October 31, 2011 - Monday of the Thirty-First Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

St. Paul’s point is that anything we give God, we first received from him, plus it was always his anyway. All things exist in him and for him and through him. If we give him something we made, he is the creator of the earth and all materials. If we give him an hour, he is the creator of time. If we give him ourselves, he is our creator. There is nothing that we can give him that will put him in our debt.

Jesus’ point is that God is willing to be in debt to us. The poor are God’s investment bankers. If you make a deposit with them, God will pay the loan back with interest. We do not give the poor money: we loan the poor money, and then God pays it back, tenfold or hundredfold. In this economy, it would be foolish to put your money in Treasury bills or the stock market. The only sure bet in this world is in giving it to the poor.

The goods of this earth were given to Adam by God. Since we are all equally the sons and daughters of Adam, we have equally inherited the goods of this earth. Some people are managing a great deal of the shared goods of the earth. Some people are managing only a very little. It is right and proper that some people manage a lot of the world’s wealth, but it is wrong when that wealth is used wastefully. It is good when the wealth is used to make this world a better place by growing something useful or building something worthwhile or inventing something better or creating something beautiful.

No one owns anything. If a man has a million dollars, then he is managing a million dollars worth of the earth’s shared goods. It is his duty to see to it that this portion of the wealth of the earth is distributed in a useful and fair way. He begins with himself and his family as he distributes the goods, then he distributes to those families who do not have enough. Each one of us is in charge of a portion of the world. It may be a small portion, but it was made by God, given to humanity, and entrusted to you. If you do well with it, God will be in debt to you, not by necessity but by his own choice.

October 30, 2011 - Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

When the power goes out, we realize how powerless we are. We flip the light switches, but nothing happens. Really, that small movement of our fingers does not in reality create light, but we forget that, until the power goes out. Have any of you ever been driving a car when the power steering goes out? It quickly becomes obvious how hard it is to control a 2-ton car. Two fingers on the wheel is not going to get the job done. How much more so when the car runs out of gas! You can press the accelerator all you want, but that car is not going anywhere.

Health is sort of like this too. We are walking along, when we are suddenly hit by a cold or the flu or a headache. It slowly becomes clear how much we depend on health. When I have a headache or a stomachache, I cannot think straight; I can barely hold a conversation, let alone any kind of polite conversation. We seem so powerful and independent, but then we realize how much we depend on electricity and gasoline and good health and so many other factors just to get through the day.

This principle holds true for the spiritual life. We do not realize how much we depend on the grace of God to get through the day, but if that grace were cut off, just for a few hours, we would be more in the dark than when the electricity is gone. I cannot imagine how many times my guardian angel has saved my life. I notice it occasionally in the close calls, when I almost kill myself by my own stupidity, but I would guess that it is a couple of times each day, at least.

And the supreme grace of God is the Holy Spirit, who is himself God. We Christians do not realize how much the Holy Spirit changes our lives. We look at the world 2000 years ago, and it seems pretty bad: violent and brutal and short, and then we attribute the change to our more modern sensibilities. Where did ideas like human rights and scientific progress come from? It is no surprise that these have all appeared in the last 2000 years, since the Holy Spirit was sent.

It is not as if we modern people are beyond cruelty and war. We need only look at those parts of the world where the Holy Spirit has not filled the hearts of the faithful, or even look at those places where the Holy Spirit was rejected and denied such as Germany in the 1930’s. People are worried now about the impending economic crisis or the impending climate crisis. What about the impending spiritual crisis? An entire generation is being raised in Western Europe and Canada without baptism.

This is the essence of humility: realizing the truth about how weak we really are; realizing how much we depend on God. We are not so independent as we suppose. It is easy to sit in the comfort of our well-lit homes, eating food from the fridge and thinking how very independent we are. Then the electricity is cut out, the gas is turned off, and the farmer stops selling us food. Now we are shivering in our dark homes, eating nothing and thinking whether we will survive.

God has to keep us in a certain balance. If he withdrew his grace too much, we would just die, but if he gave us everything, we would begin to think that we are doing just fine without him. If we want more from God, we should learn humility. Like a child on their mother’s lap, even so our souls are entirely dependent on God, so we should learn to have the kind of trust in God that a toddler has in their mother.

St. Paul clearly knew this. In this section from Thessalonians, he is relating how hard he worked when he was among them. He did not take his share from the collection, as would have been his right. He worked as a tentmaker by day and preached the Gospel by night, and preached the Gospel by day and made tents at night. He says this not to build himself up but to remind the Thessalonians how much he loved them.

Then, having said all this, he thanks God that his work was fruitful. He thanks God unceasingly that when he had preached the word, it did not fall on deaf ears. He thanks “God who is also working in you believers.” He recognizes that he worked hard, but God worked harder. He preached the word, but God gave the conversion. He flipped the switch, but God turned on the lights.

The prophet Malachi is reminding the priests of this reality. He tells them that unless they begin following the straight and narrow way of God, he will turn their blessings into curses. What is it really when a priest blesses? A movement of the hands and a few words. The power is coming from somewhere else. The power is coming from God, and he can shut off that power.

God has unlimited power available, unlimited grace. We only survive because of that share of grace that he gives us, and he wants to give us more: he can give us the grace to pick up a mountain and cast it into the sea; he can give us the grace to fly up to heaven and hear the angels singing; he can exalt us above all the nations, if only we will humble ourselves.

What benefit would any of these graces be to us if we were not humble? The scribes and Pharisees wanted to impress human beings with their holiness; they wanted the place of honor at feasts and synagogues; they wanted titles and respectful salutations. The problem with the scribes and Pharisees was not that they wanted too much but that they wanted to little. God is holding out in his hands the grace to make us like gods, and the Pharisees want a nice chair and a little respect.

What sort of grace is God offering us? The grace to be the greatest: “The greatest of you will be your servant.” Who are the greatest people on earth? Servants like Blessed John Paul II, who spent his life serving the Church, and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who served the poorest of the poor, and St. Maximilian Kolbe, who offered to die for another man. Ambition is no bad thing, but have the right ambition! Do not play around with small toys like honorifics and chairs. Make it your ambition to serve others with the strength and power of God, and you will discover that that power is unlimited. Human respect and awards will mean nothing in comparison.

October 29, 2011 - Saturday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Jesus advice might not work. We could take the lowest spot, over in the corner, but what if no one ever comes to move us up? Also, it could lead to the same kind of hypocrisy as the Pharisees, worse even. Whereas the Pharisees wanted to sit in the best spot and were very explicit about this, Christians could fight for the lowest spot because it is the highest spot. We all want to be caught being humble when no one is looking so that we can be complimented on our humility.

Prescinding, then, from the question of whether this is actually good advice for a wedding banquet, we should consider it as advice for The Wedding Banquet: heaven. St. Luke calls it a parable, after all. What does it mean to take the lowest spot in the heaven? Well, there are two reasons for attending a wedding reception: to honor the couple being married and to enjoy the party. At one end of the spectrum is a wedding crasher, whether invited or not, who does not care about the couple at all. At the other end is someone, perhaps a saintly great-aunt, who attends purely to honor the couple. Most of us fall in the middle: we attend the wedding to honor the couple, but we are disappointed if the food is bad and the music unpleasant and the conversation boring.

So it is with heaven: do we want to go to heaven so that we can praise God forever or so that we can enjoy the delights of heaven? Saints do not want to go to heaven for their own sake, but many people do. For many people, heaven is a reward for having lived this life properly, but for a saint, heaven is where we finally begin to live properly.

One of the important first steps in spiritual maturity is realizing that not I but God is the most important being in existence. I hope heaven will be wonderful, and I know it will be, since God knows how to throw a party and he is very wealthy, but I want to go to heaven not because it will be great for me but because there I will finally praise God perfectly. I do not look forward, primarily, to the good food, and good music, and good company of heaven. I look forward to the good prayer and the good love. That is the lowest place, where there is no self-interest anymore. I want that, or, at least, I want to want that.

October 28, 2011 - Feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Apostles

Today's Readings

The manager of a professional sports team, whatever sport, chooses each player for some talent, something that person has to offer. This is true of every team, but how much more so of the All-Star team where salary and other considerations do not matter. The Apostles are Jesus’ All-Star team.

Today we celebrate the feast of Ss. Simon and Jude, about whom we know nothing except that Jesus chose them after spending the night in prayer. This would seem to be a resounding endorsement, except that Judas Iscariot also was chosen on that same day. It is a mystery why Jesus chose someone whom he knew would betray him, but it is also a mystery why he chose the other eleven. Why did he choose St. Peter, the uneducated fisherman, who would deny him? Why did he choose Thomas who would not believe until he saw? Why did he choose Andrew or James or John or Philip or Bartholomew or Matthew or the other James? Why did he choose Simon and Jude?

Though we know only Peter’s betrayal, that is because he is the head of the Apostles. All except John abandoned Jesus in his greatest time of need; all, including John, were sinners. Jesus chose to make use of these men, not because they were the best but because they were the right ones to lay a solid foundation for the Church. They did this, and for 2000 years the Church has survived and flourished.

And we are members of the household of God, the Church, built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the keystone, holding it all together. This is our image of the Church, not some organization or institution composed of human beings, fallen human beings. It is a work of art, the work of God’s own hands. It is built up through human beings, but it does not depend on any man. For every Judas, there is a Matthias ready to replace him. The Church does not need any member, no matter how important, except Jesus.

The Church is not a club we belong to; she is the instrument of our salvation. Not even the incompetence and sinfulness and wickedness of those who have been trusted with leadership in the Church weakens her. The strength of the Church is not in numbers or popularity. The strength of the Church is Jesus. Forming part of the Church, the small part that you and I each have, is a privilege.

October 27, 2011 - Thursday of the Thirtieth week of Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

What does Jesus mean when he says that "it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem"? Many prophets died outside of Jerusalem throughout history. The translation could be improved to "it is not permitted that a prophet perish outside of Jerusalem."

The first change from "impossible" to "not permitted" stresses that this is part of Jesus' mission. The Pharisees warn him to get out of town before King Herod kills him; Jesus is going to leave and go to Jerusalem, but because this is the will of the Father, not because King Herod wants to get rid of him. Jesus is telling them that he will leave town, but not because he is afraid. He is compelled to keep going until he reaches Jerusalem.

The second change from "die" to "perish" emphasizes that Jesus is speaking about being killed. Only Jerusalem is religious enough to kill a prophet. In another town, Jesus would have been welcomed or feared. Only Jerusalem has the capability to really understand his teaching and actually reject it. The Pharisees warn Jesus to leave before Herod kills him. Jesus will leave, not to escape death but to meet death on his own terms.

A third point, not an issue of translation but of nuance, is the use of "a prophet". Greek has no word for "a" so the text merely says "prophet". In English, the the sentence sounds like a general rule for prophets, but the original is open to something different.

Moses promised the Israelites that someday a prophet like him would come to teach them the will of God, to complete the work of Moses. None of the prophets of Israel had ever fulfilled this role. Not even the greatest, not Elijah or Elisha or Jeremiah nor any other prophet spoke with the authority of Moses as a man directly passing on the will of God.

The Torah ends by saying that this promise has never been fulfilled, that the Lord never raised up a prophet like Moses to whom he spoke face to face. Now Jesus is saying that he must go to Jerusalem because a prophet is not allowed to perish elsewhere. This is no general rule. Jesus is telling the Pharisees that he is the prophet promised by Moses, so he must go to Jerusalem to die.

Jesus is the prophet promised by Moses; he is the king promised to David; he is the priest promised in the psalms; he is the Son of Man revealed to Daniel; he is the son promised to Eve; he is the suffering servant spoken of in Isaiah; he is the just man prophesied in the book of Wisdom; he is the Lamb of God pointed out by John. He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and the New Testament is a covenant in his blood. He is not afraid of Herod. He is going to Jerusalem to die because that is the will of God. He going to Jerusalem to die because that was what we needed.

October 26, 2011 - Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Jesus was asked a direct question, “Will only a few people be saved?” The question is central to our existence. Is heaven just for the few really good people, while the mass of humanity is damned to hell, or is hell just for the few really bad people, while the mass of humanity makes it to heaven? We are inclined now to believe that the vast majority make it to heaven. Some have even been so bold as to suggest that perhaps everyone makes it to heaven.

There is really no reason for favoring the optimistic or the pessimistic view of salvation. As for Jesus, he chose not to answer the question. He simply instructs the one asking to “strive”. Perhaps, if he had answered, we would give up trying either way. If he said that nearly everyone makes it to heaven, people would not try very hard to get in. If he said that almost no one makes it, then most of us would not even bother trying.

Instead he simply tells us to strive. We should not feel that salvation is either easy or impossible. Each person should consider that getting into heaven will be difficult, but never completely out of reach. Jesus then goes on to emphasize that no matter how hard it is to get into heaven, the alternative is worse. No one in heaven will ever say, I wish I had not tried so hard, but many who do not make it will wish they had put in the extra effort.

It is not so hard, after all, to be good. It easier for us to be bad, to follow the path of least resistance, but it really is not that difficult to be good, or rather, it is impossible to be good, but it is not that difficult to try. If we try, really try, then the Holy Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness. If we try to pray, the Holy Spirit will pray within us. If we try to be good, the Holy Spirit will be good within us. If we try to love God and our neighbor, the Holy Spirit will love within us. If we try to get to heaven, the Holy Spirit will make it happen. If we do not try to get to heaven, we probably should not expect to go there.

October 25, 2011 - Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

“Brothers and sisters: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” I have no trouble believing that the little ways I have suffered in my life will be forgotten in the face of the glory of heaven. My sufferings are largely forgotten in the face of a bowl of ice cream. Honestly, like all people, I live on the razor’s edge: everything could go wrong tomorrow, but for now, in this moment, I live a very pleasant life.

But then I consider these words being read in the lives of other people in this world and other times. I consider how these words sound to a child growing up in Somalia right now. I consider how these words sounded when read in Auschwitz. I consider how these words sounded in a medieval town where nearly everyone had died of the Black Plague. How can those sufferings be nothing compared to the glory that is to come?

For the sufferings of the present life to be nothing, the successes also must be nothing, this whole life must be nothing when compared to the life to come. It is like a video game where the character suffers and dies, and that is nothing, because winning is also nothing, because a video game is nothing compared to real life. It is like a 6th grader who breaks up with her boyfriend and cries and screams and experiences real suffering, and that is nothing, because the relationship really was nothing compared to what was coming in her life.

Truly, the girl experiences real suffering. It is not something to be laughed off. Truly, the person who lost the video game might be really upset. The authenticity of the emotions and the experience is not the question. It is a question of perspective: video games do not matter; dating in middle school does not matter. For St. Paul’s statement to be true, the glory to come has to be such that the life we are living now does not matter, in perspective.

I cannot see this glory now. I can only grasp it with hope. Hope tells me that this life, with its sufferings and successes, is really nothing, an illusion, like a video game or middle school. This life only matters because how I live determines whether I ever see that glory.

There is an ad campaign now about bullying, by adults, telling middle school and high school students that “it gets better”, which is true and false. Can you imagine if the Saints in heaven ran an ad campaign telling us, “it gets better”? It is, kind of, what Jesus did.

October 24, 2011 - Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Jesus has told us that we are “worth many sparrows”. Today he insists that a “daughter of Abraham” is worth at least as much as an ox or an ass. The selfishness of the Pharisees here is clear. They make special rules to break the Sabbath for their own concerns, but this woman is not their concern. The leader of the synagogue has just seen a woman, after 18 years of walking around bent over, stand up and glorify God. Instead of celebrating with her, instead of glorifying with her, he is angry.

If that synagogue leader were given the power to heal people, what would he have done? Would he really have healed non-stop for six days and rested on the seventh? I do not think so. I think that he would not have healed anyone except when he could use the opportunity to impress people or enrich himself. There is just something so unendurably passive-aggressive in that sentence, “There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day.”

He does not care, but Jesus does. Jesus does not heal her to demonstrate his own power. He sees her and calls out, “Woman you are set free from your infirmity.” He lays his hands on her. He defends her dignity against the synagogue leader. We can see how Jesus cares about this woman, how Jesus cares about us. God cares about us.

Why does he love us so much? We are sinners. We constantly disappoint him. If I were God, I would have given up on me by now. I know that I do not have the kind of patience that I require. God, moreover, does not merely put up with us. He loves us. He has adopted us as his children. He has promised us an inheritance as co-heirs with Christ. He wants us to live with him forever.

In God we have a father who will never abandon us. In our weakness, he is strong. In our darkness, he is light. In our suffering, he is comfort. Though we sin against him, he will still love us. Though we hurt his children, he will still love us. Though we are damned for all eternity to suffer the pains of hell, he will still love us. We do not have to impress him. We do not have to make him proud. We just have to love him in return, which begins with caring about his other children.

October 23, 2011 - Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment”; greatest because God is the greatest, first because this law was in our hearts from the first moment of creation.

“The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself”, which is to say that these two commandments do not pull us in two directions. When we love God, how could we fail to love his creation? Can you love a friend and hate their children? Can you love an artist and hate his art? Can you love your spouse and hate their reflection? Yet we are the children of God; we are the work of his hands; we are made in the image of God. We cannot love God completely, with all our heart, soul, and mind, unless we love those whom he loves, and he loves everyone.

Moreover, our ability to love is tested by other people because they are clearly other. We either love the God who is or we love some God whom we have created in our own minds. If I do not love the people who are not me, then I do not love the God who is not me. I can be fooled by thinking that my imaginary god is the real God, but not so with the people I see face to face.

Anyone can love the image of God they have made in their own mind. We create this idol and make him exactly how we think he ought to be. We do not make this idol out of silver or gold, but out of our imagination. This imaginary god does not challenge us in any way. Indeed, our own personal god probably tells us that we have been right all along and condemns anyone we disagree with.

This is how Satan suggested we live: completely independently, no need for other people and no need for God. We will make our own imaginary friends and our own imaginary god. We can love ourselves above all, and ourselves like ourselves. Satan tempted Eve by telling her she could be like God, which was a lie, but also a strange temptation. Why did we want to be like God, independent of the true God? How nice would it be now to go back to that garden and have God take care of us!

Every one of us has enthroned in our minds an idol of God to some extent. We should tear it down. When we are worshipping an idol of God, we say things like, “The God I believe in would never…” or “I cannot believe in a God who….” In reality, God is who he is, not who we want him to be, so, like the Thessalonians, we need to turn “from idols to serve the living and true God.”

It is true that God is not any of the idols. He is not my idol, but he also is not your idol. So perhaps, we are merely reacting against someone else’s imaginary god, which is fine, but we must be ready for the idea that the living and true God does not agree with everything we think. We should always be ready to destroy our own ideas about God when confronted by the truth.

What truth is that? Consider what Jesus says: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” In other words, God has never said anything except that we should love. Everything he ever said was a way of saying “love”. Nice, huh? Well, at least until we read the law and the prophets:

And Samuel said to Saul, "The LORD sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the LORD. “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

That means love, right? It is a prophet, and Samuel is one of the greatest prophets of Israel. This is not some obscure text of the Old Testament, and similar things can be found with Moses and Joshua and David and Elijah and Elisha. If we imagine that Samuel the prophet was lying or that it was recorded incorrectly in Scripture, then what can we trust in the Old Testament? Is the Bible only true to the extent that we agree with it?

Even our first reading today, all about caring for the widows and the orphans and the immigrants and the poor, contains the threat: “If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.” Sort of “love your neighbor or else.”

What are we to say? If our image of God has no room for God as he has been revealed to us, then we are just inventing a god in our own minds, an idol made according to our specifications. Go out into the world and pick and choose among the religions created by wise men. Even the wisest, with the best gods or goddesses, will just be a creation of the human mind.

Our religion claims something more. We claim that, first to the Jews and then to the world, God has revealed himself, first through prophets and then in his Son, Jesus Christ. It is an extraordinary claim, and the question is not whether we like this image of God, not whether he fits us like a shoe we are trying on, but whether this extraordinary claim is true. If it isn’t, what is the point in believing it? If it is, what is the point in believing something else?

As for me, I trust what Jesus says: everything in the law and the prophets can be summarized in these two commandments: love God and love your neighbor. If I hear God say some of the things to me that I can read in the Old Testament, like about killing people, I will have myself committed to a mental health facility, but I can trust, without understanding, that God knows, and has always known, what he is doing and that God loves, and has always loved, each one of us.

I like the fact that I do not understand everything about God, that way I know that I did not invent him. My God is real, and he knows more than I do and sees more than I do. I did not create him; he created me, and I love him with all my heart, all my soul, and all my mind, and I love my neighbor as myself, or at least I want to.

October 22, 2011 - Saturday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

I have heard terrible things. I have heard Christian pastors describe earthquakes as divine retribution, hurricanes as fitting, and the killing of innocent people as the will of God. It is understandable when someone of another religion speaks along these lines, but a Christian ought to know better. You would think that they had never read this Gospel, in which Jesus debunks such theories.

However, Jesus does not take the popular route which says that God does not punish sinners. Instead, he tells us that God does punish sinners, “and unless you repent, you will all perish as they did!” It is not that the victims of disasters are innocent but that we are just as guilty. If God were going to send a disaster to kill all the sinners, we would all die. Saying that a disaster hit a particular city because of the sinfulness of the inhabitants is crazy. If that were true, disasters would be hitting every city on earth nonstop. It is not the accusation of guilt in these Christian pastors that is most despicable; it is the presumption of self-righteousness. They think that they are better than the people who died.

None of us are innocent. We are all sinners, and if you think that you are not as bad as others, what does that even matter? God does not grade on a curve. The truth is that disaster strikes all of us. For some it may come in spectacular form, while others die quietly, but all of us are awaiting disaster.

Does it matter, really, if you die at 29 or 99? Does it matter whether your airplane falls out of the sky or you die in your sleep? Whichever, whenever, a life is ended, snuffed out from the earth. Your life, my life, they will all end, and what will have been the point?

Jesus tells us that the point is to bear fruit. God puts a seed of love within us, he waters it with love, and love shines down on it. This love should grow in us and produce its fruit which is love: love for our neighbor, love for our enemy, love for the least one who live among us, and above all love for God. Our life is not measured by how long we live but by how much we love. When our personal disaster strikes, and it certainly will, we should have something to show for our time here.

October 21, 2011 - Friday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Can you sympathize with the struggle that St. Paul is describing? I can. He, the great apostle and saint, is freely admitting that even he does not live up to his own desire. He does not do the good that he wants to do, but the evil that he does not want to do. If he can admit his sin so freely, I can too: I am a miserable sinner.

Like St. Paul, I feel as if there were two of me, fighting against each other. There is the me that loves the Lord and wants to do whatever will glorify him, and then there is the me that wants to sin. Me, myself, and I, are all one person. How is it possible that I am in disagreement with myself? I do not merely mean that I can see both sides, but that I can make a good resolution at noon and break it by 1 o’clock. I have a fickle heart. When I can feel the power and joy of the Holy Spirit, I would gladly do anything the Lord wants of me. Then I forget about the Lord and suddenly find myself committing a sin; “I find myself” as if I were not myself.

I cannot simply decide to follow Jesus; my worse self will not let me. I do decide to follow him, but then I do not follow him. Who is the real me then? Am I really the servant of God who delights in the law of the Lord, or am I really the miserable slave of sin who cannot get free? Am I a saint with faults or a sinner who fails to be as good as I wish I were?

I repent of my sins, but I still want to be better. I need something more than good resolutions and good intentions. I am incapable of being who I want to be; I cannot change me, and I refuse to be satisfied with who I am. I could climb to the top of some mountain in Tibet and study for years under a wise man, and I would too, if that would work, but I know that the good I want is not within me. No guru can help me do what I want to do. No reiki is going to make me who I want to be. No yoga, no Oprah, no Deepak Chopra has what I'm missing. Just Jesus.

October 20, 2011 - Thursday of the Twenty-Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

When the whole world is at war with God, reconciliation with God is an act of war. Father against son, daughter against mother, brother against brother: Jesus Christ came to bring division. Indeed, Jesus’ mission in life was an act of violence. He was a violent man: he was beaten and mocked and crucified and stabbed through the heart. So also the martyrs were violent men and women, inciting violence wherever they went. St. Agnes was a violent 12 year old girl, forcing her father and the town magistrate to have her raped before cutting off her head.

We, in contrast, are a peaceful people. This should make us wonder whether the world has finally been reconciled to God or we are just reconciled to the world. Does all the world finally love God above all else and their neighbor as themselves, or have we, though we continue to use the Christian vocabulary, become inoffensive to the world?

We do continue offending the world by being judgmental, by publicly opposing the murder of small children and restricting the definition of marriage to what is actually marriage, but this offense rarely incites violence. The world sees us holding odd political views, and they question our intelligence or our motivation. We need something more if we are going to incite violence once again. We need something powerful from beyond this world. We need something which forces the world to choose between joining us and violently opposing us. We need fire.

Not an exothermic reaction of rapid oxidation, but that is the symbol which Jesus uses. When Jesus uses a metaphor from nature, do not forget that he is the one who created the nature. He invented fire, and now he says that he wants to light the world on fire. Fire is when a material bonds with oxygen, releasing heat, which causes the material to bond with more oxygen, releasing more heat.

Who is oxygen, who is the breath of life, if not the Holy Spirit? What is the heat and light of fire, what is pure energy, if not love? To be on fire, spiritually speaking, is to let every molecule of our existence bind to the Holy Spirit, releasing waves of love. When the Holy Spirit is not just a small flame within us, when we are all fire, though, like the burning bush, not consumed, then, like Jesus, our very existence will incite violence.

Jesus said to his disciples: "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!”

October 19, 2011 - Memorial of Saint John de Brébeuf and Saint Isaac Jogues, priests and martyrs, and their companions, martyrs

Today's Readings

St. Paul declares to us today, “You are not under the law”, and if we are not under the law then we must be above the law. You and I are above the law, if we do not need the law to tell us not to kill people or commit adultery. The law says, “Do not steal” but we were not going to steal anything. The law tells us not to worship other gods besides the Lord, and we wonder why anyone would.

This is what means to be above the law. That usual meaning, someone ignoring the law and disobeying it, they are not above the law. They are not above anything at all. They wallow in sin. They are enslaved to sin. Sin tells them what to do each morning, and sin lets them know when they can go to bed at night. Is this a free existence? It is like the free existence of an alcoholic or drug addict.

Consider it this way: am I free to do heroin? Well, I am free to not do it. The law against heroin in the country has no effect on my life. Zero effect. I have not the slightest interest in taking that drug. I am above the law. Some Hollywood heroin addict, who manages each day to take the drug with impunity, never arrested because they are wealthy, are they above the law? No, they are not above anything. They are a slave to their addiction.

This ought to be our attitude toward every sin. If we looked at our lives as an opportunity to serve the Holy Spirit, an a long string of opportunities to know, love, and serve God, then what meaning does the law have? None. If a man loves his wife, he does not need a law telling him not to kill her. If a woman loves God, she does not need any law telling her not to worship an idol.

To be above the law means to be too good to obey the law. To be above the law means that we do not have the slightest inclination to disobey it. To be above the law means that our lives are not framed by decisions like whether to commit perjury. We Christians are above the law; we live guided by the Holy Spirit rather than sinful desire. We love God and our neighbor. We are free to be good. We Christians are above the law, or, at least, we should be.

October 18, 2011 - Feast of Saint Luke, evangelist

2 Timothy 4:10-17
Psalm 145:10-13, 17-18
Luke 10:1-9

St. Luke was the companion of St. Paul and the author of one of the four Gospels and of the Acts of the Apostles. We are indebted to Luke for so much information about the early Church, but we know so little about him. We know that he was with St. Paul for much of his journeys preaching the Gospel. We know that he was a physician by practice, which comes out in the details provided when Jesus heals someone. There is an old tradition that he was one of the seventy-two described in the Gospel today, but this seems unlikely since he was not circumcised. However, he certainly did experience the apostolic lifestyle in his years with St. Paul.

Another companion of St. Paul was St. Mark, who also wrote a Gospel, and we know that St. Luke used St. Mark’s Gospel as a source for his own. He begins his Gospel by saying that he is aware of many attempts to write down the story of Jesus, so he has decided to put it all together in an orderly fashion. We suppose that, since he was with St. Paul, he saw some of the events that he describes in Acts firsthand.

It is from Luke that we have most of what we know about Mary. His gospel is particularly noteworthy for including so much about the early years, from the Annunciation to Mary to the Visitation of Elizabeth to the Birth in Bethlehem to the Presentation to Simeon to the Finding of Christ in the temple at age 12. In other words, the joyful mysteries of the rosary are all from Luke. The historical record also mentions a painting of Mary done by Luke. There are many copies of this painting, and no one is sure if any of them is the original.

Luke is also our only source for the story of Pentecost. Other authors mention the Holy Spirit, but only Luke tells us exactly how the Holy Spirit filled the disciples on that day, how Peter preached, and how, on that one day, 3000 people joined the Church. We are indebted to St. Luke for our understanding of the early Church. If we add to this that Luke may very well have been the secretary who wrote down some of St. Paul’s letters, much of the New Testament is given to us through his work. Praise God for St. Luke. May we, in our times, serve the Church as well has he did in his times.

October 17, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

Today's Readings

For most people, the main work of life is providing for themselves and their families. What happens when a person no longer needs a paycheck? Some people are born that way with a rich inheritance, and some people reach that point early in life because of the lottery or skills as a musicians or actor or in sports. Some people never reach that point, but we Americans expect to someday get there between social security and retirement accounts, so it is a question that most people in this country at least have to face at some point. What should a person do once they no longer need to earn a paycheck?

This is the question of the Gospel today. The man is called a rich man, and his harvest one year is finally enough to retire on, so he decides to “rest, eat, drink: be merry.” He decides to enjoy himself. This seems reasonable to us. Of course he would do this. We say, “Congratulations on your retirement. I hope you do enjoy yourself. Have fun.” God says, “You fool.”

The mistake that the man makes, and that we are susceptible to making in our culture, is believing that we have ever earned the right to “rest” in this world. Our rest comes in the next world. Without question, a person reaches a point where they cannot put in the same hours that they would have put in 20 years ago; they should rest if they need to, but no one can ever say to the world, “I have put in my hours, now it is my time to rest, eat, drink, and be merry.”

It is a splendid thing if someone no longer has to work at a job they never liked much anyway, that they no longer have to wake up at 5 in the morning and commute for an hour a day, and I am glad for those whose early success means that they are provided for in this life. These are good things. The question is, what does a person do with this newfound freedom? It might be 80 years, it might be 40, it might be 20; it might be 4 hours, like the man in the gospel today. The point is that we are never off the hook. If we are free of serving this world, that ought to make us free for serving God and our neighbors, not free for serving ourselves.

October 16, 2011 - Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Is Jesus a Democrat or is he a Republican? Is he Conservative or Liberal? Is he a Communist, a Socialist, or a Capitalist? This is the question of the Pharisees in the Gospel today. They want to know what Jesus’ politics are. Politics in ancient Israel ranged from the zealots who wanted to kill every Roman soldier to the Sadducees who thought that the Romans were filthy Gentiles but thought they could work together, all things considered. Everybody hated the Romans, but the parties differed on how to deal with the fact that Israel was part of the Roman Empire.

The problem with the taxes were that they were used to pay the soldiers who were stationed in Israel. So the Israelites were actually paying to be subjugated. Further, some of the money went to pay for the official religion of Rome, the worship of Jupiter and Neptune and all that. There was no separation of Church and state back then. So the Israelites were actually subsidizing the idol-worship. Further, some of the money went to pay King Herod who was a foreigner that the Romans had propped up as the King of Israel, and he used the money to pay for a life involving almost all of the sins. Above all, paying a census tax allows the emperor to count the people of Israel, something only God is allowed to do.

So the people paid the taxes because if they did not the soldiers would step in and steal their property anyway. One way or another, the IRS was going to have its share. Not paying taxes was a sort of futile protest, like spitting at the wind. They paid the taxes, but it troubled all of them, since they were willingly participating in evil. Judas Maccabees would not have paid the taxes; he would have fought a war. King David would not have paid the taxes; he would have stood up to Goliath. Moses would not have paid the taxes; he would have sent plagues on all of Rome.

So representatives from two major political parties went to Jesus to see what his position would be. I think we Christians should note here that the Pharisee rabbis did not go themselves but sent their students. I wonder if this would have included the most famous Pharisee student of all: Saul of Tarsus. St. Paul never tells us whether he saw Jesus before the Resurrection, whether he ever spoke to Jesus before the day of his conversion, and maybe he had not arrived in Jerusalem yet or maybe he was just not in this group, but he might have been.

The Pharisees are so confident to send the students because they think that they have an airtight dilemma for Jesus. If he said, “Pay the taxes” the Pharisees would have called it proof that for all his high-minded ideas, he was no great leader of Israel either, but if he had said, “No, do not pay the taxes” the Herodians, those who supported King Herod would have had him arrested for encouraging people to break the law. The Pharisees think they have him trapped. He will now have to admit that he is no greater than any of them. He is not the Messiah who has come to free Israel. He will have to admit that he too is constrained by the limitations of society.

But he admits no such thing. He shows the Pharisees how limited their thinking had become. They thought that paying taxes gave them emperor power, but what gave him power was the fact that they chose to participate in the world that he ran. Jesus answer was more radical than the zealots: “Pay the taxes; it’s only money.” No one had thought of that. Everyone agreed with the emperor that money was of great value, so they had already bought into his system. If the emperor had taxed dirt, everyone would have gladly given him a pail of dirt every time he asked for one.

“When they heard this they were amazed, and, leaving him, went away.” Why did they go away? Their plan had been destroyed, but they ought to have realized that something greater was at stake here. All they can see is that they lost the debate, but they should have seen the wisdom and bowed down to worship.

I suppose that they realized they had lost the debate publicly, but were not actually convince. Since they were only students and not rabbis, they thought they had better cut their losses and retreat. The obvious rebuttal remained in their minds, and perhaps has formed in yours: “money is not worthless; money represents work and food and the necessities of life; money allows the Romans to persecute us; money enables all sorts of sins.” Jesus’ answer is clever, really clever, but is it truly wise?

Indeed it is. The coin had the image of Caesar, and so it belonged to Caesar. The economic system, the political system, the whole empire, all belonged to Caesar. What belongs to God? Well, what has the image of God stamped on it? We do. Each one of us was created in the image of God. Caesar can have the world and all the human structures built into the world, but we belong to God. If we do not choose to do evil, if we do not choose to give ourselves away to another Master, we will continue to belong to God.

So how does this all apply to us? Our government uses our tax dollars for abortion, for the death penalty, for wars, for many things that we would not choose to have our money pay for. Should we work within the structure of the government to change the laws, or should we give up on the government and consider it a lost cause?

The answer is both. We Christians should protest strongly the new rule that says that every employer must buy birth control for their employees. We should not just roll over while the government takes over Catholic hospitals and Catholic schools and Catholic adoption agencies and Catholic homeless shelters, imposing a warped and foolish morality on institutions that the Church built and which only continue functioning because of the work of Christians. The politicians do not want to serve the poor, but they want to force us to do it their way.

Politicians want to force the whole world to do things their way. The day is coming, indeed it is already here, when we are going to have to say: “You want our money? Take it. You want our buildings? Take them. You want our lives? Take them. The world is yours, if you can keep it, but you cannot have our selves. Those belong to God. We are not ours to give away. You can threaten. You can ostracize. You can do whatever you can do. We do not live in your kingdom. We are free citizens of the Kingdom of God.”

We must keep both mindsets active. There is a time to protest injustice, but we must never despair. Even if we cannot make the world just, that was never our primary task. Our real goal is to make ourselves just, if we can, with the help of God.

October 15, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Teresa of Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

Today's Readings

As we continue to read from the beginning of his Letter to the Romans, we see St. Paul proving that a religion based on faith is actually older than one based on the law. The Jews felt that they could not just abandon their religion, the laws given by Moses, for some newfangled religion founded on faith in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. St. Paul is pointing out that Christianity is actually older than Judaism, in the sense that Abraham lived 500 years before the law. Abraham never had the law. Indeed, even the limited law that he did have, the law of circumcision, came relatively late in his life. Faith is the original religion.

The law served an important role for a time. In another letter, St. Paul calls it the “babysitter”. The law prepared the people for the coming of Jesus Christ. The law taught the people about the power of God; then God came as Jesus Christ. The law revealed to the people their sinfulness, but Jesus brought forgiveness. The law revealed their weakness, since no one ever could keep it, but Jesus brought strength by the power of the Holy Spirit. The law served the purpose of God, but faith existed before the law and it continues in existence now that the law no longer has any power over us.

It is not that the law has changed or passed away. As Jesus once said, the law will not pass away until heaven and earth pass away. The law remains, but it remains without power. The law reveals to us that we are sinners worthy of death. The law is an accusation, and the accusation is true. We have failed and we do fail to honor our parents and love God above all else. Who here has not coveted their neighbor’s stuff?

We are not righteous according to the law. The accusation is true, but it has no power. We do not claim to be righteous according to the law. We claim righteousness by faith in Jesus Christ. Not that he will save us without making us good! We believe in the fullness of redemption, including justification. The difference is whom we are relying on: we do not rely on our own ability; we rely on Jesus Christ. God has shown us through the law that we cannot be good without him, so we stopped trying. Instead, we are going to be good with him.

October 14, 2011 - Friday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

There is a philosophical question that goes back to Socrates but is still asked today as if it were new: would you rather do something wicked and have no one ever find out or not do something wicked but have everyone believe you had? For instance, would you rather get away with sexually abusing a child or have everyone in the world think that you had even though you were completely innocent?

On the one hand, there would be prison and headlines and scandal and shame. Your own family would disown you, and every friend would abandon you. On the other hand, you would have actually done something despicable but everyone would continue thinking that you were a good person. Which would you choose, if you had to choose?

Do not dismiss this question lightly. For sure, it is unlikely that you would ever actually be forced to make this choice, but your decision reveals who you really are. Do you want to be good or to seem good? Everyone wants to seem good on some level; no one desires to be despised in the eyes of those they love, but only some people have a desire to actually be good.

Today Jesus tells us that “there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known.” Nothing. Neither our good deeds nor our sins will be hidden at the end of time. If we have done good deeds in secret, we will finally have credit where credit is due. If we have done wicked things, we will finally be revealed as the frauds that we are.

Even now, nothing is really done in secret. God is watching us. He knows everything about us. Whether the whole world hates us or loves us is immaterial. God loves us, and he knows us thoroughly. He knows how many hairs are on top of my head. I do not know how many hairs are on top of my head. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Those things we did that we have tried to forget, tried to convince even ourselves that we never did them? God knows all about them. We will never fool God; we will never impress God. God knows us exactly as we are, but he loves us anyway.

October 13, 2011 - Thursday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

“With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption.” Not some half-baked redemption. The fullness of redemption. Not some watered down redemption. The fullness of redemption. Not some just good enough, best that could be done, what more could you expect redemption. The fullness of redemption. With the Lord there is mercy and the fullness of redemption. Mercy for when we sin; the fullness of redemption so that we may sin no longer.

The fullness of redemption includes justification. God is going to justify us. To be justified is to be made good, to be made just. I am not just, and you are not just. We commit an injustice with every sin. We need to be justified. Martin Luther, when he started the Lutherans, infected Christianity with a false idea of justification. He said that God only learns to ignore our sins. He told his followers to “sin boldly but believe more boldly still.” Because of this, the word “justified” in English has come to mean something like: to have a good excuse, which is so different from what St. Paul meant.

We do not want to have a good excuse for sinning; we want to stop sinning. We want to be justified: not justified in sinning but justified away from sin. We believe that with the Lord there is mercy and the fullness of redemption. It is all well and good to believe, but faith that accomplishes nothing is dead. A person is justified by faith and not the works of the law. How are we justified by faith? Faith in God is more than just an acknowledgement of his existence. Faith is trusting that the promises of God will come true. God promises to fix what is broken in our souls. If we believe that we are broken and we believe that God can fix us, then he can get to work.

Justification is a process; it does not happen all at once, in a moment; it is not as if we can say a little prayer confessing our faith and suddenly be fully redeemed, but when we believe that with the Lord there is mercy and the fullness of redemption, everything changes. As things stand without God, people must either hate themselves or learn to love sin. This is the dilemma of the world. For us Christians, the situation is different, we can hate sin but love the person we can become by God’s grace, the person we will become if we let God fully redeem us.

October 12, 2011 - Wednesday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

“You condemn yourself by the standard with which you judge another, since you, the judge, do the very same things.” First of all, you judge someone who has offended you because they offended you, even though you actually do the very same thing to others. Who is more upset to be interrupted in conversation than an interrupter? Who hates to be stolen from more than a thief? The irony is often lost on us when we suffer the carelessness and casual selfishness that we ourselves inflict on others.

Do these sins sound minor and unimportant? Perhaps they do when you commit them yourself. Anyone can say, “Yes, I am sure I have interrupted people from time to time; yes, I have taken supplies home from the office and surfed the internet at work, but everyone does these things.” That is no excuse, and you know it, because when you are interrupted, when people are stealing from you and cheating you, you do not say, “But everyone does these things.”

And these words of St. Paul apply nonetheless to what we call “serious sins”. Perhaps you have never killed anyone or committed adultery, so in these areas you feel free to pass judgment. It is true that there are so many species of sins that no one has literally committed every sin in the book. So we call whichever sins we do not ourselves commit “the serious sins” and pass judgment on those who do.

Yet even though we have not committed those specific sins, sin is sin, no matter the species. Behind every sin is pride and often selfishness. To commit any sin a person must possess the pride required to defy God. Most sins also involve the selfishness required to hurt a fellow human being. When we judge another, we are identifying pride and selfishness. If we look in our own heart, we will find the same pride and selfishness there.

Of course, there are sins and there are crimes. As a society, we have to judge crimes and make use of prisons, but if we walked through a prison we would not find there some other kind of human being. There are not good people and bad people in this world; just repentant and unrepentant people. We are all selfish. We are all proud. We all rely on the priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience of God to lead us to repentance.

October 11, 2011 - Tuesday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

St. Paul’s point in the first reading today is that every person has within them the power to know that God exists. He is referring to knowledge, not faith. That there is a God is a certain fact, for the world does not provide its own explanation. Scientists can learn everything about the universe that can be discovered, but they will never find within the universe the answer to the most basic question possible: Why is there something rather than nothing?

This is the point of the psalm today as well: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day pours out the word to day, and night to night imparts knowledge.” The sun and the moon and the stars and the earth all scream to anyone listening: how is it that we exist?

This reasoning is not sufficient to prove any particular religion. The mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation are matters of faith, but logic is sufficient to deny atheism. Atheism is nonsense, and this is not an insult thrown ad hominem. Atheism is nonsense because it does not make sense. The atheist accuses the religious person of inventing God. In reality, the atheist has invented a more fanciful thing: a universe that exists without any explanation.

No philosopher can deny that the existence of God is logically proven, so those who do not choose to accept it have started saying that human thought is so imperfect that any real knowledge of the universe is impossible for the human mind. Unable to deny the proofs, they deny that the human mind is capable of discovering the truth. They claim that any sense we have of knowing the truth is an illusion. According to their thinking, thought only tells us about the thinker and nothing else.

So the accusation of St. Paul applies to them: “claiming to be wise, they became fools.” For, what is more foolish than claiming that wisdom is impossible? If the human mind works (and how could anyone think that the human mind does not work?) then we know that the universe needs an explanation, and that explanation needs no explanation. Only God, not God as we Christians know him, but just the basic idea of God, only God is a sufficient answer to the question the universe proposes to us. How did all this get here? God created it. How did God get here? He did not get here. He is and has always been.

October 10, 2011 - Monday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Two-thousand years ago, last names were relatively flexible; a man might be known by his job or his father’s name or his city. St. Paul takes this concept a bit far in our first reading today. The entire reading is just the introduction to the letter, mostly consisting of St. Paul’s name for himself. This is partly because he is writing this letter to the Romans, and he has never visited the Christians in Rome, so he is putting all his credentials in there. He is not just Paul. He is Paul, the slave of Christ Jesus.

Then he mentions his vocation. He does not mention that he is a tentmaker, which was his occupation. He calls himself an Apostle, but he emphasizes that he is not an Apostle because he decided one day to be an Apostle. He is an Apostle because he was called to be an Apostle, because God had set him apart for his Gospel. There were people going around in those days claiming to be Apostles, claiming to be Super-Apostles, whatever that means. Unlike all of them, Paul was a true Apostle because he was called by Jesus Christ after the Resurrection. Paul is just as much an Apostle as Peter or John, unlike those others who stood on nothing but their own authority.

Then St. Paul proves that he knows the Gospel by relating it in summary form here. This text, in a very long relative clause, is one of the Church’s earliest creeds. Contained in these few verses are the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and Salvation. The Nicene Creed, which we recite at Mass each Sunday, is just an expansion of what is contained in this little introduction.

Then, having introduced himself and proven that he knows the Gospel, Paul finishes the greeting by addressing those to whom the letter is addressed. He identifies them in three ways: by their city: Rome, by their current status: beloved of God, and by their future status: called to be saints. So let me turn this greeting toward you, changing only the city. Hear these words addressed to you and know they are still true after 2000 years and 5000 miles. To all the beloved of God in ___, called to be saints. That describes you. To all the beloved of God in ___, called to be saints. Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

October 9, 2011 - Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The king is holding a feast. His servants go out into the streets and gather guests into the feast. They gathered in the good and the bad, but anyone without a wedding garment is thrown out. The feast is the Church. We are the servants. The streets are the world. It is our job to go out into the world and bring in everyone we can find. We should bring them into the Church, bad and good alike. The Church does not only want to bring in the good. We are the least exclusive organization in the world. Anyone can join, and we insist that everyone ought to.

Why did the man not have a wedding garment? Scholars will explain various possibilities: perhaps he is poor, perhaps he refused the garment when someone offered it to him, perhaps he had crashed the party through the back door. We do not even need to consider the historical data. It is not important whether kings in those days had wedding garments available for all the guests. Everything we need to know is right there in the text. The king asks the man how he got in without a wedding garment. The king asks the very question that we are discussing, but the man is silent. He has no excuse for himself, so we should not try to provide him one. He should have had the garment on.

What is the garment? In the tradition of the Church, one thing has been consistently identified as a garment: baptism. So the man has appeared at the feast, which is to say at Mass, without baptism. It upsets some people that the Church is adamant that you have to be Catholic to receive the Eucharist. There are a few limited exceptions, but a person certainly has to be baptized to receive the Eucharist. This rule upsets some people because we are not being welcoming.

That is a lie. We are absolutely being welcoming. We are welcoming anyone and everyone to join the Church and be baptized. What is not an option is to be half in the Church and half out of it. A person must either join or not join. If they are coming into the feast, they have to put on the wedding garment first. It is not okay to just be cool and hang out at the feast.

The white alb that the priests and deacons and servers all wear is a symbol of our baptismal garment. The chasuble is a symbol of God’s love, the dalmatic is a symbol of service, the stole is a symbol of authority that comes with ordination, the cincture is a symbol of being unmarried, and the alb is a symbol of baptism.

It would be impractical, I suppose, but the ideal would be if all of the baptized, every one of you, wore albs to Mass, some with cinctures, some without. It would be impractical, although it would also resolve the issue of appropriate clothing in the church. It would be great if we all did wear albs to Mass. Really symbolic, a whole different feeling, but it is just impossible practically speaking; just imagine the laundry every week!

Speaking of laundry, it occurs to me that 2000 years ago, work clothes were just old, worn out dress clothes. Even in old photographs, the men are always working in dress shirts. When your Sunday clothes wore out, they became your weekday clothes. So everyone got this perfect white garment. They took off the filthy clothes they had been wearing and put on the immaculate wedding garment. Perhaps this man was wearing a wedding garment which had just gotten so filthy since he put it on that it looked like work clothes.

While we cannot see the condition of each others’ baptismal garments, and this is probably a good thing, we can look at our own. Look at yours. You can see the stains and holes and tears and loose threads. I am talking about sins. We would not walk out of the house with tomato sauce down the front of our shirts, but we walk around in these baptismal garments that stink with sin.

See if you can crane your necks just right and read the figurative label on your metaphorical albs. It contains the instructions for proper care and laundering. You cannot wash the garment yourself. You can clean off the crumbs with a little repentance, and the little stains come off with a little holy water, but according to the label, serious stains have to be professionally laundered. The laundry is done right over there, every Saturday from 4:30 to 5:30. Just come on in, point out the stains (do not try to hide any), and they will all be cleaned right up. These stains cannot be removed with soap and water. They can only be cleaned with the blood of the Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

This is his feast. It says in the Gospel that the king gave a wedding feast for his son. The son of the king is the Lamb of God. He provides the garments in baptism. He cleans them with his blood in confession. Then he feeds us with his body and blood in this feast. Usually the guests bring the gifts for the bride and groom, but Jesus gives us the gifts. Do you know why? Do you know who the bride is? The bride is the Church. We are all the guests at the feast, but this feast was put on for us. Individually we are the guests, but gathered together, we are the Church, so we are also the bride.

The lesson that Jesus draws from this parable is that “many are invited but few are chosen.” These words, “many” and “few” have special meaning when Jesus uses them. In a few weeks we will begin using the new translation of the Mass and one difference you may notice is that the phrase “for many” will appear in consecration where the priest has been saying “for all”. This is not because “many” is less than “all”. It is not. Some people mix-up “many” with “most”. “Many” does mean all, but it means more than “all”. It invites us to imagine the 100 billion humans who have walked this earth and the 7 billion who are currently here. It is not just us. There are many people, and God died for all of them.

“Few” does not necessarily mean a small number. Imagine if the only people in heaven were the canonized Saints. There are tens of thousands. “Few” is to be taken relatively speaking. Tens of thousands are few where a hundred billion are concerned; tens of millions would be few. “Few” also has a lot to do with value. If a parent heard that three of their four children survived a car accident, they would rightly call that “too few”. God loves us like that. He calls many because he calls everyone. If even one child of God does not choose to be chosen, only a few are chosen.

You are part of the many. God is calling you. You can be part of the few. God will choose you if you allow him to.

October 8, 2011 - Saturday of the Twenty-Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Are you ready for that day: the day of the Lord? For near is the day of the Lord, in the valley of decision. We will all gather there, in the valley of decision. Crowds of crowds, a hundred billion people, in the valley of decision. The sun will be darkened, and the stars will not shine, in the valley of decision. And God will sit in judgment of all sinners, in the valley of decision. We can make excuses now; we can explain our actions so well, but we will have nothing to say there except the truth, the real truth, in the valley of decision.

We shall know then, even as we are now known. We will all see God, and there will be no doubt any longer. The era of faith will be over because we will see for ourselves what is invisible now. Now there is a curtain between us and the angels, but it will be lifted and we will see everything. We have been visible this whole time. Right now we are like blind people in a world of those who can see. All of our actions, even those done in the dark which we think no one knows about, have already been seen, but only then will we see.

On that day, there will be a land flowing with milk and honey, the mountains dripping with wine, and water flowing in every stream. It will be a garden, like the garden that we lost by our sin, and the people there will live forever and they will never lose their home again. And on that day there will also be a land that is a desert waste, where nothing will grow. It will be a land of constant violence.

When the judgment is over, we will all go to one land or the other. We will all enter into eternal joy or perpetual boredom. Some will blessed, and some will be cursed. The blessed will be those who hear the word of God and observe it. The cursed will be those who only do what they want. This will not be decided on that day; it is being decided today, here, now. Today is the day of salvation. Today we are deciding where we will spend forever. We decide it here and now; it is revealed then and there, on that day in the valley of decision.

October 7, 2011 - Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

Today's Readings

The memorial today is a commemoration of a great naval battle where the Christians destroyed the Muslims who were trying to invade Europe and destroy Christianity. It looked like the Muslims were sure to win, but the Christians prayed the Rosary, and they won a decisive victory. This battle was both physical warfare and spiritual warfare. Our readings today are about the spiritual warfare we fight everyday.

We tend not to believe in evil spirits in our culture, but that does not keep them from existing. Part of the reason why we do not believe in evil spirits is because the Church has been so successful in keeping the worst at bay. But there are other evil spirits besides the obvious kind that possess a person, requiring an exorcism. We usually do not talk about these things in spiritual terms, but there is a spirit of anger, there is a spirit of alcoholism, there is a spirit of pornography, there is a spirit of obsessive gambling, there is a spirit of laziness.

There are two winning strategies for spiritual warfare: do not let evil spirits in and if you do let them in, call on the Holy Spirit to kick them out. The trick to not letting them in is not believing them. They come tempting us, and it sounds like the voice of temptation is coming from within us. They are ventriloquists and we are their dummies. If we could keep in mind that we are being attacked from outside, we would be stronger, but once we say, “I want to sin”, we will sin, and then they are inside.

Having let these spirits into our life by sin, they are like a strong man, fully armed, who guards our soul as its own personal property. We will not be able to overcome it, but when a stronger man comes along, he can overcome it, and who is stronger than the Holy Spirit? No one, since the Holy Spirit is God.

Only the Holy Spirit can get them out. We have to invite him to come in and fight our demons for us. We do not need any special laying on of hands or incantations. These are distractions. We invite him in with prayer and with faith. We ask for the Holy Spirit, and the Father will give the Holy Spirit to whoever asks. Next we have to believe in him. We have to say, “I want to not sin” and believe it. Then he is in and can win the battle.

When an evil spirit leaves a person, it does not forget about them. It stays away for awhile, but then tries to return. If it finds the person’s soul unoccupied, it will move back in with all its friends. So the key to keeping the evil spirits away permanently is to hang a “no vacancy” sign on your soul. If the Holy Spirit is living in your soul, there is no room for any evil spirits. If you let the Holy Spirit take up permanent residence in your soul, you will have nothing to fear.

October 6, 2011 - Thursday of the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

In the story Jesus tells, we are not the man knocking at the door. That is Jesus. We are the man in bed. Jesus is not telling us that God will only answer our prayer if we bother him enough. He is telling us that we will only answer God’s call if he bothers us enough. If we do not give God what he wants out of love for him, we will eventually give him whatever he wants because of his persistence. What God wants from us is us. He intends to save us despite our laziness. He needs us to get up and give him our memory, our understanding, our entire will.

How interesting that in our first reading today, the reward of the just and the punishment of sinners is the same! About the wicked, the Lord says, “the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch.” “But for you who fear my name,” he adds, “there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays. The sun is a giant ball of fire. So fire comes for the good and fire comes for the wicked, but it destroys the wicked while healing the good.

What is this fire other than the Holy Spirit, God himself? Jesus promises that the Father will send the Holy Spirit to anyone who asks. Have you asked for the Holy Spirit lately? We might ask God for money or some object or help with some task, and we might receive what we ask for, but whether we do or not, we are guaranteed to receive something better than anything else: the Holy Spirit. God in his wisdom may refuse other requests, but he will never refuse to send his Holy Spirit.

So the question for us is whether we want the Holy Spirit to come into our life. If we have given ourselves over to God, we can receive the Holy Spirit as healing rays of the sun. If we have held back anything, it will be burned by the Holy Spirit, root and branch. If our confidence is in ourselves, we will be destroyed when the Holy Spirit comes. If we fear the Lord, will we have nothing to fear. If we are bad, our punishment is the Holy Spirit. If we are good, our reward is the Holy Spirit. Either way, it is the same Holy Spirit. The difference is in us.

October 5, 2011 - Wednesday of the Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The Gospel today raises the question of what Jesus really said. You surely noticed that the Our Father in the Gospel today is rather different from the Our Father that we usually pray. The difference between the Our Father that we usually pray, from Matthew, and the prayer from Luke that we read today are more than just translation issues. This prayer is not even the “Our Father”, it just starts “Father”.

It is not uncommon for Matthew and Luke to relate different versions of events. This can often be explained by saying that both versions occurred. It should not surprise us that Jesus preached two similar but not identical sermons. The differences in the beatitudes, for instance, can be explained in this way. However, it hard to believe that the disciples asked Jesus how to pray more than once and he gave them two versions of the Our Father.

So what are we to think about the faithfulness of the Gospels? The shorter version of the Our Father makes sense if we just assume that Luke got it from someone with a rather poor memory, but if we begin assuming that bad memories are at play in the Gospels, what can we trust? Scholars are far more likely to assume that Luke’s version is original and that Matthew expanded his version, and it is true that there is nothing in Matthew’s version that is not implied in Luke’s, but the devotion of Christians to the Our Father, to the Lord’s Prayer, is precisely because it was written by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, God himself. We want the original!

If we relied on ourselves to reinterpret Christianity with each passing generation, some of us would switch to this Our Father, some of us would stay with Matthew’s version, and some of us would throw up our hands and say, “Let’s forget the whole thing, if we can’t even get the Our Father right.”

It is good to read the Scriptures and seek wisdom from them, but while the Scriptures are the revelation of God to us, our individual interpretation cannot be the final authority, lest the 2 billion Christians have 2 billion Christianities. Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us which Our Father to pray. We must rely on Tradition. The Church has prayed Matthew’s version for thousands of years. This Tradition is more convincing than any scholarly argument or personal feeling. Tradition is also divine revelation.

October 4, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi, religious

Today's Readings

We should begin by clarifying what would have been an obvious point to the early readers of this passage but has been lost in cultural translation: Jesus is not alone with Martha and Mary. When I was young, I imagined a house and I imagined Martha working in the kitchen and Mary listening to Jesus in the living room. Forget that image. There was no house; they were probably eating outside. Jesus was sitting and teaching his disciples. Lazarus was probably there. Anyone from the village who saw that Jesus was in town might have stopped by.

What is happening in this passage is that Martha is being traditionally sexist. It reminds me of Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ house. I would ask my grandmother whether I could help get things ready. “No. You go watch TV”, she would say. Then she would turn to my sister and tell her to set the table. Mary is sitting and listening to Jesus with all the men. This is perhaps the most “feminist” passage in all the Gospels: Martha is complaining about the gender-role society has forced her into, that she has to serve at table while the men just sit there; Mary is doing something about it by refusing to accept the role.

Whether Martha had said anything to Mary before appealing to Jesus or not, we cannot be sure, but I feel confident that there were at least some very specific looks to convey her meaning. She was probably very upset by the time she interrupted Jesus’ teaching to get him to correct her sister. It was this worry and anxiety that Jesus is referring to in his response. Instead of gladly serving Jesus and his disciples, she was obsessing with what her sister was doing.

When we serve Jesus, and all the service we give to our brothers and sisters is service to Jesus, we must do so out of love, not societal obligation. Only one thing is necessary, and that one thing is love. All we need is love; love is all we need, whether love makes us sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him or love makes us knead the dough and stir the soup. Whatever love has inspired you to do, do it out of love. You cannot live other people’s lives for them; it is difficult enough living your own life. Just do that well. Do that out of love.

October 3, 2011 - Monday of the Twenty-Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Jonah was not afraid to go preach in Nineveh because he was afraid of any danger to his own life. He is a man of great faith. He was willingly thrown into the ocean during a storm. He would have gladly gone into Nineveh if it were a question of danger. He was afraid of God’s mercy. He knew that God would be merciful and not really destroy the city of Nineveh. He was afraid of God’s mercy toward the Assyrians. If he could have been assured that God would be implacable, he would have gladly gone and watched the city burn. The historical records we have show that Nineveh was a cruel, horrible city. Jonah did not want to go warn them about God’s coming wrath; he wanted to see them destroyed. Jonah was a man of great faith but little mercy.

Meanwhile, in our Gospel reading today, we are confronted by extraordinary mercy. Because of this story, the word “Samaritan” has come to mean a good and generous person. Many people today do not even know that Samaritan is just a nationality. The Samaritans had been fighting with the Jews for centuries. Both sides had done some remarkably cruel and despicable things to the other. For the Jews listening to Jesus, the idea of a “good Samaritan” was as unlikely as the idea of a good Palestinian would be to the Israelites today. The expectation is that when the Samaritan man saw a Jew beaten by the side of the road, if he had walked over at all, it would have been to kick him an extra time or two. Instead, he shows remarkable mercy.

To have mercy for an enemy, to see your enemy beaten and help them, to warn your enemy to repent rather than be destroyed, requires seeing your enemy as a fellow human person. So long as they remain just “one of them”, we forget that, more basically, they are “one of us”. These people are our neighbors; they are our brothers and sisters since we are all descended from Adam and Eve. We may have to fight a war to defend something, but we do not fight against alien monsters. We fight against people, like ourselves, who we would gladly see convert and be saved. We fight against people, like ourselves, who we would care for in their hour of need.

October 2, 2011 - Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

No one, not even a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority. Nevertheless, some priests do, and of all the things which priests change at Mass on their own authority, one thing I have heard that particularly bothers me is when a priest changes the phrase “protect us from all anxiety” to “protect us from all unnecessary anxiety.” The strange implication being that there exists such a thing as “necessary anxiety.” There is no such thing. In our second reading, St. Paul tells us, “Brothers and sisters: have no anxiety at all.”

Anxiety is concern that things may not happen as we have planned. We make plans, and then we are anxious to see those plans through. To be protected from all anxiety does not mean that we stop making plans. It does not mean that we stop trying to succeed in our plans. It means that we are ready to see our plans fail.

Anxiety and control go together. If we try to control what we cannot in fact control, we become anxious. We cannot control this world, even though we want to. We cannot control much of our own lives; indeed, there is very little under our control. The whole world seems to be going to Hell in a handbasket, and there is so very little that we can do about it. Above all, this is because we cannot control other people. We can only live our own lives as well as we are able to.

The epitome of anxiety is a parent who is anxious about their child’s poor decisions. The parent can try to guide their child; they can teach and punish and reward their child, but they cannot become their child and make the right decisions for them. Every parent has plans for their child, but these best-laid plans go often awry. Sometimes this is for good. Sometimes the child has their own plans and their own success which the parent could not have imagined. Sometimes not. Sometimes it is just a disaster. Either way, there is no point to being anxious. Everything will work out or it will not. Who has ever changed anything by being anxious?

Consider the position that God is in. He had plans for his children, plans for every single one of us individually and plans for the whole world. He started us off in a garden, and we destroyed that plan. Every plan that he has had for the world has been foiled by our sinful disobedience. He loves us, and he watches us destroy ourselves, yet he has no anxiety. He has love without anxiety, because he knows that he cannot control us. Of course, he could, if he chose to, but he has chosen for us to have free will instead, and he cannot control us and give us free will at the same time.

So how does he deal with a world full of disobedient children? We see the answer in our readings today. The psalm today poses the question, “Why have you torn down the walls of this vineyard?” Israel is the vineyard. God planted them; he brought them out of Egypt and gave them a country to dwell in, but now he has allowed the Babylonians to conquer and completely destroy what he built. The psalm poses this question and the Old Testament answers it. God has destroyed the vineyard because it had not produced the fruit that he wanted. He looked for justice but saw bloodshed.

God is willing to destroy what he has built up. He does not hesitate to tear down the wall that he built and let wild animals trample the vines he loves. Since we are the vineyard of the Lord, we do not appreciate it: we do not want the wall torn down; we do not want to be trampled, but God does not want wild grapes. We were built for a purpose. God has plans for us to live with him forever in heaven. How can we expect God to continue caring for us if we are not fulfilling the purpose for which he made us?

There is good news. God destroyed Israel, but then he built them back up. From the perspective of 2500 years, we can see that the destruction was always part of the plan for building up. Israel went to Babylon in exile, weeping, but it was there that their faith matured; it was there that they were prepared for the coming of the Messiah. This is easy to see from the perspective of millennia, but it was surely not easy to see while it was happening.

God loves us so much that he will not give up on us. He will not leave us alone to pursue our own destruction. So long as the possibility of saving us remains, he will save us, even if saving us means destroying our lives, even if saving us means tearing down the wall and letting the wild animals trample our lives. This destruction is a common human experience: divorce, losing a job, being convicted of a crime. Many people have seen their lives and the lives of those they love crumble around them. If anyone has not, they nevertheless await the final destruction of everything we have planned in this life, which is death.

So what should we do? Many times God told the Israelites to go willingly to Babylon: we are supposed to accept the destruction as the will of God. When they got to Babylon, they had to resist the worship of pagan Gods: we are supposed to resist in the midst of acceptance. When we are confronted with destruction we need both acceptance and resistance.

What we need is indifference. Indifference is the opposite of anxiety. Not the worldly indifference of simply not caring. We need the indifference of love, where we willingly love God’s plan for our life. This does not mean indifference to anything that happens. It does not simply mean that we accept every injustice that comes our way. It means a constant attitude of abandonment: the readiness to accept what we do not want. Even while we fight injustice, we must be ready to accept the destruction.

Indifference is difficult. It requires that we trust God completely. He loves us, and he is all-powerful. His plan, his overall plan for the universe and his plan for us individually will be fulfilled. It may include destruction, but he will see us through it all. Indifference is difficult, but what is the alternative? Anxiety, which accomplishes nothing? Indifference just means admitting to ourselves that most everything is out of our control, and that is okay.

October 1, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

Today's Readings

Jesus informs his disciples that they are living in a blessed time. They are seeing what everyone has been waiting for. They are hearing the Gospel, the Good News with the power to save the world. We are living in that same blessed time. Sure, it would be nice to see Jesus walking around and be able to literally follow him, but we are living in AD.

The mysteries of the universe are unlocked for us. We may not see Jesus walking around right now, but we are actually more blessed than even those Christians who came before us. St. Peter and St. Paul did not have the benefit of the New Testament. St. Therese did not have the benefit of St. Therese. All the saints of the past 2000 years are examples for us. The theology worked out over the past 2000 years makes being a Christian so much easier.

We know that God will forgive our sins. We know that this life is not as good as it gets. We know that the Second person of the Most Blessed Trinity came down from heaven and became man in the womb of the Virgin Mary. We know that he died and rose again, and we know how we too can participate in this Resurrection. Above all, we have been sent the Holy Spirit, and if he never works the kind of miracle in your life that astounds people, he is working miracles in your life every day nevertheless.

When we consider our age, we probably either think that we are blessed because we live in the age of cars and computers, of antibiotics and airplanes, or we think that we are cursed because we live in the age of abortion and war and many other evils. Yet none of these technological achievements mean anything in comparison to the arrival of Jesus Christ, and none of the evils of this world are more powerful than the Gospel we have received.

Between baptism and confession, we are protected from the evils of this world. In the Eucharist we receive the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. We are blessed. We have seen and heard and tasted what prior generations could not even have dreamed about. What will we do with this opportunity?