Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Be careful

In the first reading today Nathan delivers the great prophecy to David.

Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.

Imgaine the pride that David must have felt. But he had no idea what it really meant. Just as David had decided God needed a temple and God responded

In all my wanderings everywhere among the children of Israel,did I ever utter a word to any one of the judgeswhom I charged to tend my people Israel, to ask:Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’

So the temple and the kingdom and the occupant of the throne whose kingdom would last forever would not be what David imagined. David will disgrace his office through adultery and murder. The temple built by human hands will be destroyed.

God did not need David to build a temple for him. His temple would be the body of Christ. His kingdom would be the Kingdom of God. Christ the King would be the one to occupy the throne forever.

We should all take great care when looking for signs from God. Particularly when the signs we believe we see are giving us what we most desire. How often does Jesus condemn people for looking for signs?

A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! Mt 12

So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” Jn 4

These are but two examples. And yet, how how easily can any of us get sucked into that game. We should remember the words of Jesus to Thomas

blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed

Truth be told, even if God were to send us prophecy as he did, we might like David misunderstand it. Better for us to simply trust without signs and prophecies, and walk step by step striving to do God's will.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The not so good news

Today we celebrate the man who did more to shape our faith than anyone but Jesus. Today we celebrate the conversation of St. Paul. Saul, was persecuting Christians when the light appeared and he heard a voice. The scriptures tell us that the others saw the light but did not hear the voice. Had we been them, on the road to Damascus, we might well have dismissed Saul's condition as "heat stroke" and hallucinations. But Saul heeded the voice and became Paul, apostle to the Gentiles. But what if he hadn't.

In today's gospel we hear Jesus tell the Eleven,

Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. (Mk 16:15)

But there is a part of the gospel most of us, I dare say, are uncomfortable with.

We believe that Gid wills the salvation of all. We believe that God makes provision for the salvation of those who "through no fault of their own" have no chance to hear the gospel. But regrading those who know the gospel and turn their back on it Jesus is clear. There are two groups of hearers according to Mk. 16:16.

The ones who hear and believe and those who hear and chose to remain unbekieving (apistesas).

The first group are saved the second condemned. We can ignore or try to wish it away all day long, but it doesn't undo the fact that this is a part of what Jesus taught. A person who knows the gospel and chooses to rejected it is condemned. The verb katakrino is a legal term. It literally means "to judge against" as opposed to a judgement in favor.

We would like to not think about this. The idea that our friends who have rejected their faith might not be in heaven with us is something we would just as soon ignore. We feel no urgency to bring them back to the faith. We tell ourselves the lie that as long as they are nice, whatever that means, God will let them in. You may choose to believe that. But that is not what Jesus taught.

Was Jesus wrong? If you are a Christian of any stripe you believe one thing for sure, Jesus is God, the second person of the trinity. And if that is true how can you dismiss any part of his teaching. Yes, it is incredibly uncomfortable.

Oh this Feast of the Conversation of St. Paul, perhaps each of us need to take more seriously the question of how do we reach out to the fallen away. What can we do to bring them back? Mark 16:16 is uncomfortable, but perhaps we need discomfort to spur us to action.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

What does it mean to lead?

Today we read in Mark's gospel the first explanation given for why anyone would try to kill Jesus. In chapter 3, St. Mark tells us that after Jesus heals a man's crippled hand.

The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.

This is a strange alliance, to say the least. Herod was installed by the Roman Empire and understood by all Jews to be a puppet a of the pagans. This alliance of Pharisees and was based solely on the common threat to their power, Jesus.

Here we seen the difference between power and authority. Herod's authority is grounded in force and fear.  People do as he commands not out of love or respect but because the are afraid not to.

In Jesus we see the model for true leadership.  As St. Mark already told us in chapter 1,

Jesus taught them like one with authority (exousia). 

Does Jesus have power? Of course, more power than anyone could imagine, but he does not use it to compel obedience. People listen to his words and recognize the authority in them.  People choose to follow.

There are those who would argue that America needs to conquer our enemies by instilling fear, a "Don't mess with us" foreign policy.  History shows that that kind of leadership always fails. It can work for a time, but only a brief time. Eventually people overcome their fear.

Jesus teaches. He convinces not coerces people to follow his lead. And 2000 years later people are still following him because they are convinced. He is the perfect model of leadership.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

One Interpreter

Today's readings at first glance centers on David.  In fact, the center is, as always, Jesus. 
Yesterday I wrote of the role of the Church as teacher (magister) and interpreter of the Scriptures. Today we see another import aspect of the proper interpretation of the word of God, the unity of scripture.  

In the gospel Jesus's argument  with the Pharisees is ostensible about whether or not it is lawful to pick the grains and eat them on the Sabbath, but this is only on the surface. Underneath is a much more import debate. Who is the proper interpreter of the Law, the Pharisees or Jesus?

As Christians, we would say Jesus.  Jesus is the best interpreter of the law because he was the giver of the law. He is God and was there from before the creation of the universe.  As so for us, every part of scripture must be examined in light of the gospel. And the Old Testament must be examined first in it's context, then in the light of the Gospel, the words and actions of Jesus. 

Again we come back to the question, how do I know the will of God. Yes, we pray for guidance. But we also recall the words of the prophet Jeremiah, 
When I found your words, I devoured them; your words were my joy, the happiness of my heart, Because I bear your name, LORD, God of hosts.

Through baptism we bear the name in a way Jeremiah could never imagine. And so we devour in a unique way the gospels.  How do I know the will of God? Simple. Always and everywhere I imitate God made man, Jesus Christ.

Monday, January 18, 2016

How we are all Islamic

In the last few years beating up on Islam has become all too common. As Catholics we should be particularly sensitive, given the fact that we were in the 19th century victims of the same prejudices.

In the first reading today we hear Samuel's condemnation of Saul for allowing his men to loot the conquered people. Saul's defense is that the were going of use the animals for sacrifice to God—a great rationalization.

Samuel does not say sacrifice is bad or unnessary simply that obedience is more important.

Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams.

The English word obedience comes from two Latin words ob- toward, and audire- to hear. The image is one of turning your ear toward someone to listen closely. The someone of course is God. We are called to live our lives constantly listening to God.

The second word from Samuel is where an Arabic lesson is in order. When a Christian prays in Arabic the word for God is Allah. Is is not the name of some Moslem God. And I would hope we can all agree that God is the greatest. (الله اكبر) Most important for today's reading, the word for submission is Islam(الاسلام). More specifically Isalm is submission to the will of God.

Samuel today is reminding us that a life of faith is a two step process. First we listen then we submit to the will of God.

Our debate is not around the questions of who is God, what should we call God, is God great, or should we seek always to submit and do the will of God. On all of those questions we agree. To that degree we are all islamic, believers in submission to God's will.

The point of divergence is on one question: How can we know the will of God?

For us as Catholics, God's public revelation (addressed to all people of all times) closed with the Old and New Testament, and the custodians of the proper interpretation of that revelation is the magisterium of the Church.

Does God speak to the individual? Of course.

But before I tell myself that any action is God's will I must ask does it conform to the gospel, and the two millennia of Church teaching? The question is never can I find a Bible verse to justify it? We can always do that.

God gave us the magisterium of the Church to protect her from radical misinterpretation of his word. Has it always worked perfectly? No. But we trust that when we stray the Holy Spirit is there to put us back on course.

True believers in Islam have the right idea, search for and submit to the will of God. Unfortunately, there are a few truly evil voices claiming to know God's will and leading people astray.

Perhaps our prayer should be that every one of our Islamic brothers and sister be given the wisdom to properly discern the will of God. May we all pray that each of us of every faith heed the words of Samuel.



Sunday, January 3, 2016

A Gift for the Child

In many countries today, not Christmas, is the day when presents are exchanged, as we recall the visit of the Magi who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  We raises the question, what will we give.

In the early Church long before there were divisions Christians sought a way to give their lives totally in imitation of Jesus, and so the hermetical/monastic life was born. Religious, as we call them today, continue to make that total donation of self through the vows of poverty (all that I own), chastity (my most intimate self), and obedience (my will). It is this total donation of self that sets them apart from the rest of us.  Even secular clergy, like myself, maintain ownership belongs. My clothes, my car, etc. are all mine to with as I will. This is why the Church still considers the calling to the religious life a hight calling.

Today we pray for all those who are discerning whether to make that great leap of faith and enter religious life. We pray that men and women will have the courage to make this total donation of self to God.

But what about the rest of us.  How will we give ourselves more fully on this Solemnity of the Epiphany?  Firstly, I would suggest that each of us should in some manageable way dedicate ourself more to prayer and meditation. I say manageable because this is the time of year when people make grand unrealistic new year's resolutions that fall apart by March.

Secondly, the most valuable gift you can offer is your time.  I know of no parish that has too many volunteers. In most parishes the same small group of people end up doing everything. Most of us do not have cofres of gold, frankincense, and myrrh; but we have our lives, our time, our talents given to us by God. In imitation of the magi, perhaps it is time for us to take ourselves to our local church kneel before the king and offer up what we have.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Time before Division

We can become so accustomed to our current situation that we can forget that it was not always thus, nor is it what should be. John's Gospel tells us that at the center of Jesus's prayer before his crucifixion was he petition that the Church would continue to be one. The fracture that we see today into an almost countless array of "denominations" and even some who claim to be "non-denominational" is not what Jesus intended.

The saints we remember today Basil and Gregory take us back to a time when we were actually "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." The Cappadocian Fathers as they are collectively known: Basil of Caesarea, his younger brother Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nanzianzus (Bishop of Constantinople), remind us of the years when Christian Theology grew from a mere off-shoot of Judaism into the Christianity that would spread around the world.

The Trinity, the Creed, monastic life, and so much more was shaped by these men from the area of modern day Turkey where St. Paul carried out much of his missionary activity.  These three could take on the intellectuals of their time and argue the truth of the Christian Faith.

They also remind us that for us to properly understand our faith, it is not enough of us to simply read the Bible. We need also to read the writings of the Fathers of the Church, so that we might understand, and properly interpret what we read. We must ask not only what does the Bible say (chapter and verse) but how did the early Christians understand it. What did those closest to the writers believe it meant.Otherwise, we run the risk of finding in the Bible only what we want it to say, and not what it says that challenges our way of thinking.

As we start this new year, as we remember Sts. Basil and Gregory, let us pray that in this Year of Mercy, the Church will move closer to the unity that Christ intended and that each of us will commit ourselves to a deeper understanding of our faith.

Friday, January 1, 2016

49th World Day of Peace

Today we not only celebrate the Octave of Christmas, and Mary the Mother of God, but today is also the 49th World Day of Peace. Pope Francis proclaimed the theme as "overcome indifference and win peace."

The first part is hard for us to hear but true. One of the great myths that is constantly proclaimed his how much money we give other countries. About 1% of the US Budget is non-military/economic aid. But it is not all about money.

Indifference is a lack of concern.  Justin Bieber or any Karidasian gets more news coverage than the suffering of people on the entire continent of Africa.  And as for the Middle East, except for the concern over who might attack us, what do we really care?  How much do we really care about the number of Muslims killed by ISIS?

These are harsh question, but on this first day of the New Year the Holy Father challenges each of us to look into our hearts focused specifically on that particular sin of omission called indifference. How much does my genuine concern extend beyond myself, my friends, my city, my country?

There was an old bumper sticker "If you want peace, work for justice." Today we have to one step further back, "If you want peace, overcome indifference"