Today we honor St. Alponsus Ligoiuri, who was kindly with sinners

Saturday, 8/1/15

Today we honor St. Alphonsus Ligouri who was born near Naples Italy in 1696. A very small boy, he was so brilliant that his father home schooled him. Although finding him stubborn, his father found him so eager to learn that when Alphonso was only seventeen he was able to pass all requirements for doctoral  degrees both in civil and church law.

After ten successful years in the courtroomd of Naples, Alphonso made a mistake. He was folding up his brief after what he had thought to be a perfect presentation, when he was halted by his opponent pointing out how Alphonso, in his preparation, had overlooked a pertinent document.

Disgusted with himself, Alphonso folded his brief, and declared himself through with the practice of law. His subsequent wanderings had him visiting churches; and then they brought him to listening in to the theological debates at the Oratory founded a century earlier by St. Phillip Neri. Then, without joining their order, he was led to a priesthood in which he came to be loved for his Scripture based sermons and for his kindly directions of people in morality difficulaties.

The priests of the Redemptorist order, that he then founded, came to be loved for that same understanding. Forgive me, though, for recalling an instance in which one of his “Reds” was less than understanding.

Andy Schierhoff, an older seminarian from, my home parish, became a bishop in La Paz, Bolivia. One day in 1968 we were both home at the same time, and I was driving him to meet a mutual friend. We were passing by a Redemptorist parish when he suggested we take advantage of a parlor there, where by pushing a bell we could get a priest at the other side of a screen. He would be ready to hear any priest’s confession.

When I knelt, and rang the bell, through the screen I saw a priest appear. Very suspiciously, he asked, “Are you a priest?”

When I had assured him I was, he went into asking me about my vices. After I got out of there, Bishop Andy went in. Afterwards we drove silently down Grand Avenue until at last I asked, “Did he ask you if you were a priest?”

Andy said, “He did, and when I told him I was a bishop, he really gave it to me.”  

Today we honor St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

Friday, 7/31/15

Ignatius was baptized Igneo after a saint honored only by Northern Spain's Basque population. Then,  going along with what others called him, he let people address him as Ignatius. As the thirteenth child of a woman who died when he was one, he was turned over to a proud family who raised him as a swordsman. As an ambitious young warrior, he swaggered with the sword and dagger that swung down the side of his skin tight leggings.

As a volunteer swordsman in one Basque cause after another, he had mastered only the learning he needed for reading tales of dashing warriors. At thirty, in 1521, he received a cannonball that came close to tearing off a leg. He regained mobility only by a crude surgery that had a friend sawing off a protruding bone.

Alone in a cave through two years of recuperation, he took to memorizing line after line in a book on the Life of Christ. His solitary years of prayer led him to compose his Spiritual Exercises,  a month-long program of meditations. They were a digest of his own experience in transforming him to being a knight of the Lord.

He resolved on recovering the Holy Land from the Moors. So, with adventures at sea and with prison spells in foreign lands, he made his way to Jerusalem. But there, the Franciscans, whom the Holy See had put in charge, ordered him to leave after allowing him just two weeks to visit Calvary and the Mount of Olives.

Brought to see that to serve the Lord as his knight, he would need to become a learned man, he returned to Spain where for three years he took the back bench in a school for boys. With two years at the University of Salamanca, he prepared himself for admittance at the University of Paris where he gained a mastery of Catholic Theology.

We won't here go into his founding of the Jesuits. The story is well known. He led each of seven scholars to give a month to following his Spiritual Exercises. Seeing themselves as a unit it God's army, they formed what they called The Company of Jesus. Ignatius was forty-nine when Pope Paul III recognized  his Jesuits as an order in the Catholic Church. Ignatius had transformed his ideals of worldly chivalry to one of Godly chivalry.



What made the Ark of the Covenant holy was that God spoke to the Israelites from above the ark, from between the cherubim.

Thursday, 7/30/15

Our first reading is from Chapter Forty of the Book of Exodus, and it tells us tha Moses placed the tablets of the Law inside the Ark of the Covenant. It might help us to look back at what was said about the Ark in the chapters from Exodus that we skipped in our daily readings.

Chapter 37 of Exodus tells us that the Ark was made of acacia wood; and that it was 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches deep. It was plated all over with gold, Laying flat over it top was what was called the Propitiatory. It too was 45 by 27 inches.

Two cherubim of beaten gold faced each other above the Propitiatory, and their wings, short of touching, reached out to each other above the Propitiatory.

Speaking of the extended wings of the cherubim, Chapter 25, verse 22 of Exodus says, “There I will meet you and there, from above the propitiatory, between the two cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant, I will tell you all the commands that I wish you to give to the Israelites.”

What made the Årk of the Covenant holy for the Israelites was not what was inside of it, but the place above it from where God spoke to them. 

When we act with generosity, and when we spend time face to face with the Lord, our souls, like those of Moses and Martha, will glow with a Godly light.

Wednesday, 7/29/15

We can look at both readings together. From Moses listening intently to God, his face seemed to be taking on a God-like glory, but actually it was his soul that began to glow with Godliness.

The same was true of Martha. Jesus had recognized her ready hospitality to the rich and poor as a Godly trait. Added to that kindness, Martha had joyfully accepted God’s gift of faith. It had brought her to see Jesus as her Lord.

When we act generously with God’s poor, and when we spend time face to face with the Lord, our souls, like those of Moses and Martha, will glow with a Godly light.   

John modeled his Fourth Gospel on the Book of Exodus.l

Tuesday, 7/28/15

Our readings from the Book of Exodus make us see that the apostle St. John modeled his Gospel on the Exodus story.

Just as God, using Moses. brought the people out of slavery, leading them to the promised land ; so John’s Gospel shows us how God, using Jesus, breaks us away from sinfulness, leading us through lifetimes that end with out reaching our promised land. Along the way both Moses and Jesus gave us bread from heaven.

Today’s reading from the Book of Exodus tells us that while the Israelites were living in tents in the desert, Moses erected a special dwelling, the “meeting tent,” for God. Then,  the cloud of God’s glory descended on the tent. Moses, after forty day there with God, emerged with the Ten Commandments.

We see those events echoed for the Son of God in Chapter One of John’s Gospel. Verse 14 says, “The Word was made flesh, and he erected his tent with ours. And we saw his glory”

Then, in verses 16 and 17 John wrote, “From His fullness we have all received. Because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth come through Jesus Christ.”

Meditating on these verses from John’s Gospel, we see the human body of Jesus as the tent in which the Son of God accompanies us. We can see his glory as the unearthly generosity by which he gave himself for us.

We see how blessed we are, when we consider how Moses gave us nothing but rules; while Jesus gives us the grace to live by his rules, while letting us see the rightness of them. 

Our Lord's yeast-like person goes out, mixing with people, spreading his goodness.

Monday, 7/27/15

Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole mass was leavened.

We sometimes hear a holy person described as someone who goes off by himself or herself, spending hours upon end with religious devotions; but Jesus, in his parable of the yeast mixed with three measures of flour, presented an entirely different picture of holiness.

His holy person also spends time with the Lord, striving to be good the way the Lord is. But, the yeast-like holy person then goes out, mixing with people, spreading Christ’s goodness among them.

A woman’s job might be caring for the old, even changing sheets when needed. She is yeast-like when she makes the old person feel good about himself or herself. She is like Our Lord’s yeast if there is a picture of grandchildren by the old person’s bedside, and she spends time admiring them.

Say, a man with God’s help, has emerged from years of addictions and misery. He is like that yeast when he lends a hand to help another emerge from a similar misery.

If your prayer life puts a smile on your face, by passing that smile around you can bring others to smile. It’s a cheap way of being like that yeast.

We have heard about the multiplication of the loaves hundreds of times, let's look instead at how the Old Covenant was ratified.

Sunday, 7/26/15

The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves is the most important miracle in the New Testament. It is the only one described in all four Gospels.

We have heard it a hundred times. So, I would like to speak instead about an important story from the Old Testament. It is the story of how God entered into a covenant with the people of Israel. We read it in Chapter 24 of the Book of Exodus.

This summer for our weekday Masses, we have been going a chapter at a time trough the Book of Exodus, and we have been building up toward this all-important Chapter 24; but something happened. When we were to come to it yesterday, we instead, on July 25, came to the Feast of the Apostle James. It had its own reading about apostles, so we had to skip Chapter 24 this year. I don’t wanna.

Let’s slip it in here. A covenant is a solemn contract in which the parties actually give themselves to each other. Marriage is the one covenant with which we are familiar. Moses arranged a primitive ceremony for Yahweh, to become the Israelite’s God, and for the Israelites to become Yahweh’s people.

First, at the foot of Mount Sinai, he had the young men build an altar to represent God. Then, he had all the people assembled before the altar and Mount Sinai. Next he had young men slaughter bulls, collecting the blood in large brass bowls. 

Then, since exchanging promises to be true is a big part of a covenant, like with marriage; Moses called out each of the Ten Commandments, and the people shouted they would keep it, remaining true to God.

Now, the Israelites believed that blood was life itself, so Moses had the young men with the brass bowls of blood, go through the crowd, sprinkling each person with blood, and poring the last drops on God’s altar. Having the same blood, they became one with each other, and one with God.

When Jesus initiated the New Covenant at the Last Supper, he said, “This is the chalice of my blood of the New and everlasting Covenant.”

What are you seeking?"

Saturday, 7/25/15

Today we honor St. James, brother of the Apostle John. The two were relatively well off. Their Father Zebedee had hired hands. Their mother Salome served the Apostles out of her own means. John was personally known to the High Priest. James was known as a son of thunder because of his hot temper, and that probably led to his being the first of the Apostles to be martyred.

The ashes of St. James are kept at Santiago Spain, and the yearly camino to the sight  concludes today. It is the most popular pilgrimage in Christendom.  

When James and John, as boys, heard about John the Baptist they received permission from Zebedee to go help John the Baptist in administering baptism. When John the Baptist pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God, they left him to follow Jesus.

It is a nice practice for you to join those bashful brothers as they followed Jesus at a distance. When he turned, asking them, “What are you seeking” it is good for you to ponder  how you would answer his question, 

The seeds are God's promptings, and the four kinds of ground are four ways we respond to God's promptings.

Friday, 7/24/15

Jesus said that the seeds, in his parable about the man sowing his seeds, stand for the word of God. We know that he did not mean his words in the Gospels, because they had not yet been written.

By the words of God in this parable, Jesus meant the silent promptings that God repeatedly sends to each of us, telling us to do good, and telling us how to better  understand hidden meanings.

By the pathway, the rock, the weed patch and the good ground Jesus meant the conditions of our hearts when it comes to responding to God’s promptings.

Sometimes when God’s word calls for our attention, we are like a heavily trod path with too much going on for us to pay attention to God’s promptings.

Some time our hearts are like an inch of soil over a rock pan. Seeds fallen there spring up immediately, but just as soon they die for lack of roots and moisture. We are like that when we respond to God with an enthusiasm that soon dies.

Some of our hearts are choked with many weed-like vices that won’t let goodness grow.

Then sometimes our hearts are open to God’s promptings, and we respond to his promptings with generosity.

What three of Our Lord's parables do you like best?

Thursday,  7/23/15

People complained that Jesus spoke only in parables rather than giving straight forward explanations of the law the way their Scribes did. That got me thinking about his parables. It had me asking which of his parables I liked the most. What about you? Which three of his parables do you like best?

You might make me change my mind on this, but I’d say the ones I like best are “The Prodigal Son,” “The Sower went out to sow his seed,” and “The lost sheep.” They cater to those of us who are far from perfect.

“The Prodigal Son” pictures the Father scanning the horizon, longing for sight of his wayward child.

“The Sower went out to sow his seed,” alerts us to God’s whispering to you even when you are like a hardened path, a rocky soil, a mess of weeds. 

“The lost sheep” gives the cozy feeling of being brought back on our shepherd’s shoulder. 

Jesus rewarded the feminine sensitivity of both Mary Magdalene and Mary of Bethany.

Wednesday, 7/22/15

Today we honor that Mary who was called Magdalene because she was from the town of Magdala on the coast of the Sea of Galilee. She was one of the women who followed Jesus and the apostles, providing for them, from their own means.

Both Mark and Luke tell us that Jesus had cast seven demons from her, whatever that means exactly.

We fall into the mistake of identifying her with Mary of Bethany who bought the expensive nard perfume to anoint Jesus for death.

Although Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene are different people, both of them, together with the Samaritan woman at the well, exhibit a feminine sensibility that Jesus welcomed and rewarded.

The Samaritan woman’s sensitivity brought her to be the first person to identify Jesus as the promised Messiah. Jesus rewarded her by saying, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”

Mary of Bethany was the only one sensitive enough to perceive the certainty of death saddening Jesus. It caused her to spend all she had preparing his body for death. Jesus rewarded her by saying her noble act would be remembered forever.

Mary Magdalene, along with Mary the Mother of Jesus and John, were the only ones who knew that the heart of Jesus needed friends to stand by him at his death. Jesus rewarded her by making her the first to witness his Resurrection from the dead.

God wants us all to be brothers and sisters.

Tuesday, 7/21/15

Jesus, pointed to one and all around him, saying, “Here are my mother and brothers.” We can take that to mean that above all else, God wants us to see all men and women to be his children, and brother and sister to one another.

We can see the history of religion as a one in which people have progressed towards  loving strangers. We see the sad beginning of that history in Chapter Four of Genesis. There, Cain’s sin had banished him from his family, making him a stranger on the face of the earth, so he said, “Anyone may kill me at sight.”

Back when there were no governments, no laws, or enforcers. When two tribes wanted the same grazing land or the same streams, they could either waste lives fighting for possession, or they could arrange a covenant ceremony.

Genesis gives us a vivid picture of how such covenant ceremonies were conducted. The two tribes would gather in the wooded areas on the opposite sides of an open field. Then, young men from both tribes would dig a four-foot deep trench towards each other.   

In those illiterate times, when there were no written contracts, they had their own ways. Young men from one end of the trench would split a heifer and a she goat, putting the halves on opposite sides of the ditch; then young men from the other tribe would split a grown ram in two for opposite sides of their end of the ditch.

Then, after those preparations, the absolute rulers of both ends of the ditch would hop in, and advance toward each other, say, “If my people break faith with yours, let me be split in two like this goat, heifer and ram.”

In Chapter Ten of Genesis God stooped to that lowly human way of making his covenant with Abraham. He came as a blazing torch from the end of the ditch opposite from where Abraham’s tribe was hidden.

Catholic and Protestants are getting along better these. But Sunni and Shiite Muslims are still killing each other on sight.

Our choosing Baptism echoes the Israelites' plunging into the Red Sea.

Monday, 7/20/15

The first reading picks up on the story in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Exodus. The Pharaoh Raamses II had given the Israelites permission to leave Egypt. So, all of them, dressed for the road, ate the Passover meal with their feet shod. Then, the six thousand families marched off together toward the Red Sea.

Meanwhile, the Pharaoh’s advisors made him see that it hurt Egypt to let the Israelite working men go. So, he dispatched six hundred armed chariots to intercept them, and to bring them back.

When the fleeing Israelites saw the Egyptian chariots pursuing them they moaned, complaining to Moses for bringing them on a “Fools’ Errand.” But, when Moses called up to God for directions, God told him to perform a do-or-die act of faith. He told him to order the whole people to march right into the depths of the Red Sea.

It was the craziest thing the people had ever heard of; but with the chariots baring down on them, and with none 0of them knowing how to swim, they made an act of faith that had them marching into the waves that then parted for them.

Paul in First Corinthians, 10:2 wrote of the Israelites, “They were baptized into Moses and the cloud and the Red Sea.” He called their trusting themselves to Moses and to the Red Sea their baptism. Conversely, our Baptisms were similar to the Israelites’ trusting themselves to Moses and the Red Sea.

In an unbelieving world, our accepting Baptism, and our living as Christians, calls for repeated leaps of faith similar to that had those non-swimmers who plunging into the Red Sea.  

Come apart with the Lord.

Sunday, 7/19/15

Today’s Gospel is put before us to help us reclaim peaceful minds. We might begin by imagining each of us to be one of Our Lord’s apostles who has had too much claiming his attention. Let me describe some claims made on mine.

The day before yesterday a waitress came over, urging me to believe that the Anti-Christ is here. Then, coming out from there I met a lady who assured me that Jesus loves me. I turned on the TV, and watched a hearing in which alternate congressmen insisted that we have made a bad agreement with Iran, or a good agreement with Iran.    

That had me switching to a pleasant TV movie, the one where Helen Hunt bought a home in Tuscany. But after five minutes it was interrupted by commercials that insisted I buy Crest Toothpaste, a Playtex bra, Maybelline eye shadow, Progressive Insurance, Breyer’s Vanilla and seven other products. They became like so many cockroaches crawling  through my mind.

That sent me outside. Copying today’s Gospel’s, I took a seat, closing my eyes; and like the Apostles in that boat, I spent fifteen minutes alone with God.

Then, checking back on today’s Gospel, I saw that Jesus went on to teach about many things. To approximate that, I picked up our Pope’s encyclical on the  environment. It has me joining in the fight for reclaiming God’s natural world from the commercial forces trying to make it their own.

The pharaohs who welcomed the Hebrews were probably Semites who ruled there for there for their 430 year stay on Egypt.

Saturday, 7/18/15

Let’s look at just one item in the reading from Exodus, then at one item from the Gospel.

It is odd that the Old Testament, which is usually so negligent about referring to dates an time spans, should tell us that the children of Israel should have stayed in Egypt for just four hundred and thirty years. And, yet that time frame does coincide with some dates we know of from other sources.

The ancient Egyptian dynasties going back to 3100 B.C, were interrupted in 1650 when the Hyksos, a Semitic people like the Hebrews, took over for four centuries. It is likely that the pharaohs who welcomed Joseph and his brothers were those Hyksos rulers who spoke their language.

 The Hyksos were put down when they were replaced by the native Egyptian Raamses I in 1320 B.C. He was followed by Seti, who was followed by Raamses !!,who was the pharaoh of the Exodus in 1250 B.C.

The Gospel Matthew tells us that Isaiah’s prophesy about the Suffering Servant referred to Jesus who was so meek and mild that he would not break a broken reed, and who would not quench a smoldering wick. Both images could refer to an untalented young person with whom any truly Christ-like teacher person would be endlessly patient.

That final meal of the Israelites in Egypt was called a Passover for two reasons.

Saturday, 7/18/15

Let’s look at just one item in the reading from Exodus, then at one item from the Gospel.

It is odd that the Old Testament, which is usually so negligent about referring to dates and time spans, should tell us that the children of Israel should have stayed in Egypt for just four hundred and thirty years. And, yet that time frame does coincide with some dates we know of from other sources.

The ancient Egyptian dynasties going back to 3100 B.C, were interrupted in 1650 when the Hyksos, a Semitic people like the Hebrews, took over for four centuries. It is likely that the pharaohs who welcomed Joseph and his brothers were those Hyksos rulers who spoke their language.

 The Hyksos were put down when they were replaced by the native Egyptian Raamses I in 1320 B.C. He was followed by Seti, who was followed by Raamses II,who was the pharaoh of the Exodus in 1250 B.C.

The Gospel from Matthew tells us that Isaiah’s prophesy about the Suffering Servant referred to Jesus who was so meek and mild that he would not break a broken reed, and who would not quench a smoldering wick. Both images could refer to an untalented young person with whom any truly Christ-like teacher person would be endlessly patient. 

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.

Thursday, 7/16/15

My first dozen years as a priest were spent in a Korean county where oxen and their yokes were a daily sight. And those years have given me a fuller appreciation of  hearing Jesus say, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.”

Before I went to that faming village I though of a yoke as any wooden harness fitted over an ox’s shoulders, but I was wrong. It had me missing the point of what Jesus was telling me to do.

The word “yoke” is an Indo-European word meaning to join two individuals.

In Korea, what I usually saw was a single ox pulling his plow, and it would not have been right for me to give the name of a yoke to the wooden bow fitted over his shoulders.

Sometimes, though, I would see an old ox and a young ox yoked together under a wooden yoke with a double wooden bow. The old ox would be teaching the young ox how to pull through long days. The big secret was to accept directions without fighting back.

In tough times we must image Jesus at one side of a yoke. He is asking you to come under that yoke's other wooden bow. He is staying fresh by not fighting against God’s will. He tells us, “You will find rest for yourself. My yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Moses was told that God was entirely aloof, but Jesus has us calling God our Father.

Wednesday, 7/15/15

Our readings present us with God as he was understood in Old Testament times and as we have come to understand him.

Moses was told that the ground near God’s presence was holy. The Hebrew there that we translate as holy was qodes, a word which originally meant “aloof” or separated from us in every way.

There is a lot to that. God is separate from us in every way. God always was and always will be, while Catholic philosophers refer to us as contingent beings, as beings with no real hold on their existence.

Once while the Venerable Bede was preaching, a bird flew in from a window on his right, and a second later it flew out through a window on his left. Bede then said, “Our lives are like that. Without knowing where we came from, we are here for a moment, and then we are gone, leaving no trace.”

In New Testament times we are still contingent creatures, but Jesus has made us children of a Father who welcomes us to snuggle in his lap, and to live on there.

We will be harshly judged if we do not pass on the gifts we have received.

Tuesday, 7/14/15

Jesus did most of his miracles, and he did most of his preaching, in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. They were fishing villages on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. The people there were proud of being so honored, and they thought that they would be honored above all others when the saints go marching in.

Not so, Jesus insisted. In comparison with others they would only be judged more harshly. That same severe judgment might be awaiting us.

We have been highly gifted and well trained. We have been brought up to be  the “the light of the world,” and “the salt of the earth;” but those honors have not been entrusted to us so that we might be smug.

As Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians 4:7 “What have you that you haven’t received; and if you have received, why do you glory?”

Each of us could think of himself or herself as one link in a long, long chain of those who have been the light of the world and the salt of the earth. You and I must weld our link of goodness, then, help put the next link into place.

A new Pharaoh who nothing of Joseph came to power.

Monday, 7/13/15

Our first reading begins by saying, “A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt.” And, that new king began treating the Israelites like unwanted foreigners. We have no Hebrew or no Egyptian writings that tell us who that king was or that tells us when any of this happened; but the reliable Egyptian records that have survived from back then give us clues as to when all that happened.

That history tells us that in 1675 B.C. a Semitic people called the Hyksos invaded Egypt. They swarmed over from Arabia, and they ruled Egypt until 1320 B.C.. That was  when a native Egyptian force led by Raamses I rose up and drove them out’

Since the Bible tells us that from Joseph to Moses the Israelites were in Egypt for four hundred years, it is likely that they were treated well by the Hyksos who spoke the same language as them.

Egyptian history tells us that it was Raamses II after 1250 B.C. who oversaw the building of Raamses and Pithom. So, he was probably the pharaoh in whose home Moses grew up.  

The whole wide world is God's holy place.

Sunday, 7/12/15

In sending out his disciples Jesus gave them instructions that could hold for us as well. Those directions centered on how to behave with people who accepted them; then, on how to behave with those who did not accept them.

With those who did accept them, they were to behave like family, sitting down, and eating with everyone else, rather than being aloof, staying at a Holiday Inn.

Jesus, then told them how to behave when they received no welcome. He told them to shake the dust of that unwelcoming place off their feet.

With all of our streets and sidewalks paved, we don’t have any dust to shake off; but if we consult the way devout people in Jerusalem behaved back then, we can see how Our Lord’s instruction could have another meaning for us.

Back then, the one time people were told to shake the dust from their sandals was when they were about to enter the holy ground of Jerusalem’ temple. The ground where the temple stood was analogues to the ground where Moses came upon the burning bush. So, as they were entering the temple they would imagine God telling them, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place whereon you stand is holy ground.”

By an interesting reversal, on leaving an inhospitable town, the disciples would be shaking off that contaminated dust before going out into a world, all of which is holy. Jesus is telling us to look upon all the world as God’s own holy place.

God loves all his creatures, even the smallest sparrow

Saturday, 7/11/15

Jesus tells us not one sparrow falls to the ground without the Father being concerned.

That could put you in mind of the TV commercials that show you whole walls stacked four deep with guns for killing birds. Would owner of one of those shops hang it on the wall if you sent him an embroidered plaque that says, “Not one sparrow falls to the ground without the Father’s being concerned?”

Staying with sparrows, speaking of the Son of God, St. John wrote, “all things were made through him, by him, and in him.” And by that he would have meant that each sparrow is somehow modeled after the Son of God, as well as having been brought into being by the Son of God. Serious people down through the ages have wondered about those words of John, but modern science has given greater cause to wonder.

We have learned that each sparrow is composed of millions of cells, with each cell being composed of millions of DNA molecules. That really gives us something to wonder about when we see a hawk making lazy circles in the sky. 

The love of a father for his children

Friday, 7/10/15

The first reading today recounts the joy of Joseph upon being reunited with his father many years after his brothers had sold him into Egypt. Back then, they had left Israel believing that wild beasts had devoured his beloved Joseph. Our reading describes their joy at being reunited.

“As soon as Joseph saw him, he flung himself on his neck and wept a long time in his arms. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘At last I can die now that I have seen for myself that Joseph is still alive.’”  

It might put you in mind of your father’s love for you. It does that with me. My dad was only seven when his father’s death forced him to leave school and go to work. He went on to make up for his father's early departure by being a full-time dad for us.

Getting full use out of his three years of grade school, he wrote a greeting card verse for ever big event in the lives of his children and grandchildren. When he came to retirement in his eighties, he surprised us at his having kept a copy of every verse he had written about his kids and grandchildren. He went on, then, with carbon paper to make copies of 130 of his verses. Some are pretty punk, but most of them keep his love alive for us.

For the first birthday of my niece Laura, who is now sixty eight, he wrote: “You’ll grow tall and beautiful, and leave your dolls and toys; and you won’t be Daddy’s girl no more, once you’ve met the boys.”

Yesterday we had the funeral of my sister Prudy who died at ninety-three. With a verse he wrote at Christmas in 1937 he recalled Prue at thirteen, delightfully holding high the full length of each of her first nylons.

He wrote a kindly note to her in 1949 when she was dreading a third hot summer big with child. He spoke of how physically uncomfortable summer pregnancies were for his Kitty, and how financially uncomfortable they were for him. But, he assured Prue that with the way he and Kitty came to treasure their children, and the way Prudy and Vince would go on to treasure all of their children, they could all thank God for knowing what is best.

Two lessons Jesus gave to his disciples

Thursday, 7/9/15

For our Gospel today Matthew brought together two lessons Jesus gave to his disciples when sending them out to give the Good News.

First he tells them how to behave when they were welcomed. He told them to stay on with their hosts, eating what was put before them. In preparation for such a reception, they were not to bring their own food or any money for staying at a Holiday Inn.

We are mistaken in thinking that Jesus was there telling his disciples to practice a virtue of holy Poverty. No, he just wanted them to become like family members with the people they were to visit.
Jesus also gave the disciples an instruction on how they to behave with  people who would not accept them. “Whoever will not receive you—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.”

The only time the Bible prescribed dusting the feet was when God ordered Moses to take off his sandals because where the “Burning bush’ stood was holy ground. Then, the only time Jewish custom had people dusting the dirt from their sandals was when they were about to enter the holy ground of the Temple in Jerusalem.

In line with those two practices, what one is doing in dusting his feet on leaving an inhospitable town was really knocking off the dirt before entering the holiness of God’s wide world.

Why did Jesus tell the Apostles to preach only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel?

Wednesday, 7/8/15

When I taught the Seventh Grade Religion class at St. Paul’s grade school, we always used this Gospel according to Matthew for our textbook. After I had made up lessons for all twenty-eight chapters, I showed my lessons to a wise old priest, Father Reynolds, and I asked him if they were a good way of teaching the kids.

He said, “You cover the matter well, but in teaching Religion it does no good to just bank knowledge in the minds of kids. It must affect them in some way.”

In an attempt at following Father Reynold’s advice, I followed up each lesson with a demand that the student write his or her “Personal Reaction” to the matter in the chapter of Matthew we were studying.  After this Chapter Ten of Matthew’s Gospel, I asked each student to write his or her opinion to this question: Was is right for Jesus to tell the apostles to preach only to Jews?

Some kids wrote, “It was not fair. Everyone needs to hear the teaching of Jesus.”

Other kids wrote, “It had to be fair, because Jesus can’t be wrong.”

Two kids wrote something like this, “Maybe it wasn’t the right time for those others to hear his teaching.”

That was the right answer. It was in line with Ecclesiastes, Chapter Three., that goes something like this:  “There is a time for everything under the sun: a time to be born, a time to die; a tine to plant, and a time to uproot. A time to kiss, and a time when the kissing must stop.”

For those eleven-year-old kids it wasn’t the right time for things they would need to turn to later. 

The first reading offers us a fable about how Jacob became Israel.

Tuesday, 7/7/15

In our first reading the writers of Genesis, departing from giving us an historical record of events, wove a favorite old fable into their account, using it to express a true reality.

While Jacob toiled for fourteen years in his father-in-law’s pastures on the upper Euphrates, he acquired two wives and large herds of sheep. Then, he led all of them a few hundred miles southwest to the land of his father Isaac between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean.

The whole flock came to the swift Jabbok stream that flows from the east into the Jordan just south of the Sea of Galilee. When the people and the herds came to the north bank of the shallowest stretch of the stream, Jacob himself was the only man strong enough to wade through the ford. So, one by one he carried each of the beasts and people across. Then, when he returned for the last time to the north bank, he met with a man-like individual out of the favorite fables from those times.

From those ancient times when not even one bridge had been constructed, some giant of a man would station himself at every place where a swift stream could be forded. In this story such a man, a keeper of the ford, appeared, disputing Jacob’s right to ford his stream. He challenged Jacob had to wrestle with him to win the right to cross the Jabock.

As dawn approached, the story brought in two familiar elements from such fables. One detail was that Jacob’s opponent was a creature of the night who must disappear at daybreak. The other detail was that in such struggles with otherworldly creatures, one could only triumph by guessing his opponent’s real name. (We see this element in Grimm’s fairytale about Rumpelstiltskin.)

To gain his release, Jacob’s opponent gave him the new name of Israel, with Isra being “to wrestle,” and el  being “a god.”

Since Jacob was the common ancestor of all Jewish people, they are all Israelites, and they are always ready to wrestle even with God.

Jacob's vision delighted the Hebrews. It told them that God was hearing their prayers, and sending down answers to their prayers.

Monday, 7/6/15

Today we have St. Matthew’s version of Jesus bringing a twelve-year-old girl back to life. About a week ago we had St. Mark’s telling us the same story, and there we  loved the way Mark gave us the actual words spoken by Jesus, Taking the child by the hand, he said, “Talitha koum”, or “Little girl, get up!”

Let’s look at Jacob’s vision of angels going up and down a ladder to heaven. For the Hebrews that vision was more revolutionary than you might imagine.

In the “Acts of the Apostles” we read where Paul said, “God is not far from, any of us, for in him we live, and move, and have our being.” And, that is the understanding that we all grew up with. But, the Old Testament people had no such notion.

Most Primitives had legends similar to that of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Their belief, and the belief of the Hebrews, was that God was so disappointed with mankind that he shut himself away in his Third Heaven. 

Jacob’s vision of angels on the ladder was a great joy to the Hebrews. They hadn’t come to our belief that God is everywhere, but it was wonderful for them to find that God was listening to their prayers, and sending down answers. 

Jesus, Ezekiel, and Paul all faced grave obstacles, showing you how to keep trying..

Sunday, 7/5/15

Let’s look at the subjects of the three readings:  Ezekiel in the First, Paul in the Second, and Jesus in the Gospel.

In the First Reading, God sent Ezekiel to preach to the Israelites, saying that they were a rebellious people who may not listen to Ezekiel. Whether they listened or not, at least they will realize that a prophet had come among them. This reading says that when you are working with obstinate people. Even though you my not get them to listen, you will  leave them with the understanding that we did not give up on them.

In the Second Reading, the obstacle was with Paul himself. He likened his special difficulty to both a “thorn in the flesh,” and to “an angel of Satan.” We do not know just what that difficulty was. It could have been a lisp, or some inclination toward sinfulness. Whatever it was, God was offering him the grace to succeed in spite of his handicap. If you have some hang up that embarrasses you, don’t let it hold you back from doing what must be done. With God’s help you can keep going.

In the Gospel Our Lord’s town folk, the very people who should have supported him, let their jealousy of his success turn them against him. There too, we learn that we must keep trying our best, even when we miss support where we thought we would have found it.

All three readings remind me of a U.S. Navy song from the nineteen thirties. It went like this,

Ship mates stick together, it’s a long long trip. Fair or stormy weather, we won’t give up, we won’t give up the ship.  “If you have to take a “lickin,” carry on and quit your “kickin,” don’t give up the ship.”