We honor Theresa of the Child Jesus.


Tuesday, 10/1/13

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Theresa of Lisieux, a French Carmelite who lived from 1863 to 1897, dying of tuberculosis. On the occasion her death, her community, as was the custom among Carmelites, sent a brief history of her life around to the other convents. In her case, they augmented that history with an autobiography she had written in obedience to her mother superior. That summery of her life, that she called “The Story of a Soul,” somehow got out to a world that has embraced her as its “Little Flower.”

It’s over sixty years since I read the story of her soul, but let me mention a few items I recall. Her mother’s death when Theresa was four, along with her own bouts of sickness and scruples, left her a weak little girl until she was thirteen.

A highlight in those years had been her careful training for her first confession. So, on the big day she felt she was kneeling next to God to whom she could unburden her heart. That had her stunning the priest by bursting out with, “Oh, I love you!”

The weakness of her nature was replaced by a great staunchness on Christmas Eve when she was thirteen. As little girls would do, she had put out her shoe for St. Nicolas. Then, she overheard her father asking her sister, “How long will Theresa go on being a child?” Rather than being cast down by those words, Theresa used them as a means for instantly becoming mature.

Seventy years before her time the French priest Robert de Lamenais had composed a beautiful French translation of “The Imitation of Christ.” With that as her constant friend, Theresa forged on to spiritual strength. At fifteen she followed two of her sisters into the Carmelite Convent at Lisieux, where she was later joined by a fourth sister who had been carrying for their father.

As nuns reaching for sanctity, the Carmelite sisters had all chosen one or another of the Church’s great saints as models, but Theresa found her own way. Often troubled by weeks and years when God didn’t seem to be there for her, Theresa began seeing herself as a pretty little ball that the Child Jesus at time played with lovingly, while often deserting it in a corner for long spells. That made her Theresa of the Child Jesus

With her tuberculosis severely weakening her, Theresa was at first pleased by comments about her looking well; but then, on being greeted by an equal number of comments on how poorly she looked; she decided against letting the comments of others alter the way she felt in God’s presence.

The pains in her final weeks were unbelievably harsh on her, but toward the end, she made them into sweet calls from her Jesus, and she longed for more of them.

Anyone who is not against you is for you.


Monday, 9/30/ 13

In the Gospel St. John told Jesus that he had stopped someone from using Our Lord’s name to drive out demons, and Jesus told him, “Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”

Let me speak of an experience I had dealing with those words sixty- three years ago when I was in the seminary. Our Theology professor, Father O’Dohery was very strict with us about avoiding saying anything that Rome didn’t approve of. We could not say anything liberal around him, but one evening he was a very different man.

I had knocked on his door to return a book, and I found him with his sweater buttoned wrong, and his hair mussed up. He asked me, “What did Jesus mean by saying, “whoever is not against you is for you”?

My big concern around him was always to avoid saying what would get me into trouble. So, my answer to him was, “I don’t know, Father.”

Looking back on that now, I see it differently. It seems to me that Father O’Doherty was secretly unhappy with Rome’s strict stand against all other Christians. Then,  that evening I caught him when he was being honest with himself. He was asking me, not as a student, but as a sincere Christian if I thought our minds should be open to good people who were not Catholics.

I was too young to level with Father O’Doherty that night. But at my age now, I am happy that since then our Church has issued a degree favoring the freedom of Religion. I am happy that we can openly agree with Jesus that anyone who is not against us is with us.

St. Vincent de Paul is our hospital's patron saint.



Friday, 9/27/13

(PARDON ME  - I PUBLISHED THIS YESTERDAY)

Today we honor St. Vincent de Paul who was born in southern France in 1580 just as the Council of Trent was coming to an end. In those days the odds for success were stacked in favor of the nobility. So it was something of a miracle that Vincent, one of seven children in a peasant family should make a name for himself.

Treated to free schooling by Franciscans who were as poor as his family, Vincent learned enough to get employment as a tutor. With no formal seminary training, he prepared himself for the priesthood, receiving ordination when he was just twenty. Hearing of the death of a propertied relative in Marseille, he found passage on a Mediterranean merchant ship, only to be captured by north African pirates, who sold him into slavery.

He was about twenty-five when, bringing his master to accept Baptism, he was set free in southern France. After walking to the old papal city of Avignon, he won his way into the service of its bishop, who brought him along on a visit to Rome.

In 1609, when he was twenty-nine, he found a place for himself in the service of Rome’s delegate to the court of Henry IV of France. In Paris Vincent’s earnest priestly ways won him a position as spiritual director to  the Gondis, who were France’s most powerful family.

As pastor of their church, Vincent could put aside his life-long search for security, so that he could identify himself with his peasant roots. Then, he began looking out for the spiritual and physical welfare of the peasants on the Gondi estates, and he was securing the help of other unemployed priests, organizing them in missions to the poor.

He found that the head of the Gondi family was the general in charge of all the galley slaves working in France’s merchant ships; and remembering his own years as a slave he began petitioning the French crown for decent medical care for galley slaves.

In 1625 when he was forty-five his path crossed with that of a thirty-five year old Louise de Marillac who was nursing her dying husband. After her husband’s death, Louise corresponded with Vincent for four years, and their joint prayers and idea exchanges led to her founding the Daughters of Charity. 



How do we picture Christ when we speak with him?


Saturday, 9/28/13

The Gospel presents us with Jesus wanderings with his disciples. He was haunted by the prospect of being handed over to the Romans to be crucified. So, looking for comfort and understanding, he spoke to his companions, telling them what lay in store for him; but not understanding his words, they left him alone with his grief.

His death and resurrection are two thousand years behind us now, and perhaps we wonder if anything we say to him now could comfort him back then.

In our prayer life, we very much want to be in contact with Jesus Christ, but it is hard for us to get a mental picture of him.

Oddly, St. Paul never spoke about Jesus as he was before the crucifixion. He only spoke about Christ in heaven, as when he said, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. I long to be dissolved so I can be with him.”

Christ in heaven is every bit as loving and as understanding as he was as Jesus on earth. We should give him all of our hearts, speaking to one who knows and loves us more than we know and love ourselves.



St. Vincent de Paul was a peasant who made good.


Friday, 9/27/13

(PARDON ME - I POSTED THIS YESTERDAY)

Today we honor St. Vincent de Paul who was born in southern France in 1580 just as the Council of Trent was coming to an end. In those days the odds for success were stacked in favor of the nobility. So it was something of a miracle that Vincent, one of seven children in a peasant family should make a name for himself.

Treated to free schooling by Franciscans who were as poor as his family, Vincent learned enough to get employment as a tutor. With no formal seminary training, he prepared himself for the priesthood, receiving ordination when he was just twenty. Hearing of the death of a propertied relative in Marseille, he found passage on a Mediterranean merchant ship, only to be captured by north African pirates, who sold him into slavery.

He was about twenty-five when, bringing his master to accept Baptism, he was set free in southern France. After walking to the old papal city of Avignon, he won his way into the service of its bishop, who brought him along on a visit to Rome.

In 1609, when he was twenty-nine, he found a place for himself in the service of Rome’s delegate to the court of Henry IV of France. In Paris Vincent’s earnest priestly ways won him a position as spiritual director to  the Gondis, who were France’s most powerful family.

As pastor of their church, Vincent could put aside his life-long search for security, so that he could identify himself with his peasant roots. Then, he began looking out for the spiritual and physical welfare of the peasants on the Gondi estates, and he was securing the help of other unemployed priests, organizing them in missions to the poor.

He found that the head of the Gondi family was the general in charge of all the galley slaves working in France’s merchant ships; and remembering his own years as a slave he began petitioning the French crown for decent medical care for galley slaves.

In 1625 when he was forty-five his path crossed with that of a thirty-five year old Louise de Marillac who was nursing her dying husband. After her husband’s death, Louise corresponded with Vincent for four years, and their joint prayers and idea exchanges led to her founding the Daughters of Charity.  

If we want to live happier lives we need to bury ourselves in working with God.



Thursday, 9/26/13

The first reading today gives us words spoken by the Prophet Haggai in the second year of the reign of Darius of Persia. History tells us that Darius took the throne in the year 522 B.C,, so we know the year here had to have been 521 B.C.

Haggai’s words were a pep talk for the people of Jerusalem, telling them to get off their cushions, to get to work on building God’s temple. Ten year before, when they were freed from their Babylonian captivity, and they were making their way back to Jerusalem, they were like men dreaming, and their mouths were filled with laughter. They were excited about the idea of rebuilding their temple.

But now, ten years have passed, and they have done nothing about the temple. They have taken care of their own needs. They have built their brick houses, paneling the interior walls with cedar, but they have grown vague about plans for building God’s house. 

Haggai points out to the people that their self-indulgence has led to feelings of lassitude. Nothing satisfies them any longer. “You have eaten, but have not been satisfied. You have drunk, but have not been exhilarated.”

He was telling them that if they wanted to be happy with their lives, they would need to lay aside taking care of themselves, and start pleasing God.

Applied to us, Haggai is saying that if we want to live happier lives what we need is not a new car or an expensive vacation. What we need is to bury ourselves in God’s work, taking on projects for God’s needy ones.

The Books of the Bible also had human authors, and God spoke through them.



Wednesday, 9/25/13

In speaking of the homilies in our Masses, St. Justin in the Second Century described them as efforts by the one presiding to encourage people to practice the beautiful lessons in the Scripture readings. In these homilies I present day after day I strive to follow St. Justine’s formula. I try to put emphasis on what the  day’s Bible lessons tell us.

Today, however, I would like to turn from today’ readings, to speak instead about Vatican II’s “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.” The official name for  Vatican II’s published documents comes from the opening Latin words of each. The opening words of the Bible document, “Dei Verbum,” or “The Word of God,” is meant to tell us that the Bible is God’s way of introducing himself to us.

From 1700 on scholars, applying literary criticism to the Bible, began coming up with conclusions that went against our traditions. For instance, our tradition held that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible in Hebrew. However, scientists came up with evidence that written Hebrew only came into being five centuries after Moses. Until 1950 our Church, going against the evidence, stubbornly insisted that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. I like telling about a cynical old priest back then who told me, “Sully, you have to hold that Moses wrote them books, but its okay if you say five other guys named Moses wrote them.”  

Vatican II, while insisting on seeing God as the author of the books of the Bible, also held that each also had its human author. Vatican II’s document told us that the human author did his own research, and sometimes used genres other that factual narrative to teach his lesson. Like, he could use poetry, myth, or even fable to teach us. For instance, the ancient world loved fables about giants who guarded river fords. Chapter 33 of Genesis tells of Jacob struggling with such a giant. The story conveys a wonderful Bible lesson, but we are not meant to take it as factual.

Many people have had the idea that they must take every word of the Bible as factual. I think that hang-up prevents them from getting at the meaning intended by God and the human author. Using the teaching of Vatican II as a guide we can become sincere lovers of the Bible. 

All the world's people are our brothers and sisters, since we all share the same heavenly Father.


Tuesday, 9/24/13

In today’s Gospel Jesus was not rejecting his family members, he was telling all of us to have the same love and trust for people of good will everywhere.

The first reading tells us of the completion of the second temple which took place in 515 B.C. We can see a tie-in between the building of that temple and our need to love and trust people not related to us.

Yesterday’s Responsorial Psalm gave us a delightful picture of the people returning to Jerusalem after seventy years of exile. It pictured them saying, “We were like men dreaming, and our mouths were filled with laughter.”

But, their joy faded when they realized they lacked the skilled workmen they needed for building a temple. An avenue opened for them to get the temple built when the People of the Land and the Samaritans came up. Those outsiders were saying they would donate their skilled workmen if the Jews would permit them to join in worshipping God in the finished temple.

The Jews pondered over that offer, but they turned it down, fearing it could lead to their young people marrying Samaritans. In our time, still acting in line with that decision, the Jews are building immense walls to separate themselves from their neighbors.

Back then, for five sad years the Jews had given up on building a new temple. Then, God  called up two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah; putting them to the task of stirring the people to buy materials and to hire experts for building the temple.

Jesus wants us to see all men and women as our brothers and sisters, as children of the same Father.

Only two of the original twelve tribes made their way back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple in 522 B.C.



Monday, 9/23/13

Today’s first reading tells how in 535 B.C., Persia, under King Cyrus, conquered Babylon; and in reviewing records, he found that three generations earlier the people of Jerusalem had been forced to leave their homes, to come to Babylon as field hands.

Seeing that as a mighty injustice, Cyrus, not only freed the Jews to return to Jerusalem, but he ordered other people to assist them in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Our reading tells us that the families of Judah and Benjamin prepared to make the trip home.

Now, the people of Judah and Benjamin made up only two of the twelve tribes of Israel, so it might help us to review the history of the Chosen People to find out what happened to the other ten tribes.   

David moved his capitol into Jerusalem in 1,000 B.C., and all twelve tribes accepted him as their king. In 977 B.C., David was followed by his son Solomon, and in 932 B.C. Solomon was followed by his son Rehoboam. However, Rehoboam was such an arrogant, demanding ruler, that ten tribes north of Jerusalem broke away, making a new capitol for themselves at Samaria.

For two hundred years the two kingdoms of Samaria and Judah went their separate ways. Then, in 722 B.C., the kingdom of Assyria enslaved the people of the northern ten tribes, and they disappeared from history.

For the next two hundred years, during the time of the Prophet Isaiah, then of Jeremiah, the Kingdom of Judah struggled along. Then, in 587 B.C. the Babylonians, under Nebuchadnezzar, led the people off in exile. They lived on in Babylon until King Cyrus sent them home in today’s reading.  

We should be the moral equivalent of yeast that makes ordinary people rise.


Sunday, 9/22/13

Let’s start with the first reading in which the Prophet Amos heaped scorn on rich shopkeepers who hated holy days when they were not allowed to open their shops to bring in money. Amos pictured them on such days as occupying themselves in making plans for squeezing more money out of customers. They would make false-bottomed quart scoops that were a half pint short. They would use false weights to cheat their customers of ounces every time. 

Let me go back to my Korea years for an incident involving shopkeepers who cheated their customers. Once, coming back to my coastal parish on a Saturday afternoon the bus broke down twenty miles short of my church. I was looking around for an army truck that might be going down my way, when a man came up, introducing himself as a shop owner from my town. He suggested that we split the cost of the cab.

He said he knew me because I was the only foreigner in his town; and he said I wouldn’t know him, because none of the people running shops ever came to church.

“Why is that,” I asked; and the man said, “We don’t go to church because we cheat all our customers. If we didn’t lie, we’d lose them to shops where they do lie.” 

He insisted that religion and morality meant a lot to him, and he was a follower of Confucius and a Buddhist. He explained that while Confucius laid down beautiful rules for upright behavior with parents, siblings, teachers, relatives; he had not bound his followers to be honest in dealing with strangers. Confucius let him lie to outsiders.

He went on to talk about being a Buddhist. He said he made up for cheating people by taking six months off every five years. He would shave his head, and like a monk, he’d dress in a gray robe, and go about begging for food. (He told me that right then his mother, after five years of dirty dealings, had shaved her head, and was serving her six months as a Buddhist nun)

I told him that we would improve our world if we refrained from cheating people. I told him how Christ told us we should become like yeast. By mixing our honesty with the dry flour of the business world, we could serve to making the whole mass rise.

Matthew wrote his Gospel to show how Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets.



Saturday, 9/21/13

The Gospel introduces Matthew to us as an unclean person whom the Pharisees would avoid touching. That circumstance gives us a clue to the theme of Matthew’s wonderful Gospel. Forgive me if I have told you this story too many times.

Twenty-five years after the death and resurrection of Jesus a number of Jewish patriots became terrorists, attacking convoys of Roman soldiers. Their group was known as the Shickaries because their weapon was a short knife called a shicka. With the Shickaries holed up in Jerusalem, the Roman Empire that had been pushed too far, set about erecting catapults to totally destroy the city and temple.

With those hostilities underway, the Pharisees convinced the city’s attackers that they had always been friendly to Rome, and that within the city the Shickaries were killing them off.

The commanding general, Titus, allowed the Pharisees with their families to come out of Jerusalem, to settle at a place called Jamnia on the Mediterranean. 

Settled there, the Pharisees received word of the destruction of the temple, and as believers in a temple-centered religion, they began wondering how they could survive as a religion. That led them to begin thinking of themselves mainly as a people observing kosher.

That decision made, they began looking around at the Jewish believers in Jesus. They saw that there were thousands of such people, people who thought of themselves as Jews, but followers of Christ. So, the Jews at Jamnia began sending out ultimatums to Jewish Christians, telling them they could not have it both ways. They could not be both Jews and Christians. Their dispatches contained the assertion that Jesus had been out to destroy the Law and the Prophets. 

Matthew then wrote his Gospel to disprove those assertions of the Pharisees. He quoted Jesus as saying, “I have not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them.”

His Gospel shows item by item how Jesus fulfilled what had only been begun in the Old Testament. As well, for action after action of Jesus, Matthew pointed out how he was fulfilling Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah.

Fr. Andrew Kim, Korea's first native-born priest, at age twenty-six was put to death on this day.



Friday, 9/20/13

Today we honor St. Andrew Kim, Korea’s first native-born priest, and Korea’s Patron Saint.

From 1600 to 1880 Korea was known as the Hermit Kingdom: its only contact with the outside world being  a yearly embassy to the court of the Chinese Emperor in Peking. In the year of American independence, 1776, some of those Korean envoys embraced the Catholic Faith that had been brought to Peking by the Jesuit genius, Father Matteo Ricci.

Returned to Seoul, they set up a secret Catholic Church with no priest, and with only one of Father Ricci’s books as their guide. Twenty years later a Chinese priest came to give them the Sacraments, and to tell them they couldn’t use volunteer priests. But after their Chinese priest was put to death as an alien, Korean Catholics were dependent on heroic French priests who were put to death after short spells of ministering to them.

Andrew’s father, who would be martyred for his Faith, was one of the Seoul intellectuals who kept the Faith alive. He sent a fifteen–year-old Andrew off to study for the priesthood in Shanghai. And Andrew, ordained at twenty-four, returned to his homeland where he worked among his own for two years before being betrayed. Sharing the fate of many Korean and French Catholics, he was beheaded on the banks of the Han River.

He was so loved that many Korean and foreign Catholics have begged to be buried near him. In Eighteen-eighty Korea was opened to foreigners, and it had its first Protestant ministers. I served over there for thirteen years, and it pleased me that everyone knew Catholics as the Old Christian Church. 

Paul asked Timothy to stir up the gift that was his from the imposition of hands for the presbyterate.


Thursday, 9/19/13

In the first reading Paul told his disciple Timothy to make use of the gifts that were his from the “Imposition of hands by the presbyterate.” To us Catholics that sounds as though Paul was speaking of Timothy’s ordination as a priest. The “presbyterate” refers to the full group of presbyters, but the question remains as to who the presbyters were.

Many English translations of the New Testament prefer translating presbyter as an “elder,” rather than as a “priest”; but in favor of seeing it as a priest is the fact that Webster tells us that our word priest is a contraction of presbyter.

Going further back on the word presbyter, we see that it is derived from an Indo-European word for an “ox.” A “pres-byt” would be a lead ox. That tells us that a true priest should be out in front, teaching younger oxen how to pull the load. He shouldn’t be the gentleman swinging the whip.

At a priestly ordination all the priests present, the whole presbyterate, puts hands on the priestly candidate. The symbolism of imposing the hands is that all the powers in the older man is thought of as passing down his arms into the new man. 

Our belief in the efficacy of the Sacrament of Holy Orders has us believing, that with God’s blessing, it passes on something of what the older priests had learned along the way.

People are Democrats because it seems right to them to be Democrats.


Wednesday, 9/18/13
  
In the Gospel Jesus remarked on people’s tendency to criticize everyone but themselves. They criticized John the Baptist for being an ascetic who liked living on the ground and eating insect. “Ugh, he is so inhuman!” 

On the other hand, they criticized Jesus for being too human. They asked, “What kind of a holy man accepts dinner invitations, eating and drinking what’s put before him?”

Jesus laughingly compared such people to idle children wasting their days at a favorite spot in the marketplace where they played imaginary musical instruments. They would order passersby’s to dance when they tooted a merry tune. They would order them to weep when they groaned out what sounded like a funeral dirge. 

There were other words of his that Jesus might have used to sum up what he was saying here. He could have said, “Judge not that you be not judged.”

We should always be ready to apply the second of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: the Gift of Understanding. If we are gifted with Understanding, we will realize that everyone acts for what seems to be good. It is as automatic as the Law of Gravity that makes loose objects fall: a  person always goes  for what seems good at the time. People should not be blamed for being Democrats. You must believe that they are Democrats because it seems right to them.

Paul laid down rules of behavior for leaders in Christian communities, not for bishops as we know them.


Tuesday, 9/17/13

The rules that Paul sets down for bishops in today’s reading might not have been for bishops as we know them, but simply for religious overseers. There is confusion here.

The Greek word Paul used for an overseer was epi-scopus, which in Latin became Episcopus. It was applied to the chief Christian in any gathering, The over-seer. In the next century the use of the word epi-scopus was narrowed down to apply only to that single Christian in a major community who was the overseer, or the bishop as we know them. After 1200 A.D. with Anglo-Saxons becoming Christians, their pronunciation of the word episcopus was gradually altered; with the “p” sound becoming a “b” sound, and the “sc” sound becoming an “sh” sound, so that episcopus mutated into bishop.

So, today’s reading was not telling our present day bishops that they should marry once, raise obedient families, and go easy on the drink. 

We should be patriotic citizens, offering prayers for those in authority.



Monday, 9/16/13

Even though he knew Roman officers were to put him to death, Jesus in the Gospel came to the aid of a Roman officer. Although Rome was cruel in its treatment of Jesus, and then of Christianity, Paul told us to offer prayers and supplications for “kings and for all in authority.”

That holds for us as well, we should be patriotic citizens. Back in the Nineteenth Century the Second Council of Baltimore laid down the basic rules for American bishops and priests. It directed, “They are not to mingle political and civil matters with religious doctrine in their sermons nor to attack public magistrates.”

 Cardinal James Gibbons, the much-loved leader of the Church in America back then, wrote a popular book about American Catholicism, calling it Faith of Our Fathers. He wrote, “A civil ruler dabbling in religion is as reprehensible as a clergyman dabbling in politics. Both render themselves odious as well as ridiculous.”

You can take a boy out of his church, but you can't take his church out of the boy.


Sunday, 9/15/13
     
The readings today are about God’s not giving up on those who have strayed  from him. The first reading concludes with God pushing aside his urge to punish the Israelites. In the next reading Paul said, “I had been a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man, but God treated me with mercy.”

Then, of course, the Prodigal Son squandered his father’s property, ruined his health with wild living, and ended up snatching food from pigs.  But his father kept scanning the horizon in hopes of seeing him returning.

Those stories could turn our attention to our lapsed Catholics. We hear that they are almost as numerous as those who have not strayed.    

I began thinking about them this week when a lady asked me to do a graveside service for her brother who had left the Church after eleven years of Catholic schooling.

Two days ago that man's life had my thoughts taking an unexpected turn. I began thinking of the  irreligious behavior of the people I worked with on summer jobs.  Through my twelve years in the seminary high school and colleges I was always home in the summer, working  to earn money for train fare and school expenses.

So, this Friday I was startled by recollections of the careless immorality of the kids I had worked with. In giving their checks to customers it was ordinary for them to pencil over figures, turning ones into nines, three into eights. They'd say that without cheating customers they couldn’t have afforded to smoke. Eating our sandwiches on Mondays,Milton would describe the sex he paid for on Friday.

One boy I worked with bragged about taking a girl out into the country, then pushing her out of the car when she wouldn’t give in. Too, I was recalling a mixed group telling me, “You say screwing is a sin, no way!”

Those poor kids had been launched into this confusing world without any moral guidance. It was as if they had been pushed out to sea in boats that had no rudders.

What brought those thoughts on was what the dead man's sister told me on the phone. She said that her brother had stopped going to Mass, but he had always remained a very moral, very  kind man.

That led me to realize that his eleven years of Catholic education hadn’t been wasted. It had turned him into God’s yeast that mixed with the lumpy immorality of our workplaces, raises it up. He was God's agent. You can take a boy out of his church, but you can't take his church out of the boy. 

Throughout his life Jesus was haunted by the thud of the base of his cross falling into the hole dug for it.


Saturday, 9/14/13

Today is the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The feast dates back to the year 335 on the day when the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was dedicated. It housed a portion of the true cross which Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, found.

Much of that legend dates from later centuries, so the Church prefers to think of this day commemorating Jesus being lifted high on the cross.

In John’s Gospel Jesus spoke three times of is being lifted up, with a different benefit flowing from each time he would be “lifted up.”

In Chapter Three of John’s Gospel  Jesus said, “The Son of Man must be lifted up so that everyone might believe in him.”

In Chapter Eight he said, “When you lift up the Son of Man you will realize that I AM.

In Chapter Twelve he said, “And when I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all to me.”

Jesus was nailed to it while the cross was still flat on the ground. Next, the squad of four Roman soldiers lifted up the cross with Jesus nailed to it. Then, balancing it upright, they would have shifted it over to where they could let the base of it drop into the hole dug for it. It is the abrupt thud of the cross hitting the bottom of that prepared hole where we might particularly think of Jesus. Over the years I imagine Jesus cringed every time he thought of that abrupt thud waiting for him.

The saying of Jesus that Matthew gave us in the Sermon on the Mount appear in Luke's Sermon on the Plain


Friday, 9/10/13

At a meeting one evening a week ago I sat next to a Born-again Christian lady who was full of talk about what the devils all around us were engaged in. She was shocked with this priest when he told her he wasn’t much concerned with the harm devils were causing. She quoted Bible passage after passage that spoke of devils, and she referred to each passage as a “Scripture,” regarding each of them as coming directly from God. Her beliefs lent her such enthusiasm that she had me feeling like a bitter old cynic.

However, for these fifty I have been happy with my Catholicism  that follows Vatican II in seeing a major role of the human author for each book of the Bible.

Today’s reading, from the middle of Chapter Six of Luke’s Gospel, covers much of the  sayings of Jesus we read in Matthew’s account of Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.

Now, in reading from Luke’s Gospel we must keep in mind what he said in his first chapter. Coming along years later, he went to eyewitnesses from Our Lord’s time along with his researching other sources. In the course of that he came across a record of Our Lord’s sayings that are also found just in Matthew, but not in Mark and John.

The big difference in the way they presented a major part of those sayings of Jesus was that while Luke began by saying, “Coming down with them he stood on  a stretch of level ground,” Matthew recounted some of the same sayings of Our Lord by beginning with , “He went up the mountain . . and he began teaching them, saying, “Blessed are the poor.”

No one had a device for recording Our Lord’s sayings, but onlookers remembered the gist of what he said, and God inspired Matthew and Luke to use their own talents for bringing those remembrances  to life

While Matthew loosely quoted Jesus as saying, “Give to one who asks of you, and do not turn your back,” Luke in yesterday’s Gospel had Jesus saying, “Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing will be poured into your lap.”

Back before paper or plastic bags everyone buying grain came wearing an apron they could spread out before the dealer scooping out the grain for them. Luke used that to help portray the beauty of Our Lord’s discourse.

Today's first reading is God's marriage blessing.


Thursday, 9/12/13

There are many versions of the Bible, and each of us has favorites, not only in regard to the whole Bible text, but also in the way individual passages are presented to us. 

Today’s first reading from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians opens with,

 Brothers and sisters; Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, etc.

I am used to a version which is perfect for a wedding. It reads like this:

BECAUSE YOU ARE GOD’S CHOSEN ONES, HOLY AND BELOVED, CLOTHE YOURSELVES WITH HEARTFELT COMPASSION, KINDNESS, HUMILITY, GENTLENESS, AND PATIENCE.   

Put that way, the couple are standing before God the Father, who is commissioning them to supply him with a new family, one that he will accompany through all their years. 

Have we forgotten the fidelity to God that should be part of our lives as Christians?


Wednesday, 9/11/13

In our first reading, St. Paul, spoke to the baptized Christians in Colossae. He told them that  to be true to their baptisms, they must put to death the parts of them that are earthy. He said that included passion, evil desires and greed.

As Christianity moved into the Second Century, the Church was demanding a most thorough preparation for baptism. It was geared toward preparing converts to submit to cruel tests of the faith. Most families had members who had been thrown to the lions or who had been decapitated rather than deny their complete allegiance to Christ.

How different is the church we grew up in? We had priests available for confession every Saturday. It made it easy for us to regularly fall and rise. But, it wasn’t always the case. In the first three centuries private confession was not available to those who fell from grace. Many Christians turned away from Pope Calixtus after he began giving absolution to people guilty of adultery.

In the last major persecution of Christians, that of Emperor Diocletian in 303, everyone in the Roman Empire was obliged to publically offer incense to the Roman gods. Failure to do so was punishable by death. Many Christians fled to the wilderness, staying there until the emperor died two years later. Other Christians, though, offered the incense with their fingers crossed. However, they were later totally rejected by those who fled to the hills. For the next century the descendants of those who burned incense were still rejected.

That was too severe, but it points out how terribly lax we are. To what degree have our lives followed Paul’s advice of totally putting to death the parts of us that are earthly, and not at all heavenly? Have we forgotten the fidelity to God that should be part of our lives as Christians?  

Going into the baptismal font symbolizes going into the tomb with Christ, and dying to sin with him.



Tuesday, 9/10/13

St Paul, writing to the Christians of Colossae, in what is now Turkey, speaking of Christ told them, “You were buried with him in Baptism.”

Let’s look back on First Century Christian practices to see in what way the Christians could be said to have been buried with Christ in Baptism.

Records show that they only baptized on Easter Saturday when they thought of Jesus lying in his tomb. They had died with him on Good Friday. They hoped to rise with him on Easter Sunday, but on Saturday they dug an oblong vat to represent the tomb of Jesus, and they filled it with water.

They had in mind words of Paul in Chapter Six of his Letter to the Romans. Speaking of Christ’s death, he had written, “His death was a death to sin.”

They saw Baptism as a pledge to die to sin with Christ, and they acted out that pledge by stepping down into an image of his tomb. They were voluntarily dying and being buried to sin.

If we still did our baptisms that way their meaning would be more forceful for us. However, our practice of just poring water on an infant’s head still makes for a valid baptism. A question about that arose while some of the Apostles were still alive. It was approved by a First Century document called the Teaching of the Apostles. And St. Augustine convincingly taught that infant baptism is valid, since there is nothing in infants too impede the flow of Grace.
 

Out of kindness Jesus changed the rules.



Monday, 9/9/13

Let’s look at the story of the man with a withered hand. Supposedly, the man had been crippled at birth, and had grown used to it after a fashion.

When I was twelve back in 1940 there was a boy like that from the next street. Calvin would wander over to talk to me about Country Music. He figured he could manage a guitar somehow if he ever could afford one. In the meantime he serenaded me, not knowing that back then us city people looked down on Country singers. I think Calvin carried a lot of sorrow.

That rule against curing on the Sabbath was a later addition to the Law. From about 530 to 330 B.C. Jerusalem was part of the Persian Empire, and a hundred years into that period the Persian emperor had granted the Jews the right to add amendments to the Law of Moses. They went overboard doing that. Like, one was permitted to walk something like only two hundred yards from his property on the Sabbath. (The rich got around that by buying a square foot of land every two hundred yards through the city, so they were never too far from their property.)

The story of the man with the withered hand brings up the matter of conflicts between church law and the laws of kindness. We often have need to resolve conflicts over that.

Like, I have a nephew who got five of his kids through Jesuit colleges, and he was determined to see them married Catholic. Recently, he forced a son and his bride-to-be to take marriage instructions from a priest; but then, the bride’s mother insisted on a garden wedding. While I didn’t like breaking the rule that demands a wedding be connected with a parish church, I bent the rules for that garden wedding. A priest friend, hearing about it the morning of the wedding day, was angry with me, telling me I just shouldn’t do it. I did it anyway. With our losing a large percentage of our young people, giving them a helping hand seemed to be similar to Jesus telling that man to stretch out his hand.

At Mass we must renounce all our hang-ups.


Sunday, 9/8/13

The Gospel ends up with Jesus saying, “Anyone who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

He could be telling you to give up your car or your house or your bank account. But I don’t think he is. You need your car to get to work. The hotel bills would be too high if you gave up your house, and your family wouldn’t want to keep writing checks for you if you gave up your bank account.

It is more likely that the possessions Jesus wants you to give up are intangible things: like the grudges you harbor, or the lazy habits that keep you from lending a helping hand, or your not admitting to faults that you hide from yourself rather than own up to them.

I believe that for you and me this Mass might be the time for us to renounce all those ugly hang-ups. Really, that is what hearing Mass is for. It’s for giving up your hang-ups. Please put up with me as I reach way back in history to retrieve the lost meaning of hearing Mass.

The main prayer our priests offer at Mass grew out of the blessing Jesus offered at the Last Supper. While using his own words that evening, according to the Gospels,  Jesus, as the host, led the disciples through the traditional table blessing.

That blessing always consisted of the same three parts. First, the host led the diners in recalling God’s many favors. Secondly, he asked God to send down his spirit to unite them and to equip them to speak back to him.

The third part of the blessing was called the “Pleasing Gift.” By it the host and all the diners were meant to unite in renouncing their faults, while offering God the pleasing gift of their total submission to him.

Now, those people all knew that third part, the Pleasing Gift, by its Greek name, which was the Eucharist. While we use the word Eucharist to designate Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, it should refer to all of us united with him. If we are not part of it, the Mass is useless for us.

Jesus comes to us under the form of bread so that we can become one with him in an act of total submission to the Father.    

Vatican II called for reconciliation with Protestant, Jews, Muslims, and the world.


Saturday, 9/7/13

The Second Vatican Council is fifty years behind us now, but people are still talking about it. The reason seems to be that, as described by Father John O’Malley, S.J. of Georgetown University, it was “the biggest meeting ever held.”

It was too. From September to December in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1965, for five days a week, 2200 bishops took a lively part in daily discussions in St. Peter’s. They were trying to bring the Church into line with what Christ wanted of it.

We call our church, “The Roman Catholic Church,” but mostly it has just been the “Roman Church” with the Curia calling all the shots. But “catholic” means all taking part, and at Vatican II there were bishops native to 108 countries, all getting the hold the mike to speak from their hearts.

Father O’Malley wrote a most readable book he called, “What Happened at Vatican II.” Its popularity has brought him numerous speaking assignments. Yesterday I watched a video of his address at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.

Pressed by questioners for a one-word description of Vatican II, Father O’Malley said it was about “reconciliation”

I bring this up now because today’s first reading speaks of God reconciling people through Christ. Father O’Malley referred to this text, going on to say that Vatican II was aimed principally at reconciling us with our world, with Protestants, Jews, Muslim; with reconciling all believers and non-believers. So, let us celebrate the memory of Vatican II by burying all our hatchets.