Saturday, May 31, 2014

How long is a long time

When Pope John Paul II passed from this life, people in the square were shouting Santo subito! I remember translators saying it meant, "Saint Now" and I laughed. Is that the literal translation, yes. But for any of us who have lived in and love the Italian culture, is that what it means, not really. The closer American equivalent would be soon or as soon as I can get to it. One of the things I most miss about Rome, contrary to the caricature, is manners. In Italian as in Spanish the word education refers to more than books. Maleducato does not mean you didn't go to university. It means you have no manners. What is the connection? Being polite takes time. We have to slow down.

Today is the Feast of the Visitation. When Mary went to visit Elizabeth and the child in her womb leapt. It would be 30 years between than moment and John the Baptist's proclamation of "Behold the Lamb of God." Imagine any of us being willing to wait 30 years for anything. Imagine any of us having that kind of patience, the kind of faith that can trust God for that long.  We pray, and we want it NOW. We pray like petulant toddlers.

The older I get the less time I spend praying for God to do my will, and the more I pray for God to help me do his will.

Can we be patient and see the small signs of God's presence, God's hand at work around us. All babies kick in utero. Yet Elizabeth recognized something more in this kick. She saw it as providential, a sign of God's presence.

Today perhaps we too can slow down, trust God with our lives, and look for the little signs of God's love.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Evangelization 101

St. Paul arrives in Athens and sees statues and shrines all around him to pagan Gods.  How does he react? Does he tell them that they are all going to hell? That is the stereotype of Christians. On the contrary, what St. Paul says to them is

You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious.

He acknowledges that they are a people of faith, a people who are seeking the truth, who are seeking God. He then goes on to say:

I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you.

He doesn't tell them to tear down the altars, and burn their shrines. He deals with them gently, walking them from where they are to where they need to be. In short, he begins by loving them as they are. He speaks their language. 

St. Paul gives us the model for how all of us should approach spreading the good news. We have to start by showing love and respect for the points of view of others. Then look for the seeds of truth in what they already believe. As St. Paul reminds us we are all created by God and therefore there are always many more things we have in common than things that divide us. Then with that base established, we invite them to think differently about some aspects of life, to see the missing pieces. 

Evangelization isn't a program or a plan. It isn't something done by a committee in the parish. At it's best, it is a simple conversation, listening and talking, listening to others and sharing with them how our faith has impacted our lives. We can all do that.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A family religion

We have reached the great story in Acts where Paul and Silas are jailed, and at midnight there was a great earthquake and the prisoners were set free but did not run away. The jailer was so amazed that he asked what did he have to do to be saved. The instruction:

Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.” So they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his house. He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once.

Notice it says he and all his family. Actually the word used in the passage is oikos. It refers to a house, and therefore the household. It would have included not just the adults but chidlren, and even slaves if there were any. Infant baptism was a part of Christianity from the beginning.

While there is some history of individual conversions in early Christianity, the more common practice was for households to become Christian. Often enough it was the father, and as he went so the entire household, as in the story of the jailer. Parents didn't asks their children what religion they wanted to be, or wait and let them make up their mind. They led the family of faith.

Since the time of the scriptures we have referred to the family as the domestic church. This is really a continuation from Judaism, after the destruction of the temple, where the home is the center of worship.

The whole family including the infants would be baptized and the parents would lead their children in prayer. Many ethnic groups over the centuries would set up small "altars" in their homes with crucifixes and other images that served as visual reminders of the faith, and the great examples of the saints.

Perhaps this reading is a reminder to all of us to look around the house. If someone came in, would they know that it is a Christian home. When was the last time you came together as a domestic church and prayed. Oikos is not just a brand of yogurt. The word reminds us that all those who live under the same roof should be united, above all in prayer.

Monday, May 26, 2014

More than remembering

15 years ago today my father passed from this life. He was a part of what we call the greatest generation, a veteran of World War II. They came home, they worked hard, they raised families and made sure that we, their children, had education and opportunities they could never dream of.

They other thing they did was suffer in silence. We didn't hear about Post Traumatic Stress, not because they didn't have, they just didn't talk about it. Many like my father self-medicated with the fashionable legal drug, alcohol. No one who worked with him would have known because he never missed a day of work. But from the time he came home in the evening until bedtime the cans of Budweiser were his solution. He was not a loud or violent alcoholic. On the contrary, he hardly spoke, and over the decades only rarely did he speak of the war. Nothing could have prepared him either for what he saw in the war, nor for its lingering effects. Like so many of our veterans his body survived the war, but the psychological, emotional wounds were deep.

Today we pray for the repose of the souls of all those who died in war, but let's not forget those who are quietly suffering and dying inside. Twenty years ago I went to work for the VA and it was broken then. It was another example of our American mixed messages. On the one hand, we love our vets. On the other hand we want to cut taxes and spending.

The moment we sent the first solider into Afghanistan and Iraq we needed to start ramping up the VA system and prepare for the fact that for at least a half century after the end of the war we were going to have a moral obligation to care for the wounded warriors and their families. We can use General Shinseki, himself a decorated vet, as a scapegoat, but that will not fix the problem.

According to a 2013 report 16 vets a day commit suicide. Perhaps this Memorial Day, we should reflect on those lives, and ask ourselves what we as individuals, churches, communities, and as a nation can and must do to truly honor the dignity of the lives of our men and women in uniform.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Turning toward Pentacost

The Sunday readings never make an abrupt change we always transition somewhat slowly from season to season. In two weeks we will celebrate Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. And so today the gospel turns us to begin our reflection on the Holy Spirit.

Today we reflect specifically on the title in John's Gospel, the παράκλητος (parakletos). It means literally one who is called to be by your side. It is translated into English as comforter, intercessor, advocate. It is the lawyer who stands by you to plead your case in court.

But why will we need a lawyer if we haven't done anything wrong? The answer to that is the reading from 1 Peter

Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

If we are people dedicated to the truth we are not going to be popular, even at times with other Christians. As one author puts it, our task is to comforted the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. We call everyone to task, beginning of course with ourselves. As we are instructed in Matthew's gospel

first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

But even then there are going to be those who don't like it, and are going to try and tear us down.

Then we must remember that the parakletos, the Holy Spirit is always right by your side. Listen to that voice, take his advice, speak only what he tells you. And know that he is always there.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Take a poll

We love to take polls. Not only do we take old-fashioned polls, but we have developed technology to be able to track public opinion like never before. How often do hear 70% of Americans oppose the president on X, 80% of Catholics think the Church should allow Y. The danger of course is that we confuse popularity with truth. 99.9 of people may believe something, it doesn't make it either true, or right.

In fact the warning in the today's gospel is that approval by the majority may mean you are on precisely the wrong track.

If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you.

The Greek word for Church, ekklesia, literally means called out or called apart. This does not mean that we are supposed to be anti-modern culture, but we are supposed to be discerning. We are supposed to lead the culture, not blindly follow it.

It would be impossible for any human being not to be a product of their culture. We think according the the categories of our native language. How we sleep, how we eat, how we greet one another, what is considered rude, and hundreds of other aspects of life are culture specific.

On the other hand, there is natural law. The law that God has written into the human heart, a law that is universal, super-cultural. The law on which the Declaration of Independence was based. When our founding fathers wrote, "they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights." This was an articulation of a believe in natural law. When we speak of the concept of human rights, we are saying we believe in natural law.

I find it fascinating that we hear the phrase human rights all the time, but I can't tell you the last time I heard anyone talk about human obligations.

It is ok to be popular and we certainly should never set out to antagonize others. As mom told you, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. But we should be careful to set back from time to time an look at our lives, our attitudes, and ask whether or not we have become to enmeshed in our culture. And we should never measure ourselves by popular opinion.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Who called whom

Usually we reading in the gospel today

It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you

and we think religious vocation. And while that is true, the verse applies to all people. There is not a person alive who God has not called and is not calling. Whether you "feel called" or not, you are!

And as the verse goes on to explain God not only calls us but has put us here for a purpose "to bear much fruit.".

If you are reading this you already have some degree of faith. You have on some level heard that whispering voice that calls in our hearts. Part of the fruit we all must bear is helping others to hear the voice. Help the to identify the voice, that voice of God who loves them so much.

This reading reminds us that every take we need to take quiet time and just listen to the loving voice of God, calling to each of us, calling us into a deeper and deeper relationship with him. Until we become so attuned to that voice that we can hear it in the midst of any storm. And the crazier the day gets, the more you have to listen for the voice. Let it be the sound that guides you.

Call or text a friend in the storm and remind them to listen for that soothing voice. It is always there. No matter where you go or what you are doing or what is going on around you. The voice of God is calling to you.

Listen then act, and then our actions will always bear fruit.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Close of the Council

Today in the first reading the Council of Jerusalem ends and the council did what all councils would subsequently do, issued a document defining the teaching of the Church on various matters.

Looking at all of the commandments of the Torah as understood at the time, they dispense circumcision and all of the other rules expect for four:
uncleanness associated with idol worship,
porneia which is various forms of sex outside of lawful marriage
pniktos- meat from animals not bled as kosher meat is
aima- the consumption of blood

The problem is that my parents and I thought of ourselves as good bible following baptists and yet. My mother could ring a chickens neck with the best of them. And my father would ear raw meat in which you could clearly see there was still blood. And as hard as it may be to believe, I was that smart aleck kid who would ask my cousin the minister. Why don't we follow that part of the bible. Mostly I would get told to be quiet and eat. Or I would get the Mark 7, Jesus made all things clean. But if Jesus made all things clean how could the apostles then turn around and declare some things were still in fact unclean.

The illogic of all this was in part what drove me away from church in general as a teenager. It all seemed random. Every preacher picking and choosing the verses that suited them. It wasn't until I was in Nicaragua and the man who remains godfather explained to me how we as Cafholics believe the Holy Spirit continues to guide the church as a whole to a deeper understanding of the scriptures. While the truth is unchanging our understanding does change. It is the development of doctrine. We also distinguish between the immutable truths of the faith, and merely disciplinary matters.

Idolatry and fornication are and always will be sins. Eating British black pudding or German Blutwrust are ok.

What was most critical in my decision to become catholic was that I saw in the Church that it wasn't random. It wasn't an individual sitting around reading the bible and teaching whatever he or she wanted. We are still using the same Church structures and same system for resolving disputes that is set forth in the Bible. Sure we've added vestments, uniforms that help people clearly identify the roles of persons and remind us who were clerical attire of who we are and what we are called to be, as leaders. But the three orders (episkopos, presbyteros, diakonos), the calling of councils, the issuing of letter, have remained true to the scriptures. And are essential as we apply the scriptures to modern situations the apostles could never have imagined. The fundamental structure of the Church is and will remain biblical.

To the surprise of most people Pope is just a nickname we use taken from Papa. His official titles are in the code of canon law supreme pontiff ( the bridge), the successor to Peter ( c. 330), and Bishop of Rome (c. 331). Cardinal is an honorary title.which we do not claim is biblical, and is therefore not considered an order in the church. They elect the pope and advise him. And the current Pope has all but eliminated Monsignor, another honorary title. But strip away the costuming and no one can reasonably argue that the Church's structure is not firmly rooted in the Bible.

In every age we face new challenges and we need a coherent system to respond. Is it perfect? We never claimed that it was. From the Pope to the local parish minster we all need to go to confession. We all sin. We all make mistakes. As the church continues to love and embrace me in my imperfection, I continue to embrace her.

We read the stories of the conflicts and resolutions in the Acts of the Apostles each year to remind us, that conflict is part of life. The Church always has had and always will have turmoil. It's what happens when you bring human beings together. But what keeps us going is our absolute trust that ultimately it is God's Church. We are held in God's hand and guided by the Spirit, on our way to the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

As it was in the beginning

When we think of councils, may think of Vatican II. Some may think of Trent. The first reading today recounts the first council in the Church, the Council of Jerusalem.

The key dispute in the early church was over whether or not you had to first be a Jew in order to be a Christian. For women it was a simple matter for men it involved circumcision. One can only imagine what that would have been like for an adult in the first century.

Acts 15:6 tells us "the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter."

From that day forward, when there has been a great dispute in the Church, she has gathered her leaders. When the apostle passed from this life to eternal life, the bishops (episkopos) became their successors. The word translated in Acts as elders is presbyter, which is wheat I was ordained on May 13, 1989. While in English we translate it as priest, that Latin remains true to the Greek and even modern Spanish still calls a priest, presbitero, which is why instead of Rev. Wayne Ball, in Spanish you would write Pbro. Wayne Ball.

In each diocese a bishop is to have a Presbyteral council made up of some of his presbyters (priests). And when there is a need the Bishop of Rome gathers his brother bishops in council. They also bring with the expert theologians. The Councils are named for the place where they convened. The most famous Nicea took place in 325. It's six successors all took place in Constantinople, Ephesus, Calcedon or back in Nicea. These councils shaped the core of what we believe. For that reason many other Christians use the creed shaped by these councils and usually called the Nicean Creed.

Some try to portray the Catholic Church as not sufficiently biblical, because Catholics do not memorize chapter and verse numbers. I did that as a child in the baptist church and see a value in it. But more important to me as an adult is that we not simply recite verse, but live the model given us in the scriptures.

When it convened in 1962 the Second Vatican Council was following the example given in Acts 15. John's gospel reminds us of how Jesus prayed that we would remain one.(Jn 17). No where in the New Testament does Jesus encourage self appointed leaders. On the contrary St. Paul warns the people in his second letter to the Corinthians about being taken in by what he sarcastically calls "super-apostles", self appointed preachers teaching another message.

To our American ears it is a hard truth that no where does the New Testament suggest that the Church was intended to be a democracy. The apostles were not elected. Nor did the apostles elect Peter and say "you are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my church." As Paul and the other apostles established church after church, they appointed the leaders for the community. The closest we come to democracy is the choice of the deacons, and even that choice had to be confirmed by the apostles.

We could throw out councils, bishops, priests, and deacons, but that would mean throwing out the Bible. We cannot cherry pick the New Testament we must embrace it as a whole.

Today as we recall that first council, we are reminded that at the center of our faith is the belief that the same Holy Spirit that guided their deliberations, guided the deliberations at the Second Vatican Council and will continue to guide the Church every day until the second coming of Christ when the fullness of the kingdom is revealed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

We'd like to pick one

You can't miss the apparently conflicting messages in the two readings today. In the gospel today Jesus gives us the kind of words we love to hear. In fact they are the words we hear every time we attend mass.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

So what's the catch? It's in the first reading. Leave it to Paul to smack us in the face with the harsh truth.

It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God Acts 14:22

It's not exactly a verse we want to memorize. We'd probably like to ignore it. We prefer the Beatles theology "All you need is love." Accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Love God and love your neighbor, and you're done. Even those two commandments we reduce to simply, be nice. But that's not the whole story.

Being a good person does not make you a disciple. Being nice does not guarantee enteral life. Nor does it guarantee a life free from hardship.

The key word Paul uses is dia, through. The images is that we have to pass through many hardships. We can't go around, or just sit and pray for God to take them away. The only path is through.

The good news is that these two reading do fit together. If we are true disciples we can simultaneously pass through the troubles, the pain, the pressures of life, and be at peace. Why? Because we know what is on the other side, and we know that it's worth it. We know that if we hold on tightly to Christ, and surrounded by his body, the Church, there is no hardship that can knock us down. We may get jostled around, banged up a bit, bruised. But at the end of that tunnel is the Kingdom of God.

So if today you find yourself getting banged around by life, remind yourself that, no matter how small the hardship, if you unite it with the suffering of Christ you are one step closer to the kingdom.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Staying in one place

At the center of today's gospel is a word that is slipping further and further from our lived experience, the verb meno in Greek. It means to remain or to stay. The noun form ( mone) means a residence, the place you stay, live and is used with what is called a prolonged form of its accompanying verb. The idea being that you stay there for a long time. Some English versions translate it as abide to even more archaic word tabernacle. Perhaps the word home most fully captures the emotional content intended.

Why the grammar lesson? Because I am afraid that as we move more, we are loosing sight of what it means to put down roots or even to sit still. We forget that in our cultural evolution it was only when we gave up the nomadic way of life and began to build homes, communities, and cities that we began to advance as people. When we are constantly in motion, we cannot think or reflect with any depth. Life and relationships become superficial.

In the gospel today Jesus promises that if we love him, we will keep his word and he and the father will come and make their residence with us. They will remain with us for the long haul.

In all relationships human and divine it is only in that sustained presence that depth develops, love matures, and a lasting bond is formed.

Change is good. It is inevitable in all living creatures. But it must be balanced with the capacity to remain. Perhaps second only to the command to love, the next most important thing Jesus commands us to do is to remain, to stay, to be still in him. No matter what today brings be still interiorly, remain in him, and know that they (the Father, the Son, and the Spirit) will keep their promise to remain in you.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Reward for success

Who of us does not want to be successful? Today's first reading reminds us; however, that success does not always bring praise. On the contrary, it often brings the opposite.

Once more we are reminded that bad things happening to us are not a sign that we have somehow made God angry. Indeed they may be the sign that we are doing things precisely the way God would want us to.

St. Paul in today's reading completes the turn toward the Gentiles and is met with incredible success. This success was in turn met with anger by those who wanted to stop Paul, and so they stirred up a persecution. So much for those who would have you believe that if you are a good faithful Christian your life will be happy and filled with blessings.

As often as not, we will find that when we dare to speak the truth, and even more when we succeed in doing God's work there are going to be those who do not like the success and will actively look for an opportunity to bring us down.

If we experience this, we should not worry but count ourselves in good company with the likes of St. Paul, and the many other saints throughout the history of the Church who faced some form of persecution.

Go along to get along was never the Christian way. While we are people who are called to live in peace. Keeping the peace at the expense of the truth is never Christian. After all, can it really be peace if it is built on a lie. We must do it with love but we must always speak the truth and strive to do the will of God. The only reward we should ever seek for our success is the gift of eternal life. And that may in fact be the only reward we see. We should never measure ourself by the praise of others, or rewards in this life. They are far to fleeting. Our relationship with God and the real of of friends and family those things are eternal.

Friday, May 16, 2014

One step at a time

I am the way, the truth, and the life.

We all know that one. Or do we?

Previously I have written about the word life, and the new and different life that we receive from Christ, the eternal life in the Spirit that we are supposed to live. But we should look at the other words as well.

Truth for example. The opposite of truth is a lie, right? Something is true or false. But not in Greek. The word St. John uses here is aletheia. A is the prefix that makes the opposite, but letheia comes from the word lanthano which is the verb to hide. Aletheia at its root means "not hidden."

In the Old Testament, God loved his people, but God remained hidden. Jesus is God unhidden, God made visible.

The first word in the list is of course way. It can also be translated road.

Jesus is the unhidden road to a new and eternal life. But if the road is now unhidden, uncovered, revealed, then what excuse do we have for not waking the road?

Today's gospel reminds us that God has shown us the way for human beings, creatures, to actually share in his divine life. It is not some complicated secret knowledge that only a few can ever hope to attain. It is a simple path open to all. Not only does he show us the road, but provides us with the food for the trip, the Eucharist. And if we fall or get sick along the way, we have the sacraments of reconciliation and anointing. God has provided us with everything we need.

All we have to do is take it one step at a time. And even that we do surrounded by the whole church. Once we are baptized we can never be alone. We are one small member of the vast Body of Christ, those still on earth and all those who have gone before us in faith.

Each morning when we rise we need to remind ourselves of that. We need to step out the door onto to the road and take it one step at a time.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Being a saint is simple

St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Philip Neri are all well known. But the fifth saint canonized the same day may only be known by many as a city in California. Today we celebrate St. Isidore (sp. Isidro), the farmer. When we think farmer, we may think of a person who owns a farm. He was what we would now call a day laborer. Unlike the others with whom he was canonized, he didn't write any great works of spirituality or theology. He didn't lead any great movement or found a community.

The other four saints above were all Spanish nobility. He plowed fields. He went to daily mass. He would bring home other poor people and feed them dinner from what little he had. That was about it.

St. Isidore reminds us that sainthood is not just for the spectacular. All are called to sanctity of life, and today's saint reminds us that the simplest of people can be a saint. As his life shows us, it all begins with prayer.

It said that at times when he was in church in prayer, angels could be seen with him. Most important was that he spent time at prayer. On this his feast day we should turn to him not just as example but for his intercession, that all of us may slow down our life spend some quiet time with God.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The replacement

Once more the readings today remind us that the Church in the beginning was not simply some unstructured, rule-free gathering of like minded individuals where anyone could be a leader.

After the death of Judas the apostles, the eleven who had been called to lead the many disciples, knew that the number twelves was no accident, and so they selected the replacement.

First there were requirements to be an apostle.

it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.

As much as some may not want to hear it, the word is aner not anthropos. The apostle had to be male. In addition, he had to have been with them from the beginning, an eyewitness. As the story tells us that narrowed the candidate to two. Then instead of electing the most popular, the prayed and casts lots. And so Matthias became an apostle.

Only in recent years have some Christians decided that it is ok to call themselves apostles. For most of the Christian world, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant, the word apostle is only used to refer to the original 12, Mathias, and Paul ( called directly by Jesus).

As the apostles died off they were not replaced. Instead they were only succeeded. The successors to the apostle held and hold this title episkopos, bishop in English. In his first letter St. Timothy describes the qualities they must possess. Once more we see that no one names themselves nor are they chosen by popular vote. Leadership in the Church was never intended to be a popularity contest. To assist, as the church grew and developed, the Bible gives us the two other offices of presbyter ( in English- Priest) and deacon. As Paul would go from place to place establishing new churches, he would appoint Presbyters to lead each community. Here the letters of Timothy and Titus are invaluable because they give us the structure of the Church. Only the first group of deacons appear to have been chosen by the Greeks, but then Paul rather quickly establishes criteria for them.

Today as we celebrate the Feast of St. Matthias, the replacement apostle, it is a time for us to look to the apostles in heaven and pray for their intercession. It is a time for us to pray for those who carry the burden of trying to guide the Church in our time, all of the bishops throughout the world.

As I marked my 25th anniversary yesterday, I recalled that moment when I knelt before Bishop Sullivan, and with trust in God, promised respect and obedience to him and his successors, whoever they may be. It is an absolute leap of faith, grounded in our belief that it is still the Holy Spirit who is in charge of the Church. Pastors of parishes, bishops of dioceses, and even the Pope are only servants struggling to discern and to the will of God, each in our own imperfect way.

St. Matthias, pray for us.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

One Voice

If someone asks you where Christianity started you might say Jerusalem, referring to the Pentecost event. You might say Nazareth or Bethlehem referring to Jesus early life. But I doubt many of us would say Antioch, today called Antakya in Turkey. But as the first reading reminds us, it was there that the word Christian was first used. Before that they were followers of Jesus or people of the way. It was in Antioch that Christianity made its next step in its evolution into the religion we practice today. It was in Antioch that it made the turn toward the Greek speaking world.

If being a Christian were merely an exercise in historical reenactment, trying to copy Jesus, the gospels would have been written in Aramaic or Hebrew to capture the exact words of Jesus as accurately as possible. Instead what we have in the gospels are Greek translations. The words of Jesus as recalled by the four evangelists and translated into the common language of the people at that time. And as history moved on we translated the Greek into Latin, and the other languages of the world.

Ours is not a religion of the "historical Jesus." We are the follower of the living Jesus. The one who rose from the dead, who with the Father sent the Holy Spirit. The gospels tell us very little of Jesus's life, and there are big chunks of time missing. Why? Because we are supposed to be building our relationship with Jesus in the here and now.

The gospel today uses the image of the sheep who can hear and recognize the voice of their shepherd. We may begin in the word, but we must all be still and listen, practice listening for and recognizing the voice of the Good Shepherd. In the midst of the cacophony that is modern life, it is not always easy to discern that one voice.

Take time today to listen. And if you hear nothing, listen harder.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The big picture

Growing up in Danville, people were divided into three groups: Jews, Catholics, and Christians. We had no idea that Catholics were Christians. And people like Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses were thought of as members of a cult. Everything else was in some foreign country.

Today's first reading reminds us that the apostle, and indeed all of the first disciples were Jews. During the earthly life of Jesus the religion we call Christianity never moved outside that mindset. Jesus's brief ministry between his baptism and his ascension was focused on the people of Israel. He would leave the mission "go out and teach all nations" to his Church, guided by the Holy Spirit.

As we see from the infighting in the first reading there were those in the community who didn't understand this. They wanted to keep things exactly as they had been when Jesus was around. I'm sure they were quite fond of Matthew 5:18
For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

It is only after Peter's vision of the great sheet in which all the animals of the world were declared clean that he himself understood the true mission of the Church. The struggle over the Jewish identity of the Church would continue for some time. Only much later would Christians come to see themselves as a separate religion.

If we look beneath the surface we recognize that the struggle was not primarily one of theology, but a deeper question of how one looks at the world. Do you look forward or backward?

There were in the beginning and there will always be those who walk through life looking backward. They believe that the best world has past. Change is usually bad. On the other extreme you have those who run forward. Their attitude is, why do I need to study history? In the Catholic Church, this group seems to be subdivided into those who worship Vatican II and those who worship John Paul II, forgetting that both represent only the latter half of the 20th century.

The challenge of being a true Catholic, a true Christian is that we are pilgrims, we are people with a mission, always looking forward, moving forward, and yet keeping ourselves rooted in the full 2000 year history of our faith. The fullness of the kingdom of God is ahead of us not behind.

One of the reasons I became Catholic was that the more I read the more it seemed to me that the church I was in wanted to jump from Jesus to the Reformation, with no real sense of the millennium and half in between. We weren't even taught the history of the baptist church. It was you, Jesus, and a Bible.

Today we are reminded that the Church has always done both, remain the same and change. We continue to move through time toward eternity, guided by the spirit. We learn from but cannot cling to the past, nor should we impose our will for change. It is enough if we can seek to do God's will in the present.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


St. John uses many metaphors to describe who Jesus is among the most beloved is the Good Shepherd. But before we get to the that one we have to literally get past a less beloved one, the gate. For the most part I think we simply try to ignore it. As if it somehow accidentally made its way into the gospel.

We prefer to think of the sheep wandering in the field, running free. We forget two things: sheep aren't all that smart and there are wolves.

If Jesus is the gate then there must be a fence, with an area outside and an area inside. In other words, there are boundaries. And the truth is we all like boundaries. That is, when we are the ones setting them. We want our things. We want our personal space respected. The only time we don't like boundaries is when we want to cross them. Then they are silly.

We pray to God as, Our Father. Today's reading reminds us that like any good parent he has set boundaries. Like sheep, left to our own devices, we wander in an out. It's why we start mass with a penitential rite, and when we wander really far off Jesus gave us the sacrament of penance.

Are there boundaries? Yes. The good news is that there is a gate in the fence and the gate is always open. When we wander off, we can always come back.

Every metaphor has its limits. And where this one breaks down is that we are not animals. Sheep are stupid and the shepherd uses a stick and dog to herd them back in. We on the other hand must choose to enter. Not once in a lifetime but every single day. We must choose to enter through the gate, to stay inside the boundaries. There will always be those things outside that look so good, so tempting. In our arrogance we can think we know better or we can walk close to the edge, push the boundaries. It's what we do.

Today is Sunday. Walk inside the door of your church. Feel welcome. Feel safe. Feel the love and security of being with the flock inside the corral. And know that the door is always open.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Make your bed?

In the first reading today we have two miracles the healing of a paralyzed man and the raising of a woman from the dead. Once more Luke, the author of the gospel and the Acts of the Aposltes, pairs a story of a man and a woman underscoring their equality in the kingdom of God. While we're getting all caught up in the miracles we can overlook the details.

When Peter heals the paralyzed man he says
Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed.

Sounds like my mother in the mornings before school. I never realized all those years she was quoting the Bible. Neither did she.

We tend in life to look to God for the extraordinary. We pray for the miraculous healing. We turn to God when we are in trouble. We think of ministry as what we do in church. Peter reminds us today that being a disciple means doing everything with Christ, even the most mundane task: making the bed, washing dishes, taking out the trash can all be transformed into moments of grace.

If someone were to ask what is the primary distinction between clergy and laity, the simple answer would be the location of their ministry. As a priest my ministry is primarily in Church, preaching and celebrating sacraments. For laity, ministry is primarily whatever you do in the world. In Lumen Gentium chapter 4 on the laity, the Second Vatican council proclaimed:

But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven.

The mundane is ministry. It can all be a part of our pray, if we do it consciously, deliberately in Christ.

Friday, May 9, 2014

St. Ananias

In my parish at least, with a large number of baptism, we have seen a return to the more traditional names for children, including some that would be associated with the WWII generation. This of course means a return to names that are names of saints. The four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) never go out of style. Paul and Timothy remain popular. In Spanish the more obscure saints like Joaquin and Ana, the parents of Mary remain popular; however,I am not expecting to ever see an Ananias.

You may even be thinking, who? And yet there is not a one of us who do not know his story. Remember the conversion of Saul/Paul on the road to Damacus. While we like to focus on him, he is not the prime agent in the story. He is struck blind and thrown into a helpless and dependent state, as has to happen to many of us before we really change. He has to be helped to find is way into town.

The minister of God's healing grace in this story, the primary actor is Ananias. He is the one who Jesus sends to go and lay hands on him that he might regain his sight. He is the one who, despite all he has heard about Saul, overcomes his fears and his prejudices. He walks into the house and, having never met the man, calls him brother, adelphos. He shows him philadelphia. long before the word referred to a city, it was a virtue. The word philadelphia, fraternal love, the virtue, is spoken of in Romans, 1 Thessolonians, Hebrews, and First and Second Peter.

No I'm not expecting any parent to name their baby after this saint. But perhaps today all do us can turn to St. Ananias and pray for an outpouring of philadelphia into each of our hearts, especially toward those who would do us harm. Philadelphia leads to healing and to conversion. It changed Saul into Paul. And 2000 years later it still works. It can still change even the hardest of hearts.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Our true hypocrisy

Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment.

Was he evil? I would say no. He was a man of faith acting on what he believed to be true. Most importantly, he changed.

The sad truth is that if we look at the attitude of our culture, you would think that he was the last person to change. We Christians talk about conversion and forgiveness. And yet, listen to the conversations around us. The attitude seems to be that people are who the are. People don't change. And in the age of 24 news and the internet we never forgive anyone for anything. Even our basic American principle of "innocent until proven guilty" has vanished.

The minute someone is claimed to have done something, it is presumed to be true. And when it is true, even if they admit their error, they are beaten with it forever.

Paul tried to destroy the church and ended up being one of her greatest leaders. St. Augustine lead a truly debaucherous life, and ended a great theologian and saint. And the simple truth is, we all sin.

The only limit Jesus places on forgiveness is the that in order to be forgiven we must forgive. This is not just the occasional personal forgiveness when someone hurts me, it must be a way of life, a way of looking at the world. When we watch the news, read a newspaper, hear a story about another person, we should do it with faith hope and love. Our starting point should be one this sees every person as a child of God. And in those situations where it is established that a person has done something wrong, we should pray for their conversion and celebrate it when they change.

judgement, forgiveness, conversion

How Christian are we really?

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Their eyes were blocked

No matter how many times we read the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus,there is always something more to be found.
Why is it that the disciples did not recognize him?

We know from other gospels that it was a true resurrection. The body was his own physical body. Remember that he ate to prove to the disciples that he was not a ghost. This was not some new "spiritual body."

Look at the verse itself it says that

"their eyes were blocked so that they did not recognize him."

It does not say who or what blocked their eyes. If Jesus did it why does it not say so? Ex. 9:12 says clearly that God hardened Pharoah's heart. It was all part of the plan. In this case there is no such statement. The Spanish translation of the Bible on the Vatican website says, "algo impedía", something impeded there sight.

Before we jump to supernatural causes, perhaps we need to look at our own human nature. How often is there a truth right in front of us, but we don't see it? We not only have selective hearing, we have selective vision. We see what we expect to see, and we filter out what seems impossible or doesn't fit with what we believe. Or sometimes we are just to distracted to see what is in front of us.

As far as the disciples knew, Jesus was dead. They were getting away from Jerusalem. Emmaus is about 7 miles outside Jerusalem. The last thing they expected was to see Jesus. They were still deep in their own grief.

If we look closely you will notice that the sequence of events reflects the sequence we follow each time we celebrate mass. First there is the unfolding of the story, the Liturgy of the Word. Then they recognize him in the breaking of the bread, the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

Each Sunday we encounter Christ in the sacrament, and then we leave. We go out into the world. We get busy with life. How many people do we pass during the week?

Can we ever know how many of those are moments of encounter with Christ? Not really. The only safe path is for us is to look for that presence of Christ in the face of every one of them. To treat every one with the same respect we would show Jesus.

The more we listen to his word, the more we share in the breaking of the bread in the Eucharist the more preparer we will be for the encounter on the road.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Which one

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the apostles Phillip and James. The first question one might ask is, which James? And the answer may be even more confusing, James the Lesser. The title comes from Mark 15:40, and is used to distinguish James, son of Alpheus (today's) from James, the son of Zebedee. It should be noted that the Greek name is Ιάκωβος (Jacobos). We translate that James, the Spanish translation being Santiago. So the one celebrated in Spain is James the Greater, the son of Zebedee.

This Feast has a particular meaning for me because during my Rome days I used to like to walk out my back door, around the corner to the Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles (Santi Apostoli). There I would go down stairs to the place you could kneel and pray before the relics of today's saints.

All I can say is that when I was praying in that place it was as if time stood still and I could have stayed there forever. I wouldn't dream of trying to explain it; all I can say is what I felt. It was there that I really came to understand the concept of a holy place. There are only a few other places I have felt that sense of peace and stillness. If it sounds crazy, so be it.

We speak of the Church as the Body of Christ, and we speak of our oneness. Places like this remind us that we are not only all linked to Christ, but to one another. In Christ, we are linked to Phillip and James, and all of the Apostles. When we speak of the Church as one holy catholic and apostolic, we are not just saying we believe the apostles were the beginning. We believe that from their place in heaven they guide us still.

In the words from the first preface for Aposltes:
For you, eternal Shepherd, do not desert your flock,
but through the blessed Apostles
watch over it and protect it always,

Today we turn to Phillip and James and we ask them to continue to watch over and intercede for the Church. May every one of us have the courage of those original apostles, and never cease to proclaim our faith.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Not a resource

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. On this day in 1991 St. John Paul II issued the encyclical Centissimus Annus, marking the 100th anniversary of the landmark encyclical Rerum Novarum.

The teaching of the church on workers goes far beyond simply the pragmatic issues like just wages and the right of workers to form unions. In the opening of his encyclical St. John Paul looks at how we view the worker.

A new form of property had appeared — capital; and a new form of labour — labour for wages, characterized by high rates of production which lacked due regard for sex, age or family situation, and were determined solely by efficiency, with a view to increasing profits.

In this way labour became a commodity to be freely bought and sold on the market, its price determined by the law of supply and demand, without taking into account the bare minimum required for the support of the individual and his family.

In our own culture we have gone from talking about personnel to human resources. You may think this is a small thing but it is not. What is a resource?

Resource is defined (merriam webster) as:
—something that a country has and can use to increase its wealth
—a supply of something (such as money) that someone has and can use when it is needed

We have gone from persons to something to be used.

As St. John Paul reiterated the human being must be the end not a means. Yes, "society and the State must ensure wage levels adequate for the maintenance of the worker and his family, including a certain amount for savings." But he goes beyond the wages to look at the working conditions. "'humane' working hours and adequate free-time need to be guaranteed, as well as the right to express one's own personality at the work-place without suffering any affront to one's conscience or personal dignity." We cannot simply be cogs in the machine.

We all like being able to buy goods at the cheapest possible price. But today's feast calls us to pause and take a serious look at the human beings who produce every item we purchase every day. The dignity of the human person must remain our number one priority. Profit is good and we have a right to own businesses and make a profit, but it is not an unlimited right.

Let us pray for those people today who are forced to work in situations that do not respect their fundamental human dignity.