Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

To keep the law is a great oblation,
and he who observes the
commandments sacrifices a peace offering.

In today's gospel, Peter declares, "We have given up everything and followed you." Given the confrontational character of so many conversations in the gospels, we might expect Jesus to rebuke his disciple. Many replies come to mind: "You have not yet suffered to the point of shedding blood." (Hebrews); "Let us now begin for we have nothing so far." (Saint Francis of Assisi).

But Jesus affirms the disciple and his sacrifices:
...there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:

The word oblation appears in the first line of this morning reading from Sirach; it often sounds during the Eucharist. Bing first defines it as "a thing offered to God or a god." The second definition recalls our Christian heritage: "the presentation of bread and wine to God in the Eucharist."

An oblation is a gift received and returned, received again and returned again. Jesus received life from the Father and gave his life back to the Father. The Father has given us Jesus and we have offered Jesus again to the Father. The Father gave us to Jesus his Immortal Son and Jesus graciously gives us back to the Father. The Father blesses us in Jesus and we bless the Father with, "Hallowed be thy name."

An oblation is a continual giving and receiving. It is an acknowledgement that everything we own is gift, and we have received everything from the Lord.

An oblation is a gift owned by the giver and receiver; it is their bond, their covenant and their communion. Even as the gift is held in their four hands they gaze into each other's eyes.

Saint Peter describes the gift we give to God, "everything." Jesus assures us, you will "receive a hundred times more." In him we offer an acceptable sacrifice.

As we enter the Holy Season of Lent, we contemplate the life God has given us. No matter how dark the hour, the light shines within us in eager anticipation of his Rising.

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 347

To the penitent God provides a way back,
he encourages those who are losing hope
and has chosen for them the lot of truth.

Sin offers the appearances of a way out of our difficulties. Whether the problem is marital conflict, financial straits, terminal illness, unplanned pregnancy, or any of innumerable other problems great and small, sin offers an escape. This is true both for individuals and for groups of people. Always there are "simple, clean and wrong solutions" to thorny problems.

The wrongness of these solutions may, on the surface, appears as nothing more than moral. "What's wrong with it?" people ask. "Prove to me it's wrong, and without any of your religious poppycock!" Pragmatism wants cause and effect; the explanation should be as simple as putting a match to gasoline or a pin to a balloon.

Nor will they listen to threats. They do not suppose the disappearance of family life, the plagues of addiction and suicide, and the election of a narcissist to the highest office in the land are the direct results of widespread, legal abortion. They do not believe God can or should intervene in human affairs, not even to punish wickedness and reward the just.

But for those who are ready to do justice, love the right and walk humbly with our God, the Lord provides a way back. He encourage those who are losing hope.

The way is necessarily through the narrow gate which many avoid. It involves faith and a readiness to walk through a cloud of unknowing when no obvious answer appears. The just suffer affliction like everyone else, but they do not grab at simple, clean and wrong solutions. Nor do they suppose they have all the resources of crafty intelligence to fabricate an ingenious answer to their problems. Rather, they pray, study, discuss and wait for God to show the way.

Trust in the Lord  with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not. In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.  Be not wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. Proverbs 3:5 

The wise know that God's way do not include immorality. Sin and death offer no solutions.

At one time divorce was supposed to save women from abusive men; abortion was supposed to assure all children would be wanted and loved; narcotics could relieve all pain; laws could prevent crime; and gay marriage would rid the world of sexual perversity. Sin keeps no promises.

God has chosen for us the lot of truth. He continually calls to us, "Here is the way, walk in it."

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 82

"No one can serve two masters.
He will either hate one and love the other,
or be devoted to one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and mammon.

One of the loveliest and most-cited passages in Matthew's gospel begins with Jesus' warning about two masters. His admonition that we should not worry about food, clothing and shelter and his suggestion that we look at the birds and learn from the flowers follow his teaching, "You cannot serve God and mammon." 

Lent, our season of penance, begins on Wednesday, March 1. The Easter season from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost sets us apart; we are those who serve God. 

But, for those who are anxious about appearances, Jesus assures us, "...I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them." 

It's about faith. Shall I believe the Lord and let him deck me out in Solomon's splendor, or will I conform to the standard fashions. 

(The other day I asked a tattooed fellow, "Can you tell when a person got his tattoo by it's style. Do the fashions change year by year?" He said he doesn't worry about fashion. But I wonder, what could be worse than a tattoo that's no longer fashionable? I guess I'll wait another ten years to get one, to find out what's permanently fashionable. Or is that an oxymoron? 😉) 
All these things the pagans seek.Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness...
The Dominant Culture make jokes about political correctness and fashion police; but, in fact, they live in dread of being seen as odd or different. Their cult of individuality, especially, marks them for conformity. The very effort to stand out is chained to the impulse to be like everyone else. 

The Lord has told us in many ways, we should be different: 
(He) gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.
Our willingness to remain in marriage and work out our difficulties time after time; to welcome the unexpected pregnancy; to care for the sick until natural death; to live with our disabilities -- physical, mental and spiritual -- and count them as blessings; to worship God in good times and bad; and to trust in God's Providence as birds of the air and flowers in the field: these mark us as a people who belong to God. 

Because we are different, we make a difference. 

Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 346

Today's Alleluia offers a meeting place between our first reading, which concerns our place in creation, and the gospel, about Jesus' encounter with children: 
Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth;you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the Kingdom.
 The author of Ecclesiasticus, Jesus ben Sirach, says of our place in God's creation, 
Limited days of life he gives him, with power over all things else on earth. He puts the fear of him in all flesh, and gives him rule over beasts and birds.
The human race is, in effect, god of the universe and subject only to the Lord of Creation. The animals fear us as we should fear God.  The woods of Mount Saint Francis might be overcrowded with deer; there may be coyotes and groundhogs out there; and perhaps some pumas and boars. But during my photographic rambles, I see only a few squirrels and they keep a wary eye on me. All flesh are in fear of me, it seems; and as proprietor of this land I rule over them. 
He put the fear of himself upon their hearts, 
and showed them his mighty works, 
That they might glory in the wonder of his deeds 
and praise his holy name.
Perhaps this fear of the Lord explains why I met such a fearful glance recently in the VA hospital. I knew immediately by his eyes he was estranged from the Church. Of course I knew it also by his suicidal ideation and alcoholism. He watched me warily, like a squirrel although he could not disappear behind the bole of a tree. He seemed to fear more than my greeting or my teaching; he feared a mighty work and wondrous deed. I handed his girlfriend a brochure for the chaplaincy and invited them to watch the televised hospital Mass. I planted a seed; someone else might harvest the grain. 

The only wonderful works I perform are Anointing the Sick, Absolution and Eucharist. These are astonishing displays of power which I administrate whenever I am directed by the Spirit to do so. They go largely unnoticed by the cacophonous hubbub of conversations and nursing ministrations that go on around me. Sometimes I can hardly hear my own words; I have to hang on to the recitation of prayers like a water skier to his towrope. 
An everlasting covenant he has made with them, his justice and his judgments he has revealed to them. His majestic glory their eyes beheld, his glorious voice their ears heard.
I wonder how many people actually noticed that Jesus was being crucified on that busy Friday before the major feast of Passover. Crucifixion was hardly unusual; Romans did it all the time to their unfortunate subjects. Perhaps the Evangelists exaggerated the reactions of the bystanders and the elemental earth, sun and moon to draw our attention to what happened that day. Certainly Jesus' disciples were keenly aware of the tragedy but the world had other business to attend. Perhaps only his disciples beheld his majestic glory or heard his glorious voice
For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 345

A kind mouth multiplies friends and appeases enemies,
and gracious lips prompt friendly greetings.
Let your acquaintances be many,
but one in a thousand your confidant.

The beautiful word friend became a verb and took on an entirely different meaning when Facebook went on line several years ago. I suppose a generation of children is growing up thinking friends are people they “meet” on line in a virtual world of bits, bytes, zeroes and ones.
As different as their world might be, this generation would do well to read and discuss Jesus ben Sirach’s advice. If friend still means someone you can trust with personal information, someone who will not borrow your credit card, molest your fiancé, spouse or children, or ask you to bail him out of jail, everyone should have one.

Christian friendship begins with Jesus’ words,
This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.

People, in the Facebook universe, are monads incapable of union and their friendships are little more than amorous glances between passing strangers. Friends in such relationships are assured the universe will not collapse when they part; their love never mattered in the first place. In the Facebook world the only reality is the bottom line. 

Friendship among the disciples of Jesus begins with his commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Our communion is unto death. We receive one another as gifts from God, much as the Father gives us to Jesus and he, in turn, receives us as gifts from Jesus. Even as we offer the oblation of the Eucharist, Jesus offers us as an oblation to the Father. An oblation is a gift received; and then returned to the giver; and returned again to the receiver. It is a bond uniting both in intense, joyous, sacrificial love. Our covenant in God can no more be unfriended than marriage can be dissolved. 

Friendship as known to the Author of Ecclesiasticus finds its fulfillment in the discipleship of Jesus. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We don’t make friends; we offer and receive friendship with a grateful heart and a humble awareness of our unworthiness.

Memorial of Saint Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr

Lectionary: 344

Say not: "I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?"
for the Most High bides his time.
Of forgiveness be not overconfident,
adding sin upon sin.
Say not: "Great is his mercy;
my many sins he will forgive."
For mercy and anger alike are with him;
upon the wicked alights his wrath.
Delay not your conversion to the LORD,
put it not off from day to day.

Perhaps those who make the kind of remarks that the Author of Ecclesiasticus has cited are not refusing grace; perhaps they just don’t believe what their religion tells them.
It’s not, “Because God is good he’ll save me tomorrow,” but “If God is good he’ll save me tomorrow.” and “…if God is not good, I’ve not wasted anything on religion.” Perhaps that’s why so many people have shrugged off their Christian and Catholic faith.

At least part of the problem is our outlandish religion. We’re asking people to believe a human being, who lived and died a long time ago in a very distant part of the world. They should believe that he: 1) is the Son of God; 2) died for our salvation, 3) was raised on Easter Sunday, 4) established a community to keep his memory until the end of time; and 5) will come again to gather his disciples to himself.  That's a lot to ask. 

What they don't see is the astonishing beauty of our faith. For whatever reason, their hearts are not moved by the infant who lies in a manger because there was no room in the inn. They might see the pathos but miss the perfect beauty of it. They might recognize the Holy Family as disinherited refugees but not comprehend Blessed are the meek who will inherit the land, and how just and right and merciful that is. They are not hungry for his flesh or thirsty for his blood or fascinated by the wounds which glow like precious gems to the eyes of faith. 

I know of no way to open their eyes except to pray that my own eyes are open to such beauty, and that my face might shine with reflected glory. Perhaps they will turn and look in the same direction as I am looking, and be fascinated, astonished and delighted as I have been. 

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle

Tend the flock of God in your midst,
overseeing not by constraint but willingly,
as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly.

Today we celebrate the authority Jesus gave to Saint Peter, the leader and spokesman of his disciples. Peter’s “chair” is similar to the “chair” that is erected at many universities, a sign of permanence, authority and great dignity.

Peter’s rank among the disciples reminds us that Jesus was not just one of the fellows. He wasn’t exactly a friend among friends, although he says in the Gospel of Saint John, “I call you friends.” In the synoptic gospels we find an aura of authority around him. He walks ahead of the group, not with them. They approach him first and then ask questions. This authority is no surprise to the Evangelists though it may surprise the American reader; they knew rabbis did not chum around with their disciples.

Peter was selected to mediate between Jesus and the disciples, and to speak for them. For that reason, his denial of Jesus on the night before he died was all the more painful for everyone. The breach had to be closed afterward, when the Risen Lord asked three times, “Do you love me?” Peter, humiliated by the relentless questioning finally wept, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
The first pope’s denial of the Lord and subsequent reconciliation must remind us of our own sin. As odd as it may sound, there are people who expect the Christian churches and their members to be without sin. They should evince no trace of racism, lust, greed or dishonesty. They should neither flaunt their virtue nor hide their shortcomings. They should have no shortcomings to hide!

Our patent infidelity provides an excuse for those who left the church and an alibi for the invited who decline. But they also create an opening to celebrate God’s mercy. “If God can forgive me, he can forgive anyone.” The astonishing, appalling dimensions of our sins – their sheer enormity – reveal God’s tender mercy brilliantly.

We’re like children on the beach, furiously digging holes that might swallow us alive. The tide comes in; the tide washes out; the holes of sin have disappeared, as if they never were. Such is God’s mercy.

Jesus, for his own inscrutable reasons, prefers to work with sinners. He chooses the weak of the earth to reveal his strength; the foolish, to reveal his wisdom; and the sinful, to display his -- necessarily -- infinite mercy. He chose Peter, you and me.