Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Day7: Prayer-It's not about you.

Today's gospel turns our attention to the Lenten practice of prayer, with the model Christian prayer, the Lord's Prayer.

The prayer only appears in Matthew and Luke. Luke's version is much briefer.

Luke 11:2-4

2 ...Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread;
4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive every one who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation."

Matthew's version is the one we usually recite

Catholic Study Bible

Matthew 6:9-13

9 ...Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread;
12 And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors;
13 And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil.

Some things worth noting:
1. The prayer is mostly about God.
2. It is always "us" and never "me."
3. Most of what we ask for is spiritual. The only physical thing we ask for is "our daily bread", and even that may be understood as a reference to the Eucharist.

In short, this prayer draws our attention upward. It turns our focus outward.

Particularly when we are wounded, hurting, our tendency is to turn inward, to emotionally circle the wagons. This prayer reminds us that that is precisely the wrong thing to do. When we are hurting we need to look outward, remember that we are part of something larger, the Church. And most of all we need to look up.

Our Father, who art in heaven

He is the only source of true power. With our eyes fixed on heaven we can pass through any adversity.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Day 6: The Goal

For the person who unites their life with Christ, death is merely a passing through the door, out of this life into eternal life. Yesterday's meditation was about the moment of decision. There is also at the end of life such a final moment. Death marks end of the time we have to make the most fundamental of life's choices: to accept God's love or reject it.

Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness. (Catechism 1024)

But we must choose the path of love.

Any one who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)

This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called “hell.” (Catechism,1033)

While we call it the last judgement. It is really less of a judgment and more the moment when God ratifies the choice we have made. Notice that the catechism refers to hell as a self-exclusion.

Does God will that all be saved? Yes. But he has also given us the freedom to choose, because love must be freely given or it is not love.

Each decision we make is a step toward eternal life or away from it. The gospel today puts before us the stark reality that our earthly existence will come to an end. And when it does, will we be facing toward God or have my back turned to him?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Day 5: Temptation

It is Sunday so while we do not fast today, we should still do the prayer and almsgiving that we decided on for Lent.

The Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent is always the story of the Temptation, either Matthew, Mark, or Luke's version. We are accustomed to the long version, the devil and the conversation, the version in either Matthew or Luke. This year we are reading the oldest gospel, Mark.

The first thing that hits you about Mark is how little is said.
Mark 1:12-13

12 The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
13 And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.

That's it- no details. The later gospels expand on this, adding more detail, but there is something to be said for the brevity. It focuses our attention on the idea of temptation.

In order to understand temptation. We have to understand sin. Sin is always a choice. It is not possible to accidentally sin. It is not possible for someone else to make you sin. Sin is always a knowing, free choice.

If sin is always a choice, there is always a moment of decision. Temptation comes just before that moment of decision.

Too many of us think of temptation, as the little devil on your shoulder from the cartoons, whispering in your ear. A more modern word might be trigger.

Most of us don't have a long list of sins; we have a short list that we keep repeating. The worst thing we can do is use the excuse, "Well, that's just how I am." As Christians we believe, we can and must change.

The first step is to identify the temptation point, the trigger.

Take gluttony. I am not a sweets person but I love salty snacks. For me, potato chips only come in single serving bags. No matter how big, once I open it, I can sit in front of the TV and eat the entire bag. One little handful, then another, then another.....

So I don't buy them. If they are not in the house I don't eat them. Sometimes we have to know our limitations and not put ourselves in situations where we know we are going to sin. Why we lie to ourselves and tell ourselves that this time will be different is beyond me. Be honest. Admit your limitations. If every time you go out with this one particular friend you get drunk, then maybe you need to go out less with that friend. Or go to a movie rather than a bar.

Second, take responsibility. No one can make you mad. They do something, and you get mad. There are many situations we cannot control but we can control how we react.

This gospel challenges us to take this first full week of Lent and monitor our behavior. Identify the sins we fall into over and over. And then identify the temptation points, the triggers. Pray for God to help you respond differently, to help you take control of your life.

Sin is not inevitable. At the moment before every sin, there is a moment when we can choose the other path. Identify the moment of temptation. When we can see the temptation as temptation, we are half way home.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Day 4: How we see others?

Hopefully, we all woke up hungry this morning. Today the gospel turns us outward. It is so easy for us to judge the Pharisees and their scribes. But how different are we really?

We all know today's gospel where Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners. You should note that tax collectors and sinners are two different groups. Two despised but different groups.

We know that the Pharisees are in the wrong to condemn Jesus but we repeat the behavior and worst of all we repeat it in the church. Jesus says "I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners." But do we really want those people sitting next to us in Church? Do we want them on our parish council or teaching in our religious ed?

Yesterday I watched one of the most amazing people I know sit in open court and talk about her history as a drug addict, felon, and prostitute. The part that always amazes me is her ability to do shamelessly. She knows you cannot undo the past. God has forgiven her, and, because "all things work together for good for those who love God", God has used the painful, sinful part of her past to enable her to help others.

Sadly, I suspect in many dioceses of the Catholic Church, we would run her background check and then tell her the list of ministries she can't do in our parishes. We preach forgiveness better than we practice it. We tell people that they should go to confession and their sins are absolved, but do we truly forgive? Or do we always treat our sinners are not quite forgiven? Sure, there are some crimes where the risk of recidivism is too high to risk, but not most.

Today Jesus reminds us that the Church exists for sinners, not just little sins like saying bad words but the big ones, the ones we tell ourselves we can't imagine committing,the ones that are sins and crimes.

Lent is a time for taking a hard look at ourselves and acknowledging our own sins. It also a time to stop judging others. Today is a day to look into our own hearts and ask, who are the people I still judge? Who are those people I most often criticize? How can I love them?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Day 3: Fasting

Today's readings address what would have been the traditional practice of fasting on Fridays. Traditionally, Fridays were a day of penance, a day of fasting for Christians in remembrance of thar great Friday on which Jesus gave his life on the cross for our salvation.

Fridays remain for us a day of penance, but now for those who are 14 and older the minimum requirement is that we abstain from meat. There is of course nothing preventing us from maintaining the more ancient tradition of fasting.

The first reading today, poses only one question. To what end?

The prophet Isiaiah is not condemning fasting per se he is condemning the result, the accompanying behavior.

Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits, and drive all your laborers. Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting, striking with wicked claw.

The fasting is empty in the worst way if you then take it out on everyone around you. As the Ash Wednesday gospel from Mt. 6 reminded us, it is possible for us to do good things like almsgiving, prayer, and fasting for the wrong reason. And a good thing done for the wrong reason looses it merit. It becomes an empty gesture.

Today I would encourage you to consider taking the extra step, if your health allows it. At least consider reducing by half the amount of food you consume. Offer your sacrifice, remembering the sacrifice of Jesus. Allow your body to experience physical hunger and recall your spiritual hunger.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Day 2: Everyday living

Being a relatively new Catholic when I entered Catholic University I did not have all of the traditional Catholic prayers down. Fr, Carl Peter always began class with the same prayer, the opening prayer for today's mass

Prompt our actions with your inspiration, we pray, O Lord,
and further them with your constant help,
that all we do may always begin from you
and by you be brought to completion.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

When I got to Rome the now Cardinal Valasio DiPaolis began with the same prayer but in Latin

Actiónes nostras, quaesumus, Dómine,
aspirándo praeveni et adiuvándo proséquere,
ut cuncta nostra operátio
a te semper incípiat,
et per te copta finiátur. Per Dóminum...

This ancient prayer truly summarizes the Christian life. Every action that we take, should be inspired by the Lord. Only with his help should we carry out any project. Our every work should be begun not by us, but by him. And only through him brought to completion.

There is a reason these and hundreds of other priests and religious memorized this prayer, and recited it each day. From listening to Cardinal DiPaolis repeatedly I memorized it and this lent I will return to reciting it, and hopefully living it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Spring Cleaning in the Temple

Mardi Gras is finally here. But we should keep in mind that the Gras of Mardi Gras refers to fat not as obese , but fat as in grease. According to the older tradition no meat or meat products could be eaten during the entirety of Lent, so cooking with fat was forbidden. Mardi Gras was your last chance to eat those foods fried in lard. (Good bye Grandma Utz!)

Today we have what could be called the two extremes in the East and in the West.

For us in the Latin Rite fast is only required on two days, tomorrow and Good Friday, and only for people 18-59. Again, if you are into minimalism, fasting is defined as one meal, and then the sum total of everything else you eat should not equal another meal. That is the minimum required. Plus we abstain from meat on Fridays.

At the other end of the spectrum you have the eastern practice of the Great Lent which would include our Orthodox brothers and sisters. The great Lent is 6 weeks long, preceded by four weeks of preparation.

Two weeks before the First Sunday of Lent is Meat Fare (мясопуст-in Russian), your last chance to eat meat. One Week before the First Sunday of Lent is Cheese Fare (сыропуст), the last chance to eat cheese and other dairy products including eggs, because they come from animals—Imagine, no meat no dairy for the rest of Lent. Lent officially begins the next day, "clean Monday" as it is sometimes called.

Perhaps somewhere between the Great Lent and the minimalist Lent is the place that we should each find for ourselves. The Latin Rite Catholic Church after Vatican II put the responsibility squarely in our hands. The law establishes only a bare minimum and then leaves it to us as adults to decide the level of fasting that is appropriate and healthy for us. Not everyone can do the Great Lent. And the Church exempts from fasting those who for health reasons must eat on a determined schedule.

What is the purpose anyway? We are not merely souls but also bodies. We should cleanse our bodies as well as our souls. We are told our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. It's time to clean the temple.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The value of.children

These opening verses of Genesis 4 are also filled with meaning for us. In the first place note that the mother not the father is the speaker. And what she says is, I have acquired a man with the help of God. The verb to acquire is kanah. The child's name is Cain.
She then has a second son whose name is Abel. The word means a breath, and points to the shortness of his life.

Even though sin is now part of the universe in which they live, and the birth process is painful, man and woman are reunited and with God's help other adams (humans) are created. How often do we stop to remember than in every single conception there are three involved: a mother, a father, and God. Regardless of whether the child is conceived naturally, through a process like IVF or even rape, the child's value and dignity is always the same . The child remains God's creation whom the mother and father simply acquire/ receive.

Do we really want to live in a society that says to one child, "You are worth more because your parents were married and wanted you"? And to another, "You are worth less because your parents were not married, and the last thing your mother wanted was a baby."

I can say with some certainty that in the winter of 1960 when my 16 year old mother became pregnant, she did not want to get pregnant. It is also highly likely that if abortion had been readily available, I would not be here today. Thankfully it was not. She gave birth to "baby boy___________." Danville Social Services named me Wayne Patterson and in November 1964 I was adopted and renamed Wayne Ball.

Abortion is not a political issue. It is a life and death decision about children like me. In choosing to abort, you are inherently saying that this child is worth less. You are saying that the child's life is not his own or her own but it is a thing, a piece of property that belongs to the mother, to be kept or thrown away at will.

On behalf of all of us unwanted children let me proclaim the good news. We are not worth less. Our lives are gifts from God. The child of every unplanned and even unwanted pregnancy has as much right as anyone live and to proclaim the words of the psalmist:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
(Ps. 139:14)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Preparing for Lent

Usually I write about the readings of the day but this is our last Sunday before Lent, and it's time we started to plan how we are going to live this Lenten Season. First some basic info.

The length of Lent has varied widely over the centuries. The number 40 is used in the biblical sense to mean a long time. In actuality, Lent is 44 days long. It is a myth that Sunday's don't count. It runs from Ash Wednesday until the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday.

There are three practices associated with Lent that come from the gospel of the day, Mt. 6:1-18. They are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

The misconception that Sundays during Lent don't count comes from the ancient prohibition against fasting on Sunday. But just because we don't fast doesn't mean we shouldn't continue our Lenten prayer, and almsgiving. The Sundays are still The First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent.

So now we have three days to decide what we are going to do each day during Lent. Whatever we pick should be things that touch our daily lives.

For prayer, I would like to recommend 40 days for life. My birth mother was a 16 year old high school student. I often think that if abortion had been available in Danville in 1960, I probably wouldn't be here. But whatever form of prayer you choose, make it every day.

With regard to almsgiving, while I usually do Operation Rice Bowl, and that is still a great idea, this year I am doing something more personal. I am putting a box in my tv room and every day at least one thing needs to go into the box. To get through the 44 days of Lent I may need more than one box. My guess is that every one of us has at least 44 things we could give away.

Lastly, the one we most associate with Lent, fasting, more commonly phrased as "What are giving up for Lent?" Isaiah puts before us that question,

Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food.

So this year I am giving up everything that is not what I call real food (snack food, fast food, etc.), it also serves as a reminder to consider what we consume not only with our mouth, but with our eyes, and ears as well. How much of what we consume is junk that does not nourish us?

Lent is not about loosing weight, getting in shape, it is a season of penance. It is a time of acknowledging our sin and our need for God's transforming grace. In today's opening prayer we prayed,

grant that we may be so fashioned by your grace
as to become a dwelling pleasing to you.

We have three days to plan how we are going to live Lent and through our prayer, fasting and almsgiving prepare ourselves to be transformed by the power of God's grace.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Sin and Valentines

At first glance today's reading from the book of Genesis may seem a strange one to land on Valentine's Day, the results of original sin. And yet, it is in some ways a perfect reading because it helps us to distinguish between what God wants the relationship of man and woman to be, and what is the result of sin.

In the beginning when God created them they were perfectly complimentary, ish and ishah. They were two sides of the same coin, humanity, the image and likeness of God. They are referred to as man and woman, husband and wife.

Once sin enters the world the relationship is ruptured. No one takes responsibility for their actions. Each looks for someone else to blame. The woman blames the serpent. The man blames his wife.

The most beautiful unique gift of the woman, the ability to give birth is transformed into pain. And the harmonious relationship with the environment is transformed. Obtaining even basic nourishment will require arduous work.

Worst of all the relationship of man and woman is transformed. They are no longer equals but as a result of sin man rules over woman. (Gn 3:16). And just as the man had named the animals, he names his wife (Gn 3:20). This is no compliment. If you go back to Gn 2:20 we see the linkage between the naming and the inability of the named things to be a helpmate.

This story from the beginning of the Bible puts the lie to the belief that Judaism or Christianity are religions that promote the domination of women by men. Our faiths preach precisely the opposite. Domination is the result of sin, like the pain of childbirth and even death.

On this Valentine's Day we are reminded of the perfect equality, symmetry, and complimentary that God intended man and woman to have. While no couple may ever achieve it, every couple should constant strive for it. Just as Jesus Christ conquered death, his grace can also help couples everywhere to conquer the other remnants of original sin.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Things even the dog knows

Many of you remember my corgi Bart (Bartholomew actually because of his birthday). He did very well at home alone all day for the most part, but every once in a while there would be a present waiting for me when I came home: the destroyed roll of toilet paper, or the remains of some food he managed to remove from the kitchen counter. I would alway know, because the minute I walked into the house instead of greeting me at the door, he would be in the living room under a chair giving me the pitiful face, his chin resting on his paws, his big brown eyes grazing up apologetically. He was ashamed.

Today we have the story of the original sin. The man and the woman (he had not named her like an animal yet) have decided they don't need God to tell them right from wrong they will eat from the tree. That is, they will decide for themselves. Once they do. There immediate reaction is to hide. They feel shame.

It is not just being naked. They know they have broken God's law. They did so freely. They chose to give into the temptation.

God has built into each of us a conscience. When we sin, we are ashamed. This is not a bad thing. Imagine the opposite, a world in which we could do anything to anyone and feel nothing.

Many jokes are made about Catholic guilt. And there are those individuals who go overboard and feel shame when none is called for. The Catholic tradition has always recognized the problem of scrupulosity. But if we look around our modern American culture, in our effort to rid our world of guilt and shame, we have created a culture of narcissism, where sensitivity to the feelings of others is always trumped by "I have a right to...." And I have yet to locate this list of rights to which they refer.

Shame can and should be a healthy component of the human psyche. It is nothing more than our acknowledgement that there is right and wrong, and we have done wrong. The dog knows it and we should be at least as smart as the dog.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bible Basics

Today's readings gives us an opportunity to recall some basics particularly about reading the Torah which includes only Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

First of all, let us remember that the Chapter and verse numbers are not part of the text but a much later convention we imposed and often in a fashion that does not fit the text. Our chapter numbers can be traced back to the 13th Century Archbishop of Cantebury. And the verse numbers were added in the 16th century by a French printer.

The Jewish Torah splits into Aliya which break at logical points for their lectionary. For example, we have two distinct creation stories placed back to back in Genesis. The first creation story goes from our Gen 1:1-2:3 (Aliya 1), the second story begins at our Gen 2:4. The first is from the Priestly tradition. The second is from the Yawist (J) tradition. Remember that the final Book of Genesis is three strands woven together.

How do we know this? Because, among other things, this tradition does not simply refer to God (Elohim), but adds the name of God (YHVH). As Catholics we follow the Jewish custom of not pronouncing it and we translate it as simply LORD. So you see the phrase "LORD God."

Some Christians try and pronounce the name of God and guess that it should be pronounced as Yahweh or Jehovah. In the Catholic Church in the 60's we went through our disrespectful phase of using the word Yahweh. Until the Pope clarified that we were to go back to the older tradition. Jesus told us to call God "Father", and I doubt that any of us called our father by his first name.

A second basic bible truth worth remembering, is that we know from study of the texts that these first chapters of Genesis were inspired later than much of the rest of the Torah. One of the simple indicators is that God does not reveal his name until we get to Moses (Ex. 3:13). God did not dictate the Bible in sequence, but inspired its composition and organization over a long period of time. It would make no sense to say God revealed his name to Moses but it was already known before Adam. Logically the stories that use the name of God were written after God revealed his name.

If we want to describe the writing down of God's word in human time, the history began with the call of Abraham and is brought to completion with the final book of the New Testament. Over the course of those centuries God inspired many human authors to write and edit his Word until his public revelation was complete. The process of inspiration of what we Christians call the Bible was long and complex, like the creation of the universe. We do God a great injustice when we try and reduce God's magnificent act of revelation to simple dictation or when we fail to separate the revealed word of God from the merely human printing additions like titles, chapters, and verses.

Particularly as we read a Book like Genesis we need to take the time to read each individual story, and meditate on it to find the truth that God wishes to reveal in that story. There is so much truth in each one that they never grow old.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Man male and female

In the first creation story we saw yesterday the progressive order in which God created the world today we see what sets humanity apart. 

One of the most important things to remember in reading the story is that the word adam is not a name it refers to a human being of either gender. 

First, we are the image and likeness of God. 

Second,male and female in this version of the story are created simultaneously. They are created as two sides of the same coin. In this moment of creation marriage as we know it comes into being. 

Up until this moment, at the end of each day, got has looked at the world and seen that it was good. Now God looks at the world and sees that it is very good  .

This is the world how God intended to be. Send will later change the relationship of man and woman,alienating them from one another and from God. In today's reading we see who we are created to be. As we go through this day is look for opportunities to respect each person.as the image and likeness of God

Monday, February 9, 2015

Order from Chaos

Today we begin reading some of my favorite stories in the Bible, the Book of Genesis. The pre-Abram stories are not history book material, but contain a wealth of ancient Jewish theology. They tell us the basic truths about God and God's relationship to the world. The inspired author is also a compiler drawing together material from what scholars know were three earlier sources, traditionally designated as Eloist, Jawist, and Priestly. These are far more than folk tales or legends. In the creation stories we understand what it means to be human.

Today we begin at the beginning. The universe tohu-vbohu, a mishmash, an orderless blackness. God creates the world by speaking. And here we have our theology of the power of words. The best modern image would be that of the photon. Words were understood to be little packets of energy whose power was proportionate to the speaker. Cannot a parent destroy a child with a word? Or your boss or spouse decimate you? The Bible opens by telling us of the power of the particular human gift of language. While other animals may have rudimentary forms of sound communication only the human being as true language. And we must be exceedingly careful how we use this gift.

Second the story tells us that there is order to the universe. The Priestly account of creation divides the act of creation into six days, two groups of three. In the first three the stationary objects( as they understood the world), the second three, days 4-6 contain moving objects that correspond to days 1-3.

Day 1- day and night. Day 4- the sun, moon and stars
Day 2- sky and sea. Day 5- birds and fish
Day 3- dry land. Day6 - animals and humans

There is nothing random or coincidental about the universe.

As Catholics ee don't have a problem with Big Bang or evolution. We just know who was behind it all. The Bible tells us that the world was brought into being in order over long period of time. God days could be millennia. God's time is not our times.

Actually what I find most fascinating is that what science now tells us corresponds to the Bible, the stories are written in different language. Unlike the myths of the pagan neighbors the universe is not the result of waring Gods. And the movements of the world are not capricious. There is order. There are laws that govern. It is predictable.

Tomorrow: where do we fit in this well ordered universe?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Making time

In English we will often say that we need to make time for this or that thing. The problem is that we can't make time. Time simply is.God made it. He belongs to him. We now know that it not a constant, and that it is related in a way that we cannot fully explain with space which also belongs to God. God created us as well and allows us to occupy space on this earth for a finite period of time. We call this life. It also belongs to God who gave it to us as a gift. Once we realize that we cannot make time or even take time we will be much happier people. We stop saying stupid things like, "That person is wasting my time."

Our time on earth is a short and finite thing, a precious gift from God, to be used with great care. Once a moment is past. It is gone never to return. Perhaps the best metaphor we have is money,because we can spend time and we can waste time. But even that image falls short because we cannot earn time.

If we look carefully at the gospel today Jesus is exceedingly aware of the brevity of his time. As I have mentioned before, in Mark's Gospel almost everything happens "immediately", one thing after another.

Two things about how Jesus makes use of the time that he has on earth:

First, in the midst of all of his busyness he dedicates time to prayer. The gospel tells us that he got up early in the morning, left, went to a deserted place, and prayed. Here is giving us the model for our daily life. Each of us needs to spend part of each day alone with God. And it has taken me most of my life to realize that Jesus is right about when we need to do it, first thing in the morning. First, because it roots our day in God. Secondly, because our days tend to take off, get out of control, and by the end of the day we are too tired for quality time with God.

The other thing that is worth noting is how Jesus chooses how to spend his time. The crowds want to see more miracles but when the disciples come and tell Jesus that they are looking for him, his response is

Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.

He has his priorities in order. He does not simply respond to the crowd. He does not allow himself to be swept along by the current.

None of us knows how much time we have left on this earth. Treat every minute as a precious gift, and beginning tomorrow get up in the morning, find a quiet place, and pray.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


Today we bring to an end our reading of the Letter to the Hebrews. The letter actually had two endings. The end at 13:21 and the end at 13:25. The last part is a kind of post script (P.S.)

The final blessing at 21

May he make you perfect (complete) in every good work,
to do his will,
working in you that which is pleasing in his sight
through Jesus Christ,
to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

In one sense being a good Christian is hard. It is not simply about professing faith, but translating that faith into the panti
ergo agatho
"every good work (deed)."

But then we are reminded that it is easier than we think if we remember that we are not the worker, we are the instrument. It is God the Father, working in us, through the Son, Jesus Christ.

Christian living is waking up each morning with one intention for the day to allow God to work in us through Jesus Christ. If I am constantly about handing myself over, conforming my will to God's, then everything I say and do will be the good thing. And in those moments when we realize that we just disconnected our will from his, stop and take a moment to reconnect.

Do it one day at a time, one hour at a time, one minute at a time, if you have to, but just do! Or perhaps it's better to say, let God do it in you.

Friday, February 6, 2015


Yes, it is the second of three words in Hebrews 13:1.

Let brotherly love continue.

Even in the second verse

Do not neglect hospitality,

the word for hospitality that we are supposed to show toward strangers comes from the same root. The reference to entertaining angels should take us back to Abraham and Sarah, and the strangers (Gn 18).

Unfortunately I am sometimes afraid that some Christians have made so much of the word agape that we lost sight of the other love, the love of brother or sister or friend, philadelphia. The reason I say I am afraid is that the word agape seems to have been drained of all real emotion. It has been reduced to a passionless concern of others, that concern which we feel for some group halfway around world. It bears little resemblance to the love we feel for brothers and sisters or even our real friends. My fear is that "agape" is to "love" what "Facebook friend" is to "real friend."

We can forget that the city of Sodom was not destroyed for sex, but for a lack of hospitality. For us there can be no strangers, no foreigners. The current world situation makes it hard for us. It is easy for us to let fear destroy our Christianity.

Fridays in our tradition are days of penance. Perhaps today would be a good day to look into our hearts and ask, who are those people for whom I feel no brotherly love.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

New Testament Prayer

Even in the 20th century I am amazed at the number of Christians who walk through life with a pre-Christian understanding of God. In today’s reading from Chapter 12 of the Letter to the Hebrews we see a bright line drawn between the fearful relationship with God in which,

so fearful was the spectacle that Moses said,

“I am terrified and trembling.”

and what we should envision when we pray.

When the Christian prays we do not approach in fear and trembling, we should

approach Mount Zion
and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,
and God the judge of all,
and the spirits of the just made perfect,
and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,
and the sprinkled Blood that speaks more eloquently
than that of Abel.

Eight different images are used to try and express in human words the beauty of God, the God who, out of love, sacrificed his only begotten Son for our salvation. In prayer we approach not only God but also the whole city and all those who surround the throne of God.

Christianity is not a faith of God and me, Through baptism we become a part of something unimaginably bigger than ourselves. When we enter into prayer, we united our individual voices with the entire city, the new and eternal Jerusalem. We do so unfraid.

This reading invites each of us, the next time we stop to pray, to call to mind all of the above, mediate on the reality of new and eternal covenant forged in the blood of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Disciple

In chapter twelve we come to a section around one word which no one who has known me for a long time would ever associate with me, discipline. When I was young and stupid, excuse the redundancy, I hated structure. The word routine was synonymous with boredom. Only in middle age did I truly come to appreciate the profound connection between being a disciple and the absolute requirement of discipline.

Three Greek words say it all. In the first reading today we are commanded,

My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;

The word for discipline is paideia which comes from the verb paideuo (to educate, to train, to raise) which in turn comes from the word pais which means both son and servant.

Jesus is THE pais, the son who is also the servant. The one who does the will of the father. If I wish to be a true son pais, I need to be educated paideuo, and this process requires paideia.

We can separate being sons and daughters of God from discipline. It is all interconnected.

The next phrase from Hebrews is harsh,

He scourges every son he acknowledges

,the inference being that there are some children who are bastards. They are not disciplined, not educated. These are the ones who run wild, do as they please, and remain in the dark.

The simple truth is God always does what is good for us, and at times it is horribly painful. But God is the perfect parent who will do whatever it takes to set us on the right path, to teach us humility, obedience, and discipline. He wants to make us true disciples, legitimate children.

As always the choice is ours: to be disciplined legitimate children, or self sufficient bastards.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Cloud Religion

Long before we thought of the word "cloud" as a euphemism for "server farm", people still took time to look up at the actual clouds and marvel at God's creation. In the Old Testament clouds are often signs of God's presence like the pilar of cloud that lead the people in Exodus or the cloud out of which God spoke.

Today as we begin chapter 12 of the Letter to the Hebrews, we are told that surrounding us is nefos martyron agkon, a cloud of many witnesses. In Chapter 11, our writer went all the way back to Abel and reminded us of all of the faithful of the Old Testament.

In the creed when we say Jesus "descended into hell" we are referring to the fact that before the resurrection no one went to heaven they all went to Sheol, the place of the dead. When Jesus died, he descended to Sheol, open the gates to allow the righteous from the beginning of time to now enter heaven, to spend eternity in the presence of God. All of these people form the cloud of many witnesses. Try and imagine the number.

And the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we live enveloped in this cloud. Add to this what St. Paul tells us about our bodies being a temple of the Holy Spirit and you have beautiful image of the Christian body, a beautiful temple with the light of the Holy Spirit shining inside it, completely surrounded by this innumerable cloud of witnesses, example of the faith.

How can Jesus expect so much from us? Because each of us is that temple. And we should not be afraid in prayer to reach out to the members of the cloud for guidance and support.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Light in the darkness

Today is the day when in Catholic Churches around the world candles are blessed and for that reason the older English name was Candlemas Day. It is in  fact the Presentation of the Lord  

On that day when the child Jesus was taken to the temple, Simeon who had been  promised he would not die until he saw the messiah proclaimed what we now call the Canticle of Smeon which the centerpiece of night prayer 
Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, 
according to your word, 
for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples: 
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, 
and glory for your people Israel.
In a unique way the pascal candle is the symbol in every church of Christ the Light. But really every candle we light in prayer should bring our minds back to this moment 

John in his gospel will pick up this theme and proclaim Jesus 

In him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness  and the darkness has not overcome it.

Why do we need things like candles? Because we are physical beings. As such we need physical things wine, bread, water, oil, images, and candles. 

Before you go to bed tonight. Light and candle and spend some time reflecting on the light of Christ in your life. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Three A's

Today we move from the call of the first disciples to the teaching and miracles of Jesus. One of the hallmarks of Mark's gospel is the response of the people to Jesus. In the brief passage from chapter 1 that we hear today, we see the response to his teaching and to his first miracle. In Mark's gospel it is the casting out of an "unclean spirit."

Just as you know Mark's gospel by the constant use of the word "immediately", so the reaction of the people throughout the gospel is constantly astonishment or amazement. While we may think of these words as almost synonymous, in Greek they are not.

The reaction of the people to the miracle is close to the English word amazement. The word thambos has the sense of being stupefied, frozen, unable to move. The people do not understand what they have seen.

When Jesus is teaching in the synagogue their response is the opposite. The word we translate as astonished is a verb of action. It literally refers to being struck, it is prefixed with ek-(meaning out). The image is one of meaning struck hard enough to be knocked out of your present place. The people are struck hard enough to be moved.

This raises a key question for us: which one am I? When I hear the words of the gospel, am I amazed or astonished? My fear is that we have heard the gospel stories so often that the word that best describes us is the third A, apathetic, without feeling.

It is a myth that Catholics don't know the Bible. If you attend mass you know the Bible. Every prayer of mass is from the Bible and our lectionary structure means that we systematically read the Bible on a three year cycle. Our problem isn't that we don't know the Bible our problem is that we know it so well that it washes over us causing no response.

One of the characteristics of Mark's gospel is that is always an immediate and profound response to the words and actions of Jesus. The gospel says he taught with authority. The word for authority also means power. The people recognized and responded to the power of Jesus. Even those who will be against him will respond.

Perhaps it is time for us to immerse ourselves one more in the gospels, to feel the power, and to let ourselves be astonished.