Friday, January 30, 2009

Belief in Our Life -- A Daily Encounter

I ask myself "What makes me different from my brothers and my sister?" Usually a person asked that question would at some point describe an occupation. As a priest what is the uniqueness that makes me different form a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a counselor? There is a commonality there among the four professions. Yet, while all in their four vocations strive to assist others, it is the vocation of priesthood that incorporates every other man, woman and child into the priestly life. That inclusion is brought about by the priest sharing and helping his community in what we call faith, what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews calls "the assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things not seen" (ch 11, v 1).

When I stand at the altar of our church and look out to those who gathered, each in his/her usual pew of preference (surely a possible topic for a PhD dissertation!!!), I can also see beyond the glass doors that open out to a busy professional neighborhood or doors that open in to a place where some professionals and others gather to engage with me in a testament to One we have never seen. Together, dealing with this mysteries, we celebrate belief, trust and genuine heartfelt confidence in a God who is more important than what is seen, heard or touched.

It is my belief, my faith, that stirs me to pray, to read, read and reread so as to understand, as best as humanly possible, that the belief I share with the full community to believers is beyond, more than, greater than all I read about in newspapers or hear discussed on radio or TV stations.

As my faith needs to be strong and always open to where God leads me, so that I can be the teacher God has called me to be, so too the presence and searching of those praying with me is a sign that I am not alone in my daily effort to make certain that my life is truly lived with a belief in what is not seen. It is a community gathered in and because of faith. It is a communal experience that distinguishes us from those who do not have "the eyes to see" the "conviction of things not seen."

In the effort to build a strong faith remember these words from Deuteronomy:
Be strong and steadfast
for the Lord your God is going with you.
He goes before you; there is nothing to fear.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Patient Endurance

As we read in the Letter to the Hebrews (ch 10, vv 35-36), doing or living the will of God for us does not come without endurance on our part. And we should not forget that endurance is related to suffering. The past participle of the Latin verb "to endure" is passus. Does it remind you of a word? Like "suffering"?

Regardless of the vocation that we might be following --- married, single, religious or clergy --- one of the major challenges that requires much endurance and patience on each person's part is dealing with one's sexuality. It is not an easy part of living the life each of us has chosen. It is part of the challenge that the faithful follower is called to experience.

Likewise, each person's life is greatly impacted today by the results a technology. The "measured pace" that Ordinary Time and the other "Times" of the Church's calendar are challenged by the speed and instant answers and results we achieve through computer, instruments of communications, etc..

Consider your life: how much has modernity drained your day of the time to reflect, to stop and smell the roses? How much is there a need for patience when minds and hearts are trapped by instant answers that demand more work than time for quiet and reflection? And, for someone like myself, is not the love of change but a manifestation of impatience? Is not the challenge of daily prayer little more than setting time aside to stop and listen to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit? Is not the contemporary need to fill a day with endless activity another example of impatience?

Endurance, fed by the graces of Christian hope, is a challenge for anyone seeking to live the will of God. Living God's will can be found in those moments when endurance is so sorely needed and tested. If we examine the way we live each day, we will find how much endurance is needed for us to accomplish the good we wish. So many demands are put before us that drag us into a spinning wheel and we find it difficult to get off.

The gospel selection for today's Liturgy expresses the patient endurance anyone who has planted a seed, an idea, a project, a program of recovery, a pregnancy. There is not instant accomplishment of success. Endurance, the bitter sweet pill that will help us achieve the will of God, we must fully understand as it applies to our daily journey in the 21st century. With patient endurance we find a way to live God's will for us in the midst of so much business that all find a burden in each day.

Living in Hope unwaveringly

Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession
that gives us
hope ....
(Hebrews 10:23)

The important word in this verse is unwaveringly. Living the will of God for each of us is no piece of cake in our contemporary world. Yet, we do have the gift of hope that comes to us from our profession of faith.

To hold on unwaveringly demands of us that we continually take the time to know ourselves better ... to know where it is that I am on my daily journey of faith. Unwaveringly also brings with it a sense of dedication and in our case a dedication to the faith that I learn from Jesus Christ and his Church. To these views of unwaveringly we can add the sense of fidelity to the same faith because it offers hope to me. And hope is an underlying message throughout the Letter to the Hebrews.

The virtue of hope is strengthened when I accept the belief that Jesus came to us principally to redeem us from our sins. Imagine, if we could, what our world would be like if there was never sin ... if Adam and Eve had not given birth to that reality for humankind. So, to bring all of us back to a sinless relationship with our Creator God, Jesus came to live with us and to offer us the genuine hope that divine forgiveness is always available for us especially at the Eucharistic table.

As Jesus teaches us in the gospel, we can surely live in the hope he guarantees us if we open our hearts to hear hi words, to hear his teaching us how to rise above sinful habits. This is the hope we seek to live in because he did fulfill for each human being his redeeming mission, his pledge to his Father.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sowing the Seed: Thomas Aquinas

Today's Readings

Do you have any idea how many times you have taken the walk with Mark described in today's gospel? Probably you will number quite a few, uncountable times. Yet follow up questions might be these: Remember the content of the gospel parable of the sower and the seed? What's it all about, Alfie?

Today's liturgy honors St. Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican priest. He is one of our Church's remarkable thinkers and holy men. When he read or heard a biblical remark or story, as in today's gospel, he would become like those to whom Mark gives recognition: "And when he [Jesus] was alone, those present along with the Twelve questioned him about the parables" (Mk 4:10). Aquinas never took anything he read or heard for granted. Seemingly no matter how many times this Dominican priest would hear a line or story from the Scriptures, he would ask himself questions about what he had just read or reread. He was a scholar, a believer, who always looked for something me might have seen or considered before.

Aquinas was and continues to be a model of the "measured pace" of Ordinary Time. Like to the theologian, this parable puts before us a challenge: "What is in it for me?" Our challenge is to jump over the hurdle of routine or same-old-storiness when we hear or read the parable for the umteenth time. "I've heard that so many times before" is a thought that we need to prevent entry into our minds. How much more Scripture would mean to us if we reacted like an Aquinas: What is there in the parable for me? today? where I am at this time on my own spiritual journey?

Recall Jesus' answer to those who questioned him: "The mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you." This is Jesus' answer to us when we question what we hear today. A careful, prayerful full attention to what Jesus is teaching in the gospels will be like the seed that fell into the good, the ready soil. Then there was a harvest!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Today's readings: we are invited to understand what is a normative way of living in seeking to know the will of God. First: we need to realize that God's will for us is not a kind of handcuff or a straight jacket. God's will for us does not reject a person's freedom. His will for all is a true calling to come to know the life and teaching of his Son as well as the way so many men and women who have daily confronted the challenges of evil in their lives have touched our lives.

Second: God's will for each of us today does mean confrontation with the evil we encounter in society. Today we run up against men and women as well as circumstances that reject the true freedom the will of God can be for us and a good life. Our freedom whether in civil or spiritual matters does not and cannot mean we can do whatever we would like to do.

Third: knowing and living God's will or the laws of a civil society can easily bring us to personal suffering, to psychological and even physical persecution from evil in its different manifestations. For some it may be the avenue to death -- the martyrdom of those who gave their lives because of commitment to values.

So, two questions: "How does the acceptance of God's will bring challenges to your life? How do you confront these challenges?"

Thursday, January 22, 2009


The picture is to suggest that I might not be away in Montreal, Aspen or other such snowy places. This is just to tease you as to the true location for the next few days. However, I will be away from Washington, DC from Friday morning, January 23rd until Monday evening, January 26th. A generous benefactor friend is being honored by his diocese for countless gifts to the diocese and so many others. As a recipient of his goodness when I was working in the offices of The Papal Foundation, I am going to be present with my friend for his day of honor ... which I know will be a challenge to his dislike for the spotlight.

So, I have put together, rather quickly I will be the first to admit, reflections for the days that I will be away. It is my hope these thoughts will be of some assistance.

The Spirit of the Law: Friday, January 23, 2009

Today's reading from Hebrews we are told that God will make a new covenant, apparently for the Christians who came after Christ's mission was complete. Seemingly the early Christians had failed the covenant God had made with them. His plan was to "put my laws in their minds," and to "write them upon their hearts."

What Paul is stressing is the the covenant relationship was to be more than observing them as a set of laws. Interior commitment was expected: not simply the letter of the law but the spirit of the law would distinguish a true follower of Jesus.

The tough reality about commitment is that there is no genuine commitment without implications. To know this and to try to live this is simply to realize the sacrifices we encounter and the cross we are asked, at times, to carry.

To help us live our lives in this manner, prayer, reflection and observances of the covenant practices, we gradually bring our lives into a conformity that is not a jacket but rather a unification with what is peace!

All of this convent relationship boils down to this: do I really want to love God? do I love God? Or is it rather something like, "well, if I do this or that as prescribed," all is well? The author of the Letter to the Hebrews would reject the latter suggestion.

How We Differ: Saturday, January 24, 2009

Today we might take a few moments to just look at the image of the peppers above. Each is different from the other. In the gospel form Mark for today's liturgical readings, Jesus' family thinks he is out of his mind because of the message he was preachings.

This might be a reminder of the experiences some of us may have encountered especially with family and friends ... the hardest group ever to convince when a person steps out of the box of ordinary or expected response.

As our world becomes more a global community ... a reality that has take too many years ... one of our challenges may well be to realize that like Jesus we too may be called to make sacrifices to assist and teach others. Imagine what our faith would have been were Jesus to have acquiesced to those close to him in their desire to stop his preaching ... even long enough to eat.

Speaking out for or against issues demands of us an openness of understanding the opposite position. Even though a person may not change a position in his heart, a failure to hear the opinion of another from a different perspective is a challenge to the Holy Spirit who just might be talk to us through someone we might consider "out of his/her mind."

Break-neck speed seems to be the pace of our days. How do you handle those things that become a challenge to your faith, the practice of your religion and the respect you have for another person?

What does the pepper wheel ask of you?

The Conversion of St. Paul: Sunday, January 25, 2009

However the conversion of St. Paul actually occurred, what we need to consider about it is how strange it may seem on the surface. Jesus comes to the man who persecuted and murdered Christians. Today members of the U. S. Senate are challenging a man who did not pay some of his taxes. I suspect St. Paul would have the chance of the proverbial snowball's fate in hell were he examined by the Senators. Yet, Jesus takes a look into the future, into the genuine skills and abilities this man, Paul, has. He sees in him a power to attract and to teach others.

In this year of St. Paul, we do have the opportunity to reflect on just what it was about this man that attracted Jesus to him. What was there in this man that Jesus believed would change many lives?

Who really knows? What we do know is that Jesus saw in Paul a man who was willing to fold his tents and march into the world with the message of Jesus' saving graces. His life is a challenge to us: to actively attempt to make our lives as strong and energetic for our faith as was Paul's.

Sts. Timothy and Titus MONDAY, January 26, 2009

In today's readings on this feast that celebrates two of Paul's closest associates, we are reminded that a key to unlocking Paul's theology is understanding that God's grace is a gift to all and that it comes to us freely.

Here we encounter that remark from Mark about the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit ... only after Jesus says: "...all sins and all blasphemies that people utter will be forgiven them."

This means for us that really our main concern is to examine our consciences regularly and then take ourselves to the loving forgiveness of the Sacrament of Reconciliation ... to share fully in the loving care of Jesus, our Redeemer.

The Thirty-Sixth Anniversary
Roe v Wade

Truly a challenge to everyone
to be
no more:
End the evil of abortion!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Ordinary Time gospel from today's readings is an answer to the challenges that have confronted many Catholics for years concerning the obligations of the Ten Commandments, especially "Keep holy the sabbath."

Confronted by Pharisees' suspicion about how much activity he engages in on the sabbath, Jesus moves the issue from "black and white" to the value of another person's life: "Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than destroy it?"

The Church, in the Catechism, does not obligate a Roman Catholics to suffering or pain because they are goods in themselves. However, the Church does encourage sacrifice and some challenge in our lives as good and worthy of practice when they produce better, strong person.

Many are the confessors who witness the turmoil of soul when penitents become entangled on the horns of the dilemma: What is my Sunday obligation when the proper care of a young child is placed on the decision scales? What obligation does a caregiver of a seriously ill person have with regard to the Sunday obligation, the Third Commandment?

Read these exhortatory words from the Epistle of James (1:27): "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and keep oneself unstained from the world." Care of the widows and orphans was of great concern in the Jewish faith during the time of Jesus. These were the vulnerable of that age.

We might ask ourselves who are those in need of our care and concern today? This is the driving force and source we should use in weighing a Sunday obligation. There are times when "the color gray" outweighs either "black or white."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gaining Freedom: Living Obedience

"For our suffering to result in a mature and more Christ-like character
requires a fundamental trust
in God's ultimate good intentions
for us."
Don Talafous, OSB

Today's Readings

Each person on this earth is "called" to a unique and personal vocation. Each one of us is "called" to serve God or one another. Jesus was no different. It was the Father who "called" Jesus: "You are my Son ... You are a priest forever." Son, though he was, "he learned obedience from what he suffered."

The challenge that all of us have whether we are called to serve the Lord or others is to understand what true obedience is for us. For us who live in a society where freedom is pivotal and essential for democracy to work, this is a concept that demands much reflection and understanding on our part. It is indeed a buried treasure that we must find in the very core of our being.

Monday and Tuesday of this week are so filled with words and pictures stirred on by the freedom we wish to have in our lives. We, all of us, know well how a dream, the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is realized now to a great extent but not completely. The sin of hatred, because a person is born "black," racial hatred still lingers among our people. So, we continue to long for the complete fulfillment of the dream.

One particular aspect of our successfully achieving our freedom -- when all hatred and division are removed from the American landscape -- is following Jesus Christ in a particular way. From suffering we, again all of us including the Son of God, learn obedience. "Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.

And what is obedience? Simply stated it means that we strive with all that is in us to learn to listen, to be attuned, to what it is that God "deems" the best for us.

I believe that Dr. King was able to accomplish what he did because he realized in the suffering that he endured throughout his life as he strove to set us free --- free from racial hatred, free from the evil demons that bring us to sin against the Lord and one another -- that being one with God is critically essential for success in achieving one's freedom.

We have to ask ourselves why personal sin may seem distant from our daily lives. Perhaps, just perhaps, it may be because we have opted for doing what we want by developing our own norms, our own guidelines, our own interpretation of the Commandments.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The US Capitol, East Side. Where the inaugurations of years past took place. Ronald Reagan was the President Elect who relocated inaugural events to the West Side of the US Capitol. After the swearing in of Barack Obama and his Inaugural Address, if the tradition is followed, the new president and the immediate former President and their spouses will re-enter the Capitol and come to the East Side where a helicopter will be awaiting the 43rd President and his spouse for their departure to Andrews Air Force base and transfer to Air Force Two (?) and return to Crawford, Texas. The 44th President and his spouse return to the Capitol for a special luncheon with members of the Senate and House of Representatives .... before the Inaugural Parade begins.

It is my hope to be able to secure a place on the East Side to take pictures of the foursome making their way down the Capitol steps and the farewell. This is simply a hope.

The city is really alive now. Excitement everywhere. Traffic is already difficult in the Capitol Hill area as well as near the National Mall.

One Powerful Week of Prayer for All of Us

Deacon Gary Bockweg's reflection for this Sunday that begins a week in which UNITY is a focal point of three of the days that mark special events in Washington DC that are directly related to all of the nation ... indeed, to the entire Catholic world. A picture Deacon B. provided shows that we can lead humans and animals to "pray."

Brotherhood and Unity.
Those are the overarching hopes for the coming week.

A time to celebrate that we’re truly all brothers and sisters.
A chance to strengthen that unity.
And it’s all centered right here in Washington.

Tomorrow we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King,
Who gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech here on the Mall.
He dedicated his life—and gave his life—
In the cause of racial brotherhood and unity.
He showed us that everyone suffers when there’s prejudice and discrimination.
He showed us that we all need brotherhood and unity.

Tuesday we witness the inauguration of our new president.
Martin Luther King’s lifetime work played no small part in hastening the day
When America could elect a black president.

There was a clever Doonesbury cartoon on that historic milestone.
Soldiers in Iraq are watching the election returns on TV.
When Obama is declared the winner, a black soldier cheers.
And a white soldier says, “What a great day, we did it!”
When others look at him, he says, “He is half-white you know.”
The black soldier answers—“You must be so proud!”

And really, we should be, and we are.

The election has already given us some sign of increased racial brotherhood and unity.
And after so many years of divisiveness and polarization,
We hope now to also see signs of greater brotherhood and unity, greater civility,
Among those with differing ideological and political views.

And our big week still continues after Tuesday.
On Thursday we have the March for Life.
The March might be viewed as a sign of dis-unity—and in a sense it is.
But it’s also an attempt at promoting brotherhood and unity.
It’s a peaceful attempt at fraternal correction.
An attempt to bring the light to those who can’t see it.

In our Gospel today, Jesus is preparing to begin his public ministry.
And the chief message of that ministry is—brotherhood and unity.
He’ll restore that most crucial unity—reuniting man with God.
And he’ll stress that we are all brothers and sisters, and that indeed, he is our brother.

John the Baptist sees Jesus and recognizes him as the messiah.
So he withdraws and steers his supporters to Jesus.
Like a new president, Jesus is organizing his team.
And he chooses one of John’s followers, Andrew.
Andrew immediately recruits his brother, Simon Peter, and brings him to Jesus.
He started with just his natural-born brother.
But soon, both would cast their nets widely
And bring in many thousands of the brothers and sisters they hadn’t known before.
And the number of followers would continue to grow.
Until today when one third of the world’s living population follow Jesus.
We are a billion Catholics who believe that we are united in the mystical body of Christ.
We are two billion Christians who believe that we are brothers and sisters.
And we recognize that non-Christians are also our brothers and sisters.

As we Americans focus on our events of the coming week,
We have great hope for the triumph of brotherhood and unity.
But there’s an even broader, worldwide, movement this week.
This week is Christian Unity Week.
More specifically, a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
While we Christians have much in common, we still have divisions.
And so we’re asked to pray this week.
And each day has been assigned a special focus.
Starting this Sunday with, old and new divisions.
Then war and violence;
Economic injustice and poverty;
Ecological crisis;
Discrimination and social prejudice;
Disease and suffering;
A plurality of religions;
And ending next Sunday with, hope in a world of separation.

As our week unfolds, the scheduled events should provide easy reminders.
They can prompt us to pray for Christian Unity.
And while we’re at it, why not pray for universal brotherhood and unity.
For Christian and non-Christian alike.

The big events of the week will center on special American hopes and heroes.
So we might be excused if we indulge in a little nationalism.
We might well let our pseudo-anthem serve as one of our prayers.
America! America! God shed His grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

The Inauguration Podium

During a walk by earlier this week, I took this picture. I would say that it is the closest I will ever get to the Inaugural Podium. For those out of town, this is what it looks like without all of the dignitaries on board.
Continuing the Ordinary Time and the "measured pace" it gives us, we are offered two readings that invite understanding a major aspect of Jesus' mission.  He came to this earth, he assumed our human nature, not to make us kings, geniuses or leaders.  Rather he came among us to serve the sick.

Those who are well do not need a physician but the sick do.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.
Mark 2:17

So, who, we might ask, are these sick, these sinners that Jesus has come to heal?   Jesus came to be a friend, a brother, to those who find themselves challenged by the expectations and demands of religion.  In the first reading from the Pauline letter to the Hebrews, we read:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize
with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested
in every way,
yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:15

Jesus knew full well how challenging adherence to the Commandments would be for most human beings.  He was fully aware of the consequences of the decision of Adam and Eve.  We do not know too many of the potential sinning experiences Jesus may have endured.  Yet there are temptations described in the gospels ... temptations he conquered.

Scribes challenged Jesus' dining with those who found it difficult to keep the Law.  There may be "scribes" in our lives who convey unhealthy feelings, who challenge our fidelity to God and the Church.  Like the sinners at Matthew's table, we are regularly invited to share in the Eucharist with Jesus.  And, very much like those guests with Jesus, we bring with us our own inabilities, our own failures to follow the Commandments and the teachings of our Church.

So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
Hebrews 4:16

We might ask ourselves after reading and rereading either or both offered scripture texts what it is that the Holy Spirit is speaking to our hearts when our nation, from coast to coast and border to border are thinking and wondering about new beginnings in our government.  Is the Holy Spirit, in these Ordinary Time readings, extending an invite to you and me that needs neither gown nor tuxedo to respond to His desire to be present with us?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Just You Wait!

5000 waiting to serve 2.5 million!!!
Just another Capitol Hill scene this week!

Let Me Hear, O Lord

Today our lives are so directed by communications, by mass media, by technology.  Some TV and much Internet material can mesmerize even three or four year old children.  But how many times have you felt or heard expressed, "Going to church on the weekends, reading the Bible ... well, it's all so boring, boring."  As a priest of more than 36 years, I cannot find these remarks strange.  Nothing can be more boring than repetition for repetitions sake!

Many times I have been told, "That was an impressive homily."  Likewise, when parishioners or friends have been honest, I have been told "That homily didn't speak to me."  Repetition for repetition's sake is boring.

Thankfully, several Trappist monks led to a discovery of an ancient prayer style, Lectio Divina. This prayer form has been address by this blogger several times.  Nonetheless it is worthy of repetition!  But repetition to provide me and you with a reminder that Scripture-based prayer is most fruitful when a text is read and re-read several times ... not in haste.

In today's liturgy's first reading, Paul speaks about those who "hear" and those who "fail to hear:  "But the word that they heard did not profit them, for they were not united in faith with those who listened."  To reap the benefit of Scripture we must listen and listen and listen not because the text is so technical or beyond our understanding.  Rather we need to read and re-read so that we can allow the power of the words, indeed the power of the Holy Spirit, speak to us, to lift us out of the moment into a real union with God.

On Capitol Hill these days it is most unusual when I am out walking not to see many young and older people passing by with wires dangling from their ears.  Their recorded music is playing for them, lifting them out of the apparent monotony of walking in silence (a topic for a later reflection!).  But they have chosen specific selections of music to accompany their ambulations! It is music that lifts them out of the moment.  It is a key that opens doors for them to their inner selves.  The same is true with most music and poetry.  Why are there certain poems, books or pieces of music we visit over and over?  There is something in them that we listen to, something in the words that carries us from the rat-race we live in.

Scripture is no different.  Praying scripture is not something you "just do."  Lectio Divina invites us to reread a text, without racing to finish, but to allow its own tune to play out in our hearts and minds.

Consider today's gospel:  the paralytic man who is so determined to get himself into the presence of Jesus who is known to be a healer.  We see that his determination and the ingenuity of his friends got him there in front of Jesus despite the packed house!  If you are alive today with the excitement of the upcoming Inauguration and all the other DC events of this most unusual weekend and week, this gospel can speak to you about your own excitement, about the struggle that African Americans put forth since the days of President Lincoln.  Just as the paralytic's goal was achieved, so, too, the struggle of our African American community is seeing, politically, the results of so many years of struggle.  Likewise, if the financial challenges facing many people today are overwhelming, the struggle of the paralytic man and his success might easily open the heart to understand that Jesus will be with those who are suffering whatever setbacks, ills, failures and so on.

Scripture, through the Holy Spirit, will speak to you and me ... if, if, if we but allow time to be our companion in the journey through Ordinary Time and we are presented so many different events from the life of Jesus ... so often presented to us as the healer, the encourager, and, at times, the one who calls us to task.  But we will not experience this lifting out of ourselves from what weighs us down if we do not read and re-read what God is saying.

But, then, what a gift, what a grace:  praying this way is almost always certain to finish with peace and awareness of how blessed we are.  Go for it!  Walk down that pathway!  You will meet your God in the strangest of places that the scripture gives you!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Capitol Hill Happenings

For those who do not live in the DC area and may not be coming to town for the events of next week, this is a picture taken yesterday, facing the west side of the Capitol.  The stand in the middle is the TV camera tower.  You might be able to see the podium where all the activity takes place.  Just to keep you aware of what's happening here these days.  Several have inquired as to my planned whereabouts on the 20th.  Well, I am blessed to have a ticket to the best seat one can possible get if not invited to be on the stage with the President:  in front of my TV set just two blocks away from the event.  I do hope to be able to get to East Capitol Street and a good place for taking pictures and Mr. and Mrs. Bush descend the stairs of the East Front of the Capitol to take the helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base and their return to Texas.
Today, a slight change of pace during this season of "measured pace."  Several individuals have inquired about my use of a sentence that in essence was as follows:  Sins against the Holy Spirit are never forgiven.  What does the Church teach in this matter?  Most of us believe that God will forgive any sin.  So, what is this sin against the Holy Spirit?

Scripture references

"Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come." [Mt. 12:32]

"But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin." [Mk. 3:29]

"And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven." [Lk. 12:10]

So, it is clear that in the writings of the 3 Synoptic gospels there is such a thing as a sin against the Holy Spirit that cannot be forgiven.  Again, what is this sin?

Shaking up all the theological and dogmatic lingo, this sin can be expressed this way:  it is to deliberately refuse to accept his mercy by repenting, rejecting the forgiveness of his /her sin(s) and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps this sin can be best understood as a hardness of heart.

There are other sins that offend the Holy Spirit also cited in the Catechism:

1.  Despair --  "By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God's goodness, to his justice - for the Lord is faithful to his promises - and to his mercy." (C.C.C. # 2091)

2.   Presumption of God's mercy -- "There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God's almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit)." (C.C.C. # 2092)

3.   Impugning the known truth  -- (Clarification) To "impugn" the known truth means to attack it by word or argument, to resist it, to contradict it, or even to oppose the known truth or to challenge it as false.

4.   Envy the spiritual good of another --  (Clarification: Regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians states, "All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually as the Spirit chooses." To envy the spiritual good of another is to question the Divine judgment of the Holy Spirit in His distribution of spiritual gifts. It is to be jealous of another person who has a gift different than one's own gift. Through envy, one rejects the gift that he has received from the Holy Spirit, determining in his own mind that the gift he has received is not good enough for him and he wants someone else's gift.)

5.  Obstinacy in sin,  (Clarification: To be "obstinate" means to resist the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit, to be stubborn, to persist in sin, to be unyielding.)

6.   Final impenitence  --  (Clarification: "Impenitence" means to be uncontrite, unrepentant, hardened, unconverted, to be without regret, shame or remorse.)

All of the above can be found, along with other areas of Catholic interest on the Canadian website Catholic Doors Ministry.  This question is answered in the FAQ section of the website.

The picture was taken at St. Joseph's on Capitol Hill.  Pictured are the bases of the candle stands on the altar.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

He Continues To Be Present For You

With the "measured pace" of Ordinary Time both readings for today's Eucharistic Liturgy help us see how Jesus came for all to remove "evil spirits," the powerful "demons" that weighed heavily upon so many of his contemporaries.

You and I make look at the bad things that happen each day and see them as the result of human ill evil.  Think what these burdens might be.  Notice!  The word "burdens" rather than "evil spirits" or "demons."  We seem, as mentioned yesterday, to have lost a consciousness of what these realities are in our lives today.  Perhaps this is a cultural removal of God from so much of what we do.  

An interesting Op Ed article by Michael Gerson in today's Washington Post offers a thought or two about this theme.

The events in the Gospel reading remind us, yes, once again, that this Jesus we profess to follow is ever-present for us.  There is a genuine truth that we might recall:  if we do not name experiences that harm our spiritual lives, how can we ever fully understand the effective graces Jesus brings to us even today.  Listen or read the final words of St. Paul in today's first reading, a part of the Letter to the Hebrews:  Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

The more we read and reflect on the changes put before Jesus during his life and how he confronted them, the more will we come to an ever present awareness that God does not abandon us to the evil spirits in our world, in our own lives.  Reflection on these scriptural moments of Ordinary Time regularly, we strengthen our belief that Jesus who came among human kind once years ago, will always be present to us.  He is present in the struggles you and I face each day, the moments of depression, the experiences of frustration, the discouragement that levels our resolutions, the sorrows that challenge our faith, and the different kinds of allurements that lead us to opt for sinful words or actions.  His support for our mission during this Ordinary Time we cannot forget:  "... he is able to help those who are being tested."  Recall today's Gospel events:  Jesus came to heal the ailing mother of his new colleagues, Simon and Andrew, as well as others brought to him in their illnesses, their burdens.  He will help you if you come to know him well.  That is a promise!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Future Journey

Yesterday's readings set out what might be understood as a broad agenda using the Ordinary Time season of the Church's calendar to see in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God's message to each of us.  Those readings were much like what we expect in an inaugural address -- a clarion call to walk with a new leader.  Today's gospel story shows us that the Church is not delaying in giving us an opportunity to step back and watch this young teacher at work, to show where he is walking.  It is a clear invitation to follow.

Religion in the time of Jesus, especially Judaism, was confronting the evil spirits that were seen as challenging their God.  Seeing evil spirits behind the many tragedies in our world today, however, seems not to be what many accept.

Read today's and every day's Washington Post.  Encountering the reports of so much armed conflict, killing of young people, discrimination, abuse, abortion -- any inhuman activity, can anyone deny that evil is not just simply present in our society but powerfully present?

The encounter Jesus has with the young man clearly possessed by evil is given to us at the outset of this year's Ordinary Time readings to assure us one fact:  there is evil in our world that cannot be brought to Jesus for his attention and divine assistance in overcoming it.

Hear Jesus speak to the man:  "Quiet!  Come out of him!"  And it happened as Jesus commanded.  Here at the outset of Ordinary Time's measured pace, Jesus offers you and me his assurances that he can overcome any evil.  His death has become the power that overcomes evil.

Obliquely the incident in Mark's gospel account is both a reminder and a challenge to us.  With the help of God -- if we but turn to him -- evil in our world can be suppressed ... even ended.

Monday, January 12, 2009

R I P Pio Cardinal Laghi

Word has been received today that Cardinal Laghi, one time Ambassador from the Holy See to the United States has died in Rome.

Eternal Rest Grant Unto Him, Lord.

The "Ordinary Time" Walkd

Today we begin, once again, Ordinary Time.  These are days that provide us the opportunity to live our spiritual life, our times of prayer, in a kind of quiet.  These are days that are different from the special seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.  These days will carry us through some 34 weeks of a measured pace in our spiritual journey.  Measured journey!  Keep that in mind whenever you hear the phrase, Ordinary Time.  It helps set the "atmosphere" of the season!

The first reading puts before us a particular message for the journey.  When we care to learn anything today, we either revert to "the old fashioned way ... we read about it" or we turn to the modern way and open us the Google treasury.  On the spiritual journey, however, we need neither a library nor a computer -- although these can help at times.  On our spiritual journey the finish line is bringing ourselves to recognize how God has spoken to us along the way.  To hear God we do not necessarily have to read!  Hopefully, through prayerful reflection, sparked by words from Sacred Scripture, we will come to realize that God has spoken to us through the life, death and resurrection of his Son.  His life is what we need to not read the "old fashioned way" or even the modern way.  Ordinary Time invites us simply to look at and hear how his life speaks to us in different circumstances and at different times of our lives (that is each day ... each day is different that the previous ones!!).

Perhaps it was Jesus' invitation to the Kingdom of God that brought two sets of brothers to follow him without hesitation -- the event we see in today's gospel.  Ordinary Time provides us with the chance to see and experience in the life Jesus.  He lived the compassion and care of a loving Father that books or computers cannot make as clear.

Let the celebration of the daily Eucharist that impacts our lives more through action than words alone be a walking stick that accompanies us on the Ordinary Time journey.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Public Ministry Inauguration

The celebration of the Baptism of Jesus Christ is a reminder to all Christians, whether baptized as a baby or later in life, that baptism is the moment or event of a new birth. By a splash of water over the head or a dunking in water or an immersion into a a river or pool, the person being baptized is given a new birth into a community of faith.  Regardless of the "brand" of Christianity, baptism does not exist without water.  Someone once said, "There is no way to experience baptism without coming out on the other side dripping wet."  

From the readings offered in today's Eucharistic liturgy, what can we bring home to our own prayer.  There are three points that I would like to present for your consideration this morning.

The first point is that we should come to a realization that God is the source of life.  When the words "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" are said  to the person being baptized, we should see beyond the words to their significance.  This new birth is indeed the beginning of a new life ... a spiritual life ... a life with a special relationship with the Creator God.  At the same time the moment of baptism and the Sacrament of Baptism or Initiation as it is sometimes called, speaks to us of the sanctity of life.  This is why the Church is so strongly opposed to anything that would end that life unnaturally.

Perhaps we should see beyond the actual pouring of water over another human being's head as a reminder.  It speaks out strongly about the place of God in our lives.  Yet, in our society today, how many are the ways that our citizenry seem to be in favor of prohibiting us from the daily experience of God in our lives?  We have become a nation that wants to wash its hands of a Creator God.  The God who created this world, the God who created you and me and all who share the air, the light, the rain, the sunshine, this God seems to be the object of so many modern day prophets who want God driven from our daily lives.  Baptism, which we are to witness here at St. Joseph's on Capitol Hill in just a few minutes, should be a reminder to us of our own baptisms.  Aware of that special moment in our lives, it is our duty to reject those who seek to push God from our daily lives.

While our Deacon will soon pour waters of baptism on a young child, you and I are called to celebrate what is "new."  This baby's baptism could be for us a moment of resolve to bring about a new relationship with God, or a new attitude in how we live our lives, how we work with others; it could be a moment when we renew our pledge to follow Jesus Christ where he leads us.  This baptism should remind us that we once were soaked in God's graces so that like Jesus, like this young child, we could go forth into the world sharing the Good News, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Lastly this baptism we are about to witness this morning is a reminder that our baptisms were our own inauguration ... our being brought into the faith we profess in the Creed every Sunday. Every baptism we witness is a "re-calling" for each of us to walk out of this church and this sacred liturgy "re-charged" to bring the message of Jesus Christ, his message of love and new life to a world that seems to have lost its desire to incorporate God into each day's newness.

The celebration of Jesus' baptism and the baptism of this child are trumpet calls for us to go forth as Jesus did -- to bring the life of faith to others, to proclaim that we also accept Jesus Christ as our God and Savior. We should always remember this:  when we end this earthly life and stand before God, he is not going to ask me or you if our Pastors or Bishops or Popes did all they could to solidify our faith among us.  No, he will not ask about them.  He will ask you; he will ask me:  have you lived the life of a baptized believer?  What have you done to bring the faith to others through your life?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Living in a Miracle: What's in a snowflake?

In the first reading of today's liturgy we are confronted with the reality of evil in the world and how sin separates us from God.

But we are reminded in the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults that Jesus Christ is the ultimate Teacher of morality.  He made clear that every Commandment in the Law and the Prophets finds its roots in two fundamental principles:  love of God and love of neighbor.

A snowflake is truly a miraculous creation from the mind of God.  We know that each snowflake that falls is not like any other!  That is truly a miracle, isn't it?  What human being, what computer could possibly bring about such creations?

God's forgiveness is also miraculous, isn't it?  Just think of the millions of people who live in the USA alone.  Now think about the number of sins that mark your career as a sinner.  God makes a unique gift to bring about a reconciliation between each person and each sin.  It is overwhelming when you consider that Jesus taught that now sin except a sin against the Holy Spirit is forgivable because he loved each one of us with a love that is special to each of us.  And his love for us is miraculous, as well.  He loves each of us with a love that is special to ourselves.  So, we can rejoice in this:  we live in miracle not in a miracle.

Friday, January 9, 2009

RIP: Rev.Richard John Neuhaus

Noted convert to Catholicism from his Lutheran priestly life, Fr. Neuhaus is a recognized scholar, preacher, teacher and TV commentator (John Paul II's funeral and the election and installation of Benedict XVI) died yesterday, January 8th, after a relatively short illness with cancer.  Not know for any liberal thinking, Fr. Neuhaus was also the founding editor of First Things, vehicle for his conservative thinking but also a magazine with other excellent articles about the faith.

Not too long ago Fr. Neuhaus wrote two paragraphs about dying that anyone of us would well remember, especially if death is imminent for oneself or a loved one or if one has recently died. his words are meaningful, comforting and offer an insight into what dying means.

We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway. The work of dying well is, in largest part, the work of living well. Most of us are at ease in discussing what makes for a good life, but we typically become tongue-tied and nervous when the discussion turns to a good death. As children of a culture radically, even religiously, devoted to youth and health, many find it incomprehensible, indeed offensive, that the word "good" should in any way be associated with death. Death, it is thought, is an unmitigated evil, the very antithesis of all that is good.

Death is to be warded off by exercise, by healthy habits, by medical advances.  What cannot be halted can be delayed, and what cannot forever be delayed can be denied.  But all our progress notwithstanding, the mortality rate holds steady at 100 percent.

Death is the most everyday of everyday things.  It is not simply that thousands of people die every day, that thousands will die this day, although that too is true.  Death is the warp and woof of existence in the ordinary, the quotidian, the way things are.  It is the horizon against which we get up in the morning and go to bed at night, and the next morning we awake to find the horizon has drawn closer.  From the twelfth-century Enchiridion Leonis comes the nighttime prayer of  children of all ages:  "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord my soul to keep.  But if I should die before I wake, I pray they Lord my soul to take."  Every going to sleep is a little death, a rehearsal for the real thing.  

Eternal rest grant unto your servant, Lord.

A Leper's Example

The verb "to clean" and its various uses help us better understand the power of Jesus' love.  The leper asks, "Make me clean."  He does not say cleanse me.  Jesus responds immediately, "Be made clean."  The leper is not asking for a physical scrubbing or washing of the infections in his skin.  He is seeking a special power, a special care, that he perceives Jesus could exercise on his behalf.  How helpful and wonderful that power would be if it were at hand when there are burned pots and pans sitting in a sink after a big meal.  There's when "make clean" would make "cleansing" a piece of cake!

Back to the gospel event.  Why would Jesus immediately accede to a man, a man tortured with infections on his skin, whom he seemingly did not know?  St. Luke gives no direct answer to such a question.  Yet one word from the leper's lips and heart gives the answer.  The word? "Lord."

St. John in his first letter from today's first reading makes clear how significant that one word can be:  "The one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God," he writes, "is the victor over the world."  Further on he writes "whoever possesses the Son has life."  This unknown victim of Hansen's Disease must have heard about Jesus and come to believe he was indeed much more than an ordinary preacher.

This event should remind us that when we bring the leprosy of our own sinfulness to God in asking pardon, he will speak to us with the same immediacy:  "I do will it.  Be made clean." There is no need for physical scrubbing or cleansing.  In using the very simple phrase "Father, I have sinned," we stand before God and hear his words:  "Be made clean."  This is the true wonder in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Don't overlook it!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A photo simply to tease on a cold but sunny Capitol Hill day.
One of the major challenges to anyone seriously reflecting on a verse from Sacred Scripture, especially a segment of the gospel such a that included in today's liturgy is to face what the words might mean for me.  Simply praying over words from the Evangelists or other parts of the Bible is certainly not allowing the messages do their thing in our lives.  The words almost always call for the reader and prayer to determine the vocation within a vocation.  Basically the question that results is something like this:  "And what am I supposed to do about this?

For some it may be easy to read and reflect on the words of Jesus, especially the words in today's gospel.  He puts forward the challenges his vocation has placed in his life.  Good.  Good for you, Jesus.  But is this meant for me also?

Here on Capitol Hill focus is far from many of the issues that Jesus raises.  New actions by the recently reconvened Congress addressing new issues seemed to be concerned with resolving how to save face with the Illinois Senatorial appointment; how this city is going to get around with so many jubilant visitors coming to see history take place on January 20th; and, possibly, just possibly, some interest in what the USA should be saying or doing about the tragic bombings between Israel and Palestine.

It is still early in the new year.  There remains time for us to evaluate the resolutions that make sense for the new year.  The silly ones have most likely already disappeared or we may not have taken them seriously at the outset.

What are we capable of doing for all the poor ... a growing population in this nation?  How can we help those millions ... yes millions ... who have lost their jobs in the last few months?  What are we going to do to assist the marginalized in our communities?  These are real questions and they are given greater solidity because they address real problems that are exploding in our communities.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Reaching Out To You

In the first reading for today's Eucharistic liturgy, the Evangelist, John, has written words that may seem both strange and not noticed before:  ". . . and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love" (1 John 4:18).

A normal person might react questioning the Evangelist's experience of fear and/or love. Certainly John knew how dangerous it was to travel the major roadways of his times.  The story of the Good Samaritan reminds us of the fear many had to travel those roadways alone.

However, the fear John is writing about is the fear of final judgement.  He is seeking to encourage communities to strengthen their love of God.  If a community, John believed, has a love for God and others, then they should not have a fear of judgement.

However, there are other fears that match the worries of those who travelled those dangerous roads or even those that weigh heavily upon us today.  In different circumstances we might be much like the disciples who were being battered by the waves.  Personally or a loved one might be given the news that terminal cancer has invaded the body; the call comes to a working Mom that her child has been seriously injured; or the father of a large family is notified that the company he has worked for for twenty years is closing ... today.  These are the waves that beat against the lives of many today.  And all of these people surely ask, "Where is God now?"

What we learn from this gospel story is that we never know exactly how God's love will come to us.  It could be the call from a "long lost friend."  Maybe it is having the opportunity to see an extraordinary sunset.  It might be the return of a "lost" son or daughter who has not been home for many years.

In all of these experiences, we will know his loving presence for us.  And we will know it all the more deeply if we have been a people who care for others, who share God's love for us with others.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fishing Alone: Learning God's Love for ME.

Did you ever go fishing?  particularly on a lake or on a body of water where there was little obvious movement of the water?  where you had to sit quietly, awaiting a knock-at-your-door like nibble from the end of your fishing line? 

The "how? of the feeding of 5000 men is a mystery.  Forget trying to discover a solution:  it is mystery.  Think for a few moments on the "why?"  Why did Jesus not send the people back to their villages, to their homes to ease their hunger?  Not because they might have been hungry but, as St. Mark recorded the event, because "his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd" (6:34).

How many of us ever consider how often we encounter others who seem to be shepherdless, going through life without a rudder?  Or, perhaps, even in your own life this might be a reality whether or not you know it.

Jesus was moved with pity and concern for the large crowd because he loved them perhaps with a love they didn't know or experience.  If we were fully aware of God's love for us . . . imagine how our lives could or world be so different!

Perhaps the real mystery in this particular event in Jesus' life is why we find it so challenging to live each day in an awareness that our Creator God, our redeeming God and our enlivening God love us.  How different our lives could and would be if we took just a little time each day to drop our fishing line into the waters of God's love for us!  How rewarding our time with God would be if we simply let God be God, if we let our God tell us the many ways he loves us.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Epiphany 2009: Trust in Me

The root message in this feast day is that Jesus was brought into this world for more people and nations that Joseph and Mary.  His birth is a source of new life but not just for Judea and Israel.  Likewise he is more that light signaled by a bright star for three men who we might consider to be astrologists not astronomers!  Interestingly these gift bearers studied the stars that would give them a gift never imagined.

From these three kinds we are introduced to a "new way" not a "new age."  The revealing child of the Bethlehem manger came to them just as he comes to us during the days of the Christmas season to invite us -- yes, once again -- to a new way, a a good we do not fully understand or know.

At the present time I am read William P. Young's The Shack, Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity.  It is a missionary's vision of what an Epiphany experience might be in our times.  As with any Epiphany experience, we have to focus not so much on the three finders of the baby.  We are the wisdom figures in the story today.  What we need to focus upon is what the infant child is revealing both then and now.  How strongly does the message impact you life this year?
In all honesty, have you felt the grace of Jesus' birth knocking at the door of your heart and soul this year?  

We can celebrate this Epiphany day and all the Christmas season perhaps as we have in the past:  another celebration of present-time, family-time.  Truly good moments but far from the genuine purpose of the season.  With the three wise men do we have the wisdom to see, to hear and to sense the "new way," the revelation Jesus is giving us today?

In The Shack, MacKenzie, the principal figure, is stunned by the way the Father, Son and Holy Spirit appear to him in a rare encounter in a forest where three years earlier his youngest child had been abducted and presumed murdered.  Mack came to see what Magi discovered:  God, the Son of God, the Messiah was presenting himself in utter simplicity.  He is teaching form his supposed bed of strong that we more often than not create confusion in our lives because we try to fit God into our image of what a divine Creator should be.

Epiphany truly is a call to be "humbled, not humiliated."  God is inviting us to a genuine relationship with himself.  This feast is a true challenge to us because, if we are honest, we see that we humans have made a mess of God's creation -- from the Garden of Eden to the plea, the message, from Pope Benedict VI earlier today:  "End all war!  War and hatred are not the solution to the problem(s)."

Today's Epiphany is a calling to us to turn our world and hearts back to God.  "Trust in me." This is the message that comes to us from the child once again.  Let my love and care be the guiding star you should follow today in your times.  Yet, do we truly believe that for trust to become a reality, all of us, singly and communally and globally, have to believe that God loves us, each of of us.

This is what the wise men discovered ... and so returned to their kingdom "humbled, not humiliated."  It was a different Messiah than most expected.  The call was a true challenge ... even to each of us today.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Holy Name of Jesus

The picture is the coat of arms of the Society of Jesus, a fitting photo for the day when the Church honors the holy name of Jesus.

While John the Baptist continues as the main actor in today gospel reading, he would not want anyone to overlook his mission:  to bring others to Jesus.  His mission is very much like our own today.  John was willing to give even his life for Jesus and his role.  John knew from his very beginning that this man was the holy one of God, the Messiah, long-awaited in the land of the Jewish peoples.

Without using the phrase, "In the name of Jesus," John was preaching to make us ready to receive even more than the "name."  He was introducing us to the Son of God.

Joseph was told he would be the foster father of a child that was to be named Jesus.  Shortly after the death of Jesus and his resurrection, Peter and his band of Christ-followers set out on their missions, preaching and healing in the name of Jesus.  In those early days of our Church, the name of Jesus was the primary source for all the work of the apostles.  Recall how Peter would heal and say that his actions and the results were not his at all but rather the actions of Jesus.

We should not forget at this time these words from St. John's gospel:  "If you ask anything of me in my name I will do it" (John 14:13).  Do we stop to think about these words of Jesus?  We pray to him ... but do we think about the significance and the sacredness of his name?

Remember, gentleman of some years, the Holy Name Society?  Stand at a bar or a sporting event these days.  What do you hear along with a string of expressions that seem to absolutely need the "F" word:   it is the sacrilegious misuse of the holy name of Jesus.  And so often, don't we just accept that as an ordinary adjective, noun or expletive --- forgetting that it is a name of God.

Can even begin to imagine the reaction of John the Baptist were he in such a situation today? John believed so much in Jesus as the Son of God and in that belief he found happiness.  Perhaps we might consider this:  does the misuse of the name of Jesus or other expletives with the name of God signify a latent self-centeredness, a place where there really is no joy?

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Baptist's Message

Today's gospel story may seem out of place ... we have already passed the celebration of the birth of Jesus and heard the Baptist's story.  However, today, we might look at one aspect of the young preacher's message:  KNOW THYSELF.  How often have we heard this two word sentence?

John's words are a challenge that we know not just who we are but who we are NOT.  This means that we have to understand who we are not, what we are not rather then who we think we are or who we think others want us to be or how we want them to see who we think we are.

The Jews who were speaking with John about the promised Messiah were simply trying to find out if John was the one, the long-awaited Messiah.  Right up front John denies that he is this person long-promised to the people.  And this is the challenge he offers us:  not to let our egos get in the way of what we are trying to do in our lives.

John clearly sees his mission:  I am not numero uno.  I am simply the messenger who has the mission of making ready a people to welcome the Messiah.  Because John is a man of great humility it is not difficult for him to make clear from the outset who he is NOT.  He can reply to the Jewish officials asking him about his messages, his baptism of repentance.  He immediately withdraws any doubts about his role.  He is not the Messiah.

From this reading today we are challenged to look at our own self-awareness -- who am I? -- and what role we have in life -- what is it that I am doing?   Like John our own baptisms call us to be like John, messengers of a gospel message that touches every one's life.

Today's photo:  from Flickr files.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Not a picture of any of the saints, but it does reflect the eastern Church's style ... one that seems to have learned much for the saints the Church honors today.  Basil and Gregory were 4th century Bishops who were eventually designated as Doctors of the Church.  An irony in their "heritage" is that between them there are ten relatives of the two Bishops who are also saints!

As Bishops Basil and Gregory, both who preferred the monastic life to the active life of the diocesan clergy, became involved in the theological controversy of their day ... primarily dealing with the Trinity.  He preached and wrote much about the equality of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son.  His preference for the monastic life led Basil to found the first monastery located in what is now Turkey.  He insisted that monks should take time to care for orphans providing them with a decent education.

Gregory also wrote and preached that there was indeed and equality within the Trinity.  He wrote "The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have this in common --- they are uncreated and they are divine."

Each year the Church celebrates their feast day on the 2nd day of the calendar year.  This surely is a recognition of the significant contribution they made to the early Church.  In the early years of the Church's history, after the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, controversies arose about the divinity of Jesus and what we know today as the Trinity.  Arianism was being taught.  The Arians held a position which denied that Jesus was God.  Gregory challenged another heresy of the time.  Apollonarius denied the existence of a rational soul in Christ's human nature.  He maintained that the body of of Jesus was glorified and spiritualized form of humanity.  We don't hear much about these issues today because, quite frankly, many do not fully comprehend the cultural and spiritual waves that were a part of the growing experience.  Suffice it to say that our Church today would most likely be very different had the saints not been so vocal in preaching what their prayer and reflection instilled in their minds and hearts.

These saints possessed and were possessed by a zeal for the faith that is very different from the experience most of us have today with regard to the Church and the "mysteries" which cannot be solved simply because they are mysteries.

A slow and careful reflective reading of the first words from today's scripture reflects the kind of thinking that is so different from contemporary thinking.