Little children cannot come to Jesus if they are distracted by too much entetainment.


Saturday, 3/1/14

Jesus told us to let the children come to him. I think that invites us to ask how we might assist children to achieve their life’s aim of coming to the Lord. I think we all give thought to that, and with each new experience we can gain a further understanding of how to help children on their journey. I have had two enlightening experiences lately

The first thing to make me think is my reaction to the ban our courts have put to life sentences for juvenile criminals. The courts have come to see that the powers of making good judgments are not fully developed in the early teens. That has led the courts to seeing that teenagers should not be deemed to be held fully responsible.. 

That insight of the courts has me rethinking the matter of disciplining children. Disciplining can be overdone, stifling creativity, but still discipline must be seen as playing an essential part in healthy upbringing. While our attainment of self-discipline marks us as people with character, our accepting the discipline of elders is a necessary step for us in developing our self-discipline.

My own experience with maintaining self-discipline boils down to my keeping the time I give to entertainment to less than the time I give to work.

That thought leads me to the second recent experience that has made things clear for me. Public High Schools across our country have a number of students who just cannot put their minds on learning. To deal with them, some school systems have created unique high schools where they set aside classrooms to accommodate students who can’t make the effort to learn.

The other day a friend of mine, looking into one of those special classrooms saw the teacher at the board demonstrating the way of solving a math problem. At the same time my friend took a picture of the room’s students, and the photo shows some students eating, others holding phone conversations, while others had music plugged into their ears.

Their need to be constantly entertained might be pointing to a national misstep with our young people. Perhaps Americans are academically behind those in other nations because we have allowed our young people to be addicted to all forms of  entertainment. 

When two people become one in marriage they become a body that cannot be split down the middle.


Friday, 2/28/14

In speaking against divorce, Jesus said that by marriage the man and woman become one body; and so, we should no more separate a man and a wife than we would think of separating one side of a human body from its other side.

However, Jesus did recognize the fact that God let Moses grant divorce in the case of people with hard hearts. So, under some conditions God seems to allow divorces.

That brings up the matter of Catholic annulments. A group of scholars approached Pope Paul VI in 1967, asking him to see that there were cases in which annulments should be granted. They began by asking the Holy Father to consider the words used by the priest at the beginning of the marriage ceremony.

The priest asks, “Have you come here freely, and without reservations, to give yourselves to each other in marriage.”

From that we see four things needed for a marriage: 1. They had to be free. 2. There could be no reservations, 3. They had to give themselves,  4. They had to be committing themselves to a true marriage, not to a lesser arrangement.

Those experts convinced Pope Paul that he should allow for annulments to be issued if one or more of those requirements had not been met. The Pope allowed every diocese to open a court for considering whether or not an annulment could be declared on that basis.

Here in Jacksonville we have priests and lawyers who conduct a judicial session to determine whether or not an annulment could be granted, After they reach a decision they forward the whole case to Miami where the marriage court there retries the case. 

Pope Francis said that the trickle down theory doesn't work.



Thursday, 2/27/14


Jesus speaking about a glass of water puts me in mind of something Pope Francis said thirty years ago when he was a Jesuit priest down in Argentina.

He heard something President Ronald Reagan had said about the rich people in America. He had heard that President Reagan believed in a trickle down theory. That theory held that a nation’s wealth was like water poured into a glass, so that once the glass was full, the water or the wealth would spill over for everyone.

Father Bergoglio, as he was called back then, said the trickle down theory doesn’t work. He said that when their glass is full, the wealth doesn’t spill over. What actually happens with wealthy people is that when their glass gets full, by some miracle the glass just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

"Whoever is not against us is for us."



Wednesday, 2/26/14

When I was a seminarian sixty years ago we were intolerant of other Christian Religions. We were told we were the only true religion, and it would be a sin for us to attend a Protestant church service. The sin had a Latin name, commixtio in sacris or “Mixing in sacred matters.”

It was such a flip-flop for Catholics to hear Vatican II telling us we had a close relationships with all the baptized. Paragraph 15 of the “Constitution on the Church” says, “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian.”

It was especially difficult for my Irish priest friends to open up to Protestants. In Korea I was secretary to a young Irish bishop, and because the church ordered him to attend meeting with Protestant pastors, he went to them. But, one day he came back from one of those ecumenical gatherings, and he told me, “Sully, you will have to take my place. I can’t take it. They have gone and made a verb out of “fellowship.” Now we are ‘fellowshipping.’”

But getting back to the rigid atmosphere in our seminary days, we had one priest who was more rigid than anyone else. I think he wanted to protect us from saying something liberal that would get us into trouble with Rome. He always kept Fridays for himself, but one Friday I had a book that he needed, so I knocked on his door.

He said, “Oh, come in.” I did. And his appearance surprised me. His hair was messy, and his sweater was buttoned wrong. Then he startled me by repeating what Jesus said in today’s Gospel. “Thomas,” he asked, “What did Jesus mean by saying, ‘Whoever is not against us is for us?’

To myself I said it sounded like Jesus wanted us to be friendly to Protestants, but I wasn’t going to say anything so wild to this rigid priest. I said, “I don’t know, Father.”

“Alright, Thomas,’ he said, “Go back to your studying.” I left him there to wait twenty-five years for Vatican II to tell him what Jesus meant. 


Wednesday, 2/26/14

When I was a seminarian sixty years ago we were intolerant of other Christian Religions. We were told we were the only true religion, and it would be a sin for us to attend a Protestant church service. The sin had a Latin name, commixtio in sacris or “Mixing in sacred matters.”

It was such a flip-flop for Catholics to hear Vatican II telling us we had a close relationships with all the baptized. Paragraph 15 of the “Constitution on the Church” says, “The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian.”

It was especially difficult for my Irish priest friends to open up to Protestants. In Korea I was secretary to a young Irish bishop, and because the church ordered him to attend meeting with Protestant pastors, he went to them. But, one day he came back from one of those ecumenical gatherings, and he told me, “Sully, you will have to take my place. I can’t take it. They have gone and made a verb out of “fellowship.” Now we are ‘fellowshipping.’”

But getting back to the rigid atmosphere in our seminary days, we had one priest who was more rigid than anyone else. I think he wanted to protect us from saying something liberal that would get us into trouble with Rome. He always kept Fridays for himself, but one Friday I had a book that he needed, so I knocked on his door.

He said, “Oh, come in.” I did. And his appearance surprised me. His hair was messy, and his sweater was buttoned wrong. Then he startled me by repeating what Jesus said in today’s Gospel. “Thomas,” he asked, “What did Jesus mean by saying, ‘Whoever is not against us is for us?’

To myself I said it sounded like Jesus wanted us to be friendly to Protestants, but I wasn’t going to say anything so wild to this rigid priest. I said, “I don’t know, Father.”

“Alright, Thomas,’ he said, “Go back to your studying.” I left him there to wait twenty-five years for Vatican II to tell him what Jesus really meant. 

We must value others as highly as we value ourselves.


Tuesday, 2/25/14

The readings today deal with our need to keep self-love in check. We could not do away with it altogether, because we need to have everyone take care of himself. We can’t afford round-the-clock nursing to see to all of anyone’s needs. There is no  commandment telling us to love our neighbor more than ourselves, but we are only told to love our neighbor as much as ourselves.

Most of us try keeping our self-love secret. It would be embarrassing if people knew how much we are stuck on ourselves. By letting it be known that they were arguing as to which of them was the greatest, the Apostles revealed themselves to be simple country boys. Sophisticated people like us pretend to be humble.

Even though we conceal our inordinate self-love, it is still there within us, doing its harm. That is what was behind the opening lines of today’s first reading.

“Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?”   

Automobile that came off the assembly line the year you were born are all recycled trash now, but your bodies and minds keep perking along, fueled by whatever you shove into them. Your minds are storerooms of hundreds of tunes and of countless precious memories. You have every right to be proud of yourself.

The trick to becoming a really fine person is in coming to see the great value of each individual around you, just as you see your own great value.

The Bible tells us of three types of wisdom, and all are from above.



Monday, 2/24/14

A week ago when we began reading these excerpts from the Letter of James I mentioned that while the Old Testament contains seven examples of Wisdom Literature, the Letter of Jams is the only example of it in the New Testament. I went on then say that in the Bible Wisdom is presented as the opposite of Folly. While Folly impels us to choose immediate pleasure, leading to eventual sorrow, Wisdom has us making choices that make us happy in the long run.

I had thought that to be an adequate explanation of Wisdom in the Bible, but last week’s readings made me aware of a second type of Wisdom. It is the Wisdom that comes to us when we learn from our mistakes.

Then, from today’s readings I learn about a third type of Wisdom. It is the Wisdom that comes from above when we prayerfully subject ourselves to his directing us.  “Wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits.” 

By acknowledging God to be our Lord we are binding ourselves to imitate his holiness.


Sunday, 2/23/14

The first reading today speaks of God as out Lord. We are used to calling God our Lord, but we do not behave ourselves like God is the lord of our lives.

The first reading tells us that we must be holy because our lord is holy. That is saying that by acknowledging someone as our lord we are binding ourselves to imitating that person. Like the reading says, “we must be holy because our lord is holy.” In the Middle Ages when people lived in total subjection to their temporal lords they advertised their need to imitate him by wearing that man’s livery. 

In the Gospel Jesus is in the role of or lord who has the right to be obeyed. As our lord he commands, “I say to you, love your enemies!”

I don’t care for the way our English Bibles present Our Lord’s final words. They have him saying, “Be perfect, just as you heavenly Father is perfect.” The Greek word Matthew used there, telios, means complete or well rounded, not perfect. None of us can be perfect the way God is perfect, but we can aspire to be as well rounded, to be as kind, to be as open, and to be as industrious as our flawed nature lets us be.  

Jesus asked his disciples not to lord it over peopple.


Saturday, 2/22/14

Today is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. By his chair we mean his throne, which is the only chair in the room when a great king is present. With Pope Francis putting his throne in mothballs, all the prelates down the line seem to be cutting down on pomp. Forgive me for making a short lecture about how we got so uppity.

It started with Arius, a priest in Alexandria who in 320 A.D. was giving sermons that asked people to see Jesus as only a good man, not the Son of God. Father Arius was expelled from Egypt, but Constantius, the son of Emperor Constantine, embraced Arianism, giving Arius a home in Constantinople. As well, Constantius began training young barbarians to become Arian priests. One of them, Ulfilas, a Goth, translated a version of the New Testament into the Gothic Language which could be read by all the barbarian peoples.   

By the year 450 S.D. Europe had more Arians than Christians, and the pope had his back to the wall. But then a new tribe from the east, the Franks, invaded the valley of the Rhine; and their king, Chlodwich, married a Catholic girl who made him believe that he could become a second Constantine if he were baptized Catholic. She won out, and in 496 all the nobles among the Franks were baptized on Christmas at Rheims.

The priests and bishops ran into a problem. The Franks, like all feudal peoples, had a simple social framework. People with inheritances had titles, lands and serfs; while those without inheritances slept with the pigs. That left the bishop and priests with the pigs. To remedy that, a ceremony was staged in which each of the bishops and priests, in his Sunday best, came out before the nobles, making a simple statement, “I have an inheritance, my inheritance is the Lord.” With that, the nobles accepted the priests as their equals.

Now, the old German word they used for inheritance was klerk. From that they came to be called “clerics.” And, the nobles began coaching them, saying that since they were on a level with them, they needed to be treated with great respect. They needed to be addressed as Reverend, or Very Reverend, or Most Reverend.
 
For the Church to survive in Feudal times it had to adapt itself to Feudalism, and its priests needed to carry themselves with great dignity.  Now we must adapt to democracy, and we must remember Jesus saying, “Among he Gentiles those in authority lord it over them, but it cannot be that way with you.

Of what use is faith without good works?


Friday, 2/21/14

In our first reading James asks, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but does not have good works?”

When people pointed out this text to Martin Luther he pushed James aside saying, “That is a very “strawy” Epistle.” Recently I did a little research on Luther’s stand on this. Let me repeat what I wrote about it.

From his overly-strict childhood Luther brought the conviction that God’s justice demanded severe punishment for sins. That certainty, coupled with his inability to avoid sinning, led to his despairing of salvation.

Having gained a doctorate in Theology at age thirty, he was put to teaching Paul’s Letter to the Romans at the University of Wittenberg. His life was changed there when he came to a fresh understanding of verse 17 in Chapter One of Romans:

            “In it {the gospel} is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith;
            as it is written, “The one who is righteous by faith will live.”  

For Luther that verse was saying that God’s justice does not come down on those justified by faith.

Luther was certainly right in saying we are justified by faith, but he was pushing it too far when he said that was all we need. I suppose it happens to all of us that we get a new idea that seems to answer all of our questions. When that happens, we need to sit back until the limitations of our brainstorm begin occurring to us.

Akin to Luther’s reliance on faith alone would be the belief that all we need is that we accept Christ as our personal Savior. Us old time Catholics pooh pooh that idea, but then, will we get by if we never make the effort to make Christ our personal Savior? 

Mark wrote to show that Jesus is the Savior, and that he saves us by his suffering.


Thursday, 2/20/14

Mark’s Gospel is sixteen chapters long, so today’s passage, from the end of Chapter Eight, comes right in the middle of his Gospel. It divides his Gospel into two equal halves.

St. Luke and St. John clearly stated their purposes for writing Gospels. In the first paragraph of his Gospel Luke wrote that he was writing to assure us that 
the stories were heard about Jesus really happened that way. In the last paragraph in his Gospel St. John said he wrote to assure us Jesus was the Messiah, and that by believing in him we can have life.

Every day up till lent this year we are following Mark’s Gospel in which he never made a clear statement of his purpose in writing. But from carefully reading his Gospel we can guess that Mark wrote to disprove an objection people were making to Jesus.

People must have been saying that Jesus could not be the Savior, since he suffered a criminal’s death. In the first half of his Gospel Mark recounted the miracles and the fulfillment of prophecies that proved Jesus to be the Savior. In the second half of his Gospel Mark showed how it was precisely by his suffering that Jesus saves us.

If we picture Mark’s Gospel as a book open right at the middle we see that the first part ended with Peter, speaking for everyone, insists that Jesus is the Savior. With that point firmly established, in the very next verse Jesus launched into the second half of this Gospel by telling us it will be by his suffering that he will save us.

We need to put things into perspective.


Wednesday, 2/19/14

There have been other stories in which Jesus gave sight to the blind. This one is different in that Jesus did the miracle in two stages. First he gave sight to the blind man, but he left him not knowing what he was looking at.

It is the same with infants. They have sight, but their wide blue eyes puzzle over a scene where near objects and distant objects all appear in flatness. By putting her baby mind to work for two weeks, she figures out how the shading puts things in proper perspective. 

We can use today’s first reading in connection with the Gospel miracle as a metaphor for what happens with our becoming Christians. The first reading says:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and Father is this: to care for widows and orphans in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Although we are baptized and we pass for being Christians, spiritually speaking, we might remain like the man who saw people looking like trees. Like the baby teaching herself perspective, we must tend to the needs of widows and orphans, and we must keep ourselves unstained by the world if we want to be seen as  truly religious.

God does not cause us to be tempted.


Tuesday, 2/18/14
  
Today’s reading from the Letter from James opens the question as to whether or not God intervenes in the course of worldly events to make things happen. I may be a heretic for saying this, but I think today’s reading tells us God does not directly intervene. Let’s review what the reading says.

No one experiencing temptation should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’ for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one.

That tells us only that temptations do not come from God, it does not say he never intervenes.

The reading goes on to say that the temptations we might see as coming from God or from the devil actually come from our own nature. “Each person is tempted when lured by his own desire.”    

The reading then says that only “every perfect gift is from above.” From that, rightly or wrongly, I take it that all that comes from God are his graces.

I base my understanding of that on Paul’s words from Acts, 17:27-28 “He is not far from any of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.” God influences all of our acts much as the ocean influences all the activities of a fish that spends its life swimming around in it.

So, this passage from James has me thinking that God does not directly cause either good or bad things to happen to us, but he does help us to accept and deal with whatever happens. 

While the Old Testament has seven books of wisdom literature, the Letter of James is the only work of that genre in the New Testament.



Monday, 2/17/14

For the next few weeks our first reading will be from the Letter of James. Scholars tell us that its mastery of the Greek language is so complete that it could hardly have been composed by any of the Apostles, all of whom came to maturity as unschooled fishermen. But even though it might have been composed by some other scholarly Jew, it was cherished by the Christian community from the beginning.

The work is called a letter, but it doesn’t take the form of a letter. The Old Testament contains seven books that are properly described as works of wisdom literature, while for the New Testament this is the only example of that genre. As such, the writer muses on the mode of behavior characterizing a truly wise Christian.

The writer begins by urging us to treasure the times of great trial, since it is by bravely enduring them that we reach Christian perfection. (He very neatly described the progress from testing to perseverance to perfection.) He went on then to urge us to confidently ask God for growth in wisdom.

The writer then urges poor people to appreciate the benefits that come from their low estate, and he urges rich people to be leery of the dangers of a rich estate.

Jesus did not abolish the law, he fulfilled it.



Sunday, 2/16/14

In 70 A.D. the Romans destroyed Jerusalem’s temple along with the whole city and its inhabitants.

But, since the Pharisees had always cooperated with them, the Romans let the Pharisees and their families escape the doomed city, allowing them to settle at the town of Jamnia on the Mediterranean. Encamped there, they heard news of the destruction of their temple, and they began asking what that would mean for them.

The religion of the Pharisees had always centered on temple worship. Loss of the  temple left them asking if they still had any core to their religion. Thad had them deciding that what made them Jews was not the temple, but their keeping kosher. Opting for that, they began saying anyone who did not keep kosher was not a Jew.

Up to that time almost all Christians were Jews, abstaining from pork, shrimp, and lobster. But like Jesus, those Christians were ignoring one no-no of orthodox Jews. They were eating with Gentiles who did not keep kosher.

That difference decided the Pharisees on declaring that no one who ate with Gentiles could call himself Jewish. They went on to say that Jesus, by eating with sinner, had set himself to abolishing the law and the prophets.

In today’s Gospel Matthew quoted Jesus as saying, “Do not think I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. No, I have come to fulfill them.”

Moses and the law had gone only half way in saying we should not kill. Jesus fulfilled that law by saying we should not even be angry with others.

Moses and the law said we should not commit adultery. Jesus brought us the rest of the way by saying we should not even lust after others.

We take a look at the two hundred years of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah.


Saturday, 2/15/14

Yesterday we looked at some basic history we need for understanding the Gospels, today we will look at the history underlying a good number of Historical and Prophetic books of the Old Testament.

All twelve tribes, descended from the twelve sons of Jacob, took David as their king in 1000 B.C.. At his death in 970 B.C., his son Solomon took over. Free from war on all sides,  he taxed the tribes and conscripted their young men to build the temple and the nation’s ports and roads.

At Solomon’s death in 931 B.C., the leaders of the tribes approached Solomon’s son King Rehoboam, asking him to let their sons come home to build up their farms.

After consulting with his princely pals, Rehoboam, ignoring the needs of the people, increased taxations and conscriptions. In response, ten of the tribes chose to break away, choosing Jeroboam, a leader from Ephraim as their king. They formed the independent nation of Israel, which went its separate way until its people were led off into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.

In the south the kingdom of Judah, with just the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remaining loyal to Solomon’s descendants, had its separate existence until its people were led off to Babylon in 587 B.C.

It’s good to keep the prophets of the south and north separate in our minds. The great prophets in the run-away kingdom of Israel were Elijah, Elisha, Joel, Amos, Hosea; while the stupendous prophets of the kingdom of Judah were Isaiah, and a century later Jeremiah. 

Jesus took refuge in the Decapolis,a land where ten of Alexander's officers had built little cities.



Friday, 2/14/14

With the Jewish religious leaders more and more hostile to Jesus, he at times sought safety away from places they ruled. So, yesterday we had a story of his journeying north to Tyre in Lebanon, today we see him east in what is now known as the Golan Heights. In our Bible passage it is called the region of the Decapolis. A review of the History and Geography of the area will help us better understand the Gospel.

Alexander and his Greek soldiers conquered the Middle East between 333 and 332 B.C.  After Alexander’s death then, his officers married local women, settling down in the lands they had acquired.  One officer, Ptolemy, claimed dominion over Egypt, building his capitol of Alexandria. General Seleucus, claiming dominion over the rest of the Middle East, built his capitol city of Antioch, which was a hundred miles north of Jerusalem, which Alexander had spared.

We can see a comparison between the Greeks and Romans back then and the  Nineteenth Century French and British. The Greeks back then, and later the French, settled in with the native populations, while the Romans and the stuck-up British remained aloof in their own clubs.

The Greeks also blended well with the Bible. Back around the year 200 B.C. seventy Jewish scholars living in Alexandria wrote a Greek translation of all the available Hebrew Old Testament texts. After the seventy scholars their Bible is known as the Septuagint, which is Latin for seventy. It is our most reliable Old Testament collection. As well, all of the books of the New Testament were written in Greek.

Getting back to today’s Gospel, the Decapolis where Jesus visited, was a great stretch of fertile land east of the Sea of Galilee. Ten of Alexander’s lower ranking officers  built little cities there surrounded by farm land they controlled. 

Jesus admired the spunk of that Phoenician woman.


Thursday, 2/15/14

Jesus told the Phoenician woman that he could not give the bread of the children to dogs, meaning that his miracles could only be done for Jews. In St. Matthew’s version of the same story Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

When I was teaching this Gospel to Seventh Graders I asked the kids if it was right for Jesus to work only for Jews. And most of them, knowing more than Jesus, said it was wrong. I complimented those seventh graders for having the spunk to say they knew what to do more than Jesus did.

I guess what was behind Jesus delaying preaching to the Gentiles was that it was to happen only in God’s goods time. Like God would agree that people who were truly in love should get married, but not in the Seventh Grade.

Jesus certainly knew that the woman would stand up to him for the sake of her daughter, so he probably pretended to refuse her just so he could let the world see how much spunk the woman had. This story has me entertaining myself with memories of great spunky women I have known. 

Jesus teased the woman so we could all witness her great spunk.


Thursday, 2/15/14

Jesus told the Phoenician woman that he could not give the bread of the children to dogs, meaning that his miracles could only be done for Jews. In St. Matthew’s version of the same story Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” When I was teaching this Gospel to Seventh Graders I asked the kids if it was right for Jesus to work only fro Jews. And most of them, knowing more than Jesus, said it was wrong.

Perhaps this story teaches us that things must be done at their proper time. Like, marriage is the right thing for men and women in love, but not when they are just thirteen.

Jesus certainly knew that the woman would stand up to him for the sake of her daughter, so he probably pretended to refuse her just so he could let the world see how much spunk the woman had. This story has me entertaining myself with memories of great spunky women I have known.

If you commit yourself to God his justice will dawn for you.


Wednesday, 2/12/14

The Responsorial Psalm tells you that things will go well for you if you if you commit yourself to God. “Commit to the Lord your way. He will make justice dawn for you like the light.”

Of course it is true, as our daily newspaper tells us, that all over the world there are good people for whom justice is not dawning.

But it is equally true that if you commit yourself to God’s will, you will not be creating unhappiness for yourself. You will not need to put up with gnawing guilt feelings while blaming yourself for having brought sorrow on your friends. You won’t even have to put up with hangovers.

A friend was telling me yesterday that in the years when he was obsessed by the thought of getting his next drink or his next fix, he had no awareness of the beauty of the world around him. While plodding along, cigarette in hand, he never looked up at the sky. By giving up cigarettes, he has been awarded the sight of glorious cloud formations, and justice has dawned for him like the light.    

With people who have left the priesthood or the convent we should be thankful for the years they gave us.


Tuesday, 2/11/14

Today’s first reading gives us Solomon’s prayer, thanking God for coming to dwell in the temple he built, he said, “If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less the temple I have built.”

That prayer reminds me of a man who thirty-five years ago came by the rectory to tell me how enthused he was over Solomon’s prayer. “Why, it’s just marvelous, Tom, just marvelous!”

Gerald was a man who had left the active priesthood, and he often found that while you can take the boy out of the priesthood, you can’t take the priesthood out of the boy.” With me he liked stretching a cup of coffee out for more than an hour while talking about clerical issues.

An Irishman raised in England, he was quite cultured, with his mother having been one of the attendant ladies on Queen Elizabeth’s mother. Gerald was sent over here to act as assistant to an Irish monsignor, and his highbrow upbringing backfired on him with the monsignor constantly razzing him about his fancy education and his fancy accent. 

The parish secretary, feeling sorry for him, had him packing up, and leaving with her. He found a post teaching English Literature. That worked for while, but a cutback at the university left him and Martha iving as caretakers of a campground. He told me, “I know I should feel bad about leaving the priesthood, but I can’t regret knowing Martha.”

With people who have left the priesthood or the convent, we should thank them for all the good they did when they were active, and we should honor them for following what they saw to be God’s will. 

It was from above the ark of the covenant that God spoke to Israel.


Monday, 2/10/14

The first reading recounts the joyful festivities that took place when Solomon had completed his temple, and he lodged the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.

To get a good picture of the Ark, and to see what made it important, we should read the way it was described in Chapter 25 of Exodus.

Made of acacia wood, the ark was a box  three feet, nine inches long; two feet, three inches wide and high. It was plated with beaten gold film on all sides, with a molding of gold around the top.

A gold ring was placed at the four top corners; then, gold plated acacia carrying poles were permanently fixed into the rings. In the ark were placed the tablets of the Ten Commandments.

Covering the top of the ark was laid down a gold plate known as the propitiatory. At both ends of the propitiatory were stationed golden cherubim, facing other, but looking down, with their wings spread out before them.

What made the ark precious was God’s invisible presence above it, as he described it in 25:22. “There I will meet you, and there, from above the propitiatory, between the two cherubim on the ark of the commandments, I will give you the commands that I wish you to give to the people. 

We are not salt. With God's help we can regain lost flavor.


Sunday, 2/9/14

In speaking of salt that has lost its taste, Jesus was referring to good people who have fallen into bad ways that rob them of their force for good. One example of that would be people who throw their lives away after they become hooked on drugs. I believe that something like six people out of seven can turn away from it after they have experimented with cocaine, while that seventh person is ruined.

A friend of mine, in looking for a topic for people in a writing class at our jail suggested that each write his or her life story. That produced some sad accounts of people who belonged to that easily addicted group. It was so sad to read about their loss of families, homes, and social standing. 

Bur while its flavor can never be restored to salt, people can change. Years ago, riding along, listening to the car radio, I was tuned into an interview of a famous therapist. The interviewer asked,

“After thirty years of listening to case after case does anything surprise you anymore?”

The therapist answered, “Yes, I am still surprised at how even hardened cases can  turn around.”

I had given up on my brother, an alcoholic who had relapsed badly time and again. Finally, he said he would give up drinking if we paid for him to make a fresh start in California. I advised against it, but my Dad put up the money, and it paid off. Eighteen years later I flew out there for an AA meeting at which one man and woman after another took the podium to say how they owed their reclaimed life to him. 

We take a look at Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, and Fear of the Lord.


Saturday, 2/8/14

When Solomon asked for understanding, God gave him wisdom as well. Starting with those two qualities, let’s run through the six attributes of the Messiah as they are given to us in Chapter Eleven of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.

Wisdom in the Bible is the habit of making choices that will lead to happiness in the long run. By Wisdom we avoid foolish choices that lead to eventual grief. 

Understanding is the habit of searching out the motives standing under the way people act. Since peopele always do what seems good to them. Understanding has us crediting them with good intentions.

Counsel is the habit by which we hold back our own views, willingly listening to what others have to say.

Fortitude is the habit of sticking with what is right. There was an old navy song that said, “If you have to take a lickin, carry on and quit your kickin, don’t give up the ship.”

Knowledge is the habit of being determined to get the facts. We are determined because  our choices of good or bad courses hinge on our Knowedge .

 Fear of the Lord is the habit of knowing that God watches the way a teacher at her desk watches. Isaiah tells us that God watching us is our delight.  

Our fathers did more for us than John the Baptist and King David.


Friday, 2/7/14

The readings today give us John the Baptist and King David, two godly heroes, on whom we might model our lives. They have the failing, though, of being centuries away from us. Maybe we should find someone closer to focus on. The trouble with that is, as Jesus told us yesterday, a prophet is without honor among his own people.

That word “prophet” is interesting. In the Bible it is one who lends his mouth to God,  letting God speak through him. Is there anyone close to us who fits that description”

I just read a review of a study that gathered data on people who keep practicing religion as they grow older. I was surprised to read that the main influence bringing that about was the example of, not the mothers of church-goers, but their fathers.

Once when sickness kept my mother away from church for two weeks she found skipping the long walk so agreeable that without being sick she found reasons not to go. My Dad never missed, but he only went to confession and communion at Christmas and Easter.

When I asked him about that, he said, “Tom, I’m what they call a Practical Catholic.” My thoughtless rejoinder to that stunned my mother. I said, “If you are just a Practical Catholic, what do we call mother? 'Practically a Catholic?'”

Anyway, many of us came to know God through fathers who did more for us than John the Baptist and King David.

Your belief in God can be buttressed by thinking of him as the inventor of DNA, and as the mind and the power that keeps millions of galaxies spinning, but if you want to get intimate with him you call him Father. 

Jesus wasn't tell the disciples to practice poverty. He was telling them to depend on the hospitality of people to foster friendliness.


Thursday, 2/6/14

When Jesus told his disciples to carry no money or food he was not telling them to practice poverty. No, he was telling them to depend on people’s hospitality so that a friendly relationship should develop among them.

In the nineteen fifties and sixties, just after their war over there, I had a country parish in Korea, and the hardest thing about it was mixing in close with people who were struggling with extreme poverty. Sleeping on the hard floor in any of their houses I would look up, and count the flies gathered on their ceilings for warmth.

Riding jam-packed buses instead of breezing around in a car wasn’t too nice, and I didn’t like being served a dish deep in red pepper, or a bowl of minnows with their little dead eyes staring up at me. Now those people are richer than me, and our email friendships have survived.

One priest friend of mine wouldn’t eat their food, but one time he gave in, saying he would take an egg. The lady reached into her clothing for an egg. Then she pulled out her hairpin, and she poked a hole in the egg for sucking.