The majesty of Nature convinces us that we will be cared for.

Friday, 2/1/13

The last line of our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews is, “We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life.”

There we are asserting that we can confidently put our fates in God’s hands. We are like the farmer in the Gospel. Once he has prepared his field and scattered the seed he gives himself to sleep, knowing that God will cause the seed to sprout and grow.  Two days ago I was with a lady who opened her eyes just before she died, and she said, “I am not at all afraid.”

There is great comfort in letting ourselves become part of nature’s flow. We watch the clouds transport billions of gallons of water from the ocean to the parched fields.

Through the late afternoons we follow the flight of numberless birds winging home with food for their broods. Each of us can say, “Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

You are God's servant, and you should act like it.

Thursday, 1/31/13

The readings today urge us to become active Christians.

The first reading does that by telling us to consider how “to rouse one another, to love and good works.” 

The Gospel does this by telling us not to hide our lamps under bushel baskets.

As for rousing others to love and good works, we all know that the best way to do that is not by preaching, but by being loving and engaging people ourselves. We do it by letting people see that by our being loving persons we are leading  happy lives. We can make a good start at that by giving fifteen minutes to prayer every morning. And, instead of praying for favors from God, we should ask God to energize us for  living out the Beatitudes. You know: “Blessed are the meek, Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after justice, blessed are the peacemakers.”

We can heed Gospel’s prohibition against putting our light under baskets by getting out of our chairs to exercise what ever abilities we have. It doesn’t have to be a talent for singing opera, it would be of more use if we were good at house cleaning, or at helping people straighten out their books.

You are God’s servant. You might not think of yourself that way, but in fact, that’s what you are. Every day you should report, saying, “Okay, boss, what next?”

We have several ways of failing to do good.

Wednesday, 1/30/13

St. Paul, writing to the people of Philippi said, “God, for his own good purpose, works in you both to desire and to accomplish.” He was saying there that every good deed we perform begins with God giving us the idea of doing it, it is carried through only because God urged us on to get it done. That saying of Paul’s is a good commentary on today’s Gospel about the sower going out to sow his seed. Jesus said the seed was the word of God. That is, it is the idea of doing good that God puts in our mind.

The parable describes four different ways we respond to God’s inspirations. We can be like the path where the seed doesn’t sink in. That could happen when we are at Mass, and the priest suggests something worthwhile for us to do. For a moment we think about doing it, but then we start thinking about lunch, and what we will wear, and what we will do afterwards; and we will altogether forget about what the priest suggested.

In the parable the seed next fell on the inch and a half  of good soil on top of a hidden  rock pan. You are like that soil when you are initially enthused about the good intentions God puts in your mind. But like the thin soil where the green shoots can’t take root, you burst out with talk about what you are going to accomplish, but you don’t make the practical plans which are like the deep roots a plant needs to survive.

You are like the thorny soil when laziness or greed have such a hold on you that you can’t work up the energy and the generosity needed to accomplish the word God put in your mind.

Finally, and very often, when God inspires you to do something worthwhile you throw yourself into the task, getting it done, bearing much fruit.

Love between parents and children, between husbands and wives, should be a training ground for loving all others.

Tuesday, 1/29/13

Although Jesus seemed to be rejecting his family members in today’s Gospel, what he was rejecting was the practice of sharing trust only with blood relatives. It is a fine thing that members of the Sunni tribes are kindly to one another. It is a good thing that members of Shiite tribes are kindly to one another. In both cases what is wrong is that members of both tribes restrict their benevolence to their own kin.

The cause of most unhappiness throughout Africa and the Middle East stems from people seeing others as hateful aliens. It seems that Hindus will always hate Muslims, and Jews will hate Palestinians.  

There is so much of  tribal hatred in the Bible. God’s punishment of Cain gives us a glimpse of ancient tribalism and ancient hatreds. In punishing Cain, God made him a wanderer on the face of the earth. Cain objected that anyone who saw him would kill him. (It was a time when to play safe you killed strangers because they were apt to kill you.) To guard Cain’s life, God put a tattoo on his forehead. The tattoo was such that it warned strangers that if they killed Cain God would kill seven of theirs in retaliation.

The Genesis story of Abraham’s covenant with God reveals the wide mistrust of the times. How did Abraham go about it when God suggested they enter a covenant together? Abraham couldn’t read or write, and there were no lawyers to draw up the covenant. . Abraham prepared the covenant ceremony the way it was done between tribes that wanted to call off their mutual killings. He had his men dig a three foot trench cross an open field, then he had them split a heifer, a ram, and a goat in two, putting the halves on opposite sides of the trench. He waited until dusk, then when he saw God’s torch coming toward him from the far side, he advanced toward it saying, “If my tribesmen are hostile to you may we be split in two like these carcasses.”

Warm feelings towards family members have always been a fine thing. All such relationships are included in the commandment that we honor fathers and mothers. However, I feel that family love should be a schooling ground for loving others. My sister and her husband loved each other enough to have thirteen kids, but that just prepared them to make room for a good few others when they were temporarily homeless.  

On our alrars Jesus offers himself like a laser beam of love to God.

Monday, 1/28/13

This month we have twenty of our first readings from the Letter to the Hebrews, and although we recognize them to be of great beauty our ignorance of the Old Testament priesthood keeps us from understanding much that is in them.

Today’s reading contrasts the Jewish priesthood with the priesthood of Christ. While the Jewish priests offered sacrifices without number, Jesus offered only one sacrifice. How can that be?

The way I understand it is this. St. Augustine taught us that a true sacrifice is nothing but a complete subjection of ones will to God. It involves a total overcoming of selfishness.

So, rather than seeing Christ’s function as a priest as a distinct act he performs on our altars or on the cross, I see it as something he accomplishes through all phases of his life. We can see the kickoff of his sacrifice as taking place when the Spirit led him into the desert to be tempted for forty days. We can see all his days and nights as scenes from his battle against selfishness. I like to think of his last twenty hours as a unit. He culminated his life-long sacrifice at the Last Supper, saying, “This is my body—my blood, which is for you.” He ratified that sacrifice in the Garden of Olives, sweating blood in saying, “Not as I will, but as thou willest.” He finished his sacrifice on the cross.

He does nothing new on our altars. He is simply continuing the sacrifice that he was making of himself at the Last Supper, in the Garden, and on the cross. The sacrifice he continues on our altars s like a laser beam of love to the Father.

While the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Sunday, 1/27/13

In a morning advice column the other day a reader who was converting to Judaism asked whether or not she should observe kosher in everything she ate. She said some modern Jewish friends didn’t bother with it, but she thought she should; so she was writing for advice. I didn’t read the answer. I’m not even sure it was a lady who wrote in. I just bring up the matter because it seems to tie in with today’s readings. They spell out what God wanted of Jews, and what he asks of his other children.

Let me speak about the background for the reading from the Book of Nehemiah. In 530 B.C. the Persian emperor had rescued the Jews from their bondage in Babylon, and he helped them in returning to Jerusalem and in rebuilding their temple. For all the help they had been given, the Jews did not prosper. By seventy years after their return from captivity, they had let Jerusalem fall into such physical and moral decay that the Persian emperor again felt the need to aid them. He sent two Persian-born Jewish statesmen to Jerusalem to work out a cure for the city’s ills.

Those two statesmen, Ezra and Nehemiah, recommended two things. First, they said the Jews should take on the Law of Moses as their civil law. For doing that, our first reading  pictures Ezra promulgating that law to the people. The second recommendation was that the Jewish leaders should be authorized to add extra precepts to the law when needed.
It was her concern about observing all those extra precepts that had the lady writing to the advice column. But, lets look at what our New Testament readings say on the subject.

The second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, along with Our Lord’s reading at the synagogue in Nazareth, present the Christian alternatives to observing kosher. The rule that Paul laid down was that we should all be led by the Holy Spirit, while the task Jesus saw before him and us was to give a helping hand wherever it was needed.

St. John, in the first chapter of his Gospel succinctly contrasted the rules for life that the Old and New Testaments offered mankind. He said, “While the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” 

Titus and Timothy were men to whom Paul gave major responsibilities and to whom he wrote inspired Letters.

Saturday, 1/26/13

St. Titus, a Greek pagan converted by Paul, is often paired with Timothy in that they were young men to whom Paul gave major responsibilities; and to whom Paul wrote letters. An odd difference between them was that while Paul catered to Jewish sensibilities in having Timothy circumcised, he made a more decisive break with the past by refusing to have Titus circumcised.

In sending Titus to Crete to put the Church there in order, Paul forced Titus to develop mature ways. It was similar to what it must be like for a boyish married man to suddenly find he is the father of triplets. We can see Titus as the patron saint of young men with responsibility thrust on them.

Our finest expert on Paul’s letters was the Jesuit, Rev. Joseph Fitzmyer. I had thought that our English language Bibles made a mistake in translating a passage in Paul’s Letter to Titus, so I asked Father Fitzmyer about it. He agreed that our English version changed the meaning of what Paul wrote.

In Chapter One, verses 6 to 8, Paul gave the qualities needed for a man to be a presbyter. He wrote that a presbyter should be blameless and married only once; and the sentence concludes with Paul saying that as overseers they should not be arrogant. Our Catholic translation breaks that sentence in two. By translating the word for overseers as “bishops,” our Catholic Bibles introduced the office of bishops where Paul had not been talking about them.

Still on that passage, where Paul spoke of appointing presbyters, Protestant Bibles translate that as “elders,” but it would be better to leave it as “presbyters” or even as  “priests," since out word “priest” is actually a contraction of “presbyter.”

Do we need a bolt of lightening to make us see that the other side isn't all bad?

Friday, 1/25/13

An odd thing about Paul’s story of his conversion on the road to Damascus is that he told it three different times the Acts of the Apostles. It is in Chapters Nine, in Twenty-two, and in Twenty-Seven. Although he tells the story in almost the same words each time; the last time, in Chapter Twenty-Seven he recalled one detail he left out the other two times. The detail he finally remembered is that the voice from heaven told him, “It is hard for you to kick against the goad.”

A goad is a pointed stick a farmer uses to prod his beast the go the right way. In saying it was hard for Saul to kick against the goad, Jesus was saying that all along while Saul was persecuting the Christians his conscience was telling him he was hurting good people. I say. “his conscience was telling him;” but in bringing the matter up, Jesus was saying that he himself was behind those promptings of Saul’s conscience. When we say, “let your conscience be your guide” we are often really saying, “Let the Lord, speaking through your conscience be your guide.”

Even though Saul had some misgivings about imprisoning seemingly good people who differed with his strict observance of Jewish laws, he went on imprisoning them. It took a bolt of lightening and a voice from heaven to get him to change his attitude. This should be a warning to us against being too fixed in our ways. Our country is divided between Republicans and Democrats, and our Catholics are divided between those who still go by the Council of Trent and liberals who love Vatican II. Whichever side we are on, instead of waiting for our personal bolts of lightening, we should admit to the possibility that we are not completely right, and the possibility that the other side is not completely wrong. That should lead us to give up all animosity towards that other side. 

Every Catholic church is God's own house where he is waiting for us, and we can visit with him if the doors aren't locked.

Thursday, 1/24/13

Allow me to repeat two sentences from the first reading.

                  They worship in a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary, as Moses was
                  warned when he was about to erect the tabernacle.
                  For God says, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern shown
                  you on the mountain.’”

As a follow up on that, check with Chapter 36, 37, and 38 of Exodus. Those chapters in detail  specify the type, the amounts and the dimensions of the brass, the acacia wood, and the linen that were to go into the temple.

That first sentence I quoted above gives the reason the pattern had to be followed to the T. They were to “worship in a copy and a shadow of the heavenly tabernacle.”

The Jews seemed to have felt that their temple was an exact copy of the house in which God lived in heaven. We can see that in Chapter Six of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. When Isaiah had a vision of God in heaven he saw God above the heavenly temple’s altar with the train of his garment filling the temple up there. (There were even hot coals on the altar.)

Because the Jews felt that their temple was God’s house they imagined he was around every corner listening to their whispers.

God wanted people to think he was waiting for them in the temple. I think he wants us to think of each Catholic Church as his own house.

Once I asked sixth graders for a written answers to the question: “Is a church God’s house where we should keep quiet?” One girl answered, “I belong to a Holiness church, and we shouldn’t keep quiet, but a Catholic church is God’s house, and we have to be quiet there.” 

We must come to the aid of those with disfigurements that keep them from any satisfaction with their selves.

Wednesday, 1/23/13

Today’s Gospel centers on a man who had a withered hand. Let’s take it that the man was a person who was born with one normal hand and one that was disfigured and useless.

It might help you in getting into this story if you have had one or more experiences with men who were afflicted that way. When I was eleven a boy named Calvin wandered on to the block where I lived. His right forearm and hand were short and useless, and he held them up with his good left hand.

He seemed to be looking for friendship, because he kept singing bits from hillbilly songs, asking if any of them were my favorites. While country music would later come to be all the thing, back then our family sneered at it. I don’t remember saying anything unkind to Calvin, but by showing no interest in all he had to offer, I sent him off.

Getting into the Gospel story, the Pharisees used Our Lord’s kind heart to entrap him. The man with the withered hand was their plant. They knew Our Lord’s heart would go out to the fellow, forcing him to engage in an acting of curing which they could construe as a violation of their law against working on a sabbath.

The Gospel story is telling us that if we want to hang on to our title as Christians, we must be like Christ in taking on a share of the sorrow burdening any persons with disfigurements that make it hard for them to love themselves. 

Vatican II taught that at the first moment of their existence all humans receive an invitation to communion with God.

Tuesday, 1/22/13

Today we are asked to pray for unborn children. We used to be told that children who die without Baptism are confined to Limbo, but in recent times the Church has rejected that notion. Pope Benedict and a Church instruction from 2007 have taught that such infants would not be deprived of entrance to heaven or of enjoying the Beatific Vision. Rome has said that although we are bound to see baptism as essential for salvation God is not bound by any such regulations.

My own understanding of the condition of unborn children was strongly effected by paragraph 19 in the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

                  The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion
                   with God. The invitation to commune with God is addressed to man as soon as
                   he comes into being.”

I would like our English translation of that Latin document to say, “The dignity of any human consists in his or her being called to communion with God.”

Anyway, since the Church teaches that God immediately invites every newly conceived infant to communion with him, the Church must feel that newly conceived infants somehow have the desire and the ability to wordlessly commune with their maker. 

Today's readings give us widely contrasting pictures of Jesus.

Monday. 1/21/13

The readings today present us with two amazing characterizations of Jesus.

In the Gospel he presents himself as the bridegroom, as a young man in full vigor and comeliness. That picture of him has us asking who the bride might be, and my guess is that it is the Church, or all of us collectively. His presence with us calls for such joy that fasting or mourning are out of place.

Then, today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews goes further then any Bible passage in letting us see how fully human Jesus was. You might say that his humanity came through with more force when he was dying on the cross, and he called out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”  But those are the opening words of Psalm Twenty-Two; and Jesus might have only been praying that psalm, not voicing human grief over abandonment.

From being a twenty-two year old seminarian I recall a Protestant Church movie screened across the valley from us. Through the film a spotless Jesus floated about giving blessings. Then, years later, across a valley in Korea, I watched a religious movie with a similarly perfect Jesus floating from village to village. The depiction of Jesus in today’s reading from Hebrew’s bears no similarity to those ghostly floating Jesuses.

Seemingly his being thwarted in his prayers was the cause for his  loud cries and to tears. The Bible here tells us that he became perfect only after “He learned obedience from what he suffered.” 

St. John modeled his Gospel on the first five books of the Bible.

Sunday, 1/20/13

Our Gospel today is from Chapter 2 of the Gospel according to John. Now, it will enriche our appreciation of John’s Gospel if we notice how it is subtly modeled on the first five books of the Old Testament. Those books told the story of how the Father led the Israelites to their Promised Land, while John’s Gospel describes the way the Son leads us to the true Promised Land. Just as the Father helped the people with manna from heaven, with water from a rock, and with a cloud that led them in darkness; so in his Gospel John recalls Jesus saying, “I am the Bread come down from heave,” and  “If anyone thirsts let him come to me to drink,” and “I am the light of the world, anyone who follows me will not walk in darkness.”

As well, John delighted in following the outline of the first two chapters of Genesis. The first chapter of Genesis told how the Father created our physical world in six days, while John’s first chapter follows Jesus through six days during which he prepared the way for our spiritual world. (Scholars call the first chapter of John’s Gospel the account of the “New Creation.) Then, where Chapter Two of Genesis opens with the Father resting on the seventh day, Chapter Two of John’s Gospel opens with the Son on the seventh day resting at a wedding banquet which is the Bible’s symbol for heaven.

In the story of the Marriage Feast at Cana John made subtle allusions to three major themes of his Gospel.

First, Jesus changing water into wine alluded to the richness of the New Testament replacing the blandness of the Old Testament. (John had already alluded to that in his Chapter one where he wrote, “While the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”)
A second them of his Gospel that John introduced here is his portraying Mary as the person who looks out for people’s needs, making request that her dutiful Son always hears.

A third theme John alluded to here is that of the Epiphany. Whereas the adoration of the Magi recognized Jesus as God in a human form; and that theme was struck again at the baptism of Jesus where the Father said, “This is my beloved Son. ” So, here we bring the Epiphany season to an end with the miracle by which Jesus, “Manifested his glory.”

Jesus was tempted in every was that we are, and he saved us by putting those temptations to death.

Saturday, 1/19/13

Speaking about Christ the first reading says that he has “been tested in every way, but without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) We might see a tie there with Romans, 6:10, with Matthew 4:1, and with Luke 22:42-44.

Where Hebrews 4:15 says, “He was been tested in ever way” other Bibles have it: “He was tempted in every way.” That would be telling us he had to struggle against all the temptations to pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth.  Though he never gave in, he had to fight off every evil inclination.

I mentioned that we might tie this in with Roman’s 6:10. There St. Paul said, “His death was a death to sin once and for all.”

Now “death to sin” is not a phrase we have ever used, but since Jesus saved us by his death, and since one of our Christmas carols says, “He came for to die” what the Bible says about his death must be meaningful.

We could push the question aside, saying “he saved us by his death on the cross,” but death on the cross by itself had no great value. After all, on Good Friday two other men were crucified with Jesus, and their deaths didn’t accomplish anything for anybody.

For understanding Paul’s phrase “his death was a death to sin” it would help if you ever had to overcome a strong bad habit like being hooked on smoking. When I went to break my thirty-year, a pack-a-day habit I got a month off, and I spent the long August days walking the beach, throwing sand out into the waves, telling my habit, “No, no, no!” Eventually those efforts killed my desires. I was dead to them. So, I see that Paul was telling us that Jesus had so persistently denied every desire to sin that he killed them. He was dead to sin.

 I mentioned Matthew’s Gospel, 4:1. It tells us that after beginning his great mission that he kicked off with his baptism in the Jordan, “Jesus was Led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted.” The forty days were the metaphorical counterpart of a lifetime. Jesus saved us by a lifetime of fighting off ever inclination to selfishness.

In Luke, 22: 42-44 we read how Jesus, sweating blood, gave sin its final blow when he said, “Father, not my will, but thine be done.”

The Responsorial Psalm reminds us of the good and evil passed from generation to generation.

Friday, 1/18/13

The Gospel story is familiar to all of us. We have mental pictures of the paralytic dangling through the roof by four cords.  When Jesus told the man his sins were forgiven that was not what his four friends on the roof had been hoping for. However, if the man himself had been blaming his paralysis on his own sinful past that forgiveness could have been what he most needed.

Let’s take a look at the Responsorial Psalm. It says, “What our fathers have declared to us, we will declare to the generations to come.”

Stretching it a little, that Psalm could remind us both of our many debts to the people of preceding generations and of our obligations to our succeeding generations.

In regard to those who went before us we are of course indebted to our direct ancestors who did not pollute our DNA with abusive habits, but we are indebted as well to the whole of the society that provided us with the food, the dwellings and the energy that sustain us.

For coming generations we are obliged to continue providing the food, dwellings and energy they will need to sustain them. But our obligations to them extend as well to contributing to their happiness.  

That might sound like too vague of an obligation for us to act on, but nevertheless it is a real obligation. Each of us might come in contact with two dozen people a day, and however minimally our kind interest in them or our indifference to them affects them, they will be better or worse for it. And that in turn might have a ripple effect on those with whom they come in contact.

Everything we do makes the world around us a teeny teeny bit better or a teeny teeny bit worse, and it all adds up in the long run. 

St. Anthony gave the inspiration for Catholic monasteries and convents.

Thursday, 1/17/13

We think of St. Anthony as the man who finds lost keys and wallets, but he had an interesting life apart from that. Born in Egypt in 245 A.D., at twenty Anthony came into considerable family wealth. On hearing the words, “Sell what you have, give to the poor, and come follow me,” he began disposing of his wealth to those most in need.

Around the year 280 Anthony was possessed by a strong desire to seek God in solitude. He crawled into an abandoned fort between the Red Sea and the Nile, and he took to spending his days chanting the Psalms as his way of speaking to God. His clear ringing voice became a  wonder to desert’s nomads, and they took to throwing him grain and fruit over the wall.

In the year 315 Rome’s Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity, making baptism a requirement for young people wanting to get ahead in the empire. This altered the makeup of the people attending Mass. Where attendance had been limited to those willing to die for their beliefs, now the churches were cheapened with crowds of job hunters. This led to the children of martyrs making their way out into the desert where they could be with God.

This steady trickle of God-seekers joined the nomads listening to Anthony’s Psalm chanting, and by the year 33O the desert surrounding Anthony’s fort had come to be dotted with hermitages of men and women seeking God in solitude.

It then occurred to a hermit named Pachomius that Jesus had said, “By this all will know that you are m disciples, that you have love for one another.” This had him welcoming the desert’s God- seekers into the communities where they could exercise mutual love. That saw the beginning of Christianity’s first monasteries and convents.

When Constantine died in 337 the crown passed to his son Constantius, an Arian who began persecuting Christians. When the persecution caught up with him, Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria, he took refuge in the desert, where he became a great admirer of Anthony and Pachomius. He wrote a book about their holy way of living. And later, when he was banished to Rome, Christians there made numerous copies of it. It Athanasius’s life of St. Anthony that became the inspiration for St. Jerome, St. Augustine, St. Patrick and St. Benedict who sought God in solitude, while chanting the Psalms.

He had to take on human form so that he could represent us.

Wednesday, 1/16/13

The Feast of the Epiphany is ten days behind us, but its message is still strong with the Church. Yes, God has deemed to come to us in human form. What a wonderful thing!

Four days ago, at the feast of the Baptism of Jesus we were marveling at that voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son.” Four days from now, at the marriage at Cana, that Son will reveal his glory by the creative act of changing water into wine.

Today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews gives us two of God’s reasons for sending us the Son in human form.

First, the Son had to take on human form so that he could be one of us, acting as a representative of humanity: “He had to become like his brothers and sisters” that he might be our high priest.

Secondly, he had to be “tested through what he suffered” because it was only by his experiencing the range of human suffering that he could be truly sympathetic with us.

Mark wrote his Gospel to show that Jesus is the Savior, and that he saves us by suffering.

Tuesday, 1/15/13

Luke, in his Chapter One, stated his purpose in writing his Gospel, and St. John, in his Chapter Twenty-One, gave his reason for writing his Gospel. With St. Mark we are left to surmise his purpose by analyzing his chapters.

In a casual analysis we see the first eight of his chapters are given over to stories that show Jesus  to be the savior, while we see the second eight of his chapters demonstrating Our Lord’s plan for saving us by means of his suffering. 

That clear division could lead us to think that Mark wrote because people were objecting that Jesus could not be the Savior because he was executed as a criminal.  To that Mark first gave eight chapters of evidence to the fact that Jesus had to seen as the Savior. He followed that with eight chapters that showed that his heroic suffering far from being a weakness was the means by which he saved us.

Today’s reading gets a start on amassing evidence for showing Jesus to be the promised Messiah. One, he taught with authority. Two, the devils acknowledged him as the Holy One f God. Three, he drove out devils by his own power. 

The Son is the imprint of the Father's being.

Monday, 1/14/13

Our first reading tells us something about the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. It says that the Son is “the imprint of” the Father’s being.

We have something similar in Chapter One of the Letter to the Colossians where St. Paul wrote, “He is the image of the invisible God.”

 St. Thomas Aquinas tried picturing how the Son could be “the imprint of the Father’s being,” and “the image of the invisible God.”

This is something like his explanation. As an intelligent being God had to be thinking. And, since before he created anything, the only object he could picture was himself. And, being unlimited in his mental powers, he had a mental picture of himself that was a complete copy of himself. It was his brainchild. And, since love is the necessary attraction to what is good, the Father loved his brainchild. 

The next step in Aquinas’s theorizing took the mutual love of Father and Son as never changing. It became a person in its own right.

Of course my account of Aquinas’s great reasoning is pretty weak, but we all must do our best at understanding the Scriptures. 

By going into the water then spending forty days in the desert, Jesus was identifying himself with the Israelites who went down into the water then spent forty years in the desert.

Sunday, 1/13/13

 First, the Baptism of Jesus is a restatement of Last Sunday’s feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. The word epiphany by itself means bringing to light what has been hidden. For us Epiphany brings to light the divine nature concealed in Christ’s humanity. We in the western world like to think of Christ’s divinity being first acknowledged in the adoration of the Magi, but many Eastern Catholics say that the Baptism of Jesus as the best expression of the Epiphany. They ask what could be more dramatic than to think of Jesus, waist deep in the Jordan, with God from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”

There is a second great Christian truth expressed in the Baptism of Jesus. Matthew told us that John did not want to baptize Jesus, but Jesus insisted, saying it had to be done to "satisfy all justice." In his Letter to the Ephesians St. Paul said he was given the privilege of announcing God’s secret plan for mankind. He said God secret plan was to “Sum up all things in Christ.” In other words, God’s plan was to have all of human history somehow summed up in Jesus. Just as the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, then spent forty years in the desert, so Jesus comes up from the water to spend forty days in the desert. He was re-living Jewish history in miniature.

We should train ourselves by prayer and discipline so we can say what John said about Jesus, "He must increase, while I must decrease."

Saturday, 1/12/13

Speaking of Jesus, John the Baptist said, “He must increase, while I must decrease.” With John being the most popular man in his country and in his century, it was amazing that he could say, “He must increase, while I must decrease.”

It was England’s Nineteenth Century statesman Lord Acton who made the famous statement, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” To that he added, “Great men are almost always bad men.”

St. John in that story puts me in mind of something I was involved in back in 1962. I had been a pastor in Korea for seven years, when I took the bus into the capitol, and joined in a late evening conversation of six young priests newly arrived there. I was telling them some of the things I had learned while working in Korea for seven years when they were still back in school. I had the idea that the knowledge I had amassed would be of help to them, when suddenly one of them, Father Bob Sweeney, stood up, and put a question to me. He asked, “Who are you, God?”

That was no way to talk to a well-meaning priest like me, but I often think back on it. Who am I to strut around, telling people what to do? A heart attack or a car running a red light could finish me off any minute, and I lose all control of my life in my hours of sleep. Who am I?

Each of us would do well to take up the disciplined prayer life that enabled John the Baptist to say, “He must increase, while I must decrease.” 

The leper in the Gospel did not ask to be cured, he asked to be cleansed.

Friday, 1/11/13

In Our Lord’s time leprosy was a double whammy. As a disease it was an endless string of sores that were not followed by natural healing and fresh flesh.  It was also a religious uncleanness that banned the leper from attendance at the synagogue, temple or market.  The leper in today’s gospel apparently had grown used to living with his disease, so he didn’t ask for a cure, but he hadn’t been able to accept being excluded from the company of other humans, so he asked to be cleansed.

The U.S. isolated lepers in a colony at Carville Louisiana. In 1873 G. A. Hanson isolated the bacteria causing leprosy. Then, the  first highly effective drug for treating it, dapsone,  became available in the 1940’s. Carville was completely shut down in 1999.

The lepers were wandering beggars in Korea when I went there in the 1950’s. There was a cardboard and tin settlement of twenty thousand lepers on the red mud flats near the Yellow Sea. Once when I went to pay a visit on some Irish nursing nuns, they had arranged for an American archbishop to accompany them out there to offer Mass, and they had me come along to hear confessions.

There was a three-hour string of Catholic lepers kneeling next to me for confessions, and they had me noticing two things. One thing was that Korean Catholics are no different than American Catholics, and that lepers are no different then healthy people. We all have the same troubles praying and getting along.  

At the outdoor Mass that followed, we had three cups of communion hosts to be consecrated at the Mass, but I forgot to put them on the altar. Just before communion time the archbishop and I both noticed them on a side table. So, I put them where I should have had them on the altar, and Archbishop Henry repeated the Consecration.

Afterwards, in telling the other priests about it, Archbishop Henry said, “At the same moment  both of us noticed the three cups of host on the side table, and Sully said, “Cripes!”