Tuesday, December 29, 2015

a matter of principle

Today the Church celebrates probably the most renounced martyr in the English speaking world. Thomas Becket who on this day in 1170 was murdered at Cantebury. Many books and movies recount the events leading up to his murder, but little attention is paid to his beginnings.

We Catholics can forget that seminaries as we know them arose out of the reforms of the Council of Trent in the 16th century. Until that time education leading to ordination was varied and would have often resembled apprenticeship.

Thomas's father was a propertied man who fell on hard times and so Thomas ended up a clerk. It was from the position of clerk in the household of the Archbishop of Cantebury that he rose to position of Archbishop himself. What makes Thomas a great model is that while many rise from obscurity to power by doing whatever it takes to ingratiate themselves with the powerful, Thomas never abandoned his principles. And ultimately, those principles costed him his life.

Today we hear many an intransigent voice claiming that they are holding to their principles. One question: are they the principles of the gospel? Let us never forget that Thomas Becket died not defending his own principles. Thomas Becket died defending the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If I call myself Christian, then the principles I call mine, should in reality not be something of my creation, desire or volition, but should be those principles handed down generation after generation by the Church, received from her founder whose incarnation we celebrate in this Chirstmas Season.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Innocence and Innocents

In the second chapter of St. Matthew's gospel we hear how

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.

Today we commemorate those children whom we believe are part of the company of saints in heaven.
Were they baptized with water? No.
Are they considered Christians. Yes.
Not only are they considered Christians but martyrs.
Doesn't a person have to choose to be a martyr, you may ask.
Here is where some of my protestant brothers and sisters confuse me. On the one hand they will claim that "sola gratis" grace alone saves one without works. On the other hand they will argue that infants should not be baptized because the person must profess Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.  Which is it? For us it is God's grace and as the Catechism says, "The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism."( CCC 1250) The infant can do absolutely nothing and yet God's grace can work in them.

Here we must also make sure we do not confuse the stain of original sin and personal sin.  Before the age of reason (presumably 7 years old) we consider a person to be an infant, incapable of personal sin and in particular moral sin. Do they have the  "inclination towards evil and death" which we call original sin? Yes. And even in toddlers we see this tendency toward selfishness, but it is not that personal sin, by which we separate ourselves from God.

In that sense all children from the moment they are conceived until they reach the use of reason are considered innocents.  And should they die even without baptism, we trust that through God's grace and mercy they will be received into the company of the saints.  One need only look at our funeral rites to see our theology.

At the funeral of an unbaptized child the priest says:
All things are of your making, all creation awaits they day of salvation. We now must entrust the soul of this child  to the abundant mercy of God that our beloved child may find a home in his kingdom. 

Notice that we call him or her "our child." The child belongs only to the parents but to the Church.

Today is not only the day we remember the Holy Innocents from two millennia ago, but today we remember all the families who mourn. We pause and remember all of the innocents who have died in this year through abortion, miscarriage, or the myriad other ways that parents suffer the loss of a child.  As painful as that lose is, we live in the hope that we will one day be reunited with each and every one of  these holy innocents in the company of the saints, in the fulness of the Kingdom of God.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Returning to our roots

Sadly, if you google protomartyr you get a punk band and not the saint we celebrate today, was is in fact the Protomartyr of Christianity, the first after Jesus to give his life in witness to his faith, St. Stephen.

The Christmas Season this year runs from December 25-January 10. But the first few days the Church turns our attention away from the frivolous to the seriousness that marked early Christian life. Dec 26- St. Stephen, 27-St. John, 28-Holy Innocents, 29-Thomas Becket.

Reading the story of St. Stephen one is also struck by how the conflicts of the early church continue to this very day.  St. Stephen was one of the original deacons, a ministry established because of ethnic tensions in the church, the Greek Jews vs. the Hebrew Jews. Remember all the early Christians were Jews.

The Hebrews saw themselves as the originals. The Greeks, while just as much jews, were perceived as come-heres, new arrivals, not really members of the community.  The Greeks believed that they were not being treated fairly and so deacons were chosen from the Greek part of the community to make sure that their widows and orphans were being equally cared for.

Two thousand years later all over the US we are watching this same ethnic tension tear at the very fabric of our parishes. As the Hispanic populations grows, and the founding ethnic groups of various parishes shrink, we are watching the Hebrew vs Greek battle be played out in American churches, as English vs Spanish. Human nature has changed little over 2000 years. You will hear people in both groups try to dress it up but it is nothing more that a struggle for power, a sign of the stain of original sin that remains.

The first martyr was Greek-speaking Jew, not a Hebrew like the Apostles, and the Church went on to become Greek, witness the language of the New Testament. Greek then gave way to Latin in the west, and the cultural center of the Church shifted to Rome. Change is part of the life of the church. 

The question for us is how we chose to respond to these shifts.  As I look at our current conflict I cannot but remember the words of Abraham Lincoln "We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

The better angel of our nature is the Holy Spirit of God that is the same in each of us.  As we remember the first great Greek Jewish Christian, the protomartyr of our faith. Let us focus not on those things that divide us but on the Gospel for which he died. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Love of God

We all know the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor. But how do we actually love God? What does God want from us? 

Almost one year ago I was blessed to be at the hospital when a dear friend of mine gave birth to her first child.  For all of the foster children who came through our home that I have changed and fed, rocked and cared for, nothing could compare with the moment I first laid eyes on that little girl, the tiny face and hands, the rest swaddled tightly in a blanket. All of us standing around her were simultaneously filled with awe and in love. 

God could have come into the world in any form he chose. After all, God is GOD. He could have simply appeared as a full grown adult. Much theology as been written on the incarnation and why God became man. But for me there is something very simple in God's choice. In choosing to come into the world as a baby, God showed us the relationship he wants with us. Not one of fear, respect, or admiration like we might have had for our favorite school teacher, but love.  

Perhaps this Christmas season is a time for each of us to stop and reflect on the nature of our relationship with God. What do we feel about God? We know that God loves us. How do we love him in return?

Thursday, December 24, 2015


There is actually a mass for December 24th in the morning.  Few people attend it but is it the last mass of the Advent Season.  The gospel is predictably the Canticle of Zachariah, the father of John, the precursor to Jesus.  The second reading is less predictable, at least for most of us. It is taken from 2 Samuel chapter 7.

The storm has calmed around David and his kingdom is finally at peace. It is then decided that God needs a proper dwelling place.  It God who then intervenes and sends a prophesy that he will be the builder of a house, a house for/of David.  David is told that

Your house and your Kingdom shall endure forever before me;your throne shall stand firm forever.

For us Christians this house is the Church, not the building, but the mystical body of Christ. It is our firm faith  that the Church is the fulfillment of this promise made so long ago to David. It is house not build by human hands.

If we look close we see a characteristic that we don't often think about, indestructibility.  God promises that this house shall endure forever, and God's promises are true.  Do we truly believe that the house in indestructible?  Do we trust that promise.  At 20 years of age I embraced the Catholic faith because I came to believe.  Jesus established his house, him Kingdom from the house of David and it will have no end. Even if the people inside the house are determined to tear it apart, to tear it down.  It cannot be done.

In just a few hours Christians around the world will begin to gather to celebrate their vigils of the Incarnation, the Birth of God as man. The cornerstone of the indestructible house.

What role will we play in the year to come? Will we each be good stewards who work to not only maintain but to build up the house? Or will we be saboteurs tearing down our own house from the inside?  It happens.

On this last day of Advent, it is time for us to take one more look around the inside of the house that is our heart, time for one last cleaning, so that it will be a presentable house into which we can bring, the newborn King.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The end of week one

Today is the end of the first week of the year of mercy.

When we think about the Scriptures at Mass we think of course of the gospel, then we think of the first and/or second reading.  We often forget about the psalms.  Each day a psalm is assigned. In the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Psalms is the first book of the section simply called "the writings." Our name psalms comes from psalmoi in Greek meaning instrumental music. We know that the psalms were intended to be sung, accompanied by instruments. Nothing will ingrain a text in us like singing.

Our Morning and Evening Prayer centers around singing of the psalms and each time mass is celebrated one psalm is provided with a verse or part of a verse serving as a refrain. Todays psalm is #25 and the refrain is taken from verse 4.

Teach me your ways, O Lord.
The opening verse today was:

Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me

But how much do we really want to learn? How open are we to being guided? Speaking for myself, I have my to-do list for the day ready to go.  And with Christmas bearing down on us, slightly more than a week away, we can all feel a bit overwhelmed. With so much to do, how open are we to being taught right now?  Are we really open to letting God choose the path for the day?  Suppose the path God has set for us today does not coincide with our to-do list, or our preparation for Christmas.   How will we respond?

Perhaps it's time to pause. Step back from what are really cultural expectations of Christmas,  and truly look for the path God wants each of us to walk this Christmas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Challenge

On this the second day of the Year of Mercy, the gospel places before us an enormous challenge particularly given the world in which we live.  Terrorism appears to be achieving its goal. What separate murder or even mass murder from terrorism is the goal. The goal of terrorism is not simply to kill to be terrorize, to instill fear.  As Christians we are told constantly in the New Testament to not be afraid. But today's gospel may be even more difficult to live.

Jesus tells us to:
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart

We are supposed to to learn to follow his example and yet how many of us really want to be either meek or humble? We like the words in theory, but if you were to ask Gallup to conduct a poll, and ask people to list the top 10 characteristics of a great leader, where would meek and humble fall? I doubt that those two words would even make the top 20.

More importantly, how many of us strive to been either meek/gentle or humble of heart?  And perhaps that is the challenge on this second day of the Year of Mercy.  Be gentle. Be humble.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

New Beginnings

Some may wonder why the Pope would choose the day on which we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary as the day to begin the Jubilee Year. To me it makes perfect sense.  After all if someone asked you where does the gospel story begin where would you pick?

Some might say that the gospel story begins with the birth of Jesus.  Others might go back a bit further and say the annunciation when the angel appeared to Mary and Jesus was conceived. Others might go back six months further to the conception of John, the precursor of Jesus.

To me it makes sense to go back to the moment we celebrate today, the moment Mary was conceived.    With that first miraculous step God showed his plan for the restoration and elevation of the human race. I say elevation because the plan was to raise us from mere image and likeness to true sons and daughters. He would undo the damage done by original sin.  And so his first act in the forging of this new and eternal covenant would be to conceive a child without original sin, the prototype of what was to come.

And so for me it makes perfect sense that today as we celebrate that new beginning we make a new beginning of our own, the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Today as Pope Francis opens the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica let each of us throw open the doors of our hearts.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Offering masses and Indulgences

One of the Catholic practices least understood by others is that of offering masses for the repose of the soul of someone who is deceased.  Why pray for them if they are already dead?

1. The journey is not complete for any of us until it is complete for all of us at the end of time when Jesus returns and raises our moral bodies and makes them like his own. (1 Cor 15:36-49).
2. Some souls have already entered into heaven. Others are still being purified.

If is for those we offer our prayers, including the mass and indulgences.  No, indulgences are not something sold.  The are actions that we put with words to atone for sin that we have committed or on behalf of others. And here is where we come to today's gospel.

In the gospel, the man is paralyzed. He cannot act on his own behalf. He represents so many people are are in one way or another paralyzed. His friends decide that they must help him. They dismantle a section of roof and lower him to Jesus.

The gospel tells us,
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “As for you, your sins are forgiven.” 

The faith of the friends, brings forgiveness to the paralyzed man.  Their faith expressed in actions (works) brought forgiveness and salvation to the paralyzed man. 

Those who argue that the only way for one to be saved is for them personally to accept Jesus Christ as their savior (and be baptized with water) have forgotten that God cannot be limited. 

Sometimes spiritual paralysis can be worse than physical paralysis. 

One this last day of preparation for the year of mercy that begins tomorrow morning,
Countdown and other info
it would be good for us to pause and call to mind perhaps some loved one who have fallen into spiritual paralysis.  They are so wound, or angry, ignorant of God's love, or obstinate that they cannot or will not embrace the faith. Let today's gospel be source of hope. Do not give up, because God never gives us on any human being.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Three days and counting

Today's gospel ends by reminding us of something that not just Catholics but all Christians tend to forget.

Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.

We do not buy our salvation. We do not earn our salvation. It comes through grace. The Catechism defines grace by saying:

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.

Free and undeserved help. Imagine for a moment if we were to begin truly imitating God whose children we are and in whose image we are made. Imagine if for the year of mercy we were to start handing out free and undeserved help.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Four days and counting

In four day at 9:30 am Eastern Time Pope Francis will open the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica and mark the official beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy that will run from December 8, 2015 until November 20, 2016 the Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe.

The concept of the Jubilee goes back to the Book of Leviticus 25.  Seven being the perfect number, every seventh year was a sabbatical year, but the 7th seventh year, that is every 49 years there was to be a yovel or Jubilee Year, the 50th year.  It was a time of forgiveness, liberty, and restitution.  Anyone indentured was freed. Land held as collateral was returned. Debts were forgiven.

In these last few days of preparation, perhaps now is the time for each of us to taken an internal inventory.  Are there sins for which I need forgiveness? Are there people I need to forgive? Are there things I am holding onto that I need to let go of? Are there relationships that need to be restored?

Let us take these days to prepare ourselves to open wide the doors of our hearts, to receive and give the gift of mercy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Today we have in the gospel the well-known passage,

I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.

In Greek there are a number of words for a child depending on the age.  In Luke's gospel the word we translate as child like  is nepios. It literally means "without words". It refers to an infant so young it cannot yet speak.  In other places in the gospels the word paidon (a child of up to about 10) is used but here the word that is used refers to a child at its earliest stage of life.  

As I reflect on this I am taken back to all the newborns that came to our house as foster children before being adopted.  I can't even count the number.  In their earliest weeks their eyes can't even really focus, and so touch and hearing become their primary senses.  And maybe that is the key.  

Once our eyes can focus we become very visual, perhaps even too visual.  We are so captivated by the visual, by appearance, that we loose our ability to listen.  The old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" has never been more true than today.  Ask anyone in the field of communications. 

The problem for us as Christians is that we are not people of the picture we are people of the word. 
In the beginning was the word... (Jn 1:1)
Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Mt. 4:4)
Stop judging by mere appearances... (Jn 7:24)

We are great at looking at pictures, and we are great at talking.  We are not so good at listening. 
Perhaps this gospel is reminding us that if we want to be truly with wise we have to spend more time speechless, and spend more time just listening.

Monday, November 30, 2015


Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Apostle St. Andrew. In the Catholic Church we reserve the word Apostle to those 12 who were chosen by Jesus, and St. Paul who was also directly called by Jesus.  The the Holy Orders are also from the bible, from the Letters to Timothy, and the Acts of the Apostles
episcopos- literally overseer, in English Bishop
presbyteros- literally elder, in English Priest or Presbyter
diakonos- literally waiter, in English Deacon

But where do we get the idea that one has to be ordained? Why can't anyone who feels called by the Holy Spirit simply go out and preach? There are many very practical answers. But the clearest biblical answer is found in the first reading today from chapter 10 of Paul's Letter to the Romans in which we hear.

And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without someone to preach?
And how can people preach unless they are sent?

The last question is key. How can people preach unless the are sent?  From the time of St. Paul it was clear that preaching was to be reserved to those who were "sent". The Greek verb is apostello. It means set apart. In order to insure the proper handing on of the truth of the gospel, the Church throughout the centuries has had a system for designating those who speak in the name of the Church.

Jesus calls us all to share our faith, but he also understood the frailty of humanity. He understood how easily the gospel could be misinterpreted.  He saw with his own ideas what the Pharisees and others had dome to the Law given to Moses. We refer to the core of our teaching as the Deposit of Faith. And today as we celebrate the apostle St. Andrew I would ask you to pray for all those bishops, priests, and deacons who are "set apart" to proclaim His word. May we always remain faithful to the Gospel we have promised to protect and hand on.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


The readings today at first glance are anything but up-lifting. The gospel in particular is Jesus promising the crowds that if they follow him not only will they suffer at the hands of strangers but even their own family members may well turn against them. And yet, many still followed him.

Phrases like "No pain, no gain" sound fine to us as long as it refers to pain which we choose, like how  hard we will work out at the gym, or how strictly we diet.  In those cases we remain in control and can quit whenever we want.  The suffering Jesus is talking about is the suffering that we cannot control.

We may not be able to control the attacks or the suffering, but we can choose how we respond to it. St. Luke ends today by saying,

By your perseverance you will secure your lives.

The greek word for perseverance means to stay under.  On the one hand it can sound like resignation. But if we look deeper it is a capacity to maintain your inner peace, stillness, and serenity when you are hypo (under), under pressure, under attack, under the weight of some enormous problem.

In all the press about the Pope's comments regarding neurotic priests what may have gotten missed was the model he gave,

"A priest who is a peaceful man will know how to spread serenity around himself even in the those exhausting moments, by sharing the beauty of a relationship with Lord."

The perseverance of which Jesus speaks is that serenity that can be found in any situation if we will truly allow ourselves to be enveloped in a loving relationship with the Lord.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Undivided Kingdom

This last week of the year we read the Book of Daniel. While Moslems and Christians consider him to be a prophet Jew do not. Nevertheless is story is considered a testament to the power of God We read it at the end of the year because it is classified as apocalyptic literature, that is, literature that deals with last things.

In today's portion we hear the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream. a succession of kingdoms one after the other, and finally,

In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever.

As Christians we believe that that kingdom was first made visible on earth when Jesus began to call disciples. After his resurrection the kingdom took its next great step when Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But the Kingdom we read about today in Daniel will only reach its fullness at the end of time with the second coming of Christ. 

In the meantime we are reminded, however, that we do not passively wait. We should first of all live as children of the kingdom, the undivided kingdom. Each of the kingdoms in the dream fell apart and disappeared. It is bad enough that we divide the church into "denominations", but then within what is supposed to still be the one, holy catholic and apostolic church, we see divisions right down to the level of the local parish. The disappoint that God the Father must feel as he watches his family. It is not enough that it be attacked from the outside. We Christians are busy attacking one another. 

As we prepare to begin the season of Advent, perhaps it is time for each of us to begin to reflect on our own words and actions and ask are their ways we contribute to division and discord. And pray for whatever healing we need.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

All means all

At the end of today's gospel from Luke 20 we hear Jesus's argument of the resurrection of the dead.
That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called ‘Lord’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

Those four words at the end of Luke 20:38. παντες γαρ αυτο ζοσιν, all to him live (are living),
cause us to refine our thinking about life considerably.  The question isn't really do you want eternal life of not. That question Jesus answers. All live forever.

The question is: Where do you want to live forever? United to God or not.

Both Hitler and Mother Teresa are still alive.  But are they in the same place?

We have until the last moment of our earthly life to make the right choice, but why wait?  Why not start practicing today? Why not practice constantly reminding yourself of God's presence? God is there whether you acknowledge it or not,  but our lives are so much better when we do.

Whether you identify more closely with the Father, or the Son, or the Holy Spirit does not matter, Have you even asked your self which you most closely identify with when you pray?

Start this day, reminding yourself of God's presence. And several times during the day stop and remind yourself again, and again, and again.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Happy Chanukah (Early)

In today's reading from 2 Maccabees we hear what happened after the people of Israel conquered the enemy and retook their city and most importantly the temple.

Then Judas and his brothers and the entire congregation of Israel
decreed that the days of the dedication of the altar
should be observed with joy and gladness
on the anniversary every year for eight days,
from the twenty-fifth day of the month Chislev.

As we recall, the Jewish calendar is a Lunar calendar.  1 Chislev this year was our 13th of November.  So the 25th of  Chislev will be December 7. Remember also that the days are also counted not from midnight, which most cannot determine without a clock, but from sunset, which any person anywhere can easily see. And so Chanukah will begin this year on December 6 at sunset.

How many of us Christians had heard of Chanukah and yet never have read the Bible story on which the celebration is based? Mark your calendars now and this year, when you wish your Jewish friends Happy Chanukah you will know that you have read or at least heard of the event being celebrated. Or better yet, take out your Catholic Bible and read the story. Better than any novel you can buy, and its true.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Why now?

Why does the Church have us read the Books of Maccabees now as we are ending the year?

We are reminded once more of the connection between our Christian faith and that of our Jewish brothers and sister.  Next Sunday we will begin the season of Advent with its own series of particular readings. But before we do, we take time now to reflect of the roots of the Jewish holiday that falls during Advent, Hanukkah.

This year it begins on our Second Sunday of Advent.  It is not "Jewish Christmas." It celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after the Maccabean Revolt. Hanukkah is more than dreidels and chocolate coins. It is an annual commemoration of a people's fight for religious liberty and the miracle that occurred when they rededicated the temple.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

True Courage

The story from the Maccabean revolt that we read today may be the story of the most courageous person of all. A mother of seven sons all of whom are killed for refusing to give in to the demands of the king and break the law of Moses. We are told that the youngest son is promised great wealth, but with his mother's encouragement has the courage to go to his death.

Is there any pain worse than that of a mother or a father when the see a child die?  Could there be any more courageous act than the act of this woman.

The Bible does not give her name but in many of the Eastern Churches she is referred to as Solomonia.  She is an example of courage, but she also reminds us that a martyr is a person who will die for their faith, but does not kill others.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Apart from political campaigns, we rarely here very much about the word any more.  So today's reading from Maccabees offers us a chance to examine our own lives for this particular virtue.  In the story Eleazar is an observant Jew who refuses to eat pork. His friends wishing to save his life work out a deal by which he could pretend to eat pork but really eat kosher meat. He refuses. He would rather die.  He is a man of integrity.

Let us be careful not to mistake intransigence and integrity. What makes him a man of integrity is not his unwillingness to change his mind. That would make him a fool.  As Christians we are all called to be disciples, that is students, we should be constantly learning and therefore changing. In the words, of John Cardinal Newman "To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often."

What makes Eleazar an man of integrity is his unwillingness to pretend, to be one person in public and another in private. Integrity is very simply the recognition that we have one life. We cannot carve our lives into little boxes: one for work, one for home, one for church.

In some ways modern technology has helped us.  In my father's time. He went to work at 8:00 came home at 4:00. Now, with our cell phones and laptops, those lines have blurred. We work whenever and wherever necessary. That also means we have to be very intentional about things like time for prayer, and time for loved ones.

Someone once said "Character is what you do when no one is looking." The same could be said of integrity. I often tell young people, the only way to guarantee that something does not end up online is not to do it.

Being a person of integrity does not mean that we are perfect. Only God is perfect. We all fall down from time to time. Being a person of integrity means striving to make all of the pieces fit into one cohesive whole.

Today take a few moments to look at the various aspects of your life and the kind of person you want to be. Are there pieces that don't fit? Is there some area of your life where you have let your actions drift from your core values?

Perfect integrity will be achieved only in heaven, but it doesn't mean we stop trying.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Conforming to Culture

Today we begin the reading of an history of the Maccabean Revolt ( 1 & 2 Maccabees) which took place between the years 167-160 BC.  The story says the year 137 but remember, we measure years around the birth of Christ (BC and AD).

Growing up this story was not in my King James Bible. But why would a king include in the Bible a story which says people have the right to overthrow the king when their religious liberty is being trampled? No king wants their children growing up reading this story. We on the other hand have always considered it part of the inspired Word of God.

The Empire of Alexander the Great was breaking up. What we call the Holy Land fell under Seleucus I, founder of what is called the Seleucid Empire. In 187 Antiochus Epiphanies came to the throne.  As our story begins the King decided that all should be one, what sounds like a laudable goal.

Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people,
each abandoning his particular customs.
All the Gentiles conformed to the command of the king,
and many children of Israel were in favor of his religion;
they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath.

We may ask ourselves how the Jews could abandon their faith. They did it the same way we do, little by little.

As Christians we are called to be in the world but not of the world.  St. Paul warns us,

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Rm 12:2)

This week as we read the story of how a small band of the faithful had to fight to recover their faith. Let us take time to look at our own lives and ask are there ways in which we have allowed ourselves to become shaped by the culture instead of being the ones to shape it.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

How do we stop it

This morning I heard that #prauforparis is the trending hashtag. And so I as I sat praying for the people of Paris this morning, I could not but ask myself how do we stop this. As Christians we know the gospel

You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

So if we cannot return evil for evil what can we do? With that I began to go back and remember our most basic beliefs about the world, including our belief that everything created by God was good. Even Satan was created good. It was by the free choice of Satan and the other fallen angels that they fell. What made their sin graver than any we commit is that their free will was perfectly free, they did not experience the pull of original sin; it had not yet happened when they fell.

Every terrorist was born  into this world like you and me, a beautiful creation of God. They came into this world with the same primordial needs as you or me, including the need to be loved. Do we think for a moment that the terrorist's mother held him with less tenderness than we were held when we were born? Of course not.

Somewhere along the road that innocent child turned or was turned from the path. That innocent child began to listen to the voices of anger and hatred, until that anger and hatred boiled over in violence. And if we are to stop the violence we must find a way to keep the children on the right path.

Simpletons will tell you that the problem is a religious one. How many times have I heard atheists attempt blame religion for the violence in our world? I am always shocked when I hear Christians take up the atheist refrain. Every truly religious person is seeking God and therefore seeking truth.
What we are witnessing is not religion but its abuse. And it is true that there are examples throughout human history of every religion being abused.

Today I pray not only for those who died and their families. I pray for those who were injured, for those who were kidnapped, and their loved one who are living in terror of the unknown. I pray for all the victims. But I pray also for the young man or woman who is starting down the dark road of anger and hatred. I pray that God will send someone to be the angel in their life, to speak a word of truth, a word that will turn them toward the light.  As long as the voices of division, hatred, and anger are louder than the voices of unity, love, and peace, this problem will continue.

We can and should do everything we can to cut off the supplies of money and arms. But the truth is, hatred will aways find the tools it needs. In the end, if we are truly Christian we know that the only real solution is in the heart. Today and every day we should pray for the conversion of every angry man and woman of every nationality, race, and religion. Pray for the outpouring of God's love into their heart.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Truth that is hard to accept

From now through the first two weeks of Advent we are going to be reading in different ways about the second coming of Jesus.  In today's gospel we hear

I tell you, on that night there will be two people in one bed; one will be taken, the other left.
And there will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken, the other left.

This has nothing to do with the FICTIONAL "Left behind Series" 

The point  Jesus is making is much simpler.  We are called to be one. We are called to live as members of Christ's visible body, the Church. Ours is a communal faith.

But it is also a personal faith. It is, at its heart, a personal relationship with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. And at the end of this life we are all held accountable for our actions individually.  You cannot blame your spouse for your bad temper. Your mother is not responsible for your bad manners. 

You cannot blame anyone nor can you save anyone. You can help to some degree, and we believe in the power of prayer but each person has to make their own choices. The wife going to church will not save the husband. And until your alcoholic spouse or child decides to change, you cannot fix them.

Particularly for those of us who are helper, the hardest thing in the world for us to realize is,"The only life I can live is mine. The only person I can change is me." Jesus constantly calls us to love one another and pray for one another. He never tells us to fix one another.

I tell you, on that night there will be two people in one bed; one will be taken, the other left.
And there will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken, the other left.

Today let us do the two most powerful things we can do for others: pray and give a good example.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Models of Leadership

Today's first reading from the Book of Wisdom and sees to support the ancient notion that the king was chosen by God and therefore must be obeyed. But if you look closely you will see that the reading is not addressed to the people but to the king. It is not about the king's rights but about his obligations. While we do not in the US have kings and princes, we have leadership who could learn well from this reading.

Firstly, we do believe that all authority comes from God, just as we believe all life comes God. We refer to God as all-powerful meaning not only can he do anything but also that all legitimate power finds its source in God.

Once a leader understands that, then they also understand why the Book of Wisdom refers to them as "ministers of his kingdom." In many cultures they still refer to officials as ministers (i.e the  prime minister). Every kingdom is "HIS kingdom" because HE (forgive the sexist language ) created it all.

Imagine for a moment if every leader from the President to the parents of every family saw their power and leadership through the lens of ministry. If they realized that they were excising a kind of delegated power only, how different our world would be.

The Book of Wisdom is not reinforcing some right of the King to have people bow down in his presence. On the contrary it reads:

though you were ministers of his kingdom, you judged not rightly,
and did not keep the law,
nor walk according to the will of God,
Terribly and swiftly shall he come against you,
because judgment is stern for the exalted-
For the lowly may be pardoned out of mercy

Many of us exercise some kind of leadership or have some authority, even if it is over nothing more than the dog.  The reading reminds us that ever time we exercise authority we should remember that we do it with an eye toward the source, doing always and only what God would have us do. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Second Hand Priest

As some of you know, in August my ministry changed to full time at the Pastoral Center and helping out on weekends at St. Augustine's Parish with Hispanic Ministry. Today is a sad day in that parish. After almost 20 years as pastor of that parish, and 44 years as a priest,Monseñor Miguel, as he is known to the Hispanic Community, is retiring effective November 22.

As I looked at the readings for today I searched for some word that speaks to this situation and I found it in the second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. In the letter to the Hebrews we are all reminded what it really means to be a priest.

The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us all that there is only one High Priest for the entire Church. That High Priest is Jesus Christ. All the rest of us who have the privilege of being priests are mere collaborators. On the day of our baptism we first become participants in the priesthood of Christ. From the baptized some are called and by virtue of ordination empowered to share in a particular way in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  But even though we share in it, we can never forget that it remains always His.  One of the reasons we cover ourselves in layers of vestments at mass is to cover our peculiarity.  It can never be about me. Every word every action must be about HIM.

So much in our modern culture has become cult of personality (entertainment, sports, politics). Church can never be that. As much as some people love Pope Francis, he would be the first to tell you that his only task is to point you toward Jesus.

On the day of our ordination we promise respect and obedience to the bishop and his successors, and we go where we are needed for as long as we areneeded in that place and we move on. We are human beings and we need the care and support of the people but ultimately we must like John the Baptist remind even our biggest fans, "I am not He."

Change is always difficult but if we keep our eyes fixed on the High Priest who offered the one sacrifice once for all, we know that things will not only be new and different, but better, because we are all pilgrims on the road that leads to the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

What's the goal

Today we complete our reading of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans.  And in Chapter 16 verse 26 he gives us the goal "hypakoe pistos", the obedience of faith. Like it's Latin counter part the root of the word for obedience is the idea of hearing. In greek it is the same root that give is the word acoustic. But the prefix on the word in Greek is "hypo" as in hypodermic (something that goes under the skin). In this case hypakoe means to "hear under."

Being a Christians is not reading the Bible and blinding doing what you think it says. Contrary to the caricature of Catholic's, it's not blinding doing everything the Pope says. The goal is that we all be able to "hear under", come to an ever deeper understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In faith, we read the Bible, we use the Catechism to help us understand it, we pray, so that we are drawn into a deep personal relationship with the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.

And in the context of that relationship we act, we speak, we do, we live. It is always, as St. Anselm says, "fides quarens intellectum", faith seeking understanding. Jesus never asked for blind obedience, as a matter of fact it was his mission to make the blind see.  He wants us to see and to hear at the deepest possible level. When we look at another person we should see beyond the surface, and try to see as God sees. And when we listen, we listen in faith.

We have spent several weeks reading St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. It is the first of the Pauline Letters in the Bible because it is the longest. Today let us practice listening, not only to the Word of God but to each other, in faith, and perhaps all of our relationships can move to a deeper level.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Get ready to tell the story

Clearly the Church in Rome to which St. Paul wrote was not all that different from any of our parishes churches today.  One of the problems that he had to deal was the tendency that we have to judge one another. He argument is simple, if we all belong to Christ, then why are we judging one another. Then he reminds us of a truth we all know but do not like to think about.

For this is why Christ died and came to life,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
Why then do you judge your brother or sister?
Or you, why do you look down on your brother or sister?
For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God;
for it is written:

As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bend before me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God.

So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.

The judge's bench is not the the thing in front of him , it is the thing he sits on. In the time of Jesus, in the Roman Empire, judges sat, the sign of  their office was the bema, the bench as we call it today.
St. Paul reminds us, at the end of our life, we stand before Christ, not as friend or bother, but has judge. We must, give an account of , literally give words to, the life we have lived.

Will we in rendering the account tell God anything he does not already know?  Of course not, we will be called to give the account because for ourselves there is something revelatory when we have to put something into words.  A part of the power of the sacrament of penance is that we say out loud to another the wrong we have done.  

Rattling around inside our own heads it is much easier for us to rationalize. When we use words to express what we have done, we come to a new level of comprehension.  

In our tribunal process, the first thing we have people do is write a summary, a kind of autobiography that tells the story of the two people and the marriage in question. I can't count the number of people who have said that: it was the hardest thing they have ever done, but they also came to a new level of understanding. They saw patterns and connections that they had not previously seen. 

Life is the greatest gift we ever receive.  And perhaps we would live it better, and waste less of it, if we reminded ourselves with some regularity that at the end, I as an individual am going to stand before God and render the account of how I lived the life I was given. Today live a life you would be proud to recount. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

love and hate

Some Christians and these days even some Catholics behave as if the Bible one day fell from the sky with the words in it magically written by God. Every word in that world is taken to to literally true. They forget that God used humans to write the words and that it was the Church over time that decided, guided by the Holy Spirit, which words were truly the inspired word of God and which were not. That's why the Gospel of John is in the Bible and the Gospel of Thomas is not. The problem with the literalist looks at the Bible become immediately apparent today when in the two readings we are given two opposed commands. 

In the first reading St. Paul tells us 

Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another

The word for love is the well known agape.

In the Gospel Jesus tells us

If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,  wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Lk 14:26)

The word here is the less well-known miseo.  It means to hate or detest. 

Jesus uses the same word in Matthew's gospel when he says, 

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." but I say to you...(Mt 5:43ff)

Does Jesus really intend us to hate or is it simply hyperbole to get the hearers attention?

If you read the single verse literally, we are to hate ourselves and our family.

We know that is it hyperbole, because of a principle of interpretation called the unity of scripture. If If If there is one God 
and God does not change.
Then every verse of scripture to be properly interpreted must be understood n the context of the whole Bible.

This is part of the mission Jesus entrusted to those he chose to lead the Church. Not only were the apostle's entrusted with spreading his word but making sure they were not misinterpreted, or misused. We believe that the Holy Spirit has continued throughout the centuries to guide the successors of the apostles in this activity. We use the Latin word Magisteium to describe it. Magister- is a teacher. 

Jesus understood human nature and how there would be those who either out of ignorance or malice would misuse or misinterpret his words. He saw in in his earthly life how some of the so-called scholars of the law, twisted what God had revealed in the Old Testament.  He did not want the same thing to happen to his words, after his ascension.  And if we look at the history of Christianity it has unfortuately at times happened over the centuries.  But the Spirit always leads us back to the truth and the Spirit continues to guide us to a deeper understanding of that truth. 

May we never cease to immerse ourselves in the Word of God, and may we have the humility to recognize our need for guidance in the proper interpretation of the same. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Two levels of unity

In chapter 12 St. Paul deals with one of the guiding images of the Church over the centuries, the Body of Christ. We should remember, however, that this theology is rooted in a more primal unity.

The starting point for understanding the unity of the Body of Christ is the unity of all humanity described in the Book of Genesis.  As Christians we believe that every human being is created by the collaboration of a father, a mother, and God. The father and mother create the body and God implants the soul. There is one God and therefore one humanity of which we are all parts. And from that first moment every life is sacred.  The scriptures tell us that we are the image and likeness of God. It is what sets all human life apart from other animals.

But do we really believe this? Every time I hear a Christian use the phrase "those people" I cringe.  Funny how we are rarely being complimentary we say "those people."

But all of the above is only the beginning, because, as St. Paul reminds us, Jesus takes that unity to a whole other level entirely.  From the moment a person is baptized with water "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." (Mt. 28:19), they are united to Jesus Christ in a new way.  St. Paul describes it this way.

Brothers and sisters:
We, though many, are one Body in Christ
and individually parts of one another.

All of the more than 2.2 billion Christians in the world connected.  

The first part I think we are ok with, the fact that we are all part of the Body of Christ. It is the second part that I think we have some trouble with, the idea that we are individually part of each other.

Some Caldean Christian in Iraq is part of me? Yes. Some Syro-Malankara Christian in India is part of me? Yes.  Or closer to home both Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton are part of me, and part of you.  And we are part of them.

Now it gets uncomfortable.

In the Catholic, we distinguish between those who are in full communion with the Church and those who are not, but we never deny that other validly baptized Christians are part of the one body of Christ.

Baptism cannot be undone. As we hear in 2 Timothy "if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself."

We are stuck with each other. That is part of the challenge of living the Christian faith. When one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. And if some part of the body falls ill, we do not chop it off, we run to the doctor. We do everything possible to save it.

While we rush to judgment and want to defeat our enemies. When early Christians wondered why God wasn't punishing their enemies fast enough to suit them. The answer was:
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pt 3:9)

We are part of a body that just on the earth today has more than 2 billion body parts. As we drive today, as we turn on the television or read or see or hear news on some device. In every country we hear named and surrounding us here in our own country are people who are all individually part of each of us and we are part of them, whether we like them or not.

Monday, November 2, 2015

All not Some

Today we celebrate what is commonly called All Souls Day, technically its the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed.  Usually this is the day we say prayers for all of our loved ones who have passed from this life, that the process of final purification will be swift and they will enter into the fullness of life with the saints who we celebrated last year.

But this year, let me offer a suggestion.  Instead of focusing on ourselves and our loved ones, how about taking some time to pray for all those people who passed from this life and who even today will pass from this life not surrounded by loved ones, those die alone, those who have died and been forgotten.

Where I live now it is not unusual to see the poor mentally ill wandering down the main street in front of the church. Who will pray for them when they pass from this life? And how many like them die each day around the world.

Today the Church calls on us to pray for all the faithful departed. In the words of the fourth eucharistic prayer, "Remember also those who have died in the peace of Christ, and all the dead, whose faith you alone have known."

Sunday, November 1, 2015

More than a memory

Someone once referred to November as a month of remembrance. At first it sounded OK and then I realized there was something that sounded not quite right.

St James commands us to pray for one another (5:16)

St. Paul commands us to pray without ceasing (1 Th 5:17)

When do these commandments expire?

The Christian answer is never, because the underlying commandment "love one another" does not end with death but is perfected.

November is the last month of the liturgical year and so we focus on last things: the final judgment, Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell, and all of our loved ones who have preceded us.

In a special way we focus today on the saints in heaven and tomorrow on those who are still being purified for entry into heaven (purgatory). The two days call for two different kind of prayer.

Today, All Saints Day, our eyes are turned towards those whose souls already surround the throne of God. They pray without ceasing, praising God and continuing to fulfill the commitment to pray for one another, they pray for us. We do not pray for them, because they have reached the goal. We petition them to pray for us,and because they love us perfectly now, they can petition the Father perfectly.

Tomorrow, All Souls Day, our eyes turn toward those who have not yet reached the fullness of heaven. Few if any of us leave this life free of baggage, perfectly able to love God and love one another. Therefore, her faith teaches that there is a final purification that must take place, before we can enter into heaven. Tomorrow refocus our attention on those whose to undergo that process. Tomorrow our prayer is not petition but intercession. We intercede with the Father for them, continuing to fulfill the commands given us by St. James and St. Paul.

Our love and our loved ones do not end at death, but are brought to completion. Therefore, even after death prayer continues. Yes we remember, but we do much more than remember. We look forward to the day will be reunited with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Out of sin comes good

In chapter 11 of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans he deals with God's present relationship with the Jews.  There were at the time some who thought that the "new and everlasting covenant" of which we Christians are a part meant that God had abandoned the covenant that he made with Abraham. St. Paul's response is an unequivocal no.

He then goes on to explain one of the many paradoxes in the Bible.  As he explains it, the people of Israel "transgression."  There are several words for sin in the New Testament. The one St. Paul uses here, paraptoma, means to slip and fall, or to fall away.

 Rather than simply punishing them for their transgression, God used their transgression for something miraculous. In his words,

their transgression is enrichment for the world

God knows his creatures, he knows how quickly we react when we are jealous. And so, according to St. Paul,

through their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make them jealous.

Remember when we were children. We may have had a particular toy which we no longer about at al. But let someone else start playing with it and suddenly "That's mine. I want to play with that."

In St. Paul's understand of God, God loves us so much that he will use whatever it takes to bring us back. In the hands of God, anything, even darkness, can be transformed into an instrument of salvation.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Pastoral Law

As a canon lawyer, if you want to make me crazy say something like, "You need to be pastoral not legal", as if they are two different things.  When St. John Paul II revised the Code of Canon Law in 1983, a part of the goal was to translate into legal language, the theology of the Second Vatican Council.  The problem is not in the law itself but in the misuse of the law.

In today's gospel Jesus deals with the problem when he puts the question to the scribes and the Pharisees, "Is is permitted to cure on the sabbath?"  The gospel tells us that they kept silent.  They kept silent because they knew there were two responses. If one reads the sabbath law alone, without the context of the entire law of God, one might say that it is work and therefore forbidden.  However Jesus knows that this is a straw man argument.  He calls them out by asking them another question,

"Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?

He knows that anyone of them would save the ox.

The present Code of Canon law ends with the words, "the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes."

In his concluding address to the synod the Pope reminded us of this, "The Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord (cf. Jn 12:44-50)."

Anyone can take a single rule out of context and wield it like a club. But this is always an abuse of the law.  This is not the law but legalism, the legalism for which the pharisees were so often condemned.

In the Church, all law, is grounded in God's law, and ultimately the law of love The legal answer is the pastoral answer.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Practice for Heaven

Every time we celebrate the mass just before we begin the central prayer, the Eucharistic Prayer, we sing an ancient acclamation. We refer to it as the Sanctus, or the Holy, Holy. But in Greek it is called by another name, "the Hymn of Victory." Today's gospel tells us why.

The words to the hymn are taken from two different Bible verses. The first half is taken from Is 6:3
Holy Holy Holy Lord God of Hosts
Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.

It is the song of the angels around the throne.

The second half is taken from Mt. 21:9, but is also the conclusion of today's reading from Luke, Lk 13:35.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

In today's gospel the Pharisees want Jesus to leave town because they are afraid. They know that Herod wants Jesus dead, and they are afraid that they will some how get caught up in it, guilt by association.

Jesus responds to their fear, we a statement of absolute faith in the mission. He knows that he can only do one thing, the will of the Father. He must complete his mission. He also knows something else, in the end he will be victorious. The reign of God cannot be stopped.

This acclamation is called the hymn of victory, because every time we sing it we are reminding ourselves that Christ will be victorious, he will come again. He will be the one sitting on the throne,

Jesus is able to be fearless, or to overcome his fear, through faith, absolute trust in the love of his Father, absolute confidence that his Father will never abandon him. He knows that in the end, he will come again in triumph.

All of us experience fears in life.

Can we trust in the absolute faithful love of God for us? Can we turn to God in our fear and ask for the gift of faith?  Singing the Holy Holy at mass is just practice, practice for the day that we will be the ones gathered around the throne with the victorious King.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Title says it All

The official English translation is finally available and now everyone in the English speaking world can read for themselves what the Pope has and has not changed.

The new instructions for Tribunals sets forth the Pope's vision in the first words, "Mitis Iudex" (official translation Gentle Judge).
With two words, we see clear Pope Francis's understanding of Jesus as Judge and the model for all human judges.

The most well-known appearance of the word mitis is in the Vulgate's translation of the Beatitudes. In the Beatitude, one who is mitis will inherit the earth.  (Mt. 5:5)  St. Matthew uses the same word in the Palm Sunday Gospel describing Jesus as King who will come meek (mitis in Latin, praus in Greek) and riding on an ass." (Mt. 21.5)

Whether one translates it as meek, humble, or gentle, I think we all can get the idea. It is how any of us would like to be judged.  It is justice, tempered with mercy, but more than that it is a manifestation of the boundless love of God.

It is easy when we feel we are the victim to confuse justice and vengeance.  It is why a victim should never be the judge.

May every judge at every level, particularly those who are Christians look to this model, the model of the one true Judge, Jesus Christ.

Who are you?

In todays brief reading from Ephesians 2:19-22, St. Paul tells us who we are and who we are not.

As members of the body of Christ,  we are no longer what we were.

What were we ?

xenoi-foreigner, strangers. It's the word from which we get xenophobia, the fear of foreigners. Because of original sin we all possess a sense of alienation, aloneness, isolation.

Secondly, we are not paraoikoi
  oikos- is home. Para-near by, as in paramedic or paralegal.

Close but not quite home. Paraoikos- is often translated sojourner, a person who is never quite a home.

This is the ordinary human condition. But St. Paul tells us that if we live as people of faith we are no longer wandering foreigners.

What are we? 

We are first of all sympolitis. sym- same politis-citizen. We are fellow-citizens. Fellow citizens with whom?  We are fellow citizens with the Saints.  We call it the communion of Saints in the Creed.

So first of all we go from being foreigners to fellow-citizens.

Lastly St. Paul tell us that we are oikeoi- members of the household, family, relatives.
We are no longer paraoikoi (the ones not quite at home). We are oikeoi, those people who live in the same home. Whose household are we part of? God's.

We go from being wanderers to people who are at home in the household of God.

In our baptism we are transformed from wandering homeless foreigners into full citizens and members of God's family.

That is our true identity. We may not always feel it, and through sin we can distance ourselves from the family.  But we can always be reconciled, because our baptism leaves us forever changed. In the Catholic Church we call it the indelible character of the sacrament. It can never really be undone.

In this life there will always be times when our feelings lead us astray, when we feel isolated and alone. In those moments, we should recall this lesson that St. Paul gave to the Christians in Ephesus. Remember who we really are.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hope for clarification

Now that the Synod has ended, we wait. If Pope Francis follows the usual process in a few months we will see a Post-Synodal Exhortation.  Contrary to the histrionics we witnessed during the synod, it appears clear that the Pope is not going to make any change to the teaching of the Church regarding marriage or divorce. The one thing I would hope for is a clarification on the existing law.

Contrary to popular belief the law does not presently say that those who are divorced and remarried cannot receive communion, nor does it specifically address gay marriage. The canon is written in much broader language.

Can.  915 Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

The words in bold are where the remarried fall. On one level it seems simple enough.
Is there sin?
Is it grave (as opposed to venial)?
Is it manifest (as opposed to occult/not publicly known)?
Are they preserving in the sin?

Those all seem clear enough and one can see how living in an irregular union of any kind would fulfill these conditions.

The word that is less clear is obstinately, "obstinate" for those who want the Latin. St. John Paul II did not accidentally include the word. If it is in the canon it must add to the meaning of the law.

Oxford defines as obstinate "refusing to change one’s opinion or chosen course of action, despite attempts to persuade one to do so."

Suppose you have a case of a couple who have been in their irregular marriage for 40 years, and all the would be witnesses are deceased. The one who was previously married has tried and been unable to prove the invalidity of the marriage.

Or even more common a Catholic man in his 20's away from the Church marries a non-Catholic woman who was previously married. They have several children. Now a father,  he wishes to return to the practice of the faith. She ,not he, refuses to go through the process. She's not Catholic and thinks it is ridiculous.

In either of these cases is the person wishing to receive communion obstinately persisting?

Certainly there are those who obstinately persist. They know what the Church teaches and simply choose to ignore it or take the attitude that they know better. But there are many other cases in which you would be hard pressed to prove obstinacy.

Some like Lewis Carroll's Humpty-Dumpty argue that words have no fixed meaning, and so in this case obstinately doesn't really mean obstinately. It merely means on-going. But then what does persevering mean?

The current Code of Canon Law went through many drafts before St. John Paul II approved the final version. Words matter.

Perhaps one thing we can look forward to from Pope Francis is a clarification on this seemingly small but important detail in the law. Perhaps there was more wisdom in what St. John Paul II wrote than even those around him at the time knew.

As Pope Francis said in his closing address to the Synod the Church is for the poor in spirit and sinners seeking forgiveness not only the just and the saints.

Begging God

One of the changes in the new tranlastion of the Missal that caused some upset was the return to translating rogare as "to beg" instead of the 70's version "to ask." Many people could not seem to reconcile the idea of us having to beg a God who is all loving.

The begging makes sense if we remember that we pray to the Father, through the Son, and in the Spirit. It is a familial relationship. Our baptism makes us the adopted sons and daughters of God. Now think back on your childhood. Didn't we all beg our parents at some point. When we really, really, really wanted something, we could beg like crazy. I can certainly remember myself

Please, please, please please,pleeeeeeeeese....

Yes in prayer we are called to be beggars. But we are not the begger on the street with his hand out, calling to strangers. We are the child begging their loving parent. We beg because we want from the bottom of our hearts. And if we don't get what we want, we may get angry and pout, but deep down inside we know that when the answer is not the one we want, it's still what's best for us.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Following the Synod

The sad truth is that most of the time the Synods of the Church come and go with little notice by most of the world, including most Catholics. More often than not, after the Synod, the Pope will issue some sort of Post-Synodal Exhortation which will be read by theologians, seminarians, and some priests.

There will certainly be media coverage of the event, this being a synod called by Pope Francis, but more than likely they will only be looking for the sensational or cotroversial. Over these next three weeks as the Synod progresses I hope to underscore some of the themes the Holy Father hopes to address with his brother bishops. I will tend to quote the Pope from the Spanish versions of the text because that is the language in which he thinks.

In the homily for the opening mass yesterday, he began with a reflection on a fundamental human experience identified in Adam in the reading of the Day from Genesis, which he called (la drama de la soleded) "the drama of loneliness". He sees a paradox in our modern society. The more globalized we become, the more technologically advanced we are, the more means of communication we have, the more isolated we are. And  the more "advanced" the society, the worse the problem.  He calls us to pay attention to a variety of groups of abandoned persons from the elderly to those who have been abandoned by their spouses, to the youth in a culture of (usar y tirar) "use and throw away."

He calls us to take time to reflect on the paradox that we have "so much power accompanied by so much loneliness and vulnerability."

As Americans we can tend to see everything through the lens of our current political debates. But the Holy Father reminds us that this synod begins with the most fundamental truth about all human beings, that we are created to be in relationship, to love and be loved. He reminds us that it is about all those people who feel alone, and asking the question how we as a Church can better respond to that experience. The first step of course is to open our eyes to see it, to see them, the people right around us who are experiencing loneliness in all of its many forms.

Today let us pray for the lonely, but more than simply pray let us reach out and be the instrument of God's love for them. In most cases we won't have to reach very far.

Monday, September 28, 2015

My Fellow Americans

With the historic moment of the Pope in the US, I could not imagine blogging.  I am still prayerfully reading through his words. Judging by the commentary, both inside and outside the Church, many people need to do the same. Too many of us are falling into the trap of locking onto the words or phrases that we immediately either like or dislike the most.

That is fine for a first step.  We should begin with those words which touch our hearts. Step two will requure  that we playfully embrace the truths he dared to speak that challenge our ways of thinking.

The overriding message of this Pope seems to be "Be who you are" If you are a Bishop, remember what it means to be a Bishop. The same for Priests, and Religious, Mothers and Fathers, Husbands and Wives, even just Human Beings. Over and over on this trip he took the time to remind us of our own American History, so that we could return to those foundational truths that made our country a great nation. He reminded us what it means to be American.

I have been reading him in Spanish because clearly that is the language in which his words are most his own. At Madison Square Garden he referred to "cociudadanos." Most would simply translate that as "fellow citizens" and move on, but there is a deeper point being made.

He was speaking of life in a city, the pros and the cons. In Spanish city is "ciudad." The Spanish word ciudadano like the English word citizen originally meant simply a person living in (denizen of) a particular city. We tend to think of citizen as a privileged position one who have rights that others do not. Our big obsession now appears to be dividing the city between the citizens and those who are not.

The Pope reminded us that it is easy for an individual's identity to get lost in a big city. He reminded us that we must go back to the most basic truths of our faith. That we are all created in the image and likeness of God, and endowed from the moment of our conception with an intrinsic dignity. Therefore, as we look at the faces of the others in each of our cities we must see not nameless strangers but "cocuidadanos."

Actually the English words have the same history. from city to citizen to fellow citizen. Remember of course that a fellow is a partner. Can we see every person around us as a partner in the life of our city, a  "cociudadano."

I know this word will make me look at people differently  as I drive through my new neighborhood. And even for those who live in outside the cities, it raises the question do you even know your neighbors. Can you name the people who live right around you?

How can we hope to be a great nation if we remain disconnected from those right around us?

The great city of which we are all called to be "cociudadanos" is of course the City of God. But perhaps even now we can make our earthly cities better places by uniting one person at a time.

Friday, September 18, 2015


Since the release of the Pope's new motu proprio many have struggled with the translation of the title

Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus

The last three words are easy "Judge Lord Jesus." It's the adjective that is problematic, mitis. Some are going with "clement" a word rarely ever used and therefore innocuous. But if you go looking for mitis in the Vulgate, the official Latin version of the Bible, you find it in one very well known passage from Matthew's gospel, Mt. 11:29

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, quia mitis sum...

Spending on the English tranlastion you are using mitis is either translated gentle or meek.

In today's reading from the 6th chapter of the First Letter to Timothy, Paul refers to him as "man of God."

Paul also explains what it means to be a man of God. Instead of seeking after worldly riches one is to seek six things:

  • Equity/ Justice
  • Godliness/piety
  • Faith
  • Love (agape)
  • Patient endurance
  • Meekness (a form of the same word Jesus uses)

These are the things that make the Man of God.

Are these really the things for which we are ambitious? Are these the qualities we look for in others?

Pope Francis is sending a clear signal regarding the attitude with which those of us who serve as Judges in tribunals are suppose to approach our ministry. St. Paul however is addressing every woman and man who wishes to be a true follower of Christ.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Two Sufferings

Today's gospel reminds us that there are two distinct forms of suffering in life. The first is that suffering over which we have no control: the death of a loved one, physical illness, chronic conditions etc. St. Paul deals with this type and explains how they can be transformed when we unite them to the sufferings of Christ. But this is not the suffering in today's gospel.

Today's gospel reminds us that the death of Christ was as our Eucharistic Prayer says, a "death he freely accepted" In the gospel today we are told that we to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow him. We must not only carry it but we must freely choose to take it up.

It is the difference by sympathy and compassion. Sympathy comes when I feel for you in your pain. Compassion requires that I literally "suffer with (passio cum)" you. How many of us want to be thought of as compassionate people? How many of us want to suffer?

In many of our churches people bring in food on Sunday morning for the food pantry. It is a good thing to do. But there is no real compassion in it. It's extra food. When we give clothes to the clothing closet, we give the extra, what we don't want, or can't fit into any more. There is no pain involved in that. To reach true compassion means literally giving until it hurts.

Right now we watch the countries of Europe sturggling with the tension between the basic human instinct for self-preservation and compassion, a willingness to suffer to save others. Jesus tells us that before we can take up the cross we must deny ourselves. The word he uses here means literally to disown. To disown myself is to hand myself over completely. I no longer belong to me my life belongs to God. And truly following Christ means a willingness to sacrifice myself, suffer, to save people I don't even know.

Why would I do something so crazy? Because it's what Jesus did. He willingly suffered and died on the cross so that we might live. How are we as individuals and as a nation called to imitate Christ.? How much self-denial and suffering am I willing to experience for someone I don't even know?

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 and that of the gospel will save it.

How am I ready to lose my life?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

How far will we go?

In today's reading from the First Letter to Timothy, we hear

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.

And truth be told we have no idea what St. Paul means by that. We have no idea what sins he committed. Sometimes we act as if after his conversion experience he never sinned again but that would make him unique among those of us born with original sin.

The saying "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" sounds like the kind of thing to which we would respond, "Duh!" And yet, we all need to be reminded of it. We need to be reminded that it is unqualified. It doesn't say, Christ came to save those who commit any sin but the following. If we are honest do we not all have a list of sinners we would not like to set next to in Church? Think about it.

And yet, St. Paul reminds us that it is precisely for those people that Jesus came.

Where sin abounded, grace abounded even more Rim 5:20

I have been shocked by the response of some who first got upset over the Pope's new instructions regarding abortion, and now the response to the Pope's new procedural law regarding annulment. Some want to suggest that he is condoning abortion and divorce. Nothing could be further from the truth. He has simply identified these as two areas where we could do a better job in reaching out to people and reconciling them to the Church.

As he often reminds us, the Church is a hospital. It is a place for people in need of healing, it is the refuge of sinners.

How far are we willing to go in really welcoming ALL people into our churches?


Friday, September 11, 2015

A wish for Timothy

To we begin reading the first Letter to Timothy, and it would be easy for us to skip past the greeting as we do in most letters. In this case we would miss a great deal. St. Paul wishes three things for Timothy, and these three things are at the center of our faith:

Χάρις (charis- grace) St. Paul takes a rather ordinary Greek word used in greeting, and transforms it. One could, and in many ways, St. Augustine did, spent his whole life delving into the depths of this single word. At it's core it is nothing less than God dwelling in each believer. The word appears about 150 times in the New Testament.

Έλεος (eleos- mercy) The word can also be translated compassion. It comes from a word referring to being poured out. Each time we begin mass at the end of the Penitential Rite we sing Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison. Even when mass is in Latin this remains in Greek. We tend to think of the word as referring to forgiveness, but that is really a secondary meaning. It's primary meaning is compassionate love. The forgiveness flows from the love. The compassionate love of God that is captured in this single word is difficult to translate into any other language.

The final thing that St. Paul wishes for Timothy is

Ειρήνη (eirene- peace) It is the state of being that results from the first two, the grace and mercy of God. The word comes from the verb to unite/join. It denotes oneness, wholeness, stillness. It is the Greek counterpart to the Hebrew Shalom.

As Chrsitians we should strive to live each day in this state of being. St. Paul reminds us that the only way to acheive this state is through the first two gifts of God, grace and compassionate loving mercy.

Today is Friday, a penitential day in our calendar, and the grace and mercy of God is always available to us in the sacraments, and today perhaps in the Sacrament of Penance.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Suffering in unison

Today we reach on of the most debated verses in the Bible, Col 1:24. The sticky part is where Paul claims:

I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church,

The idea that there was something lacking in the suffering of Christ goes against everything thing we believe. At the center of Christian theology is the belief that the Passion of Jesus Christ was suffered once for all.

The key to understanding this verse is that St. Paul is focused on the Church, the Body of Christ. This new Body of Christ unlike his singular earthly body is just at the beginning of its formation when St. Paulnis writing. While the suffering, death and ressurection of Jesus was on one level the fulfillment, God's plan for the world must unfold over centuries. The plan will not be complete until the second coming of Christ.

In the meantime, this new Body, the Church, must slowly be filled up with new members. And this new Body, the Church will still have to suffer, just as the earthly physical body of Jesus suffered. Paul is very bluntly warning his people that the suffering is not over, it is not yet finished. There is still suffering yet to come. In that sense the suffering of the Body of Christ, is still lacking, incomplete.

When we suffer, we never suffer alone. We suffer as members of the body of Christ, the Church. The head of that body, Jesus suffers with us. So deep is his love for us. The word compassion means" to suffer with" and so the suffering of Christ,the passion of Christ continues as long as even one member of the body suffers, because he is compassion itself.

The good news is, just as our suffering is his suffering, his strength is our strength. He shares in our suffering; we share his strength. We share in his passion and his ressurection. No matter what pain we feel we must know that we are never along in our suffering, Jesus is right there with us. In fact, his entire body, the Church, suffers with us. We suffer as one.

We should never be afraid to allow our brothers and sisters to share in our moments of suffering. We should never fall into the trap of believing that our suffering is ours alone or that hiding our suffering is a sign of strength. Pretending not to suffer is mere hubris.

Paul warn us that as Christ suffer so the Church will suffer. But also provides the certain hope that just as Christ conquered, so too there is no suffering that we cannot conquer together.