June 30, 2011 - Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Abraham loved God so much that he was willing to give his most precious, the son that he loved, to the Lord.

I could say that, but it is a very dangerous thing to say. So long as no one is taking me seriously, so long as religion is nothing more than a game we play, saying words that mean nothing at all, all will be fine, but if someone makes the dreadful mistake of actually acting on the ideas contained in Scripture, I am in trouble. I could preach about how wonderful it is that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, and how we need to be willing to give everything to God, and then someone will go home and sacrifice their children. We all would consider them a monster, but they could say, and rightly so, “I wanted to give God everything.”

That is not what happened in the reading today. If someone ever tells you that there is any virtue in killing your children as a human sacrifice because you love God so very much, do not believe them. Our religion is not composed of a lot of stupidity said in solemn language. So let us begin with the antidote to complex stupidity: simple truths. It is wrong to kill innocent people. God does not want human sacrifices. If you think that God is asking you to kill someone to please him, stop and get medical care.

So what was going on in that reading? Abraham knew that God was going to stop him. That story is about faith. Abraham had a promise from God: Isaac will give you grandchildren. Isaac had not yet had any children. So Abraham knew that even if he took Isaac up on the mountain, God would save him. Even if Abraham stabbed Isaac through the heart, God would save him. Even if Abraham killed Isaac, God would even raise him from the dead. Abraham knew, as he walked up the mountain with Isaac, that Isaac would yet have children. He believed the promise. He had no doubt, and, therefore, he had no fear.

That is what we are called to learn today. Abraham believed, no matter what, that God would keep his promises. Jesus promised to take care of us, and he promised to be with us always. If we have the faith of Abraham, we will believe his promises and stop worrying about having enough in this world or about being alone.

June 28, 2011 - Memorial of St. Irenaeus, bishop and martyr

Today's Readings

“Run for the hills”, the Lord tells Lot. “They are too far”, Lot tells the Lord. “Run for the hills”, the Lord tells us. “They are too far”, we tell the Lord. The Lord finds us living in all our sins, in our own personal Sodom, and he tells us to run. Do not walk. Run! Destruction is coming. We know that destruction is coming. It does not have to take the form of fiery sulfur raining down from the sky; no further threat is necessary than the logical consequences of our sins. “Run for the hills”, the Lord tells us, but we dilly-dally. “Later,” we say, “maybe tomorrow.” But there is no point in converting tomorrow; tomorrow will never come. Our conversion has to take place today, now. Now is the acceptable time. Today is the day of salvation.

What is holding me back? Only fear. I am afraid of what life will be like in the hills, and I am afraid that before I reach the hills I will turn around and look back at Sodom. I am afraid of failing, and I am afraid of succeeding. I am afraid of what life without the indulgences of this world would be like. I am afraid of boredom. I am afraid of missing out on good things. But greater than these fears is my fear that I am not strong enough. I have tried before to turn my back on the world, to run to the hills, but here I am.

What could possibly answer my fears? How could I be convinced that it is possible to live in the hills? I cannot be. I am not wise enough. I have lived too long here in the world; my vision is clouded. I am not sure that I will make it to the hills, and I am not sure that I can survive there. Yet I still possess one powerful ally in this battle between myself and me: trust. I do not need to be sure; I only need to trust. God says, “Run to the hills”, and I can trust him.

For now, I put one foot in front of the other; I do not worry about reaching the hills; I do not worry about life in the hills. God will provide. I will go where he sends me, trusting that he will get me there and take care of me when I arrive.         

June 27 - Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

It is possible to completely misread the episode of Abraham speaking to the Lord. If we forget that the Lord is God, it seems as if Abraham is teaching him to be merciful, but the Lord is God, so that idea is just ludicrous. Abraham was created by the Lord. His concepts of justice and mercy were put inside of him by the Lord. The Lord invented justice and mercy.

This misunderstanding goes beyond this one episode of Abraham and the Lord. Many people seem to think that they are more just, more merciful than the Lord, the God of the whole universe. “If I were God,” they say, “there wouldn’t be any more suffering. No floods. No earthquakes. No diseases.” They say this as if they have thought of something that God did not.

Their first mistake is in their first few words: “If I were God”, as if the difference between me and God is like the difference between me and the President. If they began by saying, “If I were the number 3” or “If I were the Solar System”, they would be more reasonable.

Their second mistake is considering unlimited power separated from unlimited knowledge and unlimited love. The Lord knows everything, and the Lord is kind and merciful. He does not make mistakes. He is not stumbling through history, trying different things. If I were God, I would do exactly what he is doing, because I would realize what I cannot see now: that it is exactly the perfect thing to do.

So what is going on in our first reading? Abraham is not teaching God; God is teaching Abraham. Abraham is never going to completely understand what God is doing, just like we will never completely understand what God is doing, but in that conversation Abraham learned what Jesus told us later: he lets the weeds and the wheat grow up together, lest the wheat be uprooted when pulling out the weeds.

As we consider the history of the world, we mostly see a disaster, but we also see, sprinkled throughout, a few righteous people, the saints. If God had destroyed the world in the year 1000, there would be no St. Thomas Aquinas. If he had destroyed the world in the year 1500, there would be no St. Therese. If he had destroyed the world in the year 1900, there would be no Blessed Mother Theresa. There also would be no us. At some point he will destroy the world. It will be the end of world history, and the beginning of new world history. Are you one of the reasons he waited this long before destroying the world? Are you one of the ten righteous in all of Sodom?        

June 26, 2011 - Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today's Readings

Manna is a kind of food that appeared on the ground each morning from the time that the Israelites left Egypt until the day that they ate the fruit of the promised land. Manna was free food: the only work was going out each morning to gather it up. Manna was abundant food: it fed 2 million people for forty years. Later generations of Israelites looked back on the time in the desert as a blessed time, depending entirely on providence for survival.

 There were three lessons concerning manna. First, no one was to gather more than they needed. Each person was allotted one omer of manna a day, a little less than a gallon. When they went out to gather the manna, some people gathered a lot and others gathered a little, but everyone ended up with one omer per person. Whether this is the result of a miracle or if it means that those with too much shared with those who did not have enough, the lesson for us is the same: we should not take more of this world’s resources than we need. If we have too much, we should share with those who do not have enough to satisfy their needs.

The second lesson of the manna is that it must not be kept overnight. The Israelites had to trust that the manna would be out on the ground again the next morning. Those who tried to keep the manna overnight found that in the morning it was full of worms and smelled terrible. From this rule we should learn not to hoard the riches of this world. True, we are not wandering in the desert with manna appearing on the ground each day. It is very reasonable to save money: to save enough in case of a surprise car repair, to save enough in case you lose your job, but do not hoard money.

Some people collect money and property as if they only wanted to see how much they could have, as if they were competing in a game with the other rich people of this world. I do not refer only to millionaires and billionaires. Consider the very idea of collecting something. It is so acceptable in this culture to say, “I collect hippopotami”, but we Christians should look in horror at the idea of spending time and money, whether on ceramic doodads or unnecessary power tools. We are travelers in this world; pack lightly!

The third lesson of the manna is that on Friday the Israelites gathered enough for two days so that they would not go out on the Sabbath. This is a lesson we ought to take to heart. There is so little respect today for resting on the Lord’s Day. Six days a week have been given us to work; we must rest on the seventh day.

But how should we rest on Sundays? The usual forms of rest in our culture (ball games, shopping, and restaurants) involve someone else serving us. Should we sit home then and watch TV? A proper understanding of Sunday rest begins with what we all must do on Sundays: go to Mass. The point of Sunday is to worship God. Anything else we do is peripheral.

There is an old joke about a man who asked his pastor whether it was okay to smoke while he prayed. His pastor said, “Absolutely not! When you pray you should be completely devoted to prayer.” So the man went to another priest, but he changed his question, “Would it be okay to pray while I smoke?”

We Christians do not begin with a rule, because every rule has loopholes. We begin with the Holy Spirit. Our Sundays should be about praising God. Mass is not something to be fit in around a busy schedule. Mass comes first, everything else can be planned afterward. Those who work on Sunday should insist on having time to go to Mass, and they should take another day to praise God by resting.

Together, the three lessons of the manna teach us that we were not made for survival. The point of our lives cannot be getting through to tomorrow at any cost. We certainly were not made to succeed as the world sees success, with piles of money and stuff. Survival is secondary to praising God. As Moses puts it, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

The lessons of the manna were so important, so foundational to the Jewish religion that Moses took one omer of manna and placed it in the Ark of the Covenant, a box covered in gold. The Ark was placed at the center of worship. The Jewish Temple was merely a house for the Ark, and the Ark was a container for the manna. So really, the manna was at the center of Jewish worship, this special bread which God had given to his people.

Do you see where I am going with this? This temple, this church, is really just a house for that box right there. That box is the Ark of the Covenant, which is also called the tabernacle. Within the tabernacle, we place a portion of the bread. It is not ordinary bread that we put in the tabernacle. Indeed, it is not really bread at all. The bread is a symbol, which is to say, we see bread, we taste bread, but the meaning of the bread is something more. What is the something more? It is Jesus Christ, his Body, his Blood, his Soul, and his Divinity.

The bread is a sacrament, which is to say, it does not only symbolize this, but it in reality is Jesus Christ: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. When we receive the symbol of bread, we actually receive Jesus Christ. When we see bread and kneel down in worship, we are actually worshipping Jesus Christ. This is a mystery. It is not clear to us how something can have the accidents of bread, the sight, the smell, the taste of bread, the atoms and molecules of bread, but in reality be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It is not clear to us, but that is not important. Jesus did not give us this sacrament and say, “Take and understand; this is my body.” No, he said “Take and eat; this is my body.”     

We must believe that the bread is, as the Church tells us, as Jesus told the Church, actually his Body. We must believe that the wine is, as the Church tells us, as Jesus told the Church, actually his Blood. This belief is not a nice addition to our faith. We place the Eucharist at the very center of our worship, because it defines who we are.

Faith in the Eucharist is where we must begin. All other work in the Church is pointless unless we begin with the Eucharist. It is pointless to protest abortion unless the Eucharist is at the center of our work. It is pointless to give food to the hungry unless this food given to us by God is satisfying our hunger. We as a Church are not a gathering of people who like doing good things. We are a gathering of people around the Eucharist. The good things come later.

Christianity without the Eucharist would be like Judaism without manna, just a lot of laws. From the Eucharist we receive our mission from God and the spiritual energy to complete that mission. If we receive the Eucharist with faith in the mystery, and we receive it acknowledging that we want to serve God above all else, confessing every sin we have committed, rejecting any plans to commit sin in the future, then we will be transformed.

Jesus Christ came to earth to give his life for us and to us. He gave his life for us on the Cross. He gives his life to us in the Eucharist. When we receive the Eucharist, we hold the life of God in our hands. We eat the life of God. We become what we eat. Eventually we do not live anymore ourselves, but Christ lives in us. That is what the Eucharist is about.

June 25, 2011 - Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

We are familiar with this phrase from the Gospel today: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” We say it at every Mass, before we receive Communion. When the better translation comes along this November, the reference will be even clearer.

The phrase is rather unusual though. We say to the Lord, “I am not worthy to receive you” shortly before we receive him. I think that this has caused many people to think that what we are saying is “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but if you say the word, I will be worthy to receive you.” This is not right though. As it stands in the context of the story it means, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but I know you can work by only saying a word.” The saying of the word is the alternative to reception.

Why do we say this then? It is because of what Jesus says. “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” No one! Really? Not Peter? Not John the Baptist? Not your mother? And there is no reason to limit this statement to the human nature of our Lord. He freely uses “I” to refer to his person. He knows Abraham, our father in faith. He knows Israel himself, and all the prophets and King David.

Our Lord may have been hyperbolizing here; the form of the words in Greek suggests that he was. He has found some rather remarkable expressions of faith before, but what is certain is that he has found something extraordinary in the centurion. The centurion does not doubt in the least that Jesus is capable of healing by merely saying a word. He is not asking for evidence that Jesus is the Christ. He has not come to see some great work. He simply wants his servant to be healed, and there is not an ounce of doubt about this request.

So we recall these words at every Mass. With these words we remember that we are not worthy of the great gifts that Jesus has given to us, and we also remember the limitless power of Jesus Christ to work in whatever way he chooses.  Truly, we are not worthy to receive Jesus, but, then again, receiving Jesus is not about being worthy. He condescends to us.

June 24, 2011 - Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Today's Readings

Today we commemorate the birth of a great prophet, and not just a prophet, but he of whom it was said, “Behold I am sending my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you. A voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

The feast of Christmas, coincidentally, is placed near the winter solstice, near the darkest day of the year. The feast of John the Baptist, symbolically, is placed opposite Christmas, near the summer solstice, the lightest day of the year. In the northern hemisphere, the sun strengthens every day after Christmas and weakens every day after the feast of John the Baptist. This yearly astronomical event is a sign to us of the difference between the two men.  John signals the end of something, something decreasing and fading away. When he says that he must decrease, he is not speaking only for himself but for the entire prophetic tradition of Israel. Jesus is causing something new to happen, something increasing.

John the Baptist marks the end of the age of prophecy. He is the last in a long line of the great prophets of Israel: Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and many others. Yet John was greater than all of these former prophets.  He was greater than all before him inasmuch as the message he proclaimed was greater than theirs. The proclaimed justice, but he proclaimed the Just One. They proclaimed mercy, but he proclaimed the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

John the Baptist is great because, from his mother’s womb, he was a perfect instrument of God. God planned for him to prepare the way for Jesus. Before he was born, God had dedicated him as a prophet to the nations. His first prophecy took place while he was still inside his mother. Nevertheless, for all of his greatness, the character of John the Baptist in the Gospels is above all humble. He decreased; Jesus increased. He freely told his disciples to follow Jesus. He was never jealous of Jesus.

Thanks be to God for the great gift he sent in John the Baptist, but let us remember the words of Jesus. “The least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.” Every single one of us who are baptized into the Kingdom ought to exceed the humility and obedience of John. Not by our own strength, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

June 23, 2011 - Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The stronger the foundation, the more work which is required to build on that foundation. Sand is a weak foundation, so it is easy to dig a few feet into the sand and bury the anchors for the house. Rock is a strong foundation, so it requires a great deal of work to break through even a few feet.

Jesus contrasts the one who listens to his words and acts to the one who listens to his words and does not act. According to the analogy they have both built a house. Indeed, if we consider the analogy further we can understand that the rock is located under the sand. It is not as if the rock were bare rock. Wherever there is sand, there is bedrock underneath, perhaps 100 feet underneath, but it is there.

So the fool listens to the words of Jesus, nods in agreement, smiles even, then goes home and keeps living. Perhaps, occasionally, he tries to act according to the words that he heard, if it is not too hard. The wise man hears the words of Jesus and begins digging. He digs through 100 feet of sand, hits rock, and begins chipping away at the rock. Only then does he build his life.

It sounds like a lot of work. It is a lot of work. Following Christ requires more than a smile and a nod. It is not easy to build a spiritual life that is anchored in the rock, but it is worth it. As Jesus teaches us, when the winds come and the floods rise, the house built on sand will not stand. We are going to have trouble in this world. We must build our faith to withstand the trouble.

If we listen to the words of Jesus and act on them, a faith will be built in us that cannot be blown over, no matter how strong the winds. If we listen to the words of Jesus and act on them, a hope will be built in us that cannot be drowned, no matter how high the waters reach. Unquestionably, the storms are coming. What action should we take? Love. Love. Love. Love. Love our friends. Love our enemies. Love God above all. Love is hard; it is hard to be like Jesus. It is hard, but it is so worth it.

June 22, 2011 – Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Readings

Today and tomorrow we read about the difficulties that Abraham and Sarah had in conceiving a child. This is not a difficulty unfamiliar to many husbands and wives today. The sorrows and struggles of humanity have not really changed so much in the past 4000 years. Tomorrow we will read about the solution that Abraham and Sarah come to. It is a bad solution, which, again, is not so dissimilar to the solutions that many couples grasp at today. They decide to use a surrogate mother.

The Church has always stood strongly against all artificial birth control, both that which is intended to prevent conception and that which seeks to conceive a human being outside of the natural order that God has set down within marriage. In vitro fertilization, a surrogate mother, egg donation, artificial fertilization – these are all wrong. They are a betrayal of the intimacy proper to marriage. They are a betrayal of the dignity due to the beginning of all human life.

That it was wrong when Abraham did it and it is still wrong today is revealed in the words spoken between Abraham and the Lord. Abraham says to the Lord, “You have given me no offspring.” He shows that he knows that children are a gift from God. When we receive gifts we must receive them, not reach out and grasp.

Is it fair that some couples conceive easily and others are unable to conceive after years of trying? Is that fair? No, its not fair, but a lot of things in this world are not fair. It is also not fair that there are children without parents to care for them. A couple may use various moral methods to help them conceive in the true way, but, if they are still not able to conceive, they should consider what God wants from them and for them rather than demand what they want.

Indeed, after doctors who use their God-given abilities to kill children, there is no medical field as filled with corruption and greed as fertility clinics. Conception in a cooperative act between a man, a woman, and God. Fertility clinics promise that they can replace God in that equation. They cannot, but they demand large amounts of money for trying.

As Jesus tells us today, we should look at the fruits. Ishmael was Abraham’s son, and Abraham loved Ishmael, but Sarah was jealous, sad, and angry. Any person who was conceived through artificial means has the same dignity as every person, but that is what God has provided: life. What man has added, the grasping, the greed, the grief, these are rotten fruit, which is not even to mention the bodies of conceived but unborn babies cast aside in a blind desire for a perfect child.

June 21, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, religious

Today's Readings

Jesus says “Do not throw your pearls before swine.” We can guess the pearls because of the other analogy Jesus uses: “Do not give what is holy to dogs.” The pearls represent what is holy.

As for the swine and the dogs, they are people. Jesus is not talking about animals. However, to say that such and such a person is a dog and a pig seems to imply that they are less than human, certainly less than the one speaking, but Jesus is only talking about one particular aspect of a person, not their whole dignity. Every single human person is created in the image and likeness of God. There are no people on this Earth who are not loved by God, and that is what gives us dignity.

So who are these people, fully human, but like a dog or a pig in one aspect? They are those who cannot tell the holy from the normal. A pig cannot tell the difference between a church and a basketball court. A dog does not know when people are talking and when they are praying. There are people like this too. They have no respect for what is holy because they cannot tell what is holy.

 I remember, a few years ago, a few hundred Catholic high school students were gathered in a church. They were arriving in batches, and prayer was going to begin as soon as everyone arrived. Some students were carrying cappuccinos, some were chewing gum, all were talking very loudly. The church sounded like a gymnasium.

And this is the problem. It is not as if some other people are dogs or swine. We are the dogs. We are the swine. Every time we treat holy things and holy places as if they were normal things and normal places, we are being swine. Human beings do not talk or eat or drink in church. Piety is the feeling, like fear, which makes us human. Piety is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We must teach our children piety. We must constantly pray for the gift of piety for ourselves.

“I should like church infinitely more,” think the dogs and swine, “if we carried on in a different manner. It would surely be much more fun if conversation instead of praying made the order of Mass.” More fun, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a church.   

June 20, 2011 - Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Jesus uses two images in the gospel today. The first is the image of the measure and the second is the image of the splinter. Both images are at the service of the command of Jesus: "Stop judging."

The measure can be considered in two ways. The measure with which we measure will be measured out to us, but what is in this measure? If we consider that it is a measuring cup full of judgment, then we want the measure to be as small as possible. However, if the measure is full of the opposite of judgment, then we will want to have the most generous measure ever.

What is the opposite of judging? Not judging, minding our own business. This is sometimes good advice for us, but we are God's business. Also, judgment comes naturally. We judge what we see and hear. We cannot get through life without making judgments, and God will judge all of us. What should we measure out to temper the judgment?

Perhaps indulgence. We see others doing what is objectively wrong, and we act as if what they are doing is not really so bad. This cannot be right though. God does not have once ounce of indulgence for sin.

Another possibility is allowance. We see someone do what is objectively wrong, and we allow for mitigating circumstances. I love playing the allowance game. When somebody is speeding irresponsibly down the road, I say, "Perhaps they are going to the hospital or to a life-changing appointment." This measure has the distinct advantage of truth. In truth, I do not know enough to judge. I simply insert a reasonable doubt. Allowance is a very important tool to prevent us from judging, but God cannot use it. He knows us through and through. He is never ignorant of our situation or circumstances.

So we should not measure out indulgence, and we should measure out allowance by the bucketful, but greater than allowance is mercy. Mercy is what Jesus is talking about. Mercy has manifold advantages. Mercy never denies that wrong is wrong. Mercy is useful even when a person is absolutely guilty, as we are absolutely guilty of sin.

What is mercy? Mercy is love. When we someone has done wrong, and we love them, we want to help them. If it is possible to help someone, without regard to how they have hurt us, we should. True love is not blind; true love looks with eagle eyes for some possibility of redemption. If we measure out mercy with a fire hose, we can never go wrong.

Forgiveness is pure mercy. We do not wait for someone to pay us back for how they have wronged us. We certainly never take revenge. If there is a glimmer of sorrow for sin, then we should forgive them all for the sake of the little sorrow. If there is not even a glimmer, we should forgive them all since they do not know what they are doing.

June 19, 2011 - The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Today's Readings

The theory of relativity tells us that time and space are relative to speed, that all time and space are unified at the speed of light. When we look at a star that is 100 light years away, the light from that star has taken 100 years to travel to our eyes, but the light is not 100 years old. The photons of light did not experience any passage of time or space from the star to our eyes. As far the light beam is concerned, there is no distance between the star and our eyes. So if you could travel at the speed of light, and you traveled 100 light years away and came back to Earth, it would be the year 2211, but you would not be any older. You would experience the acceleration and the turning around and the deceleration back to earth, but the trip itself would seem to happen instantly. As soon as we can travel at close to the speed of light, it will be possible to travel into the future, although there is no way to return to the past.

Do you understand all of this? This is only a small part of modern physics; we have not even gotten into how gravity affects all of this, let alone quantum physics. I mention all of this to point out a simple truth: physics is hard. Physics is not just building toothpick bridges and shooting two-liter bottles into the air. Of course, the same could be said about every general field. Every subject, whether science or art, seems very approachable from a certain angle, but it is a mistake to think that the whole field is contained in that angle. A child once asked my sister, who was studying to be a nurse, “Why do you need to know chemistry? All a nurse does is take you to the room and say, ‘The doctor will be with you shortly.’” There is more to everything than what we see.

Every human art and every science is an attempt to understand the truth. No matter how much truth you have learned, there is always more truth to learn. Anyone can learn a little physics or a little nursing, but being a master of the subject requires years of study and a mind gifted for that particular field. Even then, the greatest master in the world of any subject knows that all their learning has only shown them how much they do not know. Every answered question leads to more questions.

Nevertheless, this does not in any way diminish what education has done. A great physicist has a vision of how enormous the field of physics really is, but they still can use all their knowledge to design GPS satellites. A great nurse has a vision of how complex people really are, both physically and psychologically, but they can still use their knowledge to care for the sick.

Although it is often thought to be one, theology is not an exception to this universal truth. Indeed, what is true of studying the laws of the universe and of studying the greatest creatures on Earth, is ever so much more true when studying the Creator. The theory of Relativity is true whether I understand it or not. The best practices of nursing are true whether I know them or not. Truth is  not dependent on my own understanding. So also with truth about God.

So many people, when confronted with a theological idea consider themselves qualified to judge it. They say, “I don’t understand why…” or “It doesn’t make sense to me that…”, but often these words are covering up a presumption that what they do not understand cannot be true. They have not studied theology or even once read the whole Bible. In theology, as in every science, a person is not an expert just because they think that they are one.

There is a problem, however: how do we know who is a real expert? The other sciences and arts prove themselves by their fruits. Physicists can predict the motion of the stars, so we trust those who can design such equations. The recovery of sick people is correlated to best nursing practices, so we trust those who can design such practices. Theology produces it own fruits: the Saints. We belong to the Church of St. Paul, of St. Anthony, of St. Francis, of St. Ignatius, of St. Therese, of Blessed Mother Theresa. Other religions produce impressive people, but only Christianity produces Saints. An impressive person is as good as humanly possible. A Saint is better than that. There is a world of difference between Gandhi and Gertrude, between Buddha and Benedict, between Plato and Paul.    

So when the Church teaches us something, our first reaction should not be to judge the teaching, but to understand how to submit to the teaching. Consider, for instance, the moral teaching that birth control is fundamentally incompatible with marriage. Many people do not understand the teaching; many married Catholics do not understand the teaching, but this is no reason to disobey it. The correct reaction to this teaching and every other teaching we do not understand is to trust the Church. Believe first and then learn what you can.

I say all this as a preface. Today is Trinity Sunday. Today we remember that God is one God and that God is three persons. This is a mystery. It is easy to repeat this formula: one God, three persons, but impossible to completely understand the mystery of the Trinity. Whether you know only that God is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and that the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father, or you are able to quote the five notions and four relations and speak of the difference between homoousia and homoiousia, the Trinity is equally incomprehensible. The mystery of the Trinity is more than anyone can understand. Not even the angels completely understand this mystery.

But this does not mean that the Trinity is whatever we want it to be or whatever we happen to think is best. The Trinity is something very definite, the most definite truth in the whole universe. The Trinity's existence in no way depends on our ability to understand the mystery. The simple teaching, revealed to us through Jesus Christ, handed on by the Church, is trustworthy. First we believe the teaching, which is far more important than understanding how such a thing is possible. Then we try to understand, using analogies: the Son is to the Father as the light from a star is to the light in a star, light from light, true God from true God.  

June 18, 2011 - Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

"No one can serve two masters." Why not? Because no one is two people. Each of us is only one person. I think though, that we quickly see what Jesus missed: time. Time allows us to serve two masters, today I will serve one, tomorrow I will serve the other. Many people live their lives using this principle. Monday through Friday, 8 to 6, I serve one master. Each morning, 7 to 8, I serve God. The rest of the time I split between myself and my family.

But Jesus did not forget about time. Jesus created time. He knows all about time. He knows how we grumble about going to work, how we grumble about missing work, how we grumble about going to Mass. So he says that if we try to serve two masters, we will hate one and love the other. He knows that we will have to do all kinds of practical things and he has given us time to do them, but he is teaching us today that we will only love one master.

Which of your masters do you love: God, Mammon, or yourself? Whichever one we love, we will see the others as inconveniences. Is earning money preventing you from praying or is praying preventing you from earning money? A favorite meditation of this world is, "What if I won the lottery?" The people of this world like to consider what they would do if they had so much money. This question has the potential to reveal whether we serve Mammon or God.

A Christian should be able to say that if they won the lottery, nothing much would change. Sure, they could pay off loans. Perhaps buy a new house and car. But then what? Would their life, day to day, be any different? Does money have so much power over them that it defines what they do, who they are?

If you are supporting yourself with a job that you hate, which you would quit tomorrow if you could, you should really consider whether you could quit today. I am not referring to hard work. There is no virtue in replacing hard work with laziness. I mean that if you are doing something useless, without dignity, something which in no way is serving God or neighbor, who are you serving? God gave each of us one life, we should not undervalue that life and sell it for money. Your life is worth more than any possession, more than anything this culture presumes you should own.  

June 17, 2011 - Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

How many eyes does one person have? This does not seem like a very difficult question. Two. Easy, right? Not so fast.One person has many different eyes.  "The eye is the lamp of the body", Jesus tells us. This is a metaphor.  As a lamp is to a room, so is the eye to the body. But this is a multi-layered metaphor. Jesus is not merely telling us that if our eyes were not working we would always be experiencing darkness. He is referring here to spiritual eyes which are the lamps of our souls.

Physical eyes reveal the physical world to us. Spiritual eyes reveal the spiritual world. We all have spiritual eyes, many, many spiritual eyes. If they are good, we see the spiritual world for what it is. If they are bad, we will see a distorted and false spiritual world.

Consider one kind of spiritual eye: greed. If we see the world with greed, we will believe that we should try to possess as much treasure here on earth as we possibly can, yet Jesus, who saw more clearly than we will ever see, said that we should store up treasure in heaven and forget about treasure here on earth, where thieves steal and moths destroy. When a person looks at earthly treasure with greed, they fall in love and give their heart away. When a saint looks at earthly treasure, their only thought is, "How can I use this to further the Kingdom of God?" They see clearly. If it is stolen, they quickly forget about it.

Consider another spiritual eye: humility. St. Paul had humility. Today he reaches the apex of his boasting to the Corinthians. He begins boasting about how many times he has failed, how many times he has been scourged, how many times he has been shipwrecked. Some people would hear this boasting and laugh and say, "I wouldn't want to be like him." A Christian, with Christian humility, who remembers that our Lord died on a Cross, hears all this and says, "Wow, God must really be with this man."

It matters what spiritual eyes you have. If any, like greed, are causing you to sin, pluck them out. If any, like humility, help you see clearly, exercise them until you can look at the world and see God.

June 16, 2011 - Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Our - Because it is not just me and God. It is me and God and everyone God loves.

Father - Because, although Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, we all have been adopted by God in our baptism.

Who art - Of course "art" means "is" and God is. Before we say anything else about God, we acknowledge his existence, which is the foundation of all existence.

In heaven - which is to say, the perfect place. Not that God is more present in heaven then anywhere else. He is equally present everywhere.

Hallowed be thy name - which means Holy is. Holy, which means "belongs to God." God is Holy because he is not our invention. We cannot change him or control him in any way. He does not belong to us.

Thy Kingdom come - which is to say the kingship of God, the reign of God. We ask that God take charge of this world. We know he will fully at the end of the world.

Thy will be done - Nothing is good unless it is the will of God. We might think something is good that is not the will of God, but we are wrong.

On earth as it is in heaven - because we want this imperfect place to become perfect like heaven is.

Give us - we ask God for one thing, as a reminder that from him we have received all things.

This day - our request is not for a future, potential event that we are uncertain of. We are asking for help in our actual situation.

Our daily bread - This especially signifies the Bread of Life, which is the Body of Jesus Christ.

And forgive us - We ask him to give and to forgive. To give and to take away. To give us what is good, and to take away the evil we have welcomed into our lives.

Our trespasses - Our debts. We owe God big time. We cannot fathom what we owe God on so many different levels. What we know for certain is we can never pay him back.

As we forgive those who trespass against us - We forget how much we owe God, but we remember how much others owe us. An unforgiven grudge is corrosive to the soul.

And lead us not into temptation - He led Jesus into temptation in the desert, but our faith is weak, and a real test would break us, so we beg God not to test us.

But deliver us from evil - Because we are prisoners. We are in chains of our own making which hold us to evil. We want to be free.

Amen - Because we mean every word.

June 15, 2011 - Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

What is Paul talking about today? Money. He is writing to the Corinthians that he wants their money. Some people speak as if all the Church ever talks about is sex and money. Of course, when the Church says a thousand things and one is about sex or money, people will only notice that one. People only notice because these are areas where they do not like to be challenged.

Yet there is a very good reason that the Church does talk about sex and money. Christianity is not some ethereal religion, where we have good feelings and good wishes. Christianity is about a complete conversion of life to the mission of God. How can anyone have a complete conversion while avoiding the very area that attaches them to this world? Some Christians think nothing of paying $30 for dinner at a nice restaurant, but the idea of putting $30 in the collection basket frightens them.

There are two reasons why Paul is telling the Corinthians to give money. First of all, there are people in need. There is a famine in Jerusalem, so Paul is taking up a collection to support the people of Jerusalem. But this is not the more important reason. Paul also wants the Corinthians to give their money because he wants them to be the sort of people who give.

This is important. Even if there were no famines, no earthquakes, no tsunamis, even if there were no poor people in the whole world, we would still need to find some way of giving to others. We want to be the sort of people who give, and we cannot be givers without actual giving.

Jesus tells us that when we give money we should not let anyone see us doing it, because otherwise we will have already received our reward. What reward do we really want? Giving away money that we have earned can be painful. Something inside of us rebels, coming up with excuses why we should hold on to OUR money, which WE EARNED. This is good. Tearing off a bandaid that is attached to you hurts, so too with money which attaches us to the world. This will be useless, however, if we make new attachments of pride at the same time. Our goal in giving away our money is to come completely free of the world, so that when God calls us, nothing will hold us down.