Friday, July 31, 2015

Missing what's right in front of us

Today we hear from Matthew what is perhaps one of the most tragic of the stories in the gospel. As chapter 13 ends Jesus returns to his home town to preach. And this is the only place in the gospels where we read.

And he did not do there mighty works

Imagine being the only earth with this designation. And Matthew tells exactly how they earned this designation

Because of their lack of faith

Saddest of all they lacked faith because they knew him, or at least they thought they did.

How many times in our lives do we make judgements about people based on very limited information?

A person who has been alive for 40 years walks in and sometimes within less than a single hour we are so arrogant as to think that we know what they are like. Or one person tells us of a bad experience they had with the person and based on this second hand information, without ever hearing the other side to the story, we form an opinion. And once the opinion is formed we then filter all new information through that opinion. We look for things that confirm it and dismiss things that contradict it. We reduce a living breathing child of God to a snapshot. And worst of all, we all do it.

The sin here really is hubris. We may not like to say we are arrogant, but when we make these kinds of judgments we are. And like the people in Jesus's home place, we too can time and time again miss an opportunity to encounter Christ in our brother or sister.

Today let us pause to call to mind someone about whom we have made a negative judgement and in Chrstian charity take another look. Let us actually look for the good.

Monday, July 27, 2015


Today we pick up in the exodus story when Moses has received the two tablets written on both sides by God himself. As he comes down the mountain he hears the sound of the people reveling. In this the story of the golden calf there is plenty of blame and sin to go around: Moses, Aaron, and the people.

For Moses part, why smash the tablets? Here we see Moses allowing himself to act out of anger.

Aaron, the actual creator of the idol. He admits that he was the one who told the people to handover their gold jewelry. He was the one who mealted it down and made the calf. Why? He wanted to placate the people. He wanted their approbation.

Both are rather ordinary emotions that we all have to struggle with. But if we look even deeper we find the real catalyst, the root cause of the entire story. The people have become impatient. How many of us do not to some degree suffer from impatience? Perhaps if we look more closely at the story we will see some clue as to why they fell into impatience and how we might avoid it.

Impatience most often expresses itself as anger. Any why are we angry? Because we have no control of the situation. Think of the last time you were stuck in traffic, a sense of absolute powerlessness comes over us. There is nothing you are going to do to make the traffic move. We start searching for an exit, and when we see no way out we become even more worked up.

But there is something even deeper. When Moses asks Aaron why he did it. Aaron reports what the people said,

Make us a god to be our leader; as for the man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.

They do not know. Moses has gone off and the people have no idea what has happened to him or when or if he is coming back. This lack of knowledge, ignorance, creates fear, and the fear expresses itself in impatience. The unknown scares them and they go looking for security in a golden calf.

How do we deal with the unknown? Too often we can be like the Israelites. We can allow the unknown to frighten us, and our fears can lead us to make very bad choices. The key it seems is to examine our fundamental vision of the world. If we truly believe that God created the world and God remains king of the world, then the unknown need not frighten us. If we believe as we sing that heaven and earth are filled with God's glory then we know that we are headed toward the fullness of God's kingdom and no matter what tomorrow brings, God can turn it and use it for good.

Those moments when we are stuck and it seems we can do nothing. We can always pray. We can sit and bask in the presence of God who promised to remain with us always. We can turn those moments when we feel impatience taking over into moments of stillness, moments of grace, resting peacefully in our powerlessness.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Back August 1

With the transition to the new assignment and moving to new living situation, I have been taking a bit  of a break. The Blog will be back come August 1.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Dwelling Place

As Jacob runs from the wrath of his brother Esau, after having tricked his father into giving him the blessing that rightly belonged to the older brother, he lays down to sleep and has a vision.

Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens;
and God’s messengers were going up and down on it.And there was the LORD standing beside him

Awaking from the dream he declared the place Beth-el (literally the house of God), the dwelling place of God on earth.  In the Book of Exodus the dwelling place will become mishkan, the tabernacle, the portable dwelling that God instructs Moses to build as God accompanies the people of Israel on their journey, and when the people of Israel settle down and are able to build a temple, the tabernacle is there.

From a Christian perspective, particularly in the Orthodox Church's this scene from the Old Testament, is understood to be a foreshadowing of the incarnation,  when God would indeed come down from heaven and stand in our midst in the person of Jesus Christ.

But it is St. Paul that reminds us that with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the dwelling place of God is no longer, a single place or a single person. In 1 Cor 3:16 he asks the crucial question,

Do you not know that you yourselves are the temple of God. and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

But are we the only temple of God.  Notice that he says that the Spirit dwells in us.  Leaving the question where does the Son dwell?  In fact, we know the answer.  It is the reason that every Catholic Church has a tabernacle.  Christ, fully present in the Eucharist, is always there for us so that we like the people of Israel may worship in his presence here on earth.  The Church becomes Beth-el, the house of God.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Weakness as gift

As our 4th of July weekend draws to a close, we have a somewhat providential reading from St. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians.  St. Paul has opened chapter 12 talking about the visions and revelations with which he has been blessed. But then he says that in order that he not become conceited, God has given him a thorn in the flesh.

What was this "thorn"? We have no idea.  Most likely it was some kind of chronic condition, something physically painful, because he goes on to describe it as an "angel of Satan to beat me."

What we do know is that he says three time (three being one of the great symbolic numbers in the Bible) he begged the Lord to take it away, but God did not.  Instead of removing the thorn God teaches him to understand it in a new way.

Sufficient for you is my grace, because power is made perfect in weakness

We live in a world obsessed with power.  We want to believe we are the most powerful country and the world, and when we see signs of loosing that power or we see situations in which we are powerless, we are overcome with fear and anger. And yet, like some many other concepts, St. Paul transforms the concept of power.

According to St. Paul, true power only reaches it's goal, perfection, through weakness, asthenia. The word can refer to physical or mental weakness, sickness, feebleness. It simple physics. You cannot fill a container that is already full. Only where there is a lack, an emptiness is there room for something else.

We all too easily try to fill our own emptiness. We attempt to hide our weaknesses, our flaws. We mask them with hubris. Instead of being full of God's grace, we become full of ourselves. St. Paul learned to do just the opposite.  He says,

I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses

He knows that his weaknesses are precisely the places that God can fill with grace.  And here we reach perhaps the most difficult words of St. Paul for us to embrace.

Sufficient for you is my grace.

Can any of us really say these words and mean them?  Can we let go of our need for stuff? Can we let  go of our need for the approval of others and allow God's grace to be enough.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The declaration's omission

Today is always a good day to go back and read the Declaration of Independence. It reminds us that our founding fathers recognized that their rights came not from any human source but from God. Their entire justification for the revolution rested on a belief in Natural Law, the law written into the heart of every human being.

But there was an omission that haunts our culture even today. The omission was made because it went beyond the purpose of the document. The problem is that subsequent generations have seen the omission as proof of non-existence. What was omitted? Obligations.

The Declaration says that "they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights", but makes no mention of any obligations. Certainly Jefferson and the others understood the natural law obligations: obligations to the Creator who gave you the rights, obligations to family, obligations to country, obligations to society. These were well read men. They did not omit the obligations because they didn't believe in them, they omitted them because they were not disputed. The king had not denied their obligations only their rights.

Almost two and a half centuries later as we celebrate our freedom, we should keep in mind that life not simply about my rights. We must also fulfill out natural obligations. Our truest freedom is found through imitating the self-sacrificing love of Jesus, and striving each day to live according to the "Law of nature and of Nature's God" to borrow from the words of the declaration.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Importance of Testing

The first reading today opens by telling us that God put Abraham to the test. On one level the test looks cruel, asking a man to prove his fidelity by sacrificing his son. We Christians in fact know that the story right down to the detail of the son carrying the wood on which he is to be sacrificed is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice that God himself will make. While Issac will be spared, God will not spare his own son.

There is also a much deeper lesson about the true meaning of love in this story. We often make the mistake of thinking that if you love your children you will try and make their lives as pain free as possible. The term helicopter parent was coined to describe those parents who hover over their children. More recently a new breed of parent has appeared, referred to as snow plow parents. These are the parents who are not content to hover but believe it is their job to clear the obstacles from the paths of their children. What they fail to realize is the damage they are doing.

In today's first reading God does not put Abraham to the test so that God can find out what Abraham is made of. God knows all. He does it so that Abraham can find out what he is made of. Through testing Abraham is forced to reach down inside and find the strength that comes from God.

As a child in clunky metal braces I loved to go outside and play like other kids. What I found out later in life was that my mother would be inside looking out the window and when I would fall particularly from any height my mother would stand in the kitchen and clutch the sink to keep herself from running outside to pick me up. She knew I had to learn how to get myself up off the ground in the braces. I had to learn that I was capable of picking myself up. Of course she wanted to run outside, grab me up, and take me inside where I would be safe. But she knew that that would have sent the wrong message. It would have told me that I was helpless, and incapable of doing.

God allows each of us to be tested, because it is only through being tested, overcoming obstacles and adversity in life that we learn how to tap into that strength that comes from the Holy Spirit. God loves us enough to let us fall down, to let us struggle, and even sometimes fail, because it is in these circumstances that we find our truest self.