September 30, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Jerome, priest and doctor of the Church

Today's Readings

“We have been disobedient to the Lord, our God, and only too ready to disregard his voice.” We can always hear the voice of the Lord speaking to us in the form of our conscience. Our conscience amazes us because we find there a law which we did not invent and no one taught us. This is a law written on our hearts by God. We can learn specific ways of understanding this law, some are right and some are wrong, but the foundational law that tells us to do good and not evil was always there.

Our conscience is where we are most truly who we are; there, in the depths of our soul, we are alone with God. Knowing our own conscience requires that we spend time with ourselves, getting to know ourselves, speaking to God whom we find when we look within. Not because we are God, but because he is nearer to us than we are to ourselves.

Everyone can hear God’s voice in their conscience, but some people have taught themselves to ignore it. By disregarding their conscience time after time, they eventually tune it out. By obey our conscience, especially when this is difficult, we will eventually begin obeying easily. When we hear the voice within us we must immediately obey without delaying or saying, “next time I will do what is right, but this time I just want to do what I want.”

After we have done wrong, our conscience performs the crucial role of reminding us of that wrong; teaching us to ask for forgiveness; refusing to let us simply forget what we have done. In someone who has given their life completely over to evil, this voice is nearly silent, but for most of us, this is the most obvious part of conscience. We may not think ahead of time about our actions, but when we do something really wrong, we cannot forget.

Once we know our conscience, we must obey it no matter what, but this does not mean that we ought to just do whatever seems right to us. Our conscience must be formed by the teaching of Church, by Scripture, by prayer, and by speaking with others. Some moral problems are very difficult, requiring a great deal of understanding and knowledge. In those cases, a well-formed conscience tells us that when the problem is too obscure for us, we should be humble enough to obey those who can see.

September 29, 2011 - Feast of Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel and Saint Raphael, archangels

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 or Revelation 12:7-12
Psalm 138:1-5
John 1:47-51

Once upon a time, although this really happened outside of time, but once upon a time, war broke out in heaven. Of all the angels that God made, one was the smartest, the most beautiful, the greatest angel. He was trusted with carrying the first thing that God had made when he made the universe. God said, “Let there be light. And there was light. And it was good.” And God entrusted his first precious creation to the greatest angel he had created, so the angel was called “The Carrier of Light” or “Lucifer”.

Lucifer loved himself above all else. He knew that he was the most intelligent angel and the most beautiful angel and the greatest angel, but it made him mad that God was in charge. He wanted to be in charge of God. So he convinced one-third of the other angels to join him in a war against God for control of all reality.

God could have stopped Lucifer immediately, since he is God. Instead, one of the other angels, not as important as Lucifer, but still very important, led the other angels in battle. His name was Michael, which means, “Who is like God?” The answer of course is nobody. Nobody is like God. Lucifer thought that he was like God, but he was wrong. No matter how wonderful he is, he was still made by God. God will always be greater by far than anything he creates.

Michael and his angels fought against Lucifer and his angels. And Michael won, because he was right: no one is like God, and in heaven, whoever is right wins the war. So Lucifer had to give up the light and so his name could no longer be called Lucifer, instead he was called Satan, which means: the one who accuses.

Then Satan and his angels had to leave heaven, because “there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” It was not that heaven changed, but that Satan and his angels had changed. There was no place in heaven for someone who hated God. So they went to Hell instead, and Satan got to be in charge just like he wanted. Not in charge of all reality but in charge of Hell.

So the question for us is, whose side are we going to choose: Satan’s or Michael’s? I recommend the winning side.

September 28, 2011 - Wednesday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Jesus tells someone, “Follow me.” The man asks permission to go bury his father first. Does he mean “Lord, give me a few days. My father just died.” or does he mean “Lord, let me go home until my father dies someday and I bury him.”? This second possibility is not so strange. I know many people who have plans for their life which they will not begin until their parents die. I know a woman who wanted to become Catholic for 60 years, and finally joined the Church at age 70 when her mother died.

The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus was going to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. So were hundreds of thousands of Jews, surely including the man’s father if he were alive and well. We have no reason to suppose, and several reasons to doubt, that the disciples never saw their families once they started following Jesus. I think that the man’s father had just died or maybe was about to die, and he is telling Jesus that he will not be going to Passover since he has to bury his father.

Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their dead”, which is literally impossible. Dead people cannot bury someone; dead people cannot do anything. Many people interpret the sentence to mean, “Let those who are spiritually dead bury the physically dead people.” Perhaps this sounds profound at first, but the closer one considers this interpretation the stupider it seems. When everyone is a Christian, will the dead bodies just start piling up? I am very strongly of the opinion that Jesus did not say stupid things, and this is stupid. Moreover, it would make Jesus a hypocrite, since he was buried by some of his closest disciples. Burial is a good thing; it is a work of mercy. Jesus was not condemning the practice. Indeed, he is encouraging it.

I think that “dead” here means both those who have died and those who are going to die. In this sense it refers to all of us. We are all going to die. A hundred years from now, or maybe more, we will all be dead. The man asks permission to leave to perform a work of mercy, so Jesus agrees and sends him away, he says “go” not “come”. Jesus’ response could be expanded and rephrased this way, “Truly those who are going to die ought to bury those who have died. Go and bury your father, and preach the Kingdom of God when you get there."

September 27, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, priest

Today's Readings

The Samaritans hated the Jews, and the Jews hated the Samaritans, but the Samaritans did not refuse to welcome Jesus because he was Jew, but because he was on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. We know from other stories that Jesus stayed and taught in Samaritan towns for days at a time, but this time Jesus was one of many thousands of Jews heading to Jerusalem for the feast. The Samaritans are refusing to be hospitable specifically because of the pilgrimage.

James and John are not only offended for Jesus’ sake; they are offended as Jews. Normally they would simply spit on the town and curse it, but they are taking seriously Jesus’ claim that God will do whatever we ask with faith. So they ask the Lord politely whether he wants them to call fire down from heaven to destroy the city that was so offensive.

James and John grew up hearing about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire from heaven. They are exaggerating to equate inhospitality with the rape and violence of those cities, but it was in the heat of the moment.

They were expecting the Christ to conquer the enemies of Israel. They were expecting the Christ to establish and everlasting kingdom. They were expecting the Christ to come in power and majesty. That day they learned, not for the first time nor for the last, that Jesus Christ was not what they were expecting. He was a conqueror, a king, powerful and majestic. He conquered sin and death. He established the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. His power and majesty were perfectly revealed on the Cross.

It is not as if God got older and wiser. It is not as if he was just trying something out there in Sodom but has changed tactics since. God does not change; he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The God of fire and brimstone raining down on the Sodomites, the God of a flood destroying all of humanity except one family, the God who killed the first-born sons in all of Egypt, is Jesus Christ.

All of those acts were just, and it would have been just to destroy that town too. Forty years later, God destroyed Jerusalem, the city where he was killed. As God said to Ezekiel, “I have no delight in the death of the wicked, but rather that he turn from his way and live…but in the injustice that he has done he shall die.” God has been merciful to us, but do not imagine that this means that God has forgotten how to punish!

September 26, 2011 - Monday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The least among us is the greatest. Which leads to the questions: the least what? and the greatest what? The least wealthy among us are the greatest in need of our help. The least selfish among us are the greatest givers. The least powerful among us is in the greatest danger. This phrase cannot be absolutely true, since the least powerful among us are not always the greatest intellects and the least wealthy are not necessarily the greatest doers of good.

If we were to simply read it as, the least according to this world are the greatest according to the Kingdom of Heaven, we still have difficulties. How many saints have been kings like St. Louis or popes like Blessed John Paul II? Even someone like St. Therese of Lisieux, who tried to be a little as possible, was still not the least important person in the world. She was the novice master of her community, a position of some importance.

If we follow the logic of the gospel, we can discover something. Who is the greatest? God is the greatest. Who is the greatest man? Jesus Christ is the greatest man. He just said that whoever receives a child in his name receives him. In a certain sense, that child, who is among the least important of all, is the greatest, because, in a certain way of considering things, that child is Jesus Christ, just as you are Jesus Christ, and I am Jesus Christ. So we could translate the phrase: everyone, even the one who is least is (in a certain manner of speaking) the one who is the greatest: Jesus Christ.

When we see someone, whether on their throne in their castle or on the street corner in the city, it is possible to see Jesus Christ, if we know how to look. We do not look with our eyes but with love. To look with love at anyone, created in the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, is to see Jesus Christ. Even if we cannot see it, whether because our eyesight is so dim or because the image is so obscured, we can, thanks to Jesus, know it. We can know that our waiter is Jesus Christ. We can know that the person driving next to us is Jesus Christ. We will begin to see Jesus, and opportunities to love Jesus, everywhere we look.

September 25, 2011 - Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

There is a story I know from a book that many of you read in school. The book is about hunting raccoons. The story says that if you want to trap a raccoon, all you need is something shiny. You put this shiny object in a place with a very small opening. The raccoon will reach in and grab it, but because its fist is now full, it cannot pull its paw back. It could just let go of the object and go away, but it will not do this. It will never let go. You will find it the next morning, still holding on.

While I cannot personally verify this method of trapping raccoons to be effective, I have seen the principle in action, not with raccoons but people. So many people want to go to heaven, but they cannot because they are holding on to something. So many people want to be holy and good, but they constantly make bad decisions because they are accounting for something that they would be better off forgetting.  

Every last one of us is holding on to something that is preventing us from being really happy. What we need to learn is kenosis. The beautiful poem from Philippians that makes up most of our second reading is showing the concept of kenosis. Kenosis means “emptiness” in Greek, and St. Paul is telling us about how Christ emptied himself. What does that mean? It means to not grasp onto anything.

Kenosis is the most courageous act possible. All courage is founded on kenosis. A person can only run into a burning building to save another person once they have let go of their own sense of safety. A person can only speak an unpopular truth once they have let go of their desire for popularity. A person can only serve the poor once they have let go of their desire to avoid the unpleasant.

If someone runs into a burning building to save their valuables, that is opposite of courage: they are too cowardly to watch their possessions burn. If one person fights another over an insult to their reputation, that is the opposite of courage: they are too cowardly to be despised. Kenosis cannot be practiced by someone who is afraid.

Kenosis does not mean losing everything. It means losing everything except those things that no one can take away. Consider Christ’s journey of kenosis. He is God, but he came down to earth. He went from being all-powerful and perfectly happy, to being poor and suffering the difficulties of this world. When all his disciples left him, he let them go. When his enemies tried to kill him, he did not stop them. He never grasped at anything. No one could ever threaten Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is God, and nothing anyone ever did to him could change that fact. He did not need to hold on tightly to his equality with the Father because he had complete confidence that this could not be taken away from him. Even when they killed him, he was still God. He did not have to fight to defend himself because he knew that nothing could change who he is.

He could have made a lot of money, but then someone could have stolen his money. He could have made himself king of Judea, but then someone could have conquered his kingdom. Instead, he emptied himself, just as we should empty ourselves, just as we should let go of whatever it is that we are holding on to.

Perhaps you will think, “Kenosis is all well and good for Jesus, since he was God and nothing could ever change that, but for me, what can I depend on?” The same thing: not that we are God but that there is a God. They might take your money, you safety, your health, even your life, but no one can take God away from you.

As St. Paul begins this meditation on kenosis, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy….” Here are things that no one can take away from you: Christ, love, the Holy Spirit, mercy, and compassion. So why do we hold on so tightly to our worthless baubles when true wealth is ours forever, guaranteed?

Perhaps an objection has arisen in your mind, that it is all well and good when a religious, a sister or a brother, someone like St. Francis or Blessed Theresa, lets go of this world, empties themself of every inferior desire and becomes like an alien just visiting this material universe, but what about people who have to live in this world?

First, I agree. This is why religious life is a higher calling. If there is anyone out there today who is called to religious life, do not grasp on to this world! Let go, so that you can stand before God with empty hands, waiting for him to fill them. I do not even say, “If there are any young people.” There is a long history in the Church of widows and widowers joining religious life. If there is anyone here, young or old, who is free to let go of the world, anyone who is attracted to this idea of kenosis, anyone who wants to be like Jesus, go, live that life; be not afraid!

However, those of us who are tied to this world to varying degrees by responsibilities do not simply put aside kenosis. As St. Paul exhorts us today, “humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.” We live in a selfish age. Constant advertisements are everywhere, often promoting nothing more than selfishness. We have every reason to believe that we are the most important person in the world, at least the most important person in our world. Imagine how different the world would be if everyone humbly regarded others as more important than themselves! But we cannot control everyone, so I have to live this principle in my life and you have to live this principle in your life.

This begins at home with your spouse and your children. It continues at work, from the head of the company down to the janitor. It is a rule to live by every day. By following this simple rule, humbly regarding others as more important than ourselves, we can practice kenosis in the world around us. There are so many opportunities to be humble. If you cannot let go of the whole world, at least let go of pride.

September 24, 2011 - Saturday of the Twenty-Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

I wonder when Jesus learned that he would die on the Cross, or if he always knew it. I mean to say, did he know it as a five-year-old boy or did he learn it at some point later in life? He was not taken by surprise: he teaches his disciples about the sufferings to come and he discusses the Cross with Elijah and Moses during the Transfiguration. We know that it was a great burden for him, as is clear from his prayers in the garden on the night before he died, but how long did he carry this burden?

It seems to me that there are two distinct ways to read the Gospel today. We could read it as Jesus trying to share this burden with those closest to him, but they are not strong enough to help bear it, or we could read it as Jesus, knowing that his disciples would not be able to bear the burden that he carried but also wanting to prepare his disciples for his death, tells them about the suffering and death to come, but prevents them from understanding.

It all depends on the phrase “Its meaning was hidden from them”, whether the meaning was hidden by their own obtuseness or Jesus actually prevented them from understanding. In the year leading up to the Cross, Jesus told his disciples many times that he would suffer and die. They did not understand then, but after he died and rose from the dead they remembered these teachings. Remembering them after the fact, with the Cross in the past, they are transformed, from the burden they would have been, to the revelation they are now.

These words are a revelation because they teach us so much about Jesus Christ. Because of these words we know that he was fully aware of the death he would suffer, yet he does not say these words as a merely prescient person would. If you knew right now the death that awaits you, your first instinct would be to consider ways to avoid it, but Jesus does not begin planning ways to avoid his fate. He knows what is coming, and he is committed to doing the will of the Father. Whether he knew about the Cross before he learned his first words or if he did not know until the year before, he always knew that he would do the will of his Father, no matter what.

September 23, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, priest

Today's Readings

The Lord reassures the Jews in our first reading today. The temple they have built is a small, poor building compared to the marvelous temple built by King Solomon. Those who were children before the old temple was destroyed look at the new temple and weep because it is such a pitiful thing. But the Lord reassures them; he promises that this temple will someday be greater than the old temple. All the gold and silver in the world belongs to the Lord, and he can make more if he wishes.

The second temple did become a beautiful building that the whole world spoke about. This happened particularly in the last 70 years before it was destroyed. King Herod put a lot of money into renovating and expanding the temple. Then the Romans destroyed it. This was not the true fulfillment of the promise.

The first temple was built by Solomon. The second temple was built by the Jews who had returned from exile. The third temple was built by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This temple, this dwelling place of God, not made with human hands, is far more glorious than either of the previous buildings. Solomon’s temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. The second temple was destroyed by the Romans. The third temple could not be destroyed. Indeed it was destroyed, but three days later it rose from the dead and can never be destroyed again.

Our new temple, Jesus Christ, God himself dwelling among us, is superior to the other temples in every way, but this temple is not yet complete. The Body of Christ is the Church. We are like the bricks that form the walls of this temple. The Saints are like the gold and silver that God promised to decorate his temple with. The purpose of our lives should be to expand the temple by preaching the Good News and to become ourselves the beautiful block of stone that God wants us to be, decorated not with paint or mosaics or intricate carvings, but with holiness and justice and love. Some people dedicate their lives to building a bank account or a home or a museum. Like the first two temples, these buildings will someday be destroyed. We dedicate our lives to building this new temple, the Body of Christ, which will stand forever.

September 22, 2011 - Thursday of the Twenty-Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Abraham Maslow is famous for his theory of the Hierarchy of Needs. The basic idea is that before a person can worry about things like self-esteem or having a nice job, they must have things like breathing and eating taken care of. This theory has some truth to it, but we also know that we rational human beings are not ruled by our needs. We may decide to put off eating in order to get an important project done at work, and there are many reasons why we might hold our breath. People can even choose to die for a righteous cause.

Our readings today show us how religion fits into our hierarchy of needs. The Jews in our first reading are not hostile to religion; indeed, they would be described as very religious, but when they returned from exile, they decided to take care of their basic needs first. They put off building the temple until they had built their homes and planted crops and saved up a little money. They kept putting off building the temple, until 20 years had passed since they returned from exile. Still the people were saying, “The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.”

Would the time ever come? Would there ever be a time when everything was perfect: lots of money and peace and security? No. We cannot always wait until conditions are optimal before we begin building. Good enough has to be good enough. When our ancestors built this church, they had not satisfied every worldly desire first. Each of us has a temple to build in our lives. We build it by going to Mass and praying and works of mercy and fasting and giving alms. If we put off any of this until we are comfortable in the world, we will never get this temple built.

If we delay serving the poor until we have extra time, we will never serve the poor. If we delay giving money to the Church until we have extra money, we will never support the Church. If we delay praying until we are done with whatever else we wanted to do, we will never pray. Air, food, and water are good things, but religion has to be our first priority. When praying is as important as breathing, when fasting is as important as eating, then we will have conquered this world.

September 20, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Andrew Kim Taegõn, priest and martyr and Saint Paul Chõng Hasang, martyr and their companions, martyrs

Today's Readings

“I rejoiced when I heard them say, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’” This psalm is one of the ascension psalms which were sung by pilgrims as they walked across Israel to Jerusalem to visit the temple for one of the feasts. The Jews would only have been able to come to the temple a few times each year, so it was a very important occasion. Throughout this psalm we hear the joy of returning to the temple after months away.

In the first reading, we learn about how the temple was rebuilt. There was resistance from all sides, but eventually the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem after living in exile were able to rebuild the temple and offer sacrifice once again. This after not a few months but seventy years. Imagine the rejoicing in Jerusalem on that day!

In the Gospel we have the same theme. Mary is coming to visit her son Jesus. I wonder how long it had been since she had seen him. Long enough for someone to announce that she was there. I am sure that she, like any good mother, would have waited patiently until Jesus was done working. Just to see him again and hear his teaching must have caused her to rejoice, just to be near him, she who had double reason for joy since he is both her son and her God.

Did you rejoice when you walked in here today? I know that it has not been a few months since you came to church. Most of you were here yesterday. This is our difficulty: familiarity. We do not have to wait months between visiting the house of God like the ancient Jews. We do not have to wait 70 years like those returning from exile. We are able to spend time with God daily.

We should be careful that this familiarity with God does not lead us to dismiss him, to talk in church while waiting for Mass to begin, to read the bulletin or balance a checkbook. It is not easy, but we ought to experience the joy and wonder of being in God’s presence each day as if it were our first time. As the old saying tells us familiarity can breed contempt, but it can also foster love. If we use the gifts of silence and genuflecting and prayer whenever we enter the church, we can make a habit of wonder and awe in his presence.

September 19, 2011 - Monday of the Twenty-Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

“The Lord has done marvels for us.” The Israelites proclaimed this when King Cyrus allowed them to go home to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. Ezekiel tells us that King Cyrus was inspired by God to make this decree. He was probably not aware of this inspiration. He probably just considered it a good political move. The historical data we have about King Cyrus tells us that he let all the exiled people, from every country in his empire, return to their home cities and rebuild their temples.

Seventy years earlier, when Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, tore down the temple and burned Jerusalem to the ground, things did not seem so promising. Nebuchadnezzar wanted to destroy all the religions on earth except Babylon’s, so he made everyone switch countries and destroyed all the temples. This way, no one would remember their nationality and they would just think of themselves as Babylonian.

Even before it was destroyed, the prophets promised that Jerusalem would be rebuilt seventy years later. This seemed unlikely under Nebuchadnezzar with his new ideas about how the world should live. Then Babylon was conquered by Persia and Cyrus became the new king of the world, and Cyrus had a different strategy: he made everyone move home and build new temples.

Kings come and kings go. Sometimes politics favor the Church and sometimes not. There is no political leader, present, past, or future, who will bring about the Kingdom of Heaven, but every government will bring about God’s will. God wanted Jerusalem destroyed, so Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it. God wanted Jerusalem rebuilt, so Cyrus rebuilt it. God wanted Jerusalem to be occupied by a foreign army when he came as Jesus Christ, so the Romans conquered it. The kings of this world are always doing God’s will in spite of their intentions.

And this is not some special status that governments have. All of us will play a part in the history of salvation. If we do so willingly, we can cooperate with God. If we do so unwillingly or unknowingly, we will do help bring about the Kingdom nonetheless. It is not for us to choose whether we will help make God’s kingdom come, we can only choose whether we will be part of that kingdom as it inevitably does arrive. Jesus has already won the war. The question now is whether we will join the winning side.

September 18, 2011 - Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

I empathize with these workers. I know why they are upset. To pay everyone the same disrespects the work put in by those who labored all day. “You have made these last ones equal to us” is a valid complaint. Is human labor worth nothing? The landowner claims that he is simply being generous. They are not angry because the landowner was generous but because he stopped being generous when it came to them. They were not upset to see the last workers get paid extra. They were glad, since “they thought that they would receive more.” It was only when they realized that they would not be getting any bonus themselves that they became angry.

What should we think about this parable as an economic system? I am reminded of nurses. When a hospital needs to hire temporary nurses, they pay several times what the permanent nurses get. I am reminded of the mercenaries that the United States government hired in Iraq. They were often paid as much for a month as the average soldier received in a year. This is often true in other professions as well. And what about the landowner? He seems kind of stupid. He will have difficulty getting anyone to do a full day’s work anymore. All the workers are going to show up an hour before sunset the next day and expect the same generosity. The economics of this gospel are unfair and, in the long-term, bad business.

But all this presupposes one point: that work is an unpleasant activity that we would avoid if we could. The first workers speak of bearing the burden and the heat; they clearly would rather have not worked all twelve hours. If we turn this on its head and think of work as good, these first workers should have said, “Not only did we get the same amount as you, but we also got to work for eleven more hours than you did.”

The ancient Greeks made a distinction between two kinds of work: slavery and the liberal arts. A slave is someone who works because they have to. A free person works because they want to. A slave is anyone who works for a paycheck, waiting for the weekend to arrive. A free person would do their job even if they did not need the money. A slave is glad when they do not have to work. A free person is glad when they are able to work.

A great example of a free person is given to us in our second reading today. St. Paul is debating whether it would be better to be alive or dead. On the one hand, it would be nice to die and go to heaven, but, on the other hand, there is still a lot of work to be done here on earth. This is not the attitude of someone who hates his job. He wants to preach the Gospel from one end of the earth to the other. St. Paul did not preach in hope of getting a reward. If he could have gotten the reward with less work this would not have interested him.

There are some people who live in remote parts of the world where a priest can only visit once a year, so they only have Mass once a year. When you hear that, do you think “Lucky them”? If we are slave who only love God as much as we have to in order to get to heaven, we will not be happy. Prayer and morality will always seem like an imposition on our lives. If we are free men and women who choose to love God out of our freedom, than we will be happy. If prayer is considered to be an interruption of our TV time, we will resent having to pray. If TV is considered to be an unnecessary distraction from prayer, we are free.

If we are free people, we will not be upset if someone does not have to work as hard as us to get their reward. It will not be considered a bad thing to have loved more than someone else. Ultimately it comes down to who we want to be: free workers or lazy slaves. The free worker looks at what they have accomplished with pride and joy.

True freedom is not freedom to do whatever we feel like doing. True freedom is the freedom to do what we want to have done. With true freedom, we become participants in the destiny of the world. If you want peace, work for peace. If you wish that there were more beauty in the world, make something beautiful. If you want parents to take better care of their children, take good care of your children. True freedom is the freedom to be the change you want to see in the world.

We should not be like those workers who spent their whole day harvesting the field, only to discover that they could have shown up at the eleventh hour and been paid the same. The ultimate purpose of our lives should be something which we will never be disappointed in, never wish we had done less of.

Would you do your job if money were no object? What would you do with your life? I know that many of you are working jobs that you hate. It is good to be free, but even if you hate your job, even if you are only working to support your family and you would quit in a second if you no longer needed the money, you can be free with respect to serving the Lord. We serve the Lord by doing what he commanded us to do: love: love of God and love of neighbor. We love God, so we pray and go to Church and obey his commandments. We love our neighbors, so we give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and those in prison.

Many people today do not know why they exist; they have no reason to get out of bed in the morning. They kill time with television and games and other entertainments. Love is the reason. Instead of wasting time with a lot of nonsense, we can love. If we are free with respect to love, we will not avoid love, we will not shirk our duty. Instead, we will look for opportunities to love. The question will not be how little love we must do to get into heaven but how much can we love.

September 17, 2011 - Saturday of the Twenty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Why did Jesus want the people to “look but not see” and “hear but not understand”? It is not what we expect of him. Along with his constant exhortations to those he healed to not tell anyone, it seems that Jesus was trying to hide his ministry, as if he had to walk a fine line, publicly showing forth his works and teaching without becoming too popular. As it was, there was “a large crowd gathered, with people from one town after another journeying to Jesus.” Jesus did not come to earth primarily to make converts; he came to accomplish a task: offering his life on the Cross. If he had too many supporters, perhaps that would have been impossible.

God’s plan does not follow human wisdom. Jesus left the building up of the Church to the Apostles after his death and Resurrection. Is it unfair that Jesus would act this way? Perhaps we would not have crucified Jesus if only he had revealed himself more publicly. Perhaps Judas would not have betrayed Jesus if he had seemed more powerful and popular. Perhaps if God would always be more public with his teaching and miracles, even today, we would not have so much difficulty believing in him.

Is it God’s fault that we crucified him? Is it God’s fault that Judas betrayed him? Is it God’s fault that we fail to believe in him? No. What Jesus suffered, he suffered as an innocent man, beyond reproach. As surely as he could have called down more than twelve legions of angels to save him, he could have convinced more people to believe, but the responsibility for our crimes still falls on our shoulders.

God has given us sufficient reasons to believe in him: the sun rose this morning, did it not? We do not need more proof from God; we have sufficient proof of everything, but if we want more proof, there is a way to get it. There is no proof like the lives of the Saints. St. Francis is proof, and St. Therese is proof. Our Blessed Mother is proof. If we want more proof, we should become the proof like they did. If we want to see miracles, we should work miracles. If we are satisfied with a partially-lived life, we can live it, with television and games and every other useless toy. If we want more, all we need to do is become more.

September 16, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Cornelius, pope and martyr and Saint Cyprian, bishop and martyr

Today's Readings

“The love of money is the root of all evils.” This famous phrase from our reading today is often shortened, incorrectly, to “money is the root of all evil”, which then becomes, “money is evil.” Then people begin to wonder, if money is so evil, why is the Church always asking us for some, and this sort of line of thinking is considered to witty. Then people decide that the Bible says nice things which are terribly impractical and can simply be ignored. Bad exegesis has bad consequences.

Money of course does not refer strictly to coins or dollar bills. Money is time. Money is power. Money is wealth. Money is comfort. Money is respect. Money is simply how we keep track of invisible concepts. No one wants money. People want stuff that can be bought with money. People want more money than their neighbors. People want other people to do what they say. If you had a genie’s lamp with unlimited wishes, it would be foolish to wish for money; just wish for all the things you would use the money for. So the love of money does not refer to the love of money but the love of the world and what the world has to offer, the love of everything that can be bought and sold.

If we return to what St. Paul actually wrote, rather than the corruption of what he wrote, we can learn that the Bible is filled with practical wisdom which we would do well to listen more carefully to. The root of all evils is not necessarily evil. Paul is not saying that evil always springs up wherever money is found, but that, wherever evil is found, love of money can always be found at the root.

This is simple logic. All trees are plants, but not all plants are trees. All evil is rooted in the love of money, but not every desire for money leads to evil. If you desire money in order to feed your family and put a roof over their heads, this is not evil. If you desire money in order to build a good business, this is not evil. Love of money is simply part of being a member of society, but watch out! Love of money, even for good purposes, can lead to evil. How can we avoid evil then? Love something else more than money. Love money for what it can do, but love other people more and God the most.

September 13, 2011 - Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, bishop and doctor of the Church

Today's Readings

The office of bishop, as is clear from our first reading, requires a great deal of a man. He needs not only to be a good and holy man but also competent in many areas: in speaking and economics and management. Not every Saint would have made a good bishop. Indeed, although St. Paul requires that the bishop be a good man, he more strongly emphasizes the necessary competence.

Keeping all this in mind, we ought to pray for our bishops rather than complain about them. Of course, there is a need for accountability and some bishops have fallen very far short of the ideal, but this does not justify our being critics of bishops, considering them like a wine critic considers fine vintages, putting them under our judgment. We begin by understanding that no one can live up to the requirements of this office. If some extraordinary men come close, they are a wonderful gift to the Church, but if we see our bishops fail, we should, above all else, pray for them to do better.

It is to the bishops that the Apostles entrusted the Church, entrusted to them by the Lord Jesus. Yes, it is tragic that mere humans have the care of this precious Church, but that is what Jesus decided, and who are we to question his wisdom? Jesus left the Church after his Resurrection, trusting a small group of men, one of whom had denied him, most of whom had abandoned him, with his beloved bride, the Church.

He left the Church when he ascended into heaven, but he did not leave her alone. He sent the Holy Spirit to fill the hearts of all believers. It was the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Apostles that caused the first converts to join the Church. Above all, our prayer for our bishops should be that the Holy Spirit will come into their hearts and allow them to preach the faith in a convincing way, to heal the sick, raise the dead, provide for the poor, and be managers of the Church entrusted to them. We wish this for all people, but particularly our bishops. They are very busy, much burdened with the weight that has been put on their shoulders. No bishop has the time to pray as much as they need to, so it is very important that we pray for them.

September 12, 2011 - Monday of the Twenty-Fourth Week in Ordinary time

Today's Readings

St. Paul asks us in the first reading to pray “for everyone, for kings and for all in authority.” He wrote this at a time when kings and those in authority were often very bad people. We all know about King Herod and the various Roman Emperors. Today we vote for our government and become very upset if they happen to disagree about tax policies. Perhaps modern people are more likely to be dissatisfied with any leader, or maybe ancient people just expected their leaders to be cruel and capricious.

We have to live somewhere, under some political system. Christians can engage in the political process of their countries like anyone else, and really ought to so that they can bring the truths they know from faith into the public sphere, but if someone is elected whom we disagree with, we ought to pray that they will do what is right.

St. Paul is just being practical. He says that we should pray for government leaders because he believes that praying has effect. He believes that if we pray for them, they will be helped to lead in a wise and just way. Some people might think that praying is nice but not a very effective way to change the world. What about faith? If we believe that God can do anything, and we believe that he is waiting for us to ask him for what we need, then we should eagerly pray for peace and justice.

Some people like the policies of President Obama. Some people do not. If we consider only one policy that we Christians all ought to strongly oppose, namely his support for those who kill small children who have not been born yet, we ought to pray for him to learn the truth about the dignity of every human being. If we consider the many other policies and decisions involved in being President, we should pray that he has the wisdom to know what is right.

I do not know how to reduce unemployment, maybe no one really knows, but God knows. His wisdom could help our President to make the country better. Whether we voted for him or not, it is in our best interest to pray for him, and not only for him but for all the Senators and Representatives and Legislators and Justices and Judges and police officers and everyone else, “for kings and all in authority, so that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life.”

September 11, 2011 - Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

I was watching the news coverage from ten years ago last night. I suppose a lot of you have done that in recent days, along with all the memorials on television. It was so sad to watch those planes hit knowing that I was watching hundreds of people die, knowing that almost 3000 would be dead before the day was over, remembering the passengers of United 93 who fought back and successfully prevented a fourth attack.

The attacks of September 11th, 2001 present a troubling question for Christians: should we forgive the terrorists? After considering this question over the past 10 years, I believe the answer is No. There are two teachings on forgiveness that pervade the Gospels. On the one hand, Jesus tells us that we ought to forgive freely and often, that no crime is so bad that we would not forgive. On the other hand, there is an intrinsic relationship between forgiveness and repentance. Throughout the Scriptures there is nothing that suggests that we should forgive someone who is not sorry. Our Gospel last Sunday, which comes before this Gospel on forgiveness, was all about how to seek repentance from someone who has harmed us.

If Osama bin Laden had appeared a year ago and asked for forgiveness, it would have been the duty of every Christian to forgive him, from the families of the dead to every American, but he did not. Even if we forgave him, he would have still been arrested. Forgiveness does not mean the removal of all consequences but the acceptance of repentance. We would have been eager to forgive him, if he had been sorry, but he was not so we cannot.

We do not even withhold forgiveness until we are satisfied that the person is truly sorry. Just the beginning of sorrow is enough. We do not have to wait for an elaborate heartfelt apology. As soon as a person is even the slightest bit sorry, we must forgive immediately but to forgive without repentance is meaningless; it is an insult to the meaning of forgiveness to try and forgive someone who is not sorry.

Consider this: Jesus did not forgive those who crucified him but he did forgive the repentant thief crucified next to him. About the others, he said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” This is an example for us. We cannot forgive those who do not show repentance, so we hand over the work of forgiveness to our Heavenly Father who knows the depths of each man’s heart. If he finds repentance there, he can forgive them. If he does not, he can lead them to repent.

As for us, what should we do, having handed over the work of forgiveness to our Father? I think that the proper word for someone who we cannot forgive is an enemy, and we have clear instructions for what to do to our enemies: Jesus says, “Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” There are some people who we cannot forgive, so we love them instead.

But how? How do we love our enemies? Love consists of three parts: attraction, desire, and goodwill. Attraction means seeing the good in the other person. This is particularly important with enemies. Sometimes we have to struggle to see the good. In the end, if we cannot see any other good, we can begin by remembering that they were created by God and he loves them just like us.

Concentrating of the good of the other person, be it ever so small, is important because it prevents us from hating them, from concentrating on the bad. As our first reading from Sirach says, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” If we do not actively work at loving our enemies we will start hating them, staying up at night going over our grievances against them, letting anger burn us like acid, until we are destroyed. Hatred is poison for our souls, so we must fight it with love.

The second part of love is desire. The desire of true love is all about respect. Once we get past anger, the temptation is to despise our enemy. If we desire the love of our enemy, that means that we respect them as human beings; we wish that they were not our enemy. If we think that our enemy is less than human, we are wrong. They are just like us. As Sirach says, “Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself?” The hijackers were men just like us, even though they are horribly mistaken.

The third part of love is goodwill, wishing and doing good things for others. We should wish our enemies well. This does not mean wishing them success, but it does mean that we hope to see them in heaven someday. Goodwill is opposed to revenge, which we must always avoid. Sirach tells us that “The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance”, and it is written in another place “God says, ‘Vengence is mine. I will repay.’” It is written in Scripture, not once but twice, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” There is no revenge as satisfying as helping someone who has hurt you, because you get to be the better person.

Love everyone, especially your enemies. It feels good to nurse hatred at first, but hatred will ruin us in the end. There is no reason to hate anyone at all since we can love them instead. Hatred is more our enemy than any person. The attacks ten years ago were motivated by hatred. The death and destruction is a testament to what hatred can do. We will never end hatred with wars or security checkpoints. These are only coping with the symptoms. We must attack the root of it all, we can destroy the root of it all, which is hatred, only with love. Love is powerful enough to take on hatred and win.

September 10, 2011 - Saturday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost.” This statement by St. Paul can be difficult to understand. It all pivots on what he means by “foremost”. If he means that he is the worst sinner in the history of the world, that is doubtful. Judas of course, but also Herod the Great, and old King Manasseh are just a few examples of people who Paul would have known about. Paul did some bad things, but he certainly is not, objectively speaking, foremost among sinners.

But perhaps he is speaking subjectively, meaning that each of us should see ourselves as the worst sinner. We often see this example in the Saints. Anyone who says they have not sinned very much is probably sinning a lot. The sort of person who has made strides against the power of sin in their life is the one who knows how badly they have sinned. There is something to be said for this attitude, but I do not believe that it is precisely what Paul is writing about here; he never says that we should take up this same attitude. He seems to be saying something particular about himself.

The word “foremost” is just the word “first” in Greek: protos. St. Paul is saying that he is the first sinner, but he is not the first sinner in the history of the world, nor the first sinner to be saved by Jesus Christ. Without a doubt, Peter and John and Mary Magdalene were all sinners too. Crowds of sinners converted while Jesus preached. Tax collectors and prostitutes gave up their former lives, one after the other.

No, St. Paul is using the word here in another way. From the word protos comes the word “prototype”. Paul confirms that this is what he means when he says “so that in me, as the first, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example.” Paul’s conversion was not only for his own sake. How many people have heard the story of how the murderer Saul became the Apostle Paul? Jesus showed such extraordinary love and patience with this man who was persecuting and killing Christians that there can be no doubt that conversion is possible. Now, because of how Jesus dealt with St. Paul, a conversion story is not the exception among Christians but the norm. There is no more typical Christian life than the life of St. Paul.

September 9, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, priest

Today's Readings

For every person you know, if you know them very well at all, then you know some fault they have which is always getting in their way. You know that if they would just change this aspect of their personality, if they would stop complaining, or stop gossiping, or stop arguing needlessly, they would go further in life. If you could only get them to realize how they sabotage themself and annoy everyone around them, their life would be easier, and your life would be easier; the world would be a better place!

But of course telling them is useless. They will be shocked, as if they are oblivious to what is obvious, or they will acknowledge the problem but in a way that shows that they do not really understand how serious the problem is. It does not matter. They will continue doing whatever it is they do. Even if they apologize and promise to do better, it is unlikely that they will actually make deep and lasting change.

It can be so frustrating, and the worst part is that if every person has some fault of this kind then that includes you and I. We too are fatally flawed. To be clear, I am not referring to what we would write down if listing our flaws. Even if we know our basic flaw, we do not realize how serious it is. Jesus described it so perfectly by calling it a splinter in the eye. We are oblivious to the splinter in our eye because we cannot see it because there is a splinter in our eye.

Jesus is not telling us that we should not correct each other and try to help each other become better people, but that we must do this with great humility, realizing that we too have a splinter in our eye. Not just, “yeah, yeah I’ve got my faults too but….” No, this is why he calls it a “wooden beam”, not because it is a bigger fault than anyone else but because we have a tendency to minimize it.

What can we do about this splinter in our eye that we cannot see? We have to find other people who we trust, who can tell us where the splinter is exactly and what it is made out of. They cannot pull it out themselves, but if we submit humbly to their help, God will remove it if we let him.

September 7, 2011 - Wednesday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.” Is Jesus telling us that there is something wrong with laughing? No! He just promised those who are now mourning “you will laugh.” Is he saying that laughing should be reserved for heaven, that laughing here on earth is what is wrong? No! He commanded those who are hated and excluded and insulted because of him to “Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!” Surely “that day” does not refer to heaven since there will be no hatred in heaven.

I believe that Jesus is using “now” with a particular sense: not now as opposed to later nor here on earth as opposed to later in heaven but as he uses the word “world” to mean both where we live and the evil nature of the present time, the word “now” can also serve this dual function. So the sentence might be expanded to say “Woe to you who laugh at sin and evil and all the things that amuse this evil age. Woe to you who laugh derisively at the holy things which seem useless now. Woe to you who laugh at people because, for now, they are weak or poor or disabled. Woe to you who laugh with the world as it now is and at those who are trying to be different. Woe to you who are relying on the here and now to make you happy because the here and now is passing away.”

The same could be said for “Woe to you who are filled now.” Jesus is not denying that we should eat well if we can. He once fed 5000 men with their families until they were full. He is speaking, it seems to me, about those who have satisfied their deep longing for God with all those evils that St. Paul wrote about today: immorality, impurity, anger, obscene language, etc.

The blessings and woes are a beautiful, poetic way of saying that if we are fitting in with this world the way it is, if we are succeeding according to the current rules, then we ought to watch out: the rules are changing, the world is changing. “Brothers and sisters: If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” If we do that, then we can be as rich as St. Louis the King and laugh like St. Philip Neri. If we are strange now (in the right way), when Christ comes we will be normal. If we are normal now, when Christ comes we will not fit in.

September 6, 2011 - Tuesday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

“See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to the tradition of men, according to the elemental powers of the world, and not according to Christ.” Our world is filled with empty, seductive philosophies. Every human being in existence really only wants to be happy, so every philosophy must promise happiness of some kind. Empty, seductive philosophies deny true happiness, settling for easy happiness in this world, and then fail to deliver even that.

The philosophies are seductive because they tell us the “real truths” that we always knew deep down. In other words, they confirm our fears. Many worldly philosophies tell us that you live on this earth, and then you die, and after death there is nothing at all. How do they know? There is, of course, no scientific proof of this, nor could there be, yet they tell us that we who believe in life after death, we who believe that we are more than atoms and electrons, are simply fooling ourselves. We are all afraid of death, so when they tell us that the fear is real, what could be more seductive? But they are just ignorant as we are.

Having confirmed our fears without a basis, the philosophies are empty because they deny the only possible source of happiness. God gave us an infinite capacity for happiness which can only be satisfied by loving him. He is the only infinite good in the universe. We are going to live forever, which is a very long time. Anything less than the infinitely good, beautiful, and true God will eventually be boring. Sex, money, parties, drugs, power, entertainment, games, and every other source of limited happiness fail to satisfy our longing. Everything on earth is boring after a few years at most, how could it possibly last forever?

So these philosophies tell us that there is no God, that death is final, and that humans are selfish. Then they promise us happiness with money, sex, and power. Jesus tells us that God is our Father, that death is the beginning, and that we have a capacity for perfect love. Then he promises us happiness with poverty, chastity, and obedience. “Brothers and sisters, you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, depend on him, be built up on him, and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” Do not be afraid, and do not settle for what fails to satisfy.

September 5, 2011 - Monday of the Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

What was lacking in the afflictions of Christ? He suffered torture and death and the weight of all of our sins. No one has ever suffered as he has suffered, but St. Paul tells us that he is “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ.” What could be lacking? Nothing at all, except what we hold back: ourselves. The suffering of Jesus Christ is perfect, but until we join ourselves to that suffering, we, ourselves, are what is lacking in the suffering of Christ.

It is not as if God wishes us to suffer. We see in the Gospel today the solicitude of our Lord for the man with the withered hand, but our suffering can be mere suffering or it can be something holy and salvific. It is by suffering that we are joined to the Body of Christ, if we offer our suffering as a holy oblation to the Lord.

Whether the suffering is little or great, whether it is the arthritis in our knees or the suffering of a sickness that will end in death, whether it is getting up early in the morning to go to work or being and immigrant working thousands of miles away from friends and family, we all have to suffer. Suffering is a given fact in this fallen world, but do we run from suffering, from our cross, or do we embrace our suffering as the Lord embraced his Cross. The Lord tells us, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.

Whatever suffering you have, unite it to the suffering of Christ and you will be united to Christ. We do not want to suffer, but more importantly, we do not want to suffer meaninglessly. Consider the difference between the suffering of a person injured in a stupid fight and the suffering of a woman in labor. Consider the difference between the suffering of a slave who must work for another and the suffering of a man who works to provide for his family.

All suffering can be meaningful if it is joined to the suffering of Christ. By choosing to offer our suffering, whatever the cause, as an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord, we make our mundane suffering something remarkable. Then, we too can say that we rejoice in suffering, every new ache and pain and struggle becomes an opportunity to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice.

September 4, 2011 - Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Did you catch that, at the beginning of the second reading? “Owe nothing to anyone.” This is very good advice, but it is often ignored today. To be in debt is to be in slavery. To be free of debt is to be free. So many people today have sold themselves into slavery for a new car, for a bigger house, for a thousand little charges on the credit cards! You are worth more than that car, than that house, than the computer and the clothing and the restaurants.

Advertisers try to convince us that we need something else. You cannot watch TV without seeing an ad telling you to buy a car, and not just a car but a new car, and not just a new car but a luxury car, and not just a luxury car but a car that parks itself. Houses today are a sign of this problem in society. A hundred years ago the idea that each child would have their own room would have been ridiculous; today this is seen as a necessity. A good home today has to be thousands of square feet. Because of this unreasonable standard, many people bought houses that they could not afford and lost everything. Owe nothing to anyone.

I know that there are people who have to charge groceries on the credit card to get by each month, and why do they need to use credit cards for the basic necessities? Because their paycheck each month goes to pay the credit card bills. Owe nothing to anyone. Such a life is unsustainable. If a family is so poor that they struggle to feed themselves, how can they afford to send money each month to the billionaires of the world? If it means never going to a restaurant again and never buying a new car or even new clothes, freedom from debt is worth far more than any of the pleasures of this world.

Greed is not just a sin for millionaires and billionaires who are trying to get higher up on the list of the richest people. Greed is believing that material goods can bring us happiness. They cannot. They promise happiness in the short term, but they add up to a burden on our souls.

This is the way of all sins. A sin promises happiness in the moment, in the individual instance, but the aggregate adds up to a cause of sadness. Consider gluttony: a person should be in good shape, and I am not referring to looking like a supermodel, just being healthy and fit. In the individual moment, the food looks good, the cake seems irresistible, but it all adds up to an extra 20 or 50 or 100 pounds which make us unhappy. Consider sloth: watching TV and other ways of wasting time in the short term seem desirable, but when your work is not done and you have not become the person you want to be, when you have wasted years of your life, it has all added up to unhappiness. Items call out at us, promising happiness, but it all adds up to debt.

Virtue, on the other hand, is the opposite. The short-term seems difficult, but it all adds up to happiness. Volunteering to care for the sick is not desirable, but then you have become a person who cares for the sick; you like yourself, so you are happy. Denying yourself food or forcing yourself to work or exercise is difficult in the short-term, but a body you can move around in and success in life are sources of happiness. Denying yourself purchases on credit is difficult in the short-term, but it adds up to freedom.

Why do some people in this world have more than enough while others have to struggle to get by? It is a consequence of sin, but it is the world we live in. We are blessed in this country; it is relatively easy to survive. Rather than trying to have more than that, we should be looking out for those who do not even have that much.

Which brings us to the exception to this rule: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” Here is a debt that we are happy to have. The whole law can be summarized in the commandments of love. If we love God above all and our neighbor as ourself, then we do not need any rules. We could throw away the Ten Commandments and every other commandment, if we were perfect at love. This is what St. Paul means when he says that love is the fulfillment of the law. St. Augustine says it this way: “Love and do whatever you want.” It is not as if a person perfect in love could kill and commit adultery and what not. If you love someone, you will not kill them. All of the commandments and rules of the Church are simply teaching us how to love.

Jesus says to us, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This is a tall order, but we can try. Jesus is not speaking about an emotion that we cannot control. He is speaking about an action: the action of love. Love begins by looking to see the good in the other person, and everyone has some good. Our tendency is to think of people generically, but if we love them we learn all about them individually, looking for the good, whether they are right in front of us or they live on the other side of the world. No human being created by God is just nothing. There truly is good in everyone because God put it there.

Second, love is goodwill, helping the other person achieve their goals. Love involves giving of ourselves without controlling, asking in return only to be loved back. This is the love of God for us, who knows us through and through and who has given us life, the universe, and everything. All he asks in return is that we will love him back, not because he needs it but because we were designed to love God and each other.

What a pleasant fact, this debt of love we owe to every human being whom we meet! This debt is not a burden, weighing us down. This debt is the meaning of life and the source of true happiness. When we spend our lives not seeking after material things and entertainments, when we spend our lives to pay this debt of love, we lose nothing and we gain happiness.

September 3, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, pope and doctor of the church

Today's Readings

When I think of reconciliation with God, I tend to think that since I committed a sin, God is angry and, when I reconcile, God stops being angry with me. This is how reconciliation often works with a fellow human being, but St. Paul turns this idea on its head. He does not say that we have reconciled God but that “God has now reconciled you”. Why do we need to be reconciled? Because we “once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deeds.” How odd! We committed sins, and then we were angry with God. The problem is within us, not within God. God is not refusing to welcome us; we are refusing to come back.

Our minds are angry with God because of the sins we have committed. God has provided us with everything imaginable, but then we demand to commit sins. We are angry because he tells us that we should not. We are like a toddler who wants to touch the fire and screams because he is told that he cannot. Reconciliation is not just because our sins have made us ugly in the sight of God. Reconciliation occurs when we stop throwing this temper-tantrum.

How do we get reconciled? “In the fleshly Body of Christ through his death.” The death of Jesus Christ holds the power of reconciliation. We must die and join our death to his death. When we die to greed we will stop living for money and possessions. When we die to lust we will stop living for pleasure. When we die to envy we will stop living to triumph over others. If you are willing to die to these and every sin, then you will be reconciled to God because you will no longer be hostile and resentful of his interference.

When we stop complaining like a sullen teenager that God will not let us do ANYTHING, when we stop resenting God and start loving him, then we will find that he (like any good parent) never stopped loving us; then the healing can begin. He will make us holy, without blemish, irreproachable. Though our sins are like scarlet, he will make us white as snow. Though we have brought ourselves down to the depths of Hell, he will raise us up to heaven so that we can dwell with him.

September 2, 2011 - Friday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

“Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God.” “No one has seen the Father except Jesus Christ, who is from God; he has seen the Father.” Imagine what God the Father looks like. If you imagined something, it is wrong. There is no image whatsoever that can represent the Father. We sometimes think of God the Father as being the old man with the white beard, but God is a spirit.

When God created the world, he made an image of himself for us to look at when we want to know him. It is us. We are created in his image and likeness, male and female he created us. So each individual person is an image of God, because we are alive and he is alive, because we can think and he can think, but we are more an image of him because we can love and he is love. The family is an image of God: three persons but one God, so also three persons but one family.

None of these images were ever perfect. A family is cannot be truly one the way that God is one. We can think but God knows everything. We are alive but God is life. None of these images were ever perfect, but when we sinned that first time, and every time since, we have smudged and obscured the image so that it can be difficult to see God.

Which is where Jesus comes in. He is the image of the invisible God. He is the perfect image; he is, first of all, the perfection of man. In Jesus Christ we can see the image and likeness of God that is damaged and blurry in each of us as clearly as it was originally intended to be. Here is one who thinks rightly. Here is one who lives well. Here is one who loves with the entire capacity of the human heart.

The link between any symbol and reality is a convention, an agreement of human minds. All language is ultimately arbitrary. Any given word could mean anything at all if we agreed on it. But the link between the human nature of Jesus and the divine person of the Son is perfect and complete: the hypostatic union. If we have a relationship with Jesus, then we have a relationship with God. Jesus is the image of the invisible God because Jesus is the invisible God.

September 1, 2011 - Thursday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

“Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man”, St. Peter says today. He is right about being a sinful man; unlike the Pharisees, he knew that he was sinful, but he was wrong to ask the Lord to leave. It is precisely because of his sins that he needs the Lord. He does not feel worthy to be in the Lord’s presence, and he is not worthy, but he is loved. To be loved is so much more important than to be worthy.

St. Paul addresses this question of being worthy in the first reading today. He is praying for the Colossians so that they may “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” This first use of worthy goes back to the etymology of the word. To be worthy is to be worth as much. St. Paul is praying that their actions will be worth as much as the Lord. The Lord has given himself to us: in creation, in the Eucharist, and in the Holy Spirit. Our actions should be worth as much as these gifts.

How will this be possible? St. Paul tells us further on that the Father “has made us worthy to share in the inheritance of the holy ones”. This time worthy is a different word: fit, strong enough, virtuous enough. The Father has made us good enough to share in the inheritance of the saints. He has done this by his gifts of creation and salvation. He has done this by sending the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

So the gift of God which we have to live up to is the same gift that makes us able to live up to it. This means that our worthiness is only a question of not wasting the gift. We are worthy to receive the inheritance when we will no longer throw it away as if it were worthless. Just as a parent would not give a gift to an 18-month-old that they would tear up and destroy, so our Father will not give us an inheritance that we will despise. We first need the wisdom and understand to appreciate its value, so that we will in turn treat it according to its value. What is the value of an hour? What is the value of health in mind and body? Beyond measure! Yet people despise these great gifts every day.