The last chapter of the Bible speaks of life flowing from God to us in heaven.

Saturday, 12/1/12

In the first reading from the final chapter of the Book of Revelation we are treated to a vision of God’s throne in heaven.

“An angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God. . . . On either side of the river grew the tree of life.” 

That is reminiscent of the scene in Chapter 47 of Ezekiel where we read: “I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple. . . Along the banks of the river fruit trees of every kind shall grow.”

In both cases the water stands for God’s life in us. In the first reading, the one from Revelation, that life from God is the source of endless happiness in heaven. In the reading from Ezekiel the river stands for God’s grace that people on earth carry out with them from church, sharing it among all with whom the come in contact through their days.

Through life and death St. Andrew stayed with the Lord.

Friday, 11/30/12

Andrew and John were neighbor boys who teamed up tending a long seining net in the Sea of Galilee. In slack season their fathers allowed the boys to travel ninety miles south to where John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan. They served as ushers where the line of people was winding out to where John was submerging one person at a time. Young John and Andrew were assisting the old who were not sure of themselves wading out.

Then, one day the Baptist called out, “Look, there he is, God’s chosen Lamb.”

Jerking their heads around, the boys caught sight of Jesus walking past on the shore, and they dropped what they were doing to quickly lift their knees through the water to the shore. But then, they didn’t know what to do. Holding back, they were following at a distance, when Jesus turned, and asked,

“What are you looking for?”

“Rabbi, where are you staying?

“Come and see.”

They went and stayed with him that night.

There were two parts of that which you could come back to every day. First, to keep your priorities right, you should be able to give a solid answer to the question “What are you looking for?”

The second part of that exchange to which you should give attention is the matter of staying with the Lord. Some variation of te verb “to stay” appears fifty times in the twenty-one chapters of John’s Gospel. Its insistent recurrence reminds us that our Christian lives are ones of staying with the Lord.  We are not looking just for that help over difficulties that is known as Actual Grace. No, we are looking for living our lives completely at one with the Lord. We are looking to spend every hour of our lives in the state of Sanctifying Grace.  

The end of the world will be part of God's loving plan for us.

Thursday, 11/29/12

In the fifty-two Sundays of the year the Church attempts to summarize our world’s history. With a new Church Year beginning in five days on the First Sunday of Advent, we are now in  the final week of the Church’s year, and the readings mark this with descriptions of the end of the world.

We do not know how literally we can take these descriptions. They seem to hint at two end-of-the-world-type calamities: one would be Jerusalem’s total destruction in the year 70 A.D., the other could be the death of our mortal bodies.

The Gospel’s scenes do fit with Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans. Then too, as in the Gospel, it was said, “Let those on the countryside not enter the city,” and, “Jerusalem would be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles. That’s how it happened.

Let’s take a look at that destruction. Simon, one of Our Lord’s Apostles, was identified as one of the Zealots, who were especially patriotic Jews. But after the year 60 A.D.  some of the Zealots began wielding daggers called shiccas. Those Shiccaries were holed up in Jerusalem from where they ventured out to ambush Roman patrols.

When a decade of counter measures against the Shiccaries was ineffective, the Roman Senate in 69 A.D. commissioned General Vespasian to destroy the city entirely. He dug trenches around the city to cut off the water supply, and he constructed catapults for hurling fire over the walls. After he was named the next emperor, he turned Jerusalem’s destruction over to his son General Titus in whose efficient plan for destruction not a soul was spared, and not a stone was left upon a stone.

The Bible’s predictions about the end of the world could be fulfilled for us individually at our deaths. Although we have often been in close contact with dying people in their final moments, we have never been connected with them in the moments that followed. At Baptist funerals the eloquent preachers make it sound like a joy ride to a wonderful family gathering in the sky. Maybe.

Our priests had a party for our former ordinary, Bishop Paul Tanner. Knowing he was in his final year he expressed his concern about those moments following the loss of oxygen for the brain. My recollection of what he said goes like this, “Our conscious thought is tied up with our cerebellums, so it is hard to see how conscious thought could continue after our physical brains shut down. I believe in the resurrection of our bodies at the end of time, but between my death and the end of the world, time-wise there could be a considerable lacuna.”

While taking a long walk yesterday I began marveling at the way all God’s creatures carry out his plans for their existence. The birds swirl without crashing. The winds sweep away fumes. The clouds silently transport millions of tons of water to where it is needed. It gave me a solid assurance that in my death his plans will work out well for me.

The reading from Revelation could remind one of the forty Roman soldiers who froze to death on an ice covered cove rather than give up their faith.

Wednesday, 11/28/12

The reading from Revelation could put one in mind of forty Christian soldiers who were put to death in the year 320. Our reading speaks of a heavenly sea upon which the victors were standing. It is that which stirs up the memory of a frozen sea on which forty Christian martyrs triumphed over death.

In 320 the Roman Empire was split between Constantine in the west and Licinius in the east; and since Constantine had embraced Christianity, Licinius felt it necessary to rid his army of the Christian soldiers. He feared their going over to Constantine. In his Legion XII stationed on the Sebaste peninsula that juts north into the Black Sea, there were forty Christian soldiers who would not give up their religion to prove their loyalty to Licinius.

Overcome with anger against the forty soldiers, Licinius, on a night when the temperature dropped below zero, had the forty men stripped naked, then forced to stand out on the ice of a frozen cove.

On the shore the guarding soldiers were huddled around a fire that cast a meager light on the men freezing on the ice. The guards, doing their best to stay warm, were marveling at the heroism of the men enduring such seemingly unbearable cold. They couldn’t help asking themselves what there was about this Christianity to inspire such heroism. Midway through the night one of the Christians gave in, running toward the fire. But then, one of the soldiers on the shore, deciding that Christianity must be the most valuable thing a man could attain, stood up from the fire; and stripping off his clothing, he ran out and froze to death with the thirty-nine.   

Today's first reading inspired the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Tuesday, 11/27/12

 The First Reading puts all Americans in mind of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. As a seventeen year-old seminarian I was singing it while doing yard work, and a priest jokingly told me it was a Protestant song, and I shouldn’t be singing it. I now beg to differ with that good Father. The song was composed as a prayer for God’s help in freeing American’s slaves, and as such we Catholics should find common cause with it.

In 1856 William Steffe composed the tune as a hymn with different lyrics. Then, with the Civil War coming on, soldiers used it as a marching song, making up their own words.

In 1961 Julia Ward Stowe, a forty-two year old published author, and wife of a doctor who had established a school for the blind, had accompanied her husband to Washington. After meeting with Lincoln and discussing the need to regard the dignity of black people, they had stood by the road watching a troop from Wisconsin march by.

The soldiers had worked up their own words that made fun of a short little Scotch soldier named John Brown. Julia went to bed with the tune ringing in her ears, and she fell asleep reviewing the image of Jesus collecting the grapes of wrath. In the dark before dawn she awoke, and with a scratchy old pen she wrote six verses of the hymn. Here are the first two.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His day is marching on.

St. John faced up to the impossible task of describing the happiness of the saints in heaven.

Monday, 11/26/12

Our first reading comes from a vision penned by St. John, Christ’s Beloved Disciple. His vision of heaven had one hundred and forty-four thousand saved-souls assembled before the Lamb of God. They are praising God by playing their harps in perfect unison. I had a friend who loved quoting John Milton’s version of that scene from his Paradise Lost. Milton described heaven as a place where “The Cherubic hosts in thousand choirs, touch their immortal harps of golden wires.”

Burma Shave’s variation on that was less sublime. Its first sign said, AT EACH CROSSING. The second sign said, LOOK EACH WAY. The third sign said, A HARP SOUNDS PRETTY. The last sign said, BUT ITS HARD TO PLAY.

St. John actually experienced a vision of heaven, but what he saw and what he felt went far beyond the capacity of human speech to depict. We can be sure that he was far from satisfied with the scene he created with his words. Still, we should reward his efforts by believing that what he experienced went beyond being breath-taking.

I just Googled Mozart, and I was rewarded with a clip in which an eighteen-member Viennese ensemble of violins, cellos, and bases played his “A Little Night Music.”  If I were to attempt describing what I heard to a person who is deaf from birth I would have a task similar to what John attempted in todays’ first reading.

Christ is our king because, as the first to land on heaven's shore, he is the king of the heavenly population.

Sunday, 11/25/12

This is the day on which we honor Christ as our King.

Recalling how he told us, “My kingdom is not of this world” we must come to an understanding of the unusual way in which he is our king. For that, we search for clues in the Scriptures, looking especially to the reading the Church gives us for the feast of our King.   

Our second reading calls Christ “The firstborn of the dead.” So, what is the significance of saying he is the firstborn of the dead?

When the crowds acclaimed Jesus as their king on Palm Sunday they did it by greeting him as the Son of David. That tells us that his claim to kingship was similar to David’s claim. We can fix on what that claim was by checking on the scene in Second Samuel when the leaders of the twelve tribes declared David their king. We read, “All the tribes of Israel came to David in Hebron and said, “Here we are, your bone and your flesh.”

The Bible follows the ancient idea of kingship where it belongs to the founder of a new race or to his direct descendent. All the people who later came to live in that land came to see him as the link which that had them related to each other.

Let me describe something similar that I repeatedly came across in my dozen years in Korea’s farmland. In America for two tiresome years we have been listening to politicians identifying themselves as the true friends of the American people. Korea’s population has an odd way of referring to themselves. They don’t call themselves the Korean people. They call themselves the Korean paiksung, which translates as the Korean Hundred-Names. They believe that there were a hundred pioneers who three thousand years ago settled on different parts of their peninsula. They believe that people with the same family name had the same ancestor.

After all these centuries each of the hundred clans is still aware of the man who is the direct descendent of its original founder, of the pioneer who landed of their shore. Once each year they used to try coming together at his house to deepen their mutual relationship and to honor all the ancestors in their clan. They say to him, as the leaders of the tribes said to David, “Here we are your bone and your flesh.”

Then, we honor Christ the King because he is “The firstborn of the dead.” He is the first of our race to land on heaven’s shore. As the first reading puts it, “He has made us into a kingdom.” 

In heaven we will be like angels.

Saturday, 11/24/12

The Bible tells us almost nothing about the afterlife.

Paul in Chapter Two of First Corinthians says, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the hearts of men the things which God has prepared for those who love him.”

St. John is not much more help. In Chapter Three of his First Letter he wrote, “We are already God’s children, what we shall be has not yet been revealed.”

Perhaps the pleasures of heaven are so different from anything we know, that even if they were described to us it would make no sense for us.

That reminds me of a nasty little story. When a little boy who didn’t like girls asked what is the very best fun people have in this life, he was told it’s what a man and woman can hae when they sleep together. Unable to believe that, but not wanting to contradict, he asked, “Well, can they eat chocolate candy while they’re doing it?

Jesus, in today’s Gospel, seems to agree with the little boy. In heaved wher everything is perfect people neither marry nor or given in marriage.

What Paul meant by saying “Eye has not seen nor ear heard” was that our imaginations are not expansive enough to grasp the great happiness of heaven.

Nabi, the Hebrew word for a prophet was a child's word for a mouth. In the Book of Revelation St. John lent his mouth to God for announcing the truth to mankind.

Friday, 11/23/12

Our first reading comes from the middle of the Book of Revelations. Since the whole book has a dreamlike vagueness about its imagery, it is hard to outline its contents. However, we can see this passage from Chapter Ten as its central turning point. The first part of the book gave us the Lord’s messages to the seven churches of Asia Minor, while the remainder of the work looks to the future. It will foretell the downfall of the old earth and the descent of a new earth from heaven.

Today’s passage describes John’s commissioning as a prophet.

The old Hebrew word for a prophet was Nabi, which originally had been a child’s word for a mouth. The Israelites saw a prophet as a man who lets God use his mouth to say what he wants to say to mankind.

Here God’s message to mankind comes as a small scroll that the prophet must eat so that he might later mouth it to the world. To be chosen for the role of God’s prophet is at first an honor for John, so the scroll is sweet to his mouth; but because it will oblige him to prophesy doom to evil nations, it will be bitter to his stomach. 

Our word "thanks" is a variation of the word "thinks" To thank people,or God, is to think about what you owe them.

Thursday, 11/22/12

What does it mean to say, “Thanks”? We say it all the time. A waitress puts water on your table, and as she walks away, you say, “Thanks.” What good does that do?

Today we thank God for all the good things in our lives. So, what does our “Thanks” do for God?

If you look it up you’ll find the word is a variation on the word “Think.”

To thank someone, or to thank God is to think about what you owe them, about what they do for you. Saying, “Thanks” acknowledges all that; and to be sincere the word should be backed up by your thinking seriously and thankfully about God or whoever.

We should think about the bodies God gave us. In that regard I often think about Sister De Sales, a wonderful Daughter of Charity. I suppose she is still a substantial Polish woman. No centerfold. I visited her hospital room after she had a knee replacement. She was hunched over in a hospital gown, but she looked up, and she said, “I am sitting here thinking about our wonderful bodies.”

We should thank God for clouds. Early this morning they were gold rimmed purple stretches layered above the east. By eight o’clock they were the purest white against a pale blue sky, the combo they strive for with Dresden China.

Later in the morning I was visited by six friends who brought their culture and their kindness with them. It sets me thinking about God’s kindness in sending me people created in his image.

The gold coin entrusted to each of us represents each of our personalities, which we must work with, making them to more closely mirror their creator.

Wednesday, 11/21/12

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Mary. The Bible says nothing about this happening.  The feast is just based on the second century dream of a Christian who saw a young Mary being presented to the priests of the temple. It is a theme that artists in the Middle Ages loved to depict, but since they can’t be sure that this presentation ever happened, some Christians do not give it much thought. They know that Jesus on the Cross gave them his mother as their own, and that is so important to them that they let others follow their pious dreams. Let’s look at the Gospel.

We are all familiar with its story of the king entrusting a golden coin to each of three servants. One servant worked with the coin, managing to return it to his master with nine more he had earned with it. Another servant had used his one coin to earn four more; but a third servant had buried his gold coin, returning it to the master with no profit earned.

The gold coin entrusted to each of us is our personalities created in God’s image. A little known Vatican II document, the Declaration on Christian Education, has something to say about our personalities. It says that the purpose of education is to assist youngsters in developing their personalities, in turning their single gold coin into five of ten.

We know that at our deaths we must be in the state of grace, and we know we will be judged on our kindness to those in need. But there is a third thing on which we will be judged. We will also be judged on the degree to which we have developed or personalities, making them to more and more clearly reflect the beauty of their maker.   

Zacchaeus and the Angel of the Church in Laodicea had led self-centered lives, but while Zacchaeus took the opportunity of changing himself, that Angel didn't.

Tuesday, 11/20/12

At the beginning the two men in today’s readings were very much alike.

The first reading presents us with the “Angel of the Church in Laodicea,” whom we take to be the bishop of that town on the Lycus river in southwestern Turkey. (A Syrian king had named it after his bride Laodice.) The bishop there had turned his energies toward making himself comfortable, and he looked forward to staying comfortable. He was not a particularly evil man, he was just blah. As the Lord said, “You are neither hot not cold. But, because you are lukewarm I will spew you out of my mouth.” 

In the same way Zacchaeus in the Gospel had devoted his energies towards making himself comfortable. He had made the practice of extorting funds from taxpayers. The difference with him was that he was not determined to stay self-centered. When he saw the chance of making something of his life, he climbed a tree, and he told the Lord, “If I have extorted anything from anyone I will repay them four times over.

St. Thomas Aquinas in one verse of his Hymn “Pange Lingua” recorded the opposite results flowing from the way people receive Holy Communion. In English it would be,

“The good receive, the bad receive, with the unequal results of life or destruction.”  
                  Summunt bonum, summunt male; Sortem tamen, inequale: vitus ver interritus.” 

Jesus gave sight to the blind man, telling him to go his way, but instead of going his way, the man followed Jesus up the road.

Monday, 11/19/12

A month ago we had St. Mark’s version of this story of Jesus curing the blind man
of Jericho. Since it is such a fine story, let’s go back over its details.  There is no city in the world that lies as far below sea level as Jericho. Peter Sueda, a man who settled here in the sixties, used to talk about what an unpleasant place Jericho was. Peter owned an automobile agency in Jerusalem before the Jews took over, and he hated driving tourists down to Jericho. He said it was always hot there, and the big flies were on everything.

That is the kind of place where we should picture this blind man spending his life. For years he had the same spot in the dust of that roadside and he was forever brushing aside the annoying flies. On this day he felt the throngs of people pushing by. On hearing their excited talk he shouted out his questions, “What’s going on? Who are they talking about?”

The lame beggars sharing his bit of roadside told him it was Jesus, that prophet. Now, although begging for help was all the beggar was good for, he was blessed with a real mind and an eager personality. He had already come to the conclusions that this Jesus was actually the promised Messiah. He was the descendent of King David.

Knowing that this was his only chance, he used his full voice shouting, “Son of David, have pity on me!” His calls were so loud and incessant that he had everyone saying things like “Shut that beggar up!”

But things changed, because Jesus, stopped everyone, and he said, “Call him over.” The people, amused at what was happening, told the blind man, “Here’s your chance. He is calling you over.”

He jumped up, and throwing back his cloak, he stumbled wildly through an opening the crowd was making for him.

Jesus addressed him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see!”

“Your faith has saved you. Go hour way.”

He saw, but he did not go his way. He followed Jesus up the road toward Jerusalem, becoming a well-known disciple.  

Each of us is a world apart that will someday come to an end.

Sunday, 11/18/12

In the Gospel Jesus spoke of the end of the world, concluding by saying no one, not even the angels know when it will be.

When Jesus spoke of the world coming to an end he seemed to be speaking of just our world, this third planet out from the sun, not of the whole universe, coming to an end. The Book of Revelations speaks of the sea being no more, and of a new Jerusalem coming down from above; but it doesn’t say anything about an end to all the stars.

They say there are millions of stars out there, and that there may be millions of worlds out there too. The thought of them makes us feel less important.

No one can tell us if more than our own world is slated for destruction. As Jesus said, no one can tell us how or when the end will come. But of course, there is one way we can have some certitude about the world coming to an end. Like they say, nothing is certain but death and taxes. Death will be the end of the world even for all the children in our parish grade school.

My thoughts of the world coming to an end at our deaths go back to an article I read about suicide. What struck me was the reason certain Jewish rabbis had for condemning suicide. They said that for each of us the world is nothing more than what we experience of the world. From that they go on to say that when a person commits suicide he does away with the world as he knows it. For him committing suicide is like killing off the whole world. 

Following on what those Jewish rabbis say about each person being his own world, I have been looking at strangers as worlds to themselves. Looking at a woman sitting three seats in front of me on the bus I start thinking about her private world. She has ancestor going back to Adam and eve. She has the memories of her first hair bow, and her first high school beau. Her soul has circling satellites of the relatives who treat her well, and relatives who treat her badly.

I said a few minutes ago that scientists tell us there are millions of stars out there, and there may be millions of worlds out there. Then, moving out from the idea the rabbis suggest to us that every person is his or her own world, we are led to think of Jacksonville as having a million individual worlds

And, to bring this ramble to an end, the thought that I am surrounded by a million individuals, with each of them being a unique world to itself, I come to see that I am not all that special. The best I can do is to respectfully fit in with this galaxy of wonderful people.

W can pray always by living in God's presence, doing what he wants us to do.

Saturday, 11/17/12

In the Gospel Jesus told us to pray always. Since he would not want us to be mumbling prayers day and night, we should find another way of obeying him in this. That other way has to do with the last of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are enumerated in Chapter Eleven of the Book of Isaiah the Prophet. The first five are Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude and Knowledge. The last of them is Fear of the Lord, and Isaiah emphasized its importance by saying, “His delight shall be fear of the Lord.”

There are two parts to fear of the Lord. The first part is our awareness of being in God’s presence. The second part is behaving properly because we are in his presence.

If a teacher for whom you have respect is at his or her desk at the front of the room, you do not experience the slightest desire to be clownish. It would hurt you if one of your classmates who acted disrespectfully.

Once when I was teaching at Bishop Kenny, on being called to the office, I asked a girl named Cleo to sit up front in my place. When I came back, finding the room in  chaos, I complained, but the kids said, “We  don’t like Cleo.” To that I said, “Cleo was taking my place, so in being disrespectful to her, you were being disrespectful to me.”  That doesn’t quite explain what Jesus meant by praying always, but perhaps it is somewhere in the same ballpark.

Getting back to behaving properly because we are in God’s presence, we can quote the old Latin adage “Labore est orare.” That means “To work is to pray.” It is telling us that one way of praying is that of giving ourselves entirely to the tasks God wants us to perform.

Saturday, 11/17/12

In the Gospel Jesus told us to pray always. Since he would not want us to be mumbling prayers day and night, we should find another way of obeying him in this. That other way has to do with the last of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are enumerated in Chapter Eleven of the Book of Isaiah the Prophet. The first five are Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude and Knowledge. The last of them is Fear of the Lord, and Isaiah emphasized its importance by saying, “His delight shall be fear of the Lord.”

There are two parts to fear of the Lord. The first part is our awareness of being in God’s presence. The second part is behaving properly because we are in his presence.

If a teacher for whom you have respect is at his or her desk at the front of the room, you do not experience the slightest desire to be clownish. It would hurt you if one of your classmates who acted disrespectfully.

Once when I was teaching at Bishop Kenny, on being called to the office, I asked a girl named Cleo to sit up front in my place. When I came back, finding the room in  chaos, I complained, but the kids said, “We  don’t like Cleo.” To that I said, “Cleo was taking my place, so in being disrespectful to her, you were being disrespectful to me.”  That doesn’t quite explain what Jesus meant by praying always, but perhaps it is somewhere in the same ballpark.

Getting back to behaving properly because we are in God’s presence, we can quote the old Latin adage “Labore est orare.” That means “To work is to pray.” It is telling us that one way of praying is that of giving ourselves entirely to the tasks God wants us to perform.

Out of respect, people were saying Jesus hadn't real flesh, but in saying that, they were taking away the heroism of his painful death.

Friday, 11/16/12

In the first reading St. John warns us against those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.

In the time of the Apostles there were many people who felt that Jesus was too fine to have had flesh like the rest of us. That mistake was rooted in an old Persian belief in two creators. There was supposedly one who created everything good and spiritual, and one who created everything evil and fleshy. Those people, rather than believe there was anything evil about Jesus, began saying that what appeared to be  his physical body was actually a mirage. Taking the Greek word for a mirage, which was dokein, such people were called the Docetists.

Even though they had good intentions in saying there was nothing fleshy about Jesus, their mistake actually detracted from his greatness. Jesus took on a real body because he had to be one of us in order to redeem our human nature. What is more, by saying that his body was not real the Docetists were denying the great heroism Our Lord experienced in willingly suffering the horrors of his humiliating execution.

By taking on our full human nature he elevated the dignity of all of us.

Was Paul wrong in sending an escaped slave back into slavery?

Thursday, 11/15/12

The first reading today is a personal note that Paul wrote to Philemon, a landowner at Collossae. Philemon was indebted to Paul because he had received the Faith from him. Now, Paul asks for a return favor. It was concerned with a man named Onesimus who had been a slave of Philemon. .

Onesimus had fled from Philemon, carrying off some of his property. After making his way to Rome, Onesimus, stumbled about searching for shelter; and he happened to slip into the dwelling where Paul was undergoing house arrest. He put himself into Paul’s service, and went on to become an eager Christian

An interesting aspect of the story deals with the way everyone’s accepted slavery. They knew that it was sinful, and they knew that persons created in God’s image should not be made into the property of other persons; but they didn’t see the use of  objecting to established law. (Like they say, “When in Rome do as the Romans do.”) Does Paul’s passive acceptance of slavery give us any direction for dealing with laws we feel are wrong?

Paul and Onesimus set themselves to abide by those immoral laws of Rome which condoned  human slavery. In accordance with them, Paul was sending his dear servant back into slavery. Onesimus was committing himself to a fate that might include a punishment such as maiming.

Putting that discussion aside, there is another aspect of Paul’s letter that is worth noting. It is the amount of love in it. Paul’s love for Onesimus makes their parting painful to him. His love for Philemon gives him hope. Luke and Mark, Demas and Archelaus, who were with Paul in Rome wanted to assure Philemon of their warm affection for him.

Our baptisms were commitments to lead holy lives; and we must live up to those commitments, or else!

Wednesday, 11/14/12

In his Letter to Titus who was setting up Christian communities on the Island of Crete, Paul told Titus to remind the people that through Baptism and the gift of Faith they were committed to putting aside lives of pleasure, malice, and envy.

The same should hold for us. As individuals we each must be aware that by Baptism  and Faith we have promised to put aside living for pleasures, for malice, or envy.

As teachers, priests and parents we must get people to realize that by their baptisms and their faith they are committed to putting aside all evil ways.

Something a little different from that happened with my mother. She had been a great reader, and she had put splendid meals on the table for us; but she slipped into her dotage after some small strokes, and she just sat, smoking, and dropping the cigarettes on the carpet in her corner.    

She had a fall that took her out of consciousness for a few days, and my dad and I cooked up a scheme. We praised her for the strength of will she showed in giving up smoking.

Mother said, “I don’t remember that.”

But we had everyone complimenting her and being such a heroic person. Mother’s name was Kitty, and people were saying, “Going cold turkey after all these years, Kitty it shows what a pillar of strength you are.”

It was just our dirty trick. She hadn’t resolved to live a better life. But she liked all the compliments, and she fell for our trick, and she forgot about smoking. It’s different with us. By our Baptisms we were committed to leading better lives; and we must live up to that commitment, or else!

We must conduct ourselves as loyal servants of the Lord.

Tuesday, 11/13/12

The readings today tell us to regard ourselves as nothing more than servants of the Lord. That’s how Paul introduced himself in his Letter to the Romans. Then, in Chapter Fourteen of that letter he reminded us that we too are just servants. He wrote, “None of us lives as his own master, none of us dies as his own master; while we live, we are responsible to the Lord; when we die, we die as his servants; both in life an in death we are the Lord’s.

In today’s Gospel Jesus reminded us of our need to conduct ourselves as befitting our lowly status. We wait on the Lord. He doesn’t wait on us.

Yesterday’s Veterans Day had us recalling such things as the old boot camps where bugle calls and twenty mile hikes prepared us for active duty. Today Paul speaks of our need to conduct a spiritual boot camp where older women are trained to stay away from slandering and drinking, where young men are trained to show themselves as models of actions and speech that cannot be criticized.  

We have to get that into our noggins, we are not debutants and play boys, we are servants of the Lord.

On Veterans Day we get behind their causes.

Monday, 11/12/12

While our veterans will today recall what they went through for us, the rest of us will do what we can to pay off our debt to them. We will pray for them, we will interest ourselves in their causes, as we will stir up our memories of them.

In September 1940 every young man eligible for the draft was assigned a number, then their numbers were drawn from a hat to determine the order in which they would be drafted. Our local draft board took over an empty store, using the store windows as a place to post the order in which the young men’s numbers would be called up. My brother and my sisters’ boy friends were at work everyday, so as a twelve year old, I joined the big crowds at the store windows, making notes on when each of our guys would have to go. 

Through their almost daily letter we went through boot camp with each of them, and when they were overseas we agonized through the weeks when no letters came.  Afterwards, while worrying over how the war had done damaged them, we hugely appreciated the college courses given them through the G.I. Bill of Rights.

I was a missionary in Korea from 1953 to 1967. The war was concluded the month before I got there, but there were still hardships. When three guys in a quarter ton truck washed out to sea by choosing the wrong place to ford one of our rivers, the fellows in their barracks had to pack up their things for home. What was harder on them were the results of things like blasting mishaps. There was one kid who had good hopes for an opera career but a mountain road collapsed under his jeep. I stood with the others, looking down at his body bag.

When I was doing graduate work during the Viet Nam War, guys in my classes were talking of slipping off to Canada. Two boys, Ray and Mark were writing Gospel songs together; and Mark, though recently married, couldn’t get out of going to Viet Nam. He was killed, and with my knowing his father-in-law, and with my high school classmate Father Tom Mullen being his uncle, I joined a long line of priests coming in through the Cathedral’s back door. Even now I shudder at the memory of Ray Repp, guitar in hand, standing in the sanctuary singing the hymn he and Mark wrote together, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, he who believes in me shall never die.”

People in need themselves are more generous than the rich.

Sunday, 11/11/12

Today’s Gospel story could not be more straight-forward. We get the point.That poor widow, in proportion to what she possessed, gave more than the rich people. Still, we might glean more from the story if we let our imaginations bring it to life.

Two temple officials stand at the center of the entranceway to the temple. A line of worshipers with contributions winds its way up to where one official drops the money into the treasury, while the other official records it.

We see Jesus standing to the left, while his disciples, squatting on a low wall, savor the sight. They were fishermen who lived from one night’s catch to the next, so for them the great sums the official was dropping into the treasury were the things dreams were made of. “Boy, what I couldn’t do with even half of that wad!”

They turn in shame from the poor widow as the official looks down at the two copper coins in his hand. (In saying they were copper, Mark was identifying them as the bits of pressed copper the government had discontinued forty years earlier.)

Jesus came tom life, urging his disciples,  “Look, look, at what she is doing!”

He left the disciples to exchange murmurs. “He has missed the whole show, now he wants us to look at the old gal. “Nuts!” “Did you see it? Those coppers were so light that when the official let go of them they  fluttered down into the treasury.”

Jesus hushed them, saying, “Don’t you see, the rich will never miss what they gave,  but this lady gave the Father all she had to live on. She is wonderful!”

In the large parishes where I have worked, we always had money counters; but a few times a year when I sat in with them I was amazed at the quiet people who every week give God a sizable share of what they have to live on.

In the movie “Cabaret” Joel Grey sings the comic lyrics, “Money, money, money. Money makes the vorld go around, the vorld go around.” It is true, money makes the world go around, but it isn’t the money we spend on ourselves, it’s the money we spend on others. U. S. yearly figures show that households making more than $50,000 give four percent of that to charity, while households making less than $50,000 give seven percent to the needy. They are the ones Jesus calls wonderful!