Thursday, July 2, 2020

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

“Why do you harbor evil thoughts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?

There is irony in Jesus’s question. For some of his opponents it might be easier to say,” Rise and walk.” Not that the afflicted man would walk. But neither would he be forgiven if they could choke out, “I forgive your sins.” They lacked a basic willingness to be channels of God’s grace.
Sometimes we don’t want to forgive. We hold grudges like valuable property; harboring them for that rainy day when we might need to hurl them in a contest of complaints with our loved ones. 
People who would never dream of amassing firearms or hoarding ammunition don’t hesitate to collect huge caches of resentment against their colleagues, neighbors, and relatives. These they hoard like the dragon’s treasure trove in Beowulf. If the smallest demitasse of anger were to be stolen, they would scorch the countryside with fire in their efforts to retrieve it.
Forgiveness begins with willingness to forgive. But before that willingness arrives, I might need to suffer the hurtful burden of my complaint. When I realize that I am ruminating like a near-sighted buffalo on a story that no one else remembers, that my jaws are sore with chewing this disgusting cud, my breath is constricted, and my heart is heavy, I might become willing to let it go. It's not worth it.
Getting out of myself helps, especially if no one else remembers the hurtful incident. If they don’t think it was important, why should I?
But, in today’s world of social media where the private is public and the public is private, I might have to escape my preferred echo chamber. I know one fellow who routinely scans the German newspapers to find out what is happening in the world. In the headlines of a Dublin Ireland newspaper, I found not one word about the POTUS!

If the price of resentment is freedom, it costs too much.
The Lord of Freedom speaks to me and says, “Arise and walk.” Move on! Get over it. Let it go! That was yesterday, today is a new day!
To which we say, “Amen. Thank you, Lord. I will go with you.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Seek good and not evil,
that you may live;
Then truly will the LORD, the God of hosts,
be with you as you claim!
Hate evil and love good,
and let justice prevail at the gate;
Then it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts,
will have pity on the remnant of Joseph.

The Prophet Amos offers simple, straightforward device to the Israelites, “Seek good and not evil.”
Don’t we do that all the time? Doesn’t everyone do that? Or most everyone?
Sure, there are some “bad people” but they’re not many. Only children, their doting parents, and puerile politicians use silly phrases like “bad people.” Life and truth are far more complicated than that; we figured that out in high school.
“Let justice prevail at the gate!” Amos urged. The scriptures describe the elders of a village meeting daily – or whenever the weather was fair enough – to watch passersby, gossip, and listen to local complaints. People came to them with their disputes and disagreements and the old men, who knew them and their histories, pronounced judgement. They became the arbiters of justice in those small places; their opinions were final.
When Amos urged the Israelites to “seek good and not evil,” he had to remind them that the Lord’s enemies and their enemies were not necessarily the same people. As Jesus, almost a thousand years later, would say, “His sun shines on the just and the unjust; his rain falls on the wicked and the good.”
Seeking good and not evil is not as easy as it sounds. Pontius Pilate realized that as the mobs demanded that he crucify Jesus. “What is truth?” he sneered. His answer was expedience. It was simpler to satisfy the mob and crucify Jesus than to explain to the Roman authorities why Jerusalem had erupted in bloody rebellion. His own head might be on the line, and for what? For another pseudo-messiah from Galilee? I don’t think so. Even when his wife warned him Pilate pursued the easiest path because he could not be bothered with truth or justice.
Our religious tradition teaches us to take time every day, and to gather frequently as God’s people, to ponder the Truth and to renew our vows to live in the Truth. Whatever it is, we know it is bigger and far more important than us. I have my own interest, worries, and concerns but they pale before the bright sunshine of Truth. I should love the Truth with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength.
Our religion teaches us to pause and consider whether our immediate concerns are truly important. Are my feelings, fears, resentments, grudges, anxieties, and expectations clouding my knowledge of the Truth? I sin when I let my self block the sunshine of Truth, when I prefer the expedience of immediate gain to divine obedience.
The Lord warned the Israelites through Amos,
I hate, I spurn your feasts, says the LORD,
I take no pleasure in your solemnities;
Your cereal offerings I will not accept,
nor consider your stall-fed peace offerings.
Away with your noisy songs!

Their hypocrisy was transparent; their religion was like that of every other nation, nothing more than patriotic bombast. Later Jewish historians would conclude that Israel had utterly failed to turn back to the Lord. When the Assyrians invaded, the kingdom disappeared and the people were thrown out and trampled underfoot.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

 …but he was asleep.
They came and woke him, saying,
“Lord, save us!  We are perishing!”
He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea,
and there was great calm.

Recently we heard the Prophet Elijah taunting his Baalist opponents,
“Call louder, for he is a god and may be meditating, or may have retired, or may be on a journey. Perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”
The disciples in the boat with Jesus found themselves in a similar predicament. Their Lord was asleep amid a raging storm! But he woke to their cries. First, he scolded them for their fearfulness, and then rebuked the winds and sea, “and there was great calm.”
Our pious tradition assures us:

What sleeps is our confidence and faith in God! The Lord is truly present, we’re the absent party. As the churches ask from their front lawn message boards: “Ch__ch. What’s missing?”
As a hospital chaplain in a secular/government institution, I find that most patients I meet do not attend church. (It seems that the staff mostly do attend church, despite the demands of the hospital.)
Americans are paying a heavy price for their absence. People search for value and meaning outside the church and find some outlandish and patently absurd new directions. In the meanwhile, they waste themselves with idleness, overconsumption, and resentments of every sort.
The human being wants values and needs to make sacrifices. We know there is something more to life than the self, despite the ad campaigns that tell us otherwise. Often, exhausted by the fruitless search, we fall asleep, and are washed overboard into stormy seas.
The Lord has come to us. He does not abandon us. He finds us where we are and invites us to go with him.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.
From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me,
which the Lord, the just judge,
will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.

Technically, today’s solemnity is a holy day of obligation in the Roman Catholic Church; it has not been observed as such in the United States since 1840. On this day we remember the martyrdom of Rome’s most important and influential apostles, Saints Peter and Paul.

Martyrdom seems to be a ham-fisted way to suppress a movement. It is more impulsive than calculated; and often ineffective. Rome never figured that out. They executed Christians for three centuries, inspiring many generations with the Blood of Martyrs, until the Emperor became a Christian!
This world’s authorities have found better ways to coopt and neutralize the challenge of the Church. Thomas Jefferson’s “wall” between the Church and State allowed priests and ministers to deal in “spiritual matters,” leaving politics, economics, war, and other substantial matters to the government.Occasionally, however, the churches respond to moral issues with spiritual movements that cannot be suppressed. In the nineteenth century, American Christians, following the lead of many European nations, revolted against the institution of slavery. Their cries for “abolition” met the resistance of a civil war. That movement went on to inspire the prohibition of alcohol, women’s equality, and civil rights. Today the impetus for the rights of aliens and refugees, convicts, the unborn, the elderly and dying often begins in the churches. These movements, stigmatized as leftist, are only encouraged by rightist reactions.
However, demands for civil rights and human dignity are not the sole purpose of the church. Like poetry and the arts, our uselessness is vital. Our purpose is to worship God.
We do that in public and in private, in groups and alone, with our work and our idleness, our study and our recreation. Even wasted hours like Saint Paul’s periodic incarcerations serve the Lord if the Lord has assigned them to us.
That “purposeless” dimension of religion is often overlooked as purpose-driven people try to rationalize and exploit its potential. It is difficult to invite people, especially needy, lost souls, to “come pray with us” without making promises we cannot keep. The sick might not recover; the homeless might remain on the street; alcoholics will relapse despite their daily prayer.
We believe our God is faithful despite many bitter disappointments; and our continual prayer is the greatest proof of God’s fidelity. The Roman church certainly prayed for the safe release of Peter and Paul and hundreds of others before they were martyred. They found comfort in burying their bodies, and reassurance as they honored their graves. Saint Peter’s Cathedral, the world’s largest, is built over his tomb, a grand mausoleum for many popes.

During this age of resurgent racism and nationalism, and declining cooperation among nations, Christians the world over feel like they are already being poured out like a libation. We seem to toil in vain for nothing, and for naught spend our strength, yet our right is with the LORD and our recompense is our God. We keep the faith of the martyrs.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 97

Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.

Christians and Catholics today find ourselves under severe criticism from many directions. A tradition of contempt for organized religion began with the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century when Reason was idolized; today the most ignorant louts employ the same contempt as they scoff at belief. Innumerable schisms within the Church, with their animosities, invite mockery from outsiders. A perpetually evolving culture, suffering future shock, cannot be bothered with outmoded expressions of faith and piety. 
And, worst of all, betrayal from within our ranks -- sexual exploitation, harrassment, and abuse plus larceny and financial mismanagement -- demoralize even the most devout. Finally, there is the anti-Semitism, sexism, and racism that creep into our language and poison our relations with minority groups. 
Christians have always had a way of addressing these challenges, the practices of penance. But we hear little mention of that virtue and its attendant rituals today. Many, perhaps most, Catholics rarely approach the confessional. As a VA hospital chaplain, I might hear a half-dozen confessions in a good year. Many Protestant Americans had their tent revivals in which their preachers accused them of sin and they enthusiastically begged the Lord for forgiveness. I don't hear of these practices anymore. 

We have indeed been baptized into the death of Christ. Today's gospel invites us to explore this "death of Christ" more deeply:
...whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.

And so we look at -- and look for -- our traditions of sin. Recently I reminded several Knights of Columbus that, "If you checked white on your census form or driver's licence, you became the heir of slave owners."
Before the Civil War, Americans were classed as free or slave. There were some free African-Americans; a few of them were wealthy; some owned slaves! After the War there was a general reallignment and Americans were either black or white. Post-war European immigrants, fresh off the boat, eagerly signed on as white. Even today, African immigrants are assigned to black, with all its attendant disadvantages.  
Catholic bishops in the southern states, pressured to evangelize recently-freed slaves, found few priests willing to take on the work. Josephite and Paulist missionaries took it up, but even they were reluctant to ordain men of African descent. I met a black priest of my own generation who applied to a dozen seminaries before he was accepted. Each one required a photograph, none offered an explanation for their refusal. 
African-American Catholics, relocating out of their black neighborhoods into suburbia, are immediately welcomed to attend a nearby Protestant church. Should they enter a Catholic church they're often greeted with a whisper, "This is a Catholic church!" 

Baptized into the death of Christ, we admit we have not actively invited strangers -- white, black, hispanic, native, or asian -- to our congregations. 

Jesus did not remain in Galilee waiting for people to come to him. He travelled from village to burg to city announcing the Kingdom of God and preaching penance for the remission of sins. Wherever he went he made people feel welcome by healing their bodies and welcoming them to the table. Catholics revere the Blessed Mother who, despite her Assumption into Heaven, has miraculously appeared as a missionary in countless places! 
We too might live in newness of life when this pandemic lifts, by inviting everyone, "We're going to Mass. You come too!" 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 376

In vain they ask their mothers,
“Where is the grain?”
As they faint away like the wounded
in the streets of the city,
And breathe their last
in their mothers’ arms.
To what can I liken or compare you,
O daughter Jerusalem?

Our reading today, from the Book of Lamentations, follows yesterday's reading from 2 Kings, the destruction of Jerusalem. The scriptures urge us to remember and weep over this great tragedy. 
Can we mourn over the destruction of an ancient city and the slaughter of its people? How many thousands of cities and millions of people have suffered the same cruelty in the intervening twenty-five centuries? 
But we do mourn the death of Jesus. We don't hesitate to recall the five sorrowful mysteries and the fourteen stations of his passion. 
Our religion offers us endless cycles of joy, luminosity, sadness, and glory. We mark these cycles weekly with the rosary, and annually with the seasons. 
These devotions and liturgies are a foretaste of heaven, in which we will drink more deeply the life and experience of God. Our God is supremely happy and deeply sad. Our Trinitarian God remembers the sins not only of ancient Jerusalem and its inevitable destruction. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit also know eternally the horror of all killing, rape, and violence. And yet God is very happy. The Gospels assure us that the Father is pleased with the Son of God! 
Nothing is forgotten in God; all things are reconciled. 
Humans know that. This is why we never forget the Greek plays, both the tragedies and comedies. This is why we treasure the great literary and artistic works of all nations. They're not just happy stories; the greatest works are often overwhelmingly sad. A friend of mine, a contemplative nun, wept for days after reading Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses. I have seen Hamlet a dozen times and melt in tears every time Ophelia drowns. African-Americans taught the world the Blues as they tasted the sour flavors of racism and its impact on their lives. We must hear B.B King explain Why I Sing the Blues. In moments of intensity we weep for joy and laugh with grief. 
We do not forget the destruction of Jerusalem or the the systematic Nazi atrocities. Nor do we forget the Lord's Resurrection. 
The promise of Eternal Life is a promise to know the Truth in all its colors, hues, and shades. Anguish might be only a memory in heaven but we shall know the fullness of life and its utter goodness. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 375

By the streams of Babylon
we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the aspens of that land
we hung up our harps.

I think of the razing of Jerusalem and Solomon's Temple as the "crucifixion" of the Old Testament. It was unthinkable and unimaginable. How could God's holy city fall to an army of idolaters? How could the Only Begotten Son of God die a most ignominious death, like a common criminal, hanging on a cross and shamefully exposed to every passerby? Neither could make any sense to the devout faithful.
And yet they happened. They were undeniable historical facts with all the horrible consequences of a cruel reality.
But, mysteriously, the Jews would not stop worshipping their God even from exile in Babylon. They remained in touch with their coreligionists in faraway Egypt, and eventually throughout the world. Using standard technologies of communication and available methods of travel, with respected authorities (rabbis) but no commanding headship, they adjusted and helped each other adjust to the new reality. They became an international, stateless religion -- something the world had never seen and could not imagine.
Their persistent practice of faith made them a peculiar people among the nations, for which they were both admired and despised. Some gentiles would be attracted to their humane ethics and their reasonable worship of the One God. Others would hate them for being nonconformists, and for their practice of caring for one another even at remote distances. They didn't blend in; they created Jewish neighborhoods around their synagogues in Babylonian, Persian, Egyptian, and Roman empires. They preferred to do business with one another because their ethics and their social cohesiveness guaranteed honest dealings.
This could only be the work of God's Spirit moving among the Jewish people. While other cities and nations disappear under the wash of history, when other religions vanish without a trace, Jews persist in faith, hope, and charity. They remember their history and the God who remains with them forever.
Christians, of course, worship the same God, and also persist in that practice. Our God has been crucified but raised up. Our people have been despised but rejoiced in their suffering. We have been deeply shocked by innumerable betrayals from within out ranks, and yet we continue to worship this Crucified Lord. We belong to no nation; we have watched them rise and fall. But, because we are sent from Jerusalem by the Lord, we are loyal to our particular nations.
Often we turn back to the Lord and pray, "Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” You can heal me; you can teach me; you can guide me; you can reconcile me to this present moment; you can gather this shattered community into your Body.
Living as we do in a deeply divisive era, scandalized by violent racism and sexism that persist in our troubled, beloved country, we ask the Spirit of God to be with us, and help us to listen as He says again, "I do will it, be made clean!"

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 380 “Why do you harbor evil thoughts?  Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?...