Today is the feast of all fools.

Monday, 4/1/13

The Church pulled a dirty trick on us priests forty years ago. They changed the Mass readings for Easter Monday, depriving us of a favorite clerical joke. The reading for today had always been the story of the two disciples who fled from Jerusalem. They were on the road to Emmaus, and Jesus, in disguise, joined them.

Out clerical joke involved us all taking that Monday off for golf, and anyone phoning us was told, “Sorry, but the disciples are gone to Emmaus.”

Deprived of that joke, and not feeling inspired by the new readings the Church has given us, we might turn to the large class of people we honor on April First. Let me say three things about being fools.

First, the Old Testament contrasts foolishness with wisdom in a narrow sense. The wise person is one who develops the habit of choosing courses of action that in the long run lead to happiness. The fool is one who chooses immediate gratification even though it eventually leads to regret. As part of our preparation for every day of our lives we must measure each activity against the criterion of its eventually leading to happiness or grief. 

A second thing we might say about fools, is that we should not let people make fools of us. St. Paul, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, cautions us against allowing others to make fool of us.

A third thing I’d like to say about fools stems from an incident involving a fine priest friend of mine. He came to see me, but then let days pass without speaking his mind. At last, he asked, “Tom, do you believe it all?”

His meaning was clear enough, but I asked, “What do you mean?”

He said, “I can take any hardship.” (And that was true.) “What I can’t stand, though, is being a fool. And if I tell people they must believe something, and it isn’t true, then I am a fool.”

His honesty was refreshing. As well, it was instructive. We should never insist on anyone believing a teaching before we have come to believe it ourselves.

The answer I gave my priest friend that day was something I read in Tolstoy. He wrote that there is no need for each of us to be convincing scholars as to all our beliefs, as though all of life was a drawn out oral examination on all Christian beliefs.

Our Lord was glorified. That is, after his death, but before he rose, he was rewarded for having accomplished his mission on earth.

Sunday, 3/31/13

Great things happened to Jesus after his death, but before he rose as the Christ.

St. John, in Chapter Seven of his Gospel, hinted at the major changes that would take place when Jesus was glorified. At the Feast of Tabernacles the winter before his death, Jesus had called out, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me to drink.”  Then, John explained that by saying, “He said that in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him would receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. (In his lifetime Jesus was led by the Spirit, but he could not confer the Spirit on others.)

The Book of Revelation presents a picture of how Jesus, as the victor over death, came to be glorified. In Chapter Five, verses 11-13 the angels and saints, overcome with awe, looked down on Jesus in death. I looked again and heard the voices of many angels who surrounded the throne and the living creatures and the elders. They were countless in number, and they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.’”

St. Peter, addressing Jerusalem’s throng on Pentecost described Jesus being lifted to the Father’s throne to receive his full reward. “Exalted at the right hand of God, he received the promised Holy Spirit from the Father, and poured it forth.”

An indication of the immense enhancement Jesus received for his victory is indicated by his henceforth being known not as Jesus, but as the Christ.

From our readings of the four Gospels we are familiar with the preaching and the miracles of Jesus. But, have you noticed how St. Paul in none of his letters told stories about the preaching and miracles of Jesus? Paul was familiar with those stories, but he did not relate to them. His deep Christianity was focused entirely on Christ alive in heaven and alive in the Church.

These are hard things for us to grasp; but we can profit from copying Paul in praying directly to Christ. 

The whole purpose of Lent is to prepare us to really mean it when we repeat or baptismal vows.

Saturday, 3/30/13

Holy Saturday, which for us is a nothing-day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, was a big day in the first two centuries of Christendom. Back then, they reviewed the life of Jesus in the twelve months of every year. He was born again for them on Christmas. He went into the desert on Ash Wednesday. He died again on Good Friday, and rose again on Easter every year. That yearly sequence was what they called their liturgical year.

Let me say something about that word liturgy. As a seminarian in the 1940’s and 1950’s I was told that Catholics had two kinds of religious activities. Their were devotions, like the rosary and night prayers which lay people could carryout on their own; but separate from them were liturgical activities that could only be practiced under the supervision of the clergy. Then, when the 19060’s and 1970’s came along, we realized that liturgy referred to religious activities open to all. The word l-i-t-u-r-g-y comes from two Greek words, laic and ergon, which literally mean, “The work of the laity.”

On Good Friday the laity observe the death of Jesus, and on Sunday they celebrate his Resurrection. On Saturday, with deep emotions, they picture Jesus lying in the tomb. With St. Paul, in addition to mourning his physical death, they celebrate the triumph by which “he died to sin.” In Romans 6:10 Paul wrote, “He died to sin, once and for all.” By that Paul meant that the death by which Jesus saves us was not so much his physical death, but his having finally put to death in himself every urge toward sinfulness. 

For early Christians Holy Saturday was the only day on which they baptized. They all gathered around the baptismal pool, and in their imaginations they saw the pool as the tomb of Jesus. Each person who went down into the pool said something like, “By going into Our Lord’s tomb I pledge to die to sin with him.”

Then, all the Christians who had been baptized in earlier years, in imagination went down again into the tomb, repeating his or her baptismal vows. We do not have the Profession of Faith as part of our Easter Mass. It is replaced by our vowing to die to sin with Christ. The whole purpose of Lent is to prepare us to really mean it when we repeat our baptismal vows.

We call this day good because by Our Lord's death we are freed from guilt.

Friday, 3/29/13

One of the bleakest feelings that come over us is the one that hits us on Good Friday when we come into church to find the sanctuary lamp out, and the doors swung open on an empty tabernacle. We feel guilty of driving him off, of killing Our Lord.

One day a year our Catholic high school welcomes prisoners serving long sentences. Each of them tells his or her story from classroom to classroom, and at the breaks in the teachers’ lounge they speak of the brief unguarded moments that ruined their lives.

For all the desolation we feel over the death of Jesus, we need to remind ourselves that he died to make up for our crimes of desertion. Peter took advantage of that when Judas didn’t. We take advantage of what he did for us, calling this day Good Friday 

In saying,"This is my body which is given for you" he was giving us not only his body, but his life.

Thursday, 3/28/13

St. John begins his account of the Last Supper by saying of Jesus, “He loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end.”

We might take that as an invitation to reciprocate. We, who are his own in the world, should love him as completely as we are able.

Luke let us into the depth of Our Lord’s emotions by quoting Jesus using a strong Aramaic expression. Luke quotes Jesus saying, “With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”

Although Rabbis in training were required to perform every kind of service for their masters, they were not required to tend to the master’s feet. That being so, John the Baptist was being most self-abasing by saying he wasn’t worthy to tie Our Lord’s sandal strap.

In picturing the Last Supper in our imaginations we should see the disciples looking to one another, asking who messed up on in not hiring someone to wash their feet. In our imagination we should play out the scene, watching Jesus knotting the towel around himself, pouring the water into the basin. Was he experiencing a deep personal love for each disciple he came to with his basin?

Jesus said, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” He was not telling us to take him as a model in feet washing. As people aspiring to be Christians we must take him as our model in all things.

I haven’t seen this fully explained anywhere, but I believe Jesus could not have given us Holy Communion, and then gone on living, as he did after he fed the five thousand. My understanding of his saying, “This is my body which is given for you” is that he was giving us his own dear life as well.

Spy Wednesday is a day when we go out of our way to be faithful to Jesus

Wednesday, 3/27/13

During Holy Week those of us who for years lived the routines of convent or seminary life, find ourselves side-by-side with Jesus going through that Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. The first readings at Mass are those passages from Second Isaiah known as the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Up close to Jesus we hear him muttering, “I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheek to those who plucked my beard.”

We have been raised to think of this day when Judas betrayed Jesus as Spy Wednesday. It is a day on which we must go out of our way to be faithful to Jesus. I remember this day in Korea almost sixty years ago when a Catholic girl I had recently baptized came to tell me that her father had sold her to a rich man who had other wives. “I can’t help it,” she said, “I have to go.” And I said, “Not on Spy Wednesday.”

The Bible has differing stories as to what happened to Judas afterwards. Matthew wrote that Judas tried to free Jesus by returning the money; but when that failed, he flung the money into the temple, then went off and hung himself. Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, recorded a legend according to which Judas used the thirty pieces of silver to buy a plot of land, after which he fell on it, and burst open. Another story about Judas has it that s holy man who was up for canonization was rejected for saying that Judas was certainly in hell. We cannot limit God’s forgiveness. Our jails are full of men and women who deeply regret their failings. To err is human, but to forgive is divine.   

At Mass we should imagine ourselves reclining with the disciples at the Last Supper.

Tuesday, 3/26/13

The opening words of today’s Gospel are, “Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled.”

At Mass, you and I should imagine ourselves as being among the disciples reclining there with Jesus. We should imagine ourselves listening to Jesus offering the table prayer that was mandatory for the Paschal Feast. That prayer, known as the Brakha, had three parts. It had Jesus first asking us to recall God’s many favors. Next, it had him begging God to fill us with his holy Spirit. Then, finally, as he made himself into a pleasing gift of to God, it had him urging us to join him as part of that pleasing gift. In Greek that pleasing gift was called the Eu-charis.

To participate fully in the Mass we must imagine ourselves as belonging to the number of those reclining at table. We join Jesus in recalling God’s immense favors to us. We ask God to fill us with his holy Spirit. Finally, we become part of the Eucharist, part of the pleasing gift, which Jesus offers to the Father.

Mary's deep love for Jesus caused her to see the shadow of dying in his face.

Monday, 3/25/13

St. Mark, in his account of this anointing at Bethany, gave us the details many of us remember from this story.

St. Mark told us that Mary was anointing Jesus for his burial. Mary’s love for Jesus was so intense, that in the midst of the partying she perceived the sadness of death in his dear face. That spurred her to spend all she possessed to properly prepare him for death.

Another detail in Mark’s account that is missing here is Jesus telling Judas, “The poor you will always have, but you will not always have me with you.”

Then too, only in Mark do we hear Jesus saying, “Wherever the Gospel is proclaimed what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

(Father Ray Brown in his wonderful commentary on John’s Gospel said that John had his own roundabout ways of saying what Mark and the others tell us directly. In his commentary Ray Brown said that the Jews had a saying that the report of a good deed spreads like a fragrant perfume. So, here, in saying that the fragrance of Mary’s anointing filled the whole house, John was equivalently saying that her good deed would always be remembered.)  

Luke's account of the Passion demonstrates how jesus overcame any urge to be self-centered.

Sunday, 3/24/13

On Palm Sunday every year we have the full Gospel story of the last two days of Our Lord's life. Last year we had St. Mark's account of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Next year we will have Matthew's. This year it is Luke's, and we must look to what is special to Luke in the story of Our Lord's death.

Luke, we know, was a convert of St. Paul. We know that Luke accompanied Paul on his missionary journeys. We know that Luke stayed with Paul until Paul was put to death in Rome. Luke shared Paul's views on how Jesus saved us. His Gospel particularly demonstrated Paul's saying that the death of Jesus "was a death to sin."

Luke made much of Our Lord's struggle against self-love in the Garden of Olives. "He prayed, saying, 'Father, if you are willing, take this cup me, still, not my will but yours be done.' He was in such agony, and he prayed so fervently that is sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground." 

In his account of the next day Luke gave us two incidents that demonstrated the degree to which Jesus had overcome the natural urge to be self-centered. One incident was his meeting with the women of Jerusalem when, disregarding his pain and shame, he expressed concern for the fate of the women and their children.

The second incident Luke gave us to show how Jesus had overcome self-concern was that in which he gladdened the final hour of a man being crucified with him. 

In John's Gospel the Son echoes the Father in leading his people through a Passover.

Saturday, 3/23/13

St. John constructed his Gospel the way Beethoven or Schubert wrote symphonies. He had two themes that he repeated and combined through three movements. The first theme presents Jesus as the Savior and Son of God; the second shows how we have life by believing in him.

The three movements echoed Exodus when: the Father brought the people out of slavery;  he supported them through a life span; then, he brought them into the Promised Land.

In his Gospel John dramatized the way the Son does the same things for his people. To echo the departure from Egypt John substituted the story of Jesus cleansing the temple. In place of God’s supporting the Israelites in the desert, John presented Jesus as the bread from heaven, as the water from the rock, and as the light we follow through the darkness. To dramatize the Son leading his people into the Promised Land John dramatized death on the cross as the completion of Our Lord’s Passover. (Differing from Matthew, Mark and Luke, St. John presented the passing of Jesus from this world on the very day of the Passover.)

Both exodus stories, the one in the Pentateuch and the one in John’s version, fit the pattern for classical dramas. Each has a clear beginning, middle, and end. John cleverly supplied us with road markers telling us what stage of the story we had reached. His road markers are the simple phrase, “The Passover of the Jews was near.” John posted it first in his Chapter Two when Jesus cleansed the temple. He posted it again at the beginning of his Chapter Six when Jesus was about to present himself as Bread from heaven. In today’s Gospel we see him posting this marker at the beginning of the week when he would pass from this world. In verse 11:55 we read, “The Passover of the Jews was near.”

"Have pity on me, you my friends, for the hand of God is on me."

Friday, 3/22/13

The first reading presents us with Jeremiah who felt terror on every side. Poor Jeremiah! He had never wanted to be a prophet. He had once shouted, “I will speak in his name no more!”

In a way, Jeremiah didn’t need to speak. He was what the Bible called a “type” of the Savior. He prophesied by mutely suffering abuse comparable to what Jesus would suffer.

We have other “types” of the Savior in our lives. I am referring, not to people taunted by Chief Priests and cruel crowds, but to those who feel disease squeezing the life out of them. John Donne said every funeral bell tolls for all of us. We should accept our solidarity with all whose lives are slipping from them.

Let’s get back to Jesus. When the crowds took up rocks, and he escaped to safety across the across the Jordan, how do you think he spent those quiet days? I imagine that the “Letter to the Hebrews” had it right when it said, “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.”  (Hebrews, 5:7)

When my sister Peg, mother of thirteen, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October, 1992, she said she was strong enough to face death; but at the end, in April of 1993, she said, "I was a fool, telling you I was strong enough. I can take death, but not this dying."

Job was speaking even for Jesus when he said, “Have pity on me, you my friends, for the hand of God is upon me.”  (Job, 19:21) We cannot directly console Jesus, but we can recall him saying, "Whatever you do for the least of my little ones you do for me.”

Abraham was the to be the Father of Many Peoples.

Thursday, 3/21/13

Since we have two readings about Abraham, let’s take a look at him. He came along nineteen hundred years before Christ, but oddly, we can’t know him until we know who his people were six hundred years earlier.

At 2500 B.C. what is now Iraq was home to the Sumerians, a cultured people who had mastered writing, mathematics and irrigation.

To the south of them, inhabiting semi-fertile pockets here-and- there around the rim of the great Arabian peninsula, were illiterate, mutually hostile tribes, who would later come to be known as the Acadians, Canaanites, Hebrews, Assyrians, Babylonians.

Since the Bible introduced all those peoples as the descendants of Noah’s son Shem, we came to designate all of them as Semitic peoples. Over the centuries, as one Semitic people after another was hit by drought, it would hire itself out to the Sumerians in fertile Mesopotamia.

In 2100 B.C. Sumerians down by the Persian Gulf built a temple to the Moon god at a place called Ur, and a Semitic people called the Hebrews migrated up to shepherd flocks for the Sumerians. By the time Abraham came along two hundred years later, he and his brothers had flocks of their own; and they had become worshippers of the Moon god. Abram was named for the god, and his woman Sarai was named for the Moon god’s wife.

He became ancestor to us as well as to the Jews when God changed his name from Abram to Abraham, meaning Father of Many Nations. 

He became the Bible’s symbol for faith, the way Samson would be its symbol for strength. The Bible showed him exhibiting faith in three crucial ways. He was obedient, heading to a fearful land at God’s command. He was believing in accepting that he and Sarah would have a son in their old age. He was trusting in taking his son to be sacrificed.

His dependability in going to rescue his nephew Lot is something all of us his descendants are meant to imitate, as was his hospitality to the visitors passing by his tent.

Jesus said, "Everyone who commits sin becomes a slave of sin."

Wednesday, 3/20/13

Jesus said, “Everyone who commits sin becomes a slave of sin.”

I don’t want to turn my homily into a ranting about social issues, but in our country, Our Lord’s words about being enslaved by sin certainly apply to troubled young black men who turn to drugs when their problems are too much for them.

Our media outlets are full of such stories. Monday’s New York Times said that of the young black men in America who have not completed high school, there are more in prison than those in jobs. Being enslaved by drugs keeps them from graduating, and paying for drugs has them selling, landing them in jail.

NBC’s Dateline for March Seventeenth showed swat teams at an intersection in North Charleston capturing thirty-one such dealers. The State then gave a special assignment to a pair of detectives, Charity, a white woman with family, and her partner Jamaal, also a  family man. They were set to cleaning up eight men caught in the roundup. They held classes preparing them for their GED’s., and they got them part time city jobs. After a bit four of the young men tried making a little cash by selling, and ending in jail; but four of the young men finished high school, getting their own houses and jobs.

What we see everywhere is so sad. Texas, which has led the way in Zero-Tolerance, went broke paying $20,000 a piece for keeping their young men in jail. As well, in building the facilities for warehousing all of them, they cleaned out their Education budget.

England has just one-fourth the number of young men in prison that we have; so, as Americans, and followers of Christ, we must be concerned with keeping our young from becoming enslaved by sin.

March nineteenth is the feast day for everyone named Joe.

Tuesday, 3/19/13

Back when we all had Christian names we had like second birthdays on our feast days. I hope I am not offending St. Joseph by turning the spotlight from him to four  fine men who share his feast day today.

Father Joe English, who was our Epiphany pastor for thirty years, was an immense man who was something to see when hundreds of pounds of him leaned over the pulpit driving home God’s point. For all his size, he slept in a narrow bed, with a white tin hospital tray on wheels as his only other furniture. Once a week he sped over to the rectory of an Irish classmate where he read book after book, eating his way through bags of apples. Cardinal Glennon said, “Joe was perfectly named. He had a better command of English than any man alive.”

Joe Kelly belonged to the Christian Church, and as sometimes happens with those people, he did a better job at being Christian than we do. He taught be to drive, saying Protestant prayers all the way. After being landed into a nursing home, he became the dearest friend to every old fellow or girl there.

I had twenty-nine nephews and nieces. A Joe among them would every afternoon phone his blind sister for a chat. He was the family contact for a homosexual cousin who had secluded himself. When a nun found four hundred empty apartments she could let out to families of Aids patients she went to Joe, a lawyer, for help. When she became ill, she turned the operation over to Joe.

Father Joe Obrien, another big man, was a prisoner of the Japanese for five war years, then, bearing no grudge, he worked among them the rest of his life.  When I knew him in the early fifties he was driving a very small Japanese car. If asked how he fit into it, he’d explain that with it they had issued a shoehorn. “Well, that’s funny, but how do you get out of it?” “Easy. They always have a little midwife on call.”

Jesus is the light of our lives in that he supplies us with goodness, justice, and truth.

Monday, 3/18/13

The opening of today’s Gospel presents a dramatic scene. For the full week of the Feast of Tabernacles the people of Jerusalem abandoned their homes to live in palm frond huts recalling their ancestors’ forty-year traverse of the Sinai Desert. Just for that week, recalling the pillar of flame that led them through the desert, they lit an immense lamp towering over the Court of the Gentiles.

There was a feeling of sadness running over the crowd on the last day of the week when that lamp was extinguished for the year. It was at that moment that Jesus cried out, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.”  

As to what way Jesus can be the light for us, we might ponder two Scripture passages. One is Psalm 36 where we read:

In your light we see the light. (When he is the light that aids our thinking we are able to see the light that is the right answer.)

The other is Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, 5: 8-9:

Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness, justice and truth. (Jesus is speaking metaphorically when he says he is the light. This verse tells us that he uses light as a metaphor for goodness, justices, and truth.)

Jesus offered a clever defense for the woman caught in adultery.

Sunday, 3/17/13

In Our Lord’s time it was in the first week of December that couples were often caught committing adultery. For that whole week Jewish custom called for the people of Jerusalem to come out of their houses, and to take to living in palm frond tents they set up in the streets. The open-air living made for excessive familiarity.  

That week, known as the Feast of Tabernacles, had the people recalling the forty years in the desert when their ancestors, following Moses, lived in tents, or tabernacles. It was a happy week with evenings when the people, singing as they went, made their way up to the vast Courtyard of the Gentiles where the temple chanters dramatized events from the Book of Exodus.

One night they poured vats of water over the main altar, recalling the water that flowed from the rock at the command of Moses. When they were reenacting that miracle the December before he was crucified, Jesus astounded the crowd by calling out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me to drink.”

People today, hearing about the woman caught in adultery, usually ask, “Didn’t there need to have been a man caught in the same act?” The answer those officials would have given to that is that only the woman was at fault, since the evil of adultery is that she gave to another a body that belonged to her husband.

One thing about the Feast of Tabernacles that was especially dear to Jerusalem was a great lamp that symbolized the fiery cloud that led the Israelites through the desert. People all felt sad at the last night of the feast when the lamp was extinguished for another year. It was at that moment that Jesus called out, “I am the light of the world, anyone who follows me will not walk in darkness.”

Many men and women in our jails suffer from abuses similar to those raining down on Jesus and Jeremiah.

Saturday, 3/16/13

In the readings Jeremiah and Jesus are living under the repression of guards and lawyers, and it might put you mind of the three thousand men and women who suffer similar repression in Jacksonville’s jail.

Many of them are people who used drugs as an escape from pain brought on by unbearable family disasters. Most of them would be free if they could afford the services of lawyers.

They are deprived of any freedom in what they eat or in how they exercise. When he appeared in his hometown Jesus announced that the Father had sent him to free prisoners. As his followers it is our duty to let him use us to make life tolerable for pris

Chapters Seven and Eight of John follow Jesus through a week in December, three months before his death.

Friday, 3/15/13

Our Gospels this week and next are St. John’s story of what happened with Jesus during the first week of December the winter before his death. For the Jews that week was like no other, because they all had to abandon their houses to live out in the streets in huts they constructed from palm fronds. Our old English word for huts made not of cloth but of branches was tabernacles.

St. John gives all of Chapter Seven and Eight to the events of that week-long Feast of Tabernacles. It will help us in following if we know what the week commemorated, and if we have a picture of what events Jerusalem scheduled for the week.

But before getting to all of that, we should let today’s first reading draw us into Our Lord’s heart that was burdened with all the hatred aimed at him. It was burdened as well with thoughts of the scourging and worse.

But, as to what this week was commemorating, obviously they were trying to re-live the forty years their ancestors lived in palm-frond tents in the desert when they were following Moses. As for the events scheduled for the week, They would be gathering in the streets, then, singing, they would make their way up to the great court of the Gentiles where temple choirs would lead them re-enacting events from the Exodus years.

Especially dear to them that week was the huge torch, recalling the pillar of fire that led them through the desert nights. It was lit with great ceremony the first night of the week, then, at the end of the week, not to be seen for another year, it was extinguished with sighs of sorrow.

In addition to seeing God as the author the books of the Bible we must also see that they had human authors.

Thursday, 3/14/13

Today’s Gospel gives us an account of Our Lord’s disputing with the professional Jewish Religious Lawyers, and like all such intricate legal disputes it has us turning the page to find something that is meant for ordinary people like us.

We might find something for ourselves in one phrase used by Jesus. He said, “Search the Scriptures.” For us that command could give rise to the question, “How are we to go about searching the Scriptures?”

Luckily, the Church has given us excellent instructions on how to go about searching the Scriptures. The Vatican Council gave the name “Dei Verbum” or “The Word of God” to it Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.

Although, as its title insists, the Bible is the Word of God, each of its books also has a human author. The Constitution said the human authors, “made fill use of their powers and faculties . . . as true authors.”

The Constitution says that under the influence of the Holy Spirit those authors wrote what God wanted them to say. The Constitution went on to tell us that in searching out what God wanted said, the reader should, “carefully search out the meaning which the human author had in mind.”  To do this the reader must be aware of how the human author in writing followed various literary forms.” When the “literary form” employed by the human author was that of fable or poetry the one searching the Scriptures must not take the words literally, but must see how the author was using poetic licence..

In Genesis 32 Jacob struggled through the night with the other-worldly guardian of the ford at the Jabbok. The one who learned the name of the other would win. Those were standard elements of many similar fables.

In the Song of Songs the lover’s navel is described as a “round bowl that should never lack for mixed wine.” “her body as a “heap of wheat.”

People who believe they have a religious duty to take everything in the Bible as factual never break through to the beautiful message behind the fable or the poetry

The wonders of creation make us into believers.

Wednesday, 3/13/13

There is a similarity between today’s two readings:  both of them give us God’s promise of bringing his faithful ones home.

In the first reading from 530 B.C. God spoke to the Israelites who had been captive in Babylon for seventy years, and he promised to bring them back to Jerusalem. In the Gospel, speaking to those who have done good deeds, Jesus promised resurrection and life in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Although as Catholics with the gift of Faith we believe in God’s promise of heaven, still we live in a world of doubters, and when some of that doubt rubs off on us, we  wake up wondering if it is all true. 

In a magazine dealing with scientific discoveries in 2012 I saw something that made it easy for me to believe in the creator.

The Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2012 went to two Americans who produced molecular snapshots of how the brain communicates emotions to the fifty trillion cells in the adult human. That molecular snapshot showed a quarter of a cell wall with its plug-in ports. The picture showed cucumber shaped hormones stuck into those receptor ports.

The article explained how nerves from the brain excite the pituitary gland, and it, in  turn, releases those hormones into the blood, which carries them down to the  receptors in the cell wall. It causes us to experience some emotion such as fear.   

In looking at that intricate picture of the wall of one of a human’s fifty trillion cells, I was convinced that evolution alone hadn’t planned it. There had to be a great mind setting up those workings.

Water flowing from the temple symbolizes what grace-filled people offer the world

Tuesday, 3/ 12/13

The meeting line of two major tectonic plates creates the Riff Valley in East Africa. Then, slanting up north easterly it creates the Gulf of Aqaba, the depression of the Arabah, the Dead Sea and the Jordan River valley. In Ezekiel’s vision the water flowing from the east fa├žade of the temple tumbles 2500 feet down into the Arabah, from where it meets the sea at Aqaba, turning the salt water fresh.  

The water is God’s grace flowing out of the temple inside the hearts of all who are enriched by prayer. And, what was true of the temple, is also true of our churches. Enriched by prayer and the Blessed Sacrament we can become vessels of God’s Grace for the outside world.

Where the water tumbling down toward the Arabah gave life to trees all the way, so Christians, enriched by Grace, bring life to those they meet in their days. If we were alive with God’s Grace we could change society for the better, the way Ezekiel’s stream turned the salt water to fresh.

We need to round out our lives

Monday, 3/11/13

In the first reading Isaiah looked forward to happy times that were to come. They would be a time when weeping would be no more. They would be a time without infant deaths.

We might take special note of another blessing for that time, namely, that an old men would “round off his full lifetime.”

There is beauty in that notion of rounding off a full lifetime. We could contrast it with the image of an elderly man wearing plaids and stuffing himself with pills to appear young with years to go. 

Elderly people engaged in rounding off their lives face up to the fact that they  won’t live forever. They joyfully set out to give great value to their remaining years. They round off the fine projects they have been engaged in.   

Steve Jobs, the founder of the Apple, when faced with death in 2011, said, “I think death is the most wonderful invention in life. It purges the system of these old models that are absolete.” 

Leaving no loose ends, people “who round off a full lifetime” get into reading Shakespeare, into planting vegetables, and into finding out whatever happened to Old-what’s-his-name.

God gives us freedom but not independence

Sunday, 3/10/13

While we all have our own personal and emotional responses to the Parable of The Prodigal Son, I prefer taking a legalistic approach to it.

By Jewish law, sons were obliged to keep family property within the family. You might remember from the Book of Ruth how when the widow Naomi needed to sell her husband’s property, she had to offer it to his nearest relative.

Something like that is key to this parable. When the father was no longer up to  managing the family estate, he turned the operation of it over to his sons: with the operation of two-thirds of it going to the older son. The younger son was entrusted with the management of a third of the property; and that gave him the freedom to plant what he wanted, and to employ any modern methods that appealed to him. 

When we apply the parable to ourselves, it tells us that although all of us are  entrusted with making the best use of our lives, we don’t own them. Like St. Paul said, “None of us lives as his own master. None of us dies as his own master. While we live, we live as his servants. Both in life and in death we are the Lord’s.”

There are two words that sound alike that are really quite different. I refer to Freedom and Independence. The Prodigal Son had the Freedom to manage his third of the land, but he was not independent of the Father. So it is with us.

The turning point of the parable came when the boy realized that he had been sinfully independent. That had him saying, “I will go back to my Father.” With us it must be the same. God has given us the freedom to make the best of our lives, but it is ruinously sinful for us to act in independence of the Father.

We need a new Pope who is like the lowly man rather than the Pharisee

Saturday, 3/9/13

Today those two people who went up to the temple to pray might put us in mind of the one hundred and fifteen cardinals going into the Sistine Chapel to ask God’s help in choosing a new pope.

Our Lord thought better of the lowly tax collector than of the Pharisee. So, supposedly, he would want the cardinals to elect a man who resembled the tax collector rather than the Pharisee.

It would be difficult for a cardinal to fit the role of a lowly man. Each of them is addressed as “your Eminence,” and an eminence is a something or someone who is lofty.     

With all the robes and titles the Church gives her cardinals, she isn’t going out of her way to keep them lowly. We always come back to Pope John XXIII as one who managed to pull it off. He was so fond of wandering around Rome that the people called him Johnny Walker.

Our cardinals need our prayers to help them make the right choice.