Saturday, December 23, 2017

Reconciliation of families

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and families will be gathering some to go to Church, for dinners, and some will open presents. But there will also be those missing family members, not just those separated by war or work, but those separated by problems, those who are in some way astanged, isolated. 

On this last full day of Advent, The Prophet Elijah speaks of the sending of a Messenger. And the purpose of his message is:
To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.

The original messenger was of course St. John the Baptist,  who came preaching a message to reconcile us all to God, but also, as Elijah points out, to reconcile us to one another, to reconcile families. 

Now we are called to be those messengers. No, I am not suggesting that one phone call can magically heal years of separation. But I am suggesting that as Christians we have a duty to at least take a first step. Whether it’s text, call or email, there is still time to in some way reach out to those who find themselves on the periphery of the gatherings of families and friends. It may be a bit awkward, but that’s ok too. 

At our baptism we are all baptized into Christ (priest, prophet, and king) today our hearts are turned to Elijah and his message of reconciliation. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Holy Wisdom

While today is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday on which the color rose is used to symbolize rejoicing, this year it is also the first day of the O Antiphons which are sung on the last seven days of Advent. These ancient antiphons focus our attention on images for the messiah taken from the Prophet Isaiah. The last, the one to be sung on December 24th is the most famous, Emmanuel. 

Today we begin with wisdom:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, Who came out of the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come and teach us the way of prudence.

Khakam in Hebrew, Sapientia in Latin or Sophia in Greek, the concept of wisdom is not particular to Christianity. But today’s antiphon reminds us that there is a particularly Christian understanding of wisdom. For us Christians, wisdom is not something which comes to you simply by virtue of getting old. While there is the saying “with age comes wisdom”,  there is also the saying “there’s no for like an old fool.”

The wisdom which Isaiah prophesied is not a thing it is a person. The wisdom of God which has come forth is the Messiah, the word made flesh. Knowledge we can acquire from reading and listenin; true wisdom, Holy Wisdom, comes only as a free gift of God, it comes from grace. It comes from prayer and the reception of the sacraments, instruments of grace. 

How do we know we are growing in wisdom? The antiphon links it to another virtue, the “way of prudence.”  As we look at our day to day choices, do we see in our choosing signs of prudence? Do we thoughtfully act or do we react?

Prudence is understood to be the mother of all other virtues. It is the ability to choose the right course of action, often in spite of our feelings at that moment. It is more than a general desire to do good. For the Christian, prudence is the ability to apply our Christian principles to the concrete situation in front of us. When it becomes habit we call that virtue. 

It is not easy for us to stay on, what the antiphon calls the via prudentiae, the path of prudence. We know the priciples when we are sitting in church. But then when we are at home or at work, our feelings or expediency, or profit or promotion get in the way. 

Today, and perhaps for these last seven days of Advent, it would be a good time to pray for the gift of wisdom, that we may daily know and choose the right path. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

What about the others

Today’s gospel is the familiar story of the friends whonlower the paralyzed man through the roof. At first glance it is a beautiful story about the power of intercession. Jesus sees the faith of the friends and cures the paralyzed man. 

But what about the other characters in the story? The reason they have to open the roof is that even the friends with all their faith can’t get past the crowd   .  One individual would be no problem but when the individuals come together and form a crowd, it is too much to handle. 

Advent, like Lent,  is a time to examine our lives. In particular, we are called to ask how prepared we are for the second coming of Christ.

 Like the friends, if you are reading this, you are probably already a person  of faith. But all of could draw closer to Christ. So we must ask: Is there a “crowd” in my life? The crowd can be people but can also be things, things that so occupy our attention that there is little time for Jesus. 

As we prepare the way of the Lord in Advent, perhaps we can take a few minutes to clearly identify the crowd in our lives, so that we do not have to climb on the roof, we can thin out the crowd that stands between us and Jesus so we can enter his house with a pure heart, and be ready to receive him.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Starting Over

Today we begin our reading of the Gospel of Mark, the shortest and, some would argue, the oldest of the gospels. 
He opens quote the prophets, “Behold, I send my messenger ahead of you...”
Messenger in Greek is “angelos”, from which we get the word angel.  In fact, the word is used in two ways. 
Yes, we do believe in the spiritual beings we call angels and they are in fact messengers. But we also believe that humans can serve as angels/messengers in the second sense of the word. 
As Christians, we are all called to be angels in that sense. We are called to be the messengers who go before the Lord’s second coming.  
Being angels does not simply mean we buy Christmas presents for poor children once a year. Being angels in this sense is meant to be a way of life, 24/7/365. That is the great struggle.
Last week we began not only Advent, but we began a new liturgical year. Perhaps as we start this new liturgical year, we can begin where St. Mark begins. We can focus on becoming the angels/messengers of the gospel that we are meant to be.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Disappointment or Hope

Here in Richmond we are sill without a bishop, and it has been fascinating over the last few months to read and listen as we all express our wish list regarding the new Bishop of Richmond. Even Jesus himself couldn’t fulfill everyone’s list of hopes and in some cases demands. What we can be guaranteed is that the Pope will name a new bishop who is a fragile, sinful human being like all of his predecessors. In short, the new bishop will be just like all of us. 

In today’s gospel Jesus instructs us that

if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.

We Christians are quick to say, “We are all sinner”, and yet we want to pretend that our leaders are not. We want to pretend that our Popes, bishops, or pastors are somehow immune from the normal human experience. Some of the young ones who seek to build their “careers,” expend great amounts of energy on the appearance of sinkessness And then, when their fragility comes to light we are at least disappointed and at most scandalized. 

This is not to say, that we should simply except whatever behavior comes. It is important to note that today’s gospel does not say that we are to forgive the unrepentant. Elsewhere we are told the process for dealing with them which may include what we call excommunication (“treat them as you would a tax collector”). 

Today’s gospel reflects Jesus’s perfect understanding of human nature. His understanding that people can change but it does not happen in an instant. The    truly repentant person may have sincere contrition, and may with a true intention to change confess their sin and ask for forgiveness, and then fall into the sin multiple times before, with the help of God’s grace they are able to overcome the sin. And as often as they pick themselves up and start over we are required to forgive, in the same way we hope to be forgiven. 

Pope Francis has more than once, and to the chagrin of some, said of himself, “I am a sinner.”  There are not a few who find this pope too human. The fact that we pray in a particular way at every mass for the Pope, the bishops, and all the clergy is not a mere formality. Our Church has always recognized that our leaders stand in need of prayer.  When we speak of papal infallibility it is only in connection with certain matters of faith and morals, it is not in regard to sinlessness. Jesus and Mary are the only two who can claim that title. 

Not a one of the original twelve was perfect. The gospels do not even attempt to gloss over their flaws. St. Paul boasts of his frailty as a basis for his utter dependence on grace.  

Every week around the world, sadly, there are people who walk away from their church because they didn’t like something their pastor said or did. And often they are justified in feeling offended because the pastor did something stupid. But walking away is not the Christian response. The Church never walks away from ome of its members and we never walk away from the Church. We forgive and we keep moving forward toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Invited to the banquet, sorta

In today’s gospel the pharisees are told,

when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind

It has been 2000 years, and while the poor may have achieved full participation, in far too much of our church the disabled still enjoy only a sort of invitation. 

Here in the Diocese of Richmond we have begun preparations to celebrate our 200th anniversary. And in those 200 years, I am the only person with a visible disability ever ordained to the priesthood. Since then we have imported a blind priest. That’s two in 200 years. This is in large part due to the fact that until St. John Paul II promulgated the current code of canon law, those with “corporal” disabilities were irregular for orders ex defectu, by reason of defect. The law was based in a focus on Jesus as the lamb without spot or blemish. 

Now before anyone’s screams about the Church being antiquated, we should remember that the ADA was not passed by Congress and signed into law until 1990, seven years after the Church changed its law, and religious organizations are still exempt. 

Sadly, one is hard pressed to find a Church, Catholic or Protestant, with a Pastor who has a disability. You can become disabled due to war, old age or infirmity; but if you are born with a disability, unless you can entertain like Stevie Wonder you are likely to be disuaded long before you reach the doors of a seminary or get ordained. 

It starts at the local level. . Look around your church/parish. How many people with disabilities are involved in ministries or much less leadership? At best many parishes will have a special mass once a year at which the disabled are allowed to participate. Imagine if we did that with a racial or ethnic group.

In some ways all forms of discrimination are harder to confront in the 21st century. They  tend to be more subtle, and wrapped in plausible deniability, so that if someone complains they are accused of being hyper-sensitive. And if that doesn’t shut them down those who discriminate move to the indignation attack, “How dare you accuse me of discrimination?”  And yes, sometimes it is so deeply engrained in a culture or a person that it can be almost subconscious. 

At my age I have learned to laugh at some of it because of the ignorance it represents. And personally, I see no great benefit in spending energy getting worked up over the use of “crippled” or “lame” in the lectionary. The greater issues are things like equal dignity, opportunity/pay. 

As Christians we can and should do better. We should be better than the surrounding culture not simply reflect it. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Personal Law

I cannot hear today’s gospel with the line “call no one on earth father...” without flashing back to childhood and hearing the voice of preachers attacking the Catholic Church. They never saw the logical problem with them condemn Catholics and yet calling the man married to their mother “father.”  After all the text says “call no one.”  As I got older I realized the text was merely being used as an excuse to attack Catholics. 

 No less ridiculous are those who try and find in this gospel an attack on rules, as if they believe all we should say is “Love one another” and a Church should not have all those rules. Even Catholics fall into this without realizing how silly it is. 

Firstly there is the textuaL problem. Jesus says the opposite. He commands the people to do everything the scribes and the Pharisees tell them. What he tells them not to do is follow their example. 

Second and more importantly, there seems to be this erroneous notion that “rules and regulations” are bad. Truth is: every person has them.  Even the people who say they hate rules has them. If you want to know what your rules are, ask what makes you angry. When we get angry with others it is usually because they have violated some rule of ours, our personal law. We all have one. 

Some rules are spoken and some are unspoken. With married couples the conflict often is cuase by conflicting rules. If one has the rule, “You pay bills on time” and the other does not there is going to be a problem. 

In raising children, parents often have to repeat the rules over and over. The hope is that in time the rules become internalized. When they are so internalize we don’t have to think about it, we call it habit. 

Harmonious relationship are not those without rules, but those in which the rules are agreed upon and internalized, whether we are taking about children playing together, a team of co-workers, a family, or a Church. The goal is not to live without rules but to make sure that our personal law and our communal laws, conform to the law of God. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Location, location, location

We have of course all heard the expression with regard to business, but we are also well of it with regard to events. 

It is easy for us to read in the gospel how we should not seek places of honor, but in real life we become products of our culture. Which of us does not feel the sting if we are told to, as the expression goes, “sit in the back of the bus?”  Where we are seated is a statement about our worth. And even though we know better and  without thinking, even churches can fall into this behavior. Someone recently read me something from a church fund-raising brochure that promised special seating to larger donors. I’m sure the person who wrote it didn’t even realize the irony of a church organization offering to sell places of honor. Why do we do it? Because it works. Rare is the person, even the Christian, who is willing to give and receive absolutely nothing in return. 

And yet, that is exactly what Jesus did. The story of the passion is the story of total self-sacrifice with no personal gain. It is the perfect expression of charity. 

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point felt unappreciated.In those moments in life when we feel unappreciated or at least under-appreciated, how do we respond? There are of course the normal human emotional responses. But the gospel reminds us that when those feeling arise in us, we are called as followers of Christ to rise above them. Few of the saints who we now celebrate were celebrated during their earthly life. Many were ridiculed even by church leaders. They remained faithful to their mission with no earthly reward in sight. And so we are all called to be. 

If we want true peace, the peace of Christ, then we must abandon all desire for human recognition or reward, and strive only for what is above. 
Location, location, location. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Another Form of Greed

Most of us, when we think of greed, we think of the accumulation of money, and we are quick to absolve ourselves of that particular vice. None of us wants to think of ourselves as either rich or greedy. The man who piles up wealth for himself in today’s gospel is far removed from us. 

But greed can take many forms and use many doors to weasel its way into our lives. Somehow, it seems, over the last few years greed has managed to subvert patriotism. Patriotism is a natural and virtuous thing and any of us who have had the opportunity to travel much can’t help but return home thankful for the many blessings we have received. But patriotism like any other good thing can become distorted by sin. 

Greed is an inordinate longing for the unnecessary. When we fall prey to greed, in its simplest form, we place what we want ahead of what others need. Greed is the antithesis of the instruction we receive from St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, “regard others as more important than yourselves.”(2:3) When greed creeps in, legitimate patriotism is transformed into what President Bush recently described as “nativism”,us above all.

We tell ourselves that it isn’t greed by convincing ourselves that we are entitled to a certain life, for many this is the romanticized America of the 1950’s. 

As Christians we must be very careful. We must fearlessly examine our consciences for any and all signs of the presence of greed in our hearts. Greed loves to his behind love: love of family, love of country. The good news is that with the grace of God we can root it out. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

The only acceptable slavery

Today the Church begins her reading of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans. And the first words alone are worth reflection for all of of.  He introduces himself as Paul, slave of Jesus Christ - not follower, friend or brother; but slave. 

If we examine the Greek word for slave, we discover that it comes from the verb to bind. It is the paradox of the Gospel.  True freedom only comes from surrendering ourselves to Jesus and allowing ourselves to be bound by Him, to be bound to Him.

Of course this means that the opposite is also true. If we search for freedom as the world defines it (the ability to do what we want), the we end of in other kinds of slavery, most commonly slavery to our feelings. We begin to loose the freedom that is characteristic of humans, and begin to act more like animals. We react to stimuli. One of the best examples is the entry of the verb " to troll."  To troll someone on the internet refers to intentionally posting something offensive or provocative with the goal of eliciting a response.  People who are free in the true sense can't be trolled.  People who are free are not slaves to their phones. 

St. Paul who declares himself a slave in his opening today, is the same person who elsewhere proclaims that he has learned to be content in any circumstance. St Paul is bound so tightly to Jesus that he is not tossed around by life, by circumstance, by his emotions. He is free to think, to choose, to act. His true humanity shines forth because he is a slave.

The difficulty is that this surrender is not something done once. The surrender to Jesus Christ must be constantly renenewed by each of us. Because of original sin, the urge to pull away is strong in all of us, the urge toward so-called independence. This is where prayer comes in. It is in the quiet time alone with that we can renew our surrender, check the bindings, allow the Holy Spirit to pull them tight. Even just a few moments here and there throughout the day can help us remain tightly bound. 

Perhaps today is a good time for each of us to examine our lives for signs of slavery. Are we slaves to our work, our feelings, our technology; or are we, like Paul, slaves of Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Another kind of conversion

At the end of today’s gospel reference is made to those who did not change their mind. In fact, the text suggest a more nuanced change. The word used in Matthew’s gospel is not about a general change of mind (meta-noia) , but change of what you care about (meta-melo). This, of course, calls us to ask ourselves: what are the things I truly care about? And, how is the list of things I care about different for the lists of people who are not Christian or religious.?  

St. Paul gives us some important guidance in the matter in the second reading..

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.

Which of us is really willing to consider others more important than ourselves? When we are having the debates of our day about taxes, immigration, the economy or eveen civil war statues; how many Christians are willing to put others’ interests ahead of their own?  All too often, we are indistinguishable from society in general. We get sucked into asking the same self question. How does this benefit me and mine?

Because or original sin, we all have that tendency to turn inward, to look to the self. The Gospel challenges us to turn outward to look to God, to look toward the needs and concerns of others. Today we are reminded that it is not enough to say, “I consider that person my equal.” To be Christian, I am required to take the extra step, and consider that person more important than me. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

The gift of deafness

Tucked into today’s gospel is a command that can easily be overlooked. While we are focused on not hiding the light, the well known part of today’s gospel we can miss the simple command

Be careful how you hear.

Like many people I took normal hearing for gratntd. Even though I had worked with deaf people over the years, I now see that I had no real appreciation for the challenges.  For example, in my ignorance I thought that deafness meant living in silence. The constant roar of tenitis in my deaf ear means my world is never quiet. And I can also look back now and see how I did not use the gift wisely. 

The simple truth is that we human beings cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. This often makes it hard for us to listen, to truly hear what another person is saying. We listen up to a point, and then an idea pops into our heads, perhaps a response or a reaction to what the person is saying. The minute we turn our attention to that idea, we are no longer listening. We may have enough self control not to interrupt, but that does not mean we are listening. 

It has been less than four months but I can already begin to see how joining in world of the Single-Sided Deaf (as it is called) has been a gift. It has forced me to pay attention. Even with the hearing-aids I have to focus if I am going to hear what someone else is saying. If my attention wanders, I lose the words. But this is not a bad thing at all. It forces me to listen, then process, then respond.  As I see it, it cannot but make me a better person, and certainly a better priest. 

Even partial hearing is a tremendous gift that we should never take for granted. Like all gifts from God, it uses be used with the greatest care. Today’s gospel offers each of us the opportunity to pay attention throughout this day to how well we use this gift. In order to hear, we much choose to listen. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Day 25

When most  Catholics think of the church, they think of either the Vatican or their parish. This weekend we will mark one month with a Vacant See. This time without a bishop can be a time when we reflect on our understanding of what might be called the intermediate church. 

Interestingly when our theology uses the term local church or particular church, it is not referring to the parish but the diocese or an equivalent structure. A pariah is a "community" or a "part" but it is never called "church." In our creed we proclaim a Church that is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." It is the bishop who in a unique way preserves the unity and apostolic nature of the Church. Without a bishop seven sacraments are not possible. Yes, if a diocese is without a bishop you can bring one in to ordain, but this is never to be seen as normal or normative. The norm remains that a bishop of a diocese should ordain priests and deacons who assist him in ministering to the people of the diocese. 

In this time known as a vacant see that the Church calls priests to offer the mass "For the election of a pope or bishop." The word election can be confusing particularly because we do not in the modern sense elect or bishop. We use the word "election" because in Latin it refers not to ballots and votes but to choosing and being chosen. We use the word election in the same way in the RCIA. We pray for the 'election" and we will call him "bishop-elect" until he is installed,  becuause he has been chosen, by the Pope and by the Holy Sprirt who we believe still guides the Church. 

It is easy for any of us to slip into a very narrow vision of church, to see the diocese as merely bureaucracy. Perhaps in these days when we are without a bishop, it is not only a time for us to pray for the one who will be chosen, but also for us to deepen our understanding of what it means to be part of a diocese and what it means to have a bishop. Perphaps now would be a good time for all of us to read at least the first few paragraphs of Christus Dominus the Vatican II document on the role of a bishop. Jesus  not only calls us to be individually disciples but we are called to be one Church. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What real power looks like

Today we celebrate the beheading of John the Baptist. It sounds strange to use the word celebrate, but it is the right word because we know that he was the truly victorious one in the story. 

If we look closely we will see the irony of this gospel. The king is the powerless one. He could have been powerful. He had the potential as king but he allowed himself to be manipulated by fear. His fear of looking weak was precisely what made him weak. The gospel tells us,

The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her.

His step-daughter, his brother's wife, the guests, all in different ways held power over the king. And because of his weakness John the Baptist died. Herod looked powerful because he could order an execution but it was merely a kind of faux power. 

When I was a seminarian, a retired navy captain gave me several pieces of advice about leadership. One was, "The day you have to tell people you're in charge, you're no longer in charge. You've already lost control of the situation."

Real power doesn't have to look powerful; it just is. 

We can sometimes forget that we have the example of absolute power to follow.  Jesus Christ was the most powerful person in the history of the world. After all, he is God. His power, his strength, his authority are unmatched. And yet, how did he demonstrate those qualities to the world.

As Christians, on this feast of the Beheading of John the. Baptist, perhaps it is time for each of us to step back and ask if we are truly ready to put our faith into action. Are we ready to challenge all of our leaders, all those who exercise authority over others, to do so according to the model of Christ? One does not have to be Christian to learn from his example.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

Universal Call to Holiness

Today the Church celebrates St. Augustine, undoubtedly one of the great theologians of Christianity. 

Turn on your television and you will see program after program that deals with the supernatural. Go to church, and in far too many places the supernatural aspect of Christiany is gone. Jesus is reduced to a moral philosopher. Let me be clear. By supernatural I am not talking about ghosts and haunting. By supernatural, I am referring to things like the real power of grace. 

When we speak and sing of the grace of God we are not simply speaking about  God's forgiveness. Grace is something real. Grace is powerful. And we receive it in the sacraments. 

In our profession of faith we proclaim our belief that the Church is holy, and it is precisely the grace of God that transforms and makes the Church holy. It why St. Paul is able to refer to the memebers of the Church as "saints," holy ones. 

Some talk as if we are still slaves to sin, and the best we can do is hope that when we die God will be merciful. That is not our faith. As the Catechism says, "By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors."

The Second Vatican Council reminded us of the universal call to holiness.  The saints we venerate in the Church, the statues and icons of them, are constant reminders to us that heroic virtue is possible, living in fidelity to God's covenant is possible. No matter how strong the pull of sin is in our lives, we believe that the power of grace is stronger. We never give up the struggle. 

We venerate Saints like Augustine to remind us of the words of the Letter to the Hebrews 

We are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. 

It is not old-fashioned, outdated, or superstitious for us to reach out to the great cloud of witnesses for help. On this feast of St. Augustine let each of us renew our belief that we are called to be holy, and let us renew our belief in the power of grace in our lives. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Empty Chair

In today's first reading we hear about the role of the judges in Israel. In our American culture the symbol of the judge is the bench.

For us in the Catholic Church, the parallel symbol for a bishop is his chair. We often use the Greek word Cathedra, or the Latin word Sedes. We call the building that houses the chair a Cathedral. And, somewhat confusingly, Sedes makes its way into English as See. So we have terms like the Holy See, to refer to the Chair of Peter occupied at present by Pope Francis.

The chair for us is not primarily a symbol of judging but of teaching. If you watch the Pope, you will notice that he sits to preach/teach.

When a bishop dies, we call it a Vacant See, meaning the chair sits empty.  Indeed,  in some Ancient Eastern Christian Churches the chair is interred with the Bishop.  In the Catholic Church, the chair in the Cathedral will officially sit empty until the 13th Bishop of Richmond is installed. During the installation mass, the Archbishop of the Province (in our case the Archbishop of Baltimore) and the Nuncio (as representative of the Pope) will escort the new Bishop to the chair. At that time the See will no longer be vacant.

Our Catholic language and symbols can seem strange even to those who have grown up Catholic. The strange language reminds us that we are talking about the spiritual not the worldly. And as physical beings we need symbols, tangible points of reference.

Between now and the installation of our new bishop, perhaps it would be good for those who can to make a visit to the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. As we look upon the empty chair, we pray for the last occupant of the chair, the Most Rev. Francis X. DiLorenzo, that he may be welcomed into the company of the saints; and we pray for the next occupant of the chair, to  be chosen with the help of the Holy Spirit to lead the faithful of the Diocese of Richmond. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Faith as gift

I have to apologize to those who were regular readers for having simply dropped out of sight for over a month. God and I have been wrestling a bit. 

On June 5th at 9 pm I lost my hearing in my right ear, totally. On the morning of the 6th I woke up with wicked vertigo. Long story short- I have learned a whole new vocabulary with phrases like: Sudden Sensory-Neuro Hearing Loss, Single-Sided Deafness, Vestibular Rehab, and Cros Hearing Aids. While I am told the balance will come back, the hearing will not. 

Today's gospel seemed the perfect place to start back. 

We tend to think of the apostles as men of incredible faith, and yet that is not what the gospel tells us. In chapter 17 we find them with minuscule faith. 

Why could we not drive it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

When Jesus says, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed...," the implication is that they don't. They are living with God incarnate and yet their faith is not even as big as a mustard seed.  But Jesus does not go looking for better apostles. 

Jesus knows what the apostles had to, and we have to, learn. Faith is not something we do. Faith is itself a gift from God. We can search all day long for rational explanations to bolster our faith, but ultimate, we must surrender, and ask, perhaps even beg, for the gift of faith to be poured into our hearts, our minds, our very souls. And we trust that if we ask God will do it. 

If the very men that Jesus lived with day in and day out were at the start men of little faith, we should not be disheartened when our faith falters. God always stands ready to give us every bit of the faith we need. All we have to do is ask.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Unconditional Faith

We will all talk about unconditional love, because it is something we all want to experience. But what about faith?

In the two readings today we get two approaches to faith: Jacob and the official whose daughter has died.

Jacob is the example of how we often approach faith.

If God remains with me, to protect me on this journey I am making and to give me enough bread to eat and clothing to wear, and I come back safe to my father’s house, the LORD shall be my God.

We make promises about what we will do at some point in the future, if God first does what we want. It is the classical conditional sentence: if this, then that. Jacob wants to play Let's Make a Deal..

Contrast that with the official in the gospel.

My daughter has just died. But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live.

The official does not promise to believe in Jesus if he heals his daughter. He expresses with certainty his belief that when Jesus lays his hand on her she will live.

The woman with the hemorrhage has the same certain. She say "if" but she is not making deal she is stating a fact. She says it in the same way I might say, "If I am up at 5 A.M. I will see the sunrise."

On a daily basis we must choose which kind of faith we are going to have the conditional faith of Jacob or the unconditional faith in the gospel. The psalm response for the day tells which one we should choose,

In you, my God, I place my trust.

This is the one we should chose. It's up to us each day which one we will chose..

Saturday, July 8, 2017

God's Justice

Today's first reading is one of the more problematic in the Bible. Jacob lies to his dying father, steals his brother's inheritance and ends up with God's blessing. My guess is that something inside everyone of us says that it's not fair. A liar and a thief should be punished, not blessed.

The problem is the shortness of our vision. We see the world one action at a time. We may if we are wise be able to develop a slightly larger perspective but we will never have the perspective of God who sees all time and space simultaneously and therefore can see what we cannot. He sees how all of it, everything that ever was, is or will be, fits together into a cohesive whole.

This in no way means that the sin is not sin. A lie is a lie and theft is theft. But only God can truly know how justice is best applied. For our part we have to trust God. And trusting God does not mean angrily thinking inside, "God will get them eventually."

Imagine for a moment if we took every single moment that we have spent judging the actions of another, and focused that same energy on conforming our own words and actions to God's will. Imagine how much holier each of us would be.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Our problem with authority

In today's gospel we find one of the passages that points to the two sacraments we associate with healing: anointing of the sick and penance. Like other healing stories, we can read this story of the paralytic from Mt. 9 and we can miss the deeper meaning. It is captured in the reaction of the crowd.

When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to men.

This story is not simply about the power to heal. It is about authority. Further it is not simply about the authority of Jesus but about the sharing of that authority with the Church. The crowd does not marvel at the authority given to a man; they marvel at the authority given to men, plural (anthropois).

And here is where we start to react. We don't mind the idea of answering to God or Jesus, but we begin to react negatively to the idea that we are suppose to be obedient to the authority of people, and for some there is a particular distaste of the idea of answering to men.

If we look closely at our reaction what we see is fear. We are afraid the a human being with authority will abuse it and we or someone we love will get hurt. It has happened. It has happened in the church. And it continues to happen. Power and authority are seductive things.

So why should we trust, because we trust God. We cannot claim to be people of faith, if we do not trust God. And a part of trusting God, is trusting that God knew what He was doing when he created the Church.

you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

Today's first reading is the sacrifice of Issac, the story of absolute trust in God. Abraham trusted God so completely that he was willing to sacrifice his own son, if it had been God's will.

We can trust and not fear because we know that ultimately God protects the Church the way God protected Issac. Even if this or that individual makes a wrong decision or abuses their authority and we are hurt, we know that ultimately God has the power to transform that pain or suffering into a source of grace and strength. We do not need to ever be afraid.

When the crowds saw this they were struck with awe and glorified God who had given such authority to men

May we look upon all of God's creation with the same sense of awe, including the Church.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Our truest self

Each year on the Fourth of July I am reminded how blessed I am to live in Virginia where so much of our nations history is within easy driving distance. It is important for each of us to remember the ideals on which our nation was founded.

The right likes to scream about the liberal media bias and the left likes to scream about the president. But behind both problems is a deeper issue.

As Christians we believe that human beings were and are created in the image of God and are therefore good. We simultaneously believe that everyone of us on this earth today suffers the stain of original sin.

St. Paul articulated the struggle best in his Letter to the Romans when he wrote,

I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.

We strive to do the good, even though we fail on a regular basis, because we know that the good is what we were created to be and what we are called to be. Or at least we used to know this.

Sunday in response to one of the president's tweets, a spokesperson applauded him for being "genuine." I found the defense more disturbing than the tweet because it reflected a deeper more recent cultural turn that has largely happened in my lifetime.

When I was growing up we were taught that a part of maturation was impulse control and learning how to behave in civilized society. In the 60's impulse control was labeled repression, and good manners was relegated to the land of snobs. To be authentic meant letting your most basic impulses out in public -the stereotype of the hippie. Now this attitude is being embraced by both left and right.

As Christians we believe that doing good is as genuinely human as doing evil. In fact we are more human when we chose the good. As Christians we can distinguish between suppression and repression. Suppression is a good thing. It is the result of a choice we make. We have the bad thought and we chose not to give voice to it or to act on it.

Acting contrary to our impulses is not hypocrisy, it is how we grow. In the words of C.S. Lewis, "Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”

Some will call the founding fathers hypocrites because they did not live the values they professed. They were not hypocrites but people knew their flaws but also knew that we are called to be better, called to be more.

On this Fourth of July, let us pray that we never settle for who we are today. Let us keep the ideal ever before us. There was since the fall only one who was authentic — the one who was true God and true man, Jesus Christ. If we want to be authentic, we imitate him.

Monday, July 3, 2017

My Lord and my God

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. At the end of the gospel we hear the very simple profession of faith exclaimed by St. Thomas, "My Lord and My God." Five simple words.

But how willing are we really to embrace the implications of those five words. For most of us the first two may be the most problematic, My Lord. If he is the Lord then I am the servant. That means from the time I wake up until the time I fall asleep my primary concern is being there to do whatever he want. I may on occasion be about my own business but must be ready, when called, to drop what I'm doing and run to do whatever he wants me to do. His words are not polite suggestions for what I might want to do; they are orders. We may have loved watching Downton Abbey, but which of us would really want to be "in service." Any yet, as Christians we are called to be like those characters who spent their entire lives as servants.

The Second half, My God, is not much easier. To say he is my God means that I worship him. I'm not even sure if we know what it means to worship. More and more our so-called worship on Sunday is expected to be fun and entertaining, especially for the children. The idea that we go to church to worship God seems to have vanished. The mountain of material written today on meditation has mostly dropped references to the one that should be the object of our meditation, God.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Lord I am not worthy

Every time we are at mass, before we go forward to receive communion, we quote the centurion,

Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof...

But how much do we really believe in our unworthiness.

Those of us who are older love to complain about the millennials and their belief that they are all beautiful unique little snowflakes. We forget that they did not invent the notion, they got it from the generations before them.

In the Catholic Church we have our own snowflakes. You can spot them by their mantra, "How dare some priest tell me I shouldn't go to communion?" The concept of unworthiness, or unworthy reception of a sacrament is unimaginable. The sad thing is that much of h time they are completely unaware of the hubris that their attitude represents.

In today's gospel Jesus raises the bar to, what seems to be, an impossible level.

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;
and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me
is not worthy of me.

We need to keep in mind that Greek has a variety of words for love. The verb used in Matthew's gospel for love is phileo. Jesus is making it clear that if we hope to be worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven we must strive for a higher form of love, a love not bound to human relationships, agape.

The problem is that we cannot achieve this love on our own. It is only with the assistance of God's grace that we can even hope to move from phileo to agapeo. And Jesus in the statement above provides at least one clear indicator of the presence of agape, the willingness to take up the cross and carry it. To be worthy of Jesus, to be worthy of the kingdom we must posses the supernatural love that is willing to suffer and sacrifice not simply for loved ones but for others, strangers, people we might tend to judge.

How do we get there? The initial movement is always God's. God calls us, God offers the grace to us, but we have to respond. We must allow our merely human love to be transformed, and that transformed love must bear fruit in our everyday words and actions. Or else, we are not worthy of Jesus or his kingdom.

Thankfully, when we fall into a truly unworthy state we have the sacrament of penance/reconciliation to bring us back, to heal our wounded relationship with God.

In the opening prayer for today's mass, we asked:

that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error
but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth.

May we have courage to stand in the bright light of truth about our own lives, and so by God's grace be made worthy to be called disciples of the one Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

The strange favor

In today's first reading we get what has to be the strangest request for a favor. Not only is it strange but I don't know that I have ever heard it repeated.

Abraham sees three strangers walking down the road. And, as chapter 18 of Genesis reports it, he runs out and asks them to do him a favor.

Sir, if I may ask you this favor, please do not go on past your servant. Let some water be brought, that you may bathe your feet, and then rest yourselves under the tree. Now that you have come this close to your servant, let me bring you a little food, that you may refresh yourselves; and afterward you may go on your way.

So they are doing him a favor by bathing with his water, resting in his home, and eating his food?

And the answer is Yes! He is not doing them a favor by offering hospitality. They are doing him the favor by accepting it. To us this all seems backwards. It is another example of how God's ways are not our ways.

Of all the virtues in the Bible hospitality is the one that seems to get the most lost. And yet, the concept that is central to the Old Testament is really the foundation for evangelization in the New Testament. It is not enough to open the doors to those who come looking. Like Abraham, we must go out in the street and beg them to come visit. The passage tells us that Abraham "ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground..." Imagine any one us, bowing to the ground and begging." We're Americans. Some of us don't even want to kneel before God in church. And we certainly do not beg anyone for anything.

And yet, if we are good Jews or Christians, the scriptures tell us that we must. The scriptures are clear that one of the measures by which we are ultimately judged is how we treat the stranger, the foreigner, the person.from whom we can expect no recompense. And all the excuses in the world cannot save us when we stand before God. We are the most blessed county in the world, and therefore God can rightly demand the most from us. When we are personally inhospitable, we call down judgement on us. When we support inhospitable policy, we call down judgement upon us. And when we stand before God which of us will have the nerve to hide behind the non-biblical adage, "Charity begins at home" - words never uttered by a person who is actually charitable.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Unconditional Surrender

If we ask where the story begins, we could go back to creation as the book of Genesis does, or we could go back to before time and space as John's gospel does. But today's first reading is the other important beginning, the beginning of the People of Israel, the beginning of the first covenant.

As chapter 12 of Genesis recounts the story it begins with a call — a call and a promise. Actually it begins with a command.

Go forth halak in Hebrew. The verb means simply to walk. In this case Abram is commanded to walk away from everything he knows. God promises great blessings if he can do this one simple thing.

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.

But it is not simple. God does not tell him where they are going. He is told only that he is to leave him home and go to "the land I will show you."

We call Abraham "our father in faith" and today's reading tells us why. Because the response of Abram is not given in words it is given in action. In Hebrew it is the past tense of the same verb God used in the command. God commanded him to walk and the response is Abram walked. He just gets up and walks away — from the known to the unknown.

This unnegotiated, unconditional trust in God is the beginning of the covenant that God will make with the people of Israel. When God makes the new and eternal covenant it will be Mary who says the unconditional yes to God's will.

Abram and Mary are the two models of perfect faith.

In yesterday's gospel we were told to not be afraid. Today and every day we can lead fearless lives if we start each day trying to imitate the faith of Abram and Mary.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sanctity and Youth

In our English documents we tend to call today's saint St. Anthony of Padua. Ask the Portuguese and they will tell you he is St. Anthony of Lisbon for the place where he was born.

Regardless of moniker, what remains to me most striking about this saint is how powerfully God's grace worked in him at such a young age. We tend to think of saints as wise and old, as if those two things go together. St. Anthony was only 36 when he died. And yet, he was such a gifted preacher than he made it all the way to the court of the Pope and after his death was named a Doctor of the Church, a title reserved for the greatest teachers of the faith.

What he accomplished in his short life was clearly not his work, but the work of God in and though him. For any of us who preach or teach the faith today is a day not only to look to the example of St. Anthony but also we should not be afraid to ask for his help. Now, as much as ever, we need the ability to translate the message of the gospel into words that can be understood by the world in which we live, especially a language that can be heard by our youth and young adults.

St. Anthony, pray for us.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Compassion and Encouragement

Today we begin a two week reading of the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Church in Corinth. He opens his letter describing God not only of the Father of Jesus but as

the Father of compassion and God of encouragement.

The first of the words is similar to the word we use when we sing Kyrie, Eleison (Lord, have mercy). Many linguists will point out that the word St. Paul uses hear is less removed; it represents a deeply felt kind of compassion/mercy. 

The second word , encouragement (paraklesis), is linked to the word for the Holy Spirit (the Paraclete). At the heart of both is the image of someone who is constantly by your side to console and advise every step of the way. This implies that we should be ready to listen. 

But St. Paul then tells what we must do with the encouragement/advise we receive from God. It is given not just to make us feel better, but

so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God.

We receive from God so that we might pass on to others what we receive. We pray, we listen, we pass on to others who are suffering. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trinity is not in the Bible

Is the word in the Bible? No, but like many other theological truths,the theology of the Holy Trinity permeates the New Testament. It has been a part of the Church's theology from the beginning. While there are a few groups who baptize in the name of Jesus only, most Christians practice trinitarian baptism as commanded by Jesus at the end of Matthew's gospel.

We can start with St. John,

God is Love.

Love is by definition relational. It requires more than one (unless you are a narcissist). There must be at least a Father and Son.

The Bible does not say that God began to love, after he created the world. The Scriptures say God is love. It is his essence. From before the creation of anything he was love itself.

St. Athanasius explain it using St. Paul, God who is above all things and through all things and in all things. God is above all things as Father, for he is principle and source; he is through all things through the Word; and he is in all things in the Holy Spirit.

We also see it directly spelled out by St. Paul when he greets the people of Corinth,

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Here he uses God as synonymous with the Father.

As Christians we believe that all Divine action is carried out by the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit; from the creation of the universe to and beyond the end of time.

What does any of this mean for us now?

It goes far beyond sentiment, "God loves me." As the current Pope and his two predecessors have tried to remind us, because God is love, Mercy is also part of the very essence of God. St. John Paul added Divine Mercy Sunday to our calendar to call our attention to this attribute of God.

Our great problem is that we reduce Divine Mercy to human mercy. We see it as the opposite of Justice. Part of the great mystery of God is that justice and mercy in God are not separate but are one realty, two sides of the same coin, if you will.

So the next time one of us get the urge to say,"I demand justice," we must simultaneously ask, "Am I ready to give mercy." If we live in the Spirit and not in the flesh, we will not try to have one without the other.

Monday, June 5, 2017

LXX Old Testament

When we think of the Roman Empire, we think Latin. In fact, at the time of Jesus, Greek, not Latin, was the language of the Empire. Just as today we read our Bible in English, Jews of that time would have more often than not used the Greek translation called the Septuagent.

The name Septuagent comes from the Roman numeral LXX (70). It is the number of Jewish scholars who translated the Torah into Greek to make it accessible to the people. People in the time of Jesus did not speak Biblical Hebrew. Even Jesus spoke Aramaic.

St. Paul and the others who wrote the New Testament depended on the Septuagent when quoting the Old Testament. While it is true that later in history Judaism would reject the Septuagent, Catholic and Orthodox Bibles hold on to it because it was the Old Testament of the Early Church.

When we read the Septuagent we are reading not some later, rarified Hebrew Old Testament, but the Old Testament as it would have been read by the first Christian communities. Your Catholic Bible contains all of the books that would have been in the Septuagent. Other bibles have taken out some of the books. I am often perplexed by some Christian theologians who will quote St. Augustine and reject the Bible that he would have read.

Today we begin reading the book of Tobit. If you had asked St. Paul was it really part of the Bible, he would have said of course. It would not be until the 16th century that some Christians would reject it. It is not the case as I heard growing up that "Catholics added to the Bible." We simply remain faithful to the Old Testament that would have belonged to the earliest Christians.

The Book of Tobit is the story of a man who remains faithful to God's law even in exile. He is willing to risk everything to provide his fellows Jews with a proper burial. This week we will read not only how he suffered but how the angel Rafael came in disguise to assist him because of his faithfulness in things large and small.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Paul or Pilate

We all remember, and not in good way, Pontius Pilate washing his hands of responsibility for the death of Jesus. It was his job to render the decision and no gesture of hand washing could change that truth.

On the other hand we have St. Paul, who shows us that there are times when it is appropriate to not take responsibility. In today's first reading St. Paul says to the people,

And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.

St. Paul can rightly say he is not responsible because he has done what he can do. He has proclaimed the entire truth to them. What they do in response to that truth is personal responsibility of each individual.

All too often, particularly when dealing with family, we feel responsibility to help them, and by help them we mean fix them. We erroneously believe that being a good Christian means doing everything possible for our loved ones.

In fact, St. Paul reminds us today that we can advise others but ultimately each person has to be responsible for their own actions, for how they do or do not follow the way of the gospel. This also means that each person must accept the consequences of their choices.

We often want to keep others from all suffering. St. Paul proclaims the opposite. He knows that the very act of embracing the gospel is going to lead to suffering and, for some, death. Suffering is part of human life, and in a special way, the Christian life.

It is not always easy to discern when we are being Paul and when we are being Pontius Pilate. Prayer and often spiritual direction can assist us in the process, but ultimately we have to listen to the voice of our well-formed conscience.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The in between

What must those days have been like?— the days between the Ascension and Pentecost. It is hard to imagine the feeling of lose the Apostles and other disciples must have felt. We know that many drifted away. Disillusioned, they went back to their old life.

And yet, there were the few who had real faith; not faith as ascent to a list of beliefs, but faith in the sense of absolute trust in the words that Jesus spoke to them.

In today's gospel we hear the most outrageous claim in the gospel.

I have conquered the world

Jesus did not claim that he will conquer [future tense] it when he came back. Jesus claimed that he had [past tense] conquered it.

Some two thousand years later it is hard to see the signs of His having conquered the world. If we listen to the news and even some Christian preachers, you would think that this world is still firmly in the hands of Satan.

But here is where we must have faith. Faith reaches beyond the narrow spectrum of what the human eye can see and what the human ear can hear. Faith enables us to use our hearts to reach beyond sight and sound, and to trust that Jesus has, on the most real level of reality, already conquered the world.

If we look for them, we can in fact get glimpses of the victory. But we have to look for them.

With the Ascension Jesus did not simply go back to where He came from and leave them with nothing while they waited for the Spirit. He left them in a world that had been transformed,a world that He had already conquered.

As we start this week, let us believe the words of Jesus. Believe Him when he says, "I have conquered the world." And with the eyes of our hearts and souls we will see all around us the signs of the Victory that those without faith cannot see.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Preparing for Pentecost

June 4th the Church will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost. But the way our lectionary is structured we actually start two weeks out with readings that help us prepare for Pentecost.

In John's Gospel the Holy Spirit is called by another title. He is the parakletos. The most exact Latin translation would be Advocate, literally the one who is called to stand at your side. Today Jesus tells us:

When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me.

In our creed we say that He "proceeds from the Father and the Son." And in fact, Jesus says the same thing slightly differently. Jesus says that He will send the Spirit, and the Spirit is from the Father as well. The Spirit is from both Father and the Son.

It is the Spirit of Truth. It would be impossible to understate the importance of our belief that what the Spirit speaks is not a truth, but the Truth.

The Spirit testifies, the Greek word from which we get martyr. Its original meaning was to testify, to give witness.

The Holy Spirit is the wise counselor, but is also the witness.

But where do we fit into this picture?

Whether we use the Greek "Paraclete" or the Latin "Advocate," either implies there must be a call made, a call for help. Before there is a call for help, there must be a recognition of a need for help. And there's the rub.

The Son ascended to the Father, and the Holy Spirit (equally God) has been sent into this world to be the Advocate for every man, woman, and child; to give us wise counsel, to plead our cause, to lead us step by step on the path of salvation.

And yet, too many days we think and act as if we can do it on our own. We only want to call for help when we are in "real trouble." Otherwise, we want to run our own lives. We think that is freedom.

There may be no dumber person on earth than the one who thinks he is smarter than his lawyer.

You want to be smart? You want to be free? It's very simple. Walk through every day remembering that your Advocate is with you and don't say or do anything without clearing it first through Him.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Humble Service

Yesterday we welcomed three new deacons into the clergy of the Diocese of Richmond. For priests, it is a reminder that a part of our Catholic theology of priesthood is the belief that when we are ordained priests we remain deacons. Even when one is ordained a bishop, one remains a priest and a deacons. Each successive ordination builds on the previous one. It does not replace it.

More broadly the ordination of a deacon is a reminder to every Christian that diakonia is the very foundation of every ministry in the Church. In the rite of ordination the meaning of diakonia is captured in two words, humble service.

The original seven deacons in the Acts 6 were ordained to care for the widows (and other needy people) so that the Apostles could focus on prayer and preaching. They were waiters and hence the name deacon.

In those moments when we are most honest with ourselves we can see that every day we wrestle with both words, humble and service. God is the Master and we are the servants.

At various points in the mass we kneel before God, we bow before God, we genuflect in God's presence. We physically lower ourselves. It can feel strange, awkward or uncomfortable because it is the opposite of what our ego and our culture calls us to do.

As we start a new week let us look for those small opportunities that we have each day to lower ourselves, to raise others up, to put them ahead of us, to let them go first — the chance to peace humble service.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Measuring Love

All Christians can recite the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. But my guess is most of us don't spend a lot of time thinking about the very real possibility that we don't love God.

If I call myself Christian, if I go to church, then I guess I love God. At least I love God enough.

In a single verse at the beginning of today's gospel Jesus gives us a very simple way that each of us can find a definite answer to the question: do I love God.

Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.

Notice he says "my commandments." He does not say "the 10 commandments given to Moses interpreted in the narrowest possible way." Jesus's commandments includes everything that he commanded us to do or not to do, not simply our narrow reading of the 10.

One of the great things about the Catechism of the Catholic Church is that you can go to Part Three/ Section 2 and you will see the combination of the 10 commandments and those things which Jesus taught which expanded and deepened our understanding of each of those commandments.

To the extent that I know and strive to keep these commandments, I can rightly say that I love Jesus, I love God. To the extent that I choose to remain ignorant, or chose to ignore certain commandments, I am forced to admit that I don't really love God. I chose love of self over love of God. I do my will and not His.

Perhaps it would be good over a period of day to take the commandments one by one in the Catechism. Read through each one. Meditate on each one. Ask the hard question. Am I really ready to embrace all that this commandment entails?

Only when we do our best each day to keep all of the commandments can we truly say that we love God.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Fatima 100 years later

Today the town of Fatima Portugal hosted Pope Francis for the canonization of two children, and the 100th anniversary of the beginning apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Having grown up Baptist, Marian devotion was probably the aspect of the Catholic faith I wrestled with the most. I understood the difference between devotion and worship. I understood that devotion to Mary, is supposed to deepen our relationship with Jesus. I had read the theory, but deep down inside I just didn't get it.

As far back as I can remember Jesus and I were always close. I could always talk with him. What else did I need?

It wasn't until the death of my own mother that I finally understood. It was when that relationship was ripped away that I realized its uniqueness. No, she had not been the one to give birth to me, but she was still my mother in every other sense of the word. And there is no substitute.

God made us male and female. Now more that ever we understand that this is more than an anatomical difference. And so, paternity and maternity are two distinct but complimentary realities. We need both in our lives.

It was shortly after my mother's death, that a friend in Rome pointed out to me that I had been ordained on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. I would mull that over for a couple a years before I finally made the pilgrimage.

There are some who will try and argue that Jesus teaching us to call God "Father" is mere cultural convention. The same people will argue that when God became incarnate it was as a man because he needed to fit in. It seems to me that there is more going than we can fully comprehend. When we call God "Father" there is a true paternity there.

Jesus understood God as his father and Mary as his mother. If all Christians can agree that we are to imitators of Christ, then how can we say that we are not supposed to imitate this.

At Fatima, I took a leap of faith. I stopped trying to find the fully rational explanation and embraced it. I had long ago embraced God as my father, and Jesus as my brother, there I embraced Mary as my mother.

We need the whole family. That I simple truth.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Rediscovering Truth

In today's gospel we hear one of the simplest and yet most profound statements in the Gospel, when Jesus describes himself with three words: way, truth, and life. That Jesus is the way to eternal life is the bold claim at the heart of the Christian message. But it is the middle word that we need to focus on, truth.

We live in a culture in which for the first time, the question of Pontius Pilate

What is truth? (Jn 18:38)

has become the central question of our time.

Gradually, over the last few decades at least, we have been sliding away from a belief in objective truth. More and more people conflate opinion and truth. Your opinion is "your truth." People are encouraged to find their own personal truth. This error is often dressed up as something profound. It is simply wrong and dangerous.

The corollary danger is that if there is no such thing as truth, then there is no such thing as a lie. That person isn't lying, they are only speaking their truth. And at that point lies become like wire grass in the lawn, enmeshed.

Some act horrified as day after day statements coming from the White House are shown to be factually incorrect. And yet we have no one to blame but ourselves. Some want to blame the culture but we are the culture. We, collectively, create the culture. We have created this culture of personal subjective truth, alternative facts.

Let us pray that the current crisis will force left and right to come together around some fundamentals.

There is such a thing as objective truth.

It is knowable.

And we should all want to hear it, even when it runs contrary to what we want to believe.

The truth is the truth. A lie is a lie.

Without searching for the Truth we will never find the Way that leads to the Life.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Knowing Our History

Some Christians act as though Christianity is merely a philosophy or spirituality. We read the Bible and we glean from Jesus instructions about how we should live. I once had a rabbi tell me that if it was absolutely proven that Moses never existed it would not chain his faith. His faith is rooted in a book of law, the Torah.

Christianity is different. Our faith in not rooted in a book but in a person, Jesus Christ. Our faith is rooted in historical events: his passion, death, and resurrection. We believe that through those event God opened the way to salvation for humanity. Take away those historical events there would be no Christian faith.

Because ours is an historical religion, we should not be ignorant of our history. Not just what is in the Bible but how the Holy Spirit has guided the Church since.

In our first reading today we hear the story of how the Spirit led to the rise of the Church in Antioch. How it became the cradle of Greek-speaking Christianity. It was at Antioch that Christianity as we now know it took shape under the guidance of St. Paul. It was in Antioch that the word Christian came into being.

Too many Christians think only of Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem, the cities of Hebrew Christianity. But the vast majority of us are the children of Greek Christianity, Gentile Christianity. There is a reason our New Testament is not in Hebrew but Greek.

As we study the early history it is important to note that the Church did not spring up in a random fashion,with groups of people forming their own communities and choosing their leaders. The Spirit guided the formation of the Church, and like the story of creation itself there was order in the formation of the Church, so that the link to the Apostles was always maintained.

Sometimes we get the urge to take out our Bibles and jump straight from the Bible to the 21st Century, as if the Bible were only a book of moral principles. The Bible tells only the beginning of salvation history, the earthly life of Jesus and the beginnings of the Church. To be truly Christian is to hunger to see how the Holy Spirit has guided the ongoing formation of the Church, century by century.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Transforming the Church

For American Catholics today the Second Vatican Council was the most transformative event in their lifetime. There are those who think it went too far and those who think it did not go far enough; those who think it ruined the Church, and those who think it is their job to fix what got ruined.

What we forget in all this argument is that throughout the Church's history there have been many moments when the Holy Spirit called the Church to radical transformation. Today's first reading takes us back to the first of these internal earthquakes.

In the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles we hear the proclamation:

God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.

From its inception the Church had been Jewish. After all, didn't Jesus say regarding the Gentiles,

It is not right to give the children's bread to the dogs.

We of course know that this statement was merely a test and not one of exclusion, but many in the early Church were afraid of the Church losing its Jewish identity. For them, to be a Christian meant first of all being a Jew. A Gentile was welcome only if they converted to Judaism first. In the book of Acts we see this early struggle played out and resolved at the first great Council in Jerusalem.

It reminds us of how the Holy Spirit works. Sometimes the Spirit gently guides the Church, little by little. At other moments the Spirit gives her a good shake. What the Spirit never does is let the Church wander too far off the road.

We should not be scandalized by in-fighting in the Church. The Bible tells us such in-fighting has been there from the beginning. As long as there are the imperfect humans in the Church, there will be struggles. And the Holy Spirit uses those struggles to move the Church forward on the road to her final destination.

As long as we hold on tight to the Church, we need not fear, remember the word in John 21 regarding the role of Peter

even though there were so many, the net was not torn.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Peace and conflict

Today's reading from chapter 9 of the Acts of the Apostles seems to open with a romanticized image of a Church that could never have existed.

The Church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.

But this description is only romanticized if we misunderstand the word peace.

For far too many people, peace is the absence of conflict. This kind of peace can mask some of the most unhealthy situations in the world: in families, in organizations, especially churches. Especially churches because people who go into ministry are often conflict averse in the extreme. When the desire to avoid conflict is our guiding principle, no matter how "ministry" we do, we cannot carry out the mission of the Church, the conversion of the world.

Peace as the scriptures understand it is not the absence of conflict but right relationship. To be at peace is to be constantly striving to live in right relationship with God, his body (the Church), and all who are our neighbor.

This is particularly difficult in our time because it assumes that there is such a thing as an objectively right relationship. There is right relationship and there is wrong relationship.

We know this right and wrong in three ways.

We know it first of all by that fundamental law that God has hard wired into humanity. We call this natural law. There is no culture in the world where stealing or lying are considered good. Some may argue that it is allowable in dealing with people they think of as the enemy but they would never say it is good in itself.

As Christians, we also know right and wrong relationship through what we Catholics refer to as "divine positive law", the truth that God has revealed to us in his Word, the Bible.

Lastly, we know it through the Church when she exercises her teaching function, magisterium, from the Latin word for teacher, magister. We believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and continues to help the Church properly apply the teaching revealed in the Bible to the challenges we face today.

Jesus in St. Matthew tells us to be perfect. We can call it perfection, peace, or holiness. To be at peace, to be holy, to be perfect is to embrace the idea that there is an established order to human life. I am supposed to behave in a certain way toward God, toward my bishop, toward the people I serve, toward my family and friends, toward strangers. There is always a right and wrong relationship.

Step two is recognizing that we all fall short. And here is where conflict is not only inevitable but necessary. If we are all called to perfection, to holiness of life, and if we are all one; then we need our brothers and sisters to challenge us and support us as we strive to be better. To overcome our inertia, our tendency to stay the same. For object to person to move friction is required. On a frictionless surface nothing moves.

St. Paul was a man at peace who constantly was engaged in healthy conflict, acknowledging his own flaws and simultaneously challenging others to be better, more conformed to Christ.

How do I know healthy conflict which is part of peace from the unhealthy conflict that is incompatible with Christian life? Ask yourself one simple question, "Am I truly striving to help my brother or sister to find holiness or am I simply trying to impose my will, to get them to do things my way?" Your conscience will know the answer.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Embracing life

If you watch the coverage of the Catholic Church in the media you would walk away with the notion that when. Catholics are described as pro-life, all it means is that we are anti-abortion.

Today's gospel reminds us that at the very center of the Christian faith is Life. Today Jesus puts it very simply,

whoever believes has eternal life.

There are two details we should not over look.

Firstly, the life he is talking about is not the biological life we received when we were conceived. It was the life we received when we were reborn in baptism: the most common baptism with water, baptism of blood (those martyred before receiving the sacrament), or baptism of desire.

In baptism we receive a new and eternal life. This new life does not replace our biological life or make it meaningless, but it does place it in a new context.

Secondly, we should note that the gospel doesn't say "will have" in the future, he says "has" in the present. While we do not yet have this new life in its fullness, we do possess it now.

The daily challenge for us is to fully embrace the gift we have received. We constantly experience the temptation to be drawn downward, to live a purely material earthly life. Particularly in the Easter Season the readings constantly call us upward. They call us to be more than we are.

Today and every day during this Easter Season in particular it is important for us to pause from our regular activity and remember what we have inside us. Only when we truly believe that we have eternal life will be power of that life be able to transform us.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Catholic Labor Day

In many counties with an historically strong Catholic culture, today, the Feast of St. Jospeh the Worker, is Labor Day. It is time for us to remember that our Catholic anthropology, our understanding of the human person, includes a proper understanding of the place of work.

We understand that humans beings need to be productive, we have a need and therefore a right to gainful employment. We have an obligation give our employer our best, and the corresponding right to receive a just wage in exchange. One can watch the development of the Church's teaching from Rerum Novarum through the document written by St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus marking the 100th anniversary of the same.

Unfortunately our language reveals our attitudes. Those who used to be PERSONnel are now referred to as human RESOURCES. A resource is by definition something to be used. In places like Virginia "Right to Work" is twisted to mean right to fire without cause. And sadly, in many places, instead of leading, Catholic organizations are trying to emulate the corporate model. On this Feast of St. Jospeh the Worker we Catholics need to lead with the Gospel, the truth of the dignity of every person. The Church should never become a business.

In our American culture, there is another insidious tendency, linking our identity to our work. Yes, God intended us to work, but work was always meant to be the means not the end. We tend too often to tie our worth to our salary or our title. You could be scrubbing toilets, but if in your heart you are able to offer that as service, as an expression of the command to love your neighbor, it can become an aid on the road to personal holiness which is the goal of every human life. The Second Vatican Council reminded us of the universal call to holiness. Our work can and should be, not only a way to earn a living, but a step on our path to holiness. If you work in an office you can see it either as meaningless paper work, or you can choose to see the human beings that each of those pieces of paper represent. And all work can and should be lifted up as an offering to God.

In short, today's feast reminds us that the worker must always be understood to be more important than the work. The work will all pass away, but the worker is intended to live forever with God.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Emmaus as the model

When we think of mass, we tend to immediately think of the Last Supper. Today's gospel however, is just as important for our understanding of why we do what we do. In some ways we are always the disciples on the road to Emmaus.

As the story begins the two disciples have walked away from the Church. It didn't turn out to be what they expected. They cannot understand. They are walking along wrestling with their faith.

Jesus joins them and the "liturgy" begins. Jesus pretends to know nothing and has them retell the story. Jesus then has to explain the meaning of the story. He reaches all the way back to Moses and helps them see the connections, as any good homilist does.

Is is the first half of Mass, the Liturgy of the Word. We tell the story in the readings and the priest, like Christ, helps us to understand and see the connection to the events of our lives.

But most important is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. St. Luke uses the four classic verbs for every celebration of the Eucharist: took, blessed, broke, and gave. Only in the Eucharist are their eyes opened to the presence of Jesus in their midst.

And notice how the story ends. They return to the Church, to the Apostles.

We are all the disciples on the road. We wander away through sin. We are sometimes disappointed in the Church that we see. Like those disciples we don't see Jesus doing what we think he should do in this world right now. Wandering seems to be just part of what we humans do.

It is worth noting however that at no point is a disciple in this story acting alone. Our culture worships individuality. This gospel reminds us that to be Christian is to be a part of the Church.

Every Sunday, the Lord's Day, we come home. We gather with our all too imperfect brothers and sisters and we relive the story of Emmaus.

The sad truth is that all to many of our brothers and sisters have wandered off down the road for a variety of reasons, some which are completely understandable. They need that encounter with Jesus just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. And it is our duty to bring Jesus to them, to walk with them, to listen to them, to help them understand and to bring them back to the Table of the Lord.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Staying Focused

With the ever increasing amount of information flying at us all day long, it would appear that we are all losing the ability to simply pay attention. Some want to blame technology but even the most advanced technology is still a thing, not a person who can be held responsible. Technology may be attractive but we human beings are always the moral agents, responsible for our actions.

Today we reach the end of chapter 5 of Acts and it ends with a powerful image of the apostles,

And all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Christ, Jesus

In a world where we are so easily distracted and allow ourselves to be pulled in a variety of directions we need to be regularly reminded that the what we teach and proclaim is JESUS.

It's 2017 and we Catholics are still fighting battles from the middle of the previous century: what language should mass be in, which direction should the priest face, is a priest in a cassock or a nun in a habit somehow holier.

Worse yet, we now seem to want to divide ourselves in Pope John Paul vs. Pope Francis Catholics. In parishes, we allow ourselves to get so attached to a pastor that a change can rip the community apart.

We are like the Christians in Corinth who had divided their allegiance between Paul and Apollos. It was Paul himself who had to remind them that it must all be about Jesus.

Jesus himself established the three unchangeable realities: the irreformable truths, the seven sacraments, and the hierarchical structure of His Church. All the rest changes, legitimately, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Change is a constant and inevitable part of life.

As Christians, our most powerful tool for dealing with it is to follow the example of the apostles by constantly proclaiming the Christ, Jesus, in our words and in our actions.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Jailers or Angels

In chapter 5 of Acts we hear how they

"laid hands upon the Apostles and put them in the public jail.But during the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison."

On the surface this seems disconnected from our life.  No one is going to come and lock us up for being Christian. But there is another level on which it is very much a part of our culture.

From the beginning of history human beings have sought to categorized not just things but people. We have an uncanny ability to recognize and distinguish "us" from "them." We love to label: race, language, nationality, and in our modern age psychology - from the most benign Personality Type categories to the ever popular ADD, ADHD, OCD, and the current flavor of the month: Autism Spectrum/ Aspergers.

This is not to say that all of the above and more are not valid and useful for helping people understand their particular challenges. The danger is that this becomes the modern jail. We label human beings and then in-prison them in the label, and it is a life sentence.

We forget that at the heart of our Christian understanding of the human person is our belief in the transforming power of God's grace. We forget that one of the things that separate the human being from the rest of creation is our free will, our ability to choose. Living the Christian life means always striving each day to be more, to be more fully conformed to Christ.

As Christians we are called to be angels not jailers.We should always be seeking to set people free, not lock them up in our limited understanding of who they are. As Jesus proclaimed to the crowd "Untie him and let him go!"

We must be the people who never lose hope. No matter how long or difficult the struggle, no matter how many times we fall along the road.