Tuesday, March 31, 2015


The end of Lent is only two days away. On Thursday evening Christians around the world will gather to begin the celebration of the Easter Triduum, the three days in which we remember the Passion, Death, and Ressurection of our Lord Jesus Christ. When I say remember, I mean it in the Hebrew sense. As we remember we are able to be made part of the past event.

In today's gospel we hear for the first time John referred to as the one whom Jesus loved, his closest friend. And yet, when he leans over to ask Jesus who is going to betray him, John the beloved disciple and evangelist writes that he did not call him by his name. He did not call him Jesus, He called him the same way we still call him in the penitential rite, Kyrie, Lord. In what is probably the most tender, intimate moment in the gospels, he calls him Lord.

Contrast that with our present culture in which everyone feels free to call everyone by their first name. I do not offer any further comment. I simply find it noteworthy, and I think it is worth some reflection. If Jesus's closest friend among the apostles called him by his title, is it possible that there is a place for titles? Something to think about.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Searching for the Truth

One of the most common questions I run into is the question, do you believe the Bible is true. I also give the Catholic answer. I believe that every story in the Bible conveys a truth, the truth or truths that God wanted us to know when he inspired the writer. The Bible contains some history but is not a history book. It contains some geography but is not a geography book. It contains some astronomy but is not a book on astrophysics. The Bible is a theology book, and as long as we read lit as a theology book we will have no problem.

Of the four evangelists John is the one who understood this most clearly. As the last of the four gospel writers John does not feel constrained to report either the history or the geography with modern scientific precision. John's only concern is the message, the good news and so he feels free to retell the stories in the way that best conveys the message. Today's gospel is the perfect example.

If we compare John's version in chapter 12 to the older version of the same story in Mark 14 we see that the story has been completely reshaped. In Mark, it is two days before passover. The location is the house of Simon the leper. The woman (unidentified) come is with an alabaster jar. The ones who question why the oil was not sold and used for the poor are a group, "some who were there."

John in order to help us see the deeper meaning tells the same story but relocates it, recasts it. In John's version it is six days before passover (a symbolic number). It takes place in the home of Lazarus, the one who was raised from the dead. Martha is once more serving and it is her sister Mary who had sat at the feet of Jesus who now brings the costly perfume. We are told that she bought it specifically so she could have it for the day of his burial. The one who questions why the oil is not sold for 300 days wages and given to the poor is Judas. John has retold the story in a way that every detail is packed with significance.

St. John is called by the titles Apostle, Evangelist, and Theologian. Nowhere do we call him St. John the Historian. He is credited with giving us a gospel, three letter, and the Book of Revelation, all inspired by God, all with the same purpose, to take us beyond the surface, to help us to understand that the real truth is not found in the so called facts. The Truth is a person, Jesus the Christ. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. What modern historians call truth, what the media calls facts are of little importance to him.

This week the television is filled with shows claiming to give us the historcal Jesus, or other biblical figures. If we watch such programs at all, we should watch them with a certain skepticism. Beware of those who claim to know more than it is possible to know. The more sensational the story, the less likely it is to contain any truth, and in our time you can always find some expert, some person with a doctorate to say any crazy thing you want.

Holy Week is a time to immerse ourselves in the scriptures, to listen to the story of our salvation not only with our ears but with our hearts. If we mediate on the stories that we think we know, through his Word, God will constantly communicate to us a new, deeper understanding of the mysteries contain therein. Let us dedicate this week to hearing the Truth, from the source, God who revealed himself compleley in the person of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Patient Suffering

After the penitential rite at the beginning of mass, the priest says "let us pray", then pauses for all of us to pray in silence, the he gathers all our prayer in the Collect. I suspect that most of the time we pay very little attention to the content of this prayer. If we did we might pause before saying amen.

Every collect is written in approximately the same form. It addresses God (ex. Almighty and ever-living God), then it recalls something God did in the past (who as an example of humility for the human race to follow caused our Savior to take flesh and submit to the Cross), then there is a petition, and a closing.

In the Collect today we asked, "graciously grant that we may heed his lesson of patient suffering and so merit a share in his Resurrection." But how many of us really want God to do that? As a culture we don't care much for either patience or suffering. We want what we want and we want life pain free.

Notice how we react if our internet connection slows down. Or walk into the local pharmacy and see how many shelves are dedicated to making sure we never experience pain. How much is spent each year in this country on alcohol and legal and illegal drugs to try and numb the pain of life? How many times do we, in order to avoid pain, avoid dealing with the truth in families and other relationships? The primitive parts of our brain are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that we should go looking for pain or intentionally inflict pain on ourselves or someone else. But when the inevitable pain of life comes, we should not run away from it. We must pass through it. We cannot go around it.

We read the passion twice: at the beginning of Holy Week and on Good Friday. We read it twice because it is easy for us to embrace the resurrection but not the passion. Look at how even the word itself has chested meanings. In Latin it referred to suffering or endurance. In modern English it most often refers to strong feeling or intense emotion about someone or something, usually a strong positve feeling. We have inverted the word.

We often talk about being counter-cultural, but what we usually mean by that is criticizing someone else. Being truly counter cultural requires us to be self-critical to look at the culture or our own mind and heart, our patterns of behavior, our patterns of responding and having the courage to critique them.

It is worth noting that the words passion and patience come from the same Latin word "patior." Holy Week calls us to embrace both suffering and patience. It invites us have the courage to walk with Christ, to enter into his passion and the passion of life, to experience it with patience, and with the absolute faith that there is resurrection on the other side.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Driven by Fear

This evening parishes will begin Holy Week by celebrating the vigil of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. As a last gospel before Holy Week, today we hear the motive given in John's Gospel for the plot against Jesus. While we like to read the Bible in purely religious terms, we can forget that the world of Jesus was as political as any.

Caiaphas was high priest from 18-36 AD. To remain in office that long required a politically shrewd individual. With that kind of power also came fear of loss of the power. He was not afraid that some great religion was going to spread he was afraid of the Romans. If the Romans perceived an uprising of some kind among the Jews, they might lay aside the so-called Pax Romana and simply wipe them out. Remember that John's gospel was written after the destruction of the temple in the year 70, and history is read through that lens.

Caiaphas is driven by his fear to begin to plot the death of the most innocent man ever to live. The good news is that God can work through even the most corrupt. The words of Caiaphas while intended as political maneuvering, turn out to be prophetic. Jesus does indeed die to save the people, not just the children of Israel, but all the children, "to gather into one the dispersed children of God."

God is able to take mortal sin, the plotting of the murder of another human being, and transform it, use for some good end.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

Unlike Caiphas, if we are Christians, we do not let our fears drive us. We are free from fear because we know that even though evil does exist and we may have to suffer, our suffering can be redemptive, our suffering can be united to the suffering of Christ. As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians,

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church

We will begin this week by reading Mark's passion and on Friday we will read John's may God give us the courage to embrace the passions in our lives.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Beginning

Today always seems a little odd to me. In the middle or Lent we pause on March 25 to put on our white vestments and celebrate a Solemnity, the Annunciation. The intercessions for Morning Prayer begin "Today we celebrate the beginning of our salvation."

So often we think of Christmas as the day we celebrate the Incarnation, God becoming a man. But in fact today, nine months before Christmas is really the day we the incarnation took place, the great divide between heaven and earth was breached. To truly appreciate the meaning of this day we have to go back and remind ourselves of the world before the day the angel appeared.

In the Book of Genesis we are told that as God carried out the process of creation, at each step along the path he look at it and saw that it was good. When he created humanity it was elevated to "very good"—not bad but still a far cry from perfect or even excellent. Then by the misuse of our free will sin entered the world. Because we all parts of a single humanity, all humanity was wounded.

On the day the angel appeared to Mary, and she by an exercise of her free will gave her fiat, let it be done, that single humanity was once more transformed. Now God had poured himself into the created universe, divinity and humanity, perfection came into the world. Just as by the actions of one all were wounded, so back the actions of one all could be perfected.

And so it is not so strange that a week before we celebrate the culmination of Jesus's earthly mission, we pause to remember the beginning. Today, in Mary, we are reminded of what God can do through one small human being, if we will only say yes to the will of God.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Pause before Holy Week

This week I am taking a brief pause to prepare for Holy Week. The Blow will return on Palm Sunday.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Day 31: Calculating Easter

For us here on the east coast the Spring Equinox will arrive at 6:45 PM. This transition from winter to spring is the first date you need to calculate the date for Easter.
The next marker is full moon which will arrive April 4 at 8:06 AM.
Tomorrow is the 1st day of the Hebrew month of Nisan.We must remember that days in the Hebrew calendar begin at sunset.
Tonight is the new moon that marks the new month
Passover begins on the 15th, the full moon.
And we celebrate Easter on the Sunday after that.

It seems overly complicated at first glance but it reminds us of some very important aspects of our faith. Firstly that our Christian Faith remains rooted in the faith of the people of Israel. For a Christian to be antisemitic would be like a child hating its parents.

Secondly, it reminds us that we believe in a God who not only created the universe but set it in order with its own laws. As the first chapter of Genesis describes it, God brought order out of chaos. The movement of the Sun and the Moon are the constant reminders of the order and natural law which God infused into his creation.

Friday evening as many of us are gathering to celebrate the Passion of Our Lord, our Jewish brothers and sisters will be lighting the candles that mark the beginning of Passover. And on Saturday evening as we are lighting the new Easter candle they will be lighting the candles that Mark the eve of the Second Day of Passover.

Tonight as we look up at the sky let us remember all of the generations throughout the centuries who have gone before in faith.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Joseph, Husband not Father

Some would argue that the Catholic Church makes too much of Mary's virginity. I would argue that we are only staying true to the scriptures. Luke provides us with genealogy of Jesus going back through David to Adam. Matthew provides us with the genealogy of Joseph beginning with Abraham but is careful to make sure that he is not claiming paternity.

Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary from whom was born Jesus called the Christ. (Mt. 1:16)

I used the older word begat because it is a more accurate translation of the Greek. The Jacob here is one of many Jacobs not THE Jacob. That Jacob is listed way back in verse 2. But most importantly after 15 verses of begetting, the begetting stops and the text says simply that Joseph was the ανήρ, literally the man of Mary. By context we know that it means husband. In Spanish a man can refer to his wife as "my woman" and it is in no way derogatory.

Matthew is drawing a clearly line in the sand between everyone up to and including Joseph and Jesus. There is no human father. From the outset Matthew wants us to know that the Father of Jesus is God. Jesus is not begotten like the rest in the list. The text simply says he is "born of/from" Mary.

Today we celebrate the unique role that Joseph played in the life of Jesus but we should be clear about how small it was and how little we know. Over the centuries, people who could not be content with the information that we have have concocted many legends to fill in the blanks. This seems a disservice to Joseph. Part of what Joseph models for us is a man who is content not to be famous, a man content to do what God called him to do without recognition. Even when it comes to naming the child he says "what she said", deferring to Mary for the name.

As we turn toward St. Joseph today can we model his humility? Can we be content with being "nobody" in the eyes of the world? Joseph quietly carried out his role and disappeared into history content to serve only God. May we be content to do the same.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Day 29: Why kill him ?

Each of the gospels tries to answer the question in its own way. In John's gospel we heard the first part of his answer yesterday. Jesus's curing of the man on the sabbath became, if not the cause, at least the excuse, for them to begin plotting his destruction.

Today he dares to refer to God as his father and so

They sought all the more to kill him.

So, he helped someone and he told the truth, and for those reasons he had to be destroyed. Sadly, there are some aspects of the world that have changed little in 2000 years.

We all say we want to follow Jesus but as we draw closer to Holy Week, we begin to be reminded that while grace is freely given by God, it is not free of consequences. If we strive to follow Jesus, and do what is right, there are going to be those who don't like it for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the person him/herself may not be aware of their true motives. We should give up any notions we might have that being a good person, living a Christian life is going to inoculate us from suffering. Jesus lived the perfect human life and was crucified for it. Should we expect more?

The more we strive to be conformed to Christ and not to the world the more likely it becomes that we will be crucified as well. Just as Jesus's ordering the man to violate the sabbath was used as the pretext, so our actions may be spun and used as a basis to attack us.

Unlike Jesus none of us live a perfect life. Every one of us have failed and will fail.

Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.

The place we usually stone people today is online.

The good news in all of this is that if we are crucified like Christ we will rise like Christ. Like Jesus we must believe with all our hearts that God is truly our father. We must trust him and keep our eyes fixed on him. In these last days of Lent as we journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem, may our courage grow, may we strive to help others, strive to speak the truth, and confidently embrace whatever come as a result. We know the destination. Can we trust God with the journey?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick's Day

The man in the gospel and the life of the saint display two possible responses to adversity.

The first is the man in the gospel. He had been sick for 38 years, not 40. Jesus asks him the simplest possible yes/no question. Do you want to be healed? Instead of answering the question, he begins to unreal the excuses for why he is still there. Jesus responses with three simple commands: get up, take your mat, and walk. Jesus does not touch him. He does not help him up. He commands him.

The man in the gospel has settled into his place, as miserable as it is. It's what he knows.

Contrast that with the saint whom we celebrate today. St. Patrick was captured and spent his time in what is now Ireland as a slave. He could have spent the rest of his life soaking the the trauma, and using it as an excuse for anything and everything. Instead, he returns to the people who mistreated him and uses the knowledge of the language and culture that he would have acquired there as a slave to evangelize them.

It seems to me that when we have adversity in life we have two options. We can be the man by the pool. We can lay there and make excuses for why our situation is not our fault. There may even be great truth in what we say, but if we can't answer yes to the question do you want to be healed it is still an excuse.

Or we can follow the example. We can learn from the adversity. We can allow God's grace to transform it, allow God to use our suffering to help others to build up the kingdom.

If you choose to do the former, don't be surprised when God uses tough love on you. If you do the latter, you will be constantly amazed at what God can accomplish in and through you.

St. Patrick, pray for us.

Today I celebrate my last St. Patrick's Day as the pastor of historic St. Patrick's in Church Hill. It has been an honor to serve one year as administrator, and six as pastor. Each time I walk into the Church I am reminded of the more than a century and a half of people who have prayed in that spot through the Civil War and both World Wars.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Day 27: New Creation

I can only speak for myself but my tendency, when looking at what Jesus did by his death on the cross, is to see it as a healing or restoration. In the beginning God made it all good. Original sin broke it. Jesus restored it. But the first reading today from Is 65 reminds that he did something much more. Not only did he heal the wound that sin created but he fulfills the promise.

In Is 65:17 we hear the promise.

Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;

This same promise is repeated in John's vision in Rev. 21:1

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

You may at this point be saying to yourself, "Isn't that when Jesus comes back at the end of the world?" And it is—but it is also already here.

If we read 2 Cor 5:17 St. Paul tells us

Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come., if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.

These words of St. Paul we repeat in every baptism,

You have become a new creation, you have clothes yourself in Christ.

If we are baptized, we are already a new creation. We are still developing, and that development will continue until it reaches its completion in the next life; that is true. But that doesn't mean that we are not the new creature. A puppies is a dog. A lamb is a sheep. An infant is a human being. We may still be the embryonic form of the new creature, but we are the new creature.

As we near our celebration of the events that gave birth to this new creation, let us more fully embrace our newness. Let us recognize that "the old has passed away" and stop living as if we are the old creature.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Day 26: The Cosmos

Today we wear the Rose (all to often pink) Vestment to denote joy. The opening Antiphon from Isaiah 66.

Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her.
Be joyful, all who were in mourning;
exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.

Today's gospel takes me back to my days as a child in Southhall Baptist and the Baptist Tabernacle, where my cousin R.J. served as pastor. No one should ever misread my love for the Catholic Church as a repudiation of my time in the Baptist Church. Those formative years, immersed in the powerfully retold Bible stories, have remained the foundation of my faith.

The first Bible verse I remember memorizing was John 3:16.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish but shall have eternal life.

At age 55 I can still mediate on this and find new depths of meaning.

The following sentence is equally central to our faith, because it explains why God became incarnate.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

Only at my present age have I begun to grasp the truly cosmic scope of the truth contained in these verses. The word employed throughout the text is κόσμος, cosmos. God did not come into the world to save some small sliver of the population. The Church condemned a heresy known as Gnosticism because it teaches duality in the world: Material versus Spiritual or Body versus Soul. The former is evil the latter is good. Christianly teaches both are good, both participate in salvation.

Jesus came to offer salvation to all the world. He died to make it possible for all people in all times and places to know salvation. So great was God's love. So great is God's love. As we sing ever time we celebrate mass,

Heaven and earth are full of your glory.

We live in a universe filled with the glory of God, with eternal life constantly at our fingertips. And keep in mind this isn't extended biological life. This is zoe aionios, a perpetual participation in the new life in Christ.

On this fourth Sunday of Lent, we are called to rejoice because we are coming close to our annual celebration of the events through which God did more than restore the world, God elevate the world, the cosmos, to a new level. With the death and resurrection of Jesus God opened a door to a new and eternal life, and each of us have the God-given freedom to choose to step through the door into the light or remain in the darkness.

This has been a long winter, hopefully by now we are all sick of the darkness. We are yearning for the light. We want to feel the warmth of the sunlight on our face. Let those feeling translate into a spiritual yearning. Let us recognize our yearning for Christ in our yearning for the light.

May we feel the light of Christ warm our hearts as the sunlight warms our bodies. As the sunlight fills the sky may we see a cosmos filled with the glory of God.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Day 24: Humility not Humiliation

George Will once declared "There is no growth industry in this country like the manufacture of synthetic indignation." And indeed, we often use this indignation as an excuse to publicly humiliate people with whom we disagree.

Today's gospel is perhaps the very heart of the gospel, Mark's (the oldest gospel) version of the two great commandments.

The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.

We all know the text, but how much attention do we pay to the context.

The person with whom Jesus is having this conversation is one of the scribes. Normally when we think of the scribes and Pharisees we think of them as the enemies of Jesus. And it is possible that this scribe did come and ask the question with malicious intent, trying to trip Jesus up. But Jesus practices what he preaches. He not only tells us to love our neighbor; he shows us.

Jesus responds by saying:

You are not far from the Kingdom of God.

A sentence that is loving. A sentence with a double meaning. On the one hand the scribe is physically not far from the Christ. On the other hand, he is not far from truly understanding Jesus's message.

Instead of attacking the scribe and pointing out what he doesn't know, or where the scribes as a group are wrong, Jesus affirms the good that is there. He focuses not on their points of disagreement but on their points of agreement. Jesus see the spark of recognition of the truth in the scribe. And while as a group they will still plot his death, Jesus shows respect for the dignity of the one in front of him at the moment.

If we look to the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8), a crime punishable by death, "Jesus tells her to go and sin no more." But he says this in private, after the crowd has left. He does not take her to task in front of the crowd.

It is far too easy for any of us to stand hundreds of miles away, and condemn people we have never met. And now with the Internet you might even manage to garner your 15 mins of fame. But will you have loved your neighbor? While we must humble ourselves, we should never strive to humiliate another no matter how vehemently we disagree with them.

Jesus never tells us to condone sin but he tell us that if our brother sins against us we are to first go and tell him alone (μόνου). (Mt. 18:15), not post it on the Internet. Jesus welcomed sinners. He ate with them, in his time a sign of respect. Should we not do the same?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Day 23: Conversion

They walked in the hardness of their evil hearts and turned their backs, not their faces, to me.

If you are reading this, chances are that you would never think of intentionally turning your back on God. But if we are completely honest with ourselves, we can see many ways that we turn our back. We say or do things that we would not do if with thought that God was looking. To use another metaphor, we turn down side roads, away from the path that leads to God.

Like yesterday's reading, today's looks at how well we listen.

This is what I commanded my people: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper.
But they obeyed not, nor did they pay heed.

When I took my dog to school, one of the first things he had to learn was "Come." The goal was for you to be able to call his name only once, and say come, and have him come straight to you, with no detours. They even had us hide so the dog could only hear us. The herding dogs in the class did fine. The hound dog would always get distracted on the way.

We should at least be as smart as a dog. We should be able to recognize our master's voice and walk toward it.

The word conversion literally means to turn towards. It's opposite is aversion. All too often we are the hound dog, distracted by the slightest scent of something interesting. We go from conversion to aversion in a split second, often without thinking. Today as you walk through the day, notice how often you change direction:
-letting someone into the road on the way to work, conversion;
-joining in the gossip at work, aversion.

Spend some time today listening for that voice of God, and walk toward it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


One of the traditional attacks on the Catholic Church is "all those rules." Some want to act as if because God is love, God doesn't want to impose a bunch of rules. Now any God parent should know better, but let's she what the Bible says.

In today's gospel we hear

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.

You the say, but what about all those rules of the Church that aren't in the Bible? Then I would point you to the first reading from Deuteronomy 4:1

Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live,

Here the Bible itself makes clear that there are two categories of law:
Chukkim(ordinances)- precepts, thou shall or thou shall not, those rules spelled out in the Bible.

Mishpatim(decrees)- Judicial decisions which guides us to a fuller understanding of the law.

For us as Catholics for example
-the "ordinance" would be "keep the sabbath holy" found clearly in scripture;
-the "decree" would be "Sunday is the Christian sabbath and the minimum for keeping it holy is attending mass."

Notice Deuteronomy does not say read the ordinances in the Bible and each person should make up their own decrees with whatever suits their taste.

Whether we are talking about the people of Israel or the Church established by Jesus, all societies are governed by laws and make demands of their members. Every society has not only the written law, but some judiciary to guide the proper interpretation and application of the law.

The traditional Jewish commentary takes us a step further and holds that the reason behind many of the statutes is "hidden from us." Why? To see if we can trust God, and obey.

When did obedience stop being a virtue in our culture? It comes from the word audire -to listen. We are very focused on our right to free speech but are we equally focused on our obligation to listen.

Jesus reminds us that until the coming of the fullness of the kingdom at the end of time there will always be law. In this Lenten season can we recover the humility to listen and obey.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Faith or superstition

Faith or superstition, miracle or magic. Today's first reading is the perfect text to show us the difference between the two. In the story today, the foreigner Naaman, is sent to Israel by his king to see if he can be cured of leprosy. Elisha the prophet tells him that all he has to do is wash seven times in the Jordan. His reaction is anger rather than gratitude. It can't be that simple? And yet it is.
And here we see the difference between faith and superstition.

The word superstition comes from Latin and literally means "to stand over." Superstition always sees itself as superior. It masquerades as a higher form of religion. It is always more complicated and always requires more.

Naaman wants strange incantations, potions made from exotic ingredients, something elaborate. In short, he wants magic. The problem is that God is quite simple. The name he proclaims as his own is 4 letters in Hebrew. God is trinity and perfect unity. Absolute simplicity.

Even in Christianity it remains simple. The door into the Church is baptism. And we recognize as valid any baptism that includes two things: water and "I baptize you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

The oil, the candle, the white garment, are all called explanatory rites, to help one understand baptism, but they are not essential. Even the amount of water that is required is quite small. Some part of the head must get wet.

For each of our sacraments there are two simple elements, what we refer to as the form and the matter. The form is no more than a few words and sometimes a gesture. The matter is water, or oil, or bread and wine, etc. They are always simple and readily available.

During our liturgy we add songs and readings and other elements to help us to understand the deeper reality. Catholic worship uses every one of our five senses to bring us into union with God. But the heart of the faith is never complicated.

The caricature of Catholicism makes it look like superstition and magic. And yes, there are even those in the Church who, like Naaman, have gotten angry at the return to simplicity called for by Vatican II.

Often I find people are taken aback by the simplicity of the sacrament of Penance. That's it? That's all we have to do to be forgiven? And our answer is yes.

Or with Eucharist: so you believe that the priest says some words over bread and wine and they become the body and blood of Christ? And our response is, YES.

And for the Christian, every celebration of a sacrament is a miracle. In baptism, like Naaman we are washed clean and transformed into adopted sons and daughters of God. In marriage two are transformed into one.

Real faith does not demand extraordinary signs and complexities. Real faith, as opposed to superstition, can acknowledge the miraculous in the simple. Are we people of faith who can see the simply miraculous? Or do we really want magic?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Day 19: Dehydration

I remember years ago when I was getting ready to go to Las Vegas for the first time, a friend who is a doctor and had lived out there had warned me to drink lots of water. Unlike Virginia where we know when we are sweating, in Las Vegas it evaporates so quickly you don't even notice. Dehydration is a condition that can sneak up on us and we don't realize it unless it reaches crisis level.

The cycle A readings for the Third Sunday of Lent (used when there are people in the RCIA preparing to be baptized at Easter) focus on water. We see in a compressed form the woman at the well as her understanding develops. She goes from calling Jesus simply "Sir"to a "prophet", to finally coming to understanding that he is the Messiah. She goes from thinking he is taking about literal water to understanding that he is taking about a deeper spiritual reality.

At the beginning of lent we all selected forms of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that we were going to do every day during Lent. Today's readings focus us on the role of prayer.

In the second reading today, St. Paul tells the Romans that

the love of God has been poured out into our hearts

In the gospel Jesus tells us:

...whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

At our baptism that spring was placed in each of us. And through our regular reception of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, we have access to the source from which the spring draws its water.

But we should keep in mind that Jesus says, "whoever drinks." We can have all the water in the world, but if we never stop to drink it, we will die of dehydration. Prayer is how we drink. And like drinking water most of us probably don't drink often enough.

Many people know that Muslims traditionally pray five times per day. But many Christians do not know that we traditionally prayed seven times a day, once every three hours. We need to recover this routine of pausing regularly throughout the course of the day to stop and drink. Even if is just a sip.

Prayer does not have to be something we do only when we have 15-30 whe we can escape the world. It can be as simple as a brief turning to God as we are moving from one place to another during the day, or moving from one project to another.

How many of us stop to say a blessing before we eat? Imagine if you adopted the simple rule "Nothing goes in my mouth until I have thanked God for it."

The drive to work and home can be another time to turn to God.

Many of us are walking around all the time suffering from spiritual dehydration. We are thirsty and we don't even know it. As we move through this third week of Lent, let us pay attention to how often we pause to drink from the spring. Turn the routine actives of your daily life into reminders to pray.

Jesus has given us the spring, let us drink from it.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Day 17:Jealousy

The brothers of Joseph, these men sold their own brother into slavery out of sheer jealousy.

In someways their example is so extreme we cannot relate to it. And yet, as we approach the half-way point in the season of Lent, we must each look into our hearts and acknowledge whatever jealousies we have.

Often we try and wrap our jealousy in the cloak of righteous indignation. We tell ourselves that we are angry because someone has something they do not deserve. It may even be true there is some unfairness in a particular situation. But jealousy is not the proper response.

If there is a true injustice then we should have the courage to address that at its proper source. And if we cannot muster the courage, then as the nuns would have said in a previous age, "offer it up." Truth be told if you have access to the Internet and can read this blog chances are you are not one of the millions experiencing true deprivation.

As we continue the spiritual house cleaning of the Lenten Season, today let us focus on locating and naming whatever jealousy there is in our hearts. Only then can we bring it to Jesus and allow his grace to forgive and transform.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Day 16: True Strength

Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh

So says the prophet Jeremiah in today's first reading. And yet, which of us does not want to believe in our own strength? On the surface I have never had to worry about depending on my own physical strengh. I have always been constantly aware of being physically weaker than others. At times, it has helped me to turn to God. At other times, it had made me even more determined to be strong in other ways. Or I should say, appear to be stronger. I can look back now and see the many ways I have attempted to over compensate for the physical weakness.

I share that because I think we all share that drive to be independent. Part of it is American culture, part of it is human nature. It was, after all, the original sin.

Today the prophet reminds us that the conversion of the Lenten season is to be a change of our most basic beliefs. Not only are we not to look for strength within ourselves, but we are not to seek it from any human source. To live as people of faith is to to draw all of our strength from a single source, God.

When we no longer look to others to be our source of strength then we are free to simply love them, not for anything they can provide but simply for who they are.

In this season of self-examination, let us look at the ways we depend too much on our own strength, and that of others. And let us turn to the source of all true strwngh at every moment of the day.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Day 15: Ambition

In the gospel today we have the worst kind of blatant ambition. Matthew tries to save the two apostles by putting the request in the mouth of their mother, Luke does not.

Most of us may not see ourselves as ambitious. But which of us does not want some kind of recognition of our work, praise for a job well done? And certainly we should praise people when they do well. If children do not receive proper attention for good behavior, they will resort to bad.

The real question is how do we respond when the praise does not come. How do we respond when our work goes unappreciated, unacknowledged or even unnoticed? Can we be at peace even there (presuming that we are still being paid a just wage)?

If we cannot be at peace with only God's approbation, then we are still to some degree ambitious.

By ambition I am not talking about the striving we should all do: to be a better person, to continue to learn, to advance along life's path. Striving to constantly move forward is a virtue. Ambition is striving + a need for recognition.

Among the things we give up for Lent, can we add ambition? If some recognition comes in this life we should graciously accept it. But we should never seek it.

The apostles in today's reading want not only to accompany Jesus but they want recognition. The good news is they still became saints and so can we.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Day 14: Downton Abbey

While we may love watching Downton Abbey, the reality of the life of the staff would have been for most of us unbearable. Your life was to serve and to be invisible. If you wished to marry you would have to leave the life of "service." You heard everything, but your opinions counted for nothing.

The gospel today taken from the 23rd chapter of Matthew focuses on the virtue of humility and reminds us that

The greatest among you must be your servant.

The word servant is diakonos, from which we get deacon. For the Downton Abbey fans the deacon is not a butler who has some position, it is the footman who stands silently in the background who speaks only when spoken to, who serves without ever being noticed, unless he makes a mistake.

Silent, humble service. And the gospel tells us that if we wish to be great in the kingdom of God this is what we should strive for.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Will we all necessarily experience the last judgment? The apparent answer is yes. But is there an out ? Today's gospel states unequivocally that there is.

Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.

But can we do that? Can we train ourselves not to critique others?

My first response would be to say no. But then I remember the simple fact that we cannot be thinking about two things at the same time. Our human brain simply will not do that. It can flit around between things and often does, but it cannot simultaneously think about two things.

Therefore, when I am, even just in my mind, criticizing someone, what am I not attending to? If I am driving in the car and thinking about something at work, I am not paying attention to my driving. If someone is talking to me, and I a thinking about how stupid I think they are, I am not really listening to them.

The simple truth is that if we are attentive to whatever task is right in front of us, we won't be able to judge others. Next time you find yourself criticizing another in your mind, ask yourself what should I be focused on? I guarantee there is something else that deserves your attention. Turn your mind to the present moment and there will be no room for judgment.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Day 12: Sacrifice

Had some technical problems and was unable to post for a few days.

As we celebrate the Second Sunday of Lent we are more than 1/4 of the way to Easter. Last week the Sunday gospel had us look at the form temptation takes in our lives. On the Second Sunday of Lent we always read the story of the transfiguration. In the context of Lent, the gospel underscores the importance of change.

Lent is about doing penance in reparation for our sin but it is also about conversion, turning our lives more perfectly towards God. The story of Abraham in the first reading reminds us that conversion always involves sacrifice.

In the gospel we hear Jesus beginning to prepare the disciples for his death and resurrection. But one again, there must be a death first before the resurrection. Too often we want the resurrection without the death. We want to be part of the kingdom but without the sacrifice.

This week would be a great time to look at our lives and identify where sacrifice fits into our life. On a purely monetary level does my giving to Church really qualify as sacrificial giving or does God get some of the left over.

On a more personal level, what parts of me needs to die? Is it your critical/judgmental spirit that needs to die? Is it your gossipy nature that needs to die? We all have something about us that needs to go, some attitude, some prejudice, some way of behaving, some belief that is not truly Christian. These things need to die so that we can rise.

These week it is time to recover the concept of sacrifice.