St. Theresa's autobiography gives us fine lessons for life.

Monday, 10/1/12

St. Theresa of Lisieux entered the Carmelite Convent at Lisieux when she was fifteen. At twenty-two, as she began sinking with tuberculosis, Mother Agnes, the convent’s superior, told her to occupy herself by writing an account of her life. Theresa wrote an account she called The Journal of a Soul, and it has accidentally become famous.

When a nun died in a French Carmelite Convent there was a custom of circulating a short version of that dead sister’s life to the other convents. So when Theresa died they sent around her own journal. People visiting those convents picked it up, and it became immediately popular.

When it was passed around outside the convents, editors appeared, and began working on Theresa’s words, removing parts people might find less than edifying; but even so it remained a fine saintly account. Let me mention three details that I found memorable.

First, she had prepared for months to make a good first confession. She believed that through the priest she would be talking directly to God. So when the priest pulled back the slide on her side she blurted out, “I love you!”

Second, Theresa had lost four infant siblings, then at three she lost her mother to breast cancer; and Theresa kept calling for her. She went on to suffer several prolonged childhood ailments that left her to need and expect tender care. At thirteen, as she was putting out her shoe for Christmas gifts she overheard her father asking how long they would need to treat her like a child. It immediately jolted her into the need to grow up. That reversal of her attitudes has inspired many individuals to pray for the grace to turn their lives around.

A third story from Theresa’s life comes from when she was sinking into her final illness. An old nun passing her in the cloister cheered her up by saying she looked full of health. Then, another nun, passing her on the far side of the cloister showed concern for her sickly appearance. Theresa was immediately dejected, but then she turned the experience around. She hung tight to the experience’s lesson. We should not let our happiness hinge on peoples casual remarks.

God wants Christians to appreciate one another.

Sunday, 9/30/12

Today’s readings tell us to have respect for members of the other Christian churches.

That is the message of the first reading. In it when Moses had gathered together  seventy clan elders at one and the same moment they were all swept into a prophetic state. They felt God was speaking through them.

Now, there were two clan elders, Eldad and Medad, who had not been there when the others were swept into that prophetic state. It shocked the seventy when they witnessed Eldad and Medad prophesying like they had. But Moses told them not to feel bad about Eldad and Medad prophesying. God could have given them the spirit.

Similarly, in the Gospel when John tried to stop strangers from using Our Lord’s name to drive out demons, Jesus told him not to stop them. He told John, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Those of us who grew up before Vatican II did not know what the make of that advise. We had been told to stay clear of Protestants. We were told it was a sin to join with them in any religious activity. At Vatican II the Church confessed it had been wrong about that. In its document on Ecumenism it said, “Many of the elements and endowments which together give life to the Church can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church.”

I don’t think the church has revoked Vatican II, Christians should be free to like and respect one another.

Each of the archangels is an expression of God's greatness.

Saturday, 9/29/12           

Today is the feast of the archangels. It is hard to know what to think about them. They played important roles in Old Testament times, but the stories about them were told to fit in with the false picture of the universe that people had in Old Testament times.

Genesis pictured the sky as a hard dome with the stars hung from it like ornaments on a Christmas tree; and the Old Testament writers thought of God as permanently lodged above that hard sky dome.

Since they believed that God did communicate with us, they presumed he must use messengers. The word angel is just the Greek word for a messenger.

All that changed with the New Testament. St. Paul, speaking of God, wrote, “He is not far from any of us. For in him, we live and move and have our being.”  Paul seems to have pensioned off the angels as messengers no longer needed. He gave them all those golden parachutes.

The Church teaches us that the angels and archangels are pure spirits ministering before God, and we honor their greatness. Their names hint that for each of them their greatness is an expression of God’s greatness. The name Michael asks us, “Who is like God?’ Gabriel is “One who is like God.” And Raphael is “God has healed.”

God has put the timeless in our hearts.

Friday, 9/28/12

Our first reading today is from a very different kind of Bible book. Its cynical tone seems to tell us that since nothing lasts we might just as well give up. Still, we find real value in its rhythmical repetitions.

There is an appointed time for everything. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them. A time to kiss, and a time when the kissing has to stop.
That Bible book was supposedly written by a man named Qoheleth. He departed from the Old Testament’s belief that goodness will be rewarded with a long, long life. No, he tells us. Face the facts, nothing lasts.

But, finally, his cynicism does give way to a belief in the everlasting. He says, “He has put everything appropriate to its time, and has put the timeless in our hearts.”

There is real meaning in that last part. “He has put the timeless in our hearts.” I once heard that it is an axiom in Psychology that it is impossible for us to embrace the thought that we will altogether cease to exist. God has put the timeless into our hearts. The Persian poet Omar Khayyam was just as cynical as Qooleth. He tells us that since youthful pleasures can’t last we should grab them while they are available. But, ruefully he admits he might be wrong about that. His verse goes: “Some for the pleasures of the 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 that distant drum.”  

That distant drum is the timeless God puts in our hearts. Our faith tells us that by heeding it, we grasp unending happiness.

Vincent de Paul was a peasant, but a wonderful peasant.

Thursday, 9/27/12

Over the years, each day when we read about the saint of the day, it could strike us that although he or she was poor, their family had noble blood. But not Vincent de Paul. No. He was one of seven kids in peasant family. The Franciscans, who were poor themselves, gave him the basic schooling to equip him to support himself teaching in a primary schools. And while he was doing that, he took Theology classes. When he was just twenty an old bishop ordained him a priest, but even after that he still had to tutor kids for a living. Of those times, he  later wrote that when his father, a peasant, came to visit he was ashamed of people seeking him.

When Vincent was twenty-four, chasing down an inheritance, he set out on a coastal voyage to Marseilles, and he was captured by Turks. They took him to North Africa where they auctioned him off as a slave. After two years of being treated like an animal, he was traded to a kindly man who let him escape back to France.

Walking to Avignon, he began a career of ingratiating himself to important prelates who could help him. In the entourage of one of them he moved to Rome, and in the entourage of another he arrived in Paris.

But there he came under the care of a saintly prelate. That man, Cardinal Pierre Berulle, was to help in founding four great French religious orders: the Oratorians, the Sulpicians, Salesians, and indirectly the Vincentians.

Cardinal Berulle set Vincent up as permanent chaplain to France’s leading family, the Gondi’s. With that, the peasant’s son was at last free from bowing and scraping for a living.. Walking through the villages on the Gondi estate, he became painfully aware of the desperate physical and religious poverty of the peasants. At first, by  himself he gave missions in village after village where the peasants had been put adrift after their baptisms. In time other good-hearted priests joined him, forming the nucleus of what would become the Vincentian Fathers.

Then, another door was opened to him. In the Seventeenth Century all of France’s sailing ships were assisted by banks of convicts rowing below deck. The head of the Gondi family held the royal appointment as commander of all those galleys, so Vincent, as chaplain to the Gondi’s, felt a responsibility to those rowers. With memories of his days and nights as a Tunisian slave, he began using all of his connections to get hospitalization and humane colnditions for those wretches.   

A lady named Louise de Marillac had fallen into deep depression at the death of her husband, but Vincent’s kindness in visiting the dying man had turned her thoughts toward assisting the sick, and with his help she founded the Daughters of Charity.

Jesus didn't want his disciples to be poor. He wanted them to be folksy with the people they served.

Wednesday, 9/26/12

When his disciples were going out to preach the kingdom he wanted them to rely on the hospitality of the people they would serve, so he told them to take neither money nor food. It is a misreading of his instructions to say he wanted them to embrace poverty.

The first reading shows us the sensible attitude we should have toward riches and poverty. It says that an abundance of riches could lead one to feel he could get along without God. As for poverty, it says it could put you where you had to steal to stay alive.

I often think of an incident in Bernard Malamud’s novel The Assistant.   A New York drifter tried modeling his life after St. Francis of Assisi. Like an old time knight he would great things for an untouchable lady; he would pretend that Poverty was his  lady fair, and he would perform marvelous deeds  in her honor.

The Assistant’s one luxury was a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. He would make the coffee last an hour while he talked about his lady fair to the guy behind the counter.  That guy was busy going over his Racing Form, choosing the horses to bet on for the afternoon’s races, so he only half listened. Eventually, though, he got fed up with the Assistant’s fixation. So he said, “Listen buddy, poverty aint no beautiful lady. Poverty is a dirty business.”

Poverty is a dirty business, and the Church should be ashamed of herself for having said anything different.

Read a few pages from the Book of Proverbs, and you will hear the Lord speaking to you.

Tuesday, 9/25/12

Our first reading today gives us a variety of verses from the Book of Proverbs. Go to the Book of Proverbs, and take a look at some of the verses that tell us how to deal with the poor.

Even by his neighbor the poor man is hated, but the friends of the rich are many. 14:20 

He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call and not be heard. 21:13

Give me neither poverty nor riches, lest being full I deny you, or being poor, I steal. 30:8

He who has compassion on the poor lends to the Lord who will repay him. 19:17

He sins who despises the hungry, but happy the man who is good to the poor. 14:20

Better the man who walks with integrity, than he who is crooked and rich. 19:1                       

(If people would opens the Book of Proverbs at Chapter Ten, and then read slowly on from there, they will find verses that strike them right between the eyes, making them see themselves differently. )

The soul of the sluggard caves in vain.

Monday, 9/24/12

Our first readings for the next three days are taken from the Book of Proverbs. Over these days our lectionaries give us a total of nineteen of the proverbs, and that is a meager sampling, since the Book of Proverbs contains 940 separate sayings.

In the old days a work like the Book of Proverbs was referred to as a book of sentences. The reason for that was that the book was used for students to practice writing and memorizing sentences. In that way many of the proverbs came into every day talk. People were always saying, “Spare the rod, and spoil the child.” Or. “Better safe than sorry.”  To get a taste for the variety of the proverbs, today let’s just look at seven of them that deal with the lazy person they call the sluggard.

The door turns on its hinges, and the sluggard turns on his bed.

As vinegar is to the teeth, and smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to one who uses him as a messenger.”

The man who is slack in his work is brother to the man who is destructive.”

At seedtime the sluggard plows not, when he looks for a harvest it is not there.”

The sluggard’s laziness triumphs over his hunger when “The sluggard loses his hand in the dish.”

“The soul of the sluggard craves in vain.”

You and I must overcome the notion that the world revolves around us.

Sunday, 9/23/12

As they followed Jesus through the countryside, the disciples among themselves  were discussing about which of them was the greatest. We love them for their simple country-boy ways. Each of us has thoughts about being better than others, but we are sophisticated enough to hide them.

I heard that some Jews base their prohibition against suicide on their self-love. In their view every person sees himself or herself as the center of the world. That is inescapable, since each only knows the world as seen from inside. So, as the rabbis say, your decision to commit suicide would be the same as your consenting to kill off the world that revolves around you.

As good people we do struggle against being self-centered, but it isn’t easy. Recently I heard people discussing Freud’s view of the human personality. They were saying he saw every human personality as composed of a conscious part he called the “Ego” and an unconscious drive he called the “Id”. He said the Ego strives to control behavior morally, while the Id drives us toward self-satisfaction at any price. No matter how much the Ego prays and strives to show regard for others, the very strong Id keeps trying to overcome it with its “Me, me, me!”

I eat alone in restaurants where people keep saying “I” this and “I” that. Yesterday I sat at a table behind a man covered with tattoos. His excessive decorations kept me looking at him, and I couldn’t help hearing what he thought, what he liked, what he wouldn’t stand for. Inside all those tattoos there was a complete preoccupation with the person he called “I.” It’s the same I guess with me when I have an audience. Sanctity must come by forcing ones self to have equal regard for the other “I’s” around us. 

Speaking of Jesus, St. Paul said, “His death was a death to sin.” He saved us by his death to sin. Another way of saying that is that he saved us by his dying to selfishness. It will be by the degree to which each of us dies to selfishness that we will be saved.  

God who turns acorns into oaks also turns natural bodied into spiritual bodies.

Saturday, 9/22/12

Our first reading from Chapter Fifteen of First Corinthians gives us real answers to what we all wonder about, namely, what we will be like in life after death.

Paul’s says that just as in this creation God worked the little miracle by which a simple acorn buried in the earth can be transformed into a massive oak, so in the new creation he devises things so that what is put down as a corruptible body arises as an incorruptible body. He says you can bet on it that God who gave us natural bodies will also give us spiritual bodies.

There was a Belgian priest of the O.M.I Order who wrote a book called Inuk. In it he told how he travelled due north from Canada with his team of huskies. For eighteen days of hopping from one isolated village to the next he settled in the farthest north of all human habitations. Building his own igloo there, and living by harpooning his own seals for meat and oil he settled in.

The Inuk villagers were fascinated by his wooden cross, and they asked what kind of bone it was. He told them it wasn’t bone. It was wood. But they had never seen wood, and they wouldn’t believe his story about acorns turning into oak trees. We believe in oak trees, and we believe that the God who gave us that miracle, can also give us new bodies that will be powerful and glorious. 

Jesus visited with tax collectors to show that all callings can be honorable.

Friday, 21/12

On falling in with a retired man living in my compound, I asked him what he had worked at. When he said he had been with an insurance company doing actuary analyses, I let the matter drop. I walked away thinking, “What a terrible thing to do with the only life given you. Poor fellow!

But looking at the church calendar today, and seeing that it is Matthew’s feast day, I begin thinking about Jesus having dinner with all those tax collectors. They were worse than insurance men, and yet Jesus paid them the compliment of his company.

Catholic mothers used to pray for a priest son, or maybe a pediatrician or a beloved school teacher. Those are three of maybe a hundred thousand occupations making up Jacksonville’s work force. Those are more noble callings than that of the garbage collectors, the launderers, or the guys who paint yellow and white lines on our streets. But are priests, pediatricians or teachers more necessary? No. Would we want to do without garbage collections, clean underwear or the lines that keep cars from crashing into each other?

St. Benedict used to say that work can be a perfect prayer, and he had no favorite  kinds of work. Each of us is like one of the several hundred small pieces in a watch. Since it can’t operate if even one of the little parts is missing, all the  parts are of equal worth. The honor Jesus showed to St. Matthew’s profession let’s us see that what matters is not what we do, but how we do it.

Today we honor the martyr Father Andrew Kim who was Korea's first native priest.

Thursday, 9/20/12

In 1984 Pope John Paul II canonized 103 men, women and children who were among 8000 Korean Catholics who were put to death rather than give up their faith.

For hundreds of years Korea had been known as the Hermit Kingdom, having earned that name by not permitting anyone to come into or go out of their country. There was no mixing with foreigners. Their one foreign tie consisted in a yearly delegation that carried tribute to the Chinese emperor in Beijing.

While that yearly delegation was spending the winter of 1775-1776 in Beijing, its  members took to reading books on Catholicism that had been written a hundred years earlier by the Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci, an amazing scholar who had served as tutor to the emperor’s children. A number of that Korean delegation were baptized, and they brought Catholicism back to Seoul. For the fifteen years before a Chinese Catholic priest came to them, they were like children playing religion. They ordained each other priests, and they made attempts at saying Mass.

Fifty years later Korea got its fist native born priest. St. Andrew Kim was trained in Shanghai, and he was sneaked into Korea in 1844. He was landed on the east coast together with a French bishop and a French priest. (I came ashore as the French priest in a 1959 movie made of that landing.)

Father Andrew Kim along with all the others who embraced the foreign religion of Catholicism were beheaded in mass executions on the bank of the Han River. When Protestant missionaries used influence to open Korea to them in the 1880’s the persecution of Catholics came to an end. Catholics are referred to as the old Christians.

Today Catholics Koreans are held in high regard because of the role they played in fighting for independence. The Korean hero of the 1940’s, President Syngman Rhee, became their dictator in the 1950’s. After his regime was overthrown by a students’ revolution in 1959, the first popularly elected president was the Catholic John Chang. As a young man John had composed a Korean adaption of Cardinal Gibbon’s Faith of Our Fathers.  Today Catholics make up almlost eleven percent of Korea’s population.

As members of Christ's Mystical Body we must work together lovingly, the way your right and left hands work together.

Wednesday, 9/19/12

Today’s first reading in which Paul extols the greatness of charity follows on yesterday’s passage in which he spoke of all of us as being members of the Body of Christ. That beautiful teaching tells us that when Jesus physically left this world he asked his believers to take his place. Paul speaks of how taken together we are Christ still alive in the world. We are Christ’s Mystical Body, sent forth to continue Christ’s work in this world.

For you to accomplish any task, the parts of your body must work as a unit. I don’t know if you ever chop wood, but if you were to try it, your legs would need to plant themselves solidly. Your hands would need to come together in a firm grasp. Your eyes would need to stay alert; and all these parts would need to work together for a harmonious swing that sent the chips flying.

So, all of us members of Christ’s Mystical Body must work together harmoniously for us to continue doing Christ’s work on earth.  If you see anyone as a rival, and there is jealousy or ill will between you, you cannot function together as parts of the Mystical Body of Christ. You might try regarding yourselves as Christ’s two hands.  Remember that one hand is never in contest with the other. If one hand itches the other hand scratches that itch.

 Following on yesterday’s reading, calls on all of us members of Christ’s Mystical Body to cultivate a love that “does not seek its own interests, is not quick tempered, does not brood over injury, does not rejoice over wrongdoing.”

In addition to praying for miraculous cures that suspend the laws of nature, perhaps God wants us to spread good health by working with the laws of nature.

Tuesday, 9/18/12

In the Gospel Jesus was traveling about on foot, and a crowd of people had left their homes and were walking with him, listeng to his teaching. As they approached the Galilee town of Nain, twenty-five miles southeast of Nazareth, they passed along side another crowd coming out from the town. It was the funeral of a widow’s only son.

As Jesus came abreast the coffin and the widow, he began to weep with her. He told the coffin bearers to halt, then, touching the coffin, he said, “Young man, I tell you, arise.” The dead man sat up, beginning to speak, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

Do you ever wish something like that could happen when a young person’s death is especially heartbreaking?

Let me tell you about a time I had a similar wish. Fifty years ago in Korean hill country I was walking with a group of Catholics, when rounding a path cut into a hillside we had to make room for a funeral procession coming at us. The mourners were waving colored banners on high-high bamboo poles. I told Jesus, “Here is another opportunity for you to make some converts.” But the two groups passed with nothing happening.

Prayerfully asking Jesus about it now, I find myself thinking about Lazarus and the rich man, where Abraham told the rich man, “They have Moses and the prophets. If they would not believe Moses and the prophets neither would they believe if one should rise from the dead.” 

You might contact Jesus in prayer to bare your thoughts on the subjects of miracles and absence of miracles. See if he lets you understand what your mind on such matters should be. 

It occurs to me that what Jesus wants is that instead of seeking miraculous cures that suspend the laws of nature, we should work for cures that are available by making the best of natural means.

Using the Greek language St. Paul told us what Jesus said at the Last Supper. To get at Our Lord's exact words, it helps to check our Greek New Testament.

Monday, 9/17/12

Like Matthew, Mark and Luke, Paul gave us the exact words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper. Let’s just go over what Paul wrote, taking it from sentence to sentence.

He wrote, “I received from the Lord, what I also handed on to you.” There, he clearly tells us that he was personally instructed by Jesus, even though he had never met him when they were both alive.  It is on the basis of that private meeting with Jesus that Paul laid claim to being an Apostles like the twelve.

He next wrote, Jesus “took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it” Our four English words “after he had given thanks” is quite a loose translation of Paul’s  single Greek word. He wrote that Jesus broke the bread after eucharistesas. Now, that word, eucharistesas, was the name of the third and final part of the traditional Hebrew table blessing. So, Paul was actually saying that Jesus took up the bread after he had completed the blessing. We should be aware of the fact that our Eucharistic prayer grew out of that table blessing. 

Next, Paul wrote that Jesus said, “This is my body which is for you.”  There, again, in English we are given a faulty translation of Paul’s words. In the Greek New Testament that phrase is, “soma to uper umon klomenon.”  That last word klomenon means “is broken.” So, where our translation has it as “This is my body which is for you.” Paul actually wrote “This is my body which is broken for you.”

This might sound as though I am going too much into small details, but it is important for us to know what Jesus actually said. If you will put up with one more fine distinction from me, let me point this out.  Jesus, as though he were looking forward to his death the next day, did not say, “This is my body which will be broken for you.” No, he said, “This is my body which is broken for you.” It was as though he had begun dying at the Last Supper, so that our Mass not only recalls that Passover dinner, it also brings back his death. 

Today's Gospel passage is the hinge to Mark's Gospel. The first half showed Jesus to be the Savior. The half that follows describes how he saved by his suffering.

Sunday, 9/16/12

Today’s Gospel is taken from the very middle of the seventeen chapters that make up Mark’s Gospel, and today’s reading holds the key to the question of why Mark wrote his Gospel.

Mark’s Gospel is different from the others in that while the other three were written sixty years after Jesus lived, Mark personally knew Jesus. He was a player in the Passion story. He was the young man wrapped in a sheet who followed the soldiers who took Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane. When the soldiers snatched at him Mark dropped the sheet, and ran home in his birthday suit. Mark later accompanied St. Paul on Paul’s first missionary journey, then, becoming home sick, he deserted and went back to his mother.

In the years that followed Mark was deeply hurt by people saying that a man crucified as a rebel could not be the Messiah. It determined him to write the story of Jesus in a way that would show how his sufferings were something wonderful.

Up to then no one had ever written a Gospel, so Mark had to find his own way. What he decided on doing was to break the life story of Jesus into two equal parts. The first half would be a long account of all the things by which his disciples came to be convinced that Jesus was the Savior. (In his first eight and a half chapters Mark gave stories of Jesus curing people with incurable ailments. He described how Jesus drove out devils, and how the devils called him the Son of God. One by one he noted how Jesus fulfilled all the prophesies made about the Messiah .)

Coming to Chapter Eight, the middle chapter in his Gospel, Mark finished off that first half by telling how Jesus fed five thousand with five loaves, and how he gave sight to a man born blind. Then, in the middle of that middle chapter, Jesus asked the disciples who did they say he was. Peter speaking for them all, said “You are the Christ,” or the Messiah.

In verses that were the hinge on which his Gospel turned, Mark quoted Jesus as telling us that not only was he the Savior, but that it was by his suffering and death that he would save us.  That suffering and death, which others saw as an obstacle to greatness were really his glory. He would win not by conquering, but by being unconquerable. He would emerge in glory from the ignominy of the cross. 

O quam tristis et afflicta fuit illa benedicta, mater Unigeniti.

Saturday, 9/15/ 12

Today is set aside for us to commiserate with Mary for all she had to undergo. At the presentation in the temple of her forty-day-old Jesus Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce her heart. That sword went into her heart and turned and turned there as she stood beneath the cross, matching his last gasps with hers.

We might also use this day to commiserate with other mothers who suffer with and for their children. I myself have been a bystander for much of what is called normal life. As a bystander it surprises me that women gladly give up their independence to enter into an enslavement that begins when their darlings are infants, then becomes more trying when the darlings become teen agers.  

There is a waitress I've been friendly with for years because of the pancakes at her restaurant. Tuesday  I asked her how many days a week she works. She said, “Six. Sundays I get to spend the whole day with my grandson.” Not with her boyfriend or girlfriends or at the Mall or relaxing at home. She works the whole week for the right to take care of that boy on Sundays.

As we honor Mary today we should ask her to make room on the award stand for so many mothers around us who lovingly put up with sorrow for the love of their darlings and for the love of their God.

While the four soldiers were lifting up the cross, and fitting its base into the hole they had dug for it, Jesus, dangling by hands and feet, suffered some excruciating jolts.

Friday, 9/14/12

This day is known as the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. It commemorates the day when St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem, and found the remains of the cross of Jesus. Part of the true cross has since them been preserved in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

By referring to this as the exaltation of the cross, we are speaking of how it was lifted up in triumph. We match that with stories of how everyone was cured when Moses lifted up the bronze serpent.

For today someone sent me a ten minute camera scan of the naves and crannies of the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and I found it impressive. Still, on this day I find it good to put aside the impressive and the triumphant aspects of what we commemorate.

Instead, on the feast of the lifting up of the cross, I find it better to put my thoughts on Jesus at the crucifixion.  The cross was flat on the ground when they were putting the spikes through his hands and feet. The four Roman soldiers in one joint effort stood the cross up, then, and with Jesus dangling feet and hands from it, they lodged its base into the hole they had dug for it. Those jolts that  Jesus willing experienced for us are the best things for us to think on today. 

We should abstain from behavior that is lawful if by it we offend others.

Thursday, 9/13/12

Paul brought the faith to Corinth in the year 51, then two years later, when he had settled for a time in Ephesus, he received a series of letters from the people in Corinth. They were sending him a long laundry list of the problems they were experiencing. In his two great Epistles to the Corinthians, he took up their difficulties one by one. 

The troubling question he was addressing in the excerpt we have today had to do with eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. The city of Corinth was seated on the narrow isthmus joining Greece proper to the lower Peloponnese. It was a port on both the Aegean and the Adriatic, and superstitious sailors kept the temples busy with animal sacrifices that pleaded for good sailing weather.   

The great number of animal sacrifices to Neptune or to any other so-called god gave Corinth a surplus of meats that was more than the sailors or the temple priests could eat. So,those cuts of meat showed up in the markets at a much decreased price.

From ancient times the people had held that by eating meat that had been offered to any god one became a worshipper of that god.

The problem the Christians of Corinth were presenting to Paul was that there was a division among them on the question of whether or not they could buy and eat the cheaper meat that had been offered to idols. Some liberal Christians who thought for themselves began saying that since those gods were not real, and since the meat offered to them was cheap, that it was alright to buy and eat it.

Opposed to that, the old conservative Christians were saying that their parents had always said such meat was unlawful for them, and they went with their parents on  that. Not only would thy not eat it themselves, but they didn’t feel right about associating with so-called Christians who ate meat sacrificed to other gods.

Paul’s response was that although the liberals were right in saying that since the gods were not real the meat was lawful for them. But since their eating such meat greatly bothered the conservative Christians, the liberals should stay away from such meat.

Two chapters further on in this letter Paul, addressing himself to a similar dispute between liberals and old-fashioned people, and he came up with good advise for the liberals who went along with anything the law allowed. He said, Christians who know their rights should not exercise those rights when their actions offend other Christians. He said, “All things that are lawful are not necessarily expedient.”

When it comes to our differences over politics or any other phase of life, we might be confident that our view is the correct one, but it is not expedient for us to push our view on those who are offended by them.  

God gave us the good things in this life to whet our appetites for the more beautiful things to come.

Wednesday, 9/12/12

Paul; tells us some unusual things in today’s reading. He does not tell us not to weep or not to rejoice.  No, he concedes that when prompted to it we must weep, we must rejoice; but he tells us to weep as though we were not weeping, and to rejoice as though we were not rejoicing. The reason he puts forward for behaving that way is that “this world in its present form is passing away.”

Paul tells us that all the time we are doing our best in this life, we should maintain our awareness of that other life that is more important than this one.

St Bernard of Clairvaux would question anyone’s excessive preoccupation with present affairs by asking, “Quid est hoc ad aeternitatum?” or “What is this to eternity?”

A fine old lady I know keeps saying, “I don’t want to die.” As a religious person she is ashamed of feeling that way, but she loves life, and she doesn’t want to let go.

Of course many people live in such pain and sorrow that they are ready to cash in,  but I for one, am like that old lady. I love white clouds drifting over a pale blue sky. I love my friends, and I love the old songs. I don’t want to let go. How about you?

You were given the gift of faith, and you must work with it. You must heighten your realization that “all things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” You must strengthen your conviction that God gave you the good things in life to whet your appetites for the more beautiful things to come.

Where St. Matthew pictured Jesus as delivering his sermon from a mountain, St. Luke pictured Jesus preaching on level ground.

Tuesday, 9/11/12

We used to believe that the inspired books of the Bible were actually dictated by God. I have seen a church window that depicts St. Luke pausing, a writing quill in hand, and one ear cocked, waiting to hear what an angel was dictating to him.

St. Luke tells us it didn’t happen that way. At the beginning of his Gospel he wrote:

Many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers to the word have handed them down to us. I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew to write in down in orderly sequence.

There he says that he gathered notes made by people who listened to Jesus, and he fitted those note together in continuous orderly sequence.

People who are familiar with the Gospels have noted that a third of the words and stories in Matthew’s Gospel appear in Luke’s Gospel. It is a good bet that they used the same eyewitness source. German scholars whose word for a source is Quell, shorten that, saying that Matthew and Luke  got the passages they share at are same from Q. Both Matthew and Luke used what they got from Q in a way that got their special point of view across.

In today’s Gospel Luke wrote that Jesus “stood on a level ground,.”

St. Matthew, writing for Jews, and desiring to contrast our Lord’s teaching with what Moses taught from Mount Sinai pictured Jesus as giving his teaching from a mountain in the Sermon on the Mount. Luke, here, writing for democratic Greek people, pictured Jesus as teaching on the level.  

Now, although Luke and Matthew used other sources, and although both of them used their own ideas, still their Gospels are inspired. God inspired them to use their own ideas and style in writing.

In telling us to throw out the old yeast Paul was telling us to throw out the causes for pride that puff up worldly people.

Monday, 9/10/12

Writing to Christians in Corinth St. Paul told said, “Clear out the old yeast. For our Paschal Lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.”

The old yeast is a metaphor for such un-Christian attitudes as greed, lust and pride; and the basis for the metaphor dates back to the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. 

Moses and the Israelites sat down for that final meal in Egypt. Then, when they had consumed the Paschal lamb, they threw together the ingredients they would need for eating on the road. Since they would not have an opportunity for baking, they would need no yeast, so they got rid of the old yeast. As well, they disposed of barley and some other ingredients. Those were the condiments and foods they wouldn’t be able to use on the long walk to Mount Sinai. Those foods they disposed of make up the list of non-kosher foods that devout Jews still do not eat.

Jesus pointed out other metaphorical meanings for yeast. In telling us to avoid the yeast of the Pharisees he was telling us to avoid the pride that puffs people up the way yeast puffs up dough.

Jesus metaphorically used the beneficial aspects of yeast in saying that instead of isolating themselves from the world’s masses, Christians should be like yeast, mixing with discouraged people, lifting them up.

Isaiah's prophecy will be fulfilled in us if we let the Lord open our eyes and clear our ears from all prejudices.

Sunday, 9/9/12

Our first reading tells us that when the Lord comes:

 “The eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be cleared.”

My sister Peggy had eight daughters, and Nancy, the oldest of them, is totally blind.  Having heard that Nancy was active in organizations for the blind and the deaf, and with today’s reading being about such people, two days ago I called Nancy to learn something about being blind and deaf.

Right off she told me that only her deaf friends are really handicapped. She said, “Not being able to see hasn’t been so bad. I am always forming pictures of people and scenes the way anyone else does when they are reading a novel.”

Let me tell you how Nancy became blind. Her brothers were all soccer players, and Nancy, well into her forties, was still mixing it up with them. That foolishness led to her breaking a leg, and when she was in the hospital a nurse alerted her to a swelling behind her left eye. It led to a series of operations that have left her totally blind these last seventeen years.

On the phone Nancy said, “Many seeing people are more blind than I am.” She explained that like this. She is introduced to someone who has a warm hand grasp and a pleasing voice, and they strike up a lasting friendship.

Then, afterwards she hears people putting her new friend down. They talk about all the weight that woman has put on, and they talk about the really awful way she dresses. Nancy said, “Honestly, Uncle Tom, those people can’t see the beauty of my friend. That makes them the blind ones.”

Isaiah said, “The eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be cleared.”

That prophesy will be fulfilled in us if we let the Lord clear away our prejudices, if we let him show us the beauty of the souls for whom we have never had time.

Each of us has his or her own approach to Mary.

Saturday, 9/8/12

Today we celebrate the birthday of Mary. We do not know the time or place of Mary’s birth. Even our understanding of her parents being Joachim and Anna is something that an unknown second century writer passed along, or made up.

When I was young I had difficulties with devotion to Mary. Please forgive me for filling this space with an account of those troubles. Perhaps some of you have had similar difficulties. Having grown up among Protestants, when I started at the seminary I was out of step with boys with strong devotion to Mary. Wanting to catch up with them, I said a “Hail Holy Queen” every night, asking Mary to bring me close to her. After a couple of years it worked. I came to feel I was there with St. John under the cross when Jesus said, “Behold your mother.” From then on I’ve had a good son to mother relationship with Mary.

However, when I reached the major seminary I found some of the older students had an advanced devotion to Mary. They had been reading Blessed Grignion de Montfort’s “True Devotion to Mary,” and they were calling themselves slaves of Mary. They offered all their prayers and good works through her. They likened our prayers to beautiful pieces of fruit, and they said that offering them through Mary was like getting her to present my gift of fruit to God on her silver platter.

I couldn’t see that, so I presented my difficulty to Father John Kerr. He was a holy old priest who after twenty-five years in an isolated Chinese parish had been driven out by Mao Tse Tung. His answer to my hesitation was that the Holy Father had approved of people making themselves slaves of Mary. “But, father, I just can’t see my prayer being like a piece of fruit on a silver platter.”

Father John Kerr’s answer to that was, “I don’t know, Thomas. I wish you could be like me. Anything the pope says I fall for it”

When I was four, and my mother had me in tow pushing through department store Christmas crowds, I'd hold to her hand for dear life while I gaped around at toys and elves. Now, with the rosary, saying the Hail Mary's is like hanging on to Mary's hand as I gape around at the Mysteries.

Friday, 9/7/12

Paul tells us, “One should regard us as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”

That means that we should be so busily employed serving Christ and promoting his  mysteries that just by looking at us people would know that’s what we do. We should be as recognizable as God’s servants and stewards as a man in gray with a leather sack over his shoulder is recognizable as a mailman.

Nobody would recognize me as a servant of Christ and a steward of God’s mysteries. They’d see a lazy old retiree. But I am still trying to qualify as God’s servant and steward, and to accomplish it I am using a tricky way of saying the Rosary. Let me explain.

To remind myself of my duties as Christ’s servant I take a long morning walk during which I pray a decade each on the eight Beatitudes and on the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It gets me hungering for justice and thinking of visiting the needy.

Then, to expand my feel for the mysteries of God, I take an afternoon walk during which I pray a decade each on Chapter One of John’s Gospel, breaking it down to fifteen rich phrases. Like, “in him was life, and the life is the light of the world.” I hope that pondering such phrases could deepens my feel for God’s mysteries.

In praying the Rosary I always found it impossible to really pray the Hail Mary’s at the same time I was meditating on the mysteries. But listen to the way I have found to get around that confusion.

When I was four, and my mother took me Christmas shopping, as she pushed her way through the department store throngs I held on to her hand for dear life. At the same time I was fully involved in gaping at toys and elves and pretty little girls in tow with their moms.

Now, saying the Rosary on my fingers, my saying the Hail Mary’s is like hanging tight to Mary’s hand as I give my attention to each mystery.

What would Simon have done next if Jesus had departed?

Thursday, 9/6/12

There are two particularly charming aspects of today’s Gospel. The first has to do with scene itself. We are losing out if we do not make the mental effort to see that lake and what went on there.

We must try to feel how down-in-the-mouth the four young men were over near killing themselves all night without catching a thing. People who are familiar with fishing on that lake tell us that those neighboring young men would have teamed up in dragging a long seining net. As they picked through its length, finding nothing, not a thing; you can imagine what kind of fishermen language they used to express their disappointment. 

Then, turn to imaginng what kind of fishermen’s language welled up in their gullets when Jesus told them to cast their small net over the right side.

Still, there was an authority about the stranger. So, okay, Simon cast over the net, and he found himself defeated. He couldn’t pull the net up because it was swarming with hundreds of fish. James and John came to help, and it ended with both boats loaded to near sinking

If you don’t mind this, the other charming aspect of this story is one personal to me. From eight years before I was born our home parish had an Irish pastor from Cobh in County Cork. He never spent money on himself, and his severe seminary training kept him from doing anything but reading for his recreation. He was trained not to socialize with his beloved parishioners.

When three of us kids began studying for the priesthood Father let us into his private life. One night after we had served a holy hour he handed oranges around to us, and he sat us down for a chat. The Gospel that day had been the same as today’s, and Father explained it to us.

You see, Simon and the others were bug eyed over all those fish. All they could think of was the money they would get for them. The only problem was that Jesus wouldn’t go away.

Simon was the cleverest of the four. He spoke to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” He wanted to be an even more sinful man, but Jesus wouldn’t let him.

Maybe our old pastor was wrong about that, but he did us a service. After that, the three of us could see that the people in the Bible were as human as we were.