A Religious Life needs more than Rituals

Wednesday, 6/30/10

For our first readings this week we take up the prophet Amos. Up to 750 B.C. he had been an illiterate farmer in the southern kingdom of Judah. Suddenly he felt an heaven-sent urge to cross over into the northern kingdom of Israel. Once there he had even the wealthy fall victim to his sermons, recognizing him as Yahweh’s prophet, they dreaded his fulminations.

Those people’s Hebrew word for a prophet, a nabi , was a child’s word for a mouth; and they believed that Yahweh was borrowing the prophet’s mouth to speak to his people. So they felt it was Yahweh telling them he hated their stall-fed peace offerings, abhorred their noisy songs and elaborate harp melodies. It was Yahweh telling them he would be delighted if acts of kindness to the poor could spill out from them as from an uncapped well.

The message Amos has for us is that it is of little benefit to us if we practice the rituals of religion, while neglecting to put ourselves out for the needy and abused.

The Reforms of Josiah and Vatican II

 Wednesday, 6/21/10.

The first reading from 623 B.C. tells about King Josiah’s efforts to renovate the temple, clearing away all manners of evil. In a storage place for discarded documents the priests discovered a copy of the law, which was probably our Book of Deuteronomy. Spurred on by it King Josiah called for bringing back some solemn religious observances, particularly the Passover.

For us that fresh start might recall the impetus Vatican II offered us in the last century. What we discovered then was not a hidden book, but two religious principles, one with an Italian, one with a French name. The Italian word was John XXIII’s offering: aggiornamento. It recalled Our Lord’s calling for “reading the signs of the times.” John was saying we had to listen to what divine Providence was telling us with the age’s new challenges. The French word was ressourcement. It told us we had to be true to our religion’s beginning’s in the Bible and the writing of the Father’s of the Church.   

Enter through the Narrow Gate

Tuesday, 6/22/10.
In telling us to enter through the narrow gate Jesus was making a reference to the walled cities that were common in his time. The great gate of such a city was its focal point. It was equipped with benches where the elders of th city sat in judgment of all disputes, ratifying all contracts. The city’s business moved in and out of the great gate, but when disease or banditry was loose the chief official would bar the gate, and there would be no passing through either way. But that barring of entry did not deter the wisest of the citizens.

They knew of the existence of a narrow gate at the far side of the city. That narrow gate was available only to those who had both mastered the steep path up to it, and had made themselves familiar to the cranky old gate keeper over there.

As a parable, Our Lord’s advise to enter through the narrow gate comes down to working hard at our salvation, grasping at every opportunity to do or best.

Old Testament History

Monday, 6/21/10.

The first reading invites us to take an Old Testament history lesson here. At the death of King Solomon in 930 B.C. his foolish son Rehoboam doubled the people’s taxes, causing the ten northern tribes to break away into a separate nation. The people of that Kingdom of Israel repeatedly fell into the worship of other gods, despising the preaching of such great prophets as Elijah, Hosea and Amos. Our reading for today tells us of the fate thy brought on themselves. In 722 B.C. the Assyrians carried the tribes off to a captivity in which they lost their identity.

From that time on it was only the southern kingdom of Judah that remained from  the descendants of Abraham, and the people of Judah came to be called the Jews. While vacillating between following the pagan gods and heeding the direction of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the Jews stumbled on until 587 B.C. when they were marched off to Babylon.

The people of both kingdoms brought on their own ruin by turning away from God, and their stories should alert America to the possibility of a sad fate if we choose to follow other gods.

We Save by Losing

Sunday, 6/20/10.
The Gospel concludes with Jesus saying, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” That can put us in mind of two things.

First, it makes us think of our fathers who time and again put aside personal ambitions and what they wanted so they could help us get what we needed or just wanted. I think of my dad working over twenty years to make the last payment on his house mortgage, only to have to start all over when my sister’s appendix burst. I think of him handing me his twenty dollars, saying, “This is what dads are for.”

The second thing those words of Jesus could make us think of is the Song of St. Francis.

It is in giving that we receive,
In pardoning that we are pardoned,
And in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Jesus is telling us that when we are unhappy, the thing to do is not to look for what will please us, but to look for something that will please somebody else. It is in giving that we will receive.

Worrying is Going in Circles

Saturday, 6/19/10.  To worry about what we need to accomplish is altogether different from wise planning for it. Worrying is circling around and around a difficulty instead of getting a hold on it and solving it. Jesus tells us to plan wisely, then turn to other tasks.

Jesus says, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing.”

What he means by that might not be immediately clear. He is saying since he was capable enough and good enough to do the more difficult thing, can’t you trust him to be good enough and capable enough to do the easier thing. Since he was good enough to present you with a body can’t you trust him to clothe that body? Since he was good enough to present you with life itself, can’t you trust him to put an occasional meal on your plate?

In going around and around worrying about food and clothing you behave like a child his parents find sitting down, head in hands, worrying about those things. They rightly complain, “By worrying about such things you are being forgetful of all we have done for you up to now."

"Our Father" Stories

Thursday, 6/17/10. There are many old stories about the depth of meaning in the Our Father. One is the story of the monk who had the intention of meditating on the deep meanings of the words of the Our Father. He had decided he would stretch out his holy insights into each phrase in the prayer. He wanted it to occupy his morning meditation time for a week. What happened, though, was that after a month’s prayerful meditating he hadn’t got past the opening words: “Our Father.”

The other old story concerns Saint Bernard who was riding a horse up into the Alps to a monastery where he was to give a retreat. Riding along, thinking of what he might say to the monks, he was stopped by a farmer who remarked on Bernard’s horse, “Look at you up there on that beautiful horse.”

Bernard hadn’t noticed it, but he now said, “It is a beautiful horse, isn’t it?’

The farmer said, “People look up to you when all you have to do is pray, while I have to sweat twelve hours a day to feed my family.”

Bernard said, “Praying is hard work too. My good man, if you can say the Our Father through one time without thinking of anything else I’ll give you this horse.”

Delighted, the man said, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be  . . . do I get the saddle too?”
Here is a link to the New York Times website. I also read The Los Angeles Times. Here is a link to today's Mass readings

Secretly Doing Good Deeds

Wednesday, June 16, 2010. Whether we are doing good deeds, praying, or fasting Jesus tells us to be careful to avoid compliments and applause. In all three cases the reason he giver for being secret is so that, “Your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

Jesus is saying that nothing could be of greater value to us than a deepening of our love relationship with God. That’s all we should strive for.

Fitting in perfectly here is a line from the old song “When You’re Away Dear.” The line goes like this, “Then, when you’re near me there’s nought that I strive to do, save to endear me more fondly my love to you.” It is a line we use serenading God. -tks

Loving Enemies

Tuesday, June 15, 2010. Jesus says the reward waiting for us if we love our enemy is that we will truly be children of God. If we take a moment to pull up pictures of our enemies we might confront ourselves with images of some truly hateful people. We might be looking at a man who derives pleasure from torturing women and children, or at a man whose selfishness has him betraying all his friends for drug money. Whoever we might be looking at we can be certain that God sees him too, and God sees him as his child for whom there is hope as long as there is life.

No matter what their crime or color might be, God sees all people as his children. In loving them we love God. In slighting them we slight God. t if we drop a weighty object it will fall. That’s the law of gravity. It always works.

In a similar way whatever action a person takes he takes it because it seems to be a good thing. No matter how wrong we can see his action to be, we must concede that at the time it seemed to be the right thing to do. We must always give sinners the benefit of the doubt by thinking, “He probably thought it was the right thing to do.” -tks

Uninspired Tribal Law

Monday, June 14, 2010. In our Gospel Jesus tells us not to retaliate when someone harms us. He say when someone strikes us on one cheek we should, “turn the other cheek. He tells us to ignore the Old Testament’s advising us to demand an eye for an eye.

If we have been raised to believe that everything the Bible says comes from God we will be shocked at Jesus telling us to ignore those words about demanding an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But the fact is, there are parts of the Old Testament that are no more than copies of tribal laws in force at that time. The saying about an eye for an eye comes from Chapter Twenty-one of Exodus, and if you check the rest of that chapter you will see it could not have come from God.

Verse 7 gives instructions for fathers selling their daughters into slavery. Verse 20 says when a man beats his slave so severely that the slave dies immediately, the man should be punished. But verse 21 says, “If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.” There is no way those precepts could have come from our good God. -tks

Great Catholic Women

Sunday, June 13, 2010. Our Gospel concludes with mention of the women who regularly accompanied Jesus. There was Mary from Magdala. There was Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and there was Susanna. From their own means, these women provided for Jesus and the Apostles. Luke tells us of Martha and Mary who made room for the band of Jesus any time it passed through Bethany on its way to Jerusalem.

In our modern church what have we that corresponds to such arrangements?

In answering that question we might begin by recalling that Vatican II sees our church not as the hierarchy, but as the people of God. Wanting to see who makes up the people of God we must focus on hospital and school staffs, on church congregations. What we see in these places is a predominance of women. When each of those women was baptized into Christ she received an anointing that made her a sharer in his priesthood and in his prophetic mission. By reason of her priesthood she can never be a mere witness at Mass. By reason of her prophetic role she is committed to speaking for the God who comes to her in her prayers. -tks

Loving Heart of Mary

Saturday, June 12, 2010. Yesterday, after giving thought to the love Jesus has for us, we turn today to thinking on the loving heart of Mary.

Our focus falls first on her concern over Gabriel’s message when she asks, “How can this be?” We next share her embarrassment over the ancient Elizabeth’s asking, “How can it happen that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” The visit from the shepherds had her pondering it all in her heart, while Simeon’s prediction had her bracing that heart for a sword’s thrust.

As we reach out over and over to her in the Hail Mary’s of our rosaries, we secretly long for some reply from her. “Mother Mary, what was he like at four, at seven and eight? How deep was your sorrow when the twelve year old Jesus was missing? Had you fully grasped his greatness when you whispered, “They have no wine,” turning then to tell the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you to do?”

On this feast of the heart of Mary bring us to your side under the cross: "Stabat Mater dolorosa juxta crucem lacrimosa dum pendebat Filium. Oh quam tristus et afflicta fuit illa benedicta mater unigenite.” -tks

Sacred Heart

Friday, June 11, 2010. Today, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, as we are reminded of the love Jesus has for us, we make an effort to love him back. The Bible describes our Lord’s great love for us as similar to that of a shepherd for his sheep. He says, “The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up.”

We tend to regard regular church-goers as our Lord’s sheep, but he tells us his deepest concern goes to those who do not go to church. If we want to be of one mind with him we cannot make a circle of our wagons, firing out at religion’s attackers. No, we must sneak out with cool water and warm love for them. We make a return to Jesus for the love he shows us by extending love to his wounded. -tks

The First Antithesis

Thursday, June 10, 2010. Yesterday’s Gospel quoted Jesus as saying, “I have come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.” Jesus followed that assertion by citing six commandments delivered by Moses. In what are known as the antitheses Jesus followed up each Old Testament precept with a description of how his law improves on the old one.

In the first antitheses, Jesus said the Jews had heard they should not kill, but he went beyond that: saying they should not even be angry with a so-called enemy. He adds that if we come to the altar with a gift and recall that a brother has something against us, we should first go and be reconciled before offering our gift.

That brings up a matter we easily forget: we should never come empty-handed before the altar: we always need to offer the gift of obedience to God. You should not abstain from worship just because someone somewhere has something against you. There might always be someone of that sort out there. By saying we should make friends while we are still on the way Jesus meant we should do it while we are alive. He went on to say if we don’t make up then we will be cast into prison until we pay all. That seems to be a reference to Purgatory.

I Have Come to Fulfill

Wednesday, June 9, 2010. In the Gospel Jesus said, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” It’s only in Matthew’s Gospel that we will find these words of Jesus. That is so because they sum up Matthew’s whole reason for writing a Gospel in addition to that of Mark, Luke and John.

To see this we need to go back to the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. Up to then the practice of the Jewish Religion had centered on temple worship, and with the loss of the temple the Pharisees needed a strong focus for keeping their religion alive. What they settled on was an exact performance of Jewish laws and customs.

That decision had them looking unkindly on the thousands of Jews who were followers of Jesus. Those people were not following kosher rules. In that they were following Jesus who had sat at table with unclean Gentiles and sinners. The Pharisees began telling Jewish Christians that they would have to give up Jesus if they wanted to stay Jewish. Against that Matthew wrote a Gospel that showed how the Old Testament prophecies had all led up to Jesus. Rather than his having destroyed the law and the prophets, he fulfilled them.

Humility and Good Deeds

Tuesday, June 8, 2010. In the Gospel Jesus tells us to let our light shine before all. That is very nice, but doesn’t it go against what Jesus said later? At the beginning of the next chapter in the Sermon on the Mount he said, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them.”

So, how can you let your light shine before all while taking care not to perform righteous deeds for people to seen? What do you think?

One way of reconciling these seeming opposites is to take into account what Paul said in Chapter Four of First Corinthians: “What have you that you have not received, and if you have received why do you glory?”

That verse makes you realize that your abilities and talents were entrusted to you to do good for God’s children. Unfortunately, if you have made poor use of what God has given you, shame follows. The shame due you there should blanket any self satisfaction that comes with some of our often feeble accomplishments. -TKS

Sermon on the Mount, Matthew v. Moses

Monday, June 7, 2010. With the Sermon on the Mount Matthew’s Gospel deliberately set up a comparison between the teachings of Moses and the teachings of Jesus.

At Mt. Sinai Moses called the leaders up around him while he shouted out the Old law. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is pictured the same way: he brought the Apostles up around him while he called out the New Law. Where the Old Law of Moses began with the Ten Commandments, the New Law of Jesus began with the Beatitudes.

Most of us would-be Christians are stuck with the Old Law’s Ten Commandments. We don’t strive to live up to the standards Jesus set for us when he told us we must be meek, merciful, and hungering after justice while we become the peace makers whom God calls his true children. -TKS Posted by KAB.

Persistence with Others?

Sunday, June 6, 2010. In the first reading St. Paul instructs Timothy to be untiring in his proclaiming the word of God. He says, “Be persistent whether convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.” We cannot be certain that Paul meant that advice for all of us. Elsewhere in his letters to Timothy Paul seems to regard Timothy as a mild man who needs to be pushed.

I have never laid down the law with my friends and family members, and I have behaved that way out of respect for their good judgment. However, a younger priest friend of mine moved into our circle, and he immediately began telling my older sisters and brothers-in-law how they should manage their family and religious lives. And to my surprise, my family and friends acted as though they didn’t mind. His different way of doing things reminds me of Boniface, today’s saint. In the fifth and sixth centuries while the Church in Rome was surrounded by enemies it was monks from Ireland who kept the Church alive. They saved the Scriptures by making beautiful copies, and they brought the Faith to the continent’s Germanic tribes. Then, in the Eighth Century, after Rome gained some freedom, the popes sent Benedictine monks to England and Germany to bring the churches there into line with Roman customs. St. Boniface was foremost among those. He was bossier than the Irish monks had been, but it seemed to succeed with the people.

Inspired by God

Friday, June 4, 2010.  Today’s first reading is a passage from the Scriptures that tells us how we are to regard the Scriptures. It first tells us “All Scriptures are inspired by God,” but it does not tell us how far that inspiration goes. I mean, has God dictated the wording to humans in a way that would make all the books of the Bible direct quotations from God? The Catholic Church in its Constitution on Divine Revelation tells us that the human authors of all the books had considerable influence on their composition. Like, in their Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each gave us the story of Our Lord’s life, but each used his own style and ideas in the writing.

What they wrote was “useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction” because the writers put all their prayers and efforts into saying what God wanted them to say. The beautiful passages in Paul’s letters did not just occur to him on the spur of the moment. No, they were the product of hundreds of hours of striving to put into words the truths God wanted to tell the world. In much the same way, for our part, an understanding of the Scriptures can only come when we have immersed ourselves in them for hundreds of hours.

The Dialogue on the Mystery of the Samaritan Woman

DIR -This is a great story. I like getting to it. Are there any scholarly insights we have to hear for starters?

DR FITZ -At the end of his Gospel John tells us that the stories he included were those that showed how Jesus was the Messiah, and that also showed how we find life through believing in him.

KATE -You had us read that paragraph from the end of the Gospel.

DIR -Perhaps you should read it again. What is the reference?

DR FITZ -It is Chapter Twenty, verses 30 and 31. Let's all read it.

ALL -“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”

DR FITZ -You will see that this story qualifies for inclusion on those two counts. It demonstrates both that Jesus is the Messiah, and that we find life through belief in him.

DR MAC -I have another insight. When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman John remarks "It was about noon." When did Nicodemus come?

JOE -It was night.

KATE -And we saw how in his Gospel when John says it is night "Night" he can mean that it is night in the soul of the person. This is neat. John is telling us it is bright day "Day" in the soul of the Samaritan woman.

Living Patriarchs

Wednesday, June 2, 2010. Today’s Gospel presents a confrontation of Jesus by the Sadducees. The money men accepted only as much of the Bible as was needed to qualify them as Jews. This consisted in an acceptance of the first five books of the Bible, but did not include a belief in an afterlife, or in spirits.

They took up Our Lord’s belief in heaven, and thought to make it appear ridiculous. They went about doing that by posing the case of a widow for whom six brother-in-laws, one after another, died after attempting to impregnate her with a son to carry on the family name. The Sadducees aimed at making the afterlife unbelievably shameful by picturing the widow as hopping from one bed to another.

The reply Jesus gave had two parts to it. The first part was his informing us that there was no procreation in heaven. Without averting to it, we had always known that: the matter of children born in heaven never entered our minds.

The second part of Our Lord’s answer rested on the Sadducees' acceptance of the first five books of the Bible in which the Almighty was referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He made the Sadducees realize that with them the mental picture that went along with their mouthing the phrase “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” was not one of the tomb’s decay, but of living patriarchs.  -TKS

Honoring St. Justin, 160 A.D. Account of the Mass

Tuesday, June 1, 2010. The first of June is the day the Church honors St. Justin. He was a Second Century philosopher who came to Catholicism from studies of Plato that convinced him that there had to be one God who was the creator of all things, including our immortal souls. He used to say that Socrates in 400 B.C. was a Christian before the birth of Jesus.

In 160 A.D. when men arose in the Roman Senate, accusing Christians of gathering to worship goats St. Justin posted this description of our Sunday worship.

On that day that is called after the sun all those in the country and towns gather together for a common celebration when the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the Prophets are read, as long as time permits.

After the reader has finished his task the one presiding gives an address, urgently admonishing his hearers to practice those beautiful teachings in their lives. Then together all stand and recite prayers as the bread and wine mixed with water are brought in.

Then, the one presiding offers up prayers and Eucharist prayers as much as in him lies. The people chime in with “Amen.”

Then takes place the distribution to all attending of the things over which the Eucharist prayer has been spoken, and the deacons bring a portion to those absent. Besides, those who are well-to-do give whatever they will. What is gathered is deposited with the one presiding who therewith helps widows and orphans.

A few years later Justin was convicted of refusing to worship the Roman gods. He was publically beaten then decapitated. With his death being so hideous he has always been remembered as Justin Martyr.