February 25, 2014 - Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

James 4:1-10
Psalm 55:7-11, 23
Mark 9:30-37

St. James calls us “adulterers”. Why does he feel so free to use such harsh language? Because it is true. The accusation he is making is true of every sinful human being, including St. James himself, I am sure. He called us adulterers because like an adulterer we are unfaithful to our true love. We love God, but we keep stepping out on him. Whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes themself an enemy of God. There is no way to reconcile our love of God with our love of the world. It is adultery.

God is jealous. Like any true lover, he is not willing to have his beloved be unfaithful. So what should we do? We cannot hide our affair with the world from God. He sees all and knows all. Our unfaithfulness is done within his sight. When we go to God to admit our sins, our unfaithfulness, he already knows all about it. He wants us to admit it so that he can forgive us. If we are too proud to admit our inconsistency, then we have no hope. God resists the proud. But if we are humble and put ourselves in God’s hands, he will give us grace.

When we are tempted to sin, giving in never does the least good. Even if our struggle with temptation is painful, especially when our struggle with temptation is painful, we are accomplishing great things. When we resist temptation, we put up a defense against Satan. When we give in to temptation, we welcome the devil right in. And it will be harder the next time, harder to resist, easier for him to get in.

Our relationship with God is never very close if we are unfaithful to him. If I loved him as he loved me, I would never sin; I would never abandon him in search of what only he can offer me. God has come from heaven to earth to be with us. He comes as close as he possibly can, inches away, but these last inches cannot be crossed by him lest he destroy my free will. Is God too far away? The distance between you and God is the arms length that you hold him away at. The only thing stopping God from embracing you totally, is your own will. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

February 24, 2014 - Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

James 3:13-18
Psalm 19:8-10, 15
Mark 9:14-29

St. James speaks today of the humility of wisdom. What is the humility of wisdom? It can be easily seen by looking first at its opposite: the pride of fools. So many people, whether on television or Facebook or among friends, loudly and assuredly speak on topics which they do not understand. Two kinds of people are absolutely sure: someone who after years of study has reached a few limited conclusions and someone who does not know the first thing that they are talking about.

Even when we can be absolutely sure, wisdom still insists on humility. I am sure that it is wrong to kill a baby, whether it has been born or not, and I believe that maturity and study has not made me less confident in this belief but more. Humility will never make me question whether perhaps circumstances can exist where killing a child is a good thing, but humility, the humility of wisdom, does make me cautious. Those who are ignorant of the great evil of killing are not pure evil themselves. There are probably people who work at Planned Parenthood who genuinely, although wrongly, are trying to do good.

Humble wisdom comes from God. The wisdom from heaven is first of all pure since no lie can be a part of wisdom. It is peaceful, not violent even when faced with uncontrollable foolishness. It is gentle, not pushy or sarcastic or mean-spirited or rude. It listens to others, and can be convinced that it was wrong or misunderstood some aspect of the question. It is full of mercy, because we realize that we are sinners in need of mercy. It bears good fruits, spreading truth and righteousness in the world. It is without partiality: it does not favor any conclusion in the search for truth. It is without hypocrisy: there is no hidden agenda.

This kind of wisdom comes only from God. It is a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit. We cannot learn to be wise. We cannot fake such profound wisdom. We would go wrong in one direction or another: being unsure of what is true or being certain of our own opinions. If Christians could work no miracle except to be wise with this gift of the Holy Spirit, that would be convincing to the world. If we would let God give us this gift, letting go of personal opinions and prideful confidence, we would be shining examples to the world.

February 23, 2014 - Sunday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

We have been working our way through the Sermon on the Mount these past few weeks. First there were the Beatitudes. Next Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth and light of the world. Then last week, Jesus began teaching the commandments in a new way. Just like today, he says “You have heard it said” and then he names one of the commandments, and then he says “But I say to you” and then he teaches a new way of understanding that commandment. However, there is a crucial difference between last week’s reading and today’s.

Last week Jesus’ teaching had a certain logic to it. Any reasonable person could understand his teaching. “Thou shall not kill” includes not hating our brothers and sisters, not calling them names. “Thou shall not commit adultery” includes not committing the sin mentally, includes pornography and romance novels. Jesus is telling us that the commandments are not about crossing some line. We should not even be walking in the general direction of sin. It is a hard teaching, but when we hear Jesus teach it, something within us knows that he is right, that this is the way that the commandments ought to be understood.

Suddenly, although the format of Jesus’ teaching stays the same, it stops making any sense. “You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Yes, an important teaching. The punishment should fit the crime, neither unfairly harsh or unfairly gentle. How is Jesus going to expand this teaching? “But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” What? That is completely illogical. “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” Really? “If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well.” And should we walk around naked then? “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.” When exactly does a person get their own work done then? “Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” Even if we know they are not going to pay us back? Even if we need the money more than they do?

The other teachings are hard, but we wish we could live up to them. These teachings are just foolish. If we followed these teachings, someone could come up to our home and just ask for things until we were naked in the middle of the street. The new teaching is that there is no limit on how much we should let people take advantage of us. Any group of people who tried to follow these teachings would go out of existence pretty quickly. Anyone who followed these teachings would be a fool.

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, in our second reading today, “If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise, for the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.” St. Paul recommends that we become fools. He wrote in this same letter, a little earlier, the reason: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Let us think then for awhile about this foolishness of God.

When you hear these words from Jesus, do they inspire you? I mean before you think about the practical implications of allowing the world to take complete advantage of you. Do these words have the power to speak to something deep in your heart? Do these words make you want to stand up and live the Gospel without compromise? I hope they do. I hope no one is so cynical that their only reaction is to laugh at the foolishness. Something is dead inside of such a person. Something about these words should make us sad that the world is the way it is, that we cannot live them out.

It is certain that we cannot live these commandments to the letter. Jesus did not let people take advantage of him in every situation. Several times the Gospel tells us that he just walked through the midst of a crowd of people trying to kill him or arrest him. Jesus had a mission to fulfill, and he could not let anyone stand in the way. He would ultimately fulfill these words perfectly, but only when the right time had come.

Here is an understanding: we ought to follow the teachings as far as possible. A father needs to provide for his family, and sometimes that will mean saying no to someone trying to take advantage of him. A mother needs to protect her children, and sometimes that means the opposite of turning the other cheek. But what if we took this commandment as a presumption, saying, “Times will come when my responsibilities in this world will prevent me from following this commandment, but, as far as I am able, I will live according to this teaching.”

This commandment and others like it are the reason why some vocations are higher than others. All of us have vocations, whether to marriage or priesthood or religious life. A vocation is said to be higher when it allows a person to better live out the teachings of Jesus. So religious life is higher than marriage, as St. Paul also affirms, because a Sister or Brother is better able to turn the other cheek, to serve for two miles, to give up any material thing, than a married person. This does not mean that the person is better (there are saints who were married), but a married person is always going to be conflicted between their responsibilities and the teachings of Jesus. A person in religious life is more free to follow Jesus; of course, they may or may not actually follow him.

I point this out not for those of us who know our vocation, who are committed to it; all that is left for us is to live it. I point this out for those young people here today who want to know their vocation, who want to know what God wants them to do with their life. If the words of today’s Gospel speak in a particular way to you, if something in these words makes you happy when you hear them, you should consider whether God is calling you to the kind of life, as a Sister or Brother or Priest, where you can more freely live them out.

February 22, 2014 - Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, apostle

1 Peter 5:1-4
Psalm 23:1-6
Matthew 16:13-19

Today we celebrate a very interesting feast: the Chair of St. Peter. This feast is not exactly in honor of a person, as most are, nor of an event, as others are, but of a chair. Of course we are not commemorating a piece of furniture today; the chair in question is “chair” like “chairman”, a position, an office. We celebrate today the founding of the position of the leader of the Church. Jesus Christ is the head of the Church; this office in no way replaces his office of high priest and king. God did not need Noah to build the ark, and he did not need Simon Peter to lead the Church. He chose to allow us humans positions of dignity as cooperators of his grace.

When Simon made the profession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, Jesus explains “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” Because of this revelation, Jesus renames him Kephas, which in Greek is Petros. This was not a name; it means “The Rock”, like the movie star. Jesus then says “upon this rock I will build my Church.” Which rock? Not Simon Peter the man, who would deny Jesus three times. Jesus founds his Church upon an idea: the idea that God reveals the truth to a human being. Jesus is hereby instituting an office, the Chair, and choosing Simon for that office which will be the foundation rock of the Church. Along with the position comes certain powers: “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This language is the traditional language for a king to install a prime minister, a leader to serve under the king and do the day to day work of the kingdom.

Jesus makes a promise to Peter and therefore to the Church: “Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” This promise is often misunderstood. It is often treated as if it meant that the Church would be able to withstand any attack by evil, but this is backwards. He says that the “gates”, the defenses of Hell, will not be able to stand against the Church. It is the Church who is attacking evil, and we will be victorious.

February 21, 2014 - Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

James 2:14-24, 26
Psalm 112:1-6
Mark 8:34-9:1

When Martin Luther was inventing his new version of Christianity, where he decided that whatever he happened to think was right was definitely right, thereby claiming for himself the infallibility that he denied the Church, he ran into a difficulty in that part of the New Testament clearly contradicted his interpretation of St. Paul. A more humble man might have begun to question whether the interpretation was correct. Martin Luther was not a humble man. He considered himself able to judge the epistle of James: these parts he liked, these other parts he did not like.

He wanted to say that faith justifies apart from works. This is mostly because he did not know the meaning of the word “justify”, which means to change a person into someone who does just works. Our faith is not something we hold onto separately from who we are. Our faith changes us. Faith is not a passive possession; it is an active principle.

If our faith justifies us, that means that our belief in God makes us into a better person, but this is not necessarily true. St. James points to an obvious case: the demons. They believe in God but they are not made into better people. We do not need to go to the supernatural realm to find that this is true. People like those Christians who protest at funerals or a child-abusing priest prove the principle right here on earth. They believe in God, but it does not do them much good.

So faith by itself is not sufficient for justification; something more is needed. St. James calls it “works”, but the principle of these works is love. Jesus tells us to believe, but he also tells us to love. Faith without love is dead. I cannot merely wish good things for the poor. “Bye. Keep warm and well-fed.” I have to love them. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus said that. Faith is not enough.

Faith does not require anything from me. I can believe and then go on living as I always have. Faith is cheap; love is costly. Whoever wishes to follow Jesus must deny themself, take up their cross, and follow him. Does this sound like faith? No. Faith cannot lift a cross. Only love can do that. Faith tells us that we should follow Jesus; love is what does the following. Faith tells us who we should love and who loves us; love is what does the loving.

February 20, 2014 - Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

James 2:1-9
Psalm 34:2-7
Mark 8:27-33

What St. James warns about in the first reading today is a real temptation for anyone involved in service to the Church. Of course in principle, everyone is equal, and it is not as if the clergy actually desire to ignore the poor and give special treatment to the rich, but there are bills to pay. Not only all the regular bills, but if we want to do any particular service to the poor, we will probably need money to do so. And just like that bank robber who said that the reason he robbed banks was because that is where all the money is, so too the reason we have fundraisers and dinners and other events that cater to the rich is because they are the ones with money to give.

So what should we do? Should we ignore this reading and continue giving special treatment to the rich? Or should we follow this reading and make no distinction between someone who could give the church $1 million and someone who is barely able to give $1? For surely it is not reasonable to expect a person to give $1 million without a little special treatment, dinner in the rectory or a meeting with the bishop.

I do not think that St. James was ignorant of this difficulty. Undoubtedly, there were some very wealthy Christians who were able to provide for the community, and if they are anything like wealthy people today, they probably wanted a little partiality. Perhaps we do not know of any particular cases with St. James, but there is one recorded in Scripture about St. Paul. He converted a rich woman named Lydia, and then stayed in her house while he was working in Philippi. He converted other people in Philippi, but only Lydia gets a special mention. Probably there were other Christians who would have let Paul stay in their house, if they had had houses with room for him. It is not that Lydia was more generous than the others, but that she had more to give.

I do not think that St. James is telling us to treat the rich with less respect. When the rich man comes in with gold rings and fine clothes, we should pay attention to him and say, “Sit here, please.” But then when the poor man comes in with filthy clothes, we should pay attention to him and say, “Sit here, please.” The only solution is to be partial to everyone.

February 19, 2014 - Wednesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

James 1:19-27
Psalm 15:2-5
Mark 8:22-26

St. James tells us to be quick to hear and slow to speak. This is very good advice. When someone else speaks, listening is an act of great humility. To listen to someone else is the best way to tell them that they are important, important enough to listen to. But we do not only listen for the sake of the other person, for their feelings or so that they will think well of us. If we did that, we would be hypocrites. We listen because we genuinely believe that we do not know everything. It is not possible to be a Christian without humility. “If anyone thinks that they are religious but does not bridle their tongue, they deceive their heart: their religion is vanity.”

St. James also tells us to be slow to anger. The relationship between the anger and Christianity is not easy to parse. On the one hand, Jesus says things like turn the other cheek. On the other hand, Jesus was angry and made a whip and cast all the money changers out of the Temple. So there must be such a thing as righteous anger. But St. James's reason why we should be slow to anger is that anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God, and that is correct. Anger does not accomplish anything. Anger is about stopping something. Sometimes it is necessary to stop evil, but what does that accomplish if we never start doing good?

There is a lot of evil in this world. No matter where we look, we are likely to find someone doing something wrong. It is too easy to just be angry. There will never be a shortage of reasons to be angry. So what if, instead of getting angry, we decide to do something positive. Anger does not accomplish the righteousness of God, so we should work to accomplish the righteousness of God.

The world needs changing. If we commit ourselves to doing good in this world, we can change the world. There are so many things we cannot control. Rather than becoming angry at our weakness, we should accomplish whatever we can. I cannot stop selfishness, but I can stop being selfish. I cannot force the government to take care of the poor, but I can take care of the poor. I cannot force people to follow the true morality, but I can, to the best of my ability, assisted by God's grace, be moral.

February 18, 2014 - Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

James 1:12-18
Psalm 94:12-15, 18-19
Mark 8:14-21

Temptation comes from three sources. These are traditionally listed as the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

Temptation from the world is the temptation of money, fame, and power. The world tempts us with the possibility of controlling other people and having people adore us. The temptation of the world is to be more successful than other people. The temptation of the world is to want to be higher than everyone else. Success is meaningless if we are not more successful than other people. But the Christian denies this temptation. It is illogical. We should be glad that other people are smarter and more talented than us. We are not perfect. The Christian is glad to see success wherever it exists. They do desire to be better, but not better than others.

Temptation of the flesh is the way that our body weighs us down. It is the temptation for entertainment, for relaxation, for eating, for sexual pleasure. Each of these has its proper place, but the body would have us give it constantly and in excess. One dessert is not enough. One movie is not enough. If we listen to the body, we will make ourselves unhappy. The body is happiest when we do not give it everything it wants. Give it good food in the proper amount, give it sleep when it is needed and the amount we need, give it exercise even when it is not inclined, and the body will be strong and useful. Give in to the temptations of the flesh and the body will be weak.

Temptation by the Devil is rarer than the others. Only in certain circumstances does the Devil need to get involved. Usually we make a mess of things all by ourselves. When he sees us getting along, trying to follow God, he comes in and steers us toward one of the other temptations. Just as he did with Eve, he makes us believe that God’s laws are unreasonable. He encourages in us the feeling of rebellion: who is God to tell us what to do? Often this question is enough and we are fooled until we realize once again that sin does not have the power to make us happy.

God does not tempt us; he does give us the power to fight all temptation. He wants us to be happy, and the only things standing in the way of our happiness is our temptation to sin.

February 17, 2014 - Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

James 1:1-11
Psalm 119:67-68, 71-72, 75-76
Mark 8:11-13

Jesus “sighed from the depth of his spirit.” I think we all know how Jesus felt. The Pharisees were pestering him for a sign. Of course, Jesus had, at least twice, fed crowds with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. He healed the sick, the blind, and the deaf by the thousands. Still, the Pharisees were demanding a sign.

Jesus could have just given in. This must be at least partially where that sigh came from. Jesus knew that he could have said, “What do you want? Just name it.” He could change the color of the sky, turn mud into a person, summon 12 legions of angels, or whatever. He could literally have done anything. He could have just started taking requests and fulfilling them as they were spoken. The Pharisees want to test Jesus here; they want to try him out like we might try out a new gadget on Christmas day.

This demand for a sign shows a basic misunderstanding about faith. Faith is a gift from God. Faith is not something we do; faith is something God does to us. The Pharisees, like most people today, thought that their faith was the result of weighing both sides, thinking about it, and coming to a judgment. They are asking for a sign because they want more evidence before making their decision. But what evidence would have been sufficient? Anything can be thrown into question. Maybe it is just an illusion. Perhaps Jesus was a space alien with advanced technology. Maybe it was all just a dream. Maybe you are dreaming now and you will wake up in a minute and realize that this is all imaginary. Maybe we live in the Matrix.

There is no argument, there is no evidence, that could convince us 100%. Our brains are not perfect. If faith came from within us, it would have no surer footing than any other thought we have. Faith, however, comes from outside, from God. If we lack faith, we should not demand signs from God, we should not invent elaborate schemes to prove or disprove him. We ought to pray. If we ask God for faith, he can give it to us; he can give us a faith that does not rely on our weak intellect, that is not subject to the whims of our limited mind.

February 16, 2014 - Sunday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

Sirach 15:15-20
Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34
1 Corinthians 2:6-10
Matthew 5:17-37

Sirach places a choice before us today: life or death, good or evil, fire or water. The choice that Sirach is talking about is called the “fundamental option”. The idea of the fundamental option is that we ought to stop being lukewarm, wishy-washy, half-in/half-out and make a decision to follow God. Many people stand at this fork in the road and refuse to commit themselves to a path. Throughout the Old Testament, God is constantly telling his people to make a decision either for him or for the world, to continue to the Holy Land or to go back to Egypt, to worship him or to worship the pagan Gods. God insists that we make a decision.

Many people easily and proudly proclaim what football team or political party they support, but, in life, they are content to stand on the sidelines and watch. The world loves the open-minded, who see both sides, neither extremist nor fundamentalist. There is a war going on; pick a side. Will your fundamental option be for God or not? If we choose God, life will be hard. We will have to follow the commandments. People are afraid to choose because they think that they might choose wrongly. What if I choose for God and I am wrong? I will miss out on a lot of fun in life. What if I choose against God and I am wrong? I will miss out on something bigger. Every choice for something rejects other possibilities, but we will never get anywhere unless we pick a direction. So we stand on the threshold of life, paralyzed by fear.

Now, if this were a particular kind of protestant church, I would continue in this vein for an hour or so and then ask you to make a decision right now and to come up front and to pray a prayer of decision. I tell you, you would feel good if you did it, all warm inside, excited, probably crying. You would feel alive for the first time in a long time. And I am not going to stop anyone from doing that. Come on up after Mass, and look at Jesus, and make a decision. In fact, I am going to presume something right now. I am going to presume that since you got up this morning, got dressed, and came to worship God, you probably would make that commitment. In fact, let us all pause right now, and, without all the theatrics, turn to Jesus and say, “Lord Jesus, I believe that you are the Son of God who died to save me from my sins. I choose to follow you wherever you lead me, forever. Amen.”

But now we have got a problem, because we have to actually do what we just said. No one runs a marathon by signing up for a gym membership. You have to actually exercise. No one loses a single pound because they made a New Year’s resolution. You have to actually eat better. No one ever got to heaven because they decided that they would follow God. You have to actually follow God. We made the decision. We took the fundamental option for Jesus Christ. The problem is, it is hard to be perfect.

If we thought that following Jesus just meant not killing anybody, he corrects that idea today: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” Has anyone here ever been angry with their brother or sister? Has anyone here ever called them a fool? Thus Jesus goes through each commandment and shows what it means to keep it perfectly.

There are some possibilities of course. We could just be hypocrites. We could follow the easy commandments in public and break the hard ones in private. We would be like actors on a stage: it does not matter what happens when the curtain goes down. This was the way of the scribes and Pharisees. But Jesus tells us, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

We could be antinomians, which is to say, we could not bother trying to be good since we will sin anyway. We could just say, “I have taken the fundamental option for Jesus, so it does not really matter what I do day to day. God will forgive me.” The antinomians are like the hypocrites except that they do not even try to hide their failings. This is not a surpassing righteousness.

We are going to have to use more difficult tactics if we will succeed on this path. We made the commitment today; we will have to make it again tomorrow. When we fail, we can repent. We will just have to keep trying to be perfect, no matter how many times we fall. We must never accept sin. We must refuse to put up with evil in our lives. We must never say about some sin we have struggled against, “Oh well, that is just the way I am.”

If this were all though, we would just be like Pharisees but humble. Not a bad place to start, but there is also good news. If we choose to follow God, he will guide us. His Spirit lives within each one of us by our Baptism and Confirmation. God wants us to be saved, but we have to decide that we want to be saved. We have to decide it at every hour; we have to decide it against every temptation; we have to decide it in every part of our lives. This is what it means to choose Christ, to take the fundamental option: following Jesus is the foundation of our lives. “If you choose, you can keep the commandments. They will save you. If you trust in God, you shall even live.”

February 15, 2014 - Saturday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 12:26-32; 13:33-34
Psalm 106:6-7, 19-22
Mark 8:1-10

This is the second story we have where Jesus feeds a lot of people with just a little food. In the other story, there are 5000 families, five loaves, and two fish. This time there are only 4000 families, and Jesus starts with more food: seven loaves and a few fish. Also, more food is left over the first time, twelve baskets full versus seven baskets full.

Some scholars think that Jesus only did it one time and the Apostles remembered the numbers differently and made it into two stories, but St. Mark considered the difference between the two stories so important that out of only about 11,000 words in his Gospel, he devotes 160 to tell the story the first time and another 140 to tell it this second time. This would be sort of wasteful just to get both sets of numbers down. No, Mark either wrote both down to let us know that it all happened at least twice or, and this is more likely yet, because he wants us to compare the two events and learn something.

If we are going to learn something, we should begin with the disciples. Did they learn anything? Last time, they told Jesus to dismiss the crowd. This time, they trust Jesus. He calls them, not at the end of one day, but after three days of teaching. Last time, the disciples went to Jesus as it was getting late in the day, because they were afraid that he did not know that the people are hungry; this time, they trust him. Jesus knows that the people need to eat, and he cares that the people need to eat. After two days someone could have accused Jesus of letting the people starve to death, of being uncaring, but Jesus knew that he could provide for the people when the people needed providing for.

Sometimes it seems as if we are not being provided for because we see a need in the future and do not have the solution right now. We do not know how we are going to get over the next mountain which we see looming on the road ahead. Jesus wants us to stop worrying about the next mountain and focus on the road under our feet. We have everything we need for right now. The concerns of each day are sufficient; do not be anxious about tomorrow.

February 14, 2014 - Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 11:29-32; 12:19
Psalm 81:10-15
Mark 7:31-37

Today we heard how God, through the prophet Ahijah, divided the kingdom of Israel into two parts: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. God told Solomon that he would do this because of his unfaithfulness, taking the kingdom away from his son, but leaving him the city of Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Tomorrow we will hear about how Jeroboam, the new king of Israel, tells the Israelites to stop worshipping in Jerusalem because he is concerned that if the people of Judah and the people of Israel worship in the same temple, they will not stay divided. So he builds idols for the Israelites to worship instead. Technically, he claims that these idols are images of the God they had always worshipped, but this still breaks the First Commandment.

The Israelites, after 1000 years and after mixing with other people, became the Samaritans, while the people of Judah became the Jews. We know the animosity that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans in Jesus’ time. The Samaritan woman who spoke with Jesus still wanted an answer to the question that Jeroboam had raised: should we worship in the Jerusalem Temple or not? Jesus tells her, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” So he confirms, in case there was any doubt, that Jeroboam did wrong.

Why would God give Jeroboam the kingship of Israel, knowing full well that he would lead the people into a perversion of true worship? It was unfortunate that the majority of Israel was handed over to “worshipping what they do not know”, but it was necessary. The wealth of Israel was in the north, so the king of the Jews would never again be as powerful as King Solomon was. We have seen how power and wealth corrupted King Solomon. By weakening the country, God strengthened the faith. In dividing the kingdom, most of the Israelites lost a proper understanding of their faith, but if Israel had remained united, the sort of place that the queen of Sheba was amazed by, the whole nation would have been lost.

Let all of us, living in the richest, most powerful country in the world remember this: God is not concerned for kingdoms or nations or corporations. His only concern is individual people. He will destroy anything, no matter how much we value it, to bring us back to him, to make us happy.

February 13, 2014 - Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 11:4-13
Psalm 106:3-4, 35-37, 40
Mark 7:24-30

Who could have imagined that Solomon, the youth who asked God for wisdom because he knew that he was not equal to the task of ruling Israel, would become a corrupt old man with 1000 sexual partners. After beginning so well, Solomon ends so badly.

Whose fault is that? It is not God’s fault. God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond any other human before the time of the Holy Spirit. It is not Solomon’s wives’ fault: they were merely following the religions that they grew up with. Who could have taught them better? Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Solomon could not possibly have loved all these women. Jacob had two wives and could not love both of them. If Solomon had had only one wife, he would have taught her about the God of Israel, the only true God. It is Solomon’s fault. After having every advantage: wisdom, visions of God, and the example of his father, he abandons the faith that he knows is true.

Solomon has a faithfulness problem. He has one thousand wives. He was unable to be faithful to one. He worships all sorts of gods. He was unable to be faithful to one. If I were trying to do a little psychoanalysis of Solomon, I would suggest that his troubles might go back to his mother. He knew that his mother was the wife of another man, whom his father had killed. Even if David gave him the best example he could, he could not correct this bad example. This knowledge must have haunted Solomon his entire life. Whether this was why he chose to have so many wives or why he went along with them in their worship, we do not know, but Solomon’s parents could not be faithful and he could not either, not to a wife and not to God.

For all his wisdom, Solomon could not see this. He knew so much about the world and the sky and the stars but not about himself. Do not make the same error as Solomon. We all have weaknesses. We are all lacking in certain areas of human development. Whether it is because of our upbringing or genetics or whatever, this is the area where we must be particularly open to God’s grace, for it is the place where we are most vulnerable.

Solomon should not have asked for wisdom. God offered him whatever he wanted and Solomon should have asked God for a different gift. He should have asked for faithfulness.

February 12, 2014 - Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 10:1-10
Psalm 37:5-6, 30-31, 39-40
Mark 7:14-23

The story of our first reading today is both history and symbol. The queen of Sheba is like one of us: she goes from her native land to a land where she has heard that there are great wisdom and riches. That land is Israel, the Promised Land, a symbol of heaven. The king of that land is King Solomon, and he is a symbol of the Lord, the king of the kingdom of heaven. This is fully appropriate since King Solomon received his wisdom from the Lord, so it is the Lord’s wisdom which the queen of Sheba hears.

The queen brought questions to the king. I think that many of us have a few questions we would like answered. Let us believe confidently that just as King Solomon was able to explain ever question which came from the heart of the queen, so God someday will be able to explain to us every question in our hearts.

After the king had answered every question that the queen asked, he showed her the riches of the kingdom. She is impressed not only by what the king possesses but by how the royal ministers are seated and how the royal servants are dressed. When we visit the kingdom of heaven, we will be impressed by how the saints are seated and how beautiful the angels are.

Last of all, when she saw what was offered in the Temple of the Lord, she was breathless. Someday our breath will be taken away when we finally understand the sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The queen had heard stories in her native land about the kingdom and King Solomon, but she had thought them too fantastic to be true. Now she sees that they did not capture half of the truth. When we hear descriptions of heaven, let us not think that such descriptions exaggerate how wonderful heaven is. The reality of heaven far exceeds anything that we can imagine.

But the queen did not show up empty-handed. No, she brought 120 talents of gold and a great deal of spices and jewels which she gave to the king. While we are here, preparing to visit the kingdom of heaven, we must get ready a gift for the king: gold by which the king is glorified, spices which are the fruit of our labors, and jewels which beautify the soul and are formed by the heat and pressure of suffering.

February 11, 2014 - Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30
Psalm 84:3-5, 10-11
Mark 7:1-13

“Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” King Solomon’s point is that we cannot put God in a box. God is not in anything. When we say he is in eternity, we simply mean he is not in time. When we say that he is in heaven, we mean that he is not on earth. Yet when we say that he is not in time or on earth, we mean that he is not limited to time or earth, but he is obviously present to us where we are on earth, in time. The only place that we say God is not is in our sins, yet he remains fully powerful over our sins though he allows us the power to disobey him.

King Solomon knew all this because he was wise. He did not imagine that he had actually created a house for God. Impressive though it was, it was as nothing in God’s sight. He created the galaxies, would he now live in a small building of stone and metal? Of course not!

Here we have a tension. We call this church the house of God, yet is he any more present here than on top of some mountain or in your kitchen? Some people use this argument to say that we should not have churches or that our churches should be functional buildings, a church on Sunday mornings and a movie theater the rest of the week. Consider how much space is wasted by this large sanctuary where only a few people sit. Consider how much heat is wasted by these tall ceilings. Has all this been done so that God could fit in here? Yet he fits in a small chapel, he fits in the smallest enclosed space, and then again he does not fit in any of these.

No, a house of God does not need to be large so that God would fit, but it does need to be large enough that our idea of God can expand. This one building is set aside as the house of God, not because he needs protection from the rain, but because we need to be reminded that he exists. An auditorium would be so much more efficient than a church, but we would impoverished. If we cannot set part of our city aside to be exclusively the dwelling of God, how would we possibly set part of our minds aside from worldly concerns to think about God.

February 10, 2014 - Monday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 8:1-7, 9-13
Psalm 132:6-10
Mark 6:53-56

Jesus went around healing people by the thousands. If he was able to do that, why hold back at all? Even though we accept that illness and suffering are the result of original sin, that God does not make us suffer, yet he holds the cure to all our suffering and can end it at any moment. So why does he let us suffer? It might be our fault; it is our fault, but still, how could God, who loves us, look on and see our pain without granting healing?

Certainly God could by a certain miracle suddenly remove all bodily suffering in the world by healing everyone who is sick or injured, but what then? People will be injured or sickened the next hour after the miracle. If the greatest good that could be achieved in this life was a mere removal of suffering, then God would do that every hour of every day, but we are made for something more. We are made to live the life of the blessed forever.

Death is not the greatest evil. Suffering is not the greatest evil. The greatest evil is a separation of our souls from God. Just as we will gladly undergo painful surgery with the hope of lasting benefits or endure the pain of exercise with the hope of stronger bodies, we should not fear the suffering of this world but rather hope that it will prepare us for the next. Our own suffering often accomplishes the real purpose of living.

Why does God permit the suffering of this world? We know why. Why does a parent permit their child to be stabbed with needles or have a tooth pulled? Because allowing some suffering now prevents greater suffering later. This does not take away our need to serve those who are suffering. It does not mean that we can forget about the suffering in the world, especially the suffering created by our own choices. It means that suffering can be necessary and can result in good.

Suffering is always evil but suffering can lead to compassion, endurance, patience, and humility and these are great goods. If all Jesus wanted to do was stop all suffering, there was no need for him to become a man and dwell among us; God could have done that at any time, but since he knew that permitting suffering was necessary in a world with sin, he instead came down to suffer with us.

February 9, 2014 - Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 58:7-10
Psalm 112:4-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Matthew 5:13-16

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth.” He also says, “You are the light of the world.” Jesus is telling us that we are different. If the flavor of salt was the same as the flavor of the food, it would be useless. No one sprinkles some potatoes on their potatoes or adds a dash of rice to the rice, for flavoring. Salt must be different than what it is flavoring. If a light is not brighter than what is around it, it does not deserve to be called a light. Light is not a remarkable thing in the daytime, but at night the smallest light becomes immensely powerful. Nobody takes note of the flashing blue light on the DVD player at noon, but when you are trying to sleep it might as well be a 1000 watt light bulb. Each, both salt and light, is important and useful because it is different from its environment.

What are we to flavor? The earth. What are we to light up? The world. When Jesus tells us that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, he is telling us that we have to be different from the world. The flavor of the world is selfishness, greed, lust, laziness. This world is boring. This world is dull. This world lacks flavor. Light is a sign of goodness, and there is some light in this world. There are people who do good things naturally. We, however, must do better. If we are going to light up the world, we have to be significantly brighter than the world around us.

Perhaps someone does not believe that the world is lacking in flavor, that it is very dim. We have some guinea pigs at our disposal. There are people who spend their days trying everything that the world has to offer, trying to find something with real flavor. These people are the rich and famous, the celebrities. Some of them spend their whole lives trying to find flavor, being consumed in the search. Some of them realize that everything this world has to offer is bland in the end, so they go looking for something different than the world, and often end up believing in nonsense. Immense wealth and a lot of free time should add up to people who are happier, but it almost never does.

Some here today do not need to look so far outside themselves. They have arrived here after tasting the whole world and finding it insipid. Others have arrived here without tasting much of the world at all, but simply believing what their eyes tell them: there is no satisfaction in this world. We are here today because we want something different. And if we want something different and the something different is not out there in the world, we are going to have to be something different. We are here today because we want to be salt; we want to be light!

We have a problem though: we are children of this earth; we are of this world. If something is going to change the flavor of the world, it must come from outside of the world. If there is energy bright enough to make sunshine seem dim, it too must come from outside the world. Jesus came into this world from outside. He continues to send the Holy Spirit to us from outside of the world. Jesus is different; the Holy Spirit is different. Here we have real difference! This is where our flavor and light is going to come from: the teachings of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The world praises wealth, sex, and freedom. These three values express everything the world has to offer. There is nothing intrinsically evil about these. Wealth, sex, and freedom are all gifts from God to humanity, but without some salt they will be very dull. The teachings of Jesus point us to the proper flavoring: poverty, chastity, and obedience. The world is without flavor because it loves wealth without poverty, sex without chastity, and freedom without obedience. The world tells us that we are the fools because we refuse to have an unlimited love for what the world values. We refuse to love money itself; instead we appreciate being able to buy bread for the hungry, homes for the homeless, and clothing for the naked. We refuse to love sexual pleasure itself; instead we wonder that God has given to men and women the ability to participate in his creation. We refuse to love freedom itself; instead we love the opportunity that freedom gives us to live in accordance with the truth.

A little salt goes a long way. A little light in the darkness can seem very bright. The saints very rarely did great things, as the world sees great things. Very few saints were kings or queens or popes. St. Francis just chose to live in the woods and beg for his food. Mother Theresa just chose to care for dying people. Neither of them put up an advertising campaign to spread the word about their magnificence. The whole world knows about them because they were different, and seeing something different was very shocking to the world. The difference caused some people to hate them. It caused other people to give up their lives and follow them. When we see light in a dark place we can choose either to shield our eyes or to celebrate that light has finally been found.

“You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” How amazing that Jesus entrusted us with this role. Very few of us Christians ever end up being very different from the world, which is sad, because that means that most of us live very dull lives. Nevertheless there are little differences in our lives that add some flavor. When we come to Mass every Sunday, we are a little different. When we pray before we eat, especially in public, we add a little excitement to the world. When we choose to live our lives according to a moral code that is incomprehensible to the world and sometimes even difficult for us to understand, we are a little more interesting. Still, the possibility remains for anyone who would like to do something with their life: you could always try being different, being salt in a bland world, being light in a dark place.

February 8, 2014 - Saturday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 3:4-13
Psalm 119:9-14
Mark 6:30-34

God offered to give Solomon whatever he asked for, but God already knew what Solomon would ask for. God knows everything: in the past, the future, and the present. He would not have made such a generous offer if Solomon would have asked for riches or a long life or the death of his enemies. Solomon wanted something that God wanted to give him, so God offered to give him whatever he wanted.

Has God offered you whatever you want? No? Me neither. The problem could be that God is not as generous as he used to be, but that makes no sense. The problem surely is that I do not yet want what God wants to give me. God will happily be very generous as soon as I am receptive.

Yet God has offered to give us his gift: the Holy Spirit, God himself. What else could we possibly want? Would we want money or fame or any other worldly possession? No. Who would want money or fame except because they think it will make them happy? Who wants anything at all except because they think that it will make them happy?

The problem is whether I believe that the Holy Spirit will make me happy. If I really believed that a life of serving God and my neighbor would make me happy, I would not do anything else. The essential problem of sin is a failure to believe that God is the source of my happiness. Eve ate the fruit because she failed to believe that God would make her happy. Every sin that has ever been committed has been done for this reason.

If only I would believe in the happiness God has to offer, how happy I would be! There is no failure of generosity on his part. He is ready to give me the happiness that my soul desires. I, however, for whatever reason I know not — pride, foolishness, fear, or all these things — will seek happiness everywhere except the one place that I am sure to get it.

Solomon eventually rejected the wisdom that God gave him; in his old age, he became a fool, worshiping other gods to please his wives, but in this one glorious moment Solomon did not ask anything for himself except the wisdom to accomplish the task God had given him. He is an example for us, that when we forget ourselves we will finally be happy.

February 7, 2014 - Friday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Sirach 47:2-11
Psalm 18:31, 47, 50-51
Mark 6:14-29

As Sirach chooses how to summarize the life of King David, he mentions some things that would be mentioned in any history: killing Goliath with a stone, the defeat of the Philistines, and the many songs and prayers he wrote. In a modern history, just as in the actual record we have from the books of Samuel and Chronicles, his sins would play a larger part though. The only thing that Sirach has to say about his sins is that the Lord forgave him.

Perhaps Sirach’s account is too rosy for a man who committed adultery, murdered a loyal servant, and forgot his role as a steward of God's people. The original account is harsher too concerning David's war against the Philistines. By Sirach's description it was all glory, but God would not let David build his temple since his hands had shed too much blood. By Sirach's account, David is a hero.

But David is a hero. He did kill Goliath when the Philistines threatened to destroy Israel. He did establish Israel as a kingdom. He was not perfect, not by any means, but then no one in the Bible is except Jesus and his mother. Noah was a drunk. Abraham was a cowardly liar. Moses was a murderer. In other words, they were just like us. What is remarkable about them was not that they never did anything wrong, but that they did something right. Modern histories may dwell on the dark valleys of a life, but there is something to be said for the glorious peaks as well.

We could look at David and say, “Well at least I’ve never been as bad as he was”, but then have we ever been as good as he was? Even King Herod liked to listen to John the Baptist, and did not want to kill him. What does it take to judge a human life? Should we consider how good someone has been or how low they have sunk, or simply take an average of a whole life?

This sort of calculation is too much for anyone. We must not think that our good deeds will outweigh our bad ones. We must rely on the mercy of God, that he will forgive us our sins as he forgave the sins of David. The most important fact about David in the first reading today is not that he killed a giant or who he defeated. It is this: “The LORD forgave him his sins.”

February 5, 2014 - Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 24:2, 9-17
Psalm 32:1-2, 5-7
Mark 6:1-6

There is a feeling that we do not really possess a thing until we have counted and measured a thing. When we buy a new object, it is not really ours until we have tested it out. If I buy a car, I want to drive it, to see how it handles, how fast it can accelerate, how well the brakes work. Undoubtedly, I looked into all this before I bought it, but I have to do it again now that I own it. When someone gives me a gift, I do not just open it, look at it, and put aside. If the situation allows, I am going to try it right then and there: it is a book, I will flip through it; if it is a sweater, I will put it on; if it is a paperweight, I will feel how heavy it is.

Such is the problem with David's action today. He is counting the fighting men of Israel, because he wants to know how many fighting men he has. The correct answer is zero. He has no fighting men, because the people of Israel do not belong to him. It may seem like a small thing he has done, asking for a census, but it is not. By daring to count the people of Israel, he is suggesting that they belong to him when actually they belong to God. God must punish him severely to make clear that Israel belongs to him alone, not David.

The people of Jesus' hometown should feel pride at seeing a hometown boy make good, but instead they are offended that he would be so wise and powerful. They do not know that he is God. Perhaps they never heard how the Angel Gabriel came to Mary. As far as they are concerned, he came to Nazareth as a young boy from Egypt. He worked as a carpenter until he was 30. Perhaps he made a shelf or a yoke that they use every day. They seem to think that they have him all figured out, but they do not realize that there is more than they know.

No one's existence is comprised of their usefulness to us. Every single person has a dignity that cannot be summed up in a checkmark on a census or by a job or by their family. There is more to people than we know. Getting to know them as individuals is part of loving our neighbors.

February 4, 2014 - Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

In the readings today we see the remarkable love of the father for his son. Absalom had rebelled against David and stolen the kingdom from him. He slept with David's wives. He killed his half-brother, David's son. He started a war, and chased his father from Jerusalem. Today we hear the end of that war, when the officers of David triumph in battle, and kill Absalom. David is not excited to hear that he has beaten the rebels; he just mourns the death of his son. He never stopped loving his son Absalom, despite Absalom's ungrateful attitude toward him.

In the Gospel, we see a father who is willing to do anything to save his daughter. He comes to Jesus, and falls at his feet, and begs him. Jairus was an important man, but he forgets all dignity and all pride when it comes to pleading for his daughter's life.

It is this word “daughter” that links the two stories in the Gospel today. Jairus is concerned for the life of his daughter, and when Jesus speaks to the woman he says to her “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” It is by this sentence that we can be certain that Jesus felt toward that woman as Jairus did toward his daughter, as David did toward Absalom. God loves us as a parent loves their child, or rather, more than that.

What did David say when he heard that Absalom had been killed? “My son, my son Absalom, if only I had died instead of you!” Surely this feeling was shared by Jairus, as it is shared by so many parents whose children have died, as it was shared by our Father in heaven. God came down from heaven to earth and actually did die instead of us.

Since Jesus died for us, we may still die in this body, but there is no reason why our souls have to die too. He proves this by raising Jairus's daughter back to life. We can be sure that God has power even over death. We can be sure that he loves us and every single person he created. Is it possible to doubt then that he will raise to new life not only the daughter of Jairus but every child who has ever lived and died? There will be a resurrection for everyone who does not reject their Father's love.

February 3, 2014 - Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 15:13-14, 30; 16:5-13
Psalm 3:2-7
Mark 5:1-20

The unclean spirits beg Jesus to let them enter the pigs. When they do enter the pigs, it does not do them any good. The pigs run off a cliff and die. The unclean spirits are afraid to be cast out entirely, but they cannot be at rest even where they ask to be sent. It was pointless to be put into the pigs, but Jesus does not argue with them. They are self-destructive, and Jesus let them be self-destructive however they want. These unclean spirits are like a person who cannot be free from addiction to a sin like pornography or gluttony. They destroy themselves through their own will.

Then the people of the town beg Jesus to leave. They are above all afraid of this man, Jesus, who can control realities greater than we can see. These townspeople are like a person who wants to live life without religion. Just make money and spend money and forget God. The see God as just a troubler of their everyday lives. When God comes and visits them, they beg him to leave. They reject their chance at salvation because of their concern for the things of this earth.

Then the man who has been freed from the unclean spirits begs Jesus to let him follow as a disciple. Jesus refuses his request. He has other plans for this man. He sends him away to preach the Gospel, which means that this man was an Apostle, and we do not even know his name.

It is this way with us. So long as we are self-destructive or worldly, God lets us do whatever we want; there was no point in guiding our foolishness, but when we begin trying to follow God, roadblocks suddenly appear; God is guiding us according to his plan. We can destroy ourselves or ignore God in any way we want, but if we decide to become a disciple, he will be firm with us. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son or daughter whom he accepts.”

In the first reading, David is punished for his sin, and he is punished severely. Meanwhile many people commit similar sins and worse yet seem to receive no punishment. It is because it would do them no good. By punishing David, God is saying that he has plans for David, that David is worth preparing for greater things. We do not want God to grant our every prayer. We want God to make us better, even if that means suffering and obstacles.