Therese died unknown, then became our favorite saint

Friday, 10/1/10

Today we honor St. Therese of Lisieux, born in France in 1873, she died in a Carmelite convent at age twenty-four. At three Therese learned to read, and she delighted everyone with her sparkling ways; but at her mother’s death when she was four Therese turned morose for ten years. Snapped out of it on hearing her father complain about her, she regained her lively ways.

After a thorough preparation for her first confession she knelt, highly anxious to talk to God in the Sacrament, and she stunned the priest by opening with, “I love you!”

Therese at fifteen was allowed to follow two older sisters into the Carmelite Convent at Lisieux, and she lived an ordinary life there, trying to give friendship to older unpopular sisters. Put in charge of training novices, she advised them to gladly accept illnesses and depression. She asked them to liken themselves to little balls and toys which the child Jesus could take up to cherish or throw away in forgetfulness.

Tuberculosis took hold of her, limiting her activity, but not her desire to be a better person. One day she was cheered by an older sister remarking on how well she was looking, only to be met by another sister who remarked on how much she had slipped. She used those meetings as a lesson for dropping all desires for approval from others.

Two years before her death her mother superior told her to write her life story; and after her death the story, as was the custom with Carmelite nuns, was sent around to the other convents. Somehow it got out to the public, becoming a success that made that secluded girl the best known saint of the last two centuries.

Cardinal Newman's Wrtings

Thursday, 9/30/10

Since the pope’s visit to England last week to beatify Cardinal Newman, I have been making brief remarks about Newman’s life. Today I’d like to make mention of his writings. This verse from his “Lead Kindly Light” exemplifies the warmth of his writing from the part of his life while he was an Anglican.

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom, lead Thou me on!

The night is dark, and I am far from home; lead Thou me on!

Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
 the distant scene;
One step’s enough for me.

An article in last week’s American Magazine spoke of three recurrent themes in Newman’s writings. He earnestly wanted us: 1. To see the whole picture, 2. To live in Christ, and 3. To lead holy lives. The article went on to enlarge on those points.

1. Seeing the whole picture. When Newman was asked by the Irish hierarchy to found a Catholic university, he outlined programs that took in science, literature, and religion as sharers in what is our complete human experience.

2. The need to welcome Christ. At age fifteen John Henry was made to experience the presence of Christ in his life. It was the Incarnation on his private level: the miracle by which the Word became flesh in Mary’s womb was repeated for him. Newman’s writings urged us to pray for a similar personal incarnation.

3. Learning Holy Living. The bulk of Newman’s writings will be found in his years of sermons for ordinary Christians. With one lesson at a time he showed how each Bible reading urged people to become Christ-like.

(I was seventeen when I opened a book of Newman’s sermons, and hit on one that began with the question, “Why was King Saul rejected by God?” I then read how with great clarity Newman demonstrated ways in which Saul forfeited God’s favor by using religion for propaganda purposes without personally committing himself to it.)

For a most human example of Newman’s writing you could do what I did today. You could Google Newman’s “The Dream of Gerontius.” It is a dramatization of a soul’s passage through Christian death.

Cardinals Newman and Manning

Wednesday, 9/29/10

This is the feast day of the archangels Gabriel, Michael and Raphael. With apologies to you O great spirits, I am going to continue with some remarks on the life and ideas of Blessed John Henry Newman. Pope Benedict’s visit last week to England to beatify Cardinal Newman started me on this. Yesterday I summarized Newman’s life from his birth in 1801 to 1851. That was when he quietly established the Oratory in Manchester as a place for priests to do scholarly work.

Another significant Catholic occurrence in England in 1851 was the conversion to Catholicism of another leading Anglican cleric, Henry Edward Manning. Newman and Manning, both of them Catholic Cardinals, are often spoken of together, although they were quite dissimilar. Manning, ordained a Catholic priest two months after his conversion, was on the fast track for advancement. In 1854 when Pope Pius IX defined the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception, Manning applauded the definition. Newwman and his friends, however, were concerned that the pope had not clearly explained what the Church Fathers had said on this matter.

When Cardinal Wiseman,the first Catholic Primate of England,died in 1865, Pope Pius IX, rejecting all the more likely candidates, made Manning the primate of England and archbishop of Westminster.

Manning reciprocated in 1869 by strongly campaigning for the Vatican Council’s defining of the doctrine of papal infallibility. Newman did not reject the doctrine, but he thought its definition unwise, since its main effect was one of angering and further alienating other Christians.

Newman prayerfully put his mind to rest over tough matters like infallibility, the Inquisitions, and Vatican splendor. His reasoned dealings with troubling matters are a helpful guide for people who must deal with today's priest scandals and cover-ups.

Tomorrow we can take a brief look at Newman’s writings that speak softly to us after a passage of more than a hundred years

Cardinal Newman and Our Times

Tuesday, 9/28/10

The pope’s visit to England last week to preside at the beatification of John Henry Newman has turned the attention of English speaking Catholics to Newman. That visit has brought us to look again at the writings Newman left us, seeing how pertinent they are to our times.

For every day of the three years I have been posting these brief articles I have made them homilies on the readings of the day. For Newman, though, I would like to depart from that plan, instead presenting any readers there might be out there with some summaries of Newman’s life.

Born of Protestant parents in Manchester England in 1801, John Henry was the oldest of six, and the family stretched their means to put him into a good boarding school. They kept him there even after 1815 when his father’s loss of employment necessitated sending the girls in the family to live with relatives. A half year’s illness turned a fifteen-year-old John into a religious boy who was strongly anti-Catholic. With health back, at twenty-two he won a fellowship at Oxford’s Oriel College. There he made lasting friends of other religion minded young men. Together they did deep research into Christianity’s beginnings, finding themselves drawn to supporting Rome’s claims.

Again falling ill, this time on a trip to the continent, his prayers found full expression in his composing the great Anglican hymn “Lead Kindly Light.” Back at Oxford, he was ordained an Anglican priests, and he was given the university’s St. Mary’s Church where he preached a decade of sermons that are still treasured. At the same time he was supporting a drive to disestablish Anglicanism as England’s state religion. The group took turns writing ecumenical tracts, and the Catholic tone the last of those, Tract Ninety, had the Anglican hierarchy censoring Newman, and taking away his parish.

At age forty-five he was received into the Catholic Church and he journeyed to Rome for seminary studies. Although he was gravely disappointed in the pomp of Rome’s hierarchy, he joyously accepted Catholic ordination in 1847. After spending wonderful months with a community of priests at the Oratory founded by St. Phillip Neri, he returned to Manchester where he established an Oratory where priests studied mornings, then discussed each other’s religious writings in the afternoons.

St. Vincent de Paul

Monday, 9/27/10

Today is the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, patron saint of St. Vincent’s Hospital, founder of the Vincentian Fathers, of the St. Vincent de Paul societies; and along with St. Louise de Marillac, founder of our Daughters of Charity. Born of peasant stock between 1575 and 1580, his sharp mind won him some schooling, and through the first third of his life he devoted himself to finding rich patrons to give him some security.

Ordained in 1600, and working his way up, in 1605 he was captured by slavers, and for two years he experienced to the full the life of a bottom dweller. He gained freedom by converting his owner, and he returned to courting wealthy people to gain a living. His success there earned him an appointment as the Queen’s dispenser of charity, and that led to a more lucrative position as chaplain to the powerful Gandi family. Vincent could be thought of as the patron saint of slow starters, because he gradually mutated from being a self-sever to being an unbelievably great server of God’s poor.

The miserable existence of the poor on the Gandi estate drew him into becoming the guardian of their spiritual and temporal welfare. The worse condition of France’s galley slaves turned him into the provider of medical and better living conditions for them. Once Vincent’s saintliness got going there was no stopping it.

Getting into good spiritual shape

Sunday, 9/26/10

Amos in the first reading spoke scornfully of the well-to-do people lounging on their couches. Hoping I’d come up with something to say about that, I stretched out on my couch, but then it occurred to me it was the wrong way to prepare for this homily.

I suppose Paul gave us the right approach for getting to the meat of today’s reading. He would describe Amos’s wealthy loungers as being seriously out of shape spiritually. He compared keeping spiritually in shape to keeping physically in shape. People who are quite willing to diet to keep physically in shape should consider fasting to keep spiritually in shape. Listen to what he says in Chapter 9 of First Corinthians.

In the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize.
Run so as to win it. Every athlete exercises discipline to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly: I do not fight as though I were shadow boxing. No, I
drive my body and train it, for fear that after having preached to others, I myself might be cast away.

The rich men on their couches in the reading from Amos, and the rich man in Our Lord’s story might put you in mind of one part of Our Lord’s parable of “The Sower Went Out to Sow His Seed.” Some seed fell on thorny ground, and the thorns grew up with the good grain, choking the life out of it. Laziness, greed, and all the vices by which we pamper ourselves are like those thorns. You might want to get into studying or working for the poor, but you find that your old habits pull you back into your old ways of snacking, resting, watching reruns.

I just heard a story going around. In a certain Indian tribe a part of the maturity rite has the young brave going to an old chief for that warrior’s choice word of advice. This old chief said, “Throughout life you will find there are two wolves fighting within you: one is laziness and selfishness, the other is brave and giving.” The young brave asked, “Which one will win?” and the chief answered, “The one you feed.”

Enjoying Being Young

Saturday, 9/25/10

In our first reading Ecclesiastes gets gloomy telling us that life’s pleasures are all in the days of youth. Still, there are two paths to joy that remain open to us as the years pass. The first path is one in which we share the fun of children and grandchildren. Writing these lines, my mind goes back two hours to a conversation with a volunteer librarian. She was telling me, “The little kids looking for books are such a delight. When I get to open new avenues for them, it’s a thrill for me.”

On that same path, at lunch at a restaurant today I sat by a young mother with year old twins, a boy and a girl. She got separate high chairs for them, and each squirmed around, investigating the borders of their little worlds. For a time while the lady talked with her parents each of the infants grabbed at her for attention, but then, when she turned to them, singing, “Rock-a-bye baby,” the kids and the grandparents couldn’t have been happier.

The second path to joy that remains open past youth is that of keeping one’s own youth alive within. A priest classmate of mine who always wore cuff links told me, “The trouble with you is you don ‘t want to grow up.” I confess to the crime. I enjoy dredging up stories and impressions from my years long gone, reliving the fun of them. I won’t look it up, but there is a poem of Wordsworth something like this.

My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky,
So was it when my life began, so is it now I am a man,
So let it be when I grow old, or let me die.

The child is father of the man, and I would wish my days
To be linked each to each in mutual piety.

The Gospel's Turning Point

Friday, 9/24/10

Today’s Gospel marks the turning point in Luke’s Gospel. Up to this Chapter Nine the Gospel has been laying out all the miracles and signs which brought the apostles around to seeing that Jesus must be the Savior.

Here they express their belief, “You are the Christ of God.” At that Jesus felt he could go on. He agreed with them that he was the Savior come into the world. Now, abruptly he turns to telling them how he would go about saving us: it would be by suffering the death of an executed criminal.

And, if they found that to be disagreeable they must be prepared for more. The only way they could be his followers would be for each of them to take up a cross to follow him.
Thursday, 9/23/10

Today we honor Padre
Pio who was born of poor farm folks in Southern Italy in 1887, dying as a Capuchin monk in 1968 at age 81. His was a very religious family, attending daily Mass, saying the rosary together. At age ten he applied for admission to the Capuchins; and when they said he needed meet their academic requirements his illiterate father went to America to earn money to educate his son. Fully prepared at fifteen he entered the Capuchin’s, being given the name Pio. Ordained in 1910. Six year later he was assigned to the monastery of San Giovanni Rotondo, and except for a half year of military service. His voluntary fasts and hardships brought lifelong poor heath on him. As a famous confessor his best advice was, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.”

Offering his life for world peace during World War One, Padre Pio, at age thirty bore the visible wounds of Christ in his hands, feet, and side, and those wounds remained with him for the last fifty years of his life; and he allowed doctors of every belief or lack of belief to examine them.

Poverty Ain't No Lady Fair

Wednesday, 9/22/10

Our first readings Monday and today were taken from the Book of Proverbs. It was used with students, training them in memory and writing skills.

Today’s sample says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; lest being full I deny you, . . . or being in want I steal.”

That’s a good prayer. When Jesus told his disciples not to bring anything with them he was not encouraging poverty, he was encouraging his disciples to stir up generosity and friendships in the folks they stayed with.

Twentieth Century popes insisted over and over that the heads of families have the God-given right to a living wage.

Bernard Malamud in his story “The Assistant” drew the picture of a Brooklyn homeless guy who went on and on about following St. Francis. He bored the man who sold him his daily cup of coffee. He kept talking about how he was like a knight, and Poverty was his Lady Fair. The guy behind the counter finally said, “Listen, Bud, poverty ain’t no lady fair. Poverty is a dirty business.”

Matthew's Gospel Shows that Jesus Fulfilled the Law and Prophets

Tuesday, 9/21/10

Today we honor St. Matthew. We are not sure that he wrote the Gospel that comes down to us bearing his name. Still, I see nothing wrong with using his feast day to tell the story of how the Gospel according to Matthew came to be written.

In December of 1986 I was planning on using Luke’s Gospel as the Religion text for the seventh grade the next semester. Making a show of being democratic, I asked the kids what Gospel should we follow. Well, a little Lutheran boy said, “We want to do Matthew,” and all the kids agreed. So, I had to look into the story behind Matthew’s Gospel.

In the first century there was a Jewish terrorist group called the Siccary after their daggers called siccas. They ambushed so many patrols that in 69 A.D. the Roman Senate commissioned General Vespasian to destroy Jerusalem where the Siccary were holed up. He built a ring of catapults for hurling fire into the city. Then, chosen to be emperor, Vespasian turned the destruction of the city and temple over to his son Titus.

After the fireballs started coming in, the chief Pharisee, Johanon, paid for a meeting with Titus, and he made him believe that more Pharisees than Romans were victims of the Siccary. After Titus allowed the Pharisees and their families to leave the city, they settled at Jamnia on the coast where they faced the question of how they could survive as a Religion after losing the temple that was the center of their religious life. What they decided on was that they would make a minute observance of the Law to be the core of Judaism.

Now, by that time there were tens of thousands of Jews who were followers of Christ. As such, they were neglecting some picky-picky ordinances. In the eyes of the Pharisees, their biggest violation came with their eating with non-kosher Gentile converts to Christianity. The Pharisees issued an ultimatum to the Jewish Christians, saying that to be recognized as Jews those Christians had to break off all contact with Gentile Christians. The Pharisees were saying there was no way a person could be both Jewish and Christian.

What most contributed to the Christians composing the Gospel according to Matthew was the contention of the Pharisees that Jesus was a traitor to Jewish tradition. In reading Matthew’s Gospel we must note the many ways in which it shows that far from departing from the Law and the Prophets, Jesus fulfilled them. That’s what the Sermon on the Mount is all about.

Mixing Religion with Business

Sunday, 9/19/10

In the first reading Amos gave us a picture of wealthy Jewish merchants who were forced to close their shops on Sabbaths and feasts. They lounge on polished floors, plotting ways to cheat simple people. In the Gospel Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.” For those merchants the choice had been made long before: they served the god Money.

Once I was on a day-long bus trip in Korea, and when we pulled into the station seventeen miles north of my town, the driver said he could coax the bus no farther. Needing to get to my parish for the morning’s Mass, I was glad when a stranger proposed a solution. “Father, I keep a shop in your town, we could split the price of a cab.

I asked, “How do you know me?" And he said everyone in town knew the one foreigner there. He saw me going out to teach school most mornings.

I asked, “Why haven’t I ever seen you?"

He said, “I am a shop keeper. None of us come to church, because we make our living by lying and cheating.” (We were in the cab ride.)

Doesn’t that hurt your conscience?”

“It does. My mother who owns our store has begged for her rice as a Buddhist nun the last six month. When she comes back I will shave my head and go off for six months.”

I said, “You remind me of a New Orleans song that goes  “One day of praying, six days of fun: odds against heaven are six to one.”

He thought that was clever and true, but he saw no other way. I said the only way we can have a happy world is if people mix business with honesty. I told him Christ’s parable about the woman making bread. She mixed yeast with six measures of flour until the whole mass begins to rise.

He said he would try being honest in his shop. It might be easier than shaving his head, and begging for his rice for six months.

Mixing Religioun with the Business World

I said, “You remind me of a New Orleans song that goes  “One day of praying, six days of fun: odds against heaven are six to one.”

He thought that was clever and true, but he saw no other way. I said the only way we can have a happy world is if people mix business with honesty. I told him Christ’s parable about the woman making bread. She mixed yeast with six measures of flour until the whole mass begins to rise.

He said he would try being honest in his shop. It might be easier than shaving his head, and begging for his rice for six months.

Heeding God's Promptings

Saturday, 9/18/10

The sower went out to sow his seeds, and some seeds fell on the path, some on the rocks, some amid thorns, and some on good ground. Jesus explained that the seeds were the word of God. By that he did not mean the Bible. Most of his listeners could not read.  What he referred to was the promptings we receive from God: promptings to do the right thing, to avoid the wrong thing. We could receive hundreds of such promptings a day.

We are like the path where the seed never took root when we are so wrapped up in other concerns that we pay little attention to God. Other concerns, like the birds in Christ’s story, take over.

We are like the thin layer of soil over a rock bed when right away we like what God proposes, but like young plants that put down no roots, we don’t carry through with plans to accomplish anything.

We are like the ground playing host to thorns when our greed or lust, or pride, squeeze out our good intentions.

We are like the good ground when we pay heed to God’s promptings, carrying out the resolves it inspires in us.

Women in the Royal Priesthood

Friday, 9/17/10

In the Gospel Luke did what Matthew, Mark and John failed to do. He gave credit to the women who accompanied Jesus and the Apostles, supporting him and the Apostles out of their own means. In addition to his giving us valuable stories of Mary the mother of Jesus, he paid tribute to Mary Magdalene, to Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward, Susanna and many others.

There has been a fuss this year over women being banned from priesthood. In a way I see that as a false problem. Let me explain. For one thing, it is Jesus who is the priest. For another thing, we have all been called to a royal priesthood.

In the early church the priest at the altar was seen as the spokesperson of the people exercising their priesthood. The Roman Canon composed by Gregory the Great in 600 had the priest at the altar saying, “Father, accept this offering which we your people make to you.” There the man at the altar was speaking for everyone. Then, after the Dark Ages when only the clergy could read, Charlemagne’s deputy Alcuin altered the wording. He made it the clergy’s Mass, by changing the wording to “Father, accept this offering which we make to you for your people."

All you gals out there, exercise your priestly function. Become part of the “pleasing gift,” the eu-charis, offering yourselves up with Jesus.

The Gospel is the News that Jesus Lives to Help us Live Again
Thursday, 9/16/10

In the first reading Paul said, “I am reminding you of the Gospel I preached . . . that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, and that he was raised up on the third day” He went on to say that by keeping his promise to rise from the dead he guaranteed that he would also keep his promise of bringing us back from the dead. That was his Gospel. That was his “Good News.”

I suspect that if most of us were asked what is meant by the word Gospel we would say it is the Bible’s story of the life of Jesus as it was told by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

But those four Gospels were not composed unto twenty years after Paul wrote this Letter to the Corinthians. In calling himself a minister of the Gospel, Paul meant that he was deputized to give a single bit of good news to the world. That good news, that gospel, was that Jesus had passed through death to life beyond death, and if we cling to him he will pull us through too.

In the Midst of Her Sorrows Mary Took Us on as Her Children

Wednesday, 9/15/10

Today we concern ourselves with the great sorrows Mary bore for us. The Church provides us with a choice of two Gospels.One presents us with a teen age Mary when on her child’s fortieth day she and Joseph had joyfully presented him in the temple. What a blow it must have been when the old man Simeon told her that because of the beautiful child a sword of sorrow would pierce her heart?

The other Gospel choice brings us to the day that drove in the sword. She stood beneath the slow death of her son as he was executed between two common criminals.

Through the magic of prayer, God lets us speak kind words to Mary on both of those days. We can speak to Mary as Simeon hands Jesus back to her, saying, “Don’t worry, beautiful young woman. All will come out well.”

It might be of greater benefit for Mary and us for us to speak to that mother beneath the cross. For us at least the doom was lessened by the words Jesus spoke from the cross. He gave Mary to us, and he gave us to Mary.

The Litany of Loreto employs two dozen titles for addressing Mary, but we can do away with all of them if with our whole soul we know her as, “Mother.”

The Triumph of the Cross

Tuesday, 9/14/10

Today’s feast, The Exaltation of the Cross has, has a double meaning. The cross was exalted, lifted up by the soldiers on Calvary. It was exalted, lifted up, by angels to heaven as the symbol of his triumph.

The full span of Christ’s adventure was beautifully recorded in the second reading. It began as a hymn first sung shortly after the Resurrection. We can benefit from the introduction to the hymn which our reading clips off: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . . .

The hymn proper begins with The Word leaving heaven to be conceived as Jesus. It says he could have claimed equality with God, but he did not. Instead, “he emptied himself.” That’s what saints aim at: they strive to empty themselves.

The hymn then employs three different wordings to help us understand what a come-down Jesus embraced: He became a slave, he came in a human likeness, he was found in an human appearance.

Monks in their monasteries break the next sentence into three parts for antiphons at Matins on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of Holy Week. For us he became obedient, he became obedient unto death, he became obedient unto death of the cross.

At Easter the monks joyously sing of his triumph. “Propter quod et Deus exaltavit eum.” He received a name above all names, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven, on the earth and under the earth.

What Jesus Relly Said at the Last Supper

Monday, 9/13/10

Let’s look at four points of interest in Paul’s account of the Last Supper.First, although he never saw  Jesus alive; Paul here tells us that he had a secret, miraculous meeting with him when Jesus told him what happened at the Last Supper.

Second, our English version of Paul’s Letter says that Jesus took up the bread “after he had given thanks.” That might be a faulty translation. Paul, writing in Greek, said Jesus took up the bread after his eucharistas. That was the name of the third and final part of the Jewish formal meal blessing. So, our English version could have been given as “After he had said the formal blessing."

Third, Jesus said his blood was the blood of the New Covenant. Now, the Jewish people believed that blood was life itself. When Moses at Mount Sinai had the young men sprinkle them and God’s altar with blood the people felt the blood was bringing all of them and God into a close living relationship. So the Blood of the New Covenant makes all of us one people with Christ.

Forth. One would see the effect gained by repeating this ritual from the Last Supper would be that as often as we repeated it we would be recalling the Last Supper. But, no, Jesus said that what our Masses would recall was not the Last Supper, but his death the next day. That can be so because at the Last Supper Jesus had already begun the complete offering of himself that would be concluded the next day.

We Can't Be Independent of God

Sunday, 9/12/10

Most people have a favorite interpretation for the parable of the Prodigal Son. I favor a dull, legalistic, Jewish approach. I go back to Moses when his scouts were sizing up the land they were about to invade. The scouts divided the land of Canaan into twelve sections of equal fertility, but not equal size. Then, Moses had a representative of each of the twelve tribes draw a lot to see which parcel of land would belong to its tribe in perpetuum.

Moving on to the Book of Ruth we see how a man named Elimelech of the tribe of Judah, along with his sons, passed away, requiring his widow Naomi and his daughter-in-law Ruth to find a way to live off Elimelech’s parcel of land. Not up to doing the man’s work, they had to find a man of Elimelech’s Ephatha clan to either purchase the land or take Naomi and Ruth and their holding into his care.Naomi, knowing that the land belonged to her husband’s clan, sent Ruth to lure Boaz, the man Naomi thought to be Elimelech’s nearest relative. As such he would have first call on buying the land.

However, Boaz told Naomi that there was one man more closely related to Elimelech than he was, so they went to that relative, asking if he wanted to purchase the land. The man said he’d like to purchase the land, but his women folk wouldn’t want Naomi and Ruth moving in, so he would pass. So, Boaz married Ruth, who thus became David’s grandmother. (I am making the point that the younger son had no right to turn his portion of the land into cash.

Another tedious point of history could take us to the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob tricked his father Isaac into thinking he was his brother Esau, and Isaac irretrievably gave the birthright to Jacob. (The birthright was a double portion of the inheritance that went to the oldest son.) What the Gospel story’s younger son received from the father was only the right to farm one third of the father’s land for the good of the clan.

The father in the story stands for God to whom everything we have and are belongs. We sin when we try to throw off his rule over us. The turning point in the Gospel story comes when the boy says, “I will go back to my father.” The story urges each of us to come to the same turning point.

We Who Receive Christ are One in Him

Saturday, 9/11/10

Often enough in his Letters Paul was giving solutions to problems we no longer face, like: are we permitted to shell peas on the Sabbat? Can we eat meat that came from the altar of Athena? But, Paul's answers to those problems, were often so general as to be advise for us.

In this Chapter Ten of his Letter to the Corinthians Paul was telling the Christians not to eat meat from animals sacrificed to the Greek gods. The reason he gave was that by eating meat that had been offered to the gods one joined in adoring the god. He said eating the meat was like practicing idolatry. Now, that is a problem we no longer face.However, what he said about sacrifices to the idols also holds true for those sharing in the sacrifice of the Eucharist: we become united with one another.

In their celebration of the Eucharist they started with a single large loaf that represented Christ. Then, after they tore apart the loaf giving each of us a piece; well, just as Christ remains one after the loaf is pulled apart, so it is the same Christ who is welcomed into the heart of each recipients. Then, a wonderful thing happens: Christ brings all our hearts together.

There used to be little iron images of the tail, trunk, legs, ears, body of an elephant. Now, each piece had a small magnet embedded in it, so that, when the separated pieces were dropped on a flat surface, the little magnets would draw the pieces together, re-assembling the elephant. It was something like that which Paul had in mind when he said, “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one Body, for we all partake of the same loaf.

We Can't Be All Things to All Men

Friday, 9/10/10

It would help us all if we let today’s readings remind us of our limitations. Could you make Paul’s boast your own? Could you honestly say, “I have become all things to all?” Can you boast that you have had all the right answers to the problems of your friends and family?

At certain times I have put my reputation on the line over family problems. My brother had a drinking problem that lasted years and years, and I funded a number of his efforts to get right. When he came up with another scheme: he was going to make a fresh start out in California, I begged my dad not to waste money on it. Dad fell for the plan anyway. Then, my brother went out there: never took another drink, and died a hero and a friend to many people. I flew out there, and was impressed with the tributes they paid Frank.

My sister dumped a wonderful man for one I didn’t care for. I knew she would regret it all her life; but the wonderful guy didn’t turn out well, and the guy I didn’t care for became a wonderful father.

In the Gospel Jesus asked, “Can a blind person lead a blind person? Won’t they both fall in a ditch?” From times when I have been the blind guide causing another to fall in a ditch I hope I have learned something. I hope I have learned to bring major questions to God, not hurrying the process. I hope I have learned to seek out the motives that have caused good people to come up with views contrary to mine.

Not all Activity that is Legal is Expedient

Thursday, 9/9/10

The Gospel gives us a big taste of Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Plain. The sermon supplies us with one principle after another for leading good lives, but somehow that Paul says in the first reading packs a bigger wallop.

Corinth was a port city with hundreds of sailors coming and going every day; and ministering to the superstitions of the sailors the city offered hundreds of shrines where they could offer sacrifices to their gods for lucky voyages.The mentality of those people saw a need for one’s completing the act of worship by staying on to eat the meat. In other words, eating the meat was part of the worship.

However, in Corinth it was often wealthy ship owners who offered up a great number of sheep and oxen, more than they could possible eat. So what the temples did was sell the beef and lamb in stalls at half price. That presented a problem for Paul’s Christians.

Many Christians, from their long lives as pagans, had it deeply instilled in them that eating such meat was taking part in worshiping false gods. They wouldn’t do it. And they would have nothing to do with any so-called Christians who ate meat sacrificed to idols. But other, smarter Christians, were saying that the gods worshiped in those temples were just a fiction, and there was nothing wrong with getting in on the bargain of that beef and mutton. They wrote to Paul, asking him to side with them.

Paul told them that they were right. The gods weren’t real, and the meat was cheap. Still, Paul said it was wrong for them to eat such meat when it was a hurtful sight for their Christian neighbors. An old translation of this passage quoted Paul as saying, “Some things that are lawful for us are not expedient for us.” Like, it is lawful for married people to embrace, but in some places, and with some witnesses it is so inexpedient that it is sinful.

Happy Birthday Mother Mary

Wednesday, 9/8/10

Today we celebrate Mary’s birthday. We have no idea when the actual date was, but everyone has a right to his or her birthday, and for many centuries her children have kept this as Mary's birthday.

Incidentally, when you think about it, our custom of honoring every person once a year is a fine practice. When someone’s birthday comes up among friends or between strangers at a restaurant it makes us all happy. We see the better side of our human nature.

Of several readings suggested for Mary’s birthday the one we quote most often is the passage from Chapter Eight of Paul’s Letter to the Romans: “All things work for good for those who love God.”

But, there are other words there that especially call Mary to mind. What applies to her are the words, “Those he foreknew he also predestined . . . And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.”

The Sermon on the Plain

Tuesday, 9/7/10

Today’s Gospel is from Luke, 6, verses 12 to 19. It ends by saying that Jesus came onto a level stretch of ground. If we peek at the next line, verse 20 it might be a surprise for some of us. It states, “And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.”

That verse and the ones that follow it should be familiar. They are a shortened version of the Beatitudes that began the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel. A big difference is that here Luke pictures Jesus as coming on a level stretch, while in Matthew he is on a mountain side.

From back then we have no accounts of how Matthew and Luke went about gathering stories and sitting down to write. The nearest thing we have to such an account are Luke’s opening words, “I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence.”

There are scholars who know those times and languages, as well as having a great love and respect for the Gospels. They have bent their skills on an examination of what clues we have; and this has brought them to some tentative conclusions.

All the evidence tells them that Mark’s was the first of the four Gospels to be written. Further, they see that two-thirds of what Mark wrote appears in both Matthew and Luke with only slight variations. This leads them to conclude that those two borrowed from Mark.

Next they see that one fourth of Matthew’s Gospel and a very similar fourth of Luke’s Gospel have nothing like it in Mark and John’s Gospel. That leads them to conclude that both Matthew and Luke made use of a package of notes kept by an eyewitness to Our Lord’s preaching. It was German scholars who developed this theory for a common source for a quarter of both Matthew and Luke. They call those verses the source, or in German, “Quell,” often abbreviating that to “Q.”

Why, then, has Matthew describing this sermon as taking place on a mountain, while Luke has it delivered on a flat stretch? The scholarly surmise for that is that Matthew and Luke were writing to get different ideas across. Luke, a democratic Greek has Jesus speaking on the level, while Matthew, making us see the superiority of Our Lord’s teaching to Moses, puts Jesus on a mountain showing a contrast with Mt. Sinai.

Our Lord's Heart Goes out to the Man with the Withered Hand

Monday, 9/6/10

Let me comment on both the Gospel and the reading from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. As to the Gospel, the man with the withered hand always brings to mind for me the image of a boy named Calvin who lived on the next street to me when we were eleven. Calvin had one wrist and hand that were like a dead fish; and as he went on and on about having a career as a country singer, my thought always was, “You aren’t going to be any kind of success with that ugly hand.” Now I wonder at what secret grief’s Calvin must have had.

I brought those memories of Calvin to my reading of this Gospel piece, and it had me wondering how the scribes and Pharisees could have been so heartless toward the poor man who was standing there - the cause of the dispute between those great men.

From the first reading I brought away a fascination with the metaphorical uses the Scriptures made of yeast. In today’s reading the yeast stood for the evil tolerance some Christians had for the man who was mating with his mother. Jesus would make yeast stand for pride, as when he said, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees.”

Perhaps the best use of the yeast metaphor in the Scriptures is when Jesus said good people must not avoid contact with worldly people. Rather, they should mix with them the way a woman takes a little yeast, mixing it with three measures of flour until the mass of dough begins to rise. I wonder if there is a common denominator for those metaphorical uses.
Sunday, 9/5/10

When Jesus speaks of several matters in any Sunday Gospel, the Church will direct our attention toward one of them by choosing a first reading that echoes one Gospel theme. So, while Jesus in today’s Gospel speaks of the need to follow him, and of the need to do without things, its first reading from the Book of Wisdom invites us to follow up on our need to plan well if we want to lead good lives.

The Gospel gives us two stories about good planning. One story concerns a man who did not start to build until he checked his building supplies. The other has a king who did not go to war until he completed estimates on the relative strength of his and the enemy’s army.

On the bus Thursday morning I had a conversation that fitted this category. I sat with a  twenty-two year old girl from Vietnam, and she spoke of problems over choosing what schooling to pursue. Her father wants her to study accounting. She would really like to go into Psychiatry, but she knew she was getting too slow a start in acquiring an M. D.. She did see attaining a nursing degree as within her capabilities; and she felt that should  give her a happy life. She belongs to an Evangelical Church, and she has been praying for direction.

Those of us who are past choosing a new career will still have other life-changing decisions before us. In facing up to them we will need to call on God to enrich us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We will need the Gift of Knowledge to know all the facts. We will need the Gift of Counsel to open our minds to advise from others. We will need the Gift of Fortitude to stick to the right path when God has opened it before us.

Jesus had Some Keen Sayings

Saturday, 9/4/10

Some of the phrases in today’s readings are precious. These words of Paul are a real jewel: “What do you possess that you have not received?” With no credit for yourself you received your looks, your intelligence, and all your talents. We are free-loaders, and we should not boast.

As well, I like Paul’s statement, “When persecuted, we endure,” but I much preferred an earlier English translation that went, “As dying, but behold we live.” The Columban Fathers had priests in Burma during the war. We had presumed that the Nips had killed them off, but at war’s end they sent out the message, “As dying, but behold we live!”

The Gospel is a great help to us. It tells us that sometimes religious regulations have to be disregarded in favor of doing something our human nature needs. Also, for people who hold to the Old Testament’s demand that Saturday be kept as the Sabbath, Jesus gives us his assurance that he is also Lord of the Sabbath.

The Mass Repeats the Formal Table Blessing

Friday, 9/3/10

Today we honor Pope Gregory the Great. In the beautiful window dedicated to him in St. Paul’s on Park Street there is a small banner announcing, “The Mass of St. Gregory.” To understand what contribution Gregory made to the Mass we must go back to the beginning of the Mass at the Last Supper when Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me."

Now, what all were the disciples to do in memory of Jesus? They were to take up bread and wine, and then repeat the words, “This is my body,” and “This is the cup of my blood.” But, was that all? No! There was one other thing which the Gospel accounts, and St. Paul’s account record Jesus as doing. They all say, “He gave thanks."

That’s the English version for what Jesus did. It’s a little different in the Greek that Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul actually wrote, They said Jesus took up the bread after euxaristesas. Literally that word means “the pleasing gift,” but the word had another meaning in common use. It was the final part of their formal blessing for meals. So, Jesus actually gave the formal blessing, and that was part of what he wanted repeated.

At a proper meal like the Passover Jesus would have said the brakha, a proper blessing made up of three parts. First he would have called to mind God’s favors, then he would have called down God’s spirit; and thirdly he would have asked those present to join him in offering all that they had and all that they were to God in a pleasing gift. That was substantially more than just saying thanks to God.

When the Apostles took to repeating what Jesus did at the Last Supper they offered a formal brakha, and, all our Eucharistic Prayers are based on the brakha. We see that in the sample Eucharistic prayers quoted by St. Justin in 150 and by Hippolytus in 210. St. Justin makes a point of saying that the one presiding offered “Eucharist prayers as much as in him lie.”

However, by Pope Gregory’s time in 6oo A.D. priests were too poorly educated to use their own words for the Eucharist, so Gregory gave us a formula of words known as the Roman Canon. It was modeled on the brakha.(Now, we hear that Rome is going to change a word here and there in the Eucharistic prayers, but I don’t think it was in the mind of Our Lord that the one presiding had to slavishly follow any set formula of words.)

Seeing Ourselves in the Gospel Stories

Thursday, 9/2/10

A Gospel like today’s is so familiar to us that it belongs to our own personal memories. We have been in the crowd gathered around Jesus on the lake shore. We have been part of the push that forced him to into Peter’s boat that took him twenty feet out from us. We have heard his parable about the sower who went out to sow his seed.We remember how Pope Paul VI after Vatican II was mobbed on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He got into a boat and pulled away a little to talk to the crowd.

My old pastor, Father Joe English, was a man of prayer who held himself apart from people. But, when three of us kids -- Matt, Len and I, started studying for the priesthood he loosened up with us. After a holy hour we served one Saturday evening he produced a bag of oranges, asking us to scoot up on a table next to his chair in the sacristy. He began talking about today’s Gospel, treating it as though we were among the disciples on the scene.

As for Peter saying, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” Father English had his fix on that. He said, “Your man, Peter, he was thinking of how much money he’d get for all those fish. He was thinking of what he would do with that money as soon as Jesus moved on. So, he said to Jesus, ‘Depart from me,’ but there was no getting rid of Jesus. He told Peter to follow him, and to get into the business of catching men.

That was a silly interpretation Father English put on the Gospel story, but it brought the Gospels alive for me. Ever since I have been able to see ourselves as no different from the people in the Gospel stories.