Sunday, February 28, 2016

Three simple words

The first reading today takes us back to he call of Moses. The story tells us that Moses was being the good shepherd, not to a flock that was his, but to the flock of his father-in-law. The ancient rabbis reminds us that God never gives an exalted position to someone until they have proven themselves in a lowly one. 

In a world in which people worshiped many gods, God reveal which one he is in three simple Hebrew words, ehyeh asher ehyeh.  We translate it, I am who I am. The problem is that our thought patterns are still, whether we know it or not, rooted in Greek philosophy. We hear "I am" and we think existence, being, "To be or not to be", or "I think therefore I am.". But this is not the Greek of the New Testament. It is Hebrew, Semitic not western thinking. 

The purpose of the word used here is not to say "I exist."  In this acclamation, God proclaims his powerful active presence. He is proclaiming himself to be the God who was with Abrahsm, with Issac and with Jacob. He is not a far off God; he is present. He does not passively watch; he will be constantly at work in their midst.  

God tell the people of Israel that he will save them, but he does not reveal how.  They must trust him with that. 

For us as Christians the ultimate salvation/liberation will be carried out through another good shepherd, Jesus Christ. God will also reveal that the constant active presence since the dawn of creation was, is and always will be the third person of a trinity, the Holy Spirit. 

The same God who revealed a bit of himself through a burning bush to Moses, at a later time revealed himself fully in Jesus. 

The same God who has been constantly present and active over all these years, is still present and active today. Do we have the eyes of faith to see it? Do we recognize his presence with us? Do we acknowledge and thank him for his action?

Three simple words spoken to Moses remain the foundation of our faith.  May we have the grace to believe. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

More than halfway

We often think that we are doing our part if we are willing to meet a person halfway. But are we? 

In today's Gospel we have one of the most famous stories, the prodigal son. What we may overlook in the story is the fact while the son begins the trip home, it is the father who runs out to meet him. 

While he was still a long way off,  his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

It s worth noting that the son is no where near. The father catches sight of him while he is still a long way off. The father does not wait for the son to come and ask forgiveness. The phrase that often gets translated "embraced him" literally means "he fell on his neck". Thr father is the out of breath runner who falls with his arms around his son's neck. 

Forgiveness is not the last step in the process of conversion.  The son is still a long way from where he needs to be, literally and figuratively. The forgiveness helps to bring about the conversion.  

Each of us should ask ourselves, when have I ever imitated this father. When have I ever been the one who ran out to forgive someone who has hurt me, while they are still a long way off? Can I think of a single name?

If not, it's never too late to start. 

Forgiveness is a gift not a prize. It is freely given, it is not earned or won. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

Are we really that shallow?

Yesterday the Pope said, a person who is into building walls not bridge's isn't Christian. Was he suggesting that there someone should build a literal, physical bridge to Mexico? Of course not.

The Pope took  an all too mundane political question, and elevated it to a theological metaphor. Christians build bridges not walls.  This has been a central theme of his pontificate. He has been and will continue to a be a person who looks for every possible opportunity to unite rather than divide.

He was not speaking on the subject of national defense. He was not saying a nation does not have a right to secure borders.

George Will once observed that the largest growth industry in America is the manufacture of synthetic indignation, and the response to the Pope's comment is a perfect example.  The pundits and politicians who are railing, " How dare the Pope say Donald Trump is not a good Christian?" cannot be as shallow as they pretend to be.  They know very well what the Pope was saying, but that doesn't make headlines.

We are in the season of Lent, a time when we are all called to acknowledge the ways in which we are not good Christians. We all fall short of the mark.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The path to holiness

As I talk to those who have turned away from religion what they seem to be turned off by are those within the Church who have confused holiness with piety. After Vatican Ii in far too many parishes in thr US piety was scoffed at as some outdated relic from a bygone era. Lately the younger generation of Catholics have rediscovered many of the traditional forms of piety. The problem seems to be a disconnect between piety and true holiness. The missing link — conversion, a real change of life.

In today's gospel we hear the famous passage from Matthew about the final judgement.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,I was thirsty and you gave me drink,a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’...Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.

It is the basis for what is called the "preferential option for the poor." St. John Paul II wrote eloquently about the required conversion in Centesimus Annus:

Justice will never be fully attained unless people see in the poor person, who is asking for help in order to survive, not an annoyance or a burden, but an opportunity for showing kindness and a chance for greater enrichment. Only such an awareness can give the courage needed to face the risk and the change involved in every authentic attempt to come to the aid of another. It is not merely a matter of "giving from one's surplus", but of helping entire peoples which are presently excluded or marginalized to enter into the sphere of economic and human development. For this to happen, it is not enough to draw on the surplus goods which in fact our world abundantly produces; it requires above all a change of life-styles, of models of production and consumption, and of the established structures of power which today govern societies."

Lent is a time filled with traditional prayer and piety. It is a great time to pray the stations of the cross, or simply sit in adoration before the blessed sacrament. But today's gospel reminds us that all such actions must always be accompanied by an openness of heart, a willingness to allow God to challenge every aspect of our lifestyle our politics, our world view. How much are any of us willing to truly put the poor ahead of ourselves.

We are all called to holiness. But the road to holiness is never painless. Perhaps it is time for each of us to honestly examine our attitudes toward those on the margins. If we are honest, we may not like what we find in our own hearts.

Friday, February 12, 2016

What's the point?

Now that my life has settled down, the blog is back.

Today is the first Friday of Lent, and it is good to see that even the fast food places are still recognizing that Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent. Take note of all the fish sandwich commercials.  But what's the point? Why do we even need to do these kinds of things.

The answer is simple. We need abstinence and other forms of mortification because we are bodily creatures.  We are not angels. We are not purely spiritual beings. Nor are we purely material, reducible to biochemistry. We are composites: body and spirit.

Scripture reading, prayer, mediation and the grace of sacraments are great ways of transforming the spirit. But that is only half the story.

The catechism speaks of two conversions. The first is at baptism. But even after baptism there remains in each of us the inclination to sin. And so there must be what is called "second conversion."

 This second conversion is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who, "clasping sinners to her bosom, (is) at once holy and always in need of purification, (and) follows constantly the path of penance and renewal."This endeavor of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a "contrite heart," drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first.

Our second conversion is the struggle that goes on throughout our earthly life.  It involves soul and body, prayer and mortification of the body. The  abstinence from meat that the Church asks us to observe during Lent is the minimum.

Each day during the Lenten Season we are called to involve our entire self (body and soul) in penance, second conversion. Not eating meat may seem an arbitrary and insignificant gesture. But as simple as it is, when combined with prayer it can have a powerful effect, and leading us ever closer to our ultimate goal.