Monday, December 31, 2018

Hope for 2019

In less than 24 hours we will begin 2019. For me personally, it will make an important milestone, because I will celebrate 30 years of priesthood. Nineteen of those years will have been spent also as a tribunal judge. 

It was in 1998 that I went off to Rome to study canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, founded by St. Ignatius Loyola. We can easily forget that the legal system of the Catholic Church has inspired and influenced legal systems around the world. In American history classes, we tend to jump from the Roman Empire, to the Magna Carta, to the Declaration of Independence. If the Catholic Church is mentioned, it is only as a caricature of something evil.

My time in Rome only deepened my faith and trust in the Church. We have laws rooted in the gospels. We have a judiciary. We have clearly articulated obligations, rights, and procedures. We believe in the concept of justice.  

Sadly, it was not long after my return in the summer of 2000 that I began to see the flaw in the system. Contrary to some conspiracy theorists, the problem is not this Pope or some secret cabal in the Vatican. The problem is more mundane and closer to home. 

While the Code of Canon Law is law for priests, deacons, reiglious and laity; in the mind of too many bishops it is merely a “Compendium of Suggestions.” Bishops are acutely aware that their only superior is the Pope and he will only intervene in the most egregious cases.   Locally, every member of the judiciary in a diocese serves at the pleasure of the bishop. When a bishop or one of “his people” violates the law, there is no practical system to address the violation. The one who complains is likely to be the one who gets punished.  In theory, bishops are bound by the law. In practice, they (and their inner circles) are free to violate any law they don’t like with no consequence expect perhaps a stern letter from a Vatican bureaucrat. 

After 2002, in the US we got  the charter and review boards. But even now, each bishop chooses the review board and is free to ignore or simply rewrite the regulations that govern the review board. 

In February Pope Francis has called for a special meeting with the heads of bishops conferences from around the world. This may we’ll be our last chance to regain our credibility. But all the new law in the world will not mater, if there is no functioning systems for holding bishops accountable, when they choose to violate or simply ignore the law. 

There can be no doubt that 2019 will be a turning point in the history of the Catholic Church. If we get this right, the faith of the people and our credibility can be restored. If we fail again, generations may be lost to the Church. 

Despite all that I have seen in my almost 30 years as a priest and part of the chancery, I still believe that the Holy Spirit guides our Church, and Jesus is the Head. I do believe that we can be the Church that we are called to be. Tomorrow we begin the new year by celebrating Mary, Mother of God. As the mother of Jesus, she is also the mother of the Church. Through her intercession, may our Church truly be reborn in the new year. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

White, Red, White, Red

When we celebrate Christmas we often think of the colors red and white, but we rarely think of the fact that those are the liturgical colors that get alternated on the first four days.  Christmas Day was white. Yesterday, Sr. Stephen the Protomartyr was Red, then today we jump back to white for St. John the Evagelist. 

It is St. John whose gospel we read on Christmas Day. It is St. John in the introduction to his gospel is able to span all of time. He takes us back and reminds us that Jesus is the Word through whommthe universe is made. Then it brings it all the way forward to our time in verse 12 when he says,

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God;

St. Iraneus, Athanasius, and Aquinas are all quotes as the catechism explains what it means for us.

The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature":78 "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God."79 "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God."80 "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."81

To some this can sound like heresy. 

Perhaps the reason we are so reticent to embrace this truth is because it is easier for us to think of ourselves as frail sinners. If we were to embrace the notion that we are in any way sharers in His divine nature, then what excuse would we have. It we were to embrace the transforming power of grace, then we would be forced to embrace the fact that sin is always a free choice. We choose to be uncharitable. We choose to act contrary to the gospel. If an act wasn’t a free choice, then it cannot be called a sin. Yes, there are accidents, but by definition they are not sins.  Yes, there are those who suffer from mental illness and cannot control their actions, but neither are those sins. 

St. John reminds us not only what we should be, but what we can be, what we are. How do we do it? — one choice at a time. To us has been given the power, if we would only believe. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The First of Twenty

We wake up this morning to celebrate the first of, not twelve, but twenty days of Christmas. The actual number varies from year to year. The Christmas season begins on December 25 and ends on whatever day the Baptism of the Lord falls. This year it is January 13. 

There are four masses traditionally celebrated for Christmas, each with its own readings:
— the vigil mass with the gospel which includes the genealogy. 
— the Mass during the night (missa in nocte)  known in English as Midnight Mass with the gospel that includes Bethlehem, Shepherd, angels, etc.
— the mass at Dawn which few parishes celebrate.  Its focus is Jesus as the light come into the world.
— lastly, the mass on Christmas Day. 

This is no mass for romantics. There are no shepherds, no angels, no mangers, or animals. The mass on Christmas Day is the mass for the adults. 

The gospel for Christmas Day is the prologue to the Gospel of John, Perhaps the most power statement ever written about the identity of Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 
He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. 
What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; 
the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

The Book of Genesis opens by telling us that god spoke and the universe came into being.
John tells us that the Word through whom all things came into being was Jesus.
Genesis tells us the first thing created was light.
John reveals that The Light which no darkness could ever overcome is Jesus. 
Life itself came and comes through Jesus. 

The universe was created by the Father but through the Son. Jesus became incarnate and was born of the Virgin Mary at a specific time and place. But he existed outside of time and space with the Father and the Holy Spirit, before creation ever began. 

Some Christians act as if we worship the Bible as the word of God. St. John reminds us that the definitive Word is not a book.The ultimate Word is a person, Jesus whose birth into our world we celebrate today. 

The God of Christianity is not the greatest power in the universe. He is more than that. He exits beyond the universe, beyond creation, above creation. In comparison to the grandeur of God, the universe is a snow globe. 

And today we celebrate our Christian belief that all of that was emptied into time and space, into a human life called Jesus. And why would God do that? He did it so that we might be able to share in his divinity. He did it so that we might become more than simple creatures.  He did it to make us truly sons and daughters. 

This year we have 20 days of Christmas and perhaps we need all 20. Perhaps with 20 days of Christmas, we might just begin to grasp what this birth meant and who we are called to be. Together as the one holy catholic and apostolic Church, perhaps we in 2019 we can show the world that we are that light which the darkness cannot overcome.  He is the head, we are the body. The two are inseparable. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Women from the periphery

Today, on the last of the Sunndays of Advent, the Church turns our attention to the role of women in salvation history. Two women, Elizabeth and Mary, are the bookends.  Elizabeth is thought to be too old and barren. Mary is at the other end of the spectrum, on the cusp from child to woman. Both women are in some ways outcasts. 

In those days, when a couple did not get pregnant, all of the blame was placed on the woman. She was barren. She was the one who must have displeased God. She was someone to be avoided.  

Mary was the perfect age to be married off. The problem in her case is that the pregnancy precedes the wedding. And who will believe that God is the father. 

What unites these women is faith. 

The story tells us that

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country

She and Elizabeth are away from the gossiping crowds. One can imagine that hours these two women must have spent in prayer together. What must those three months together have been like, the bond they would have formed. From this encounter Mary is strengthen to return home and complete her mission. 

From this encounter two great prayers are born, the Hail Mary and the Magnificat. 

For those who want to claim that Christianity is patriarchal, where are then men in this story? Only Jesus and John are alluded to.  There had to have been other men around. None are named. Today is about the women. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The coming of the Light

As I awoke this morning I couldn’t help but think about the changing of the seasons— not the coming of the cold of winter, but the passing of the winter solstice. From now each day will get progressively lighter. The slowly ever-increasing hours of daylight remind us that no matter how cold the winter comes, there will be spring; there will be new life. 

While we tell ourselves that for the next few days we are supposed to be filled with joy, in reality, for many people the holidays only increase their pain. Especially for those who have lost loved ones this year, the first Christmas can be truly heart-wrenching.  The holidays can be something to be endured. 

For us as a Church, 2018 has been another difficult year, not unlike 2002.  What, in someways, has this one worse, has been the lengths to which many of our leaders would go to cover up the problems. 

In today’s readings Hannah and Mary proclaim their absolute faith in the power of God. Mary proclaims not only God’s power but also God’s justice.  
God is the one who will cast down the mighty, lift up the lowly, fill the hungry, and send the rich away with nothing. 

For us, the great challenge is that God will do it all on His schedule. For us who measure response times in nanoseconds, God and His Church seem to move far too slowly. We want it NOW!

No matter how bad your 2018 may have been, even the movement of the planet reminds us of the Good News. Tomorrow will absolutely be brighter than today. The change at times may be imperceptible, but that’s what faith is for. Jesus is the light that the darkness cannot overcome. And if we stand in that light and refuse to move, we too will overcome. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

How small are we?

Today’s first reading provides an image that is truly countercultural.

I am the LORD, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.” Fear not, O worm Jacob, O maggot Israel; I will help you, says the LORD; your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.

While we love the “fear not” and being grasped by the right hand, I doubt that any of us are really excited about being a worm or maggot. 

As history looks back on us, it will not just be the millennial “snowflakes” that are judged harshly.  Largely, from the boomers onward, we have, in the name of self-esteem, raised successively more egocentric generations. We will rail against the self-agrandizing behavior of the president, without realizing that he is in many ways merely a reflection of a society in which humility is no longer a value. Even if we are the greatest country in the world, should we be the ones to say it? There was a time when Americans were content to have others say it about us. 

The prophet Isaiah reminds us today that in the grand scheme of things we are but a speck. As individuals, as a nation, and as a Church, the words of the prophet remind us that if we want our redeemer to take us by the right and lead us, if we want him to tell us “fear not”, then must humbly embrace how small we truly are and how much we need His help..

Monday, October 8, 2018

Who is my neighbor?

As I watch the news, it’s sad how much both political parties are banking on anger as the force that will drive their base to the polls in November. Even sadder is the fact that they are right. In America now, the angriest party wins. But saddest of all are number of people who are, by baptism, Christian, and yet, are joining in the anger. 

We can and should debate, disagree, even argue. It’s how, in a democracy, we expect our elected officials to reach decisions for the good of all the people. But despite my best efforts, I can’t find anything in the teaching of Jesus that alllow me to say “I hate” or even “I can’t stand”, particularly in reference to a person I have never met. Even if I were to consider a person an “enemy” or believe they are my “persecutor” I have no choice but to love them. 

Does that mean I want to invite them to dinner? No. Does it mean that I have to trust them? No. But it does mean that I speak of them with the dignity that due to every human being. I pray for their wellbeing and conversion. 

If I am Christian then Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi are my neighbors. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are my neighbors. Nowhere do the gospels say that being Christian is easy. On the contrary, we are told repeatedly how difficult it is. We can repeat phrases like “one nation under God” or “in God we trust” all day long but if our words and actions are no different that those of the atheists and agnostics, if we Christians demonstrate the same vitriol, then are we Christians or merely hypocrites?

Friday, October 5, 2018

Twentieth Century Devotion

When we think of the Catholic Church and the 20th Century, we tend to think first of Vatican II. And on that subject, people feel very strongly, seeing it as either the best thing or the worst thing that ever happened to the Church. We can forget that there is an entire world of Catholics living the faith day by day, most going unnoticed. 

Among those, was a poor girl named Helena Kowalska. Born in 1905, she was so poor that she and uneducated that she had a difficult time finding a convent willing to take her. Her entire life was filled with rejections. What we now know as her devotion to Divine Mercy was for a time forbidden by the Holy Office, comsidered suspect, theologically. 

She lived only a short time on this earth, 33 years. Her childhood saw World War I and a world in which what we now called Poland was constantly being fought over by outside powers. In many ways, the time and place in which she lived showed the worst sides of human nature. And in that context, Jesus showed himself to her. 

The priest to whom she reported her visions wisely sent her to a psychiatrist, to be sure that she was not suffering from some mental illness. Assured that these were not hallucinations, Fr. Micheal became her great supporting in what would be an uphill climb to acceptance. 

Today the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and Divine Mercy Sunday are no longer thought of as strange innovations but as ordinary, perhaps traditional, parts of Catholic Spirituality. 

We may look at our world and think that it’s the worst mess ever, but St. Faustina lived in a much more difficult time and place. And yet, what she saw was Jesus and the great mercy of God. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

More trust than patience

Growing up, I remember often hearing the expression “the patience of Job.”  And yet, this week, as we read the Book of Job, it strikes me that the great virtue we see in Job is not patience but trust. 

Yes, he is patient. But the foundation of that patience is an absolute trust in two things. First, he trusts that God is all-powerful. 

God is wise in heart and mighty in strength. 

Job recognizes the presence of evil in the world. He recognizes the power that human beings have. But for Job, there is a greater power at work in the world, God. 

Secondly, Job believes that God’s action is continuous. And here is where he differs from many of us. For many of us, we seem to believe in a world that runs along like a machine and God occasionally intervenes, possibly in answer to prayer. Job has a very different view of the world. 

For Job, God is constantly at work in the world, constantly moving the world according to His design. 

Do we as Catholics believe in free will? Of course, we believe that every human being chooses and we define ourselves by our actions. 

Each tree is known by its own fruit. 

But we also believe, like Job, not in a God who is passively observing the world and only occasionally intervening, but in a God who is every moment of every day guiding the world toward the fulfillment of His plan, the coming of His kingdom. 

Job was able to be patient because Job trusted God even when the plan was not visible. 

We are living in a time when our trust in human beings is all but completely eroded. The good news is that like Job we may find that adversity deepens our trust in God. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

The unlikely Doctor

In the Catholic Church there are some who, in addition to being declared saints, are also called Doctor of the Church. Here the word Doctor is being used, in the Latin sense, to mean teacher. These are people renowned for their contribution to theology or the doctrine of the Church. 

When today’s saint, St. Thérèse, was made a doctor of the Church in 1997 there was great debate, not because she was a woman, but because her writing was not what anyone would have considered scholarly theology. Her work might be read in a class on Spirtuality.  

In his Apostolic Letter Divini Amoris Scientia (The Science of Divinie Love) St. John Paul II lays out her unique contribution to the teaching of the Church. He reaches back to the scriptures and finds in her writing an example of how God reveals himself to the humble, to the “little ones.” 

Today as we honor St. Thérèse it is a good time for all of us to stop and look for the signs of God’s love in the simple things of life. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Do I believe?

Today as the Church celebrates the archangels Raphael,Gabriel, and Michael; it is a time for all of us to stop and ask how much we believe in the presence and power of angels. 

There have for centuries been certain currents within Christianity that seek to reduce the universe to humans and the Trinity. Even in the Catholic Church, since the second half of the 20th century there has been a tendency to dismiss all other spiritual realities as old-fashioned, or superstition. Some have even tried to explain aways the angels in the Bible as people, human messengers. 

The fact is that Christianity and all three of the monotheistic religions have always believed in the existence of angels. Angels are spiritual (non-corporeal) beings with intelligence and free will. As St. Augustine explains, “angel” is their office not their nature. They are messengers and servants of God. They can constantly behold the face of God. 

Why does it matter to us? As the Catechism puts it,”From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.” In a world that is increasingly individualistic, and even religion gets reduced to “me and God”, it is important for us to remember that there a large part of the universe that we cannot see, and we are not the only intelligent creatures in that universe. We do not need to look to other planets for non-human intelligent life.  They are all around us. They are called angels. They serve as intermediaries between God and us. They accompany us on the journey of life. As we are told in psalm 91,

For he will give his angels charge of youto guard you in all your ways. 

On this Feast of Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel perhaps we all need to pause to be greateful for the action of angels in the world, and listen more carefully for their voices. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

It seems too easy

For those of us who still hope for eternal life, what must we do?

Some seem to think that just being a nice person is enough and because God loves everyone, we are all going to heaven.
Some Christians will tell you that faith alone will do it. 
But in a variety of places, as in today’s gospel, we find another formula:

My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.

Two simple verbs:to hear and to act. 

Professing faith is a great start, but that’s all it is, the beginning. If we wish to be counted among the brothers and sisters of Jesus, we must both hear His Word and do it. 

Where does the system break down? It doesn’t appear to be the hearing. Many Christians have heard the Word until we can recite it from memory. Some can quote chapter and verse. The problem does not seem to be primarily in the hear. 

The center of the problem seems to be in the process where we convert what we have heard into action. What is the blockage?

Temptation and our own enternal passions play a role for certain and we cannot ignore the role of Satan in the world.

But as problematic is the fact that we humans are social by nature. This is, in general, a good thing. It’s what makes society possible. But it also has a downside. 

We want to fit in. We want to succeed.  We want the approval of our superiors. We fear disappointing our loved ones, or the negative consequences of crossing the boss. And so we conform,;we go along. We forget the adage that “silence gives consent.”

Today’s gospel reminds us that on our last day each of us will be judged on, not only how much of the Word we have heard, but on whether or not we have converted the Word into action. Jesus gave his life. How much are we willing to give. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

When all is seen

We are told in the gospel of St. Luke,

For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light. 

And our minds immediately run to people we don’t like, people we think have gotten away with or are getting away with something. We think finally they will get what’s coming to them. 

But rather than thinking of others, perhaps, we should think back over our own lives.. Imagine for a moment if absolutely everything you had ever thought, said, or done was suddenly publicly seen by all.  How would any of us feel if our lives were suddenly that exposed? How many relationships would go up in smoke if every person knew what you thought, or said about them behind their back? You can’t write it all off as “I was only kidding.”

In the Letter of St. James we are commanded to,

Confess your sins to one another 

In the early church this was taken quite literally and people were expected to stand up in front of the whole community and confess. Thankfully, over time, this practice evolved into our Sacrament of Penance, and we can make that confession to one priest or bishop as representative of the whole community. In this life we can maintain some privacy.  

Today’s gospel, however, reminds us that at the end there will be no secrets; there will be no privacy. It will all be known.  At the moment of our death, we will face what we call the “particular judgment”, the judgment of the individual. Our entire life will be brought to light and judged. And we will be humbled. 

The only way we can make it easier on ourselves is to get up every day and live as if it were all being broadcasted. We would do well to imagine that every moment of our life were being live-streamed on the internet, including our thoughts. 

In the gospel today we are told that there is nothing hidden that will not be visible. That would include all four categories we mention in the confiteor: thought, words, what I have done and what I have failed to do. 

It seems like an impossibility high bar that is being set. But it is really quite simple. We must think before we speak or act. And when we do fail, we should avail ourselves of the gift of the Sacrament of Penance, recognizing that there is no such thing as private sin, sin that it only between me and God. As members of the body of Christ, everything done by one effects all.  

May God give each of us the wisdom today, that we may choose the right words and actions, the ones we could be proud to have known by the world. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Which soil am I today ?

Every Christian knows the parable of the seed and the sower. Usually when we read the parable, we read it as referring to different groups of people represented by the path, the rocky ground, the thorns and the good soil. But suppose for a moment we turn it inward and use it as a way of examining our personal behavior, in particular, how we listen. 

It suddenly becomes clear that each one of is all four kinds of soil at different moments in life. 

Sometimes we are the impenetrable path. The birds might as well come and take the seeds away because we are not going to listen at all, our minds are made up, truth doesn’t matter. 

Sometimes we are the rocky soil. We listen, we hear the truth, but it has no lasting effect. 

Sometimes we are soil with the thorns. We listen with the best of intention. We want to be good Christians. But then, we let the thorns from the world around us come in and choke it out.

And occasionally, we are the good soil, we listen, we hear, we allow the Word to actually take root, we are transformed, and through us God is able to produce much fruit. 

If we are honest, we can admit that we vacillate between all four. And the more important question is why. Each of us must look into our hearts and ask what triggers each of the four states. Sometimes we are so petty that the name of the person speaking is enough to turn us into “the path.” We will hear nothing that person has to say. Other times we shift away from being good soil so subtly that we don’t even notice. That is, perhaps, the most dangerous to our spiritual well-being. 

This parable reminds each of us that we must constantly be asking which kind of soil we are at any given moment.  When I read the scriptures, when I pray, when I look something up in the Catechism, when I read the latest teaching from Pope Francis, or my own bishop, how do I listen? Am I looking for something to disagree with, something I think is wrong? Or do I truly open my mind and heart? Am I willing to let my ideas be the ones that die to make room for a deeper truth? 

Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies...

Which of my opinions or ideas will die today?

Friday, September 21, 2018

Remaining Focused

When you opening the New Testament, the first book we see is The Gospel According to St. Matthew. Today we celebrate him as apostle and evenglist. 

In the last few years we have heard a great deal in the Catholic Church about the New Evangelization.  But while some of the methods are new, evangelization is as old as the Church herself. It is what those first 12 did. They went out and proclaimed the Good News, the Evangelion, to the people around them. 

As simple as that seems it depends on a prior action, an action, that is captured in the first title by which we celebrate St. Matthew, Apostle. In the Catholic Church we reserve the use of the word apostle to those who were called and walked with Jesus. St. Paul is entitled to be called apostle, because of his unique encounter and call.

We are all called to participate in the activity of evangelization by virtue of our baptism. But if we are to do that with any credibility we too must be apostolic. We must be people who walk with the Lord. 

The first reading for today’s mass begins with the admonition,

live in a manner worthy of the call you have received

Does this mean that only the perfect are allowed to evangelize? Certainly, there are some currents in our culture that take that attitude, forgetting of course that there are no people in the world today without sin,  Even the Pope needs and has a confessor. 

A part of the Gospel is the Good  News that is precisely the fallen that Jesus rasiees up to become his fiercest preachers. As we heard in yesterday’s gospel,

Which of them will love him more?” Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”

To go out and proclaim the gospel does not require that we be perfect, but it does require that every single day of our lives, we get up and to the best of our abilities live lives worthy of the call we have received he. Christ’s love and mercy is not license to do as we please. Worthy or unworthy, which life will we live today? The choice is simple if we stay focused on walking humbly with our God. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Embrace the hyperbole

Being raised in the 60’s and 70’s, the word “radical” had a particular meaning. It calls to mind the shattering of all the norms of the 50’s, some of which needed to be shattered. Racism, as well as the blatant discrimination against any minority, including women and those of us with disabilities, all needed to go. Fifty years later it seems clear that we, as the old saying goes, threw out the baby with the bath. We indiscriminately grabbed anything with the word tradition attached to it, and tossed in the garbage.

Today St. Paul tells us he is going to show us 

a still more excellent path

The word he uses for more excellent is hyperbole. In English we use this word to refer to overstatements, things that we can’t possibly want people to take literally. And that is how we dismiss much of the gospel. We declare it hyperbole. Even some Christians who claim to follow the Bible literally, dismiss the more radical portions as hyperbole. 

If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. (Mt. 19:21)

Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt. 5;48)

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. (Lk. 6:30j

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Eph. 4:29)

And we could go on and on listing those Bible verses that most of us simply choose to dismiss. We dismiss them because they are too demanding of us. 

Perhaps it is time for us to take a fresh look at our faith, and embrace the truly radical nature of Christianity. Maybe it’s time to embrace the hyperbole. 

Paul’s discourse today ends with a famous verse.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

But the love of which he speaks is not the love of TV and movies. It is not the love holding hands and singing songs. It is a self-sacrificing love, that demands everything. It is a love that finds its origin only in God. It comes from God and we cooperate with Him in it. 

For almost half a century we Christians have tried to fill our churches by adapting to the culture. We forgot what St. John taught us, that we are to be in the world not of it.  Instead of filling our churches, we have watched as an increasingg number of people list their religion as “none.”  If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, perhaps it’s time to chance course and embrace the radical difference of Christianity. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

What awful bread

When children are preparing for first communion, often parishes let them taste unconsecrsted bread and wine.  Yuk! Is usually the response to the wine. And they bread they don’t find that much better. If you’re wondering why the bread we use for communion is nothing but flour and water, you answer is found in today’s first reading from chapter 11 of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. 

From the letter it appears that in the beginning the Christians did gather on Sunday for a real feast, lots of food and too much drink. Everyone one would bring the equivalent of a picnic and have a great time. And as we read in his letter Paul put a stop to it. Why?

Because as we read,

When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk.

He then instructs them to get back to the foundation of the celebration of the Eucharist.  

the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my Body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my Blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

It is from these words and the words of the gospel descriptions that the Church over time constructed the very simple Litrugy of the Eucharist that we celebrate in the Catholic Church. The elements: bread made only from flour and water, and unadulterated grape wine. In mass the Liturgy of the Eucharist is preceded by the Liturgy of the Word. 

For those who wish Church looked more like a party or a rock concert, blame the Corinthians. 

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The turn from self

For those who believe that we are saved by faith alone, I would point you to the words of St. James in today’s second reading,

So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 

Our liturgy is practice for life.  From the very first sign of the cross at mass we are called to combine words with actions. And this week, the action the gospel calls us to focus on is self-denial. 

We live in a culture obsessed with increasing pleasure and avoiding pain. One need only look at the opioid epidemic to see where the inability to embrace pain can lead.

As Christians there are two kinds of suffering. 

The first is the unavoidable, those things that happen to us over which we have no control: a medical condition, the loss of a loved one, for example. For these we know that rather than deny, or try to escape, we hold on tight to Christ and His body, the Church. And in faith we know that we, together, will get through and the pain can be transformed into a channel of God’s grace. 

The second form of suffering is the one that St. Peter in the gospel cannot comprehend. It is the truest imitation of Christ. It is the suffering, the self-denial, that we freely choose. 

In the gospel Jesus does not say “put up with your cross.” His command is “take up your cross.” Jesus chose of his own free will, to take up the cross, suffer and die; not for any personal benefit but for the benefit of others— selfless, freely chosen, suffering. That is what Peter could not comprehend, and is perhaps even less compressible in our culture that is centered on the self and our comfort. 

It is not just during Lent that we are called upon to take up our crosses. In the gospel of St. Luke he adds the word “daily.” Every single day, each time our minds drift toward ourselves, we are called to turn away from self, to turn outward and upward. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Dealing with the Past

We follow the celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross with the celebration of Our Lady of Sorrows. Any parent who has lost a child can tell you; there is no greater pain.  And so, we look to Mary as the model, the one human being who can truly understand when we are in pain.  

Last night here in Richmond we gathered at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, a mostly aptly named church. And we prayed for healing. Some may say, “What good does that do? You can’t change the past.” And they would be half right. 

We human beings live our lives in space and time. We live in a linear fashion. Our minds wander to the past and the future. Which one of us does not have something in the past that we would change if we could? But we are trapped in the now.  We cannot go back. We cannot even see what lies ahead. We are propelled forward by faith, hope, and curiosity regarding what is to come.

God, however, is not like us. God is not bound by either time or space. God is not only omnipotent (all-powerful); God is also omnipresent.  God is everywhere at every time. What we human beings think of as the past or the future is all present to God, and all within God’s command. 

Can the past be changed? We need only look to the words of Jesus in St. Matthew’s Gospel;

For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.

God who exists beyond the limits of space and time can reach back in time and redeem the wounds of the past. He can heal. He can restore all things to wholeness. The only limitation to God’s power is our own God-given free will. 

We must open our hearts fully before God. Like Our Lady of Sorrows we must stand at the foot of the cross and fearlessly pour out our pain, our fear, our anger. all the emotions that keep us from experiencing healing. And when we have poured it all out at the foot of the cross God can then fill that empty space with Grace. 

Yes, Mary, as any mother would, wept at the horrible death of her son. But she also rejoiced at his resurrection. Today we pray for all who are trapped in sorrow, especially those who feel as if the pain will ever end. We pray with absolute confidence in God’s power to touch, to heal, to restore. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Why Atone?

Tonight at 7 PM in our Cathedral, the Bishop of Richmond, will celebrate a mass of atonement. In a gesture that is a liturgical aberration, the priests are asked to not concelebrate but to sit in the pews as if we were laity, and the bishop will celebrate mass without any of the insignia of his office. This will be accompanied by other penitential gestures. 

Some will call it show.Some will ask why should we participate, what do we have to atone for, we didn’t abuse children or cover it up. The anger is real and deep, and the question deserves an answer. 

To answer the question we need only look at the word atone.  It doesn’t come from Latin or Greek. It is a truly English word, a contraction for “at one.” Something that was once united has been broken. Something must be done to heal the break, to make it whole, to restore the unity. To atone is to do what is necessary to make it one again, to be “at one.”

At every level of the Church the unity has been broken. Many of the laity look at the clergy with suspicion and distrust. Priests look at their bishop and wonder if he covered something up or will he throw them under the bus to save himself. Bishops and Cardinals attack the Pope, even when it was his predecessors who promoted the bishops in question. The Church is fractured like a piece of glass. 

The original act of atonement was of course that of Jesus Christ. Did he suffer and die on the cross to make reparations for His sin? Of course not. He suffered an agonizing death for the sins of others, for the sins of all, for our sin. 

The Church, as St. Paul tells us is a single body with Christ as the head. What happens to one part effects the entire body. It is because of that unity that the death of one is able to save all. 

We know that we are called to imitate Christ. This means more than being nice. It means that, like Jesus, we must, of our own free will, embrace acts of penance, not just for our own sin but for the sins of others within the Church, other members of the body. 

Many of those who abused and those who covered it up are now dead. There is no penance they can do, no earthly punishment that can be inflicted on them. But we who are alive can walk in the footsteps of Christ. We can offer ourselves up.  We can take up the cross and follow him. 

Tonight in our Cathedral it will feel much like Good Friday. And that certainly seems to be where we are a Church, probably where we are called to live for some time to come. And we need to live there for a while because the only path to Easter is through Good Friday. There is no way around. 

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself take up his cross and follow me. 

No one is naive enough to believe that a Mass of Atonement is going to fix the problem, but it is the right place to start. If we truly believe that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life” then where better to start than with the Eucharist. If the bishop is the visible sign of unity then who better to celebrate the mass than him. 

In John’s gospel before Jesus goes to his death for us, he utters his great prayer for the unity of the Church. Now we must pray for that unity. In our prayer let us offer up our hurt, our anger, our frustration, our disappointment. Let us lay it all at the foot of the cross. And in the original sense of the word, let us do it as one, in the power of the one Holy Spirit, that the unity of our fractured Church be restored. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Right to Judge

For 18 years I have served as a judge in the tribunal of my diocese. More than once I have been asked “Who gives you the right to judge?” The answer is found squarely in the first reading for Monday’s mass. 

In a scene right out of modern daytime television a man is described as living with his father’a wife. Whether it is cohabitation or whether he is married to her, we do not know. What we are sure of is that St. Paul condemned it and pronounced sentence. 

I, for my part, although absent in body but present in spirit, have already, as if present, pronounced judgment on the one who has committed this deed

He does not say “God has pronounced judgement”. He uses the pronoun “I.”  He not only pronounced judgement but imposed the most severe penalty, excommunication. 

The one who did this deed should be expelled from your midst. 

Over time the Church developed a system for exercising this role of judging and appropriately punishing her members. Much of the world today can thank the Church for its judicial system of laws, tribunals, advocates, judges,assessors, and notaries. They continue to use the structures that the Church adapted from the Romans. 

Sadly, in the latter half of the previous century, following the council. we ceased exercising the judicial function in the Church and even today in many places our tribunals are relegated to dealing only with marriage. 

In Tuesday’s first reading St. Paul chastises Christians for taking each other to civil court, instead of handling their disputes within the Church. Sadly, we now find ourselves in a position where because the Church abdicated her judicial responsibility in the matter of abuse, the civil authorities are being called in to do what we should have done. 

Perhaps this will be the time when the Church will make the necessary reforms to our own system.  As Pope Francis has called to make the system more available to people for marriage cases, let us teach the people of God all of the matters that they can bring to a tribunal. And create some protection for judges and other tribunal personnel who currently serve at the whim of the local bishop.  

Our current Code of Canon Law was promulgated in 1983. Imagine if, even beginning that year. laity, religious, deacons  and priests in the Church could have brought their charges to a panel of judges to be heard, the accused been properly tried, and if convicted, punished. Imagine if the system had allowed a bishop to be accused and tried. Would people have sued diocese after diocese? 

Yes, the gospels tell us that as individuals we are not to judge. But as a Church unless we begin to judge more than marriage, we will be severely judged by the world.  

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Sin of omission

In today’s gospel, we encounter the story of the master who gave coins to each of three servants.. To one he gave five, to one two and to one he gave one. 
As we know, the last one did nothing with coin he was given.

Why? Because he was afraid. His fear kept him from doing anything.

As we deal with the current crisis there are those who love to cook up complex conspiracy theories. But the answer to why many people who knew things did nothing is very simple. They were afraid, afraid to displease their superiors, afraid to tell the “people at the top” anything they didn’t want to hear. 

This behavior is not unique to the Catholic Church. We can look around and find countless examples of organizations where the same is true. A scandal erupts and after some investigation it is discovered that a host of people up and down the chain knew something but said nothing for fear of the blowback. It’s human to behave this way. 

The gospel today reminds us, however, just how wrong it is. The servant who did nothing is severely punished. They are commanded:

throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth

As we deal with the current crisis in the Church there is much that needs to be said out loud, and there have been and will be a host of meetings at various levels. But how many people will say the things that need to be said? And how many of us will be the useless servants who sit in silence out of fear?

Yes, we all need to find our courage. But there must also be a systematic, an environmental change. 

Our bishops must, in the words of Pope Francis, “smell like sheep”. They must be accessible. The current system in too many places where the pastor talks to the dean, who talks to the vicar, who talks to the bishop, has proven that it does not work.  In the days before modern communication it was necessary. Now there no excuse. 

But all of the access in the world will not help unless the people no longer have to be afraid. Unless people can feel that their leaders are willing to hear hard truth. 

This can happen one of two ways. Either bishops themselves can make it clear they will listen and not punish. 
Or, there will have to be some protections imposed from outside. 

The servant in today’s gospel was paralyzed by fear. In 1 John we are told that

Perfect love casts out fear

We must do everything in our power to make the Church a place where laity, deacons, priests, and bishops can speak without fear. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Patron for bishops

Today the Church celebrates St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor, and it is my honor to currently pastor a parish dedicated to his honor. 

The story of St. Augustine as it is usually told involves him living a rather debaucherous life and his mother St. Monica praying for his conversion which eventually happened. Tehnrpoblem is not with how we tell the story up to the conversion, but how we like to imagine the story after. 

We like to imagine that after his conversion he was totally transformed. His life post-conversion was as the perfect Christian, the perfect bishop.That version, as pretty as it may be, robs his teaching of its power. 

The real bishop St. Augustine was profoundly aware of his own brokenness, not only before but after his conversion. He did not try to hide or deny his sin and constant struggle with temptation. His personal struggles shaped his, and ultimately the Church’s, understanding of sin and how it operates in the human heart. He moved the focus of blame for sin from outside to inside the human person.

The good news is, he also  understood our absolute dependence on God’s grace in the struggle against sin. He believed in our ability with God’s help to live, not a sin free, but a good moral life.

On this Feast of St. Augustine, let us pray that he may be an example to all Bishop and church leaders.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Spirit not Letter

At first glance it is easy to look at today’s gospel and think of our bishops as the “blind guides” of which Jesus speaks. And this wouldn’t be inaccurate. But personally, I have always found it more helpful for my spiritual growth to ask how the gospel challenges me.

In the gospel Jesus is not condemning the taking of oaths as much as he is condemning the way in which they very carefully parse the words. So somehow swearing by the gold of the temple is binding but swearing by the temple is not. In the old days Catholics would do the same with mass attendance. How much of mass must I attend for it to “count”? 

 In th post Vatican II days, it became how much stuff in mass can we change and how much made up stuff can we add on. The dodge used by this group was the untrue statement, “whatever isn’t forbidden is allowed.”

We are disgusted when we see our politicians and church leaders carefully parsing their words to explain how what they did want technically speaking illegal. 

And yet, which of us does not on some level play this game. The speed limit is 60, but I am going 70, because no one is around. Even the phrase “white lie” is a dodge. What whitens a lie?

Jesus is once more calling us to. be better than this. Searching for excuses or clever rationalizations when we sin should not be the way we live. We should be honest, first of all, with ourselves. 

And when we do sin, Jesus has given us the Sacrament of Penance through which we can be assured of forgiveness and receive the grace we need to be transformed. 

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.