In his Divne Comedy Dante pictured the Inferno as being formed by Satan and his angels plunging into the earth.

Saturday, 10/1/11

In the Gospel Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightening from the sky.” Let me speak about something a great poet made of that statement. You have heard of Dante’s Inferno, but do you know where Dante imagined that hell to be?  It has something to do with Satan falling like lightening from heaven. Dante imagined that plummet of Satan and his angels gouging a deep pit in an unexplored land in the Southern Hemisphere. Let me say something about Dante’s great poem.

Back in the twelve hundreds, he was one of three young poets of Florence who developed their own brand of poetry. Calling it the Dolce Stil Novo or the “Sweet New Style,” each of them wrote his verses to honor some unattainable fair lady.  Dante’s muse was Beatrice Portinari, a lady who died young after his having spied her only several times. In his Divine Comedy Dante pictured Beatrice calling the long-dead Roman poet Virgil up from Limbo. She felt that Dante has lost his way in life, and she hoped he could be awakened if Virgil would lead him through hell and purgatory up to heaven’s gate.

In the first third of the poem, the Inferno, Virgil and Dante are like spelunkers winding down into the cave of hell. At each level they view the torments awaiting those who commit different kinds of grave sins. The third of Dante’s epic given over to the Inferno is the part people mention most, but I found Dante’s Purgatorio and Paradiso more rewarding reading.

With most of us, our belief in the afterlife is such a shaky thing that we don’t try to imagine what it could be like. But you would be filled with admiration if you scanned Dante’s picture of life after death. Even though he made great use of what the Scriptures tell us, we need to keep reminding ourselves that his poem is not to be taken as part of the Bible. Still, reading it will help your faith.

I began this by saying that he pictured his inferno as being a deep pit made by the lightening-like plunge of Satan and his angels. Dante had an equally unexpected way of explaining how Purgatory could have come about. He pictured it as an island in the south seas that was piled up from soil left on the side from the forming of the pit of the Inferno. His way of picturing what happens at the death of souls who are saved is to have them picked up by the operator of a ferryboat, withpout giving them an explanation the ferryman drops them on Purgatory’s shore.

The crowd that he had left along the beach seemed not to know the place; they looked about like those whose eyes try out things new to them.

Today we honor St. Jerome who sorted out all the copies of Bible books to give us one reliable copy of the whole Bible.

Friday, 9/30/11

Today is the feast of St. Jerome. In 340 a.d. he was born across the Adriatic from Italy in what we might think of as northern Greece. A very bright boy, he travelled to Rome for studies, and although he had not been a Christian, he was attracted to the monastic life, and prepared himself for Baptism. His brilliance attracted Pope Damasus, who turned much of the church’s administration work over to him. Jerome was forty-three when the pope died, and it was brought home to him that in wheeling and dealing for the pope he had made a good number of enemies.

Thinking it best to leave Rome, he settled in the coastal mountains of northern Israel, getting to work on gathering copies of the Gospels and Epistles. He found a dozen or more different copies of Matthew’s and John’s gospels, and many different copies of Paul’s letters: all of those were in the original Greek with a little Aramaic. By carefully comparing all versions he was able to put aside copies that had bits added on to the originals. In the end he came up with a single version of each of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, and he translated them into the Latin spoken by common people. The Latin word for the common people was the vulgus, and from that, Jerome’s copy of the Bible came to be called the Vulgate.

Next, Jerome got working on the Old Testament, using both original Hebrew and a body of their Greek translations of the Hebrew made in Egypt in 200 b.c.

“Jerome was seventy years old in 410 when news came that Alaric, king of the Visigoths had captured Rome. Jerome wrote, “When that light of the world was put out, I mean when the Roman Empire was decapitated, the whole world perished.”

He went on, “It’s true that all that begins must perish. But Rome! Who would believe that Rome could collapse?”  It gives us worries about the U.S.

People used to think God needed angels as messengers for keeping in touch with us.

Thursday, 9/29/11

Today we celebrate the feast of three archangels: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Michael appears in the apocalyptic visions of Daniel and John where he acts as the guardian angel of the Jewish believers. Gabriel is God’s messenger to Zechariah and Mary. Raphael comes in the fable of Tobias. Our word angel is Greek for messenger. The Bible saw Michael, Gabriel and Raphael as God’s messenger, and the stories about them come from passages in the Bible that are more like parables than historical narratives.

In today’s Gospel Jesus compared his future apostle Nathaniel to the Old Testament Jacob. Jacob, who was also known as Israel, was twice presented as a sly trickster. He tricked his father Isaac into thinking he was his brother Esau, and he tricked his father-in-law Laban into giving him most of his sheep. In saying Nathaniel would be less devious than Jacob Jesus seemed to be saying that his twelve apostles would be in some ways superior to the Old Testament’s patriarchs. Nathaniel like Jacob  would see angels coming up and down from heaven.

Paul, in the Acts of h Apostles says, “God is not far from any of us for in him we live and move, and have our being.”  We have all grown up with that understanding that God is everywhere. But Old Testament people did not know that. They thought God never left his heavenly home above the stars. Still they knew he was concerned for us. That had them thinking he must have messengers, angels, who kept him in touch with what was happening far below here.  

Since New Testament times we see that God who is always with us has no need for messengers or angels for keeping in touch with us. We can think of them as being retired like old pastors.

Nehemia, in 445 b.c. started the Jews adding rules that became too burdensome by the time of Jesus.

Wednesday, 9/28/11

Through the years the first readings in our Masses give us short samples of each of the Old Testament books. At times, as is the case today, the sample is too short to give us an idea of what happens in the book. Our reading today is from Nehemia, so let me outline what the book is about.

It takes us back to 450 B.C. when Jerusalem was part of the Persian Empire. We know how the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 600 B.C., taking the people off to seventy years of captivity. That captivity ended in 530 B.C. when Cyrus the Second of Persia let the people return to Jerusalem.

Nehemia, whose story we pick up today, was the grandson of a Jewish couple who decided to stay on in Persia rather than return to Jerusalem in 530 b.c. They got on so well there, that their grandson Nehemia came to be an officer in the court of King Artaxerxes.

Nehemia had heard that Jerusalem was in bad shape both morally and physically. He heard there was sinfulness and tumbling down walls. So, the story picks up with Nehemia asking to be sent to Jerusalem to find the best way to straighten matters out.

The conclusion of his mission had him recommending that the Law of Moses should be adopted as the civil law for Jerusalem. The people of Jerusalem and the Persian judges accepted his recommendation, provided that the Jews could adopt amendments to the Bible’s law to suit changing times.

They started by adopting three amendments about supporting the temple, not marrying foreigners, and not buying produce brought in on then Sabbath. That was fine; but four hundred and fifty years later, by Our Lord’s time, law books containing the amendments filled the temple, making it impossible for ordinary people to avoid violations.    

Of the two brothers, James would be the first Apostle to die, while John would be the last. What abou you and me?

Tuesday, 9/27/11

Let me call your attention to its having been Luke who gave us today’s Gospel. You know, of course that he also composed “The Acts of the Apostles.” People who know about such things, tell us that Luke’s use of the Greek Language was superior to that of the other authors of New Testament Books. They say he was a stylist in the way he arranged his material.

What has me mentioning that now is that today’s Gospel is part of a fine symmetry in Luke’s writing. In today’s Gospel and throughout his Gospel Luke spoke of Jesus slowly, and majestically making is way up to Jerusalem. Then, in his “Acts of the Apostles” we have a reverse of that: the action begins in Jerusalem, then works out to the ends of the earth.

We look fondly on the brothers James and John in this story. Jesus had settled power on them, and it went to their heads. Here they were like kids shouting, “Hey dad, watch what I can do!”  It was typical of them that they wanted to call down fire on the towns that would not welcome them. The other Apostles had nicknamed them Boanerges, which was Aramaic for “Sons of Thunder.”

Little did they suspect that one of them, James, would be the first to die; and one of them, John, would live the longest.

In saying, "Whoever is not against you is for you," Jesus was saying we should cooperate with other Christians and Jews.

Monday, 9/26/11

In the Gospel Jesus told the disciples to not prevent outsiders using his name to cast out devils. Allow me, please, to point out that in Our Lord’s time all types of insanity were thought to be caused by devils. So, that other man might have been addressing mentally retarded people, asking for a cure in the name of Jesus.

What is important is Our Lord’s answer, “Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”

Now, back in 1950 when I was twenty-two I had to go to the office of our strictest seminary priests. He was a man who was always precise about everything, as well as demanding that we be precise about everything. But that evening something was different about him. His hair was mussed, and he had buttoned up his sweater wrong in coming to answer the door.

For the only time I ever saw him not completely sure of himself, he asked me about this Bible passage. He said, “Thomas, what do you make of Jesus saying we should not prevent other kinds of people curing in his name?”

He looked at me for an answer, then hurriedly said, “Never mind. Go back to your study haul. I’ll see you about that other matter tomorrow.” The next day he was again as sure of himself as all the cardinals in the Curia.

The problem he was having with Our Lord’s statement is that it didn’t agree with Catholic Church policy in those years. We were saying we were the only one who were right. It was a grievous sin for us to take part in a liturgy with non-Catholics. That sin had a fancy Latin name. It was Commixio in sacris.

Having been indoctrinated into that way of thinking I had no answer for Father that night. Fourteen years after that, the Second Vatican Council published its decree on Ecumenism. (Ecumen was a Greek word for the whole world, and ecumenism means the whole world coming together in one belief.) The document said:

“The restoration of unity among all Christians is the principal concern of the Second Vatican Council.”

“Very many of the elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace: faith, hope, and charity, with the interior gifts of the Holy Spirit.” 

It's never too late to turn over a new leaf.

Sunday, 9/25/11

Today’s readings offer encouragement to those of us who haven’t accomplished much so far. The readings tell us it is never too late to accomplish something worthwhile.

In the first reading from Chapter 18 of his prophecy, Ezekiel set himself to correct a false impression people took away from the First Commandment. When the Ten Commandments are given in Chapter 20 of Exodus, the first Commandment tells us we cannot have other gods before our God. It goes on to say that when anyone fails to keep that commandment, God will not only punish him, but he will inflict punishment on the next four generations of his family.

The Jews had a colorful way of paraphrasing that threat. This is the way they put it: , “If a father eats unripe grapes his children’s teeth will be put on edge.” At the beginning of this chapter Ezekiel quoted God as declaring he detested that saying about green grapes. Ezekiel quotes God as saying that whenever anyone turns from  evil to do good he will be saved; and whenever anyone turns from a good life to embrace evil he will  not be saved.

The Gospel carries the same message. The first son advertized himself as ready to do the right thing, but didn’t follow through. The second son said he wouldn’t obey, but changed his mind about it.

So, if you have not built up a reputation for doing good deeds, you needn’t let your past unwillingness to serve God keep you from doing the right thing now. And if you have always had a reputation for being the best kid in the family that reputation won’t help you if you turn away from God.    

We take a look at the Second Temple that was consecrated in 515 B.C.

 Saturday, 9/ 24/11

In the first reading Zachariah urged the people of Jerusalem to get busy erecting their temple. He promised them that if they went ahead building the temple, “Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord.”

The Encyclopedia Britannica compared the campaigning of Haggai and Zachariah for getting the temple built to the programs of politicians for getting a giant football stadium built to draw money to our city.

With the enthusiasm stirred up by those two prophets, the people got the temple built in just five years, dedicating it in 515 B.C. 

The temple was not one huge building like St. Peter’s. It was a small building with two rooms. That small building was surrounded on three sides by the relatively small courtyard sacred to the priests. That courtyard was surround on three sides by the courtyard of Israel, and that courtyard was surrounded on three sides by the courtyard of the women. There the altar, a large barbecue pit, was constructed. That was surrounded by the Courtyard of the Gentiles where the animals for sacrifice were penned, then sold.

But, getting back to the small building, which was the only roofed structure. The inner room was known as the Holy of Holies. It had been the room where the Ark of the Covenant rested, but the Ark was destroyed or carried off by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. .Even without the Ark, that small room was sacred to God’s presence.

The other small room, heavily curtained off from the Holy of Holies, was called the Holy Place. A chosen priest entered it twice a day to burn incense to God. (That was where John the Baptist’s father Zechariah was met by the Angel Gabriel.)

The Responsorial Psalm reminds us of times when we started our Masses with parts of that Psalm in Latin.

Friday, 9/23/11

In the Responsorial Psalm we read, “Then I will go to the altar of God, the God of my gladness and joy.” In an earlier version of this Psalm it was a little different. It went, “I will go into the altar of God, to God who gives joy to my youth.”

Up to fifty years ago our Masses began with those words, only we had them in Latin. Before going up to the altar the priest would start it, saying, “Introibo ad altare Dei.” The server boys would then say, “Ad Deum qui laetificat  juventutem meum.” Back then, memorizing those Latin words that we didn’t understand was our gateway to becoming servers.

I can't remember what we said next. It was something like: "Quia tu es  Deus, fortitudo mea, quare me repulisti  et quare tristus incedo dum affliget me inimicus.”

 Back then we thought the Mass prayers could never change. But they were changed, and the server boys’ old Latin responses are forgotten.

We wonder how we will put up with the new changes that we must begin in December. Fifty years ago when we were supplied with Eucharistic Prayers I, II, III, IV I loved them from the start. I felt that they had to have been composed by people who had grasped the poetry of our language. I found that without making a conscious effort I had them memorized.

We will need to go along with the new changes, just as we need to go along with the wrinkles that come with age. Youth doesn’t last.

Haggai told the people (and told us) to get on with what needs to be done. God would help them (and us.)

Our first reading today is a segment of the prophecy of Haggai who prophesied in  Jerusalem in 520 B.C. Let’s set the stage for Haggai.

In 530 B.C. the seventy years of the Jew’s captivity in Babylon ended with Cyrus, emperor of Persia, freeing them, and sending them back to build the temple in Jerusalem. On their return, they were met by Samaritans and other skilful Gentiles who offered to help build the temple. On thinking it over, both the high priest Jeshua and Zerubbabel the descendant of Jerusalem’s last king, declined the offer, saying the Gentiles might lead Jewish young people astray.  

Having turned down the offer of skilled help the Jews found they lacked the know-how to build the temple. They gave up, sinking into despondency. At that time God raised up two prophets to egg the people on to work. Today and tomorrow we will read how Haggai prodded them. Saturday, Monday and Tuesday we will read the words of Haggai’s companion, Zechariah. He too would assure them that God will be with their efforts if they go out and find suitable trees and good building stones.

These reading can be telling us that if we have good work to do, God will work with us. You might need to take to yourself the Lord’s encouraging words in Chapter Twelve of the “Letter to the Hebrews.”

Strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. Make straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed.   

Matthew wrote his Gospel to assure Jewish Christians that their traditions all led up to Jesus the Messiah.

Wednesday, 9/21/11

This is the feast of St. Matthew and for his feast let me retell the story of how his Gospel came to be written. It started in the year 70 after the Romans had flattened Jerusalem and its temple. Now, their Jewish religion had always been centered on the temple, so with the temple gone, the surviving Pharisees began saying that if they were to continue as a religion they would need a new core. They decided on promoting a strict observance of kosher rules as the thing that defined Jewishness.

That presented a problem for the ten thousand Jews who had become Christians, and who were sharing meals with non-kosher Gentile Christians. The Pharisees began telling those Jewish Christians that they could not go on being both. They kept saying that by eating with sinners Jesus had broken away from Jewish traditions.

In writing his Gospel for those Jewish Christian in every page of his Gospel Matthew assured them that far from departing from Jewish tradition, Jesus had stood as the end toward which Jewish traditions all pointed.

Matthew recalled for his readers that Jesus said, “I did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I came to fulfill them.” Then, in the Sermon on the Mount Matthew pointed how in one matter after another Jesus took up matters in which Moses had gone only half-way, leaving it up to Jesus to complete what God wanted of us.

Today we honor Korean saints who rather than give up their Faith, gave their necks to the axes of executioners.

Tuesday, 9/20/11

Today is the feast of Andrew Kim, Paul Chong and ninety-eight other Korean people who rather than give up their Faith submitted to having their heads chopped off.

From the sixteen hundreds on Korea was called the Hermit Kingdom because it cut off its contacts with the outside world, letting no one in and no one out. However, to keep their independence from China they were obliged to send a yearly delegation bearing gifts for the emperor in Peking. In 1776 members of that delegation met with fine Catholic Chinese, and they studied a Chinese catechism written by Jesuits. Some of them were baptized, and they brought the Faith back to Seoul. 

At first they set up their own church, ordaining their young men as priests. Then, in 1792 a Chinese priest came, straightening them out, telling them they couldn’t make each other priests. Andrew Kim, their first Korean priest, was smuggled out as a teenager in 1828. Then, after a full course of studies in Shanghai, he was smuggled back in as a twenty-five year old ordained priest. After serving his people for less than a year he chose decapitation on the bank of the Han River rather than giving up his Faith. Paul Chong who died with him was a forty-five year old family man.

Since God called the pagan ruler Cyrus his "shepherd who fulfills my every wish," our non-Catholic leaders could be God's chosen instruments.

Monday, 9/19/11

Let’s look at the history behind this first reading from the Book of Ezra. Back in 600 B.C. Jeremiah the Prophet had seen that the people of Jerusalem were so deep in sin that there was no saving them. He predicted that Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar would conquer them, then, carry them off for seventy years of servitude in Babylon. As slaves there they were put to work digging canals and building dikes between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

At the end of the seventy years predicted by Jeremiah, the Persians under king Cyrus II of Persia conquered the Babylonians. Today’s reading tells how Cyrus, when he became aware of the unjust plight of the enslaved people from Jerusalem, issued a proclamation setting the Jews free, and supplying them with means for rebuilding their temple.

In Chapter 44 of Isaiah God referred to Cyrus as “my shepherd who fulfills my every wish.” In light of the distaste the Jews had for all Gentiles, that is an amazing thing to read in their Bible. From this story we can take the lesson that non-Catholic leaders might be God’s chosen agents for accomplishing the good he has in store for us.

This parable could be saying that new comers with no pedigree could outrank us with God.

Sunday, 9/18/11

In the Gospel workers brought into the vineyard at the last hour were given the same wage as those who bore the heat for twelve hours. I have heard that Sunday Gospel seventy-five times, always hearing it explained to mean that that God offers to converts who come into the Church in their final moments the same heavenly reward he gives to those of us who have been Catholic for the better part of a century.

Maybe that’s all the parable means, but I, for one, am tired of hearing the same thing over and over. Let’s look for what other lesson Jesus could mean for us to take from his story.

I have been reading up on the saints who lived at the time of the Reformation. The  bio of St. Phillip Neri made the point that his mother belonged to the nobility. The bio of St. Francis Borgia began by saying he was descended from Ferdinand and Isabella. Francis Xavier’s story begins with telling us he was born in the family castle. Even with the poorest saints, their bios point out that they were of noble ancestry.

Our standing in this world means a lot to us. My father savored the fact that his daughters had married into good families. He spoke of how their husbands were college men, except for the one whose abilities made him a captain in an exclusive branch of the military.

As a family we were stuck-up and proud of it. Our Lord’s parable might be telling us not to count out the good-hearted kids from the other side of the tracks. Maybe they couldn’t make it through high school; but with God they might outrank us snobs. Maybe today’s parable is telling us, ”Look out, the last may be first.”

Christ now dwells in unapproachable light.

Saturday, 9/17/11 

Paul concluded his letter to Timothy by asking him to be true to Christ until he appears. He told Timothy that when Christ appears, after having laid aside all his human limitations, he will be seen as dwelling in unapproachable light.

Throughout the Bible light is presented as the basic metaphor for God’s perfections. In Ephesians 5:9 Paul says light stands for every kind of goodness, righteousness, and truth.

Throughout his Gospel John used light and darkness as the counterparts of grace and sin. By law the Last Supper could not begin until after nightfall. So, when, well into the evening, Judas went out, and John commented, “It was night.” He meant it was night in the soul of Judas.

Psalm thirty-six, in addressing God, says, “In your light we see light.” John repeated that idea in the Prelude to his Gospel when he said, “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.” There, John is telling us that the life of Christ is the source of the energy that powers our minds and our movements. We are powered by him, in the same way this city’s TV’s, computers and street lights are powered by JEA.

We are grateful to St. Luke for telling us about the women who took care of Jesus and his Apostles.

Friday, 9/16/11

St. Luke in today’s Gospel gives us something that Matthew, Mark and John neglected to do. He gave us the names of the women who used their savings to feed and care for Jesus and the disciples.

The custom back then was to make little of the contribution made by women.  In cultures where the role of women is limited, it is often the women who demand that things be kept that way. I often think of a lively high school teacher in my parish in Korea. One time she asked me if she should become a Catholic. I said, “That is for you to decide.” That made her impatient with me. She said, “Don’t you know you are the man? Don’t you know men should make the decisions?”

Our age, with its women’s lib movement, has moved away from a state of affairs where the ladies wait for the men to tell them what to do, and it has been a good thing.

The last parish I was associated with is having difficulties; but its top-grade women’s guild can’t be kept down; and it will bring the parish through its hard times.

Mary is the new Eve, interceding for us with her Son. She is the new Eve, joining with the new Adam, sharing in his role of saving mankind.

Thursday, 9/15/11

Today we are asked to consider what Mary suffered in her role as mother of our Savior.

Jesus, while dying on the cross, looked down; and seeing Mary standing at the side of his disciple John, he said, “Woman, behold, your son.”

It might seem uncaring on the part of Jesus that he should address Mary as “Woman,” rather than as Mother; but he had an excellent reason for using the word “woman” there. He was likening Mary to Eve. He was recalling the words of God to Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman."

Jesus had addressed Mary as woman one time before. That was at the marriage feast at Cana when he said, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come?” There, by “his hour” he meant the central hour of his mission: namely, the hour of his death. At Cana Mary had called her Son’s attention to the needs of the wedding couple. In doing that, and in having her request answered, we see Mary in her familiar role as the new Eve, mother of us all, presenting out needs to her Son.

When, from the cross, Jesus called her “Woman” he was recognizing the new Eve. Just as the first Eve had a real share in our downfall, so the new Eve has a real share in saving us.

Jesus was exalted (lifted high) on the cross on Calvary. Then, he was exalted (lifted high) to the right hand of the Father.

Wednesday, 9/14/11

The Church calls today the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The word exalt , meaning to lift high, has two applications here. For one thing it refers to the painful shock to Jesus nailed to it when the cross was lifted up, exalted, fixed in place. For another thing it refers to the crucified Jesus being lift up to the Father’s throne.

In John’s Gospel Jesus twice identified himself with the bonze serpent Moses lifted up. In today’s Gospel he said he must be lifted up so that all might believe in him.  In John 8:28 he said he must be lifted up so that all will know he is God.

We have the word “exalt” in the second reading, taken from Chapter Two of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. In that passage Paul was asking the people of Phillipi to embrace a humble demeanor, urging them to follow the example of Christ who although while dwelling in heaven he was in the form of God, he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave; becoming obedient even unto death. Paul went on to say, “for this reason God has exalted him.”

As seminarians during Holy Week on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday evenings we gathered in the chapel to recite Matins and Lauds for the next day. (It was called Tenebrae, a word meaning fearful shadows.) For the antiphon for the Benedictus each night we sang a little more of that passage from Philippians. Friday night, as some hope crept into the liturgy, we would sing those words, “For this reason God has exalted him.” In Latin it was “Propter quod et Deus exaltavit illum,” and it was stirring.

God means for us to wear out, then come to him.

Tuesday, 9/13/11

In the Gospel Jesus and his disciples were coming near to the town of Nain when they met with a funeral procession. People in the throng pointed out a woman who was the chief mourner. They told Jesus and his companions that the woman was a poor widow, and the dead man was her only son. On hearing that, Jesus was filled with pity for the woman, and he told her, “Do not weep.”

The dead boy was lying uncovered on the framework of branches they had for carrying him, so when Jesus came up close he could touch the corpse. As he did, he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise!”

The young man sat up, and he began talking. If you were dramatizing the scene you might have the boy ask, “Where am I?”

We don’t know what he said. Jesus took him by the hand, and he led him to his mother.

Let me tell one of my old Korean stories in which nothing happens. I was walking in the hills with a few parishioners when we met a colorful funeral processions. The young men were carrying colored flags on long bamboo poles, and the crowd was murmuring Buddhist prayers. I had the thought that this would be a fine time for a miracle. I kind of asked, “What about it, God?” But nothing happened.

Twenty or thirty years ago Pentecostal and Charismatic groups were more prominent than they are now, and everyone was talking about miracles. Prayer groups were ranked based on the number of cures their prayers had brought about.

Maybe this is sour grapes on my part. Maybe this is my excuse for having no prayer power, but I don’t think we should interfere with God’s ordinary provisions. He has inspired many nurses and doctors to do their best at keeping us ticking. But, then, he has included planned obsolescence in our make-up. He means for us to wear out, and to then go on to something better.

Loving only our own kind is fine as long as we see all God's children as our own kind.

Monday, 9/12/11

The readings today remind us that we cannot be clannish. We can’t be looking out only for our own kind: for fellow Catholics, fellow Republicans, or fellow Democrats. In the first reading St. Paul told Timothy to urge Christians to pray for Roman authorities, working with them to secure a quiet, tranquil life for all citizens.

In the Gospel the Jewish elders asked Jesus to cure the slave of a Roman centurion, and Jesus brought the man back to health.

In my eighty-three years I have witnessed the various peoples of the earth coming to know each other better. An Irish priest friend of mine working in China came home on leave, and an old lady in his Irish village expressed her understanding of things. She said, “I hear that them Chinese would be horrid yokes altogether.”

When, as a twenty-six year old American priest, I settled in as the only foreigner in a Korean town, the people there seemed to be ninety-nine percent different from me. But after I had been there a few years I saw that the people were at least ninety-nine percent the same as me. The little kids in the market took me for a walking zoo, jumping up in my face, shouting, “Hello, okay. Hello, okay!” It offended me that that they couldn’t see that we are all the same kind of persons.

I find it the same in my four years of riding Jacksonville’s busses with black people. At first I saw them and me as opposite as day and night. Now I don’t see any them at all. I see thirty or forty unique individuals, each reading his or her magazine or set of school notes; each man and woman wrapped up in concerns with the people at his or her workplace or the people at his or her apartment.

We are all God’s children. He wants us to love one another.

We are God's servants, and we beter act like his servants.

Sunday, 9/11/11      

The Gospel asks us to avoid being like the servant who, after receiving mercy, refused to show mercy. We should rather be servants who, mindful of the forgiveness shown us, are forgiving of others. We are to be grateful servants, rather than ungrateful servants.

The Gospel regards us as God’s servants. I had a girl in a grade school class who would not accept that. She said, “It’s my life. I can do what I want with it.” Are we humble enough to accept our designation as servants? If we are not, we had better look for another religion.

Paul laid that down for us in the second reading. “None of us lives as his own master. None of us dies as his own master. While we live we are responsible to the Lord, when we die we die as his servants. Both in life and in death, we are the Lord’s.”

On awaking we should be asking God what he wants of us. We should say what Eli told Samuel to say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Day in, day out, there is one thing the Lord wants of you. Jesus said, “In this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” God doesn’t want his servants to be fighting.

Today we are all thinking of the 9/11 terrible sneak attack. Friday’s Times-Union reported an unexpected result of the destruction of the World Trade twin Towers. It said that the terrible crime has brought American Muslims closer to the rest of us. They all instinctively joined us in hating what was done. They in no way identified with the attackers. So, it had them feeling much more American, and less like those others.

Just as good trees bear only good fruit, so good men probably never commit mortal sins.

In the Gospel Jesus says, “A good tree does not bear bad fruit.” He seems to be saying that right-minded people consistently choose to do the right thing.

That thought puts me in mind of something I read twenty years ago on a weekend when I was spiritual director for the Women’s Cursillo. (Those weekends are like intensive three-day retreats.)

Someone provided the priest for the weekend with a house trailer, and I spent hours lounging out there, reading. I was reading Father Richard McBrien’s two-volume book “Catholicism,” and I came across a passage where he spoke of good men who raised families, sending the kids to Catholic schools, remaining honest with their wives. He said such men probably go through their whole lives without committing one mortal sin. (To me that sounds like what Jesus said about good trees.)

Anyway, that weekend a woman whose hard working husband had died in an accident came to me. She said he had missed Sunday Mass several times, and that left her to fear that he had died out of the state of Grace. I was happy that I was able to quote to her what the book said. Her good husband probably hadn’t committed one mortal sin in all life. He was a good tree that could not bear bad fruit.

God forgave Saul for persecuting Christians. God knew Saul was acting out of ignorance.

Our first reading is the opening of Paul’s letter to Timothy, who was Paul’s right-hand-man. He recalls a time when he, Paul, was an enemy of Jesus, persecuting Christians. He tell Timothy that God, who knew he was acting out of ignorance, forgave him for all the seemingly hateful things he did back then.

God was patient with Saul in those years when Saul was persecuting Christians. Here he tells Timothy that God put up with him because God knew Saul was acting out of ignorance. We must copy God in that. Instead of thinking hateful thoughts against those we see as our enemies, we should realize that they are doing what seems to be right to them.

It is helpful for us to meditate on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. The first of them is Wisdom. It inclines us to act in a way that will lead to good results in the long run.

The second Gift of the Holy Spirit is Understanding. It inclines us to look at what is standing under the behavior of our enemies. We see that they are acting for what seems right to them, and we give them “the benefit of the doubt.”

Today we celebrate Mary's birth. In imagination we look down lovingly on that wonderful sinless one-day-old.

Today we celebrate the birth of Mary. We might think of her birth in connection with the reading the Church gives us from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It has that wonderful phrase, “All things work for good for those who love God.” That conviction strengthened Mary all the days of her life. Whatever threats loomed for her, she went on loving God, knowing everything would turn out right in the end.

But this day does not celebrate what lay ahead in her life. No, it celebrates her being a day old baby. My sister Peg had thirteen children, and she complained of people who talked only of what her babies would become as adults. She loved babies just for being babies. Going along with that, let’s form a mental picture of the newborn Mary: sinless through and through, goodness through and through.

Watch her wiggle her toes. Listen to her gurgle. Take in that smile. It is priceless!

Jesus warns us aginst being too soft on olurselves. Joy is fine as long as you are giving it to those most in need of it.

Wednesday, 9/7/11

In the Gospel Jesus said, “Woe to you rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are filled now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.”

Do those words scare you? Do they make you think that in going too far in seeking the good life you have stored up punishments for yourself?  

Our Lord’s words should scare you. They should make you worry. That’s what they are all about.

Our Lord’s words were not meant to turn you into a sour puss who can’t have a good time. He himself was criticized for joining others in eating and drinking. The Bible encourages us spread joy with cheerful faces. It encourages us to have joy in our accomplishments.

Joy is the best of things, as long as you are keen on bringing it to those most in need of it.

Colossae's converts died to sin with Jesus by entering the pool that represented his tomb.

Tuesday, 9/6/11

Addressing the converts to Christianity in Colossae Paul wrote of their relationship with Christ by saying, “You were buried with him in Baptism.”

Those sound like rather empty holy words, but our accounts of Baptism from the early Church tell us that being “buried with him in Baptism” was something they felt about most sincerely.

In 200 a Roman priest named Hippolytus wrote a careful account of the way the Sacraments had been conferred in Rome since the time of Peter and Paul. That account, which we call the “Apostolic Tradition” described how Baptism was only conferred once a year. That was on Holy Saturday. On that night, the people commemorated Christ’s stay in the tomb on Holy Saturday. They gathered around a pool of water which for them represented Christ’s tomb.

The priest presiding reminded all present that two thieves were crucified with Jesus, with all three undergoing the same physical death. What made the death of Jesus invaluable, as St. Paul put it, wasn’t his physical death, but his death to sin.

The priest then asked those to be baptized to join in Our Lord’s death to sin by submerging themselves in the pool representing his tomb.

That is what Paul had in mind when he reminded the Christians of Colossae, “You were buried with him in Baptism.”

We, as part of the Body of Christ, offer our suffering along with his to save the masses.

Monday, 9/5/11

Our first reading is from a letter that Paul, while under imprisonment in Rome, wrote to the people of Colossae in the province of Laodicea. Paul had never been to that place, and he had never met those people. A disciple of his named Apaphras  had brought those people to the faith, and he wrote to Paul for help, because some of those Christians in Colossae were slipping away.

I hope his letter had a good effect on those back-sliders. It certainly impresses me. Paul’s faith goes beyond what goes for faith with us. He is super positive of what he is saying, and that gets to me.

He speaks of what was lacking in the suffering of Christ. That’s surprising. I thought Jesus had suffered enough to pay for all of us. He did, too; so what was lacking? You could say what was lacking was delivery boys for getting that payment to far-flung people; but Paul gives a better way of looking at our role. He sees us, the Church, as not separate from Christ. We are his body. With him we make up the whole body that plays a necessary role in the saving of all mankind.

Paul assures the people of Colossae that even though he never met them he had them constantly in his mind. More that that, he is consciously accepting the insults and the isolation of his imprisonment as his gift to bring about the glorious resurrection of those dear people.

In obeying proper authority we are obeying God.

Sunday, 9/4/11

Jesus told the Apostles, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  He did not say that just to Peter, he said it to the others as well. He was giving them all authority to instruct in his name. Each of them is the equivalent of what the first reading calls a “watchman” whom the Lord has appointed to give timely warning to people.

Being free people in a democratic country we wonder to what degree our religion binds us to obey the bishops and the pope. One handy old rule about when we need to obey is: "You must obey in everything but sin.”

That’s a fine rule, and we must stick by it. Still, that rule leaves a large gray area where the bishops are giving what they see as virtuous advise that to you seems to border on the sinful. There another old rule that comes in could be, “Let your conscience be your guide.”

According to Genesis, the first thing God said about us on creating us was, “It is not good for man to be alone.” By nature we are social animals, programmed to work together; but when we have ten different opinions on what way we should go, we eventually need someone to make the decision.  

There was an English couple who came to our neighborhood every winter to visit their daughter. The man had somehow stayed alive after commanding a gun crew on those perilous convoys across the Atlantic in World War II.  After peace, he and his wife joined the Catholic Church, and they became the support of the Catholic group in Bath, England. They sent me a clipping from the London Times in which an Anglican believer complained about his Church’s lack of authority. He said the Church had no way of settling any difficult question. All it could do was refer disputed matters to committees that would divide and subdivide to favor differences of opinion.

Our bishops, popes, mothers, dads and bosses are sometimes not the kind of people we like obeying; but in showing obedience to them we are obeying God. Paul explained that: “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed.”

The Sabbath was made for man that he might rest and lift his thoughs to God.

Saturday, 9, 3/11

Jesus excused his disciples for picking heads of grain and rubbing them on the Sabbath. He went on tor say, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” That meant that he could free us from strict obligations to abstain from work on the Sabbath.  Mark in his account of the same passage quotes Jesus as saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Verse 12 in Chapter Twenty-three of Exodus says the same thing. “For six days you may do your work, but on the seventh day you must rest, that your ox and your ass may also have rest, and that the son of your maidservant and the alien may be refreshed.”

That clearly shows that God’s intention of calling for a day’s rest was to give refreshment and joy to men and animals. He did not institute the law to keep mortals from laying hold of the food they need for life. The enemies of Jesus in using the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath as a way of entrapping him were certainly going against God’s wishes in the matter.

We should remember, however, that what we were commanded to do was not to cease all activity. What we were commanded to do was to keep the day holy. Going to church is an obvious way of doing that. We should also abstain from activity that is far from being holy.

America used to have “Blue Laws” that closed down shops where six days of business gave the public chance enough to make its purchases. I was away from America from 1953 to 1961. Most of our Blue Laws were little by little done away with during those years. People here were not conscious of the way they were slowly slipping away, but when I came back after eight years the changes struck me  hard. I was surprised when a young lady I knew gave up Sunday Mass because she had to work every Sunday in a beauty parlor. I didn’t think the conversation there was all of a holy nature.

In his Letter to the Colossians Paul said that Jesus was immeasurably greater than all the angels.

 This week and next our first readings are from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. He wrote this letter when he was a prisoner awaiting trial in Rome. Paul had never been to Colossae. His disciple Epaphras had brought them into the Faith, and  Epaphras had written to Paul about troubles the Colossians were having.

Colossae was a crossroads for caravans passing through what is now Turkey from all directions. Like our Lake City where I-75, I-10, and U.S. 90 intersect, Colossae had many inns where travelers exchanged all the new ideas that were circulating; and some of those strange new ideas were leading the Christians of Colossae astray.

We usually give the name Gnosticism to the novel ideas that were leading the Colossians astray. Gnosticism was similar to Astrology that  was saying the stars and planets controlled our lives. In Gnosticism it wasn’t just those heavenly bodies that were directing us, it was powerful angels that  were each of them in charge of his own planet or star. The Gnostics believed they came under the influence of those angels, receiving messages from them; even receiving whole new Gospels from them. They had names for those angels, calling them Throses, Dominions, Principalities, Powers.

In turning the Colossians away from adherence to those angels, Paul did not attack the belief that such angels could exist. Instead, he said that even if such angels could exist they would be nothing next to Jesus Christ. In support for his adoration of Christ, Paul makes a wonderful statement:

“Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in him were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible.”

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”