Sunday, August 31, 2014

Anger with God (Sunday )

Today's first reading begins:

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Jeremiah is expressing the feelings of every person who has tried to live a good life, try to do the right thing, and feels shafted. He is expressing the feelings of person who has ever been angry with God.

Here we have to distinguish between one of the seven deadly sins, wrath (ira in Latin) and anger. The deadly sin wrath is the inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of hatred and anger. It is directed not at the action but at the person.

Anger by itself is a normal response we have to things we don't understand, to things that frighten us. When something bad happens we get angry because we don't understand and we fear something even worse might happen. No matter how bad something is, our minds can always conjure up something worse.

If we are not careful anger can turn into wrath (ira). After the death of both my parents in a ten month window, I spent a long time angry with God. I fell into the trap of focusing solely on the bad things that had happened in my life, beginning with being born handicapped and then abandoned. As far as I was concerned I had suffered enough. The death of my father was the last straw. I was fed up.

The interesting thing about wrath is that it is self-destructive.

If we have an immature faith we think that if God loves us he would protect us. We think that if God loves us we should only experience the things we think are good.

[Enter today's gospel] After Jesus tells the disciples that he has to suffer he then tells them

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Like the for better or for worse in marriage we hear "take up your cross" and we think of little things. We think "take up your cross" means dealing with a job loss or a back ache. We can't imagine that it can refer to something like the death of a child. We cannot conceive how a loving God allows that.

For each of the seven deadly sins there is an opposite virtue and the virtue that is opposite of wrath is patience. Patience gives me the ability to wait.

Now we see dimly as in a mirror.

Only God knows how all the pieces fit together. Only God knows what is truly good and will lead our perfection. If we believe in enteral life, was the death of my parents or my brother a bad thing.

It's ok to get angry with God. It's ok to yell and scream at God when you don't understand. But if we let that anger turn to wrath, it is truly deadly. Instead, we must trust God, turn our lives over, take up whatever cross, and know that with God's help we can not only carry it, but in carrying it, we are transformed.

Jesus showed us that suffering is an essential part of the human journey. But he also showed us where that suffering leads, if we have the patience and trust to embrace it.

At 54 I see the world very diffrently. I look back now and see the hand of God every step of the way. Each thing that seemed a curse I now see as a blessing. For every Good Friday there has been an Easter. And my experience thus far has taught me one thing of which I am absolutely, positively sure. If I just keep holding on to Jesus, I will not only get through anything, but I will come out of it a better human being one step closer to the saint God has called me to be.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

State meets Church

Yesterday the trial ended except for jury instruction and deliberation. In the closing arguments many legal terms were discussed. I could not help but be caught by one term in particular. I have heard it thousands of times, but had not made the connection that I made yesterday. The term is "good faith."

As the lawyer described what it meant to act in good faith and the legal implications, I realized that American law still recognizes precisely what I wrote about conscience in yesterday's blog post.

I did have to laugh when looking around online and found legal definitions that tried to pretend that this was some 19th century American legal principle instead an age-old moral principle that informs the law. It's why we refer to it as good FAITH, not simply good intention.

Our law still acknowledges what our moral theology has always known. Human beings are all fallible. We make mistakes. We make erroneous judgments. As long as we act according to our conscience neither God nor our legal system finds us guilty.

There was a second example of good faith that I have to acknowledge. And here I mean good faith in another sense. Throughout the trial there have been many decisions of judge Spencer with which I have disagreed. But one thing I can say about him is that he is a man of good faith. Here I mean good in the sense that he lives it. He is not afraid to show his faith in public. I cannot count the number of times he has either told the jury he would pray for them as he dismissed them or told them that he had prayed for them as he reconvened them after a weekend. When one juror had to be dismissed for some family situation, he not only said he would pray but encouraged others to pray. And coming from his mouth it was not simply the passing afterthought "God bless America" that politicians tack on to the end of a speech. You could tell that his expressions of faith come from his heart, it is good faith.

In a culture where many want to relegate religion to the merely private sphere, I am always grateful for those who remind us to let our light shine before others.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The one true compass

Should a person keep their word? Are oaths or promises binding? Of course would be the answer most of us would give, I hope. In the gospel today King Herod not only made a promise, he swore an oath. His sense of honor, duty, morality compelled him to keep it. Otherwise, the people could say of him, his oaths are lies. His promises are no good. His word means nothing. He did the honorable thing. But he was wrong! He murdered John the Baptist. Why? "for the sake of his oath and them". (Mk 6:26)

Today's gospel reminds us of the complexity of morality. In a textbook or classroom it can all seem very black and white. Once you introduce the infinite variables we call life, it becomes much less simple.

The only constant in our system is the compass which God has placed in each of us called the conscience. It is not perfect. It requires formation. But in the end we must obey it. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says,

1790 A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself. Yet it can happen that moral conscience remains in ignorance and makes erroneous judgments about acts to be performed or already committed.

The same verse 26 of Mark's gospel tells us that Herod was "very sad." This was the voice of his conscience speaking to him, telling him that in this situation it would be wrong to keep his promise, to fulfill his oath. For whatever reason (misguided sense of duty, social pressure, etc.) he acted contrary to his conscience. How deliberate the choice was only he and God know.

It appears that he chose saving himself embarrassment over doing what was truly right.

It is not always easy to reach a morally certain judgement, and the formation of our conscience is a never ending task. The conscience is not perfect and it may be in ignorance or error. The temptation to avoid pain and embarrassment is ever-present. But in the end we must obey our conscience.

There is one thing of which we can be certain. If we strive to form our conscience, and if we obey that conscience, God will not condemn us. The world may condemn us. But God will not, even if it turns out that the morally certain judgment of our conscience was in error.

Would that Herod had listened to his conscience.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A World without Saints

Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Augustine. But it strikes me as I write this that there are those both outside and, worse yet, inside the Church would would rob us of the saints.

The Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution of the Church dedicates its fifth chapter to "The Universal Call to Holiness". It begins,

The Church, whose mystery is being set forth by this Sacred Synod, is believed to be indefectibly holy.

But how can that be? The Church is made up of people. People sin.

The central question it seems to me is: how much do we really believe in forgiveness? The truth is that if you scratch the surface of most of us and we don't.

Look at St. Thomas. When someone says his name do we immediately think of the great missionary work he did as far east as what we now call India? No, we only remember his moment of doubt. 2000 years later we still stupidly refer to him as "doubting Thomas." How many priests today will focus on St. Augustine's debaucherous early life,instead of the great contribution he made to theology?

The Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation has officially has four parts:
Contrition- sorrow for sin
Confession- oral and complete listing of grave sins
Penance- the priest gives the penitent a penance to complete
Absolution- the words through which we are forgiven.

But there is a fifth and final part that is perhaps the most difficult. The moment when we must walk out of the confessional and leave it all behind. Both in the sense of our intention not to repeat the sin, and in the sense of truly accepting that we are forgiven.

As Psalm 103 tells us,

as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Or as we are told in Isaiah

Come now, let us settle the matter," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.

Do we believe any of this— really? Can we let ourselves feel that peace of Christ that comes from having been forgiven? We say that the Church is "indefectibly holy" because for us as Cathoics, grace is real, forgiveness is real. And therefore it is realistic for the Church to call us all to holiness, to call us all to be saints.

Does it mean we believe that after St. Paul's conversion he never sinned again? Of course not. Do we believe that after St. Augustine's conversion he never sinned again? Of course not.

There will always be those who prefer to tear down rather than build up. There will always be those people who rather than deal with their own sinfulness will occupy themselves with reminding other of their past sins. But if we are Christians, we look forward we do not look back. We know what happened to Lot's wife when she did.

When we continue to ruminate over past sins, either our own or someone else's, we are really saying, "I don't really believe in forgiveness. I do not believe in one HOLY catholic and apostolic Church. There are no saints." What were are really saying is that Christ died for nothing.

The Church is simultaneously the people of God and indefectibly holy, because no matter how many times we sin and how gravely we sin, as long as there is true contrition and firm purpose of amendment, true forgiveness is available. God will make us white as snow or wool. God will make us holy. God will make us saints.

Until we reach the fullness of the kingdom it is true that we can never be just saints. In this life, we Christians live in a constant cycle between saint and sinner. But that doesn't mean we should give up.

St. Augustine has been called the "Doctor of Grace". Today as we celebrate St. Augustine let us renew our on believe in the power of grace, the power of grace to bring true forgiveness, the power of grace to transform.

Personally, I would not want to live in a world without saints. They remind us constantly of what we are called to be, what we can be, if we will simply accept the gift of God's forgiveness, and respond to the universal call to holiness.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What to feel?

As I wrote the other day, I have avoided, with that one exception, even indirect reference to the trial. Unfortunately, when you are the priest sitting in a room when someone quotes the Bible, more than a few people are going to be asking, "Father, what did you think?"

My first response was a moment of disbelief, soon followed by anger. I then spent the better part of the evening analyzing that feeling. Was it simply me being defensive of a friend or was there something deeper?

Firstly, I always hate when scripture is just misquoted.

The text is Luke 12:48b and reads

From everyone to whom much is given, much will be expected.

The implication by Michael Dry was clearly since Jonnie had given much he would expect much.

Luke is explaining to us the appropriate response to the superabundance of God's generosity. The fundamental problem here is that Jonnie Williams is not God.

Throughout the trial I have cautioned friends not to vilify the prosecutors. They too are God's children. And perhaps I am naive but, I believe that they believe they are doing right. Each day I include Mike, Jessica, Ryan and David in my prayers.

Also, I don't know any Christian who hasn't at some point made the mistake of going through the Bible searching for a scripture verse to justify their position.

I would say respond with

Father forgive them for they know not what they do

But Michael knows that Jonnie is not God. And I believe that Michael knows the real meaning of that Bible verse. He was simply trying to be clever. He needed a big finish, and he made an inappropriate decision to misuse to the Bible to do it. I wonder if he even realized that he was doing so in front of a judge who holds a Master of Divinity from Howard University.

As I sit here praying this morning, I am no longer angry about what he did. If I had to describe it, I would say that Michael Dry's decision to use the Bible verse was sad. I can't help but wonder what it was, as he looked over all of the millions of documents and options, that made him decide that clever was the best he had to offer.

Let us all avoid anger and pray that this will all be over soon.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The word

As much as I love reading the Bible I have to stop occasionally and remind myself that the Word which is at the center of my faith is not the Book, in Greek Biblios. As a Christian, the Word that is the center of my faith is a person, Jesus. He is the Word of God made flesh. As John's Gospel reminds us,

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God

Jesus is the. Logos, the Word.

If I forget this I can run the risk of turning the Bible into an idol. Is the Bible the inspired words of God? Of course. But its purpose is to draw us into a deeper relationship with the Word, Jesus Christ. And because the purpose of the Bible is to draw us into that personal relationship with Jesus, there is a hierarchy to the importance we give to various books of the Bible. The Gospels stand in the first place, and all other scripture must be read in light of them. Then come the other books of the New Testament, because of their proximity to him. Then the Old Testament because as St. Augustine said, "The New Testament is hidden in the Old."

St. Paul today reminds us that we must not limit ourselves to what is written. In his second letter to the Thessalonians he tells us to

brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.

Paradosis- tradition. The prefix para we all recognize as "that which stand along side" (paralegal, paramedic, or parallel). And note that he references the oral and written. St. Paul commands us to hold on tightly to all of the tradition. Does the Bible contain everything necessary for salvation? Of course. Does it contain everything we can know about Jesus, the early Church, and how we are to live as Christian? No.

To hunger for the word of God is to hunger not for the Bible but to hunger for the living Word, Jesus Christ. As I read the Bible it seems only logical to look to the earliest sources we can get to help us understand it, the interpreters who are closest to the source. The Fathers of the Church, as we call them, help us to answer the question of not only how did the apostles understand Jesus but how did the students of the apostles, the earliest generations of Christians understand Jesus. We should be ready to devour these ancient texts as more and more of the oral tradition got set down in writing. We should be open to hear any legitimate source that helps us to draw closer to the the WORD, Jesus. To immerse ourselves in the word of God is to loose ourselves in the love of Christ, to allow ourselves to fall in love with the Word of which John wrote:

All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sympathy and truth

In today's gospel we have reached that point in chapter 23 where Jesus is denouncing the various forms that the hypocrisy of scribes and Pharisees takes.

Each begins with "Woe to you". Ουαι.

One might be forgiven for thinking that this sounds like a curse, wishing woe on them. In fact it is just the opposite. The word is an exclamation, like many of the one word exclamations that we use in English. They are those single word utterances that we blurt out at moments of intense emotion.

The emotion behind this one however is not anger but grief. Yes, Jesus calls them stupid, dull, and blind. But his reaction to their stupidity, dullness, and blindness is not our reaction of anger and frustration; it is grief, the grief any of us feel when we see someone we truly love messing up their lives. It is the pain of a parent watching their child who just doesn't get it.

It may be truth that you have a family member, friend or co-worker who just doesn't get it. Don't get angry. Anger never fixed anything. Like Jesus feel sympathy, feel grief, and pray for them.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The new n-word

I grew up in Danville. I heard the n-word a lot. To me my parents were my parents. I only later realized how unique they were for their time. My best playmate from as far back as I remember was Cynthia Gayle Ingram, a black girl. And when my brother died I remember a fight my mother had with the minister over whether black people were going to be allowed in his Church. It goes without saying my mother won.

But today is not about that N-word. It's about another N-word. A short while back I started seeing the Arabic Letter N appearing on Facebook pages (Just FYI it was a Persian who actually created the alphabet). The letter is nun ن. It is short for نصرابي ، an older Arabic word that literally means Nazarene, but used to just be the word for Christian. The word has now become in Iraq a derogatory term for Christians. In Mosul it was spray painted on houses and the people who lived in those house had to leave convert or die. And some who converted were killed any way.

In the south there used to be signs that said "Nigger don't let the sun set on you here" and black people were hanged just for being somewhere. Today in Iraq Christians and other religious minorities are being driven from their homes or killed just for being there.

But let us also not confuse ourselves. They are not being driven out by Moslems. They are being drive out by terrorist. ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) aka ISIL (Islamic State in Syria and the Levant) want power and control. Religion is a thin veil of an excuse and recruiting tool. Even other Moslems who get in their way are being killed as well.

I would urge everyone reading this to follow the link to Catholic Relief Services and help support the work being done to protect those who are left. Or find some other charity you trust. But let us not abandon out brothers and sisters.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Greek again

Today's word does appear in the Bible at least 5 times. There it means "extreme" or "superabundance." In English we use it to refer to "the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech. It may be used to evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally." The word is υπερβολή (hyperbole).

We use it all the time. When you say, "I've told you a thousand time" or "That book weighs a ton" or "I could eat my weight in ice cream." Any time we exaggerate to make a point, we are using hyperbole. And humans have done it throughout the history of language. Listen to yourself over the course of the next week and see if you don't use it at least one.

So why when we read the Bible do we think Jesus didn't use it?

Of course he did. When he says in Today's gospel, "call no one on earth father (pater)", He is not suggesting that I should have walked around referring to the man married to my mother as simply John. Even now I shutter to think what would have happened if I had ever gotten up strolled into the kitchen and called either of my parents by their first name. And I don't think telling my father, "Matthew 23:9 says I'm not supposed to call you father" would have saved me.

And the other word Jesus "forbids" καθηγητής (kathagetes) is even more problematic it refers to any kind of guide or teacher. Imagine trying to literally strike those nouns from your vocabulary.

Jesus is speaking in hyperbole. He is exaggerating to make a point. No matter how much we revere our earthly fathers and father figures, ultimately our Father should be God. No matter how many guides or teachers we have in life. There is one who outranks them all, Christ.

I look back on my life and I have had many a kathagetes, a teacher, in my life without whom I would not be who I am, from Mrs. I. A. Williams (the first teacher to ignore my handicap and push me to the limits) to Hollister Lindley ( who literally took me by the hand and guides me out into water and not only took away my fear but taught me to love swimming, after so many others had failed). Any of us who have achieved anything in life know that we are not self made. Without these guides, these teachers, we would have achieved little or nothing.

Jesus does not call us to deny our fathers (biological, spiritual or other). He is not calling us to deny the guides and teachers who have shaped our lives. On the contrary he is reminding us that no matter how old we get, who important we get, how smart we get; we still need a father. We still need a guide and teacher. THE Father, and THE teachers ( the Son and the Holy Spirit). Thoughout our earthly life we will forever be children, and forever students. We are meant to be children and student. It's how God made us.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Deaths and Resurrections

In today's first reading we hear from the prophet Ezekiel:

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and led me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the center of the plain,
which was now filled with bones...How dry they were!

True to form he then goes on to prophesy,

I prophesied as he told me, and the spirit came into them;
they came alive and stood upright, a vast army.

On the surface this prophesy is understood by Christians to be a foreshadowing of the death and resurrection of Jesus, but there is something much deeper going on.

We can go back all the way the original sin of Adam, and trace a path from there to the Resurrection and beyond, a pattern of Gods behavior. Is God a God of justice? Of course. But is God a simplistic God who just rewards the good and punishes the wicked? Think carefully before you answer that one.

What we see when we look at the entire history is a God who is just but also God who never gives up. Even when the bones, as in Ezekiel's vision, are completely dry and seem beyond redemption.

Evil is evil and sin is sin. Let us not kid ourselves about that. But at the same time there is no sin that God cannot use as an opportunity for transforming grace.

Each year at the Easter vigil when we sing the exultet, we refer to the Original Sin of Adam as
O happy fault ( Felix cupla)
How could we be happy about sin? The text goes on
that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

The original sin of Adam led to the incarnation, life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus that lead to our becoming more than human. It opened for us the gates of heaven and made it possible for us to be the adopted sons and daughters of God.

In the Old Testament we have examples like the murdering adulterer David, who God made Israel's greatest King. In the New Testament we have the persecutor Saul transformed in the preacher Paul.

Two millennia later God has not changed. Every days around the world God touches lives. Every day God takes someone's sin, someone's dry bones and breathes his Spirit, his Breath into them. And the Army that Ezekiel envisioned continues to expand.

Sometimes the dry bones are visible for the world to see. Other times they are like our bones, invisible to the naked eyes, buried deep beneath the flesh but present nonetheless. Sometimes the dry bone is as small as the staples in your middle ear. Sometimes it is most of the bones in your body, and you feel the ache all over.

Today let each of us turn to God, inhale that Spirit, and allow him revive our dry bones so that we can stand up straight and give praise and glory to God.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The three word problem

Since the McDonnell trial began I have studiously avoided even oblique references to it in this blog. But yesterday I witnessed a three word problem in our legal system that I had never before realized.

In the Catholic Church we have the seal of confession. Even the indirect violation of the seal is an offense so severe it is reserved to the Holy See and punishable by dismissal from the clerical state. It exists because we are all imperfect creatures, beloved children of God, but imperfect, and we need to give voice to that imperfection in a safe and secure environment. Every human being has something that they would not like to see made public.

Our American legal system extends that privacy to all religions, in what is still commonly referred to by some as "priest-penitent privilege." But yesterday as I watched Bob take the oath, an oath I had heard a thousand times, I heard three words as I had never heard them before.

I have been a priest for 25 years. One thing I can say with absolute certainty, I have never seen a perfect marriage. Ask any couple married for any length of time and they will tell you. When they say "for better or for worse" most young couples are not even thinking about what "for worse" means. They are in love.

I have also grown up loving legal shows all the way back to Perry Mason. It's why as a priest I became a canon lawyer. I love the law. I can't count the number of times I have heard the question:
Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God? But yesterday I saw three words, "the whole truth" in an all new light.

When you charge a married couple, especially a couple with a long marriage, and either of them dares to testify it would be impossible for them to tell "the whole truth" and not talk about the marriage.

Being a priest is not my job, it is my identity. The same is true of husbands and wives. The whole truth about any couple by definition includes the marriage. And the whole truth by definition includes the for better and the for worse.

As Catholics we are expected to regularly tell the whole truth. It's called confession. In the confessional we tell the whole truth, knowing that the priest can never in any way directly or indirectly reveal what is said. We have the guarantee of absolute confidentiality.

The media keeps talking about "throwing his wife under the bus." Yesterday, I saw in stark reality how our legal system only gives us a binary choice. You can refuse to testify, which is your right. Or you can tell the whole truth. There is no third option.

Is there any married person reading this blog who would want to stand up in public and tell the whole truth? Is there any person at all who would want to stand up in public and tell the whole truth about their life?

I will not be able to be there this morning because of other pastoral responsibilities. But as this day proceeds I would invite us all to return to the words of John's gospel.

"Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone"

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Few if any of us would like to think of ourselves as arrogant. Truth be told, no arrogant person ever thinks of themselves as arrogant. They are just correct —all the time.

In the first reading today from Ezekiel we hear in graphic terms the punishment dealt out to the arrogant.

Oh yes, you are wiser than Daniel, there is no secret that is beyond you. By your wisdom and your intelligence you have made riches for yourself; You have put gold and silver into your treasuries..Because you have thought yourself to have the mind of a god...You shall die the death of the uncircumcised at the hands of foreigners

This sin is probably the greatest daily danger for any of us. Every time I hear someone say, "We are the greatest nation in the world" or "We have the greatest justice system in the world", I want to scream "Be careful." Even if a woman is beautiful, what do we think of her when she is the one who say it?

We have been blessed. We have a superabundance of natural resources, and like the people Daniel addresses we have used our intelligence, our ingenuity to make ourselves rich and powerful. But in the process, we have lost our humility.

The center of the sin of the people Daniel addresses is captured in one phrase.

you have thought yourself to have the mind of God

It is the original sin. When man decided he did not need God to tell him right from wrong, he would decide for himself.

How many Catholics on Friday, just skipped going to mass on the Holy Day of Obligation, and then on Sunday shamelessly marched up to communion, as if they had done nothing wrong. Why? Because on their own they decided that the obligation didn't apply to them.

How many Christians of various stripes are living daily in what can most politely be called "irregular situations" and yet if I or any other priest or minister dare to challenge them on it, we are accused of not being pastoral. Is it more pastoral to lie and tell them a sin is not a sin?

Sadder yet is the number of people who church shop until they find one that will tell them what they want to hear. Or those who say, " I am spiritual but not religious," shorthand for "My conscience knows there is a God, but I want to make up my own rules."

Do I believe the Catholic Church has it right all the time? No. That is not what we mean when we speak of infallibility. That is the caricature.

But when push comes to shove, I can trust either myself or 2000 years of philosophy and theology. Which is more likely to be correct? How arrogant do I have to be to believe that I'm right and the Church is wrong? And yes on many things I can look around and find groups that will agree with me, but what support do they have for their interpretation of the Bible? How much historical precedent do they have?

When we decide that we have the right to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong we are claiming to have the mind of God. When we make ourselves the final judge. We are making ourselves our own God.

We all slip into it. We love to rationalize. The prophet today reminds us in stark terms of the importance of humility, in relation to God and relation to others.

The prophet Ezekiel encourages every one of us to look deep into our conscience, and listen. If we have the courage to do so, we will find that we know the truth.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Don't skip the first step

We hear the instructions today.

If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor

We be so caught up in the idea of selling our stuff that we overlook step one.

υπάγε Go, literally lead yourself away, more specifically down or under.

Before we can sell it we need to move. We need to create some distance. We need to lower ourselves, lower our sense of how much stuff we need, lower our appetite for possessions and power.

It is once more the paradox of the gospel. Normally the best vantage point would be to raise yourself up and look down on the surroundings. As a Christian, the best vantage point is from the bottom looking up. We when look up, we see what is truly important. We fix our eyes on heaven.

The rich young man is caught in the trap that so many of us get caught in. He's climbing, constantly wanting more, thinking he needs all this stuff.

The more we can "go", the more distance we can put between us and our stuff, our job, our title, and even ourselves, the more complete we are.

The word to sell here can also mean to barter or to trade. One piece at a time, trade it all away. If you think of it as trading your earthly stuff for treasure in heaven, maybe it will be easier to cut down the clutter. Imagine your own personal storeroom in heaven. And every time you give away something here. Something eternal and perfect appears there.

Right now a lot of people are doing the ALS ice bucket challenge. Imagine every time you let yourself be doused, more treasure goes into that heavenly storeroom. Give away a bag of clothes, a little more eternal treasure. Give away your time to help someone else, that's a high value one. And when we can give away, even our concern about ourself, then we are complete.

Every day we should look for something, or some piece of ourself we can give away. It is literally a lifelong process. But it starts with a single step, GO, walk away from yourself today. Fix your gaze on God, fix your gaze on your brothers and sisters, and start walking.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

One phrase

Growing up a baptist in Danville, as a child I was pretty sure the Bible in King James English was THE BIBLE, later I ran into Catholics who seemed to at least talk as if Latin were God's native language. We forget that for Christians it is Greek that is our religious mother tongue, the language of the New Testament.

Even when the language of our worship moved from Greek to Latin one phrase remain in the original language

Kyrie, eleison. (Lord, have mercy)

Even now it remains in Greek as a part of the penitential rite.

It is what the Canaanite woman in the gospel says when she calls out to Jesus.

The disciples find her annoying, telling Jesus

Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us

They are wrong of course. She is not calling out after them; she is calling to HIM.

And she is wrong in thinking that his silence is not a response.

St. Matthew does not say Jesus did not respond to her request. It says,

Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.

How often are we this woman? We pray and we don't hear back from God. God doesn't seem to say a word. There is nothing but deafening silence. And in our ignorance, we think God is not responding.

If we are people of faith. If we understand the depth of God's love for us the we should know. That we don't need to"babble on as the pagans do..." (Mt. 6:7)

The Canaanite woman spoke three words to Jesus and he said nothing in response. Instead he filled her heart the gift of faith, and healed her daughter.

Can we have the faith to repeat the words, "Lord,Have mercy" and trust that it is enough? Can we leave the rest to Jesus, and rest in the silence.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

It's all context

In the Book of Exodus, we hear God:

punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation

Taken out of context it seems awful and unjust. And is the perfect example of the dangers of individual bible verses. Do children suffer the consequences of their parents choices? Sadly, we see it every day. But does God punish the children for the parents' sin? Of course not.

Today we hear Ezekiel's correction,

Son of man, what is the meaning of this proverb
that you recite in the land of Israel:

“Fathers have eaten green grapes,
thus their children’s teeth are on edge”?

The prophet the goes on to explain,

I swear that there shall no longer be anyone among you
who will repeat this proverb in Israel.
For all lives are mine;
the life of the father is like the life of the son, both are mine;
only the one who sins shall die.

Did God change? Of course not.

In the original cast of Saturday Night Live there was a character named Emily Litella. Each episode she would get upset and go off over what she thought she heard someone say, then after her rant, someone would correct what she misheard. She would then respond with her famous, "Nevermind."

We humans often hear what we want to hear. The Bible was inspired by God, not dictated. That means the hands who committed it to writing were still human, with all that being human entails. Were the Old Testament the complete truth about God there would be no New Testament. Both are essential to our faith, but must be interpreted together.

As the Catechism says clearly:
The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments ...Christians therefore read the Old Testament in the light of Christ crucified and risen... As an old saying put it, the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New.

God has not changed. God will not change. God is immutable.
We constantly change. And the Holy Spirit continues to lead us to a deeper and deeper understanding of the truth contain in the scriptures.

We must let all the scriptures speak to us, not going looking through the Bible for verses that tell us what we want to hear. In the psalms David often rails against his enemies. Does Jesus give us permission to do the same or are we not called to love our enemies?

It is hard work to be a true disciple. It's why we can never divorce discipleship from discipline. There is only one perfect example in the scriptures, Jesus. Today and every day we strive to model him and only him.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Homogenized Relgion

When I first moved back from Italy I was out to dinner with one of our older priests who had also spent time in Rome. We were at an Italian restaurant and I asked, "How long is it going to be before I can eat Italian food in the US and not think "Ugh!"? Without pausing, he responded, "Never." I later had a conversion with an Italian who owned one of my favorite restaurants in Virgiinia Beach, and he told me the story of how when he first opened he cooked the traditional recipes just as they had always been prepared in Italy and soon figured out he had to adjust to American expectations if he was going to survive. He surrendered.

Even more bastardized is so-called Mexican food. One ethnic restaurant after another comes to realize they have to adjust the cuisine to the confines of the average American palate, if they wish to draw the crowd.

Perhaps in a restaurant this is not a bad thing. After all, it is a business. It's goal is to make money. The same should not be true of Church.

Today we celebrate a Holy Day of Obligation, the Assumption of Mary, or what the Eastern Christians call the dormition. Our images all tend to be a rather European porcelain-complexed girl in white (and blue) being taken up to heaven. We barely notice the radical content of the readings of the day.

The centerpiece from Luke's Gospel, the Canticle of Mary

My soul proclaims the greatness of The Lord...He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.

The Church underscores this image by pairing it with the reading from St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians where he proclaims,

then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power.

Christianity in its original form called for radical conversion, a radical reordering of our individual hearts and also our society. But like the Italian and Mexican restaurants we all too often want to strip it of its radical edges, smooth it out, make it more palatable—homogenized Christianity. Saddest of all is when we do it for the same reason as the restaurant; we want to fill up the pews and the collection plate. We don't want to offend the sensibilities of our large donors. We want to keep our people happy. As if Christ founded the Church to make people happy.

Pope Francis from the beginning of his pontificate has made it clear that he expects us all, beginning with his bishops, priests and religious, to embrace the radical uniqueness of a truly Christian lifestyle. Today as we listen to the Book of Revelation, St. Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, and the Canticle of Mary in Luke's Gospel, perhaps we will opens our ears and heart and allow ourselves to be shaken from our comfortable ordinary lives, and embrace the extraordinary life that is Christianity.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Before forgiveness

Today's gospel most of us know well. How many times must I forgive? In Matthew's gospel, 77 times, 7 being the number that represents perfection, God.

We also get the parable of the two servants. One was forgiven by the master, but he in turn refused to forgive another servant who owed him.

While we tend to focus on the aspect of forgiveness, it seems a good idea to go back step. Before I can forgive someone, there has to be something that needs forgiving, an offense. And there a judgement is made.

A person steps on my foot. They reflexively say, "Excuse me", because they are well-mannered. But is there really anything to excuse? Suppose it was an accident in a crowded elevator. Is there anything to forgive? No, because there was no intentionality. And how paranoid would I have to be in a crowded elevator to think that the person stepped on my foot on purpose?

And yet, we do seem to have the ability to find offense where there is none. What is it about us that we see intentionality and sinister motives in the smallest things? I've been a priest for 25 years and worked as part of the diocesan staff for 14. I never cease to be amazed at the times when, a person's name is accidentally left off of a thank you or invitation list and they get into a snit, convinced that it was intentional. Or those who act as if the Bishop has nothing more to do all day than sit around and plot against them.

Before we get to the question of how many times we have to forgive a person, perhaps we need to look to see if there is a genuine offense or are we dealing with a case of our own skewed perception.

We need to admit that we all operate on double, triple and quadruple standards. We have:
the standard by which we measure ourselves,
the one we use for people we love,
the one for people we like,
the one for people we don't know,
the one for people we don't like,
the one for people who happen to belong to groups we don't like or trust.
And those are just a few of the possibilities.

Time and again Jesus reminds us that the ruler we use to measure others will be the one with which we will be measured at the final judgement.

Most of us are doing well if we can accurately judge our own motives for all of our actions. And if we spend our times attending to our own motivations and actions, we will have very little time to devote to judging others. In our America criminal legal system a person is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Try applying that rule to your family members, neighbors, coworkers. Perhaps you will find that you don't need to forgive 77 times, because there aren't anywhere near that number of actual offenses. Short absolute proof we should always give the benefit of the doubt. That is part of loving thy neighbor.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Your unmentionables

Over the last couple of days as we have all been processing the death of Robin Williams, it has dawned on me that much of our problem is anthropology. That is, how we understand the human being.

For us as Christians, humans are composite creatures. We are made up of matter and spirit. The material part we call the body. The spiritual part we call the Soul. Writers like C.S. Lewis have done a magnificent job of explaining the interplay between the two.

Our mistake has been that we behave as if there is this mysterious third thing called the psyche or the mind, as if it were separate from the brain. Then we talk about mental illness, as if it were somehow separate. And in this mysterious world is the boogie man our modern culture still doesn't want to openly deal with. Unmentionables used to refer to underwear. Now it seems to be our attitude toward the brain.

Let's call it what it is. What we are talking about is a part of our physical self called the brain. It is an organ of the body that functions like any other organ. It malfunctions like any other organ. There is a chemistry that can be out of balance. It is the organ of memory, how we receive, process, store, and recall information. Our receptive and expressive language skills reside in the brain. All of this controls how we interact with the world.

Once more I go back to Gabriela Garcia Marquez "Life is not what you have lived, but what you remember and how you recall it in order to recount it." Our brains can only focus on a very limited number for things. And much of psychology is about looking at which memories we recall and how we interpret them. Much of this we have control over and can change. Here is also where our spiritual self interfaces with our physical self. Our soul should guide how we organize, interpret, and respond to all of the data our brain takes in.

But there is also much of what we call "mental illness" that is really brain malfunction. No different than pancreatic or liver malfunction, and needs to be addressed with medicine.

I have cerebral palsy. If you ask what is wrong with my leg, the answer is nothing. I walk funny, because of brain damage. Conditions like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc are no different. They are medical conditions. We need to stop putting mental health in a separate category.

We clergy are here to help with your spiritual part. And there are doctors to help with your material part. There is no third unmentionable part. If you are suffering, talk to your clergy, talk to a doctor. And if your brain malfunctions, take your medicine, without shame.

Each and every day, we should properly nourish and care for both our spiritual and physical self. Neither of which we can do on our own.

I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.

Today let us care for this most precious gift of life, and help others to do so.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How small can I be?

Once more we cycle back to Mt 18, and the call to smallness.

unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven

Not only does the word used here mean children. It is a diminutive form, little children. Complicating it further the word is also used to refer to servants and slaves, in that way that "boy" was used in the South.

I think it is important here to distinguish between self-deprecation and humility. Self-deprecation is an offense against the basic human dignity we have from conception, and often reflects deeper issues best addressed in counseling.

True humility begins with the recognition of the equal dignity of all human beings, and then freely choosing to put others ahead of yourself. It is a constant self-monitoring process, watching out for those moments when we put ourselves ahead of others , when we act is if my need to get to work is greater than the other person in the car next to me, for example.

Today look for those opportunities to put someone ahead of yourself. Open a door. Let someone into your lane. Let someone speak first. Become the servant at ever opportunity.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The appearance standard

As Catholics we are subject to three laws: civil law, canon law, and the moral law. The violation of civil law is a crime. The violation of canon law is a delict. The violation of the moral law is a sin. But in the last twenty years or so, it seems we have become obsessed with appearances, and to the point of absurdity. People now want to criminalize the so-called appearance standard.

In the Catholic Church we have always understood something similar to, but deeper than "the appearance standard." We call it giving scandal. It comes from today's gospel. Jesus pays the temple tax not because he believes he owes it, but

In order that we not scandalize them

The problem is that the word has changed meanings. We think it means shock, or cause others to talk. The Christian concept has nothing to do with mere appearance. It's not about declaring something wrongs because "It doesn't look good." Me wearing a pair of shorts doesn't look good, but it is not scandalous.

The Greek word means to entrap, to trip up, to cause someone else to fall or stumble, to entice another person to sin. If I am out to dinner with a friend who is a newly recovering alcoholic, I would forego the glass of wine not because it is a sin to drink wine, but so as not to run the risk of enticing him. Because if I entice another person to sin then I have sinned.

The concept of scandal is real, and we should not trivialize it by reducing it to appearance. Each of us must ask, could my action even if not wrong, lead someone to commit a crime, a delict or sin. It is really an extension of the command to love your neighbor. We should not only avoid sin, but do all in our power to help others as well.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Telling the truth

As a newly ordained priest in 1989 I was assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes that had and still has a great school. I still remember the shock I felt the first time an indignant parent told me that, "My child would never lie to me." The parent had been told about the child's bad behavior and the child had done what we all did, claimed they didn't do it.

My parents kept a myriad of foster children including the three of us they adopted. And one of the things we all had in common is that at some point we all lied. I bet as you are reading this you are recalling lies you told your parents. It is part of the child's self-preservation instinct.

As we got older we knew that my mother always adhered to her rule about the truth and so it became easier to avoid lying. Her rule was, "I'm gonna find out the truth so If you tell me the truth now, it's going to go better for you that if I find out you lied." But despite her offer of mercy for truth, as children we lied.

Even as adults we have something we call a white lie, as if it is somehow better. What other colors do lies come in? A lie is a lie. We lie when we say something that we know to be false.

But the worst lies we tell as adults may be the ones we tell ourselves:
—The person who drinks day after day, and tells himself, "I'm not an alcoholic."
—The persons who are shacked up, as my mother called it, who tell themselves, "It's not a sin," because everybody does it.
—The person who would rather suffer in silence with depression, than admit they need psychiatric help.

It is incredibly difficult to be honest with the world and even with ourselves all the time, 24/7. And yet, as Christians that is what we are called to do. Sometimes, with the world, the best way to avoid a lie is to say nothing. We do not need to comment on everything. It may be absolutely true that your boss is jerk, but saying that might get you fired. So say nothing.

We should consciously choose when we speak and when we speak we really only need to follow what St. Paul tells us at the beginning of today's second reading.

I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness

Actually the America lectionary is not the best translation. What the Greek text says in Romans 9:1 is "Ἀλήθειαν λέγω ἐν Χριστῷ, οὐ ψεύδομαι, συμμαρτυρούσης μοι τῆς συνειδήσεώς μου ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ,"

I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience co-testifies with me in the Holy Spirit.

It seems that there are two key parts to being truthful. First, we never speak with alone. The verb here means co-testify or co-witness. We must always speak in union with our conscience. Secondly, we must do it all "in the Holy Spirit."

In a world of constant activity, and chatter. We need to take time to sit in the Holy Spirit with our conscience. We traditionally refer to this as an examination of conscience, but it isn't an examination of our conscience. It is an examination of our lives that we do with our conscience. I and my conscience sitting enveloped in the Holy Spirit examine my life and speak the truth to myself. Then and only then can I speak the truth to others.

Think before you speak, speak in the Holy Spirit, speak in union with your conscience.

Friday, August 8, 2014


For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Our self-preservation instinct is strong. But where is the line. How far will we go to try and save our earthly life? And are we willing to throw away eternal life in the effort?

Here in Virginia we have just seen our Supreme Court strike down the commutation of a sentence of a boy who was 15 years old at the time of the crime and sentenced to six life terms plus 118 years, because he would not plead guilty to some of 51 felonies( all the same event). And by the way, the case does not involve murder. The two 18 year olds in the case plead guilty and got 10-13 year sentences.

Should he have just gone ahead and plead guilty to all 51 counts even if he wasn't guilty? Suppose he was guilty of 10. Should he have plead guilty to the 51? Even if he only committed one, should he have pled guilty to all 51 or even 10?

Every day in this country, the sad truth is that people face pressure for their lawyers to lie. They face pressure from prosecutors to lie. Plead guilty to x and we'll give you this lighter sentence or we'll try you for x,y,z,a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h i,j,k....and you could face, as this young man did, multiple life sentences and more.

Call me a simpleton, but to me, a lie is a lie. If a person pleads guilty to a crime that in their heart of hearts they know they did not commit,they have committed a sin. My mother always taught me two wrongs don't make a right.

What crimes this 15 year old boy committed only God and he really know?

In the Bible Eleazar was given the chance to just pretend to eat pork and avoid punishment. He didn't even have to violate God's law all he had to do was publicly pretend to go along with the kings order. He refused and was flogged to death.

Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life," he said, "lest many of the young should suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year has gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they should be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. For even if for the present I should avoid the punishment of men, yet whether I live or die I shall not escape the hands of the Almighty.

In the end, the one thing it seems we must always do is remain true to our conscience.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Picking cherries

In the prophet Jeremiah today we hear proclaimed,

The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant

For us Christians, that new and eternal covenant is the one established in and through Jesus Christ. It did not abolish but fulfilled any and all prior covenants, and there will be no subsequent ones. It perfects the prior covenant.

We must remember this, otherwise one can cherry pick verses and stories from the Old Testament to justify many things that the New Covenant condemns: polygamy, divorce, murder, lying, etc.
And I always stand amazed at how Christians will reach back into the Old Testament, when they can't find the justification they want in the new.

We should never cherry pick either Old or New Testament. And the bad news in the Good News is that Jesus raises the bar. Love is extended to include your worst enemies. Marriage is one man and one woman for all of life. And in many other ways Jesus raises the bar. But the Good News is that he simultaneously gives us the Holy Spirit to help us to reach it. We are not on our own.

We live as children of the new covenant promised through the prophets and brought into being through Christ. The standard is high.

You shall be perfect(teleoi, complete), therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.

Without God we are incomplete. With God we can be complete, whole, perfect. Let us walk each minute of each day in him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every crack, every emptiness, every imperfection. God has not only given us this new covenant, but the means necessary to keep it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

More that just a pretty face

In today's gospel we hear,

And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun

But the word for face means much more that the physical face. The word in Mathew's gospel "prosopon" became one of the first points of controversy in Christianity. The word conveys not just your physical face, but your identity, your truest self. Peter, James , and John see clearly, fully, who Jesus really is.

There are lots of words for seeing in Greek, the word used to describe what the apostles are doing here has the sense of looking intensely, or studying, the way we might examine something that has us completely fascinated.

The apostles at this moment see clearly the divine nature of Christ, who is as we say in the creed "consubstantial with the Father." These three become, as Peter reminds us in the second reading, the eyewitnesses not just to the miracles but to the very identity of Jesus, true God and true man.

It would take centuries for the Church to fully grasp and articulate the meaning of what these three apostles saw that day. And I would dare say that, two millennia later, most of us still struggle to fully grasp the meaning, and how it impacts us. That God so loved us, that he became incarnate, truly united with us.

While we may never, in this life, see what they saw. Christ offers all people a share in that unity. Let us live today united with Christ, and let our true identity shine before the world.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

No literalists

While there are some who would suggest that they follow the Bible literally, as opposed to the Catholics. The truth is, there aren't any.

In today's gospel the two parts of the Old Testament law that are abrogated are the one regarding clean and unclean food, and the one about washing your hands before eating.

Some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?
They do not wash their hands when they eat a meal.”

The law of the Old Testament was clear about a whole series of required washings, including washing your hands before eating. Clearly Jesus's disciples did not do this, and it was noticed. If we are going to assume the reenactment posture toward the Bible then it seems to me we would have to stop washing our hands, but we don't.

Once more we are reminded of the dangers of pulling single verses out of context. If we read the verse about hand washing in context we immediately recognize that the hand washing is incidental to the point Jesus is making, about hypocrisy. He problem is with the fact that the Pharisees are obsessing over minutia like hand washing, while not being equally concerned about what they are saying.

It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles the man;
but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.

People in the 1st century were as petty, gossipy and back stabbing as in the 21st century. That is the issue Jesus is addressing.

The Bible must be taken as a whole, the New Testament as a whole. It is what we refer to as the unity of the scriptures, and the gospels are for us Christians the lens through which we read all of the rest.

And just as an aside for anyone thinking about it:
"Cleanliness is next to godliness" is not in the Bible.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Saying what we mean

Why does it seem that at times it is so hard for us to say what we mean?

Today we have the story in which the disciples in the middle of the night see Jesus walking in water toward them and Peter's response is,

Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.

Jesus then answers him, he starts out across the water and sinks. Jesus has to reach out and help him up and back into the boat. And utters the famous words,

O you of little faith, why did you doubt?

Some people mistakenly read this to mean that Peter had faith when he first got out of the boat and then his faith wavered. But look more closely.

Peter's faith is missing from the beginning. He starts the conversation with "Lord, if it is you". Like the others in the boat the scriptures tell us, he thought it was a ghost. He wasn't sure what he was seeing. But rather than own up to his doubt and fear, he decided to try and put Jesus to the test. He says "command me", but he says it in the imperative. That is, he commands Jesus to command him.

Commanding God is never a good idea. It would have been much simpler if Peter had simply acknowledged his doubt. When Jesus asks "Why do you doubt?", it is a rhetorical question. Jesus already knows the answer, he is trying to get Peter to be more self-aware.

The story tells us that when the disciples saw Jesus they were "troubled." (the word implies like pot of water at a rolling boil). I short, they were afraid. The fear created the doubt.

We all feel fear. On a rather regular basis things scare us, little things and big things. But like Peter, we often respond inappropriately.

If Jesus had wanted Peter to walk on water, he would have walked on water and not have sunk. Imagine if while in the boat, Peter would have been honest and self-aware enough to acknowledge his fear. If he had said something like , "Lord, I am troubled, please help me" or "Lord I am confused" or "Lord I don't understand". The problems is that all of those are expressions of weakness. And most of us are loathe to acknowledge our weakness. So instead, like Peter, we wrap it in bravado, so no one can see it.

Even if we can't always be honest about our feelings with the people around us, we should at least be honest in our prayer, be honest with ourselves and with God. Say what we are actually feeling. Acknowledge our weaknesses. And instead of telling God what to do, we should always ask God what we should do.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Child or Adult

and they all ate and were satisfied.

Imagine that, being satisfied. How many of us can say that we are satisfied? On one hand, it is good to not be satisfied. We should always be striving to be better, holier. On the other hand, most people who are dissatisfied with their lives are not dissatisfied because they are not holy enough. They are dissatisfied because of something they do not have.

Actually the word in Matthew's gospel refers to being satisfied only indirectly. It really means to be full, completely full. And perhaps there in lies the problem.

We want to be full. We know we should be full. When there is emptiness in us we are immediately aware of it. The problem is that we are not very good at identifying what we need to fill us up.

If you watch babies, they put everything in their mouth, their hands, their feet, anything they can get hold of goes into their mouth. Little by little, with help, they learn what should and should not go into their mouth. But even as adults we continue to struggle with this problem, not just the question of what but how much should go into our mouth. No matter how old we get we are still on some level the baby, putting things in our mouth that don't belong. Why do we do this? Because we are trying to fill ourselves up. We need to be full.

The fundamental problem is that we can't fill ourselves up. We are not just physical beings; we are spiritual beings. And that means in order for us to be truly full we must be filled with the Spirit. Nothing else ever can or will satisfy our hunger. We can continue to be babies, grabbing everything we can get our hands on and trying to fill ourselves up, but it will always fail.

On the other hand, we could just let God fill us up. From the soles of our feet to the top of our heads, we could let the Holy Spirit of God fill every cell of our being. In the words of Isaiah,

Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!

As we go through each day, we feel the hunger, we feel the emptiness, and we must choose. Which will we be: the undiscerning baby, or the discerning adult?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The arrest of John

When we hear the word "arrested" our minds jump to crime. The word literally means to stop. We borrowed it from the French arrét. And let's be honest, while our law says that a person is to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, we all presume if they were arrested, they must have done something. And with both men in today's readings, they did do something.

In order to understand the first reading today you have to remember that "prophet" was an official office. When we read the phrase the "priests and prophets" we should remember that they were the religious officials of the time. A prophet was not simply some spontaneously inspired person. The temple was the center of the Jewish faith, and the priests and prophets were the ones running the show. They call for Jeremiah to be arrested and put do death. Had he done something? Yes. He had opposed them.

Oh they didn't have guts to admit that, so they trumped up a charge. Luckily, the people were smarter than officials, and said to them

This man does not deserve death; it is in the name of the LORD, our God, that he speaks to us.

Cut to the gospel, and we have the arrest of John. Had he done something? Once again the answer is yes.

This time the official is Herod, who had been named to his post by Caesar. John had dared to denounce Herod for unlawfully marrying his brother's wife. As much as we all tend to blame the wife Herodias and the daughter, Matthew's gospel tells us

Although he [Herod] wanted to kill him, he feared the people

Herod wanted him dead. The request of the daughter provided him with the excuse he needed. Unlike Jeremiah, there were no people to save John . John would be the precursor to Jesus, who was the ultimate victim of an arrest for political purposes.

The French have a saying, "plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose." The more things change the more they remain the same.

The effects of original sin are still glaringly apparent, and those in power in any structure religious (Jeremiah) or civil (John) often fall into the temptation to use their authority to exact retribution on their political enemies. We, the people, cannot be naïve enough to assume that the authorities are telling the truth. As much as some would like to deny it, the thought of our founding fathers was Christian.

Yesterday we spoke of virtues. Today's readings remind us of the absolute necessity of the virtue of

Justice- the constant and perpetual will to give to each person what they are due.

We must demand justice even for people we don't like. And when we marry the natural virtue of justice to the theological virtue of caritas, we will always give every person the benefit of the doubt, and presume they are innocent, until it is truly proven that they are guilty.

The next time you read in the paper or hear on the news that someone was arrested, test your Christianity. What is your initial response, your gut reaction? You may find you are less Christian than you think.

The good news- there is always time for conversion.