Thursday, January 26, 2017

Why we need bishops

Yesterday's celebration of St. Paul reminded us of the call to teach all nations,and in some ways the 20th century was the greatest century ever for evangelization. Advances in technology made it possible to truly reach out to the whole world and close the distance that separates us from one another.

Today the Church celebrates two bishops: Timothy and Titus. No one can truly study the Bible and deny that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is biblical. From the establishment of Peter as the Rock to the establishment of bishops, presbyters,and deacons. It's all there. And perhaps in the 21st century we see why we so desperately need our bishops in particular.

If the 20th was the century in which we shrunk the globe, the 21st seems to be our century of pulling it apart. Around the globe we are seeing a rise in nationalism. Patriotism, love of country, is a fine thing; but nationalism is different.

Jesus not only called us to evangelize the whole world, but he called us to simultaneously remain one. St. Paul reiterated that call to unity in his First Letter to the Corinthians in which we are told that there is to be no division at all.

Unity among Christians must be more than simple toleration: you do your thing, we'll do ours. Jesus says that we are to be one as He and the Father are one. The unity must be real, it must be visible and active. As he told the Corinthians we must be of one mind and one purpose.

Bishops are that connective tissue. They not only hold together the parishes of their individual diocese, they link us to the universal Church. We call it the College of Bishops, whose head is the Pontiff (the bridge) that holds the entire thing together.

It would be contrary to the most basic teaching of the New Testament for any group of people to act in isolation and yet claim to be Christians. Globalization is a term that scares many people, but Christians are never guided by fear. As our world threatens to pull apart, today we not only celebrate the memorial of Timothy and Titus, but we pray for all bishops, that the bonds that hold them together as one may also help us all to be the one Church, Jesus calls us to be.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The importance of the 25th

Most Christians when we think of the 25th, we think of December 25, Christmas, the birth of the baby Jesus. And yet, for most of us, any of s of. Non-Jewish heritage January 25 may in some way be more important. Today, January 25th, the Church celebrates the conversion of St. Paul.

It is true that Jesus told his disciples to "Go out and teach all nations..." But it was not until St. Paul entered the picture that this command became fully understood and realized. Before St. Paul, what we call Christianity was mere a sect of the Jewish religion. It is for that reason that St. Paul is called the Apostle to the Gentiles.

Saul as he was called was, in our modern language, the ultimate political insider. He was ultra-orthodox in his practice, and fierce in his persecution of Christians, whom he saw as a danger to the purity of the faith. That is why it is most fascinating that of all people, God chose him to break open the walls and let in the foreigners, the pagans, the unclean.

We must be careful, however, that we don't rob his message of its transforming power. Yes, it would be true to say that it is a "come as you are" invitation. But it is not an invitation that says come as you are, and stay who you are. Once we arrive we are all expected to change. Just as Saul became Paul we must allow ourselves to be transformed by God's grace. We are all required to open our minds and hearts to experience true conversion. And this is not a one time thing. For true Christians, it is a daily thing.

Today as we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul, let us pray that Jesus will continue the work of conversion in each of us.

Saturday, January 21, 2017


What is it about this word that bothers us so much? We get offended if someone calls us ignorant. And yet, unless we know everything, we are all ignorant about something. We are all ignorant about many things.

In today's gospels we hear that:

When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Actually, the translations vary. Some say "family", or "friends." The core of the Greek word means close/near. The point in Mark's gospel is that it was those closest to Jesus who thought he was insane. The recent film Now You See Me captures the problem in a single line, when one of the magicians tells a crowd, "The closer you are, the less you see."

There are times when close is good, but there also times when we need distance to see fully. Sometimes we need spatial distance to see the big picture, and sometimes the distance we need is across time. We need time to pass for us to understand the larger meaning of an event. We need historical perspective.

Theology is precisely the Church's fuller understanding of God's revelation as it develops over time. As Catholics we believe that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church in this process.

God does not change. The Truth does not change. But our understanding does.

This is why humility is an essential virtue for any Christian. Humility allows to embrace our ignorance, to say the words, "I don't know." For it is only when I embrace my ignorance that I am truly able to learn.

Jesus relatives thought that mere proximity gave them knowledge, like Christians who attend church Sunday after Sunday. But proximity without openness can teach us nothing. Let us all step back from our certainty, acknowledge how little we know, only then we can truly be lifelong disciples, students of the one Teacher.

Friday, January 20, 2017


As I sit watching the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, I am reminded of the boundless awesomeness of God and how petty we can choose to be, and have chosen to be this year. At noon, Donald J. Trump will assume the office of president of the United States. How will we respond?

Today's first reading opens:

Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.

It is a reminder that God's salvation is a available to every human being, all those who approach God through him. Not those just who think like me.

The name Obama, or Clinton, or Trump: Over the last months I have sadly witnessed people I think of as Christians respond with, at best, a disdainful grunt to each of these names depending on their political point of view. How can we call ourselves Christians if we hold any human being in disdain? Even about those who crucified him Jesus said," Father forgive them."

The only way we can be disdainful and dismissive of a person is to dehumanize, the way troops are trained to dehumanize the enemy in war. In order to kill them they cannot think of them as people like themselves.

We who call ourselves Christians must think of every human being as a person like ourselves. We must not only think of them but love them, as God loves them. We are not allowed to say of a person "I can't stand that man/woman).

Would I have ever thought that Donald Trump would be president? No. But today he will be. And Hillary Clinton is a grandmother who dotes on her grandchildren like any other grandmother. They are both our brother and sister. Can we all just stop, take a deep breath, and behave like people of faith.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Son and Servant

With Christmas falling on Sunday, some adjustments had to be made to the liturgical calendar. Yesterday we celebrated Epiphany with the story of the Magi, today we jump approximately three decades to the Baptism of the Lord. For Jesus this marked the beginning of his ministry, for us it marks the transition to Ordinary Time.

This year we read Mathew's version of the baptism story, and in his version the voice does not speak to Jesus (You are...), the voice speaks to the crowd about him,

This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased.

In a single sentence St. Matthew announces Jesus as the Son of God, beloved and also the Servant who pleases his master. In this one sentence he sets the stage for everything that will happen in the brief ministry of Jesus.

It is however St. John who reminds us why this is so important to us.

See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are

The word St. Matthew uses for beloved is from the word "agape" the love with which Jesus loves us and calls us to love one another.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.

From the Father to the Son to us to others so this love flows.

More difficult for us is being the servant in whom the father is well-pleased. This call to servanthood is a daily call. Every day in our every word and action we are to seek to please God, first of all.

Today as we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, we should take time to reflect on our own baptism, not only on what we receive but also the demands that are placed on us because we are the baptized children of God. How will I show the world that I am both servant and son?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

From Seed to Fruit

In this first week of January St. John continues to raise the bar.

No one who is begotten by God commits sin

 Firstly, the word sin is not as broadly as some would use it today. Some seem so obsessed with sin that even acts of bad manners are classified as sin. I remember a Rabbi when I was growing up who someone chastised for saying a bad word  at a football game. He proceeded to school this person in the entire list of words not forbidden by the Torah. Cussin' as we say in the south may be bad manners but unless you are taking the Lord's name in vain, there is nothing in the Bible that forbids it. This is not to say that it is recommended.  I use that example to point our that when St. John says that no one who is begotten of God commits sin, he is using the word in the strict sense. The catechism of the Catholic Church defines a sin as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."(CCC 1849)

More than the definition of sin is how St. John describes our ability to live without sinning.  He says that No one who is begotten of God commits sin, because God's seed remains in him. For us as Christians St. John reminds us that we believe that three sacraments imprint an "indelible character." When one is baptized, confirmed or ordained; "the Father has set his seal" on us in away that cannot be undone. Even when we sin, this indelible character cannot be erased. In that sense, we really have no excuse for our behavior. This seed remains lodged in us and speaks to us through our conscience enabling us to know, when we will listen.  

In short, if we are begotten by God, sin takes effort. We must willfully choose to either ignore our conscience all together or hear it but act contrary to it. For those reborn by baptism, sin is not inevitable. As we walk through this day, may we let the seed that is planted in us bear good fruit.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Clear Choice

We Christians seem to divide rather neatly into two extreme camps when it comes to sin. On one side you have those who seem to feel that as long as they haven't murdered anyone they're okay. Then there is the other group who are convinced that we are all sinners all the time. Today's first reading would be a problem for both. Today St. John tells us,

You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who remains in him sins; no one who sins has seen him or known him.

In our creed we can make the audacious claim that the Church is not only one but holy, precisely because the Church is the Body of Christ "and in him there is no sin." St. John raises the bar even higher when he write, "no one who sins has seen him or known him." In other words you cannot simultaneously say, "I know Christ" and "I am a sinner." We have to choose one life or the other. And we have to make that choice on a day to day, sometimes minute to minute basis. The Good News is that when we have steeped outside of Him and sinned we have the Sacrament of Penance as the door to come back inside.

On the positive side St. John tells us, "No one who remains in him sins." . We cannot both remain in him and sin. So when we who say we are Christians sin, we have to first step out of him, step out of the Body of Christ and then we can sin. It is a two step process.

Some Christians act as if sin is inevitable but St. John reminds us that sin is always a choice, two choices really. The first choice is to not "remain in him." The second choice is the actual sin. It seems to me that if we think about the first choice we would sin less often. After all, which of us would directly choose to abandon Christ.

When we face any temptation to any sin we should recall this passage from the First Letter of St. John and ask ourselves whether we want to remain in him or go outside and sin. When we put it that way the choice will be much clearer.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Integral Human Development

Today the Church celebrates its 50th annual World Day of Peace. In his message for today the Holy Father calls us to a deeper understanding of "active nonviolence" as the best way to solve the many conflicts in our world. Some will dismiss his message as naive. But if these initial years of the 21st century have taught us anything, it is that violence simply begets more violence.

As we start this new year Pope Francis invites us to look at the roots of global violence in our hearts and homes. He worries that our constant exposure to violence in the news and other media has desensitized us to it rather than deepening our concern for and solidarity with the suffering.

Not content with simply a message this Pope has taken action. Today January 1, 2017 a new dicastery comes into being in the Vatican. At a time when some Church bureaucracies are expanding with more offices, more people with longer titles, Pope Francis is combining four existing offices into one. The name for the new office "promoting integral human development" describes what we Christians have always known, that we are one.

On the level of the individual, it reminds us that we can't dissect a person and say as a Church that it is our mission to deal with spiritual needs as if those can be separated from the physical, psychological and emotional needs. On the global level, it reminds us that we are part of the single human race that God created us to be. Integral human development means that we must teach our children not how to be only Virginians, or Americans, or Catholics; but responsible members of a global society.

On this 50th World Day of Peace let us recommit ourselves to riding our world of division and violence, starting with our individual hearts.