Saturday, October 24, 2020

Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

 Lectionary: 478

And he gave some as Apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head... 


In this polarized age, my barber and I differ about many political issues. A hunter and devout Christian, he is pro-Trump and pro-gun. I am neither. But we agree that we should not be "like infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery..." We know they're out to get our votes and they'll say whatever we want to hear them say. 

Several recent essays in Catholic magazines have reminded me that the Church does not endorse any party or candidate. For one thing, such endorsements risk our tax-free status in the United States. More importantly, no party and few candidates consistently embrace the Church's teachings on moral issues. To survive as representatives of the electorate in a democratic system they must pay close attention to what the people want. A firmly committed and devout Catholic politician who always hews to Catholic teaching will never see public office. If all Catholic politicians were held to that standard, our voice would not be heard in federal or state houses. 

Within our homes and churches, however, we should teach Catholic doctrine and support one another in its practice. We should be acutely aware of "every wind of teaching arising from human trickery." 
I often hear Veterans in the VA hospital, idled by sickness, disability and age, talk about History Channel religion. The entertainment media are fascinated by Catholic images and traditions but know next to nothing of our Gospel. I urge the patients to read Catholic magazines, pray daily, and attend the weekly Mass. Without those practices, they are lost at sea. 

Saint Paul describes a powerful vision of what it means to be Catholic.  
...living the truth in love,
we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ,
from whom the whole Body,
joined and held together by every supporting ligament,
with the proper functioning of each part,
brings about the Body’s growth and builds itself up in love.

Our apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers serve like supporting ligaments in the human body, to create the "proper functioning of each part." They bring about growth as we are built up in love. 

Attaining such a standard, Catholics will not universally vote for the same candidates or support the same party. But candidates and parties will know where we stand. They'll appreciate our support and respect our integrity. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Optional Memorial of Saint John of Capistrano


Lectionary: 477

I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace....


From his prison cell where he has been incarcerated for disturbing the peace, the Apostle urges us to practice humility, gentleness, and patience; and to bear with one another through love.

How many married men have quietly assured me it's better to live in amiable peace with their wives than to be right? They learned this lesson the hard way; often by being reminded that they had argued just the opposite a week before. Being right is not all it's cracked up to be. 

Today's gospel also urges us to settle with your opponent on the way to court, before a judge settles the matter and you're unhappy with it. 

We often discover the decision wasn't wrong; but the way the decision was made was entirely wrong. A simple majority resolves little. Screaming, threats, overwhelming force, even military victory: settle nothing. The American Constitution, signed in 1787, incorporated a fundamental flaw -- the issue of slavery -- which has not been resolved two hundred and thirty-three years later. The peace it created papered over a wound which festers on the body politic to this day. 

We must continually ask the Holy Spirit to guide us, especially as we struggle to make decisions which cannot be forestalled: When should I speak? What should I say? How should I say it? When should I be silent? When should I just let it go? Help me to understand what is being said and who is saying it. 

The party who always wins the discussion is certainly wrong, as is the party who consistently and quietly submits. It is often better to make no decision than to make the right decision wrongly. 

In my lifetime, since the Second Vatican Council, I have seen the Church struggling mightily to retain its unity in the face of virulent, internal dissension. I have met Catholics who called themselves "orthodox" but had no relationship with either of the eastern and western Orthodox Churches. I have met others, on the "liberal" side, who suggested without declaring theirs was the true church of Jesus. 

Some, it seems, would hurry in advance of the pillar of fire, and others would loiter far behind the column of smoke. They lose their way in the desert. If they were guided by love rather than their opinions, they would remain in communion. 

We must ever strive to be:

one Body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Staycation's end

I've enjoyed these two weeks and I feel ready to go back to the hospital. I really didn't expect to do either. I don't know when I'll get another break but I should plan one soon. 

I had the peculiar situation of time on my hands with nothing needing to get done. Especially when it rained on Monday and Tuesday and the outdoors was anything but inviting. I watched two operas, and read books. In Ireland or Minnesota or New Mexico I might think I should be doing something. Especially in Ireland when I stayed with the friars. Is there a reason I should not go back to Ireland? Even if Maisie were not there? Wayne takes his Christmas in Germany! He likes it there. 

I've got plenty of pictures to show for my time. And I still have two days to relax, the weekend. 

Memorial of Pope Saint John Paul II

Lectionary: 476

I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 


Scholars believe that the Letter to the Ephesians was written in the spirit of Saint Paul, but not by the man himself. Although his themes of Spirit, grace, and salvation by faith appear in Ephesians, the style and vocabulary are quite different. This epistle has few of the Apostle’s nitty-gritty remarks about people and situations; it is more abstract but nonetheless inspired and inspirational.


And this author certainly copies the endless, intense sentences of Saint Paul. His words, piling on top of each other, are as rich as death-by-chocolate ice cream. Our reading today consists of two sentences, the first wants to be analyzed, studied, and contemplated like Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel.

 

He envisions the Christian's total submersion in God's love; we are swallowed up by its breadth and length and height and depth. Religion is not a part-time thing for us. It is not a hobby or pastime, nor is it an option. We don't choose our religion. The Lord chooses us. 


I have read a piece by Archbishop Lori in the Columbia Magazine -- an organ of the Knights of Columbus -- in which he deplores innumerable attacks on religion in the United States, especially the attacks on our statues. I would add to his list the wide-spread heresy that spirituality and religion are separate things. We're told one can be "spiritual but not religious." 


Saint John Henry Newman would describe that dualistic belief as monophysite; the belief "that Jesus Christ’s nature remains altogether divine and not human even though he has taken on an earthly and human body with its cycle of birth, life, and death." Recognizing the heresy in his Anglican tradition drove him to Roman Catholicism.


Accepting the gift of faith, we ask the Lord for more than external conformity to the rituals, without denying their importance. We learn to make the sign of the cross, for instance, not like children or teenagers, but as adults, with careful attention to its significance. With the gesture we put on Christ, specifically his cross, as we invoke the most sacred Trinitarian "name." We stop everything, as the Mass begins, to receive that blessing; and we hold on for one more moment as we sign ourselves at the end of Mass, before heading for the parking lot. 


If we can do that, we can read these amazing words of Saint Paul. There are eight references to kneeling in the New Testament. It is a gesture of prayer and petition, and a recognition of the authority of the one who can bestow favors. It is also a expression of every creature in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. When we genuflect or kneel, as Saint Paul does "before the Father," we join the whole universe in the worship of God. If we're listening closely and with the imagination of faith, we might hear the thunder of billions of knees hitting the floor, accompanied by the whispering flutter of angel wings. 


I said in a recent blog, that individualistic religion is an oxymoron. I might add, a religion that excludes anyone in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, must be some form of racism. 


Saint Paul is profoundly aware of the strength which surges through us in the presence of God. We are, "strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self...." But he is not talking about a Pacman power pill. This is not a power to threaten, control or manipulate others; it is a power "rooted and grounded in love." It is a power over oneself that can say please, thank you, I'm sorry, and, I forgive you." It is a power to be silent when silence speaks most loudly, and to listen when words must be heard. 


It is a power to inspire and invite others to worship our God with Saint Paul's sense of wonder as we fall on our knees before the Father of Jesus. 



Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time


Lectionary: 475

When you read this you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to human beings in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy Apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same Body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.

 


To understand anything about Saint Paul, we should first appreciate how palpably real was his sense of the Holy Spirit. He was as sure of the Spirit’s compelling presence as the twelve apostles had been of Jesus’s physical body before he was crucified. If anything, more so! It was closer than our awareness of the hometown team’s schedule, the stock market, or the POTUS  – and far more pleasant! 


That awareness is a gift both received and practiced. One cannot generate it for oneself; it is a gift. But it may be asked for and cultivated as we become aware of it.

I knew a priest – God rest his soul – who occasionally said, “The Holy Spirit grabbed my tongue and I couldn't get a word out!” He may have been speaking tongue in cheek, but he also had a fine sense of when to speak and when to remain silent. In that rectory, at that time, I might have done better had I had the same wise impulse! Speaking out only made matters worse.


In today’s passage from Ephesians, Saint Paul refers to “the mystery of Christ which… has now been revealed.” This was something utterly new and totally unexpected; a grace so wonderful and a revelation so important it could not be kept private. It had to belong to, and be heard by, the whole world. 


In this instance he refers to the new relationship between Jews and gentiles, that in Christ all are one. The gentiles are coheirs and members of the same Body, and copartners in the promise… 


He practically dances for joy as he thinks about it -- gentiles may know the Lord as Jews have known him since Abraham and Sarah left Ur. And now we know God the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. We know Jesus in his human nature and in his divine nature. We also know our potential for holiness, courage, and compassion as never before! And finally, there are in Christ no distinctions of status, race, ethnicity, wealth, or gender. 


Paul's roots in his Jewish tradition are still important for us. Some people blame him for the "dividing wall" that separates Jews and Christians; and he was certainly part of that difficult, historical discussion. But he never stopped being a Jew. He would always pray the psalms, pore over the histories and laws, and contemplate the teachings of the books of wisdom -- as we do to this day. 


Each day as I join the Church in reading the psalms I take pleasure in the ancient prayers which Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the disciples prayed throughout their lives. As Saint Jerome insisted, to know the Lord we must know the Hebrew scriptures. In them we find the very mysteries that guided the young Jesus to maturity and his ministry. They are still the living and effective Word of God. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Tuesday of the yet Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 474

For he is our peace, he made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his Flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile both with God, in one Body, through the cross, putting that enmity to death by it.



In this important passage, Saint Paul alludes to the “dividing wall” which still separated Jews from gentiles in the Temple of Jerusalem. He could not have known the temple would be razed in 70AD by Roman armies. But he clearly saw there was no need for a dividing wall among Christians. All are one in the Body of Christ.


There is a small Catholic cruciform chapel in Carville, Louisiana. The communion rails serve as dividing walls between the nave and the transepts. When the lepresarium was built, the rails separated the patients from others who might attend the Mass. The priest and servers were also contained in the very large sanctuary by the communion rails, separated from the patients, guests, and hospital staff. 


I was distressed when I saw it. Standing in the nave I could not exit through either transept and that felt irrational, restrictive, and unfair. Doctors have long known that Hansen Disease is not contracted by physical contact; the barriers were built of fear rather than medical science. 


As I think of that chapel I recall the separations and segregation that have characterized many Christian churches. Martin Luther King once observed that Sunday morning, ten a.m, is the most segregated hour in America. We have separate churches for "white" and "black;" and, more often, separate seating. Where the African-Americans once sat in a back corner of the Catholic church, they might now be afforded separate-but-equal seating on the left or right side of the church. But many people give the Catholic Church credit for allowing that much integration! A hundred and fify-five years after the Civil War, Saint Paul's vision has yet to appear in America's churches. 


And if integration has yet to enter our churches, can anyone be surprized at the invisible boundaries among our families, neighbors, coworkers, and friends? When I went to the seminary, I accepted the alphabetical arrangements of the chapel, study hall, dining room, classrooms, and locker room. When I was stationed in Louisiana, I was stunned to visit a high school and discover the students chose their own lockers. And they were, predictably, segregated. It was a democratically chosen policy, with few objections from any corner. 


When Saint Paul spoke of the one Body of Christ which united Jews and Gentiles and "put that enmity to death," he did not suppose the Roman Empire or the entire world should imitate the Church. 


He did suppose the Church should not imitate the world. 


Let us pray that God will forgive our reluctance and inspire us to act immediately, for He is our peace. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Day 10 of Staycation 2020

 I had hoped to venture out today but it's raining and the forecast expects rain all day long. A good day to stay in, write, and read. 

The family gathered again yesterday to bless and close the house. This was the second or third time I have personally said Goodbye. Yesterday was more formal. I walked by myself through the main floor one more time, and felt some of the sadness. I will be glad to see another family move in; I hope they are good Catholic people like us. 

I also brought home more pictures and a packet of my letters home. I have not read them, or even scanned them, but I see they range from my earliest days at Mount Saint Francis to some letters from Australia, Prior Lake, and Jennings. I should have written more often, but I would not care to read any more old letters.

At least one of them recalls my great distress in Prior Lake, in the early days of 1983. I glanced over it. I had been through Southdown. I wrote confidentially to the family; I don't know how they reacted; there was not much response. I should have been sharing that stuff with a spiritual director, counselor, or very competent friend. At that moment, it seems, I had none. Nor have I ever had that many resources. 

Too often I have dumped on family, strangers, and hapless congregations. I should do penance for those sins.