Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The importance of history

A close friend recently asked how I could stand the "politics" of the Catholic Church. And I spent some time reflecting on that question.

It is true that people inside the Church and even those in leadership positions suffer from the same sins and those outside the Church. And it is disappointing, particularly when those sins float to the top like cream. But we make a mistake if we think that it is possible to be Christian apart from the institution.

Christianity is not like Buddism. It is not merely a philosophical or moral system that an individual can follow toward enlightenment. You cannot simply take up the Bible and jump from the first century to the 21st. Jesus did not tell Peter he was handing on a philosophy for individuals to follow. He said,

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld will not overcome it. MT 16:18

And the εκκλησία, the Church that Jesus said he was building was in the singular. And for 2000 years Jesus continues to build the Church. Some stones are smooth some have very rough edges, but it certainly is not up to me to judge the stones with which he builds. We cannot say, " I like the rows of stones from the 4th century and the 16th but not the 10th." You cannot separate Chritianity from the institution. The Church is not simply an abstract idea. It is concrete reality built of living stones over the course of two thousand years, and every stone added since Peter has one thing in common. We are all in need of God's grace.

Today the Church remembers those foundation stones, the Christians living in Rome in the summer of 64 AD when the great fire devastated the city. The emeperor Nero looking for someone to blame chose the fledgling Church of Rome and so began what would be two and a half centuries of persecution that would not truly end until the conversion of the emperor Constantine.

The centuries of persecution would forge the solid foundation and with each successive century Christ has continued to build his Church remaining always the capstone of his Church. He chooses precisely the right stone and puts it in precisely the right place according to its shape.

Today's memorial reminds us that it important for us to study not just the Bible but our history, to study the beautiful precious stones whom we have canonized but also the less perfect stones, the ones like most of us.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Masters of prayer

Today Pope Francis invested 46 archbishops with the pallium the ancient symbol of their office as archbishop, the leader of a province in the Church. The Church,led by the pope, is divided into provinces led by an archbishop, which are then divided into dioceses led by bishops, which are then divided into parishes led pastors. This is so that there is no person on earth who does not have someone who is responsible for bringing them the gospel, and ministering to their needs. As I write this I am sitting in St. Patrick parish, in the diocese of Richmond, in the Province of Baltimore of the Catholic Church.

Also present as a great sign of the unity of the Church was a delegation from the Ecumencial Patriach of Constatntiople, Bartholomew the spiritual leader of the Orthodox Chrisitians.

While much of what is written about today's mass will focus on the Pope's words regarding persecution in the world. I was struck by his instruction to the new Archbishops. He said he wanted them to be not only men of prayer but "masters of prayer" teaching their people.

This Pope knows well from his experience as Archbishop how easily church leaders can be sucked into the quicksand of administration, even more so in the US where we are treated like any other corporation.

Today the Pope reminded all of us that prayer must be our number one priority, and every other task of life must come after that. We should all strive to be masters of prayer.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Debate in Love

This was a week filled with debate over many of the most devisive issue in our country. What has been so sad is not the intensity of the debate but the vitriolic language. We should hold passionately to our beliefs, but if we are Christians that passion must always be tempered with love. That means real love not a thin veneer of love over a hardened heart.

We need to hear the words from the Book of Wisdom that are in our first reading today. It takes us back to the most basic truths of our faith. The truth that goes back to the moment God created the first human being. It reminds us that every one of the more than 7 billion people on the planet earth today were created not by their parents alone but by God. That each of the 7 billion + were formed in the same way and for the same purpose.

For he fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of the netherworld on earth, for justice is undying... For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.

Each person was formed "wholesome." Each was made in "the image of his own nature." Each was formed "to be imperishable."

God created each one of the 7 billion for one purpose, to live forever in his presence. Today's reading opens and closes by reminding us,

God did not make death...But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world....

God created us to live forever not only with him but with each other. So we had better be prepared to spend eternity next to anyone God chooses.

The good news is that the families of the victims of the Charlston massacre modeled true Christianity. They were able to hold fast to the truth of the heinous nature of the crime, and simultaneously show us the meaning of the word agape.

This week has reminded us that we have a long way to go before we are "one nation under God." We have truly important issues that we need to discuss and debate. But for those of us who call ourselves Christians, every time we enter into that discussion, every time we engage in that debate, we must pause and look with the eyes of faith and see the image God in the face of the other person. Perhaps then we can listen more than we speak. And we we speak, speak the truth with such tenderness and compassion that it can be heard.

As we read from the Book of Wisdom let us pray that God will pour out upon our nation a Spirit of Wisdom.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The double sin

When we think of Abraham and Sarah we tend to whitewash their stories. We can choose to ignore their sin. In today's first readings we have not one but two sins on the part of both Sarai and Abram.

The first is the lack of faith and trust in God that leads Sarai to encourage Abram to sleep with the maid, and Abram doing it.

The second is Sarai abusing the maid, and Abram allowing her to do it.

The good news is that God looks upon this child and says that he is to be called Ishmael, a name that means God hears, or God has heard. Those who do not understand God's ways may read

This one shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him; In opposition to all his kin shall he encamp.

And think, "but doesn't that mean he is cursed." And yet, did God not tell Abram to leave his kin? Was not Jesus despised and reject by those who should have been the first to follow him?

God hears the cries of Hagar, and answers with a promise like the promise he made to Abram

I will make your descents so many that they will be too numerous to count.

Sin is never God's will, it is always a self-centered abuse of free will. But in today's reading God shows us how he can take one person's sin, and turn it into another person's blessings. It does not mean that we will be spared suffering, but it does mean that suffering can always be transformed into a channel of grace.



Monday, June 22, 2015

Command and Blessing

Vaiyeleh Abram -And so Abram went. So begins the history of three religions: Judaism, then Christianity, then Islam. Abram does not discuss, debate or question. He goes.

First God commands him to abandon three things: his country, his kindred, and his father's house.

He commands him to go to whatever place he shows him, but does not tell him the destination.

He makes a five part promise:

  • I will bless you
  • I will make your name great
  • You will be a blessing. The midrash points out that you can change one vowel and it becomes a spring of water.
  • bless those that bless you and curse those that curse you
  • in you all the families of the earth will find blessing

So it is simple; abandon everything by which you are identified, become a lifelong pilgrim, and you can brings God's blessing on the whole world. And Abram went without question. And with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost God fulfilled all his promises. The biblical chronology places Abram at about 2000 BC, a blink in time from God's perspective, for us who measure time in nanoseconds-an eternity.


Why God chose that man, at that time, in that place, we may never know. But he did.


We Christians refer to him as "our father Abraham" which makes Moslems and Jews our brothers and sisters. We are all equally the children of Abraham. As we begin reading Abram's journey I cannot but think about how disappointed Abraham must be to see his children fighting amongst themselves.


For our Islamic brothers and sisters Ramadan began the evening of June 17 and will end the evening of July 17. Like our Jewish brothers and sisters they use a lunar calendar. Christian use a mixed lunar/solar calendar. It is similar to our Lent in that it involves fasting, almsgiving and extra prayer. It is a time of self-discipline and introspection, a time dedicated to purification and prayer, a time to refrain from all bad thoughts,words,and deeds.


Last week we were reminded that hatred and terrorism are not Islamic they can wrap themselves in American nationalism as well. I hear some people ignorant of history say "Those people have been fighting forever" and imply we should give up on peace. God has not given up on any of us despite our repeated failings. How can we give up on one another?


As we read our way this week through the story of Abram, let us focus on our commonality, let us focus our hearts and minds and prayers on the one God, the one father Abraham, and let us pray with and for our Isalmic brothers and sisters that this may be a fruitful Ramadan.




If I say the word witnesses there is very little emotional response, but if I use the Greek word for witness, martyr, my guess is you just had an emotional response. After all, if someone says you should witness to your faith in Jesus, your response would probably be, "Ok!" But if they say you should be a martyr, my guess is your willingness just dropped a bit.

As Christianity grew we began to use the word martyr not to mean just witness, but one who gives witness by dying for their faith, the ultimate imitation of Christ. The nine people who died in Charleston were martyrs. Had any of them chosen to stay home and watch television, they would be alive today. They died because they were black and they dared to gather in Church for prayer.

There are three kinds of baptism recognized by the Church:

Baptism of water- the most common

Baptism of desire- the reason a catechuman has a right to be buried as a Christian even without baptism of water.

The third we don't much talk about is baptism of blood. In the early church their were many who died as martyrs before they were baptized.

The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament. (Catechism, #1258)

In traditional iconography martyrs are pictured with palm branches, the symbol of victory and peace. The conflict is over and they have won. We do not overcome violence with violence. Those who suggest that they should have gone Church packing a gun don't understand Christianity.

What does all this have to do with today's readings?

In the second reading today, St. Paul tells us that we who received baptism of water died as well. Our old self died and we became a kainos ktisis,"new creation". The old things have passed away. 2 Cor 5:17

We refuse to see it. Like the unattractive youth who grows into a beautiful adult but still looks in the mirror and sees only the unattractive, too many Christians hold on to the old self. We look into the mirror and we cannot see the new creation. We refuse to let it die.

One way or another all Christians must die for Christ. Most of us may not die as the nine in Charleston, but we all must let our old self die, whatever is displeasing to God in us must die so that we can live as the new creations that we are


Friday, June 19, 2015

Today is Friday and despite what many Americans believe, all Fridays (not just during Lent) are days of Penance in the Catholic Church. We are either to abstain from meat or we are to perform some other penitential act.

Today, this Friday, we need to direct our Penance toward our cultural sins. We need to acknowledge that the #CharlestonShooting was not simply the act of a crazy person.  We need to acknowledge that Violence and Racism are steeped into our American Culture.  In many ways we are the greatest nation in the world, but we are also broken.  The election of a black president did magically heal the gaping necrotic wound of racism that we try to pretend either doesn't exist or only exists in the South.  And Violence, where does not even begin to describe our pathological love for violence. Games, moves, tv shows, we raise our children on a steady diet of it.  And please do not compare the bloodless cowboy movies of the 50's to today's mutilating blood soaked films.

If this young man had yelled "Allah u Akbar" before shooting we would be all over this. But because he just hated "niggers" we will pretend that it was the act of a lone crazy person.  We will talk about it for a week maybe two and then we will go back to pretending that racism and violence are not still epidemic cultural diseases in America still.

Sometimes our greatest sins are sins of omission, what we have failed to do.

I grew up as a child in Danville, Virginia that prided itself on being the last capital of the Confederacy. I was in 5th grade before we integrated the schools. Have we made some progress in the 45 years since? Of course. But let's not pretend we do not have a long way to go.  In 2015 I have heard members of my church and people in my neighbor use the word "nigger" and confess that I have committed the sin of saying nothing. I type the word because every time I hear a news reporter says, "He used a racial epithet" it makes me crazy.  It's simply another form of denial.

On this day of penance, this Friday.  Let us look into our own heart. Let each of us acknowledge the racism and violence that we have tacetly accepted or even felt. And let us pray for a true conversion of hearts, from sea to shining sea.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

How much is all?

As we continue to mediate on St. Paul's Second Letter to the church in Corinth, today we reach a verse which encapsulates St. Paul's understanding of God's grace. In verse 8 of chapter 9 we read,

God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need,  you may have an abundance for every good work

St. Paul's repeated use of every and all presents not just abundance but a kind of superabundance beyond what we could ever need or even imagine.  We have all probably said or sung the words "there is nothing I shall want" from Psalm 23 more times than we can count, and yet the question remains do we really grasp it, or believe it. 

If we could truly embrace this image of God, his love and his grace, we could live stress free lives.  Notice, I did not say problem free.  No where does God promise that.  As long as we live there will be challenges in life, but if we allow ourselves to embrace the superabundance of God's love and grace, we have no reason to fear, no reason to stress. We can be at peace. 

There is of course one limitation in this verse.  This grace is only there to enable us to do every GOOD work. Any thing we choose to do which is not good, we do on our own. But when we try to do the will of God, as best we understand it, we can trust that at every moment, God's grace flows to us, and through us. 

Today as we carry out even the simple tasks let us remain mindful of that grace of God.

Monday, June 15, 2015

States of Being

Today St. Paul describes not what we should do but how it should be done. The list of words is worth some reflections.  Paul says that we should act in the following:

agnotes- cleanness, purity
While it is not popular to talk about this concept. It is worth noting that he puts it first.  We should also avoid the danger of limiting it to the sexual realm. We should examine  our motives for example and check the purity of those.

gnosis- knowledge, science
Christianity is not a religion that is about blind faith. We should be constantly striving to deepen our understanding not only of the Bible, but of how our faith has developed over the centuries. Who  is going to listen to us if we don't know what we are talking about?

macrothumia-longsuffering, patient endurance
The "macro" is the hard part. We don't mind a little pain, but the idea that we are going to have to wait a long time to see results, or that we are going to have to put up with a situation for a long time is not something we are often ready to embrace

chestotes- gentleness, kindness
A  true sign of holiness is this gentleness of spirit.  This is not the same as "being a doormat." To be a doormat is a lack of respect for the life God has given you.

Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit dwells in us and we therefore must always act in the Holy Spirit

agape anhypochrites- unfeigned love
How much damage is done in Christian communities everywhere by the person whose outward appearance is full of love and piety, but is busy gossiping about everything and every body.

logos alethias- The Word of Truth
When we see this phrase we should not stop with the Bible. We should remember that is the gospels THE word is Jesus, the eternal word made flesh.

dynamis theu- the power of God
The power of God is not something to be reserved for the crisis. There should only ever be one power that motives any word or action of the Christian, the power of God.

Look closely and you will see all three persons of the Trinity God the Father, the Son who is the Word, and the Holy Spirit.

Each of these is preceded by the preposition "in" With these eight simple expression, St. Paul describes the state in which we are to live.

But he closes the instruction with one last very useful phrase
dia ton hoplon tes dikaiosynes - by the shield of righteousness

a hoplon was a rounded shield made of wood with a bronze outer coating used by Greek infantry. Usually worn on the left arm, St. Paul interesting says we should have it "on the right hand and the left."  This of course leaves no free hand for an offensive weapon.  There are times when he refers to the sword but not here.

As we prepare to go out into the world today. In what state of mind will we go. how will we be spiritually dressed?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

From the Heart of Jesus Through Mary

The classic saying is "To Jesus through Mary" but as we celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary today,  it seems a time to ask where do our hearts fit in the great scheme of things.  After all, while Mary's Heart is more similar to ours than Jesus, it is still unique, preserved from the stain of original sin; ours unfortunately were not. This does not however mean that our situation is hopeless.

If we look closely at the human heart, we find that the matter of sin is more simple than we think. The number of sins are fewer than we think. This is not to say that our sin does not take countless forms.  The forms of sin are many. But if we look closely we discover that no matter what form the sin takes (greed, lust, envy, etc.) Underneath they are all simply manifestations of one sin, egoism, a constant turning toward the self.

Mary's Immaculate Heart was preserved from this. When she gave her "Fiat" to God, "Let it be done unto me", she gave it with the freest of  free wills.

Luckily for us we too can find freedom. While it is true that we live the daily struggle and face the constant temptation to turn toward ourselves, and put ourselves first, God has given us also the help we need to win the struggle and overcome the temptation.

Our hearts were first made clean on the day of our baptism.  Our that day we were washed clean of original sin.  We also have available to us the constant river not only of love but of grace that flows from the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  When we re-stain our hearts, we can always have them washed clean in the Sacrament of Penance, for the grave sins, and for the venial sins we have the grace we receive in the Eucharist.  And while all the saints in heaven intercede for us, the greatest is the Mother of Jesus, our Mother, whose Immaculate Heart loves each of us and through that Immaculate Heart of Mary that river flows, because her heart is perfectly united with the heart of her Son.

Can we surrender? Can we allow our own hearts to no only be washed clean but to be enveloped in the Immaculate Heart of Mary and in the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Only then will we experience true freedom in our actions, in our words, and even in our thoughts.

The possibility is ours.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Trusting in the Love of Christ

How much do we really trust in the love of Jesus?  Even for people of faith it is sometimes hard to trust. Particularly in the dark moments of life we can fall into doubt or worse yet the notion of a vengeful God who is punishing us for some sin we have committed. 

For this reason the Church invites us to listen to the words from Hosea
My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred. I will not give vent to my blazing anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you.

The Holy One present amoung us, Emmanuel. 

And the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the Symbol of that perfect love. No matter what has happened or perhaps is happening in your life, today we surrender. Today we pause and entrust our lives totally to the infinite love and boundless mercy of the Sacred Heart

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Here's to the un-sung heroes

When we think of the early Church which began as a totally Jewish movement and how the Gentile were added later, we think  of St. Paul. We call him the Apostle to the Gentiles.  All of that is true. But he did not do it alone.

Today the Church calls on us to remember another apostle to the Gentiles, Barnabas.   The name given him my his parents was Joses (a Greek name), but as often happens in the Bible to mark the beginning of a new phase of life, the Apostles gave him a new name  Barnabas (an Aramaic name) which means " Son of the Prophet". He was a Jew from Cyprus, and accompanied Paul at many of the most important moments in his life, including the first Council in the Church,  the Council of Jerusalem.

St. Barnabas reminds us not only that we all are called to participate in the mission of spreading the gospel, but he also reminds us that most of us will carry out this prophetic role without ever becoming famous. In fact, the vast majority of the great preachers in the Church have lived their earthly life, and passed to eternal life, unremembered. And that is not a bad thing.

We do not need to live on in history books, because we live forever in heaven.  We do not need to be remembered, because we never stop being living active members of the Church. Even as I write this I know that Barnabas is still alive, and interceding before the throne of God for all of us, as we strive to spread the Gospel.

For ever Paul there is at least one Barnabas and in truth many, many more.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Grace and Peace

Today we begin our reading of the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians. He opens by wishing them two things: grace (charis) and peace (eirene). These are the two states in which we as Christains are called to live constantly.

To keep us in a state of grace he has given us the sacraments, especially Eucharist and Penance. But how do we remain in a state of peace?

Here the challenge is greater. We allow things and people around us to pull us out of our state of peace. We replay past conflict. We worry over the future. Despite what the gospels tell us, we fear that somehow our own sinfulness and imperfection will make God love us less.

For this reason St. Paul follows up his greetings with two fold description of God. God is

  • The Father of mercies
  • The God of all comfort
The world St. Paul uses for comfort paracleseos come from the same root as the title used for the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete). It comes from the verb "to call to one's side". God calls us to his side, and remains by our side. And he remains by our side as the Father of mercies, like the Father in the prodigal son.

I find it interesting that St. Paul uses the word mercy in the plural. God is not the father of mercy but the Father of mercies. No matter how many sins we have, his mercies are even more.

The source of our peace is not found in the approbation of others or the lack of conflict with others but in this certain knowledge.

I stand constantly in the shadow of God who constantly pours his grace and his mercies into my heart.

Perhaps we need to repeat this over and over and drill it into our heads and hearts.

Mercy, comfort, grace, and peace

This is the God of Christianity

Friday, June 5, 2015

Inverting the World

In today's gospel we hear what seems to be a logical argument about the divinity of Jesus, and something more. The expectation of the time was that the messiah would be a "son of David", from his lineage. And yet with Jesus he is also to be the son of God, the Lord.

In their understanding of how hierarchy works, the Son of David would be lower than David. But citing psalm 110 and the expectation of the messiah as the one who would conquer the enemies, David says,

The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right handuntil I place your enemies under your feet.’

So how can the messiah be both son and Lord. The only way it works is if we stop using a vertical line as the way we image hierarchy.

Many Catholics don't even realize the we have a constitution for the Church, it is call Lumen Gentium. It is available online and is not all that hard to read. In Chapter 3 it explains how and why Christ set up the Church with a hierarchy. The chapter opens

For the nurturing and constant growth of the People of God, Christ the Lord instituted in His Church a variety of ministries, which work for the good of the whole body. For those ministers, who are endowed with sacred power, serve their brethren, so that all who are of the People of God, and therefore enjoy a true Christian dignity, working toward a common goal freely and in an orderly way, may arrive at salvation.

The Church is the "People of God" and the purposes of the hierarchy are not only to lead but to nurture and serve. Servant-Leadership as this is often called is not easy, only in prayer can we know when to serve, when to nurture, when to lead.

Tomorrow at the Cathedral here in Richmond, by the laying on of hands and prayer, three men will as this text says, be "endowed with sacred power." Ordained presbyters (priests) they will be faced with the day to day challenge of how to use wisely that sacred power. We call it sacred because its source is not the people or the bishop but God. It is given to us to nurture and build up the people of God. Like all people they will face the temptation to wield it as if it were human power, and lord it over their people. They will be constantly challenged to remember that when we speak of heriarchy in the Church, we are not to envision the organizational chart of a Fortune 500 company, but rather we must keep before our eyes always the only true Servant-Leader, Jesus who was both son and Lord.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Great Commandment(s)

In today's Gospel Jesus takes
Deuteronomy 6:5
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.


Leviticus 19:18
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

and unites them.  

He expands the loving of God to include all of the parts of the person as his audience would have understood the human being: heart, soul, mind, and strength. And he compresses the commandment in Leviticus to its essence.

Love of neighbor by itself is not a Christian Virtue it is philanthropy.  And mere belief in God is not love of God, that is faith. Jesus tells us that the starting point must be a true love (agape) of God, and that love of God which expresses itself in things like attendance at mass and prayer. 

Then we must unite that love of God with a love of neighbor. The love here goes beyond (philios) brotherly love to also agape, a love rooted in God. 

 For as many times as we hear the two commandments we still struggle to live them.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Why Catholics don't do eulogies?

Your first thought may be, of course we do.  Ok. Let me be more precise. If you read the instruction to the Rite of Funerals, it says there shouldn't be a eulogy. On first glance it seems another heartless rule by the Catholic Church.  But if we look at today's gospel we will see the reasoning.

In today's gospel Jesus has the confrontation with the Saducees over the resurrection and Jesus ends we a grammar lesson. He points to the fact that God proclaims himself:

 I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob

The point being that God says "is" not "was". If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were dead, he would have said, "I was the God of Abraham...."  Because as Jesus points out God is the God of the living and not the dead.

If you go to a funeral and listen to the eulogy it is all done in the past tense. "John was a good man. He loved his wife. He raised three beautiful children......" It is all done in the past tense. It is all said looking backward, as if the man's life is over. Eulogies make it sound as if there is no life beyond the earthly one. People says things like, "He will live on in our hearts forever." 

Christians say they believe in eternal life but if you listen to a eulogy it is as if we believe the person is dead and all we can do is try and keep the memory alive.  This is the position of the Sadducees, precisely the position Jesus opposed. 

God is the God of the living. 

My mother passed from this life in 1998, my father in 1999. They were not good people. They are good people.  They are better people today than they could have ever possibly been on earth. They are better people than you or I. More than a decade after their passing, I can be reasonably sure that they have completed what ever purification was needed, and have joined the company of saints. They watch over me in ways that they never could in this life. And I draw strength from their intercession on my behalf before the throne of God. Yes, they did some good things in this life, many good things, but what they do now is far beyond that. They are more alive now than you or I, because they now enjoy the life that you and I can only hope for. They do not live on in my memory. They live on in the eternal life of heaven. 

The Catholic Church discourages eulogies because in most cases they are a denial of the resurrection. They sound as if earthly life is all there is, or at least earthly life is the one that really matters.  

When I look the the pictures of my parents, my older brother, my grand parents, uncles and aunts. They are no to remind me of the past, but to remind me of the present, and the future. The pictures remind me of these people of faith, who have joined the company of the saints and who one day, I hope to join.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

True Character

There is the saying that "Character is what we do when no one is looking." These days between being surrounding by cell phone with cameras and the NSA that saying may no linger have a place and we need to look for a new measure of character.

The first reading today from the Book of Tobit gives us just such a measure. Tobit suffers a stupid accident that leaves him blind. Because of the heat he decides one night to sleep out under a tree and gets bird poop in his eyes. The more the doctors of the time treat it, the worse it gets and he goes completely blind. He then becomes a man dependent on his wife to support them. One of her employers in charity gives her a goat on top of her salary. When she arrives home he accuses her of stealing it.

Her response is to his rage and accusations:

where are your charitable deeds now? Where are all your virtuous acts? You true character is finally showing itself.

It is easy for any of us to be kind charitable, and religious when all is going well. The real question is how do we respond in adversity? Do we blame God? Do we blame others? Do we become angry?

I have no doubt that Tobit found it humiliating to have his wife be the bread winner and to have to depend on her and others for help doing many things that prior to his blindness he could do for himself. Anna is correct our true character shows itself in those moments when it at least feels like it's all gone to pot. We find out not only who our real friends are but more importantly we can decide who we really are.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Christian not doormat

Sometimes we selectively read the gospels, excluding all of the harsh bits so that we end up believing that to be a good Christian we must be a doormat and allow others to walk all over us.

Yes, the gospel does say we must forgive 7 times 70 times , or 77 times. But forgiving someone and continuing to put up with the behavior are two very different things. In today's gospel, from Mark 12 the owner sends servents three time to retrieve what he is due and each time the tenants behavior only gets worse. He finally sends his beloved son and him they kill as well. Mark 12:9 does not say, "Out of love the owner will continue to forgive them and let them keep behaving the same way over and over". It says he will destroy them and give the vineyard to others.

For a less harsh but equally limiting example we can look at Mt. 18, the instruction on how to deal with those who sin against us.

v. 15 talk to him by yourself

v. 16 take one or two others

v. 17 use the whole church

Then treat them as you would a gentile or tax collector.

We must love others, we must forgive in our heats, but we must also hold one another accountable. If our brother or sister sins against us, it is not God's expectation that we simply suck it up and tacitly condone the behavior. We too, by virtue of our baptism, are the beloved children.

As the master in today's gospel says "They will respect my son." We are to treat others with respect, we are to respect our own bodies and we have a right to be treated with respect by others, particularly our fellow Christians. How did Jesus respond to those who disrespected the temple? He did not say to the money changers, "I'd appreciate it if you would stop, but God loves you, so it's ok if you keep doing what you're doing"

We can and must do both: forgive in our hearts (harbor no anger or animosity) and set boundaries on behavior. We can and must at times even with those closest to us draw a line and say no more.