January 31, 2014 - Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 11:1-10, 13-17
Psalm 51:3-7, 10-11
Mark 4:26-34

Just imagine how many people were involved in this evil act. The sin was not David's sin alone. Surely the entire palace staff was fully aware of what had happened, though they chose not to say anything. David was certainly not able to write and so a scribe came in and wrote that note for him, that horrible note, but did not say anything. Joab receive the notes, and obeyed David. And not Joab alone, but all the fellow soldiers who participated in the retreat suspected that something was going on. So many people were involved in the evil, but no one said anything.

Why? Was it simply fear? So many people were afraid of losing their position, or even their life, but I think there is more going on here that. There is also the mentality of being part of a group. “No one is saying anything, why should I?” We humans take our cues from the actions of those around us. If we are alone, we have to think for ourselves, and surely not all of those who participated in the murder of Uriah the Hittite were actually cowards. Probably many of them simply considered it someone else's responsibility.

We need this group mentality to get through everyday life. Life would be so much more stressful if we could not follow the lead of those around us. Nevertheless, this does not excuse committing a sin. Each of those people ought to have stopped and thought about what they were doing. What they needed was more reflection, more conscious thought about what they were doing. Probably some of them would still have been cowards, but not all of them.

This same group mentality is at work in how we engage our culture. So many things that we do, without question, are simply what everyone else is doing. We need to become a witness to those around us. Without a doubt, this is not easy. We will be, at least at first, like the tiny mustard seed. The group will turn on us and try to crush us, because they do not understand why anyone would want to be different. But the kingdom of God will grow. It appears here, and it appears there, always seeming small and weak, but it is a force growing in our world. Someday we will find that we are part of something greater than ourselves, greater than the whole world, greater than we could possibly have imagined.

January 30, 2014 - Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 7:18-19, 24-29
Psalm 132:1-5, 11-14
Mark 4:21-25

Why does God not reveal his will for us? If God desires something from us, why not tell us? Certainly there are people in the world who choose not to do the will of God, but there are also people who would gladly do the will of God if they were sure of it. Should we sell everything we have and live in poverty? I would this afternoon if Jesus told me to, as he did the rich young man, if I knew for certain that that and not something else was the will of God for me. The spiritual life can seem like a journey in a fog, barely able to see a few feet ahead.

David plans to build God a temple, but then God, through the prophet Nathan, refuses. David discovers that what he thought was the path he should take was not right at all. But God also makes great promises concerning the future, and David has occasion to remember all that God has done so far. God brought David up from being a shepherd to be the king. He knows that he can trust God because he has been able to trust him up to this point. He does not know what to do now except continue being faithful to the trust that God has placed in him to rule over the people of Israel.

If we do not know what the next step in life should be, we can always be faithful to our responsibilities, we can always help others, we can always pray, we can always improve in any of the thousand ways that we could improve. If we want more to be revealed we have to take the steps we can see now. To those who have, more will be given. This is not because God is hiding something from us. As Jesus says, he wants to reveal it. But there is no point in revealing what we are not yet ready to receive. If we do not take the little steps that are clear, we are not ready for the next big steps. What is hidden will be revealed in the right moment.

January 29, 2014 - Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 7:4-17
Psalm 89:4-5, 27-30
Mark 4:1-20

God declares in his message to David today that he is not like the other gods in other countries who depend on the generosity of the king for their support. God, the true God, can live in a tent. He is not greater because of the house that is provided for him. Indeed, 400 years later, he destroys the temple that he speaks of today to show the Israelites that he is more than a temple.

God’s message to David is first of all, “You were going to build me a house? I will build you a house!” God then promises a dynasty for David that will last forever, far longer than the 400 years that the temple of stone will last. God promises a son of David who will be “a son to me, and I a father to him” which is a clear prophecy of something greater than David could have imagined. Rather than building the dwelling of God on earth, his son according to the flesh, descended through Mary, the stepson of Joseph, will be God among us.

David had said, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent!” This is merely an observation, and there are three ways that David could have taken it: The way he did, which is to think that God needs an upgrade. Or he might have considered himself to be greater than God, since he lives in a better house. But there is a third way that David could have looked at the situation: he could have thought, “Perhaps I should live in a tent.” Perhaps the dwelling of God in a tent should have been a symbol to David. That palace of his ended up causing a great deal of trouble. A tent is superior to a palace inasmuch as it is movable. It reflects the way we ought to be dwelling here on earth: not building palaces but setting up tents, something temporary. Our mansion is in heaven. God knew this, of course, since he is God. God could not covet a fancy house. The very idea is absurd. God possesses the universe: galaxies and stars and billions of planets; what would he want with a palace? But we possess more because we possess God, who has made a free gift of himself. What do we want with the nonsense of this earth that people spend whole lives building up?

January 28, 2014 - Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 6:12-15, 17-19
Psalm 24:7-10
Mark 3:31-35

David is being more careful this time. He tried to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem once before, but a man died. That time they put the Ark on an ox cart as if it were just another box. It almost fell off. This time they carry it in the way they are supposed to, and every six steps, David sacrifices two animals. When the Ark finally reaches the sanctuary, David makes many more offerings. He is being very careful to show the respect for the Ark which he did not do the first time.

What was the Ark? It was box. Inside the box were three items: the Ten Commandments, written on stone by the hand of God, some of the manna, the food that appeared in the desert, and the staff of Aaron, which proved that he was a priest. It was a box that contained three miracles. It was not an idol like the pagans worshipped. No one thought that it was God or that God was inside, but it represented the presence of God in Israel. Therefore, it had to be treated with the highest respect. We, in this church, have a box too. Inside that box is the Eucharist which is the Body and Blood and Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the Law and the Priesthood and the Bread of Angels, all in the person of Jesus Christ. That means that the tabernacle is greater than the Ark of the Covenant, inasmuch as our covenant is better than the old covenant.

It is necessary then that our respect for the tabernacle should be greater than the respect that David had for the Ark. We show that respect not by sacrificing animals, but when we enter the church, we genuflect toward the tabernacle. We keep silent because we are in the presence of God himself. I have had people try to converse with me while I was at the tabernacle with the door open, as if we were not in the presence of the Most High God. We must cultivate an attitude of piety, which is the fear of the Lord. This does not appear automatically. We have to choose to be pious. It is easy to be impious. We must choose to be afraid, as afraid as we would be if we could see the mystery with our eyes. If God does not strike us dead for casual disrespect, let us be thankful for his mercy, but remain fearful of disrespecting him.

January 27, 2014 - Monday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

2 Samuel 5:1-7, 10
Psalm 89:20-22, 25-26
Mark 3:22-30

What a frightening statement Jesus makes today! No forgiveness for eternity, if we blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Some people have taken this literally and feared that they have committed this unforgivable sin. They have come to believe that, no matter how sorry they are, God will not save them. This is not true. There is no sin which we cannot repent of. Indeed, the unforgivable sin is failing to repent.

What does it mean to blaspheme? It means to speak with contempt about holy things. Someone who has contempt for the Holy Spirit cannot be healed by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is offering freedom from evil spirits, but the scribes accuse him of offering this freedom under false pretense. What if one of those scribes were possessed by an evil spirit? Would he let Jesus free him by the power of the prince of demons? Probably not. So he would be forever bound.

It is like someone who has been poisoned and needs an immediate antidote. The one mistake which they must not make is to despise the antidote. If is sick and needs to start eating a healthy diet, the one mistake which they must not make is despising the advice of their doctor. They can call their doctor a mean old man, so long as they eat their vegetables.

When Jesus is talking about forgiveness, he is referring to the path of forgiveness. Anyone who starts down the path of forgiveness can be cured of all their sins, but if their sin is to refuse to make the journey of repentance, they necessarily remain forever in their sins. How could Jesus forgive the sin of despising forgiveness?

Which, then, merely leaves the question, why did Jesus call it “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” rather than “blaspheming forgiveness”? If he had said “blaspheming forgiveness”, we would understand right away, but because he said, “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” some people believe that because they once said something bad about the Holy Spirit they cannot be saved. Perhaps it was because the scribes would in principle believe in forgiveness, but they rejected the means of forgiveness.

If a person, in principle, believes that oxygen is necessary for life, but rejects breathing, they will die. It is necessary not only to accept forgiveness, but to accept forgiveness as it actually can be had. If a person believes in forgiveness but will not go to a priest and confess their sins and be forgiven by the power of the Holy Spirit, what good does that do them?

January 26, 2014 - Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 8:23 -- 9:3
Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Matthew 4:12-23

Sometimes when people read this Gospel, they come to the conclusion that Jesus just walked up to four fishermen whom he had never met before and told them to follow him. It is clear, however, when looking at the all the Gospels that this is not accurate. Andrew was one of John the Baptist’s disciples. When John pointed the way to Jesus, Andrew met him for the first time. Then he went and got his brother Simon Peter. The Gospel according to John tells us that this introduction and the wedding at Cana and the conversations with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well all happened before today’s Gospel. Indeed, Jesus’ disciples had even been baptizing people, more people than John the Baptist and his disciples.

The reason it is important to understand the real timeline is so that we understand the situation of Andrew and Simon and James and John when Jesus calls them from their fishing boats. If the Gospels were in movie form, the first film would be all about the many events that happened up to this point. The reading today is like the beginning of the sequel, where the old gang gets back together. Things are different now though. There were miracles before, like changing water into wine, but now Jesus is about to feed 5000 families with a couple of loaves of bread and some fish. There were healings before, but now Jesus is “curing every disease and illness among the people.” There was teaching before, but now Jesus “went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.”

So what happened? At the end of the first “film”, the end of the first part of Jesus’ ministry, he is baptized by John and then goes to wander in the desert for forty days. We can almost see Jesus walking off into the sunset while his disciples stand on the bank of the Jordan wondering, “Where is he going? Is he coming back?” If any tried to follow him, they were waved off. This journey in the desert was for him to make alone. Most likely they were unable to do or say anything after seeing the Holy Spirit land on him and hearing the voice of the Father say “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” They knew that they were following a holy man, a prophet like in the old stories. Perhaps it was only then that they realized whom they had been following. They realized what John the Baptist meant when he said that he was not worthy to unfasten Jesus’ sandal, so they went back to their homes, to their families, to their fishing boats. They went back to what they knew, to something they were capable of.

If there were no sequel, if Jesus had been simply a prophet, this would have been the end of the story. Simon and Andrew would have told their children about their strange experiences. They would remember, until the day they died, this man whom they had followed. They certainly would not have gone throughout the world, preaching the kingdom, and eventually dying for Jesus the Messiah.

Now we have arrived where we began with today’s Gospel. Jesus says to Simon and Andrew and James and John, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Here is a command and a promise. “Come after me.” You followed me before; come follow me again. Despite your sins, despite your lack of faith, come follow me. Your fears do not matter. You are not worthy to come follow me, but, nevertheless, come follow me.

This promise from Jesus, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men” ought to have been enough by itself to sustain the apostles through every trial. The one who made the promise is trustworthy. Jesus is not only a prophet about whom stories would be told. Everything will change now. If they come follow Jesus, he will make them fishers of men. He will make them fishers of men. Their weakness, their sinfulness, their doubts are beside the point. He does not say, “Come after me and I will expect you to be fishers of men” or “Come after me and I will give you some tips on how to become fishers of men.” The apostles were the artwork of Christ. He made them what they became.

There are some of you now who are following Jesus partially. I do not speak to you as if you did not know Jesus at all. He has a part in your life, but is he the center, is he the most important person in your life? Many people are living as if Jesus were a mildly interesting figure. The Gospel does not allow this to us. The Gospels are calling us to be religious extremists, to be radicals, to not count the cost, to go out into the deep. The way of Jesus is a narrow way. There is no room to be selfish and a Christian. There is no room to be greedy and a Christian. There is no room on this journey for all the baggage we carry.

There comes a point where Jesus calls us and we have to just follow him. This may not be at the beginning. At first we can spend some time with Christ, and he will let us draw close to him with all our misconceptions and faults, but the day will come when he asks for more. The day will come when he asks us for everything, and this will mean that we have to give up our plans if they are not his plans. If we submit, if we leave our own ideas behind like Simon and Andrew left their nets, like James and John left their father, then we can be a Christian.

Jesus is saying to each one of us, “Come follow me and I will make you….” Make us what? That is our vocation. Will he make you a fisher of men? Will he make you a servant of the poor? Will he make you a wise parent? I can only guarantee that whatever he will make you is far, far better than anything you can ever make yourself into. Go. Follow him. Be not afraid.

January 25, 2014 - 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 that anyone can be converted. 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, and we believe in the power of those prayers. Sometimes it seems impossible that mere prayers will change someone’s heart, but St. Paul could not have been converted by anything less than the appearance of Jesus Christ, who came in response to the prayers. In those days, praying for Saul would have seemed as pointless as anything. So our prayers today can seem weak, even though they are the strongest weapon we have. 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. If we want the makers of television and movies to stop showing pornography and start preaching the Gospel, we need to pray. We might wish that God would change the world in one fell swoop, but his actions are more like, as he says, yeast working in the dough, imperceptibly yet inexorably changing the world.

If we wish that God would hurry up the changes we pray for, there is one area of conversion in this world that we can speed up: ourselves. As we look outward at those hardened hearts which seem impossible to convert, we must also look inward at our own hearts. If we do not have any need for conversion, then Jesus has nothing to offer us. “Be the change you want to see 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? Must we wait until Jesus appears to us as a blinding light? Why not change today rather than wait for a sign? 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 people whom we always wanted to be.

January 24, 2014 - Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 24:3-21
Psalm 57:2-4, 6, 11
Mark 3:13-19

Kings Saul and David, the first two kings of Israel are symbolic of Judaism and Christianity. Like Judaism, Saul came first, chosen by God. Like Judaism, Saul was rejected by God. And just as the new covenant in Jesus Christ replaced the old covenant, so God chose David to replace Saul. And just as God gave better promises to David than he gave to Saul, we have better promises in Jesus Christ than were given by Moses. And as God promised David that his throne would endure forever, that he would never reject David or his descendants as he rejected Saul, so the new covenant in Jesus Christ, the son of David, will last forever and never be replaced.

David committed sins. He was murderer and an adulterer. He was a liar too. Though Saul was rejected for disobedience, for failing to follow the letter of the command, David certainly did enough bad things of his own, worse even. So too Christians have often failed, and every Christian does fail, to live a holy life. In rejecting Saul, God was not rejecting the man so much as he was rejecting the dynasty. In rejecting Judaism, God is not rejecting the people but the idea that anyone could keep the law and be righteous through works of the law and animal sacrifices.

So in relations between the Church and Jews, we Christians should take our cue from how David respected Saul. Even when Saul was trying to kill David, David would not harm Saul, since he dared not touch the Lord’s Anointed. Once chosen by God, the man was forever holy. We do not dare harm the Jewish people, for they are the chosen people, and though God rejects the old covenant, he is faithful to the end.

Why does God make a covenant and then reject it? At the time that God chose Saul, he knew that he would reject him later for failing to obey. At the time that God gave a covenant to Jacob and his offspring, he knew that he would reject them later for failing to keep the covenant. But Saul built up the kingdom that would become David’s kingdom. He prepared the way. And the Israelites built up the religious sensibility that would belong to all the first Christians. They prepared the way.

January 23, 2014 - Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 18:6-9; 19:1-7
Psalm 56:2-3, 9-13
Mark 3:7-12

How far Saul has come from the days when he used to chase after runaway donkeys! When Saul was named king, it was like winning the lottery, a completely unexpected windfall, but now that he has been king for a few years, he is ready to kill David at the mere suggestion of a threat to his dynasty. It is so easy to go from humble gratitude to presumptuous expectation.

Jonathan, meanwhile, grew up in the lap of luxury, such as it was 3000 years ago, yet he is not afraid. By all rights, he should be the next king. He grew up expecting to be king, and then David appears out of nowhere. But Jonathan did not hate David. In fact, he loved him. Because Jonathan did not have his father’s attachment to the royal throne, he was free to see David not as a threat but as a friend.

Consider us here today. We live like kings. We live better than kings. Who would give up central heating, indoor plumbing, cars, and cell phones for a stone castle? If somehow all of these disappeared, we would complain that we have been treated unfairly. How can a person live without these basic necessities? Yet people did live without them for millennia. Now that we have them, we cannot imagine giving them up. This is how Saul felt at the prospect of returning to the life of a simple farmer.

The things of this world can be tools or chains. If we use them as our servants, they will be tools. If we let our attachment to them cause us to be afraid at the thought of losing them, they will be chains. Whatever you are attached to: technology, position, getting ‘A’s, a television show, having a certain standard of wealth, a relationship with a person, whatever, do not let the attachment bind you.

Every sin is just an attachment that we refused to break. Be stronger than these attachments. Be free, radically free. There is no feeling of power like letting go. Every attachment screams: “You cannot live without me. You will never be happy if you leave me behind.” We know this is a lie. Our happiness does not exist in any of these things. Our happiness is in God. Be ready at all times to cut off an attachment that is preventing you from doing what you ought to do. Sacrifice everything, and be free to follow God.

January 22, 2014 - Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37, 40-51
Psalm 144:1-2, 9-10
Mark 3:1-6

Today’s reading is a real David and Goliath story. That might be a cliché, but here it applies literally. There is a reason that people are always comparing various events to this story: it is one of the most powerful themes in the human soul. That the just though weak can beat the unjust though strong is our dearest hope. In our world it seems as if the powers of chaos and darkness are always just about to take over.

The story is reflected in the Gospel today. Jesus is like David fighting against Goliath. He is one man fighting against a culture of corruption, against the selfishness of the human heart. It seems like a useless battle. True, since he is God he is the strongest. That would be important if he was trying to destroy or kill his enemy. He could simply choose it, and all humanity would be instantly destroyed, but since he is trying to save us he appears weak.

He appears weak in the same way that goodness appears weak. How can we convince people to be chaste when the alternative is such a strong temptation? How can we convince people to be good when it is so much easier and more pleasurable to be bad? We seem weak because we are proposing something which no one wants. Satan seems strong because he is telling people to do that very thing they want to do anyway.

This is how God, though all-powerful, is in the place of David, and Satan, though nothing in comparison, is in the place of Goliath. In every human soul, God stands there with five stones ready to do battle against an enemy better armed. In every human soul, including your own, including my own. In your soul there is an enemy, a sin, a temptation, that right now seems like Goliath: giant, insurmountable, unconquerable.

Do not be deceived! Look at your Goliath with the eyes of David. When David saw Goliath he did not think “No one can beat that man” and he did not think “This is hopeless.” He thought that he could beat Goliath with the help of God. Know most confidently that whatever giants are preventing you from being a saint can, with the help of God, be conquered as easily as David conquered Goliath.

January 21, 2014 - Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 89:20-22, 27-28
Mark 2:23-28

“God does not see as a human sees.” How does a human see? Well light comes from the light source such as a lamp or the sun and it bounces off an object. The nature of the object changes what kind of light and how much light bounces off. Then the light enters the human eye, causing chemical changes on the retina. This is how a human sees, but not God.

God knows everything perfectly. He does not see a thing as much as he simply knows all about it. No atom in the universe loses an electron without God being aware. So the first difference between the human sight and divine sight is that human sight is limited to those objects which we see light bouncing off of whereas God's sight is unlimited.

But there are other differences too. Even when we are looking at something and can see it perfectly, our brains cannot always process the information. This is what causes optical illusions. An optical illusion can be looked at with the best light and still fool us. One line seems longer than another but when we bring out the ruler we find that it is not. God's sight is different in this way too because he always understands perfectly everything he knows.

And even when we are able to see something and understand what it is we see, we might fail to catch the significance. If you see a ring on the fourth finger of a person's left hand you know that they are married, but if we went to a different culture we would probably miss their equivalent symbols. A small mark or a piece of jewelry or a color of clothing might signify something very important to those who understand.

God, of course, understands all these things. God can see into the human heart. We have trouble seeing into our own hearts, let alone the heart of another, but God can see clearly our thoughts and motivations, our fears and our dreams. The truth in my heart might be hidden so that not even I know it, but God does. So when God tells me what will make me happy, what I should do and what I should avoid, I can be sure that he knows me better than I do.

January 20, 2014 - Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 15:16-23
Psalm 50:8-9, 16-17, 21, 23
Mark 2:18-22

We see in the readings today the transformation of religion from an attempt to appease God with gifts to a system of obedience. Is religion primarily about God or about us? The old religion thought that the problem was an angry God. In this manner of thinking humanity would get along just fine if God would leave us alone, so the primary task of the religious person is to make the angry God happy. In the new religious sense that these readings teach, the problem is we human beings. Therefore, the new religion prizes obedience over sacrifice of animals.

This transformation of religion goes on throughout the Old Testament, and indeed is still going on in our hearts. Even today we have a tendency to think of God like a senile relative who should be respected but mostly calmed down. We hope that if we go to Mass on Sunday and say our prayers and even go to Mass during the week, maybe God will be satisfied and we can live the rest of our lives without any interference.

However, we ought not think this way, and we know it. God is not getting in our way; we are getting in his way. He is trying to save us, so that we can live with him forever in heaven, but we are not being very cooperative. We are the ones who should be learning from God. We are the ones who are frustrating to work with. If only we would be obedient to his commands everything would be perfect.

The Pharisees in the Gospel see fasting in that same way that Saul saw sacrifice: as a gift they are giving to God, as a way of appeasing God's anger. Jesus' point is that fasting is supposed to be a reminder for us that we are separated from God. The Apostles cannot fast because while Jesus is with them they are not separated from God.

Our separation from God, which humanity has experienced ever since the Fall, ought to make us sad; it ought to make us feel an intense longing, but sin prevents us from seeing this clearly. Fasting focuses our attention: we feel physical hunger, and that symbolizes the spiritual hunger that we fail to recognize. Fasting, obedience, and everything else that God asks of us are not his whims or his selfish desires, but exactly the remedy that our souls require.

January 19, 2014 - Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-10
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
John 1:29-34

We have just been singing, “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will.” The psalmist is speaking to God. When we speak to God, it is never to inform him; it is always to remind ourselves. So when we sing, “Here I am Lord; I come to do your will” we are reminding ourselves of what our relationship with God is.

“Here I am Lord.” God already knows where we are. We are the ones needing the reminder. Here we are on earth, in the exact situation that our current time and place finds us. We could imagine a thousand people, each in their own unique situation, calling out, “Here I am Lord.” A person in the depths of grief can say, “Here I am Lord.” A person on top of Mount Everest can shout, “Here I am Lord.” A person made weak by illness can whisper, “Here I am Lord.” A person caught in addiction with no visible way out can call out, “Here I am Lord.”

This is often how we begin prayer, by telling the Lord where we are, as a child tells their father how things are going. God knows where we are. Not just our location but every fact about us, even what we ourselves do not know. This phrase, “Here I am Lord” is a reminder that no matter where we are, we can call out to God. There is no one in the world, no matter their situation, no matter their struggles, no matter their triumphs, who cannot stop and say, “Here I am Lord.”

We should attain the habit of this prayer. Ten times a day we should stop and turn to the Lord and say, “Here I am Lord.” This part of the prayer is all about the present. The past does not matter: how I got here, whose fault or success it was, is beside the point. I am here, and here is not too far away to speak to the Lord, so “Here I am Lord.”

The past matters only inasmuch as it has created the situation we are in. What we have done and what we have suffered has put us here today. Here. Exactly where each one of us is. Our here and now includes certain responsibilities, certain commitments, certain disabilities, certain liabilities. God knows that. He knows exactly where we are. We are the ones who might lie to ourselves. So we stop and say, “Here I am Lord.” Yet this was only half of the prayer that we sang. “Here I am Lord,” but now what? “I come to do your will.” This is to say that, no matter where we are, we can choose to do what is right.

Sometimes people believe that in their current situation it is impossible to do what is right, but it is always possible to cast aside everything and follow God. There is always a road from where we are to where we should be. When people are in difficult situations, so many lies reach out and claim that they can deal with it. In this culture of death, many of these solutions (Abortion, Suicide, Euthanasia, Terrorism) involve death, but killing can never undo the reality of where we are right now.

Abortion is a lie. Some people think that the morality of abortion depends on how the woman got pregnant. If a woman is pregnant, and it is unfair, then she should have an abortion, people say. But abortion cannot change reality. This is the lie. Abortion claims to fix something, but if a mother kills her child she is still the mother of that child. Nothing can undo reality.

No matter what the difficult situation, we are tempted away from God’s will. One person believe that their sins are too serious for God to ever accept them again. Another thinks that God’s will is too idealistic and impractical. These are lies; we can always turn back to God. Another is in a situation that is just unfair, and they cannot believe that they are required to accept it, but what else can we do with reality except to accept it? No matter where we are, we always have complete freedom to begin to do God’s will. No matter how we got where we are, we cannot change the reality into something else, but we can move forward from this point in the direction of God.

We have to give up our own will. If we today give up every one of our plans for life, if we today give up every expectation, every anticipation, every ambition, every entitlement, every sense of our fair share, it is possible to do God’s will, to be completely happy. How many people are prevented from following God because of a daydream! How many times must we remind ourselves? God loves us. He knows what is best for us. Therefore, his plan is specially designed to get us what is best for us. What more could we want?

Just as Israel had to give up the idea of being the only nation favored by God. They are hoping to be restored as the favored nation, but God says, “It is too little, the LORD says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Paul had to give up a promising career as a Pharisee to become an apostle (and what is an apostle but a wandering beggar? It seems impressive now, because of where God’s will took him. At the time it was about as low as a person could go.). John the Baptist had to give up the following he could have had as he pointed the way to Jesus and away from himself.

So too we must give up whatever is tying us down here, even if it seems like the most important thing. We must give up anything that prevents us from doing the will of God: whether an object or a goal or plans or simply our pride. No matter how much time, effort, and money we have invested in this obstacle, not even if we have made it the center and meaning of our lives, if it prevents us from following God, we must cast it aside. And when we give it up, and travel down the way of God’s will, and arrive at heaven, if we should, by some chance turn and look at that precious thing that lies cast aside on the road, we will laugh at ourselves for ever thinking it of any value at all in comparison to God’s love and what he has prepared for us.

January 18, 2014 - Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 9:1-4, 17-19; 10:1
Psalm 21:2-7
Mark 2:13-17

In any group project, at work or school, we might have the tendency either to take over the project or to let others do all the work. Some people are glad to have all the work done for them, but other people cannot trust anyone else to do their share properly, and depending on the group and what needs to get done they might be right, but in the group project that is this world we have to admit freely that we are not the most competent or the greatest. Those who have a tendency to take over a project are at a disadvantage. Those who know how to let others do work for them are better prepared to trust in God.

In the first reading today God chooses as king a man who was better than all the other Israelites. He was taller and stronger and more handsome than any other Israelite, but God will eventually find a replacement for him. When we think of the first king of Israel, usually King David comes to mind, there was a king before King David: King Saul who we read about today. God rejected Saul because Saul was not obedient. God gave Saul a job to do with specific instructions, but Saul decided he knew how to do it better.

The scribes and Pharisees might have liked Jesus better if when he came to Earth he gave them recognition for all their hard work. Instead, he spends his time with all the slackers. They do not understand why Jesus would want to be near sinners, but Jesus says that it is only natural since sinners are the ones who need his salvation. The scribes and Pharisees need his salvation too, but they do not know that. The sinners are at an advantage because they know that they need God. The scribes and Pharisees are delusional because they think that they can get along on their own strength.

What is better, to have the whole weight of the world resting on your shoulders or to have someone else carry that weight? Without question, it is better to have someone else carry the weight, but only if we can trust that someone else. We may not always be able to trust others, but we can trust God. In the presence of God we can finally let go and let someone else take charge, submitting to him in all humility.

January 17, 2014 - Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 8:4-7, 10-22
Psalm 89:16-19
Mark 2:1-12

I would like to begin by just making an observation that several features of this Gospel suggest that the paralyzed person was not an adult. Jesus calls him “child”, and of course there is the practical aspect of lowering him from the roof: he must not have weighed so much. I do not know why, but I think that when I used to hear this story I thought of the paralyzed person as a man, and while nothing is certain from the indications that I point to, it just seems more likely that he is a child or a man so reduced by disability so as to be like a child.

If he is a child, it is all the more difficult to deal with the association that Jesus makes between the forgiveness of sins and healing. A tiny paralyzed child small enough that four people can let him down through the roof: is he being punished for his sins? What sins could this child have? The obvious answer is original sin.

Perhaps this seems unfair or cruel, but that is really a separate question. We know from reality that suffering is present from the first moments of life. A child born with a disability or disease, are they guilty of some sin? Of course not! But then again they are often suffering the consequences of sin. Fetal alcohol syndrome, addiction to drugs, malnutrition, and many other ways that young children suffer is the consequence of sin — their parents' sin or the sins of their country's leaders or the sin of greed and selfishness in the world. Since all this is apparent on the material level how can we doubt that it reflects a spiritual reality that sin causes suffering in this world, and the innocent are often the ones who suffer.

Yet Jesus says to the child, “Your sins are forgiven.” Original sin needs to be forgiven just like actual sin. In what way each of us carried the guilt of original sin from our conception is not clear, but we do know that baptism forgives the guilt of original sin. Undoubtedly, there is much we do not understand about reality. There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in our philosophy. When we see a child suffering we can be sure that this is the consequence of sin in the sense that no child would have suffered in Eden. All the suffering in the world, what we hear on the news, what we see with our own eyes, is the consequence of sin. We must remember that when we think of committing all our little sins. Even if we cannot imagine how our sin causes suffering in the world, we at least ought to be opposed to sin when we see the evil that sin has done. To support sin, to defend sin, to accept sin, is to side with that which causes the suffering of innocent children.

January 16, 2014 - Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 4:1-11
Psalm 44:10-11, 14-15, 24-25
Mark 1:40-45

Whose side is God on in a war? Neither side. God is greater than humans, so he cannot be on our side. We can be on his side, in the sense that we can do what is right. Whenever we do what is right, we are on his side. Indeed, two men on opposite sides of the battle, each one fighting for his country, trying to do what is right, could both be on God’s side. Such are the unfortunate circumstances of this fallen world.

The Israelites were losing their war with the Philistines, but then they had an idea. They thought that they could not possibly fail once they had brought the Ark of the Covenant into their camp. Then they lost the war worse than ever before. They had faith in the power of God to win the battle for them. The Philistines were frightened at the thought of fighting against the powerful God of the Israelites. So what went wrong? The Israelites forgot to account for one thing: God is not our slave who does whatever we tell him to do.

God is powerful, but his power is not at our beck and call. If God had let the Israelites win that battle, what sort of lesson would it have been for them? They would have thought of the Ark as a magical device. They would have thought of God as a power that they could control. We are constantly tempted to see God as our servant and to be upset with God when he does not do as he is told.

Either God is our servant, or he is our equal, or we are his servants. Which is the truth? The truth requires us to submit in service to God. This means that I must view my life as that of a servant. This is a completely different mindset that affects my whole life. The purpose of my life is not to seek pleasure or to amass wealth or to win the esteem of my fellow humans. The purpose of my life is to serve, and that is the purpose of your life too. It does not matter – deacon, priest, husband, wife, whatever – we are called to serve. To live as a servant is to grow up, to be an adult. This world is full of the spectacle of fully grown people wanting to be served like children. We Christians are called to put away childish things, to be grown ups, which means being servants.

January 15, 2014 - Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20
Psalm 40:2, 5, 7-10
Mark 1:29-39

The Lord calls out “Samuel” and Samuel says “Here I am.” Jesus spends a day and a night healing the sick and casting out demons, and the next day he is up bright and early, headed for the next towns. Samuel lived to serve. If Eli called, Samuel was there. He does not drag himself out of bed or just shout across the temple, “What?!” He carries his intention through. Jesus came down from heaven to earth, not to sit around and watch tv or fritter away the hours lying in bed. He came for a reason, and every action he did was part of accomplishing his purpose.

We too have a purpose. God wants each of us to accomplish something. Just as he called Samuel to great things, so he is calling each and every one of us to great things. Do not pretend that you cannot hear the call of God! You can hear it. I can hear it. I know what God wants; I just fail to actually do it.

Are we going to live inconsistent lives? Make New Year Resolutions and then leave them by the wayside? It is not as if it is actually difficult to be a better person. It does not require effort to pass over unhealthy foods. Exercising more is not beyond our abilities. To go out of our way to love people is not a superhuman feat.

So what is wrong with us? It is as if we are people just waking up, groggy and unable to act. We should be like Samuel. We should be like Jesus. We should say, “Behold I come to do your will.” If we did not know, we would have an excuse, but since we do know God, and we know that we should follow him, we have no excuse.

The good part is that we can talk ourselves up, we can give ourselves a little motivational speech. The bad part is that it only lasts for a little while. So what should we do? Give up and surrender to mediocrity? No! Begin again over and over and over again. Do not make a new year resolution; make a new hour resolution, perhaps a new minute resolution. “With this minute I intend to do great things.” A journey of a thousand miles is simply two million individual steps. A life of dedication to the Lord, of great accomplishment in righteousness, is simply the summation of what we did with each minute.

January 14, 2014 - Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 1:9-20
1 Samuel 2:1, 4-8
Mark 1:21-28

Presumption is the source of such great evil in our world. People presume that they understand another’s motivations. People presume that they know what is going on. They judge their neighbor. What an example we have today, when Eli, the head priest, walks up to Hannah and starts reprimanding her publicly for being drunk when actually she was praying. And Eli was a righteous man. He was a good priest. But what he did here was wrong.

We give priests great honor, which is right since they stand in the person of Christ. Jesus forgives our sins through the ministry of the priest. He turns bread and wine into his Body and Blood through the words of the priest. The priest inasmuch as he is a priest, is Jesus Christ, but inasmuch as he remains himself, he is a fallen man like any of us. The problem is, how do we give so much respect to a person’s office while still being ready to ignore and forgive or even condemn the man for what he does and says?

People have left the faith because of words that a priest spoke. Perhaps what the priest said was right, perhaps it was wrong, but they hurt. They were hurt by a priest, so they turn away from the Church. It does not make any logical sense: whether a priest has offended us has nothing to do with whether Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our Savior, but these people are not thinking logically. They have been hurt, so they want to exercise what power they can against the one who has hurt them.

What good does this do? I am hurt, so I react with anger and hurt someone else or just hurt myself. This does not make the world a better place. What is needed is humility, and Hannah provides such an example of humility. She would have been fully justified in letting Eli have it, either to his face or by leaving and grumbling about it later. Instead she humbly insists that his accusation is untrue and explains herself. If Eli had had Hannah’s humility, he would have been more careful. What we need is humility before we hurt other and humility when others hurt us. What we need is humility.

January 13, 2014 - Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 1:1-8
Psalm 116:12-19
Mark 1:14-20

Today Jesus says four things to the people. 1) The time is fulfilled. 2)The Kingdom of God is at hand. 3) Repent and 4) Believe in the Gospel. This is his initial proclamation. Should we walk around shouting out these four things downtown? I do not think we will make any converts. If we say that the time is fulfilled, and we mean is that Jesus has come for the first time, people will say, "I have heard that already.” If we say, "The Kingdom of God is at hand", people will respond, "Oh yeah? Well where is it?" If we say, "Repent", they will say, "Stop judging me!" or if we do a better translation and say, "Change your mind!", they will ask for proof that they should. Then when we finally say, "Believe in the Gospel!", they will laugh and say "Oh, is that all? You are just one of those. Leave me alone."

Jesus had a difficult audience too. The people whom Jesus was preaching to were weary of so-called Messiahs; they had been promised salvation by many different people who had all failed. The difference here was the preacher: he said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” and there he was: the king. He lived the Gospel. He was the Gospel. The Christian Gospel does not fall on deaf ears when it is preached by a saint, but it seems mediocre when preached by someone who ignores it.

When we say that the world is completely different because of Christianity, but then we live like everyone else, they know that we do not really believe what we preach. When we say that “the time is fulfilled” but then waste this fulfilled time in the pleasures of the world, they know that we do not really believe that our message is urgent. When we say to them, “Repent; change your mind” but continue in our sins and selfishness and in our pride refuse to change ours, they know we do not mean it, not really.

Before we worry about whether we can get them to hear these words, can I get you to hear them? Can I get me to hear them? The world does not believe because we do not believe, because, if we did believe, we would live as if it were true. The message of the Gospel is very powerful, but only where there is any evidence that it actually makes a difference.