As real Christians we must spend our lives at keeping self-love in check.



 Sunday, 9/1/13

In the Gospel Jesus tells you, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.” And, then, in the First Ready the Bible tells you, “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved.”

We all know those sayings, but knowing them doesn’t mean we live by them. St. Francis of Assisi said that at birth he had been given a donkey to train, and through all his years he had never managed to train that donkey; and that donkey was actually his own self-love.

The trouble is that you have much to be proud of. Psalm 139 has you telling God , “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Once I went to the hospital to visit a dumpy old Polish woman who had both knees replaced. Seeing her in a nightgown, bent over in her chair, it occurred to me that she could be well described as being “Gloppy.” But contrary to that, she looked up, and said, “I have been sitting here thinking about how well made our bodies are.”

You don’t need to be a Centerfold to feel contentment, even joy, at the freshness of your childhood memories, at your thoughts of those whom you have loved and of those who have loved you. 

But as a Christian, you must constantly remind yourself that everyone around you is as lovable as you are. To be fair to them, you must conduct a perpetual war against seeing yourself as better.

Yesterday morning I gave a homily that went well, and I saw looks of approval on the faces of those in the chapel. Then, going on with the Mass, I kept thinking back on how well I had done. It occurred to me that the people listening to me might go on to compare me favorably with other priests.   

So, if you are like me, you will constantly be thinking about yourself favorably. It can’t be helped. The most that God could ask of you is that you love your neighbor as yourself. Like St. Francis, you too have a donkey to try training. You’ll never win, but if you don’t keep disciplining him, he will kick back, knocking over your whole life.

Jesus, like the U.S. Army, urges you to be "All that you can be."


Saturday, 8/30/13

Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel presents us with three of Our Lords parables, with each of them being fifteen verses long, and through each of them, Our Lord tells us of the necessary behavior that must be ours if we want to be saved.

In yesterday’s parable of the five wise and five foolish maidens, under the image of oil for for our lamps, Jesus told us we must have an obedient love for God when he calls on us.

In today’s parable Jesus used the heavy Roman gold coins called talenta to be images of the gifts and abilities given us at birth. When he comes to judge us he will reward us if through study and persevering labor we have made the best of our abilities.

If you don’t mind, I would like to relate an experience I had that deepened my thinking on the matter of developing our talents. Twenty-five years ago we all laughed when a sixth grade girl asked, “If we are all made in God’s image, how come some people are left handed?”

I woke up that night, realizing that the girl’s question was a version of a deeper question. She was really asking: “How can we all be like God when we are so different from one another?”

Searching for an answer to that one, I came up with an answer, which isn’t from the Bible, but somehow seems right to me. My answer to how we can all be like God when we are so different from one another is this: we can picture God as a many-faceted diamond, with each of us mirroring a different one of his facets.

We are not born mirroring a facet of God. Each of us is born only with the potential of mirroring a different facet of his beauty, power and goodness. (It's like the way a dug-up uncut diamond resembles noting but a dirty rock.)

The Army advertizes that you should, “Be all that you can be.” That is what Jesus is telling you with his parable of the talents. By fully developing and polishing all your talents you will come to mirror God in a way no one else can.

When the Lord comes for us we must have oil for our lamps



Friday, 8/29/13

Today’s Gospel is from Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel. That chapter consists of the three of Our Lord’s parables by which he will judge us at the end of our days. (We can also use the three together to determine how we are doing with God at the present.)

Today’s Gospel comes from Matthew, Chapter 25, verses 1 to 13. It tells how we will need to have oil for our lamps when the Lord comes. Tomorrow we will have the next parable, the one about making good use of talents. That comes from Matthew, 25, verses 14 to 30.

In the final fifteen verses from that Chapter 25, we will have the third of the three parables in verses 31 to 46,. It is the one in which at the end of time God will separate us the way a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. We will be cuddled like lambs if we have always shown care for those in need.

Returning to today’s parable, where the wise virgins saved oil for their lamps, while the foolish ones did not; we must determine what Jesus meant by the oil.

The straight-forward catechism answer to that would be that the oil stands for Sanctifying Grace. If we recover Sanctifying Grace by making good confessions after we have sinned, we will be in the state of grace.

However, most of the people living in this world, both now and back through time, have never seen a catechism or a confessional. It is better for us to take a more generic understanding of the oil for our lamps in Our Lord’s parable.

I would suggest that we have that oil in our lamps if we love God and if we are determined to live good lives in obedience to him. However, that oil for our lamps is a symbolic image; and that allows for you muse and pray over it. You might even take a fling at being poetic over the image of oil for your lamp. Jesus was speaking poetically.

Matthew wrote his Gospel to show how, far from destroying the Law and the Prophets, Jesus was fulfilling them


Thursday, 8/29/13

Our Gospel today tells us of the death of St. John the Baptist, but if you don’t mind, I would like to take up the theme of the Gospels from Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week. In them Jesus was criticizing the Scribes and the Pharisees for being sticklers for unimportant regulations. I would like to sketch out the historical reasons for Matthew’s attacking the Pharisees on these points.

For the first forty years of Christianity, most Christians were Jewish people who continued with all the practices of their Jewish religion. Then, after the year 60 A.D. a group of Jewish terrorist took to ambushing Roman military patrols, killing them off with short daggers called shikas. After successful raids those Shickaries found safety by holing up in Jerusalem.

In the year 69 A.D., all other ways of getting at the Shickaries failing, the Roman Senate commissioned General Titus to destroy Jerusalem and its temple. While his men were carrying out the destruction, a leading Pharisee got in touch with Titus, convincing him that the Pharisees had always been Rome’s true friends, and that  inside Jerusalem’s walls the Shickaries were killing off Pharisees and their families.  

General Titus let the Pharisee families come out from Jerusalem to settle at a place called Jamnia on the coast of the Mediterranean.

After word of the temple’s complete destruction reached the Pharisees in Jamnia, then began asking themselves how a temple-people could survive as a religion without their temple. After the year 75 A.D., they began saying that the core of their religion was strict adherence to each and every kosher law.

On seeing that the Christian Jews were violating kosher by eating with unclean non-Jewish Christians, the Pharisee authorities decreed that no one could be both Christian and Jewish. They were claiming that Jesus had been out to destroy the law and the Prophets.

Matthew composed his Gospel for the sole purpose of teaching everyone that Jesus, as he said, “Came not to destroy the law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them.”

Thursday, 8/29/13

Our Gospel today tells us of the death of St. John the Baptist, but if you don’t mind, I would like to take up the theme of the Gospels from Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week. In them Jesus was criticizing the Scribes and the Pharisees for being sticklers for unimportant regulations. I would like to sketch out the historical reasons for Matthew’s attacking the Pharisees on these points.

For the first forty years of Christianity, most Christians were Jewish people who continued with all the practices of their Jewish religion. Then, after the year 60 A.D. a group of Jewish terrorist took to ambushing Roman military patrols, killing them off with short daggers called shikas. After successful raids those Shickaries found safety by holing up in Jerusalem.

In the year 69 A.D., all other ways of getting at the Shickaries failing, the Roman Senate commissioned General Titus to destroy Jerusalem and its temple. While his men were carrying out the destruction, a leading Pharisee got in touch with Titus, convincing him that the Pharisees had always been Rome’s true friends, and that  inside Jerusalem’s walls the Shickaries were killing off Pharisees and their families.  

General Titus let the Pharisee families come out from Jerusalem to settle at a place called Jamnia on the coast of the Mediterranean.

After word of the temple’s complete destruction reached the Pharisees in Jamnia, then began asking themselves how a temple-people could survive as a religion without their temple. After the year 75 A.D., they began saying that the core of their religion was strict adherence to each and every kosher law.

On seeing that the Christian Jews were violating kosher by eating with unclean non-Jewish Christians, the Pharisee authorities decreed that no one could be both Christian and Jewish. They were claiming that Jesus had been out to destroy the law and the Prophets.

Matthew composed his Gospel for the sole purpose of teaching everyone that Jesus, as he said, “Came not to destroy the law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them.”

We look at four clear teachings of St. Augustine.




Wednesday, 8/28/13

We considered the conversion of St. Augustine yesterday while we were honoring  St. Monica, his mother. Today we leave his biography aside, considering instead  four of his great contributions to Christian understandings. They are: 1. What our hearts are made for 2. What makes the Mass a sacrifice; 3. The essence of a Sacrament; 4. Our inability to save ourselves.

1.  In his Confessions Augustine spoke of how God made us, for the purpose of being with him. “Our hearts are made for you, O Lord, and they cannot rest until they rest in you.” To seek fulfillment elsewhere would be out of tune with our inner nature.

When I was young everyone seemed to know a poem called “The Hound of Heaven.” In it a soul fleeing from Christ sought happiness in wealth, pleasure, drugs; but all those things turned sour for him. Blaming Christ for robbing him of joy, he finally gave into the Hound of Heaven who told him:

All which I took from you, I did but take, nor for thy harm
 But that you might seek it in my arms.”

2.   All First Century writings about the Mass described it as a sacrifice; and before Augustine many odd explanations arose as to how it was a sacrifice. Augustine made it simple and right, saying that the sacrificial aspect of the Mass consists in Christ’s and our complete submission to God.


3.   He wrote that each of the Sacraments is an encounter with God who is the minister of all the Sacraments. So, people baptized or married before a priest need not worry if he is sinful or saintly, because Christ is the true minister.

4. In the middle of the Twentieth Century Norman Vincent Peale sold millions of copies of “The Power of Positive Thinking;” and on his radio show he advised, “Believe in  miracles, make miracles happen.” In St. Augustine’s time there was a priest with a similar self-confident message. He was Pelagius, and Augustine straightened him and us out, saying that all of us are so flawed by original Sin that we cannot save ourselves. We need Christ’s Grace.

St. Monica is the patron saint of mothers with straying sons.


Tuesday, 8/27/13

Today we honor Monica, the patron saint of long-suffering mothers. Though baptized at birth, she was handed over in marriage to a cantankerous mother-in-law and to her son Patricus, who was a pagan with a hot temper and wandering ways. Monica bore him three children, with the oldest of them being the clever Augustine. She enrolled her son as a catechumen, and she had him half way towards being baptized, when his father Patricus, seeing the intellectual Augustine as a good investment, set him up as in the city of Carthage as a student in Rhetoric.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasive speech. Before advertising came along as a major occupation, rhetoricians were employed as speech-writers by men pleading their cases before monarchs.

As part of setting up Augustine, Patricus bought a seventeen-year-old girl to tend to all his son’s needs. Augustine still had spiritual interests, but he became quite  attached to his live-in servant girl. With his physical enthusiasms warring with his  spiritual interests, he enrolled in the Manichaean Religion that honored separate creators of human bodies and souls.

Disgusted with her son’s duplicity, his mother Monica had nothing to do with him for a time; but taking her anguish to prayer, she came away feeling she should stay as close as she could to her straying son. At home, her goodness was rewarded with her seeing the baptism of both her husband and her mother-in-law.

Those two passed away when Augustine was twenty-nine, then, without telling her about it, he slipped away to write speeches for senators in Rome. Seeking him there, Monica learned that for better money he had gone on to Milan where the emperor had taken up permanent residence.

Following Augustine to Milan, Monica found great delight in the cathedral sermons of the bishop, who was St. Ambrose. That had her pleading with her son to listen to Ambrose for pointers in his line of persuasive speech. Succeeding at last, she was given the joy of seeing Augustine brought to the love of God by the wonderful words of Ambrose.

Augustine wrote of Monica’s dying after telling him, “Son, all my hopes in this world have now been fulfilled.”

The Pharisees were separatists who set themselves up as symbols of righteousness.



Monday, 8/26/13
 
In the Gospel Jesus criticized the Pharisees for all of their picky-picky rules. Now, I want to tell you about the Pharisees, and about how they got so finicky. So, bear with me while I mention three dates from Jerusalem’ history. This isn’t going to be as bad as it sounds. One event was from about nine hundred and fifty years before Christ. One event was from around two hundred and fifty years before Christ., and one event was from about one hundred and fifty years before the birth of Christ.

At about nine hundred and fifty years before Christ King David was dying, and although he had promised the throne to his son Solomon, a ruffian son named Adonijah grabbed the throne. On orders from a dying King David, the priest Sadoc, dreading that Adonijah would kill him for it, went ahead and anointed Solomon king. Surprisingly, the people all prostrated themselves before King Solomon, and Adonijah had to run for his life. To honor brave Sadoc, the people decided that they would only accept a direct descendent of his for the office of high priest.

Setting that aside for the moment, let us see what happened about two hundred and fifty years before Christ.

With Jerusalem falling into moral and physical bad times, at about two hundred and fifty years before Christ they decided on taking the Law of Moses as their civil law. And, since some of the Old law was out of date, they allowed themselves to pass amendments to the Torah. Then, over many decades that got out of hand, with their passing thousand of the kind of rules that Jesus complained about. There were so many prescripts that only the ultra-conservative Jews made an attempt at keeping them all.

When we come to one hundred and fifty years before Christ, the only direct descendent of Zadoc eligible to be appointed high priest was a weakling scoundrel, so most of the people went along with the anointing of man named Jonathan who was the younger brother of the national hero Judas Maccabeus.

Jonathan was a popular choice, but not with the ultra-conservatives who would not abandon their eight-hundred-year tradition of only accepting a direct descendent of Sadoc. However, those traditionalists could not come together on a unified protest. Half of the then went off to be the Essenes, who were the recluses who left us the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The other half of the traditionalists stayed on as a permanent protest group in Jerusalem. They were the Pharisees (which was a Semitic word for separatists).They dedicated themselves to being living examples of obeying the Law with all its thousands of extras.

Stone cutters cut it on stone. Woodcutters cut it in wood:
there’s nothing quite so bad as a man who thinks he’s good.

We enter through the narrow gate by making ourselves well known to Jesus the gate keeper.


Sunday, 8/25/13

Forgive me for offering yet another explanation for Jesus saying, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”

Jesus drew that image from the walled towns in which the main gate was their most important structure. The town’s gate was a roofed structure housing rows of benches on which the town’s elders took their places day after day. They were the town’s court who deliberated over, and made binding decisions on, all property and personal disputes.

Those elders were also the wardens of the huge town gate, ordering it opened to let farmers stream out to their fields and to let traders bustle in with their wares. But if there were robbers or the plague loose in the surrounding, the elders ordered the gates slammed tight. Strangers shut out by the bolted great gate had no way to plead their way in.

A clever few earnest townsmen would have established a way of avoiding being locked out. They knew of a narrow gate hidden by brambles on a hilly tract behind the town. They knew how to locate that gate, but as well, they would have time and again picked their tortuous ways around to it, making themselves known to the old gate keeper.

The transferring of that metaphor to our lives would call for us having beaten a steady path to the church and to the homes of the needy whom we make a practice of helping.

Batholomew was a man in whom Jesus saw do deceit. How about you?


Saturday, 8/24/13

Today is the feast of the apostle Bartholomew. His given name was Nathaniel, but as the son of Ptolemy, he was also called Bar-ptolemy. The Bible offers us no life histories of the twelve Apostles, and the reason for that omission was that their individual stories were not seen to be of importance.

Their worth was in showing that Christianity was the equal of Judaism in that it too was founded on twelve patriarchs. That belief was brought out in our first reading that describes the heavenly Jerusalem as having a gate for each of the sons of Jacob, and a course of stones bearing the name of each of the twelve Apostles. 

Jesus greeted Nathaniel by saying, “Here is a true son of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Israel was the other name of Jacob who tricked his father Isaac into giving him his older brother’s birthright. Jesus was saying that Nathaniel would be more honest. Perhaps he meant that his apostles in general would be more honest than the twelve  sons of Jacob.

Apart from that, Our Lord’s greeting of Nathaniel as a man without duplicity offers each of us an opportunity for self-examination. Are we honest with ourselves and with those with whom we have dealings?

Ruth was every mother-in-law's favorite daughter-n-law.


Friday, 8/23/13

The story or Ruth comes up only one day every three years, so it would be wrong for us to let it pass without mention.

Elimelech, a small landowner in Bethlehem, had a wife named Naomi, and sons named Mahlon and Chilion. With a drought hitting Bethlehem, Elimelech took his wife and sons across the Jordan to free land in Moab.

Over there, Mahlon married a Moabite woman named Orpah, and Chilion married one named Ruth. In hard times Elimelech and his two sons died, and Naomi decided on returning to Bethlehem to gain support from relatives. With that, she told her daughter-in-laws to find new husbands among their own kind in Moab.

Orpah left Naomi, but Ruth famously said, “Wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God.”

Ruth and Naomi arrived at Bethlehem at the time of the barley harvest, and Ruth went out into the fields picking up kernels of grain dropped by the reapers. When she happened into the fields of Boaz, a near relative of Elimelech, he told his laborers to let more grain drop in Ruth’s path.

When Ruth told Naomi of her good fortune, Naomi advised Ruth to slip in at the feet  of Boaz when he was sleeping. Upon awakening, Boaz recognized his relative Elimelech’s claim on him, so he arranged to take on Ruth as his wife. When Ruth bore a son, Naomi took the boy into her lap, and the neighbors named him Obed. In time Obed became the father of Jesse, who became the father of King David. That made Ruth an ancestor of Jesus.

Many Bible stories are not what one expects to find in the Bible.


Thursday, 8/22/13

The readings today give us History transformed into parables that cannot be taken literally. The banquet in the Gospel is the Church of God’s Son to which the leaders of the Chosen People had been invited, only to make excuses for not coming. We are the bad and good people the servants have found along the main roads. If we go through Mass and Holy Communion thoughtlessly, we have become the invited guest who came without his wedding garment.

The first reading is a story about the wild man Jephthah who defeated the Ammonites in 1150 B.C.. Since no written records were kept at that time of Jephthah, the Bible account is merely a gathering  of yarns that were put into writing centuries later.

The reading about Jephthah as we have it in today’s Mass, leaves off the first part of the story. The story actually began with a man who had sons with his wife, but then conceived Jephthah with a harlot.

Denying Jephthah a share in their inheritance, his brothers drove him off. Then, Jephthah, going across the Jordan, formed a band of notorious bad men, as he gained a name for fierceness in battle. So, when his family were besieged by Ammonites, they applied to Jephthah to save them .

Setting out to fight the Ammonites, the wild man Jephthah vowed to make a human sacrifice of the first person he met on his return from his victory. Unfortunately, the first person he met was his beloved daughter. Still, he had to keep his vow, and his daughter agreed to being sacrificed provided she had two months to mourn over never giving birth to a son. Having allowed her that, Jephthah slaughtered his daughter.

What a horrible story! The moral had something to do with keeping our vows. The story teller, catering to those who like ghost stories and blood-and-gut yarns, put these folk tales together to entertain the people at Solomon’s Court.

In reading the Bible we cannot approach it with expectations of hearing Sunday School stories . We must accept it for what it is: a collection of stories and poetry that recorded a most imperfect people’s clumsy attempts at knowing God.

Today we honor Pope Pius X, the hero of conservative Caholics.



Wednesday, 8’21’13

Jesus gave us a parable in which he compared the enemies of the Prophets and the enemies of himself to unjust laborers who have taken over the Lord’s vineyard, claiming the whole vintage for themselves.

Some picky-picky people have criticized this parable. They have asked why the owner was not more careful in choosing his laborers, and they have asked how could any laborers be crazy enough to try to get away with claiming everything.

The parable is more reasonable if one considers the Jewish Law governing the planting of vineyards. The Torah forbade planting two crops on the same land. It was seen to be vegetative adultery. However, since there were no grapes the first four years after planting the vines, during those years the Law allowed workmen to plant vegetables between the vines.  The dispute in the parable was over whether the master or the laborers had a right to such produce.

Today the Church honors Pope Pius X, who riled from 1903 to 1914. He is a hero for conservative Catholics, condemning all the liberal views of his day.

Pope Pius X saw singing in church to be a function only for clerics, so he ruled against women singing in choirs. He called the theory of Evolution heretical. He rejected all scholarly research into the origin of the Bible Books. He had all priests take an oath against holding  Modern ideas. In his Encyclical “Vehementer Vos”  he declared the following.

 The Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, it is a society
 comprising two categories of persons, the Pastors and the flock. . .
 so distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body alone
 rests the necessary right and authority of promoting the end of
 the society, and directing all its members toward that end; the
 only duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and
 like a docile flock, to follow the pastors

Today we honor Pope St. Pius X, a hero for conservative Catholics.



Wednesday, 8’21’13

Jesus gave us a parable in which he compared the enemies of the Prophets and the enemies of himself to unjust laborers who have taken over the Lord’s vineyard, claiming the whole vintage for themselves.

Some picky-picky people have criticized this parable. They have asked why the owner was not more careful in choosing his laborers, and they have asked how could any laborers be crazy enough to try to get away with claiming everything.

The parable is more reasonable if one considers the Jewish Law governing the planting of vineyards. The Torah forbade planting two crops on the same land. It was seen to be vegetative adultery. However, since there were no grapes the first four years after planting the vines, during those years the Law allowed workmen to plant vegetables between the vines.  The dispute in the parable was over whether the master or the laborers had a right to such produce.

Today the Church honors Pope Pius X, who riled from 1903 to 1914. He is a hero for conservative Catholics, condemning all the liberal views of his day.

Pope Pius X saw singing in church to be a function only for clerics, so he ruled against women singing in choirs. He called the theory of Evolution heretical. He rejected all scholarly research into the origin of the Bible Books. He had all priests take an oath against holding  Modern ideas. In his Encyclical “Vehementer Vos”  he declared the following.

             The Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, it is a society
            comprising two categories of persons, the Pastors and the flock. . .
            so distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body alone
            rests the necessary right and authority of promoting the end of
            the society, and directing all its members toward that end; the
            only duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and
            like a docile flock, to follow the pastors

The Old Testament saw wealth and health as signs of God's favor, while Jesus and his followers favor those who lack both.


Tuesday, 9/20/13

In the Gospel, Jesus said, “It is hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven.”

To that the disciples responded, “Who then can be saved?”

That was not a very Christian thing to say. And, it wasn’t. St. Matthew told us this story to give us a sampling of common attitudes before the coming of Jesus.

In the Old Testament it was only towards the final pages that there was any mention of an afterlife. All that was promised to good-living people in the time of Moses or David was that they would be wealthy, and that they would live to see their great-grandchildren. (They were not promised good health to go along with their long lives. They were only told that they would somehow go struggling along till they got to hold their grandchildren’s babies. Then it would be kerplunk, Amen, Amen.)

People in Old Testament times saw wealth and health as signs of favor with God. They saw poverty and ill health as signs of sinfulness and disfavor with God.

When Jesus and his disciples came on a man who was born blind. The disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he should be born blind?”

This year we have all been happy about our new Pope. He has taken the name of Francis, promising to be a model of a Christ-like love and respect for the poor.

The Judges of the Old Testament were were wise souls who pulled people like us back from self-inflcted grief.


Monday, 9/19/13

In our first readings this week we will have four selections from the Book of Judges, with the Judges having been illiterate leaders from the two centuries between the death of Moses and the crowning of King Saul.

Those Israelites who settled in the Promised Land were farm people without a cities or towns where they could congregate. The Bible stories about the named-judges were patched together from legends gathered later in the time of Solomon.

Farm life back then was weighted down with sinful superstitious practices. Farm people could be tricked into seeing their farmland as a woman who would only bear
crops if she were placated by weird ceremonies, with some of them involving human sacrifices, some with orgies.

Their so-called harvest gods were given such names as Baal or Astaroth. When people’s going over to them resulted in poorer harvests and in loss of land, faithful followers of God would step in to straighten out those erring ones.

The Book of Judges gives us names for twelve of the judges. We remember Gideon, Samson, Deborah and some others. They were not rulers or actual judges. They were people faithful to God who pulled others back from the grief they had brought on themselves.

We can see ourselves in the Book of Judges if we have ever abandoned God to follow such gods as drink, drugs, money, fame, or lust. We thank God for having sent us wise souls who pulled us back from our self-caused grief.  

Our readings encourage us to bear with hardships to gain our reward.


Sunday, 9/18/13

We have three extremely dramatic readings today, with each of them encouraging us to submit to debasement when our service of God calls for it.

In the first reading Jeremiah had enraged the wealthy citizens of Jerusalem by telling them that their sinful living was leading to their destruction. To shut him up, they dropped him into a cistern from which the water had been removed, leaving a depth of soft mud. Sunk to the waist Jeremiah had to endure the taunts if idle passersby. Jeremiah’s great personal dignity made his misery immense.

The second reading is from The Letter To The Hebrews. It follows on two chapters of bios of Old Testament heroes who suffered torments for their fidelity to God. It goes on, then, to say that we “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” should run with patience to the fight set before us. It goes on to say that if those Old Testament heroes don’t stir us, we should look instead at the courageous example of Christ, who for the joy set before him “endured the cross, despising shame.”   

This passage from Hebrews is a real pep talk. It goes on to tell us to straighten up our shaking knees. It tells us to run with patience to the fight set before us.

In the Gospel Jesus referred to the death he faced as a baptism. By a legitimate inversion, we must see our baptisms as a death, a death to sin. Even if we were loud bawling babies at our baptisms, our parents were committing us to lives by which we must strive to die to sin.       

The Israelites commemorated their arrival in the Promised Land with a circle of stones that reminds us of the circle of stars on "Old Glory"


Saturday, 8/17/13

Yesterday’s Mass had us starting on a set of readings from the Book of Joshua. But, we began with Chapter Twenty-Four, and I complained about our skipping the first twenty-three chapters. I went on to speak about the great events recalled in Joshua, Chapter Three. That is where the Israelites by a miracle similar to their passing through the Red Sea, were allowed to pass safely through a flooded River Jordan to the Promised Land.

The events recorded in Chapter Four of the Book of Joshua were not as momentous as those in Chapter Three, but their uniqueness is appealing.

In Chapter Four when the whole people of Israel had arrived safely on the west bank, and the priests carrying the Ark were still back at the center of the river bed, Joshua sent one young man from each of the twelve tribes back down into the depths of the river bed. Each of them was to carry out the biggest boulder her could tote. After calling the priests with the Arc up onto the riverbank, Joshua had the young men place the boulders in a circle on the bank. He then declared that the circle of stones was to be left there as a memorial of the crossing, and as a pledge of unity to the twelve tribes. He gave a name to that place. It was Gilgal, “The Circle of Stones.”

Of what does that remind you? Is it the thirteen stars on Old Glory? If so, your thoughts might lead you back to thoughts of how our Founding Fathers saw us as a Chosen People. That circle of twelve stones and that circle of thirteen stars should stir in us thoughts of gratitude and thoughts of obligations.

Chapter Three of the Book of Judges dramatized the way the Lord brings us through the river of death,


Friday, 8/16/13

In our first readings from the Old Testament on Wednesday we had the last of our readings from the Book of Deuteronomy, and today we move on to the next book, which is the Book of Joshua. But, to my disappointment, we have skipped down to Chapter Twenty-Four. In doing that, we have passed by Chapter Three, which is a key to much of the Bible. So, let me tell you about the wonderful occurrences in Chapter Three of the Book of Joshua.

The forty years of the Israelites wandering in the desert symbolically stood for each of our life spans. Joshua, who had taken over after the burial of Moses, led the hoard of tens of thousands to make their crossing of the Jordan at Jericho. One difficulty bothering the people was that their leader wanted them to ford across in spring when the Jordan was wide and deep with melted snow from Mt. Hermon.

Undaunted, Joshua ordered the tribesmen to form a mile-long line, ten men abreast, pointed right into the swollen river. With them lined up, he ordered eight priests, who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant on a stretcher, to get out in front of the line. At his command the eight priests with the Ark waded into the flooded stream. With that, the waters backed up, leaving an open way down to the center of the riverbed, and going up to the far shore.

The priests with the Ark went down only as far as the center of the riverbed, where they took their stand, while the long stream of Israelites passed by them up to the shore.

You remember that Moses, who led them all those years, had not been allowed to lead them into the Promised Land. That too had its symbolic importance. The river blocking the way to the Promised Land stood for death. No earthly leader, no matter how noble, can be with you through death.

Chapter 25 of Exodus, which gives minute instructions for the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, tells us that it was not what the Ark contained that made it holy; no, it was God dwelling above the Ark, waiting there to meet with men. The Ark taking its stand at the center of death was Gods presence. Only God can be with you at the last when you cross to the Promised Land. For us Christians, it will not be the Ark of the Covenant guaranteeing our entry to the Promised Land. We will see Jesus on the cross, making a way through death for us.

With death and corruption being the punishment for sinfulness, our sinless Mary passed into glory.



Thursday, 8/15/13

In driving our first parents out of Paradise, God told them that death and decay would be the punishment for their sins. But sinless Mary, preserved from sin, was preserved from that punishment. She was taken to heaven as she was in life.

There were no witnesses to her assumption, but  no Christian community has ever claimed to be the place of her burial.

From the cross, Jesus gave Mary to you and to me as a loving mother. We don’t need to think of her as Queen of Heaven and Earth or to give her any other fancy title. It is more than enough to know that Jesus gave Mary to us as our mother.

She is our sinless mother. But that is looking at the gift negatively. Being sinless, she is good through and through.

In striving to see her kindly and beautiful face, we could make a composite of the continences of some perfect child or of some dear old lady. Failing at that, we could ask her for the feeling she is sitting beside us, joining us in looking out at the water or the sky. I like that. Without getting even a little crazy about this, we cold relax next to her, with one hand on hers.

In the Gospel Jesus told the disciples to guide his Church.



Wednesday, 8/14/13

Today’s reading brings us back to the Second Vatican Council. Although it took place fifty years ago, it was only the opening scene of a drama still on our stage. Many Protestants have called it the biggest event of the Twentieth Century.

The things in today’s reading that could put us in mind of Vatican II are, first, Our Lord’s telling all his disciples, “Whatever you bind on earth will be bund in heaven.” People only remember Jesus saying that to Peter, but here he said it to the rest of his disciples. Secondly, in today’s reading Jesus also said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them.”

Vatican II gathered more than two or three. For the Autumn months of four consecutive years, day after day, there were twenty-two hundred bishops in the nave of St. Peter’s. Each of them had his chance to contribute what his prayer life told him about the gospel message. The Jesuit author, John W. O’Malley, called Vatican II “the biggest meeting ever held.”

An interesting thing about it was that all the bishops learned from each other, eventually being enabled to come to consensus on what Christ wants of us.

Some of us were raised to believe that the Council of Trent gave us the final word on Catholic teaching. Well, it did its best. But Trent’s bishops came from only three countries, and they were places where the people were bound by law to be Catholics. And, they didn’t debate issues, they only signed what the Pope’s theologians put before them.

It was 1860's First Vatican Council that the clerics in Rome’s Curia liked best. It declared the Pope to be infallible; and they felt that as his spokesmen, it made them infallible too.

We belong to the Roman Catholic Church. We are not just Roman. We are bound to be Catholic as well. The word Catholic means open to all people and open to all views.

We are right in always seeing ourselves as young. Our heavenly Father thinks of all of us as his little ones.


Tuesday, 8/13/13

There is an unexpected, and quite pleasing, benefit that suddenly comes to us from hearing Gospel stories over and over. It happened to me today with the story of the shepherd’s joy at finding a lost sheep.

I always picture that lost sheep as somebody who has strayed away, putting in years of seeking happiness in the wrong places. Jesus used the image of the shepherd cuddling the lost one on his shoulder to convey his joy over finding one such lost one.

What caught my attention, and delighted me today, was what Jesus went on to say: “.”It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little one be lost.”  

While I had been picturing the lost soul as an old sinner, to the Father that soul is still just one of his little ones.


That connects with an illusion shared by all of us who have left middle age behind us. In our hearts we are still the young ones who were getting a start in life. And that is not a bad idea. Jesus said we must, “turn and become like little children.”

William Wordsworth had a fine little poem about the advantages in remaining in touch with our childhood.

My heart leaps up when I behold    
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began; 
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,    
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.