If our behavior aligns us against the poor we must undo the hsrm.

Saturday, 2/1/14

In the first reading the Prophet Nathan was heartbroken by the behavior of David his king, While God had permitted David to have more than one beautiful wife, that wasn’t enough for him. He had to take Bathsheba, the joy of his brave warrior Uriah.

Rather than accuse the mighty king face to face, Nathan proposed a case to him for judgment. He asked him what should be done about a rich man who had flocks without number who took the lone sheep that was the only possession of a poor soldier. 

David was shocked at the behavior of that rich man, and he declared that he should be put to death. Nathan had used his story to make David wake up to the fact that he had committed the same kind of crime. That made it possible for him to tell David, “You are the man!”

The story is in the Bible on the chance that it could wake us up to a part we might have had in making life miserable for God’s poor. And, maybe we too should do something to set things right.

Fifty years ago Gustavo Gutierrez, a priest from Peru, wrote an account of how the bishops in South America shared in the guilt of their rich who ignored the poor. He pointed out that the bishops were dining with that wealthy class whose greed made life miserable for the poor.

Father Gutierrez’ account touched the hearts of the bishops, and they came together, laying out their plans for showing preference for the poor in all their dealings.

In a land of farming, like the land of King David, men only fought wars between their planting and harvesting month.

Friday, 1/31/13

Our first reading today tells such a full story that I am going to ask you to consider only the passage’s opening clause.

The first reading gives us the whole long story of how David had relations with the wife of Uriah, going on then to covering up his sin by arranging for the death of Uriah. Let’s leave that for another time, putting our attention now only on the opening that spoke of “At the turn of the year when kings go out on campaign.”

In aancient countries where all men were farmers, their field work called for their full attention through the months when they prepared the land and planted the seed. Their fields again required all their working days when the crops were ready for harvest. But, in between those seasons there were a few months when, as the Gospel tells us, God was taking over, giving growth to the seed. It was then that they were free to follow their kings out on campaign.

In the early Middle Ages there was one notable break in farming-fighting cycle. The Muslims had taken over Spain, and were moving up into France, when Charles Martel (Charlemagne’s grandfather) decided that the only way to save Europe for Christianity was to train a year-round army. He fed his men on crops borrowed from monasteries, while he drilled them to attack in disciplined phalanxes. With them he drove the Muslims back at the Battle of Tours in 732.

That brought about the birth of our standing army that take up more of our time and money than the farming does.  

How can we remain meek if we let our light shine before all?

Thursday, 1/30/13

When we hear Jesus telling us to let our light shine before all, we wonder if he wasn’t contradicting what he said earlier about “Blessed are the meek.” However, it is possible for a person to be meek at the same time he lets his light shine. I was talking with the secretary at St. Matthew’s yesterday, and we seemed to agree that their pastor, Father Jose, is a talented and leaned man who carries himself with meekness.

We can see a close similarity between Our Lord’s telling us to let our light shine, and his parable about the king giving his servants talents for them to work with in his absence. 

According to Jesus there are three things on which we will be judged at the end of our days. The first is whether or not we have kept his friendship by living in the state of grace. Another is whether we have aided his little ones in their times of need. And the third is this one about whether or not we have used our gifts  for good an to the fullest. 

The seeds are the actual graces with which God inspires us to do what is right.

Wednesday, 1/29/13

Our Lord’s parable described four different ways we can react to hearing the word of God. By “the word of God” Jesus would have in mind not only the word of the Bible. He would also mean any occurrence that would make you think of doing good things, such as aiding the poor, giving time to prayer, or opening your mind to the  truths you have been blocking out.

The four types of ground on which the seeds fall represent four states of mind a person might be in when God calls.

The path where the seed cannot take root represents a non-serious attitude from which meaningful thoughts are brushed aside.

It put me in mind of the Scott Fitzgerald novel “Tender is the Night.” In it a fine young doctor, Dick Divers, was adopted by a hyper-wealthy family, and he was seduced into their drinking and partying way of life. His decline was summed up by a shocked former admirer who said, “Oh, Dr. Divers, you are no longer a serious scientist!” We should not fritter away our capacity to be serious Christians.

The rocky ground on which the seed falls is a thin layer of soil overlaying a rock pan. Seed there springs up immediately, then, they wilt from not putting in deep roots to moisture. We are like that when we go from enthusiasm to enthusiasm, never thoroughly putting God’s inspirations into action.

The ground given over to thorns and weeds describes you if you have vices or addictions that squeeze out any fitful efforts on which you embark.

The ground whose crop is thirty, sixty, or a hundred times more numerous than the scattered seed from which it sprung represents the great amount of good which God inspires all around us. It doesn’t make the gossip columns, but thank God it is there.

Today is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinmas.

Tuesday, 1/28/13

Today is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican scholar of the Bible and the writings of Aristotle. He lived from 1225 to 1274, writing two comprehensive texts on Catholic Theology and a Catholic approach of Philosophy. We had Dominican Sisters in my home parish, and they saw to it that I was named after Aquinas.

Then, from Sixty to fifty years ago I had two wonderful Korean Sisters in my Korean parish, and every year they presented me with a delicately painted feast day card. That seemed to be all in the past, but today I received an email from a Sister Josepha in Korea, wishing me a happy Feast Day. I had to get out a Korean dictionary to decipher her letter. I was never very good at that language.

In the summer of 1957, with some American visitors coming, I wanted to have our little Catholic girls put on a dance for them, then they brought along the best little dancer in the Middle School. In her dance she was a princess who came to a laboring boy in his sleep, dancing for him. She stayed on, becoming a Catholic, becoming nun, and bringing her whole wonderful family into the Church. Her older brother, a retired lawyer, sometimes comments on my web page. In her email today Sister Josepha told me about her nephew Peter becoming a priest back in December. All of this comes from her being the best dancer in her Middle School. 

David began ruling from Jerusalem in the year 1,000 B.C..

Monday, 1/27/13

If you take up a study of the world’s ancient religions, learning about the early beliefs of India, China, Japan, Australia, and the Americas, you will find that their ancient heroes were mythical, not actual humans who lived in the old days.

Our religion is different. Jesus and Judas, Samuel and Solomon, and Joan of Arc and the rest were all real people like us. We can look up the approximate year when each of them was born and died. That allows us to see that the problems they struggled with were as real as what we must put up with. 

Today's first reading, by giving the places and times when David ruled, gives us assurance  that David was a real person they way each of us is, and it further makes him real by relating how the leaders of all twelve tribes came to him, accepting him as their king because they were “bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.”  

Our account tells us he ruled them from Hebron for seven years, and from Jerusalem for thirty-three. Scholars of history, by checking with other registered events of the times, have determined that it was in the year one thousand B.C. that David came to rule from Jerusalem. Our knowing that enables us to get a grasp on the meaningful thing that happened before and after that.  

Isaiah prophesied th coming of s great light to the land to Galilee.

Sunday, 1/26/13

Let’s look at the three readings and the Psalm.

In the first reading Isaiah spoke words of hope to the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. Those were the names of two of jacob’s sons back in 1800 B.C.. Six hundred years further on, the families sired by them had become large tribes. They  occupied the land west of the Sea of Galilee. Then, five hundred years further on, in Isaiah’s time, the Assyrian foes had carried off the whole of those tribes, leaving their land desolate. In our first reading Isaiah revealed his vision of the coming of the Messiah to that land.

The Psalm reading is one that may have become your prayer; especially when it says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” and, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this thing I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord all my days.”

In the second reading Paul scolded the Christians of Corinth for breaking into factions, with one group favoring him, one group favoring Apollo, and one group favoring Peter. Similarly, we must be dedicated to the church and to our parish, not to one priest more than the others.

The Gospel is the fulfillment of the eight-hundred-year-old prophesy of Isaiah with Jesus doing miracles in what had been the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. In him   “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

When God goads us to face the truth we should not kick back

Saturday, 1/25/13

An odd thing about Paul’s story of his conversion on the road to Damascus is that he told it three different times in the Acts of the Apostles. It is in Chapters Nine, in Twenty-two, and in Twenty-Seven. Although he tells the story in almost the same words each time; the last time, in Chapter Twenty-Seven he recalled one detail he left out the other two times. The detail he finally remembered is that the voice from heaven told him, “It is hard for you to kick against the goad.”

A goad is a pointed stick a farmer uses to prod his beast to go the right way. In saying it was hard for Saul to kick against the goad, Jesus was saying that all along while Saul was persecuting the Christians, his conscience was telling him he was hurting good people. I say. “his conscience was telling him;” but in bringing the matter up, Jesus was saying that he himself was behind those promptings of Saul’s conscience. When we say, “let your conscience be your guide” we are often really saying, “Let the Lord, speaking through your conscience be your guide.”

Even though Saul had some misgivings about imprisoning seemingly good people who differed with his strict observance of Jewish laws, he went on imprisoning them. It took a bolt of lightening and a voice from heaven to get him to change his attitude.

This should be a warning to us against being too fixed in our ways. Our country is divided between Republicans and Democrats, and our Catholics are divided between those who still go only by the Council of Trent, and liberals who love Vatican II. Whichever side we are on, instead of waiting for our personal bolts of lightening, we should admit to the possibility that we are not completely right, and the possibility that the other side is not completely wrong. That should lead us to give up all animosity towards that other side. 

St. Francis de Sales was saved from despair on hearing the words "God is love."

Friday, 1/24/13

Today, as we honor St. Francis de Sales, let me quote some paragraphs I wrote about him recently.

Francis was the oldest of six; and he had such a fine appearance and fine mind that his father, seeing the family’s hope in him, invested a good education in Francis. He put him first under the Jesuits in Annecy; next, sending him to the University of Paris; and then for postgraduate work, enrolling him at the University of Padua. There, Francis dutifully earned doctorates in both Law and Theology.

The highly capable young Francis stumbled once in climbing that academic ladder. In Paris at eighteen he fell in with a group of Calvinists, and they somehow had him feeling that he was predestined to be damned. That conviction had him too sick to stir from his bed.  Then, one day, at twenty, he lurched his way through the streets of Paris, and stumbled into a church. Falling before a statue of Mary, as he lay on that stone floor, the serene central thought of his life came to him. He heard St. John saying, “God is love.”
As he was completing his studies at the University of Padua, he had word that his father had arranged a marriage for him with a well-born heiress of Savoy. Replete with remorse over disappointing his father, he could not dismiss another calling. Traveling to Annecy, he presented himself to the bishop who obliged him by ordaining him a priest of the Diocese of Geneva. 

Annecy is twenty-two miles south of Geneva, but the Calvinist government of Geneva had classed Catholicism as criminally treasonous. But, ignoring that ill will, Francis moved quietly among the Calvinists settled outside of Switzerland, bringing many of them back to the Mass and to Mary. In that time when the only religious writings available were either polemical or suited for monastery life, Francis wrote for simple believers. His faith reached out to simple souls in his Introduction to a Devout Life.

Francis gave us the wonderful Salesian Fathers, and together with St. Jane Frances Chantal he founded the Visitation Sisters. We should rejoice with their followers on their festive day.

Do we let jealousy ruin our pleasure over the success of others?

Thursday, 1/23/13

It was around the year 970 B.C. that the forces of the Philistines, occupying what is now the Gaza strip along the Mediterranean opposite Jerusalem, sent a challenge to  the Israelites under King Saul. They offered to let a favorable resolution of their territorial disputes rest on the outcome of a single combat between a champion from both sides. Saul accepted the challenge, but regretted having done so when he saw the Philistine challenger to be the giant Goliath who was clothed in brass.

When no man among the Israelites had the courage to confront Goliath, the slim shepherd boy David came forward. In combat, running toward the giant, he let fling a smooth stone which lodged in Goliath’s forehead, killing him; causing the Philistines to flee, ceding the territory to the Israelites.

At first Saul was delighted with David’s victory, but he grew sullen when he heard the women were calling out, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” 

At that Saul was saddled with a life-long jealousy that would poison his life.

Now, David’s great popularity was more of a threat to the future of Saul’s oldest son Jonathan than it was to Saul. But Jonathan’s reaction was quite opposite from that of his father.

The Bible says, “Jonathan entered into a bond with David, because he loved him as himself. Jonathan divested himself of the mantle he was wearing, and gave it to David.

How do we react to the success of others? De we rejoice for them, or do we give way to jealousy?

An update:  Today is my eighty-sixth birthday, and as a present to myself, I want to invite you to check the blog of a friend of mine. Doug is even older than me, but he has spent his years looking out for the rights of underdogs. His blog is Justice Reform Now. In this entry he takes up the need to reform  mandatory minimum sentencing. 

We shoild not let our old ideas blind us to the truth straring us in the face.

Wednesday, 1/22/13

For me this Gospel story of the man born with a withered hand always brings up the memory of a boy named Calvin who lived on the next street to me when we were nine or ten.  His birth had left Calvin with something like a flipper instead of a right hand. Not up to the ball games that occupied us, Calvin gave himself over to country music. Back before country-western became a big thing, hillbilly music didn’t get any respect, and we all snickered at Calvin’s twangy singing.

Even as unsophisticated kids we had some sympathy for the life Calvin had before him. So, if we knew about this Gospel we would have been in sympathy with Our Lord’s pain at the sight of the man wit a withered hand.

In all likelihood the man was a plant. The Pharisees, being aware of Our Lord’s kind heart, pushed the man before Jesus to get him to break the rule against curing on the Sabbath.

This was one time when Jesus became really angry. What brought it about was  people who let their fixed notions blind them to the truth that was staring them in the face. The man with the withered hand had a heavenly father who could not have wanted anything more than the man’s happiness. 

The story should make us stand back from the conflicts we are engrossed in, asking God to let us see the truth that is staring at us.

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

Tuesday, 1/21/13

In Chapter Fourteen of his Letter to the Romans Paul reminded us that we are God’s servants. He wrote, “None of us lives as his own master.” In the chapter before that he wrote, “Let every person be subject to higher authority.”

However, Jesus in today’s Gospel tells us that our human nature at times calls for us to go around church rules.

The Jews were very strict about not working on the Sabbath, and so on Saturdays they even forbade people helping themselves to a handful of uncooked grain. Jesus himself kept all the rules of Judaism, but he didn’t see them as being iron clad.

Even though it was the Sabbath, his disciples became so hungry that they helped themselves to the standing grain, and he permitted it, saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

At times it’s more important for us to answer the call for human kindness rather than our obeying some church law. Like, if a sick person needs our attention, we should not leave him or her to avoid missing Sunday Mass. 

God rejected King Saul because he only used religion to impress people.

 Monday, 1/20/13

When we were seventeen, a dozen of us boys went to a two-century-old frame house for our novitiate. At eleven-thirty the first morning the priest led us into the old library, telling us each to choose a book for a half hour’s spiritual reading each morning over the next month.

I pulled down a book of chapel sermons by John Henry Newman, opening to his sermon explaining how King Saul went bad. I hadn’t known that he went bad. I hadn’t even known who he was. But seventeen-year-olds do their best at wading their way out of ignorance.

I found that God had chosen Saul as his people’s first king, and he had been a successful warrior “head and shoulders” above all others. But God finally had to reject him because time and again Saul showed that he didn’t take religion seriously.

Like, when the priest didn’t show up to offer a sacrifice on the morning of a great battle, Saul played the priest, going through the motions as he had observed them

Then, while Saul had made the religious move of banning witches and fortune tellers, he himself had secretly resorted to them.

Once, to get God’s help for a battle, he made a vow, promising  God that none of his soldiers would eat before sundown. Then, when his son, not having heard about the vow, ate some wild honey, Saul called for him to be executed for breaking the vow. Luckily for the son, his officers got it through his thick head that God does not want men killing their sons.

We can’t use religion for show.    

At first John did not recognize Jesus.

Sunday, 1/19/13

As our wide St. John’s River silently flows by its mistiness is like a spiritual reality. The Jordan was  misty like that on the morning when John the Baptist pointed to Jesus passing on the shore. He called out, “Behold the Lamb of God!”

Waist deep in the river John had a great laugh at the irony of it all. Here, even though he had given his whole to making Jesus known, when Jesus waded out to him he had not recognized him.

“I did not know him, though the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel. Still. I did not know him.”

John went on to say, “The one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” 

We could change a three words in a country song to turn it into John the Baptist's account of baptizing Jesus.

When Jesus went down
To the waters that day
I baptized him                                                
In my usual way

And when it was done
God blessed His son
He sent him His love
On the wings of a dove

On the wings of a snow-white dove
He sends His pure sweet love
A sign from above
On the wings of a dove

In one way or another everyone is religious.

Saturday, 1/18/13

The Gospel presents us with a picture of Jesus enjoying a meal with people who were not known to be religious. It had the town’s upright people being shocked at seeing this young rabbi associating with such common people. They were saying,  “Look at him. Why, he even seems to enjoy such company!”

We have the custom of classifying people as being of one sort or another. We see some people as being mad for football. We see others as being consumed with grooming their lawn or working with their power tools.” In the same way we classify some people as being of the religious sort, while others are just not the religious sort. Today’s Gospel tells us how mistaken we are to classify any individual or group as not being religious.

We are all religious in one way or another. I love a story about Venerable Bede. As he was preaching to the people in an English church fifteen hundred years ago a bird flew in from the open window on one side, flying out the open window across the way. He told the people, “Our time on earth is like the quick passage of that bird from this side to that. Our religion has us all wondering where we came from and where we are going to.”

My favorite parable has us mixing with people who are not seen as being religious.  Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a woman mixing yeast with three measures of wheat to make the whole mass rise.” Rather than closeting ourselves off in prayer, we should be mixing, helping the whole mass to rise.  

St. Anthony in 330 A.D. was the inspiration for all our Catholic monasteries and convents.

Friday, 1/17/13

Today the Church honors St. Anthony, not calling to mind the innumerable key chains and wallets he has located for us, but rather for the role he played in giving its shape to our early church. Let’s look at his story.

As a wealthy young Egyptian in the year 265 A.D., Anthony fell so in love with Christ that he began giving away his wealth to the poor. Then, twenty years further on, in 285, he felt a strong desire to be alone with God. In pursuit of that dream, he hid himself in an abandoned Roman outpost on the banks of the Red Sea.

To implement his desire for talking with God, he gave each day to the chanting of the whole of the Book of Psalms. In those years passing Bedouins kept him alive by tossing scraps over the wall to him. Through the next forty years other men and women took up living alone in hermitages near Anthony’s outpost, and going along with his practice, they took to chanting of the Psalms as their way of praying.

One such hermit, a man named Pachomius, kept recalling how Jesus had said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.” That had him urging the nearby hermits to come together for a community life in which they would need to practice mutual tolerance.

Now, up to that time the Church had made no provision for Christians to go to confession. The Sacrament was there, but people were not using it until Anthony and Pachomius began urging their followers to use frequent confessions as a means of rooting out sinful ways.

In their time their bishop was Athanasius of Alexandria, and on his frequent visits to the new monasteries and convents in his diocese he became so impressed by their way of life, that he wrote an account of it; and bringing his book to Europe, it became the blueprint for all the monasteries and convents that were to become a vital part of Catholicism for the next seventeen hundred years. 

God called Samuel a century after Joshua, and a century before David.

Thursday, 1/16/13

Let’s catch up on the first readings from the First Book of Samuel. The Israelites under Joshua took over the Promised Land sometime around the year 1200 B.C.

To lodge the Ark of the Covenant, they built a shrine at a wooded place called Shiloh, eighty miles north of Jerusalem; and they entrusted the Ark to a family of priests.

Our story opens a hundred years later, around the year 1100 B.C. , when Shiloh was in the care of the old priest named Eli, who sat on a bench at the shrine’s door, watching people come and go.

An Ephraimite man named Elkanah made yearly visits to the shrine with his wife Peninnah, the mother of his children, and they were accompanied by a second wife Hannah, who was barren.

On one occasion Hannah came alone before the Ark, praying for a son. To hide her prayer from detractors, Hannah moved her lips without making a sound. But old Eli, from his perch, never having seen anyone pray that way, took Hannah to be drunk, and he scolded her.

Breaking down, Hannah told Eli the substance of her prayer, and he promised her a son before her next visit. Hannah named her boy Samuel, meaning “God has listened;” and when she had weaned him, she brought Samuel to Shiloh to serve under Eli.

For each year’s visit to Shiloh Hannah wove a new robe for Samuel, with each of them a size bigger.

One night when Samuel was sleeping before the Ark, God called him. At the first and second call Samuel thought that it had been Eli calling him, but on the third summons Eli released that the Lord was calling Samuel. And from that time on, his answer always was, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”   

Being truly human, Jesus was worn out after a day of preaching and healing, so he needed to refresh himself with time alone with the Father.

Wednesday, 1/15/13

In today’s Gospel Mark piled up more evidence to convince us that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Like, Mark wrote of how Our Lord’s mere touch cured Simon’s mother-in-law. He went on to describe how Jesus cured all who came to him, driving  out devils who recognized him as God’s holy one.

In those ways he demonstrated that he was truly the special Son of God. But following on that, he went on to demonstrate that he was also truly human. He had depleted his spiritual strength. That left him with the need to refresh himself by spending the early hours in earnest prayer with the Father.

We too face similar depletions of spiritual strength. We too would benefit greatly from it if we have permanently scheduled ten to twenty minutes mornings and evenings for being alone with the Father.

Mark had been able to bring us along into the synagogue and into Simon’s house, but he could not bring us into the secret prayer Jesus spent with the Father. We must have awful respect for Our Lord’s privacy.  

Mark wrote to show us that even though Jesus was executed as a criminal, he certainly was the Messiah.

Tuesday, 1/14/13

We will be reading from Mark’s Gospel from now to the beginning of lent. Today we begin with the first day of Our Lord’s public life. It is the story of what happened when he spoke in the synagogue at Capernaum.

Mark was the first one to write a Gospel, and this account actually reveals his purpose in writing.  Luke and John made clear statements of their theme. Luke said he was writing to convince Theophilus of the truth of what he had heard about Jesus. John said he wrote to convince us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so hat we might have life through him. 

We must surmise that Mark was hearing doubter say that since Jesus was executed as a criminal he could not be the Messiah. He countered that objection in two ways. First he filled eight chapters with stories of Jesus working miracles, fulfilling prophesies, and receiving tribute from people and demons. Then, he went on to demonstrate  that it was precisely by his dying that Jesus showed us that he was the Messiah.

Jesus wasn't telling people to repent, he was telling them to turn their thinking around to doing better.

Monday, 1/13/13

Today’s Gospel from the Gospel according to Mark repeats what we read not long ago when we had the story from the Gospel according to Matthew. If you don’t mind, I’d like here to repeat what I said about this similar passage then.

Our Gospel passage from St. Mark says Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent.”

Let me point out that Mark wrote his Gospel in Greek, and where our English translation quotes Jesus as saying, “Repent,” Mark actually wrote that Jesus said, ”Meta- noiete.” or,  “Turn your thinking around.”

That’s different. “Repent” has you looking to the past, punishing yourselves for what you did wrong. While, “turn your thinking around” has you looking to the future, resolving to do better.

Ancient Greece gave us two great philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. They both believed in the one God. One main difference between them was that Plato thought that our souls existed with God before we were conceived, while Aristotle taught that they both were created in the same instant.

Plato’s way of thinking considered the soul to be imprisoned in the body, and that had him telling us to punish the body to keep it from getting the upper hand. That led to saintly people punishing their body to strengthen the soul. For the first thousand years of Christian history good people, following Plato, did a lot of repenting.

Aristotle, in thinking that our body and soul were created together, advised us to take a holistic approach to life, cultivating a healthy mind in a healthy body. His recipe for a happy future would have us turning our thinking around, rather than our going around glum, repenting for our sins. That’s not what Jesus actually told us to do.

In translating the Gospels into English, the early Christian fixation on repenting had them switching the way Mark summed up Our Lord’s message.  

Picture Jesus waist deep in the Jordan, and listen to that voice from, heaven.

Sunday, 1/12/13

Today, in celebrating the Baptism of Jesus we repeat last Sunday’s feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, with the word epiphany meaning revealing greatness which had been hidden. Many Eastern Catholics see the Baptism of Jesus as the best expression of the Epiphany. They hear the Father announcing, ”This is my beloved Son on whom I am well pleased.”

The scene is precious, with Jesus bare to the waist, and standing waist deep in the Jordan. I once had my niece paint a watercolor of Jesus that way, and I tacked it to the blackboard of the room where I was teaching.

There is a second great Christian truth expressed in the Baptism of Jesus. In his Letter to the Ephesians St. Paul said he was given the privilege of announcing God’s secret plan for mankind. He said God secret plan was to “Sum up all things in Christ.” In other words, God’s plan was to have all of human history summed up in Jesus. Just as the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, then spent forty years in the desert, so Jesus comes up from the water was to spend forty days in the desert. He was re-living Jewish history in miniature.

The commandment does not tell us not to love ourselves, but only to strive to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves.

Saturday, 1/11/13

John the Baptist said that his joy was made complete at hearing that Christ’s fame was increasing, while his was decreasing.

It took a mighty saint to be able to say that. Self-love has such a strangle hold on each of us that it is hard for any of us to pass through any situation without considering whether or not we came out of it looking good.

I spend a lot of time in restaurants, unavoidably listening to conversations from other tables. And the one word that dominates most conversations is “I.” It’s “Well. I think,” “If you ask me,” “What I’m trying to get at,” “I came out of that looking good,” “Well, I have my own views on that.” “I could go on and on, I could.”

Loving yourself is no sin. The commandment does not tell us to love your neighbor more then yourself, but only as much as yourself.

Each of us is intimately aware of all the good in our self – all our sweet memories, and the good feelings we get from so many sources make us want to hug our self tight. Neither you nor I can put self love aside.

To become true Christians we must moment-to-moment push self love aside to make room for loving others.

Lepers are ordinary people, and some of them are above normal.

Friday, 1/10/13

Once years ago when I was on vacation from my parish in Korea, I went to visit with some hospital nuns at Mokpo in the southwest corner of the country. It happened that the bishop was also there that day.

The nuns in their van were paying their once-a-month visit to a tent city of lepers and their children, and that day the bishop had promised to go out with them to offer Mass. He was happy that I came along to help with confessions.

I found it all very touching. Hearing those confessions for over two hours, I forgot that they were speaking Korean instead of English, and it didn’t matter that they were lepers. They were just ordinary people who wanted to bring shining souls to Mass.

That whole place where the lepers camped was a series of red mud dunes, but the people had set up an elaborate cloth backdrop for the altar, and  I served Bishop Henry’s Mass, bringing the wine and water over from a little side table.

At the same instant just before Communion time, the bishop and I noticed that I had left something important on that small table. I had failed in putting on he altar the gold containers with the hundreds of small communion breads for the people.

The bishop later told others what happened. He said, “I looked over, and just as I saw the full ciborium still sitting over there, Sully said, “Cripes!”

I then put those hosts on the altar in front of the bishops, and he went back a few pages to offer a second Mass in the middle of the one he was offering. All’s well that ends well.