Jesus gives us an example of generously putting up with interferences.



In the Gospel we see Jesus at his best. He instantly interrupted his teaching to see to the daughter of the man Jairus.  Then, as he was going on his way there, his power for good was so great, that a woman who had been very sick for a dozen years was instantly cured by just touching his cloak. Next, instead of taking credit for the cure , he said it was her faith that worked the miracle. Finally, he brought the little girl back to life, giving her back to her parents.

We should read this story in connection with the first reading that asks us to look to the example of Jesus, who is “the leader and perfecter of faith.” Through all his labors and acts of kindness he had the cross before him. His faith was strong enough that it enabled him to go on even though he knew it was leading him to Calvary’s nails, to the crowd’s spitting, and to the soldiers’ whipping. Each of us has a death awaiting us. With Jesus as our model, our faith should sustain us through whatever pain and disappointments are in store for us.

The eample and the stories we have from Jesus make us most fortunate people.



The first reading is from Chapter Eleven of the Letter to the Hebrews. This reading consists of brief mentions of many Old Testament people who, going on faith alone, were able to overcome great difficulties. This Chapter Eleven was written to prepare us for a powerful Chapter Twelve. That chapter, as we shall see tomorrow, begins with a verse that states, “We therefore, having such a cloud of witnesses before us, should run with confidence to the fight se before us.”

I don’t know about you, but I find the Old Testament stories much less inspiring than the New Testament stories. The preaching and the example of Jesus are so much finer than those of people like David and Gideon, that I feel sorry for Jews who have such inferior heroes to follow.

As Jesus once put it, many of those people from the past longed to see what we have seen, and to hear what we have heard, but did not live to see or hear it. It should make us extremely grateful for having lived to hear the stories and the lessons of Jesus.   

In the Sermon on the Mount Matthew showed how Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets.



Our Gospel, gives us the opening lines of the “Sermon on the Mount,” which is the  center piece of the Gospel according to Matthew. An odd thing about the Sermon on the Mount is that Luke’s Gospel contains very much the same words of Jesus, but there Jesus spoke those words on a level stretch of land. If you don’t mind, I’d like to give the explanation the scholars have for the differences between Luke and Matthew.

In the spring of 1984 I began twenty-three years of teaching a Gospel to the Seventh Grade at St. Paul’s School. I had taught Luke’s Gospel for two years at Bishop Kenny High School, so I thought it would be easy for me to teach the same material I had prepared back then. However, to make a show of being democratic with the kids, I  asked them which Gospel we should follow, and I was to immediately regret being open with them. Led on by a little Lutheran boy in the class, they demanded that we study Matthew’s Gospel, a Gospel I knew nothing about.

I had to begin all over, studying what Scripture scholars knew about Matthew’s Gospel. What I found out was that the similarity between Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels came from both of them having found a pack of notes that a man took down listening to Jesus speak on several occasions.  Both of them were inspired by God to follow those notes while using their imaginations to construct his own scene in which Jesus could have spoken them.

Matthew and Luke were each inspired to write for a distinct audience. Luke, writing for Greek followers of democracy, had Jesus speaking from the middle of a crowd on a level plain; but Matthew was inspired to demonstrate something quite different. Fifty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus the Pharisees were saying that Jesus had rejected the teaching of Moses. Now, in those notes Matthew read that Jesus had once said, “I did not come to destroy the law and the prophets. I came not to destroy them, but to fulfill them.”

Using notes of things Jesus had actually said, Matthew imaginatively placed Jesus on a mountain similar to Mount Sinai. Where Moses had said, “You shall not kills,” Jesus had said, “You shall not be angry.” Where Moses had said, “You shall not commit adultery,” Jesus had said we should not lust.

The sayings of St. Augustne enrich us all.


 St. Augustine’s teachings are a lasting treasure for Christians

The next surprising twist in our church’s history came with Ambrose receiving a famous convert into the church. The man, a speechwriter for petitioners appearing before the emperor, was an expert in rhetoric, which is the art of persuasive speech. His mother, a Christian, told him that Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, was the most persuasive speaker she had ever known.  Ambrose’s spiritual message didn’t interest her son because he was too sexually active with a servant girl, however, he was anxious for any help in speech writing. That had him going to the cathedral, and in the end, he had to give in to Ambrose and God.

That son, Augustine, broke off relations with his long-time girl friend, and he began living a Christian life. But then, and this really surprised me, he had a relapse, and he fell into another extra marital relationship. Disgusted with himself, Augustine was pacing his little garden one afternoon when he heard the refrain, “Tolle lege; tolle lege;” and he thought he was overhearing a chant that went with a children’s game. Stumped as to what game went with the refrain, he thought to take the words literally. “Tolle lege” translated as, “Pick up, and read.” Looking around, he noticed a little book that was a copy of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Picking it up, he read, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”

Like Ambrose and Jerome, and many other famous churchmen from that century, Augustine had not considered accepting Baptism until he was past his wild days. But on reading that verse from Romans he asked for Baptism, and never turned back. Sincere Christians, ever since the appearance of that Life of St. Anthony penned by Athanasius, had all felt the need to become monks. Augustine returned to Africa where he formed a monastery near the city of Hippo.

He tried his best to lead a quiet monastic life, but he could not ignore the church troubles all around him. Giving in to the Church’s needs, in 391 he let North Africa’s bishops consecrate him as Bishop of Hippo, and he served there as bishop until 430 A.D., passing away peacefully as the Vandals were breaking down the walls of Hippo.

Augustan’s writings and his influence were extensive. But, let me put down here my version of four of his original ideas.

1. “Our hearts are made for you, O Lord, and they cannot rest until they rest in you.”
This is everyone’s favorite. It’s the theme of Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven.”
It represents Augustine’s complete surrender to God after his wild youth.

2. “The sacrifice aspect of the Mass consists in Christ’s and the worshipers’ s interior submission to God.”

(There was a first century church document called “The Teaching of the Apostles,”  usually referred to by the Greek word for “teaching,” or Didache. In its single paragraph dealing with Sunday worship it three times referred to the Eucharist as a sacrifice.  That had churchmen over the next three centuries disputing over just what qualified it as a sacrifice. Some taught that the sacrificial aspect consisted of the blood being taken from the body by its separate consecration. Others, like St. Ambrose, saw surrounding the Eucharist with splendor as a way turning it into an imperial sacrifice. But, Augustine made the submission of our hearts the venue for the sacrifice of the Eucharist.)

3. “A Sacrament is an encounter with God who is the ministering agent for all the Sacraments.”

(After a Roman persecution when some of the priests saved their lives by offering sacrifices to the Roman gods, thousands of Christians, led by Bishop Donatus were saying that people baptized by those renegade priests were not lawfully baptized. The Donatist heresy split North African believers into hostile camps for a century. The split was healed when Augustine, showing the readiness of Jesus to forgive terrible sinner, reasoned kindly and convincingly with the Donatists. To the present we follow Augustine in believing that even a non-believer can administer a valid baptism. It is only required that he or she pours the water while giving the formula for baptism. The validity of the sacrament does not depend on the minister.)

4.”No one can be saved by his or her own efforts unaided by the grace of God.”

(Around the year 400 Augustine was prodded to make this point by reading transcripts of sermons sent to him from the Holy Land. Pelagius, a prominent priest from England, was gathering huge audiences to hear him say that if we bend all our efforts to it we can save ourselves. (Pelagius could remind some of us of Norman Vincent Peale, whose The Power of Positive Thinking sold 5 million copies.)  

Augustine countered Pelagius by quoting Chapter Seven of Paul’s Letter to the Romans where Paul wrote, “I take delight in the law of God in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind.” Augustine gave the name “Original Sin” to that other principle in our members at war with the law of our minds. While he identified it as the sin of Adam coming down to us, he was actually speaking of the moral weakness we inherit from our ancestors. Whatever about that, he insisted that Scripture tells us that we cannot be saved without God’s grace.)

Believing can require us to make a leap of faith.



The first reading says, “My just one shall live by faith.” That is harder today than it used to be.

In the Middle Ages everyone thought that heaven was about ten miles out from the furthest clouds. Everyone believed. Scoundrels left great fortunes for Masses to get them into heaven.

These day hefty literary awards are given to authors honored for doing away with people’s belief in God. Today’s paper pictures a scene in San Diego where a great white cross is being taken down because it offends non-believers.

The most generous, kindest, priest I know once turned to me, asking, “Tom, do you believe it all?”

We all know the expression, “Seeing is believing.” So what about it’s opposite? Is  “Not seeing” not believing?

Those times when you can’t see clear proof must be the times when love of God and trust in God take over. I have a large bodied six-foot-six nephew who has a daughter named Madeleine. The little girl liked surprising her dad. She’d be up on her dresser when Joe came into her room for something. With just a shout of, “Dad!” mad Madie would leap for him, confident that Joe would turn and catch her.

Such leaps of faith are required of us. If it’s all we can do, we must mumble the prayer of the man in the Gospel. He said, “O Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

Being faithful to church going sustains us through hard times.



Let’s find a message from God by combining one line from the first reading with two lines from the Gospel. 

The line from the first reading is, “We should not stay away from our assembly.” For us that could mean we should not slip into the habit of skipping Sunday Mass.

God is speaking to us through two lines in the Gospel. The first of the two is, “Nothing is secret except to come to light.”

The other line that concludes God’s word on the subject is, “The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”

People who get out of the habit of Sunday Mass seem to find that they are happier than ever, and they say they use the time for more useful activities. 

Going back sixties years I happened on a test case for the advantages and disadvantages of giving up Sunday Mass. In the summer of 1952 the Arkansas River flowing through Kansas went way over flood stage, wiping out homes and businesses, and recking havoc on people’s lives.

Father Joe Murphy, a St. Louis priest was worried about his cousin who lived south of Topeka where all the phone lines were down. I rode out there with him past wide lakes of shiny tan mud. The river had undercut the north side of Topeka, causing cars on mud roads to suddenly sink through and disappear. The main employer, Cudahy Packing Company announced they were permanently going out of business. There was no insurance coverage for the people south of the city who had made their living fattening cattle brought from afar.

Some friends of Father Murphy’s cousin shot themselves, others ran off, deserting wives and kids. There was a noticeable division between the number of Catholics who lived eight or ten miles from their parish church. The secret skipping of those who had stopped coming became evident. They were not receiving the measure of religious support that sustained their church-going neighbors to better times. 

We must let God's promptings take root in our hearts.



We are all familiar with Our Lord’s parable of “The Sower Went Out To Sow His Seed,” but we should not let our familiarity ruin it for us. We can profit from it greatly if we force our imaginations to reconstruct the scene Jesus created for us.

Visualize that hard packed path where the seed settles for just minutes. See the birds: sparrows, black birds and blue jays, fluttering into perfect landings; then tipping forward to peck, peck, peck.

Picture an inch of silt covering a pan of rock. The rains leave pockets of moisture on the rock, while the sun’s heat makes it just right for seed to germinate and sprout. But, with no way to send roots through the rock, the seedlings send up thickening shafts of green. Unfortunately, though, when the sun’s heat creates a need for moisture that the young plants can’t meet, they wither and keep over.

Next, see the quick start of the seedlings on the uncultivated hillside. They do alright, but the weeds and thorns do much better, choking out the wheat.

Finally the seed on good ground produce healthy plants with thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as many seeds as the number planted.

The seeds, Our Lord says, are the word of God. We know that doesn’t refer just to the word of the Bible because  Our Lord’s listeners had no bibles, and they couldn’t read.  No, the words the seeds represent are God’s graces, promptings us to do the right thing.

At times we are like the path where the grace can’t sink in. With distractions peck, peck pecking away, we neglect doing what God is prompting us to do.

At times we are like the soil over the rock. We respond quickly, but neglecting deep reflection, we don’t let God’s graces take root in our souls.

At times we are like the uncultivated land where our vices choke out any goodness we’d like to pursue.

But, how fine it is, when like the rich soil we produce a harvest of good deeds!

God had goaded Saul with reasons for giving up on his persecuting Christians; and he goads us with reasons for giving up what is wrong in our lives.



The Acts of the Apostles has three versions of the story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. In Chapter Nine it just comes as part of the story. In Chapter Twenty-Two Paul told the story to Jerusalem’s Jews.   In Chapter Twenty-Six Paul told the story to King Agrippa. We are all familiar with the story. Saul, a firebrand of a Pharisee, was seeing Christianity as a menace to the true faith of Judaism. He was carrying authorization from the Chief Priest to imprison any Christians he could find in Damascus. When he was nearing Damascus he was struck to the ground by a blinding light, and he heard the words, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

The account given in Chapter Twenty-Six is interesting because it recalls one other little thing Jesus said. He said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goad.”

A goad, of course, is a pointed stick one uses to poke a donkey to get it to move. As it is here used metaphorically Jesus is saying he had repeatedly poked Saul with evidence of the goodness and truth of the Christians, but Saul fought back his doubts as to the rightness of what he was doing. “Kicking against the goad,” would mean his painful efforts at keeping back the realization that he was on altogether the wrong path.

All of us kick against the goad when God sends us grace after grace that prompts us to cut out bad behavior, to do what is right. There is always an unhappiness that engulfs us when we are eating too much, neglecting our work, our friends, our family.  Now is the time for you to do away with that unhappiness by joining Saul in his conversion.

Sinning against the Holy Spirit is defying God to his face.



Jesus said that there is a sin that will not be forgiven. He said, “Whoever blasphemes  against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.”

That statement seems to go against an important thing we believe in. To say that there is something that cannot be forgiven seems to put a limit on God’s mercy.

Jesus did not explain what he meant by blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. All we can do is rely on the judgment of good people who have a thorough knowledge of the Bible.

The answer they give is that blaspheming against the Holy Spirit amounts to looking God in the face while damning him. In the sins committed by men and women there is always an element of ignorance. We kid ourselves into thinking we are going for something good.

We have all heard how Satan and his other bright angels fell. Looking at God and the truth they still had pride enough to say, “We will not serve.”

Hopefully, we weak humans will never see things clearly enough to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit.

Our Lord's main message was not that we should repent, but that we turn our thinking around, doing better.



Have you known priests who were always harping on the same things? With that kind of priest, even before he opens his mouth you knew that he was going to be going on with one of his favorite themes. He is against abortion. He is for church support. He says we must keep young people in line.

But, consider this: that priest might have been as tired as you are of the same old things, but he can’t escape the need to say them. That’s the way it is with me today.  

The Gospel seems to tell us, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” But, he actually said something different.

Now, there is something I have said about that many times before that I can’t keep from saying one more time. Our English version of the Gospel there is wrong. Both Matthew’s and Mark, writing in Greek, wrote that Jesus did not tell us to repent. No, he told us we must turn our thinking around.  There is quite a difference there. Repenting is fixed on the past. Turning our thinking around is fixed on a better future.

There is a story I like, even though I think it never happened. It was the case of a holy man who had been considered for canonization up to the time that the Devil’s Advocate stepped in, stopping the process. The Devil’s Advocate brought out proof that the candidate for canonization had once said that Judas was in hell, that nothing could have stopped him from going there. To say that Judas could not be saved is to put a limit on God’s mercy, and there is no limit on God’s desire to forgive sinners.

Spiritual writers in the past seemed to have a hang up on the need for repentance. They urged us to pray for the gift of tears.  

We all have heard that to make a good confession we must have sorrow for our sins. But, it is equally true that we need to have what is called “a firm purpose of amendment.” If we intend to keep on committing a sin there is no way it can be forgiven.

So, the first priority for someone with a sinful past is for him or her to decide on and carry through on a course of good helpful behavior.

For all that, sorrow for the past is still necessary. We have to do all we can top clean up the mess. Just last week Pope Benedict spoke about Purgatory. He said that it isn’t a place, it’s a process. He said we must be purified before we can enjoy living in God’s presence.

Jesus did not want to be adored. He wants us to become part of his gift to God.

Saturday, 1/22/11


St. Ambrose Turned the Eucharist into a Monarch on his Throne

When Constantine’s youngest son, Constans, died in Milan in 350, his successor installed the Arian Auxentius as bishop of Milan. That man, through twenty-four years in control brought the people of Milan around to seeing Jesus as merely a good man. At Auxentius’ death in 374 Emperor Gratian, residing in Milan, ordered the Roman governor of Northern Italy to assemble the leading citizens to see if the Christian and Arian factions could agree on a choice for the next bishop.

In a surprising historical twist the people agreed on accepting the governor himself as their next bishop. He was a man who as a child had entered the catechumenate, but who had never been baptized. The choice fell on him when the voice of another  child rang out in the assembly.

The child called out, “Ambrose will be our bishop”

Ambrose laid aside his role as governor. Then, the following day he received Baptism, and the day after that, he was installed as bishop of Milan.

As bishop, Ambrose saw his first duty to be to bring people around to worshiping Christ as the Son of God. To counteract what Auxentius had done dishonoring Jesus, Ambrose hit upon a plan based on his daily experiences attending on the emperor. He proceeded to demand that the people would give to the Blessed Sacrament all the honors and courtesies they gave to the emperor. They would kneel before his altar. They would allow only the finest linen and the purest gold on the altar.

That scheme worked. In a short time the Arian disregard for Jesus was forgotten. People were happy going down on their knees before the Blessed Sacrament.  But that fine scheme of Ambrose had a drawback. Up to that time the Eucharist had been celebrated much as it had been at the Last Supper. Any worshiper closing his eyes could imagine himself reclining with Jesus and the Beloved Disciple. He would hear Jesus whispering, “As I offer myself to the Father as a pleasing gift, I urge you to become part of the Pleasing Gift (Eu-Charis), offering yourself and what you have to the Father.

But that was all changed after Ambrose had the people giving to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament the same honors they gave the emperor. When they closed their eyes at Sunday worship they could only imagine themselves at the rear of a royal audience hall.  Instead of imagining Jesus whispering about becoming be part of his sacrifice, they’d hear an usher shouting, “Bow, bow, bow!”

Like all the people who do their assigned hour of adoration, I have benefited from that time alone with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; but I try not to miss out on what Christ really wants of us. He didn’t come for us looking for royal treatment. He did not want to be adored. He wanted us to join him in submitting to God’s will.

Belief in the Real Presence benefits us only if we join Christ in offering ourselves up  as part of his Pleasing Gift (Eu-Charis.) Christ’s presence in our tabernacle is a little like the millions in the vault of the First Guaranty Bank on King Street. Those millions are of no use to the bums looking for cigarette butts in King Street’s gutters.  That wealth only has meaning for those who work with it. 

In the New Covenant of the Mass Jesus gives himself to us, and we giver ourselves to him.



Our first reading contains a long quotation from six hundred years before Christ, or from midway between the covenant with Moses at Mt. Sinai and the Last Supper. In the quotation God promised that he would make a new covenant with mankind.

It might be helpful here to explain the way a covenant differs from any ordinary contract. In ordinary contracts the parties exchange possessions that are of similar worth. In an automobile purchase one party hands over the car in exchange for the sum of money at which the car is evaluated. Something similar happens with the contract for buying a house.

What makes a covenant different from all other contacts is that the parties exchange not some part of their possessions, but they exchange their very selves. Like in a Catholic marriage the priest asks each person, “Have you come here freely to give yourself in marriage?” In the Old Testament God describes the transaction by saying, “You will be my people, and I will be our God.”

At the Old Testament covenant ceremony Moses had the people and God’s altar sprinkled with blood. In their imaginations blood was life itself, and the sprinkled blood bound them together in one life with each other and with God.

At the Last Supper, and in our Mass Jesus says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

To be honest partakers in the Mass we must freely give ourselves to God, savoring then the joy of his giving himself to us.

Jesus is present in our Mass making the same offering of himslf that he made on the cross.



The first reading states that Jesus had no need to make his sacrifice day after day, because he did that once and for all. And yet, we believe that Jesus is offering himself day after day in our Mass. How are we to understand this? Let me say how I see this.

Starting with the Last Supper, Jesus offered the traditional blessing which began as each of our Eucharistic Prayers do by calling to mind God’s great favors, and Jesus followed that by begging God to send down his Spirit on the diners to unite them, and to make them worthy of addressing God. Finally, in his table blessing and in our Eucharistic Prayer, Jesus leads us the diners in making a Pleasing Gift (in Greek a eu-charis) of himself and them.

In our English Mass Prayer Jesus is quoted as saying, “This is my body which will be given for you,” but since the original Greek had him saying, “This is my body which is given for you” I like imagining that at the last Supper Jesus had already begun that complete self-offering he would complete on the cross. It was the same complete offering at the Last Supper, on the cross, and in every Mass. Jesus is here giving the whole of himself like an immense laser beam of love and obedience to the Father for us.  

Christ is an eternal priest in the order of Mechizedek.



Our first reading from Chapter Seven of the Letter to the Hebrews has to do with the superiority of Jesus over the members of the Jewish priesthood. That Jewish priest-hood was a family matter, with every descendant of Jacob’s son Levi born into the  Jewish priesthood. Today’s rather complex reading bases Our Lord’s superiority on Psalm 110. That Psalm states that the Messiah (Jesus) would be a priest of an order superior to Levi’s family.

He would be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek’s name meant “King of Righteousness,” and he came from a city named Salem. or Peace. Levi, grandson of Abraham, can be imagined as being inferior to Melchizedek in that Levi was still in his grandfather Abraham’s loins when Abraham paid tithes Melchizedek.

These kind of explanations are altogether too obtuse for our kind of people, folks whose religious training didn’t go beyond being told to go by the Golden Rule. However, the Letter to the Hebrews was written for learned Jews. For them this passage would have real cogency.

In the Genesis passage there is no mention of Melchizedek's ancestry or his fate; and that allows us to think of him as having no beginning or end, as being an eternal priest. What's more, his offering of   bread and wine has a New Covenant ring to it.  
 
The word “priest” designates one empowered to offer sacrifice, and our Catholic priesthood, which is one with the priesthood of Christ, also partakes of the priesthood of Melchizedek.

However, since our English word “priest” is derived from the Greek  presbyteros, a word that originally signified “a lead ox,” it behooves our priests be out in front pulling the load, rather than sitting in the carriage, cracking the whip.

Man made rules must give way to human needs.



In the Gospel on a sabbath day Jesus and his disciples were walking through a field of standing grain, hand-husking heads of grain, and chewing on them. The Pharisees accused them of sinning against the commandment about keeping holy the Sabbath. 

God, through Moses had commanded the Israelites to keep holy the Sabbath, and then, religious lawyers over the centuries went into detail specifying what actions either contributed to or went against keeping the Sabbath holy. For instance, walking more than a quarter mile from one’s property on the Sabbath was sinful. Even though that might seem silly to us, Jewish people who today keep all the little rules out of respect for God are doing something very praiseworthy. Such ultra conservative Jews can be compared to military people, nuns or seminarians who abide by a rigid code of honor. They are building up good character.

Still, Jesus shows us in today’s Gospel that man made rules must give way to the demands of human kindness and well being. We need to keep our priorities right.

I often think of a weekend when I was a seminarian. With some younger camp  councilors I was taking an early walk into a nearby town for Mass each day. One Friday the priest, Father Tony Polumbo, asked us to stay over to help in a parish carnival. When he said we could sleep in the parish convent I asked him where the nuns were.

He said two days before he had received a phone call about a terrible highway accident that was attracting no police or medical attention. As he hurried out to his car he saw the nuns going from their convent to the church; and he asked them to accompany him to the accident scene to help with the victims. They told him their rule demanded that they pray at just that hour, so they were not free to go help people. So, Father Tony told them that if they didn’t come with him they should go into church for their prayers, and then they should pack up and leave.

St. Anthony, having nothing to do with finding keys, was the inspiration for our monastic and convent ways of life.



Today is kept as the feast of St. Anthony who passed his long life as a monk in the Egyptian desert. A wealthy young man, born around 250 A.D., Anthony, at age twenty, distributed his wealth among the poor, and went about serving the needy. Then, at age thirty-five he decided on living alone with God. For that, he found a deserted fort between the Nile and the Red Sea; and he passed twenty years there in complete isolation depending for nourishment on scraps nomads through over the wall to him. At age fifty-five in 305 he emerged, and to the amazement of all, he still appeared to be a young man of twenty.

Although he never founded a group of disciples, men gathered around him. They imitated his meager diet, and they took over his custom of praying the Psalms each day. A young disciple, Pachomius, while much in admiration of Anthony, decided that for a true Christian life one must live with others. That was in accord with what Jesus said at the Last Supper: “In this will all know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.”

St. Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, was a younger contemporary of Anthony.  Athanasius was often driven from his diocese by Arian rulers who denied the divinity of Christ; and at those times he delighted in taking refuge with Anthony and Pachomius. Once, when he was exiled from Egypt altogether, Athanasius travelled to Rome; and while there he composed a biography of Anthony in which he also described the communal life developed by Pachomius.

That biography of St. Anthony became immensely popular in Rome. It was the instigation that had people like St. Jerome and St. Augustine adopting a monastic lifestyle. It was the source from which 
monastery and convent life in Europe drew their origin. 

John called out, "Behold the Lamb of God."



Last Sunday’s Gospel brought us waste deep in the Jordan for a close-up look of the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. Today’s Gospel again has us out in the river. This time we are there with John at a moment when he spots Jesus walking by. John brings that panoramic setting before our eyes as he calls out, “Look, there is The Lamb of God.”

They say that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. John, was the greatest Jewish hero to come along in centuries; and yet he remained childlike, self-effacing.  He had no advance notice about when his Messiah would appear before him, and he saw his own ignorance as odd, even funny. There was nothing to his life outside of pointing out the Messiah, still he hadn’t recognized him when he came. He has us laughing with him over the strangeness of it all.

What does he call out? Did he shout, “There is the Messiah?” or “Jesus of Nazareth!” No, he called Jesus the Lamb of God. What had he in mind there?”

It could have been that lamb Abraham promised God would supply at the right time.  That was when Abraham was bringing his only son to be sacrificed. Isaac had said, “Father, here are the wood and the fire and the knife. Where is the lamb of our sacrifice?” To that Abraham had replied, "God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice."

But, John might have had in mind that lamb led silently to the slaughter in Isaiah. It could have been the scapegoat on which the high priest loaded the sins of the people.

John said he had been told he would recognize the Messiah when he saw the spirit come down on him, and remain there. I wonder about that. How was he told? Was there a voice from heaven? I like fantasizing about how he could have been told. Like, on one day that was like a thousand other of his days in the desert, John's attention could have been caught by a solitary while lamb; and as the lamb held his attention, he saw a dove come fluttering down to perch itself on its back; and as long as he looked on, the lamb remained there.

The Church's Greek Fathers tried answering Our Lord's question, "Who do you say that I am?"



Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”

It was the Greek Fathers of the Church who clarified the Bible’s teaching on Christ, our God-man; but I never felt like getting into their story. For twenty-three years I gave eighth graders a semester of early church history, but I skipped those Greek Theologians, feeling we have nothing in common with them. But, in preparing for this paper I gave them a fresh look, and came on something that sparked my interest. I saw that two of the big names: St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nyssa were brothers, and a third of them, Gregory of Nazianzas, was like a brother to them. What intrigued me even more was to read that Basil and Gregory’s big sister brought them to work and pray together at her home. That lady, St. Makrina transformed their family estate into a Theological think-tank .

Centuries later St. Anselm would define Theology as “Faith seeking understanding.”  Makrina provided the atmosphere for those saintly priests to seek out the proper answer to Jesus’ question in Matthew 16: “And you, who do you say that I am?”   

Before getting to that, let me explain how it was that St. Makrina’s role perked my interest. I had long been fascinated by what one lady did for Irish literature fifteen hundred years later. I was coming to see how closely that lady’s service echoed what St. Makrina had provided. Galway’s Lady Gregory turned her estate at Coole into a haven where the writers of Ireland’s renaissance could refine their art.

Lady Gregory, the daughter of Protestant landlord, was raised by a Catholic nanny who filled her imagination with yarns of the Gaelic speaking poor. Married to a lord at thirty, and widowed at forty, Lady Gregory turned to mastering the Irish language, and she adapted it into an English that retained the Gaelic’s flavor. Staging her own plays in Dublin, she caught the attention of W.B. Yeats; and she joined with him in founding Dublin’s Abbey Theater. At Coole she supplied Yeats with Irish tales and Irish accents that he wove into poetry. Yeats, in turn, persuaded young J. M. Synge to settle out on the Aram Isles to gather up the wild drama of the place.

A dozen years ago I went to visit a classmate of mine who had an apartment in Coole, and we walked up to Lady Gregory’s estate where we located what is called the Autograph Tree. I delighted in making out the carved initials of Shaw, Yeats, Synge, Sean O’Casey and others who had nourished each other’s genius.

Makrina’s brothers, Basil and Gregory, and Gregory Nazianzas, were to become noted bishops, but it was their collaboration at Makrina’s that benefited us most. Educated in Alexandria and Athens, they fed off each other in working out the deep meanings of passages in John’s Gospel and Paul’s Letters. They actually appeared together as a debating team, correcting the mistakes of Semi-Arians who saw the Son’s substance as only similar to the Father’s. They straightened out followers of Bishop Appolinaris who had made the mistake of denying the heroic human nature of their Lord.

What they let us to see about Jesus was that he is one person with two natures. By saying he is a person they meant that he is a complete individual. Our word nature come from the Latin word for birth, and it signifies the abilities one begins with. Jesus began with all human and divine abilities.

What they clarified about God is that his divine nature is linked to three persons, or distinct entities.

The greatest contribution of the Cappadocian Fathers came in clarifying the interior life of the Trinity, bringing it in line with St. John’s succinct definition of God as “Love.”  The Greeks had a dance in which the parties held hands while circling each other. Their word for the dance was perachoresus, and they used it to describe the living relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jesus forgave the sins of the paralytic, because he had more sorrow from his sins than from his paralysis.




We all are familiar with this story of the men opening the tiles above Jesus, then letting the paralytic down in front of him. It was in Capernaum’s synagogue on a Sabbath. The men holding the ropes had wanted Jesus to cure their friend, but he disappointed them by instead forgiving the man’s sins. I believe Jesus did it that way because he could read the man’s soul. He saw there that the man felt that excesses on his part had brought on his paralysis that caused so much hardship to his family. (To his great shame he could see that his excess drinking, his giving way to fits of anger, his over eating had brought on his debility.) That shame was more painful to him than the paralysis. He was immensely grateful to Jesus for doing away with his guilt.

Laying the Gospel aside, let's take a  quick look at the Psalm where it says, “We have heard and know what our fathers have declared to us.” There is something of which that line should make us conscious. It should make us aware of all the wonderful lessons we had from our parents. From them we have hundreds of little bits of advice that have become part of us, making life so much better for us.  

If we have any moral standing it might be because of sayings of theirs that pop into our heads whenever they are needed. Sometimes when I am wedged in with a crowd of stony faced strangers I hear my dad saying, “If you like people, they will like you,” and when that makes me bold enough to make a friendly comment I find people all around me brightening up.

My mother told me that criticizing art and literature and music I didn’t understand only exposed my ignorance. Too often I have forgotten her advise, ending up blushing over stupid things I have said, because I hadn't known any better.

The leper did not ask to be cured. He asked to be cleansed. Why?



The Gospel tells us the story of Jesus curing a leper, one of a class of people who roamed Galilee and Judea in the time of Jesus. (One time Jesus cured a band of ten lepers simply by telling them they were cured.) All of us have heard enough about lepers to let us picture them.  Known as Hansen’s disease, leprosy causes sores; and when they dry up, they do not build back fresh flesh. If lesions on a lepers nose dry up he or she is left with skin around nostrils like holes between the cheeks.

In the last century treatment with a combination of antibiotics had done away with leprosy in the States. It was still common in Korea in the mid twentieth century, where roving lepers supported themselves by scaring people into paying them to leave. 

A notable thing in today’s Gospel cure is that Jesus reached out and touched the leper. The man, long deprived of any human touch, appreciated that intimacy more than the cure.

In line with that, we might note that leprosy harmed a Jewish individual in two ways. For one thing, it sickened him; for another, it made him ritually unclean, so that he was not welcomed in a synagogue or any other gathering place. Since the man in the Gospel asked not to be cured, but to be cleansed, we see the lack of human company bothered him more than the poor health.

Jesus cured all who came to him



Mark’s Gospel goes on to pile up evidence for us to see that Jesus is the unique Savior come into the world. We see health flowing back into the face of Peter’s mother-in-law as Jesus grasps her hand.  She is quite happy at being able to get up and offer hospitality. We then  see Jesus reclining to eat with the others. He lifts each morsel to his mouth the same way we would.

Minutes after the sun sets on that Sabbath day in Capernaum, we hear the family groups shuffling up to the door with their paralyzed and blind and malformed. Jesus steps out, immediately joining one little group, then another, discussing their hardships; then sharing in their glee as illnesses fade away.

The Apostles, who have been acting as ushers, take to yawning. Jesus too, as he parts from the last group, makes his way inside to find a place on the floor.

As the morning’s bright light awakens the Apostles they look around for Jesus. Going out, they scour the countryside; at last coming on Jesus deep in communion with his Father.

Jesus cured all who came to him the evening after the Sabbath in Capernaum.



Mark’s Gospel goes on to pile up evidence for us to see that Jesus is the unique Savior come into the world. We see him reaching down his hand to the ailing mother-in-law of Peter. In this flu season how marvelous would it be to see the heath flow back into her face as she gets up to offer  hospitality 

We might try imagining the scene as Jesus joins all the others reclining around a low table. He lifts each morsel to his mouth the same we we do. 

Then, try imagining what happens minutes after the sun sets on that Sabbath. Everyone with decrepit parents and malformed children make quick steps across the yard to the house of Jonah, Peter's father. Jesus comes out, intent on meeting this group and that group, listening to their needs, joining in their gleeful laughter as illnesses fall away. 

The Apostles, who have been acting as ushers, take to yawning; and with the people jubilant and satisfied, Jesus too was weary. He followed the Apostles back inside, finding a place for himself on the floor.

With the morning light coming in strong, the Apostles awake, finding Jesus gone.  Simon and the others  scour the countryside, coming at last on Jesus who was deep in communion with his heavenly Father.

Mark used the first half of his Gospel to show us and the Apostles why Jesus must be accepted as the Savoior.



Mark planned his Gospel around the midway point in his Chapter Eight when Peter, speaking for all his companions acknowledges Jesus to be the Savior. The tone of his Gospel then changes with Jesus, after acknowledging that he is the Savior, goes on to demonstrate that he will save us by is suffering.

Mark uses the first half of his Gospel to show us what made believers out of his disciples. At the same time he uses these chapters to bring us to the sure conviction that Jesus is mankind’s Savior.

Look at the evidence. The devils acknowledge his to be the Holy One of God. Then, by his powerful word, he banishes them.

Next, along with the people in the synagogue that day, we should be brought to realize that in speaking of heaven and God he is not repeating what others have said. No, we see that he has been to heaven, and he knows God intimately.     

Our Lord's main message was not one of asking for repentance. It was one of asking us to plan a better future.



Mark’s Gospel summed up the preaching of Jesus in the single word “Repent.” But, that is an English word, and Mark wrote in Greek. And, since it is presented as the summation of his teaching, we should get it right. So, what word did Mark write? It was Metanoia, with noia meaning “your thinking,” and meta meaning “around.”

So, Jesus was not telling us to repent for sins of our past. No, he was telling us to turn our thinking around to the future, to planning ways we can do better.

To make that planning practical, let’s look at areas where we could improve. A thorough approach would call for us deal rightly with God, to deal righty with other people, and with ourselves.

To make a good start in our future dealings with God would be to become aware of a verse in Chapter 11 of Isaiah. Speaking of the just man it say, “His delight shall be fear of the Lord.” on its own Fear of the Lord is an awareness of God’s presence. It has us behaving properly the way a student behaves when the teacher’s eyes are on him. But delighting in God’s presence makes one a loving disciple who can be only be happy when the Lord’s eyes are on him.

How should we be with other people? We should realize that they are all God’s children. He dotes on them, and he is happy when we ignore their faults, honoring them as God’s precious children.

Turning our thinking around, how should we deal rightly with ourselves? We might set to work towards worthwhile goals, knowing that happiness is the feeling we have done right.

In his baptism Jesus was pleging to save us by dying to sin.



When I was teaching school I asked an artist friend of mine to do me a poster sized painting of a wet Jesus, waste deep in the Jordan. I’d have the kids look on Jesus, imagining they heard the words of the Psalm, “Here is my servant whom I uphold,” and the words of the Father, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”

But, let us go back to the beginning of this scene, back to the moment when Jesus stepped into the Jordan. For him it was the opening scene of a great tragedy. When an actor playing Hamlet steps onto the stage in his opening scene of the three Act tragedy, he can already clearly picture himself lying dead on that stage at the end of Act Three. It was the same with Jesus. When he stepped into the line of those being baptized by John in the Jordan, he had a clear picture of his death on a cross that first step would lead to.

He was also taking a first step toward the metaphorical death by which he would save us. St. Paul called that second death “a death to sin.” His physical death would be shared by the two thieves at his sides. That wasn’t what accomplished our salvation. No, he saved us by overcoming every temptation to sin thrown at him.

After being baptized by John where did Jesus go? He went into the desert to be tempted for forty days. The Gospels have stories about his being tempted to turn rocks into bread, and to cast himself down from the pinnacle of the temple; but the Letter to the Hebrews states it better, saying, “He was tested in every way.”

Fully human, Jesus battled with lust, pride, anger, and every other vice; and he stayed with the fight until one by one he backed each temptation down. Like someone fighting a smoking habit, and at last completely overcoming it, he gains the ability to say, “I am dead to that habit.   

St. Paul, speaking of our baptisms, asked us to see them as symbolically pledging to join Jesus in dying to sin. With that pledge, we partially clear out our hearts, making room for God’s Spirit. Within us he gives us the strength to carry out that pledge.


9th Saturday

East is East and West is West, and Will the Twain Ever Meet?


Constantine, in spite of his having brought about the condemnation of Arianism at Nicea, treated Father Arius with honor in his old age. He allowed him to move in with Bishop Eusebius in Nicomedia just outside Constantinople.

Eusebius won Constantine’s oldest son over to Arianism., and Constantius  joined Eusebius in winning consent from Constantine to hold a synod at Tyre. Coming together to formally condemn Athanasius to death, they called on like minded bishops to assemble at Caesaria in Palestine. Summoned to the synod, Athanasius came by boat to Tyre, planning to spend the night there before travelling on. But on learning of the conspiracy to put him to death, he slipped away by boat, and made  his way to Constantinople.

Denied an audience with the emperor, Athanasius pulled a wild stunt. For his hunting, Constantine had a walled forest where any trespasser met an instant death. Athanasius scaled the wall, and hid behind a tree, waiting for the hunting party. (I practiced my eighth graders in a skit about this. As the emperor’s party approached the tree I had them singing their hunting song. Putting it to the tune of “When Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah, hurrah!” I had the kids singing, “When the emperor lets his arrows fly, they zing, they zing!”)

When the party reached the spot, Athanasius jumped out, startling the emperor, and bringing his son Constantius forward with a demand that the intruder be instantly dispatched. Getting over his surprise, Constantine compromised. He banished Athanasius to the empire’s northernmost outpost on the Baltic Sea, but he refused to appoint another bishop to take over the diocese of Alexandria.

That was in 335. Arius died in 336, and Emperor Constantine died in 337. Although there was no formal division of the empire, Constantius reigned in Constantinople, while his brother Constans, a Christian, ruled in Rome. Favoring Athanasius, Constans let him return to Alexandria. Constantius, favoring Bishop Eusebius, let him advance the Arian cause by opening a seminary for training boys from the Germanic tribes.

A dozen years later that Bishop Eusebius ordained as bishop a young Goth named Ulfilas. That Bishop Ulfilas,  settling in what is now Bulgaria, pulled off a feat much like Martin Luther was to accomplish in 1520. He translated the whole of the New Testament into the Gothic language of the common people. With sincerity he invented his own lettering, and he altered sentences to  express the Arian rather than the Christian understanding of the Gospel.

The Goths are one of what we call the Germanic peoples,. Their languages were all so close to one another that the Bible of Bishop Ulfilas came to be read by the Lombards, the Huns, the Burgundians, the Vandals, the Visigoths. The chieftains in those nations took pleasure in their New Testament. They had throngs of their people baptized into Arianism, inspiring them to regard Christians as their foes.

The following decades saw Athanasius at times ruling in Alexandria, at times
banished from there. He spent his banishment in part with Anthony and Pachomius in the desert, in part in Rome and France. It was in Rome that he composed his “Life of St. Anthony,” a book that was dictated over and over to banks of copiers. It initiated the rapid growth of European monasticism. Athanasius himself founded out-of-the-way monasteries in places like that on the island of Larens off the south coast of France.  

The Split of the Empire into a Christian West and Aran East


Saturday, 1/8/11
9th Saturday

East is East and West is West, and Will the Twain Ever Meet?


Constantine, in spite of his having brought about the condemnation of Arianism at Nicea, treated Father Arius with honor in his old age. He allowed him to move in with Bishop Eusebius in Nicomedia just outside Constantinople.

Eusebius won Constantine’s oldest son over to Arianism., and Constantius joined Eusebius in winning consent from Constantine to hold a synod at Tyre. Coming together to formally condemn Athanasius to death, they called on like minded bishops to assemble at Caesaria in Palestine. Summoned to the synod, Athanasius came by boat to Tyre, planning to spend the night there before travelling on. But on learning of the conspiracy to put him to death, he slipped away by boat, and made  his way to Constantinople.

Denied an audience with the emperor, Athanasius pulled a wild stunt. For his hunting, Constantine had a walled forest where any trespasser met an instant death. Athanasius scaled the wall, and hid behind a tree, waiting for the hunting party. (I practiced my eighth graders in a skit about this. As the emperor’s party approached the tree I had them singing their hunting song. Putting it to the tune of “When Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah, hurrah!” I had the kids singing, “When the emperor lets his arrows fly, they zing, they zing!”)

When the party reached the spot, Athanasius jumped out, startling the emperor, and bringing his son Constantius forward with a demand that the intruder be instantly dispatched. Getting over his surprise, Constantine compromised. He banished Athanasius to the empire’s northernmost outpost on the Baltic Sea, but he refused to appoint another bishop to take over the diocese of Alexandria.

That was in 335. Arius died in 336, and Emperor Constantine died in 337. Although there was no formal division of the empire, Constantius reigned in Constantinople, while his brother Constans, a Christian, ruled in Rome. Favoring Athanasius, Constans let him return to Alexandria. Constantius, favoring Bishop Eusebius, let him advance the Arian cause by opening a seminary for training boys from the Germanic tribes.

A dozen years later that Bishop Eusebius ordained as bishop a young Goth named Ulfilas. That Bishop Ulfilas,  settling in what is now Bulgaria, pulled off a feat much like Martin Luther was to accomplish in 1520. He translated the whole of the New Testament into the Gothic language of the common people. With sincerity he invented his own lettering, and he altered sentences to  express the Arian rather than the Christian understanding of the Gospel.

The Goths are one of what we call the Germanic peoples,. Their languages were all so close to one another that the Bible of Bishop Ulfilas came to be read by the Lombards, the Huns, the Burgundians, the Vandals, the Visigoths. The chieftains in those nations took pleasure in their New Testament. They had throngs of their people baptized into Arianism, inspiring them to regard Christians as their foes.

The following decades saw Athanasius at times ruling in Alexandria, at times, banished from there. He spent his banishment in part with Anthony and Pachomius in the desert, in part in Rome and France. It was in Rome that he composed his “Life of St. Anthony,” a book that was dictated over and over to banks of copiers. It initiated the rapid growth of European monasticism. Athanasius himself founded out-of-the-way monasteries in places like that on the island of Larens off the south coast of France.  

By possessing the Son we have eternal life.



The first reading in an excerpt from Chapter Five of the First Letter of John, the Beloved Disciple. In it John wrote, “God gave us eternal life.” And then he adds, “Whoever possesses the Son has life.”

Remember that the word Gospel means “good news.” Specifically, it is the good news that we can live on after death. The first part of the quotation we just looked at said, “God gave us eternal life.” That is what our religion is all about.

The second part of the quotation we just looked at said, “Whoever possesses the Son has life.”

That is telling us that we qualify for eternal life not by believing something, or everything. No, we are qualified for eternal life by being in possession of the Son. Like Jesus said, “Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion we might speak to him, asking him to bring us into full possession of him. If we experience no sensation that it has happened, are we at a loss? We needn’t think so. Each of the saints: John of the Cross, Catherine of Sienna; all of them, really, had gone years without a satisfying sensation of possessing the Lord. With Catherine of Sienna the long dry spell ended with Jesus telling her he was never closer to her than at those times when he seemed nowhere to be found.

Jesus read a passage about the Messiah, saying that the prophesy was fulfilled in him.



Jesus had made such a name for himself in Jerusalem that when he visited his home place of Nazareth the leader of the synagogue handed him a Scripture scroll for him to read and comment on. The passage he read was from Isaiah Chapter 61. It stated that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, empowering him to preach, heal, and liberate. He said that passage was fulfilled in him that day.

It is worthwhile for us to compare this passage from Isaiah 61 with the one in Isaiah 11. In today’s reading the Spirit is upon him to empower him to do great things for others. But the passage in Isaiah 11 announces that the Spirit will come on him to enrich him for his own good. It will give him Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge and Fear of the Lord. Here the Spirit enriches him within.

I have heard Pentecostal Christians say that if one has not received the Gift of Tongues, or the gift of Prophecy or healing, then that person has not received the Spirit. Yet, when such gifts empower one to minister to others they do not enrich the agent receiving them. We saw that with king Saul in the Old Testament. When, driven by jealousy he was pursuing David to kill him, he fell in with a band of men who were prophesying and speaking in tongues, and Saul was empowered with the same powers. On leaving that group, he went on with his quest for killing David.

In the new Testament the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit on two occasions. The second time was on Pentecost when they were empowered to speak in tongues and prophecy. The first time was on Easter evening when Jesus breathed on them, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Certainly, they received the Spirit, but he came to enrich each of them interiorly, without there being any Pentecost-like fireworks.

It is misleading when children preparing for Confirmation are told it will be like Pentecost. It could be, but almost always it is like Easter. Within them they will receive an enriching Spirit which for them is of much greater value than the empowering Spirit.

Jesus tells his homw town people that the prophesies about the Messiah are fulfilled in him.



Jesus had made such a name for himself in Jerusalem that when he visited his home place of Nazareth the leader of the synagogue handed him a Scripture scroll for him to read from and comment on. The passage he read was from Isaiah Chapter 61. It stated that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, empowering him to preach, heal, and liberate. He said that passage was fulfilled in him that day.

It is worthwhile for us to compare this passage from Isaiah 61 with the one in Isaiah 11. In today’s reading the Spirit is upon him to empower him to do great things for others. But the passage in Isaiah 11 announces that the Spirit will come on him to enrich him for his own good. It will give him Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge and Fear of the Lord. Here the Spirit enriches him within.

I have heard Pentecostal Christians say that if one has not received the Gift of Tongues, or the gift of Prophecy or healing, then that person has not received the Spirit. Yet, when such gifts empower one to minister to others they do not enrich the agent receiving them. We saw that with king Saul in the Old Testament. When, driven by jealousy he was pursuing David to kill him, he fell in with a band of men who were prophesying and speaking in tongues, and Saul was empowered with the same powers. On leaving that group, he went on with his quest for killing David.

In the new Testament the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit on two occasions. The second time was on Pentecost when they were empowered to speak and tongues and prophecy; but the first time was on Easter evening when Jesus breathed on them, saying “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Certainly, they received the Spirit, but he came to enrich each of them interiorly, without there being any Pentecost Sunday fireworks.

It is misleading when children preparing for Confirmation are told it will be like Pentecost. It could be, but almost always it is like Easter. Within them they will receive an enriching Spirit which for them is of much greater value than the empowering Spirit.

God is love, more a verb than a noun.



There was an old song about three little words. I think the words were, “I love you.”

St. John in the first reading suggests three other power-packed words. They are, “God is love.” That makes God more of a verb than a noun. The early Greek Fathers used the Greek word perachoresus to describe the mutual relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Perachoresus was a Greek dance in which three people, holding hands, dance in a circle.

Rather than thinking of God living alone through the numberless centuries before creation, we should think of the three persons locked in that dance.

St. Thomas Aquinas made an attempt at picturing all that the New Testament said about the Trinity. After apologizing for the drastic imperfection of his explanation, he said that the Bible seemed to be saying that God the Father always had a mental picture of himself. And, because that picture was complete, and infinitely pleasing, that picture stayed on with him throughout eternity. That mental picture is the Second Person of the Trinity, the only begotten Son. (The Father's brain child?) It has the permanent standing of a person who is able to partake of a loving relationship with the Father. That mutual love itself is substantial. It is the holy Spirit.      

The feast of Elizabeth Ann Seton is a time for thanking the Daughters of Charity for the countless services they bring us.



Today is the feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the founder of the American Daughters of Charity who gave us St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Born in  New York ion 1774, at nineteen Elizabeth married an owner of ship lines, giving birth to five children. Her husband, impoverished by shipping losses, fell ill. In hopes of saving him in a warmer climate, Elizabeth and one daughter brought her husband William to Italy, and he died while they were still in quarantine. Befriended by Catholics over two years, Elizabeth returned to the States where she was received into the Catholic Church. Her attempt at operating a hospital for the poor failed for lack of funds. Then, after a Sulpician Father, banished from France by the Revolution, opened a seminary for priests in Emmitsburg Maryland; he invited Elizabeth to found America’s first Catholic school there.  

Elizabeth was successful in founding an order of religious sisters dedicated to teaching the young to live by Christian principles.

On this day we express our fullest gratitude for the Daughters of Charity who have worked among us here at St. Vincent’s and at Catherine Laboure. We have all benefitted from the truly great ladies who have silently led great  lives of service in our midst.

We begin a new year by turning our minds around.



Our Gospel today summed up the teaching of Jesus in a single word. It said he began to preach and say, “Repent.” I like to point out that what he said was a little different. The Greek word St. Matthew wrote there was metanoiete, which means “turn your mind around.” While our word repent looks to the past, arousing sorrow for misdeeds; the Greek word metanoiete looks to the future, asking one to set a fresh, true course.

Metanoiete is a good word for the beginning of a new year when people make resolutions. No one else can make a resolutions for you. Your resolutions must come from within. So, in the spirit of this Gospel, and in the spirit of the new year, you should look within yourself for the ways Jesus wants you to turn your mind around. How does he want you to improve your relationship with God, with people close to you, and with your life’s work?

In what ways can you strengthen your awareness of God in your days? How can you be more mindful of living in his presence? How can you be more appreciative of his world around you?

How would God want you to improve your relationship with the people around you? How would he want you to share the love he has for all his creatures?

How would he like you to improve your work. They say that happiness is the feeling you get from having done your work well. How should you go about your chores in a way to better please God, making you happier?

On the feast of the Epiphany we honor God appearing as the human Jesus.


Sunday, 1/2/11

Today we celebrate our Lord’s Epiphany. After the Resurrection, it is the Church’s oldest feast, having been celebrated centuries before we came to celebrate the day of our Lord’s birth. The name Epiphany means “to show forth,” and it means showing forth something wonderful that before lay hidden.

Ancient kings sometimes called themselves epiphanies, claiming that they were actually gods appearing in human form. The Roman emperors claimed to be gods. One of the cruelest Syrians who ruled over Jerusalem, Antiochus IV, demanded that people address him as Epiphanus, as a god in human form.

With all those fake epiphanies in their history, the early Christians latched on to the idea of calling Jesus the Epiphany, since he was truly the only example of God coming to us in human for.

For a Gospel today some Christians read the story of the Wise Men acknowledging Christ’s divinity by offering him gifts befitting a God. Other Christians today read the Gospel of the Baptism of Jesus when a voice from heaven announced, “This is my beloved Son.” Other Christians read the story of the miracle at Cana where the Gospel said, “This first of his signs did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, manifesting his glory.” 

We will be happy humans to the extent that we choose what is right and good in God’s eyes. It’s like following the maker’s instructions to get the best out of any apparatus. So, following the behavior of the God-man Jesus will be our truest way to full happiness.   

So, what does his behavior show us about gaining wealth, and about dealing with strangers? The lesson about wealth that he acted out for us teaches us that sleeping in an animal’s trough should be good enough accommodations. His associating with Samaritans tells us that foreigners need to be treated like our brothers and sisters.