Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Clairvoyant Pastor

Whenever I read or hear today’s gospel about leaving the 99 to go after the one lost sheep, my mind flashes back to a friend who said of his parish, “I could stop going tomorrow, and no one would notice.” He did; and they didn’t. The next time he heard from the parish was his computer generated end of the year tax letter. And this is not just a Catholic phenomenon. When my brother died, the church from which he was buried kept him on the mailing list for youth events. 

As church communities grow it becomes more and more difficult to keep track of every single person. The problem is exacerbated by belief in the clairvoyant Pastor. The best example of this is the irrate coversation that goes something like this:

– My mother was in the hospital for a week and no one came to see her.
–Did you call the church to let us know?

Somehow Fr. John or Pastor Bob is supposed to magically know who is sick, who has died, who is in need of help. In larger communities, this expectation is extended to the staff. We can forget that by virtue of our baptism each of us shares in the ministry of the church. 

Each week around the world hundreds of people step back from their church family for a host of reasons. Today’s gospel reminds us that we are all our brother’s keeper. We all have an obligation to notice when the person next to us is missing that week. We all have an obligation to notice the one new person sitting all by themselves.  It is easy to chitchat with your friends before or after mass. How often to we “leave the ninety-nine” our friends, and go talk to the one?

There are some ministries that are reserved to the clergy, evangelization, reaching out to others is not. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

A Higher Law

Today the Church celebrates St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. They are a reminder to us that as Christians we have a duty to critically examine all human law. They remind us that we believe there is always a higher authority. 

As Americans the existence of our country is based on the belief that human rights are not granted either by a legislative body or by a constitution. Human rights are given to every person on earth by God. “They are endowed by their creator.” Basic human rights we believe to be inalienable. 

Whether or not a law is just is not based on popularity. As Christians, we believe that a law is just to the degree that it reflects God’s law. Even if 99% of the citizens of a country favor a law, it was passed by a legislative branch and signed by the executive; if it is a violation of God’s law, it is unjust. And as Christians we have an obligation to denounce it. 

St. Thomas More was faced with a leader who did not understand the limits of his authority. But St. Thomas More could neither be cojouled or coerced to surrender his allegiance to a higher authority. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


Yes, that is the sin of which St. James accuses the people. It is adultery because they claim to be lovers of God but they are actually lovers of the world. 

And even more sad is the fact that in the 21st century our beloved is, as Pope Francis recently spoke about, not the real world but the virtual world. And it is not just the young people. How many people of all ages wake up in the morning and grab their phone, first thing? It is the first thing we check in the morning and the last thing at night. How many people cannot go a full hour without checking their phone? They are designed to be seductive. 

Yes, there are plenty of excellent uses for technology. I am writing this on an iPad. And there are many great apps for Prayer and religious content. But all of it must be kept in its proper place. 

Perhaps it is good for us to frame the issue as St. James does, in terms of relationship. Who do we say we love? And who or what do we really love? In order to answer those questions it is useful to answer some other questions. Who gets my first and last thought of the day? Who do I need and want to have with me constantly? Who do I fear losing?

If we answer honestly we may be surprised by our answers. We may be in fact what St. James calls us: adulterers.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Celebrating the mother

Whenever a child is born there is also rightly some celebration of the unique role of the mother’s role in bring that child into the world. 

Yesterday we celebrated Pentecost, the day on which the Church was born, and so it is fitting that on the day after Pentecost Pope Francis has placed the obligatory memorial of “Mary, Mother of the Church.” It is not at all a new title, what is new is merely the placing of the obligatory memorial in the universal calendar of the Church. If we understand the Church as the body of Christ, and she is His mother, then she must also be the mother of the Church. 

But, you may ask, why do we need something like this? Doesn’t simply play into the hands of the ignorant who accuse us of worshiping Mary?

The decree establishing the celebration give a two-fold purpose: growth in Marian devotion but also growth in “the maternal sense of the Church inpasors, religious, and the faithful.” Imagine for a moment a world in which all people hear the word Church and think of a mother with her arms open wide anxious to embrace her children. The child runs to the mother and she wraps her arms around him/her..Imagine the Church as the place where one can always feel safe and unconditionally loved, the place one turns to for nourishment. The list goes on. 

Today each of should take a few moments and ask, “What can I do to advance this maternal sense of the Church.”

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Birth of Church

Today we celebrate the birth of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church which came into being the moment the Holy Spirit was poured out on them in Pentecost. The first phase of Jesus’s mission was now complete. The whole thing won’t be complete, of course, until his return. 

Someone once asked me, “Do you think he knew what a mess we would make of it?”  I answered, “Yes.”

I think Jesus knew exactly who he was entrusting with His Church. There is only one Church and it is His.  It is not only His Church, but it is also, despite us, still Holy. 

We have to remember that what makes the Church holy is not the sinlessness of her members. It is the presence of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit that makes the Church holy. Is there any one of us who does not sin? We, the members of the Church should never throw up our hands and be resigned to live as sinner. We should always strive to live holy lives. But we should never forget that the Church is a  work of God not ours. 

Hollywood and some others love to present charicatures of the Church, focusing solely on the sins and failings of some individuals. Rarely do we see presented the contributions that we have made to the world: health care, education, human rights, and yes even government and law. There’s a reason we call it a penitentiary. There is a reason why the German word for nurse is derived from “sister.” 

Even those of us who are Catholic can too easily focus on the bad, rather than focus on all of the good that has been done in the world by the body of Christ the Church.

Today is a day for each of us, to give thanks for the gift of the Church which we are blessed to be a part of, and for the gift of the Holy Spirit we have received to guide us.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

How do we turn back?

In the first reading today, St. Paul uses divisions over the issues of the resurrection to set the Saducees and Pharisees at each other’s throats. It is a very effective weapon. In our Church and in our country we seeing that same scene played out on a daily basis.

I just returned from Germany and France. I have been very blessed in my life to have the opportunity to travel much more that most people. But with every trip I come home to the U.S. and I remember that it was by sheer providence that I was born here. I would guess that most people reading this are like me. We did absolutely nothing to earn our citizenship. Many of us received our Christianity in much the same way. We grew up in families, where our parents, however imperfectly, instilled in us the rudimentary aspects of the Christian faith. We have never had to live through real persecution. We have never had to work for any of. My U.S. citizenship and my Christianity came as free gifts. The danger with gifts is that we can be unappreciative. 

I look around my Church and my nation, and I worry more that ever. Our capacity for civil discourse and debate have vanished.  We are the Saducees and the Pharisees in the first reading simply screaming at each other.  The saddest part is that we are being torn apart not by someone or something outside. We are doing it to ourselves. 

During the Easter season the Church has us read from St. John’s gospel. In it, the center of Jesus’s final prayer is “that they may be one.” He knew well that the moment he ascended the in-fighting would begin. To combat it he sent the Holy Spirit. As Pentecost approaches it is time for us to pray for our Church and our nation. In both we who call ourselves Christian have a great opportunity to show the rest of the world what makes us different.  With the help of the Holy Spirit each of us can choose to not be part of the screaming match. We can show by our example that it is possible to disagree and yet love one another. 

Yes, I know how corny that sounds. Bur is it not the Christian way. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

How big is your world?

It is easy to read chapter 17 of John’s gospel and see the world as a place of sin, the world vs. the Church. But we have to go back to the verse that many of us memorized as children John 3:16,”God so loved the world...”. That’s right.  Love of the world was the impetus of the story that is at the heart of the gospel. Even in chapter 17, we are told that Jesus does not pray for the father to take us our of the world, but to simply protect us from the evil one while we are here. 

 But how big is our world?  The Greek word used in John’s gospel is “kosmos.” It reminds us that God is the maker of all thing visible and invisible. It reminds us that God loves the entire creation and therefore so should we. But do we?

It we look at original sin, and the stain of original sin in us, we find that it manifests itselfin the turn inward, the tendency in us to focus on ourselves ahead of others. Put simply, it shows itself most clearly when we are self centered. It can be insidiously subtle in its operation. 

Like Jesus we are called to love the world.  Today’s opening prayer speaks of a world “united in purity of intention.”  We are called to be one Church, and beyond that to love the “kosmos” the entire world. But because of original sin, we tend to shrink the world we love. And fear encourages the shrinking. 

We shrink it to “people who look like me”, “people who speak my language”, “my friends”, “my family.” And left uncheck it can shrink to the point that the only one I truly love is me.  We see it happening not just in the US but in other countries as well, a pulling away. Sometimes it is nationalism. Sometimes it is a smaller subgroup inside a nation.  It is the opposite of the unity to which we are called by Christ. 

Luckily we know the solution. It’s really simple. Fear and love work as opposing forces. Fear shrinks our world. Love expands it.  If we let the tv and the internet,and even sometimes the people around us, fill us with fear; our world will shrink. We will return to a primitive tribal state of being, the state of our ancestors before the gospel. But St. John tells us that there is no fear in love and that love can cast out fear. 

Love expands our world. For example: When you hear the words North Korea, do you think merely of nuclear weapons or do you think, as well,of the millions of hungry oppressed people who are our brothers and sisters? We don’t ignore the problems but we don’t reduce an entire nation of people to a thing. Can we show real love  for the people of a place like Iran? Do we even bother with news about the people south of our border?

As humans we have a tendency to shrink the world of our concern.  But as Christians we must constantly be expanding the boundaries, striving to imitate Jesus who gave his life for every single person who ever was, is, or will be. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The time in between

It is difficult for us to imagine what these days must have been like in the days in between the ascension and Pentecost for the apostles and others who remained disciples of Jesus. Particularly for Catholics and others who baptize infants we have little or no memory of life without the influence of the Holy Spirit. The downside is that, because we don’t really remember life before the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can loose sight of what a gift it is. The same way we take for granted the ability to breathe or eat or walk, we take for granted the presence of God with us. 

We are five days away from the celebration of Pentecost, the day on which the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church. Perhaps the best thing we can do in each of these five days is take a few minutes each day to quiet ourselves and give our undivided attention to the third person of the Trinity,whose temples we are. 
In the words of Pope Francis, “There is no greater freedom than letting yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit and allowing him to lead you wherever he wishes.”

Monday, May 14, 2018

Successor to the Apostles

When we think of successors to the Apostles, we think of bishops. But today the Church celebrates the first successor, and the only one still called “apostle”, Mathias. 

As we are told in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter  in his role as the head of the Church, announces that they must chose someone as the successor to Judas. Two names are offered, they pray, they cast lots, and Mathias is chosen. Unlike later successors he is not “bishop” but “apostle”, because as Peter tells us,

[he) accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.

Even today we reserve the word “apostle” for those who were actually with Jesus. For us there is no such thing as a modern apostle.  All later successors of  apostles will be called by a term mentioned in Acts but spelled out more clearly in the First Letter of Timothy, the επίσκοπος (episkopos) which makes its way into English as “bishop” and things associated with bishops are called “episcopal”. The word means overseer. The bishop is the one charged with oversight of the community, and at the center of that ministry is making sure that the faith that is handed on today is the faith preached by the aspostles.

We can only imagine what it must have been like to be Mathias: the responsibility and honor that came with being chosen as a apostle and yet you are not the successor of Peter or James but the successor of Judas. Surely Mathias like the other apostles went forth, preached the gospel, founded communities and appointed bishops to oversee those communities. So somewhere in the Church today there are bishops who are successors of Mathias, and therefore successors to Judas. 

When we profess “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” we do not mean some vague resemblance to the early church, we mean actually linked to the apostles. And we believe that even as you are reading this, the apostles including Mathias watch over us, and intercede for us from their place in heaven. 

Priests, deacons, and all types of catechists (including parents)merely assist the bishop in safeguarding and handing on the faith which Jesus entrusted to the apostles. Today let each of us ask St. Mathias to help us to proclaim the gospel with the courage of the apostles, not only with our words but with our lives. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Only Half the Story

Today in many dioceses we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord. The gospels tell us that Jesus ascended back to heaven from whence he came. He completed the mission. 

Most of us get that part of the story. We get that ascending he opened the way for us to enter heaven. It’s also safe to say that most of us readily believe that he remains with us. But in the reading from St. Augustine assigned for the Office of Readings, he reminds of the part we don’t often reflect on.  

   just as he remained with us even after his ascension, so we too are already in heaven with him, even though what is promised us has not yet been fulfilled in our bodies.

Do we ever stop to think that on a level beyond what the eye can see, we who are baptized into his body have already transcended this early life and participate in another life in heaven?

This is not simply a nice idea. It should impact how we live this earthly existence. Again, St. Augustine writes:

Why do we on earth not strive to find rest with him in heaven even now, through the faith, hope and love that unites us to him? 

We must live in this world. We must be actively engaged in the problems and concerns of this world. But we should not allow ourselves to be drawn into the anger of this world. When we find ourselves being drawn toward the anger, it is the that we should recall what the ascension of Jesus means for us in the here and now. 

Our being “already in heaven” can enable us to rise above, to be in the world but not of the world. 

On this feast of the Ascension of the Lord Jesus, perhaps it would be a good thing to find some quiet time to consciously connect with our own otherworldliness. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Ontological Change

There are a number of terms we use, many dating back to St. Thomas Aquinas, that can leave the average person feeling as if they need to take a dictionary to Church. They can also lead non-Catholics to ask the question, “Where’s that in the Bible?” The term “ontological change” is one such phrase. 

To understand the term, we have to start by acknowledging that there are some parts of faith that are simply beyond human language, because God cannot be reduced to any human formulation. We use “ontological change” to try and describe the change that happens to a person when they are ordained. The Catechism uses the phrase “indelible character.” Like baptism and confirmation, the sacrament of orders cannot be undone or temporary. A priest is still also a deacon. A Bishop is also still a deacon and a priest. When a man is ordained his relationship to the community is fundamentally and permanently reordered. 

Where is that in the Bible? It is in today’s gospel of the good shepherd. While Pope Francis says the shepherd should smell like sheep, he does not say the shepherd is one of the sheep. That would be a strange image, one of the sheep standing up on his hind legs and leading the flock. When one is ordained a priest or a bishop, one is called to teach, sanctify, and shepherd the people of God. It is worth noting that almost all Christians use the word “pastor” which comes from the Latin word for shepherd.  Those who are ordained are transformed from mere members of the flock to shepherds, hopefully good shepherds. 

Sometimes the shepherd walks behind the sheep, sometimes beside the sheep, sometimes in front of the sheep, and often he stands in the midst. But he should always remember to never get too far from the sheep in any direction. Of course the other problem is that  in our democratic culture one of the uncomfortable challenges we have to face is that the Pastor cannot think of himself as “just one of the people.” If a coach begins to think of himself as just one of the players or a teacher acts like he or she is buddies with the students, there are going to be problems. 

We are all equal in dignity, but our roles are different. Church is all about relationship: our relationship to God, our relationships with each other. The very existence of the concept of “ordination” is an acceptance of the belief that there is such a thing as a right “order” to those relationships. I will never say “Hola, Francisco” to the Pope or “Hiya, Barry” to the Bishop. It would be a dishonest representation of the relationship. While they are both very friendly people, they are not my friends. 

Yes this grates against our post-modern American culture, but so do many other truths taught by the Christian faith. Let us pray that God will continue to call good shepherds for His flock, and daily grant the existing shepherds the grace and wisdom to teach, sanctify, and lead the People of God. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Unity of the Church

Each Sunday we profess faith in ONE, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. But sadly, I wonder if we have not simply given up on the idea of real unity. On the global level we see the church divided into innumerable “denominations.” And even inside the Catholic Church we see those who should be leaders acting as if they are members of political parties.  On the local level, we see parishes internally divided along ethnic lines. As what had been minority language groups grow and become majorities, struggles for power consume communities, and it becomes at best two churches sharing one building. We hear the cry, “They have taken over our church.”

How far we have drifted from our roots. The Acts of the Apostles tells us:

The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.

As we read the Acts of the Apostles, we are reminded that the Church is never “my Church” or even “our Church.” The Church was established by Christ and is exclusively “His Church.”  The Church is His Body. You and I by baptism have the privilege of being members, but it remains His Body. There is, as St. Paul told the Ephesians, 

one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

In John 21 we are told that it was Peter who hauled the net ashore and the net was not torn. In two millennia we have torn it to shreds. But we can also mend it. 

It starts in the heart of the indivual believer. It starts in the local “community of the Christian Faithful” we call a parish. Each of us must make a through examination of our minds and hearts to root out any seeds of division.  Unity does not mean sameness. There will always be groups with different spiritualities, languages, and areas of focus in ministry. But unity must mean more than mutual toleration. There must be true respect and communication that is essential to community. 

Let us not only pray for global unity in the Church, but let us work for unity in our communities. 

Wouldn’t it be nice

Normally on March 25th, nine months before December 25th, we celebrate the Annunciation, the moment when the angel appeared to Mary to announce to her the good news that she was to be the mother of Jesus.  This year March 25th was Palm Sunday, followed by Holy Week and Easter Week. So here we are on April 9th celebrating the Annunciation. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if an angel just showed up one day and told us what we were supposed to do with our lives? Truth be told, it would probably scare us to death. We’d probably either dismiss it as a dream or run for an MRI to make sure we didn’t have a brain tumor. In addition, we should take note of just how little the angel told her.

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.

She is given none of the details about what is going to happen to her, Joseph, or Jesus. Nor is she told what she is supposed to do. 

And yet, she says, “Let it be done unto me according to your word.”  “be done”, passive voice. 

We don’t care much for the idea of being passive — even less the idea of having things done to us. We want to be active and in control. It’s what makes the concept of obedience so difficult. It’s what makes certain stains of  religion attractive, those voices that tell us that each of can decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. 

Today as we celebrate the Annunciation, let each of us take some time to reflect on the place of obedience in our lives. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Faith across time

Each year the Church calls us during the 50 days of Easter to return to our roots, to read the amazing story of the Church’s beginning in the Acts of the Apostles. It is a reminder to us that Christianity is more than a philosophy, a guide for living. Christianity is a historical religion.  At its core are historical events: the birth, life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, God incarnate. If one does not believe that these events actually happened, one cannot say, “I am a Christian.”

But the historicity of Christianity does not stop there. To be a Christian requires also that we believe the promise that opens the Acts of the Apostles, the promise of the Holy Spirit who, as we are told in St. John’s gospel, “will teach you all things.”  

To be a Christian is to believe that Holy Spirit continued to move in history and  inspired each of the writers of books of the Bible. The Holy Spirit inspired the Church in the process as she discerned what writings would and would not be included in the Bible. The Bible did not simply one day magically appear. 

As Christians we believe that there will be “no new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ” at his second coming.

 But we do not believe that with the completion of the Bible, God went silent and the Holy Spirit ceased to teach. 

When we say that Christianity is a historical religion we proclaim that the same Holy Spirit continues to assist the Church to “gradually grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.” Revelation is complete, but our understanding is unfolding.  For that reason when we read to Word of God it is essential that we all so listen in a special way to those known as the Church Fathers, the first generations after the Apostles. How did they understand the text?

Over these 50 days as we read the story of the early church it is a reminder to us that that same Holy Spirit that guided them continues to guide the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church today. 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Keeping the week Holy

With the celebration of Passion/Palm Sunday the Church begins the period traditionally called Holy Week. Thursday through Sunday we will celebrate the events that form the core of the Christian faith, the passion (suffering), death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In Catholic Churches this is also the time of year when we celebrate the Chrism Mass where the bishop blesses the oils used in the Sacraments of the Church throughout the year, and the priests come together with their bishop to renew the promises made at ordination. 

In times past in Christian nations Holy Week was a time when business halted to prepare for and celebrate the holy days. Now, even many organizations with “Catholic” in their title keep operating in a “business as usual” fashion throughout most, if not all, of Holy Week.  Without the cultural assistance, the individual Christian must make a concerted effort to keep this week holy. We must each decide those actions we will take to set this week apart from the other 51 weeks of the year. 

We can begin with an increase in daily prayer and a commitment to attend the liturgies Holy Thursday through Easter Sunday. Here in the Diocese of Richmond the Chrism Mass will be held at the Cathedral on Monday evening. 

In his first general audience on March 27, 2013 Pope Francis spoke of what it means to live Holy Week

Living Holy Week, following Jesus not only with the emotion of the heart; living Holy Week, following Jesus means learning to come out of ourselves in order to go to meet others, to go towards the outskirts of existence, to be the first to take a step towards our brothers and our sisters, especially those who are the most distant, those who are forgotten, those who are most in need of understanding, comfort and help. There is such a great need to bring the living presence of Jesus, merciful and full of love!

Living Holy Week means entering ever more deeply into the logic of God, into the logic of the Cross, which is not primarily that of suffering and death, but rather that of love and of the gift of self which brings life. It means entering into the logic of the Gospel. Following and accompanying Christ, staying with him, demands “coming out of ourselves”, requires us to be outgoing; to come out of ourselves, out of a dreary way of living faith that has become a habit, out of the temptation to withdraw into our own plans which end by shutting out God’s creative action.

Today each of us must decide what we will do each day of the week so that we may be drawn more fully into the Holiness of Holy Week. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The deafness of preconception

In today’s Gospel we have the story of Jesus curing the man at the pool at Bethesda. The part of the story that we can easily overlook is what happens next. As the man is walking along, he  is spotted by some people. We don’t know how many. They are  simply referred to as “the Jews“.

They see a man walking with mat on the Sabbath, a clear violation of the law. Fascinating part of the story is what happens next. And remind him that is unlawful to carry his mat on the Sabbath. And he responds, 

The man who made me well told me,’ Pick up your mat and walk.’“

What is most interesting is the fact that they skip over the first part of the settings and, only hear the second half.

Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?

They skip over “the man who made me well.” They miss the miracle. 

They are so fixated on their agenda they can’t hear what is being said. Someone has just told them the Good News, a miracle and all they can do is obsess over a violation of the Sabbath. 

How often are we those people, so driven by our own agenda and judgements that we cannot truly listen. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

From where does temptation come

On this last day before Lent, St. James takes us to the source of temptation. From his writing it st apparent that in his time their were some who believed that God himself tempted us to put us to the test.  St. James makes it clear that God tempts no one. 

While we may not in our Day blame God for temptation we still, to often, look around for someone else to blame when we sin. St. James tells us,

each person is tempted when lured and enticed by his desire.

If we want to find the source of our temptation, we need to look inside. It is our own desires, our longings that give rise to the temptation and ultimately to sin. 

Tomorrow we enter into our annual period of penance for our sins but, it is also a time when we should take a deep look inside and identify those desires that may not be good for us, the ones that lead us into sin. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

A new look at temptations

In two days we will begin the season of Lent, and so one comment in particular from today’s first reading stands out. As we begin reading the Letter of St. James he tells us to:

Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials.

The word he uses for trials can also be translated testing, or temptation. 

Most of us are accustomed to thing of trials and temptations as things. And it is true that we should not go out looking for them. 

On the other hand, St. James tells us that they can have a positive purpose, that we we endure such trials we have the opportunity to delevop perseverance. 

The word for perseverance is hypomena. It literally means to remain under. Imagine standing under a great weight and yet not being weighed down. That is the virtue of perseverance. And every time we are able to face down even the small temptations that we encounter in daily life, we are building up our store of perseverance. 

Perseverance is a virtue we all hope we will never need. But we know that if we live long enough we will all have those moments when we are struck by a surprise that threatens to crush us. We need to be prepared. 

In his letter St. James links faith and perseverance:the first a theological virtue (given to us by God), the second anatural virtue (habit developed though practice).  Togethe they can enable us to face whatever life throws at us. 

As we prepare to enter the season of Lent, we are reminded that being Christian requires more than being nice. It requires intentional practice to shape our lives in the the image of Christ. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Pope to those who preach

On Wednesday as part of his teaching regarding mass Pope Francis spoke to those who preach snd those who listen to preaching. Here is part of his talk. 

Whoever has the homily should carry out their ministry well – those who preach, the priest or the deacon or the bishop –, by offering a true service to those who participate in the mass, but also those who listen to them should do their part. Above all lending due attention, that is, assuming the proper interior disposition without subjective pretense, recognizing that every preacher has his strengths and weaknesses. At times there is a basis for annoyance from a homily that is long. or unfocused or incomprehensible but at other times it is prejudice that creates the obstacle. Whoever gives a homily should be conscious that he is not doing his own thing, he is preaching, giving voice to Jesus, preaching the Word of Jesus. The homily should be well prepared and should be brief, brief! A priest once told me the story of going to another town where his parents lived and his father told him, “You know, I am very happy because my friends that I have found a church where there is mass without a homily!”. And how many times during the homily some are sleeping, others chatting or going outside to smoke a cigarette… For that reason, please, may the homily be brief and well prepared. And how does one prepare a homily, dear priests, deacons, and bishops? How does one prepare oneself? With prayer, with the study of the Word of God and by creating a clear and brief synthesis that should never go longer than 10 minutes, please

His words remind those who preach and those who listen to do their part with more careful attention. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

How excellent is he?

It has been three weeks since our new bishop has been installed. One of the first things we were told was that he wanted to return to the traditional form of address His/Your Excellency. Frankly, I have been shocked at the immediate,visceral and negative reaction of some people, often voiced as ,”Who does he think he is?”  It caused me to stop and reflected on all of our titles. 

I realized that our forms of address in the Church are as much statements of hope as they are statements of fact. They remind us of who we are striving to be. Every time someone says “Good Morning, Father,”  I am reminded of all the things I am called to be, regardless of how I may feel at that moment. I am reminded of relationship. 

Yes, we could just say “bishop”, but that word describes a function. Bishop is the Greek word for overseer. “Excellency” reminds the bishop that there is an even greater expectation. Some says, “Does he think he’s better than the rest of us?” My response would be:”I hope so.”  

Think for a minute about how the average Christian or even the so-called “Good Christian” behaves. I pray he strives to be better than that. I pray that he strive for excellence in living the Christian life. 

Yes, he is called to oversee the diocese but, that is only one aspect of being Bishop in the fullest sense of the word. May Excellency describe all bishops in title and in fact. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Who goes to whom

At the end of today’s gospel we hear the very well known words,

whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

But there is  another verse from this gospel that may give us an even deeper insight, one we might overlook.

The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house. Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him. 

  Notice, they do not go to Jesus, they call and expect him to come to them. St. Mark gives no explanation. He doesn’t say, “They couldn’t get in.” He simply tells us that they stood outside and yells for Jesus to come out to them.

How often are any of us those people? We want Jesus to come to us. We know what we want and we want Jesus to help with our plan.

It is interesting to note, that they went to Jesus, just not all the way. They are calling to him, not responding to his call. They’re acting as if it is a negotiation. The came part way now he should come part way. 

How often are we the partial disciples? We read the Bible, we pray, we go to Church.  But then we expect Jesus to do his part and answer our petitions.  We forget that He is God. We are the servants. He calls, we come. There is no deal making. There is obedience. We are to hear and do God’s will.  

The message can sound harsh until we realize one thing. God knows better than I do what I need- every moment of every day. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Greatest Threat

While we go about our business on this Monday morning there is a threat that neither Democrats or Republicans seem to want to confront. We hear it articulated clearly and forcefully in today’s gospel.

If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand

Now before we start looking around for someone to blame, we need to look inside. We need to asked ourselves “How do I participate in the dividing?” and “What have I done to encourage unity?”

But before we can seriously answer either of those questions, we must each ask a more fundamental question: Do I believe the gospel? Do I really believe that a house, a kingdom, a nation divivided cannot stand? Do I see division as the greatest threat to national security?

Once we embrace the gospel and believe in our hearts that a house divided cannot stand, then we can each begin to take steps to ended the division. 

It’s starts by each of us refusing to propagate the caricatures. Enough with hyperbole. We have to stop liking, sharing, and retweeting anger. Democrats do not hate babies and the military.  Republicans do not hate women and Latinos.  Members of both parties are men and women who love their families and friends, and most of all love their country. They simply disagree about the best path for our nations. No one party is always right. No one party is always wrong.  Many of our founders worried that political parties would ruin us. They appear to have foreseen this very moment. 

Step two: we need to be informed and engaged. We need to focus on issues not people or parties. As Christians, a part of loving even your enemies is the willingness to truly listen to the other side.

Step Three: Encourage the better sides of our politicians. Most of our elected figures are people of faith. Most are Christians. Imagine if we wrote to them and encouraged them to behave like Christians. 

And we should wrap it all in prayer, daily prayer for our country and ita elected officials. 

We have been better than this and we can be better than this again. We can and should have intense debates about the issues, but I truly believe we can do it without the anger, hate, and personal attack that is guaranteed to destroy us. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Fear of Change

It has taken me most of my priesthood to realize that human beings, in general, hate two things: surprises and change. For the longest time I thought I was the only one who hated surprises, but years as a priest, particularly as a pastor, have taught me just how common this dislike is. And the anxiety around the arrival of our new bishop has underscored how deeply we fear change. Oh yes, on the surface there’s a lot of  excitement to meet him, but scratch that surface and what you find is fear- what is he going to change (that I don’t want changed)?

Surprise is more easily understandable. Realize it or don’t, there is a certain amount of control freak in all of us. Surprises remind us how little we actually control. 

Our dislike for change, on the other hand, is some what illogical because we live in bodies that are constantly changing on a planet that is in constant motion. Every created thing in the universe is constantly changing.

I think if we look closely we will find that our dislike of change is linked to our fear of death. Somewhere inside we think, “If I can avoid change, I can avoid death.” If you listen carefully, some people want to not only avoid change and stop time  but actually try to run the clock backwards, as if that were even possible. The earth continues to rocket through space at 67,000 miles per hour change is absolutely inevitable. 

So how do we deal with change and death?

The gospel teaches us to embrace both. Death is not something to be feared but the door through we which we can pass to eternal life. And change? Change is the key.

Repent and believe in the gospel. So we are told today.  But the word repent in St. Mark does not refer to sack cloth and ashes. It refers to change. 
Metanoeite. From two words that mean “change” and “mind”. 

How much change is required? Total. Simply look at the second reading today from St. Paul. 

let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully.

And this change is not a one time thing. It is meant to be continuous. We must constantly be about imersing ourself more deeply in the mystery of  God, and allowing ourselves to be transformed by God’s grace. And the word “metanoia” reminds us that it must begin in our minds, our way of thinking about things and people. 

There will always be those who believe that it is somehow virtuous to dig your heels in and “take a stand.” The earth is still rotating at 1000 mph and moving through space at 67,000 mph. 

It would seem to me that the wiser choice is to throw ourselves headlong into the arms of a loving God and enjoy the ride. It is guaranteed to be filled with both surprise and change, but with God I can know for sure that it is all for my benefit and the benefit of all God’s children. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Avoiding regret

Today we begin our reading of the Second Book of Samuel and the story begins with the death of Saul and his son Jonathan, David’s closest friend. One can almost feel the pain of David when he hears the news. In yesterday’s readings those around David and Saul were trying to convince them to kill one another. Instead yesterday’s reading ended with reconciliation between Saul and David. 

Imagine for a moment that they had not reconciled. How much worse would the deaths have been for David? He would have probably regretted it for the rest of his life. When have all either known or been those people, those weighed down by regret. How do we not end up in that place. 

First, we must think before we speak or act. In Star Wars, Luke is told “Trust your feelings.” Christianity tells us just the opposite. 

We know how powerful feelings are and how they can lead us astray. Instead we are told, “Trust your conscience.”  Not only are we told to trust it, we are told that we must form it, constantly. In the way athletes train, we must constantly be imersing ourselves in the Word of God, and the teaching f the Church to help us understand the Word. 

Secondly, we are at times going to fail, and fail badly. That failure is sometimes going to be accompanied by regret. And not all regret is bad. Some regret can be instructive. It can help us avoid falling again. But chronic, ongoing regret is not healthy. 

Thankfully we have medicine for that. It’s called the Sacrament of Penance. It is the place we take our guilt, our shame, our regret, and we leave them all. We leave them in the loving and merciful hands of God. There we are washed clean. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

To whom do we listen

In today’s first reading we see the end of the reign of Saul approaching. Samuel points to a lack of two things. In one translation they are referred to as obedience and submission. In Hebrew they are both words that refer to the activity of listening. The second kashab refers to actively trying to hear, turning yours ears toward the sound, the way we lean in to a conversation in a noisy place. The first word shamah refers to the act of listening with intelligence. 

We live constantly surrounded by the sound of more voices than we can count, not just “social media” that we now want to blame for all the world’s ills, but the voices of our peers, friends, family, those we wish to please, as well as the interior voices of our feelings, and the wee small voice of our conscience.  

When we sin, it is not just that we have chosen not to listen to our conscience, instead we have actively chosen to listen attentively to another voice. We have turned our ears away from God and toward another voice, a voice that always has a beautiful rationalization for the sin we choose to commit. 

Today in the United States we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was, like all of us, a flawed human being. His greatness was that, in the critical moments of life, his hearing had been honed from years of practice to find, amidst the noise, the quiet voice of God, and to choose to listen intelligently to that voice even when it endangered his life. 

Can we name the voices that speak to us? Can we identify the voice of of our passions like ambition, lust, or selfishness? Do we have the courage to turn away from the voice of our friends when they urge us in the wrong direction? Can we recognize the voice of our conscience amid all the noise?

As human beings we have a God-given freedom to choose and whether we are aware of it or not we are constantly choosing one voice over another. The challenge of Christian living is to develop the habit of identifying the voice of God and choosing to lean toward and listen intelligently to that one voice. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Needing others

Of the four gospel writers St. John may be the one who is least concerned with writing history as we in the modern world think of it. He is always writing theology, telling us about God, humanity, and the relationships among them. 

In both the first reading and the gospel we have stories of calls, the call of Samuel in the first reading and the call of the Apostles in the second. In neither  story are those called able to recognize and respond to the call of God on their own. In the stories of Samuel, he needs the help of Eli. In John’s version of the call of the Apostles, John the Baptist points two of his apostles to Jesus, and one of the two, Andrew, goes and gets his brother Simon (Peter).  

These stories remind us that God created human beings to be social, and the Church to be communal. Yes, there is always a very personal dimension to faith, but true Christian faith is never individual. This is the truth behind the often misrepresented phrase “Outside the Church there is no salvation.”  Human beings are created to be in relationship with God and with one another. We need one another.

These readings also challenge each of us to examine our words and actions and ask, “Do my words and actions draw others to Christ?” We are all called to be Eli, to be John and Andrew.   Not just in exceptional moments but in the everyday, people should find in us an attractive example.  And we should be constantly looking for opportunities to help those around us recognize the action of God in their lives. 

Samuel needed Eli, Andrew needed John, Simon needed Andrew. It’s really very simple. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Providential Encouneters

A significant part of every life is spent not doing things that interest us or even things we want to do, but rather doing things that simply need to be done. As we continue reading from the First Book of Samuel we encounter Saul whose father is Kish whose asses have wandered off. Saul is told to take some servants and go look for the animals. 

Did they wander off in different directions? Did they wander off in a group? Which way did they go? Who knows. But Saul, as any obedient son would, goes off and searches unsuccessfully for the animals. But in the midst of the boring and fruitless search he has heard there is a seer in the area and decide to consult him. Then by what would appear to be conincidence he runs into Samuel. 

How many times during the course of our day do we simply cross paths with other people, not family, friends or coworkers that we are intending to talk to but the chance encounter? How do we engage with that person?

Our American tendency is to offer the polite “Hi, how ya doing?” and keep moving as quickly as possible. Particularly when we are working we can get frustrated by anything or anyone we classify as an interruption. 

Some would tells us to see Jesus in them. But I wonder if that isn’t too abstract and misses the point. Rather than looking for Jesus in them wouldn’t it be easier just to remember the second of the two great commandments and love the person in front of us whoever they are. Suddenly, that’s not an interruption, it’s a person, a person who deserves our attention. 

Yes, we may need to limit the length of calls and other interactions, but even when the time is short we should be able to truly be attentive to the other person, to listen, to care, to not be dismissive. 

As far as Saul knew,  he was out there looking for his father’s asses. From God’s perspective he was out there for a very different reason, to meet Samuel the man who would change his life. We can never know which chance encounter is actually, providentially part of God’s larger plan.