The storm on the lake is a symbol for death when we hope Jesus will come walking to us.

Monday, 8/1/11

After Jesus fed the five thousand with the five loaves the people wanted to seize him to make him king. That was very much to the liking of the Apostles, but Jesus did not let them stay to share in his fame. He made them reluctantly pull out onto the water in a boat big enough for them all; then he avoided the crowd by slipping up onto the mountain.

Making things worse, the Apostles pulled out into a wild storm that was throwing them about, making them fear that death was upon them. The Gospel’s account of that night near death was actually a parable.

The body of water on which that storm came up was known as the Lake of Galilee, but it was actually just a wide place in the Jordan River. (We have a similar thing here where a wide place in the St. John’s River eighty miles south of here is known as Lake George.) Now, from ancient times the Bible regarded the Jordan River as the death one must pass through to reach the Promised Land. We hear that in songs where we sing, “Show me that stream called the River Jordan, that’s the old stream what I longs to cross.” Also, “Deep river, my home is over Jordan.”

So the threat of death faced by the Apostles that night was a metaphor for the fear of death which each of us will face one day. The message of this Bible story is that Jesus, who can walk on water, has overcome death. We must trust that he will come to us at that hour, and that he will take us safely to the other shore.

The bread the five thousand ate was not the Eucharist. It was Our Lord's way of showing us that he is there for all who come to him on any Sunday.

Sunday, 7/31/11

Jesus fed five thousand men and perhaps as many women and children with just five loaves. The bread he gave to the throng was not the Eucharist. It prepared people to believe that he could give himself to any number of people. As Thomas Aquinas put it, “As many as are they so many is he.”

Two great differences between the bread fed to the five thousand and the Holy Eucharist are that the Eucharist is part both of the Last Supper and of the Sacrifice of the Cross.

An interesting tie-in between the Last Supper and our Mass is that the words of the four different Eucharistic Prayers we use each grew out of the blessing Jesus offered at the Last Supper. Jesus, and any other Jewish family head, always used his own words; but his prayer was made up of the same three parts: he recalled God’s favors, he called down God’s spirit, and he asked the diners to join him in offering themselves up as pleasing gifts to God.

The second big difference between the bread that fed the five thousand and our Mass is that our Mass renews the sacrifice of the cross. At the Last Supper Jesus actually anticipated his death on the cross. He was already making the sacrifice of himself when he took the bread and said, “This is my body which is given for you.”  Note that he did not say, “This is my body which will be given.” He said, “Which is given.”

Towards the end of the First Century the Apostles circulated a little handbook for local churches to use for the Mass and Sacraments. In a short paragraph that little book gave to cover the Mass it three times mentioned that the Mass had to the people’s  sacrament. They make it their sacrament by offering themselves up with Jesus.

For us to fully take part in the Mass we should mentally join in the three pats of the Eucharistic Prayer. We should: first, call to mind the favors we receive from God; we should secondly call down his Spirit to unite us and to inspire us to speak to God; and thirdly, we should make ourselves into part of the Pleasing Gift. Our word Eucharist is Greek for Pleasing Gift.  

John th Baptist showed us that in public affairs we must speak up for what is right.

Saturday, 7/30/11

When King Herod stole Herodias, the wife of his brother, everyone knew it was wrong. But who was going to accuse the king?

Well, John the Baptist did. He said, “It is not lawful for you to take your brother’s wife.” For that Herod imprisoned John in the basement dungeon of his palace at Machero across the Jordan. Fascinated by John, Herod liked sneaking partway down the steps to overhear John speaking. But then his wife and her daughter Salome tricked him into beheading John.

Those sad events were mirrored fourteen hundred years later when King Henry the Eighth had Bishop John Fisher beheaded for being a second John the Baptist. He objected to Henry’s putting Catherine aside to marry Anne. Fisher had been Henry’s tutor, and he had been the chosen priest speaking at the funerals of Henry’s father and mother. Still, Henry had not been able to abide it when Fisher said he was confronting him as the Baptist had confronted Herod.   

While Fisher was imprisoned in the Tower Pope Leo X named him a cardinal of the Church. When he asked King Henry to let Fisher come to Rome for his red hat, Henry said he could not do that; but he would send the pope Fisher's head.  

 In public affairs we should uphold the moral standards of Christ.

Martha, that great hosekeeper, is the model for all our parish councils and ladies guilds.

Friday, 7/29/11

Today is the feast of Martha, a dear friend of Jesus; a woman who was a willing hostess for him and his travel-weary Apostles.

I don’t think Martha would mind if we used her feast for showing our appreciation for the lay people who keep the Church going. I was in great admiration of the parish council people at St. Paul’s on Park Street. In 1983 Bill Sulzbacher came forward, saying that a good number of capable people would like to serve the parish in a parish council.

We put out a call for any who had a desire to volunteer themselves, and a large room-full of parishioners showed up. They batted ideas around, promising to return a month later after thinking about all proposals. In fact, they had those monthly meetings for almost a year. When our ideas had clarified, we elected four very competent people to write a constitution for our own parish council.

People back then had been talking about a book by the Jesuit Avery Dulles. Calling his book “Models of the Church,” Dulles pointed out that Jesus played five distinct roles among us: he was teacher, friend, servant, shepherd, and way to address the Father. Our constitution had us attempting to duplicate each of Our Lord’s roles. We had a service commission, an education commission. a worship commission, a management commission, and a friendship commission.

We elected chairs to oversee each of the five commissions, and we set up committees to serve in each. Like, the worship commissions had six committees that took care of lectors, server training, singing and all the rest.

For twenty-four years the monthly parish council meeting drew members working together smoothly for the good of the church.  

Independent of the parish council, but working in agreement with it, we had the Ladies Guild. The parish council is no longer operating the way it had been, but the Ladies’ Guild is durable. It is doing a bang-up job of keeping the parish alive. 

God had a tent of his own, travelling with the Israelites through the desert.

Thursday, 7/28/11

Exodus tells us that for the forty years during which the Israelites lived in tents, God, travelling with them, had his own tent. Today’s reading tells us that when God’s tent was erected it glowed with his glory.

The books from Exodus to Deuteronomy tell the story of the Israelite’s forty years journey from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land. Those four books from Exodus through Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy are of interest to us only because they are a metaphor for our passage through this life on to heaven.

It is beautiful the way that John’s Gospel tells the same story. When the Word became flesh he immediately made his dwelling among us (John actually wrote that he pitched his tent with ours.) John  mirrors the events of Exodus, saying, We saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son.

John goes on to say our benefits from Jesus go beyond what the Father gave through Moses: While the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Moses became radiant from conferring with God.

Wednesday, 7/27/11

When Moses came down from conversing with God his face had such a powerful glow that people ran from him in fright. Now, as Paul tells us, all Scripture is there for our instruction. So, Exodus was instructing us by telling us about that radiance.

What is that story telling us? An obvious lesson for us to take from the story is that we too, when we come face to face with God, staying that way for a time, take on God’s radiance.

Let’s also stay with the Scriptures, looking at a line from the Psalms, at one from Ephesians, and one from Paul to Timothy.

1.  With you is the fountain of life, and in your light we see light. Psalm 3610
      This is similar to what we read in the prologue to John’s Gospel where
       he says “Through him was life, and this life was the light of men.” He is
        light for our minds, empowering us to grasp truth.

2.   Light produces every kind of goodness, justice and truth. Ephesians, 5:9
       The “light” which id God is the source of goodness, justice and truth.

3.     He dwells in unapproachable light. I Timothy, 6:16
         His goodness and beauty are too excessive for us to grasp.

Today is Parents' Day

Tuesday, 7/26/11

Today is the feast day of Mary’s parents. It is interesting that this is an important day for the Burmese Sisters of Francis Xavier. They do not observe either Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Rather than dividing them, they keep them together on this Parents’ Day.

It is a good thing to do. What each of you sees when you look in the mirror is a combination of your parent’s genes. Consider this question that St. Paul puts to you:

“What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it,          why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?” 

Your parents gave you all thirty thousand of your genes, but that was just the beginning of what they gave you. They gave you at least ten years of total support when you had no way of feeding and clothing yourself. In dollars how much do you think it all was worth? Then, they showed you how to pray, to laugh and study, to overcome every kind of clumsiness.

The best thing your parents gave you was themselves. They belonged to you while they lived; and you are a happy person if you find them available to your call.

One time an out-of-town girl at the Times Union came to the rectory with a problem. From New Orleans originally, she stopped church going when she went away to college. In time church came to mean nothing to her. She went to her father when he was dying, and his dying-wish was that she start going to church.

She came to church, but it did nothing for her, except that she was being true to her dad. When she came to the rectory to talk about it, I told her that for starters, it could keep her in contact with her dad. I told her that I had been away at school for eight years, then away to Korea for twelve; and that through all that time my dad and I kept in touch with weekly letters. Now that he has died, I feel his presence in church, and it works as well as the letters did. The girl said, “That’s neat.”

St. James was one of the big three apostles, and he was thr first to die for Christ.

Monday, 7/25/11

Today is the feast of James, the brother of John. He was the first of the Apostles to die for the faith. With his career having been so brief, it seems odd that he was given so much prominence among the Apostles; but he, along with the leading Apostle, Peter, and the Beloved Disciple John, was a privileged companion of Jesus on the mount of the Transfiguration.

I always thought that Jesus’ reason for bringing James up the mountain for the Transfiguration was that James had understood something the other Apostles hadn’t. A week earlier Jesus had told all the Apostles that he was to be put to death, and that they would have to take up their crosses. James must have grasped the gravity of that, and felt sadness, while Our Lord’s sad prediction had just gone over the heads of the other Apostles. Perhaps James was very much in need of a share of the reassurance Jesus received on the mountain by getting a little foretaste of heaven.

James was the first Apostle to die. That might have something to do with the old expression “The good die young.” His was a short hidden life like that of young men and women who turn away from public careers, choosing to wait on God in quiet. The things that are important to us may not be the things that are important to God.

The treasure hid in the field contains the full riches of our Religion.

Sunday, 7/24/11 

In the Gospel Jesus compared a healthy religious life to a chest of treasures. He said that if one accidentally came upon a treasure buried in a field, he would go, sell all he had to buy that field.

The meaning of the parable is quite clear. Jesus is telling us that we should give up all our selfish interests in exchange for gaining a healthy religious life.

One fresh idea in this parable that just came to me is that Jesus did not have the man come upon a weighty bar of gold that he could exchange for a fixed cash sum. No, he came upon a treasure chest that contained things of great value.

The completeness of that treasure puts me in mind of the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “You must be complete, as your heavenly Father is complete.” (Some English translations have Jesus saying, “You must be perfect,” but  St. Matthew actually quoted Jesus as saying, “You must be complete.”) Christianity, like love in an old song, is a “many splendored thing.” 

I’ve been retired for four years, and the free time has led me into the richness of  Christianity through its history. Going from century to century I was making my way toward the Protestant Reformation when I came on a Catholic Reformation that preceded Luther’s more famous one.

 A generation before Luther St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher and Erasmus dug deeply into the treasure of Christianity. They produced accurate translations of the Gospels, but they dug into other forms of ancient wisdom. The Italian scholar Petrarch had scoured Europe’s monasteries and libraries, bringing to light the manuscripts of the great thinkers of the early Church as well as those the great minds of Greece and Rome. Those ancients had come to see that there was only one God, and that God had made us to pursue goodness, justice and beauty. Petrarch said there is a marvelous unity between such teachings and the Christian message.

While Luther, disappointed with the way Catholicism had become side-tracked into religious ceremonies and penances, abandoned the Mass and our finest traditions. Like the expression goes: “He through out the baby with the bath water.” But the members of the Catholic reform turned to enriching Catholicism with works on ethics, and to finding God in nature. Those are the kind of contents that made the treasure hidden in a field so valuable.

The covenant the Israelites made with God was like a marriage ceremony that wed them to God.

Saturday, 7/23/11

The first reading tells how the people entered into the Old Covenant with God. A covenant, as in our marriages, is a contract by which the parties give themselves to each other so that they can become one. With our marriages the priest asks, “Have you come here freely without reservations to give yourselves to each other in marriage?” The only way the Israelites could become one with God was for them to keep his commandments.

Moses assembled all the people before Mount Sinai, and he had the young men do two things. First in front of the mountain he had them build an altar to represent God. Secondly, he had them kill some bulls, bringing in the blood of the bulls in big brass bowls.

He they read off the Ten Commandments one at a time, asking them if they would obey each. At the same time the young men circulated through the crowd sprinkling them with blood, and pouring the last of it from each bowl on God’s altar.

The Israelites believed that blood was life itself, and that the life force in the drops was uniting them in one life with each other and with God.

A dying Korean girl named Mary Magdalene threatened to rise on the third day if her parents did not give her a Catholic funeral.

Friday, 7/22/11

Today is the feast of Mary Magdalene. We should not confuse her with Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, the one who sat at the feet of Jesus in their home in Bethany. Before we see her at the foot of the cross and at the empty tomb, we saw Mary Magdalene only once when Luke spoke of her as having had seven demons.

If you don’t mind, I would like to leave that Mary Magdalene aside while I say something about a Korean girl with that name. Her pagan name was Soun Pokey, meaning Pure Joy. She had a fine mind, but when she was ten her parents took her out of grade school to get work out of her. When I showed up in their town fifty-seven years ago I brought two Korean nuns with me, and Soun Pokey took to visiting them. She bought a catechism that had three hundred and twenty questions and answers, and she stunned us by memorizing all of them. She very much wanted to be baptized so she could wear a white veil at Mass for receiving Holy Communion.

The nuns asked her parents if they would promise to put her in a good marriage if we baptized her, but they would not agree. They said she was a pretty girl, and they planned on getting good money from someone  who already had an older wife. So, Soun Pokey couldn’t be baptized. She stayed in the back for Mass with no veil.

One day she came to me, saying her brother was dying, and should be baptized. She took me through her yard where her parents were working on a money crop. They had put the boy around the back in a lean-to so his TB wouldn’t spread to the rest of the family. On the outer back wall of the house above his head he had hung an embroidered clothe, the kind poor girls brought in their dowries.

I asked, “Are you married?”   He said, “I was. I sent her off to live, because I must die.” I visited him regularly. I gave him a leather jacket my brother Frank gave me; and when I baptized him he wanted to be called Frank. One day when I went there he was gone. He had died, and the folks had dug a hole for him on someone else’s land. The folks then sold Soun Pokey to an army officer.

Six years later some one asked me to come with them to a girl who was dying. They brought me through that same yard where the parents were raising pigs and they had big yams growing out of sacks of compost. In the lean-to around the back they had let Soun Pokey lay naked.  The embroidered sheet was still on the wall above her head, but she wrenched it down to cover herself.

She recited a lot of catechism answers for me. Then she had me read John’s Gospel about Mary Magdalene and the Resurrection. Then she asked for Baptism and the Eucharist. I left her.

After Mass the next morning the men were standing together, smoking and laughing.
They told me the girl had died. I said that was nothing to laugh about, but they went on.  “Father, after you left she called in her parents, demanding a pine casket and a Catholic funeral. They told that her brother was worth ten of her, and he hadn’t received such favors.”

She got real mysterious with her parents. She had them believing that if she didn’t get the box and the funeral she was going to rise on the third day to haunt them. So, Mary Magdalene got her funeral, and with kids her age singing, it wasn’t too sad.

God came down in thunder and smoke to scare the people into being true to their covenant wiith him.

Thursday, 7/21/11

The first reading tells us a very strange story. After the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, in six short week Moses led them south down the length of the Sinai peninsula to Mount Sinai itself. He then, as God previously had told him to do, went up on the mountain for an important meeting with God. At that meeting God proposed entering into a covenant with the people. (It was like a marriage proposal.) God told Moses to ask the people if they would hearken to his voice, remaining faithful to the covenant.

Moses went down, and received assurance from the people that they would hold true to a covenant with God. After that, on the fiftieth day after the Passover meal in Egypt, God would induct the people into the covenant. (First, though, God meant to frighten the people to make them realize what a serious commitment they would make.)

Today’s reading tells us what happened four days before the covenant ceremony.  God had Moses bring the people before Mount Sinai, then, he had the mountain erupt with great thundering and lots of smoke. It had the people flopping on the ground, calling for mercy. They got the idea behind it, which was that it wouldn’t pay for them to be untrue to God in their covenant.

In Deuteronomy 18:15 Moses reminded the people about how frightened they had been when God came to them on that thundering mountain He recalled how they had begged him to never let God again come to them in that terrifying way. In answer to their pleading, Moses said that God had promised when he came again he would not be scary. Instead, God would come as “A prophet like Moses I will raise up for them from among their own kinsmen, and I will put my words into his mouth.”

You’ll remember how when Jesus fed the five thousand with five loafs the people cried out, “This must be the prophet!” They were recalling the promise Moses made about a prophet like himself.             

God does something like giving us manna from heaven when he gives us this earth that feeds six thousand people every day.

Wednesday, 7/20/11

Some people say there was nothing miraculous about the manna eaten by the Israelites. I saw a picture story in a National Geographic that backed up the idea that it was something natural.

The article there pictured Bedouins gathering white sticky stuff exuded by ephods feeding off desert shrubs. They called it manna, and they rolled it into balls they baked. It had to be gathered early in the day, because when the temperature rose above 85 degrees Fahrenheit the stuff melted into the sand.

The article also showed the Bedouins gathering birds that plopped in the sand, exhausted after long flights across the Mediterranean.

So, even if the manna and birds in Exodus were not there miraculously, they were there as God’s gifts. The worlds population is six billion, and the experts say that if we just managed things better we could all be getting our three square meals a day.  Feeding us all might not be actually classed as a miracle, but I think it is very good of God to be providing for all of us on this rock floating around in space. 

Jesus has enabled us to see brothers and sisters on all sides of us.

Tuesday, 7/19/11

In the Gospel Jesus stretched his hand out over his followers, saying, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

I just got word that a classmate of mine died, and it set me thinking of our great times together. We often wrote. He was family too me, and I feel bad about his passing.

But I don’t feel left alone. At morning Mass I am with twenty or so friends who are family. An exclusive type of family loyalty dates back to a time when any stranger might kill you just to be safe, to a time when your family circle was a real circle of fighters facing out on a hostile world.  The Irish political party founded by Eamonn De Valera was the Fianna Fael, or “Ourselves Alone.” Hopefully Christ has rid us of that mentality, and we can see brothers and sisters on all sides.

Our baptisms, like the Israelites' plunge into the Red Sea, should be a life-long pledge to follow God's way.

Monday, 7/18/11

The first reading pictures Moses and the Israelites after they had eaten their final meal in Egypt. They rushed toward the Red Sea with big globs of the unbaked dough over their shoulders.

Coming near the Red Sea they turned back to see the dust of the approaching Egyptians. That left them with two choices . They could either lay down whimpering for mercy, or with none of them knowing how to swim they could have followed God’s dare to thrust themselves into the sea.

They chose to trust God. They turned to the sea.  Afterwards, the Scriptures referred to their choice to trust God as their baptism.

It might not seem that way to us, but our Baptisms should be as decisive as their plunge. Every day of our lives we are meant to live up to the significance of our baptisms. We are meant to hold strong to our commitment to God, not laying down and whimpering.

When Jesus told us that pulling up weeds could harm the wheat he meant we should just get along with annoying people.

In the Gospel Jesus told us to just put up with people who bother us. They are like weeds growing up with the wheat. If we try pulling them up we will hurt all the wheat around them.

There is, of course, a flaw in Our Lord’s parable. No matter how long you leave them the weeds are never going to change into wheat; but annoying people, even the most annoying ones can become pleasant. But even without hope of that, we should put up with them. I took over a parish from an old Irish priest who stayed on with me ten years after he retired. When I asked him about parishioners who were causing me trouble his advise always was: “Arragh, let them tear away!”

In the cases where people are annoying to us there is always the slim possibility that they are in the right, and we are the annoying ones. 

Putting that possibility aside. we still have to be understanding. That means we must see that there is some good motives standing under their behavior.

Jesus identified himself with the Suffering Servant who did not raise his voice.

In the Gospel St. Matthew identified Jesus with the Suffering Servant in Chapter Forty-Two of Isaiah. That picture promised the people a savior who was the opposite of what they wanted. David had given them to expect a messiah riding a horse, and followed by the choicest maidens. Instead Isaiah asked them to accept this model of meekness who would never raise his voice.

All that can be said of Isaiah’s picture when we put it up against the one predicted by David is that it was the one that won out.

It makes you think of Jesus, not only as bearing up under the heavy cross, but silently bearing up with the jibes of the crowd.  One form of prayers we used for the Stations of the Cross referred to the crowds as “the rude and scoffing multitude.” Do you think they hurt Jesus? They certainly did.

But Jesus was like a gymnasium’s old punching bag that hangs on there after all the feisty boxers are aged and gone. If in imitation of Christ you can stand up under all the troubles life throws at you, you too will win in the end.
His being like the bruised reed and smoldering wick might make you see him as a model for teachers with slow students. Reeds are used for writing, so a bruised reed  could symbolize a student who has trouble expressing ideas. Wicks are used for reading, so a smoldering one could symbolize a child who has trouble learning. A Christ-like teacher would not break the one or quench the other.

In the Mass the Passover has become a perpetual institution.

Friday, 7/15/11

God told Moses that the Passover Feast should be a perpetual institution. Catholics believe that by giving us his Body and Blood at his celebration of the Passover, Jesus perpetuated the Passover in our Masses.

Exodus Chapter Twelve's account of that first Passover gave two reasons for its being called a pass-over. One was that the diners should be dressed for the road because they were about to pass over onto the road to the Promised Land. The other reason for its being called a pass-over was that death would pass over, not touching, those marked with the blood of the lamb. 

Both meanings for its being called a pass-over apply to the Mass. First, we should be mentally dressed for the road, resolving at each Mass to leave slavery to sin behind, as we strike out for heaven. Secondly, eternal death passes over those of us marked with the blood of the Lamb of God.

God's private name of "Yahweh" meant "I am."

Thursday, 7/14/11

God told Moses that his name is Yahweh, which means “I am,” or they say maybe it is more like “He who causes others to be.”

I like thinking of two meanings for “I am.”

One is that he is a blank check that we must fill in. “He am good.” “He am just.” “He am wise.” “He am beautiful.

The other meaning of “I am” is that there is no “I was,” or “I will be.” He is changeless.

When the Book of Exodus was composed the Hebrews only wrote consonants, presuming that the reader would know the word well enough to supply the vowels.

That led to a difficulty with the name Yahweh. They wrote the Hebrew equivalent of Y H W H without ever pronouncing it, since the Commandments forbade their taking the name of the Lord in vain.

When they came to the Y H W H in reading, they just substituted a Canaanite name for a lord, which was Adonah. That led to a mistake.

Three hundred years ago our persistent German scholars set to work at finding how the Y H W H was originally pronounced. They theorized that since it was replaced with Adonah, that word’s vowel sounds must have fit n between the Y H W H. They concluded that the original name was Yahowa; but since they pronounced Ys like Js, and Ws like Vs they concluded that the original name was Jahova, or Jehovah: a name that never was.

A century after the Germans invented the name Jehova, scholars found Sumerian cuneiform tablets which gave the name "Yahweh." 

A bush that stayed a fresh green while burning is the only symbol God has cosen to represent himself.

The first reading today raises two questions. The first question is: Why would God appear in a burning bush that stayed green?

The second question  is: What did God mean by saying, “The place where you stand is holy ground.”

As far as I know the burning bush is the only earthly thing God chose to represent himself to mankind. Its aptness might consist in its comprising extremes. He is fresh and new and gentle at the same time he is fiercely raging. He is small enough to fit into the hearts of children, while he is expansive enough to hold the universe in his hand.

His presence made the ground around the bush so holy that Moses had to remove his sandals to step close.  The Hebrew word for “holy” in the original version of Exodus was qodes, a word meaning set apart, completely different. It is unworldly,  so the dirt of this world should not intrude upon it.

The Lord will give you his hand when you are sunk in the abysmal swamp where there is no foothold.

Tuesday, 7/12/11

Let’s look at the Responsorial Psalm. It opens with Psalm 69, verse 3.

“I am sunk in the abysmal swamp where there is no foothold. I have reached the watery depths: the flood overwhelms me.”

That verse gives you two things to do.

First, you should bring back to mind a real scary time when you were caught in a storm or sinking with nothing to grab on to.

Second, you should bring to mind another scary situation past or even future, one that is only metaphorically like the one in the psalm. It could be where the scare is financial or health related.

Next, you consider today’s response: “Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.”

Experience the security that comes to us from having our dear Lord as protection from all that can harm us.

For us the Israelites in Egypt represent the misery that would be ours if the Lord had not led us out through the waters of Baptism.

Monday, 7/11/11

Our first reading comes from the opening lines of Exodus, the second book of the Bible. Let’s look at what it says.

“A new king, who nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt.”

That was before 1300 B. C., a time when the Israelites had no written language, and when the hieroglyphic writing of the Egyptians make not a single mention of the Hebrews residing in their land. We are left to searching for clues to confirm the facts of the Bible’ account.

One clue we have is that the Bible frequently said that the Israelites spent four hundred year in Egypt, and that four hundred years coincides with a set of historical facts from that time. We know that shortly after 1’800 B. C. a people from the Arabian peninsula invaded Egypt, installing one of their own as pharaoh. That people, the Hyksos, were a Semitic people who spoke practically the same language as Joseph and his brothers. They would have welcomed the Hebrews settling in Goshen. Then, four hundred years later, around 1320 B.C. the Hyksos were driven out by Ramses I, who would  have been the new king “who knew nothing of Joseph.”

We know that the “supply cities of Pithom and Raamses” were built by forced labor at that time, so that fits it.

The Hebrews in Egypt were made to suffer “the whole cruel fate of slaves.” That fits in with the spiritual message in this story. For us their misery in Egypt represents the miserable condition that would be ours if the Lord had not led us out through the waters of Baptism, putting us on the road to the Promised Land.

Seeds are the countless urges God gives us to do what is right

Sunday, 7/10/11

Our first reading today compliments the familiar Gospel parable about the careless Sower who went out to sow his seed.

The careless sower let some seed fall on the hard path where the birds snatched it up without its having a chance to sink in. He strewed some seed on the thin inch of soil covering a layer of stone. (That seed immediately germinated, and sent up shoots, but it quickly withered for its inability to send roots through the stone to water.) He dropped some seed on thorny ground where it lost its battle for life to hardy thorns. But thank God, some seed fell on good ground, bearing a fine harvest.

Jesus said that the seed stood for the word of God. By that he meant both the urges that come to you to do something good, as well as the moments of clarity in which he lets you discover the truth of situations.

The four kinds of soil stand for four different states of mind you might have when God’s word comes to you. You could be like the hardened path where God’s word doesn’t sin in. You can be like the thin soil on stone where your enthusiasm is short-lived. You can be like the thorny soil when your greed, lust or boredom squeeze out your good intentions. But, then, you can cooperate with God’s word, really getting things done.

The first reading compliments the Gospel in that it tells us God’s words, his inspirations, his graces, are as abundant as the rainfall. He keeps peppering our hearts with his graces; and even though most of us most of the time do not respond, still his graces keep coming with such abundance that the world doesn’t shrivel up. I half way remember a catechism question and answer on this subject.

Q: Can we resist the grace of God? A: We can, and unfortunately, often do resist the grace of God.

Orientals would have a use for those two sparrows sold for a penny. They'd use them in a ceremony honoring their ancestors. We should do more in honoring the people who gave us our genes.

Saturday, 7/9/11

Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny, yet not one of them falls to the ground without your father’s knowledge.”

For me that brings back a memory of a long day I spent standing up on a bus in Korea. Jostled back and forth, my glance kept falling on a strange little seated gentleman. He was dressed in a suit that included a vest, with the whole of it having been carefully cut and tailored out of army blankets. What was most interesting about him was what he was holding out in front of him. It was a pair of sparrows with a straw threaded through their little nostrils.

I knew where those sparrows were going, because I had seen that kind of thing before. They were going to some extended family for the annual ceremony they held to honor their departed. The sparrows and other rare and precious things were laid out overnight. The belief was that their ancestors would feed on the essence of the goodies, while leaving them seemingly untouched.

Such reverence for departed family members was an admirable thing among most Orientals. In many homes in which the only other piece of furniture was a nail for hanging up a coat you would find a small cornered shelf holding a plaque with the carved names of remembered ancestors.

Perhaps we should do more about remembering those who gave us our genes.

When we know we will be called on to speak we should not expect words to just be given to us.

Friday, 7/8.11

Jesus told his disciples not to worry about what they were to say when they would be brought before hostile judges. He said words “will be given” to you.

Those words: “will be given” were the basis for many old jokes among priests. The Latin for will-be-given is dabitur. And priests who gave homilies or sermons without preparing were said to “go on the dabitur.”

Some priests get by preaching without first preparing, just as some teachers and public speakers can at times get by. But “getting by” falls short of what is needed. You will find that if you write your homily or speech a week in advance, every time you look over what you wrote you will come up with valuable changes or additions.

Neil Simmons was the last century’s leading playwright. He once had six hits running on Broadway the same season. Perhaps his cleverest bit of writing of all was the title he decided on for his autobiography. He called it, “Rewrite.”

Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, saying, "I am Joseph, your brother."

Thursday, 7/7/11

Fifty years ago Pope John XXII recalled those words of Joseph when he revealed himself to his brothers. Pope John whose middle name at his Baptism was Giuseppe, Italian for Joseph, used the Bible’s words when he welcomed a large Jewish delegation. He told them, “I am Joseph, your brother.”

In the 500 page book I wrote about my good Catholic life I kept searching for what I liked best about our Church. Then, in the last chapter I came around to seeing that it was qualities that Pope John summed up.

He was the fourth of fourteen children of sharecroppers. Respecting his brothers’ and sisters’ private lives, he never exposed them to photographers when they paid him visits at the Vatican.

In twenty years of assignments all over Europe he was delighted with the wonderful insights of the people he met up with. When Rome kept ignoring the people who were saying what Jesus wanted said John decided there was only one way to let those outsiders have their say. He called for an ecumenical council where the outsiders had the pulpit. From the opening day of the council he knew he had a deadly cancer, so he took all the wise steps needed to insure that God’s truth would win out.

Jesus told the Apostles not to preach to the Gentiles. It was not the time for that. We should do what is right for the time, avoiding what is not.

Wednesday, 7/6/11

When Jesus sent the Apostles out to preach the Kingdom he restricted them to preaching only to Jews: “Do not go into pagan territory. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

For years I taught this Gospel according to Matthew to children in the Seventh Grade, and I posed questions to them about what Jesus did and said. With this passage I asked the question: “Was it fair for Jesus to have the Apostles preach only to Jewish People? “

More than half the kids each year said it was wrong for the Apostles to preach only to Jewish people. They said things like, “Everybody needs help from Jesus, not just Jews.”

I pointed out to them that the Bible said that Jesus never sinned. I asked them if it wasn’t what Jesus did and didn’t do that tells us what is right and wrong. I asked them if they had a better idea than Jesus had about what was right and wrong.

Jesus telling the Apostles not to go to Gentiles then is an example of what is said in Chapter Three of Ecclesiastes. “There is a time for everything.” In his own good time God would inspire the Apostles to go to the Gentiles.

Children should not want to do things that only are proper for adults, and we adults should not get caught doing things that are only proper for children.

When wories keep us awake we should turn them into a prayer that has us wrestling with God.

Tuesday, 7/5/11

With the first reading fifteen years had elapsed since the scene in yesterday’s first reading. Jacob has acquired large flocks from his uncle Laban on the upper Euphrates. As well, he has acquired two wives and two second-level wives and children by them. With all those animals and humans he was making his way back to the home of his parents Isaac and Rebecca. The group came to a stream that was so rapid that Jacob was the only one capable of wading across it. So, he carried sheep after sheep, wife after wife, and child after child to the south bank.

When Jacob made his last trip to the north bank at nightfall he was met by a mysterious stranger who grasped him not letting him go. This story is not presented as an actual account. It is more like a fable. As in Grim’s fable of Rumpelstiltskin both combatants felt they could win if they could learn the other’s name.

On learning that he was called Jacob the stranger gave him a new name. He would be called Israel, which combines the word !sra meaning “to struggle” and el, an ancient name for a god. “Israel” means “One who wrestles with a god.”

Since the whole nation of the Hebrews in descended from Jacob we can say that they were all there in his loins, and as a nation they can be called Israel. They often live up to that name with their willingness to fight even with God.

The meaning of the story for us could be that when our many worries keep us from sleep, we can turn them into a prayer, imitating Jacob by fighting it out with God.

Jacob's dream gave him the surprising news that God is in constant contact with our needs.

Monday, 7/4/11

For the Fourth of July we would like readings that help us celebrate American independence, but these readings the Church gives us leave us enough to shout about. To appreciate Jacob’s dream and what it meant at the time we should know that all the world’s religions back then pictured God as impossibly remote from mankind.

Every nation had a story similar to our story about the downfall of Adam and Eve. Their religions were all based on the belief that the gods had gone away, breaking off all relations with mankind. With nation after nation their main religious festival was at New Years when they re-enacted their creation myth in the hope they could induce heaven to re-establish communications, giving them a second chance.

In his dream Jacob saw one stream of messengers carrying our needs up to God, and another one bringing back the needed help from God. That dream conveyed a joyous message to Jacob. It told him, “God is not remote. He takes a loving interest is all that concerns us. “ That dream caused the Israelites to say, “Never has any nation had its gods as close to it as out God is to us!”

Of course the Gospel goes miles and miles beyond the first reading. In the Gospel we see the Son of God walking with us. We see his endearing concerned for us. Let’s count the kind things Jesus did in the story.

First, although he was in the midst of speaking to an audience, he broke off immediately when the official asked him to come. Second, he was silently aware of the woman’s ailment, curing it without breaking stride. Third, rather than take credit, he said it was the woman’s faith that did it. Fourth, instead of using loud incantations, he cured the little girl by taking her by one hand.

The yoke of Jesus is a double wooden harness. He invites you to get under the other side, and pull with him.

Sunday, 7/3/11

In the Gospel Jesus said, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” We have heard that so many times that it does nothing for us. But, can we push his parables aside?

His parables, even his mini parables like this one, have two sides to them: one familiar, and one unfamiliar.

Even though the familiar side of Our Lord’s parable might have become so familiar that we are sick of it, it is worth our while to hang on, because Christ can invest the unfamiliar part of his parables with amazing wealth.

The familiar side of this parable likens Jesus to an old ox under one side of a wooden harness called a yoke. He says he has found fulfillment plowing in whatever field the Father led him. By not resisting he has turned each task into a joy.

He tells you, “Take my yoke upon you.” By that he is asking you to join him in the causes dear to him. He is asking you to actively share his concern and work for the wounded, the starving, the imprisoned, those suffering from ignorance.

For God the distant past is still present. Let's join him up there looking down on Mary, feeling for her when the child Jesus was lost, and when the man Jesus hung on the cross.

Saturday, 7/2/11

While the Church asked us yesterday to share the feelings of Our Lord’s heart, today it asks us to share the feelings of his mother’s heart.

Again and again lately I have been recalling something the nuns told us in grade school. They said that the slow passage of our days and years is like the slow passage of a parade around the base of a mountain. We are aware only of the present minute with us right now. But it is not that way with God. It is as though he were on the top of that mountain, seeing all the days and years as equally present to him. We can get a different perspective on events if we imagine ourselves up on the top of the mountain with God.

From up there our past is as real as the present. We can see the slow unwinding of our school days, and we see them as real to us now as they were back then. With us up on that mountain with God we are not confined to looking down on our own past. We can look down on the distant past.

We can look down on Mary as she feverishly searched groups up and down the road, asking if they had seen her boy. We can look down on her beneath the cross where out of love for us she was giving up her precious son.