Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday, August 31, 2008

From the ocean's depths!

Throughout my lifetime, all sixty-seven years, from the days when catechism classes became the backbone of my faith experience, there was a word that slipped in even during the early years of learning. At the outset, of course, my mind was not able to comprehend fully what was being taught. To hear that the Pope was the successor to St. Peter did not sink in significantly until there were a few whiskers on this chin. At the same time, my Jesuit teachers on Eye Street brought us to understand another word related to all of this: magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church. Even then, in those teen-age years such a reality seemed so far away: how many could get to Rome in eight hours in those days? In our world today, because of the rapidity in which we all live and move and have our being, we hear the phrases "successor to St. Peter" and "magisterium" more frequently.
For those who profess a faith in the Roman Catholic Church genuine challenges confront our creedal commitment almost daily. The concept of freedom, espoused in those "amber waves of grain," remind us that to be free is one of our most treasured characteristics as an American citizen. It is this very core of our American citizenship which is tested in the life of the committed Roman Catholic at this time in our history as Catholics and as American citizens. In short, our faith is challenged by contemporary realities.
Recently, in the national discussions about a successor to the current President, the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on abortion has become an issue of major interest. So, for the next few minutes I wish to reflect upon the present and constant teaching of the Church on the matter ... a subject which demands great sacrifice from many.

Before his death, Resurrection and subsequent Ascension, Jesus Christ promised us that he would not leave his followers, his Church, as orphans. Those chosen, the Twelve as they were called, were anointed with the Holy Spirit with a simple charge: teach all that I have taught you. Proclaim what I have taught to all the world. It was in this atmosphere that the successor to St. Peter was established. These very close followers of Jesus were to speak with authority when teaching on matters of faith and morals.

Even in the earliest days of the Church, the accounts in the Acts of the Apostles and St. Paul’s writings, recount the challenges that were put to the faith of Jesus’ followers. Even Peter and Paul had their moments of serious and strong debate. It was made clear from the beginning, these men and their successors possessed the teaching authority of the Church. That authority was assisted by the Holy Spirit who would guard them in all the truth they taught as Jesus made clear. His words, in Matthew’s gospel are strong: "Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you. And look, I am with you always, yes, to the end of time." Jesus could not be clearer about the authority entrusted to the Twelve in his name.
It is this tenet of the Catholic Church that makes the abortion issue more significant today when the matter of rights is put forth. There is only one group of people who are entrusted with the proclamation of the official doctrine of the Catholic Church: it is the Successor to St. Peter in union with the bishops . This teaching of the Church does not afford me and other pastors, you and other Catholics the freedom to make a decision in this and other matters as we see fit.
The Church teaches us that abortion is more than an evil. It is a great moral evil. This has been and will continue to be the teaching of the Church. It is a part of the authentic faith Popes and Bishops are charged with protecting. And our Popes and Bishops and other church leaders have affirmed this teaching since the first century ... when, ironically, abortion was rampant. Recently St. Augustine, whose feast we celebrated on Friday, was cited in a national discussion of the matter. If you would like to know precisely what Augustine thought and taught in regard to this matter, you can find that information in his book, On Marriage and Concupiscence. I suspect those who take one sound bite from his writings to oppose the Church’s position on abortion would throw out the same book because of Augustine’s thoughts and words on concupiscence.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has the same power and authority as the well-remembered Baltimore Catechism, our Church teaches, "Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception... Since the first century the Church as affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to moral law." (Catechism, 2270-2271)

Out the outset of these remarks, you may recall that I said that our faith is challenged by contemporary realities. Abortion is one such challenge. In the second reading of today’s liturgy, St. Paul’s words to the Romans stand for us in this battle for life, for life at all stages, from conception to natural death: Paul was strong. "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect" (Rom 12:2). And only on Friday of this week, the words of Jeremiah proclaimed a similar message to the leaders of Judah and a charge to those who followed the prophet’s words ... the same charge given through the decades by Moses, Isaiah and Ezekiel: "Gird your loins; stand up and tell that all that I command you. Do not be crushed on their account.... For this day ... I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord" (Jer 1:17-19). The feast on Friday was that of the Martyrdom of John the Baptist. These words reminded us of the sacrifice that martyrdom was for John as well as many who would walk in his footsteps ... men and women and even children who were not afraid to stand strong in the battle for their beliefs, for their faith.
During one of the "homilies" delivered during the first political party convention last week, one of the memorable lines might be used by our Church in response to those who believe the Church is wrong is the following with a very slight adaptation by this blogger:
They just don't get it. It's never been about me. It's about you. It's about your human dignity! Every year many parents pick up acorns fallen from the might oak trees. They hold one in a hand and usually will say, "See this big tree. You know what is inside this acorn? It's this big tree that has grown up." That acorn has within it the life of the new tree. Doesn't this sound familiar?

This is the challenge to all Roman Catholics and all who believe what Jesus taught. Now is a time for us to affirm together with all our sisters and brothers of our Catholic faith that the destruction of innocent human life at any stage is wrong. And for me and you, part of the martyrdom that we may face is sacrificing some of our personal desires, nurtured in American freedom, because we are Catholics who believe what the Church teaches and are willing to stand up for those beliefs.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Be Strong!: Reflection - August 29, 2008

Jeremiah stands out among the messengers of God to the people of Judah during its days of political convulsions. For 40 years his voice proclaimed God's love for his people and in kind the duty of the people toward God through their covenant relationship with him.
The opening words of the first reading from today's liturgy, "Gird you loins" are a call to mission for those passionate about their relationship with and for God. Perhaps no other Old Testament words better express the response of John the Baptist during his life of preaching. These few words, these three words, are a call to purpose and a signal to those in charge that a man of God is calling them to heed the words of God. Scripture scholars liken Jeremiah's call to the callings of Moses, Isaiah and Ezekiel. These individuals' calls show us three realities: (1) the predestination of the man to his prophetic role; (2) the intimacy between God and his prophet; (3) lastly, the persecution that follows upon such a mission. John the Baptist was a prophet do different. Today we recall and celebrate this man's strength, his dedication to his mission despite the challenge to his life.
What do these three words mean to us today? It is a call for us to put on the armour of battle, the battle that challenges the evils in our times. Primary for us today is battle to protect the dignity of every human life from the time of its conception through every stage of its development until the moment when the body of its own accord gives up its life.
God is clear: "stand up and tell them (those who bring about evil) all that I command you." Today we stand in the middle of two gatherings raising standards for the leadership of our nation. At the same time, we, the prophets of our times, we are called to stand strong in defending the dignity of every human being; we are called to stand strong in proclaiming the Commandments of our own covenant with God. Why? Because, like Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah and John the Baptist, we are , by our baptism predestined to be proclaimers of the Good News; and, we too are reminded, that our discipleship will bring us ridicule and even persecution.
And should we fear? Should we worry? A one word answer: "Never!" "They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you...." And why? Because our God says these words!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

St Augustine: Reflection: August 28, 2008

Today we honor a man who struggled with the unknown. Today's gospel puts the unknown before us. It is the same struggle in the life of St. Augustine.

St. Augustine gave years of his life contending with an inner struggle, seeking to know the truth as he wanted it defined. He was searching for order in his life, for peace in his heart and soul. Finally he found the pathway to order and structure which gave him confidence and assurance.

Augustine came to see the "inmost depth" of his soul because he eventually arrived at the moment of truth. He changed his life by trusting the guidance of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In our modern society people struggle to put order into their lives, using day planners, charts, calendars and seminars. Organizational gurus even for us "Dummies" can be found on many bookshelves in stores, libraries and homes. We have become a society where people who do have their lives in order more frequently than not are given the accolade "control freeks."

The son of a loving and caring mother, Monica, Augustine made it clear that he "sought a way to gain the strength" he needed to "enjoy" God's presence in his life. Only when he "embraced the mediator between God and Human kind, the man Christ Jesus, did he find the peace his unrest had sought. "He was calling me and saying: I am the way of truth, I am the life."

Augustine described in more than a few places in his writings this struggle for order, for truth. Once he allowed himself to turn his life over to Jesus Christ, he found what he called "immutable life." For him, as he wrote, it was no "ordinary light. His words: "he who has come to know the truth knows this light.

Enjoy these words of his: "Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you. You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you, they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.... You touched me, and I burned for your peace. (from the Confessions)

You inspire us, O Lord, to delight in praising you,
because you made us for yourself;
our hearts are restless
until they rest in you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Prayer on the Hill
will be taking a few days away from the Hill
for a few days
Reflection at water's edge
Ocean City.
The blog will resume full production on Tuesday,
August 26, 2008.

Is It Truly Unfair?- August 20, 2008 Reflection

In today's readings we learn how God looks upon those who have a responsibility for shepherding flocks and a challenge to the equality of disciples in the reward of inheriting eternal life.

The event of the gospel is peculiar to Matthew's gospel. We can hear the all-day workers' complaints about the distribution of the monies earned. It is like conversations we can hear today from those who feel they are overworked and underpaid compared to others. The event in Matthew is somewhat like the description of the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son. That son felt the father was so unfair to him in rewarding his profligate brother on his return.

How easy it is to stand back and complain, assigning to the part-time workers or those more rewarded our won perceptions of their incompetence or laziness. What is actually happening? The criteria for the payment is being set up not by the owner but by the complainers.

Jesus, as we know, has a different outlook, a different set of criteria. Time cards? They mean nothing. He looks at everyone through the eyes and heart of love. We could phrase his story with these words: "Is my decision to reward all as I see fit a cause of envy for you? Is my generosity a threat to you?" Perhaps Jesus' story is a challenge not only about fairness but about generosity as well.

When we feel that others are better treated that we are, it is time for us to realize Jesus loves all of us equally. Maybe we might see ourselves as extraordinarily blessed even though we might have too much time grousing about what others do or don't do.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Get Over the Small Stuff

Today's gospel [Matthew 23:23-26] contains a message for many of us. It is fitting because most have become very, very, very busy people --- whether we like it or not.

Jesus speaks directly to the scribes and Pharisees -- those who feel the need to be in complete control but, because they are so busy about too many concerns, "have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgement and mercy and fidelity."

Have you ever noticed how your life becomes when it becomes difficult, cluttered with too many interferences? Most likely you have a disappointing and frustrating sense that you have lost control. As a result, a natural human reaction takes place: you become quite picayune! You make your world a microcosm. You focus in on the smallest of your faults or your turn to criticising an other's ways. Irritations abound when the children don't put "thing" where you want them,; when your spouse does not get a load of wash done or the broken hand on the bathroom cabinet has been hanging almost off the drawer for weeks.

What Jesus is remind the scribes and Pharisees -- and us is this: don't be overly critical of other or ourselves. God isn't asking what might be impossible at a given moment on our expectations calendar. Jesus is teaching all of us that what the Father expects of us is that we are full of love or himself and one another. Even for us the heart of the Commandments and the laws of our Church is justice, mercy and fidelity. If we endeavor to love others as we ought and if we allow them to love us even our smallest expectations will disappear from that list of expectations. Our critical ways will morph into appreciation and respect.

Let our prayers today open our hearts to loving and being loved. Let us remember this in our workplace and our homes today and every day.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Possessions Possessed

Monday's gospel story of the young man with much offers a disquieting challenge to most in the world today. The story stands as an adjunct to the experiences of many people throughout the world today. A young man wants Jesus to tell him what he has to do to gain eternal life in the kingdom of God.
Seemingly without any hesitation, Jesus turns to several of the commandments that deal directly with how we treat other people. Like most in our world today, the young man responds as most would: "You know, I have done most of those things." Then Jesus, as is his want, puts the hammer right on the nail. "Sell (that is make some money ... the sign of an early economics degree!!) what you have and give it to the poor." Whoo!!! Imagine that command. And the young man went on his way because he was possessed by his possessions. He could not separate himself from them.
By many standards, we are not poor. Look around you. Look at the room where you are reading this blog. Think about the other rooms in your house, your apartment. And the attic or the basement, or both! How about the modern special attic or basement: the rented storage space??? Like the young man, many of us have been taken over by our possessions.
During my recent move to St. Joseph's parish, I was embarrassed when I realized all the "things" accumulated either through gifts from my family and friends or through my own "wants." I cannot but think of the youngsters sitting in the seats of grocery carts going down the aisles with Mom or Dad. "Mom, we need that box of Cheerios." Or, "Dad, I need that toy." How often are we just driven to have more.
Politician are promising needed change in all the speeches we have to endure these days. Yet, even before our election day, our wants, our lives have been curbed by our excesses especially as relates to the energy we cannot provide for ourselves. We have seen change; we are feeling change, a painful kind of change. Prices are up; sales are down.
Isn't it strange when you take time to think about it: oil has become the great teacher in our generation. Oil, especially foreign oil, has come into our homes and apartments and started to teach us about waste, about the better way of using what we have and not using what we don't need.
Today's gospel story serves us well. It reminds me and you that we have become the servant to our possessions and the need to have more. Perhaps this might be the most challenging pill we have to swallow: we have become possessed by our possessions and our need for more!
We often pray for wisdom. But are we clear? Wisdom for what??? A challenge for us today on our journey of faith and living is to pray regularly not that we might have more and more. We might begin to pray for the wisdom to know the best way to deal with what we possess and with what possessions possess us.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Twentieth Sunday: Giving Our Love and Loyalty

Today, I have invited the Permanent Deacon, Gary Bockweg, at our parish, St. Joseph's on Capitol Hill, to share the homily he will be preaching at all our Masses this weekend, the Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary time. Just so there is no confusion: NO! This is not Gary in the picture! Deacon Gary has agreed to offer his homily each month when he preaches, usually the third weekend of the month. Thank you, Gary.

Mt 15:21-28

Imagine what would happen if John McCain or Barak Obama
Referred to some group of people as dogs. It would make headlines.
The Internet and talk shows would be abuzz.
Retractions and apologies would be demanded.

So, we might be taken aback by the analogy Jesus uses today.
When the Canaanite woman asks for his help
Not only does he say he won't help her.
That shocking enough.
He goes on to compare her people, the Gentiles -- us -- to dogs.
"It is not right to take the food of the children
And throw it to the dogs."
Does Jesus need some sensitivity training?

No analogy is perfect.
But, despite perhaps stretching the bounds of the politically correct,
Jesus came up with a pretty good one.
The image he evoked clearly and cleverly conveyed his message to the woman.
His first priority was to minister to the Jews -- the children.
Not to the other nations -- the dogs.
She immediately understood and embraced the image he'd created --
And came right back at him.
She had a quick and clever retort of her own.
"Even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters."

She may be the only person in the Gospels to top Jesus in a verbal exchange.

Despite the very serious topics --
The plea for healing,
And recognition of the Jews as God first chosen people --
There a touch of lightheartedness to their exchange.
And a sense of respect rather than offense.
The woman calls him Lord.
In the end, he praises her great faith, and grants her request.

This was one of the few reported times that Jesus directly ministered to a Gentile.
But those few instances opened the door for the whole world.
As Paul points out in his letter to the Romans,
God's plan moved forward to the next stage.
He lavished His gifts and His mercy not only upon the Jews.
But upon all of us.

When you stop to think about it, what's so bad about being compared to a dog?
And the word Jesus used can be interpreted as puppy as well as dog.

That's an even friendlier analogy.
On Capitol Hill we love and pamper our dogs.
You see people walking their dogs at all hours of the day and night.
I used to walk my German Shepherd late at night.
Sometimes very late.
People who would probably never stop to talk to me,
Would stop to talk to her.
They probably didn't remember my name (if they ever even knew it.)
But they all seemed to remember Rosebud.

We're funny about our dogs.
Many of us treat them as if they were our children.
And in return they give us their complete and unconditional love and loyalty.
They see us as their master.
And it seems that there's nothing they'd rather do than be near us and serve us.

Even as an active member of the Capitol Hill dog culture,
I was surprised, when I visited Paris.
It wasn't uncommon to go into a nice Parisian restaurant
And see people holding their little dogs on their laps.
Hand-feeding them at the table.

No analogy is perfect.
But one comes to mind when we look at the Mass,
Or when we look to the heavenly banquet.
We're very much like those pampered Parisian puppies.
Not scrambling for scraps on the floor.
But reclining at our Master table
Being hand-fed by that loving Master.

All He asks in return is that we give Him our love and loyalty.

The Beauty of Another Person: Saturday, August 16, 2008

The beauty of a human being often lies hidden ... even more so in our cyberspace world.
Today's gospel reading is significant not only for children but for adults as well. Matthew's recollection of Jesus' reprimand of his disciples for trying to prevent the children from coming to him is a challenge to the teachings of the ancient religious and philosophical teachers that children do not count for much. Even the animals that provided food for the family table was of more "value" than children. Perhaps Jesus was addressing what is a problem not only in his times but in ours as well: abortion!
The event of today's gospel is a reminder that every human being is a creation of God. Every creation, especially that of human life, is a work of God's creating beauty. Interestingly this thought made its way into St. Paul's converted thinking. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote these words: " friends, fill you minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable" (Phil 4:8 -- Good News Translation).
While there are few who cannot see beauty in our world, we have to be careful in our cyber-space existence not to cut ourselves of from the beauty of people because we either take each other for granted or we become so busy we don't take notice.
People are "beautiful"; people are "lovely" to use Paul's word: all people from the little child to the elderly man or woman caught up in life's tragedies of poverty or abandonment. Whether a person is handsome or gorgeous in appearance is not the issue. A person's true beauty lies in the reality that she or he is a creation of God's goodness, God's love for you and me.
The challenge for us today is not to defeat our awareness of others and their beauty especially those who might be different from you or me. Recently I watched the acting out of a frequent event: a striking younger couple were having dinner together. Almost as soon as they were seated, the cellphone dance began: two or three times each of them pulled out a cell phone and started talking and not briefly. When the meal arrived, eating began. Hardly a word was exchanged!
Jesus' story, Jesus' reprimand of the disciples is a teaching moment for our times: don't overlook the beauty of God's most beautiful creations --- you and me and the people around you and me whether young or old, beautiful or not so blessed!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Assumption of the Mother of Jesus

While we celebrate the day when God called Mary to be a part of his heavenly kingdom, we also celebrate a moment when Mary's life is given to us to assist us on our own journey to our heavenly reward.
To think we can only imagine what Mary's new life must be like is something of an error on our part. We have only to look at what we might consider the best expression of her life --- the prayer included in today's gospel , the Magnificat.
The marvel of her pray is an expression of her life of praise and gratitude to the Father. Her words speak not of herself but, rather, God's work in and through this woman's life.
Mary's assumption into heaven is God's affirmation to all of humankind that Mary enjoyed her heavenly home from the moment of her death. At that time she immediately began to share her son's resurrection.
Her entire life was dedication -- dedication to her living out the will of God for her. In this life we have an example for ourselves: our baptism calls us to try our very best to follow God's calling. We, however, because of Original Sin, try to let the reign of God rule in our hearts. Yet, as we all know, there are moments when we give in to what we want not what God wants.
So, today, we honor Mary and place in her hands our desires to live as God calls us to follow his will.
My soul magnifies the Lord,And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.He has shown strength with His arm:He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.He has put down the mighty from their thrones,and exalted those of low degree.He has filled the hungry with good things;and the rich He has sent empty away.He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy;As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity forever.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ezekiel teaches wherever two or three are gathered in his name God is there. Jesus advises us when we have been offended we do better praying together.

Today’s gospel is an instance of Jesus speaking to the point when anyone feels another person has said or done something that has become a source of pain. Unfortunately, I suspect, most of us encounter these moments more than we would like. Jesus is very clear: go and tell the offender your feelings. Tell that person and that person alone!

I cannot tell you how many times in my many different assignments, a person who has been hurt by another’s remarks or actions has called together usually around a water fountain, in a coffee room or hallway his or her Supreme Court of friends or the offending person’s "enemies" to hear the details of the offending words or actions.

This is so contrary to the first suggestion Jesus puts forward. Secondly, if personal conversation does not work, he suggests gathering two or three people together to talk with you and the offender. And when that fails, bring the matter to a higher authority, a boss, a manager, a counselor. All of these failing, then Jesus hits the nail on the head with a hammer blow: treat that person like an outsider! Harsh words from the man of love.

We have, all of us, I am sure, been through similar moments. But how infrequent is the easiest solution used: meeting the person after a day or two of calming the nerves!

We should never forget that through a little quiet with the Lord and we are empowered by God. His power then goes out from us wherever we go or to whomever we speak.

Returning to the offender in most cases makes clear your respect for his or her dignity as a person, as a child of God. Done with a sense of calm and prayer, the opportunity for genuine reconciliation has been made real. Going to the Supreme Court of friends in most instances undermines reconciliation.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Away! Blogger in Recess!

The blog will be inactive from Thursday morning, August 7, 2008 until Tuesday, August 11, 2008. The blogger will be in Boston to officiate at the marriage of family friends.

Transfiguration: Reflection for August 6, 2008

Today the readings express majesty and the prophetic. The gospel presents a second revelation of who Jesus is. The first we experienced on Christmas Day. Today it is the Transfiguration and the Father’s revelation of his Son.
Yesterday’s reflection, how we respect others, was in fact about the virtue of humility. The feasts of Christmas and the Transfiguration are a presentation of the humility of the Son of God, Jesus the man. The Nativity presents Jesus willingly accepting his humanity and the vulnerability it carries. In the Transfiguration we experience Jesus, the adult, giving complete obedience to the Father’s will. Together these two moments in the life of Christ offer us an extraordinary insight into who Jesus was as a human being. In his adult life especially in the years of his public ministry, Jesus did not allow personal desires or the threats of opposition deter his doing the Father’s will.

Today I invite you to bring Jesus into your hearts with an awareness that we are called to do all we can in our lives to welcome God’s will for us into our lives. Our desire to live the will of God strengthens our relationship with the Father. Likewise it fortifies us in our struggles against sin and challenges to our faith.

Imagine what this experience must have been for Peter, James and John. Their fright should not surprise us. Likewise for ourselves, in those moments when we do recognize that God is placing challenges before us, we can also expect the same words from Jesus: "Rise, and do not be afraid." In short, he is saying, get up and let’s get on with what the Father wants us to do. We are in this together.
"The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth."
Psalm 97

Monday, August 4, 2008

Life in Christ Jesus: Reflection: Monday, August 4, 2008


Paul’s letter to the Philippians is seen by scholars as possibly 3 different short notes occasioned by a desire to express thanks for a donation for the Church in Jerusalem from the people of Rome. A portion of this letter was written from prison. Paul was jailed because he performed an exorcism on a slave girl of Philippi. This letter was the initiation of Paul’s missionary work in Europe, away from the East. Scholars consider this letter to be authentic Pauline writing. Paul uses the letter to address the antagonism within the community of Philippi that developed as a result of some of the reaction against those who were seeking to follow the message of the Risen Jesus. The antagonism was brought about by pride and self-seeking. He seeks to sue the notion of a "common participation" in Christ as the way to "shape and determine their mutual relationships" (New Jerome Biblical Commentary, pp 791-794).

Paul wants his followers in Philippi to live the fullness of a Christian life which is possible if they possess the proper motivation. He says that if they (and we ourselves in today’s world) possess the "same attitude" among themselves (and we among ourselves) as they have in their personal relationship with the Risen Jesus, they will achieve a strong community that will further support them in their faith.
Important for them, according to Paul, is that they should not attempt to manipulate or control how others live their lives. The true follower of Christ lives life just as Jesus lived his life. Jesus, using his time alone in prayer and reflection with the Father, knew who he was as the Son of God. It was this awareness that gifted him with so much freedom to be himself. His sense of self gained from those moments allowed him to be open to all people and concerned about them as well.
If we (like the Philippians) know who we are as Christ-followers today, if we live our lives of faith in Christ , we will possess a similar freedom. It would be a freedom that opens our lives to "others." And who are the "others"? In our society, even in our Church today, there are those who are called the marginalized, living on the edge of society. For us today opening our hearts and minds to the needy, the rejected, the mentally disturbed, this is the challenge for the follower of Christ, the true child of God.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Sunday Reflection: August 3, 2008 Romans 8:35, 37

The history of St. Paul is available but to most it is unknown: the wordsmith that wrote many letters, killed many Christians, and was knocked off his horse. "Is there much more?"

What gives credibility and a kind of brilliance to Paul’s words is that Jesus, the Risen Jesus, appeared to him on more than one occasion. He gives us a direct accounting of the moment in the first letter to the Corinthians. It is an account that has nothing to do with being knocked from a horse as recorded by Luke some fifty years later. But that’s material for another homily! Just know this: "Of all those who saw the risen Lord, Paul is the only one whose words we possess" (Wills, What Paul Meant, p 21).
Today, to broaden our awareness and appreciation of the unique wordsmith, let’s give some thought to the second reading, particularly two verses:

What will separate us from the love of Christ? ... No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who has loved us. (Romans 8: 35 and 37)
A story first, however. When I was a high school principal, hardly a day passed that a student didn’t stop me to proclaim that a particular teacher "really doesn’t like me." So often the teacher would happen to be an instructor whose care and interest was beyond question. Mind you, there were other teachers who could win the students’ recognition without any question. But, as so often happens, the gripe was about a truly professional teacher.

Almost always it was the teacher who ran remedial classes; it was the teacher who would wait after the dismissal bell to help anyone more than ordinarily confused or totally lost; it was the teacher who would spend hours preparing classes. To make the complaint more frivolous, usually it was the teacher would regularly see me to discuss students’ academic welfare, especially where it seemed that there were either personality problems or known difficulties in the student’s home life. So often the student’s lack of trust had arisen because the teacher was trying to form a good student. Only years later would these young turks realize how much genuine love there was in the teacher’s life and work for students.
With that in mind let’s return to Paul’s words. He asks if some of the frustrations, the lack of joy and so forth could separate him and the Romans from the love of Jesus Christ. He provides an answer: No! They cannot if we have a better understanding of Jesus Christ. Paul’s thought here and elsewhere in his letters is that our lives would be so very different were we to be mindful of the love of God that is so much a part of who we are and have been since our conception. This is so much like the care of an excellent teacher.
If we, through daily prayer and association with Jesus, are aware of God’s love for us, contentment and joy would be ours. Whenever tough moments land on our calendars and we feel forced to ask, "Where are you, God?" we can become more aware of his love even in our pain. Paul, in his own way, begs us to hold on to our faith and not to call God to blame for the unpleasantries we face.
There is a layman friend who has given retreats in my previous assignments. His life has been a dedication to working with parish missions. But John Colligan’s (see note below) life has been what many call a disaster. A son, attending Notre Dame University, was murdered while traveling on vacation; two grandchildren have fallen victim to drug abuse; and John himself has had to battle cancer and fortunately became a victor. He sent me an email this week to tell me the latest "good" news. A likely terminal melanoma on his nose that cannot be treated. I asked him how he could bare all of this. He replied in a wonderful note, "nothing will ever cause me not to trust in God’s love for me and Cathy" (his wife).
So, St. Paul, you beg us to know that God’s love sustains us. Pray to God for us that we never let that reality slip from our hearts and minds.
NOTE: Readers from Jesus Divine Word and Our Lady of Victory parishes, where John and Cathy led parish missions, please add John to your prayer list and especially pray to Blessed Kateri Tekakiwtha for John's healing.

Paul's Joy and Contentment: Phil 2:1 August 2, 2008

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.
Phil 2:1

Some may look at St. Paul’s writings and see a man who is overly serious or sometimes harsh. This verse should help us see a different man: Paul the man who hopes for contentment, for joy.
Here Paul sees and loves in the Philippians what he sees and loves in Jesus. He asks them to all share in the same love with a united heart by being of one mind. Perhaps, as we reflect on this verse, we might ask God for the grace to know, to experience the joy that comes to the heart especially the contentment that results from sharing in a community that is together.

August is a major vacation month here in Washington. The elected leaders who work across the street from my residence have "flown the coop" for their summer vacation. Many families have headed to shores, mountains or other country vacation or tourist locations. It is a time of being together with family or special friends, away from the daily grind. It is an opportunity for building strength in our own communities through relaxation, reading and, hopefully, some time for reflection.
We search for joy and contentment all year long but bump into moments of disappointment and frustration. This has always been a time for this blogger of finding a good book or two or three, friends and refreshment to remove himself from the grind, the disappointments and frustrations.

Paul’s calling us to unity of heart and mind brings to mind parents who have a "brood" of children. How often, no doubt, they share their hopes that their offspring will always be characterized by genuine love for one another, by success in their raising of their own children, accomplishments in their professions and so often a fidelity to their religion. It seems they are no different than Paul.
Parents, too, have to confront at times some disappointment. How often, as a priest, I am asked, "Father, please remember my son/daughter and their family. They have a seriously ill child. Or, they don’t practice their faith as they should. Or, they are not getting along well with another of their siblings. Or, he/she has just lost his/her job."
Paul’s insight is simple yet seemingly for many quite distant or even impossible to understand. The great apostle says that to possess the joy and contentment it produces for our lives means this: Christ should be the foundation of the way we live our lives. Christ Jesus should be a significant part of our lives. The unity and joy he preaches is based in Jesus Christ certainly our God but also our brother ... and isn’t a sibling one we turn to when times are difficult?