Building your life on the Sermon on the Mount is like building a house on rock.

Thursday, 12/1/11

At the end of his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that those who lived their lives in accord with his sermon would be like people who built their house on rock , and would be rewarded by seeing no trials would be too  much for them. It might help to summarize Our Lord’s teaching in the three chapters of his sermon.

In Matthew Chapter Five Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, then he outlined seven ways in which we must go beyond the standards set by Moses. For instance, Moses said we should not kill, but Jesus sad we should not even be angry.

In Matthew Chapter Six we hear Jesus telling us to pray, fast and do good works not to impress people, but to please our heavenly Father.

In Matthew Chapter Seven we read how Jesus advised us not to judge others, and to follow the Golden Rule in treating others as we would like to be treated.

I often tell the story about a hurricane hitting my coastal parish in Korea in the summer of 1944. In May I had helped two young men build a house for their two young families. We began by digging deep holes at all the corners. We fixed the four-by-four uprights atop heavy boulders we dropped in the holes.

Before we had the roof thatched one of the young men had to take his wife to her parent’s house, because she was giving birth to their firstborn. The girl ended up hanging on to a pine tree high on a hillside as she gave birth to her daughter, because the storm had taken away the house of her parents. The house we built on those rocks withstood the storm, and we all lived happily ever after.

Jesus asked Andrew, "What are you looking for?" How would you answer that question?

The Gospel tells the story about Jesus coming upon Andrew and his brother Simon as they worked with their fishing nets. I find more to think about in another story about Andrew. He and a neighboring fisherman’s son, probably John,  had gone down to see John the Baptist where he was baptizing in the Jordan near Jericho. Andrew and the neighbor boy had in mind that John might be the promised Messiah, so they attached themselves to him, helping with old people wading out to be baptized.

One day their eyes caught sight of a stranger walking along the shore. Then, from his place in the middle of the stream, John the Baptist called out, “Behold the Lamb of God!”

With that the two boys realized that it wasn’t John, but that stranger who was the Messiah. They came ashore, and headed off after the stranger, making sure they did not get too close. He turned, and he asked them, “What are you looking for?

They answered, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” He answered, “Come and you will see.” And they went and stayed with him.

We can relive our childhood in Andrew and the other boy. With them we can hear Jesus asking, “What are you looking for?” Hopefully, we will imitate Andrew and the other boy by going and staying with Jesus.

In the heavenly Jerusalem they will beat their swords into plowshares, and the lion will lay down with the lamb.

Today’s first reading from Isaiah picks up on yesterday’s reading from Amos, with both picturing the heavenly Jerusalem, and with both speaking of the peace that will reign there. They both use memorable imagery. Where Amos said their swords will be beaten into plowshares, Isaiah says the lion will lie down with the lamb.

The first part of today’s reading from Isaiah touches on matters for here and now. He lists the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Children at their Confirmations expect they will receive the Gifts of the Holy Spirit gift wrapped like prayer books or new rosaries.

But the Gifts of the Holy Spirit don’t work that ways. What the kids receive, and what we receive, is not a gift package, but an open line to God. If we take advantage of that, and call on God, he will guide us into behavior that will have us acting wisely, and with understanding, with minds open to good counsel, with the spiritual energy to stick to what must be done, with the willingness to look up the pertinent information, and with enjoyment in having God monitoring us.

In Advent we rejoice in all the ways the Lord comes to us. Today we celebrate his coming to rule us from the heavenly Jerusalem.

Monday, 11/28/11

The word Advent means the Coming. For us it is a time for preparing for Jesus (or Santa) coming to us this Christmas; but the Church uses its Mass readings to turn out thoughts to other Comings of the Lord. The first readings this week from prophets like Amos and Isaiah turn our thoughts to the coming of the Lord in Glory, coming down from heaven in the new, the eternal Jerusalem.

In the first reading today the prophet Amos sees the heavenly Jerusalem raised above all the mountains on earth. All people will stream to it, laying animosity aside forever. 

In Advent we celebrate Our Lord's coming to us.

Today is the first day of Advent, a word which means “He is coming,” and it refers to the Lord coming to us. We like to restrict Advent to preparing us for the Lord’s coming to us on Christmas in 2011, but the Church does not oblige us there. No, she uses a wide range of readings at Mass during Advent to prepare us for his coming in many different ways.

He came into the world back in the year One. He will come in power and glory at the end of the world. Today’s Mass warns that he will come for each of us individually on the last day of life for each of us. That is ominous. I have an alternate way of thinking about Our Lord coming to us.

Twenty-five years ago there was a Rabbi who taught a popular course in primitive religions at J.U. With is setting off on a Sabbatical someone pulled my name out of a hat to replace him teaching the course, and the Religion Department there supplied me with some books for the course. My name wasn’t enough to draw students for the course, and it was cancelled. However, I learned some surprising facts from those text books, and I incorporated them into a Sixth Grade World Religions course I taught for years at St. Paul’s.

One fact that surprised me was that almost every primitive people had something like Adam and Eve eating the forbidden apple: a story that told how God deserted mankind after the fall. In Africa the Lozi people of Zambia thought that God ran away forever on seeing our wickedness. The Pangwa of Tanzania said God made us out of ant excrement, fleeing from the smell of us. The Yoruba people say God was drunk on palm wine when he made us, and regretted making us.

Peoples on six continents came up with the same idea. They theorized that since God was near us at creation time  they could bring about his return by recreating their creation myths. That is what they celebrate at New Years, which is the one universal religious holiday.

There is one Bible story that separates us from those people who believe they can trick God into visiting us once a year. That story is Jacob’s dream when he saw an endless string of angels going up and down a ladder to God. That story told us that God keeps in touch with us.

Our New Testament improves on that Old Testament story. St. Paul assures us that “God is not far from any of us, for in him we live and move and have out being.”  

For us Advent, the time when we celebrate the Lord’s coming to us, is a time when we rejoice that the Lord stands at the door of our hearts. He comes in any time we open to him.

We should make the best use possible of the time left us.

The first reading is a little unfair. Written n 167 B.C. it purports to be a vision written in 600 B.C. . It sees the succeeding kingdoms of the Babylonians, Medes, Persians and Greeks in the form of beasts. But prophesies made after the events they prophesy are not all that great.

The Gospel is another thing. It has great value. It is the last Gospel of the Church year, and it comes across as the last Gospel for our lives. It tells us to pray for strength to withstand the “tribulations that are imminent.” We could not be given better advice that that.

By a quirk of our nature each of us humans feel that since I have been around as far back as I can remember, so I will always be around. Steve Jobs, the founder of the Apple Computer Company who passed away recently announced that I was a great break for him when the doctor told him he had just two month to live.

That let him push aside the delusion he shared with us of living on and on. The doctor enabled him to get planning on spending well the time he had left. In today’s Gospel Jesus acts as your doctor and mine. He tells us not to let “that day catch you by surprise.”

Apocalyptic literature rolls back the cover of the sky letting us see into heaven.

Friday, 11/25/11

In our first reading the writer is privileged to look into heaven. He says, “As I watched, thrones were set up and the Ancient One took his throne.” As the vision went on he saw “One like the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven.”

This passage in the Book of Daniel is like some passages in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, and like many in the Book of Revelations. They are examples of apocalyptic literature.

To get a simple grasp on apocalyptic literature we should begin by taking the word apart. The core of the word is the syllable “cal.” Now, cal was originally the Indo-European word for a small tent, but primitive people, looking on the sky as a stiff tent over the world, called the sky a large cal.   The first part of the word apocalyptic, the apo, means “away;” and the last syllable, the lypse  means “to take.”  Putting them together, the word apocalypse means taking the cover away. The cover of the sky is opened enough for the prophet to see into heaven.  

We don’t take the Bible’s apocalyptic scenes of heaven to be true photographs. They are more like dreams. Dreams are not exact portrayals of reality, but they do carry meaning for those trained in interpretation.

Our word "thank" is a vatiation of the word "think." To thank God is to think of all he has done for us.

Thursday, 11/24/11

Today we give thanks to God for all his gifts to us.

But, what does giving thanks mean? Is it simply the words, “Thank you?”

Whole industries, supporting many families, are devoted to printing and selling Thank You Cards. But what are they meant to tell the people they are sent to?

It you look up the word “thank” you will see that it is derived from the word “think.” So, to thank someone is to assure them you are thinking of them.

You are thinking of them, not in a vague way, but as the source of your joys. Today you think of God as the source of the love you have received from your family. You think of him as the one who devised your body and your mind. You think of him as the inventor of clouds and trees and baby faces.  You acknowledge your debt to him for all he has given to you and to the rest of us.

The Holy Spirit leads us to wisdom by having us recall the very words of Jesus we most need to hear.

Wednesday, 11/23/11

Jesus tells his followers the difficulties they will encounter as Christians, and it makes us feel like free-loaders who get to be Christians without needing to pay for it. Perhaps it only seems easy for us because we don’t work hard at it.

Jesus promises his followers that he will “give them wisdom in speaking.”

That is not a channel that is opened only in times of persecution. It is actually available to us in all the decisions facing us each day.

To tune in to Our Lord’s wisdom you need to clear the way for it. That would require your denying yourself some of your pleasures. It would require your reviewing your sins and failures. It would require you doing what you can about silencing your prejudices.

Having acquired all the honesty you can, and mustering all the humility you are capable of, you should then ask God to let you see his way out for you.

In promising us the Holy Spirit, Jesus not only said that he would lead us to all truth, but he promised that he would have us recall important things Jesus said. I think that is how Jesus leads us to his wisdom. When we have cleared the way for it, the Holy Spirit will have us recall the words of Jesus that will help us most.

An outline history of the Middle East.

Tuesday, 11/22/11

The fictional story of Daniel prompts a review of Middle East history.
9000 -8000 B.C. Civilization begins with the first animal husbandry and planting.
7000 B.C. Making of pottery and bricks.
6000 B.C  Controlling of Tigris and Euphrates floods with dikes and canals.
5000 B.C. Hebrews, Canaanites and other Semites rim the Arabian Peninsula.
4000 B.C. Coming from God-knows-where, the Sumerians occupy Mesopotamia.
3400 B.C. Sumerians invent writing in clay and counting by twelves.
2900 B.C. Sumerians tell the story of Gilgamesh, and of the ark and the flood.
2600 B.C. The Semitic peoples began working on the dikes in Mesopotamia.
2300 B.C. A Semite, Sargon I, crowned in Babylon. His daughter is priestess in Ur.
2200 B.C. A wave of Semites, the Amorites, stake claims around the fertile crescent.
2100 B.C. Sumerians regain control of Ur, keeping its temple to the Moon goddess.
2000 B.C. Abraham born in Ur. Sarai and Milcah are named for the moon goddess.
1800 B.C. Abraham settles in the promised land of Canaan.
1650 B.C. His brothers sell Joseph into Egypt.
1250 B.C. Moses leads the people out of Egypt.
1000 B.C. David comes to rule from Jerusalem.
  930 B.C. Solomon’s son lets the people split into kingdoms of Judah and Israel.
  720 B.C. Assyrians carry off the people of Israel. Isaiah prophesizes in Judah.
   597 B.C. Babylonians carry off the people of Judah. Jeremiah left in Jerusalem.
    530 B.C. Persians conquer Babylon, sending the Jews back to Jerusalem
     515 B.C.  Jews dedicate the second temple.
      445 B.C. Ezra and Nehemia enact the first of the Traditions of the Elders.
      333 B.C. Alexander conquered the Middle East, sparing Jerusalem’s temple.
       312 B.C. Alexander’s general Seleuchus founds dynasty ruling the Jews
       167 B.C.  Antiochus IV, descendent of Seleucus, puts Zeus on the temple’s altar.
        165 B.C. Judas Maccabeus frees Jerusalem First Hanukkah.
         152 B.C. Brother of Judas grabs high priesthood, the protesters were Pharisees.
             65 B.C. Romans take over.

God does not need our riches. He needs our best efforts.

This week we will have readings from the Book of Daniel. It is a favorite book for those who look for prophesies that might be fulfilled in our time. Although it tells the story of Daniel and his companions who were carried off to Babylon in 597 B.C., it was written in the Aramaic Language which did not come into use until a hundred years later. Careful analysis of the text indicates that it was not written until four hundred years after the events it describes.

There is nothing wrong with people writing fictional historic accounts long after the evens they describes. Some of the best books on our shelves are of that sort. The only harm comes when centuries later people pick up such fictional accounts, taking them for genuine history.

In 167 B.C. King Antiochus IV attempted to make Jewish boys eat pork and bow down to a state of Zeus. To keep them true to their Jewish Religion a Hasidic Jew wrote this account of how four hundred years earlier pious Jewish boys refused to eat forbidden food, and refused to bow to the statue Nebuchadnezzar set up, and still triumphed. 

The Gospel tells a brief story, but a beautiful one. Jesus, seeing a starving widow dropping her last two coins in the temple treasury, knew that she was giving all she had. He stood up, calling the attention of everyone to the lady’s sacrifice. We don’t need to do great things for God. What counts is the effort, not the results.

On this feast we should imagine Christ the King leading his saints into heaven.

Sunday, 11/20/11 

Some religious advice we receive sounds wonderful, and yet it doesn’t work for us. In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “What you did for one of the least brothers of mine you did for me.” Those words give rise to people telling us we should see Christ in unfortunate ones. I know that is very good advice, but it doesn’t work for me. I see the individual I’m dealing with, but I can’t fit Christ into him or her.

What does work for me – the thought that motivates me to do good – is that the people I am having trouble with are God’s children. God is his or her doting father, and it pleases him when I go out of my way to be kind to this runt of his family.

For celebrating the feast of Christ the King I find  beauty in the Preface of the Mass. It conjures up an image of what Romans called an official Triumph. It was  like a tickertape parade, and it was an honor the Senate voted to a general who had won great honors for Rome.  The day became a holiday for the citizens who would line the road, cheering on the great general and all his command.

The Preface gives particular attention to the troops he commands. Christ the King “delivers to Thy sublime majesty an eternal and universal kingdom. A kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”

And, I want to be there when the saints go marching in.

By honoring Abraham, Isaac, and Jaob the Sadducees were uncounsiouly professing belief in an afterlife.

Saturday, 11/19/11

Our Gospel tells a story about the Sadducees, who were a group of people who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. Before looking at the battle of wits to which they challenged Jesus, let’s get a fix on who the Sadducees were. In a twisted way they derived their name from a heroic priest at the time King David was dying. Even though David had promised his crown to Bathsheba’s son Solomon, an upstart son named Adonijah, with the army around him, was declaring himself the new king.

From his deathbed David sent orders to the priest Zadoc to anoint Solomon king. Zadoc was certain that if he did that Adonijah would kill him, but in obedience to David he anointed Solomon at the spring of Gihon. To everyone’s surprise the universal shout of “Long live King Solomon!” turned the tables against Adonijah, and he fled for his life. From that time on, from 967 B.C. it was a fixed rule that only a direct descendent of Zadoc could serve the Jews as their chief priest. Then, eight hundred and fifteen years later, in 152 B.C., Jonathan, the younger brother of Judas Maccabeus, declared himself chief priest, even though he was not descended from Zadoc.

The conservative Jews refused to accept Jonathan; and they hated his companions who used his position to enrich themselves. Those young men were saying, “In a way our Jonathan is a descendent of Zadoc. Zadoc was chief priest, and Jonathan is chief priest, so Jonathan is his descendent in that high office.” They went on to say, “We, as companions of the new Zadoc, Jonathan, are modern day Zadocites.” Our Bible has changed their assumed title of Zadocites to Sadducees.

The Sadducees, who were in it for the money, felt they could legitimately be considered as Jewish if they accepted just the first five books of the Bible; and since there is nothing about an afterlife in those books, they denied the resurrection of the dead.

Jesus asked them if, in accordance of the first five books of the Bible, they called themselves the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They said they did. He pointed out that unconsciously they were acknowledging life after death, because they were thinking of the Patriarchs not as decayed ashes but as living heroes. The crowds saw his point, and they laughed at the Sadducees.

Jesus then told us that procreation ended in this life , that there would be no new people born in heaven. We will live as angels.

When the Maccabees hauled the remnants of pagan worship out of the sancutary they re-dedicated the temple. That re-dedication is what Jewish people celebrate at Hanukka.

Friday, 11/18/11

Our first reading today tells the story of Judas Maccabeus, with his family and friends, purifying the temple that had been defiled by the swine sacrifices of the followers of King Antiochus IV. (The triumphant Jews took down the stones of the altar, and they lifted out all the stones of the surrounding sanctuary. After hauling those offensive stones outside the city, they rebuilt the altar and the sanctuary with fresh stones.)

In the year 148 of  the dynasty of King Seleucus, which is the year 165 B.C. in our reckoning, they rededicated the temple in an eight day ceremony. The Jews call that yearly eight-day holiday Hanukka, which is Hebrew for the “dedication.”

While the birth of Jesus which we celebrate at Christmas is a premier event in the history of Christianity, the cleaning up of that temple does not rank as a premier event in Jewish history. It was not of the same importance as the call of Moses, the dedication of Solomon's temple, or the heavenly vision of Isaiah. Even though, like the feast of Christmas, it comes in winter, as a relatively low ranking event it doesn't qualify to be put up in competition with Christmas.

An old man of the tribe of Levi withdrew obedience to King Antiochus, with his third son, Judas, leading the armed revolt. Judas fought with a ferociy that had him knicknamed "the Hammer," which in Hebrew was Maccabeus.

Thursday, 11/17/11

The first reading today picks up on the real events that followed on the action of King Antiochus in placing a statue of Zeus on the altar of the temple in Jerusalem. Rather than be forced to offer worship to Zeus, many people fled to small towns. However, the soldiers of King Antiochus went from town to town, forcing every Jew to eat pork and offer sacrifice to Zeus.

When those enforcing soldiers came to the town of Modien they were met by a man from the tribe of Levi. The man Mattathias and his five sons, not only refused to sacrifice to the Greek gods, but when Mattathais saw a formerly devote Jew worshipping Zeus, he stepped forward and slew the man. (I always asked St. Paul’s Seventh Graders if killing that man was a sin. Was it?)

With that bold act of Mattathias, Jewish patriotism was aroused, and resistance to  King Antiochus sprung up everywhere. Judas, the third son of Mattathis, led the revolt with such ferocity that he was nicknamed the Hammer, which in Hebrew was Maccabeus. The Second and Third Chapters of the Book of First Maccabees recounts the battles of Judas Maccabeus that in the end led to the rebels taking Jerusalem. There they prepared to purify the sanctuary that had been defiled by sacrifices of swine.  

The gold coins in Our Lord's parable stand for the advantages we have. We have health, education, good parents, plenty to eat. We are bound to use these advantages to accomplish a mountain of good in our lives.

Our Gospel today is from the Gospel according to Luke, and the parable is similar to the parable we had from Matthew’s Gospel last Sunday, except that the servants are given ten, five, and two gold coins instead of the five, two and one talents they were given in Matthew’s version of the story. 

Luke’s Gospel is different from the other three in that he has an introduction in which he told how he gathered the stories for his Gospel by going to the original eye witnesses. 

Now, there are ten very similar passages in Luke and Matthew that are not found in John and Mark. Bible scholars are in agreement over what they say about those similarities. They say that when both Matthew and Luke came to write their Gospels they looked up people who, after hearing Jesus tell his parables, took the trouble to write them down. They showed their notes to both Matthew and Luke. Although those notes kept by the eye witnesses are probably lost forever, scholars have a name for them. German scholars called them the Source, which in German is Quell. Shortening that, they say, “Those stories came from Q.”

The gold coins in the parable stand for benefits we are born with. Say we are free, healthy, from good families, well educated, have plenty to eat. That is like saying we started off with the ten gold coins.

Instead of just feeling contented with what good starts we have in life, we should see our many benefits as a challenge from God. We cannot sit back, enjoying our good fortune. We must give as freely as we have received. We are bound to accomplish a great deal of good in this world to pay God back for all that he has given us.

Jesus allowed Zacchaeus to go on collecting taxes. God know taxes are necessary.

Tuesday, 11/15/11
Our first reading for today and tomorrow are from the Second Book of the Maccabees, which is a collection of pious stories which lack the historical basis that is possessed by stories in the First Book of the Maccabees. So, let’s look at the Gospel.

Jericho’s chief tax collector, Zaccheus, was quite real, and a remarkable scoundrel. As the chief tax collector for the Romans, for the Jews he was the most hated man in Jericho. But like King Herod he had a great curiosity about Jesus. It is amusing for us to picture the richest man in Jericho shinnying up a tree to get a good look at the prophet. It is just as amusing to picture him scooting down, pleased as punch over the great prophet announcing he would dine with him.

On dining with Jesus, Zacchaeus underwent a complete turn-around. He gave half his possessions to the poor, and with people whom he had cheated, he gave back four times the amount he had taken from them.

Seeing the great turn-around Zacchaus underwent on meeting Jesus, we feel we ourselves would love to have a moment with the Lord.
Now, Jesus did not turn Zacchaeus into a hermit. He said, “Salvation has come to this house.” Since it is likely that the house of Zacchaeus was his place of business, Jesus was letting him continue collecting taxes. Tax collectors, and garbage collectors are all doing necessary work in God’s world. Whatever you do for a living it can be a holy profession in God’s eyes.

Alexander's General Seleucus established a dynasty that ruled Jerusalem for four hunded years.

Monday, 11/14/11

Our first readings this week are going to be from the books of the Maccabees. Let me give the background for the first of the two books. It is a story that begins with Alexander the Great. In 333 B.C. Alexander set out to conquer the Middle East. He did all that, but he died in 323; and that set his generals fighting over the spoils. In 312 one general, Ptolemy was crowned king of Egypt, and another, Seleucus, was crowned king of Syria. He reigned from Antioch, a hundred miles north of Jerusalem.

Today’s reading began in the year 137 of the dynasty of Seleucus. It was 137 counting down from 312 when it was founded. That made it 180 B. C. by our reckoning. The story introduces King Antiochus Epiphanes, the son of King Antiochus. To get into our story we must begin with that father, King Antiochus. His proper title was King Antiochus III, but he was also known as Antiochus the Great.

With King Antiochus, his many victories in the east went to his head, and he felt he was great enough to march across Turkey, then annex all of Greece. The Romans, hearing of that venture, sent in an army that in 190 B.C. surrounded the camp of  Antiochus at Magnesia. Antiochus asked for terms for sparing his life, and the Romans made him agree to make a heavy gold payment to Rome each year. To make sure Antiochus would send the gold, the Romans took the his sons, keeping them as hostages in Rome.

Each year from then on Antiochus had to find the gold that would keep his hostage sons alive. In 187 he was killed while pealing the gold from idols in Mesopotamia; and his son, Antiochus IV, returning from his years as a hostage, took the crown. He too had to set himself on finding gold to keep alive his sons who were hostages.

Antiochus IV invaded Egypt, getting hold of the gold; but then Roman troops moved in, ordering him to drop the loot, and to get out of there.  Desperate for gold to save  his sons, Antiochus headed for Jerusalem. Now, Alexander who conquered all before him, had made an exception of the temple in Jerusalem, declaring it to be too holy to be touched.

With no other way out of his problems, Antiochus robbed the temple, which was also the place where wealthy Jews banked their money. His profaning the sacred temple had all Mediterranean royalty turning on Antiochus in disgust. So, to put a good face on what he had done, Antiochus announced that his goal had been to replace the decadent religion of the Jews with the wonderful Greek religion. He mounted a statue of Zeus on the altar, and proceeded to force the Jews to worship in the Greek way.  

Your talents are your potential for becoming God-like. You will be judged on the degree to which you developed their combined potential for making you into an unique image of God.

Sunday, 11/13/11

The parable in today’s Gospel is one of three parables in Chapter Twenty-Five of Matthew’s Gospel. Together they give us the whole criteria on which God will judge our lives. We are free to consult this criteria now to check up on just how we will fare when we come before God for judgment.

The first parable was the one about the five wise and the five foolish virgins. The oil for their lamps represented friendship with God. The parable told us we would succeed in life if we maintained a friendship with God by not giving away to sinfulness.     

The second parable, which we look at today, is the one about making good use of the  talents given us. We will come back to that.

The third parable is the one about the king dividing mankind the way a shepherd divides sheep from goats. That parable tells us we will be judged on how we have responded to the needs of others. But, let’s get back to today’s parable about the talents.

I always approach this parable from our belief that we are made in God’s image and likeness. A sixth grade girl once asked me this question: “If we are all created like God, how come some people are left handed?” In itself that was a playful school girl’s question, but hidden in it was the deeper question: “If we are all made like God, how come we are so different from one another?”

I let that question roll around in my mind for a long while, and then one day an original answer came to me. It was this: “We can imagine God to be like a many faceted diamond, and each one of us is born with the potential of mirroring a separate facet of God.”  I know this answer is not in the Bible, and I know that it is not part of the Church’s official teaching; but still, I don’t see anything wrong with going with it. With each talent that we fully develop our likeness to God becomes more complete.

In 1988 the Roman Prefect of the Congregation for Education published his own summary of Vatican II’s “Declaration on Christian Education.” He wrote that our duty as Christian educators is to assist each student in developing his or her personality to its fullest. I like to think each student’s personality is that student’s potential for mirroring God in his or her own way. That potential comes to the child as a do-it-yourself-kit. By developing his or her potentials to the fullest the child makes him or herself into a mirror of one facet of God.

As a part of every Mass we should recall God's many favors to us.

Saturday, 11/12/11

The Responsorial Psalm urges us to remember the great things God had done. That is something we should be doing at Mass.

In our Masses we recall that Jesus, took bread, said the blessing, and broke the bread. We give those words little thought as we skip over them. That’s too bad. There is more to them than we realize. Take the second thing Jesus did, namely, he said the blessing.

Our Eucharistic Prayers all grew out of that blessing. The blessing Jesus offered at the Last Supper was the formal blessing for special meals. It had it’s own name. It was the Brakha.

At a dinner the Brakha offered by the host was similar to a special Thanksgiving blessing the head of a family might offer, mentioning how each family member had prospered in the previous meal. The host offering the Brakha always used his own words as they came to him.

But whatever words he used the host offering the Brakha always had to cover three points. First, he had to recall God’s many blessings. Second, he had to call down God’s spirit to unite and empower the diners for speaking to God. Third, he asked the diners to join him in making themselves into a pleasing gift offered to God in return for his many favors. (The Greek word for pleasing gift was Eu-charist.)  

From our hearts at every Mass we should be performing those three parts. First, we should be recalling God’s favors. Second, we should be asking for his Spirit. Third we should join Jesus as part of the Eucharist.

A small kindness from you might be enough to rekndle someone's hope, enabling him of her to go on taking care of things.

Friday, 11/11/11

I just Googled today’s saint, Martin of Tours, and Google served me up a homily I wrote sometime in the past. I’ll just reprint it here.

Today’s saint was one with a concern for the underdogs. At age ten Martin had angered his father by his becoming a Christian, but he followed his father into the Roman Guard officer’s class. Then, one cold evening, returning to his barracks on horseback, Martin was moved at the sight of a shivering beggar. Leaping down, and drawing his sword, Martin slit his cape in half, giving half to the beggar Then, in a dream Martin saw Jesus wrapped in the half cape; and he left the army, becoming the bishop of Tours.

In 1954 Time magazine published this poem by Phyllis McGinley; and my sister Peg sent a copy of it to me in Korea.

Martin of Tours, when he earned his shilling
Trooping the flags of the Roman Guard
Came on a poor aching and chilling
Beggar in rags by the barracks yard.

Blind to his lack, the guard went riding.
But Martin a moment, paused and drew
The coat from his back, his sword from hiding,
And sabered his raiment into two.

Now some who muse on the allegory
Affect to find it a pious joke;
To the beggar what use, for Martin what glory
In deed half-kind and part of a cloak?

Still, it has charm, and a point worth seizing.
For all who move in the mortal sun
Know halfway warm is better than freezing
As half a love is better than none.

This verse teaches a valuable lesson. It tells you to ignore the advice that has you helping out only when you can completely take care of another’s misery. Realize that although people can usually bungle on, somehow taking care of their problems, they sometimes have moments when all becomes hopeless. If at such a moment you step in with just a smidgeon of kindness, it will revive that person’s hope and he or she will go on taking care of the problems.

Wisdom is what we speak in obedience to God's urging.

Thursday, 11/10/11

Our first reading today is from Chapter Seven of the Book of Wisdom. It describes  Wisdom so beautifully that we could call this the core passage in the Book of Wisdom.

Some writers identify Wisdom in this book as being Christ, others as being the Holy Spirit. I prefer to sidestep that dispute. For me, Wisdom here represents the urges of God in our souls. Or perhaps Wisdom is what we declare in obedience to God urging us to speak the truth. Wisdom is also here described  as what happens to you if you are obedient to the urges. You will become holy, unique, intelligent, subtle, agile, tranquil, kindly.  

Today’s reading speaks of what is accomplished through Wisdom: “Passing into holy souls from age to age, she produces friends of God and prophets. She is fairer than the sun.”

So, she produces  prophets. Let’s stay with that for a moment. Lets look into the way that Wisdom produces prophets. We could start with the Hebrew word for a prophet. It is nabi. Which was what a Jewish child would call his or her mouth. The Bible saw a prophet as one who let God use his mouth to speak the truth.

Prophets are not just relics of the Old Testament. In our Catholic baptismal rite that follows on the pouring the water, the priest says that we have been baptized into Christ. By reason of our being identified with him, we also share in his priestly and prophetic roles. He confers those two sacred offices by anointing us with the oil of Chrism. That anointing equips each of us to lend his or her mouth to God for  announcing God’s truth.

In celebrating Christianity's oldest church we have a reading that asks us to bring a flow of goodness away from church as we leave.

Wednesday, 11/9/11

Emperor Constantine’s dowry in his second marriage brought him the Lateran hill, which is one of the seven hills of Rome. A major structure on the Lateran Hill was its basilica. The building’s name comes from the Greek word for a king, basilous; and the basilica served as an audience halls for kings. Typically, a basilica would be a rectangular building with a half-circle alcove on one end where the king’s throne was erected. That same shape is carried over in our modern Catholic basilicas where the altar is lodged in the half circle.

In 320 Constantine gave the Lateran Basilica to Pope St. Sylvester I. To this day the Basilica of St. John Lateran is known as the pope’s own church.

The first reading uses a clear stream flowing out of the east face of the temple as a symbol for the grace-inspired beautiful deeds which those attending Mass go out to perform.

The Gospel sees us as temples of God. We must be temples given over to prayer, rather than letting our souls be polluted with cheap thoughts (particularly at Mass time.)

The souls of the just are in the hands of God, and nothing can harm them.

Tuesday, 11/8/11

Our elders used to scold us, telling us not to get above our station in life. Jesus, in today’s Gospel tells us not to go looking for praise and rewards. After all, we are just servants. He says, “When you have done all things well, then say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have only done what we were obliged to do.”

Our first readings this week are from the Book of Wisdom. It is a work composed around the year 100 b.c.; and it seems to have been penned by a holy and wise Jew in Alexandria, Egypt.

Protestants do not accept it as a canonical book of the Bible; but they have it printed in the back of their bibles. In the nineties I used to meet with the local Protestant ministers who followed  Sunday readings they borrowed from us. When there was a reading from the Book of Wisdom their Sunday books substituted a reading from another part of the Bible.  All the same, they would always turn to the reading from the Book of Wisdom. They were like kids who couldn’t keep from looking at what they were told not to look at.

As well, they turned to the Book of Wisdom because it is a beautiful book: one that offers us true comfort. Earlier Old Testament books like Genesis and Kings showed no belief in an afterlife, but Wisdom’s picture of life after death is as charming as anything in the New Testament. It tells us, “God formed us to be imperishable, the image of his own nature.”  He tells us that God takes the souls of the just to himself. “Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed.”

Molesting by an adult robs a child of healthy slow development. Jesus said the molester would have been better off drowned.

In the Gospel Jesus said you would be better off if a heavy millstone had been secured around your neck to drown you than if you should cause a little one to sin.

His words bring up the sad stories of priests getting too friendly with kids. A priest I thought highly of became too friendly with a teenager friend of mine, and the young man needed heavy doses of counseling to get over it.

In teaching school for over twenty years I have had to deal with troubled kids who had been misused by relatives. I found those kids speaking to me as though they were adults. They commented on things a kid wouldn’t worry about: like the length of my trousers or sideburns. It seemed to me that an adult “friend” had forced the  kid to act like an adult partner to him or her,. That had caused the kid to skip the normal, gradual development, through the early teen years. Skipping that gradual development left them lacking.

We must have a friendship with God alive in our hearts when he comes.

Sunday, 11/6/11

With the last Sunday of this month, November 27, we will begin Advent, which will launch us into a new Church year. In the meantime the Church suggests we use these last three Sundays of this Church year to evaluate our lives, to arrive at a true estimate of how we stand with God. (And if we are failing miserably by God’s standards, we could use our poor standing as a goad to make us better ourselves.)

The three Gospels for the next three Sundays supply us with the criteria God will use in evaluating our lives. The three main criteria are found in the parables of Jesus we will read the next three Sundays. The first parable is today’s story about the wise and foolish virgins. The second parable is the man entrusting talents to his servants. The third parable is the one about the king separating the sheep from the goats. Those parables tell us that God will judge us mainly on first, if we have kept friendship for him alive in our hearts; secondly, if we have developed our God-given gifts; and thirdly, if we have been friends to those in need.

Today’s parable is woven on the frame of traditional Eastern weddings. With them, the groom and his groomsmen visit the village of the bride. After they are feasted there, they accompany the bride to the groom’s village for the wedding feast proper; and, young women from the groom’s village go a mile out to escort the bride to her new home. Since the feast in the bride’s village can run on till the food and drink are exhausted, the ten virgins in the story had no idea how long they would need to wait for the arrival of the wedding party.

Out of fear of the dark the five foolish virgins kept their lamps burning, with the sad result that they were out of oil when the wedding party made its appearance. They  rushed off to buy oil, but to no avail. In coming to join the group they met the sad discovery that the party had passed in, and they were locked out.

What does the oil stand for? You may have other fine answers. I see it as friendship with God that can’t be sacrificed for other kinds of warmth or pleasure.

The first reading’s high estimate placed on Wisdom is in accord with seeing the oil as maintaining friendship with God. In the Bible wisdom is viewed as valuing eventual happiness over immediate pleasure.

Old age is a happy time for us because we have more friends.

Saturday, 11/5/11

Today we conclude three weeks of having excerpts of Paul’s Letter to the Romans for our first reading. The concluding paragraph of the letter which we have today introduces us to many of Paul’s friends. He wants to be remembered to Prisca and Aquila who like him had practiced the leather tanning trade. Paul had word that his beloved Epaenetus was in Rome, and he asked the people who would read his letter to look Epaenetus up. He asked his readers to tell Mary he appreciated all she was doing for the church there. He greeted his own relatives, Andronicus and Junia. Then, he asked that his greeting should be relayed to Stachys, Ampliatus and Urbanus.

Apparently Paul had a man named Tertius doing the writing for him. Tertius too sent greetings from himself and from Erastus and Quartus who were there with him.

I think that one advantage in growing old is that we appreciate people more. In youth we are on the look out for mates and for help in finding a living. As we age we become aware of, and appreciative more, the fine qualities in the many people around us. In ways we are happier in our old age than we were in our youth.

Paul prayed to Christ in heaven, rather than to the histolrical Jesus.

Friday, 11/4/11

In today’s excerpt from Paul’s Letter to the Romans Paul twice speaks of Christ Jesus. Three times he speaks of Christ. He never refers to our Lord simply as Jesus.

Paul was a student in Jerusalem at the time of Our Lord’s death. He must have been aware of Jesus. He must have heard stories, but the only story from Our Lord’s lifetime that he tells in detail is one about  the Last Supper. There he speaks of the “Lord Jesus,” but not simply of “Jesus.”

Paul’s preference for referring to the Savior as Christ rather than as Jesus stemmed from his having all his hopes centered on the Savior living on in heaven as Christ, rather than on the Jesus of history.

We would do well to imitate Paul in this. In our prayer life we should relate directly to Christ in heaven, rather than to Jesus who lived all those centuries ago.

Both in life and in death we are the Lord's.

Thursday, 11/3/11

Today’s Mass gives us fine readings from St. Luke and St. Paul. Luke was St. Paul’s close companion through the last half of Paul’s life. We are greatly indebted to both of them for their writings.

More than Matthew, Mark, or John, Luke thought it important to record for us stories exemplifying God’s mercy. Luke alone recalled for us Our Lord’s parable of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. In today Gospel he gives us the stories Jesus told about the shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep to look for the one who was lost, and about the woman who kept sweeping the floor until she found her lost coin.

While St. Paul in his writings tells us no stories from Our Lord’s lifetime, he is marvelous in stating the principles for right living that flow from Our Lord’s teachings.

Today’s Mass gives us one of Paul’s finest summaries of Christ’s teachings. He says, “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; both in life and in death we are the Lord’s”

In the Apostles' Creed we profess belief in the communion of saints. It is our belief that the saints in heaven help us and that we can help the souls in Purgatory.

Wednesday, 11/2/11

The Religion classes I taught in Catholic schools included non-Catholic children who were uncomfortable over being in the minority. One such girl blurted out “I don’t believe there is any place called Purgatory.” I said, “I don’t either.”

The notion of place and time which mean so much to us on earth have no meaning in eternity. We do know, however, that Jesus said that those of us who do not make up for our faults while we are still “on the way” will be jailed until we have paid up. We can’t describe the manner or duration of that paying up, but it is real; and we can’t afford to let the check run up on how much we will need to pay for.

We do well to think both about the painful cleansing that awaits us, and about the painful cleansing our departed friends are going through now.

The second part of Dante’s Divine Comedy, the part he called the Purgatorio, is 4000 verses long. Dante knew his epic poem was a work of fiction. He didn’t try to deceive his listeners; but while most of us choose not to think about Purgatory, Dante did us a service in picturing it as clearly as the Scriptures allowed him to. I have gained enjoyment and spiritual benefits from reading it. This is how he described the arrival of the newly-dead who were shipped to the shore of Purgatory:

                              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.

Dante pictured Purgatory as a mountain with each higher level serving as the place where atonement was made for one after another of the Capitol Sins. (That is the origin of Thomas Merton’s “Seven Story Mountain.”)

On his climb up that mountain Dante visited with souls atoning for their dominant sins. A man named Guido dl Duca lamented over his envious inclinations.

                                    My blood was so afire with envy that,
                        When I had seen a man become happy,
                        The lividness in me was plain to see.

On ever level of Purgatory Dante met with souls who were grateful for the prayers of us living that were speeding their way toward heaven.