Jesus tells us that by giving up narrow family ties we can earn larger families that go on and on.

Jesus said that anyone who gave up family ties for his sake would receive A hundred times more fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters than those he or she gave up.

Now, he was not telling us to turn our backs on our families. The Commandment binds us to show love for our families. What he was telling us to give up was a narrow view in which only our immediate families (or races, or political parties) meant anything to us. Unfortunately, there are people who live their lives with only a small circle of people with whom they are honest and generous.

Some Orientals are guilty of that narrow approach to life. Confucius laid down strict rules of behavior for people living in any of five relationships: brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, parents and children, teachers and students, kings and subjects. Confucius prescribed no beautiful etiquette for dealing with strangers. In accord with that, some Orientals will never enter the shop of a stranger. They know he has no need to be anything but sly with them.

What Jesus is asking us to do is not to turn our backs on family members. He is asking us to make family members by the hundreds with those we meet with, even causally.  

When Jesus said, "If your eye causes you to sin pluck it out," he was using hyperbole, and did not mean to be taken literally..

Let’s just take a look at some slightly odd things said in the first reading and in the Gospel. In the first reading Sirach said, “Who in the nether world can glorify the Most High? No more can the dead give praise than those who have never lived.”

What is that nether world he wrote about? It sounds different from hell. And, it was. Two hundred years before Christ Jews didn’t have a notion of a hell of fire. What they believed in was a subterranean cavern called Sheol, and they imagined the shadows (or shades) of the dead to be idling away eternity there.

An odd thing in the Gospel is Jesus saying, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” I heard a TV preacher explain that statement by telling us that Jerusalem’s wall had one gate that was known as the Needle’s Eye, and it was difficult for a large camel to get in through it.  For anyone who believes that ever statement in the Bible is literally true that is a fine explanation. The only trouble with it is that there is no gate in Jerusalem’s wall called the Needle’s Eye.

The fact is that Jesus often used hyperbole or wild exaggerations to get his point home. Like, in a Gospel last week we read how Jesus said, “If you eye causes you to sin pluck it out.” Now, it would go against the commandments for anyone to pluck his own eye out.

In the thirties there was a popular novelist called James Hilton. He wrote the novel “Lost Horizons” which introduced the village of Shangrila. Another novel of his, “Without Armor” followed the fortunes of a large group of White Russians fleeing south from the Bolsheviks at the time of the Russian evolution in 1917. The people had nothing but contempt for one of their number who had plucked an eye out after looking at something he shouldn’t have looked at. They felt any sensible person should recognize the times Jesus was exaggerating.

With God caring for us we have nothing to fear.

After choosing the Gospel for a Sunday, the Church next searches the Old Testament for a reading that reinforces and drives home the message of that day’s Gospel.

The message in today’s Gospel is that we really have nothing to worry about. But, with all the health problems, family problems, financial worries coming our way, how can anyone say we have nothing to worry about?

That’s where the reassurance of the first reading comes in. It tells to not picture God as an all-powerful creator. No. It tells us that in his attitude toward you God is more like a loving mother. God asks, “Can a mother be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will not abandon you.”

One of our modern hymns repeats that beautiful thought.

Though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust,
Yet the love of the Lord will stand.
As a shelter for all who will call on His name,
Sing the praise and the glory of God.

Could the Lord ever leave you?
Could the Lord forget His love?
Though a mother forsake her child,
He will not abandon you.

 When the Gospel asks, “Is not life more than food, your body more than clothing?”
what it means is, if God was kind and powerful enough to provide you with such great things as life and intricate bodies, can’t you depend on him to provide the lesser things like food and clothing?

Certainly, we must work and plan to provide for our future support; but when we have done our best at that we should turn our thoughts away from useless worrying. Worrying is just thinking in circles without getting us anywhere but into a state of nausea.

I always tell a story about a winter’s day in Korea when I was scared to death. The government announced one Thursday that no car or truck could be used again if it were not brought to the state capitol for a new license by the next evening.  There were eight hours of icy mountain roads between my place and the state capitol, but I badly needed the use of the truck I had bought for four hundred dollars from the British when they were pulling out of Korea.

I tried rigging the tires with chains that didn’t fit, but they slipped in around the axle, turning us around, hurtling backward into a ditch that I got out of after removing those chains. After a series of near deaths in the mountains I reached the capitol, getting the new license tag; and on Saturday I had to get back to the parish for weekend Masses.

Judging properly that the truck could not venture out before the ice melted, I looked for some other way of getting back. Father Leo Clarke, the world’s worst driver, came in, and was turning around, assuring me the ice was no problem for him. I went over those mountains with him, my stomach in my mouth as I watched Leo drive everyone else into ditches. Then I made a sensible prayer. I told God that whatever injury or death grabbed me I knew I was in his good hands. I asked him to take my cares away, and he did.

St. Finian founded his monastery at Clonard, Ireland in 510 the same year that St. Benedict founded Monte Casino in Italy.
Saturday, 2/26/11
16th Saturday
The year 510 saw the establishment of two great religious traditions. In Italy St. Benedict founded the Monastery of Monte Casino, while in Ireland St. Finnian founded the Monastery of Clonard. Although Benedict and Finian were born and died within a few years of each other, the continent that was alive with wild bears kept them from communicating or from even knowing about each other.

Finian, after a start in one of Patrick’s foundations, studied in Wales at a monastery  that had gathered a trove of secular and religious manuscripts. With plans of returning to Ireland, Finian made copies of Rome’s classics and of St. Jerome’s vulgate Bible. Establishing a monastery at Clonard in County Meath, Finian trained the cleverest of his young monks to both appreciate and copy his manuscripts.

One time when I was roving about Ireland in a rented car I stopped for a visit in the church at Nenagh. The windows were impressive, and walking from one to another, amused by such names as St. Jarlath, Finbar, Ciaran, and Colman; I then came to a plaque that identified the saints as the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland.” They had all been abbots trained by St. Finian of Clonard.

The next day, riding into County Meath I tracked down the farm house of Donal Cusack, brother to Sister Laurentia with whom I had served at a parish in Florida. I had a grand evening with Donal in big chairs by his turf fire. Then, the following day I rode with Donal out to a line of sods he had bought, and I helped at turning them over for drying.

In coming away from the bog I thought to ask Donal if he knew where Finian’s monastery had been. “Sure, I’ll point out the spot to you. It’s just on a bit from here.” And a mile or two on he slowed down to point out over some fields. “Finian’s monastery would have been over there now, Father. There’s a small Protestant church on the spot.”

History’s disregard for Finian’s monastery is in contrast with the importance it has given to St. Benedict’s Monte Casino. I’ve read that Benedict, as the son of a Roman noble of Umbria, had loved a girl of his station; but feeling such disgust for the lazy vices of young men his age, he fled east of Rome to a cave in the high cliff of Subiaco.

Benedict wrote that in the three years he spent in solitude at Subiaco he gave full attention to the spiritual writings of John Cassain. That John, in turn, had schooled himself on the Life of St. Anthony. He over and over read from a book in which St. Athanasius had carefully described the attention the desert fathers had given to chanting the Psalms and practicing penances.

From near Subiaco  young men became aware of the life Benedict was living, and as they came to him, he set them up in communities of twelve men each. Then, after some years he was informed that some family connection had deeded over to him the summit of Monte Casino south of Rome; and he made that his permanent foundation.

Both Finian’s and Benedict’s great European monastic traditions had stemmed from the Egyptian monastic experiments of Pachomius, the disciple of Anthony. But we must note a major difference between Benedict’s and Finian’s foundations. While Finian’s Irishmen went along with the severities of the Greek Stoics, punishing their bodies to strengthen their souls.  Benedict’s monks followed the balanced Roman motto that called for a healthy mind in a healthy body. The spread of Benedictine monasticism through the ages is testimony to the practicality of St. Benedict’s rule.

The glory of Finian’s disciples stemmed from their dedication to learning. The work of their scriptoria preserved both the religious and the secular masterpieces of the past. In 1971 Sir Arthur Clarke used Sunday night Public Television to give us a sixteen part series on Western Civilization. One Sunday Night’s segment opened with a view of waves breaking on Iona, an isle in the Inner Hebrides. The camera then led us up a rocky path, while Sir Arthur was telling us, “In the 500’s Western Civilization escaped extinction by the skin of its teeth.” The monks of Finian’s disciple Columcille, making their parchment from the sheep they tended, had their quills working decade after decade, preserving the words of Isaiah and Cicero.

In a true mariage the two become one.

The first reading gives us excellent advise about finding a true friend, and about hanging on to him. What it says about friendship would also be true about finding, and hanging on to, one’s life companion in marriage. One cannot go on forever looking for the perfect mate, because if one should eventually find such a person, one might not have enough to offer that perfect person.

The Gospel is about marriage, and sadly, it is also about divorce. When two people have truly become one in marriage the notion of divorce is as unthinkable as the prospect of cutting one live person down the middle to make two.

After Jesus said that a man may not divorce a wife, the Pharisees said that if that were so how could Moses have allowed it. 

Jesus answered that Moses made the exception because of the hardness of some people’s hearts. Now, since Jesus, in the case of people with hard hearts, allowed for an exception, we cannot say that there is no exception to the rule against divorce.

In our marriage ceremony the priest asks, “Have you come here freely, without exception to give yourselves to each other in marriage?” The man and woman usually say they do meet those requirements; but in fact it is sometimes the case that one or both of them are not truly free, or self-giving, or committed to a true marriage. If there is such a lack, then the marriage will not have taken place, and an annulment could be  in order.

It's God's game. He makes up th rules we must live by.

The first reading today advises us, “Rely not on your own strength.” There is kindred advise in the Gospel where Jesus tells us we’d be better off without a hand or an eye, if those members are leading us into destruction.

The kindred element in both pieces of advice is that they tell us we are not in charge. Our lives are God’s game. He makes the rules that we must abide by if we don’t want the ref to yank us out of the game.

There are billions of cases where people brought on disaster by making up their own rules for the game of life. Here are two that come to my mind now.

One sad example of someone who tried making up her own rules was mother Eve.

The serpent told her that if she ate the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil she would be like a god herself. She would then be capable of making up her own rules about what is good and what is evil. What happened was that she found herself embarrassingly naked.

The other example that occurs to me, is one of the figures in Michelangelo’s painting of the Last Judgment over the altar in the Sistine Chapel. There is a slightly over weight young man there. A joyous green demon has his arms wrapped around the fellow’s thighs as he hauls him down to hell. The shock in the young man’s expression his complete. He had thought he was doing very well for himself.

Today we honor the authority Jesus gave to Peter and his successors.

Tuesday, 2/22/11

Today we celebrate the feast of the Chair of St. Peter which is different from the feast of St. Peter the man which we celebrate on June 29. If we recall that the king's chair is the only chair in a throne room, and if we recall how the officer commands, "Let all be upstanding," allowing the judge to be the only one taking his chair, then we see that a chair is a symbol of authority.

In the first reading Peter told the presbyters to lead through good example rather than by issuing commands. We can deduce that he practiced what he preached, going easy on making direct demands of people.

The Gospel tells us that Peter, and presumably his successors, had an unique authority symbolized by Jesus giving him the keys of heaven. The other part of that commissioning was not restricted to Peter alone. Two chapters further on Matthew records how Jesus, speaking to all the disciples said what ever they bound on earth would be bound in heaven; whatever they loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven.

In the year 250 St. Cyprian in North Africa argued with the pope over the matter of the pope's installing bishops in Africa. Cyprian thought such matters should be handled locally. However, he wrote a clear defense of Rome's position, saying that no church that was not in union with Rome  had the right to call itself a Christian Church.

When you faith is weak ask God for help.

Three parts of this Gospel story should be memorable for you. The first of the three is that the people judged that a boy who was clearly suffering from epilepsy was possessed by a demon. It is not healthy for us to ignore good medical advice, preferring to think of ourselves surrounded by hostile demons.

A second memorable point in this Gospel is the help we get from the poor boy’s father. Jesus put the father of the boy in a position with which we too might be famliar. Jesus   suggested that bringing about a cure for the boy could depend on the father having faith. Not wanting to lie about it, but not feeling he was in possession of complete faith, he blurted out, “I do believe, help my unbelief.”      

The third memorable thing about this story is the reason for the inability of the disciples to drive out the devil. Their failure had embarrassed them in from of the crowd. Jesus said they could not succeed in that case because, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”

If you check the Greek text of Mark’s Gospel you will see that Jesus said, “This kind can come out only through prayer and fasting.” That makes this lesson more emphatic: we cannot always succeed with normal procedures. Success in a worthwhile venture will at times require the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears.

There is a special meaning in Leviticus saying, "Be holy, for I, the Lord, am holy."

In the first reading from Leviticus God said, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God am holy.”

There is a bit of ancient law behind that statement. God was preparing the people to enter into a special relationship with him. It was to be a relationship very like the closest relationship we are generally aware of, namely a marriage.

A marriage is much more than just going together or living together or living in a relationship. In a marriage the two parties assume responsibility for each other’s debts, and health.  Legally, they become one.

There is a special name for a relationship as final as a marriage. It is called a covenant.  It is distinguished from a mere contract in which parties exchange a house or a car for money, with each side giving something and getting something. In a covenant the parties give themselves to each other. That is clearly put in words in a Catholic marriage ceremony where the priest asks, “Have you come here freely, without reservations, to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”

In both our covenant with God and in marriage the perfection of their relationship comes in the two parties becoming one.

 I started off here talking about the first reading where God is telling Moses that he wants to enter into a marriage-like covenant with the people. Now. we must notice one important difference between the covenant God was proposing and a marriage. In a successful marriage covenant the parties become one by each side giving a little: he goes along with some of her ways, and she goes along with some of his ways. They wink at each other’s shortcomings.

In the covenant God was proposing to enter into with the Israelites there could be no question of God winking at the people’s shortcomings. To become one with God they would need to become like him, because he couldn’t become like them.

From feudal times in Europe we have another name for a monarch. He is a suzerain. When people entered into a covenant with their suzerain there was no question  of his changing his ways to become like them. In a suzerain covenant the two can only become one by the lesser party adapting itself to the Lord’s ways. They had to wear his livery.

The Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes are not rules that God arbitrarily made up. No, they flow naturally from his natures which is all loving and all just.

That is what is behind his saying, “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God am holy.”
Actually, God entered into two covenants with mankind: the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Today’s Gospel compares what was demanded of primitive people in the time of Moses with what Jesus was demanding of us.

The Church had to adopt clericalism to survive under Feudalism.

15th Saturday 

Through the 400’s our popes had their backs against the wall. The Lombards and the Huns who were Arians saw tormenting Christians to be their religious duty. Since the death of Constantine in 337 the line of his second son had attempted ruling as emperors of the west, but in 476 the last of the line, Romulus Augustulus, sent his insignia to Constantinople, abandoning Rome to the popes.

Then, when the popes had lost all friendly support, a fresh German nation, the Franks, crossed the Rhine. Their King Chlodwech married a Catholic girl, and she convinced him that by accepting Christianity he could become another Constantine. At Christmas of 496 Chlodwech (also know as Clovis) and his Franks received Baptism from Bishop Remigius of Rheims. It was an immensely joyous occasion, but the alliance with the Franks had Remigius and his priests facing a social problem.

The Franks, as was the case with every feudal nation, had a simple social structure. In Feudalism any man with an inherited title possessed lands and serfs, while any man without an inheritance was a serf. The priests and bishops, lacking inheritances, were no better than serfs, lacking freedom for pursuing their work.

In 500 someone came up with a scheme for protecting the bishops and their priests. The plan had each of them, finely attired, come before the nobles, making a declaration. He said, “I have an inheritance. My inheritance is the Lord.”

An oddity of those times was that in the Latin-German they spoke the word for an inheritance was clerc. And from that the bishops and priests came to be called “clerics.” The class structure of Feudalism itself was altered to accommodate the clergy as a separate estate. In time, the clerical state got itself recognized as the First Estate.

This establishing of the First Estate forced the clergy to take on superior ways. As the French say, “Noblesse oblige.”  Clerics came to be known as Reverend, Very Reverend and on up; and they had to wear robes befitting their high station.

(As seminarians and then as young priests we were told we could not just think of ourselves as individuals. We always had to uphold the dignity of our priestly estate. We have not relinquished our Feudal standing. When I was ordained on December 20, 1952 the only words I was given to say in that long ceremony were, “My in heritance is the Lord.”)

While this elevation to clericalism liberated bishops and priests from serfdom, it brought them into conflict with Jesus who said, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.”  

In telling us we had to read “the signs of the times” Jesus was recommending what John XXIII later called Aggiornamento. Whatever you call it, the Church in 500 felt it forced them to accept a type of nobility as its only way of surviving in an age when Feudalism was in control. But now, with country after country adopting Democracy, the Church might need to go with it to survive.

To share in Christ's salvation we must be tough on our self love.

Today’s Gospel is a corollary to yesterday’s. In yesterday’s Jesus stated that his means for saving us would be his acceptance of every suffering and humiliation thrown at him. In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that our way in taking part in his salvation would be our accepting every suffering and humiliation thrown at us. Simple, isn’t it?

Each of us in his or her heart of hearts has an awareness that “I” am made in God’s image and likeness. Each of us feels that it is only right that this inner wonderfulness that is “me” should get what it deserves. We go through life looking for plaudits.

But, without giving up on our self-appreciation, with the minds God gave us, we must  see that we are only reflections of the real thing, which is God. What’s more, if we have any sense, we’ll see we are surrounded by millions of others who are made in God’s image and likeness. They too deserve something close to adoration.

But the pull of self love is so strong that to free ourselves for giving God and neighbor what they deserve, we must work hard at curbing self love. Taking the cross as the symbol of every kind of hardship, Jesus tells us we can only avoid the hazards of self love by taking up our cross every day.

The first half of Mark's Gospel showed us that Jesus is the Savior. From this point on Jesus shows us that he will save by suffering.

When we come on this passage in Mark, I cannot resist pointing out how central it is to Mark’s Gospel. Coming just at the end of Chapter Eight in his seventeen-chapter-
Gospel, it is the turning point on which the halves of his Gospel hinge. The first eight and a half chapters of his Gospel over and over show the Apostles and us that Jesus must be the Savior.

Jesus asked the Apostles what they made of him, and Peter, speaking for the rest, said Jesus was the Messiah, the Savior.

That point being made, the first half of Mark’s Gospel was at its end. Jesus then immediately got on to the second half of the Gospel. Yes, he was the Savior, but he was going to save us by suffering, by standing strong against all that the forces of evil could mount against him.   

The story of Noah and the flood was a Sumerian story the Jews corrected.

It was during their captivity in Babylon, around the year 570, that the Israelites were inspired to pen this story about Noah, the ark and the flood. It was by no means an original, or factual story. The first version of this story had been written on clay tablets two thousand years earlier.

In the earliest version of the story dug up by archaeologist, a sky full of gods had a hankering not for barbecue, but for the odor of roasting meat. To satisfy this hunger they created men and women to do the cooking; but when the humans took to evil behavior the gods decided on drowning them all in a great flood.

As the gods were gathering up water reserves for the deluge, one of them, a god name Ea, pleaded for a good man named Utnapishtim; and the other gods allowed Ea to instruct Utnapishtim on the construction of the ark and in gathering pairs of every animal species.

That flood came with only seven days and nights of torrential rain. When Utnapistim thought the waters might have subsided, he sent out a crow, which did not return; then he sent out a dove which did. Finding a dry place, Utnapisjtim tied up, then he offered a huge burnt sacrifice to the gods. Wild with joy over the ascending odor, the gods gathered think as flies.

In rewriting ancient legends the Israelites always corrected them. In this story he did away with all those gods, substituting the one true God.

Pride is the leaven of the Pharisees, puffing them up the way yeast puffs up bread dough.

Jesus told the apostles to be on their guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, and they thought Jesus was mentioning yeast because they had brought no bread with them. Mark put this story in his Gospel to let us know that the apostles had initially been simple boys with no poetic feelings. Jesus was obviously using the image of yeast as a metaphor for pride. Pride puffs people up the way yeast puffs up bread dough. The kindred fault of the Pharisees was one of hypocrisy, which makes one present himself as more important than he is. In that regard the notion of guile is similar to that of pride and hypocrisy. Jesus praised Nathanael as a “true Israelite in whom there is no guile.”

It is our successes that leave us open to pride, hypocrisy and guile. Usually people say it was a man named Lord Acton who first said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

With the military taking power in Egypt what we most fear is that his new found power will go to the head of the man put in charge temporarily. There is danger that, enjoying his power, he will put off turning the government over to an elected president.

People say that the greatest thing George Washington did for his country was not defeating the British but his relinquishing power when his term in office was over.

The story of Cain and Abel was first told in the court of King David.

An old saying tells us it does no good to beat a dead horse, so, if you are aware that this story about Cain and Able cannot be factual, pardoning me for making that point one more time. Although the story presents Cain as the first man born in this world, and he is described as a tiller of the soil, this does not fit in with the historical fact that while humans have been on this earth for hundreds of thousands of years, there is no evidence of their taking up farming more than twelve thousand years ago. The same is true of tending domesticated animals, the occupation of Cain’s brother Abel.

Cain is described as being crestfallen at his sacrifice not being accepted. That is an expression we no longer use. Your crest is your forehead. You are crestfallen when your forehead tries dropping below your eyebrows. Try it! You will find it puts you in the mood for jealous brooding.

The slaughtered Abel’s blood is said to have cried out from the ground. That understanding is found elsewhere in the Bible. There are also stories of murderers scraping dirt over the spilled blood to prevent it from crying out for vengeance.

When the story has Cain, supposedly the first man born into this world, complaining that anyone who sees him would kill him the story itself is telling us not to believe it. What it does factually tell us is that there was a time when any unattached stranger would have been such a menace that the safest thing would be to kill him.

The story is letting us know that in those days wandering tribes protected each wandering member by giving him a distinctive tattoo that guaranteed that his tribe would take two or more lives from any tribe that killed one of theirs. So, the mark of Cain did not advertize Cain as a murderer. What it did was protect him by the Lord promising to take seven lives from any group that touched Cain.  

The Sermon on the Mount calls for us to follow a superior moral code.

All Christians are familiar with that great Bible passage known as the Sermon on the Mount, but are they familiar with what Jesus was getting at in his famous sermon? Let me tell you.  His aim that day was to show how his teaching went beyond the teaching of Moses.

To make his comparisons clear, six times he started off with the words, “You have heard that it was said.” Each time he summarized a particular teaching of Moses, following that with what he teaches on that point. Scholars refer to these comparisons as the six antitheses.

The examples we have in today’s Gospel are, first, “You have heard that you shall not kill, but I say, ‘You shall not be angry.”  Next, he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but I say whoever looks with lust has already committed adultery in his heart.”    

In a short Sunday homily such as this we have not the time for a point by point analysis of what he said in those six areas, but we might put into practice the main thrust of his sermon, which is that to be truly Christian we must follow a code that is  far above moral code proposed by Moses.

 That higher code is made clear for us when we take the eight Beatitudes that are the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, then compare them with the Ten Commandments that were the opening words of the sermon on Mount Sinai.

We often hear Christians justifying their way of life by saying they keep the Ten Commandments. But that is not enough! We must give ear to Jesus who went beyond those commandments. It is not enough for us to avoid adultery, murder and grand theft. No, to be true Christians we must be poor in spirit, we must share the sorrows of others, we must meekly seek the lowest place, we must hunger for justice to be shown to all peoples, we must show mercy to those who do not deserve it.

Sure a little bit of Egypt fell from out the sky one day, and nestled in the ocean in a spot so far away.

14th Saturday
At about the time that Alaric was bothering Rome a whole new chapter of Church History was opening. St. Patrick was born in Scotland of Roman parents in 387.  According to his Confessio in 403 he was captured by slavers, and sold to Milchu a high druid in what is now County Antrim. Over six years he acquired a firm grasp of the Irish language as well of the religion of the druids. More than that, he acquired an ever-deepening love for God: pasturing Milchu’s flocks, he prayed a hundred times a day, and as often by night.

Taking a dream as God’s command for him to escape, Patrick fled two hundred miles south to our modern Wesport, where even though penniless, he gained passage. We cannot be sure of this, but it seems this twenty-year-old lad made his way south  through a thickly wooded France, seeking out his mother’s people at Tours. After a start on his education there, he made his way to the island of Lerins, where St. Athanasius had founded a monastery decades earlier. Then, at forty-three, in 430 he was appointed as bishop for Ireland by Pope Celestin I. Making his way to Armagh, he offered Milchu the money releasing him from slavery.

The Irish have filled volumes with unsubstantiated tales of Patrick’s exploits. It won’t hurt to give ear to one often told tale. An ancient custom demanded that at the height of Spring all fires in Ireland should be quenched as a sign of respect for the High King as he lit a new fire on the height of Tara. On Patrick’s return the High King was robbed of his glory, as throngs on Tara turned to see Patrick’s fire at the far end of the valley bursting out on the height of Slane. A new era had begun.

The country’s clans were a roving people, and Patrick, seeing there were no towns to support parish life, founded monasteries. They were always there for the season-following people to drop in on.

Some years ago it got my temper up to read some scholar’s assertion that Irish Catholicism was a transplant of Egypt’s monastic life. But now I see strong traces of Anthony and Pachomius in Irish Catholicism.  

No people are stronger than the Irish in their adherence to the Nicene Creed that was so strongly supported by Egypt’s St. Athanasius. Then, the practice of private confession that Pachomius first made available to his monks put down deep roots with the Irish. As kids of Irish descent we lined up outside the easier priest’s confessional every other Saturday. We’d stand there, wondering if we could confess unclean thoughts without getting the boom lowered on us. Our Father English from County Cork once told me to say twenty Our Fathers, twenty Hail Mary’s and twenty Apostles’ Creeds every day for a week, and then come back. When I did, he told me to say twenty Our Fathers, twenty Hail Mary’s, and twenty Apostles’ Creeds. I said, “I already did that, Father,” and he got a good laugh out of that.

Father English’s penances were nothing compared to the bread-and-water drills on the lists of appropriate penances that came down to us from Patrick’s time. They were all in line with St. Anthony’s adherence to the Greek Stoical belief that punishing the body was the only way to strengthen the soul.

The first chapter of Genesis was composed by Jewish priests, the next three chapters were composed by court story tellers.

The two creation accounts in Genesis have nothing to do with each other. In the first account, found in Chapter One, the Almighty is called “God.” In the second account, found in Chapters Two, Three, and Four he is called the “Lord God.” The difference is not incidental. The two different English names echo two different names employed by the authors. The name “God” in the first chapter translates the Hebrew “Elohim.” The name the “Lord God” in the next three chapters translates the Hebrew “Yahweh.

Bible and language scholars have clearly demonstrated that the sections of the Old Testament in which the Almighty is called God or elohim were composed by the Jewish priest class. As opposed to that, the sections of the Old Testament in which the Almighty is called the Lord, or Yahweh, were composed by the court story tellers in the time of David and Solomon.

The God or elohim passages composed by the priests sees everything from the point of view of religious observance. For instance, the priests ignore the role of the sun and moon as providers of heat and light. They see the coming and going of the sun and moon only as marking the beginning and end of periods of religious observance.

 The Yahweh passages in Chapters Two, Three, and Four began with story tellers who were keen on human interest details.

The forbidden fruit came from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The gist of the serpent’s temptation was one of gaining for Eve and Adam the right to decide for themselves what is right and wrong. We fall into the same temptation when we make up our own rules. Like a neighbor boy of mine said, “I only sleep with one girl at a time. That’s my philosophy.” I had always thought that philosophy was a more sophisticated thing

God made us to be in need of each other, in need of authority.

When God had created his first human he said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” These few words are of great importance to our lives. It declares us to be social animals, and it calls for us to adopt all the means necessary for us to live together in peace. For instance, it calls for the need of recognizing some authority for sorting out differences.

The following story in Genesis should be seen as a funny story. Seeing that man needs a partner, God created a string of animals for the man’s inspection. “How about this plump goose? Will you take the goose as your life’s partner.”

“No, No, No, I don’t want the goose!”

“How about this giraffe? This monkey?"

“What about this cuddly bear?

“No thanks.”

At a loss for finding a suitable animal, the Lord cast a sleep on the man. and removed a rib. (A similarity between a Semitic word for a rib and “life” might have hidden a pun here.)

The story has the happiest of endings. When the Lord God has formed the first woman, and presented her to him, the man jumped in his eagerness, shouting, “This one! O yes, this one.”  

To be good people we need to have good thoughts.

In today’s Gospel Mark sums up Our Lord’s words by saying, “Thus he declared all foods clean.”

Mark went on to quote Jesus as saying it is not what goes into us that makes us unclean, but what comes out of our hearts. As coming from the heart Jesus specified, “Evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice deceit.”

That seems to be so obvious, that it needn’t be mentioned, but perhaps we could use a check up on the thoughts. (I can’t pass up the old joke about the boy who confessed to having impure thoughts. The priest asked, “Did you entertain impure thoughts? and the boy answered, “No, Father, they entertained me.)

 The principle difference between the Law of Moses and the Sermon on the Mount is that Moses looked to doing away with outward bad behavior such as adultery and murder, while Jesus looked to doing away with inward evils such as lust and anger.

As obvious as the need to watch over our thoughts might seem, people are not always aware of that need. I was a third year high school boy when the reading in the chapel made me aware of the need and possibility of keeping my thoughts true. 

Then, back in the fifties when the Buddhist monks were rebelling against the government of Viet Nam, Life Magazine did an interview with the leading monk. As part of the interview the reporter questioned the monk about his admirable moral code. The monk listed all the forms of indulgence he had to avoid; but in the matter of his private thoughts, he insisted that his code put no limits on his passionate thoughts of any variety.

After the account of God creating us, Genesis says, "God found it very good."

The first reading tells us that God created us in his own image. Then, as in explanation of that, it says, “Male and female he created them.” That is saying that both masculinity and femininity echo God. In him they are blended. That makes a true marriage very God-like in that the two become one.

After each of the first five days of creation Genesis says, ”God saw how good it was.” After speaking of our creation Genesis went further, saying, “He found it very good.

This Chapter Seven of Mark’s Gospel gives us a full explication of Our Lord’s attitude toward the precepts of the Jewish Law, which this Gospel speaks of as the “tradition of the elders.” Let’s look into those traditions.

In 445 b.c. Jerusalem was part of the Persian empire, and the emperor was disturbed over the city’s physical and moral collapse. The roads and walls were in disrepair, and crime was on the rise. The emperor sent two Jewish gentlemen, Ezra and Nehemiah, to come up with a plan for rectifying things. When they proposed making the Law of Moses the civil law for the city, Persia’s justices approved, with the condition that Jewish Lawyers would approve of amendments to bring the Law of Moses up to date. At that, the Jews came up with three amendments: 1. They would not buy produce brought in on the Sabbath. 2. They would not marry foreigners. 3. They would give a third of a shekel a year to the temple.

These new laws were called the Mishna, and they are what are called the traditions of the elders in today’s Gospel. They worked well. But, year by year over the next five centuries the Mishna were added to, becoming a legal burden that no one could bear.

In our ceation story God created everything good.

Monday, 2/7/11

Our first reading describes God creating the world in six days (then resting on the seventh.) Most of us grew up hearing that to be good people we had to believe it happened that way. Now we are troubled by scholars who say the six day account is not factual. We fear that we might be sinning by going along with them.

It won’t be sinful for us to go along with the scholars. The truth is on their side, and since God is truth, by going along with the scholars we are going along with God.

The scholars tell us that our first chapter of Genesis dates back to 560 b.c. At that time the Jews were captives in Babylon, and every year they were freed from their hard labors to share in the Babylonian New Years. It was a holiday when they celebrated the creation of the world. Every day for two weeks Babylon’s priests read aloud from their creation myth which was called the Enuma Elish.

Now the Enuma Elish said that there were two creators, one good and one evil, but the Jews knew that was not so. They began composing their own creation story. In it there was only one creator, and everything he made was good.

Not knowing any better, the Jews kept some of the mistaken things in the Enuma Elish. For instance, they kept the part about the sky being a hard dome with God hanging the stars from it.

The Enuma Elish had their gods creating the universe in eight day. The Jewish priests, wanting to use God as their model for resting on the Sabbath, squeezed eight days work into six days. They did that by saying that God worked double shifts on the third and sixth days, leaving Saturday free for him to rest.

The Life of Christ in us enables our light to shine.

In the Gospel Jesus tells us to let or light shine before others. Preferably, it will be by our actions more than by our words that we will let our light shine. I heard a good statement on this subject fifty-eight years ago. It was a remark from an Irish missionary in Korea. Being away from his parish in June of 1950 when the war started, he fell in with America’s Second Division, and he received a decoration for staying with them through the war. Having heard that he had a great liking for our soldiers, I asked him about it when I took a walk with him afterwards.

“Frank, what was it you liked so much about our soldiers?”

“What got me was those kids trained by the nuns. You could see the grace shining out of them.”

We might take that command to let our light shine, then combine it with something St. John said in the opening lines of his Gospel. He said that the Son of God is the life which is the light of the whole human race. In other words, we can shine if we have his life is in us. That is like what St. Paul said in his Letter the Philippians: we are not capable of anything by ourselves. It is God who works in us both to will and to accomplish.

However, the first reading says you must prime the pump. It tells you to go out and  provide food and clothing for the needy. With that, God will make his abode within you, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall be quickly healed.”  

In Thanks For His Bioble We Forgive Jerome his Tantrums.

13th Saturday

The Catholic Church has St. Jerome to thank for the Latin version of the Bible that was its standard text for fifteen hundred years. Taking its name from vulgus the Latin word for ordinary people, Jerome’s Bible was known as the Vulgate.

Jerome, a very bright young man, came to Rome from Dalmatia (where Albania is today.) While engaged in classical studies, he became attracted to the monasteries founded on the Egyptian model. (People who didn’t care for Jerome said he only sought Baptism as an entry ticket for a monastery.) Pope Damasus took him from the monastery to help him in administrative work, giving Jerome to think he would succeed him as pope. But at the death of Pope’s Damasus Jerome found he had made so many enemies that he would do well to flee from Rome. He settled in the Holy Land where he worked translating the Bible. In 1954 Phyllis McGinley wrote a poem about Jerome’s temper.

God’s angry saint, his crotchety scholar
Was St. Jerome, the great name caller.
He couldn’t stand Romans, he couldn’t stand Greeks,
He couldn’t stand women for their painted cheeks.
He couldn’t stand pagans for their pagan ways,
But he doted on Cicero all his days.

As I remember it, the poem concluded with:

            But he filled the world wit a Christian leaven,
            It takes all kinds to make a heaven.

After translating the New Testament from Greek into Latin, Jerome laid aside that translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to Greek known as the Septuagint. That is the Latin word for seventy, and it got that name from being the work of seventy Jewish scholars working in Alexandria in 200 B.C.. Jerome felt his direct translation from Hebrew texts was an improvement on the Septuagint, but all scholars do not back him on that.

Jerome was in Jerusalem in 410 when he heard that Alaric, king of the Visigoths, had sacked Rome. He wrote:

            When the bright light of the world was put out, or rather
            when the Roman Empire was decapitated, the whole
            world perished in one city.

            Everything, however long, has its end; the centuries that have passed
            never return, and its true to say that all that begins must perish.
            But Rome! Who would believe that Rome would have collapsed?

Jesus wants his disciples to be good mixers.

In sending off the apostles to preach Jesus told them to bring no money in their belts. This is often taken to be a plea for them to practice poverty, but the passage clearly has a different message. Jesus was telling the apostles to be good mixers. He was telling them to stir up a welcoming spirit among people in the towns. They would do it by throwing themselves on people’s hospitality.

The villains in this story are the towns that do not practice hospitality. In leaving such towns the apostles are to shake the town’s dust off their sandals. There was only one other circumstance in which Jews shook the dust off their sandals. That was when they were entering the holy ground of the temple. So, by telling the apostles to shake off the dust before going out into the world, Jesus was telling them to see the whole world as a holy place not to be contaminated by the dust from stingy people.

Jesus did not want the apostles to closet themselves in the rooms of inns. He wanted them to mix, to become one with the people in the places they passed through. Our wealthy society makes it easy for us to stay away from others. If we do not have private houses we at least have our own rooms, our own cars, where we can shut others out.

What happens when we get out among people, exchanging hellos, exchanging compliments, is that we are enriched by these acquaintances.

Only the old people recognized the Savior.

There were two precepts of Jewish law that obliged the parents of Jesus to appear in the temple on his fortieth day. One precept dealt with the first-born child.

Representing all the brothers and sisters that might follow him, the firstborn was offered to God in acknowledgment that all children belong to God. The ritual called for the parents to buy the firstborn back by an offering of two doves. That ceremony gave this day the title of the Feast of the Presentation.

The other precept dealt with the new mother. She was considered to have been rendered ritually unclean by the flow of blood concomitant with giving birth. The same two doves served to render her clean. Seen from the mother’s side this was sometimes called the Feast of the Purification.

One interesting aspect of the day has to do with the priests and the temple crowds not being able to recognize the holy child. It was only the two old people, Simeon and Anna, who knew the Messiah when they saw him.

This story should serve to alert us to the ability of old people to see what is overlooked by younger people. Freed from the preoccupations young people have with finding suitable mates, and with being recognized by others as suitable mates, old people are free to see what really counts. They are capable of seeing the value of people who are not sexually attractive. They are anxious to be friendly to cosmetically undesirable people.