Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.

In 1942 Len Kopsky, Tom Stack and I were fourteen- years-old boys entering the minor seminary in St. Louis. Our pastor, Father Joseph English, had us serving the holy hour we had every Saturday evening from 7:00 to 8:00; and one Saturday he kept us for a half hour of chatting afterwards. He had brought a bag of oranges for the occasion      

Father English was our pastor for twenty-six years, and we all loved him, but he kept himself aloof. We never saw him not dressed as a priest, and he didn’t think it proper for a priest to eat and mix with people. But Len and Tom and I, by entering the minor seminary had entered the inner circle of Father English’s life.

Over oranges in the sacristy that night he read us today’s Gospel about the great catch of fishes. Then, he asked us why did Simon Peter say, “Depart fro me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

I don’t remember our attempts at answering his question, but I remember the reason he gave for Simon Peter saying that, “Don’t you see, boys, Peter was thinking about the money he would get from selling the fish; and he was thinking about what he would do with the money after Jesus left.”

It surprised me to hear Father English saying that; but it started me seeing that the people in the Bible were not holy statues. They were as real as we are. It got me reading the Bible in a livelier way.

We try to get close to Jesus in the Gospel, hoping to develop a closer relationship.

Wednesday, 8/31/11

Do you have difficulty connecting with Jesus? It is not enough for us to be hooked on the name of Jesus, so that we can repeat it musically, singing, “Jesus, Jesus, you are my Lord.” No, we must personally connect with him, and I at times ask him to make himself personally here with me.

The first part of Mark and Luke’s Gospels feed that need for knowing Jesus personally. In the passage from Luke’s Gospel we read yesterday we associated ourselves with the people in the synagogue who marveled at Our Lord’s authority. When he talked about heaven he was talking as a real eye witness.

In today’s Gospel we follow him into Peter’s house. With him we bend close over Peter’s sick mother-in-law. With her we feel the flush of returned health as he touches her brow.

Down on the floor, eating with Jesus and the Apostles, we hear the hubbub of people gathering outside with their sick and deranged. Going out with him, standing as close as we can, we see wondrous cure after cure.

After all that, having trouble keeping our eyes open, we find a place on the floor to curl up. We look around for Jesus, but we don’t see him.

In the morning, stirring up with Peter and John, we follow them to a hill outside of town where we come on Jesus lost in prayer with the Father. We ask him to strengthen our connection with him.

I seek to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.
Tuesday, 8/30/11

All of us would agree with today’s Responsorial Psalm where it says,

“One thing I ask of the Lord, this I seek: to dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate his temple.” 
Many mornings when I come to the altar at St. Vincent’s Hospital I have a great feeling of being privileged to be there.

How about you? Do you have great feelings on ordinary days when you find yourself in God’s house, gazing on his tabernacle? 

As well as good feelings on ordinary days, have you any special memories of joy at finding yourself in God’s house?

Let me mention a day when I experienced special happiness. On my trip across the Pacific on a freighter in 1952 for three weeks I had used the chest of drawers in my cabin for my daily Mass. Then, in the middle of September, landing in Yokohama, and getting a jeep ride up to Tokyo, as I was entering the Columban Father’s headquarters, I heard the priests singing the Tantum Ergo for Benediction before dinner. Coming into the back of the chapel was like walking into heaven.

With the Lord a thousand yearsare like a day.

Monday, 8/29/11

Our first reading lets us see that the mysteries of our Faith can be more clearly understood as time goes by. The First letter to the Thessalonians was the first book of the New Testament to be written. Paul wrote it in 50 A.D.

Before he left this world Jesus said, “In a little while you will see me again.” In this letter to the Romans Paul said he thought Our Lord’s words meant that the end of the world would come in his lifetime. Writing to these people in Thessalonica he said that those who lived a little longer would see the dead come out of their graves on the day of Our Lord’s return, but he was wrong.

The scholars who carefully examine ever sentence of the New Testament have reached agreement on when the individual books were written. They are in agreement that the last book to be written was the Second Letter of St. Peter. They say it was written a good while after Peter’s death by a leader in the group of Christians founded by St. Peter. Their careful study leads them to believe in was written around the year 130 A.D.

One matter the Second Letter of Peter deals with is peoples’ surprise over the world’s still going on when Jesus had said that the end would come soon. He reminds his readers that while to them a long time has past since Jesus said the end was coming soon, it was not a long time for Jesus. The writer explained that, “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.”

Putting pleasure aside, and doing what must be done, is the way to true happiness.

Sunday, 8/28/11

Each of the three readings in today’s Mass tells us we must prepare ourselves for  tough blows in this life. As they say, we must know how to roll with the punches. There is no way to live in this world without finding a share of sorrow. If, instead of moaning and fighting off all pain, we accept it as part of our human condition, we can turn it to our advantage.

Let’s take the readings one at a time. In the first reading Jeremiah, a quiet living man, accepted God’s call for him to speak as God’s prophet, and he found that it led him to being abused all around. He complains about his unpopularity. He blamed God for tricking him into the life as a prophet. He told God, “You duped me. You have turned me into a bearer of bad news.” He said he would speak in God’s name no more; but the message for the people that God gave him to deliver became like fire burning within him, and he couldn’t hold it in.

In the second reading Paul asked us to push aside attempts at living for pleasure. He said that if we sacrifice ourselves to good causes we will find ourselves transformed into noble people with our minds renewed.

In the Gospel Jesus told the Apostles that he was now firm in his purpose of going up to Jerusalem to give himself up for everyone’s good. When Peter offered help to let Jesus take the easy way out Jesus called him Satan. That event points out the difference between pleasure and happiness. There is pleasure for us in avoiding the tough tasks that come our way; but happiness can only be found in bravely doing what must be done.

Our Lord's parable of the talents urges us to fully develope the gifts we are given.

Saturday, 8/27/11

Our Gospel today is the second of the three parables in Chapter Twenty-Five of Matthews Gospel; with all three of them dealing with what we must accomplish in order to be successes in life. The first parable that we read yesterday told about the five foolish virgins who lacked oil, and the five wise virgins who had their oil supply when the groom arrived for the wedding. Having oil when the groom comes stands for our being in the state of grace when God calls you.

The third parable in Matthew’s Gospel deals with our duty to attend to the needs of God’s poor.

Today’s Gospel, the second of the three parables tells the story of a king going off to a far country after dividing his gold talents between his servants. On his return he praised the two servants who had doubled the talents that he gave them; but he condemned the servant who made no worthwhile use of the talent entrusted to him. Webster’s Dictionary tells us that our word talent, that we use for a gift for acting, writing, or painting, actually comes from this parable.

However, we should not limit the application of Our Lord’s lesson to the need for developing artistic talents. His parable means that we must make good use of all the gifts he has given us. In watching News broadcasts do you ever think about how much more blessed we are than people starving to death in refugee camps? Well, our comfortable lives are talents God gave us to work with. From those to whom much has been given much more will be expected.   

Vatican II’s decree on Christian education envisions every child as having a potential for developing his or her unique personality. When teachers, grandparents, or parents give wise help toward children achieving a full personality development they are doing what Our Lord asks of them in this parable of the talents.   

WE must be in the state of grace when God calls us.

Today’s Gospel is the first of the three parables in Chapter Twenty-five of Matthew’s Gospel. Each of them deals with something we must achieve by the end of our lives  in order for those lives to be deemed successes. Let me mention the second and third parable before coming back to the first

The second parable is the one about a king entrusting his servants with gold talents, requiring them to make good use of them. Obviously, by that parable Jesus was telling us we will be judged on the use we have made of our talents and advantages.

The third parable has the king separating souls into two groups. On his right are all those who showed concern for needy people. On the left are those who ignored the needs of others. So, Jesus was there telling us we would be judged on the kindness we have shown or not shown to the needy.

But today we have the first of the three parables. It pictures ten maidens who were sent out to escort a groom and his new bride into their walled city. When the groom and the bride were slow coming the ten maidens fell asleep. Then, when the wedding party appeared suddenly late at night the maidens quickly arose to trim their lamps to escort the party into the city.

Five of the maidens found their lamps had burned up all their oil, so they asked for some from the other five. That five, though, hadn’t any extra, so they sent the first five off to buy oil.

While they were gone the bridal party came hurrying along. The maidens with the oil escorted them into the town. The city leaders immediately shut and bolted the gates, leaving the late coming maidens outside.

The sufficient supply of oil stands for something we must have at the end of our days.  What might that be? It would be that we will be living in friendship with God. We will be in the state of Sanctifying Grace.

God sees and rewards you for your hard work, for what you put up with.

Thursday, 8/24/11

In the Gospel Jesus said he would pour blessings on faithful and prudent servants who have done well with the households he has put in their charge. I wonder how many of you fit into that category. You would not have still been here if you hadn’t been faithful and prudent along the way.

In caring for kids, in getting them out of trouble don’t think you were performing thankless work. If you have been taking care of the elderly, if you have been working at fund raising for good causes the Lord looks down with pleasure on your work.

Sister Benignus at my sister Peg’s high school warned the girls against getting into back seats with boys. Her dire warning was, “God sees you!”

Peggy had a classmate named Pat File, and they called her "Piffle." At Peg’s slumber parties I heard Piffle putting on Sister Benignus. The way Piffle would imitate Sister saying, "God sees you" had all the girls laughing.

 I used to ask myself what was so funny. God does see them, doesn’t he?

He sees everything we do wrong. But, what is really wonderful is that he sees everything we do right. Putting up with the old and sick, putting up with ungrateful kids, bearing it when people speak wrongly about you – God sees all this. He tells you, “Good and faithful steward, you have blessings coming your way.

Nathaniel was a true Israelite in whom there was no guile.

Wednesday, 8/24/11

Today is the feast of the Apostle Nathaniel; and since his father’s name was Tolmeus, he was also known as the son of Tolmeus, or Bartholomew. All we know about him comes from this brief appearance in Chapter One of John’s Gospel where Jesus told him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

Nathaniel had been visible to know no one but God when he was lost in prayer under that fig tree. If Jesus saw him, Jesus must be God, so Nathaniel blurted out, “You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.”

This strange exchange between Jesus and Nathaniel concludes with Jesus calling Nathaniel a "True Israelite in whom there is no deception.”

Two days ago, on Monday In this homily blog I mentioned how three days a week I use the first chapter of John’s Gospel for the mysteries of my rosary. My first five mysteries are about God who was in the beginning. The next five are on the Word who became flesh.

My eleventh mystery takes up Jesus asking Andrew and John what they were looking for. My twelfth mystery is their spending the night in his company. For my thirteenth mystery, when Jesus called Simon the Rock on which he will build his Church, I check myself on my obedience to Church authority.

For my fourteenth mystery I come to this passage about Nathaniel where Jesus praising him for having no deception. It always makes me check myself on being honest. For the fifteenth mystery Jesus at the banquet in Cana makes me think of the heavenly banquet, and my firm belief in it.

Are we as hypocritical as the Pharisees?

Monday, 8/22/11

In the Gospel Jesus criticized the Pharisees for being hypocrites who didn’t practice what they preached. He said they were like blind men who made poor guides.

We can join Jesus in criticizing the Pharisees, or we can ask are we also hypocrites, not practicing what we preach. Are we like blind men when it comes to our guiding others.

I like several times a week to meditate on the first chapter of John’s Gospel. When the story came to the meeting of Jesus with Nathaniel, Jesus praised him for being completely honest, for having no guile in him. At that I always start wondering how much of my dishonesty and covering up Jesus would put up with.

All of us look like fine Christians, coming to Mass every day, but are we as good as we look? Would people be shocked at what I do when no one is looking? As parents have you been guilty of he same sins you condemn in your children?

Something can be said for our hypocrisy. After all, we can’t do our jobs if we have no one respecting us. We all have to find a balance between being honest and giving decent direction to people around us.

Loving God and loving our neighbor isn't all that easy.

Sunday, 8/21/11

In the Gospel Jesus gave authority over his Church to Peter, and as Catholics we feel obliged to honor that authority as it is exercised by Peter’s successor Pope Benedict XVI.

I try never to repeat a homily, but two days ago I had one that fit in with our obligations to recognize authority. And, since I am inflicting this homily on a different congregation, I am going to repeat myself. In Friday’s Gospel Jesus told us that the only commandments we needed to keep were the ones that told us to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds, and to love our neighbor as ourself.

When we are fed up with all the rules and regulations that the Church pitches at us, it is refreshing to hear Jesus saying all that is needed is that we love God and our neighbor.

But hold on there! Loving God with heart, soul, and mind obliges us to do more than mutter sweet words like the ones we find on Valentines.

It also obliges us to keep the Commandments. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” More than that, it obliges us to obey all lawful authority. As Paul told us in Roman’s Thirteen, “There is no authority except from God. Whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed.”

And, loving your neighbor as yourself extends to loving the unlovable, to loving people whom you naturally dislike; to loving them with that kind of empathy that has you sneaking inside their ugly skins, experiencing what it is like to be them.

Ruth said, "Your God will be my God."

Saturday, 8/19/ 11

The first reading gives us an Old Testament reading from eleven hundred years before Jesus. There was a drought in Bethlehem, and a man named Elimelech with a wife called Naomi took their two sons Mahlon and Chilion across the Dead Sea to where there was free land in Moab. The sons found the pagan wives Orpah and Ruth, and all was going well, but then Elimelech and his two sons died.

Naomi told her daughter-in-laws to go back to their parents while she returned to Bethlehem in hopes of finding something to eat with her husband’s  relatives. Orpah left, but Ruth, said, “Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you lodge I will lodge, your God will be my God. Wherever you die I will die and be buried."

They came to Bethlehem at harvest time, and Ruth asked Naomi for permission to follow the harvesters through the fields, picking up grains that fell. When Naomi saw her daughter-in-law returning with an apron full of barley, she asked her whose field she had gleaned in. On hearing that it was the field of Boaz, Naomi said, “Go back there again. That man is a near relative of your dead father-in-law.”

The next day, noticing how hard Ruth worked, Boaz asked, “Whose girl is this?” (He did not ask who she was, as if he found her attractive; but as a family-oriented man, he asked, “Whose girl is that?) On hearing that she was the Moabite daughter-in-law of his near relative Elimelech, Boaz told the young men not to hit on her, and he told them to dump an extra load of barley into her apron. 

When Naomi found out about the good luck, she got serious. On the night of the threshing she spruced Ruth up, telling her to sleep at the feet of Boaz. Ruth did, and Boaz, seeing her make this symbolic claim on him, went and conferred with the elders at Bethlehem’s gate, fixing it up for him taking on Ruth as a wife. They became the grandparents of King David, and ancestors of Joseph.

Loving God and our neighbor is no easy job.

Friday, 8/19/11

When we are fed up with all the rules and regulations that the Church pitches at us, it is refreshing to hear Jesus saying all that is needed is that we love God and our neighbor.

But hold on there! Loving God with heart, soul, and mind obliges us to do more than mutter sweet words like the ones we find on Valentines.

It also obliges us to keep the Commandments. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” More than that, it obliges us to obey all lawful authority. As Paul told us in Roman’s Thirteen, “There is no authority except from God. Whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed.”

And, loving your neighbor doesn’t stop with loving friends. It extends to loving the unlovable, to loving people whom you naturally dislike; to loving them with that kind of empathy that has you sneaking inside their ugly skins, experiencing what it is like to be in there.

This Gospel contains Matthew's underlying message.

Thursday, 8/18/11

The Gospel tells the story of a king who had prepared a feast honoring his son only to have  invited guests spurning his invitation, moving him to invite strangers.

By the invited guests who refused to come, Jesus might have had in mind the Jewish leaders who rejected him, causing God to open his banquet to the Gentiles. This story has similarities with the story of the landowner who planted a vineyard, leasing it out to vinedressers who would not give him a share of the vintage. In that story the vinedressers even murdered his son when the owner sent him.

Matthews’s Gospel has these stories because they are in line with his underlying reason for writing his Gospel. Let me recall the history of those times that led to Matthew writing his Gospel.

One of the Apostles, Simon, was known as a Zealot. The Zealots were patriotic Jews who wanted to liberate the country from Roman rule. Thirty years after Our Lord’s death and resurrection the Zealots became terrorists. For ambushes of Roman army units they used short daggers called shikas, and that gave them the name of shikarees. Exasperated with their attacks, Rome in 69 A.D. set about destroying Jerusalem where the Shikarees were holed up.

Now, the Shikarees had hated the Pharisees more than they hated the Romans. The Romans, knowing this, allowed the Pharisees to leave Jerusalem, settling at Jamnia on the Mediterranean, while the Romans destroyed the temple and its people.

Setting up their synagogue at Jamnia, the Pharisees were perplexed about how Judaism could survive without its temple. They came to a decision. They would make exact observance of all kosher rules the essential core of Judaism. Having made that decision, and looking around, they saw that tens of thousands of Jews had become Christians. What is more, those Christian Jews were violating the kosher rules by eating with unclean Gentile Christians.

The Pharisees issued an ultimatum. They said that if Jews who had become Christians wanted to remain Jews they would need to break off all connections with Gentiles. Matthew assured such Jewish Christians that the Gentiles with whom they associated were called by God just as they were.

"Between the saddle and the ground, forgiveness was sought, and forgiveness was found."

Wednesday, 8/17/11

All I have ever made out of the Gospel is that people can be saved even though they come to God at the last hour. Like the saying: “Between the saddle and the ground forgiveness was sought and forgiveness was found.”

I can’t do much with the first reading either. When Gideon’s reign was coming to an end, Abimelech, his son by a concubine, murdered off all his siblings except Jothan who fled. In the parable when the citizens of Shechem were about to anoint Amimelech king, Jothan said they were as foolish as people who would come near to a buckhorn for shade. They would not only be scorched by the sun, they would also get a prickly rash.

Let me reminisce about something I shouldn’t reminisce about. When I was ten I had a great uncle who was retired and lonely. He had been an official of the Wabash Railway, and he would now and then come to St. Louis to play checkers with me. One time he came after attending an estate auction in which he had picked up a little book that he presented to me. It was called “The Vocal Forest,” and was written in 1645 by one James Howell who was in the Tower of London for siding with Charles I rather than with Cromwell.

I mention it here just to make the point that fables about talking trees were a favorite for centuries. For years I carried my little book in the bag I had with me on airplanes, but someone made away with it. If we can find out about such things in heaven I will definitely ask about where it went, and how much they got for it.

What Jesus said about the dificulty of rich people getting into heaven cannot be taken literally. Other place in the Bible see living in poverty as equally unhealthy for us.

Tuesday, 8/16/11

Jesus said that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom.  A popular explanation of that tells us that one of Jerusalem’s many gates was known as the Eye of the Needle, and travelers on camels usually avoided it. The trouble with that explanation is that there was never such a gate.

People who demand that every Bible saying must be taken as factual distort Our Lord’s way of speaking to suit their own narrow views. The fact is that Jesus used exaggerations to get his point across. He said “If your right eye scandalizes you, pluck it out.” If he wanted us to take that literally we would all be blind from puberty on.

Elsewhere  the Bible is not as hard on riches.  Proverbs 30:9 sensibly says, “Let me be neither rich nor poor.” It goes on to say that if I am rich I might feel I have no need for God, and if I am poor I would resort to stealing. In these days with ten percent unemployment, rather than see his children starve a man must resort to stealing.

When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach he told them to take along no money or provisions. We mistake his purpose if we think he was extolling a state of poverty. What he wanted his disciples to do was to become good mixers, eating and drinking with people who would have them.

I like Bernard Malamud’s story about the homeless guy who like St. Francis, imagined himself to be a knight in the service of Lady Poverty. The guy at the lunch counter whom the homeless guy was boring with his Lady-Poverty-talk, said, “Listen, buddy, poverty aint no lovely lady. Poverty is a dirty business.”

Mary's body was sown a natural body, it lives on, a spiritual body.

Monday, 8/15/11

I have never been to Italy or the Middle East, but I hear that many churches lay claim to possessing parts or all of the bodily remains of John the Baptist, St. James, or the other Apostles: their arms, their fingers, whatever.  But, there is no church anywhere that claimes to possess the smallest part of Mary’s mortal body. That’s because Christians have always believed that she was taken bodily up to heaven.

God punished Adam and Eve, saying, “By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground from which you were taken. For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return.”  The corruption of the grave is our punishment for sin, but since Mary was sinless, she did not undergo corruption.

We needn’t worry about just where Mary’s body continues in existence. There is no need for a place. She has a spiritual body. That might sound like an oxymoron, but St. Paul pointed out that there are such things. In First Corinthians, 15:44 he said, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.”

Jesus teased that Canaaninte woman to let the world see what spunk she had.

Sunday, 8/14/11

Jesus tested the Canaanite woman, saying he could not give the children’s bread to dogs. It must have hurt her bitterly, but she knew she was in the right, so she didn’t give up. Our slang word for what that woman had is spunk. She had a lit of spunk. She reminds me of an old Navy song, “If you have to take a lickin’ carry on and quit your kickin’.”

I was trying to recall instances where people I know showed spunk. I often brag on my sister Peg who raised thirteen kids, getting them through college. When she was told she had inoperable cancer she told me, “Don’t worry, I can handle it.” That showed spunk. She showed even more spunk six months later when she was actually dying. She said, “I was foolish to say I could handle it. I can handle death, but I need help handling dying.”

I also brag on Phil Crosby, my priest neighbor in Korea. On June twenty-fifth, 1950 when the Commies came down on his parish he decided on staying in case he could still function. Instead he was subjected to three years of an imprisonment in which more than half of his companions died. Released, he came back to his old parish. One evening I found him on my doorstep after he had walked twenty-five miles over the high mountains to me. “Why’d you do it, Phil?” “Well, Thos, I can’t expect the people to walk long distance to Mass if I won’t walk myself.”   

The cases with Peggy and Phil were different from the Canaanite woman not giving up, but all three had spunk.

We must choose the Lord, and stick to it.

Saturday, 8/13/11

A few years ago a nine year old boy with a terminal disease was still able to play baseball with a Baptist Little League team; and to the discomfort of his Catholic grandparents, the Baptist minister enrolled him with his flock.

When  the little boy died the minister conducted the funeral service at the cemetery chapel, while I sat in the lobby with three kids from St. Paul’s  in their server outfits. We heard the minister pleading over and over for the people at the funeral to accept Jesus as their personal savior.

I couldn’t object to him taking that line. After all, in today’s first reading Joshua was asking something similar of the Israelites. He was asking them to make up their minds as to whether they would serve the Lord or some other God. My slight objection to the minister’s message was that his sermon was just the same thing over and over: the people had to accept Jesus as their personal Savior. Right.

With the St. Paul’s kids in their white cassocks accompanying me, I followed the procession out to the grave where the boy’s Little League teammates stood, listening to the minister repeating his message.

When it was over my white robed companions and I went back to my car. Later we heard that the Little League boys were sure that their friend was in heaven, because, they said, “Three angels were there at the side through the whole funeral.”   

In a true marriage the two become one: easier said than done.

Friday, 8/12/11

The Gospel gives us the Bible’s formula for a true marriage: “the two shall become one flesh.” Of course, this union doesn’t come about automatically, since each of us like’s to have his or her own way. Perhaps you have noticed that. The marriage ceremony can resemble the bell beginning round one of a fifteen round fight.

The fact that Jesus said Moses was allowed to alter the rules because of the hardness of people’s hearts tells us that the rules are not unalterable.

Jesus said divorce is permissible when the marriage was unlawful. That is the basis on which the Church grants annulments. For one thing, a lawful marriage is one into which each party freely commits him or herself. An annulment may be granted when the Church, examining all the evidence, decides that one of the parties was not free. That would be the case if the bride’s father had a shotgun at the groom’s back. It could also be the case when there was an invisible shotgun involved, as when one party was not completely sane.

Divorce, but not necessarily with the freedom to remarry, can be the best course when staying together brings great unhappiness to one party.  

The Ark with the priests in the Jordan River bed is a symbol of Christ on the cross, opening the way for us through death.

Thursday, 8/11/11

The first reading today, taken from Chapter Three of the Book of Joshua, is an important one. It tells how when the Israelites’ forty years in the desert were completed, and they had come to pass over the Jordan into the Promised Land, they found that the snows thawing on Mt. Hermon in Lebanon had swollen the Jordan, making it impassable.

Christians all know the story about the Israelites passing through the Red Sea on dry land, but some of them have never heard of the similar miracle at the end of their forty-year journey through the desert. As a final expression of their faith, Joshua had them follow God’s command to march ten abreast into the Jordan that was wide and deep.

With the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant at their lead, they headed right at the river. When the feet of the priests with the Ark stepped into the shallows, the river backed up, letting the Ark lead them down into the river bed. The priests with the Ark took their stand down there, while the throng passed by, climbing up into the Promised Land.

The Jordan in flood is a symbol for death. The Ark taking its stand at the bottom of the bed is a symbol of Christ on the cross, letting us pass by into heaven.

When they all had come up from the river, Joshua sent a strong young man from each of the twelve tribes to go back into the river bed for the biggest boulder he could carry. Joshua then had them put the boulders in a ring on the bank as a symbol of the unity of the tribes---quite similar to the thirteen stars on our original American flag. The circle of stones, Gilgal in Hebrew, was where hey would come together to fight against threats to the whole people.

The feast day of St. Lawrence is the feast day of every other fine Larry.

Wednesday, 8/10/11

St. Lawrence is patron saint of the city of Rome. Of the many legends connected with him the favorite is the one where the pagan emperor had him roasting on a fire, and he said, “Turn me over. I am done on this side.” Michelangelo has him holding the grill in his painting of the Last Judgment.

Sisters in their convents observe each other’s feast days, but the rest of us have abandoned that fine practice. However, on the feast of St. Lawrence I always give thought to the fine Larrys I’ve known. For one there was Larry Burns, Kate’s dear husband, a smart lawyer who raised a fine family here.

Another was Larry Schierhoff. We were our parish’s seminarians, and we worked summers together. Newly ordained, Larry was assigned to a pastor who was unreasonable with him, and Larry surprised us all by running away with the parish secretary. They adopted a parish school where they raised their kids, with Betty volunteering all its secretary work, and Larry doing its maintenance. For keeping that school going they got a papal award. Not many run-away priests have had that to brag about.

In Sister Laurentia I have a wonderful, wonderful friend. We had a great talk on the phone yesterday. Larry has put in fifty years teaching grade school, never leaving her classroom before thoroughly preparing the next day’s lessons. Her math students are recognized nationally.

Like other kids, I once asked Sister in school how come all the saints lived long ago. She should have told me I was wrong about that.

We should be like little children, knowing we depend on God.

Tuesday, 8/9/11

If e take Our Lord seriously we would be looking back on ourselves as children, trying to find what there was about us that he would consider to be worth imitating,

I can remember not liking other kids: not liking that girl because she was fat, not liking that boy because he thought he was something with that fancy bike of his. I can remember learning “Gunga Din” so I could show off reciting it.

I can’t remember doing anything that Our Lord would have seen as admirable. I can’t remember my being anything that he’d want me to be again.

Perhaps it was what I couldn’t do, rather than what I could do that he saw as valuable. Instead of the feeling of security I have come to by being up to date on all my bills, and still having a little in the bank; perhaps he would see my insecurity back then as good. Perhaps he wants me to realize that my life is hanging on a string, and he has the other end of that string. That must be it. We must become like children by fully acknowledging our dependence on him.

Moses told us to befriend aliens.

Monday, 8/8/11

The first reading is from Deuteronomy, a collection of sayings by Moses that are presented as the summation of his teaching at the end of his forty years with the people. I’d like to draw your attention to one sentence. After telling people that they were obliged to follow the example of their Lord, he reminds them that the Lord befriended aliens.

            “You too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt.”

He asks the people to recall the hardships they suffered when they were aliens in Egypt. Because I was the only American in my town in Korea for ten years I can remember some unpleasantness that sent my way. Walking through town I would be surrounded by little boys, leaping to get their faces even with mine, they would over and over shout, “Hello, Okay!” At times they would imitate our frequent uses of the letter ”S” by slobbering “Shlicka shlicka, shickla” into my face.

The worst of it was that it felt like it was denying my humanity. I wanted to say, “I am not animal. I am human through and through just as you are.” I resented being their walking zoo

When I moved into that Korean town in September of 1954 I was very conscious of how different those people were. When I had been there five years I no longer could see there were any difference between them and the people at home. There was the same percentage of clever people, humorous people, people lacking in humor as at home. They had equivalents of all our old sayings and jokes.

When I settled in here at home I found trouble adjusting to all the people of color. I had to force myself to associate more with them, and now I am so glad I did. On the whole I find them friendlier than white people. It is much easier to strike up conversations with people of color. Maybe, their living closer to each other than stand-off white people does make them readier to mix.

Jesus coming over the stormy sea is his promise to come to you at the hour of your death.

Sunday, 8/6/11

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 used his authority to make them pull out onto the water in a boat big enough for them all. Then, he cleverly avoided the great crowd, slipping away into the mountains.

Making things worse, at night the Apostles ran into a wild storm that threw them about so that they felt that death was upon them. The Gospel’s account of that night near death on  the lake 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, in the time of Moses when the chosen people had finished their forty years in the desert their way into the Promise Land was blocked by the Jordan River’s being in a full springtime flood. The Jordan looked like certain death to anyone who would wade into it, but at God’s bidding Joshua told the people to move to the water. When those with faith enough to put their feet into the Jordan it opened up for them, just as the Red Sea had opened forty years before.

I cannot remember the priests in my seminary speaking about the Jordan as a symbol for death blocking the way to the Promised Land, but America’s slave seemed to be aware of the Jordan’s meaning. When they felt that death was their only way to escape slavery, they welcomed plunging into that Jordan. They sang, “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 you will face alone some day. Now, Jesus has conquered death. He can walk on the waves. Our Lord’s coming walking on the water to the Apostles is his promise that he will be there for you, taking your hand, and leading you into the Promised Land.

On that mountain heaven stetched down, taking Jesus in for an hour of comfort.

Saturday, 8/6/11

I always point out that although our missals tell us today’s Gospel is Matthew, 17:1-9; it actually leaves off the first half of verse one that says, “After six days . . .”

The fist half of Matthew 17:1 made a point that was important to Matthew. He was telling us that today’s incident was brought on by the announcement six days before that Jesus was to be put to death. Jesus had saddened both the disciples and himself by saying their happy days were drawing to a close. He told them they were headed for Jerusalem where he would be handed over to foreigners and put to death. That was so opposed to what they had been expecting, that his words went over the heads of most of the disciples. He followed up that dire warning by saying his disciples too would have to take up crosses.

Those two sad predictions might have sunk in a little with Peter, James and John; so, a week later, when Jesus, in need of comfort from the Father, climbed a mountain, he brought Peter, James and John along for their share of heavenly assurance.

On the mountain they had a heavenly experience that was beyond words. The story Matthew lays before us probably isn’t factual, but it is a good attempt at letting us experience something of what the three disciples went through.

They had slept, then, awoke to see the bottom of heaven stretching down like a trampoline. It stretched down just far enough to take Jesus in. With that, he was changed into a heavenly being. He appeared glorified.

The Jews had a belief that two mortals had made it to heaven. The dead Moses along with the whole of his grave from opposite Beth Peor had been taken up to heaven;  and Elijah had been taken up in a fiery chariot. Those two came over to chat with Jesus. Luke tells us they talked about the end of Jesus’ mission.  

Then, as Peter tells us in his Second Letter, they heard the Father calling Jesus his Son. The story is meant to do for us what it did for Jesus, Peter, James and John. It is meant to assure us that heaven is waiting for all who are faithful.

What does it proffit you if you gain the whole world, but lose your soul?

Friday, 8/5/11

This Gospel reminds me of a day in the Eighth Grade when Sister Celeste wrote  a sentence on the board, telling us to copy it. The sentence, as she wrote it then was:

 “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but suffers the loss of his own soul?”

We waited to hear what we were to do with those words. Were we to memorize them? Were we to write an essay on them? She didn’t say.

Sometimes not saying a thing makes a bigger impression than anything said. When my dad was ten he was a delivery boy for Grones’ Fine Chocolates Shop. One day Mrs. Grone told him, “Francis, I’m going to have to let you go. You know why, don’t you?”

He said, “Yes, Ma’am,” But he didn’t know, and even when he was ninety he wondered why she had to let him go.

I suppose it is the same with “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world?”

By planting it in our minds and leaving it there, Sister Celeste started it growing into a principle of life, so that it would pop up every time we were faced with choices about what to do with ourselves.

In honoring our popes we honor God who placed them in authority.

Thursday, 8/4/11

Last month saw the publication of a book on the lives of the popes, and the stories of some of the Renaissance popes made for scandalous reading. They went beyond Peter who denied knowing Jesus. But Jesus foresaw all their failings. In spite of that, he built his Church on them, commissioning them to feed his sheep.

God did not send down angels to run his church. He did not send down angels to be our fathers and mothers. His plan has him entrusting us to our own kind, for better or for worse, for sickness and on health.

We honor our parents, our bishops, our popes, because they represent God’s authority. St. Paul spoke of this matter in Chapter Fourteen of his Letter to the Romans.

“Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God. Therefore, whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed.”

Jesus tested the Canaanite woman because he liked her spunk.

Wednesday, 8/3/11

Jesus tested the Canaanite woman, saying he could not give the children’s bread to dogs. It must have hurt her bitterly, but she knew she was in the right, so she didn’t give up. Our slang word for what that woman had is spunk. She had a lit of spunk. She reminds me of an old Navy song, “If you have to take a lickin’ carry on and quit your kickin’.”

I was trying to recall instances where people I know showed spunk. I often brag on my sister Peg who raised thirteen kids, getting them through college. When she was told she had inoperable cancer she told me, “Don’t worry, I can handle it.” That showed spunk. She showed even more spunk six months later when she was actually dying. She said, “I was foolish to say I could handle it. I can handle death, but I need help handling this dying slowly.”

I also brag on Phil Crosby, my priest neighbor in Korea. On June twenty-fifth, 1950 when the Commies came down on his parish he decided on staying in case he could still function. Instead he was subjected to three years imprisonment when more than half of his companions died. Released, he came back to his old parish. One evening I found him on my doorstep after he had walked twenty-five miles over the high mountains to me. “Why’d you do it, Phil?” “Well, Thos, I can’t expect the people to walk long distance to Mass if I won’t walk myself.”   

The cases with Peggy and Phil were different from the Canaanite woman not giving up, but all three had spunk.

Jesus adocated reducing thousands of regulations to the rule that we must love God and our neighbor.

Tuesday, 8/2/11

Our Lord’s disciples, having nothing to eat on a Sabbath, picked some wheat, rubbed off the husks, then ate the grains. Some Pharisees watching them complained that the disciples had done manual work violating the Sabbath. They complained too that   Jesus had let them get away with it. They asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?”

The “traditions of the elders” is our English translation of body of Jewish Law that went into many, many volumes. The Jewish name for that body of laws is the Mishna.
It got started in 450 B.C when Jerusalem was part of the Persian Empire. On hearing that Jerusalem was in a bad way physically and morally, the emperor commissioned two Jewish officials, Ezra and Nehemia, to go through Jerusalem, and to then come up with a plan both for getting the roads and walls repaired, as well as for cutting out crime among the citizens.

Ezra and Nehemiah made the suggestion that the Law of Moses from the Bible should be made into Jerusalem’s civil law. Persia’s lawyers approved of the plan, but they attached two conditions. First, the full law had to be read to the people, and second, people should have an opportunity to offer amendments to bring the law up to date.

In accord with the directives from Persia’s top lawyers, Ezra read the complete law to the people. Next, he and Nehemiah asked he people to vote on amendments.

They decided on three. First, their children could not marry pagans; second, they could not buy produce brought in on the Sabbath; third, each family would need to give the temple a third of a shekel each year.

In the nearly five hundred years coming down to Our Lord’s time these laws were added to, so that the scrolls of Mishna took up a hundred times the space needed for all the books of the Bible.

What is more, while the Pharisees and Scribes had tricks of the law for getting around the Mishna, for the average person the tens of thousands of rules were a mine field they could never get safely through. Jesus advocated avoiding law upon law. He told us to stick with loving God and our neighbor.