Today we honor all the good people who have made it to heaven.

We have four fine readings for this Feast of All Saints, and let’s take them one at a time.The first reading gives us St. John's dream about what heaven might be like.

He saw, “A great multitude which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.” 

Next, the Responsorial Psalm identifies those individuals who are saved: “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? or who may stand in his holy place?  Those whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.

Then, the second reading comes from the First Letter of John. The writer who left us that picture of heaven in the Book of Revelation cautions us against accepting his or anyone’s description of what heaven will be like. He says, “We are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.” 

Although we must go with the Second Reading’s telling us that it has not been revealed what heaven will be like, we can believe the Gospel’s telling us that the Blessed will be made up of those who in this life time were poor in spirit, mourning with the sorrowful, meek, hungering after righteousness.

If you are not too set in your old way of praying the rosary, let me suggest a substitute for the Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious Mysteries. For taking long walks you could use  the eight Beatitudes, then following them with the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. You know: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. You will find that those fifteen mysteries make a good checklist for your Christian behavior.

Our Lord calls out to those in all kinds of debt and troubles.

Sunday, 10/31/10

The first reading today leads up to the Gospel story. That first reading from the Book of Wisdom tells us that before the Lord the whole vast universe is of no more importance than a drop of dew. But, in spite of the way he towers over us, each of us has value for God. Even the man or woman who has turned away from God, getting him or herself into all kinds of debt and troubles—even such a person has value with God. It is never too late for us to put our sinful ways aside, and to enter into a warm comforting relationship with God. Such thoughts as these lead us into the Gospel story.

We had a man named Michael Sueda in the neighborhood here, and back in the 1930’s and 40’s he used to drive tourists through Jericho; and he said that with Jericho laying well below sea level it was always hot and fly infested. Today’s Gospel story took place on the third year of Our Lord’s public life when he had become such a celebrity that people lined the road he was taking. Zacchaeus, a man who was hated for his profession of collecting taxes for the Romans, kept jumping to get a sight of Jesus over the crowds. So curious was he that he resorted to climbing a sycamore tree to get a good view of the prophet from Galilee.

Jesus was passing right under when he halted, and looking up he called the tax collector by name, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly. I want to stay at your house today.”

Zacchaeus, shinnying down, was delighted at being recognized; but the pious Jews in the crowd were shocked over Our Lord’s intention to dine with him. For them, Zacchaeus’s unholy profession made him ritually unclean. As well, they believed that anyone entering the house of such an unclean person contaminated himself.

The Gospel said that Zacchaeus stood out there in the street, announcing his intention to all, “I am going to give half of what I own to the poor. And, if anyone can show where I have extorted any amount, I now promise to restore four times that sum.”

Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house.” And, since Zacchaeus’s house was presumably his place of business, Jesus was saying that a man need not give up his business life in order to be worthy of God’s blessings. For the smooth running of our society we need tax collectors and insurance men, and salesmen, and feet doctors and all the rest. And by conducting our business honestly in any of those trades we can ascend to heights of holiness people think of as being reserved for cloistered monks and nuns.

Having faith to look forward to death and being with Christ

The first reading is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He wrote it from his house arrest in Rome while he was waiting for his trial which would probably result in his being executed. He said he had no worry about how the trial would turn out. He would prefer to be put to death so that he could immediately be with Christ; but if he were spared, that would be good too. It would allow more time for him to do God’s work. The older translation of this passage had him saying, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

His way of speaking has us realizing how far superior his faith was to what ours is now. Once when a man wanted Jesus to cure his son Jesus asked the man if he believed Jesus could do it. The man answered, “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief.”

We may not be able to honestly copy Paul in saying, “I long to depart from this life to be with Christ, for that is far better” But, I am sure God will at least give us some credit for being honest. A prayer for increased faith should be a part of our every day routine. We need to keep praying while we keep being honest about it.

What was the trouble between the Pharisees and the Christians?

In today’s Gospel some leading Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into violating the Sabbath by curing a man suffering from dropsy. In case some of you did not hear me last Sunday when I outlined the ancient history of the dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees, I will repeat some of the major points.

First, a thousand years before this run-in between Jesus and the Pharisees, a Jewish priest named Zadoc established himself as a hero. When King David was on his deathbed an upstart son named Adonijah began acting like he was the new king. Now, David had promised the crown to Solomon, so, even though the priest Zadoc was sure Adonijah would kill him for doing it, he anointed Solomon king. Miraculously Zadoc was saved by the immediate popular support given Solomon. For the next eight hundred years the Jewish people rewarded Zadoc’s bravery with a tradition that only a descendant of Zadoc could be named high priest. (And since the Jews no longer had a king after the Babylonian captivity, their high priest became their king in everything by name.)

The year 152 B.C. saw the death of the Jewish high priest at a time when the only eligible descendant of Zadoc was a crook. To fill the void, Jonathan, a younger brother of the heroic Judas Maccabeus, took the position. The people on the whole welcomed him, but the Hassidic Jews, could not accept this departure from tradition. Even so, they could not come together on their resistance. Half of them packed off to the chalk cliffs above the Dead Sea. where they became known as the Essenes (a corruption of Hassids.) They were the people who left us the Dead Sea scrolls.

The other faction that resisted were called the Separatists, or in Hebrew, the Pharisees. They devoted themselves to giving a good example by observing all the traditions and minutiae of the law. They held that Jesus was unclean for eating with unclean sinners.

That year of 152 B.C. saw the birth of the Sadducees, another faction familiar to readers of the Gospels. They were the businessmen who supported Jonathan as high priest because he let them into all the profit that came with controlling the temple. Their calling themselves  the Sadducees was their joke. They were saying, “Jonathan may not be a blood descendent of Zadoc, but as High Priest he is a descendant of Zadoc in that office. That let them call themselves Zadocites, and they rounded that off to Sadducess.

The Jewish temple had been the heart of Judaism, and after its destruction by the Romans in 70 the Pharisees were at a loss as to how their religion could survive. The came, though, to see the exact observance of Kosher Laws as the core of Judaism. This had them turning against all those who wanted to remain Jewish after becoming Christians. The Pharisees told them that by eating with sinners Jesus and his followers had turned their back on Judaism’s sacred heritage. In response to that, the Gospels established the point that Jesus was the grand culmination of Judaism’s sacred heritage.   

The prophets and apostles are the foundation of our Church

This is the feast day of Simon and Jude, two Apostles about whom we have no certain biographical information. We might honor them by considering their place in the image of the Church Paul gives us in the first reading. He compares the organization we know as the Church to a church building.

In Paul’s image you and I can each be seen as individual bricks or stones the make up the walls. The apostles and the prophets are the foundation, and Jesus is the capstone that holds all together.

In calling the prophets and apostles the foundation, Paul was telling us that no matter how high the walls go, that is, how many centuries might pass, our teachings and practices must be aligned with what the Scriptures and early church practices established for us. At Vatican II the French bishops were constantly reminding us of our need to be true to our sources. For that they coined a French word Ressourcement.

In his image of the Church Paul sees, “Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together.”  

When you see a capstone being put in place it strikes you that you are looking as magic. I saw it in Korea where workmen were constructing a stone entrance way into the grounds of a Buddhist temple. They formed clay into a mound with the shape of the arch they were constructing. Then, from both sides they stacked and fitted together wedged stones supported by their clay mound. At last when the stones arching up from the two sides were two feet apart, they wedged in between the two sides an arched stone that was two feet across the outer edge, and less than that on the inner edge. When they had fitted that capstone in, it so tightly locked the stones on both sides into place that the men could remove the mound of clay that was no longer needed to support the arch. So, Christ holds us all together in his Church.

Discipline between fahers and sons

After his sudden conversion on the road to Damascus, St. Paul retired to his home place at Tarsus (in southeastern Turkey.) He spent fourteen years there prayerfully going over ever aspect of his faith. His diligent introspection later paid off in the wisdom he could pack into his letters. We see that close-packed wisdom in the first three sentences in today’s reading from his Letter to the Ephesians.

The first sentence says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord.” That phrase “in the Lord” reminds us that the authority of one’s parents is from the Lord. As Paul says in his Letter to the Romans “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been  established by God.” In a way, this need for authority and obedience flows from what God said the first time he looked on the humanity he had created. He then said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We should not limit his meaning there to his realizing that Adam needed a girl. No, it was saying we are created to live together, and for people to live together in harmony, they need to have someone to make the decisions.

In the second sentence in today’s first reading Paul reminded us that of the ten commandments that Moses laid out for us, this is the only one with a promise attached to it. By obeying our parents we make it likely that we will have a long life on this earth.

The third sentence warns fathers against provoking their children. One older English version of the passage says it this way: “Fathers, do not nag your children lest they lose heart.” Although it can be very harmful for a father to neglect disciplining his children, it is often as harmful for them to be too severe. When I was seventeen, and my father was getting at me for some lose behavior I said to him, “I wonder if you were as careless as I am when you were seventeen.” His answer was, “I often thank God  for your having no way of knowing how often I messed up when I was your age. If you had some way of seeing what I was like I wouldn’t have the nerve to get at you for anything.” That kind openness he showed there did more for me than any amount of disciplinary action.

In marriae the two must become one

God’s formula for marriage is that the two must become one flesh. This, of course, comes about when their chromosomes entwine in the new personalities of their children. It also happens when they sand down their surface abrasions to where they can be joined as one. The saying, “What God as joined man must not put asunder” pictures the two so thoroughly become one that splitting them becomes as unthinkable as it would be to use a big knife to split one body into two.

Even when a couple feel they have not yet attained that degree of oneness, it is of value to them to realize marriage has brought them beyond a thought of splitting. Each of my four sisters had times when the prospect of giving up on her husband seemed most desirable; but knowing that her vows left her no out, she dug in, making the best of it, in time coming to thank God for the unbreakable vows that allowed her marriage to mature into a comfortable old shoe.

Let me draw attention to my favorite parable in the Gospel. “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast which a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until the whole mass began to rise.” Jesus is telling good people not to run away to pray. He is telling them to mix with all manner of people, lifting them up.

We are called to imitate Christ by living in love

When Jesus saw the woman who had been bent over for eighteen years his heart immediately went out to her because he could feel how embarrassing her deprivation must have been for her. He called her over. but in doing so he alerted the leaders of the synagogue to the possibility that he was going to cure her, even though this was the Sabbath when giving medical attention was forbidden. Their feelings for observing the statues of the law were stronger than any feeling of sympathy the might have had for the woman; so they indignantly announced to the crowd that Jesus was about to violate God’s law.

Their attitude contrasted completely with what Paul told us in the first reading when he said, “Live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us.”

We should actively cultivate that condition of living in love. We can go about that by forcing ourselves to imagine what the pains and difficulties of others might be. Then, too, we should pull up all the weeds of ill feelings we have for others.

The reason the Gospels are tough on the Phariseese

A niece of mine, visiting last week, asked me, “Why were the Gospels so hard on those Pharisees?” Unfortunately, that is a question that needs a full page to be rightly answered. So, here goes.

963 B.C. When David told the priest Zadoc to anoint young Solomon as king, Zadoc was almost certain that Solomon’s half-brother would kill him, but he anointed Solomon; and the people rejoiced, declaring that  only a descendant of Zadoc could ever be named the Jewish High Priest.

450 B.C. When Jerusalem was in physical and moral ruin the Jewish scholars Ezra and Nehemina recommended a cure: the city would need to take the Law of Moses as its civil law. As part of that solution the city had to accept modernizing amendments. Three new proposals were adopted then, and three hundred thousand were added through the years.

325 B.C. Alexander conquered Jerusalem, while declaring hands-off on the temple.

312 B.C. Alexander’s General Seleucus made his capitol in Antioch, north of Jerusalem, became king from the Mediterranean to Persia.

190 B.C. Antiochus III, 9th descendent of Seleucus was defeated by the Romans who took his sons off as hostages. To keep them alive Antiochus had to ship a ransom of gold to Rome each year.

178 B.C. His son, a freed hostage, broke Alexander’s rule, robbing Jerusalem’s temple. He did it for gold to keep alive the hostages in Rome. To justify the violation he claimed he only wanted to elevate the Jews to the worship of the noble Greek religion. An old priest with five sons rebelled.

 174 B.C. Under the leadership of the old priest’s third son, Judas Maccabeus, the Jews were successful, cleansing the temple for the first celebration of Hanukkah.

152 B.C. Demetrious, a grandson of Antiochus III, became king in Antioch, but he was  challenged by his half-brother Alexander. To enlist the military support of the Maccabees Alexander offered the High Priest crown to Jonathan, brother of Judas Maccabeus. Jonathan took the crown and the office of High Priest, even though he was not a descendant of Zadoc.

The Hassidic Jews, could not accept him. Half of them left Jerusalem becoming the Essenes, the recluses who left us the Dead Sea scrolls. The other half stayed on as a protest group, known as the Separatists, or the Pharisees. They dedicated themselves to setting a good example by their   observance of the thousands of rules the centuries had tacked on to the Mosaic Law
65 A.D  (Here we jump ahead past the time of Jesus) A group of Jewish terrorists, called the Siccary after their small daggers called siccas, took to killing off  Roman patrols.

70 A.D. To get at the Siccary who were holed up in Jerusalem, the Romans destroyed the city and the temple, but they allowed their friends, the Pharisees, to escape to their camp at Jamnia on the coast. There the Pharisees composed the Talmud. They replaced the temple as the core of Judaism, by making the observance of kosher laws its centerpiece.

80 A.D.  The Pharisees turned against the thousands of people who wanted to remain good Jews after becoming Christians. The Pharisees were saying those people, by eating with unclean Gentiles, had irrevocably separated themselves from their holy Jewish traditions. The Christians, in their Gospels had to return the fire from the Pharisees. They established the point that Jesus and Christianity were the crowning of the holy Jewish traditions.

Jesus told us to turn our thinking around.

The Gospels give us the impression that the Apostles did a lot of chatting among themselves while Jesus was occupied with graver thoughts. In today’s Gospel with Jesus overhearing chatter about recent deaths, he decided to intervene. The Apostles had been exchanging opinions on whether or not the sinful acts of the Galileans slaughtered in the temple had brought on their dramatic deaths. They went on to wonder if the eighteen people killed by a falling tower had somehow brought on the disaster.     

Jesus spoke up, saying that neither the Galileans nor the eighteen people had done anything that brought on their deaths. That shut the Apostles up, because they knew Jesus always knew what he was talking about.

Jesus went on to tell the Apostles that they too would come to bad ends if the did not repent. That judgment of our Lord’s could benefit from some clarification. The word that Luke quotes Jesus as using did not exactly mean repent. It really meant, “turn your thinking around.”

The Church in the Middle Ages might have gone a little overboard in advocating repenting and crying over past sins. It would be more productive for us if we followed Our Lord’s advice literally by turning our thinking around to actively pursuing goodness.

Preserving the uniy of the Spirit

In today’s excerpt from his Letter to the Ephesians Paul tells us we should be, “striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one Body, One Spirit.”

His metaphor sees the Church as the Body of Christ, with Christ as the head of the body. All of us are its members, and God’s Spirit is its soul. Under direction from Christ, the Spirit moves us all toward accomplishing worthy ends.

We preserve the unity of the spirit when we cooperate harmoniously with other Christians.
Just as the fingers of the right hand would never reach over to draw blood on the left arm, so we would never do harm to Christians engaged in God’s work anywhere. 

Just as a pain in your left calf immediately brings you right hand down to soothe it, so should the sufferings of people in Haiti or Nigeria immediately illicit your prayers and any material help you can offer.

Jesus saved us by his death to sin.

Thursday, 10/21/10

In today’s Gospel, speaking of his death, Jesus said, “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized.” His speaking that way may cause us to wonder in what way his death and baptism could be seen as similar.

A connection between baptism and death was part of the way baptism was administered in the first centuries. Let us view their baptism ceremony in the light of what Paul wrote in Chapter Six of his Letter to the Romans.

As odd as it seems to us today, Christians in the first three centuries only celebrated baptisms on Holy Saturday night. That came from their habit of reliving the life of Jesus through the days of each year. They saw him as born on Christmas, as going into the desert on Ash Wednesday, as dying on Good Friday, and rising on Easter.

On Holy Saturday they thought of him as lying dead in his tomb. What is more, they saw their baptismal pool as representing the tomb of Jesus. Their going down into that tomb stood for their willingness to die and be buried with Jesus.

They did not think of themselves as sharing in the physical death of Jesus. No, Paul pointed out that the death by which Jesus saved us was his death to sin. So, by going down into the baptismal pool the candidates were expressing their intention of dying to sin. Paul concluded his lesson by saying,  “Consequently, you too, must think of yourselves as dead to sin, and living for God in Christ Jesus.”

It is God's mysterious plan to sum up all inChrist

In the first reading Paul spoke of the mystery of Christ not made known to humans in other generations. So secretive was God about this mystery that even the angels of heaven were in ignorance of it before it was made known to Paul.

What is that mystery? It is God’s plan to sum up all things in Christ. On the surface that does not seem feasible. We must ask: “How could the salvation of people in past ages and in for off societies today depend on Christ when they have never even heard of Jesus? Is that fair?

There is a way of understanding the part Christ plays in the salvation of far off ages and places. We should look at Chapter One of the Gospel according to John. Before it, in verse 14, speaks of the Word becoming flesh in the person of Jesus, it outlined his relationship to all peoples of all ages. “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing was made.” And, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, though the world knew him not.”

In Revelation, Chapter 22 Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

So, Christ played a central role in the life of all peoples long ago and far away. A few decades back there was a term that could be applied to all such persons. They are “anonymous Christians.” Without knowing it they have deep personal relationships with Christ.    

The dividing wall between cultures

In his Letter to the Ephesians, speaking of Jews and Gentiles, Paul said Christ “broke down the dividing wall of enmity.” He tells the Gentiles that they are “no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the holy ones.”

Are we safe in saying that Christ wants us to pull down all such dividing walls? I have an odd memory from when I was ten, and my mother and I were sharing a picnic bench in the park. As we sat eating our sandwiches a black family took over a nearby picnic table, and the mother surprised me by letting out her breast to nurse her baby. Seeing my surprise, my mother said, “Tom, they are just different from us.” Was that the right thing to say?

A newspaper today had two articles that pointed to society’s marginalizing those it sees as culturally different. The first article opened by recalling a 1965 report by Daniel Moynihan. It spoke of an inescapable culture of poverty holding down poor neighborhoods. A Chicago sociologist, wanting to test Moynihan’s assertion, toured a number of Chicago neighborhoods where the median income was below the poverty level. Wanting to see if their poverty alone determined what their attitude would be, he went through a number of poor neighborhoods dropping stamped, sealed, letters addressed to himself. In some poor neighborhoods the people, with no sense of a “dividing wall of enmity,” picked up and mailed his letters. In hostile neighborhoods no one mailed a letter.

The other article concerned Burham Qubani, a German with Afghan parents who won the gold medal for directing at the Chicago International Film Festival. His movie pictured three young men of Afghan descent who were always treated like foreigners although they were born and raised in Germany. The “dividing wall of enmity” would always separate them from their fellow Germans.

Luke gave us the parables of mercy

Today we honor St. Luke, the only non-Jew to write a book of the Bible. He was the author of his Gospel and The Acts of the Apostles. He slipped into the Acts in Chapter 16 when he switched from narrating what Paul and his companions were doing to saying, “We sought passage to Macedonia,” and “We set sail.”

In our first reading Paul said that at the end Luke was the only one of his companions who was still with him. He refereed to Luke as “Our beloved physician.”

In the first paragraph of his Gospel Luke told us he researched the facts of Our Lord’s life, making an attempt to present the world with an orderly account. 

His was the finest writing style in the New Testament, and he gives us an insight into his gentlemanly nature by giving us such great stories of Our Lord’s compassion as “The Prodigal Son” and “The Good Samaritan.” He also preserved for us the wonderful activities of such women as Martha and Mary, Mary of Bethany, Susanna and Joanna.

God, as a kind father, hears our prayers

The readings today encourage us to persevere in praying. The first reading is a parable about keeping up our prayers. On the Israelite’s forty-year trek through the Sinai Desert they came to a narrow pass where they were halted by the forces of the Amelekites, a people determined to keep the Israelites from reaching the promised land. As such they can be seen as symbolizing anything that prevents God’s people from reaching heaven.

Moses commissioned his best fighting man, Joshua, to push the Amelekites aside. Moses took his stand on a hill, and as long as he held his hands up to heaven the battle went with the Israelites, but when Moses out of weariness dropped his arms the battle went with the Amelekites. Seeing that, the two priests, Aaron and Hur had Moses sit on a rock while they held up his hands to heaven, and the Israelites won the day.

The Gospel’s case for keeping at our prayers is not a parable. It is a straight promise from Jesus. He says that if even a lazy judge will secure justice for a plaintiff whose pleas give him no rest, how much more certain it is that our good God will hear the pleas of those who persist in pleading with him.

Today’s Gospel concludes with Jesus saying something that leaves us wondering. What might have prompted him to say, “When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth.” There is a poignancy there that prompts us to cheer Jesus up with a promise saying, “Don’t be sad, Jesus. I’ll be there with faith in you.”

Misunderstandings about the Holy Spirit

There were two things about the Holy Spirit in today’s Gospel, and it is easy for us to misunderstand both. First, what is meant by the sin against the Holy Spirit that cannot be forgiven? What Jesus said was, “The one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” It would help us a lot if Jesus had explained just what he meant, but he gave no such explanation. In the opinion of Catholic scholars, Jesus was talking about the man who in his pride wants no forgiveness. Like Satan, he stands tall by his rebellion.

The second easy to be misunderstood thing about the Holy Spirit in today’s Gospel is the promise that the Holy Spirit will give you the words you need to reply to the those who take you before judges and magistrates. Our Lord’s promise to supply his followers with words was a limited one. When a follower is on trial for his life for his beliefs the Spirit will give him the words. Through a misunderstanding of Our Lord’s offer, priests down through the years have been coming to the time for preaching without making any preparation. They expect the Holy Spirit to give them words.

In the old days when priests offered Mass with their backs turned to the people one old priest confessed, “When I turn around to preach I never know what I am going to say, and when I turn back to the altar I never know what I did say.


St. Teresa of Avilla became a true personality by becoming a saint.

Today we honor St. Teresa of Avilla, born in 515, died in 582. Her grandfather, as a converted Jew, faced the Spanish Inquisition; but her father, bought a knighthood, establishing himself as a spotless Catholic. Teresa, always an adventurous soul, at eight went off to face martyrdom by the Moors, only to have an uncle bring her home.

As a young Carmelite nun, Teresa was at first bored with compulsory hours of meditation; and her companions spotted her shaking her hourglass to make the sand slide through more quickly. Soon, though, Teresa became absorbed in prayer, progressing to a stage where the hours slipped by with nothing but an awareness than she was in God’s loving presence. Her appreciation of prayer made her uncomfortable with the other young nuns. They were good young ladies who had entered the convent because they had no other living open to them. They found their prayer time boring, and they left Teresa longing for companions who were serious about prayer.

Ever the adventurer, Teresa went out to wider church circles, campaigning for convents that took prayer seriously. Her efforts brought about the finding of Discalced Carmelite convents and monasteries where a full prayer life was the main concern.

A few years ago, hearing so much about the popularity of Zen and other forms of Buddhist meditating, I began wondering how Teresa would have reacted to these fads. That prompted me to put some kids into acting out a confrontation between Teresa and the Buddhists. The play opened with the long dead Teresa and a scholar of Buddhism together on a heavenly cloud. The scholar explained Buddhism’s appeal to Teresa by having the life of the first Buddhist, Siddartha Guatamo, acted out on the main stage.
Siddartha was a sixth century B.C. prince in northern India who led a long adventurous life seeking inner peace and enlightenment. Giving up on his search, Siddartha sat down under a fig tree, saying he would stay there until and enlightenment came to him. After a week in which he turned blue, he suddenly relaxed and stood up. He had achieved peace and enlightenment by convincing himself that he was just an illusion, and as such he should lot be seeking anything. By giving up his own personality he became one with God.
On the heavenly cloud the scholar asked St. Teresa if she thought we can only become one with God by ceasing to be ourselves. Teresa, who was quite a personality, disagreed. She said God loves us for what we are, and our personalities bloom as we come nearer to God.
I had  her sing a variation on the hymn “Nearer my God to Thee.” The way it went with her was, “The nearer I come to thee, my dearest Lord, the nearer I come to Thee, the more I am myself.”

Paul reveals God's mystery hidden since the beginning of time

For the next three weeks our first reading will be from the Letter to the Ephesians. It is unique among Paul’s letters in that it contains no personal notes for the people to whom it is addressed. While his other letters might be humorously described as tending to a laundry list of troubles experienced in Corinth, Philippi, Galatia, or whatever; the Letter to the Ephesians is a well thought out expression of a single theme.

In the last lines of today’s readings Paul expresses that theme: “He has made known to us the mystery of his will . . . that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of time, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.”

 Pardon me for repeating that. Paul was saying that God had a secret plan for all creation, and he kept it secret until the time of the Gospels. God’s secret plan was that he was going to bring all things on the earth and above the earth together in Christ.

In the first readings for our following days he will speak of bringing Jews and Gentiles together, husbands and wives together, siblings and parents –together in Christ.

Living by God's Spirit

Paul tells us to live by the Spirit, not by the flesh. One way we can go about doing that is to start our days with some minutes when we are conscious of the old saying, “In him we live and move and have our being.”

In those minutes we would go over our agenda with God, thinking about what we want to do, what God would want us to do. We could straighten out our feelings toward the people with whom we will be reacting. We could talk with God about what we should accomplish, and how we should go about it.

Using the litanies of bad behavior with which Paul supplied us in this reading, we could plan on blocking ourselves from situations that could lead to hatred, jealousy, immorality. We could plan on creating opportunities for love, joy, peace and patience.                                     

Getting our priorities right.

The Gospel today is about getting our priorities right. Our Lord’s host, the Pharisee, was very religious about such things as ceremonial washings, about tithing exactly ten percent of everything he earned by selling such spices as mint, anis and cumin; but he didn’t mind cheating widows, enslaving the poor, or inviting Jesus to make him the to side-show for his banquet.

This Gospel asks us to examine our priorities to see if there is anywhere where,
by emphasizing the unimportant and neglecting the important, they are all out of whack.

I was greatly moved by Vatican II’s document on education. It said the goal for educators was to assist students in developing their personalities to the full. We are told we are created in God’s image. It must be true; but we have just the potential of being God-like. It has to be developed: we don’t start out as perfect images of God.

We don’t want to be like the Pharisee who gave God ten percent of what he earned selling mint, anis and cumin, while treating God’s children like dirt. We were created with a potential to be a bright spot in everyone’s day, to be everyone’s friend in need, to be the understanding friend to people in trouble. Those things are more important than shooting par, and more important than knowing when to serve white and when red wine.

We must get our priorities right.

The Gospel today is about getting our priorities right. Our Lord’s host, the Pharisee, was very religious about such things as ceremonial washings, about tithing exactly ten percent of everything he earned by selling such spices as mint, anis and cumin; but he didn’t mind cheating widows, enslaving the poor, or inviting Jesus to make him the to side-show for his banquet.

This Gospel asks us to examine our priorities to see if there is anywhere where,
by emphasizing the unimportant and neglecting the important, they are all out of whack.

I was greatly moved by Vatican II’s document on education. It said the goal for educators was to assist students in developing their personalities to the full. We are told we are created in God’s image. It must be true; but we have just the potential of being God-like. It has to be developed: we don’t start out as perfect images of God.

We don’t want to be like the Pharisee who gave God ten percent of what he earned selling mint, anis and cumin, while treating God’s children like dirt. We were created with a potential to be a bright spot in everyone’s day, to be everyone’s friend in need, to be the understanding friend to people in trouble. Those things are more important than shooting par, and more important than knowing when to serve white and when red wine.

By his heroic death Jesus won the Spirit for us.

Monday, 10/11/10

The Gospel quoted Jesus as saying “No sign will be given this generation other than the sign of Jonah.” Jonah in the story about him came out alive after spending three days in the belly of a whale. In saying he would repeat the sign of Jonah, Jesus was referring to the great sign of his rising from the dead.

Paul was as certain of Christ’s resurrection as he was of his having two hands. Jesus had appeared to him. Then, he spoke to Peter and five hundred other disciples to whom Jesus had appeared after rising from the dead.

In the New Testament there are verses here and there that strung together give an account of how Jesus arose.

I see the first verse in that string to be John, Chapter Seven, verses 38 and 39.

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture says: Rivers of living water will flow from within him.
He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.

Jesus spoke those words five months before his death and resurrection. The verses say he did not yet possess the Spirit to a degree where he could give it to whom he wished.

For me the second verse in this string comes in Revelations, Chapter Five, verse 12.
There the angels and saints in heaven looked down on the dead Jesus. In awe over the heroism he showed in giving his young life for us they chanted:

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength.

They were saying his heroic death has earned him the right to own the Spirit as his own possession that he could then give to others.

The third verse in the string is from the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter Two, verse 32.

Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promise of the holy Spirit
from the Father, and poured it forth on us, as you see and hear.

The promise Spirit which he received was the jet fuel that had him rise from the dead like a moon shot from Cape Canaveral.

Foreigners are God's children, and our brothers and sisters.

Sunday, 10/10/10

The readings today are about God helping foreigners, and about the foreigners being thankful for his help. In the first reading the foreigner was the Syrian general Naaman, in the Gospel it was a Samaritan leper.

One thing God is saying to us through those readings is that its God’s wish that our love for our own country and our own religious group should not have us turning our backs on outsiders. We have old heard of Ireland’s highly nationalistic political party the Sinn Fein. The name means “Ourselves alone.” It isn’t in agreement with God’s lesson for us today.

I like each day to meditate briefly on the Beatitudes with the fourth of them stating, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after justice.” Those words of Jesus always urge me to stir up concern for the oppressed and suffering of every nation and religion.

I subscribe to the National Catholic Reporter, a semi-monthly newspaper published by lay Catholics in Kansas City Missouri. It always carries stories about the suffering of people in far off places. The lead articles in the issue for October 1st were stories about the suffering of people in Haiti and northern Pakistan. The two pages it gave to each of those groups contained pictures of the suffering people, along with interviews in which they spoke of all that they were up against. In the Haiti article the reporter, Gerald Straub, was stranded for a week in a Port-a-Prince ghetto without electricity or water. He said, “I started coughing at night, and I panicked realizing I had no access to help. For residents of that slum, curable diseases are death sentences.”

Chris Herlinger, writer of the Pakistan article spent time with a Pakistani named Said Qamar whose ancestors had passed down fields of vegetables along with vines and fruit trees. Even with eight children his wife and he were able to take in four other children. Then, the flooding washed away every trace of his farm and orchards, and the man had no idea of where he could turn. Does his being a Muslim mean that he is not God’s child and a brother to us?

Women and the Catholic Priesthood

Saturday, 10/9/10

On thing we might take away from today’s readings is our religion’s high regard for women. In the Gospel someone in the crowd, seeing how wonderful Jesus was, concluded that his mother was a superb person to have raised such a son.

Critics of our church say that as long as we exclude women from our priesthood we are not being fair with them. But, we should assure such critics that by their baptisms women and all other Christians share in Christ’s priesthood. To that they might say such vague participation in the priesthood is meaningless as long as women cannot be ordained as priests or bishops.

But far from being meaningless, the priesthood of the baptized intimately associates men and women in the priesthood of Christ. Let me explain.

At the Last Supper Jesus, as host, was spokesman for all present when he offered the traditional table blessing. By rule he had to use his own words for the blessing, but also by rule it had to have the traditional three parts. First, speaking for all, he called to mind God’s great favors. Secondly, he called down God’s Spirit on all the diners. Thirdly, he offered himself, asking the diners to offer themselves, as a pleasing gift to God. That was the sacrificial element in the Last Supper. In Greek it was called the eucharistesas. It was as he was finishing the eucharistesas that he took the bread, broke it and said, “This is my body.”

The Apostles at the Last Supper who offered themselves with Jesus were exercising their priesthood. Just as anyone in church who offers him or herself with Jesus in the Mass becomes part of the Eucharist, and exercises his or her priesthood.

The wearing of the Roman collar, and having people tip their hats to you, along with all the clerical trappings, do not belong to the essence of the priesthood.

Appreciating those who are different from us.

Friday, 10/8/10

Paul, in today’s first reading had to deal with people who held opposite views from those he held; and Jesus, in today’s Gospel, dealt with people with views quite different from his.

Paul was opposed by Jewish Christians who were saying that baptized Christians could only be saved if they observed all the kosher laws that came down from Moses. Against that Paul pointed out that the Bible said that Abraham was saved, and he was born centuries before Moses and the Law. The Bible said, “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.”

In the Gospel Jesus was confronted by people, who perhaps in good faith, were saying the only way he could do wonderful miracles like driving out devils would be that he had power from the devil. Against that he pointed out that the devil would never be fool enough to give power for his own destruction.

We all have to deal with people who hold views quite opposed to ours. The other day, noticing how a really fine lady was listening to the radio as she worked, I asked what she listened to. She said she listened every day to Rush Limbaugh and others who shared his point of view. I am of the opposite way of thinking. It hurts me to hear people run down our president; but I know I must honor those who honestly hold views that are the opposite of mine.

In praying the Rosary we hold Mary's hand while meditating on the mysteries.

Thursday, 10/7/10

Today we honor Our Lady of the Rosary. Most of us older people were raised on the story of Mary giving the rosary and its mysteries to St. Dominic back in 1210, but when we search records from that century we find no evidence for that. We find no mention of the rosary. Even Pope John Paul II, who loved old traditions, didn’t believe that the mysteries came straight from Mary. That left him free to make up his own Luminous Mysteries. I think he was just showing us the way, so I have been reaping great benefit from meditating on the Beatitudes, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. The other evening on a long walk I said several rosaries just meditating on Jesus in Holy Week. I watched him, and talked to him as he rode into Jerusalem on the donkey, as he swung a whip to clear the temple of dealers, and so on through the week.

With another innovation on the rosary I have been able to give more attention to the mysteries by doing little more than mouthing the Hail Mary’s. That might sound bad, but I find justification for doing that in something from my childhood.

When I was four, my mother would have me in tow pushing her way through the crowd at a big department store. I’d hold tight to her hand while I gawked around at all the wonderful sights. Occasionally I would look up lovingly and trustfully at my mother, but then I would turn back to the sights.

I do the same thing now with the rosary. Saying the Hail Mary’s is my way of holding Mary’s hand. I might occasionally address one of the phrases to her, but she doesn’t mind if I am giving my attention to the mysteries of our faith.

St. Paul spent fourten years preparing to preach.

Wednesday, 10/6/10
Wednesday, 10/6/10

We all have heard the story of Paul’s conversion: how he was struck down on the road to Damascus. You might remember that after he began preaching Christianity in Damascus Jewish enemies wanted to kill him, but the Christians let him down over the walls of Damascus in a basket. Following on that he spent maybe a year, praying in the desert, then he went up to Jerusalem to meet the Apostles. Amazingly, they found that Jesus in prayer had been instructing Paul. After that meeting, he went back to his home place of Tarsus in southeast Turkey, and he stayed there until Barnabas came, asking him to help working with Gentile Christians.

I have known that whole story since my school days, but there is something new for me in today’s reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. What comes as a surprise is Paul saying that after going back there he stayed on in Tarsus for fourteen years,working with his father making tents, but thinking things over.

Paul surprises us with all the great things he said in his thirteen Letters: like, “When I was a child I talked as a child, I talked as a child” and so on. We wonder at the way he could come up with such beautiful, such sublime, ways of saying things. The answer to our wondering is here in today’s first reading: he spent fourteen years alone with his thoughts and his Lord.

Before any of us should haul off and go preaching we would do well to spend fourteen years with our thoughts and out Lord.

Sitting at the feet of Jesus

Tuesday, 10/5/10

Today we have the very homey story of Jesus and the disciples dropping in on Martha and Mary, expecting to be fed. I usually take Martha’s side in this story, seeing how the church from the beginning spoke of her as Saint Martha. But out of fairness, I decided on giving weight to what Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the better part, and it shall not be taken from her.”

Following up on that, I tried imitating Mary in giving my whole attention to Jesus. A way of doing that came to me the day before yesterday. With the fine change in the weather, I set out on a long walk. I whispered the prayers of the rosary to myself as I took for the mysteries the face of Jesus as it appeared in the sequence of scenes for Holy Week. For the first mystery I pictured the face of Jesus as he sat on the donkey on Palm Sunday. I tried entering into his thinking, and I tried talking with him.

For the second mystery I pictured Jesus swinging a whip as he cleared the dealers out of his Father’s house. Without trying too hard for an answer, I asked him what in my life would tempt him to take up that whip.

I don’t want to brag too much about how far I walked and how much I prayed, but I found it interesting and profitable. I got home before I could make a mystery out of Jesus on the cross saying, “Behold your mother.” The whole experience gave me a feeling for what Mary felt sitting there listening to Jesus.

All that is requied of us is that we believe in Christ and follow him.

Monday, 10/4/10

For the next week and a half our first reading will be from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. They were people of the same ethnic stock as the Gallic people of France. In today’s passage Paul chides the people for departing from the Gospel he preached. What he preached was that to be saved the people needed only to believe in Christ and to follow him.

Trouble came to the Galatian Christian community when Jewish Christian disciples arrived there after Paul had gone on. Those later preachers were telling Paul’s converts that in addition to their following Christ, the new Christians would need as well to follow the full Jewish Law, including eating only kosher and having the men circumcised.

Today’s Gospel has the same basic message. The true neighbor to the man who fell among thieves was neither the priest nor the Levite who kept the full law, but the Samaritan who liked his roast pork.

Jesus Pulls Us Through Death to Life: That's the Gospel

Sunday, 10/3/10

Our readings today deal with accepting Christ’s Gospel, or his Good News.
Simply put, the Gospel is no more than this: “We believe that Jesus passed through death to life beyond, and if we cling to him, he will pull us through too.”

Last week Pope Benedict travelled to England to preside at the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman. One of Cardinal Newman’s writings was a book length poem dealing with a Christian’s death. He called it “The Dream of Gerontius.” Here are a few of its verses.

JESU, MARIA - I am near to death,
And Thou art calling me; I know it now.

I’ll speak no more; for it comes again,
That sense of ruin, which is worse than pain,
That masterful negation and collapse
Of all that makes me man; as though I bent
Over the dizzy brink
Of some sheer infinite descent;
Or worse, as though
Down, down forever I was falling through
The solid framework of created things,

Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul!
Go from this world! Go, in the name of God.

I went to sleep; and now I am refreshed.
A strange refreshment: for I feel in me
An inexpressive lightness, and a sense
Of freedom, as I were at length myself
And ne’er had been before. How still it is!

(As his Guardian Angel lifts him up)

Another marvel; someone has me fast
Within his ample palm; ‘tis not a grasp
Such as they use on earth, but all around
Over the surface of my subtle being,

My work is done,
My task is o’er, And so I come,
Taking it home,
For the crown is won,

God gave his angels charge over us.

Saturday, 10/2/10

Today we are free to remember our Guardian Angels, even though the Church has never clearly taught that we had them. In Old Testament times God was thought to dwell far above us in heaven; but knowing that he had concern for us, we imagined that he had messengers between him and us. That is what Jacob saw in his dream of messengers going up and down a ladder to heaven. (Angel is the Greek word for a messenger.)

Then in the New Testament St. Paul said, “God is not far from any of us, for in him we live and move, and have our being.” that did away with our need for angels. They were like pensioned off. Now, Hollywood has employed them all, fitting them into every third picture it produces.

Still, there is no need to be cynical about this. The saints lived in contact with their angels. Blessed John Henry Newmen had them in his dramatization of Christian death in “The Dream of Gerontius.” Seeing his charge through a Christian death Newmen’s angel said, “My work is done, my task is o’er, and so I come, taking it home. The crown is won.” Then. “The Father gave in charge to me this child of earth even from his birth, to serve and save, and saved he is.” Finally, “This child of clay to me was given, to rear and train by sorrow and by pain through the narrow way from earth to heaven.”