Memorial of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, Virgin

For those who keep the holy precepts hallowed shall be found holy, and those learned in them will have ready a response. Desire therefore my words; long for them and you shall be instructed.

I am struck by the triple appearance of a word in the verse above: holy, hallowed, and holy. I sometimes invite Veterans in the substance abuse rehab program to consider the sacred. I ask them three questions: What is holy to the person in the military? What is holy to the Veteran? What is holy to one in recovery? Sometimes, depending on how well the discussion flows, I ask, "What effect does reverence have on your sense of humor? Can we cultivate a sense of humor that amuses without offense?"
Because few of the Veterans ever speak of things like holiness, I provide a thesaurus of words to make the subject more accessible. In alphabetic order:
Allegiance, Ardor, Awe, Belief, Devotion, Devout, Docility, Duty, Enthusiasm, Faith, Fealty, Fear of the Lord, Fervor, Fidelity, Godliness, Grace, Holiness, Loyalty, Obedience, Passion, Piety, Religion, Reverence, Sacred, Sacrifice, Sanctity, Veneration, Zeal.
When all else fails I ask about their feeling for the American flag. When one Veteran angrily declared, "Nothing is holy!" I asked him about the American flag. He conceded my point.

"Come children, listen to me. I will teach you the fear of the Lord." Psalm 34:11
Reverence is not instinctive; it does not come naturally to us. We have to learn it from others. But we don't learn it from what they say. If their actions and attitudes don't correspond to their words about piety, we learn hypocrisy. Likewise, if our teachers do not respect their disciples, if they assume a pious posture toward God but an unworthy superiority over their inferiors, their sanctity is sterile. Godliness is not taught; it is caught from those who have it. It comes with grateful self-respect.
Reverence, or "Fear of the Lord," is a habit which, practiced intensely over many years, becomes strong and deep, and feels natural. Those learned in this way of life, will have a ready response to many situations. When you sneeze, I say, "God bless you!" When we sit down to eat, we say grace. We might be astonished that others don't keep these customs; they might be equally astonished that we do.
An old country gentleman, sitting down to eat in a mid-city diner, stopped to pray. A young stranger asked him, "Hey, old man, does everybody pray like that where you come from?" "No, son," he said, "the pigs don't."

This passage from the Book of Wisdom recalls our Jewish forebears' great respect for the Word of God. When the divinely appointed king disappeared and Solomon's temple, built to outlast the pyramids, was razed, the word of God endured. They carried it with them into exile and by its songs, recitations, and sermons they knew that God had not abandoned his people. 
When Jesus was raised up his disciples knew the Word had become flesh and lived among us. As Saint John said, "The Word is God!"
in an apostolic letter, Pope Francis recently invited Catholic throughout the world to cultivate a deeper reverence for God's word. Recalling that Jesus "opened their minds to understand the Scriptures," he has declared the third Sunday of Ordinary Time, (next January 26,) The Sunday of the Word of God. He recalls Saint Jerome's teaching, "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." 
We should love the Word of God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength -- and that is called, "reverence." 
As we begin each day with readings and prayers from scripture, we shall be found holy, and will have ready a response to each day's challenges. 

Memorial of Saint Josaphat

"Holy Father, 
I pray not only for these, 
but also for those who will believe in me  through their word, 
so that they may all be one, 
as you, Father, are in me and I in you, 
that they also may be in us, 
that the world may believe that you sent me.

I have visited the Conventual Franciscan Church of Saint Josaphat in Milwaukee Wisconsin and remembered him as a martyr, but had little knowledge of him. Represented with a halbard, I supposed he might be a warrior. This article ​proves he was a man ahead of his time, and his time is today. I should be more familiar with him. I should have known the defenseless man was struck down with a halbard.
Saint John Paul II's first encyclical invoked the words of Jesus, Ut Unum Sint"That all may be one." There can be only one Body of Christ, and yet we have lived with sad division for a thousand years. When Saint Josaphat, in 1623, sought to reunite his Orthodox church with Rome he met ferocious opposition that devolved into mob violence and murder. The Roman Church canonized him and retrieved his relics for burial in a Roman church; but the Orthodox opposition also had martyrs who died at Roman hands. Neither church could claim the innocence of "peaceful resistance."
Jesus died precisely to show us the infinite mercy of God; he consecrated himself to the Father that all may be one.
With his resurrection, Jesus sent his disciples "to all the nations" to announce the Good News. That mission has been blessing and burden. We cannot consider ourselves Christian unless we are announcing the Gospel to strangers; but that mission, of its nature, means that we must be stretched. Not merely stressed, but stretched. 
We are naturally attracted to people like ourselves. In a crowd of strangers we steer clear of the strangest and gravitate toward the familiar; or, if necessary, the least unfamiliar. If our wants and habits don't set limits to this outreach, language barriers will. If we're unsure of our own faith, we will certainly not stretch our hearts to include the faith of outlandish strangers. 

The first disciples spread throughout the Roman world, using their common Greek language. But as the empire collapsed and nations were scattered, languages changed, customs evolved separately, and misunderstandings bred suspicion. Religion was often diverted to serve and support legitimate, though warring, governments. By the eleventh century, Islam controlled the Mediterranean Sea, and Germanic warlords blocked the roadways from Italy to Greece. With little communication and no commerce, the eastern and western churches -- Greek and Roman -- vied for the claim of "The True Church." The split came with mutual recriminations in 1054. 
Reunion seemed impossible into the twentieth century, and remains, even, yet, hard to imagine. How do we reconcile with those who killed our martyrs in good faith? Can we canonize those we condemned as heretics? Pope Saint John XXIII realized the world was changing and the time had come to reopen ecumenical discussions with the Orthodox Churches. That original rent within the whole cloth of Christ's church must be repaired, perhaps even before the divisions between Roman Catholic and Protestant. 
Fortunately, unlike our ancestors of only a century ago, we can imagine one Church which prays in many different languages, sings different hymns,and uses different gestures to worship the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. So long as Jesus is the center of our church we can recognize different liturgical traditions and their fidelity to his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. We are one in him and our differing ideas are not terribly important. 
The Great Schism did not happen suddenly; it was centuries in the making. Nor will the atonement happen quickly or easily. That millions of Catholics and Protestants know nothing about the tragedy of 1054 indicates just how difficult the process must be. Introduced to the challenge, many will dismiss it as irrelevant to their personal life or spirituality. They do not feel the agony of a fractured church; they take for granted the scandal of a church divided. 
This memorial of Saint Josaphat calls us to prayer with popes and patriarchs, and with the Lord Himself, ut unum sint, that all may be one. 

Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, Bishop

Love justice, you who judge the earth;
think of the Lord in goodness,
and seek him in integrity of heart;
Because he is found by those who test him not,
and he manifests himself to those who do not disbelieve him.

I ask a lawyer recently if there is anywhere in American jurisprudence "a catechism definition" of justice. Late in the evening, in the middle of a loud, family gathering, he could not think of any. Wikipedia has an extensive article about jurisprudence and the principle of justice appears often under that heading. There I found the following paragraph:
John Rawls was an American philosopher; a professor of political philosophy at Harvard University; and author of A Theory of Justice (1971), Political LiberalismJustice as Fairness: A Restatement, and The Law of Peoples. He is widely considered one of the most important English-language political philosophers of the 20th century. His theory of justice uses a method called "original position" to ask us which principles of justice we would choose to regulate the basic institutions of our society if we were behind a "veil of ignorance".
Imagine we do not know who we are—our race, sex, wealth, status, class, or any distinguishing feature—so that we would not be biased in our own favor. Rawls argued from this "original position" that we would choose exactly the same political liberties for everyone, like freedom of speech, the right to vote, and so on. Also, we would choose a system where there is only inequality because that produces incentives enough for the economic well-being of all society, especially the poorest. This is Rawls's famous "difference principle". Justice is fairness, in the sense that the fairness of the original position of choice guarantees the fairness of the principles chosen in that position.

Almost fifty years later, many people would challenge Rawls's idea of "original position." Because there is simply no such place in the human universe, it's absurd to posit either the idea of one, or the ideal person to take that imaginary position. Everyone has a position defined by their own experience, education, biases, fears, and desires. While one's position can change, it is always limited by one's own horizons. Try as I might, there is some unfairness I cannot see. And if this original position is not remotely practicable, can its pursuit be a good thing? Would ascending that ivory tower not blind one to one's own shortcomings?
Some people might declare justice should restore what was lost, as in "Make America Great Again." Others, remembering a different past, hope that justice might yet be established, if certain original evils can be uprooted and cast into the sea.

As I read it, our Jewish/Christian scriptures describe a God whose will is justice, who determines justice by his decisions. One of the most intriguing parables describes the landowner who refused to negotiate with his workers when he doled out equal pay for unequal work. "Am I not free do as i want with my money?" he asked.
God's justice sounds arbitrary to our way of thinking, and there is a clear preference in the scriptures for the poor: the orphans, widows, and aliens. When justice is restored in God's plan, there will still be massive inequity; fairness will be restored by humiliating the powerful and wealthy. Justice will come not with equality but with retribution.
The Book of Wisdom, which we open today, urges "the judges of the earth" to love justice, and to "think of the Lord in goodness." There is no theory in scripture of an ideal person in an ivory tower dispensing judgments to dazzled denizens of our chaotic world. Justice is a personal relationship with God; justice is the person of God, as is "righteousness." The just judge knows the mind and spirit of God and rules accordingly.
Neither Jesus nor Saint Paul set out to found a nation or establish a just society. If their religion would dictate the terms of justice to kings and governors, it would be as doomed martyrs from the criminal docket. Their God stands with the poor and is arraigned, accused, judged and condemned with them.
Citizens of a democratic society determine how justice is administered. Christian citizens will be wary of powerful lobbies, PACs, and ideologies which would dictate how they vote. (And they will vote for they cannot escape into irresponsibility.) They must study the current scene, pay attention to political developments, care about issues, recognize the necessity of compromise, and ask for the Holy Spirit's guidance when they approach the ballot box and close the curtain.

God bless our Veterans on this Armistice Day

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 156

Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, 
so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified, 
as it did among you, 
and that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people, 
for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; 
he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.

Deep into November, approaching the end of the year and the Solemnity of Christ the King, our readings recall the promise of eternal life. While philosophers dispassionately discuss the subject -- and are welcome to it -- we wait on it, believe in it, and trust in it day by day. We hope in the promise that our sacrifices will be rewarded; our sins, forgiven; our grief, consoled; our traumas, healed; and our suffering transformed to glorious delight. We hope that our families, friends, and churches will rise up singing on that great day, and that we will find our place among the saints and angels who live forever to sing God's praises. 
This is not an academic discussion for us. 
In today's second reading from Second Thessalonians, one of the oldest Christian documents, we hear Saint Paul urging his disciples to "pray for us so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified." 
Our destiny is not about us.  If I lend money to a friend because I want him to pay me back with interest, I have clearly set aside our friendship. Likewise, when we come to the Lord we abandon our particular agendas at the front door and surrender to the glory to be revealed.  Very likely, during that process, we experience enormous relief and wonderful healing, as our gratitude takes us out of ourselves and into the plans God has for us, "plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope.
Sure, I might have some particular ideas about how the Lord should save me; and there's probably no harm in sharing them with the Lord in prayer. But, as some wit has said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." 
Certainly the Lord had the last laugh on Saul of Tarsus as he prayed for a successful mission in Damascus. 
November in our Catholic tradition is the season of judgement. We consider "death and judgement, heaven and hell." We might call the final Sunday of this liturgical year the Solemnity of Christ the Judge. If judge is an uncomfortable title for us, it's more familiar than king. It's a reminder that our life in the Lord is for the Lord who is with us. The season invites introspection, honest appraisal of our sinful habits, penance and the realization that we cannot save ourselves. No human plan of redemption, however clever, can succeed unless the Lord has inspired its conception. 

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

Lectionary: 671

But he was speaking about the temple of his Body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.

Catholics are deeply familiar with "The Body of Christ." Every time we approach the altar the Eucharistic Minister speaks directly to each one of us and says audibly and clearly, as they offer us the Blessed Sacrament, "The Body of Christ." Hearing that proclamation, spoken directly and personally to me, we declare again, "Amen!" 
But, the polls show, there are some Catholics who don't believe it. Perhaps, like myself, they cannot hear very well; perhaps they're not paying attention as they approach the altar. But, most likely, they don't attend church and have forgotten what it means to be Catholic. It's easy to do. 
The Body of Christ is rightly compared to a temple, a building erected for, and dedicated to, the sole purpose of God's worship. The "Jews" who opposed Jesus in today's Gospel account, had forgotten or never learned the nature of their own bodies. By their circumcision they also were consecrated to God but, despite the pain of that surgery, its meaning is easily forgotten when we're obsessed with other things. 
In their case, as the story is told, they were obsessed with opposing the upstart from Nazareth. They were convinced nothing good could come out of Nazareth
But distractions come from every direction. Who knows that better than anyone reading this blog? The very machine we're operating is designed to distract and disorient and persuade us to look at something else, preferably someone's merchandise or product. If we turned to this machine to get some work done, it's determined to divert us to other purposes. 
The Body of Jesus, which confronts his opponents in this story, is bound for Jerusalem, the Temple, and Calvary. There it will be destroyed "for three days." A train of disciples, often baffled and distressed but nonetheless faithful, follow him. He is focussed on his mission; they are focussed on him. They can no more imagine the future than you and I. If we can project who might win the November elections, or what the economy will do in December, they cannot imagine the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. 
Even when they have seen it they will remain baffled, but the words of Jesus will come back to instruct them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." 
Then they will understand he was speaking of "his body," a temple like yours and mine; though ours are consecrated by bloodless sacraments into his death. 
Today's Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, an enormous pile few of us will ever see, reminds us of that mysterious word, body, which is so important in our Catholic tradition. It signifies our own physical bodies, both frail and resilient, sometimes fascinating and occasionally repugnant, often needy and yet eager. Body also signifies the Church, the Body of Christ, which is a building, a spiritual infrastructure of many centuries which has left innumerable physical structures in every part of the world. They disintegrate in time and yet spring up again like mushrooms, despite the rage of foes
It is good to celebrate our faith daily, especially with the Eucharist, and to declare once again, "Amen!" when someone looks us directly in the eyes and declares, "The Body of Christ!" 

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 489

Thus I aspire to proclaim the Gospel
not where Christ has already been named,
so that I do not build on another's foundation,
but as it is written:
Those who have never been told of him shall see,
and those who have never heard of him shall understand.

In this passage of his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul wrote about his own peculiar calling within the Church. As he remarks in other places, the Holy Spirit inspires different people to do different things, according to their abilities and aptitudes. Some are apostles; others, administrators; and so forth. His call was to announce the Gospel to gentiles who had little knowledge of Jewish religion and culture, who had no particular expectation of a messiah or savior.
Coming to the Lord, people often find their own niche in the Church. It might be a ministry borne of a challenge or trauma they have faced. Recovering alcoholics in AA take seriously the Twelfth Step, "to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Who can better understand the savage demands of alcohol than the one in recovery? While others are baffled and repelled by their recurring hospitalizations and arrests, recovering addicts "get it" and offer compassion.
Some people with experience of racism within their own family, practice a dynamic outreach to different races, as if they might atone for the sins of their parents.
Many people whose loved ones are afflicted with birth defects create group homes because they see the extraordinary human beauty of their brothers and sisters.
Even before specialized medicine became a lucrative business for the ambitious, some young people aspired to be nurses and doctors because they had cared for their parents and grandparents. Sometimes their helplessness in the face of disease and death drove them into medical school.
The list goes on and on. Because we have personal experience of human suffering, and a natural compassion for fellow human beings, the Spirit of Jesus impels us to move in that direction, practicing the Gospel in those forms.
Saint Paul had a deep knowledge of Greek language, philosophy and culture; he had a natural aptitude for preaching to non-Jews. He travelled and spoke with an eagerness the original Twelve -- illiterate fishermen and tax collectors -- could hardly imagine.
During our time, we wonder how will the Church address the changing needs of today. Aging, celibate men, trained in the "thick Catholic culture" of the mid-twentieth century, can only stand back in wonder as young people joyfully celebrate the Mass and sacraments in an age of tattoos, social media and multiculturalism. They can hardly imagine the words or attitudes that the Spirit inspires.
A living faith, with some awareness of history and its lessons, assures us the Gospel will resound and the Crucified will be worshipped throughout all the Earth. We have only to watch and wait and thank God for a rebirth of wonder.

Thursday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.
For if we live, we live for the Lord,
and if we die, we die for the Lord;
so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
For this is why Christ died and came to life,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

We often hear this New Testament reading during funerals. The death of a loved one leaves a gaping rent in the fabric of human relationships, and Saint Paul reminds us of our dependence on one another. Whether I am helpless and needy or strong and resourceful, my life means nothing without those around me.
This issue, in one form or another, often comes up in my discussions with the Veterans in the substance abuse program. Many of these men and women have little experience of religion and their "belief system," such as it is, reinforces a life of loneliness, a one-way track into isolation and misery. They aspire to "go it alone" like "heroes" and "individuals." I remind them that the word individual is genetically related to divide and division.
When one fellow boldly declared, "We are born alone and we die alone!" I asked him, "Wasn't your mother there?"
Health professionals see with increasing concern an epidemic of loneliness in the United States. Many people readily abandon spouses, children, family, friends and church to pursue financial opportunities in distant places. Some, like the Oklahoma farmers who fled the 1930's drought, and the African-Americans who fled the southern states, have little choice but to migrate. That "flight" continues today as small American towns disappear. 
Many old people, who chose to keep their families small and affordable, have only a virtual connection to their distant children and grandchildren, via electronics. Missing the touch, smell and bother of intimate family, they find solace in animal companions. Often, in their bitter disappointment, they insist that dogs are better people than people. 
Unfortunately, some Christian expressions celebrate the heroic isolation of Jesus as if we should imitate it. He appears to have come from nowhere and is going nowhere. Certainly the Gospel of Saint Mark describes an isolated Messiah, but it also shames Christian disciples for deserting the Lord in his hour of need. Saint Luke, on the other hand, describes a man with family and friends who is neither isolated nor abandoned. Even during his passion and death the disciple Simon of Cyrene helped him; and sympathetic women followed him to Calvary., observed his crucifixion from afar, and the place of his burial. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is always in deep communion with his Father, and willingly gives himself to the Father. 
A renewed appreciation of the Holy Trinity must remind us of what God said in the first place, "It is not good to be alone." The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit continually defer to one another. There is no Father without the Son; nor Son without the Father; and yet there is only one God. 
As they struggle to set aside the habits of substance abuse, I urge the Veterans to seek substantial relations with their loved ones, and to sacrifice their isolation for the welfare of others. Some have been astonished to hear me insist that, "Your individuality is a deathtrap." In the VA's SARRTP (Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Residential Program) they experience true friendship and mutual support which opens the path to freedom.