The wildly tossing Sea represented our death struggles. Our Lord calmly sleeping at our side is his assurance that he is in charge. He will bring us through just fine.

 Tuesday, 7/1/14

Whenever we have this story about the storm at sea with Jesus sleeping in the boat I always say the same thing. This is a story telling us that Jesus will see us safely through death’s struggles.

The storm took place on the Sea of Galilee, which was just a wide place in the Jordan River. And from Chapter Three of the Book of Joshua and ever after, the Jordan has remained a symbol of the death we must pass through to reach the Promised Land.

In that old story, the Jordan was in flood when the People arrived to cross to the Promised Land. Then, when the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stepped into the Jordan, its waters backed up, letting the people follow the Ark into the river’s bottom. At the very bottom, the priest halted with the Ark. They held their stand there as everyone walked past, up into the Promised Land.

For us, the terrible storm the Apostles met that night stands for our death struggles. The reading hints at that by having the Apostles crying out, “We are perishing!”

When the fear and the pains of death’s struggle have you in their grasp, let your hold on the calmly sleeping Jesus be an assurance that you are safe.

With the Israelites it was the Ark of the Covenant making a way for them through death, for us it is Jesus on his cross opening the way for you to pass up to heaven.  

Is Christ offering you a calling?

In the Gospel when Jesus asked one man after another to follow him, and each of them had an excuse for not following him right then. This story causes us to wonder if Jesus is offering a special calling to you and me,

Catholics used to believe that a vocation to the priesthood or to the religious life only came in the form of a sensible calling, but that is not the case.

You can tell that God is calling you if you can answer yes to three questions.

First question: do you see the need for someone to perform a good work for God and for our fellow men?

Second question: do you feel that you have the time and the talent for performing that good work?

Third question: would you enjoy doing that good work?    

Peter and Paul implanted the teachings of Christ in Rome.

Sunday, 6/29/14

Today we honor the great saints, Peter and Paul. They had met only briefly in their lifetimes, but we honor them together because they both died in Rome after founding the Church there.

In the year 180 St. Irenaeus looked back on that joint role of Peter and Paul In implanting the teaching of Christ in Rome.

Let me switch for a moment to the story of Irenaeus. He had been serving as the bishop of Lyons in France when the pope asked him to come to Rome to deal with a new kind of Christians called Gnostics. The Gnostics were claiming to have new gospels dictated to them by angels.

Irenaeus went to Rome, and instead of arguing with the Gnostics, he took to attending their gatherings, taking notes on all their new teachings. Having made friends with them by his openness, he gradually brought them around to seeing why the pope differed from them.

Mainly, Irenaeus had them recalling something St. Paul had written to the Galatians, namely, “Even if an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that one be accursed.

In that year 180 when Irenaeus was writing these things, the Christians in France, Spain, Alexandria  still had old people who had listened to the preaching of  one or another of the twelve apostles who had settled in their countries.

Irenaeus told the Gnostics that if they wanted to hear the genuine teachings of Jesus, they should go to those early churches founded by Apostles. He said that the bishops in those places held firm to the teaching they had received from the Apostles.

Irenaeus went on then to say, “Since it would be very tedious to reckon up the succession of all the churches, we will indicate that tradition derived from the apostles of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known church founded and organized in Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul. It is a matter of necessity that every church should agree with this church.”

So, in honoring Peter and Paul together we are thanking them for handing on the true teachings of Jesus. 

His mother kept all these things in her heart.

Saturday,  6/28/14

In the Gospel, after Mary and Joseph had located their twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple, they brought him back with them to Nazareth. The account ends with Luke telling us, “He was subject to them, and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

Today we honor that heart of Mary, and in doing so, we imagine her keeping all those things in that heart. From that we might go on to considering all the long moments when we are alone with out thoughts. Shakespeare referred to such moments as “The sessions of sweet silent thought.
Although we are capable of introspection, we spend little time alone with our deep thoughts. Through all our hours of sleep, and through our hours of getting through our days, we give little time to considering just who we are, and what we are doing here in the midst of eternity.

Still, like Mary, we are faced with figuring what’s it all about. And, for guidance, we could take what Mary said to Gabriel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.”

That tells us that for those sessions of sweet silent thought we should let two considerations dominate. First we should heighten our awareness of our living and moving in God’s presence. Secondly, we should aim our thoughts at discerning what God wants us to do now.

Behold this heart that has loved so much, and has been loved so little in return.

Friday, 6/27/14

Maybe we are living in a different age, but the Catholics with whom I grew up were not attracted to the traditional pictures of Jesus with his physical heart revealed. What we have found most touching is his speaking to us about how much he loves us, is his asking us to love him back  

I hope you don't mind my using a line from a popular movie to bring out why his pleading with us is so endearing

The 1999 movie Notting Hill had a scene where Anna Scott, Hollywood’s biggest darling, said to an ordinary shopkeeper, William Thacker, “You must see that I am just a girl, telling a boy she loves him, asking him to love her.” 

It’s a scene that has had thousands of fellows taking William Thacker's place in their daydreams. 

The appearances of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque had similar elements. Jesus, who is far far above us, comes to us with his love, asking only that we love him in return.

We cry out, "Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, we thee adore, Oh make us love you more and more!"

We must build our lives on Our Lord's rock-solid teachings.

Thursday, 6/26/14

Humor me while I tell one of my old Korea stories about building on the solid rock of Out Lord’s teachings. I was twenty-six many summers ago. when I was sent to a town on the east coat of Korea. A good number of the Catholics there had fled down the coast from North Korea, and I became friendly with two young husbands, Peter and Paul. They both had grown up helping out at an old German Benedictine monastery in North Korea.

That May they started on building a two-room house to share with their wives, and I hung around, giving inexpert help. Their plan called for two nine by nine rooms with a common five-by-five kitchen. We dug eight three-foot holes for corner posts, and we borrowed a pull cart for hauling up from the stream eight boulders to drop into the holes.

Having progressed that far, Paul and I had to see Peter off. He was taking his young wife fifteen miles south to her parents’ house for having her first child. I then helped  Paul anchoring the end post on the boulders in those holes,  and I watched Paul  wielding a wood chisel for nicely fitting in the little house’ crossbars and roof beams.

We then strung a netting of U.S. communication wire between all the uprights, and I had a great time pasting gloppy handfuls of damp red clay onto that netting.

We had tied in great bundles of straw for thatching the roof when our whole coast was hit by the strongest typhoon in memory. All nineteen bridges up and down the east coast were washed out to sea, but the house Paul had finished just in time held firm, It rocked like hell, but it held.

We worried about Peter and his wife. They were three bridge-less rivers to the south of us; and the road, where it wasn’t gone, looked like a river of shiny bean soup.

We were thrilled two weeks later when Peter struggled into town with his wife and her baby.  Her parent’s village, next to a stream, had been washed away, and Theresa had given birth while hanging onto a scrub pine high above that stream that had become a wild river.  

Putting all that aside, we must provide for real happiness by building our lives on Our Lord’s rock-solid teaching.

We cannot blame people for following other religions.

Wednesday, 6/26/14

Jesus in the Gospel warned us against false prophets, who come like wolves in sheep’s clothing. And then he adds, “By their fruit you will know them. A rotten tree cannot bear good fruit.”

If we had a narrow Catholic upbringing we might have been led to see the preachers of other religions as the false prophets against whim Jesus warned us.

However, we would have been quite wrong in that. Since a bad tree cannot bear good fruit, when we see Baptists or Lutherans doing good work, bearing good fruit, we should come to regard them as models of goodness whom we should befriend and imitate. 

Our Church now warns us against condemning people for following other religions. The Second Vatican Council put it this way:

“The Vatican Council declares that the human person has the right to religious freedom. Freedom of this kind means that all men should be free from coercion on the part of individuals, social groups and every human power so that, within due limits, no one is forced to act against his convictions nor is anyone to be restrained from acting in accordance with his convictions in religious matters in private or public, alone or in association with others.

That “Decree on Religious Liberty” was very different from the attitudes of former times when the Inquisition punished heretics. The Church adopted this saner and more Christian attitude after seeing how well Freedom of Religion brought happiness to the United States.

We should use the feast of John the Baptist for training ourselves to curb our selfishness.

Tuesday, 6/24/14

Today is the feast of the birth of John the Baptist. In the first reading John said, “The Lord formed me as his servant from the womb.”

With his aged parents dying while he was still a boy, John took to the desert where he put himself into training. And what training it must have been! He had to train himself to think not of himself but of the Savior he was born to announce.

The training each of us received in childhood was a mild, a very mild, version of that. It was drilled into us that we could not always be thinking of our self. When we go overboard the other direction, we feel somewhat ashamed of being selfish.

As an adult John was shocked when people put him above Jesus. He pleaded with such people not to do that. He insisted, “He must increase, while I must decrease.

Just as everyone on St. Patrick’s Day has to wear something green, so on this feast of John the Baptist each of us should make a special effort at checking and curbing our being absorbed in our self.

Once when I was talking to the kids at Mass at St. Paul’s, I asked them what John the Baptist had to eat in the desert. When one little girl answered correctly, saying, “He ate locusts and wild honey,” I came back with, “You are a wild honey.”

Ten years further on, I was getting my car washed at Charles and George’s, and the woman scrubbing my tires asked, “Don’t you know me?”

I answered, “No, who are you?”

Smiling up at me, she said, “I’m wild honey.”   

Ignoring the warnings from Amos, Hosea, and Elijah, the ten northern tribes were lost to history.

Monday, 6/23/14

Many of the greatest Bible lessons from the Old Testament came to us from a quartet of prophets from the northern half of the holy land. Amos thundered at us. Hosea pleaded with us. Elijah and Elisha dramatized God’s greatness.

To reap the full benefit of their words we need a clear view of the stage they moved on. They prophesied in the northern kingdom of Israel, which had a life separate from the kingdom of Judah from 930 to 722 B.C.

In 930 B.C. at the death of Solomon, his son Rehoboam foolishly increased the taxes on the ten of the twelve tribes that had settled in the north. With that, those ten tribes broke away, choosing their own king, calling themselves the Kingdom of Israel.

Having separated themselves from Jerusalem’s temple and from the temple worship so central to their religious life, they repeatedly let themselves be seduced by priests of insidious religions. And that had God sending them Amos and Hosea, Elijah and Elisha, to plead with them to return to him.

Ignoring the prophets, the people of Israel went from bad to worse. Finally, as described in today’s reading, in 722 B.C.  God let them fall victim to the forces of Assyria, a ruthless people from what is now northern Iraq. Those ten tribes  never returned from that captivity, and in time they lost their identity as Israelites. 

We visit, receive, and worship the Blessed Sacrament; but Paul and Luke tell us we must also participate with him as one pleading gift to God.

Sunday, 6/22/14

This is the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. When we speak of Jesus as the Blessed Sacrament, under the form of bread and wine, we speak of receiving him, of visiting him, of adoring him. But St. Paul, in today’s second reading gave prominence to our joining the Blessed Sacrament in a fourth way: of our participating with him. Paul asks,

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

What does Paul mean by saying we participate in the body and blood of Christ? The answer to that goes back to the table blessing Jesus offered at the Last Supper. The traditional blessing had three parts. First, the host asked the guests to join him in recalling their favors from God. Secondly in that table blessing the host asked for God to come into all their hearts. At the third, and final part of the blessing, the host asked the guests to join him in becoming one pleasing gift to the Father. Their Greek name for that third part, the pleasing gift, was the eucharis.

In Luke and Paul’s account of the Last Supper it was at the eucharis, that third part, that Jesus broke the bread, and said, “This is my body which is for you.”

He was giving his body to each of the diners so that having received him, they are enabled to  physically participate with him as a part of the one pleasing gift. Our union with Christ in the Mass becomes complete when we give our hearts and our minds to completely participate with him in one pleasant gift to the Father.

We need to watch our dollars, but we need to live by what is printed on them: "In God We Trust."

Saturday, 6/21/14

Jesus asked, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

What did he mean by that? Let me offer one interpretation.

I think that Jesus was saying that since God was wise enough and kind enough to devise your life that has been ticking away all these years, you should give him credit for being wise enough and kind enough to supply it with food.

And, I think he was saying that since God was wise enough and kind enough to wonderfully fit together the trillion ticking cells which make up your body, you should give him credit for being wise enough and kind enough to cloth it with something from Wal-Mart.

If you give yourself over to fruitless worrying you become like an eight-year-old girl who starts sobbing over the prospect of being with nothing to eat and nothing to wear.

Her carrying on that way is so insulting to her parents who had always fully provided for her.

We need to take ordinary care in providing for being fed, clothed, and housed in the years to come. We need to watch our dollars, but above all we need to live by what is printed on them: “In God We Trust.”  

Saturday, 6/21/14

Jesus asked, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?”

What did he mean by that? Let me offer one interpretation.

I think that Jesus  was saying that since God was wise enough and kind enough to devise your life that has been ticking away all these years, you should give him credit for being wise enough and kind enough to supply it with food.

And, I think he was saying that since God was wise enough and kind enough to wonderfully fit together the trillion ticking cells which make up your body, you should give him credit for being wise enough and kind enough to cloth it with something from Wal-Mart.

If you give yourself over to fruitless worrying you become like an eight-year-old girl who starts sobbing over the prospect of being with nothing to eat and nothing to wear.

Her carrying on that way is so insulting to her parents who had always fully provided for her.

We need to take ordinary care in providing for being fed, clothed, and housed in the years to come. We need to watch our dollars, but above all we need to live by what is printed on them “In God We Trust.”  

I had a friend named Bill who really believed in storing up treasures in heaven.

Friday, 6/20/14

Today’s reading about storing up treasures in heaven puts me in mind of a friend of mine who believed in that. His dad, Bill Maher, was a close friend of my dad a hundred years ago. Bill was a charmer, and after my dad got married in 1913 Bill Mayer kept carrying on, dinking a bit.

Bill had three younger brothers, and when their parents suddenly died, Bill put his little brothers into a rooming house kept by the French horn player in the St. Louis Symphony. That old man and his daughter Corrine were Lutherans, good people; and Corrine took loving care of Bill’s younger brothers,

With encouragement from my folks, Bill sobered up, and he married Corrine in the rectory. They had two daughters, then their son Billy. He grew up to be the friend I am talking about today.

Corrine, in speaking about her little Billy, would always say, “I just love him to death.” She would get him up to serve the early Mass, following him to church, doting on him from behind a pillar. Billy brought her into the church, and my parents were her godparents.

At our house, when we bought a quart of ice cream we would slice it ten ways. At Mayers, Billy and his sisters would split the quart three way. Billy was one big boy.

He entered the minor seminary, and he soon had priests around town talking about his mastery of languages and sciences.

Four years later I followed him into the seminary, and I was thrilled when he let me partner him in tennis. But then, I left that diocesan seminary to join the Columban Fathers to become a missionary.

Coming to the end of my novitiate with them, I received a letter from Bill. In June he was leaving to enter the Trappist Order at the Gethsemane Monastery in Kentucky He hoped I’d be home in time for one more tennis game.

I got home in time for that game, but let me come back to it.

Bill was five years in the monastery, still short of ordination when the Kentucky Trappists decided on founding a new monastery in upstate New York. They chose a new abbot for the Lady of the Genesee Monastery, and in selecting thirty monks to accompany him, they let them choose their own prior.  Surprisingly, they reached back into their seminary, choosing Bill as their prior.

Things didn’t go well then. Bill came down with cancer, dying a saintly death weeks after arriving in New York State.

But, getting back to my final game with him; afterwards we lay on the grass, with Bill enjoying a cold beer. I was telling him that with the way he liked eating and drinking, he was crazy to enter that monastery

He told me, “They have great bread and cheese.”

I said, “Yeah, but what happens when you get tired of them?”

He gave me a look that was asking if I had learned anything at all in a year of a novitiate. Then, he answered my question, saying, “Why, when I get tired of them, that’s when the merit starts.”

That person you will not forgive is God's dear child, and the Father will withhold his peace from your heart until you forgive that child of his.

Thursday, 6/19/14

Jesus told us, “If you forgive others your heavenly Father will forgive you.” Why would the heavenly Father be concerned with you forgiving anyone, particularly in your forgiving someone who is behaving badly toward you?

Well, the Father is concerned with you forgiving that individual, because that one is his child. What is more, God can see something that you cannot see. Namely, he sees that as bad as that one’s behavior appears in your eyes, God knows that he or she at the time was doing what seemed the right thing to do.

“Understanding,” the second of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, comes into play here. Reversing that word, you may rightly presume that standing-under that person’s objectionable behavior there was an honest misunderstanding.  

Jesus further said, “If you do not forgive others, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you.”

There is a way in which you will experience your Father’s lack of forgiveness. He will refrain from filling your heart with his peace. Your troubled state of mind will stay on and on until you earn  back that peace by doing the big thing in forgiving that neighbor.

To deepen our love for the Father we should do good for only him to see.

Wednesday, 6/18/14

In Chapter Six of his Gospel St. Matthew recorded three bits of advice Jesus gave against being showoffs.

He told us that when we give alms we shouldn’t let or left hand know what the right hand is doing. He said when we pray we are not to make a display of it. When we fast we should not advertise our abstemious ways.

It is easy to miss the point Jesus was making in telling us not to show off. It wasn’t just that he did not want us to be hypocrites. No, in warning us against showing off Jesus had something else in mind.

The finest thing in his life was the love he shared with the Father. He made a practice of secretly doing good just to please the Father. In this passage he was saying that our secret love affair with the Father should be the biggest thing in our lives too.

He said, “Your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” He will repay you by deepening that love he shares with you.

The title on one piece of sheet music on my mother’s piano back in the 1930’s was When You’re Away.  The lyrics went on about how life was dreary when the loved one was away.  Following on that, there was the line I think of as applying to me and the Father:

“Then when your near me, there’s naught that I strive to do, save to endear me more fondly my love to you.”

Jsus didn't tell us to be perfect. He told us to strive to be well rounded or complete.

Tuesday, 6/17/14

Today’s Gospel gives us the final verse of Chapter Five of Matthew’s Gospel. It is a chapter that presents the core of Our Lord’s New Law.

It goes worlds beyond the Ten Commandments with it eight Beatitudes. It tells us as Christ’s followers we must be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

In six comparisons known as the antitheses it spells out moral advances. It is no longer enough for us to avoid adultery, we must avoid lust. It is no longer enough for us to avoid murder, we must avoid hated.

In today’s final verse of that great chapter, Jesus seemed to say, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

I say, “Jesus seemed to say.” However, writing his Gospel in Greek, Matthew quoted Jesus as saying we should be teleios as our heavenly Father is teleios.

That word teleios really means well rounded or complete. None of us can be perfect the way the heavenly Father is perfect. However, within the limitations we are born with, we can each make a stab at being well rounded and complete.

One of Vatican II’s final sixteen documents dealt with the goals of Christian education. It says the teacher’s mission is to assist each student in fully developing his or her personality. Each of us is born with a store of potentials. The goal for each of us is that of developing each potential to its fullest. We have potentials for health, for learning, for spreading friendship, for knowing God.

Perhaps contemplative monks and nuns can lead lives in search of perfection, but the goal for any of us must be that of being a person fulfilling his or her potentials.

Jezebel felt that the desires of nobility should be consulted before the needs of the poor.

Monday, 6/16/14

The first reading tells us a story about king Ahab. He had wanted to acquire the neighboring land of a man named Naboth, but that land had been part of Naboth’s family for a thousand years, and he would not part with it.

Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, finding her husband dejected, and feeling that the desire of the nobility should take preference over the needs of lesser people, took action. Under  the seal of king Ahab, her husband, she commanded the elders to assemble a court. The letter told the elders to obtain the service of two scoundrels to bring a false charge of Blasphemy against Naboth. It concluded by ordering the elders to stone Naboth to death for the supposed crime Blasphemy.

Now, the thing to know about this story is that it is not just a story. It is part of the Bible’s manual for right living. It is telling you not to want more than you need. It is telling you that God’s privileged people are not the wealthy, the clergy, and the nobility. No! Blow the trumpets! Clear the path! God’s privileged people, the folks working for minimum wages, are coming this way!

My friend Katie told me about the Tolstoy story “How Much Land Does a Man Need.” The king told a man he could possess all the land he could stake off before returning at sunset. The man gleefully staked off hundreds of acres; but then, wanting just an acre more, he collapsed and died. When the onlookers asked the king what was to become of all the acres the man had staked off, the king said, “Just dig him an eight by four foot hole here. That’s all the land a man needs.” 

The Greek Fathers likened the Trinity to a dance in which three individuals hold hands while they dance in a circle.

Sunday, 6/15/14

Today we honor the Blessed Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We smile over the story of St. Patrick explaining the Trinity by holding aloft a three-leafed Shamrock, but we cannot do much better than that.

WhiIe I don’t care for bugs, I use one for expressing my inability to explain what the Scriptures tell us about the Trinity. I think of a tiny flea on the top of my head, and although he is well hidden under my hair, I picture him as crawling around up there. He is poking his feelers into my scalp in an effort at understanding the thinking going on under his little feet. It is a hopeless task, but he has to do his best at grasping what is going on in that only world he will ever know.

Let me switch to the story of three saints who spent their lives investigating the Trinity. The oldest of the three, St. Basil, was born in Cappadocia in central Turkey in 330 A.D. He and his younger brother Gregory had the means to study both in Alexandria and Athens, and in both places they were accompanied by their life-long friend, another Gregory.

Basil and Gregory’s parents were well-to-do Christians who at their passing handed over the family property to their eldest daughter Makrina. That lady, whom the church also honors as a saint, sharing her brothers’ interest in the Blessed Trinity,  provided a quiet home for them and the other Gregory. There she cheered them on as they did their best at plumbing the great mystery of the Trinity.

In their attempts at understanding the Bible’s teaching on the Trinity, the three young men never strayed far from St. John’s telling us that God is love. It had them looking on God as a verb as well as a noun.

Going a little beyond St. Patrick’s holding up a shamrock, Basil and the Gregories asked us to picture a Greek dance called the Perachoresus. In the Perachoresus three friends hold hands, joyfully circling each other, expressing their love.

Let me tell you about another interest of mine that turned my thoughts to Makrina. I had been reading about an Irish Protestant lady who came along fifteen hundred years after Makrina. This lady was the wealthy widow of another Gregory, an English landlord in Galway. She had been nursed by an Irish Catholic woman who filled her head with stories about Ireland’s mythical heroes.

After Lord Gregory’s death, Lady Gregory turned their estate at Coole in Galway into a home for young Irish writers, feeding them while they developed their talents. In time she was to join W.B. Yeats in founding the Abbey Theater in Dublin. Together they produced a string of marvelous comedies and dramas.

I once had the pleasure of walking through Lady Gregory’s estate at Coole. There I came on the tree where Yeats, Sean O’Casey, and John  Millington Synge had carved their initials.

The feast of the Blessed Trinity makes me thankful for all the wonderful ladies who give their lives to fostering talent.

Annulments are granted to those trapped in unions that were not true marriages.

Saturday, 6/ 14/14 

Let me go back to yesterday’s Gospel which dealt with divorce. It quoted Jesus as saying,  “Whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery.” That leaves us wondering what is meant by the phrase unless the marriage is unlawful. The Greek phrase used by St. Matthew is not too helpful. It says the divorce is unlawful except in cases of porneia, a word meaning fornication.

Back in 1967 or 1968 our church came to a decision in interpreting that phrase. A combined group of Scripture scholars and marriage experts came to Pope Paul VI explaining that exception Jesus spoke about.

They said that many men and women are trapped in marital unions that are not true marriages before God. They convinced the Holy Father that the church should provide courts of experts that could get at the facts that would allow people so trapped to obtain civil divorces from those bad unions.  With that, each diocese set up courts that advise the bishop to grant annulments to set free the people mistakenly bound.

As a parish priest who has had no special training this matter, I was forced to explain the church’s new approach both to people seeking annulments and to people who denied we should grant them. Let me give you my inexpert view of  possible grounds for granting an annulment.

I base my explanation on words the priest addresses to the couple at their marriage ceremony. He asks, “Have you come here freely, without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?”

Those words contain four questions which must be answered in the affirmative for the wedding to represent a marriage before God.

1. Are you free from visible or invisible forces forcing you to marry? 2. Are you free from any real limitation such as an agreement to have children or riches, so that the absence of that perceived benefit would terminate this alliance? 3. Are you free from the narcissism that would prevent your giving yourself to the other party? 4. Are you committing yourself to a true marriage or to just a limited arrangement?

The annulments granted to people in parishes where I worked appeared to be in accord with God’s will.

We find God in his still small voice.

Friday, 6/13/14

The first reading tell us the story of the Prophet Elijah hiding in a cave on Mount Horeb. He had been told to wait there unto the Lord came by.

There was a wind so strong that it shook the mountain, but Elijah’s gifts as God’s prophet convinced him that God was not in the fierce wind. After that, the mountain was shaken by an earthquake, and then by a fire; but Elijah’s gifts assured him that God’s advent would not be announced by high natural dramatics.

But, then, Elijah heard a “still small voice,” and he fell on his face, knowing that he was in God’s presence. The story is telling us not to look for God in million dollar television presentations, but rather in moments of quiet prayer.

Let me tell you about a little incident yesterday that had me feeling that I was in God’s presence. I was watching a white crane skim for several hundred yards just above the water, and it had me marveling at the great amount of energy he or she was expending. Asking myself about the source of that energy, I guessed that it came from the flesh of a fish he or she had consumed.   

Jokingly I told myself that the crane’s athletic display verified Einstein’s formula of  E=mc2. The crane’s innards were taking the energy locked in the molecular make-up of the fish he or she had scooped up, converting it into the feet of rapidly skimming the water.

All jokes aside, we can feel God’s workmanship in his invention of a DNA that is smoothly converted from mass to energy. It is his still small voice.

When I think of how God has devised this way of smoothly converting food into energy my favorite verse from Dante's Paradiso comes to mind. Arrived in Paradise, Dante asked Beatrice why things there  vaguely brought the wonders of our earth to mind. Beatrice replied:

"All things among themselves possess an order, 
  and this order is the form that makes the universe like God." 

We take a look at the origins of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

Thursday, 6/12/14

In the first reading St. Paul egged the Pharisees into arguing with the Sadducees. Let’s look at who those Pharisees and Sadducees were.

We will need to take a little time, going back to  970 B.C. , From there we will skip down to 445 B.C., and lastly we will arrive at 153 B.C. when both the Pharisees and Sadducees got started. So, we begin our search In 970 B.C..

That was when King David was dying. He had promised the crown to his mild mannered son Solomon, but another son had raised a private army, and he was acting like he was the new king. That was Adonijah who had the same mother as the rebel Absalom.

King David, on his death bed, hearing of Adonijah’s criminal ambition, summoned the priest Zadoc. He commanding Zadoc to immediately anoint Solomon king.

With Adonijah’s henchmen watching every move, Zadoc was sure he would be cut down if he anointed Solomon; but he obeyed the king, anointing Solomon king at the spring of Gihon.  To everyone’s surprise, the whole nation rose up, acclaiming, “Long live King Solomon!” And, Adonijah had to run for his life.

From that time on, for over 800 years, the Israelites considered it to be a sacred tradition that only a blood descendant of Zadoc could hold the office of their High Priest. I mentioned a stopover in 445 B.C.. What happened then was that Jerusalem had fallen into civil and moral decay, and the populace decided on reversing that downward trend by adopting the original Law of Moses as their civil and religious code.

After unanimously deciding on doing that, but  before imposing it on themselves, they agreed to  regularly adopt amendments to the Law of Moses. By their first three amendments they pledged not to marry foreigners, to give a silver shekel to the temple every year, and to not buy produce brought to town on the Sabbath.

That was fine, but over the next two hundred years they added thousands of new amendments restricting the types of activities they could engage in on the Sabbath, and restricting the types of foods that could be considered kosher. They ended up with such a burden of restrictions that only a Hasidic minority honored the world of amendments as part of the Mosaic Law. That split the nation between Hasidic Jews and moderates.

Then, in 153 B.C. a crisis arose. The only surviving descendant of Zadoc was wholly unworthy of the office of High Priest. Now, the nation at that time was mourning the death of their great hero Judas Maccabeus, so all the moderate Jews decided on giving the office of High Priest to Jonathan, the brother of Judas.

The Hasidic Jews refused to recognize anyone but a descendant of Zadoc. Half of them packed up, becoming the Essenes who lived in caves above the Dead Sea, leaving us the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Hasidic protesters who remained in Jerusalem separated themselves from the moderates, becoming the Pharisees, a name which in their language meant “The separated ones.”

Finally, as to the Sadducees. Then were the businessmen who aligned themselves with the new High Priest Jonathan. Jokingly they were saying, by virtue of Jonathan’s possessing the office first help by Zadoc he is a new Zadoc; and we, his friends, are the Zadoc-ites, or the Sadducees.     

St. Barnabas was the patron saint of encouragement,

Wednesday, 6/11/14

Today we honor St. Barnabas, whom the Apostles chose to minister to those Gentiles who wished to join them as followers of Jesus Christ. The name Barnabas literally means “Son of encouragement,” and it was a nickname that stuck with this disciple apostle who was originally called Joseph.

We saw the encouraging ways of Barnabas at work for the sake of St. Mark. Mark had been with Paul and Barnabas at the beginning of their missionary journey, only to leave them out of homesickness. The following year, when Paul and Barnabas headed off on another journey, and Mark wanted to go with them, Paul wouldn’t let a quitter come along. When Barnabas argued for giving the boy another chance, and Paul would have none of it, Paul and Barnabas split up.

The word encouragement literally means “to put heart in someone.”

When Pat Tierney, our diocesan director of education, was retiring after twenty-odd years, the teachers were sorry about her leaving. When I asked several of them why they appreciated her, they said it was because she stood up for them and stood behind them. A teacher who is alone in a classroom with twenty-five kids needs courage, and more than advice she needs someone to encourage her, to put heart in her.

A similar way of giving a boost is restoring hope for someone who has lost it. From Korea I remember a man, defeated by debts and illnesses who came knocking at my door when I was dead broke. He had been carrying on somehow, but that day he had lost all hope, and he came to me in desperation (which literally means without hope.) What could I do? I had no cash, and no influence, but A G.I. had given me a can of peanut butter. I gave it to the man who had lost all hope.

He said, “This is great stuff. It will perk up my dying child.” Hope restored, he went off juggling the peanut butter. 

AS individual links in a long chain of Christian wisdom and goodness we must do our duty of passing on the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Tuesday, 6/10/14

Jesus told us to “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”

That being so, it would hardly seem to be Christ-like for us to go around saying, “We are the salt of the earth. We are the light of the world.”    

But there is one consideration that could legitimize our claim to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. That is the realization that we have no wisdom, no knowledge, other than what has been drummed into us by highly moral elders and our learned teachers. As St. Paul wrote, “What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it, why do you boast as though you had not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

As children we had elders who wove moral fibers into our character by repeatedly punishing us for being selfish, by repeatedly rewarding us for being selfless.  You might agree with that verse from the Letter to the Hebrews, “At the time, all discipline seems cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Heb. 12:11)

We each have a store of useful knowledge because we had parents and teachers who wouldn’t let us go to play before we did out homework. Christianity and civilization are like chains that carry on from generation to generation until they come to a link  that doesn’t do its duty as salt of he earth and light of the world. 

While Moses used the Ten Commandments to open the Old Law, Jesus used the Beatitudes to open the New Law.

Monday, 6/9/14

The Sermon on the Mount is the centerpiece of Matthew’s Gospel that was written to disprove an assertion the Pharisees were repeatedly uttering. They kept claiming that that Jesus had come to abolish the law and the prophets. Against that, Matthew quoted Jesus when he said, “I did not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.”

Matthew used the Sermon on the Mount to point out that the teaching of Moses was like what would be taught in kindergarten, while the teaching of Jesus brings people to mature goodness.

Back then, Moses went up Mt. Sinai, and gathered the elders around him. Here, Jesus went up the mountain, and gathered his disciples around him. Matthew dramatized Our Lord’s majesty by saying that he, and he alone, sat down.

Our English translators of Matthew’s Gospel left out a detail they took to be unimportant. Matthew’s original Greek text tells us, “And opening his mouth he taught them.” Matthew wanted his readers to share the original crowd’s feeling of suspense. He wanted us to imagine those people saying, “Look, the Lord is opening his mouth! What will; he say?”

The teaching of Moses from Mt. Sinai opened with those famous one-liners, the Ten Commandments. The one-liners Jesus used to kick off his enhanced moral code were the Beatitudes. He meant them to be as central to Christian living as the Ten Commandments were to Jewish living, but they have never really caught on.

As a boy entering the junior seminary I had the fear that a priest would ask me to recited the Beatitudes. I needn’t have bothered. Christians, even the priests, have never paid much attention to them.

Even before the coming of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost had two great claims to importance. It was the farmers' harvest day throughout the middle east, and it was the anniversary of the Israelites' becoming the Chosen People.

Sunday, 6/8/14

The account of Pentecost Sunday in the Acts of the Apostle’s gives us a list of the peoples gathered in Jerusalem. There were Parthians, Medes, Elamites and groups of strangers from other lands. The reason for all of them congregating comes from Pentecost’s having been an important holiday for two quite different reasons.

First, for ordinary farming people throughout the Middle East, Pentecost was their Thanksgiving.

From 5000 B.C. on, farmers in those neighboring lands had been planting wheat at the last full moon of Autumn. Then, on the day of the first full moon in spring, they had gone out, plucking the first ripe grains, and celebrating that night by eating cakes of unleavened bread from those first grains. From that night onward, they set themselves the task of harvesting wheat from dawn to sunset for fifty days. In that way they got the harvest in before the coming of the spring rains.

By the fiftieth day (Pentecost in Greek) they had the full harvest in. They ate their full, paid their debts, and arranged their weddings. The Cretans and Arabs who heard the Apostles that day were all in the big city celebrating the end of their fifty-day harvest season.

For the Jews, who were farming people as well, Pentecost marked the  completion of the harvest, but there was more to it for them.

For the Jews, that fiftieth day was the anniversary of their becoming the Chosen People. Twelve hundred and fifty years before, on the night of the first full moon in spring, their ancestors, all of them standing up and dressed for the road; had eaten the first Passover meal of unleavened bread. Then, the whole throng of them leaving Egypt behind, had walked speedily down to the base of the Sinai peninsula. There, on that fiftieth day after their first Passover, they had assembled before Mt. Sinai, freely entering their covenant with God.

After the Holy Spirit descended on them exactly fifty days after the Last Supper, the Apostles  burst out into the street, addressing the crowds with such convincing eloquence, that by the end of the day they had gathered in three thousand followers.

Our Bible’s account of that Pentecost, tells us that the Apostles spoke to the crowds about “the wonderful works of God.” The Latin for that phrase has a majestic ring to it. They declared the Magnalia Dei.