David depended on God the way his sheep depended on him.

We have David’s great 23rd Psalm for our responsorial psalm today. We take it that as a boy David composed this psalm out on the hills as he watched his family’s sheep feeding. The Book of Samuel tells us that he carried a simple stringed instrument, a lyre, on which he plucked melodies to fit his prayerful thoughts. 

There was a very tight relationship between David and his sheep. His was the only voice that they recognized and followed. As a boy in Ireland Monsignor Logan out at the Beach had kept sheep, driving them with a long stick like the one bishops use, and he had doubts about that Good Shepherd passage in John’s Gospel. Dan didn’t believe that a shepherd could really train the sheep to follow his one voice, but on a trip to the Holy Land he found it to be true. 

David’s sheep depended so completely on his leading them that when one of them discovered that it had strayed out of his sight, he or she, lacking any independence of spirit, would just crouch and tremble.

What David was saying in the 23rd Psalm that his dependence on the Lord was as complete as the dependence of his sheep was on him.

The temple had not as yet been built in David’s time. His son Solomon would build Jerusalem’s first temple. So, when David sang, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord all my days,” he was enthusing over being a member of the Lord’s household. It is the same with us: our allegiance is not to any church building. We look forward to living out our days in the Lord’s church where we have met so much goodness and kindness all our days.  

St. Andrew, the great patron saint of Scotland was once a bashful boy.

Today is the feast of the Apostle Andrew, and for a Gospel the Church gives us the story of Jesus coming on Andrew and his brother Simon while they were mending their nets after an unsuccessful night of fishing in the Sea of Galilee.

Let’s look instead at a story in John’s Gospel. Andrew and a friend, probably John, had received permission from their dads to go down to Jericho where John was baptizing. They had been with him long enough to be considered his disciples; then one day John spotted Jesus passing by, and he called out, “Behold the Lamb of God.”

We can learn quite a bit by just speculating on why the Baptist would refer to Jesus as the Lamb of God. But, not staying on to speculate, Andrew and John left John, and like bashful boys, they followed Jesus at a distance.

Turning to them, Jesus asked, “What are you looking for?”

Again, we could pause to speculate on what we are really looking for; but let’s stay with the boys in answering, “Rabbi, where are you staying?“

In John’s Gospel the verb “to stay” or “remain” appears almost sixty times; and it is John’s key. What his Gospel recommends is a life in which we abide in the Lord.

He and young John stayed with Jesus that night, with that stay affecting the boys to the depth of their being. In the morning Andrew sought out his brother Simon (Peter,) blurting out, “We have found the Messiah!” 

Do you tell Jesus you are not worthy to recive him?

The centurion told Jesus there was no need for him to come personally to cure his servant, and the reason he gave for there being no need is puzzling. He said he had servants and soldiers to go off and do for him whatever he needed done. How was he imagining Jesus to get things done in a similar way? And why did Matthew include that possibility in his Gospel?

The only possible answer is that in place of servants and soldiers to do things for him the centurion believed Jesus had angels to run his errands.

But, putting that aside, isn’t it surprising that the proud Roman captain would admit to being unworthy to have Jesus come under his roof?

Jesus said he had not found that kind of deep faith in Israel. What about among Catholics? What about with you and me? Do we go up to Holy Communion with an appreciation of how insignificant we are in comparison to the Jesus we are about to receive?    

Advent isn't just about God coming at Christmas. It's about his availability.

This is the First Sunday of Advent. Our word “advent” means “the coming.” For us right now Advent is only about Jesus coming at Christmas this year. We find it annoying that the Church gives us readings about Christ coming other times. Like, they deal with Christ coming at the end of the world, or with Jesus coming to be baptized in the Jordan when he was thirty years old. None of that interests us much at this time of the year.

We wonder why the Church doesn’t get into the Christmas spirit. Well, it has a good reason. It is telling us that what is important isn’t that he comes at Christmas, or that he comes on the clouds at the end of the world, or he comes to be baptized in the Jordan. No, what Advent celebrates is the wonderful fact that God comes to us at all. He is accessible. He comes to us. He actually comes to us.

You know that story about Jacob having a dream where he saw angels coming up and down a stairway to heaven?  That was a revolutionary vision. On continent after continent, in country after country ancient peoples had creation myths that ended up with God abandoning mankind altogether. Even in Jacob’s dream God was still locked away in his seventh heaven, but at least he was in contact with us through his own brand of Air Mail.

It wasn’t until the New Testament that we had St. Paul making the unbelievable revelation that God is not far from any of us: for in him we live and breath, and have our being.

What Advent tells us is that God s always ready to come. This sounds like blasphemy: but God is like our servant. He is always waiting to come to our call.  

4th Saturday

St. Justin, a Thousand Years Before Aquinas Based Our Faith On Clear Thinking 

In 130 A.D. two odd offshoots of Christianity established their schools in Rome. Marcion, the leader of the first of them, was the son of a Christian bishop; but he strayed, teaching a creed based on belief in two creators. One creator was the harsh deity of the Patriarchs, the other the benign Father of Christ. Marcion went on to reject the Old Testament, and he altered the New Testament to fit his theories. The people of the Mediterranean area ever since Zoroaster had harbored a weakness for myths about  dual creators, and they provided Marcion with a ready audience.

The other odd offshoot of Christianity that set up its school in Rome followed Montanus and his companion Priscilla. Like modern Pentecostals, Montanus and Priscilla preached about the revelations they claimed to receive from the Holy Spirit. Their enthusiasm had an intensity that drew many Christians into their fold.

Luckily, a straight shooter came onto the Roman scene. If you are the kind of older Catholic who heard a lot about Thomas Aquinas in your school days, you will recognize this earlier version of Aquinas. St. Justin was a man who relied on the early Greek philosophers to inject reasonableness into Second Century religion.

From boyhood on Justin had been enthralled by the Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. For him they had stood out in a world that worshipped man-made idols. Those great men had come to believe in a single intelligent creator who offered eternal life to those who followed the goodness that was intrinsic to God.

A wealthy young man, Justin put in the years of study that earned him the right to wear the robes of a philosopher. He was about thirty, when walking on the beach, he fell in with and old Christian who spoke to him about the Hebrew prophets. He brought Justin to see that although philosophy could teach him about God, it could not bring him into personal contact with God. For that he would need to be open to an invitation from God himself. Justin happily accepted conversion when the old man led him see that Christianity was in harmony with sound philosophy. With the old man he came to see Socrates as a Christian before his time.

Having established a school of Christian philosophy in Rome, Justin debated with the followers of Marcion and Montanus. (It can’t be said that he won over many of them. I had experience of similar debates in a parish with a strong Pentecostal group. Their leading lady told me, “Father, we hate Theology,” and she and I respectfully agreed to differ.)

In 165 before he was put to death for the Faith Justin left us a remarkably familiar description of what happens when Christians come together on Sunday for the Eucharist. He said that the one presiding at the Eucharist should follow the practice of hosts who led the blessing at formal Jewish meals. The way Justin put it: the one presiding offered Eucharist prayers “as much as in him lie.”

The holy City, Jerusalem is present from firs to last in the Bible. It is a synbol for God's faithful ones.

In John’s final vision in the Book of Revelation he saw a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. In the Bible’s many references to Jerusalem what it has in mind is not the real estate that the Palestinians and Jews are feuding over. It is Jerusalem as a symbol for God’s people.

The Bible’s first mention of Jerusalem comes obliquely. In the story where Abraham takes Isaac to offer him as a holocaust the place for the sacrifice was Mount Mariah, and Mariah was the twin hill to Zion. It was leveled for Solomon’s temple.

Jerusalem’s next reference was in 1,000 B. when David took the city from the Jebusites as being the only fitting place for the chosen people to dwell.

In the Gospels when Jesus wept over Jerusalem he was weeping over all of us, his people, who have so often gone astray.

In that way Jerusalem has made its way from the Bible’s first book it’s last. Our song “The Holy City” creates a fine picture of that final scene.                                    
And once again the scene was changed;
New earth there seemed to be;
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea;
The light of God was on its streets,
The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter,
And no one was denied.
No need of moon or stars by night,
Or sun to shine by day;
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away.

We thank God by thinkng about God.

Do you ever wake up with some old song going over and over in your head? The lyrics I kept playing and replaying this morning went like this: “Once in a while won’t you give one little thought to me, though someone else may be, closer your heart?”

That lyric is not inappropriate for Thanksgiving. In all honesty we must admit that day-by-day things other than God are close to our hearts. We need to make a living, we need to keep our things in order, we need to keep all our relationships running smoothly.

But on Thanksgiving can’t we turn to thinking of God. We needn’t do much more than that. We needn’t pray on our knees for hours. We needn’t tithe to the poor. We needn’t do any other holy thing. We need only to communion with God in our hearts.

What right have I to tell you that thinking about God is all you need to do for a good Thanksgiving? Well, the dictionary gives me some support there. It tells us that our word “thank” is a variation of our word “think.”

There is no better way for celebrating Thanksgiving than to turn our thoughts to him, thinking about the wonderful family friends and interests he has given us.

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices, 
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices; 
Who from our mothers' arms has blessed us on our way 
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. 

The end of the year brings thoughts of the end of our lives.

With the First Sunday of Advent coming up next Sunday, this year is coming to an end; and our sober Mass readings remind us that our lives on earth are coming to an end. All around us friends have fallen off, but we delude ourselves into feeling we are safe. I heard one time that it is axiomatic in Psychology that a human cannot imagine him or herself coming to an end.

The illusion that we will go on and on is a good thing if it is nature’s way of assuring us that there is life after death. It is a bad thing if it deceives us into thinking we can go on our merry way without making preparation for death, without accomplishing what we want most to accomplish.

So, the readings this week are telling you, “Wise up, Buster. Get busy doing the best that you can.” Jesus adds to that in the Gospel when he says, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

God's angels harvest our earth's grapes of wrath.

Julia Howe, on visiting a Union Camp in 1861 wrote these verses, setting them to the tune of “John Brown’s Body.” She had in mind today's reading from the Book of Revelation in which angels harvest grapes that represent human sinfulness, trampling them in a wine press. She saw the Union soldiers assisting the Lord in trampling out the evil of slavery.


Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.

                         In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
 With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.

Julia Howe, on visiting a Union Camp in 1861 wrote these verses that night, setting them to the tune of “John Brown’s Body.”

What pleases God most is our giving when it hurts.

The Gospels never tell us what routes Jesus and the Apostles took in their constant wanderings. They don’t tell us what they had to eat, or what they chatted about. When they do give us some meager details it is pleasant to make the most of them.

Like, one time Jesus asked them what they had been talking about in a day’s hiking, but they were afraid to tell him, because they had been arguing about which of them was the most important.

In today’s Gospel Jesus and the Apostles had chosen to rest for a while at the entrance to the temple, and they had taken seats next to the large collection bin where the rich were depositing sums. It had the Apostles oohing and ahing at all the large donations..

 Jesus, as often seemed to be the case, was occupied with his own thoughts. Something happened then that in a very silly way reminds me of something that happened one summer evening sixty-five years ago. Back then, with no air conditioning, kids used to spend hot summer nights sitting on the front porch steps, talking about sports and movie stars, but mostly talking about how hot it was. One of the older guys, Burl Rallings, was a barber come up out of Arkansas.

Suddenly Burl stood up, and winning our attention, he pointed at a furry black chow dog across the street, and he demanded we give out attention to that dog. He shouted, “Look at her guys, she’s got no where to sweat but her nose!”

I imagine the sudden exclamation of Jesus was as unexpected as Burl’s shout about the furry black dog. A widow had come up to the collection bin, and she dropped in two coins that were so light that they fluttered into the box. Jesus got up and called out, “Look at her, those others have just been giving out of their surplus wealth. That woman’s love for God has her giving all that she had to live on.”

There is something worth keeping in mind there. God doesn’t need our successes or our money. What he really appreciates are our giving when it hurts.

Christ is our king because he is the founder of our race on heaven's shore.

For us, a king is someone who sits on a throne, wearing a crown, and ruling his subjects with an iron will. Taking that as something like a definition, it’s hard to see any reason for calling Christ our king. But the first and second readings each presents an archaic, but very valid basis for seeing Christ as out king.  

In the first reading the leaders of Israel’s twelve tribes came to David saying he deserved to be their king because they were all related to one another through him. They said, “We are your bone and flesh.” If you are a Shakespeare fan you will recognize a similar relationship between king Duncan and Macbeth, Malcom and the others. Those lords, or thanes, were all cousins to king Duncan, and they were related to each other through him.  

Our second reading today presents another way in which Christ was constituted as out king.
Paul calls him, “The firstborn of all creation.” And, “He is before all.”

Now, I perhaps too often speak of my dozen or so years in Korea, but I feel they gave me an insight into Christ’s claim to be recognized as our king. Every one of our American politicians claims to be speaking on behalf of the American people. For me, their boasts bring to mind the way the Korean politicians referred to the Korean people. They called them, “The paik sung,” which translated is “The hundred names.”

Most Korean people you know are called Kim or Pak or Lee or Choi. There are a hundred of those names, and they belong to the hundred clans that make up the population.

Those clans, like Macbeth’s clan or Our Lord’s clan of Judah, each honors a clan chief who is the direct descendant of the long-ago founder of their clan. Korea’s hundred clans each has a clan day when they come together to honor their dead, but particularly to honor the ancestor who was the first to set foot on their peninsula.

We must honor Christ as our king, because we, who are born again through water and the holy Spirit, are all related to him, and we are related to each other through him. Moreover , he was the first of our race to set foot on heaven’s shore.

How the Baptism Ritual Developed

3rd Saturday
Our Baptisms Are Our Pledge To Die To Sin With Christ

Last week we started with Our Lord’s words at the Last Supper when he said, “Do this in memory of me. “ Then, we went on to describe the way that simple directive developed into a full Eucharistic liturgy. This week we turn to another directive Jesus gave to the Apostles. The last words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel were, “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit.”

Less than twenty years later those simple instructions had been developed into a  ritual with a depth of meaning. Chapter Six of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, had the following to say about Baptism.

“Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into his death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” 

Now, those words meant nothing to me when I read them as a young priest back in the 1950’s. But, the teachings of Vatican II brought Paul’s words to life. Just before the opening of the council, scholars brought to light an account from a priest in Rome in the early two hundreds. It gave a detailed account of how Baptism had been administered there from Paul’s time. That document, known as “The Apostolic Tradition” had been lost for seventeen hundred years, but its translation in the Coptic language turned up in Egypt.

“The Apostolic Tradition” brought that passage from Romans to life. It told us how in the first centuries Baptism was only administered on Holy Saturday night. That time was chosen because Christians were reliving the life of Jesus every year. They thought of him as dying on their Good Friday and rising on their Easter Sunday. In line with that, on the night before Easter they thought of Jesus as lying in his tomb. People to be baptized were gathered around a pool of water that in their imaginations was the tomb of Jesus. In going down into it they sunk into his tomb.

In that passage from Romans Paul went on to make an important Theological point: he wrote that the way Jesus saved us was not so much by his physical death, as by his death to sin. By that Paul meant that Jesus had so decisively conquered all temptations to sin that he had reached a stage where he could truly be said to be dead to temptations. Paul pictured each person’s going down into the pool as tantamount to saying, “I want to die to sin, and be buried with Jesus.”

Hopefully, their baptism would have partially cleared their hearts of sin, making room for the Holy Spirit. On their way into the next room for the Easter Mass they would pause by the bishop. In what later came to be known as the Sacrament of Confirmation, the bishop anointed their foreheads with chrism, saying, “To the extent that by dying to sin you have made room in your hearts, may the Holy Spirit enter within you.” 

Next week we will look at St. Justin who was martyred in 165 A.D.. Like Thomas Aquinas a thousand years later, Justin put our beliefs on a firm philosophical basis.

A prophet is one who lets God use his mouth to speak the truth.

In the first reading where an angel gave John a scroll to eat he was echoing what happened in Chapter Three of the Book of Ezekiel when an angel gave Ezekiel a scroll to eat. This angel was commissioning John as a prophet. Heaven was enrolling him in the ranks of the great prophets.

The role of prophets in the Bible is special. Its function can be seen in the Hebrew name for a prophet. He is a nabi, a word meaning a mouth. God’s calling his prophet his mouth could put you in mind of a Chicago gangster calling his attorney his mouthpiece.

God enrolled Isaiah by singeing his mouth with a hot coal. He enrolled Jeremiah by touching his mouth.

Those great ones were not prophets in the sense of men who foretold the future. They were prophets in as much as they said the things God wanted said, lending him their mouths. That is something we too could get into.

At baptism we are baptized into Christ, that is, we are baptized into a deep relationship with him. That relationship gives us a share in his kingship, his priesthood, and his prophetic ministry. We exercise our prophetic ministry by becoming worthy conduits of God’s truth. That puts on us a requirement of study and prayer, along with a good dose of prudence.

Jesus will open the scroll that foretells the end time

It would be interesting to ask around to find out if any of us see him or herself in that Jerusalem whose unfaithfulness has caused Jesus to weep. Have you ever imagined Jesus to be weeping over the mess you have made of things?

The court scene in Chapter Five of Revelations is the same scene that has been invoked in the scores of apocalyptic compositions since the time of Zoroaster. When the sky is opened it always reveals a heaven that looks like God’s audience hall. (You will remember that is  what it was like in the opening chapter of the Book of Job.) You always look in on God on his throne, surrounded by those who minister to him.

The scroll with the seven seals is the script for all that will take place in the end time. The only one who can open the seals is the one who will make it all happen.  John cries at learning that no one present is entitled to remove a seal, but one of the elders assures him that the Messiah will perform the service. That is in accord with what Paul says in the Letter to the Ephesians, that God's mysterious plan is to sum up all things in Christ.

At that, the Messiah, in the person of the Lamb comes forward. He has seven horns, symbolizing unlimited power, and he has seven eyes, symbolizing complete intelligence. By being slain he has earned the right to initiate the world’s coming to its end.

We must use our gifts to help Our Lord's unfortunate ones

Since St. John tells us elsewhere that nothing about heaven has been revealed, we know that in our first reading he was writing a special kind of fiction. By saying he had a “vision of an open door to heaven” he is telling us he is slipping into the genre of apocalyptic literature. (The word apocalyptic simply means “taking the screen away.")

Since the time of Zoroaster what is revealed in apocalyptic literature when heaven’s screen is taken away is first of all, as here, God’s throne room. The throne’s being surrounded by a glitter that “sparkles like jasper and carnelian” is imagery borrowed from Ezekiel. This book will give us revealed truth, but it is not to be found in the props. What this reading tells us is that God’s beauty and power are so wonderful that all great ones of heaven and earth throw down their crowns before him.

The story that Luke tells us here is similar to the one we find in Chapter Twenty-five of Matthew’s Gospel. Luke pictures Jesus as telling us the story of a nobleman who entrusted gold coins to his servants before he headed off for a far country. One servant used the ten gold coins to earn another ten. A second servant earned five. The noblemen rewarded both of them handsomely for doing their best with what they had been given. But he cast aside the one servant who had wrapped the coins in a handkerchief, doing nothing with them.

What Jesus tells us with this story is that he will demand a good return on the gifts he has given us. If we had good parents and good health and the breaks along the way the Lord will demand great results from us. He has a world of disadvantaged children out there, and he is depending on us to take care of them.

We should let Jesus in to dne with us

In the Gospel Zacchaeus invites us to follow him in turning our lives around. He welcomed Jesus into his home, we can welcome him into our hearts.

The better option chosen by Zaccaeus is echoed in the first reading where Jesus said he stands at the door and knocks, anxious to enter and dine with us. That image should come into our minds every time we receive Holy Communion. We should never leave Jesus knocking at the door of our hearts.

That notion of a private visit with Jesus brings to mind both an Old Testament story and a verse from the first chapter of John’s Gospel. That verse in Chapter One of John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus pitched his tent with ours. That is an allusion to God’s meeting tent in Exodus. God had his own tent that was set up with every encampment in the forty years in the desert. God was out there, waiting for callers. John in his Gospel compares the human body of Jesus to the meeting tent. He is waiting there to talk with us about all the concerns we share as fellow humans.

To see the right way to go we must return to our early love for God.

From today to the end of November our first readings will be from the Book of Revelation. This is a work laden with symbolic language with which most of us are not comfortable. It will, for instance, speak of Jesus as the Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes. We would make ourselves miserable if we tried making a mental picture of that lamb. In this ancient form of writing his having seven horns was a way of saying that the Lamb had all power. His having seven eyes was a way of saying that he had all knowledge.

Today’s reading is addressed to the angel of the church in Ephesus. The angel could refer collectively to all the Christians in Ephesus. The Lord compliments them for their hard work and endurance, but criticizes them for having fallen from their first love. The Lord says to them, if they do not repent, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand.”

Our Church has no official interpretation of the phrase “remove your lampstand.” That leaves us free to look elsewhere. What we can do in our surprising age is to  Google the phrase “Remove your lampstand.” When I did that I was met with pages of possible interpretations.

The interpretation that made most sense to me was the one that saw the lampstand as the grace of God that enlightens our minds to know the truth. We need that divine light to see the solution to all the difficulties meeting us: and if we want to avail ourselves of that light we must return to our earlier more active love for God.

If we are with the Lord we need not fear the future

Our Gospel today, from the writing of St. Luke, quotes Jesus as making vague predictions about fearful things to come. It is comforting to note that Our Lord  concludes by saying, “Not a hair of your head will be destroyed. By perseverance you will secure your lives.”

The first reading is of a similar nature. In it Malachi spoke of a day “blazing like an oven,” but he concluded with God’s saying, “For you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”

In its Liturgy every year the Church makes some attempt at stretching the whole history of the world over its fifty-two Sundays. The four Sundays of Advent are meant to recall the centuries before the coming of Jesus. Then, from Christmas through Pentecost we celebrate the time when he was with us. From Pentecost to the Sunday before Advent we wear green vestments expressing our hope and trust in new life beyond the grave.

In November, as these “green” Sundays wind down, the Sunday readings are a kindly warning of hard days coming. They tell us to “Secure our lives by perseverance,” so that for us, “There will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”

Our Eucharistic Prayers Grew Out Of Our Lord’s Blessing at the Last Supper

2nd Reading in the Series:  Our Eucharistic Prayers Grew Out Of Our Lord’s Blessing at the Last Supper

At the Last Supper Jesus took up the bread and wine, saying, “Take this and eat, this is my body.” Then, “Take this and drink, this is the cup of my blood.” Afterwards he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

Those were such minimal instructions that you might wonder how they developed into the elaborate ritual of the Mass. A dozen years ago I came on an article that gave an explanation for it, and the article had me saying, “Gee Whiz!”

The article pointed out how in our English language accounts of the Last Supper, before Jesus said his words over the bread and wine he said something else. He either Gave thanks,” or, “Said the blessing.” What we see in the original Greek manuscripts was noticeably different. Paul and the Evangelists wrote that Jesus said the eucharistesas. Now, the euchatistesas was the final part of the formal blessing for meals. So, those writers were telling us that Jesus had completed the formal blessing. What’s more, they wanted us to see that the whole of that formal blessing was part of what Jesus wanted done in remembrance of him.

The complete blessing was known as the brakha, and it was made up of three parts. It began with a “Calling to Mind” where the host, as spokesman for all the guests, led everyone in thanking God for his many favors. He followed that with what was called a “Calling Down” in which he called down God’s Spirit to unite and strengthen the diners. Then, in the final part called the “Pleasing Gift” (in Greek the Eu-charis.) the host and the diners made return for God’s favors by offering themselves and everything they had.

Now, on hearing how the original Eucharistic prayer was part of the full meal of Jesus and the Apostles you’d think we should have kept the full meal. That’s what the principle of ressourcement would demand. But, then, as we read in First Corinthians another principle trumped that principle of ressourcement.

With large numbers of people from all strata of society coming together to renew the Last Supper, the meetings gave way to a shameful disorder, and the Apostles began hearing Jesus telling them to “read the signs of the times.” With that, the Apostles decided that the realities of the time called for a change in the ritual. In line with the principle of aggiornamento, they did away with eating the full meal.

However, they retained the full brakha. For one thing, they kept to the practice of the host’s using his own words for reciting it. For another, they kept to seeing the brakha as coming from all those present. They were all calling to mind God’s favors, all calling down his Spirit, and they were all part of the Pleasing Gift or the Eu-charis.

Outside of the Scriptures, the earliest document on the Eucharist was called “The Teaching of the Apostles,” and it is familiarly known as “The Didache,” which is Greek “teaching.” Now, The Didache insisted that Christians taking part in the Eucharist be free from sins, so that their sacrifice would be pure. Along with Jesus they were part of the Pleasing Gift, part of the Eucharist offering themselves up to God. 

The bodily pain Jesus accepted made him our greatest hero.

Our First Reading today is from St. John’s Second Letter, which was a personal letter written to a lady who was teaching Christianity to children. He warned the lady against those “who do mot acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.”

While the Church in the Third Century had to wrestle with those who did not accept the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Church in the First Century wrestled with those who did not believe he came in the flesh.

The people who did not accept the humanity of Jesus were good people whose exalted view of Jesus kept them from associating him with bodily functions. Their way of thinking would recur again and again in the following centuries. What is more, it already had a long history going back at least to Zoroaster in the Seventh Century B.C..

In a dream that he took to be a true vision Zoroaster saw the tent of the sky taken away, giving him a view into heaven. (Our word apocalypse literally means “take the tent away.) What he saw in his dream were two creators, one good and one evil, with each of them surrounded by his army. The creator of everything spiritual was served by angels. The creator of everything material was served by deavas. 

That way of viewing our bodies and all material things as evil was picked up by generations of people who had never heard of Zoroaster. The Apostles had a name for misguided Christians who took the body of Jesus to be unreal. They called them “The mirage people.” Or, using the Greek word for a mirage, they called them the dokein people. Scholars today call them the Docetists.

You might wonder why St. John was so hard on the Docetists, calling them “Antichrists.” The reason is that if Jesus had no real body he was not one of us, and could not have redeemed us as our champion. More then that, the Docetists were ignoring Christ’s heroism.

Where in history has there been an act of heroism matching that of Jesus in the garden? That young man was faced with accepting a humiliating execution. He could clearly foresee the scourging, the wads of spit coming at his face, the wild hammer blows that would drive the nails through his lovely hands, the indecent taunts from his own people. The horror of what he anticipated had him three times begging the Father, “If it is possible let this chalice pass from me.”

Oh, his body was real, all right. It was twitching with repugnance when he said, “Not my will, but thine be done.”

A little act of kindness can give someone the hope to carry on.

We should take note both of today’s First Reading and of today’s saint. The first reading comes from a letter Paul wrote to a wealthy Christian named Philemon. That man had a slave named Onesimus who ran away, finding his way to Rome where he began tending to the needs of Paul who was under house arrest.

Paul’s stand on the slavery question is interesting. Slavery was such an integral part of the social system that to outlaw it would bring all shipping and farming to a halt, and the slaves could be the first to die off. In his Letter to Philemon Paul refers to the actual meaning of the slave’s name. It was Onesimus, and it meant “useful.” Paul said that if Philemon would accept Onesimus back as a friend rather than a beast he would be much more useful. 

Today’s saint was also one with a concern for the underdogs. At age ten Martin had angered his father by his becoming a Christian, but he followed his father into the Roman Guard officer’s class. Then, one cold evening, returning to his barracks on horseback, Martin was moved at the sight of a shivering beggar. Leaping down, and drawing his sword, Martin slit his cape in half, giving half to the beggar Then, in a dream Martin saw Jesus wrapped in the half cape; and he left the army, becoming the bishop of Tours.

In 1954 Time magazine published this poem by Phyllis McGinley; and my sister Peg sent a copy of it to me in Korea.

Martin of Tours, when he earned his shilling
Trooping the flags of the Roman Guard
Came on a poor aching and chilling
Beggar in rags by the barracks yard.

Blind to his lack, the guard went riding.
But Martin a moment, paused and drew
The coat from his back, his sword from hiding,
And sabered his raiment into two.

Now some who muse on the allegory
Affect to find it a pious joke;
To the beggar what use, for Martin what glory
In deed half-kind and part of a cloak?

Still, it has charm, and a point worth seizing.
For all who move in the mortal sun
Know halfway warm is better than freezing
As half a love is better than none.

Moved by that story, and giving a little bit of help to some stranger, you probably have found that your act was enough to tell the person he or she was not alone -- enough to supply the hope needed to carry on.

While obeying authority we suppprt every good enterprise


 Wednesday, 11/10/10

Today’s readings urge us to see our Christian beliefs as anything but radical. Even though  the priests were going to bring about his execution, Jesus recognized their authority. He told the lepers he was curing to go to the priests to authenticate their cure.

Then, in the first reading Paul told Titus to instruct the Christians to live under the control of all magistrates and authorities. He goes on to tell Christians “to be open to every good enterprise.”

That advise goes two ways. First, it instructs Christians to be docile before their legitimate leaders, then it tells them to be active, to get on board in support of “every good entrprise.”

The water flowing from the temple is grace in our lives

Tuesday, 11/9/10

Today we celebrate the dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. It’s a church with quite a history. When Constantine became a Christian in 315 A.D. he gave the pope a palace that had belonged to his wife. The palace, with a half-round alcove for a king’s throne was known as a basilica, after the Greek word for a king which was basilous. As the first openly Christian Church, the dedication of this basilica represents the opening up of all Christian churches.

The first reading from the book of Ezekiel describes an ever-swelling tide of water that comes out from the temple, flowing down into the valley that takes the water into the sea where it renders salt water fresh. That great flow of water is an image for the abundant grace that believers take out of church with them, bringing health and happiness to the world’s people.

Did Paul write to Titus about bishops for Crete?

Today’s reading from Paul’s Letter to Titus seems to talk about bishops. If it does, it proves that the office of bishops was already there in St. Paul’s time. But some scholars do not accept this proof. These are men who are well informed both about the early church and the Greek language.  In this letter to Titus St. Paul wrote about the qualities Titus should look for in men he appointed as presbyters. (Since our word “priest” is actually a contraction of the word “presbyter” you can say Paul was speaking about requirements for being chosen as priests.)

Anyway, Paul wrote that those chosen as presbyters should be blameless, married only once, and so on. In the middle of his sentence where Paul was listing their essential traits, he unexpectedly switched to saying, “for a bishop as God’s steward should be blameless, not arrogant.”

Although our English translation of Paul’s Letter to Titus has Paul here introducing what is needed in bishops, his original letter written in Greek looks like something else. It looks like he was saying that as an overseer a presbyter should be blameless and not arrogant.”

To see where the confusion came about one must understand how the word “bishop” came into being. A community’s presbyter was known as their overseer. When a city had more than one presbyter it usually happened that one of them came to be seen as a higher ranking  overseer. The Greek for over-seer was epi-scopon: and by people using that word for many decades, it got changed. The “p” of the epi became a “b,” and the “sc” of the scopon  became a “sh” sound, and the word “bishop’ was born.   

I put a question about this to Father Joseph Fitzmeyer, who was widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading scholars on Paul’s writing. I said, “Father, it looks to me like the first English translators of Paul’s Letter put the bishops in there by mistake, when it should have just referred to priests as overseers. Father Fitzmeyer agreed with me. He said that such mistranslations slipped in long ago, and now it is difficult to change them.

We wil be children in heaven

Sunday, 11/7/10

My father was a happy man. In his late eighties he was keeping house by himself, visiting my mother in her nursing home every day; then, two evenings a week he had poker games with old pals, and one evening he had a bridge game with three ladies he called his girls. But even the liveliest of us have to slow down. After he turned ninety he looked up at his priest son, and he asked, “Tom, what is heaven really like?”

I was glad he got around to thinking about it, but sadly there wasn’t a whole lot I could tell him. In today’s Gospel Jesus had some things to say about what heaven is like. He doesn’t offer us many specifics, but we should make the best of what he gives us.

His popularity with the masses had Jerusalem’s ruling factions worried. They each took a turn at getting him to say something they could hold against him in court. The chief priests, the Pharisees, the scribes, were each unsuccessful in getting him to damage himself, so they turned to a final group, the Sadducees. Let me say something about them.

For a thousand years the man designated as high priest acted like the king among the Jews. For eight hundred of those thousand years that office was only given to a blood descendent of a priest named Zadoc. It was a reward for his courageously anointing Slolomon king.

Then, in 152 B.C. Jonathan, a brother of the great Judas Maccabeus, took the office of high priest even though he was not a descendent of Zadoc. Jonathan’s friends took over the rich business connections of the temple. When conservatives objected that Jonathan was not a descendent of Zadoc, his friends would countered by saying, “Jonathan, by holding the same office of high priest is a descendent of Zadoc; and we his friends are Zadocites, or Sadducees.
The Sadducees who were just into religion for the money, didn’t believe in heaven. So they made fun of Our Lord’s belief in heaven by giving the picture of a woman in heaven-bed
hopping between her seven former husbands.

That brought Jesus to say something positive about heaven. He said there would be no procreating there. He said we would all comport ourselves as the Father’s joyful children. He further pointed out that the Sadducees, by calling themselves the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were unconsciously admitting that there was an after life in heaven that those patriarchs were sharing.   

Ressourcement and Aggiornamento

In this space next Saturday I will tell the surprising story of how our Eucharistic prayers grew out of the blessing Jesus offered at the Last Supper. Today I want to explain how the two terms in my title bear on the historical stories I’ll tell.

Many dedicated bishops at Vatican II wanted to bring the church in line with what it might be if Jesus were in visible control today. For that they leaned on the French and Italian words of my title. The French bishops coined the word Ressourcement. They employed it to express our need to be true to our sources: our need to stay in line with the practices and ideals of Jesus and the Apostles.

Next, the premier Italian bishop, Pope John XXIII himself, popularized the word Aggiornamento. He had served as Rome’s legate in the strange worlds of Bulgaria, Turkey and France; and in all those places he had come to admire modern men and women who had valid new codes of behavior. In his coming to appreciate such people, he often seemed to hear Jesus saying, “You must read the signs of the times.”

That admonition of Jesus had John using the word Aggiornamento. Literally in means bringing things up to date, but for John it meant facing up to present realities. I had a trivial experience thirty-five years ago that got me onto that meaning. I had an Irish nun riding in the car with me when I became upset with my inability to get into the heavy traffic passing by. Seeing my frustration, Sister Laurentia said, “You can’t be angry at this. This is what is.”  We have no choice but to accept what is.

 If I can keep putting these articles on my web page week after week I plan to take the span of church history from Jesus to Benedict XVI; but in doing so, I will skip over most eras we heard about in school. I want to tell only about events that were a pleasant surprise for me when I came across them in recent years.

To illustrate that surprise factor, let me use a story from American publishing. The 20th century’s most successful literary magazine was The New Yorker. It was a weekly that discovered great writers like Hemingway, J. D.  Salinger, and Frank McCourt. Well, it’s clever staff writers like James Thurber and E. B. White used to sit at night, puzzling over Harold Ross, their founder and publisher. They saw him as a dull fellow from Kansas, and they couldn’t understand how he could have succeeded in publishing their sophisticated magazine. Then, one night E. B. White came out with the explanation. He said, “Ross is a Gee Whizz guy. He can spot new talent because when its opening paragraphs come before him something in him causes him to say, “Gee Whizz!”

I mean to lay before you a series of historical incidents that had me saying “Gee Whizz!”  For each of them I will ask you to join me in assessing the degree to which it contributes or takes away from the church’s need for Ressourcement and Aggiornamento.     next in the historical series…

We should be clever at gaining spiritual wealth

(Tomorrow, and on Saturdays after this, I am going to use this space to enter a short history lesson. Earlier this year I published a book called "One Happy Old Priest." It caused people to ask me, "With all going wrong, how can you be happy with the Catholic Church?" I answered  by saying that my book supplies something of an answer to that; but as well, I feel that the church's history leaves me with good reason for loving her. 

(So, if my plans holds out, every Saturday, in place of my usual homily outline I will print my lesson. This Saturday, borrowing from the bishops at Vatican II, I will just give an idea of two guidelines they used for getting the church back on track. They said our practices had to both be true to the ideals of Christ and the Apostles, and to be in line with Jesus telling us to read the signs of the times: that is, they had to fit the world as it is today. In my short accounts of the church in past ages I will assess her behavior in line with those two criteria.)

Homily for Friday, 11/5/10

Jesus told a story about a crooked steward who was very clever at providing for his bodily comfort, and he asked why is it the people are not as clever at providing for their spiritual comfort. We are quite clever in our selfishness, why can’t we be clever in being generous?

The story of the clever steward challenges us to come up with stories about people who have been equaling clever in devising tricks of generosity. Have you any good stories? At the moment I can only think of Jeanette and Joe Kelley. Jeanette likes complimenting and surprising people. At lunch last week I mentioned someone whose birthday was coming up, and Jeanette said, “I’m so glad to hear about that. I can send her a card.”

Joe Kelley drove a van, and he was always hauling things for people; but in his last five years he was confined to a nursing home, getting around on a walker. Another visitor to Joe’s nursing home said, “It’s odd that the superintendent of this nursing home should be confined to a walker.” I had to tell her, “Joe isn’t the superintendent. Joe just goes around looking for ways to help patients who can’t help themselves.”

Another story about Joe’s generosity just came to me. This was from when he was still young. After a card game we were standing around in the kitchen eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when my dad mentioned writing a fifty dollar check for car repairs. Joe said, “That’s funny, I got a fifty dollar check in the mail today.” He explained that it was a refund on his taxes; and when we asked what he was going to do with it, he said, “I tore it up. My country has done so much for me that I couldn’t take money from it.”

Bringing back a lost sheep

In the Gospel Jesus uses two images to tell us how eager he is to bring back people who have lost their way in life. He compares any such a wayward person to a lost sheep or to a lost coin; and he says nothing gives him more pleasure than saving such a person from ruin.

Who are those lost sheep in our society? They could be the people who through their addiction to drugs have wandered so far away that it will take time and money and expert care to bring them back. If we haven’t the time or the ability to personally go after those lost sheep, Jesus wants us to at least give aid to those who are actively searching for them. The literature on successful drug rehabilitation says that a recovery takes ninety days of professional care. A person lacking insurance is in dire shape after being hooked.

The lost sheep could be the people who never got a chance to become literate enough or skilled enough to support a family, to have a moderately good life. If we are able to actively help such people to acquire the necessary skills, the Lord will be pleased to see us pitching in. If we cannot take an active role in boosting such people we should help those who have the time and skills to help them.

Fifty year ago when i was a young priest serving in a Korean county where fine people were dying of poverty I wrote home, describing the plight of one person or another who could be rescued for a few dollars. I called such cases "Bargains in charity." There are probably many such bargains in charity here. If you know of some very deserving individuals who could be saved with a moderate helping hand you might do something about publishing their needs, soliciting help.  

Nuggest of gold in Paul's letters

The last four days of this week our first readings will be from Paul’s letter to favorites of his, to the Christians at Phillipi. As is the case with so much of what Paul wrote, in this letter we can mine nuggets of spiritual gold. 

One nugget is Paul’s advise that the people should work out their salvation with fear and trembling. He is telling us that it will not be enough for us accept Jesus as our personal savior, letting it go at that. In Michelangelo’s scene of the Judgment over the main altar of the Sistine Chapel there is a comfortably plump fellow in the grasp by a green devil. He is being whipped down to hell; and he shows utter amazement that a good fellow like himself should be lost.   

A second nugget is in Paul saying, “God is the one who, for his own good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work.” An older version of that says it is God working in us that causes us “both to will and accomplish.” In both the new and the old way it is saying that God inspires us to attempt all our good actions, and it is God who strengthens us to accomplish them.

Finally, Paul says, “I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith.” You know, of course, that a libation was a cup of precious wine that a Roman would pour out on the ground as a sacrifice to the gods. Here, Paul said that his life, his blood, was a libation being poured out as a sacrifice to save his beloved Christians of Phillipi.

Our belief in the communion of sains has us praying for departed souls today.

In teaching Religion in Catholic schools you need to deal with students who are not Catholic, and who feel the need to assert their differences with Catholic beliefs. One day a Presbyterian girl in a class at St. Paul’s blurted out, “I don’t believe there is a place called Purgatory.”

I said, “I don’t either.” The souls of the departed are spirits who need no lodgings. What’s more, there is very little in Scripture about what happens to them. St. John said, “We are already God’s children. As to what we shall be, it has not yet been revealed.” And, St. Paul, in Chapter Two of First Corinthians says, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, it has not so much as entered into the hearts of men what God has planned for those who love him.”

Jesus was talking about what we need to do while we are still alive when he told us to settle with our opponents while we are still on the way. And he seemed to be talking about   Purgatory when he said, “Otherwise you will be thrown into jail, and you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”    

I think we would want to be cleansed. Once, as a little kid all dirty I burst into the house to find my folks entertaining some great cousins of ours. In seeing how sharp they all were, I became aware of my filthiness; and I beat it upstairs to clean myself up. Our initial vision of the purity of the heavenly saints could propel us to Purgatory for a cleansing.

There are snippets in the Scriptures that give us assurance as to our afterlife. I have particularly liked that place in 2nd Maccabees where they take up a collection for sacrifices for the dead. It states, “They did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who have gone to rest in godliness. It was a holy and a pious thought. Thus they made atonement for the dead that they may be freed from sin.” 

We make atonement for the sins of the departed.

Tuesday, 11/2/10                            

In teaching Religion in Catholic schools you need to deal with students who are not Catholic, and who feel the need to assert their differences with Catholic beliefs. One day a Presbyterian girl in a class at St. Paul’s blurted out, “I don’t believe there is a place called Purgatory.”

I said, “I don’t either.” The souls of the departed are spirits who need no lodgings. What’s more, there is very little in Scripture about what happens to them. St. John said, “We are already God’s children. As to what we shall be, it has not yet been revealed.” And, St. Paul, in Chapter Two of First Corinthians says, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, it has not so much as entered into the hearts of men what God has planned for those who love him.”

Jesus seemed to be talking about what we need to do while we are still alive when he told us to settle with our opponents while we are still on the way. And he seemed to be talking about what we call Purgatory when he said, “Otherwise you will be thrown into jail, and you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”    

I think we would want to be cleansed. Once, as a little kid all dirty I burst into the house to find my folks entertaining some great cousins of ours. In seeing how sharp they all were, I became aware of my filthiness; and I beat it upstairs to clean myself up. Our initial vision of the purity of the heavenly saints could propel us to Purgatory for a cleansing.

There are snippets in the Scriptures that give us assurance as to our afterlife. I have particularly liked that place in 2nd Maccabees where they take up a collection for sacrifices for the dead. It states, “They did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who have gone to rest in godliness. It was a holy and a pious thought. Thus they made atonement for the dead that they may be freed from sin.”