St. Justin told the world that Christianity is a most reasonable religion.

Saturday, 6/1/13

Today we honor St. Justin who was a great champion of Christianity. What he stood up for was his belief that Christianity is a most reasonable religion. Born less than a century after Jesus, Justin was a wealthy young man whose deep studies in Greek philosophy earned him the right to wear the distinctive robes of a philosopher.

Walking on the beach one day, Justin fell in with an elderly Christian who said to him, “Sir, you know all about God, but that is nothing, because you do not know God.”

His curiosity piqued by that assertion, Justin asked the old man how could he actually come to know God. The man opened Justin’s eyes and heart, first by introducing him to the writings of Isaiah, then to the Gospels and St. Paul.

Eagerly accepting Baptism, Justin went to Rome where he set up a school of Christian learning. In that role he successively defended the faith against all of the Church’s early heresies. He also kept abreast of detractions about Christianity that were uttered on the floor of the Roman Senate. He wrote refutations of false statements about Christianity, posting his defenses on a wall outside the Forum.

In the year 160 when a senator gave a speech accusing Christians of coming together to worship a goat, St. Justin posted this explanation of our Mass.

On that day which is called after the sun, all who are in the towns and in the country gather together for a communal celebration.  And then the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the Prophets are read as long as time permits. After the reader has finished his task, the one presiding gives an address urgently admonishing his hearers to practice these beautiful teachings in their lives. Then all stand up together and recited prayers.

After the end of the prayers, bread and wine mixed with water are brought in, and the president offers prayers and thanksgivings as much as in him lies. The people chime in with an Amen. Then takes place the distribution to all the attending of the things over which the thanksgiving has been spoken, and the deacons bring a portion to the absent. Besides, those who are well- to-do give whatever they will.

The Mass hasn’t changed since St. Justin’s time. We still have Sunday collections.

We are wonderfully made.

Friday, 5/31/13

Seeing both Elizabeth and Mary with child causes us to step back to take a fresh look at how humans are brought into our world.

Years ago I was vacationing with a couple who had a seven-year-old daughter.  One day the lady, Jane, came to me laughing over an exchange she had just has with her seven-year-old, Pattie.

Pattie had asked her how babies were made, and Jane felt that Pattie’s question marked that as the right time for explaining the process. So, without being too clinical, she explained the facts to Pattie. Guess what happened?

Pattie was furious with her mother for making up such an explanation. She said, “No one would believe it could happen in such a ridiculous way!”

Perhaps Jane would have been better off quoting the Hundred and Thirty-Ninth Psalm that says God knits us in our mother’s wombs.

Pattie shouldn’t have been blamed for not believing. What happens is almost unbelievable. The scientists tell us that a zygote with the mother and father genes goes through a series of cleavages until the embryo begins to take on something like a human shape. It’s comforting to know that God is in charge. We are happy with him sending us back that Hundred-and-thirty-ninth Psalm. To him we say, “You have made me wonderfully.”

This Feast Day of the Visitation is an ideal time for us to thank God for the miracle of our births.

Master, I want to see!

Thursday, 5/30/13

Jericho, well below sea level, is a miserable old city, thick with huge flies. Blind Bartimaeus had spent all his years at his roadside spot, swatting blindly at the flies when he was not holding his hand out for alms.

He had heard about this prophet Jesus, and if Jesus ever came his way, Bartimaeus was set on asking Jesus for sight.

So, on this day when more dust than ever was peppering him, Bartimaeus asked what the commotion was. On hearing that it was for Jesus, he went into his planned scheme. He shouted repeatedly, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”

He was annoying the passing crowds, and they were telling him to hush; but when Jesus stopped, saying, “Call him over,” Bartimaeus went into action.

Throwing  his cloak behind him, Bartimaeus sprang up, and he stumbled wildly toward that voice. When he was right up to it, the voice asked, “What do you want me to do for you?

His answer ready, “Master I want to see.”

Jesus said, “Go your way. Your faith has saved you.” And immediately the man could see.  Jesus had said, “Go your way,” but the man didn’t go his way. No, he followed Jesus up the road.

Matthew and Luke borrowed this story from Mark, but they just referred to the man as a beggar. Mark knew him by name. He was Bartimaeus, a regular, well known to Mark and the others.

Our Lord's disciples should not lord it over people.

Wednesday, 5/29/13

Jesus told his Apostles, “You know how those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt, but it shall not be so among you.

In spite of that warning, in later centuries our leaders began behaving like worldly rulers. Historical events forced them into being high and mighty. Lets look at two of those historical events, one in 500 A.D. and one in 740 A.D..

In 500 A.D. Christianity was all but smothered by the Arian heresy. We were saved by the conversion of the powerful nation of he Franks. Now, the Franks, who were  barbarians, had only two classes of people. On top were those who had inheritances, and below them were the serfs who slept with the pigs. Now there was a big problem for the priests and bishops who baptized the Franks. They couldn’t practice their priestly ministries while sleeping with the pigs. So, someone cooked up a ceremony that saved the dignity of the priests and bishops.

What they did In 500 was that they cooked up a ceremony. They had each priest and bishop come before the nobles making the same assertion. Each of them proclaimed , “I have an inheritance. My inheritance is the Lord.” With that the nobles accepted them as equals.”

Because the old German word they used for inheritance was klerk, the nobles called them clerics. Then, they began insisting that their clerics act the part. They had to put on titles. So, they became  the Reverend, or the Very Reverend, or the Most Reverend.

Then, in 740 they got another boost up.  What happened was that in rooting through ancient papers, someone discovered Emperor Constantine’s last will and testament.  (It was a forgery, but it was taken for real for three centuries.) This so-called “Donation  of Constantine” gave all of central Italy to the popes as their kingdom. In time they came to regard it as a good thing, because it made them independent of ruthless kings.

After a while the people came to love having their popes and bishops acting high and mighty. Some of the Vatican’s splendor rubbed off on all of us.

In 1215 St. Francis of Assissi came along, imitating Jesus in his simplicity; and now we have a pope who thinks that to be a good idea.  

Sayings to memorize, and to put into practice

Tuesday, 5/28/13

The first reading is a series of fine sayings. It is likely that one after another they were put before young people for practice in penmanship, in neat copying, and memorizing. Let’s separate a few of them from the series, then use them for memorizing or for self- improvement.

1.     Appear not before the Lord empty handed.”

2.     Be not sparing of freewill gifts.”

3.     Give to the Most High as he has given to you.”

For number 1. My thought is that I must always have something of myself to offer God when I come to Mass.

For number 2. I feel I am wrong in throwing away unseen the request that come through the mail.

For number 3. I say that is unfair! How can anyone give to God as much as God has given to him or her? 

Today we remember the young men and women who died for us.

Monday, 5/27/13

Today we recall the young men and women who faced enemy guns to make life better for the rest of us. Washington’s men, during the Revolution, nearly starved through three shivering winters. They won this spacious land that our grandparents took over, raising our healthy families.

My grandmother was alive during the Civil War. She did a few steps for me, singing, “We’ll hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree.” I have friends who ride the same bus with me day after day. They are teachers, truck drivers, bank clerks, all descended from people brought here in chains: people sold by the pound. I don’t know much about my distant uncles who died in the Civil War, but I gratefully remember them, thanking them for freeing us whites from the sin of slave ownership.

Barry and Tony from my street at home looked spiffy in their parachuter uniforms. They gave their lives on D-Day, freeing Europe from a “master race” that shoved women and kids into ovens.

We remember all our heroes today, and we offer our Mass for their eternal souls. 

God is Love, and God is pure Goodness, Beauty, and Truth.

Sunday, 5/16/13

Today is what the Church calls the feast of the Blessed Trinity, but that name for God does not do justice to the picture of God we are given by the Bible and the saints. That word “trinity” forces us to think of God as a three-sided divinity rather than as the Father image we have from the Scriptures or as how the saints present him. They present him as the embodiment of everything beautiful, truthful and good.

That last is Thomas Aquinas’s depiction: he sees God as intense goodness, beauty and truth.

Perhaps even better than that is the Beloved Apostle John’s depiction of God as Love.

Aquinas used St. John’s Gospel to get as close as he could to the mystery that is God. He took the first six words of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word.” The “Word” there was the Greek name for Mother Nature. So, he was saying that Mother Nature was always there. (what theologians call the Second Person of the Trinity.)

The next six words: “and the Word was with God” are saying that the Son was always with the Father.

The next five words “and the Word was God” tell us the Father and Son are one.

Aquinas then picked up on St. John saying, “God is love.” And he goes on to say that love was the Divine Substance we call the Holy Spirit. 

The next seven words at the beginning of John’s Gospel are: “All things came to be through him.” That is saying that the Father: looking at the Son, who is his mirror image, saw the forms he incorporated in nature.

Aquinas elsewhere gave us what he thought to be God’s reason for creating us. He said God had to do it because he is Love, and love must always be giving.

Jesus embraced the little children and blessed them.

Saturday, 5/25/13

“Jesus embraced the children and blessed them.”

His tender actions leads us to wonder about the propriety of our embracing one another. Ecclesiastes, 3:5 tells us, “There is a time for embracing, and a time when the embracing must stop.”

The America where I grew up in the 1930’s took an unfavorable view of public embracing.  It was alright for people to embrace kids; and I put up with it when a lady would say, “I could just hug you to death.”

A fellow named Andy, ten years older than me, came from a very religious family where there was no hugging. So, when Andy became a priest, and served for five years in Bolivia, he shocked us by hugging all around. He had a Spanish name for it: Embracio, or something like that. In comparison, my dozen years in the Orient were more temperate. We just had bowing, with the depth of our bows gauged to people’s dignity.

But with an increase of the Spanish influence in the States embracing has become common, and we have come to feel more natural about it.

If there is a religious aspect of embracing it might stem from Our Lord’s preferred way of our showing ourselves to be Christians. He said, “In this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.

I don’t think our expressions of love need be kept on the intellectual level. After all, Jesus embraced those children before blessing them.

"From the beginning of creation God made them male and female."

Friday, 5/24/13

Today’s Gospel gives us Our Lord’s teaching on marriage and divorce. He said that from the beginning it was God’s design for a man and woman to become one flesh in marriage. And, just as we would never consider cutting one human down the middle to make two humans, so we should not consider slicing one half of a married couple away from the other.

He did leave the door open a little for separations by saying that God let Moses allow it  because the people he was dealing with were hard hearted. So, couldn’t that mean that if we had hard-hearted people around now, the church should be able to grant them divorces?

Then, what about all the annulments the church is allowing now? Let me tell you how I understand them. In the nineteen sixties a group of priests and psychiatrists approached Pope Paul VI with a proposition. They reminded the pope of the words addressed to a couple at their weddings. He asks them, “Have you come here freely, without reservation, to give yourselves to each other in marriage?

That question checks over four things that are needed for a true marriage. 1. Do you come freely? 2. “Are there no reservations limiting your full consent? 3. Are you unselfish enough to be able to give yourself? 4. Are you surrendering yourselves to a full marriage, not just an arrangement?

That group of priests and psychiatrists convinced the pope that if one or more of those things were absent, the union was not a full marriage, and so might be dissolved. Pope Paul VI then authorized every diocese to set up a competent board of experts to decide that in some cases no complete marriage had taken place, so the union could be declared annulled.

Our diocese has a tribunal of very competent people who thoroughly examine every petition for an annulment. After they come to a decision one way or the other, they forward the petition and the evidence to the tribunal in another diocese to have the matter reviewed from beginning to end. They do not want to make the mistake of trying to dissolve a marriage made by God. 

There are hidden depths of meaning in the Bible's use of the word Wisdom.

Thursday, 5/23/13

Our first reading today is about Wisdom, but there are various ways of understanding what Scripture means by Wisdom. At times it refers to the person of the Holy Spirit who is Wisdom itself. But In the Book of Proverbs  it is contrasted with Folly so that there Wisdom means the habit of avoiding foolish choices. In today’s reading it seems to mean the truth. So, in quoting five sentences from today’s reading, let us try substituting the word Truth for Wisdom.

He who loves Truth loves life.

Those who love Truth love the Holy One.

Those who trust the Truth will possess her, and their descendents as well will inherit Truth.

Truth walks with one like a stranger ((The way the Risen Lord walked with the disciples on their way to Emmaus.) And at first she puts him to a test. But then she comes back to bring him happiness, and reveals her secrets to him.    

If he fails the Truth she will abandon him, and deliver him into the hands of  despoiler.

Perhaps, though, we should not put aside he Bible’s using Wisdom to mean the Holy Spirit. That would have us seeing today’s passage as telling us, “He who loves the Holy Spirit loves life.” And, “Those who love the Holy Spirit love the Holy One.” And “Those who love the Holy Spirit will possess it.”

Perhaps, we should take today’s reading’s use of Wisdom as referring to the habit of avoiding foolish choices. In that way we can read these passages as telling us, “He who develops the habit of avoiding foolish choices loves life.” And, “He who develops the habit of avoiding foolish choices loves the Holy One.”

The Bible’s use of the word Wisdom is symbolic. What you must recognize about genuine symbols is that they are endlessly provocative of deeper meanings.

Jesus said, "Whoever is not against us is for us."

Wednesday, 5/22/13

In the last line of the Gospel Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Sixty-three years ago our Dogmatic Theology professor, Father Kevin O’Doherty, asked me if those words meant that Protestants were working with us, but I didn’t know how to answer the question. Let me explain.

Sixty-three years ago in 1950 Vatican II was still twelve years in the future, and our professors were intolerant of liberal suggestions from us seminarians. (Looking back on it now my belief is that knowing how severe the Curia was in punishing liberal notions, our professors were trying to protect us from getting into trouble with Rome.)

When any exam question from Father O’Doherty’s called for us to give the proof for a specific church teaching, he demanded that we write out the decrees from church councils that supported the thesis. We also had to write the church’s catalogue numbers for those decrees.

But, getting back to that evening, it was the only time in flour years that I caught Father O’Doherty off guard. He had been engaged in private soul searching, and he hadn’t been able to get back into his tough priest mask. I had been surprised when he referred to the Protestants as our fellow Christians, rather than as heretics.

Not knowing how to answer his question, I stood there until he said, “Alright, Thomas, you can go back to your studies.”

The memory of that night has me feeling how blessed we have been with Vatican II. I particularly like one sentence from its Decree on Ecumenism: “Very many of the elements which give life to the Church itself can exist outside its visible boundaries; such as the written Word of God, the life of grace; Faith, Hope, and charity: with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit.”   

Now we are able to agree with Jesus in saying, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Wednesday, 5/22/13

In the last line of the Gospel Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Sixty-three years ago our Dogmatic Theology professor, Father Kevin O’Doherty, asked me if those words meant that Protestants were working with us, but I didn’t know how to answer the question. Let me explain.

Back sixty-three years ago in 1950 Vatican II was still twelve years in the future, and our professors were intolerant of liberal suggestions from us seminarians. (Looking back on it now my belief is (that, knowing how severe the Curia was in punishing liberal notions, our professors were trying to protect us from getting into trouble with Rome.)

When any exam question from Father O’Doherty’s called for us to give the proof for a specific church teaching, he demanded that we write out the decrees from church councils that supported the thesis. We also had to write the church’s catalogue numbers for those decrees.

But, getting back to that evening, it was the only time in flour years that I caught Father O’Doherty off guard. He had been engaged in private soul searching, and he hadn’t been able to get back into his tough priest mask. I had been surprised when he referred to the Protestants as our fellow Christians, rather than as heretics.

Not knowing how to answer his question, I stood there until he said, “Alright, Thomas, you can go back to your studies.”

The memory of that night has me feeling how blessed we have been with Vatican II. I particularly like one sentence from its Decree on Ecumenism: “Very many of the elements which give life to the Church itself can exist outside its visible boundaries; such as the written Word of God, the life of grace; Faith, Hope, and charity: with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit.”   

Now we are able to agree with Jesus in saying, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

Just as the purest and brightest gold bubbles up through the dross in a heated caldron, so does fine character emerge from patiently endured suffering.

Tuesday, 5/21/13

The first reading is a call to discipleship. Its opening words are, “My son, when you come to serve the Lord, stand in justice and fear.”

The Gospel presents us with a different picture of discipleship. Rather than standing in justice and fear, the Apostles were arguing as to which of them was the greater.

The Lord tells us all if we want to be his disciple we must “Accept whatever befalls us when life is sorrowful, be steadfast.”

Jesus said that like gold we must be tested in fire. That is a common image in the Bible. We have heard it a hundred times. But this time let’s form mental pictures both of the gold refining process and of what it could result in for us.

Let’s say we have a drawer of junk jewelry that might or might not have a bit of gold in it. So, we drop the mess into an iron caldron on the stove, turning the heat way up. After a bit, a dark skin of dye and plastic forms over the surface. Then, it happens! Gold that is purer and brighter than any sun, bubbles up through the dross. Jesus is telling you that hardship patiently endured transforms your character into something as beautiful.

All wisdom comes from God, and is before all time.

Monday, 5/20/13

The first reading says, “All wisdom is from the Lord, and is before all time.” I am not wise enough to know just what the Bible was saying there, but those words do mean something to me; and I hope you will not mind me giving my own explanation.

The U.S. is now venturing on a ten year, billion-dollar research project to explain the intricate functions of a human brain. For me, today’s reading is saying that those intricate workings are fashioned by God. It is God’s Wisdom that has produced the wonders of the human genome, the wonders of celestial rotations, of blood circulation. As out reading today says of his Wisdom in Nature, “”He has poured her forth on all his works on every living thing.”  

For anyone to be canonized as a saint there must be proof that he or she on three occasions brought forth a miracle that suspended the workings of Nature. Are not the scientific inquirers who uncover God’s marvelous workmanship to be praised as much as the saints who cause God’s laws to blink?

Jesus said it is the Holy Spirit who leads us to all truth. Was it not, then, the Holy Spirit who led Galileo to uncover God’s plan imbedded in the solar system? Don’t you love that story about Einstein trying to decipher the math between some natural occurrence, and finding his solution too complex, he put it aside, saying, “That is too complicated. God would not do it that way”?

I read something recently about how we come to feel good all over, or how we come to shiver all over. It happens with hormones dispatching impulses to ports on the millions of cells in our bodies, causing us to smile or feel uneasy. This causes me to feel adoration for God’s wisdom.

For Middle East farming peoples Pentecost was the day they completed their spring harvest. For Jews it was the birthday of the Old Covenant. For Christians it is the birthday of the New Covenant.

Sunday, 5/19/13

In the Acts of the Apostle’s account of Pentecost Sunday as a prelude to the  Apostles’ bursting out on the scene we are given a list of the peoples gathered in Jerusalem. There were Parthians, Medes, Elamites and twelve other groups of strangers crowding the streets. Their reason for congregating came from Pentecost’s having been an important double pre-Christian anniversary.

First, for farming people in the Middle East, Pentecost was their Thanksgiving. From 5000 B.C. they had been planting their wheat at the last full moon of Autumn, and making unleavened cakes with the first grains on the night of the first full moon of spring. Then, their experience had been that they needed to work from sunup to sundown for fifty day to gather in the harvest before the coming of heavy rains. On the fiftieth day, on Pentecost, they ate their full, and they had their weddings. The Cretans and Arabs who heard the Apostles that day might have been celebrating their harvest.

For the Jews Pentecost was the anniversary of their becoming the Chosen People. 1250 years before their ancestors in Egypt had eaten their first Passover meal fifty days before. Then, the had walked speedily down to the base of the Sinai peninsula, and on that fiftieth day after their first Passover they had become the Chosen People by entering into their covenant with God.

When the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles exactly fifty days after the Last Supper they burst out into the street, speaking with such convincing eloquence, that they astounded the people with their revelation of what the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit had accomplished in their midst down through history. They declared that they were indeed privileged to be told of God’s wonderful works. I have always like the sound of that phrase in Latin where the wonderful works of God becomes the Magnalia Dei.    

Pentecost was a harvest feast from 5000 B.C., then in 1250 B.C. it became the anniversary of the Isrealite covenant with God.

Saturday, 5/18/13

Tomorrow is  Pentecost Sunday. To appreciate Pentecost to the fullest we might savor something of what it meant to people in 5000 B.C.; then, of what it meant to people in 1250 B.C., and finally what it meant to people in 30 A.D.

By 5000 B.C. farm people on the Nile had become well organized in their growing of winter wheat. What they planted in late autumn was ready for harvesting from the day of the first full moon in springtime. On that day they would hand-harvest the first ripe wheat, feasting on the cakes baked without leaven. Then, to get the grain in before the onset of late spring rains, they set themselves to complete harvesting in fifty days. By working from sunup to sundown for fifty days they completed their work. On the fiftieth day, that they called Pentecost, they would have their wedding parties.

Jesus told a story about a rich man whose harvest was so great that he put off celebrating the Pentecost with farm people; instead, he worked hard building bigger barns. In Our Lord’s eyes the man was a fool for not getting the pleasure of God’s rich harvest. Pentecost is a God-given day for rejoicing.

In 1250 B.C. on the night of the first full moon of springtime, the Israelites in Egypt baked the first grain of the year in unleavened cakes. (That was the original Passover meal).They then set out on a seven-week trek to Mount Sinai. On the fiftieth day, Pentecost, they made their covenant with God. He became their God, and they became his people.

The reading hint at Peter and Paul's ending up in Rome while spreading the Gospel there.

Friday, 5/17/13

The readings today deal with Peter and Paul, with each reading hinting at the eventual fate of that one Apostle. In the Gospel Jesus seems to have a vision of Peter being led off to his death in Rome. He said, “When you are old someone else will dress you and lead out to where you do not want to go.”

In somewhat the same line, the first reading has the Roman governor deciding Paul should end his days in Rome.

That followed on yesterday’s reading in which Paul was clever enough to avoid immediate condemnation in Jerusalem. On seeing that half of his accusers were Pharisees, and half Sadducees, he evaded immediate judgment by getting the two parties fighting. He did that by announcing that he was a Pharisee, and that he was on trial for his belief in the resurrection of the dead.

The Sadducees, who didn’t believe in life after death shouted that there was no such thing, while the Pharisees said there was. In the midst of their loud debate Paul, claiming Roman citizenship, demanded that he be brought to Rome for trial.

A century after Peter and Paul were put to death in Rome St. Irenaeus wrote that Peter and Paul had not died in Rome until they had fully handed the teaching of Christ on to the Christians there. Irenaeus said that for that reason the Christian beliefs of the people of Rome must be seen as coming from Christ through his two principal Apostles. 

We speak of our Savior in his lifetime as Jesus. He prayed that we might see him in his glory as Christ.

Thursday, 5/16/13

Before going out to the Garden of Olives, and before going out to his death, Jesus prayed for he Apostles surrounding him. But then he looked over their heads, and looking down through the years, he said, “I pray not only for these, but for all who will come to believe.”

He saw us then, and he prayed for us just as he prayed for the Apostles. And what he asked for them and for us was that we might see his glory.

For me, at least, seeing his glory means the ability to relate to him as he is now in glory. Many holy souls have their religious fulfillment in over-and-over whispering the name Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. But we can wonder why St. Paul never spoke of Jesus, but always of Christ. He said, “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me.”

We might object that it is no more than a matter of words, since Jesus is the Christ. Yet there was some advancement given him as reward for his heroic suffering. We read in Chapter Five of Revelations that the angels and saints, looking down on the heroic Jesus in death, sang, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive wisdom power and glory.”

Then, in Chapter Two of Acts Peter speaking of Jesus after death said, “Exalted at the right hand of God he received the promised Spirit.”

Those passages tell us that Jesus was awarded some enhancement in recognition of his triumph over death.

Chapters Four and Five of the Letter to the Hebrews make the point that the full humanity of Jesus included some deficiencies that are part and parcel of being human. Like, Hebrews 5:8 says: “Son though he was, he had to learn obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation.”

I invite you to join me in praying that we might experience Christ in his glory.

The books of the Torah tell how the Father led the Jews to the Promised Land. in his Gospel John shows how Jesus leads his followers to the true Promised Land.

Wednesday, 5/15/13

Our Gospel today comes from the end of Chapter seventeen in John’s Gospel, and it offers me the chance to say something about how St. John structured his Gospel. Now, the structure of a writing is not a thing any of us worry about, but I learned its importance in a television interview last week.

A man named Simon Winchester composed an epic about the Atlantic Ocean. His immense volume recalled historical event from all the countries washed by the waters of the Atlantic. The C-Span host asked Simon how he went about writing a book, and he said there were three elements to it. First, you have to come up with an interesting topic, secondly, you must structure your material. The third part, the actual writing, is the easiest part of it.

For the first part of writing his Gospel John’s topic was that Jesus on the spiritual level leads us to the Promised Land just as the Father did it physically for the Israelites.

John, in structuring his Gospel, took the Father’s principal interventions in the books of the Torah, then, in similar places he fitted in dramatic actions by which Jesus echoed each of those highlights. Let’s look at some of them.

1. In Exodus Forty the Father wanted his own tent, and when it erected it glowed with his glory. In John 1:14 we read “He set up his tent with us, and we saw is glory that was like the glory of an only Son.

2. Leviticus Nine described the Fiery cloud that led the people through the darkness. John, in Chapter Eight quoted Jesus as saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.

3. In Exodus 16:15 the people discovered the manna, and Moses said, “This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.” In John 6:18 John quoted Jesus as saying, “It was not Moses who gives real bread from heaven,” then, “I am the bread of life.”

In a like manner, John showed how Jesus echoed other events of the Exodus, where each tribe inherited its own land across the Jordan. In John’s Gospel Jesus said there was a dwelling place for everyone.

This paralleling Johns Gospel with the Exodus story can be seen from the Gospels in the Masses this last month. They are all from the final fourth of John’s Gospel, and they echo the Book of Deuteronomy, the final fourth of the Torah. In them Jesus has summarized the lessons from the first twelve chapters of John’s Gospel, jut as Deuteronomy summarized the lessons of the Torah.  

Matthias qualified to take the place of Judas because he could testify to having seen Jesus after his Resurrection.

 Tuesday, 5/14/13

Today is the feast of the Apostle Matthias. After the Ascension there were a hundred and twenty brothers and sisters gathered in one place, and Peter took the floor, saying, they should choose someone to take the place of Judas,

The two names that emerged from the discussion were Joseph Barsabbas and Matthias. So, they prayed for direction, then they had the two of them draw lots; and it was Matthias who drew the longer lot.

We don’t know anything about Matthias either from before or after he drew the long straw. The one qualification he shared with Joseph Barsabbas was that they had seen Jesus after he rose from the dead.

Before all else, the Apostles saw themselves as that, as witnesses to the Resurrection. They were men who went out announcing the Gospel; and the Gospel was nothing other than the good news that by keeping his promise of rising from the dead, Jesus proved that he would also keep his promise of raising us up to life after death.

The four Gospels are like biographies of Jesus, but the stories of his life are just padding to their central promise that those who believe in him will never die. 

Speaking of himself as the Son in the Trinity, Jesus said, "The Father is always with me."

Monday, 5/13/`13

Jesus was about to be deserted by his disciples. They would leave him alone; but he said he would not be alone because the Father was with him.

In a way each of us could say the same thing. We are never alone, because God is always with us. But when Jesus was saying the Father was with him, he seemed to mean it in a way that was special to him. It has me recalling the opening words of John’s Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

In that first chapter John will go on to say that the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus. So we are inclined to think that when Jesus said the Father was with him he was talking about their relationship within the Trinity.

The Trinity is so high above us that we feel we are incapable of understanding anything about it. But does that make it right for us to ignore what God is telling us. No, it doesn’t. Let me again go over what Chapter One of John’s Gospel seemed to be saying.

In the beginning was the Word.” There, John seems to be thinking about the Greek philosophers who believed in something like Mother Nature. They called it the Logos, which is Greek for word.  So, John is just agreeing that the Word, what the Greeks called Mother Nature, was always there.

Next, John wrote, “And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” There he said that what Greeks saw as something subsisting only in Nature, actually had existence as a person outside and above Nature.

If John were speaking about anyone other than God, for him to day he was God and he was with God it would be just gobblydegook. To get at John’s meaning there I employ my imperfect version of what Aquinas said about this. Namely, God has a mental picture of himself, and that picture is three things. First, it is a complete copy of himself. And secondly, it is so pleasing that God never turns from it. Thirdly, it is so wonderful that he loves it.  
Next, John wrote, “All things came to be through him.” There, looking at his ‘brain child,” his mental picture of himself, he sees there all the forms that he will incorporate into the created universe.

On this day Jesus went home to his mother.

Sunday, 5/12/13

This is the Feast of the Ascension, and it’s Mothers’ Day as well. Perhaps we could join them by saying this is the day when Jesus was able to go home to his mother.

I am going to cheat both the Ascension and our mothers by telling you four little stories personal to me. Three of them have to do with seeing Mary as my mother, while the fourth is about a Mothers Day sermon that was worse than this one. 

My first story about seeing Mary as my mother goes back to my growing up on a street where all the other kids were Methodists. We hardly ever mentioned Mary, so when I went to the minor seminary where the kids all talked about their devotion to Mary, it left me cold. Still, I wanted to be like the other boys so I started saying a Hail Holy Queen every night, asking Mary to give me some feeling for her. It took two years, but ever since, she has made me feel that she is my mother.

My second story about seeing Mary as my mother comes from the major seminary in the 1940’s when the holier students made themselves Mary’s slaves. They offered all their prayers through her, and they put all the merit they earned at her disposal. They gave me a book that said sending my bare prayers to God was like offering him an unwashed piece of fruit, but if I sent up my prayers through Mary, she would offer them up on a silver platter. Again, I wanted to be like the others, so I went to an old priest for help. He told me that the Holy Father had approved of souls making themselves slaves of Mar, but I said, “I still can’t picture prayers as being like fruit on a silver platter.” He said, “Thomas I wish you could be like me. Anything the Pope says, I fall for it.”

My third story involves not being able to like the Rosary because I couldn’t do two things at once. I couldn’t think about the Hail Mary’s I was trying to say at the same time I was meditating on the mysteries. But I got over that difficulty by remembering going Christmas shopping with my  mother when I was four-years-old. In the crowded department store aisles I would hold tight on my mother’s hand while gaping around at the wonders. I decided I didn’t need to think, of the words of the Hail Mary’s if I just turned them into holding Mother Mary’s hand while I gape at the mysteries.

My awful Mothers Day story is about Father John Phelan who was a great friend to all us priests, while he was mean to all the ladies in his parish. Perhaps he just wanted them to come up to the standards his own mother had set. But any time I would say something nice about him, my oldest sister who was from the next parish, would say that was not the Father Phelan his parishioners talked about. Anyway, my sister Kay was conducting a door-to-door survey when at one house she saw a bulletin from Father Phelan’s parish; and remembering that it was a few days after Mother’s Day, my sister asked, “Did Father Phelan say anything about Mother’s Day?” and the lady answered, “Did he ever! He told us we were the lousiest pack of mothers he’d ever seen.”