Try imagining yourself as part of the crowd that day in Capernaum

Sunday, 7/1/12

 Mark told us this story because he was around back then, and the incident touched him deeply. As well, he told it in the hope that we would use our imaginations to mix in with the crowd close to Jesus on that day in Capernaum.

Jesus had come ashore by boat, and immediately his charm drew a crowd that all but pushed him off the dock. Responding to their needs he spoke to cries of appreciation.

A man who that crowd recognized as Jairus, a synagogue official, pushed through, interrupting Our Lord’s words. He called out, “My daughter is at the point of death!”

Jesus, making no complaint about being interrupted, followed Jairus. (And if you are imagining this, you can go along too. You turn aside to let a bent-over woman brush past you, and you hear her murmur, “If I can touch his clothing it should cure me.”)

The lady had a kind of illness that made Jews see her as religiously unclean. It would also make anyone she touched unclean, so, not wanting to touch his person, she took a little flick at Our Lord's sleeve. Anyway, she made that touch, and it straightened her up, flushed with health.

Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” His disciples laughed, saying, “With this whole mob pressing against you, how can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

When the lady came forward Jesus graciously gave her the credit for her cure. He said, “Daughter, it was your own faith that saved you.”

That had just happened when word came that the daughter had died. Jesus, pushing  that notification aside, made his way through to the home of Jairus. A crowd was  gathered there, and they were making an unholy racket. They hoped they could  scare away the demons that wanted to snatch the girl’s spirit, as it came out from her.

Jesus entered the house, and he took the little dead girl by the hand. He said, “Talitha koum” or “Little girl, get up.”

She sat up, blinking, and Jesus gave her to her mother, saying. “Give this child something to eat.”  

When Jerusalem's sinfulness went too far God let her enemy destroy her.

Saturday, 6/30/12

Our first reading today gives us a sample of Jeremiah’s lament over the devastated Jerusalem after its young people had been carried off as captives. In our first readings we have been getting little snippets from the story of the destruction of Jerusalem, but we haven’t been given enough for us to really follow it.. Let me summarize.

In 597 B.C. the army of Babylon conquered Jerusalem, taking many influential people like Ezekiel off as captives. Their King Nebuchadnezzar allowed the city to survive as his ally against Egypt. But ten year later, after Jerusalem had fallen into  sinful ways, they secretly sided with Egypt against Babylon. Aware of that betrayal, Nebuchadnezzar brought his army to surround Jerusalem and finish its destruction.

At that, the Israelis who had scoffed at Jeremiah, begged him for help from God to save the city. They asked, “Is there anything we can do to recover God’s favor?”

Jeremiah came back with God’s answer. “Of all the hateful things this people does, the worst is that they make slaves of their own relatives when they fall into debt.”

Following Jeremiah’s advise Jerusalem’s citizens released all their slaves. Then, as if by magic, the army of Babylon turned to fight elsewhere. The wealthy of Jerusalem, seeing that they were saved, went out and rounded up their poor relatives, once again enslaving them.

After that there was no hope for the city. The army of Babylon returned, flattening the city, and carrying off the inhabitants as slaves.

There is a line of Scripture that says, “God will not be mocked.” It means that if we persist in defying him, he will let the forces of evil treat us the way they treated Jerusalem.    

Rome honors Peter and Paul together because they brought the faith to her. .

Friday, 6/29/12

Today we jointly honor St. Peter and St. Paul, and the reason we take them together is that they both brought the Gospel to Rome. Paul, in the second reading, speaks from Rome, saying, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Yesterday we honored St. Irenaeus who wrote about the way the Apostles passed on the Gospel in every Mediterranean city. He said we could uncover the full teachings of Christ left in any of those cities, but he said it would be easier to settle on Rome. Here is what he wrote:

Since, however, it would be very tedious to reckon up the succession of all the churches we will indicate that tradition derived from the apostles of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul. It is a matter of necessity that every church should agree with this church.”

This feast of Peter and Paul brings to mind the old Catholic practice of celebrating our feast days, and it opens the way for me to tell another of my Korea stories. As a twenty-six year old priest, in May of 1954, I was stationed at the Korean port town of Sokcho, and I fell in with a Peter and a Paul. They had come from a Benedictine parish in North Korea. Each of them had a young wife, and they used the one room they shared as a radio repair shop.

At the beginning of June, Peter and Paul had started on building a two-room house for themselves and their wives when two things happened. For one thing, Peter’s wife’s time came, and he had to take her off to her parents’ mountain home for the birth. The other thing was that a typhoon washed out all our bridges, and many houses and roads.

I clumsily helped Paul finish their house, and with him I worried about Peter and his wife. By the third week of June we had the house’s roof thatched; then on a sunny day Peter, the wife and baby appeared. Theresa had given birth on a high hillside as she hung to a pine tree above the river that swept off her parent’s home.

Never mind. We had a great feast day party, with thirty friends sharing each nine by nine floor, we shoveled in the rice and sang the songs.  

St. Irenaeus believed in holding on to a pure Christianity coming straight from the Apostles and Christ.

Thursday, 6/28/12

Today the Church honors Irenaeus, a second century saint. For Irenaeus it was most  important to us that we hold on to the Church’s beliefs that came straight from Christ and the Apostles, not mixing in any false Christian-like practices.

Irenaeus had spent his boyhood listening to the stories of an old man named Polycarp, and Polycarp had spent his boyhood listening to John the Apostle telling stories about Jesus.

In the year 130 there was an active trade between Irenaeus’s home place of Smyrna, and the French city of Lyons. On a business trip to Lyons, Irenaeus used wisdom he had from Polycarp to clean up Church problems. It ended with their asking him to be their bishop.

Next, his childhood link through Polycarp back to St. John and Jesus came to be valued in Rome. Being called there, he cleared out many false religious notions that  people were spreading. In that second century something like Astrology became popular. Where as Astrology finds messages for us from the planets and the stars, the fad then had people believing that each heavenly body had each own angel that moved it around. They developed number games for getting code messages from those angels.

The Greek word for “I know” is gnosco. Those people were such know-it-alls that they came to be called Gnostics.

Irenaeus spent months with each group of Gnostics, leaving us a two hundred page summering of what each group was saying.   

We can be like trees bearing good fruit by practicing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

Wednesday, 6/27/12

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus urged us to be like trees that bear good fruit. Of course, by that he means that we should make it our vocation to do as much good as we are can. In Catholic tradition such doing good is itemized as the Seven Corporal and the Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy. Let’s just review them.

Seven Corporal Works of Mercy
1.     Feed the hungry.  2. Give drink to the thirsty.  3. Clothe the naked.  4. Harbor the harborless. 5. Visit the sick.  6. Ransom the captive. 7. Bury the dead. 

Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy

1.     Instruct the ignorant.  2. Counsel the doubtful.  3. Admonish sinners.  4. Bear wrongs patiently. 5. Forgive offenses willingly. 6. Comfort the afflicted. 7. Pray for the living and the dead.

Let me introduce a personal note. For a year or so I have been saying fifteen decades of the Rosary every morning, but in place of the traditional Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries I have been meditating on the eight Beatitudes and the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Today I launched on another set of mysteries meditating on the seven Corporal Works of Mercy and the Seven Spiritual Works of Mystery. To make up the fifteenth I use something from one of St. Peter’s Letters. He said, “Honor all men.” 

I can’t here and now practice some of those works of mercy, but I can prepare myself to practice them when the occasion arises. 

By telling us to enter through the narrow gate Jesus was telling us to lead disciplined lives that prepare us to survive troubles.

Tuesday, 6/26/12

Let us review Our Lord’s image of the narrow gate, and of what he meant by striving to enter through it.

He was asking us to picture a typical walled city of his time. The great feature of such a city was its main gate. Far from its being a mere gate that swings in and out, it was a courtroom with rows of benches where the heads of families from the town met to transact the business of the town.  It was where their contracts were sworn to.

In addition, the gate was the town’s defense. When disease or outlaws threatened the town, the elders at the gate would swing it shut, giving those aught outside no way getting in.

There was, however, one way for a few old timers to get in when the city gates were closed. Around the back of the town, up a rocky hillside, and hidden by brambles, there was a narrow gate. It had its own gatekeeper who would open only to the people of the town who made themselves known to him over the years.

By telling us to enter through the narrow gate Jesus was telling us to avoid taking the easy way that everyone follows. Leading a disciplined life in which we keep in good shape physically, mentally, spiritually is what Jesus means when he tells us to enter through the narrow gate. 

Being a Christian obliges one to give to others the concern one has for ones self.

Monday, 6/25/12

In our Gospel Jesus urged us to regard others as favorably as we regard ourselves.  That isn’t easy, because our self-love is built into our natures, but coming to have a similar high regard for others is something that can only be acquired with difficulty.

I was much taken years ago by an explanation I read for the Jewish opposition to suicide. It said that every person is the center of his or her own world. As a consequence of that, for them, killing ones self is like killing off the whole world.

That notion of every person feeling like the center of the world could bring you to look at individuals differently. They might be only strangers you pass on the street, but each of them has a monumental self-regard that is the equal to the regard you have for yourself.

When Jesus says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” he doesn’t only mean you should love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. No, he means he wants you to love that other as though he or she was you. He wants you to practice empathy.

Being a real Christian requires you to give to all others the concern you reserved for yourself. 

God called you from your mother's womb, enlisting you in his work.

Sunday, 6/24/12

Sunday after Sunday we follow the readings assigned for the Sundays of the year. Last Sunday we had the Gospel and other Bible readings for the Eleventh Sunday. Seven days from now we will have the readings for the Thirteenth Sunday; but today, instead of taking the readings for the Twelfth Sunday, we read those assigned for celebrating the birth of John the Baptist. It has us wondering what use is there in recalling that ancient event. I come up with two reasons for making much of the birth of John the Baptist. Let me tell you.

My first reason for seeing John’s birth as special is that it points to the special nature of each of our coming into the world. God created you and me in his own image and likeness.  The first reading applies to John the Baptist, but it applies to you as well. You too can rightly say, “The Lord has called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”  So, get going at accomplishing all that God has sent you to do.

My second reason for seeing John’s birth as special is that I have seen others doing that. In our vacation driving around one year my buddy and I happened to roll into Quebec, Canada on June twenty-third. We took the least expensive rooms in the wonderful Frontenac Hotel, and went to bed. Going down for breakfast in the morning we found ourselves in the midst of a city-wide celebration. Young people and old, all in their Sunday best, were milling around, exchanging greetings, stopping to look at our Scrabble Game. They were enjoying to the full their belonging to a city that sees the birth of John the Baptist as a wonderful thing for this world.

By worrying and worrying about the future we are ignoring the good God who has cared for us all along.

Saturday, 6/23/12

Jesus said, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

You have to think twice to catch it, but his meaning there is that God gave you both a life and a body. Now, it he has been good enough and powerful enough to supply you those great things: a life and a body; isn’t he good enough and powerful enough to supply the lesser needs of food and clothing?

If you were to worry over his ability to supply you with food and clothing you would be like a well-cared-for little girl who whimpers over the possibility that she might be without food or clothing as she is growing up. Her mom and dad could rightly say she was insulting them by ignoring their role as providers.

Of course, we all have to plan well for tomorrow and next year. The Bible praises prudent housewives and stewards who lay good things aside for those rainy days. We all need to plan for the future, but when we have planned well, we need to let the matter rest. Worrying is not planning. Worrying is going around in circles. Worrying is doubting God’s goodness.

We pile up treasure in heaven by putting up with trouble on earth.

Friday, 6/22/12

Jesus tells us to store up treasures for ourselves in heaven. Those treasures are the rewards we will receive for the good things we do. Another word for that kind of reward is merit. We particularly store up merit for ourselves by staying with difficult tasks.

When I was eighteen and had been away at school for a year I came home in time for a last tennis game with an older seminarian named Billy. He was leaving the next day to become a monk at the Trappist Monastery in Kentucky. He was a big fellow who liked good food and cold beer, and I asked him how he would be happy without those things in the monastery. He said the monastery had very good bread and cheese.

I said, “That will be fine for a while, but what will happen when you get tired of the same bread and cheese every day?

Turning to me, he acted as though I was stupid for not knowing the answer to my question. He said, “Why, that’s when the merit starts.”  

As a professed monk, Billy was renamed Frere Dennis. He went on with his studies for becoming a priest as he became involved in a new endeavor. He was to be one of a number of monks who were being assigned to found a new monastery in New York State. While the order had designated the abbot for the new foundation, it was left to the men going to choose the priest who would be their prior. Surprisingly, they dipped down into their seminary, choosing Frere Dennis as their prior.

Taking charge of practical matters, Frere Dennis, while continuing the studies leading to the priesthood,   purchased three large Army surplus buildings. In taking them apart for train shipment, he collapsed from    a painful advanced cancer he had concealed. I think back on Billy in our seminary, standing in long silences before each station of the cross.

Praying is lifting minds and hearts to God.

Thursday, 6/21/12

In the Gospel, as a lesson on how we are to pray, Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer. Rather than asking us to copy his prayer word for word, he was giving us his Our Father as an example of the simplicity that should characterize our praying.

A good definition of prayer, and I don’t know where it came from is this: Prayer is lifting our minds and harts to God. That definition calls for real personal input of both mind and your heart.

The training about praying I received growing up was restricted to my saying Our Fathers and Hail Mary’s. The way we stuck with those old favorites comes out in the song “Danny Boy.” The girl says that if she is dead when Danny returns from the war she knows he would find her grave, and kneel and say an “Ave” there for her.

The Pentecostal movement brought in free wheeling prayer, not so much for us as individuals, but for our coming together to make emotion-laden appeals to Jesus.

This Tuesday afternoon two ladies came knocking at my door with the suggestion that they come in and call on Jesus with me. When I demurred, they asked where I would go after I died. Luckily, the phone rang with a request that I meet a friend at Panera’s, so I said I had to go there first.

I say a few rosaries on long walks every morning and evening. I don’t feel wrong in saying Hail Mary’s over and over. I liken it to the way when I was four or five and my mother took me shopping in big department stores, I’d mindlessly hold tight to my mother’s hand while I gaped all around. Now, repeating the Hail Mary’s while I think of the Mysteries is like gripping Mother Mary’s hand.

That’s two things I do: I say the Hail Mary’s and I think on the mysteries. Without complicating it at all, there is a third thing I do. I walk promoting a sensation that I am doing all this in direct contact with God.

We should do good works in secret just to please the Father, and to grow in intimacy with him.

Wednesday, 6/20/12

When Jesus told us not to pray or do good deeds or fast to be seen by others he was instructing us to avoid being hypocrites; but he was telling us something else, and if we don’t see what that is we are missing the point.

Of course Jesus does not want us to be hypocrites. They are obnoxious.

But his reason for our not making a public display of our good works is that pleasing the Father, and growing in intimacy with him, is the best use we can make of our time.

Growing in intimacy with the Father is a two-way street. For the meager measure of pleasure our love could gives him, a torrent of love comes back to us.

 Day in and day out our main endeavor should be one of growing in intimacy with the Father.

Jesus didn't tell us to be perfect, he told us to be complete, and well rounded the way the Father is.

Tuesday, 6/19/12

In Chapter Five of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus gives us the Beatitudes, and he outlines six areas ion which our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus concluded that summary of that ideal Christian life by saying, “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

At least, our English translation has Jesus concluding by saying, “Be perfect.” In Matthew’s original Greek account of what Jesus said it is a little different. What Matthew quoted Jesus as saying was, “Be teleios.” That is a word meaning complete, or well rounded.

If we take Jesus as telling us to be perfect it could set us on a course of trying to be models of perfection. It could schedule us for a set of spiritual gymnastics to make us more and more admirable.

If we take Jesus as telling us to be well rounded it would set us on a course of always striving to treat others in accord with the Beatitudes, of avoiding judging others, avoiding mistreating others or being vengeful.

Cardinal Joseph Bernadine of Chicago had his own way of expressing what Jesus recommends for us. At is crucifixion the tunic Jesus handed over to those soldiers was a seamless garment. The Cardinal interpreted that as meaning that our loving attitude towards all should not just be in feeding the hungry or freeing prisoners, but it should have us practicing all the works of mercy. As Jesus put it, “You must be well-rounded, as hour heavenly Father is well rounded.

That rule about taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth seems to be a tribal law Moses included in his writing. It could not have come from God.

Monday, 6/18/12

Today’s Gospel is a short paragraph taken from the Sermon on the Mount, which was an address in which Jesus explained ways in which the imperfect rules of the Old Testament must give way to his own perfect rules. Some people insist that all Old Testament rules still bind us, but such people are disobeying Jesus who set those old rules aside.

That Old Testament rule about an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth comes in Chapter Twenty-One of Exodus, which seems to be a collection of tribal laws that Moses combined with teachings he had from God. There is much in that chapter that could not have come from God. For instance it gives the rules to be followed when selling a daughter into slavery.

As well, it says that if a man beats a male or female slave so brutally that he or she dies immediately he should be punished. It goes on to say, 21. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property.

The mysterious way that seeds germinate and grow follows the orderly plan God imbedded in them.

Sunday, 6/17/12

The readings today use the metaphor of seeds bursting into life to describe the faith taking root and blooming in our hearts. 

The Gospel takes special note of God’s mysterious hand in farming. The farmer may speak of how he plants and grows crops, but he is in bed snoring away while God does the real farming. God causes the elaborate DNA he has imbedded in each to come to life and replicate itself over and over. It all takes place in accord with God’s precise, orderly plan.

Scientists over the last century have gotten a grasp on the genomes of wheat and rice seeds. They have come to understand something of God’s intricate engineering in plant life. They hope to win the Nobel Prize in recognition of the mystery of nature that they have uncovered.

They would do better to imitate England’s King Henry V. When his troops won the victory at Agincourt he said the credit all belonged to God. He commanded them all to sing the Non Nobis, which goes “Not to us, not to us, Lord. But to your name, your name let glory be given.

Non nobis, Domini, sed nomini tuo da gloriam.   

Permit me another classical reference. Over and over lately I have been repeating the words of Beatrice in the Divine Comedy. She was explaining the way the earth is made in God’s image. She said that the likeness of nature to God consists above all in such hidden strings of order that govern the germination of seeds while farmer snores away. Here is that great line of hers:

All things among themselves
Possess an order,
And this order is the form
That makes the universe like God.

On the day following the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus we give consideration to Mary's great heart.

Saturday, 6/16/12

On the day after we honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus we turn our thoughts to Mary and to what the Gospels tell us about her heart. They tell us that she was more than amazed at the appearance of the Angel Gabriel. Then, when she had the time to digest what God was asking of her, she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me as you say.”

The shepherds arrived after the birth of Jesus. They wanted to behold the new-born king. Mary was again amazed. She was left to quietly consider this over and over in her heart. 

When the twelve-year-old Jesus was missing from the group returning to Nazareth, Mary’s heart was a raging storm of concern. Then, when he announced that he had to be about his Father’s business that gave her much more to think about.

She was at her best at the wedding feast at Cana. When the wine ran out Mary could see the young couple’s embarrassment. She turned their concern over to Jesus, simply telling him, “They have no wine.” That is what she does with all the requests we put in her lap. She knew Jesus would take care of the matter. She told the servants, “Just do whatever he tells you to do.”

Finally, we must try picturing the grief raging in the heart of Mary when she was standing beneath the cross. You can thank her for taking you in when Jesus said, “Behold your child.”

By praying for the soldiers who crucified him Jesus told us we must love all of God's children.

Friday, 6/15/12

Today we honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Church gives us the Gospel story of the soldier’s lance piercing the side of Jesus to make sure he was dead. I went to the book about John’s Gospel written by Father Raymond Brown. Let me first explain about Father Brown, while I put myself in the picture too.

I was born five months before Ray in 1928, and so far I have outlived him by fourteen years. When Father Brown was ordained in 1953 his parents were living at Coral Gables or one of the cities down the coast. That was part of this Diocese of St. Augustine, so Ray was one of us.  

While I was sent off as far as they could send me, Ray was put into deep research work on the Bible. He became the world’s most highly regarded expert on the Gospel according to John. This is amazing: he was given honorary doctoral degrees from twenty-eight of the world’s finest universities. 

Now, while the last eight chapters of John’s Gospel cover just eleven pages in our Bibles, Ray’s commentary on those eight short chapters takes up twelve hundred pages.

In searching out St. John’s meaning for what John wrote about the soldier’s lance thrust, Ray quoted from very saintly and scholarly analyses that has come down to us. Without reaching an explanation of his own, he leaned toward two ideas.

First, he said the word St. John used for the lance thrust described a slight pricking, rather than a deep thrust. Seemingly, it was the soldiers way of knowing that Jesuss was completely dead. St. John attached importance to it because it announced to the world that Jesus was dead as dead could be before he rose on Sunday.

As for the blood and water, Ray Brown leans toward seeing this flow as coming from the pleural membranes that had medicated themselves with natural liquids after the cruel scourging.

For us on the Feast of the Sacred heart of Jesus the most important verse from the account of the death of Jesus might be the one where Jesus  prayed for his torturers, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The message to us from the Sacred Heart of Jesus is that we must open our hearts to every last one of God’s children.

In the six antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus outlines six ways in which Christian morality goes beyond what Moses had prescribe.

Thursday, 6/14/12

Our Gospel opens with Jesus telling us our righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. It goes on then with Jesus telling us one way in which we must be more morally upright. Going beyond avoiding murdering anyone, he says that as Christians we cannot even be angry with people.

That advise about controlling anger is just one item in the carefully constructed Sermon on the Mount, a document we should consider in  its entirety.

The Sermon on the Mount begins with Jesus going up on a mountain the way Moses went up on Mount Sinai. Next, it has Jesus giving us his Beatitudes just as Moses gave us the Ten Commandments. Then, Jesus tells us he had not come to abolish the old law. Rather, he came to complete its moral lessons.

Following on making that announcement, Jesus went on to describe six ways in which his new law goes beyond the old law. We have the first of them here. The old law forbade murder, the new law of Jesus forbids even being angry with our neighbor.

The next way that Jesus will tell us we must go beyond the old law is in the matter of sexual morality. The old law forbade adultery. Our Lord’s new law forbids lusting.

These contrasts between what is forbidden by the old and new law are referred to as the six “antitheses.” The other four have to do with divorce, oaths, vengeance and love of neighbor. 

Matthew wrote his Gospel to demonstrate the fact that instead of destroying the Law and the Prophets, Jesus fulfilled them.

Wednesday, 6/13/12

Our Church, in its Constitution on Divine Revelation teaches us that, “Truth is differently presented and expressed in the various types of historical writing. In prophetic and poetical texts.”

Today’s first reading that describes the duel between the prophet Elijah and the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal is clearly a myth. It was told as a hyperbole to let simple people grasp the greatness of God’s power. We would be going against God’s intention if we tried presenting it as an historical account.  

Today’s Gospel expresses the central truth in Matthew’s Gospel. Let me summarize the events that led up to Matthew writing his Gospel.

In the year 70 A.D. Rome, was so exasperated with the raids from Jewish guerilla fighters that it decided that the only way to protect its government was to destroy the city of Jerusalem where the Jewish zealots were holed up. So they surrounded the city, and they set up catapults that rained destructive fire on the city, its temple, and tens of thousands of its people.  

While the destruction was going on Jerusalem’s Pharisees got representatives out to the Roman General Titus, and they convinced him that they had the zealots were harder on them than they were on Rome. Titus believed them, and he let all the Pharisees and their families leave Jerusalem.

The Pharisees and their families settled on the Mediterranean at a place called Jamnia where they began asking themselves how they might survive as a substantial religion without their temple. What they decided on was making the observance of Kosher the distinctive mark of true Jews.

That decision had them turning against the thousands of Jews who had become followers of Jesus. They began telling Christians that they could no longer consider themselves Jewish, because their leader, Jesus, had shared food with unclean Gentiles. They said Jesus had been out to destroy the Law and the Prophets.

That had Matthew writing a gospel that demonstrated how, far from destroying the Law and the Prophets, Jesus had fulfilled what they promised.    

The fine training we have received makes us the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world if we have the discipline to do what is right because it is right.

Tuesday, 6/12/12

Jesus tells you and me that we are the salt of the earth and we are the light of the world. In calling us the salt of the earth and the light of the world Jesus is viewing us as people who have been gifted with fine training. From our parents, teachers, and others we received solid training that prepared us to live productive, disciplined lives.

Those parents, teachers, and the others put time and money into our training. Year after year they provided us with good food and good clothing and school expenses. They devoted themselves to instilling good habits in us. In calling us the salt of the earth Jesus is referring to us as the recipients of their generosity.

In calling us the light of the world Jesus refers to the good we can do for others by putting to work the fine training we have received.

This Sunday evening I had dinner with two nuns. One of them has been teaching in our grade schools for fifty years, and the other has been at it almost as long. They were both bemoaning an  attitude that has  taken hold of kids and sometimes of their parents.

They keep hearing kids say, “I can’t do that. It isn’t any fun.” Many parents echo that complaint. They say,  “That course is wrong for my child. It isn’t any fun for her.”

We are salt that has lost is savor and we are lights hidden under baskets when our self-love turn us back on ourselves, when our lack of discipline leaves us without the ability to do what is right because it is right.

St. Barnabas was the Patron Saint of Encouragement

Monday, 6/11/12

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Barnabas who was  Paul’s companion on the first of his  missionary journeys. An interesting thing about Barnabas is that his name was really Joseph, and Barnabas was just a nickname the Apostles gave him.

The name Barnabas means “Son of Encouragement.” We can think of Barnabas as the patron saint of encouragement; and I, for one, feel we need encouragement more than we need advice.

We can think of Barnabas as the Patron Saint of directors of education and of school principals.  In our diocese Pat Tierney, the lady we had as Director of Education for twenty-five years, was a Barnabas. At her retirement the teachers were saying they were so sorry she was leaving. When I asked them why they would miss her, their answers were all similar. Some would say, “She was so affirming.” Others would say, “She was so encouraging.”

With John Lippincot, the principal of our parish school, it was the same. He’d say, “I know how tough it is for you, but you are doing fine work. Hang in there”

In a classroom the odds are twenty-five to one against the teacher who is giving her all to bring the kids along. Maybe there are times when she needs direction, but there are many many more times she needs a friendly ally.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Sunday, 6/10/12

We used to celebrate this day as Corpus Christi, or “The Body of Christ;” but now, more properly, we refer to it as the feast of “The Body and Blood of Christ.” Our Mass readings today call attention to the significance of Christ shedding his blood for us.  

The first reading described the Old Covenant ceremony by which the Israelites became the People of God. Now, a covenant is a ceremony by which two parties are united as one. But that can only happen when there is no argument between them. So, for the people to be united with God they had to put away all sins keeping them apart. That had Moses calling out the Ten Commandments, and for each of them the people replied, “We will do everything the Lord has told us.”

For enacting the New Covenant the commandment Jesus laid down for us was simpler, but not easier. At the Last Supper Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

Going back to the Old Covenant, while the people were calling out their obedience to the Ten Commandments there were young men with brass bowls of the blood of bulls going through the throng, sprinkling each person with blood, and then pouring some on God’s altar. The significance of that sprinkling and pouring of blood came from their old belief that blood was life itself. The blood on them and on God’s altar had them sharing one life as God’s own people.

The second reading is concerned with the blood of the New Covenant by which we become one people with Christ. It is not the blood of bulls, but the precious blood of Christ. He gave us his blood by shedding it drop by drop. Echoing that Old Testament ceremony with Moses and the blood of bulls, the blood of Christ makes us one people with him and with each other.

At the last Supper when Jesus gave the Apostles his body for food he did not say “This is my body which will be given.”  What Matthew, Mark and Luke really wrote was , “This is my body which is being given. “ In his heart he was already dying. When we receive the body of Christ we are receiving the Lamb who is now giving up his precious life for us. 

Jesus has great appreciation for old women who do their very best.


Long ago, when I spent thirteen years in war-torn Korea, I Iearned enough of the language to get along. Some of their words still strike me as amusing. Like culsay. It means, “Maybe, maybe not. I’m not disputing, but I’m not agreeing.” I like their word kwenchenao . It means, “It aint perfect, but let’s let it go.”

Today’s Gospel got me on this subject. Jesus and the Apostles took seat for themselves opposite the treasury where they could watch the donations people were making. The Korean word for that kind of watching is googyung. The Korean-English dictionaries define googyung as “sightseeing,” but actually, it would be closer to the facts to call it “rubber-necking.”

It is intriguing to picture Jesus sitting in silence while the Apostles were googgyunging, checking on how much each rich man was donating. All that wealth made for great rubbernecking.

The Apostles turned away, and stopped watching when an old woman hobbled up, dropping two tiny coins into the treasury. She held no interest for them, but she had Jesus ending his referee, and leaping to his feet.

He said, “Look at that old widow. She put in more than all the others. They gave from their surplus wealth, but she gave back to God all she had to live on. What love!”

We should enrich our lives with the right kind of googyunging. We should benefit from the heroic example of people who are doing their best to get along when they are burdened with obesity, family disgraces, incurable diseases. It is good that they have Jesus appreciating what they bear up with, and rewarding them. 

The Bible is always truthful, but not always factual.

Friday, 6/8/12

Jesus told Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and useful in teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

We all believe that, but we do not all believe it in the same way. For instance, the Catholic Church once believed that all the statements in the Bible were factual. In three places the Psalms say that earth stands firm and immovable at the middle of the universe. Following on that, the Church in 1632 condemned Galileo for heresy because it wrote that the earth rotated around the sun. In 1992 Pope John Paul II apologized to Galileo. In doing so, he was publicly declaring that the Bible can get its facts wrong.

The Vatican Council compares the seventy-three books of he Bible to a long shelf of books that contains every type of literature. It has histories, and love poetry, satires, prophesies and myths. Many of the books use poetic license that twists the facts around to make deeper truths appear.

When Martin Luther put aside church authority as a guide to truth, he made the Scriptures our only guide.  He was right in a way, because the Scriptures do teach the truth. He was wrong, however, in confusing truth with facts. Truth demands that those of his followers who insist that the Bible be taken as fact better wise up.

When I tried telling my grade school classes that the Bible is truthful without being factual, there was one Baptist boy who kept telling me, “I don’t care what you say, I still believe the Bible.”

A dozen years later that boy showed up as best man in a wedding at out place, and he thanked me for setting him straight on the Bible.  

Our love for God is not real if we do not love our neighbor, and our love for our neighbor is not real if we do not love God.

Thursday, 6/7/12

A scribe asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment, and Jesus answered, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord alone.” Then, Jesus went on to say, “The second is this: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

The scribe then praised Jesus, repeating his words, but he changed them around, turning the two commandments into one, so that he was combining loving God with loving the neighbor. Noting that difference in the scribe’s answer, Jesus praised the man for uncovering a double truth; namely, that our love for God is not real if we do not love our neighbor, and our love for our neighbor is not real love if we do not love God.

It is as though all along Jesus had been hoping that someone would grasp that point. It is central to Christian morality. After getting the answer he had looked for, he no longer exchanged words with the scribes and Pharisees.

We should keep D-Day as the feast day of the saintly boys who gave their lives to rescue Europe's children.

Wednesday, 6/6/12

This was the day sixty eight years ago that British and American young men came ashore in France, facing a rain of gunfire that took the lives of nineteen hundred of those British boys and twenty-four hundred and fifty American boys. 

As Christians those boys who gave their lives were pacifists, but as Paul said to Timothy in today’s reading, God did not give them a spirit of cowardice. They did the right and brave thing by giving their lives to rescue Europe from a tyranny that  ushered children into gas ovens.

Each day our Mass honors some man or woman who gave his or her life to honor God. Don’t we have a greater reason to keep holy this day that honors troops who went ashore to save God’s children in France, Germany, Poland and Italy?

Jesus told us we are obliged to be good citizens in every way.

Tuesday, 6/5/12

Today’s Gospel gives us a clear and valuable lesson. Some Jewish religious leaders asked Jesus if it was right to pay taxes to the Romans who ruled their country. Jesus told them they should “Give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar, and give to God that belongs to God.”

Where Jesus said, “Give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar” he meant we should give to the government what belongs to the government. And just as God has a claim on our prayers, so the government has a right to some support for administering its service.

However, by his rule about giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, Jesus was telling us more than that we have a need to pay taxes. He was telling us we should fulfill all the obligations that go with being good citizens. 

In his First letter St. Peter told us, “Be subject to every institution for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme or to governors as sent by him.”

We cannot earn heaven on our own, but we can lose it on our own.

Monday, 6/4/12

Today’s first reading is attributed to St. Peter, but it is actually some of Peter’s ideas brought together by one of Peter’s followers. The follower who actually did the writing used long complicated sentences that would have puzzled Peter the fisherman. Still, there is a fine message here.

The reading speaks about the Christian’s privilege of sharing in God’s divine nature, what Catholics were schooled to see as living in the state of grace.

That state of grace is certainly an immense privilege. It turns animals like us into  heavenly creatures. But, what this reading tells us is that our transformation into heavenly creatures does not come without a price.

Martin Luther was right in saying that we cannot become heavenly creatures by our own efforts. He was right in saying grace is God’s gift all the way.

However, while it is true that we cannot earn heaven, what today’s reading tells us is that by our bad behavior we can throw it away.

So, the reading says, “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self control, and all of this with mutual love.