Sunday, November 30, 2014

Making a list...

The liturgical year of the Church has always been link to the natural cycle of the world around us. As we begin the season of Advent the day are growing progressively shorter moving us toward the shortest day of the year. As the world around us grows darker we light candles and the gospel today gives us one command: watch.

The command that ends chapter 13 of Mark's gospel, gregoreite, refers to more than physical sight. It is related to that process we go through when we first wake up of gathering our faculties. Most of us have at some point had the experience of waking up in a hotel and for a second not knowing where we were.

Mark is suggesting that we may be walking through life thinking we are awake, but not. We begins the new year with the command to wake up and take a good look at ourselves and the world around us and ourselves. It is not enough to see it, we must watch, 360 degree awareness of our surroundings.

What are we to be looking for? The signs of the coming of the kingdom of God. Even as each day grows shorter and the night grows longer, we are surrounded by the signs of the coming and the presence of the kingdom of God.

As we start this season of advent I would encourage you to make a list. At the end of each day or during the course of the day write down those things which are signs of God's presence in your life, signs of the kingdom. This year there are 25 days of Advent. At the end of Advent how long will your list be. I bet come Christmas Eve you will be amazed, if you will just watch.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saying goodbye to the year

Today is the last day of this liturgical year. As the sun goes down, and we pray evening prayer this evening we begin the season of Advent.

We conclude our reading of the Book of Revelation with the image of the world in which we can all one day live.

An angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the street, On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations. Nothing accursed will be found anymore.

It will be a world free from sin and evil, sickness and death. It will be a world in which we will love as we are loved. And finally, we will understand how we are loved by God.

Today as we bring 2014 to a close, as we prepare to light the first can, see that first flicker of light and begin the new cycle of life; perhaps it is good for us to reflect not on our failings but on God's love.

The old Baltimore Catechism answer to the question, why did God make me, is not a bad one even now.

God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.

The four verbs: to know, to love, to serve, to be happy. The first three lead to the fourth. They are in fact the only path to the fourth.

Prepare to let go of the year that is ending and start over. The liturgical cycle is like the seasons of the year, the same and yet each year new. Each time we begin again we are given the chance to draw closer to God, to make better choices. In this new year how will I know him, love him, and serve him more fully than I did the last time 'round? Perhaps a first step will be a good confession to wipe the slate clean.

Truly letting go of the past is hard for us all. We cling to our failures as if they were gold. The Book of Revelation gives us images of life giving water, medicinal fruit. Let us eat and drink, and as the sun goes down tonight, let us light the candle and begin anew.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The good apocalypse

The linguist in me would love to track down when it was that we transformed the word apocalypse into something horrific. It only goes to show how negative we can be.

I always suggest that if anyone is going to read the Book of Revelation they start with Chapter 21.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.*
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband;
and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away."
And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true."

The entire rest of the book is written to lead us to this point. All the struggles, all of the conflict, and even the final cleansing tells us how to prepare to be part of the new world. Even the very last verse of the Book of revelation is positive. Whenever we celebrate mass the priest invokes God's presence directing the final words of the Book of Revelation to the people in front of him.

The Bible text reads:
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints.
And so the priest prays,
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

After all we are called to be saints.

The Book of Revelation is not a Book of fear but a Book of hope. The only people who should be afraid are those who choose to do evil.

Three times 20:12, 20:13 and finally in 22:12 we are repeated told that we will be judged not according to our profession of faith, our memorization of the bible or the catechism, but according to our έργα (erga) works.

We should immerse ourself in the word. We must receive the grace of the sacraments. But they are not ends they are means. God has given us his word. He gives us the sacraments, so that we may act, so that our works may show us to truly be the saints.

Our goal each day is to keep our eyes fixed on the prize, the new and eternal Jerusalem, and not just walk but run toward it. When we step off the path or find we are headed in the wrong direction, turn around. God will always point the way. The Bible serves as our GPS, in particular the gospels. There is no reason for us to loose our way. We do it by choice. We let ourselves be distracted.

Today let us get a clear image in our minds of the goal, the new and external Jerusalem. Picture it more clearly than you have ever pictured anything in your life, and keep the image always in mind. Today is Black Friday, the day of the year when every merchant is trying to convince us that we need their shiny object. It is the day par excellence for us to exercise the virtues of prudence and temperance.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Catholicity of Lincoln

Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, a word that means thanksgiving, we say,

P. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
R. It is right and just.

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord...

Thanksgiving is supposed to be the constant state in which we live as Christians. And yet, how little does it take to shift us from thanking to complaining. Earlier this month at Disney World I was standing in a group being held up by someone complaining about something truly minor, and someone murmured, "These are first world white people problems." As someone in that ethnic group, it made me reflect on how petty we can be.

Sit in a restaurant and listen to the things that the waitstaff gets chastised for by customers. We act as if the fact that we are paying for something absolves of the requirement to love our neighbor as ourself, or even show common courtesy.

We Catholics proclaim Thanksgiving every time we celebrate the Eucharist, but Lincoln understood it. Right in the middle of the American Civil War, 1863, he called for all of us on the 4th Thursday of November to pause and give thanks.

We Catholics shouldn't need this holiday because every Sunday and in fact every day in churches around the world we celebrate thanksgiving. But we do need it. We, as much as anyone, need to be reminded of the centrality of thanksgiving (Eucharist) to the Christian life.

Today as families gather there is sure to be some family drama. Can we resolved not to be sucked into the vortex? Just for this day, self-monitor. Let us remain always in a state of gratitude for all that we have, most of which we do not merit. If only for this one day let us live in constant thankfulness.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

One Nation under God

Today we open Chapter 15 of the Book of Revelation:

I, John, saw in heaven another sign, great and awe-inspiring: seven angels with the seven last plagues, for through them God’s fury is accomplished.

The word used for fury can also be translated passion is refers to being in that state where you are so worked up emotionally that you are breathing hard.

This is followed by an image of a sea of glass on which are standing those who, "were holding God’s harps, and they sang the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb"— the great coming together.

As I watch the news I cannot but reflect on the great plague that has poisoned our country from its birth, the racial divide. It is broader than simple racism.

Don't get me wrong. I have seen racism my whole life. Snide comments made to my mother about time I spent playing at the home of my black neighbors , the wall that divided the colored and white seating areas in the doctor's office, the argument over whether blacks were going to be allowed at my brother's funeral in 1972, are but a few example.

But I can also look back to my senior year of high school 1978 and the following years of college and see that I had more Black friends then that before or since. I fear that in the late 70's/ early 80's race relations reached their zenith. We have now replaced forced segregation with self-segregation.

My church St. Patrick's sits 0.9 miles from Holy Rosary, the black Catholic Church, and they might as well be in different cities, or countries. Worse than the animosity of the 50s and 60s is indifference, the world of us and them in quiet co-existence. There is the oft repeated truism that Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in America. And we seem to be ok with that.

I had hoped that with the election of President Obama he would speak to this issue in ways that no white president could. I have been disappointed.

When I am not dressed like a priest, I will still from time to time get verbally patted on the head, talked down to as if I am mentally disabled because of my cerebral palsy. People still subtly stare and move away passing on a sidewalk. And I get just a small taste of what black people and black males in particular feel much of the time.

Some of what we are seeing is mere anger, but some is righteous indignation. And we need to admit that we white people don't understand it.

There are those who pretend that racism is a southern thing. We see clearly that this is a lie.

As I write this, I fear that we will talk about race for the next two weeks then Furgeson will blow over and we will go back to detente until the next eruption. We will continue to repeat the cycle.

In the Biblical world the great divide was Jew and gentile. And the Book of revelation presents us with an image of those singing the the song of Moses together with those singing the song of the Lamb. In America it was a two way split, and is fast becoming three-way with Hispanic being the third rail.

As people of faith, can we not do SOMETHING MORE this time? Stop just repeating this pattern of that swings from crisis to indifference. I don't know the answer. But today I call on us all to pray for wisdom. Help us believe that healing is possible. Help us to find the way to be what we have never been—one nation under God.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What the widow gave?

Most of us, I suspect, are familiar with today's gospel, often called the widow's mite. Even as child the term left me baffled. I understood it to mean that she gave all that she had. She threw all her money into the box. When I looked at the word Luke used, the story took on a whole new meaning. Luke chose the word "bios."

As you may remember from earlier reflections, the scriptures use two Greek words, bios and zoe, to distinguish two different kinds of life. Bios is the life we get at conception, biological life. Zoe is the one we get at baptism. It is eternal life, a share in the divine life of God.

What the widow gives is not just all of her money, or all her possessions. She goes to the temple and hands back to God her entire human life. From a purely human point of view this would leave her dead. But it doesn't because it is not just a donation but an exchange. She hands over the bios and God fills her with zoe.

The catch is that we can't have both. We have to choose. The more we cling to the bios, the less room there is in us for zoe. The irony is that our so called survival instinct is what will lead ultimately to our death, real death, eternal death.

If we want the zoe, we have to make room. Like the widow we have to give away the bios. Most of us cannot do what the widow did and give it away in a single donation. For most of us it is a lifelong process, involving a lot of back and forth.

Infant baptism makes sense to me because there is room in an infant. They have not yet gotten attached to their possessions, their position, their ambitions. They aren't yet clinging to the stuff of earthly life. As we get older, like a tree, we put down roots in the earth. We are harder to move.

The good news is that once we have first received the gift of zoe. We can never completely push it out. Even when we get almost complete sucked into this life, the Holy Spirit remains in us and calls to us.

Let us look at how we spend this day. Watch our actions. Listen to our words. As we think about the widow today, let us open our hearts, open our hands and let God take our old life and fill us completely with his life—the only real life that matters.

Where are we going?-Christ the King

One of the standard polling questions we hear constantly is: do you believe the country is headed in the right direction? On this last Sunday of the liturgical year the readings answer a much broader question: is the world, the universe, headed in the right direction? And the Christian answer is a resounding yes.

Today is the Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe. And as Christians we know the end of the story. We know how all of this end. It ends with the coming of the fullness of the kingdom of God. God has one goal, and in 1 Cor. 15:28 we are told what it is

in order that God might be all in all

Evil exists, and at a given moment in a given place it may appear to be winning. People who choose to do evil may appear to get ahead. But if we are Christians we know better. We know that their success is fleeting, their victories an illusion.

The Kingdom of God is coming, it is already among us, within us. For every human being there is only question. Will you be a part of it or not? It really is that simple.

And how are you part of the Kingdom? The gospel today reminds us that we must avoid the two extremes, too simple or too complex. On the too simple side are the Catholic "Baptism makes you part of the Church" or the Protestant "accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior." Those are merely first steps.

The too complex folks are the ones who think you have to be registered, thithe, and be involved in every event at Church. The gospel today reminds us that you can do all of that and in the end not be a part of the Kingdom.

The reading from Mt. 25 takes us back to what we used to memorize as the corporal works of mercy. Today's gospel reminds us that you can be able to explain transubstantiation, the hypostatic union, and the immaculate conception; but if you do not practice basic love of neighbor you are not part of the kingdom of God. As a reminder here are the lists of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It might be worth reviewing this list on some regular basis and asking how am I doing?

The Corporal Works of Mercy

Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless
Visit the sick
Visit the imprisoned
Bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of Mercy
Admonish the sinner
Instruct the ignorant
Counsel the doubtful
Comfort the sorrowful
Bear wrongs patiently
Forgive all injuries
Pray for the living and the dead

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Heavenly Liturgy

When I was young, I remember watching movies and being very confused by Catholic Church. For me Church was Sunday School, followed by an hour of singing and the preacher, dressed in an ordinary suit, preaching. Altars priests and incense all seemed odd, and cult like.

Unless you actually read the Book of Revelation. And there you find it all, the presbyters (in English we translate priests/elders), the Lamb of God, and the liturgy including incense. As we read chapter 5 today we have images of organized liturgical prayer. And the Book of Revelation tells us that the incense "is the prayers of the holy ones." We can go all the way back to the birth of Jesus and see the foreshadowing of this scene in the incense offered to the child Jesus.

Our liturgy here on earth is meant not only to recall these images from the Bible, but to bring alive for us the very real connection between our life as part of the Church on earth, and life in heaven, the life we all hope to experience fully one day. The Book of Revelation is but glimpse of the life to come, life in God's presence. As we gather around the and receive the Lamb of God, let it always be a reminder to us that this life is not our goal.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Here comes the apocalypse

No, I'm not about to predict the end of the world, but in the last two weeks of the Church's liturgical cycle we will be reading the book of the apocalypse, most often translated in English as Revelation. The word apocalypse literally means uncovering, or unveiling. Probably the most controversial and most misunderstood book of the Bible; its main theme is the ultimate victory of good, the victory of the Kingdom of God.

It was written toward the end of the first century. Which John is its author scholars continue to debate. As part of the Bible, its ultimate author is of course God and the human author matters very little. The human author follows Paul's model and writes in the form of a letter.

The Babylon to which he refers is the Roman Empire of the day which was oppressing the early Church. Worship of the Emperor was the great symbol of how far the people were from God and 6 out 7 of the cities to whom the letter is addressed were centers of this emperor worship. Surrounded by those who worship the emperor, the Book of Revelation is written to the seven churches to help them hold fast to the truth, the worship of the one and only God.

As we begin this two week journey through the Book of Revelation, perhaps it is a good time to look for forms of idolatry in our own lives, places where our priorities are out of proper alignment.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


How many times have you heard today's gospel? And yet, did you ever ask yourself how much was one talent? It doesn't sound like very much. Well, it's about 75 lbs. That's right 75 pounds. Be it gold or silver. That's a lot. Most of my life I imagined a talent to be something like a shekel, coin size. And there in lies the problem.

Today's gospel is about how we will be judged in the end. It tells us simple truth about how we are created and what is expected of us. It reminds us that we are not all equal. On the contrary we are each unique.

From the moment we are conceived and God places the soul in that tiny embryonic body our parents create, he has a vision of who that person should be, and what role each of us will play in the world. And he endows each of us with precisely those talents we need to fulfill that role.

At the end of our lives we will be judged not by the quantity of anything but by how we have used the talent or talents that God has given us. Did we use them to the best of our ability or did we waste our time comparing ourselves to others, and devaluing what we had.

The other important key is in Mt. 25:25, where we are told what stopped the man from using his talent, FEAR. He says simply, "I was afraid." Fear paralyzed him, fear caused him to make the worst possible choice, to bury his talent in the ground, to not even try and put it to use.

This week let us take time to look at ourselves and acknowledge who we are. Let us see that we are each unique creations of God, endowed with precisely those talents that we need to fulfill our purpose on earth. And let us ask, how am I using my talents on a day to day basis.

Never underestimate your talent. Each day God will give you exactly what you need to fulfill that day's purpose. All we have to do is use it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Speaking Catholic

I am still struck by the number of times someone will come up to me after mass and say, "I have been catholic my whole life and that was the first time I ever heard someone explain _______." Admittedly, It's not just a Catholic phenomenon friends of other religions have the same problem. We can often know least that which is closest to us. And each faith has its own vocabulary.

We talk about liturgy. Some people use the word as if it only refers to mass. In fact, it refers to all of the various forms of communal prayer done by the Church. The word literally means "the work of the people."

In the First Letter to the Thessolonians we are given a simple command (5:17):

Pray unceasingly!

If you ask your average person about Islam one of few things they might know is that practicing Moslems pray 5 times a day. But if you ask a Catholic, how many times a day we pray? The answers are less certain. Our best kept secret is that the Catholic answer is 6, we call it the Liturgy of the Hours.

The core of the liturgy of the hours is the praying of the psalms, divided up across a four week cycle. To the psalms we add the canticles (other passages of scripture that were written to be sung), as well as daily reading from scripture, invocations of God's blessing on the day in the morning and intercessions for the needs of people at night.

The hinges of our daily prayer are Morning and Evening prayer, following ancient tradition these would mark sunrise and sunset. Night prayer is meant to be our last prayer before we go to sleep, and includes a pause to examine our conscience for the day. Between morning prayer and evening prayer there are the three minor hours. So for example if you prayed morning prayer at 6 AM and evening prayer at 6 PM you could evenly disperse the minor hours at 9, noon, and 3. With night prayer at bedtime.

The most interesting to me is the hour that still somewhat floats, the "Office of Readings." Not only does it include psalms but at its center is a longer reading from scripture and a reading from usually some ancient writer in the Church.

While I not suggesting that every Catholic should run our and buy the four volume set of books with all those ribbons. The idea of pausing at regular intervals in the day to pray is something we should all do.

For those who would like to take the next step there are two apps I would highly recommend: iBreviary and Divine Office. Both apps take the complication out of figuring out how to use the books. Divine Office has an audio component so you can listen instead of read. For the less techie the website is a great resource.

Start by just saying Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Then build out.

At every moment of the day somewhere in the world clergy, religious, and lay people are prayer the Liturgy of the Hours and we have been since the earliest centuries of the Church. Join the team.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Putting others first

Today's gospel is hard for us, because most of us didn't grow up in a world of servants. The idea of the servant being told to wait on the master and then they can eat just does not sit well with us.

But remember. This is the Bible; and the master is always God. The story in the gospel is not about how we should order our society. It's about how we should order our priorities. God always has to come first; whether it's doing the work of God or simply doing the will of God in my ordinary work. Serving the master must be my first concern. Then in second place, in the time that is left can come my own amusement.

Sometimes we can get our priorities turned around and honestly believe that taking care of ourself is job. We do it with partially true statements like,"You can't take care of others unless you take care of yourself."

I would suggest we throw away both "taking care of yourself" and "caring for others." There is a much simpler rule. Serve the Master. God loves me, and so if I am constantly serving the Master, doing God's will, that will include proper care for self and others. It will even include rest and fun, because know how he built us. He knows all our needs. He knows them better than we know them.

Lastly, we should not forget that because God is the Master, and not just our buddy. He deserves worship.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Saint of balance

Today we celebrate the first of the saints to be given the further designation of "the Great." Only five others in the Catholic Church: Albert, Anthony, Basil, Gertrude, and Gregory have been given this title. Why so great?

Today we take for granted the truth that Jesus was both truly God, and truly human, yet one person. But as late as the 5th century Christians were still arguing over the nature of Jesus. There were extremists on both ends. Those who would overemphasize his humanity and those who would so emphasize his divinity. Pope Leo the Great and the Council of Calcedon in 451 found that perfect point of balance with which most Christians have lived ever since.

It is easy for us to get so caught up in our positions that, sometimes with our noticing we can slide to an extreme position that is disconnected from the truth. Every heresy in the history of the Church started with some piece of the truth, but then that piece was taken out of context, and those holding that piece became so obsessed with it that it became the only piece.

Both sides in the debate were made up of good people, people who believed in the truth, people who were seekers of the truth. It would be wrong to claim evil intention on either side.

Pope Leo's greatness was in his ability to hold the Church together, defining what is really the core of the Petrine ministry. At the end of John's gospel we get one final story of Peter.

So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. (Jn 21:11)

The Church would remain unified until 1054, when it would split into the two parts we now call Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. Then 500 years later would begin the fracturing of the Catholic side into the innumerable pieces we see today.

We have gotten so comfortable with the fractures that we can forget that a thousand years we were truly one. Jesus before he went to his death for us prayed,

That they may be one Father, as you and I are one.

Today as we remember St. Leo the Great, let us pray for the reunification of the Church. Let us pray that we may also open our ears to truly hear and find the truth where it is most often found, not at the extremes but in the middle.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Blessed are the single-hearted

We have heard this from the beatitudes many times, but today as we move into the third chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians he helps us to understand what it means. In verse 8 we hear

I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

Once again we are called to remember the first and greatest commandment,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind

St. Paul today is focusing that commandment in a less abstract way. He is reminding us that Christ Jesus is God incarnate, and we cannot love what we do not know.

First we must to some degree know someone in order to love them. Then once we begin to love them, we want to know more about them. When we are truly in love we want to know everything.

How do we know God?

We know God through faith which is itself a gift, God reaching out to us.

We know God through his word, especially the gospels in which Jesus speaks in our midst through his words and deeds. We can forget sometimes that the actions speak louder than words.

And we know him in the Eucharist in which he gives himself to us as food.

Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (Jn 6:53)

As we run through the busyness of the day, let St. Paul provide us with some perspective. In everything we say and do, no matter how important or urgent we think it is, it all comes in a distance second to knowing and loving Christ. The only real goal in life.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Discussion or Argument

As we make our way through chapter 2 of the Letter to the Philippians I got stuck on verse 14

Do everything without grumbling or questioning

Without questioning? Really? So I had to go take a look of course at the Greek. And it got worse.

Dialogismon- looks an awful lot like our word dialogue. As I dug further I discovered that it was in fact an example of false cognates. Like English speakers who make the fatal mistake of thinking embarazada in Spanish means embarrassed. It means pregnant. Or even closer to today's topic those who make the mistake of thinking the spanish verb discutir means to discuss when it means to argue.

In the same way the Greek word here does not mean simple dialog or discussion but rather the kind of questioning that presumes the other person is wrong.

We've all done it. It's the questioning that is not a real search for the truth, but is really looking for an opportunity to prove we are right and the other person is wrong.

In the Catholic Church we are called to listen to even the ordinary magisterium (teaching) of the Church with obsequium religiosum. A phrase that is also hard for many Americans to swallow. It is really a Latin articulation of what St. Paul is addressing here.

Questioning itself is not a bad thing, but we must examine honestly our motive for the questioning. And there is only one proper motive, hunger for the truth —not what we already think, what makes us happy, or what we want to be true, but what is actually the TRUTH.

It returns to a central theme we see in this letter, humility. It is a another aspect of thinking of others as more important than ourselves. Imagine getting to the point where your first reaction when you hear someone say something you disagree with is, "Maybe I need to think about that." Or even, "I don't understand where she's coming from. Maybe I need to listen to more of what she's saying." Imagine that, rather than our all too rapid declaration that the other person is stupid.

Even more outrageous, what about if on this day after the elections we behave like real Christians and encourage all of our elected officials to follow the instructions of St. Paul and

do everything without grumbling or arguing.

Then perhaps the right things would bet done not only in Washington but around the country.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Changing your mind

This month began with a reflection on saints. It reminded me of that question: what do you want to be when you grow up?

I realized that we should all have the same answer, saints. For each of us that should be our one true ambition. Everything else should be steps along the way. Being a good spouse, parent, teacher, lawyer, priest, etc. should all be seen as steps along the path. After all, we are all going to die and none of our possessions or titles will mean a thing. We will either end up saints or in hell. It really is that simple.

Today's first reading from the Letter to the Philippians gives us a place to start. It costs nothing it is simply a change in the way we look at the world.

humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others.

In the last half of the 20th century we watched the flattening of American society. It was well intended. It was supposed to be a further democratization, treating everyone as equals. But instead of treating those who had been disrespected with more respect, we went the other way. We decided to treat no one with respect. What used to be common courtesy became so rare that when people exhibited it, we were surprised. Even the word manners had disappeared from our vocabulary.

The good news is that in the 21st century it seems to be on the return. Neighborliness has returned. My neighborhood, Church Hill is a good example.

St. Paul today reminds us that if we are Christian, we need to take one further step. It is not enough to be polite and respectful. We have to treat others as more important that ourselves, no matter who they are. Imagine walking through this day and treating every person you meet as someone more important than yourself. On the road, in the store, at work; everyone is someone more important than you. When you call customer service the person in the call center in India is more important than you. Their time is more valuable than yours.

For most of us this is going to require a radical change of mindset. And it will not come quickly. It will take lots of practice. And we will catch ourselves falling back into our old ways often, but with God's grace we can do it. It begins with simple resolution. Beginning now, I will treat others as more important than myself.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Almost there

Many times in Christianity we must hold two things to be true simultaneously. Jesus is true God, and simultaneously true man. The Kingdom of God according to St. Luke 17:21 is within you. And yet we await the coming of the fullness of the Kingdom of God at the end of time.

Yesterday I wrote about how St. Paul refers to the members of the various churches as the saints and yet we know that the fullness of our sainthood is not yet here. In the fullest sense of the word the word saint applies to those whose souls are in heaven and who merely await the resurrection of their bodies. The final step.

There is only one catch. In heaven we must love God perfectly and love our neighbor perfectly. And once again we bump into the problem of free will. Not even after death does God take it away.

Right now, at this moment, which of us loves God or our neighbor perfectly? And if I died right this moment. That lack of perfect love would keep me from heaven.

I haven't rejected God, so I am not going to hell. But I need to be perfected. More precisely, I must allow God to perfect me, to purify me. To rid me of all those things that keep me from loving God and loving my neighbor perfectly. My last act of the will must be total and complete surrender, to love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind. I must allow God to finish turning me into a saint in the fullest sense of the word.

The problem is that some of us don't quite want to surrender. Our hurts, our resentments, our prejudices have become that comfortable but ratty sweater we can't bear to throw away, our security blanket. We claim, "I have tried to forgive, but I can't." We hold on to injuries like precious souvenirs. We dislike people we have never even met.

Before we can enter heaven it all has to go, every single drop. We must not only love God perfectly, but every person created by God perfectly.

The good news is that God is ready to transform our love, and make it perfect, the moment we die. The process of perfecting us we call purgatory. It is the final purification of each soul that transforms our imperfect love into perfect love of God and neighbor.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. (1 Cor 13:12)

We shall see as God sees and love as God loves.

It is because the saints in heaven love as God loves that we know they continue to love us and pray to God for us. The care about the world as God cares about the world.

We call today All Souls' Day for short. It's actual title is the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed. Think of all of your relatives who have departed this earthly life. And be honest, were there not many among them who were still carrying some kind of baggage: hurts, angers, prejudices. Today the church calls us to pray not only for friends and family but for

our brothers and sisters
who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection,
and all who have died in your mercy:
(Eucharistic Prayer II)

That all of these who have passed from this life we let go and surrender completely and be transformed into All Saints.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Cowardly Christianity

It's November 1 and I am on my way back from vacation. What better day than this Solemnity of All Saints. Solemnities are the most important days in the church's calendar. Usually today we think of white robes and heaven. But if you look at St. Paul's letters you see a much broader picture of who all saints refers to.

Certainly there are those people whom the Church has publicly declared saints because of their heroic virtue. And there all all those who have died in the peace of Christ. But again I invite you to open your Bible.

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, to the saints that are at Ephesus, and the faithful in Christ Jesus - Eph 1:1

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons - Phil 1:1

To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ [that are] at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. Col 1:2

(1) Paul, called [to be] an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, [even] them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called [to be] saints, with all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, their [Lord] and ours 1 Cor 1-2.

And so on.

In fact, I could not find a single letter of St. Paul addressed to sinners.

So if St. Paul addresses the members of the churches as saints why do we want to always focus on the fact that we are sinners? The simple answer is that it is easier.

If I keep telling myself and others that I am a sinner, then I have an excuse for everything. My attempts at being good can always have this half-hearted quality. If I resign myself to failure, life is just less work.

To be a saint is hard work. It requires constant dependence on God and God's grace. It requires us to constantly fight the temptation to be self-centered. Being a saint requires us to constantly surrender our will to God's will. It requires constant vigilance. And when we fall into sin, it requires an immediate desire to repent. It requires constant conversion, a constant turning toward Christ.

So if we are lazy or just cowardly, we can just keep repeating the words, I am a sinner, we are all sinners and continue to wallow in the mud. Or on this Solemnity of All Saints we can stand up and have courage, have real faith, and read the words of St. Paul as if they are addressed to each one of us personally. On this first day of November, make a new start, let go of your ego, and live as one called to be a saint.