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.