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.