Monday, August 31, 2015

Athletes in Christ

Today St. Paul deals with one of the most vexing issues for all of us, death. But if we look closely the Scripture distinguish two kinds of death: death plain and simple, and death in Christ. Death per se is the result not of God's plan, but is the price we all pay for sin. Death in Christ is a temporary state, a time of transformation. Not only will the dead in Christ rise, but St. Paul tells us today that the dead in Christ will be the first to rise at the second coming of Christ.

On Sunday the second Eucharist prayer borrows the language of today's first reading from 1 Thes. 4 when it distinguishes "those who have fallen asleep in Christ" from those who have died.

Not only will our souls be saved but our bodies as well. What the ressurected body will be like is a mystery. We know that it will be like his.

Once more we are reminded that human body is not a bad thing. It was created by God and as such is good, and according to God's will is destined to participate in eternal life. It is true that in our bodies as they are we experience weakness and temptation to sin, but that dies not make the body itself evil.

St. Paul does use rather harsh language about how we must deal with this our bodies. He says we must enslave it. (1 Cor. 9:27) He uses the metaphor of the athlete as well to describe how every Christian should treat their body.

Too many Christian have fallen into the error of simply dismissing their bodies as unimportant. Today we are reminded that while at the moment of death our souls are separated from the body, we had better be ready for the reunion, and in the mean time treat our bodies as if we are to spend eternity with them. Few of us may be athletes as the world uses that term but all of us should be runners for the prize as St. Paul means it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

What makes a nation great?

This first reading today ends with a question: What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today? But what does it mean to be just.

We use the word in two ways.

When I began my law studies with the Jesuits in Rome, one of the first things we had learn was Ulpian's definition of Justice

Constans et Perpetua Voluntas Ius Suum cuique tribuendi

The constant and perpetual will to give to each person that which is their right

This is the virtue of Justice which we should all strive to have. If we are truly just people then we strive always and everywhere to respect the rights of every human being. I recently heard someone, in reference to a group of people they obviously didn't like, utter the sentence, "They don't have any rights."

This brings us to the second meaning of the word "just." Not only should we be just, that is, possess the virtue of Justice, but our laws must be just, and the system for enforcing those laws must be just. But that raises the question, what makes a law just.

Some would say that in a democracy it is "the will of the people." But if that is the ultimate guide, you do not end up with justice, you end up with what John Adams called "the tyranny of the majority." Justice is rarely found by taking a poll.

For us as Christians the answer is simple, in order for any law to be just, it must correspond to God's law, and more specifically the law Christ taught us, the Law of Love. To some that may sound naive, it may sound like a violation of the first amendment but it is neither.

It is the ultimate protection for each of us. It recognizes that our rights do not come from the people, or the constitution; they come from God. And any law that violates the God given rights of any person is unjust, no matter how many people want it.

Too many people seem to be busy fanning the flames of anger and division, with tragic consequences. It is time for the Christians among us to return to the basics: "love your neighbor as yourself", or phrased in th negative in the Old Testament "Do to no one what you yourself hate."

The first reading today posses a question:what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today. We like to think of ourselves as a great nation this reading reminds us that what makes a nation great is not power or wealth but the justice of its laws.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

True Hypocrisy

We like to throw the word around without remembering its true meaning. Today we mark the beheadings of John the Baptist, and Herod is the true hypocrite. Remember that the word is a Greek theater term, it refers to acting, acting behind a mask. Herod tries to hide murder behind the mask of virtue, the virtue of being true to his word, the virtue of keeping a promise.

In our culture how often do we mask unchristian behavior as virtue. Why is it that every time I hear someone decry political correctness is it followed by an unchristian remark about some person or group. Speaking one's mind is only a virtue if when we do our best to speak with the mind of Christ.

There is a reason why when we confess our sins we confess "in my thoughts and in my words..."

Imagine our political discourse from left and right, if we heeded Ephesians 4:29

No foul language should come out of your mouths, but say only such as is good for needed edification that it may impart grace to those who hear.

If each of us observes that rule, then speaking our mind is a virtue, the rest is rudeness and often sin.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Positive Paternalism

Today St. Paul tells the people of Thesolonica,

like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you

He was in a word paternalistic. I'm not sure when we decided that that was a bad thing. Truth be told every one of us, no matter what our chronological age, can behave like children. It would be a good thing if by that we meant childlike. But more often than not it means childish.

On a more serious note, I look at how we have simply abandoned the seriously mentally ill. In the name of not being paternalistic we "set them free" and so they sleep on the streets in filth, freeze to death in the winter, and we only intervene when they break the law, and then we encarcerate them. And this is some how better than treating them as a father would his children.

In every community there are those who do not mature either spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, or psychologically. And we cannot simply wash our hands of them. St. Paul was addressing a lack of spiritually maturity and so he responded by doing three things:

Paraklao- to call near, to invite

Paramarheomai- to encourage, console, comfort

Martyromai- to testify

He called them, encouraged them, and gave testimony of Jesus to them. For St. Paul that's what it meant to treat them as a Father would his child.

Perhaps we should rethink whether or not our society needs to be more paternal and maternal toward those who are in need, whatever form that need may take.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Pleasing words

This week we begin reading the First Letter of St. Paul to the Church at Thessolonica. Clearly he had had a rough time at Phillipi and is having to defend his work at Thessolonica, reminding them not only of what he preached but how he preached it. We think of him as St. Paul and forget that for the people to whom he preached he was one of many competing voices.

His example is a challenge to all of us more than most of us might want to admit. He says,

we speak, not to please men, but to please God who tests our hearts.

Which of us, if we are honest do not seek to please others? Whether at work, or among our friends and family, we all seek some degree of approbation. That is natural. It is part of the desire to love and be loved. And Paul is certainly not suggesting that we walk through life speaking our mind with no concern for others. It is worth noting that Paul never speaks his mind. He speaks the mind of Christ.

Once more Paul's example challenges us to listen more, speak less, but when we do speak pause first to ask one question: would what I'm about to say make Jesus happy?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Society and Boundaries

Today's gospel seems harsh. The servants go out into the highways and biways and invite everyone to the feast, then a guest is ejected for not being properly dressed. Two points can be missed.

Firstly, according to the custom of the time, all he would have had to do is ask and the head waiter would have lent him the proper attire.

Second, he is ejected not for his dress, but for assuming that the rules didn't apply to him.

How often in our modern culture do we see people who will be extremely offended if they think they are being disrespected, but in the name of "freedom of expression" feel they have the right to be disrespectful, of others?

From the very beginning of creation God created human beings to live in society, to be one human family. Society requires mutual respect, and mutual respect requires boundaries, limits on ones freedom to act. I may become angry at something you say, but I am not free to smack you in the mouth. And if I choose to violate that boundary, I should expect a commensurate punishment.

Human freedom is never unlimited. From the beginning, God established laws to define those limits, and every unit of society has limits from the natural law that applies to all humans down though the smaller units: nation, state, city, family, and even person to person friendship. All define the boundaries of proper and improper behavior.

In the same way that some are uncomfortable with this parable, some are uncomfortable with the fact that the Church has rules. We as a Church are in fact modeling ourselves on this parable by sending a two-fold message:

1) All are welcome. All are invited to the banquet.

2) In order to share in the banquet, there are certain expectations. As James reminds us, "Faith without works is dead."

One of the biggest mistakes some Christians make is believing that unconditional love means life without boundaries. Watching your alcoholic friend get drunk over and over and saying nothing is not unconditional love, it is cowardice. If we love someone, sometimes the most loving thing we can do is make the boundaries absolutely clear, as well as the consequences for violation of the boundaries.

Imagine what it would be like to drive on roads without lines, signs or stop lights. How unnerved are we when we come to an interesection and the lights aren't working? We feel the stress. Why? Because whether we like to acknowledge it or not. God made us to live in community, and living in community means living by rules.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A single whisper

Some people shy away from the Old Testament because we want the Bible to be nice. We want nice stories that make us feel good. Many of the Old Testament; however, remind us how little human nature has changed over the centuries.

In today's first reading we hear how one son of Gideon orchestrates the death of 68 of his brothers and his own rise to power. His father Gideon aka Jerbbaal (the one who contended with Baal) has many wives and a total of 70 sons who after his death shared the leadership of the people.

Abimelech goes to his mother and has her begin a whispering campaign among her people. The whispering makes two simple points:

Wouldn't it be better to be ruled over by one than by 70? and

Remember that I am one of you

And so whispering one person to another abimelech is able to use his own mother to sow the seeds of division and discord among the people.

He then hires mercenaries to go with him to his father's house and kills all of his brothers but the youngest Jotham who hides and escapes.

Division, dissention, and death (fratricide), all started with a whisper.

Abimelech knew what is still true today. If you can get enough people to repeat something, the people will believe it is true.

The power of a whisper

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Response to doubt

Today in chapter 6 we see that once more the people have turned away from the path God had pointed out to them, and God has allowed them to suffer the consequences of their actions. But God also being a God of mercy he once more chooses someone, someone of lowly station to be their champion, Gideon

Gideon encounters the angel of the Lord and like all of us he experiences doubt about what he is seeing and he asks for a sign. What is unusual is what accompanies the request.

give me a sign that you are speaking with me. Do not depart from here, I pray you, until I come back to you and bring out my offering and set it before you.” He answered, “I will await your return.

It is the reverse of how we would normally act. Our usual human reaction would be to wait and then when we get our sign we might make some gesture of thanksgiving. Gideon makes his offering first. Then he receives the sign. While he has questions, his basic stance is still one of trust, one of faith. We are always going to face questions and doubts, and the God who made us understands that and does not hold it against us. But even in the midst of our doubts what is our basic stance toward God? Do we let the doubt take over or do we remain people of faith? Even as he questioned Gideon continued to make his offering in faith. And as God always does, God responded by giving him the sign he needed to move him forward on the path.

If we look, we too can see angels, those messengers of God that he sends to remind us that we too are his instruments. And even in moments of doubt, let us imitate Gideon, and continue to act in faith.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Wisdom and Ignorance

This week we are on the fourth of the five Sunday's in which we read the Bread of Life Discourse (Jn 6). This week Jesus comes right out and says it,

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.(Jn 6:53)

And yet I sure that there are Christians sitting even in Catholic Churches who don't really believe that when they are going to communion they are actually receiving the body and blood of Christ. Even though Jesus goes on to say,

For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.

It seems to me there is a reason the Church put together this gospel with two other readings about wisdom In the second reading we have Saint Paul exhorting us not to live as foolish people but as wise. And in the firs t reading Wisdom is a woman who has prepared a banquet. It's worth noting that wisdom is always portrayed as a woman.

But how do we find wisdom?

St. Paul gives us a clue when he tells us

do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord

I just had another birthday, and I notice that with each birthday I become more ignorant. When I was in my 20's if you had called me ignorant I would have been ready to fight Now I know that ignorance and wisdom go hand in hand. Notice who Wisdom invites to the banquet,

To the one who lacks understanding, she says, “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed!

The Church requires that we fast for at least one hour before mass and yes there is good reason.

To be ignorant is to lack knowledge, lack understanding. Wisdom invites the ignorant because they know they lack something. When a person in humility can say,"I am ignorant", there is an emptiness that can be filled.

The fool on the other hand thinks they already know. Fools are never ignorant, they know everything. There is no need for them to come to the banquet; they are already full, full of themselves, full of what they think they know.

The wise person is always hungry, because they know how little they know.

When I was young and foolish, I thought the Catholic Church's rules were silly, because I didn't understand them. And any rule that didn't make sense to me was stupid. That is a fool.

When I began down the road to wisdom I realized there is the Church's 2000 years of theology on the one hand and my little brain on the other. Which is more likely to be correct?

If you notice both the first and second readings acknowledge that we never reach full understanding in this life. St. Paul exhorts us to "try to understand" and proverbs invites us to "advance in the way of understanding." True understanding will only come in the next life, but in this life we can advance along the road, but only when we claim our ignorance.

Perhap there are things in the Church's teaching you doubt, including the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Doubt is ok. Doubt can lead us down the road to understanding. Like the father in Mark 9, when we feel the temptation to deny what the Chuch has taught for centuries we must exclaim

I do believe, help my unbelief


Friday, August 14, 2015

Celibacy in the Bible

Some will try to argue that priestly celibacy is not in the Bible, and certainly I am not going to try and say that as a requirement it is in the Bible. But today's gospel gives us the biblical foundation. In Mt: 19:10-12. After Jesus has explained his teaching on the sanctity of marriage the disciples postulate that is is just better not to marry at all. Jesus's response:

Not all men can receive this saying but only those to whom it is given. 

From here we draw the our belief that celibacy is a gift.
Jesus then goes on to explain that there are

some who are born eunuchs, 
some are made eunuchs by others, 
and some make themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven (v.12)

The word "eunuch", as even the Jewish sources attests, is used in a figurative sense. After all, Jesus would never condone mutilation. In the early Church there were those who took the passage literally and the Church has condemned any form of mutilation.  As always, we must read the passage in context. The discussion is whether or not all should marry.

Our present law recognizes that there are some people who are simply incapable of marriage, whether by birth or because of what others have done to them. And there are those who choose not to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Again, this understanding of the verse, is consistent with the rest of what Jesus teaches.

One may debate whether the practice of requiring celibacy in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church should be continued, but no one can say that it is not in the Bible. And as Matthew's gospel that make it clear that it is "the disciples" themselves who first put forward the recommendation.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Whose in charge?

There are some Bible verses that when taken out of context can be dangerous. One such verse is Mt. 18:19.

Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.

Taken by itself it sounds like magic. Two people get together, they agree to pray for something, and God gives them whatever they ask for. People love to quote this verse because it seems to be about power, the ability to tell God, what to do, to have God do our bidding.

But look at the rest of chapter 18, look at the verses that surround this one, see the context.

At the end of chapter 17 Jesus has just told his disciples that he is going to die. The response of the beginning of chapter 18 is to ask who is the greatest? Jesus then he gives is the command to be like little children. And the entire rest of the chapter is dedicated to the subjects of sin, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Immediately before this verse is the instruction on dealing with sinners: first one on one, then with a small group, then with the entire church – excommunication. Immediately following this verse is the answer to the question how many times must I forgive. And in Matthew the answer is 70 times 7 times.

Jesus is preparing the church for the time when he will not be physically in their midst. He knows that there is going to be sin and division. But he also knows that forgiveness and reconciliation are possible.

This versus similar to Matthew 7:7

Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

In that verse he never promises that what you receive is what you ask for, what you find is what you seek, or what's behind the door. God gives us what we need, we find what we need to find, and God opens the door that we need to walk through. As Jesus explains in verse 11,

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

The word used in verse 19 for agree is the verb symphoneo, from which we get the word symphony, to speak harmoniously. What Jesus is saying here is that if two people can even find one thing on earth about which they can be in harmony. God will grant "it". But what is the "it"? From the context in which the verse sits it would seem most likely that the "it" is not whatever we want, but rather forgiveness, reconciliation and peace.

God remains the ONE in charge. No matter what we ask for, he will only ever give us what is good for us.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Near the end

In the first reading today we are drawing to the end of the time of Moses.  In the last verse of today's first reading Moses command the people NOT to do two things.  They are to not be afraid. And they are not to be dismayed.  The English word dismay comes from German and refers to loosing power, becoming weak.  The Hebrew word refers to being broken, shattered.

They are about to go through a time of great change.  And Moses here shows great insight into human psychology. He understands that our most basic reaction to change, the unknown, is fear.  And that fear can cause us to fracture, both as individuals and as a group.

God has formed them into a great people with Moses as their leader, but his time is coming to an end. There will be a new leader, who will be different.  The people must not let their fear cause them to shatter.

Every metaphor has its limits and here we see the limit of the metaphor of the potter and the clay.  A potter has only one chance to shape the clay and make it into a single vessel once fire harden. That vessel cannot be remade. We are a unique kind of clay not only can we be remade but we must be remade. Throughout our lives we must remain malleable. Always open to being reshaped by the hands of God. If we remain malleable, then we cannot shatter. Only the inflexible shatters.

Change is inevitable. And on a certain level fear is inevitable. The question is how we deal with both of them. Are we dismayed/shattered? Or do we allow the hands of God to reshape us to the new reality.

Monday, August 10, 2015

San Lorenzo

It is amazing how throughout history, bad people tend to project their vice onto others, and of the vice s most often projected, greed regularly appears.  If we look at the persecution of the Jews, how often are they depicted as rich and greedy by their persecutors who are themselves greedy for money and power.  So it was in the time of St. Lawrence.

Lawrence grew up in what would later be the Kingdom of Aragon in Spain. In Zaragoza he met a Greek who would later become Pope Sixtus II. It was Pope Sixtus who ordained him one of the 7 deacons of Rome, which is why Lawrence is often portrayed wearing a dalmatic, the vestment of a deacon.

During the reign of Valerian, 257, the emperor was engaged in a war with the Persians.  The emperor decreed that Christians should sacrifice to the pagan Gods, or their titles, land, and goods would be confiscated- transparent excuse for him to steal their money. The following year he ordered that Church leaders be executed. Pope Sixtus was killed immediately and and St. Lawrence was ordered to hand over "the treasures of the Church." From their beginning (see Acts 6) deacons were entrusted with the money because they were entrusted with caring for the poor.  St. Lawrence distributed what the Church had to the poor and then as ordered appeared before the emperor surrounded by the poor who him proclaimed to be "the true treasures of the Church." He was executed immediately, burned to death, which is why is is portrayed holding  a gridiron, and is the patron saint of cooks.

While the persecution is not so overt today, there still exists those who are anti-Christian, and specifically anti-Catholic.  Those who talk as if Catholics aren't Christians. And yes, I still run into those who believe the Catholic Church controls vast amounts of money. With some regularity I still hear, "The Pope owns every Catholic Church in the world" and of course with that they believe the Pope controls all the money of every Catholic parish in the world.

Most Dioceses and their parishes have debt rather than wealth and the Church is largest in those parts of the world that are the poorest. You may point to beautiful churches in a city like Rome, churches that were built centuries ago by wealthy families, but the vast majority of Catholic churches around the world are simple structures for simple parishes, trying to live out the call of the gospel.

In the parish where I now reside, St. Paul's in Richmond, it is not unusual to see the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill wander in off the street. Truth be told they make some people very nervous. Today on the Feast of St. Lawrence when we see the poor, let us hear the words of St. Lawrence, "Here are the treasures of the Church" and treat them accordingly.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Getting Cosmic

Already in various parts of the world, Christians are gathering on Sunday, the Lord's Day. It is the Lord's not simply in terms of ownership. After all, he created all of them and all of them belong to him. Sunday is the Lord's Day because this is the one out of seven that we are to live differently, not focusing on work or our own pursuits but on God. And until the 16th century, ALL Christians understood that an essential part of that worship was the Eucharist.

We are continuing to read Chapter 6 of John and today we reach the crux of the matter in a single sentence.

The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.

The claim that Jesus makes here is truly cosmic. In fact the world used for the world is kosmos.

And there can be no doubt that the Eucharist truly is the body of Christ, because Jesus describe it with the word sarx, an earthy word that means flesh.

Jesus is announcing to us that he is going to give us a new kind of bread, a bread that will be not just from him, but of him. It will be his very flesh. This bread will keep up linked to a completely new form of life zoe. When we hear the words of Jesus today, "for the life of the world", we should hear chapter 21 of the Book of Revelation.

Then I saw a new heavens and a new earth.

Remember that time does not exist for God. From God's point of view the new heavens and new earth already are. And even now we can have some share in that life, the heavenly banquet, to borrow another image from the Book of Revelation.

We are commanded, for one hour each week, to step out of our ordinary life. As we walk through the doors into the Church, we cross into the holy place and from the entrance song until we are commanded to "Go forth", we participate sacramentally in the heavenly banquet, and we receive the life giving body of Christ.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Shema Israel

In today's first reading we get the great refrain which God gives to the people through Moses

Hear O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone ( or is One).

In our modern western world we take monotheism for granted. After all, the religions we are most familiar with believe in one God. We can loose sight of what a radical notion this was for its time. Even the great Greek and Roman empires were polytheistic, with temples to almost innumerable Gods. Humans were seen as often the victims of the struggles between the Gods. Some Christians still fall into this thinking when they envision Satan as God's equal but opposite. We must always remember that Satan is nothing more than one more of God's creatures, and a fallen one at that.

It is also worth our knowing something about the faith of our Jewish brothers and sisters. DT 6:8 commands

Bind them at your arm as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead.

In weekday morning prayer many Jews will still wear what are called tefillin in Hebrew or philacterion in Greek. A small cubical box with a leather strap one is bound to the upper arm and one to the forehead. Each contain a small scroll with the verse "Hear O Israel..."

While we may not recite the Shema on a daily basis. Perhaps today's reading invites us to look around our lives and see if we haven't collected some additional Gods. Certainly our smartphones are candidates. Do they control us or do we control them?

Friday, August 7, 2015

How many lives do we have?

Before you even ask, this is not about reincarnation? As Christians, we believe that we pass through the earthly life only once.

But Greek, the language of the New Testament does have a variety of ways of talking about life. St. John like to talk about zoe, the new eternal life we receive from Christ. There is also of course the pneuma, the spirit. But today St. Matthew talks about the psuche, which is the root of all of the psych- words in English. The problem is that it doesn't mean what we tend to think. The mind in the Bible is the dianoia, the ability to know something, literally dia-noia, to know through. The psuche refers to the breath, the breath of life. Sometime it is translated life, sometimes soul. The life that God breathed into Adam at creation. Everything that breaths has this, is given this by God.

When Jesus gives the great commandment in Matthew's gospel we are told to love God with all our kardia (heart), with all our psuche and all our dianoia. Why all these Greek words because we need them to understand what happens at baptism?

When we are created we are created with psuche and dianoia, we are living beings. When we are reborn in baptism we are filled with the Pneuma, and and now have a whole new kind of life, Zoe.

Those who are baptized are not as some would have you think "rational animals", we are something more. Our natural life is not replaced. As St. Thomas would tell us, Grace builds on nature. We have both kinds of life still operating in us.

In today's gospel we hear

For whoever wishes to save his life (psuche) will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

The great paradox of the Gospel, is that even when it comes to the life God gave us that the moment of conception, we only truly find it when we are willing to let go of it for the sake of the kingdom. Thne we have it all, life to the full.

Today we should be mindful of both lives that we have and nourish them both. As we walk through today, let us pay attention to the operation of all of the parts within us.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

What is a Basilica

Today throughout the world we celebrate the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. We use the word Baslica in two ways. The most common is the honorary title given to a church of some historic or artistic importantance. These basilicas are scattered throughout the world. They are all more specifically minor basilicas. Four in the city of Rome are major basilicas. Each of the five is associated with one of the five centers of Christianity:

St. John Lateran -Rome

St. Mary Major-Antioch

St. Peter- Constantinople

St. Paul outside the Wall - Axelandria


These four churches and there associated cities keep us rooted in the history of the early church.

There is another sense in which we use the term basilica. It describes a particular architectural style.

When the early Christians began to look for something to immulate they did not want their churches to look like pagan temples. And so they chose another large public building, the basilica. It served as a courthouse and for other public business.

It was a roof over a large rectangular building with a wide center isle and either one isle on each side or two isles on each side that would be narrower. The roof would be supported by rows of columns that would create the isles. Any church built in this fashion could be architecturally describes as a basilica.

When someone says a church is a basilica, it can either refer to the architectural design or the title given by the Pope or both. In the case of St. Mary Major it is both. Even now one can see mosaics dating back to the 5th century. This church above all others reminds us of the ancient and constant devotion of Christians to the mother of Jesus, and our Mother. Perhaps it has been a while since you have prayed the rosary. Perhaps today would be the day to find the rosary. No it is not worshiping Mary, it is simply respect for and devotion to the woman God chose to be the one through who he would become incarnate.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pray for the priests

Today is the memorial of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests. When we think about his incredible pastoral work, we can forget that the Bishop had exiled him to a town with only 230 inhabitants. As the story goes he got lost trying to find the place. That was 1818. By 1855, 20,000 pilgrims per year were going to see him. He would spend as much as 16 hours in a day hearing confessions.

I am sure as I write this that there are priests not only in this diocese but all over the world who feel as if they have been exiled to some far flung forgotten corner. Some will become angry, some depressed. Priests are human beings after all.

On this memorial of St. John Vianney, let us pray in a special way for the priests who are struggling that through the intercession of St. John they may truly come to understand that no matter how humble their assignment may appear, with the assistance of God's grace, and a resolve to do God's will they can go great things.


Monday, August 3, 2015

Being alone

In the Gospel today Matthew seems to repeat himself

he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. And when evening came he was alone.

If he was "by himself" wasn't he "alone" the entire time?

The distinction in Greek is between idios and monos.

The first means alone but in the sense of separate, separated from others. For many of us this is not a good kind of alone.

The second word for alone comes from the verb to remain. It refers to lack of motion, staying still.

Jesus went off by himself to pray, but it was not until the evening that he reached a state of stillness.

How often do we sit down to pray and we may be by ourself by we are anything but alone/still? We have brought with us all of the days concerns, worries about tomorrow. Some are truly important many are not. But unlike Jesus we are unwilling to just stay with it. The verse tells us when evening came he was alone, monos. We have no idea what time he began to pray, but the implication is that he was there for a while.

Jesus gives us an example of the virtue of patience in prayer. He reminds us that particularly meditation, is not something we can simply sit down and do in five minutes. It make take us weeks or months of practice to learn how to let go of all the stuff running around in our heads and be truly alone with God. In Matthew's gospel Jesus repeatedly goes off by himself to pray. He is showing us by his example that we need both, the communal prayer of the liturgy which we do on Sundays and also we need the quiet time when we go off by ourselves and we patiently wait in the spirit until we are truly still.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Losing yourself

I am the bread of life —Six of the most important words in the gospel, words packed with meaning.

For many of the parishes in the Diocese of Richmond today will be the first Sunday the people will meet their new priest. Some will like him; some will not. And today's gospel,reminds us why it doesn't matter.

As a priest prepares to celebrate mass he puts on a series of vestments:

-the alb, the white garment of baptism

- the cincture which he ties around his waist

-the stole, symbol of his office as a priest

-and over it all a chasuble in the appropriate color for the day.

Why all this stuff ? So that I the priest disappear.

When we preside at mass; whether priest, bishop, cardinal, or pope; we are called to abandon ourselves and act in the person of Christ. At the Eucharistic prayer you will notice that even the pope takes off the white zuchetta that marks him as pope.

Fr. Wayne is not the Bread of Life, nor Bishop DiLorenzo, nor Pope Francis. There is only one Bread of Life, Jesus.

It's the same reason our "Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy" say that " no one, not even a priest, may add change, or remove anything from the Liturgy". It's not my liturgy to change.

Some of us are better administrators, some are better preachers, some are better at visiting the sick etc etc. But today's gospel reminds us that when it comes right down to it, Church is not about the minister. We should go to mass to worship God, and to receive the Bread of Life.

Every minister like every other person is gifted in different ways, and we are all imperfect creatures of God. On the Lord's Day, we are called by God to bring our gifts and imprefections, ordained minister and laity, untied in the great dialogue that is our liturgy, united as one we offer or praise to God, and God in turn offers himself to us in the Eucharist.

Today for one hour, let us set aside our critical self, let us all lose ourselves in the Liturgy, and in losing ourselves let us find the one true Bread of Life, the one who is all in all