July 31, 2011 - Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Our reading today from Isaiah tells us three reasons why it is better to get what we need from the providence of God than to try to grasp after it ourselves. First of all, it is free. Second, it is better. Third, it is complete. God tells us that he will give us for free. “Come, without paying and without cost,” he says. This is a good deal. God also tells us that he will not just cover our basic needs. He is not only serving bread but “wine and milk” and “rich fare”. This is a very good deal. Usually, when you get something free, you get what you pay for, but God says that we can give us, for free, something better than we can buy with money. God also warns us that when we try to buy our happiness, it “fails to satisfy”. This is because we do not even know what we really want, but God does know. He can fulfill desires that we never even knew we had.

What great promises! We would be fools not to take God up on this offer. Except…. In the psalm today, we repeated, “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” This is great news, but is it true? We are told, “He answers all our needs”, but does he? Where is it? Where is this great, free, perfect satisfaction that we have been promised? This seems to be another case where the reality fails to live up to the advertisement.

Of course, it is about 95% true. Consider all those things that if you were suddenly lacking you would desperately want: life, oxygen, health, use of your body, water, food, safety. It is easy to miss the many ways that God does provide for our lives every day, in each moment of every day. We really do not notice the providence of God. We only notice the other 5%. Parents know what I am talking about. Your children do not notice that you do their laundry, feed them, and give them a place to live. If you stopped doing their laundry, if you stopped providing food, if you stopped paying the electric bill, they would suddenly become very aware of what you were not doing for them.

But what of this other 5%? The psalm promised that God would provide all of our needs. What is left over, what God is not providing, is also for our benefit. We would be ungrateful spoiled brats if we never knew what it was to need something. Isaiah, in the midst of the advertisement, repeats over and over again: “Come.” God has come almost all the way to us, but the other 5% is our room to come to God.

We are tempted to fill what we lack with inferior products: lust, greed, laziness, gluttony, envy, anger, and pride, but all these will fail to satisfy. A bag of potato chips, the latest gadget, a 10-hour I Love Lucy marathon all fail to satisfy us. For a moment, it seemed as if these sins were what we were looking for, but they only last for a time and we have to seek them out again. These inferior products do not give us a place to rest; they only pacify our desires for a little while. We need the real deal. We were made for God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.

We can see the reality of this in the great miracle of the Gospel today. I am not referring to the multiplication of the loaves, although that is nice too. I am referring to the words of the disciples: “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” The disciples, concerned for the well-being of the crowd (and probably for their own stomachs as well), tell Jesus to dismiss the crowd. Now, I understand that manners were different 2000 years ago in Palestine, but I am not ready to believe that 5000 families usually stood listening to a preacher until they starved to death. Most of you would not think of leaving this Church until I say, “The Mass is ended; go in peace”, but, if I stood here and preached until 9 o’clock tonight, I feel sure that the Church would be empty. Manners have their limits.

It is not even as if everyone would have to leave. A few hundred people could have gone to town and brought back wheelbarrows of food. Yet, as long as Jesus kept preaching and healing, no one was willing to leave. These people had found something, something that satisfied them. They came for many reasons, to be healed, to see a prophet, to hear a preacher, but they found the love of Jesus Christ, and they were not willing to give up that love, not even to go get some food.

The love of Christ is free, better than anything else we can get, and the only thing that can really satisfy us anyway. St. Paul gives us another reason why the love of Christ is the best: nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Our stuff can be stolen, and people can break our hearts; our reputations can be destroyed by lies or even the truth, and we can even disappoint ourselves, but not even death can separate us from the love of Christ. If Satan stood here in all his evil power and cunning, he could fool us, he could hurt us, but he could not make Christ stop loving us. Everything we love on this earth could be taken from us by a tornado, but not even a tornado could make Christ stop loving us.

No matter we do or have done to us, no matter how far we think we have run away from God, if we turn around we will find Christ right there. We would have to be fools to seek our happiness in food or TV or on the Internet, and we are fools. We have all often tried to satisfy our need for God with what is not God. Still, the invitation remains: “Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” Come to God. He wants to give you everything. He is not going to shove it down your throat. He cannot give it to you unless you seek it, and you do want it, even though you do not know your own desires.

July 29, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Martha

Today's Readings

St. Martha is probably better remembered for the Gospel story about when she complained to Jesus that her sister Mary was not helping her get the food ready, but this Gospel serves as an important counterbalance. If all we ever knew about Martha was the time she complained, we would not be aware of her remarkable faith. Today, as she mourns the death of her brother, Jesus comes to visit Mary and her. “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, but Mary sat at home.” Just a few days ago we were considering the amazing story of Mary, but here Mary sat at home. Mary is angry with Jesus. She is throwing a temper-tantrum.

Martha is our example today: when you hear Jesus is coming, go out to meet him. Martha, no less than Mary, was confused that Jesus had let Lazarus die; Martha loved her brother as much as Mary did; Martha was mourning his death in the same way as Mary, but Martha still went out to meet Jesus. Mary waits for Jesus to call her name, but Martha gets up and goes to meet Jesus. She knows that there is no point in being angry with God.

Then Martha, in the midst of her distress, shows the depths of her understanding. She confesses her faith in Jesus. This confession is to be ranked with the great confessions of the Gospel: the confession of Peter on which Jesus built the Church, the confession of the good thief nailed to the Cross next to Jesus, and the confession of the centurion who crucified Jesus. Indeed, Martha’s confession stands out even among these. Her confession is clearer; it shows more understanding.

Martha did not have Mary’s exciting life and amazing conversion, but, in this short conversation, she proves that an unexciting life can bear amazing fruit. In spite of all the rejoicing over a lamb that was lost and has been found, there is something to be said for the lamb who always stayed in the sheepfold. A convert often puts us old Christians to shame with an abundance of enthusiasm for their newly found faith, but a life-long “good person” has put down roots that will hold them steady in the worst storms. The slow conversion of a boring life is no less a conversion than the most famous conversions ever. If they can master humility and gratitude, their unexciting life will have prepared them well to understand the mysteries of God.

July 28, 2011 - Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

We can see how cautious the Lord is to prevent idol worship of any kind. Various cultures over the millennia set up statues in the shapes of animals or human beings and worshipped those statues, but the Lord had told his people that that would not be acceptable. These statues were attempts to see what cannot be seen, to make visible the invisible God. When the golden calf was made after leaving Egypt, it was supposed to be a statue of the Lord, but the Lord rejected any such symbols. He carefully taught his people that he is holy, entirely different from anything within their experience. No earthly image can capture his essence.

Now, a year after leaving Egypt, the Lord is giving his people a point a reference, a place to worship. So Moses, following the instructions of Lord, sets up the Dwelling Place. We see here the amazing wisdom of God. In order to teach the Israelites about the invisible, God has them build a tent. It is a very large tent, and, in the middle, there is a throne, but no one lives in the tent and no one sits on the throne. The Israelites carried this tent and this throne around the desert. When they stopped, this tent was placed in the middle of the camp. They were not worshipping a tent! The questions form in their minds: Who lives in that tent? Who sits on that throne? They already know the answer: the Lord, the Almighty, the invisible God, the One Who Is.

In the middle of all this, under the throne, there is a box. This box is an ordinary box, made of wood and covered in gold. It is called “The Ark of the Covenant”. Inside this box there were three things: the Ten Commandments written on stone, Aaron’s staff, and a jar of Manna, which is to say: the word of God, a symbol of the priesthood and the resurrection, and the bread from God. We too, in every church, have a box, an ordinary box covered in gold or silver or bronze. Whenever we enter or leave the Church, we genuflect toward the box. We worship toward the box. We are not worshipping a box! The questions should form in our minds: What is in there? Who is in there? We already know the answer: the Lord, the Almighty, the invisible God, the One Who Is.

July 27, 2011 - Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

As devoted as some people are to getting the perfect suntan, we Christians should be to getting the radiant glow that only comes from time spent with the Lord in prayer. Moses is a great example for us. He spent time talking with the Lord, and it changed him. Whenever he spent time speaking with the Lord, his skin became radiant. How wonderful it would be if we too could become radiant by spending time with the Lord. Not that our faces would glow with an earthly light, but that our souls would glow with a heavenly light.

That heavenly light is holiness. As we repeated in the psalm today, “Holy is the Lord our God.” Holiness means to be different, to be separate, to be set aside, to be the personal possession of God. Above all holiness applies to God himself. He is different from everything else. We can say that he is not bad, but when we say that he is good we have to remember that he is better than good, “good” and every other word in human language is inadequate for describing God.

Holiness applies by analogy to those people who belong to God. We are Holy. We belong to God because he made us. We belong to God because we were baptized. We belong to God as we give ourselves daily to him. It is possible to glow with holiness, a light shining in a dark world, but only if we newly dedicate ourselves each day to God.

Holiness is not that pretense of holiness that can be easily seen through. Holiness is not something which we do or that we generate from within. Holiness is the fire of God’s love. We can only acquire this healthy glow by spending time in a different kind of sunshine: the rays coming forth from the tabernacle in the heart of the church.

Moses covered his face with a veil, for the radiance was more than the Israelites could stand. Today we see God with unveiled faces. It would be foolish to leave this meeting, to go away from the source of our life, unless the holiness that we encountered here in the church, here in the Mass, shone forth in our souls. When one Saint lights up the world around them for a while, they are remembered for centuries Imagine if all Christians shone with holiness! The world would soon be converted. And why not? Holiness is available to all of us by God’s grace.

July 26, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today's Readings

Today we remember the grandparents of Jesus, Joachim and Anne. It was in their home that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and asked her to be the mother of God. They are an image for us of all those Jewish patriarchs who raised up families in the centuries before Jesus came. All those people who, as Sirach says, “were men of mercy, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten.” All those people who, as Jesus told his disciples, “Longed to see what you see and did not see it.”

Joachim and Anne are to be praised in the first place because it was they who passed on the faith and the law to Mary which they had received from their parents. It is so important that children are taught the faith, not as a mere intellectual idea but in practice. Those parents who say that they will let their children decide about religion when they are grown are making a grave mistake. A child raised by wolves is unable to enter human society when they are grown. A child raised without religion will always be lacking a basic human characteristic. Childhood is the time when our minds are formed, and a mind formed without piety is a defective mind. Joachim and Anne instilled in Mary a faith that was able to easily accept the word of an Angel.

Joachim and Anne are also to be praised because they supported Mary in her unusual vocation. When Mary decided to dedicate her life to virginity, they found for her Joseph, a righteous man, to be her husband and protector. When Mary became pregnant before she was married, they trusted what she told them about the angel. As Mary went to fulfill her calling, first to Bethlehem, then Egypt, they watched and prayed for her, knowing that they had taught her all they could about God and doing what is right.

We remember Joachim and Anne today because they were good parents. They never worked a miracle, so far as we know, at least not the kind that amazes crowds. They never preached the Gospel like Peter and Paul. They were good parents, and that is enough to be a saint.

July 25, 2011 - Feast of Saint James, apostle

Today's Readings

James and John, with the help of their mother, ask Jesus to be put in the highest place. The thing about the highest place is that everyone else is in a lower place. The other ten Apostles stand around holding their breath. Perhaps they missed their chance? What if he says yes? When Jesus denies the request, they are relieved and suddenly indignant that anyone would even ask such a thing.

So Jesus teaches James and John, and all the Apostles, about the true nature of leadership in the Kingdom of Heaven. Leadership is defined by service. Here on Earth, the leaders are served by those under them. In the Kingdom, the leaders are the servants of those they lead. Here on Earth, the weak serve the strong because the strong can force the weak to be their servants. In the Kingdom, the strong serve the weak because the weak need to be served. Consider how much more sensible the arrangement of Kingdom is.

God wants to do great things for the world, but he is prevented by our sins. Everything that we can do well is a temptation to pride. Everything that other people can do well is a temptation to envy. Do you see what God is dealing with? If he gives anyone a special ability which could help the world, it is a danger to them and a danger to others.

Instead of our normal way of acting, out of envy and pride, Jesus calls us to act in a more sensible manner. If we can do something well, we ought to put that ability at the service of others. Every talent that God has given us is given for the sake of others. This word “for” is foundational to the life and work of Jesus Christ. Everything he ever did was “for” others.

If we are acting for others, there is no reason for pride or envy. We are all one team. Just like any member of a team, we can be glad to see the good abilities in our teammates or we can be envious of the stars. It depends on whether we want to win games or impress people. It is a bad player who only wants to win the game if they can make the winning shot themself. The good player is glad to see that someone has made the winning shot.

July 24, 2011 - Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Jesus gives us four images today. The first image, of the treasure in the field, teaches us that we are getting a very good deal on the Kingdom of Heaven. The image is so wonderful because it appeals to our natural greed. We want to find a Picasso at a rummage sale for $5. We want everything, so long as we do not have to pay for it. What Jesus is describing here is called insider trading. It is why Martha Stewart went to prison. It is a serious crime. It is okay though; we are allowed to steal the Kingdom of Heaven. God wants us to steal the Kingdom of Heaven. Infinite treasure can be had for the price of a field. Is it too good to be true? No, it is too good to be false.

The secret to insider trading is not to haggle on the price of the field. Whatever the owner wants to charge, pay it. Do not be pennywise and dollar-foolish. Let us say that the asking price for this field is going to Mass 60 times a year, fasting twice a year and not eating meat on Fridays, confessing your sins, caring for the poor and the Church, loving your neighbor, loving God, and being humble. Does that sound expensive? There is an infinite treasure buried in the field; pay the asking price.

Sometimes people consider the next image as a repetition of the first. On the contrary, it is the opposite. Jesus does not say that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl. He says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant. What is the pearl then? You. Me. Each one of us. From our perspective, it is for us to seek the Kingdom of Heaven like a treasure. From God’s perspective, it is he who is seeking us. He created our souls and they are like a pearl of great price. We are so valuable to God that he goes and sells everything. Where does he go? From heaven to earth. What does he sell? Himself, his life on the Cross. Why does he do this? To buy us back, to redeem us.

St. Paul is writing about this in the second reading. He describes a process beginning with God’s foreknowledge and ending with our glorification. “Those he foreknew he also predestined.” If God knew, before you were created, that he could save you, he planned to save you. “Those he predestined he also called.” And if he planned to save you, he called you to salvation. “Those he called he also justified.” And if he called you to salvation, he will make you a good person. “Those he justified he also glorified.” And if he made you a good person, he will give you a new life after death, better than this one, lasting forever.

This is the process that God follows for every person on earth. The only place for our action in the process is responding to the call. It may seem strange to us that God calls us only if we will respond. How does he know? But he just knows. Before he calls anyone, he knows whether they will say yes. Why should he bother calling someone who will say no? It is not a case of him being relatively sure of what a person will say. God is omniscient. This means that he not only knows all of “what is”, but he also knows every “what if”.

Consider the case of Solomon. God offered to give Solomon whatever he asked for, but God already knew what Solomon would ask for. He would not have offered if Solomon would have asked for riches or a long life or the death of his enemies. He wanted something that God wanted to give him, so God offered to give him whatever he wanted. Consider the case of Mary. God asked her whether she would be his mother. He knew that she was going to say yes before he asked. She could have said no, but then he would not have planned the entire universe around her saying yes.

Some people think that predestination and foreknowledge take away our free will. They do not. Free will is completely present, but it would be unreasonable to expect God to act as if he did not know what we were going to do. We do what we want to do, but God has already taken our decision into account. If he can buy the pearl, he is willing to go and sell everything, but if the pearl is not for sale at any price, why should he try negotiating?

So the two images come together. We see a treasure that can be had for the price of a field. God sees a pearl that can be bought for a very high price. If we purchase the field, God will buy the pearl. If we respond to the call, God will call us. If you think God is not calling you, try responding and you will find that the call was always there.

The third image Jesus gives us today is the image of the net full of fish. He tells us explicitly what this image means. It is the relationship between the Kingdom of Heaven and the whole world. In the end, everyone will be caught in the net. Some will be worth keeping, those who were justified. They will be glorified. Some will not be worth keeping, those who did not respond to the call. They will be thrown away like a rotten fish.

The last image is the scribe instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven. He “is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” Sometimes this image is used to point out why we have the New and the Old Testaments. Several times throughout history, people have tried to say that the New Testament is all we really need. This image includes the refutation to such an idea, but it is also means more than that.

Jesus says “every scribe” rather than “every person”. We are told that he gave these images to his disciples, but we do not know which disciples. What is unusual about the disciples he is speaking to is that they understand what he is talking about; usually his disciples need more explanations. Perhaps he is speaking to a group of scribes and telling them that if they become instructed in the Kingdom of Heaven they will be able to use both their new knowledge and their old knowledge.

It reminds me of men who go into the seminary after studying something unrelated to theology. This knowledge is often able to assist them in their ministry. St. John Vianney, who was a farmer before becoming a priest, would go assist his parishioners who farmers and discuss angels while loading hay onto a wagon.

This is true not only of priests but of all of us. Taken together, we are experts in many different fields. Every scientist, every artist, every dancer, every advertising executive, every farmer, every machinist, every architect, every engineer, every social worker, every politician, every lawyer, and every salesperson who becomes a disciple of the Kingdom of Heaven is able to use their expertise for the benefit of the Kingdom. We already spoke about what the Kingdom can do for us; this is image is about what we can do for the Kingdom.

July 23, 2011 - Saturday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Although we do not have animal sacrifices anymore, sacrifice remains a central concept of our religion; above all is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the altar of the Cross. This sacrifice was once and for all, so it is no longer necessary to repeat the animal sacrifices. As the Hebrews were covered by the blood of bulls to form a covenant with the Lord, so now we stand covered in the blood of Jesus Christ. The animal blood was a symbol; all along it was symbolizing the blood of Jesus Christ. The blood of animals cannot take away sins, but the blood of Jesus Christ can.

So it is that we come together each day and offer a sacrifice. We come here and are transported. Participating in the Mass brings us back to the foot of the Cross. That sacrifice was once and for all. It cannot be repeated and it does not need to be repeated. So we use the Mass as a time machine. The sacrifice of the Mass is not redoing the sacrifice of the Cross; it is a participation in the one sacrifice.

Why do we want to participate over and over again in the one sacrifice? If all we had in mind was the modern idea of sacrifice as giving up something, the sacrifice of the Mass would make no sense. If, however, we consider the original idea of sacrifice, it makes perfect sense. When the Israelites were sprinkled with blood, it symbolized their participation in the death of the animal. They deserved death because of their sins, so they constantly participated in the death of animals. We too deserve death because of our sins, so we participate in the death, not of an animal, but of Jesus Christ.

But the animals stayed dead, so if you participate in the death of animal, you stay dead spiritually, whereas Jesus Christ did not stay dead; he rose from the dead. If we participate in the death of Jesus Christ, we will rise with him. Every time we participate in Mass, we die with Jesus and rise with Jesus. This is why St. Paul could say “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” The Cross, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, alone has the power to change us, so it very wise of us to participate daily in this sacrifice.

Some people would say that we are wasting our time each day. The reality is the opposite. Life is filled with useless activity. We eat today, and we have to eat tomorrow. We clean house today, and we have to clean again tomorrow. We earn money and spend money. What does it all add up to? Nothing. Even the work of raising children, the continuation of the human species means nothing if we will be extinct in a million years. All the running around that the world does is running in circles. Here at the Cross, we are making eternal progress.    e He hH

July 22, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene

Today's Readings

Mary Magdalene is called the “apostle to the Apostles”. An apostle is someone sent, particularly someone sent by Jesus to preach the Gospel. Mary is called the apostle to the Apostles because she was the one who told the Apostles that the tomb was empty. She was the first person in the entire world to preach the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This makes her a pretty important person.

There is good reason to suppose that Mary Magdalene is the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Reading into the Gospels we find a kind of prodigal daughter. She left her family and became a prostitute. Not a low class prostitute by any means, perhaps even the mistress of a rich Roman official. She converted when Jesus came to her and cast out 7 demons who had possession of her. She went back to live with her sister and brother. We remember the story of Martha’s resentment toward her, not unlike the resentment of the elder brother to the prodigal son. We remember how she wept at the death of her brother Lazarus, she was even angry with Jesus. We see her pouring perfume on Jesus before his death; an entire jar of perfume worth over $10,000. She helps prepare the body of Jesus after he is taken down from the Cross, and she is the first person in the whole world to preach the Gospel.

Without a doubt, that story requires reading into the Gospel, between the lines, and there are many today who contradict this traditional reading. Some people say that Mary has been falsely accused, that there is no reason to suppose she was a prostitute or a mistress. A woman from a poor family might have had a $10,000 jar of perfume for any number of reasons. This story is not the only way to read the Scriptures, although it does all fit together nicely.

But those who say that Mary has been falsely accused of sexual immorality and try to liberate her from this unfair charge, it seems to me, are missing the point. It does not matter anymore. It does not matter anymore what Mary did before she met Jesus. What matters is what Mary did after she met Jesus. She was the first person in the whole world to preach the Gospel; she is the apostle to the Apostles, and today she is living happily in heaven. Wherever you were before does not matter. What matters is what you are going to do from now on. This is true for you, and it is true for me, and it is true for every prostitute and sinner you ever meet. Everyone is a potential Saint.

July 21, 2011 - Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

We modern people hold a strange contradiction in our minds. On the one hand, we think that times are changing so rapidly that there is almost no similarity between ourselves and people only a hundred years ago, let alone 3000 years ago. The response, “Things were different then” is used to explain away any difficulty we have in understanding the Scriptures. On the other hand, it surprises us that God acts so differently in the Old Testament, particularly in the early parts. This is a contradiction because if things really were so different back then, it is completely logical that God would act differently. God always speaks to us in a way we can understand, not only in our spoken language but using appropriate symbols and actions.

We tend to exaggerate how different people were 3000 years ago. They were a lot like us. There is nothing new under the sun. The only really important way that people have changed in the past four millennia is in our religious sense. Jesus could have come to Earth whenever he wanted to; he could have led the people out of Egypt himself. Instead, he used Moses and the prophets to prepare the people. For 2000 years after he called Abraham, he got the people of Israel ready for his coming. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see him but did not.

It has now been 2000 years since he came. Some people would say that the Gospel has made very little progress in changing the world but they cannot see properly. Nowadays, helping the poor is considered a good thing. Nowadays, slavery is considered a bad thing. Nowadays, human sacrifice is almost non-existent. This is not only true among Christians but worldwide. The Gospel has changed the world. Just as God, with fire and trumpets and smoke and Ten Commandments written in stone, taught a nation of people to respect him, so now the influence of the Gospel is evident in every corner of this world.

Standing above all of history is the Divine Plan. The history of the world really is a story: the history of salvation. God is shaping the world, improving our religious sense, over millennia. He knows perfectly when to shout in fire from a mountaintop and when to come whispering. His intricate plan takes everything into account. Whether or not the world consciously accepts the Gospel, it is changing the world.

July 20, 2011 - Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The dirt path is trodden down. The seed falls but it does not even go into the soil, which is too hard. Such a soul is very sure of itself; so sure that it cannot even listen. How can such soil be prepared for planting? It needs to be worked with a plow. It needs to be turned over. There is good soil underneath. Such a soul needs to have its life turned upside down. A crisis can force this (sickness, unemployment, loss), but it is better if such a person chooses to turn their life upside down before a crisis comes. If the Word of God has no effect on you, turn your life upside down.

The rocky soil takes in the Word of God but there is no place for it to take root. Such a person is excited about their faith for a time. They might be a new convert or a lifelong Catholic who is just learning to love the Word of God. The solution to rocky soil is to remove the rocks. The rocks are habits of sin or situations, or even friends, who are occasions of sin. If you are excited about the Word of God, remove the rocks from your life so that it can take root.

The thorns are weeds that choke the Word of God. Plants require sunlight, space, and water to grow. A field full of weeds has no place for a garden to grow. The Word of God requires time and effort. If you are giving your time and effort to other things, so that there is no time or effort left for the Word of God, how can it grow? Pluck the weeds. As an example, the Bible only requires 100 hours to read, cover to cover. Many people watch 100 hours of TV in a month. If the TV and work and the Internet and anything else are sucking up your time and effort, kill them off; let them starve. Feed the Word of God that is growing within you.

All of us have areas of deafness. All of us have rocks in the soil. All of us have thorns choking off what we ought to be fostering. Plowing, clearing rocks, and weeding are all hard work, but what is the point of being a Christian if we are not making space for Christ to grow in our souls?

July 19, 2011 - Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

There is a long tradition in Christian interpretation, going back to the Apostles, which considers the Red Sea to be a type of Baptism. As the Israelites passed through the waters of the Red Sea and came out the other side while the Egyptians drowned, so too we passed through the waters of Baptism and come out the other side while Sin is drowned.

Yet in one aspect, which you may have already noticed, this analogy breaks down: once the Israelites had passed through the Red Sea, the Egyptians no longer pursued them; the Egyptians were dead, but after we are baptized, we are still pursued by sin. I was baptized a month after I was born, why then am I not perfect now? An adult who is baptized steps out of the water completely sinless, yet all of them will soon return to their sins. Why do we need constant Confession as a renewal of our Baptism? Why does Baptism not free us as completely from the grasp of Satan as the Red Sea freed the Israelites from the grasp of Pharaoh?

But the Israelites were not free of Pharaoh after the Red Sea. They often spoke about returning to Egypt. Not until they had wandered in the desert for forty years were they ready to enter the Promised Land. Even after death, Pharaoh retained power over their minds. So too, even after we are free of Original Sin, its power over our minds remains. After Baptism, we have to wander in the world for 70 or 80 years before we can enter the Promised Land. God has freed us from the Pharaoh who pursues us; no one can compel us to return to Egypt, but now we need to be free from the Pharaoh who still lives in our minds trying to convince us to return to Egypt on our own.

How can we be free? The Israelites were not free until the whole generation died and new generation grew up who had never known Pharaoh. It is the same for us. When we recognize a part of ourself that wants to sin we should turn to it and say, “You have to die.” Eventually, if we are consistent and firm, that old generation will die off and the new humanity, Christ himself, will takes its place. Then we will say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Then we will be perfectly free.

July 18, 2011 - Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The scribes and Pharisees want to see a sign from Jesus. What exactly were they looking for? Water to wine? Check. Healing thousands of people? Check. Casting out demons that no one else could? Check. None of his many signs up to that point were enough for them; what could he do that would satisfy them? I do not know what they had in mind, whether one of the plagues of Egypt or dividing the Red Sea. Perhaps they did not have anything particular in mind, only that they wanted Jesus to do something to convince them, something greater than what he had already done.

Jesus responds that he will give them a sign: the sign of Jonah. None of the miracles of Jesus were enough for the Pharisees, so Jesus points to his greatest work: the Cross. Perhaps a great magician could have worked some of the miracles that Jesus worked, or at least convince a crowd that he had done so, but no one could accomplish the Cross except Jesus. On the Cross Jesus was tortured, but he forgave his tormentors. He was killed, but he rose from the dead. That was not the work of an illusionist. No human person could fake the Cross.

So the Pharisees will have their perfect sign, and, for the most part, they will still not believe. This is because faith does not come from signs but is an interior gift of the Holy Spirit. Real faith, the kind that does not rely on anything but is itself the bedrock of life, can only be a gift from God. If faith were something we created by our own judgment of the signs, then faith could never be stronger than our own judgment.

When Jonah walked through Nineveh and the whole city repented, it was not because of the eloquence of the preacher. God put repentance in their hearts and they needed nothing more than the small encouragement of Jonah. If God gives you faith, the smallest sign, seen with faith, will be more convincing than any proof ever done. If God has not given you faith, the greatest sign, feeding thousands with a little bread, making the sun dance across the sky, dying on a cross without complaining, will still leave room for doubt. So do not ask for signs from God; ask for faith, for perfect, invisible faith.         

July 17, 2011 - Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Today’s Gospel is another case where Jesus gives a parable and then explains it himself. This makes the job of preaching both easier and more difficult. The interpretation is already given to me; how arrogant would I have to be to come up with a different interpretation of the parable than the Lord gives, yet I am struggling with the interpretation today because it is not easy to understand. I wanted to say, after reading the first half of the Gospel, that the field stands for each one of us and the good seed is the good that God has put in us and the bad seed is the sin that Satan has put in us and at the end of time God will only keep what is good and burn away what is bad. I wanted to say that, but I cannot, because Jesus says differently.

Jesus tells us that the field is the world and the good plants are the children of the kingdom and the bad plants are the children of the evil one. At the end of time, the children of the evil one are collected up and burned. I struggle with understanding this interpretation because it seems to divide the world so starkly between good people and bad people when most of us are a mix. I can see the wheat, the saints, and some weeds are pretty clear, but I do not know where I fall.

We need to examine the parable more closely. When I first read it, I thought that the enemy had snuck into the field and planted the weeds among the wheat. I see now that that is not necessarily the case. We are told that “an enemy has done this”, but we are not told what exactly “this” is that the enemy did. Indeed, it is not the case that the enemy planted his own seeds. All human beings are created in God’s image and likeness. There are not two species of human beings, the good and the bad. Just as all humanity is one, so the weeds and wheat are one. It is not the case that some of the seed was bad, as if some people are just bad seeds, as if some people are bad from the beginning, with no hope of salvation. No. The weeds and the wheat are one. If we were to check the DNA of the weeds we would find that they are actually wheat. Nothing else was planted.

So what happened that some of the wheat is referred to as weeds? The difference between a stalk of wheat and a weed is the fruit, the kernels of wheat. If a stalk of wheat grew up and never produced any kernels of wheat, we should call it a weed. So it is that by remaining faithful to the interpretation that Jesus gives we begin to understand the parable correctly. Satan does not have the power of creation. He could never create something, not even something as good as a weed. He is the destroyer. He can only ruin some of the wheat so that it does not produce fruit.

If you plant a vegetable garden, and one of the bean plants or one of the rose bushes fails to produce anything at all, what is it but one large weed? It was a good seed; it has gotten plenty of sunlight and water, but in the middle of the night your enemy crept up to your garden and poisoned the plant. It did not die; it still grew up, but it never produces any fruit. This is what has happened to God’s field.

Now we have a good image of the field! Properly speaking there is not a single weed in the whole field. Billions of stalks of wheat are growing, but some are producing fruit and some are not. Some stalks are tall and thick as tree trunks, full of wheat kernels, more perhaps that seems possible. There is St. Francis and, next to him, St. Clare. You could feed a village off each of those stalks of wheat. Now I see the rest of us Christians: some are growing well, but many of us are sickly stalks, short and thin. Too small for so late in the season. A few buds perhaps. We will see later whether they produce any fruit at all. There are other stalks that have no fruit on them. They are tall and thin and useless.

So let us consider, we stalks of wheat, what is the fruit and what is the poison. The fruit is the part of a plant that does not exist for its own sake. The fruit is a gift from the plant to the world. So too with us people: if we are existing only for ourselves, if we plan our lives, beginning to end, so that we have what we want and we take everything we can get, are we not weeds? Our fruit is service for others, which service has at its heart love. Our fruit is love: love of God and love of neighbor. A human being who does not love with unselfish love is as useless as a stalk of wheat that does not produce grains.

I do not know so much about botany to be able to identify exactly which poison could prevent wheat from producing fruit, but I do know about the poisons which prevent us from loving. They are Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Laziness, Envy, Wrath, and Pride. These dangerous poisons have been spilled throughout the world; our world is like a toxic waste dump. These poisons course through our arteries, stopping us from loving, from giving unselfishly.

Jesus’ parable and interpretation does not separate the world into two types of people. All of the wheat was poisoned, except a couple of stalks. When we see someone growing strong and producing fruit, love beyond measure, we should know that they did not start out like that. They had the same poisons in their heart as us, but they overcame all the poisons which prevented them from fulfilling the purpose of their life.

So it is with each of us and with every stalk. Until the end of the age comes when all the useless people, the people who have not loved, are gathered together and thrown into the fire, we cannot tell the weeds from the wheat, not because they are difficult to tell apart, but because each weed is only one kernel of love away from becoming wheat and each stalk of wheat which loses its fruit will be considered a weed. Until the end, it could go either way, but until the end, it is never too late to start loving.

July 16, 2011 - Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The psalm today repeats the phrase: “for his mercy endures forever”, which sounds well enough, until we get to “who smote the Egyptians in their first-born, for his mercy endures forever” and “who swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea, for his mercy endures forever.” The contrast here makes us pause and think about what we believe. Did God really kill all those children “because his mercy endures forever”? Did he really drown Pharaoh and all the soldiers of Egypt “because his mercy endures forever”?

Perhaps we would rather not think about such parts of salvation history; at best we would talk about how different the times were then, but to suggest that not only did God kill all the first-born sons of Egypt but that it was an expression of his mercy is difficult. Yet how else could such a thing be understood? The mercy of our God is infinite. The central point of this psalm is that everything that God does is an expression of his mercy, and that is absolutely true. God did not wake up angry one morning and smite the Egyptians.

But how could thousands, perhaps millions, of dead children be an expression of God’s mercy? We encounter here the mystery. We do not stand in judgment of God; he stands in judgment of us. We are not greater than God, so it is not reasonable to expect to understand his works completely. He is the Most High God, as far above us as the heavens are above the earth. Can your dog understand everything you do? How much more is God incomprehensible to us!

Nevertheless, God has given us reason and the ability to explore mysteries that we cannot comprehend. We know that God loves us, and not only us but all of humanity. God loved those Egyptian boys whom he killed. The history of the universe is a history of God’s merciful plan toward us. We will never comprehend the mystery of salvation, for it is as infinite as God is infinite. Someday, God willing, we will have the rest of forever to consider the mystery. After 10,000 years, we will begin to realize how events that looked so cruel from earth were, in reality, wonderful acts of mercy. For now, although we do not understand why he allows cancer or earthquakes or war, we are certain of one thing: his mercy endures forever.

July 15, 2011 - Memorial of St. Bonaventure, bishop and Doctor of the Church

Compared to what most of our society does on Sunday, walking through a field on the Sabbath, occasionally picking some heads of grains and chewing on them is a pretty restful activity. So we are inclined to think that the disciples are just being reasonable and the Pharisees are being, well, pharisaical, but Jesus’ answer is more complex than that. He does not merely say, “Seriously! Loosen up guys.” He puts forward an argument that is not easy for us modern Americans to follow.

First he reminds the Pharisees of how David made an exception to the Law in time of need. David and his men were starving, so they ate some bread that they were not supposed to eat. The Gospel says that the disciples were hungry, but it does not tell us how hungry. If they were fainting with hunger that would fit with what Jesus says later: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” The Pharisees’ first fault was preferring their own interpretation of God’s law to the lives of human beings. There certainly is nothing in the law specifically about picking a handful of grain to eat. The law only says: rest on the Sabbath; do no work.

Yet there is more here. Mixed in with this argument are some very impressive statements. Jesus claims to be “greater than the temple” and “Lord of the Sabbath”. Who is greater than the temple? Only God. Who is Lord of the Sabbath? Only God. The priests serving in the temple work on the Sabbath because the work they are doing, worshipping God is more important than the Sabbath. So Jesus is saying that the work the disciples are doing, walking with him, is more important than the Sabbath. Jesus is claiming to be God.

We no longer celebrate the Sabbath. Saturday is just another day for us Christians, and Sunday is our day of rest when no one rests. We could do better at resting on Sunday; it is not really a good day for going to the zoo or going to a ballgame, if only for the sake of those who have to work at the zoo and the stadium. In a Christian culture, stores would be closed on Sunday. But what we do not do on Sunday is not as important to the Christian life as what do do: go to Mass; spend time with Jesus. He is our Sabbath; he is our rest.  

July 14, 2011 - Memorial of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, virgin

Today's Readings

Today we hear the name of our Lord. Moses asks him, “Who shall I say sent me?” and the Lord says, “I am who am.” This name, which is a Hebrew word that we do not know how to pronounce properly, contains deep revelations about God. There are two attempts to pronounce the name in English. We know that “Jehovah” is completely wrong, but we are by no means sure that “Yahweh” is exactly right. We do not use this name of God in our worship. We do not sing songs or say prayers that contain an attempt to pronounce this name.

However, we do look to the name to learn who God is. What does this mean: “I am who am”? It could mean, first of all, “I am who I am.” Moses asks God who he is and God responds saying that there is no way to put into human words who God is, not completely. God is who he is, and any further description of him will fall short. We cannot put God in a little box and think that we know him. He is the incomprehensible mystery.

It also could mean “I am the one who is”, which is to say, God is. Period. We exist because God made us. I can imagine a universe where I did not exist or where you did not exist. I can imagine a universe where the earth did not exist. I can even imagine an existence where the universe did not exist. But, if I imagine a universe where God does not exist, I am imagining nonsense. He is the fundamental fact of existence. He created all things, but he himself was never created. He just is. Everything else could have gone either way, but God is the reality on which everything else rests. There is no possibility that there is no God.

People talk about creationism or evolution as if they were speaking about a universe with God or a universe without God. Our thoughts should be more basic. We know God exists because stuff exists, and stuff is not the fundamental fact of the universe. Debating the existence of God by talking about creation is like debating about the author of a book by talking about the book. We can all agree on one thing: there is a book, therefore there must be an author. A book does not just poof into existence. Neither does a universe.     

July 13, 2011 - Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The burning bush is such a beautiful image of our Lord. When he chose to reveal himself to Moses, he did not appear as any animal or like a human being. There had to be no mistaking him for any of the gods of Egypt. He had not appeared to Abraham, who only heard a voice. He did send three angels to Abraham in the form of three men, but this was only after decades of preparation. Here he begins with Moses as an image.

Of course the image is a good one, since God chose it, but why is it such a perfect image? First of all, God is fire. He is energy. Nothing on earth is as powerful as fire, so God shows us his power by speaking out of fire. Yet fire is not a thing, properly speaking, it is the visual result of the process of rapid oxidation. To see fire is not to see something but rather to see something happening. So too, we cannot see God, but we can see him working in the world.

Furthermore, he burns us but he does not consume us. The Holy Spirit fills our soul but does not destroy it. Slowly, if we let him, he will burn away all that is insufficient in our soul, but what was good at the beginning will remain at the end, purified by fire. God is here a paradox: a gentle fire. Gentle, not because he will hold back from fiercely destroying sin where he finds it, but because he is always in complete control; our skin is not even burned.

Jesus told us that he came to set the world on fire. “How I wish it were already burning!” he exclaims. We have no reason to fear this fire. It is the same fire that burned the bush without consuming it. On the contrary, we must welcome this fire. The fire was kindled in us at our Baptism. Oil was poured on it at our Confirmation. Every Mass we receive the Eucharist as if it were flaming coals.

So much fire! If we were not damp, we would already be in flames. As it is, we are only smoking slightly at best. This fire cannot be stopped by water or wind. It can only be stopped by our own unwillingness to go up in flames. We could be all flame, if we wanted. And what is this fire? Love.

July 12, 2011 - Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Only a desperate person uses death as a solution. Usually death is not a solution but a mystery. We do not know what happens after death, so when no answer makes sense in this life, we try death as a solution. Proponents of euthanasia talk about indignity and unbearable pain, but they fail to answer the most basic question: what experience is waiting on the other side of death? The utter insanity of suicide is being sure that our problems will go away with death when there is no evidence that that is true.

Death is also used as if it could undo what has been done. Such is the case of abortion. A woman is pregnant, and she wishes she were not. An abortion will not reverse the pregnancy; it will only make her the mother of a dead child.

There are uncared for children, poverty, incurable illnesses, and all the other problems in the world, but death is not a solution. We feel helpless in the face of great problems, so we are tempted to use death to solve them, but death is not a solution. This is the lesson of our first reading today. Death was not a solution to Pharaoh’s fear that the Israelites would fight the Egyptians. Death was not a solution to Moses’ anger about the Egyptian hitting his fellow Hebrew.

Consider Moses’ position: the Hebrews are slaves, and he can do nothing to free them. An Egyptian is hurting, perhaps killing a Hebrew before his eyes. So he does what he can; he kills the Egyptian, but this does not help his cause. He is like one of those people who murder an abortion doctor. Besides the obvious problem of one man being judge, jury, and executioner, the greater problem is that more killing does not bring peace.

Jesus provides for us the perfect counter example. His work was not to destroy the bad people but redeem them. He achieved this by the opposite of killing: dying. Jesus today complains that not even his miracles are achieving their proper goal. He seems today, as far as such a thing is possible for God, to be helpless in the face of humanity bent on destroying itself. When we feel helpless in the face of problems larger than we can fix, we should follow his example and die. We do what we can, and the worst that can happen is that the world will kill us.          

July 11, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Benedict, abbot

Today's Readings

Do Jesus' words today surprise you? “Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” It just does not sound like the Jesus in all the pictures that I saw as a child. He always seems so peaceful. The pictures must have gotten things very wrong.

It is worse than that. This does not even seem like the Jesus of the Gospels who says “Blessed are the peacemakers” and himself said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” In one place we see Jesus bringing peace, and in the other he says that he has not come to bring peace. There is no contradiction here. “Peace” has different meanings.

Peace, at the most basic level, is the absence of disagreement, but types of peace differ based on why people are not disagreeing. There is the “Let’s agree to disagree” kind of peace, based on tolerance. You do what you want, and I do what I want. So long as no one is actively, physically hurting another person, who are we to tell them what to do? In contrast to this peace, there is another peace: peace based on truth. With this peace, there is no fighting because everyone actually agrees and is working toward the same goal.  

The first type of peace is the foundation of modern democratic society, perhaps the most peaceful civilization that has ever lived, yet in the midst of this peace there remains so much violence. The second type of peace is the foundation of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is telling us today that he has not come to establish the first kind of peace. He will not agree to disagree.

Consider the case of abortion. The peace of tolerance tells us to stop fighting abortion, to stop making it such a central political issue. The modern people would like to see a compromise, a peace treaty between the pro-life and pro-choice people. The peace of truth tells us that there can be no peace while 42 million children are murdered each year. Truth tells us to fight until there is peace. Jesus came not to bring the peace of tolerance but the sword of truth. The sword of truth is not a sword of violence. Violent resistance has its place, but we will never have real peace until everyone believes the truth.

July 10, 2011 - Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Is it not a little too convenient how Jesus has such perfect parables? He always seems to find the exact metaphor he needs in nature. When we use analogies, they only go so far; eventually our analogies break down, but not Jesus! The truth of his analogies goes all the way from the surface similarities to deep wisdom. The further we consider them, the more we see.

Of course, he kind of cheated. We have to take the world as a given and then try to make an analogy, whereas his analogies preceded the world. When Jesus says that the word of God is like a seed which is sown in a field, we should remember that he is the one who invented the idea of seeds. The analogy is not really his words but the seeds themselves.

When we consider creation, we probably think of the universe first, then the earth, then the plants and animals, last we see humanity living among the rest. As if God made the whole universe and everything in it and then, as an afterthought, created humans. That is the order things were made in, even according to Genesis, but the order things happen in time is not the same as the order of intention.

Intention is a very important concept. We all understand it; it is basic to getting through life. If you see someone go get out some bread and peanut butter and put the peanut butter on the bread and then put the other piece of bread on top and then eat it, you would say that their intention, the whole time, was to eat a peanut butter sandwich, even though that is the last thing they did. If you did not understand intention, you would think that they got the bread and peanut butter for no particular reason, spread the peanut butter on the bread for no particular reason, put the other piece of bread on top for no particular reason, and then noticed that they had a peanut butter sandwich and decided to eat it.

Everything we do can be traced to intention. When you woke up this morning, you would never have gotten out of bed unless you had some reason to do so. Yet when we think of God and the creation of the universe, we tend to be very simplistic and imagine that what exists exists for no particular reason. Every scientific discovery reveals to us the mind of God. All life depends on water, and we happen to live on a planet covered in water. This is not a coincidence.

If we think of creation with respect to intention, we think first of humans. We do not even need to think specifically what kind of bodies the humans will have, just that there are humans. Next we think about what kind of universe should be created for them to live in? Should it be big or small? Should they breathe air? Should they drink water? Do they need to eat? Should they live underwater? Should there be other animals?

God had to answer all these questions and a trillion more when he created us, and his answers were not chosen at random. Every single part of creation, from duck-billed platypodes to the law of gravity was designed for us. All the stars in the sky, so far away that we could never visit them between now and the end of the world, each one millions of times larger than our planet, exist, in part, so that we have a beautiful sky to look at each night.

The universe proclaims the glory of God and the earth reveals the work of his hands. Day after day takes up this story, and night after night make known this message. No speech, no word, no voice is heard, yet the message extends through all the earth, up to the very border of the universe. And what is this message? First of all the universe is saying, “God made us”, but each part is also telling us some idea that God wanted to get across. The Bible is God’s word expressed through human authors. All of creation is God’s word expressed directly. The languages of the Bible are Hebrew and Greek. The languages of creation are seeds growing into plants, water falling from the sky, lions roaring, birds singing, stars burning, and rocks holding steady under our feet.

So when God says, in our first reading, “Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be”, he is telling us that when he invented rain, and the whole water cycle, he meant it as a symbol for us about how grace comes down from heaven, does its work here, and then goes back up to heaven.

So when Jesus says, in our Gospel, that the preached Word of God is like a farmer planting grain, he is telling us that when he invented seeds and decided that that is where food would come from and how they would grow into plants and how they need proper soil and growing conditions, he meant it all as a symbol for us about how we need to be good soil so that the Word of God can grow in us into a plant with strong roots and lots of fruit.

Creation looks different when we look at it and try to see the intention of God. All of creation stands open like a book. It is a symbol of God’s plan for us. It is a symbol in its entirety and in every tiny part. In this way, science is ultimately a religious act. When the first Russian cosmonaut went up into space, he announced, laughing, that he did not find God up there, which was unfortunate, since he could have. Every scientist who comes to their work with faith in God, can find God in whatever subject they are studying, whether protons or protists.

“All creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God”, because all creation exists for the sake of those children of God. Fourteen billion years of creation come down to this moment. All of creation is like a mother, St. Paul tells us, and the fourteen billion years are like the pregnancy. Now we have reached the moment of labor pains, and soon she will give birth, not to one person but to all those who will live forever in heaven.

The reason for the existence of the universe is to produce the children of God, and we human beings alone in all the universe can choose whether to cooperate in that task, since it we who are, potentially, going to be the children of God. The rest of creation praises and reveals God naturally, but the children are free to do as they please. We can either take our place in this symphony and be born at the end of time into eternal life, so that this life is only to us then what our time in our mother’s womb is to us now, or not.

We also have the option to become so obsessed with the pleasures of this life and the goals of this life that we forget the point of this life. The universe will go on toward God’s intention; the children of God will be born according to plan, but we will be left behind, turned in on ourselves, like a person making a sandwich who gets obsessed with spreading the peanut butter and never gets around to eating lunch. We have that option. We could choose that. Why would we? 

July 9, 2011 - Saturday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

“So do not be afraid,” Jesus tells us, “there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, nothing secret that will not be made known.” “Nothing?” we wonder. Perhaps we have often thought that, if only they knew how much we have done for them, how much we have suffered, they would be astonished. If the world could only see all the good we do! But Jesus is going a bit far here. There is nothing secret that will not be made known. All the thoughts of our hearts and every action we thought would lie hidden forever, someday, is going to come out into the full light for everyone to see.

Jesus tells us not to be afraid, but this coming revelation should make us a little anxious perhaps. When we thought that the world should be made aware of who we really are, we were contemplating something more like a public relations campaign: certain events which come to our mind would be publicized around the world. Like “It’s a Wonderful Life” except the whole town gets to walk around and realize how miserable their lives would be without us around. But if everything is going to be revealed, probably we can think of some less complimentary moments in our personal history, which reveal that we are, in actuality, a liar and cheat, selfish beyond belief, and, above all, a great big fat hypocrite.

So if we are thinking that someday the whole world will be impressed by our actions, we probably do not know ourselves as well as we should. No, when we are in heaven someday and someone suggests that tonight we watch the video of my life or of your life, the video that is being recorded every second of our lives right now, we will not be the star of the show; we might often be the villain.

The star of the show is going to be the one who knows when a sparrow falls from the sky and how many hairs there are on top of our heads. The plot is going to be how the Holy and Perfect One managed to convince us to seek our own happiness, while we are sabotaging his every effort. When everything is revealed, when every secret is known, everyone will be astonished not by what we did but by what God did: his humility, his skillful care, his love that never gave up.

July 8, 2011 - Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Sheep are the most vulnerable of all the animals. After millennia of domestication, sheep are about as stupid and defenseless as any animal in the world. They are basically walking piles of wool and meat. The life of a sheep depends on its obedience to a good shepherd. A sheep would not last very long in the wild at all. We are sheep. This is not a compliment. We must be obedient to our good shepherd if we are going to survive at all.

But our good shepherd is sending us like sheep in the midst of wolves! Wolves are the opposite of sheep. They are strong and fast. They have claws and teeth. They are wild and fierce. Sheep versus wolf is not a fair fight; it is not really even much of a fight at all. Notice, however, something very small. He is not sending us “into the midst of wolves” but “in the midst of wolves”. The image we should have is not of a flock of sheep wandering into a pack of wolves. The sheep are already “in the midst of wolves”. Jesus is not sending us somewhere unsafe. The whole world is already unsafe for anyone who is trying to obey God.
So he sends us with advice. What does it mean to be as shrewd as a serpent? Clearly Jesus is telling us to be very wise, and perhaps also more than that: we should be wise in a particular way. We call a serpent wise because it has only one weapon but it uses it well. A serpent does not fight a wolf by hitting it with its tail. Its fangs are deadly, so it waits patiently, then bites suddenly. This is wisdom. Our fangs and venom are the Holy Spirit. We should not hit our enemies with our own weak intelligence but rather wait for the Holy Spirit.

Last, we are to be as simple as doves. Why doves and not just birds in general? Because Jesus is referring to the pure white dove. As nothing is mixed with the white feathers, so our minds should be spotless, without any room for evil. If our hearts are pure and we can be as patient as a serpent, we will be useful to our Lord, whether we are meant to amaze the wolves into submission or be martyred by them.

July 7, 2011 - Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Joseph was treated unfairly. He was about 17 when he was sold into slavery by his own brothers. He spent the next 12 years as a slave and in prison. He spent the next 9 years running Egypt’s branch of the IRS. Then his brothers show up, needing his help. How many times did he think, over the course of the years as a slave and the years in prison about that day, about confronting his brothers?

He toyed with his brothers: frightening them, putting them in prison, demanding that they go back to Canaan and bring him Benjamin. Benjamin of course is not only his full brother, rather than his half-brother, but he also would have been too young and was not there when Joseph was sold. If we read into the story, it seems that Joseph’s plan was to keep Benjamin in Egypt and never tell anyone else who he really was.

As we see today though, when he is told that his father has been grieving for him, his father who he had not seen for 22 years, he is no longer able to control himself. He had wept before to see his brothers, but now he was overtaken by uncontrollable sobs. Why? Because he thought that his father had never searched for him, had not cared so much after all. Perhaps he waited those first few years of slavery in hopes that his father would come rescue him. By now he had given up on his father, when suddenly he finds out that his father has, all this time, been grieving for him, had thought him dead.

Joseph had been treated unjustly by his brothers, and, all things considered, he can only be commended for ignoring them rather than having them tortured and executed. Once he had used them to get his little brother Benjamin, he was going to let them go back home with no penalty. But Joseph had treated his father unjustly. Certainly for ten years, perhaps before that time, he had had the power to let his father know that he was okay, but he never did.

He had made an assumption about his father. He was correct in considering the unfairness, the wickedness of his older brothers (although he did not know that even one of them, Rueben, while guilty of some things, had been largely innocent), but he was wrong to include his father in his just anger against his brothers due to his incorrect assumptions.

Joseph is not unique in this aspect. Making quick judgments about people based on faulty assumptions is something we are all guilty of. Based on what seems like enough information, we think we know someone’s motivations or what they ought to have done. Then we make things worse by acting as if our judgments are Gospel truth when they are wrong.

Not every father is an innocent as Jacob, who mourned the death of his son for 22 years, and not every son is as guilty as Joseph, who did not let his father know where he was for those 22 years, but all of us have relationships which have been cut off because, like Joseph, we have made assumptions, or, like Jacob, assumptions have been made about us. Reconciliation can only come about through humility. When all the Jacobs and all the Josephs stop waiting for the other person to come halfway, but, leaving pride entirely aside, they allow for the assumptions and seek forgiveness.    

July 6, 2011 - Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

In the Old Testament we have the twelve sons of Jacob, who was renamed Israel. In the New Testament we have the twelve apostles of Jesus, who is the Christ. The twelve sons were the founders of the nation of Israel, the chosen people of God. The twelve apostles were the founders of the new Israel, the new chosen people of God, the Church. The sons sold one of their own, Joseph, into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. One of the apostles betrayed his teacher, Jesus, for 30 pieces of silver.

Joseph was sold because he was a tattletale and an arrogant dreamer. Jesus was sold because he was an innocent man. After being sold, Joseph suffered for a while, but eventually became second only to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. After being sold, Jesus suffered for a while and died, but he was second to no one, the king of the universe. Though his brothers were evil for having sold Joseph into slavery, it was all part of God’s plan to save his people Israel in the midst of famine. Though Judas was evil for betraying Jesus to the Sadducees, it was all part of God’s plan to save the whole world in the midst of sin.

Joseph was responsible for enslaving all of Egypt to Pharaoh by unjustly selling the people back their own grain, which is the life of the body. Jesus was responsible for freeing the whole world from slavery to sin by unjustly having his life taken from him. When Joseph saw his brothers again, he toyed with them for years, as we hear in the reading today, before finally revealing who he really was and forgiving his brothers. Jesus forgave us in the midst of his sufferings, from the Cross itself he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

So it is with the readings today; so it is with the whole Old Testament. The Old Testament is the word of God, and the New Testament is the word of God. The true meaning of the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament by the similarities and differences. The Old Testament, beginning to end, speaks to us about Jesus Christ in a hidden way, which is why we still read the Old Testament, why we did not throw it away when we received the New Testament. They both tell us, one implicitly and one explicitly, about Jesus Christ.

July 5, 2011 - Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The translators of the Gospel have cleaned it up a bit for us. It says in English “his heart was moved with pity”, whereas the original Greek is more literally translated “he felt pity for them in his intestines”. “Gut-wrenching” would be a great translation. I mention this because it is such a great image. Jesus looks out on the crowds and he does not look out on them with an intellectual judgment. He does not feel sorry for the crowds. He physically feels pity for them, in the pit of his stomach.

Then Jesus tells his disciples what he wants: “Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” This is a very strange solution! Who is responsible for the harvest? The master of the harvest. Why do we need to ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers? He wants to send out laborers so badly that he feels sick. He should send out laborers himself without any prodding on our part. Why do we need to pray for vocations? God should just send out all the harvesters that the world needs.

Prayer has many functions, but the greatest function of prayer is conforming our will to the Will of God. It is good to pray for what we want, for a new car or cure from a disease, but this is a lower type of prayer. What we want may happen or it may not; we do not know God’s plan for us. The higher type of prayer is praying for what God wants. We know it will happen, since God’s will is perfectly accomplished, but, by joining in his desire, our will is changed into his will.

Praying for vocations is kind of like cheering for God’s team. When we root for the Twins, we very quickly begin to say “We won” and “We lost” and “We just need a new closer”. When we root for God, the same thing happens. Soon it is not “God and me” but “us”. We need a renewal of our minds. We are not fighting God, and we are not bystanders watching him fight the world. We, all of us together, are part of his team, and that begins with us asking him for what he already wants, until we want it too, until we all, the Church and God, have one will, one desire.