Thursday, August 31, 2006

"You Better not Shout..."

Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Thursday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time


My first thought upon reading the Gospel for today was about a joke I heard about a lawyer (it would also work for consultants). It seems this young lawyer died and went, of all places, to heaven. When he arrived he complained bitterly to St. Peter that he was too young to have been taken. He said there must have been some mistake. St. Peter looked in his book and then back at the lawyer and said; “But according to your billed hours, you are six hundred and forty two years old.”

It was just yesterday that we saw St. Paul dealing with a problem with the Thessalonians because some of them were convinced that the end was coming soon. Here today, in his first letter to the Corinthians, we see a hint of why that was a problem for them. Notice Paul’s language; “as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end”. I would hear that and think; “Yikes, he is telling me that I will live to see the return of Jesus.” Is it any wonder some of the folks in Thessalonica thought the end was at hand?

Well, Jesus does make it clear in the Gospel of St. Matthew that it does not matter if we believe the end is coming sooner or later. What matters is that when it is our time to stand before our Lord and Savior in judgment, He will look at our lives and see that what we had discerned the Lord wanted of us, we were doing. And we would hear, “Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so”

This is actually really good news for us. Over the past several months we have been hearing parables like the one about the land owner who went looking for day laborers and paid them all the same wage. We have seen examples in the Saints, most recently St. Augustine, who led less than exemplary lives and converted late in life. We may have been tempted to think; “Gee, I could be having a lot of fun right now if I gave into temptation.” We may have thought; “There would still be time. When I get old, I can convert and still enjoy the rewards of eternal life.”

Jesus is telling us something very important. He is basically telling us that St. Augustine and those who found faith later in life were really lucky. Lucky because we do not know the hour or the day that we will be called home to the Father. We might be tempted to rationalize; “But the Father is omnipotent and controls that moment. If He knows I am anxious to achieve those rewards guaranteed by the sacrifice of His only begotten Son…” Think about it. If we recognize that God has called to us; recognize that, for our salvation, he sent Jesus into the world, that though his sacrifice, that promise could be made to the faithful, how much wiggle room do we think we have with excuses? Purgatory (if we're really lucky) exists for a reason.

No, it’s very clear to us that we do not, will not; know the hour or the day when we will be called home to the Father. It is good news for us who listen to his call each day and each day are trying to do as the Lord asks. Granted, it is hard to be constantly striving to be what God has called us to be. Granted, we will always be examining what we have done and what we are doing and see that there is so far to go before we have achieved what Christ called us to do and to be. But, as the hymn says, “it’s the journey that makes us whole.” Pax

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rotten Pasties

Wednesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Wednesday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time


The other day we referred to the scripture as “big”, today we think a better word is “harsh”. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he is addressing the methods of dealing with those who “…walk in a disorderly way.” He (Paul) goes on to say that those who do not work should not get anything to eat. This last statement could easily be taken out of context and used to support a position that says that we should not feed the homeless or disenfranchised. But we need to understand what was going on with the Christian community at Thessalonica.

It seems that a significant number of the community thought Jesus’ return was imminent, that is the end times (eschaton) were at hand. As a consequence of this belief they apparently quit working and became quite “disorderly”. We can only guess what that meant (What would you do if you thought the world was going to end in a few short days or weeks?)

Paul’s instructions make sense in those circumstances. If one of these people who live in community with you decides to just quit and wait for the end (remember the early Christian communities frequently lived in communal fashion, sharing all property, including the food.), first shun them, basically kick them out. Second, if they are not working, they don’t share the food. Paul, himself, may have expected the eschaton within his lifetime (based on other parts of his letters he probably did) but he points out, just incase his instructions seem too harsh, that while he and his friends were with them he worked hard (his implication is he did so even though he could have expected, because of his position, not to have been required to do so).

While the message of Paul is directed at another situation we can still take some direction from it. First, we who live in Christian community today are expected to support ourselves. There are those who expect to he supported through charity just because they share our faith. We need to point out that if they are not trying and are ignoring our efforts to get them to a point where they are self sufficient, they may not be eating.

Next, even though the instruction was intended for community members, if we are working with or even living with an individual who is behaving in a disorderly way and knows it, that means we have attempted to verbally correct the situation, we should avoid all contact with that person lest temptation be placed in front of us.

I’ve spent more time on Paul than I intended today. A significant lesson lies in the Gospel for us today. Jesus is continuing his discourse with the Hebrew religious leaders in what can be called the “Seven Woes”. Today we hear woes six and seven and they are clearly truths that are passed on to us. In the first Woe (which is really number six in the series) Jesus is telling the Jewish leadership that while they talk a big game, on the inside they are corrupt and will earn the reward of corruption.

In the second Woe (the seventh in the series), although it is difficult to follow if we are not aware of Hebrew tradition they are being told there is a Purgatory and they are going to be there for a while.. (“This order reflects the Jewish notion that there was an allotted measure of suffering that had to be completed before God's final judgment would take place.”)

The bottom line for us today is this; we really need to focus on building up our internal faith. It is what that is inside us that is most important. I do not want to stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ and have Him tell me; “…on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.”


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

On Keeping Our Heads

Memorial of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist

Readings for Tuesday
Additional Reading about Saint John the Baptist


As St. Augustine, whose memorial we celebrated yesterday put it:

John appears as the boundary between the two testaments, the old and the new. That he is a sort of boundary the Lord himself bears witness, when he speaks of "the law and the prophets up until John the Baptist." Thus he represents times past and is the herald of the new era to come.

As we celebrate today the memorial of John’s death, it is fitting to remember how we first met him. He was baby in Elizabeth’s womb who leapt for joy when Mary, the Mother of God, then pregnant with Jesus came to visit. He was the strange holy man, dressed in animal skins, eating honey and locusts (yuck) and proclaiming; “I am a voice crying out in the wilderness.” It is John’s injunction we hear on Ash Wednesday; “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” It was he who first called people to repent and be baptized in the Jordan River.

Today we hear the story of how he ended his ministry and his life. In life he mirrored, somewhat indistinctly, the path Jesus walked. The same is true of his death. He began his ministry calling people to repentance. He ended it the same way. To the very end he was faithful to his mission and his Lord. He was the first person outside Jesus immediate family to recognize him for what and who he was. His death was a great blow to our Lord who knew a great prophet had passed.

It is good for us to hear of the circumstances of John’s passing. The events are plausible and can serve as a stern warning for us. Do we wonder what ever became of Herod, Herodias and Salome? Herod Aggripa and Herodias ended up in exile in Gaul due to family treachery. What became of Salome, history does not record. It is safe to assume that , as merciful as God is, their end was one reserved for those who serve the evil one or listen to his call.

Hear in the story the battle between God and the Devil. First we hear that Herod, who imprisoned John, did so because Herodias, wife of his brother (and niece), did not like John criticizing the fact that she was living in adultery with the King. This whole chain of events, so cunningly devised to take advantage of human weakness starts with Herodias wanting more power. To get that power Herodias used Herod’s lust as a lever.

Herod’s lust, however, did not completely block his mind from the truth. While he was listening to Herodias about throwing the prophet in the dungeon, he was not going to simply kill him. God did, after all, have a tiny piece of his ear. Herodias, knowing Herod’s weakness, went the next step, throwing her daughter, Salome, in front of her lover. Again, Herod’s lust betrayed him. In his desire, he offered anything to Salome. And, like the dutiful daughter she was, she did her mother’s bidding and asked for John to be beheaded. A sweet child, eh?

See how the evil one twists what is good and uses it for evil. See how the ignoble character of greed, ambition, and lust play together for the downfall of all three. Why is this scenario so plausible? It is because those same driving characteristics are so commonly at play in people today. We can easily see ourselves cast into those roles if the circumstances were right. If we turn off the voice of God, we would certainly fall. The less we listen, the closer we dance to the edge.

Just as he did in Jesus day, John calls out to us. He beseeches us to repent and turn away from sin; turn away from greed; turn away from lust, and be faithful to the Gospel. It was for this reason he cam and for this noble cause he died. Pax

Monday, August 28, 2006

Procrastinator Makes Good

Memorial of Saint Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church

Readings for Monday
Biographical Information about Saint Augustine


Today we celebrate the memorial of one who proves the truth of the parable of the landowner who went looking for day laborers at different times during the day and paid them all the same wage. If St. Augustine were one of those laborers, he would have come to the field later in the day. While his mother was a devout Christian (Saint Monica) he fell away from her beliefs early in his life and his youth and middle years were best summed up by this quote from Confessions: “God, give me chastity and continence - but not just now." Clearly he had a sense of humor.

The scripture we have supporting his memorial is interesting. First we hear from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. In it he is praising the Thessalonians for their example of love for one another (amazing how often that theme comes up isn’t it). He is enjoining them to continue to preserver in the face of the persecutions they face in order to be worthy of the grace and reward of the faithful. In the event you are wondering, as I did, about the verses not used today (note the reading is 2 Thes 1:1-5, 11-12), verses 6-10 deal with the punishments to be handed out to their persecutors. Probably the Church scholars who assembled the Lectionary did not want us focusing on that part of Paul’s letter.

We follow the Psalm which is one of the Psalms of Praise, (“Sing to the Lord a new song.” Fitting for St. Augustine who was a Doctor of the Church and a brilliant theologian.) with a Gospel passage from St. Matthew. In this passage we again take up the hue and cry against the religious leadership of the Hebrew people. This time because they are selling God’s favor. Apparently the Scribes and Pharisees do not see all sacrifice as equal. The look at the giver’s gift and the more it is worth to them (not to God) the more access they are granted. Clearly this attitude is one of greed and that is what the Lord is crying out against.

For those of us who are not well off or cannot afford to give large sums to a parochial school or church, we have seen this same reaction to those who do have the where with all to do so. We have seen how church and school leaders seem to give deferential treatment to those who can afford to be generous. It is a sad but true fact of human nature. It is also understandable if we understand how these leaders are evaluated by their superiors and the expectations of those above them. The old adage, a picture is worth a thousand words is appropriate. Look at the old classic film “The Bishop’s Wife” with David Nivin and Cary Grant. David Nivin is an Episcopalian Bishop trying to build a cathedral and the principal contributor, a rich widow, is making all sorts of demands that he ends up agreeing to. Most real world situations are more subtle, but they do happen.

We need to avoid the judgment trap here. The lesson is for us to take to heart not a brush with which we can paint others. We need to watch out that what we value is of God not of man. We must watch our own hearts and understand what is important is not a car or house or possessions that will stay on this earth when we have gone on to the next. What we should value each day is that spiritual treasure that will go with us. Difficult lessons for us today. Pax

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time


The scripture today is just big, that’s the best word for it. There is a connection between the three readings but at the 1,000 foot level. (I think we can actually use the flow of today’s scripture as sort of a courtship analogy. The first reading is like popping the question.)

Joshua asks the leaders of the people if they want to serve the Lord our God or some other religion. We can assume Christ’s soon to be fiancĂ© was being a bit wayward so the “will you marry me” question was asked in a way that seemed to give the people options. Then we have the famous scripture passage from Joshua where the quote; “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." The passage ends with the rest of the people he gathered also swearing allegiance to the Father, recounting it was He who brought them out of Egypt and protected them on their journey. It and of itself this passage is a profession of faith and a reminder of God’s love for his people. To the question “will you marry me?” the answer is "I will."

Next we come to the Psalm where again we hear echoes of the Bead of Life discourse from last two Sundays. I the context of the flow of scripture today, we can be reminded that this is our engagement dinner. “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” is our refrain. It is a life giving meal.

Do you remember a little over a week ago in a reading from the Gospel of St. Matthew, we heard Jesus talking about divorce? Remember also how we talked about the sacramental nature of the bond between husband and wife and how that differs from the civil contract formed during the ceremony? Remember also, how we said many parishes avoid that reading because it is so hard to explain? Today, in what will be in our analogy of courtship the wedding vows, we are given another very difficult passage, one that is commonly pushed to the rear because it is difficult to reconcile with the secular feminist movement and can be interpreted literally as male domination. Fortunately, it is given in its entirety so we can focus on the very first line:

Brothers and sisters: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Be subordinate to one another. That means mutual respect. Granted, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written back in the first century, just years after the death of Christ, to a male dominated society. His definition of roles is consistent with Hebrew tradition of the time. The most important element we must take away from what he writes here is that marriage is a partnership, a partnership in which husband and wife must be “subordinate to one another”. That mutual subordination is based upon the bond of love they share, love that is the very image of Christ’s love for his bride, the Church. Determining roles and views within that partnership is what is accomplished throughout the courtship process and, that it is discussed, is verified in the marriage preparation process. The roles in our analogy today,. between Christ and His Church, are codified by scripture, the magisterium, and Canon Law.

Finally we come to the Gospel. The situation we see from St. John today follows the Bread of Life discourse we have heard for the past two Sundays. Jesus has just told his followers (it appears that he was being followed by a pretty big number by this time) that “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” Then we hear today; “Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’” Does that sound familiar? Who else do we know that cannot accept that Jesus is really present in the Eucharist and, because of that, have turned and gone back to their old way of belief?

Participating in the marriage between Christ and His Church is difficult. We are asked, as part of our renewed commitment, to accept that Christ is head of the Church and for us to remain faithful we must eat his flesh and drink his blood so that we might have life within us. We were adopted in Baptism, we had our Coming Out Party in Confirmation, we celebrated our marriage in Eucharist and it marks our anniversary each time we eat of the flesh of the Son of God. Today, let us renew our vows. Once more accept the Bridegroom, who is Christ, and vow to be faithful to him.


Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Do'en Kind of Religion

Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Saturday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time


See what happens when Ezekiel finally lets the people of Israel know that they are the chosen people? The Scribes and the Pharisees, religious leaders of the people, start to get big heads. We have all heard the saying; “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is what has taken place over time within the Hebrew community. The leaders have come to view themselves as the font of knowledge relative to their faith. They have refined the rules and the celebrations and interpreted the Law and the Prophets (Torah and Talmud), placing intricate requirements for worship and sacrifice on the faithful.

This is what Jesus was warning us against in the Gospel. Can you imagine how popular our Lord is becoming among the religions leadership? Not only is he calling them out in their failure to practice the Law they preach, but he is pointing at the way they have taken symbols of their faith and exaggerated them; “They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels”. (Phylacteries: the Mosaic law required that during prayer small boxes containing parchments on which verses of scripture were written be worn on the left forearm and the forehead. Tassel: possibly "fringe." The Mosaic law prescribed that tassels be worn on the corners of one's garment as a reminder to keep the commandments.)

Jesus starts his harangue against the Scribes and Pharisees with the injunction to the people that they should follow the Law, even though it was imposed upon them by hypocrites. This is important because, those of us who attempt to lead others in faith, whether it is a family or a congregation, are constantly falling short in our own practice of the faith. All we need to do is think about the Great Commandment that we heard yesterday and we realize that we too can fall into the trap of not practicing what we preach.

I am reminded of a discussion last night at a CFM (Christian Family Movement) meeting. One of our group was very upset because of something he heard on an apologetics radio program. It seems that a caller had explained to the Priest who was fielding questions that he had recently converted to Catholicism and was married. He told the Priest that he had an STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) and asked what he should do about having sexual relations with his wife.

What upset my friend was the Priest came back and said that condoms were not an option in the caller’s circumstance. In essence, my friend from CFM was upset because he thought the Priest in this case was, as Christ put it, “…tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.” Through the discussion we agreed that many times, in a public forum, the Church’s teaching must be clear and not watered down. However, a more pastoral tone may have been needed in private to come to grips with a personal tragedy. Still, we need to be careful about the burdens we lay on others.

The bottom line in what Christ is telling us today is best described by a quote from one of my favorite movies, “Sergeant York” where Walter Brennen, playing the preacher, tells Gary Cooper, playing Sergeant Alvin York he needs to have the “Do’en kind of religion.” Following the Lord’s word today we need to practice what we preach and, at the risk of being too clichĂ©, do as St. Francis tells us; “Preach the Gospel always and use words when we have to.”


Friday, August 25, 2006

You Can't Have One Without the Other

Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time &
Saint Louis IX of France and Saint Joseph of Calasanz, priest

Readings for Friday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
Biographical Information about Saint Louis IX of France
Biographical Information about Saint Joseph of Calasanz

My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength. Without this there is no salvation.

- from a spiritual testament by King Saint Louis IX to his son

Lord, You blessed Saint Joseph Calasanz with such charity and patience that he dedicated himself to the formation of Christian youth. As we honor this teacher of wisdom may we follow his example in working for truth.

- opening prayer for the Mass for Saint Joseph Calasanz


There is so much to reflect upon today that we should just start with our gloomy friend, the Prophet Ezekiel. Today his prophecy involves something fundamentally important to us. Today, while what he talks about is the reunification of Israel and Judah, he also seems to prefigure the resurrection of the dead. This image, which we can take out of context gives us a sense of what the resurrection of the body must be like.

Most important to us today, however is the Gospel which King St. Louis IX quoted to his son (above). It is the basis, as the Savior of the World has said, of the Law and the Prophets. It is the lynch pin of the covenant His sacrifice solidified in the New Covenant.

It is said that when St. John the Evangelist finally settled down in his community, his complete homily each day for years consisted of one short phrase; “Love one another.” When asked why, with all that Jesus taught them in his years of ministry, the Apostle chose to say only those few words, St. John is said to have replied; “Because that is what he thought was most important.”

Today we hear the Great Commandment:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart,
with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

It might be instructive to think about something that may have escaped our notice in this short statement. “The second is like it.” That is what is said. Here it is in all the English translations I could find:

Parallel Verses (Mt 22 39)

ASV: And a second like unto it is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

BBE: And a second like it is this, Have love for your neighbour as for yourself.

DBY: And the second is like it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

KJV: And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

WEY: And the second is similar to it: 'Thou shalt love thy fellow man as much as thyself.'

WBS: And the second is like it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

WEB: A second likewise is this,'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'

YLT: and the second 'is' like to it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;

The meaning is consistent. Jesus tells us that the two are linked. We, therefore, are not allowed to claim to love God and not love our neighbor. When we start trying measure how well we are doing in our quest to be like Jesus, this is the first test we must take. Do we love on another? At the risk of pointing out the speck in my brother’s eye and missing the log in my own, how can we justify our negative views about any group or people (illegal immigrants, radical Islamists, or even felons convicted of heinous crimes, with the great commandment? By the Lord’s standard, if we hate a person, we cannot claim to love God. How tough is that?

What it comes down to is this. The Lord tells us it is most important that we love God (what that means exactly will need to wait for another post). He tells us that loving our neighbor as we love ourselves is like that. We can’t have one without the other. But I suspect that there are degrees of love and we can always aspire to a higher degree.

As we strive to follow Christ’s teachings and to become more like him, we are given the Great Commandment. It is the first and most difficult thing we must try to do. All the rest of what we do in the name of the Lord is predicated upon it. That’s what he tells us. Let’s do our best today to make that happen.


[1] Each day of the year, even though they are not always called out by special readings or celebrations globally, the Church has on its calendar the memory of many saints. See the patron saints index for more saints on a given day.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Paradox of the Invisible Image

Feast of Saint Bartholomew (Nathanael), Apostle

Readings for Thursday of the 20th Week of the Year
Biographical Information about St. Bartholomew


St. Bartholomew’s Feast places us in a bit of a quandary. Based upon references elsewhere in scripture, we believe that St. Bartholomew and Nathanael were the same person. Other sources still say his original name was Jesus and he changed it to avoid any possibility of confusion.

From a spiritual perspective he is problematic. As one of The Twelve, he received the respect and admiration due one of the original members of that tiny group that remained faithful and spread the knowledge of Christ throughout the world. At the same time, the images we have of him are rather gruesome. He is said to have been flayed alive (skinned) and the most famous image of him, painted by Michelangelo in the "The Last Judgment" (Sistine Chapel), shows him holding his own skin.

The readings tell us he was brought to Christ by another one of the twelve, Philip and that Jesus immediately accepted him saying; “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.”, an apparent reference to Jacob, the brother of Isaac who, through a ruse, stole his brother’s blessing and was labeled as duplicitous (Genesis 32:29). Being straightforward as he was St. John tells us that Bartholomew challenged Jesus saying; “How do you know me?”

Jesus answered with a reference to having seen Bartholomew lying under a fig tree. This, according to the notes on this passage, refers to a symbol of messianic peace. In other words Jesus saw Bartholomew (Nathanael) as a person who had already experienced the peace of the kingdom as transformed by the Lord. Is it any wonder then that once this revelation had been made another followed from the lips of Bartholomew saying; “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (In other words, the Messiah!)

Where does the image of Bartholomew take us? That largely unknown Apostle, who, tradition has it, carried the Gospel to Asia Minor, Ethiopia, India and Armenia; friend of Philip, and martyr, is one more example of faith to inspire us. Why should we expect each of the Twelve to have become famous? Jesus, their example and ours, valued humility, placing the Father always first. Is it surprising that one of his closest friends would choose to have the Lord’s name remembered instead of his own?

Today we actually get a great lesson from the Apostle, Bartholomew. Let us all pray that, at the end of our lives, the Lord’s name will be thought of as people remember us.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Rose by any other name...

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time &
St. Rose of Lima

Readings for Wednesday
Biographical Information about St. Rose of Lima


We can’t resist taking the Gospel from yesterday and comparing it with today’s selection from St. Matthew’s Gospel.

Yesterday, the Gospel concluded with;

“But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Today the Lord concludes his parable with;

“Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

The Lord just reiterated a phrase that is apparently very important to the disciples. It begs the question; who will be first and last and does it matter? Clearly it matted to the disciples. Following the discourse on the ability of the wealthy person to get into heaven, Jesus told the disciples that they would be joining him because of their faithfulness, but ended it with the first phrase from above.

Following that statement he launched into the parable of the day laborers, again ending the lesson with the same statement (I do not know why the order of the phrases is reversed.). Looking at the story today, we see a landowner (representing the Lord) going out to hire day laborers (at the time he was telling the story, he was speaking to his disciples, so they are the first day laborers. We can hear this truth and understand he is referring to us, his modern day disciples.).

He goes out 5 times in total; at dawn, at 9:00, at noon, and again at 3:00 and 5:00 in the afternoon. Each time he goes out, he finds more people to work in his vineyard (The vineyard is the Lord’s analogy for the Kingdom of heaven. That is made clear at the beginning.). The subtext here is that when the Lord calls, people hear the call at different times of their life.

At the end of the day, all those who answered the call are given the same wage. The story makes us wonder, like the laborers who worked all day in the vineyard, is this just?

I am reminded of the story of the preacher and the bus driver who died and went to heaven. When they got there, St. Peter saw the bus driver and immediately went over and ushered him into heaven with great fanfare; choirs of angles and the whole shebang. He left the preacher just standing there.

The preacher stood for quite a while and was getting pretty upset. Finally, St. Peter came back and waved the preacher to follow him. There was no fanfare or choirs of angels. The preacher was indignant. He said to St. Peter; “Where is the justice of this? All my life I served God down on earth. I came up with that bus driver. He was little better than an agnostic. What gives?”

St. Peter answered. “You see reverend, it’s all about effectiveness. All those years you were down on earth preaching, people sat in the pews and slept. All those years he drove the bus, people sat in the back of his bus and prayed.”

I know the moral of the story is not the same but it is an interesting thought. What is important for us is that, just because we serve the Lord and have answered His call, we are not guaranteed a place at the front of the line. We are not automatically given some special accord because we did what the Lord has asked us to do. We have seen many times before that those to whom much is given, much more is expected. When we start to think about how good we are and how bad someone else is, let us remember; “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

On Queens and Needles

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Readings for Tuesday
An Apology Regarding Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Heaven

Since today we celebrate Mary’s Queenship and the scripture takes us in a different direction, we thought you might enjoy a non-biblical reading that, in addition to the apology link above, might provide some inspiration on behalf of the Mother of God:

Reading From a homily by St. Amadeus of Lausanne, bishop

Queen of the world and of peace

Observe how fitting it was that even before her assumption the name of Mary shone forth wondrously throughout the world. Her fame spread everywhere even before she was raised above the heavens in her magnificence. Because of the honor due her Son, it was indeed fitting for the Virgin Mother to have first ruled upon earth and then be raised up to heaven in glory. It was fitting that her fame be spread in this world below, so that she might enter the heights of heaven on overwhelming blessedness. Just as she was borne from virtue to virtue by the Spirit of the Lord, she was transported from earthly renown to heavenly brightness.

So it was that she began to taste the fruits of her future reign while still in the flesh. At one moment she withdrew to God in ecstasy; at the next she would bend down to her neighbors with indescribable love. In heaven angels served her, while here on earth she was venerated by the service of men. Gabriel and the angels waited upon her in heaven. The virgin John, rejoicing that the Virgin Mother was entrusted to him at the cross, cared for her with the other apostles here below. The angels rejoiced to see their queen; the apostles rejoiced to see their lady, and both obeyed her with loving devotion.

Dwelling in the loftiest citadel of virtue, like a sea of divine grace or an unfathomable source of love that has everywhere overflowed its banks, she poured forth her bountiful waters on trusting and thirsting souls. Able to preserve both flesh and spirit from death she bestowed health-giving salve on bodies and souls. Has anyone ever come away from her troubled or saddened or ignorant of the heavenly mysteries? Who has not returned to everyday life gladdened and joyful because his request had been granted by the Mother of God?

She is a bride, so gentle and affectionate, and the mother of the only true bridegroom. In her abundant goodness she has channeled the spring of reason’s garden, the well of living and life-giving waters that pour forth in a rushing stream from divine Lebanon and flow down from Mount Zion until they surround the shores of every far-flung nation. With divine assistance she has redirected these waters and made them into streams of peace and pools of grace. Therefore, when the Virgin of virgins was led forth by God and her Son, the King of kings, amid the company of exulting angels and rejoicing archangels, with the heavens ringing with praise, the prophecy of the psalmist was fulfilled, in which he said to the Lord: At your right hand stands the queen, clothed in gold of Ophir.


While we honor the Virgin Mother of God today, we should not overlook an important message in scripture. Let’s start with what is being communicated by the Prophet Ezekiel. He is clearly speaking to the leader of Tyre (I think it is somewhat ironic that as we listen to Ezekiel talk about Tyre, the modern city stands in ruins because the Hezbolla used it as a staging ground to attach modern Israel and the Israeli air force responded.) What Ezekiel is trying to say, however, is that just because the Prince of Tyre has accumulated massive wealth, does not mean he has done what is important by following God’s law. The Prophet lets him know that all the money in the world is not going to do him any good when God judges.

This is actually important in understanding what Jesus says later in the Gospel. We should know that material wealth was considered by the Hebrews of this era to be a sign of favor from God. When Ezekiel says; “Because you have thought yourself to have the mind of a god, Therefore I will bring against you foreigners, the most barbarous of nations.” He is telling the Prince, in paraphrase; If you think that you gained your riches because you were in God’s favor and understood his will, you are sadly mistaken.

So, when Jesus says;” Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” We hear the disciples in St. Matthew’s Gospel cry out; “Who then can be saved?” It is because they understood material wealth to be a sign of God’s favor. The Lord is saying that gaining material wealth is not some special gift from the Father. In fact, based upon what he tells the disciples next, wealth is a hindrance.

Jesus uses the metaphor a camel passing through the eye of a needle. In Jesus’ day, the Eye of a Needle was a very narrow gate into Jerusalem that burdened camel could not go through. In modern language the Lord might say, you can’t take it with you, or, you can’t get it with the baggage. It needs to be checked at the door.

We won’t talk about the disciples at this point, we kind of guess that, since we consider them to be Saints, they received the reward they were worried about. What is important for us here is what do we, the richest people on earth, do about this whole “eye of a needle” thing. What I believe the Lord would tell us is the same thing he told the wealthy young man from yesterday’s readings. To gain eternal life, follow the commandments. If you want to be perfect, give all you own to the poor and follow Jesus.

It comes down to where our true treasure is. If it is in “things” then “things” will be our reward. If our true treasure is the Lord our Savior, he will be our reward.


Monday, August 21, 2006

How are you?

Memorial of Saint Pius X, pope

Readings for Monday
Biographical Information about Saint Pius X


It is said that Americans (meaning people from the United States of America) are the most generous people in the world. We, as a people, give more money to charity than any other nation on earth. In addition, our national government gives more in foreign aid than any other nation on earth. Clearly, generosity is not what wins friends. If it were, the U.S. would be the most respected country on earth, and Americans would be beloved world wide.

There are those who would argue that we should simply stop giving all that aid. Keep the wealth and make life in the US even better for its citizens than it is now. God knows there are those living in this country that could use more help. But I ask the question again, has giving away money made us popular or respected in the world?

The Gospel today tells the story of the wealthy young man who approaches Jesus and asks; “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” At first Jesus challenges his choice of words. Good, he tells the young man is a title reserved for one who is sinless. (That is why I have the annoying habit of, after I have asked how they are and they respond, “I’m good. How are you?” I answer; “I am well. I’d never claim to be good.” Until now I had never though of that as being scriptural, but I guess it is.

At any rate, the Lord goes on to tell the young man that in order to gain eternal life he must follow the commandments and mentions a number of them. It is interesting that, in addition to listing a number of commandments of the Decalogue, he also lists his own Great Commandment, “…and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Notice what he says, that is what is needed to gain eternal life.

What he says next is the very hard part. Jesus tells the wealthy young man that if he wants to be “Perfect” he must sell all he owns, give it to the poor, and follow him (Jesus). Just giving away all he owns does not make him perfect and the invitation is not just “follow me”, which may have been what the young man was hoping for.

The story concludes with the young man sadly going away because he had many possessions The implication being that he was not going to sell all his possessions, they were just too important to him. He did not want to see if faith in God and Christ could sustain him and earn him a place of honor in God’s Kingdom. Following the commandments would have to be good enough.

For us, the most generous people on earth, the question remains. Do we have to give it all away? Do we have to make ourselves poor in order to become perfect? Pope Pius X, whose feast day this is, left as his will; “I was born poor; I lived poor; I wish to die poor." He was going for perfect and, given that he was both our Pope and achieved sainthood, seems to have achieved it. Jesus demands that we; love our neighbor as our self. That means helping those in need. Not many of us have the ability to go for perfect, although sometimes it may seem if our families are trying to help us in that direction. Pax

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Last week in “Some Carbs are God” we talked about the beginning of the Eucharistic discourse on the “Bread of Life” from John. This week it continues and this time supported by a very interesting reading from Proverbs and, as is customary, a pragmatic set of instructions from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

The Gospel continues with Christ’s remarkable revelation that, what he did at the last supper in the upper room was not simply symbolic (That is what all of the protestant denominations as well as the Pentecostal and Baptist denominations believe in spite of the fact that at least the Pentecostals and Baptists believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible.). What is interesting is the different flavor it has when we first hear from Proverbs.

If you remember, last week the first reading was from the Book of First Kings and how Elijah was given food for the journey. This week we hear about Wisdom and; “…Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding. “ This passage re-focuses us from the strengthening properties (food for the journey) to the way the Eucharist changes us in our understanding of God’s will for us (Forsake foolishness that you may live).

Let’s see what would happen if we took that same short reading from the Proverbs, which sounds to me like an early attempt to understand the Holy Spirit, and insert our understanding of the Trinity. It might sound something like this:

Wisdom has built her house,
Jesus has gone before us to prepare room for us.
she has set up her seven columns;
In his Father’s house there are many mansions
she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine,
At the Last Supper, in the upper room, our Savior gave to us his Body and Blood
yes, she has spread her table.
Yes, it is a new and everlasting covenant He has prepared for us.
She has sent out her maidens; she calls
from the heights out over the city:
He left his Disciples with the charge to go our and teach all nations.
“Let whoever is simple turn in here;
He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to Guide us.
To the one who lacks understanding, she says,
Come, eat of my food,
All you who hunger, here is my body, real food.
and drink of the wine I have mixed!
All you who thirst, here is my blood, real drink
Forsake foolishness that you may live;
advance in the way of understanding.”
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever

Here we can get a sense of the great gift our Lord gave us in his Body and Blood. When he tells us that he is in us and we in Him, we begin to see how he works to conform us to his glorious image. It is through the gift of the Eucharist that the Gates of Heaven are opened and it is only through the Eucharist that we can see them. Pax

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Unlearning our ABCs

Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time &
Saint John Eudes, Priest

Readings for Saturday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time
Biographical Information about Saint John Eudes


Our wish, our object, our chief preoccupation must be to form Jesus in ourselves, to make his spirit, his devotion, his affections, his desires, and his disposition live and reign there. All our religious exercises should be directed to this end. It is the work which God has given us to do unceasingly.

Saint John Eudes

Some aspects of what the Lord desires of His faithful followers seem to be threaded throughout the history of the Church. The quote from St. John Eudes above is one of those threads. Here we see in concise terms the object of our prayers, the subject of our deepest hopes, the answer to those cries in the night when we ask; “Lord God, what do you want of me?” One day it would be interesting to find out just how many times since the patristic fathers this sentiment has been echoed.

A piece of it is given to us today in the Psalm Response; “Create a clean heart in me, O God.” A clean heart, however is only the beginning of forming ourselves in Christ. It is the blank piece of paper upon which are written the efforts we make in His name.

In the Gospel today, that very short statement by Jesus, we get another piece of the direction we must take. He says; “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” What do we suppose this means? What are the characteristics of a child’s faith? Remember he says; “such as these”. A child is innocent. That means un-culpable, even if they inadvertently fall into sin, because of their innocence, they cannot be held responsible.

I am reminded of a time when my parents, then in their late 40’s went to New York and visited the United Nations. At the time I smoked cigarettes and my mother thought it would be nice if she bought me some unusual cigarette holders from the gift shops there (this was a time when the health risks were pretty much unknown and smoking was not the social breach it has become.) What she unknowingly brought me was a nice collection of “Hash Pipes”. Was she encouraging me to participate in the “drug culture” that was pretty rampant at the time (early 70’s)? No she had innocently done a sweet thing for her son. Would that all our actions were as innocent as that and of the children about whom our Savior speaks.

Another characteristic of children, especially as it pertains to faith is simple acceptance. Children learn to take things on faith. Their loving parents have allowed them to be safe from the dangers of the world and as a consequence, when they are told that, “There is a God and He is good.”, they believe it without questioning. They don’t ask; “Why can’t I see Him?” or “How is that possible?” Those questions come later when the blush of innocence fades and the cynicism of adolescence begins to emerge. That does not mean that the child-like faith goes away. It still hides there behind that face of, “I’m and adult now and you have to prove it to me.” It is a state, that child-like innocence, that we struggle to re-attain as we grow older.

Finally, a child is trusting. Like Jesus, the child’s first instinct is to trust rather than distrust or fear. Distrust and fear are things children learn as they grow older. We, as parents teach them and not just by example either. We know we must teach our children to never trust a stranger. For their own protection they must learn that they must assume a person they do not know intends to harm them. We tell them; don’t accept gifts, don’t take food; don’t go with anyone you do not know because it may be the last thing you ever do. They learn not to trust. They learn to fear. It is a great tragedy that, in our society, if we as parents don’t do this, we have actually been irresponsible and have placed our children at risk, even though it is only a tiny fraction of the population that would actually do them harm.

How do we as adults regain that trust and innocence? That is the difficult part. Somehow we must find a way to put on the mind of Christ who, with almost child-like innocence, loved and embraced even those who ultimately put him to death. Perhaps, given today’s reminder, we need to un-learn rather than learn in order to follow the words of St. John, whom we remember and revere today.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Unless it is Unlawfull

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time &
Jane Frances of Chantel, Religious

Readings for Friday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time
Biographical Information about Jane Frances of Chantel


Whew! We have a full plate today. Let me give you a quick summary if you have not already read all the readings and explored the wisdom of St. Jeanne. At the top we have the Prophet Ezekiel announcing the forerunner of Baptism (did you catch that; “I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you; you became mine, says the Lord God. Then I bathed you with water, washed away your blood, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you with an embroidered gown,” he does it more explicitly in Ez 36 24ff, but this is clearly a reference.).

Next we get a very controversial passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel on divorce. We’ll look at that more closely later. And finally we remember St. Jeanne who was inspired by St. Francis de Sales and founded the Order of the Visitation of Our Lady that was designed for widows and laywomen and to this day focuses on their issues.

All of these topics could steal our attention today; however, because it is so controversial (because it is so misunderstood) we will focus on the Gospel and Jesus’ very disturbing comments. The only reason most parishes in the United States avoid these readings when they can is because, at face value, they seem to contradict the Church’s stance. It is important for us to understand that, for many years, divorce was categorically prohibited and a person who divorced and remarried faced excommunication. I don’t even like to think about how many faith filled people suffered needlessly because we (the Church) had not come to grips with what the Holy Spirit was going to accomplish through it.

I don’t have time to find out when that view changed (I suspect it was at the Vatican II Counsel), but today the Church view on divorce is consistent with its view on other sacraments. One is either married and the sacrament is present or one is married and the sacrament is NOT present to begin with. That does not mean the couple did not enter into a civil contract of marriage. I means that that civil contract was not accompanied by the Sacramental bond that, as the Lord has said; “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, man must not separate.” That bond, where we can envision God, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, standing between the man and the woman (I refuse to go any were else with that) holding them in an unbreakable union, is what the Lord speaks of above.

And there in lies the rub. A vast majority of people do not see the distinction between the civil bond made by man as being different from the sacred bond witnessed in the Sacrament of Matrimony. Is it any wonder then that non-Catholics don’t understand the Church’s intense educational process for people who want to be married (Sacramentaly!) in the Catholic Church? Shoot, many Catholics don’t understand the requirement. And what is worse is that many don’t understand it even after they have gone through it. I think the hormones somehow block that part of the brain.

What is important for us from the scriptural perspective here is that when Jesus says; “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” “Unless the marriage is unlawful…” That parenthetical phrase, we interpret as saying, in essence, if we misunderstand the presence of the sacramental bond or if the marriage is performed only as a civil ceremony without even the pretext of God’s presence in the relationship. That one caveat is what was missed in our earlier understanding of the Lord’s intent. Given what came next, we should have caught it.

We have been trapped once more by the richness of the scriptural offerings today and are running long. I will leave the deep debate for others wiser and more learned (that means you Deacon John Cameron of the Tribunal). Pax

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Inequality of Mercy is Strained

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Thursday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time


If we look first at the reading from Ezekiel and then at the Gospel today we can see clearly how dramatically Jesus changed the understanding of our relationship with the Father. Looking at Ezekiel, the Prophet is instructed to go through Jerusalem and basically predict the Diaspora, the enslavement of the Hebrew people. This catastrophic event, according to scripture, is a consequence of their failure to accept God’s Law and to be faithful to the covenants that bound them from Moses and Abraham.

Now take a look at the Gospel. Here we have Jesus responding to St. Peter when he asks; “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Note; Peter probably uses the number seven in reference to Hebrew numerology in which the number 7 is the perfect number – it is complete.) and Jesus responds using a similar simile with; “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Jesus meaning is clear; we are to forgive without limits.

See how our relationship with the Father has changed? The God of Justice has been revealed in Christ as the God of Love. To make sure there was no mistake, that is, to make sure we understand another important element of his message regarding forgiveness, Jesus gives us the parable of unmerciful servant. In this story we see God, represented by the king, being merciful to a servant that owed him huge debt. That servant obviously represents us. How large a debt should we say we owe the Father of our Creation, He who gives us life and all that we have? What do we owe to the One who loves us so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus, that we might be freed from the bonds of sin and death to share eternal life with Him? I’d say that is a pretty big debt.

The story continues with that ungrateful servant who was shown mercy, turning on one who owed him a small fraction of what was forgiven him and brutally demanding full payment. And we cheer as the King discovers his unforgiving nature (he was ratted out) and; “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.” (Do we sense Ezekiel in the background saying “See, it’s the same God.”)

Jesus, in this story reiterates something he has said more explicitly earlier in the same Gospel according to St. Matthew:

"Stop judging, that you may not be judged.
For as you judge, so will you be judged,
and the measure with which you measure
will be measured out to you.” (Mt 7 1-2)

There we have it, the difference between the Old Testament understanding of the nature of the Father’s love and how it was augmented by God’s revelation through His Son. But there is a bit of a trap there. Too often today we think only that God is love and that, with that infinite forgiveness His Son demonstrates, we can do anything we like and not be held accountable. As we clearly see in today’s scripture, that is not true. We will be held accountable and the more complete our understanding of the Lord and His wishes for us, the higher the bar. No one ever said it was going to be easy.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The God Standard

Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time &
St. Stephen of Hungry

Readings for Wednesday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time
Biographical Information about St. Stephen of Hungry


Our first reading from Ezekiel continues his vision, the first part of which we heard on Monday describing God in heaven. Today the prophet predicts God’s retribution on those who have fallen into idolatry. There is a strong image of the Lord here in that the “Thau” being referred to in the reading is literally an “X” but the letter in ancient Hebrew is drawn as a cross. (I wonder what that could mean).

The Gospel is important. For us as Catholics, who trace our papacy back to the Apostles, this is Jesus giving authority to his successors to provide guidance as to what is right and wrong. It is the foundation of the Magisterium of the Church. Without giving this authority and charge we would have no evidence that the will of God was entrusted to those first disciples who in turn, through Apostolic Succession, hand on that authority to our Pope Benedict XVI.

Jesus also gives some very practical advice echoed in Paul’s letters about how to settle disputes among members of the community of faith. It is advice that unfortunately has gotten lost in our litigious society. It presupposes a unified Church since its authority assumes that excommunication would be a deterrent and the law of the Church would be “The” standard of conduct. (“If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”)

The lesson should ring loudly for us. How often in our dealings with others, even with people whom we know as members of our faith community, do we take offense and sulk or devolve into petty squabbles? Should we not rather do as the Lord proscribes? Should we not take our problem directly to the person we perceived has done us an injustice and make that argument directly with them? (At the risk of telling too much about my own experience in the Confessional, I seem to have heard that advice as part of my penance on more than one occasion.)

If we examine the fundamental underpinnings of the rule the Lord gives the disciples we can see it is based on mutual respect and love of one another. Ultimately that is where he always pushes us. How can we say we love someone if we harbor a perceived hurt or injustice? It is like getting a sliver of wood in our finger. If we leave it in there, it is going to fester and become even more painful than the initial removal process. If we don’t take action to remove it even after it becomes painful, it can become infected. If we don’t take drastic action once it is infected, it can cause serious and permanent damage and in extreme cases, even death.

No, it is better to take that perceived injury to the person who caused it. Even if they don’t accept responsibility, then you have at least unburdened yourself of any resentment that might have festered. You have acted in accordance with your faith and you are given the opportunity to forgive the unrepentant which is something very Christ-like. We get great things and tough lessons from the Lord today.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Very Good Assumption

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption


Oh, before I begin in earnest, be warned that most Protestants are going to be very nervous if you start evangelizing using the theotokos as your inspiration today. While they accept that Mary was the birth mother of Jesus, they have not evolved spirituality around her and feel that the Catholic devotion to her verges on idolatry. In our own faith there are those whose devotion to Mary verges on heresy as they attempt to deify her (the whole Mary Co-Redemptrix thing).

Since a friend of mine, Tom Gielda, quizzed me last week asking; “What Holy Day of Obligation is on August 15th?” (I confess, I could not remember without looking), I have been wondering what to write. I read some of the old texts on the assumption and its theology. I highly recommend The Assumption of Mary from the Apocrypha and Cyril of Jerusalem, Homily on the Dormition. When I saw the readings from today, however, I realized that something I pray everyday, the Magnificat, was there and it captures that which is most admirable about the Mother of God.

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”

Mary starts her song with “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” Remember yesterday when we talked about the lack of praise in our prayer? Mary starts that way and keeps right on going. Her song is one of those wondrous prayers that demonstrates a purity of heart and intent that we can only long to aspire to.

I know that sounds a little melodramatic but, since I have prayed that part of St. Luke’s Gospel almost every day for the past 22 years, it’s pretty hard for me not to be emotionally affected by its simple vulnerability and humility. Is it any wonder we as a Church believe that such a pure spirit should be taken bodily to heaven?


Monday, August 14, 2006

Special Effects

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, priest and martyr
Readings for Monday
Biographical Information about Saint Maximilian Kolbe


We are given food for the soul today that is very difficult to digest. Fortunately, St. Max gives us a phenomenal example of what it means to live the faith consistently. What is especially striking about his story is that when there is an apparently easy road in front of him, he takes advantage and expands his ministry to the limits his physical health will permit. When he is faced with setbacks, either because of his health or the political situation into which he was thrust, he demonstrates the best characteristics of the faith by sharing that adversity. St. Max is a truly heroic figure for us to take as an example today.

In scripture, we start with the Prophet Ezekiel who has a vision of the glory of God surrounded by cherubim (the 4 living creatures) in the clouds of a storm. The significance of this vision may become clear later in his testimony, but for now, assembles images from earlier scripture (Exodus 24 and 33) into a single vision. Given that the reading is not contiguous (Ez 1:2-5, 24-28c) we initially might think there is something in the verses omitted that might give us some practical application. However, what we find is there is a more detailed description of the Cherubim that does not really translate into a meaningful image for us.

Still struggling with the image of God in the clouds, we move to the Psalm where the psalmist takes us back to the vision and directs us to praise the Lord in heaven and on earth. Here we see a glimpse of a message we can take from Ezekiel that perhaps we were resisting – it deals with our prayer.

The Psalm exalts the Lord of Heaven, heaps praise upon Him for no other reason than it is something God deserves from us. How often in prayer to we seriously praise God? I am not talking about thanking God, something we should also do every day. Thanking God comes fairly easily since all we need to do is look around and see the bountiful blessings he has heaped upon us, but praising God, that is something else.

Yesterday afternoon I attended a scouting celebration for two young men I have known for several years. They have achieved the rank of Eagle Scout which is really a challenging and noble accomplishment. The celebration was instructive for the younger scouts who attended in that it extolled the virtues instilled in the young men through the program. It did one other thing, it praised the young men. It praised them for their courage in the face of a daunting task. It praised them for their tenacity and the character they developed. It recounted their journey and the steps they had to go through. In the end, the award was given and the presentation was somehow anticlimactic. It was the praise that had caused them to blush, the accolades that had swelled their hearts. It was the fact that people they cared for were holding them up in pride that was important.

Thinking about the Eagle ceremony, it strikes me that God does not get enough of simple praise. Again, not thanks, but praise. When was the last time we spontaneously prayed; “Praise you God for the glory you have worked upon the earth and in heaven. Praise to you for all your marvelous deeds. The creation you made gives you honor for all you have done.”? (You can say I just did it, but before that.)

When I review my own life of prayer I find that, unless I am reading it from the Psalter in the Liturgy of the Hours, my own spontaneous prayer does not contain a lot of praise to the Father, His Only Son, who gave his life that we might live, and the Holy Spirit which supports and guides us. Given the importance of what the Lord has done for us, some serious praise should be part of each day’s efforts on His behalf.

I would have like to have ended this reflection with the last paragraph, but we have not really spoken to the Gospel today. It starts out right after the “faith of a mustard seed” story we heard on Saturday and gives us the Lord’s prophetic statement to his disciples. They believed him this time because we are told; “And they were overwhelmed with grief.”

The second two thirds of that passage from Matthew is again difficult from a practical vantage. Since we are again going long today, I leave it to you to reflect upon the fishing trip. Pax

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Some Carbs are God

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time


The background of the first reading from the First Book of Kings is actually a great segue (I had never seen this word in print before although I had heard it in common usage. It is pronounced seg-way and actually is defined as performance direction. I had a heck of a time finding the spelling.) to yesterday’s main topic about violating the second commandment. Elijah was under the broom tree because he was “on the run”.

He had just finished a miraculous episode that converted or re-converted a large group to have faith in God the Father. When he had finished, he had the priests of Baal brought to him and he slit their throats (that Old Testament justice is really brutal). Jezebel was the ruler of Beer-sheba which was apparently a big Baal hot bed and she sent word that Elijah was going to get what he gave those priests of Baal. That is why he was on the run. He was trying to save the people from the trap of false gods.

The reason Elijah was under the broom tree, however, is secondary to the image we have of what happened there. We can tell the prophet is very upset (he was afraid his throat was going to be slit) and goes so far as to ask God to just end it (“This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”). But the Lord has bigger and better things in store for Elijah. God sent his own messenger to give him food for his journey and to make sure he understood that he did not give up.

While we see from our perch more than 2,500 years in his future (the 1st Book of Kings is thought to have been written between 561 BC and 538 BC) that this story is Eucharistic in its reference, it might not have appeared to have had that meaning at the time. But if we include the sound bite from Psalm 34 (“Taste and see how good the Lord is; blessed the man who takes refuge in him.”) (Tradition has it that the Psalms were, for the most part composed around the time of King David, about 1, 000 BC, well before 1st Kings, although not actually written down until about 600 BC) the link between Elijah and Jesus’ gift of His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist becomes substantial. Not only that but it is back linked (excuse the internet terminology) by the Feast of the Transfiguration we celebrated just a week ago.

So here is the big surprise; today’s scripture is about the Eucharist. Wait a minute, what about that second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians? Paul is always practical and as we read this piece of his letter to the Church at Ephesus we see that practical advice;

All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you,
along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

This does not sound Eucharistic so are we out of step with the rest of scripture? No, look at the end of the passage; “…Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.” There is our reference, so we are consistently told of the perpetual nature of Christ’s sacrifice from before all time. His New Covenant was made clear in his sacrifice on the Cross but was foretold many times in the history of man’s encounters with God. From the time God brought the Hebrew people out of their slavery in Egypt, when he gave them manna in the desert, to when Jesus fed the multitudes with loaves and fishes we were told this timeless gift was to be given.

John’s Gospel, of course, takes away any ambiguity. There is no longer a need for symbolism or implication, Jesus is crystal clear;

I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh
for the life of the world.

If one believes that Jesus is the only Son of the Living God; if one believes that, at the Last Supper, he gave his disciples bread and wine and told them; “This is my body”, and “This is my blood.”; if one believes that the Bible is the revealed word of God, how can we deny that, in the Eucharist we receive today, Christ has once more given us His body, real food, and His blood, real drink?

I know there are some who argue that he was speaking metaphorically. How can they say that in light of the scripture we hear today? How can we not believe that he left this gift with his disciples and that they in turn passed on that gift through Peter down that long path of apostolic succession, 2000 years, to this altar on this day?

Today we thank God for the gift of His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ who gave us the gift of His Body and Blood that He might be in us and we in Him and share with Him the salvation He won in His sacrifice on the Cross. Pax

Saturday, August 12, 2006

More on Passion

Saturday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings for Saturday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time


The reading today from Habakkuk has buried in it a huge lesson for us today. I know sometimes when we read the Old Testament Prophets we are thinking about their historical context and, in this case we think the prophet is lamenting the Diaspora, the disbursement and enslavement of the Hebrews by its neighbors. Of course the prophet is speaking to that event but in light of the Lord coming to us and what we know now of His glorious resurrection there is another message, very relevant to us, today.

Listen carefully to this passage:

You have made man like the fish of the sea, like creeping things without a ruler.
He brings them all up with his hook, he hauls them away with his net, He gathers them in his seine; and so he rejoices and exults.
Therefore he sacrifices to his net, and burns incense to his seine; For thanks to them his portion is generous, and his repast sumptuous. (Hb 1;14-16)

I want to tell you a true story (Notice I said “true”, those of you who know me, know I am a story teller so I am clarifying.) A number of years ago I was the Human Resources Manager for a large research organization in Ann Arbor. I was contacted one day by one of the Lab Directors about one of his researchers who was not doing well at his job and whom his director wanted to terminate.

I invited the man into my office to see if this was a problem that had a less drastic solution. The man (about 33 or so years old) was a Ph.D. in Computer Science and working on some advanced image processing algorithms. When I asked him if he was aware that his work was far less than satisfactory, he immediately broke in to tears. I was surprised; it is not very often that technical professionals at this level display much emotion at all, let alone crying. I asked him what the problem was and he told me he was going through a very messy divorce.

This explained a lot. Most folks I have encountered who go through that traumatic process are in pretty bad shape for about a year. (If they are not, shame on them for entering into such an important relationship that meant so little.) In this case, however, the root of his depression surprised me further and lead to an epiphany related to our Prophet Habakkuk’s lament.

What was troubling this young man so deeply was not just that his wife of 4 years had kicked him out of their house, but that she was denying him access to his personal computer (a Mac I believe he said it was). This computer, he told me, his emotion now switching to frustrated anger, contained all of his personally work, his thesis research, his personal projects and his future plans. She would not let him even see it. (This last part was blurted out as he stood and actually shouted. I was becoming concerned (more like scared the guy was going to go ballistic)).

The conversation ended with him storming out of my office, slamming the door behind him. If you are wondering how the issue was resolved, I recommended suspending him from work until we could get a psychological evaluation that told us he would not be a danger to himself or his co-workers. It was not the quality of his work I was worried about, it was his emotional temperament. (If he had asked me, I might also have been able to give him some direction about his marital problems.) I also had a sit down with the director and asked him if any of his other scientists were exhibiting signs of emotional stress. He told me it was hard to tell. (You have to have known the work environment at ERIM at the time to appreciate the truth of that statement.)

The point of the story as it relates to Habakkuk’s prophecy is the young man in my story had substituted his principle tool for a spiritual relationship with God. He worshiped his computer as the evil ones in Habakkuk’s reading; “…he sacrifices to his net, and burns incense to his seine; for thanks to them his portion is generous”.

Given our love affair with technology, our cell phones, PDAs, and computers to mention a few bits, is it any wonder that more and more today people are turning to their devices for comfort and neglecting the relationship with the Lord that could make them whole. Granted, the story I gave you was extreme, but look at the news, people are worshiping their toys and tools.

Yesterday I said that by our passions we will be known. If we allow “Things” to become our motive for what we do, (“You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them” Ex 20 4-5) are we not violating this second commandment of the Decalogue? Granted we may not “Officially” bow down, but when we dedicate our effort to worldly goods we are walking a very dangerous path.

I see today I have run long and not even had a chance to mention the whole “…if you have faith the size of a mustard seed” debate. Let us keep that in mind as we ask ourselves today where we put our time. I hate to be repetitive but; by our passions we will be known.


Friday, August 11, 2006


Memorial of Saint Clare, virgin
Readings for Friday
Biographical Information about St. Clare


Before I begin my “Official” reflection I thought I’d share something from the sailor side of the Deacon-Sailor. I have been aware of the old saying; “Red sky at morning, sailors take warning, red sky at night, sailors delight.” for most of my life, but until today I did not know where it came from. This morning while reading the Gospel in front of the passage we hear from St. Matthew I accidentally found the passage below.

The Pharisees and Sadducees came and, to test him, asked him to show them a sign
from heaven.

He said to them in reply, "In the evening you say,
'Tomorrow will be fair, for the sky is red'; and, in the morning, 'Today will be
stormy, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to judge the
appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times." (Mt. 16

Holy cow, I knew the Lord was a sailor, I just did not know how much he really knew about weather. (For any non-sailors out there, knowing the weather is as necessary for a sailor as a tailor knowing cloth or a farmer knowing the earth.) It does not really have anything to do with either today’s scripture or St. Clare of Assisi whose memorial we celebrate today. I just thought it was interesting that the nautical saying is scriptural.

Today we are given both scripture and an example that scream a theme at us saying; “Get your priorities straight!” It is something we all need to hear because, unless we have reached a very high plain of spirituality, we are tempted on a daily basis to focus our energy on things that give us only pleasure and do not bring glory to God our Father. By our passions we will be known.

In the case of St. Clare, her passion was (and is) the Lord. She was brought up in the lap of luxury, being of noble decent and could have lead a life of leisure as part of the Spanish nobility. Instead she chose not only to leave that life (Whoever wishes to come after me must deny their self...), but she took the vow of poverty to a new level (…take up their cross, and follow me.) founding the order of Poor Clares. Her passion for the Lord dominated her life and she achieved, in the eyes of the Church, true discipleship in the Communion of Saints.

The Lord makes a pretty good case for asking us to reorder our priorities. He asks the rhetorical question; “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Or give up part of what I give to the Church to buy a new boat? (did I write that in my out loud voice?) As I said earlier, by our passions, people know us. If we want to figure out where our priorities are all we need to do is ask a good friend and, if they are truthful, they will tell us what they believe our life’s passions are. If one of the top three is not the Lord, then we really need to do some shifting. (That does not me the Lord should be number 3; He should be number one. It’s just that others should see Him in the top three in our life.)

St. Clare gives us a lot to think about today. As for me, I will try to be very conscious today of why I do the things I do. If they are for me, to make me look good, to make me money, to enhance my standing, I did them for the wrong reason. If I do what I do for the greater glory of God, I’m on the right track. Priorities, very hard. Pax

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Turn Me Over!

Feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr
Readings for Thursday
Biographical Information about St. Lawrence


When I was younger and more foolish than I hope I am today, I picked St. Lawrence, whose feast day we celebrate, because first, he was a Deacon of the Church, and second because of his reported sense of humor. According tradition, and that means it may not have been supported officially anywhere, when St. Lawrence was being martyred by means of being attached to a grate and roasted alive over a fire, he is said to have quipped at his torturers; “Turn me over, I’m done on that side.” Of all the heroic actions of martyrs reported through the centuries of Church history, I liked the simple insolence of St. Lawrence in that moment.

Now that I am older and wiser and have come to a deeper understanding of the role and purpose of the ministry of the Deacon, I can appreciate another aspect of his defiance of the Emperor Valerian who was the one responsible for Lawrence’s and some many other Christian executions. When Lawrence was commanded to bring to his execution the treasure of the Church, instead of the physical wealth in the form of gold or silver (Lawrence, a steward of the Church had already distributed that material wealth to keep it from Valerian) he brought with him a multitude of the indigent, the poor, and the sick of Rome, claiming they were the true treasure of the Church.

Lawrence exemplifies two aspects of diaconal ministry that are key to the relevance of the whole Order of Deacons. He demonstrates a devotion to the marginalized members of society and a flair for charity. His service to the Church, even excluding the fact that he was a martyr showing uncommon dedication to our Lord, is a towering example to everyone, but most especially to modern deacons who should be humbled by his example.

The scripture readings today support, precisely, the character of St. Lawrence. First, in Corinthians, we hear of the need to share what we have with those less fortunate. And if we look closely at the passage below we can see the inspiration for St. Lawrence as he gave his very life to the Lord:

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows bountifully
will also reap bountifully.
Each must do as already determined, without
sadness or compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor 9 6-7)

In the Gospel we also see the fidelity of St. Lawrence as the Lord reminds all of us that, in order to follow him in life, we must also, like a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, follow him in death so we can rise with him in the new resurrection.

Now I know this is really heady stuff and it takes us to the “Philosophy” of the faith rather than the practicality of the faith which is the usual subject of these posts. However, we need that foundational understanding of our role in the world to help us translate our faith into action on a daily basis. We need to develop the mind of Christ in ourselves so that when situations arise we can instinctively react in a Christ-like way.

Today we reflect on one of the great early martyrs of the Church, fellow Deacon, St. Lawrence. Our prayer today should be that our lives some how echo his example of faith so that we can achieve the reward promised to the Lord’s faithful and we too become wheat.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Circles of Irony

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time &
Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Readings for Wednesday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time
Biographical Information about Saint Teresa


Today is the memorial of one of John Paul the Great’s saints, Edith Stein or Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. I find it ironic that on a day when we are forcibly told that Jesus came first for the chosen ones of Israel, we find the Church memorializing a Jew who converted to Christianity, probably earning for herself among many or her contemporaries scorn and derision for doing do. Yet, her example of faith in the face of death and her ultimate execution at the hands of a race that claimed to be Christian sort of brings the irony full circle. She is a constant reminder that, under the influence of the Evil One, man is capable of unimaginable acts of cruelty and violence. This is something we need to be aware of as we see a rising tide in current world affairs of the same kind of hatred in the form of radical Islam. More ironically still the major target of this racial hatred is once again first directed at the Hebrew people.

With all of he above being said, I know we should love all of God’s word but the Gospel we hear today always bothers me. Granted that Jesus makes great use of parables and analogy, but just because the woman who comes to him is not Hebrew but a Canaanite, his analogy about throwing food to the dogs has always stricken me as uncharacteristic of Jesus’ nature.

What is important for us is to get past the simple words that are recorded and look at what Jesus is saying. First we need to understand that there was enmity between the Hebrews and the Canaanites. There was a long history of tension that was at a high point when Jesus encountered the woman. She clearly knew what she was doing as she addressed him as “Lord, Son of David” identifying him by that name as a Hebrew.

Jesus, while the words attributed to him are harsh, did not do as most of his own contemporaries would have, begin throwing stones at her to drive her away. His disciples were begging him to do that. Jesus recognized the great gulf between them but opened his healing touch to the woman’s child when her faith in him was demonstrated. He did the same thing many times when dealing with members of his own societal group.

When we couple the Gospel tension between the Canaanites and the Hebrews with the reminder of what racial hatred can do in the person of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, we get a clear message today. It seems so simple but it is so hard, “Love one another.” He never gets far from that theme. It is the one element in our lives that is an exception to the wise saying; “All things in moderation” (Note, I actually stole that thought from a B.C. comic I looked at earlier this week.)