Jesus and Paul did most of their teaching in synogogues.

Monday, 9/1/14

Since many Gospel stories have Jesus or St. Paul speaking in synagogues, it helps to picture a typical synagogue. There were over four hundred of them in Jerusalem in Our Lord’s time. The simple memberships demands were that people had a minyan of ten Jewish men.

Where our Catholic chapels are focused on our tabernacles, that place of honor in the synagogues was given over to a cabinet known as the Ark. It contained the scrolls of the Law and the Prophets, and it had seats of honor in front of it.

The meeting were passed with singing Psalms, reading from the holy scrolls, and comments on them. No official liturgy or special clergy was called for. Any adult could be allowed to speak; and men and women were usual seated apart.

Archaeologists feel confident that they have found the ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus initiated his public teaching. An interesting thing about the Gospel accounts of that synagogue is that people could gather on its flat roof from which its tiles could be removed to allow entry into the synagogue from above.

With the Jews believing that their Sabbath began at sundown on Friday that was the hour when believers would fold up their shop wares, preceding then into the synagogue. I wrote an 8th Grade play in which they filed into the synagogue singing:

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

Offer your body as a living sacrifice.

Sunday, 8/31/14

If we include the Responsorial Psalm we can see that the Church offers us four grand Scripture passages in today’s readings.

In addition to the 63rd Psalm where David spoke of his flesh thirsting for God, we have the great story of Jeremiah complaining about how God had duped him into being a prophet. Too, we have the Gospel where Jesus complained about Peter thinking like a human, rather than the way God does.

Since we can’t stay here all day, let’s just settle on one central passage. Make it the Second Reading where Paul tells us we must offer our bodies as living sacrifices.

We are told we come here to take part in the sacrifice of the Mass. Now, for a primitive man, and for an Old Testament Jew, the worshipper chose an animal such as a lamb to stand in for him offering  himself. He would then take the life of the lamb on God’s altar as a way of acknowledging that his own life belonged to God.

Now, from the first week after Our Lord’s Ascension, the Christians were gathering for the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In it they consciously repeated the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, but they were also referring to the Eucharistic ritual as their sacrifice too. Now, how do you make the Mass your sacrifice as well as that of Christ?

Paul answered that here when he instructed us, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.”

It doesn’t help you at all for you to come to Mass as a spectator on the sacrifice of Christ.  You can only really take part in the Mass if you join the Lamb of God in offering your whole obedience  to the Father.  

Paul pointed out that most of us are not of noble birth.

Saturday, 8/30/14

In his letter to the Corinthians Paul came close to insulting them by pointing out that they were not of noble birth. Throughout Christian history a person without noble family connections hadn’t a chance in life. Check out the  short biographies of your favorite saints, and you will see that to be true. You will read that although they were poor, they had noble blood lines.

To stay out of trouble in retirement I have been putting together stories of the saints, and the only one of them to fight his way out of his low birth was Saint Vincent. His family were serfs, and he himself had put in years as a slave; but he scrambled and scrambled, making himself useful to upper class people. Then, the saintly Cardinal Pierre Berulle won Vincent the permanent position as chaplain to a  noble family.

When he no longer had to kiss the feet of nobles. Vincent stood up and renewed his alliance with the peasants and the galley slaves.

I grew up in an America where we treated blacks as poorly as Europe treated its lowborn men and women, and I am only gradually coming to see how stuck up I was.

Changing the subject for s few moments, let me tell you about how on my morning walks I have been going over the beautiful phrases in the first chapter of John’s Gospel. One sentence says, “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race. 

Where it says that life came to be through him I like thinking John was saying that intelligent life came through him.

And where it says “This light was the light of the human race” I think John was saying that from the intelligence of the Word we all receive the gift of conscious life.

We think of our conscious streams of thought as belonging to us, but we lose them temporarily in sleep, and permanently in death. 

Anyway, as we were riding in on Beach Blvd today we passed an old black man riding a bike, and it occurred to me that with both of us sharing that same gift of conscious life. He on his bike, and me in my passengers seat were both riding along feeling quite independent in our thoughts. While, in fact, we were both sharing in that light coming from him who is life itself.

Could we ever let ourselves become like the guests at King Herod's party?

Friday, 8/29/14

Going through the cast of characters in today’s Gospel, which of them could we ever resemble: Herod, Herodias,  Salome, the guests.?

How do we size up next to Herod? Giving in to Herodias, he imprisoned John whom he greatly admired. He so loved listening to John talk that he sneaked down near John’s cell beneath his palace where he listened to John speaking with his jailors.

Are we anything like Herodias? Do we ever do all that we can to shut up those who oppose us?

Are we like anything like her daughter. Do we ever let a little applause go to our heads?

Are we anything like Herod’s guests who knew right from wrong while not exerting theirselves to prevent evil from being carried out?

Have you ever let yourself be momentarily crazed the way they were? Let me tell you a story of how I one was.

Fifty years ago I hired men to build a school in a remote Korean valley, and we needed sand for the concrete blocks, and for the sand we needed to borrow a U.S. trailer for hauling sand up from the ocean.

The only Americans near us were a wild bunch who slipped South Korean soldiers ashore in North Korea. When I went calling on them, the American colonel and a Korean general were getting ready to take a swift landing craft out on to the ocean for shooting sitting ducks.

When I declined their invitation to join them they said they wouldn’t lend me the trailer if I didn’t go out with them. With a Korean soldier at the helm, we shot over high waves, looking for flocks of sitting ducks in the troughs.

The colonel would shout, “Over there? Over there!”  And he and the general would blaze away, with a soldier with a net on a pole scooping up what they hit. When the general got seasick, and sunk to the deck, the colonel shouted, “Come shoot with me, Father, if you want that trailer.”

Shooting sitting ducks was against my principles, but I joined the colonel, firing at his side. Soon I was crazed with it, and I was the one spotting the sitting birds, and shouting directions to the soldier at the prow, and blazing away at the poor ducks.

I was brought to the sad realization that if I didn’t hold firm I could be swept into doing regrettable things.

Or hearts are made for you, O Lord, and they cannot rest until they rest in you.

Thursday, 8/28/34

Honoring St. Augustine today we might see him as torn between his father and his mother, with his father grooming him for earthly happiness, and his mother praying  for him to open himself to heavenly joy.  

Beginning life as his mother’s boy, Augustine wrote that he sucked in Jesus with his mother’s milk, and as a young catechumen he came close to asking for Baptism. Then, his interest swung towards worldly benefits in his later teen years, with his father fixing him up with a girl to take care of him as he pursued a career in rhetoric in the wild city of Carthage.

In Carthage he made a stab at satisfying both body and soul by enlisting in  Manichaeism, a pseudo religion that tried worshiping separate creators of our bodies and souls.

His specialty of Rhetoric consisted in writing persuasive arguments. Today it would make him an advertizing man, but in his world it had him composing speeches for senators. When his profession brought him to the imperial court in Milan, his mother followed him, and she took to urging him to take a professional interest in the persuasive sermons of Bishop Ambrose. He gave in to his mother on that, and he was soon finding that the substance of Ambrose’s sermons was getting to him.

He provided his mistress with enough land to support her and their child, then he took to resuming the life of a catechumen preparing for baptism. Then, perhaps with his departed father’s influence seeping through, he took on another mistress.

Unhappy with himself, he was pacing his garden, and he found himself overhearing children chanting a song that seem to accompany a game they were playing. But, no, the words seemed to be addressed to him. They were singing, “Pick it up and read, pick it up and read.” Seeing a little book laying there, he picked it up, and he read, “Put on Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”   

From that moment, he never turned back. He told the Lord, “Our hearts are made for you, O lord, and they cannot rest until they rest in you.”

When we work full blast we are happy all over.

Wednesday, 8/27/14

Paul told us, “If anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.”

Pondering over our need to work, I suddenly recalled something said by the priest teaching us Philosophy seventy years ago.

He said, “According to Aristotle, our faculties achieve happiness through work,” and like many other things he told us, that made no sense.

It sounded like he was saying that he and the other priests on our faculty would be happy if they did a little work, but that couldn’t be it. 

He gradually made us understand that by our faculties he meant all our mental and physical equipment. My faculty of memory is happy when I put it to the task of memorizing. My faculty of thinking is happiest when I give it a real problem to work out. My physical faculties are happy when I go all out exercising them in walking, lifting, pushing.

It’s like Our Lord’s parable about the talents. Our talents are all the good things our personalities are equipped with, and our eternal happiness will be proportioned to how we worked with them.  

Jesus did not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets. He came to fulfill them.

Tuesday, 8/26/14

In our readings from Matthew’s Gospel over the past few days we have come across a number of Our Lord’s complaints against the Pharisees, and to understand his bias against the Pharisees we should recall the history of how he got that way.

Language scholars who gave close study to Matthew’s Gospel have shown us how it  contains vocabulary that didn‘t come into use until fifty years after the death and Resurrection of Jesus. As well, scholars point to Matthew’s  allusions to events that took place fifty years after Jesus was gone. They can assure us that Matthew’s Gospel was written after the year 81 a.d.. What is more, his Gospel stories reflect matters of great interest to Christians at that later date. Let’s look into those matters.

One of Our Lord’s Apostles was called Simon the Zealot. In Our Lord’s time Zealots  were non-violent men who campaigned for a peaceful break from Rome. However, after the year 65 a.d. many of the Zealots became terrorists.

Those terrorists, carrying short knives called “shickas,” came to be known as the Shickarees. Holed up in Jerusalem, they took to ambushing and murdering the men of Roman patrols, and in the year 67 a.d. they drove the Roman forum to approve the draconian measure of completely destroying Jerusalem.

General Vespasian methodically circled the holy city with trenches. He set up catapults, and he dug down to cut off the water sources to their wells, and he blocked off all traffic in and out of Jerusalem Then, In 69 a.d. he was chosen as the new emperor, and he entrusted the destruction of Jerusalem to his son General Titus.

Locked into the city the Shickarees turned their violence against the Pharisees whom they hated for their having been on friendly terms with the Romans. That had the Pharisees striking a deal with Titus to allow them to leave the city for Jamnia, a property they had on the Mediterranean shore.

On hearing news of the destruction of the temple in 70 a.d. those Pharisees began asking how they, a people devoted to temple worship, could survive as a religion. The conclusion they came to was that their orthodox Judaism was to be found in their complete observance of the Law of Moses, and their observance of the thousands of precepts they had added to the Law since the time of Moses.  

In the year 80 a.d. the Pharisees at Jamnia began taking stock of the scattered Jews who had survived the destruction of Jerusalem, and they found that a third of those Jews had become Christians, while still priding themselves in being Jewish.

The official Pharisees at Jamnia began telling those Christians that since Jesus had eaten with sinners, not completely observing Kosher, he had actually been out to destroy the law and the Prophets.
That had Matthew writing his Gospel where Jesus said, “I have not come to destroy the Law and the Prophets. I have come to fulfill them. In his Gospel Matthew recalled for us all that Jesus had said in the Sermon on the Mount, detailing how Jesus had taken the incomplete rulings of Moses, bringing them to beautiful fulfillment.

The Pharisees were men who separated themselves from sinners, always giving good example.

Monday, 8/25/14

Jesus criticized the Pharisees who did everything to be as seen as good. Let’s go back over the chain of events that made them that way. The first link in that chain takes us all the way back to 970 B.C. when King David lie dying.

 David had promised the throne to Solomon, but another son, Adonijah, was already acting as king, and he had a small army backing up his claim. When the dying David heard of this, he called in the priest Zadoc, ordering him to take Solomon out to the spring of Gihon where he was to solemnly consecrate him as king.

Zadoc was certain that Adonijah would kill him, but out of obedience to David, he poured the oil of chrism on the head of Solomon, anointing him king. Amazingly, the people arose as one, shouting, “Long live King Solomon,” and that set Adonijah running for his life.

The people rewarded the courage of Zadoc, by making him their high priest. And from that time on it became their tradition that no one but a direct descendent of Zadoc could be given the office of High Priest.

The nation held to that tradition for eight hundred years, then in 152 B.C. the only descendent of Zadoc available for the high office was useless and illiterate. However, fifteen years before that, Judas Maccabeus had saved the temple from destruction, and Jonathan, the younger brother of Judas, was a highly qualified priest.

Two thirds of the people ushered Joanathan into be consecrated High Priest, but the other third of the people said keeping to tradition was all that mattered. Half of that numbr, one sixth of the population, migrated over to caves over the Dead Sea. They were the Essenes who left us the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Another sixth of the people, conservative adherents to tradition, stayed on as the Separatists, who in their language were called Pharisees. They set themselves up as examples to the rest of how real pious Jews should live. They were good people, and they did give good examples to those who were slack in following their religion.  Many of the Pharisees were wonderful men, but some seem to have become hypocrites. In the Rogers and Hart musical “Carousal” the women sing,

“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.”  

Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Sunday, 8/24/14

In the Gospel Jesus told Peter he was giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Then, the first reading clarified the meaning of giving him the keys. In that reading the Lord summoned the prophet Hilkiah, giving him authority over his people whom he refers to as the House of David. The lord said, “I will place the key of the house of David on his shoulder. When he opens no one shall shut. When he shuts no one shall open.” 

With both Hilkiah and Peter the Lord was using poetic language, and in practical terms it’s hard to say just how much authority he was giving them.

In the year 250 A.D. St. Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage in north Africa wrote a letter to all the Christian communities in the known world. He told them that they could not call themselves Catholic or Christian if they were not in union with the bishop of Rome. However, Cyprian limited the authority the bishop of Rome could exercise. He wrote that the pope had no right to appoint bishops for Africa.

The barbarian tribes that invaded Europe and the church in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries followed feudalism’s government structures. Each of those nations felt that God gave all authority to their king, allowing him to loan it out in fief to those he chose as his barons. In adapting itself to feudalism, the church came to regard all authority as coming directly to the pope, its king; leaving it up to him to lend out authority to those he chose as bishops. It wasn’t that way in the early church, but that’s the way it is now.

I like the way the Italians call the pope “Papa.” It’s good to honor the Holy Father the way we honored our dads. 

In recent months Pope Francis has shown favor to Latin American priests who had been out of favor with Rome.

Saturday, 8/23/14

When I was writing this yesterday I couldn’t find today’s Mass readings. So, forgive me for filling in with something else

We are all delighted with our new pope, and we wonder in what direction he will take us. For clues it might help to note that he has long been in favor with his fellow Latin American bishops.

Up to fifty years ago the bishops of central and south America had never come together as a group that looked after their common interests. Each of the thousand bishops down there strove to stay in good with Rome. But then they were given a good shaking by a number of French Theologions who had been through hard times and imprisonment under the Nazis. Outstanding among those were the Dominican, Father Yves Congar, and the Jesuit, Henri de Lebac.

Those two, had been silenced by Rome, but then Pope John XXIII summoned them to be the principal consulters for his Second Vatican Council. With encouragement from them, the bishops of Central and South America formed an organization they called CELAM, for Conference, Episcopal. Latin, America. CELAM often sided with underdogs who were being pushed around by governments with whom both America and the Vatican had been doing business.

In recent months Pope Francis showed favor to three prominent priests who had been out of favor with their governments and with Rome. They were the Maryknoll Father Miguel D’Escoto of Nicaragua, Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, and the Dominican Father Gustavo Gutierrez of Peru..

On a 1985 visit to Nicaragua Pope John Paul II excommunicated Father D’Ecoto for siding with that Sandinistas government opposed my President Reagan and Major Oliver North. Pope Francis has now allowed Father D’Escoto to offer Mass for the first time in thirty years.

In 1980 Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down while he was offering Mass, and the Vatican was saying he could not be called a martyr who died for the Faith since those gunmen were soldiers of a government tolerated by the U.S. and the Vatican. Francis says that is ridiculous, Archbishop Romero is a great martyr.        

In 1979 Pope John Paul II at the Pueblo conference of CELAM condemned Liberation Theology as “godless Communism,” but Francis has recently called in Father Gustavo Gutierrez, the founder of Liberation Theology. The two just had a fine old chat.

Our Faith does not envision life returning to the very bodes which are the frameworks of our living bodies.

Friday, 8/22/14

Ezekiel’s chapter about life returning to the dry bones of the Israelites should not be seen as a prophesy regarding the resurrection of the dead, but rather as a prediction that a Jerusalem deserted when the people were led off to Babylon would again teem  with people.

The resurrection of the dead is a major part of our Christ Faith. However, it does not envision life returning to the very bones which are the frameworks of our living bodies. No, Paul clearly describes what happens in the second half of the fifteenth chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians.

He begins by saying what happens with our bodies is similar to what happens in the vegetable world. There he says, “What you sow is not the body that is to be but a bare kernel of wheat perhaps.

He went on to say, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. . .. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

He further writes, “We shall all be changed. That which is corruptible must clothe itself in incorruptibility. That which is mortal must clothe itself in immortality. Then, the word that is written will come about” ‘Death is swallowed up in victory!”

Ezekiel told us that God had promised to give us new hearts and new spirits.


In Ezekiel’s vision the Lord told him, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you. And ”He said, I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you.”

Jesus seemed to have had this passage in mind in Chapter Three of John’s Gospel.  Speaking with the Pharisee Nicodemus, he said, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.”

Nicodemus was a certified teacher of the Jewish Religion, so Jesus chided him for not seeing this connection to what God had said to Ezekiel.

Let’s switch our attention to that conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Jesus told him “A man cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless he be born from above.”

John’s Greek word which every good Bible translates as “from above” was anothen. There was a similar Greek word which translates to  “again,” and Nicodemus mistakenly took that meaning. It had him asking, “How can a person once grown old be born again? 

To illustrate what he meant by “being born from above,” Jesus said God touches our souls in a mysterious way, coming like wind that no one sees.

It’s a shame that the mistaken way Nicodemus heard Our Lord’s words have hung on, filling our air waves with spiritual advice from born again people.  

St. Bernard was an exceptionally wise and kind saint.

Wednesday, 8/20/14

Today is the feast of  St. Bernard. Let’s look at his history. From 900 to 1100 A.D. the life of the Church had been enriched by the monastery of Cluny and by the many monasteries and convents it spawned. But then as politics and human frailty took over there, men who needed freedom from worldliness left Cluny to found their monastery in a remote place named Citeaux. Taking up that name, people took to  calling the monks Cistercians.

In 1109 Citeaux admitted Bernard, a nineteen year-old lover of literature. Then, four years later, with Citeaux becoming overcrowded, fifty monks were chosen to find a new a new place and to choose a new abbot. They found a secluded place where the air was so clear that they called it Clairveaux, and they chose young Bernard as their abbot for life.

Even though Bernard tried to live in seclusion, people all around began repeating his  sayings, like these:

Hell is full of good intentions.”
“Nothing can damage me the way I damage myself.”
“When religion brought forth Wealth, that daughter devoured her.”
“We find rest in those we love if we make a resting place for them.”

When Bernard was thirty-eight he was called to be secretary to a Church council. When he was forty St. Malachy, archbishop of all Ireland visited him, then begged the pope to let him stay under Bernard’s guidance. At forty-nine he was asked to choose between two claimants to the papacy. 

There is an old story about St. Barnard and a man laboring in his field. Bernard was riding up through the foothills to give a retreat to the monks of an isolated monastery when the man halted his mowing to admire Bernard’s horse.

“That’s a beautiful horse, Reverend Father,” the man said.
Noticing the horse for the first time, Bernard agreed. “Yes, it is a beauty, isn’t it?”

The man went on. “You’ve got it easy, riding that wonderful mount, with no hard work, and nothing to do but pray. How easy can it get?”

“But, wait, Sir,” Bernard said, “Prayer is very hard work.”

“There’s no way it can be as hard as what I’m at all day.”

Bernard made a proposal. “I’ll tell you, sir, if you can pray the Our Father through to the end without letting another thought interfere, I’ll give you this horse.”

Delighted, the man began, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed-say, do I get the saddle too?”

Although the Israelites hated the Phoenicians, they were indebted to them for the written language for their Bible.

Tuesday, 8/19/14

In today’s reading Ezekiel inveighed against the principle Phoenician port of Tyre. The Old Testament had nothing good to say about the Phoenicians, but the Bible is indebted to Phoenicia for the language in which their Bible was written.

I heard this story which dates back to 1200 B.C. . It gives great credit to the Phoenicians. As the world’s leading traders they had frequent need for the copper ore they found in the Sinai desert. The mine operator there had constant need for reliable book keeping to keep track of tonnage and of days of labor; and the only writing he knew how to handle was the cumbersome Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Then, he was struck by the realization that every spoken word is a compound of separate sounds. For instance, the word for a gate, which was bab, was actually made up of three sounds: buh, ai, and buh.   

Our genius decided on altering a pair of hieroglyphics. He took the hieroglyphic for a house, which was two side-by-side boxes, like a minimal two room house. He turned the boxes on end to make B. Then, he took the hieroglyphic for a goat with its horns sticking up. It was called Alpha. Our man turned it upside down to stand on its horns. That’s how he made the letter  A  

Going on from his alpha, beta, he altered hieroglyphic figures to make the Delta which had been the picture for the Nile’s delta. He used another hieroglyphic for the “ee” sound, and so on.

 The Hebrew lettering for its Bible, and the Greek letters for its Classics were all derived from that clever Phoenician’s innovation, which he called his alphabet. 

Saturday Pope Francis beatified seven Columban Fathers who had worked and died in Korea.

Monday, 8/18/14

I just read that seven Columban Fathers whom I had met briefly were of the 124 people whom Pope Francis beatified Saturday. They had served in parishes with which I later became familiar, and now they are part way toward being canonized.

Three of them who were Irish had worked in Korea before World War II, but had been repatriated to Ireland at the beginning g of the war. Then, on their way back to Korea in the late nineteen-forties, they had stopped to talk with us seminarians. In Korea when the Reds came down they had been in parishes with which I was later familiar.

On June 25, 1950 when the Northern Communists invaded the south those three  decided on staying in their parishes, in hopes that they would be allowed to work.

On the second day of the war Fr. Tony Collier tried walking over to our Chunchon cathedral from his parish across town, but was gunned down on the street. Jim Maginn was shot a week later, and Pat O’Reilly had managed to work out of a private house for three months was taken off in a truck.  I often drove by the spot on the road where they had taken him from a truck, and shot him.

In our other Columban diocese in southwestern Korea Monsignor Pat Brennan, Jack O’Brien, and Tom Cusack, decided on staying in their parishes. Bound, they had been packed in with the GI prisoners from where they had been taken out and shot in September. The GIs, later repatriated in a prisoner swap with the North, spoke of how Father Jack had sweetened their captivity with his singing.

I later worked for twelve years in our diocese that straddled the DMZ. Three others of our men decided on staying when the Reds came down on June 25. Tied in with a huge number of captured GIs, they were put to walking north. Two thirds of the GIs died on that walk known as the Death March. Father Frank Canavan also died on that road. Father Phil Crosby and Tom Quinlan, while losing most of their vision through malnutrition, survived three years as prisoners, and then were sent back to us through Russia, I was privileged to work closely with them for eleven years.

I read where there were 117 Koreans beatified Saturday. We had had one Korean priest, Timothy Ri, who was able to work in North Korea from 1945 to 1950 when they shot him. Sent up there to take his place, I kept trying to get our old Catholics to describe Father Ri for me, but all they would say was that he was like Jesus. I hope they beatified him Saturday. 

Today in Seoul Pope Francis is offering Korea's first papal Mass.

Sunday, 8/17/14

Today for the first time ever the people of Korea have a Catholic Holy Father offering Mass in their capitol city of Seoul.

In Thursday’s account of the papal arrival, we read how Seoul had cleared its main boulevard of all other traffic as Francis rolled into town in his economy class car.

That reminded me of what it was like sixty-one years ago when I arrived in Seoul on a Dc-3 flight. With the taxis and vendors still down at Korea’s temporary capitol of Pusan, the main drag was empty as I toted my two suitcases along it. That day a single jeep came along, and the GI gave me a lift to our Columban Fathers’ place.  With the Columbans being the only foreigners functioning in Seoul during and immediately following the war, the seventy-five Catholic chaplains made good use of the Columban house.

You know, I suppose, that up to 1860 Korea was known as the Hermit Kingdom. Many priests sneaking on to its shores were caught and decapitated. Still, from 1776 on members of the yearly embassies to the Chinese Emperor brought back Catholic books, and groups of new Catholics functioned in priest-less parishes.

The Columban Fathers with whom I was a member had a diocese straddling the 38th parallel, and three of our young priests were shot down on the opening day of the war on June 25, 1950. Four priests died in northern prison camps, and two others were set free in a prisoners swap after they had three terrible years as prisoners.

From 1945 to 1950 North and South Korea had been divided at the 38th parallel, but from August of 1953 the two countries have been divided along the DMZ where the troops were opposed at war’s end. Then the North gained land south of the 38th on the west side of the country, but our Marines had pushed thirty miles north of the parallel on the East Coast gaining back land that had belonged to the North. We had a parish up there in the town of Yang Yang where just before opening the war the Reds had shot the Korean pastor Father Timothy RI. I was sent up there to replace him in September of 1954. Many of our young mothers had lost their husbands for ever in the North Korean Army.

The job of foreign missionaries is to work themselves out of a job. I baptized two eleven-year-old girls who as Sisters Dorothy and Josepha are still working there. I also baptized an eleven-year-old Kim Taik-shinny who as Father Joseph Kim is still working there. The Catholics in Korea are people the Church can be very proud of.

The Old Testament contains matters that are "imperfect and provisional."

Saturday, 8/16/14

Ezekiel wrote that the Lord came to him insisting that the people stop using the old proverb: “Fathers have eaten green grapes, and their children’s teeth or set on edge.” The proverb will have more punch for you if as a kid you had the experience of stealing and eating sour grapes. It would have set your upper and lower teeth grinding against each other. (I don’t know what it would be with false teeth.)

The people’s proverb about eating unripe grapes had been their way of reading the  small print following on the listing of the First Commandment. Chapter Twenty of Exodus states, “I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those whom hate me, down to the third and fourth generations.”

But in today’s first reading, as a reversal of that, God  instructed Ezekiel to tell the people that “if a man is virtuous he will surely live, but if he is not he will not live.”

We see here one part of the Old Testament contradicting what is said in another. This would be a problem for you if you were a person who believed that every word of the Bible comes straight from God. But as Catholics we believe that every book of the Bible also had a human author, and that at time God allowed that author to slip in his or her faulty views.

Our “Constitution on Divine Revelation” that was approved by all the bishops, says it this way in paragraph 15: “These books, even though they contain matters imperfect and provisional, nevertheless show us authentic divine teaching.” 

Many Old Testament lessons were tailored to the limited understanding of their authors and to the understanding of the people of their time.  

Setting aside August 15 for Mary's feast gives us a day we can spend lovingly with her.

Friday, 8/15/14

Today we honor Mary for being bodily taken up to heaven, even though we do not know what that means. We no longer picture the heaven of the saints as being “up there” above the clouds, because that is where we man the space station with the Russians.

Europe is proud of possessing the burial places of the Apostles. Peter and Paul are in Rome. James is in Santiago, Spain. Scotland claims Andrew. Some Apostles were divided up with an arm here and a leg there, but no town ever claimed to be Mary’s resting place. Genesis calls death and the corruption that follows it a punishment for our sins. The sinless Mary did not undergo them.

But, just as we can no longer imagine Mary’s body being taken up to a heaven just above the clouds, so neither can we imagine her body to be enduring with an earthly need of nourishment. It doesn’t undergo any kind of aging. It is best for us to try imagining her as being the way Paul described things to the Corinthians.

God gives a body as he chooses. It is sown corruptible, it is raised incorruptible. It is sown dishonorable, it is raised glorious. It is sown weak; it is raised powerful. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one.”

Setting aside August 15 as Mary's feast day gives us a day when we can spend lovingly with Mary our Mother. 

The world's forty-eight million refugees are our brothers and sisters.

Thursday, 8/14/14

In our first reading from 590 B.C. Ezekiel was lugging all his baggage with him day after day. It was his way of warning  the people that if they did not turn from their sins, in three years time they would be forced to leave Jerusalem with only what they were wearing, When the terrible day came they would be carrying nothing but  memories of the homes where they were born but would never see again. On their month long walk to Babylon they would be forced to let their old and young lie unburied where they dropped along the way.

For us that grim picture should arouse our sympathy for exiles.. The world has forty-eight million refuges today. Those people once had flowerbeds. They had annual neighborhood events. Now they are lying on yellow earth, unprotected from the sun. Water for drinking is scarce, and there is none for washing.

Their refugee population swelled with people from Syria,  Jordan now has one refugee for every three Jordanians. America is accommodating one refugee for every twelve hundred Americans. Do we  feel any kinship for our refugees?

The idea of feeling kinship for foreigners puts me in mind of a skinny old Korean named Domingo. He treasured a Korean translation of  “Faith of Our Fathers” written by our Cardinal Gibbons. Domingo had been skilful at weaving kitchen sieves from the long hairs in the tails of ponies, but with all the ponies being in North Korea, Domingo sustained himself with fishing from the surf.

What has me recalling Domingo now was his interest in American Catholics. I was charmed by the way he spoke of  “Our brothers and sisters over there.” 

But, returning to the matter of a tenth of the world’s people being homeless, we should not ignore Our Lord when he asks us to do what we can for these brothers and sisters of ours.

"Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them"

Wednesday, 8/13/14

Jesus told us, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Our religious life in founded on togetherness. When God took a good look at his first human he said, “It isn’t good for the human to be alone.”

In 270 A.D. St. Anthony locked himself away in an old fort beside the Red Sea. Searching for God, he subsisted on scraps of food the Bedouins threw over the wall to him. Then, after decades of solitary prayer Anthony’s reputation for holiness got out and spread.

Fifty years after his embarking on that solitary existence men and women hermits began taking up separate hermitages around Anthony’s fort. Then, one by one the hermits began recalling Jesus to have said, “In this will all men know that you are my disciples: that you have love for one another.” After that, they had begun clustering for a fuller Christian life. A monk named Pachomius wrote a rule for monks living in common, and his sister Marry did the same for women. That was the birth of monastery and convent life in our church.  

Susan Sarandon in a recent movie explained that the main thing husbands and wives provided each other was a necessary audience for trivial talk.

 Perhaps the most notable triumphs of togetherness in our lifetimes has been the success of Alcoholics Anonymous. The group provide members with the happiness that evaded them in their solitary drinking. 

In 1964 our diocese in Korea got a young Irishman as its new bishop, and he pulled me in as his secretary. Socializing hadn’t been a big part of his Irish church upbringing, but orders from Rome had him attending weekly meetings with our city’s Protestant leaders. He’d come back from those meetings asking if there was anything to Protestantism other than Fellowship. Then, one day he returned, saying I would have to take his place at those gatherings.  He said, “Sully, they’ve gone too far. They’ve made a verb out of it. Now we are “Fellowshipping.”   

God installed Ezekiel as his prophet by giving him his words to eat.

Tuesday, 8/12/14

We begin two weeks during with first readings from the prophet Ezekiel who introduced himself in yesterday’s reading. He was of the priestly tribe of Levi, and he was one of Jerusalem’s elite whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried in exile to Babylon in 597 b.c.. Ezekiel said he began prophesying five years later, in 592.

Most of his utterances were of an apocalyptic nature, taking the form of dream-like visions. (cal was an old word for a cover, and the word apocalypse literally means to take the cover off matters that were long hidden.)

In today’s apocalyptic vision God has him eat a scroll on which heavenly words were written.

You might have heard this before. The Hebrew word for a prophet was Nabi, which was originally a child’s name for his or her mouth. Each of the prophets lent his mouth to God for speaking God’s word. When Jeremiah declared himself incapable of prophesying, God reached down, touching his mouth. When Isaiah said his unclean lips rendered him incapable of speaking the Lord’s words, God sent an angel to take a red hot coal from the altar with which he seared Isaiah’s lips, preparing them to speak God’s words.

I like pointing out that in our Baptism ritual the pouring on of the water is followed by an anointing with the consecrated oil of chrism. The priest reminds the newly baptized person that he or she has been baptized into Christ, and thus shares in Christ’s role as priest and prophet. We are thus equipped to lend out mouths to God to speak his truth.

Today we honor St. Claire who helped Francis rebuild a church in ruins.

Monday, 8/11/14

Today the Church honors St. Claire who died on this day in 1255 at age 59. Of the nobility of Assisi, she was born there fifteen years after St. Francis. At twelve she  gained the right to postpone a planned marriage until she was older. Then, at eighteen when her father had her marriage ready, she came on a thirty-three-year-old Francis who was physically restoring the abandoned old church of St. Damiano.

They both saw the old ruin as a metaphor for the Catholic Church that was falling into moral decay through its love of wealth and pomp. Francis, through his early youth, had been crazy over stories of knights on noble quests; so then, after his conversion, he became God’s knight. His knightly quest became his bringing the Church back to the values of a Jesus who had nowhere to lay his head.

Claire’s father was dangling before her the prospect of a wealthy marriage with both country and city estates. But, on fire with the higher quest that consumed Francis, Claire shaved her head, donned a coarse black robe, and took up residence in a hovel where she waited on further instructions from God.

Other young women were caught up in Claire’s enthusiasm for serving God in impoverished solitude, and their order has houses all over the world down to the present.