Saturday, December 31, 2016


Before the technological explosion I would certainly have been called a bibliophile, a lover of books. And truth be told I still am although more of the books I buy today are eBooks. Christians can rightly be called bibliophiles, lovers not just of books in general but of The Book, O βιβλίος , The Bible. We will use the phrase, People of the Book. We immerse ourselves in the Word of God. But the Word and the Book are not the same thing.

Today on this 7th day of the Octave of Christmas the Church has us reread the gospel of Christmas Day from the prologue of John's Gospel.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Ο λόγος -the Word is not just spoken by God. This Word is God. This Word is the One through whom the universe was created. And,

The Word became flesh, and lived among us.

In Jesus our relationship is radically transformed. The Word to which we cling is a person not a book. He is the second person of the Trinity, incarnate of the Virgin Mary. Present to us not only the words he spoke, but most fully present to us in the Eucharist. We consume the Word of God every time we receive communion. We consume the Word made flesh.

Many people make New Years resolutions and a common one is to read the Bible. As Christians the place to starts is with the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are the foundation. They are the words(small w) that tells about The Word when he became flesh and dwelt among us. Only when we have immersed ourselves in the gospel can we properly understand the rest of the Bible.

Protestants tend to focus on the words of the Bible. Catholics tend to focus on the Word made flesh in the Eucharist. It is not an either/or. It should be a both/and. We need one to understand the other. They are inseparable, because they both bind us to the one reality. The Gospels and the Eucharist link us to the God who became one with us in the incarnation we celebrate at Christmas. We should strive to remain one with Him.

By all means read the Bible, most of all the Gospels. But for an even fuller experience combine that with reception of His Body and Blood. Spend time in His presence before a tabernacle in a Church or Chapel. When we combine these we go from being people of the Book to truly People of the Word.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The End of the Age

Only four days and Christians around the world will be gathering to celebrate the Birth of the Baby Jesus. And would be nice if we could pause life, and enjoy it. But life doesn't work like that.  Life continues and as the commercial says, "Life comes at you fast." Poverty, war, suffering, sickness and death do not stop for Christmas. Even the more immediate problems at work or in the family continue. Actually, the holidays tend to exacerbate some of those problems. And yet we are expected to walk around still saying, "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" (for the politically correct). It all seems kind of ridiculous. Except for one thing.

Today we hear a promise given voice through the prophet Isaiah,

the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and shall name him Emmanuel.

God is with Us.

The new translation of the creed is more accurate. Jesus was born before all ages. He always existed. But through the Virgin Maria he became incarnate, flesh and blood, a tangible participation in our human life.  In the Old Testament you have intermittent contact through prophets, signs and wonders. Through the Virgin Mary God was now something, some one who could be seen, heard, and touched directly. 

Bur even more important are the last words of Jesus at the end of Matthew's Gospel. 

And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

From the point of view of the world, with the Ascension Jesus disappeared.  But we know better. He promised to remain and He always keeps his promises. 

Will there be Christmas craziness?  Of course there will. There always is. But we can face it all because we know we are celebrating not the birth of a baby in Bethlehem but the Birth of a new age for the world  and age in which God is constantly with every single member of his body, the Church. From the moment of our Baptism, Emmauel, God is with us. This is the age in which we live. And this is why no matter what is going on around us we can honestly say, "Merry Christmas."

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Wisdom from on high

Today we turn and head down into the final days of preparation marked in the Liturgy by the antiphons used in evening prayer and most famous to us through the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Today begins with O Wisdom.

And we see that Wisdom of God in the Gospel. That long reading of the genealogy provided by St. Matthew parallels in many ways the story of creation in that it shows the order of God's plans. If seven is the number of perfection, in the Gospel the number is doubled to 14 generations. Saint Matthew tells us the story of three groups of 14 generations leading to birth of Jesus.

But this is no fairytale filled with happiness and light. In Saint Matthew's account of the genealogy there are contained examples of in but grave sin. Tucked into the folds of what it may look like simply a list of names, is the good news that even in the darkest of sin can be used, transformed, for some good purpose. Where we see only darkness, in, weakness, and frailty; God who is the only true wisdom sees hope and possibility.

Today let us pause and pray for Wisdom to see as God sees.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Bringing Light

Today's saint, St. Lucy, was just one of the Martyrs during the persecution by the emperor Diocletian. The veneration of St. Lucy, her courage and her concern for the poor spread quickly. On the older calendar Dec. 13 was the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, and so candles became central to her feast day. Girls would dress in white, with red sashes to symbolize virginity and martyrdom and process with candles through the street.

While the processions with candles may have fallen out of practice. On this feast of St. Lucy each of us can begin this day determined to be bringer of light, the Light of Christ. For many of us this will require incredible discipline not only with our actions but with our words. Bringers of light follow the instruction of St. Paul,

- Say only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear Eph 4:29

Today may all our actions and words be actions and words of light.

St. Lucy, pray for us.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Why should I care ?

Many non-Hispanic Catholics are consciously or unconsciously asking that question today as we celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe. Despite the fact that St. John Paul II proclaimed her the Patroness of America. As he said in Ecclesia in America "the Virgin of Guadalupe is venerated as Queen of all America." The Pope's decision to refer to America in the singular is critical to understanding the importance of today.

At Tepeyac, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared with the face of an indigenous woman. In the words of St. John Paul II, "an impressive example of perfectly inculturated evangelization." Throughout the centuries each time she has been sent to appear, she has always been perfectly inculturated and so able to perfectly, by her presence, communicate God's message of love and salvation offered to all people – one Mother, many apparitions. In my home growing up it was often mom who had to serve and the great reconciler. And so,whether our nation is known for speaking English, French, Portuguese, or Spanish; today's celebration calls us to pause and pray that we can see beyond our national identities, and geographic separation and seek unity. All children of one Father, one Lord and Savior, and one Mother through whom he took on our humanity.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Happy by choice

Most of us think of happiness as a reaction. Medical experts can tell us all about the chemical responses our brain has to certain stimuli and the chemicals that are released that make us feel happy. The problem with this kind of happiness is that it locates the source outside of us. There must be a stimulus.

As many of you know for the last six months I have been wrestling with a back problem that has left me in more constant pain that ever in my life. I have a whole list of what it isn't, but we still don't know what it is. So we manage the symptom as best we can. I share that not for sympathy but for context.

In the Church's calendar today is Gaudete Sunday, from the text of Phil 4:4.

Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.

You can see the irony.

But the more I prayed over it, the more I came to understand. St. Paul can tell us to rejoice always because joy is not a reaction. It is a choice.

How many people, particularly at the holidays, look at their lives and feel themselves robbed of the people and things that once gave them joy by relocation, lost loved ones, injustice done to them or just work that seems pure drudgery? For many "Merry Christmas" seems either a distant memory or something they have never know.

The good news is that in a single verse St. Paul gives us the formula. He tells us to rejoice always but he also tells us where to find the joy — in the Lord.

To find the joy regardless of circumstance we must pray, and in that prayer we must lose ourselves, abandon ourselves completely in the Lord. Because when we abandon ourselves we also abandon our pain, our suffering, and our loss. When we abandon ourselves in this way, we are free to be enveloped in the love of Christ. Then we are able to see the world around us through His eyes. And when we do, we see the signs of His love and presence all around. Trees, lights, decorations, music, cards, presents, family and friends are nice when we have them. But even when some or all of that is taken away, a true Christian can rejoice and say "Merry Christmas."

Joy has one true source Love, and the most perfect love comes from God. So

Rejoice in the Lord always.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Light and Truth

Mark Twain is purported to have said, "A lie can travel around the world and back again while the truth is lacing up its boots." And that was long before the internet. There appears to be, in our wounded human nature, something that makes us willing, almost anxious, to hear bad things about people we don't like. It is not new. In the gospel today we hear,

John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

Spin as we call it is as old as sin itself. 21st century technology has simply provided this evil inclination in us with new tools. Now we can all be publishers, but as Christians we have a particular responsibility to the Truth. After all, we claim to be followers of the one who is The Way, The Truth, and the Life. When the candle is given at the Rite of Baptism, the minister says, "...[he/she] is to walk always as a child of the light."

Among the titles for Satan are: Father of lies, and Prince of Darkness.

Before we post, share, tweet or retweet; we should always ask ourselves, "Am I sure this is the truth?" And then when we are sure it is true, we still need to ask, "Does it add to the light or the darkness?" Many thing can be true, and still be words of darkness. If we tear down rather than build up, if we open old wounds rather than bind them up, the we are still working for the darkness.

Social Media is a magnificent invention it can literally unite the world. And nearly a third of that world professes in some way to be Christian. As we continue to light the candles of our advent wreaths, let us also be the one who work to transform social media into places of light and truth for all people.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Trusting the Word

About once every decade Christmas falls on a Sunday, giving us the opportunity to celebrate four full weeks of Advent. This is one of those years.

Today's gospel takes us to the last words we say at mass before receiving communion, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed." These words are the words of the centurion personalized. The centurion spoke of his servant who needed healing. We speak these words of faith, recognizing our own need for healing.

As a commander, he centurion in the Gospel understands the power of words. He speaks and something happens. As he says,

I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Even more so with the Word of God. The story of creation tells us he spoke and it came into being.

Each time we participate in mass and we repeat the words of the centurion, we should call to mind that we are the servants in desperate need to healing. The good news is that the medicine we need is the Eucharist. With the faith of the centurion we believe that when the priest spoke the words of Jesus,the bread and wine became His body and blood. And when we receive the Eucharist in faith, that grace can heal even those wounds we do not know we have.

On this first Monday of Advent, may we be the servant and the centurion, the one in need of healing, and the one with the faith to be healed. And so we pray, Come Lord Jesus.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Darkness and Light

Growing up Baptist, I knew nothing of advent wreaths and candles. The nearing of Christmas was marked by television: Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (with the voice of Boris Karloff). And yes, even though I now know advent wreaths and candles, I still want my tv shows.

But after I was ordained I found out about another more obscure advent tradition, the Advent Nazi. It's a church version of Jerry Seinfeld's Soup Nazi. These are the people, often priests sometimes a lay person, who have been to one too many liturgical conferences, who want absolutely no Christmas in their Advent: no decorations, no music, no parties, none of it. While I understand the sentiment and hate the Christmas decorations the day after Halloween in stores, I don't think it's a battle we can win.

Where we can win is internally. If we look at the history of Advent we discover that it was originally a time of fasting, parallel to Lent. It was the early Church's counter-cultural response to among other things, saturnalia. While the pagans got drunk, the Christians fasted and prayed.

Today we begin a new liturgical year. Our Jewish brothers and sisters begin each year with a time of penance, the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Perhaps this year we need to remember why we wear violet. We need to remember the penitential quality of Advent. We need to identify those parts of our own lives that still need conversion. In Advent, the days grow progressively darker, each one shorter than the one before. In the same way darkness can slowly creep into our own hearts. As we move through the days of Advent can we name the darkness in ourselves, so that Christ can wash it away and make room for his own marvelous light. Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, November 7, 2016

It's not about quantity

Today's gospel ends with the famous,

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed.."

Most of us remember that part but not what causes Jesus to say it. He had just explained to his followers that if someone sins against them 7 times in a day and comes back each time and says "I'm sorry", they are expected to forgive. Their response is to ask for an increase in faith to enable them to forgive in this ways.

They think the problem is a lack of faith on their part. They think Jesus needs to give them more faith. Jesus understands that faith is not something to be quantified in that way. A mustard seed of faith is more than enough. After all it is a supernatural gift from God.

What is require in the gospel is not an increase in faith by Jesus, but a decision by the disciples, the decision to convert the faith they already have into action. The disciples want to put the ball in Jesus's court, YOU increase our faith. Jesus put the ball squarely in their court.

So it is with each of us. Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you have faith at least the size of a mustard seed. We have the faith, now we have to make the decision and the effort to put that faith into action, not by uprooting mulberry trees, but by forgiving and loving, not just loving God but loving our neighbor. For me, as a priest, the great question for tomorrow is not who will win but, will Christians behave like Christians.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

All Souls Day

Yesterday the church celebrated all those who have run the good race and are now in the presence of God interceding for us. Today the Church turns our attention to those who have yet to complete the last leg of the race.

I know that there are those who will deny the concept of purgatory because the word isn't in the Bible, or see it as old-fashioned or outdated. In reality, it is the necessary and logical consequence of justice.

We believe that justice is a part of natural law. It is more than a social convention. It is rooted in God who is the only perfectly just one. In God we find both mercy and justice perfectly balanced.

When we sin there is a twofold consequence. One that relates to our eternal salvation and the other the temporal punishment due in justice. When the child breaks your window with a baseball and says I'm sorry, in mercy, you may forgive him. But in justice he still owes you for the window. The person who has committed horrible crimes her whole life and converts on her deathbed is forgiven. But in justice there is still a price to be payed for the life of sin. And which of us can hope do die sin free?

The scriptures are filled with passages that remind us that our words must be linked to actions.

Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

For this reason, we not only ask for forgiveness but we also DO penance.

Today we pray for all those who have fallen asleep, that their final cleansing, their purgatory will be complete and they may enter the company of the saints we celebrated yesterday.

Today is also a reminder to each of us of the need not only to ask forgiveness but to do penance for the sins we have committed that we too may one day join the company of the saints in heaven.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The abandonment of ego

Today we pick up reading the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians with chapter 2. There St. Paul puts forward what may well be the most difficult challenge in living the Christian life. Each of us is to avoid all selfishness or the search for what he calls empty praise. And we are always supposed to act not looking toward our own interests but the interest of others.

The surrender of self and self interest is a constant struggle for all of us. Two places where we can easily see it are when we drive and even more when we are on the phone and put on hold. In those moments how many of us can hear St. Paul's admonition to think of others as more important than yourself?

The Church provides us a place to practice selflessness in her liturgy. In liturgical prayer we are called to abandon ourselves to the prayer of the Church. The presider is called on to use not their own words or gestures but those of the Church. Every aspect of the liturgy (words, postures, vessels, vestments) belongs to the Church and not to any individual or community. Even the homily is not about whatever the priest or deacon chooses but is limited to those topics listed in the General Instruction.

To celebrate the liturgy in this selfless way requires tremendous discipline. All of us at times feel the urge to deviate. Those on the right want to import from previous forms of liturgy. Those on the left want to be creative. Both are manifestations of the same ego that says, "I know better."We practice selflessness in liturgical prayer in the hope that it will help us to live it in our daily lives.

Every time we walk through the doors of a Church we should remind ourselves that this is the time and place that I surrender myself. And when we hear that interior voice rising up to criticize (the deacon, the lector, the musician, the priest), we should recognize it as ego, name it and return to a spirit of prayer. If we look closely we will find that our greatest distraction do not come from the outside but from our self.

Monday, October 24, 2016

November 9th

More and more I find myself worried about, November 9th, the day after the election. Regardless of who wins, we are still going to have to come together as a country and function. We know as St. Luke tells us "Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more." And we have undoubtedly been entrusted with much more.

In today's reading from Ephesians, St. Paul tells us how to act toward one another.

Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

In the Greek, the three words kind, compassionate, and forgiving are side by side.

The word kind can also be translated as well-mannered. I feel like an old man when I have to say things like this, but it seems that we have all but given up on the concept of manners. We somehow fell into the erroneous belief that we have a right to express our feelings in all times and places. One of things that separates adults from children is the ability to monitor and judge the feeling that rise up in us and know which are worthy of expression and which are not, how to be be considerate of others.

The word St. Paul uses for compassionate can also be translated as tender-hearted. To some in our culture that sounds unmanly. But look at the alternative, hard-hearted. There is no middle space. We are one or the other. Which will you be?

Most important is the last word, forgiving. St. Paul tells us that we must be forgiving of one another as God has forgiven us in Christ. And if we look at the whole New Testament, we are told repeatedly that we will be judged as we judge, and forgiven as we forgive.

This year offers us as Christians an opportunity to stand out from the crowds and witness to our faith. While others around us yell insults, we can show that we are followers of Christ by being kind,compassionate, and forgiving.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Infants or Adults

In today's section from St. Paul he uses the metaphor of the human maturation process to describe the journey to "living the truth in love" which all Christians should do. It is what marks the adult, and separates the adult from the infant.

The infant is "tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming."

As Catholics we believe that the teaching of the Church is true. In particular, we believe that the part of Church teaching called the Deposit of Faith was revealed by God. We are called to proclaim that truth in our words and actions. We must live that truth. The hardest part sometimes is that as St. Paul tells us we must live truth in love (agape).

Looking around it seems that lots of us are behaving like infants, allowing ourselves to be tossed by the waves, and swept around by the wind. And even among those who are trying to live the truth of the faith, very few seem to be living it in love.

We show our true Christianity not in how we treat our friends but in how we behave towards those with whom we disagree. Right now we have an incredible opportunity to witness to the power of God's grace at work in us. Surrounded by acrimony and without surrendering one iota of our faith, each has the opportunity to be an example by living the truth in love. It will not be easy but we can do it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Being One

Today St. Paul opens the 4th chapter of his Letter to the Ephesians with a call for unity. Worth special attention are three characteristics that seem to be the building blocks for that unity: humility, gentleness, and patience. Do we even value these as virtues at all any more, particularly the first two?

It seems to me that this may be where we as Christians are called to be truly counter-cultural. After all, the phrase "humble American" is rarely heard. Even the phrase "American exceptionalism" seems hard to reconcile with the virtue of humility.

Gentleness may even be a less sought after virtue than humility. It may be that the great enemy of the virtue of gentleness is fear. We look at the world around us and we are afraid. Our minds say things like, "While we are being gentle, the terrorists will take over the world." We confuse gentleness and weakness. Gentleness is a calm, deliberate way of being. It is a manifestation of an interior peace.

In the 21st century patience may be the one we are most aware of lacking. Five minutes on hold or in a line and we all begin to loose it.

Humility, Gentleness, and Patience — these are all natural virtues which we can develop. But first we must want them. And that may be the real problem.

In my conscience, the place where I am alone with God,

Do I want to be humble?
Do I want to be gentle?
Do I want to be patient?

Then pray for them, not once but every day, Pray for humility, gentleness, and patience. Look around you for good examples you can emulate. And like any virtue, it requires practice and constant self-monitoring.

The only thing stopping us from do what St. Paul commands us to do is ourselves.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hope for us all

It is easy for us to look myopically at the present American political struggle and forget that world of which we are a part is much more than the presidential election of our little country. As Christians we must constantly remind ourselves that we believe that by virtue of baptism we are part of reality that transcends politics and nations. We are part of a reality that transcends time.

In today's first reading from the third chapter of St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians we hear a prayer that concludes:

Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

We are fools if we place even a single drop of our hope in Hillary, Donald or any human being. As Christians, when we utter the word hope, it should be in reference to God and God alone. We hope in God the Father. We hope in God the Son. We hope in God the Holy Spirit.

St. Paul undoubtedly understood this, when he describes God as the one who is able to accomplish far more than ALL we ask or even imagine. Imagine the best world you can possibly imagine. And God can accomplish it all "through the power that is at work in us", the Holy Spirit.

Like faith and charity we believe that hope is, not something we manufacture, but a gift from God. Join me in praying for an outpouring of the virtue of hope on all, but especially all the people of our nation. And may we keep our minds and hearts centered on and anchored to God.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

St. Francis

Sadly today in many places St. Francis, whose feast day it is, will be reduced to a blessing of animals. Perhaps it's because the rest of his story and message is less comfortable for us. He renounced a life of war and wealth and embraced simplicity, poverty, and care for those who were most in the margins of the society of his day.

We live in a society that is all about the individual. Some believe they have a right to accumulate as much as they can as long as they don't break the law. The sense of duty to the larger whole of society and particularly the poor is disappearing.

As one who lives in Virginia I am reminded of the original meaning of the word commonwealth. It is a term dating back to the 15th century that denotes not a focus on the individual but on the collective, the public welfare or general good of the group as a whole.

St. Francis reminds all of us who call ourselves Christians of the moral obligation that we have toward the poor, not just in Haiti or Africa, but right here in our own neighborhoods. Perhaps today's feast calls us to rise above debates of tax returns and emails, and see our brothers and sisters in need.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

If it sounds Spanish but isn't

Today's saint, Lorenzo Ruiz, has a name that sounds Spanish. In reality his father was Chinese and his mother was Filipino. Like many Filipinos his name sounds Spanish due to three centuries of Spanish rule. But Saint Lorenzo would never have been thought of as Spanish. To the Spaniards the Filipinos were simply Indios (Indians) like the native peoples of Latin America.

It would be wonderful think that St. Lorenzo went on the mission trip to Japan out of zeal for the faith. In fact, he was on the run from the authorities, having been accused of killing a Spaniard. One can imagine the justice system for an Indio accused of killing a Spaniard.

As God so often does, he took this bad experience in Lorenzo's life and transformed it. He was already a Christian of great faith, but now he would have a chance to witness to that faith. He along with the rest of his companions ( 3 Dominican priests, a Japanese priest and a leper) were arrested in Japan and tortured to try and get them to renounce their faith. Lorenzo refused to renounced his faith and in 1637 died while being tortured.

He became the first Filipino martyr.

Today even here in the US our Filipino-American community remains a great witness to their Catholic faith. In the Diocese of Richmond we have been able to avoid the parish closures that many other dioceses have experienced due in part to the willingness of Filipino priests to come and serve our people. As we're remember St. Lorenzo Ruiz and companions let us pray for the people of the Philippines, and the Filipino communities here in our country, may their faith and ours continue to grow.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Look closer

Which of us has not prayed for something to no avail? We wonder why doesn't God answer us. There is of course the often heard, "God always answers our prayers but sometimes the answer is no." Today's first reading offers a more sobering thought.

He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself also call and not be heard.

According to the verse from proverbs not only will God not answer, he won't even listen to the prayer.

Perhaps it's time for everyone of us to take a hard look at our attitude towards the poor. Start with the beggar at the stoplight. What judgements do we make in our hearts about him or her? What do we feel as they walk up to our car window? What was the last thing you did to help the poor in your area?
In this political season how much is concern for the poor part of your calculus is choosing candidates.

We must open our eyes, our ears, and most of all our hearts. If want God to hear us, we must first hear them.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Looking for the out

We start the week with a reading from the Book of Proberbs that begins simply

Refuse no one the good on which he has a claim when it is in your power to do it for him.

And our minds will immediately jump to the question "who has a claim?" Like the question that follows on the command love your neighbor, "Who is my neighbor?"

Even if we use the more literal translation

Don't withhold good from those to whom it is due

We can start looking for the escape clause.

We forget the most basic moral principle is "Do good, avoid evil."

A certain level of good, basic respect, is due to every human being simply because they are human. They were created in the image and likeness of God.

Add to that the dignity that is due to any baptized person, because they are now a son or daughter of God. Then there are the commands in the scriptures about how we MUST treat the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. It turns out that there are a great number of people who have a claim on good from us.

Jesus even takes away the escape clause in the Old Testament, when he adds that we are to love our enemies. So if we are Christians we are stuck doing good to everybody, as the proverb say "when it is in your power to do so."

But how often is it not in my power to do at least some good? We may not be able to fix the person's problems, but we can usually do at least something to lift a person up, point them in the right direction, or just let them know they are not alone.

In short, the moment we lay eyes on another person our habitual reaction should be to think of some good we can do, beginning with a smile and greeting. Of course, for it to become a habit, we must practice.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Downton Revisited

Yes, I was one of the millions who got drawn into watching Downton Abbey. It made us Americans forget for just a bit our instinctive aversion to servants and masters. And perhaps those characters can help us understand today's gospel.

No one can serve two masters

We don't like the idea of having any master. But in fact we all have a master.
The servant does the will of the master.

Every time I speak or act voluntarily, it is an act of the will, mine or someone else's. In that sense every voluntary act is an act of service. If I am not serving someone else, then I must be self-serving. But none of us want to be thought of as self-serving.

In the world of Downton Abbey, the life of the staff was described as being "in service." And Carson the Butler, most of all, did not see it as a menial life. He was proud to be in service of one of the great houses; to get up every day, dress in black and white, and make sure that everything in the house was as the master of the house would want it. He would teach the younger men to anticipate the will of the master, not wait to be ordered. Mrs. Hughes in her black dress was the female counterpart.

Today's gospel reminds us that we are all servants. Some people spend their lives doing their own will, the self-serving. Some are trapped being servant to their emotions and passions. Some are servants to some thing like food, alcohol, or drugs. Some are the servants of other people, constantly trying to please them. So the question is, who's servant are you?

Today's gospel reminds us that if we are truly Christians we are servants of THE great house, and the Master of this house is God. Some of us still dress in black like the servants. But we are all servants regardless of how we dress.

We cannot have two masters. Every time we speak or act we choose a master. If we let our emotions get the best of us, they are our master. If we do what we want, we are the master. But if we get it right, we do God's will, and we show the world He is our master. And there is no better life than a one spent in service of Him.

Monday, September 12, 2016

What happened to the Supper?

Looking at our current way of celebrating mass, it looks not at all like a meal. What happened? In short you can blame St. Paul and the people in Corinth. 

In our first reading today you can hear St. Paul chastising the people of Corinth for what was going on when they would gather.

in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk.
Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink? Or do you show contempt for the Church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed?

And so it was that the early Church in her wisdom stripped the Liturgy of the Eucharist down to its essential elements, removing those parts which could easily be abused. In the Latin Rite in particular we still strive to maintain "noble simplicity."

Is it exciting? No. Is it entertaining? No. It's purpose is not to excite or entertain. The purpose is to worship God, not ourselves. 

The other day I heard someone on television speak of those "who had left institutional religion, because the institution no longer served them." My first thought was, "Isn't that backwards? I thought we were supposed to serve not to be served." St. Paul in his usually terse fashion tells the people, if they want to socialize they can do that at home. 

Any person who says about mass, "I don't get anything out of it", makes two fundamental errors. Firstly, it is not about getting but giving, giving worship with the body of Christ to God. 
Secondly, and more importantly, if we think we get nothing, then clearly we do not understand the concept of GRACE. 

Perhaps that is where our reflection for today should take us. How well do I appreciate the grace that I receive each time I receive the body and blood of Christ?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Equilibrium in prayer

The Catechism of the Catholic Church categories prayer in six ways: blessing, adoration, petition, intercession, thanksgiving, and praise. It is worth reflecting on each category and asking ourselves do we give each its due. Sadly I suspect that we may find that a disproportionate part of our prayer is spent in either petition (asking for ourselves) or intercession (asking for others).  And our prayer of thanksgiving resembles the teenage boy who yells "Thanks" to his parents, over his shoulder as he runs out the door with his new iPhone. 

In the Catholic Church we know that Thanksgiving (Eucharist) should be the center; "we do well always and everywhere to give him thanks" say the prefaces at mass, and priests are strongly encouraged to celebrate mass every day. But what percentage of our personal prayer time is dedicated to thanksgiving and praise?

Over the last three years hardly a day has past that someone has not stopped me and said, "Please tell the governor I'm praying for him."  Now that the ordeal is over I would invite all those people to join in prayer of thanksgiving and praise. For myself, that thanksgiving is going to take the form of a novena, our tradition of praying for 9 days. For the next 9 days I will be praying the rosary in thanksgiving to God. 

Regardless of the form of prayer we choose, our prayers of thanksgiving and praise should at least equal in quantity and intensity our prayers of petition and intercession, and no small amount of prayer should be spent in blessing and adoration. It is good for us to keep in mind the six kinds of prayer and with some effort we can achieve the right balance. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Great Pope in the Wreckage

If one does a cursory reading of the life if St. Gregory whose feast we celebrate today, it can sound luxurious. The biographies speak of being born of a noble family, being a Roman senator at 30. What you have to keep in mind is that it was the Middle Ages. The Western Empire has fallen. Rome has been sacked on multiple occasions, and devastated by plague. Most importantly the seat of real power has moved to Constantinople. The Rome we might imagine was no more.

It is no wonder that after his father's death he would convert the family home in Rome into a monastery. He knew how fleeting the things of this world are. And he would have been content to live out his life as a monk, but God had something more for him to do.

He would be one of only three Popes to be recognized by the church as "the Great." The other two are Leo the Great and Nicholas the Great. He was elected Pope by acclamation.

Despite all that had happened to Rome, he did not despair. He set about rebuilding, rebuilding the Church's liturgy and it's unity. He rekindled the missionary spirit of the Church. Perhaps the most famous of the missionaries were those he sent to Christianize what we call England. In what some would call the Dark Ages he was a shining light.

On the memorial of St. Gregory the Great let each of us pray that we might be that same beacon of light and hope to those around us and thereby spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Recovering the sacrament

Over time we have seen a drop in those making use of the confessional. In today's gospel we are told:

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

We all know that we teach best by example and yet whether motivated by fear or hubris, many of us who share in the teaching office of the church don't talk about our own sinfulness and recourse to the sacrament.

For myself I go to confession minimally once a month. Chapter V of the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution of the Church addresses the universal call to holiness. It seems to me that at least once a month any of us needs to stop and take stock of the ways in which we fall short of the goal. We need to name it in a very specific way. The first step to reconciliation is contrition, sadness for the sin we commit. We can only feel sadness when we acknowledge how far we are from what our loving Father as called us to be.

In the gospel Peter tells Jesus to depart from him because he is a sinful man. But we know that Jesus does not depart from him, nor will he depart from us. On the contrary, when we acknowledge our sinfulness Jesus draws closer to us. The forgiveness God offers is not the human "I forgive you, but..." When we have the courage to receive the sacrament, we know that we receive complete forgiveness.

Back in 2013 at the beginning of his Pontificate Pope Francis said, 

"'Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?" "I am a sinner. This the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner." 

While there may be a few in the Church who would prefer to imagine clergy and religious as somehow holier than the rest, one need only read any of those we call saints and discover that they were profoundly aware of their own sinfulness.

The end of the Year of Mercy will be here sooner than we think. So before it ends, perhaps we all need to each the words of St. Peter and Pope Francis. Before we talk anymore about the failings of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Mike Pence or Tim Kaine; perhaps we need to focus on our own. Such is the road to conversion, the road to holiness.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Saints Alive

One of those things I remember hearing as a child was, "Catholics worship statues", and from watching the movies that's certainly how it appeared. The even sadder part was that I remember asking a Catholic I knew to explain it, and they couldn't. Nowadays if someone asks me why are there statues and icons in Churches, I respond simply, "Doesn't everybody have family pictures and keepsakes in their home?" As a matter of fact I would find it odd, if I walked into a house and there were no pictures of anybody.

These days I'm back at St. Augustine's and today is the feast day of St. Augustine. Yesterday was his mother, St. Monica. All of which gives us a chance to stop and reflect on why churches are named for people, a uniquely Christian thing to do.

To understand why we do it, we have to go back to 313, the Edict of Milan, when Christianity was allowed to come out of hiding. Christians began to build places for public worship, and a favorite place would be the grave/tomb of a martyr. The emperor Constantine sheared off the top of a hill and built the original St. Peter's over the tomb of Peter, the Apostle. Christians did this because we believe in the resurrection of the body, and so we treat the body with reverence in life and in death.

As time went on and martyrdom became less frequent the same sign of respect was shone to other kinds of saints. The part of a saint any church would have also became smaller. Even into the 20th century, Catholic Churches would have a small relics, usually a bone chip, in the altar stone — a link to the holy men and women who have gone before us.

No we do not worship these people. We worship God. But we also do not believe that they are "dead and gone." Nor do we believe that they forget about us when they make it to heaven. We remain connected as the one body of Christ. And we can talk to them, and ask them to intercede for us, because they are in God's presence. Why wouldn't we?

If your parish church is named for a saint, what is your relationship to that saint? How much do you know about him/her? When did you last ask him/ her to intercede for someone. If calling it praying to saints makes you uncomfortable, then think of it as a chat with and old friend. Often for preaching I will turn to St. Paul, and not just read his letters in the Bible but ask him to help me truly understand what he wrote. Again, why not?

Today as I celebrate with the people of St. Augustine Parish this day in honor of their patron I am reminded that there are many great quotes from St. Augustine but among my favorites is:

I do not seek to understand so that I may believe, but rather
I believe so that I might understand.

Monday, August 15, 2016


My guess is that for most of us, when we thing of today's feast, the Assumption of Mary, our minds go immediately to what will happen to us after death. The opening prayer for today's mass focuses our attention on something more immediate.

...grant, we pray,
that, always attentive to the things that are above,
we may merit to be sharers of her glory.

Always attentive to the things that are above? How do we do that when the things (and people) here on earth are constantly, not just asking for but, demanding our attention?

We start by remembering that we are transcendent beings. However earthbound as we may feel, we were created to be with God for eternity. As such our souls are constantly yearning for God. As much as our bodies need air and water, our souls need prayer.

At its most basic, this means starting our day by turning our hearts to God, and then throughout the day pausing to check and make sure our hearts stay pointed in the right direction. Then one final course check before we go to sleep at night. In this way we can be constantly attentive to the things that are above and still deal properly with the things here on earth. As a matter of fact we will deal with the mundane better, if our hearts are constantly oriented toward God.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Hand it on

On the surface today's gospel would appear to be one of many miracle stories. If we look closely we will see a story backed with theology and catechesis. By the time St. Matthew committed his gospel to writing he had already come to understand the deeper meaning in Jesus's action. The community of believers already had standardized what we would now call the celebration of the Euchrarist. And so when he recounts the story he uses a formula that they would all recognize. The four verbs associated with the Eucharist:

the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.

No Christian in the early Church would have denied that this miracle was the precursor to the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus, but there is also something more. 

There is a second "gave." Jesus gives to the disciples and it is they who in turn give to the crowd. This gospel is not only the precursor to the Eucharist but the precursor to Tradition, literally handing on. Jesus gives to the disciples who then give to the crowd and they are filled.  Presumably those who are filled will in turn give to others. Two millennia later, we are the recipients not of fish and bread but of the Bread of Life and the Word of God. 

Now we are the disciples having received we now have the obligation to give. Those of us who are priests do this above all in the celebration of Mass where we hand on the Word of God and the Bread of Life.  But all disciples are called to participate in the act of handing on, this act of feeding, of nourishing. Hopefully we do this every day. 

Today let us look for those opportunities through our actions to nourish others, to share with them the love of Christ. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

When being big hearted isn't good

In the gospel today Jesus quotes the condemnation of the Prophet Isaiah. 

You shall indeed hear but not understand  you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people, 

No, he is not using gross in the current American sense of disgusting, or revolting. Here gross is used to mean fat, thick, or obese. It comes from the same verb used to describe pitching a tent. Yes, it is crass. But prophets often smack us in the face with reality we would just as soon not face.  

In this country over half of adults are overweight. For guys my age more than 3/4 are overweight or obese.  But that is merely one symptom of the problem. How many of are holding on to stuff that we do not need, stuff that we never use? I wonder if we don't like watching shows like Hoarders so we can reassure ourselves-"At least I'm not that bad."

There is a space in ever human being that can only be filled by God. But allowing God to fill the space is not as simple going to Church.  There are people who go to church all the time and are still ravenously hungry. They have eyes but do not see,ears but do not hear. 

Real faith is not simply believing in God. It requires trust of God. St. Paul gives us the measure in his letter to the Philippians. 

For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance 

Part of the problem is that I don't think we really want to be content. I'm not sure we see content as a virtue. Even many ministers like to rail. Perhaps that's why we need an entire section of the liturgy dedicated to peace. 

It is not easy for us to relax enough to trust God, open our hearts and let him be the one who fills it. But we should never cease try. And my guess is that if we were to only eat or buy when we were in that content space, we would consume less. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Family Reunion

One of the principal images we use to describe the Church is family: the Father, the Son, Mary the Mother.  We speak of how in baptism we become the adopted children.  But in today's gospel Jesus opens another door. 

Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother."

From this we derive our teaching regarding the possibility of salvation for those who are not baptized Christians.

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation. (Catechism, 847)

This is a very carefully nuanced middle between the two erroneous extremes: those who would say only baptized Christians get into heaven, and those who think that just being nice gets you into heaven.

Following today's gospel the Church teaches that the person seeks God and tries to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience.

For Christians as well the key to our salvation is striving to do God's will. 

If we occupy ourselves with that we won't have time to try and figure out who is and is not part of the family. That judgement is left to God. In the meantime we strive to do God's will today, and perhaps our example will bring others into full communion with the family. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Why is it better?

In today's gospel we see Martha and Mary, a very familiar story. Often we will talk about the need to imitate both and the need for proper balance. But it is not about balancing two equally valuable choices, the active and the contemplative. Jesus does say that Mary has chosen the better part.  To this, the Marthas in the group always say, "if we all followed Mary's example, we would starve."  

They miss the point. This gospel is not about the mundane practicalities. This gospel is addressing a deeper reality, the essence of love. 

The Greek language has four words for love. Martha is the example of philia. We can think of this a horizontal love, person to person, love between equals. It's Barney the dinosaur, "I love you, you love me..."

Mary is the example of agape (in Latin caritas). As St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, it is "the friendship of man for God", which unites us to God". It is that vertical love that reaches up toward God. As Jesus reminds us, this unity with God is the one thing that is needed. From it will flow everything else. 

Agape will always lead to philia. But philia does not necessarily lead to agape. Sometimes people reach philia and stop, they are good kind people. But that is not enough. To be part of the kingdom you have to have agape, love of God, the hunger for oneness with God. 

Martha is so close, literally, she is running all around God. Jesus is, after all, God. But she is too busy to stop and enter into a personal relationship with God. Mary has indeed chosen the proper  starting point. She sits in awesome silence in the presence of God. Will she at the appropriate time act? of course. But first she must love God. 

We tend to measure life and value by accomplishment. What did I get done today?  This gospel reminds us that action for the Christian must be grounded in a love of God; not some actions, but all our actions. God must be the starting point of every day of our life. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Part of something larger

Many of the things our parents said, and we thought were crazy, turn out to be true. One f those was that as we get older time passes more quickly. Now in my mid-fifties, weeks hardly exist, and months fly by as well. If times seems to excelerate as we get older, we can begin to imagine what time is like for God who is eternal. 

In the Gospel today we see how the Prophet Isaiah foretold what Jesus would do. St. Jerome said that he was more an evangelist than a prophet for just this reason. But he was 7 centuries before Jesus. What Isaiah prophesied, he would never live to see, at least not on earth. He was part of God's plan, but in a story arc that would span 7 centuries. 

Most of us want to see the answer to our prayer now. We might give God 7 day, or if we really stretch we might give him 7 months. But particularly when we feel we are unjustly suffering, we want our vindication NOW. Few of us are willing to accept that we may never see it in our lifetime on earth.  And yet time and again the Bible shows us that that is exactly how God works. Good always triumphs over evil, but the triumph may be generations even centuries away. 

Isaiah understood what we are sometimes afraid to embrace. If we give our lives over to God we become part of something that is immeasurablely bigger than ourselves or our short little life on earth. We become part of the Kingdom of God, a story arc that stretches from the first coming to the second coming of Christ, whenever that may be. Precisely how the little piece that is one of our indivual lives fits into the whole, we cannot know. Why some particular suffering we experience is necessary, we cannot see. Like a single drop of black paint on a large canvas, alone it has no beauty. But faith enables us to trust that God see the enormous masterpiece as a whole, and why both dark and light colors are essential. 

For our part, the best we can do is wake up each morning and try to do God's will this day. And if we are truly wise, we will catch glimpses of the Kingdom, the masterwork God is creating right this very moment. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Acts of God

In today's gospel Jesus is seen condemning entire town, each with the same formula:

For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in ...

They are being condemned not for something they have done, but for something they have failed to do. God has done mighty deed but they have failed to see them. 

Even in our own time how often do people look for God in the bad and not the good.  When the hurricane hit New Orleans, how many were calling it punishment from God? Even in law an "act of God" is an event with and unforeseen cause ( eg. earthquake, tornado, flood). Nothing good is a legal act of God. 

I think part of our problem is that if we see any human envolment we exclude the possibility that something is an act of God. We forget that as Christians we believe that the Holy Spirit that is God dwells in human beings and therefore can act in concert with human beings. 

In the Gospel entire towns a are condemned for not recognizing the marvelous things God has done in their midst. When we stand before God do we want to face that same condemnation. This sin is easy to avoid. All we have to do is look around. We don't have to look far to see God's marvelous deeds done in our midst.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Making room for the supernatural

The rectory where I live is beautiful. A year ago before the new pastor and I moved in, they painted it all, they put in all new carpet and furniture. They spent thousands making it look better. What they didn't do was look at the infrastructure: the plumbing, the electrical, the HVAC. Unfortunately this can be a metaphor for our own Christianity. 

Today we hit one of the most difficult passages in St. Matthew's gospel.

I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 

This seems to run contrary to how we like to think of the message of Jesus, all about love and family. And it is.

We like to think of Jesus as someone we can turn to in time of trouble, someone who has come to help us.  St. Matthew reminds us that Jesus did not come to make you a better person. He came to destroy. Jesus did not come to improve us but to replace us. In each of us Jesus wishes to destroy the old self and replace it with a new self. As Ezikiel reminds us he wants to take away our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh. He doesn't want to make your old life better, he wants to give you a new life. 

Most of us, deep down, want the impossible. We want both things. We want the new life and the old life. We want to hold on to our old self. We like our old comfortable stuff.  We know how it all works. Some of the old stuff is quite pleasurable. It makes us happy. We enjoy it. We want Jesus to come in and redecorate a little. He wants to gut the building and redo it all. And he wants to do it according his plans, not ours. 

When he had finished rebuilding us will we still love our family and friends? Of course. As a matter of fact we will love them better than we ever have. But they may not like us. We may set boundaries on people who to date have had none. We may speak out loud those truths that have been known for years, but gone unspoken. We may show real love, by challenging someone close to us to deal with a problem. 

But remember the first step is letting Jesus into the deepest part of us, and allowing him to rip out the old heart, the old self. And this is never a painless or easy process. He will show us things about our self that we do not wish to see. 

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Too often all we want Jesus and to do is help us with the first part, help us to find a happy comfortable natural life— which in the end we will lose. Jesus challenges us to intentionally lose that natural life, and here and now let him give us a supernatural life. 

Are we really ready to let Jesus in. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Embracing the sacred

As a gift from God, every human life is sacred from conception to natural death. The life and dignity of every person must be respected and protected at every stage and in every condition. The right to life is the first and most fundamental principle of human rights that leads Catholics to actively work for a world of greater respect for human life and greater commitment to justice and peace.

So says our Church. But how willing are we to truly embrace it?

All to often I will hear certain people try to narrow it from all human life to all innocent human life. Here we must distinguish innocent in the legal sense and innocent in the moral sense. 

Which of us is morally innocent?

From conception until baptism we carry original sin and after the age of reason personal sin. 

By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins. (CCC 1263)

So the infant from baptism until their first sin after the age of reason would be innocent. The person who just received absolution would be innocent until they sin again. But most of us cannot claim to be morally innocent. 

Thankfully the Church does not teach that only the innocent lives are sacred. Every human life even the life of the sinner is sacred. 

We see that sacredness most clearly manifest in those loved ones who mourn: the families of those killed and the families of the killers. Does the mother of a criminal feel less pain when her child dies? A parent's grief is the perhaps the most perfect reflection of  God who rains on the just and the unjust without distinction. 

Today in place of the usual morning prayer I prayed what we call the Office for the Dead for all the dead. 

Until we embrace the belief in the sacredness of every human life, we may never find a way out of the cycle of violence. We will continue to find excuses  for the inexcusable on all sides.  

What is required is an individual change of heart, one person at a time. Every single human life from conception until natural death is sacred. In the deepest part of our conscience we know this is true. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016


In today's first reading from the Book of Hosea we hear once more how despite all that God has done for his children, they continue to turn away. And yet God cannot bring himself to unleash his "fierce anger."  

Why because his heart is filled with pity.  The word Hosea uses comes from the verb nakham which means to sigh.  It is the sigh of the parent whose kids has done something stupid and dangerous. It is the sigh as you throw your arms around the child simultaneously relieved that they are safe, but still wanting to kill them for being so stupid. 

Ben those of us who are well into the second half of life, can still all to often be foolish children. Sometimes we wander off the path because we a easily distracted. Other times we make a headstrong choice to go our own way. The good news is that God's love remains unchanged, he does not unleash his blazing anger. And you have to love the answer to the question why. Why doesn't God unleash anger?

For I am God and not man

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Does the truth even matter?

In Matthew chapter 9 one sides sees miracles, the other the work of Satan.

He drives out demons by the prince of demons

Each sides witnesses the same events, but sees what corresponds to their already fixed opinion of Jesus. Neither was at that point in Matthew's Gospel able to see the Truth. Jesus is God, but one was certainly closer to the truth than the other. 

By shear providence I and my high school government teacher both live here in the Richmond area and I still run into him from time to time. I  am reminded of the things I learned so long ago about our country and how it should work. In those days public schools taught not only government and history, but civics. Pittsylvania County School a very traditional curriculum. 

We were taught that one of the bedrock principles that set our country above others was the presumption of innocence:

In America, a person is presumed innocent until they are found guilty in a court of law. 

A person had to be judged on the law and the facts. 

Today that presumption no longer exists. If anything, it is reversed. A person is presumed guilty until proven innocent. In a world where anyone can self-publish on the internet, the so-called court of public opinion has replaced the legal system. 

How many people writing about Hilary Clinton today have seen the evidence or even taken the time to read and understand the relevant federal statutes and precedent in order to make a reasoned argument? I certainly have not. We read what our favorite news outlets tell us and we judge the person guilty or innocent long before the matter ever reaches a court of law. And even when a person is not found guilt, or a guilty verdict is overturned by a higher court, we don't care very much. We have made our personal determination and we will not be swayed. 

Like the two groups in the gospel we see what we want to see. If we like the person, they could not possibly have done it. If we don't like them, they are guilty. It is not about law and facts; its about which side posts the most.

When non-believers follow the culture down such a path it is bad. When Americans who are also Christians behave in the same way it is scandalous. For Christians words like truth and justice are supposed to mean something. We are supposed to love our enemies. We are supposed to be in the world and not of the world. As Americans, principles like the presumption of innocence should not be empty words. 

The next four and a half months are going to be a real test of the Christianity of us all. The hateful speech and accusations from both sides are going to only intensify as election day draws nearer. We will all be tempted to become the Pharisees, interpreting the actions of those we don't like in the most negative way possible.  We cannot stop the vitriol but we don't have to participate in it. 

Whether one supports Donald or Hillary, we should all be able to see the humanity in each of them. Let us truly be Christian and find something to love in each of them. God does.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Step Two

Today we celebrate the signing the Declaration of Independence. We Virginians feel particularly proud thinking of the role that Jefferson played in the writing and approval process.  But what we can forget is that the Declaration did not make us a country, nor did the subsequent war, all they did was separate us from England. It was a great first step.

The other date which every Amercian ought to know is June 21, 1788, the date that the US Constitution was ratified by New Hampshire and The Untied States of America, the nation, was born. Here another Virginian must be remembered, John Marshall. Marshall understood what many did not. As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he understood that we could never be, as we say today, one nation under God, if each state could simply ignore those laws it did not like. He understood that without institutionalized unity there could. be no nation. It would take the better part of a century, a civil war, and the death of more than 600,000 Americans  to resolve this debate. 

For the Church that unity is also essential. That is why in the creed  one comes first even before holy. That is why in chapter 17 of John's Gospel Jesus prays "that they may be one, as we are one...that they may be brought to perfection as one"  In order to preserve her unity the Church also needed a constitution, not human words on paper, but a structure established by Christ himself. Jesus knew that  if the Church was going to survive it needed a structure that could survive the ages and assure the faithful transmission of His message. 

Most Catholics know we trace the role of bishops to the apostles, and the role of Pope to Peter. But many have never asked where the priests come in.  If you were at mass yesterday you heard how Jesus, in addition to the 12 chose another group, 70 or 72 (manuscripts vary).  This was in perfect continuity with what God did for Moses.  In the Book of Numbers we read how a warn out Moses, asked God for help in governing the complaining people, and God had Moeses choose 70 elders, on which God placed some of the Spirit he had given Moses. 

God is unchanging and so with his new covenant in addition to Peter and the other apostles, Jesus who is God repeated the choosing of elders to assist the apostles. The Greek word for elder is presbyter, the title to which we are ordained even today. Common English uses the word priest as the translation.  

Because the hierarchical constitution of the Church was given by Christ not even the Pope can change it. He can tinker around the edges. He could allow Latin Rite priests to marry, women to be deacons; there is a biblical foundation for that. But no human can alter the fundamental structure of the Church. That constitution is not ours to amend. 

Independence from English rule is a wonderful thing to celebrate. But we should not confuse that with the self-centered notion of independence so rampant today. Even less should we think that this notion of freedom void of responsibility toward others is Christian. The first thing the Bible teaches us about humans is that we were created to be one. 

As we celebrate our freedom let us also call to mind our responsibility and let us pray as a Church and a nation for unity. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Control that mouth

One of the most difficult commands in the Bible comes from Ephesians 4:29 where St. Paul commands us regarding speech.  He tells us what we are to say and what we are not to say.

On th positive side we are to say 
-good (Gk. agathos). 
-words for edification, words that build up
-words that a needed

On the negative side he tells us to never let go from our mouths words that are in Greek sapos. It comes from the verb sepo from which where we get words like septic, or sepsis. It means to putrefy, to rot.  

It is interesting that he doesn't use the verb speak, he uses the verb to let go or release. The image is that we have both kinds of words in our mouths. But we are only to let out the good ones, the ones that build up, the ones that people truly need. The rotten ones, the ones that tear down, the ones of no benefit to others. the ones no one needs to hear we should keep to ourselves. Just swallow them. Or better yet, don't let them form in your mouth. Stop them when they are just little thoughts. 

But St. Paul knows human nature, those septic words and thoughts are going to form at some point in all of us, first in the mind, then in the mouth. If we are Christians, we filter. We let out of our mouths only the good words, the ones needed to build up.  It takes incredible discipline. But there is no such thing as an undisciplined disciple. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

The truth about saints

Today we celebrate St. Junipero Serra y Ferrar, the Franciscan founder of the first of the Cakifornia missions who was canonized last year. Those who protested the canonization seem not to understand some basic truths of the faith. 

Firstly, moral sin, that sin which separates us from eternal life with God requires not only that the action be gravely wrong, but that the person knows it to be wrong, and freely chooses to do it. One could agree that his treatment of the native peoples was at times wrong, and simultaneously  say that it was probably not a sin because he did not understand it to be wrong. We should always be careful not to retroject 21st century standard onto persons of prior ages. In every generation we can only work with the information that we had. 

More importantly, we miss the point if we think that by declaring a person a saint, we are saying that they were without sin. Apart from Jesus and Mary (because of th unique gift given her) we are all sinners. Of course, Junipero Serra was a sinner and so are all of us, but we also hope to be saints like him one day. 

While we acknowledge his imperfection, today we celebrate not only the good that he did, but the good he has inspired and continues to inspire in others. We believe that by God's grace he stands with all the holy men and women around the throne of God, and we pray that we will have that same passion for spreading the Good News. 

Monday, June 27, 2016


This week we read for our first reading key passages from the book of the Prophet Amos.  Like all prophets his goal is to call the people of Israel back to God. What is interesting is his initial approach. He opens with a fierce attack on 6 foreign peoples. Then he attacks the Southern Kingodm of Judah.

His audience would have cheered his rant against Moab, Aram, Philistia, Tyre and even their Jewish brothers and sisters in Judah, because this was during the divivded kingdom.  In a truly brilliant maneuver he gets his audience cheering for God to punish the sins of all those people. You can imagine the people cheering Amos: "yeah! You tell 'em." 

Then Amos turns to his main topic. With the same language he used against "those people" he turns his critique on his own people, the people of Israel.  And the rest of the Book is focused on the sin of his people, the Northern Kingdom, Israel.

Centuries later, human nature remains the same. We are all comfortable critiquing foreigners. You can criticize any country in the Middle East, the Russians, the Germans, the French, or even the Brits, and you're safe.  But criticize America, and see how quickly people respond the way the people of Israel responded to Amos. Like the people of Israel in the time of Amos who believed that they were the chosen people, we just keep telling ourselves we are the greatest country in the world. Both statements are on some level true but it does not mean that we do not need to take a hard look at ourselves. 

This week as we read the Book of Amos, we need to remember that before we can remove the speck from someone else's eye, we must remove the plank from our own. This is not only true for individuals but for us as a people. Can we honestly look at our country/ our culture and be humble enough to admit where we are far from the path? Can we have the courage to hear the words of Amos addressed to us?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Unfit for service

The hardest course I have ever taken was not quantum mechanics, or differential equations. It was finger spelling at Gallaudet. It was not difficult to learn the alphabet or learn to spell. The hard part was watching. 

Whether we realize it or not during oral conversation our eyes move. We do not stare directly at the mouth of the person speaking.  When watching someone who is finger spelling entire sentences, you must stay focused. Cut your eyes away for a second and you just lost three letters. 

We Christians often talk about being "followers of Jesus" and today's gospel reminds us just how difficult that is. If we are followers, then Jesus is not walking beside us with his arm around us. He is ahead of us. And, if we are honest, Jesus is way ahead of us. And the road is filled with twists and turns. Most of all there are lots of side streets. If you have ever been to the Middle East or North Africa think of the souq, the overcrowded market. You get distracted by a vendor and the person you were following has disappeared. You took your eye off them for less than a minute, but now you are the one who is lost. 

Jesus delivers a harsh and hard message today.

No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God

To be a follower of Jesus is to keep our eyes fixed constantly on him and be constantly moving forward. It is the only direction that time moves. We are following Jesus through the souq of life, loud voices and shiny objects all around. And then there is our own innate tendency to look back over our shoulder at what was. And while we ruminate on the past, the present zips by and is gone. We took our eyes off Jesus, and suddenly we are standing there confused and lost because he is THE WAY. 

And of we are not really careful, we can go from ruminating to being absolutely stuck in the past. We declare some moment the golden age and we want to stay there. But if we are followers, we never stop.

Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head

Jesus isn't complaining; he's stating a fact. He is a man on a mission. He will rest when it is done. 
To be a follower we must also be constantly attentive to him. This does not mean constant busyness. Jesus is way ahead of any of us, and we are easily distracted. So we have to regularly stop and get our bearings, refocus on Jesus. 

It sounds really harsh for Jesus to declare that some people are unfit. But again he is simply stating a fact.  If we continue to look back we cannot move forward. 

The Sacrament of Penance (confession) is a great place for us to put the past to rest. Unfit need not be a permanent condition. We can turn around face forward, focus, and follow.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Not Seeing is believing

Sometimes we accept old sayings without actually thinking about them. Take for example "seeing is believing." It seems clear what it means, I'll believe it when I see it. But if you are a person of faith, it makes no sense to say it. For a person of faith, seeing is the opposite of believing. As the Letter of the Hebrews reminds us

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen 

Jesus goes even further when addressing St. Thomas,

Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed

Contrast St. Thomas with the unnamed centurion in today's gospel. Not only does the centurion believe so strongly that he does not need to see Jesus heal his servant, he does not need for Jesus to physically be present with the servant to heal. 

Lord, I am not worthy that you would enter under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed.

This is absolute faith in the Word of God incarnate, Jesus the Christ. 

And every time we participate in the Eucharist we are called to make the words of the centurion our own. We are both the servant in need of healing, and the centurion expressing absolute faith. 

Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed

At the consecration do we see the host and wine become the body and blood of Christ. No, and it is a good thing we don't. If we could see it, we would be Thomas who came to believe only because he saw. 

The person of faith is the centurion. 

There are many moments in life when we cannot see or feel the presence of God in our lives, times when the only thing our senses and feelings register is a great big nothing, a divine absence. Our natural response is to think of this as a bad thing. In reality, these times are good for us. For it is in those moments that we are most truly people of faith.