May 24, 2013 - Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Sirach 6.5-17
Psalm 119.12,16,18,27,34,35
Mark 10.1-12

It is important to note two points about Jesus’ teaching today. First, his prohibition against divorce is based on remarriage. He is telling us that once a marriage has been created, only death will end it. “’Til death do us part” is not just romantic language but a reality. Even if, sometimes for very good reasons, two people stop living together, never see each other again, even get a judge to split up the property in a civil divorce, they are still married. Such a person may have done nothing wrong, particularly if they are seeing to the care of their children, but they are not able to marry another person. They are still married.

The second point Jesus mentions in another place: this does not apply to unlawful marriages. In other words, if a marriage never actually got started, then a person is not bound to what does not really exist. The classic case of this is the shotgun marriage, where two people are forced into marriage against their will. No one can be forced to get married. They might say all the words and sign in all the right places, but marriage requires two people entering the life of their own free will. It is for such cases that the Church has annulments. In an annulment, the Church investigates the wedding and makes sure that nothing happened which prevented the marriage from ever existing. An annulment never dissolves a marriage that is a sacrament.

When two people are married, they make a decision, but how that decision is understood is at the heart of many difficulties in our modern age. Marriage is not a non-binding contract. Jesus says, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” When two people agree to be married, they are asking God to join them in an indissoluble contract. As part of the benefits of the union, God will give them the grace to live together, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, to live together and serve each other when a human agreement would not be enough. To give up one’s freedom and be bound to another, that is marriage. It is far more romantic. In the modern idea of marriage, nothing is sacrificed, nothing changes. In the true idea of marriage, the two become one flesh, the individuals no longer remain individual, a miracle only God can accomplish.

May 23, 2013 - Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Sirach 5:1-8
Psalm 1:1-4, 6
Mark 9:41-50

Jesus suggests a kind of surgery that is repulsive to us, and not us alone. The words of Jesus today, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out” are probably those which have less often been followed literally than any other. The historical examples of people maiming themselves in hopes of greater holiness are few and not admired. Our eyes do not cause us to sin. Our hands do not cause us to sin. It seems cruel that we should attack a part of our bodies when the cause of the sin lies elsewhere.

If the examples that Jesus gives here are nauseous, the principle is absolutely solid. We should look at our lives and find the causes of sin. We are naïve if we think that we can leave the causes of sin lying around and avoid sin nevertheless. 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 without knowing how the show ended than to enter hell having watched everything. 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.

Surely 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. If we need any encouragement in all this plucking and cutting off, our first reading from Sirach provides the words we need: “Delay not your conversion to the LORD, put it not off from day to day.” We do not exist for the sake of entertainment or sin! What are we here for except to follow the Lord? Do not put it off. Begin today. Begin again today. Every day. Begin again.

May 22, 2013 - Wednesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Sirach 4:11-19
Psalm 119:165, 168, 171-172, 174-175
Mark 9:38-40

We have just repeated in the psalm, “O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.” The psalmist is speaking of the peace which is the foundation of peace in our society: peace within ourselves. This internal peace is founded on the law of God. Until we love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves, we cannot be at peace, and until we are at peace, our society cannot be at peace. Our popular society blames fundamentalism for violence, which is to say that they blame strongly held beliefs for violence. If everyone would calm down, we are led to believe, and be willing to accept that they will not always get their way, we would have peace.

This is not true. Most of the violence in this world comes not from fundamentalism but from selfishness. Behind theft, rape, nearly every murder, and all the other crimes which disturb our peace, lie a selfish motive. We concentrate on the violence that comes from those who claim to be fighting for an ideal, but that is such a minuscule part of the violence in the world. Some people speak as if the elimination of fundamentalism would lead to perfect peace, but they must be ignoring the vast majority of the crimes against peace to believe this. A popular claim by modern atheists is that the elimination of religion would mean a flowering of peace. This is false. Religion, even religions that are deficient in their understanding of the truth, are the greatest contributors to peace in this world. Most religions make a person try to be good, and no one is more peaceful than a good person. Some atheists may brag that they are good without God, but many people, without the morality of a religion, would commit whatever violence or theft that they thought they might get away with.

If we could only make every person in the world be good, then we could deal with the philosophical questions like whether and when it is ever good to use violence. There is a way to have this world peace, but we must begin with peace within ourselves, which comes only from following the law of God: love. Until we love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves, we will not be at peace, and until we are at peace, it is sort of foolish to hope for world peace.

May 21, 2013 - Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Sirach 2:1-11
Psalm 37:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40
Mark 9:30-37

Sirach advises us, “When you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials.” How true this is! As St. Theresa of Avila said to God, “If this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder you have so few!” When we make a serious attempt to follow God, we come up against resistance. People who accuse us of being strange and hypocritical and “holier than thou”, because we would dare to be serious about the commandments of God. Who do we think we are, telling them how to live? (Though we never did tell them how to live.) We merely tried to live a certain way ourselves. But to try to be good is an accusation against everyone who has given up or never tried. That is how they feel. How many people have given up serving the Lord because it offended others? How many people would not dare pray in public, or even in church, because it offends others? When I refuse to chit-chat in church, people act like I am rude. I have stood at the tabernacle, returning the Body of our Lord to the place of reposition, and someone wanted to have a conversation right then and there, and was angry when I ignored them. How then is it possible out in the world to ignore profane conversations and vulgar entertainment and gossip and immodesty?

Of course, when we come to serve the Lord, the trials will not merely come from others. The harder trials come from within. We want to do good, but we cannot. We fail again and again. How many people give up the fight against sin simply because they learn that it is impossible to always win? When the other people call us hypocrites for trying to be saints, we know they are right. We are sinners, and this is the severest trial. When we come to serve the Lord, we discover how weak we are, how incapable of accomplishing what we have set our mind to.

Following Jesus is not the way to live an easy life in this world. It will not make us rich. It will not be comfortable. We will lose friends and offend strangers, and the more progress we make toward God, the stranger we are to rest of the world. And after years of hard effort we will often be amazed at how little progress we have made. But what else is really worth doing?

May 20, 2013 - Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Sirach 1:1-10
Psalm 93:1-2, 5
Mark 9:14-29

“Why could we not drive the spirit out?”, the disciples asked Jesus. If they had asked us, they would have gotten a different answer. If someone had asked us why this boy could not be healed, we could have spoken about the meaning of suffering in this world. We could explain how God’s will is not our will and his ways are not our ways. We could say that there is a time for everything. Our only problem is that standing against us, disagreeing with us, is Jesus.

It is not only in this passage that Jesus says things that are embarrassing for us Christians. Here he says, “Everything is possible to one who has faith.” In another place he says, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” In another place he says, “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” These and other quotes are embarrassing for Christians because we know that they are not true. We ask and do not receive. We believe that God will help us, and then he does not. If we Christians really had the kind of power that Jesus suggests we should have, we would be a lot more convincing to the world.

What is the problem? Is God unable to fulfill his promises? No, he can do all things. Was Jesus mistaken about how prayer would work for his disciples? No. Jesus is never mistaken. The problem must be ours. Something must be standing in the way of miracles. Jesus calls it a lack of faith, but this faith must not be simply confidence. There is no shortage of arrogant confidence in this world. The faith that Jesus is talking about is a humble faith, a gift from God, inseparable from hope and love. Every sin is a sin against faith because every sin doubts God in some way. It is popular to think that some act can only be a sin if it is hurting somebody, but if every sin is blocking our way to God, than every one of our sins is hurting people because our sins are preventing us from working miracles. We will never be totally free from sin on this earth. The prayer of the boy’s father is a good example for how we should pray, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” We stand always with some faith but in need of more.


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March 12, 2013 - Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12
Psalm 46: 2-3, 5-6, 8-9
John 5:1-16

Ezekiel sees the river of God’s mercy, flowing out of the temple, into the world. At first Ezekiel is trying to measure God’s mercy: 1000 cubits by ankle-deep, 1000 cubits by knee-deep, 1000 cubits by waist deep. Finally, Ezekiel can no longer measure God’s mercy. He can only swim in it.

Wherever this river goes, every living creature shall live. This seems sort of redundant, a tautology, but Jesus says “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” Life is not just an on-off switch: on the one hand, a person can live, or on the other hand, a person can live abundantly. The trees bear fruit every month, and their leaves never fade. The trees are being watered by God’s mercy. Because of this water, their fruit is good for food and their leaves are good for medicine. These are amazing trees, or, rather, this water is amazing water. They are alive, and other living trees seem dead. We must discern: are we alive? We walk and talk, but are we alive? The wages of sin are death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. Are we earning death or accepting life?

If we want to be alive, if we want the water of God’s mercy, we have to be merciful. Being merciful means sharing the burden. Mercy comes after justice. It does not remove justice. Mercy does not allow injustice. Justice creates a burden and then mercy shares it. If someone is bad at their job, justice fires them, then mercy finds them a job they can do. If a person commits murder, justice sentences them to prison, then mercy visits them there. A beautiful image of mercy is a mother, who, seeing that her son’s room is a mess, tells him that he cannot go out to play until it is clean, and then helps him clean the room.

I meet many people in my work who are in difficult situations, and often it is amazing how many poor choices they have made that have led to their situation. We could judge them: "We have worked hard; have they?" But, thanks be to God, we have no call to judge the vast majority of the world. When we see someone suffering under a burden, all we have to do is share in it. When we choose to be merciful, we share in their poverty and allow them to share in our riches. That way, God, who has already shared in our poverty, will allow us to share in his riches.

March 7, 2013 - Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

Jeremiah 7:23-28
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
Luke 11:14-23

Many times, prayer is described as talking to God, but this is the less important side of prayer. “Thus says the LORD: I commanded my people, saying, Listen to my voice.” God knows everything. He even knows what is in our hearts before we do. Still, he listens to us. We know very little. (This is not a statement of false humility; we really know very little.) Even the most educated person does not know the answer to simple questions like, “How can I be happy?” We should be sitting before God, eagerly straining to hear what he has to say.

When we listen, we are exposing ourselves to being convinced. When we listen to sitcoms on television praising sin, we should not imagine that we are unaffected. When we listen to gossip or mean words, we should not suppose that we are above the person speaking. Satan loves the pride in us which, at the same time, prevents us from listening to God’s teaching and encourages us to presume we are immune from the evil influence of evil speech.

The voice of God is not very loud. Our free will is as fragile as a house of cards; if he spoke too forcefully, it would be destroyed. We can only hear his voice when we have turned off the television and the radio. Even then, the sounds we listen to all day reverberate in our mind. We could sit in a silent church, but the voice of God will still be shouted down by a voice in our head that is concerned with those many unimportant details that consume our lives. God is so very polite. He will never interrupt any other speaker. He waits until every other voice is silent, and then he speaks.

When he does speak, God does not say many words. He told St. Francis, “Rebuild my Church.” He said to St. Augustine, “Take and read.” He said to Mother Theresa, “I thirst.” He said to St. Paul, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” So many of the saints point to an experience of hearing a few words, perhaps a whole sentence, perhaps even a very short conversation, which changed their lives. Their whole life’s work became simply a matter of following what these words called them to. God has two or three words for you also. If you heard them, your life would be changed completely.

March 7, 2013 - Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9
Psalm 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20
Matthew 5:17-19

What Moses praises today is a mere shadow of the glorious truth fulfilled in Jesus Christ. While he is right to say that no pagan people have a religion as wonderful as the Law that was handed down to him on Mt. Sinai, we Christians have truly received grace in place of grace.

He asks the Israelites, “What great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?” Yet God is closer to us than he was to them. He spoke to Moses face to face, but he lives in our hearts. The Israelites were gathered into the People of God, but we are the Body of Christ. The Lord taught Moses to call him by his name, “I am who am”, but Jesus Christ taught us to call God “Our Father”. The Israelites could not even stand to look at the glory of God reflected in the face of Moses, but we look upon God with unveiled faces. The Spirit of the Lord descended on 70 elders, although Moses wished that all the Israelites would become prophets, but we have all received the Holy Spirit, who speaks to us from within. God chose one man and his sons to be priests and to offer the sacrifices to him each day, but we all participate in the Priesthood of Jesus Christ as we present our own bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. Moses asked the Israelites, “What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?”, but the new law is the Holy Spirit, who is both perfectly just and perfectly merciful. For the law brings wrath, but grace brings salvation for all people.

So if the Israelites needed to take care and be earnestly on their guard not to forget a light that shone in the darkness like a candle, how much more must we take care and be earnestly on our guard not to forget the sunshine that illuminates the whole world. If the Israelites were duty-bound to teach their children and the grandchildren about God’s care for them in the desert, how much more are we bound by grace to proclaim to the whole world that God loves us and has built a kingdom where we can be with him forever.

March 5, 2013 - Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

Daniel 3:25, 34-43
Psalm 25:4-9
Matthew 18:21-35

When they were translating the Gospel today, they decided to use the phrases “a huge amount” and “a much smaller amount” instead of using the numbers and the ancient currency that is actually mentioned. Something is lost in the translation. No adjective, certainly not a mere “huge” can describe the debt of the first servant. If we do a rough equivalency to modern money, the amount was approximately 2 billion dollars. Billion, with a “b”. We might wonder how exactly a servant came to be 2 billion dollars in debt to his master. Why did the master keep loaning him money? How did the servant waste so much?

The story is clearly pointing to our relationship with God. If I consider how much God has given me, I recognize that no value is sufficient to describe it. Who could pay a ransom for their life? Besides life, I might try to add up the value of the air I breathe and the water I drink. What is the value of an hour? Of a day? If I try to do a rough equivalency into modern money, I find that I have indeed borrowed well over 2 billion dollars worth so far. What do I have to show for this massive investment that God has made in me? If I were to compare the love with which God has loved me and the love with which I have loved God and my neighbor, I find that, like the servant, I am bankrupt.

The joy of being forgiven should be unequal to the lesser joys of this world. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would rejoice, but I would still be unable to pay God back for all the grace that I wasted. When we see people on television jumping and screaming, expressing uncontainable excitement, because they have won some few million dollars, we Christians are put to shame. Where is our excitement? Why are we not jumping up and down? We should rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances. People should be asking us the reason for the hope that is within us.

This joy was what the servant lacked. When he met the other servant, who owed him about $5000, he should have laughed and cried. Imagine caring about $5000 when you have been forgiven 2 billion! Imagine caring about the little ways people hurt us when we have been forgiven all our sins!

March 4, 2013 - Monday of the Third Week of Lent

2 Kings 5.1-5
Psalm 42.2-3; 43.3-4
Luke 4.24-30

God is often not what we expect. If we worshiped a human idea, we would never be surprised, but we worship a living God who is greater than us. Part of his greatness is his capacity to surprise us. We are never going to figure God out. When he commands something, we can obey him, even if we do not understand him. We sometimes have to obey God blindly: not because we have shut our eyes but because we cannot comprehend what we see. This may sound disturbing to modern people, that we will obey someone whom we do not understand.

There may have been a time when blind obedience was more acceptable. Naaman does not seem to understand it, but his servants do. Perhaps they were used to following commands that they did not understand. We modern people are more like Naaman: we, each one of us, think of ourselves as commanders. We will not accept a politician who assures us that we simply do not understand the issues of global finance or international relations, who tells us to go along with a plan that seems bad to us. Perhaps this skepticism is good. We have learned that no human person can be trusted. There may not be anyone in this world so intelligent that they really understand all the issues and so virtuous that they are beyond corruption, and if there is, they are not running for political office.

This skepticism, however, should not be extended to our relationship with God. Here is someone we can trust. He understands everything perfectly, and he loves us completely. Once we have come to believe in God, we should not stumble when we do not understand his ways. We should not expect to understand him. He is God. We are not.

It is not wrong to think about God’s ways and try to make some progress in understanding him. God did give us intelligence so that we could understand. We should not expect, though, that we will understand everything about God or that we have to. Our first reaction to the incomprehensible should not be to try and fit it within our limited frameworks. True understanding does come, as a gift of the Holy Spirit. In the meantime we can simply obey; we can safely presume, if not easily, that God is right, that we have something to learn, that God does not need us to teach him anything.

March 2, 2013 - Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Micah 7:14-15, 18-20
Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.” This line is kind of funny, but it is an accurate depiction of how we try to bargain with God. If the father is running any kind of responsible household, he will immediately turn down this job application. Not that it is even an application. The son presumes that he is doing something very humble by saying, “treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers”, but it is a very arrogant statement. He is commanding the father to hire him.

The son cannot be hired as a servant. He can only be accepted back as a son. We can never earn our way with God. If he wants servants, he has the angels. We can only be accepted as children of God. A sinner trying to come back to the Father can never make up for their sins, but they will always be a child of God.

The other son is also thinking like a bad servant rather than a son. He has never accepted the mission of the father as his own. The joys of the father should be the joys of the son. The sorrows of the father should be the sorrows of the son. God’s family is different than human families: we are never going to grow up and move out on our own. We need to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Jesus became like us in all ways but sin, so we must become like him in all ways we can. We must become sharers in the divinity of him who shared in our humanity.

All our labors in this world will be useless if we have not first conformed our will to the Father’s will. If we are secretly working for ourselves, we will build up resentment at God. If we want to be saints (and we do want to be saints) then we must give up any idea of progress in this world, any expectation of young goats, and take on the mind of Christ. Accepting our role as sons and daughters of our Father means seeing as God sees and loving what God loves, without jealousy or ambition. We cannot be independent and we cannot be servants. We cannot be anything more or less than children of God.

March 1, 2013 - Friday of the Second Week in Lent

Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28
Psalm 105:16-21
Mathew 21:33-43, 45-46

Perhaps you have noticed that this week, we have seen a lot of death and almost-death. Abraham was going to kill Isaac. They were planning to kill Jeremiah on Wednesday, which was also when Jesus told his disciples that the Son of Man would be killed. Yesterday, Lazarus and the rich man both died. Today, Joseph’s brothers were going to kill him, the favorite son of Jacob, and, in the Gospel parable, the landowner’s son is killed. This all culminates tomorrow in the parable of the Prodigal Son whom the father says was dead and is now alive again.

This is all symbolic of Jesus, which his prophesy makes clear. Jesus is the beloved son who was sacrificed. Jesus was the prophet who so offended the leadership of Israel that they wanted to kill him. Jesus was our brother whom we killed because we were jealous of how much our Father loved him.

We know that we will die. Some people live with that knowledge more present to them than others. When we are healthy, we rarely think of death. When we are young, death seems as impossible as growing old. Yet death will come. Death is the universal human experience. We speak different languages; we eat different foods; we live under different governments; but everyone has died or will die. Death is a brick wall that no one can go through. It ends every project, every hope, every plan. Is it impolite to speak about death? If we ignore it, will it go away?

No. We will acknowledge death. We will spend 40 days preparing to die, for we are in the season devoted to death. By fasting and almsgiving we are trying to let go of this world. By prayer we are grasping at the world to come. These days culminate in the Easter Triduum, which begins with the dying and death of Jesus Christ. Death is not the end. The Triduum ends in resurrection.

The master sent servant after servant to collect the harvest, but some they mistreated and others they killed, but the master did not give up on the land. He sent his son and they killed him too. What will the master do? He will raise his son from the dead and continue trying to get the fruit he desires. Nothing will stop the master from getting what he wants. He is relentless. He is unbeatable. The love of God is unstoppable.

February 28, 2013 - Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1:1-4, 6
Luke 16:19-31

It is not clear to us exactly where the people in the reading are. We are told that Lazarus “was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.” However, Abraham died a long time ago and, as far as we know, went to Sheol, the place of the dead, like everyone else who died. The rich man is in Sheol, but he is experiencing great sufferings, which was not the usual description of that place. We know that he is not in hell, because we see him worrying about his five brothers, whereas hell is a place of complete selfishness.

Perhaps they are all (Abraham, Lazarus, and the rich man) in Sheol, but Abraham and Lazarus are in the part where they are waiting for Jesus to come and take them to heaven after he dies, while the rich man is in the part for people who will go to hell. In that case, things are only going to get worse for the rich man. If we would go to hell for being rich, we here are all in trouble. All, except the very poorest people in our country, live a life more luxurious than the rich man. True, we do not have servants, but our food is more sumptuous and our clothes are more impressive.

However, Abraham too was a rich man, and he is not suffering. Perhaps we would say that the problem is that the rich man never helped Lazarus. Abraham, however, does not draw the rich man’s attention to this failure, nor to the disrespectful way that the rich man is still treating Lazarus. He calls him “my child” and asks him to remember the difference between the life of Lazarus and his life. The problem seems to be that the rich man never suffered.

Perhaps the rich man was in the section of Sheol for those who would go to heaven when Jesus came and got them, but who needed to suffer first, similar to what purgatory is now. Before any sinner can go to heaven, they need to suffer for their sins, even after being forgiven. Some people suffer in this life; some people suffer in the next. We should take our suffering in this life and avoid it later. Hours spent on our knees in prayer or days of fasting or serving others who we could avoid all sound better than the torments that the rich man was experiencing.

February 27, 2013 - Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

Jeremiah 18:18-20
Psalm 31:5-6, 14-16
Matthew 20:17-28

Jesus always knew what was going on. He was not caught up in events beyond his control. Even before he went to Jerusalem, he not only prophesied his death and resurrection, but even described how it would all take place. When we hear the story of his passion in a few weeks, we must keep today’s Gospel in mind. Jesus did what he did on purpose. Nothing could have been done to him if he had not allowed it to happen. There is nothing he suffered that he did not choose to suffer. This does not take away the guilt of those who betrayed him and condemned him and scourged him and mocked him and crucified him; they also chose to do what they were doing. Jesus, however, must be seen throughout all this as one who came “to give his life”, not someone who had it taken from him.

What does it mean for Jesus “to give his life as a ransom for many”? A ransom is the price paid to a captor for the freedom of the captives. Who is our captor? Satan. Sin. Death. We sold ourselves into captivity for a fruit. We were meant to be free. We were supposed to be kings and queens of this earth. Instead, we have spent the majority of human history in captivity. Satan demanded the life of an innocent man for ransom, and Jesus paid it with his own life. Only he could pay it, because he was the only innocent man. His life could not be taken from him, but he could lay it down. What Satan did not know was that, having laid it down, he could take it up again.

The ransom has been paid, so Satan is forced to release us, if we will be free. Jesus unlocked the door of the dungeon that is sin, but we have to choose to walk out. This should not be difficult, the choice to leave sin behind, but we are enamored with the little comforts that we have found in this filthy prison cell. We must somehow work up the courage to leave! How foolish we look, choosing to stay in the dark, dirty prison, rather than go out into the light. We hear voices, whispering, enticing us to stay. We are frightened of what “going out” means. So we stay, in sin, ransomed prisoners who will not leave.

February 26, 2013 - Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

Isaiah 1:10, 16-20
Psalm 50:8-9, 16-17, 21, 23
Matthew 23:1-12

“Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.” It seems at first glance that we are guilty of letting a human tradition stand in the way of the words of our Lord. It seems that way at second glance too. We cannot say that Jesus was wrong, and we cannot say that Matthew did not faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ really taught.

There are some little tricks that people use to explain this, but they are not satisfactory. True, we call our male parent, “Father”, but Jesus is talking about titles that religious people take on. True, we do not use the exact word that Jesus condemns, since he did not speak English (the word “father” had not even been invented yet), but this seems too legalistic. Jesus is saying that we should not call anyone by the same name that we use for our male parent, no matter what language. True, Jesus says “call no one on earth your father”, and we do not call anyone “Our Father” except God, but why do we come so close to breaking the command?

However, and this is a big however, the use of “Father” as a title for religious leaders goes back as far as the Church herself. The desert monks of the early Church were called “Abba”. St. Paul himself says that “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” We did not just discover the Gospel of Matthew yesterday. Even St. Jerome, 1600 years ago, struggled to interpret this verse in light of the tradition. It seems strange that this tradition grew up in a Church which always read the Gospels. The people who first started calling a priest or a monk “father” knew what Jesus had said.

One reason why tradition is so essential in the Church is that the members of the early Church understood better the literal meaning of Jesus’ words. They were closer to him culturally and historically. If they, reading this Gospel just as we do every year, did not think it was a contradiction to call religious leaders “Father” who are we to disagree? But if we do keep calling people on earth “Father”, we do so acknowledging our one Father in heaven. Let us “bow our knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.”

February 25, 2013 - Monday of the Second Week of Lent

Daniel 9:4-10
Psalm 79:8-9, 11, 13
Luke 6:36-38

In fairy tales, not the Disney versions but the originals, a common trope is that the king will ask the wicked person for advice on how to punish a wicked person. The wicked person misunderstands who the punishment is for and advises a particularly horrific punishment. Then the king tells the wicked person that they will be punished exactly as they said. There is some poetic justice in how the person is forced to suffer their own sentence. I often wondered why they never realize in time that they have been caught and suggests some very light punishment.

Jesus warns us that we are going to suffer this poetic justice. Hopefully, we hear his words in time to save ourselves. If our King asks me how a sinner should be treated, I am going to say that he should be forgiven if he is even a little bit sorry and then welcomed into heaven. These cannot be mere words: I need to start treating sinners that way since that is how I want to be treated. Jesus tells us that the measure with which we measure will be measured out to us. In other words, we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us, because that is in fact how it will be done unto us.

When we do something wrong, we are usually quick to talk about mitigating circumstances. It is truly a saint who takes absolute responsibility for their own sins. Even if we accept responsibility for our sin, we who fall far short of righteousness quickly begin to explain why it was not really so bad after all, until we are confessing merely that we misheard or misunderstood or were misunderstood: “I am very sorry that you were offended by what I said.” How rare is the person who can say “I’m sorry” without adding soon after “Although, it was not really as bad as you make out.”

So it is that we are very good about making up excuses for ourselves. We should stop that. But, at the very least, we should start using this marvelous talent with other people. Not pretending that bad is good, but making every excuse for the person who has sinned against us. When someone cuts you off in traffic, presume that they are on their way to the hospital. When someone snaps at you, presume they have a very bad headache. When we measure out punishment, what seems like a tiny dose given to another will look enormous when it is directed back at ourselves.

February 23, 2013 - Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Deuteronomy 26:16-19
Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8
Matthew 5:43-48

So when Jesus says, “Be perfect”, what does he mean? I suppose he could mean, “be really not so bad after all” or “accept your imperfections as part of who you are”, but I actually think he meant “Be perfect.” My difficulty is that I fail utterly at being perfect, so what then?

Perhaps Jesus, knowing that I will fail to achieve this standard, sets it high anyway to tell me to be satisfied with nothing less. He wants me to be unusual, to do more than the others do. Not a little more, but a lot more. I am not to be satisfied until I am perfect, and, since I am never perfect, I am never allowed to be satisfied with my current level of love; I am never able to say, “I love enough.”

The command to be perfect stands on its own. Even if I am not perfect and have not been perfect and have no reasonable expectation of achieving perfection in the future, I am still commanded to be perfect. The command never goes away. The Pharisees loved to know the limits of commands, where they could stop obeying, but this command is unlimited. Some psychologists would say that this is unhealthy obsession with perfection, that I should learn to love myself just the way I am, but I cannot. I want to love myself just the way I could be.

On the other hand, Jesus might mean this not so much as a command as an offer. These sorts of phrases are always in advertisements. You know: “Live in Florida” or “Be beautiful.” The advertisement is saying, “It is possible to do these things if you take advantage of what I am offering you.” Then Jesus’ words would mean that if we love our neighbor and our enemy, we will become perfect. Love has the power to perfect us.

I know that I will never be as perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect. No matter how perfect I ever become by the grace of God, God will be more perfect. Jesus does not compare our perfection to our Father’s perfection because that is reasonable goal for us, but because we should look at our Father who loves us and want to be just like him. God made the rocks to be rocks and the flowers to be flower, and God made the angels to be angels, but he made humans to be gods, sons and daughters of the Most High.

February 22, 2013 - Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, apostle

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

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

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

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

February 21, 2013 - Thursday of the First Week of Lent

Esther C:12, 14-16, 23-25
Psalm 138:1-3, 7-8
Matthew 7:7-12

The condition that Jesus sets today for receiving the gifts of God is asking. Ask and it will be given to you. God gives good things to those who ask. Why do we have to ask? The desire has to precede the gift. If we receive a gift that we do not want, we thank the giver politely and then put it on a shelf. The gifts of God are not made for shelves. God is not holding back a gift until we ask for it nicely. His hands are forever extended, ready to give, but he will not shove the gift down our throats.

Jesus speaks of a gift today, not wages. We cannot earn the gift of God, otherwise it would not be a gift. This does not mean, however, that we have nothing to do. We have to prepare ourselves for the gift. If we bought a dress for a woman, not in her size but in the size that she ought to be, she would not be able to receive the gift until she had gotten into shape. This sounds rather offensive and mean-spirited, and so it would be coming from a normal giver, but God has all kinds of gifts for us that will not fit us now. He is anticipating what we can become, not what we are. When St. Francis prayed that God would show his love, he received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ in his hands and feet. If he had received that gift before his conversion or too soon afterward, it would only have confused him and either increased his pride or discouraged him altogether. Imagine the gifts that God has planned for you that will not fit now. These are not gifts for you alone, but for the whole Church: gifts of healing and prophecy, gifts of suffering and martyrdom, gifts of faith, hope, and love.

We should celebrate whenever we see spiritual progress, wherever we see it. Not only will the praise of God be greater, but we are closer, as a Church, to the next gift. There are amazing gifts just around the next bend, if we will make progress. We stand here, playing with mere toys, afraid to take the next step. We need to start seeking and finding the next foothold in our spiritual life. Our progress, which is measured in love of God and neighbor, is so little, so far.

February 20, 2013 - Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

Jonah 3:1-10
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19
Luke 11:29-32

No one is beyond the forgiveness of God: not the people of Nineveh who, 3000 years later are still remembered as being particularly cruel, nor King David who killed a trusted soldier in order to cover up the affair with his wife. God will not spurn a humble, contrite heart. There is no sin which God will not forgive. The sins we have committed are not preventing us from being saved, but our defense of sin is. God wants to forgive us, but we hide our sins. No one can hide their sins except from themself. All our sins are being done in full sight of heaven and hell. God wants to forgive us, but we have excuses for why we committed the sin. God wants to forgive us, but we say that what we did is not a sin. God wants to forgive us, but we would rather pretend that we do not need forgiveness.

God is infinitely good. The smallest sin we ever committed is, therefore, an infinite offense. If we understood the enormity of God’s love for us, we would understand why there can never be a small sin. No matter what we have done, whether or not we would be judged by the world as very bad people, we need hearts contrite and humbled.

How will our hardened hearts become contrite, humble hearts? Only God’s grace can do this, but we accept this grace when we repent. Repenting means confessing our sin and committing to never do it again. We are in constant need of repentance because we are constantly failing. We must repent today and every day until we die. The alternative is to accept sin into our life, to stop fighting against evil, to compromise our soul; the alternative is a heart impenitent and proud.

Heaven is full of prostitutes and murderers and drug dealers and thieves and adulterers; the saints, with only one exception, were all sinners with contrite, humble hearts. When we are before the judgment seat of God, we will not need to defend our sins. Indeed, we must not try to defend the indefensible. It will not matter on that day how many sins we committed or what they were. Only our accuser will be concerned with that. It will only matter whether we repented of them all. We are guilty; our only hope is forgiveness.

February 19, 2013 - Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Isaiah 55:10-11
Psalm 34:4-7, 16-19
Matthew 6:7-15

Our God is not deaf. He is not asleep. He is not far away from us. Our God is not busy. We have so much difficulty imagining an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal God that we invent difficulties that do not exist. We imagine that God must be too busy running the whole universe to listen to us. God is not like us. He is more attentive to each of us than we are to ourselves. He knows the life history of every mosquito. He knows when a hair falls off our head. We cannot fathom how attentive he is to us.

God does not hear us because we pray to him. He hears every word we speak all day long; he knows every thought we think. We may be tempted to imagine that when we turn to God in prayer, it is like picking up the phone and calling him. Not at all! We are more like a toddler picking up a toy phone and calling our father who is sitting right there watching us. God does not hear us better when we are in church or when our hands are folded or when we are looking up at a particular corner of the ceiling or shouting at the sky.

God is not inattentive, but we are. The difference between when we pray and when we are not praying is not God’s attention to us but our attention to God. Sometimes we wonder whether God is hearing our prayer. This is certain: he is. Our real concern should be with whether we are hearing him. God is with us always, hearing every thought, feeling, and word, but, when we finally turn to him, we act like he does not know us. We think that prayer is all about God, but, paradoxically, it is all about us. When we pray, we are not contending with an absent God but with ourselves: with our selfish, stubborn, obtuse natures.

When we pray, we may use many words or few, we might repeat a prayer or speak freely to God, we may invoke God’s name or ask a Saint to pray for us, we might read the Scriptures or sit in silence hoping to hear the Spirit speak within us, but we should not pile up words, as the Gentiles do, thinking that in their many words they will be heard. We are not trying to be heard; we are trying to hear.

February 18, 2013 - Monday of the First Week of Lent

Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18
Psalm 19:8-10, 15
Matthew 25:31-46

When it comes to saving for retirement, all the financial advisors agree: save early and save often. It would seem that the point of working is to produce a retirement account. As for your IRA or 401K, I cannot say, but for the most important retirement account we have, this advice stands. We have an account in heaven. The interest rate is phenomenal, and the market is never going to crash. There is a kingdom there that has been prepared for us from before the foundation of the world. There is a room there with your name on it, waiting for you to move in. We need to build up that account though; we need to start making deposits. God’s bank tellers are all around us: the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, strangers, the imprisoned, the sick. Whatever we deposit with them is going to be credited to our account.

The Church sets before us the fourteen works of mercy. The seven corporal works and the seven spiritual works. The seven corporal works include the six that Jesus mentions here and, because groups of seven are kind of the thing, adds burying the dead. A good practice this Lent would be to make sure that we do something for all seven. Feed the hungry, whether in person in a soup kitchen or by sending money in the rice bowl or donating to the food shelf. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked, and not only with your cast-off clothing that you wanted to get rid of anyway. Visit those in prison. Welcome the stranger, particularly the homeless, perhaps not into your own home, depending on your circumstances, but into a home. Visit the sick, especially the forgotten people in nursing homes. And bury the dead, come to a funeral, especially of someone who would not have had many people come.

Do these works of mercy generously, not as if only trying to check off a list. Do these works of mercy gladly, not only because people need your help, but because you need to be merciful. Do these works of mercy unreservedly, without too much concern for the worthiness of the recipient: be willing to be taken advantage of. When we arrive at the day of judgment, we do not want to be shocked by how low the balance is in our account. Start saving up now; make regular deposits. Save early and save often. We never know how much longer we have until an accounting will be taken.

February 16, 2013 - Saturday After Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:9-14
Psalm 86:1-6
Luke 5:27-32

In the first reading, God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, tells Israel the proper understanding of the Sabbath. The point of the Sabbath is not so much to rest as to, for one day, do the work of God instead of our own work. God tells his people to “honor it by not following your ways, seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice.” This is also a good description of what Lent should be about. The true spirit of Lent, fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, is embodied in this idea of turning our back on our own interests. Of course, most people will still have to work during Lent at a job which serves their own interest. Not everyone can take 40 days of vacation to serve the poor. Still, just because a person cannot do something entirely does not mean they ought not do it partially. We would all greatly benefit if, for the next 40 days we all stopped following our own pursuits and began serving.

How easy it is to follow our own pursuits! Even many who claim to follow God only follow him after serving themselves. Jesus said to Levi, “Follow me.” How easy it would have been for Levi to have cleaned up his work and collected all the money sitting out on the table, first taking care of Levi’s priorities before getting around to Jesus, but, instead of telling Jesus to wait just a minute, without a thought for anything in front of him, “leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.” The miracle recorded today is that Levi forgot. Levi forgot about the work he was doing. He forgot about the money he had collected. He forgot about whoever was next in line at the customs post. He forgot about his own interest and followed Jesus.

Again, not everyone can drop what they are doing to follow Jesus. Not everyone, but some can. Could you, like Levi, forget everything, leave it all behind and follow Jesus? Perhaps, like the rich young man, you would need to sell everything, close up shop, and then follow Jesus. Perhaps you are already where you belong, and what is left is to wake up every day and follow Jesus by doing your work with great love. The main thing is to follow Jesus, completely abandoned to his will, not doing what seems good in our own mind but having the mind of Christ.

February 15, 2013 - Friday After Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:1-9
Psalm 51:3-6, 18-19
Matthew 9:14-15

The Gospel today reminds us of the special experience of the disciples of Jesus. They did not need to fast because he was there. If they wanted to pray, they could just go find Jesus and sit at his feet and listen to the words he spoke. In the Gospels, Jesus only appears to us when he is saying or doing something of great importance, but the disciples lived with him every day. They ate dinner with him. They slept wherever he was sleeping.

The fact that the disciples did not fast teaches us about fasting. Fasting is supposed to create a longing within us. This longing is always present, but we usually answer it with food or television or other diversions. This longing is a longing for God. We only answer it with lesser things because it is difficult to know God in this world, but, if God were present as Jesus was present to his disciples, we would never eat when we were not hungry, we would never zone out with television.

If a hungry man cannot get food, perhaps he will chew on bark or something else to pass the time, but, when he has food, he will throw away the bark and begin to eat. So we also, when we get to heaven and live in the presence of God, will throw away whatever we have used to quiet our longing for God. Here and now it is painful to throw these things away, since it is easier to eat a bag of potato chips than to pray for an hour. Still, we force ourselves to fast so that we do not forget what we really want, so that we do not forget what the longing is really for.

As we fast this Lent and rediscover our longing for God, we must be careful to not find a substitute for what we have given up. Particularly if you have given up television or the internet, you may find that you have literally hours of extra time each day. Now is not the time to become an avid reader of novels. Use the time for the other Lenten practices: prayer and almsgiving. Help those in need. Read the Scriptures. Spend some time in Adoration. If our fast is the kind of fast that God loves, it will turn us outward to God and to our neighbor.

February 14, 2013 - Thursday After Ash Wednesday

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1:4, 6
Luke 9:22-25

“If anyone wishes to come after me….” How gently does our Savior invite us! Who can hear this offer and refuse? “If anyone wishes to come after me….” I do. What do I need to do? “…they must deny themself and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Here is that Lenten trio again: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.

“They must deny themself” We do this through fasting, not only from food but also from all of the pacifiers we use to quiet our souls’ longing for God: entertainment and comfort and other pleasures. When we deny ourselves we experience a kind of suffering, but this suffering can be very addictive; it is actually joy.

“Take up their cross daily” 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 a 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 have in life. Everyone has difficulties. We take up the daily cross when we embrace suffering in order to assist another, either directly or by offering some suffering to God for them. Indeed any suffering we experience in life can be a cross, but only if we embrace it and offer it. We are most conformed to the cross when the work we do for others is the source of our suffering. Agreeing to help someone we dislike can be a way of the cross; from beginning to end we may be suffering physically or mentally or with wounded pride. Take up such crosses daily.

“Follow me” To follow someone simply means to be with them, wherever they go. Our way of being with God is prayer. Prayer is a conversation we have with God, and, like any good conversation, includes both speaking and listening. 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.

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can seem cold and theoretical. Jesus is inviting us, in a personal way, to take up these essential spiritual practices. Above all, he is drawing our attention to the fact that he himself has taken them up already. In our Lenten journey, when it is difficult, we should remember that we are coming after Jesus, who has made this journey ahead of us.

February 13, 2013 - Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:12-18
Psalm 51:3-6, 12-14, 17
2 Corinthians 5:20 -- 6:2
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

“The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” This quote from T.S. Eliot comes in a play where a saint is tempted by many things but does not give in, and then the final temptation arrives: “To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” If Satan could convince us to not fast at all this Lent, he would. If not, he will try to get us to fast in a silly way, to give up chocolate chip cookies for Lent, as we eat brownies instead, or, perhaps, we obey the abstinence from meat on Fridays by having a feast of shrimp and lobster. If we are not taken in by any of this, the last temptation comes: “to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” We fast, in order to impress people. We fast, in order to lose weight. We fast, in order to fulfill some New Year’s resolution.

Jesus told us to love God above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Love is the heart of Christianity, but our love is weak and disordered. We do not love God with all our heart and soul and strength, so we need to spend time in prayer this Lent. We do not love our neighbors who are created by God, our brothers and sisters, so we need to give away that which we love more than them, our money and our time. We do love ourselves, but we love ourselves in the wrong way; we should love ourselves like parents, with some discipline, having our best interest at heart, but, instead, we love ourselves like senile grandparents, over-indulging ourselves with candies and toys, so we need to start refusing ourselves treats sometimes. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are good for us. They should hurt. Our souls complain about being unselfish. Do not give in to the complaints! Our souls warn us that this is too much, too much prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; it will kill us: without selfish indulgence, we will die. Good! Let us die. Let us be nailed to the Cross with our Savior. Then, when Easter comes, he can raise us up.

Our souls are flabby and out of shape. The combined effect of all the sins we commit is puny, scrawny, pathetic souls. We are in serious need of spiritual exercise: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. If we make feeble attempts, we will get feeble results. It is 44 days from now until we celebrate the Easter Triduum, we get 4 days of introduction and then, on Sunday, the 40 days of Lent begin. The lazier we are, spiritually, the rest of the year, the more seriously we should look to these days as a time of intensive effort, P40X for the soul.

If we are going to make this intensive effort, we had better be sure that we are doing it for the right reason. If we fast and tell people about our fasting, if we give to the poor our money or our time and make certain that the world is aware of our generosity, if we pray so that others will see us, all that effort will be wasted. Only our pride will be strengthened; our souls will be weakened further.

Let us pray until we fall head-over-heels in love with God. Let us give away our money and time until we begin to love our neighbors as ourselves. Let us fast until our love for ourselves is no longer self-indulgent. When we look out and see the canyon between us and heaven, we want to move forward, we want to take the leap of faith, but we are afraid, afraid of many things, but especially frightened that we will begin to live a new life and soon fail and be laughed at for ever trying. Lent is our training ground, our opportunity to try out the life of the Saints. If we cannot be perfect all year-round, let us be perfect for forty days straight.

February 5, 2013 - Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 12:1-4
Psalm 22:26-28, 30-32
Mark 5:21-43

The theme of the readings today is “struggle”. To struggle is to fight, specifically to fight against a force preventing you from moving toward your goal. Without a goal there cannot be a struggle. We see a woman trying to touch Jesus’ cloak, and there is a crowd in her way. We see a man trying to help his daughter, and in his way are several people who are telling him that that his effort is useless. We hear in the reading from Hebrews an exhortation to all Christians to run the race despite the sin clinging to us.

What an interesting point: “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” There is such a difference between the way that a person struggles and the way that a desperate person struggles. Of course, desperate is exactly the wrong word but conveys the right image. Desperate means “without hope”, but a person without hope does not struggle at all. What I mean by a desperate person is someone who has nothing except hope. The woman who needed healing did not stand on the sidelines and vaguely wish that she could touch Jesus’ cloak; some pushing and shoving went on. When the people came up to Jairus and tried to tell him to give up on his daughter, we are told that Jesus disregarded them, but if one of them stood in front of Jairus and grabbed him by the shoulders and tried to get him to see reason (“Your child is dead! Give up!”) I think they may have gotten a broken nose.

Now consider your struggle against sin. Are you struggling recklessly or, when you first feel the slightest resistance, do you twist a little bit before shrugging your shoulders and giving up, like a bad actor? Our attitude toward temptation should be like a three-year-old’s attitude toward naps: there should be some kicking and screaming involved. “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” When you have ropes and chains holding you to sin and you want to run to Jesus, you going to have to struggle. You might lose your shirt or some skin. It is going to hurt, but that is okay: that is just the feeling of what is holding you down finally tearing away.

February 3, 2013 - Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
Psalm 71:1-6, 15-17
1 Corinthians 12:31 -- 13:13 or 13:4-13
Luke 4:21-30

It is a cliché that someone will climb a mountain to reach a wise man on the top and ask him, “What is the meaning of life?” We are given the answer to that question in the readings today, and we do not even need to climb any mountains. The meaning of life can be considered in two ways. It is the standard model of life, the explanation for why anyone does anything. What motivates one person to serve the poor, while another person tries to get as much money as they can, while another person jumps out of airplanes for fun? This is the domain of psychologists and sociologists. They have come up with many answers, some simple and some complicated. Is there just one motivation with many different expressions or a hierarchy of needs that are satisfied in turn?

But another way to consider the meaning of life is: What should be our motivation? This is the domain of philosophy and theology. This is what St. Paul means today when he says, “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” That is the difference between a child and a grown-up: a child does whatever they want to do, but a grown-up decides what their motivation will be, they choose a meaning for life, and then act accordingly. St. Paul is also telling us what meaning of life we should choose: love.

What does it mean to choose love as the meaning of our life? It does not mean to chase a feeling. To chase after romance wherever we can find it is clearly not the profound meaning of life that St. Paul is telling us about. To love on purpose means to see what is beautiful in someone and then to give of ourself for the benefit of the other. This kind of love is why a parent works at a job they hate in order to care for their family. This kind of love is why people choose jobs like teaching that pay much less than other jobs, because they love the children; they see what is beautiful in them and then sacrifice for their benefit. Love is why a person can serve the poor: they see what is beautiful in them and then give of themselves for their benefit.

Whether a person feels love or not does not matter, if they have chosen love as the meaning of their life. That is the grown-up thing to do. A person grows up a little when they marry someone and choose to love them for the rest of their life. They grow up a lot more on the day they no longer feel the love but stay anyway and continue loving.

Jesus Christ is our example of an adult. He chose love as the meaning of his life and then, no matter what he felt like doing, he acted out of love. When he did not want to die on the Cross, he did anyway because he was an adult, more grown-up than any of us. What he felt like doing did not matter nearly as much as what he intended to do. Jesus Christ is treated badly in the Gospel today. He preaches the Good News and the people try to kill him, yet he goes on preaching. He does not kill all of these people with a wave of his hand, as he surely could have. He loves them, because that is what he meant to do.

February 2, 2013 - Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm 24:7-10
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2:22-40 or 2:22-32

Today is the Feast of the Presentation. The child Jesus is now 40 days old. This is the last celebration we have of the child Jesus, until we begin again with the Annunciation. In the Jewish law, the presentation signified the end of the pregnancy of Mary, since the official recovery after pregnancy was 40 days for a boy and 80 days for a girl. Today Mary is bringing her sacrifice to the temple: two birds. She was supposed to bring one bird and one lamb, but a poor woman is allowed to bring two birds instead. Here is another sign that our Lord was not ashamed to be poor.

The lamb or the first bird was a burnt offering to the Lord. It was not eaten as most sacrifices are. It was burned up entirely. The odor of the burning animal rose with the smoke and the sweet smell made atonement to the Lord for the mother. The second animal, always a bird, was killed with a thumbnail, its blood squeezed out, and then the meat was eaten by the priest’s family. It was an offering for unintentional or unavoidable sin, in this case, touching blood. These sacrifices are bizarre to us, even more so than sacrifices in general. The idea that a woman would need to atone for giving birth or had committed a sin while doing so is strange; we are uncomfortable that such a thing would be required in the Law given to Moses by God.

It seems that Luke was also uncomfortable with the idea since he makes no mention of the actual sacrifice. He instead tells us about two people whom Mary and Joseph met on their way in: an old man and an old woman. The old man, Simeon, just runs up and takes Jesus, blessing and praising God. The old woman, Anna, appears, thanks God, and begins telling people about the child. Here Jesus is welcomed by the people Israel in the way that he ought to have been welcomed. All Israel is represented in these two people who were longing for the Messiah. We celebrate today the fulfillment of the Old Testament. This story is very Old Testament: we have the ancient sacrifices and the prophets longing for a Savior, but something is different – the Savior has arrived. All prophecy is fulfilled. All sacrifice is ended. Most of the people do not know yet, but this child is the fulfillment of every prophecy; this child is the sacrifice that takes away all sins.

February 1, 2013 - Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 10:32-39
Psalm 37:3-6, 23-24, 39-40
Mark 4:26-34

Jesus again uses the image of a seed growing to express to us what our faith is like. When we use similes, we always end up with an image that is insufficient in some way. We say that this is like that, but we know that there are many ways in which this and that are different, but not when Jesus uses similes. When he describes our faith as being like the growing process of plants, we know that he invented the growing process of plants. It would not be going too far to say that when God created the world, he created plants in just such a way that they would serve as a perfect image later on. Thus Jesus is not straining similes to make a point; he is pointing out signs and symbols which he has himself placed throughout the universe. Whenever Jesus point to a part of creation he is saying that he hid the entire Gospel in that creature when he created it.

Therefore, when we consider a beautiful image that Jesus sets before us in Scripture, we know that we will never understand it completely, all the way to the end. There is always something more to learn. A doctor of biology or a horticulturalist will know ways in which the analogy of Jesus extends beyond the average person’s knowledge. However, simply because these parables have more meaning than anyone could find, studying only one of them forever, we cannot give up trying to understand them at all.

To point to one example, which Jesus uses today, that of the seed:
The seed is the Word of God. We are the soil. We must be soft and welcoming to the Word of God so that the seed does not lie on the surface and get stolen away by birds, but we must be equally hard and unwelcoming to the seeds of the Enemy: the weeds of temptation. We must let the Word of God put down roots, breaking through any hard rocks that get in the way. We must welcome the rain of grace that falls down on us so that the seed will grow. One day, the seed will sprout into a great plant and bear fruit. Then, when the holy angels come, harvesting the world, they will collect all the progress we have made in this world, keep only the tiniest part of it, and burn the rest.

January 31, 2013 - Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 10:19-25
Psalm 24:1-6
Mark 4:21-25

Our first reading from Hebrews reminds us of our duty to our fellow Christians: “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works.” It is possible when trying to make progress in the spiritual life to confuse Christianity for one of those Eastern religions where a devoted person slowly achieves mastery and becomes very powerful, trying to become a Saint by mastering Christian spirituality. A Christian becomes a master only when they forget about themself.

When Hebrews tells us that “we should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another” a certain kind of selfishness is condemned, where a person thinks only of their own relationship with God and the progress they are making or failing to make. There may be a place for this kind of self-concern in the beginning stages of the Christian life, when the new Christian is actively converting bad habits of life. But just as an adolescent becomes an adult when they take responsibility for another, growing up in the faith means being less self-centered and more focused on others.

Eventually a serious Christian will reach a point where they have removed all attachment to sin and are ready to move on to the purpose of the Christian life: love of God and love of neighbor. This will not include the end of every sin or even the end of every tendency to sin. Though the Devil will always lie and call sin good, the attachment is broken when the lies are seen clearly and sins are committed with a sort of freedom which has all the potential for sanctity or for evil. It is a mistake when, upon reaching this point, the threshold of maturity, the Christian continues trying to root out every sin. This will never happen. We will be sinners until the day we rise.

The mature Christian instead ought to turn to those around them and love. They ought to forget themself and pay attention to others. This is the first way that a Christian becomes a shocking creature to the world. The world is not surprised by a person trying to make themself better. The world is astounded by someone who begins to truly encourage others. After all, we are lamps and Jesus did not light us in order to put us under a basket. After a lamp is lit, the lamp itself is forgotten and becomes useful.

January 28, 2013 - Monday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 9:15, 24-28
Psalm 98:1-6
Mark 3:22-30

When Jesus and the Pharisees have their conversations, it is amazing, almost fun, to see how Jesus can give an answer that silences them. They are the know-it-alls who get taken down at their own game. Sometimes though, as in today’s Gospel, it is necessary to better understand Jesus’ answer in order to truly appreciate his wisdom.

At first it seems like Jesus does not understand their accusation. The Pharisees claim that Satan is being sneaky the way that Satan is sneaky. We can imagine a false prophet who can cast out demons with an evil power. It would convince people to follow him, like a cunning general who retreats in one place so as to lead his enemy into a trap. Jesus is not contradicting this possibility.

We must be aware that not everyone who heals people or tells the future or even seems to cast out demons is from God. Until the end of this world, when Satan’s power is destroyed, there will always be two sources of supernatural power in this world. To the extent that any supernatural power in this world is real, we must judge the source, whether it is from God or the evil one.

Jesus, however, was no magician. He did not go around working a few tricks for money or out of pride. How many miracles are written down for us! And still St. John tells us there could never be enough books in all the world to record everything that Jesus did. To accuse Jesus of using a few magic tricks to win power in the end for Satan is ridiculous. If the Pharisees did not know that their accusation was ludicrous, then they are guilty of greatly underestimating the work of Jesus. The Bible does not give us an exact number of people whom Jesus healed during the three years before the Cross, but any number measured in less than tens of thousands would not be faithful to the descriptions we have.

I sometimes wonder, what if I were a Pharisee when Jesus came? Would I have thought about him as the Pharisees did, as we do about cult leaders today? Jesus gives us a convincing defense: he simply did too much. How many prostitutes and tax collectors turned their backs on sin? Too many for Satan to be pleased. How much suffering was removed from the world? Too much for it to have been Satan’s work.

January 26, 2013 - Saturday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

2 Timothy 1:1-8 or Titus 1:1-5
Psalm 96:1-3, 7-8, 10
Mark 3:20-21

We are told that “When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.’” The original words in Greek here can mean relatives, but it literally means “his own”. Jesus’ own people, his mother and brothers.

Now we know that Jesus did not have any brothers, strictly speaking. The word brothers refers either to his step-brothers from a previous marriage of Joseph or to his cousins who were sometimes called brothers in that culture. We also know that Mary, Jesus’ mother, did not really think that he was out of his mind. She knows that he is God. While she did not understand everything that he did, she did trust him completely. I think that when Jesus’ brothers decided to go, she simply went along because she would never turn down an opportunity to see Jesus.

But what about these brothers? Anyone with a sibling who causes trouble can understand their minds. They are concerned for Jesus, that he will hurt himself or get himself killed. They are also concerned for the family’s reputation. They are going to go find him and “seize him” as the Gospel says, take hold of him, get him under control.

When they arrive they find something very different than what they were evidently expecting. They do not find crowds of people laughing at Jesus. They do not find a small contingent of equally crazy people following him around. They find crowds of sane people listening. They hear his teaching: rather than the crazed rambling they expected. It is beautiful to listen to. They find that one of their brothers, James, has become an apostle of Jesus.

When we look at the world around us, we too might be convinced that God is crazy. There is too much violence and too much suffering. The wicked go unpunished. We might have a temptation to go to God and take hold of him and tell him how he ought to be running the universe. Then we look around and see the whole world, a delicate balance of physical laws and living creatures and free people and realize that we must trust God, simply. We can have faith in him; we do not need to be afraid.

January 25, 2013 - Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

Acts 22:3-16 or 9:1-22
Psalm 117:1-2
Mark 16:15-18

The conversion of St. Paul proves the possibility of the conversion of anyone. St. Paul hated Christianity. He was not merely ambivalent. His life’s purpose was killing and arresting Christians. He helped kill St. Stephen the deacon, who prayed for his persecutors as he was dying. We believe in the power of those prayers. Sometimes it seems impossible that prayers will change someone’s heart, but St. Paul could not have been converted by anything less, just as St. Augustine was converted by the prayers of his mother; just as countless people have been converted by the prayers of another. If we want to bring about the end of abortion in this country, we need to pray for conversions. If we want to have peace and prosperity in this country, we need to pray for conversions. If we want the makers of television and movies to stop showing pornography and start preaching the Gospel, we need to pray for conversions.

And as we look outward at those hardened hearts which seem impossible to convert, we must also look inward at our own hearts. St. Paul says that he was a very zealous follower of God. Indeed, that is why he felt compelled to kill Christians. When we consider ourselves, if we do not have any need for conversion, then Jesus has nothing to offer us. Jesus came to change the world by starting a Church and then dying for it. We might disagree with his methods of changing the world, with the speed at which the world is changing, but the only place we have the power to make the change is in our own hearts.

“Be the change you want to be in the world.” Someone said that. No one knows who, though people often attribute it to one famous person or another. Regardless, it is a very Christian concept: revolution through conversion. How much good can be traced back to the conversion we celebrate today! What if we had a conversion like that? What is stopping us? Is it because Jesus does not appear and blind us? We who want the world to change must not let anything prevent us from changing. The appearance might not be there, but the grace is. The same powerful God who turned Saul into Paul can turn me into who he wants me to be, can turn you into who he wants you to be; he can turn us into the person who we always wanted to be.

January 24, 2013 - Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 7:25 -- 8:6
Psalm 40:7-10, 17
Mark 3:7-12

“Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.” In other words, we have a friend in Jesus; we have someone on our side. We have a high priest who is constantly interceding for us before the Father in heaven, and our high priest is the Son of God himself. Sometimes, though, it seems like we are on our own down here. It does not matter whether we have been disappointed because God did not have us win the lottery or because someone died even though we prayed for their life. Either way, we have come to realize that we do not hold a sort of magic power over God. Sometimes we ask something in Jesus’ name, even something good and unselfish, and it is refused.

The reason for the refusal is easier to understand than to accept. Our relationship with God is not that he is a servant to do our will, but that he is our Father. We are like small children who depend on him completely, but he will only give us what is actually good rather than what merely seems good in the moment. A mature faith does not see our Father as a genie in a magic lamp. A mature faith has trust in the Father to provide the very thing we need, when we need it.

The Gospel today provides an example of how people were blinded to their true good by self-concern. Jesus has to teach from a boat off-shore so that the crowds do not crush him. Among these people there are surely many whose stories would touch our hearts, yet Jesus is not a sort of good-luck charm. We know that these people did not understand him. Where were they at the Cross?

Every one of us has a story. We all have disappointed expectations and tragedy in our lives. We could ask why God has not made our life easier, better, richer, or, worse, we could try to explain his will as if we could understand it. But there is something better out there for each of us: faith. We can simply trust that God does love us, that Jesus is eternally interceding for us. This does not make our life easier or more comprehensible. It does, however, free us from all fear. It does give us confidence in the plan of God for the world.

January 23, 2013 - Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17
Psalm 110:1-4
Mark 3:1-6

There is such a contrast today between Jesus, whose life “cannot be destroyed”, who would rather “save life than destroy it”, and the Pharisees who are taking counsel with the Herodians to put him to death. The Herodians were the servants of King Herod, a man whose life consisted of parties and submitting to the Roman conquerors. He and the Herodians are the natural enemies of the Pharisees who are trying to be faithful to the Jewish Law. The only characteristic that these two opposing groups have in common is extraordinary selfishness.

It is so strange to read that their first tactic was to “watch Jesus closely to see if he would cure him on the Sabbath”, like a store security guard watch potential shoplifters, as if Jesus might try to sneak in a healing without being noticed. These Pharisees have hardened their hearts. They refuse to be open to the teaching of Jesus. When he asks them a difficult question, they do not even try and answer.

If we want to understand their position, we could look to the answer given by another at a similar time: “there are six days for healing, come then.” Why did Jesus heal on the Sabbath when he could have simply healed on the next day? Jesus is teaching us not only that healing is permitted on the Sabbath, but that healing is the very thing to do on the Sabbath. The Sabbath should be spent doing good rather than evil, saving life rather than destroying it.

We who are followers of Jesus Christ ought to take this teaching to heart. Our Sabbath must not consist of resting and relaxing ourselves. Sunday is not a day for more selfish indulgence. We should follow Jesus and do good on Sunday, not evil. Sunday ought to be a day where we live life to its fullest, live life as we would if we needed nothing. In a perfect Christian culture, we would spend six days working when we needed and resting when we could, but on the first day of the week we would make provision for the poor and the sick and the lonely, we would go to Mass and pray, we would celebrate with family in a simple way, we would, in short, be completely unselfish. We do not live in this perfect culture, but what is preventing us from beginning?

January 22, 2013 - Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 6:10-20
Psalm 111:1-2, 4-5, 9-10
Mark 2:23-28

Jesus tells us that the “Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” We are all sons and daughters of humans. In this case the example of David and the Apostles means that religious laws are important, but some can be broken for good reasons. If God had not told us “Thou shall not kill”, murder would still be wrong, but if he had not told us to rest on the Sabbath or which bread was special, there would be no reason not to work on the Sabbath or eat the bread. So, since these laws are not intrinsically necessary, it seems that each person, using their conscience needs to decide when to follow them and when to break them.

There is a problem with this interpretation. There is no reason to suggest that the disciples of Jesus were particularly hungry. Were they just so rural that they had no idea that picking heads of grain on the Sabbath would be frowned upon? This seems unlikely. Did Jesus tell them that it was okay? Did he command them to do it? He is the Son of Man. Has he come to change a law? But he says that he will not change any laws.

The real difference is Jesus. His presence changes how to understand the Law. David and his companions did not follow the letter of the Law because they were starving. The disciples do not follow the Law because the point of the Law was fulfilled in their midst. As Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” God did not create us so that someone would be resting once a week. God created the once-a-week rest for us.

Work is a punishment that came after Adam and Eve were kicked out of Eden. The Sabbath is a little Eden at the end of the week, but Jesus is our Eden. The Pharisees could only remember paradise because the punishment of work was taken away for one day. We can experience paradise in Our Lord. Jesus was not just a teacher with some good ideas. He is God. We are not supposed to hear his teaching as more work for us to do. We are supposed to take up our Cross and follow him, and come rest in his arms. The taking up the Cross and the resting are one and the same.

January 21, 2013 - Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Hebrews 5:1-10
Psalm 110:1-4
Mark 2:18-22

I can imagine someone with new wine, looking for a place to put it. I cannot imagine someone with a new piece of cloth looking for a cloak that needs patching. Jesus has something new: the truth, the fullness of truth. It is new to us, although it is older than the universe. It is always new because it is eternal. Jesus not only has something new, he is something new. He is the new wine. He is the new cloth. He cannot change himself to fit the world. He must change the world to fit him.

There is a sense in which we are old, worn out. There is no better sign of youth than joy. A young person without joy seems old. An old person with joy seems young again. We are old because we lack joy. Jesus comes and he cannot just be more of the same. His joy is perfect. It is a bit much for us old grouches.

Now we can see a metaphor that Jesus might have used in the 21st century: nobody hates new things like old people. As much as the oldest grouch in the world hates the idea of Twitter, someone without joy hates the idea of a Savior. If we want to imagine how the Pharisees felt about Jesus, we should watch Andy Rooney talk about Facebook.

When Jesus came, and he is new, he insisted that his disciples rejoice while he was with them. No fasting for his disciples, at least not yet. Not until there could be a joyful fast. Indeed, this is the mark of a Christian: a joyful fast, joyful suffering, joyful life. A martyr is not someone who died for Christ; all sorts of people have died for all sorts of stupid things. A martyr is someone who died joyfully.

Whether you are 8 or 80, if you are going to be a Christian, you must be young, you must be filled with joy. Not a fake joy, not an imaginary joy, but a real joy given to us as the first fruit of the Holy Spirit, as the first commandment of God’s will for us in Christ: “Rejoice always.” Only then will we be new wineskins able to hold this new wine.

January 20, 2013 - Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 62:1-5
Psalm 96:1-3, 7-10
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
John 2:1-11

A struggle for us Christians is the lack of signs. Today we read about the first sign of our Lord, when we turned water into wine. When the people saw it, they knew that there was something there. Once they had tasted the wine, they were sure that Jesus was not ordinary. So why is it that the signs are so few and far between? Sure, there are miracles in the world today, but they happen so rarely that we would be lucky to be present for just one sign like that.

It was not always this way. From the writings of the early Church we know that signs used to accompany the Holy Spirit everywhere the Gospel was spread. Miracles happened left and right. St. Paul is cautioning the Christians to look beyond the signs, because they were so common that the danger was that they would be focused on the signs and forget the Spirit who causes the signs. Nevertheless, St. Paul assures these early Christians that each individual receives a manifestation of the Spirit. We know from other early Church writings that this period of common signs and miracles did not last. Shortly after the very early years of the Church, people were already wondering where all the signs had gone. So we wonder today. Why is it that so many people receive the Holy Spirit but so few have gifts of healing or tongues or prophecy? Why cannot every Christian heal people the way Jesus did, the way Peter and John and Paul did?

It seems there are two possibilities: either God wants it that way or we are failing in some way. The first option says that the early times were different. God needed to do something marvelous in the early times in order to get the Church started. Therefore, once the Church was well-established there was no longer a need for visible miracles happening constantly. God prefers that we come to believe in him without the magic. The second option says that there is something wrong with us. Somehow, we have not received the Holy Spirit, or if we did we are failing to make use of the power and manifestations promised in Scripture. People go out looking for new ways to receive the Holy Spirit: a laying on of hands in addition to Confirmation and Baptism. They call it the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, which leaves regular Baptism seeming boring and less important.

This is a very important question. If the reason why we do not turn water into wine is because God does not want it done right now, then we are doing fine. When God wants to do something amazing, he is free to do it, but in the meantime we will not demand signs like children at a magic show. But if the reason why we are not healing the sick and raising the dead is simply because we are failing to use the power which Jesus has given to his Church, then what a waste! I go to the hospital to visit the sick. I pray with them, but I do not lay hands on them and demand healing in the name of Jesus. Is that a failure? Would they be healed if I did that with more confidence?

The atheists laugh at Christians. We claim that we have a connection to the power who created the universe, the all-powerful God who can do anything and loves us and promised us that anything we ask would be ours, and then we are too timid to ask for anything very impressive. They say that it is because we are afraid that nothing will happen and then our claims will seem silly. Certainly I can point to this healing and that healing. To the boy who recently was born without knees and then grew knees in response to prayers, something that every doctor had said would never happen. To the innumerable cases of cancer that inexplicably disappear in response to prayer. If only it were more consistent, they would be unable to deny the power of God. So if it is because God chooses to be quiet and just out of scientific examination, then I wonder why but accept that he may do whatever he decides is best, but if Christianity is despised because we are failing to make use of the power that Jesus gave us, then we need to change that immediately.

When I look back at the 2000 years of Church history, one answer to the dilemma appears. There seems to be one sure way to bring miracles into existence. And it is not any laying on of hands or other invented sacrament. It is not any special prayer that suddenly was able to cause miracles to happen because the right words were finally being said. It is simply this: love. Love is the greatest gift of the Spirit. Love is the most power manifestation of God in the world. Without doubt, whenever someone chose to become an instrument of God’s love, miracles followed.

God does not wish to deny the world the healing that he can give, but the effects are rarely good when someone seeks to become the instrument of God’s extraordinary healing. We should not pursue the various charisms and powers of the Holy Spirit that are listed here: prophecy or tongues or mighty deeds or miraculous healing, but this does not give us a license to sit back and wait for God to do something if he wishes. We should pursue the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit: to love others, especially the poor and suffering and anyone else who is considered unlovable in this world. All of our efforts should be trained on that manifestation of the Holy Spirit, because when we begin loving others with more love than is humanly possible, that will be a greater proof of the Gospel than any other extraordinary sign. And then, as has been the case so many times before, when we forget those other gifts in the pursuit of love, we will find them. We do not need to try to become a Church full of people speaking in different tongues and prophesying, but if we become a Church full of people who love others, we will find that tongues and prophesy will appear when needed. When we visit the sick with the love of God, we will find that healings happen. God has a lot of things that he wants to do. He has specific way of manifesting his power through each person. There are miracles that he wants you to do. But unless we can learn to love first, nothing else is going to happen.

January 19, 2013 - Saturday of the First Week In Ordinary Time

Hebrews 4:12-16
Psalm 19:8-10, 15
Mark 2:13-17

Our readings today proclaim: we are not on our own. Our religion is not just Judaism with some updated rules. We have received grace in place of grace. We are told that "the word of God is living and effective." We worship the Word of God who is the Son of God. Some people believe that the Bible is full of difficult rules. So it is. Some people believe that the message of Christianity is that we must be perfect. Indeed we must. Yet these truths cannot be separated from the fact that the Word of God is not only the printed word, the words which we have just heard, but also a person, a Savior. And our Savior is not “unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.” Our Savior loves us. We cannot be good enough, but he is. “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”

What does this all mean? It means that when we begin trying to live the good life, we make some progress. We find that we can stop sinning, sometimes. Then we hit a wall. We are confused why some sins will not go away. We are confused why some weaknesses remain despite our desire to be rid of them. We pray that God will take away this thorn in the flesh, whatever our weakness is. But he will not. He will not help us to become creatures who can get along without him. This would be very bad for us. We would end up as pure as angels but as proud as devils. God will, however, give us our daily bread. The help we need, today, when we ask for it, today. For his power is made perfect in weakness.

When Jesus called Levi, he might have followed out of curiosity that day. He might have followed for awhile on his own strength. But we know that he followed Jesus through the Cross and to his own martyrdom. This was not done on his own strength. We are weak. There is help out there: not mere suggestions or encouragement, not a one-time fix that will make us independent, but a fire that burns within us so long as it is constantly fed by the Word of God: in reading, in hearing, in Mass, in prayer, in Confession, in the Eucharist. In short, in every priceless possession given to the Church by Our Lord.