Your personality as it develops all its potentials comes to mirror God in a way unique to you.


Saturday, 9/1/12

Our Lord’s parable in today’s Gospel is one of three in Chapter Twenty-five of  Matthew’s Gospel, and we should see all three together. They deal with the sum of criteria by which each of us will be judged at the end of our days, we may also use them to get a fix on how we now stand with God.

The first of the parables is the one about the five foolish and the five wise virgins. Their having, or not having, oil in their lamps stand for our being or not being in the state of Sanctifying Grace. Just as they had to have oil in their lamps to enter the wedding feast, so we need to have Sanctifying Grace to enter heaven.

Jumping to the third of the parables, that is the one in which the Son of Man, following the example of a shepherd separating the sheep from goats, divides those who helped the needy from those who did not.

Returning to today’s parable, the second one in Matthew Chapter Twenty-five, this is the parable in which a king entrusted talents to three different servants before he went off on a lengthy journey. On his return he asked for an accounting on how the three used their talents. In Roman times a talent was a gold coin worth thousands. Webster’s Dictionary tells us that our word talent, describing a person’s inborn abilities, comes from this parable.

What Our Lord is telling us is that at the end of our lives he will be judged not only on possessing Sanctifying Grace, and on giving help to those in need, but we will also be judged on what development we have made of our God-given gifts.

There is something very personal about our individual talents. Although each of us is made in God’s image and likeness, each of us is like him in a way that no one else is. Your personality is a set of potentials you are born with to be like God in your unique way. By developing all your abilities completely your personality can expand to where it can mirror its special facet of God to the world.

The Gospel's story of bringing the bride to the groom's village mirrors what still happens in the Third World.


Friday, 8/31/12

Allow me to become nostalgic over this Gospel, as I recall my experiences with weddings in the East that followed the pattern in this Gospel. As in Our Lord’s story, in the Korean countryside where I officiated at dozens of weddings back fifty years ago, the marriages had two wedding feasts. The first was at the girl’s village where the groom and his six men friends were guests.

The banqueting in the girl’s village lasted as long as the food and wine lasted. On  two occasions I saw a special country ritual that had the young men of the girl’s village tying  a rope around the groom’s ankles, then hoisting him high over a branch. While he dangled and shouted, the young men whacked him in punishment for taking a pretty girl away from them.

In my first year in that parish I had an army jeep that the government soon relieved me of. While I still had it, I several times drove the young couple to the boy’s village. I recall one young groom from the back seat bragging about the food and drink that would be laid out in his village. He said, “Opnungot opsumnida.” Which literally meant, “The things that aren’t there, aren’t there.”

The bride through both ceremonies and the ride between their villages was bound to be silent with downcast eyes. Her lipstick was applied in a tiny bow that only covered the center of her lips. I had a shotgun by my side in the jeep, and in passing between a wide spread of rice paddies the bride spotted pheasants out there feeding on dropped grain. Unable to contain herself she shouted, “Gwong,” for pheasants. As I went out for them, the bride hiked up her wedding gown and followed.

Folks in the Third World get more out of the Gospels than we do, because their marketing and celebrating customs are so similar to those in the stories Jesus told.

Lacking the time for accomplishing what we want done, we should make good use of the time we have.



Thursday, 8/30/12

Jesus warned us, “Stay awake! You do not know on what day the Lord will come.”

 I once heard that it is axiomatic in Psychology that as individuals we cannot really believe that our existence will end.  Since all we know is existing, we cannot conceive of not existing.

Maybe you and I don’t deceive ourselves that way, but we certainly do dawdle along  as though we had forever. We put off the things we feel are important.

As the perfect example of one whom the end caught unaware, there is a character in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” over the altar in the Sistine Chapel. He is a well kept, bit over weight, man, and he has a grinning green devil with his green arms wrapped around the fellow’s torso; and the happy little devil is hauling the surprised fellow down.

That man slated-for-below has one hand covering his mouth and his left eye. His right eye, looking out as us, is a powerful sermon on surprise and horror.

As Jesus said, we cannot know what day he will come for us, but the actuary people with the insurance companies wouldn’t give us decades and decades.

We should take inventory of the good things we hope to accomplish, and we should put them on a tight schedule. 

John the Baptist's mantra was "He must increase while I must decrease."



Wednesday, 8/29/12

The Church keeps today as the “Memorial of the Passion of John the Baptist.” In that she is referring to his beheading at the request of Salome, but didn’t his passion began much earlier than that?

Wasn’t John the most popular man of his generation? Why, weren’t thousands flocking to him from Judea, Galilee and even the Diaspora? They were shouting that he was the Messiah. Why did he keep insisting he was not worthy to untie the Messiah’s sandal straps?

It is said that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” and that is so very true. What a struggle John must have had in staying humble!

I just read the memoirs of a Frank Langella who has been on the Broadway Stage for fifty years, affording him the opportunity to share long runs with stars like Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, and Yul Brynner. Now, he spoke most favorably about thirty or forty famous men and women he had worked with, but he had to say that Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton found it hard to deal with the fading of their glory, and he described poor Yul Brynner as a victim of his success.! To the end, on or off the stage, Yul seemed to believe that he actually was the King of Siam. 

All of us who have gone through life without gaining fame should be thankful for that. God must have known that we were not big spirited enough to stay sane under the pressure of big success.

More than in his martyr’s death, John attained greatness by repeating with complete sincerity that, “He must increase, while I must decrease.”

Augustine made much of our Faith understandable for us.


Tuesday, 8/28/12

Today is the feast of St. Augustine who is in a tie with Tomas Aquinas for the title of our greatest Theologian. Theology is defined as “Faith seeking understanding.” That makes a Theologian one who makes a difficult aspect of our Faith understandable. Let me quote three statements of Augustine that made things understandable for us.

First. “Our hearts are made for you, O Lord, and they cannot rest until they rest in you.” That is everyone’s favorite. It’s the theme of Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven.”

Second. “The sacrifice aspect of the Mass consists in Christ and us worshippers submitting entirely to God.” While first century documents referred to the Mass as a sacrifice, later scholars debated about how it was a sacrifice. One theory had it that it became a sacrifice by the separation of the Body and Blood. But Augustine rings so true: the Mass is a sacrifice for you only if you submit yourself fully to God.

Three. “A Sacrament is an encounter with Christ who is the ministering agent for all the Sacraments.”  Even though the priest who married you or heard your confession was living in sin, the sacraments were still valid, because it is was really Jesus who administered them.

As Christians our love for one another should always be growing.



Monday, 8/27/12

In the first reading Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy thanked the Christians in Thessalonica, saying, “the love of every one of you for one another grows even greater.”

According to that, a benefit of our church going and of our attempts to live Christian lives should be that our love for one another is always growing.

As praying individuals we strive day by day to rid ourselves of whatever estranges us from God. That is good. But Paul reminds us of another goal to strive for, namely, for a greater love for one another.

Ideally we would go about that by easing up on the attention we fix on own needs. We should fix it on what others seem to need

A nursing nun from Korea, a Sister Marian came back to the States for a course at Berkley University in California; and a Sister Anne from Jacksonville was put to rooming with her. Sister Anne happened to mention my name, and Sister Marian said, “We used to have a Father Tom Sullivan in Korea. I wonder if it is the same one.” Sister Anne asked, “What was he like?”

Sister Marian said, “One time I went to him telling him how I was terribly worried about my father, and all he did was stare out the window.” And, Sister Anne said, “That could be our Father Sullivan.”

Before undergoing his heroic death Jesus could not confer the holy Spirit to move men's hearts.



Sunday, 8/26/12

Thirty years ago I was pastor of a parish where the Charismatic movement was very strong. I was probably misjudging the group, but it seemed to me that they felt they had the Holy Spirit, and the rest of us didn’t. It got to be where us old-shoe Catholics didn’t even want to hear about the Holy Spirit.

However, today’s Gospel should convince us of the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit in out lives. We read, “Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life, and no longer accompanied him. Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to leave?’

Only the Apostles stayed with Jesus, and they stayed because, as Peter said, they had no better place to go.

Their state of mind that day was as wobbly as it was going to be after the death of Jesus when they were huddled in the upper room for fear of the people who killed Jesus. But on that later occasion the Holy Spirit came on them, and they threw off their fear, and they threw opened their doors, and they went out, ending that day with three thousand converts.

Three key New Testament passages trace the route by which the Holy Spirit came to them on Pentecost.

First passage: John, 7:38-39. “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture says, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.” He said that in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him would receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.” 

As we see in this second passage, when he lay dead the angels and saints declared him worthy of dispensing the Spirit.

Second passage: Revelation, 5:12-13 “They cried out in a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength.’”

Third passage: Here. Peter on Pentecost tells the crowd how the Apostles came to be filled with the transforming Spirit. “Exalted at the right hand of God, Jesus received the promise of the holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth as you see and hear.”

By his heroic death Jesus won the right to confer the holy Spirit to move mens' hearts. In his lifetime he had to watch those who did not understand walk away.


Sunday, 8/26/12

Thirty years ago I was pastor of a parish where the Charismatic movement was very strong. I was probably misjudging the group, but it seemed to me that they felt they had the Holy Spirit, and the rest of us didn’t. It got to be where us old-shoe Catholics didn’t even want to hear about the Holy Spirit.

However, today’s Gospel should convince us of the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit in out lives. We read, “Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life, and no longer accompanied him. Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to leave?’

Only the Apostles stayed with Jesus, and they stayed because, as Peter said, they had no better place to go.

Their state of mind that day was as wobbly as it was going to be after the death of Jesus when they were huddled in the upper room for fear of the people who killed Jesus. But on that later occasion the Holy Spirit came on them, and they threw off their fear, and they threw opened their doors, and they went out, ending that day with three thousand converts.

Three key New Testament passages trace the route by which the Holy Spirit came to them on Pentecost.

First passage: John, 7:38-39. “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture says, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.” He said that in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him would receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.” 

In his lifetime Jesus could not give people the Spirit to move them. But when he lay dead the angels and saints declared him worthy of dispensing the Spirit.

Second passage: Revelation, 5:12-13 “They cried out in a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength.’”

Third passage: Here. Peter on Pentecost tells the crowd how the Apostles came to be filled with the transforming Spirit. “Exalted at the right hand of God, Jesus received the promise of the holy Spirit from the Father and poured it forth as you see and hear.”

Jesus obeyed authorities with whom he did not agree because they had taken their seat on the chair of Moses.


Saturday, 8/25/12

In the Gospel reading Jesus called attention to the many failings of the religious leaders in his time, but he did not urge rebellion; no, he told his listeners to be fully obedient. “They have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you.”

The Commandment that tells us to honor our fathers and mothers doesn’t only bind when we are in agreement with them. No, we honor them when we are not in agreement with them.

Let me hasten to say that I have never found Rome or our bishops to be unreasonable men in any way comparable to the leaders who plotted against Jesus. I imagine that it is the same with you. At most, we at times have a difference of opinions with our church leaders. We know they are doing what seems right to them. In today’s Gospel Jesus is telling us that since he felt the need to give obedience to those leaders who were plotting against him, we should feel bound to obey the legitimate authorities over us, even when we have differences with them.

The Heavenly Jerusalem,with the names of the sons of Jacob on its gates, and the names of the twelve Apostles on the wall's stone courses is the one people of God, spanning both Testaments.



Friday, 8/24/12

Today we honor the Apostle Bartholomew who was also called Nathaniel. He was a true Israelite in whom there was no guile. How about you, are you free of guile?

The first reading gives us a view of the Holy City. Its twelve gates bore the names of the twelve sons of Jacob. The twelve courses of stones in its wall bore the names of the twelve Apostles.  So constructed, the Heavenly Jerusalem stood for the one people of God that spanned both Testaments.

The heavenly Jerusalem is beautifully evoked in the late Victorian song “The Holy City.” If the song doesn’t rank high with esthetes, I’d hope they would not mind my being thrilled by it.

“I heard the children singing, and ever as they sang, me thought the voice of angels from heaven in answer rang.”

“The sun grew dark with mystery, the morn was cold and chill as the shadow of a cross arose upon a lonely hill.”

The gates were opened wide, and all who would might enter, and no one was denied.”

“It was the New Jerusalem, that would not pass away.”

Our Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are in line with Jesus saying we need to be born of water and the spirit.



Thursday, 8/23/12

Most of us remember the story of the Pharisee Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews who came to Jesus by night because he did not want the other Pharisees to see him  consorting with this strange prophet. I remember thinking that Jesus wasn’t very friendly with Nicodemus.

I bring up the matter now, because the way Jesus treated Nicodemus had something to do with today’s first reading from Ezekiel.

When Nicodemus came to Jesus he said, “We have come to believe that you are a teacher come from God.” That sounds okay, but really it fell so far short of recognizing Jesus as the Messiah that it was like calling Babe Ruth a good sandlot player or calling Frank Sinatra a fair yodeler.

Nicodemus made a mistake that people keep on making. Jesus told Nicodemus that we each had to be born from above. For “from above” Jesus used the word anothen, and Nicodemus mistakenly took it to mean “again.” He thought Jesus was saying hat each of us must be born again. So he asked how can an old man scrunch back into his mother’s womb to be born again?

Jesus then said the new birth had to be a birth of water and the spirit. And when Nicodemus didn’t get the drift of that, Jesus asked how could Nicodemus be an accepted teacher of the Bible without catching the reference to water and spirit that we see in today’s first reading.

If you look carefully at Chapter Thirty-Six, verse twenty-five of Ezekiel you will see a tiny letter o linking you to a footnote directing you to the story of Nicodemus in Chapter Three of John’s  Gospel. And if you look carefully at that story in John 3:6 you will see a little letter w directing you back to  Ezekiel 36:25 where we read:

I will sprinkle clean water on you.
I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you.

In the year 500 a.d. we clerics became part of a re-structured Feudalism.



Wednesday, 8/22/12

In the first reading Ezekiel expressed God’s discontent with Jerusalem’s religious leaders. He was speaking in the years leading up to the Babylonian Captivity when those leaders had slipped so far, that they were beyond saving.

For the most part our present day church leaders are fine men and women, but one twist of history has handicapped our priests, making it hard for them to behave as simple loving shepherds.

Pardon me for harping on this matter. From the year 350 a.d. to 500 a.d. Europe was over run with Arians. They were people who did not honor Jesus as the Son of God, and they strove to wipe out  Christianity. The popes had their backs to the wall. Then, a new tribe, the Franks, came in from the east, and their king married a Catholic girl who urged him to have his people baptized.

The whole nation of the Franks was baptized at Christmas of 496, but the priests ran into a problem. The Franks, like all races under Feudalism, had a simple two-tier social structure. On top were those with inheritances that gave them lands and slaves. On the bottom were the non-persons without inheritances. They had to sleep with the pigs. The priests and bishops didn’t want to do it. That was the problem.

So, in 500 a.d. they rigged up a ceremony where each priest and bishop in his Sunday best came before the nobles announcing, “I have an inheritance. My inheritance is the Lord.” (The only thing I got to say at my ordination sixty years ago was, “My inheritance is the Lord.”)

The Germanic word they used for inheritance was klerk. From that they took to calling us “Clerics.” All this brought about a radical restructuring of Feudalism, making  the clerics an integral part of it.

That solved one problem, but it gave rise to another one. The nobles demanded that we act important. Like the French say, “Noblesse oblige.”  So, we had to be addressed as Reverend, or Very Reverend, or Right Reverend, or Most Reverend.

That introduced a conflict into our clerical souls. While acting like nobles we were plagued by the memory of Jesus saying, “You know how among the Gentiles those who exercise authority lord it over them, and their superiors make their importance felt, but it cannot be that way with you.”  

We priests get back a hundred times what we gave up.



Tuesday, 8/21/12

Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Some preachers give a simple explanation of Our Lord’s words. They tell us that Jerusalem had one narrow gate called the Needle’s Eye, and laden camels had a hard time getting through it. The trouble with that explanation is that Jerusalem had no such gate. The only way to explain Our Lord’s words is to realize that he liked using hyperbole or exaggerations.

Last week I experienced what Jesus meant when he said, “Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more.”

Through my twenties and thirties I worked in a desperately poor Korean county as a member of the Irish Columban Fathers. Forty years ago I left them to work in Florida, but last week they invited me to Ireland to join in honoring their older priests. Over there I joined up with Father Frank Mannion, an Irish classmate from sixty years ago. We were neighbors in Korea, and when I came to Florida Frank went to sere the Koreans in California.

Frank  was a famous football forward for Galway, but after a stroke he had to go back to our old seminary in Ireland. He kept telling me the same things, “Tom, these men are so nice, so, gentle, so friendly.”

People who got to know Father Jim Corry at St. Paul’s or Monsignor Pat Madden at Sacred Heart know how warm those Irish priests can be. My friend Frank Mannnion once told me he could get by without a wife of his own, but not having his own children was always a sorrow to him. But in that gathering last week he and I felt we were given back a  hundred times more family than we ever gave up.

Our high ranking under Feudalism made it hard for us clerics to act like simple shepherds.


Tuesday, 8/21/12

In the first reading Ezekiel expressed God’s discontent with Jerusalem’s religious leaders. He was speaking in the years leading up to the Babylonian Captivity when those leaders had slipped so far, that they were beyond saving.

For the most part our present day church leaders are fine men and women, but history has handicapped our priests, making it hard for them to behave as simple loving shepherds.

Pardon me for harping on this bit of history. From the year 350 a.d. to 500 a.d. Europe was over run with Arians. They did not honor Jesus as the Son of God, and they almost managed to wipe out the true Christians. The popes had their backs to the wall. Then, a new tribe, the Franks, came in, and the king married a Catholic girl who urged him to have his people baptized.

The whole nation was baptized at Christmas of 496, but the priests ran into a problem. The Franks, like all races under Feudalism, had a simple two-tier social structure. On top were those with inheritances that gave them lands and slaves. On the bottom were the non-persons without inheritances. They had to sleep with the pigs. The priests and bishops didn’t want to do it. That was the problem.

So, in 500 a.d. they rigged up a ceremony where each priest and bishop in his Sunday best came before the nobles announcing, “I have an inheritance. My inheritance is the Lord.” The only thing I got to say at my ordination sixty years ago was, “My inheritance is the Lord.”

The Germanic word they used for inheritance was klerk. From that they took to calling us “Clerics.”

That solved one problem, but it gave rise to another one. The nobles demanded that we act important. Like the French say, “Noblesse oblige.”  So, we had to be addressed as Reverend, or Very Reverend, or Right Reverend, or Most Reverend.

That introduced a conflict into our clerical souls. While acting like nobles we were plagued by the memory of Jesus saying, “You know how among the Gentiles those who exercise authority lord it over them, and their superiors make their importance felt, but it cannot be that way with you.”   

Following Jesus is the key to a happy life.


Monday, 8/20/12

Our Gospel gives us the picture of the Rich Young Man. I am familiar with him from my seminary years when eight times a day I came face to face with a painting of him  on the landing of our central stairway. Rushing up or down those stairs, I would be daydreaming about fun I could have if I left the seminary. But, the Rich Young Man would always stop me, saying, “Nothing could be more fun than following Christ. I wish I had done it.”

I have a nephew, a lawyer, who retired with one of those “Golden Parachutes.” It lft him troubled with high blood pressure, weight, and depression. A nun asked him for a little legal help with her project. She was getting people to donate apartments, where she housed hundreds of families whose breadwinners had AID’s. As the good sister became a victim of cancer, she leaned more and more on my nephew. Now she has had to leave her good work to my nephew. His weight and blood pressure are down, and the depression is gone.

Jesus could only gives us his body body by dying for us.

Sunday, 8/19/12

A thought that occurred to me a week ago was that the only way Jesus could give us the Bread of Life was by dying.

That made me think of the story, probably not true, of the little boy who agreed to donate a kidney to his brother who might otherwise die. He went to confession, saying, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my last confession.”

The priest asked, “What do you mean, your last confession?”

The little boy said, “I am giving my kidney to my brother, so he can live; and I want to go to confession before I die.”

In the story the priest told the little boy that he had two kidneys. He would be perfectly healthy after giving one to his brother.

The thought that struck me two weeks ago was that it was only by his dying that Jesus could give himself to me.

St. Paul and three of the Gospels give us Our Lord’s words at the Last Supper. Writing in Greek they quote Jesus as saying, “This is my body which is given for you.” Our English translations, thinking of Jesus dying the next day, put his words in the future tense. They have him say, “This is my body which wiil be given for you.”

It seems to me that Jesus at the Last Supper was fully accepting death as the only way he could give himself to us.

He only had one life, like that boy thought he only had one kidney. In communion Jesus doesn’t just give each of us a little share in his life. He gives us his body and blood by accepting death to save us.

God will judge us on our own deeds, not on those of our parents.

Saturday, 8/18/12

The reading from Ezekiel lets us know that some things in the Old Testament were there without God intending it.

In the list of the Ten Commandments in Chapter Twenty of Exodus the First Commandment states, “I am the Lord your God. You shall not have other gods besides me.”

That much is fine, but the text goes on to describe the punishment attached to breaking the commandment. “I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

The people had a saying to express the idea of children and grandchildren suffering for the sins of their parents. They would say, “Fathers have eaten sour grapes, thus the children’s teeth are set on edge.” The meaning of that saying is very clear if you have ever tried eating sour grapes. It makes your upper and lowers dance against each other.

Ezekiel, speaking for God, says get rid of that saying and of the idea it stands for. God says each of us will be punished or rewarded only for our own deeds, no matter how bad or good our parents were. 

A marriage can be annulled if it was not entered into freely and without reservations.

Friday, 8/17/12

First, Jesus said that from the beginning in marriage a man and a wife become one, and divorce is not at option for them. But then he said that because of the hardness of their hearts Moses did allow divorce and remarriage. 

Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”

So, although divorce and remarriage is not an option, Jesus had allowed for those two loopholes. The first came when Moses allowed it because of the hardness of people’s hearts. The second loophole comes when the original marriage was deemed unlawful.

Now, the duty of self-preservation is akin to the commandment against murder. When a person is locked into a marriage that seriously threatens that person’s health the duty of preserving his or her health calls for a separation. But does it allow for entering another marriage?

As for Our Lord’s phrase “Unless the marriage is unlawful,” what does that mean?
One thing it could mean is that marriage must by its nature be a free commitment, so if a lack of freedom was there, it might never have been a marriage.

In my first fifteen years as a priest I never heard of Catholic marriage being annulled, but in 1967 a group of experts convinced Pope Paul VI that some unions could be annulled because they were not true marriages. To determine the existence or non-existence of an unbreakable bond most dioceses have set up tribunals to give such cases a competent hearing.

If you have ever done anything you wouldn't want published don't publish the lapses of others.

Thursday, 8/16/12

Warren Buffett, the CEO of the wide ranging Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate told his department heads that they should never make a business transaction that they would not want written up on the front page of their home paper. If you have gotten away with sinful behavior that you would not want to see printed in your parish bulletin you are probably very thankful.

 If your heavenly Father lets you get away with things that would be terribly embarrassing, you owe it to him to quietly forgive the sins of others of his children. Protecting our neighbor’s good name is a smart thing for you. It insures you against God letting someone spill the beans on you. 

The body of Mary assumed into heaven is a glorious, incorruptible new body.Assumption of Mary

Wednesday, 8/15/12

Today we honor Mary for being bodily taken up to heaven, even though we do not know what that means. We no longer picture the heaven of the saints as being “up there” above the clouds, because that is where the Russians are now linking an unmanned spaceship to a semi-permanent satellite.

Europe is proud of possessing the burial places of the Apostles. Peter and Paul are in Rome. James is in Santiago, Spain. Scotland claims Andrew. Some Apostles were divided up with an arm here and a leg there, but no town ever claimed to be Mary’s resting place. Genesis calls death and the corruption that follows it a punishment for our sins. The sinless Mary did not undergo them.

But, just as we can no longer imagine Mary’s body being taken up to a heaven just above the clouds, so neither can we imagine her body to be enduring with an earthly need of nourishment. It doesn’t undergo any kind of aging. It is best for us to try imagining her as being the way Paul described things to the Corinthians.

God gives a body as he chooses. It is sown corruptible, it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable, it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown
a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.”

The Hebrew word for a prophet was Nabi. It was a child's word for a mouth. A prophet is one who lets God use his mouth to speak the truth..

Tuesday, 8/14/12

In the first reading today Ezekiel gave us a figurative picture of how he became a prophet. The Hebrew word for a prophet, Nabi, was derived from a children’s name for a mouth. Their idea of a prophet was someone who lent his mouth to God for speaking God’s word. It is interesting how that was dramatized with the Bible’s calling of each of the major prophets.

When Isaiah was called to speak for God an angel touched his lips with a hot ember he was holding with tongs.

Jeremiah described his calling like this, “The Lord extended his hand and he touched my mouth, saying, ‘See, I place  my words in your mouth.’

In today’s reading God fed Ezekiel a scroll. He said, “Go now to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.”

The word Apocolypse literally means taking the sky away to look into heaven. letting us see into heaven

Monday, 8/13/12

In the first reading Ezekiel wrote, “There, above the firmament over their heads, something like a throne could be seen.”

By the “firmament” he meant the blue sky above, which he imagined to be a firm vault arching over the earth. In his dream he saw part of the firmament taken away, letting him see into heaven where God’s throne was being set up. 

Such visions in which the sky is opened are known as apocalyptic visions. If we break down that five syllable word the meaning is clear. The middle syllable, CAL, is the core of the word. “Cal “ was the primitive word for a tent, and primitive people saw the sky as a big tent over the earth. The first part of the word apo means “away,” and the last part of the word lyptic means “to take.” So, the word apocalyptic means “opening up the sky.”

A century before Ezekiel the Persian mystic Zoroaster launched apocalyptic literature in a big way. In Zoroaster’s vision the sky was opened and he saw both a good and an evil creator up there. He called the good creator Ahura Mazda. The evil creator he called Ahriman,

We cannot take any of the apocalyptic literature as factual. As Paul told the Corinthians, “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard what God has prepared for those who love him.”    

While apocalyptic literature does not give us factual pictures of heaven, it does assure us that heaven exists and that it is wonderful. 

Exodus, was the model of St. John's Gospel.

Sunday, 8/12/12

In the Old Testament the Second through the Sixth book, Exodus through Deuteronomy, tell the story of God leading the Israelites out of Egypt’s slavery, nourishing them through their desert year, and bringing them into the Promised Land.

St. John modeled his Gospel on those five books. His Gospel begins with the Son setting up his tent with the people the way the Father did. In their desert years he is the light that guides them. He is the rock flowing with living water. He is the true bread that comes down from heaven.

When Jesus began his public life, and the Jews began suspecting he could be the Messiah they remembered an old saying according to which when the Messiah came he would bring down bread from heaven the way Moses did, so they asked Jesus if he could do that.

He told them that the manna their fathers ate was not true bread from heaven. In fact, that manna was something like honey. It was white stuff that even today is exuded by aphid feeding on the sparse desert foliage.

I said that John modeled his Gospel on five books of the Torah, but in fact it was the other way around. Those old books were God’s way of preparing people to understand the real story when Jesus came along.

No matter how dark things are for him "The just man because of faith shall live."

Saturday, 8/11/12

Up to fifty years ago the first readings at our Masses were almost all from the New Testament, with only a few, familiar, Old Testament passages printed for us once or twice a month. Then, in 1970 the Church decided on spreading the forty-six Old Testament books out over a three-year schedule. That has us reading a selection from the Book of Habakkuk today, and we won’t have another one from him until three years from now. (If we are still here.)

When we were first given all these Old Testament readings most Catholics didn’t like them. Forty years ago I was driving down to Florida to take over teaching the Bible to high school freshmen. I had been in Chicago that summer, and the night before I left, I had dinner with an archbishop with whom I had been friends from when he was a priest coming out of the chaplain core. When I told him I was going to teach Bible he told me to stay away from the Old Testament. When I asked why, he said, “It’s nothing but a bucket of worms.”

The Old Testament is hard to get on to, but after our hearing it for forty years we have gained some respect and familiarity with it. Habakkuk, whose words we sample today, wrote in 599 B.C. He pleaded with God to have regard for just men who are tormented from every side. He said his kind were like fish the rich easily pull in with long seining nets that they pray to, honoring them as the gods who make them wealthy. And they were Habakkuk’s lesser worry, for the forces of Babylon coming down from the north were about to enslave his kind.

Habakkuk represents our kind when all seems hopeless, when illness and poverty are about to do us in. From his meeting with God Habakkuk comes away with just this assurance, “The just man, because of his faith, shall live. 

Even while St. Lawrence was being broiled over an open fire he accepted whatever God let happen.

Friday, 8/10/12

Today is the Feast of St. Lawrence, the Patron Saint of Rome, who was put to death rather than give up the Faith in 258. He is best known for his manner of death which had him spread out on a grate above a fire. He is reported to have said, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.”

My folks, who were married a way back in 1913 often spoke of a St. Lawrence parish in St. Louis where they attended Mass and went to dances before World War I. In the nineteen sixties I was riding around with my brother Frank when we parked opposite St. Lawrence’s grand old church. Frank left me in the car while he made a business call, and I sat there delighted: after all those years I was getting to see my parent’s favorite church. But something happened. The front doors swung open, and a moving van rolled out.

“Hey,” I shouted to a passerby, “What’s a van doing coming out of the church?” The answer came back, “Oh, people stopped coming, and it aint a church no more. It’s a warehouse.”

All over America beloved inner-city parishes are closing down, with parishioners in some cases suing bishops who say there isn’t the money to keep them open.

For bearing with such disappointments we could remember St. Ignatius Loyola. In just twenty years after the founding of his Jesuits he saw them converting pagan lands and founding great European universities. On being asked if he could put up with it if his beloved Jesuits were forced to close down, he said it would take him ten  minutes alone with God to make him willingly accept whatever God lets happen. 

Even while St. Lawrence was being broiled over an open fire he accepted whatever God let happen.

Thursday, 8/9/12

Let’s take the Gospel a line at a time. Each of the hundreds of kingdoms in the Roman Empire had a city named after Caesar, this one was in the Golan Heights in the kingdom of Herod the Great’s son Philip, so it is Caesaria Philippi.

In our day and time if a new celebrity appeares on he scene none of us makes the guess that he was the rebirth of some great man from the past. Isn’t it strange that with Jesus people were saying he was Elijah, of Jeremiah?

Now, today’s Gospel reading is from Matthew, but like a full third of Matthew’s Gospel, it was copied from Mark’s Gospel. Mark wrote his Gospel to show how a man executed as a criminal could be the Messiah. The first half of his Gospel gave all the reasons that brought the Apostles around to being certain Jesus was the Messiah. Matthew copies Mark in recalling how Peter asserted that Jesus was the unique Savior. Then, with Mark, Matthew switched to telling us that it was by Our Lord’s willing acceptance of suffering and death that he saved us.

Matthew then went beyond Mark in recalling how Jesus made Peter the rock on which he would build his Church. Matthew alone gives us the story of Peter impetuously boasting he would save Jesus from attack. It is a story that endears Peter to us.  Hopefully, it is a story that will have us trying to see things as God does, not as weak humans do.  

Hopefully, this story will lead us to see things as God does, not as weak humans see things.

Thursday, 8/9/12

Let’s take the Gospel a line at a time. Each of the hundreds of kingdoms in the Roman Empire had a city named after Caesar, this one was in the Golan Heights in the kingdom of Herod the Great’s son Philip, so it is Caesaria Philippi.

In our day and time if a new celebrity appeares on he scene none of us makes the guess that he was the rebirth of some great man from the past. Isn’t it strange that with Jesus people were saying he was Elijah, of Jeremiah?

Now, today’s Gospel reading is from Matthew, but like a full third of Matthew’s Gospel, it was copied from Mark’s Gospel. Mark wrote his Gospel to show how a man executed as a criminal could be the Messiah. The first half of his Gospel gave all the reasons that brought the Apostles around to being certain Jesus was the Messiah. Matthew copies Mark in recalling how Peter asserted that Jesus was the unique Savior. Then, with Mark, Matthew switched to telling us that it was by Our Lord’s willing acceptance of suffering and death that he saved us.

Matthew then went beyond Mark in recalling how Jesus made Peter the rock on which he would build his Church. Matthew alone gives us the story of Peter impetuously boasting he would save Jesus from attack. It is a story that endears Peter to us.  Hopefully, it is a story that will have us trying to see things as God does, not as weak humans do.  

The new Covenant by which we become one with God obliges us to love another as he has loved us.

Wednesday, 8/8/12

In the first reading God said, “You will be my people, and I will be your God.” This repeats what we find in Exodus, Leviticus and other places where God said, “You will be my people and I will be your God.” It could put you in mind of the Catholic marriage ceremony in which the priest asks, “Have you come here freely to give yourselves to each other in marriage.”

Those are all words by which parties bind themselves to each other in covenants. A covenant is a ceremony by which two parties unite as one.

The first Biblical covenant ritual was a primitive one. In Abraham’s time there were no governments, and with wandering shepherds competing for water and grass rights, they devised a ritual for enacting a covenant.

They would dig a four feet deep trench across a field, and they would kill and cut in two a heifer, a goat, a ram; putting the halves of the animals on opposite sides of the ditch. Then, with the followers of each chief gathered in the woods at opposite ends of the ditch, the chiefs would approach each other, each saying, let us be cut in two like these animals if we violate peace with each other.

Chapter Fifteen of Genesis describes how when God proposed making a covenant with him, Abraham prepared one of those primitive ceremonies for it. He dug the ditch, split the animals, then waited. With the dark, God, in the form of a torch, came at him through the trench, touching the animal halves.

In Chapter Twenty-Four of Exodus Moses at Sinaii staged a more sophisticated covenant ceremony for the people and God. He had young men carry in brass bowls of cattle blood, telling them to sprinkle part of it on the people, and part on God’s altar. With their belief that blood was life itself, this sharing of blood made them one with each other and with God. However, since God could not become one with an unclean people, ad the young men sprinkled the blood, Moses had the people promise aloud to keep each of the commandments.

Jeremiah later promised that God would enact a new covenant with the people. This happened at the Last Supper when Jesus used his own blood to unite us with each other and with him. He replaced the Ten Commandments of the Old Covenant with the new commandment. To become one with him we must love each other as he has loved us.

The storm on the water is a symbol for death when Christ will take us safely through.

Tuesday, 8/7/14

When the Lord came toward the Apostles, walking on the sea, they cried out, “It is a ghost!” Of course, they called him a ghost because a mere mortal could not walk on water. There was however, another reason for their thinking him to be a ghost. That reason is that this whole Gospel incident of facing the ultimate trial is meant to be taken as a parable. The river in storm stands for the hold that death will take on each of us, and Jesus walking to us on the water is the Gospel’s way of telling us that Jesus will be there for us at the hour of death.

That meaning of the story becomes clear when we note that the sea in the story was really a wide place in the Jordan River. (Eight miles south of Jacksonville there is s wide place in the St. John River that is called Lake George.) Crossing that Jordan River will always have a secondary meaning of crossing through death to the life beyond.

This meaning of today’s Gospel becomes clearer if we connect it with Chapter Three of the Book of Joshua. That chapter picks up the story of the Israelites who had wandered through the desert for forty year, but who at last had come to the bank of the Jordan, ready to pass over into the Promised Land. They came up against a problem: the melted snows of Lebanon had turned the Jordan into a churning half-mile-wide torrent.

At God’s command, Joshua put the priests carrying the ark at the bank of the river, facing into the flood. Then he had the thousands of Israelites line up four abreast in a line behind the ark. At his order the priests carrying the ark headed into the river, with the line of people following them in.

With that, the river backed up, allowing the procession to proceed through the river bed. When the priests with the ark had reached the bottom of the riverbed they took a stand, allowing the long procession of the Israelites to file past them up onto the bank of the Promised Land.

Today’s Gospel tells us that when we come to pass through the river of death Jesus on the cross, replacing the priests with the ark, will be taking a stand midway through death, allowing us to pass by to life beyond.  

The storm on the water is a symbol for death when Christ will take us safely through.

Tuesday, 8/7/14

When the Lord came toward the Apostles, walking on the sea, they cried out, “It is a ghost!” Of course, they called him a ghost because a mere mortal could not walk on water. There was however, another reason for their thinking him to be a ghost. That reason is that this whole Gospel incident of facing the ultimate trial is meant to be taken as a parable. The river in storm stands for the hold that death will take on each of us, and Jesus walking to us on the water is the Gospel’s way of telling us that Jesus will be there for us at the hour of death.

That meaning of the story becomes clear when we note that the sea in the story was really a wide place in the Jordan River. (Eight miles south of Jacksonville there is s wide place in the St. John River that is called Lake George.) Crossing that Jordan River has a secondary meaning of crossing through death to the life beyond.

This meaning of today’s Gospel becomes clearer if we connect it with Chapter Three of the Book of Joshua. That chapter picks up the story of the Israelites who had wandered through the desert for forty year, but who at last had come to the bank of the Jordan, ready to pass over into the Promised Land. They came up against a problem: the melted snows of Lebanon had turned the Jordan into a churning half-mile-wide torrent.

At God’s command, Joshua put the priests carrying the ark at the bank of the river, facing into the flood. Then he had the thousands of Israelites line up four abreast in a line behind the ark. At his order the priests carrying the ark headed into the river, with the line of people following them in.

With that, the river backed up, allowing the procession to proceed through the river bed. When the priests with the ark had reached the bottom of the riverbed they took a stand, allowing the long procession of the Israelites to file past them up onto the bank of the Promised Land.

Today’s Gospel tells us that when we come to pass through the river of death Jesus on the cross, replacing the priests with the ark, will be taking a stand midway through death, allowing us to pass by to life beyond.  

Heaven stretched down, taking Jesus in, assuring him his reward would be great.

Monday, 8/6/12

We should notice that while our missals tell us today’s Gospel is Mark, 9:2-10, it actually leaves off the first half of verse two that says, “After six days Jesus took. . . “

The first half of that verse made a point that Mark felt important. He was telling us that  today’s incident was brought on by Our Lord’s announcement a week before that he was going to be put to death. Jesus had saddened himself and the Apostles by saying their happy days were drawing to a close. He told them he was headed up toward Jerusalem where he would be handed over to foreigners to be put to death.

This was so opposite to what the Apostles had been expecting that his words went over the heads of most of them. As well, they missed his dire warning that the Apostles too would need to take up crosses.

Those sad predictions might have sunk in a little with Peter, James, and John. So, a week later, when Jesus went up a mountain, seeking comfort from his Father, he brought them along.

On the mountain the Apostles had a heavenly experience that was really beyond words. Marks Gospel account is just his effort at giving us an impression of how God consoled them on the mountain. 

The Apostles had been sleeping, then a bright light woke them to the strangest of sights. The bottom of heaven seemed to be like a trampoline that stretched down just far enough to take in Jesus above them, and they saw him transformed into a being in glory.

The Jews had a belief that two mortals were already in heaven. The buried Moses together with the whole of his grave had been taken up to heaven. As well, Elijah had been visibly taken up in a fiery chariot. Those two came over to chat with Jesus. Luke tells us they discussed the upcoming end to Our Lord’s mission on earth.

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

The Exodus story is a metaphor for the helps God gives us in our lives.

Sunday, 8/5/12

All of our lives we have been hearing the story of the Israelites being fed with bread from heaven while they spent forty years making that hundred mile journey from Egypt to the Holy Land. We wonder about it. We ask ourselves two questions. First, is there any truth to it?  Second, what meaning has it for us?

We can’t say that it is all true, but it does fit in some with the facts as we know them.

Chapter Thirteen of Exodus says they spent four hundred and thirty years in Egypt, and that fits in with Egyptian history. For those four hundred years a Semitic tribe like the Israelites ruled Egypt, and would have welcomed them.  In 1320 an Egyptian general named Ramses took over. He would have been the Chapter One’s Pharaoh  who “didn’t know Joseph.” His son, Ramses II was the Pharaoh who had the Israelites doing slave labor building the supply cities of Pithom and Raamses.

As for the story’s meaning for us, the answer is that it blends fact and fiction into a metaphor for our lives. The fleshpots, the manna and the quail are real, but Exodus gives them symbolic standing.

The fleshpots were cauldrons of boiled grain and greens, with each pot serving twelve Israelite slaves who reached in to them with their fists. The fleshpots are metaphors for lazy years when people manage to eat without applying themselves.

The manna and the quail are real things.  Bedouins in the Sinai still have manna. It is a white honey-like excretion of aphids. Like the manna of Exlodus, it must be gathered  before the desert sun melts it into the sand. Then too, Bedouins still gather quail that fall exhausted after flights across the Mediterranean from which some of their flock dont make it across. The manna and the quail might stand for nothing more than the hundreds of ways in which the heavenly Father naturally brings forth food on earth for his children.

As for the meaning of the Exodus story, in the Bible forty years stand for a life span. We begin as slaves to the eating and sleeping functions of our bodies. With God’s help we get on the road to growth in mind and spirit, staying true to God until after our “forty years” he are accepted into his Promised Land.

Interestingly for us Christians, St. John used the plot line of Exodus to show how  Jesus elevated the incidents of Exodus, making each of them a metaphor for a help he supplies. He pitched his tent with us, he feeds us bread fro heaven. He is the light leading us on through the dark. He gives us to drink of the water of his Spirit. On his cross, suspended midway across the Jordan River of death he bids us pass by him into the Promised Land. 

Herod was the patron saint of dissolute living. Who is your patron saint?

Saturday, 8/4/12

Herod Antipas is history’s best example of dissolute living. The musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” portrayed him very well when we heard him beg, “Come on Jesus, play the fool, walk across my swimming pool.”

When Herod cast off his wife, taking on Herodius, the wife of his brother Philip,  people kept quiet about it, because Herod would take the life of anyone who criticized him.

But John the Baptist spoke out against the royal adultery, and Herodius demanded that Herod kill John. It irked her no end that her husband was keeping that trouble maker alive. But Herod had a superstitious nature that feared the consequences of killing a prophet. What he did was cage John in the cellar of a castle of his across the Jordan from Jericho. There, his morbid curiosity had him hiding half way down the stone stairway. There he was able to listen to that holy man talking to the guards.

In the end Herodius utilized Herod’s perverted gentleman’s honor. She knew that his pride would not let him go back on his word in front of his guests. So she had her slinky daughter back Herod into doing any favor she asked of him.

 If you are regularly breaking some of the Commandments, but still thinking of yourself as a basically good person, you are deceiving yourself much as Herod did.

Those who fail appreciate victory more poignantly than do the winners.

 Friday, 8/3/12

The readings today are about rejection and success. Jerusalem rejected Jeremiah, and Nazareth rejected Jesus. St. John the Baptist could be our patron saint of graceful failure. Sending his followers off to Jesus he said, “He must increase, while I must decrease.”   

While watching the swimming in the Olympics, with everyone else I rejoiced with the winners. I was impressed with the way each thanked parents and coaches. Then, my attention was caught by each of the losing swimmers. They were left treading water at the side of the pool they had been slow in reaching. They might remind you of an Emily Dickenson poem.

Success is counted sweetest by those who ne’er succeed.

Not one of the purple host who took the flag today
Can tell the definition so clear of victory
As he, defeated, dying, on whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph break agonized and clear.

The Vatican has its daily newsletter, and the other day it mentioned some of our successes. The gold medal swimmer Missy Franklin spoke of her joy at transferring to a Catholic school where she spends time with God in the chapel.

The gold medal gymnast Jordyn Wieber spoke of how her Catholic family stuck close to her through years of practice, keeping her faith alive.

Track star Lopez Lomong spoke of his indebtedness to Catholic Charities. They rescued him when he was on the run from a Sudanese prison camp where the boys around him were dying. 

The bishops of Vatican II were wise scribes who brought forth the best of the old and new.

Thursday, 8/2/12

Jesus said that every scribe who is instructed in the kingdom brings forth from his storeroom both new things and old.

Since our church has cooled in her enthusiasm for Vatican II, it is opportune for us to use Our Lord's words for recalling that the triumph of Vatican II consisted in the Fathers of the Council bringing forth the best of the old and the new.

As regards the old, it was the great French bishops who insisted that as Christians we remain true to our roots. For insisting that we return to the New Testament and the Fathers of the Church they coined the term Ressourcement. It demanded that we be true to the practices of the first three centuries. In that, they staked a better claim to the title of Conservatives than the claim of today’s so-called Conservatives who want us to cling to the customs of these past three centuries.

Pope John XXIII was the wise scribe who brought forth new things. In his twenty-five years of serving the church far from the Vatican, he had been constantly bombarded with fresh concepts. As a fine historian he knew that the Fathers of the Council of Trent had pictured the heaven of the just as being fifty miles above their heads. For Pope John, the coming of such things as electricity, space travel, DNA, and the United Nations had altered what we know of the life God gives us. His ears were always ringing with Our Lord’s command to “Read the signs of the times.” As a twin pillar of Vatican II he partnered the French word Ressourcement with his Italian coinage of Aggiornamento. As “Scribes instructed in the Kingdom of heaven” they brought forth the best of the old and the new.