Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Building Together

Today as we celebrate the Apostles Simon and Jude I saw something in St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians that I am sure I have read dozens of times yet never noticed.

We talk often about how we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and our tendency is to focus on the individual gift that we received at baptism and again at confirmation. But chapter 2 verse 22 is not about individuals.

in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

The Letter to the Ephesians like most of Paul's letters is not written to individuals. It is written to the Church at Ephesus. It is the church that is the κατοικητήριον: dwelling place, habitation, home. We are stones in the dwelling place. I am not the dwelling place. I am one stone, one brick.

This is underscored by the verb. In English two words "built together" In greek one word, the verb to build prefixed with the prefix "syn." It denotes a sameness, oneness, a togetherness that is more than sitting side by side.

We not little individual saved stones who once a week sit together. We "are being built together" into a single edifice. And notice that it is an ongoing process. He doesn't say, you have been built together, but you are being built together. We human beings try all to often to tear ourselves apart.

Today we are reminded that the apostles were send out not simply to preach the gospel to individuals but to build the new temple. May our words and actions today be ones that, guided by the Holy Spirit, continue to build together, and never tear apart.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Patience, the key

As we open chapter 4 of St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians, we hear his begging for that community to maintain their unity, something Christians are still struggling to recover.

St. Paul provides five words that are the keys to maintaining unity in verse 2. I'm going to start at the end, because the last word is the most important, love (agape). Everything we must do in love. Before you go, "O, this again", let's see what we have to do in love.

The next word working backwards means "to put up with" or "be patient with." Yes, we have to put up with all of our brothers and sisters. Back up one more word and you find our that you not only have to put up with them but you have to be patient over the long haul. We have to have long-suffering patience. So how can we have this long-suffering patience in love? Here we get to the first two key words from St. Paul.

The second word means mild or gentle. It strikes me, even as I write this, how foreign it is to our culture. We've decided it's wrong to teach it to girls and we never wanted our boys to be gentle, or, meek, or mild. There is no translation of this word that is considered a virtue in our culture. And yet it is what Paul tells that we must be if we are going to be Church.

The first word I saved for last because it also is very foreign to our culture, but is the key to patience in love. The first key word in verse two is translated lowliness or humility. It more specifically means humility of mind.

It all begins by humbling our minds,a willingness to admit what we don't know, a willingness to admit that we may be wrong. How often is our lack of patience rooted in our judgment that the other person isn't doing something correctly, or we judge their opinion stupid because it doesn't conform to ours.

St. Paul begins by begging the people of Ephesus to engage in humiliation of the mind. Then combine that with gentleness. Then we will be able to patiently bear with one another in love.

It is a simple formula, one Bible verse. But no so easy to live.

Monday, October 20, 2014


Today's reading from the 2 chapter of Ephesians reminds us again of the distance between what people think Catholics believe and what the Church actually teaches. We hear in the Letter to the Ephesians,

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.

Wasn't the the crux of the Protestant/Catholic debate? Not really.

Again I would point anyone to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” and through Baptism

But even faith is a gift from God. The Catechism goes on to say,

With justification, faith, hope, and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to the divine will is granted us.

Notice that even our obedience is something granted to us. We cooperate with grace, but only with the help of grace.

So, what do we do?

When God touches man’s heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, man himself is not inactive while receiving that inspiration, since he could reject it; and yet, without God’s grace, he cannot by his own free will move himself toward justice in God’s sight.

There may be many issues which we Christians debate, but no one should doubt what we believe about the centrality of grace. As our culture becomes more and more obsessed with power and individualism, it seems to me that more and more we need to be reminded that it is God's work and not ours. At our best we are cooperators.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Seeing the Good

Today's first reading raises a very difficult theological question.
It opens with the God, through the prophet Isaiah, addressing a king.

Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp, subduing nations before him, and making kings run in his service, opening doors before him and leaving the gates unbarred

This may not strike you as strange until you realize that Cyrus is not a Jew. Cyrus is a Persian (modern day Iran). He is Cyrus the Great who was the father of the Persian Empire, and there is no evidence that he practiced any religion at all. He was a pagan in the truest sense. So how could he be the Lord's anointed? The simple answer is that God is God and can anoint whomever he pleases.

There is a caricature of the Catholic Church that even some Catholics continue to spread. It goes something like this:

Catholics believe that the only people who will be saved are those who are baptized Catholics in good standing.

What we believe is that baptism is the one sure way to salvation. In the words of the catechism,

Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.

As for the rest, it goes on to say,

God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.

God cannot be bound.

King Cyrus was a pagan but that does not mean he was devoid of any goodness or virtue. He was a man who believed in religious liberty for his subjects and enabled the people of Israel to return and rebuild their temple. God is able to touch the heart of this pagan king and use the good that is in him for the benefit of the people of Israel.

The Church’s bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race

We are all created in the image and likeness of God, and we are created for eternal life with God. We see whatever is good or true in any religion or in the person with no religious believe as "preparation for the Gospel," a foundation on which to build.

The story of King Cyrus reminds us that this is not something new cooked up by Vatican II, or even something new in the Gospels. God has always behaved this way. He created us good, and no matter how broken, some of that goodness remains. Even in the terrorists in groups like ISIL there is some goodness, some spark of humanity, that can be transformed by God's grace.

Closer to home, as week go through this week, each time we get the urge to criticize some, let us stop and begin by acknowledging the good, the true, the holy.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Synod report

All week long I have watched the left and the right go crazy over the interim report from the synod on the family. So I sat down yesterday and read through the Italian, the only official version, twice. (The unofficial English translation contains some funny false cognates)

What I was struck by is that it contains nothing new. There are some proposed changes in procedures for Tribunal, but there are no theological changes. It is a reminder document. It is a document of balance that embraces the human condition, and calls us to be more with God's grace.

It uses a set of metaphors that have always been a part of the Christian vocabulary. It speaks of wounded individuals and families. And for the mission of the Church it uses words like: care, accompany, and one word that has no single English equivalent- accogliere.

The word accogliere can be translated: receive, host, house, embrace, accept, contain, hold. The word occurs as a noun, verb, and adjective. The Church is described as a "casa accogliente." But there is nothing new in that.

It reminds us that the Church must act "with the tenderness of a mother and the clarity of a teacher," courageously proclaiming those truths which are unchangeable. When we use words like "marriage" and "family", we have clear definitions of what those words mean that differ from those of even some other religious groups. This document in no way changes those definitions.

At the same time, we are all wounded. When we look at an individual or relationship we must start by acknowledging whoever is good, whatever it true. Just as we look at other religious groups and acknowledge those things which are true, and good while simultaneously challenging those things which are erroneous. But again this is not new, Catholic anthropology starts with the dignity, not the sin, or woundedness.

The final sessions of the synod are October 2015, and the final document will be published some time after that. I suspect both the extreme right and left will be disappointed. And the Church will do what she is always called to do, proclaim truth with mercy.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What makes a saint?

From today until October 30 on weekdays we will be reading our way through the Letter to the Ephesians.

In the introduction Paul addresses the letter to the saints (hagioi) in Ephesus. How can the people in that church be saints? Because of another word he uses in the introduction, grace (charis).

What makes any saint is the the same thing that makes all saints, the grace of God. Contrary to the caricature of the Catholic Church, we too believe that it is God's grace that saves.

The catechism gives a rather simple explanation of this sanctifying grace.

Our justification comes from the grace of God. Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.

As we read the letter addressed to the saints in Ephesus, let us remember that we are all called to be saints. And if we allow God, he will make us saints.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

True Love

An Episcopalian friend recently recommended a book on the writing of the King James Bible. To say the author is pro KJV would be an understatement. And yet he includes an often used quote from the period which I was surprised to read , but I understood because of my days in the baptist church.

"They have dethroned the Pope and enthroned the Bible."

Even at the time it was used a a critique. As I reflected on it I realized what it meant. The danger of making the Bible God, turning it into an idol or a magic book. We can easily forget that neither Jesus, the evangelists, or St. Paul ever make reference to the Bible for one simple reason. There was no Bible. Collecting the writings that were considered the inspired word of God into a single Βιβλίος (Bible) would not happen until long after the ascension. In the same way some Catholics can go overboard with Mary, some Protestants can go overboard with the Bible.

Today we read from St. Teresa of Avila, and she reminds us that to the Word in which we are to remain is a person not a thing. It is the Word made flesh, Jesus.

She writes of Jesus:

And I clearly see that if we expect to please him and receive an abundance of his graces, God desires that these graces must come to us from the hands of Christ, through his most sacred humanity, in which God takes delight...
What more do we desire from such a good friend at our side? Unlike our friends in the world, he will never abandon us when we are troubled or distressed. Blessed is the one who truly loves him and always keeps him near. Let us consider the glorious Saint Paul: it seems that no other name fell from his lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they took no other path: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, Catherine of Siena. A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands.

Any of you who read this blog regularly know I love studying the Bible, but today's saint reminds us that there should be only one true love, Jesus.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Pick One

As we move into the 5th chapter of Galatians, St. Paul is reminding his audience that what they have is a choice: be Jewish, or be what we now refer to as Christian. If they chose to be Jewish then they are bound to the Law (Torah) in its entirety.

Entering into a covenant with God is not a matter of picking and choosing which religious practices we like and which we don't, and constructing the religion we want. Some among the Galatians clearly believed it worked that way. They could keep the Jewish traditions that they liked, but abandoned the burdensome and inconvenient ones.

A covent is not a contract where we negotiate the terms. As Paul describes it, there are two covenants and a person must choose. We enter into the covenant, we take it as it is, in its entirety. Whichever covenant we choose, we embrace all of its obligations.

The "new and eternal covenant", as we refer to it every time we celebrate mass, is summed up in 4 words at the end of verse 6

Faith working through love

Notice that once more it is the Christian both/and. We need both faith and works.

In the Letter of James we are told plainly that faith without works is dead (nekros).

Works of charity without faith is at most philanthropy.

A true Christian faith is always at work, and working in a particular way.

through love (agape).

Once more it is not our choice. Agape is not what we feel for friends and family. It is not a love for people we like. It is not natural affection. It is the love we call a theological virtue, because is comes from God. It is a super-natural love. Agape is the reason you cannot be a Christian separated from the Church. The phrase individual Christian is an oxymoron. Yes ours is a personal faith, but one lived in community.

When we enter this covenant we not only accept Jesus and all of the commands of the New Testament, but we accept all of our new brothers and sisters. Every single one of them in the whole world, and all the ones who have gone before us in faith, including ones who may have wronged us.

As people of the new covenant, as we walk through this day, let us monitor our words and actions, and at the end of the day when we look back on what we said and did we need only ask one question, was it faith working through love?

Monday, October 13, 2014

With or without law

Today we reach the end of chapter 4 of Paul's letter to the Galatians and we reach one of the most discussed and debated passages in all of St. Paul. His use of and interpretation of the story of Hagar and Sarah has baffled theologians and scholars from every corner of Christianity.

What is clear is that Paul is setting before people two choices: the "jewish Christianity" that depends on the following of the 613 commandments of the Torah or the Christianity which he preaches which grounds itself in a promise. If we phrase it that way you can immediately see the attractiveness of the first. It's clear and in my control. If I do the these things, then I get this.

The real gospel is much less clear. Like the birth of Isaac, it is God's work not a human accomplishment. It requires both trust and patience. It requires the willingness to believe in a promise, even when it seems to be very, very delayed.

So what do we get for all our trust and patience that the Law cannot give? Freedom. And I don't mean the childish freedom we often want, the ability to do what I want when I want. The freedom of the gospel is the real freedom, the freedom that enables us to have the peace and contentment that Paul wrote about in his letter to the Philippians.

Is the Christian life free of law? Of course not. The New Testatment is filled with commandments. From the two basics (love of God and love of neighbor) to the others commands like "Do not be afraid"(Lk 12:32, Mt 10:31),"Do this in memory of me"(1 Cor. 11:24), and "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations"(Mt. 28:19). We keep these commandments not because we think by doing so we will save ourselves, but because we want to please the one we love, who loved us first.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The other state

Last Sunday we heard the "peace of God which is beyond all understanding." Is week we complete our reading of the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians. In it St. Paul speak of another state that should characterize the Christian life. In chapter 4 verse 11 he writes

I do not speak of want, for I have learned, in whatever situation I am, to be content.

It's the last phrase that seems incredible.

γὰρ ἔμαθον ἐν οἷς εἰμι αὐτάρκης εἶναι

The I have learned doesn't refer to learning over time, it is that sudden realization of something. At some point St. Paul realized that contentment is not connected to your situation. It is entirely internal.

Here for the word we translate as content, Paul has borrowed a word from stoicism which would have known to the Gentiles. In stoicism the word "autarkes" means totally self-sufficient. One is content, self-contained. Paul however take their word which sounds ego-centric and turns it on its head.

The Christian is content, self-sufficient, only when the self is rooted totally in Christ. In verse 13 he explains

I can do all things in him who strengthens me.

"Content" for the Christian and for the stoic is the same, in that neither look for their contentment in the world. No thing, no person in this world can make you content.

Christian contentment differs from the stoic in that we do not find contentment in ourselves, we find it by placing ourselves in Christ.

All of our true life, all of our true strength comes from him.

As we say at mass,

Through him, and with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit

Last week St. Paul told us how to have peace. This week he gives us the formula for contentment. Not resignation but true contentment.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Christian vestment

Having not grown up Catholic, when I first attended a Catholic Church, one of the things that caught my attention was the way the priest was dressed. I was accustomed to a minister either dressed in a business suit, or in academic robe. Being the 16 year old that I was, I immediately asked the man who would be my "padrino" in Nicaragua, "What's that about?" followed by, "Where is that in the Bible?"

He patiently walked me through each vestment, beginning with the most important, the alb. It is the first one you put on. The word alb in English comes from the Latin word for white. It is the white garment of baptism. It is not reserved to the priest; it can be worn by any baptized Christian. It's job is to remind us who we are.

The the Galatians reading today we hear,

For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

In the rite of baptism we bless the white gown on the person baptized with the prayer,

you have become a new creation,
and have clothed yourself in Christ.
See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity.
With your family and friends to help you by word and example,
bring that dignity unstained
into the everlasting life of heaven.

Every minister from the altar server to the Pope wears the same white garment.

At the end of mass we may take off the alb, but we should never take off Christ.

There is an old saying, "The clothes make the man." In this case it is true. At baptism we are clothed in Christ, and that clothing should be constantly changing us more and more into his image.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Getting it wrong

Some people still have the mistaken good Catholics never question the Pope or that we believe that everything the Pope says is infallible. Nothing could be further from the truth. The word infallible is used in the Catholic Church in a very restricted way.

It is centered not in our belief in the Pope but in our belief in the one who founded the Church, Jesus Christ. It is grounded in our belief that even though the Church is made up of all quite fallible, limited human beings, Christ will never allow her to go astray in those matters which are central to the faith. Christ never robs any human being of their free will but, like any good parent, will only let the child learning to walk stray but so far.

In the first reading today Paul says of Peter,

And when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he clearly was wrong.

But what was he wrong about? Was Peter, the first head of the Church after Jesus's ascension, wrong in what he was preaching? What his teaching incorrect? No.

It was his actions. He was willing to associate with Gentiles, but when his Jewish friends came around, he would fall back into the old ways. By his actions he was promoting the notion that you had to be a Jew to be a real Christian. He fell into the sin of hypocrisy.

The center of the faith for Catholics is not the Pope. The center of the faith for Protestants is not the Bible. The center of the faith for all Christians is the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. The Church, the Pope, the sacraments, the Bible, all other things in our faith share one common purpose to draw us into oneness with him.

Peter was often wrong in the Bible. As we are often wrong. How many times do we fall into the sin of Peter? We know what is right but our friends show up and we want to fit in with them. We don't want them to think we are odd, and so we cave. Peter gives us all hope.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Do we still believe?

In today's reading from Galatians we hear St. Paul reference twice how awful he had been and how his reputation was,

the one who once was persecuting us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.

While there were many who rejoiced over this, I'm sure there were those who said it sarcastically. Human nature has not changed that much.

In the recent PBS series the Roosevelts it was observed that FDR could not be elected today because of his disability. What does it say about our "advancement" that what was possible in 1933 is unthinkable 2014? C.S. Lewis was right in pointing out the error of thinking that because a culture has advanced in one area it more advanced in every area. Sometimes we advance in one area and take giant steps backward in others.

In our time we are obsessed with "the appearance standard." It's how things look that matters not how they are. And the real question are two. Do we still believe in conversion? And if we do believe in conversion, do we believe only in the magical once in a lifetime kind from the movies or do we believe in the lifelong ongoing kind lived by real Christians?

As the bishops gather in Rome, the question occurs to me: could Saul of Tarsus have been named a bishop in the Catholic Church today?

Both outside the Church, and unfortunately inside as well, we look for the appearance of perfection, and then act shocked or indignant when forced to confront the imperfection in our leaders. We seem to forget that only God is perfect. Do we really think that after the episode on the road to Damascus Paul never sinned again. Of course he did, we all do. We all sin on a regular basis.

At the very center of our faith is our knowledge that no matter how often we fall on the road, Jesus is always there to pick us up, dust us off, and point us in the right direction, one more time—over and over again, until we reach the kingdom.

If we read St. Paul's letters carefully his many imperfections shine through, including his "thorn in the flesh" whatever that was. Our imperfections remind us of our constant need for God's grace, and total dependence on him. St. Paul accepted this about himself can we do the same of ourself and others.

Monday, October 6, 2014

One Gospel

This week we begin reading the Letter of St. Paul to the Galatians. After the greeting, St. Paul jumps right to the heart of the matter.

I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel (not that there is another).

It seems that from the very earliest days of the Church there have been those, often well intended, who wished to alter the gospel. And for two millennia it has been the Pope and Bishops whose primary task it has been maintain fidelity to the one gospel, the revealed unchangeable truth which we refer to as the Deposit of Faith.

The great challenge of the Church is to find new ways in every generation to articulate the gospel without changing it, for the truth is the truth and we cannot change it.

This week and next bishops from around the world are gathered to discuss a whole variety of issues regarding the family, the primary building block of all human society. The preparatory document is 159 pages which points to the absurdity of the press reducing it to the topic of divorce.

Just as when St. Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, there are those who would like to see the Church change its teaching about marriage, family, and divorce. What they forget is that even the Pope does not have the right to change the truths about the family contained in the gospels.

We can and should look closely at how we communicate the truth and how we can best provide pastoral care for and support families in the multitude of cultures that exist in the 21st century.

As Americans we chafe at the notion of an objective truth to which we must conform our lives. St. Paul reminds us today that this is part of the paradox of the gospel. We find true freedom not in believing whatever we choose or doing what we want, but in accepting the truth and surrendering our lives to the will of God. Then and only then are we truly free.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Christian Courage

Once again we are remind by today's second reading from Philippians 4 that when we speak of commandants we are not talking exclusively about the 10 of the Old Testament. We believe that the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God, and therefore even those  commandments that come from the pen of St. Paul are truly commandants of God. And what is the command today?

Do not be anxious at all (μηδὲν μεριμνᾶτε)

Is that really possible? The answer must be yes. 

If God is love, then God cannot command the impossible.  To command a creature to do the impossible would be a sadistic trick, not an act of love. Therefore, if God commands it, it must in some way be possible.

Here we arrive at the virtue of courage.  We Christians did not invent it. All cultures recognize it. It is a natural virtue.  Christian courage is, however, different.  It comes from a different source. It is not the product of merely human willpower. Christian courage is rooted in the theological virtues of faith and hope. 

We use the word faith to means several things and here I am not talking about faith in the sense of intellectual belief in certain ideas (e.g. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God). Faith that is the source of courage is faith in the sense of trust. Trust in the absolute and perfect love of God for each one of us. This unimaginable perfect personal love of God can will only good, even as it allows evil to exist. 

Because God allows evil but wills only good, he must have the ability to transform the evil.  The perfect example of this was the crucifixion of Jesus (evil) that became the source of eternal life (good).  It is this same faith that allows St. Paul to proclaim:

For those who love God, all things work together for good [the word order in Greek].

It was this absolute trust in the love of the Father that allowed the Son to say,

Into your hands I commend my spirit. 

Yes. It is absolutely possible for us to live a life free from anxiety. All we have to do is trust God. Even when the road ahead is absolutely black and we can see nothing.  We keep walking forward, guided by the Spirit. Believe in the omnipotence of God, believe in the perfect love of God. 

Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The next step

Today is the feast of St. Francis of Assisi and at churches around the country they will celebrate the blessing of animals. What many people do not know about me is that in the year between college and seminary, I was among the first group of Franciscan Volunteers in Baltimore. We lived in a former convent, worked at various ministries around the city helping the poor, and studied the life and theology of St. Francis. While I ultimately chose to become a diocesan priest and dedicate my ministry to my native Virginia, St. Francis remains central to my spirituality. Some people will I am sure take offense at my next statement but, here goes. I think the blessing of pets is a shameful reduction of St. Francis.

Francis came along at a time when the Church was in need of what we would today call a New Evangelization. While religious of his day took vows of individual poverty, but many monasteries had built up great wealth and power. Francis introduces radical poverty. He and St. Dominic would found the two mendicant orders, orders that would own nothing either individually or corporately. They would be totally dependent on charity, a sign of total dependence on God At the heart of his message is a simple truth. We will take no material thing from this world.

The constant works of charity of St. Francis are not simply done out of love of neighbor but a profound sense of a need to repent for sin. These core concepts of poverty, dependence, and repentance are not attractive in our culture. Neither is reflection on our own mortality.

If we read the writing of St. Francis we find a man profoundly aware of his sinfulness, his brokenness, his utter dependence on God. Some of his reflections on the beatitudes show us the rest of the story,

The truly pure of heart are those who despise the things of earth and seek the things of heaven, and who never cease to adore and behold the Lord God living and true with a pure heart and soul.

St. Francis was called by God to rebuild His Church, and he did it not by reducing the gospel to palatable platitudes, but by calling people to embrace the truly radical way of life he saw in the scriptures.

Having your puppy blessed today may be a fine first step. But if we truly want to honor St. Francis this day, let us all take time to pray and ask the Lord to show each of how we might embrace poverty, simplicity of life. How might we divest ourselves of the earthly and fix our eyes on the heavenly? Today is good day to go through some of the stuff we have but do not need, pack up a box and give it to your favorite charity. Give to the man begging on the corner, who might be Christ. Let us honor Francis, by imitating Francis.

Friday, October 3, 2014


At the end of today's first reading Job responds to God,

I put my hand over my mouth. Though I have spoken once, I will not do so again; though twice, I will do so no more.

Mark Twain said, "Better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid, than to open it and remove all doubt." I would make only one change and replace stupid with ignorant.

To say someone is ignorant is not an insult. It is a statement of fact. It is connected with humility. If we are humble we can all acknowledge our ignorance. Ignorance is lack of knowledge. Ignorance can be fixed.

The series of questions with which God peppers Job are not to beat Job down but simply to get him to admit his ignorance. To acknowledge that God knows what he can never know. And because God knows what we can never know, God also is the only one who can truly know what is good for us at any given moment.

We only know what we want. We know what we need on a very primitive level. I need to go to the bathroom. I need a glass of water. I need to go to the dentist. Our deepest needs only God knows.

And when it comes to other people we are even more ignorant. We cannot possibly know all the variables in another person's life. And yet we freely run around saying, "She needs to do this" and "He needs to do that."

As for myself, I am doing well if I can go from getting up in the morning to going to bed and do the right things.

We can offer advice to others. But we should always recognize the limited nature of our understanding of the situation, our ignorance. I think many things; I believe many things; I know very little.

So as we walk through today, as we get the urge to critique anything and everything, let us in humility acknowledge our ignorance, and practice the Job response.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Not just for children

See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.( Mt. 18:10)

Today we celebrate "their angels" and our angels, the guardian angels.

Perhaps the answer to why we don't think more about them is that we do think we need a guardian. A guardian is usually defined as a person who looks after and is legally responsible for someone who is unable to manage their own affairs, especially an incompetent or disabled person.

Which of us wants to admit that we cannot manage our own affairs? The truth is, we can't. Left to our own devices, we fall down every time. On our own we cannot get through a single day without doing or saying something that we know is contrary to the person God has created us to be.

Guardian angels are simply one more of the many ways that God offers us assistance. Today let us put away our hubris and admit that we need all the help we can get.

We are all "little ones" in the great scheme of things. Perhaps you haven't thought of your guardian angel in years. Perhaps you have never thought of your guardian angel. Clearly, Matthew's gospel tells us they exist. Perhaps today is the day to say Thank You. And since all angels are messengers, perhaps today is the day to listen for the message, to listen to the message.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Expressions that come full circle

We will often talk about a person who is in a bad emotional state as being in "a bad space" or "bad place." This expression helps us to properly understand what appears in some translations to be not only one of the most difficult but harshest verses in the Gospel, Luke 9:62:

But Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

The word fit always bothered me. It seemed harsh to say that God would consider someone unfit. But if you look under the translation you find that the word is used figuratively to mean suitable or fit, but literally means well-placed, or well-positioned.

Then it makes sense. The Kingdom of God is not something we build. It is a gift. A gift is meant to be received. But we have to be ready to receive it.

We pray "thy Kingdom come" and indeed believe that it is coming. But if something is coming toward us and we are looking backward how can we see it, how can we receive it?

The well-placed Christian, really the only position for a Christian is facing forward, facing the future, looking in hope. For centuries Christians faced east to pray. We faced the rising sun. Even in the darkest night we trusted that just as the sun would rise in the morning, the Kingdom of God will come. It is already here, just not in its fullness. As I write this the first streaks of light are appearing in the morning sky. The sun is rising.

Let us walk through this day without looking forward, trusting that where ever the road leads us today is where God wants us to be. And let us keep our eyes open constantly looking for the signs of the Kingdom of God.