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.