Saturday, July 31, 2010

18th Sunday of Ordinary Time 2010: What's It's True Value?

The readings for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary time begin with words from the opening chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes (twelve short chapters).  Who possesses any information or knowledge about the writing?  Few, I know for sure.  So, a little history lesson is in order before even attempting to see the relationship of the first reading to the others in today's liturgy.

Ecclesiastes is a Greek translation of a name Qoheleth.  It means, some suggest, "one who convokes an assembly.  Obviously the word ecclesiastical, for example, is something related to an assembly as the early church gatherings were called.  The book is not a collection of sermons or speeches.  It is a treatise on the vanity of all things.

What the writer hopes to convey to readers and hearers of his words relates to human life, "What's It All About, Alfie?"  What God had planned for each person coming into the world and for humanity as a whole, the writer suggests, is not all that clear.  Life has been described by the scripture commentators as enigmatic, too complex for the heart and mind of humankind.  Nothing seems to result in happiness.  Life is often overwhelmed by suffering regardless of one's financial status.  Living each day has one major gift to us:  monotony.  However, the writer does acknowledge that there is some good derived from what we find in our experience so long as we take time to offer thanks to our Creator.  Qoheleth believes that genuine wisdom can only be found by letting the light of faith enter the mind, heart and soul.

Naturally the writer suggests that divine retribution, a doctrine attempted by other Old Testament writers, may not look possible at the time he lived and wrote.  Nonetheless he seems to indicate that there will be a true understanding of that doctrine, divine retribution, when Jesus is teaching his followers and us about future life.

Qoheleth is understood as literary name for the writer.  Because he his writings exhibit teachings of popular wisdom, most people suspected that it was King Solomon who authored the book.  Qoheleth is called "David's son, king of Jerusalem."  This further led  people to suspect Solomon.  If nothing else, it afforded the writing greater standing in the community, in the assembly.  The style of Hebrew used in the book suggests that the composition occurred about three centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.

The three reading for today's liturgy do carry a common theme.  Qoheleth, Paul and Jesus are calling us to remember that life is indeed a genuine challenge to us.  It is a challenge to human instinct to seek possessions, to seek honors, to build up a feathered nest, a personal kingdom.

In the gospel Jesus reminds his hearers "Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions."  St. Paul writes to the Colossians "Put to death the parts of you that are earthly ...."  Qoheleth reminds his hearers "For what profit comes to man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored under the sun?

What these writers are asking us to remember is this:  don't let possessions of whatever kind -- person, place or thing -- take up residence in your heart and soul.  Don't let yourself become the save to these possessions.

Saturday: Ignatian Wisdom and Feast

Here we are, standing on the threshold of another month.  Always on this last day of July, we mark the life and times of a unique early 16th century defender of both his father's "kingdom" and our faith: St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556).  This Basque defender of of what he believed to be worthy of his life is an example of genuine "metanoia".  We might lien his pre-battle injury years to the ways of life that were present in the kingdom of Judah and its lead city, Jerusalem.  But fortunately for the Church, retreat work and education there must have been a few good "prophets" around him during his rehabilitation from a serious battle injury.  The lives of saints and a bible were given to him for reading.  Meeting the Church's nobility --the community of saints-- in a book of the Lives of Saints and a bible, he felt the "call" from God to change his life, to become his soldier.  It was not an overnight moment nor was it a one year RCIA program.  For more than three years he struggled with the demons that had taken up residence in his mind and heart.  In times Ignatius became a new John the Baptist.  In his writings and talks and other works, this unique Basque became a Jeremiah.  Very true to these saintly predecessors, he was called up to be like a prophet.

Has this question ever entered you mind:  Really, why did God inspire someone to begin the process of 'making saints' out of saintly men and women?  It is a genuine "challenge" to live like a saint, to struggle with the demons that are always looking for comfortable accommodations in the hearts of men and women.  We do not live in an era when physical martyrdom threatens the lives of today's faithful followers of Jesus Christ although we might overlook the annual report of the names of men and women who sacrifice their lives for the gospel -- about 20-30 almost every year!  These are the models that support us in our own little martyrdoms -- those moments of frustration, loneliness, confusion, illness, loss.

Today as we celebrate St. Ignatius, let this man who spent much time seeking to know the will of God for himself, inspire you to gain insights into your own life.  Let us not forget the motto he entrusted to the Society of Jesus:

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
For the greater glory of God

Saturday Morning Hue More

A friend sent this to me after one on my recent posts was weighed down by typos.  I send it out to all who use computers and know how typo checkings are so important.  Enjoy.  Thank you Leo for forwarding the little composition.

Spell Checker
I halve a spelling checker

It came with my pea see

It plainly marks four my revue

Mistakes I dew knot sea

Eye strike a key and type a word

And weight four it two say

Weather eye am wrong oar write

It shows me strait aweigh

As soon as a mist ache is maid

It nose bee fore two long

And eye can put the era rite

Its rarely ever wrong

I've scent this message threw it

And I'm shore your pleased too no

Its letter prefect in every weigh

My checker tolled me sew


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Friday: What Lies Deeply Within

The two scripture readings for today:  Jeremiah and Matthew might easily be expressed in the title of a recently published motivational book titled "Three Feet From Gold."  Both inspired scripture texts are indeed keys to a true treasure.  However,as in TFFG, it is easy to miss the "pot of gold" if one's mind and heart are not open to learning how to find the treasure.

Jeremiah and Jesus and their messages are missed because we human beings have genuine fear when confronting or being confronted by new thought patterns or whispers buried deep within our souls.  The messages of both prophets are at root the same:  open your heart and your life to understand where the Holy Spirit is leading.

For sure both Jesus and Jeremiah were and today are calling for metanoia (change).  This is a real threat to many.  Repentance has many sizes and shapes.  However, as many as these may be, there are in each person's inner self just as many "excuses" to run away from the call Jesus and Jeremiah present today.

Few are the people who have not attached themselves to person, things, thought patterns and habits that block the voice of the prophets that challenge the quiet efforts of the Holy Spirit's trying to lead to the way of life God intended for each person he has brought or will bring into this world.

In the time of Jeremiah blindness and deafness resulted in the ruination of a kingdom and great loss.  In the time of Jesus the same psychological/spiritual blindness and deafness have resulted in the accomplishment of "many might works."  The blindness and deafness are other words for the fear of opening up hearts and minds to what God wants of us, what we truly want for ourselves as well.

So, the question arises:  Is there any fear or fear in life, personal life, that prevent(s) being open to the inner voice that struggles each day to bring the "pot of gold" closer. Or, put in another way:  are there omens God has been placing in life that a threats to my established comfort zone ... which really isn't to comfortable after all.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thursday: Like Clay in the Potter's Hands

Jeremiah's writing now brings us from meaning and groaning, gloom and doom to different recollection of "messages" from Yahweh.  He recalls that God directed him the the pottery barn! There he was watch carefully what the hands of the artist would do.  He could take a clump of clay and make an object, any object.  If he is not satisfied with the result, he does not toss the clay away.  Rather, as Jeremiah, wrote:  "he tried again."  The artist would create "another object of whatever sort he pleased."  A potter, throwing pots, demonstrates persistence.  He shows great patience.

A potter, throwing pots, demonstrates persistence.  He shows great patience.  But most of all he allows creativity to spring forth from a spinning wheel.  Read below before starting the YouTube insert.

Yahweh reminds Jeremiah:  I am the potter.  Watch what I can do?  Israel take note:  I have been disappointed and thus so much chaos and destruction in the Kingdom of Judah.  But I do not throw away all that the great kingdom was.  I will remake it into the kingdom to my liking.

As so with ourselves:  image what God can do with us if we let him!  Imagine again:  when we fail, God can easily reshape us.  Isn't every new venture in your life a moment when God has you  on his spinning wheel?  As you watch the clump of clay take shape, imagine different moments in your life when you have changed, tried to change.  Think this:  today God is doing this very exercise with your life as he calls you to follow him wherever it may lead.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Wednesday: That Treacherous Brook!!!

Jeremiah levels these words against Yahweh in the liturgy's first reading:  "You have indeed become for me a treacherous brook..."(Ch 16:18).  For us now the understanding of that phrase may mean a stream turbulent with rushing water, stirred up by rocks visible or invisible in the stream.  It would a be a dangerous experience if anyone should attempt to cross through it.  In Old Testament language the phrase has a completely different meaning.  A treacherous brook is a stream that has gone dry particularly at a time when water is sorely needed.

Perhaps we might say that we have come to experience our nation and/or our Church as a "treacherous brook whose waters do no abide" (Ch 16:18).  Many polls, those reports that become the media gospel sources for many, tell us that many feel that our nation is going in a wrong direction.  There is no water abiding in our national stream when we sorely need it.  And our Church, our mother, the Holy Roman Catholic Church, has become for so many a treacherous brook, seemingly without the abiding waters so many either want or need.  How many of our Church have walked away from what they consider a treacherous brook that offers little if any comfort or support?  So many among us are disappointed, confused or angered by current experiences -- sexual abuse scandals and obvious cravings for power within the Church at many different levels.  In a recent conversation with a recognized authority on our Church, I learned that one of the larger archdioceses, famous for its history and numerous Catholics are now drawing only 17%, yes,  s e v e n t e e n percent, of that entire Archdiocese for weekend liturgies!  Isn't this a sign that something is amiss?

Jeremiah is bemoaning the loss of what was!  The wonder of its time, the holy city Jerusalem lay destroyed.    Young men, the king's armies, lay dead in the fields.  There are a large number of widows in the towns.  This is described in the first ten verses of the 16th chapter of Jeremiah.

So, what does Yahweh answer to Jeremiah's moaning and pleading?  In just a few words Yahweh is clear: in verse 19 of Chapter 16 he says:  

If you repent so that I restore you, in my presence you shall stand;
  if you bring forth the precious with the vile, you shall be my mouthpiece.

Matthew's gospel is about two individuals who make discoveries:  one person comes upon a buried treasure and another, obviously a salesman, finds sought after fine pearls.  Both sell all they have to purchase the discovered treasures.  

The message is clear:  do I recognize the need repentance?  Is there any desire in my heart to stand before my God, seeking his forgiveness, discovering his treasure for me?  Or have WE become the treacherous brook --- our relationship to God and the Church no longer possessing water, abiding grace?  Ouch!!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Tuesday: Those Challenging Prophets

The first reading (Jeremiah 14:17-22) continues the prophet's pain as he considers the destruction of what had been so great a land, a kingdom.  He shares his grief following the destruction of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar during the reign of of King Jehoiachim who was driven into exile.  The prophet agonizes over the "guilt of our fathers" as well that "we have sinned against you (Yahweh)."  He says clearly "We wait for peace, to no avail; for a time of healing, but terror comes instead."

A question can be put forward to us today:  "Do these words have any treasure fur us?  Jeremiah bemoans with Yahweh the "Prophets: who seem to have captured the hearts of the Judean nation with teaching and practices contrary to the laws of the Commandments and the Book of Laws (Deuteronomy) as well as the prophesies of other prophets who remained true to Yahweh.

Surely we can ask ourselves:  "Do we ever find our hearts, our souls, being tossed about, overwhelmed by distraction, frustration and a sense that God has little care for us?

Jeremiah's oracles invite us to look carefully at how we live our lives; how we direct who we are and what we are with the guidance of both Old and New Testament writings and the teachings of our Church.

Often in these posting over the last few years, you have come upon the word "challenge."  Some friends, lovingly of course, tease with "How's Father Challenge today?"  Challenge is so needed in our culture today.  Societal changes seem to be "challenging" us, like the "prophetic calls" that pulled people away from Yahweh in Jeremiah's times and before.  If there is a time in your day you will discover a treasure in St. Paul's letter to the Romans, chapter 7.  In particular, you should read and re-read verses 13-25of that chapter.  These words of the great apostle, surely a well known sinner, is quite honest about how his life is regularly challenged and that he is not always the saint!

Jesus, in the gospel today, explains the parable of the weeds in the field to the disciple who asked for an interpretation.  He reminds them those with him and us that weeds can grow in any garden, any heart.  So, readers, listen in you heart to Paul's words for his letter to the Romans.

4 Did the good, then, become death for me? Of course not! Sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin, worked death in me through the good, so that sin might become sinful beyond measure through the commandment.
We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold into slavery to sin.
What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.
Now if I do what I do not want, I concur that the law is good.
So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not.
For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.
Now if (I) do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.
So, then, I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand.
For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self,
but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 5
Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with my mind, serve the law of God but, with my flesh, the law of sin.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Monday: How Does God Work Among Us?

Today's readings for the Ordinary Time liturgy, albeit the feast day that memorializes the parents of the mother of Jesus Christ, Anne and Joachim, are the words of God speaking to us from a good number of centuries.  None the less, these are the message of God for us to come to understand.

From the days of Jeremiah in the 7th century BC to the days of Jesus we have the voice of God.  Each of served as the messenger of God for us not solely for the times they lived on this earth all the centuries to come.  For this blogger the failure, yes failure of our Church to make us of every subsequent generation better aware of Old Testament teaching and history has had its consequences.  It is a sign once again that our Church is entrusted to human beings!
For instance, the first reading today speaks of God's frustration with the corruption that had taken its place among the "chosen people" in the kingdom of Judah and the city of Jerusalem.  Jeremiah is given what for us is an unusual image and charge by God.  He is to wear a loincloth -- today we say underwear -- until it was well "seasoned."  Then, it was to be hidden in a rocky crevice near the Parath river.  "After a long interval"  Jeremiah was told by God to "fetch the loincloth."  It was rotted and "good for nothing."

So what is the message?  This is what was to happen:  I will allow the pride of Judah to rot, and the great pride of Jerusalem."  There will be the destring of their kingdom by invading kings  and their armies.

And why did God chose the loincloth to convey his message?  It may be strange to our culture but here it is:  what article of clothing could be closer to to anyone?  Yes, your underwear.  That is how close Yahweh felt he was to the Jewish people who had corrupted their religious practices.

Jesus speaks to us about the kingdom of God in the gospel.  He uses the often heard and well-remembered parable of the mustard seed --  God's kingdom may have started small but it has grown like the mustard tree.  It is a kingdom open to everyone, saints and sinners alike, Catholics as well as any of the various Protestant religions, the Jewish folks and our Muslim brothers and sisters.  The "mystery of the leaven" -- how a few small granules can rise up to a loaf of bread -- plays a part in understanding this kingdom of God.  In the New Testament days leaven often symbolized the evil, the sin that existed, that was rasied up in the kingdom of God.

These readings are a call to holiness.  It was, apparently, the call that captured the hearts of Joachim and Anne.  Surely they had heard the words of the prophets in readings or songs, especially the Psalms of King David.  Like Mary's parents, we are called to holiness that is the life of virtue.  To experience it ourselves we must allow God to sow mustard seeds of his kingdom in our hearts.  We must work not to be take in by the leaven that separates us from God.

So, this is how God speaks to us today.  His words are important and timely. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sunday: Do you ask the disciple's question?

The Church offers a wonderful set of readings for our 17th Sunday liturgy.  You will benefit greatly if you take the time to read them ... all of them ... slowly and thoughtfully.  Abraham in the Book of Genesis, Paul writing to the Colossians and Jesus replying to an inquisitive disciple:  the message in each of these texts offers a biblical person speaking or writing to us as both model and  supporter.  The three readings actually provide an answer to the question posed by the disciple:  "Will you teach us how to pray?"

Abraham's message is relatively concise:  never give up; persevere in your prayer petitions.  He was mindful of his own sinfulness as well as his boldness in bargaining with God not to destroy Sodom even if there were only 10 upright and just people living there.  He shares with us in the Genesis account the words he heard from God:   "For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it" (Sodom).  Abraham had, as we might say today, challenged his God:  "Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?"

Paul's words to the Colossians in essence reiterate God's promise to "bring you to life with him" (Jesus).  Paul reminds his followers that, despite sins and transgressions, our sinful being died in our baptism.  But we remained not dead:  in the same baptism we shared the new life offered us be Jesus the Christ.  His baptism has brought new life to us by the erasing of our sins when he brought them to the cross on Calvary.  They were nailed there with Jesus as a reminder of God's promises to us.

Jesus' story about a neighbor seeking bread from his unexpected visitors may well be a reason to look at our own lives.  We, that is almost all of us, have lived in abundance even in what many consider their poverty.  There are very few of us who have no homes, no food, no clothing.  Even when all seems lost and asking for the needs of life is necessary, how few are without a cellphone?

Jesus tells us to ask, seek and knock for what we need because what we truly need will be received, will be found and will be opened to us.  "What we truly need ..." is what we may not fully understand.  Perhaps, if God were to grant us what we asked to have, might be the recipient of a snake or a scorpion!  God just cannot give those gifts to us.  He would fail as the loving, caring Father.  As our faithful God, he gives us the incomparable gift of the Holy Spirit.

So ask, seek and knock; persevere, bargain; the Holy Spirit is ever present to give us what is truly best for us in our lives.  This of Jesus and the words of Abraham and Paul have been an answer to the disciple's request:  "Lord, teach us to pray."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Saturday: Yearning and Learning

Let's begin reading a simple sentence given humanity by St. Augustine: "You have called us to a prophetic vocation in Christ., help us proclaim your might deeds."  The prophet Jeremiah in today's liturgy's first reading speaks again for God:  you can have it both ways!  That's right!  You cannot be in the temple on Sabbath and then do whatever it is that you like to do on the until you return to worship.

What Jeremiah is calling to our attention is this:  there are times when we have allowed our hearts, our souls to be held hostage by the evils in our society, in our world.  In the same liturgy, in reading the gospel verse of St. Matthew we are encouraged by the fact that our God puts up with the evil people and practices that happen in his garden.  Rather than pull the weeds, he wants them left there until the harvest time with the hope that there can be redemption.

Our society in the USA today is most demanding of those who serve in public office as well as those who have office in our Church.  Is there a radio talk show or TV commentary that does not point out how this official or that Archbishop or Pope has failed?  Jeremiah would speak to these moments with the words in the first reading:  you can't have it both ways, folks.  You cannot live lives that are really far from God's expectations of you and then attend worship services with the expectation that life will be just fine.  It doesn't work that way.

The challenge for us today is to be honest.  Transparency, transparency.  How about ourselves?  Are we as honestly transparent as we should be?   "Timing is everything!"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Call to Listen Intently

We return to the parable of the sower and the seeds.  This part of the parable speaks to us about the abundance of God's love and care for everyone, for every kind, every type ... for all his created people!  Seeds of his graces are spread over all his people.  However, Jesus does make clear that a successful "crop" comes through those who hear the Word of God and seek to understand it.  To learn fully what the Word of God is for us truly requires a sacrifice of us.  Time, time, time:  we say it runs in short supply in our world today.  Of course it does.  Why?  Because we have allowed ourselves to become slaves to hobs, projects, etc.  Who feels free enough to talk, to make 30 minutes each day to be with the Lord?

Be a genuine scrutinizer:  examine how you prioritize your daily schedule.  If there is no way you can find time for God, shouldn't tjere be a cause for concern?  Timing truly is everything!

If we want to know what God might be saying to us today, we need prophets.  In all honesty, don't they seem to be in short supply?  We could easily answer "Yes!"  But why is that the case?  Who takes time to listen to the messages God may be trying to send to us?

There seems to be a growing number of sensible folks who feel that so much of what is happening in our world today is the product of deafness -- our not hearing God speak to us!  Once we take the time to listen for God's voice  and honor him, we "will walk no longer in ... hard-hearted wickedness" (Jeremiah 3:17).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thurday: The Apostle to the Apostles

Today we honor the "Apostle to the Apostles," as Pope Paul VI called Mary Magdalene.  Although more frequently thought of as sinner, Mary had a unique relationship with Jesus.  As noted yesterday, Jesus was that gardener who spread the seeds of grace everywhere, not just in a well-tilled garden.  It was, as you might remember when you read today's gospel, Mary Magdalene was the person missioned by Jesus to go with the news to the apostles:  Jesus is risen!  Mary truly was the apostle to the apostles:  "But go to my brothers and tell then, 'I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

The words Jesus spoke to Mary should always serve as a reminder to each of us, regardless of our sinful side, that we have the opportunity to be children of the Father.  Listening to the travails of so many people today, and reflecting on the recent readings from the different Books of the Prophets, might we not find in these bearers of God's news to the Old Testament Jewish communities messengers to our times?

Mary knew her weaknesses, her sins.  That did not stop her ... and seemingly her ability to acknowledge her failures brought Jesus to see the results of the seeds of grace God had put into her heart.  This is the gift she gives to us today:  remember how Jesus accepted me.  He is no different with you.  Each day he brings you to the Father, to know his goodness, his love for you.  Will you be like Mary and allow him to approach you with his seeds of grace?

A Most Unusual Sower of Seeds

Welcome to another opportunity to "hear" -- the command of Jesus to his followers recorded in the gospel reading for today's sacred liturgy for his disciples and for us today.  How many times have you heard the parable of the sower and the seed?  How many different insights captured your heart, your soul, as you imagined watching a farmer or gardener going about his/her plantings, their sowing the hopes of a bountiful or bloom-filled crop?

Surely Jesus' work as his Father's missionary to humankind involved a daily spreading of the Word of God.  A wise gardener is not apt o plant seeds in bad soil, on a well-worn pathway or among weeds.  Yet we find growth in the most unexpected places.  The clover in the picture above has sprouted between pavers in my "hermitage."  How so?  Winds, rain, droppings, especially from the birds who hop around the garden area -- of these and many other examples are ways a seed travels from the blossom.
So, what is it that Jesus might be trying to instill in the disciples' hearts and ours?  The Word of God is the seed Jesus labors to plant in bad soil, worn-down soil, among the weeds, even in the small area of ground between hard, stone pavers!
Jesus might be teaching that he is a most unusual gardener.  He doesn't necessarily follow a design for his garden.  He spreads the Word of God in must unusual places as well as in good soil.  He labors in this unusual manner to enrich his Father's kingdom.  What kind of garden would he have produced if it were planted only in good soil?  Would we ever had had a St. Paul?  Would our community of believers have been enriched with "sinners" who experienced the seeds of his redemptive graces?  Would we have returned to our God as saints despite our "sinner" status?

 Jesus' plantings are amazing!  Consider how his many graces have been the seeds that have renewed the face of the earth.  Wow!  So, listen again:  "Whoever has ears out to hear."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Saturday: More About The Prophets

Yesterday's blog gave much attention to the prophetic role and its place in our religious experiences ... even today.  The readings for today"s liturgy draw attention to two prophets:  Micah and Isaiah.  The lesser known Micah speaks for Yahweh for the victimized, for those robbed of their inheritances.  Jesus calls upon Isaiah's words that foretell us about the role that was to be the Savior's role as the Suffering Servant.  These are one of Isaiah's four oracles about Jesus as the Suffering Servant.  He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

The "fun" of reading the prophets, especially the words these representatives for God speak in his, is to image how God's words would be interpreted today.  You might read these words aloud.  "Thus you shall have no one to mark out boundaries by lot in the assembly of the Lord."  In the context of God speaking about his caring for those robbed of their property, God is saying that no one is going to take away what you have been given.  I will be certain all those who follow me will share in my blessings and abundance."

 And we might give serious thought to what God is saying to us in our world and at this time in its history.  How do these words of God convey his love and care for us?

Friday, July 16, 2010

 Image:  from Hoops Manifesto blog

Reading the words of Isaiah incorporated into the liturgy for today, listen to the words of Yahweh.  He is speaking not solely to Hezekiah.  He is speaking to all who would hear or read Isaiah's words to Hezekiah (38:5):  "I will heal you ..."  How often the prophets conveyed God's care for his people.

If anyone wondered how God has "spoke" to his people, a journey through the prophetic writings would provide an answer.  From the words of Isaiah through 17 other prophetic books, ending with Malachi (how many of the other 16 books can you recall?) we encounter God speaking to us today as well.
The Prophet was an office granted by a direct invitation from God.  It was not the product of one's heredity.  Likewise it was not a "lifetime appointment."  We can say a prophet is the product of God's will.  The primary reasons for prophetic teachings and revelations are the interests of God.  These directives and exhortations were aimed at the "chosen people," the Jewish people.  And "Why?" you might ask.  The answer is not complicated.  It was from the Jewish people that there was to be born the Son of God.

It is most likely that few Christians realize this purpose in the prophetic life.  Few likewise would consider the thrust of Yahweh's words to the chosen people as messages also meant for contemporary folks.  Do we not, through the lives we live, provide a rebirth to the Son of God?  Are not are baptismal promises a reminder that our lives are to mirror the how the Father wants the followers of his Son to live?
We are called upon to weigh the words of Isaiah and all the prophets.  In these writings we can learn that in the Sacred Scriptures the truth of what will come to be in many generations ... the truth that is the will of God.  A journey through the Prophetic Books of the Old Testament would provide an opportunity to "hear" God speaking to us today.  In these words we can learn more clearly God's love and care for all of us as well as how sinfulness angered God.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Be Still. Be At Rest.

Yes, we are in the midst of our happy days of summer.  Walking the aisles of the grocery stores -- this blogger does seek the best buys around town -- my shopping cart comrades seem to be less harried.  Summer is a time of light and lightness.  These are days that can provide the occasion to rest, to be still. 

On Tuesday I joined two other retirees on a pontoon boat in the Indian River (Delaware), collecting the crop of four crab traps and replenishing the necessary bait.  There was no rushing.  Simply, slowly moving from one marker to the next and removing the trap from the river to remove Maryland's famous blue point crabs.

Riding back to the dock, with no great speed, even after a short time on the water, my heart and mind felt release, freedom.  How wonderful is God's gift of the sea and sky.  My mind found a moment of being in the spirit of psalm 46:  
Come and see the works of the LORD, who has done fearsome deeds on earth;
Who says: "Be still and confess that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth." The LORD of hosts is with us; our stronghold is the God of Jacob left  Each day Jesus invites you and me to come apart from the daily chores and expectations to be with him be it at the water's edge, on the water, in a park, wherever nature makes it so easy to connect with the Creator.  Once there, He will share His abundance with you.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Are We In the Potter's Hands?

Flickr Photo:  No. Carolina Brian Cook the Potter

The first reading in today's liturgy truly deserves some careful, thoughtful reflection.  What we read in this 10th chapter of Isaiah might easily be considered as proof that God is a vengeful God.  This chapter recalls the actions of a powerful nation, Assyria ... conquering, dividing and vicious political actions.  But true to his skills, Isaiah produces poetry that, if the OT history is known, is powerful.

Historians might see the events as signs of a genuine powerhouse.  Isaiah, however, sees through glasses that provide deeper than usual insight.  He sees the conquering as the unintentional staff in the Master's hand, as Ignatius of Loyola would write.  Isaiah sees the sometimes horrific events as the signals of a clear message.  For the prophet, Assyria unknowingly acts as a surrogate for God against Judah, God's own people.  While Assyria, under the leadership of Sennacherib, was destroying and conquering, he was in the prophet's mind bringing punishment to the people for their sinfulness.

Although Sennacherib might have believed he was all-powerful, he was, as Isaiah indicated, living with an illusion: "Will the axe boast against him who hews with it?  Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it?  As if a rod could sway him who lifts it, or a staff him who is not wood!"

We must walk through this text like a blind person, using a long, white walking stick.  Easily these difficult moments for God's people and ultimately for Sennacherib could depict God as vindictive.  Could he be the God demanding  payback for disobedience?  One commentary suggests that Isaiah sees all of us -- good or bad - as putty in the great Potter's hands.  

So what is the word we should take from this reading?  People who do turn their back on God will ultimately see that their gain is minimal or nothing.  Even the greatest among us can be brought down by a simple illness, a natural disaster, a stock market quirk, the deception of a schemer, the hidden greed of others, even s simple valve on an oil well rigging.  Ours is a a world where each of us might reflect upon the realities that have so harmed and ruined many people just in our country in the last decade -- the great beginnings of the 21st century!!!

Perhaps we might come to realize that true peace and genuine joy come to each of us when we accept ourselves as putty in the Creator's hands and when we permit our God to us us to bring happiness  and new life into HIS world.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sign of "Mighty Deeds"


Reading today’s gospel,  there are two particular biblical understandings that greatly assist us in hearing the Word of Gd.  First: Bethlehem, Nazareth and Capernaum.  What do these three cities have in common?  Many answers of course, yet it seems that all three were towns where Jesus lived during his life time.  These were cities he call “home.” Second: “Woe.”  What is the biblical meaning ascribed to this word that Jesus uses on several occasions while he is on his mission?  Woe was understood to convey this meaning:  “How terrible for you.”  How horrible for you.”

In the words of Matthew in the gospel, Jesus is very clear.  There are high bars established for several cities:  Chorazin, Bethsaida, Tyre, Sidon and even Jesus’s later home town, Capernaum.  Because so much good had been done in Chorazin and Bethsaida and no repentance for sinful ways “Woe to you,” Jesus said.  Tyre and Sidon, he tells them, sinned and had not repented.  Had they been witness to the good in Chorazin and Bethsaida, they would have repented long ago.  And then there is the special admonition to Capernaum, his home town:  “You will go down to the nether world.”  He tells his hometown folks that had the “mighty deeds” done there been experienced in Sodom, the city would still be there.  Judgement day would will be “more tolerable” for Sodom than for Capernaum!

These experiences Matthew recalls for us should make all of us stop and listen to the movements of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  How many times have you heard of thought this phrase:  “Count your blessings”?  Indeed most of us know we have had difficult times in our lives.  However, most of us can look at our lives and number almost countless blessing ... just starting with the simple things of life.

The Word of God for us today is clear and, perhaps for some, a frightening reality.  Has the sinfulness in life developed a heart so hardened that we are not impacted by the life of Christ presented to us so often in sermons, in readings, in stories and in our own personal experiences of our soul?  These words of Jesus from Matthew surely stand as a reminder to us that there will be a day of final evaluation as we stand before God.  We know we will be asked about the impact of Jesus' "mighty deeds" in our lives!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

15th Sunday…. Continuing the Search

The three scripture readings for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time serve as key to helping contemporary folks in what has to be one of the challenges in life that can easily be set aside "until I am much older."  What is that challenge?  How do I inherit eternal life, the kingdom of God?  That search is easily put aside until later because there are many other encounters that clearly suggest a "try it later approach."  It seems to be much like the long-time favorite:  "It will get better with time."  Ask an older friend this question:  "Does it get any easier as you have grown older, this "search for eternal life, the kingdom of God?"  Many of the folks I have asked tend to talk about it as more difficult.
The gospel story of the Good Samaritan is a fine example of how challenging it can be to live the one commandment that is far and above all the others:  "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."  The priest failed.  The Levite likewise missed the opportunity.  The Pauline reading from the Colossian letter speaks of the pre-eminence of Jesus Christ.  The Deuteronomy reading speaks of the closeness of the word of God.

So what meaning can we pull from these readings? What are issues that confront our families and friends today?  Honesty: what we encounter today may shatter the trust we attempt to build in our lives toward others.  Morality: society seems so relaxed.  Faith:  "my" religion vs. the teachings of my Church.

Deuteronomy, known also as the Book of the Law, encourages us to hear what Moses said about maintaining a close relationship to God.  But, some asked obviously, "How can I find him?"  Moses is clear:  you don't have to look to the sky, nor out into the sea.  You have that questioned answered in what is very close to us:  the Word of God, written for us in the Bible, the Commandments and for us since the time of Jesus in teachings of the Church.

In short the question is "How can I gain heaven in this confused and complex world of ours?"  It is so different from the days of Moses.  The temptation is to succumb to an "I'll do it my way."  Others might accept a "Hope for the best" attitude.  Those older folks mentioned earlier say these two attitudes are truly temptations ... the easy way to resolve the issues ... but for sure they will not work!

Read again, now, the words of St. Paul to the ColossiansChrist Jesus is the image of the invisible God....For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those (things) on earth or those (things) in heaven."

Friday, July 9, 2010

Matthew: Gospel Challenged!!!

In today's first reading, we are reminded by the prophet that our lives are at time truly challenged especially when we find ourselves trying to live the gospel preaching of Jesus and the other biblical writers.  I could not but think of Matthew ... surely one of the most unsuspecting "types" to be chosen by Jesus to be one of his close followers.

Imagine, if you will, how Matthew must have felt when Jesus came up to his table and said, "Matthew, I want you to follow me."  Stupefied, shocked, puzzled:  just three of many adjectives that probably described this tax collector's mind and heart.  Nevertheless, there was something in him that heard the call.  No doubt packing up one's "office things" was not difficult.  However, can you even begin to think how difficult it was to say to his fellow "crooks" that he was giving up his being a tax accountant to follow this young, itinerant preacher?  It must have been a genuine challenge:  teasing and ridicules from his "partners in crime," as they were perceived by the community.

Then,  recall also, Matthew was so excited about following this man Jesus that he must have told his wife or "housekeeper" to prepare a dinner.  He wanted to invite Jesus to meet his "friends."  You can only begin to surmise the quality of those guest because some of the Jewish leaders criticized Jesus for eating with such a collection of sinners!  But Matthew's decision did not bother him.  He knew there would be challenges to his associations.  Vetting was alive and well even two centuries ago!  Matthew did not step back from the associations he had made, his friends, because he was not following the "preacher man."

We must remember this:  Jesus came to be a healer, to be a soul doctor.  He was determined to use some of the people who needed healing to help him heal others.  We can look to Matthew, whose gospel is so frequently read at Masses, as what it means that Jesus can choose the most unlikely candidate to be one of his disciples ... even today, in our world, in our times.  Perhaps what he might have been teaching us is this:  yes, following me will not be easy but I will always be there to help you because you will be bring others to me and the Father.

What Does Growing Older Bring About?

A friend, working in Guinea, Africa, forwarded me a copy of an article about the divisions in our Church.  Surely the author, a Bishop from South Africa, expresses the pain that "where we are today" brings to his heart.  Ordained a Redemptoris priest, Bishop Kevin Dowling, has taken quite a risk in writing and publishing as he did.  His article appears in the National Catholic Reporter.  Most interesting was a quote the Bishop incorporated into his article as a conclusion.

Photo:  National Catholic Reporter 

Please note that these following words were written by Fr Josef Ratzinger, just after the conclusion of Vatican Council II.  They provided very interesting and intriguing thoughts.

"Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one's own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even the official church, also establishes a principle in opposition to increasing totalitarianism". (Joseph Ratzinger in: Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II ,Vol. V., pg. 134 (Ed) H. Vorgrimler, New York, Herder and Herder, 1967).

Thursday, July 8, 2010


In the gospel today,we read "The kingdom of heaven is at hand."  These words of Jesus, the Son of God, are not speaking about something, sometime in the unknowable future.  He is speaking about the present here and now.

Very much like Joseph on a cold, winter's night as he looked around what we might rate a minus 5 star accommodation, we are probably asking "What's going on, God.?"  The kingdom of heaven, here and now....?  How am I to understand what this means?
Perhaps we might consider Joseph's response to his questioning heart.  He must have wondered why he and pregnant Mary were turned away in near by towns; why he had not come upon better accommodations for Mary to give birth to their child?  Just a very long list of whys and whats happenings.  

What did Joseph do?  He opted for a simple solution most today would do all that was possible to avoid:  he chose to accept what God had given him and Mary.  Obedience to the will of God.
So back to us:  what is this kingdom of God that is at hand?  We see poverty.  We might encounter very unpleasant work situations.  We may be among those who had employment until recently.  My spouse has been unfaithful.  I don't have the funds to keep my family going.  My nephew recently died because of cancer.  My local newspaper reports numerous violations of men and women against their supposed "brothers and sisters" in Christ.  And this is the kingdom of God among us here and now.  Many might readily agree that it is a kingdom.  However, we might say that it is the kingdom of evil that is dominating our culture, our population.

The kingdom of God is to be an experience of peace and happiness.  For this to be a reality you and I, we as brothers and sisters in Christ have an obligation to live our lives in a way that gives witness to an effort to live the life of the gospels, to follow the Ten Commandments.  Ours is a challenge to make life better for those who are "hurting."  Ours is a challenge be like Joseph:  accept the challenge and make life better for those around us to the extent that it is possible.  Ours is the challenge to teach others, especially our younger sisters and brothers the importance of knowing God.

This is how we bring the Kingdom of God into our here and now.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

He Knows Me

In today's gospel, it is clear that Jesus had a special relationship with the apostles. These chosen ones were not just a few men from a crowd of people. Small towns are places where people know one another ... and usually everyone one's business.

Each of us today has been given the same kind of relationship with Jesus Christ.  We, too, have been called by name just as the disciples were called by name to follow Jesus in his ministry.  Recall this about ourselves.  In the rites for many of the Sacraments, we are called by name.  In Baptism:  "Mary, I baptize you .... " In Confirmation:  "John, receive the Holy Spirit."  In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the candidate is called by name and responds, "I am ready and willing."  These words and actions are a reminder to us that we are not simply another breathing being in a crowd.  We are men and women who are known by God, loved by him and promised divine assistance in our efforts to follow God's will for us.

This special relationship we should not forget.  We are God's chosen ones.  It is a gift given to us especially in moments when we may feel alone, abandoned, without support.  Each morning as we begin a new day, let this gospel be a reminder to us that once again God is standing by our sides, ready to walk with us wherever this day may lead us.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Gotcha or Not???

These Old Testament verses teach us that no matter who we are, there is with each of us the possibility of falling victim to the powers of Satan.  Likewise, St. Matthew recounts that reality but presents a cure.

So easily, if we are not vigilant, we can create for ourselves idols -- people, things or powers that can steal our hearts away from God.  We create secret passwords for our computers.  We purchase not so inexpensive security systems for our homes and for our cars or trucks.  Even our churches are pot on guard each day after most Masses.  We are attentive to safeguarding our possessions and protection our lives.  Yet, how careful are we to protect our hearts and souls?

The cunning powers of Satan create idols that can bring us to our knees in adoration and adulation even before we realize we are victims.  Once we are trapped, how difficult it is to set ourselves free.  For as well-educated we are as people in a modern world of high technology and scientific advances, consider the destruction and/or damage done to families and other personal relationships by the ever-expanding markers of immorality and materialism.

How said it is to see one's life destroyed by the worship of a way of life that has become an idol.  How tragic to see a truly successful life dashed on the rocks by give in to the power of Satan, the all-consuming power of sin.

Matthew's gospel words today contain a simple sentence repeated by the crowds who watched Jesus drive from the body of a demoniac the possessing power of idolization:  "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel" (9:33).

Ours today is a calling to trust in the power of God to protect us from all evil!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Always Among Us -- But Where?

Hosea writes "Thus says the Lord ...."  A typical expression in prophetic writings.  Here Yahweh speaks to Hosea his words of love and care for the people of Israel.  "I will allure her... I will lead her ... I will speak to her heart."  Even in days centuries ago, our God, through the prophets, reveals to us his love for us, his solitude.  It is the same care we read in the words of Matthew's recounting Jesus' immediate response to a plea from a local official who sought his presence for a a daughter he believed to have died.  What trust and faith Jesus experienced in the father, even though in the gospel he says to the girl, Your faith has saved you."

The Church honors a medical doctor who shifted his daily practice from medicine to being a healer of souls -- St. Anthony Zaccaria.  Later in his life, Fr. Zaccaria was present to victims as both doctor and priest in the city Milan, Italy, especially when a devastating plague infected the city.  He stands today as a reminder that God continues to work among us through the ministry of different men and women.  Consider the heal of heats and souls brought about by Blessed Theresa of Calcutta.  Consider the healing of hearts brought to the sick by priests, religious sisters and brothers and lay ministers who assist them.  How many are those in the Washington, DC area who remember the care a truly renowned Sibley Hospital chaplain, Msgr. Harry Echle.  For many years this quiet priest would make his "rounds" three times every day to be present with the sick at Sibley?  I believe their number is legion.

It is amazing that backwards look to find how God continues his promise to be close to us through our lives.  So often we need only to stop, look and listen to those around us.  Many times there will be someone who has responded to his call to serve our brothers and sisters.

18th century hymn composer, Isaac Watts, penned these words that are a fine conclusion here:

While all that borrows life from thee
Is ever in thy care,
And everywhere that man can be, 
You, God, are present there.
(Wurtemburg Songbook, "I Sing the Mighty Power of God)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

America's National Holiday

It is striking how today's readings easily relate to the national celebration of our independence and the birth of a nation.  In the first reading, if you recall how the prophet Isaiah related Yahewh's words to him about the beloved Jerusalem.  "Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her."  As I read those words, I felt that this is the spirit that fills the hearts of some 300 million people over the days of this holiday weekend.  Furthermore, Yahweh says "Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a rive, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent."

Well, of course, at the present time many Americans are suffering financially and may wonder if God would say these words to us today.  Yet, most Americans today, we have to be honest, may be finding life someone more difficult but that our life, compared to many other nations, is so much better.  Hopefully, our current discomforts will bring us to a deeper understanding of who we truly are and what God has given us.  And this leads to the second reading of the day, taken from St. Paul's letter to the Galatians.  The great teacher of the Church writes "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.... Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule."

Surely our God would not reject our celebration of the birth of our nation.  What St. Paul writes, however, is a reminder, I submit, that all of us are called upon the examine the priorities that we have in our lives.  A celebration such as Independence Day affords us with the opportunity to consider where we place priorities in our personal lives and in our national life.  A question that should make us consider Paul's words seriously is this: "Despite the contests between lawyers, politicians and religious leaders, has our nation built a separating wall so high that religious practices and beliefs are lost from the sight of many?"  Relatively speaking, our nation is still young.  What are some two centuries compared to the many centuries of other parts of the populated world?  Few who want the separating wall to be raised beyond reach, recall or even speak about the several times during the historic days of preparing the Declaration of Independence that those gathered in Philadelphia took time off, on three occasions, for a day of prayer to help them resolve their differences.  Imagine the fireworks that would be experienced if our politicians did the same during days of heavy debate on critical issues!  What Paul reminds us is that God must continue to have a place in our personal lives as well as in our national experience.

The third reading, the gospel of Luke where he records Jesus' missioning 72 disciples to go forth to preach the lessons he had been teaching them.  Isn't this what the founders of this nation were charging "We the People" to do?  Ours is to carry forth the message of human dignity that was proclaimed so loudly and clearly in the Declaration of Independence.  How many years has it been since you last read that document?  We, proud though we are of our nation, might even ask "Have I EVER read the document?"  Do I know where it is?  So often we encounter people who will wear their patriotism on their sleeves and that really is the extent of it.  Is not that a religious experience as well?  I proclaim loudly my Catholicity or my Christianity.  But have a read the most important document handed on to us?  The Bible?

So, as many leaders say, "My fellow Americans ..."  This is a great day for worthy celebration for all of us regardless of our religious practices.  And this liturgy's readings today help us consider how strong we, as a nation, need to remember there is a God above all of us ... no matter how high some may wish to build that separating wall!!!

Friday, July 2, 2010

FOLLOW ME -- But It Is Not Easy!

Today's gospel, Matthew 9:9-13.  It would be much easier, some would say, to follow Jesus were he to walk up to their desks or to approach them on the street, or to speak to them when they were worshiping on the weekend.  Some might think Matthew had it easy.  Jesus, the came up to him and said "Follow me."  But, it was not all that easy.  Who was this young fellow?  "What were his credentials?" we would ask.  Nevertheless, the money man, Matthew, was willing to take a risk.

So, too, for you and me today.  We know this:  in all likelihood, that Jesus Christ will not walk up to our desks, stop by the house for a cup of coffee, make a telephone call to you, and, oh how sad, will not send you or me a text message!

At least that is what we think.  HOWEVER, consider this:  the little child, who is all innocence, asks you a question while you are in line at the grocery store.  Consider this:  the telephone call you receive from a long lost friend but at a time when you are doing something you think is really important.  Consider this:  the woman walking down Wisconsin Avenue, pulling a cart with what you think is junk, she shabbily dressed, clearly a "street person."  And so many other situations:  the co-worker who asks you to fill in for him/her for about a half hour; the teenager "wearing the signs of his/her times" who is rebelling in your house; the parishioner who is "barking" about the Archbishop or the Pastor.

If you encounter any of these or more than one -- you are a very blessed individual: Jesus Christ has come to you, asking you to follow him in the person or situation you have encountered.  Are you and I of an awareness in our souls that God sends his Son to us even today but wearing different labels on the clothing!
And don't forget, you can find Jesus with you in the car as you sit in the long lines of traffic going to and coming back from a holiday weekend in Ocean City, Bethany or Rehoboth!!!  And you don't have to open you mouth.  Just listen.  If you do, you will hear the same words Matthew heard:  "Follow me."

Have a wonderful holiday weekend.