Monday, January 25, 2021

The Need for Friction

Today the Church celebrates one step in the unfolding of the command to teach all nations. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out and the people from all parts of the known world each heard the apostles speaking their language. And yet, Christianity remained a form of Judaism. Not until the preaching of St. Paul did the Church take shape as a distinct faith. 

It was St. Paul who began the process of defining a question with which Christians struggle even today: How much of the Old Testament Law must we observe?

It has never been a simple process.  One only has to read the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians to see clearly conflicting versions of the relationship between St. Paul and the Apostles in Jerusalem. And this is not bad. 

We make a mistake when we believe that peace is the absence of conflict. Friction is an essential part of human existence. Getting out of bed, bathing, eating, brushing your teeth all require friction. And on the other side, most of us have faced the terrifying nearly frictionless experience of tires on ice. It is not a peaceful moment..

Yes, St. Peter was chosen by God to lead the Church. But it was the friction between St. Peter and St. Paul that propelled the Church forward in her mission to all peoples. It was a friction rooted in faith, a friction rooted in love and respect.  

The Church is facing enormous challenges in the 21st Century and the answers are not simple. Can we with the same love and respect challenge one another in the Church and in the challenge and response hear and heed the voice of the Holy Spirit. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

We have the ability

Besides morning prayer and evening prayer there is also in the Liturgy of the Hours the Office of Readings. At its heart there is a scripture reading and also a reading from some key document of the Church or some saint.  This morning it is a reading from St. Basil the Great. 

He reminds us of the power that God has given each of us. 

Since we received a command to love God, we possess from the first moment of our existence an innate power and ability to love. 

It is true. All we have to do is look at the example of an infant and we see that innate desire to love and be loved. 

So how do we get from that to the angry hating voices we hear screaming around us? And more importantly, how do we find our way back? 

As that loving infant grows, we see the transformation. At some point fear enters in. Suddenly the toddler is afraid of anyone it perceives to be a stranger. Or, occasionally, you have the child who fears no one.  In this case the parent becomes afraid and teaches the child “stranger danger.” And so the battle begins. Whom do I trust? Whom do I fear?

But St. John tells us, “There is no fear in love.” And “perfect love drives out fear.” (1 Jn 4)

So if St. Basil is right, and we have the innate power and ability to love, then we also have the ability and power to not be afraid. We have the power to choose. 

But strikes me that it is also a dietary issue. Which will we consume today? Will I spend my day consuming that which draws me closer to God who is love? Or will I nurture myself on a steady diet of fear?

It is easy to distinguish.  As we read , as we watch, as we listen, which is stirred up inside us: fear or love? If it stirs up fear, turn it off.It really is that simple. Replace it with something that brings peace, joy, contentment and ultimately love of God and of other. 

We have the power and ability. Let us use it. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Beginning of the Ministry

Today we we begin the days of Ordinary Time, our Gospel is the beginning of Jesus’s ministry as described by St. Mark.

We could also refer to this as the Gospel according to St. Peter in this sense. St. Peter the first one called to lead the Church never put down in writing the events of the life of Jesus. Perhaps like many of the first disciples he believed there was no need because he thought the second coming would be immediate. 

It is his associate St. Mark who is later inspired by God to tell the story. We can only imagine the hours Mark spent listening to Peter tell the stories of all that had happened. And so while it is the Gospel according to Mark, we can also hear the voice of St. Peter. 

After his sojourn in the desert, it is according to Mark the arrest of John that signals the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. 

What Jesus proclaims is simple. The time of fulfillment and the Kingdom of God have drawn near. 
And the response is simple as well Repent and Believe. Metanoia and Faith can be the only appropriate response. 

Then St. Mark recounts what he must have heard Peter tell thousands of time, the story of the moment when they were calls by Jesus.

What was it that Peter and the others saw or at least sensed in Jesus that made them abandon everything and follow? Complete metanoia.

Perhaps today is a time for each of us to pause and recall the time in our own life when we first felt the pull of Jesus. 

Often in childhood our faith is something that feels imposed by our parents. And often, we childishly push against it for that very reason. But in the life of each of us there is, if we search our memory, a time when when were able to perceive that loving call of Jesus. 

Today let us return to that place, return to that call, and lose ourselves in the wonder of call and response.  

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Baptism and Behavior

Today we are at one of the inflection points in our calendar. We end the celebration of the Christmas season by celebrating the Baptism of the Lord. We also prepare to transition tomorrow to the season of Ordinary Time.

By allowing himself to be baptized by John, Jesus sanctify the waters of the Jordan and established the Sacrament of Baptism. Today’s feast offers us an opportunity to pause and reflect on how deeply we understand the gift of our own baptism. Here, as with an all sacraments, we Catholics and our Orthodox brothers and sisters stand in a different place from many other Christians.

For some of our Christian brothers and sisters what we call sacraments are at best symbolic. The bread and wine of the Eucharist remain merely bread and wine. They are unchanged. So also the human being after being baptized remains unchanged.

This is not our theology.

For us, baptism brings about a transformation, we are reborn in baptism. The catechism of the Catholic Church says it most clearly:

1265    Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,” member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Do we believe this?

I’m afraid that all too often the answer is no. We do not believe that we are different from the unbaptized, and that is the reason why we don’t behave any differently than the unbaptized.

Are we sinners? Yes. But we are also saints, made holy by the grace of God.  Hundreds of times each day we choose which side of ourselves we will put forward. Every time we speak or act we choose either to act as sinners or as saints. Some people think it’s impossible for us to be sent. My response is simple, “with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26).

Christ did not establish a symbol; he established a sacrament, with real power. 

Today let us choose to unleash that power and show ourselves to be sons and daughters of God. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

Recovering our Mission

Today the Church in the United States celebrates the founder of our parochial school system in America, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Inspired by the work of St. Vincent de Paul her community dedicated themselves to the education of the poor. The provided the children of the needy, often immigrants, with the human and spiritual formation they needed to lift their families from poverty. 

Sadly, in many places today, Catholics schools have lost sight of this  mission. They have become simply one more place for those who can afford them to hide their children away from the harsh reality of poverty in America,  with scholarships that allow a token number of poorer brown and black children to attend. 

The Catholic schools run by those original Daughters of Charity were places where Catholic children, often surrounded by anti-Catholic sentiment, could be nurtured, steeped in their Catholic culture. Today there are “Catholic” schools where less than half of faculty and/or students are practicing Catholics.  How Catholic can that culture be? It is said that they “are tools of evangelization.” If so, where is the data to show how many are embracing the Catholic faith because they went to a Catholic school?

On this feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, through her intercession, may we, and especially the bishops of our nation, have the courage and wisdom to acknowledge where schools have failed and redirect our limited resources to that original mission of Catholic schools in America. 

Friday, January 1, 2021

Bearer of God

The Church begins each year with the celebration of Mary, Mother of God. Like all Marian feasts, however, it’s not about Mary. In the Church, as in the Bible, Mary always points us to her Son, Jesus. Today’s Solemnly is about the divinity of the Child she bears. 

We have become so accustomed to saying the words, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God” that we don’t even think how insanely blasphemous  that sounded to the People of Israel.  And today, once more, there are many people who will accept the idea that Jesus was one of many wise men throughout human history, but not God. Even some Christians will say “son of God” but not embrace the idea that He was God incarnate. And yet, that is our faith. Mary carried within her the God “through whom all things were made.”

But let’s not think this is about abstract theology. It is also about us. It is the ultimate statement of our potential. In the words of St. John, “ But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God”. We too have the ability to share in the Divinity of God. Like Mary, we are called to be bearers of Christ, not symbolically but truly.

As we begin the year 2121, perhaps it would be good for us to who call ourselves Christians to pause and think of who we are, children of God, bearers of Christ. And each day behave like it. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Hearing voices

Most of us are aware, to one degree or another, of the isolation created by the pandemic. But, in truth, the pandemic didn’t create the isolation. It only accelerated us down a path we have been on for the first two decades of the 21st century. More and more our technology that we thought was going to bring us together has enabled us to each live in our own little world.  

In the previous century, when there were only three (perhaps four) networks to choose from, on any evening at any hour, chances were high that you and your neighbors were watching the same TV show and the next day everyone would be talking about it. In any area there would be perhaps one radio station for each music genre. Remember the world before earbuds, when people spoke to each other as they walked by. There was a time when we had common points of reference. 

Long before  COVID-19, we made a choice. We chose to use the technology not to communicate but to isolate. We chose the familiar. We chose sameness. 

In the first reading today we hear: 

Woe to the city, rebellious and polluted, to the tyrannical city! She hears no voice, accepts no correction

It raises the question: how many of us have chosen to move into the tyrannical city, where we hear no voice that corrects, because we are not wrong? THEY ( the people who think differently) are wrong? They need to change. We hear no voice but our own, and the people who share and echo our voice, our opinions. 

Ask yourself: when was the last time you truly allowed yourself to be corrected, heard information different from your current opinion and changed your mind (metanoia)?

The scriptures remind us that life should be a constant process of hearing, and allowing the voices we hear to correct us. This, of course, requires us to admit that we may be wrong.  

Today, can we hear the other voices, can we open ourselves up to the possibility that we are wrong, can we be corrected?