September 30, 2012 - Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Numbers 11:25-29
Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-14
James 5:1-6
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

The stories in our first reading and Gospel today are kind of the same. In the first reading, Joshua (Moses’ disciple) tells Moses about people prophesying outside the official circle of prophecy. In the Gospel, John (Jesus’ disciple) tells Jesus about someone exorcising demons outside the official circle of discipleship. In both cases the disciples want the teacher to stop such unofficial actions. In both cases the teacher replies that they are glad that someone is using the power, even unofficially. Would Joshua rather that the prophecy of the Lord go untold? Would the disciples rather that the demons remained in the people? They have lost sight of the fact that good is being accomplished.

The disciples have a desire for a purity of religion. They want their religion to be simple and logical and follow all the rules. The teachers know that religion is logical but it is not simple because people are not simple. All the rules are followed, but the disciples do not know all the rules. It is like when you tell a child about the rule against hitting other people. Then they see a boxing match, and they want to know why the two men are breaking the rules. You can try to explain that this does not break the rule, but they are unlikely to understand why. Some children will consider the boxers to be naughty. Other children will decide that rules are meant to be broken. They will hit a fellow student and declare that they were boxing.

So in religion we start with simple rules, such as “divorce is never permissible.” That rule is true as far as it goes. Then a person sees someone who is divorced and got an annulment, and pretty soon they will either think that the Church needs to stop making so many exceptions to the rules and enforce it strictly like they did in the good old days or that the rule on divorce does not apply anymore. On the one hand we have extreme traditionalists and on the other hand extreme liberals. In reality the rule on divorce and annulments is just extremely complex and always has been.

This desire to make religion simple, or, indeed, simplistic, is in all of us. We want a simple religion that does not need a lot of explanation. We prefer “poor” to “poor in spirit”. We liked the way religion felt when we were children. Good people go to heaven. Bad people go to hell. Jesus loves us. And honestly, those statements are all true. We do not lie to children; we just simplify. When you grow up you realize that there are very few good people in the world and very few real villains. So where do all the people in the middle go? And if Jesus loves us, why is there a hell? There are answers to these questions, but they are not simple. Even the answers we have are simplified versions of the truth that is greater than any human mind.

So when Jesus came, he gave very simple teachings which need to be thought about and explained. Sometimes the literal meaning of his teachings still makes sense, like when he says “Love one another.” Sometimes it does not, like when he says “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” This does not mean that we are picking and choosing which teachings we are going to follow. Jesus gave his teachings to intelligent human beings. He knew that we would figure out what he meant, more or less. We are constantly figuring out his teachings, so that over 2000 years there have been enormous developments in doctrine. Meanwhile, we are also constantly misunderstanding so that the Church has to face new problems all the time. The Church can never change a teaching, but we can always understand it better.

For instance, there are historical figures who took Jesus literally and cut off parts of their body, but that was never very popular for obvious reasons. The principle behind the teaching is really the point: we are naïve if we leave the causes of sin lying around and hope to avoid sin nonetheless. Jesus is saying that even if the cause of sin is as beloved to us as our own right hand, we should cut it off; even if the removal would be as painful as plucking out an eye, we should not hesitate. If a person is causing you to sin, cut them off. Better to enter heaven alone than to go to hell with friends. If your television is causing you to sin, pluck it out of your home. Better to enter heaven having missed all the best episodes than to enter hell having watched them. If the internet or a kind of website is causing you to sin, sever the connection. Better to enter heaven crippled in this digital world than to enter hell well-informed. The removal of these or many other causes of sin would be hard, but not as painful as plucking out your eye. To live without television or internet in this modern age would be a serious disability, but not as bad as having a foot cut off. In other words, even if we are severe with ourselves, we will never exceed the examples that Jesus gave.

For our second reading today, St. James writes an indictment of the rich that seems literal, but he is using the word “rich” here in the way that Jesus used “poor in spirit”, to refer to an attitude, not an objective financial status. He is speaking of the rich in spirit who rob the poor for profit, who murder people who stand in their way, who live for the purpose of luxury and pleasure. The rich in spirit are totally consumed with themselves. When the end comes, they will have saved nothing of real value, they will have no treasure in heaven, everything they have will be destroyed. Someone could be rich in spirit no matter how much money they have.

We must not minimize the teaching of Jesus and look at every rule for its exceptions, but we are not being more religious if we try to take them all literally and be more Catholic than the Pope. The Church gives us the Catechism as a reference book if you want to understand some of the complexity. If you want to understand more, there is a lot to study, but, no matter how much theology we learn, what we need above all is the humility to realize that we do not understand completely. That is why we can never judge. We also need the humility to trust the teachings of Jesus and the 2000 years of understanding by the Church. With some rules of the Church, like contraception, gaymarriage, and social teaching, people will say, “I cannot understand the Church’s position.” That is fine, so long as they do not take this lack of understanding and think that it proves something. We need the humility to trust even when we do not understand, to not think that our own way of working out the issue trumps the Bible and 2000 years of tradition.

September 29, 2012 - Feast of Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel and Saint Raphael, archangels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 28, 2012 - Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11
Psalm 144:1-4
Luke 9:18-22

This reading from Ecclesiastes simply acknowledges that there is a time for everything under the sun: a time for good and a time for bad. It is impossible to disagree with these facts. There is a time for war and a time for peace. There is a time to kill and a time to heal. Nevertheless, we immediately jump to the question: Does it have to be this way? Could the final time for war come and go? Could we change the world so that there is a time to laugh without a time to weep? Or if we are unable to change things, could God have created it better?

Has God given us an inferior universe? Do we even really matter to him? What are humans that you care for them, Lord? Well, as far as we know, we are the only spiritual beings in the material universe. All of this was created just for us. God created distant galaxies so that the night sky would be more interesting. The highest revelation of God’s generosity to us is his gift of self in Jesus Christ. As he tells us in the Gospel today, he went to the Cross willingly, for no reason except to save us. If he has given us all this, it is proof that he loves us and has done everything for us.

Ecclesiastes is simply acknowledging hard truths, like the psalm does, when it compares us to a breath that quickly passes away. These hard truths are how things seem to be, but there is a deeper truth. Death makes life pass away, and that is a hard truth, but the deeper truth is that we will rise again. There are good times and bad times, and that is a hard truth, but the deeper truth is that God has planned a time for us with no tears, a time of everlasting peace. What are humans that you care for them, Lord? We are his beloved children, and he has plans for us. We might wish that he did not have so many plans for us. We are his beloved children, not his pets. Everything we experience is part of his plan for us to mature and live with him forever. Not that God causes the bad, but he does know what will happen, and he has a foolproof plan to get us through it all, through the best of times and the worst of times.

September 27, 2012 - Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Ecclesiastes 1:2-11
Psalm 90:3-6, 12-14, 17
Luke 9:7-9

In the traditional teaching of the seven deadly sins, there is included, under the sin of sloth, the sin of curiosity. This is somewhat surprising for us; our culture is always trying to encourage curiosity in children. Growing up, I was always told to be curious. However, we can understand the sin of curiosity, because it is rampant in our culture. Curiosity means seeking out information that has no purpose. It is a temptation to waste time. In surfing the Internet or watching television or reading magazines, even when what we are looking at or learning or reading is not bad in itself, it can be a complete waste of time. Why do we want to have our minds filled with trivia and useless knowledge about celebrities or various lists or the same redundant facts about the presidential election?

In our first reading today, Qoheleth is making the point that so many things in this world are useless, even knowledge can be useless. Jesus says that the purpose of our lives is love. Anything that is not contributing to that purpose, ought not be done. This is not to say that learning in the many subjects has no place, but we should be aware that when we are tempted to learn more about something, this can be bad temptation. If we are wasting time, if we are not working for the purpose of our lives, we are just filling our minds with clutter. After we have seen every bit of news, which all happened before, and filled our eyes and ears and minds, will we be any better at loving?

In the gospel today King Herod shows another sign of curiosity: its inability to commit. The devil uses curiosity to prevent us from doing anything useful. Sometimes curiosity comes as a vague desire to learn more. The gospel today says that Herod was trying to see Jesus. Of course this is ridiculous. Jesus was a public preacher. Herod could have easily seen him any time he wanted to. Instead he sort of, kind of wanted to see Jesus. This half-hearted desire replaces any real effort to learn. A person who feels curious about some subject feels as if they have already learned what they needed to. Curiosity keeps us from what is really important, distracting us. The opposite of curiosity is study, where we carefully pick a subject and then work to learn about it.

September 26, 2012 - Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Proverbs 30:5-9
Psalm 119:29, 72, 89, 101, 104, 163
Luke 9:1-6

In our first reading there is a prayer by Agur son of Jakeh. He asks God for neither poverty nor riches. He is concerned about being so poor that he would steal or being so rich that he would deny God. Many people pray every day to be rich. People pray to win the lottery. There might be just as much prayer in casinos as in churches. When we are asking for riches, what are we really asking for? There are people who make more each day than you or I will make in our whole lives but never have the most valuable thing in the world: Enough.

All we want is enough. Riches can buy luxuries, but what do we want luxuries for? If a human is chasing after luxuries, then they have forgotten the purpose of this life, perhaps they do not even know why they are alive. Did God make this whole universe, this planet and the sun and the other stars, the life of this planet and then create us, just so that we could chase after luxuries? The point of life is to seek God. In the meantime, we just hope to have enough for each day so that we can seek God without worrying about starving or where we will sleep each night.

We do find it very difficult though to get through each day without knowing where tomorrow’s enough will come from. Even if we have enough today, we can be distracted from the true purpose of our lives by worrying about tomorrow. Even if we have enough for this year, we worry about next year. This seems like just responsible planning, but Jesus, in today’s Gospel and in other places, tells us that the ideal Christian life would be to live day-to-day praying just for our daily bread, never worrying about the future. It is a difficult problem, balancing personal responsibility against trust in God. I am not telling you that I know the answer to how each person should make this balance in their own life. Some people are called to be like St. Francis, completely on the side of trust. Other people are called to have a retirement plan and take care of the St. Francis’s of the world. But no one should completely forget about this radical call of the Christian life: to ask God simply for enough for today, no more, no less.

September 25, 2012 - Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Proverbs 21:1-6, 10-13
Psalm 119:1, 27, 30, 34-35, 44
Luke 8:19-21

What is the good life? Many people think that the good life is a life of sin. The very best life would be to do whatever sin seems best and then to repent in the end and go to heaven. This is what the proverb means, “All the ways of man may be right in his own eyes, but it is the Lord who weighs the heart.” We think that sin is happiness, and feel torn between following that happiness and being perpetually disappointed in hopes of eternal life. God is our enemy, keeping us from being happy in this life. All of us are susceptible to this mistaken belief because of original sin. Ever since we ate that fruit and gained the knowledge of good and evil, we have had our own personal morality that is at odds with God.

Consider it this way: What if God offered you a chance to sit down and rewrite the Ten Commandments? Not only that, but all of morality. What if you could put down, definitively, the rules of right and wrong? What would they say? Which rules would you change? What forbidden thing would you allow? What permitted thing would you forbid? Do you think that you improved anything? Do you know how much the human heart weighs and every measure of it? Do you know all the mysteries of the universe? Were you there when God created the galaxies? No. So how is it that we think we could improve on God’s law? If anyone thinks that they know more than God, then they do not know who God is. What arrogance that requires! But we all invent our own personal morality. We sin because we have decided that what we are doing is not wrong after all; we have decided that we know more than God.

We repeated in the psalm, “Guide me, Lord.” This prayer is asking the Lord for freedom from independence. If we choose our own way and do what seems best in our own eyes, we will go wrong. If we do the word of the Lord, we cannot go wrong. God does not want our obedience because he wants to set artificial limits on our happiness. God knows what is good for us and what will harm us. Father knows best. Even if we cannot understand a particular rule, it is clear that since God is never wrong, he must be right.

September 24, 2012 - Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Proverbs 3:27-34
Psalm 15:2-5
Luke 8:16-18

Jesus wants all his little lamps to be shining on lampstands. He did not give us the faith, hope, and love just for our benefit. He wants to show us off. For every person who has faith in this world, a number of others are encouraged in their doubts. For every person who has hope, a number of others are no longer afraid. For every person who has love, a very great number of others are brought closer to God. A real saint does not go through this world without impact. They are like a lamp in a dark place: everyone else is lit up just by being in their presence.

How should we evaluate the Church? If we focus on the great sinners, those who have given real scandal to the Church, our claim to holiness will seem to be debunked. For every St. Francis or St. Therese, there is a wicked person who has given the Church a bad name. But this does not actually balance out. If there is a wicked person in the Church, I am not surprised. There are wicked people everywhere, and the Church’s membership requirements are pretty flimsy. All the wicked people in the world cannot cancel out one Saint. The existence of each Saint is enough to prove the faith. They found something; therefore, there must be something to find.

Just as it is not enough for the Saints to be holy for their own sake, but rather they have to be shining lamps on lampstands, it is not enough for us to see them and enjoy their light, we must take their existence as an invitation to become like them. It is nice to be in the light, it is better to be a light. Is this possible? Absolutely. The graces of God are not reserved for a few chosen people. The thing is to get started. No one can become a Saint overnight. The way is hard. It is very difficult to follow the narrow path between laxity and extremism. No one can become a Saint by their own effort and intellect. The law, the proverbs, all these instructions here are not enough. The end is clouded, but we do not need to see the end, just the next step. Wherever we are on the journey, God, right now, is giving us everything we need to take the next step. To those who have, more will be given.

September 23, 2012 - Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 2.12, 17-20
Psalm 54.3-8
James 3:16-4.3
Mark 9.30-37

A person’s actions reveal their psychology, above all their fears. St. James teaches in the second reading today that wars and conflicts between people come from the conflict within each person. If we hate someone else, it is because we hate something inside ourself. Otherwise, we might pity them or teach them, but we would not hate them. If we are rivals with someone else, it is because we are unsure of ourself. Otherwise, we would just be glad to see someone succeed even more than we do.

Today the twelve Apostles were arguing about who was the greatest. In their culture, it was important to know the rankings of any group. The Twelve had been chosen from all Jesus’ disciples and had been elevated to a higher place. Clearly, Simon, who was renamed Peter, had the highest place within the Twelve. James and John were next, and they were brothers so they come as sort of a pair, but they wanted to replace Peter at the top, or at least their mother wanted them to. The other nine had to just fall in were they could. Perhaps Judas was fourth, since he carried the money bag. Maybe Andrew, since he was the brother of Simon Peter. This kind of ranking was important to them. That is why they were arguing along the way.

What were the Apostles afraid of? Perhaps they were afraid that they would have to serve instead of being served. Jesus reverses this by teaching them that the highest is the one who has to serve. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” This is most clearly stated after Jesus washes their feet at the Last Supper. To be first in the Kingdom of God is to be the one with the most responsibility to care for others.

Why would the Apostles be afraid to serve? Perhaps they think that the one who serves is unappreciated, unloved. They want to be the person whom Jesus gladly embraces as a friend, not the person who looks on at such a friendship while serving. John the Baptist knew that he was not worthy to loosen the strap on Jesus’ sandals, but the Apostles are acting like young girls who argue over who is whose best friend. No one wants to be a third wheel, part of the supporting cast.

This is a basic human fear, being left out. We hate or love inside jokes based on whether we are inside. We all want someone to appreciate us and someone to love us unconditionally. When Eve ate that fruit because she thought that it would make her like God, she was afraid that she would miss out on something if she did not. When Adam ate the fruit because he did not want to lose Eve, he was afraid of being alone again. When Cain killed Abel, he was afraid of not being with God the way Abel was. All sin can be traced to pride, and all pride is a reaction to this fear of being insignificant and unwanted.

Aristotle talked about six categories of people according to how moral they were. There is the beastly person who acts like an animal or even worse. There is the vicious person who does bad things and is not trying to be good. There is the incontinent person who is sort of trying to be good but is usually bad. There is the continent person who is trying harder to be good and generally succeeding. Then there is the virtuous person who is naturally good; they are good without really trying. These first five categories are useful distinctions, but it is the sixth category that we Christians are interested in: the divine human who acts like a god among human beings.

Of course, the only really divine human ever was Jesus Christ; he actually was God among humans, but the Saints are for us examples of what Aristotle meant. To meet a living Saint is to have an entirely new experience of humanity. We believe that, because of the Holy Spirit, it is possible for every Christian to become a Saint, a person who seems completely different. Such a person is a witness to the truth of the Gospel. Christianity without witnesses is only an interesting idea. A Saint is living proof that there is something to it.

So what makes a Saint different from the rest? What separates the divine human from the other five types? They have resolved their fear of being left out. Not by becoming anti-social or becoming their own best friend or anything like that. They have discovered Someone who loves them and who will never stop loving them no matter what. Someone who appreciates them the way an artist appreciates their own masterpiece. Someone who can never be hurt or destroyed or taken away. With a love like that, what is there to be afraid of?

Such a person will have finally gotten inside the innermost circle. How will people react to that? Everyone else can only consider themselves left out. They will react as in the first reading today. “Let us beset the just one for he is obnoxious to us.” Such a person will be martyred. Temptations will come from every side trying to prove that the Saint is not really different from the rest of us. Then cruelty will come, hoping to make the Saint lash out or break. “With reviling and torture, let us put him to the test that we may have proof of his gentleness.” Finally they will kill the Saint to be rid of him. “Let us condemn him to a shameful death.” So they treated Jesus; so they have treated innumerable Christians throughout history.

When we see a Saint we must either be filled with jealousy or envy. If it is envy, we will hate them. If it is jealousy, we will want to be like them. Jesus’ message was that it is possible to be like him. He spoke of his Father in heaven with whom he has an unimaginably close relationship, but he taught us to call him “Our Father in Heaven”. What more could God do to assure us that he loves us? Rather than protecting his favored position, Jesus is inviting us into the innermost circle. If only we could see that God loves us and that this love will never go away no matter what, we would want nothing else. We would have no fears or worries. We would become like gods walking among human beings. We would serve everyone and love everyone and build everyone up because we would have no reason to fear our loss at their gain. We would be Saints. We can be Saints.

September 22, 2012 - Saturday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 15:35-37, 42-49
Psalm 56:10-14
Luke 8:4-15

We are not yet what we ought to be. We are like an acorn in comparison to a tree. You plant the acorn and a tree grows. If the acorn wondered what sort of acorn it will be when it is a tree, it is missing the point that a tree is not an acorn at all. The acorn will have to be destroyed in order to become an oak tree. So we will have to be destroyed, torn down and built back up, in order to become immortal. God has great plans for us. Step one is our destruction. If God accomplished this without our cooperation, there would be nothing left to save in the end, but if we cooperate in our own destruction, in the tearing down of that selfish, weak, wicked self, then there will be something that remains through the process of growth and change: the part of us that cooperates will last.

How are we going to be destroyed? Jesus says that we are like the ground, and the seed is the Word of God, because when we hear the word, it is still something external to us, like a seed on the ground. Then we accept the word, and embrace it, and allow it to put down roots in our hearts. When the seed has grown and the roots have gone through every bit of soil so that the roots and the soil have become one, and the roots have even gone through every rock and broken it to pieces, when it is no longer clear where we end and the word of God begins, then we are ready for immortality.

We are so conditioned to fight for our own identity, to defend ourself against any attack. If someone says that we are not good enough, our first instinct is to prove that we are. We have to overcome this desire because of a greater desire. More than we want to defend who we are, we want to become who we could be. We accept the word of God even to our own destruction. It feels like giving in, but unlike every other attack on our identity, this comes from someone who loves us, who has great plans for us. It feels like starting over, but everything worth keeping will survive the change. We Christians are not afraid of death, because, if we are doing it right, we have spent our whole lives dying for that moment.

September 21, 2012 - Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist

Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13
Psalm 19:2-5
Matthew 9:9-13

We celebrate the conversion of St. Paul each year as a special feast day, but his conversion was from hypocritical Pharisaism to Christianity. Both before and after his conversion, he could be called a “religious person”. For St. Paul, we could say that the only real change was his knowledge of who Jesus Christ was and what he had done. Of course, this knowledge changed everything, but his conversion was from being a good Pharisee to being a good Christian.

St. Matthew, in contrast, whose feast we celebrate today, was a sinner. All the Apostles were sinners of course, but St. Matthew was a sinner as the world sees these things. He was a tax collector. Since the taxes were going to the Roman government that was persecuting Israel, this means that Matthew was a man willing to live on the margins of society in exchange for money. Matthew was the kind of person whom people spit on as he walked down the street. He was the kind of person whom parents warned their children about. He was a traitor and a thief. In exchange for this status, he was one of the wealthier men in his society.

But Matthew wanted more than the life he was leading. Jesus merely said to him, “Follow me.” We know that Jesus does not control the free will of the people he speaks to. Matthew was not forced to get up and follow Jesus, yet he did so without deliberation. Clearly, Matthew had been waiting for Jesus to come, even if he did not know who or what he was waiting for. Those words were the impetus he needed to do what he had obviously wanted to do all along: leave behind his life of sin and start over.

Jesus represented that opportunity to Matthew, and he represents that opportunity to us. He is always calling us. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is preventing us from letting go of sin and following Jesus. It may be hard, or rather, it will be hard. Matthew walked away from a job, from a pile of money, from friends, probably from a girlfriend too, and followed Jesus. Sometimes there is no time to just take care of a few things, no time to wait for a convenient exit; sometimes we just have to follow Jesus and trust that he can make us as happy as we have always wished we could be.

September 20, 2012 - Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 28
Luke 7:36-50

Simon the Pharisee wondered whether Jesus was a prophet, so he invited him to dinner. He is sure that Jesus would know the sins of the woman who was washing his feet, if he were. Well, Jesus did know her sins, and he proved it. Simon asked himself a question, and Jesus answered, proving that he knew not only the woman’s sins, but the internal thoughts of Simon the Pharisee.

The point of Jesus’ parable is that those who have not been brought low by sin and raised high by grace think that they stand proud and independent. Simon thought that he was in a position to judge whether Jesus was really a prophet. The woman knew that she was lucky to be in a position to wash his feet.

They invited Jesus to dinner in order to find out who he really is. They found out. He is not only a prophet. He is the one who can forgive sins. He is humble enough to come and be judged by foolish Pharisees, but he acknowledges how he ought to have been treated: like an honored guest whose feet are washed, like a friend who is greeted with a kiss, like a king whose head is anointed with oil.

So should Simon and his friends go out and rack up a huge debt to God by sinning wildly so that they can be forgiven and love like the woman? Should they sin so that grace will abound? By no means. There is no such need. The pride of Simon the Pharisee is enough. If he repents of his pride, if he is saved from being a judgmental jerk, he will have plenty to be grateful to God for. St. Paul was a Pharisee, like Simon. He persecuted the Church. He thought that he was righteous, but when he saw Christ and was converted, he realized that he was a sinner.

So whether we are a sinner like the woman or a sinner like St. Paul, we do not need to worry: we have plenty to be forgiven for. If anyone is concerned that they have been Christian since their youth and have no great sins to repent, then they can be grateful for what they were saved from. Everyone can thank God either for forgiveness of sins or the grace to avoid sins. Either way, no one, not even his immaculate mother, can stand proud before Jesus, without gratitude.

September 19, 2012 - Wednesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 12.31-13:13
Psalm 33.2-3, 4-5, 12+22 Resp. 12
Luke 7.31-35

“If God really loves us, why didn’t he just put us in heaven right from the beginning?” I have heard this question so many times. The question is sincere, but such a misunderstanding of what heaven is. You might say to a small child, studying the alphabet, “If you work hard at this, someday you can take over our family business.” If that child then turned to you and said, “If you really loved me, you would put me in charge of the family business now”, what would you respond? It is not that they would do the work badly; they just would not do the work at all. It would make no sense to them. It is completely outside their framework of reality. What do people imagine that heaven is? A big free resort? No. Heaven is an activity. It makes no sense to speak of God putting us in heaven. The question is whether we are doing heaven.

Love, which is the activity of heaven, is something we practice here. Indeed, the purpose of life here on earth is to become an expert at love. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. Since I have become a man, the childish ways have ceased.” I have become mature in my body and in my intellect. Everyone grows up in their body, but without good nutrition and exercise, the body never becomes what it should be. Most everyone grows up in their intellect, but without a good education, the mind never becomes what it should be. The spiritual component of a human, without a training in love becomes twisted and atrophies. Some people, in their spirituality, are still infants, untrained, weak, immature. The solution is love. Love is both the only sure sign of spiritual maturity and the cause of it. The purpose of life is to learn how to love. The only way to learn how to love is to start doing it. Like a toddler, taking its first steps, slowly learns to walk, so we, weakly and with many falls, learn to love. One day the toddler begins to run and nobody can stop them, and someday love will not be a laborious chore, and we will run and then fly, and that is what heaven is.

September 18, 2012 - Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 12.12-14, 27-31a
Psalm 100.1b-2, 3, 4, 5 Resp. 3
Luke 7.11-17

Some Christians will say that they support peace and justice. Other Christians will say that they are pro-life. The pro-life Christians say to the others that the most important issue of peace and justice in our world is the child in the womb. The peace and justice Christians say to the others that if they really cared about life, they would care about it after it was born. These divisions come from Satan. There is only one division in this world: those who are working toward the Kingdom of God and those who are not.

We Christians are all one body. The nose should not reprimand the tongue for being too obsessed with taste instead of smell. We are all working together toward the same goal. If one person is working to preserve the true definition of marriage, and someone else is working to see that the hungry are fed, and someone else is working to retrain the unemployed, and someone else is working to end abortion, they ought to support each other in every way. They are all working for the good. We are not Republicans or Democrats. We are Christians, and we must refuse to allow any partisan spirit to infiltrate the Church. The only spirit in the Church is the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is against abortion and in favor of taking care of the poor. The Holy Spirit could not get elected by any party these days.

Nobody has to do it all. That would be a silly goal, as if the entire weight of the Church rested on one person’s shoulders. When a person who dedicates their life to ending abortion meets a fellow Christian who has dedicated their life to ending poverty, they ought to embrace and celebrate each other’s work. When St. Dominic and St. Francis met, they embraced. Dominic had founded an order of studying priests who preached in convincing words. Francis had founded an order of non-studying non-priests who were told to preach without words. But they were both getting the work done, and that is all that mattered. We are one body in Christ, and each person ought to take up the particular responsibilities that God calls them to. We all have some work to do. God has designated some work for each of us. If I get my work done, and you get your work done, that is how the work gets done.

September 17, 2012 - Monday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 11.17-26, 33
Psalm 40.7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 17 Resp. 1 Corinthians 11:26b
Luke 7.1-10

Tradition has the ability to endow anything with power. If someone had just come up with trick-or-treating on Halloween, everyone would agree that it is probably not a good idea, but it is a tradition, so we are obligated. It has been done, so we keep on doing it. For some people, religion is just a matter of tradition. On one level this is good. A baby is born, and without really knowing why, the parents who have not been to church in years start planning the baptism. Traditions have power for good. But we cannot stop there. Traditions are fun, but some are good and some are bad and some are just useless. Why would I believe whatever stories and practices my parents handed on to me just because they were handed on? We might think of Christianity as an old religion, steeped in tradition, but it is merely 2000 years old. Eighty generations ago, it was brand new. The fact that we are Christians means that someone, probably not even 80 generations ago, abandoned their ancient traditions in favor of what they thought was the truth. I would rather believe in Jesus like one of those ancient converts, abandoning all traditions because they had found something real, than simply because my father and mother believed in him.

When we speak of tradition in Christianity, we do not mean solemn old practices handed down for generations. A Christian tradition is something else. We believe that there was a man who was also God. He walked on earth and spoke to people. In Jesus Christ, the divine entered the world. If Jesus were walking on earth today, I would go and listen to every word he had to say, but I cannot go to Jesus now. My only connection to Jesus is through tradition. We receive Communion because this is what he told us to do. We read the Gospel because these are the words that were handed on. It is the closest we can come to sitting at his feet. Christian tradition is our link to Jesus. The only way I can know what he said is if someone who heard him will tell me, and if this information has to come to me secondhand or 80th-hand, I will take it, however I can get it. Christian traditions, unlike human traditions, do not gain their power from generations of practice, but from their source, Jesus Christ.

September 16, 2012 - Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 50:5-9
Psalm 116:1-6, 8-9
James 2:14-18
Mark 8:27-35

Zombies are very, very scary. I think zombies might be the scariest of all the monsters. Zombies are so scary because they seem like they are alive but then you realize that they are not. St. James is talking about zombies today. Zombie Christians. They seem like they have the new life of Christ. They sing the songs and say all the right words, but then you suddenly realize that their faith is dead. They are here among us. In truth, we are all of us in danger of becoming a zombie at any moment.

In the movies, zombies walk down the street moaning, “Braaaaaiiiiins!” That is not so distant from somebody wandering through life calling out “Muuuuhnneeey!” or “Viiiideo Gaaaaaaames!” or any of the other obsessions that people have in this world that make them oblivious to the needs of people around them. What good does it do anyone to believe that Jesus suffered and died for us if they spend every moment of their own life in self-indulgence? The Resurrection cannot be simply a bit of trivia in the mind of a Christian. When Jesus rose from the dead, that was an invitation for each one of us to rise from our dreary and dead purposeless lives to a new life where we forget ourselves and love other people. That is what it means to be alive in Christ.

How can we be fully alive? Jesus says, “Deny yourself.” Self-denial means learning to say “no” to ourself. The world does not understand why we should deny ourself anything. They think they feel most alive when they are without restriction. This is obviously false. If I eat without restriction until I weigh 1000 pounds, I am not fully alive. If I drink without restriction until I cannot control my actions, I am not fully alive. If I watch TV without restriction until I cannot go to sleep at night, I am not fully alive.

Is this what we say when we see someone in the throes of addiction: “Look how alive they are?” No, they look like a zombie. True freedom does not come when we throw away every restriction. True freedom comes when we cast off every chain holding us back, every time-wasting, money-wasting, effort-wasting, life-wasting chain holding us back. Addictions to food, pornography, the internet, television, alcohol, and drugs do not make a person free. When morality tells us that such and such a thing is wrong, it is simply saying that this thing will kill us or at least prevent us from being fully alive.

Time is the measure of life. Every day that we wake up, until the last, we have 24 hours to spend. To waste time, to kill time is to be a zombie. Some time we have to spend on ourselves: sleeping, eating, working, etc. This time is simply being used to sustain life. Every hour we spend on ourselves is in support of what we will do with the rest of the time. We put all this effort into keeping ourselves alive and educated and rested, so what are we going to do? If we deny our desire to simply kill the time, what will we do with it? What action could be so great that it is worth all the effort that we have to put into ourself? Anything less than love is an insufficient answer. If a person needs 23 hours a day to stay alive just so that each day they can love for 1 hour, they are fully alive. If a person needs 12 hours a day to stay alive and is just bored for the other 12 hours, they are a zombie. If we never get around to serving others, we are like plants that never flower.

Jesus says, “Take up your cross.” Sometimes, when people talk about this verse, they speak of our cross as our suffering. Anything from arthritis to disabilities to other people can be called “my cross”. This is a half-truth. The central mystery of the cross is not that Jesus suffered and died, but that he suffered and died for us. A cross is not whatever difficulties we happen to have in life. Everyone has difficulties; we have no choice about that. We take up the daily cross when we give our lives out of love for someone. Indeed any suffering we experience in life can be a cross, but only if we embrace it and offer it.

When we help someone, we, if only for a moment, deny our own importance and acknowledge their importance. When we help someone, we are giving our life, if only a small portion of it, for them. Perhaps this seems exaggerated to say that I gave my life to someone, but what is life other than a series of minutes? To give a few minutes to help someone is to give a little bit of your life for them. This is how we can imitate Jesus who gave his life for us.

The last part of what Jesus says is “Follow me.” To follow someone simply means to be with them wherever they go. Our way of being with God is prayer. As we converse with God, chains will bind our heart to him. Then, no matter where the world goes, we will stay close to him. As wonderful as spending our life helping others is, as indispensable as that is, it is not the highest use of our time. The greatest use of our life is spending time with God in prayer.

So this is what it means to be fully alive. We do not want to become zombies. We come to Mass and think ourselves as Christians, but the way of living that Jesus is calling us to is not exactly how we live. It is attractive, the idea of living in such a real way, but is it possible? That is what we have the Saints for. They are proof for us that it is possible to be fully alive. Of course we are going to sin, of course we are going to fail, of course we will be selfish and waste time. That is what Confession is for. But as long as we never give up but keep beginning again to live for others and follow God, there is a spark of life in us that someday, in this world or the next, will burst into flame. Why wait? Why not begin living the new life of Christ right now?

September 15, 2012 - Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

Hebrews 5:7-9
Psalm 31:2-6, 15-16, 20
John 19:25-27 or Luke 2:33-35

Today we remember the sorrows of our Blessed Mother, Mary, above all the sorrow of seeing her son die on the Cross. Perhaps you are wondering, “Didn’t she always know that he was going to die?” Without a doubt she did. “And didn’t she hope that he would rise?” She held to this hope with great fidelity. “And still she mourned the crucifixion?” She mourned more profoundly than we have ever mourned. Who is more compassionate than Mary, except her own son?

The sorrow of Mary was a deep sorrow. Mary was a perfect human person because she never sinned, but this does not mean that we should imagine her as an unfeeling person, occupying ethereal realms. Because of her perfection, she loved more deeply than we can. Because of this love, she felt the pain of loss more acutely than we do.

The sorrow of Mary, unlike our own, was pure. Our own sorrows are always mixed up with selfishness. Either we do not feel what we should because we have trouble seeing beyond ourselves, or we feel bad because of what we have lost. Mary did not mourn because her son would not be around to support her. She mourned because she saw the suffering of the one she loved, and she felt his pain and sorrow as acutely as he felt it himself.

The sorrow of Mary was not a useless sorrow. We can only imagine how Jesus felt seeing his mother in sorrow. Surely it caused him some pain, but it also was a great support. The rest of the world might be cruel and selfish, but the face of his mother was the one place he could rest his eyes, seeing in her the image and likeness that he had put in us when he created us.

The sorrow of Mary was not a sorrow without hope. She knew with certain hope that Jesus would rise from the dead. Her hope did not keep her from feeling keen pain, nor did the pain keep her from expecting his Resurrection.

Mary is our mother. Like every good mother, she teaches us; she is an example for us in how to live. When we see her mourning, we ought to be admire such perfect emotions. We should spend time with her at the foot of the Cross, begging her to teach us to have sorrow like her sorrow.

September 14, 2012 - Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 78:1-2, 34-38
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. The people looked upon the serpent and they were healed. We look upon Christ and we are healed. What were the people healed of? Snake bites. They looked at an image of the very thing that was killing them. So it is also with us: when we see Christ crucified we are looking at an example of the very illness we want healed. When we look at a crucifix, we are looking at sin and death. What greater symbol of sin exists? Violence and pride and every evil are contained in the act of crucifying the one who loves us. More than this, our enemy is death and when we see Jesus dead on the Cross we see death itself.

Is this just magic? No, the bronze serpent did not heal the Israelites; God did. We are saved by faith. As Jesus tells us, “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Jesus was crucified so that, believing in him, we would have eternal life. We look upon him whom we have killed and, believing that he is God, we enter into his death, and by dying with him we will also rise with him.

Jesus was obedient, even to death on the Cross. We see this and enter into that obedience, even to the particular death destined for each of us. Remember that you are going to die. Death is not optional! Every moment of life is preparation for your death, preparation to die together with Jesus. Your death will probably come sooner than you expect. Be ready to die; be ready to die today.

Today we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, how two simple pieces of wood became glorious beyond measure because of how they helped save the world by participating in the death of Jesus Christ. Consider how the beams were once part of a living tree. They died and, in death, became united forever with the death of Jesus Christ. We are these beams of wood. We must be as closely united to Christ as he was to that Cross, no room in between for anything else. We must die with Christ and then be exalted.

September 13, 2012 - Thursday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 8:1-7, 11-13
Psalm 139:1-3, 13-14, 23-24
Luke 6:27-38

Love. Love. Love. Love. Love is all we need. Love your brothers and sisters. Love your enemies. Love the one who hits you. Love the one who steals from you. Love those who hate you. Love those who curse you. Love sinners. Love everybody. If we do that, we will be children of God, who loves everybody. What does it mean to love? Our readings today give us some practical advice. Love means being merciful. Love means not judging and not condemning. Love means thinking of others before we act. Love means forgiving. Love means giving.

God is love. God gives. God gave us the power to give, to be like him. The more we give, the more like him we are. This is the irony of original sin. Satan told Eve that if she took the fruit and ate it she would be like God, but God never took anything. Taking is the most un-Godlike action that anyone can ever do. When you look at the 10 Commandments, they can be thought of as “Give. Don’t Take. Give. Give. Don’t take. Don’t Take. Don’t Take. Give. Don’t even think about taking. Don’t even think about taking.”

Love means giving without thought for ourselves. This seems hard. If we do not provide for ourself, who is going to? That is the secret. So long as I continue providing for myself, begrudging every small gift which I give out of my limited means, I will be under the impression that my only support is me. If I take Jesus’ advice, and turn all my energy outward into giving, I will find that there is one far richer than I am. This is why St. Francis was richer than Rockefeller. By embracing poverty, he had all the wealth of God.

So this is how it is: everyone gives to themself, and wants God to give them even more. And this is how it supposed to be: everyone gives to others, and God provides for them. Ever since that day in the garden, we have been trained to reach out and take what we want. Jesus is telling us to love by giving. All our inertia is headed in the wrong direction, and we will not find it easy to turn it completely around from taking to giving, but, if we do, our view of life, the universe, and everything will be completely changed.

September 12, 2012 - Wednesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 7.25-31
Psalm 45.11-12, 14-15, 16-17 Resp. 11
Luke 6.20-26

In the psalm, the princess is told to forget her former life, because she will be building a new life now. She should forget her nation and her father’s house, because she will have sons instead. It is true that she will always be a daughter, but she is crossing the threshold where she will be seen not as the daughter of her parents but as the mother of her children. None of us are likely to be in the position of an pre-modern princess, but we still proclaim this psalm because we Christians are in a similar situation. We are called to leave behind this life and begin building our new life. In the Gospel, Jesus blesses those who lack something and curses those who have everything they want. If this life has all we need, then we will be unwilling to be torn away from it, but we will have to leave it anyway. The rich will weep because their Lexus is no more.

St. Paul assures us that this world is passing away. He recommends a radical shift in perspective, away from the old, toward the new. This is difficult when we cannot be sure of how much time is left. We do not know if this world will be around for another day or another 10,000 years. Since St. Paul wrote these words, almost 2000 years have passed. Would he have expected that a child in his time would grow up, have a family, live a full life, and die, all without the world ending?

But the end of the world is not only true in a literal, general way. It is also true in a personal way. Not merely that we will die someday and that will be our own little end of the world. The end of our world is something we work toward. Every choice we make is either in favor of the old way, or in favor of the new way. We make the old world end when we choose the new world. When the end of the world comes, whether generally speaking or our own death, we will be prepared by whether we chose the new world in our life. If we lived stuck in the old world, death is scary because it is the end. If we lived striving for the new world, death is exciting because it is the beginning.

September 11, 2012 - Tuesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

A lawsuit proves that there is injustice somewhere. Either one member or the other is choosing injustice over justice, greed over love. If each person was following the command of Jesus to turn the other cheek, to put up with a little unfairness, there would be no disagreement. A lawsuit is proof that one of the two is causing a great deal of injustice. Either the plaintiff is using a lawsuit to rob his brother, or the defendant has so persecuted his brother that he has no choice except to beg for justice. If the lawsuit is just to sort out a misunderstanding about what happened and what responsibility each person has, then why not just have another Christian, someone wise, listen and help clear the situation? The only reason to bring lawyers and judges into the case would be that one of the parties to the suit is not willing to pay their fair share and must be forced to do so. In every lawsuit, someone is trying to steal money from someone else.

How many Christians have given up the Kingdom of God for a pittance? They embraced the Gospel and then abandoned it for a little money. If some king had offered to pay them to abandon the faith, they would have defied him, but when a chance to make a little money appears, they gladly abandon the faith to rob their brother. This is true not only of money, as the examples that St. Paul cites show. Four of the examples concern sex, more than anything else. Three concern money. The other three are idolatry, slander, and alcohol. These are all examples of what Christians sell their salvation for. St. Paul is reminding the Corinthians that they have been washed, sanctified, and justified. It is time to leave all that behind, all of the addictive ways of acting. They have never had the power to make us happy, though they always lie and claim that they will.

It is time to rise above all that. It is not possible to be a follower of Christ while still accepting these addictions. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ has given us the power to change. It is possible for the dead to rise. Not only the physically dead, but also the spiritually dead. And that resurrection has to come before the physical one. We must not give up following God at any price.

September 10, 2012 - Monday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 5:1-8
Psalm 5:5-7, 12
Luke 6:6-11

St. Paul just finished writing to the Corinthians something that Jesus used to say: “Stop judging!” Then he turns to the subject of today’s reading and writes: “I have pronounced judgment on the one who has committed this deed.” Is he forgetful? He is just a hypocrite? He tells others to stop judging; he says that he accepts no human judgment on himself, then he immediately turns to judge this other man. A lot of people do this. They are quick with the “judge not”s when the judgment is against them, but they are just as quick to pronounce their own judgment. They often criticize the weaknesses of others as being completely unreasonable while considering their own weaknesses to be human foibles.

But St. Paul was not speaking of the same thing the first time and the second time, though he used the same word. In the first case, he means that we should not judge Christians like contestants in a beauty contest. In the second case, he means that the man is clearly guilty of a specific crime and ought to be treated as guilty. This distinction is necessary to understand the prohibition against judging in Christianity. It does not mean that we ignore sin as if it did not matter. It means that when we look at a person, our first instinct is not to rate them on a scale of one to ten. When one of the Corinthian Christians has chosen to get together with his step-mother, that objective action must be condemned.

If a Christian chooses to defy the laws of God, they must not simultaneously pretend that they are keeping the laws of God. This is the basis for our rules on Communion. Sometimes people act as if there were a special law that said that divorced people living with someone else cannot receive Communion, but there is not. No one can receive Communion if they have decided to ignore one of God’s laws. A thief who steals for a living cannot receive Communion. A hitman who kills people on a regular basis cannot receive Communion. Anyone who decides that one of the Commandments does not apply to them cannot receive Communion, because someone cannot both be a follower of Christ and not be a follower of his laws. There is a difference between someone failing to keep the law and someone choosing to ignore it.

Sites Are Down

Google is having a problem with custom domains today. is still up, but the other 3 sites are all down. There is nothing I can do, except wait for Google to fix them.

In the meantime, I updated the links at the top to go to the working links. If you have the links bookmarked or favorited, they will not work until google fixes their problem. It is necessary to come the main site and then go to the link. Some links will not work, like the readings link in each homily.

Kindle and Email subscriptions should not be affected by these issues.

September 9, 2012 - Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 35:4-7
Psalm 146:7-10
James 2:1-5
Mark 7:31-37

There is a strong contrast between our Gospel and our second reading today. Jesus heals a deaf man with a groan toward heaven. St. James warns us about making distinctions between rich and poor parishioners. On the one hand: miracles, on the other: the practical structure. That is the Church: miracles and structure. Without structure, how would we get anything done? Without miracles, what would be the point of all the structure? We have built a worldwide structure of dioceses and parishes in order to tell everyone about Jesus, but what people want are the miracles: to be healed, to be changed, to be forgiven by God. The Holy Spirit can bring the miracles, but only where there are people to work them.

The dilemma that St. James addresses is still present today: how do we build up the Church without betraying the reason for the Church? If a poor person of no renown joins the Church, we do not stop them, but when a famous person, a wealthy person, an important person joins the Church, we make sure that they feel very welcome. Of course we act this way, because it will not make the news that just another poor person wants to join, but when a celebrity goes through RCIA we can expect paparazzi at the Easter Vigil.

And wealthy people in the Church, we cannot deny, get special attention when they are very generous. They are named Knights of the Holy Sepulchre; they might get to meet the Pope; they certainly meet the bishop a few times each year. Does God want their money? No. He has no use for it. But let us be honest, the Church does. I like it when these lights are on and there is heat in the winter, air conditioning in the summer, microphones and speakers, food for me to eat, and who will provide for the poor if not those who are able to?

As I said, God does not want anyone’s money, but he does want their generosity. God wants each of us to know what it is to give to others. A greater amount does not signify a greater generosity. Jesus says that the poor widow who gave one dollar was more generous than all the others because they gave out of their abundance but she gave out of her poverty, but when it actually was time to repair the temple, her small gift would only buy a little and the larger gifts, though they were less generous, would do most of the work.

So what are we to do? In the ideal Christian community, everyone gives as much as they are able and then promptly forgets how much each person gave. In the world as it is, someone who gives a very large gift wants to be certain that it will not be wasted, and often, the people who are able to give the most are the people whom the pastor most needs to consult on the financial care of the parish since they have the connections and the experience in business.

So what should we do? Do we need to make distinctions among ourselves, giving recognition to those who make our ministry possible? Yes, but having admitted the importance of money I will not agree that it is all-important or even the most important. I know a woman, a poor woman, who works so hard in her parish and prays so fervently that everywhere she goes a great devotion to Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament springs up. When she moved, she left behind Perpetual Adoration with every hour doubly filled, and immediately began strengthening the devotion in her new parish. If I had to choose between her moving into my parish or a generous millionaire, I know who has more to offer.

Perhaps it seems unfair that the rich only have to write a check, and the famous only have to agree to appear at the parish festival, while the contributions of the poor, unless they are very extraordinary, are likely to go unnoticed, but this world is unfair like that. I think that the responsibility of the ministers of the Church is not to ignore generous wealthy people but to be observant and see the generosity of every parishioner: the person who organizes Communion to the homebound, the person who puts in untold hours on the fundraiser, the person who makes sure that there is food at every funeral. I have heard people say, “If I won the lottery, I would give quite a donation to the Church.” How nice, but imaginary money does not get the lights lit. The guy who comes in on his day off to change the bulbs does though.

Sure, if there were enough money, we could hire people to do all that, but that would be a very sad parish. Not really alive, just pretending. Anyway, we could not hire people to spend hours every day in prayer, and I know that there are parishioners who do that. We could not hire people to work miracles, and what kind of Church would we be without miracles? We could not hire people to love other people for us, and without love we would be dead.

So let us treat the rich man who comes into church well. Let us say, “Sit here please.” Then, let us treat the poor man who comes into church well. Let us say, “Sit right next to him please.” I do not think that St. James is telling us to treat everyone equally badly. We should be going out of our way to treat everyone equally well. We should welcome each person to this church the way we would welcome a king or the richest man, the way we would welcome Jesus.

Sure, there will be distinctions in this world: honors and dinners and such, but these will be overturned in the end. The first reading is all about how the ways of this world are going to be overturned. There will be water in the desert, the blind will see, the mute will sing, and everyone will receive their recompense from God. The rich will be responsible to Jesus for whether they were generous enough with what he gave them; the famous will be responsible to Jesus for whether they used their God-given talents to glorify God rather than themselves; and every person will be responsible in this same way for how we used the money, the talents, the time, the strength, the health, and everything else that God gave us.

September 8, 2012 - Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Micah 5:1-4 or Romans 8:28-30
Psalm 13:6
Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23

I count 59 people in that genealogy; maybe that is off one way or the other, but it is quite a few people. They are mostly just names to us, but behind every name there is a person. If you have read the Old Testament a few times you know a little about many of them and a lot about a few of them, but even these, like Abraham or David, lived long lives of which we only know a few stories. They all are gathered here in the reading today because they form the ancestors of Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, according to his human nature.

His most immediate ancestor, the woman from whom he took flesh and blood to form his body, is Mary, the Mother of God. Today we celebrate her birthday, which is a good day to remember that she too lived an entire life of which we only know a few events and a few facts. She probably had a favorite food and a favorite color and a few art projects that Jesus made for her when he was little. She lived for many years after Pentecost. As she became an old woman, did she continue to participate in daily life or simply contemplate the mysteries she had been part of? Today she is the Queen of Heaven, higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim, but on this day a little over 2000 years ago, she was a baby, the daughter of poor parents. As far as the Emperors of Rome and China and India were concerned, she was nobody at all.

There are a lot of nobodies in this world. Indeed, the nobodies far outnumber the somebodies. But really, nobody is a nobody. Each person has their own story and desires, hopes and dreams. More importantly, each person is loved by God and has the potential to be loved by us. Every human life, from the perspective of eternity, is either a tragedy or a triumph. Every human being is important in the only sense that really matters: every human being is important to God.

“Brothers and sisters: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” God knew us before he created us, and we are destined to become great, maybe not as this world judges us, but God will make us perfect and then he will glorify us, and that is the only greatness worth having.

September 7, 2012 - Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Psalm 37:3-6, 27-28, 39-40
Luke 5:33-39

St. Paul tells the Corinthians that he and the other Apostles should be regarded not as leaders in their own right but as stewards of the mysteries of God. God has entrusted the Apostles with the task of carrying the Gospel to the ends of the earth. They did not own the Gospel; they held it in trust for the sake of the whole world. It was their sacred duty to bring this most precious gift to all those whom God had known ahead of time would believe and become Christians.

Jesus spent three years working publicly before dying on the Cross. This was not primarily to make disciples. Most of his followers abandoned him by the end. He preached to the crowds, but they misunderstood and returned home. He healed the sick and cast out demons, but not even this ministry was the true purpose of those years. Those years were, as he explains to the Pharisees today, to prepare the Apostles. He had new wine, and he had to prepare the Apostles to be new wineskins, capable of holding the wine. It was always the plan of Jesus to save the world through the Apostles.

We might ask why God chose to save the world through sinful humans. Christ appeared to St. Paul on the way to Damascus. Why did he not simply appear to everyone who would become Christian? Why does God trust the Church to be the steward of his mysteries? Over and over again the leaders of the Church have been found untrustworthy. Even the best have made mistakes. Nevertheless, God insists on saving humanity through the work of human beings.

This was the fulfillment of the Incarnation. Jesus became human in order to suffer and die for us, in order to be the first human to rise from the dead. If this message were distributed only in a spiritual way, it would not be incarnate; the Gospel would not really be part of this world. So God chose to deliver it to each person in the normal human way. The Bible is a book like every other book. Our parents and other people teach us the faith just like they teach us history and science and every other subject. In this way, the supernatural has become an integral part of the natural world, and our faith is not something external or foreign to us.

September 6, 2012 - Thursday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 3:18-23
Psalm 24:1-6
Luke 5:1-11

St. Peter would not have considered himself a wise man. He was a simple man, a fisherman, but he did think that he knew a thing or two about fishing. He at least would have claimed for himself this kind of practical wisdom. He knew what time of day to go fishing, and he knew where to fish. It says a lot that he was willing to listen to Jesus. He does not say, “Carpentry and preaching is your thing; leave the fishing to me.” He warns Jesus not to expect much, but obeys his command.

All night long, while they worked hard and caught nothing, perhaps they wondered were God was. Maybe they even prayed for fish and saw no answer to their prayers. They did not know that the night without fish was a preparation for the sign that Jesus would work. They did not know that their prayers, their desires, their needs would all be answered in the morning. During the hours of the night, if someone had come and said, “Now where is your God who promises to provide for you?” They would have had no answer.

One night, one year, 50 years: it does not matter. Just because God has not answered our prayers yet does not mean that he will not answer them. We do not know what he will do, in his own time. Are we so wise that we can tell God what he should be doing? We should let him know our needs and desires. He is our Father. We should tell him these things when we pray. But then, when we do not receive what we ask for within our timeframe, our attitude should not be that of the spoiled child who kicks and screams but of the trusting child who keeps asking while never doubting that they will receive.

The day will come when we receive what we ask for. Sometimes we will not wait long. Sometimes the whole night will pass, the opportunity will seem over, and then the answer comes. Everything belongs to us: the world, life, death, the present, the future, all belong to us, and we belong to God. I trust that God’s time is better than my time and his answer is better than what I asked for. Not better in a resigned-to-fate-I-suppose-that-is-better kind of way. Better in a I-would-not-exchange-it-for-what-I-thought-I-wanted-even-if-I-could kind of way.

September 05, 2012 - Wednesday of the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Psalm 33:12-15, 20-21
Luke 4:38-44

We are told that “at sunset, all who had people sick with various diseases brought them to him.” They had seen him at the synagogue the night before. They had watched him cast a demon out of a man with nothing more than the authority of his words. Then they went home, and Jesus healed another woman on the Sabbath, and perhaps everyone heard about this too. The people waited until the next evening, but, as soon as they could, they brought all the sick people to him.

Imagine the struggle and the joy of going home to a sick son or daughter, mother or father, sister or brother, knowing that the man at the synagogue could cure them, but still waiting a whole day until the Sabbath was over. During that time of waiting, they clung to hope. They hoped that the man would not leave town. They hoped that he would heal their relative. They went to bed that night full of hope, and it did not disappoint. There is a hope waiting for us in heaven. We cling to this hope while we wait here on earth for our own personal healing.

Surely most of the people had doubts while they waited. Had they really seen what they thought they saw or was it some kind of trick? Would the man be willing to heal their loved one? Their hope lived on the promise of the two who had already been healed. So it is for us. If we begin to doubt the power of God to heal our souls, we should look and see some of the people who have already been healed.

The existence of these people, the Saints, strengthens our hope. Another soul has been healed; perhaps my soul too can be healed. We need to see Saints, to see the healing God has effected in their lives, so that we can continue to believe in the healing that we hope to receive. We need to see Saints in books and stories and in our elders, who may not be perfect in the way of St. Francis or St. Therese but many of them have experienced a remarkable healing of their soul. While we are waiting here anxiously, wondering, doubting, hoping, these glimpses confirm the possibility of being healed.

September 4, 2012 - Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 2:10-16
Psalm 145:8-14
Luke 4:31-37

Is it possible for a human to know the mind of the Lord? Definitely! Jesus Christ, in his human nature, knows the will of the Father. But can a merely human person know the will of God? St. Paul answers yes. “We have the mind of Christ.” This is because the Holy Spirit lives within us. We received the Spirit from God so that we might know the things that were freely given to us by God.

This is why the Holy Spirit is called “the Holy Spirit”. Our relationship with the Father is like a human’s relationship with God, completely beyond words or knowledge. Our relationship with the Son is human to human, face to face, in human words. Our relationship with the Holy Spirit is human to spirit. Ancient people knew what that meant because they had often seen possessions by evil spirits.

Not that it is exactly the same. The difference between how the Holy Spirit dwells in us versus how the evil spirits possess a person is as enormous as the difference between the Holy Spirit and the evils spirits. The evil spirits, once they possess a person, control them against their will. The Holy Spirit gives us power and knowledge but never forces us. Spirits cannot enter without permission, but evil spirits will take anything as a pretext: dealing with magic or fortune-telling or choosing a life of sin or hating God. The Holy Spirit only enters through the Sacraments, with our explicit permission.

Modern people disregard magic and fortune-telling because we do not believe that they are real, but the evil spirits are able to work acts of power. The evil spirit in the Gospel today has knowledge. He sees Jesus and recognizes him. Evil spirits can do impressive things and share secret knowledge, but remember, they hate us. Anything they do or tell us is for the purpose of harming us. They enter into people to use them for their purposes. The Holy Spirit, however, loves us. His acts are always for our good, what he teaches us helps us, and he does not act unless we cooperate. We do not want the evil spirits no matter what their power is. We want the Holy Spirit, even though his presence is hard to see. He does not shout or push, since this would take away our free will, but if we cooperate, he will do amazing things.

September 3, 2012 - Labor Day

Genesis 1.26-2.3 OR Genesis 2.4b-9, 15 OR 1 Thessalonians 4.1b-2, 9-12 OR 2 Thessalonians 3.6-12, 16
Psalm 90.2, 3-5a, 12-13, 14+16 Resp. 17b OR Psalm 127.1, 2 Resp. 1ac
Matthew 6.21-34 OR Matthew 25.14-30

The problem the St. Paul is confronting with the Thessalonians is referred to by economists as the tragedy of the commons. It is why communism does not work. Because of the ideal that Jesus put forward, like in this Gospel, the early Christians set up communes, but these were given up before very long. Communism does work in monasteries and convents where people work as much as they can and take as little as they need. It will always fail in the larger world where people work as little as they can and take as much as they want.

The problem with communism is reflected in our psalm today: “Lord, give success to the work of our hands.” Humans need to have that dignity which comes from seeing the work of their hands. To build something and then step back and say, “I built that” is a great feeling. Ideally, every human job would lead to this feeling. “I built that; I wrote that; I made that; I fixed that; I cleaned that; I healed them; I taught them.” St. Paul’s concern is not just anger about these freeloaders. He is concerned for them, because of what happens when a person stops working.

Not that capitalism is the perfect solution either. Many people work in jobs that either are fundamentally useless or are a small, repetitive part of the larger task. They are not able to have pride in their work. This is what happens when the economy is driven by money rather than respect for human labor. Just because a business process is more efficient does not mean that it is right.

Labor Day is not only a chance to celebrate human labor and to thank God for the gift of our own labor, but a call to justice. There is no perfect economic system because no system can compensate for human selfishness and greed, but we can do better than we are doing right now. Many people are forced to do menial tasks in order to provide for their families. Many people do not receive a just wage for their work. We have an obligation to do better. We cannot just pass this responsibility off, blaming government and greedy business owners. Everyone who benefits from the work of another has a responsibility to that person.

September 2, 2012 - Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Psalm 15:2-5
James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Jesus told the crowd, “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile.” We may want to question Jesus as his disciples did. We might begin questioning him about bacteria and parasites, or, if we take his words more spiritually, then we should ask about bad entertainment full of violence and sex. It is absolutely necessary for a Christian to keep custody of their eyes and ears. Those who try to follow Christ and then watch a lot of popular entertainment deceive themselves.

What are we to think then? Was our Lord so naïve? Not at all! Jesus is not concerning himself now with questions of basic hygiene, nor even whether anything that we put into our bodies or minds is good or bad for us. The word he uses here that is translated as “defile” is a very technical word for the Jews, referencing uncleanness. Certain illnesses made a person unclean. Shrimp and pork were unclean. We should not confuse “unclean” with either sinful or dirty. We should think more about our feeling if we were served spider for dinner. There is no logical reason why a spider is a worse animal to eat than a pig, but I do not want it. I could not eat it. It is unclean to me.

The laws on uncleanness are developed very early in the Old Testament, and they built on cultural ideas of what is disgusting or not that existed long before the law. God used disgust, which is natural to us humans, to teach his people about good and bad. The laws of the Old Testament seem to be handed on to Moses directly from the Lord, but they are not perfect expressions of God’s will. Jesus admits as much when he explains why the law about divorce no longer applies. In the Mosaic law, a man must give his wife a bill of divorce. This was because men did in reality divorce their wives, and it was better that there be some structure for the sake of the woman rather than just leaving her abandoned without the freedom to seek a new husband. If there is going to be divorce, then the men ought to give their wives bills of divorce, but as Jesus teaches, there really should not be divorce at all.

So there is truth, but then there are also deeper truths. The law is true, but Jesus revealed deeper truths that make some parts of the law inapplicable today. Throughout the early books of the Bible, there is constant reference to what is clean and what is unclean. Some of it makes sense to us, why a sick person or a moldy shirt would be unclean, and some of it does not, why a woman after giving birth is unclean for one week if it is a boy and two weeks if it is a girl. But then, as the Old Testament progresses, over the next thousand years, we begin to see references to a “clean heart”, which begins to spiritualize the concept. People are invited to look within themselves and see whether they find anything disgusting in their hearts. So the law is indeed “wise and intelligent” as Moses says in the first reading. It is indeed just and worthy of being observed carefully. It takes account of where the people are and leads them to a new level of understanding over many generations. How could anyone find fault with a law when they are judging it by the standards that developed over time because of that very law?

Jesus completes this development in the Gospel today. True cleanliness does not come from handwashing before every meal. True cleanliness is a soul completely dedicated to God. If Jesus were here now, giving us his teaching in our 21st century context, he might say it this way, “What do you find disgusting? That man over there, who hasn’t showered this month, who’s picking his nose as he digs through the dumpster behind McDonald’s looking for half-eaten food? Do you want to know what’s really disgusting? Evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.”

So St. James says in the second reading today. He says that religion which is pure and undefiled means caring for the weak and keeping yourself unstained by the world. This is a great distance from a purity that was concerned with keeping different fabrics separated and a consideration of cleanliness that involved ritual washing of hands and not eating pork. According to St. James, the uncleanest thing, the most repulsive act, is to hear the words of the Gospel and fail to put them into practice. What is more disgusting than a dead and rotting thing? And the more precious it was, the more repulsive it is to see it dead and rotting. What is more precious than the Christian faith? Without constant exercise, it becomes dead and decayed and disgusting.

We want to keep our faith alive. Have you ever seen someone in whom the faith is so alive and active that they amaze you? How much more should the words of Moses apply to us Christians today. He says that the Lord God was close to the Hebrews, but he is closer to us: he dwells within our hearts. Moses says that the other nations should look at Israel and say “This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.” How much more should other people look at us and say, “Those Christians are so loving and so alive! I want what they have!”

Since unclean means repulsive, clean means the opposite: attractive. If our religion were undefiled, it would be so attractive that the whole world would join. People leave the Church because they see uncleanness in it, and people join the Church because they see something attractive. We are very limited in our ability to eliminate all the uncleanness in the Church, all the hypocrisy and evil doing, but we are unlimited in our ability to become something clean of all that, something attractive. How many people joined the Church just because they saw Blessed Theresa of Calcutta? How many people joined the Church just because they saw St. Francis of Assisi? Or even just heard stories about him 800 years later? A person like that is far more convincing than any argument or slogan. What would happen if we, you and I, decided today to live undefiled lives, to become Saints? We would change the world.