Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 392

Then he added, "This is what you shall tell the children of Israel: I AM sent me to you." God spoke further to Moses, "Thus shall you say to the children of Israel: The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. "This is my name forever; this my title for all generations.

A child's first word is "Momma." The simple sound of m and ah, created by pursing the lips and shaping a breath, thrills the infant's mother. If the baby is her first she has a new identity, one she had hardly dared to dream of or expect. Though she cannot be unfamiliar with the word, it is entirely new when it's mouthed by a new born baby.
The baby's word is a new identity for the new mother. Regardless of titles ahead of her name, or degrees fastened at the end; regardless of whatever she was called by her parents, friends, enemies or government, the one that matters to the child and to her is "Momma." 
In Exodus 3 the Lord reveals his name to us. That is, he reveals the name by which we shall call him. It is not an abstract concept  like god, which might prove useful for the classroom or theological debate. It is a sacred name by which we enter the unfathomable mystery of God's presence, entering freely and without hesitation, as a child runs into his mother's room crying, "Momma, Momma, Momma!" 
It is a privileged name, given to a particular people. Not every child in the neighborhood can call this woman, "Momma." They have their own parents. Likewise not anyone can call on the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob unless they have been adopted or born into the family. 
"This is my name forever; this my title for all generations.
Like the proud new mother, the Lord boasts of his name and would be called by this name "for all generations," precisely because the Lord is proud of his people. 
so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, to be my people, my fame, my praise, my glory

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Moses said to God,
"Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh
and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?"
He answered, "I will be with you;
and this shall be your proof that it is I who have sent you:
when you bring my people out of Egypt,
you will worship God on this very mountain."

I find it more than remarkable that the "proof" God offers for Moses' authority is the worship the Hebrews will offer on Mount Sinai. We usually look for more spectacular demonstrations and there are plenty in the history that follows this conversation in the wilderness. Who would not be persuaded by the ten plagues that afflicted the Egyptians, the parting of the Red Sea and the complete destruction of Pharaoh and his army? But these mighty deeds were not the proof the Lord offered. Nor would they prove a reliable foundation of faith.

Rather, it was the worship the Hebrews offered on "this very mountain."

"No sign will be given!" Jesus thundered at his critics. His changing water to wine and feeding five thousand in the desert did not satisfy them. Neither his compassionate healing nor his numinous presence could bring them round. They would not see his passion, death and resurrection as a proof of his authority. As he had prophesied, "If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead."

We read of that proof in Exodus 24, when Moses presided over the Mount Sinai covenant. He sprinkled the blood of an ox on the people and on the altar, which represented God. Thus they were bound together in the blood.

The Church sees this remarkable ceremony as a prototype of the Mass. We are joined to our God and to one another in the Blood which was shed on Mount Calvary. It flowed from his open chest when a soldier pierced his side with a lance; it is the very blood which we drink at the altar.

The proof God offered during that burning bush epiphany was the covenant of communion with himself.  This sign is recognized with the eyes of faith, by those filled with the Holy Spirit.

There will always be cynics and critics who demand more persuasive, "scientific" proof. They point to the persistence of evil -- which abides even in Christian hearts! -- to show that an all-powerful God is neither good nor just.

Our eyes have been opened and we see God's vindication on Calvary and our Communion in the Blood of the Lamb.

Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 390

And as for you, Capernaum: Will you be exalted to heaven?
You will go down to the netherworld.

For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."

Growing up in the mid-western Catholicism of the 1950's I remember presumption as one of the more serious sins. Although I conformed to the six laws of the Church and the innumerable laws of civil society, I should not presume I would go to heaven or, to use the Protestant word, be saved. I should still cultivate an attitude of fear and trembling before the sacred mysteries of faith. The nun, the priest, the church, the sanctuary, the tabernacle and the Most Blessed Sacrament demanded and deserved great reverence. If I walked or drove past a Catholic church or cemetery I should sign myself with the cross; I should be afraid not to do so. 

This training met some resistance with the onset of cynicism in American society during the 1960's. Resistance to the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and the furor around birth control and Humanae Vitae and many other circumstances created an atmosphere more tolerant of presumption. 

Advertisers in particular told me, "You deserve a break today!" Baby boomers were special, entitled and privileged.  Americans in general were supposed to colonize the world with our culture of privilege. There would be no more minorities; everyone had the right to think, feel, speak and buy whatever he could afford. Laws might prohibit abortion, guns, gambling, Sunday shopping, divorce, and recreational drugs but they could be changed for the entitled generation. With a new millennium even "same sex marriage," which had been both unmentioned and unimaginable, became not only a privilege but a right for those who wanted it. 

In this Brave New World everyone was saved; Hell, Purgatory and Limbo were no more. A Good God who loves everyone unconditionally must assume everyone into heaven immediately upon their death, regardless of their deeds. 

Theologians tell us presumption is a sin against the virtue of hope. Where hope stands in eager waiting before a generous God, presumption ignores the Presence of God. Where hope wonders what gifts might appear as unexpected adventures unfold and insurmountable difficulties arise, presumption wants no challenges . Presumption knows what it wants, expects and demands it. 

Where hope ennobles, presumption enslaves. Hope allows the Holy Spirit to bless one with courage when distressed and joy when disappointed. It recognizes the sovereign freedom of God to give and withhold gifts, and remains confident that His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches over me. Presumption disappointed plunges into angry despair. 

Finally, hope recognizes presumption and does penance for it. If I am disappointed I know it comes from my expectations and not from God's failure. Presumption cannot be converted to hope; it clings to itself and bitterly resents every challenge. 

In today's gospel Jesus uses the strongest possible language to warn against this sin. It must suffer the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, even as hope confidently waits God's mercy. 

Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 389

A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt. He said to his subjects, "Look how numerous and powerful the people of the children of Israel are growing, more so than we ourselves! Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase; otherwise, in time of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so leave our country."

Exodus is the story of refugee immigrants. No descendant of Abraham, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Mormon, can forget that God has given us a home along with our traditions and identity. We are the people he chose for his own; if we prosper it's because we were blessed when the world hated us.

Christians in particular cannot forget, "Out of Egypt I have called my son." The infant Jesus was a refugee, whisked out of Bethlehem in the dead of night to flee with Mary and Joseph from Herod's soldiers. There are many passages in the Old and New Testaments that remind us to welcome refugees; for instance:
You shall not deprive the resident alien or the orphan of justice, nor take the clothing of a widow as pledge. For, remember, you were slaves in Egypt, and the LORD, your God, redeemed you from there; that is why I command you to do this. When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; let it be for the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the LORD, your God, may bless you in all your undertakings. When you knock down the fruit of your olive trees, you shall not go over the branches a second time; let what remains be for the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you pick your grapes, you shall not go over the vineyard a second time; let what remains be for the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow. For remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt; that is why I command you to do this. (Deuteronomy 24:17-22)
Refugees and their descendants do not forget where they came from. Syrian, Kurd and Iraqi refugees fleeing to Europe want to return to their homelands. Most do not intend to stay in foreign, strange lands. When they ask for help it is first to help them survive the moment and then to return to a safe, stable home. They truly become displaced persons when they and their children forget their native land. 

The cruelest people are those who have forgotten their native lands. Many American have lost their memories of Northern Europe; they do not remember the religious violence that drove them out of their homelands. They call themselves "Americans" and feel entitled to taunt and jeer at the latest refugees to reach our country. They would build walls against Latin Americans; some even discriminate against the Americans native to the southwestern territories stolen from Mexico.

Our Catholic traditions teach us to remember our history, including the suffering of our ancestors, and to show both compassion and hospitality to refugees. Not to do so is to betray our own souls; not only do we lose our heritage, we take for granted the blessings God has given us. 

Wikipedia lists twenty-one places in the United States named "Providence." Their founders believed God would provide for them through the hardships of building a new home far from their native lands. Only those who have lost faith in Providence, who believe God no longer provides for this country would build a wall against Latin Americans fleeing the drug wars spawned by North America's addicts. 

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 103

"Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 

The Gospel of Saint Matthew addressed the Church as it gained more experience of different problems in different countries speaking different languages in radically different cultures. The "saints,' as they preferred to call themselves, were to be tangy salt and brilliant light. They should make a difference by being different. If they dressed like their contemporaries and ate the same food and lived in similar houses, if they carried on the same trades and shopped in the same places, their style had to be different. 

Their difference was their knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heavenThese mysteries were not readily disclosed to strangers. 

A fellow, seeing my Roman collar in a supermarket, once asked me about the Blessed Sacrament: "This is supposed to be the Body and Blood of Christ, isn't that right?" 

How do you answer a question like that? If I reply am I throwing my pearls to swine or casting seed on barren soil? 

The fellow had been told he should prepare his son for First Communion but he was frankly unfamiliar with our rituals and beliefs. He supposed the instruction could be summed up in a few words, perhaps in between sitcoms and the evening news, weather and sports. He was not willing and wouldn't take the time to attend the adult instruction his parish offered to parents. 

These mysteries are known over a lifetime or not at all. They're not found on Wikipedia; you can't google the answers. They engage the heart and the mind; they demand sacrifices of time, talent and treasure. They discipline one's work and play, one's eating and sleeping, one's associations and intimacies. 

Jesus, quoting the Prophet Isaiah, says of our contemporaries: 
Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted, and I heal them. 
Recent studies of the brain show how difficult it is for bad habits to be broken and good habits to be formed. We adopt many attitudes before we can walk or talk, and they are changed only by deliberate and persistent discipline. Many of those changes can occur only by moving into a new environment; treacherous friends must be shunned and dysfunctional families kept at arm's length

When the Roman Empire became nominally Christian many devout souls moved out of their homes and villages to pursue holiness in the isolated wilderness. When that experiment failed, they created monasteries and wrote Rules that would be administered by strict abbots and abbesses. To this day religious life is supposed to be markedly different from the culture. But the continual history of reforms shows how difficult it is; there is no formula for holiness. Nothing about it is automatic. 

In our time, the Spirit has again challenged the institutions of the Church, and especially has reminded us that everyone -- not just "professional religious" -- must be salt for the earth and light on the mountain. If few are called to monasteries, convents or friaries; everyone is shown the mysteries of the Kingdom of God through a lifetime of daily fidelity. 

Memorial of Saint Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Lectionary: 388

Joseph said to his brothers: "I am about to die. God will surely take care of you and lead you out of this land to the land that he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

The Author of the Letter to the Hebrews, recalled passages like this one in Chapter 11:

All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.

Perhaps he was thinking specifically of the Patriarch Joseph when he added,

If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.
Some inquisitive child must have asked why Joseph, a powerful Egyptian administrator, didn't use his influence to lead his family with his father Jacob back to Palestine when the famine ended. Did they not have the opportunity to return? Only the Christian theologian could answer the question that stumped the historian.

Ours is a religion of promise and it's had a palpable influence on our American experiment. I was told as a child that Europeans traveled to North America in search of opportunity and a better life. Some immigrants prospered, many died in poverty, but all hoped that their children would have a better life.

It's become a commonplace today that children of the Boom Generation cannot expect a better life. American prosperity has passed; our culture is failing; and our influence waning. Everyone is welcome to blame whomever they choose for that situation. As a childless celibate I am not especially troubled by the problem. 

As an American Franciscan priest, I ask myself, "What future blessing do I see and greet from afar? What do I hope for but do not expect to see in my lifetime?" 

I was barely a teenager when the bishops of the western Roman Church met with eastern Orthodox patriarchs at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Entering theology I heard knowledgeable professors say this council was one of the two or three most important in the history of the church. Its scope was wide and its ambition deep. Not only did it renew and revitalize the worship of the Church, it initiated a process of reuniting east and west, and Protestant and Catholic; even as it addressed the challenging issues of north and south. (The old northern church of Europe was fading even as the southern church of Africa and South America was beginning to flourish.) 

Fifty years later, in the last decades of my career, I am not disappointed with the reforms. I understand better than I did then, how difficult it is to renew and revitalize a religion. The best is yet to come. Every time I read the Eucharistic Prayer -- choosing one from among nine options -- I try to enunciate each syllable so that God's people will remain as rapt as I am in the prayer. If I cannot see, I can hear the coming Kingdom of God in those words. 

There is no history without a future, nor is there hope. Many Americans are literally killing themselves because they can envision no future. Christians in general and Catholics in particular must separate themselves from the culture of death which invests in suicide, abortion and warfare to ensure a bleak joyless future. We see a bright future when the Church will breathe with both lungs as she announces the Good News to all peoples and every age. 

On this day in 1967, fifty years ago, 
Fathers Don Adamski, John Curran, Richard Kaley and I 
made our Simple Profession in the Order of Friars Minor Conventual. 
Thanks be to God.

Memorial of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin

Lectionary: 387

Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.

Last November my brother-in-law, a lawyer, assured me the United States will conduct presidential elections in 2020 and again in 2024. The Constitution is strong, he said, and so is the American people's commitment to the law.

There is a tradition among American ministers, perhaps more Protestant than Catholic, of pessimism about the future. Preachers railed against Abraham Lincoln once they discovered he attended no church and endorsed no denomination. Despite the fury of the Civil War, they concluded, the real threat to the United States was the President's apparent agnosticism.

In defense of my pessimism, I point to the long memory of the Church and the persecutions we have survived. We remember not only the ones against us; we remember the ones we perpetrated! Catholics are reminded by our Sacrament of Penance how fallible we human beings are, and how gullible we can be in the hands of conniving or manipulative demagogues. We usually act impulsively and very often in fear.

The Constitution of the United States is, like a marriage license, made of paper; it can be shredded by indifference and infidelity. We have seen civil liberties cancelled and civil rights deferred when other concerns preempted the piece of paper.

In today's Gospel Jesus describes not the disestablishment of the state but the dismemberment of the family. Many people find it hard to imagine that brother would hand over brother to death, and the father his child but a glance at a history book or news out of Syria assures us these things happen.

Jesus tells us, "Do not be afraid." In today's gospel he says again, "Do not worry about what you are to say...." It's not a matter of if but when. These cycles of violence are ineluctable; hoping they don't happen won't help; preparing for them does.

We pray that we might be daily guided by the Holy Spirit in everything we say and do, for every act becomes historical and contributes to the momentum of where we're going. An angry word, a careless snub or an inappropriate joke may be like the butterfly's wing which stirred up a hurricane.

We need not be anxious or scrupulous but we should be aware/mindful that God whose Presence is the Holy Spirit will guide our reactions, attitudes, thoughts, words and deeds as we make ourselves available to Goodness.