The water flowing out from the temple is the life-giving grace we take from church out into the world.

Tuesday, 4/1/14

In his vision Ezekiel saw water seeping from the east face of the temple, and as he watched, the water became a stream, and then a river, flowing out from the temple hill. It cascaded down into the Arabah, which is a declivity in the earth’s through which the Jordan flows. Ezekiel saw the mystical river flowing further south, emptying itself into the Red Sea, and turning its salt waters fresh.

In his vision Ezekiel saw every form of fruit blossoming along the mystical river’s banks.

The health-giving river symbolized the life of grace which believers carry out with them from praying in the temple, or from attending Mass.

It is helpful, and encouraging for us to have a Bible passage like this one that can tell us of great quantity of good that is brought about by people who quietly go about visiting with the Lord.

Isaiah said we should look forward to rounding out a full lifetime.

Monday, 3/31/14

Our first reading quotes the words of Isaiah who lived many centuries before Christ. In the words of Isaiah come down to us, we see no mention of a heavenly reward for good lives. Rather, Isaiah spoke of earthly blessedness.

In contrast, the Christian message through the Dark Ages had us getting quickly through the sorrows of this life, so that we might move on to heaven. We were told to scoff at this world’s pleasures, but, was it right for us to show no gratitude for what God gives us here below?

Isaiah would not have thought so. He had us looking forward to a blessed time when there would no longer be “an old man who does not round out his full lifetime.”

Jesus was of the same mind in that parable of the men who were entrusted with different numbers of golden talents. To the man who used his five talents to gain five more Jesus said, “Well done, good and faithful servant, come and possess the kingdom prepared for you.”

Isaiah would agree that we are meant to “round out full lives.” We should get the most out of this world’s gardens, its literature, its opportunities for friendships. We should round out our lifetimes.

Jesus gave real sight to the Man Born Blind.

Sunday, 3/30/14

In the early Church this Gospel story of the Man Born Blind was often acted as a play that brought the scene to life for Christians. I took part in staging this Gospel story forty years ago. I was filling in for the sick pastor of the parish attached to the University of Iowa, and a young musician who headed the parish youth program suggested that we stage the Gospel story as a musical drama. He hummed a simple tune for me, asking me to use it for putting the story into verses.

The whole play was staged in a Jerusalem market place, and I had the people sing this verse as they tended their market stalls.

On the south side of Jerusalem, within the city walls,
We people of the marketplace, we tend our market stalls.

The Man Born Blind then stumbled in singing,  

Our market and our synagogue are the best that you could find,
We have our very own beggar here, me, the Man Born Blind.

Next, the Pharisees came on the scene, calling Jesus an outlaw who broke the Sabbath by curing people. Anyone following him would be put out of the synagogue. The Pharisees announced themselves, singing,

Make way, make way, for Pharisees, for men who have no flaw.
We have a thing for purity, and the letter of the law.

The Pharisees commanded the people to fold up their stalls, because the sun sinking on Friday evening marks the beginning of the Sabbath rest. The people sing,

The synagogue becomes our home when the sun sinks out of sight
The last day of the weary week, holy Sabbath, Friday night.

They told the Man he couldn’t come, because blindness made him unclean.

Afterwards Jesus and his disciples came on the scene, and Jesus, rubbing mud on the Man’s eyes told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. At first, after he came back seeing the people couldn’t believe it. Then, they saw his cure as a criminal matter to be reported to the Pharisees.

The play turns into a comedy when we identify with the parents. “We know he is our son. And we know he was born blind. But as to how he was made to see we do not know. Ask him, he is of age.” 
The Pharisees banished the Man from the synagogue and marketplace. Left alone he laments.

Our synagogue and marketplace are the best that you could find.
Why am I left in loneliness? Me, the Man Born Blind.

Jesus came on the scene, and the man adored him.

Te Pharisees were men who set themselves up as models of rectitude.

Saturday, 3/29/14

Let’s take a look at the Pharisees, and at how they appeared on the scene in the year 152 B.C.  They were protesting the Jewish people’s departing from an 800 year old  sacred tradition. In 977 B.C. when King David was dying, his roughneck son Adonijah raised a private army, and he began acting like he was the new king.

David, unhappy with that, because he had promised the throne to Solomon, ordered a priest named Zadoc to anoint Solomon king. Zadoc, although he was certain that Adonijah would kill him, in obedience to David, anointed Solomon king. Suddenly the whole nation rose up, shouting, “Long live King Solomon!” And Adonijah fled.

From then on, it was kept as a sacred tradition that only a blood descendant of Zadoc could be consecrated high priest. Then, in 152 B.C. when the only living descendant of Zadoc was a scoundrel not fit to be high priest, the office went to Jonathan, younger brother of the national hero, Judas Maccabeus.

Jonathan was an honorable man, but the young companions who came into power with him were in it for the money. When Jewish Traditionalists complained that Jonathan was not a descendant of Zadoc, his companions said something like this, “Zadoc was high priest, now Jonathan, by reason of holding the same office, is a descendant of Zadoc. And we, as companions of the man replacing Zadoc, can be called ‘Zadocites.’” That name was altered to “Sadducees.”

I am sorry for making this explanation so long, but in 152 B.C. the Traditionalists who could not accept Jonathan as high priest, separated themselves from Jonathan and his followers. They were called “Pharisees” because that is Hebrew for “Separatists.”

The Pharisees were religiously tough on themselves, giving a good example to the Sadducees, and to all Jews. Many of the Pharisees were noble men, but by putting themselves up as models of rectitude they ran the danger of falling into the sin of pride. In the Broadway musical “Carousal” the chorus sang, “Stone cutters cut it in stone. Woodcutters cut it in wood. There’s nothing quite so bad as a man who thinks he’s good.”

We cannot love the God whom we cannot see if we do not love the neighbor whom we can see.

Friday, 3/29/14

Today’s Gospel marked the end of a time when Jesus was open to questioning from Jerusalem’s religious leaders. This passage ends with Mark saying, “No one dared to ask him any more questions.

Jesus called an end to those interchanges because he had been waiting for someone to give the right answer, and when it happened this day, he put an end to discussions with those leaders.

It seemed that the Pharisees and Scribes had a running debate over which was the most important part of the law. Some felt that it was the regulations concerning keeping the Sabbath holy, while others thought it was the laws governing eating only kosher food.

Jesus sidestepped their debate, giving instead what he saw to be the two greatest commandments, namely the one telling us to love God, and the one telling us to love our neighbor.

The Scribe was so impressed by the simple beauty of Our Lord’s answer that he restated it. But, in restating Our Lord’s words, he made an important change. He made one commandment out of the two commandments.

He said that the one great commandment was the one that told us to love God and love the neighbor.

In other words, your love for God is not real if you do not love your neighbor. St. John, in his First Letter said, “If anyone says, ‘I love God, ‘ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love his brother whom he can see cannot love God whom he cannot see.” 1 John. 4:20

By prayerfully reading the Bible we can search for God's voice. .

Thursday, 3/27/14

Our first reading opens with this, “Thus says the Lord: This is what I command my people: Listen to my voice.”

We can listen to God’s voice when we are searching for it by praying over his words from the Bible.

As a young Catholic seminarian I was assured that the Catholic Church had the answers to all our spiritual yearnings. I would have left the seminary for a more  adventurous life, but I decided instead to stay with our Church’s certainties.

As I matured, however, I came to see that God does not want his church to give us all the answers. I have a friend who grew up on the banks of the Ohio River, and he  wrote a poem about his lifelong struggle with doubts. In his poem he told of how as a boy he had thought that maturity would clear away those doubts, but instead, with the years, he has only seen those doubts “silting into islands.”

The fact is that our greatest people are life-long seekers after spiritual truths. Just this week I became aware of the Templeton Prize that each year is awarded to one outstanding searcher for spiritual realities. Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have been honored in other years.

This year the Templeton Prize went to Msgr. Thomas Halik, a Czech priest, and a convert to Catholicism. Father Halik worked with the Czech underground during twenty years of Communist rule. He has often been quoted as saying that good people must be constant “seekers” after spiritual realities.

I began this by mentioning today’s first reading where the Lord commands us to listen to his voice.  I followed that up by saying we seek out his voice by praying over his words from the Bible.

You, of course, have your favorite Bible passages, but you might also give prayerful consideration to some phrases from Chapter One of John’s Gospel. I will give the verse number for each of these phases that you could use for matter for searching out God’s voice.

1. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”3. “All things came to be through him.” 4. “Through him came life, and the life was the light of the world.” 14. “The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.” 17. “The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Jesus came, not to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.

Wednesday, 3/26/14

Today’s short Gospel contains the key passage in Matthew’s Gospel. Let me explain.

In the year 70 A.D the Romans destroyed Jerusalem’s and everyone living in the city. But first, they spared the Pharisees who has always been loyal to Rome.

The Pharisees, along with their families, made their way over to the town of Jamnia on the Mediterranean coast, where they began writing that holy Jewish book called the Talmud. When they heard that the temple had been destroyed, the Pharisees underwent an identity crisis. They had always thought of themselves as a temple people, so with the temple gone, they had lost the core to what made them Jewish.

Then, they decided that what really made them Jewish wasn’t the temple, but it was their keeping kosher. It was their avoiding pork and shellfish, and their avoiding all Gentiles who ate those unclean foods.

By the year 75 A.D. there were about fifty thousand Christians, but almost all  of them were still devout Jews who observed kosher. The only thing making them different from other Jews was that as Christians they sat down and ate with Gentile Christians who did not keep kosher.  

The Pharisees at Jamnia began telling all Christian Jews that they were no longer really Jewish, because they ate with unclean people. What was more, those Pharisees began saying that Jesus, because he had sat and ate with unclean people, had been an enemy of their religion, one who set out to destroy the Law and the Prophets.

It was that accusation that brought St. Matthew to write his Gospel. He quoted Jesus as saying, “I did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets. Rather, I came to fulfill them.” Then, in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew went on to quote Jesus explaining how with one Commandment after another, Jesus fulfilled the Law. “You have heard it said, ‘you must not kill, but I say you shall not be angry.’”

(St. Mark, in Chapter Seven of his Gospel went on to quote Jesus as saying it was not what went into our mouths that make us unclean, rather it is what comes out of them that shows us to be unclean.)

We celebrate the moment when God linked himself to our humanity.

Tuesday, 3/25/14

With all our Rosaries and Hail Marys we have meditated on the Annunciation ten thousand times. Still, there is no plumbing the depth of Mary’s character, and there is always profit in re-entering the scene with our imaginations.

Mary showed no shock at the angel’s greeting, and she didn’t turn aside. She only pondered, asking herself what it meant. Schooled in her faith, she saw what was implied by her offspring being called the Son of the Most High. But even though she was betrothed to Joseph, she thought the angel should be aware of the flaw to implementing what he proposed. So, she asked, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?

Her spiritual stature was evidenced in her wordlessly accepting Gabriel’s explanation that she was to conceive by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.

Perceiving her acceptance, Gabriel went on to say, “Elizabeth, your relative, has conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren.”

The concern for Elizabeth the angel exhibited was reassurance for Mary that he had come from her good God. It tipped the scales, leading her to say, “May it be done to me according to your word.”

Each year I tell what happened with me on this feast in 1976. I was saying Mass in the little chapel in Crescent City. During Lent we were having ten or twelve people coming to the week day Masses. On the Sunday before this feast of the Anunciaion, reaching around for material for its homily, I turned to the Annunciation as marking the all important moment when the Son of God became man.

After that Sunday Mass, and over the phone, I had quite a few people asking me if the Annunciation was a Holy Day of obligation. Although I assured them all that it wasn’t, I re-emphasized its importance to our Faith. With the feast day falling on Thursday, I expected attendance would rise from the usual ten or twelve; but in fact, only four Catholics came to Mass that day.

Back then, to avoid committing a mortal sin, all Catholics made it to Mass on Holy Days of Obligation; but when the day was clearly established as not being of obligation, people stayed away to avoid being accused of showing off their piety.

Baptized into Christ, each of us shares in his roles as priests and prophets.

Monday, 3/24/14

In the Gospel Jesus reminded the people of Nazareth that, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place.”

Normally, when we say that someone is a prophet we mean that he accurately predicted what has happened. In the Bible it usually had a somewhat different meaning. The old Hebrew word for a prophet was a “Nabi.” (I can remember that because it is the same as the Korean word for a butterfly.)

That word “nabi” had originally been a child’s word for his or her mouth. And that gives us an understanding of what people in Our Lord’s time considered prophets to be. Namely, they were people who lent God their mouths to for speaking the truth.

Even today our Church officially considers prophets to be men or women who lend their mouths to God for speaking God’s truth.

That notion comes up in our Baptism ceremony. Following on the pouring on of the water, the priest reminds the newly baptized person that he or she by having been baptized into Christ now shares in his roles as priest, prophet, and king.

Since those offices are traditionally conferred by an anointing with chrism, the priest formally anoints the newly baptized with chrism. We are all thus charged to speak God’s truth when we see it. (One might even write a blog.)

The Samaritan Woman was an old flirt with a keen perception.

Sunday, 3/23/14

In today’s Gospel Jesus made the most exalted revelation in the New Testament, choosing the least exalted person in the New Testament as the recipient of the revelation.

Coming out to the well was a social occasion, so this woman’s coming alone marked her as one cast aside by the women of the village. And John’s Gospel pictured the Samaritan Woman as an old flirt.

Any Samaritan woman with a good name would have pretended not to have heard this Jewish man’s request for water; but our woman saw it as giving her an opportunity for flirting. She asked, “How can you address me, a Samaritan and a woman?”

She was glad that he kept the conversation going by telling her he could give her living water. She teased him by asserting, “You don’t even have a bucket.”

When she went on to ask if Jesus were greater than Jacob she was referring to the acrobatics Jacob displayed when he was drawing up bucket after bucket of water for the sheep of the big eyed Rachel. She was asking Jesus if she were energizing him the way Rachel had turned on Jacob.

When Jesus told the woman to go get her husband she let him know she was free by saying, “I don’t have a husband.”

Jesus told hr he knew that she had had five husbands and was living with another now.

By thus revealing his knowledge of the woman’s private life, Jesus brought about a wonderful transformation in her.  The old flirt showed herself to be a person of such religious perception, that she surmised she was in the presence of the Messiah.

With this story the Lord is telling us that there can be great spiritual depths in individuals of whom we are scornful.

If you were to make a central illustration for this story, you might picture the woman with a joyful fountain of grace springing up in her upper body. 

The Prodigal Son had the freedom to manage his share of the father's property, but he was sinfully independent in turning it into cash.

Saturday. 3/22/14

The parable of the Prodigal Son is a lesson in life for each of us, and to see how it applies to you and me we must know a little about the old Hebrew law governing the use of inheritances.

Before Moses died in 1250 B.C. he had the whole of the Promised land surveyed and divided into twelve portions of roughly equal value. He then had the heads of each of the twelve tribes draw lots to see what portion of the whole that was to belong to his tribe forever. The ritual was repeated within each tribe, with the heads of families drawing lots to determine what acreage would belong to their family forever.

When a man’s sons reached maturity the father turned the farming of the land over to them, with the oldest receiving an extra share that was known as his “birthright.” The sons then had complete freedom in regard to the type of crops and methods of plowing they employed.

However, the sons had no right to sell or give away any of his family’s holdings. It is helpful to use two words to demonstrate what a son could do. One word if Freedom, the other Independence. The Prodigal Son had the freedom to manage his father’s land as he thought best, but he was guilty of sinful independence when he turned the land into cash.

We, likewise, have freedom in choosing our paths through life, but we cannot live in independence of the Father.

The turning point in the story came when, after hitting the bottom, the Prodigal said, “I will go back to my Father.”

Chapter Thirty-Seven of Genesis tells us both that the brothers of Joseph sold him to Ishmaelites. and that Midianites carried him off when the brothers weren't lookiing.

Friday, 3/21/4

Our first reading today, taken from Chapter Thirty-Seven of the Book of Genesis tells the story of how Joseph was carried off to Egypt.

Actually, that chapter gives two conflicting stories about how he was carried off; even though the Lectionary, by carefully cropping the Bible’s account, gives us only one version of the story. Let me explain. The account in our Lectionary tells us that when the brothers saw some Ishmaelites travelling down to Egypt Joseph’s brother Judah suggested that instead of killing their brother, they should sell him; and they received twenty pieces of silver for him.

 (Judah has asked, “What is the good of killing our brother and concealing his blood.” That showed their belief that a murdered man’s blood, if not covered over, would call out to heaven for vengeance.)

In our Lectionary’s version of the story the brothers had first thrown Joseph down a deep dried cistern, with the thought that he would starve there. The part of the story that our Lectionary leaves out is that the oldest of the brother’s, Reuben, had intended returning to rescue Joseph; but on going back to the cistern after he had sat and ate with his brothers, the only thing Reuben found was Joseph’s tunic.

In the part of the story omitted from our Lectionary, without the brother being aware of it, some traders from Midian had heard Joseph calling up from the cistern. It was they, not the Ishmaelites who brought Joseph as a slave to Egypt.

In this omitted part of the story the brothers, not knowing what had happened to Joseph, smeared goat’s blood on Joseph’s tunic, then went to telling their father Jacob that Joseph had been devoured by beasts.
Which ever way it happened, Joseph was taken down to Egypt after 1800 B.C. when the Israelites had no written language. Each of the twelve tribes had a special family of storytellers who generation after generation passed on the tribe’s stories.

It was only after 600 B.C. that the tribes came together to put into writing the ancient legends shared by the twelve tribes. That was when the people were carried off to Babylon. There they were impressed by the way the Babylonians had put all their legends into writing. That had them bringing together the storytellers from all the tribes to fit together what became the Books of Genesis and Exodus.

At times the accounts of the tribal storytellers didn’t agree. Here, the way the  descendants of Judah remembered it, it was  Judah who had tried saving Joseph, while the way the descendants of Reuben remembered it, it was Reuben who tried to save Joseph. That had them putting the two conflicting accounts into our Chapter Thirty-Seven of Genesis.

The running water in the Psalm represents the steam of fresh insights the come to one living in contact with God.

Thursday, 3/20/14

The Responsorial Psalm say that the man who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night is like a tree planted by living water. It yields its fruit in due season, and its leaves never fade.

Jeremiah in the first reading contrasted such a man with one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in the flesh. By contrast he is like a barren bush in a lava waste.

One time I wanted to give a homily with the two trees contrasting those who trust in the flesh with those who delight in the Lord. I thought I would get a dried up bush and a gloriously healthy one, and put them in large pots in front of the altar rail for my homily..

I went to that tree nursery on Herschel, and a young clerk, seeing me picking around in the back of their lot, came out; and he said he knew the place inside and out, and he could find me just what I needed.

But when I told him I wanted a healthy little bush and a dried up one to illustrate a homily, the young stepped back. He said, “I better go get the boss.”

The running water in Jeremiah and in the first Psalm represent the fresh insights the just man receives from being in continuous contact with God.

St. Joseph is the patron saint of overworked dads.

Wednesday, 3/19/14

Today is the Feast of St. Joseph, husband of Mary, and Foster Father of Jesus. The Bible described him as a just man.

In celebrating his feast we could honor all the husbands and fathers who carry out their countless duties, being careful to give the example of being just.

Once sixty or seventy years ago a priest friend and I dropped by my sister’s house after her husband had a drink that made him cranky. He started talking about how us priests always had the church to take care of us, while he had no help with his nine kids who made constant demands on him. I so much resented his line of thought that I went out and sat in the car while my priest friend stayed talking.

Now, living on my priest’s pension, and looking back on that evening; I’ve come to see that my brother-in-law was right. Every father is like St. Joseph, with tons of obligations loaded on him.
Those fathers pay all the bills, bandage every knee, while giving a good example for their children.

With all that, they often go unnoticed. I think of the times when I left tools out to rust in the rain. My father would try reasoning with me, saying, “That monkey wrench was mine. I am a person who has a right to own things.”

I remember sleeping across the room from my father. We’d talk a bit, then, he’d say, “Be quiet. I’m saying my prayers.” Fathers who need a lot of prayers should pray to St. Joseph. 

In obeying superiors we are obey the Lord.

Tuesday, 3/18/14

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a lesson on obeying our superiors. He said, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things that they tell you, but do not follow their example.”

Jesus told us to obey all legitimate authority, even if we do not agree with them. The old rule is that we must obey in everything but sin.

I like to base the need for obeying authority on the second chapter of the Bible. When God created his first human, he said, “It is not good for him to be alone.” So, we are meant to live in society. And, a multitude of people with differing opinions can only coexist in society if they let someone have the final word.

When we obey superiors we are only obeying God who wants us to live in harmony. In the Letter to the Ephesians Paul tells children to, “Obey your parents in the Lord.” So, in obeying them you are obeying the Loed.

The commandment does not tell us to obey good parents. No, we obey all parents, because in obeying them we obey God. That’s what we read in Chapter Thirteen of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God.

In 1950 Rome told the Jesuit Henri de Lubac to stop teaching, and they took the books he wrote off the shelves. When he was disgraced, living in a narrow room, he was asked if he felt like leaving the church. He said no. He said the Catholic Church was his beloved family. 

On St. Patrick's Day we should honor his children who died for the Faith.

Monday, 3/17/14

On today, St. Patrick’s Day, it is not so much St. Patrick whom we should honor as his Catholic children, those people who kept the faith through the centuries. Let me take you on a brief tour of those centuries.

In all them there has been just one English pope, that was Adrian IV. In 1155 he gave Ireland to England, which was an inappropriate thing to do, because England’s King Henry II had caused St. Tomas a Becket to be cut down at the altar.

Moving ahead five centuries, in 1649 England took the head off their King Charles I, giving power to Oliver Cromwell whom they called their Lord Protector. He was, a Puritan who saw his victory as a triumph over Catholicism. When the followers of the dead King Charles I took refuge in Ireland, Cromwell pursued them. Pushing over the defending walls in the city of Drogheda, Cromwell had his men put to death everyone there: two thousand soldiers and all the civilians.

The people at Wexford to the south, horrified by the massacre of Drogheda, had their leader, David Sinnott, asking Cromwell for surrender terms that would allow them to remain Catholic. Cromwell rejected that, going on with the destruction of Wexford and its people. I feel, that since those people refused to abandon their faith, we should honor them as martyrs, maybe wearing red vestments today. I read an account of Cromwell’s soldiers methodically cutting down three hundred women and children who had gathered around a standing crucifix in the center of Wexford.

A decendant of that David Sinnott was mayor of Wexford sixty-five years ago. His son, Father Michael Sinnott, has done great work protecting the gypsies whom the Irish call “Travelling people.”  

I don’t feel that admiration for the Irish should lead us turn against the English. We owe much to them. If they had surrendered to the Nazi Luftwaffe seventy years ago Hitler’s Nazis might have gone on conquer even the U.S.

Today we honor not only St. Patrick but all his children who gave their lives for the Faith.

Sunday, 3/16/14

Every year, on the Second Sunday of Lent we have the Gospel story about Jesus being transfigured on a mountaintop. Last year we had Luke’s version of the story, next year it will be Mark’s. For the Mass each year our church’s lectionary cuts off the first three words in the Bible story. The Bible tells us that Jesus went up the mountain either a week or three days after telling the disciples about the cruel death awaiting him.

I think Matthew, Mark and Luke wanted us to see that the stark announcement of his coming crucifixion had left Jesus so desolate, that he needed to be alone with the Father;  and for that he climbed a mountain where he could be as close to him as possible.

My guess is that Jesus took Peter James and John with him because he saw them to be  the only ones who were saddened by his announcement of his early death. When they reached the top of the mountain, the three Apostles, weary from the climb, fell asleep on the ground. Then, when they woke up, they saw Jesus in glory above them: his face like the sun, and his clothing like light itself.

I think that the Bible story is asking us to imagine an elastic floor of heaven stretching down, taking Jesus in. He was being given a foretaste of the happiness that would reward him for undergoing a hideous death.

In the Old Testament there were only two individuals who were thought to be already in heaven. One was Elijah who was taken up in a fiery chariot. The other was Moses, whose complete grave from opposite Bethpeor was whisked up to heaven. From their place in heaven, Elijah and Moses moseyed over to speak soothingly with Jesus about his coming departure from this world.  

(I’ve said enough. Read the rest of it in your Bible.)

A week after Jesus announced his coming crucifixion God soothed him with a taste of glory on the mountaintop.

Sunday, 3/16/14

Every year, on the Second Sunday of Lent we have the Gospel story about Jesus being transfigured on a mountaintop. Last year we had Luke’s version of the story, next year it will be Mark’s. For the Mass each year our church’s lectionary cuts off the first three words in the Bible story. The Bible tells us that Jesus went up the mountain either a week or three days after telling the disciples about the cruel death awaiting him.

I think Matthew, Mark and Luke wanted us to see that the stark announcement of his coming crucifixion had left Jesus so desolate, that he needed to be alone with the Father;  and for that he climbed a mountain where he could be as close to him as possible.

My guess is that Jesus took Peter James and John with him because he saw them to be  the only ones who were saddened by his announcement of his early death. When they reached the top of the mountain, the three Apostles, weary from the climb, fell asleep on the ground. Then, when they woke up, they saw Jesus in glory above them: his face like the sun, and his clothing like light itself.

I think that the Bible story is asking us to imagine an elastic floor of heaven stretching down, taking Jesus in. He was being given a foretaste of the happiness that would reward him for undergoing a hideous death.

In the Old Testament there were only two individuals who were thought to be already in heaven. One was Elijah who was taken up in a fiery chariot. The other was Moses, whose complete grave from opposite Bethpeor was whisked up to heaven. From their place in heaven, Elijah and Moses moseyed over to speak soothingly with Jesus about his coming departure from this world.  

(I’ve said enough. Read the rest of it in your Bible.)

We can learn to love an enemy by pretending to be that person.

Saturday, 3/15/14

Jesus leaves us wondering how we might go about loving an enemy. It occurs to me that empathy might work. I understand that empathy consists in your imagining you are that other person.

I think that Method Acting works something like that. Like, if you have been given the role of acting  like an old fashioned cop walking his beat; you mind find one of them; then you’d walk down the street a block behind him, pretending you are clicking  your night stick along a picket fence, pausing to pick out the best apple on thee cart. You’d put on that man’s attitudes, agreeing with them.

I tell a story from fifty years ago in Korea. In preparing a sermon on “Love your neighbor as yourself” it occurred to me that I always took that to mean, “Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.” But, what if he meant, “Love your neighbor as though he were yourself?”

After my second Mass the following Sunday I was anxious to get in for my breakfast, but I was able to get my mind off eating when three pretty girls came up to chat in the church yard. I was enjoying that when an old lady leaning on a stick pulled at my sleeve saying, “Look at my bad eye.” I gave her eye a glance, then quickly looked away. Her eye was like a badly fried egg.

Then, I remembered thinking Jesus wanted me to pretend I was the person I found distasteful, So, I turned back to the old lady, imagining how I would like being her. Almost by magic I slipped on that old personality. With that, I saw that if the kids racing around her (me), knocked her stick, she’d fall on her face.

I had a quick succession of thoughts. I thought that the kind of people who say I have nice eyes once told her she had pretty eye. How does she deal with her loss of charm? I wished I had the money to help fix up her eye.

 I knew that the old lady came from over the hill behind the church. And with it occurring to me that it had rained all night, making the path a slippery stream, I told her, “It was wonderful of you to make it to Mass over that terribly slippery path.”

I needn’t have done any more for her. She looked up, and said, “Oh, you understand.”

As we come to adulthood the rules change for us.

Friday, 3/14/14

Each of our major universities is served by a Newman Club, which is a gathering place for Catholic scholars. They are called after Blessed Henry Newman, an English Catholic scholar who is noted for his clear teaching on how through the centuries our Catholic teachings undergo development. Their growth is analogous to that of the physical and mental development of individual men and women; and it is in accord with Jesus telling us we must read the signs of the times.

Both of today’s readings chronicle such development. The First Commandment from 1300 B.C. in the Book of Exodus, following the primitive tribal mentality of the time, said that credit for a man’s great or sinful deeds would be passed on for four generations. Ezekiel, writing six generations later, when individual responsibility had come to be recognized, said each individual would receive credit for his good and bad deeds. 

In the Gospel reading Jesus was refuting the accusation that he was doing away with the Law of Moses. He said, “I did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.” While life was cheap among the primitive men for whom Moses spoke, his command to avoid killing was a step forward. But, Our Lord, legislating for those with an adult mentality, told us to not even be angry.

Vatican II had many examples of development in moral teaching. As our world emerges from a time when only those of noble birth had any chance of advancement, the Council insisted that every person, created in God’s image, has a right to education and to freedom of religious convictions. 

Self indulgence keeps us from being indulgent towards others.

Thursday, 3/13/14

Jesus told us that the whole of the law is summed up in the saying,
“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”

It is easy to see how most of the moral code is summed up in that Golden Rule. We do not cheat others, because we would not want them to cheat us. We do not hit others, because we would not want them hitting us. We do not seduce others because we would no want them seducing us. We should not lie to others, because we would not want them lying to us.

But, what about pleasuring ourselves? That would not seem to go against the Golden Rule. Private indulgence in gobbling chocolates, in touching ourselves, in putting in  excessive hours of couch or TV time would not seem to go against the Golden Rule. Can they still be sinful? Yes they can.

The sinfulness of excessive self indulgence comes from the way it takes one away from being thoughtful of others. The affection I show myself leaves me with little affection for others. 

The story of Jonah tells us God loves even his pagan children.

Wednesday, 3/12/14

Even though Jesus spoke of Jonah, he knew that the story of Jonah was fictitious. Around the year 450 B.C. the citizens of Jerusalem resolved on protecting their children from evil practices by cutting themselves off from associating with the pagan world.

Some fifty years later an unknown holy man decided that they had gone too far in calling all of God’s non-Jewish children evil. To demonstrate God’s love for pagans,  that unknown author was inspired to make up the story of Jonah.

In his story God called on Jonah to go save the people of Nineveh from their sins. But Jonah hated the people of Nineveh, and he attempted avoiding God’s commission by sailing west beyond what he thought to be the limits of God’s influence. Showing that there was no limit to his influence, God sent a great storm on Jonah’s escape ship. To save themselves from God’s wrath, the seaman threw Jonah overboard; and he went into the belly of a whale.

(When I was eight an intact whale was hauled up to St. Louis on an over-sized freight car, and my Dad brought me down to see it. I crawled into its mouth, but I saw there was no way Jonah could have got down that narrow throat.)

In the story Jonah’s whale threw him up on the shore near Jerusalem. So Jonah, obeying God, went on to Nineveh, joyfully telling the people that they were to be destroyed within forty days. When they repented and were saved, Jonah was so unhappy about it that he sat under a gourd plant to sulk. Then, when a worm ate away the plant that guarded his head from the sun he missed the plant.

God told him, “You are concerned over the plant which cost you no labor, and which you did not raise. Should I not be concerned over Nineveh in which there are more than a hundred thousand persons who cannot distinguish their right hand from their left, not to mention the many cattle?”