Your Catholic Faith is your pearl of great price.

Wednesday, 8/1/12

Jesus tells us to sell all we own so we may come into possession of heaven. In looking around we see many people who are not true to Our Lord’s words.

The Persian poet Omar Khayyam put the opposite view into verse. He wrote:

            Some for the glories of this world,
and some sigh for the prophet’s paradise to come.
Ah, take the cash, and let the credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant drum.

The distant drum can take many forms. It can be the aging golfer’s soaring handicap warning him of worse to come. The sound of that drum could be the flabby arms of a former beauty, or it could be the I.R.S. man coming with terrible questions.

As a young man the novitiate I was about to enter was a thing of devastating bleakness. I used to tell myself, “If you only had two lives one of them would be wild.”

In saying that the kingdom of heaven is like a buried treasure or like a pearl of great price Jesus was making almost the same point with both images, but there is a small difference. You might cash in the treasure, then go off on a spending spree; but you wouldn’t give up the pearl for love or money. Your Catholic Faith is your pearl of great price.

Jeremiah and a severely wounded Ignatius of Antioch urged us to find peace by keeping God central to our lives.

Tuesday, 7/31/12

In the first reading we are asked to sympathize with Jeremiah, an old man left to roam about the ruins of Jerusalem after the able-bodied had all been led off in chains. Out in the fields he sees the unburied dead. In the city he sees old people picking through the ruins for something edible.

In daily news reports we are confronted with people in similar desperate conditions. It makes us wonder how we would bear up amid such misery. We hear about suicides among young soldiers taken from happy homes, then, dropped into places like Afghanistan where they come on fields of beheaded bodies.

How well could we put up with disaster upon disaster? Today we celebrate the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola. As a heavily wounded battle casualty, he crawled into a cellar where for months he struggled at putting illusions aside, opening himself to God.

Like Jeremiah centuries before, Ignatius found endurance from God. Jeremiah wrote this:

“The thought of my homeless poverty is wormwood and gall; and remembering it over and over leaves my soul downcast within me. But I will call this to mind, as my reason for hope: The favors of the Lord are not exhausted, his mercies are not spent; they are renewed each morning, so great is his faithfulness.

“My portion is the Lord, says my soul; therefore I will hope in him.”     

In our busy world good people are like yeast who give a moral lift to those around them.

 Monday, 7/30/12

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until the whole mass began to rise.”

That is a favorite parable for people who would prefer the quiet life of a convent or monastery, but who are forced to fight their way in the business world. Jesus asks them to see all the people they work with as measures of flour that need yeast to raise them up, to make their lives meaningful.

In the years I was teaching high school I every day looked forward to my free period when I could goof off in the teachers’ lounge, but I often met with teachers who redirected me. They were happily at work preparing classes and writing reports to help troubled student straighten out. They were the yeast who raised me up.

Our Eucharistic Prayers are modeled on the formal Grace at Meals Jesus offered at the Last Supper.

Sunday, 7/29/12

There was a German Jesuit, Josef  Jungmann, who searched out  the facts dealing with the Eucharist from the Last Supper and down through the centuries. From his book on the Eucharist I have come to an appreciation of my daily Mass that is a little out of the ordinary. Let me tell you how it goes.

At the Last Supper Jesus as the host led the Apostles through an ancient “Grace at Meals” that was called the Brakah. Although the host was not allowed to use the same words each time, his Brakah always had to consist of three parts. The Greek name for those parts was Anamnesus, Epiclesus, and Eucharistesas. My name for them is “The Calling to mind Prayer,” and “The Calling Down Prayer,” and the “Pleasing Gift.”

In the accounts of the Eucharistic Prayer that St. Justin left us in 160 A.D. and that St. Hippolytus left us from 210 A.D. we see that the Church had continued using Our Lord’s Brakha from the Last Supper as the model for its Eucharistic Prayers.

The celebrant began by asking people to call to mind God’s favors, especially how he favored them by letting them take part in this heavenly meal.

Secondly, the celebrant asked God to send down his Spirit both to unite the diners and to make them worthy of speaking to him.

In the third place the celebrant spoke of how Jesus was again with them, making himself into a pleasing gift to God.

But, that was only half of the third part, of the pleasing gift. The Mass was of use to the diners only if they joined Jesus as part of the pleasing gift.

Our word “Eucharist” means “Pleasing gift.” Attending Mass is of no use to anyone who does not unite with Jesus by making him or herself into a part of the Eucharist with Jesus.

We are told of the importance of believing in the real presence. It is important, but it does you no good to believe, if you don’t join Jesus by making yourself part of the Eucharist, part of the pleasing gift to God.

Rather than sadden their friends, God let's bad people live on with everyone else. He also has the hope that with his grace they will switch from being weeds.

Saturday, 7/28/12

The parable in today’s Gospel compares the world to a field of grain with some weeds growing up with the wheat. The master told the servant not to try pulling out the weeds. He said that in doing that the servant would inevitably pull up some wheat, and damage the crop. It is a good parable in that it tells us that for now God seems to let people get away with being evil, but in the end they will be punished. There is a flaw in the parable. People are not weeds that can never turn into anything better. No, unlike weeds, they are able to change. They can become valuable people.

In the first reading Jeremiah said, “Put no trust in the deceitful words, ‘This is the temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!”

What he referred to there was a superstitious habit that had taken hold in Jerusalem. People had stopped frequenting the temple to speak with God and to bring their behavior in line with his commands. Instead they had gotten into the habit of only knocking three times on the temple gates while they repeated that mantra: “The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!”

What was behind that was a promise God had made to David three hundred years before. He had promised, “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever.”

People mistook that promise to mean that God would let them get away with anything. Knocking on the temple gate reminded them of that promise, and hopefully it reminded God of it too. 

The seeds are impulses God sends to us to do right things.

Friday, 7/27/12

We are all very familiar with Our Lord’s story of the sower who went out to sow his seed, but since it is a nearly perfect parable, we should not pass up the opportunity for benefitting from it. Jesus identified the seed as the word of God. By that he meant every impulse God gives us for knowing and doing what is right. (Every Actual Grace.)

 The seed falling on the hardened path that the birds make away with are graces that get lost in the trivia that occupy our lives.

Jesus pictured the rocky ground as a few inches of soil over an underlaying flat rock. The seed, finding heat above the rock, and having no way to put down roots, puts all its growth into shoots that burst into view. Those proud little shoots, with no roots that get down to moisture, keel over in the heat. We are like that when we at first embrace good ideas, but do not follow that by making real plans for sticking to them.

The seeds falling among thorns are fine ideas from God that can’t make it because we are giving priority to the growth of our lust, our pride, or our greed.

The seeds falling on good ground are God’s inspirations that are so often welcomed and nurtured by disciplined souls.

We have been blessed in being opened up to God's truth.

Thursday, 7/26/12

Jesus told the crowds, “Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Jesus was the Messiah.  Through centuries of waiting, people had not been given the privilege of hearing or seeing him.  Jesus called his audience in today’s Gospel blessed in seeing him and in hearing his words, but he would also call us blessed. We have been opened up to so much of God’s truth.

 In my retirement I am trying my hand at writing a history of Christianity, and I marvel at how easy it has been made for me. My folks and the Church gave me a fine education, and in my air conditioned condo I have an Apple Computer for my two finger typing. I am amazed at the ease with which I can Google up every name and every obscure theory.

In my privileged life my thoughts often go back to of a Korean lady named Bernadette. In the twelve years I was pastor of a town in Korea I spent a few nights in the spring and a few nights in the fall at the house of the chief Catholic in each of the outlying Catholic villages.  

Those chief Catholics and their wives did their best to make my stays pleasant, but at some places it didn’t work.  I was miserable with dishes that had fish eyes looking up at me, and I found it hard to remain polite with people who talked at me through the meals and into the nights.

I mentioned Bernadette. She was the wife of Stephano, the chief Catholic in a village called Mulchy. Bernadette was a fine seamstress, and a great cook. She had class written all over her, and I felt privileged to be staying in her house. Her only problem was that she had never had any schooling.

As we sat around on the floor of their little house, Bernadette would sometimes speak of how she missed being educated. She would  emphasize the point by slapping her eyes, punishing them for not having learned to read. My memory of Bernadette assures me that our eyes and ears have been truly blessed. 

Jesus told his disciples they should not lord it over people.

Wednesday, 7/25/12

As close followers of the Messiah, the Apostle James and his brother John looked forward to holding positions of power in the kingdom, but Jesus poured cold water on their ambitions. He said, “Rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt, but it cannot be that way with you.”

For centuries the Apostles and their followers won people over with their Christ-like simplicity, but in the year 500 something happened to smear that image.

The trouble started back in 320 when a priest in Alexandria named Father Arius began telling his people that although Jesus was a fine man, he was not the Son of God. All Egypt rejected this put-down of Jesus, but it was taken up by others in the Middle East, and they came to be known as Arians.

In 360 a priest named Ufilas, a member of one of the Germanic tribes invading Europe, translated the New Testament into a Germanic language. He did it in an Arian way, presenting Jesus as no more than  a good man. Members of all the Germanic tribes eagerly read the New Testament of Ufilas, and the people of one nation after another became Arian. That was true of the Visigoths, the Lombards, the Huns, Burgundians and the others.

The pope had his back against the wall, and Christianity was about to be wiped out, when a new tribe, the Franks, entered Europe. Then, Clovis, its king, married a Catholic girl who persuaded him to feel that if his people became Christians he would become a second Constantine. On Christmas of 496 the Franks were all baptized at Rheims.

The bishop and priests ran into a problem. The social structure of the Franks, like that of all feudal peoples, had only two levels of people. People with inheritances belonged to the nobility. People without inheritances slept with the pigs.

In 500 the priests and bishops found a way of dissociating themselves from the pigs. They staged a ceremony in which each of them appeared before the nobility stating, “I have an inheritance. My inheritance is the Lord.”

The Germanic word they used for inheritance was klerk . That had them classifying priests and bishops as clerics. They were put on a level with the nobility, but then the nobility said that for the arrangement to work the clerics would need to comport themselves like nobility. They had to become Reverends, Right Reverends, Most Reverends. To survive Feudalism we had to become a feudal power. Maybe now, to survive under Democracy we should become what Christ wanted us to be in the first place. 

We are all brothers and sisters, children of the one Father.

Tuesday, 7/24/12

In saying, “These are mother and brothers and sisters to me,” with a sweep of his hand, Jesus transformed his followers into his family members. In a patriotic mood we might want to look upon our fellow Americans as members of one big family, but what freezes out such sentiments is the realization that we have become a gun culture. Random slaughter is commonplace. There were 12 killed and 58 wounded this time in Colorado. At Columbine it was 13 killed and 21 injured. A week ago a man with an assault rifle gunned down seventeen people in an Alabama barroom.

In teaching school a few years ago I came to read about a  dangerous time in China six centuries before Christ when the weapon of choice was the long sword. Each of China’s small kingdoms had heroic swordsmen, and a noble code governed their encounters. Then, one kingdom brought in Mongolian horses, and their knights found that without dismounting they could fill their saddlebags with heads. Other  kingdoms invested in training mounted knights, they all began equipping their horses with extra saddlebags. Leaving home at all became so dangerous for people that they stopped coming together at markets and schools.

With society in collapse, various theories were advanced for bringing China back to life. In the end, it was the teaching of Confucius that succeeded. He said people had to get back to developing five essentials of civilization. He said they had to develop: 1. Good hearts, 2. Open hearts, 3. Proper relationships, 4. Artistic appreciation, and 5. Moral power. (In an age when only kings and judges had chairs, Confucius explained moral power by saying, “The one thing you cannot do with a sword is sit on it.”)

By instilling habits of moral behavior between family members, fellow citizens and schoolmates, China brought back its markets and schools. However, the teachings of Confucius had a blind spot in that it fostered no moral behavior towards strangers. That lack allowed for cheating customers and enslaving foreigners. For fixing up our world we will need to go beyond Confucius by encouraging all God’s children to treat each other as kinfolk. "Pistol packing Mama, lay that pistol down."

Our Bible stories from the ancient past let us see hat nothing changes with God.

Monday, 7/23/12

For the three Bible readings today we begin with the prophet Micah from 700 B.C.. Back then people were worshipping God by immolating bullocks and lambs on their altars. Then, the responsorial psalm from the same era speaks of burnt offerings of goats from the fold. The Gospel takes us back to a long ago time when Nineveh and Sheba were world powers.  

What does all that ancient past have to do with us? Those stories tell us that while with us here below things are always changing, with God and with what he asks of us there are no changes.

From 700 B.C. Micah says, what God requires of us is “Do right and love justice, and walk humbly with your God.”

The Psalm says, “To him who goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.”

For us, gathered here before the tabernacle the Gospel says, “There is something greater than Solomon here.”

Our shepherds are folks who have led us into happy productive living.

Sunday, 7/22/12

The readings are about God appointing shepherds for a people who would otherwise be aimless and lost.

Although we priests appropriate the term “shepherd” to ourselves, often it is others than priests who find nourishment for us, and who keep us from wandering aimlessly.

We Christians pray that there might be just one shepherd. That shepherd is Christ, and each true shepherd in our lives has lead in his name.

It would be a useful for you to go back over your years to make special note of those who by giving you valuable lessons in living have been your shepherds.

I have been doing that. My chief shepherd was my dad. He worked hard, then, turned to making life enjoyable for us. Six evenings a week, coming home from work, he’d appear at the back door, asking, “What are we going to do tonight?”

The other big pillar of my youth was our seminary rector. He loved feast day sing-a-longs, but he insisted that we get back to work before free time left us dissipated.  He always saw dissipation as the insidious enemy to meaningful living.

As well as those top grade shepherds I have had shepherdesses that made life good for me. And, as I write this, it is dawning on me that they possess the same qualities that made my dad and the rector valuable. Like those two, they are light-hearted company, but like them they do their work.

My nun buddy never leaves her classroom without thoroughly planning the next day’s work. My other shepherdess follows a rule that has her doing something for her property every day.

Seven centuries before Jesus bankers bought up the ancestral property of the Prophet Micah.

Saturday, 7/21/12

Our first reading is from Micah who grew up in farmland west of Jerusalem. Seven centuries before the birth of Jesus, Micah predicted, “You, Bethlehem-Ephratha, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler of Israel.” 

Micah complained of the rich who planned iniquity on the couches. Jeremiah, a contemporary, spoke of those drones as being served by relatives and neighbors who had been sold into slavery in payment for their debts.

Those farmers who have lost their lands are not much different from people today whom the banks have foreclosed. They said, “Our ruin is complete, our fields are portioned out among our captors.”

They mourned the fact that if they were ever allowed to come back they would not be able to identify their ancestral land. They say, “We shall have no one to mark our boundaries.”

That last complaint is one Jacksonville people might have heard from their grandparents. In 1901 a spark struck the stuffing in a mattress factory, and in eight  hours a fire had consumed the 2,368 buildings that made up the 146 city block area of Jacksonville.  There was one small-time surveyor who had grabbed up all his papers in  running before the flames, and his armful of papers were all the city had to mark its boundaries.  

The commandment does not tell us to honor our parents just when we think they are right.

Friday, 7/20/12

The readings today bring up the matter of obeying church rules. We must be prepared to obey them, even when they are not the best they might be. After all, the Commandment just tells us to honor our parents. It doesn’t tell us to honor them when they are right, giving us the option of not honoring them when we think they might be wrong. In the old days when the Church told us not to eat meat on Friday it was sinful for us to eat meat, even though the rule was later done away with.

The readings let us see that church rules can be wrong when they go against human nature.

The Gospel has a story about the disciples on a Sabbath day rubbing the husks off a few grains of wheat.  Jesus saw it as wrong to take such natural behavior, blowing it up to where it was seen as a violation of the commandment about keeping holy the Sabbath.

The first reading presents us with a fable that demonstrated God’s power by having his servant Isaiah make the sun back up in the sky. In 1630 Rome used their literal interpretation of that story as grounds for condemning Galileo for saying said that the earth rotates around the sun. Galileo humbly accepted the condemnation, then the Church, after thinking it over for three hundred and fifty years, conceded that she had been wrong in arguing against the facts.  

Comparing himself to an ox, Jesus assures you that if you slip under the yoke with him, not resisting the master's lead, you will find life easy.

Thursday, 7/19/12

 Am sure it isn’t necessary, but to make sure, let me explain the farmyard metaphor that is behind Jesus saying, “Take my yoke.”

I believe the flat piece of cloth around the neck of a collar-less dress is called its yoke, but that is inexact. Coming from an Indo-European word, to yoke means to join separate units together. The yoke Jesus is asking you to share is a wooden harness with two arcs. He is under one of them, and he is asking you to fit under the other side.

Our Lord’s words invite you to see him as a gentle ox that has kept his strength by never pulling against his master. Getting under the yoke with him, and following his lead in not struggling against God’s will, you will fine the yoke to be easy, and the burden light.  

We are the only beings in creation who can consciously know God

Wednesday, 7/18/12

Jesus said, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

St. Justin was a young man of Greek heritage. By the year 110 he had so mastered the teachings of Plato and Aristotle that he was privileged to wear a philosopher’s robe. Through those Greek masters he had come to see that there could only be one God, and that he was all good. Then, wandering on a sandy shore, Justin fell in with an old Christian. The man complimented Justin on his knowing so much about God, but he pointed out what today’s reading tells us, that no one actually knows God unless his Son brings that one to know God personally.

With stories like that of the Prodigal Son Jesus prepares us to know God personally, but we ourselves must open up and say, “Please, come in.”

To actually come to know God is no small matter. Chapter Three of the Book of Daniel has sun and moon blessing the Lord, all beasts wild and tame blessing the Lord, but they bless him only in that their existence demonstrates his creative power, they can’t actually bless the Lord.

As far as I know there is nothing but us in God’s universe that can consciously know God. Everywhere you go now days you see people talking on their cell phones. Our gift of consciousness is our cell phone for contacting God any moment day or night. 

If we have been showered with good things we will be severely judged on the use we have made of them.

Tuesday, 7/17/12

Jesus spent a good amount of time teaching and healing people in three fishing villages, Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida. When he was winding up his public years he wept for those towns. For all the attention and kindness he had shown them, their people had shown little improvement.

One time I asked my dad how come we had such good health and such happy lives. He said we have those good things because God loves us. That brought me to ask if the reason some places suffer from poverty and disease is that God doesn’t love them. My dad didn’t think that would be true. He said it was just ordinary circumstances that brought misery on those people.

There is a Biblical principle that states much will be expected of those who to whom much is given. On that principle, those three fishing towns will receive a severe judgment for having given God very little in return for his goodness to them.

Those of us who are living high have a right to be troubled by the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Abraham told the rich man in hell, “Remember child, that you received what was good in your lifetime while Lazarus received what was bad; now he is comforted here, while you are in torment.” Jesus somewhere told us to make friends with the Mammon of Iniquity. I think that means we should spread our surplus over the poor, so we don’t end up like the Rich Mann in the parable.

We must balance our religious acts with acts of kindness.

Monday, 7/16/12

In the first reading Isaiah quotes God as saying he does not want any fancy religious practices. The kind of religion God wants is composed of acts of justice and kindness.

God says, “Trample my courts no more! Bring me no worthless offerings. Your incense is loathsome to me. Though you pray the more, I will not listen.”

Then God tells us the kind of religious acts he wants. “Learn to do good. Make justice your aim. Redress those who have been wronged.”

The Bible isn’t telling us that coming to church and taking part in rituals is wrong. The Psalms and so many pages of the Bible’s speak of the beauty God sees in our worshipping together.

No, what Isaiah tells us in today’s readings is that saying ones prayers and worshiping with others is meaningless if it is not balance by a life of active concern for others.

In a day we meet with many people who have voids in their lives. Doing what we can to fill a void here and there is being truly religious.

When I was a seminarian I had younger seminarians working with me at a summer camp, and we used to walk into town for morning Mass. One Friday the pastor, Father Tony Polumbo, asked us to stay over the weekend to help with his carnival.

I said there was no place for us to sleep, but Father said we cold sleep in the convent. I asked where the nuns were, and he said at five in the afternoon two days back he received a phone call about a big accident down the highway. On his way out to the car he met the sisters who were going to the chapel. He asked them to come along to help with the accident victims.

They said they couldn’t come because their rule had them saying Vespers at five o’clock. They said they couldn’t miss their five o’clock Vespers, so Father Tony told them to say their Vespers, then pack up and leave. They did. I don’t remember much about the carnival.     

Jesus told his disciples to not be stand-offish. They should mix with the people they minister to.

Sunday, 7/15/12

When Jesus sent his disciples out to spread the good news he told them to bring no extra money, clothing or food. That directive of his has been understood to mean that he wanted his disciples to practice poverty, but that was not it. He meant that is disciples should move in with people, stirring up their generosity, building friendships. That way of understanding his words is clear from Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus told the disciples that their efforts for people deserved to be rewarded with hospitality.

Jesus went on to say that if any town would not receive them, that on coming out to the edge of such an ungenerous town they should stop, and shake its dust from their sandals. Scholars point out that knocking the dust from one’s sandals was a ritual practiced only before entering the temple. People were not to track worldly dirt into God’s holy place. By reversing the ritual here, Jesus was asking his disciples to see the whole outside world as God’s holy place, not to be contaminated with dust from an ungenerous town.

The main message of today’s Gospel is that the disciples and those they serve should become close friends. We might, though, take that urging towards friendship between ministers and those to whom they minister, and extend it. Since Jesus called for a friendly relationship between them, would he not want a similar closeness to exist between everyone in his gatherings?

I am getting at this: shouldn’t the men and women in any congregation get to know each other? Shouldn’t the boys and girls in our schools learn to be at ease with one another? After all, each of us, individually, is made in God’s image. Each of us is a distinct, valuable person, worth knowing.

The other day a niece of mine who attended Bishop Kenny High School in the Sixties dropped in on me when another Kenny lady from the Sixties happened to be helping me with some work. They got talking about what Bishop Kenny High School was like back then. The classrooms for the boys were on one side of Kingman Avenue, and those for the girls were on the other. There was no mixing of boys and girls. My two visitors got to joking about what curiosity they had about the boys back then. They spoke of primping their hair when they were sent with a note over to the boys’ side.

The boys and girls were taking classes together by the Seventies when I taught at Kenny, and I didn’t witness any bad incidents. What I did witness was countless cases of mutual appreciation.  

The temple was thought to be a copy of God's dwelling in heaven.

Saturday, 7/14/12

In the first reading Isaiah gave a description of his vision of heaven. By telling us that he had that vision the year King Uzziah died, he helps us locate the events of his life on the calendar. Other sources tell us that Uzziah died in 742 B.C.

Surprisingly, Isaiah saw God residing in a temple just like the temple in Jerusalem. God’s garments had a train that swooped down, filling the temple.

The notion of God in heaven living in a temple didn’t begin with Isaiah. Centuries before him, when Moses supplied the Israelites with a blueprint for God’s earthly sanctuary, he was precise about the dimensions of each wall and screen. He was binding them to construct an exact duplicate of God’s house in heaven.

By their temple being an exact replica of God’s house in heaven, when the Jews entered the temple they had the feeling that they were entering God’s house. He was there, and they could whisper with him.

The Seraphim hovering before God’s throne called out “Holy, holy, holy.” The Hebrew word for holy is kabod. We find it in Exodus, Chapter Three where God tells Moses to take off his sandals because he is on holy ground. Kabod is holy in the sense that it is not of this earth.

Vatican II taught us to see God’s church as being, not any building, but the people themselves. To that end we have been building round church buildings where the people are looking at each other. That is a fine idea, but we should not get rid of the old idea that a church building is God’s house where we can exchange whispers with him if everyone around us isn’t talking.

God can provide us with clean hearts and steadfast spirits.

Friday, 7/13/12

In the Responsorial Psalm we ask God to create clean hearts for us, and we ask him to give us steadfast spirits.

Clean hearts and steadfast spirits are usually conditions we think we acquire for ourselves by doing away with unclean thoughts and strengthening our resolves to keep going. Still, the Bible must know what it is talking about in leading us to ask God for those fine qualities.

The Bible there is reminding us that we never succeed on or own. Paul, writing to the people of Philippi said, “It is God working in you who causes you to will the good and to accomplish it.”

Paul also said, “God is not far from any of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.” We are like little fishes out in the ocean, with the ocean being God. There is no swerving to right or left independently of him.

But we do need to wiggle. We must do our part towards maintaining clean hearts. How worthwhile those efforts are! A clean heart, like a glistening glass, is a delight.

In telling his disciples to bring nothing with them he was telling them to mix with people, depending on their help, promoting a family feeling.

Thursday, 7/12/12

Today’s readings call for a kinder, friendlier church. When Jesus told his disciples to bring no money or extra clothing with them he immediately followed that up with saying, “The laborer deserves his keep.” In other words, his disciples need not carry any extras with them, because they have a right to have such things supplied them by the people they teach.

So, in telling his disciples not to bring anything with them he was not telling them to practice a life of poverty. No, he was telling them to cast themselves on people’s generosity and friendship. No, no, he was telling them more than that. He as telling them that promoting generosity and friendship was his job.

The first reading comes to the same point, but from another direction. It tells us that God loves us his children, He taught us to walk. He held us to his cheek. And like any father, what he wants more than anything is that we his children show love to one another.

St. Benedict's ancient rule called for maintaining healthy souls in healthy bodies.

Wednesday, 7/11/12

Today we honor St. Benedict, a man who wedded Roman common sense to a religious rule of life that has remained holy and practical for fifteen hundred years. 

As a well schooled young Roman, Benedict enjoyed a relationship with a young lady, but he was turned off by the wild carrying-on of the young people around him. He didn’t want to be part of a life where young men sipped wine while lying around in marble baths, looking forward to an old age when they would sip wine, lying around in marble baths, endlessly talking.

Coming across an account of the life of “St. Anthony In The Desert,” Benedict escaped to a cave east of Rome where he practiced the life led by the hermit Anthony. In time, other young men joined him in that holy way of life, praying from the Book of Psalms several times a day.

In the year 530 A.D. an uncle of Benedict’s left him the crest of Monte Casino south of Rome, and Benedict and the men attached to him moved there. They divided their days between working their gardens and coming together for chanting the Psalms.

Two other long-lasting Catholic religious families came into being at that time. For one thing, Benedict’s sister Scholastica, with her part of their family inheritance, settled a few miles south of Monte Casino. Like-minded women joined her in a  regime of work and prayer that over the centuries came to be known as the rule of St. Benedict.

That same year that Benedict took over the crest of Monte Casino a man whom he would never meet or hear about set up a monastery at Clonard in Ireland. St. Finnian and his companions came together at set hours of the day to chant the Psalms, but their way of life differed from that of the Benedictines in two ways. First, they benefitted mankind by century after century copying and recopying the books of the Bible and the classics of Greece and Rome.

The other way in which the Irish monks differed from the Benedictines was by their adopting the severe penances of St. Anthony and the monks of the desert. They sought to strengthen their souls by punishing their bodies. The Benedictines followed the milder Roman adage “Mens sana in corpore sano,” which means, “Keeping the soul healthy by keeping the body healthy.”

Some of the possessed people Jesus helped might have been what we would call mentally disturbed people. We should follow Jesus in helping such people.

Tuesday, 7/0/12

The Gospel tells the story of Jesus curing a man who was possessed by a demon, but the scholars tell us that in Biblical times all people with mental disorders were thought to be possessed by demons. If that is true, then Jesus actually helped many people who were suffering from mental disorders.

Since our calling to be Christians obliges us to carry on the work of Jesus, as Christians we are duty-bound to help people overcome the hardships of mental disorders.

The main thing we can do for troubled people is to get them professional help. Often mental disorders result from chemical imbalances that can be controlled by the proper medication.

But it also helps to get such people out of themselves. Solitary prison confinement often leaves people psychotic, while carrying on friendly conversations helps them back to normalcy. Many of the street people are Schizophrenic. I suppose that condition led to them becoming street people. I have a niece, a trained therapist, who has worked with mentally disturbed street people for forty years. The twenty-five clients Joan treats on a regular basis have become her family.

I have heard that Schizophrenia sometimes comes on healthy young men in their late teens, and I once read an account by a young lady whose beloved brother went that way. Sometimes the memory of a possible sister’s pain leads me to be kind to such a boy for the sake of a sister he might have somewhere.

One of those people who talks to himself was a regular at our church, and I used to pay him a dollar apiece for weird crayon pictures he drew.  When one of our ladies complained about him being around I said, “He doesn’t do any harm.” That had her coming back with, “But, Father, does he do any good?” That was years ago, but for some reason it has stuck in my memory.

God is alluring you, speaking to your heart.

Monday, 7/9/12

You want to feel God’s closeness, but sometimes you have trouble picturing any approach he could make to you. After all, the universe is millions of light-years wide, and he is holding it in his hands. How can one of God’s immensity ratchet down to you. With a million other people praying to him every minute how can he give you any attention?

To push those objections aside, God inspired Hosea to give you a notion of his deep personal concern for you. Hosea was married to a woman named Gomer, but she left him for other lovers who were generous with presents.

Hosea was full of forgiveness for Gomer, and he gave himself to pursuing her with all his might. At that stage God entered into the drama, using Gomer as a standin for every soul who has strayed from him.

God took everything that Hosea said to Gomer, and he made those words his own. He speaks them to you. God tells you, “I want to be ever so close to you.” Speaking of your soul, God whispers, “I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.”  

As Christians we are bound to act as prophets, speaking in God's name, while never forgetting that we are not God.

Sunday, 7/8/12

Our readings today picture three prophets who ran up against stonewalls. Jesus ran up against a stonewall with his hometown people who couldn’t see him as anything but their neighbor’s boy.

The Prophet Ezekiel ran up against a stonewall with the Israelites because they were “hard of face and obstinate of heart.”

Paul ran up against the stonewall of is own flawed character. It weakened his ability for getting God’s word across.

The Jewish word for a prophet, nabi, was actually a child’s word for his mouth. The Jewish choice of that word tells us that they thought of a prophet as one who lends his mouth to God for speaking the truth.

Let me switch to another assertion. It is this: by reason of our Baptisms each of us is called upon to be a prophet. Paul says we are baptized into Christ, and that gives us a share in his role as a prophet. As baptized Christians we are not only entitled to speak God’s truth, we are also duty-bound to speak God’s truth when we see it.

But, even though we are bound to speak God’s truth, we must also keep in mind the possibility that we may be wrong.

 In retirement I wrote a 500 page account of my long life, and it has made me see how often I have had to change my mind after having been a hundred percent sure of myself.

The memory of an incident from fifty years ago often comes back to humble me. After being a pastor in Korea for seven years I sat down with six priests newly arrived there. I was a prophet letting them in on truths I had come by. Then, Father Bob Sweeney, one of the young priests, rose up, and hovering over me, he asked, “Who are you? God?”  

You cannot introduce the new wine of Christ into an old wine skin of worldly ways.

Saturday, 7/7/12

Jesus said, “People do not put new wine into old wine skins, otherwise the skins will burst.”

One way we might apply that saying to our lives is to take the old wine skin to stand for a worldly life style, and the new wine as standing for a Christian way of living. There, putting the new wine into the old skin would describe a situation in which we pose as Christians without forsaking the worldly way of living.

The worldly way of living has a slew of sayings.

The worldly soul says, “All’s fair in love and war."

The worldly soul says, “You only go around once, so get all the gusto you can get.”

The worldly soul says, “Clothes make the man.”

You cannot introduce the new wine of  Christ into a soul that is an old wine skin of worldly ways.

By dining with tax collectors Jesus showed God's approval of honest business dealings.

 Friday, 7/6/12

Our readings today deal with good and bad ways of conducting business.

The Gospel has Jesus dining with Matthew and his cronies. It was Our Lord’s way of showing approval of the life of good people in business. Matthew’s line of work, collecting taxes, is not seen as a noble profession; still it is a vital cog in the complex machinery of our civilization. It is not blue ribbon stuff like defending one’s nation in battle, or nursing the elderly, or teaching slow children. Still, we couldn’t do without it, and Jesus acknowledged our debt to businessmen by rubbing elbows and sharing cups with them.

There was one of Our Lord’s mini parables that was a perfect fit for businessmen. It was the one where he said the kingdom of heaven is like yeast which a woman mixed with three measures of flour until the whole mass began to rise. The three measures of flour stand for our general population, while the yeast is businessmen men who set an example of honest dealing showing the world that honesty pays.

In the first reading the prophet Amos paints a picture of greedy merchants who are bothered by the Blue Laws that force them to close shop on holy days. Impatience with their silent cash registers leads them to devise schemes for cheating customers. They will mix sawdust with the grain they sell. They will doctor their scales and their measuring baskets.

Let me tell one of my old Korea stories. Three times a year in my dozen years as pastor in the town of Yang Yang I took all-day bus rides into the capitol and back. On the way back one evening we had twenty more miles to go when the driver said the bus could go no further. At a loss as to how I could get home, I was pleased when a stranger proposed our splitting the price of hiring a cab for those twenty miles.

I didn’t recognize the man, but he said he had seen me pass his shop a hundred times. He explained to me that shopkeepers like him never went to church because they had to cheat people to make a living. The way he squared things with God was to take a year off every seven years, and in that year he would shave his head, and beg for meals as a Buddhist monk. I told him about being the yeast that would lift society, but he said it wouldn‘t work. 

Having his sins forgiven was better than getting a cure of his paralysis.

 Thursday, 7/5/12

This story of Jesus curing the paralytic has more drama to it In Luke’s Gospel. Let’s go with Luke. He told us about a great crowd gathered around the synagogue with people straining to see Jesus and to catch some of his words.

Four men carrying a paralyzed friend came up to the crowd. They were gripping the corners of a sack the man lay on. Not able to clear a path to the door of the synagogue, they carried the paralytic around to the back from where they were able to hoist their burden up onto the building’s flat roof.

On determining the place on the roof just above and a little to the front of where Jesus stood speaking, they began removing the roofing tiles. We like to imagine the scene below as dust and straw began fluttering down from the hole that was growing in the ceiling.

The friends lowered the paralytic down to where he hovered in front of Jesus, who then surprised everyone with what he said. It was, “Your sins are forgiven.”

It is interesting to speculate on how various people took those words. We know how the Scribes and Pharisees took them. They saw them as evidence they could bring against Jesus in court. They would accuse Jesus of blasphemy, since only God can forgive sins.

The four friends holding the ropes might have been complaining. They had wanted a cure, not any mumbo-jumbo about forgiving sins.

It’s possible that the paralytic delighted in the word of Jesus. He might have lived in painful remorse feeling that it was his own sins that led to his paralysis. Perhaps he felt his sins had already damned him, and our Lord’s words gave him new hope.

We know what everything thought after Jesus said, “Pick up your stretcher, and go home.” When the man did just that the amazement and joy must have been the highlight in the lives of everyone there.   

On our national holiday the Church quotes Amos telling us if we want to endure "We must seek good and not evil."

Wednesday, 7/4/12

 In the opening reading the Prophet Amos told us this,  “Seek good and not evil, that you may live.”  Those are fine words for us on our national holiday.

 If we want our star spangled banner to wave for centuries to come o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave we must seek good, not evil.

When our country is forced to take severe measures she is usually justified. We are sometimes forced to follow a grown-up version of the old principle that said, “Spare the rod, and you spoil the child.”

Still, in this harsh grown-up-world of ours we should exercise great caution in using the rod on any of God’s children. We should weigh the complaints others make against us. Here are three complaints we hear.

The Mexicans dominated by drug kingpins complain that if people in the States just did not create a big market for drugs it would put the kingpins out of business.

People in western Pakistan who lose family members in the U.S. drone hits intended for the Taliban complain that they have done the United States no harm.

The thousands of illegal immigrants detained for long periods in the string of prisons we maintain complain that they just wanted to enjoy American freedom.

Our man Thomas was more than a doubter, he was the bravest of the Apostles.

Tuesday, 7/3/12

This is the feast of the Apostle Thomas who refused to believe even when all the Apostles kept telling him they had seen the risen Lord. Doubting Thomas was pig headed, sticking to his own views against everyone else’s. Worse than showing that he was pig headed, today’s Gospel showed that Thomas doubted Our Lord’s special standing with the Father.

Still, we all have faults, and those of us who are named Thomas want to stand up for our saint.

In behalf of St. Thomas all of guys named Thomas object to today’s Gospel. It leaves us seeing our patron as nothing more than a doubter. The Church could have given us John 11:16. That was when the other Apostles were afraid of accompanying Jesus to Jerusalem, and only Thomas was brave enough to say, “Let us go to die with him.”

That contrast between the doubting and the brave Thomas should have us putting forward the good side rather than the bad side of our companions. St. Peter in his First Letter, 2:17 says, "Give honor to all." Now, although we make great use of that word "honor" I have never known exactly how one goes about honoring parents or war heroes or anyone else. I have come to see it as meaning to give attention to ones good side, rather than his bad. I honor my father by thinking of all his best qualities.

One of the perks of the bishops is that each of them gets to choose a Scripture verse as his motto. I have always known what my motto would be if us lowly people had the privilege of choosing one. What would yours be? For me First Peter 2:17 would be fine: "Give honor to all." However. I would prefer an older New Testament's rendering of it as "Honor all men." 

Psalm 50 says we never get away with little failings.

Monday, 7/2/12

Our Responsorial Psalm, Psalm Fifty, lists a number of ordinary failings that we think we are getting away with. It goes on to say we are getting away with nothing. We will end up paying dearly for failings. Psalm Fifty tells us that the Lord is serious about his threats. He says, “I will rend you, and there will be no rescue for you.”

What are these “little” failings that we think we get away with? The Psalm lists five that we should check ourselves on.

First: Do we speak highly about living a religious life, while we have no discipline?
Second: When we see some one cheating do you think, “I could get away with that ”?
Third: Do we admire those who get away with adultery?
Fourth: Do we harness your tongue to deceits?
Five: Do we speak about the faults of brothers and sisters?