what a child is missing only briefly?
4.  Mary watching her Son on the road to Calvary. 
5. The moment of his death 
6.  The placing of the body in her arms
7.  The placing of his body in the tomb. 

Every parent who has lost a child knows 5-7. No words can describe it. 

Today's memorial we call Our Lady of Sorrows. 

In the Old Testament the number 7 represents perfection. If Mary who was preserved from sin suffered the perfect suffering, why are we so silly as to think our suffering is some punishment from for sin. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that it is instead, the path to perfection. 

Today as we recall the sorrows of Mary, we pray for all who are in sorrow today in a special way parents who will lose their children. May god be their strength. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A fruit reduction

In the Gospels Jesus uses smilies and metaphors to describe spiritual reality, trying to use ordinary things from daily life to describe what we cannot examine directly. Today we hear,

A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit.

On one level that is true. On another level we are not trees. An apple tree can in fact bear only apples. But we human beings can bear many different kinds of fruit. From year to year, day to day, hour to hour the fruit we bear can change. One day filled with Christian charity we can bear the sweetest of peaches. The very next day in a bad mood we can be pure persimmons.

One of the worst characteristics of 21sf century American culture is our tendency to reduce a person's life to its single lowest point. It is a sin worse than murder because you leave the assassinated person walking around. We erase every good thing done before or after. We reduce a human being to an action.

The Catholic Church is famous for "Respect Life." Unfortunately too many people think this refers only to abortion. It doesn't. It is rooted in our belief in the sanctity of all human life, the dignity to which every human being is entitled simply because they are created in the image and likeness of God. This dignity can never be lost, given away, or taken away.

Can one moment in life define us? Yes. The moment of our baptism defines us as Christians, members of the Body of Christ. It is a moment of supernatural grace.

But no one human action can define a person. We are the most complex of God's creatures, made of matter and sprit, body and soul. Our lives are both natural and supernatural. All of these aspects together define who we are. To try and reduce this complexity in any way, is to make us sub-human.

If each of us is honest, we can look across the entire span of our lives and acknowledge the variety of fruit we have borne both good and bad, sweet and bitter. Every person we pass, every person we see on television, every person we read about is the same. Let us not do to others what we would not want others to do to us. Instead, in every person let us see the image and likeness of God and show the respect that is due.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Unwanted Beatitude

How many times have any of us heard the beatitudes? They are read at weddings and funerals. The are printed on plaques and posters. Whether it is Luke's more concrete "Blessed are the poor" or Matthew's more abstract "Blessed are the poor in spirit", we just like the idea of being "blessed." But both Matthew and Luke include one category that we would just as soon forget, and we try not to spend much time thinking about.

In Matthew it reads,

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me.

In Luke it reads,

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.

How many times and in how many ways does Jesus have to tell us that suffering is an essential part of human existence, and Christian existence in particular before we get it? Not that we are supposed to be masochistic. We do not have to go looking for it. But we cannot avoid it. We can not run away from it. We cannot pray it away, anymore than Jesus prayed away his crucifixion.

What Jesus did in the garden was provide us with the model. He taught us that the prayer is not to avoid the suffering, but to give us the strength to get through, and to transform it and us.  

The beatitudes are not a menu from which we are free to select the blessedness we would prefer. They are a constant reminder of the paradoxical nature of our faith. They remind us that we live simultaneously on the plain we can see, and on another plain beyond our full comprehension, a plain that at present we can only glimpse.  

Each day we must freely choose to embrace whichever beatitude life presents us. Always and everywhere we give thanks to God, because we know that even in our weeping God is there, in our humiliation God is there, in our poverty of spirit God is there. And everywhere God is, his transforming grace is at work. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Believing in grace

I am beginning to wonder if many Christians actually believe in the truly transforming power of grace. Every time I hear a Christian say, "We are all sinners", I ask myself what they think St. Paul meant. In today's first reading St. Paul provides at least a partial list of mortal sins, sins that would keep a person from entering the Kingdom of heaven, but then he writes,

That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

It is true that after baptism we continue to sin, but is "sinner" who I am? I occasionally play the piano but I would not call myself a pianist. I occasionally draw but I would not call myself an artist. I occasionally sin, but sinner is not my identity.

St. Paul is clear that, whatever we were before baptism, afterwards we are the adopted sons and daughters of God. We are part of the communion of saints. Yes, mortal sins can place us outside of that, but reconciliation brings us back.

In the Catholic Church we never repeat baptism, because it leaves an indelible character. It can never be undone. Grace is not simply another word for forgiveness. Grace is nothing less that the presence of God poured into us, a presence that can truly transform. It is why Saint Paul refers to the Church as "the saints."(1 Cor 6:1).

St. Paul reminds us all that we have been washed, sanctified, and justified. So why do so many of us walk around repeating, "I am a sinner." Instead shouldn't we wake up every morning and say "I am a saint." Our deepest beliefs about ourselves tend to shape our behavior. Perhaps if we actually started believing we are washed justified and sanctified, we would behave more like the saints we are called to be.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Larger context

One of the options for the first reading today as we celebrate Mary's birthday is the Romans 8 reading that begins, "all things work together for good..." As much as I love that verse I thought it was time to step back and look at the larger context in which St. Paul places it.

If we go to the beginning of chapter 8, we find that he looks at the world in terms of two laws: the law of the Spirit of Life, and the law of sin and death. Once we are in Christ (baptism), we are freed from the latter and only belong to the former.

For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death. For what the law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done

Today we celebrate the one person in human history who was given a share in the new life of grace before the death and resurrection of Christ. Beyond that, because of her unique role in God's plan, she was given a unique gift. She was preserved for the stain of original sin.

But even with all that, she had to grow; she had to mature. It is not our faith that she was born into the world with any special knowledge. She had to learn to walk and talk. She had to learn to choose. Having been freed from the stain of original sin did not take away her free will. If anything it made it freer.

St. Paul describes how even with God's grace we struggle daily.

For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.

Thankfully, after the death and resurrection of Jesus the Holy Spirit became available to all people. Again, St. Paul reminds us what it does.

In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.

Today as we reflect on Mary as an infant, perhaps it is good to remember that most of us are still spiritually infants. We still have so much to learn, still have so much growing to do. We still understand only a tiny sliver of the Truth. The good news is that if we will allow it, the Spirit of Life will teach us, will guide us, and will even pray for us from within us.

The only way to move beyond our infancy is to accept it. Surrender. Acknowledge your ignorance. Acknowledge your helplessness. Then the wisdom will come.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Responding to sin

Today's readings provide us with the answer to one question. How do we respond to sin? The readings break the answer into two parts.

The gospel has us look at sins against ourselves. The ones we feel the most. We are constantly praying, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." But besides forgive, what more should we do?

The gospel says that the first step must always be to talk one on one with the person. This may be the hardest. Our natural tendency is to run to the closest sympathetic ear. Only when the person refuses to hear us does the gospel give us permission to go talk to others about it.

This kind of self control is not easy. It presumes a step previous to talking to the person. It presumes prayer, spending time in silence with God to allow God to clarify and purify. When we have been sinned against we need the Holy Spirit to clarify our thinking process. Every relationship has two sides.

We also need God to purify our hearts. Anger is not an emotion to be avoid but we do need to deal with it appropriately.

Then and only then can we take the first step in the gospel and if necessary the second and third, up to excommunication of the person.

But how do we deal the sin of others if it isn't particularly directed at us? For that answer we look to the first reading.

Is it really possible for me to go to hell because of someone else's sin? The answer is yes. On the day of baptism, the priest or deacon anoints the newly baptized with the words, "as Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, so may you live as a member of his body..." We each have a share in the prophetic ministry. To be a prophet is not to be a fortune-teller. To be a prophet is to be a spokesperson calling people back to God.

God tells Ezekiel he has set him as a watchman. The watchman warns others. We are all watchman for each other. When we see someone headed down the wrong path we have a moral obligation to warn them. If they choose to ignore the warning, the blame lies solely with them. But if we say nothing, the blame is also ours. We forget that sins of omission can be mortal as well. And the worst lie we can tell ourselves is that the reason we are not saying anything is because we love them and don't want to hurt them. That is merely a rationalization we use for our own cowardice. Love is always truthful. And sometimes we have to speak painful truth. We should always do it as gently as possible but we cannot avoid.

If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Belonging-not what you think

Αφέντες απαντά 

Two simple words that mean they left behind absolutely everything. St. Luke tells us that this was the response of the first followers of Jesus. 

As I sit here I ponder the question, how can I possibly do this. In the early centuries there were those who literally abandoned everything and went out into the desert. Later what we call religious abandoned all through vows of poverty, charity, and obedience. But what about the rest of us?  What about those whose mission requires us to live in the world and use all the means at our disposal to spread the good news? What about all of you reading this who have families? How can we abandon absolutely everything and follow Jesus. 

The answer is found in the first reading. 

 all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.

My things are mine. The Church teaches that all human beings have a right to private property. My car is mine. My phone is mine, etc. But I am not mine. I belong to Christ. I can throw away my phone. It is mine. I cannot throw away my life. It belongs to Christ who in turn belongs totally to the father and therefore always is obedient to the Father's will. 

Abandonment is not a call to walk away but to walk toward, to constantly, every step of every day, follow the one to whom we belong. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Losing my mind

We usually use that expression in bad way to describe feelings of exasperation. But there is a good and health way to lose our minds.

In the first reading today, St. Paul explains to the people of Corinth how the Holy Spirit, which he calls here "the Spirit of God", functions in us. Among the things it does is give us "the mind of Christ", nous Christou.

The word mind refers not to perception or even intelligence in the sense that my dog could figure out how to open the kitchen cabinets. The word mind refers to that unique human capacity to know what is good, to know what is true, to understand in a way that no other creature can.

Unfortunately for us, once we are baptized the human mind, the natural mind, does not go away and so we are left in a sense with two minds: one natural, one supernatural. Both are operative in us all the time and we must choose which we are going to follow at any given moment.

Here again is where discipline comes in. We must practice all day every day listening to the mind of Christ. We must learn to recognize when we are allowing our natural mind to overwhelm us. We must train ourselves to turn down the volume on the natural mind and turn up the volume on the mind of Christ. With constant practice we can develop the habit. The habit we call the virtue of prudence, which is considered the mother of all virtues.

St. Paul tells us very simply,

we have the mind of Christ.

We only have to do two simple things:
-listen to act
-act according to it.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Real St. Paul

The famous statue outside St. Peter's Basilica is how we like to think of St. Paul: tall and strong with sword in hand. But that is not what the saint tells us about himself.

In today's first reading he describes himself as coming with three things: astheneia, phobos, and tromos.

tromos - literally trembling, shaky, unsteady.
phobos- fear.
asthenia- weakness. The word is used to refer not only to physical weakness, but mental and moral weakness as well.

Some writers will try and explain that Paul is exaggerating out of a sense of humility. My question is why do we need to do that? Why can we not simply take St. Paul at his word and accept that weak, fearful, and trembling really describe Paul?

The answer was found in yesterday's gospel, when Peter refused to accept that Jesus has to suffer and die. Like Peter we still all too often look at the world through human eyes. In the human view, great leaders cannot be people of weakness and fear. They surely cannot tremble. In a world of television could an FDR be elected today? I don't think so.

St. Paul reminds us again today how we are suppose to be people who look at the world differently. Those areas of weakness in us, the areas of fear in us, are empty places which God can fill with his grace.

As the old saying goes, "Nature abhors a vacuum." We can be full of ourselves or we can be full of Christ. It is a simple binary choice. The paradox of Christianity is that if you want to find yourself, you must lose yourself. If you want to truly know yourself, you must like St. Paul tells us today,

know nothing...except Jesus Christ, and him crucified

Each time our minds turn toward ourselves, our problems, our concerns, our weakness, our fear; we should turn immediately from ourselves to Jesus. Develop that habit, until it becomes a reflex, an immediate response. Then we will know the transforming power of God's grace.