The readings at Mass have more to them than what we see at first.

Friday, 3/1/13

A closer study of today’s readings reveals separate points of interest. Like, the first reading has been carefully cropped to hide seeming contradictions; while the Gospel leaves out the justification the tenants might have had for keeping the produce.

First Reading. Around the year 600 B.C. when the Jews were putting their sacred legends into writing, they found that members of different tribes had different versions of ancient stories. They found that the descendents of Reuben believed that he had been the one who tried to save Joseph. Our reading has cropped off how Reuben had suggested putting Joseph into the cistern, with the intention of coming back to rescue him, and how while they were off eating, some Midianites,  hearing Joseph cry, pulled him up, and carried him off. The part our reading left out told how when Reuben slipped back to rescue Joseph the boy was just gone. To avoid confusion, the preparers of our lectionary gave us only the part of the story with Judah saving Joseph by selling him to Ismaelites for silver.

The Gospel could have been more generous with the tenants who had some justification for holding on to the produce. Jewish law prohibited the growing of two different crops on the same land, but there was one exception to that rule. Since the planter of a vineyard had to wait five years before he could see a vintage, he was permitted to plant other produce between the vines for the first four years. The law was not clear as to who got to keep the produce. So the tenants were not crazy villains when they laid claim to the produce. 

Do you feel like that tree by living water, or do you feel like that barren bush in a desert waste?

Thursday, 2/28/13

In today’s Mass both the first reading and the Gospel presents us with good men and bad men. 

Who are the good men? The good man in the first reading are those who put their hope in the Lord, while the good men in the Gospel are represented by the long-suffering Lazarus.

Who are the bad men? The bad men in the first reading are those who put their trust in the flesh, while the bad men in the Gospel are the rich who feast with no thought for poor people living on scraps.

The Scriptures compare all such good men to trees planted by living water, while it compares all such bad men to trees planted in a barren waste.

Once, with these readings coming up, and wanting to illustrate the message, I stopped by the nursery on Herschel. I asked the young attendant for one little tree from next to living water, and one little tree from a barren waste. The young man said, “I better get the boss to help you.”

The lesson isn’t obtuse. If you trust in the Lord you feel like that happy little tree; if you trust in the flesh, you feel like that barren bush that is just clinging to life in a desert waste.

We all would like to be asked to make a big step up.

Wednesday, 2/27/13

The mother of James and John asked Jesus to give her sons places at his right and left when he came into his kingdom. By her request she was showing  she was one of the many who thought that Jesus was going to lead a successful revolution.

The other Apostles resented the lady’s ambition for her sons. Apparently they thought that they had as much right to power as John and James had.

And, if those fine men all hungered for recognition, what about us? Are we all free from the desire to make a big step up? I sometimes tell close friends about times when I came close to advancement. Like, fifty years ago a young bishop named me his chancellor, and that’s as good as being a monsignor. I am fond as well of the memory from forty years ago when an old priest said I should have become a bishop. Oh! I honor that old man for having been so perceptive.

In the Gospel Jesus is telling us that if we want something we can really be proud of we should follow him in laying down our lives to help others and to give glory to God. That would be a greater honor than being the choice of those cardinals meeting in the Sistine Chapel later this month.

We cannot raise ourselves up without lowering other children of God.

Tuesday, 2/26/13

Jesus asked his followers to not seek places of honor at banquets. He made it clear that he didn’t want people to act like big shots, but why was that?

Pause a moment. What reasons might Jesus have had for disliking proud behavior?

One reason you could come up with is that it makes the showoff look ridiculous. That occurs to us when people suggest we list our degrees after our signatures. We say, “Oh no, people would laugh at me.”

A better reason for not flaunting ourselves is that compared to God we are just peanuts whatever degrees we might have earned.

But, let’s take a look at another good reason for us not to exalt ourselves. That reason is that we cannot put ourselves up without putting others down.

We have all been told that we are created in God’s image and likeness. Might it not also be true that each of us is like God in our own way?

With that in mind, I began thinking of God as resembling a many faceted diamond, with each of us created with the unique potential of mirroring one of God’s facets?

Really fine parents, and our best teachers, are those who help us develop the God-like potential that constitutes the deep personality of each of us.

Our worst enemies then would be those who can only boost themselves by keeping others down. Colonialism was dreadfully sinful when all of Britain followed Rudyard Kipling in referring to it Indian subjects as “All that black-faced crew.”

By damaging their self-esteem we rendered those Easterners incapable of being what God meant them to be. I once asked a Korean student if he would like to be a priest, and he said, “I’d like to be an American priest, but not a Korean priest.”

 In our century the Orientals have gained the self-esteem that is essential for them. The U.S. once limited Oriental immigrants because they were below what we liked Americans citizens to be. Now we are limiting Oriental enrollment in universities because they are superior students who crowd out our kids.    

If you deal generously with God and with others they will be generous with you. If you deal meanly with God and others, look out!

Monday, 2/25/ 13

Jesus said, “The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”

Sometimes when you buy a box of fancy crackers, and turn back the cardboard lid, you find  that the top third of the box is empty. You have been gypped.

Something similar could happen in Our Lord’s time. Of course, they didn’t have pre-packed grains and liquids back then. A merchant had to use an open-topped box that supposedly contained an even pint or quart or gallon. He would dish up the grain, filling the measuring box; then he would run a ruler over the top to show you that you were getting every mini-ounce coming to you. Those measuring boxes themselves were known as “measures.” They seemed to be fool-proof, but the Old Testament and early church law contained numerous warnings against false measures, and going along with such warnings were the penalties meted out to merchants who cheated. Through the ages merchants have been clever in devising false bottom measures. They used weights marked as 16 ounces when they only came to 14.

Of course, in his preaching, Jesus wasn’t getting into the grocery business. He was using such measuring devices as metaphors for our generosity or our meanness is dealing with each other and with God.

Today’s Gospel from Luke provides us with one of Scripture’s most exuberant images. It has you standing before the Lord, holding up the front of your apron, as he recklessly fills your lap to overflowing with his blessings.

In the first reading God tells us he meets with every individual on his or her level. In the Gospel God gave Jesus and us a look into our heavenly reward.

Sunday, 2/24/13

The first reading at our Sunday Mass is always from somewhere in the Old Testament. In assembling the readings for Sunday Masses, the Church looked through the Old Testament in search of a passage that reinforced the message God had for us in the Gospel. Usually the Church gives us a first reading that fits nicely with the Gospel. For today, though, the only connection I can see between the two readings is that Moses appears in both of them. And since I can’t see how they fit together, let me take them separately, looking for God’s differing messages in both.

In the first reading, when God had told Moses that he wanted to enter into a covenant with him, Moses went about setting up the covenant ceremony the way he would do it with the chief of a rival clan. He had his men dig a trench across a field, then he had them split in two the bodies of a heifer, a goat and a ram. After the men had put the halves of the carcasses on opposite sides of the trench, Moses waited. If God, in place of a rival chief, approached through the trench, Moses would hop down into the trench, and he’d proceed toward God, the other party to the covenant, and  approaching each other, they would call out, “If I am unfaithful to our pact, let me be split in two like these animals.

God’s message for us in that story is that he is prepared to meet with all of his creatures on their own level. He hears the prayers of the illiterate, of the insane, and even of children in the womb.

In the Gospel story, God’s message for us is that he has heaven waiting for us if we are true to him through our troubles.

A week after Jesus announced his plan of going up to Jerusalem to be crucified, he went up a mountain in search of some solace from the Father. The solace came with God temporarily lifting him up for a share of the glory that would be his.

In the Old Testament there were only two individuals who were already in heaven. One was Elijah who was taken up in a fiery chariot. The other was Moses, whose complete grave from opposite Beth-peor was whisked up to heaven. From their place in heaven Elijah and Moses moseyed over to speak soothingly with Jesus about his departure from this world.  

Jesus didn't tell us to be perfect. He told us to be well rounded.

Saturday, 2/23/13

Although I lack the scholarly credentials for disputing with the translators of our English-language Bibles; as a concerned Christian, I have the right to object to translations that point us the wrong way.

Like, in Chapter One of Mark’s Gospel, where the Greek has Jesus telling the people to practice metanoia, which means turning-one’s-thinking-around, I resent our official translators making Jesus tell us to “repent.” Mark’s word metanoia has Jesus telling us to be better in the future. Their word “repent” twists Jesus around to telling us to spend time blaming ourselves for what we did wrong in the past.

Today Gospel from Chapter Five of Matthew presents us with another example of those translators putting their own spin on Our Lord’s words. Jesus told us to be teleos as our heavenly Father is teleos. When you look up the Greek word teleos you see that it means to be complete or well rounded. That fits in with the way Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount had been encouraging us to be whole people by practicing all the Christian virtues.

In 1983 Cardinal Joseph Bernadine of Chicago gave an address on our need for completeness, entitling his address "The Seamless Garment of Christ." In St. John's account of the crucifixion, he spoke of how Jesus had worn a garment which was so woven in one piece that the soldiers had no way of dividing it between them. Using that garment as a metaphor for practicing Christian virtues, the Cardinal taught us that instead of picking and choosing between the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, we should give equal attention to all of them. Perhaps that is what Jesus meant by saying we should be complete the way our heavenly Father is complete.   

We should thank God for giving us popes to settle our questions.

Friday, 2/22/13

Today we honor St. Peter’s coming to Rome, and his officially establishing the Church there. Recently historians and writers of all sorts have been poking holes in  our pious beliefs about the Church and the popes. Gary Wills, a respected scholar who never misses Mass on Sunday, published one book with the title “Why I am a Catholic,” and another one called “Papal Sins.” This month he published “Why Priests?”

Wills goes over the false claims Catholics have made in support of papal power. For one thing, around the year 700 someone came across the last will and testament of the Emperor Constantine supposedly signed by him at the time of his death in 337 A.D. In it he willed all of central Italy to the popes as their own kingdom. Seven hundred year later scholars noticed that the supposed will had been written in legal terms that only came into use centuries after Constantine. It has never been shown that the popes had anything to do with the hoax, but they did believe it, and they acted as though they were obliged to act as temporal rulers.

There was another title of power placed on the popes in 500 A.D. when Clovis, the king of the Franks, forced the popes to behave like feudal lords in the Church, even though it went against Jesus saying, “You know how among the Gentiles those who exercise authority lord it over them, making their influence felt. It shall not be that way with you.”

One of the most genuine early documents testifying to the central place in the Church of the bishop of Rome was a letter from 250 A.D. by Cyprian, bishop of Carthage. He wrote that it was God’s plan to establish unity between all the dioceses  of the world by their being in union with the bishop of Rome. That is real proof of the Pope’s key place, but even there, Cyprian limited his endorsement by saying Pope Sylvester should not interfere with naming bishops for north Africa.

While not speaking directly about popes, what Paul wrote in Chapter Thirteen of his Letter to the Romans applies to them. He wrote “Let every person be subject to authority, for there is no authority except from God.”

We humans are social animals, but we can only lived peacefully together if we have some authority.  In a letter from an Anglican believer to the London Times the man complained about the Church of England that had no final answer for any religious question. The writer said Roman Catholics should thank God for giving them their popes.

God answers our prayers in his own way

Thursday, 2/21/13

I have never cared for this Gospel. It seems to promise us that God would give us anything we pray for, and in our experience that just ain’t so. Our Religion teachers always got around that by saying God answers every prayer by giving us what we need, rather than what we ask for.

St. Luke, in Chapter 11, verse 13, says that God will always give us the Holy Spirit whenever we ask for it. I believe that.

This problem reminds me of Sid, a Jewish architect in the army with whom I played golf in Korea. He put his daughter Rebecca in a Catholic School in Seoul Korea where he was assigned. He was so clever that the four star general kept him on his staff to make drawings of all the constructions the general thought of putting up. Sid was gentlemanly except for his excessive use of the word bullshit. “What did you have on that hole, Father?” “I’ll take a five.” “Bullshit, it took you three to get out of that sand.”

One day he had a story for me. The evening before when he saw Rebecca kneeling for night prayers, he took her on his lap, explaining how it did no good. He told her, “In my four years in the Nazi concentration camp I prayed to save my mother, then my father, and all the rest; but they all went to their deaths.” He told Rebecca, “I don’t want to be mean. I just don’t want you wasting your time on what doesn’t work.”

Then he asked Rebecca, “Have you ever seen God?” “No daddy, but I know someone who has.” “Tell me, who has seen God?” “I can’t tell you.” Why can’t you tell me?” “Because if I do, you’ll just say, ‘Bullshit.’”

He was delighted with that, because something in him still believed

I am sorry about this, but Vatican II has told me that Jonah never lived in a whale.

Wednesday, 2/20/13

The first reading is from the Book of the Prophet Jonah. What most of us know about Jonah is that he spent three days in the belly of a whale. In a song lyric Ira Gershwin described it like this: “He made his home in that fish’s abdomen. Old Jonah, he lived in a whale.”

I had great respect for a young priest who was ordained four years before me, but that changed after he studied in Rome, then wrote an article that said Jonah could not have lived in a whale. I was complaining about fancy Roman schools where they taught young men not to believe in the Bible. But Vatican II taught us that the Bible contains poetry and fables as well as straight history. I had to see that the story of Jonah was a fable.

By my insisting that everything in the story of Jonah had to be factual I missed out on what God was telling us through this story.

In 400 B.C. the Jews had come to believe that foreigners were evil, so God inspired someone to make up this story to show that God wants to save all peoples. In the story Jonah was a man who hated foreigners, particularly the people of Nineveh, so when God told him to go there and to teach the people how they could be saved, he didn’t want to see them saved. He thought by sailing far enough west he could get away from God, but he couldn’t. God stopped him with a big storm at sea.  

When Jonah gave in to God’s prompting, he reluctantly announced in the streets of Nineveh that the people’s only hope was in doing penance for their sins. When they took the warning, and did the penance that saved, them Jonah was angry. He had wanted to see God destroying the people of Nineveh.

The story is not about whale bellies, it is about doing the penance that will save us.

Actual graces are the name the Church gives to the words of God going forth from his mouth.

Tuesday, 2/19/13

Our first reading is from Isaiah, 55: 10-11, but I feel that it should start two verses before that. When we would come to this in the first semester of our seventh grade Religion class I would offer two dollars to the student who was the first to memorize it exactly. That would start all twenty-five kids mumbling the four verses. Often the first few to raise their hands to make stabs at it would miss, but we kept at it until someone had earned the two bucks. See how beginning with verses 8 and 9 fits well.

8. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.

For just as from the heavens the rain and the snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.

Actual Grace is the Church’s term for the word of God that goes forth from the mouth of God. St. Paul in verse 13 of Chapter Two of his Letter to the Philippians tells us, “It is God working in you both to will and to accomplish.” God inspires every one of our good ideas.

The trouble is, we often ignore the good God is prompting us to get done. Not to worry, if we don’t do that good, God will get someone else to do it. His graces are as abundant as the drops of rain falling to the earth to bring forth food.

A covenant is a relationship that calls for the parties to unite. In our covenant with God he cannot change to become like us, so we must change to become like him. We must be holy because he is holy.

Monday, 2/18/13

Let  me say something about both readings, starting with the familiar Gospel parable in which God at the end of the world will be  like a shepherd who separates the sheep from the goats. We will be among the sheep welcomed into his kingdom if we have consistently cared for the needy.

It is helpful for us to see this parable as one of three in Chapter Twenty-five of Matthew’s Gospel. The first of the three says God will see our lives as having been successful if at the end we have oil in our lamps, or God’s grace in our hearts. The second criterion by which we will be judged is on the use we have made of our talents. Even though we may have years before Judgment Day it is helpful for us now to check on how we stand. Are we in the state of grace, are we using our abilities for good, and are we habitually concerned with helping those in need.

What makes the first reading distinct is its repetition of the phrase “I am the Lord.” We all live in a covenant relationship with God. A covenant is a fixed relationship by which the parties become alike. There are two kinds of covenants, and they have the legal names of Parity Covenants, and Suzerainty Covenants. A Parity Covenant is a relationship such as marriage in which two people can come together only if both sides of the marriage gives up traits that keep the husband and wife from uniting. A Suzerainty Covenant is one where the superior partner cannot change to accommodate himself to the lower party. That is the way it is with God. He cannot stoop to become like us inferior creatures, so we must keep changing to become like God. We must be holy because he is holy. He is the Lord.   

Jesus went into the desert for forty days for the purpose of engaging in powerful struggles against temptations.

Sunday, 2?17/13

We all know the story of Jesus going into the desert for forty days, but we do not take sufficient note of the reason for which the Spirit led him there. Luke, in today’s Gospel says he was led there “to be tempted.”

So, apparently, it was integral to his mission on earth, that he be tempted. There are two short passages in “The Letter to the Hebrews” that speak of Jesus being tempted. The first is verse fifteen of Chapter Four of that letter. The second is from verse seven through nine in the next chapter. Let me quote them.

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who was similarly tempted in every way, yet without sin. (Hebrews, 4:15)

 In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and when he was made perfect, he became the        source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.(Hebrews 5, 7-9)

The Bible says he was tempted in every way that we are. That means he was tempted to be proud, to be greedy, to be lustful and all the rest. He didn’t give in, but his trials were more than anything to which we are submitted. Think of him in the Garden of Olives, sweating blood in his effort to submit himself to God’s will.

The first major heresy threatening the early Church was Docetism. That heresy got its name from dokein, the Greek word for a mirage. The Docetists, out of reverence for Jesus, were saying that he was so spiritual that his body was only a holy mirage that never had to sweat or experience anything nasty.

Speaking of those Docetists, St John, in his Second Letter, wrote, “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus coming in the flesh.” St. John could be worked up over rejecting such people, because he had been with Jesus in the Garden of Olives, when he was going through that heroic struggle by which he completely subdued his self-love by accepting the death by which he saved us.

God has fine benefits for those who keep holy the Sabbath.

Saturday, 2/16/13

The first reading was addressed to Jewish people encouraging them to keep holy the Sabbath. However, it is equally valuable as God’s address to us, urging us to attend our Sunday worship. He promises us three benefits that will be ours if we honor his holy day.

The first benefit is that we will come to delight in the Lord. It is easy to see this as the opposite of what our state of mind would be if we skipped Sunday. If we didn’t bother with him we might feel that we have forfeited our right to call ourselves God’s friends, but if we have done our best we will be able to delight in our friendship with him.

The second benefit is that we will ride upon the heights. We will have that lofty feeling the Scriptures describe as going up to the mountain of the Lord. Joining with Jesus above the world's bustle can be like driving the Blue Ridge Parkway, three thousand feet above the traffic, the smoke, and the  commercials.

Thirdly, we will be nourished with our spiritual heritage, listening to the wisdom of Isaiah, Paul and Luke. If we are lucky we will even hit a nourishing homily.

In his wonderful "Seamless Garment" speech Cardinal Bernardin let us see that God wants us to campaign against every kind of attack on human dignity.

Friday, 2/15/13

God, speaking through Isaiah in the First Reading, tells us that the religious behavior he desires does not consist of fasting and of lengthy prayers. What he asks of us is rather “releasing those who are bound unjustly, setting free the oppressed, clothing the naked.”

That puts me in mind of a speech delivered twenty years ago by Cardinal Bernardin, who was the archbishop of Chicago until his death in 1996.

The American Bishops Conference had just issued a pastoral letter that told us that we should have an identical concern for the dignity of human life both in our opposition to nuclear war and to abortion.

Cardinal Bernardin’s speech went further. He said that the abuses mentioned by Isaiah in our First Reading, even though they did not directly take away life, were equally offensive to our human dignity.

Cardinal Bernardin had a real catchy name for the speech that he gave twenty years ago. He called it “The Seamless Garment.” He was referring to the garment Jesus wore coming up to his crucifixion. It had been woven as a complete, encircling garment that was assembled without a single seam. You will remember how the  soldiers who crucified Jesus looked to see if they could divide the robe at its seams, letting each of them have a panel. But since it was seamless they rolled dice for it and one soldier took the whole garment.

Cardinal Bernardin used the seamless garment as a metaphor for the dignity of human life. He said we should give equal attention to combating every assault on human dignity, whether it be the denying of food, the denying of medical care, of education, or of freedom.

While warding off assaults on human dignity by abortionists, or by secret producers of nuclear weapons we should not be forgetful of God’s desire that we also look out for the dignity of the needy in our midst.

The one lawful way of losing ourselves is to develop an unselfish love for others.

Thursday, 2/14/13

Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it.”

If you were a schoolteacher you might find it hard to explain to kids just how one might go about losing his or her life in order to save it. The Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments don’t tell us how to achieve what Jesus was talking about.

The Golden Rule presumes that we love ourselves, asking us to love our neighbor only as much, but not more than we love ourselves.

The Commandment “Thou shall not kill” forbids not only murder, it forbids suicide as well. It even makes it a sin for us to not take care of our health and happiness.

The one way we have of lawfully losing ourselves is for us to develop such a love for others that our desire for their wellbeing keeps our self love under control, freeing us to lawfully lose ourselves.

Most people looking for love are looking for someone to love them, but what they need to do is to find someone to whom they can give love.

The people most of us have known who saved their lives by losing it were our parents. Clothing and educating us gave them a satisfaction that had them almost forgetting their own needs.

While self-sacrificing parents are a clear example of those who save their lives by losing their self-absorption, there must be another way open to those of us not in a position to start a family. What we might do is make the effort to turn our concern away from ourselves by giving unselfish love to some individual or individuals who are badly in need of love. 

Lent is a time when we prepare to be sincere in renouncing Satan.

Wednesday, 2/13/13

Today we begin Lent, a period of forty weekdays and six Sundays leading up to Easter. And for Easter, the big thing for Christians has nothing to do with colored eggs or our finest clothing. For Christians the big thing about Easter is that they repeat their Baptismal promises. They renounce Satan and all his works.

Everybody who comes to church Easter Sunday will join in pronouncing those Baptismal vows, but some people will speak with sincerity, while others will just mouth the words. We should determine to be among the most sincere.

Let’s look forward to the night before Easter, thinking about where Jesus was then. Where was he? Well, he was in his tomb. For the first two centuries Baptism was only conferred on the night before Easter. For those gathered around the baptismal pool that pool stood for the tomb of Jesus.

Back then the one presiding would repeat something that St. Paul liked to say. Paul would tell people that Jesus saved us by dying to sin. He was like someone who had successfully given up smoking. By constant efforts Jesus had conquered every temptation to sin, so it could be said that he died to sin..

The person to be baptized told himself something like this, “By going down into this pool that stands for Christ’s tomb I am promising to join him in dying to sin.” People like us who are already baptized make the same promise. That is our Easter duty.

In the first two centuries people not yet baptized were not allowed to attend the Consecration of the Mass. It was only after they were baptized that they could then move to the other room where the Easter Mass was to be offered.

As they were moving from the Baptism room to the Mass room they were met by the bishop who confirmed them. He would say something like this, “Receive the Holy Spirit into that part of your heart from which you have banished sin.”
Your Lenten task is to push the pride, anger, lust, and greed from you heart, making room for Jesus to come and stay with you.

Nothing going into our mouths make us unclean. It is the evil coming out of our mouths that makes us unclean.

Tuesday, 2/12/13

Our Gospel today is from the first part of Chapter Seven of the Gospel according to Mark. With Lent starting tomorrow we won’t get to hear the last part of this passage, so let’s now consult our Bibles for the last part of this story.

From 450 B.C. the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem began adding rules to those set down in the time of Moses. By Our Lord’s time these extra rules far far outnumbered the  original rules laid down in the Bible, and the Pharisees often attacked Jesus and the Apostles for their failure to observe the many thousands of new rules.

In today’s Gospel the disciples ate a snack without first going through a ceremonial washing, and for that the Pharisees accused the disciples of not keeping holy the Sabbath.

Jesus defended his disciples by saying that the thousands of rules the Pharisees made up often went against God’s rules. Like, God wants hungry men to be able to eat without a lot of ceremony. What’s more, Jesus pointed out that Pharisees often used lawyer’s tricks to avoid doing the right thing. Like, if they put their money in trust with the temple they do not need to use it to help needy parents.   

Jesus went on to make a major statement, setting aside all the Bible’s rules about food that could not be eaten. The rule had been that with land animals the only meat that was lawful was that of animals that chewed the cud; while with animals from the water it was only the meat of creatures that had fins and scales. Acting on his own authority, Jesus declared all previously forbidden foods lawful.

Putting it neatly, he said, nothing that enters our mouths make us unclean. It is only the hateful things that come out of our mouths that make us unclean.

Before this first chapter of Genesis was put into writing it was handed down by priests, and it reflects their concerns.

Monday, 2/11/ 13

Today, as we begin the readings from the Old Testament, you might note that in some Old Testament passages the almighty is referred to as God, but in others as Lord. There is a good reason for that.

In 600 B.C. the Jews were made prisoners in Babylon, and they discovered that those people had put all their ancient stories into writing. Decided on their doing that too, they began by calling in their scholars who had been trained in orally passing on their sacred stories over the centuries.

There were two major groups of such scholars. One was made up of the priests from the tribe of Levi, while the other group consisted of families attached to the court. Those families, from father to son, from century to century, had practiced their art of reliably passing on their stories about Moses and David.

One difference between the two schools was that the priests referred to the almighty as Elohim, while the court scholars called him Yahweh. Our English translations preserve that difference by translating the priests’ Elohim as God, while we translate the court group’s Yahweh as Lord.

Through this first chapter of Genesis the almighty is referred to as God. That tells us that this first chapter came from the priests. They pictured God as completing his work in six days, so he could give a good example by resting on the Sabbath. They saw God creating heavenly bodies as aids in separating religious holidays rather than as sources of energy for the photosynthesis that promotes plant growth.

The gospel is the good news that Jesus takes believers with him in passing through death to life.

Sunday, 2/10/13

The first two readings should be especially interesting to you. Let’s start with the second one which is from Chapter Fifteen of Paul’s First Letter t the Corinthians. The passage explains the gospel that we must believe in to be saved..

As you know, the word gospel means the good news. Specifically, it is the good news that Jesus passed through death to life, and he will pull us through if we “hold fast.”

When we hear mention of the gospel we tend to think of the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But for Paul, who was put to death before those four were written, the gospel begins with the news that Christ passed through death to a life beyond death, and his gospel concludes with the good news that Christ pulls us through death to life if we hold tight to him.

Let’s go back to the first reading. In it Isaiah spoke of a vision, or a dream, that he had in the year King Uzziah died. Of course none of us know anything, or care anything, about King Uzziah, but mention of the year of his death is something that separates our Old Testament from the scriptures of all the other ancient religions.

There is an amazing sameness about the primitive scriptures of the Chinese, Japanese, Buddhists, Hindus, Aztecs. That sameness is that each of them opens with a myth of how the gods came down on their sacred mountain giving them their land to live on. It was Mount Meru with the Hindus and Buddhists, Mount Taishan with the Chinese, Mount Fuji with the Japanese.

What’s so different about the Old Testament is that it records what happened in real time in our world. Isaiah had that vision the year that King Uzziah died, which was 742 B.C. The same note of authenticity runs all through what we believe. Like, we have St. Luke opening his Gospel by assuring us that he checked all his facts with the original eyewitnesses.

 While we are at Isaiah’s wonderful heavenly vision, let’s look at a three of its details.

First, God’s heavenly abode which Isaiah saw in his vision was the model from which Jerusalem’s temple was fashioned: with God enthroned above the altar, and the temple gates shaking with the outcry of the Seraphim.

Secondly, what the Seraphim cried was. “Holy, holy, holy.” The actual Hebrew word in the Old Testamen:  kabod. Kabod, kabod, which exactly translates as, “Aloof, aloof, aloof!” 

Now, Jesus didn’t go along with picturing God as aloof.  He said, “You must be complete, as your heavenly Father is complete.” (Our Bibles mistakenly translate Matthew 5:48 as Jesus telling us we must be perfect. That's wrong, but our Bibles do well in translating what the angels cried as, "Holy, holy, holy." And, our early English speakers did well in coining the word “holy” by knocking the “w” off of “whole.”

Thirdly, since the Old Testament's Hebrew word for a prophet, which was “Nabi,” originally was  a child’s word for a mouth, people saw a prophet as one who lets God use his mouth for speaking truth to mankind. Before Isaiah’s mouth could be used for speaking God’s word it had to be seared with a hot coal.

Jesus is never too busy to listen,

Saturday, 2/9/13

In this Gospel Jesus gave himself completely to the crowds when they needed him. He did that  just when he had been slipping away for a much-needed rest.

Too often when we are called on to extend ourselves to help people, we excuse ourselves, saying we already have too much to do. The real heroes are people who say, “I am never too busy to help.”

Peg, my youngest sister, and her husband Joe, are both gone now after raising their thirteen kids. I have a clear memory of finding them in their underwear at the kitchen table, packing a dozen school lunches. As well, I can see Peg measuring a daughter’s back for the coat she was making her, all the time looking over the girl’s head to follow the St. Louis Cardinals on television. I see Joe, home from work,  puzzling over his college text books with kids bouncing on both knees.

I believe Jesus must be great at multi-tasking. Even though he has millions of others telling him their troubles he listens to you, just as he was giving full attention to the thoughts of each of those five thousand who were waiting for him across the lake. 

Jesus is never too busy to listen.

Saturday, 2/9/13

In this Gospel Jesus gave himself completely to the crowds when they needed him. He did that in today’s Gospel just when he had been slipping away for a much-needed rest.

Too often when we are called on to extend ourselves to help people, we excuse ourselves, saying we already have too much to do. The real heroes are people who say, “I am never too busy to help.”

Peg, my youngest sister, and her husband Joe are both gone now, after raising their thirteen kids. I have a clear memory of finding them in their underwear at the kitchen table, packing a dozen school lunches. As well, I can see Peg measuring a daughter’s back for the coat she was making her, all the time looking over the girl’s head to follow the St. Louis Cardinals on television. I see Joe, home from work,  puzzling over his college text books with kids bouncing on both knees.

I believe Jesus must be great at multi-tasking. Even though he has millions of others telling him their troubles he was listening to you. He was giving full attention to the thoughts of each of those five thousand who were waiting for him across the lake. 

"Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment."

Friday, 2/8/13

In this final chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews the Lord says,” ”Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment.”

A few years ago I had a traffic violation that was recorded as a possible misdemeanor. Months later someone misread it as a possible felony. So, coming in from golf one afternoon a half year after the violation I was met by two big policeman who put me in jail, giving me a long night’s and a day’s experience of what life there is like. By five the next evening my lawyer had me out of there. It was unpleasant, but I am glad to have chatted and played cards with young men who wait on with not even going to trial.

Recently when someone asked me what those men were jail for the answer that popped out of my lips was, “They were there for lack of a lawyer.”  

When we think of Jesus saying, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” we usually take him to mean, “Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself,” but he could also mean, “Love your neighbor as though he or she were yourself.”

That’s what he could mean in today’s reading where he tells us to be mindful of prisoners. It helps to sympathize with prisoners. It is a bigger still to empathize with them, sharing their emptiness in losing all their freedom.

Jesus was not telling his disciples to practice poverty. No, he was telling them to practice friendliness.

Thursday, 2/7/13

When Jesus told his disciples not to bring money or food with them he was not telling them to practice poverty.

No, he was telling them to practice friendliness. Instead of getting rooms at Holiday Inns, they were to move in with people, sharing whatever they were eating. (Father Jose from St. Matthews is just back from vacationing in India. He told me on the phone that the hardest part of visiting around there was that they expected him to eat at every house.)

Clericalism, when it means claiming to belonging to a social order above the common people goes against Our Lord’s saying, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority felt; but it shall not be so among you.

Jesus told is disciples that if they were not welcome in any town on leaving they should shake the inhospitable town’s dust off their sandals. I have heard that the only time Jews were told to shake the dust off their sandals was when they were entering the temple. They were not to bring the world’s filth into God’s holy place. By reversing that procedure Jesus was implying that the whole world was God’s holy place, and they were not to contaminate it with the inhospitable town’s dust.

We have our own cloud of witnesses to inspire us.

Wednesday, 2/6/13

Let’s look at the first reading, which is from Chapter 12 of the Letter to the Hebrews. Chapter 11 recounted all the marvelous deeds of Old Testament heroes. But, on  putting that Chapter 11 behind us, we should consign its heroes, David, and Samson,  Jephthah, and the others to their maker.

In their place we should give thought to our own heroes. We should picture the beloved faces of great teachers and priests we have known. We should see the faces of fine husbands and wives who have gone on after depriving themselves to see to the health, happiness and education of their children.

The marvelous Chapter Twelve of the Letter to the Hebrews asks us to find inspiration in those who have gone on.  To encourage ourselves to live up to our responsibilities we should chant the opening paragraph of Chapter 12 with our minds fixed on our own “cloud of witnesses.”

When I was fifteen the translation we had back then went something like like.

“We. therefore, having such a cloud of witnesses before us, let us put aside every sin encumbering us; and run with patience to the fight set before us, looking forward to the author and finisher of faith, Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and sits at the right hand of the throne of God.

“Consider how he endured such opposition in his struggle against sin, so that you might not grow weary and lose heart; for in your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the shedding of blood; and you have forgotten the admonition addressed to you as sons, ‘Do not neglect the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are corrected by him; for whom, the lord loves he disciplines, and he scourges every son he receives’”.